Monday, August 21, 2023

Booknotes: The Bone Ring

New Arrival:

The Bone Ring: Civil War Journals of Colonel William James Leonard by Gari Carter (Donella Press, 2023).

This book's title refers to one example among many types of war art produced by soldiers throughout the history of warfare, particularly by those with a lot of free time on their hands but little in the way of traditional art-making supplies. Common examples include the celebrated trench art of WW1 and the artistic renderings of American Civil War POWs, this remembrance ring, of course, being among the latter. From the description: "When Colonel William Leonard died in 1901, among his effects was found a lovely jewelry box containing a simple ring carved of cow bone and engraved with his birthdate and the year of his imprisonment in Libby Prison. This humble memento, so carefully preserved, was made for him by his men to mark his 46th birthday when they were all prisoners of war in the notorious Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia."

Preserved along with that cherished ring was Leonard's wartime journal, "which begins when he was colonel in Purnell's Legion Infantry, which was charged with protecting telegraph and rail lines in Maryland and Virginia, and ends after he was paroled from Libby Prison and returned to Maryland." Now his great-granddaughter, Gari Carter, "presents Col. Leonard's journal, richly annotated and supplemented with family lore and local history."

The resulting publication, The Bone Ring: Civil War Journals of Colonel William James Leonard, supplements the journal with an introduction (which includes a summary of Leonard's pre-Civil War life as well as a capsule history of the Purnell Legion), an epilogue describing the Colonel's service after his release from Libby Prison as well as his postwar life, and some Leonard family genealogy. The text is also extensively footnoted by Carter.

Leonard and his men participated in the Eastern Shore expedition of 1861, and his command also served in Baltimore, the Lower Shenandoah Valley, and northern Virginia. Essentially a record of Leonard's POW experience, the journals (dated August 20, 1862 through September 28, 1862) transcribed in the book "begin when he was serving on guard duty for the Orange & Alexandria rail lines from Catlett's Station to Culpeper Court House, Virginia" (pg. 10), mere days before he was captured and sent to Richmond. They end with his return to Union lines upon release from Libby Prison.

With so many individual Civil War stories lost to history, Leonard is fortunate in having a caring, and capable, custodian of his memory in descendant Gari Carter, who has also published the Civil War journals of another ancestor (see her 2008 book Troubled State: Civil War Journals of Franklin Archibald Dick.

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