Book Review: Confederate Incognito: The Civil War Reports of "Long Grabs," a.k.a. John McSween, 26th and 35th North Carolina Infantry

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by E. B. Munson, editor

Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2013. Pp. viii, 264. Illus., maps., notes., biblio., index. $45.00 paper. ISBN: 0786472103

Confederate Incognito offers us a Confederate soldier-journalist’s amusing, information, and sometimes acerbic observations, criticisms, and reports on life, society, military service, in the Civil War South.

Early in the war Carolinian McSween served as an unofficial war correspondent, wandering the Confederacy and dispatching letters to a Fayetteville newspaper about what he saw and whom he met, writing under the pen name “Long Grabs.”  He enlisted in 1863, but continued his journalistic career.  During his service, McSween ran afoul of military law, and served a year at hard labor, but returned to duty in time to serve in the trenches at Petersburg.  Confederate Incognito comprises McSween’s collected letters.  In preparing these for publication, East Carolina University librarian Munson has added clarificatory notes and occasional comments.  McSween wrote of many people whom he met and many events to which he was a witness.  So the book has his personal profile of Jefferson Davis, looks at soldiers and soldiering, offers details of battles, and so forth.  But McSween also gives us a running commentary on daily life in the wartime Confederacy, noting things like the cost of goods or the price of a meal or of a hotel room, and similar commonplace matters that the ordinary citizen encountered in the course of his daily life. 

McSween’s commentary on the great and the great events, and on the details of life, makes Confederate Incognito not only an amusing read, but a valuable documentary reference.
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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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