One thing is for certain when dealing with literature of the 1860s: it's as deep as it is broad. Ever since the war ended, veterans, historians, amateurs, and academics have been exploring every angle of the times. (That's especially true during the past thirty or so years, the "Golden Age of Civil War publishing, as my publisher Ted Savas calls it.) Yet writers and scholars continue to find new ways to investigate the time period.
A year ago, I ordered Kelby Ouchley's Flora and Fauna of the Civil War: An Environmental Reference Guide (LSU, 2010). Many of you know of our interest in native plants here in Southern Appalachia. While our interest has centered on the late 18th century, we're hopeful that one day we will get to expand into the mid-19th century with living history and interpretive programs. So there was that angle for our interest in the book. At the same time, I've been working on the Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia project, so there is another angle.
Ouchley's guide is a part of the emerging field of examining the environment and the War. How did the environment affect combat operations? How about the transportation of supplies? How did the war affect the environment the soldiers passed through? (Think of the unexploded ordnance at Gettysburg or the trenches that cut through the farmers’ fields below Petersburg.) After an introductory chapter and a chapter placing the subject in the "Civil War" setting, Ochley tackles flora first. He examines trees, like Ash, Dogwood, Elm, and Willow, providing some scientific background on the way that people used them during the war. For example: "A tonic made from shredded ash bark was used as an astringent, diuretic, and to treat arthritis, fever sores, and constipation." (19) Besides trees, Ouchley also looks at herbs, blackberries, grapes, and Mulberry. The next section focuses on fauna: alligators, bats, fish, honeybees, turtles, etc. After each entry, there are several excerpts from the letters or diaries of soldiers who reference the plants and animals Ouchley is referring to.
My only real complaint are these references. There are plenty of Federal examples, but most of his Confederate sources come from the Army of Tennessee, or from soldiers stationed along the Mississippi River. There are plenty of Army of Northern Virginia accounts out there. It would have been nice to see a few more of those included. (Ouchley did cite from the Stilwell Letters [53rd GA], and from Col. William H. A. Speer [28th NC], two excellent sources.) In Ouchley's defense, his editor might have curtailed some of his examples. Publishers are known to do that.
Overall, Ouchley's Flora and Fauna of the Civil War is an interesting read that adds just one title to a interesting and developing sub-genre in Civil War literature.