Wednesday, July 14, 2010

White & Runion (eds.): "GREAT THINGS ARE EXPECTED OF US: The Letters of Colonel C. Irvine Walker, 10th South Carolina Infantry, C.S.A."

[Great Things Are Expected of Us: The Letters of Colonel C. Irvine Walker, 10th South Carolina Infantry, C.S.A. edited by William Lee White and Charles Denny Runion (University of Tennessee Press, 2009). Cloth, illustrations, notes, appendix index. 216 Pages. ISBN:978-1-57233-663-6 $35.95]

Great Things Are Expected of Us, a recent addition to University of Tennessee Press's wonderful Voices of the Civil War series, comprises an unusually detailed body of primary source material covering the major campaigns and battles of the western theater. Discovered by co-editor Charles Runion by happenstance on a visit to Charleston, South Carolina, the letters of Colonel Cornelius Irvine Walker were a fortunate find that will  benefit many Civil War researchers and readers.

Walker's writings are truly exceptional, and valuable, on several levels. The South Carolinian was an ardent Confederate that served as a brigade staff officer as well as a field-grade line officer for the 10th South Carolina infantry regiment. So, not only does he provide sociological insights into the mindset of that particularly enthusiastic generation of young Confederates of which he was a member, but his direct combat experience, combined with the wider perspective gained from a staff posting, allowed Walker to pen unusually lengthy and abundantly detailed battlefield accounts, all of which were regularly sent on to his fiance. The particular collection of Walker letters reproduced for this book are post war copies made by the author himself1, and are rendered unique by the voluminous annotations that serve to correct, clarify, contextualize, or simply expand upon points made in the original letters. Unfortunately, the collection was also self-censored, with much personal material excised and many full names omitted. However, through his own research and from clues provided, co-editor W. Lee White was able to retrieve many of these lost elements and make them available for the reader in his own endnotes, which also fulfill the other traditional note functions as well.

With the omission of much the letters's personal nature, it is clear that Walker intended this particular compilation to serve a primarily military historical function. And what a record they are. For the 1862 Kentucky Campaign, interesting material about the capture of the Union garrison at Munfordville is presented, and, although Walker and the 10th missed the Battle of Perryville, the author nevertheless relates valuable information and insightful analysis about the general conduct of Bragg's advance and retreat. The notes and material covering the Battle of Murfreesboro are among the book's richest trove of information. Military students will also appreciate the series of letters dealing with Tullahoma, Chickamauga (but not much), Chattanooga, the Atlanta Campaign, and Hood's Tennessee Campaign2.

Throughout his writings, even with defeat piling upon defeat, Walker remained a steady supporter of Army of Tennessee commander Braxton Bragg, frequently chastising critics as ignorant, and constantly urging his fiance to adopt his own views of the general. It is impossible to clearly determine the origins of such constancy3, but it is apparent that Walker truly admired Bragg's strategic sense and operational ability. He also spoke well of Beauregard. On the other hand, he could be scathing in his assessments of other high ranking officers, men like Thomas Hindman and John Bell Hood. Even the "abolitionist" Patrick Cleburne could not escape his ire.

Ever the faithful Confederate, Walker fought to the bitter end in the Carolinas Campaign. Wounded at Kinston, he managed to return to the army for the final surrender, which he viewed at the time not as an end but as a temporary setback. With the able work of editors White and Runion, Great Things Are Expected Of Us is really an extraordinary addition to the primary source material literature of the Civil War (especially its military aspects) and is highly recommended.

Notes:
1 - The editors were not able to gain access to the originals -- perhaps a story in itself.
2 - An additional piece by Walker outlining his personal experience of Franklin and Nashville is included as an appendix.
3 - First impressions tend to last, and, according to the author, Bragg did immediately single out the 10th as a particularly well drilled regiment when the unit joined the western army.

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