Review: Virginia at War, 1863

Davis, William C. & Robertson, Jr., James I. (editors). Virginia at War, 1863 (2008). 232 pages, notes, bibliography. ISBN: 978-0-8131-2510-7 $35.00 (Hardcover).

Virginia at War, 1863 is the third entry in a series of five essay books on Virginia in the Civil War.  The book, edited by well known Civil War historians William C. Davis and James I. Robertson, Jr., consists of a series of essays covering the military, political, social, and other aspects of Virginia and Virginians’ experiences in the Civil War.  The collection of talented historians combined with a wide variety of topics insures there will be something in this book for a broad audience of Civil War students.

The Virginia at War series was created by the University of Kentucky Press “in conjunction with the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech.”  Although the series does briefly touch on military matters with an operational overview in each book, the main focus is off of the battlefield.  The Virginia at War series looks at Virginia and Virginians in many ways and from many viewpoints over the course of the Civil War.  Each book attempts to look at one year of the war in Virginia and for Virginians.

Editors William C. Davis and James I. Robertson, Jr. are fine choices to helm this series.  Davis is director of programs at the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies, is a professor of history at Virginia Tech, and has written or edited numerous books on the Civil War.  Robertson, Alumni Distinguished Professor of History at Virginia Tech, is perhaps best known for his classic biography of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson.  Robertson also served as the chief historical consultant on the movie Gods and Generals.

As the war moved into its third year, it infiltrated all aspects of daily life.  For that reason, Virginia at War, 1863 focuses “inward, at what the war was doing to the people and their institutions by the midpoint of the conflict.”  Various essays, for example, look at how the war affected Virginia’s churches and her children, how brutal guerrilla conflict sometimes lasted for generations after the war, and how incredibly influential the five editors of Richmond’s newspapers were on the Confederacy as a whole.  Despite the titles indicating specific years, very few of the essays in this book focus specifically or exclusively on 1863.  Rather, the year framework is a convenient way to group varied essays on Virginia and Virginians into a cohesive whole.

The exact topics chosen proved to offer many viewpoints on the war in Virginia.  A. Wilson Greene leads things off with a brief overview of military operations in Virginia in 1863.  James Marten provides readers with a look at the wartime experiences of Virginia’s children, many of whom experienced suffering unseen by any other generation of American children.  The education of African-Americans in Yankee occupied southeastern Virginia was the subject of Benjamin H. Trask’s essay.  Anse Hatfield, a major player in the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud of Appalachian legend, was a brutal practitioner of guerrilla warfare in western Virginia during the Civil War.  James M. Prichard explores the tendency of local residents to inflate Anse’s cruel deeds to legendary proportions.  David Rolfs relates the transformation of Southern churches’ self appointed missions as the Civil War turned against the Confederacy.  Scrapbooking, and the materials with which to scrapbook, became popular and plentiful just in time for the Civil War, according to editor William C. Davis, doing double duty as an essayist.  Jared Peatman discovers just how much influence the editors of Richmond’s newspapers had on the Confederacy by exploring what they reported, and more importantly failed to report, about Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  The last and longest essay, edited by co-editor James I. Robertson, Jr., concerns the diary of Virginian Judith Brockenbrough McGuire from September 1862-May 1863.  Four major battles were fought in or near Virginia in that time frame.  Mrs. McGuire had eight nephews in the fighting, whose well being obviously caused her as much and more consternation than her living situation.  She and her husband shared an eight room home with several other families.  Despite the hardships and tragedies involving family and friends, Mrs. McGuire was determined to carry on as best she could.

Endnotes follow each individual essay, and a selected bibliography at the end provides a large array of other sources for the interested reader.  An index rounds out the book.

Virginia at War, 1863 is a fine addition to the Virginia at War series, offering a broad array of essays on a cornucopia of topics.  The book should prove interesting to a large segment of those interested in the Civil War, especially those people interested in the war in Virginia.  I highly recommend not only this book but the entire series to those interested in essays, the non-military aspects of the Civil War, and how the Civil War affected Virginia and her people.

I would like to thank Mack McCormick at the University Press of Kentucky.

Disclaimer: A free review copy of this book was used for the purposes of this review.

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