Sunday, August 29, 2010

Maness & Combs (eds.): "DO THEY MISS ME AT HOME?: The Civil War Letters of William McKnight, Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry"

[Do They Miss Me at Home?: The Civil War Letters of William McKnight, Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry edited by Donald C. Maness & H. Jason Combs (Ohio University Press, 2010).  Hardcover, maps, illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. 286 Pages. ISBN:9780821419144 $38]

Older and married with children, William McKnight was more typical of the later Civil War volunteer than the first wave of ebullient youths. Born in Canada to Scottish parents, he settled in Meigs County, Ohio, working as a blacksmith. In the fall of 1862, the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, the "River Regiment", was organized to patrol the southern border of the state. McKnight enlisted in the unit's Company K and was awarded sergeant stripes. Edited by Donald Maness and H. Jason Combs, Do They Miss Me at Home?: The Civil War Letters of William McKnight, Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry contains 108 letters, mostly from McKnight to his wife, Samaria.

The letters are those of a devoted family man, with nearly all containing extensive passages detailing the writer's feelings of homesickness. The collection, preserved in its original crude spelling, is not that of a formally educated man, but it does have enough informational depth to be deserving of publication. All is not about loneliness and camp life as McKnight also describes many skirmishes and minor battles fought throughout central Kentucky and East Tennessee in 1863-64. The 7th did not engage in significant fighting in Kentucky in 1863, but (now Captain) McKnight's letters dealing with the Union invasion and occupation of East Tennessee (including the capture of Cumberland Gap) comprise a useful record of events. Tragically, McKnight was mortally wounded at Cynthiana in 1864, opposing another of John Hunt Morgan's raids into Kentucky. Letters from family members are included in this final section, several informing Samaria of the fact and circumstances of her husband's death.

Although they might have been more helpfully placed at the bottom of each page, Maness and Combs's endnotes fulfill well their explanatory role, as well as the straightforward task of identifying persons, places, and events mentioned in the text. In addition to their notes, the editors also provide general and chapter introductions, some transitional narrative, and an epilogue. Appendices include battle and officer lists for the 7th, a roster of Company K, and some tabular data about Ohio's troop contribution to the Union cause.  Useful only for general orientation, however, the few maps present are inadequate in number and detail. Overall, with its subject's experience of events not often addressed in the literature and the book's sound editorial work, Do They Miss Me at Home? is recommended reading for western theater students, especially those most interested in the war in Tennessee and Kentucky.

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