Friday, January 7, 2011

Chatfield Story

The Chatfield Story: Civil War Letters and Diaries of Private Edward L. Chatfield of the 113th Illinois Volunteers. Edited by Terry M. McCarty with Margaret Ann Chatfield McCarty. Illustrated, photographs, maps, bibliography, appendices, index, 564 pp., 2009, Georgetown, Texas,, $32.99, softcover.

Chatfield Story covers the history of the 113th Illinois from its formation through the battle of Brice’s Crossroads told through the writings of private Edward Chatfield. Chatfield left behind a wealth of material in letters and diaries and it has been combined here very well. Interspersed between diary entries and letters is plenty of background text by the editors that fills in the gaps and ties all the material together.

Chatfield and the 113th Illinois served along the Mississippi River, first as part of the Union efforts to capture Vicksburg and then later as part of the force garrisoning Memphis. It was while doing this duty that it saw its most combat at the battle of Brice’s Crossroads. At this battle Chatfield was captured and the prodigious writings ceased. Chatfield survived the war and eventually settled out west in Littleton, Colorado. While his wartime service was nothing too beyond the normal Edward Chatfield became a prominent man in Littleton and eventually many different places were named after him.

One of the strengths of the book is that whenever Chatfield mentioned a comrade in his writings the editors listed all they could about that person. While Chatfield is the center of the story the editors did a good job of filling in the story of the regiment.

An interesting benefit of having diaries and letters is comparing Chatfield’s thoughts between the two. There was one time in particular that he complained to his diary about being sick but in his letter home he said he was in perfect health. This self censorship was easily revealed when read with the diary, a fact the editors pointed out as well.

Much of Chatfield’s service was somewhat dreary, including work on Grant’s failed canal during the Vicksburg campaign, but this book is an excellent source on that sort of service as Chatfield wrote often. This book is also a self published work through booksurge but the quality of the work does not make that readily obvious. This is one of the better self published books I’ve ever run across.

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