Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Booknotes: The Legion's Fighting Bulldog

New Arrival:
The Legion's Fighting Bulldog: The Civil War Correspondence of William Gaston Delony, Lieutenant Colonel of Cobb's Georgia Legion Cavalry, and Rosa Delony, 1853-1863 edited by Vincent Joseph Dooley & Samuel Norman Thomas, Jr. (Mercer UP, 2017).

Containing the voluminous back and forth letters written between a high-ranking officer of a famous cavalry unit and his wife, The Legion's Fighting Bulldog has all the elements of noteworthy Civil War correspondence. It's rather surprising that no one has published the collection before now. Lieutenant Colonel William Gaston Delony was a University of Georgia graduate and prewar lawyer who raised a company for the Cobb Legion of Georgia cavalry in the summer of 1861. His wife was the former Rosa Eugenia Huguenin.

The editors of their letter collection are Vince Dooley (yes, that's right, the famous UGA football and 1980 National Championship winning coach) and Samuel Norman Thomas. Dooley is currently chairman of the Georgia Historical Society and Thomas the curator of the Thomas R.R. Cobb House. They add much valuable material to the volume, including a timeline, general introduction, footnotes, a pair of appendices, and an index. They also usefully organize the huge body of correspondence into fourteen chapters, beginning each with a lengthy introduction that offers detailed background and context for the letters than follow. The volume also contains a large number of good quality maps, a feature typically overlooked in books of this type.

In his letters home, Delony describes his experiences of a number of key eastern theater military operations, including the Peninsula, Second Bull Run, Maryland, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg campaigns. From the description: "These writings give the reader insights into what soldiers thought and felt, and of what their families went through, both on the battlefield and at home. Delony doesn't just write about his movements or the battles he has participated in, although he does a very good job of relaying information on that front, he also writes about the military and domestic activities taking place, as well as some of his innermost feelings. Delony expresses concern for his wife's struggles with her pregnancy as well as his own woundings, even though he attempts to play down the latter. Rosa's letters in response express her concerns for her husband and the wellbeing of their children." Unfortunately, things did not end well for the pair. On September 22, 1863 at the battle of Jack's Shop, Delony received a mortal wound, expiring soon after in a federal hospital in Washington on October 2.

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