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The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy Paperback – February, 1989

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

When Bell Irvin Wiley's composite portrait of the rank-and-file Confederate soldier was published in 1943, professional historians and general readers alike greeted it enthusiastically. Over a half century later, the book still offers one of the best available accounts of the ordinary citizens who made up the Confederate army. The Life of Johnny Reb does not merely describe the battles and skirmishes fought by the Confederate foot soldier. Rather, it provides an intimate history of a soldier's daily life -- the songs he sang, the foods he ate, the hopes and fears he experienced, the reasons he fought. Wiley examined countless letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, and official records to construct this frequently poignant, sometimes humorous account of the life of Johnny Reb. In a new foreword for this updated edition, Civil War expert James I. Robertson, Jr., explores the exemplary career of Bell Irvin Wiley, who championed the common folk, whom he saw as ensnared in the great conflict of the 1860s.

"A fascinating, well-written, stimulating, and valuable book." -- Tennessee Historical Quarterly

"[Wiley] has painted with skill a picture of the life of the Confederate private... that is not only by far the most complete we have ever had but perhaps the best of its kind we ever shall have." -- Saturday Review of Literature

Bell Irvin Wiley (1906--1980) was a professor emeritus of history at Emory University and one of America's preeminent Civil War historians. He is also the author of The Life of Billy Yank and Road to Appomattox, among other books.

James I. Robertson, Jr., is Alumni Distinguished Professor of History at Virginia Tech University. He is the author of Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend; Soldiers Blue and Gray; and The Stonewall Brigade, among other works.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Bell Irvin Wiley (1906--1980) was a professor emeritus of history at Emory University and one of America's preeminent Civil War historians.

James I. Robertson, Jr., is the author of many books, including the award-winning Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend. Well known for his lectures across the country and his appearances in television documentaries, he is Alumni Distinguished Professor of History at Virginia Tech.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 444 pages
  • Publisher: Louisiana State University Press; Reissue edition (February 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807104752
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807104750
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,104,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Weegee on February 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent book if you're looking to read about "The Life of Johnny Reb." For once, the title of the book reflects what it really is about ; )
Clearly Wiley has done his homework. You will walk away having learned pretty much everything there is to know about fighting for the CSA.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I started reading as far as style went. I wasn't sure if it would read like a memoir or rather collection of memoirs. The style was actually more along the lines of a research paper. It's a very nuts and bolts portrayal of every day camp life with each chapter focusing on a certain element (Why, Who, How, etc.). You don't get the pit in your stomach or wind in your hair sort of sensation, but you do get a very accurate read of the life and times of those soldiers.
If you're looking for more of a "romantic" or spirited read, I think you'll be disappointed. You're probably better off going with a true memoir. "The Life of Johnny Reb" does not read like a story or memoir. What's great about it is that each chapter stands on its own, so it would be easy to pick up and read from time to time.
In any case, as I mentioned the research is impecable and clearly after reading I can say that I understand the common soldier of the CSA.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By G. Ware Cornell Jr. VINE VOICE on March 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
Bell I. Wiley grew up in Tennessee surrounded by veterans of the Confederate Army. Around the front porch he learned the history of the Civil War from the men who had fought it.
After acquiring a Ph.D. at Yale, Wiley taught at Ole Miss where as he later told a class of Civil War students at Emory, "the only person I knew who was writing books was Bill Faulkner." Nonetheless Wiley undertook to write about the Civil War from the perspective of its true heroes, the common soldiers who endured the mud, marches, food, diseases, enemy, and officers.
Drawn from the letters and diaries of ordinary soldiers Wiley created an enduring work. Unlike most of the Civil War histories of its time, The Life of Johnny Reb refused to focus on the generals, or the battles, or the politicians or even the causes of the Civil War.
Rather, Wiley depicted the rock-hard life of lonely men. These farmers, masons and blacksmiths in gray were sometimes hungry, often cold, and always dusty. Capable of fiercely engaging in the most horrific fighting the world had ever seen, they remained loyal and devoted fathers, husbands and sons. For these men, this war was not about slavery for few of them were slave owners. Rather the war was about home and family and the land that their family plowed.
Can there be a scene more melancholy than that of Union and Confederate troops huddled around the night fires and singing songs and hymns out across battle lines to each other even as they prepared themselves and their weapons for the morrow and its carnage? While Civil War era soldiers were not always the best spellers or grammarians, they had no trouble depicting army life to those they left behind with candor, understatement, humor and occasional exasperation.
Bell Wiley rightfully deserves his place among the great historians of the Civil War. This, truly, is a book for the ages.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Rocco Dormarunno on June 27, 2004
Format: Paperback
Bell Irvin Wiley seems to have been the first historian/writer to realize that the Civil War was not just about Lee, Pickett, Grant or Stuart or any of the other guys with stars on their shoulders. The real truth about what happened on those battlefields had to do with the guys in the tattered uniforms and the rotted shoes, trying to fight with defective rifles.
As in his companion book, "The Life of Billy Yank", "The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy" is an unflinching look at the seemingly endless plight of a Confederate soldier. This is a very sobering account, and some of the letters the soldiers wrote home are nothing short of heartbreaking. Even as defeat was becoming more and more apparent, the courage and determination of these men did not waiver. This is a truly admirable account of men who were more than common soldiers. I believe they were really common heroes.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
Bell Irvin Wiley (1906-1990), a scholar of the American Civil War, is best known for his two early books describing the lives of common soldiers in the Union and Confederate Armies. His book, "The Life of Johnny Reb" appeared in 1943 and was followed in 1952 by its companion volume "The Life of Billy Yank". At the beginning of his career, Wiley tended to concentrate on the Confederate War effort and wrote his book on "Billy Yank" as a result of the fascination he developed from writing his initial work with the common soldier. Ironically, Wiley's book on "Billy Yank" is the stronger of the two in terms of detail, organization, factual material, and analysis. His book on the Confederate soldier remains an important effort, essential to understanding the Southern Civil War experience.

In the Preface to his book, Wiley points out the fascination that the campaigns and personalities of Lee, Jackson, Stuart, and other Southern leaders exert (and continue to exert) on students of the Civil War. He aimed in his book to discuss the life of the soldier "as it really was" including among much else "how the hungry private fried his bacon, baked his biscuit, smoked his pipe". His book succeeds in that aim. Wiley's book gave me a good picture of life in the Southern Army with all its privations and hardships. He does not romanticize his subject or, for all his affection for the Southern soldier, fall prey to "Lost Cause" mythology.

The book opens with a discussion of the enthusiasm of the Southern soldier during the early stages of the War -- largely resulting from the conviction that the War would be short and that the Yankees would go home.
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