Like Grass before the Scythe: The Life and Death of Sgt William Remmel 121st NY Infantry

Like Grass before the Scythe: The Life and Death of Sgt William Remmel 121st NY Infantry

William Remmel

Language: English

Pages: 200

ISBN: 0817315527

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

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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night. But it was not my fortune to go to sleep early that night, for I had scarcely laid down ere one of my teeth began to ache terribly and it was not till near midnight that I closed my eyes for sleep. A soldier, when he feels pain, has but to bear it until it is over. There is no mother or sister to call to in the army, so the soldier contents himself by keeping his feelings to himself. But I must not dwell here. Next morning early found us on the move again and by noon we found ourselves on

if they choose to, or give them back their slaves and high offices and tell them to come back; but enough of this.73 Was sorry to learn, from Augustus’ letter, that father had been so dangerously ill. I thought it very strange that I had received no letters from him. This explains it, but he (Augustus) stated that he was getting better slowly, so that I feel hopeful that he will get along. Our family has always been so free from sickness that it seems strange to us that we are sometimes afflicted.

Brockett’s Bridge, near the town of Manheim, and worked as a carpenter and joiner. Service Records, microcopy 551, roll 71; Gazetteer and Business Directory of Herkimer County, New York, 1869–1870. Notes to Pages 24–29 / 145 Chapter 2 1. Alphonzo Casler is listed as a corporal on the company muster rolls beginning in January and February 1863. He was killed in action on May 3, 1863, at the battle of Salem Church. William Remmel to Parents, May 5, 1863, Remmel Papers, folder 3; Service Records,

29, 1864. OR Supplement, 46:506. 10. Hartwell reported that in early February 1864 two regiments of Mississippi troops attempted to desert en masse but were forced to remain within Confederate lines. In addition, he reported that a squad of Georgians came within Union lines and signed the Oath of Allegiance. Britton and Reed, To My Beloved Wife, 194. 11. Remmel may be referring to Pvt. Edgar H. Spencer of the Oneida Indepen- 158 / Notes to Pages 87–92 dent Company of New York Cavalry. This

suppose, have been occasioned by a severe hailstorm, which set in early this morning and has continued up to the time that I am writing. But it is rumored in camp that we start again today, but the truth of this I doubt and hope that I may see this impression confirmed.24 I am as usual in good health, though have been in the possession of a sure cold for the last week, which also not as yet loosens its hoarseness. With this exception I am well as ever, which you know cannot be excelled, and I am

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