Thankfully, our Civil War ancestors were avid and literate recorders of that fascinating era. We are blessed with an embarrassment of riches in diaries, letters, newspapers, memoirs, articles, reports, etc. ranging from the commander-in-chief to the lowliest soldier, sailor, and citizen.
Our challenge is to empower their voices to tell their story, distilling vivid accounts into insightful narrative history. But taken individually, these sources furnish constricted and dim views of little pieces of huge, complex events—like looking through a telescope backwards. They are subject to human vagaries of memory, perspective, bias, and personal agenda. We must interpret, fill in gaps, and provide context.
This author’s experience in writing his first book manifested the joys and struggles of dealing with these voices from the past. A Confederate Biography: The Cruise of the CSS Shenandoah (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2015) relates the story of the last Confederate commerce raider.