Monday, July 18, 2022

Booknotes: The Whartons' War

New Arrival:
The Whartons' War: The Civil War Correspondence of General Gabriel C. Wharton and Anne Radford Wharton, 1863-1865 edited by William C. Davis & Sue Heth Bell (UNC Press, 2022).

It's a rare bonus to have both sets of a Civil War correspondence between soldier and home front survive intact. All too often, readers have to infer content of return letters through hints and context found in the one surviving set. There's certainly no need to have to go through that with the material found in the edited collection The Whartons' War: The Civil War Correspondence of General Gabriel C. Wharton and Anne Radford Wharton, 1863-1865. "Between March 1863 and July 1865, Confederate newlyweds Brigadier General Gabriel C. Wharton and Anne Radford Wharton wrote 524 letters, and all survived, unknown until now."

VMI graduate and civilian engineer Gabriel Colvin Wharton was appointed colonel of the 51st Virginia in 1861, having the career misfortune of serving with General John Floyd in western Virginia and later at Fort Donelson in Tennessee. He was still a colonel when engaged mid-war to Anne "Nannie" Radford. They would marry in 1863, and that same year Wharton would be promoted to brigadier general. In spring 1864, Wharton was finally able to leave his backwater SW Virginia stomping grounds and join the Army of Northern Virginia as brigade and later division commander with the Second Corps. His exchange of letters with Nannie begin in March 1863 and end in June 1865 when Wharton was paroled at Lynchburg and returned home.

The great volume of letters (nearly 350 pages worth) explore a host of topics and themes for readers and scholars to examine. From the description: "Separated by twenty years in age and differing opinions on myriad subjects, these educated and articulate Confederates wrote frankly and perceptively on their Civil War world. Sharing opinions on generals and politicians, the course of the war, the fate of the Confederacy, life at home, and their wavering loyalties, the Whartons explored the shifting gender roles brought on by war, changing relations between slave owners and enslaved people, the challenges of life behind Confederate lines, the pain of familial loss, the definitions of duty and honor, and more."

The scholarly editing work of Davis and Bell "guides readers into this world of experience and its ongoing historical relevance" through a general introduction, lengthy contextual chapter introductions and bridging text, an epilogue, and endnotes.

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