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05.18.06 True Tales of the South at War: How Soldiers Fought and Families Lived, 1861-1865, by Clarence Poe, editor, published in 1961

Notes Concerning the Author:

Dr. Clarence Poe was a great contributor to the history of the South.  As the son of a Confederate, he heard his family stories of the Civil War and was fascinated by the South as a youth.  He spent several years as a farmer, actively directing a 700-acre cotton-tobacco-diary farm near Raleigh, NC.  For nearly 50 years he worked as President, Editor and Publisher of The Progressive Farmer.  True Tales of the South at War was written by requesting readers of his magazine to send him their own true tales.  These letters, diaries, and memories—some from veterans and some being family stories—were compiled into the book meticulously by Poe.

Our Review

Academics and general history readers will likely have polarizing opinions on this book.  First, the reader needs to keep in mind that this book was created by combining Civil War letters, diaries, and reminiscences that were sent to the author.  That being said, each chapter has a completely different focus and utilizes different types of sources.

As a whole, the book contains eleven chapters.  The titles give a straightforward explanation of what the chapters are about.  Below is the chapter listing and brief description of what type of sources to expect:

One – The Changing Faces of War
Collection of family stories (various topics) written and sent to the author (15 pages)

Two – The Reminiscences of Berry Greenwood Benson
An impassioned partisan to the Cause tells his story, 15 years after the war Partially narrated by the author (42 Pages)

Three – War as it Came to Wives and Families at Home
A combination of wartime letters and family stories (22 pages)

Four – Colonel L.L. Polk’s Wartime Letters to His Wife
Wartime, family correspondence (11 pages)

Five – War When Soldiers Were Not Fighting
One wartime letter and several stories from Southern families (13 pages)

Six – Diary of a Soldier’s Wife on Looking Glass Plantation
Month to month, comprehensive entries from the perspective of a planter’s wife. From Ft. Sumter to 1865 (40 pages)

Seven – Some Kindness Lightened Even Prisons
Recollections of Southern soldiers as POWs, features a brief letter from Lincoln to Edwin Stanton (8 pages)

Eight – Diary of a Refugee in Richmond
Extracts of a diary from another book “The Diary of a Southern Refugee” (36 Pages)

Nine – Slaves Cheered and Helped
Second hand accounts of slaves that contributed or were loyal to the Confederacy. Features an excerpt from Woodrow Wilson’s “History of the American People.” (6 Pages)

Ten – Confusion and Chaos at the Confederacy’s Capital
Two letters from 1865 about the fall of the Confederacy in Richmond (8 pages)

Eleven – A Prodigal Son’s Return
The story of a young Texan returning home after the War (5 Pages)
The only issue with this book is the sourcing.  The author does not provide one footnote or citation at the end of the book.  For every diary, letter, or story, the author does provide a brief explanation; however, there is absolutely no way to determine the authenticity of these stories.  Consideration should to be taken regarding the amount of work it took to create a book like this.  The material covered is very exhaustive.  “How Soldiers Fought and Families Lived” is almost not a large enough description. So many other events and stories are discussed in this book; it might be best used as a general reference for the different topics it contains.

Sourcing may be an issue to some, however, for several reasons.  For example, the author made statements like, “This letter came in from John Smith in Raleigh, NC,” but provided no other information about the source.  Perhaps he knew no more.  The value of Poe and what he was trying to do are enough for any Southerner to read this.  For anyone interested in the topics contained, it is worth a read.

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