I thoroughly enjoyed John Jackman's compact, readable account of his war service in the western Confederate armies. Many of his experiences will be familiar to students of the Civil War because they are identical to those of thousands of other soldiers'. Jackman marched many a long and dusty mile, he suffered repeatedly from fevers or other illness, he choked down poor rations, he was wounded, and he was nearby when friends died of disease or were struck down in battle.
However, while there are similarities with other accounts, some of Jackman's adventures are unique. On one occasion he and his comrades were trapped on a runaway train, and in 1864 he was wounded by the same barrage that killed Lt. General Leonidas Polk. John Green, one of Jackman's friends later wrote, "We thought he was killed...but he revived. I poured water on his head...and Jack was so bright by this time that we had a hearty laugh at the way he flopped over, just like a chicken when his head is cut off."
I think this diary is especially valuable to living historians because it is contemporaneous to the conflict. Jackman made final corrections to his journal in the Spring of 1865, and therefore it suffers neither from a lack of clarity nor from the "Lost Cause" revisionism found in some post-war recollections.
The journal tells us much about real life in the Confederate army. A lot of the dialogue Jackman recorded has a modern sound, especially the "period" slang. For example, one chuckle headed officer is a "goober," a hard drinking man goes on a "bender," and one fellow who wants to be believed "swears on a stack of Bibles." The diary also contradicts some popular notions regarding rebel armies in the field. For instance, when they could obtain it the troops lined their tents with straw. Also, for at least a year after he joined the army in October, 1861, Jackman routinely erected and slept beneath a common or "A" tent if the baggage train had moved forward. Our "campaigner" cousins would have us believe that bivouacking in the above manner never occurred. But, they would be wrong. While on the march to Kentucky in support of Bragg's 1862 invasion Jackman wrote plainly that the men "pitched our tents in regular order." Later he makes clear distinction between common tentage, which was eventually taken out of service to reduce the baggage train, and shelter halves, tent flies, or dog tents.
Jackman's account weakens the assertion that in areas of supply the western armies were slighted in favor of the East. He writes about his overcoats, uniform issues, commutation reimbursement, books he has read, and the mail he received through the lines. All of this reached the Kentuckian even though his state had been occupied by the Federal army since 1861. Clearly Jackman's command, at least, was fairly well provided for.
historian William C. Davis does a good job of editing Jackman's diary.
He adds biographical notes and interesting supplementary information.
If you are looking for something fresh and first-hand you could not do
better than following Pvt. John Jackman and his adventures in the 9th Kentucky