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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

You wouldn’t think that a book that deals with so much marching would be so interesting. Yet, “A Rough Introduction to This Sunny Land: The Civil War Diary of Private Henry A. Strong, Co. K, Twelfth Kansas Infantry” finds itself dealing with a lot of marching and yes, is quite interesting.

The editor, Mr. Tom Wing introduces us to Private Strong and the territory he was about to embark on. He takes a bit of time explaining what Strong is about to go through and some of the highlights from an Army level. He also points out that the areas that the 12th would visit during his enlistment - Kansas, Missouri, the Indian Territory and Arkansas have been mainly overlooked by historians who seem more intent on covering the war in the Eastern Theatre.

I have to admit, I am one of those who have concentrated solely on Army of the Potomac, mainly because of the unit that I research and was unsure how much I would be able to follow. Thankfully, Mr. Wing does a great job with the use of footnotes to explain who the soldiers Private Strong was with, areas that he would travel through and some of the battles he would witness.

As the diary starts off, Private Strong is in a bit of euphoria of just joining the army. The citizens love him, food is still good and there is not much for him to do, at one time even stating, “We thought soldiering a fine thing. Would have enlisted for a lifetime, I presume, had any one proposed it.” As the diary progresses we see things start to change, especially when the 12th ends up in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Here he goes from boredom to work to boredom again. It isn’t until later when the unit goes off to hunt the Rebels that the reality of his situation sets in.

At first as Strong states the daily miles marched, it does not seem of much consequence but then you start to feel the emotions building as they close in on the Rebels and their march afterwards keep those same emotions high. Later as the war goes on and the Union is not doing as well as before, you start to see the despair seep into his writing. As the unit and the citizens of Fort Smith prepare the area for an attack, they have to stop as rations are not enough to keep them going. Yet Strong continues to write and tell of how things in and around the 12th are going.

Camp life is written in detail and you can feel the boredom and excitement that Strong goes through during the years. Letters and books are highlights for him throughout his enlistment and meeting the average citizen seems to make his day several times. Twice he mentions going to a Catholic Church at the Fort and commenting on the way Mass is said, almost making it seem like he could find nothing else to do and this would take his mind off of things for a bit. But it is not just those in town he discusses but also the citizens they meet as they march, both alive and dead. Without knowing, Strong is able to show the side effects of the war and how devastating it had become to the civilians.

The diary shows some important events during the war, the Camden Expedition, the Battles of Poison Spring and Jenkins Ferry, the first use of African Americans in battle for the Union, as well as seeing the only American Indian General in action, as Confederate General Stand Watie captured the steamer J.R. Williams, which Private Strong was traveling on. Even though we can look back and see the importance, Strong does not see it at the time and comments on them just like he does everything else, that it happened and he saw it.

As good as the Introduction and Footnotes were in this book; one wishes that they were a bit more in depth at times. The book seems to depend on the reader’s knowledge of the battles and political circumstances in the area, even though both the editor and Edwin C. Beers, who wrote the forward, lament on the lack of said knowledge in the beginning of the book. Even without this, you can still feel Strong’s emotions throughout the diary, which almost make up for anyone’s lack of knowledge.

Overall “A Rough Introduction to This Sunny Land: The Civil War Diary of Private Henry A. Strong, Co. K, Twelfth Kansas Infantry” provides a great little read and look into one soldier’s life in a way not normally seen in the Western Theatrw, happy that Private Strong took the time to document his life for the 3 years he was with the 12th.

“A Rough Introduction to This Sunny Land: The Civil War Diary of Private Henry A. Strong, Co. K, Twelfth Kansas Infantry” is available from the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies and can be p


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