Saturday, September 1, 2018

Just Finished Reading - The Confederacy Is on Her Way Up the Spout: Letters to South Carolina, 1861-1864

Well, The Confederacy Is on Her Way Up the Spout: Letters to South Carolina, 1861-1864, a slim 130-page volume, containing 33 letters from soldiers who hailed from upcountry South Carolina, did not take long at all to read. However, its brevity should not diminish its importance in helping inform us about what common Civil War soldiers experienced, believed, wanted, needed, expected, and how they expressed their sentiments. 

All of the letters contained in the book were posted to Lucritia Barrett McMahan and her husband Jesse, who lived in Pickens County. Of the seven letter writers, three of the authors were Lucritia's brothers, and one her brother-in-law. The other three men were family friends or acquaintances. 

The vast majority of the letters come from the pen of Milton Barrett, who served in the 18th Georgia. Milton's regiment was originally part of the famous Texas Brigade before a reorganization after the Battle of Antietam moved them to a new brigade. However, remaining part of Longstreet's command, the 18th and Milton traveled widely, fighting in Virginia, Maryland, at Chickamauga, Knoxville, and back to Virginia. Milton and his brothers, William and Benjamin, and brother-in-law, William Collett, all perished during the war. Milton died at Elmira prison in 1864. 

Editors J. Roderick Heller III and Carolyn Ayers Heller transcribed all of the letters in their original challenged spelling. While this sometimes makes for difficult reading, it also gives the reader a "truer" look at the men writing them than if the editors had regularized the spelling and grammar. The editors provide a good introduction which offers important family history information. In addition, their commentary between letters and to open its four chapters also helps the reader contextualize the current military situation the writers discuss in the letters. 

As one might imagine, some of the letters are quite straightforward, while others delve deeper into the thoughts of the men writing them. These soldiers' letters speak about life in camp, the food they ate, their uniforms and shoes; they talk about sickness and battle experiences; they give their opinions on their officers, the ever-churning rumor mill; they express their weariness of warfare and vividly show their interest in the lives of those on the home front. In other words, this little book gives us what we seek in a collection of soldiers' letters; and that is the sense of being there. I highly recommend it.

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