Skip to content

Some of 2015’s best Civil War books … so far

KS27

Biographies, campaign studies, general histories, and analyses form the core of any season’s mountain of Civil War scholarship, but publishers in 2015 offer excellent work that both casual and serious readers of the Civil War should know about. The rich bounty is likely — in part, at least — a result of the sesquicentennial sunshine that bathed the Civil War academic field for the last five years. Here are a few highlights.

No publishing season is stronger than when Gary W. Gallagher contributes one of his essay anthologies on a military campaign. Late September will see Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign (University of North Carolina Press, 360 pp., $35), edited by Gallagher and Caroline E. Janney. The title suggests their overall argument, which marks the end of the pointless Battle of the Crater as the true conclusion of the brutal three-month-long confrontation between Lee and Grant in 1864. Only then, the historians argue, did siege warfare become the Union’s primary tool for the final strangulation of the Confederacy’s most important army and capital city. As with each of the entries in the Military Campaigns of the Civil War series, contributors examine military strategies and tactics, focus on particular participants, and consider how home-front politics and civilian expectations affected and were affected by Confederate military strategy.

J. Matthew Gallman offers a fascinating intellectual and cultural history with Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front (University of North Carolina Press, 336 pp., $45), in which he considers how Northerners perceived their obligations of duty and citizenship as their nation endured civil war. He explores how novels and songs, poems and news stories, editorials and cartoons all contributed citizens’ understanding of where they fit in the home-front tapestry and how they could each contribute to the war effort. Race, class, and gender all played key roles in that psychological and political dynamic, and Gallman’s work skillfully weaves together those elements into a fresh historical analysis.

Bradley R. Clampitt’s The Civil War and Reconstruction in Indian Territory (University of Nebraska Press, 200 pp., $25) promises a fascinating examination of the dynamics of war, political power, the collapse of slavery, and racial re-ordering within the context of Native America. Clampitt assembles a bouquet of essays by stellar scholars to explore the antebellum, wartime, and postwar tensions between tribes and nations, their calculated loyalties to North or South, and questions over the future of former slaves and indigenous participants in the war. Any understanding of the historical scope and effect of the Civil War’s overall political and social consequences is incomplete without an intelligent incorporation of Indian experiences and memories. Clampitt’s collection, scheduled for a December release, is certainly a work to anticipate and savor.

Pair that perspective with The World the Civil War Made (University of North Carolina Press, 392 pp. $29.95), an essay anthology edited by Gregory P. Downs and Kate Masur. More than a dozen stellar historians consider how postwar policies and consequences rippled throughout specific political and social dynamics in U.S. territories, in the U.S. Southwest, and across the world. The work’s great strength is its embrace of multiple national and international stories unfolding simultaneously, affecting and affected by each other, all contributing to a vibrant array of societies grappling with new notions of liberty and republicanism in a post-slavery world.

Terry Alford contributes a long-overdue re-assessment of John Wilkes Booth with Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth (Oxford University Press, 416 pp., $29.95). Alford’s Booth carried multiple psychological burdens throughout his life. He endured the pressure of measuring up to his successful thespian father and brothers. His inherent gifts as an actor/performer quickly shoved his life under a burning and blinding spotlight of celebrity. His fury over the Confederacy’s defeat warped his identity from an actor into a self-proclaimed citizen-soldier defending Southern honor and survival, with a deadly determination to seize a starring role on the Civil War’s bloodstained stage. These pressures combined to turn Booth into the madman who concocted multiple harebrained plots to destabilize the Lincoln administration. Booth doomed the post-war prospects of racial peace and progress with a single gunshot, and he catapulted Andrew Johnson, one of the worst presidents in U.S. history, into the center of political power just when Lincoln’s political genius was most needed.

Mark Smith presents a fascinating examination of the sights, sounds, and scents of war with The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege: A Sensory History of the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 216 pp., $22.36). Basing his exploration on descriptions he found in letters and other primary sources, he attempts to reconstruct what it felt like to be submerged in a Confederate submarine, what it tasted like to live in a city under Union siege, and what it sounded like to hear Confederate shells pound Fort Sumter into submission. Too few historical works explore their subjects from such an elemental and creative perspective. Smith offers details that belong in every lecture, speech, and conversation about the Civil War.

James M. McPherson offers a book-length response to the deceptively simple question, “why does the Civil War matter?” His recent work, The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters (Oxford University Press, 224 pp., $27.95), is more relevant than ever. If nothing else, the violent first half of 2015 offered stark and violent case studies to bolster his arguments. There was certainly no better example than recent debates over the Confederate flag, its multifaceted significance throughout the U.S., and the reasons for and against its presence amidst the everyday imagery of American life and culture.

Public and political bitterness over the intractability and enduring power of institutional racism, the historical understanding and explanation of the reasons for the Civil War, the long journey of civil rights through the nineteenth, twentieth, and now twenty-first centuries, debates over the power of federal and state governments — all are titanic, central, and deeply painful issues that the Civil War confronted like no other event in U.S. history. Every citizen’s pursuit of happiness intersects with or passes over or under each of these issues, among many others, and a better understanding of the war affords all of us better maneuverability past the heated rhetoric, better capacity to comprehend how those issues shape our societies, and better appreciation of our history’s overall vital importance to our American life.

Also:

I recently received wonderful news from the Society of Civil War Historians. According to their press release, the Society and the Watson-Brown Foundation honored Shauna Devine, assistant history professor at the University of Western Ontario, with the Tom Watson Brown Book Award for 2015 for her excellent 2014 book Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science (University of North Carolina Press, 2014, 384 pp., $39.95). The book explored how the war enabled U.S. physicians to improve their medical expertise, share their hard-won knowledge in new ways, and link their experiences with the larger international medical community. It was crucial to my recent work as a research assistant as I broadened and deepened my understanding of Civil War medical history. Highly recommended.

Read more about Devine’s honor here.

A Brief History on the Rebel Flag

Originally posted on Reject Reality:

The Confederate flag has a long and complex history, much of which is not in its favor. The beloved “Southern Cross” is only one edition of the confederacy’s flags, but it is the most common and relevant to racism in America as a whole.

So here’s a little history:

It is true that the South illegally seceded from the rest of the United States and went to battle over states rights, but they were fighting for states rights to own slaves. In fact, the Corner-Stone of the Southern Confederacy states that the foundation of the Confederacy is based upon, “The great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man.”

Slavery was obviously widespread throughout the nation prior to the Civil War, but the southern states of the Confederacy were endeavoring to maintain that “right” after the Union decided that it wasn’t such a great idea after all.

View original 200 more words

Kate Stone’s Civil War: A man-flirt is detestable

1864

From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

Stone, riding her horse with a pistol in her belt, decides that the antebellum age of young love, innocent flirting, and romantic dreams is over.

July 18, 1865

Tyler, Texas

Only the quiet routine of home duties. Nothing from the outside world. Oh, for letters from [those] who have bidden us adieu to know what is going on and how they arc faring in their new life.

Mrs. St. Clair and Neta Irvine came in and I tried to be unusually polite and non-committal to Mrs. St-Olair. She is such a dangerous woman that, I am afraid of her. She will start any report, and now she is most intimate with the Yankees. … Mr. Moore dined with us. Mr. Moore is the most belligerent minister I ever saw and the hottest Southerner. He cannot reconcile himself to defeat. There are two Yankee cotton-buyers in town. They are very conciliating in manner, we hear, and dumb as to the war.

Mollie Moore and I took a lovely ride this afternoon entirely alone but with pistols gleaming at our side. I fancy the good people of Tyler, the conservative, will be horrified if they saw them, but we will hope for the best and trust they did not spy our weapons. We took them more for a frolic than anything else, but the roads are said not to be entirely safe with so many hard cases roving around. Mollie and I were longing for a ride and good long gossip together, and all our cavaliers have left us. Mollie told me all about “Adonis” and confesses to a partial engagement, but she evidently does not expect to keep it. We decided that the girls would all have to change their war customs, stop flirting, and only engage themselves when they really meant something. The days of lightly-won and lightly-held hearts should be over.

Mr. Moore’s accounts of the frolics of Willy and Jimmy Carson on their bachelor ranch worry me considerably. I am afraid they will get into serious trouble carrying on so with those country girls and will carry their flirtations too far, and they are but boys turned loose with no one out there to restrain them. Hope they will soon come in, and I will talk to them. Might do some good. A man-flirt is detestable, and I do not want those boys to degenerate into that.

We are living now on the fat of the land, plenty of milk, cream, butter, and gumbo, vegetables of all kinds, melons, and chickens. I am only sorry Mamma and the boys cannot be with us to enjoy it. The outer world is still a sealed book to us. Few mails.

Undiscovered countries: The books we need

image1

Stillness of Heart‘s range of popular and academic book criticism widened and deepened in recent years, and many more reviews are on the way. Insightful celebrations of worthy works, considerations of upcoming titles, and general musings on great writing will all meet here on a regular basis.

As always, the Stillness of Heart community of writers, readers, intellectuals, historians, journalists, and artists welcomes your ideas and recommendations. Tell us what we should be reading.

*****

Some of 2015’s best Civil War books … so far
Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign, edited by Gary W. Gallagher and Caroline E. Janney
Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front, by J. Matthew Gallman
The Civil War and Reconstruction in Indian Territory, by Bradley R. Clampitt
The World the Civil War Made, edited by Gregory P. Downs and Kate Masur
Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth, by Terry Allford
The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege: A Sensory History of the Civil War, by Mark Smith
The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters, by James M. McPherson
Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science, by Shauna Devine
Originally published in July 2015
“Publishers in 2015 offer excellent work that both casual and serious readers of the Civil War should know about.”

The Silent Enemy
Polio: An American Story, by David M. Oshinsky
Originally published in December 2014

“The United States battled polio long before it ever faced the Soviet hegemonic threat, but only during the Cold War did the U.S. achieve significant victories in the battle against the virus.”

From a flame into a firestorm
A consideration of the French Revolution and its unexpected consequences.
Originally published in September 2014
“Why the French Revolution devoured its own people”

Dealing with the real America
Puerto Rican Citizen: History and Political Identity in Twentieth-Century New York City, by Lorrin Thomas
Originally published in August 2014
“Dealing with Puerto Rico means dealing with the key issues of the 21st century. Few in the U.S. government may have the stomach for that rollercoaster.”

The wars over the war
Hospital Sketches, by Louisa May Alcott
Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War, by Charles B. Dew
The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict, by Andre Fleche
The Union War, by Gary W. Gallagher
The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians 1861-1865, by Mark Grimsley
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs
“The North American Crisis of the 1860s,” by Patrick J. Kelly, in The Journal of the Civil War Era
“Who Freed the Slaves?” by James M. McPherson, in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society
“Who Freed the Slaves? Emancipation and Its Meaning,” by Ira Berlin, in Union & Emancipation: Essays on Politics and Race in the Civil War Era
Originally published in July 2014

“Nine key books and articles taken together can explain what led to the first sparks of civil violence and how those sparks ignited what evolved into the bloodiest and most important war in U.S. history.”

Endless Borderlands
Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, by Gloria Anzaldua
Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands, by Juliana Barr
Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, by Wendy Brown
Pacific Connections: The Making of the U.S.-Canada Borderlands, by Kornel Chang
The Comanche Empire, by Pekka Hämäläinen
A Tale of Two Cities: Santo Domingo and New York after 1950, by Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof
Bridging National Borders in North America: Transnational and Comparative Histories, edited by Benjamin H. Johnson and Andre R. Graybill
Migra!: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol, by Kelly Lytle-Hernandez
The Line Which Separates: Race, Gender, and the Making of the Alberta-Montana Borderlands, by Sheila McManus
Border Dilemmas: Racial and National Uncertainties in New Mexico, 1848-1912, by Anthony P. Mora
Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West, by Nayan Shah
Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexico Border, by Rachel St. John
Bárbaros: Spaniards and their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment, by David Weber
“On Borderlands,” by Hämäläinen and Samuel Truett, in the Journal of American History
“From Borderlands to Borders: Empires, Nation-States, and the Peoples in Between in North American History,” by Jeremy Adelman and Stephen Aron, in American Historical Review
Originally published in June 2014
“Fifteen essays and books explore the borderlands field with passion and intelligence, daring their readers to leave behind their old worlds and follow them into new ones.”

The Battle for Boricua
Reproducing Empire: Race, Empire, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico, by Laura Briggs
Originally published in January 2014
“Is Puerto Rico the battleground for America’s intellectual future?”

Torn in the USA
Polio: An American Story, by David M. Oshinsky
Make Love, Not War: The Sexual Revolution: An Unfettered History, by David Allyn
Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939, by Lizabeth Cohen
Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class, by Jefferson Cowie
In Search of the Black Panther Party: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement, edited by Jama Lazerow and Yohuru Williams
Quixote’s Soldiers: A Local History of the Chicano Movement, 1966-1981, by David Montejano
“Resistance in the Urban North: Trumbull Park, Chicago, 1953-1966,” by Arnold R. Hirsch, in the Journal of American History
“Crabgrass-Roots Politics: Race, Rights, and the Reaction against Liberalism in the Urban North, 1940-1964,” by Thomas J. Sugrue, in the Journal of American History
Originally published in September 2013
“Life, liberty, and the doomed pursuit of happiness.”

Nixon lurking in the shadows
Richard M. Nixon in books, in the news, on TV, and in my dreams
Originally published in December 2011

“Richard Nixon was in my dream last night. The post-presidency Nixon. The bitter, self-pitying, damned Nixon, coiled in the shadows of La Casa Pacifica in San Clemente, dark eyes glaring at the world as it spun on without him.”

Homo universalis
A reflection on my intellectual ambitions.
Originally published in July 2011
“I’ve always been blessed with a hunger for knowledge, a curiosity that often flares into full-blown passion for new arenas of experience, a curiosity perhaps sparked by a bittersweet frustration that I don’t know as much about literature, science, mathematics, history and culture as I think I should.”

The Metadata Difference

Fernando Ortiz Jr.:

A treasure chest in more ways than one.

Originally posted on The Top Shelf:

A few weeks ago, we checked our department email and were pleased to read the following message from a patron:

 Doing some family history research I typed the address of the house my great-grandfather lived in as a little boy – 707 North Laredo St – into Google Maps, only to find I-10 running right through the general area.  Bummer.  Google web results turned up something interesting, however:

http://digital.utsa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p9020coll4/id/166

Your site!

Very, very, WAY cool to see that.

This totally made our day! We’re always happy to hear back from patrons about how they’re able to find or use our material. In this case, we’re especially pleased because this patron didn’t come to Special Collections looking for material—instead, our material made it out to her.  Quite a fortuitous result.

Top Shelf readers may be aware of the numerous messages we post to the blog about newly digitized material—we certainly…

View original 411 more words

Kate Stone’s Civil War: It is unavoidable

water

From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

Business consumes more and more of the Stone family as fundamental changes loom on the postwar horizon.

July 13, 1865

Tyler, Texas

Mamma started this morning on another visit to the farm on the prairie. She may not return but may send for us to join her there. A letter from Jimmy said Mr. Smith wished to leave her employ as soon as he returns from Shreveport, and of course she must go up to straighten out the accounts with him. It is a disagreeable trip for business, and she dreaded it so. We hated to have her go, but it is unavoidable. We shall miss her so. I have plenty of work on hand to keep me busy.

About all the gentlemen we know have gone. … We have been riding frequently on horseback and in the carriage. Jimmy’s horse, sent home on wounded furlough, is well at last, and I must try him now that the carriage and the loaned horses and owners are gone.

More katydids are vociferating their news than I ever heard.

CV of Fernando Ortiz Jr.

IMG_2893

So far, so good … but there’s so much more to do.

ortizhistory

A special blog for HIST 1301 and HIST 1302 students.

Guts of a Beggar

A king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar. (Hamlet, IV. iii)

American Nomad

on writing, dancing, and love. (All material is the intellectual property of the author. All Rights Reserved)

A Pict in PA

The experiences of a family who have relocated from Scotland to Pennsylvania

Lauren Johnson

A location for new historical research, writing and thoughts on live interpretation

The Overspill: when there's more that I want to say

Charles Arthur's site for links, observations and writing

Stephanie Land (stepville.com)

Writer. Raising two smart, funny, strong little ladies. In love with a Shelter Dog. Probably in Carhartts. Coffee.

The Shooting Star

Just a girl who travels.

Change From Within

Musings by Jamie Utt

Tara Sparling writes

What Bestselling Book Trends Can Tell Us

Peter G Knight

On the Road

Yeti Radio Network

Listen Wednesday nights 9-11 on WUSF 89.7HD3

Tell my story.

History, Mystery, Research in Progress

Vista Blog

A Blog Highlighting NVC Students

The New Yorkerest

The best(est) piece from each issue of The New Yorker magazine (IMHO)

Running on Sober

I'm not empty, just sober

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,697 other followers

%d bloggers like this: