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October 01 , 2018

The Hogs of Cold Harbor

The Civil War Saga of Pvt. Johnny Hess, CSA
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Overview

The Hogs of Cold Harbor is based on the war diary kept from 1862 to 1864 by Confederate Private John Henry Hess, Co. G, 29th Virginia Infantry Regiment, Corse's Brigade, Pickett's Division, Longstreet's Corps.  He somehow survived thirteen vicious battles during four major campaigns – walking, marching and clinging to trains from his home in Southwest Virginia to Appomatox.  

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A bustling industrial community in the 19th century, Cold Spring Harbor was once described as “a sweet bay of beauty.” The area briefly served as a whaling port and was a center for shipbuilding, milling, and farming. Located just 35 miles from midtown Manhattan, Cold Spring Harbor was a fashionable summer resort for New York City residents who…

He began as a a brash and heathy farm boy filled with enthusiastic ideals of  founding a new nation and ended a shattered shell of a man who believed only in his own loss and failure – not to mention the collapse of the new nation he loved.

The book itself is an unimaginably detailed and deeply researched history of the 29th Virginia Infantry Regiment.  That alone makes it a volume you'll want to keep and cherish.  But it's also the story – yes, an extrapolated story from a diary – of a human being caught in an existential horror show going so deep into the night that it shreds the nerves of our soldier raw.  He does develop malaria and shivers and sweats and sees thing – but what things are hallucinations and what things are real?

To make things worse, he has a phobia (real? not real?) of the surreal hordes of wild hogs following the armies to feast on dead and wounded soldiers abandoned on the bloodsoaded no-man's lands.  Like deliriums, they come in the night and his fallen friends face first to keep them from screaming. These hogs seem to have a strangely human intelligence to Private Hess. They almost seem some sort of divine retribution for the slaughter of millions of swine – by a mankind who now slaughters his own.

No less of a writer than the late, great author Norman Mailer had this to say about Fulgham's masterpiece:

"This book is a discovery.  It gave me so close a sense of what it was like to be a Confederate soldier in the Civil War that I began to think of my own army experience.  Old fears, old excitements, even memories of my old equipment, and with it all, vivid as the sound of gunfire, came the smell of battle in the air of the book.  I loved reading The Hogs of Cold Harbor.  I was in the Civil War on the Southern side.  That is no small education for a Northerner like me."

(Handwritten letter to the author, signed:)  Norman Mailer

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