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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
You Dream Every Night That I Am Home: Letters from a Young Civil War Soldier to his Wife in Eckley, a town in the anthracite coal fields of northern Pennsylvania by Melanie Akren-Dickson is a profoundly personal, meticulously researched, and documented record of a simple Civil War soldier called to duty in the conflict that split the fledgling nation of the United States. John Williamson was a newly married twenty-two-year-old who worked as a mule driver in the coal town of Eckley, Pennsylvania. He and his newly-minted wife, Hester, were expecting their first child when war was declared and John enlisted in Company K of the Pennsylvania 81st Infantry. The letters John would write home to his beloved Hester right up until the moment of his death in the Battle of Charles City Crossroads form the core of this beautiful book but the author has researched and also included many maps, photographs (now and then), plus details of the lives of many of those mentioned in the letters, into the narrative. The letters take us on John’s journey from the tiny town of Eckley to Washington DC, Alexandria, Virginia, and finally to the Virginian Peninsular where he was to meet his untimely fate. Along with John’s letters, the story gives us a feel for the life of a common soldier in one small part of that awful and bloody conflict.
You Dream Every Night That I Am Home is a history buff’s dream. By using John’s letters as the center of this story, the reader is transported into the mindset of an ordinary man just doing what he believed was his duty and doing it with pride and lack of complaint. I particularly appreciated that his correspondence with his wife was not of the flowery, romantic nature that one might expect in one of these war collections but was much more down-to-earth and grounded, relating to everyday happenings and seeking news from home, as well as passing on information about others from Eckley that would be of interest to his wife, family, and neighbors. The actual book itself is beautifully presented, full of clear and informative photos, from then and now, showing sights that John Williamson will have seen or passed on his journey, as well as a fantastic collection of maps, war memorial sites, plaques, and headstones relating to people John had met during his sojourn to war. What I was deeply impressed with was the author’s research and the summary of the lives of all the people John mentioned in his letters, as well as their offspring, locations, and circumstances after the war, assuming they’d survived. The depth of detail in this work is staggering and is of academic quality in my opinion, with numerous informative footnotes and an extensive bibliography. The author also gives a historical perspective to the actual battles and their participants, over and above what were often just passing comments, to his wife Hester in his letters. This is an engrossing, enlightening read that I can highly recommend.