One of those books I was sad to finish
This Revolutionary War soldier's memoir was published anonymously in 1830 in Maine, and 100 years later a historian in Morristown, NJ did some digging around and discovered the author was the father of the man named as the copyright holder. We have much to owe to historian George F. Scheer, who, in the 1960's, saw to it that this valuable and extraordinary tome saw publication for the present day reader. I just finished reading it and feel rich in my knowledge of the total deprivation of the men who gave up their private worlds and entered into, as the author did, an eight-year stint without pay and without food on any regular basis in an attempt to create a free nation. I will transcribe, for the prospective reader, a passage from George F. Scheer, who is to me a hero, as he described his feelings about this book in the 1962 version's introduction:
"The passage of the years since its first publication has transmuted Martin's modest Narrative into a work of substantial historical value. Revolutionary diaries and journals are to be found in some profusion; but only a few memoirs or autobiographies of private soldiers have weathered the ravages of time, and the handful that have done so are, by and large, disappointingly meager, fragmentary, or brief. None compares with Martin's Narrative in scope, detail, or interest. It is, in my opinion, far and away the best of all surviving first-person accounts of the life and times of a private soldier of the Revolution. In many of its particulars it is unique. Above all, Martin re-creates superbly, as no one else has done, the full range of the daily life of the Continental soldier. He extenuates nothing of the hard times: the fright, pain, and death of battle; the vermin and sickness of camp and hospital; the grinding agony of marches without rest or sleep, half-naked and barefoot; the cold and misery of long winter camps; the days of belly-twisting hunger; and the nights of lonely perilous sentry duty. But he balances these dangers and sufferings with accounts of diversions...."
One of the characteristics of Martin's account is his humor, and he cuts himself no slack for foolish behavior (he was teenage soldier, after all) and gives plenty of attention to foolish acts of his fellow sufferers as well. Martin's account is highly readable, entertaining and informational as well, even in its original form, with only very minor editing and some footnotes by Scheer that for the most part confirm Martin's reporting about the war.
I most heartily recommend this memoir and wish that a publisher would take it up as worthy of a nice hard-bound edition, which I have not seen available. It is one of those books that I was sad to finish.