Bull Runnings on Facebook

19 07 2010

I decided to set up a page for Bull Runnings on Facebook.  Up until now, I’ve been posting links to new articles here on my Facebook wall.  That means I’ve been bombarding all my Facebook friends with links on their home pages, even if they have no interest in the Civil War (yes, believe it or not there are people like that out there…lots of them, in fact).  With the new Facebook Bull Runnings page I’ll be able to post the links for people who are more likely to be interested.  If you’re a Facebook friend of mine, you should have already received an invite to “like” the Bull Runnings page.  And if you’re a Facebooker but not a friend, you can simply look up the page (it’s called Bull Runnings) and click “like” or “follow” or whatever it says there at the top.

I tried to set it up so that new posts automatically update to the page, but apparently I can only link between my blog and my personal wall, not the page.  So I’ll still be doing that manually.





Interview: Larry Tagg, “The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln”

18 07 2010

Larry Tagg is the author of 2009’s The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln: The Story of America’s Most Reviled President.  Recently he took time to respond to some questions for Bull Runnings.

BR:  Larry, your background has been a topic of discussion due to its unique character.

LT:  I was born in Lincoln, Illinois. After living in the Land of Lincoln for eight years, my family moved to Dallas, Texas, where my father was Minister of Music at the Highland Park Presbyterian Church. As a high school senior, I won the city-wide high school extemporaneous writing contest. (I was lucky. The prompt was “Describe a concert,” and just the week before I had seen Jimi Hendrix for the first time, just after the release of Are You Experienced? Security was lax at the State Fair Music Hall in those days, and after the show I jumped onstage and walked backstage to Jimi’s dressing room, where I talked to his drummer, Mitch Mitchell. Jimi was across the room talking to someone else.)

I attended the University of North Texas, graduating cum laude in Philosophy in two years, and I was awarded a teaching assistantship at the University of Texas. After one semester of graduate school I knew academia was not for me. I was more a musician—a bass player, singer, and songwriter.

I moved to California in 1978 with an excellent band, Uncle Rainbow, to record under the aegis of Michael Hossack, one of the Doobie Brothers. In 1985, my band Bourgeois Tagg—with Brent Bourgeois, Michael Urbano, Lyle Workman, and Scott Moon—was signed to Island Records. We recorded two albums and had two hits, Mutual Surrender and I Don’t Mind at All.  We toured Europe and America with Robert Palmer, Heart, Belinda Carlisle, and others.

After Bourgeois Tagg broke up in 1989 during the making of our third album, I toured as a bass player and singer with Todd Rundgren and Hall and Oates. (My audition gig with Hall and Oates was in front of a million people at the Great Meadow in Central Park on the 20th anniversary of Earth Day.) During the 1990s I was signed as a staff songwriter by Warner Chappell Music. My songs were recorded by Eddie Money, Kim Carnes, Cliff Richard, and others. I released two solo albums—With a Skeleton Crew and Rover—in Europe and America.

By the mid-90s I had a family, and the road had lost much of its allure. I became in English and drama teacher and Lead Teacher of the Arts Academy at Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento, California. While I taught I began writing in my spare time. My first book, The Generals of Gettysburg, was published in 1998 by Savas Publishing, and the paperback edition appeared a couple of years later on Da Capo.

The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln, my latest book, took me about 7 years to research and write. It was a labor of love, of course. I love the scavenger hunt that is research, and I love trying to make the words come out right.

BR:  How long has Abraham Lincoln been a focus of your studies? 

LT:  Lincoln has been the focus of my studies since about 2001, when I was working on a follow-up to my book The Generals of Gettysburg.  Since I hadn’t seen a good history of the Army of the Potomac since Bruce Catton, I was working on a new history of that army that would take advantage of all the research that’s been done in the last 50 years, and which would concentrate more on the effects that the relationships between its generals had on the battles it fought.  I was starting at the very beginning, with Winfield Scott and Charles Stone and the District of Columbia militia during the Secession Crisis.

BR:  What first got you interested in tackling his “unpopular” side? 

LT:  Right away, I started turning up an alarming number of disparaging references by the generals to their Commander-in-Chief, Abraham Lincoln.  It seemed like none of them took him seriously, or worse, thought he was an ignoramus, totally overmatched by the crisis.  That jarred me, since it didn’t square with my education on The Great Emancipator, and it made me curious.  The more I looked into opinion on Lincoln, both within the army and without, the more incredibly poisonous stuff I found.   I thought, “Here’s the story!”

BR:  What challenges did the project present?

LT:  The most serious challenge in writing The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln was not to find material.  That abounded—I ended up including in the book only the “10s” on a 1-to-10 scale of slurs I found on Lincoln.  The hard part was walking the line between including enough examples of the violent criticism of Lincoln to make the book a good resource on one hand and writing a good narrative on the other hand.  I had to go to the University of California to send for microfiche of Democratic newspapers, then wade through those for hours sitting at a microfiche reader.  I had to be careful to balance those obviously biased sources with neutral observers that were more valuable as indicators of the lack of political support Lincoln had during almost his entire time in office.  I am also careful, on any Civil War topic, to take with a grain of salt any reminiscences written by the participants later in the century—these were so clouded over, after hundreds of dinner speeches and rose-colored retellings, that they’re not worth much.

BR:  Tell us about The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln.

LT:  The thesis of the book is that Abraham Lincoln accomplished more with less political capital than any other figure in American history.  I think the book is particularly valuable where it discusses the context of his presidency, the tenor of the times—I am particularly grateful to reviewers who appreciate these chapters of the book.  Lincoln was president when respect for all authority was at low ebb, and when respect for the presidency as an institution was at its lowest point.  (Just last week, I saw a new poll on presidents, and, as usual, the four presidents preceding Lincoln were in the bottom ten.  The low quality of presidents was the result of the same boss-run party system that produced Lincoln, and Americans of that time were increasingly horrified by the quality of the presidents produced by the system.  Lincoln seemed to many to be the worst of the lot.  As a result of the seeming capriciousness of his nomination by the Republicans in 1860, wags titled Lincoln “His Accidency.”)  Once he took office, he inherited a political milieu so overheated that everyone had flown to extremes right and left, which soon left Lincoln, a moderate, alone in the middle.  I think that the more one knows about this context, the more one appreciates what he was able to accomplish.

The audience for the book was not academia, although I am a teacher myself.  I was extremely scrupulous with my research and my conclusions so that my book would stand up to academic scrutiny, but I wrote for an intelligent general audience.  I have to say I continue to be amazed that this book had not been written before.  (As a songwriter, I knew a great song when I heard it and thought, “Why didn’t I think of that?”)  I think the “angle” I took in The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln is a particularly powerful one for studying Lincoln the President, the mood of the North, and the politics of the Civil War.  I recommend it as a primer on those closely related subjects.  Besides my effort as a historian, I also put in a lot of effort as a writer.  It is a great story—a wild ride.

BR:  Did you find out anything while researching The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln that changed – or reinforced – any opinions you already had?

LT:  It’s funny that in researching a book about how little people thought of Lincoln at the time, I can’t remember anything I found made me think less of Lincoln—the experience only added to my esteem for him.  Politician is so often used as an epithet, and Lincoln, who was an unapologetic, bare-knuckles fighter of a politician—reminds us how a great politician can be a crucial asset to the American people.  As a writer, I loved reading what Lincoln wrote; even his everyday notes to generals and politicians had a sinewy quality to them, a unique ability to see to the heart of a problem, small or large.  Along with the rigor of his logic, there was a gentleness and a humor in his writing that is the most incontrovertible testimony to his character.  However, I am not among those who think Lincoln was a military genius.  Although he was an excellent student of military principles, his lack of knowledge about logistics and the friction of war made him a poor general-in-chief, which he was for the four months that ended with the disaster of the Peninsula Campaign.  Also, he had inherited the racial prejudices of his place and time, and his flirtations with projects to deport African-Americans are embarrassing to us now.  However, they were serious attempts to solve monumental, centuries-old national problems, and it was with regard to race that he showed the most growth as a man and leader.

BR:  Considering Lincoln’s continuing unpopularity with Congress after Lee’s surrender, what’s your opinion of his prospects of successfully achieving a “soft” peace with the former Confederates and implementing the details of emancipation, while at the same time satisfying the Radicals?

LT:  Yes, Lincoln was still considered an enemy by the Radicals who controlled Congress, and his prospect of pleasing them, while he tried in his usual gentle way to make Southern governments out of nothing, were nil.  Andrew Johnson at least had a honeymoon period with the Radicals, while Lincoln had never been their man.  However, Lincoln was without a doubt the best man to establish a “soft” peace with the former Confederate states.  I consider the next hundred years, the hundred years of Jim Crow rule in the South, to be the biggest what if in American history:  I think Jim Crow might have been avoided if Lincoln had lived.  He was the one man who best knew how to navigate on the race question, and a president not squeamish about using presidential power to advance Jefferson’s principle that “all men are created equal.” 

BR:  How has the book been received?  [Tagg’s response here is brief and modest.  Personally I’ve noticed a profound silence from the Lincoln “establishment” on this, in my opinion, very important book, which gives us a rare look at Lincoln as he was viewed without the prism of martyrdom.]

LT:  The response to the book by those who have read it has been all I could have hoped.  However, not very many people have read it.
 
BR:  What’s next for you?

 LT:  I look around for quite a while to find a great subject before I start writing.  So I’m in the “read, read, read” phase right now, which precedes the research phase of my book writing.  Two subjects have struck me.  One is the two-week period after Fort Sumter when Maryland teetered on secession and Washington—with the entire government apparatus—was surrounded by rebellion and almost totally unprotected.  I think that could be a “cinematic” narrative, and tramping around Maryland to find primary sources on those two weeks would be fascinating (though not easy; I live in California).  The other subject is Lincoln and the Thirteenth Amendment, an act in which, unlike the Emancipation Proclamation, he did not take the initiative.  I think there’s probably a good story there—he was trying to get re-elected at the same time, and his feelings toward a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery were complicated.  I’ve got about six books next to my bed on that subject right now (though none specifically treats Lincoln’s role, which is good).  I may also write a book on statistical research on Civil War battles, a subject I’ve been gathering material on for about twenty years, especially since I’m now working with the company that has produced Scourge of War: Gettysburg, an excellent computer strategy game on the Battle of Gettysburg.

These would be smaller books than The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln—I’m in the mood to concentrate on a smaller subject.  I think, however, that The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln will be the “big book” to which people will return.

 Thanks to Larry for taking the time to share his thoughts with us all, and we look forward to his future work.  I’m intrigued by anyone who has an interest in exploring the numbers of the Civil War – it’s decidedly un-sexy but can be enormously enlightening.  Remember back when folks thought Lee was outnumbered by McClellan during Seven Days

Pick up a copy of The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln and give it a read.  You’ll be glad you did.

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Speaking Update

16 07 2010

I’ve updated my speaking engagement page (aka Book Me, Dano!, where you can contact me about speaking to your group) to indicate I will be making an appearance before the good folks at the Rufus Barringer Civil War Roundtable in Pinehurst, NC, on May 19, 2011.  Tentatively, I will be giving a presentation based on my Civil War Times magazine column that is now called Collateral Damage, though I think I will be sticking with the original title In Harm’s Way.  If you’re in the area, stop in.  I’m looking forward to seeing everyone there.





Interview: Dr. Thomas Clemens, “The Maryland Campaign of September, 1862 Vol.I”

15 07 2010

Dr. Thomas Clemens (pictured below) of Keedysville, MD is the editor of The Maryland Campaign of September, 1862 Volume I: South Mountain.  I’ve known Tom for a few years, and serve with him on the board of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF).  He recently sat down (virtually) for an interview with Bull Runnings.

BR:  Tom, before we get started can you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?

TC:  I have Bachelor’s and Masters’ degrees in history from Salisbury State College, now Salisbury University.  In 1990 I went to grad school at George Mason University in Fairfax VA where I met Dr. [Joseph L.] Harsh.  I graduated in 2002 with my doctorate, and also a firm foundation in the Civil War thanks to Joe Harsh.  I have been at Hagerstown Community College for almost 32 years, mostly teaching U.S. History, but occasionally I get to teach a class in Civil War. 

I also became involved in battlefield preservation in 1985 when Dennis Frye, John Schildt and a lot of other people formed Save Historic Antietam Foundation, Inc.  I have been president of the group since 1989, and it is a great experience.  

I have been a volunteer at Antietam National Battlefield since 1979, doing everything from cannon firing demonstrations to scene restoration work.   Living within cannon-shot of the battlefield allows me to walk the ground on a regular basis.  That allows me to better understand some of the details of the action of the battle. 

BR:  What first got you interested in Ezra Carman’s papers?

TC:  Joe Harsh was the person who most inspired me to focus more attention on the Maryland Campaign, something I’d been interested in for years, but not in a serious fashion.  I spent a lot of years traveling to battlefields and reenacting with some great folks, including the incomparable Brian Pohanka, but Joe Harsh had so much enthusiasm and so much knowledge, and an incredible ability to ask the right question and do the research to answer it.  He became a friend and mentor, in that order.  One night sitting in a bar with Joe he asked me what I had in mind for a dissertation.  He suggested editing the Ezra Carman manuscript, which he had been using to write his splendid trilogy on the Maryland Campaign.  He had typed a lot of it, and I finished the job.  He had thought about editing it, but it was too time-consuming.  Beware of “gifts” from friends!  The size and complexity of the project was unknown to me then, and I thought it would be a relatively simple job.  Little did I know how many years it would take to finish the job.

BR:  How long have you been working on Carman?

TC:  I began editing Carman’s manuscript in the 1990’s, completed several early chapters to get my degree, but got much more focused after Ted Savas approached me about publishing my work. He has been very supportive. 

BR:  What particular challenges did editing Carman’s manuscript present?

TC: What makes the editing so difficult is that I am working backwards compared to the way an author usually works.  Instead of obtaining source material and using it to create a narrative, I am tied to a narrative written over 100 years ago, and trying to figure out what source material Carman used to create it.  Sometimes he cited sources directly and then it is simply a matter of tracking down old books to verify his work.  Far more often he did not cite sources and then it becomes something of a detective game.  Tracking down the sources for his work in many instances led to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion.  These books, known as the ORs, were being compiled in the 1880s and Carman had access to them.  He also had access to captured Confederate government records, allowing him to cite Muster Rolls and diplomatic correspondence.  A few regimental histories were available then and Carman used them on occasion.  He also referred to early biographical works on Lee, Jackson and others.  For better or worse, Carman also relied on McClellan’s Own Story, and he made much use of the Century Magazine’s Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.  If he had only used published sources this work would be simple.  But even before Carman was hired on the Antietam battlefield Board they had been soliciting memoir accounts from veterans of both sides.  These letters provided many otherwise unpublished material which Carman used liberally.  To accurately determine which letters Carman used and how reliable they are it became necessary to organize all the letters into one database.  There are over 1,000 letters in the National Archives and Library of Congress Manuscript Division.  More letters exist in the New York Public Library and others were scattered into private hands.  John M. Gould of the 10th ME Infantry gathered even more letters regarding the fighting in the East Woods and Cornfield area.  Carman and Gould swapped information, so it became necessary to add Gould’s letters to the database.  Currently there are over 2,200 entries in the file, and I am still adding more.  So gathering source material, checking it against current scholarship, and then finally writing a footnote is the bulk of my work.  In the first volume there are over 850 footnotes; do you see what I mean about time consumption? 

BR:  What can you tell us about Carman and his project?

TC:  It is a testament to his thoroughness that Carman created the manuscript at all.  He was hired in 1894 to be the “Historical Expert” on the Battlefield Board.  He was to layout the field and tour roads, create and place plaques, and monuments and map the field.  He also was charged to write a “pamphlet” to advise future leaders in developing the battlefield.  This “pamphlet” became the 1,800 page manuscript that has kept me busy for over 18 years.  He began writing the manuscript in the late 1890’s and completed it shortly after the turn of the century.  I have found notes scribbled in the margins that came from material dated 1905, but most of the work was complete by 1902 or 1903. 

Mostly what Carman wanted to know was the positions on the field and the identity of opposing forces.  This knowledge helped him create the extremely detailed time-sequenced maps to place the combat on the proper locations in the field.  In doing that he overlooked or ignored many fascinating details, humorous stories and anecdotes which provide so much richness to our understanding of the battle today. I am constantly fascinated by reading these letters, although their memories may be hazy 30 years after the war, their stories are still captivating.

Carman was in many ways the creator of the field as it appears now and the interpretation of it we still recognize today.  This is a good thing, and in some ways a bad thing.  Carman had his limitations and his prejudices, and they carry over into his manuscript.  For example, Carman unabashedly admired Lee and Jackson, often criticized McClellan and positively loathed Halleck.  That amazes me when you think that Carman fought through the war in the Union army, and suffered all his later life from Confederate-inflicted battlefield injuries.  He clearly did not hold any grudge against his former enemies.

BR:  What will Carman’s manuscript – and your annotations – tell us about the Maryland Campaign that we don’t already know?

TC:  For many years Carman’s manuscript languished in the Library of Congress.  A few people read parts of it, the battlefield had a copy, and built their interpretive plan around it, but that was about it.  A few historians looked at it, but the writing is quite small and difficult to read.  That is a shame because Carman had the “correct” story about a lot of things that several historians botched in their books.  For example, Carman correctly stated that the staff officer who verified Chilton’s handwriting on S.O. 191 knew Chilton through a business relationship.  Other accounts mistakenly say they were in the U.S. army together.  These mistakes happened because Carman did not document how he knew things, and people weren’t sure he was right.  That is exactly what I am trying to do; inform the reader about where Carman is correct, and where he is questionable. 

There were also several “stories” that Carman included in his manuscript that had no known source other than him.  I am especially thrilled to say that by careful attention to the letters I have solved several of these “Carmanisms,” as I call them.  For example, there is a story in the early part of the campaign where Jackson, reaching the vicinity of Buckeystown on September 6, asked Col. E. V. “Lige” White to ride with him.  Together they rode almost back to the Potomac and then returned to camp, Jackson never speaking during the entire ride.  Nobody ever knew where that story came from until I discovered the letter from White in one of the letter collections. 

BR:  What is unique about your edition of Carman’s manuscript?

TC:  It is the attention to the letters and the analysis of Carman’s historical method that make my edition much different from the other published version of the manuscript.  While the [Joseph] Pierro edition has almost as many footnotes, he was content to identify sources; I go the next step in analyzing them.  For instance, Carman relied on Battles and Leaders for much information, especially in the early part of the campaign.  Pierro correctly noted that fact, but I go on to point out that many writers in that work are embellishing or fabricating what they wrote.  Confederate General John Walker is a good example: he claims to know much of the strategic aspects of Lee’s plans in 1882, but in his after-action reports in 1862 he seemed not to know much at all. 

I also believe that maps are critical to understanding the narrative and so there are 22 detailed maps in my edition.  In fact, I am thrilled with the maps – Gene Thorp did an outstanding job creating them.  Some pictures are included too, but not the usual Gardner photos of the battlefield.  I included some lesser-known photos mostly from the time that Carman was writing.  It seemed logical to use pictures that showed the sites as they looked to Carman. 

Because of the in-depth footnoting and more readable format in my version the book runs a bit longer in total pages.  The publisher and I decided to break it into two volumes for the convenience of the reader.  The price [of both volumes combined] will still be less than the earlier all-in-one volume. 

BR:  What’s next?  Any plans to go beyond the second volume, like editing the papers?

TC:  What’s next?  – Right now I am working on Volume II, as well as reading collating and categorizing letters from the John M. Gould collection and also some from the New York collection into my database.  All of this work is very time-consuming so you won’t see the second volume anytime soon.  Ultimately there are a lot of other things I’d like to see published.  Some of the letters are absolute gems and it would be nice to see them in print.  The database I am creating would allow readers to see who wrote to Gould or the Battlefield Board.  I also am creating a biographical register with a brief bio of every person mentioned in the manuscript.  Whether Savas-Beatie will want to do that is unclear at this time, but these things are on my wish list. 

Thanks Tom.  We look forward to seeing more of your ground-breaking work in print soon.

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Presidents Gotta Eat, Too!

14 07 2010

I received a note from Suzanne Evans, who maintains the blog The History Chef.  Some pretty cool stuff that so far seems to focus on eating habits and favorite recipes of the POTUS through the years.  From the site:

Hi there! My name is Suzy Evans and I live in Southern California with my husband and our four young kids. I received my Ph.D. in history from UC Berkeley in 2008 and began this blog last year while writing a cookbook about the presidents’ favorite foods. My goal is to help parents and kids learn how to cook together, learn about history together, and hopefully help them create many great memories and meals together. Welcome!

Check it out.





Interview: Dr. Victoria Bynum, “The Long Shadow of the Civil War”

13 07 2010

Dr. Victoria Bynum is the author of several books on southern society during the war, with a focus on dissent and Unionism in the Confederacy.  She kindly agreed to an interview with Bull Runnings.

BR:  So, who exactly is Vikki Bynum – inquiring minds want to know?

VB:  I became a fulltime college student at age 26. As a single mother with two children to raise, I enrolled at San Diego City College in hopes of becoming a commercial artist. I soon became interested in American literature and history, and eventually changed my major to history after transferring into the California state college system. In 1978, I received my B.A. from Chico State University. By then, I had begun to research free people of color in the Old South and was eager to enter a graduate program that would enable me to continue research in Southern court records.  I was accepted into the history program of the University of California, San Diego, where I earned a PhD in 1987. By then, I was teaching fulltime at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. I retired from Texas State this past January, shortly before the release of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies (Chapel Hill, 2010).

BR:  How long have you been working on Southern Unionists, southern dissent, and Jones County, and in what forms?

VB:  I became interested in Southern Unionists in 1983 while researching the doctoral dissertation that became the basis for my first book, Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill, 1992). I had originally intended to confine that study to racial and class differences among women in a slaveholding patriarchy, but quickly discovered that women played an enormously important role in Civil War home front conflicts. The Randolph County region of North Carolina, including portions of Montgomery and Moore Counties, was a major area of Unionism, much more so even than Jones County, Mississippi. Particularly in the NC Governors’ Papers, the voices of women and Unionists came alive.

Writing Unruly Women stimulated me to begin researching the history of Mississippi’s legendary “Free State of Jones,” another region of strong Unionist allegiances, in 1992. My own Bynum ancestors had lived in Jones County, and, I soon discovered, were deeply involved in that region’s inner civil war. Although my ancestors’ history made the topic all the more interesting for me, my larger goal was to uncover the factual history of an important Civil War uprising shrouded in legend. In the study that resulted, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (Chapel Hill, 2001), I focused extensively on the roots and legacy of political dissent and Unionism in piney woods Mississippi. An important tool for accomplishing that was my tracing of the frontier migrations and experiences of key families backward through Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, and forward to Texas.

To my amazement, while researching the migration of several Jones County families to Texas, I encountered another Unionist uprising in the Big Thicket region of East Texas, where, I discovered, several of the outliers were brothers of band members of Mississippi’s Free State of Jones! It was at this point that I decided to combine my research on Southern anti-Confederate dissent in a single volume, where I could show the links between these communities, and also compare and contrast them in a broader historical context. The result was my third book to explore Southern Unionism (among other forms of dissent), The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and its Legacies.

BR:  Tell us about The Long Shadow of the Civil War.

VB:  Long Shadow provides a comparative analysis of three Civil War areas of dissent: the Quaker Belt of the North Carolina Piedmont, the Jones County area of piney woods Mississippi, and the Big Thicket region of East Texas. The volume features six distinct but related essays, each of which centers around a particular story. Some essays combine the regions for comparative purposes; others focus on a single topic in a single region, such as women’s resistance to Confederate forces in the North Carolina Quaker Belt, the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction, or Newt Knight’s thirty-year effort to gain federal compensation for his Mississippi band of guerrillas.  All the essays reveal the varying importance of community norms, kinship networks, religion, and attitudes toward slavery in stimulating Southern resistance to secession and the Confederacy.

By approaching Unionism as a community issue, I avoided a Great Man approach toward the study of movements of resistance in which a single individual, such as Newt Knight [the central figure of The Free State of Jones] of Mississippi or Bill Owens of North Carolina, overshadows the complex societal forces that stimulated and sustained such movements. So, while Long Shadow identifies key similarities among regions of dissent, it also pinpoints important differences between them.

BR:  Did you find out anything while researching Long Shadow that changed—or reinforced—any opinions formed during The Free State of Jones?
 
VB:  The new materials cited in Long Shadow enriched my knowledge of Jones County, Mississippi’s Civil War uprising, and enabled me to expand on the story. They did not, however, refute the essential arguments I made in The Free State of Jones. In both works, I maintain that Newt Knight’s anti-Confederate views accelerated during and after the Civil War. For example, in 1861, Newt volunteered for Confederate service before passage of the South’s first conscript act (in contrast to men who later formed the Unionist core of his guerrilla band, The Knight Company).

Also expanding the story of the Jones County uprising is Newt’s second federal claims file, 1887-1900, which I obtained a copy of just before The Free State of Jones went to press. The file was rich with depositions that quote directly from aging former Knight Band guerrillas (including Newt), enabling me to include their voices in Long Shadow.

New research materials also allowed me to discuss in far greater depth in Long Shadow the extent to which dissent among certain Knight Band members extended into the New South era.  Like Warren J. Collins in Texas and Jasper Collins in Mississippi, Newt Knight displayed far greater political militancy in his later years than during the war, or even during Reconstruction when he served the Adelbert Ames Administration.   Newt’s remark around 1894 that plain southern farmers should have risen up and killed the slaveholders rather than fight their war for them reflected his disappointment with wartime governments, both North and South. Viewed in historical context during periods of dizzying change and violence, ordinary people (like Newt) responded to and helped to shape those times.  By 1894, the experiences of war, Reconstruction, and New South politics had reshaped Newt Knight’s beliefs significantly. The man who volunteered for Confederate service in 1861, led an anti-Confederate guerrilla band in 1863, and served the Union government during Reconstruction, was now advocating internal class revolution as the best way to have defeated slaveholders .

Long Shadow presents a wider and longer view of the multiracial community founded by Newt, his white wife Serena, and Rachel and George Ann Knight, the mixed-race former slaves of his grandfather, than did The Free State of Jones. As a result of additional research and wider communication with present-day Knight researchers, Long Shadow also provides a more nuanced view of racial identity among mixed-race Knights. We are unlikely ever to know the exact nature of Newt Knight’s racial views, or, for that matter, those of the three women with whom he fathered children. While there is evidence that Newt and his parents may have disliked slavery, as did a fair number of non-slaveholders, there is no evidence that they were abolitionists, or that Newt Knight ever advocated equal civil rights for freed people of African ancestry.  Rather, some Knight descendants insist that Newt considered his children by Rachel and, later, her daughter George Ann, to be white and that he encouraged them to identify themselves as such. This is certainly plausible given their physical appearance, small degree of African ancestry, and the fact that many did self-identify as white.

BR:  How has the book been received?

VB:  It’s a bit too early to tell, but so far I’m pleased with Long Shadow’s reception. It has been favorably reviewed by an academic historian (Paul Escott for H-Civil War), by a Civil War blogger (Brett Schulte, TOCWOC), and by a newspaper editor (Joe L. White of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger).  Privately, individuals have emailed me to tell me how much they enjoyed the book. 

BR:  What’s next for you?

VB:  I’m not sure what’s next for me, but am reasonably certain it will not be another academic history. I remain fascinated by the lives and struggles of ordinary people, but hope in the future to tell stories in a new way, perhaps through a different writing genre or medium of art.

That last bit is tantalizing, if cryptic.  I’ll be curious to see what Dr. Bynum comes up with.

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Civil War History Subscription Deal

12 07 2010

The journal Civil War History (discussed here) is running a deal on a two-year subscription that is 23% off the regular price: eight issues for $65 – $8.25 per issue.  That’s pretty good.  Go here if you’re interested.








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