Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers by Richard Moe

A good regimental history of this most pivotal of regiments at the Battle of Gettysburg. Pulling heavily from the diaries and correspondence of actual soldiers, it gives a true and honest account of the things that fill a soldier’s attention during war. Two brothers, Henry and Isaac Taylor, figure prominently, and the eyewitness account of Henry finding his brother’s dead body on the field at Gettysburg is quite moving. Henry comes across as a real person, not a historical figure, and knowing that the words you read are the one he wrote in his private diary, now in someone’s private collection, make him even more so. This passage, in which he offers soldierly advice, really struck me.

Carry as light a load as possible, but be sure to have at least one blanket, one towel, one shirt, two pairs of socks, needle and thread and writing material in your knapsack. One or two small books will not come amiss. More fear is felt going into action than after you get in. Artillery is more frightful than destructive except at short range, where grape and canister is thrown. Infantry are apt to fire too high. Cavalry can do nothing with Infantry, if they stand firm. Infantry seldom cross bayonets—one side or the other will give way in case of a charge before the parties meet. Always have water in your canteen when you go into action. Wounded men must have water. Use cold water in dressing a fresh wound. Treat prisoners of war kindly. Pickets should not fire on one another. Always be ready for battle when you are near the enemy. Letters from friends are a great source of enjoyment to the soldier. It pays to fix up a comfortable bed or shanty for a few days. As a general thing, soldiers are very profane—the influence of women is taken away to a great extent. War should never be resorted to, but as a last extremity. It costs but little to keep a brief diary.

Writing that now makes me think if Henry Taylor ever thought his words would be read and copied down while he was writing them.

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