The circumstances of the composition of this Autobiography of the late Henry Villard are set forth in his own words on page 373 of Volume II. The events of his youth in his native land before coming to the United States he chose to describe in his mother tongue. This portion of his memoirs his family edited and published for private distribution two years after his death, under the title, "Heinrich Hilgard-Villard: Jugend-Erinnerungen, 1835-1853" (New York, 1902). A brief abstract of this charming and highly interesting narrative constitutes the Introduction of the present volumes.
Seven of the eight books written in English are in the first person. Unable, by reason of his rapidly failing health, to finish the memoirs upon the scale of the ante-bellum period, Mr. Villard devoted his last summer to a compendium of the period from 1863 to 1900 written in the third person (Book VIII). He originally intended to make a record for his family, with possible publicity that others might profit by the lessons of his life. As he proceeded and arrived at his experiences in the Civil War, he began, as he explains, to feel the ardor of the historian, and, using the Official Records of both sides in the greatest of American conflicts, he described the various campaigns in which he took part, or was especially interested, with great elaboration and obviously for the public eye. The importance of his observations in the field and of his laborious researches determined the inclusion of these studies, notwithstanding their bulk, in the present publication. A detailed exhibition of his relations to the development of the far Northwestern States may some day also find its way into print.
A work occupying so many years in preparation amid frequent and protracted interruptions—conceived, moreover, and expressed in two languages together with a change of person—must needs be lacking in unity and proportion, but is not, it is believed, correspondingly deficient in interest. Great pains have been taken to control facts, names, and dates; yet there must be errors and inconsistencies which have been overlooked in so wide and populous a tract of human action.
No revision of the text herewith published could remove all traces of the author's German origin nor could such editing have been warranted. The man speaks for himself. His character shines through his manifold large undertakings, his achievements and disappointments, as also in his love of his native and adopted countries, his championship of every cause which made for political and social uplifting, and his delight in doing good. But his philanthropy is only faintly portrayed by his own hand; of its full extent he alone was aware.
Thorwood, November, 1903.