Aldridge, Katherine M. (editor). No Freedom Shrieker: The Civil War Letters of Union Soldier Charles Biddlecom (Paramount Market Publishing, Inc., December 5, 2011). 292 pages, illustrations, bibliography, endnotes, index. ISBN: 078-0-9830436-7-6 $24.95 (Paperback).
Imagine rummaging through what is essentially junk on a new property you just bought. Then imagine finding hundreds of Civil War letters written from a soldier to his wife. Katie Aldridge, the editor of No Freedom Shrieker: The Civil War Letters of Union Soldier Charles Biddlecom, doesn’t have to imagine. It actually happened to her several years ago and led to the creation of this book. No Freedom Shrieker is a record of the letters of Charles Biddlecom to his wife in his two stints in the Union Army, including the unrelenting meat grinder of a campaign from the Wilderness to Appomattox.
Author/editor Katherine M. Aldridge, a marathoner elite class, had no experience as an author and little knowledge of the Civil War prior to writing this book. To her credit, she read up on the war, asked questions of those more knowledgeable on the topic, and produced a book with very little to criticize in the way of factual errors. Ms. Aldridge currently lives with her family on the farm in upstate New York where she found the massive stack of letters written to Esther Biddlecom (Charles’ wife) from Charles and others.
Charlie Biddlecom served early in the war with the 28th New York before being honorably discharged due to rheumatism in August 1861. The real meat of this story begins in 1863, when Biddlecom was drafted into the army and placed with the 147th New York, then in the Army of the Potomac’s First Corps. (Editor’s Note: How was Charlie Biddlecom even eligible for the draft? Not knowing hardly anything about the Civil War era draft and who was eligible, I would have assumed anyone honorably discharged earlier in the war due to disability would have been permanently disqualified from any future conscription or draft.) He spent the next year and a half fighting in the front lines in some of the bloodiest battles of the eastern theater. He participated in the nearly unknown campaigns of Bristoe and Mine Run in late 1863, moved through Grant’s bloody Overland Campaign, and endured the trenches at Petersburg, eventually receiving his discharge in June 1865.
Through it all, he battled chronic rheumatism and was often on the sick rolls, though he never did get the discharge due to health he was initially seeking. Charlie was apparently the black sheep of his family. Reading Biddlecom’s letters, you get the sense that he finally felt like he was doing something his family couldn’t attack him for. He often gives his wife, who was living with Charlie’s family with their children while Charlie was away, advice on how to handle his meddlesome siblings and parents. Biddlecom often wrote of Abraham Lincoln and the terrible job he was doing as a war President. By November 1864, however, Biddlecom had changed his opinion of Lincoln so much that he ended up voting for him.
No Freedom Shrieker tells the story of a man who wasn’t perfect, but who loved his family. The sheer number of letters and their readability make for an amazing whole. Editor Katie Aldridge must have been amazed when she first discovered this treasure. Biddlecom’s changing political opinions and ongoing struggle with health make for fascinating reading. Those interested in Civil War letters collections won’t find many better than those in this book. Students of the last year of the war in the East will find this to be a worthy addition to their libraries. Sometimes the best books aren’t always published by the most famous presses, and this is the case here. Biddlecom’s letters to his wife make for an engaging and worthwhile read for students of the Civil War, and especially those interested in the Siege of Petersburg.