Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Smell of War

“The war has a smell that clings to everything military, fills the troop-trains, hospitals, and cantonments, and saturates one’s own clothing, a smell compounded of horse, chemicals, sweat, mud, dirt, and human beings.”

         Until recently I knew next to nothing about World War I except what I taught to college freshmen in my US history survey. I was a colonial American historian, working mainly in seventeenth-century sources. Then I detoured into the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with the Hoggs of Texas. When I discovered Mike Hogg’s World War I letters, I knew they had to see print—and then one thing led to another. In the course of editing Mike Hogg’s letters, I came across the “smell of war” quotation by Henry Sheahan and the history of the 90th Division by George Wythe. When I realized that all three of these young men had connections with one small battlefield in the Great War, I knew their stories could be a book.
         And now it is.
Who remembers World War I these days?