Tuesday, May 21, 2013

New and Noteworthy---The Civil War In 50 Objects?

Bernard von Bothmer: Review of Harold Holzer's "The Civil War in 50 Objects" (Viking, 2013) published at History News Network, May 19, 2013

From the HNN review: "The task of choosing 50 objects was a difficult one, given the enormous amount of artifacts the Society has from the time period. In The Civil War in 50 Objects, distinguished Civil War scholar Harold Holzer strikes a fine balance between political, social, cultural, military, and economic history, discussing a wide range of paintings, letters, weapons, photographs, woodcuts, uniforms, drums, diaries, petitions, drawings, and documents. There is something here for any student of the Civil War. And by distilling the conflict to a manageable number of objects, described in chronological order, Holzer gives the era a sense of clarity, allowing one to walk through the conflict’s key events and themes.

"The writing is engaging, lively, gripping, and riveting at every turn, with wonderful dramatic pacing. Chapters are filled with countless touching tales that link the objects with the era’s larger history.

"Holzer ends nearly each of the brief 50 chapters with a wonderful story, nugget, or turn of phrase. Among them: a slave that returns to a plantation and, during a brawl, killed his wife’s excessively cruel former master; an artist whose work during the war changed from stereotypical views of blacks towards a sympathetic portrayal of their plight is described as “in the space of just three years … also liberated” (15); the tale of a New Yorker who fought for the Confederacy and died in action -- on April 14, 1865; a painting that was reassembled in time for the New-York Historical Society recent reopening after extensive renovations -- on November 11, 2011, Veteran’s Day; the Georgian who stated that “If slaves will make good soldiers, our whole theory of slavery is wrong,” prompting Holzer to write: “By war’s end, the 200,000 or so African American men in arms proved [his] point” (158); though northern newspaper accounts after the Battle of Gettysburg were full of optimism, “In fact, the war was only halfway over” (188); Holzer’s outrage that “none of the rioters who plundered and torched the Colored Orphan Asylum” during the 1863 New York Draft Riots “was ever brought to justice” (214); an amusing list of predictions from the 1864 Metropolitan Fair of New York about life in the city in 1964 that would actually come true. When Lee at his surrender met Grant’s military secretary, Ely S. Parker, a Seneca Indian, Lee reportedly paused, and then said “I am glad to see one real American here,” to which Parker responded, “We are all Americans” (315)."

The author of these remarks is Bernard von Bothmer is an adjunct professor of history at the University of San Francisco and Dominican University of California.

For the complete review go to History News Network

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