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Though deeply embedded in abolitionist New England, Yale University had a surprisingly large number of its students and alumni join the cause of the Confederacy. These men were a diverse lot, coming not just from the South but from other corners of the country. And even more surprisingly, years after the secessionist conflict, Yale honored the wartime service of these Confederate ?prodigals? in famed Memorial Hall alongside their many classmates who fought on the other side.
Though deeply embedded in abolitionist New England, Yale University had a surprisingly large number of its students and alumni join the cause of the Confederacy. These men were a diverse lot, coming not just from the South but from other corners of the country. And even more surprisingly, years after the secessionist conflict, Yale honored the wartime service of these Confederate “prodigals” in famed Memorial Hall alongside their many classmates who fought on the other side.
Yale's Confederates brings together short biographies of over five hundred Yale students and graduates who served in the Confederate army and government. It reveals where these men came from and the consequences of the choices they made. Drawing upon rarely used source material, Hughes introduces new faces and fresh stories to the annals of Civil War history. Included here are inventors and doctors, poets and theologians, educators and politicians. These men were idealistic, well traveled, curious, brave, and for the most part, patriotic. Many became key leaders in the Confederacy; their ranks included generals, a secretary of state, even a postmaster. Some paid dearly for their choices, either dying on the battlefield or losing considerable wealth and prestige. But many built successful careers after the fighting was over. One former Confederate restored an abandoned school for young women; another wrote an economic history of the United States; still others became lawyers and influential leaders in their communities.
Yale's Confederates tells the fascinating stories of their days at Yale and of their decision to fight for a cause in which they deeply believed. It reveals, ultimately, how important their legacy is to the history of the university and to our country as a whole.
Posted January 27, 2009
Hughes brings together the always attractive subjects of an Ivy league university, the Civil War, and the Confederacy. In his Note on Sources, he adds the curiosity that "a surprising number [of the Confederates] were born in the North, or had grown up in the North." The sources of the material were varied and scattered, being mostly obituaries in newspapers, letters, diaries, and business documents. Hughes did a painstaking labor of finding and poring through the documents for factual biographical material on each of the hundreds of former Yale students who were in the Confederate forces or who lived in the South and were affected by the War. Though the entries vary in length on two-column pages from about a third of a column to a little over a column at the longest, for each the editor has dates of birth and death, Civil War service or how affected by the War in living in the South, when and where killed in action when applicable, otherwise place and year of death after the War. One of the most interesting part of many of the entries is the course taking the individual into the Confederate armed forces from Yale. For a small percentage--about ten percent--there is a photograph or illustration.<BR/><BR/>Hughes does not embellish or speculate on the facts he painstaking got on each individual. Yet despite the spareness of the entries (reading like little more than Who's Who entries), the facts alone are captivating not only for being from this most spellbinding, fateful era of American history, but also for their variety. As the author comments, he leaves any "generalizing" on the topic of the sizable group of Yale Confederates to others because it "tends to minimize the individual."<BR/><BR/>Brief quotes from a few of the entries testify to how each individual stands out: John Samuel Donelson, for example, "enlisted 5 May 1961 as a pvt. in Company E ("Hickory Rifles") of the large and prestigious prewar Shelby Co. regt.; he then rose steadily to 1st lt.; though a staff officer, he entered the battle of Chickamauga in 1863, and was killed along with a general while coordinating troop movements. Randall Lee Gibson was a "splendid little soldier" who rose to the rank of brigadier general commanding the Louisiana Brigade of the Army of Tennessee. After the War, Gibson was a businessman and politician. In England when the War broke out, Julien Terrell Ransone returning with "field artillery for the Confederacy" was shipwrecked and taken prisoner. Upon his release, he "served as capt. of artillery under Joseph Johnson until the close of the war." He lost his left foot in a fight on James Island near Charleston in 1864.<BR/><BR/>Though relatively narrowly focused, this reference nonetheless appeals to Civil War historians and buffs and readers with interest in Ivy League graduates and memorabilia. Hughes' references to engagements, locations, and records and documents along with the biographical facts of occupations, changes of residence, relatives, etc., provide a much broader picture than the overt focus suggests. As Hughes notes, the entries were compiled not only for a record, but also as "signposts for further investigation."Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.