Sharpshooter: The Selected Letters and Papers of Maj. Eugene Blackford C.S.A.

by Fred Ray on January 27, 2016 · 3 comments

Sharpshooter cover

Sharpshooter: The Selected Letters and Papers of Maj. Eugene Blackford, C.S.A.
Fred L. Ray, Ed.

ISBN-13 978-0-9882435-1-4 / ISBN-10 0988243512
6×9 inch hardback / 230 Pages 10 Maps 30 Illustrations
Footnoted / Indexed / Complete Bibliography
Publication date: March 2016
Price after publication $39.95

I am nearly finished with the first phase of the biggest writing project I’ve ever attempted, which explains why I haven’t posted much on TOCWOC lately. It is the first volume of the letters and papers of Eugene Blackford. Those who have read my sharpshooter book or who know something about Confederate sharpshooters will have heard his name. I drew liberally on his letters and his diary/memoir for the book, which remains one of the best single sources about these units.

Blackford himself was an interesting and somewhat contradictory character—A Virginia aristocrat in an Alabama regiment, a man who came from an abolitionist family, opposed secession and despised the “Cotton Confederacy”, yet who fought valiantly for it when the time came. A lucid and prolific writer, he left an extraordinary archive of letters, almost all of which were saved by his family and have since made their way into various archives and private collections.

As reviewer Bruce Gudmundsson put it in a review of my previous book, Blackford was “a witness of a sort that historians rarely encounter,” someone who “combined a thorough understanding of military affairs with a novelist’s eye for detail and a knack for being at the right place at the right time.” He wrote detailed and often vivid descriptions of everything he saw, often under adverse conditions. This included not just battles and matters military but other things that seldom make it into the histories such as the often divisive politics of his regiment, candid comments about his leaders, the effects of the war on civilians, and much more. Reading the letters really does allow the modern reader to see a tumultuous era in America through the eyes of a young Southern officer and as such constitutes an extremely valuable primary source.

The first volume is Blackford’s selected letters from just before the beginning of the war to the end of the Chancellorsville campaign in May 1863. The second, which will be released next year, are the rest of his letters from the beginning of the Gettysburg campaign to the end of the war. The third volume will be the text of Blackford’s Diary/Memoir.

Publication is scheduled for early March, and I am taking advance orders at a 20% discount until then. This will be a small printing of 1500-2000 books in hard cover, made to last several lifetimes, and they are sure to become very collectible. For more information see the web site.

In the next few weeks I hope to post excerpts from Blackford’s letters here on TOCWOC.


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Joseph A. Rose January 28, 2016 at 1:01 am

Congratulations! I like how you described Blackford as “a man who came from an abolitionist family, opposed secession and despised the “Cotton Confederacy”, yet who fought valiantly for it.” It speaks to the reasons men go to war, which aren’t always the reasons some people assume. Good luck.

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David Connon January 28, 2016 at 11:21 pm

Good job! I am most interested in why individuals served the Confederacy. This is especially true for men such as Blackford who didn’t fit the typical “profile” of Confederate soldiers.

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Phil Leigh February 2, 2016 at 2:40 pm

One aspect of Blackford’s letters that got my attention was how he, and his comrades, lost their taste of the glory of war. I got the impression that by the end of the Seven Days Battles the soldiers fought stubbornly out of a feeling that the Yankees would lose their will to coerce the Southern states back into the Union if battlefield losses continued at the appalling, unprecedented rates. They seemed to hope that “just one more battle” will make the Yankees want to go home. They rallied themselves to think it time and again.

Ultimately it was not too far off the mark as the greenback reached a low point of 37-cents to the gold dollar at the end of June 1864 mostly because of Grant’s heavy losses in the overland campaign and Sherman did not seem to be making much progress in Georgia. As late as August Lincoln famously expected to lose re-election to the Presidency.

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