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- Feb 23, 2013
- East Texas
Manassas to Appomatox The Civil War Memoirs of Pvt. Edgar Warfield
I recently discovered this slim 1996 paperback edition of a memoir originally published in 1936 as A Confederate Soldier's Memoirs by the sons of author Edgar Warfield upon the death of their father two years earlier. When the war began, eighteen year-old Edgar was living in Alexandria, Virginia, with his parents and siblings. Of course, Alexandria is much in current vogue as the setting for the PBS series Mercy Street and followers of that drama will likely find interesting the picture of the town at the beginning of the war. Edgar, his older brother, and his father were all already members of or joined one of the half-dozen Alexandria militia companies, all of which favored the Southern cause. The first four or five chapters deal with conditions in and around the town, culminating in its simultaneous evacuation by the militia and occupation be Northern troops. Literally, Col. Elmer Ellsworth and hosteler Capt. James Jackson were meeting their deaths while Warfield and his comrades were marching out of the city.
Most of the narrative, however, deals with fairly typical experiences by Warfield as a common Confederate soldier in what became one of the notable Virginia regiments. All the Alexandria militia companies were combined with others from Fairfax and neighboring counties to form the 17th Virginia under the command of Alexandria's Col. Montgomery D. Corse. It was one of the original units of the brigade led at first by Brig. Gen. James Longstreet. As such it took a major part in one of the war's first battles at Blackburn's Ford, a preliminary to First Manassas fought on July 18, 1861. This heavy skirmish usually receives short shrift as part of the larger battle but Warfield gives an engaging account of it. The regiment briefly found itself as a part of divisions commanded by Longstreet, A. P. Hill, Richard Anderson, and D. R. Jones before finally in the autumn of 1862 becoming a permanent part of that of George Pickett in a brigade commanded by Corse.
Warfield took part in all the major battles and campaigns fought by those commands from Manassas through Fredericksburg when after that battle they were detached along with the rest of Pickett's division to what would become known as Longstreet's Suffolk Expedition. As a part of that they missed Chancellorsville and had the great good fortune to be detached to protect areas within Northern Virginia and the approaches to Richmond during the Gettysburg Campaign. After briefly rejoining the army, Pickett's entire division was detached for service within North Carolina, fortunately missing the Wilderness and Spotsylvania and not rejoining Lee's main army until Cold Harbor. As you might be able to tell, I enjoyed the description of these various wanderings by the division which helped explain its absence at critical times within the larger picture.
The main story here, however, is in the travels and travails of the author who as he says in his introductory chapter prefers not to dwell on the horrors of the battlefield - though they are there to a degree - but on more typical experiences of Confederate camp life. Many of his tales such as smuggling liquor into camp or foraging will have a familiar ring to readers of reminiscences such as this. One chapter is devoted to the only furlough he took, in January, 1865, to travel with his father from Petersburg back to the vicinity of Alexandria to see his mother and younger sister for the first time in four years. His brother George had fallen at Frazier's Farm in 1862 but both he and his father Abel D. Warfield survived the war. Although Edgar is a bit unclear on the subject it appears that sometime following the Peninsula Campaign he became his regiment's hospital steward and was no longer in the ranks as an infantryman. For some undisclosed reason his father, described as a large man weighing 220 pounds, served as a member of Stonewall Jackson's commissary or transportation department. Edgar himself was much smaller, almost being refused a place at the beginning of his enlistment in the militia company he had helped to recruit!
This edition of Edgar Warfield's entertaining memoirs was published in 1996 by The Friends of Fort Ward, Alexandria's excellent reconstruction of a wartime fort guarding the Federal capital and site of a notable museum of related artifacts I have previously featured here in the forums. The small volume contains 180 pages of his reminiscences, plus detailed (though apparently not all-inclusive) rosters of the various Alexandria militia companies and notes on their casualties at the major battles they participated in; an index and four pages of post-war photographs rounds out its 214 page total. Highly recommended for a look at one of Virginia's notable regiments that served the entirety of the war.
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