Edited by Hampton Newsome, John Horn and John G. Selby. University of Virginia Press. 472 pages. $35
Reviewed by James Robertson
JAMES ROBERTSON is the author of “The Untold Civil War.”
A popular criticism in historical circles is that nothing useful on the Civil War can be uncovered because of the 70,000-plus books and pamphlets already in print. The Historical Society of Western Virginia has squelched that belief with the publication of a volume assuredly to become a “must-have” for any student of the Army of Northern Virginia.
George Bernard was an indefatigable pack rat of Confederate primary material. A Petersburg attorney who served throughout the war in the 12th Virginia Infantry Regiment, Bernard kept a meticulous diary and amassed a multitude of soldier friends. In 1892 he published “War Talks of Confederate Veterans,” an indispensable collection of former soldiers’ addresses, diary entries, recollections and other first-hand accounts. Bernard had almost completed the contents for a second volume when he died in 1912.
For almost a century, his voluminous papers remained either scattered or lost. A fascinating sequence of events brought most of the collection to the safekeeping of the Roanoke-based historical society. Subsequent contributions by many people have enabled Bernard’s second — and far more revealing — volume to come to life.
It focuses on 12 campaigns, five of which talk of the long siege of Petersburg. More than 70 entries are printed for the first time. Bernard’s detailed journal, enhanced by his postwar remembrances, form the core of a book that features articles from privates to generals, with an occasional essay from a Union veteran.
Roanoke College’s John Selby has done a masterful job of organizing and introducing the material. His annotations are as detailed as a reader could wish. The publisher deserves plaudits for using footnotes on each page rather than endnotes piled together in some remote place. Seventeen maps provide clarity to the text.
Scores of books recount the saga of the great Southern army entrusted with the defense of the Old Dominion. Yet the front row of that library now must make room for a wealthy addition to the annals of what its members proudly called “Marse Bob’s Boys.”