Sunday, September 13, 2009

Current Reading: Lee’s Last Casualty

Parker, Robert W., and Catherine M. Wright. Lee's Last Casualty: The Life and Letters of Sgt. Robert W. Parker, Second Virginia Cavalry. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2008.

As the title indicates, this book tells the story of Sgt. Robert William Parker’s Civil War service, spent predominantly in the ranks of the 2d Va. Cav., through his letters to his wife, Beck, and his parents. Parker is thought to have been the last soldier of the Army of Northern Virginia killed in action, and he is buried in the Confederate Cemetery at Appomattox.

The book is elegantly and knowledgeably edited by the young scholar Catherine M. Wright and provides a rare glimpse into the wartime experiences of a common soldier of the mounted arm, where the war was anything but “swords and roses.” Then, as now, communication with loved ones was vital in sustaining the morale of the individual faced with privation and suffering far from home.

Parker fought in numerous battles and actions, large and small, including First Manassas, Kelly’s Ford, Brandy Station, Aldie, Gettysburg, the Overland campaign, and of course, Petersburg and Appomattox. This is a fascinating read, even at times exhilarating, but overlaid with sadness.

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