Far more than a mere documentation of the horrors and banality of the Civil War, John Preston Sheffey's literate and even macabrely witty writings demonstrate his ardor for battle, his love of his home state of Virginia, and his passion in waging a most arduous and suspenseful campaign: to win Josephine Spiller of Wytheville, Virginia, as his wife. Superbly edited by James I. Robertson, Jr., Sheffey's letters are the first published correspondence by a member of the 8th Virginia Cavalry. They reflect the ever-present dangers of war and a soldier's poignant attempts to assuage a woman's fears of committing to a man engaged far from home in the dire struggle for the Confederacy.
A native of Marion, Virginia, Sheffey provides an invaluable picture of socio-military affairs in the overlooked western and southwestern regions of the state. Too mountainous to be neutralized by Union military efforts, southwest Virginia's communities harbored resources of coal, lead, and salt as well as the only rail line connecting Richmond and the Western theater of the war—all of which were indispensable to any possibility of success for the Confederacy. Sheffey's combination of intimate minute-to-minute, day-to-day recording and larger insight into the dynamics of men, terrain, supplies, and protocol make this collection unique.
Displaying a formidable range in his charming letters, Sheffey referred to everything from Greek monsters of mythology to English poets of the sixteenth century. He was capable of pining to Josephine, "And still you will not write. . . . I will surrender myself to the Yankees or incurable blues," and of describing a wounded Union soldier who "lived for more than a day with his brains shot out, conclusive evidence that they can get along almost as well without [brains] as with them." Sheffey's more than ninety letters are a singular source of interest for revealing the paradoxes and tragedies of isolated but vital Civil War skirmishes in southwest Virginia.
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