Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Civilian Eyewitness

Have you ever read a civilian account of the Civil War? Scholars have lavished much attention on military personnel and their campaigns, but, by contrast, have overlooked civilians. The civilians that were probably impacted the most by the war resided in the border region of the trans-Mississippi. Last Saturday, I visited the Pea Ridge National Battlefield and gave a tour to a friend and some family members. While in the bookstore, I purchased a copy of Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove: Or, Scenes and Incidents Of The War in Arkansas. Originally published in 1864, William Baxter, the president of Arkansas College, authored this slender volume. Baxter recounts the difficulties of living as a Unionist in a town with a secessionist majority. Baxter’s community, Fayetteville, changed hands six times in the first year and a half of the war and each successive occupation brought its share of destruction, shortages, and other difficulties. With vividness, Baxter writes of injustices, social isolation, and the poignancy of caring for wounded soldiers from the battles of Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove. No, he was not an impartial observer, but his tale is anything but boring.
The original edition and the 1957 reprint edition are now highly desirable, but the book is readily available today thanks to a 2000 reprint by the University of Arkansas Press. William L. Shea provides biographical information about William Baxter and sets the context for the book in the introduction. The book has no index, but since the book is so short (126 pages) the lack of an index is not as significant. 

1 comment:

  1. A number of civilian accounts have been reprinted in recent years and they often provide interesting and invaluable insight that one can't get from reading accounts of battles and soldier diaries. It sounds like Baxter lived in a real hotspot.