by Gary W. Gallagher & Stephen Cushman, editors
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2019. Pp. xii, 300.
Illus., notes, index. $48.00. ISBN: 0807170240
Revisiting the Classic Literature of the Civil War
The editors, both outstanding scholars of Civil War America, explain the object of this collection as a re-examination, in the light of more recent scholarship, of classic writings on the period by people who lived through it.
The nine papers, by various scholars, cover Joseph T. Wilson’s The Black Phalanx, the first serious work to offer a comprehensive look at the role of African-Americans in the armed forces, Loreta Velasquez’s memoir The Woman in Battle, the contrasting yet complementary accounts of the surrender of the Confederate Army of Tennessee in the memoirs of generals William T. Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston, Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women, Jubal Early’s memoirs, Mary Chesnut’s reading as revealed in her diaries, John B. Gordon’s Reminiscences, and Edward Porter Alexander’s two accounts of the war.
Each of the essays offers a critical look at the work or works in question, seeking to clarify the author’s intentions, differentiating between what might be termed “legitimate” errors and outright falsehoods, while also discussing the influence of the work on later scholarship. As a result, some works come off quite badly
Perhaps the most damning paper is William C. Davis’s “The Soldier Who Never Was: Loreta Velasquez and The Woman in Battle”, which concludes, convincingly, that despite her popularity in some scholarly circles, Velasquez told a wholly bogus tale. On the opposite extreme, arguably the best paper is Prof. Gallagher’s “The Best Confederate Memoirist”, on Edward Porter Alexander’s two sets of war memoirs.
A volume in the LSU series “Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War”, Civil War Writing is a useful read for anyone with some interest in the period. It's an essential one for serious students of the conflict and in fact for anyone pursuing history as a craft.
Note: Civil War Writing, is also available in several e-editions
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