- On to Atlanta: The Civil War Diaries of John Hill Ferguson, Illinois Tenth Regiment of Volunteers
The diary of John Hill Ferguson helps answer what the great scholars have been trying to understand for more than a century: What was the life of a soldier like in the Union and Confederate armies? In Ferguson's writings, we read about every skirmish, nearly every meal, and some of the most explicit descriptions of a soldier's daily life. There is a larger question, however, surrounding Ferguson's tenure in the army that is not addressed. What was the war like for such a recent immigrant to America? By 1864 Ferguson was comfortable in his new identity as an American, but what was it like becoming an American while in the midst of the Civil War? Because we are not privy to the entries during the first two years of the war, we never understand that part of Ferguson's experiences.
This work also suffers from a simple problem that will make it less effective to non-scholars—the lack of a strong editorial voice. Ellison has decided to leave the readers on their own leaving all explanations to the notes, all inconveniently placed in the back of the book. There are no introductions to place Ferguson's lively words in context with what happened during the war. In the endnotes, inaccuracies in many of Ferguson's conclusions are pointed out. If the reader is unversed in the war they are left with Ferguson's often mistaken conclusions
Ferguson's diaries add a much-needed human touch to the perception of Sherman's Army. For the casual reader, the book proves prove less useful [End Page 226] without first consulting other secondary works. As for Ferguson's entries for 1861, 1862, and 1863 they await a historian to make sense of his experience as the immigrant in another nation's civil war.