A Southern Boy in Blue: The Memoir of Marcus Woodcock, 9th Kentucky Infantry (USA), edited by Kenneth W. Noe, University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, Tenn., $32.95.
Most students of the Civil War are familiar with certain men who chose to follow their hearts and sense of duty rather than their respective states when the time came to choose sides in that terrible conflict. Examples such as Union Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, a native Virginian, and Confederate General John C. Pemberton of Philadelphia are well-known.
Not so familiar are the thousands of men in the ranks who made similar decisions. In border states such as Tennessee and Kentucky, especially, men often found themselves facing friends, neighbors and family members across fields of battle.
One such man was Marcus Woodcock. Rather than follow the path chosen by his native state of Tennessee, Woodcock and 128 other residents of Macon County crossed the border into Kentucky and cast their lot with the Union, eventually becoming part of the 9th Kentucky Regiment. A Southern Boy in Blue is Woodcock’s account of his three years of service.
The second in the Voices of the Civil War series from the University of Tennessee Press, this memoir is similar to many written right after the war. Rather than a sweeping discourse on strategy and tactics, the reader sees the war through one man’s eyes. As a result, modern readers occasionally find themselves wishing for more details when Woodcock mentions an experience and simply states that the reader, having lived through the same experiences, knows what he is referring to. Even more frustrating are some of the battle accounts in which Woodcock fails to place his regiment’s position in context of the overall battlefield.
Still, despite some minor shortcomings, this remains a good book. Kenneth Noe’s introductory notes to each chapter fill in some of the gaps created by the narrowness of Woodcock’s focus and serve as a good basic outline. Noe’s footnotes also provide the reader with useful information without being overwhelming.
There are probably better memoirs for the novice reader to turn to for accounts of life as a Civil War soldier, but for those interested in the western theater, and especially those interested in the campaigns of 1863 and 1864, A Southern Boy in Blue is well worth a look.
B. Keith Toney