Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 70: Lew Wallace, Attack on Fort Donelson (#110)

Lew Wallace, "Attack on Fort Donelson" (1827–1905) from The Civil War: The Second Year Told by Those Who Lived It:

Before he wrote Ben-Hur, Lew Wallace was a union officer during the Civil War whose shining moment of glory was probably in the attack on Forts Henry and Donelson. In the attack on Fort Donelson, Wallace used his soldiers--specially trained in Zouave tactics (about which, read here)--and took his own initiative to help stabilize Federal forces and retake a road leading to Fort Donelson.

(His most controversial moment during the Civil War was probably at Shiloh, where again, he took some initiative of his own, which turned out less well for his men. That story is not told here, but I can't be the only one interested in that.)

In his Autobiography, Wallace explains that Attack on Fort Donelson with equal parts military fact (who was in charge and where they moved) and anecdote. I'm especially fond of Wallace's pep-talk to his men:
Halting in front of the Eleventh, I said: “You fellows have been swearing for a long time that I would never get you into a fight. It’s here now. What have you to say?”
A spokesman answered: “We’re ready. Let her rip!”
Very un-Napoleonic, but very American.
And even though Wallace got through the attack unharmed physically, he's still struck by the vividness of his memories of the dead men, bleeding out into the snow. So while he still retains the big-picture (units moving on the map) view of the war, he has these moments in his autobiography that don't build to anything; they simply record that men very much like him died.

No comments:

Post a Comment