Saturday, July 5, 2014

Cale: "GRAY DAYS IN MORGANTOWN: The Story of the Great Confederate Civil War Raid of April 27 and 28, 1863, Morgantown, Virginia (West Virginia)"

[Gray Days in Morgantown: The Story of the Great Confederate Civil War Raid of April 27 and 28, 1863, Morgantown, Virginia (West Virginia) by Clay Cale, Jr. (Monongalia Historical Society, 2013). Softcover, 2 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography. Pages main/total:46/111. ISBN:978-0-615-91293-6 $22]

Though fairly large in terms of numbers involved, destruction wrought, and miles traversed the Jones-Imboden Raid of 1863 has been far less documented that other mounted operations of similar scope. A recent raid history by Darrell Collins offers readers a fine comprehensive account, but Clay Cale's Gray Days in Morgantown: The Story of the Great Confederate Civil War Raid of April 27 and 28, 1863, Morgantown, Virginia (West Virginia) is a much more intimately focused work, recounting the raid's impact on a single community during two visits on consecutive days by Confederate cavalrymen from William E. "Grumble" Jones's command.

At less than 50 pages of narrative, Cale's study is a quick read. The first few chapters offer background information on the raid in general and Morgantown's role (its citizenry including individuals with prominent roles in the formation of the new state of West Virginia) in the war up to that point. In many ways, Cale's description of events is typical of countless small towns in the path of Civil War military operations, their direct experience of enemy armies limited to a single or small number of terrifying days. Beyond a pair of civilian bushwhackers being executed (with another, this one innocent, wounded but able to escape) there was relatively little violence involved. Local home guards/militia offered only token resistance before surrendering the town, and the raiders plundered stores and confiscated cattle and horses. The author deeply researched the raid's impact on a number of local families so the book has significant local history flavor and genealogical value.

Gray Days is also well stocked with illustrations. A very extensive gallery of period photographs is present in an appendix, as are two maps charting the course of the Jones-Imboden Raid. A map of the town itself would have been a nice tool, both for general orientation as well as in locating properties and events mentioned in the text. In another appendix, Cale also includes some historical documents reproduced in full: a letter, a memoir, and a pair of prewar and postwar town directories.

Cale's well researched account of Morgantown's experience of passing hostile occupation offers a detailed snapshot of what many unsuspecting towns and villages suffered when the Civil War suddenly "came home." Gray Days in Morgantown is not designed to appeal to the general reader but there is significant value in its pages for students of the raid and for present day Morgantown's local history enthusiasts. Not accustomed to encountering books about their town's comparatively obscure role in the Civil War, the latter will likely find Cale's study to be an eye opening one.

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