Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

All for the Union: The Civil War Diary & Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes

Rate this book
All for the Union is the eloquent and moving diary of Elisha Hunt Rhodes, who enlisted into the Union Army as a private in 1861 and left it four years later as a 23-year-old lieutenant colonel after fighting hard and honorably in battles from Bull Run to Appomattox. Anyone who heard these diaries excerpted on the PBS-TV series The Civil War will recognize his accounts of those campaigns, which remain outstanding for their clarity and detail. Most of all, Rhodes's words reveal the motivation of a common Yankee foot soldier, an otherwise ordinary young man who endured the rigors of combat and exhausting marches, short rations, fear, and homesickness for a salary of $13 a month and the satisfaction of giving "all for the union."

270 pages, Paperback

First published March 13, 1991

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Robert Hunt Rhodes

2 books3 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
331 (42%)
4 stars
275 (35%)
3 stars
138 (17%)
2 stars
32 (4%)
1 star
9 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 45 reviews
Profile Image for Chris.
217 reviews4 followers
June 20, 2013
Elisha Hunt Rhodes is an interesting character. He was pretty much everywhere in the eastern part of the war. Bull Run, Antietam (though he only saw it, did not fight), Gettysburg, Petersburg, the Shenandoah campaign, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Seven Pines, Appomattox Court House. And while he started as a private, he ended the war commanding his regiment as a full Colonel. At 23 years old.

This is an engaging book, edited originally by Rhodes himself. You learn a good deal about daily army life, and also receive excellent first-hand descriptions of many of the battles. A bit dry and emotionless at certain points, but he was writing a daily record of his life, not poetry. And there is a deep sense of authenticity to the thoughts he puts down. "All for the Union" is his frequent response he directs to himself whenever he has complaints about living a rough army life.

Highly recommended to any student of the Civil War.
Profile Image for MaryAnn (EmilyD1037).
120 reviews1 follower
September 25, 2018
This book and its story lived up to all
the hype concerning it. I loved The Civil
War series and read this because of it.
He did a great job of describing the day
by day life of a soldier. He downplayed
his role in the battles, you don't go from
private to Lt. Colonel by just being cautious.

The rest sounded so familiar to what I went
thru as a veteran, not in battle but day to day.

I recommend it to Civil War and history buffs.
Profile Image for Joanne.
829 reviews48 followers
May 23, 2016
No PTSD for this soldier, who could sleep on a field among the dead and dying, and wake to enjoy a good breakfast. His spare descriptions of battles, were more gruesome than if he added gory details.
Profile Image for Miles Watson.
Author 28 books55 followers
May 19, 2017
Like many people, I came to "know" Elisha Hunt Rhodes from the epic Ken Burns documentary "The Civil War." His letters and correspondence were frequently quoted throughout that series, and I grew curious about him and finally bought his memoirs to satisfy that curiosity. Rhodes was a remarkable man who joined the Union army at 19 as a private, and ended the war as a 24 year-old colonel who had fought in every major battle from Bull Run (the first) to Appomattox (the last). Rhodes was a typical New Englander of his era -- steadfast, religious, principled, anti-slavery, and firmly pro-Union. He joined because he wanted to see the Rebellion crushed, and turned down many opportunities to leave the army so he could see the war through to the very end. The fact that he did so can be regarded as a minor miracle, for he was present for many severe Union defeats, including the massacres of Fredericksburg and Cold Harbor. Rhodes' faith in victory never wavered, however, and reading his memoirs made me better understand the Army of the Potomac, which never lost faith in itself despite its nearly constant mismanagement by a parade of incompetent generals. My only real criticism of Rhodes' work (compiled and edited by his great-grandson!) is that by and large he is unable to communicate the experience of battle. (This is understandable: he could hardly write down his feelings while being shot at.) Toward the end he writes some terrific stuff about the siege of Petersburg and so forth, but taken as a whole the book is best when dealing with the ordinary realities of army life in the 1860s -- marching, drill, mud, rain, snow, heat, disease, mail call, religious services, promotions, social calls, military politics, the ever-present obsession with food, and the mischievous antics of soldiers. The whole world Rhodes lived in -- a world of deep patriotism (northern and southern), rock-solid religious belief, running correspondence, strict social convention, and strangest of all to modern eyes, chivalry -- seems so far removed from the amoral sewer in which we now reside as to almost appear alien, but it was all true and it all happened, and Rhodes' letters and diaries are proof that yes indeed, it was worth fighting and dying for.
Profile Image for Deb.
453 reviews4 followers
May 30, 2018
I've had this on my bookshelf since shortly after the first airing of Ken Burns' documentary, "The Civil War." I am pleased to say I enjoyed it very much. It will not be to everyone's taste, as it is an almost day-by-day accounting of Elisha Hunt Rhodes' four years in the Union Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. As a journal, it is a wonder of detail and the minutiae of everyday Army life--marching, making camp, digging fortifications, foraging, making the most of small entertainments, and so on. It also reveals much about the character and resolve of the war's earliest volunteers, particularly the New Englanders who served much of the war in close companionship.
Rhodes fought from the war's first battle (1st Bull Run) through to one of its last (Saylor's Creek) just days before the surrender at Appomattox Court House. He participated in most of the major battles in the Eastern theatre, or witnessed them, and survived with only a few scratches, even as friends and respected officers fell around him, and rising from private to Colonel commanding a regiment in those 4 years. Civil War buffs should definitely read this very fair account of a soldier's life; you'll appreciate Rhodes' occasional dry humor, his calm acceptance of the life of a soldier and duties of an officer, and his stoical resolve to give "all for the Union" should God require that of him. A remarkable example of a military memoir.
Profile Image for Steven.
126 reviews1 follower
August 7, 2021
I always like to preface a reveiw when the genre isn't my thing, by mentioning that. I hate when people give reviews like "This horror movie sucked." And then at the end of the review they mention that they hate horror movies. So, ahem, I'm not a big Civil War memory/history/biography guy. Nor other real war-narratives, for that matter. Yet, I found this book quite... endearing. It's well-written, straightforward, and there's something amazing in reading his stalwart responses to some of the horrific elements of things he encounters.
War, for sure, is hell, and one can see it here. It's impressive just how many times his unit had to go defend the retreat of others (i.e. everyone else is running like hell, because they're about to be overrun, and HIS troops are ordered to stand there and take it, so others can get away... you can see how of course the idea is that it ultimately saves more lives, but what does it take to repetitively be the guy taking that risk and being sacrificed, so others can live? A subtle, unstated heroism in the book...
Profile Image for Dave.
667 reviews17 followers
January 8, 2022
“All for the Union: The Civil War Diary & Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes” by Robert Hunt Rhodes (great grandson) and Elisha Hunt Rhodes deserves 5 stars for historical importance and readability. Elisha Hunt Rhodes entered the U. S. Army as a 19 year-old private in May 1861 and was mustered out in July 1865 as a Colonel. In the meantime he saw action in most of the major battles in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. He was hit several times by bullets/shrapnel but never seriously wounded. He saw death and destruction on a scale few humans have ever seen. And yet, through it all, he maintained his good sense, devotion to the cause, and intelligence. This is not a literary masterpiece or an overview of the civil war. But it is amazing insight into the mind and motivation of a union soldier from Rhode Island who witnessed and help make history. Highly recommended!
465 reviews1 follower
October 22, 2018
A fascinating look at a regiment that fought for the Army of the Potomac from First Manassas to Appomattox. This is not history in the grand scope, but the day-to-day drudgery of a single regiment as it camped, marched, and fought (both on the front line, and in reserve). What I found truly fascinating is how Rhodes reveals himself as more of a Unionist than an Abolitionist. A solid book for people interested in American Civil War, or in Rhode Island history.
Profile Image for E B.
127 reviews
March 15, 2019
It was a good read as far as Diaries and Letters. You follow a young man through the war fighting on the Union side as he ranks up and matures. Sadly, you can really feel the one sided mentality that people take when fighting a war. Even in his letters he minimizes losses and speaks extremely highly of any victory. Certainly a good read, but not what I was expecting based on the hype around this book.
Profile Image for Christopher Franqui.
5 reviews1 follower
July 15, 2020
I like many others found this book after watching the Ken Burns Civil War documentary series. One thing that always strikes me about these books written by civil war veterans is The way they step out sides the narrative and speak to you the "dear reader". It's so charming. He tells the story that you miss if you only read the history books. It's real from a man who was there in the thick of things. It's personal look at a dark chapter in our history. Worth every second to read.
May 29, 2018
The Civil War from the perspective of a Yankee soldier

Good easy to follow overview for those interested in the American Civil War. Also provided an insight into the day to day life of a typical service man who progressed through the ranks. Particularly enjoyed the introduction
Author 1 book2 followers
January 8, 2021
A classic of the Civil War personal narrative genre, Elisha Hunt Rhodes' "All for the Union" is a peerless memoir-of-sorts following a young man from Rhode Island from First Bull Run to Appomattox, from Private to Colonel. A deeply personal read that illustrates with unique brevity and feeling the experiences of a soldier of the Army of the Potomac.
Profile Image for Lynn.
494 reviews4 followers
March 11, 2021
I enjoyed reading this diary written by a Union soldier who fought in every campaign of the Army of the Potomac to Petersburg and Appomattox Court House. He had a sterling army career starting as a private and ending as a colonel 4 years later. All through the book he states that the hardships he faced were "all for the Union."
Profile Image for Brandon.
157 reviews1 follower
February 8, 2022
This is a great resource for students studying the Civil War and how various parts of the wartime were experienced. Rhodes' writing discusses the adrenaline of battle, the sadness of loss, and most importantly, the mundane nature of the war. The editors have done a great job of adding letters and images when possible, and the overall organization of a massive amount of letters is impressive.
Profile Image for Adam Carman.
146 reviews
February 20, 2023
Good street level remembrances!

Elisha Hunt Rhodes was an unsung American hero from the War of the Rebellion. While his reminisces being focused on minutiae of military life can be difficult to navigate, his passion for saving the Union, ending slavery and preserving his Christian character shine through. Well worth the effort!
Profile Image for Paul LaFontaine.
641 reviews3 followers
August 18, 2019
An excellent view into the operations of the Union Army that follows the career of Elisha Hunt Rhodes. Much of the experience is boring. Camp life, army life. What is fascinating is that his commitment to the cause and to serving never seems to waver.

Highly recommend
221 reviews9 followers
September 3, 2019
I loved this book so much. Elisha H. Rhodes is the type of person that reading his journals make you lonesome for him. You fall in love with him, you get invested in the civil war in a way that you never were before, and you cry and cheer with him. I teared up as I finished the book.
2 reviews
June 4, 2021
A clear and honest look into a soldier who lived during the civil war. Surviving to the end of the war and promoted from private on up, it's amazing to see how men and women sacrificed their life all for the Union.
Profile Image for Jeff Leonard.
2 reviews
July 3, 2017
A surprisingly upbeat first-hand account of the war as told by Rhodes' own diary entries. Fascinating to see how much of the Eastern theater's famous locations he made it into, and out of.
Profile Image for Amy Sawyer.
124 reviews2 followers
August 13, 2017
Pretty straightforward diary. Civil War military enthusiasts will enjoy this account.
13 reviews
May 4, 2019
Better than expected. Offers insight of the life of a common man and soldier who helped saved the Union.
Profile Image for Steven Peterson.
Author 21 books269 followers
September 17, 2009
We have works on the Civil War written by generals (e.g., the memoirs of Ulysses Grant and James Longstreet) and other officers (E. P. Alexander, Moxley Sorrell). However, equally valuable is the view from the bottom, by the foot soldiers. From the Confederate side, the paradigm example is Sam Watkins, "Company Aytch". From the Union side, Elisha Hunt Rhodes fills the bill. He rose through the ranks, and his diaries and letters provide a first-hand, ground-level view of the war in the east. As the Introduction by one of his descendants notes (Page xv): "He participated in every campaign of the Army of the Potomac from Bull Run to Appomattox with rapid promotions up to the rank of colonel in 1865."

Incidents are described plainly and with an eye from the front. On pages 15 and following, he describes the march to Bull Run, the state of the troops, the weariness experienced on that march. Then, the battle itself and aftermath are described in an economical manner. Here and after, his observations of fellow soldiers and officers is most useful, giving the reader a sense of what he was perceiving.

On pages 106 and following is his description of his regiment's (2nd Rhode Island) and his corps' (VI Corps under General John Sedgwick) march to and role at Gettysburg. While the corps arrived late, its uniting with the rest of the Army of the Potomac was a great morale boost for the Union forces, as this Corps was the largest in the northern army, bringing it to full strength at this bloody conflict.

Then, his description of the bloody battle at the Wilderness, where he took the measure of Grant, after vicious fighting. In his diary on May 7th, 1864, he noted (page 138): "If we were under any other General except Grant I should expect a retreat, but Grant is not that kind of soldier, and we feel that we can trust him." In that phrase, he captures nicely the bulldog tenacity of Grant as a General, and identifying what was different from him compared with other commanders of the Army of the Potomac.

His rendering of the campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, where General Phil Sheridan jousted with Jubal Early's forces is insightful. He speaks of the classic surprise assault on the Union position while Sheridan was off consulting with Washington. The surprise attack rolled up the Union lines for a time, although the VI Corps held pretty well. His description of Sheridan's role is interesting, as his simple coda for this indicates (page 185): "Hurrah for Sheridan!"

And, finally, these lines (page 221): "Glory to God in the highest. Peace on earth, good will to men! Thank God Lee has surrendered and the war will end soon." Thus, his response at Appomattox Court House.

As with Sam Watkins' observations, so, too, with Rhodes'. These observers provide a valuable and insightful perspective on the war from the ground level. Well recommended for those interested in the soldier's view of the Civil War.
Profile Image for Victor Davis.
Author 24 books68 followers
December 31, 2015
Rhodes is a charming model citizen and soldier. He captures the war experience better than some literary figures with his modesty, faith, and writing ability. I can see why he featured so highly in PBS' narrative research, and why this diary has become so important in the Civil War annals. One thing I didn't get out of this book, that I was hoping to, was some exposition about the cause of the north. Rhodes uses phrases like "it is all for the Union" and "a belief that our cause will prevail" without ever detailing what their cause, or his, personally, actually was. I find it odd that a young, passionate man would feel the urge to enlist in a war effort without once in four years penning his exact motivations for enlisting. Four years' worth of fighting, witnessing a tragic loss of life, interacting with civilians on both sides never moved him to express, from his point of view, what separated a Unionist from a Confederate. Perhaps an expression of emotion would have been seen as inappropriate or misplaced, or perhaps he saw himself as a recorder of events, an impartial observer. At any rate, I hope to read other books that shed light on what the war was all about from a personal, rather than political point of view. Rhodes' best passages were toward the end, when the war was winding down and emotions of joy and gratitude and victory were running highest. I especially liked the pages he penned during his time in Winchester, VA. Here is where we saw a little more of Rhodes the gentleman and civic officer, less the muddy soldier.
Profile Image for Shelly♥.
687 reviews10 followers
August 14, 2013
Civil War Diary: "All for the Union" by Elisha Hunt Rhodes   This book is the diary of Elisha Hunt Rhodes of the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers which served during the Civil War. Rhodes keep a diary of his activities and movements and also shares some letters which he sent. The book gives the idea of life in the Union Army. Rhodes moves up through the ranks to Colonel in his time and serves from Bull Run to Appomattox court house.I read this book to my boys as a "read aloud" to accompany our studies on the Civil War. While we often study battles, this book gave a us a great view of the day to day things a soldier in the Union Army did. We saw the organization, the mess, the picket duties and more. We noticed the change in Rhodes tones as the war progressed. His mantra "All for the Union" changed meaning through the war. Since we ultimately know the outcome and any student of the conflict will understand the progression of events, we see that the day to day soldiers were insulated from a lot of the things going on around them. I think this diary is particularly telling if read alongside a confederate diary or memoir. The contrast is remarkable. Reading Rhodes account of the surrender vs. that of a Confederate work we have is reading sorrow and joy in the same moment and effectively tells the entire story of the end.Recommend for: Civil War students. This would be great for a high school class studying the conflict, even if only read in part.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 45 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.