Monday, September 11, 2017

New and Noteworthy: California and the American Civil War

California and the Civil War, Richard Hurley, History Press, 176 pages,  profusely illustrated, end notes, bibliography. July 2017. $19.95.

California and the Civil War is a clear and concise exposition on the Golden State’s history from The Bear Flag Republic through 1865. Hurley presents the geography of the state as a way of discussing the political leanings of Southern immigrants and Northern immigrants. California played a crucial part in political challenges during the 1850s. Statehood with or without slavery was a microcosm of national politics. Civil unrest in the state may be compared to civil war in the Kansas territory. Confederate military strategy included California and the author sees the state as suffering through the turmoil in the Southwest.
Hurley offers a discussion of civic life during the war that includes both Confederate partisans and Federal military adventures. He also notes the presence of the Sanitary Commission, its fairs and the Californians fighting east of the Mississippi River and even Mark Twain enters into the picture. The author gives a thorough accounting of his sources with end notes and a bibliography.

From The Publisher:  In the long and bitter prelude to war, southern transplants dominated California government, keeping the state aligned with Dixie. However, a murderous duel in 1859 killed "Free Soil" U.S. Senator David C. Broderick, and public opinion began to change. As war broke out back east, a golden-tongued preacher named Reverend Thomas Starr King crisscrossed the state endeavoring to save the Golden State for the Union. Seventeen thousand California volunteers thwarted secessionist schemes and waged brutal campaigns against native tribesmen resisting white encroachment as far away as Idaho and New Mexico. And a determined battalion of California cavalry journeyed to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley to battle John Singleton Mosby, the South's deadliest partisan ranger. Author Richard Hurley delves into homefront activities during the nation's bloodiest war and chronicles the adventures of the brave men who fought far from home.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

New and Noteworthy---Jefferson Davis, Confederate Nationalism and the Possibility of Arming Slaves

Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign: Confederate Nationalism and the Fight to Arm Slaves, Philip D. Dillard, Mercer University Press, 286 pages, eight photos, 8 maps, footnotes, bibliography, index, 2017, $35.

 Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign: Confederate Nationalism and the Fight to Arm Slaves focuses upon the Southern public's debate over the enlistment of free blacks and slaves into the military forces of the Confederacy. Virginia, Georgia and Texas newspapers are closely examined as well as Davis' statements and correspondence. Also the author relies on Davis' annual address of 1864 and his letters to to Confederate States officials.

The chief conclusion the author reaches is that the closer the Federal armies came to Southern communities the more prevalent and vocal came the call from those communities to consider the enlistment of African Americans. The proposition to arm the slaves came from those most threatened by Federal armies.

 Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign begins with  a survey of current work done on the topic of the enlistment of slaves. Dillard's research takes into consideration the various social classes in the Confederacy.  His narrative suggests the consideration of the question: what would an independent Confederate nation look like if it contained former slaves  who were veterans or if it contained slaves who were once armed but not emancipated.

Dillard discusses three phases which the debate of arming the slaves passed through: during the second half of 1863 (post Gettysburg and Vicksburg); the summer and autumn of 1864 with Sherman approaching Atlanta, Grant approaching Richmond and Thomas waiting at Nashville for Hood to arrive; Davis' annual address at the end of 1864 and the February 1865 Hampton Roads conference.

The author derives most of the support for his  arguments from newspaper editorials and letters to the editor from soldiers and civilians. Contrary to popular understandings of Davis effectiveness, Dillard finds that Davis successfully marshaled support for his views, though the support he received may have been too little and too late.  Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign: Confederate Nationalism and the Fight to Arm Slaves is a thought provoking study of the Confederate nation at the brink of its extinction and what possible life-saving remedies were acceptable to its leaders and citizens.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Forthcoming--The Presidential Election of 1860: Fractured Parties and Fractured Voters

The Election of 1860: A Campaign Fraught with Consequences, Michael F. Holt, (American Presidential Elections Series) University of Kansas Press, 272  pages, 7 black and white photographs, bibliography, index, $29.25, hardcover, publication date October 6, 2017

From the publisher: Because of its extraordinary consequences and because of Abraham Lincoln’s place in the American pantheon, the presidential election of 1860 is probably the most studied in our history. But perhaps for the same reasons, historians have focused on the contest of Lincoln versus Stephen Douglas in the northern free states and John Bell versus John C. Breckinridge in the slaveholding South.

In The Election of 1860 a preeminent scholar of American history disrupts this familiar narrative with a clearer and more comprehensive account of how the election unfolded and what it was actually about. Most critically, the book counters the common interpretation of the election as a referendum on slavery and the Republican Party’s purported threat to it. However significantly slavery figured in the election, The Election of 1860 reveals the key importance of widespread opposition to the Republican Party because of its overtly anti-southern rhetoric and seemingly unstoppable rise to power in the North after its emergence in 1854.

Also of critical importance was the corruption of the incumbent administration of Democrat James Buchanan—and a nationwide revulsion against party. Grounding his history in a nuanced retelling of the pre-1860 story, Michael F. Holt explores the sectional politics that permeated the election and foreshadowed the coming Civil War.

He brings to light how the campaigns of the Republican Party and the National (Northern) Democrats and the Constitutional (Southern) Democrats and the newly formed Constitutional Union Party were not exclusively regional. His attention to the little-studied role of the Buchanan Administration, and of perceived threats to the preservation of the Union, clarifies the true dynamic of the 1860 presidential election, particularly in its early stages.

News--Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association Adds An Acre To the Daniel Lady Farm Historic Site

 Former T-shirt Building to House Gettysburg Museum, Dustin B. Levy, The Evening Sun, July 12, 2017.

One acre will go a long way in preserving the history of Gettysburg, according to Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association officials. The organization bought a property that will serve as its permanent headquarters near the historic Daniel Lady Farm on Route 116, according to a Sunday news release.

“It’s just one acre, but it’s one more acre of hallowed ground that will not be subjected to further development and its use will pay homage to the legacy of Gettysburg,” Barb Mowery, president of the GBPA, said in the news release. The new headquarters, the former Strickland's T-shirt building, will replace the group's leased location at 33 York Street in Gettysburg, the news release stated. 

During the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate troops crossed the property to assault Union positions on Culp's Hill. In addition, the historic facility will house a small museum and general purpose room for seminars and special presentations.

Renovations are expected to begin in September with the hope that it will be ready before winter, according to Kirk Davis, the group's vice president of operations."It's going to be a versatile facility the GBPA and the entire Gettysburg community will be proud of," Davis said in the news release.

CWL   The Strictlands location is adjacent to the Daniel Lady Farm. If you were at the farmhouse, you would walk west with Route 116 on your left, pass the barn on your right and go to the top of the hill. You would see the Strictlands warehouse.

Full Text and Top Image Link: The Evening Sun 

Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Foundation's website:   

Monday, July 10, 2017

New and Noteworthy---William T. Sherman Versus Joseph E. Johnston; Wartime Enemies, Peace Time Friends

Worthy Opponents: William T. Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston: Antagonists in War, Friends in Peace, Edward G. Longacre, 404 pages, 60 black and white illustrations, 8 maps, bibliography, index, $24.95, paperback, Oklahoma University Press, July 2017.

From The Publisher:  "You and I became reconciled in April 1865, [and] have remained so since. . . . All [others] who are willing to be reconciled can do it by simply becoming good American citizens." ―William T. Sherman in a letter to Joseph E. Johnston.

It was the most trying time of the United States' young history. Families suffered as their fathers and young men, often mere boys, went off to war. Soldiers were slain by the tens of thousands in brutal battles and entire towns were reduced to rubble and ashes. America was split in two.

But in the face of this horrific Civil War, friendships and lifelong bonds were forged―even across the lines of battle. Worthy Opponents is the parallel stories of two key leaders: Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and Union General William Tecumseh Sherman. After their armies clashed repeatedly, it was only natural for these two commanding offers to become adversaries.

Yet as the war wore on, Johnston and Sherman came to respect each other. After the war they became close firends. In Worthy Opponents, award-winning author and Civil War historian Edward G. Longacre masterfully investigates the intertwining lives and careers of these two celebrated generals. He brings to life their personalities, their military styles, their history, and their ultimate respect and friendship in a readable and fascinating dual biography.

New and Noteworthy--Emory Upton's Reputation Redeemed

Emory Upton: Misunderstood Reformer, David J. Fitzpatrick, 344 pp., 15 black and white illustrations, 4 maps, Campaigns and Commanders Series, Oklahoma University Press, July 1017, $35.95 hardcover.

From the publisher: Emory Upton (1839–1881) is widely recognized as one of America’s most influential military thinkers. His works—The Armies of Asia and Europe and The Military Policy of the United States—fueled the army’s intellectual ferment in the late nineteenth century and guided Secretary of War Elihu Root’s reforms in the early 1900s. Yet as David J. Fitzpatrick contends, Upton is also widely misunderstood as an antidemocratic militaristic zealot whose ideas were “too Prussian” for America. In this first full biography in nearly half a century, Fitzpatrick, the leading authority on Upton, radically revises our view of this important figure in American military thought.

A devout Methodist farm boy from upstate New York, Upton attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and served in the Civil War. His use of a mass infantry attack to break the Confederate lines at Spotsylvania Courthouse in 1864 identified him as a rising figure in the U.S. Army. Upton’s subsequent work on military organizations in Asia and Europe, commissioned by Commanding General William T. Sherman, influenced the army’s turn toward a European, largely German ideal of soldiering as a profession. Yet it was this same text, along with Upton’s Military Policy of the United States, that also propelled the misinterpretations of Upton—first by some contemporaries, and more recently by noted historians Stephen Ambrose and Russell Weigley. By showing Upton’s dedication to the ideal of the citizen-soldier and placing him within the context of contemporary military, political, and intellectual discourse, Fitzpatrick shows how Upton’s ideas clearly grew out of an American military-political tradition.

Emory Upton: Misunderstood Reformer clarifies Upton’s influence on the army by offering a new and necessary understanding of the military’s intellectual direction at a critical juncture in American history.

New and Noteworthy: Midnight During the Civil War--What Dreams May Come?

Midnight in America: Darkness, Sleep, and Dreams during the Civil War, Jonathan W. White, University of North Carolina Press, 296 pages, $34.95, publication date, March 24, 2017

The Civil War brought many forms of upheaval to America, not only in waking hours but also in the dark of night. Sleeplessness plagued the Union and Confederate armies, and dreams of war glided through the minds of Americans in both the North and South. Sometimes their nightly visions brought the horrors of the conflict vividly to life.

But for others, nighttime was an escape from the hard realities of life and death in wartime. In this innovative new study, Jonathan W. White explores what dreams meant to Civil War–era Americans and what their dreams reveal about their experiences during the war. He shows how Americans grappled with their fears, desires, and struggles while they slept, and how their dreams helped them make sense of the confusion, despair, and loneliness that engulfed them.

White takes readers into the deepest, darkest, and most intimate places of the Civil War, connecting the emotional experiences of soldiers and civilians to the broader history of the conflict, confirming what poets have known for centuries: that there are some truths that are only revealed in the world of darkness.

The Author: Jonathan W. White is associate professor of American studies at Christopher Newport University.

Reviews: “Highly original, exhaustively researched, and compellingly written, Midnight in America makes a fresh and vital contribution to the essential Civil War literature. This is literally a dream of a book. And Jonathan W. White is one of the very best young historians in the field.” --Harold Holzer, winner of the 2015 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize.
“In a winning combination of marvelous research and creative analysis, Jonathan White examines how Civil War Americans experienced, thought about, and shared their dreams. Thick with clever arguments about war and society, Midnight in America illustrates how we might learn from the murky world of sleep and dreams and wartime.” --Matthew Gallman, author of Defining Duty in the Civil War

News-- Union General, Irish Patriot: Thomas Meagher's Death Investigated

 Mock inquest explores the death of Thomas Francis Meagher, By Jacob Fuhrer - MTN News, July  1, 2017

A mock inquest into the death of Thomas Francis Meagher was held Friday at the State Capitol in the old Supreme Court room. A part of Meagher Fest, the inquest explores the mysterious disappearance of the Irish rebel and Montana leader from the 19th century. Just like his life, Meagher’s death was controversial.  The mock inquest into his alleged drowning in the Missouri River in Fort Benton provided a chance for the public to come to their own conclusions. Relph Steele, who played an Irish attorney in the mock inquest, said a real verdict is reached at the end of the night. “We pick a real jury and they make a factual determination as to what caused the demise of Thomas Francis Meagher 150 years ago,” Steele said.

The actors dressed in authentic attire for the period and read from real testimony during the original inquest. For Meagher’s enthusiasts, the mock inquest is a chance to raise awareness about an important historical figure in both U.S. and Montana history. “People should pay attention to Thomas Francis Meagher. There’s a county named after him. He was a seminal figure in U.S. history and Montana history,” Steele said. New York Times best selling author Tim Egan says that, toying with the idea of a "New Ireland" in the West, Meagher accepted an assignment as Montana Territorial Secretary, only to find the current governor running out of Bannack the same afternoon he arrived.

Best-selling author Tim Egan noted, "The very stage that had brought Meagher in, the governor is now getting on that stage. he hands a bunch of papers to Meagher and says 'You're the governor. I'm outta here.' And that's what makes Thomas Meagher (Montana's) acting governor." "He's the most popular man in Montana. He gives these huge speeches. He arguably would have been a fantastic governor if he had more than 17 months." After coming down sick for a few days, Meagher boarded a Fort Benton steamer, vanishing over the side in darkness.

Was he pushed, perhaps assassinated? Or just drunk? It's still debated. But Egan, with family ties in Butte, says the mystery can't obscure what Meagher meant to the Irish. "He'd lived 12 lives in this one, short life," Egan said. "It's such an amazing story. And I don't think people in Montana realize how well known this person is, all over the world." "He was, arguably, the most famous Irish-American in our history until John F. Kennedy." A bold claim? Perhaps. But then again, Thomas Francis Meagher lived a bold life.

Online Line Link to Story: MTN

Thursday, July 06, 2017

News: CSS Georgia Found During Dredging of Savannah Harbor

Savannah Harbor Deepening Project Dredges Up History, Savannah Morning News, (no author provided), July 4, 2017

The harbor deepening project has dredged up another big piece of history. After welding a new frame to fit its 31- by 24-foot dimensions, crews Sunday raised a 67-ton section of armoring from the sunken CSS Georgia.

It was the west casement, or armoring, of the ironclad gunboat built for the Confederacy in 1862. Designed and constructed in Savannah, the vessel’s engines proved too weak to propel it through the river’s tidal waters. The Georgia instead was moored near Fort Jackson to protect the city of Savannah from a Union naval approach. Confederate troops scuttled the vessel in that area as Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union troops approached in 1864.
As a captured enemy vessel, it’s considered property of the Navy.

Deepening the Savannah River channel to 47 feet, a $973 million project, will adversely impact the wreck site, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. To mitigate these adverse impacts, archaeologists are excavating the site before that area is dredged. Begun in 2015, the excavation work is in its final stage with artifacts ranging from cannons to buckles already recovered.

 Caption: The west casement, or armoring, of the CSS Georgia is raised from the Savannah River near Fort Jackson Sunday. As the city continues its dredging project, more artifacts are being unveiled. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District)

Full Text and Image Link: Savannah Morning News

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Richmond's Worst Wartime Diaster: Brown's Island Munitions Factory Explosiion

Brown's Island Munitions Explosion Was Worst Wartime Disaster In Richmond, Katherine Calos, Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 4, 2017

The first blast lifted Mary Ryan off the floor. The second blew her to the ceiling. The Confederate munitions factory on Brown's Island exploded with a fury that killed more than 40 of its female workers, an event that shocked the city on March 13, 1863, and inspired an outpouring of sympathy.
The homefront disaster was Richmond's worst during the Civil War. Its 150th anniversary was commemorated with living history programs at The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar and with the dedication of a historical marker beside the island.

Ryan, an Irish teenager like many of the other workers at the Confederate States Laboratory, accepted blame for the explosion during the several days she lingered in pain. She confessed to Col. Josiah Gorgas, chief of ordinance, that she had banged a perforated wooden board containing friction primers against a table to knock them loose. The jostling was strong enough to ignite at least one of the primers, which set off an explosion that demolished most of the 70-foot building. 

Between 80 and 100 workers, mostly women, were in the room either at their jobs or warming themselves at a coal stove. An official report counted 69 casualties, of whom at least 44 died. "The most heart rending lamentations and cries issued from the ruins from the sufferers rendered delirious from suffering and terror," the Richmond Examiner wrote of the scene in its March 14 edition. "No sooner was one helpless, unrecognizable mass of humanity cared for and removed before the piteous appeals of another would invoke the energy of the rescuers."

Only a few of the victims died instantly. Others suffered "the most horrible agonies, blind from burns, with the hair burned from their heads, and the clothing hanging in burning shreds," the Examiner wrote. A few jumped in the river to extinguish the flames. For the rest of the month, deaths from the accident mounted. Mary Ryan, age 18, died March 16 at the home of her father, Michael Ryan, who also worked at the arsenal.
Elizabeth Young, 25, died in a rented room on Oregon Hill "after a severe pain of twelve hours, caused by the fearful accident on Brown's Island," the Daily Dispatch reported March 17. "This will be sad news to her relations and friends, whom she left not long since in Caroline county."
Only three of the dead were men. The Rev. John H. Woodcock, 63, was supervisor of the room where the blast occurred. James Curry, 13, died the night of the explosion from his injuries. Samuel Chappell, 16, somehow lived five days after being found wedged against a wall with his skull crushed from the collapse of the building's roof.

In an official inquiry by the War Department, Capt. Wesley N. Smith, superintendent, estimated that the room that exploded had contained 200,000 musket caps, 2,000 to 3,000 friction primers and about 10 or 11 pounds of gunpowder. It was more crowded than normal because materials weren't available to finish an expansion of another building. The mixture of jobs increased the risk of an accident. In addition to finishing friction primers, sewing cannon cartridge bags and boxing musket caps, workers were filling Williams cartridges and taking apart defective cartridges to separate the gunpowder and lead. As a result, gunpowder dust would've been in the air.
Friction primers were a detonation device for cannons. When the cannoneer pulled a lanyard attached to the friction primer pin, the effect was the same as striking a match. The spark ignited gunpowder inside the metal primer tube, and that small explosion ignited a larger charge inside the cannon.
As a last step in the manufacturing process, the primers were sealed with wax and varnished to protect against moisture, which possibly caused some of them to stick to the board that held them for manufacturing.

Many of the munitions workers were young women because their small, nimble fingers were considered more suited to the task of assembling up to 1,200 cartridges a day. Cathy Wright, curator at the Museum of the Confederacy, sees a parallel to Rosie the Riveter in World War II in the way women were sought for jobs that previously would have been off-limits. Before the Civil War, Wright said, "women had not been encouraged to find gainful employment. They were supposed to stay at home. Working for wages was a couple of steps above being a lady of the night."

The explosion made it harder to accept the idea of women in workplace, Wright said, but it didn't stop women from working. The community responded with contributions of $9,000 to $10,000 for the victims. The munitions lab on Brown's Island didn't exist until after the war began. Smaller explosions at its original location at the end of Seventh Street had raised safety concerns. So, the island was cleared and a group of one-story wooden buildings was constructed for the operation in 1863.
Explosions were an occupational hazard in munitions manufacturing, said Dean S. Thomas of Gettysburg, Pa., author of Round Ball to Rimfire: A History of Civil War Small Arms Ammunition.
On the same day as the battle of Antietam in September 1862, an explosion at the Allegheny Arsenal in Pittsburgh had killed 78 workers. An arsenal explosion in Jackson, Miss., had killed about 40 people a few weeks later. "When they advertised for people to make cartridges," Thomas said, "they would advertise that it was as safe as anything else."

Text Source: Richmond Times Dispatch 
Slight modifications in the text related to current events' dates have been made in this post.

Image Source:  Richmond Arsenal

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Union Veterans' Unending Civil War: The Survivors' Story

Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War, Brian Matthew Jordan, Liveright/W.W. Norton Publishing, 2014, 374 pages, bibliographic notes, bibliography, illustrations,  paperback $18.95.

 While you read Brian Jordan's Marching Home you may be reminded of  Bruce Catton's writing style in his Army of the Potomac trilogy. Clear, concise and frequently offering the stories and words of the soldiers, Jordan's work invokes an immediate awareness to the the pain, patience and passions of the Federal army's veterans. Over 2 million men served and over 360,000 died during those four years. It is likely that another 360,000 died of war wounds during the four decades after the war. Marching Home is the survivors' story.

The evidence that Jordan reveals through regimental histories, pension applications, diaries, letters and Grand Army of the Republic business correspondence is that there was much anger and alienation among the veterans. The author finds legions missing arms and legs with most suffering from throbbing stumps which drain blood and pus. Former prisoners of war were housed in asylums and poor houses committing suicide. Society was unprepared to satisfactorily deal with the issues of health, welfare and employment of the veterans.

If soldiers on campaign at times looked after their own health and relied on their comrades, then veterans in the post-war era did the same.  Jordan discusses the founding and growth of the Grand Army of the Republic, its pension lobbying and the succor of its monthly meetings and annual reunions. He understands the the veterans suffered and unending war with their physical and psychological traumas.

In addition veterans dealt with a society and its culture which wished to push the war aside in an effort to reconcile itself to the horror of it all. Jordan grasps that the veterans believed that civilians had not suffered as they had suffered. As in today's political arena, it was a struggle to create a cultural narrative: one that was palatable for civilians but which neglected the suffering of the veterans.

Jordan notes the change of  in course for the U.S. Sanitary Commission and the U.S. Christian Commission after the war's end. Their ambivalence, like the veterans' kin and communities, revealed a preference for the reconciliation narrative and their lack of  an acknowledgment of war's damage to those who served.  Marching Home may evoke grief  in readers as they come to grips with the tragedy endured by the veterans and the culture's callousness toward physical and emotion needs of those who served and survived.