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Your Brother in Arms

A Union Soldier's Odyssey

Robert C. Plumb

Publication Year: 2011


George P. McClelland, a member of the 155th Pennsylvania Infantry in the Civil War, witnessed some of the war’s most pivotal battles during his two and a half years of Union service. Death and destruction surrounded this young soldier, who endured the challenges of front line combat in the conflict Lincoln called “the fiery trial through which we pass.” Throughout his time at war, McClelland wrote to his family, keeping them abreast of his whereabouts and aware of the harrowing experiences he endured in battle. Never before published, McClelland’s letters offer fresh insights into camp life, battlefield conditions, perceptions of key leaders, and the mindset of a young man who faced the prospect of death nearly every day of his service. Through this book, the detailed experiences of one soldier—examined amidst the larger account of the war in the eastern theater—offer a fresh, personal perspective on one of our nation’s most brutal conflicts.


            Your Brother in Arms follows McClelland through his Civil War odyssey, from his enlistment in Pittsburgh in the summer of 1862 and his journey to Washington and march to Antietam, followed by his encounters in a succession of critical battles: Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania Court House, the North Anna River, Petersburg, and Five Forks, Virginia, where he was gravely injured. McClelland’s words, written from the battlefield and the infirmary, convey his connection to his siblings and his longing for home. But even more so, they reflect the social, cultural, and political currents of the war he was fighting. With extensive detail, Robert C. Plumb expounds on McClelland’s words by placing the events described in context and illuminating the collective forces at play in each account, adding a historical outlook to the raw voice of a young soldier.


            Beating the odds of Civil War treatment, McClelland recovered from his injury at Five Forks and was discharged as a brevet-major in 1865—a rank bestowed on leaders who show bravery in the face of enemy fire. He was a common soldier who performed uncommon service, and the forty-two documents he and his family left behind now give readers the opportunity to know the war from his perspective.


            More than a book of battlefield reports, Your Brother in Arms: A Union Soldier’s Odyssey is a volume that explores the wartime experience through a soldier’s eyes, making it an engaging and valuable read for those interested in American history, the Civil War, and military history.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

In late May 1865, soldiers of the Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac were encamped on Arlington Heights outside the nation’s capital in anticipation of being mustered out of army service. The war was over, victory won, and at twilight one breezeless evening, the men began an impromptu candlelight march...


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pp. xiii-xxiv

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Chapter One: The Volunteer—National War Climate, Recruitment, and War Preparations, August–September 1862

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pp. 1-16

The election of 1860—when Abraham Lincoln, under the Republican Party banner, carried every free state except New Jersey—was the spark that set off the tinderbox of secession. During the preceding campaign, Southern leaders had threatened secession if the Republicans won the election. Such threats had been raised in the South since 1850, but none was taken seriously...

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Chapter Two: Into the Fray—Antietam, Sharpsburg Area, September–October 1862

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pp. 17-35

The opening days of September 1862 were times of rampant uncertainty in the Northern states and bickering in the high command of the Union army. The Army of the Potomac was removed from George McClellan’s command in late August by general in chief Henry Halleck because of McClellan’s lack of cooperation—some said insubordination—in not supporting General...

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Chapter Three: On the March—Maryland, Harper’s Ferry, and Virginia, November–December 1862

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pp. 36-49

Union euphoria in the aftermath of the battle of Antietam was brief, but two watershed events resulted. European leadership—especially that of the British—cooled to the idea of recognizing the Rebel government in Richmond. Attempts by Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, William Gladstone, and the foreign minister, Lord John Russell, to gain cabinet support for recognizing...

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Chapter Four: “Carnage and Destruction”—Fredericksburg, December 1862

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pp. 50-64

Frustrated with General George McClellan’s inability to take the initiative and with his manifest arrogance (to the point of disrespecting his superiors), Lincoln, Stanton, and Halleck sacked the “Young Napoleon” and replaced him with the affable and obedient Ambrose Burnside. Even discounting the usual professional jealousy among senior military men, the generals in the Army of...

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Chapter Five: Mud, Morale, and Monotony, January–April 1863

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pp. 65-78

Eager for vengeance after the disaster at Fredericksburg, Burnside began exploring ways to recross the Rappahannock and launch a major assault against Lee’s army. He was motivated by three factors: he believed that after December 26, 1862, the Army of the Potomac had been sufficiently resupplied and had recovered...

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Chapter Six: “This Coveted Ground”—Chancellorsville, April–June 1863

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pp. 79-94

In April 1863, General Hooker’s elements for a successful offensive campaign began to gel: the weather had improved, making it possible to move troops, artillery, and wagons over the unpredictable Virginia roads; the morale and state of readiness of the Army of the Potomac were high; and Hooker’s...

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Chapter Seven: Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee, June–July 1863

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pp. 95-118

Robert E. Lee gained considerable credibility and stature after Fredericksburg, and this admiration was burnished by his performance at Chancellorsville. Despite Lee’s significant loss of men (including the redoubtable Jackson), he was credited with a victory at Chancellorsville by Confederate Secretary of...

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Chapter Eight: “Pack Up and March,” August–October 1863

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pp. 119-131

George Meade was steaming over his treatment by Washington leadership after Gettysburg. It was clear to Meade, after less than a month in command, that the Army of the Potomac was being directed from Washington with only minor input from the field generals. Meade doubted privately—in letters to...


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pp. 132-144

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Chapter Nine: “Shooing Geese across a Creek” and Decision at Mine Run, October–December 1863

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pp. 145-161

Much like a large dog confronting a wily, agile fox, George Meade’s Army of the Potomac was superior in size (90,000 troops versus the Army of Northern Virginia’s 60,000), but Meade knew the “fox” was capable of quick attacks and could use its acknowledged boldness to circumvent his army and trap...

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Chapter Ten: Winter Encampment, January–April 1864

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pp. 162-178

The fires of the Army of the Potomac had essentially been banked by January 1864 as most of the troops focused on constructing snug log huts that would afford some refuge from the Virginia winter. Culpeper County north of the Rapidan River, where winter quarters were established, became a military city with officers’ residences at the head of streets followed by enlisted

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Chapter Eleven: The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and North Anna River—The Overland Campaign and Hospital Recovery, April–July 1864

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pp. 179-202

Ulysses Grant chose to establish his headquarters at Culpeper, Virginia, for a variety of strategic and practical reasons. Culpeper’s proximity to Washington made a quick trip by train to the Federal capital convenient. Grant also could increase his understanding of the Army of the Potomac while he kept an eye on its commander, George Meade. Grant concluded that his...

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Chapter Twelve: “Hold on with a Bull Dog Grip”—Petersburg, July–September 1864

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pp. 203-223

The Overland campaign, fought from early May to early June at four contiguous locations—the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, the North Anna River, and Cold Harbor—had cost the Army of the Potomac 54,000 casualties (compared to the Army of Northern Virginia’s 32,000) and resulted...

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Chapter Thirteen: “Strong Men Strengthened and the Weak Made Strong”—Petersburg and the Weldon Railroad Raid, October–December 1864

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pp. 224-238

Like beads on a necklace, Union forts hung around the neck of Petersburg linked by breastworks to form a siege line that was a feat of engineering skill and a testimony to the excavating endurance of the Federal soldiers. Using a variety of tools, from picks and shovels to mess plates and cups, the...

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Chapter Fourteen: “He Knows Not What a Day or Hour May Bring Forth”—Dabney’s Mills and Second Hatcher’s Run, January–March 1865

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pp. 239-253

As both sides settled into winter encampment at the close of 1864 and the beginning of 1865, the Confederates were at a decided disadvantage: their food and supplies had been severely reduced by Union successes in seizing and controlling Rebel rail lines and roads; Union forces outnumbered their...

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Chapter Fifteen: “The Beautiful Captain”—Five Forks, March–April 1865

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pp. 254-266

As March drew to a close and weather appeared conducive to a major offensive using the combined forces of Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah and Meade’s Army of the Potomac, Grant was guided by three interrelated objectives: (1) to force Lee to stretch his siege line even further by threatening the...

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Chapter Sixteen: “What Will Become of All These Men?” : mThe Postwar Years, 1865-1898

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pp. 267-278

The taste of victory after Appomattox was sweet for the Army of the Potomac, but the troops’ daily routine changed little. They were doing camp chores and guarding stores until a demobilization plan could be developed by Union leadership. The army marched through Petersburg where the Fifth Corps made a small detour to pass in review for General Warren, ...


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pp. 279-282


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pp. 283-286


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pp. 287-310

Back Cover

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p. 336-336

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272508
E-ISBN-10: 0826272509
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219206
Print-ISBN-10: 0826219209

Page Count: 338
Illustrations: 20 illus, 4 maps
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1