Time Life Books, Alexandria, Va., 1995. 10 1/4 x 10 1/4, hardcover with dust jacket, 168 pages, illustrated, index. New condition.
This book is by and of the soldiers and civilians who personally experienced the Second Manassas campaign. Through their words and images you can relieve the emotions, the terrifying rush of events, the horrors- and even the human comedy- of one of the Civil War's major engagements. Thus, you hold in your hands an album of personal recollections from letters, diaries, photographs, sketches, and artifacts.
To compile this special volume, we combed hundreds of sources, both published and unpublished. We had invaluable help from an extensive network of consultants. Using our own diverse resources and historical materials in libraries and archives around the United States, we were able to assemble a dramatic narrative told from many perspectives: manuscript letters and journals- some previously unpublished- regimental histories and privately printed memoirs, articles in little known historical society publications, and more. Then we set about the painstaking task of locating photographs of these writers to accompany their personal accounts.
That so many firsthand accounts survived is due to a few accidents of history. Soldiers could mail a letter home for only three cents. And the mail systems set up by the opposing armies were amazingly reliable. Mail packets were even exchanged across enemy lines. A surprising number of recruits could write, and write vividly. Andrew Coats of the 5th New York Infantry recorded, "War has been designated as Hell, and I can assure you that where the Regiment stood that day was the very vortex of Hell. Not only were men wounded, or killed, but they were riddled."
Field sketches abound, too. Before photoengraving was developed to reproduce photographs in newspapers and magazines, periodicals such as Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and Harper's Weekly employed artists who traveled with the Union armies to depict events for readers. These correspondents, or "specials" drew virtually everything of possible interest: pitched battles, lounging soldiers, the odd piece of military equipment. Sketches dashed off in a few moments during a battle- often at great personal peril- were taken by courier to the publication, where they were transformed into woodblock engravings suitable for printing.
Another element that adds to the unique texture of this album is the photographs. Technical innovations during the 1850's brought the fledgling craft into its own, and the Civil War was the first in history to be extensively recorded by the camera. In the blockaded South, photographers lacked supplies and equipment and rarely covered the action. The North's activities, by contrast, are well chronicled, thanks to the efforts of men, who endured great hardship. Travel was tedious, with cumbersome equipment and portable darkrooms mounted on wagon beds. But photographers like Mathew Brady and his assistants spent months following the army, etching with light the brave faces of the soldiers, as well as the bodies stiffened on the field. When Brady's stark photographs of the dead were first exhibited in New York City in 1862, the public thought, albeit briefly, that such horrific images could actually bring the war to an end.
So you hold in your hands living testimony from the battlefield at Manassas. As you look into the eyes of these soldiers and civilians dazed by the violence around them or the grief that follows the fighting, perhaps it will be possible to perceive more clearly the experience that was the shattering experience that was Second Manassas.
Cover Photograph: A Federal train lies burned to the wheels by Confederate forces near Manassas Junction.