By John Coski
How long should historians wait to start writing histories of war? Several Virginians began writing histories of the American Civil War while it was still being fought. The best known contemporary chronicler is Richmond editor Edward A. Pollard, who published histories of the first three years of the war in 1862 and 1864 before publishing The Lost Cause in 1866. Robert Reid Howison (1820-1906) of Fredericksburg wrote a history of the war through late 1861 that the venerable Southern Literary Messenger serialized before it ceased publication in October 1863.
Despite losing his publisher, Howison continued to amass material from newspapers, published reports, and occasional letters from participants, and he continued writing. He wrote an account of the war through the battle of Chickamauga (September 1863), but explained later that “the depression and disappointment so severely felt by the people of the South” prevented him from finishing his history. In 1876 he entrusted to the Southern Historical Society his research materials and a bound volume of nearly 700 handwritten pages. The SHS declined to publish the rest of Howison’s History in its Papers, but later donated all of the manuscripts in its possession to the Confederate Memorial Literary Society (the Museum’s original parent organization).
Howison’s contemporary history of the War through Chickamauga is still awaiting a publisher.