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Soldier's autobiography provides historical insights

GREENVILLE, NC   (Sept. 8, 2006)   —   Jonathan Dembo found fascinating the collected writings of Brig. Gen. George McIver, a post-Civil War general from North Carolina.

McIver’s manuscripts, housed in East Carolina University's Special Collections, are the subject of a book that Dembo edited, “A Life of Duty: The Autobiography of George Willcox McIver, 1858-1947” (2006, The History Press). The autobiography offers a first-hand account of life as a career soldier during the transformative period in American history between the Civil War and World War II.

“There are number of very important passages and descriptions of life on the frontier posts,” said Dembo, an associate professor and the Curator of Special Collections Projects East Carolina University’s J.Y. Joyner Library.

A native of Davidson, N.C., McIver was an active participant in many important episodes in American history, including the Spanish-American War and World War I. McIver trained at West Point, served in various posts on the Western Frontier, and fought in Cubaduring the Spanish-American War. While commandant of Alcatraz Prison, he played a crucial role in the relief effort after the devastating San Francisco fire and earthquake of 1906. His critical observations of the Militia Bureau’s militia mobilization during the Pancho Villa campaign of 1916 led to reforms that greatly improved the Army’s tactics during World War I.

Dembo’s annotations, along with photos, maps and letters, put McIver’s life into context.

“There were lots of thing that were common knowledge in the 19th century that nobody’s heard of today,” Dembo said.

Dembo described McIver’s writing as accessible.

“He got a sense of humor and a sense of humility,” McIver said. “He’s constantly praising his men for their military bearing. He supported the men that served under him and with him.”


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