The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865

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Janet E. Croon
Pub Date:
May 2018
Hardcover, 6 x 9
Images, map, 480 pp.
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The Washington Post article that started it all

 An Elegant Game: The American Civil War, a Dying Southern Diarist, and a Fascination with Chess


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Winner, 2018, The Douglas Southall Freeman Award
Finalist, 2017-2018 Founders Award, American Civil War Museum
Finalist for Memoir, Historical, 2018, The Indie Book Awards




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About the Book

LeRoy Wiley Gresham was born in 1847 to an affluent slave-holding family in Macon, Georgia. After a horrific leg injury left him an invalid, the educated, inquisitive, perceptive, and exceptionally witty 12-year-old began keeping a diary in 1860--just as secession and the Civil War began tearing the country and his world apart. He continued to write even as his health deteriorated until both the war and his life ended in 1865. His unique manuscript of the demise of the Old South—lauded by the Library of Congress as one of its premier holdings—is published here for the first time in The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865.

LeRoy read books, devoured newspapers and magazines, listened to gossip, and discussed and debated important social and military issues with his parents and others. He wrote daily for five years, putting pen to paper with a vim and tongue-in-cheek vigor that impresses even now, more than 150 years later. His practical, philosophical, and occasionally Twain-like hilarious observations cover politics and the secession movement, the long and increasingly destructive Civil War, family pets, a wide variety of hobbies and interests, and what life was like at the center of a socially prominent wealthy family in the important Confederate manufacturing center of Macon. The young scribe often voiced concern about the family’s pair of plantations outside town, and recorded his interactions and relationships with “servants” Howard, Allen, Eveline, and others as he pondered the fate of human bondage and his family’s declining fortunes.

Unbeknownst to LeRoy, he was chronicling his own slow and painful descent toward death in tandem with the demise of the Southern Confederacy. He recorded—often in horrific detail—an increasingly painful and debilitating disease that robbed him of his childhood. The teenager’s declining health is a consistent thread coursing through his fascinating journals. “I feel more discouraged [and] less hopeful about getting well than I ever did before,” he wrote on March 17, 1863. “I am weaker and more helpless than I ever was.” Morphine and a score of other “remedies” did little to ease his suffering. Abscesses developed; nagging coughs and pain consumed him. Alternating between bouts of euphoria and despondency, he often wrote, “Saw off my leg.”

The War Outside My Window, edited and annotated by Janet Croon with helpful footnotes and a detailed family biographical chart, captures the spirit and the character of a young privileged white teenager witnessing the demise of his world even as his own body slowly failed him. Just as Anne Frank has come down to us as the adolescent voice of World War II, LeRoy Gresham will now be remembered as the young voice of the Civil War South.



“The volume gains poignancy from Gresham’s incomplete final writing… likely to be of most interest to historians or serious students of the period.” (Hannah Kushnick Publisher's Weekly)

"Greshman's minute accounting of daily routines, interpersonal attitudes and relationships, slave life, and his growing recognition of the severity of his illness all make his diaries invaluable to social and cultural historians, as well as medical, military, and childhood scholars. Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries." - CHOICE

“A fascinating record. It is a sign of Croon’s accomplishment as an editor that . . . the reader really does not care all that much about the larger world of the ill-fated Confederacy, so completely does this diary take us into the pathos and pity of a more private world that really blots out the war outside its window.” (Social History of Medicine journal)

The War Outside My Window is a remarkable diary that illuminates important aspects of mid-19th-century American life. Kept by a Georgia teenager coping with a fatal disease, it affords modern readers the best record I have encountered of the daily suffering and treatment of a terminally ill person during the Civil War era. Beyond the rich evidence relating to LeRoy Wiley Gresham’s illness and Victorian medicine, it includes a bountiful array of observations about military, political, and social elements of the Civil War as witnessed from the Confederate home front. Alternately instructive, moving, and disturbing, this diary deserves a wide audience.” (Gary W. Gallagher, Nau Professor of History, University of Virginia)

"The publication of this edited and annotated source has made an absorbing account of the Civil War South from the perspective of a privileged but afflicted youth available and accessible to a broad audience." (Civil War Monitor, review by Anya Jabour, Regents Professor of History at the University of Montana)

"A fascinating picture from the eyes of a young man as the South slowly changes during the course of the war, from the heady early days to the slow realization that the South was going to lose. . . . A intriguing look into civilian life." (Tulsa Book Review)

The War Outside My Window is really a window looking into the thoughts and perceptions of a doomed teenager who watched the Confederacy die even as he was dying himself. Intimate, observant, thoughtful, often amusing, his diary offers a heartrending portrait of courage and resilience by a young man robbed of his youth, one personal tragedy amid the decline and collapse of the South. Pitiably few records survive to give us an understanding of the inner world of the young in the Civil War era. LeRoy Gresham’s “Window” lets in more light on the subject than any other source we have.” (William C. Davis, author of Inventing Loreta Velasquez)

“As The War Outside My Window aptly demonstrates, LeRoy Wiley Gresham was a fascinating young man possessed of wit, insight, and eloquence, all while suffering from the ravages of a terminal disease. His diary (published here for the first time) is simultaneously fascinating, insightful, compelling, and tragic. Anyone interested in the home front in the South during the Civil War, slavery, family, and the travails of doomed youth will find this book a real treasure. It deserves a wide audience well beyond the Civil War community, and a place on your bookshelf. Kudos to Savas Beatie and editor Janet Croon for bringing this story to life.” (Eric J. Wittenberg, award-winning Civil War historian)

“In The War Outside My Window, an articulate Southern teenager records his observations on military, political, and social events as they unfold, mostly outside the sphere of his confinement in Macon, Georgia, as the Union juggernaut slowly devours the resources of the Confederacy. But windows go both ways, and this unique diary also grants readers unprecedented access into a parallel internal battle being waged by a spunky youth whose comfort, vigor, and life itself are being devoured by the fatal medical scourge of the nineteenth century. This poignant account of LeRoy’s courageous, but ultimately unsuccessful personal struggle is certain to grip your heart. Civil War students and medical historians alike will find a rich and rare trove of primary source material in this unique five-year chronicle.” (Dennis A. Rasbach, MD, FACS, author of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign)

The War Outside My Window offers a powerful, entertaining, and insightful glimpse into the world of the Civil War from an unlikely author. Twelve years old and suffering from a severe leg injury when the war began, LeRoy Gresham took to his diary to explore the turbulent world around him in a candid and often humorous manner. Covering serious topics such as slavery and politics as well as the more light-hearted concerns of a young boy, Gresham’s account reminds us that the war touched those far removed from the battlefield even as the more routine aspects of life continued. While the war raged beyond Gresham’s window, this never-before published diary is itself a rare window into the Civil War home front.” (Caroline E. Janney, author of Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation)


Janet E. Croon holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, Modern European History, and Russian Language and Area Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1983), and a Master’s Degree in International Studies from the University of Dayton (1985). She taught International Baccalaureate History for nearly two decades and developed a deep interest in the Civil War by living in northern Virginia. This is her first book.