Monday, November 26, 2018

Booknotes: High Private

New Arrival:
High Private: The Trans-Mississippi Correspondence of Humorist R. R. Gilbert, 1862–1865 edited by Mary M. Cronin (UT Press, 2018).

Mary Cronin's High Private: The Trans-Mississippi Correspondence of Humorist R. R. Gilbert, 1862–1865 explores the life, military service, and journalistic career of Vermont-raised but passionately Confederate Rensselaer Reed Gilbert (the book's title refers to Gilbert's newspaper nom de plume). According to Cronin, Gilbert "was one of the most prolific newspaper correspondents during the years of the U.S. Civil War. He penned several hundred news and editorial columns, as well as comic sketches, for the Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph."

Cronin has written about Gilbert before in a journal article and as a contributor to the essay anthology Knights of the Quill, and that earlier scholarship is significantly expanded upon in the first two chapters of High Private. In addition to serving a biographical purpose, those opening sections (which together run over fifty pages) also delve into the comic nature of much of his writing. The book "provides new insight into this form of journalism but also addresses military humor produced while the author was in uniform. When he returned to civilian life, Gilbert wrote chiefly from various military commanders’ headquarters. His work records the social and political experiences of soldiers and civilians living in the Trans-Mississippi region, especially after it was cut off from the rest of the Confederacy following the capture of New Orleans in 1862."

More from the description: "Through parody and satire, Gilbert’s often sharp pen revealed uncomfortable truths, attacked sentimentality and pretension, provided emotional release for those living in the Trans-Mississippi area—particularly Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas—and served as a critical voice for the region. That Gilbert remains readable today is a testament to his imagination, creativity, and power of observation. In writing about a journalist who covered both military and civilian affairs, Cronin reveals not only a talented writer but also an understudied region in the American Civil War through the keen eyes and pen of a working journalist." Introduced with editorial commentary and arranged in yearly chapters, Gilbert's extensive wartime correspondence is transcribed in full and also annotated.

Cronin’s "extensive look at Gilbert’s life and work introduces readers to the forgotten voice of a Trans-Mississippi comic, correspondent, and Southern advocate" and her work significantly "expands research into the field of Civil War-era humor writing and news reporting."

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