Tuesday, June 12, 2018

New and Noteworthy: The War Beyond My Window


The War Outside  My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865 Edited by Janet Elizabeth Croon, Savas Beatue Publishing, 480 pp, maps, images, medical forward, Dramatis Personae, $34.95

Residing in a family that owned two rural Georgia plantations but residing in Macon, Georgia, LeRoy W. Gresham, has left a remarkable document that reveals much about the daily life of a slave holding family.  Gresham is a resilient young adult who grievously suffers from known and unknown health conditions. While viewing a house that had recently burned down, a chimney collapsed and struck his leg. In his future are not canes, crutches or wheelchairs. He must be pulled around in a cart by his brother, cousins or a slave. Unknown to his doctor or his parents is that tuberculosis has entered his body and he is slowly degenerating.  He dies in 1865 at the age of 18.

The American Civil War is indeed outside of his window. In 1860 he gathers premonitions of the coming storm when he travels on a ship from Savannah to Philadelphia and New York City for the purpose of being examined by medical specialists. He notes the present of Japanese visitors walking the streets of Philadelphia. Back home, he views it by reading newspapers, conversing with relatives and visiting the troop trains that pass through Macon. Sherman’s march misses Macon but the refugees from the march don’t. 

If you are an environment historian, you should read the diary for the droughts and floods that interrupt the agriculture practices of the plantations and the fluctuating prices of food. If you are a social historian, you should read this for his description of his family’s extended relative connections, his education, the family’s parlor games and the diets of a plantation household that live in a city. If you are drawn to communications and journalism, you will find how fast news and newspapers travel between the United States and the Confederate States. He has his favorite Northern and Southern newspapers and he comes to an understanding of ‘fake news’ and how and why it exists.  If you are a medical historian, you will discover how doctors understand and treat Gresham’s coughs, back pains, headaches, nerve damage to his leg and hips.  Readers will come to learn that a belladonna plaster on the spine really, really itches. 

In Gresham’s diary there are fires which destroy homes; eleven homes and farm buildings are destroyed by fire during 1860-1861. Readers might ponder whether these fires occur when a fire place ember pops and lands on carpets and quilts or whether some slaves became arsonists. Funerals are a regular occurrence. Elders and infants die; adults get very sick very quickly and die.
Gresham is never not reading two or three books at the same time.  The works of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, James Fennimore Cooper, William Prescott [the historian] are each on his bookshelves which hold history, travel or fiction books.  If relatives come to visit him, they usually bring a book or newspapers and then take some time to play chess with him.  Also on his book shelf are manuals of chess openings used by the experts.   He does have opinions about the New York City and Philadelphia newspaper editors.

When Gresham is outside he travels to the train station to talk to the troops or ventures to a target range where he practices his archery and rifle skills. With help he flies a kite. At night he studies the constellations.  During the daytime he works on math problems, Latin and essays. 

The annotated notes by Janet Elizabeth Coon are clear, concise and insightful. There are maps, sample pages of the diary, and a list of those relatives, neighbors and slaves mentioned in the diary. What readers will not find in the book is ‘presentism’ inserted by the author.  Race, gender, class issues are not offered in the context of today’s social and political environment. They are not absent from the diary though.  You may read the diary and find out what women do, slaves do, capitalists do as viewed through the eyes of a young adult male. 

There are between twelve and fifteen book awards related to the American Civil War. The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865 will likely be nominated several times as a ‘book of the year’.  Other diaries of this caliber are by Mary Boykin Chesnut, Sarah Morgan, Sam Watkins and the Cormany Diaries.




Thursday, May 24, 2018

New and Noteworthy: Maine Roads To Gettysburg

 Maine Roads to Gettysburg: How Joshua Chamberlain, Oliver Howard, and 4,000 Men from the Pine Tree State Helped Win the Civil War's Bloodiest Battle, Tom Huntington, Stackpole Press, 432 pages, 2018, $32.95
From the Publisher:  Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his 20th Maine regiment made a legendary stand on Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. But Maine's role in the battle includes much more than that. Soldiers from the Pine Tree State contributed mightily during the three days of fighting. 
Pious general Oliver Otis Howard secured the high ground of Cemetery Ridge for the Union on the first day. Adelbert Ames--the stern taskmaster who had transformed the 20th Maine into a fighting regiment--commanded a brigade and then a division at Gettysburg. 
The 17th Maine fought ably in the confused and bloody action in the Wheatfield; a sea captain turned artilleryman named Freeman McGilvery cobbled together a defensive line that proved decisive on July 2; and the 19th Maine helped stop Pickett's Charge during the battle's climax.
  
Maine soldiers had fought and died for two bloody years even before they reached Gettysburg. They had fallen on battlefields in Virginia and Maryland. They had died in front of Richmond, in the Shenandoah Valley, on the bloody fields of Antietam, in the Slaughter Pen at Fredericksburg, and in the tangled Wilderness around Chancellorsville. And the survivors kept fighting, even as they followed Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania.  Maine Roads to Gettysburg tells their stories.

Tom Huntington is the author of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg, as well as Guide to Gettysburg Battlefield Monuments, Pennsylvania Civil War Trails, and Ben Franklin’s Philadelphia. He is also the former editor of American History and Historic Traveler magazines, and his writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Air & Space, American Heritage, British Heritage, and Yankee. He was born and bred in Augusta, Maine, but now lives in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, not far from Gettysburg.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

News--Gettysburg's Lutheran Seminary Sells 18 Acres of Lee's Headquarters Location to the Civil War Trust

John Paul Strain Gettysburg headquartersThe United Lutheran Seminary today announced an agreement with the Civil War Trust to permanently preserve 18 acres of historic open space on Seminary Ridge in Gettysburg. The property, located on both sides of Seminary Ridge Road, has been a part of the Seminary since it moved to the site in 1832.

"This property is a gift from God and we are stewards of this gift. We have a deep love for the property and its unique historic and scenic character," ULS Acting President-Bishop James Dunlop said. "For generations, these qualities have inspired thousands of seminary students as well as visitors from across our nation and around the world."

Under the terms of the $3.5 million purchase agreement, the Trust will acquire an 11-acre portion of the United Lutheran Seminary property straddling Seminary Ridge Road and a conservation easement on 7 acres along Chambersburg Pike east of those two parcels.   "We feel, as stewards of this site for more than 180 years, that we have a sacred responsibility to see it is protected for future generations," Bishop Dunlop said. "We believe this land needs to be preserved for the next generations of seminarians, and others, to reflect upon, learn from, and appreciate."

In remarking on the agreement, Civil War Trust President James Lighthizer said: "We have long admired the Seminary's commitment to protecting and maintaining Seminary Ridge. We consider it a privilege to partner with the Seminary to permanently preserve this iconic landscape."
Conversations, about this agreement, began in 2015, and the Trust has already begun raising funds to preserve the property. 
For the Gettysburg community, the ridge's open land is a favorite gathering place during special events each year. People assemble there on Independence Day to watch the fireworks from this high ground. It has been home to the Gettysburg Brass Band Festival for 21 years. And this August, the Seminary will host the 5th annual Gettysburg Brewfest, – with craft brewers, cider makers and food trucks.

Founded in Gettysburg as the Lutheran Theological Seminary in 1826, the educational institution moved to its present site on Seminary Ridge in 1832. It is the oldest continuously operating Lutheran seminary in the nation. In July 2017, it consolidated with the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia to become the United Lutheran Seminary.  The Gettysburg Seminary's 1832 building, named Schmucker Hall, figured prominently in the opening of the Battle of Gettysburg. Standing on high ground a half mile west of town, the campus became a focal point of the first day's fighting — making Seminary Ridge synonymous with that action and subsequent combat on July 2 and 3, 1863. Today, the building houses the Seminary Ridge Museum.

Adjacent to Gettysburg National Military Park and the Lee's Headquarters acreage protected by the Civil War Trust, the land that the Seminary will transfer to the Trust is of profound military significance, the bloodiest Gettysburg ground left in private hands, historians say.
The determined defense on Seminary Ridge by men from the Union's Iron Brigade and 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry enabled the army to regroup and hold Cemetery Hill, key to the ultimate Federal victory at Gettysburg. Hundreds of soldiers from North and South were felled on the ground to be purchased by the Trust.

"On this ground occurred the end of the beginning of the Battle of Gettysburg and the beginning of the end of the Civil War," said Doug Douds, a retired Marine Corps colonel and Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide who teaches at the U.S. Army War College.

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Background Information Link--Civil War Trust

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Preview: The War Outside My Window [Forthcoming]

Text authored by Harry Smeltzer: Preview – Croon (Ed), “The War Outside My Window” on April 17, 2018

Note: Bull Runnings is Harry Smeltzer's weblog on the First Battle of Bull Run/Manassas 

CWL: note the paragraph which begins 'Undoubtedly . . . '

This is a little different for Bull Runnings. The good folks at Savas Beatie sent me a digital, advance unedited galley of a unique diary, The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, edited by Janet Elizabeth Croon. The story of this diary, which I’ll describe below, has been bouncing around for quite some time – here’s a WaPo article from 2012.
9781611213881
I’ve read snippets of LeRoy’s diary, and enough of other online sources which you can find yourself to get a good idea of his back story (note this is a preview, not a review.) Here’s the gist – he was a very bright, well-read, and articulate young man, living in Macon, GA. He suffered from a disease resulting from a severe injury to his leg – when the diary opens, he’s already an invalid and would need to be pulled about in a wagon of sorts. Unlike the reader LeRoy was of course unaware that his condition was mortal, and he would barely outlive the war that understandably occupied so much of his thoughts. Our knowledge of his impending doom makes his daily writings, spanning the whole conflict and very much of and in the moment, all the more poignant in their innocence, ignorance, and wit. You’ll feel for the kid.
Here’s young Gresham’s entry for July 22, 1861, with the early news of the fighting at Manassas:
Macon July 22 1861: Another great battle at Manassas! Sherman’s Battery taken! Terrible Slaughter on both sides! The enemy retired from the field. The Fight commenced 4 oclock this morning and continued until about seven. The battle raged with terrible force and a heavy loss on both sides. There has evidently been a signal Victory at Bulls Run. President Davis’ message is out. It is not only well written, but beautiful in contrast to the boorish effort of Doctor Lincoln, Chief magistrate of United States. Raining very slightly before breakfast this morning. Sad news Gen. F. S. Bartow is killed. Macon Gaurds in the fight. President Davis commanded in person; Beauregarde + Johnson’s army both engaged 40 000 to 70 000 on a side. Beauregarde’s horse shot from under him. It will be sometime before we can get the truth of it. Dressed my back this morning and its healing though very slowly. General Wise has also gained a signal Victory in western Virginia, killing 150 federals and losing few of his men. Julia Ann is up and about again. Very heavy shower this afternoon. Uncle John, Deo Volente [God willing], leaves for Athens tomorrow. Father comes home but there are no more reliable dispatches. The battles undoubtedly sends a thrill of Anguish to many an anxious heart in the newborn Confederacy. Ave Maria Jose [goodbye].
Undoubtedly, some will latch on to the undeniable fact that LeRoy was a youth of privilege and wealth, a member of a slaveholding family with personal servants, and may argue that these are the most important, or even the only, aspects of his life with which we should concern ourselves, to the exclusion of all others. To the contrary, young Gresham’s story and personal observations give great insight into the mind of someone raised in the reality of the times, and should provide a tool for historians to interpret those times in context as opposed to retrospect. I mean, that’s their job, after all. It’s not everyone’s job. But it is that of the historian.

It’s hard to tell you what you’ll get with the final product. Of course you get the diary and detailed annotations in bottom of page footnotes; illustrations including a few of actual diary pages with what we refer to today as “metadata” (doodling, sweat stains, etc.); Hal Jesperson maps; extensive dramatis personae; and appendices related to LeRoy’s medical condition. A lot of detective work went into this.
I am perhaps dying ebook[7587][Dennis Rasbach, MD, has written an e-book (not yet available), I Am Perhaps Dying: The Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham and the Medical Backstory of his Private Battle with Tuberculosis During the Civil War. Keep on the lookout for that.]
The War Outside My Window is scheduled to drop in June, with national coverage and a feature in the Sunday Parade magazine. Advance orders or signed copies are being taken at the Savas Beatie site linked above. I think this will be an important work, and well worth your time.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

News--Confederate Battle Flags Captured by US Colored Troops Exhibited in Richmond, Virginia

An African American leader brings a provocative take to expanded Civil War museum, Gregory Schneider, Washington Post, April 15, 2018


 
Caption:   Christy Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum, which is headquartered at the site of the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond. 
 
  Christy Coleman spends a lot of time among artifacts of the Civil War, and two that touch her deeply are a pair of tattered Confederate battle flags. This seems odd for an African American woman, until she explains.
One banner has a single word stitched on it: Home. The white material of the flag, it turns out, was cut from a wedding dress. The other flag is a traditional Stars and Bars, like you’d see on a T-shirt or shot glass. But this one was captured at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg by United States Colored Troops.
Both relics hint at deeper human stories, and that’s where Coleman finds meaning in her job as chief executive of the American Civil War Museum, an institution created from the ruins of this city’s Confederate ironworks.

As the nation wrestles with its heritage of racial discrimination, and as the symbols of the Civil War show fresh power to divide, no place has a deeper stake than Richmond — a majority-black city where Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson still cast long shadows. And no one is more on the spot to figure it all out than Coleman.“To have someone, a woman, who’s African American, at one of the most important museums in the former capital of the Confederacy — you can’t underestimate how important that is,” said Kevin Levin, a Civil War historian. “She really stands out.”

Coleman is using that position to look for a new way to tell the story of the Civil War, a conflict so easy to render in stereotypes. With a major expansion of the museum underway, her goal is to show the conflict from multiple points of view — not just North and South, but through the eyes of women, Native Americans, enslaved blacks, immigrants. If you can change perspectives, the thinking goes, issues begin to look different. Assumptions waver. 

That premise will be put to the test long before the expanded museum opens later this year. Coleman is helping lead a commission appointed by Richmond’s mayor to recommend what to do with five enormous statues of Confederate leaders along the city’s grandest residential boulevard, Monument Avenue.
Those statues are as fundamental to Richmond’s identity as Thomas Jefferson’s Capitol building. Coleman is conscious of the violence that has ripped other communities, such as nearby Charlottesville, over the same issue. But it’s not the first time she has confronted the nation’s most troubling legacy in a controversial and public way.“America’s reckoning with her sin and her trauma,” Coleman said, “is really what we’ve got to get to.” 

Coleman, 53, grew up in Williamsburg, in the workaday city behind Ye Olde Colonial Facade. Her neighborhood and church were filled with the tradespeople who groomed the gardens, sheared the sheep or ran the printing press in the historic area.  Most of the costumed interpreters didn’t look like Coleman, despite the fact that in Colonial times more than half the residents of Williamsburg were of African descent.
But she was captivated by them and won an audition for a reenactor role when she was only 17. The other historic interpreters worried about her. “They were preserving trades,” she said. “I was portraying an enslaved person.”

She saw something horrible overcome visitors who encountered her in that role. The modern veneer slipped aside and out came racial epithets or crude sexual comments. As a young woman, she struggled to process those situations. But she stuck with it, the thrill of giving voice to the voiceless more powerful than the revulsion. By the mid 1990s, after starting at William & Mary and graduating from Hampton University, Coleman became Colonial Williamsburg’s director for public history. She oversaw all of the historical interpreters.

One of her first big events was an annual market day, reenacting the way Colonial Virginians auctioned cattle and land. A staffer pointed out the obvious: The real market would have sold slaves, too.Coleman decided it was time to do something radical. She took a plan to upper management to stage a live slave auction. And she would be one of those on the sale block.The idea touched off a national debate. “Black and white folks thought that . . . it was going to stir up stuff that didn’t need to be stirred up in America,” Coleman said.
A massive crowd and international media showed up. Plainclothes police stood among the onlookers, just in case. And Coleman and three other African Americans let themselves be sold to the highest bidders.

Today, that event is viewed as a landmark success in the modern retelling of American history. After generations of avoiding the topic, other major institutions — such as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and James Madison’s Montpelier — now confront enslavement as a major component of their interpretation.
But it exacted a heavy price on Coleman. The emotional stress brought on panic attacks that stuck with her through years of therapy.

She never repeated the auction. A few years later, she was wooed to Detroit to run the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Nearly a decade into that job, Coleman was married and had two small children and wanted to slow things down a bit. She got word of a small museum back home in Virginia that was looking for a shake-up. Richmond long portrayed its past in a one-sided way. After the Civil War, widows and wives of Confederate veterans gathered memorabilia and displayed it in the old Confederate White House. From that collection, arguably the most extensive of its kind anywhere, grew the Museum of the Confederacy.

The full text of the story is continued at----Full Text: Washington Post

Monday, April 16, 2018

News--Lincoln's Last Hours and a Mary Lincoln's Guest at The Peterson House

photgraphic portrait of President Abraham Lincoln News--Lincoln's Last Hours and a Mary Lincoln's Guest at The Peterson House,  National Institute of Health


This week, Circulating Now marks a pivotal event in American history with a short series of posts. 150 years ago on April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in a crowded theater in Washington DC. On April 15th he died and an autopsy was performed. Several doctors supported Lincoln in his last hours but no medical intervention could prevent his death and bystanders could only watch and wait.

On the night of April 14, 1865, a lone assassin shot the President of the United States at point-blank range during an evening performance at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.  That evening, John Wilkes Booth made his way into the theater and to the box where President Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary Lincoln, and two guests, Major Henry Rathbone and Miss Clara Harris were enjoying a performance of Our American Cousin.  Pulling out a single-shot, derringer pistol, Booth aimed the gun, pulled the trigger and fired a bullet at the President’s head.   Many of us know the details of what occurred at Ford’s Theater that night, but what transpired after the fatal shot was fired and during the many hours before the President succumbed to his wounds?

Among the many accounts of that evening is one by physician Charles Leale,  an assistant surgeon with the U.S. Army and the first physician to reach Lincoln after he was shot.  Seated in the dress circle of the theater, not far from the Presidential box, Leale heard the gunshot and saw assassin John Wilkes Booth leap to the stage snagging his spur on the draped flag.  As shouts rang out that the President had been murdered, Leale rushed from his seat to the President’s box.  “When I entered the box,” Leale recounts, “Mr. Lincoln was seated in a high-backed arm-chair with his head leaning towards his right side supported by Mrs. Lincoln who was weeping bitterly.”   Leale took charge of the President’s medical care and immediately began to assess his injuries.  He was soon joined by physicians Charles Taft and Albert King.   After consulting together about the President’s condition, the three physicians decided it was best to have Lincoln moved from the theater to the nearest house.

Full Text continued at :
 
News--Lincoln's Last Hours and Mary Lincoln's Guest at the Peterson House

Image Source:  Taken by Alexander Gardner in February 1865, two months before Lincoln’s assassination.      Courtesy National Portrait Gallery

Friday, March 02, 2018

News: Thomas Nast's First Sketches of Lincoln Found

Uncovering Thomas Nast’s First Drawings of Abraham Lincoln, Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, March 5, 2018.


On Lincoln’s first visit, in 1860, he stopped to have his picture, now indelible, taken by the photographer Mathew Brady. Less well known is that, on his 1861 trip, the other great New York image-maker of the time, the cartoonist Thomas Nast, saw him, too—for the first time—and made a series of drawings that are startling in their intimacy and alert observational power. The series has been known by scholarly rumor, but recently, tucked among the sketches in a Civil War notebook, two small images that Nast made of Lincoln’s face have been uncovered for the first time. This discovery we owe to the historian Ted Widmer, who came upon them in the archives of Brown University.

“I’ve been working on a book about that train trip from Springfield to Washington,” Widmer, who worked as a speechwriter in the Clinton White House, explained the other morning. “Presidents had never been as exciting to people before as Lincoln was at this moment. He was performing his part—the part of the President-to-be, and even the part of the savior of his country. He started off with a couple of so-so speeches, but he got his game going and was giving great speeches by the time he got to New York.”

Searching for material at Brown—which has an exceptional Lincoln archive, including the collection of John Hay, Lincoln’s secretary—Widmer came upon a Civil War notebook with sketches in it ascribed to Nast. Turning the pages, he found a series showing Lincoln arriving at 30th Street train station, the precursor to New York’s Penn Station. Nast, only twenty, was already drawing regularly for Harper’s Weekly and other papers (although his first cartoon of Santa Claus, whose now iconic shape and beard were largely Nast’s invention, was about a year off).
“Nast was waiting in the train station in New York. He made all these drawings of the big crowd waiting for the train—and then you see Lincoln in his top hat, coming through! And in the middle were the two unknown sketches that I went crazy about: one is a pretty good side view—Nast got up close to Lincoln. There was another piece of paper Scotch Taped to the back of the page, and I was overcome with curiosity and looked on the back side, and there it was, this incredible frontal sketch of Lincoln’s face. Sixty seconds of looking, I suppose, but so strong.”

One of the striking things about the drawings is the exceptionally free and vivid shorthand with which they’re done, and the informality of their approach. Nast was still working largely in a finished, ceremonial vein common to cartoonists of the period. Most of the images he went on to draw of Lincoln were of that kind; one, an allegorical vision of a “false peace” between North and South, was widely credited with helping Lincoln get reĆ«lected. But, in these 1861 sketches, we see Nast’s mastery of the living thing, the face seized from life, which gives tensile strength to his more elaborate tableaux.

The other striking aspect of the sketches is the beard, which Lincoln had grown a year earlier. “The beard is endlessly fascinating,” Widmer said. “It’s true that a young girl did write to Lincoln suggesting that he grow one—that’s the old story. But the historian Adam Goodheart has a theory that the beard was a kind of rebellion against the crappiness of the compromising politicians of the preceding period, Buchanan and the rest, which was exemplified in the starchy way they dressed—a professional way of looking. Lincoln wanted to look Western, with a soft collar and a beard. Almost like Whitman—forging his own identity. I also have a theory that he may have been inspired by the great Hungarian liberal leader Lajos Kossuth, whom he keenly admired.”

Widmer has returned to the sketches often. “He looks so strong in these drawings—like a real force of nature, coming at the darkest moment to save the country, and even global democracy. With all its imperfections, the United States was still the largest democracy. If we didn’t make it, democracy didn’t. That was his point. And you see its outer surface here.

Full Text Source: The New Yorker