Monday, June 23, 2014

Christ & Williams, eds.: "I DO WISH THIS CRUEL WAR WAS OVER: First-Person Accounts of Civil War Arkansas from the Arkansas Historical Quarterly"

[I Do Wish This Cruel War Was Over: First-Person Accounts of Civil War Arkansas from the Arkansas Historical Quarterly edited by Mark K. Christ & Patrick G. Williams (University of Arkansas Press, 2014). Softcover, maps, photos, notes, index. 274 pp. ISBN:978-1-55728-647-5 $34.95]

In commemoration of the Sesquicentennial, article compilations from several state historical society journals have been issued. Tennessee Historical Quarterly is on the cusp of completing ten  volumes of selections from issues published between 1942-2010. With a pair of titles, Missouri Historical Review has done the same but on a more modest scale. Now Mark Christ and Arkansas Historical Quarterly editor Patrick Williams, in partnership with the University of Arkansas Press, have released I Do Wish This Cruel War Was Over: First-Person Accounts of Civil War Arkansas from the Arkansas Historical Quarterly. It's among the best of the bunch, unique in that it also offers new footnote material.

As Williams notes in his introduction, the decision was made early on to limit the selection process to articles dealing with the war inside state borders, leaving out a considerable body of soldier writings pertaining to the fighting east of the Mississippi. Even with this narrowing, unavoidable gaps in coverage exist; however, Arkansas Civil War editor extraordinaire Christ reintroduces from what is available a satisfyingly diverse collection of soldier and civilian diaries, letters, and memoirs. Co-editor Williams perceptively points to much of this scholarship as anticipatory of several current interpretations of the home front experience of the war, among them that guerrilla conflict was the primary way many southern civilians witnessed the war and "hard war" was instituted far earlier than previously credited.

Christ's selections, all edited first-hand accounts written by adherents of both sides, cover the war inside Arkansas from beginning to end. Geographical range is similarly comprehensive. Chapter 1 letters relate how men coped with training camp and the process of becoming citizen-soldiers. The next chapter involves fighting the early war campaigns in the mountains of northern Arkansas, some of the more evocative pieces documenting Herron's command's remarkable forced march to the Prairie Grove battlefield and the subsequent Van Buren Raid. Chapter 3 shifts attention to central and eastern Arkansas, with army and navy accounts of the Battle of Arkansas Post and soldier and civilian correspondence related to battles and home front issues at Pine Bluff, Helena, Little Rock and Princeton. 1864 is the subject of the fourth chapter, with the Camden Expedition being front and center. Other letters in this section discuss failed attempts to find and defeat Jo Shelby in NE Arkansas, leading black troops (112th USCT) garrisoning Little Rock, and daily life in SW Arkansas. The final chapter records the thoughts of participants on the eve of final victory or defeat and the winding down of the guerrilla conflict. The only region truly neglected is SE Arkansas, a situation mirrored by the general literature's paucity of publications of any kind related to the war in this area.

As mentioned before, Christ frequently augments existing footnotes with his own annotations [authorship, original and new, is clearly defined], significantly increasing the value of many of the older articles by updating the scholarship. He also contributes chapter introductions and transitional text. Photographs and a few maps are also included, among the latter a particularly helpful state map with the locations corresponding to the compiled accounts flagged. It is here that the geographical spread of the selections becomes truly apparent.

Sure, all of the material in I Do Wish This Cruel War Was Over has been previously published and remains obtainable to scholar and enthusiast alike, but Christ's original editing and scholarship, combined with the fact that the book is a bargain when one factors in the time and costs involved with the interlibrary loan process or in obtaining back issues of AHQ on the secondary market, mark the publication as both convenient and uniquely useful to students of the Civil War years inside Arkansas. Highly recommended.

More CWBA reviews of UAP and Butler Center titles:
* "This Day We Marched Again": A Union Soldier's Account of War in Arkansas and the Trans-Mississippi (Butler Center)
* When the Wolf Came: The Civil War and the Indian Territory
* Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Alabama in the Civil War
* Worthy of the Cause for Which They Fight: The Civil War Diary of Brigadier General Daniel Harris Reynolds, 1861-1865
* The Die Is Cast: Arkansas Goes to War, 1861 (Butler Center)
* Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Missouri in the Civil War
* Army Life: From a Soldier’s Journal
* The Fate of Texas: The Civil War and the Lone Star State
* A Rough Introduction to this Sunny Land (Butler Center)
* Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865
* A Thrilling Narrative
* Confederate Guerrilla
* Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front
* Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Tennessee in the Civil War
* Civil War Arkansas: Beyond Battles and Leaders
* "I Acted From Principle": The Civil War Diary Of Dr. William M. McPheeters, Confederate Surgeon In The Trans-Mississippi
* Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand

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