Thursday, February 17, 2022

Booknotes: Bluecoats

New Arrival:
Bluecoats: The Civil War Diary of Cephas B. Hunt by Margaret M. Queen (Author-Foxglove Pr, 2022).

Bluecoats recounts the life story and Civil War experiences of author/editor Margaret Queen's ancestor (Pvt. Cephas Hunt of Company I, 112th Illinois) through the soldier's wartime diary and his memoir. Written between 1915 and 1922, Hunt's autobiography is 140 pages in length, with 40 of them closely pertaining to his Civil War experiences and based on his diary collection, the entries of which were produced on a daily basis between New Year's Day 1863 and the end of June 1865.

Queen does a fine-looking job of integrating both sources into the volume, with memoir excerpts bookending the complete diary transcription with the writer's own account of his life before and after the war. Upon discharge, Hunt reentered civilian life with success, his job-hopping career consisting of service as a US Marshal, state senator, county sheriff, and postmaster among other occupations. The volume does not have a bibliography appended to it and the historical material is not annotated, though Queen credits Hunt's personal copy of his regiment's 1885-published history as the key resource for her chapter introductions.

Hunt's diary entries range in size and depth from a brief line or two talking about the weather and various camp happenings on up to quite intensive personal accounts of events many paragraphs in length. Much like the common description of army life as long stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of excitement and terror, the former outnumber the latter. The 112th was converted to mounted infantry in early 1863, and Hunt's diary discusses his involvement in a host of western theater campaigns and events. Starting with training camp in Illinois and garrison duty in Kentucky, Hunt moves on to describing the role played by his regiment in combating Confederate raids, accompanying Burnside's Knoxville Campaign (during which he was injured and captured before successfully escaping), the Siege of Knoxville, winter patrolling in East Tennessee in 1863-64, the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, the Nashville Campaign, the final campaign in North Carolina, and the return home.

Memoir portions of the volume are supplemented with period and modern photographs, and Queen also includes transcriptions of a pair of newspaper obituaries. From initial impressions, the book looks to be a very useful resource for those seeking firsthand, private soldier accounts of the heartland campaigns referred to above as well as Union mounted operations in the western theater as a whole.

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