Monday, March 23, 2009

Widney / ed. Girardi: "Campaigning with "Uncle Billy": The Civil War Memoirs of Sgt. Lyman S. Widney 34th Illinois Volunteer Infantry"

[Campaigning with 'Uncle Billy': The Civil War Memoirs of Sgt. Lyman S. Widney, 34th Illinois Volunteer Infantry edited by Robert I. Girardi (Author - Trafford Publishing, 2008). Softcover, footnotes, appendix1, bibliography, index. 419 pp. ISBN: 142517887-1 $29]

The 34th Illinois entered service at Camp Butler (Springfield, Illinois) on September 1861. It's first experience with combat occurred during Shiloh's second day. From then on, the regiment fought in most of the western theater's major campaigns, including Perryville, the Corinth "siege", Murfreesboro, Chattanooga/East Tennessee, Atlanta, March to the Sea, and the Carolinas campaign. Robert Girardi's Campaigning with 'Uncle Billy' marks the first complete edited and annotated publication of Sergeant Lyman Widney's impressive memoir of his service with the 34th.

Peter Cozzens's Foreword and Girardi's introduction together do a fine job of explaining the importance of Widney's writing to the Civil War literature, as well as the story behind its initial publication (as a National Tribune2 serial). Sergeant Widney spent most of the war at regimental headquarters, and thus was able to provide a broader perspective than that found in the typical private soldier or NCO reminiscence. Organized in diary style format, the memoir is rich enough to serve as both a recounting of personal experiences as well as a useful account of the regiment's service as a whole.

For his editorial work, Girardi consulted a range of source materials (e.g. manuscripts, official documents, regimental histories, books, articles). His book has footnotes and an index, but the rest of the presentation is pretty bare bones. Only a single illustration3 was included and no maps. The material quality is also that of the typical subsidy press.

Presentation quibbles aside, Campaigning with 'Uncle Billy' is a finely edited publication that does justice to an important western theater memoir. Mr. Girardi deserves our thanks for making Widney's writings available in a single volume for use by readers and researchers.

1 - This is a lengthy article Widney wrote for the August 1913 issue of Neale's Monthly. It is basically a compilation of anecdotes and opinions about William T. Sherman.
2 - Cozzens notes that the
National Tribune actively sought opposing or corrective views to the serialized accounts published. Unusually, none were submitted that challenged the veracity of Widney's writings.
3 - According to the author, no known photograph of Sgt. Widney exists.

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