Friday, July 20, 2018

Booknotes: An Antietam Veteran's Montana Journey

New Arrival:
An Antietam Veteran's Montana Journey: The Lost Memoir of James Howard Lowell edited by Katharine Seaton Squires (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Press, 2018).

"In this recently unearthed memoir," edited by Katharine Seaton Squires and published as An Antietam Veteran's Montana Journey, "Civil War veteran James Howard Lowell offers a firsthand account of his brutal journey west on a wagon train attacked by Indian Dog Soldiers. The Boston Yank staggers snow blind through a Laramie Plains blizzard to reach Salt Lake City, where he meets Brigham Young. In Montana, he joins an old forty-niner to work a mining claim, practices "tomahawk jurisprudence" in Fort Benton and builds a mackinaw to head downriver through Deadman Rapids to trade with the Crow and Gros Ventre tribes."

Like many Civil War soldiers who pondered what to do next with their lives after the guns fell silent, Lowell struck west across the Kansas plains in 1865, seeking both adventure (the scope only hinted at above) and fortune. A literate fellow, in 1872 he began a memoir of these westering experiences as freight driver, hunter, miner, teacher, county government official, and lawyer. The best available evidence uncovered by Squires seems to suggest that he concluded his writing project in the early 1890s. Foreword writer Ken Robison, Fort Benton historian and author of both Confederates in Montana Territory and Montana Territory and the Civil War, notes that Lowell's reminiscences of his time at the fort beginning in 1868 also offer a fresh new perspective from that period of the post's history.

The unpublished memoir was passed down through the family until Squires (Lowell's great-great-granddaughter) embarked on the task of editing the material. She seems to have taken to this with considerable gusto. In addition to arranging the material for publication, Squires contributes editorial commentary throughout as well as endnotes. She's also put together a large collection of photographs, and numerous maps chart the progress of Lowell's journeys across the developing West. The memoir portion of the book comprises Part I.

Lowell did not write about his Civil War experiences in the memoir, but in Section II Squires remedies the deficiency by assembling some wartime correspondence between Lowell (who served in the 13th Massachusetts and was wounded at Antietam) and various individuals. She also helpfully includes some of the pieces Lowell wrote for his regiment's reunion pamphlets (called "circulars"). An appendix features Lowell descendants, explores the memoir's provenance, and includes the text from newspaper obituaries for Lowell and his wife.


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