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Auction 14: Americana

Lots 27 & 28: Rarest & One-of-a-Kind Civil War Americana

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A Confederate Desperado

27. HEARTSILL, W[illie]. B. W. Unpublished autograph manuscript entitled “A Confederate Desperado.” [Arkansas?, ca. 1880?]. [2] 200 pp. in ink, on ruled paper (a few pages blank), clear and legible throughout, with contemporary authorial corrections, some of them substantive. Folio, contemporary three-quarter leather over cloth-covered boards. The binding of the journal is worn, with spine damage (losses at extremities), and the front hinge is open, but the interior is generally fine (first few leaves detached, split horizontally and repaired with tape).

    This enigmatic manuscript, which opens in 1862, clearly has significant elements of truth and realism but at the same time displays all the intricacies and plot twists of a novel. Writing from the omniscient narrator perspective, Heartsill relates the complicated, involved story of his life during the Civil War around Bristol, Tennessee, and his involvement with one Jo J. Cox, whom he terms “The Confederate Desperado.” Heartsill clearly has long experience with the events of which he writes, especially police and detective work, the civilian and military criminal justice systems, and the activities of the specialized Confederate troops known as “Scouts.”
    During the course of his narrative, Heartsill relates his ongoing association with Cox, who refused to serve with his infantry regiment at Lookout Mountain and deserted against orders to join the Louisiana Tiger Rifles. For that offense he was sentenced to death by a court-martial. Unfortunately for his captors, no prison, not even the infamous Castle Thunder, was able to hold Cox, who was an escape artist equal to Houdini, at one point even shedding his handcuffs right in front of an officer. Although repeatedly captured and repeatedly imprisoned, he always managed to escape, usually to rejoin Heartsill, who was his special patron and protector, constantly intervening on his behalf with the military authorities. In the end, Cox is pardoned by a Jefferson Davis general amnesty and serves out the rest of the war in an honorable fashion, but not before being arrested yet a few more times on the now-dismissed charges. Cox dies of cholera shortly after the war in his boyhood Paducah, Kentucky, home, and thus the narrative closes.

    Heartsill’s manuscript contains a great deal of significant, realistic material about the Civil War in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. He is clearly intimately familiar with the area and with other locales, such as Richmond, Virginia. Even his descriptions of such far-flung places as Weldon, North Carolina, which he briefly visits, have the ring of authenticity. Among the startling revelations in the manuscript is a detailed description of Thomas H. Osborne’s scout company, known as “Osborne’s Scouts” and later “Jenkins’ Scouts.” Because this company was an irregular, nonce unit assigned as needed, no official roster of it apparently exists. Nevertheless, on pp. 168-170, Heartsill gives a detailed account of Osborne’s death in combat and a list of the names of the men who served with Osborne from time to time. A few pages later, he even recounts how Jenkins came to command the company, hence giving the unit its later name. Such detailed knowledge could hardly come from a source other than personal experience, and the manuscript is replete with such instances. Heartsill’s story closes at the end of the war, when he and his fellow scouts are paroled in Washington, Georgia.
    The author was a member of the Tennessee 2nd Calvary Regiment commanded by Colonel Henry M. Ashby. Formed in May, 1862, by men from Tennessee itself, the unit saw action at Cumberland Gap, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Atlanta, and in the Carolinas. The military experiences the author gained in those actions are often reflected in the narrative. According to the 1880 U. S. Census, Heartsill was born in 1841 in Tennessee. The Census record is from Greenwood, Arkansas, near where the manuscript was discovered thirty years ago. This Heartsill was probably related to William W. Heartsill (next entry). This manuscript needs more research. A more detailed description of its contents can be viewed by clicking on this link:
Details on the Heartsill Manuscript.

“The Rarest and Most Coveted Book on the American Civil War”

28. HEARTSILL, W[illiam] W[illiston]. Fourteen Hundred and 91 Days in the Confederate Army: A Journal Kept by W. W. Heartsill. For Four Years, One Month, and One Day, or Camp Life; Day-by-Day, of the W. P. Lane Rangers. From April 19th, 1861, to May 20th, 1865. [Marshall: Privately printed, 1876]. [8] 264 [1, “List of Dead”] pp., 61 original albumen photographs (portraits, including Capt. Sam J. Richardson in his leopard-skin britches) mounted within borders on leaves and with printed identification below each.

8vo, original black cloth with silver lettering and ruling on spine. Binding abraded and stained (especially spine), light uniform browning to interior, offsetting opposite photos, and occasional mild foxing. The photographs are fine. Laid in is a printed leaf from a publication having to do with an agricultural fair (appears to be a sample from another work printed by Heartsill).

    First edition, limited edition (100 copies). Basic Texas Books 89: “The rarest and most coveted book on the American Civil War.... Merely a handful have survived.... The journal itself is historically important.... This four-year record is one of the most vivid and intimate accounts of Civil War battle-life that has survived.” Coulter, Travels in the Confederate States 224. Howes H380: “Printed by the author, page-by-page, on a hand-press; one of the rarest journals by a Confederate combatant.” Nevins, CWB I:102. Parrish, Civil War Texana 43. Raines, p. 111. Winkler-Friend 3778.
    “This book would be of considerable interest because of the homespun way in which it was produced, even if it were devoid of any other virtues. It is, however, a good narrative in its own right–of the early days of the war in Texas, of operations in Arkansas and Louisiana, of Heartsill’s capture and imprisonment in the North, of his travels through the north to City Point, Virginia, for exchange. After some time in Richmond he was attached to Bragg’s army in time to participate in the Battle of Chickamauga. Then slowly back to Texas through Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. For a while he guarded Federal prisoners in Camp Ford at Tyler, Texas. He and his comrades in the W. P. Lane Rangers were finally disbanded near Navasota May 10, 1865” (Harwell, In Tall Cotton 86).
    “The work is a reliable, engaging, and perceptive view of the army and home-front conditions in the Confederacy, and its value is further enhanced by a collection of photographs of his fellow veterans that Heartsill pasted into the book and by his reprints of soldiers’ camp newspapers. The extremely rare work was republished in a 1954 edition edited by Bell I. Wiley” (Handbook of Texas Online: William Williston Heartsill). See also John H. Jenkins, The Most Remarkable Texas Book: An Essay on W. W. Heartsill’s Fourteen Hundred and 91 Days in the Confederate Army. With a Leaf from the Original Printing (Austin: Pemberton Press, 1980).

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