Bullet and Shell, the Civil War as the Soldier saw it is an inexpensive book at Amazon and a good read. The mild fighting as the Arab regions shake off old dictators gives me a reason to write a book review for it: it’s a lesson on why civil war should be avoided.
The book was written in 1884 by George F. Williams, an author with a very common name and possibly several other books. The book is a fictionalized memoir of the U.S. Civil War, 1861-1865, and follows the experiences of a young college graduate who enlists in the union side.
Since I’m writing this post with friends in mind from far away, I should explain some things. As I write this, the president of the US is Barrack Obama. He’s a member of the Democrat party. The previous president, George W. Bush, is a member of the Republican party. You may have noticed that the election of 2008 which replaced a Republican president with a Democrat president was widely reported, but didn’t result in any major changes in foreign policy. The reason for this stability (which for a world power is definitely a good thing, you don’t want to see the US alternating between Communist and Fascist governments) is that the US system of elections forces the political parties to compete over the center part of the population.
The change of power in the US in 2008 was peaceful, but that’s not how it always has been here. The election of 1860 split the nation into two sides with various names. The “U.S.A”, “North”, “Union”, or “United States of America” under Abraham Lincoln was Republican, while “South”, “Confederacy”, “CSA” or Confederate States of America was Democratic. The South included the slave states and slavery was probably the major issue of the war.
The war lasted 4 years and killed 620,000 people. Whether in terms of human life or destruction of property, it was the most expensive war the US has ever been involved in. The Civil war ended only after the larger and more industrialized North had produced enough munitions to kill or severely wound about half the adult males in the South. At that time the surviving Southerners agreed to rejoin the US.
Williams’ book was written in 1884, about 20 years after the Civil War. By that time, the two sides were on the road to reconciliation. Williams’ book was probably intended to help. It remains a reminder of the horrors of war. As with my other book reports, I’ll type in a few paragraphs to give a flavor of the book.
Late in the afternoon of the first day of July we [Republican soldiers] reached the picturesque town of Hanover. [Pennsylvania, a Republican stronghold] Near the cross-roads were lying the bloated carcasses of half a dozen cavalry horses, evidently slain in a brief skirmish between Pleasonton’s [a Republican general] and Stuart’s [a Democrat general] troops, a few hours before our arrival.
Close to the road, near the scene of the cavalry fight, stood a farmhouse, at the gate of which was an old-fashioned pump and horse-trough. The pump-handle was in constant motion, as the weary, foot-sore soldiers flocked around it to quench their thirst with the delicious water that flowed into the mossy trough.
Coming up and waiting for my turn to drink, I noticed a sunburnt, gray-haired man, leaning over his rude [primitive] gate, watching the troops. He was dressed in a faded, well-worn suit of homespun [home made cloth], having no doubt spent the day in the hayfield; and I could see that he was pleased that his pump was doing such good service.
“Good-evening, sir,” said I to him, removing my cap, and mopping the perspiration from my face. “It’s rather hot weather, this, for marching.”
“I ‘spose [suppose] it ’tis [it is], though I never did any marching,” was his brief response.
As the old farmer uttered the words he moved a little; and my eye was attracted by a new-made grave among a clump of rose-bushes, just inside the fence. Wondering at the sight, I ventured to ask the reason for its being there.
“Whose grave is that?” said I, pointing to the mound of fresh earth.
“A reb’s [Democrat's]” he replied laconically. “One that got killed in the fight the horsemen had here to-day.”
“Indeed! and so you buried him.”
“Yes: buried him myself. They left him lyin’ in the road, out thar, just as he fell. I could do no less, you know.”
“Of course! buy why did you make your rose-garden a graveyard?”
“Wa-al [Well], it was the wimmen [women] that wanted it so. Yer [you] see, stranger,” and the old man’s voice trembled and grew husky, “yer see, I had a boy once. He went out with the Pennsylvany [Pennsylvania] Researves [Reserves], and fou’t [fought] along with McClellan [a Republican general], down thar [there] among those Chicka-oming swamps [In Democrat territory]. And one day a letter come. It was writ [written] by a woman; and she told us as how a battle had bin [been] fou’t near her house, while she and another woman lay hid all day in the cellar. When the battle was o’er [over], them wimmen came out, and found our Johnny thar [there], his hair all bloody and tangled in the grass. So they digged [dug] a grave in the soft earth of their gardin [garden], for the sake of the mother who would never see him agin [again]. So when I saw that poor reb [Democrat] a-layin’ [lying] out thar, all dead and bloody in the dust of the road, I sed [said] I’d bury him. And the gals, they sed, ‘Yes father, bury him among the rose-trees.’ That’s why I did it, stranger.”