by William C. Davis and Sue Heth Bell, editors
Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2022. Pp. viii, 456.
Illus., notes, biblio., index. $45.00. ISBN: 1469668297
A Virginia Couple Keeping in Touch
In early 1863, 37-year old Confederate brigadier Gabriel “Gabe” C. Wharton wed 19-year old Anne “Nannie” Radford Wharton. From March 1863 through July 1865, the couple exchanged over 500 letters, all of which survived, both his and hers, found in 15 boxes stashed in a relative’s attic. They are published here for the first time, with some useful supporting material by the editors to help readers understand matters likely unfamiliar to us moderns.
This unique collection offers insights into the war and life on the home front, as well as the lives of two well to do, well educated people who were trying to understand the imminent end of their way of life.
In the letters, Gabe and Nannie created their own private world. They were away from each other for long periods, which allowed drop some traditional marital etiquette. Both the Whartons had much to say and often used biting language to express their thoughts, uncertainties, and needs. Gabe, a long standing bachelor, used to making all decisions for himself, and Nannie, a spoiled teenager, not used to being subordinate, managed to build a "modern" relationship, He proved surprisingly complex, vulnerable, and open with his wife, unusual for the times, while Nannie was opinionated and direct, and proved to a good partner and excellent business person. Both were concerned with duty, honor, secession, and responsibility.
Gabe and Nannie harbored strong negative opinions about the conduct of the war by Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, to the point of questioning their loyalty to the cause. They were also surprisingly concerned about the welfare of two of their slaves, Tim and Emeline Lewis, who postwar remained in their household as employees.
Among collections of letters written between American soldiers and their spouses, those exchanged between the Whartons stand out for conveying insights into married life and the complexity of the motives and experiences of Confederate soldiers and their families.
Well written, the letters are very readable, interesting, and offer many insights into life, marriage, and war in mid-nineteenth century America. This reviewer found The Whartons' War a fast read, and highly recommends it.
Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His most recent previous reviews here include Their Maryland, The Lion of Round Top, Rites of Retaliation, Animal Histories of the Civil War Era, Benjamin Franklin Butler, Dreams of Victory: General P. G. T. Beauregard, Bonds of War, Early Struggles for Vicksburg, True Blue, Civil War Witnesses and Their Books, Love and Duty, When Hell Came To Sharpsburg, Lost Causes, Six Miles From Charleston, Five Minutes to Hell, "If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania", James Montgomery: Abolitionist Warrior, Cedar Mountain to Antietam, Lieutenant General James Longstreet, Count the Dead, All Roads Led To Gettysburg, Unhappy Catastrophes, and The Heart of Hell.
Note: A volume in the UNC series "Civil War America", The Whartons' War is also available in hard cover and e-editions.
StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium