Hard Marching Every Day: The Civil War Letters of Private Wilbur Fisk, 1861-1865 / Edition 1

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As a war correspondent, Wilbur Fisk was an amateur, yet his letters to the Montpelier Green Mountain Freeman comprise one of the finest collections of Civil War letters in existence. "Literary gems," historian Herman Hattaway calls them. "It would be believable that some expert novelist had created them."

But Fisk was no novelist. He was a rural school teacher from Vermont, primarily self-educated, who enlisted in the Union Army simply because he believed he would regret it later if he didn't.

Unlike professional war correspondents, Private Fisk had no access to rank or headquarters. Instead, he wrote of life as a private—as one of the foot soldiers who slept in the mud and obeyed orders no matter how incomprehensible. "As for the plans our superiors are laying out for us to execute," he wrote, "we know as little as a horse knows of his driver."

Between December 11, 1861 and July 26, 1865, Fisk wrote nearly 100 letters from the battlefield to the Green Mountain Freeman, all of them signed "Anti-Rebel." At the beginning of the war he was exuberant and eager for contact with the enemy. In his first letter he boasted, "This regiment would relish a fight now extremely well."

Two years later, after the battle of Gettysburg, Fisk was disillusioned and war weary. "The rebel dead and ours lay thickly together, their thirst for blood forever quenched. Their bodies were swollen, black, and hideously unnatural. Their eyes glared from their sockets, their tongues protruded from their mouths, and in almost every case, clots of blood and mangled flesh showed how they had died, and rendered a sight ghastly beyond description. I thought I had become hardened to almost anything, but I cannot say I ever wish to see another sight like that I saw on the battlefield of Gettysburg."

Fisk wrote as eloquently on the moral and political issues behind the war as he did on the everyday hardships of life in the Army of the Potomac. He saw the war as a question of right and wrong—of freedom against slavery and democracy against aristocracy—and he continued to believe that the war had to be fought, even after he was well acquainted with its horror and pointlessness. "When they have done their killing, there remains the question to be settled the same as before. They might as well have settled it before the shooting as afterwards."

In this volume editors Ruth and Emil Rosenblatt have included all of Fisk's existing letters to the Freeman, along with three speeches from the 1890s in which Fisk looks back on his wartime experiences from the vantage point of an older man.

Between December 11, 1861, and July 26, 1865, Private Fisk, a self-educated rural school teacher from Vermont who enlisted in the Union Army simply because he believed he would regret it later if he didn't, wrote nearly 100 letters to the Montpelier Green Mountain Freeman from the battlefield. "One of the richest collections of Civil War letters I have seen."--Reid Mitchell, author of Civil War Soldiers: Their Expectations and Experiences.

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Editorial Reviews

Philadelphia Inquirer
A marvelous account of the Civil War, equal or superior to any produced by the common soldier, North or South.
Civil War History
For sheer description, these letters are unsurpassed.
Washington Post Book World
An unmatched record of the common Union soldier's life.
Blue & Gray Magazine
These letters are remarkably astute, exceedingly detailed, and often brutally honest.
Journal of American History
Of the publishing of Civil War letters and memoirs there is no end, but Private Fisk's Civil War has all the earmarks of a classic.
Atlanta History
One of the richest sources on Civil War soldiering in print. An exciting, readable book.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Fisk was a Vermont schoolteacher when he joined the Union army in 1861. Until his discharge in 1865, he served as correspondent for a local paper. His letters, almost 100 of them, form the text of this book. Above all they assert the nature of war as drudgery and boredom punctuated by moments of excitement and horror. Fisk was no low-echelon hero. Of his regiment, the 2nd Vermont, more than 200 were killed in action. But Fisk's narrative concentrates on the routines of camp and field: the drills and fatigues, the rations (``sometimes this subject becomes one of painful importance''), the weather and above all the ``hard marching every day.'' Battles become almost anticlimactic and certainly not dramatic. ``My legs saved me abundantly,'' Fisk writes of one fire-fight in the wilderness. Little things--the sound of a bullet ``like striking a cabbage leaf with a whip lash''--are more important to this soldier than grand strategy. Yet Fisk fought for a cause. He saw his war as a struggle for the Union, against slavery and autocracy. Fisk, shrewd and humorous, combining idealism and patriotism with a healthy dose of common sense, deserves to stand beside Elisha Hunt Rhodes ( All for the Union ) as an archetypical soldier of the Army of the Potomac. The Rosenblatts, New York booksellers, originally published these letters privately in 1983. History Book Club selection. (May)
Library Journal
Fisk directed his correspondence to a newspaper in his native Vermont, depicting army life from an enlisted man's point of view. He portrays honestly and with a wealth of detail the common soldier's regimen of marching, drilling, fighting, picketing, eating, waiting for pay, and searching for shelter. The letters reveal a man committed to winning the war who nonetheless felt constant doubts about his religion, his officers' leadership, and his fellow soldiers' morals. The best overall picture of Union Army life in epistolary form, this unique volume, quite different from other compendia of Civil War letters, should be purchased by all public and academic libraries with Civil War collections. History Book Club selection.-- W. Walter Wicker, Louisiana Tech Univ., Ruston
Motivated by observations about the imbedding of minimal surfaces by harmonic maps, the author works towards a fundamental problem in harmonic map theory--the classification of such maps. The main objective of these notes is to study the parameter spaces, called moduli spaces, of eigenmaps. Originally published by the editors in a limited edition in 1983 under the title Anti-Rebel, Fisk's nearly 100 letters from the battlefield to the Montpelier Green Mountain freeman comprise one of the finest collections of Civil War letters in existence. Also included are three speeches from the 1890s in which Fisk looks back on his wartime experiences. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700606818
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 10/28/1994
  • Series: Modern War Studies Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.99 (h) x 2.25 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword: Wilbur Fisk, Public and Private, by Reid Mitchell


The Civil War Letters of Wilbur Fisk

Appendix: Three Speeches by Wilbur Fisk



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