The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers
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 One of the few first-rate small-unit histories of the Civil War, expertly conceived and gracefully written by the president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The rule in modern Civil War studies seems to be that the more ``micro'' the focus, the duller the book. Moe's tale of one of the first volunteer regiments to enlist after the fall of Fort Sumter is a happy exception, a worthy companion to John Pullen's The Twentieth Maine (1980) and Warren Wilkinson's Mother, May You Never See the Sights I Have Seen (1991). Fresh from the farms, small settlements, and logging camps of a western frontier unknown to most of the Army of the Potomac, most of the Minnesotans who responded to the federal government's initial attempt to augment its small regular army had never seen a big city or a black American: The war proved a profound learning experience--and not merely in the school of combat. At first, the Minnesotans were afraid that they would have to sit out the war on Indian patrol, but then--even before they received regular uniforms--they were brought east to add to the Union corpses at First Bull Run. During that disastrous reversal, they stood as long as any federal troops, and their toughness was exhibited again and again on the Peninsula and at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and, finally, Gettysburg (where one of the two brothers Moe follows through the book was killed). In addition to battle history, we learn how enlisted men felt about long months on picket duty; what they ate (when they did eat); and how they related to the civilian population. Moe makes judicious use of the period's ubiquitous diaries and letters, as well as fascinating columns sent home to local newspapers by soldier- correspondents writing under pen names like ``Raisins'' and ``Shingles.'' A seamless narrative of Civil War sights, sounds, and emotions that deserves the warmest reception. (Photographs--not seen)

Pub Date: April 4th, 1993
ISBN: 0-8050-2309-7
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1993


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