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

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All for the Union: The Civil War Diary & Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes
All for the Union: The Civil War Diary & Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes by Elisha Hunt Rhodes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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.

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Victor A. Davis has always loved reading and writing short stories. He is an avid hiker and even when away from the world of laptops and wifi, keeps a pocket paperback and a handwritten journal to keep him company on trail. He is the author of two short story collections, Grains of Sand and The Gingerbread Collection. Join his Mailing List for special announcements about upcoming works.