This memoir of the Civil War, Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer by G. Moxley Sorrell (1838-1901), was a genuine pleasure to read. Published some 35 years after the war ended, it is not a typical military memoir. Sorrel himself says as much at the beginning; he leaves the discussion of most military strategy and tactics to others. But he occupied a significant position. For much of the war, he was the chief of staff for Brigadier General James Longstreet.
He was part of numerous battles in the eastern theater of the war: both battles of Bull Run (Manassas), Seven Pines, Sharpsburg (Antietam), Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, the eastern Tennessee campaign, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg. A considerable amount of his work was administrative and operational, but he did have horses shot from underneath him and was wounded himself.
It’s Sorrell’s style of writing that’s so engaging. He’s almost courtly. He’s always gracious, even when he’s critical (he didn’t think much of Union General George McClellan). It’s a personal style associated with the manners of the Old South; I can recall relatives from my own and my wife’s family who manifested a similar demeanor. Sorrell fully manifests it.
Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer may be short on the Civil War’s strategy and tactics, but Sorrell had a perceptive eye toward the personalities of the conflict and what played an increasingly important role – the shortage of soldiers for the Confederate army.
Some Related Readings
Commanding the Regiment: William Sperry’s Creative Cannoneering – Edward Alexander at Emerging Civil War.
Righting the Longstreet Record at Gettysburg: Six Matters of Controversy and Confusion by Cory Pfarr – Booknotes at Civil War Books and Authors.