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The war is to be illuminated by burning cities and villages… Benjamin Franklin Butler – the captor of New Orleans

W. C. Corsan, author of Two Months in the Confederate States, “Including a Visit to New Orleans Under the Domination of General Butler”

Two months in the Confederate States : an Englishman’s travels through the South    Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, c 1996  W. C. Corsan edited with an introduction by Benjamin H. Trask Confederate States of America Description and travel Hardcover. Originally published: London : R. Bentley, 1863. 1st. American ed. and printing. xx, 155 p. : ill., map ; 23 cm. Includes facsim. of original t.p. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

W. C. Corsan, a Sheffield merchant, traveled through the Confederacy in the fall of 1862 and endured both steamy humidity and bitter cold, he fought off swarms of mosquitoes and shared flee-ridden beds with perfect strangers, he squeezed into crowded, dirty, and agonizingly slow-moving passenger trains and found liquor a rare and expensive commodity. Returning to England Corsan and his publisher decided to make a quick dollar or two with a book about the journey.

Published anonymously it has never had the prominence of William Howard Russell’s My Diary North and South and Arthur Fremantle’s Three Months in the Southern States but what it lacks in fame it makes up for in not being a union toady. Corsan,  a travelling salesman, who nowhere in the book recounts a single sales call. Instead he offered his observations of daily life in the Confederate States as traveled from occupied New Orleans to Richmond and into the North.

He crossed Union lines, visited Mobile, Montgomery, Atlanta, and Charleston, and spoke to southerners from many walks of life. He accompanied refugees out of New Orleans in a leaky boat navigating the bayous off Ponchartrain in the darkness, visited with Confederate soldiers at every stop, and managed to become friends with Southern sympathizers who had remained in New Orleans and the businessmen who kept the commerce of the Confederacy alive all throughout the South.

Corsan found, in the autumn of 1862 that the economy was booming. Cotton was still king and bales was stacked up everywhere, waiting for a fast blockade runner and factors, brokers and ship’s agents conducted a thriving business.  Corsan was overwhelmed by the profits to be made in blockade-running, and the state of the Southern currency, which was already showing the weakness of paper and the beginning of rampant inflation.

Corsan’s narrative presents Gen. Benjamin Butler’s atrocities in New Orleans and while he generalizes that all Confederate soldiers were brave and patriotic he prehaps betrays his true sentiment when he describes Confederate politicians as “disinterested, pure” men who “look more to the success of their cause than anything else”. Waxing rhapsodic in his best purple 19th century  travel writing prose he stresses that the patriotism of southern women is so sincere that they sent their menfolk back to the army before their furloughs expired which is like the errant headline, “McClelland Escapes Lee and Fleas.”

Corsan was allied with sections of English society who favored southern victory – the merchant who did business with the South before, during and after the war. His confident prediction that the South would ultimately win its independence and build a secure and diversified economy betrays his failure to grasp the true causes of the war, the northern determination and  realities of Southern isolation.

Trask has performed an impressive job of editing this previously obscure book. The greatest of his accomplishments is actually identifying and tracing the movements of its author. The footnotes that identify individuals and reveal Corsan’s itinerary are exceptional. Those that explain Confederate economic policy and military strategy are more open to question  but the strength of this edition of Two Months in the Confederate States lies in its editor’s prodigious efforts to make it into a useful primary document and in that he has succeeded beyond the efforts of most journal editors.

Many of Corsan’s predictions proved wrong, but at a time when the Civil War is so overanalyzed, it is refreshing to be reminded how difficult it was to foresee an end so disastrous to the cause of freedom.


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