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Eye of the Storm

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Bryan and Lanford (Virginia Historical Society) have spent considerable time editing the often graphic, at times partisan, yet highly analytical 5000-page illustrated diary/memoir kept by Private Sneden, a Union cartographer who dabbled in art as a member of the 40th New York Volunteers. The Virginia Historical Society initially acquired four scrapbooks several years ago, which contained 500 watercolor illustrations of Sneden's Civil War experiences. When analyzing Sneden's artwork, Bryan Landford noticed references to a diary, which they eventually located and purchased. The narrative depicts the life of the common soldier and is perhaps one of the most complete descriptions of Civil War battlefield experiences (Army of the Potomac) and prison life (Andersonville) ever written. In addition, the many watercolor sketches and maps provide a visual chronicle of every place Sneden visited. Using numerous sources, the editors have also been able to corroborate the accuracy of Sneden's description of events and personalities. Readers will enjoy seeing carefully selected examples of Sneden's primitive yet powerfully evocative art. Skillfully edited, Eye of the Storm may one day be considered a classic. Essential for academic and public libraries.-Charles C. Hay Ill, Eastern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Richmond

Doreen Carvajal"The New York Times"Through sheer serendipity and the determined detective work of a Southern historian, the voluminous collection was pieced together, along with the puzzle of Sneden's life and obsessions. Experts say his oeuvre has no equal in Civil War art.

Shortly after the firing on Fort Sumter in 1861, 29-year-old Robert Sneden joined the 40th New York Volunteer Infantry. Sneden's prewar career as an architect/engineer attracted the attention of higher officers, and the young Canadian was detached as a cartographer for most of his brief military career, seeing action in the Second Manassas and on a few other occasions. On November 27, 1863, Sneden was seized by rebel troops led by the famed John S. Mosby and hustled south to a Richmond prison. In early 1864, he was among the first batch of Union prisoners sent to Andersonville, Ga., where more than 13,000 prisoners died. After transfers to other Southern camps, Sneden was finally exchanged in December 1864. Throughout his army career, Sneden kept a journal and sketched numerous sites of his experiences. Although the journal itself has disappeared, a very journal-like postwar memoir of some 5,000 pages based on his wartime experience and heavily illustrated by him has been found. Editors Bryan and Lankford, of the Virginia Historical Society (which owns the Sneden collection), have excerpted the more important sections of this compellingly straightforward account and provided more than 70 color illustrations of battle fields, city layouts and other scenes that caught Sneden's precise, cartographic eye. Summaries fill in blanks from the larger work, and brief identifications of period people and terms are helpfully included, but it's really the pictures that tell the best story here. The end result is a pleasing palate of vivid (if not quite reflective) descriptions and terrific watercolors from a patriotic man. History Book Club main selection; BOMC and Military Book Club alternate; first serial to Civil War Illustrated. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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