Friday, April 23, 2010

Book Review: The Ragged Rebel

Gallaway, B.P. The Ragged Rebel: A Common Soldier in W. H. Parson's Texas Cavalry, 1861-1865. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, TX. 2010. 208 pages  index, bibliography, notes, b/w photos. ISBN 9780891125402 $17.99.

By stroke of luck B.P. Gallaway came to have acces to the Civil War papers of Private David C. Nance. Gallaway's daughter was in a class that was taught by the daughter of Don Morris the President of Abilene Christian University and also the grandson of Nance. Morris provided access to the papers and also helped fill in the details he could. Gallaway has left out certain religious aspects of the Nance papers at the request of the family. To me this really doesn't make any difference to the story.

Nance was born in Illinois in 1843 and the family moved to Texas in 1852. When the secession crisis broke out his mother was firmly in support while his father was no so. Despite his father's objections Nance joined the Ellis County Grays later to be known as Co. E 12th Texas Cavalry led by W. H. Parsons.

During his service Nance narrowly escaped death several times. In July 1862 at Cache River Nance was shot three times and finally taken prisoner. Despite his injuries he managed to escape and was found by Confederates who took eventually transported him to Little Rock. Nance took his injuries, but that his life was spared, to be God's anger at war and Nance vowed not to shoot at another man. After his long recovery Nance used connections to be assigned to make gunpowder. He thus returned to Waxahachie, Texas to learn the art of powder making. The dangers of the job came to reality in April 1863 as a series of explosions rattled the mill Nance was working at. Two coworkers perished due to injuries but again Nance managed to survive. He again attributes his survival to the hand of God. Later in May 1864 at Yellow Bayou Nance was again shot, this time twice, with the second nicking an artery in his neck. With the help of messmates Nance was taken to a nearby farmhouse where a surgeon  removed the minie ball and helped save his life.

Gallaway takes us on a tour of the battles fought by the 12th Texas. Throughout we see the bravery of the men and their determination. However we also see conditions getting worse for Confederates. As the Union victories keep mounting and Confederate losses continue in manpower and resources the men begin to change. Gallaway writes a long passage describing how Nance found the men changed when he returned after healing from his injuries suffered during the gunpowder explosion. "He found that they also had changed in appearance and disposition. Like their comrades in the Vienna camp, they were emaciated, dirty, and dressed in rags. And they somehow seemed more cruel, vicious, and belligerent. They were reflective, preoccupied, troubled, and silent...Since Burleson's rangers, like all Confederate troops, had to live largely off the country, their quest for food for themselves and their horses had turned decent, considerate, law-abiding farm boys into shameless, unabashed thieves." (page 73).

After the war Nance became a successful farmer for several years before going to school where he excelled in English composition and mathematics. He left college after two years to marry Sallie Hackley. Together they had four children. After a long bout with rheumatoid arthritis Nance spent nine years teaching. In 1908 Nance wrote the chief regrets of his life all of which dealt with the war. He most regretted joining the army and fighting for the right to own slaves. He also felt that war is murder and murder has no mercy. He also seriously regretted going against his fathers wishes by joining the army. Nance passed away in 1925.
This is not a book that breaks any new grounds as far as scholarship goes. There is not a huge amount of detail given to any particular aspect of the war. Rather this is the story of one soldier told mostly through his own writings. For anyone interested in the mental struggle of the common soldier this would be an interesting read. Those with an interest in Texas during the Civil War or cavalry operations in the western theater this is a book you might want to look at. Gallaway has provided a large bibliography and notes section for those looking for further resources.

Thanks to the good folks at Abilene Christian University Press for providing a copy of this book. Please note that any page references may be incorrect as my copy was a proof copy and not the final book. I have also refrained from comments on the photos because in my copy they did not reproduce well enough for judgment.            

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