A review of Voices of the Confederacy: True Civil War Stories from the Men and Women of the Old South (Knox Press, 2022) by Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr.
All too often we approach our history looking at the grand sweep of events and personages. Politicians, generals, battles and a few interesting tidbits thrown in for good measure. We realize, of course, that these are a representation of the accumulated actions of millions of individuals, who can be lost in this grand sweep of history. Yet we really must look at the actions, the thoughts, and emotions of these often overlooked individuals to fully understand, to really comprehend, the meaning and the flow of those events which make up history.
Dr. Samuel Mitcham has written a volume which gives voice to those millions of individuals. Voices of the Confederacy is one of those volumes which has value far above the purchase price. By collecting vignettes from people and events across the spectrum of Confederate society, from generals and politicians, to women and children, to African Americans both slave and free, and soldiers…. on the march, in camp, in battle, in hospitals, we glimpse these individuals in a time of great upheaval. It was a time of triumph and tragedy, of happiness and desolation, of heroism and cowardice- humanity at its best and its worst.
We all know of the sufferings of the Southern people, both at the front and at home. Stories abound of the absolute barbarism, even terrorism, which occurred during that awful invasion of the South. Dr. Mitcham has brought together a sampling from across the South, of the voices of the high and low, of the famous and the unknown, to show what was on the minds and in the hearts of those who experienced this tragic period in history. Humor, pathos, joy, sorrow, pain and suffering almost beyond imagining fill these pages.
This book will move you, educate you, and make you proud to be a student of the Southern people. Probably no other time in American history did so many suffer so much at the hands of fellow Americans. (Though many of the invaders were European immigrants) The voices of the South, from the lowest rank to the highest, deserve to be heard. Their stories should inspire us to retell them, to share with the world what the human spirit is capable of when faced with overwhelming destruction.
This is a book you will want to share with family and friends. It is not meant to be put on a shelf, but to be passed around….the stories of these remarkable people, of their struggles and triumphs, is meant to not only impart history to the reader, but to inspire both the present and future generations. Here you will find the reason so many monuments were built, memorial services held and mementos passed down through the years.
The book follows a mostly chronological sequence through the war years. Yet some chapters will feature more stories from women, hospitals, camp life, battlefield or some other aspect of the war. I was disappointed when I finished the chapter on ‘Women’ because it did not have as many stories as I would like to have seen. But my concern was premature. Women appear throughout the book, in so many of the stories. That is as it should be, for the voices of the women featured are as eloquent as any words uttered by any soldier or politician.
The book is a pleasure to read. It moves seamlessly from one army or region to another, from home front to battlefield, to hospitals and camp life. One fact stands out: The women and African-Americans (both enslaved and free), were the reason the armies of the Confederacy were able to stay in the field for so long.
Several illustrations put faces to some of the persons featured in the stories. This book has a bibliography of sources, which is especially helpful if you find a particular story interesting. Chances are, reading more material by that author will pay handsome dividends. I would like to see a map in future editions to aid those less familiar with the period in placing some of the action in geographical context. Overall this is a book which I highly recommend, even for those familiar with this period’s history. Some gems are waiting even for you in this well-written volume.