Book Review: The Civil War Memoirs of Captain William J. Seymour: The Reminiscences of a Louisiana Tiger

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by Terry L. Jones, editor

El Dorado Hills, Ca.: Savas Beatie, 2023. Pp. xii, 192. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $19.95 paper. ISBN: 1611214645

One Man’s War

William J. Seymour was a New Orleans newspaper editor. When the Civil War began, he did not immediately volunteer, he remained in New Orleans as editor of The Commercial Bulletin. But the lure of service was strong, and he soon accepted a post as aide-de-camp to Brig. Gen. Johnson Kelly Duncan, of the 1st Louisiana Brigade, on duty in southern Louisiana, based at Fort Jackson on the Mississippi.

Seymour opens with the defense of Fort Jackson in April of 1862, when the U.S. Navy came up the river to ultimately take New Orleans. Seymour's is in fact the only known Confederate eye-witness account of that fight. With New Orleans in Union hands, Seymour took the loyalty oath from Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, and returned to publishing. But after he published a "patriotic obituary of his father," Butler imprisoned him at Fort Jackson for two months. In the spring of 1863, Seymour returned to Confederate service, obtaining a post as a staff officer for Brig. Gen. Harry T. Hayes of the 1st Louisiana Brigade, by then in the Army of Northern Virginia.

Seymour would see some impressive action at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and in the Shenandoah Valley. He ends his memoir rather abruptly with the Battle of Cedar Creek (Oct. 19, 1864) in Virginia, with the Union forces tightening their investment of Petersburg.

Reading Seymour’s account we gain many insights into and details about some of these actions, which he often depicts in great detail and with an interesting style. As often critical of Confederate actions as of Federal ones, his language is descriptive yet clear and concise. Depicting the horrors of war plainly, he romanticizes nothing, yet through the harsh reality, he offers anecdotes that present the human side of war. Seymour offers many fascinating anecdotes about, politics, prisoners-of-war, diplomacy, personalities, African-Americans and women, and a greater understanding of the long-term effects of the conflict on the United States.

Overall The Civil War Memoirs of Captain William J. Seymour is a terrific read for those interested in the Civil War, and particularly those wishing to better understand the Army of Northern Virginia.

 

Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His previous reviews here include Navigating Liberty: Black Refugees and Antislavery Reformers in the Civil War South, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 1, "The Bullets Flew Like Hail", John Brown's Raid, Searching For Irvin McDowell, A House Built by Slaves, They Came Only To Die, General Grant and the Verdict of History, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 2, Man of Fire, To the Last Extremity, Hood's Defeat Near Fox's Gap, "If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania", Vol. 2, Outwitting Forrest, All That Can Be Expected, Force of a Cyclone, Lincoln and Native Americans, Detour to Disaster, Lincoln in Lists, A Wilderness of Destruction, and Twelve Days.

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Note: The Civil War Memoirs of Captain William J. Seymour is also available in e-editions.

 

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

www.nymas.org

Reviewer: David Marshall   


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