Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Booknotes: Voices of the Army of the Potomac

New Arrival:
Voices of the Army of the Potomac: Personal Reminiscences of Union Veterans by Vincent L. Burns (Casemate, 2021).

Utilizing a selection from the war's vast reservoir of published "memoirs, recollections and regimental histories," Voices of the Army of the Potomac: Personal Reminiscences of Union Veterans "is an overview of what Civil War soldiers and veterans wrote about their experiences. It focuses on what veterans remembered, what they were prepared to record, and what they wrote down in the years after the end of the war." With the earlier campaigns of the Army of the Potomac covered in one chapter, the material appears heavily weighted toward the second half of the conflict from Spring 1863 onward (I skimmed the "Author's Note" and preface and didn't see any indication why that particular choice was made, though I might have missed it).

Veteran-authored excerpts reproduced in the text range in length from a single sentence to multiple paragraphs. On the page they are either presented in smaller font as separate passages or placed in quotations and incorporated into the author's own extensive chronological narrative.

These veteran writings "convey their views on the cataclysmic events they had witnessed but also their memories of everyday events during the war. While many of them undertook detailed research of battles and campaigns before writing their accounts, it is clear that a number were less concerned with whether their words aligned with the historical record than whether they recorded what they believed to be true. This book explores these themes and also the connection between veterans writing their personal war history and the issue of veterans’ pensions. Understanding what these veterans chose to record and why is important to achieving a deeper understanding of the experience of these men who were caught up in this central moment in American life."

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