The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect:
The Life and Diary of Confederate Artillerist William Ellis Jones
by Constance Jones
“Engaging the Civil War” Series
Southern Illinois University Press,
This remarkable biography and edited diary tell the story of William Ellis Jones (1838–1910), an artillerist in Crenshaw’s Battery, Pegram’s Battalion, the Army of Northern Virginia. One of the few extant diaries by a Confederate artillerist, Jones’s articulate writings cover camp life as well as many of the key military events of 1862, including the Peninsula Campaign, the Second Battle of Manassas, the Maryland Campaign, and the Battle of Fredericksburg.
In 1865 Jones returned to his prewar printing trade in Richmond, and his lasting reputation stems from his namesake publishing company’s role in the creation and dissemination of much of the Lost Cause ideology. Unlike the pro-Confederate books and pamphlets Jones published—primary among them the Southern Historical Society Papers—his diary shows the mindset of an unenthusiastic soldier. In a model of contextualization, Constance Hall Jones shows how her ancestor came to embrace an uncritical veneration of the army’s leadership and to promulgate a mythology created by veterans and their descendants who refused to face the amorality of their cause.
Jones brackets the soldier’s diary with rich, biographical detail, profiling his friends and relatives and providing insight into his childhood and post-war years. In doing so, she offers one of the first serious investigations into the experience of a Welsh immigrant family loyal to the Confederacy and makes a significant contribution to our understanding of Civil War–era Richmond and the nineteenth-century publishing industry. Invitingly written, The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect is an engaging life-and-times story that will appeal to historians and general readers alike.