Reviewed by Michael C. Hardy
Considering the number of Confederate staff officers who served various generals, there is a dearth of published accounts chronicling their experiences. Everyone is familiar with Moxley Sorrel’s or Walter Taylor’s memoirs, and they have become bedrocks for researchers. But those accounts come from the highest levels of command, from the staff officers who served men like James Longstreet and Robert E. Lee, respectively. Narratives from staff officers serving on the brigade level are far fewer than those recording the stories of staff officers for the upper echelons of Confederate command.
William J. Seymour was born in Georgia, studied at Hobart College in New York, and then moved to New Orleans to edit a newspaper. It was not until early 1862 that Seymour entered the army, serving as an aide-de-camp for Brig. Gen. Richard Taylor. Captured in April 1862, Seymour returned to New Orleans. When the Crescent City fell under Federal control, Seymour ran afoul of Benjamin Butler after his newspaper published the obituary of Seymour’s father, who was killed leading a Confederate regiment at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill. Arrested, Seymour found himself imprisoned at Fort Jackson for a couple of months. Following his release, Seymour became an aide-de-camp to Brig. Gen. Harry T. Hayes. He served in the Louisiana Brigade through the fall of 1864, when he became ill, spending time in a Lynchburg, Virginia, hospital. Seymour was looking to transfer out of Virginia, and in early 1865, he appears to have been serving on the staff of Maj. Gen. Pierce Butler. Exactly where he finished out the war is unclear.
Partially based on his war-time journals, Seymour penned his memoirs during the post-war years by rewriting his journals. Some of the memoir also appeared in a local newspaper. His reminiscence begins with an extremely detailed account of the river defenses and battles in the lower Mississippi River area in early 1862. Day-by-day entries allow the reader to follow along with the action as Seymour witnessed those events. Incidents in the narrative are not confined to the army, as Seymour mentions numerous vessels like the CSS Louisiana and other Confederate naval ships connected to river defense. He dives into his capture, parole, subsequent arrest, and imprisonment.
The reminiscences pick up in April 1863, as Seymour arrives back in Virginia and assumes his position with Hays’s Louisiana Brigade. Seymour provides great details about the battle of Chancellorsville, the Gettysburg campaign, Rappahannock Station and Mine Run, the Overland Campaign, and Jubal Early’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign. Considering the lack of detailed Confederate accounts pertaining to Early’s actions in the summer and fall of the 1864, Seymour’s accounts, especially during the months of May and June 1864, are extremely helpful to students researching the fight for the ”Breadbasket of the Confederacy.” Unfortunately, the latter part of Early’s movements in Seymour’s memoir lacks the day-to-day narrative that marks the earlier months of 1864.
Editor, Terry L. Jones has done a superb job editing the text and providing additional notes to Seymour’s account. The maps by Hal Jespersen compliment the text, as does the bibliography. It is unfortunate that Seymour’s original diary and journals do not seem to survive. It would be interesting to see just how much material he added to his narrative, and to consider the way his views might have changed over time. While Seymour gives a fantastic level of detail regarding the battles and campaigns that he witnessed, his reminiscences does not really dive into the inner workings of a Confederate brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia. Regardless, The Civil War Memoirs of Captain William J. Seymour: Reminiscences of a Louisiana Tiger is a welcomed addition to the Army of Northern Virginia bookshelf.
Michael C. Hardy is an award-winning and widely published author. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he has written on a large array of subjects — Confederate regimentals, Southern places, and personalities — in twenty-six books, numerous articles, and over one thousand blog posts. In 2010, Hardy was named North Carolina Historian of the Year by the North Carolina Society of Historians. He was also awarded the James I. Robertson Literary Prize by the Robert E. Lee Civil War Library and Research Center in 2018 for his history of the Branch-Lane Brigade, General Lee’s Immortals (Savas Beatie, 2018). When not researching, writing, and traveling, he volunteers at historic sites, sharing his love for history.