Reprinting a classic: the Civil War stories of George A. Townsend
George Alfred Townsend is not widely known today outside of hardcore Civil War circles, but in his day, he was one of the most talented and best-known newspaper correspondents and journalists in North America, with several novels also to his credit. Townsend was born in Delaware in January 1841 and went to work for a newspaper in Philadelphia. He then moved to the New York Herald in 1861, where he worked as a field correspondent. He is considered to be the youngest correspondent in the Civil War. After the war, he wrote extensively on a variety of topics and constructed a spacious home, Gathland, on the Crampton’s Gap portion of the South Mountain battlefield. He also commissioned the War Correspondents Memorial Arch, which still stands on the battlefield along the wartime pike.
Of particular interest to Civil War buffs is his 1866 memoir titled Campaigns of a Non-combatant and His Romaunt Abroad During the War. Long out of print, for many decades scholars and researchers could only access the book through special collection libraries or inter-library loan programs. With the advent of the Internet, digitized transcripts became available. What the original book and the subsequent Internet versions lacked was context, footnotes, clarifications, and an editor’s touch. That has now been resolved.
Jeff Biggs has completed work on an abridged, deftly annotated version of Townsend’s classic work. Published in 2024 through Hardtack Books, this new version is highly readable and informative. The editor has skillfully interwoven most of Townsend’s original verbiage with slight revisions to clarify the text (replacing obsolete or outdated words, for example) and make it appealing to modern readers who may be unfamiliar with young Townsend’s writings. Footnotes offer additional background and occasionally note errors or misconceptions by Townsend. Biggs’ work is strong, and makes the original text come alive. The use of carefully selected photographs (not present in the 1886 version) further enhances this volume.
Cannonball blogger’s rating: Two thumbs up!