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America’s Civil War Book Review: The Civil War Letters

By Jack Trammell
11/7/2017 • America's Civil War Magazine

The Civil War Letters of a Confederate Artillery Officer (Col. Frank Huger, C.S.A.)

edited by Thomas K. Tate, McFarland & Co., 2011, $45

 COLONEL FRANK HUGER, THE SON of controversial Confederate General Benjamin Huger, was one of the South’s most accomplished artillery officers during the war, playing a key role in several major battles, such as Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. He was also a skilled letter writer, and thanks to this new book edited by esteemed historian Thomas Tate, a whole new audience can enjoy Huger’s valuable insights from four years of brutal combat.

The letters reprinted here are unusual and noteworthy for several reasons. First, because Huger was in a position by social class and military rank to encounter many major figures in the war, his reports on leaders such as Braxton Bragg and James Longstreet deliver or confirm particularly interesting revelations about those individuals. For example, the apparent widespread hatred of Bragg in the Army of Tennessee, though well documented already, is particularly sharp and painful in Huger’s words. Huger also knew famed diarist Mary Chesnut well and was able to corroborate some of her stories on the civilian side of the war.

Huger offers equal insight into many of the larger strategic challenges the Confederacy faced, such as when he fatefully predicted the fall of Vicksburg in his letters long before the actual event. He tactfully hid details of the Rebel defeat at Gettysburg from his family and friends, even though he obviously understood the great import of the outcome and revealed it in other correspondence to fellow soldiers.

Most of all, readers will be impressed with young Huger’s zest for life, his ability to remain cheerful and determined even in the face of mud, defeat and army haranguing, and his continually vivid and interesting comments about life during wartime.

Tate introduces each letter with explanatory text, which makes for easier interpretation of the names, places and events mentioned, although the text can be longer than the letters themselves, and thus momentarily distracts the reader from the primary source. Nevertheless, this is a notable collection of letters, important as sources, and enjoyable for a general audience to read.

 

Originally published in the November 2011 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here

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