The Death of a Confederate
Selections from the Letters of the Archibald Smith Family of Roswell, Georgia, 1864–1956

Edited by Arthur N. Skinner and James L. Skinner

A moving portrait of a family during and after the Civil War


"A moving account of one family's late war struggles and heartaches. Arthur Skinner and James Skinner have done an excellent job editing and explaining the documents they have collected together. The book is enhanced by photographs of the family, maps, and pictures of the original letters. Scholars and general audiences will benefit from learning about another fairly typical family and how that family suffered and survived Federal invasion, death and Confederate defeat."
Georgia Historical Quarterly

"This book will be of particular import to anyone interested in the effects of the Civil War on the civilian population of the South."
Library Journal

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Spanning nearly a century, the letters in this collection revolve around a central event in the history of a southern family: the death of the eldest son owing to sickness contracted during service in the Confederate Army. The letters reveal a slaveowning family with keen interests in art, music, and nature and an unshakable belief in their religion and in the Confederate cause. William Seagrove Smith was a private in the signal corps of the Eighteenth Battalion, Georgia Infantry. Smith was part of the force defending Savannah until it fell in late 1864, and then marched with General William J. Hardee in his famous retreat out of the city and through the Carolinas. Like so many other soldiers on both sides of the conflict, William Smith fell not at the hands of an enemy but from disease. He died in Raleigh, North Carolina, on July 7, 1865. A parallel and complementary story about William's younger brother, Archibald, also emerges in the letters. As a cadet at Georgia Military Institute, Archibald was (as his parents fervently wished) exempt from service; however, he ultimately saw—and survived—action before the war's end. Scattered among the many lines in the letters that are devoted to the two brothers are a wealth of particulars about agricultural, industrial, and social life in the family's north Georgia community of Roswell, the Smith family's flight from Sherman's invasion force, their lives as refugees in south Georgia, and a final reunion of the Smith brothers outside of Savannah just after the city's fall. Also included are a number of moving exchanges between the Smiths and the family that cared for William in his final days. A brief history of the Smith family through 1863 begins the correspondence, while the letters following the war reveal their fortitude in the face of William's death and the hardships of Reconstruction. The volume concludes with selected letters from the subsequent generation of Smiths, who conjure images of the Old South and revive the memory of William. Like the most distinguished Civil War-era letter collections, The Death of a Confederate introduces a personal dimension to its story that is often lost in histories of this sweeping event.
Page count: 344 pp.
Trim size: 6.125 x 9.25

Read more about Civil War letters at the New Georgia Encyclopedia.


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Arthur N. Skinner is a professor of visual arts at Eckerd College. James L. Skinner was the Charles A. Dana Professor of English at Presbyterian College where he taught on the faculty for 38 years and was editor of The Autobiography of Henry Merrell: Industrial Missionary to the South (Georgia). The Skinner family, who are related to the Smiths by marriage, inherited the letters in this volume, along with the Smith plantation home in Roswell, in 1981.