Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Booknotes: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Kennedy

New Arrival:

The Civil War Letters of Sarah Kennedy: Life under Occupation in the Upper South edited by Minoa D. Uffelman, Phyllis Smith, and Ellen Kanervo (UTenn Press, 2023).

From the description: "At the outbreak of the Civil War, Sarah Kennedy watched as her husband, D.N., left for Mississippi, leaving her alone to care for their six children and control their slaves in a large home in downtown Clarksville, Tennessee. D. N. Kennedy left to aid the Confederate Treasury Department. He had steadfastly supported secession and helped recruit local boys for the Confederate army. The Civil War Letters of Sarah Kennedy: Life under Occupation in the Upper South showcases the letters Sarah wrote to her husband during their time apart, offering readers an inside look at life on the home front during the Civil War through the eyes of a slave-owning, town-dwelling wife and mother."

The book's foreword, written by current Voices of the Civil War series editor Michael Gray, contextualizes this and other published regional female voices (including others from Kennedy's Clarksville), with some emphasis on the husband-wife relationship and its influences beyond the home front. More background and context, specifically about the Kennedys, their life together, and their wartime letters, are provided in the volume's lengthy introduction.

The 52 letters compiled in the volume were written between August 16, 1862 and February 20, 1865 and are organized into four chapters. The editors contribute introductory remarks (mainly a rundown of historical events concurrent to the letters that follow) and endnotes for each. The postwar period of the shared lives of Sarah and D.N. are discussed in an epilogue.

More from the description: "(T)his important collection chronicles Sarah Kennedy’s personal struggles during the Civil War years, from periods of illness to lack of consistent contact with her husband and everything in between. Her love and devotion to her family is apparent in each letter, contrasting deeply with her resentment and harsh treatment toward her enslaved people as Emancipation swept through Clarksville." In sum, the collection "pulls back the curtain on upper-middle-class family life and social relations in a mid-sized Middle Tennessee town during the Civil War and reveals the slow demise of slavery during the Union occupation."

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