Saturday, November 2, 2013

'A neat and readable book'

The latest review of Our War appears in the fall/winter issue of Historical New Hampshire, the magazine of the New Hampshire Historical Society. The review was written by Walter Holden, a World War II veteran and amateur military historian with a deep interest in New Hampshire’s Civil War experience. Here are excerpts from the review::

Despite his captains' doubts about him after Bull Run,
Gilman Marston proved to be an effective Union general.
Our War is chock-full of characters and incidents great and small. Generals and governors are here but as supporting players. Colonel Edward E. Cross of the Fifth New Hampshire is here in battle as well as in an anguished death scene; Colonel Gilman Marston of the Second New Hampshire is here, including the petition for his dismissal signed by his captains after his first battle. Final victory is here, but only after we have seen its fearful price in death and wounds and sorrow back home.

“This is a neat and readable book, a flowing narrative knit together as seamlessly as My Brave Boys, the Civil War book Mike Pride wrote with Mark Travis. . . .

“Like Our Town, the New Hampshire play, Our War features homefolks. The letter Susan Abbott wrote to her dead son’s idol, Carrie Deppen, reads like a scene from Thornton Wilder’s play. . . .

“Pride threads his battle narrative with the war within the war – the active opposition of two sets of Northerners – those appalled by the terrible price in suffering and death and those who opposed abolition and who generally agreed with the Southerners’ feeling of superiority over the slaves. . . . Even the good-hearted people who went south for the express purpose of helping the former slaves often despaired. A woman trying to teach the blacks on the Sea Islands found them ungrateful and unteachable, of ‘the lowest type – the flattest nosed and thickest lipped – accompanied by the numbest s[k]ulls anywhere to be met in America’ . . .

“The book’s power comes from the accumulation of episodes developing the theme that the suffering was general – death and wounds caused suffering at home as well as on the battlefield. . . .

“Pride’s book does so well at drawing readers into the days and events that they will likely seek out further histories on their own.”

I’m grateful to Walter Holden for his review, but readers should know that I have known Walter for a long time. He is a retired textbook editor and educator with an abiding interest in the Civil War, especially New Hampshire’s role in it. Few people know more about this role than Walter. I am sure this is why Historical New Hampshire’s editor chose him to review Our War.

Mark Travis and I met Walter 15 years ago when we were stalled in our research on My Brave Boys. At that time he owned Col. Edward E. Cross’s wartime journal and other papers. He shared these with us along with a copy of his unpublished manuscript on the 5th New Hampshire. He also wrote the foreword for our book once we had pulled it together. Later he donated the Cross papers to the University of New Hampshire and worked with two scholars there to edit and publish them as Stand Firm and Fire Low

Walter was a World War II infantryman in Germany. Six years ago, for a Concord Monitor project, I interviewed him about his experiences. Later, Meg Heckman and I turned this project into the book We Went to War, a collection of oral histories of veterans and civilians of the World War II era.

I share all this in the interest of full disclosure. I did not know Walter had been chosen to review Our War, but I am honored that he did it.

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