Civil War History 46.4 (2000) 346-347
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Civil War Eyewitnesses:
An Annotated Bibliography of Books and Articles, 1986-1996
Civil War Eyewitnesses: An Annotated Bibliography of Books and Articles, 1986-1996. By Garold L. Cole. Foreword by James I. Robertson Jr. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000. Pp. ix, 271. $39.95).
The sustained boom in Civil War publishing underscores the importance of one class of narratives--those written by the participants themselves. Nowhere in the historian's analysis can readers find the immediacy and credibility of on-the-spot descriptions from soldiers and civilians who lived through the conflict. Thus, Garold Cole has provided students of the war with a valuable compilation, the second volume of a study that began with the 1988 publication of a work covering the period 1955-86. The present book appends 596 annotated entries to the first volume's list of 1,395; each consists of a summary of the book in question ranging from two sentences to a sizeable paragraph.
Cole's books complement general Civil War bibliographies nicely by including journal articles and focusing on the participants' reflections on the war. In workmanlike fashion, he reports the dates of coverage within each book, a brief synopsis of the character of the work (diary, letters, memoir, and so forth), and the nature of the author. For collections involving soldiers, he typically reveals the writer's grade and unit in which he served. Cole also lists the major battles in which the writers participated or witnessed. The author's organization is logical and utilitarian, with broad classifications covering Union military personnel, Northern civilians, Confederate military authors, Southern civilians, and a catch-all category of "Anthologies, studies, and foreign travelers."
The author's analyses, generally very helpful, range from superficial reporting (i.e., "Her letters are filled with advice . . . about the kind of clothing he should wear," ) to more absorbing reflections on the military aspects of the narratives ("Proof that [Henry Livermore] Abbott led by example was evident at Gettysburg. When a position in the rail fence was left uncovered during Pickett's Charge, Abbott and his men rushed to plug the gap"  ). The author's expertise allows for excellent summations of the value of many of the books. For example, he justifiably praises the content of Edward Porter Alexander's long-unpublished memoir (119), and in turn describes the poor credibility of John Ransom's Andersonville Diary (78).
With any bibliographical work, one could dispute the choices of material included or excluded ad nauseam. Why analyze an article about William T. Sherman's letters to his foster brother Philemon Ewing that appeared in American Heritage in 1987 (86) but ignore the book-length project that includes all [End Page 346] the letters, Sherman at War (ed. Joseph H. Ewing, Dayton, Ohio: Morningside Bookshop, 1992)? The inclusion of a 1994 Civil War Times Illustrated article that reprints an 1888 letter of Sherman's seems stretched as an "eyewitness account." Why include Lee Kennett's 1995 book Marching through Georgia as an eyewitness account, even in the "anthologies" section? But these are mere quibbles that could be made about any such project.
Rather than concentrating on the military operations, Cole typically highlights the human aspects of war, summarizing entries that reveal the authors' suffering, hardship, and ideals. A prisoner account reports adoration of food peppered with little black bugs (80). A Confederate officer confides his eroding faith in state rights (119). Strong Southern will is epitomized by a young girl who, despite privations from the blockade, held a conviction to remain "a Rebel in heart and soul" (178). This entertaining book offers a valuable overview of recently published or reprinted eyewitness accounts. Its readers will find a useful guide to searching for gems in the ever-growing Civil War literature.
David J. Eicher