Monday, August 22, 2011

Good Reading: Civil War Diaries

In this, the sesquicentennial of the beginning of the Civil War, you may wish to hone up on your history of that time period. And what better way than by reading diaries written by people who actually lived in those days? Harold Holzer of The Wall Street Journal recently recommended five titles:
  • Mary Chesnut's Civil War, edited by C. Vann Woodward (1981) - written in 48 notebooks by a Southern woman, whose father was a plantation-owning South Carolina governor, and whose husband was a pro-slavery U.S. senator from Virginia, later a military aide to Jefferson Davis. Often quoted in Ken Burn's classic PBS special, The Civil War, this title is available at the Spokane Public Library.
  • The Diary of George Templeton Strong, 1835-1875, edited by Allan Nevins and Milton Halsey Thomas (1952) - in four volumes, the third covering the Civil War period, it also is quoted by Ken Burns. Templeton was a lawyer who helped organize the U.S. Sanitary Commission.
  • Diary of Gideon Welles, edited by Howard K. Beale (1960) - As Secretary of the Navy, Welles was fondly referred to by Lincoln as "Father Neptune."
  • A Rebel War Clerk's Diary at the Confederate States Capital, by John B. Jones (1866) - a popular fiction writer who was too old to volunteer, he joined the Confederate War Department as a clerk. His accounts, unlike many others from the South, were never rewritten or sanitized later after the cause was lost.
  • My Diary North and South, by William Howard Russell (1863) - Russell was a celebrated London Times war correspondent traveling through both sections of the country, who ended up making enemies on both sides of the war after sparing "neither salve-owning Southerners nor incompetent Union officers." His press credentials were revoked in 1862, and his diary was published the following year.
Look for these books at your local bookstore, at online stores such as, or order them through Interlibrary Loan at your local library.

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