Shouts & Whispers, The Civil War Correspondence of D. D. Priest of Mount Holly, Vermont. Edited by Nancy D. Wilson. Illustrated, notes, 187 pages, 2011. Shires Press, 4869 Main Street, P.O. Box 2200, Manchester Center, VT 05255, ISBN 978-1475041040, $20.00
Men fought the war, but the women kept the home fires burning, and in this case, several generations of women also carefully preserved, transcribed and prepared the the long-ago words of their kinsman for publication.
Darius Duty Priest (1826-1907), eldest son of Ethan and Hannah (Dawley) Priest, enlisted as a private in Co. I, 2nd Vermont Infantry, on 7 May 1861, from Ludlow. Thirty four and the father of four, he ostensibly went to war to watch over his younger brother Ethan Allen Priest, 24, but editor Nancy Wilson, his great-great granddaughter, also thinks "a taste for adventure was an equal motivation." However, Ethan, enlisting in the same unit on the same day, was apparently able to take care of himself pretty well, receiving five promotions, and ending the war as a 1st Lieutenant. Frequently mentioned in his letters are a third brother, 13 years junior to Darius, who joined the regiment two months after Darius and Ethan were discharge.
Priest's letters start his third day in camp at the Burlington Fair Grounds, on 2 June 1861, and continue until 30 May 1864, a month before his discharge. They document his perceptions of the Old Vermont Brigade's senior regiment, which was bloodied at First Bull Run in late July 1861. After the battle, Priest proclaimed "I know that I an not a coward now, for I can stand to e shot at without the movement of a muscle."
Priest documented his participation in the war in varying levels of detail, including his uniform, camp life, battles, local color and concern for his family and neighbors back home, to the point of frequently asking his wife specific questions she was to answer to keep him on top of local news.
He describes his uniform and equipment in detail, from his over-coat ("good grey cloth"), to his britches ("a yard wide at the crotch and the ass of them is a yard wide"), to his drinking cup ("India rubber...shaped like a tumbler. I can flat it up and put it in my pocket").
The foibles of his fellow soldiers in camp and between battles is typical of most correspondence of the period, as are his short descriptions of battles and casualties, his health and that of his fellow soldiers that his wife knew, and his fairly regular complaints that he wasn't getting enough mail from home.
Wilson introduces the volume with a fore-shortened autobiography of Priest that covered the first 15 years of his life, describing his 'deviltry' in school, and combativeness afterward, giving us an inkling of the man who became and enjoyed being a soldier. But by the time he enlisted, he had settled down, a responsible family man. In closing, she added several post-war letters in 1885, describing his trip to Washington and efforts to get a pension, and a letter in 1906 showing the veteran as a man failing in health but still mentally sharp and inquisitive.
Also included is a small portion of a diary while he was hospitalized. Unfortunately, the remainder of his diaries have not survived.
A sample of one of his letters, family photographs, an undated G.A.R. reunion photograph including the three brothers, are included. In addition, a photograph of Priest's highly decorated trunk, and drawings of it used as page fillers round out the illustrations.
Wilson intentionally omitted any commentary on the regiment, refering reader's to Paul Zeller's regimental history. All in all, a nice little volume.
Tom Ledoux is the creator and webmaster of the Vermont in the Civil War web project, VermontCivilWar.org. He has an M.A. in military studies (Civil War studies) from American Military University.