Saturday, May 25, 2013

Emerson & Stokes (eds.): "A CONFEDERATE ENGLISHMAN: The Civil War Letters of Henry Wemyss Feilden"

[A Confederate Englishman: The Civil War Letters of Henry Wemyss Feilden edited by W. Eric Emerson and Karen Stokes (University of South Carolina Press, 2013). Hardcover, photos, drawings, notes, bibliography, index. 215 pp. ISBN:978-1-61117-135-8 $29.95]

The second son of a baronet, Henry Wemyss Feilden had to find a way to make a living, so, like many young men of his class, he purchased an army commission, serving in both India and China. In 1860, the 22 year old Englishman sold his commission and announced his intention to join the Confederacy and aid in its bid for independence. It is his 1863-65 correspondence with fiance then wife Julia McCord of Charleston that comprises the heart of A Confederate Englishman, edited by archivists W. Eric Emerson and Karen Stokes. In addition to the Civil War material (some of which is also of an official nature), a selection of letters through 1920 offers glimpses at the rest of Feilden's remarkable life, one marked by his emergence as a prominent naturalist and explorer.

In the early letters [the compilation begins in March 1863] to his family back home, Feilden does not expressly detail his reasons for risking his life running the blockade in order to ally with the Confederacy, but one surmises it was a mixture of pro-Confederate sympathies, a new sense of adventure, and the potential for financial gain. Upon his safe arrival, he traveled to Richmond*, where he secured a captain's commission and a departmental staff position of his choice. He selected the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, where he soon made the acquaintance of the young woman who was to be his frequent correspondent and eventual spouse.

As the Assistant Adjutant General - Department, Feilden was the chief administrative officer on the staffs of Generals P.G.T. Beauregard, Samuel Jones, and William Hardee, and his letters offer some insights into what his AAG duties entailed. Much of his time appears to have been spent handling paperwork and managing an office of four clerks. Typical personal and family concerns comprise much of the Feilden correspondence, but frequent mention is made of military events, mostly around Charleston.  The originals have post-war notations by the captain (reproduced by the editors), admitting that much of the expressed confidence in Confederate victory contained in the letters were benevolent untruths meant to buck up home front morale.

The editors also include official AAG reports that should prove useful to historians. Although Feilden appears to have been largely desk bound, his series of letters detailing an 1864 inspection trip to Florida together comprise a rare and detailed record of the military and economic state of that district in the period following the Battle of Olustee.

Feilden's outsider's perspective is also of some value to readers. While he appears to have adopted wholesale many of the attitudes of Deep South Confederates, including a dim view of Union Army conduct toward southern civilians and the potential of freed blacks to become productive citizens, he does discount local fears of the horrors of occupation by armed blacks (citing his own personal experiences in the outposts of the British Empire).

On top of introducing and arranging this letter collection, editors Emerson and Stokes have also contributed a well researched set of notes, identifying persons mentioned in the writings and providing background and context for places and events. Scholarly publications dealing with the Civil War in the South Atlantic theater, especially in the sphere of military operations, still lag far behind those associated with the other major regions of conflict, making A Confederate Englishman a welcome addition to this sporadic literature.

* - While in Virginia, Feilden made the acquaintance of Stonewall Jackson. Readers are most familiar with Jackson's grim professional demeanor in the classroom and on campaign, but those interested in how Jackson interacted on a personal level would do well to check out Feilden's description of his visit to Jackson's headquarters (pp. 5-7), where he found the general an amiable and solicitous host.

More CWBA reviews of USC Press titles:
* Promotion or the Bottom of the River: The Blue and Gray Naval Careers of Alexander F. Warley, South Carolinian
* Faith, Valor, and Devotion: The Civil War Letters of William Porcher DuBose and A Palmetto Boy: Civil War-Era Diaries and Letters of James Adams Tillman
* Twilight on the South Carolina Rice Fields: Letters of the Heyward Family, 1862-1871
* Never for Want of Powder: The Confederate Powder Works in Augusta, Georgia
* Upcountry South Carolina Goes to War: Letters of the Anderson, Brockman, and Moore Families, 1853-1865
* Cuban Confederate Colonel: The Life of Ambrosio Jose Gonzales
* The Good Fight That Didn't End: Henry P. Goddard's Accounts of Civil War and Peace
* Guardian of Savannah: Fort McAllister, Georgia, in the Civil War and Beyond
* High Seas And Yankee Gunboats: A Blockade-Running Adventure From The Diary Of James Dickson
* Vital Rails: The Charleston & Savannah Railroad and the Civil War in Coastal South Carolina

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