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1 Long after the last shots of the Civil War were fired,James Wood King looked back on that defining period of his life and described himself as just another one of the countless young farm boys who had gone off to war. His military experiences exemplified those of many Northern soldiers. He enlisted partly out of a simple sense of duty to his country,but he was also driven by the belief that only a strong and whole Union could uplift its citizens’quality of life.Like many of his peers,he took up arms in the firm conviction that he must defend, and thus prove himself worthy of, the free country his ancestors had fought to createintheRevolutionaryWar.Throughouthisthree-yearenlistment,disease, bullets, and shells threatened to exact from James King the ultimate price for his ideals, yet he never wavered. Rather, he strove to match the courage of his comrades—and in one momentous hour eclipsed their valor with his own.But when it all began, the“irrepressible conflict” of slavery was little on his mind. In 1861 it was all about duty and the Union, and he called it“one of the noblest causes that mankind were ever engaged in.”1 Although James King in some ways played the role of the everyman Union soldier, in many other aspects his experiences, his writings, and the story of his life stand out. In 1901 Senator Julius Caesar Burrows would declare him “numberedamongourbestcitizensinMichigan.”WhenJamespassedawaytwo yearslater,acongressmanwoulddeliverhiseulogy,theneighboringcounty’sbar association would motion to attend his funeral en masse, and an ex-comrade would exclaim that no braver man had ever lived. On many different levels, Introduction R 2 · Conspicuous Gallantry the story of how this particular farm boy experienced the Civil War and its aftermath, and how he rose from humble beginnings to prominence in his home state, is a tale worth telling. What,exactly,justifies the publication of JamesW.King’s letters? The Civil War generation was quite literate, and the relative maturation of the postal system by that time allowed for millions of soldiers to write and send many millions of letters home. Enough of this correspondence survives and sees publication that it is difficult to keep up with the pace at which it appears. This letter collection, however, is exceptional. First, there is James’s eloquence; he received a superior education, by nineteenth-century standards, and demonstrated it through a deep affinity for the choicest poetry and prose.This literary prowess infuses his correspondence with his sweetheart, Sarah Jane Babcock (Jenny), with a degree of romance beyond what is commonly seen in CivilWar letters.Additionally,this Michigander’s writings articulately portray the dual life of the soldier—the daily monotonies of military routine, starkly contrasted with the infrequent but nightmarish realities of combat. His pen equally illuminates the manner in which Union soldiers’views on race evolved during the war. Furthermore, James King’s letters offer the reader a glimpse of wartime Michigan, which has received little scrutiny in comparison with the eastern states of the Union, and, more specifically, grants insight into James’s regiment, the hard-fighting 11th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, a unit worthy of more scholarly attention than it has received. Anotherstandoutfeatureof JamesKing’sstoryishisunusuallywell-documented exampleof rank-and-fileheroics,anactthatresultedinaseriouswoundwithlifeJames Wood King. (Author’s collection) Introduction · 3 long personal consequences. But perhaps most important, the appeal of James King’s letters does not stop with his muster out, or even with the end of the war. His postwar correspondence bequeaths to posterity a firsthand account that defies the long-held stereotype of the carpetbaggers—supposedly lowlife Yankees who were presumed to have craved political power and plundered the South of its capital after the war—a stereotype that historians, in recent decades, have only begun to dispel.2 James’s postwar experience then proceeds to illustrate the strugglesof adisabledsoldiertransitioningtopeacetimeandsharesaglimpseinto the American political scene from Reconstruction through the early years of the Gilded Age, when he served as editor of a major Republican newspaper. Where did James King acquire such a superior education? The surviving writings of CivilWar soldiers from Michigan demonstrate that the young state had established a sound system of public education in the antebellum period. Yet there is a singular quality about James’s letters.Whether seated in a Sibley tent or crouched down in a trench,he effortlessly quoted the likes of SirWalter Scott, Lord Byron, and a host of other literary giants, leveraging some of the most expressive words ever penned...


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