Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Footprints Through Dixie- The Review

I must preface this post with a disclaimer:
I am not very adept at presenting my opinions to others which is what a book review really is, so bear with me.

If you read my post of July 25, 2012 you already have my recommendation as to the value of this book to those searching for members of the 104th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. At the time of that post I had barely read one third of it, and could not give much in detail for others to spend the time to read it. Now that I have finished reading it I can honestly say that I highly recommend Footprints Through Dixie to anyone interested in the common soldier. The soldiers lot was pretty much the same on both sides. Neither side had a corner on the market of travail.

What sets this book apart from the pack is the blend of Private J. W. Gaskill's diary and his later reflections many years after the war, told with a natural story tellers ease. One can almost taste the dust of the march, or see two friends buttoning their shelter halves together after a long day, then settling down to argue some point of strategy, dogs, cooking or what have you. Gaskill tells of a pair that would argue to the point of fisticuffs before the sergeant stepped in to soothe tempers. The pair would remain friends but would start another argument about another subject much to the irritation of company B. An additional strong point of the book is the narrowness of focus the author maintains throughout the book and he rarely delves into incidents that do not “fall under his observation”. He devotes his pages to the subject of company B in particular and the 104th OVI generally and thus he is able to weave a highly readable, sometimes amusing, other times heart wrenching tale.

The 104th was another Western regiment that spent considerable time in Kentucky and Tennessee chasing, for the most part, Confederate partisans such as John Morgan or the myriad loose knit bands that were a constant irritant to the Federal armies in the west. Hard duty to be sure for the infantry. In late September 1863 the regiment arrives at Knoxville Tennessee, and stays there through the long winter of '63-'64, enduring siege and bitter winter cold. It is about here in Gaskill's narrative that the tenor changes, imperceptibly at first, from a light, jovial tone to one of deepening despair. I have read many soldier diaries, regimental histories, and letters but never have I noted such a profound change in the authors writing. It is as if the author upon re-reading his diary and expounding upon it he is actually reliving the time. He is not afraid to let some emotion show. His experiences at Franklin and Nashville are the depth of his gloom. One really gets a sense of his anguish in the recounting of these experience. Beyond there and almost as imperceptibly as his descent, his reminiscences begin to brighten again on through to the end of the war. This book truly does allow some insight into at least one soldiers experience.
The Depths of Gloom

One weakness the book has is that some of the battles the 104th was involved in the author does not name. This mostly occurs with battles with Hood when he headed for Tennessee whilst Sherman was marching through Georgia after the fall of Atlanta. This is a minor sticking point since the book is not intended to be history. The author relies mostly on his diary in these areas without much addition either in recollection or use of the current histories of the time.
As I mentioned in the previous post, the book is a treasure for the genealogist. As a bonus Gaskill lists the names of men from the 115th OVI that were on board the transport steamer Sultana when she exploded. They were:
Lieutenant Jacob Shaffer
F.A. Clapsaddle
William Smith
Thomas Rue
Charles Detrick
Adam Hendricks
Alexander Laugheter
Robert Roath
Thomas Spencer
Benjamin Crew

All perished save for Shaffer and Clapsaddle. They were men of company F, of the 115th and from Stark county Ohio, the same county the 104th company B was raised from.
Footprints Through Dixie is one fine piece of work and makes a great bookend for Sam Watkins' Company Aytch.
See? I told you I wasn't very good at book reviews!

The Picket.

Footprints Through Dixie, Gaskill, J.W., 1919 retrieved from http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/007659991
Sultana victims page 179
Battle of Franklin lithograph, Kurz and Allison 1891 retrieved from The Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/pga.01852/

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