In ways hard for us to imagine, many Americans went to war with gusto during the years of conflict between North and South. Later generations of patriots would volunteer to serve their country with courage, determination, and perhaps grim resolve, but the sheer excitement and enthusiasm of the Civil War volunteers was never matched in depth or breadth.
And that tells us something about our ancestors in those times. There was, of course, the idealism that has always been part of the “American idea.” Another characteristic was the innocence and romanticism, the sheer naïveté that many men brought to the war along with their idealism. (Those feelings waxed and waned throughout the war as its hardships and horrors were encountered.) Another reason why American males so enthusiastically greeted the war was the opportunities it presented, not only for excitement, but for glory, success, and social advancement. For some, the war offered a new opportunity for achievement when it had been hard to find in civilian life.
Marcus Spiegel, a Jewish immigrant who had settled in
“My dear and much beloved Wife! And good children!” he begins his letter today. After telling
Spiegel moves on to describe his work in training soldiers:
My company is making very efficient progress in drill; there is no company in the regiment that can beat them. The boys are all right and I am not saying too much when I say they love me, like they would a father.
My prospects are O.K., everything will be all right. I get the best of treatment from colonel down to camp carpenter.
What we can know and Marcus can’t at this point, is that—for all his enthusiasm and skill—war, in time, will exact its terrible price from this man.
ELSEWHERE IN THE WAR: A frustrated President Lincoln tells his general-in-chief, George B. McClellan, that his two top Western commanders—Henry W. Halleck, commander of the Department of the Missouri, and Don Carlos Buell, commander of the Department of the Ohio, have failed to pick a date for forward movement, as Lincoln had requested. Of course, neither had McClellan. Until now the President has been deferring to the judgment of his military men, but he is beginning to realize nothing will happen until he changes from suggester-in-chief to commander-in-chief.
IT’S COMING SOONER THAN YOU THINK:
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