“Forgotten Valor” The Memoirs, Journals, & Civil War Letters of Orlando B. Willcox, edited by Robert Garth Scott. The story of how Scott came by the Willcox papers alone is worth the price on this, though I never pay retail. One of those historian’s dreams, similar to that lived by Mark Snell and the Franklin papers, where a family member casually mentions that they have “some” of their ancestor’s papers in the attic/crawlspace/shed, and the researcher is greeted with a literal trunkload of closely packed, unpublished material. I’m reading the book primarily for Willcox’s depiction of life in the antebellum army and for his description of events leading up to and including BR1 (Willcox commanded a brigade in Heintzelman’s division, was wounded and captured in the battle, and spent over 12 months in captivity as part of a contingent retaliation for the anticipated treatment of captured Confederate privateers and guerrillas). This book is loaded with “good stuff”. For one thing, the officers in the pre-war army were very close – on one occasion OBW describes camping in the field in Kansas: I used my canteen as a pillow and [Nathan G.] Evans rested his head upon my body, and what a delicious sleep that roadside nap at midnight! Get your mind out of the gutter, things were different back then. Also, OBW would have had a tough time swinging a dead cat on the field at Bull Run without hitting a classmate or friend – for instance, Evans commanded the brigade stationed on Beauregard’s left at the Stone Bridge, the same small brigade that blunted the advance of the brigade of Ambrose Burnside (OBW’s classmate), which was at the head of the division of David Hunter (whose father-in-law leased his Wolf’s Head tavern in Chicago to OBW’s brother-in-law prior to the Black Hawk War). Threads. Fascinating.
Something about which I don’t know a heck of a lot is the experience of those men held captive for so long at the beginning of the war, during a time when other prisoner exchanges occurred frequently and rather speedily. Part of the time OBW was incarcerated with Col. Michael Corcoran of the 69th NYSM (not to be confused with the 69th NYVI). While his memoirs treat Corcoran neutrally, if not kindly, in a letter to his wife he pulled no punches:
As one instance, Col. Corcoran, whom these people [the Confederates] profess to despise, & who has certainly less claim on their respect than any prisoner here of equal rank, has his letters every week. How omnipotent is humbug! The Irish Lion is as near an ass [as] can be, & yet he not only overshadows us all at home but has more privileges here than anyone….it galls me to the quick to have a low-bred, uneducated, selfish, cunning foreigner toadied by our too generous people on all occasions. When I add to that he came into the war with no love for the country but at the instigation of Bishop Hughes to practice himself & his countrymen in arms for acting in Ireland, you can judge still better of my indignation. Yet his name is mentioned in Congress & every where before mine & every other. Why, my dear, he has not expressed one intelligent idea, even on the subject of the war, in the whole nine months I have been with him.
I’m finding this a good read as well as an essential resource. A keeper.