- Diary of a Christian Soldier: Rufus Kinsley and the Civil War
David C. Rankin's Diary of a Christian Soldier: Rufus Kinsley and the Civil War is a welcome burst of fresh air among the many edited and annotated diaries. Diary of a Christian Soldier is remarkable for several reasons.Kinsley served along the Gulf Coast, mainly in Mississippi and Louisiana, and edited papers from this theater are few and far between.Also, Kinsley viewed slavery as a mortal sin and took seriously the injunction that all men were created equal in the sight of God.When nominated for a commission as an officer of United States Colored Troops, Kinsley accepted and proudly served in that capacity throughout the remainder of the war.
In the first part of Diary of a Christian Soldier, Rankin examines Kinsley's life with a biographical portrait.He shows how annotated letters and diaries can be placed within the perspective of the time and culture of the subject.Kinsley grew up in rural Vermont, and, unlike many abolitionists, in a poor family.Evangelical Protestantism took firm root in the Kinsley household and left an indelible impression on young Rufus.Kinsley moved to Boston, where he embraced both temperance and abolitionism.After the start of the Civil War, Kinsley's beliefs led him to enlist in the Eighth Vermont Volunteers.
Kinsley's outspoken zeal and determination to destroy slavery separated him from the majority of his fellow Union recruits.James McPherson's For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (1997) discusses soldiers' motivation to fight.The desire to destroy slavery and ensure racial equality was not a common motivation.Kinsley's ideas on race were incredibly radical for the times.Kinsley believed he gave great service to the Union cause because he opened up schools for freedmen.He wrote: "In the education of the black is centered my hope for the redemption of the race and the salvation of my country"(47, 109).When offered a commission as a second lieutenant in the Second Infantry Regiment, Louisiana Corps D'Afrique in October 1863, he accepted.
Kinsley viewed his position as an opportunity to prove that black soldiers [End Page 107] were just as good as white soldiers.Joseph Glatthaar's Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers (1990) argues that certain patterns emerged among the officers in the United States Colored Troops (USCT) units.They were usually abolitionist and rarely were swayed by peer pressure.Kinsley's experience seems to bolster these main points in that he clearly was a motivated abolitionist and cared little about the sentiments of white soldiers.Kinsley genuinely cared about the blacks under his command and he did not accept the commission merely as a means of gaining promotion.
Kinsley's discussion of the war in Louisiana is fascinating; at times, it is also disturbing.Unlike many Federal soldiers in the South who were dismayed to see widespread devastation, Kinsley reveled in it.He believed the Confederacy reaped the just rewards it had sown by its advocacy of a barbaric and immoral labor system.Other than abused runaway slaves and starving animals, nothing much excites Kinsley's pity.
Rankin discusses Kinsley's postwar fight for a pension when, after the war, Kinsley contracted a debilitating disease. Rankin's educated guess indicates fibromyalgia.Unable to support and feed his growing family of seven children, his struggle is even more poignant.With the help of family and friends, Kinsley, after seven years, won the bulk of his pension claims.The pension fight cemented Kinsley's view that the Civil War was the greatest adventure in his life and, as he aged, he looked back fondly to that seminal event.
Extensively researched and exhaustively annotated, Diary of a Christian Soldier will appeal to a wide spectrum of historians, especially African American, Louisiana, and military historians.This is a valuable contribution to Civil War studies.