Torn by War
The Civil War Journal of Mary Adelia Byers
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
254 Pages | 6 x 9 | 30 b&w illus., 3 maps
Only fifteen when she starts her diary, Mary is beyond her years in maturity, as revealed by her acute observations of the world around her. At the same time, she appears very much a child of her era. Having lost her father at a young age, she and her family depend on the financial support of her Uncle William, a slaveowner and Confederate sympathizer. Through Mary’s eyes we are given surprising insights into local society during a national crisis. On the one hand, we see her flirting with Confederate soldiers in the Batesville town square and, on the other, facing the grim reality of war by “setting up” through the night with dying soldiers. Her journal ends in March 1865, shortly before the war comes to a close.
Torn by War reveals the conflicts faced by an agricultural social elite economically dependent on slavery but situated on the fringes of the conflict between North and South. On a more personal level, it also shows how resilient and perceptive young people can be during times of crisis. Enhanced by extensive photographs, maps, and informative annotation, the volume is a valuable contribution to the growing body of literature on civilian life during the Civil War.
“Torn By War is a rich personal account of the middle class Confederate civilian experience in a geographically isolated, yet militarily contested, region (NE Arkansas and the town of Batesville) not often addressed in the published Civil War literature. Its value is only enhanced by the precociously perceptive nature of young Mary Byers and her unusually expressive writing. Indeed, social historians would do well to add this journal to any bibliography hosting the finest examples of female Civil War diarists, journal writers, and correspondents.”—Andrew Wagenhoffer, Civil War Books and Authors website.
“Phillips has done a remarkable job of editing this journal. There are copious notes that add to the journal’s interest and flavor. Phillips, a descendant of Mary Byers, has inherited her not inconsiderable gift. What emerges from these pages is a brisk, well-written and highly literate volume that does not fail to entertain.” —Journal of South Texas
“If one is interested in the Confederate “home front” during the Civil War, this book is well worth reading, as it focuses on social rather than military history. The book belongs in the library of anyone interested in the Trans-Mississippi region during the war.” —The Journal of America's Military Past
"Mary Adelia Byers was only fifteen when she began keeping a diary in 1862. Her home in Batesville, Arkansas lay on the western edge of the Confederacy and traded hands six times during the Civil War. Though Mary never saw battle or true privation, she helped nurse the wounded and witnessed the upheaval of her agriculturally-dependent society, especially after the Emancipation Act. She also partied and counted her beaux as avidly as Scarlett O’Hara. Torn by War presents Mary and her world to modern readers. Samuel Phillips has done a superb job annotating Mary’s diary entries to introduce readers to her acquaintances and relatives. Maps, photographs, and historical accounts add vital background. Mary’s diary does not include battle scenes or provide overarching insight into national history on the diarist’s part. However, Torn by War does provide readers and Civil War researchers a clear view of civilian life during the War Between the States as experienced by an unusually mature and observant young woman"—Jo Ann Butler, Historical Novel Society
"Phillips and Lankford . . . reveal just how fascinating and multifaceted a document Byers's diary is and how much we owe to Phillips for sharing his great-grandmother with us." —Arkansas Historical Quarterly