Reviews prepared by staff members of the Library of Virginia
Julie A. Campbell, Editor
Charles Pinnegar, Brand of Infamy: A Biography of John Buchanan Floyd. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2002. xiii + 235 pp. $64.95 (hardcover).
John Buchanan Floyd was the third, and last, Virginian to serve as United States secretary of war. Charles Pinnegar, a retired teacher of high-school math and computer science from Canada, has written the first full-length biography of this controversial figure. As his title suggests, Pinnegar believes Floyd has been unfairly painted as "an archetypical villain" and the "Felonius Floyd," and he tries to rehabilitate his reputation.
Born on June 1, 1806 in Montgomery County, Floyd graduated from South Carolina College, where he studied with Thomas Cooper, an ultra proponent of states' rights. After an abortive turn in Arkansas, where he had hoped to capitalize on the cotton boom, he moved to Abingdon, Virginia. The voters of Washington County sent him to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1847. Like other western delegates, he supported democratic constitutional reforms, especially extending suffrage to all white men, and called for more state funding for internal improvements. In December 1848, a coalition of Democrats and Whigs in the assembly chose Floyd governor, a post his father had held during Nat Turner's Rebellion. The younger Floyd's administration saw the adoption of long-awaited constitutional reforms, including popular election of the governor and a sharpening of sectional tensions with the North.
Floyd's campaigning for James Buchanan in 1856 earned him a place in the new president's cabinet as secretary of war. Floyd seemed to be in over his head, and his slapdash management of the War Department allowed a contractor to obtain $870,000 in bonds from an Indian trust fund at the Department of the Interior. Calls for Floyd's resignation followed. Further criticism of his orders to Major Robert Anderson at Fort Moultrie and accusations that he was favoring the southern cause by restocking arms and munitions in states that were likely to secede caused Floyd to bow to pressure and resign on December 29, 1860.
Despite a lack of direct military experience, in May 1861 Floyd was commissioned as a brigadier general of Virginia troops. He participated in the western Virginia campaign of 1861 and in December was ordered into Kentucky. He withdrew from Fort Donelson before its surrender to Ulysses S. Grant. Critics in the North gleefully noted that the "light-fingered Floyd was light-footed too!" Although the Confederate president (who, coincidentally, had been Floyd's predecessor as U.S. secretary of war) removed Floyd from command, Virginia's General Assembly promoted him to major general and placed him in charge of the Virginia state line, intended to protect the state's mineral resources and salt deposits. He died in Abingdon on August 26, 1863.
Pinnegar has harvested manuscript materials, government documents, secondary sources, magazine articles, and electronic media to detail his subject's life. Floyd emerges not as a villain, but as a man of ordinary abilities thrust into extraordinary times. Two appendices consider Floyd's treatment at the hands of historians and provide a study of the votes in the General Assembly that elected Floyd to the governorship.
-reviewed by Sara B. Bearss, Managing Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Claudia L. Bushman, In Old Virginia: Slavery, Farming, and Society in the Journal of John Walker. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. xix + 292 pp. $42.50 (hardcover).
This book distills the six volumes of the diaries of John Walker (1785-1867), from King and Queen County, into a single, readable volume that places Walker in the context of his time and place. Bushman extracts information from over forty years of entries to produce succinct chapters on a variety of topics, including agriculture, economy, slavery, religion, medicine, and the Civil War. Walker's journals provide an interesting portrait of an antebellum Virginia planter who embodied many conflicting aspects of his society.
Born in 1785 into the Tidewater Virginia gentry, Walker eventually embraced Methodism and rejected the genteel society to which his family belonged. His simple life belied that of a shrewd, successful farmer and businessman who meticulously recorded every profit and loss. Bushman writes that Walker occupied the worlds of both self-sufficiency farming and market farming. He followed traditional methods of planting, yet often experimented with new agricultural methods to increase crop yield. He rejected many of the traditional medical practices for new theories. However, Walker did fit the traditional mold of the Southern Methodist, shunning extravagance and disdaining drinking and dancing.
While Bushman offers a portrait of one planter, she places him in the context of King and Queen County, Virginia, and the South, comparing and contrasting him with other farmers and planters and their experiences. She also demonstrates how the picture of Walker both agrees and disagrees with the picture of Southern agriculturalists that historians have drawn. Walker and his diaries remind the scholar that an examination of the details often reveals that history is seldom cut and dried.
Of Walker's journals, volume one, covering 1824 to 1837, is located at the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Volumes two through six and loose papers are located at the Library of Virginia in Richmond. Walker's journals and Bushman's adaptation of them, both invaluable sources, provide a vivid description of a county (King and Queen), for which many records have been lost.
-reviewed by Trenton Hizer, Senior Finding Aids Archivist
Sharla M. Fett, Working Cures: Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. $39.95 (hardcover), $18.95 (softcover).
In this illuminating study, Sharla M. Fett shows persuasively that "health and healing stood at the nexus of plantation social relations." She focuses her research on four southeastern states: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Unlike the newer states to their west, these states had long depended on slave labor, which saw the emergence on large plantations of a multigenerational slave community in which African traditions of healing survived. Meanwhile, in those states, the medical profession had developed traditions of training and aspirations to follow scientific method. Gathering her evidence from a multitude of primary and secondary sources, Fett investigates the different meanings that masters and slaves gave to healing and health.
This approach makes her book different from Todd Savitt's pioneering Medicine and Slavery: The Diseases and Health Care of Blacks in Antebellum Virginia (1978). Whereas Savitt used modern medical understanding of health and disease to evaluate the health care afforded to slaves, Fett concentrates on the understandings of the slaves and masters themselves. She argues that the masters, no matter how benevolent, viewed slaves' health in terms given by the market, "which translated slave health into slaveholder wealth." This concept of "soundness," as she terms it, was the core meaning of slave health for slaveholders.
The slaves, however, countered with an alternative concept of health, based in large part on their relationships in the community, and blended healing with spiritual power. Fett shows that slave women played large roles in health and healing. As midwives or carers for the sick, they took on the authority of healers. "Enslaved women used their doctoring skills to counter slavery's degradation," she argues. This is a well-written and richly detailed contribution to our deeper understanding of slavery and of Southern cultures.
-reviewed by John T. Kneebone, Director, Division of Publications and Educational Services
Charles V. Mauro, The Battle of Chantilly (Ox Hill): A Monumental Storm. Fairfax, Virginia: Fairfax County History Commission, 2002. (Order from Maps and Publications Div., Fairfax County Government, 12000 Government Center Pkwy., #156, Fairfax, VA 22035.) 96 pp. $16.95 (softcover).
The Battle of Ox Hill (the less well-known Southern usage) occurred in the aftermath of the Second Battle of Manassas (Second Bull Run), in which General Robert E. Lee defeated the Union army in the last gasp of a complicated series of engagements that some historians view as one grand strategic operation. Fought in part during a violent thunderstorm, it cost the Union two promising commanders, Generals Isaac I. Stevens and Philip Kearny. Using maps, diagrams, drawings, and period and contemporary photographs, Charles V. Mauro provides an incisive analysis of Fairfax County's most famous Civil War battle.
Second Manassas evolved out of Lee's seemingly hopeless predicament in the summer of 1862, when he faced General George McClellan's superior Union army at Richmond. During the Peninsula Campaign, Southern forces had retreated before McClellan's encroaching army, backpedaling up the peninsula to Richmond. Practically under siege, Lee ordered General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson to threaten Washington in hopes of diverting additional Union troops in support of McClellan. The result was Jackson's famous Shenandoah Valley Campaign, in which he engaged and defeated several pursuing Union commands.
When Lee drove McClellan out during the Seven-Days' Battles, another Union army was formed in northern Virginia under the command of General John Pope. Pope's initial orders were to join McClellan, but authorities in Washington began withdrawing McClellan's forces and transporting them by water northward in support of Pope. Seizing on this opportunity, Lee extricated his army from its defensive positions around Richmond and marched north to find and defeat Pope's army before McClellan's army could arrive. At Second Manassas, Lee saw an opportunity to defeat and destroy the Northern commander and his army. He did win a decisive victory at Second Manassas, but the total annihilation that he sought eluded him. This remarkable chain of events-one unfolding organically out of the other-led ultimately to the bloody encounter at Ox Hill. There Pope escaped Lee's grasp, which was an amazing turnaround of events from Lee's near-fatal position at Richmond only a short time before.
The images of Mauro, a prize-winning photographer, are particularly evocative. Simple, everyday scenes of gently rolling fields or ordinary urban streets overlay what was once the setting for this desperate game of retreat and pursuit. Included are several aerial photographs that help the reader place the action, since shopping malls and growing residential areas now cover over many of the original battle sites. Fairfax and Prince William County residents in particular will enjoy this slim book, although any Civil War enthusiast interested in a close-up look at the aftermath of Lee's signal victory will benefit from Mauro's labors.
-reviewed by Don Gunter, Assistant Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Katie Letcher Lyle, My Dearest Angel: A Virginia Family Chronicle, 1895-1947. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2002. xxvii + 380 pp. $45.00 (hardcover), $24.95 (softcover).
When her father died, author Katie Letcher Lyle uncovered in his garage three cartons of papers documenting four generations of her family. The boxes included an astonishing array of materials, including "letters, postcards, papers, documents, check registers, Confederate bills, files, receipts, old photographs, notebooks, envelopes of stamps, deeds, bills, depositions, certificates, proclamations, diplomas, and market lists." Among them were the letters of her grandparents-Greenlee D. Letcher, the youngest child of John Letcher, Virginia's Civil War governor, and his wife, Katherine (Katie) Seymour Paul. In My Dearest Angel, Lyle deftly tells the story of their life together.
Greenlee and Katie Letcher could not have been more different. He served as a state legislator, worked as a lawyer in Lexington, and traveled widely, all the while scribbling and sending letters. She was the daughter of a Republican circuit judge and state senator from Harrisonburg and shied away from public life, preferring instead the familiarity of home and family. Their marriage was tinged with melancholy: Two of their three children died, and Katie, who found fulfillment largely in her role as a mother, struggled throughout her life with ill health and depression. Greenlee's letters addressed her as "Sweet Angel, My Own, My Love, My Life," but she often chafed at the role of adored wife, spending long periods of time with her parents, on rest cures, or in hospitals, away from her husband and his family. Their letters provide an unusually intimate portrait of a marriage, beginning in 1898, when they wed at her parents' home, and ending in 1947, when Katie died from a stroke.
When she was a child, Lyle lived with her grandparents in Lexington. She was a storyteller even then. "Chickie [little Katie] fell at the zoo and scratched her nose," her mother reported, "but came home and told me a monkey had bitten [it]-a much better story, she thought." Lyle puts those story-telling abilities to good use here, painting an affecting portrait of her grandparents and the times in which they lived. Their marriage spanned two world wars and the Great Depression. A handy family tree, a detailed index, and numerous photographs round out this volume, which makes compelling reading for those interested in the history of women, families, and the South.
-reviewed by Jennifer Davis McDaid, Archives Research Coordinator
Clint Johnson, In the Footsteps of Stonewall Jackson. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, Publisher, 2002. xxi + 238 pp. $12.95 (softcover).
When Clint Johnson was a youngster in Arcadia, Florida, his fourth-grade teacher thrilled him with a story about an obscure Civil War battle in an obscure part of the state. This event sparked in him an interest in the war that has continued for the last forty years. Today, Johnson channels that interest into re-enacting and writing Civil War books.
Johnson covers both obscure and well-known ground in his latest offering, In the Footsteps of Stonewall Jackson. This is the North Carolina-based author's fourth Civil War travel guide. He produced a similar work on Robert E. Lee in 2001, as well as travel guides for Civil War sites in the Carolinas (1996), Virginia and West Virginia (1999).
Admitting that he is not a "professional historian," Johnson does not attempt to write one more biography of Jackson but sticks to his stated task of pointing "readers in the right direction to find sites associated with the general." Although Jackson served in Mexico during the Mexican War and visited Europe as a tourist, Johnson's book looks only at sites in Canada and the United States. Most of the book pertains to sites in West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland-the three states where the majority of the events in Jackson's life and Civil War career took place. He also takes the reader to North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Quebec City.
The result is a handy travel guide for anyone interested in both the major and minor places associated with Jackson-from the site of a tannery he owned in Lexington, Virginia, before the war, to the house at Guinea Station where he died on May 10, 1863. Johnson provides brief narratives explaining the historical context for each of the sites, along with directions. He also includes photographs for many of the locations.
-reviewed by Dale F. Harter, Assistant Editor, Virginia Cavalcade
Suzanne McIntire, An American Cutting Garden: A Primer for Growing Cut Flowers Where Summers Are Hot and Winters Are Cold. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002. x + 284 pp. $29.95 (hardcover).
Any garden writer who frankly and honestly declares that Virginia summers are indeed hot and that winters here are downright cold, without refuting the credibility of one of these truths, should have a reader's trust and attention immediately-and for good reason. Suzanne McIntire approaches her subject of choosing, growing, and harvesting flowers forthrightly and realistically for gardeners living with seasonal extremes of climate. She has written this primer mostly for those in the upper South, especially that portion that falls into USDA cold-hardiness zone 7. Defined as the geographical range where winter temperatures do not dip below 0 to 10 degrees, zone 7 includes all but the mountainous regions of Virginia. What might provide new information here to many gardeners are McIntire's discussions of the American Horticultural Society's new, and equally important, heat-zone classifications. Thus, the author confirms what most Virginia gardeners have found true through trial and error: Many flowers, especially annuals, will not grow well through hot summers if planted in the spring. She presents workable options.
The first section of An American Cutting Garden discusses soil preparation, garden and bed design, botanical characteristics of annuals, biennials, perennials, and bulbs, and maintenance through each season. These passages are especially helpful to the beginning gardener. Particularly insightful is the advice on using flowers after their harvest-cutting, conditioning, and arranging-the final stage of life for a cutting garden. She presents four types of gardens for cutting-easy, small, shady, and fall-broadening the book's usefulness.
The real fun begins with her next topic, "Two Hundred Choice Plants for Your Cutting Garden"-from Acanthus to Zinnia. True to the promise of the book's title, McIntire explains what we can realistically expect from a plant grown in extreme seasons. Falling in line with the best of gardening books, she delivers the soundest advice through personal accounts of her own successes and failures-plenty of both. In the end, McIntire encourages Virginia gardeners to appreciate the unique opportunities their climate offers. A long growing season gives them Hanover tomatoes and heat-loving bloomers like China asters, sunflowers, and zinnias.
The appendices offer easy guides to growing seeds under light, suggested readings, sources for plants, and sequence of bloom. Enormously helpful to both beginning gardeners and pros, An American Cutting Garden is sure to please those who seek comprehensive detail and realistic advice for growing flowers where summers are hot and winters are cold.
-reviewed by Stacy Gibbons Moore, Associate Editor, Division of Publications and Educational Services
Well-known Virginia historian Mary B. Kegley of Wytheville has branched off in a new direction: the novel. Free in Chains (Wytheville: Kegley Books, 2002. vi + 266 pp.) is based on a true story she uncovered while researching court cases and other documents. In the late eighteenth century, an enslaved woman named Rachel Findlay won a suit that gave her freedom because she was an American Indian. Before she could relish that victory, her owners shipped her off to southwestern Virginia. Kegley will be publishing a factual article about Findlay in a future issue of Virginia Cavalcade. In this novel, she imagines Findlay's life and times. Order Free in Chains from Kegley Books, P.O. Box 134, Wytheville, VA 24382. $12.93 includes Virginia tax and shipping in state.
Oscar W. Gupton and Fred C. Swope first published Trees and Shrubs of Virginia in 1981. Twenty years later, the University of Virginia Press has reprinted this classic and useful book (xii + 205 pp. $18.95 softcover). The paperback is stuffed with color photographs and informative text, as is a 1979 collaboration by the pair, Wildflowers of the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains, also reprinted by the University of Virginia Press (xiv + 208 pp. $18.95 softcover). The first book starts with white pine and ends with sea myrtle; the second begins with bloodroot and finishes up with goat's rue. Both authors taught at Virginia Military Institute, Gupton as a professor of biology and Swope as an assistant professor of the same subject.
Ross and Nan Netherton are prolific historians of northern Virginia. They have put their experience to good use with a new book: The Preservation of History in Fairfax County, Virginia: A Report Prepared for the Fairfax County History Commission, Fairfax County, Virginia, 2001 (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America and Fairfax, Virginia: Fairfax County History Commission, 2002. xv + 528 pp., hardcover). It thoroughly covers such topics as historic zoning, archives, preservation, archaeology, and heritage resources with text, tables, maps, and appendices. The Nethertons have produced a thorough, useful reference source that also makes for some interesting reading. Order from Maps and Publications Div., Fairfax County Government, 12000 Government Center Pkwy., #156, Fairfax, VA 22035; $41.80 includes Virginia tax.
For a look at a specific culture of northern Virginia, turn to Northern Virginia's Equestrian Heritage, by Mary L. Fishback (Arcadia Publishing: Charleston, South Carolina, 2002. 128 pp. $19.99). This slender paperback, part of Arcadia's Images of America series, contains page after page of horses, hounds, horsemen, and horsewomen. Some of the subjects are well known, such as Governor Westmoreland Davis, Arthur Godfrey, and Paul Mellon, while others are anonymous members of foxhunts or competitors at horse shows. Nearly all of the photographs show Virginia scenes, but a few travel to Maryland and even to California. Fishback collected the images from Morven Park, The Chronicle of the Horse, and the National Sporting Library-Virginia institutions all.
-reviewed by Julie A. Campbell