W. Eric Emerson and Karen Stokes, eds. Faith, Valor, and Devotion: The Civil War Letters of William Porcher DuBose. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2010. 360 pages. 978-1-57003-912-6. Reviewed by William Thomas Allison, for the Journal of Southern Religion.

The art of letter-writing is endangered, to say the least. Edited volumes of personal correspondence from the past, especially those relating to a significant historical period, can remind us of the value of letter-writing as an exercise in human interaction. These works also provide useful windows into the past to learn about the way people lived, how they thought about what they experienced, and what they believed and valued in the context of their time. The Civil War era provides no dearth of material for these types of collections, which maybe one of the key reasons people today remain fascinated with this watershed event in American history. To read one’s thoughts before battle, how one describes missing home and loved ones, and they way one describes events both mundane and extraordinary provides a direct link from present to past that is difficult to artificially replicate. Letters are real.

W. Eric Emerson, director of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, and Karen Stokes, an archivist for the South Carolina Historical Society, have collaborated to produce a remarkable selection of letters from the Civil War written by one William Porcher DuBose. A devout Episcopal seminarian in Camden, South Carolina, in the first year of the Civil War, DuBose, who had graduated first in his class at the Citadel in 1855, joined South Carolina’s Holcombe Legion as an officer in late 1861. His service began near Charleston, but by late 1862 DuBose and the Holcombe Legion would be in the in the middle of the fiercest fighting of the war in Virginia. Wounded at Rappahannock Station, then again just days later at the Battle of Second Manassas, DuBose would take command of the remnants of the Holcombe Legion shortly thereafter. Captured at the Battle of South Mountain and paroled a month later, DuBose found himself wounded once more at the Battle of Kinston in North Carolina in December 1862. Later, in 1863, Holcombe became the unit chaplain for Kershaw’s Brigade, where he would minister to his comrades fighting the Battles of Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg, among other engagements.

"Through his letters, one can glimpse the impact of the war on DuBose's religious convictions, which seem to strengthen throughout the war."  


After the war, DuBose would go on to become one of the leading Episcopal theologians in the United States and a professor of religion at the University of the South. He would also marry Anne Peronneau, whom he courted throughout the entire war. His letters, of which over 150 spanning November 1861 through April 1865 are included in this collection, are mainly written for Anne, and reveal not only vivid descriptions of his wartime experiences but also his deep devotion to his faith and to her as his fiancé. Through his letters, one can glimpse the impact of the war on DuBose’s religious convictions, which seem to strengthen throughout the war. There is also an underlying dedication to the Confederate cause, which he begins to question as the war becomes lost. In addition to the battles and other skirmishes, those familiar with the war will appreciate DuBose’s interaction with Generals Nathan Evans, Joseph Kershaw, and John Bratton, all of whom he notes frequently in his letters. 

Emerson and Stokes are to be commended for their selection of letters and their useful annotations throughout the volume. They let the letters speak for themselves, but provide excellent information for identifying people and places, explaining relationships, and describing important events, and cite references to guide the reader to further information. This is a valuable primary source and researchers will find the index most helpful. This volume is a model of careful selection, annotation, and production for this type of book.

Specialists and casual readers will benefit from reading the letters of William Porcher DuBose. For those interested in 19th century religious history, social history, daily life during the Civil War, and local history in and around the Charleston area, this book is recommended.  Congratulations to Emerson and Stokes, and to the University of South Carolina Press, for producing a fine volume on an important South Carolinian.


William Thomas Allison
Professor of History
Georgia Southern University

Volume XII, Table of Contents


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