Reviews prepared by staff members of the Library of Virginia Sara B. Bearss, Editor
Philip J. Schwarz, ed. Slavery at the Home of George Washington. Mount Vernon, Va.: Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, 2001. iii + 182 pp. $7.95 (softcover).
The six, chapter-length essays in this volume, each by a different contributor, are derived from a 1994 conference on slavery at Mount Vernon. They treat agriculture and domestic life on the estate during George Washington's lifetime, provide new insights from recent archaeological investigations at Mount Vernon into the lives of the enslaved people who lived there, and reinterpret the circumstances under which Washington freed his slaves. The final essay also discusses how slavery at Mount Vernon evolved during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
George Washington cannot be understood without knowing about the slave society in which he lived, the extent to which he depended on the slave economy for his economic and social status, and the personal relationships between members of his family and his enslaved laborers. Nor can the lives of the enslaved people be properly interpreted without understanding Washington, who was an out-of-the-ordinary slave owner in many respects and owned an unusually large number of slaves. He may have been or become a comparatively mild disciplinarian and was the only major founding father to provide for freeing his slaves following his death. He left abundant records of the management of his plantations and household, as well of his changing ideas about slavery in the new republic. And his main place of residence and its immediate vicinity have remained relatively well protected from destructive development projects that destroyed the archaeological and physical evidence of his slaves' lives at his other plantations.
Taken together, these essays by Jean B. Lee, Edna Greene Medford, Dennis J. Pogue, James C. Rees, Mary V. Thompson, and Lorena S. Walsh make an important contribution to the literature on George Washington and, what is more important, to the evolving literature on chattel, racial slavery in eighteenth-century Virginia.
- reviewed by Brent Tarter, Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Neal O. Hammon and Richard Taylor. Virginia's Western War, 1775-1786. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2002. xl + 279 pp. $29.95 (hardcover).
This book advances a proposition that the authors believe is too often overlooked by contemporary historians, namely, that during the Revolutionary War Virginians were primarily responsible for winning for the United States those lands lying between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. Without their commitment and sacrifice, control of the Mississippi Valley might well have fallen to a foreign power, perhaps Spain, and thus potentially altered the course of American history in unexpected, even profound ways.
The book's early chapters are devoted to mapping Virginia's claim to western lands. The colony's 1609 charter described the western boundary as extending west and northwest to the "South Sea." This language later was employed in 1749 by the Ohio Company, a syndicate formed by prominent Virginians in laying claim to 500,000 acres of western lands. When the French attempted to exercise control over the Ohio Valley in 1754, Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie asserted British sovereignty by sending troops commanded by Colonel George Washington to the Forks of the Ohio, an event that helped precipitate the French and Indian War. That same year a royal proclamation announced that colonists serving in the military would be paid for their services with bounty lands in the West. In 1774 Virginia defended its claim to the Ohio Valley again when Colonel Andrew Lewis defeated the Shawnees under Cornstalk at Point Pleasant, thereby winning control of all the territory south of the Ohio River. During the 1770s settlements were built in Kentucky, and in 1776 the General Assembly created Kentucky County, thus underscoring the colony's legal authority over the area and providing settlers with new lands to replace the farmed-out, tidewater soil.
During the Revolutionary War, Virginia's vulnerable frontier defenses were severely tested. The British courted the western tribes and instigated Indian attacks that plagued Kentucky throughout 1777. In 1778 Governor Patrick Henry sent an expedition under George Rogers Clark into the Illinois country, where he captured settlements and seized a wedge of territory that split the British West into two parts. The next year Clark seized Fort Sackville and sent the British commander to Richmond in chains. After the surrender at Yorktown in 1781, the British continued to wage war, and in 1782 Clark led an expedition against the Indians in retaliation for the terrible American defeat at Blue Licks in Kentucky. Forced to the peace table in 1783, Britain transferred ownership of the trans-Appalachian West to the United States, and the next year Virginia ceded its lands in the Northwest Territory to the federal government, except bounty lands reserved for Clark's veterans. The British still wielded power, however, and Indian raids along the frontier continued. In 1786 Virginia sponsored its final, large-scale, military campaign, an expedition against the Indians north of the Ohio River.
Relying heavily on the Lyman Draper Manuscripts at the Wisconsin Historical Society and on a thorough survey of secondary materials, the authors have assembled a detailed book that convincingly documents Virginia's principal role in protecting its claim to western lands and securing them eventually for the fledgling nation. The story is told with clarity, and the text is populated with vivid characters and filled with exciting anecdotes that entertain, as well as provide thoughtful and informative reading to those interested in the Revolutionary War or the history of the Virginia frontier.
- reviewed by Donald W. Gunter, Assistant Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook. They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War. Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War Series. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002. xiii + 277 pp. $29.95 (hardcover).
Debunking the modern construct that women cannot fight in actual combat, DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook have spent ten years researching military and other government records, regimental histories, diaries and letters of soldiers, memoirs, contemporary newspapers, and recent scholarship to unearth the stories of more than 250 women who served, mostly undetected, in the United States and Confederate Armies during the Civil War. In so doing, they give fresh insight into the reasons that women went to war. In addition, the authors explore the attitudes at the time of the war and until the death of the last veterans, who viewed women soldiers as entertaining and romantic anomalies. They examine the post-Freudian assessment that the women who took up arms were crazy, prostitutes, or lesbians, and then present a twenty-first-century understanding of the extraordinary courage that these women showed in flouting their second-class citizenship and the social mores of the time to fight and die for their countries.
It is believed that more than four hundred women fought in the war, but so many of them remained anonymous and left no records identifying them as female that it is impossible to arrive at the true number of those who served. Many of those who have been identified went to war to be with their husbands or sweethearts. Others went for the adventure, to avenge the loss of a loved one, to help support families at home, or to find a way out of low-paying women's jobs or prostitution. Few women of the upper classes fought. Most women soldiers came from working-class backgrounds; they were immigrants or frontier women. Some of those from poor families enlisted for improved economic opportunity and more personal freedom. For many women living in the Midwest or West, the Eastern ideal of women as homebound nurturers did not apply to their lives. So they were more able to contravene such strictures on their behavior. Some women, in fact, had passed as men in the antebellum period and had worked, for example, as coal handlers on canal boats, laborers, farmhands, and shepherds.
Given the rules and regulations for entering the service from World War I to today, modern writers have thought that it would be impossible for women to pass a physical and remain undiscovered. At the time of the Civil War, however, physicals were very cursory examinations, and the soldiers went for months at a time without bathing or changing clothes and slept in their clothes. Women stayed separate from men in the camp sleeping and bathing arrangements, and some women managed to escape detection until they were wounded or until men who had known them before the war blew their cover. Although some women disguised themselves with beards and sideburns, most passed as teenaged boys. Some of them served as drummer boys, while others performed the same duties as the men: guard and picket duty, scouting, clerical work at headquarters, cavalry raiding, medical duty, acting as teamsters or mule drivers, and fighting in the ranks. Of the identified women who served, 15% were wounded, some in more than one battle; 10% of them died while in the service; 18% were captured by the enemy; and 14% were promoted in rank.
Blanton, who serves as senior military archivist at the National Archives and specializes in nineteenth-century United States Army records, and Cook, who edited the Civil War letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman (alias Private Lyons Wakeman), have done signal duty in amassing and analyzing records from across the country to show that this forgotten chapter in military history is worthy of study. They believe that "no previous study of the Civil War soldier has meaningfully or comprehensively addressed these martial women," and so they set themselves the task of rectifying that omission. In so doing, Blanton and Cook give us a new appreciation of Civil War women soldiers who took on the duties of men and succeeded. "They faced not only the guns of the adversary but the sexual prejudices of their society" and should be remembered for their unusual and revolutionary valor.
- reviewed by Emily J. Salmon, Copyeditor
John David Smith, ed. Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. xxiii + 451 pp. $39.95 (hardcover).
The story of African-American participation in the Civil War has received considerable popular and academic recognition in recent years. Perhaps the most widely known presentation of Black wartime exploits is the movie Glory, a fictionalized account of the famed 54th Regiment, Massachusetts Infantry. This volume provides an excellent overview of current research in the field, featuring fourteen essays on a wide range of topics related to the experience of African Americans in the Civil War era. The unit and battlefield histories presented in Black Soldiersin Blue judiciously cover not only wellknown campaigns and episodes in the East, such as the ill-fated federal attack at the Crater and the battle and subsequent massacre at Saltville, but also the African-American role in less storied actions in the Department of the South and in the Western theater, such as the Battles of Nashville, Milliken's Bend, Port Hudson, and Olustee. A separate essay discusses the role of Black cavalry units in the war.
All of the unit and campaign history is set in the context of the attitudes and reactions of White soldiers and officers on both the Federal and Confederate sides to the presence and effectiveness of Black troops - a major theme of the book. The most extreme examples of White reaction were real and alleged atrocities perpetrated by White Confederates against Black prisoners and the wounded at Fort Pillow, Saltville, and other engagements. The historical evidence documenting these controversial events is carefully weighed in several essays. Likewise, the book fully documents the negative attitudes of many White federal officers and soldiers toward their Black counterparts, attitudes that often resulted in needless casualties and low combat effectiveness in units of United States Colored Troops because of a lack of training and their relegation to fatigue and guard duties.
While broadening and deepening our understanding of Black participation on the field and at the unit level, the book also addresses the motivations and experiences of specific historical actors. Edwin S. Redkey presents the wartime experiences of the Black chaplain Henry McNeal Turner, who took a major leadership role in the A.M.E. Church after the war. Two essays focus on the role of prominent White officers in the United States Colored Troops. Michael T. Meier explores the career of USCT recruiter and Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, and Keith Wilson's essay looks at the divergent abolitionist ideals and military careers of Colonels Thomas Higginson, James Montgomery, and Robert Gould Shaw, all of whom commanded USCT units. (Montgomery and Shaw are both portrayed in Glory.) Also broadening the scope of the book are two contributions that look at postwar events affecting Black troops and veterans. Robert J. Zalimas, Jr., examines the experience of Black and White Union soldiers in postwar Charleston, and Richard Reid documents USCT veterans in postwar North Carolina. Overall, this book presents a subtle and nuanced look at the variety of experiences and attitudes that faced the approximately 180,000 Black soldiers who fought for the Union.
- reviewed by Gregg D. Kimball, Director, Publications and Educational Services
Mark Grimsley. And Keep Moving On: The Virginia Campaign, May-June 1864. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2002. xx + 282 pp. $45.00 (hardcover).
Modern-day historians face many challenges when writing Civil War history. With battle books concerning the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac, there is always one particularly ominous burden: how to offer a fresh perspective to a very often twice (or more)-told tale. Mark Grimsley took on this assignment when he wrote And Keep Moving On, the story of Grant versus Lee in the "Overland Campaign."
The Union advances in spring 1864 pit the competing armies' two premier generals, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, against each other for the first time. Fresh from his successes in the West, Grant had been elevated to head of all Union armies, a promotion that would change the character of the war until Appomattox. Before Grant's arrival in the East, Lee had always held the psychological edge over his Northern opponents. That would not be the case with Grant. Grant was able to take the initiative away from Lee as no other opponent had ever dared to do. His philosophy of continuously hammering away at the Army of Northern Virginia resulted in horrendous losses to both sides. As unpleasant as that policy may have been, the Union could afford this strategy; the Confederacy could not. For his part, as Lee's resources diminished, his strategic goals were modified from military conquest of the Union army to destabilization of its political leadership. Both sides understood that the Federal election of 1864 was, in effect, a referendum on the war. Lee understood that by not losing he could possibly, in the long run, achieve a complete victory. This, however, is not to suggest that Lee was resigned to the defensive or lost any of his aggressiveness. Given his dwindling resources, this campaign was arguably Lee's best performance. Both Lee and Grant were adversaries such as neither had seen before. Neither would retreat; neither would disengage. They had much in common, and their tactical personalities defined the war for the remaining year.
Once the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan River on May 4, 1864, the two armies remained in almost constant contact until the end of the war. Grant's "Overland Campaign" (as it came to be known) was the main thrust in a strategy that set a large proportion of the Union armies in the East into motion. Grant and the Army of the Potomac moved in conjunction with four subsidiary offensives: two in southwestern Virginia, one in the Shenandoah Valley under Major General Franz Sigel, and the fourth in the James River estuary under Major General Benjamin F. Butler. Grant intended these movements to divert men and resources from Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and, if possible, to achieve some of their own successes. He had his greatest hopes for Butler's "Bermuda Hundred Campaign." Advancing on Lee from the southeast, the Union commander hoped to force Lee back into the Richmond entrenchments, and there Grant would link with Butler's army. For the most part, all of these Union advances failed to realize much success militarily.
Although the campaign has been thoroughly covered in segments or as part of larger histories, And Keep Moving On is the first book to combine the battles at Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor with the other Union advances as one consolidated history. Grimsley's narrative is a crisp synthesis of recent scholarship covering, among other issues, the political implications, soldiers' motivations, and other aspects far away from the battlefield. He calls into question some commonly held notions and works to dispel popularly held myths, such as those concerning Union élan, Confederate desertion, and the "solid South." First and foremost, however, And Keep Moving On is a battle book, albeit, by modern standards, brief. It is a top-down history of the campaign in the traditional sense. Grimsley has an unsullied way of restating the familiar narrative so that it seems genuinely fresh and new. If your eyes start to glaze over when authors get bogged down in the detailed minutiae of troop movements, do not fear - this is the book for you. Rarely are troop movements broken down beyond the brigade level - quite refreshing, again by modern standards. Although it may seem impractical to try to tell the story of such a large engagement in so few pages, Grimsley does it masterfully - and it is a good read.
- reviewed by Eddie Woodward, Local Records Archivist
William Marvel. Lee's Last Retreat: The Flight to Appomattox. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. xiii + 308 pp. $29.95 (hardcover).
William Marvel's Lee's Last Retreat: The Flight to Appomattox is a retelling of the final days of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia from the end of the siege of Petersburg to the surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Marvel travels the same route as Lee's battered and tattered troops as they struggled to remain ahead of their Union foes, led by Ulysses S. Grant, and escape into western Virginia or North Carolina.
Marvel, however, does not merely repeat the oft-told tale of a small, undersupplied, and underarmed army valiantly holding off a better-armed and numerically superior foe. Rather, he describes an army that was more numerous and less zealous than postwar "Lost Cause" advocates later portrayed. Many Confederate soldiers, at last believing their fight to be hopeless, either deserted for home or made their way into Union lines where, as prisoners, they would be fed.
Lee and his generals are also criticized. After the war, Lee contended that the failure of the Confederate Commissary Department to have supplies waiting at Amelia Court House led to the fatal delay of a day, thereby allowing Union troops to close in. Marvel disputes Lee's assertion, stating that Lee gave no such order. Moreover, he argues that Lee's failure to provide adequate crossings over the Appomattox River was the actual cause of the delay. The Lee depicted here is not the legendary all-wise Marble Man of the "Lost Cause," but an all-too-human general suffering from lack of sleep, which affected his command decisions.
Finally, Marvel disputes Union brevet Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's tale about the salute of respect he ordered be given their defeated foe by Union troops. Confederate Major General John B. Gordon, realizing that this tale reflected favorably on him and the "Lost Cause," enthusiastically endorsed it. Marvel declares that no contemporary writing makes any mention of such a display. He endeavors to strip away what he perceives to be unnecessary embellishments and "Lost Cause" distortions of the actual events in those early days of April 1865.
- reviewed by Trenton E. Hizer, Private Papers Archivist
James Alex Baggett. The Scalawags: Southern Dissenters in the Civil War and Reconstruction. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003. xvi + 323 pp. $55.00 (hardcover).
In this fine book, James Alex Baggett traces the rise and fall of the scalawags, those pro-Union White Southerners, who were out of step with their contemporaries both before the Civil War, when they voted in the minority in the 1860 presidential election and opposed secession, and during the war, when they half-heartedly supported what they considered to be the Confederacy's wrong-headed and ultimately doomed policies. During Reconstruction they accepted Black enfranchisement and joined the Republican Party, winning political office and earning the enmity of their neighbors. Under the banner of the Democratic Party, pro-Confederate White Southerners gradually reasserted control over the political process, and as Republican power receded, the scalawags were relegated to the backwaters of public life. Today they persist in the popular imagination as the corrupt scoundrels and opportunists depicted by the writers of the "Lost Cause." There was some truth in that view, of course, but those writers painted with a broad brush, neglecting the fact that many scalawags were hard-working, respectable, middle-class people, not unlike their pro-secession counterparts except that they possessed a different set of political principles. Baggett corrects the misconception by introducing the reader to some of these long-forgotten White Southern Republican leaders.
Baggett is not the first to attempt to break down the stereotype, but the first serious study did not occur until 1944, when an extended article appeared. The first book-length treatment, focusing on Alabama politics, was published in 1977. Using collective biography, Baggett profiles more than 740 of the bestsalaried, most prominent scalawag leaders holding high office in the former Confederate states. Using personal data, such as birthplace, age, status, education, and positions on key political issues, he compares and contrasts them with the Democratic Party elites who ultimately replaced them.
In Virginia, antebellum native scalawags who opposed secession were generally found above the Rappahannock River and in the northwestern counties, where by the 1850s a Republican Party had been organized. (Among the seceding states, the Old Dominion was alone in that distinction.) Baggett notes that the subsequent scarcity of scalawag leadership in the state may be traced, at least in part, to the breaking-off of some fifty of those counties and the formation of the first Reconstruction government in what ultimately became the state of West Virginia. One of Virginia's most outspoken dissenters was the clergyman James W. Hunnicutt, who criticized secessionists in his Fredericksburg and Richmond newspapers. Such people were sometimes tolerated, but others were ostracized, imprisoned, or attacked by those who viewed them as traitors.
Studies on this subject have been done on a state-by-state basis, but Baggett's is the first to examine the origins of scalawag leadership in the various subregions and to analyze the South as a whole. His book increases our understanding of the varied reactions to secession, war, and reconstruction in the South and the price some people were willing to pay for their beliefs. It deserves a place on any Virginiahistory bookshelf.
- reviewed by Donald W. Gunter, Assistant Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Bertram Wyatt-Brown. Hearts of Darkness: Wellsprings of a Southern Literary Tradition. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003. xxvi + 235 pp. $59.95 (hardcover).
In Hearts of Darkness, historian Bertram Wyatt-Brown has collected eight essays based on the Walter Lynwood Fleming Lectures in Southern History he delivered at Louisiana State University in 1995. Three deal directly with Virginia-born authors - Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Beverley Tucker, Edmund Ruffin, Willa Cather, and Ellen Glasgow. Nineteenth-century Southern authors, Wyatt-Brown argues, wrote under the influence of a pervasive melancholy. The lives of the authors chronicled here are sad indeed, as Brown dramatically illustrates in his opening chapter on Poe.
While his actress mother, Eliza Arnold Poe, was dying from pulmonary tuberculosis, a nurse plied young Edgar and his siblings with bread soaked in gin and laudanum. After his mother expired, the two-year-old crawled into bed with her and spent the night because he had been told that she was only sleeping. Disease, death, grief, and abandonment abound in chapter after chapter, along with jail time, alcohol, and loneliness. Wyatt-Brown skillfully presents a series of mournful vignettes to add to the toddler Poe curling up with his dead mother for comfort and warmth. One month after Constance Fenimore Woolson was born, three of her sisters died from scarlet fever (chapter 7). At age eleven, Samuel Clemens watched his father's autopsy through a keyhole (chapter 6). And when William Gilmore Simms died (after writing two serials totaling more than 3000 pages in one year), his fingers stubbornly gripped a pen (chapter 3). "I write with difficulty," he had complained, "with heart sore, head heavy, brain dull."
Such gloomy tenacity was common among these Southern authors. Writing saved them from plummeting to the lowest depths of depression, Wyatt-Brown maintains, and innovations in fiction were directly related to their mournful dispositions. The trials and tribulations that dogged writers likely improved their work but often made their lives miserable and short. Wyatt-Brown does more in Hearts of Darkness than tell doleful stories - although he does that very well. He traces the emergence of a "melancholy sensibility," which allowed Southern writers to flourish in print, if not in life. "My purpose," he explains, "has not been to condemn these writers' dark preoccupations, but to marvel that by a creative probing of death, ruin, and inner turmoil they could disclose so much about the human condition." Hearts of Darkness makes thought-provoking reading for those interested in the literature and history of the South and for biography fans and is likely to spark renewed interest in nearly forgotten authors. Each essay is accompanied by informative footnotes. Illustrations and a handy index round out the volume.
- reviewed by Jennifer Davis McDaid, Archives Research Coordinator
The Bedford Series of History and Culture provides undergraduate students with the tools historians use. Each book in the series features important historical documents placed in context through expert analysis. David Waldstreicher's new edition of Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia (Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2002. ix + 230 pp. softcover) also includes selected correspondence, a chronology of Jefferson's life, a short bibliography of recent scholarship, and suggested discussion questions.
Another classic text recently reissued is Phoebe Yates Pender's A Southern Woman's Story. Originally published in 1879, Pember's narrative of her experiences as matron of Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond from November 1862 until the end of the Civil War is a critical source for both women's and Confederate medical history. This new edition in the University of South Carolina Press's series of American Civil War Classics includes a brief introduction by George C. Rable (2002. xvi + 91 pp. $14.95 softcover).
Mrs. Taylor, Your Son Is Home! (Richmond: Capitol Connections, 2002. iii + 68 pp. $10.00) presents Grayson E. Taylor's recollections of his World War II experiences with the 134th Infantry Regiment, 35th Division, as it battled its way across Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany in 1944 and 1945. This informal memoir, privately published and available in softcover, may be ordered from David Bailey Associates, Inc., at (804) 643-5554 or by e-mail from email@example.com.
Catherine Hankla, a professor of English at Hollins College and poetry editor of the Hollins Critic, has published her sixth collection of poems. Poems for the Pardoned (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002. vi + 56 pp. $22.95 hardcover; $15.95 softcover) features forty-five of her works.
- reviewed by Sara B. Bearss, Senior Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Sara B. Bearss is Senior Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography, for The Library of Virginia.