Book review

The Civil War Roster of Davidson County, North Carolina

by Christopher M. Watford

 

294 pages, McFarlands, Jegerson NC and London,

 

42.75, larger format

Review by: Allan Paterson Milne

 

At one time this book would have been filed under 'local studies', of interest only to the descendants of those mentioned, or to present - day residents of Davidson County. That view couldn't he more wrong. Today's so-called 'local studies' are at the cutting edge of Civil War studies. We have realised that the 'Battles and Leaders' approach is no longer enough. We have to understand the Confederate fighting man not just as soldier, but as civilian member of civilian community sent off to war.


The 1996 short biographies in this book, which provide details of each man's rank, unit, and personal and military history, help us to do that. Socially and economically, the men show broad similarities. They were mostly 'middle-ranking' types, farmers, tradesmen or clerks. Slaveholders are conspicuous by their near- absence. Ethnically, they were mostly Anglo-Saxon or German.

 

But their wartime experience shows wide variations. Some came through the war unscathed, though what mental scars they brought home we do not know. Others were killed. Many were wounded or died of disease. Forty-seven of them enlisted in the Union Army.

 

A number met different fates; Amos Crotts, for example, deserted to the Union Army in March 1865, surely a wise move at that date. A more common scenario, however is desertion for a few months, followed by recapture and further service. Evidently some Davidson county graybacks felt that they could leave the army when they felt like it, or needed to. The fact that no punishment is recorded on return to the ranks, suggests that the authorities recognised that there was not a great deal they could do about it and that men were so short that they had to go easy on what was a serious military offence.

 

But while some men have unsatisfactory records, we cannot really tell which Davidson county Confederates were shirkers, and which fought like heroes. But perhaps we should not consider that question here at all. Civil War soldiers were sometimes brave, and sometimes shirked. Veteran regiments would sometimes stand firm and sometimes panic. The overall impression created by the roster is simply that of duty done by ordinary men. That, perhaps, should be enough.