- Crimson Confederates: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South by Helen P. Trimpi and; A Northern Confederate at Johnson’s Island Prison: The Civil War Diaries of James Parks Caldwell edited by George H. Jones and; Double Duty in the Civil War: The Letters of Sailor and Soldier Edward W. Bacon edited by George S. Burkhardt
Attractively produced with images, these three books represent some of the diversity in Civil War publications on young soldiers’ experiences: a biographical register, a diary, and a heavily commented journal interspersed with letters. In Crimson Confederates: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South, Helen P. Trimpi presents thorough, alphabetically organized entries on college matriculates turned Confederates providing family, service, and career data. In A Northern Confederate at Johnson’s Island Prison: The Civil War Diaries of James Parks Caldwell, George H. Jones provides two [End Page 591] introductory essays to a complete diary of a northerner and teacher turned Confederate prisoner of war. In Double Duty in the Civil War: The Letters of Sailor and Soldier Edward W. Bacon, George S. Burkhardt explains the journal and correspondence of a U.S. sailor turned U.S. Colored Troops officer. Together, these works allow scholars and enthusiasts to read about the variety of youths’ actions in the war and to share their experiences, although the first two texts focus on their subjects without offering substantial context.
The topic that loosely binds these works is educated middle-class or elite men entering Civil War service. Trimpi describes the alumni of Harvard College and its professional law, medical, and engineering schools who served in the Confederate military, while Jones and Burkhardt offer primary sources on individuals serving on each side. Jones’s subject is James Parks Caldwell, the son of an Ohio doctor, who attended Miami University of Ohio but moved south to work as a teacher as he trained for the bar and then enlisted in the Confederate army in Mississippi. On the opposing side, Edward Bacon, the son of a Connecticut abolitionist (and procolonization) minister, entered the Union navy at eighteen. The two young men shared the boredom, loneliness, and uncertainty facing soldiers. All three books convey servicemen’s duties and experiences, with the correspondence packing the most emotional punch. The omissions therein are as interesting as the inclusions, however; Burkhardt notes that Bacon rarely wrote about abolition or African American rights, even as he trained black troops, and prisoner Caldwell expressed few personal feelings, typical of many nineteenth-century journals.
In Crimson Confederates, Harvard alumna and English professor Helen Trimpi provides data on antebellum Harvard alumni with detailed entries on 357 individuals produced from extensive research in the Harvard archives, service records, and histories. As a reference work, the book does not attempt to create a narrative along the lines of Gerard A. Patterson’s Rebels from West Point (1987). Trimpi’s introduction remains centered on individuals but discusses the memorialization of Harvard’s Civil War soldiers, including the university’s rejection of a public memorial for Confederates; it reflects current interest in historical memory. Throughout the register, familiar names appear, especially those of lesser-known men of notable families, such as Rooney Lee, one of the fifteen Harvard-educated generals. Some entries cover multiple pages, contain quotations from the subject’s contemporaries and biographers, and may impart excessive detail or minutia; for example, Alexander R. Lawton replaced a quartermaster who resigned on August 10, 1863, and he was accompanied by his four children and wife, who is described by the ubiquitous Mary Chestnut. The information in Trimpi’s work focuses more on military history than college [End Page 592] experience. Appendices include...