Saturday, June 9, 2018

Booknotes: The War Outside My Window

New Arrival:
The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865 edited by Janet Elizabeth Croon (Savas Beatie, 2018).

A big pile of Savas Beatie titles arrived on my doorstep the day before I left on a trip so I haven't had a chance to look at any of them before now. The publisher has been heavily promoting this one in particular, so we'll start there and get to the rest in coming days. Another bit of news out of SB is that they are in the middle of a long overdue overhauling of their website. No ETA on when it will launch. They release so many titles per year that a modern, regularly updated home page would be very much welcomed.

From the description: "LeRoy Wiley Gresham was born in 1847 to an affluent slave-holding family in Macon, Georgia. After a horrific leg injury left him an invalid, the educated, inquisitive, perceptive, and exceptionally witty 12-year-old began keeping a diary in 1860--just as secession and the Civil War began tearing the country and his world apart. He continued to write even as his health deteriorated until both the war and his life ended in 1865. His unique manuscript of the demise of the Old South—lauded by the Library of Congress as one of its premier holdings—is published here for the first time in The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865."

These kinds of pre and young teen perspectives certainly aren't commonly encountered, and the frequency and depth of Gresham's observations only add value. More from the description: "LeRoy read books, devoured newspapers and magazines, listened to gossip, and discussed and debated important social and military issues with his parents and others. He wrote daily for five years, putting pen to paper with a vim and tongue-in-cheek vigor that impresses even now, more than 150 years later. His practical, philosophical, and occasionally Twain-like hilarious observations cover politics and the secession movement, the long and increasingly destructive Civil War, family pets, a wide variety of hobbies and interests, and what life was like at the center of a socially prominent wealthy family in the important Confederate manufacturing center of Macon. The young scribe often voiced concern about the family’s pair of plantations outside town, and recorded his interactions and relationships with “servants” Howard, Allen, Eveline, and others as he pondered the fate of human bondage and his family’s declining fortunes."

In addition to the publisher's preface, there's a brief general introduction from volume editor Janet Elizabeth Croon as well as a medical foreword and afterword from surgeon Dennis Rasbach. Croon also puts together an extensive dramatis personae section and contributes frequent footnotes to the Gresham diaries. The book contains maps and other illustrations, too. For those wanting to learn even more about what was behind Gresham's declining health and premature demise, Rasbach has produced a companion volume titled I Am Perhaps Dying: The Medical Backstory of Spinal Tuberculosis Hidden in the Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham (2018), which is out now in digital format with a print version to be released later.


  1. Thanks Drew. We kicked-off for "The War Outside My Window" tour
    at the Gresham home in Macon, GA, which is now the 1842 Inn. It staffed by the most wonderful people I've ever met, many of whom have been there 30+ years--they live with LeRoy, so to speak and have long loved him.

    About 80 people came into the Inn today to meet and hear about Leroy, buy books (88), and express their happiness that this is finally being published. It is a very important book.

  2. In the diary, Leroy mentions that he maintains scrapbooks. Do you know what happened to them? Also, any thoughts on why Leroy's family members so frequently sick?

    1. The most productive plantations in the Deep South were often located in sickly areas that bred tropical diseases, so it's hard to say if his situation was unusual. Gresham does mention the swarms of mosquitoes that frequented the household.

      I don't recall any mention in the book of the scrapbooks surviving.


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