Monday, October 29, 2012

New and Noteworthy---History and Guide to Civil War Shepherdstown: A Community of Suffering

A History and Guide to Civil War Shepherdstown: Victory and Defeat in West Virginia's Oldest Town, Nicholas Redding, Schroeder Publications, 144 pages, 56 illustrations, 6 maps, 2 appendices, order of battle, endnotes, index, 2012, $14.95.

 A History and Guide to Civil War Shepherdstown: Victory and Defeat in West Virginia's Oldest Town offers a intriguing description  of a village that began the war in Virginia and ended the war in West Virginia. Nicholas Redding finely balances aspects of Shepherdtown's citizens, it buildings and industries, and its proximity to Harpers Ferry, South Mountain, and the Battle of Sharpsburg. A third of the book presents Shepherdstown in the path of war. Wesley Culp, a recent immigrant from Adams County, Pennsylvania is typical of the town's  citizens who are divided in their allegiances. Reddington relies on eyewitness accounts of Shepherdtown's conflicted loyalities: Dr. Charles Wesley Andrew, Caroline Bedinger, and Henry Kyd Douglas and the Shepherdstown Register newspaper.

The middle third of the book is a guide to the Civil War sites in present-day Shepherdstown. The first third of the book is not retold; the discussion offers additional information that further clarifies the suffering and destruction of the town. The burning of the covered, two lane Potomac River bridge is well told and illustrated. Redding presents a black and white illustration of the bridge intact and a photograph of the remnants of the pilings.  Remarkably the illustration and the photograph were made from nearly the same location and reveals much about Shepherdstown. Ferry Hill in Maryland overlooks Shepherdstown and was the home of Henry Kyd Douglas, whose father practiced law across the river. Hotels, the town hall,  graffitti, homes that became hospitals, the residence of a Confederate spy, the site of the wagon shop where Wesley Culp was employed, churches and the cemetery are described and presented with personal primary source accounts of the structures' appearance and uses.

The final third of the book is a clear and concise history and guide to the September 1862 battle at Shepherdstown. Offered as a appendix, Mary Bedinger Mitchell's article in the 1886 Century Magazine recounts Shepherdstown citizens' experiences of the battles of South Mountain, Antietam and Shepherdstown. A second appendix is Henrietta Lee's lamentation addressed to Union general David Hunter; it presents the heartfelt anger of woman whose ancestral home was intentionally burned on the orders of the general.

History and Guide to Civil War Shepherdstown: Victory and Defeat in West Virginia's Oldest Town is both a satifying portrait of a border community overcome by the war and a guide book to the historic town. Redding's use of period photography, pen and ink sketches and primary sources is commendable. He introduces intriguing episodes that may compel readers to look further into Shepherdstown's history:  the Confederate spy network in the county, the printing of money that could be spent only in the town and the African Americans who remained in the town during the course of the war. 

Nicholas Redding's interview by the Civil War Trust

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