Civil War History 50.2 (2004) 211-212
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Ohioan Alvin Coe Voris, an Oberlin-educated, Whig/Know-Nothing/Republican jurist and legislator, served as the Colonel of the 67th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and was later promoted to brigade and district commands in the war's closing stages. The most intriguing portions of his writings expose his attitudes on a variety of subjects, including the differences between eastern and western troops, internal military politics, camp discipline, the conduct of the war, the utility of African American soldiers, the cruel realities of Southern slave society, the war's destructive nature, and postwar reconstruction.
These letters take readers on a journey with a colorful man through a variety of conflicts with both friends and foe from Virginia to South Carolina. Armed with a pair of six-shooter pistols (which he affectionately dubbed his "twelve apostles"), Voris bravely and sometimes recklessly led his men through Jackson's Valley Campaign, the Union siege of Charleston, the Bermuda Hundred debacle, and the Petersburg and Appomattox campaigns. He was wounded twice in the course of his service, including a serious injury received in the Union assault on Fort Wagner that still pained him years later. Nevertheless, he steadfastly juggled the myriad responsibilities and challenges of a regimental commander's post with fervent enthusiasm. Regardless of his situation or condition, Voris always managed to write witty and engaging letters to his wife Lydia, totaling around four hundred in all. He filled this correspondence with personal accounts and opinions on a variety of topics. Not only did Voris regularly contend with Confederates, but he also had to endure fighting within his own unit, the swamping of his transport in Chesapeake Bay, inhospitable climates, and frequent training accidents and discipline problems.
Jerome Mushkat has culled Voris's manuscripts and reminiscences to provide Civil War historians with unique insight into the mind of a nineteenth-century reformer at war. Mushkat skillfully edited the original manuscripts into a manageable and lively volume that captures the frank and indefatigable demeanor of "Old Promptly," as Voris was known to his men. Voris's commentaries demonstrate how doubts shadowed even the most ardent Union soldier throughout the war, and his frontline observations on the war's progress are startlingly perceptive. His frequent interaction with noted reformers such as temperance and women's rights activist Frances "Fanny" Gage and humanitarian Clara Barton renewed his passion and zeal to restore the Union and rid the nation of slavery for the Union cause during [End Page 211] moments of despair. Voris himself briefly commanded an African American brigade and used his postwar authority as a district commander in Virginia to protect freedmen's rights and improve their condition.
Mushkat arranges the chapters in chronological order and provides brief introductions to each of them. Occasionally he juxtaposes Voris's contemporary descriptions of important events with his postwar recollections of the same moments. Unfortunately, the publisher has awkwardly relegated notes and explanations, especially those clarifying combat actions, to the back of the book. Voris once lamented that the war's history would probably be written in "glowing terms" describing the heroics of men, leaving "no practical lesson to warn those who follow us of the horrors of war. The cruelties, hardships and woes . . . will be entirely forgotten" (101-102). Owing to the publication of the wartime correspondence of Voris and others, perhaps this will not be the case. A Citizen-Soldier's Civil War is a first-rate contribution to the growing number of published Civil War manuscripts.
Derek W. Frisby