Friday, August 26, 2016

Review of Barr, ed.: "A CIVIL WAR CAPTAIN AND HIS LADY: Love, Courtship, and Combat From Fort Donelson through the Vicksburg Campaign"

[A Civil War Captain and His Lady: Love, Courtship, and Combat From Fort Donelson through the Vicksburg Campaign edited by Gene Barr (Savas Beatie, 2016). Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 351 pp. ISBN:978-1-61121-290-7. $32.95]

Born in Ireland, Josiah Moore was raised from infancy in the United States, his family settling in Illinois. A Monmouth College student when the war broke out, the 27-year-old Moore volunteered for army service and was elected a captain in the newly formed 17th Illinois. After passing through the training camp at Peoria, Moore campaigned with the regiment on both sides of Mississippi, escaping death on several battlefields before his three-year term of service ended in July 1864. The intimate wartime correspondence between Moore and Peoria resident (and eventual wife) Jennie Lindsay are the subject of A Civil War Captain and His Lady, edited by Gene Barr.

A remarkable feature of the collection is that nearly the entire set of back and forth letters sent between 1861 and 1863 survives (unfortunately, Jennie's reply letters are missing from 1864 onward). The writings express a great deal of mutual religiosity, as well as the longing and playful teasing one might expect from budding lovers. Barr occasionally footnotes items of interest but reserves most of his rather substantial research material for incorporation into the book's extensive parallel narrative. In it, he provides much in the way of historical context for Civil War events, as well as insights into Victorian era courtship, letter writing protocols, and other common middle-class religious and social rituals of the period. Details about the Peoria home front experience are also communicated in Jennie's letters. Readers might be interested to learn that Jennie's politically prominent father switched from the Republican party to the Peace Democrats (an unusual ideological conversion), which apparently did not affect the relationship between the ardent war supporter and abolitionist Moore (who despised "Copperheads") and the Lindsay family. Of course, as Barr notes, it never helps to antagonize one's future father-in-law, so it's entirely possible that Moore's silence was a matter of strategic self-interest.

Military matters affecting Moore and his unit are another primary focus of Barr's accompanying text. A number of primary source materials written by other officers and men (both inside and outside the regiment) are utilized to good effect by the author, who significantly fleshes out the fighting career of the 17th Illinois. These unit history sections have a larger significance, too, as the 17th does not yet have a modern regimental study devoted to it. Barr discusses the unit's campaigns and battles, including Fredericktown, Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Corinth, and Vicksburg. Through much of the early war period, Moore himself did not devote much space to detailing his own military experiences (and Jennie actually requested that he not tell her about the battles), and Barr adeptly fills in many of these gaps. The book's account of the 17th's actions at Fort Donelson is particularly good.

The reticence displayed toward telling Jennie about military events changed, however, around the time of the Siege of Corinth, when Moore began to write more and more about what he witnessed on the battlefield. These sections of his letters contain useful information for modern readers, much of it related to the Vicksburg campaign and the far less written about federal occupation of the city*. Moore describes what he saw during the May 22 assault on the town's ramparts, as well as what life was like in the trenches during the siege. After the city fell, Moore and the regiment garrisoned the city for most of the rest of their enlistment period. In addition to informing Jennie (and the reader) about relatively obscure expeditions sent across the river to Monroe, Louisiana and into Arkansas, Moore also describes in his letters his thoughts on the 1864 Meridian Campaign and a subsequent military excursion up the Yazoo River. Declining to reenlist when his unit's term of service expired, Moore left the army in June 1864. He soon after married Jennie, went back to school, and embarked on a long career as a Presbyterian minister.

In the Civil War literature, there's no shortage of published correspondence between Civil War soldiers and their sweethearts or wives, but the letters in A Civil War Captain and His Lady are more revealing than the typical collection making its way into print these days. The value of the book is enhanced significantly by editor Gene Barr's supporting research and writing, and those readers with a special interest in the 17th Illinois will be well rewarded.

* - Coincidentally, Bradley Clampitt's Occupied Vicksburg (LSU, Oct '16) should appear soon. This will be the first full length study of the occupation.


  1. Thank you for this in-depth review, Drew. We enjoyed it for the reasons you noted, and the fact that there is no published history of the 17th Illinois, and this fills in a lot of gaps. Even Moore's postwar years are interesting. Keep up the good work.

  2. Drew
    Thanks for reviewing my book. This is a concise, well written summary of the work.

    Gene Barr


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