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In My Old Confederate Home: A Respectable Place for Civil War Veterans, Rusty Williams sets out to detail the creation of Kentucky's home for Confederate veterans located in Pewee Valley. The institution, which was opened in 1902 and operated until 1934, was the culmination of extensive fundraising, lobbying, and planning on the part of the prominent Confederate community of Kentucky. Williams spins a fascinating tale of the personalities behind this effort and their motivations for undertaking the residence. He details the triumph of securing and establishing the home and the challenges that came with running a facility that was soon overcrowded with needy and aging veterans. Along with the life stories of his characters, Williams offers his readers a lively taste of Kentucky life in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.
My Old Confederate Home is thoroughly researched and relies on a multitude of primary documents and secondary sources. It is not, however, an academic monograph. Above all else, the book is a tribute to veterans who for their armed service, Williams says, "deserve a respectable place in our history and in our hearts" (p. 6). As such, [End Page 80] academic historians will wish for more social context and analysis and may be particularly uncomfortable with the relative absence of race in Williams's work. In writing about the devotion of white Kentuckians to the Lost Cause after the war, he makes no mention of the role that emancipation and federal enlistment of black troops played in their changing sentiments during the war. Apart from a brief account of William Pete, a black man who had served as a groom in the Confederate army and who gained entrance to the Pewee Valley home only as an employee, there are few African American characters in the story. Williams also mentions only fleetingly the potent political role that the Lost Cause played in buttressing white supremacy in the post-Civil War era. These are omissions that render his book out of step with current historiography on post-Civil War historical commemoration.
However, all readers, whether they are academic or not, will appreciate Williams's descriptive writing and colorful storytelling which brings his many subjects, and the time period in which they lived, to life.
Anne E. Marshall is assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University. She is the author of Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Identity in a Border State (2010).