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Virginia at War: 1865, edited by William C. Davis and James I. Robertson, Jr.

The opening months of the Civil War had a certain boldness and cachet to them. Young men in particular signed up in droves.  Picnickers came down from D.C. to take a gander at the First Battle of Manassas, discovering all too quickly that war is no theatrical entertainment.  However, four years later when the South was playing an end-game, the damage to not just its army but also to its civilians was clearly a factor in its surrender. In 1863, there had been bread riots in Richmond.  In 1864, the Shenandoah Valley’s crops and businesses had been burned by Union General Sheridan who was advised by his commander Grant to ”Give the enemy no rest ... Do all the damage to railroads and crops you can.”

And so it was. The civilians and soldiers alike were hit with shortages, and the last year of the war was a particularly brutal time. In William C. Davis’ and James I. Robertson, Jr.’s Virginia at War: 1865, the editors include eight essays by modern scholars and a diary from a Virginia woman, the wife of a minister, who observed that last year from her refugee quarters in Richmond where she served as a nurse and a clerk.

She records the lost battles, the raid into Tappahannock as described by her aunt, the burning of the Valley as described in friends’ letters, and more. The modern essays touch on the state’s wartime economy, the evacuation of the government to Danville, the army’s demobilization, emancipation in 1865, music and entertainment in wartime Virginia, the home front, and the war’s aftermath.

Given that the country is observing the Civil War’s Sesquicentennial, this is a very timely volume that examines topics of particular interest to those wanting to understand the human toll of war. Other books in the series include: Virginia at War: 1861; Virginia at War: 1862; Virginia at War: 1863; and Virginia at War: 1864.