Although Cox is well known as a chronicler of the Civil War—through books on campaigns, battles and principal characters—this book is entirely different. This is the story of the Civil War as it touched his own life. It is, as he says, ‘a narrative by one who was an active participant from its beginning to its end and in which he has deliberately avoided repetition of the contents of his other works’. This first volume begins with Cox’s appointment as Brigadier-General of Volunteers commanding Ohioan and Kentuckian troops, and then describes his subsequent experiences in West Virginia, the Kanawha Valley and the battles leading to Antietam and beyond. Cox manages to successfully combine a historian’s overview of the whole war with historic events that unfolded in his presence, to create an essential Civil War memoir.
In the midst of the alarms from every side, my camp itself was greatly excited by an incident which would have been occasion for regret at any time, but which at such a juncture threatened for a moment quite serious consequences. The work of entrenching the position was going on under the direction of Lieutenant Wagner as rapidly as the small working parties available could perform it. All were overworked, but it was the rule that men should not be detailed for fatigue duty who had been on picket the preceding night. On August 28th, a detail had been called for from the Second Kentucky, which lay above the hedge behind my headquarters, and they had reported without arms under a sergeant named Joyce. A supply of entrenching tools was stacked by the gate leading into the yard where my staff tents were pitched, and my aide, Lieutenant Conine, directed the sergeant to have his men take the tools and report to Mr. Wagner, the engineer, on the line. The men began to demur in a half-mutinous way, saying they had been on picket the night before. Conine, who was a soldierly man, informed them that that should be immediately looked into, and if so, they would be soon relieved, but that they could not argue the matter there, as their company commander was responsible for the detail. He therefore repeated his order. The sergeant then became excited and said his men should not obey. Lieutenant Gibbs, the district commissary, was standing by, and drawing his pistol, said to Joyce, “That’s mutiny; order your men to take the tools or I’ll shoot you.” The man retorted with a curse, “Shoot!” Gibbs fired, and Joyce fell dead. When the sergeant first refused to obey, Conine coolly called out, “Corporal of the guard, turn out the guard!” intending very properly to put the man in arrest, but the shot followed too quick for the guard to arrive. I was sitting within the house at my camp desk, busy, when the first thing which attracted my attention was the call for the guard and the shot. I ran out, not stopping for arms, and saw some of the men running off shouting, “Go for your guns, kill him, kill him!” I stopped part of the men, ordered them to take the sergeant quickly to the hospital, thinking he might not be dead. I then ordered Gibbs in arrest till an investigation should be made, and ran at speed to a gap in the hedge which opened into the regimental camp. It was not a moment too soon. The men with their muskets were already clustering in the path, threatening vengeance on Mr. Gibbs. I ordered them to halt and return to their quarters. Carried away by excitement, they levelled their muskets at me and bade me get out of their way or they would shoot me. I managed to keep cool, said the affair would be investigated, that Gibbs was already under arrest, but they must go back to their quarters. The parley lasted long enough to bring some of their officers near. I ordered them to come to my side, and then to take command of the men and march them away. The real danger was over as soon as the first impulse was checked. The men then began to feel some of their natural respect for their commander, and yielded probably the more readily because they noticed that I was unarmed. I thought it wise to be content with quelling the disturbance, and did not seek out for punishment the men who had met me at the gap. Their excitement had been natural under the circumstances, which were reported with exaggeration as a wilful murder. If I had been in command of a larger force, it would have been easy to turn out another regiment to enforce order and arrest any mutineers; but the Second Kentucky was itself the only regiment on the spot. The First Kentucky was a mile below, and the Eleventh Ohio was the advance-guard up New River. Surrounded as we were by so superior a force of the enemy with which we were constantly skirmishing, I could not do otherwise than meet the difficulty instantly without regard to personal risk.<br>
The sequel of the affair was not reached till some weeks later when General Rosecrans assembled a court-martial at my request. Lieutenant Gibbs was tried and acquitted on the plain evidence that the man killed was in the act of mutiny at the time.