Friday, November 16, 2018

A Traveling Architectural Sample


One of the things that I particularly enjoy, but do not share enough of on "My Random Thoughts" is 19th century architecture. I believe that the styles that overlapped during the 1800s are some of the most beautiful homes and buildings ever created. Some are elegant, some are charmingly simple, but whether Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, or other style, or combination of styles, in my humble opinion it is tough to beat this period's designs.

The image above and those below are of buildings that I encountered in a recent round of traveling through Virginia, New York state, and Vermont. There were hundreds more that were passed by as I was driving that I wish I could have captured, but here are just a sampling of those that I found particularly beautiful.

The stone home and adjacent kitchen quarter above are at Caledonia Farm 1812, a bed and breakfast in rural Rappahannock County, Virginia. The surrounding stonewalls, grazing cattle, and changing leaves only added charm to the beautiful scenery there.
 

This elegant building was in Saratoga Springs, New York. A beautiful "main street" of commercial buildings, restaurants, shops, and homes made for a wonderful stroll.


Mid and late-19th century buildings abound in Saratoga Springs.


Some of the most simple buildings from the 1800s are among my most favorite. This restaurant is in Saratoga Springs.


Just across the street from the above building are these commercial buildings with artistic windows and ornate roof lines.


The New York Military History Museum is in the above building. It houses a fascinating collection which tells the story of New York state's military service from it earliest history to the present. The Civil War section was quite impressive, as were the World War I exhibits.


Vermont has a tremendous amount of surviving 1800s (and before) architecture. This Italianate-style home was in the quaint little town of Wallingford.


After visiting the grave of a Civil War Medal of Honor recipient in Windham, Vermont, we drove on a remote gravel road to Grafton. Along the way, and with no traffic to worry about, I stopped and took the above shot of this beautiful brick home.


Grafton, Vermont is what I have always pictured in my mind what Vermont would look like.


An historic inn and restaurant in Grafton.


This historic brick church in Grafton seems to look almost as it did when worshiped in over 150 years ago.


Another beautiful church in Grafton.


It took a little searching but we found this little covered bridge just on the edge of Grafton. 


"Ye Olde Tavern" in Manchester actually dates to the 1790s. It retains much of its period charm and offers some amazing food and great service. We were so impressed we ate there twice.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


Edwin M. Stanton's leadership of the U.S. War Department was obviously successful, but beyond that I know little about the man, his background or his personality. I've found other works by William Marvel thought provoking in the arguments they offer, so I'm particularly looking forward to reading Lincoln's Autocrat: The Life of Edwin Stanton.


A late summer vacation trip to eastern North Carolina, and sightseeing at several historical sites there, left me wanting to learn more about that region's Civil War experience. Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty and Guerrilla Violence in as Coastal Carolina Community, 1861-1865 by Barton A. Myers is the second book about the region that I've acquired since that trip.


Michael K. Shaffer was kind enough to come to Pamplin Historical Park a few weeks ago to speak about his new book, In Memory of Self and Comrades: Thomas Wallace Colley's Recollections of Civil War Service in the 1st Virginia Cavalry. Colley, a native of Washington County in southwestern Virginia was wounded several times during his service, his final causing the loss of his left foot. A wise man once wrote that the story of the Civil War is the story of its soldiers. One has to read their thoughts and feelings in order to understand the conflict.


I've been a fan of Jeffrey Wert's writing since I read Mosby's Rangers and A Brotherhood of Valor: the Common Soldiers of the Stonewall Brigade, C.S.A. and the Iron Brigade, U.S.A., years ago. So, I was happy to get an email from Da Capo Press offering me a copy of his new book, Civil War Barons:  The Tycoons, Entrepreneurs, Inventors, and Visionaries Who Forged Victory and Shaped a Nation for writing a book review for it on this forum. I'm presently reading it and have enjoyed it thoroughly. Be on the lookout for my full review soon.


For too long Northern free black communities in Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois have occupied a marginal position as aids to fugitive slaves. White Quaker communities have largely occupied the historical spotlight in that role. However, with The Geography of Resistance: Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad, it appears that Cheryl Janifer LaRoche is working to correct that. Apparently, focusing on landscape features, LaRoche provides a new perspective on African American agency.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Just Finished Reading - The Field of Blood


The contentious nature of today's U.S. politics manifests itself in congressional spats that receive a fair share of media attention. And while things often get nasty in terms of tone, rarely do they result in acts of violence. Such was not the case in the first half of the 19th century.

Joanne B. Freeman's The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War chronicles a number of the kerfuffles, fisticuffs, canings, and duels that resulted from political collisions on the floors of the House of Representatives and Senate in the decades leading up to the Civil War. Freeman uses Benjamin Brown French's detailed journals to provide amazing insight into the world of the period's politics. French, a New Hampshire native, who spent considerable time as the House clerk and later as a Democrat, and then Republican, Washington insider.

At the heart of so much of the hatred across the aisles was the institution of slavery. In episode after episode of violence the roots of the congressional conflicts were found in the "peculiar institution." Southerners such as Virginia's Henry Wise, South Carolina's Lawrence Keitt, North Carolina's Thomas Clingman, and Mississippi's Henry Foote used bullying techniques in attempt to intimidate those of different political persuasions. Defensiveness over the issue of slavery inflamed the passions of the various contending political parties. However, as Republicans began to rise to prominence in the late 1850s, they increasingly refused to be bullied and chose to fight back.

In The Field of Blood, Freeman gives us political giants such as John Quincy Adams and Thomas Hart Benton, while at the same time we learn about lesser known (but just as combative) figures such as Maine's Jonathan Cilley and Kentucky's William Graves, the later two of whom fought a duel in 1838. Also here are the great congressional battles such as the 1836 Gag Rule, the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska territory debates. Freeman argues that congressional members' 19th century constituents expected their elected representatives to not only be their voice, but to also fight for their rights, with weapons if need be. The 1856 Brooks-Sumner episode makes a brief appearance, but probably due to that event's extensive coverage it doesn't receive a full treatment. Rather it serves as yet another example of the difference in stands Northerners and Southerners took on what slavery's role would be in the United States.

In addition to the French journals Freeman makes extensive use of period newspapers from multiple political perspectives and official congressional records. The Field of Blood reminds us that issues that divide our nation can bring out the worst in our society as well as our political representatives. And although at present our two primary political parties are fighting a war or words, at least they are not throwing haymakers on the floors and toting lethal weapons on a daily basis. I recommend it.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Ring Shout, Wheel About


This past week Megyn Kelly was in the headlines about comments she made regarding blackface as possible choice for a Halloween costume. She ultimately lost her job for those comments, and later apologized, apparently after she was informed/educated on what historically blackface/minstrel comedy entailed. Perhaps if she had read Ring Shout, Wheel About: The Racial Politics of Music and Dance in North American Slavery by Katrina Dyonne Thompson she could have saved herself a multitude of grief.

This excellent study on how Africans during the Middle Passage, and African Americans during U.S. slavery and the rise in the popularity of minstrel shows, were commodified through the performing arts of music and dance is a true eye opener. Thorough research and persuasive writing by the author allows the reader to better understand the white and black perspectives of music and dance.

To many whites during slavery's lifetime, who viewed the enslaved as contented, submissive, and lazy, saw them through the lens of music and dance. Blacks, often being in a powerless position were forced to sing and dance for whites' entertainment enjoyment. This created a white idea that contentedness was the primary emotional state of blacks, instead of realizing that people of African descent, like all humans, have a multitude of dispositions. African Americans on the other hand viewed music and dance as two of only a few areas in their lives where they were allowed moments of self expression.

Thompson shows how whites justified enslaving Africans, defended the internal slave trade, maintained a race-based social order, and hid the brutal reality of the "peculiar institution" by focusing on blacks' artistic expression in these art forms. On the other hand, music and dance were ways for African Americans to retain some of their ancestral traditions and develop new community bonds.

Perhaps the most fascinating chapter is that on minstrelsy. Thompson's discussion on minstrelsy shows clearly how blackface performances set most whites' (especially northerners with limited exposure to blacks), perceptions of blackness. Minstrelsy literally took individuality away from blacks and encouraged a stereotypical image of lazy, submissive, and hedonistic personalities.

This book should be read by every U.S. citizen. I think doing so would help people to see how we have developed our images of race in America, starting with our earliest history. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Just Finished Reading - No Freedom Shrieker


No Freedom Shrieker: The Civil War Letters of Union Soldier Charles Biddlecom, edited by Katherine M. Aldridge is an amazing collection of letters. In fact, they are among the best common soldier letters that I've ever read. Found in a box in a New York state barn by the editor they provide a perspective we do not often get.

Charles Biddlecom was a early enlistee, signing up in the 28th New York in the spring of 1861. Poor health, particularly rheumatism, helped Charles receive a discharge in the fall of 1861. However, he was drafted into the 147th New York in the summer in 1863. As a conscript, his views of the army and his situation was probably not unique. While he certainly felt a responsibility to maintain his honor and fulfill his obligation, he was hoping for another medical discharge. And, he absolutely refused to consider deserting although others were doing so.

Suffering from the hardships of army life in the post-Gettysburg Army of the Potomac, Biddlecom rode the ebbs and flows of soldering during the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns. Like all of us, he had good days and bad days, steady-even days and frustratingly-odd days. What makes Biddlecom's letters so intriguing is that he shares pretty much anything and everything with his wife Ester, or Es as he often calls her. It is as if he feels an obligation to fill up each and every sheet of paper with news of his life as that is his only means of communication with his wife and their children. Biddlecom does not give the reader the impression that he had real tight comrade relationships; perhaps another reason he shares so much in his writing. These situations are to the benefit of the modern student, as he includes so much about his soldier experience for us to learn from.

Despite ultimately voting for Lincoln in the 1864 election, largely because he cannot stand the peace Democrat "Copperheads" backing McClellan, Biddlecom is not a fan of "Old Abe." He thinks that Lincoln does not prosecute the war at an aggressive enough rate in the fall of 1863 and hopes for a Fremont Republican ticket in the fall of 1864. When that is not realized he goes with Lincoln.

Biddlecom's brigade and the 147th (5th Corps) have a conspicuous role in the Battle of Weldon Railroad, of which he is particularly proud, but he is at his best in writing out his thoughts when he has time in camp between battles. In one of my favorite passages he ponders the symbolism of his old uniform coat. "I drew a new blouse today and I wish I could send my old coat home, for I think a great deal of it as I have worn it throughout the campaign. I should like to save it as a souvenir of the hard fought battles of the Wilderness, Laurel Hill, Spotsylvania, North Anna, and Petersburg. I should like to keep it with all its dust, samples of soil from Culpeper to this place. 'Tis not much of a coat now, the skirts torn and ragged, and it is sadly ripped under the arms. Still, as I look at it as it hangs on the butt of my musket, I think more of it than I ever did of any article of dress I ever owned in my life before. Sadly, like everything else I suppose, it will, as Mother says sometimes, 'go the wayof all earthly things.' That is to dust and faith. The old coat's journey will not be a long one, for the sun and dust have already turned it dark blue to a dingy kind of nondescript mud color. Isn't this lots to say just about an old coat?" Now, isn't that amazing insight into a soldiers world of thoughts? Yes, indeed!

This book is a must read for students of the common Civil War soldier. Rarely do we get such insight into what a conscripted soldier thinks and feels in the last year and a half of the war. I can't recommend it enough.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Just Finished Reading - A Fierce Glory


For decades the Battle of Gettysburg, the so-called "highwater mark of the Confederacy" was viewed by many historians as "the" turning point in the Civil War. However, over the last twenty-five years or so the Battle of Antietam has largely replaced Gettysburg as "the main" turning point in the conflict, if one has to chose one specific event.

Antietam, or the Battle of Sharpsburg, as it is often referred to by those with Southern leanings, has received its fair share of historical scholarship. Some of the subject's best researchers and writers have taken on Antietam - James McPherson, Stephen Sears, and Gary Gallagher, among others, have produced either books or collections of essays on the battle or parts of it.


A Fierce Glory: Antietam-The Desparate Battle that Saved Lincoln and Doomed Slavery by Justin Martin is a welcome addition to the works that have preceded it. Martin, no stranger to the Civil War-era, tells the story of Antietam, from the slug fest in Cornfield to the battles for Burnside's Bridge and the Bloody Lane, to A.P. Hill's timely arrival from Harpers Ferry, in a see-saw manner and with such descriptive detail that it almost places the reader among the terrifying action. In fact, the primary strength of A Fierce Glory is how this story is told. For example, on pages 49 and 50, Martin writes: "The Hagerstown Pike ran along one side of the cornfield. It was just an ordinary country road. On this morning, it became a ferociously contested demarcation, both sides struggling to keep the other from crossing. Never mind that hoary whites of their eyes; pupils dilated in terror must have been nearly visible as the soldiers fired across the road, sometimes trading bullets over a space of less than 100 feet." Martin's ability to paint word pictures is second to none.


Another strong point of the book is how Martin contextualizes the battle by telling its associative stories. President Lincoln's mourning of son Willie, Clara Barton's courage and Jonathan Letterman's medical advancements, Alexander Gardner capturing images for Matthew Brady, and of course, the Emancipation Proclamation as a product of the fight, and other people, places, and events figure prominently into and benefit the narrative.


While Martin could have explored some of the less familiar soldiers' stories by diving deeper into available primary sources instead of relying so heavily on secondary sources, the highly descriptive way he tells many of the stories breaths new life into them.


Calling a book a "page turner" has become rather cliche, but in this case it sincerely fits. I recommend A Fierce Glory, particularly to new students of the Civil War, as its literary pull is sure to make it an influential book for years to come.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Lincoln's Loyalists


Although Southern Unionism is a relatively new niche interest for me, I'm finding that some scholars have been exploring the topic for quite a while. Published in 1992, Lincoln's Loyalists: Union Soldiers from the Confederacy by Richard Nelson Current is one of those early studies.

Most Civil War students are aware that Tennessee (particularly East Tennessee) produced thousands of soldiers for the Union army. Similarly, Western Virginia (eventually to become West Virginia) was also a stronghold of Unionism. Examination of each of these two states serve as Current's first two chapters. 

Current's third chapter looks at Unionism in North Carolina (mainly in the western Mountains and in coastal areas under early Union occupation), and in Arkansas. The book's fourth chapter explores the units raised in other seceded states. Current finds that every Confederate state, except South Carolina, raised at least a battalion of white troops that served in the Union army. In total an estimated 100,000 white men from seceded states served in the Union army. That figure was an enormous double negative for the Confederacy. Not only were they taking away manpower from the South, they were adding strength to the Union army. 

Current's other four chapters focus on those men who initially fought for the Confederacy but ended up fighting for the Union. Often referred to as "galvanized Yankees," most often these men were sent to areas where they were not expected to fight against their former comrades. "What Manner of Men," the sixth chapter, is a look at traits of Southern Unionism, and the seventh chapter examines the fighting effectiveness of Southern Unionist regiments. The final chapter, "Unknown Soldiers," shows possibly why Southern Unionists contributions have been previously overlooked, and also makes a strong case for telling the important place they should have in future Civil War scholarship. 

I highly recommend this book to those seeking to gain a stronger understanding on this particular subject.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Tell Your Senators That You Support Battlefield Preservation


I received an email from the American Battlefield Trust (formerly Civil War Trust) with an opportunity to let your elected representatives know that you support battlefield preservation.

The ABT makes it easy to participate with a form letter sent electronically. Once you've sent it, share the opportunity with others on your social media outlets.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


My book purchasing has slowed somewhat this past month as my "to be read" shelf is groaning under the weight of other books. Regardless, I've managed to pick up three books that promise to be good reads.

I came across The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War while reading a recent issue of Smithsonian magazine. I've always been fascinated by the Brooks-Sumner affair in 1856, and I'm sure this book will include a plethora of others to show how violent clashes could be in Congress in the first half of the 19th century.


Denmark Vesey's Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy is a book that has been getting quite a bit of buzz on several social media outlets. It focuses on Charleston, South Carolina and looks into how slavery has been remembered in the city. The horrific church shooting there in 2012 reminds us that the legacy of slavery and thus race still resonates strongly, not just in Charleston, but across the United States.


I recently received an email from the publisher offering a copy of Justin Martin's A Fierce Glory: Antietam - The Desperate Battle that Saved Lincoln and Doomed Slavery in exchange for writing a book review for it on this forum. Never one to pass up a free book, especially one that covers such a seemingly intriguing angle on the most costly single day of fighting in United States history, I accepted. Be on the lookout for the review. It should be posted in two or three weeks.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Slavery in the Clover Bottoms


I've been a big fan of the University of Tennessee Press's "Voices of the Civil War" series for years. Their concerted effort to put in print the diaries, journals, and memoirs of often not-so-famous people from the Civil War era allows us to have these vital primary sources in a readily accessible form. Slavery in the Clover Bottoms: John McCline's Narrative of His Life during Slavery and the Civil War, edited by Jan Furman, only adds another important perspective to the ever-growing series. 

John McCline, born on Clover Bottom plantation in Davidson County, Tennessee, and owned by James Hoggatt, gives us vivid memories of his enslaved childhood. McCline's mother died when he was very young and his father lived on another plantation. McCline lived with his grandmother and brothers at Clover Bottom where he was made to work years before he should have. In 1862, when McCline was about 10 years old, he observed the 13th Michigan Infantry marching by Clover Bottom. One of the 13th's soldiers, Frank Murray, asked McCline how he would like to go with them to the North and gain his freedom. McCline answered in the affirmative by hopping off of his master's mule and joining the Michigan men on the march. Eventually young McCline became a teamster for the regiment and participated in their campaigns which included Stones River, Tullahoma, Chickamauga (where Frank Murray was mortally wounded), Chattanooga, and Sherman's March to the Sea. 

Although McCline penned his history in his later years and his detail oriented descriptions were sometimes off the mark in chronology and in the directional (north, south, east, west) locations of buildings and other landmarks, he nevertheless gives an amazing look at one man's experience when enslaved and his efforts to gain his liberty by being the agent of his freedom. Cruel treatment by Mrs. Hoggatt and the plantation's overseer, although not expressly stated by McCline as his reason for fleeing with the Michigan soldiers was likely the precipitating cause. 

The editor's end notes help familiarize the reader with both historical context and corrections to McCline's few misremembered moments. Appendices provide additional information on a number of the 13th Michigan soldiers and the Clover Bottom slaves that McCline mentions in his history, as well as his several obituaries from his death in 1948. 

Narratives from formerly enslaved people are becoming more and more available to the public, and McCline's certainly adds another important "voice of the Civil War." I highly recommend it.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

154 Years Ago Today - The Battle of New Market Heights


154 years ago today the horrific battle of New Market Heights was fought just southeast of Richmond, Virginia. Recently I wrote a short piece for work that was included in the "Behind the Scenes at Pamplin" series published in our local Petersburg Progress Index newspaper.

"Vindicated in Death" tells the tragic story of Capt. Charles V. York of Company B of the 6th United States Colored Infantry. The 6th, along with the 4th, was part of the brigade of Stephen Duncan. Duncan's Brigade kicked off the assault that September 29, 1864 morning and received the severest punishment.

Lt. Nathan Edgerton, Sgt. Maj. Thomas Hawkins, and Sgt. Alexander Kelly, three Medal of Honor recipients in the 6th USCI are depicted in the painting above, "Three Medals of Honor," by artist Don Troiani.

Lest we forget!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Zooming in on Scouts at City Point


I've shared a few City Point, Virginia, Civil War photographic images over the past couple of months. These shots give students of the Petersburg Campaign a much better idea of the hustle and bustle surrounding the Army of the Potomac's supply base. This image is titled "City Point, Virginia. Scouts at Secret Service headquarters."

So were these men spies of sorts? Perhaps so. If so, imagine the adventures they had, the risks they took, and the stories they could tell of their ventures behind enemy lines gathering critical information.

The photograph prominently shows a group of four men, but zooming in on parts of the image lets us see many more details.


Two African American men dominate the foreground. They sit on logs, elbows on knees, while looking at the photographer. Both wear boots and civilian style slouch hats. They do not appear to have military apparel, as the man on the left looks to be wearing a civilian-style frock coat, while the man on the right appears to have on a civilian sack coat.


Zooming in on the man on the left's face, one can see his features, including his eyes, more clearly under the shade of his hat brim. He looks to be wearing a cravat, too.


Just behind the two seated men are two standing men. They are about as different from each other as possible. The man on the left is fully dressed, has a hat on, and sports a beard. The man on the right has his baggy trousers tucked into his boots, stands in his undershirt, and does not have a hat on. He is also clean shaven. The only thing these two seem to have in common is that they are both standing about as stiff as possible; probably taking a cue from the photographer to stand still while the image processes.
  

Looking closely, a line of railroad boxcars is visible through the tree branches in the left center of the image. These cars were part of the vital United States Military Railroad. 


The railroad line continues to the right center of the photograph where a flatbed car appears in front of a warehouse. The rail line runs right to the wharf where a side-wheel steamboat with protruding smoke stack sits in either the James or Appomattox River.


I seem to run into a curiosity in each of these "zooming in" shots. Are the cords tied to the tree branches something as simple as a clothes line or are they for something more significant?


In between the two standing men, and further in the background, one can see several lines or railroad tracks, a man standing with his hands in his pockets, and what appears to be an ambulance wagon. Other than the "U.S." on the top line, I am not able to make out the other words. Does anyone have a clue as to what type of conveyance this truly is?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Don't Hurry Me Down to Hades


In Don't Hurry Me Down to Hades: The Civil War in the Words of Those Who Lived It, author Susannah J. Ural gives us an inside peek at the Civil War's impact on individuals and families. By using their own words from the primary sources they left, the war's toll is told in a way that makes the reader feel the weight of these troubled times as if one were there.

Whether Ural looks at individuals, husband-wives, brothers, or fathers-children, they all speak their heart-felt experiences in the conflict. Mixed in with some of the more well known stories to students of the Civil War, like those of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, Jefferson and Varina Davis, and Ulysses, Julia and Frederick Grant, are also those not so well known, like Madison and Lizzie Bowler, Andrew and Ann Erskine, Charlotte Forten, Wilbur Fisk, and William Shepherd. 

The book follows the chronology of the war, along with its ebbs and flows of good news and bad news (depending of course on the views of the writers), but the narrative of the conflict comes largely through the words of the people most affected by it, although expertly synthesized and crafted by the author. Don't Hurry Me Down to Hades reminded me of another book I read a few years back, The Private Civil War: Popular Thought During the Sectional Conflict by Randall C. Jimerson. Although different in their structure, both books rely heavily on the historical actors for their voice. Ural's research on Hood's Texas Brigade, which she has also recently published a book about, comes through in several of the people and events this work covers. 

The book does have a few distracting typographical errors here and there that an editor should probably have caught. And it seems, too, that while the first three years of the war get significant coverage and comment, the last two years appear to get a briefer examination. 

Regardless of these rather minor quibbles, Don't Hurry Me Down to Hades is an excellent book that satisfies the reader's need to learn about the Civil War through "the words of those who lived it." I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Be Free or Die


Our book club at work selected Be Free or Die: The Amazing Story of Robert Smalls' Escape from Slavery to Union Hero for our next discussion. Although, getting dust jacket endorsements from Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and James McPherson certainly didn't hurt in my ultimate decision to buy a copy, after reading it, I'm happy I've added it to my library. 

Robert Smalls' story is not one of those that could be considered "untold," but amazingly, his biography has somehow not received much historical coverage. Journalist Cate Lineberry's book tells not only Smalls' amazing escape from slavery by stealing a Confederate contracted steamer and piloting it along with 15 enslaved individuals, including his family, to the Union blockade, it also tells the results of such a daring act. 

Once the ship was delivered to the Union Navy Smalls' previous anonymity disappeared and he became the most recognized African American not named Frederick Douglass. The daring deed also brought Smalls a well paying job as a civilian pilot and then as a captain of an army ship. Smalls' reward for capturing the Planter along with his boating positions afforded him with the opportunity to purchase his former masters' house when its taxes went unpaid during the war. His sudden celebrity even brought a meeting with President Lincoln. 

Told though solid research, and written in an engaging style Be Free or Die is a yet another must read for Civil War students. My only minor complaint with the book is that too little coverage was provided about Smalls' post war life and career as a U.S. Congressman. His role in South Carolina Reconstruction politics deserves a much more thorough examination. Despite this small quibble, I still highly recommend it. 

Hopefully, someday, Smalls' inspiring life story will also make it to the silver screen so he will receive the additional recognition he so richly deserves.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Military Images Magazine


Other than offering book reviews, I don't usually make promotional announcements on this forum. But having just received the initial issue (Autumn 2018) of my recent subscription to Military Images magazine, I feel a certain obligation to share my good find.

Military Images has been in publication for years, however, I'd never taken to the time to investigate any issues to see what all they offered. First, I was impressed with the packaging that the issue came in. Too often my Civil War or history magazines come all beat up from rough postal handling. This one, though, was in a strong clear plastic bag. Nice! Secondly, the magazine is printed on heavy, quality stock. And, finally, the images, as one would hope for a photograph-centered magazine, are sharp and clear.

Military Images is expertly edited by Ronald Coddington. You may be familiar with a number of his "Faces of" books from my several mentions here on Random Thoughts. Coddington includes a number of "departments" that appear in each issue like, "Editor's Desk" and "Antebellum Warriors," but each edition also contains a number of featured articles based around themed photographs, all of which are very well written.

Military Images releases four issues each year, which comes to about $6.00 an issue if you obtain a subscription. In my opinion that is a virtual steal for what all you get in each issue. To subscribe, find back issues, or learn more about this fine publication you can do so at this link: Military Images. You'll be glad you subscribed.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


One of the reasons I like going to history conferences is that I often pick up book recommendations. Historians are typically good about sharing what they think are good books, whether in their presentations or in casual conversation. When I was the the Gettysburg College Civil War Institute back in June, Peter Carmichael recommended No Freedom Shrieker: The Civil War Letters of Union Soldier Charles Biddlecom in his talk on common soldiers. Biddlecom served in the 147th New York regiment and he apparently gives the reader a unglorified look at how he experienced the war.


Studies about antebellum Southern colleges are among my favorites. I saw Rot, Riot, and Rebellion: Mr. Jefferson's Struggle to Save the University that Changed America about three years ago in the University of Virginia bookstore while providing an extended tailored tour. Recently I came across an inexpensive used copy while killing some time in a book store in Richmond and decided to buy it.


Last month I had the good fortune to get a little time away from work and spend it listening to the beautiful sounds of the North Carolina coast. While there doing some history sightseeing I realized how little I actually knew about eastern North Carolina's experience during the Civil War. After seeing a copy of Shifting Loyalites: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina in the gift shop of one of the museums I visited, I looked for a used copy when I returned and and decided that this study looked like a good place to start increasing my knowledge about the region.


Battle Scars: Gender and Sexuality in the American Civil War is another book I found in the Richmond used book store. Edited by well-respected historians Catherine Clinton and Nina Silder, this collection of ten essays by a host leading gender historians in the field cover a diverse array of topics on this central theme.


I provided a brief review of John Brown Speaks: Letters and Statements from Charleston in yesterday's post, so I won't mention much here other than to say if one wants to get a inside look at Brown's thoughts and concerns while awaiting execution, there is not better source than the collection of letters he sent from his Charlestown jail cell. Read it!


Robert Smalls is a fascinating historical character. Along with Be Free or Die: The Amazing Story of Robert Smalls' Escape from Slavery to Union Hero, he is also the subject of an article in the most recent issue of the Smithsonian Magazine. It is high time that this amazing story gets more deserved attention. I'm looking forward to learning more about the details this exciting story of escape and how the publicity it received in the North was perceived in the Confederacy.


Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism: College, Community,, and the Fight for Freedom and Equality in Antebellum America is a book that has been on my wish list since before it was released. I've kept my eye on its used price and decided that when it finally got within my budget range I'd get a copy, which I did last week. Oberlin, an early interracial and co-educational college, was a leader in the abolitionist movement producing key anti-slavery figures who became participants in numerous events leading up to the Civil War. I'm expecting it to be a great read.


The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown's Family and the Legacy of Radical Abolitionism is another welcome addition the growing John Brown section of my library. I hoping to form an even better understanding of Brown's influences by reading about female members of his family. I'm not sure how I had not come across this work before, but I'm happy to now have it among my collection.