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History and Rhymes of the Lost Battalion
By LC. "Buck Private" McCollum
1929 edition (first published 1919)
DESCRIPTION: How strange the tide of history sometimes turns; for while obviously it was a huge national cultural touchstone during the height of its fame (but more on that in a moment), hardly any online information exists about the slim softback volume History and Rhymes of the Lost Battalion, by one LC. "Buck Private" McCollum. Or, that is, plenty is known about the aforementioned battalion itself; formally known as the 308 Battalion of the US 77th Division during World War One, its 500-odd members got cut off from the rest of the division during an ill-communicated assault in the Argonne Forest in October 1918, caught on all sides by German fire for five days without food or water. But under the steady hand of legitimate war hero Lt. Col. Charles W. Whittlesey, for whom this book is dedicated, the battalion kept its cool, and defended itself successfully against a much larger and better trained enemy until reinforcements arrived, eventually 194 soldiers of the original 554 able to walk out afterwards. And this just happened to get seized on in real time as a newspaper-selling crisis by tech-equipped journalists back at home, making the entire battalion national heroes before even getting back to the US, and with Whittlesey even eventually picked for the great honor of being one of the pallbearers for the WW1 Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery.
But as we know from the famous Jazz Age novels that came right afterward, all was not sitting well with many of the young men who came back from the war, including Whittlesey; after trying to resume his career as an attorney but getting called on so often for public appearances, and after privately complaining to a friend, "Not a day goes by but I hear from some of my old outfit, usually about some sorrow or misfortune. I cannot bear it much more," it's widely believed that he killed himself in November 1921 by literally stepping off the back of a transatlantic ship in the middle of the night when no one was watching. And this obviously affected McCollum, who had first self-published this tribute to Whittlesey and the entire battalion two years previous (made up of poems and first-hand accounts from the soldiers who were there, profusely illustrated by Franklin Sly and Tolman R. Reamer), who obviously upped his plans at that point for this book's public profile; because although there is almost no information online on how this came about, other listings of this book at eBay and ABE clearly show that by 1929 it had become a popular handout for local posts of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a standard VFW bookplate adhered to the half-title page of them all and the local post's information stamped on after distribution. (This particular copy, for example, is from "Herbert D. Ryman, Post No. 99, Decatur, Ill.") In fact, it seems to have been continually churned out with the frequency of Gideon Bibles all through the 1920s and '30s (this copy is stated in the "six hundredth thousand" range of the print run, and there are definitely ones online even higher); the last edition that seems to have been made was in 1939 on the eve of World War Two, with an all-new Modernist design. A great, intimate acquisition for both lovers of militaria and of small-press Early Modernist publications, its starting price is being kept purposely low for those who wish to have an interesting and unique object to show off to their friends, but with not a lot of money to spend (but see CONDITION, below, for more).
CONDITION: Fair. Folds in front soft cover, many chips along all edges, tear in the crease of the front fold-out panoramic photo of the battalion. Spine and back cover have become partially loose; this can be easily repaired with a daub of white glue, but doing so would significantly decrease its value among full-time collectors, so it is being left unrepaired before shipping so that its next owner can make the decision for themselves. IT SHOULD BE NOTED BEFORE BIDDING that this book's condition prevents it from going up much in value in the future, although it is in a visually beautiful and highly readable state for those wishing simply for something interesting to display in their home or library.
PROVENANCE: Donated by the Stark Family of Hyde Park, Chicago, associated with the local Unitarian Church and their famed choir, to an arts organization called the Southside Hub of Production (SHOP) in October 2011. Purchased by CCLaP on the same day.