The Wounded Knee Massacre of December 29, 1890, known to U.S. military historians as the last battle in "the Indian Wars," was in reality another tragic event in a larger pattern of conquest, destruction, killing, and broken promises that continue to this day.
On a cold winter's morning more than a century ago, the U.S. Seventh Cavalry attacked and killed more than 260 Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota. In the aftermath, the broken, twisted bodies of the Lakota people were soon covered by a blanket of snow, as a blizzard swept through the countryside. A few days later, veteran army surgeon John Vance Lauderdale arrived for duty at the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Shocked by what he encountered, he wrote numerous letters to his closest family members detailing the events, aftermath, and daily life on the Reservation under military occupation. He also treated the wounded, both Cavalry soldiers and Lakota civilians. What distinguishes After Wounded Knee from the large body of literature already available on the massacre is Lauderdale's frank appraisals of military life and a personal observation of the tragedy, untainted by self-serving reminiscence or embellished newspaper and political reports. His sense of frustration and outrage toward the military command, especially concerning the tactics used against the Lakota, is vividly apparent in this intimate view of Lauderdale's life. His correspondence provides new insight into a familiar subject and was written at the height of the cultural struggle between the U.S. and Lakota people. Jerry Green's careful editing of this substantial collection, part of the John Vance Lauderdale Papers in the Western Americana Collection in Yale University's Beinecke Library, clarifies Lauderdale's experiences at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Lucy Pier Stevens, a twenty-one-year-old woman from Ohio, began a visit to her aunt’s family near Bellville, Texas, on Christmas Day, 1859. Little did she know how drastically her life would change on April 4, 1861, when the outbreak of the Civil War made returning home impossible. Stranded in enemy territory for the duration of the war, how would she reconcile her Northern upbringing with the Southern sentiments surrounding her?
Lucy Stevens’s diary—one of few women’s diaries from Civil War–era Texas and the only one written by a Northerner—offers a unique perspective on daily life at the fringes of America’s bloodiest conflict. An articulate, educated, and keen observer, Stevens took note seemingly of everything—the weather, illnesses, food shortages, parties, church attendance, chores, schools, childbirth, death, the family’s slaves, and political and military news. As she confided her private thoughts to her journal, she unwittingly revealed how her love for her Texas family and the Confederate soldier boys she came to care for blurred her loyalties, even as she continued to long for her home in Ohio. Showing how the ties of heritage, kinship, friendship, and community transcended the sharpest division in US history, this rare diary and Vicki Adams Tongate’s insightful historical commentary on it provide a trove of information on women’s history, Texas history, and Civil War history.
A high-spirited idealist who craved excitement when he enlisted in the Eighth Illinois Volunteers for three months and reenlisted for three years, Charles W. Wills of Canton, Illinois, wrote frequently to his sister Mary Emily Wills and kept a diary of General William T. Sherman’s campaigns during the last year of the war. In the beginning of his service, Wills could boast that his company refused to enlist "roughs." He reported that he and his comrades "drink no liquors and keep ourselves as cleanly as possible.... Almost all are reading or writing, and I defy anyone to find 75 men without any restraint, paying more attention to the Sabbath. . . . Health generally excellent in our company, because we are all careful."
A student and store clerk before enlisting, Wills found that army life "beats clerking." He enlisted as a private at the age of twenty-one and by twenty-four was a major. He had thought he might receive an infantry commission eventually, but when the opportunity arose for promotion to first lieutenant in the Seventh Illinois Cavalry, "cupidity and ambition" caused him to abandon the Eighth, enabling him to hold rank "without so much walking." For a while, though, he seriously rued his lack of action. "Haven’t I a brilliant record," he wrote. "Thirty-three months in service and not a battle." As Simon points out, however, "in the year ahead, Wills would have more than his fill of battles." Battle starved once, his enthusiasm for carnage waned as he marched with Sherman to the sea. Yet Major Wills was impressed by his troops’ "endurance, spirit and recklessness."
Wills matured in the army. He joined solely to preserve the Union, and his early comments on slaves "lacked sympathy, even decency," according to Simon. Later he came to the point where he would arm blacks—in part, with an eye toward gaining rank by leading the new regiments. Yet he was not blind to the anomalies of a slave society.
Wills died in 1883. To preserve his memory, his sister (now Mary Kellogg) printed his diary in 1904. Two years later, Kellogg combined the diary with the letters Wills had written to her earlier in the war. Simon renders this assessment: "Wills had a sparkling, witty style that contrasted sharply with that of both his contemporaries in the field and the seven regimental veterans who compiled their diaries. In assembling this book, Mary E. Kellogg wisely allowed her brother to speak for himself; rarely intruding a comment of her own, excising from his letters home inevitable expressions of concern for his sister and her welfare but leaving intact the sparkling flow of camp gossip and military speculation."
William S. Newton (1823–1882) served the Union primarily as an assistant surgeon with the 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, but also spent a few months as acting surgeon with the 2nd Virginia Cavalry (US). Toward the end of the war, he was promoted to surgeon for the 193rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Newton’s units fought in the Appalachian Highlands, mostly in Virginia and West Virginia. He treated wounded soldiers after significant battles including Opequon and Cedar Creek. In May 1864, following the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain, John Hunt Morgan’s Raiders captured Newton and other medical personnel. After three weeks, Newton and his fellow prisoners were given the option of either treating Confederate soldiers or going to Libby Prison; they chose the latter. Newton spent only three days at Libby Prison before being released, but the experience took a significant toll on his health.
The letters in this volume, addressed mostly to Newton’s wife, Frances, provide a window into fighting in the Appalachian borderlands, where the differences between battle, guerilla warfare, and occupation were often blurred. As a noncombatant, the doctor observed life beyond troop movements and the brutality of war. Newton’s detailed letters cover his living quarters, race relations, transportation and communication, the comfort of a good meal, and the antics of his teenage son Ned. This book provides new insights into the medical and social history of the war, the war in Western Virginia, local and regional history, the perspective of a noncombatant, life on the home front, and the porous lines between home and battlefront.
John Hay believed that “real history is told in private letters,” and the more than 220 surviving letters and telegrams from his Civil War days prove that to be true, showing Abraham Lincoln in action: “The Tycoon is in fine whack. I have rarely seen him more serene & busy. He is managing this war, the draft, foreign relations, and planning a reconstruction of the Union, all at once. I never knew with what tyrannous authority he rules the Cabinet, till now. The most important things he decides & there is no cavil.”
Along with Hay’s personal correspondence, Burlingame includes his surviving official letters. Though lacking the “literary brilliance of [Hay’s] personal letters,” Burlingame explains, “they help flesh out the historical record.” Burlingame also includes some of the letters Hay composed for Lincoln’s signature, including the celebrated letter of condolence to the Widow Bixby.
More than an inside glimpse of the Civil War White House, Hay’s surviving correspondence provides a window on the world of nineteenth-century Washington, D.C.
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