- Soldier of Southwestern Virginia: The Civil War Letters of Captain John Preston Sheffey, and: Lone Star Confederate: A Gallant and Good Soldier of the Fifth Texas Infantry
Civil War soldier memoirs, diaries, and letters abound. Historians continue to find them in archives and attics, and readers and libraries continue to buy them. These two accounts from Confederate veterans, one a Virginian and the other a Texan, provide additional valuable personal glimpses into wartime service.
John Sheffey served as a captain in the 8th Virginia Cavalry, riding in the Shenandoah Valley and other western counties of the state. Routinely on the periphery of the war's major campaigns, Sheffey wrote more than ninety letters, mostly to his fiancée, whom he married in 1863. While not involved in recounting strategic battles, Sheffey provided other worthwhile points, ranging from support for secession in 1861 to his experience as a prisoner of war at Camp Chase, Ohio, beginning in August 1864.
Captain Sheffey was not bashful about giving his opinions of leaders, people, and circumstances of his day. For instance, he characterized Virginia governor Henry Wise as "tyrannical" (44) and President Abraham Lincoln as "vested with absolute dictatorial powers" (148). By 1861 it appeared to Sheffey that Northerners and Southerners were "two separate and distinct peoples" and thus he would not support a "reconstruction" of the sections (15). He found ways to compliment Confederate general John B. Floyd as an "able" (86) aggressive commander feared by northerners (72–73), but he also criticized Floyd for pushing this troops too hard (86). Sheffey disparaged Union general William S. Rosecrans, misspelling his name "Rosecrantz" (43). The captain had nothing good to write about German immigrants; they were to him "the villainous Dutch with their outlandish lingo!" (218).
Sheffey's letters are a pleasure to read and demonstrate how a well-educated Southerner infused his writing with his knowledge. Sheffey made numerous references to poetry and literature. He found connections with the Bible and with events and figures from ancient times. He also observed potential links between his war and the American Revolution, characterizing his unit's winter hardships with the Continental army at Valley Forge and their crossing of a river with George Washington's famous crossing of the Delaware. In an excellent editing job, James Robertson's informative footnotes explain Sheffey's references to readers from another century.
In contrast to Sheffey, Texan Robert Campbell served with one of the Confederacy's most famous units, the Texas Brigade, commanded by John Bell Hood. [End Page 211] Campbell's regiment, the 5th Texas Infantry, fought in major battles, including Second Manassas, Gaines's Mill, and Chickamauga. A few years after the war ended, Campbell put pen to paper to recount his wartime experiences, including being wounded six times. Some of those wounds took him out of action for weeks. The memoir stresses events from his enlistment at the age of seventeen through 1862 and so editors George Skoch and Mark Perkins supplement it with wartime letters. Campbell received part of his education in Louisiana and his travels (often by rail) took him from Texas to Virginia. The editors support Campbell's writings with good maps and helpful endnotes, identifying most people, places, and events, but one deficiency is the editors' failure to include in the index Campbell's references to Louisiana and some of its towns, including New Orleans (7), Baton Rouge (87), and Shreveport (87–88).
Campbell included many worthwhile observations in his memoir and letters. He made numerous references to the tremendous vocal enthusiasm of his regiment's soldiers, emphasizing the physical release that "fierce yells and shouts" gave the Texans (67) in contrast to the Yankees' "tame 'huza' 'huza'" (68). Desertion was mentioned only a few times, but...