Discussion What's your favorite Civil War diary/memoir?

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lupaglupa

Sergeant
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
And the small picture is just as valuable and is fascinating to read their small part in some major battle which they didn't get a larger understanding of what part they had played until sometimes decades later
I so agree with you! We know the big picture but those writing then certainly did not and to see how they experienced each event and thought about the long term future from what they knew is incredible. And often, sad.
 

Hoseman

Corporal
Joined
Oct 20, 2016
Location
Virginia
"War Years with J.E.B. Stuart" by Col WW Blackford is a great book and I have read more quotes from this book cited in modern day books than any other. It is one of the best sources for the ANV and one of my favorites as well.
 
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Polloco

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Sep 15, 2018
Location
South Texas
One can glean some interesting things from Mary Chestnut's diary. They are in there among the babblings of a opium addict which you got to sift through.Some of the things she wrote down may have seemed witty to the writer at the time but escape me?
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
I don't think I have read enough of these books to have a "favorite," or to make the judgement that the handful that I have read are superior to any of the many, many other book in this category.

I just recenty read Recollections of a Maryland Confederate Soldier by McHenry Howard, which I liked very much. This one is a little oddball though, because Howard's exalted social station meant that his experience was quite unusual, and not very useful as an example of anything.

A fun read and quite enlightening for me was Company Aytch by Samuel Watkins. This is so popular and well known that it needs no additional comment from me.

One of the first I ever read that I remember liking a lot was Horace Porter's Campaigning with Grant. I've been meaning to go back and read this one again.

The most famous and most successful of all was, of course, Grant's memoirs. I tried to read it once but it was too boring for words. I guess I am a bit out of the mainstream on this one.
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
One can glean some interesting things from Mary Chestnut's diary. They are in there among the babblings of a opium addict which you got to sift through.Some of the things she wrote down may have seemed witty to the writer at the time but escape me?
Opium addict? I hadn't heard that. Do tell...
 
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Polloco

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Sep 15, 2018
Location
South Texas
Opium addict? I hadn't heard that. Do tell...
Sorry I stand corrected. It was wrong of me to use the term "addict" when this has not been the proven case. I will however stand by the bio that called Mrs. Chestnut "self medicated". And I believe opium was the medication being discussed about her bouts of depression due to not being able to have children.
 

Tin cup

Captain
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Location
Texas
On the confederate side, (though I usually enjoy enlisted men's diaries) I always find time to go back to
One of Cleburne's Command: The Civil War Reminiscences and Diary of Capt. Samuel T. Foster, Granbury's Texas Brigade, Csa by Samuel T. Foster


Kevin Dally
 

santaisreal

Cadet
Joined
Aug 16, 2019
Army Memoirs of Lucius W Barber is my personal favorite. Barber's family home and cemetery is in the same general area as where I now live so it is more the connection to the area than anything.
 
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Brendan

Corporal
Joined
Aug 11, 2008
Location
Colorado
Four Brothers in Blue by Robert G. Carter (22nd MA) is up there for me. It addresses the common problem with postwar memoirs (and the influence of hindsight) by weaving the brothers' original letters into the narrative. It's incredibly detailed, doesn't try to gloss over the horrors of war, and really paints an intimate picture of life in the Army of the Potomac.
 
Joined
Mar 19, 2019
Location
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Mary Chesnut by far.
Lubliner.

I know that life isn't fair and that this is really minor compared to the suffering of other people.

However, it bothers me a little bit that C. Van Woodward got a Pulitzer for Mary Chesnut's diary, and Mary Chesnut didn't get anything for writing it. She didn't even make any money (even a tiny bit) off of the book, since she died decades before it was published.

I do know that Mary Chesnut was NOT the only person who ever labored for someone else's profit.
 

Mark F. Jenkins

Colonel
Member of the Year
Joined
Mar 31, 2012
Location
Central Ohio
A Year on a Monitor and the Destruction of Fort Sumter, by Alvah F. Hunter. Hunter was a "ship's boy" on the monitor Nahant, and he kept a diary; in later life, he went back and expanded his diary as a sort of gift to his descendants, so there's an interesting mix of you-are-there and later reflection.
 
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Andersonh1

Major
Joined
Jan 12, 2016
Location
South Carolina
Another memoir I read recently and greatly enjoyed was "Life in the Confederate Army" by William Watson. Watson was a Scottish engineer living in Louisiana when the war broke out, and for various reasons he signed up for a year in the Confederate Army. The events described take place in the Western theater of the war, so it gets away from the focus on Lee and the ANV to give a picture of a different Confederate army and a different set of commanders from the point of view of someone who was not a US or CS citizen.

 

Brenal

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jan 6, 2010
Location
UK
"From the Cannon's Mouth" by General Alpheus S. "Pap" Williams is an absorbing book telling the story of the General's war in a large collection of letters to his daughters. Good reading.
 
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Rusk County Avengers

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Location
Coffeeville, TX
Hard choice...

If I had to chose an absolute favorite, I'd probably go with the first one I ever read, "Texans in Gray: A Regimental History of the Civil War" which is mostly a reprint under a different name of the memoir of Sgt. John C. Porter of the 18th Texas Infantry. (The book I think is VERY misnamed, still good book.)

Now if we're talking a tie of different books, "Footprints of a Regiment: A Recollection of the 1st Georgia Regulars" by W.H. Andrews is a favorite, and "Civil War in the Southwest: Recollections of the Sibley Brigade" is an awesome collection of memories from several soldiers who served in the New Mexico Campaign. Another favorite of mine is "Memoirs of Service Afloat" by Raphael Semmes, (except for the politics).

"A Creek Warrior for the Confederacy" is another awesome memoir with valuable information from before, during, and after the war, and is a decent read, and if we look beyond the CW the memoirs of Joseph Plumb Martin in the Revolutionary War is a great read.

I'm just gonna leave it at that, I've read and enjoyed too many to make a choice.
 

rbortega

Private
Joined
May 4, 2013
I am surprised nobody has mentioned Elisha Hunt Rhodes' All For The Union. I read this book after hearing excerpts from it in Ken Burns' documentary series. The book provides a good insight into daily life serving in the Eastern theater during the war.
 
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Joined
Apr 1, 2015
Lyman's memoir (on the Federal side) should be in a category all by itself. Gallagher's edited version of EP Alexander's memoir Fighting for the Confederacy is my favorite on the the Southern side; Harold Adams Small edited his relative Abner Small's memoir, called The Road to Richmond, which is fantastic. Small served in the 16th Maine.
 

Polloco

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Sep 15, 2018
Location
South Texas
Some of the mentioned books along with the one I'm reading now "Texas Boys in Grey" are really not diarys. They are more like recollections or rememberances. But still interesting reading by the people who were there.
 
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