this book is neither exhaustive nor eloquent. in fact, the narrative is plain and straightforward, but the story it tells is absolutely and profoundlythis book is neither exhaustive nor eloquent. in fact, the narrative is plain and straightforward, but the story it tells is absolutely and profoundly heartbreaking.
through Angelo Crapsey's letters, diary, and a host of depositions from his pension inquiries, you see his horrifying degeneration into despair and self-destruction. And all the while his family and friends scratch their heads and helplessly watch him fall to pieces: scratching at phantom lice, flying into violent fits, withdrawing into protracted silences, rambling incoherently, paranoia, loss of appetite, moments of strange lucidity, and all the while making attempts on his life until he finally succeeds ~ all symptoms of what we now recognize as post-traumatic stress disorder.
there are very few references to the psychological effects of the Civil War on its combatants (something that has always been a source of fascination to me personally). mental illness was little understood and shameful for those who experienced it. while the Union kept some record of wartime suicides, it's impossible to know how many veterans on either side died after the fact as a result of deliberately self-destructive behavior.
brandt does well to organize the material and facilitate our understanding of the story from Angelo's enlistment (too young, but managing with a lie, like many boys then), through his imprisonment, his return to battle already unfit for duty, and his eventual collapse and hospitalization in an asylum. But even brandt, ultimately can't make much more of it than what's baldy there: the boy was severely damaged. he went to war young and idealistic and never really came back at all. if he had more support and less condemnation when he got home, would he have made it? impossible to tell.
at just a little over 200 pages, this book is a quick read, but a very painful one. not recommended if you're in a funk....more
on the one hand, it's nice to have a handy transcript of the letterbooks. on the other, this book provides very little insight toh the disappointment.
on the one hand, it's nice to have a handy transcript of the letterbooks. on the other, this book provides very little insight to hartranft beyond what Gambone expounded on in his biography ~ and worse ~ it makes assertions which it then completely fails to prove.
likewise, there's very little to mine here; very little context and no theories whatsoever for some of hartranft's more puzzling omissions. the book likewise reproduces none of hancock's responses to hartranft's letters (which tell half the story!).
also, there are typos (ugh!), and several places in which, while condensing information down, completely false impressions are put forth. stanton's role in micromanagaing the prison isn't even touched on, and glaringly, there are moments when the author suggests that certain information is "not known" when it most assuredly is. the "annotations" for the letterbook merely repeat information already given in the chapters preceding (grrrr), and add very little to the understanding. no commentary whatsoever is made on the breakdown of hartranft's "meticulous" style into practically monosyllabic entries, nothing is made of all the things he doesn't bother to report (the author notes that he had the prisoners shaved, but doesn't point out that he never reports it to hancock).
for all the glowing build up in the opening of the book, praising hartranft to the skies, calling him a forgotten hero, and intimating that his role as arsenal provost was historically critical, there's no case made here for any of it. which is really too too bad because i think it's certainly true and deserves to be told. after more than 40 years of this material being handled in a rather off-hand manner (even Gambone miss-cites it!), you would think steers would really have made more of an effort to be exhaustive about its presentation.
apparently someone else will have to come along and do it.
pay the $40 and buy a copy of the microfilm instead. it will at least be complete....more
i often joke that i intend to be buried with my copy of this book. for lincoln enthusiasts/historians (and assassination ghouls) it's singularly indisi often joke that i intend to be buried with my copy of this book. for lincoln enthusiasts/historians (and assassination ghouls) it's singularly indispensable.
wayne mahood (author of General Wadsworth: the life and times of Brevet Major General James S. Wadsworth) called william doster the "ultimate political insider". doster's position as provost marshall in washington d.c. at the height of the war (at the scandalously young age of 25) gave him the opportunity to observe a good deal of the goings-on in the capitol both militarily and politically. his subsequent role as defense attorney for ill-fated lewis powell and george atzerodt in the lincoln assassination conspiracy trial likewise allotted him a unique perspective.
doster didn't want to write this memoir and his lack of enthusiasm sometimes shows (particularly in the organization of this manuscript ~ could he be more random?). while his insights are hardly exhaustive, what little he chooses to reveal about some of the major players of the civil war are well worth his occasional maddeningly oblique and/or offhand commentary. his opening essay on lincoln (reproduced from a presentation delivered in 1909 at lehigh university) is probably the single most influential piece of writing with regard to my personal opinion about the man in the funny hat.
the lincoln assassination may have been my entry into learning more about the civil war, but doster (and particularly his bizarre, but eloquent defense of lewis powell) is what has kept me engaged for more than twenty years....more