Sunday, November 28, 2010

Frazier & Hillhouse (eds.): "LOVE AND WAR: The Civil War Letters and Medicinal Book of Augustus V. Ball"

[Love and War: The Civil War Letters and Medicinal Book of Augustus V. Ball edited by Donald S. Frazier and Andrew Hillhouse, transcribed by Anne Ball Ryals (State House Press, 2010). Cloth, 21 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 523 pp. ISBN:978-1-933337-42-5  $59.95]

Like many contemporaries seeking a better life in the west, 27 year old native Georgian Augustus "Gus" V. Ball planned to emigrate to Texas with his new bride. Unfortunately for the young couple, their timing could not have been worse. Just weeks before their wedding, first Georgia then Texas seceded, casting doubt on peaceful pursuits. Ball was a graduate of the Reform Medical College in Macon, Georgia, an institution that followed the teachings of New England herbalist Samuel Thomson, the founder of a nineteenth century movement to cure bodily ills with botanical concoctions. Licensed only in Georgia, Ball in 1862 was not exempt from conscription in Texas. Joining the war effort a year after his arrival in the state, he enlisted with the 23rd Texas Cavalry as a private and was assigned hospital attendant duties.

In the remarkable new book Love and War: The Civil War Letters and Medicinal Book of Augustus V. Ball, Ball's wartime correspondence (mostly to his wife, Argent, but also to and from friends and family), transcribed by descendant Ann Ball Ryals and edited by noted Trans-Mississippi Civil War historian Donald Frazier, is given a classy treatment. Maps and photographs abound, and Frazier's work goes beyond that usually found in books of this type. The letters are grouped into chapters roughly by campaign, each of which is introduced by an essay preparing the reader for the events that follow with detailed background information and context. In addition to their incorporation of key excerpts from the letters that immediately follow, these narratives expand significantly upon events (mostly military) mentioned by Ball in his letters. The correspondence is also carefully annotated by Frazier and his student assistants. In addition to identifying persons, places, and events, there is a great deal of explanatory material present in their work. The notes are also helpfully placed at the bottom of each page.

The 23rd patrolled northeast Texas until early 1863, when it was sent to the coast to repel Union amphibious attacks. There, camped along the unhealthy mouth of the Brazos River, Ball cared for sick comrades. Although he does not relate much detail about his army duties in his correspondence, insight is provided into the sorry state of his regiment, which suffered from poor leadership (especially at the top with Colonel Gould), indiscipline, and desertion. It is a familiar story to students of many disaffected Trans-Mississippi regiments, but the 23rd seems almost exceptionally dysfunctional.

By the end of the year, Ball found himself transferred to the artillery, appointed a limber driver in McMahan's Battery (previously designated Co. E, 1st Texas Heavy Artillery). The battery participated in the battles of the 1864 Red River Campaign, with Ball being called forward to the firing line to help serve the battered guns during the Battle of Yellow Bayou. Frazier's own contribution to this part of the book is worthy of special mention. His chapter length account of Yellow Bayou and his sequence of eight small scale tactical maps together comprise a wonderful record of the battle and McMahan's battery's role in it [Ball himself writes little of his battlefield experiences].

One of the most valuable aspects of Ball's correspondence is his recording of events occurring between the conclusion of the 1864 Red River Campaign and final surrender, a period of the war in Trans-Mississippi Louisiana little addressed in the literature. Generally speaking, Ball and his unit remained in the Alexandria area during this time, manning fortifications and countering small scale Federal incursions by ships, regular units, and guerrillas.

Another fascinating section of the book is the inclusion of Ball's collection of Thomsonian remedies. Running over sixty pages, and expertly edited by biomedical researcher Dr. Andrew Hillhouse, the recipe book is a large compilation of pharmaceutical formulas from a bygone medical system. Hillhouse diligently identifies the herbs, compounds, and chemicals listed, as well as the often arcane terminology of the period.

Beautifully bound and illustrated, and touching upon several understudied facets of the war in the Trans-Mississippi theater, Love and War is a truly unique contribution to the literature and is highly recommended. Students of Civil War medicine, as well as those with a specialized interest in American nineteenth century medical fads, will also find the recipe book section a valuable historical document.

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