Eye of the Storm: A Civil War Odyssey

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9780684863665: Eye of the Storm: A Civil War Odyssey
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Eye of the Storm is one of the most important Civil War documents ever published. Four tattered scrapbooks found in a Connecticut bank vault in 1994 have yielded a treasure trove of more than five hundred watercolors and maps that vividly depict America's great national conflict. These scrapbooks, and the accompanying memoir, are the life's work of a long-forgotten Union private and mapmaker named Robert Knox Sneden, who witnessed some of the war's greatest campaigns and spent more than a year in Southern prison camps, including Andersonville.

A must-have for anyone interested in the subject, Robert Knox Sneden's Eye of the Storm is a permanent addition to Civil War literature and art, and a lasting achievement in human expression of the horrors of war.

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Review:

After the attack on Fort Sumter, Robert Knox Sneden decided to do his part to save the Union, signing on with the 40th New York Volunteers. Owing to his skills as an artist, Private Sneden was recruited to become a cartographer within a few months. And owing to his skills as both artist and cartographer, Civil War buffs can enjoy Eye of the Storm.

During his time in the army, Sneden kept a detailed diary and made hundreds of sketches in the field. In 1994, four scrapbooks in a Connecticut bank vault were found to contain some 800 drawings, the vast majority of them based on his original sketches. Soon after, a 5,000-page illustrated memoir based on Sneden's diaries was also discovered. Selections from the scrapbooks and memoir make up this marvelous book, which offers firsthand accounts of the action of the Peninsula Campaign and Second Bull Run--as well as the monotony of soldiering between battles. Perhaps the most compelling portion of Eye of the Storm is Sneden's descriptions of Andersonville, the Confederacy's notorious prison camp:

September 7, 1864: Fine weather, but very hot, 110 degrees anywhere in the shade. This terrible heat helps to kill us off at the rate of 100 per day inside the stockade. Dead men may be seen by the score lying all along the brook which runs through the filthy swamp, while others are tearing off their soiled clothes to get thread from the seams, or patches to put on their own ragged clothes.

Sneden's account lacks the typical Victorian flowery prose, as he writes with an almost analytical detachment about the horrors around him. This detachment lends an immediacy to his memoir, bringing home the brutality of the War Between the States. Dozens of Sneden's detailed drawings illustrate the text, making this a must-have for Civil War buffs. Highly recommended. --Sunny Delaney

About the Author:

We know little about Private Robert Knox Sneden beyond the pages of his memoir. He returned home to New York after his release from Andersonville and died alone in an old soldiers' home in 1918.

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