To Live and Die: Collected Stories of the Civil War, 1861-1876

Article excerpt

To Live and Die: Collected Stories of the Civil War, 1861-1876. Edited by KATHLEEN DIFFLEY. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002. xiv, 430 pp. $32.95.

To Live and Die is an entertaining, well-- edited collection of thirty-one Civil War narratives, originally published in popular nineteenth-century literary magazines like Harper's Weekly, Southern Magazine, and Atlantic Monthly between 1861 and 1875. Edited by Kathleen Diffley, the volume contains works by well-known authors like Louisa May Alcott and Samuel Clemens, as well as ones by less familiar writers like John Culver. Taken together, this anthology represents Diffley's response to Daniel Aaron's 1973 lament that great American writers, whom Aaron called "the antennae of the race," had failed to produce an enduring epic novel of the war, leaving its story to be told by an assortment of individuals whom Aaron crustily referred to as "malingerers," "neo-Confederates," and "drawing room warriors" (The Unwritten War: American Writers and the Civil War [1973], pp. xviii-xix, 148, and 328-40). Diffley claims that her assembled anthology, To Live and Die, constitutes an "inadvertent novel" that blends diverse voices to address Aaron's complaint by providing a "first seismic reading of the war's upheaval" (p. 2).

The selections in To Live and Die are fascinating reading to anyone interested in Civil War history and literature. They range from an antebellum tale of a Missouri parson hanged for his abolitionism to a postwar story about an ex-slave mother who is reunited with her soldier son. In between there are stories about spies, women soldiers, a family caught in the midst of the New York draft riot, battlefield heroism, unrequited love in all its regional and racial complexities, and the bizarre tale of George Dedlow, a quadruple amputee, who is reunited during a stance with his severed limbs. Diffley places each selection in chronological order, not according to publication date, but rather by relevance to the war's chronology. …