"A Gentleman and an Officer": A Military and Social History of James B. Griffin's Civil War

By Weiner, Marli F. | The Journal of Southern History, February 2001 | Go to article overview

"A Gentleman and an Officer": A Military and Social History of James B. Griffin's Civil War


Weiner, Marli F., The Journal of Southern History


"A Gentleman and an Officer": A Military and Social History of James B. Griffin's Civil War. By Judith N. McArthur and Orville Vernon Burton. (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Pp. xviii, 362. Paper, $15.95, ISBN 0-19-509312-7; cloth, $45.00, ISBN 0-19-509311-9.)

Judith McArthur and Orville Vernon Burton provide yet another volume of letters by a Confederate Civil War soldier in A Gentleman and an Officer. James Griffin was a wealthy thirty-six-year-old planter in Edgefield, South Carolina. He owned sixty-one slaves and 1500 acres. He was the father of seven children when the war began; another was born weeks after Griffin went to war and yet another child arrived in 1863. Griffin spent the first year of the war as a field officer in the Hampton Legion. He saw virtually no action until his enlistment was almost over. Griffin was left with plenty of time to write letters, and fifty-eight survive from his first year of service, nearly all to his wife. Like many soldiers' letters they describe the comforts and deprivations of camp life; the unpleasantness of marching, poor weather, and disease; and military rumor and strategy.

Griffin's letters are particularly valuable for the opportunity they offer to observe at close range the election of army officers. Griffin was commissioned a major and promoted to lieutenant colonel during his original enlistment. Apparently he was a stickler for detail, and the editors describe him as "the epitomal man of duty" (p. 7). The letters disclose Griffin's personal ambition, the men's disaffection with his leadership, and the complex jockeying among officer candidates. They also offer insight into the conflict Griffin felt between the need simultaneously to inculcate discipline with the men and to curry favor with them.

Griffin was also torn between his desire to be with his family and his hope of winning military and national glory. …

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