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In issuing in the convenient form of two volumes the Southern History of the War, by Mr. E. A. Pollard, of Richmond, the actuating motive is the belief that this work is one of permanent historical value.
Of the two classes of historical composition-namely, that which is made contemporaneously with the transactions recorded and that which is made after the interval of years-it must always happen that the former will show errors of fact, errors in the interpretation of facts, and errors in the correlation of facts. These a calm, judicial survey will readily avoid. Yet public appreciation accounts such faults to be fully countervailed by the life-like interest of the narrative, by the revelations of actual motive on the part of the actors and by a tone and color of reality that only portraiture from the life can convey.
The work of Mr. Pollard belongs to the former category. That many things are now known more justly than when the author poured forth, from the warm feeling of the moment, his thoughts, impressions, and aspirations, it is easy to believe. There is also much in the tone of the book that now, since the close of the war and the failure of the Secession experiment, might appropriately be changed.
Yet granting all these drawbacks, which are inseparable from contemporaneous composition, the work of Mr. Pollard remains one of marked and peculiar value. Living at the centre of the Confederate power, Mr. Pollard's opportunities for penetrating
the real springs of action were excellent. Gifted with a remarkable keenness of observation and analysis, he has expressed with pungent power the judgments of a mind distinguished for its independence. A Secessionist à l'outrance, believing with all the strength of his nature in the Confederate cause, he was yet a caustic critic of the Confederate government and of those charged with its administration and the conduct of the war; and he had the talent to express these views in a style of nervous and vigorous eloquence.
Such were the circumstances under which this work was composed; and its pre-eminent value arises from the fact that it photographs the events of the war in the circumstances of their actual performance; the motives of action as they really revealed themselves, and the hopes and aspirations of the South as they beat in the breasts of living men. Doubtless some things in this history might be corrected; some made to conform to accomplished facts. But this would be to take away from rather than to add to its essential value, which is that of a mémoire pour servir. As such, it must always remain a valuable contribution to the history of the war; and from the side of the South it is the only complete record of the momentous four years during which Secession was fought for and lost.