Saturday, December 15, 2018

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

My birthday landed on Thanksgiving this year, and thanks to my wonderful wife, I received Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight as one of my gifts. For me, this was probably the most anticipated biographical release since James I. Robertson's Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend. I was looking forward to reading Blight's new book so much that I jumped several others patiently waiting for my attention and started it this past week. What makes this book so anticipated you ask? Well, first of all, the subject of the study is arguably one of the most influential Americans of the 19th century. Secondly, David Blight is one of our country's most insightful and well written historians. Combine the significance of the subject and the quality of the author and you have the potential for a "once in a decade" book. I am thoroughly enjoying it, although I am only about 150 pages in. Of course, I'll be sharing a brief review when I finish it.

Speaking of anticipated books . . . Unfortunately, there have not been many Civil War common soldier studies in recent years. Yes, there has been a plethora of published letter collections from the perspective of the common soldier, but new studies that synthesize information and offer new angles that help us better understand the trials, and tribulations, and how men coped are sorely lacking. Coming to fill the void in common soldier studies is  Peter Carmichael's The War for the Common Soldier: How Men Thought, Fought, and Survived in Civil War Armies.  I heard Carmichael speak on this subject this past June at Gettysburg College's Civil War Institute. If you've not watched that talk, you should. And once you do, I bet you'll be buying this book, too.

I've long been a proponent of the argument that fugitive slaves' agency led directly to the Southern slave states seceding in 1860 and 1861, and thus prompted the outbreak of the Civil War. Most of my study on this subject has been focused in the decades form the 1830s to the 1860s. The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America's Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War by Andrew Delbanco, however, promises to fill in the gaps of my knowledge from the end of the 18th century, and its 1793 Fugitive Slave Law, on into the first part of the 19th century.

My recent trip to Vermont has spurred a new interest in that state's participation in the Civil War. In my various readings about the Army of the Potomac, I've come across numerous references and quotes from Private Wilbur Fisk of the 2nd Vermont Infantry Regiment. Hard Marching Every Day: The Civil War Letters of Private Wilbur Fisk, 1861-1865, seems to offer the Civil War student an almost unprecedented portrait of soldier life in the Union army of the eastern theater.

James C. Klotter's Henry Clay: The Man Who Would Be President is another book that I've had on my wishlist for a while and that I received for my recent birthday. I had the good fortune to work with Dr. Klotter on a couple of different projects while I was at the Kentucky Historical Society. He is the consummate gentleman and historian. In this new work, Klotter seeks to explain how Clay never became president despite being immensely popular, charismatic, and politically accomplished. Despite being nominated and receiving electoral votes in three elections, and desired the Whig Party's nomination twice more; and despite being one of our nation's most gifted orators and top senators in history, he never attained the nation's highest political office. I'm looking forward to getting Klotter's explanation on all of this.

With the recent publication of Chandra Manning's Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War, and now, Amy Murrell Taylor's Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War's Slave Refugee Camps, the so-called contraband camps of the Civil War are receiving some much needed scholarly attention. Taylor's essay on Camp Nelson, Kentucky, which appeared in Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War's Ragged Edges, brought an important but largely forgotten story to light that influenced future legislation which saw Congress grant freedom to the immediate family members of  formerly enslaved soldiers in the Union army. This book promises to similarly show how individuals who had practically no political power somehow influenced significant decisions that altered America forever. I'm interested in learning more about their individual stories and gaining inspiration from the decisions they made and the risks they took to gain freedom and fight for equality.

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