Friday, September 24, 2021

Booknotes: Civil War Witnesses and Their Books

New Arrival:
Civil War Witnesses and Their Books: New Perspectives on Iconic Works edited by Gary W. Gallagher & Stephen Cushman (LSU Press, 2021).

In 2019, LSU Press published Gary Gallagher and Stephen Cushman's Civil War Writing: New Perspectives on Iconic Texts. That essay collection reexamined the enduring influence of a number of men and women whose Civil War writings reached eager readers through a number of fiction and non-fiction forms, including histories, novels, journals, memoirs, and biographies. Intended audience is always an important factor in considering these historically significant writings, and Gallagher and Cushman's new companion volume Civil War Witnesses and Their Books: New Perspectives on Iconic Works, also "features the voices of authors who felt compelled to convey their stories for a variety of reasons. Some produced works intended primarily for their peers, while others were concerned with how future generations would judge their wartime actions. One diarist penned her entries with no thought that they would later become available to the public."

Eight essays explore the works of five men and three women. Freshly reassessed in them are General Longstreet's memoir From Manassas to Appomattox; Henry Wilson’s three-volume The History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power (1872-77); Phoebe Yates Pember’s narrative of her time as a Chimborazo Hospital nurse; the "origins and substance" of McClellan's Own Story; Maria Lydig Daly's Diary of a Union Lady 1861–1865; John Billings’s Hardtack and Coffee; Elizabeth Bacon Custer’s series of memoirs of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and western Indian Wars (1885-1890); and, finally, Lee staffer Walter Taylor's seminal influence on Confederate history and memory through his books Four Years with General Lee (1877) and General Lee, His Campaigns in Virginia, 1861-1865, With Personal Reminiscences (1906).

More from the description: Civil War Witnesses and Their Books "shows how some of those who lived through the conflict attempted to assess its importance and frame it for later generations. Their voices have particular resonance today and underscore how rival memory traditions stir passion and controversy, providing essential testimony for anyone seeking to understand the nation’s greatest trial and its aftermath."

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