Virginia At War, 1864 – Edited by William C. Davis & James I. Robertson, Jr

Virginia at War, 1864

edited by William C. Davis and James I. Robertson, Jr.

As a native of Tennessee, the focus of my reading has always been, for the most part, on the western theatre of the war so I was pleased with the opportunity to get into something concerning the events in the East. Don’t go looking here for blow by blow descriptions of major battles, troop movements, orders of battle, or casualty statistics. This is a compilation of essays that discuss a variety of topics from the civilian condition to the Confederate government’s handling of resources. It is reminiscent of “I’ll Take My Stand”, for although the pupose of the book is of a different nature, the authors delve into all aspects of life in the South.

Land Operations in Virginia in 1864 – Richard J. Sommers. Here Sommers does give a general overview of the military movements of the primary armies of  both sides during 1864. This includes Grant’s actions against Lee and Butler’s attempt to move on Richmond.

Politics in Civil War Virginia: A Democracy on Trial – Aaron Sheehan-Dean. With the capital of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginians were directly affected by the actions of the Confederate legislature as well as their own state governmental body. Sheehan-Dean gives a good amount of information on individual politicians at both levels.

A “Patriotic Press” Virginia’s Confederate Newspapers, 1861-1865 – Ted Tunnell. Great stuff. Tunnell presents information on the various publications in Virginia during the war and their stands on the various events as well as their individual support of, or opposition to, the Confederate government policies.

Clinging to Patriotism: The Fourth of July in Virginia – Jared Bond. This is one that makes you think. Bond approaches the concept that the people of Virginia and the rest of the South, considered themselves to be true Americans, and continued celebration of the 4th of July.

Trains, Canals, and Turnpikes: Transportation in Civil War Virginia – Bradford A. Wineman. Wineman presents a study of the infrastucture in Virginia. I was particularly interested in the comparison of the railroad systems of the North and South.

“We are all good scavengers now”: The Crises in Virginia Agriculture during the Civil War – Ginette Aley. A favorite issue of mine. Aley’s article discusses something that I don’t believe receives enough attention – that it was not only in manufacturing that the South was lacking. With the best farmland in the world, the Confederacy could not feed her own  people because of the way the crops were managed. A great part of the South’s downfall was that she was not self sufficient.

The Struggle to Learn: Higher Education in Civil War Virginia – Peter Wallenstein. In the mid 19th century, the small college, often sporting fifty to one hundred students was the common thing, rather than the giant state run institutions we have today.Wallensein gives a look at those small shcools in Virginia and the effect the war had on them.

Words in War: The Literature of Confederate Virginia – William C. Davis. Davis tells us what people in Virginia were reading during the war and the local authors that published popular material.

Rehearsing Reconstruction in Occupied Virginia: Life and Emancipation at Fort Monroe – J. Michael Cobb. This is the story of “Beast” Butler and his handling of the population in the surrounding occupied area. Now I have my own opinions of Butler, but I won’t burden you with those here because we are taking a look at Cobb’s essay. Cobb lays everything out that occured there and brings up such issues as Butler’s actions pertinent to the Fugitive Slave Act and his interpretation of whether the states that had seceded had actually, legally, left the union, or as Lincoln saw it, could not have legally seceded, therefore were still part of the union, only in rebellion.

Diary of a Southern Refugee during the War, June 1863 – July 1864 – Judith Brockenbrough McGuire, Edited by James I Robertson, Jr. It is always a pleasure to read the diaries of the ladies of the period. This one is no exception. You get a real picture of how news of the big battles, in this instance, Gettysburg, filter back to the general population. They start with rumours and slowly, piece by piece, finally give the accurate information.

As a final word, the authors of the essays in this book get into subjects that are too ofton ignored in favour of the book detailing a great battle. If you want to dig more deeply into any of the subjects covered, each article is followed by a complete bibliography. This is a great read, and I would like to see more of these subjects addressed by future publications.


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