The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865

The cover of this volume references “a remarkable account”, notwithstanding the repetitive nature of the entries written by the diarist, young LeRoy Wiley Gresham. Covering some seven volumes, this diary contains the reporting, recording and observations of a teenaged Southerner male. Not surprisingly, at least some of what he has written, especially in terms of war news, is inaccurate, untrue, speculative, or rumored, based on newspaper correspondents’ reports, yet is also timely in the fact of its relatively immediate inclusion on these pages.

Before embarking on this journey of acquaintance with Gresham, there is a section on dramatis personae which the reader will need to consult in order to keep track of who is who among Gresham’s family, extended relations, Macon neighbors and society and slaves and “servants who are mentioned in the text.

Gresham was a Georgian who was severely injured in a childhood accident which crippled a leg and prevented him from enjoying many of those experiences which are universal while growing up. As an invalid already, he then developed what has been diagnosed by a contemporary doctor in both a Medical Foreword and Medical Afterword as spinal tuberculosis. Tuberculosis was endemic and probably the largest killer of Americans in the 19th Century. With medical knowledge being what it was in the 19th Century, there was virtually nothing that could be done to cure or even possibly alleviate his condition. In effect, it was a death sentence even if it was unacknowledged or unrealized.

Over the course of the diary, LeRoy continually documented his progressively worsening (and sometimes graphic) symptoms and the ineffective treatments which were administered. Those treatments included many plant and mineral-based substances as well as chemical ones, including opiates and even poisonous mercury (blue mass), although one wonders how some of these items managed to make it through the Federal blockade and whether he realized or knew that laudanum and morphine were physical addictive.

Even without a terminal disease, sickness in general was also obvious within LeRoy’s immediate relations and community. The pages are replete with notations that someone known to him was ill: His mother, father, sister, friend or neighbor. Most may have survived their illness but there are also many who didn’t and whose demise and funeral is recorded. Many times these illnesses prevented them from attending church services or, in the case of his sister, going to school.

When not dealing with such unfortunate occurrences, there are also pleasant inscriptions which detail the weather, community events, the many books which demonstrate LeRoy’s well-read nature and curiosity about the natural world and his enthusiasm for the game of chess, many of which results against friend and family are recorded.

Many of those with considerable familiarity with the war will notice that entries on the progress of the Confederacy’s efforts at independence are, as noted above, not always on the mark. Fortunately, the editor’s footnote annotations, at the bottom of the respective page, provide clarification and additional information on the battles and campaigns referenced. Those annotations also identify many of the leaders and generals for those not so familiar.

The format of the diary is divided into chapters, each of which represents a particular volume, the length of time covered of which is specified in the Table of Contents. Generally, each covers anywhere from approximately six months to a calendar year. The final entries of the text were written by LeRoy’s mother as he became increasingly afflicted and exhausted by the progression of his disease. He succumbed little more than two months after Appomattox.

Three maps are included which show the path of Sherman’s March to the Sea, Civil War Macon and the greater Civil War actions in the United States. The photographic section mostly contains pictures of family members and other prominent personages and locations. Interspersed in the text are others, most of which are of Gresham’s handwriting in the original copies, a page of chess game results and the front pages of individual volumes.

Although the entries over a five year period can be extremely repetitive, there is a wealth of information here which gives insight into the thoughts, feelings, attitudes and musings of a Southerner teenager who was mostly homebound yet widely read, observant, informed and knowledgeable.

Title: The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865

Edited by: Janet Elizabeth Croon

Publisher: Savas Beatie

Pages: 480

Price: $34.95