Monday, April 12, 2010

Curry; Sargeant & Brinsfield (eds.): "VOLUNTEERS' CAMP AND FIELD BOOK"

[Volunteers' Camp and Field Book, Containing Useful and General Information on the Art and Science of War for the Leisure Moments of the Soldier by John P. Curry, compiled and edited by William B. Sargeant and John W. Brinsfield (Mercer University Press, 2010). Softcover (paper flex binding), illustrations, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. 208 pages. ISBN:978-0-88146-169-5 $20]

With the outbreak of the Civil War, manuals and guidebooks for soldiers were highly sought after items. John P. Curry's Volunteers' Camp and Field Book was a bit unusual in that it was popular in both sections, perhaps even more so in the South. Originally published in New York in 1861, the Richmond publisher West and Johnston reissued the book the following year. This 1862 southern edition is quite rare, but William B. Sargeant (co-editor with John W. Brinsfield of the new annotated edition reviewed here) discovered a copy in an old suitcase belonging to his great-great-grandfather and submitted it to Mercer University Press for republication. Given the volume of useful information, tips, and 'tricks of the trade', the editors were surprised to find no evidence that Curry had ever actually served in the army (he had claimed antebellum service), leading readers to only guess at how the author obtained his body of knowledge.

Curry's field book covers a wide variety of subjects, from basic definitions and army regulations to personal advice, all written in an easygoing style that mixes formal and informal language. Undoubtedly, this ease of use made it popular with recruits of all education levels and those having no experience at all with military affairs. On the military side of things, entrenchments are discussed as well as the general equipment and tactics of the infantry, artillery, and cavalry arms. A broad range of basics, such as knowledge of military departments, uniforms, saluting, medical treatments, etc., are briefly summarized. As soldiers spent most of their time in camp, much of the book is devoted to camp organization, duties, inspections, health maintenance, and cooking. The manual of arms and company and regimental formations are also introduced to the novice soldier.

Editors Sargeant and Brinsfield left the author's text unchanged, but added their own preface, footnotes, bibliography, and index. The pair also contribute a lengthy appendix that provides background into what is known of Curry's life before and after the Civil War.

As one might expect given the limited expertise of the source and the state of medical science at the time, the quality of Curry's offerings range from the useful to the absurd. What Volunteers' Camp and Field Book does effectively convey to modern readers is insight into the type of information about army life that new recruits were exposed to and/or wished to learn before taking the field. Any reader interested in Civil War manuals and field guides will want a copy of Curry's book.

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