The Civil War Memoir of William T. Levey

"The Civil War Memoir of William T. Levey" was published by the Northshire Press in 2008.  The book features a foreward by the respected Civil War and Lincoln scholar, Harold Holzer, and was edited for publication by Bill Howard.  The soldier who authored the memoir, William T. Levey, served in the 134th New York Volunteer Infantry, a regiment that was recruited in Schenectady County, New York in the summer of 1862.  Levey original wrote the memoir for a local newspaper but it was later published as a softcover volume titled, "The Blue and the Gray: A Sketch of Soldier Life in the Army of the Civil War" by a local publisher in 1904.  The original book was printed on inexpensive pulp paper and very few copies have survived the trials of time. 

 

There have been thousands of Civil War memoirs published since the end of the war, but William T. Levey's book stands out because of its conversational tone and its reliance on memory.  Upon reading the book, it seems clear that Levey wrote down the story of his war based on memory.  While most of his facts can be confirmed by the record, the errors of memory included in the text (but corrected in the accompanying footnotes by the editor) are endearing, and render this book a real treasure.  Reading it is as if the modern student is sitting at the bedside of the last surviving veteran as he tells the story of his wartime experiences. 

 

The book features a lengthy introduction by the Civil War historian, Bill Howard, and is also footnoted and illustrated by rare Civil War photos.  Levey's regiment, the 134th New York Infantry, served in the Union Army's XI Corps at both Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.  In both battles, the predominantly German regiments that composed the XI Corps, were criticized for abandoning their lines and encouraging a rout of the Union Army.  Levey's account of the Gettysburg battle takes up most of the book.  Levey did not escape the war without tragedy.  After his regiment was transferred to the Deep South to participate in Sherman's 1864 March to the Sea, Levey was severally wounded and ended up suffering the amputation of his lower leg at a field hospital outside Atlanta.  Levey returned to New York at the conclusion of the war and died at his home in Delanson, New York in 1921.

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