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This is the archive for September 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Call it the Abner Doubleday theory of relativity, because it's amazing the number of people that are passionate about both baseball and the Civil War era. So, I ask how much better can it get than to read separate articles in the October issue of Smithsonian magazine, one being devoted to the most famous of all double-play combinations in the history of the game, the other a look at the raid on Harper's Ferry on the eve of its 150th anniversary.

For a ten-year period, from 1904 to 1913, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance formed the nucleus of the Chicago Cubs infield and, according to Bill James, while their individual accomplishments perhaps didn't merit their induction into the Hall of Fame, their collective contribution "won more games with infield defense than any other team in the history of baseball." Immortalized by the poetry of Franklin Pierce Edwards, "These are the saddest of possible words: Tinkers to Evers to Chance," their images appear on some of earliest and most valuable baseball cards in existence, those produced by the American Tobacco Company.

In the companion article, Fergus Bordewich, author of "Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America," encapsulates the John Brown saga, from early life to his death on the scaffold in Charles Town, Virginia in eight pages. Of significance is historian David Reynolds' assessment that a Democrat probably would have won the 1860 election had Brown and his raiders not struck at Harper's Ferry. The perception of Brown as "an irrational fanatic," who teetered closer to insanity than sanity, a view widely subscribed to through the larger part of the twentieth century, is discussed by John Stauffer of Harvard. "Brown was thought mad because he crossed the line of permissible dissent. He was willing to sacrifice his life for the cause of blacks, and for this, in a culture that was simply marinated in racism, he was called mad." Dennis Frye, chief historian at Harper's Ferry, assesses Brown's impact on the American psyche by stating: "John Brown is still alive in the American soul. He represents something for each of us, but none of us is in agreement about what he means."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Non-slaveholders of the South! farmers, mechanics, and workingmen, we take this occasion to assure you that the slaveholders, the arrant demagogues whom you have elected to offices of honor and profit, have hoodwinked you, trifled with you, and used you as mere tools for the consummation of their wicked designs. They have purposely kept you in ignorance, and have, by moulding your passions and prejudices to suit themselves, induced you to act in direct opposition to your dearest rights and interests...Why will you not see the realities? Why will you yeoman and artisans not throw off your thraldom? Do this and you can insist on emancipation followed by African resettlement; the preludes to Southern progress, wealth, and cultural distinction."

This challenge to the working class and poor dirt farmers of the South to throw off their economic, political, and social yoke didn't fly off the pen of an apostle of abolitionism based in the North. This challenge didn't originate in the mind of William Lloyd Garrison, Horace Greeley, Gamaliel Bailey, Charles Sumner, Charles Henry Langston, Lydia Maria Child, or Elijah Lovejoy, but rather was hurled at them by native North Carolinian Hinton Rowan Helper. His 1857 book "The Impending Crisis of the South," was considered so threatening to the existing social order, so sinister in purpose, so subversive of intent to spread discontent among the masses, he was forced to take his manuscript to New York City in order to find a publisher.

Helper was no hysterical screaming mimi. Naive and unrealistic in parts, yes, hysterical no. Utilizing statistics from the 1850 U.S. Census he produced table after table comparing Northern and Southern productivity in areas of agriculture, manufacturing, population growth, etc. to illustrate his point that slavery, rather than being a blessing to the South, was actually dragging the region down, retarding its growth and development, and in the end solely responsible for explaining the widening gap between a dynamic, burgeoning Northern economy versus a winded, emaciated South. With so much economic and political power resting in the hands of an aristocratic minority, long before Huey Long launched his populist appeal to Louisiana voters, Helper urged the common man of Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, et al, to "Nail 'em up," to effectively grab back the guiding reins of their own destiny.

He even presented them with a blueprint. Number one on his priority list was to exclude slave holders from holding political office. Number two was to boycott any businesses owned by slaveholders. And if boycotts didn't squeeze them hard enough, then tax them through the roof for every slave they owned.

Non-slave holding whites, according to Helper, were at a distinct economic disadvantage when trying to compete against slave labor. His plan was not only to eliminate the economic and political clout of the planter class, but to eliminate competition for jobs. The slave system in Helper's estimation discouraged the emergence of skilled artisans, mechanics, and an industrial, manufacturing base throughout the South. By utilizing revenues realized through taxation of slave owners, mass deportation of slaves to overseas colonies easily could become a reality and the South could be drained of blacks within a few short years. Helper even did the math to support his hypothesis. With slaves gone, valuable and fertile land given over to cotton, sugar, and rice production would become available to yeomen as the planter class would, by virtue of a labor shortage, be forced to sell off large portions of their holdings at prices within reach of the common man.

Helper's book, needless to say, wasn't looked upon kindly by the planter class. His appeal was like a grenade tossed into a crowded room through an open window, an appeal which demanded their world be torn asunder. However, the audience for whom the book was intended failed to gain access to it. Its sale was, in fact, banned throughout the South and those copies that did surface were burnt in public. J.H.Claiborne, a Mississippi editor, grudgingly admitted that a book like Helper's and efforts by Northern abolitionists to encourage strife between the various classes were "closely watched, and year by year that watch had to be sharpened."

On the other hand anti-slavery factions in the North fell in love with idea of using "The Impending Crisis," as a weapon in their agitation against slavery. One group arranged funding to print a 100,000 abridged copies and, still later, a group of Congressmen, most without having read the book, lent their endorsement, urging Federal dollars be appropriated to allow for printing and distribution of hundreds of thousands of copies. This endorsement didn't go unnoticed by their Southern colleagues. Endorsing publication and using it as campaign literature in the 1860 Presidential election was in their eyes tantamount to endorsing Helper's suggestion that slave owners should be killed. John Sherman, brother of future Union General William T., effectively lost his bid to be named Speaker of the House for this very reason. He later said his endorsement of the book was predicated on Helper's agreement to delete objectionable passages. Helper was not a man of his word in this regard.

Helper's book, though, ultimately proved unsettling to most abolitionists. Whole sections of what is decidedly dull reading are overtly racist in nature, a hint of the venomous rage against Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans Helper was to vomit with increasing frequency in the post-war era as America marched in unified lockstep toward the 20th Century. Over time his roar grew to be a mere hoarse whisper as old divisions and wounds were patched up. Penniless, friendless, and as defeated in his old age as the institution he sought to bring down, Helper took the gas pipe in 1909.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

There's been a long standing debate about whether Abraham Lincoln, on being introduced to Harriett Beecher Stowe at the White House, actually posed the question, "Is this the little woman who made the great war?" Time doesn't stand still and neither do questions. The first the public heard about Lincoln's utterance was shortly after Stowe's death in 1896. Much later the question mark disappeared from view and in its place was the legacy of a comment: "So this is the little old lady who started this new great war." C'mon now, do you honestly think Abe would have called a woman two years younger than himself "a little old lady?" He did, according to one of Stowe's daughters.

I was watching a program on "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in 2002, the 150th anniversary of the publication of her book, taped at her former residence in Cincinnati, now a national historic shrine. The comment that stuck with me most was when one of the panel members said, "Uncle Tom's Cabin is not what you think until you read it."

Stowe never set out to write the great abolitionist tract. In assessing her own work she felt she "painted slaveholders as amiable, generous, and just." Too, at the outset, she feared abolitionists would condemn the book as too forgiving of slaveholders. A Southern bred cousin tried to allay her fears when she counseled in a letter : "Your book is going to be the great pacificator; it will unite both North and South."

Full fledged Southern criticism of the book, in fact, didn't begin to take flight until abolitionists embraced the book as their own, though William Lloyd Garrison was not totally enamored with Stowe's idea that colonization of freed slaves was the key to peace and harmony. Still, Southern criticism rocked an unsuspecting Stowe back on her heels and "The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin," appeared in an attempt to justify her characterizations of slavery as an institution. The idea that she was some naive housewife who knew not of what she wrote, however, neither got her book banned in the South and nor stopped Southerners from reading it. They lapped it up the same way that everyone else in the world lapped up its sad and melodic violin strains echoing joy, sorrow, death, honor, loyalty, a mother's love, pride, cruelty, and savage beatdowns. In a New York Times review published on June 23, 1853 and titled "Southern Slavery. A Glance at Uncle's Tom's Cabin, by A Southerner," who styled himself as "Walpole," actually heaped praised on Stowe's novel.

"It must be admitted that Uncle Tom's Cabin is a book which no one can read with indifference; not only in the non-slaveholding States of our country has it found favor; not only have twenty thousand copies been distributed within a few weeks through the North; not only has it received in England such a welcome as an American book never met before; not only has it been dramatized in France, and translated into the wide German tongue; but in the South it has been eagerly sought for; and planters - large slave-owners have, been moved to tears while reading its pages, or roused to indignation by its graphic sketches of wrong and cruelty. There can be no higher proof of the merits of the book as an artistic performance; for it is well understood to be an appeal to the civilized world against the social system of the Southern States."

You might have already guessed, but this is a lead in to the next post, which will deal with the one book Southern slaveholders considered truly dangerous, so dangerous to the peculiar institution steps were actually taken to try to quash its publication, and at least one man went on trial for his life when he attempted to distribute it in the South; a book, it turns out, written in 1857, not by a Northern abolitionist, but by one of its very own.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I thought I'd pull together a list of books from two categories of the Bibliography that were cited by the editors as being well worth the time and money when this two volume series was published in 1967 and 1969. Without doubt these assessments of each book's intrinsic worth still holds true fifty years later, because, after all, a great book remains a great book forever.

General Works:

The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (1960)
Comment: By far the best of the modern general picture-book histories; unique maps complement [Bruce] Catton's tasteful text.

Bruce Catton: The Centennial History of the Civil War (1961-1965)
One of the outstanding literary achievements of the Centennial years

Ellis Merten Coulter: The Confederates States of America, 1861-65 (1950)
Decidedly the best non-military study of the Confederacy.

Ellis Morton Coulter: Travels in the Confederate States, a Bibliography (1948)
An outstanding, essential bibliographical tool.

Alice Hamilton Cromie: A Tour Guide to the Civil War (1964)
A "must" volume for anyone touring Civil War sites.

Clement Ansley Evans: Confederate Military History: A Library of Confederate States History (1899)
A still excellent reference work for the embattled Confederacy.

Douglas Southall Freeman: The Last Parade; An Editorial by Douglas S. Freeman of Friday, June 24, 1932 of the forty-second annual reunion of United Confederate Veterans (1932)
An immensely moving essay that honors Southern soliders and leaders and at the same time shows a broad understanding of the war.

Douglas Southall Freeman: The South to Posterity (1939)
The pre-eminent study of Confederate historical writing by a great practitioner in the field.

Willard Allison Heaps: The Singing Sixties; The Spirit of Civil War Days Drawn from the Music of the Times (1960)
In spite of several shortcomings, the volume remains the best general history of Civil War music.

Bertram Wallace Kern: American Jewry and the Civil War (1951)
The best treatment of the subject, but restricted largely to the Northern side.

Robert Lively: Fiction Fights the Civil War (1957)
By far the outstanding story of Civil War fiction.

Mary Elizabeth Massey: Bonnett Brigades (1960)
A poor title for a splendid book; all important facets of women in wartime have been covered in a scholarly and colorful manner.

Allan Nevins: The Statesmanship of the Civil War (1953)
A brilliant evaluation of Northern and Southern leadership.

Allan Nevins: The War for the Union (1959)
Two deeply analytical volumes that carry the war to May 1863; marked by such thorough research and scholarship that the volumes will stand for years at the peak of Civil War history.

Roy Franklin Nichols: The Stakes of Power 1845-1877 (1961)
Provocative and stimulating; a detailed interpretation by a recognized scholar in the field.

Thomas Henry Williams: Lincoln and his Generals (1952)
A superb study of Lincoln's relations with the dozen leading Union field commanders.

Biographies, Memoirs and Collected Works

Roy Prentice Basler: The Lincoln Legend (1935)
An important and successful study of the national legend that has been created about Lincoln in literature.

Lenoir Chambers: Stonewall Jackson (1959)
A comprehensive, definitive biography of Jackson; well-written and based upon careful use of a wide array of source material.

Godfrey R.B. Charnwood: Abraham Lincoln (1916)
A balanced and thorough one-volume biography; still an excellent work in spite of its age.

William Edward Dodd: Jefferson Davis (1907)
Sympathetic in tone, yet judicious in judgement; still regarded as among the best Davis studies.

David Herbert Donald: Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War (1960)
The first volume of what will prove to be a definitive study.

Clifford Dowdey: Lee (1965)
An outstanding study, well-balanced, analytical, and although without documentation based on an intensive use of primary and secondary sources.

John Percy Dyer: The Gallant Hood (1950)
A fine, well-balanced and critical study of the jealous and often impetuous Confederate commander; based on an imposing array of sources.

Charles Winslow Elliott: Winfield Scott, the Soldier and the Man (1937)
The most scholarly study of "Old Fuss and Feathers;" likely to stand unchallenged for many years to come.

Douglas Southall Freeman: R.E. Lee, a Biography (1934-35)
A classic example of the biographical form; exhaustively researched, vividly written, balanced, judicious and definitive in its portrayal of the Confederacy's greatest soldier.

Ulysses Simpson Grant: Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (1885-86)
Written frantically while in a race with death, these recollections rank with the best of the Civil War period.

Robert George Hartje: Van Dorn (1967)
An excellent biography of the enigmatic Southern general.

William Henry Herndon: Herndon's Lincoln (1889)
In spite of exaggerations and erroneous conclusions, Herndon has contributed more than any other author to our knowledge of Lincoln.

Dorothy Kunhardt: Twenty Days (1965)
By far the best volume on the assassination of Lincoln; the illustrations alone are worth the cost of the book.

Henrietta Melia Larson: Jay Cooke, Private Banker (1936)
An excellent biography of the well-known Union financier.

Horace Montgomery: Howell Cobb's Confederate Career (1959)
A brief but excellent study of the eminent Georgian who chose to serve the Confederacy in a military capacity.

James Garfield Randall: Lincoln, the President (1944-55)
A definitive scholarly biography, encompassing more than the title indicates; probably the best and most complete study of Lincoln's life.

Richard Taylor: Destruction and Reconstruction; Personal Experiences of the Late War (1879)
Regarded as the finest of the Confederate memoirs, Taylor's story covers only the war and immediate postwar periods.

Benjamin Platt Thomas; Abraham Lincoln, a Biography (1952)
The best one-volume biography of Lincoln; well balanced, critical and scholarly, the book is written in fine moving style.

Benjamin Platt Thomas: Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln's Secretary of War
A definitive study of a controversial figure; balanced and judicious, although generally sympathetic to Stanton.

Glyndon Garlock Van Deusen: William Henry Seward (1967)
By almost every standard the best biography of Lincoln's Secretary of State; the product of exhaustive research.

Frank Everson Vandiver: Mighty Stonewall (1957)
An excellent definitive study, based on exhaustive use of primary sources; written in a clear, polished and sometimes pictureresque style.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A recent acquisition arrived through the mail a couple of days ago, an acquisition that's going to make choices in the selection of future Civil War reading material that much simpler.

"Civil War Books, A Critical Bibliography," was the brain child of the United States Civil Centennial Commission. By 1963, with an estimated 30 to 50,000 separate Civil War titles, the one book that went begging, according to the Commission, was "an annotated, critical bibliography of the major works in the field." Into the breech stepped Allan Nevins, James I. Robertson, Jr., and Bell Wiley, who were appointed as editors of the project. Nevins and Wiley were charged with organizing and promoting the project, while Robertson had responsibility for overall management. The trio, in turn, recruited fifteen historians nationwide, whose primary task was to visit major depositories and compile information on their holdings. That data, written on thousands of index cards, was then forwarded to the Washington-based Robertson who painstakingly edited, condensed, and achieved uniformity for each entry.

The first of two volumes was published by Louisiana State Press four years later, the second following in 1969. Arranged by bibliographical category, selections were limited to books and pamphlets, while manuscripts, articles, doctoral dissertations, and masters theses were excluded except in very select categories. When all was said and done 2,700 titles were cited in Volume I, while over 3,000 found their way into Volume II.

It's clear that the selection of those titles was geared toward assembling the broadest perspective of the war as possible and that merit played a secondary role. In other words, the good, the bad, the very worst, and the very best titles spanning the course of a hundred years were all given their due. Robertson's whittled comments which accompanies each title ranges from praiseworthy, to dismissive, to brutal and cutting.

Volume I includes the following categories:
Military Aspects - Mobilization, Organization, Administration, and supply
Military Aspects - Campaigns
Military Aspects - Soldier Life
Prisons and Prisoners of War
The Negro
The Navies

Volume II features:
General Works
Biographies, Memoirs and Collected Works of Important Leaders and Key Personalities

and similar sections for the Confederacy and the Union encompassing:
Government and Politics
State and Local Studies
Social and Economic Studies

Lets see. I'll pick a category at random from Volume I and then a couple of titles. How about...Military Aspects - Campaigns:

Abbot, Willis John: Battlefields and camp fires (1890).
Title description: A narrative of the principal military operations of the civil war from the removal of McClellan to the accession of Grant.
Comment: A popular, overwritten story of operations from the beginning of the Second Manassas campaign through Chattanooga and the bombardment of Fort Wagner.

Bellah, James Warner: The campaign of Chancellorsville, a strategic and tactical study (1910)
Comment: A masterful study -- one of the very finest ever written on an American campaign; thoroughly documented and notably impartial.

Jones, Virgil Carrington: Eight hours before Richmond (1957)
Comment: A popularly written, somewhat thin but readable story of the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid.

Paris, Louis Philippe Albert d'Orleans: The battle of Gettysburg (1912)
Comment: Excellent detailed chapters on the campaign, taken from the Count's massive four-volume work on war.

Ok. Now we'll turn to...Soldier Life

Anderson, Ephraim McD: Memoirs: historical and personal; including the campaigns of the First Missouri Confederate brigade (1868)
Comment: One of the better Confederate narratives; written by an upper-class Southerner and strongly revealing for social conditions in the Confederacy.

Andrews, Andrew Jackson: A sketch of boyhood days of Andrew J. Andrews, of Gloucester County, Virginia, and his experience as a solider in the late war between the states. Written by himself. To which are added selected poems by the author. (1905)
Comment: Shallow reminiscences written too long after the war; the author was a member of the Richmond Howitzers.

Calvert, Henry Murray: Reminiscences of a boy in blue, 1862-1865 (1920)
Comment: Another of those memoirs written years after the war and without benefit of mind-refreshing sources; reconstructed conversations and interpretation drown out the few facts presented.

Child, William: A history of the Fifth regiment, New Hampshire volunteers, in the American civil war, 1861-1865 (1893)
Comment: One of the better regimental histories; composed for the most part of letters and diary excerpts by several members of the unit; covers fully the Eastern campaigns beginning with McClellan's advance up the Peninsula.

One more, this time from Volume II. (The sound of pages flipping) No....No....Okay: "The Union, Economic and Social Studies."

Andreano, Robert, ed.: The economic impact of the American Civil War (1962)
Comment: An excellent study of the subject.

Grossman, Jonathan Philip: William Sylvis, pioneer of American labor; a study of the labor movement during the era of the civil war (1945)
Comment: This study -- as much a history of the molders' union as a biography of Sylvis -- is valuable for insights into labor movements at the time of the war.

Olmsted, Frederic Law: Hospital transports. A memoir of the embarkation of the sick and wounded from the peninsula of Virginia in the summer of 1862.
Comment: An excellent description of transports, by a master writer of that day; reveals forcefully the Union tragedy of the Peninsular Campaign.

Pivany, Eugene: Hungarians in the American civil war (1913)
Comment: Biographical sketches of some of the 800 Hungarians who served the Union

Woolsey, Jane Stuart: Hospital days. Printed for private use. (1870)
Comment: One knowledgeable writer has termed this scarce work "perhaps the best book about the Civil War by a woman writer."

In the short time I've spent flipping through both volumes over the past couple of days I've id'd book after book I'd be interested in reading and those I should probably avoid. I haven't checked prices on or Google Books to see if those in the public domain have been scanned yet. Both efforts will come later. For now it's just plain fun to turn the pages and read what's written

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The only time I've ever purposely destroyed a book was back in high school, when I cut out a hole large enough to secret a pack of cigarettes. You had to know my father. Even though he smoked a pipe and cigars and kept a spittoon handy for juice from a plug of tobacco, he was evil incarnate when it came to his kids and cigarettes. My brother can swear to this, although he'd probably rather forget it. When he was caught with a pack, as punishment, he had to swallow the juice from the plug he was forced to chew. Me, I was smarter than my brother, until the day I was caught walking home from school taking a drag from a butt. There was a lot of yelling on my father's part. I mean he was royally pissed off, but fortunately I wasn't subjected to the tobacco juice treatment. I guess what made it even worse in my father's eyes was that I had asked him for permission to smoke a couple of weeks earlier. We had actually had a calm and rational discussion about the subject. At the end he simply said "No." And that in his mind was the end of that, except in my mind I was never asked to promise I wouldn't smoke.

Now I'm thinking of purposely destroying another book, but this time around it doesn't have anything to do with wanting to hide something. Too, I hope if the authors read this they'll understand. No, I'm not intending on destroying my autographed copy of "The Complete Guide to Gettysburg" by J. David Petruzzi and Steven Stanley. I'm thinking of buying a second copy, ripping the cover off, punching holes, and then placing the pages in a loose leaf binder. I know, that's nuts. I know that's a waste of a good book. However, knowing me and my propensity for spilling things, I figure I'd have what would amount to a soft cover edition of the book that I could easily cart around Gettysburg and not worry about whether it got messed up or not. Don't get me wrong, I'm generally pretty careful with hard cover books, but I also know "The Guide" is going to be put to good practical and repeated use. So, in apology to David and Steven, if they take exception to my plan, I might, maybe, think about swallowing some tobacco juice, or they could spare me that fate by issuing a soft cover edition.

A lot of bloggers have already written reviews on the book. The best endorsement I can give it entails two words: No, not, "Boycott WalMart," although you should do that, too, but, 'buy the book.' That's three words, not two, but you get my drift. The narrative by David is unified and very well written, the maps and photos by Steven simply excellent. Quite simply, and, yes, I'm repeating the same word in consecutive sentences, if you're heading to Gettysburg, don't leave home without it.


By the way Amazon, where's my copy of Eric Wittenberg's latest book that I pre-ordered?