One of my favorite movies (or series of movies) is Ken Burns’ award-winning PBS documentary, “The Civil War.” This famous documentary was based on a wide variety of sources, including a number of well-known Civil War books. Prominent among these books was “All for the Union: The Civil War Diary and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes.”
You’ll find “All for the Union” on just about every recommended reading list about the Civil War, and it irked me that I’d never read it. I put it on my official “bucket list” several years ago and recently finished reading it from cover to cover. I started reading it on Oct. 23 and finished it on Nov. 13.
Originally published in 1985, “All for the Union” was edited by Robert Hunt Rhodes, who was the great-grandson of Elisha Hunt Rhodes. The edition of “All for the Union” that I read was a 1991 softcover edition published by Random House as part of its Vintage Civil War Library series. This edition includes a foreword by Geoffrey C. Ward.
As you might have guess from the subtitle, “All for the Union” is an edited collection of the Civil War diaries of Elisha Hunt Rhodes. Rhodes (even though he was a Yankee) was a remarkable soldier, serving the Union as a member of his Rhode Island hometown infantry company. He enlisted as a private in 1861, served four years through some of the war’s fiercest battles, and ended up being a lieutenant colonel by the war’s end.
Rhodes’ diary entries are not only easy to read, but they also shed light into the life of a typical soldier. He offers insight into the ups and downs of Army life and describes the hardships and highlights in simple terms that just about anyone can understand. The title of the book, “All for the Union,” also comes from the many times he used this good-natured saying over and over in his diary entries as a way of explaining the sometimes nonsensical things he and his men were called on to do in support of the war.
I was also interested by the references to Freemasonry in the book. At first, Rhodes makes passing mention of Masons he encounters and their lodge activities. He then takes notice of how Masons, regardless of what side they are on, treat each other and provide Masonic funerals for brother Masons. Before it’s all over, Rhodes becomes a Mason himself, while home on leave before the end of the war. There is no doubt he was a good man.
As mentioned, you’ll find “All for the Union” on many recommended reading lists and for good reason. I highly recommend it to anyone out there in the reading audience with a taste for Civil War history. In fact, like a good movie, it left me wanting to re-read it as soon as I finished it.
In the end, how many of you have read “All for the Union”? What did you think about it? What other Civil War books would you recommend reading? Let us know in the comments section below.