Confederate Military History from Chapel Hill Rare Books
Confederate history from Chapel Hill Rare Books.
By Michael Stillman
Chapel Hill Rare Books has just issued one of the finest catalogues of America's Civil War we have seen in awhile. Offered is The William Hobday Collection of Confederate Military History Part I. Obviously, this is only part of the collection, and the focus is primarily on the views of one side in this great struggle. Nevertheless, this is a magnificent collection, 300 works that touch upon the war as seen from the Confederate point of view.
There are biographies of noted southern generals and the like, but the largest number of books in this collection were written by the more common participants. They include lower to mid-ranking officers, foot soldiers, even wives back home (and in some cases, home was a moving location as families sought to avoid the ravages of war). The number of books written by those who participated in this war is surprising. At times it seems like just about everyone who carried a rifle and lived to tell about it wrote a book. Of course that's not true, but many did, and their recollections tell the reality of this terrible struggle better than the more scholarly examinations of the battles and strategies that were later produced.
The dates of these books are also telling. Most were not published in the days following the war. They are dated from the early 20th century, or perhaps late in the 19th. The war was by then already three, four, even five decades in the past. What you see here are old soldiers, knowing that their days are numbered, attempting to preserve their experiences and memories while they still could. Many were evidently encouraged by family members to preserve their recollections. Since most were not famous, not a Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, or Stonewall Jackson (they were all long gone by this time anyway), their histories were not bestsellers. Most were printed in short runs, with circulation only intended for friends, family, or perhaps others who served in the same battalion. The result is that these books, uncommon even when published, can be quite rare today. Finding this deep a collection of reminiscences from the Confederate side is undoubtedly unusual. If this fits your field of collecting, you will definitely want to see this catalogue. Here are just a few of the titles available.
Item 52 is a later book than most -- 1979 -- but it consists of letters written from the frontlines from 1861-1863. The book is Dear Bet, and it contains letters between Lieutenant Sidney Carter and his wife Ellen ("Bet"), back home in Cartersville, South Carolina. Carter relays day-to-day life for the soldiers as they move from one battle to the next, Manassas, Harpers Ferry, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and finally Gettysburg. There the letters stop. We all know why. Carter was one of six brothers to fight for the Confederacy. Only three returned. The sadness of separation and knowledge that he might never return is clear in the letters, yet so is his sense of duty. In typical fashion, Carter signs off a letter with, "Kiss all the children for me. Tell the negroes howdy and accept all my love for yourself." Indeed, while he was fighting for slavery, he expresses nothing but affection for the "Negroes," likely the slaves back home. One can only wonder why so many good and caring people could not see. That would have saved them from marching off to their deaths, leaving their families without sons, husbands and fathers. If only, from hindsight, we could speak to people like Sidney Carter. Priced at $75.
Confederate Military History from Chapel Hill Rare Books
An honorable biography of a disgraced general.
Eliza Andrews did not fight in the Civil War, but this young Georgia girl did get to witness its end. Her book, published in 1908, is The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl 1864-1865. Of course any Georgian at that time would have been familiar with Sherman's march, but she was around for the very end. Her father was a prominent judge in Washington, Georgia, which is where Jefferson Davis and his cabinet, having escaped from Richmond, would hold their final meeting. Davis hoped to make it to Mexico where he could set up a government in exile, but he was captured shortly thereafter and the Confederacy was no more. Item 6. $325.
Every family must have its black sheep, and perhaps that is how President Lincoln felt about Ben Helm. Item 198 is Ben Hardin Helm. "Rebel" Brother-in-Law of Abraham Lincoln, by Gerald McMurtry (1943). Helm was a Kentuckian who rose to the rank of Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. He was married to Emilie Todd, Mrs. Lincoln's half-sister. Emilie was a favorite of both Lincolns, who referred to her as "Little Sister." Lincoln offered his brother-in-law the post of Paymaster, with the rank of major in the U.S. Army, but Helm chose to join his neighbors in siding with the Confederacy. Tragically, Helm died in the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863. Lincoln was reportedly deeply saddened by his death, and in a touching episode comforted his widow, Emilie, who would stay with the Lincolns in the White House for a while after his death. Nonetheless, in an ironic and undoubtedly difficult twist, Emilie would remain supportive of the Confederacy, though she took a loyalty oath to the Union. She returned to Kentucky before the war's end, and stayed there for the remainder of a very long life. She died in 1930 at the age of 93. $250.
In the waning days of the Civil War, various military units passed "fight to the death" resolutions. Here are two from South Carolina. On January 30th, 1865, came these Resolutions Adopted by Bratton's Brigade, South Carolina Volunteers. Jefferson Davis had authorized representatives to engage in peace talks with Lincoln at this time (ultimately unsuccessful). Not all units were ready for peace. Said the brigade, "we will continue the struggle until our independence be achieved or we perish in the attempt..." They would get an opportunity to reconsider a few months later. Item 63. $375. Item 64 is Resolutions Adopted by McGowan's Brigade, South Carolina Volunteers...Feb. 6, 1865. They too resolved to fight until the end. "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?" $425.
Among the officers who died during the Civil War was Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn. Van Dorn resigned from the U.S. Cavalry in 1861 to join troops in his native Mississippi. He rose quickly through the ranks after early successes, but later reverses reduced him back to lesser commands. Van Dorn was killed on May 7, 1863, not in action, but as a result of his actions. He supposedly had been messing around with the wife of a Dr. George Peters, who defended his honor by placing a bullet in the back of the General's head. Despite ending up a disgraced figure at the time, the General was more favorably remembered in this biography written by "his Comrades," and edited by daughter Emily Van Dorn Miller, A Soldier's Honor. With Reminiscences of Major-General Earl Van Dorn. Item 201, published by a small vanity press in 1902. $1,200.
Chapel Hill Rare Books may be found online at www.chapelhillrarebooks.com, phone 919-929-8351.