Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Trimpi: "CRIMSON CONFEDERATES: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South"

[Crimson Confederates: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South by Helen Trimpi (University of Tennessee Press, 2010). Cloth, photos, notes, appendices. 408 Pages. ISBN: 978-157233-682-7  $59]

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Dedicated on June 23, 1874, Memorial Hall on the campus of Harvard University formally honored the institution's graduates that went on to serve in the American Civil War. Conspicuously absent was any mention of the many alumni that served in the Confederate armies. Missing their chance to be immortalized in stone or bronze, these men will have to settle for the printed page, and a fine compilation it is. A vast improvement upon past efforts, Helen P. Trimpi's Crimson Confederates is a highly useful collection of biographical sketches of Harvard alumni that fought for the Confederacy.

In the introductory essay, Trimpi explains her vetting process, an attempt at assembling as complete a listing as possible that netted 357 individuals. In addition to detailing past efforts at publishing Harvard biographical registers of varying categories, Trimpi also describes the school's memorialization of its Union veterans and the differing attitudes and opinions directed toward the handful of campaigns aimed at commemorating Confederates, as well. Union veterans were divided on the issue of including any Confederate alumni, and special interest groups added their own pressure into the mix, the result of which was the tabling of all such proposals throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

An oversize hardcover running 362 double-column pages, Crimson Confederates is a hefty tome. As one might guess, the amount of available material varies greatly from one individual to another. Entries for prominent Confederate generals like John Sappington Marmaduke and William B. Taliaferro can run ten pages or more, while the most obscure individuals have only a few short paragraphs devoted to them.

The focus of each biographical sketch is on the subject's military service. In general, one paragraph each describes the soldier's pre- and post-war life and career. Entries are as precise as possible with dates and places, and each is accompanied by a source list. A small number of photographs were included (one might wish for more), and an asterisk precedes the name of each unfortunate that perished during the war.

The book is bound in red cloth, with a dust jacket to match in style and dimension the publisher's Yale volume, published the previous year [Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, Yale's Confederates: A Biographical Dictionary (Knoxville, TN: UT Press, 2009)]. Two appendices add even more information, the first a register of alumni who served the Confederacy in a civilian capacity and the second a data analysis. Crimson Confederates is an impressive tool for serious researchers. All individual and institutional libraries should consider adding this book to their Civil War collection. Additionally, it would make a nice gift for any Harvard graduate with an interest in the conflict. Highly recommended.


  1. Helen is a dear friend of mine, and she worked on this for a long, long time. Getting it published was an ordeal for her, and thankfully it is now available in a lovely and quality publication. I highly recommend it as well.


  2. Crimson Confederates: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South
    By Helen P. Trimpi
    Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2010

    The entry for William Arden Maury in this book has some significant errors:

    **William Arden Maury never served as assistant attorney general for the Confederate government. He was appointed assistant attorney general for the United States by President Chester Arthur in 1882.

    **Regarding contraband mail, Maury's role was merely as one of the recipients of mail seized by US forces in 1861.

    **The sources listed imply that his daughter wrote a biography of his life. She did not. What Alice Parmalee did do is have privately published in 1938 in an edition of 25 copies her father's memoirs entitled "Collections and Recollections".

    Carolyn Carpenter


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