In 1894 Confederate veteran Charles Minor Blackford and his wife Susan Leigh Blackford of Lynchburg, Virginia published the following book: Memoirs of Life in and Out of the Army in Virginia During the War Between the States, compiled by Susan Leigh Blackford from original and contemporaneous correspondence and diaries. Annotated and edited exclusively for the private use of their family by her husband Charles Minor Blackford. In Two Volumes.
Only 35 copies were published for the family. Today an original set can sell for $10,000 or more depending on condition. Some years later a much abridged version was published under the title Letters from Lee’s Army and is still available today in paperback.
In 1996 the original work was republished in its entirety. This reproduction set is leather bound and maintains all the type, spacing, and spelling of the original. This set exists in very limited quantities.
There are few works that so eloquently describe life on the home front, the up and the downs, as well as life in the field. They span the entire war. Douglas Southall Freeman called Blackford’s account of Appomattox one of the most important in existence. The descriptions of life during the war are spell binding. One of my favorites is the description of the Battle of Manassas by Susan Blackford. She and her neighbors describe hearing the battle in Lynchburg- 170 miles away. They knew a great and terrible battle had taken place.
Here is a review:
The blended letters of Susan and Charles Blackford, two erudite, observant members of the Virginian gentry, tell the story of one family's Civil War struggle in the frontlines and on the homefront beautifully. Susan describes the loss of children, the battle to feed family, and the "impression" she made in front of her husband's unit plunging headfirst into a mudpile. Charles observes the war from the vantages of both the line and the staff, and supplies some incredible character studies ranging from Jeff Davis to Lee and Jackson, down to the private soldier (with the impudence of a town cow). A collection of letters from someone who wrote on a warmed frying pan to keep his hand from freezing probably deserves reading regardless!
Volume 1 runs 257 pages, and Volume 2 is 238 pages.
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I’ve included some passages from these books for your reading pleasure. They are lengthy.
Susan Blackford describes life in a Southern city on the eve of war
Mrs. Garland’s suppers were things to be remembered,; they were more profuse than those served now, but were non the less enjoyable. The superb saddle of mutton was a piece of resistance deemed indispensable, and alongside was the “old Virginia ham,” red as a ruby, and with a melting tenderness which rivaled the best Westphalia; so also there were turkeys, and salad, raw Lynn-haven oysters, served from bowls cut from blocks of ice, canvas-back ducks, partridges, and venison- all ending in pyramids of frosted cake, cut-glass bowls of jelly, trembling and sparkling in the light as if set with diamonds.
Susan Blackford describe Lynchburg as it gears up for War
...Matron and maidens, old and young, all worked, not only at our homes but at the central meeting place in the Masonic Hall, which was turned into a common work-shop. Tailors came and cut out the uniforms, and the ladies brought their sewing machines.
Charles Blackford writes after the Battle of Brandy Station
Stuart pushed on up into Fauquier count, where Mosby met us. By this time Mosby had become deservedly famous. I had not seen him for more than a year and the change in his appearance was very striking. When he was a member of my company and afterwards when he was adjutant of the regiment (the First Virginia Cavalry) he was careless about his dress and mount and presented anything but a soldierly appearance...
Charles Blackford recounts the Battle of 1st Manassas
July 20, 1861 . . . Just as we crossed Bull run I saw Edmund Fontaine, . . . of Hanover, resting on a log on the roadside. I asked him what was the matter, and he said he was wounded and was dying. He said it very cheerfully and did not look as if anything was the matter, but as we came back we found him dead and some of his comrades about to remove his body. It was a great shock to me, as I had known him from his boyhood. . . .
July 15, 1862 Near Richmond
I was invited by Colonel A.S. Pendleton, . . . to go with General Jackson and his staff into town this morning, and of course I was proud to be of so distinguished a party, though a very small atom in it. We went first to the Governor's mansion, where, by appointment I suppose, we met General Lee. . . . Lee was elegantly dressed in full uniform, sword and sash, spotless boots, beautiful spurs and was by far the most magnificent looking man I ever saw...
The Gettysburg Campaign June 25, 1863 [Maryland, near Williamsport]
. . . July 3-Friday-1863. - Near Gettysburg. I left Chambersburg on yesterday morning at two o'clock and made a march of twenty-three miles by twelve o'clock, without a straggler, I believe. On the road we heard that the evening before (Wednesday, July 1,) General Lee had met the enemy about two miles from Gettysburg and had driven them back several miles, capturing some five thousand prisoners, without any serious loss on our part. Soon after we reached this place yesterday a very terrible battle begun, which raged until nine o'clock, the particulars of which I have not been able to gather, except that the two wings of the enemy were driven back with great loss, but their centre stood firm. We captured some two thousand, five hundred prisoners and, it is said, fifteen guns. All this, however, is but rumor, and even at corps headquarters we know little. . .
Letter From Charles Blackford to his 7-year-old daughter
We are camped in a very sweet grove by the side of a large brick house, and I often wish you and your mother were here to enjoy it. I would like for you to see Drury's Bluff and the big cannon down there - bigger than any two in Colonel Huger's battalion - big enough for you almost to crawl into. The breastworks there are very high, and they have little rooms in them in which the powder and shells and shot are kept so they may not be injured either by rain or the shells of the enemy. The fortifications are all turfed, which makes them look much nicer than any you have ever seen. The soldiers live in small cabins, all of which are white-washed, and they have beautiful walkways between them and flowers and grass to make them look better. Would you not like such soldiering as that? This fort is so situated that we can sink the yankee gunboats with our big guns if they try to pass up the James river, which is just at the foot of the bluff, to Richmond. . . . We are camped on a place where there was a battle fought three months ago, and there are many curious signs of it now left. Very near us the yankees had their field hospital, and many of them are buried all around us. In one hole they threw all the legs and arms they cut off, and as they only threw a little dirt over them many of them are sticking out now, making a very horrid sight, but one we get used to. All the trees around us are marked by cannon and musket balls, as the battle raged all around the house. . .The most remarkable thing I have seen is in a cabin, a few hundred yards from here, where a dead yankee is lying still unburied. He seems to have been wounded and carried to this cabin and laid on some straw on its floor. There he died, and had, as many bodies do, just dried up, for the cabin was between the two lines, and neither side could get to him to aid him or bury him. Right by his side lies the body of a great Newfoundland dog, which the negroes at the house, in the yard of which we are camped, say died of starvation rather than leave his dead master. Master and dog lie there together, strangers in the land of their enemies, unburied and unwept, and, perhaps, far away in the North, he has some little girl like you who is still hoping for her father's return, and picturing the joy of having him back and of romping with the faithful dog. War is a sad thing, but if the poor man had staid at home and not come down here to desolate our homes and murder you and your mother and burn our houses, he would have been with his little girl now, and she could have played with her dog as long as he lived. The negroes told us that they tried to get him to leave his master, and tempted him with food. Once he came out and eat something, but went back and afterwards they could not get him to leave his place or to eat anything. So, there he died. Men are not so faithful as dogs.