Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Booknotes: The Civil War Memoir of a Boy from Baltimore

New Arrival:
The Civil War Memoir of a Boy from Baltimore: The Remembrance of George C. Maguire, Written in 1893 edited by Holly I. Powers (UT Press, 2021).

A circumstance and practice that is unthinkable in modern western militaries, Civil War history is replete with examples of preteen children and older boys being taken into regiments and adopted by the men. John Clem , a.k.a. "Johnny Shiloh," is the most famous example, serving as a drummer boy in the 22nd Michigan. Sometimes called a "mascot," such a child informally inducted into a regiment could be assigned tasks attached with responsibility and experience physical dangers in ways inconceivable today. This was certainly the case with Maryland's George Maguire. From the description: "Fourteen-year-old George Maguire was eager to serve the Union when his home state, Maryland, began raising regiments for the coming conflict. Too young to join, he became a “mascot” for the Fifth Maryland Infantry Regiment, organized in September 1861."

In 1893 at age 43, Maguire wrote down his wartime experiences, which survived in original form in the hands of his descendants and are published for the first time in The Civil War Memoir of a Boy from Baltimore: The Remembrance of George C. Maguire, Written in 1893, edited by Holly Powers. In his memoir, Maguire, who "never formally enlisted or carried a weapon," "recounts several pivotal events in the war, including the sea battle of the Monitor vs. Merrimac, Peninsula Campaign action, and the Battle of Antietam." Though an observer of military events, Maguire's own contributions would be in the medical sphere of Union Army operations.

According to Powers, the Maguire memoir is a rarity, "one of the few from a Maryland unit." It represents "a distinctive blend of the adventures of a teenage boy with the mature reflection of a man. His account of the Peninsula Campaign captures the success of the mobilization of forces and confirms the existing historical record, as well as illuminating the social structure of camp life. Maguire’s duties evolved over time, as he worked alongside army surgeons and assisted his brother-in-law (a “rabid abolitionist” and provost marshal of the regiment). This experience qualified him to work at the newly constructed Thomas Hicks United States General Hospital once he left the regiment in 1863; his memoir describes the staffing hierarchy and the operating procedures implemented by the Army Medical Corps at the end of the war, illuminated with the author’s own sketches of the facility."

The memoir itself is a quick read, running sixty pages in the book. As part of her editorial duties, Powers contributes an introduction, conclusion, and extensive endnotes to the volume. Illustrations are numerous, and include reproductions of Maguire's own crude sketches of maps, hospital layouts, and other things of interest to him.

More from the description: "From the Pratt Street riot in Baltimore to a chance encounter with Red Cross founder Clara Barton to a firsthand view of Hicks Hospital, this sweeping yet brief memoir provides a unique opportunity to examine the experiences of a child during the war and to explore the nuances of memory. Beyond simply retelling the events as they happened, Maguire’s memoir is woven with a sense of remorse and resolve, loss and fear, and the pure wonderment of a teenage boy accompanying one of the largest assembled armies of its day."

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