Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Booknotes: Till Death Do Us Part

New Arrival:
Till Death Do Us Part: The Letters of Emory and Emily Upton, 1868–1870 edited by Salvatore G. Cilella, Jr. (OU Press, 2020).

From the description: "Major General Emory Upton (1839–1881) served in all three branches of the U.S. military during the American Civil War. Lauded as a war hero, he later earned acclaim for his influence on military reforms, which lasted well beyond his lifetime." With three recent books already under his belt, a history of the regiment that Upton led for much of the war Upton's Regulars: The 121st New York Infantry in the Civil War and two volumes of Upton correspondence (Vol. 1, 1857–1875 and Vol. 2, 1875–1881), Salvatore Cilella's well-received scholarship has become closely associated with the Upton historiography. But he's not done yet. Cilella's new book Till Death Do Us Part: The Letters of Emory and Emily Upton, 1868–1870 "unveils the private life of a brilliant Civil War personality. It also introduces readers to the devout young woman" [Emily Norwood Martin (1846–1870)] "who earned the general’s fanatic devotion before her untimely death from tuberculosis."

According to Cilella, of the around 500 Upton letters that are housed in archives around the country, more than 60 were written to his wife from late 1868 to early 1869. With the purpose of publishing the latter group separately in this volume, the marriage letters were intentionally left out of the earlier volumes of correspondence. Sadly, only Upton's side of the letter exchange has survived. In an attempt to address the gap, Cilella "was able to draw on the rich trove of letters Emily wrote to her mother and father while on her honeymoon and during her stays in Key West, Nassau, and Atlanta. Together, both sets of letters form a poignant narrative of the general’s tender love for his new wife and her reciprocal affection as they attempted to create a normal life together despite her declining health." The collection also "gives readers a fascinating glimpse into gender roles and marital relations in the nineteenth century."

With Emily acquiring her terminal illness early in the marriage, their union was a tragically brief one lasting only two years. "The life of an army wife could be grueling, and despite her declining health, Emily longed to perform the role expected of her. It was not meant to be. Unwittingly, she and Emory chose the worst places for her to recover—Key West and Nassau—where the high humidity and heat must have exacerbated her difficulty breathing. She died in Nassau, far away from her husband. Eleven years later, racked by a sinus tumor and likely still grieving from his lost love, Upton committed suicide at the age of forty-one."

Drawing upon his extensive Upton research, Cilella extensively annotates the letter collection and bookends the volume with informative introduction and epilogue sections. The introduction recounts the pair's marriage and army life together while the epilogue addresses the aftermath of Emily's passing along with the balance of Upton's military career and his suicide. An Emory and Emily Upton marriage timeline is included as an appendix.

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