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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Question about Southern Literacy during the Civil War

I'm currently writing about "Barlow's Skedaddle," also known as "the Petersburg Affair," in which three Confederate brigades of Mahone's division routed seven brigades of the Federal II Corps.  I have dozens of Unionist sources, mostly in the public domain.  Confederate sources, as usual, are proving more difficult to find.

You could call Mahone's division a rainbow division.  It had a brigade from each of five states:  Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Virginia.  My text begins on the evening of June 18, 1864, and I aim to take the reader through June 22.  I've just finished the first two chapters, one for the evening of June 18, and the other for June 19.  I'm trying to get the reader through the preliminaries by generating a little human interest.  That's not hard with Northern sources.  Plenty of diaries, letters and memoirs are in the public domain, not to mention the ones in print or manuscript.  Southern sources are a different matter.

For the evening of June 18 through June 21, I have nothing from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, or Mississippi.  From Virginia, except for A Pair of Blankets by Lt. Col. William H. Stewart of the 61st Virginia, nothing but diaries, letters and memoirs from the soldiers of the 12th Virginia and their relatives in the Cockade City--the 12th was not called the Petersburg Regiment for nothing.  In fact, there are at least five soldiers in the 12th who left more material behind than did all the rest of their brigade or, indeed, their division.

For June 22 itself, there is something from every state involved.  (The Florida Brigade was not involved that day, though I'll be checking the Army Heritage & Educational Center for material soon anyway.)  The proportions of the material available raise a question for me about Southern literacy at the time of the Civil War.  I have two sources from Mississippi, four from Alabama, six from Georgia, and at least nine from Virginia.  My question is, did literacy diminish as one went west?  It looks like that to me.