UCA Press, Conway, AR., 1995
was reprinted by LSU Press in 1998
411 pages, 29 illustrations (maps / portraits)
(From the LSU Website listing of their reprint of this title)
“Truth in history is sacred and these things must be said.” So writes Philip Stephenson in this remarkable memoir about his four years of service in the Army of Tennessee. Written in 1865, when he was twenty, Stephenson’s diary relates his observations and reminiscences in painstaking detail. A private who became a veteran infantryman and artilleryman, Stephenson witnessed the death of Leonidas Polk and shared a blanket with a sleeping General Breckinridge.
Ably edited by Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, Jr., Stephenson’s vibrant memoirs indeed stand out, as he had hoped, “as though photographed in letters of fire.”
Review by Michael C. C. Adams, Northern Kentucky University
This is a very good read if your purpose is to enjoy a well-written memoir of military service.
If you are researching the Civil War in the West, you must be judicious in assessing the reliability of recollections completed forty years after the events described.
Stephenson, a Saint Louis native of Confederate sympathies, enlisted at age fifteen in the 13th Arkansas Volunteer Infantry. He fought at Belmont, Corinth, Missionary Ridge, Dalton, and Nashville, serving under Braxton Bragg, Joseph E. Johnston, and John Bell Hood. When his initial term of service expired, he reenlisted in the famous Washington Artillery, finishing his war in the defense of Mobile.
The memoir was started in 1865 when the author was a restless and bitter veteran.
In 1896, now a settled, successful Presbyterian minister, Stephenson revised and expanded the manuscript from two to ten volumes.
This text has been radically reduced for modern publication. Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, a seasoned historian, has done a fine job of providing a smoothly edited text with notes and comment bridging omissions in the narrative. But this is not the text as the author desired it. Stephenson shared the soldiers’ distrust of Bragg as a strategist and an administrator. He felt that Missionary Ridge was lost not only because Rebel numbers were inadequate to hold the siege lines but because the forces were badly disposed and were debilitated from inadequate rations. This youth worshiped J. E. Johnston for his army reforms, his cunning strategy, and his care for the men. Johnston’s replacement by Hood was seen by Stephenson as a disaster, and he maintained that the army quickly despaired under Hood’s quixotic leadership.
Stephenson was candid in his description of combat: “shreds of men hang from tree limbs, mangled soldiers scream for Jesus or mother, terrified stragglers drift in crowds behind the firing lines.”
The author witnessed the wretched death of Gen. Leónidas Polk at Kennesaw Mountain, smashed by a shell. Some of the book’s most interesting chapters deal with civilian life. Because the author enlisted under age, he was a pet of the officers and was allowed liberties usually denied to privates. He wandered in the army’s rear and, during his frequent illnesses, found shelter in a variety of Southern homes. His descriptions of different farming classes, from planter to field hand, his sketches of Confederate girls flirting with the invalids, are finely detailed and create a vivid portrait of life continuing despite war.
This book is recommended as a picture of service in the Army of Tennessee, penned by a veteran of unusual intelligence, sensitivity, and literary ability.