Reviews prepared by staff members of the Library of Virginia
Julie A. Campbell, Editor
John Ferling, Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. xxiv + 392 pp. $30. 00 (hardcover).
In Setting the World Ablaze, John Ferling details how George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson became revolutionaries, and how the Revolution they created influenced and changed them. The high-tempered Washington yearned for military glory and status. Adams, vain and ambitious, sought fame and position. Jefferson, bereft of family early in life, desired the perfect private life and solitude as a philosopher on his mountaintop. Each man, unsure of the future, found himself thrust into the midst of upheaval.
When the Revolution came, each man faced crises he had to resolve. When the war began, Washington again sought military glory. However, he realized that in order to achieve victory and independence, he had to control his desires for the greater good. Adams, obnoxious and tactless by his own account, effectively curbed his baser nature to promote independence successfully in Congress. He also proved surprisingly capable at diplomatic negotiations with the French and British. Jefferson, brilliant and articulate, rose to the occasion only once in Ferling's estimation: when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. For the rest of the Revolution, Ferling's Jefferson served as an indifferent legislator and overwhelmed governor.
Ferling, biographer of Washington and Adams, offers greater analysis on both those men than on Jefferson. He contends that Washington, on the military front, and Adams, on the legislative and diplomatic fronts, made more substantial contributions to independence than did Jefferson. Yet he notes that Jefferson, the least revolutionary of the three, is considered the most radical of the trio. Setting the World Ablaze is Ferling's attempt to correct that perception.
-reviewed by Trenton Hizer, Private Papers Archivist
Thomas E. Buckley, S. J., ed., "If You Love That Lady Don't Marry Her": The Courtship Letters of Sally McDowell and John Miller, 1854-1856. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000. xliv + 896 pp. $34. 95.
In August 1854, a divorced Virginia woman and a widowed New Jersey clergyman began a correspondence. Sally McDowell's first letter to John Miller was brisk. She called him"My dear Sir" and rebuffed his just-issued declaration of love. "I cannot, perhaps, make you understand how my sense of womanly dignity and delicacy is assaulted by such revelations of feelings as those made to me last night, " she told him. "The instinct of my nature revolts at any new marriage-and furthermore, my views of religious truth and duty solemnly forbid it. "
John Miller replied cautiously, respectfully, but in an equally forthright manner: "I cannot help loving you. I acted from a sense of honor in telling you at once. And tho' you will not allow me to say this again, yet you will listen to it now as being my great apology. "
McDowell belonged to an old, distinguished Lexington family; her father, James McDowell, served as governor and congressman. She had wed unwisely at age twenty to the unstable, paranoid Francis Thomas, the governor of Maryland. After her divorce, she resigned herself to home, friends, family, and church, but ruled out romance. As editor Buckley writes, "into this carefully managed, emotionally controlled world strolled John Miller. "
From an unpromising beginning grew a deep love and an enduring marriage. During their two-year courtship-by-mail, the duo exchanged learned and witty epistles that treated subjects both lofty and mundane. Thankfully, the letters found their way into the Alderman Library at the University of virginia. Their equally learned and witty editor, Thomas E. Buckley, is professor of American religious history at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California, who writes frequently on Virginia topics. Buckley and this reviewer are friends who have discussed Mcdowell and Miller over lunch. Nonetheless, I can write impartially that readers interested in the domestic, religious, and cultural history of mid-nineteenth-century Virginia and the U. S. will relish the touching story revealed in this carefully annotated collection.
-reviewed by Julie A. Campbell, Editor, "Virginia Books"
Robert Knox Sneden, Eye of the Storm: A Civil War Odyssey. Edited by Charles F. Bryan, Jr., and Nelson D. Lankford. New York: The Free Press, 2000. xvi + 384 pp. $37. 50 (hardcover).
There is something intriguing about the recovery of lost manuscripts, when the words of personalities long silent finally find their voice. Such is the case with the Civil War narrative and drawings of Robert Knox Sneden, whose account of his experience in the U. S. Army from 1861-1865 have reemerged to the delight of historians and students of the period. Sneden's detailed illustrations spent sixty years in a Connecticut bank vault, and his highly readable narrative of his war years was recovered from storage in Arizona. Eye of the Storm combines the two components to present them, as no doubt the author intended, in a coherent and satisfying perspective on the Civil War.
Sneden was an ideal observer of the war-swept topography of Virginia. Trained as an architect and engineer, and with a talent for landscape painting, he gravitated to the post of topographical engineer in the 3rdArmy Corps. As such, he was allowed a degree of freedom of movement, and he put this to good use as he traveled with his drafting set and watercolors. The maps Sneden created are colorful and meticulously detailed. Even more interesting are his watercolor sketches of Tidewater homes and crossroads, mills and hamlets. The drawings are detailed, and they provide a valuable and evocative record of buildings and localities, such as the ruins of St. John's Church in Hampton standing amid a vast wasteland of gravestones and ruins. Illustrations in The Eye of the Storm perfectly convey the desolation of the war-torn Virginia countryside, whose emblems were empty windows and the stark chimneys of burned buildings.
The colorful and quite readable narrative of Sneden's career as Union cartographer was brought to an end in November 1863, with a tap on the head from a Confederate pistol barrel in the middle of the night. Captured by Mosby's troops, Sneden was shipped first to Richmond and then to the infamous prison at Andersonville, Georgia. He records the sights and hardships of this ordeal with the eye of a trained observer and the experience of a hardened soldier and prisoner of war.
Despite the disease and suffering of Andersonville, Sneden survived to be exchanged in 1864 and lived a quiet and largely impoverished life until his death in 1918 at the age of eighty-six. He is said to have once proudly claimed, "I leave no posterity, but a good WAR RECORD. " His war record was indeed sterling, but even more important is Sneden's gift to posterity in the form of this account and the accompanying illustrations. Together they provide an important and fresh eyewitness account of the Civil War, capturing both the tiny details of a soldier's life and the sweeping events of Sneden's time.
-reviewed by Selden Richardson, Plans and Drawings Archivist
Alan T. Nolan, "Rally, Once Again!" Selected Civil War Writings of Alan T. Nolan. Madison, Wisconsin: Madison House Publishers, Inc., 2000. x +308 pp. $29. 95 (hardcover).
Alan T. Nolan is a lawyer in Indianapolis, Indiana, and for four decades has been a respected historian of the Civil War. His The Iron Brigade: A Military History (1961) is still in print and has appeared on lists of the best books ever published on the Civil War. More recently, his Lee Considered: Robert E. Lee and Civil War History (1991) caused southern partisans to denounce him as a "Lee-basher. " The Library of Virginia's Virginia Cavalcade published a two-part article excerpted from that book, in which Nolan argued that Lee continued to fight after he knew that the Confederate cause was lost and thus needlessly sent brave soldiers to their deaths. Complaints from outraged readers poured into the magazine's editorial offices. One can only imagine the responses from readers that Nolan himself received.
That Virginia Cavalcade article is reprinted in this volume, along with 38other pieces originally published between 1961 and the present, although the majority by far appeared in the 1990s. They are arranged under the headings of "Leaders, " "Gettysburg, " "The Iron Brigade, " and "Selected Reviews. " The essays and reviews display Nolan's deep knowledge of the history of the Civil War, especially its military aspects. He is of the opinion that unit histories, such as his own work on the regiments of Indiana and Wisconsin soldiers whose bravery in battle won them the sobriquet of"the Iron Brigade, " are an effective but under-utilized means to make sense of the bloody course of battles.
That is not his only opinion, either. A theme that recurs in these pieces is that the Civil War was"grim and inhumane, " although its results-Blemancipation and preservation of the Union-were positive. Moreover, slavery was the cause of the war, and southern secession was to protect that institution. Nolan admires the valor of the Confederate soldiers, but there is nothing else about the Confederacy that he would celebrate. With a historian's deep knowledge of the sources and with a lawyer's skill at making his case, Alan Nolan's writings on the Civil War are worth the attention of even the most unreconstructed neo-Confederate.
-reviewed by John T. Kneebone, Director, Division of Publications and Educational services
Robert P. Maccubbin, ed., Williamsburg, Virginia: A City Before the State, 1699-1999. Williamsburg: City of Williamsburg, 2000. xvi + 302pp. $49. 95 (hardcover).
As part of its three-hundredth anniversary celebration, the city of Williamsburg has produced a collection of twenty-three essays surveying its history. Established by the General Assembly in 1633 and called Middle Plantation, Williamsburg became the colony's capital in 1699 (after the statehouse at Jamestown burned) and served as Virginia's seat of government until 1780, when Richmond became the capital. Nestled in the heart of the Powhatan chiefdom, the city was for a time on the colony's frontier.
When Henry Hartwell, James Blair, and Edward Chilton penned The Present State of Virginia and the College in 1697, their dispirited view of Williamsburg described a city in the wilderness, dotted with scattered clusters of buildings and tobacco plantations and crisscrossed by creeks. "It looks all like a Desart, " the authors lamented, "the High-Lands overgrown with Trees, and the Low-Lands sunk with Water, Marsh and Swamp. "
Telling the ever-changing story of Williamsburg is a talented group of historians, archaeologists, curators, and librarians (among others). Jennifer Agee Jones contributes an elegantly written article on Williamsburg in the seventeenth century, Edward Chappell thoughtfully examines the suburbanization of the city, and Wilford Kale delves with gusto into theater history. A variety of topics are represented, ranging widely from public buildings and churches to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The editors have collected chapters that deftly address those groups often left out of local histories-poAfrican-Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, and women. Julia Woodbridge Oxrieder introduces her readers to a variety of enterprising women, including Mrs. W. H. Braithwaite (a merchant and undertaker who rented buggies to traveling salesmen) and Mrs. Merrill Proctor Ball (a music teacher at the college who was the first woman to register to vote in Williamsburg). The city's sizable Greek community is documented by Mia Stratis Spears, and a photo essay charts the development of the sprawlingwilliamsburg Pottery (a favorite of shrewd shopper Mamie Eisenhower).
Each essay is followed by a helpful bibliography of selected sources and suggested readings. Handy lists of historic officeholders round out the volume (including the mayors of Williamsburg, the presidents and chancellors of William and Mary, the directors of Eastern State Hospital, and the chairmen and presidents of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation), along with a chronology of the city's political, economic, and social history. The book is illustrated with more than 375 images (including photographs, maps, and drawings) and is a nearly perfect place for finding facts-like when the town library opened (1914) and what city building was the first to install air-conditioning (the Williamsburg Theatre in 1933). The book even boasts a hidden treasure-a detailed, pre-restoration city plan compiled from Sanborn Fire Insurance maps and the recollections of elderly residents, which reconstructs property ownership and occupancy in the city circa 1912-1926, printed inside the dust jacket. A City Before the State lacks an index, but is nevertheless a useful and interesting reference tool.
-reviewed by Jennifer Davis McDaid, Archives Research Coordinator
Nancy Kober, With Paint- brush and Shovel: Preserving Virginia's Wildflowers. Water- colors by Bessie Niemeyer Marshall. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000. 288 pp. $42. 95 (hardcover).
With Paintbrush and Shovel documents both the creation and the restoration of the Lee Park Wildflower and Bird Sanctuary in Petersburg, made between 1935and 1940 under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration. Containing examples of some 295 species, including several that were rare or imperiled in the 1930s, the sanctuary and accompanying her barium were work-relief projects under the guidance of Mary Donald Claiborne Holden, director of the sanctuary and a member of the Petersburg Garden Club. Holden commissioned watercolors in 1937 to accompany the pressed samples from Bessie Niemeyer Marshall, a neighbor who welcomed the commission to supplement her husband's pension. The project continued after WPA funds ran out, and in 1948 the Lee Park Herbarium project received the Massie Medal of the Garden Club of virginia.
The first part of With Paintbrush and Shovel recounts the1935 creation of Lee Park as a significant work-relief project for women during the Great Depression. The chapters present an historical overview of the range of WPA projects and the interest in garden and landscape preservation, a biography of Marshall, and the history of the women who transformed Lee Memorial Park into the Lee Park Wildflower and bird Sanctuary. The project provided jobs for unemployed female heads of household, black and white, and was developed, directed, and built by women. By July 1939, the women had transplanted more than 365, 000plants and labeled almost 500 different kinds of plants with common and botanical names.
The second part of the book consists of color reproductions of 222 of the 238 watercolors painted by Bessie Marshall. She lacked formal art training, but her paintings of virginia flora attracted the attention of John Stewart Bryan, president of the College of William and Mary.
Members of the Petersburg Garden Club collected samples of each plant and pressed them into scrapbooks to create an herbarium. The club commissioned Marshall to do a watercolor of each plant with its common and Latin names. The fourteen scrapbooks of the Lee Park Herbarium were deposited first at the Petersburg Public Library and then at Richard Bland College, and were largely forgotten. A small exhibition of the herbarium in 1969 renewed interest among Petersburg Garden Club members, but not until 1989 did they make a concerted effort to reclaim the history and significance of the herbarium. The collection, now at Centre Hill Mansion, a museum owned by the city of Petersburg, underwent preservation by Garden club members in 1991.
With Paintbrush and Shovel is an enjoyably informative history of a project that served as a prototype for four other WPA sanctuaries in Virginia. With Paintbrush and Shovel enlarges the history of the New Deal by examining in detail one project conceived and completed by women. Its color reproductions of Marshall's watercolors, useful as references and admirable as art, restore Bessie Niemeyer Marshall to the rolls of talented but too-often-forgotten artists.
-reviewed by Barbara Batson, Exhibits Coordinator
Mary Buford Hitz, Never Ask Permission: Elisabeth Scott Bocock of Richmond. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000. xiv + 256 pp. $27. 95 (hardcover).
In her preface, historian Anne Firor Scott compares Mary Buford Hitz to Clarence Day, author of the well-known book about life with a vivid parental personality, Life With Father. The comparison is apt, for Hitz has written a spirited memoir of her mother, Elisabeth Scott Bocock, the Richmond preservationist and lobbyist. Scott calls Bocock "a talented, opinionated, one-woman dynamo, " and Hitz confirms that perception of this southern woman reformer.
Full of humor, Never Ask Permission chronicles the lively and passionate life of Elisabeth Scott Bocock, middle child of Frederic and Elisabeth Scott, wife of lawyer John H. Bocock, mother of three children, and savior of Richmond's rich architectural heritage. The result is a funny and grateful book about life among the elite and their passionate interest in social reform. Being a tough-minded child of a tough-minded woman not unsurprisingly led to a contest of wills, and one has to chuckle over the subterfuges children develop to undermine their parents' authority and determination to see things done right.
Bocock was a conventional richmond wife in the 1930s and joined the usual organizations such as the Junior League, the James River Garden Club, and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. As a founding member of the William Byrd Branch of the APVA, Bocock gradually absorbed the more aggressive passion for preservation from her cousin, Mary Wingfield Scott. Together, they cornered and cajoled city and business leaders to preserve some threatened part of Richmond. Bocock became adept at raising funds to purchase historic properties and at lobbying city and state officials. In 1956, she helped found the Historic Richmond Foundation, an organization designed to move quickly to rescue a threatened historic property. Bocock also founded the Early Virginia Vehicular Museum, a collection of carriages and other conveyances that predated the automobile, lobbied for reinstallation of the electric streetcar system in Richmond, and was a founding member of the hand Workshop.
The portrait in this memoir is of a woman of wealth and leisure whose passion for preservation enabled her to overcome just about any obstacle. Some readers will view Bocock as an imperious, arrogant, pushy woman. Others will appreciate her drive and single-mindedness. Hitz recollects her mother with good humor and a fair eye. Imperious, yes. Dull, never. They just don't make them like that anymore.
-reviewed by Barbara Batson, Exhibits Coordinator
Richard W. Stephenson and Marianne M. McKee, eds., Virginia in Maps: Four Centuries of Settlement, Growth, and Developmentz. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2000. xxi + 335 pp. $90. 00(hardcover).
The reviewers in this column all work at the Library of Virginia. That said, we hope you will excuse us for proudly announcing one of our own publications, Virginia in Maps. This large-format book-15 by 11inches-is as stunning in appearance as it is in content. One of the editors, Stephenson, is retired from forty-five years at the Library of Congress in the Geography and Map Division. g, b The other editor, McKee, is the map specialist at the Library of Virginia. The pair assembled a quintet of authors whose expertise encompasses cartography, geography, prints, maps, and history.
The contributors start with mapmakers from the seventeenth century, who decorated their creations with sailing ships and sea serpents. They continue on through every century of Virginia's history, ending with satellite images and the U. S. Geological Survey. In between are 187 color maps of cities, canals, Civil War battlefields, and much more. The earliest map reproduced is ca. 1585; the most recent dates to 1998-1999. Half of the mapsreside in the Library of Virginia's collections.
As the editors write in their preface, "Nothing compares with the examination of maps for understanding the geography of the colony and state through time. " They're so right. Read this book and you will understand.