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FOR OUR BELOVED COUNTRY: THE DIARY OF A BUGLER / George Sargent Introduction The Civil War began in a flurry of patriotism and powerful sentiments on both sides. Reporters in both Massachusetts and South Carolina were astonished at the level of emotion expressed in crowds. Young men rushed to sign up for the adventure of war. Among them was an eighteen-yearold from Charlestown, Massachusetts, named George Sargent. Rejected by a doctor for service in a Massachusetts regiment, apparently because he was too skinny, he went elsewhere and eventually signed up to be a bugler with the First New England Cavalry. Sargent would then serve two years, reenlist as a veteran, and stay through the end of the war. During his training period, he began to take diary notes, continued to do so throughout the war, and sometime afterwards—there is no clear indication when—he recopied his diary into a single book, adding further details and anecdotes. Both the beginning and end of the final copy, and various passages throughout, include comments that were certainly added at this later time, yet the bulk of the document was composed in the field. The result was a diary-based reminiscence covering a remarkable span of events, picturing a branch of Civil War service that may never before have been this closely detailed—the life of a field musician in the cavalry. Sargent's regiments (he was later switched to a New Hampshire unit) served in the area west of Washington, near Bull Run and throughout the Shenandoah Valley. They slogged along month after month, decimated by illness and casualties, afflicted by what at first was a better-led, superior army. Sargent was assigned to the cavalry band, which he appreciated because as a musician he was a little less likely to be killed in battle. In an age before ratio, the band provided entertainment in the camps, music for marching, and even occasionally music in battle; band members also worked in field hospitals, carried food to men in trenches, and helped around headquarters. Because they spent so much time in Virginia, they played music for "secesh" as well as their own side, often as a mild kind of psychological warfare—marching through little Virginia towns playing "Yankee Doodle" or the "Star Spangled Banner." Yet "Dixie" was also in their repertoire, and at times they played it and other Southern songs for everyone's enjoyment. Sargent was present at the battles of Fredericksburg, the second Bull Run, Petersburg, and several others, as well as the dramatic treeing of Lee's army in 1865, by which time he had been reassigned to the job The Missouri Review · 35 of bugler serving within the Provost Guard of General Philip Sheridan's Cavalry Corps. In the beginning, the diary depicts an army that seemed unsure of itself. A politically divided command structure, lack of regular supplies in the field, friction between officers and "laborers" (as Sargent called enlisted men), and uncertain movements in battle—such problems partly reflected the period of befuddlement in Washington, when Lincoln was unable to find effective leadership for the Eastern theatre. Equally, thought, they resulted from the fact that the military planners of both the North and the South had to do what never had been done in terms of numbers of men, rapidity of movements, supplies, zone of conflict, and communications. The Crimean War provided the only case of anything like contemporary warfare, and its lessons were sketchy and insufficient in an era of telegraphy and advanced rail transport. Much of the time, Sargent's unit was engaged in undramatic work, sweeping back and forth in the area west of Washington, engaging in feints, scrapes with guerrillas, and small dogfights; sometimes they headed through one of the gaps into the Shenandoah Valley. In their first battle, they had the bad luck to encounter Stonewall Jackson, who was at the moment making a place for himself in military history in his remarkable Shenandoah Valley campaign of 1862. The second noteworthy period of Sargenfs cavalry service was again in the Shenandoah Valley, when he served in General Philip Sheridan's Valley expedition of 1864. This campaign was in some ways opposite Stonewall...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 35-142
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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