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BOOK REVIEWS FOR

THE CONFEDERATES OF CHAPPELL HILL, TEXAS: PROSPERITY, CIVIL WAR AND DECLINE

by Stephen Chicoine

published 2005 and reprinted 2013
by McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers,
a leading independent publisher of academic and nonfiction books



The Felder Brother Photograph is housed in the
Historical Research Center, Texas Heritage
Museum, Hill College, Hillsboro, Texas.

Review by Robert K. Krick, former Chief Historian of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, author of fourteen books on the American Civil War and past winner of the Douglas Southall Freeman Award for the best book on Southern History

The saga of a Southern community driven from boom to bust by the war is not unfamiliar, but The Confederates of Chappell Hill, Texas by Stephen Chicoine, benefits from an opulent infusion of contemporary evidence never before published. That makes Chicoine's story worthwhile.

Soldiers from Chappell Hill went to war in the renowned Terry's Texas Rangers, in Edwin Waller's Texas cavalry battalion and in other Texan organizations. Chicoine devotes chapters to their experiences at Arkansas Post, in the amazing operations around Galveston and at Vicksburg and Atlanta. A fine chapter on the home-front experience cites 17 manuscript sources. A company of Washington County men also went to Virginia as part of the 5th Texas Infantry, which became a veteran mainstay in the justly famous Texas Brigade commanded by General John B. Hood. The five chapters devoted primarily to the exploits of Chappell Hill's 5th Texas troops probably will appeal most to Civil War readers.

Twenty war-dated letters written by three men, printed in pleasingly long block quotes, buttress the story of the 5th Texas' experiences in Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. They cover much of the war … Chicoine also supplies a gratifying volume of contemporary evidence from periodicals, most of them published in Houston or Galveston … Between the manuscript letters that Chicoine includes and the newspaper accounts, Confederates of Chappell Hill throws new light on some of the most famous moments in the annals of Hood's Texas Brigade and the Army of Northern Virginia … Chicoine devotes 70 pages to recounting the weary survivors' return to Chappell Hill, the Federal occupation and Reconstruction, and the eventual emergence of reunions and veterans' organizations … Numerous excellent photographs, many of soldiers in uniform, illustrate Confederates of Chappell Hill … the book surely is worth the tariff.


Review by Dr. Joseph Chance, University of Texas professor and author of numerous books on Texas and the Civil War

Lyndon Johnson is reported to have said that Texas is not a southern state, rather a western state. I must take a slight exception to that – Texas is both a southern state and a western state. The Brazos Valley Counties, such as Washington County (Chappell Hill and vicinity), had economies built on King Cotton and slaves. An aristocratic society developed among the plantation owners, which would rival that of any southern region. The village of Chappell Hill could have been uprooted and placed into the states of Louisiana or Mississippi without any feelings of dislocation. Thus, I would argue The Confederates of Chappell Hill, Texas tells a larger story than that of the people of Chappell Hill. It is the story of the transition of an aristocratic society that is re-shaped by the War for Southern Independence, defeat and reconstruction and the attempts at reconciliation that continue to this very day.

This is a marvelous book, a social history of the Southern people before, during and after the great war – a war considered by many to be the most important event in American history. This book is important in light of the current popular trends. The message needs to be communicated that Southerners were human beings often motivated by the purest reasons. They fought, bled and died for their principles. The South grieved over their dead and reconstructed and even attempted to reconcile. Too often this message is downplayed or ignored.

Chicoine delivers this powerful message by the many powerful eyewitness accounts therein. This manuscript is more than a military history, although the author demonstrates a masterful knowledge of the battles fought in both the eastern and western theaters. Life in Chappell Hill during the war gives us a good idea of the desperation felt by the wives and mothers. It also conveys the message that slavery was not the only dividing issue that brought on the war. The home front chapters are particularly poignant as they offer some insight into the complex Southern psyche, the mindset of the only Americans to ever lose a war. The veteran reunions after the war’s end are particularly emotional. One sees the gray-bearded men casting off the infirmities of age for a few moments to re-live the adventures of their military life with their comrades-in-arms.

The block quotes are one of the strengths of the work. Voices from the grave relate to us what they saw and what they felt through the eyes of a 19 th century Southerner. The reader does not have to rely on some pre-digested text that could be the work of a biased author. The book is in a format akin to the television series on the Civil War so masterfully done by Ken Burns. The book is not the work of a partisan writer, but is well balanced. It is well organized, well written and includes much historical material never before seen in print (journals, diaries, memoirs, correspondence). The scholarship is excellent. The author recognized the importance of newspapers of the time as valuable sources of information. He mined these sources well. The text is very well organized. Without the author’s masterful management of these sources, the book could have turned into little more than a collection of recollections.

The Confederates of Chappell Hill is a significant contribution to the culture of the Southern States and the thinking and experience of those Americans who chose to leave the United States. It is a staple for any writer wishing to develop the historical background necessary for a novel, perhaps a Texas version of Gone With the Wind or a Faulkner style novel set in Texas. The narrative does not require special knowledge to follow the story line.

As I reflect on this book, The Confederates of Chappell Hill reminds me of a prose version of Edgar Lee Master’s classic Spoon River Anthology (1915). The near- deserted town of Chappell Hill, which the world has now passed by, and the neglected cemeteries filled with its illustrious dead, each of which has a life story to relate, is a striking analogy. Other social histories of the American Civil War include such classics as Life of Johnny Reb by Bell Wiley and the works of Joseph Glatthaar, but these books deal more with military history and do not cover the span of time, which The Confederates of Chappell Hill covers. The multi-volume series on Hood’s Texas Brigade, written by Colonel Harold Simpson, probably is the closest to The Confederates of Chappell Hill. This book compares favorably with any of the aforementioned books.


Review by Charles David Grear, Texas A&M University

Stephen Chicoine's The Confederates of Chappell Hill, Texas examines the changes that Texans experienced during the Civil War and the events that followed through the lives of the citizens from Chappell Hill. Before the war, Chappell Hill thrived because of the Southern cotton trade but the disruption of the Civil War and Reconstruction brought hardships to the town. Through the letters and memoirs of its citizens, Chicoine brings to life the thoughts, actions, and emotions of individuals from this town throughout these trying times. The author previously published several books and articles on military history, including the edited letters of Rufus King Felder, a Confederate soldier and leading citizen of Chappell Hill after the war, in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly.

Men from Chappell Hill served in every theater of the war and in all the famous Texas units including Hood's Texas Brigade, Terry's Texas Rangers, and Sibley's Brigade, to name a few. The men participated in famous battles such as Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Galveston, Chickamauga, Wilderness, and Petersburg. Chicoine devotes the majority of the book to the men's perspective of their particular units and the battles they fought. Included in this section are the effects the war had on the home front and how civilians supported their soldiers on distant battlefields. The last five chapters examine how the men reacted to coming home after the war, reconstruction, and how they contributed to the reconciliation between North and South through the establishment of veteran organizations. Chicoine concludes the book with the contribution of the Confederates' children and grandchildren to the reconciliation of the country through their actions during the Spanish-American War and World War I.

The greatest strength of his book is examining their lives after the war and how they adapted to the changes the war created. His research is impeccable. The author drew from many different sources to examine these Texas soldiers' lives, especially the letters of common soldiers and newspapers from the area. Another positive attribute of the book is the number of photographs incorporated throughout its pages. Pictures of soldiers, families, locations, and buildings within the town bring the story to light and provide a physical connection for the reader. Chicoine organizes the book both topically and chronologically. This style allows him to focus on the numerous groups of Texas soldiers spread across the South while containing a narrative that shows the progressive changes that occurred to the men and the town they called home.


Review by Clayton Jewett, history professor at Baylor University and author of three well-regarded books on Texas and the Confederacy

Stephen Chicoine draws upon a wealth of primary sources from the local archives and the historical society of Chappell Hill, Texas, to provide a personal account of this significant town's contribution in the American Civil War. In doing so, the author attempts to place Chappell Hill in the larger context of Texas in the war and the southern experience of prosperity, war, and decline. The bulk of the monograph traces the experience of men from Chappell Hill through a synopsis of the minor and major battles. In doing so, Chicoine touches on several interesting topics and does an excellent job of discussing the prison-of-war experiences of Confederate soldiers. Through personal accounts he discloses the hazards of prison life and the harsh conditions in which men suffered brutal treatment and malnourishment and literally froze to death. In all, we find that men from Chappell Hill served throughout the Confederacy in several capacities, experiencing the full effect of war.

With the close of war and the homecoming experience, the author reveals the difficulties that men encountered while traveling back to Texas. Once home, these men faced starvation, possible indictment for their wartime activities, loss of loved ones, loss of land and business, and no employment--a reflection of the Texas and southern experience, from the author's perspective.

When it comes to the decline of Chappell Hill, however, Chicoine argues that the yellow fever epidemic of 1867, not the consequences of war, ravaged the town. Chicoine reveals, in one of his better and more enlightening chapters, that the epidemic held no respect for class and that even in this crisis, Chappell Hill residents played roles beyond their community. For example, President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Richard M. Swearingen, a civil war veteran, to a commission of experts (to investigate yellow fever) that eventually established the National Board of Health. Nevertheless, Chappell Hill was hard hit by the 1867 epidemic and became known as an unhealthy place to live, the most significant factor in the town's decline.

Despite the author's neglect to consult the leading secondary sources on many topics, he has done excellent primary-source research in dissecting one town's contribution to the war effort. Chicoine's monograph on Chappell Hill, Texas, which he portrays as a microcosm of the Confederacy, allows the reader to understand the real experience and impact of war from a personal and local perspective, a work that will interest Texas historians and general Civil War enthusiasts.

  

book review by Steve Chicoine of TENNESSEE PREACHER, TENNESSEE SOLDIER tennesseepreachertennesseesoldier.com