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This well-researched work is built around the first diary written by Pvt. William J. McLean, 34th New York Infantry, beginning with his enlistment. William records his wanderings, adventures, and thoughts from the time he leaves Fairfield, NY, through his traveling to Washington, DC, his adventures there, and while picketing along the C&O canal in the Great Falls and Seneca areas. He writes of the first death of a soldier in his regiment, the excitement over Bull Run, and an incursion into rebel-infested Virginia. Much more than a simple diary transcription, the work describes the early family history of a young man, a brother, and a father; all who answered Lincoln's call for volunteers. Researched over many years, this work adds significant new information to the history of the storied 34th New York Infantry.
The opening chapter is the intriguing search to identify the diarist. Another early chapter describes antebellum Herkimer County, NY, the town of Fairfield, and the academy in which William was a student and teacher. The diary chapters are the entries between May and early October 1861. William mentions many of his regimental friends and back home acquaintances. Chapter notes provide specifics of each individual which lend context to the reader. His detailed descriptions of camp life, adventures in camp and on picket duty, paint a clear picture of everyday life for a young volunteer soldier in Montgomery County, MD. Additional annotated information includes never before published first person accounts of several startling incidents of war. The concluding chapters review the actions of the 34th at Edward's Ferry (part of the Balls Bluff debacle), McLean's effort to correct his military and pension records, and finally the post-war years of William, his brother, and his father. A must read for Civil War enthusiasts.