Kemp Burpeau is the deputy New Hanover County attorney, but he’s also a history buff and Civil War authority who teaches courses at Cape Fear Community College and the University of Mount Olive.
Burpeau has now edited the Civil War papers of a Confederate officer from North Carolina.
“Writings of a Rebel Colonel: The Civil War Diary and Letters of Samuel Walkup, 48th North Carolina Infantry” is a fascinating and useful story on its own, but it also reflects a new, wider understanding of the Late Unpleasantness. Burpeau delivers a more aware, less sentimentalized picture of the Civil War, one that could serve as a model for future histories of the period.
That is, it’s moved away from the moonlight-and-magnolia myths of the “Glorious Lost Cause,” which even Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind” found hard to swallow.
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Samuel Hoey Walkup (1818-1876) was a notable character. An 1841 graduate of the University of North Carolina, he “read” law with an experienced lawyer and settled himself in Monroe, N.C. (the future hometown of Jesse Helms). He soon embroiled himself in Whig politics, serving as a local solicitor (what we’d call a district attorney today), a militia general (an elective office) and eventually a state senator.
Along the way, he bought a small farm and bought slaves, many of whom he leased to other planters.
In 1860, Walkup was a Unionist, opposing secession, but after North Carolina seceded he followed the Confederate cause. In 1862, at the age of 44, he joined the 48th North Carolina, a regiment raised in Union County, was elected a captain and soon rose to lieutenant colonel.
With the 48th, Walkup saw action in battles with the Army of Northern Virginia from Seven Days to Appomattox. He missed Chancellorsville and Gettysburg while the 48th was on garrison duty, but he was wounded at Fredericksburg and the Battle of the Wilderness. From Appomattox, he walked home.
Burpeau assembles Walkup’s own account chronologically, inserting letters to his wife and others between diary entries to provide a coherent account.
Beyond that, he reads critically. A devout Presbyterian, Walkup was an avid reader, and when not attending a revival meeting, he would often occupy himself in restful moments reading Sir Walter Scott and even some of the Northern abolitionists.
Clearly, Walkup had a broader mind than many of his cohorts. (He never associated with the Ku Klux Klan or postwar vigilantes.) Letters show him asking about various slaves by name and making sure they had enough food and new clothes.
Yet Walkup never seemed to have questioned his right to own African Americans for his own benefit. Wasn’t slavery in his Bible? He would send his wife and children “comic” minstrel-show-like monologues, written in dialect, showing Black people as quaint and childlike.
Unlike many earlier Civil War scholars, Burpeau makes an effort to identify and follow Walkup’s slaves and to determine what happened to them after the war. (Walkup was never a large-scale planter and never bothered to hire an overseer, generally working with the slaves himself.)
Walkup’s wife, Minnie, was left to run the house and farm, and in letters home, he admits she did as good a job as he could have done.
Walkup’s views of Confederate commanders are often jaundiced. He disliked A.P. Hill, his frequent corps commander, whom he considered a martinet who frittered away soldiers’ lives through carelessness. He referred to “Old Lee” as “an undignified, paternal hussy-puff” who played favorites (apparently preferring Virginia officers over North Carolinians). In a postwar writing, Walkup apparently judged Grant a better general than Lee.
More than half the text of “Writings of a Rebel Colonel” is taken up with footnotes. Readers will overlook these at their peril, as Burpeau includes mini-essays on race, slavery, 19th century medicine and problems of Southern history.
Prologue book club
Illness prevented Wilmington author Emily Colin from joining in Prologue, the StarNews, WHQR monthly book club back in September.
She gets a do-over at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 13, discussing her dystopian young adult science fiction novel “Siege of the Seven Sins.” WHQR will stream the interview live on Facebook, and readers can join in the webinar. To find a link, visit WHQR.org.
Ben Steelman can be reached at 910-616-1788 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘WRITINGS OF A REBEL COLONEL:
The Civil War Diary and Letters of Samuel Walkup, 48th North Carolina Infantry”
Edited by Kemp Burpeau
Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, $39.95 paperback
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