Saturday, November 24, 2018

Civil War Talk Radio

If you are a history podcast fan, or if you're just a Civil enthusiast, I'd like to invite you to tune into Civil War Talk Radio with host Dr. Gerald Prokopowicz. Gerry is a history professor at East Carolina University and the author of a couple of excellent Civil War books. I met Gerry a few years ago when he brought a group of Stephen Ambrose Tours guests to the Park. Since then he's been back with those groups several times and we've stayed in touch.

This past June we caught up at the Gettysburg College Civil War Institute and he asked if I would be interested in being part of future show with a focus on public history at Civil War sites. Of course, I was honored to participate. That show aired on Halloween, but is available on the Civil War Talk Radio website, along with many other episodes from as far back as 2004. There are some excellent interviews with a many of the field's best historians available. I highly recommend you tune in. Happy listening! 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Chester, Vermont Union Soldier Monument

One of the most enjoyable parts of traveling for me is seeing how communities remember their involvement in the Civil War. While driving through Chester, Vermont a few weeks ago I spotted the above monument.

Among those listed from Chester who served and died in the war are a number of men in the Vermont Brigade of the VI Corps. I wonder how many of them fell during the Petersburg Campaign?

An online source states that the monument was cast in Chicopee, Massachusetts in 1883 and was dedicated the following year.

On each side are four plaques with Chester men who served in various Vermont regiments.


The soldier sculpture is credited to Heinrich Manger and was cast at Ames Manufacturing Company foundry.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Civil War Barons

The Industrial Revolution and the technological advancements it spawned had a tremendous impact on America's fratricidal war of 1861-65. Many of those inventions that appeared in the decades preceding the war (steam powered boats and railroads, telegraphs, etc.) along with subsequent developments would be reworked in various ways to benefit armies and destroy enemies.

In Civil War Barons: The Tycoons, Entrepreneurs, Inventors, and Visionaries Who Forged Victory and Shaped a Nation by Jeffry D. Wert, we receive a look at a group of some 18 men, some well known, so quite obscure, who developed ideas which helped advance the cause of the Union and paved the way for the Gilded Age. Wert provides the reader with mini-biographies of men such as Philip D. Armour of meatpacking fame; Gail Borden, who canned milk for the army; Henry Burden, a mass producer of horseshoes; railroad man Andrew Carnegie; Jay Cooke, who helped the U.S. finance the war through bonds sales; plow maker John Deere; engineer and gunboat builder James B. Eads; businessman and iron maker Abram S. Hewitt; railroader Collis P. Huntington; grain reaper inventor Cyrus McCormick; shoemaker Gordon McKay; artillery manufacturer Robert B. Parrott; railroad businessman Thomas A. Scott; repeating arms manufacturer Christopher M. Spencer; pharmacist Edward Squibb; wagon makers the Studebaker family; J. Edgar Thompson of the Pennsylvania Railroad; industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt; and lumber magnate Frederick Weyerhaeuser, but Wert also does much more. Within each of the stories of each of these men he gives us their significance to the Union cause, told in an engaging way that helps the reader see their relevance to our 21st Century lives, too.

Civil War Barons is composed of 11 chapters, ten of which cover either the men individually or in pairs: the titles,The Administrators, The Visionary, The Inventors, The Improvisers, The Patriots, The Investors, The Tinkerers, The Dreamers, The Opportunists, and The Builders, tie all of the stories together nicely. Civil War Barons only adds to Wert's fine previous works such as Mosby's Rangers and A Brotherhood of Valor, among others. His fine writing and strong research is on full display with his current study.

One cannot fully understand the impact of the Civil War by merely studying one aspect of the conflict while ignoring others. Knowing the political without the military, or the economic without the social, or any without the others leaves pieces of the puzzle missing. With Civil War Barons, Wert has provided us with another important piece of the puzzle. I highly recommend it.

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.