Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hubbart, ed. : "AN IOWA SOLDIER WRITES HOME: The Civil War Letters of Union Private Daniel J. Parvin"

[ An Iowa Soldier Writes Home: The Civil War Letters of Union Private Daniel J. Parvin by Philip A. Hubbart (Carolina Academic Press, 2011). Softcover, maps, notes, illustrations, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:181/196. ISBN:978-1-59460-978-7  $25]

Over the years, a fairly standard format for publishing edited Civil War letter collections has emerged and been accepted. With some variation, the letters are reproduced in their entirety and presented in chronological order. If the publication is to be organized into chapters, the editor offers short introductions to each in addition to footnotes elaborating on persons, places, and events mentioned in the letters. Brief transitional narrative pieces linking each letter to the next are also commonplace. However, in presenting his own ancestor's letters, retired judge Phillip A. Hubbart attempts something quite different. An Iowa Soldier Writes Home: The Civil War Letters of Union Private Daniel J. Parvin is instead organized by theme.

As a member of the 11th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, Private Daniel Parvin participated in several major campaigns, including Shiloh, Corinth, Vicksburg, Meridian, and Atlanta. During the latter, Parvin was struck in the jaw, a wounding that shattered teeth and bone and would eventually contribute to his death years later.  The battle experiences related in Parvin's 117 surviving letters are richer than most, and his descriptions of active campaigning and camp life in the western theater, as well as pointed opinions about leading figures of the day, are noteworthy.  Like many Union soldiers, Parvin often directs more vitriol at anti-war Democrats back home than he does toward Confederates on the battlefield.

Hubbart's chapters ["Military Engagements", "Opinions of Contemporary People and Events", "Army Camp Life", and "Miscellaneous Army Experiences and Other Matters"] examine broad themes addressed by Parvin. Under each are many subheadings covering diverse subjects like politics, blunt assessments of individuals like Grant and Lincoln, and thoughts on illness, camp assignments, food, discipline, travel, reenlistment and much, much more. Largely made up of a series of letter excerpts with brief commentary (although some letters, mostly found in the chapter covering battles, are reproduced in their entirety with the relevant section in italics), the editor's approach is most useful for readers seeking specific information.  On the other hand, the same effect might be achieved with a good index.

An unfortunate consequence of Hubbart's chosen method is that his book does not contain full transcriptions of all 117 letters. Inserting these in chronological order in an appendix would have made the book much more valuable.  Also, Hubbart did not intend his work to be scholarly and this is borne out in the paucity of source material applied to the annotations, as well as their irregular format. Whatever one thinks of Hubbart's unique and flawed style of presentation [I do think the traditional method remains superior], the substantial nature of Parvin's writings (especially on military matters) makes the book well worth the effort for western theater campaign generalists and particularly for readers concerned with Iowa soldiers and the Iowa home front.

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