The following are two letters by W. W. McCarty, an officer in the 78th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the War of Rebellion. They are from a book that is considered by some Civil War scholars to be one of the best regimental histories, particularly as it relates to the siege of Vicksburg. This book has a wonderfully convoluted 19th Century title — History of the 78th Regiment O.V.V.I. from Its “Muster-in” to Its “Muster-out” & Comprising Its Organization, Marches, Campaigns, Battles and Skirmishes, and was written by Rev. Thomas M. Stevenson, Chaplain of the Regiment (Hugh Dunne, Zanesville, Ohio: 1865). It is extremely rare and commands as much as $500 a copy — more than twice what most regimental histories cost at rare book dealers. (Reprints of this book are available from Carl J. Denbow for $40.00.)
The 78th Ohio had a streak of abolitionism in it. Capt. McCarty’s sentiments on racial questions were probably reflective of many of the officers and men of the 78th Ohio. Particularly instructive is his story in the first letter of the horrible mistreatment of a black POW he witnessed. In the second letter you will have a chance to read about the reliance of he and his comrades on intelligent and resourceful slaves who helped them during one escape attempt. These slaves provided crucial food, shelter and information during McCarty and his comrades brief period of freedom.
McCarty’s reminiscence gives not only a glimpse into the nature of the slavery system in this country at that time but also clearly shows how knowledgeable the black population of the South was about the war and their desire to aid in ending the “peculiar institution” that was keeping them subjugated. This is certainly a different picture than one gets from such classic tales as Gone with the Wind, written as it was from the perspective of the Southern aristocracy. I hope that by presenting these excerpts you will gain useful insights about the environment in which many of our ancestors lived during this tumultuous period in our nation’s history.
Read the first-person account of life in Southern prisons from the hand of W. W. McCarty of McConnelsville, Ohio:
Click here to link to McCarty’s captivating story.
The photograph on this page depicts the 78th Ohio Volunteer Infantry preparing to leave Zanesville after veteran furlough in March and April of 1864. A few months later they were taking part in the siege of Atlanta and the March to the Sea. This photograph is from a collection held by Mike Willey, of Zanesville. It was first published on the web by Larry Stevens, of Newark, Ohio, who maintains an excellent site entitled, Ohio in the Civil War.
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