- Reviewed by
This attractively presented volume of correspondence will interest scholars of both southern theology and the Civil War soldier's daily life. William Porcher DuBose (1836-1918), a late-nineteenth-century Episcopalian theologian whose writings reflected the religious tradition of the postwar white southern elite, came of age along with the secession crisis. The Civil War interrupted DuBose's path to the priesthood, and he spent three and a half years in the Confederate army. Later in life, he developed a theology that valued ecumenism, emphasized human experience as a route to salvation, and defended a divinely ordained social hierarchy.
DuBose's exceptional scholarly career followed a respectable, but in many ways ordinary, experience as a minor Confederate officer and then as a chaplain. W. Eric Emerson and Karen Stokes have carefully compiled and edited previously unpublished correspondence from DuBose's war years. These letters are of particular interest as DuBose's theology emphasized the importance of human experience. (He later described the Confederate defeat as a profoundly important "turning point" in his life [xxxvi].) This volume provides an interesting contrast to DuBose's mature reflections. The letters reveal young DuBose's intelligence and thoughtful piety but also show him to be understandably distracted by daily concerns.
This book will therefore also appeal to readers interested in the soldier's private life. DuBose's correspondence furnishes an intimate glimpse into the lived experience of the Civil War. As with all correspondence of the period, much of the content is taken up by details of health and daily activities that, when read together, underscore the protracted waiting, uncertainty, and tedium that characterized army life. Most of the letters are addressed to Annie Barnwell Peronneau, to whom DuBose was engaged in 1861 and married in 1863. They make for an engrossing narrative as DuBose's private drama of love, engagement, and marriage unfolds alongside the familiar events of the Civil War.
The letters are preceded by a short biographical essay and supported by footnotes and an index that primarily references people, places, and events. It is unfortunate that the notes and index are limited for the most part to proper names, as this reduces the book's usefulness for readers seeking information [End Page 292] by topic. "Slavery," for instance, does not appear in the index, and the footnotes do not elaborate on DuBose's references to "servants," runaway slaves joining the Union army, and his own "devoted set of negroes" (249). The editors might have also provided more historical and biographical context. As the introduction acknowledges, this collection is by no means a complete set of DuBose's wartime correspondence. The reader encounters gaps in the narrative (particularly when DuBose is on furlough) that more extensive notes might have filled.
This volume gives readers a window into a formative experience for one of the most notable American theologians and provides ample material on both religion and daily life in the Confederate army. While the collection makes for an engaging read, the limited index and footnotes reduce its usefulness as a general source.