Monday, January 21, 2019

Booknotes: James Riley Weaver’s Civil War

New Arrival:
James Riley Weaver’s Civil War: The Diary of a Union Cavalry Officer and Prisoner of War, 1863–1865 edited by John T. Schlotterbeck, Wesley W. Wilson, Midori Kawaue and Harold A. Klingensmith (Kent St Univ Press, 2019).

As its title so clearly states, James Riley Weaver’s Civil War: The Diary of a Union Cavalry Officer and Prisoner of War, 1863–1865 is an edited volume of the field service and prisoner of war diaries (the latter much more extensive) of Union cavalry officer James Riley Weaver. In October 1862 at the age of 23, Weaver enlisted in the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry. The early months of his service were spent patrolling the northern Virginia countryside. In June 1863 (not 1862 as his photo caption incorrectly states), Weaver was promoted to second lieutenant. His regiment participated in the Gettysburg Campaign and in the ensuing autumn's army operations in Virginia, where he was captured during a rear guard action on October 11. 

After a brief biographical prologue, the first two chapters of the book address Weaver's service diary while the next seven consist of his edited POW diaries from prisons in Virginia, Georgia, and South Carolina as well as his return to freedom. Paroled only in late February 1865 when the Confederacy was crumbling wholesale, Weaver was a prisoner for a very long time and one would imagine his writings comprise a valuable resource for researchers of southern prisons and the experiences of those held captive there.

With 666 consecutive days of written entries, Weaver was a remarkably dedicated diarist under what must often have been very trying circumstances. According to the editors, "Weaver’s observations never veer into romanticized descriptions; instead, he describes the “little world” inside each prison and outdoor camp, describing men drawn from “every class of society, high and low, rich and poor, from every country and clime.” In addition, Weaver records details about life in the Confederacy that he gleans from visitors, guards, new arrivals, recaptured escapees, Southern newspapers, and even glimpses through windows."

In addition to compiling, annotating, and indexing the Weaver material, the editorial team contributes to the volume substantial background and contextual narrative. A number of photographs and other illustrations are also included. More from the description: "As the editors demonstrate, Weaver’s diary-keeping provided an outlet for expressing suppressed emotions, ruminating on a seemingly endless confinement that tested his patriotism, religious faith, and will to survive. In the process, he provides not only historically important information but also keen insights into the human condition under adversity."

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