Defend the Valley
A Shenandoah Family in
the Civil War
by Margaretta Barton Colt, Orion Books, 441 pages, $35.00 . CODE: RAN-18
Drawing on the memoirs, diaries, and letters of some twenty of her forebears—the Barton-Jones family of Winchester and Frederick County, Virginia—Margaretta Barton Colt has pieced together an astonishingly vivid account of one family’s experience of the Civil War. Her relatives keep providing exactly the fresh, specific, and articulate expression a writer hopes for.
What was it like to shoot at an enemy who was nonetheless a countryman? Randolph Barton writes in 1863 that after “picking up a dead man’s musket, I carefully rested it against a tree and fired at a line of men not a great distance away…. I aimed as deliberately as if I was aiming at a squirrel.” How did women manage their households without the slaves they had long depended on? Fanny Barton airily reassures her soldier brothers, “As for the servants going off we are charmed now that they are gone. Their places are all filled by much more capable ones & we work ourselves very little more than we ever did.” What was it like to lose a limb? W. Strother Barton writes, “Last night just before going to bed in a fit of abstraction I forgot all about my lost leg, and put out my leg that wasn’t there to walk. Of course I came down on the stump and hurt myself severely…. as you may imagine I feel as blue as indigo.”
And how did it feel to lose the war? Randolph Barton answers, “I must confess that the unfolding of the Stars and Stripes does not thrill me with patriotic feeling. I saw it advance upon my people for the first time in my life, at Manassas. I saw in it then the emblem of all that I hated. I can forgive it all but simple truth requires me to declare that I cannot forget it…. If patriotism means that I must forget my Confederate people living and dead, then I am not a patriot.”