Old Friends and Small Discoveries
I think my favorite Confederate memoirist must be Val Giles, whose (very) posthumously-published Rags and Hope (Mary Lasswell, ed.) oughter count as one of the great soldier’s accounts of the war. It was published in (as far as I can tell) only a single edition in 1961, and is consequently hard to find.
Apart from its wry observations, self-deprecating humor and mature perspective, Rags and Hope was valuable to me personally for two reasons. First, it served as a sort of surrogate for the experiences of a relative of mine, Lawrence Daffan, who served in the same regiment and went through many of the same battles and ordeals, including imprisonment at Rock Island for the last 18 months of the war. Second, he and Daffan were friends after the war, both being very active in Confederate Veteran activities. I don’t know if they were friends during the war itself, as they were from different parts of the state, and were assigned to different companies. But there were friends later, and Daffan’s daughter — Cou’n Katie in the family — made a grand gesture of placing a little Confederate flag in Giles’ casket at his funeral in 1915.
Anyway, I’d long been familiar with the image of Val Giles, as a teenaged recruit in the Tom Green Rifles, posing in the ridiculous top hat his father had insisted on buying him to complete his uniform upon his enlistment in 1861. What I hadn’t seen, until today, was Giles in his later years around the time he started compiling the notes and anecdotes that, decades after his own death, Mary Lasswell would compile into the volume Rags and Hope. Then I happened upon this photo (top) of veterans of the Tom Green Rifles (later Company B, 4th Texas Infantry) in the November 1897 issue of Confederate Veteran. According to the accompanying text, out of over 180 men who passed through that company during the conflict, “less than 20 now survive.”
The eyes haven’t changed in the intervening 36 years.
The man in the back row, far left, is “Uncle” John Price, an African American servant who brought the soldiers rations while under fire at the base of the Little Round Top. Garland Colvin (back row, second from right), the company’s First Sergeant, had been wounded in that same action. He would be wounded again at Chickamauga and taken prisoner in December 1863.