Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Booknotes: Two Civil Wars

New Arrival:
Two Civil Wars: The Curious Shared Journal of a Baton Rouge Schoolgirl and a Union Sailor on the USS Essex edited by Katherine Bentley Jeffrey (LSU Pr, 2016).

This book is "a double journal and a narrative about the two writers who composed its contents. The initial journal entries [dated 1859-61] were written by thirteen-year-old Celeste Repp while a student at St. Mary's Academy, a prominent but short-lived girls school in midcentury Baton Rouge." ... "Immediately following Celeste's prettily decorated pages a new title page intervenes, introducing 'An Abstract Journal Kept by William L. Park, of the U.S. gunboat Essex during the American Rebellion.' Park's diary is a fulsome three-year account of military engagements along the Mississippi and its tributaries, the bombardment of southern towns, the looting of plantations, skirmishes with Confederate guerillas, the uneasy experiment with 'contrabands' serving aboard ship, and the mundane circumstances of shipboard life."

Brown Water Navy diaries are uncommon findings and Park's journal is apparently the first from an Essex crewman to be published. In her introduction, editor Katherine Bentley Jeffrey composes brief biographies of both writers and explores the mystery of how Park might have appropriated Repp's journal for his own use. Both journals are extensively footnoted, and the book also includes an afterword discussion of the post-war lives of figures associated with the journals, a documentary appendix, and a comparative analysis of Park's journal with his later memoir.

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