Who Writes Her Story?

I wanted Wash to rewrite this, condensing a little and adding other items of great interest—but he says he can’t. Some of the most touching incidents of his prison life were in connection with his letters—to which—naturally he does not choose to refer.

–Wash’s sister, Jenny, July 1866

George Washington Nelson memoir, 1866, Virginia Historical Society

Plan: This is a classroom/writing activity designed to get students to critically engage with primary sources. In preparation for this class, students are expected to have read the letters between Wash Nelson and Mollie Scollay and Wash’s memoir.

In groups of three, discuss:

  • What omissions are in the historical narrative? What “items” Jenny, as editor, might have wanted Wash to include?
  • How might have the historical narrative been different if Mollie had written it about Wash or the two of them had co-written it?
  • Had she written one, what would Mollie’s memoir look like? How would her experience of “Confederate Living” in Union-occupied Virginia had differed from Wash’s experience as a prisoner of war?