Thursday, April 20, 2023

Booknotes: Letters to Lizzie

New Arrival:
Letters to Lizzie: The Story of Sixteen Men in the Civil War and the One Woman Who Connected Them All edited by James M. Scythes (Kent St UP, 2022).

The sheer number of correspondents involved makes this a highly unusual group of Civil War letters. Edited by historian James Scythes, Letters to Lizzie "contains a collection of letters exchanged between 16 men―15 soldiers and a quartermaster at a military hospital―and one young woman, Lizzie Brick. Since Lizzie herself could not bear arms, she took up her pen and through ongoing correspondence helped these Union soldiers sustain their motivation for the cause."

The exchange is predominantly one between family and friends. As Scythes notes in the preface, two writers were cousins to Lizzie and another an uncle. The rest, except for two individuals, were long-time friends from Lizzie's home town or church. There's quite the variety of perspectives. Friendship, religion, and wartime experiences are common themes in the letters.

From the description: "The men served in 11 different regiments in the Army of the Potomac, and their correspondence reveals unique insights into the connections between home front and battlefront during the Civil War and into the dynamics of male-female friendships in the 19th century. The letters span the entire war, and within them, the soldiers share their opinions about the people of the South, describe their experiences on the battlefield, and voice their frustrations with their commanders and the conduct of the war."

There are 124 letters reproduced in the book, organized into yearly chapters. Scythes establishes background and context in the introduction, and the postwar lives of the survivors are discussed in an epilogue. The great multitude of individuals involved undoubtedly made production of any kind of cohesive bridging narrative unfeasible, but persons, places, and events referenced in the letters are extensively addressed in the volume's explanatory endnotes section.

Letters to Lizzie: The Story of Sixteen Men in the Civil War and the One Woman Who Connected Them All "presents a complex portrait of a young woman during wartime as well as the concerns of soldiers, thus contributing to our understanding of the connections between servicemen and their communities and the role that women played during the Civil War in sustaining these relationships."

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