This is a reprint of a review I wrote published over a decade ago in the Daily News of Galveston County.
Illustrated diary shows humanity of Civil War
By Mark Lardas
The Daily News
Published September 17, 2006
“The Southern Journey of a Civil War Marine: The Illustrated Note-Book of Henry O. Gusley,” edited and annotated by Edwad T. Cotham, University of Texas Press, $24.95. 213 pages.
In September 1863, a Galveston newspaper — not this one, a then-competitor: the Galveston Tri-Weekly News — began publishing a diary captured at the Battle of Sabine Pass earlier that month.
The diary proved enormously popular. It was kept by a U.S. Marine from Pennsylvania serving on the Clifton, one of two gunboats captured at Sabine Pass.
Although its author had no intention of sharing its contents beyond his family, it was entertainingly written.
Nearly 150 years later, Edward T. Cotham, author of books on the Civil War battles at Galveston and Sabine Pass, discovered the diary while going through archives of the Tri-Weekly News.
The events described paralleled a series of drawings made by Civil War naval surgeon that Cotham encountered earlier.
Further examination revealed the surgeon served on the same ship as the marine.
Cotham realized that by joining the diary and the drawings he had an illustrated first-person account of the Civil War in the Gulf from the capture of New Orleans to the Battle of Sabine Pass.
“The Southern Journey of a Civil War Marine” is the result. Cotham bookends the diary with an introduction of how the diary came to be, the newspaper’s introduction and correspondence between the newspaper and the diary’s author, Henry Gusley. (He survived the battle and was then a prisoner of war in Texas.)
The diary’s pages are interspersed with illustrations by Daniel Nestell, the Clifton’s surgeon, and contemporary drawings and photographs that appeared in period publications such as Harper’s and Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly.
This book works on many levels. For Civil War buffs, it is an exciting excursion into the gun deck of a Union warship, an opportunity to experience life as seen by the common sailor or marine.
Gusley’s notes are especially welcome to Civil War buffs because personal accounts written by ordinary seamen and marines are rare.
Cotham added an extensive set of endnotes to explain terms unfamiliar to the casual reader unfamiliar with Civil War events or period literature. This adds to the value of the book, both for the buff and the novice.
In all, this is an excellent book, well worth the time spent reading it.
Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian and model-maker, lives in League City.