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Virginia Libraries

Current editors:
Beth DeFrancis defrancb@georgetown.edu, Editor
John Connolly jconnolly@nsl.org, Assistant Editor

January-March, 2001
Volume 47, Number 1

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Virginia Books

Reviews prepared by staff members of the Library of Virginia

Julie A. Campbell, Editor Kenneth E. Koons and Warren R. Hofstra, eds., After the Back Country: Rural Life in the Great Valley of Virginia, 1800-1900. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000. xxix + 314 pp. $48.00 (hardcover).

Historians Koons and Hofstra have gathered together nineteen essays concerning the Valley of Virginia. The volume is neatly divided into four sections, each peppered with illustrations, maps, and tables. The first section traces economic growth in the region, where wheat was the primary crop.

Traveling through the Valley in the autumn of 1854, Alma Hibbard noticed from her train window (and noted in her diary) that the open fields were filled with people, some preparing the soil, others sowing wheat. During the nineteenth century, commercial wheat farming and the production of flour drove economic growth in the region and worked to define and transform society. In the opinion of the editors, the Valley was a world made by wheat."

The essays illuminate the lives off armers, merchants, and traveling salesmen. Joseph T. Rainer, for example, deftly employs records kept by the state auditor of public accounts to trace the routes and fortunes of northern peddlers in the Valley. Other essays examine the wheat trade, settlement patterns, and the grain economy.

The book's second section reflects new research in landscape and material culture, addressing vernacular architecture, garden design, and iron mining, among other topics. The third section delves into race, religion, and society, with tantalizing essays on the lives of African Americans and women. For example, in Now You See Her, Now You Don't: Historians and Rural Women Joan Jensen offers a perceptive review of the scholarly literature available on southern women.

The final section of After the Back Country contains essays on politics and political culture. The volume closes with a call for additional research and a selected bibliography. The chapters originated in papers presented at a conference held in 1995 at the Virginia Military Institute. Although the essays focus on a specific region, the Valley of Virginia, they shed light on larger historical problems. The detailed studies of people and places help shape new understandings of familiar themes, and the notes accompanying each essay offer to researchers provocative new sources, many in Virginia repositories.

The volume also contains striking period photographs of farms, towns, and individuals. After the Back Country is an interesting read and a handy reference for those interested in the Valley, as well as an admirable source book for students of rural history.

-Reviewed by Jennifer Davis McDaid, Archives Research Coordinator

Gregg D. Kimball, American City, Southern Place: A Cultural History of Antebellum Richmond. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000. xxv+ 345 pp. $35.00 (hardcover).

American City, Southern Place reveals the history of pre-Civil War Richmond, a story that has previously been buried beneath the post-war myth of the Lost Cause. Despite its emergence as the Confederacy's capital in 1861, the city was not representative of the South. Richmond in the 1850s was a diverse, vibrant, urban setting, and Kimball examines the several segments of the population whose interactions created the city's whole. Cooperation and conflict existed between merchants, workingmen, women, immigrants,militias, free blacks, and slaves.

Merchants lovingly nurtured close familial ties with the planters of the countryside, but grudgingly maintained business ties with New York suppliers. Northern and immigrant workers traveled south to work in the Tredegar Iron Works, yet maintained strong loyalties to their places of origin. Free blacks and slaves explored ways to create autonomy and to escape the burden of oppression. Each group suspiciously eyed the others, considering them a threat to its way of life. Yet each group tried to establish uneasy alliances.

When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, merchants and politicians managed to unify the city enough to support the move. However, when war came, the front collapsed, and Kimball describes how the coalition of compromise and coercion fell apart. Many foreign-born workers left the city and the South rather than aid its cause. African-Americans used the war to escape slavery and assert themselves in the community. Unionists assisted Northern soldiers and helped slaves escape to the Union lines. Even some pro-Confederate merchants encouraged their sons to remain in Europe instead of returning home to serve in the Southern army.

Kimball skillfully chronicles a Richmond that was as much "American city" as Southern Place.

-Reviewed by (Trenton Hizer, Private Papers Archivist

James K. Swisher, Warrior in Gray: General Robert Rodes of Lee's Army. Shippensburg, Pennsylvania: White Mane Books, 2000. xvi + 300 pp. $29.95 (hardcover).

Readers of Civil War history have waited a long time for a full-length biography of Major General Robert Emmett Rodes. One of Robert E. Lee's finest tactical leaders, Rodes figured prominently in many of the battles and campaigns waged by the famed Army of Northern Virginia. He has received detailed attention in various books on specific battles, but so far no historian has been able to compile enough primary sources to write a complete book on the Lynchburg native. This book may be the first and last attempt to do so.

As Swisher points out in his introduction, the absence of a Rodes biography can be blamed primarily on two things: the scarcity of existing documents written by the general, and his death in September 1864 at the Third Battle of Winchester. The lack of personal papers mainly is due to Rodes's widow, Virginia Woodruff Rodes, who burned all of her husband's papers and letters before her death in 1907. If Rodes had survived the war, he could have written a memoir of his service or engaged in a war of words, as did many of his contemporaries, thus leaving some firsthand record.

Although Swisher managed to find new and apparently unused primary sources, he experienced limited success in using them to flesh out the details of Rodes's life. Swisher devotes only one 15-page chapter to Rodes's life before the war, a period that included his years as a cadet and instructor at VMI and his career as a civil engineer in Virginia and Alabama. Judging by the endnotes and bibliography, most of the author's new primary sources chiefly pertain to the pre-war Rodes.

The largest portion of the book, as expected, deals with Rodes during the Civil War. For the most part, the author plows familiar ground as he discusses Rodes's performance during First Manassas, the Seven Days campaign, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and a host of other actions large and small. Unfortunately, the absence of major primary sources prevents Swisher from finding many new revelations about his subject. While the author makes a credible effort to keep the main focus on Rodes, the general often gets lost in the narrative. Additionally, frequent errors in style indicate that the author's editors did not serve him well.

Libraries with large Civil War collections will want this book despite its faults, if for no other reason than it is the only existing biography of Rodes to date. Unless new sources are found, it probably will remain the only one.

-Reviewed by Dale F. Harter, Assistant Editor, Virginia Cavalcade

Bettina Berch, The Woman Behind the Lens: The Life and Work of Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1864-1952. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000. 171 pp. $65.00 (hardcover), $24.95 (softcover).

In the mid-1880s, Frances Benjamin Johnston, of Washington, D.C., embarked on a career as a photographer. While she easily could have relied on her upper-middle-class family for financial support or simply married money, Johnston chose to become, in the words of biographer Bettina Berch, a professional artist supporting herself through her art. Today, her images are widely known, from portraits of Mark Twain and Booker T. Washington to garden, estate,and architectural photography. Much less is known about the artist, hence the reason for Berch's biography.

Johnston largely pursued an independent course throughout her life. She began her career by doing freelance work for popular magazines and opened a professional studio in the 1890s. Soon she was taking photographs of the highest government officials in Washington, including an assistant secretary of the Navy named Theodore Roosevelt. This connection enabled her to visit the USS Olympia and to photograph the crew, including the famous Admiral George Dewey.

By the turn of the century, Johnston was ready to branch out from her Washington roots, having exhibited at the Paris 1900 Exposition and curated a show by twenty-eight American women at the 1900 International Photographic Congress. After moving to New York in the early 1900s, Johnston changed her focus to garden and estate photography. Although she flirted with the idea of moving permanently to California, she returned to Washington in 1929 and laid the groundwork for probably her most important project: photographing the early architecture of the South.

Supported by grants from the Carnegie Corporation, Johnston traveled throughout nine southern states, including Virginia, between 1933 and 1940. She produced approximately 7,500 images during her journeys: mansions, churches, row houses, farms, graveyards, and mills, many of which were destroyed during her lifetime. She also collaborated with photographers and architects working for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Johnston eventually moved to New Orleans, where she died in 1952.

Berch takes readers on a chronological journey of Johnston's life and career. Each chapter includes vivid examples of the photographer's work, including images of Virginians and Virginia locations. Although she easily could have filled the 151 pages with only Johnston's photographs, Berch provides her own written portrait of the artist.

-Reviewed by Dale F. Harter, Assistant Editor, Virginia Cavalcade

Sandra F. Waugaman and Danielle Moretti-Langholtz, We're Still Here: Contemporary Virginia Indians Tell Their Stories. Richmond: Palari Publishing, 2000. xii + 107 pp. $14.95 (softcover).

Waugaman and Moretti-Langholtz have produced a timely and useful monograph on Virginia's contemporary Indian tribes. Geared to a general audience, it serves as an excellent introduction to both the early and more recent history of Virginia's Indians, and to current challenges to the vestiges of Virginia's Indian cultural life. The short, readable narrative concentrates on the story of Virginia's Indians in their own words, using hundreds of interviews. Over and over, the interviewees stress the same basic theme, which is contained in the title: We're still Here.

The interview medium allows the reader to sense the excitement of discovering and pursuing one's Indian cultural heritage, or the quiet pride in having upheld that culture through trying times. The print format, which features subject headings, many photographs, and a section on resources at the end of the narrative, is helpful to those who wish to pursue the subject more thoroughly.

There are a few small factual errors, and the narrative ends abruptly, without any conclusion. Neither problem detracts from the whole enough to keep this work from being an excellent introductory teaching tool for middle-schoolers through adults.

-Reviewed by Patricia F. Watkinson, Research Archivist

Virginia Bookends

W. Fitzhugh Brundage, a professor of history at the University of Florida, has gathered thirteen essays on historical memory, a hot topic these days, in Where These Memories Grow: History, Memory, and Southern Identity (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000. 366 pp. $49.95 hardcover, $19.95softcover). Of special interest to Virginians is an essay by the Library of Virginia's Gregg D. Kimball, African, American, and Virginian: The Shaping of Black Memory in Antebellum Virginia, 1790-1860. Another author with Virginia ties is Holly Beachley Brear, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. She writes about historical interpretations of the Alamo.

Mary Miley Theobald and Libbey Hodges Oliver start with colonial celebrations and wind up with the just-departed twentieth century in Four Centuries of Virginia Christmas (Richmond: Dietz Press, 2000. ix + 128 pp. $16.95 softcover). The authors discuss holiday traditions of food, music, decorations, and so on as Virginians have practiced them. Theobald has authored books about Colonial Williamsburg, and Oliver spent twenty-three years in charge of Christmas decorations at CW, so they know what they are writing about. Dozens of illustrations, including many attractive color images, add to the appeal of this slender book.

Lovely color photographs also grace Stanley L. Bentley's Native Orchids of the Southern Appalachian Mountains (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000. xviii +235 pp. $39.95 hardcover, $24.95 softcover). The handsome book includes all sorts of useful scientific information for botanists both amateur and professional. The author lives in Pulaski County, Virginia.

Richard Dunn and associates combedre positories all over Virginia and in other states to assemble a tool that researchers should find invaluable: Warwick County, Virginia: Colonial Court Records in Transcription (Williamsburg: Jones House Association, 2000. vii + 655 pp. $49.95 softcover). What makes the book even more useful is a name index. Copies may be ordered from Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1001 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD21202. Postage and handling is $3.50 for the first book and $1.25 for each additional one. The publisher's website is http://www.genealogical.com.

Martha Wren Briggs adds another title to her series for children: The Little Ferry and the Hiding Peanuts (Sedley, Virginia: Dory Press, 2000. ii + 18 pp., softcover). As with the other books about the little ferry's adventures,it is charmingly illustrated by Ella L. Beale, who is all of twelve years old and has been pursuing an artistic career for the last four years. Briggs is a retired art librarian with many freelance writing projects to her credit. The Dory Press is at 13396 Wakefield Rd., Sedley, VA 23878.

William Marvel crafts a thorough look at a single Virginia Community: A Place Called Appomattox (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000. x + 400 pp. $34.95 hardcover). His view begins in the 1840s and ends in the 1960s. In between is a complex portrait drawn from tombstones, photographs, newspapers, military records, court papers, and other sources. Appomattox earned its fame for its role in the end of the Civil War, but . for those who lived in or near the village, the scenes of that famous April were merely incidental," Marvel writes in the preface. The settlement served as a home and as a rural village center for thousands of Virginians black and white, poor and planter alike.

Civil War Bookends

Charles G. Siegel's No Backward Step: A Guide to Grant's Campaign in Virginia (Shippensburg,Pennsylvania: Burd Street Press, 2000. xiii + 296 pp. $24.95 softcover) is a good choice for people who like to drive around Virginia and explore Civil War sites. The book contains photographs, maps, quotations from a variety of sources, and exacting directions to places like the site of the Wilderness Tavern. Pack a lunch, throw this book in the car,and hit the road.

A concise, authoritative story is what historian Edwin Bearss calls Donald J. Frey's Longstreet's Assault, Pickett's Charge: The Lost Record of Pickett's Wounded (Shippensburg, Pennsylvania: White Mane Books, 2000.xii + 276 pp. $29.95 hardcover). Of particular interest is the inclusion,in transcription and facsimile, of a medical ledger belonging to Dr. Edward Rives, who tended the injured soldiers from Pickett's division after Gettysburg.

Clarification

A book reviewed in the October-December 2000 issue, Williamsburg, Virginia, A City Before the State, is published by the University Press of Virginia in connection with the city of Williamsburg.


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