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.

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