Hiram’s Honor: Reliving Private Terman’s Civil War

Hiram’s Honor: Reliving Private Terman’s Civil War, by Dr. Max Terman, is Civil War fiction based very closely on Civil War fact. Max Terman’s ancestor is real-life Ohio volunteer Private Hiram Terman, who marched, camped, shivered, ached, fought and was taken prisoner as a member of the 82nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. His life has been painstakingly reconstructed by Dr. Terman and presented in this first-person account.

Hiram Terman is a young Ohio farm boy when he joins up in his home town of Mansfield, in 1862. After a few weeks of basic training in Virginia, he is sent to join General John C. Fremont’s forces in the West. Hiram and his friends Isaiah, a Bible-quoting believer and Seth, one of the then-growing group of agnostics who question God’s existence, fight in the Battle of McDowell.

It is in this first battle that Hiram’s true voice as a common soldier emerges, and it is clear and precise. 

Max Terman

Hiram does not see a grand battle plan, only the men around him, and the ground in front of him.  The dialogue among the soldiers rings true in every sense–the confusion, the fear, and the desire to do one’s duty. It is interesting that the soldiers are never quite sure if they have won or lost a battle. It is deemed a win by Hiram and his friends if they have fought well, and are still alive.

The generalship of the Army changes, but Hiram’s world does not.  From Cross Keys, Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, Chancellorsville, and finally Gettysburg, they march, talk about the Bible, Charles Darwin, officers, home, swearing, death, slavery and the future, and keep each other’s spirits up.  This part of the book moves forward at the double-quick, and is interesting, exciting reading.  In places, it really does seem like a movie script, with brisk action and compelling dialogue.

Then, on July 1, 1863, at Gettysburg, Hiram, Isaiah, Seth and several thousand more Union soldiers of the I and XI Corps are taken prisoner during the retreat through the town of Gettysburg. Hiram’s fright and confusion is palpable, and his worst fears are realized. Initially he is sent to Belle Island Prison, in Virginia. He and his friends make some lifesaving decisions in that particular Confederate hellhole, which serve them well when they are notified that they will be moving to Camp Sumter, in Georgia. Camp Sumter is more commonly known as Andersonville.

Andersonville Survivor

Hiram, Seth, and Isaiah are among the first prisoners sent to Andersonville and, through Hiram’s heart-wrenching descriptions of prison life, the reader sees the camp deteriorate to what we now know it to be: one of the worst cases of abuse and neglect in the history of military prisons. Hiram is surrounded by death, and the author makes clear his slow descent into the inhuman wretchedness of the place. “Selfishness and self-preservation vanquished morality,” Terman writes. “Evil increased its grip on Andersonville and wickedness flourished along with hoards of flies, lice, and mosquitos. As new groups of prisoners entered the stockade, this whirlpool of misery twisted and spun, sucking more and more men into the depths of hell itself.”

That men such as the real Hiram Terman, and his real friends Seth, Isaiah, and Bushey could endure to finally be released is still miraculous. They are living skeletons when they finally board the train for Savannah, minus Isaiah, who is too ill to travel.

One of the most heartbreaking parts of the book is when Hiram, Seth, and Bushey leave the train in Savannah.  They must walk to holding pens until they are again moved.  “Crowds of onlookers gathered to see the next shipment of Yankees.  As soon as we came into view, a collective gasp arose from the crowd.  ‘Could these be men?’ “ Memories of the photographs from the Mathew Brady studio come to mind, and it is easy to picture the citizens being almost terrified by the apparently living dead.

Camp Lawton

It is not over yet. Hiram and his friends are sent from Savannah to Camp Lawton, also in Georgia.  Lawton was no better than Andersonville, and as Hiram continues to tell his story, the book becomes more and more difficult to read. Seth is unable to walk, no one knows what happened to Isaiah, and the misery never seems to end. When it finally does…well, read the book and see what I mean.

Dr. Terman has written a fine addition to Civil War literature. It is now available in paperback and as an ebook, as well as in the original hard cover. Many reviewers have suggested it would make a good movie. I agree, and look forward to its cinematic debut.

Recommended Reading:

The Civil War Veteran by Larry Logue and Michael Barton

1 Response to Hiram’s Honor: Reliving Private Terman’s Civil War

  1. Thanks so much for this book review by Meg Thompson of my book Hiram’s Honor. She has very adeptly captured the spirit of this incredible story of survival. My compliments on your web site and what you do for the Civil War community.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!

%d bloggers like this: