Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Booknotes: The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect

New Arrival:
The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect: The Life and Diary of Confederate Artillerist William Ellis Jones ed. by Constance Hall Jones (SIU Press, 2020).

A combination of biography and edited diary, The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect tells "the story of William Ellis Jones (1838–1910), an artillerist in Crenshaw’s Battery, Pegram’s Battalion, the Army of Northern Virginia. One of the few extant diaries by a Confederate artillerist, Jones’s articulate writings cover camp life as well as many of the key military events of 1862, including the Peninsula Campaign, the Second Battle of Manassas, the Maryland Campaign, and the Battle of Fredericksburg."

The book also delves into Jones's civilian occupation and his postwar contributions to the Civil War in print. "In 1865 Jones returned to his prewar printing trade in Richmond, and his lasting reputation stems from his namesake publishing company’s role in the creation and dissemination of much of the Lost Cause ideology." Editor Constance Hall Jones also notes an interesting dichotomy in her ancestor's attitude toward the Civil War. In contrast to the ideological mindset displayed through his many pro-Confederate publications, Jones's own wartime diary showed him to be "an unenthusiastic soldier" (though it appears that frequent clashes with officers were a major source of his dissatisfaction with military service).

In addition to the editing the diary, "Jones brackets the soldier’s diary with rich, biographical detail, profiling his friends and relatives and providing insight into his childhood and post-war years. In doing so, she offers one of the first serious investigations into the experience of a Welsh immigrant family loyal to the Confederacy and makes a significant contribution to our understanding of Civil War–era Richmond and the nineteenth-century publishing industry."

The book is roughly evenly divided between the biographical chapters and edited diary. Nine helpful maps follow the course of Crenshaw's Battery through the end of 1862. Though the diary ends in 1862, Jones served with the battery for much of the balance of the conflict before being invalided out in February 1865 and ending the war as a clerk in the Quartermaster's Department. It looks like an interesting book on a number of levels.


  1. Replies
    1. "Booknotes" are just previews and courtesy announcements of new book arrivals. But I like what I saw in the book so far!


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