Two Months in the Confederate States: An Englishman's Travels through the South

By Rubin, Anne Sarah | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Autumn 1997 | Go to article overview
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Two Months in the Confederate States: An Englishman's Travels through the South


Rubin, Anne Sarah, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Two Months in the Confederate States: An Englishman's Travels through the South. By W. C. CORSAN. Edited by BENJAMIN H. TRASK. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1996. xx, 155 pp. $26.95.

SCORES of Europeans and northerners traveled through the Confederate South during the Civil War, reporting their impressions of both the home front and the battlefield. Although some of these travel accounts, such as those of Lieutenant Colonel Arthur James Lyon Freemantle and William H. Russell, are fairly well known, others have remained more obscure and difficult to acquire. One of the latter works is Two Months in the Confederate States: An Englishman's Travels through the South, reissued in a fine edition by Louisiana State University Press. Although the work's author was originally identified only as "an English Merchant," this edition's editor, Benjamin H. Trask, makes a convincing case for identifying him as W. C. Corsan, a Sheffield trader in metal tools, cutlery, and engraving plates.

Corsan's account of his travels between New Orleans and Richmond during the fall of 1862 was clearly aimed at quelling the fears of British merchants regarding the fate of one of their most significant trading partners. He was uniformly optimistic about not only the South's military fortunes but also its economic situation and the corresponding likelihood that its foreign debts would be repaid. In lively and engaging prose, Corsan praised the villages and cities he passed through on the train for their generally prosperous, if somewhat deserted, appearances. He saved most of his complaints for the quality of food and accommodations and the frequent absence of wine at his table. He narrowly escaped being conscripted into the Confederate army and detailed his difficulties in securing passage between the Union and the Confederacy in both Louisiana and Virginia. Corsan mentioned slavery infrequently, and although expressing a private hope that the South would eventually abolish it, he also reassured his readers that "all expectation of a rising among the negroes, in consequence of their being declared free, or of any negro regiments being able in any way to even face the Confederate troops, must be abandoned as fallacious" (p.

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