Reviews prepared by staff members of the Library of Virginia Sara B. Bearss, Editor
Warren R. Hofstra. The Planting of New Virginia: Settlement and Landscape in the Shenandoah Valley. Creating the North American Landscape Series. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. xv + 410 pp. $49.95 (hardcover).
A career of pathbreaking research is reflected in this book. Combining sophisticated theories, attention to global politics, and hard-nosed historical sleuthing, Warren R. Hofstra presents an impressive analysis of the settlement of the Shenandoah Valley by Europeans early in the eighteenth century and the region's evolution over the next hundred years. Hofstra's wide-ranging narrative helps explain the timing of Shenandoah settlement, the reasons for the region's distinctiveness from Tidewater and Piedmont Virginia, and the character of daily life (and the changes that this character underwent) enjoyed by those who brought the Valley into the orbit of the British Empire and eventually the new United States.
Imperial considerations are at the heart of The Planting of New Virginia. Settlement of the frontier did not follow simply from the discovery of so-called virgin territory, but resulted in large part from English worries about the French colonial presence in North America and fears that a combined French-Indian force would dismantle the British colonies. Early architects of frontier policy envisioned settlements of white Protestants as a buffer between the plantation areas of the east and the French and Indian threat. Often-tense negotiations with the powerful Iroquois confederacy, whose members did not populate the Valley so much as use it as a transportation route for their wars with southern nations, helped secure the region as a reasonably safe place for Europeans to settle under the British banner. Later conflict with the French over the future of the trans-Appalachian region brought a new phase of development to the Valley as it became more town-oriented and increasingly a staging area for frontiers to the north and west.
Such imperial considerations had real significance for the largely German and Scots-Irish people who populated the Valley. From loose settlements of farm families whose interactions were mediated through a roughly egalitarian exchange economy, Valley communities grew more commercialized and complex. Supplying Anglo-American forces in the French and Indian War intensified town development (particularly in Winchester, which draws much of Hofstra's focus), led to greater economic diversification, and spurred the cultivation of wheat surpluses. The American Revolution slowed but also deepened this transformation, and by the end of the eighteenth century, the Valley had emerged as an agricultural dynamo, the breadbasket of the new country.
Hofstra examines this evolution with both a wide-angle lens, employing theories of geography to explain the town and country continuum that characterized the region, and with a focused eye, capturing the nature of everyday life with often fascinating individual stories. Through his analysis of deed transactions and court records, readers gain access to the communal interactions that sustained the Valley's first settlers and remained a feature of the region even after it had been incorporated into the Atlantic economy. This balance between big themes and small stories will make The Planting of New Virginia the first stop for anyone seeking to understand eighteenth-century Shenandoah.—reviewed by William Bland Whitley, Research Fellow, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Beth Barton Schweiger and Donald G. Mathews, eds. Religion in the American South: Protestants and - Others in History and Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. vi + 340 pp. $59.95 (hardcover); $19.95 (softcover).
These ten substantial essays by as many leading scholars focus on different aspects of Southern religious history and serve several interrelated purposes. They assess the current literature on their separate areas of specialty. They explore ramifications for large themes in Southern history and religious history as a result of a recent boom in scholarship on Southern religious history. They also suggest ways in which the current lively interest in Southern religious history might evolve as the insights of recent scholarship suggest new questions for other scholars to ask.
The essays range chronologically from the middle of the eighteenth century to the end of the twentieth, include many excellent insights into women's history, and highlight similarities and differences between white and black religious cultures. The essays as a group remind us how much religious beliefs have influenced the personal lives of individual Southerners and have informed their joint reactions to wars and revolutions, political and social change, and especially relations between the races.
A compilation of valuable and well-crafted scholarly articles, each with its own reading list, Religion in the American South should have a place in every research library that collects in Southern history or culture.—reviewed by Brent Tarter, Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Jennings L. Wagoner Jr. Jefferson and Education. Monticello Monograph Series. Preface by William G. Bowen. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2004. 168 pp. $15.95 (softcover).
The years 1671 and 1776 in American history were nothing alike. During Governor Sir William Berkeley's time, leaders looked to age-old institutions in England to preserve their stratified society and use of power. As author Jennings L. Wagoner Jr. points out, Berkeley wrote in 1671 that "learning has brought disobedience and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them, and libels against the best government. God keep us from both." Like those of Berkeley's generation, Thomas Jefferson received a traditional education at home before his enrollment at the College of William and Mary. Jefferson's thoughts about learning, however, could not have been more different.
Wagoner's excellent analysis reveals a variety of factors behind Jefferson's vision, his secular rationale, and his extraordinary efforts on behalf of his proposed statewide educational system. Aware of Europe's bad examples of "thought control by states or religion," and of Virginia's flawed school design, Jefferson focused on America's future instead of past traditions. As Wagoner astutely observes, Jefferson knew that political theory and educational theory had to be inseparable in order for a post-1776 America to function within its newly established constitutional framework. The new democratic and republican forms of government would survive only if they could depend on an educated, and thus vigilant, population. Freedom had to be preserved in all forms, be it political, religious, or intellectual. As far as Jefferson was concerned, these two intertwined branches of thought would result in and maintain a functional republican-polity.
What made Jefferson's plan for a three-tiered school system so different, according to Wagoner, was his truly modern emphasis on the use of evolving sciences and other useful subjects taught at the highest levels. Also novel was Jefferson's emphasis that each generation would decide on courses in educational matters. Although the establishment of elementary and secondary schools was not difficult, the implementation of Jefferson's university met massive resistance. Wagoner discusses the frustrations Jefferson and his allies experienced over a cash-strapped legislature, apathy of congressmen, fund-raising for the Literary Fund, political agendas, egos, and the snail's pace—all on top of ignorance, malice, and local competition. Jefferson's persistence paid off when his "last hobby" finally received approval in 1818. Jefferson also wished his epitaph to note that he was the Father of the University of Virginia.
Wagoner makes clear that Jefferson was a product of his time and culture. His dream about education was not perfect. In his view, females did not need public education beyond the elementary level, although they could get more education in domestic arts and social graces at home. Native Americans, however, were perceived as intellectual equals. Jefferson made reforms at the Indian School at the College of William and Mary and encouraged Native American education through the federal government. In Jefferson's view, slaves, in contrast, should receive some training and settle in Africa, where they could function as a free and independent people. In spite of these obvious imperfections in Jefferson's ideas about education, Wagoner clearly demonstrates the enduring effects of Jefferson's legacy as the foundation of America's higher education and democracy today. As Jefferson rightly saw it, an educated population would be the preserver of democracy in America.—reviewed by Katharine E. Harbury, Research Fellow, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
William H. Roberts. Now for the Contest: Coastal and Oceanic Naval Operations in the Civil War. Great Campaigns of the Civil War Series. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. xv + 223 pp. $39.95 (hardcover).
It is common knowledge that at the beginning of the Civil War there was a huge disparity between the combatants in terms of material resources and manpower. The South was not without its compensations, among them a well-trained officer corps and an overall strategy of conducting what was essentially a defensive land war, but when the subject turns to naval operations, the discrepancy between the antagonists is probably even greater, with no recompense accruing to the Confederacy except for the fact that the American navy was not an especially formidable force in the spring of 1861.
When the war began, the North inherited, so to speak, the American navy. No mean bequest to be sure, but even so, there were fewer than seventy usable ships ready for action. Although this was cause for concern in the short term, in the long run the region's industrial might promised an almost unlimited potential for waging war that was soon borne out. At its peak, the Union navy claimed more than fifty thousand servicemen and nearly seven hundred ships. By contrast, the South had no legacy, not even one of meager proportions, and in the long run its navy never exceeded five thousand men or began to approach the number of ships flying the Stars and Stripes. The Confederacy had to build a navy from scratch, a predicament that created a sense of urgency to establish a presence on the water. No doubt this was a factor when, in April 1861, Jefferson Davis announced that his administration would issue letters of marque to privateers and permit them to seize commercial ships as prizes. The Confederates soon set about converting merchant ships into raiders.
During the early days of the war, the Northern navy established a policy of economic isolation, blockading seaports, conducting combined ground and sea operations against targets on the Southern coastline, and attacking Southern raiding ships. Unable to out-build or outspend its adversary, the Confederacy attempted during the first year of the war to meet this threat through improvisation, using innovative technology to build what it hoped would be nearly invincible warships. The sunken Merrimack was converted into the ironclad CSS Virginia, and the Davis government quickly approved the construction of three more ironclads in the summer of 1861. To expand production, the Confederates also contracted abroad and arranged to have the raiders CSS Florida and CSS Alabama built in England. Alarmed by news of the ironclads, the North launched an ambitious building program geared toward production of wide-ranging but untested designs. The Virginia's destruction of two United States frigates in Hampton Roads in March 1862 sent the Lincoln administration into a state of panic that quickly turned into euphoria when the ironclad Monitor battled the Virginia to a draw. This success fueled the demand in the North for more iron ships and disarmed those in the government or in the navy who might have raised objections to the haste in which this class of warship was being developed.
The naval theater of war was not confined to the blue water on both sides of the Atlantic and in the Gulf of Mexico. It also included major rivers. The Mississippi in particular was the scene of dramatic clashes between Union gunboats and the improvised flotillas to which the Confederates sometimes resorted. The Rebels became skilled at unconventional warfare, particularly in the use of torpedoes, and on one occasion came up with an ingenious design in which the bomb was shaped like a lump of coal to be smuggled aboard a Union merchant ship. The resulting explosion would be seen as caused by a faulty boiler. In the end, though, such attacks on commerce did not substantially undermine the North's economic capability.
A retired United States Navy commander, William H. Roberts has produced an informed book that reads a little differently than other studies about the Civil War navies. Oceanic operations are broken into three parts: the blockade and defense of Southern ports; the commerce raiders, in which he discusses the twin missions of commerce destruction and protection; and the projection of power ashore. He takes issue with assertions that cast the Civil War as the first "modern war" and argues that the innovations widely regarded as buttressing such a claim were often of a transitory nature. He warns against viewing naval operations in the 1860s from the perspective of twentieth-century wars instead of that of the operations at Vera Cruz during the war with Mexico in the 1840s.
One of the titles in the Great Campaigns of the Civil War series, Now for the Contest is a thoroughly readable and instructive book that provides an informed overview of the strategies and technological innovations employed by both navies in the often-overlooked war on the water.—reviewed by Donald W. Gunter, Assistant Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
William A. Blair. Cities of the Dead: Contesting the Memory of the Civil War in the South, 1865-1914. - Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. xii + 250 pp. $34.95 (hardcover).
An associate professor of history at Pennsylvania State University and author of Virginia's Private War: Feeding Body and Soul in the Confederacy (1998), William A. Blair has produced a worthy exploration of the evolution of Emancipation Day and Memorial Day celebrations in post-Civil War Virginia. He suggests that these public events were political in ways that are not familiar to twenty-first-century readers, in that they were very public, almost in-your-face, statements of belief. They represent power because their success or failure was intertwined with the ability to clear history and rituals "as the official version." Blair states explicitly that this volume is not about the construction of memory, although he builds on the scholarship of Eric Hobsbawm, David Waldstreicher, Mitch Kachun, and David Blight; rather it is about how the past was used. He writes that "these rituals originated and matured in an era when street processions, parades, and various public displays were instrumental both for partisan political activity and for fashioning a new public sphere."
Blair focuses his attention on the public celebrations of Emancipation Day and Decoration Day to examine how Southern leaders, black and white, demonstrated their play for power amid the racism "in shaping the course of reunion and sectional reconciliation." Blair concedes that "while these ceremonies offer the most accurate description of the values of organizers, they do provide windows, however imperfect, into key ideas, concerns, and beliefs of the public they served." Blair concentrates on Virginia as the focus of his study because the high number of dead left in the wake of the Civil War encouraged the early rise of memorial societies and national cemeteries. Nevertheless, he verifies his conclusions about the events in Virginia against newspaper accounts in Louisiana and South Carolina, not only because these two states were battlegrounds during Reconstruction, but also because they represent a large section of the Deep South.
Blair begins his exploration with a brief overview of the street culture and meanings of celebrations before the Civil War. He then explains, in the next three chapters, the evolution of Emancipation Day and Fourth of July celebrations within the African American community during the first years of freedom, the role of Decoration Day for Southern whites, and the role of gender in organizing and developing these public events. These three chapters look at events from 1865 to 1870 to emphasize the overlapping and competing visions of Southern whites and African Americans. Blair views the development of Decoration Day (later Memorial Day) as an example of white resistance to African American freedom celebrations and to the federal presence in the South. Exploring the role of gender in public events, he finds that white women were openly active in organizing memorial associations and cemetery societies, whereas African American women more often provided support to the organizations of African American men. With the end of political Reconstruction and the withdrawal of federal troops, memorialization of the Confederate dead lost much of its political connotation as North and South edged toward reconciliation. Southerners had begun to celebrate the Fourth of July again by 1876, although Blair notes that white Southerners were more concerned "with consolidating home rule than in creating a unified national home." Proceeding to the end of the century in chapter six, Blair chronicles the rise of black uplift and accommodation in the face of increasing political disfranchisement. African American leaders argued for a national Emancipation Day and used commemorations as avenues to encourage black unity and economic freedom. The last chapter traces the final reconciliation of North and South through the establishment of the Confederate section of Arlington National Cemetery and the 1907 national celebration of the founding of Jamestown.
In some ways this is a dense book, reflecting the currents and crosscurrents in Southern society and politics after the Civil War. Blair presents an engaging view of public life and commemorative events that are alien to today's culture. His conclusions should encourage lively discussion about the perception of public events.—reviewed by Barbara C. Batson, Exhibitions Coordinator
Michael Dennis. Luther P. Jackson and a Life for Civil Rights. New Perspectives on the History of the South Series. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004. xiv + 254 pp. $55.00 (hardcover).
Luther Porter Jackson (1892-1950) taught history at Virginia State College from 1922 until his death and for all of that time was an educator and scholar, an activist and reformer, a political realist but yet an optimist. Having grown up and come of age during the worst years of racial segregation and discrimination, he waged multiple simultaneous fights against both, as well as against apathy and ignorance. Jackson published pathbreaking scholarship on African Americans in Virginia, teaching in the process that in spite of slavery and Jim Crow restrictions, black Americans could succeed and be role models for young people. He also organized campaigns to persuade fearful or apathetic blacks to vote, and that at a time when it was neither a safe nor a popular thing to do. Jackson helped lead the Virginia Teachers Association, the professional association of Virginia's black educators, to seek removal of legal barriers to equal pay for black and white teachers, for better schools and textbooks, and for improved educational opportunities for children in the state's segregated schools. He also wrote hundreds of articles in the VTA Bulletin and in the weekly Norfolk Journal and Guide to educate and inspire African Americans in Virginia.
Almost alone among Virginia's college professors, Jackson (who held a doctorate from the University of Chicago) combined teaching, research, writing, and political action in pursuit of the American dream for African Americans. "More than a chronicler of events," Michael Dennis concludes in this important study of his life and work, "Jackson was an author of change in the early civil rights era."
Indeed, the most important fact of Jackson's life and the central theme of the book is that Jackson and teachers and activists like him paved the way for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. They were there first, working for justice long before civil rights got on the national political agenda. Jackson died in 1950 shortly before the national movement coalesced. Had he lived his full threescore years and ten, he would have seen some success in the campaign that he and people like him began. He might have taken particular delight in seeing the issue of legal segregation break down as a consequence of students in African American schools racing ahead of their leaders and demanding change. In a very real way, that was Jackson's legacy. Those who would understand the founders of the civil rights movement in Virginia must understand the life's work of Luther Porter Jackson. Thanks to Michael Dennis's new book, we can.—reviewed by Brent Tarter, Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Peter Wallenstein. Blue Laws and Black Codes: Conflict, Courts, and Change in Twentieth-Century Virginia. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2004. xi + 270 pp. $49.50 (hardcover); $19.50 (softcover).
In Blue Laws and Black Codes: Conflict, Courts, and Change in Twentieth-Century Virginia, Peter Wallenstein explores the interaction between the individual citizen and the judicial system in Virginia through a series of essays spanning the twentieth century. These essays reflect the struggle for equality based on gender, race, religious ideology, and the rights afforded to Virginia citizens.
Of particular interest is the essay discussing the struggle of women to receive the right to practice law and try cases in Virginia. In the essay "These New and Strange Beings: Race, Sex, and the Legal Profession, 1870s-1970s," Wallenstein explores the efforts of several women to gain the right to exercise their profession within Virginia, including the obstacles encountered as the political climate constantly changed, sometimes rejecting the decisions made by previous officeholders. One of the women who fought for the right to practice law in Virginia was Belva Lockwood of Washington, D.C. In 1897 she moved to Richmond, Virginia. A successful lawyer who fought for the right to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States, Lockwood hoped to become one of the first women to be admitted to the bar in Virginia. Despite the wording in the Virginia laws that "any person" might qualify to practice law and despite a reciprocity clause, Lockwood was refused the right to practice in Virginia. She continued to battle for the right to practice law and finally achieved success in 1894, when the state Supreme Court of Appeals, through its interpretation of the law, allowed her to be admitted to the bar. Unfortunately, when Lockwood brought a case before the Supreme Court of Appeals the next year, the new judges appointed by the ruling Democratic Party refused her the right to practice before the court. In 1896 the General Assembly clarified the issue by revising the statute governing the practice of law within Virginia to read "any male citizen." It was not until 1920, when women secured the right to vote through ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, that the General Assembly opened the practice of law to women within the commonwealth.
Other equally fascinating essays in this volume focus on the use of unpaid labor to maintain state roads, Sunday closing laws, interracial marriage, and the civil rights movement, including the lunch counter protests in Richmond, school segregation, and the designation of legislative districts. Each essay is engaging and well-researched and stands on its own.
In this collection, Wallenstein uses the efforts of the individuals in each essay to convey a powerful message: that through education and persistence the individual can shape public policy by using the judicial system. Blue Laws and Black Codes is a powerful book and an excellent resource illustrating the struggles of ordinary citizens and the resounding effects of their strength and perseverance in ensuring equal rights and privileges for all citizens.—reviewed by Laura Drake Davis, State Records Archivist
James L. Morrison Jr. From Rat Pants to Eagles and Tweeds: The Memoirs of a Soldier-Teacher. Kent and London: Kent State University Press, 2004. xi + 251 pp. $34.00 (softcover).
This memoir of an army officer who became a historian offers a good summary of military education during World War II and a subsequent Cold War military career. It offers an even better picture of the way West Pointers once learned history.
James L. Morrison Jr. entered Lexington's Virginia Military Institute, the home of the "rat pants" of the title, in September 1941. Two years later he accepted an appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He left that institution after two years in the academy's technology-driven curriculum. Although Morrison departed because his eyesight disqualified him from receiving a regular navy commission, it was also a relief: he was more interested in literature and history than in science and engineering. He returned to the Virginia Military Institute and majored in liberal arts. Morrison was the ranking cadet and president of his class when he graduated in 1947.
Commissioned as a regular officer in the cavalry, Morrison served a variety of assignments, including tours in Panama and as an instructor at Fort Knox during the Korean conflict. He also served a year-long tour in Vietnam, first at the United States headquarters in Saigon and then as an adviser to a South Vietnamese infantry division. Before that tour, however, Morrison earned a master's degree in history at the University of Virginia and served as an instructor in that subject at West Point. He also entered the doctoral program in history at Columbia University. After his tour in Vietnam, the rest of Morrison's army career was spent teaching cadets history. After he retired from the military in 1971, he taught history at York College in Pennsylvania for seventeen years.His days at West Point illustrate how the military in general and military schools in particular dismissed the liberal arts. West Point did not institute a required American history class until 1969. The academy did not have a history department until 1970; previously, history instruction mainly came under the umbrella of the social sciences department. Career officers who cycled through West Point as instructors often had only master's degrees in their subjects. Some evinced little passion for their subjects. Some of the more permanent teachers held doctorates, but others did not. Officers assigned to the academy often had no formal training in the art of teaching. Morrison had trained troops in earlier assignments, an experience he credits with helping him better teach at the academy.
Senior officers often spent more time reviewing the lesson plans and potential examinations of their subordinates than they did teaching cadets history. In a competitive service in which academic records followed cadets for the rest of their army careers, instructors delivered the same lectures and administered the same tests to all sections. That way, the grades that resulted accurately reflected the ranking of a class from top to bottom. Still, some officers assigned to the academy thought history important, and turks young and old steered the academy toward historical modernization and pushed for a department dedicated to the discipline. The impressive list of historians who served reserve commitments by teaching history on the Hudson also points toward quality instruction.
That said, Morrison and others may have fought an important battle to an uneasy truce. A vague discomfort with the liberal arts remains prevalent in the military. Many years after Morrison graduated from the Virginia Military Institute, Scott Shipp Hall, the building that housed the classrooms for the liberal arts, was known as the DMZ, the military acronym for demilitarized zone. The campaign continues. Morrison quotes a chief of naval operations, the ranking American navy officer, speaking to midshipmen at Annapolis in the 1980s: "Without technical knowledge, you will always be a wallflower in the ballroom of progress." Without the liberal arts, midshipmen, cadets, and students of the future will have little to say in that ballroom, and perhaps will say it so poorly that they will not be understood. Dance on.—reviewed by G. W. Poindexter, once a cadet, and now a Research Fellow, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Sara B. Bearss is senior editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, published by the Library of Virginia.