Last Full Measure

My sister called yesterday, to read to me a note I wrote to her in May 1995, when I gave her a copy of “The Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers” by Richard Moe.

That wonderful book, as the title implies, is a regimental history, of the first Minnesota volunteer regiment, which fought at almost every major Eastern battle up to Gettysburg, at which more than half the men were killed or wounded.

In my note, I admitted that this was not the sort of book my sister would usually read, but said that it was the sort of book I hoped to write.  And indeed, I now recall, I was gathering materials at that time for a regimental history of the 128th Pennsylvania regiment, in which one of my ancestors served.

But life takes us in different directions, and that summer we moved to Hong Kong.  I was soon busy working as Fidelity’s sole lawyer in Asia: flying on business to Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore.  Our lovely daughter Lydia was born in December 1995.  I forgot about my idea of researching and writing a regimental history.  It was not until a few years later that I was bitten, again, by the “research and writing” bug, and started work on what become my John Jay book.

Interestingly, my current subject, Edwin Stanton, plays a minor role in the history of the First Minnesota Volunteers.  Before he became secretary of war, Stanton was an occasional outside lawyer for the Lincoln administration.  One of the cases he handled was an action involving a First Minnesota man, Edward Stevens, who claimed that he did not have to serve any longer, that his enlistment agreement was not valid.  The administration realized that the case involved not just one man, but a large fraction of the army, that is why they turned to a former Attorney General to handle the argument before a Supreme Court justice.  Stanton prevailed.