Union generals Grant and Sherman shared a similar background of failure and frustration, though at the beginning of the War Between the States, GrantUnion generals Grant and Sherman shared a similar background of failure and frustration, though at the beginning of the War Between the States, Grant was probably the bigger failure of the two. Both men were very dependent upon their families for support of one sort or another, be it as simple as Grant working in his father's leather shop or a bit more complicated like Sherman benefitting from the political influence of his politically-connected family.
Just four years later, the pair was largely credited with winning the war and preserving the Union. They would go on to worldwide and national fame, something they could hardly have imagined possible in 1860 when the coming war was still brewing. Grant, of course, would become president of the United States (although his presidency is seen as somewhat of a failure due to the scandals occurring during his years in office), and Sherman would become head of the U.S. Army and would remain a soldier for almost five decades before finally retiring on his 64th birthday.
Theirs was a special bond, one that involved true friendship and a melding of two very different military minds into one mindset that overwhelmed all the resistance that Robert E. Lee and the rest of the South could throw at them. They were exactly what the Union needed and they came along at precisely the right moment to save that Union. "Grant and Sherman" tells their story in just over 400 pages; it's a story well worth considering....more
I'm reading a 1952 first edition copy of this book (third time I've read it since acquiring this copy in the early '80s) and I love the feel of readinI'm reading a 1952 first edition copy of this book (third time I've read it since acquiring this copy in the early '80s) and I love the feel of reading something sixty years old in its original version. That just seems to place the whole thing in its proper context, for some reason.
"Shiloh: A Novel" tells the story of that terrible Civil War Battle through the eyes of several soldiers on both sides of the line beginning and ending with Lieutenant Palmer Metcalfe, an aide to Albert Sydney Johnston. Foote switches from one point-of-view to the next as distinctive and important phases of the battle itself begin and end. The result is that the reader comes away with a clear understanding of what went right and what went wrong for both sides during the two-day fight that further solidified the reputation of Grant - and cost Johnston his life.
Readers of Civil War fiction will also note that this little 222-page novel serves as a technical blueprint for Michael Shaara's further groundbreaking novel of 1974, "Gettysburg," in which Shaara used much the same structure. And, of course, Michael's son, Jeff, along with other writers has further expanded on this type novel to make it a relatively common style of Civil War fiction today.
But "Shiloh" was out there ahead of them showing the way and this splendid little novel should not be missed....more
"Travels to Hallowed Ground" is a nice combination of Civil War history-lesson and the personal recollections of Emory M. Thomas about his visits to s"Travels to Hallowed Ground" is a nice combination of Civil War history-lesson and the personal recollections of Emory M. Thomas about his visits to several battlefields and sites in the mid-eighties. I was a bit surprised to see that someone as well-versed in Civil War history as Mr. Thomas was found it almost as difficult as I did to locate points on some of the battlefields that were not part of the main "driving tour." I enjoyed reading the author's personal thoughts as much as his recaps of what happened at the places he visited, as it gave the history a "personalized" feel. Too, one has to remember that this book was published in 1987, some 27 years ago, and some of what Thomas describes of his trips probably no longer exists...even though, he was already lamenting, in some cases, the commercial buildup around some of the places he visited. I particularly enjoyed the last chapter of the book, "Peace at Bennett Place," because I knew considerably less of this site than the others described in the book. Now, I have "the Bennet Place" on my places to visit next time I find myself anywhere around North Carolina....more
Although the 37 essays sometimes contradict each other, "How to Lose the Civil War" is an effective collection of thoughts on Civil War battles, generAlthough the 37 essays sometimes contradict each other, "How to Lose the Civil War" is an effective collection of thoughts on Civil War battles, generals, politicians, and wartime economies that will provide plenty for the average reader to ponder. There are also more than a few glaring editorial failures on the part of the book's editor, Bill Fawcett, that should have been caught and corrected before "How to Lose the Civil War" went to print...such as placing Hagerstown in Pennsylvania rather than in Maryland as one essayist managed to do.
Readers seeking a general understanding of the war from this book will get considerably more than that from it. The book should lead the curious reader along several research tracks of his own, and this is probably it's biggest contribution to amateur historians everywhere. There is plenty to argue about in this book...and about...this book....more
In the late 1850s, abolitionist John Brown hit the state of Kansas like a tornado. Pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions were already at each other's In the late 1850s, abolitionist John Brown hit the state of Kansas like a tornado. Pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions were already at each other's throats by the time Brown arrived to avenge the sacking of Lawrence by a pro-slavery mob, but soon his name would strike fear and loathing into the hearts of the state's pro-slavers. His story does not easily lend itself to comedy, but much of The Good Lord Bird, James McBride's fictional account of Brown's attempt to start an armed slave rebellion in the South, is as funny as it is serious.
Told through eyes of Henry Shackleford, a little slave boy whom Brown mistakes for a girl, the novel offers a factually accurate portrayal of Brown's deeds and end that is somewhat distorted by the innocence of its narrator. Because Henry (who pretends to be "Henrietta" for almost the entirety of the book) is telling the story, all the characters, when they speak, do so in the vernacular and tone of a little black boy who has lived his entire life within the confines of one tiny Kansas community. Admittedly, the conversations can be a little jarring at times but they are a constant reminder that everything is being filtered through the eyes of a child.
James McBride is a master of characterization and the beauty of The Good Lord Bird comes from the distinct personalities he creates for Brown, several of his sons and one of his daughters (Brown fathered 22 children by two wives), Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, and so many of the fictional characters with whom they interact. McBride's approach, as is generally the case with the best historical fiction, is a vivid reminder that history is more than facts and dates. It is about real people who had the same hopes and dreams that motivate people today, and seldom was their story as black and white as it appears in history books.
By story's end, a rather beautiful bond has developed between John Brown and his "little Onion," and their relationship is one that readers will long remember. The child grows close to a slow-witted son of Brown's, falls in love (still disguised as a girl child) with one of Brown's daughters, is awed by the persona of Harriet Tubman, and forms a rather disparaging opinion of Frederick Douglas whom he/she sees as more politician than activist. Almost lost in the story is the tragic end that Brown inflicts upon himself, members of his family, and others who believe as he does.
Bottom Line: The Good Lord Bird is an excellent piece of historical fiction that revisits one of the key events and periods in American history. Readers will, I think, find it helpful to remind themselves of the key elements of John Brown's history beforehand as it adds a certain amount of tension to the book's reading. ...more
The common perception of Abraham Lincoln is that he was a man whose lifelong, deeply held Christian faith gave him the courage to prosecute a long andThe common perception of Abraham Lincoln is that he was a man whose lifelong, deeply held Christian faith gave him the courage to prosecute a long and bloody war to right one of mankind’s greatest wrongs: slavery. The facts, however, tell a different story about Lincoln’s long journey, a journey that, although it ultimately may have arrived at the same destination, involved numerous sidetracks and obstacles along the way.
As Stephen Mansfield notes in Lincoln’s Battle with God (A President’s Struggle with Faith and What It Meant for America):
“He was a complicated soul, an innovative mind, and an oppressed spirit. He was raw and earthy and poetic. He could be ambitious and enraged and cold… We can hope to understand. Yet never can we confine him; never can we seek to make him conform.”
Abraham Lincoln is, after all, a man who sporadically attended church services but never officially joined a church. During his presidency, he often spoke of God and made Biblical references in his public addresses, but almost never mentioned Jesus Christ directly. Many of the people of New Salem, Illinois, those who knew Lincoln longest and best, remained skeptical about his supposed Christian faith right up to the moment of his death. And because Lincoln was such a vocal anti-Christianity advocate when they knew him, who can blame them?
Lincoln simply could not keep his personal convictions private – he never missed an opportunity to ridicule a preacher or to express his religious doubts (privately or publicly) to the more pious of his acquaintances. Citing an old Winston Churchill saying that, “a fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject,” Mansfield stresses just how obsessed Lincoln was about debunking organized religion. His resulting anti-religion reputation cost Lincoln many a vote during his political life when preachers specifically asked their congregations to vote for his political opponents.
But Lincoln was a tortured soul from the beginning, and his journey would be a long one. His mother died when he was nine years old, leaving the boy in the care (if you can call it that) of a wandering, but demanding father who saw his son more as slave labor than as a member of his family. And it did not help that Mr. Lincoln was a Christian of the most hypocritical sort, helping to nip the boy’s budding faith in the bud.
Through the years, Lincoln would lose others close to him, including two young sons, and would suffer from regular (and sometimes near suicidal) bouts with depression. And just when America was most severely tested, Lincoln was forced by his incompetent Generals to redefine the presidential role of Commander-in-Chief, a role for which he was not prepared. By war’s end, Lincoln had come to believe that God was playing a direct role in what was happening on the battlefield, that the country must pay a heavy price for its past sins before God would allow the killing to stop. Although his evolutionary religious journey, almost complete, was cut short by an assassin’s bullet, the man who died in Washington was far different from the one who lived in Illinois.
Lincoln’s Battle with God is an eye-opener, particularly as regards Lincoln’s days in New Salem - a reminder that the real Abraham Lincoln is no less amazing a man than the mythical one. ...more
Kiana Davenport’s The Spy Lover is a Civil War novel with a twist. What makes this one different is its focus on the wartime contributions of Johnny TKiana Davenport’s The Spy Lover is a Civil War novel with a twist. What makes this one different is its focus on the wartime contributions of Johnny Tom, a Chinese immigrant, and Era, his copper-skinned daughter. It is common knowledge that a large number of immigrants participated in the American Civil War, but amateur historians generally think of countries like Ireland, Germany, England, and Scotland as their countries of origin. Few would ever consider China in this context.
Johnny Tom did not have an easy time of it after being snatched from his homeland and forced to work on the construction of America’s first intercontinental railroad. Indeed, he was lucky to survive the experience and make his escape from the railroad work gang to start a new life for himself in a tiny Mississippi village. Years later, Johnny’s world is ripped apart again when he is forcibly separated from his wife and daughter and conscripted into the Confederate Army. But, in the confusion of battle – and all the while praying that his family is still alive - Johnny defects to the Union Army in hopes of winning American citizenship.
Despising the Confederacy as much as her father despises it, Era agrees to work as a Confederate camp nurse in order to gather information she can trade to Union generals for word of her father. Although the information is surprisingly easy to get, the process grows complicated when Era falls in love with a one-armed Confederate cavalryman she nurses back to health.
The Spy Lover pulls no punches. War is brutal and ugly, and the American Civil War was most certainly no exception to the rule despite the romantic connotations so often attached to it. Davenport, in one graphic scene after the other, describes the horrors of the surgeon’s tent, recovery wards, battlefields, and life on the Southern home-front. She explores the impact of slavery on not only the slaves, but on the character and psyche of their owners. She recounts the rampant racism that existed in all parts of the United States during a period in which immigrants from around the world often fought each other for a limited number of jobs. The sheer ugliness of the picture she paints is a vivid reminder that the “good old days” are not necessarily good for everyone who lives them.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will point out that, even though I have read Civil War history and fiction for more than four decades, I still tend to see the conflict through Southern eyes. That tendency, however, is only part of the reason I find some of the author’s characterization of Southern culture and soldiers to be more stereotypical than realistic. For example, every slave-owner in the book resembles Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Simon Legree. These men delight in beating even the children of their slaves almost to death at the least slight or offense. Even more surrealistic is the author’s contention that, toward the end of the war, Southern troops - much in the manner of Chinese soldiers of the Korean War – commonly got high on chunks of opium called “bull’s eyes” before marching into battle. But, despite opium and morphine being more available to Union doctors, not once do I recall a similar reference to Union troops using the drug for that purpose.
I point this out because the message of The Spy Lover would have been more effectively delivered via a realistic, and even-handed, approach to the two sides doing battle. As it is, the novel requires a suspension of disbelief from me that somewhat lessens its impact. That said, The Spy Lover will not be soon forgotten by those who read it, and more casual fans of Civil War fiction are likely to enjoy it very much.
A Blaze of Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Shiloh begins the new Jeff Shaara trilogy focusing on events of the Civil War’s Western Theater. As fans ofA Blaze of Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Shiloh begins the new Jeff Shaara trilogy focusing on events of the Civil War’s Western Theater. As fans of Shaara’s The Last Full Measure and his father’s The Killer Angels will attest, his return to the Civil War era is a welcome one. I was particularly pleased to see that the new series begins with the Battle of Shiloh because of the number of hours I have spent walking that particular battlefield site over the years. A Blaze of Glory leaves me with a better understanding of what happened during those two critical days in 1862 and, just as importantly, what might have happened if either army had been better prepared for the fight. (My interest probably stems from the fact that my great-great grandfather was a member of the 18th Louisiana Infantry Brigade that suffered a forty percent casualty rate on the battle’s first day – him not among them.)
Shaara, as in his past historical novels, uses a range of characters (some real, some fictional) to tell his story. This allows the author to offer insights into the personalities, motivations, jealousies, fears, doubts, and dreams that were carried to the field by all those soldiers on April 6-7, 1862. All told, more than 100,000 men fought on this relatively small patch of ground and almost 24,000 of them are counted as casualties of Shiloh (although less than 4,000 actual deaths are included in the total). The battle’s rotating points-of-view include those of Generals Grant, Sherman, Johnston, and Beauregard, along with those of a few lower-ranking officers and enlisted men.
Caught by surprise at dawn on the first day of the battle, Union troops, as dusk approaches, have been driven as far as they can go without drowning themselves in the rain-swollen Tennessee River. Unfortunately for the Confederacy, General Albert Sidney Johnston is dead (having bled to death from a leg wound he barely seemed to notice at the time) and has been replaced by his second-in-command, the more cautious General P.T.G. Beauregard. The battle will turn on Beauregard’s decision to rest and reorganize his men for what he sees as a certain Union surrender requiring only a last surge on his part the next morning. But the next morning, the reinforced Union army attacks first and the Confederates are the ones forced to concede the field to a victorious army.
One must remember, of course, that A Blaze of Glory is historical fiction and that Shaara uses the genre to speculate his way inside the heads of some of American history’s key players. His books, however, are not some alternate history version of America’s past. Shaara does not change historical facts. Rather, he uses his research and insight into the human condition to explain why things happened as they did. Naturally, his speculation and interpretation of events can be disputed, but without a doubt, he has humanized the Civil War in a way that even the best history books are unable to match. Shaara’s painless history lessons are so exciting that many of his readers will, I am certain, be compelled to pick up “real” history books for the first times in their lives....more