by Edward Porter Alexander; Gary W Gallagher Print book : Biography : State or province government publication
Simply the best Memoir of the War Between the States   (2011-05-01)
This book is special, because it was not written for the public, but for Porter Alexander's daughters. It was formal enough for our tastes, considering it was written for family, but once General Alexander was out of the country, and had begun what he only reluctantly agreed to do, he seems to have warmed to the task. He is oh, so candid, and personal. Generals are usually pretty guarded and stuffy, as Alexander showed in a subsequent formal military memoir---dry as dust.
In this remembrance, Porter recalls the little human interests, even the humorous things. He describes General Lee to his girls, without the typical gilded halos...something we were not prepared to see. He writes without rancor to his adversaries--particularly those with whom he shared a West Point comardarie. Porter was willing to stand by his people, and repel the Federal invaders, to the death---but, when the war was ended, he was realistic about the end of Southern Independence, and accepted whatever consequence there was for serving the losing side. This must have taken some courage and character, because of the sting of surrender to Southern pride. He does it well, and no doubt, led the way to reconciliation for his family. Fight honorably, fight well, and then get on with your life.
If one is wanting a view from the field, from a father, a husband, and a Staff Officer, walk through the main battles of the war with Porter, and smell the smoke. You may flinch at his honesty, but he was not writing to defend his service, as much as to explain the war so that his family could understand and follow the events as they unfolded. This is writing about 'What I did in the War' without addressing what his enemies might say; there is more of an honest angel on his shoulder, than the devil of what the opposition would say. Reference General Gordon's wonderful memoir, or Sherman's biographies, where there are defenses of slavery or defenses of barbarism in the name of 'total war'. General Alexander is talking to his family, describing what happened to him, and why it happened that way. He writes as an adult to grown children, without condescending to them and their lack of martial knowledge.
What is remarkable is that Gary Gallagher found the book, sitting at a university, in its handwritten form...unpublished, basically forgotten. We are indebted to the life of a gifted man, Porter Alexander, but also to the research and good sense of Dr. Gallagher, who tries to have the graciousness of kindness to the defeated South, while insisting on gathering all the facts he can find. His objectivity is endearing, and I cannot imagine what it felt like to read this beautiful account, for the first time, in Porter's scripted hand. We are all in his debt, as well as in the debt of Lee's Chief of Artillery. We would rather be behind his cassions, than in front of them, for his aim was true.
Tom Fowler, "blueridge"
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