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Young, Jesse Bowman.

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.

Researched and authored by John Osborne, Ph. D.

Page created: July 2, 2003                                            close window