Book Review: Two Civil Wars: The Curious Shared Journal of a Baton Rouge Schoolgirl and a Union Sailor on the USS 'Essex'

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by Katherine Bentley Jeffrey

Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2016. Pp. xxii, 274. Illus., maps, stemma, appends., notes, biblio., index. $38.00. ISBN: 0807162248

Unique Personal Views of the Civil War

The “curious shared journal” refers to a note book that 13 year old Louisiana creole Celeste Repp began using in 1859 for poems, French language exercises, copies of letters, and notes about her life, which, somehow in 1862, came into the hands of the 26 year old Scots-born William L. Park, a gunner on the USS Essex, who began using it as a diary, without ripping out her pages. Editor Jeffrey, an independent scholar who has written on several unusual aspects of the Civil War, does an outstanding job in preparing the writings of these quite different people for publication.

In preparing these writings for publication, Jeffrey has done an enormous amount of research. She opens with biographical looks at both Repp and Park, which serve to introduce us to them, then gives us a short discussion of how the Celeste’s notebook appears to have ended up in William’s hands.

While Repp’s writings at times offer insights into the education of a young girl of good family, Park’s tell a grimmer tale of life in river fleet. To supplement these writings, Jeffrey she provides short profiles for the many other people who appear in the entries, such as various members of Celeste’s family and circle, including the beloved Jesuit Fr. Darius Huber, as well as admirals David G. Farragut and William Porter, Charles Ellet, and many others. Jeffrey also includes extensive annotation to comment or expand upon references or observations made by both authors on events, customs, life, and people, these writings give us a deeper look into American life, society, and the naval service in the era of the Civil War. Jeffrey concludes book with looks at the later lives of both Repp, who entered a convent at 18, and Park, both of whom died in the early years of the twentieth century.

Two Civil Wars is a valuable for its many glimpses into the social and cultural environment of the times, and to the course of the war on the Mississippi.

Note: Two Civil Wars is also available in paperback, ISBN 978-0-8071-6225-5, and as an e-Book, ISBN 978-0-8071-6226-2.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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