John Brown’s March

16 10 2009

capitol_muralWe’ve had this up on the SHAF website for a while, but I was a little taken aback to see this article featured on Comcast’s homepage as one of the day’s top news items.  Last month I spoke with Dennis Frye about the anniversary events planned for the next few days, and I’ll just say if you’re lucky enough to be in the Harper’s Ferry area over the next few days, you’re in for some treats.  The sold-out march from the Kennedy Farm to HF tonight has got to be one of the coolest events I’ve ever heard of, and I was truly bummed to find out that the wife would be travelling for work this whole upcoming week, starting tomorrow.  If any of you attend any of the events (learn more about them here and here), please feel free to send me a report!





Undaunted Heart

15 10 2009

Undaunted-HeartI received a copy of  Undaunted Heart from Eno Publishing in Hillsborough, NC a few weeks ago, and finished it up last week.  I don’t read every book publishers send me cover to cover – I’m a slow reader and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.  But I had read snippets of the story of the courtship and marriage of Union general Smith Atkins and southern belle Ella Swain before and figured the book, written by Swain descendant and Raleigh area writer Suzy Barile, was enough of a departure to be worthwhile.  I do that a lot lately, read books that fall outside what I typically read.  I guess by definition if I keep doing that then I’m not doing that.  Dang, lost my train of thought…where was I…oh yeah, Undaunted Heart.

Twenty-two year old Ella was the daughter of University of North Carolina president and former North Carolina governor David Swain.  Atkins had been colonel of the 92nd IL Mounted Infantry (which Barile for some odd reason referred to as Mounted Cavalry), which was part of Wilder’s Lightning Brigade, and on Aril 17, 1865 was in command of a brigade that was the first to occupy the college town of Chapel Hill.  While visiting with Gov. Swain in his home, he met Ella and it was love at first sight.

Predictably, the romance was a scandal, particularly among the women of Chapel Hill.  Ella’s mother, despite, over many years, forming a close bond with Atkins, still never took a meal with him.  Through family letters discovered in an attic by the author, the courtship, marriage, and many trials and tribulations of the Swains’ and Atkins’s are recreated in an engaging, easy to read style.  While the military aspects contain some inaccuracies and will appear muddled to folks used to more precision, they’re really ancillary to the personal story and as such don’t detract from it.  In many ways it’s a sad tale: early and sudden death stalked Ella’s family, and did not spare even her in the end.  Undaunted Heart gives us a glimpse of life in 19th century America in ways military history can’t.

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McDowell Day

14 10 2009

Irvin McDowell gets his own day!  Check it out.





The Bonfire

13 10 2009

Bonfire, theI finished up Mark Wortman’s The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta.  Let me start off with a warning – this is possibly the most inappropriately titled book I’ve ever read.  Unlike Russell Bonds’s War Like the Thunderbolt, and despite the claims of its title, Wortman’s book is most definitely not primarily concerned with the siege and burning of Atlanta.  It’s more accurately described as a history of the city of Atlanta, from its wilderness days up through the climactic events of 1864.

Look at it this way: Wortman’s story takes up 361 pages.  John Bell Hood doesn’t take over command of the Army of  Tennessee until page 259, and William T. Sherman marches out of the burning city on page 336.  But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Bonfire is a social history first and foremost.  And it compliments rather than competes with Thunderbolt.  You’ll get more back story on the people and places in Bonfire, and more focus on a narrower timeframe in Thunderbolt.

I’m not a fan of Wortman’s writing style: as I’ve said before, I dig Hemingway, not Steinbeck, and so prefer fewer words to more.  Wortman is heavy on the adjectives and uses so many compound sentences I found myself having to read a lot of them more than once.  He’s at his weakest when he’s discussing military matters: Abraham Lincoln changed commanders of the Army of the Potomac two times in the first two years of the war, not five (from McClellan to Burnside and from Burnside to Hooker – that’s two.  Neither McDowell nor Pope ever commanded the AotP, and McClellan organized it);  the Army of the Cumberland was commanded by William Rosecrans, not William Rosencrans, and his army was attacked by that of Braxton Bragg at Chickamauga, not the other way around; Jefferson Davis placed Robert E. Lee in command of the army outside Richmond in 1862 because Joe Johnston was wounded, not because Lee was more aggressive.  But the correction of these problems would not significantly alter the product, which again is not a military history.  Of course, it does bring into question the accuracy of the non-military aspects of the book.  But I’m having trouble getting fired up about that – I guess I’m mellowing in my old age.

Bonds’s writing style is more appealing to me, but that’s a matter of personal taste.  The contents are so dissimilar that comparisons would be apples to oranges.  I think the way to approach these books would be to start reading Wortman, then read the two in tandem when they synch up time-wise.

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Coming Up…Springfield, IL

12 10 2009

I just got back from a long weekend in Springfield, IL.  My family was (were, if you’re British) nice enough to treat me to the trip for my upcoming birthday.  We saw a lot of stuff and, believe it or not, two days was just not enough time to see everything we wanted.  I took about 250 pictures, and while I don’t intend on subjecting you to all of them, I plan to write a series of posts over the next week or two that will be illustrated to an altogether fitting and proper extent.





SCWH Newsletter

9 10 2009

I received the Fall 2009 Society of Civil War Historians newsletter today.  Mostly it lists the Civil War related sessions at the upcoming Southern Historical Association‘s conference in Louisville, KY in November.

By far the best thing in this issue of the newsletter is Mark Grimsley’s review of Battle: the Nature and Consequences of Civil War Combat, a collection of essays edited by Kent Gramm.  I reviewed the collection in brief for America’s Civil War last year, and there’s only so much one can do with the “in brief” format.  Prof. Grimsley gave the essays by GNMP historian Scott Hartwig and Dr. Bruce Evans high marks, but skewered the remaining four with considerable flair.  Check it out – it should be in your mailbox today, unless you’re not a member.  You can fix that by going here.





New Blog – “Blog Divided”

7 10 2009

I just ran across a new blog (hat tip to Jim Beeghley) run by Dickinson College called Blog Divided, which says it is for anyone teaching or studying the house divided era, 1840-1880.  I’ll add it to my blogroll on the next update, but until then check it out.

I should add that this blog is new to me.  I don’t know how long it’s been around.








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