Book Review: Suicide by Army Life

The following book review was written by Bobbi King:

Suicide by Army Life
by Ozzie Sollien. Self-published. 2017.

In 1861, Olaus Hansen immigrated to Iowa, like thousands of his European contemporaries, seeking a better life. He was born in rural Norway, idyllic in imagination and appearance, but tough in climate and opportunity. Brothers Ole and Hans Hansen emigrated also, but their lives had far different outcomes than the life of their middle brother Olaus.

Mr. Sollien spent decades researching the life and times of Olaus Hansen. It’s not a story of a successful man, but rather, it’s a study of a man’s life spent enduring battles of the Civil War, and serving through the West’s dusty summers and brutal winters riding with Gen. George A. Armstrong’s 7th Cavalry unit as they pursued and fought the Sioux Wars.

There is a lot of detail in this book, which is both engrossing and distracting. The densely-fact-laden paragraphs are slow reading, but the particulars of what emerges is interesting to the reader who cares about certain Civil War battles, the ones Olaus fought in, and out West U.S. Army 7th Cavalry Army life, including aspects of the the Battle of Little Bighorn. Accompanying the text are lots of photos and images that add to the story. It’s an interesting book, even more so to a Norwegian researcher, and I did find it noteworthy for its telling of Army life and descriptive Norwegian back story.

Mr. Sollien presents some interesting theories about the contribution of the consumption of hardtack, that infamous staple of mountain men and Army soldiers. The author posits that the harmful components of the ingredients of the biscuit exacerbated the oppressive effects of battle fatigue, the shock of battle carnage, along with the curse of alcoholism; the author suggests that the combined factors contributed to the suicide of Olaus out on the plains of Dakota.

Mr. Sollien is a solid and dogged researcher. He resolved to revive the life and reputation of Olaus Hansen, whose Norwegian family, abroad and in America, had long since shelved him as “died in the Civil War” rather than endure the scandal of suicide in a culture where dying by one’s own hand is deeply mortifying, and he achieved his goal.

An admirably-researched biography, told in the context of some of the decades of some of the most momentous of American times. Sometimes a non-American author offers us a unique perspective on our own history.

Suicide by Army Life by Ozzie Sollien may be ordered from Amazon at: https://amzn.to/2F4cAdh.

2 Comments

It certainly sounds like a book I’d want to read, as painful as it would be to become acquainted with the details. I don’t have Norwegian ancestors–yet–but history is fascinating to me regardless.

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Atlantic Cable 1858, perhaps the news spread quicker than we thought?

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