Virginia ReviewsEdited by Julie A. Campbell
We had such an influx of Civil War titles in the office at the end of the 1998 that we decided to devote this issue's column entirely to the subject. J.A.C.
Randall Allen and Keith S. Bohannon, eds., Campaigning with "Old Stonewall": Confederate Captain Ujanirtus Allen's Letters to His Wife. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998. xi + 282 pp. $34.95. This volume is another addition to a substantial body of letters by common soldiers of the Civil War that document how they understood their role and recognized their future. Joining an infantry unit from his native Troup County, Georgia, Ujanirtus Cincinnatus "Ugie" Allen served the Confederacy starting in April 1861 and fought mostly in Virginia. Published for the first time, this collection of letters (still owned by his descendants) to his wife, Susan, traces Allen's mood from excitement and jubilance to despair and resignation.
The letters are not without humor. He missed newspapers and proclaimed himself so desperate that he would read even the advertisements; he had not chewed much tobacco lately, he wrote another time, but he was not saying that he planned to quit. On the constant movement of the unit, Allen wrote of his commander, Stonewall Jackson, that "grass never grows under his feet." When recovering in Richmond from a slight wound received at Gaines's Mill in June 1862, Allen noted that women wore either no hoops or small ones, a change in fashion that he did not find especially attractive.
But Allen also addressed serious matters in his correspondence, reminding his wife of the importance of doing her part, ruthlessly condemning units for behavior he considered unsoldierly and unpatriotic, and supporting orders to shoot deserters and soldiers who "commit all kinds of depridations on the farms." Gradually his letters become recitals of details and darker in tone: "Recently I was young; now I am old phisacaly and in experience."
Randall Allen is archivist for Troup County, Georgia. Keith Bohannon is a doctoral student in history at Pennsylvania State University. They retained Allen's creative spelling but, for clarity, replaced his colons and semicolons with periods and commas. The editors identify names mentioned in Allen's letters and, at the end of the book, provide a roster of his unit, the Ben Hill Infantry (later Company F, 21st Georgia Volunteer Infantry), with brief biographical information on each member. -reviewed by Barbara Batson, Exhibitions Coordinator
William Blair, Virginia's Private War: Feeding Body and Soul in the Confederacy, 1861-1865. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. viii + 206 pp. $32.50. While the Civil War raged on the battlefields of Virginia, an equally desperate battle raged on the home front. "I think," wrote Frank G. Ruffin in December 1863, "the whole question now turns on food." In Virginia's Private War, William Blair offers a poignant and incisive study of the struggle to keep body and soul together in the midst of war. Through diaries, letters, and official records, Blair traces the remarkable resiliency of Virginians, who withstood privation until the winter of 1864-1865, when pressure from the Union army proved too great to bear. Blair focuses on three counties in the interior of the Commonwealth--Albemarle, Augusta, and Campbell--and examines the toll of the war chronologically.
Blair uses these three communities to tell the story of the state as a whole, describing the grounds for early unity, studying the discontent and increased desertions that peaked in 1863, and analyzing enduring Confederate hopes in the face of defeat. The "private war" of the book's title took place on the local level, where farms and towns struggled to produce crops and manufacture goods after the enlistment of most of their able-bodied, white male population. By the autumn of 1861, salt, leather, and currency were in scarce supply. Despite the desperate circumstances, Confederate spirits were bolstered by battlefield victories at Fredericksburg and elsewhere. "Though I leave my children poor in worldly goods," Thomas C. Elder wrote his wife in May 1863, "it is gratifying to know they will be able to speak of their father as one of the soldiers of the Second Revolution for Independence."
Even such brave spirits flagged toward the end of the war, when external pressures effectively crushed them. Blair is careful to explain in his introduction that he is not "resurrecting the romantic notion of a unified South nobly defending its way of life in a Lost Cause"; instead, he reveals the distinct displeasure of Virginians with their government and, in some cases, with their fellow Virginians. To tell the multi-layered story of the home front, Blair has delved into newspapers, periodicals, and family papers, as well as federal, state, and local records. A rich bibliography and a handy index round out this riveting volume, which readers and researchers of Virginia history will want to keep within close reach. -reviewed by Jennifer Davis McDaid, Assistant Editor, Virginia Cavalcade
Lesley J. Gordon, General George E. Pickett in Life and Legend. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998. x + 269 pp. $29.95. Just last year a bronze urn containing the remains of LaSalle Corbell Pickett, the third wife and chief publicist of the Confederate general George E. Pickett, was removed from a crumbling mausoleum in Arlington, transported to Richmond, and buried with great ceremony next to the grave of her beloved husband. Sallie Corbell, of Nansemond County, was just fifteen when she married Pickett in September 1863, two months after the bloody charge at Gettysburg that made Pickett's name famous, and he died just twelve years later. She outlived him by fifty-six years.
Historian Lesley J. Gordon, a graduate of the College of William and Mary as well as the University of Georgia, shows that the actual life of General Pickett cannot be disentangled from the "General Pickett" that his widow created by mixing devotion with plagiarism and fiction. Yet this fine biography also shows that a sympathetic analysis of LaSalle Pickett's writings about her husband reveals important psychological insights about the general as well as his widow.
Born into a prominent Virginia family in 1825, George Edward Pickett left his native state for the U.S. Military Academy's class of 1846, and did not return permanently until after the Civil War. Pickett was lazy, fond of the bottle, and indifferent to his class standing, which was last in every subject. Nonetheless, Gordon makes a convincing argument that Pickett eventually came to depend on the structure and discipline of army life. The military subculture also had a place for the display that Pickett enjoyed, and officers cultivated a gallant image that appealed to the Virginian's sense of himself. LaSalle Pickett later made the unverifiable claim that she first met Pickett during this period, when she was eight, and knew that instant that she would marry him.
Gordon is most interesting in showing how Pickett's eventual courtship and marriage to LaSalle Corbell coincided with his growing dissatisfaction with the military institutions that had once sustained him. Following the futile charge at Gettysburg and his marriage in Petersburg, Pickett was sent to North Carolina, where he botched the New Bern campaign, although he again blamed others for the failure. His military career ended ignominiously at Five Forks, where Union troops overran his own forces while Pickett relaxed at a shadbake. Fortunately for him, the general was survived by a loving widow who proceeded to make him what Gordon calls "the Confederate hero he never was." In so doing, LaSalle Pickett also redefined herself and gained some economic independence from her writings. Readers of this fascinating study will agree that the Picketts deserved one another. -reviewed by John T. Kneebone, Director, Division of Publications and Cultural Affairs
John L. Heatwole, The Burning: Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley. Charlottesville: Rockbridge Publishing, 1998. xiii + 266 pp. $29.95. By August 1864, Ulysses S. Grant had taken command of the Union army and enacted his final plan for defeating the South. If he could destroy the Breadbasket of the Confederacy--Virginia's Shenandoah Valley--and its capacity to supply the malnourished and hard-pressed Confederate army, then he could more rapidly achieve conquest. So he called on Philip H. Sheridan to "give the enemy no rest. . . Do all the damage to railroads and crops you can. Carry off stock . . . to prevent further planting. If the war is to last another year, we want the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste." Thus between 26 September and 9 October 1864, Sheridan rendered the Shenandoah Valley so bare that, as the saying goes, a crow flying over it would have to carry a knapsack. This book is the story of the people of the Valley during that awful time.
In that two-week period, Sheridan's troops ravaged ninety-two miles from Winchester to Staunton. They burned barns, crops, mills, furnaces, forges, factories, and houses, while driving off or killing all the livestock they could find. The destruction was especially effective because the region was in the midst of an exceptional harvest. "The Burning," as the people of the Valley named it, affected everyone in the Union army's path including the Mennonites, Dunkards, and other religious groups who opposed war and desired only to live in peace. It is generally accepted that William T. Sherman's burning of Georgia was the worst civilian devastation of the war; in fact, Sherman's march was a haphazard operation that followed behind Southern attempts to destroy anything in his path that could prove useful to the Federal troops. The Burning, on the other hand, concentrated on everything necessary to sustain the day-to-day occupation of civilian farming.
Drawing on family stories, diaries, newspapers, interviews, and other sources, John L. Heatwole presents a compelling and readable account of an event sometimes recounted in less than a page in other histories of the Civil War. He is an artist, folklorist, and Valley resident with roots there over two hundred years old. (In 1864 his own ancestor, Elizabeth Heatwole, stood in the family's barn with a rake and defiantly scattered the pile of tinder the Union soldiers were trying to light. After three attempts, the soldiers gave up.) "The Civil War has rightly been called the defining moment in the life of the nation," the author writes, and "the Burning was the defining moment in the life of the Valley." The Burning deserves its own telling, and Heatwole does right by the Valley and its residents. -reviewed by Emily J. Salmon, Senior Copy Editor
James M. McPherson and William J. Cooper, Jr., eds., Writing the Civil War: The Quest to Understand. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998. 356 pp. $29.95. This is a collection of twelve historiographical essays by some of the most distinguished contemporary students of the Civil War. The editors are also among the most accomplished historians of the era. Their book surveys the scholarship on various aspects of the Civil War in order to identify the main themes of interpretation and highlight the main points of disagreement. The essays thoroughly cover the subjects that the editors identified, and in several instances the contributors went the extra mile to point out neglected lines of inquiry that could be pursued.
The book is best described by identifying the contributors and their contributions: Gary W. Gallagher, the military strategy and policy of the United States; Emory M. Thomas, the military strategy and policy of the Confederate States; Joseph T. Glatthaar, battlefield tactics and technology; Reid Mitchell, the literature on the soldiers; Mark E. Neely, Jr., presidential leadership; Michael F. Holt, politics in the northern states; George C. Rable, politics in the southern states; Michael Les Benedict, the constitutional crisis that was the Civil War and the scholarship on the causes; Phillip Shaw Paludan, social and economic developments in the North; James L. Roark, the same topics in the South; Drew Gilpin Faust, the state of scholarship on women; and Peter Kolchin, the literature on slavery and freedom.
For well-informed and well-written summaries of the current state of scholarship on these leading aspects of Civil War history, no one has done better. For a library that needs to keep current in Civil War period scholarship, this is a valuable reference book that should stand the test of time. -reviewed by Brent Tarter, Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Donald C. Pfanz, Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier's Life. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998. xix + 655 pp. $39.95. Donald C. Pfanz has written a detailed and sympathetic portrait of Richard S. Ewell, one of Robert E. Lee's most important but most criticized lieutenants. Drawing on family letters, official battle reports, and the writings of other officers and soldiers, Pfanz offers a full biography, covering Ewell's childhood and years at West Point, his long service with the U.S. cavalry in the Southwest, and his post-war career, while still focusing on the Civil War years that defined the general's life. Seeking to refute Ewell's detractors, including General Lee, Pfanz argues that Ewell was "an intelligent, hard-working professional" with a clear ability to exercise independent command. Moreover, Ewell was prescient enough to tell Jefferson Davis in 1861 that the only way to ensure independence was to free and arm the slaves. In the last weeks of the war, Ewell had the duty of organizing the first black companies to serve the Confederacy, but by then it was too late.
Ewell fought for the Confederacy, Pfanz argues, because he "followed his state," not because he agreed with the principles of the South. He became the right arm of Stonewall Jackson, and earned the loyalty of his troops by his kindness toward them. Ewell, in turn, admired and imitated Stonewall Jackson, and his troops did some of the best fighting in the Stonewall Brigade up through the time Ewell was wounded in the Battle of Groveton in August 1862.
When Ewell returned to service in 1863, to fight under Lee's direct command, his record was less pristine. Most seriously, Ewell's troops failed to secure the high ground at Gettysburg before Union troops moved in. Pfanz, however, defends him by arguing that Ewell's men were too few and too tired to take Cemetery Hill without reinforcements, making Ewell's choice not to seize the hill seem "prudent, even wise." Instead, Pfanz suggests, Lee should bear a larger share of the blame for giving Ewell vague and contradictory orders.
Pfanz does agree that Ewell's war-making skills seemed to erode in the campaigns of 1863 and 1864, and for that he blames the general's love-making. Already the product of an in-bred Virginia family, Ewell married his cousin, Lizinka Brown, early in 1863. The general's infatuation with his overbearing and meddlesome wife, who traveled with him as much as possible, left him open to ridicule by his staff and negligent of his duties. In 1864, General Lee, having lost confidence in Ewell's judgment, removed him from command of the Second Corps.
Ewell took charge of the defense of Richmond and, in what he regarded as his greatest accomplishment of the war, saved the city from being taken that autumn. In Pfanz's opinion, had Jackson been in charge instead, the victory would be regarded as a military masterpiece. In the end, Ewell was not as great a general as Lee or Jackson, but he was equal to any other of the southern army's generals, and, Pfanz concludes, he "gave his all for the Confederacy." -reviewed by Mary Carroll Johansen, Research Associate, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
J. Tracy Power, Lee's Miserables: Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to Appomattox. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998. xxii + 463 pp. $34.95. In June of 1864, as a soldier of William Mahone's Virginia brigade trudged to battle, he was ambushed-by his wife and child. The family had been separated for two years, and the woman had waited by the Petersburg roadside in the hope that her husband would pass by. "He was crying, she was crying, the child was crying," reported onlooker F. M. Coker, "and tears stood in many an eye that had never quailed before death or danger in the field of battle." The family parted and the man marched on. The vivid tale of the anonymous Confederate is one of hundreds in Lee's Miserables, a roundup of firsthand stories of the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia during the last year of the war.
J. Tracy Power, a historian with the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, has assembled an incredibly detailed compilation of personal accounts gleaned from diaries, letters, and other documents. The men wrote about horror, exhaustion, hunger, doubt, and fear. They wrote about faith, comradeship, family, and optimism. They expressed the utmost confidence in their officers and they disparaged foolish leaders. They fought hard at the Wilderness, the event with which Power opens his study, and they "broke down and wept like little children," wrote Virginian James Whitehorne, at Appomattox, the closing scene of Lee's Miserables.
Power's massive bibliography testifies to his thorough primary research in repositories throughout the South and to his secondary research in a wide range of books, newspapers, and articles. By concentrating on such personal accounts and on the authenticity and authority they provide, his study is a worthy addition to the genre of Civil War books that let the soldiers speak for themselves. -reviewed by Julie A. Campbell, Editor, Virginia Cavalcade
Daniel E. Sutherland, Fredericksburg & Chancellorsville: The Dare Mark Campaign. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998. xiv + 234 pp. $29.95. Daniel Sutherland's study of the Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville campaigns is the first in a series of volumes that will constitute a collection of monographs about the events of 1861-1865 published under the title, "Great Campaigns of the Civil War." The series editors' expressed purpose is not only to present fresh examinations of major campaigns based on a synthesis of recent scholarship, but to portray events on the battlefield against the larger political and social context, an approach that offers greater dimension and scope than accounts that concern themselves primarily with military tactics and blow-by-blow descriptions of the fighting. Such non-military themes as the effect of the war on the civilian population, the collapse of slavery, the effect of politics and policy on strategy, and the everyday life of the common soldier become the background against which the military drama unfolds.
In this book, Sutherland departs from the customary analysis of the two Confederate victories on the south bank of the Rappahannock River by unifying the two battles into one major campaign, to which he gives the name "Dare Mark." He borrowed the term from a Confederate soldier who used it to describe the Rappahannock, that watery obstruction south of which the Union armies dared to penetrate--always at their peril and often to their regret. The confrontations between the Union and Confederate armies at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville do lend themselves to such a formula, coming as they do in succession, with only several months breathing space in between for the two armies to catch their wind, and in circumstances in which the fighting frequently occurred over terrain that was common to both battlegrounds.
While the text relies on earlier studies of these battles and on the letters, diaries, and reports of those who witnessed the fighting as well as the published recollections of the veterans who survived it, the author has also consulted the most recent scholarship, including essays collected in The Fredericksburg Campaign: Decision on the Rappahannock (1995) and Chancellorsville: The Battle and Its Aftermath (1996), both edited by noted military historian Gary Gallagher and both providing stimulating insight into the conduct of, and the circumstances surrounding, these campaigns. The enthusiast will benefit from exposure to the latest critical thinking, presented in historical context in Sutherland's concise history; for the novice, this expansive overview of the complexities of these massive engagements may become a point of departure for further reading. -reviewed by Don Gunter, Assistant Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Steven E. Woodworth, ed., The Art of Command in the Civil War. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998. xiii + 206 pp. $39.95. Although the Civil War ended 134 years ago, its generals continue to be popular topics of discussion for historians. Hundreds of books, journal articles, and essay collections annually hash and rehash the successes and failures of both Confederate and Union military leaders. In this collection of essays, seven historians examine several of the usual suspects, but with a twist. Rather than focusing on standard topics, such as bravery, tactics, or performance in epic battles, they reveal how Civil War leaders dealt with more mundane command problems, including relations with subordinate officers, intelligence gathering, and desertion.
Most, if not all, of the leaders who appear in this book should be familiar to Civil War readers--Stonewall Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Joseph E. Johnston, Braxton Bragg, George Pickett, and William S. Rosecrans. But instead of discussing these men in their customary surroundings, such as Pickett at Gettysburg or Grant at Vicksburg, the authors tend to show how they performed in less well-known scenarios. For example, William B. Feis examines Grant as he gained valuable experience in the collection, analysis, and use of military intelligence information during the little-known Belmont Campaign in late 1861. Donald E. Collins observes that Pickett, rather than leading his division into immortality in Pennsylvania on 3 July 1863, ordered the execution of Confederate deserters in North Carolina in February 1864. Instead of discussing Stonewall Jackson's well-documented collaboration with Robert E. Lee on numerous battlefields, William J. Miller evaluates how Jackson's relationship with one subordinate, mapmaker Jedediah Hotchkiss, contributed to success in the famous Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862.
Well-written and well-edited, this volume will be a good addition for university libraries and other Virginia libraries that maintain extensive Civil War holdings. Although its coverage of the war in Virginia is limited, it is broad in scope, paying attention to leaders on both sides and to both the Eastern and Western theaters of operation. Like most essay collections, this volume should prove more interesting to Civil War scholars than to Civil War buffs. -reviewed by Dale F. Harter, Finding Aids Archivist
Civil War Bookends:
The University of South Carolina Press has reprinted a 1988 book by the distinguished Civil War historian and Virginia author, James I. Robertson Jr.: Soldiers Blue and Gray (Columbia, South Carolina, 1998, x + 278 pp., $14.95 soft cover). It complements rather than duplicates Bell Irvin Wiley's classic accounts of everyday soldiers, just another example of how rich the primary sources are.
Robertson is also the editor of the first of five reprints from Louisiana State University Press. He adds an introduction and new preface to his Civil War Letters of General Robert McAllister (Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1998, viii + 638 pp., $24.95 softcover), originally published in 1965. "McAllister never intended to be an outstanding soldier," writes Robertson, but "he developed into a solid and dependable field commander in the Union army."
LSU's next title is The Confederate State of Richmond: A Biography of the Capital (1998, xii + 227 pp., $14.95 soft cover), by Emory M. Thomas, who adds a new introduction to his 1971 work. He writes admiringly of recent books on the same topic but concludes that "no consequential work has emerged to challenge or supplement mine."
Culpeper County receives a similar treatment in Daniel E. Sutherland's Seasons of War: The Ordeal of a Confederate Community, 1861-1865 (LSU, 1998, vii + 488 pp., $19.95 soft cover). When the book came out in 1995, one reviewer called it "a finely crafted and compelling tale of how the people in one part of the South experienced the Civil War."
Another prominent Civil War historian, Gary W. Gallagher, composed the introduction to LSU's reissue of Douglas Southall Freeman's The South to Posterity: An Introduction to the Writing of Confederate History (1998, xxxiv + 235 pp., $15.95 soft cover). Originally published in 1939, Freeman's book is a chatty, erudite bibliographical essay. He could have written this sentence today: "I have to confess I am not sure I understand all the reasons for the steady increase in the number of those who read deeply of the South's four-year struggle." A number that has only continued to rise, it might interest Freeman to know.
LSU's final reprint in this group is The Politics of Command: Factions and Ideas in Confederate Strategy, by Thomas Lawrence Connelly and Archer Jones (1998, xv + 235 pp., $14.95 soft cover), originally published in 1973. The Journal of Southern History called it "a provocative reappraisal of Confederate strategy." Co-author Jones lives in Richmond.
Over at the University of Nebraska Press, two new Bison Books. The first is Gunner With Stonewall: Reminiscences of William Thomas Poague, edited by Monroe F. Cockrell, with the original introduction by Bell Irvin Wiley and a new one by Robert K. Krick (1998, xxxii + 181 pp., $12.00 soft cover). Poague was from Rockbridge County and served as an officer with the Army of Northern Virginia. He wrote this account as a memoir for his family in 1903; it became a book in 1957. With this reprint, Nebraska adds a title to the few narratives by artillerists.
The second Bison Book is a well-known work, Letters from Lee's Army, or Memoirs of Life In and Out of the Army in Virginia during the War Between the States (1998, xiii + 312 pp., $15.00 softcover). The letters detail the wartime experience of a married couple from Lynchburg: Susan Leigh Blackford, who compiled the original, and Charles Minor Blackford, who annotated it. They published only thirty-five copies in 1894. In 1947 their grandson Charles Minor Blackford III published an abridged version, which Nebraska now reissues with a new introduction by Gordon C. Rhea. "If you are looking to understand the war's impact on literate Southerners," Rhea writes, "you have come to the right place."
-reviewed by Julie A. Campbell