Rebel Correspondent by Steve Procko. Steve Procko Publications, 2021. Paper, ISBN: 978-1-7372834-0-9. $29.95.
In 1901, Arba F. Shaw began writing a series of war reminiscences that were published in serialized form in his local newspaper. What began as a brief commentary turned into a valuable resource connected to the history of the 4th Georgia Cavalry. Over fifteen months, the accounts were published in the Walker County Messenger under the heading, “My Experiences in the War of 1860 Briefly Told.” Though enjoyed by his contemporaries, Shaw’s war writings slipped into obscurity until modern researcher Steve Procko discovered them in the archives.
Shaw’s remembrances offer glimpses into a Confederate cavalryman’s experience in the Western Theater, including details of several raids and battles, picket duty, wounds and illnesses, and civilian experiences. Shaw enlisted at eighteen and served until 1865, though illness and wounds occasionally kept him from his unit.
Like many accounts by veteran privates, Shaw’s writings evoke the individual experience of war. Perhaps his own words best summarize the importance of his writings: “Older men than I could possibly tell about the happenings of the raid a great deal better, as I was only a wayward lad of 19 years, but what they would tell would be their part. They can’t write up my experiences nor me theirs.”
Procko has pulled together detailed research about many of the men and officers mentioned in Shaw’s columns, creating a resource for genealogists and promoting on-going efforts to construct a more comprehensive understanding of the 4th Georgia Cavalry. While the book does not contain an index, the author appends a useful biographical roster. Shaw passed through many small communities and towns during his war experience, and his details about these various locations may be useful for local historians.
The layout of the book presents Shaw’s writing as it appeared in the newspaper, followed by elaborate commentary from Procko. Many of these editorial notes clarify the identity of individuals or add helpful military information, but some discuss the Civil War in the east—or other details not readily connected to the main subject. Readers familiar with Civil War history may feel that the editorial notes are too long, while readers less familiar 1860’s history could feel overwhelmed by the lack of connection between some of the topics.
Still, by bringing Arba Shaw’s experiences to publication, Procko has made accessible one Confederate veteran’s writings from the early twentieth century—ensuring that his stories will be better remembered and available for further research.
Sarah Kay Bierle is an historian at Emerging Civil War and the author of Call Out The Cadets (2019).