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Two Civil Wars

The Curious Shared Journal of a Baton Rouge Schoolgirl and a Union Sailor on the USS Essex

296 pages / 5.50 x 8.50 inches / 21 halftones, 2 maps, 1 chart

ebook available

Civil War | Louisiana Studies | Regional Studies

  Hardcover / 9780807162248 / April 2016
Two Civil Wars is both an edition of an unusual Civil War–era double journal and a narrative about the two writers who composed its contents. The initial journal entries were written by thirteen-year-old Celeste Repp while a student at St. Mary’s Academy, a prominent but short-lived girls school in midcentury Baton Rouge. Celeste’s French compositions, dating from 1859 to 1861, offer brief but poignant meditations, describe seasonal celebrations, and mention by name both her headmistress, Matilda Victor, and French instructor and priest, Father Darius Hubert. 
Immediately following Celeste's prettily decorated pages a new title page intervenes, introducing “An Abstract Journal Kept by William L. Park, of the U.S. gunboat Essex during the American Rebellion.” Park’s diary is a fulsome three-year account of military engagements along the Mississippi and its tributaries, the bombardment of southern towns, the looting of plantations, skirmishes with Confederate guerillas, the uneasy experiment with “contrabands” (freed slaves) serving aboard ship, and the mundane circumstances of shipboard life. Very few diaries from the inland navy have survived, and this is the first journal from the ironclad Essex to be published. Jeffrey has read it alongside several unpublished accounts by Park’s crewmates as well as a later memoir composed by Park in his declining years. It provides rare insight into the culture of the ironclad fleet and equally rare firsthand commentary by an ordinary sailor on events such as the sinking of CSS Arkansas and the prolonged siege of Port Hudson.
Jeffrey provides detailed annotation and context for the Repp and Park journals, filling out the biographies of both writers before and after the Civil War. In Celeste’s case, Jeffrey uncovers surprising connections to such prominent Baton Rouge residents as the diarist Sarah Morgan, and explores the complexity of wartime allegiances in the South through the experiences of Matilda Victor and Darius Hubert. She also unravels the mystery of how a southern youngster’s school scribbler found its way into the hands of a Union sailor. In so doing, she provides a richly detailed picture of occupied Baton Rouge and especially of events surrounding the Battle of Baton Rouge in August 1862.
These two unusual personal journals, linked by curious happenstance in a single notebook, open up intriguing, provocative, and surprisingly complementary new vistas on antebellum Baton Rouge and the Civil War on the Mississippi.
The Schoolgirl: M’lle Celeste Repp, L’Academie St. Marie, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
The Sailor: William Little Park, Quarter Gunner, USS Essex
How Did Celeste’s Notebook Find Its Way into William Park’s Hands?
Character of the Writing and Editorial Principles
The Celeste Repp Journal (1859–1861)
The Text
The William Park Journal (1861–1864)
Abstract Journal kept by William L. Park
Afterword: The Wake of War
William Little Park
Matilda Victor
Fr. Darius Hubert, S.J.
Celeste Repp (Sister Mary Euphrasia)
Appendix 1: William Porter’s Farewell Speech to the Crew of USS Essex 
Appendix 2: Additional Naval Records and Correspondence Copied into the Park Journal
Appendix 3: William Park’s “Abstract Journal” Compared with His Later, Amplified Memoir

Katherine Bentley Jeffrey is a freelance editor and writer, and an independent scholar. She has published an essay related to Two Civil Wars -- specifically the use of St. Mary's Academy in Baton Rouge as a contraband facility in 1863 -- in Louisiana History 57.3 (Summer 2016):  "The History and Provenance of a (Frequently Misidentified) Baton Rouge Civil War Photograph" (pp. 349-58).

Praise for Two Civil Wars

“The 1859-1861 journal of Celeste Repp comprises only a fraction of the book's total content but the meticulousness of Jeffrey's detective work really shines through in her generous volume of supporting material. . . . . As with her handling of the writings of Celeste Repp, Jeffrey's expansive primary and secondary source research in this section adds greatly to the value of the Park journal. . . . If a yearly book award for Civil War manuscript editing exists, Katherine Bentley Jeffrey richly deserves to be on its short list of candidates.”—Civil War Books and Authors

Two Civil Wars is valuable and joins the still growing body of Civil War first-person accounts. It gives voices to two interesting nineteen-century Americans who never met but shared a tremendous experience.”—Civil War Book Review

“Editor Jeffrey, an independent scholar who has written on several unusual aspects of the Civil War, does an outstanding job in preparing the writings of these quite different people for publication. . . . Valuable for its many glimpses into the social and cultural environment of the times, and to the course of the war on the Mississippi.”—NYMAS Review

“Katherine Bentley Jeffrey leads the reader on a journey into the lives of two seemingly disconnected people—an innocent Catholic school girl in Baton Rouge and a rough-and-tumble sailor aboard one of the United States’s most worthy gunboats, the USS Essex—and gives a compelling glimpse into a world swept away by war. The fighting along the lower Mississippi provides all of the warp and weft of the human experience that makes the American Civil War so captivating, and these two participants take their place among its important chroniclers.”—Donald S. Frazier, author of Blood on the Bayou: Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and the Trans-Mississippi

Two Civil Wars resurrects the written record as an historical player. It is as innovative as it is instructive.”—Michael J. Bennett, author of Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War

“Although Celeste Repp’s entries comprise only a small portion of this dual journal, they nonetheless open a window to a little understood story: that of a young Catholic girl in the antebellum South. In addition to her extensive and impressive research into Repp’s life and family, Jeffrey exhaustively explores the unusual lives of her two mentors, Matilda Victor, a single Catholic woman struggling against the norms of society and her church, and Father Darius Hubert, an extraordinary priest and Confederate chaplain. In going beyond other studies that tend to focus on the Irish experience, Jeffrey has produced a useful work for those seeking to understand better the Catholic experience in the nineteenth-century South.”—William B. Kurtz, author of Excommunicated from the Union: How the Civil War Created a Separate Catholic America

“Katherine Bentley Jeffrey uses a diary with a personality disorder to glue together four individuals from divergent backgrounds and with surprising future accomplishments, and she does so with exceptional research know-how, a detective’s intuition, and a flowing style of writing. The result is an enthralling read about Baton Rouge from 1859 to 1864 and beyond. A delightful contribution to Civil War historiography.”—Cornelius Buckley, author of Frenchman, Chaplain, Rebel: The Civil War Letters of Pere Louis-Hippolyte Gache, S.J., 10th Louisiana Infantry

Links for Two Civil Wars

An interview with Katherine Bentley Jeffrey on the Louisiana Anthology Podcast

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