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Personal Toll is Compelling
(FLS 4/26/08)


No Soap, No Pay, Diarrhea, Dysentery & Desertion by Jeff Toalson (editor)
By Michael Aubrecht, FLS Town & County
Date published: 4/26/2008 CIVIL WAR

More than 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in the American Civil War. It has been estimated that twice as many of them died as the result of sickness than of gunshot wounds. Far beyond the fearsome bayonet or Minie ball, disease, dysentery, poor hygiene and woefully lacking sanitation threatened the soldier's life on a daily basis.

Army campsites were often more deadly than the battlefield, and diseases from this breeding ground for sickness often spilled over into the local civilian population. Contaminated water, spoiled rations and the inability to stay clean while on campaign added to the misery and suffering of all those caught up in the nation's conflict.

In addition to the obvious physical rigors of army life, psychological struggles such as depression wore heavily on the hearts and minds of some soldiers. These mental wounds often resulted in alcohol abuse, suicidal tendencies and severe longing for home and family.

Unfortunately, it is this brutally honest, yet disturbing perspective that is usually omitted from the historical narrative in favor of military tactics and political analysis. The result is a gap in the published recollections of the infantrymen, cavalrymen and artillerymen that made up the ranks of both armies, as well as the civilians, who also bore the residual pains of war.

As the war progressed, the quality of life for Confederate soldiers deteriorated at an alarming rate. By mid-1864, and through the early part of 1865, much of the South lay in ruins and those fighting on behalf of the Confederate States struggled to maintain a positive outlook for the future. Not surprisingly, descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of suffering often found their way into written correspondence and memoirs.

It is these diaries, journals and letters home that provide the basis for Jeff Toalson's highly original work "No Soap, No Pay, Diarrhea, Dysentery & Desertion."

In addition to boasting the best title for a book that this reviewer has ever read, Toalson's contribution to Civil War history has opened the door to a far-too-neglected subject, the day-to-day strife of the common soldier and his constant challenge to remain alive in the most nauseating of circumstances.

Local battle accounts

"No Soap, No Pay" presents the last 16 months of the Confederacy, as told from the first-person perspectives of a plethora of soldiers and citizens from all walks of life. Of those quoted, 220 men and 50 women recalled the War Between the States and the tenacity that was required in order to survive it.

Beyond adverse living conditions, the recollections in "No Soap, No Pay" include some Southerners' insights into slavery, religion, inflation and an undying hope for their fledgling cause. The concept of this book is so simple, yet brilliant, and the collection of quoted material is superb. "No Soap, No Pay" contains a wide variety of contributors that adds to the enjoyment of the read.

Residents will be particularly interested in the diary entries that reference the local battles of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania. The accounts of those, both in the fight and at home, paint a vivid portrait of life and death in the field. For example, Lt. J.S. Dozle, of the 33rd Virginia Infantry dramatically writes:

May 12, 1864, Spotsylvania, Muleshoe Salient: The atmosphere was obscured by a thick fog which was increased in density by the smoke of battle that, in the absence of any breeze, hung in heavy masses in the wood. The scene was terrible men seen dimly through the smoke and fog the woods were lighted by the flashing of guns the din was tremendous and increasing Men in crowds with bleeding limbs, and pale, pain-stricken faces, were hurrying to the rear, and, mingling with these could be seen many unwounded who had escaped from the wrecks of their comrades.

However, there is much more to this narrative than graphic descriptions of battlefield tales and bloody heroics. The desperation of the South is repeatedly presented, with frustrations over the devaluing of Confederate currency, the lowering of the draft-age, diminishing furloughs, bad food, lack of basic necessities and the poorly managed postal service. As the book progresses, a virtual timeline is plotted, as the inevitable defeat of the Southern army becomes apparent in the entries.

The civilian perspectives are equally compelling, as topics range from unmarried pregnancy and prostitution, to unsanitary medical practices and the lack of food and clothing.

'The Common Voice'

In an e-mail interview with me, editor Jeff Toalson explained his own vision for the book. He said, "The common voice, soldier and civilian, is often overlooked in history. Yet those voices often have the truest and most human ring. This first-person narrative is remarkable in its simplicity and stunning in its scope."

He added "The book sells equally well to both men and women. It is also being used by middle school teachers and home-schoolers to involve the students in the lives of actual participants to help bring history to life."

At nearly 500 pages, armchair historians interested in conducting their own research into the plight of these individuals will appreciate the triple index that is provided. This extra step enables the reader to locate the memoirs of individuals by referencing their name, command or general subject.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of this endeavor is found in the "voice" that has been given to the personal memories of these 270 courageous men and women, who lived through the darkest of times in our nation's history. By sharing their most intimate and personal recollections, Toalson presents an opportunity for us to learn what really happened, as their cause and their country came an end.

MICHAEL AUBRECHT is a Civil War author and historian who lives in Spotsylvania County. For more information, visit his Web site at Send e-mail to his attention to gwoolf@freelance





Shades of Gray by Jessica James
By Michael Aubrecht, Pinstripe Press
Date published: Spring 2008

The American Civil War was among the darkest of times in our nation’s history, a period in which both civilians and soldiers suffered greatly amidst the tragic circumstances that surrounded them on behalf of their respective causes.

In addition to separating the country’s northern and southern states, this ‘Great Divide’ also cut through the fragile fabric of family and friends. As the threat of armed conflict became inevitable, loyalties among the country’s citizens became blurred and one’s sense of duty to the state often overshadowed the duty to the country.

Ultimately the War Between the States was a catastrophe of epic proportions, yet it is within this tragedy that we can sometimes find triumph. For every battlefield account depicting the worst of man, there are countless other stories that illustrate care and compassion.

For every instance of hatred between the combatants, there are also stories of love. This is the basis for author Jessica James’ debut release titled “Shades of Gray: A Novel of the Civil War in Virginia.”

More than a typical romance novel, “Shades of Gray” takes the reader on a whirlwind journey across the Old Dominion with a highly original and historically accurate plotline. It is presented with a wonderful narrative that echoes the classic writing styles of days gone by, and it is through the author’s meticulous attention to detail that the book’s characters come alive.

Depictions of their tenacity, both for and against one another’s causes, seem to spring from the pages and I found myself reading much faster than usual, as the forward momentum of the storyline was maintained throughout.

Our hero, a cavalier named Captain Alexander Hunter, represents the Confederate cause. He is a feared and revered trooper who is bent on stopping an equally courageous Federal scout who has repeatedly plagued the rebel army.

This Yankee however, is really not at all what ‘he’ appears to be, and through a strange twist of fate, we are introduced to Andrea Evans, a daring, female Union Spy, who plays the part of a soldier and a Southern belle. Both characters become entangled in each other’s lives, forcing a duality of conflict that exists between their personal emotions and military obligations.

The ‘conscience’ of this book includes examples of courage, pride, loyalty and revenge, amidst a backdrop of romance and retribution.

It is this tension between the book’s two main characters that echoes the very same sentiment that supporters on both sides of the Civil War struggled with, from the first shot at Fort Sumter to the surrender at Appomattox Court House.

And it is within the history of America’s greatest conflict that we are also caught up in a love story that transcends either side’s political perspective.

In an email interview with me, Jessica James explained what inspired her to pen the book. “I am enthralled by the soldiers' deep devotion to Christian principles and their abiding belief in everlasting life,” she said. “I have been reading Civil War nonfiction and 19th century fiction almost exclusively for the past three years. When I began to subscribe to romance and fiction magazines to keep abreast of industry trends, I discovered how revolting the romance genre now is.”

She added, “I felt the need to publish something that emphasized traditional American values. Publisher, Patriot Press, sets high standards to insure good, wholesome content that is both educational and inspirational.”

Both Patriot Press and Jessica James have certainly met their goals with “Shades of Gray: A Novel of the Civil War in Virginia.” The book is a wonderful read, as well as a moving commentary on the struggles that were faced by ordinary people, who rose to the occasion and became extraordinary.

It is through the teetering lives of Captain Hunter and Ms. Andrea Evans that we can find the common ground that existed between the North and South.

For more information on this exciting new title please visit: Patriot Press.

MICHAEL AUBRECHT is a Civil War author and historian who lives in Spotsylvania County. For more information, visit his Web site at


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