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Civil War Echoes: Voices from Virginia 1860-1891

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Virginia was unquestionably the leader in the recent observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The state's commemorative programs gained national recognition for variety, quality, and participation. One major undertaking was the Legacy Project.

The Civil war was the greatest experience young America had undergone. Especially in Virginia, the principal battleground of the war, it affected - and so often overwhelmed - every aspect of life. Soldiers who departed for battle, and civilians left at home, shared similar emotions ranging from love to survival.

Letter writing was the only form of communication then available to the majority of people. Given the strong feelings of the time, it is not surprising that the Civil War gave rise to the greatest outpouring of letters in American history. It also proved to be the apex of diary keeping.To record daily events in an unsettled time was natural, as was the act of many of the war's survivors who used the postwar period to put in writing the recollections of the greatest events of their lives.

In 2010 the Sesquicentennial Commission partnered with the Library of Virginia in a statewide search for letters, diaries, recollections, and other mementoes in private possession. Citizens with such items were asked merely to loan them for scanning and cataloging. Public response was astonishing. More than 35,000 digital images were scanned, coming from nearly 800 citizens. This huge collection is now available online through the Library of Virginia in Richmond. It will be a resercher's treasure chest for years to come.

At the request of the Sesquicentennial Commission, historian James Robertson has produced this small volume. It is a sampler of the Legacy Project. It contains references to less than a third of the huge collection. The writers are Confederate and Federal soldiers on duty in Virginia, as well as residents who lived from Bristol in the southwestern mountains to Heathsville near the Chesapeake Bay.

Using the war in Virginia as a grid, Robertson inserts personal reactions and feelings on a season-to-season, year-by-year basis. Patriotic sentiments and battle accounts are naturally present, but so are other feelings: camp life, home scenes, hunger, sickness, anxiety, humor, romantic interludes, anger, repulsion, fluctuating morale, helplessness at the approach of death, and unbreakable faith in God.

Emphasis is - as history should always be - about human feelings. One can never understand the violence of the Civil War without realizing the high, sometimes uncontrollable, emotions that swept trhough a nation seeking a future. This volume is an introduction to those sentiments.

James I. Robertson, Jr., is Alumni Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at Virginia Tech, where, during a 44-year career, his upper-level course in Civil War history attracted some 22,000 students. The author or editor of 40 books, Robertson was a charter member by Senate appointment of the state's Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission.

With index and images.