Monday, February 5, 2024

Booknotes: Here's a Letter from Thy Dear Son

New Arrival:

Here's a Letter from Thy Dear Son: Letters of a Georgia Family During the Civil War Era edited by Edward H. Pulliam (Mercer UP, 2024).

From the description: Here's a Letter from Thy Dear Son "provides a personal, primary-source exploration of the Civil War era from several different perspectives in an unusually full and informative narrative. Through the intimacy of personal letters," the book "tells the compelling story of the young men and women of a North Georgia farming family of modest means as they seek places in their quiet communities in the 1850s, live the trauma of the Civil War on the battlefield and at home, and for those who survive, strive to regain peace in a changed world and begin life anew."

Divided into three parts (Antebellum, Civil War, and After the War sections), the letters begin in 1847 and numerous ones stretch into the 1880s, with some documents even going all the way to 1923.

More from the description: "Beginning in 1847, a seventeen-year-old Simeon David leaves home to teach school in a nearby county and continues as he, his younger brothers Tom and Horatio, sister Lona, and their friend Manning Alexander confront questions familiar to young people today: Where shall I live? Whom shall I marry? What will be my life’s work? The arrival of the Civil War sweeps them up, transforms the young men into soldiers—private, lieutenant, regimental surgeon, company commander—and transports them to previously little-known places: Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and the Wilderness."

The letters offer both war and home front perspectives. "At home, the family women face their own disruptions and hardships. For one, it is more than she can bear. Throughout, their lives were filled with joy, struggle, fatalism, triumph, and sadness. Their writing concerns Baptist camp meetings, courting rituals, war-rousing speeches, dashes across battlefields, Tories on the home front, and night riders of the Klu Klux Klan."

The volume is nearly 650 pages in length, making it a very extensive collection of family correspondence with rich supporting material from editor Edward Pulliam. Most of the letters in the book were written to James David and Thirza David by family members. Who's who can be difficult to keep straight in big collections such as this, and Pulliam assists the reader by including relevant family trees for the Bowen, David, and Alexander families. Editorial text in the preface provides family history and additional background related to the letter writers.

Each document transcript is immediately followed by a "notes" section, often quite expansive in nature, the purpose of which is to "explain unusual terms, identify persons, or clarify difficult passages in the letter." Other notes elements are used to "provide context for material in the letter or otherwise expand upon information in it" (pg. xxiii). Notes also bridge gaps between letters. This editorial material can run several pages in length. Source notes are located in the typical footnote format and position at the bottom of each page.

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