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Like Grass before the Scythe: The Life and Death of Sgt William Remmel 121st NY Infantry
by William Remmel
edited by Robert Patrick Bender
University of Alabama Press, 2007
Cloth: 978-0-8173-1552-8 | eISBN: 978-0-8173-8147-9
Library of Congress Classification E523.5 121st.R46 2007
Dewey Decimal Classification 973.7447092

ABOUT THIS BOOK | AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY | TOC
ABOUT THIS BOOK
Uncommonly articulate letters from a young German-American soldier with the Union forces.
During a conflict that saw death visit many households in the land, this is the story of a young recruit’s devotion to family and nation. William Remmel’s letters cover more than two full years of service in the 121st New York Infantry Regiment during the Civil War, from August 1862 to October of 1864. They provide details on military and social history in the eastern theater of operations and on the experience of the homefront in upstate New York among a largely immigrant, working-class family and community. Like every other soldier in every other war, Remmel’s experiences are both universal and unique. They are universal in his experience of boredom, privation, discomfort, and ultimately, obliteration. His circumstances were idiosyncratic in that he was an immigrant boy, serious, thoughtful, articulate, who represents a constituency of one.
Sergeant Remmel’s unit (which was for a time commanded by Emory Upton, an important figure in the post-war army) was part of the 6th Corps, Army of the Potomac. He was a German immigrant who had settled with his parents and family in far upstate New York. The author wrote in English and apparently his parents responded in German. Perhaps this cultural difference led Remmel to be particularly careful in his writing and to explain events with unusual precision.
In addition to the important material on an immigrant family’s experience, Remmel also deals with the question of slavery, illness and hospital care (when he was wounded), the problem of hard war/total war, as well as the campaigns of Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the Shenandoah Valley in 1864. He disappears, MIA, at the Battle of Cedar Creek, October 19, 1864. His family believed he died as a POW at Andersonville Prison, and they spent a good deal of time and effort vainly trying to determine his fate.

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