Not as much has been written about the Civil War in the Western theatre. More has been written about the Eastern theatre since several of the bigger, more famous battles occurred there. This book helps to tilt the scale a bit more to a balance about the history of the Civil War.
Garland Clarke is a microbiologist with interests in historical epidemiology. He served in the U.S. Army as an artillery officer and has an interest in the Civil War and other nineteenth-century wars from an epidemiological point of view. Clarke edited and added notes to the Civil War diaries of Edward Kelley and Edward H. Smith, men from the Mendota, Illinois, area who volunteered to serve in the Union Army. Clarke has not changed the writing style of either. Kelley was not as literate or as refined as Smith was; neither mentions the other in their diaries.
Kelley and Smith write about many mundane things in their lives as soldiers, often simply listing what they did on a given day. At other times they give details about a battle or other events. Clarke clarifies things with notes about what a word means or gives a fuller historical description as to what happened. The two soldiers were involved in some famous and not so famous battles. Some of the famous ones included Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove, Vicksburg, the Red River Campaign, and the Mobile Campaign. They give firsthand accounts of the events of these battles.
Clarke notes that disease killed many of the soldiers and was a major problem in the Civil War. Sanitation methods had not been totally accepted yet and certain medicines were not yet available on a larger scale. Many of the wounded might have survived if health conditions were better. Most people in those days just did not know any better about sanitation.
With Kelley’s writing the reader has to interpret some of the words, but not with Smith’s. Clarke wants to present these diaries as authentically as possible to the reader so that he or she may get a real feeling of what happened. Clarke has some photos and bibliographical references, but there are no maps which might help the reader keep track of where the soldiers were going.
This book is a primary source on the Civil War history especially of the Western theatre and is recommended for any Civil War collection.