Forgotten Valor: The Memoirs, Journals, and Civil War Letters of Orlando B. Willcox

By Watson, Samuel J. | The Journal of Southern History, August 2001 | Go to article overview

Forgotten Valor: The Memoirs, Journals, and Civil War Letters of Orlando B. Willcox


Watson, Samuel J., The Journal of Southern History


Forgotten Valor: The Memoirs, Journals, and Civil War Letters of Orlando B. Willcox. Edited by Robert Garth Scott. (Kent, Ohio, and London. Kent State University Press, c. 1999. Pp. xxxii, 720. $49.00, ISBN 0-87338-628-0.)

Forgotten Valor is a whale of a book. Rarely are collections of personal papers so extensive or carefully edited without the support of the National Historical Publications and Records Committee. More than that, these papers are genuinely new, "the largest collection of Civil War papers to surface in half a century" (p. xiii), and editor Robert Scott's tale of discovery, the sort historians dream about, will brighten any scholar's day. Two hundred fifty pages of Forgotten Valor treat Orlando B. Willcox's life from childhood through the U.S. Military Academy, where he graduated in the class of 1847, and his service in Mexico, Florida, a variety of eastern garrisons, and on the western frontier. It provides scholars with a broad-ranging look at the antebellum army, intimate views of operations in the Army of the Potomac, and of civil-military relations across the antebellum and Civil War eras. Yet the book is not for Civil War scholars alone. It is a highly self-conscious personal narrative woven together over two decades by the complex tensions between religious self-discipline, domestic and romantic sensibilities, and gendered sociability.

The papers include the many memoirs Willcox wrote, largely between 1885 and 1905, which he intended to form his autobiography, as well as his journals and letters from 1841 through 1865. These materials were and are arranged in the chronological order in which events took place, and Scott has retained Willcox's practice of appending journals and letters to the pertinent chapters. Because Willcox sometimes wrote more than one memoir of an experience--for example, the capture of Alexandria, the Battle of Bull Run, and the year he spent as a prisoner of war--Scott has used the most comprehensive accounts and inserted supplementary material from the others, using a system of brackets to identify insertions. Thus a typical chapter begins with Willcox's memoir, usually short for the antebellum period, then concludes with letters, almost entirely from the Civil War and including letters both to and from Willcox, and the intermittent journal entries. Scott sometimes provides introductions, particularly for the Civil War period, and his extensive footnotes both clarify references and identify places and individuals.

The most significant antebellum chapters are those on Willcox's service in the Third Seminole War, virtually the sole published primary account by a regular officer, and on his service as one of the commanders of the force involved in the rendition of fugitive slave Anthony Burns, the only primary account by a regular officer involved in this event, the only case in which the regular army was employed to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law. Apart from these, Willcox paid little attention to military affairs, writing primarily of his extensive social engagements, romantic longings, and ever-uncertain religious state. …

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