The other day I commented briefly on Glenn LaFantasie’s new biography of William C. Oates, but noted that I would not have time to read it until some point over the summer. Unfortunately Fortunately I decided to read on – although I have very little time to read apart from my research – and I have not been able to put the book down. Once I start a good book I find it very difficult to put it down so everything else is temporarily dropped.
LaFantasie is an excellent writer and does a fantastic job of situating Oates in both the culture of honor and violence in the Antebellum South and in providing the relevant political/economic background to better understand his decision to enter the law profession and eventually the Confederate army. My only complaint is that the author has a habit throughout the chapters on the war of constantly reminding the reader of the transition from Limited to Hard War. It’s not that it is unimportant, but LaFantasie constantly references this transition to bring home the psychological toll that the war was taking on both Oates and the rest of the men under his command. Readers hoping for detailed coverage of the battles will be sorely disappointed as LaFantasie concentrates mainly on July 2 at Gettysburg. This is no surprise, but the author also wants to make the point that Gettysburg was the most important event in Oates’s life. Oates called for the recruitment of black soldiers relatively early in
the war and fathered a child with a black servant after his wounding
along the Darbytown Road during the Petersburg Campaign.
At some point I may want to comment on the way the author deals with Oates’s continued adherence – even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary – to his claim that Union General Elon J. Farnsworth killed himself on July 3 at Gettysburg and in the presence of Oates. I find LaFantasie’s treatment of this incident to be very interesting.
Back to the reason for this post. Many of you probably know this story, but I thought it was worth sharing for the rest. Oates was wounded during the Chickamauga Campaign and eventually found his way to the Roseland plantation which was owned by the Toney family and located in southeastern Alabama. Oates convalesced there for three months until he rejoined the army in Virginia in March 1864. Oates apparently enjoyed the chance to relax and especially enjoyed the little children, including Sarah Toney who was born on September 28, 1862. One day Oates was holding little "Sallie" on the porch when Mrs. Toney is said to have commented: "Who knows but that you are holding in your arms–your future wife." (153). Oates did indeed marry Sarah Toney in 1882 – she was nineteen and he was forty-eight. Now that’s what I call rockin’ the cradle.
This is an excellent book and I highly recommend reading it. I look forward to getting through the chapters on the postwar years over the next few days.