The Lost Civil War Diary of Lt. Edmund Halsey
Email this review


 A thin exercise in documentary history, drawing on nondescript letters from two New Jerseyborn brothers who happened to fight on opposite sides in the Civil War Journalist-turned-historian Chadwick (Rutgers Univ.) cobbles together an unrevealing account of the Halsey brothers' lives and fortunes. It does not help that his chief protagonist, Princeton-educated Edmund Halsey, a Union officer, confined most of his letters home to family and the local newspaper to complaining about the food and the boredom of camp life, and that his writing is listless and general; we seldom see any glimpse of his character, his reaction to the great events and battles of his time. Nor does it help that the letters of Edmund's older brother, the proslavery convert Joseph Halsey, are similarly dry and few in number. This leaves Chadwick the onerous task of trying, through extensive annotations, to make the correspondence more interesting than it is. When Edmund writes, then, to his father that the Emancipation Proclamation is ``either the best or the worst thing which could be done,'' it falls to Chadwick to explain that the proclamation caused controversy in the North inasmuch as it was meant ``to change the entire political and cultural life of the nation.'' In this instance--and it is representative--Halsey's statement is opaque, and the commentary merely assertive, raising more questions than it answers (how was the proclamation intended to recast the nation?). And Chadwick's annotations are too often misplaced; we learn from them, for instance, that New Jersey is called the Garden State ``for its flowers and because of its place as one of the country's leading vegetable growers,'' while critical details of, say, the Battle of Spotsylvania pass by unremarked. Only specialists in New Jersey's role in the Civil War will find much of use in this collection.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-55972-401-3
Page count: 288pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1997