A Gunner in Lee's Army: The Civil War Letters of Thomas Henry Carter

A Gunner in Lee's Army: The Civil War Letters of Thomas Henry Carter

A Gunner in Lee's Army: The Civil War Letters of Thomas Henry Carter

A Gunner in Lee's Army: The Civil War Letters of Thomas Henry Carter

Synopsis

In May 1861, Virginian Thomas Henry Carter (1831-1908) raised an artillery battery and joined the Confederate army. Over the next four years, he rose steadily in rank from captain to colonel, placing him among the senior artillerists in Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. During the war, Carter wrote more than 100 revealing letters to his wife, Susan, about his service. His interactions with prominent officers--including Lee, Jubal A. Early, John B. Gordon, Robert E. Rodes, and others--come to life in Carter's astute comments about their conduct and personalities. Combining insightful observations on military operations, particularly of the Battles of Antietam and Spotsylvania Court House and the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, with revealing notes on the home front and the debate over the impressment and arming of slaves, Carter's letters are particularly interesting because his writing is not overly burdened by the rhetoric of the southern ruling class.

Here, Graham Dozier offers the definitive edition of Carter's letters, meticulously transcribed and carefully annotated. This impressive collection provides a wealth of Carter's unvarnished opinions of the people and events that shaped his wartime experience, shedding new light on Lee's army and Confederate life in Virginia.

Excerpt

Artillery officer Colonel Thomas Henry Carter witnessed the rise and fall of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, but he did not describe his escapades as a crusade of heroism or as an epic adventure. Carter simply refused to write theatrical war stories, the kind of sensational copy that played well with general audiences at home. He had seen too much blood to be seduced by the drama of battle. in his lengthy and richly detailed letters to his wife, Susan Roy Carter, he wrote with a fearless realism, an approach that brings the reader into the many dimensions of organized warfare that include the battlefield, military leadership, discipline in the ranks, religion, Confederate nationalism, privations on the home front, and the collapse of slavery. All of these subjects Carter scrutinized with a critical detachment that eluded most of his peers, who typically chronicled the hard facts of their existence as if their letters were hard truths carved in stone tablets. Although Carter’s perspective flowed from a deep political and ideological commitment to the Confederacy and its slaveholding class, he was not afraid to fire a critical shot back at his nation for its military failures or internal shortcomings. His ability to break with the “official” voice of his country—a message that always proclaimed the superiority of southerners in all things and rarely admitted any deficiency—is truly exceptional. Carter, for instance, thought that Northern armies were more successful in disciplining their troops than the Confederates, whose independent dispositions encouraged acts of self- preservation under fire that bordered on cowardice. Carter, who favored any measure that advanced Confederate military authority over the rights of the individual, blasted his government for lacking an effective bureaucratic apparatus to punish or banish questionable officers who allowed their men to run amuck on the battlefield. “We are anxious to remodel the army organization,” Carter opined in 1864, “to abolish the elective system for officers & . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.