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An Exceptional Archive of Material Documenting the Ordeal of a Conscripted Alabama Unionist, John Henning Woods, Who was Sentenced to Death by a Confederate Court-Martial
Tennessee, Alabama, and Missouri 1857-1873, 1873. Very good. There are approximately 625 manuscript pages in the two journals, three-volume memoir, and one daily diary that comprise this archive documenting the daily life of John Henning Woods from 1857 through 1865 with a short "post-script" added in 1873. The journal bindings are sound although both covers are missing. The diary is missing its front cover and several leaves. The memoir is in nice shape; one volume is missing a cover, and its end leaves are worn. This is an incredibly detailed, first-person account about a rarely encountered type of Civil War soldier, an ardent Southern Unionist who was imprisoned for mutiny and sentenced to death by firing squad. Woods, the son of a southwestern Missouri homesteader, attended law school at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee. There he earned a law degree and, in the process, married Mary Emma Caldwell, the daughter of a wealthy Alabama planter, subsequently teaching school not far from the family's plantation near Choccolocco. Woods was an ardent and outspoken Unionist who blamed the South's "treason" upon "Slave-holders hold[ing] the reig ns of power" and refused "to take part with the Slave-holders in this wicked rebellion." He ignored his first draft summons in May of 1862. Eventually, a Confederate officer appeared at his schoolhouse in October and gave him a choice, report to the Conscript Camp at Talladega or be dragged off chains. Reluctantly, Woods reported to Talladega and found a number of other like-minded, unwilling conscripts. Together, they sullenly boarded a steamship bound for the Drill Camp at Mobile, and "as she floated down the Alabama, she proudly played "Dixie's Land," . . . which possessed not charms . . . for we had but little music in our souls." At the Drill Camp, Woods was assigned to the 36th Alabama Infantry. There, he formed a secret Union League of soldiers who "are not interested for the perpetuation of Slavery and do not desire it [and] therefore will not fight with secessionists for it." Instead, they pledged "to work against . . . this unprovoked rebellion." His "Home Circle" became quite large and even attracted one officer, Lieutenant Silas Mosely. With time, camp leadership noticed a significant and "growing discontent among the Soldiers of the 36th, 38th, and 18th Ala Regts" that emanated from a series of parade-ground meetings held by ever-increasing numbers of soldiers. In fact, members of the Circle were planning to secretly report for a review parade with loaded weapons and, upon a signal, "rush forward closing up around the affrighted officers [and] demand their surrender." Before, however, that occurred, Woods and a co-leader of the circle were lured from camp, away from the protection of their colleagues, where they were arrested, "stripped and searched . . . handcuffed and taken to . . . a room where there were a number of other prisoners in irons." While awaiting court-martial as a member of General Braxton Bragg's Corps, Woods was dragged along in captivity through the Tullahoma, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga Campaigns, where he was held at Tullahoma, Wartrace, and Atlanta. There, he experienced and described the horror of Confederate prisons. His trial is described in full including the "surprise testimony" by Lieutenant Mosely, actually a loyal Confederate officer who had only posed as a Unionist to spy upon the conscripts at Mobile. The tension created by the interminable wait for his execution to be carried out is palpable in Woods' writing as is his relief at the last minute pardon secured by his father-in-law from Jefferson Davis. Woods' contemporary writings end with his parole to help build the Atlanta defenses in anticipation of General Sherman's attack, however in the introduction to his memoir and the postscript to one of his journals, Woods reports that eventually he escaped from Atlanta, enlisted in the Union Army and served as a clerk until the end of the war, after which he and family moved from Alabama to Mt. Vernon, Missouri where he taught school, established two teaching institutes, served as the county superintendent of education, and eventually opened a book and stationery store. Woods goes to great lengths in his writings to explain why, as a Southerner, he opposed secession and at times becomes rather pedantic and overbearing in doing so. However, the descriptions of Woods' actual travails are captivating. Highlights of the archive include: * Riveting descriptions of his arrest, trial, prison life, and prisoner maltreatment. * A detailed eight-page description of his father-in-law's plantation including the "miscegenistic indulgences with slave feminines which . . . would be too abominable to be allowed by high-minded Society were it not already so common as to be passed slightly or unnoticed." An accomplished drawing of the plantation's main residence, outbuildings, and slave quarters accompany the description. * A detailed seven-page description of the Atlanta Barracks Prison-where he spent much of his captivity-with a similarly excellent drawing of its grounds, buildings, and stockade. This is a truly rare collection of exceptional historic import; detailed accounts of conscripted Southern soldiers who were Union sympathizers and narrowly escaped execution for treason simply don't exist.
      [Bookseller: Read 'Em Again Books, ABAA]
Last Found On: 2016-08-30           Check availability:      IOBABooks    


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