From Western Deserts to Carolina Swamps: A Civil War Soldier’s Journals and Letters Home. Edited by John P. Wilson. Photos, maps, notes, bibliography, index, 280 pp., 2012, University of New Mexico, www.unmpress.com, $?? hardcover.
When the Civil War began Lewis Roe was serving in the Western territories in the 7th US Infantry. He eventually found his way to Fort Craig where he offers a great first hand account of the battle of Valverde. After finishing his service out west he enlisted in the 50th Illinois in February 1864 in time to join it for the Atlanta Campaign, Sherman’s March to the Sea and then through the Carolinas.
Editor John Wilson has done a superb job of mixing Roe’s writings with his own and at times adding in Roe’s post war reminisces to the narrative to fill in the gaps between the diaries and letters. Wilson also adds some brief notes at the end of chapters that come from a soldier who would have experienced something similar to Roe, whether that be someone else from the regiment or corps.
The diary entries tend to focus on movements, weather and food, offering a picture of life as a soldier. When there is a battle or something important to report the letters provide a bit more detail than the diary entries do.
There are a ton of books that focus on Sherman’s 1864-5 campaigns, from general histories to soldiers’ reminiscences. Nothing about Roe’s service in those campaigns will be especially shocking or noteworthy. It is an interesting diary just that his experiences do not differ greatly from the other diaries already published that cover this campaign. However one area Roe did see quite unique service was in the Western territories. One of the best parts of the book are the portions dealing with the battle of Valverde partly because of the clarity of the writing but also because this fills an under reported part of the war.
I highly recommend this book because it offers a varied view of the war. There is something in there to interest a Western theater enthusiast as well as a Western territory enthusiast. The Western territory writings are not only interesting, but they also help fill a neglected area of Civil War study.