Men and Things I Saw in Civil War Days.
New York, Cincinnati: The Methodist Book Concern, 1914.
James Fowler Rusling left his New Jersey
law practice in 1861 to join the Union Army. He rose swiftly to become
the quartermaster of General Daniel Sickles' Third Corps. He then served
in the West and finished the conflict with the brevet rank of Brigadier
General. In 1899, after a long and successful legal practice, he gathered
his reminiscences of the men who had been his leaders and with whom
he had dealt during the Civil War. He had already published some of
these sketches in the Methodist magazine Christian Advocate,
but he brought them together, with others, in his Men and Things
I Saw in Civil War Days. In 1914, on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary
of the end of the conflict, he republished the book with a new appendix.
This 1914 edition is the one reproduced here.
Equipped with his own letters and journals and what he claimed was an
"excellent memory," and aided further by the plethora of memoirs
others had published by then, Rusling compiled his work on the war,
devoting most of his fifteen chapters each to a personality he served
and knew. The exceptions are a general chapter on "Campaigning
and Soldiering" and a critical chapter on the career and character
of General Robert E. Lee. In the latter, he seeks to "balance the
adulation" of a man who, after all, he sees as a traitor who knew
about and allowed the horrors of Andersonville. But he begins with Abraham
Lincoln and draws his portrait largely from being present at the wounded
Sickles' bedside during a visit from the President in July 1863. The
main object of this section is to rescue Lincoln from those biographers
who doubt his Christian faith by revealing Lincoln's assertion to Sickles
that he prayed often for the aid of God in battle. He then moves on
to the man who would be Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson; Rusling
knew him personally when, as military governor of reconquered Tennessee
from March 1862, General Johnson reestablished a loyal civilian government.
Rusling admires the future President for his loyalty and his work in
his home state, but he observes that the man changed for the worse during
his term in the highest office.
Rusling then concentrates on the men under whom he served more directly.
These begin with General George McClellan who he confirms as too hesitant
(Rusling provides documentary evidence for that), General Ambrose Burnside,
who was an "utterly incompetent" commander who Rusling still
cannot forgive for the "slaughterhouse" at Fredericksburg,
and General Joseph Hooker who he considers the "personally most
beloved of all" and who had to command the Army during the tumultuous
and almost mutinous days after the Emancipation Proclamation. His following
chapter on General George Meade gives Rusling the opportunity to defend
General Sickles for his actions on the second day at Gettysburg. He
does credit Meade with beating Lee, but also joins the criticism that
he was wrong not to follow forcefully the beaten Army of Northern Virginia.
After Gettysburg, Rusling's service took him to the Army of the Cumberland
where he served under General George Thomas. His chapter on Thomas includes
an extended and detailed account of the Battle of Nashville. His chapter
on General William T. Sherman, who later became a good friend, is full
of praise, as is that on General Philip Sheridan, who like Rusling began
the war as a quartermaster. Ulysses S. Grant, in nationalistic and "great
man" terms, is seen as a fine Methodist and the greatest general
in all history - far superior to Lee. In his final chapters, Rusling
honors fellow a quartermaster, the unsung General Richard Allen, and
Helen Gilson (later Osgood), the "Angel of the Third Corps"
who served in the Sanitary Commission's hospital during and after the
battles at Fredericksburg and Gettysburg. His final chapter contains
many of his often long and detailed Army letters to family and friends
throughout the war.
The new appendix offers a profusion of reports, official letters, and
orders, along with excerpts from memoirs that support many of his assertions
throughout the book. He includes, for example, support for Lincoln's
faith drawn from observations from contemporaries and elements of Lincoln's
own writings, the latter including the famous Bixby letter written to
a mother who had lost all her sons to the Union cause.
Rusling clearly was an impressive observer. His physical descriptions
of his varied subjects are an especially useful addition to the word
pictures he provides of these remarkable times in American history.
A devout Methodist who writes hymns, he never ceases to identify the
"good Christians" (especially Methodists) among the personalities.
Above all, he remained after fifty years a valuable example of the Civil
War veteran whose life was forever shaped in the fight for the Union.
Rusling's book is thus a useful example of the memories of young survivors
now grown old.