Friday, May 23, 2014

Hitchcock, Watson (ed.): "DEATH DOES SEEM TO HAVE ALL HE CAN ATTEND TO: The Civil War Diary of an Andersonville Survivor"

[Death Does Seem to Have All He Can Attend To: The Civil War Diary of an Andersonville Survivor by George A. Hitchcock, edited by Ronald G. Watson (McFarland (800-253-2187), 2014). Softcover, maps, photos, drawings, bibliography, index. Pp. 256. ISBN:978-0-7864-7890-3 $35 ]

The diary of 21st Massachusetts soldier George Hitchcock was first published in 1997 by Savas Publishing under the title From Ashby to Andersonville. The source for that edition was Hitchcock's 1890 revised and expanded manuscript. After its publication, editor Ronald Watson was surprised to receive from Hitchcock's g-g-granddaughter a copy of the original 1865 diary. Wishing to bring this unadulterated version to scholars and the reading public, Watson has now come out with a new edition with the title Death Does Seem to Have All He Can Attend To.

At this point, Civil War bookshelves fairly burst with published soldier diaries, memoirs and letter collections with overlapping event coverage (and indeed the diary under consideration here is, in its early stages, fairly routine eastern theater stuff), but Hitchcock's recounting of the Maryland and Fredericksburg campaigns is more keenly observant and articulate than the typical documented experiences of men in the ranks. Where the diary really escapes the conventional run of things is in its day-by-day record of the 1863-64 East Tennessee Campaign with the IX Corps.

After a brief stop in the Union-controlled area of Southeast Virginia, Hitchcock was sent to the Department of the Ohio, where, in East Kentucky, his regiment chased guerrillas and performed garrison duty. When Knoxville fell to Ambrose Burnside's small army, Hitchcock's unit traveled on foot through the mountains to join the occupying force. His chronology of the march and his accounts of the Knoxville siege and various follow up operations in NE Tennessee together comprise one of the best primary source descriptions of these events from a private soldier's perspective [it's the best I've encountered].

During the winter, Hitchcock returned to Kentucky, where he contracted a serious illness that required an extended hospital stay. Returning to the Army of the Potomac with the IX Corps in the spring, he was captured at Bethesda Church. Remarkably, Hitchcock was able to keep his daily diary going while imprisoned at Andersonville, Camp Lawton, and finally Florence, South Carolina, before finally being exchanged in December 1864. In addition to discussing the psychological and environmental hardships of the prison experience, Hitchcock also offers an interesting account of the activities, capture, and execution of the infamous Andersonville "Raiders", a malicious group that cruelly preyed upon their fellow Union soldiers in the overcrowded stockade.

Though he contributes lengthy chapter introductions, Watson is a restrained editor overall. The text is not heavily footnoted. Instead, Watson more informally inserts brief clarifications, background material, and explanatory notes between diary entries. In the same manner, he includes in boxed italics the 1890 additions that Hitchcock made, allowing the reader access to both the original text as written and the revised/expanded material. Death Does Seem to Have All He Can Attend To is a very welcome reissue of an important Civil War diary, one especially useful for students and researchers of Civil War prisons and the understudied 1863-64 East Tennessee campaign.

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