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From Schoolboy to Soldier: The Correspondence and Journals of Edward Staley Abbott, 1853-1863

 By Quincy S. Abbot, Abbot, 2013, $16.95

Every time letters from a Civil War participant are found and published, a new insight into the spirit of the era comes to light. In the case of Quincy S. Abbot’s self-published reconstruction of the 21-year life of his great-granduncle, Schoolboy to Soldier provides not only one more piece for the war’s intellectual jigsaw puzzle, but realizes, 150 years later, Edward Stanley Abbot’s ambition of being a literary figure.

In letters to his mother, brother and cousin, Boston-bred Stanley Abbot reveals his literary potential in his response to the historic events unfolding around him, but it is only in confidential correspondence with his sister Emily that he explains in detail the devotion to the Union cause that drove him to leave school for service in the 17th U.S. Infantry, swiftly rising from private to first lieutenant.

Anecdotes abound on camp life, with an extensive lament on the often-overlooked problem that insects posed to every soldier’s wellbeing. But Abbot’s war began in earnest at Chancellorsville, and his letters offer his appraisal of the battle in its immediate wake—and somewhat altered thereafter, as he learns more about it. As the Army of the Potomac moved north to deal with General Robert E. Lee, Abbot approves of Abraham Lincoln relieving Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker of command, but is curiously skeptical about Hooker’s successor, even though Maj. Gen. George G. Meade had commanded the V Corps of which his regiment was part.

“How Meade will do, it would be foolish to predict,” Abbot wrote, “as he is simply unknown—He may be ‘the coming man’ for all we know, but why?—Why leave the thing to chance?” Abbot, like a good many of his comrades, longs for Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan to be reinstated as head of the Army of the Potomac in what he believes will be a battle to come at South Mountain or Antietam.

Abbot’s last two letters were written near Frederick, Md., on June 28, 1863. Outside Gettysburg on July 2, as reconstructed by his descendant, he was leading Company H past Little Round Top, over Houck’s Ridge toward Rose’s Woods when a Minié ball went through his right lung and lodged in his spine. He died of internal bleeding six days later, leaving posterity his words, From Schoolboy to Soldier.


Originally published in the March 2014 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.