Saturday, October 31, 2009

Off Topic Novel---New Orleans 1900: Murder and Opium, Jazz and Storyville, Corrupt Cops and Marriages

Jass, David Fulmer, Harvest/Harcourt Publishing, 354 pp., $14.00, 2005.

Again turn of the century New Orleans' red-light district is the setting for David Fulmer's follow-up to Chasing the Devil's Tail, his first novel with former policeman/private detective Valentine St. Cyr. Fulmer's spare, evocative narrative creates an murder investigation steeped in opium and bourbon, police and political corruption, and marriage and love. Fulmer builds uses an emotional scaffolding of distrust and grace from the first nove. St. Cyr is a multiracial Creole detective, with a deep backstory that is revealed smoothly throughout the second novel. St. Cyr emotional troubles hinder a solution to murders of four brutally jazz musicians. Lieutenant Picot, his former boss in the New Orleans police department, and his current employer, Tom Anderson, the "King of Storyville," challenge and threaten his loyalites. Both make demands that test his committment to a new and delicate relationship with a former prostitute. Historic figures such as Jelly Roll Morton and Madame Lulu are prominent in this story set in the Crescent City. Ghostly appearances of a female seem linked to both to the local voodoo clanns and the serial killings of former members of a Storyville jazz band featured in Chasing the Devil's Tail. A tangible environment flows naturally out of the actions fo the characters and impact of New Orleans on them. place. Fulmer's third in the series, Rampart Street, is on my desk.

Novel---Seen the Glory: A Novel of The Battle of Gettysburg

Seen the Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Gettysburg, John Hough Jr., Simon & Schuster, 432 pp., $25.00.

Hough manages to balance a front rank story and and a home front story. Characters such as young soldiers from Martha's Vineyard Massachusetts, runaway slaves, and freedmen in Adams County Pennsylvania are well developed but at times seem to move to the dictates of the plot and not of their own will. Blending civilian and military history, Hough writes with a novelist's drive. Luke and Thomas Chandler enlist as privates in the 20th Massachusetts Regiment and leave their father with a black female servant who is assaulted by Vineyard roughs.

Exhaustion, hunger, illness are endured by the Chambers brothers whose relationship is strained due to a secret love affair with the black servant and visits to 'soiled doves' in Virginia. Generally accurate in most military details, Hough pushes the likely limits of accuracy in race relations, black resistance, and the Army of Northern Virginia in its Pennsylvania Campaign. Seen the Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Gettysburg is unlike Killer Angels. Shaara's work is more like Hemingway's (Old Man and the Sea), Foote's (Shiloh)and Crane's (Red Badge of Courage)naturalism and reticence of language. Hough's work is more effusive in descriptive language and more complex in using family and community relations.

Is Seen The Glory a novel of the Battle of Gettysburg. No. The climaxes occur at the battlefield and the battlefield park. What convinced CWL to make the purchase was not the backcover blurbs of James M. McPherson (blurb meister)or Scott Hartwig (well appreciated GNMP ranger) but Lee Smith a fine contemporary Southern author. Coming to it as a novel set in the Civil War, CWL finished Seen The Glory satisfied.

New and Noteworthy---Love and Lust in the Archives

Love and Lust: Private and Amorous Letters of the Civil WarThomas P. Lowry, BookSurge Publishing, 228 pages,paperback, $16.95, October 2009. Hello, Rea Andrew Redd. We have recommendations for you. (Not Rea?)

Tens of thousands of Civil War letters still exist, mostly asking about family health, and telling of long marches, sore feet, bad food, diarrhea, malaria, and the occasional battle. Largely lost are those letters telling of physical love, of the private moments of amorous life. Yet some letters have survived, speaking vividly and unashamedly of pre-war passionate embraces, wartime longings for absent lovers, and hope for blissful reunions in the marital bed. One soldier wrote of looking forward to bondage and disciple games in the bedroom, wearing their “favorite uniform” – bare skin. Another man wrote to his wife begging her to write him sexually explicit letters, telling her how much he would treasure such words. A Rhode Island infantryman wrote a few passionate pages, then noted his physical arousal and changed the subject. Single young men, without wives or regular sweethearts, corresponded at length, comparing the prostitutes of Maine, New York, Washington, DC, and Louisiana, and adding cautionary notes about syphilis, gonorrhea, and the painful treatments therefore. One man, home on disability leave, had recovered enough to make daily efforts to seduce every girl he met. A Nashville prostitute cut her hair and joined a Michigan regiment. The mails were flooded with ads for pornographic novels, images, and devices. Another man, perhaps overlooked by the postman, wrote home asking for some “fancy” reading material to revive his dormant sexual feelings. The mail also contained hundreds of family letters of far grimmer content: children dying of diphtheria, measles, smallpox, and tuberculosis, and families turned out in the snow for inability to pay the rent. Some soldiers were sentenced to death for going home to help their starving families. Other letters and court documents tell of a great cavalcade of human mischief, error, misery, and poor judgment. A young girl is sent to prison for incest with her father. A married woman is sued for libel after she claimed a neighbor had offered her “nine pence” to lie with him. A justice of the peace ordered the sheriff to arrest two men for “getting bastards” upon two women. Civil War issues did include battles, politics, and slavery, but there was also a another aspect of life, never mentioned in high school textbooks, of love, lust, venereal disease, incest, abortion, contraception, and harsh language. Even obscene graffiti, written on the walls of Southern mansions, imitated the “art” found in high school bathrooms today. The author’s book, fully referenced and annotated, brings these documents and images, verbatim and uncensored, to a public that would like to know what life was really like in mid-Victorian America. Text From Publisher.

CWL: Dr. Thomas P. Lowry was contributed a great deal in the past decade to our knowledge of soldier life, medicine, justice and gender issues during the American Civil War: The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell: Sex in the Civil War, Sexual Misbehavior in the Civil War, Confederate Heroines: 120 Southern Women Convicted by Union Military Justice, Confederate Death Sentences: A Reference Guide,Tarnished Scalpels: The Court-Martials of Fifty Union Surgeons, The Civil War Bawdy Houses of Washington, D.C.: Including a Map of Their Former Locations and a Reprint of the Souvenir Sporting Guide for the Chicago, Illinois, G.A.R. 1895, Reunion, Curmudgeons, Drunkards, and Outright Fools: The Courts-Martial of Civil War Union Colonels, and Don't Shoot That Boy! Abraham Lincoln and Military Justice, and several others. Without a doubt Lowry has explored the unexplored and spent months in archives that are usually not in the bibliographies of most Civil War books. CWL is always intrigued by Lowry's evidence and conclusions.

Monday, October 26, 2009

CWL--- Street Fighting in Monterrey Mexico and Fredericksburg Virginia, Part Two

The United States Army and Urban Combat in the Nineteenth Century, Jonathan A. Beall, War In History, 16:2 (2009), pp. 157-188.

In December 1862, a different approach yielded different results at Fredericksburg Virginia. Barksdale's Confederate brigade occupied the town late in November with a simple mission: delay the Federals until the Army of Northern Virginia had fully arrived. A major difference between Monterrey and Fredericksburg was that at Monterrey the river was to the rear of the defending army. At Fredericksburg the river was at its front.

The urban river scape lent itself to the defense of the city. The Rebels occupied the city's riverbank as a picket line and dug square holes that completely hid each soldier. Zigzag trenches permitted protected travel between the riverfront to the rear. Formidable barricades of earth and stone filled boxes were erected across streets from corner to corner. First, second, third floors, as well as basements and attics were occupied.

The attempt by the Federals to bridge the river was interdicted. A bombardment ensued. At approximately 3:00pm a Federal regiment assaulted Within 30 minutes of the infantry assault 30 to 40 Mississippians had been captured and a bridgehead established on the Federal right. In two hours four companies had cleared the first full block's intersection at Caroline and Hawke streets. The Federal assault was decentralized and open which gained yards while taking casualties. Unlike Monterrey there were no effort to use light artillery to clear streets with infantry support. As Federal regiments by company entered intersections heavily fire was received. A tactic of 'column by platoons' was used to continue the advance. It took another hour and a half to take another intersection. No similar attack was made from the Federal left but another bridgehead was secured there. Barksdale elected to withdraw after dark and looting by Federals accelerated.

Dissimilarities between the Monterrey and Fredericksburg assaults abound. Beall, the author, notes that American forces were more flexible in the former and less so in the later. Yet in his discussion Beall fails to note the difference in the cities' architecture which contributed to the lack of flexibility in the 1862 assault. Whereas Monterrey homes had shared walls, the buildings filled the block and shared rear courtyards, the Fredericksburg homes were free-standing, sided by alleys and had individual backyards. Monterrey assault tactics employing battering rams, hand deployed artillery shells and six shot revolvers to clear interiors were not applicable to Fredericksburg. Beall does note that Texans who were engaged in the Monterrey assault had previous urban attack experience; the Federals in 1862 had none. Beall believes that command and control was lacking in the Federal infantry assault of Fredericksburg as evidenced by the pillaging of the city after dark. This seems to CWL to be poor evidence. After dark the enemy had left the city and Federal soldiers were somewhat uncontrolled. Being uncontrolled after the enemy leaves the city does not necessary mean the Federal soldiers were uncontrolled in the face of the enemy.

Beall notes the apparent rigidity of Federal street fighting tactics but does not suggest what other tactics were possible or known. With Federal light artillery being across the river with Federal cavalry, the Federal brigade commanders had no access to it. A well planned assault by a Federal corps commander may have brought different tactics and more appropriate weapons to the street assaults. It appears to CWL that Federal regimental and brigade commanders performed adequately under minimal direction of division and corps commanders who failed to creatively respond to an unplanned and hastily arranged assault on an urban center.

Top Image: Don Troiani, Fire on Caroline Street
Bottom Image: 19th Massachusetts on Sophia Street

Monday, October 19, 2009

Author Speaks: Behind Every Civil War Husband Is . . . .

Why It's Time to Write Wives into the Story of the Civil War, Carol Berkin, History News Network, October 19, 2009.

Carol Berkin is the author of Civil War Wives: The Lives and Times of Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant.

In telling the stories of Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant I have chosen three women who left behind rich records of their experiences and their thoughts. There were many other wives of famous men whose lives might reveal answers to the questions posed above, but few of them left the letters, diaries, memoirs and public statements that allow us to reconstruct their stories in their own words, without their husbands or fathers as intermediaries. That there are strikingly few such women is in itself an important commentary on our past. .

Through her diary, we can follow Angelina Grimke Weld as she struggles with a slave system that insured her luxury in her native South Carolina; through her published essays and letters, we can see her radical views on gender equality and racial equality emerge; and through her private correspondence, we can share her growing intimacy with Theodore Weld, her complex and often debilitating relationship with her sister, and her struggle to retain her moral compass while others, inside as well as outside the anti-slavery movement, sought to silence her. From Angelina we learn the limits of the abolitionist vision, for few of the movement’s leaders shared her conviction that ending slavery was only a first step toward a greater goal of racial equality. In the post war years, she proved the strength and endurance of her convictions, recognizing as nephews the mulatto sons of her brother and financing their educations.

Varina Howell Davis’s letters to her family and friends show us the difficulties that faced a Southern woman whose brilliance could not be submerged and whose wit could not be contained. Neither her husband, Jefferson Davis, nor most of the Southern matrons of her social class appreciated Varina’s independent mind and outspoken commentary on the public and private circles she inhabited. Her memoirs give us striking insight into the personal foibles and failings as well as the unexpected acts of kindness of congressmen, presidents, and generals, and her recollections of her own suffering and the suffering of others during both the siege of Richmond vividly brings home to us the experience of defeat and dislocation in civil war. In her letters to prison doctors, former abolitionists, newspaper editors, philanthropists, generals, and political leaders, we can follow her dogged campaign to free her husband from prison after the war. Her husband’s approval of her aggressive – and thus, in his view, unfeminine—behavior in this instance provides an ironic commentary on when the rules that govern women’s lives could be broken. Only in widowhood and old age did Varina come into her own: she abandoned the South for New York City, became a writer for the Hearst papers, and reveled in the company of authors, playwrights, artists and academics, all of whom admired her intelligence and wit.
Every record left behind by Julia Dent Grant captures the contentment and self-confidence of a woman who never challenged the social norms that ruled a woman’s life in 19th century America. Her naivete and her lack of curiosity about the larger world around her come through in the memoirs she wrote in old age and in the recollections of all those who knew her well. Alone among these three women, Julia neither attempted to make history nor to understand it; she negotiated the war by reducing it meaning to its impact on her husband, Ulysses S. Grant, her children, and her friends. For Julia, the war was not a constitutional crisis, but a welcome opportunity for her husband to shine; the emancipation of the slaves was not a social revolution or an act of moral conscience but a domestic inconvenience that meant replacing the servants she owned with servants she must pay. Similarly, the scandals that plagued her husband’s presidential administrations were not threats to the nation’s stability but attacks upon her husband’s honor. Yet understanding Julia is important, for she was surely not alone in her response to the crises of her era; like millions of other Americans who did not control, and could not fully comprehend the cataclysmic events they were caught up in, she domesticated the history happening around her.

Angelina, Varina and Julia responded differently to their historical moment and to the norms and values of their race, class, and gender. Each, however, offers us a new perspective on a national narrative most often told in a masculine voice and from a masculine point of view. No matter how intimately their lives were intertwined with those of their husbands, these women narrate the events of their lifetime with a different cadence, and in a different tempo, from these men. And their stories, taken together, help us reconstruct the era of the Civil War with greater depth and complexity.

Complete text is at History News Network, October 19, 2009

Thursday, October 08, 2009

CWL---Street Fighting In Monterrey Mexico and Fredericksburg Virginia, Part One

The United States Army and Urban Combat in the Nineteenth Century, Jonathan A. Beall, War In History, 16:2 (2009), pp. 157-188.

Searching for precedents to the street fight that the Army of the Potomac performed at Fredericksburg in December 1862, CWL found only one: Monterrey Mexico. Beall's article on the dearth of tactics and strategy regarding street-to-street fighting sets forth a story of unexpected tactical situations. Theorists of the early 19th century, such of Jomini and voc Clausewitz, suggested that an entrenched camp could be attacked only in lightly manned. Mahan, an American thinker and educator, concentrated on fortifying defensively rather than siegecraft. The street fighting that occurred in Monterrey and Fredericksburg was not after a siege. Deploying marching columns and keeping battle lines straight in the face of the enemy was, for the most part, the extent of small unit tactics taught at West Point.

With 2,400 soldiers Taylor at the Battle of Palo Alto he utilized his light artillery rather than make a bayonet charge. Because the Mexican line was thin and stretched for a mile Taylor ordered the guns to advance in front of the army, fire, and then quickly and frequently change position and drove the Mexicans from the field with 200 in losses. At the Battle of Resaca de la Palm Taylor advanced with a force of 1,700 and using dragoons turned the Mexican army's flank and forced them to realign their defensive position. Taylor's army held firm against two counterattacks. At the Battle of Monterrey Taylor’s army was heavily reinforced by regular army and volunteer units, raising his army's to 6,000 soldiers.

Against 7,000 Mexican regulars and 3,000 Mexican militia, Taylor attempted to breach the city’s walls with light artillery. During an assault heavy Mexican guns were captured by forces and were turned on the city. Savage house to house fighting ensued and Monterrey fell to American forces. Monterrey's 10,000+ residents lived on narrow but straight streets that ran in the cardinal points of the compass. The main plaza that contained the cathedral and the municipal building was on the eastern side of Monterrey. The Mexican army defended two major hills to the west and outside the city. To the north and outside the city a redoubt with bastions held eight canons and 400 Mexican soldiers. Two other redoubts were east of the city.Nearly all the streets in Monterrey ran straight and parallel with intersections at right angles. The houses on these streets were protected by heavy doors and shutters had were covered by flat roofs with sandbagged stone parapets. Many houses had loopholes in the walls for muskets. Within this variety of defenses 7,300 Mexicans defended the city against 6,300 Americans.

Taylor's tactics began with the capture of the major road that would have been the only way of retreat for the Mexicans. He followed with diversionary attacks on the eastern forts while his main attack included a foray into Monterrey which initiated Taylor's efforts at street fighting. The 1st Ohio advanced into the city and without maps became disoriented. Heavy firing by the Mexicans forced the 1st Ohio out of the city as both sides adapted to disorganization caused by every man taking a position when he could get a fire on the fort [bastion in the city] and not be wholly exposed himself.

The next effort came the following day when the 3rd U.S. Infantry went into the city and stayed off the streets and moved to the centre of Monterrey by breaking through interior walls and clearing rooms. Interior walls were breached; 6 pound shells with short fuses were tossed in the adjacent room. After the room was cleared access to the roof was gained and support given to those who who fired from doorways and windows. Crossing an intersecting street was difficult because the Mexicans had erected barricades on them near the intersection. Light artillery pieces were used to supply cover from musket fire coming from the barricades. Groups of 50 or 60 operated as building clearing squads. Americans had decentralized their units, avoided engaging the Mexicans in the streets, and abandoned their column and linear formations. Multiple routes of advances were used which maintained the initiative on the western side of the town. The effort was duplicated on the eastern side of the town, but inside of breaching interior walls with battering rams, soldiers wielding axes attacked doors while be covered by suppressing fire. Then battering rams would be put to work and a block of houses cleared.

Taylor ordered the attackers on the eastern side be brought out of the side so a bombardment could commence. The Mexicans then reinforced their defenders on the western side of the city. The attackers on the western side became relentless at this time and increasingly used courtyards as means of access to buildings, colt revolvers to clear rooms and immediately seize rooftops. Light artillery pieces were hauled to the roof tops and fired with effect into the center bastion of the city. Soldiers from Tennessee and Mississippi were the most active in these assaults. American forces did not loose the initiative after the first blocks were breached and Mexican forces surrendered the next day.

Top Image: American Army Marches Toward Monterrey Mexico; artist: Adolphe Jean-Baptiste
Middle and Bottom Images: War and Game

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Off-Topic---Dreaming: A Very Short Introduction

Dreaming: A Very Short Introduction, J. Allan Hobson, Oxford University Press, 2002, 154 pp., illustrations, $11.95.

Oxford University Press' series of Very Short Introductions have over 150 books with topics from anarchism to the World Trade Organization. Accessible to laymen, clear and concise each of the books I've read have covered the basics and stimulated my interest for further explore the topic. >Dreaming: A Very Short Introduction in 11 chapters give the historical background of what dreams were at one time believed to be and what they currently understood to be.

From ancient times through Shakespeare and ending in the middle of the 20th century, dreams were believed to be portents of the future or concealed messages from the gods. Freud stands in this tradition. Having a phobia of religion, Freud believed that dreams were generated by an individual's 'Id' or as mythologist Joseph Campbell recently declared, 'the god within'. J. Allan Hobson, the author of this Very Short Introduction poses questions throughout the book. What is dreaming? Why did the analysis of dream content fail to become a science? How is the brain activated in sleep? What are the cells and molecules of the dreaming brain doing? Why do dreams occur? Do animals dream? Are dreams deliriums such as those who have a mental illness? What are night terrors? Does everyone dream? Could dreams fortell the future? Are dreams in black and white or color? When does a dream start? Do fetuses dream? Does dreaming have a function? Does a blind individual dream?

I suspect all of us have asked these questions to ourselves at sometime or another.
Within the limits of known biology, chemistry and electro-chemistry Hobson answers these questions. Here is what appears to be known at this time. Bodily movements in bed while sleeping make a difference in the frequency and intensity of dreaming. What you ate for dinner doesn't. Human learning, memory and cognition are interrelated and at times does not cease while we sleep. Dreams are a type of temporary psychosis. Grandiosity, fearlessness, deep depression exist in psychosis and dreaming.

Babies under the age three and animals probably dream similarly. The acquisition of language and propositional thought changes dreams. Nightmares are normal. Night terrors are emotional states that are aggravated by nightmares. Nightmares seem to come from the limbic portion of the brain. This portion of the brain is not well understood today. The rest of the answers to the above questions are in the book

CWL recommends this book and others in the series. CWL as Santa places them under the tree and in stockings for undergrads and graduate students; these gifts relate to their majors and interest area. CWL buys some for himself, such as Abraham Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction by Allan Guelzo.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

CWL---War Like A Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta Among 2009's Best

War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta , Russell S. Bonds, Westholme Publishing, 544 pages, 10 maps, 50+ photographs, end notes, index, bibliography. $29.95.

What initially drew me to this book was the author. In Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor Russell Bonds captures The Andrews Raid of 1862 (better known as the Great Locomotive Chase) so well in detail and story that I hoped a second effort would soon arrive.

During the middle of my reading Thunderbolt, I asked myself 'when have I so thoroughly enjoyed a book on the American Civil War?' As enjoyable as Stealing the General is, War Like A Thunderbolt exceeds it. The freshness of the writing style, the pace of the story, and the handling of an entire campaign is as compelling Bruce Catton's hallmark Army of the Potomac trilogy. When I finished reading Catton's trilogy (each of the three times) I wanted to know more about the Army of the Potomac and its battles. Finishing Thunderbolt, I went to my shelves and found two other related books. Bonds' writing left me with a desire to know more about the battles at Atlanta, its soldiers, its impact on civilians, and even the logistics of moving armies across rivers, mountains, and through the cities of Georgia.

In the Preface Bonds presents the risk that Selznick took in obtaining the rights to Gone With The Wind, then producing and marketing the movie. The impact of tragedy and romance on the representations of the Atlanta campaign was profound. Considerations of Sherman, Johnson, Hood and their armies are often viewed with Gone with the Wind in mind of the popular audience and casual reader of Civil War history. Bonds challenges that Hollywood induced collective memory.

The civilians in the path of the armies are not neglected by Bonds: die hard Rebels, immigrant Northern business families, free and enslaved Blacks appear in the opening chapters, throughout the book and in the final chapter about the Phoenix City. Sherman's reputation is neither polished nor bruised; through Sherman's words Bonds' tells the commander's story of amazing generalship, intuitive leadership and a great deal of luck, earned and unearned. Some the earned luck that Sherman had included his 1844 tour of duty that place him among the mountains and rivers over which his army would march 20 years latter. Bonds pointedly describes Sherman's first visit to northern Georgia and how crucial it was for the formation of his 1864 strategy.

Neither Johnson nor Hood are stereotyped or diminished. Johnson does not act cowardly and Hood is not a laudanum addled commander. Each general has his perspective and talents and commands the army in accordance with them. The soldiers' voice is heard throughout every chapter; corps, divisions and brigades are surely in their place and there commanders and troops are placed as firmly before the reader as they are the enemy.

Three times I've returned to Catton's Mr. Lincoln's Army, Glory Road, and Stillness at Appomattox during my lifetime of reading Civil War history; I plan to do the same with War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta and Stealing the General.