Book review

Soldiering for Glory - The Civil War Letters of Col. Frank Schaller 22nd Mississipi Infantry

Edited by: Mary W and Martin N Schaller

 

Review by: Jeremy Edwards

 

Hardcover: 185 pages. Published by University of South Carolina Press (15 Nov 2007) ISBN-10: 1570037019 - ISBN-13: 978-1570037016

 

This book is based on the letters and journal of Frank Schaller which are held at the South Carolina Library at the University of South Carolina in Columbia which his elder daughter sold to them in 1932. The letters were to Sophie Sosnowski who eventually became his wife in 1863; she decided in his favour having finally decided against Henry Timrod, the poet laureate of the Confederacy, who had also been courting her.


Schaller was in essence a quixotic idealist encumbered with an unusual amount of bad luck. He was often in the wrong place at the wrong time and had a talent for chronic self-destruction. Descended from a major in the French Imperial Cavalry who had died on the retreat from Russia in 1812 the family had settled in Saxony after fleeing France in the wake of the 1830 revolution. Although sickly and of a nervous disposition Franz was sent to the Dresden Military Academy where he specialized in topographical engineering. He subsequently studied liberal arts and modern languages at the University of Jena. At the outset of the Crimean War his father obtained a commission for him with a Zouave regiment in the French army. After a year, to his shame and his father's consternation, his health failed in the disease-ridden army camps and he was discharged. After heated arguments with his father they became estranged and so he immigrated to America to prove himself and regain his father's good opinion.

 

As his elder sister had migrated to Columbia, South Carolina, and was able to sponsor his immigration. Using his excellent education, he initially pursued a career in various teaching posts finally being hired in late 1860 as an officer instructor at Hillsborough Military Academy, North Carolina.

 

He defied the standard profile of a Confederate sympathizer: he was a recent German immigrant who had never owned slaves but instead of offering his services and talents in aid of the recognized government of his new homeland he revealed himself to be a romantic who chose to cast his lot with the cause of Southern independence and take the opportunity for greater personal advancement in the birth of this new nation.

 

During the first ten months of his service for the Confederacy he was promoted from lieutenant to full colonel, was an officer in three different infantry regiments and one state militia, had two horses killed under him, was court-martialed twice and literally chased out of camp by the men he commanded. He successfully attacked a federal gunboat and was honourably wounded at the battle of Shiloh. After that, everything went downhill. His medical complaints kept him out of further combat indeed, John Pemberton and Albert Rust both independently believed he was a malingerer, as did some of his wife's relations.

 

His most noteworthy historical moment was as the messenger who delivered Jeff Davis's scathing rebuke to Joseph Johnston after the fall of Vicksburg. He did his best to be a thorn in the side of Adjutant General Samuel Cooper, dined with Mary Chestnut and was received in the Confederate White House by Varina Davis.

 

Though largely a peripheral figure in the conflict, Schaller reveals much in his correspondence about military actions and the inner workings of the Confederate officer corps. The critical views of this disciplined European military commander on the quality and training of his American volunteer soldiers is particularly telling. He recounts his firsthand perspectives on the Battle of Shiloh, the retreat from Nashville, the Battle of Fredericksburg and the defeat at Gettysburg.