By observing individual historical actors, a historian may reveal additional knowledge about the Civil War era. In his book, War’s Cost: The Hites’ Civil War, Dr. Eugene DeFriest Bétit utilizes his microhistorical approach by examining the war’s effects on the Hites, a prominent slaveholding family from the Shenandoah Valley. This small volume provides a detailed study of their involvement in the war and its many costs.
Bétit begins his study by providing brief background information about the Hites. They developed strong loyalties to the South, and when the Civil War commenced, many joined the Confederate ranks. Bétit notes that prior to the Civil War, many Hite men served in positions such as lieutenants and generals; however, during the Civil War, the Hites served primarily as enlisted men. Bétit concludes that its shift must be due to a change in the family’s level of education. In the subsequent chapter, he examines antebellum Virginia — there was no public education anywhere in the South until 1870, the probable cause.
Later chapters examine the Hites’ involvement in the war and their lives as survivors. Bétit notes how many Hites fought , their units, the battle and date each met their death., There is an appendix that lists all Hites for fought on either side, their unit, and which state they fought for. Much of this is reconstructed from data available on Ancestry.com and the Virginia Regimental Historical Series. The penultimate chapter, which follows the Hite men who survived the war, is the most valuable section in the book, and will be useful for anyone studying the postwar years.
The final chapter considers the war’s consequences for the Hites. Bétit notes the Hites’ high death rate (more than a third) and the economic disruption that followed the war. Clarence and Woodson Hite became outlaws and robbed stagecoaches, banks, and trains with their cousins, the James brothers. Ultimately, Bétit concludes that the Hites suffered a fate not unknown to other Southern families after the war: the loss of their “genteel” lifestyle.