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Through Blood and Fire

The Civil War Letters of Major Charles J. Mills, 1862–1865, Revised and Expanded Edition

Civil War Era, History, Interpreting the Civil War: Texts and Contexts, Recent Releases, U.S. History

DescriptionThe insightful letters of a Harvard-educated staff officer’s experience in the Army of the Potomac

Charles J. Mills, the scion of a wealthy, prominent Boston family, experienced a privileged upbringing and was educated at Harvard University. When the Civil War began, Mills, like many of his college classmates, sought to secure a commission in the army. After a year of unsuccessful attempts, Mills was appointed second lieutenant in the Second Massachusetts Infantry in August 1862; however, he was seriously wounded at Antietam a month later. Following a nearly yearlong recovery, Mills eventually reentered the service as a staff officer, although he remained physically disabled for the rest of his life. He was initially with the Ninth Corps during the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns and later at the Second Corps headquarters.

During his time in the army, Mills served under seven different generals and witnessed some of the most intense fighting of the war. Mills’s letters to his family offer enlightening insights about the Civil War in the East as seen from the perspective of an educated, impressionable, and opinionated Bostonian Brahmin.

Compiled, edited, and privately published in a limited edition in 1982 by the late Gregory A. Coco, Through Blood and Fire did not achieve widespread attention and has been out of print for decades. This new edition of the Mills letters, extensively revised and edited by J. Gregory Acken, incorporates additional letters and source material and provides exhaustive annotations and analysis, revitalizing this important primary source for understanding a crucial era of our history.

Editor Gregory Acken is an independent historian whose work has focused on telling the stories of Civil War soldiers through their letters, diaries, and memoirs. He is the editor of several books, including Inside the Army of the Potomac: The Civil War Experience of Captain Francis Adams Donaldson and Blue-Blooded Cavalryman: Captain William Brooke Rawle in the Army of the Potomac, May 1863–August 1865.