06 April 2014

A soldier's book: The Bloody Thirteenth by Dick Stanley

Edward P. and Mary Lenora Stanley
Rev Edward P. Stanley, the great grandfather of Dick Stanley**, pictured with his wife above, contributed in at least three ways to the book in question. First of all, by being a soldier of the 13th Mississippi Volunteer Infantry Regiment for three bloody years, before a cannonball took a part of his leg (and, possibly, saved his life to marry and father children, thus begetting the author of the book - the second way). And the third way Edward P. Stanley contributed to the book is by being a private. It is only my guess, but this is probably what made Dick Stanley to eschew the usual pitfall of many historians: writing about wars from a colonel level and beyond, making the war look more like a set of an eagle-view battle formations, fitting a standard page in a book. (That and, of course, the fact that Dick Stanley himself was an infantry officer, going with Vietnamese militia units through the treacherous paths of Vietnam.)

The Bloody Thirteenth is mostly a book about soldiers*: southern farmers most of them, who volunteered to fight for a cause we are rejecting today, out of faith we do not share (nor does Dick Stanley, I haste to add). But, putting the matters of politics and faith aside, a reader will definitely admire the selflessness, the courage that sometimes bordered craziness, the iron will of soldiers who went through the harshest and the cruelest conditions one could imagine - and fought till the bitter end.

Anyone with even a smidgen of military experience will wonder at the picture of the trials and tribulations that the regiment went through, feeling a deep respect to the soldiers. To see through the routine and matter of fact reports and personal letters how a big (more than twelve hundred enlisted men) unit goes from an inexperienced (albeit willing) gang of rookies to a diamond-hard fighting team - to see this is to wonder and to admire.
Private Newton Nash
And, since personal letters were mentioned, one can't pass over the name of the man pictured above, whose letters provide more color to the story of the regiment than any discussion of strategy and tactics employed by the generals. His constant worry about the problems his wife Mollie (pictured below) experienced during his absence, while he himself shares the ultimate hardships with the regiment, is worthy of admiration.

I could go on more about the book, its undeniable impact and its fine points, but suffice to say that the only beef I might have with it is the lack of the Rev Edward P. Stanley's picture on its cover. In my opinion, he deserves it no less than the regiment's first commander, general Barksdale, whose image appears first in the book.

Once again, it is a book about soldiers, and it will definitely help non-soldiers to understand the former. For a purely symbolic fee, I have to add.


(*) It is not that the author doesn't mention and discuss the colonels and the generals in the book, but he does so in quite a critical way, frequently using non-complimentary opinions about the former that come from the soldiers and other officers.

(**) More about Dick Stanley, quoted from his main blog:
Retired Texas newspaperman (politics, crime, science, medicine, meteorology), married father of a soon-to-be 14-year-old boy, antique rose gardener, adult student of the violin, fiddle dance-band sideman, independent publisher, and Vietnam combat veteran (MACV, I Corps, 1969).
I’ve written three books of fiction that may interest you. Here, here, and here, and a new non-fiction one here. More about all of them here. Check them out!
More about the 13th Mississippi Volunteer Infantry Regiment in Dick's dedicated blog
13th Mississippi Infantry Regiment. But go there only after you you've read the book!