Defend This Old Town is a riveting war epic of local scale and human dimensions. Taking its title from the cry raised in Williamsburg as the Federal army approached in 1862, Carol Dubbs's narrative sweeps us into the lives of residents of this small historic city from the secession of Virginia in 1861 to Lee's surrender four years later. Williamsburg's Civil War ordeal has never before been told in such depth.
Located midway on the only land route between Richmond and the Union-held Fort Monroe, on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula, Williamsburg hosted Confederate troops for the first year of war while defensive earthworks were built across the area. After the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862—a bloody clash neither side sought but each claimed as victor—Union forces began an occupation of the town that lasted with only short interruptions until the end of the war. Those residents who had not fled remained to stubbornly defend their homes.
Dubbs scripts a compelling chronicle of these events, interweaving quotes from diaries, letters, memoirs, and military memoranda to bring immediacy to her subject. Balancing the grim experiences of combat, shortages, tending the dead and wounded, the college’s burning, restive servants, typhoid breakout, and isolation from the rest of the Confederacy are some lighter interludes: the Union marshal who arrived with his saddlebags packed with shoes and dresses to win the good opinion of the town’s females; the first taste of freedom for blacks; and the issuance of travel passes—including one to an especially sharp-tongued matron, with the order never to return.
Maps, period photographs, order of battle, and a bibliography complete this substantial, comprehensive, and entertaining work. Defend This Old Town is certain to engage anyone who enjoys good history.
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