The Last Words: The Farewell Addresses of Union and Confederate Commanders To Their Men At The End of the War Between The States, Michael R. Bradley, Charleston Athenaeum Press, July 2022, 350 pages. A Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table Review by Ed Kennedy.
Dr. Bradley continues to produce outstanding books on the War Between the States. This is another in a series of superlative works and serves a number of purposes. While many commanders of note on both sides gave farewell addresses, only a few survived in written form. As is pointed-out in the book, the demobilization of the armies, particularly the Confederate Army in short order after the end of hostilities, meant that many men were dispersed without hearing their commanders farewell them. In the rush to demobilize, not many thought to record the addresses to the men, especially if the commanders spoke extemporaneously. That said, locating extant copies of farewells is limited to key commanders whose words were recorded for posterity. This book gives the addresses of seventeen commanders. Nine are US and eight are CS commanders.
What the commanders on both sides almost unanimously do is thank their soldiers for their service. A common theme is recounting the mutual hardships experienced and wishing the soldiers well in their future endeavors. What is not discussed are politics. In fact, LtGen Nathan Forrest encourages his soldiers to bury their animosities and become good citizens of the reunited country in order to engender “magnanimous” treatment. Of course this was written prior to the institution of “Reconstruction” by the radical Republicans. MajGen George Meade wrote of “devotion to…country, …patience and cheerfulness under all the privations and sacrifices”. Additionally, he spoke of why the war was fought —- and it was not about slavery. In fact, only one US commander even mentioned slavery. None of the Confederates mentioned it as a reason for fighting. The common theme with the US commanders was that the war was about “union”.MajGen Hoke (CS) spoke of fighting to rid the South of centralized, federal power. This was not uncommon. The reasons the soldiers fought were largely divorced from the political reasons of the war however.
Each commanders’ address is given with an analysis by Dr. Bradley. The seventeen authors of the addresses are discussed with a brief overview of their military service and the perspective from which they wrote their farewells. “The Epilogue: Why did they fight?” is an articulate and short discussion on why the soldiers themselves say they fought. This goes hand-in-hand with Dr. James McPherson’s findings in his extensive study recorded in “For Cause and Comrade”. McPherson reiterates that for the Northerners it was “union”. For the Southerners, he said it was “liberty”. Bradley largely reinforces this finding by McPherson. Appendices add pertinent context information about the six Union slave states and the ordinances of secession for Arkansas and Alabama with short extracts of each.
This is an exemplary book that not only informs but gives basis for more detailed study for true students of the war. It is a great resource. I always contend there is more to learn, even for those of us who have studied this topic for years. Dr. Bradley shows again that his work adds significantly to our body of knowledge of the war and we owe him a debt of gratitude for continuing to publish scholarly studies such as “The Last Words”.