Surprises in libraries

There was a talk to be attended in a county branch library new to me today and after the event, I browsed the Civil War book section.

This is always a discouraging prospect and the trash here was heaped deeply on the shelves - I despaired of finding a single useful book when I noticed Richard F. Miller's new Harvard's Civil War mixed in with the dross.

A good sign, one that encouraged me to keep searching. I found a couple of diaries to check out in addition to the Miller book. Gregory Acken, connected with Philadelphia's Civil War Library and Museum, assembled some letters among the holdings in his care into a big tome, Inside the Army of the Potomac, the Civil War Experiences of Capt. Francis Adams Donaldson (of the 118th Penna. USV). McClellan commanding at Gettysburg (again) caught my eye. I also checked out Sears' On Campaign with the Army of the Potoma, the war diaries of LTC Theodore A. Dodge, whom I knew for his Chancellorsville history. Dodge had no McClellan at Gettysburg info.

Dodge and Donaldson were McClellan men through and through. As I started through Donaldson's letters copying out the McClellan material it became overwhelming, there was just so much of it. And it was so emotional.

The general literary and social style of the Civil War involves restraint and distance and understatement and irony. For grown men to wax emotional and poetic about their leader is outside the bounds of accepted personal style. When it happens army-wide, something astonishing is going on. Not astonishing enough to have ever merited a study, however.

Someone needs to collect such primary material - these manliness-be-damned outcries - into a big concentrated sheep dip that we can run historians through before they begin their carping, niggling little AoP annals.

Donaldson: I can say in conclusion that I never saw the army so full of enthusiasm as it now is, everyone anxious to meet the enemy and terminate the war by one grand battle. McClellan seems to have the final termination of the issue well in hand, and when we again meet Gen. Lee's army, they will suffer a defeat that will end their existence. We all feel confident of this, and should I be correct in this forecast of the future, McClellan will be, as he really is today, the greatest military chieftain of the age. (11/5/62)

Dodge: By the way, I may as well tell you how the Army feels about the conduct of this war. Everyone is longing for McClellan [emphasis in original]. "Let us go into action and a few get killed and then the rest retreat." This is just the feeling they have about Burnside, no confidence in his ability at all. But every heart is so turned toward McClellan that his being put in command of the U.S. Army would this moment more than double the force of the troops. They will go anywhere under him, but with reluctance under any other leader; and any day I believe McClellan could lead us up & take those Frederickburg batteries, considered now impregnable.(1/1/63)

And so it goes.