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A Real Civil War Soilder's Life

  • Mar 6, 2009
This is a truly fascinating first hand account of what the Civil War was actually like for the common solider, something you don't fully appreciate from academic accounts of battles and campaigns. It is accounts about soldier's day to day life as they are fleshed out in Haydon's journal that are really illuminating.

For many Civil War soldiers, as for all soldiers, day to day life is tedium and it is the small every day things that make up their daily life. Haydon almost daily notes what the weather is because it was of such great consequence to someone who slept and lived outdoors for the most part. He dwells more on the weather when it is rainy than when it is nice. He also frequently talks about the state of his belly. He often tells us what he ate that day and whether or not the rations are any good. Much of the time he spends complaining about the lack of quality and quantity of the food. He also, at one point, goes into great detail about the massive quantities of coffee he and the other soldiers drink and comments how quickly one gets used to strong, black coffee made with muddy water. He also admonishes the extreme lack of discipline in the men, the many fights, and the massive consumption of alcohol (he drinks in moderation). He laments that he can see many good men as "worthless drunkards" in five years at the rate they are going. He also comments on the stealing, giving some darkly humorous accounts of how the soldiers steal everything not nailed down or guarded. He humorously states that "If the men pursue the enemy as vigorously as they do the whores they will make very efficient soldiers." Sickness of the men is also prevalent, especially diarrhea and fatigue. All this is the life of one solider in the Civil War.

Hayden is also somewhat introspective. He talks of having given up a law career to join the Michigan 2nd and take up arms against the rebels, seeing it as his duty. After being in the rearguard at the first Battle of Bull Run he notes more frequently how he does not expect to live out the war and that his chances of coming out of it alive are less than fifty-fifty. He does not seem terribly troubled by the prospect and notes that he has taken to a soldiers life quite well (unlike some others). He seems somewhat resigned to his fate. Coming into Baltimore where sentiment there was positive sentiment for the rebels, tension was high and he notes that he "rammed his first load ever intended for a human mark" and leaves it at that. After his first "kill" he said he was surprised by how "cool I took it." He even talks about gazing at the stars and the enjoyment he gets out of it on a clear night. He is also fairly good at describing the land he's in. He noted that he was somewhat surprised at how he was able to adapt to living as a soldier with little sleep, sleeping outdoors, in rain, in leaky tents, in the cold and having gotten used to poor food.

Although there is poignant account about feeling otherworldly in the heat of battle and wondering about his own bravery once the shooting starts, he doesn't seem to be afraid of bullets or battle and says his heart pounded more during a Dress Parade in front of the general than when bullets go whizzing by. He also has a good sense of humor that pops up frequently and is surprising given his situation. He must have been fairly well respected because he became a 2nd Lt. in fairly short order.

A very interesting account of a solider's life.
For Cause, Country and Leader

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From Publishers Weekly
This engaging journal covers the brief military career of a member of a Michigan regiment which took part in the battle of Bull Run, the Peninsula campaign, Fredericksburg and Grant's siege of Vicksburg. Between 1861 and 1864, Haydon rose from third sergeant to lieutenant colonel. His journal presents a boldly realistic picture of what it was like to serve in Lincoln's Army, with proper attention paid to the traditional soldiers' vices--drinking, gambling, whoring, brawling, looting--as acted out by his companions in arms, and described vividly by Haydon. A thoughtful, reflective and sharply observant man, he had interesting things to say not only about his comrades and the battles they fought but also about the restorative powers of hot coffee, the morals of Southern women, the price of food and the burden of leadership. Seriously wounded in Mississippi, Haydon was sent on furlough prematurely and died of pneumonia on the way home. The tragedy will sadden readers who have grown fond of this lively, conscientious, brave fellow. As Sears ( Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam ) movingly remarks, "What survived him is the journal of a good solider."
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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ISBN-10: 0395663601
ISBN-13: 978-0395663608
Editor: Stephen W. Sears
Author: Charles B. Hayden,Stephen W. Sears
Genre: American HIsotry, Civil War HIstory
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Date Published: 1993
Format: Hardback, Paperback
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