Journey to Honor by James C. Buck, ISBN 978-1-60264-209-6, www.Virtualbookworm.com
Jim Buck, a West Point graduate and former Washington State legislator, uncovered in his late father’s personal papers a diary compiled by a member of Company H of the 23rd New Jersey Volunteers. This was a 9-month unit hailing mainly from the Burlington County region that was called up in the summer of 1862. Eventually assigned to the Army of the Potomac’s Sixth Corps, the 23rd saw action at Fredericksburg and Salem Church.
The diary of the young Quaker private- Josiah Crispin intrigued Mr. Buck and upon further research found that, the official records of the regiment were missing- either pilfered or lost. However, his diligence turned up letters, newspaper articles, and other primary sources, which along with secondary works allowed him to piece together a coherent narrative of the service of Josiah and the 993 others, who mustered in to the unit.
Instead of penning an edited diary, Buck, admit tingly influenced by the work of Jeff Shaara, decided to produce a historical novel entitled Journey to Honor. Blending historical accounts with fictional dialogue, the story of Crispin and his fellow “Yahoos” is presented in a detailed, yet very entertaining manner covering the time from August of 1862 to June of 1863.
“Yahoos?’ No, not the Internet company, but more along the lines of Jonathan Swift and Gulliver’s Travels. The 23rd was a highly undisciplined unit in its early days, led by incompetent political appointees, and poorly equipped and trained. They soon earned the derision of the fellow soldiers in the veteran Jersey Brigade and only through the concerted efforts of officers brought in from the outside but and the hard work of the rank and file, did the regiment reach a fighting trim and learn to take pride in their nickname and to reach that goal of so many Civil War soldiers- to be seen as men of honor..
The novel recounts the service of the regiment almost day by day through their term of enlistment and with the two battles; they fought in- almost minute by minute. Although centered largely on Josiah Crispin and his fellow soldiers of Company H, we also come to know other members of the regiment especially the officer cadre as well as those at the helm at brigade and division levels.
The dialogue is well written, if perhaps at times a little too modern sounding, and you come to truly care about the boys , will they survive the battles and more often- will they survive the bitter cold of winter and the dangers of disease ridden camps. Buck includes footnotes to the story where various sources disagree on events and there is a large bibliography of primary and secondary sources utilized in crafting the novel.
This was obviously a labor of love for Jim Buck and I am sure his father would have been proud of the result. More proud, would be the almost 1000 “Yahoos” who served, suffered, and sometimes died in their Journey to Honor.
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