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From Western Deserts to Carolina Swamps: A Civil War Soldier’s Journals and Letters Home

Edited by John P. Wilson, University of New Mexico Press

John Wilson’s skills as an archaeologist served him well during a personal 25-year odyssey, searching for journals and letters by common soldier Lewis Roe. A veteran of the antebellum Regular Army that roamed the Southwest, Roe also served in the 50th Illinois Infantry, which marched with Sherman through Georgia and the Carolinas in 1864-65.

When Wilson was a child, Roe’s daughter showed him letters her father had written during the war. Wilson eventually gathered other fragments of Roe’s writings and discovered more about his life. In all, Wilson had six fragments with which to work, including a journal Roe kept between October 1864 and March 1865. To create a coherent story, he needed to fill many gaps. The way Wilson searched for sources and corroborating evidence, as well as correcting misstatements and faulty memories, is impressive. Looking into the Atlanta Campaign, for example, he learned that “Lewis Roe’s journal entry for May 15 gave details about the Battle of Lay’s Ferry that went beyond anything included in the primary sources.” Like many other veterans, Wilson learned, Roe projected himself into events, “giving the reader or listener the impression that the narrator took part in the event” when he was merely recounting details he had learned from other veterans.


Originally published in the February 2013 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.