Friday, October 12, 2018

Booknotes: In Memory of Self and Comrades

New Arrival:
In Memory of Self and Comrades: Thomas Wallace Colley's Recollections of Civil War Service in the 1st Virginia Cavalry edited by Michael K. Shaffer (UT Press, 2018).

In Memory of Self and Comrades: Thomas Wallace Colley's Recollections of Civil War Service in the 1st Virginia Cavalry is the latest volume from UT Press's long-running series Voices of the Civil War. From the description: "Thomas W. Colley served in one of the most active and famous units in the Civil War, the 1st Virginia Cavalry, which fought in battles in the Eastern Theater, from First Manassas/Bull Run to the defense of Petersburg. Colley was born November 11, 1837, outside Abingdon, Virginia, and grew up knowing the daily demands of life on a farm. In May 1861, along with the other members of the Washington Mounted Rifles, he left his home in Washington County and reported to camp in Richmond. During the war, Colley received wounds on three different occasions: first at Waterloo Bridge in 1862, again at Kelly’s Ford in 1863, and finally at Haw’s Shop in 1864. The engagement at Haw’s Shop resulted in the amputation of his left foot, thereby ending his wartime service."

During the war, Colley kept a small diary covering a brief period in 1862. In 1903, he started work on a memoir of his life and Civil War service. According to editor Michael Shaffer, Colley's recollections from decades earlier are "fairly accurate," assisted by the writer's consultations with fellow veterans. More from the description: "The first modern scholarly edition of Colley’s writings, In Memory of Self and Comrades dramatizes Colley’s fate as a wounded soldier mustered out before the war’s conclusion. Colley’s postwar reflections on the war reveal his struggle to earn a living and maintain his integrity while remaining somewhat unreconciled to his condition. He found much of his solace through writing and sought to advance his education after the war. As one of an estimated 20,000 soldiers who underwent amputation during the Civil War, his memoirs reveal the challenges of living with what many might recognize today as post-traumatic stress disorder. Annotations from editor Michael K. Shaffer provide further context to Colley’s colorful and insightful writings on both his own condition and the condition of other veterans also dealing with amputations."

The volume has all the care and attention we've come to expect from the Voices series, which is one of the premier outlets for publishing firsthand Civil War writings of all kinds. In addition to editing and arranging the material, Shaffer contributes a brief introduction and endnotes. Numerous photographs and nine maps from veteran cartographer George Skoch supplement the text.

The appendix section is very extensive, filling roughly half the book's pages and including a pair of regimental roster-histories written by Colley. The rosters are particularly notable for Colley's personalized comments on each man listed, which is rare to find anywhere in the literature (at least I've never come across such a thing ever before). He also does the same for the unit's officers. Some wartime letters and Colley's own account of his Kelly's Ford wounding can also be found inside.

Beyond informing those with a special interest in Colley himself, the book certainly rewards students of the 1st Virginia Cavalry with a wealth of primary source materials. Colley's postwar writings also provide a window into one man's struggle with the physical and emotional wounds inflicted by the war.

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