Book Review: The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion


by Peter S. Carmichael

Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2005. Pp. xiv, 342. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN:0-8078-2948-X

The Last Generation, Peter Carmichael looks at a group of male Virginians born between 1831 and 1843. Many of them, scions of slave owning upper middle class families, grew to manhood in the 1850s and then served as company and field grade officers in the Army of Northern Virginia. Carmichael depicts a generation of youth in the 1850s who were very much at odds with their elders, depicted as “old fogies” who stood in the way of the progress Virginia needed to make in order to regain her rightful national prominence.

Many of these young men saw Virginia as a place where all of the good jobs, and properties, were already held by men who had no intention of dying soon. In this regard, this “last generation” faced a situation that would be confronted by German youth in the 1890s and early 1900s.

Although many were not ardent secessionists, all who could served devotedly in the Army of Northern Virginia. After the war, many embraced the New South as a chance to secure about the progress they had wanted before the war.

Ultimately, however, they turned away from what they regarded as the excesses of the Southern youth of the “Gilded Age.” Thus, in their old age, they turned into “old fogies” themselves. If anything, this excellent study will confirm what teenagers have known forever; that parents are just not cool.

Reviewer: Richard L. DiNardo   

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