Book Review–Civil War Graves of Northern Virginia

Mills, Charles A. Civil War Graves of Northern Virginia (Images of America). Charleston: Arcadia Publishing.  2017. 128 pages, ISBN 9781467124225, $21.99.

The grounds of Virginia practically ran red with the blood of the Civil War. With bloody battles such as The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Manassas I and II, Chancellorsville, and dozens more, thousands of men lost their lives in the Old Dominion. Even more were injured, many to a level they never returned to a normal life.

In his introduction author Charles A. Mills estimates there are more than 1,000 cemeteries in northern Virginia. Using this as a baseline it is easy to see that a book of only 128 pages can only scratch the surface.  Once mammoth cemeteries such as Arlington National Cemetery are taken into account that lessens even further the inclusion of smaller and lesser known cemeteries.

Mills relies on two sources for images in the book; his own images and those from the Library of Congress collection. Unfortunately this leads to some images being relatively already well known and then the problem with inconsistent quality of author taken photos. An example is shown on page 70; two images of stones from Falls Church both of which could have been taken at a different time of day and had better results. Library of Congress images often contain standard photos of generals and other war era scenes.

I also noted a few issues throughout the text that could have been remedied. On page 18 Mills uses the number 600,000 in regards to Civil War combatant and non-combatant deaths. Recent scholarship has placed that number to be around 750,000, a number that has been gaining much more acceptance. On page 111 a photo of Abner Doubleday recounts the story of his being the inventor of baseball. A short line then attempts to throw doubt on that story; “an honor that some contest.” A review of one of the leading baseball statistical websites disproves the baseball story and it would have been better left out.

These qualms aside I did enjoy this book and made fast work of it. There are some fascinating stories included and while there were more non-cemetery photos than I would have preferred in many instances it was important to the story to show background history. I particularly enjoyed seeing church cemeteries such as Pohick Church, the parish church of George Washington. Anybody with an interest in cemeteries can not help but be moved by Arlington National Cemetery and Mills does a fine job representing both historical and modern images of perhaps the greatest cemetery in the United States.

For those with an interest in cemeteries this is a book that should be added to your collection. If you are interested in Civil War memory this is one you might consider thumbing through though it will probably not end up on your bookshelf. For the average Civil War enthusiast this is a book well worth including in your library despite the reservations mentioned above. The photos are well worth the overall minor quibbles I had regarding text.

Thanks to Arcadia Publishing for providing a complimentary review copy.

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