Double Duty in the Civil War: The Letters of Sailor and Soldier Edward W. Bacon by George S Burkhardt | Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Double Duty in the Civil War: The Letters of Sailor and Soldier Edward W. Bacon

Double Duty in the Civil War: The Letters of Sailor and Soldier Edward W. Bacon

by George S Burkhardt
     
 

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In 1861 at the age of eighteen, Edward Woolsey Bacon, a Yale student and son of well-known abolitionist minister Leonard Bacon, left his home in New Haven, Connecticut, to fight for the United States. Over the next four years Bacon served in both the Union navy and army, which gave him a sweeping view of the Civil War. His postings included being a captain’s

Overview

In 1861 at the age of eighteen, Edward Woolsey Bacon, a Yale student and son of well-known abolitionist minister Leonard Bacon, left his home in New Haven, Connecticut, to fight for the United States. Over the next four years Bacon served in both the Union navy and army, which gave him a sweeping view of the Civil War. His postings included being a captain’s clerk on the USS Iroquois, a hospital clerk in his hometown, a captain in the 29th Connecticut Infantry (Colored), and a major in the 117th U.S. Colored Infantry, and he described these experiences in vibrant letters to his friends and family. Historian George S. Burkhardt has compiled these letters, as well as Bacon’s diary in the impressive Double Duty in the Civil War: The Letters of Sailor and Soldier Edward W. Bacon.

Bacon tells of hunting Confederate commerce raiders on the high seas, enduring the tedium of blockade duty, and taking part in riverine warfare on the Mississippi. He recalls sweating in South Carolina as an infantry officer during drill and picket duty, suffering constant danger in the battlefield trenches of Virginia, marching victoriously on fallen Richmond, and tolerating the boredom of occupation duty in Texas.

His highly entertaining letters shed new light on naval affairs and reveal a close-knit family life. The narrative of his duty with black troops is especially valuable, since few first-hand accounts from white officers of the U.S. Colored Troops exist. Furthermore, his beliefs about race, slavery, and the Union cause were unconventional for the time and stand in contrast to those held by many of his contemporaries.

            Double Duty in the Civil War is filled with lively descriptions of the men Bacon met and the events he experienced. With Burkhardt’s careful editing and useful annotations, Bacon’s letters and diary excerpts give rare insight into areas of the Civil War that have been neglected because of a lack of available sources. Given the scarcity of eyewitness testimonies to navy life and life in African American regiments, this book is a rarity indeed.

Editorial Reviews

Military History of the West

"Sailors and African American soldiers constituted more than 10 percent of Union forces in the Civil War, yet they have historically been underrepresented in the published primary accounts that have appeared since Appomattox. In Double Duty in the Civil War: The Letters of Sailor and Soldier Edward W. Bacon, editor George S. Burkhardt adds greatly to our understanding of the experiences of these two groups of Union veterans.

Bacon was an eighteen-year-old Yale student and son of an abolitionist Connecticut minister when he volunteered for service in the Union navy in 1861. He spent seventeen months as a captain's clerk on the U.S.S. Iroquois and the U.S.S. Hartford, during which time he participated in chasing the Confederate raider Sumter, ran the batteries at Vicksburg, and fought the C.S.S. Arkansas. In addition to recounting daily life onboard ship, Bacon describes the infrequent but terrifying experience of naval combat: "You see the flash of a gun and in a second hear the shriek of a shell—yet in the intervening period my mind goes thro this—this shell may hit me" (p. 49).

 

In September 1862 Bacon resigned from the navy (his letters provide no insight into his motivations) and enlisted as an army hospital clerk. In January 1864 he was commissioned a captain in the 29th Connecticut Infantry, an African American regiment. He served with the 29th and later the 11th Regiment of the United States Colored Troops through the war and into Reconstruction and experienced battle on land to complement his service at sea. He formed a nuanced opinion of the African American soldiers under his command, summarized by his writing, "I have no doubt that negro troops can be made equal to any. There is no doubt that now they are inferior" (p. 150).

The subtitle of the book is a bit misleading, for there is more here than simply Bacon's letters. Included also are diary entries and official reports written by Bacon, and letters to Bacon from his father. Burkhardt provides important and interesting commentary about the nature of Bacon's service as well as biographical information about Bacon not included in his writings. Burkhardt also provides the context for individual letters or diary entries as needed, although this should have been done in a different font to avoid confusion on the part of the reader. The book concludes with a welcomed epilogue discussing Bacon's post-war life. The inclusion of an index will be greatly appreciated by researchers. It is, of course, in Bacon's rare experi­ence, what Burkhardt accurately describes as his "double duty," where this book's greatest value lies." --PETER C. VERMILYEA, Western Connecticut State University

— Peter C. Vermilyea

From the Publisher

“This book—an adventure story told in the words of a young man who set out on a remarkable journey—sheds light on several important aspects of the Civil War that have not attracted as much attention as they deserve. Bacon’s diary and correspondence offer an important addition to the literature on life in the Civil War.”—James G. Hollandsworth, author of An Absolute Massacre: The New Orleans Race Riot of July 30, 1866

“While numerous eyewitness accounts by Union army and naval personnel have been published, Edward W. Bacon’s letters stand alone in providing insights into the life of a young man who served as both a captain’s clerk in the U.S. Navy and as an officer in two black regiments. George S. Burkhardt deftly employs eyewitness accounts by fellow combatants on both sides of the war to corroborate and enhance Edward Bacon’s keen observations of people and events. Double Duty in the Civil War belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in the military experience of Union soldiers and sailors who fought to preserve the nation.”—Hugh Davis, author of Leonard Bacon: New England Reformer and Antislavery Moderate  

Military History of the West - Peter C. Vermilyea

"Sailors and African American soldiers constituted more than 10 percent of Union forces in the Civil War, yet they have historically been underrepresented in the published primary accounts that have appeared since Appomattox. In Double Duty in the Civil War: The Letters of Sailor and Soldier Edward W. Bacon, editor George S. Burkhardt adds greatly to our understanding of the experiences of these two groups of Union veterans.

Bacon was an eighteen-year-old Yale student and son of an abolitionist Connecticut minister when he volunteered for service in the Union navy in 1861. He spent seventeen months as a captain's clerk on the U.S.S. Iroquois and the U.S.S. Hartford, during which time he participated in chasing the Confederate raider Sumter, ran the batteries at Vicksburg, and fought the C.S.S. Arkansas. In addition to recounting daily life onboard ship, Bacon describes the infrequent but terrifying experience of naval combat: "You see the flash of a gun and in a second hear the shriek of a shell—yet in the intervening period my mind goes thro this—this shell may hit me" (p. 49).

 

In September 1862 Bacon resigned from the navy (his letters provide no insight into his motivations) and enlisted as an army hospital clerk. In January 1864 he was commissioned a captain in the 29th Connecticut Infantry, an African American regiment. He served with the 29th and later the 11th Regiment of the United States Colored Troops through the war and into Reconstruction and experienced battle on land to complement his service at sea. He formed a nuanced opinion of the African American soldiers under his command, summarized by his writing, "I have no doubt that negro troops can be made equal to any. There is no doubt that now they are inferior" (p. 150).

The subtitle of the book is a bit misleading, for there is more here than simply Bacon's letters. Included also are diary entries and official reports written by Bacon, and letters to Bacon from his father. Burkhardt provides important and interesting commentary about the nature of Bacon's service as well as biographical information about Bacon not included in his writings. Burkhardt also provides the context for individual letters or diary entries as needed, although this should have been done in a different font to avoid confusion on the part of the reader. The book concludes with a welcomed epilogue discussing Bacon's post-war life. The inclusion of an index will be greatly appreciated by researchers. It is, of course, in Bacon's rare experi­ence, what Burkhardt accurately describes as his "double duty," where this book's greatest value lies." —PETER C. VERMILYEA, Western Connecticut State University

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780809329106
Publisher:
Southern Illinois University Press
Publication date:
06/10/2009
Edition description:
1st Edition
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

George S. Burkhardt is an independent scholar and writer who lives in Long Beach, California. A former news reporter and writer, he was the editor, publisher, and owner of California’s smallest daily newspaper, the Corning Daily Observer. He is the author of Confederate Rage, Yankee Wrath: No Quarter in the Civil War.

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