This is the first of five volumes in the University of Kentucky Press’ series on the Civil War in Virginia, a collection including essays by various scholars and the 1861 portion of the diary of Judith Brockenbrough McGuire (edited by James I. Robertson, Jr.), which will be included in the other four volumes of the series.
Editors William C. Davis and James I. Robertson, Jr. provide a preface which sets the stage for this volume and the set. The first essay, by Robertson, discusses the secession convention that voted on whether to present to the people of Virginia the referendum to secede from the Union or not. At first during this very political convention, a majority of the representatives were totally against secession; over time, many changed their minds due to the actions of Abraham Lincoln, which angered them. Representatives from the western portion of Virginia opposed secession - the people of that region eventually seceded from Virginia and formed the new state of West Virginia.
Craig L. Symonds’ essay is on the early battles in Virginia of 1861. The major battle was that of First Manassas or Bull Run. Joseph T. Glatthaar’s essay approaches the assumed idea that men from rural areas would make superior soldiers compared to those who came from urban areas. The idea arose due to the fact that denizens of rural areas used guns more often to hunt and to protect themselves than those from urban areas (it turned out that volunteers from either the rural areas or urban areas were equally unprepared to be soldiers). John M. Coski’s essay deals with the little-known and short-lived Virginia Navy, organized before they actually joined the Confederacy. Many Virginia naval officers became officers in the Confederate Navy.
Ervin L. Jordan, Jr.’s essay covers the reaction of African-Americans in Virginia to secession. Most (although not all) were slaves and kept their feelings about the secession of Virginia to themselves out of fear of their masters or of being mistreated if they were freed. Jordan points out that little is known about how blacks felt about secession, especially what was written by them is small in amount and little has survived. In William C. Davis’ essay on Richmond, Virginia, becoming the new capital of the Confederacy after Virginia joined the Confederacy, he points out the reasons the capital was moved from Montgomery, Alabama to Richmond.
Michael Mahon’s essay studies the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and its importance to Virginia and to the Confederacy due to its location and its agricultural products. Many battles occurred up and down the Valley over the five years of the Civil War. C. Stuart McGehee’s essay is on the formation of the new state of West Virginia shows that this state might have been created illegally; West Virginia was created out of those counties in western Virginia that opposed secession. Most of the people in this region were connected economically and socially more closely to the North than they were to the rest of Virginia. The last entry in this book is the diary of the wife of an Episcopalian minister, Mrs. Judith Brockenbrough McGuire, begun on May 4, 1861, at her home in Alexandria, Virginia. Her diary is down to earth and provides a woman’s perspective to the war and what civilians had to endure.
Each essay concludes with endnotes. The book contains a map of Virginia, a bibliography and an index. The dust cover of the book features the image entitled “The Four Seasons of the Confederacy: Spring,” by Charles Hoffbauer courtesy of the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia. The image is appropriate, since the Civil War looked like it was going to be short and that Virginians were going to win the war quickly and impressively. The image shows Confederate troops passing in front of a possible general, perhaps Stonewall Jackson. The troops are excited and ready for victorious battle. This book is highly recommended to those interested in various aspects of Virginia in the Civil War during 1861.
William C. Davis is the director of programs at the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies. He was the chief consultant for The History Channel’s Civil War Journal and is a professor of history at Virginia Tech, as well as the author and editor of many books and articles such as the upcoming Virginia at War, 1863 in November 2008, Virginia at War, 1862 (2007), The Pirates Laffite (2005), The Civil War Chronicle (2004) and others.
James I. Robertson, Jr. is the Alumni Distinguished Professor of History at Virginia Tech and was the chief historical consultant for the movie Gods and Generals. He is the author and editor of several books including Robert E. Lee (2005), Standing Like a Stonewall (2001), Stonewall Jackson (2002) and others.