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Virginia Libraries

Current editors:
Beth DeFrancis defrancb@georgetown.edu, Editor
John Connolly jpconnolly@crimson.ua.edu, Assistant Editor

April/May/June, 2004
Volume 50, Number 2

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Virginia Reviews

Reviews prepared by staff members of the Library of Virginia
Sara B. Bearss, Editor

Map image of the state of Virginia with library books and a ink well and quill on it.

quill bulletMartin D. Gallivan. James River Chiefdoms: The Rise of Social Inequality in the Chesapeake Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2003. xvii + 295 pp. $55.00 (hardcover).

Marvin D. Gallivan, an associate professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary, studied the anthropological and archaeological record to reassess Powhatan and Monacan Indian cultures of the area that is now central Virginia during the centuries before European colonization. His findings indicate that both had been undergoing a long period of slow change, gradually losing some of the characteristics of a huntergatherer society; developing economic, social, and political societies based on a more sedentary lifestyle; and exhibiting social stratification and political and economic relationships with neighboring populations that were sometimes hostile or violent. Villages had their own local rulers, over whom regional rulers exercised some governance, and throughout the region there were shared customs, beliefs, living patterns, and family structures.

…he may have tried
to use the presence of
invading Englishmen as
a means of increasing
the security of his
leadership position.
GALLIVAN REVIEW

Anthropological and archaeological studies of the Native American populations of pre-contact Virginia have been transforming our understanding of the society the English encountered at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Those societies were, themselves, still being transformed. The man whom the English dubbed an emperor (applying an English term to a ruler who held sway over local kings, another English term) and who is known to history as Powhatan may have been one of the early regional leaders on a large scale. As such, he may have perceived and tried to use the presence of invading Englishmen as a means of increasing the security of his leadership position

This scientific study is particularly well suited to libraries that collect in Native American history and culture.

—reviewed by Brent Tarter, Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography

quill bulletWarren M. Billings. JA Little Parliament: The Virginia General Assembly in the Seventeenth Century. Richmond: The Library of Virginia, in cooperation with the Jamestown 2007/ Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, 2004. xxi + 284 pp. $30.00 (hardcover).

Just how did a group of men with little or no legal expertise and virtually no experience in parliamentary procedure manage to establish a legislative body that evolved into the Virginia General Assembly? In this engaging and highly informative volume, Warren M. Billings, Distinguished Professor of History at the University of New Orleans, presents the false starts, personality conflicts, and significant successes of the General Assembly from its establishment in 1619 to 1700. His lifelong interest in how things work led eventually to the basic question, "How did the General Assembly work throughout the seventeenth century?" Billings provides an excellent answer to this question that should be of interest to any student of Virginia history.

In his foreword, Billings reviews the murky beginnings of the General Assembly and points out that few members were trained in law or had held any office. How did these men develop habits of governance to direct the growing commonwealth? The history of the General Assembly in the seventeenth century is a history of the "re-creation and adaptation of English law in a Virginia setting" and "a reflection of the assemblymen's transit from novices to sophisticated lawmakers who had a firm awareness of power and the uses to which it might be put." Billings details the early years of the General Assembly as the brainchild of the Virginia Company of London, desperate to change its Virginia money pit into a profitable enterprise. He divides the book into three sections. "Patterns of Growth" focuses on the development of the General Assembly, Sir William Berkeley's relations with the assembly (which became a bicameral body during his long tenure as governor), and the Crown's imposition of restrictions on the privileges of the General Assembly following Bacon's Rebellion. "Membership" explores the men who were the governors, the councilors, the burgesses, and the clerks and Speakers, and ends with a useful chapter on the books available to Virginia's legislators. "Assemblymen at Work" offers analysis of the workings of the assembly. Billings's discussion of the Council of State, the upper house, as the colony's highest court also defines what courts were responsible for which cases and how colonial Virginians understood and applied the law. His chapter on the "Art and Mystery of Legislation" offers a clear, concise explanation of the workings of the assembly, from its being in session to its enactment of laws.

Warren Billings has produced a readable and enjoyable history. A Little Parliament demonstrates his deep familiarity with the ins and outs of Virginia colonial history and reflects his editing of the papers of Sir William Berkeley and of a later seventeenth-century royal governor, Francis Howard, baron Howard of Effingham. A Little Parliament is a timely addition to any Virginia history bookshelf as the commonwealth approaches the 400th anniversary of its founding.

—reviewed by Barbara C. Batson, Exhibitions Coordinator

quill bulletMatthew C. Ward.Breaking the Backcountry: The Seven Years' War in Virginia and Pennsylvania, 1754-1765. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003. xiii + 329 pp. $34.95 (hardcover).

In contemporary colonial studies the term "backcountry" describes a geographical area where the economic, cultural, social, and political structures of organized society remain much in evidence, although in a greatly reduced state when compared to the more developed communities on the eastern seaboard. On the backcountry's western periphery, society's grip is loosened by the sheer distance from the centers of commerce and political power and by the tug of the frontier, that mysterious barrier where scattered outposts of European civilization confront the wilderness. Matthew C. Ward's book focuses on the immense struggle in the eighteenth-century Virginia and Pennsylvania backcountry that pitted those two colonies and Great Britain against France and its Indian allies and examines how the conflict transformed both the region's inhabitants and the complex political and economic ties between the colonies and Great Britain.

Thousands were killed,
captured, or forced
to retreat east…
WARD REVIEW

The Seven Years' War has been treated in various studies including, most notably, Lawrence Henry Gipson's fifteen-volume work, but the focus has always been on the conquest of Canada, the regular military campaigns, and the overseas struggle between England and France. Recent scholarship has continued to undervalue the importance of the war's effect on the backcountry, even though, as Ward points out, the 20,000-square-mile region suffered devastation of such magnitude that it begs comparison with the Revolutionary War and even, in some aspects, the American Civil War. Thousands were killed, captured, or forced to retreat east to the safety of larger settlements before steps were taken to secure the area, and even then much suffering ensued before military control alleviated the effects of Indian raids and French predations.

The fuse that ignited the war was trade. But the conflict between competing French and English traders in the Ohio Country merely reflected the global rivalry between the two countries. Great Britain's initial effort to counter France's ambitions in the region ended with Major General Edward Braddock's defeat near Fort Duquesne. Early efforts by the Crown to involve the colonies in their own defense produced similar results. Colonists were reluctant to spend money on protecting the sparsely settled areas from attack, and provincial soldiers were not well organized, equipped, or trained.

Eventually, control of the interior was wrested from the French, and the Indian tribes were subdued, but Ward asserts that the fallout from a decade of fighting produced changes in colonial life, some of which played a role in the coming of the American Revolution. He argues that the conflict expanded the scope of local government as leaders grappled in earnest with the task of protecting frontier settlements. This maturing effect on provincial institutions also altered political relations with Great Britain, and colonial assemblies began to experience the pleasant pangs of their own empowerment. In the backcountry, the press of war stressed weak societal arrangements and replaced them with ethnic and social divisions that local leaders were not adept at controlling. The ferocity of the fighting poisoned relations between white settlers and Native Americans, leaving a legacy of hostility and suspicion.

The author brings together the disparate elements of the story in an engaging fashion. Readers will enjoy and profit from this much-needed appraisal of the Seven Year's War's effects on the backcountry communities of Virginia and Pennsylvania.

— reviewed by Donald W. Gunter, Assistant Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography

quill bulletKenneth S. Greenberg, ed. Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory.Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. xix + 289 pp. $35.00 (hardcover).

Kenneth S. Greenberg has collected essays examining the most controversial slave insurrection in the history of the United States. Nat Turner's uprising never matched the scope and complexity of the rebellions of Gabriel (1800) or Denmark Vesey (1822), yet it remains the best-known of the three because it is the only one in which the insurgents spilled blood. The volume is divided into four sections designed to explore the man and the insurrection he led.

The first section, "The Search for Nat Turner," attempts to discover Turner himself. Little is known of him outside of The Confessions of Nat Turner, published by Thomas R. Gray shortly after the insurrection in 1831. Greenberg provides the first essay, which examines the Confessions and other contemporary documents to try to sketch a more complete portrait of Turner. David F. Allmendinger Jr. analyzes the Confessions for its strengths and weaknesses as the legitimate voice of both Turner and Gray. The second section, "Stories of the Rebellion," offers two accounts of the uprising, one written by the prominent slave historian Herbert Aptheker and the other by Thomas C. Parramore, an expert on Southampton County history.

…the storm necessitated
the use of fixed bayonets
and clubbed muskets,
a rare event in
Civil War history.
TAYLOR REVIEW

The third and largest section, "Communities and Contexts," contains six essays that place Turner's insurrection in the context of the county, state, and nation, the larger African American community, and the hemispheric neighborhood. The essays consider Turner in the context of African American opposition to slavery, particularly in relation to Gabriel, Denmark Vesey, and David Walker. Also discussed is the support Turner had in his own community, particularly from African American women. Turner's rebellion is placed in historical context within the sectional crisis that thirty years later tore the United States apart.

Finally, the volume explores "Memory," specifically William Styron's novel, also titled The Confessions of Nat Turner, published in 1968. Charles Joyner's essay "Styron's Choice" and Kenneth Greenberg's interviews with Styron and Alvin F. Poussaint comment on the controversy arising from Styron's retelling of the insurrection, especially his underlying motivation for Turner's actions. Greenberg concludes the volume with a brief essay on unsuccessful efforts to bring the story of Nat Turner to the big screen. Indeed, Greenberg completed this book in conjunction with a documentary that he had helped produce for PBS. For anyone who has studied slavery in general and Nat Turner's insurrection, this will be an important volume.

— reviewed by Trenton E. Hizer, Private Papers Archivist

quill bulletPaul Taylor. He Hath Loosed the Fateful Lightning: The Battle of Ox Hill (Chantilly), September 1, 1862. Shippensburg, Pa.: White Mane Books, 2003. x + 179 pp. $24.95 (hardcover).

This is the third work published since 2002 on the Battle of Ox Hill (Chantilly), an engagement described by R. E. Lee's chief artillerist, E. Porter Alexander, as "a useless affair." Following the Second Battle of Manassas, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's failed attempt to flank Union general John A. Pope's fleeing army and destroy it culminated at the Battle of Ox Hill, which lasted about three hours and is notable mostly for being a bloody little battle fought during a horrific thunderstorm that resulted in the death of two prominent Union generals, Philip Kearny and Isaac Ingalls Stevens. In addition, the storm necessitated the use of fixed bayonets and clubbed muskets, a rare event in Civil War history. Illustrated with maps, drawings, and photographs, He Hath Loosed the Fateful Lightning details the battle that many historians consider a rearguard action and explains its place in "prompt[ing] significant change to the strategic plans of both camps." The Confederates failed to destroy Pope's army, and the Union troops made good their escape back to Washington, which was thus saved from possible Confederate takeover. An epilogue describes the battlefield today, and appendices present the order of battle and brief biographies of Kearny and Stevens.

— Emily J. Salmon, Copy Editor

quill bulletFrancis Augustín O'Reilly. The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003. xv + 630 pp. $39.95 (hardcover).

A number of writers have taken for their subject the fight at Fredericksburg, but the battle remains a neglected stepchild when compared to other major Civil War campaigns. A somewhat static engagement, Fredericksburg lacks the complexity of the Seven Day's Battles or the dramatic sweep of Chancellorsville. The dominant image of the encounter is that of huddled ranks of Union soldiers bridging the Rappahannock and driving headlong and en masse toward the base of Marye's Heights, where the Confederates occupied the high ground. Here they piled up in windrows, caught in the murderous fire from Robert E. Lee's artillery. Still, it was the awful grandeur of this spectacle that inspired one of the most memorable utterances of the entire war. Moved by the human capacity for courage and self-sacrifice, Lee is reported to have remarked to Lieutenant General James Longstreet, "It is well that war is so terrible, or we would grow too fond of it." How such sacrifice came to be is one of the compelling stories of the campaign.

Frustrated by Major General George B. McClellan's inactivity, the Lincoln administration relieved him on November 7, 1862, and offered command of the Army of the Potomac to Major General Ambrose E. Burnside. Unsure of his ability to lead the army, Burnside initially demurred, but finally yielded to the War Department's emissary and the urging of his own staff. He had no doubt as to what his impatient superiors expected of him. The order that promoted Burnside also demanded that he immediately report the position of his troops and give details of what, exactly, he intended to do with them.

"It is well that war
is so terrible, or
we would grow
too fond of it."
O'REILLY REVIEW

The target, as always, was Richmond, and within several days Burnside was en route to the Confederate capital. Heavy rains slowed the army's approach, and taking advantage of Burnside's bad luck, Lee shifted his troops to Fredericksburg to block the Union advance. Leading Civil War historians have applauded the skill with which Francis Augustín O'Reilly relates the story of what happened after battle was joined on December 13. Combining primary and secondary sources with diaries, letters, memoirs, and other personal papers combed from various repositories, he has crafted a narrative that incorporates the insights and experiences of participants at every level. The result is a personal, sometimes poignant, voice that intrudes on the action while the author moves divisions and brigades about and lends a gritty realism to the account.

Hoping to salvage something from the price his troops had paid, Burnside planned to renew the attack the next day, only to find that his staff did not support his decision. On the evening of December 15, his army withdrew. He accepted complete responsibility for the debacle even though, as O'Reilly points out, blame could have easily been shared by his superiors and by fellow officers and subordinates who attempted to undermine him.

Hailed as the definitive account of the Battle of Fredericksburg, O'Reilly's book covers the battleground figuratively and literally. Readers of military history will appreciate not only the compelling manner in which he treats the subject but also the careful portraits of the flawed commanders who led or sent troops into battle.

— reviewed by Donald W. Gunter, Assistant Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Emmert F. Bittinger, ed. Unionists and the Civil War Experience in the Shenandoah Valley.Volume 1. Mt. Crawford and Cross Keys, Rockingham County, Virginia. Dayton, Va.: Penobscot Press for the Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center and the Valley Research Associates, 2003. xii + 741 pp. $49.95 (hardcover).

This large volume documents the experiences of some Unionists and antiwar residents of two communities in southern Rockingham County, Virginia, during the Civil War. Mostly Mennonites or members of the Church of the Brethren, they refused to fight for either side during the war but adhered to their Unionism. Because they lost property as the armies fought up and down the Shenandoah Valley, they filed claims under an 1871 act of Congress, seeking compensation for property lost by reason of loyalty to the United States during the war. Full documentation for thirty-seven claims survives in the National Archives and Records Administration's files of the Southern Claims Commission.

The papers contain rich detail about the lives and experiences of the residents of the two communities. That documentation consists of answers to prescribed questions that most or all claimants were asked, affidavits, and other testimony, as well as supplemental records that claimants submitted with their claims. Although in their details the records may be most valuable for readers and researchers interested in the communities and the families involved, the contents of the documents reveal much about the experience of noncombatants during the Civil War.

— reviewed by Brent Tarter, Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography

quill bulletMoore, Hullihen Williams.Shenandoah: Views of Our National Park. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2003. 89 pp. $55.00 (hardcover); $22.95 (softcover).

Photographer Hullihen Williams Moore has captured the inner beauty of Shenandoah National Park in fifty-one duotone prints expertly reproduced in this handsomely designed book. Moore, whose work is featured in a traveling show mounted by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, provides finely composed vistas of mountains, streams, and other landscapes, but he truly excels at closely observing the rich details in everyday nature, giving us new ways to look at flowers, leaves, boulders, and waterfalls. Even so prosaic a feature as the knotty surface of a cabin board becomes an object of interest under Moore's discerning eye. Manmade features, such as a cemetery stone and ruined chimney, also become part of his composition book, dissolving into the natural landscape of the park. The richly textured black-and-white duotones convey tremendous depth and detail as well as Moore's respect and admiration for his subject.

Even so prosaic a feature
as the knotty surface of a
cabin board becomes an
object of interest….
WILLIAMS REVIEW

The book also features two essays that reflect Moore's perspective on the Shenandoah. The author's opening ode, "Mountain Days," is a personal recollection of visiting and photographing Shenandoah National Park for more than twenty years. Written in the present tense, the essay conveys the wonder and beauty of the park in immediate and vivid language. The concluding essay, "Creation of a Park," deftly sketches the story of the founding and development of Shenandoah and the need for its continued preservation. These essays provide personal and historical context for Moore's fine photographic art. An appendix gives technical information on each image, including location, date, type of film, camera lens, and exposure. Shenandoah is a beautifully crafted book that combines a passion for nature, a mastery of craft, and a strong artistic vision.

— reviewed by Gregg D. Kimball, Director, Publications and Educational Services VL



Sara B. Bearss is senior editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, published by the Library of Virginia.


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