Leaving Home in Dark Blue: Chronicling Ohio's Civil War Experience through Primary Sources & Literature. By Curt Brown. Illustrated, photos, 264 pp., 2012, University of Akron, www.uakron.edu/uapress, $19.95 softcover.
Leaving Home in Dark Blue is a treasure trove of primary source material. Curt Brown has compiled roughly 20 different primary sources for each year of the war. These sources span the breadth of style from artwork, poems, sheet music to narratives and diary entries, of course with the overriding theme that all the events happened to citizens and soldiers from Ohio. Each source is introduced by a short paragraph from Brown setting the context and reason for its inclusion. All theaters are covered and people from all walks of life are represented.
Battles are discussed but it is far from the focus here, the focus is more on how average people dealt with the war. Some of the more fascinating articles to me were the ones connected to the home front. An example is the excerpt “Where O Where is My Joe?” from the story “Ellen,” which was published in Atlantic Monthly during the war. The editor says the story is based on fact. In the story Ellen goes into West Virginia looking for her brother Joe, whose regiment is somewhere nearby. Ellen and Joe are the only ones left in their family. In her search she is mistaken for a spy, treated roughly and jailed. She eventually gets out only to find that his regiment is much farther into the state and so no message can reach him. The narrator says she never found out what happened to Ellen or Joe. A sad story but one that did happen and was likely repeated in many other situations. Plus it was interesting to read a fictionalization that average citizens around the country would have read.
Reminiscences from prisoners also appears quite heavily throughout the book. One that particularly tugs at the heartstrings is a simple letter from a group of Ohio soldiers in Andersonville to their governor asking him to do something, anything, to help their situation; including the line, “We have stood by the nation in its peril, and now will not our State and government sympathize with its suffering and dying defenders! Will it not lend us a helping hand in our hour of misery and extreme destitution!” Obviously there was more involved here than the governor could control but he had to feel moved to do something after receiving such a letter from his soldiers, plus knowing even a fraction of the horrors they were suffering in Andersonville.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it for anyone who wants to see varied views of the home front and how soldiers dealt with the war away from the battlefield.