THE TRAINING OF AN ARMY: Camp Curtin and the North's Civil War by William J. Miller

THE TRAINING OF AN ARMY: Camp Curtin and the North's Civil War

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Camp Curtin is forgotten today by nearly all except die-hard Civil War buffs. Yet during almost five years of operation, more than 300,000 Union soldiers passed through there, making it the largest of the makeshift camps of rendezvous and training set up near major northern cities. In this well-researched chronicle, Miller examines why the camp became ""the most important military post in what was arguably the state most important to the North's war effort."" Named for Andrew Curtin, the tireless pro-Union governor of Pennsylvania, the post was strategically crucial because of its proximity to Washington and Harper's Ferry. Roughly similar to a boot camp, it had the thankless task of instilling discipline into its idealistic but raw volunteers and draftees. Although Miller follows these soldiers as they entered the war's maelstrom at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and Petersburg, he writes more vividly about their rude introduction to army regimen at the camp itself, particularly in the disorganized early days of the war (""I have not pleasant memories connected with my stay at Camp Curtin,"" one veteran noted later). When they were not being hastily drilled by well-meaning officers who were often as inexperienced as themselves, enlisted men battled homesickness, disease, scorching and freezing temperatures, rancid food, shoddy clothing, and hastily erected shelter. Miller spices his account with myriad small details (e.g., the little-remarked dangers of a first train ride for a farmhand) that compellingly evoke the ennui and exhilaration, the cowardice and courage experienced by soldiers mustered out of this key post. Too specialized for some, but still an excellent local account of the daily life of Billy Yank, and of how an unready North mobilized for victory against all odds.

Pub Date: July 20th, 1990
Publisher: White Mane