The Civil War as seen by the author’s great-grandfather, an Illinois infantryman on the Union side.
Bobrick (Wide as the Waters, 2001, etc.) bases his account largely on 90 letters Benjamin “Webb” Baker (1841–1908) wrote home between August 1861, when he responded to Lincoln’s call for volunteers, and June 1864, when he joined Sherman’s march across Georgia. At the war’s onset, Webb was a 19-year-old farmboy, used to hard work and outdoor living. His company was sent to Missouri, where southern sympathizers threatened Union control of the state. He first saw action in the Union victory at Pea Ridge, the largest battle of the war west of the Mississippi. He was twice wounded. Then, after a period of patrolling the Missouri-Arkansas border, his company crossed the river and served in Kentucky and Mississippi before settling in Tennessee. A long series of aimless marches and idle days in camp nearly drove Baker to distraction, until they went east to fight for Chattanooga in the battles of Chickamauga and Lookout Mountain. He suffered another major wound, and worse yet, the death of his younger brother, who had enlisted several months after he did. Bobrick alternates between descriptions of the conflict as Baker experienced it and as it was fought in the country as a whole. The letters give a detailed view of war as seen by an ordinary soldier; readers can sense how Baker was sobered by battle and by the extensive reading he did while recovering from his wounds. After the war, he earned a doctorate in history and became a teacher and a minister. The last section reprints the original letters, some summarized by the transcriber who prepared a typescript after Baker’s death.
A fitting memorial to the farmboy turned soldier and intellectual: a must for Civil War enthusiasts.