Bugles in the Dust

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Written by George Levy, Bugles in the Dust charts the astonishing story of the Chicago Fire department from 1865 to 1913. Painstakingly researched and assembled, the book maps out the men involved with detailed information on ages, nationality, and family taken from historical records. In addition, it combines many historical reports from newspapers to men’s transcripts relating to handling specific fires. This provides a fascinating illumination into the historical context of the fire department and how social issues and politics shaped individual outcomes.  

Through his research, Levy makes the connection between the veterans of the civil war and the men serving in the Civil War. Around 29 civil war veterans served in the Chicago Fire Department. Many of those veterans were of Irish descent. The book begins with a detailed rundown of the veterans employed by the CFD, detailing the battles in which they fought and other notable information.  

The book gives a review of the overall management of the CFD from its transformation of being served by a volunteer firefighting force that formed in 1935, which was well organized but unable to cope when faced with widespread fires. The first paid fire department came under the control of the three-men police board, who it seems were somewhat unsuited to the role as it gave many jobs away to friends and family who were not qualified for the roles they applied for.  

I really enjoyed how this book pieced together the historical information to give color and a clearer picture of events around the CFD and how they faired in the four main catastrophic fires that rocked Chicago.  

The men fighting these fires had an uphill battle with limited equipment and a great area of the city to protect. The book greatly illuminates the firemen’s struggles, from dangerous fires to poor equipment, hard living conditions, bureaucracy, and corruption.  

My favorite part of the book was the individual transcripts of the firefighter’s testimony to the police board and the fire Marshall regarding the events at The Great Chicago Fire in 1871. This testimony really breathed life into the story and was extremely interesting and absorbing to read.  

The beginning of the book is mainly facts and figures relating to civil war veterans. It is quite a dense amount of information you are not immediately connected to. However, if you persevere, you soon become engaged with the narrative.  

Overall I found the book educating and interesting. The use of historical sources and pictures uncovers and displays some riveting information and facts. It is extremely well-researched, and I recommend it to history lovers and people who may not usually choose to read this sort of book, as it adds significant value to the reader’s knowledge.

Pages: 202

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Posted on October 13, 2022, in Book Reviews, Five Stars and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.


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