The Story of a Common Soldier (Army Life in the Civil War)


Leander Stillwell was typical of thousands of Northern boys who answered President Lincoln’s call for volunteers. In January 1862, only a few months past his 18th birthday, and only after he and his father had sowed the wheat, gathered the corn and cut the winter firewood, Stillwell left his family’s log cabin in the Jersey County backwoods of western Illinois and enlisted in Company D of the 61st Illinois Infantry Regiment. For three and a half years he served in the Western theater of operations as a noncommissioned officer before being mustered out as a lieutenant in September 1865. His first—and biggest—battle, Shiloh, was the one he remembered most vividly. He also took part in skirmishes in Tennessee and Arkansas, as well as the Siege of Vicksburg. In The Story of a Common Soldier Stillwell tells of his Army experiences, as critic H. L. Mencken observed admiringly in a review, “in plain, straightforward American, naked and unashamed, without any of the customary strutting and bawling.” Small for his age and given to taking solitary walks in the woods beyond the picket lines, Stillwell was nevertheless an enthusiastic and obedient soldier. “Just a little mortifying,” was Stillwell’s reaction when his regiment missed two battles because it had been left to guard a town in Tennessee. But, he hastened to add, “the common soldier can only obey orders, and stay where he is put, and doubtless it was all for the best.”

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