In 1861 young Joseph Twichell cut short his seminary studies
to become a Union Army chaplain in New York's Excelsior Brigade. A
middle-class New England Protestant, Twichell served for three
years in a regiment manned mostly by poor Irish American Catholics.
This selection of Twichell's letters to his Connecticut family will
rank him alongside the Civil War's most literate and insightful
firsthand chroniclers of life on the road, in battle, and in camp.
As a noncombatant, he at once observed and participated in the
momentous events of the Peninsula and Wilderness Campaigns and at
the Second Bull Run, as well as at Fredericksburg,
Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Spotsylvania.
Twichell writes about politics and slavery and the theological
and cultural divide between him and his men. Most movingly, he
tells of tending the helpless, burying the dead, and counseling the
despondent. Alongside accounts of a run-in with slave hunters, a
massive withdrawal of wounded soldiers from Richmond, and other
extraordinary events, Twichell offers close-up views of his
commanding officer, the "political general" Daniel Sickles, surely
one of the most colorful and controversial leaders on either
Civil War scholars and enthusiasts will welcome this fresh voice
from an underrepresented class of soldier, the army chaplain.
Readers who know of Twichell's later life as a prominent minister
and reformer or as Mark Twain's closest friend will appreciate
these insights into his early, transforming experiences.
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