Book Review: A Civil War Correspondent in New Orleans: The Journals and Reports of Albert Gaius Hills, of The Boston Journal

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by Gary L. Dyson, editor

Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2013. Pp. vi, 198. . Illus., append., notes, biblio., index. $45.00 paper. ISBN: 078647193X

An Eyewitness Account of Life and War in Civil War America

A native of Massachusetts, Albert Gaius Hills (1829-1879) was a lifelong journalist. He covered the Civil War on the Gulf Coast from late 1861 through early 1864, while finding time to serve as officer in a black regiment and editing a Unionist newspaper in New Orleans. In addition to his published dispatches to The Boston Journal, Hills left some detailed journals, many letters, a large number of official documents (acquired from friendly officers, including Ben Butler), clippings from contemporary newspapers, mostly Southern, and other miscellaneous papers. 

In this volume, Dyson gives us a look at the war as witnessed by his several times great-grandfather. He opens with a chapter giving us an overview of Hills’ life.   There then follow two chapter on the Union campaign to capture of New Orleans and subsequent military operations in the region around the city. We then get six chapters that are substantially drawn from the journals, letters, and dispatches which cover Hill’s take on events as they unfolded, including life in the occupied city.

A final section – one really can’t call it a chapter – includes a baker’s dozen of Hills’ dispatches for the Boston Journal during the operations that led to the capture of the city, covering the blockade, the river battle, the bombardment of the city, Sabbath observances during the Union siege, and more.

This is a valuable work not only because we see the war as Hill saw it, without knowing what was to follow, but also because Hills gives us glimpses of life as it was lived. We get to see little things that reveal the cost of living, such as the cost of meals, clothing, telegrams, or hotel rooms, as well as of the problems of being a journalist in a military zone, some peeks at private life, comments about people both famous (Ben Butler, David Farragut) and not, and much more.  It is these 'little' things that make A Civil War Correspondent in New Orleans a useful resource for anyone seeking to get closer to the events.

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Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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