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For people who don't read "war books" ...
on June 16, 2014
I will confess upfront that I do not read "war books", but like a vineyard book that I read for a book club, I presumed I'd learn something. I was right: I learned that in 1862 the Confederates started the first war draft in the US, with exceptions granted to men owning 20 slaves and to men who could afford to hire substitutes -- often drunken Irish were recruited. The first draft inspired the phrase, "A rich man's war but a poor man's fight." So some things never change. False bravado doesn't seem to change either, evidenced by, "We will die in the last ditch!" I sympathized wholeheartedly with Junius Browne when he said he'd rather run guns in Vicksburg than listen to persistent idiots. Having grown up in the East as a Yankee, we were given the impression that the South were all pro-slavery, but this is not the case. Pro-Slavery was a rich man's concern. The poor were forced to take sides and absorbed great risk to help Yankees get back North. Some men signed up & then went AWOL, some went rogue and helped the underground transit. In general, slave owners were despised as "hateful aristocracy" and 'arrogating themselves to decency, talent and respectability'. I was very disturbed by Richardson's separation from his wife and children and I am glad the book addressed the matter. I was saddened that he made the choice to be a better journalist and good buddy to his friend, rather than a father to his kids and husband to his wife; the untold part of this story is their lives and how they must have suffered as well. This is a very sad part of Richardson's life, although he made the best of it in prison, tending to the sick and dying. Upon return home, Richardson showed remorse and was haunted over his choices which belied his proclamation of his wife being "dearer to me than all the world beside". I appreciated the focused, straight-forward manner of details, feeling as if I too were walking quietly along creeks and rivers, or carefully, single-file in snow, as weather, pain and fear ripped into our well-being and souls. I felt grateful with them when they found respite in only a barn loft with hay, for a small slice of temporary safety. For me this book has the familiar tone of "Call of the Wild" and "White Fang", and although I previously mentioned this is not my preferred genre, I greatly enjoyed the trip.