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T. Harry Williams, well-known as the author of several excellent Civil War books, is Professor of History at Louisiana State University. He contributed an article to the first issue of Civil War History which teas later incorporated in his biography of Beauregard. The Reluctant Warrior: The Diary of N. K. Nichols T. HARRY WILLIAMS all the boys who wore the blue and the gray were not dauntless heroes pure of heart who fulfilled the ideal of Wordsworth's happy warrior "that every man in arms should wish to be." The great majority of the soldiers on both sides were ordinary human beings with very human virtues and weaknesses, who were capable—depending on the occasion—of acts of supreme bravery or of unreasoning fear. In their postwar reminiscencing, however, particularly when they had a "civilian" audience, they were likely to remember themselves as approximations of Wordsworth's stainless combatant . Even in the diaries and letters they composed during the war, they did not always, it is to be suspected, reveal frankly what they did or why they did it. Such reticence is not surprising when one remembers that they were writing documents that others for whose opinions they cared—members of their families—would see. Moreover, they were constrained by the restrictions and the romance of the Victorian age. Young men who observed the cultural taboos of their era and who were so influenced by the chivalric concept of war that they could in all seriousness utter such statements as "Tell them I died for my country" were not apt to turn the searchlight on their motives and actions even in their private writings. One of the few exceptions to the rule of restraint, and one of the frankest, is the diary of Norman K. Nichols, which is reproduced below. Private Nichols of the 101st New York Regiment had no desire to be a hero. He simply wanted to stay out of harm's way, get plenty to eat, make some money on the side, and in general to extract as much enjoyment as was possible from the grim business of war. With experience, he developed highly skilled techniques to attain his objectives, all of which he detailed in his 17 Norman K. NichoL· Reluctant Warrior19 diary; "peddling today," "out stealing today" are frequent entries. The result of his unusual candor is one of the most revealing and delightful short documents of the war.1 In fairness to the author, it must be noted that his actions were governedbyhis health as well as byhis philosophy ofwar. He was severely stricken with that chronic military disorder, diarrhea, which he rendered as "diarhera" or "diahora," and because of his malady was discharged from the army in 1863. There must have been many soldiers like Nichols, men who would have subscribed to A. E. Housman's image of the good warrior. Oh stay with company and mirth And daylight and the air; Too full already is the grave Of fellows that were good and brave And died because they were. Norman K. Nichols was twenty-six years of age and a resident of Chittenango in Madison County, New York, when the war started. Along with other youngmen in that central area ofthe state, he enlisted for three years in Company K of the outfit that came to be known as the 101st New York Regiment and that was quartered during the winter of 1861-62 at Camp Monroe near Syracuse. At that time, Colonel Johnson P. Brown, who had raised theregiment, was in charge, and life at the camp seems to have been drab, disorganized, and undisciplined. It was a mark of the prevailing laxness that Nichols could take French leave, as described in early entries, January 11-29, to visit relatives and friends in Madison County without any comment on his absence when he returned. Nor was his behavior unique for this regiment. As many as a hundred effected permanent separation , though they are solemnly recorded in the regimental history as departing to join more fortunate regiments going to the front. Desertions in this camp became so severe that a militia regiment had to be stationed to prevent them.2 In...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 17-39
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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