March 20, 2011

Personal Recollections of the Civil War by John Gibbon

General John Gibbon (1827-1896) was one of those Civil War generals who seemed to have been everywhere in the Eastern theater, from the onset of conflict right up through the Appomattox surrender. His Civil War career began as chief of artillery for Irvin McDowell’s division, which was then followed by promotion to command of the legendary Iron Brigade at Second Manassas and Antietam. In November 1862, Gibbon was again promoted to command of the Second Division in John Reynolds’ First Corp. After being severely wounded at Fredericksburg, Gibbon was on the sidelines for several months but returned to duty in time to command the Second Division of Hancock’s Second Corps at Gettysburg. On two occasions during that engagement, Gibbon led the corps’ itself but was again wounded and carried from the field.

After regaining his health, Gibbon returned to division command for the Wilderness Campaign which led to a promotion to major general in June 1864. In January 1865, Gibbon was awarded formal corps command of the Army of the James’ newly-created Twenty-fourth Corps. At Appomattox, Gibbon was given the honor of being one of the officers designated to receive the formal surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Following the Civil War, Gibbon stayed in the army and successfully continued his illustrious career as an Indian fighter on the Plains before formally retiring as a brigadier general in the regular army in 1891.

Gibbon began penning these memoirs in 1885 and were based heavily on his past diaries, letters, and personal notes. Post-war letters to and from current colleagues and ex-Confederates helped to flesh out his narrative. The general passed away in 1896 which led to his recollections sitting in a desk for over thirty years before they were dusted off by Gibbons’ daughter, who edited the manuscript and readied it for publication.

Personal Recollections of the Civil War was then published by G. P. Putman’s Sons in 1928 and from the beginning, received favorable reviews. That perception continues today with Gibbon’s memoir considered to be a candid, straightforward and important account of the war’s Eastern Theater. A contemporary review in the 1928 Book Review Digest described the work as “A volume of reminiscences which is one of the most readable and lifelike of any Civil War memoirs” and “a valuable addition to our knowledge of the Civil War.”

First editions can be readily had if you’re not picky about condition (such as the pictured copy), however copies in fine condition with dust jacket are surprisingly impossible to find, considering that the book was published by a major New York publisher and as relatively recent as 1928. In fact, I’ve been looking for ages and have never found one in acceptable condition. Note that I assume the book was issued with a jacket considering its vintage and the publisher. Reading copies are plentiful since Morningside published a facsimile reprint of the book’s original red cloth boards with gilt lettering in 1978 and then reprinted it years later in their standard format. Also surprising is that the title is not available via Google Print. Pictured copy offered here.

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