Saturday, April 16, 2011

An Eastern-centric Sesquicentennial?

The Wall Street Journal featured today a listing of the five best “Civil War Diaries, Blue and Gray” by Harold Holzer. The list is:

Beale, Howard K., ed., Diary of Gideon Welles (1960)

Jones, John B. A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary at the Confederate States Capital (1866)

Nevins, Allan and Milton Halsey Thomas, eds., The Diary of George Templeton Strong, 1835-1875 (1952)

Russell, William Howard. My Diary North and South (1863)

Woodward, C. Vann, ed., Mary Chesnut’s Civil War (1981)

These are all Civil War classics written by civilians, but I fear that this is just a foretaste of what is to come during the sesquicentennial. Reading only the above primary accounts would leave a reader with mostly an eastern-centric focus, and as you know, there was much more to the war than what happened in the east. I fear that the national media will place a heavy emphasis on the war in the east with only occasional, trivia like mentions of the war in the trans-Mississippi. To broaden out Mr. Holzer’s list somewhat, I have created my own, admittedly subjective and personal list. The six books that I have selected are all primary accounts written by soldiers, but they are not confined to the diary format; all relate, of course to the trans-Mississippi. Here are the first selections:

Alberts, Don E. Rebels on the Rio Grande: The Civil War Journal of A. B. Peticolas (Albuquerque: Merit Press, 1993).

A soldier illustrated account of the Confederacy’s invasion of New Mexico in 1862, A. B. Peticolas, an attorney in civilian life, served in the Fourth Regiment of Texas Mounted Volunteers during a campaign that covered hundreds of miles through the deserts of west Texas and finally into the mountains of northern New Mexico. Peticolas’ journal contains vivid accounts of fighting at Valverde and Glorieta. He also fully acknowledges the incredible human suffering caused by campaigning in a hostile environment.

Baird, W. David, ed., A Creek Warrior for the Confederacy: The Autobiography Of Chief G. W. Grayson (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988).

George Washington Grayson served in Creek Indian units throughout the war in the Indian Territory. Honey Springs, Flat Rock, 2nd Cabin Creek, and other small actions are documented in this small volume. An unusual feature of this book is that both the antebellum and the postwar periods were discussed making for a well-rounded account. Grayson’s narration reveals that he was an intelligent man and a careful observer. I like the little, revealing touches in the book such as “I had loudly encouraged and cheered my men from the first, speaking always in Indian, until my voice gave way under the continued strain, and was now only a whisper and could scarcely be heard at all” (p. 103).


  1. Jane,
    It is disappointing that we aren't seeing any blogging by any park staff at the western and T-M battlefields to complement the Antietam, Gettysburg, Fredericksburg guys. This is a great time to get the word out and they are silent.

  2. Hi Drew,
    The park staff from the western and T-M battlefields are indeed missing a golden opportunity! You'd think that the staff at Wilson's Creek at least would already have a blog going. Perhaps I'll email them and mention that there is indeed an audience for such a blog.

  3. Thanks so much for these posts! The Trans-Mississippi truly is an incredibly under-researched area, which is hard to believe considering the vast literature covering the Civil War! It's great to get your insight into some good T-M texts!

  4. Thanks so much for your words of encouragement. You are correct that the T-M has been under-researched; hopefully more scholars will discover that there are many rich resources about the T-M that have barely been tapped, and there are probably resources that have never been utilized before.

  5. Couldn't agree more about the book by the late Don Alberts, and the Baird book. I wrote this little critique of my favorite trans-Mississippi "regimental" history:

    The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew's Regiment of Mounted Rifles (Baton Rouge, 1989), by W. Craig Gaines.

    It treats subjects outside the main theaters of war, and indeed, outside the mainstream societies in the warring sections -- the tragic story of a war within a war. "Drew's regiment was not one of Fox's 'Fighting 300.' Indeed, they did not even complete their one-year term of service. The are remembered chiefly for having taken Federal scalps at Pea Ridge, and hold the distinction of being the only Confederate regiment to desert almost entirely to the Federal side. Thus, what begins as the story of Drew's Mounted Rifles effectively ends as the story of the 3rd Kansas Indian Home Guard Regiment." It likewise has one of the most colorful of all regimental rosters, with names like "Second Lt. Crab Grass Smith and Sgt. Bat Puppy of Company K, Pt. Dreadful Water of Co. H, Moses Dog in the Bush of Co. B, and Co. I's Young Squirrel Flopper. Dozens of other soldiers' names were recorded without translation, as one member of Co. B, Private Pa sooz or kie Cah lor nu hay skie."