Fear Was Not In Him: A Review that Leaves One in the Dark

One usually looks for both the pros and cons of a book in a review. However, the review of “Fear Was Not in Him”: The Civil War Letters of Major General Francis C. Barlow, U. S. A. starts with a rather long biography of the Major General. It is not clear why the reviewer has included this information and where they obtained it from. It is only after providing a complete picture of the Major General that the reviewer mentions the main content of the book – the letters. This should have been the focus of the review, not something tagged on after the biography. Any Civil War enthusiast is sure to be aware of the salient details of the Major General’s life, or would be able to look it up quite easily.

The reviewer does not provide much information about the letters. The only pertinent information that one obtains is that the letters to his wife are missing. There is a general statement that the letters reveal the Major General’s depth of knowledge and his perceptions of the military, Southerners, African Americans, and his fellow soldiers. The reviewer also makes the rather bald statement that `there is also some good battle content.’ There is no clarity on whether the battles are described factually or if there is some analysis of military strategy as well.

The biography provided in the review is unlikely to whet the appetite of military and Civil War buffs, who would like to know more about what the letters contain. The reviewer does indicate that the book is well-researched and that the editor has provided valuable background information to place many of the letters in context. The reviewer also praises the details provided in the maps. The comment about the cost of the book appears misplaced as a Civil War enthusiast might well find the book valuable even at the quoted cost.

After reading through the review, one wishes that the reviewer had spent more time and space on analyzing the letters. A good review should have concentrated on giving the potential buyer or reader a flavor of the Major General’s language, style, and views. One expects information on issues such as the Major General’s views of war, of the Civil War, and his opinions on race and color distinction. The reviewer does say that the letters reflect the thoughts of an upper-class, highly educated, southern officer. 

By providing an idea of the Major General’s views on war and current affairs, the reviewer would have been able to help a potential reader decide on purchasing this book. The reviewer could also have included information on what the letters as a whole reveal – is there some new information that has been brought to light – either about the war or the Major General or the views on race of the Southerners.

The review, and the biography it provides, appears to say that the Major General was affected by the travails of the war and his personal life. If the book and the title do not match, the reviewer should have highlighted this fact. In case the letters show that the Major General was a fearless soldier, then the biography provided by the reviewer is not accurate.

In spite of its shortcomings, the review does show that the book is worth reading by a Civil War enthusiast.