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Posts Tagged ‘Union’

Men Go to Battle

August 19, 2016 | by

A small-budget film dramatizes the passive motives of Civil War enlistees.

Still from Men Go to Battle.

Still from Men Go to Battle.

The following are reasons that Henry Mellon, the protagonist of the film Men Go to Battle, volunteers to leave his home and fight for the Union in the Civil War: his brother, Francis, has thrown an ax at him in a spirit of fun; one of his mules has run into the woods; the local rich girl has spurned his advances; his arable land is choked with weeds; Francis is taller and more confident than he is; a rainstorm has drowned six of his chickens.

The following are not evident reasons for his enlistment: patriotism, abolitionism. Henry can neither read nor write, and he shows no interest in the world beyond his town, Small’s Corner, Kentucky. The rich girl he likes is waited on by enslaved maids.

He slips off to the army on a winter night. Weeks later, he composes a letter home, dictating to a literate comrade: “I have all the beef and salted pork I want.” Read More »

On Homesickness

November 2, 2011 | by

'The Soldier's Dream of Home,' a Currier & Ives lithograph produced during the Civil War, was one sign of the great attention that soldiers' homesickness received. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

A few weeks ago I found myself accidentally enacting the drama of a book I was reading. The book was Homesickness: An American History, and I was reading it on the subway, somewhat embarrassed by the title, which, held up right in front of my face, was like a sign saying: Here in New York, I can’t cut it. I comforted myself with the idea that I was only a few stops from home, where I could read safe from potential pity. But when I got to my door, I discovered that I’d locked myself out.

I looked up at my windows. I wished I could use the bathroom, foreign bathrooms costing at least a coffee. But it struck me that I didn’t long to be in my apartment. My place, with its card table in the kitchen and mattress on the floor, is unsettled—I would feel as dislocated inside of it as out. I can’t imagine what feeling settled here would look like; the only settled place I’m familiar with is the home where I grew up.

How long does it take to cultivate the feeling of home? I’ve been in New York for three years, on the East Coast for eight, and I’ve never suffered from acute homesickness. But still, when I’m called to define “home,” I think of El Granada, a town of 5,436 that staked itself twenty-six miles south of San Francisco down the coast. I mean staked quite literally: between 1906 and 1909, Ocean Shore Railway, which was building tracks from Santa Cruz to San Francisco along what is now Highway 1, planted thousands of fast-growing, blue gum eucalyptuses with the hopes of flipping El Granada into a seaside resort for train-traveling San Franciscans. The railroad company also commissioned the eminent architect and city planner Daniel Burnham (famous for the Flatiron building) to plan the streets. They go in two directions, up the hills and around them, so that it looks from above as if a four-square-mile spider web has been draped over the thousands of trees. But the dream of El Granada was not to be. Two years later the railway company collapsed. The tracks were abandoned. Some speculators bought land, but the place never really caught on until computers did in the late eighties and nineties, and intrepid commuters from Silicon Valley bought BMWs and began building houses. Read More »