Monday, April 28, 2008

Melancholy Perspective

I was going through some old letters from my grandfather’s family. For some reason this one always draws me. I reproduced the content here, complete with spelling and punctuation errors. Actually, this style of writing was very common during the Civil War. Punctuation, when used, seems to have been the purview of the officers.



Camp Near Vicksburg Miss
July 1st /63

Dear Friends

As I am still spared & in good health I will write to let you know how we stand here at this time Since I last wrote our Regt has had another man killed he belonged to Co. B. I dont know his name that makes in all four men killed and two wounded in the 53rd since we are here The fighting still continues day & night we have got so ust to the sound of canon that we sleep sound under the heaviest fire I will now give you a little about the sanity stores Last week the fifty third got some for the first time amongst the lot was a fine lot of comforters that would be a nice present for some sick or wounded soldiers But what was done with them the officers of the 53rd divided them between them selves some of them has as much as three nice comforters well there was a lot of potatoes that was rotten so the men got them if they had been sound they would have done the officers so you see these sanitary stores are got up with good intentions but you see what becomes of them So my advice is as it has been before to not give a cent to any of them for the men that get big wages are the ones that get the Benefit – if there is any thing spoiled or of no account – the men get it – the sanitary comiseners may do there duty for all I know But there is too many government robbers for such things to get where they are intended to go
I have nothing of importance to write about June has been a very pleasant month as far as the weather is concerned the army is in good spirits as ever & I think surely Vicksburg will surender before many days if they dont I think we will throw a few shell into them on the fourth of July the Company is all on picket duty but a few Leiche Stumph is sitting behind me patching his britches & whistling so you may know he is all right – Give my best Respects to James Hayes no more but you needent be surprised to hear of the 4th Division Being at Memphis in a few Weeks again


G C Poundstone
Near Vicksburg
Miss
4th Div
53rd Regt Ill Infantry
Co C


As it turns out, this was the last letter written by George C. Poundstone, Corporal and Color Sergeant, 53rd Illinois Infantry. He was mortally wounded on 12 July 1863 during the assault on the Confederate works at Jackson Mississippi. He died eleven days later.
The Leiche Stumph of whom he speaks, Elijah Stumph, survived the war and married George’s sister Elizabeth.

From the 53rd Illinois Regimental History:

On July 5, moved with General Sherman's army against Jackson, Miss., and on the 12th, while closing the lines around that place, the Brigade was ordered to charge the rebel works. The Fifty-third participated in this gallant but disastrous charge, going into the fight with 250 men and officers, and coming out with but 66. Colonel Earl fell near the rebel breast-works, pierced with four canister shot. Lieutenant Colonel McClanahan was severely wounded. Captain Michael Leahey and Lieutenant George W. Hemstreet were killed. Captain J. E. Hudson, mortally wounded. Captains Potter and King were wounded. Lieutenant J. B. Smith lost an arm and was taken prisoner. Captain George R. Lodge, Lieutenants Mark M. Bassett and John D. Hatfield, and a number of the enlisted men, were taken prisoners. The color guard and bearers were all either killed or wounded. The colors were captured, saturated with the life-blood of Sergeant George Poundstone, the color bearer.

When thinking of casualties in the current war, it is always wise to use some perspective. The 250 men of the 53rd Regiment were mostly farmers from an area called Farm Ridge, located between Grand Ridge, Illinois and Ottawa, Illinois. Stephen Parrish knows the area well. The house he lived in while in high school was located on property that once belonged to my grandfather’s family. To this day, the area is mostly farms.

Think about the impact of losing 184 men all from one small community in a single engagement that lasted about fifteen minutes. It puts things in perspective.

22 comments:

Erica Orloff said...

Hi JLK;
Most of my father's side of the family were executed by the Communists during the revolution in Russia. My grandfather hid in a barn and watched as 8 family members were lined up and shot in the head. My grandmother's side had just as awful a history . . .

As you say, it puts so many things in perspective . . . thinking of them as part of history, but as real people. I cannot imagine a small place losing that many young men.

E

J. L. Krueger said...

Erica,

What I love most about studying history are the human stories. While I have an excellent memory for all the mundane facts, dates and such, it is the stories about the people that interest me most.

Most often people do not understand the way things are today, because they truly don't understand the past.

Or as the Emperor in "The Last Samurai" put it, "We cannot forget who we are, and where we come from."

That is something worth thinking about.

Ello said...

Wow. To have such history in these letters is an amazing thing. To get to read the stories and think of the facts of what went on back then is really mind blowing. Thanks for sharing.

Stephen Parrish said...

Stephen Parrish knows the area well.

As if I wasn't already homesick enough.

When thinking of casualties in the current war, it is always wise to use some perspective.

Yes, but our standards have changed since the Civil War. If the stats at my fingertips are accurate, 5675 men were killed or wounded during Pickett's Charge alone, which makes the four thousand or so Iraq War deaths, over a period of more than five years, pale in comparison.

The American public doesn't view war casualties today the way it did in 1863. We are much, much more sensitive to casualties, regardless of the cause.

Nice post.

J. L. Krueger said...

ell,

I have about a fourteen letters mostly from George, but three from his brother Richard. They mostly wrote to their brother Samuel (my grandfather's grandfather).

I had the letters for years, but I didn't find out George's fate until I started doing genealogy research and then only in the last four years or so while working on all the branches in the family tree.

J. L. Krueger said...

Stephen,

The American public doesn't view war casualties today the way it did in 1863. We are much, much more sensitive to casualties, regardless of the cause.

The American public had more backbone than today. However, it should be noted that horrific scale of casualties in the campaigns of 1863 and 1864 led to riots throughout the North.

The South, believing they were fighting for their very survival did not have riots.

Fast forward to the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. There were over 64,000 British casualties on the first day alone. Between 1 July and November of 1916, 1.4 million casualties for all combatants.

Fast forward to the Invasion of Normandy, 6 June 1944. First day Allied casualties over 10,000.

But yes, the reaction of not just Americans, but the entire West to casualties is different. And this is one of Bin Laden's main talking points that comes up in almost every statement he has made. Namely, the West does not have the guts to do what is necessary to win.

Charles Gramlich said...

Great history here. That story about the officers dividing the gifts is horrible. And very good point about the impact of the loss being so high in a small community.

J. L. Krueger said...

Charles,

Similar officer behavior still happens in the Guard and Reserve units, but is rare in Active Duty units. That is to say, rare in the Active Duty combat units. For example, it has become tradition in combat units that the officers eat last when in the field (whether in training or war).

The officer behavior that George Poundstone related was, back then, more common in the state units than in the Federal units.

The Muse said...

I found some of my grandmother's diaries. Nothing so grand as what you found. Her entries were short and to the point. I wish she had written something I could share with the world.

I love going through family mementos. I do have a few untouched boxes. Perhaps I will find a wealth such as yours.

Take care!

J. L. Krueger said...

Muse,

The sad thing is that there may have been more that my mother and youngest sister threw out when my grandparents died. The fourteen letters I have, my grandfather gave me years ago.

My middle sister salvaged as much as she could when she discovered this travesty, but almost half the boxes had already gone to the dump by the time she was informed.

Included in what we saved are pictures and diaries from the turn of the last century and dozens of photographs from the 1860's, 1870's and 1880's. Since my middle sister and I are history buffs, the loss of so much recorded family history was heartbreaking.

There is still bad blood over the whole affair.

Kathy McIntosh said...

Fascinating and heart-wrenching.
I have some papers of my grandfather that I need to look through again. He was a sheriff in Arizona territory in the late 1800s.
It does put war in a different light when you read the personal stories.

alex keto said...

Hi,
I wandered over via sexscenesatstarbucks and got immediately intrigued by the books you've written. I'm going to order a few. But... I noticed that the publisher doesn't offer a blurb on amazon. I would imagine that if someone came across the book without even a back cover blurb, it would be hard to decide to pick the book up.

Also, liked the letters a lot

J. L. Krueger said...

Kathy,

Reading the personal stuff in history is a lot more rewarding than just memorizing dates and other such trivia.

Alex,

Thanks for stopping by. There used to be a blurb...I'll have to look into it.

Ello said...

Hey JLK! Where've you been hiding? Hope you are on vacation somewhere fun! Have been missing your posts and comments!

J. L. Krueger said...

Ell!

I've been training/preparing for deployment to either Iraq or Afghanistan. Which group I go with is still in the air and mission details are still fuzzy.

I haven't been able to sit and write much until yesterday. I've read posts and comments when I can during breaks.

Actually, I'm working on a new post for this blog. This weekend should be "lighter" so I'll try to be more active.

Ello said...

Oh wow. When will you be going? And for how long? I thought you were retired from the military? So does that mean you go as a civilian now? Is that better for you? I am assuming this is something you want to do, right? How does your family feel about it? Lots of questions, huh? It's just that I get worried when I think of any friends going out to the danger zone.

J. L. Krueger said...

Ell,

When will you be going?

Not nailed down yet, but likely in the next 4 – 8 weeks. Originally I was to have gone next week, but the rest of the team was not put together so they pushed it back. The famous hurry up and wait.

And for how long?

Six months to one year.

I thought you were retired from the military?

I am, but they don’t have enough guys in uniform these days to do everything that the Army needs done. So they get retired guys like me to do some of the work.

So does that mean you go as a civilian now?

My four prior trips to the war zone were also as a “civilian”, but not quite. As retired guys working for the Army, we are subject to Army regulations. We also wear the same uniform as the Army…which gets us shot at as often. We don’t often participate in offensive combat operations, but we do accompany infantry units as “armed observers” in order to evaluate what is going on.

The group I work with has had 12 killed-in-action and 37 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the press rarely reports those casualties...they aren't included in the 4,005 number.

Unlike people who work for companies like “Blackwater” we can be court-martialed if we go around blowing away civilians. So it is definitely better for the Army, Iraqis and the U.S. public image.

Is that better for you?

The pay is better than when I was on Active Duty and if I were to get “fed up” I can quit…something an Active Duty Soldier cannot do. Then again, I’m not a quitter so that last part is moot.

I am assuming this is something you want to do, right?

Absolutely. I believe in the mission. I may not agree with the reasons for going in in the first place, but we started it so we need to see it through…assuming I go to Iraq. I like the Iraqi people and I’ve always had good rapport with the ones I’ve worked with before whether Kurd, Sunni or Shiite.

I suspect that if they send me to Afghanistan instead, I’ll enjoy that too. Most of my friends over there love working with the Afghans. Actually they like the Afghans even better…supposedly they are “tougher” and more willing to face danger than the Iraqis.

In both cases I understand the tribal and clan culture better than most Americans, so it’s a good fit either way. Part of our more recent success in Iraq is that more of our soldiers are now more familiar with the culture also.

How does your family feel about it?

They have mixed emotions for all the normal reasons, but after four prior trips, they are more comfortable with it…especially since I’ve been home for a two year stretch this time. Everyone knows the drill now.

Lots of questions, huh?

Nah, normal questions. At least once over there, there is Internet access so I’ll be able to post “stories from the war zone” or something like that. ;)

Ello said...

Well, that answers pretty much all my questions. You are so thorough! I'm glad it is something you want and believe in and will say prayers for you to keep you safe! And good to know that you will still be posting even from the hot zone! I foretell that you will have some new amazing stories.

JPoundstone said...

Hello,

I found this while trying to save a New York Times article about the 53rd's Battle Flag that was found in D.C. caked in blood.

Is there any chance of you e-mailing me a copy of the letters from both George and Richard Poundstone please?

Thanks,

Jeff Poundstone
Just north of Farm Ridge

J. L. Krueger said...

Jeff,

I'd love to...but I'll need your email address to do so. Your profile is private, so you didn't leave me anything to go on.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

Thank you very much. Please use emmys_dad@yahoo.com.

Jeff

Anonymous said...

Hi J.L.

When you have a moment, would it be possible for you to forward me a copy of the letters you have from George and Richard Poundstone. Thank you in advance very much.

Jeff

jeff.poundstone |at| gmail.com