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I did not sleep
much that night.
I had no blankets and it was awful cold.

   About . . .

What the Private Saw

The Civil War Letters and Diaries
of Oney Foster Sweet

What the Private Saw - The Civil War Letters and Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet
Private Oney Foster Sweet’s previously unpublished letters and diaries offer a unique glimpse of the American Civil War from the bottom looking up; that is, from the view of a private rather than a general or a commanding officer, the ones who wrote the official reports—a private simply trying to survive a deadly war in which one in five combatants perished, with more deaths caused by disease than combat.

In 1888, looking back, Oney Sweet wrote:

The unwritten part of our war is greater than all that has been written. Two soldiers side by side in a hot place in our battles did not see the same things. The generals did not see what the privates saw.

His descriptions of the battles of Seconnd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg—among others—captivate the reader.

Yet, his missives relate more than just the hard, brutal times with “minnie balls . . . whizzing by our ears.” They spent more time in camp—especially during the winter—than in combat, and they entertained themselves.

A soldier’s delight: the mail, the paymaster and tobacco.

Occasionally, they received “a Quota of whiskey issued out to us” and at other times “Some licuor” found its way into their hands, resulting in “Some fun in camp.”

Not a few soldiers, including Sweet, spent time standing extra guard duty for fighting among themselves or other infractions. (Surely the whiskey and “licour” had nothing to do with that.)

Weather permitting, they “played ball” as well as cards, held boxing matches, attended dances, gambled, read newspapers, and wrote letters, in addition to the drills, inspections, washing and mending clothes, building shelters, and foraging for food when their rations ran out.

This first-hand account of what the private saw will be a delightful and informative addition to the many existing volumes on the American Civil War. It also serves as a companion to Trumpets of the Morning, written by Marian Julia Sweet, Oney Sweet’s daughter. Her book offers a fictionalized account of the loneliness, anxiety and difficulties she believed her parents endured. It was recently published (2014) by three of her grandchildren: William Ketchum, Joan Ketchum Reamer, and James Grant.

The book was edited by award-winning journalist and historical reenactor Larry M. Edwards.

What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters and Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet will be released on April 9, 2015, the 150th anniversary of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, effectively ending the U.S. Civil War.

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