Friday, February 02, 2018

New and Noteworthy--Lincoln and Churchill: Statesmen at War

Lincoln and Churchill, Lewis Lehrman, Stackpole Books, 544 pages, bibliographic note, illustrations, 2018,  $34.95

A portion of a book review from the January 26, 2018 Wall Street Journal

Both leaders had not only a genius for waging war but a gift for explaining why it must be waged.

The enduring fame of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill rests chiefly on their leadership during existential conflicts. And while the American Civil War and World War II differed in scale, strategic difficulty and technological complexity, the two leaders indelibly stamped their respective causes in similar ways, as Lewis E. Lehrman observes in his penetrating new book, “Lincoln & Churchill: Statesmen at War.” Decades and much else divide the two men, but the qualities they share inspire all who defend the cause of freedom.

At first glance, their contrasts seem to loom larger than their similarities. Lincoln was born in a frontier cabin, Churchill in a ducal palace. The American president was nearly monkish in his asceticism, eating little and drinking not at all; Churchill relished fine food and champagne (and whisky and brandy). “My tastes are simple,” Churchill said, “I am easily satisfied with the best.”
Lincoln was an enigmatic figure even to his closest associates; his longtime law partner called him the most “shut-mouthed” man that ever lived. Churchill was ceaselessly voluble, pouring out his thoughts and opinions in an endless geyser of rhetoric, publishing more words than Shakespeare and Dickens combined.

Their martial experience, too, could hardly have been more different. At about the age when Churchill was charging with the British cavalry in the Sudanese desert, Lincoln waged “bloody struggles with the mosquitoes,” as he self-mockingly put it, during the Black Hawk War in Illinois. Pacific by nature, the young Lincoln refused even to hunt game, while Churchill lunged into conflicts from Cuba to India to Africa. 

Ultimate power came to Churchill late. He was 65 when a reluctant King George VI appointed him prime minister. By that time, he had held every high cabinet post save that of foreign secretary. Lincoln was inaugurated a few weeks after his 52nd birthday, one of the youngest presidents yet elected, having served only a single term in Congress.

Full Text of this review is found at Wall Street Journal, January 26, 2018

Friday, January 26, 2018

News: Low Tides During Bomb Cyclone Reveals Slave Transport Vessel at Mobile, Alabama Found on Alabama Coast

 Wreck Found by Reporter may be Last American Slave Ship, Ben Raines,  AL.com, January 23, 2018.

Relying on historical records and accounts from old timers, AL.com may have located the long-lost wreck of the Clotilda, the last slave ship to bring human cargo to the United States.

What's left of the ship lies partially buried in mud alongside an island in the lower Mobile-Tensaw Delta, a few miles north of the city of Mobile. The hull is tipped to the port side, which appears almost completely buried in mud. The entire length of the starboard side, however, is almost fully exposed. The wreck, which is normally underwater, was exposed during extreme low tides brought on by the same weather system that brought the "Bomb Cyclone" to the Eastern Seaboard. Low tide around Mobile was about two and a half feet below normal thanks to north winds that blew for days.
"I'm quaking with excitement. This would be a story of world historical significance, if this is the Clotilda," said John Sledge, a senior historian with Mobile Historical Commission, and author of The Mobile River, an exhaustive history of the river. "It's certainly in the right vicinity... We always knew it should be right around there."

This reporter, Ben Raines, used the abnormally low tides to search for the ship after researching possible locations. The remote spot where the ship was found, deep in the swampy Mobile-Tensaw Delta, is accessible only by boat. During my first trips after discovering the wreck, I documented it with photographs and aerials shot with a drone. Over the next week, I ferried a shipwright expert in the construction techniques used on old wooden vessels and a team of archaeologists from the University of West Florida to the site.

All concluded that the wreck dated to the mid 1800s (the Clotilda was built in 1855), and featured construction techniques typical of Gulf Coast schooners used to haul lumber and other heavy cargo, as the Clotilda was designed to do. The vessel also bore telltale signs of being burned, as the Clotilda reportedly was. In later years, the slavers bragged of burning the ship at the conclusion of their voyage in July of 1860 in an effort to hide proof of their human trafficking. Evidence of a fire on the wreck included a distinctive patina on wrought iron chain plates used to hold the masts and bowsprit in place, and charred beams and timbers in the ship's interior.

"These ships were the 18-wheelers of their day. They were designed to haul a huge amount of cargo in relatively shallow water," said Winthrop Turner, a shipwright specializing in wooden vessels. "That's why you see the exceptional number of big iron drifts used to hold the planking together. That's also why the sides of the ship are so stout. They are almost two feet thick. The construction techniques here, no threaded bolts, iron drifts, butt jointed planking, these all confirm a ship built between 1850 and 1880."

Full Text and Video at Alabama.com

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

New and Noteworthy: The Minds of the Soldiers

Psychological Consequences of the American Civil War,  R. Gregory Lande,  McFarland Publishing Company, 2017, pp. 256, $35.00. 
Review at Michigan War Studies, by R. Gregory Lande,



The American Civil War transformed the social and political fabric of the United States. It destroyed slavery, expanded the federal government, and mobilized over three million men for military service. In Psychological Consequences of the American Civil War, independent scholar R. Gregory Lande explores how a society fractured by war "confronted the lingering psychological consequences that followed four brutal years of deprivation, distrust, and death" (1), as its civilians and veterans struggled to make sense of the war's carnage and destruction. The book's subjects, including substance abuse, fraudulent physicians, depression, spiritualism, patent medicines, and crime, demonstrate the challenges facing postwar Americans.

Lande states that his "personal experiences in forensic psychiatry and addiction medicine have contributed insights that collectively informed my analysis of the social forces shaping America's postwar period." With an audience of general readers in mind, he uses a fluid writing style, short, punchy paragraphs, and extended narration. He takes little notice of previous scholarship on his subject, but promises a work different in "scope and analysis" from that of "many other eminent historians" (2). In the absence of any specific mention of those historians in his main text, readers are left to wonder just what makes his account distinctive.

The book comprises a preface and seven thematically organized chapters. Lande moves briskly from event to event and person to person, guided by a central theme that carries across several fronts. Chapter 1, "Sadness and Suicide," for example, describes how wartime homesickness morphed into debilitating nostalgia and a concomitant "rash of suicides" (34). Chapter 4, "Intemperance," concerns the spike in postwar alcoholism, while 5, "Carnival of Crime," explains how "Depression-driven dissipation" (151) drove up crime rates. The author maintains that "The riveting impact of a war now concluded left society rudderless, drifting toward a reflective introversion and anomie. Against this backdrop, brooding intensified, cynicism increased, and social outlets dried up. For an increasing number of individuals, the nihilistic spiral ended in suicide" (29).

This is not an argument-driven work but rather a broad investigation of a pervasive American postwar social malaise: "Emotional turmoil from four years of civil war contributed to decades of mayhem, misery, and malevolence on a scale unprecedented in America's short history" (193). To bolster such assertions, Lande canvasses census data, newspaper articles, personal correspondence, medical journals, and popular periodicals. While the resulting study contains interesting stories and makes some solid claims, it also postulates several tenuous connections between the Civil War and postwar upheaval. Chapter 4, for example, adduces census data showing that higher mortality rates in postbellum America were attributable to "venereal diseases, alcoholism, … diseases of the liver, … accidents of all kinds, and suicides" (100). Yet, as Lande himself notes, "the full impact of intemperance during the Civil War and in the following decades is nearly impossible" (99) to assess.
In this case, the inferred causal link between wartime and postwar alcohol abuse and higher death rates is entirely plausible. Lande's treatment of spiritualism in chapter 2, "A Loss of Faith," is less compelling. It dwells so long on antebellum-era spiritualism and famous practitioners like the Fox family and Cora Hatch as to overshadow the author's stated aim to show how the Civil War created "fertile ground for the rapid growth of Spiritualism" (39). Lande concedes that, though the war produced many easily preyed-upon "disillusioned victims" (75), "only skimpy evidence documenting Civil War soldiers' feelings about Spiritualism seems to exist" (59). Presenting a string of incidents and stories, however fascinating, does not effectively explain how the war changed Americans' spiritual thinking, a subject well elucidated by others.
 
Finally, certain claims suffer from lack evidence or ignorance of relevant scholarship. For example, Lande uses Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in his discussion of intemperance. Grant famously developed a drinking problem during his antebellum military service and the press often criticized him for drunkenness, correctly or not, during the war. Relying on a nineteenth-century biography, Lande describes Grant as too drunk to participate in the battle of Shiloh (6–7 April 1862), in order to set up his narrative of the general's conquest of his intemperance later in the war (113). In fact, Grant spent the night of the sixth with his troops in the field and personally coordinated the counterassaults that routed the Confederate forces the next day.

The gripping, often troubling tales told in Psychological Consequences of the American Civil War shed welcome light on the effects of the "furious forces unleashed by four years of war" (10) long after Appomattox. R. Gregory Lande's lively investigation of the world created by the Civil War will intrigue and instruct a wide general audience, if not specialist readers.

Review Source: Michigan War Studies

Thursday, December 21, 2017

New and Noteworthy: After Gettysburg, The Flight and The Pursuit

After Gettysburg: Lee Retreats, Meade Pursues, Joe Mieczkowski, Pedia Press, 154 pp. 17 maps, 31 images, 21 charts, bibliographic notes, bibliographies, index, $24.90.

In the social sciences, a case study is a research and presentation method which focuses upon a close-up, detailed examination of a subject.  Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide, Joe Mieczkowski's After Gettysburg offers a welcomed case study style handbook to the Gettysburg Campaign's July 4 through mid-October segment. 

Divided into three parts, After Gettysburg details the Army of Northern Virginia's retreat to the Potomac River and the Army of the Potomac's pursuit from Gettysburg to the Rappahannock River. A third part describes seven notable generals and their unique strategic impact on the campaign.

 After Gettysburg; Lee Retreats, Meade Pursues encourages further study by offering references, books and internet links for each segment.  Mieczkowski includes GPS coordinates for each skirmish and battle. Printed 8.5 inch x 5 inch with a sturdy and flexible spine allows the book to be easily used in the car. Clear, concise narration combined with citations for further study,  After Gettysburg; Lee Retreats, Meade Pursues is accessible to readers high school and up.







Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Forthcoming in 2018--Where Valor Sleeps: Fredericksburg National Cemetery

 Where Valor Proudly Sleeps: A History of Fredericksburg National Cemetery, 1866-1933, Donald C. Pfanz, Engaging The Civil War Series, Southern Illinois University Press, 248 pages, $26.50 [March 2018]

From the Publisher: Many books discuss in great detail what happened during Civil War battles. This is one of the few that investigate what happened to the remains of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Where Valor Proudly Sleeps explores a battle’s immediate and long-term aftermath by focusing on Fredericksburg National Cemetery, one of the largest cemeteries created by the U.S. government after the Civil War. Pfanz shows how legislation created the National Cemetery System and describes how the Burial Corps identified, collected, and interred soldier remains as well as how veterans, their wives, and their children also came to rest in national cemeteries. By sharing the stories of the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, its workers, and those buried there, Pfanz explains how the cemetery evolved into its current form, a place of beauty and reflection. 

Donald C. Pfanz has written five books, including Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life and War So Terrible: A Popular History of the Battle of Fredericksburg. In his thirty-two-year career with the National Park Service, he worked at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park, Petersburg National Battlefield Park, and Fort Sumter National Monument.
"This might be the best book ever written about a national cemetery. With a depth of knowledge born of decades of work, Donald Pfanz tells in vivid form and in close detail the story of how, over time, a place of struggle became a place of remembrance."—John J. Hennessy, author, Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas

"Pfanz reveals the horrors of war and the tragic tales of sacrifice that involved incredibly high percentages of unknown dead. Anyone interested in the funeral practices of the Union Army, or in better understanding the sacrifices for freedom, will find this book enlightening."—William A. Blair, author of With Malice toward Some: Treason and Loyalty in the Civil War Era
 

 

 

Monday, November 20, 2017

New----The Best Gun In The World Came From South Carolina

The Best Gun in the World: George Woodward Morse and the South Carolina State Military Works, Robert S. Seigler, University of South Carolina Press; 288 pages; 9 color photographs, 71 black and white photographs, notes, index, bibliography, $49.95.

From the Publisher:

A thoroughly researched account of weapons innovation and industrialization during the Civil War

A year after seceding from the Union, South Carolina faced the daunting challenge of equipping soldiers with weapons, ammunition, and other military implements during the American Civil War, a problem faced by the Confederate States government as well. In The Best Gun in the World, Robert S. Seigler explains how South Carolina created its own armory and then enlisted the help of a weapons technology inventor to meet the demand. Seigler mined state and federal factory records, national and state archives, and U.S. patents for detailed information on weapons production, the salaries and status of free and enslaved employees, and other financial records to reveal an interesting, distinctive story of technological innovation and industrialization in South Carolina.

George Woodward Morse, originally from New Hampshire, was a machinist and firearms innovator who settled in Louisiana in the 1840s. He invented a reliable breechloading firearm in the mid-1850s to replace the muzzleloaders that were ubiquitous throughout the world. Essential to the successful operation of any breechloader was its ammunition, and Morse perfected the first metallic, center-fire, preprimed cartridge, his most notable contribution to the development of modern firearms.

The U.S. War Department tested Morse rifles and cartridges prior to the beginning of the Civil War and contracted with the inventor to produce the weapons at Harpers Ferry Armory. However, when the war began, Morse, a slaveholding plantation owner, determined that he could sell more of his guns in the South. The South Carolina State Military Works, originally designed to cast cannon, produced Morse’s carbine and modified muskets, brass cartridges, cartridge boxes, and other military accoutrements. The armory ultimately produced only about 1,350 Morse firearms. For the next twenty years, Morse sought to regain his legacy as the inventor of the center-fire brass cartridges that are today standard ammunition for military and sporting firearms.

Robert S. Seigler, a South Carolina native, is a recipient of the Order of the Palmetto (the highest civilian honor in South Carolina) and is a fellow in the Explorers Club and the Royal Geographical Society. He is the author of eight books and several journal articles about South Carolina’s Civil War history. Seigler practices medicine in Greenville, South Carolina, where he is the medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit and a professor of pediatrics at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville.  

Publisher's web site for The Best Gun in the World University of South Carolina Press


Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man In the Confederacy

Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy, Earl J. Hess, North Carolina University Press, 361 Pages, 28 illustrations, 2 maps, notes, index, bibliography,  2016. $35 hardcover.

Michigan War Studies Review, November 13, 2017, Robert L. Glaze, reviewer states: 

Braxton BraggThis superb study of Braxton Bragg is very aptly subtitled.  A punch line of many a joke at conferences and Civil War roundtables, Bragg has fared poorly in both the war's historiography and its popular memory.  The conventional image oi the general is of an obtuse, irascible, cold-hearted, and incapable officer who, more than any other Rebel leader, doomed the confederacy. He poisoned relations within the western Confederate high command and stymied the South's war effort on both the strategic and tactical levels.  While some of this rings true, the prolific Civil War historian Earl Hess has now given readers a more proficient, nuanced and, indeed, human Braxton Bragg.

To claim that Bragg was the most capable of all the Army of Tennessee's commanders seems like faint praise, but Hess marshals considerable evidence that the general was an excellent administrator, devoted and brave Southern patriot, and skilled tactician.  Granted, he lost more battles than he won, but Hess reminds us that he was commander of the army when it reached its organization and tactical apes.  Bragg managed to reinvigorate that army after its bloody defeat at Shiloh and led it to 'its most impressive tactical victories'. . on October 8 at Perryville, December 31 at Stones River and September 20 at Chickamauga. (276)  Hess backs up his assertions with compelling statistics, noting that Bragg was responsible for 75 percent of the army's tactical successes and only 28.5 percent of its failures.  Such numbers lead him to the bold, sure-to-be-controversial, yet reasoned claim that 'the Army of Tennessee was Bragg's Army." (276)

While the general was far from a flawless field commander, Hess argues that his wartime failures were more personal than military. It was, he posits, Bragg's stubborn recalcitrance and poor relations with his subordinates and the Southern press, that more than anything else, damaged his reputation.  Like many of the South's generals, he proved to be a poor politician. He rarely courted Southern newspaper editors and proved  remarkably clumsy when he tried to.   . . . .

 Full Text is continues at Michigan War Studies Review, November 13, 2017.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Forthcoming in early 2018: The Civil War Dead--What Their Photographs Did To Americans and Their Culture

  The Civil War Dead and American Modernity, Ian Finseth, Oxford University Press, 352 pages, February 2018, $65.00 hardcover

From The Publisher:   The Civil War Dead and American Modernity offers a fundamental rethinking of the cultural importance of the American Civil War dead. Tracing their representational afterlife across a massive array of historical, visual, and literary documents from 1861 to 1914, Ian Finseth maintains that the war dead played a central, complex, and paradoxical role in how Americans experienced and understood the modernization of the United States. From eyewitness accounts of battle to photographs and paintings, and from full-dress histories of the war to fictional narratives, Finseth shows that the dead circulated through American cultural life in ways that we have not fully appreciated, and that require an expanded range of interpretive strategies to understand.

While individuals grieved and relinquished their own loved ones, the collective Civil War dead, Finseth argues, came to form a kind of symbolic currency that informed Americans' melancholic relationship to their own past. Amid the turbulence of the postbellum era, as the United States embarked decisively upon its technological, geopolitical, and intellectual modernity, the dead provided an illusion of coherence, intelligibility, and continuity in the national self. At the same time, they seemed to represent a traumatic break in history and the loss of a simpler world, and their meanings could never be completely contained by the political discourse that surrounded them.

Reconstructing the formal, rhetorical, and ideological strategies by which postwar American society reimagined, and continues to reimagine, the Civil War dead, Finseth also shows that a strain of critical thought was alert to this dynamic from the very years of the war itself. The Civil War Dead and American Modernity is at once a study of the politics of mortality, the disintegration of American Victorianism, and the role of visual and literary art in both forming and undermining social consensus.
Table of Contents

Section I. The "Ghastly Spectacle": Witnessing Civil War Death Chapter 1: The problem of experience
Chapter 2: Sense, affect, representation
Chapter 3: Faces, names, types, families
Chapter 4: Melancholy reflections

Section II. Body Images: The Civil War Dead in Visual CultureChapter 1: Photography and the question of empathy
Chapter 2: The illustrated dead
Chapter 3: Lithography, history, allegory
Chapter 4: Painting and the enigma of visibility

Section III. Blood and Ink: Historicizing the Civil War Dead Chapter 1: Objectivity, partisanship, nationalism
Chapter 2: The early years: Northern determinism
Chapter 3: The early years: Southern alienation
Chapter 4: Later years: The convergence
Chapter 5: African American counterhistory

Section IV. Plotting Mortality: The Civil War Dead and the Narrative ImaginationChapter 1: Modernity, disenchantment, and the agons of realism
Chapter 2: "Grieve not so": Loss and the new woman
Chapter 3: Narratives ajar: Elizabeth Stuart Phelps and the refusal of closure
Chapter 4: Farewell, sacrificial hero
Chapter 5: The returning dead

About The Author: Ian Finseth is Associate Professor of American Literature at the University of North Texas. His scholarly work focuses on the literary history of transatlantic slavery, abolitionism, and the American Civil War. Dr. Finseth was born in Boston, grew up in California, and earned degrees from UC Berkeley (B.A.), the University of Virginia (M.A.), and UNC-Chapel Hill (Ph.D.)