Monday, November 13, 2006

Letters Home

One often reads that Civil War soldiers were the most literate in our history, a fact attested to by the voluminous letters, diaries, and reminiscences penned by participants, many of which are available to us in some published form, or preserved in various archives and repositories. Caches of soldier letters and previously unseen diaries routinely surface even today, and every Civil War publisher, I would wager, has a number of proposals in the hopper right now for previously unpublished material. So common are Civil War letters and diaries that publishers, thank goodness, are more discriminating than they used to be. The University of Tennessee Press' Voices of the Civil War series, under the masterful guidance of series editor Pete Carmichael, is as good as it gets in that department.

One also reads that the Civil War was the last in which soldiers' letters home were uncensored by the military. I'm not sure how true that iswhether, for instance, letters home in the Spanish American War were censoredbut certainly by WWI the army was cutting or blacking out certain references (I have a stack of letters that my grandfather wrote in WWI that were too innocuous to be edited, but bear the stamp of the censor's approval).

In some ways, with the current U.S. deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, we are harkening back to something akin to the Civil War era—we have a highly literate soldiery with nearly unfettered channels to communicate their experiences to the citizenry back home. During the Civil War, some soldiers acted as war correspondents for their hometown paper. Today, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have the internetemail and blogging—with unlimited readership.

In recent weeks, some of my fellow (Civil War) bloggers have been announcing the discovery or appearance of a flurry of Civil War blogs, and I would welcome them too, but can't keep up with them all. Instead, I wanted to make mention of a blog that has kept me mesmerized and riveted for weeks nowThe Sandboxwith it's well-written, moving insights, alternately horrific, funny, deeply touching, or pins-and-needles suspenseful, from the latest generation of Americans at the front.

You can't stop reading this stuff. Nor should you.

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