Henri Garidel. Exile in Richmond: The Confederate Journal of Henri Garidel. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2001. xi + 465 pp. $39.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8139-2018-4.
Reviewed by Erik Mathisen (Department of History, University of Pennsylvania)
Published on H-CivWar (July, 2006)
Insider and Outsider: Tensions of Loyalty in the Journal of Henri Garidel
This volume's editors argue that Henri Garidel (1815-78) was a stranger and an exile in the Confederate States of America: a New Orleans Creole living in Richmond from the middle stages of the war, a pious Catholic in a dominantly Protestant city and nation. However, Garidel was also a man who exiled himself from friends and family by refusing to take a loyalty oath to the Union, and who fervently believed in the cause of the Confederacy until long after the nation dissolved. In a meticulously translated work--edited from a set of notebooks written in French--and annotated with copious footnotes that give the reader a sense of the scope of what Garidel witnessed, Michael Bedout Chesson and Leslie Jean Roberts allow readers to better appreciate the experience of a man who never felt more alone than when he was in the capital city of the nation he venerated. As Garidel labored in the War Department's Ordnance Bureau, suffered the often uncouth culture and the appalling cuisine of wartime Richmond, longed for word of his wife and children, and ached from a litany of ailments that kept him in extreme discomfort, he wrestled with his own convictions about the nation he loved and the personal cost of his loyalty to it. For these reasons, Garidel's diary offers the scholar a unique glimpse not only into the life of a Richmond bureaucrat, but also a personal and vexed experience of Confederate citizenship.
While Garidel's diary begins in May 1863, the editors fill in the back-story of the writer's life and the history of his family prior to the war. Born into upper-middle-class wealth in a Creole family in New Orleans, Garidel began his working life as a bookkeeper in the State Bank of Louisiana. This job distinguishes Garidel and his account of the war from that of so many diaries in the period, written by plantation owners and their wives (though the editors are clear that Garidel did own a house slave up until 1860). In his late forties by the time of the Civil War, Garidel was a relatively successful mid-level businessman, husband and father of two children.
The circumstances surrounding Garidel's exile from New Orleans followed directly from the Union occupation of the city and Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks's April 1863 order that all citizens who refused to swear a loyalty oath to the Union would be expelled from the city. Garidel would remark a year later that the decision to leave the city rather than swear an oath to the Union was entirely his own, but that the cost of his decision made Garidel a remorseful and somewhat embittered man by the war's end. He begins his diary on his trip to Richmond, which, with stops along the way, took the better part of two months. Along the way, however, Garidel provides some insights into his own position within a Confederate nation, leaving his family rather than forsaking his country. On the train trip to Richmond, Garidel remarked that the "wagons were full of soldiers and many women, for American women are great travelers and they have no compunctions. There are toilets in the wagons. They go into them right in front of the men without seeming bothered by it at all. I often thought of our poor Creole ladies. If they found themselves in that predicament, how embarrassed they would be" (p. 44). The observation's sentiment pervades Garidel's diary: that of the loyal Confederate who still felt like a stranger in a nation he refused to disavow. This tension--between a regionalism rooted in his French-Catholic culture on the one hand, and his experience in a nation in which he always felt like an outsider--provides much of the impetus for Garidel's own emotional experience in the Confederate capital. Even as Garidel accepted a position as a bookkeeper in the War Department, grew close to a collection of officials within the Confederate government and fellow exiles, railed at the actions of Union soldiers and their leaders, and learned to live in his adopted city, he never felt completely at ease. For these reasons, much of Garidel's diary reads as the journal of a man torn in two directions: he grew more fervently religious and devout as the war progressed, and he grew depressed, despondent and suicidal as his separation from his wife and children grew longer.
Garidel's faith provides an insight into the ways in which religion played an often overlooked role in the construction of Confederate identity. Garidel ordered his life through his faith. One of the more interesting passages in his diary comes in late September 1863, when he ventured from his boarding house to the outskirts of Richmond. On what is now called Church Hill, he marveled at the beauty of the city remarking, "I was moved to say my rosary on the top of this hill, thinking that perhaps I was the first human being to address a prayer to the Blessed Virgin in such a Protestant place" (pp. 82). As the war progressed and both his health and his resolve waxed and waned, Garidel filled his diary with notes about trips to mass and vespers, early morning services and time spent with holy men.
Perhaps the most revealing entries in the journal appear near the end, as Garidel details both his own emotions and the events surrounding Richmond's capture, the fall of the Confederacy, Union occupation, Lincoln's assassination, and his own departure from the city. For a man who suffered his isolation and dislocation from what was familiar, he still held firmly to his convictions. Amid the fall of Richmond and Union occupation, Garidel still believed that the South's cause was not yet lost. "The Confederacy is very ill," he wrote in mid-April 1865, "but I still haven't lost all hope" (p. 378). Garidel's conviction aside, he lived in occupied Richmond and detailed much of the actions of Union troops. He described the white Union troops as showing appropriate restraint, but bristled at both black soldiers and freed slaves who, according to Garidel, acted abominably. Speaking about a walk through the center of town with a companion, Garidel remarked that he was "pleased to see them [Union soldiers] blocking the passage of all the Negroes who wanted to walk through the square. They weren't very pleased about this treatment. I think they are beginning to see the light" (p. 388). It was not until early May that Garidel came to the realization that the Confederacy was lost. As he watched several Union army corps parade through Richmond, he remarked that it was unlike anything he had ever witnessed: "When you see something like that spectacle, you are no longer surprised that we were simply crushed" (p. 393).
On the whole, Garidel's diary provides a fascinating perspective on not only the Confederate capital during the war, but also a man who wrestled with his own nationalism. Clearly, by the later stages of the war, his love of his family and his love of nation were the same. In two separate entries in February 1865, Garidel makes mention of how much he missed his family, while at the same time reiterates his commitment to the Confederacy. "They have just slipped the information to me that we have received the order to pack up all the papers," wrote Garidel. "I still don't know where we are going, but I will follow my books and papers. I have decided to stick with it until the end. I don't want to be taken by the Yankees if I can avoid it" (p. 337).
The editorial job of bringing Garidel's diary to print in the English language was a difficult undertaking, but Chesson and Roberts have done a very good job of giving the reader all of the information necessary to place Garidel's words in context. And while historians might overlook another published diary to add to the large and growing list of first-hand accounts of the Civil War, the worth of Garidel's insights makes this work an important addition.
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Erik Mathisen. Review of Garidel, Henri, Exile in Richmond: The Confederate Journal of Henri Garidel.
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