Here in the Pacific Northwest, we haven't paid as much attention to the sesquicentennial of the Civil War as have the states where blood was shed and lives were lost. But while we may be across the continent and several generations removed from those storied events of 150 years ago, the actions and sacrifices of our ancestors led to the ultimate outcome of the Civil War and had an everlasting impact on how we live today.
To honor their sacrifice, one local military historian aims to reacquaint us with the everyday experiences of soldiers who fought on either side of the war.
Alan H. Archambault was a military-museum curator at Fort Lewis and later a supervisory museum curator for army museums in Washington, D.C., before coming back to this Washington to retire in Lakewood. Now he has produced two sketchbooks that tell the story of the Civil War from the perspective of the common soldier.
"The Union Infantryman Sketchbook" and "The Confederate Infantryman Sketchbook" each provide scores of Archambault's black and white illustrations showing different aspects of 19th century army life.
These books are organized in almost identical fashion, and some of the pages have similar content. I was struck by the very different tone in each of the introductions, however. The opening to "The Union Infantryman Sketchbook" asserts that early enthusiasm for the war gradually waned, and northern soldiers "had to settle for their beliefs in the importance of maintaining a strong union of states and, for some, the abolition of slavery."
Compare that with the introduction to the Confederate-counterpart sketchbook, which notes that, "In spite of the violent and tragic end of the Southern Confederacy, the powerful and enduring legacy of the Rebel soldier is that of bravery, loyalty and devotion to cause."
Each book provides a gold mine of information for re-enactors - from packing a haversack, to loading a rifle musket, to building makeshift fortifications on the battlefield.
Informative captions accompany each illustration, but the emphasis is on visual elements. While Archambault's depiction of facial features is limited (all the ears and noses look the same), he does a much better job with the details in weaponry, uniforms, and military accoutrements, including caps, shoes, symbols of command, insignias, corps badges, and even belt buckles.
Archambault also mentions some of the notable fighting factions on either side of the war, including the Sons of Erin, the Zouaves, black infantrymen, women soldiers and drummer boys.
And he discusses what life was like away from the battlefield - the soldiers' living conditions, their health and hygiene, and their pastimes when the army was at rest.
Finally, each sketchbook wraps up with a few pages devoted to the Civil War's conclusion, aftermath and legacy. Up to this point, the author has done a good job of sharing some of the human-scaled nuances of war. But in these final pages, his failure to acknowledge that an enormous part of the Civil War's legacy was the abolition of slavery - is utterly astonishing.
FIND THE BOOKS
"The Union Infantryman," by Alan H. Archambault
"The Confederate Infantryman," by Alan H. Archambault
Barbara Lloyd McMichael writes a weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org