Four Brothers in Blue

From a recommendation from my dad, I’m reading an actual paper book, Four Brothers in Blue, which is mostly letters from four brothers who were all in the Union army in the U.S. Civil War. They were in different regiments and wrote letters home & to each other. This was strung together many years later by one of the brothers with details (boringly) filled in.

The letters are mostly about details of the misery of soldier life: being cold, losing all your stuff or throwing it away on a long march while carrying 100 pounds on your back in 90 degree heat, needing more socks, mud, blisters, asthma, what it’s like to wake up with lice crawling all over you, eating disgusting food, and how the entire army has diarrhea as well as lice. Somehow, I always like reading this sort of book as it makes any physical pain I’m in less significant as I try to imagine having to walk several miles to gather hay and firewood to button into my lice-filled poncho in the freezing night, for warmth, as i attempt to sleep “on the soft side of the planks”.

Early on in the book and the war, the brothers are fans of McClellan, calling him “Little Mac” and reporting excitedly if he passed close by them on parade. He kept the army morale high, even if they did think he should have followed up quicker after Lee’s defeat at Antietam. They were disappointed that this hero wasn’t taller. One brother even sneaked up to McClellan’s horse, Dan Webster, snipped off a piece of the horse’s mane as a souvenir, and sent it to their mom. I guess this horse must have had a McClellan saddle.

The letters written back to them from their mother and father are missing but you can tell they were being sent little care packages of bandages and medicine by their mom, and stern advice about knapsacks from their dad. All the brothers explain repeatedly to their dad that his knapsacks sucked because they were heavy and the straps too narrow, and they can’t carry all that stuff because they have giant ammo pouches and 50 pounds worth of guns. They stick closest to their “rubber blanket” which I imagine to be a bit like a ridiculously heavy yoga mat, and anything made of wool though the blankets are the 2nd thing to go after the knapsacks. Ponchos sound the easiest to carry. So, now I know some survival tips, in case I’m accidentally transported back in time to 1861 as an able bodied 20 year old man. How useful!