- An Uncompromising Secessionist: The Civil War of George Knox Miller, Eighth (Wade’s) Confederate Cavalry
So many letters by Civil War soldiers possess the same uniformity: fascination with new sights, rambling thoughts on personal matters in the army and back home, heavy on opinions and light on facts—all written usually [End Page 1240] with faulty grammar. Knox Miller's wartime letters to the second cousin he married late in 1863 are a decided cut above that norm.
A native of Talladega, Ala., Miller's education included advanced studies at the University of Virginia. The twenty-five year-old Miller was admitted to the bar literally hours before enlisting in the Southern army. Ultimately he became a captain in the 8th Confederate Cavalry, composed of Alabama and Mississippi companies. The regiment was part of the famed Army of Tennessee, though much of its activity consisted of patrols, reconnaissances, and special details.
Miller's long letters to Celestine ("Cellie") McCann form a veritable travelogue of the Civil War in the Western theater. He viewed the struggle from a higher level than the ordinary common soldier, and did so in exceedingly polished language. Shiloh was the first major engagement in the West. "On a balmy spring morning, the air purified by recent rain," he watched "the serried ranks with flashing swords & glittering bayonets" move forward, "presenting their bodies [as] a living sacrifice to their country" (p. 64).
Long descriptions exist here of the major campaigns of Stones River and Atlanta. Cavalry duty led to even more letters from crossroads and villages in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, and Georgia. The letters stop in February, 1865, with what was left of Miller's regiment gallantly pursuing Sherman's forces through South Carolina.
Miller wrote after one engagement that "all of war's carnage & havoc have passed in the quick succession of a terrible dream" (pp. 200–201). A month later, he expressed an inborn strength: "It is the greatest consolation experienced to know there is 'some one to love' and who loves me" (p. 212). With a mixture of compassion and pride, Miller wrote in the war's third winter: "When I look around and see the scores of thinly clad beings—some barefooted, others without socks or gloves and all with but a scantly supply of blankets—it seems little less than a miracle that half of them are not in the hospital or the grave" (p. 167).
Richard McMurry will always be one of the premier historians of the Army of Tennessee. He has edited the Miller letters with the excellence one would expect. The annotations include the sources of Miller's many literary references; the introduction and index are full.
Those Civil War history readers familiar with the published letters of John Preston Sheffey of the 8th Virginia Cavalry will find a worthy counterpart in the Western theater with George Knox Miller's extraordinary letters. Here is a rare combination of good perceptions, good prose, and good production.