A Virginia Yankee in the Civil War: The Diaries of David Hunter Strother

A Virginia Yankee in the Civil War: The Diaries of David Hunter Strother

The Civil War diaries of David Hunter Strother, known better to his contemporaries as “Porte Crayon,” chronicle his three years of service in the Union army with the same cogency and eye for detail that made him one of the most popular writers and illustrators in America in his time. A Virginian strongly opposed to secession, Strother joined the Federal army as a civilian topographer in July of 1861 and was soon commissioned, rising eventually to the rank of brigadier general. He served under a succession of commanders, including Generals Patterson, Banks, Pope, and McClellan, winning their respect as well as their confidence. First published by UNC Press in 1961, A Virginia Yankee in the Civil War is a fascinating firsthand record of the conflict and of the divided loyalties it produced that is further enlivened by Strother’s remarkable humor and insight.The look, sound, and smells of the Civil War are brought to life by writer-illustrator–and Union Army enlistee–David Hunter Strother. His proximity to Union leaders, having risen to the rank of brigadier general, and his reporter’s eye for both the glorious and the mundane make his diaries a vivid evocation of the war. Strother happened to be positioned next to General George McClellan, the Union commander at the battle of Antietam, and one evening he offers an enlightening description of McClellan’s battlefield demeanor. The next morning, however, he saw fit to describe the horror of hundreds of corpses decomposing in a cornfield. Strother skillfully draws the reader alongside him, as when he stands beneath the portico of the White House to listen to Lincoln deliver an impromptu address from an upper-story window. His observations are commonly cited in other books on the Civil War, but his narrative taken as a whole carries the reader into the heart of the conflict in a way that discrete quotes cannot. –Robert McNamara

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