Monday, November 16, 2009

"ARMY LIFE: From a Soldier’s Journal"

First published in 1884, Albert O. Marshall's memoir of his service with the 33rd Illinois Infantry (the "Normal Regiment") is an account certainly worthy of a new annotated edition. Army Life: From a Soldier’s Journal, Incidents, Sketches, and Record of Union Soldier's Army Life, in Camp and Field, 1861-1864, edited by Missouri historian Robert G. Schultz (University of Arkansas Press, 2009), documents an unusual wartime journey. The 33rd was an Illinois regiment that spent nearly all of its active service in the Trans-Mississippi theater [in Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas]. It also participated in the Vicksburg Campaign.

The richness and detail of Marshall's writing (especially that of military events), compiled in 1880 using a range of other documents, is atypical of memoirs written from the perspective of private Civil War soldiers. The author recounts the usual experiences of camp life and interactions with the local populace, but what sets his memoir apart are his minute accounts of his regiment's involvement in a number of military campaigns. Trans-Mississippi researchers will appreciate Marshall's history of his unit's movements and fighting in SE Missouri in 1861, NE Arkansas in 1862 (specifically the battle of Cache River), and operations on the Texas coast (Matagorda Island) in 1863-1864.

Though relatively few in number, editor Robert Schultz's annotations of the text perform a valuable function in providing extensive background material, source discussions, and correctives. In addition to some photographs of key figures, Schultz also gathered a pretty good set of previously published maps to orient the reader. A full bibliography and a good index round out the volume. This new edition of Army Life is an admirable addition to the Trans-Mississippi Civil War literature, and is deserving of an even wider readership.

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