In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

BOOK REVIEWS1 85 Fallen Leaves: The Civil War Letters of Major Henry Livermore Abbott. Edited by Robert Garth Scott. (Kent, Ohio, and London: The Kent State University Press, 1991. Pp. xiv, 266. $27.00.) Robert Garth Scott, author of Into the Wilderness with the Army of the Potomac , has edited Major Henry Livermore Abbott's Civil War letters, most of which had been previously unpublished. Abbott, born into the Boston aristocracy in 1842 and graduated from Harvard University in i860, was commissioned second lieutenant in Company I of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteers (the "Harvard Regiment") on July io, 1861 . Through three years of distinguished active service that included participation in the battles of Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and eight other major engagements with the Army of the Potomac, Abbott wrote regularly to his relatives and friends. Although many soldiers restrain themselves when writing home in order to shield loved ones from worry and prevent information from falling into enemy hands, Abbott's letters (particularly those to his father) are notably candid in appraising civilian and military personalities and the conduct of the war. Abbott's remarks about army rations, monotonous camp life, inadequate news from home, and problems of integrating newly recruited replacements into veteran units reflect concerns that American soldiers have expressed in various wars. Veterans of World War II, for example, might compare Abbott's comments about hurried but ostensibly purposeless marching to their own "hurry up and wait" experiences, about unnecessary drills (which Abbott distinguished from necessary training) to the practice of "chicken," and about longing to get into battle to their own desires to "get the show on the road." Such opportunities for comparison make Scott's work useful for a variety of scholars studying the social history of soldiers' experiences in war. Abbott's letters also demonstrate attitudes and experiences peculiar to Civil War combatants. Abbott, included among fifty-seven biographical sketches appended to Gerald F. Linderman's masterful Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War, endures intense fighting and is transformed by the shock of battle that Linderman argues altered soldiers' romantic idealism. Abbott made early references in his letters to the fine comportment of his command in battle, with "no man dodging or kneeling " (127), and to "the pickets [who] are friendly and don't fire on each other" (54); however, his reactions began to change by 1863, when he criticized Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside for neglecting the spade and failing to entrench and fortify the Union positions. Prudence, combined with Abbott's genuine concern for his men's welfare, differentiated taking cover from cowardice . Yet, Abbott apparently reserved different standards for his own conduct and retained his belief that officers needed to lead and inspire their men by conspicuous courage. In fact, Abbott died in the Battle of the Wilderness when, after ordering his men to the ground to save them from a murderous l86CIVIL WAR HISTORY concentration of enemy fire, he continued walking calmly among the troops even as Confederate bullets tore through his uniform. The letters are interesting also for what the reader learns of Abbott's social and political views. He acknowledged customs of social deference, judged other officers at least partly by their ability to act as gentlemen, and looked down upon people he viewed as coming from the lower classes. Abbott, after once noticing a resemblance between a poor man's child and his own younger brother, Grafton, noted that he must have been mistaken and wrote, "Indeed, it would be strange if a man of [that] social condition could have a child that looked like Grafton" (84). Abbott's prejudices extended also to immigrants, blacks, and Republicans. He derided foreign-born troops as "a beastly set of Dutch boors, Macaronis, and Frogratecs" (237), wrote of one fellow officer's "heavy air of German stupidity" (92), and said of another that "[i]f it were not for his Irish characteristics, he would be an uncommonly good officer" (172). Abbott proclaimed himself a copperhead, believed the war's purpose was to preserve the Union, criticized abolitionists and Republican politicians, and said the Emancipation Proclamation was "received with universal disgust" (161) in his regiment. Abbott often praised...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 185-186
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.