Thursday, May 24, 2007

ed. Bender: "Like Grass Before the Scythe"

Edited letters from German-American soldiers seem to have become a minor rage these days. One of the latest collections, published by University of Alabama Press (2007) and titled Like Grass Before the Scythe: The Life and Death of Sgt. William Remmel, 121st New York Infantry, is written by an articulate and observant young soldier. Arriving in the U.S. at the age of eight, Remmel held various jobs before enlisting in the 121st New York ("Upton's Regulars") in the summer of 1862. His letters comment on a wide range of subjects, from military movements to politics and family. Unfortunately, Sgt. Remmel disappeared in October 1864 during the Battle of Cedar Creek. Although he was never heard from again, editor Robert Patrick Bender attempts to piece together a likely series of events (death as a POW at Andersonville) in the book's epilogue. Remmel's letters are organized into chapters, each of which is given a short contextual introduction by Bender, who also provides at the back of the book detailed notes to the letters. This is an informative set of letters written by a thoughtful young immigrant soldier.

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