If I Am So Lucky: A Portrait of a Man in Perilous Times, 1862-1865


From the Letters and Diaries of Corporal Nathan Allen, Co. K, 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Army of the Potomac

In his 29 months in the Union Army, Nathan Allen managed to write more than 120 letters to 36 different people under the direst circumstances. Of these 120, 52 letters along with two diaries survived. In an effort to save their content from the ravages of time, the author began to transcribe them, thinking that Nathan’s own words would be sufficient to tell his story. Along the way, however, the transcription became a research project — and a journey that begged to be shared. In this book, the author interprets Nathan’s words, identifies the complex network of his friends and relatives that were impacted by the conflict, and analyzes his activities and what he thought about them in the context of history. From this thematic approach, a real human being emerges putting a face and a name to one of the most tragic periods in American history. While Nathan’s writing is not polished and eloquent, his voice is, nevertheless, loud and clear. His words show a man who did not analyze the strategies of war, but who cared about the reasons for fighting; a man who did not criticize his superiors’ motives, but cared deeply about their well-being; and a man who put the value of family, friends, and colleagues as high as his own life.

Nathan was like so many in the Civil War, just a young man who accepted the call to fight for what he perceived to be a noble cause, did his duty, and never complained — and paid the ultimate price when he died from battle wounds only two months before the end of the war. Statistically, he was indeed an average soldier. And yet, he was more than that. Nathan’s letters and diaries and the research into the details behind his words can tell his unique story. He bared his hopes, dreams, beliefs, fears, obsessions, and flaws for all to see. What becomes the crux of Nathan Allen’s letters and diaries is what we learn about him. The man, not the soldier and not the statistic, becomes the message.

Visuals included with the text are from several sources. Many are taken from Harper’s Weekly of the Civil War period showing artist renditions of scenes relevant to Nathan’s life in the army. Hal Jespersen’s battlefield maps show the position of Nathan’s regiment in the battles in which he participates. The author has also included recreated newspaper articles of the period, photos of commanding officers and other people, and charts relevant to Nathan’s experience. Three appendices (Pennsylvania and Virginia Maps, Allen-Bronson Family Tree, and Original Letters and Diary Entries), a list of works cited and consulted, and an index to full names, places and subjects add to the value of this work.

Linda Culp Holmes

2023, 8½x11, paper, index, 276 pp

ISBN: 9780788428982