Morning to Midnight in the Saddle


A soldier’s annotated letters chronicle life and death in the Civil War’s western theater.

In 1862, Otho McManus was a 24-year-old schoolteacher when he joined the 123rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Orphaned at 16, he was the oldest of five children scattered to foster homes. He married Sallie Rupp, the pastor’s daughter in a small congregation of families that included his foster parents. They all became his extended family. He fought alongside two brothers, a brother-in-law and four cousins, all of whom enlisted the same day. Everyone survived but Otho, killed seven days before Lee’s surrender. This collection of more than 100 previously unpublished letters is notable for its volume and clarity and for the writer’s participation in an innovative wartime strategy. Col. John T. Wilder’s “Lightning Brigade,” which Otho joined in May 1863, used mounted infantry—soldiers riding horses to outmarch opposing infantry but fighting on foot, using newly invented repeating rifles to outshoot their opponents. Otho’s erudition, even temper, and devotion to his wife, 6-year-old daughter and the Union cause shine throughout. His attention to detail yields many delightful surprises and in-depth information about the engagements in which he fought. The editors, all Otho’s descendants, provide crucial context and narrative flow between the letters, leavening the inherent challenges of storytelling through personal correspondence—potentially tedious repetition and oblique references that could leave readers in the dark. Their support is especially needed given the one-sided nature of the letters; no responses to Otho survived. Their text, from broader scene-setting to explaining minute details, is clear and well-paced, and they are in obvious command of the material. They cite 50 books and 13 articles in more than 350 endnotes that further illuminate the story and should not be ignored. Some readers might desire even more background and analysis from these knowledgeable editors, but they keep Otho’s voice squarely in the foreground—an effective choice. Readers grow fond of Otho and his family through letters spanning 30 months. Although the outcome is known in advance, his death, reported to his wife by his brother-in-law/comrade in arms, evokes a powerful, novelistic climax.

A genuine treat for Civil War buffs and a valuable source for scholars.

Pub Date: July 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1469143194

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bernstein and Woodward, the two Washington Post journalists who broke the Big Story, tell how they did it by old fashioned seat-of-the-pants reporting — in other words, lots of intuition and a thick stack of phone numbers. They've saved a few scoops for the occasion, the biggest being the name of their early inside source, the "sacrificial lamb" H**h Sl**n. But Washingtonians who talked will be most surprised by the admission that their rumored contacts in the FBI and elsewhere never existed; many who were telephoned for "confirmation" were revealing more than they realized. The real drama, and there's plenty of it, lies in the private-eye tactics employed by Bernstein and Woodward (they refer to themselves in the third person, strictly on a last name basis). The centerpiece of their own covert operation was an unnamed high government source they call Deep Throat, with whom Woodward arranged secret meetings by positioning the potted palm on his balcony and through codes scribbled in his morning newspaper. Woodward's wee hours meetings with Deep Throat in an underground parking garage are sheer cinema: we can just see Robert Redford (it has to be Robert Redford) watching warily for muggers and stubbing out endless cigarettes while Deep Throat spills the inside dope about the plumbers. Then too, they amass enough seamy detail to fascinate even the most avid Watergate wallower — what a drunken and abusive Mitchell threatened to do to Post publisher Katherine Graham's tit, and more on the Segretti connection — including the activities of a USC campus political group known as the Ratfuckers whose former members served as a recruiting pool for the Nixon White House. As the scandal goes public and out of their hands Bernstein and Woodward seem as stunned as the rest of us at where their search for the "head ratfucker" has led. You have to agree with what their City Editor Barry Sussman realized way back in the beginning — "We've never had a story like this. Just never."

Pub Date: June 18, 1974

ISBN: 0671894412

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1974

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