Thursday, January 10, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Thursday, January 9, 1862


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 Millersburg, Ohio, exemplified all these reasons. While training with his 67th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment at Camp Chase near Columbus, Ohio, the 32-year-old captain writes excited letters to his beloved wife, Caroline (whom he called “Cary”) and three small children.

“My dear and much beloved Wife! And good children!” he begins his letter today. After telling Cary how much happiness her letters give him, he turns to describing all the wonders and pleasures of army life. He pronounces the officers of his regiment “as good, clever, and gentlemanly [a] set of men as I ever met.” A New Year’s Eve feast “was as pleasant a night as I ever spent in a company of men.” So far as daily rations are concerned, “the boarding could not be any better.”

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.

After telling Cary how much he misses her, he approaches his conclusion:

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: April 12, 2011—less than 3½ years from now!—will be the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, April 12 was the day Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

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