A Gentleman and an Officer: A Military and Social History of James B. Griffins Civil War

Paperback | April 30, 1999

byJudith N. McArthur, Orville Vernon BurtonForeword byJames M. McPherson

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In 1861, James B. Griffin left Edgefield, South Carolina and rode off to Virginia to take up duty with the Confederate Army in a style that befitted a Southern gentleman: on a fine-blooded horse, with two slaves to wait on him, two trunks, and his favorite hunting dog. He was thirty-five yearsold, a wealthy planter, and the owner of sixty-one slaves when he joined Wade Hampton's elite Legion as a major of cavalry. He left behind seven children, the eldest only twelve, and a wife who was eight and a half months pregnant. As a field officer in a prestigious unit, the opportunities for fameand glory seemed limitless. Griffin, however, performed no daring acts, nor did he inspire great loyalty in his men. Instead, he unknowingly provided a unique and invaluable portrait of the Confederate officers who formed the core of Southern political, military, and business leadership. In A Gentleman and an Officer, Judith N. McArthur and Orville Vernon Burton have collected eighty of Griffin's letters written at the Virginia front, and during later postings on the South Carolina coast, to his wife Leila Burt Griffin. Extraordinary in their breadth and volume, the lettersencompass Griffin's entire Civil War service, detailing living conditions and military maneuvers, the jockeying for position among officers, and the different ways officers and enlisted men interacted during the Civil War. Unlike the reminiscences and biographies of high-ranking, well-knownConfederate officers or studies and edited collections of letters of members of the rank and file, this collection sheds light on the life of a middle officer--a life turned upside down by extreme military hardship and complicated further by the continuing need for reassurance about personal valorand status common to men of the southern gentry. In these letters, Griffin describes secret troop movements in various military actions such as the Hampton Legion's role in the Peninsula Campaign (details that would certainly have been censored in more recent wars). Here he relates the march fromManassas to Fredricksburg, the siege of Yorktown and the retreat to Richmond, and the fighting at Eltham's landing and Seven Pines, where Griffin commanded the legion after Hampton was wounded. Throughout, as Griffin recounts these most extraordinary of times, he illuminates the most ordinary ofday-to-day issues. One might expect to find a Confederate officer meditating on slavery, emancipation, or Lincoln. Instead, we are confronted by simple humanity and simple concerns, from the weather to gossip. Monumental historical events intruded on Griffin's life and sent him off to war, but hisheartfelt considerations were about his family, his community, and his own personal pride. Ultimately, Griffin's letters present the Civil War as the refinery, the ordeal by fire, that tested and verified--or modified--Southern upperclass values. With a fascinating combination of military and social history, A Gentleman and an Officer moves from the beginning of the Civil War at Fort Sumter through the end of the war and Reconstruction, vividly illustrating how the issues of the Civil War were at once devastatingly national andrevealingly local.

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From Our Editors

This extraordinary collection of 80 previously unpublished Civil War letters is both a penetrating look at the middle ranks from Virginia and South Carolina fronts and an intensely personal drama of the homefront and battlefront. 25 halftones. 8 maps

From the Publisher

In 1861, James B. Griffin left Edgefield, South Carolina and rode off to Virginia to take up duty with the Confederate Army in a style that befitted a Southern gentleman: on a fine-blooded horse, with two slaves to wait on him, two trunks, and his favorite hunting dog. He was thirty-five yearsold, a wealthy planter, and the owner of si...

Judith N. McArthur is Lecturer in History at the University of Houston-Victoria and co-editor of Citizens at Last: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas. Orville Vernon Burton is Professor of History and Sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the author or editor of a number of books, including In My Father's H...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:392 pages, 8.27 × 5.51 × 1.1 inPublished:April 30, 1999Publisher:Oxford University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195093127

ISBN - 13:9780195093124

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From Our Editors

This extraordinary collection of 80 previously unpublished Civil War letters is both a penetrating look at the middle ranks from Virginia and South Carolina fronts and an intensely personal drama of the homefront and battlefront. 25 halftones. 8 maps

Editorial Reviews

"A Gentleman and an Officer masterfully integrates James B. Griffin's experience as well as that of his family and slaves into the larger story of the Civil War's military, social, and cultural impact on the South. It represents historical editing at its best, and is well worth the time ofprofessional and amateur historians of the Civil War and the South."--South Carolina Historical Magazine