Virginia Libraries Logo

Virginia Libraries

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

April-June, 2001
Volume 47, Number 2

DLA Ejournal Home | VALib Home | Table of Contents for this issue | Search VAlib and other ejournals

Virginia Books

Reviews prepared by staff members of the Library of Virginia

Julie A. Campbell, Editor

Samuel R. Cook, Monacans and Miners: Native American and Coal Mining Communities in Appalachia. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000. xv + 329 pp. $65.00 (hardcover), $29.95 (softcover).

Using anthropological theory, author Samuel R. Cook studies the effects of outside influences on two divergent communities: the Monacan Indians of Amherst County, Virginia, and the coal-mining community of Wyoming County, West Virginia.

Their home, Appalachia, has been broadly defined as a poverty-stricken region and is therefore treated as a whole, especially with regard to programs aimed at eliminating social problems. Cook argues that because so many culturally, ethnically, and socially diverse communities exist there, it cannot be broadly defined and its problems cannot be solved with a single program.

Using historical context to illustrate his points and prove his theories, Cook undertakes the story of the Monacans, a once powerful indigenous group, in his early chapters. He discusses their encounters with Europeans, the toll of Virginia's eugenics and miscegenation laws on the group, and the growth of Monacan pride and identity. From very early on in Amherst County, the Monacans were marginalized and placed at the bottom of a de facto caste system. Many Monacans could not buy land, go to school, or otherwise exercise their rights as citizens. They were often relegated to working in apple orchards for a subsistence existence. Despite the hardships, the Monacans maintained a sense of peoplehood that, in recent decades, has enabled them to assert their identity and independence.

A similar colonizing effect occurred in the isolated area of Wyoming County, West Virginia. After the Civil War, Southern speculators looked to Northern capitalists for investment west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Thus began a trend of absentee landownership that still exists in Wyoming and other counties. Due to its rugged location and a lack of infrastructure, Wyoming County, unlike many others in the state, did not come under the influence of the coal interests until after the Great Depression.

Originally, the closely knit Scottish and Irish settlers maintained subsistence farms and had little need for anyone outside the community. However, as transportation into Wyoming County increased, so did the extractive and timber industries. Mining and logging camps dotted the landscape. Coal companies exercised absolute power in the coalfields to maintain order. Gradually, the inhabitants of Wyoming County became more and more dependent on the coal companies for nearly all aspects of their lives.

Cook contends that both the Monacans and the miners maintained a strong sense of family and community before and after the entry of these external forces, but the miners of Wyoming County did not identify as a people, as did the Monacans. Cook's study adds a new perspective to the study of Appalachian communities.

-reviewed by Vince Brooks, Research Archivist

Catherine Allgor, Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000. 299 pp. $29.95 (hardcover).

Allgor, an assistant professor of history at Simmons College, weaves a tale of the power of women who worked within their "proper" sphere to direct the outcomes of political battles in the nation's capital. Political wives, mothers, and daughters helped shape the United States into the first modern democracy with a strong central government and a powerful capital.

Allgor examines how these elite white women used their social networks and command of etiquette and manners to establish Washington, D.C., as the capitol of the new nation between 1800 and 1828. "Like other women on farms and in shops, they participated in the family business," she writes. "In this case however, the family business was politics." She teases out the story through letters, diaries, calling cards, and invitation lists, for "if we can listen to what they have to say…it will demonstrate that a smoke-filled backroom and a lady's parlor are both political spaces."

Although a core population of women lived in the city full time, most women came to Washington for the social season that corresponded to the congressional session. Wives stayed in boardinghouses with their husbands, who served in Congress. With an unusual degree of freedom from domestic duties, they ventured into all areas of the city, made calls, and attended congressional debates and votes.

Allgor explains the importance of making calls by both women and men. The practice allowed for exchange of information, for introductions, and for planning larger social events. It also served as a method of screening newcomers; to pursue acquaintance signaled a degree of social acceptance. Women kept calling cards and lists of persons who called to keep track of who was in and who was out. In a city that lacked museums, lecture halls, or other cultural amenities, politicians and their wives engaged in a whirl of parties, balls, dinners, and other social events that assumed unusual importance.

Official documents present only one facet of historical events. Those on the periphery and those who record the minutiae of daily life offer the human face. Allgor's Washington women are intelligent, educated, and powerful. These were not women who loved to party or shop or make calls. Rather, they understood the essential power of social gatherings to advance social and political aims. For Allgor, "answering the question, Where are the women? produces not politically correct history but correct political history."

-reviewed by Barbara Batson, Exhibits Coordinator

Robert N. Rosen, The Jewish Confederates. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000. xxiii + 517 pp. $39.95 (hardcover).

Rosen focuses on a topic that has long languished in the thickets of Southern history. Historians (including Jewish scholars) have overlooked or ignored the subject of Southern Jewish combatants in the Civil War, concentrating instead on other aspects of Jewish life in the South. At first glance, the book's title comprises self-acontradicting elements that, like oil and water, refuse to mix together. But Rosen has produced an impressively researched and stimulating account of a surprising subculture of Southerners who, despite their own unique and tragic history, loyally fought in the armies of the Confederacy and after Appomattox joined in support of the Lost Cause.

After his earlier research on a book titled Confederate Charleston: An Illustrated History of the City and the People During the Civil War (1994), Rosen expected to concentrate on the older Jewish communities prominent in Richmond, Savannah, and Charleston. Jewish settlers had been in the South for some time, having moved into the Carolinas by the 1690s. To his surprise, Rosen's investigation led him away from the established families that supported the Confederacy to the Jewish immigrants of various nationalities that settled across the South in the 1840s and 1850s. Although they encountered anti-Semitism, the immigrants generally found a welcome from white Southerners and suffered less from their religious beliefs and ethnic background in Southern armies than did their counterparts who marched beneath the Union flag (an occurrence much at variance with the modern stereotype of the antebellum South).

Living in a slaveholding society, the Jewish community accepted the institution as a part of everyday experience. Many owned slaves, training African Americans as domestic servants or employing them in trades, but they did not possess nearly so many slaves as did the free black population. In fact, few Jewish Confederate soldiers owned slaves, since most of them earned their living as tailors, peddlers, shopkeepers, and small merchants.

Rosen's book is filled with numerous stories of Jewish men and women caught up in the war. His gallery ranges from Judah P. Benjamin, a wealthy Louisiana lawyer and former United States senator who rose to be Jefferson Davis's friend, ally, and Secretary of State, to the volunteers who served as commissioned officers and in the ranks. Distinguishing between the chief cause of the conflict, slavery, and the reasons why Confederate soldiers risked their lives and the welfare of their families to go to war, Rosen demonstrates that the motives of Jewish patriots were not so very different from those of their Christian comrades-in-arms.

The Jewish Confederates widens the lens to include a people whose wartime contributions have been omitted from the published record. Their story, unexpected in a field so deeply plowed, will influence the way we think about that war and about the South. Rosen's provocative study deserves a prominent place in the library.

-reviewed by Don Gunter, Assistant Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Alice Fahs, The Imagined Civil War: Popular Literature of the North & South, 1861-1865. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. xi + 410 pp. $39.95 (hardcover).

The Civil War resulted in an outpouring of popular literatured-articles, short stories, poetry, humorous sketches, juvenile fiction, and sensational novels. Historian Alice Fahs examines these writings (largely dismissed gat the time by literary critics) in thoughtful detail.

During the war, the Southern states boasted scores of writers and poets but were woefully short on paper. Among the advertisements in the Daily Richmond Enquirer in January 1862 was a plea for paper and ink "wanted immediately." A printer was almost frantic in his demand for papermaking supplies: "Attention Everybody!… I want to buy ten thousand pounds of well cleaned Cotton and Linen Rags." The antebellum South had few printing presses and book publishers, and even fewer bookbinders and paper mills. The region had no facilities for making wood-pulp paper, which was manufactured in the North during the war as a substitute for paper made from cotton rags. With ports blockaded and federal mail service discontinued, Southerners found their efforts to create an independent literature during wartime nearly impossible.

Although material resources allowed for more printing in the North, the South created a literary culture of its own, motivated by patriotism and by a desire to create a record of the war in print. Newspapers were at the center of this besieged literary culture. Meanwhile, in the North, enterprising printers produced paper soldiers and war games, in addition to books, periodicals, poems, songs, and stories. On both sides, popular literature allowed readers (and writers) to cope with the unprecedented suffering and slaughter.

Literature likewise described the role of women during the war. Southern writers largely praised women's domestic contributions, while Northern writers (including women like Louisa May Alcott) stressed the practical importance of women's work in hospitals and benevolent organizations. Women figured in sensational novels, which featured romance and adventure for a reasonable price. While Northern publishers issued new children's magazines, Southern publishers created Confederate schoolbooks with their limited resources. Popular literature reached out to all readers, including soldiers, politicians, women, children, farmers, and city dwellers. People were hungry for news and anxious for stories of the war.

After the surrender, the literary energy was channeled into histories of the conflict. Readers North and South wanted to learn about, remember, and memorialize the war. In addition, Southerners were nostalgic for slaveholding society and anxious to sentimentalize it.

The Imagined Civil War is a readable, interesting history of American literary culture. It ends with a bibliography listing the repositories the author visited, as well as an extensive list of the periodicals, songbooks, and other contemporary sources she examined. A handy index and illustrations round out the volume, which will be an invaluable resource for readers interested in wartime literature both North and South.

-reviewed by Jennifer Davis Mc-Daid, Archives Research Coordinator

Gary W. Gallagher, ed., The Richmond Campaign of 1862: The Peninsula and the Seven Days. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000. xv + 272 pp. $34.95 (hardcover).

Gary Gallagher edited this volume for the Military Campaigns of the Civil War series published by the University of North Carolina Press. Nine historians examine the Peninsular Campaign and the battles of the Seven Days and analyze their effects on the military, social, and political landscapes. Gallagher offers an overview of the entire campaign, placing it in the context of the Civil War.

John T. Hubbell and William J. Miller evaluate General George B. McClellan's performance during the campaign and conclude that his shortcomings resulted in the failure of the Union's attempt to capture Richmond. Robert K. Krick details how the usually spectacular Stonewall Jackson suffered his worst performance of the war, while Peter S. Carmichael discusses why John Bankhead Magruder was transferred from the army despite performing no worse than Jackson during the campaign.

James Marten discusses the ramifications for white and black residents in the region of the Union's advance up the Peninsula. William A. Blair analyzes how McClellan's failure drove Northern moderates to support a "harder" war. R. E. L. Krick and Keith S. Bohannon present the view of the soldiers on the lines in their essays on William H. C. Whiting's brigade and on the artillery duel at Malvern Hill, respectively.

While The Richmond Campaign of 1862 is by no means an exhaustive study of the Peninsula and the Seven Days, it offers fresh analysis of important aspects of the campaign. For those who are familiar with the Civil War, it is an interesting and informative addition to the scholarly debate.

-reviewed by Trenton Hizer, Private Papers Archivist

Jane Dailey, Before Jim Crow: The Politics of Race in Postemancipation Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000. ix + 278 pp. $39.95 (hardcover), $17.95 (softcover).

Jane Dailey, a historian at Johns Hopkins University, has produced a remarkably illuminating analysis of the "politics of race" in Virginia during the Readjuster era. Reconstruction ended early in Virginia, and the Conservative Party, by insisting that all white men must stand together, controlled government during the 1870s. The party's leaders also determined that the state's public debt, mostly accumulated before the Civil War, had to be repaid in full despite the havoc that policy wreaked on the new public school system and other government services.

Whites who instead favored scaling down the public debt formed a coalition with black Republicans, called the Readjuster Party, and for four tumultuous years in the 1880s controlled state government. Under the leadership of former Confederate general and former railroad magnate William Mahone, the Readjusters created the most successful, interracial, political coalition in the nineteenth-century South.

The central political problem in the South after the Civil War, Dailey writes, was the creation of interracial democracy. Its failure led to the Jim Crow South of segregation, disfranchisement, and one-party politics. The book is not a narrative history of political events. Rather, Dailey's concentration on how racial issues functioned in politics shows that the Readjusters built their coalition by insisting on a complete separation between the public sphere of male political equality and the private sphere of relations between men and women.

The coalition's success became the grounds for its downfall. Black Readjusters insisted on and received public offices and patronage positions, which white Conservatives condemned as violations of honor and of traditional relations of domination. In such an environment, simple acts-such as a black person's refusal to step into the street to permit whites to pass on the sidewalk-became politicized. Dailey brings together all the elements of her analysis in an account of the violent race riot that occurred in Danville in 1883, just in time for the Conservatives successfully to exploit it for victory in that year's state elections.

The book is analytically sophisticated, but that should not put off general readers. Dailey writes clearly and with verve. Most important, her attention to Virginians' lived experiences enables readers to understand the beliefs and emotions of a different era.

-reviewed by John T. Kneebone, Director, Publications and Educational Services


DLA Ejournal Home | VALib Home | Table of Contents for this issue | Search VAlib and other ejournals