Friday, November 16, 2007

Their Patriotic Duty: The Civil War Letters of the Evans Family of Brown County, Ohio

by Robert F. Engs

From the publisher:
Many of the farm families in the river country of southern Ohio sent fathers, husbands, and sons to fight and die in the Civil War. Few families have bequeathed a record of that experience as remarkable as that created by the Evans Family: an extraordinary collection of letters that offers a unique portrait of life both on the homefront and on the frontlines.

From his homestead near Ripley on the Ohio River, patriarch Andrew Evans sent two sons to war, and from 1862 to 1866, father and sons wrote each other hundreds of letters. Called 'the soldier's letters" by the family, this cache lay untouched in a barn until the 1980s, when Robert Engs was invited to edit them. Here are 273 family letters, most between Andrew and son Samuel, that draw us into the complicated lives of a Midwestern family not just suffering the dislocations of war, but also experiencing-and describing in intimate detail-the sorrows and occasional joys of rural life in 19th century America.

From the frontlines with the 70th Ohio and, later, as an officer commanding a unit of "colored troops," Samuel writes of the horrors of Shiloh, of the loneliness and fear patrolling Union lines in Tennessee. Andrew writes of the seasons of rural life, of illness and deaths in the family, of the complicated politics of this borderland where abolitionists and "Copperhead" pro-slavery voices shared daily debates. One of the very few collections of Civil War letters from homefront and frontlines, this meticulously edited book is an engrossing chronicle of war and peace, family and country, and an indispensable addition to the history of the Civil War.

Robert F. Engs is Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. His other books include Educating the Disenfranchised: Samuel Chapman Armstrong and Hampton Institute, 1939-1893; Freedom’s First Generation: Black Hampton, Virginia; and, with Randall E. Miller, The Birth of the Grand Old Party: The Republicans’ First Generation.