What a Boy Saw in the Army; a Story
of Sight-seeing and Adventure in the War for the Union.
New York: Hunt & Eaton, c1894.
In 1894, at the age of fifty, Jesse Bowman Young published
his personal Civil War memories in a thinly disguised story he titled
What a Boy Saw in the Army. He appears throughout as "the
boy," and his companions in arms and the posts in which he served,
as well as the field officers he served under, mirror exactly the teenaged
Young's experiences. He was favored with the patronage of his uncle,
Major (later Colonel) Samuel Millard Bowman, who took him on first as
a servant with the 4th Illinois Cavalry, then secured him a commission
in the 84th Pennsylvania, and later assigned the young officer as his
aide when he assumed field command and staff duties. (Samuel Bowman
co-authored a book on Sherman's campaigns.) From 1861 to 1863, Young
was involved in many of the most important engagements of the war, from
Fort Donelson and Shiloh in the west, to Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville
in Virginia. He served on the staff of General Daniel E. Sickles during
the Gettysburg Campaign, and years later he wrote a best-selling account
of the battle. He ended his participation in the war as a twenty-year
old captain on the general staff in Washington, D.C.
Young's approach in this book is light and personal. His touch is often
engaging, as when he describes the retreat at Shiloh in a chapter called
"The Boy Learns What His Feet Were Made For." He does not,
though, restrain himself from vivid and bloody descriptions of the folly,
cowardice, and confusion that accompany courage and sacrifice in battle.
His method enables him to see and relate all these events through the
eyes of a naïve and not particularly robust young man, prone to
his own weakness and error. What the boy does not himself see, he "hears"
from his friends on other parts of the battlefield and so provides an
interesting view of the war's progress. He is particularly effective
in conveying the boredom, the drudgery, and the hardships of the life
of the Civil War soldier. From the cold and tedium of winter camp at
Stoneman's Switch, Virginia, to the futility of Burnside's "Mud
March," and then the hard slog of the forced marches to counter
Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania, the lot of the common soldier is shown
in detail. Young is also able to weave in the popular feeling among
the men concerning their leaders, their "immunity" to the
preachers passing through their bivouacs, the courage of the Christian
Commission's service among the wounded, and the dismay across his regiment
when the Emancipation Proclamation made their fight an explicit conflict
against slavery. A striking addition to the narrative are the numerous
illustrations, many of them drawn especially to highlight the "boy's"
story. The artist was Frank Beard, the widely known illustrator for
religious and social causes who for years was the principal cartoonist
for the Ram's Horn, a famous Chicago social gospel magazine.
Young's memoirs here, taken together with his comprehensive treatment
of the Battle of Gettysburg in another volume, provide a useful set
of perspectives on the Civil War at a time when many of its younger
veterans, now in middle age, were beginning to publish their experiences.
Young, by this time, was a well-respected and well-known clergyman and
editor in the Methodist Episcopal Church with thirty years of service
behind him. As with many of his comrades and his surviving contemporaries,
the eventful years of the great civil struggle never ceased to influence
his life and his activities. He gave a spirited lecture on the great
battle of that war - "Echoes From Round Top" - many times,
right up to the year of his death.