Book Review: Two Brothers, One North, One South

Jones, David H. Two Brothers, One North, One South. Encino, CA: Staghorn Press, 2008. 320pp, ISBN 13: 978-0-9796898-5-7, $24.95.

two-brothersIn his historical novel, David H. Jones tells the story of the the Prentiss brothers, William and Clifton, who fight on opposite sides of the American Civil War. The primary narrator is era poet, Walt Whitman, who befriends a dying William in the military hospital at the close of the war. In the young Confederate’s final days, he recounts to Mr. Whitman his experiences which Whitman, in turn, finds opportunity to share with brother Clifton, a Union officer, who lies wounded in the same hospital. They are joined by family members who collect around Clifton following William’s death.

The story tells of young Southern men dashing off to join the fight and courageous Southern women who persuade politicos to contribute arms and supplies to Southern recruits and who even become blockade runners to ensure that those supplies reach the troops.  We are witness to a number of key battles of the war, introduced to the weapons used, and generally educated about what it would have been like to serve in, primarily, the Confederate ranks. There is significantly less information provided through the storyline about the war experiences of brother Clifton and the Northern perspective.

What is unique about the novel is that the brothers featured were real and many will find the facts surrounding their lives, so carefully researched, intriguing. The presentation of the novel is also stylistically unique in that it is written using the formal language of the era.

I had the sense in reading Two Brothers that Jones struggled to nail down the book’s genre as he set about writing it. The work often resembles non-fiction with much “telling” of history rather than the “showing” of character-driven action and drama that makes for good fiction. While the “telling” made for interesting history, as a piece of fiction, the book was less than satisfying. That said, Civil War buffs will enjoy the military aspects of the book which are well researched.

Acquisition: An Army At Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942 – 1943 Plus…

Just a note that I’ve picked up a copy of An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 by Rick Atkinson. This book, the first in his Liberation Trilogy, won the Pulitzer Prize. I was quite impressed by Mr. Atkinson’s book, Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, which I reviewed here.

anarmyatdawn

Paperback: 768 pages
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Revised edition (May 15, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0805087249
ISBN-13: 978-0805087246

I also purchased the second book in the trilogy, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, which many reviewers have indicated surpasses the first.

the-day-of-battle

Paperback: 848 pages
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 16, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 080508861X
ISBN-13: 978-0805088618

Even better, I’ve discovered that most of Mr. Atkinson’s books are available in audio format free from my local public library and so they will be on my MP3. Sweet!

Fantastic Site – George Mason's Center for History and New Media

Today I discovered a remarkable site, George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media which you can access here. It’s really about exploring history using digital media. It has three broad sections.

  1. Teaching + Learning
  2. Research + Tools
  3. Collecting + Exhibiting

Not only do I like the site’s premise but it makes available some outstanding tools including Zotero which I downloaded and began using today. It is an extension to Firefox designed “to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources.” It was very easy to install and is free.

chnm

Another find linked to the site is the “Papers of the War Department 1784-1800.”

On the night of November 8, 1800, fire devastated the United States War Office, consuming the papers, records, and books stored there. Two weeks later, Secretary of War Samuel Dexter lamented in a letter that “All the papers in my office [have] been destroyed.” For the past two centuries, the official records of the War Department effectively began with Dexter’s letter. Papers of the War Department 1784-1800, an innovative digital editorial project, will change that by making some 55,000 long lost documents of the early War Department available online to scholars, students, and the general public. By providing free and open access to these previously unavailable documents, Papers of the War Department 1784-1800 will offer a unique window into a time when there was no law beyond the Constitution, when the federal government hardly existed outside of the Army and Navy, and when a new nation struggled to define itself at home and abroad.

papers-of-the-war-dept

The CHNM site is well worth a visit and some serious exploration for historians and students alike.  I’ll be adding to my links. Highly Recommend.

American Rifle, A Biography

Under the guise of a Christmas gift for my husband, I have acquired a copy of Alexander Rose’s new book, American Rifle, A Biography. I have reluctantly agreed with him that he should thus have the opportunity to read it first.

Alex has been getting some outstanding reviews including one from the Washington Post which you can read here. You can catch up on more reviews over at Alex’s blog here.

americanrifle

Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press (October 21, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0553805177
ISBN-13: 978-0553805178
Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches

Lincoln and His Admirals

I’m very pleased to have received a review copy yesterday of Lincoln and His Admirals by Craig L. Symonds from the terrific folks over at Oxford University Press. You can view the book’s listing at OUP here. Being a student of both the American Civil War AND maritime history, I can’t think of a better read. I’m reserving this one for the Christmas holiday. This will also be my first introduction to the work of Craig L. Symonds. More to come on my review.

517zblrtvyl_sl210_

Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 17, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0195310225
ISBN-13: 978-0195310221
Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches

On Slavery – 8: The "Peculiar Institution"

I believe the use of the phrase “peculiar institution” was intended to convey the highly contradictory nature of the practice of human ownership in a country based on equality and freedom. Regardless of what perspective one might have of slavery in America, it is difficult to argue against the fact that these contradictions existed. Historian Kenneth Stampp’s chapter titled “Between Two Cultures,” in his book, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South, provides several compelling examples.

slavefamily

1. American culture was heavily influenced by religion and yet the South used that religion to justify slavery.

2. Morality of the day frowned on fornication and yet the laws of the day prohibited slaves from legally marrying, thus not only condoning but also encouraging slaves to live out-of-wedlock. Slave owners preached “virtue and decency…” but then wondered why there was widespread sexual promiscuity. Add to this the “hypocrisy in white criticism of their moral laxity” when masters used their slaves “to satisfy an immediate sexual urge.”

3. Rape of a white woman by a slave was punishable by death but “no such offense against a slave woman was recognized in law.”

4. The family was critically important to white culture but the “peculiar institution” condoned the intentional undermining of normal family structures among bondsmen because it best suited their owner’s economic goals as well as furthering command and control of laborers. “The family had no great importance as an economic unit.” And the Protestant South was highly tolerant of slave owners who separated spouses and families.

5. Stampp points out that “the enterprising, individualistic, freedom-loving, self-made man” attained the greatest respectability in white society of the 19th century. And yet slaves were given no opportunity to even hope to aspire to this level of respectability.

6. Rather than a society based on equality, the South developed a highly stratified caste system.

And so I contend that embracing slavery left the South at odds with itself, the North, and much of the rest of the world. And yet embrace it, it did. Use of the phrase “peculiar institution” instead of “slavery” was yet another way in which the South struggled to reconcile the irreconcilable.

Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South.

On Slavery – 7 Slavemongering

slaveblock
Green Hill Plantation, Slave Auction Block, State Route 728, Long Island vicinity, Campbell County, VA Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Many words lose their relevance and thus usage over time. Fortunately, slavemongering, is among them.

A monger is defined as a dealer or trader. To monger is to promote or deal in something specified. It is generally used in a composition. Thus a costermonger is an itinerant fruit-seller, a fellmonger is a dealer in skins, a fishmonger peddles fish, and an ironmonger is a dealer in iron goods.

the-sale
The Sale, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Walter William Skeat’s An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, suggests as possible source of the word.

monger, mangere a dealer merchant formed with suffix ere from mang ian – to traffic barter gain by trading.
The relationship to the Lat[in] mango, a dealer in slaves, is not clear but the [English] word does not appear to have been borrowed from it. [1]

Slaves were “inseparable from any species of private property” and since “titles to slaves were transferable,” their owners had the power of conveyance. [2] Thus the legality of slavemongering, or the trafficking of slaves, was firmly established in the Antebellum South.

Slave owners seemed somewhat ambivalent to the idea of slavemongering. Some despised the idea but took advantage of it non-the-less. Thus one who found the sale of a bondsman distasteful or even bordering on amoral, could unburden themselves of their human property using a professional.

franklin_armfield-office
The Offices of Franklin Armfield, Alexandria, Virginia

Franklin & Armfield had the distinction of being the the largest slave-trading enterprise in the South at least during the period prior to the Panic of 1837. Formed in 1828, its principles were John Armfield and Isaac Franklin. They each “accumulated fortunes in excess of a half million dollars” before retiring. [2]

nbf-cropped
Nathan B. Forrest

Hundreds of small entrepreneurs engaged in slave trade but only a few made large sums of money. Among these few was Nathan Bedford Forrest who “was the largest slave trader in Memphis during the late 1850’s; he was reputed to have made a profit of $96,000 in a single year.” [2]

[1] Walter William Skeat, An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, accessed on the internet via Google Books, November 22, 2008 here.

[2] Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South.

History Blog "Cliopatria Award" Nominations Due by 11/30!

clioawards2008

OK history buffs… George Mason University’s History News Network does its bit to encourage history bloggers with its annual Cliopatria Awards, but it needs nominations from readers like you. Intended to “recognize the best history writing in the blogosphere,” nominated history blogs will be considered for six award categories:

“Bloggers, blogs and posts may be nominated in multiple categories. Individuals may nominate any number of specific blogs, bloggers or posts, even in a single category, as long as the nominations include all the necessary information (names, titles, URLs, etc).

Nominations will be open through November; judges will make the final determinations in December. The winners will be announced at the American Historical Association Annual Meeting in early January 2009; winners will be listed on HNN and earn the right to display the Cliopatria Awards Logo on their blog.”

Now get out there and nominate aggressively! Click here for nomination information.

2008 National Book Award Winner: The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

Congratulations to Annette Gordon-Reed for winning the 2008 National Book Award for non-fiction.

Annette Gordon-Reed Annette Gordon-Reed's The Hemingses of Monticello
The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family
W.W. Norton & Company

CITATION

“In the mesmerizing narrative of Annette Gordon-Reed’s American family saga, one feels the steady accretion of convincing argument: Her book is at once a painstaking history of slavery, an unflinching gaze at the ways it has defined us, and a humane exploration of lives—grand and humble—that “our peculiar institution” conjoined. This is more than the story of Thomas Jefferson and his house slave Sally Hemings; it is a deeply moral and keenly intelligent probe of the harsh yet all-too-human world they inhabited and the bloodline they share.”

Link Updates

Over the weekend, I added quite a few links to the right navbar which I use to keep myself organized. Here’s a quick run down of several of the new adds. There’s a theme in here somewhere….

  • Links to all state historical societies
  • The Historical Maritime Society
  • Smith’s Master Index to Maritime Museums (WOW!)
  • Portsmouth Historic Dockyards (GO if you get a chance!)
  • Five excellent new links to sites related to slavery filed under “Slavery Links”

slavery-links

Abraham Lincoln: A Presidential Life

alaplYesterday, I was pleased to receive a review copy of James M. McPherson’s upcoming release, Abraham Lincoln: A Presidential Life from Oxford University Press. It is scheduled to be released on the date marking the 200th year since Lincoln’s birth. While I’ve yet to complete it, I was impressed by Dr. McPherson’s candor in the introduction about his own shift in opinion about Lincoln and his presidency. While initially critical of Lincoln, not unlike the abolitionists of the era of his presidency, McPherson’s years of study brought new appreciation for Lincoln’s skills as an adroit commander-in-chief tasked with challenges of incredible complexity.

Hardcover: 96 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (February 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0195374525
ISBN-13: 978-0195374520
Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 0.7 inches

On Slavery – 6 Chattels Personal

Kenneth Stampp’s chapter “Chattels Personal” is excellent. I suspect that “chattel” is not a word most of us learn unless we study law or Antebellum American history in depth. Its meaning in the context of slavery is, of course, that person’s slaves were consider legally as “chattel personal.”

slave-clapboard
Source: Library of Congress Reproduction # LC-DIG-cwpb-01005

Being a person quite taken with words, I did a little research on the origins of this one and found it informative. Interestingly, a search for the etymology of the word found some disagreement. The following perspective comes from French: A Linguistic Introduction.

“Chattel comes from the French noun cheptel used to designate all movable property, but now is restricted to ‘livestock’. English has gone a step further: cattle used to designate any movable property, then all livestock, and now is generally restricted to bovines. English also has the word chattel, legally any type of movable property, but more specifically in modern usage, it refers to slaves. All of these terms are ultimately derived from the Latin word capitalis, which has been reintroduced in modern financial vocabulary, e.g. capital campaign in fundraising. This term, in turn, is derived from the Latin word caput, ‘head’ (French chef), with the result that ‘head of cattle’, our original example, ultimately is a ‘head of things with heads’!” [1]

This from A New Law Dictionary and Glossary

“…the singular chattel seems to be immediately formed from the Fr. chatelle, or chatel, (q.v.); the plural chattels, (or, as it was formerly written, catals,) is supposed to be derived from the L. Lat., catalla, the ch being pronounced hard, as in the word charta, which is evident from the form of the old Norman plural, cateux, (q.v.). As to any further derivation, catalla or catalia is clearly shown by Spelman to be merely a contracted form of writing capitalia, which with the singular capitale, or captale, occurs frequently in the Saxon and early English laws. The primary meaning of capitalia was animals, beasts of husbandry, (otherwise call averia, q.v.) or cattle; in which last word it is still identically retained.

Capitalia is derived by Spelman from capita, heads; a term still popularly applied to beasts, as “so many “heads of cattle.” When the word took the form catalla, it continued to retain this primary meaning, but gradually acquired the secondary sense of movables of any kind, inanimate as well as animate, and finally became used to signify interests in lands.”

CHATTELS PERSONAL, otherwise called THINGS PERSONAL, comprise all sorts of things movable, as good, plate, money, jewels, implements of war, garments, animals and vegetable productions; as the frit or other part of a plant, when severed from the body of it, or the whole plant itself, when severed from th ground. Besides things moveable, they include also certain incorporeal rights or interestes, growing out of, or incident to them, such as patent rights and copyrights…” [2]

——

[1] French: A Linguistic Introduction
By Zsuzsanna Fagyal, Douglas Kibbee, Fred Jenkins
Published by Cambridge University Press, 2006
ISBN 0521821444, 9780521821445
337 pages (pp. 154-155), Accessed online, November 16, 2008, http://books.google.com/books?id=4yTA6SvGuekC&pg=PP1&dq=French:+A+Linguistic+Introduction#PPA154,M1

[2] A New Law Dictionary and Glossary
By Alexander M. Burrill
Published by The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., 1998
ISBN 1886363323, 9781886363328
1099 pages (pp. 207-208), Accessed online, November 16, 2008, http://books.google.com/books?id=DeQYXYMBtwgC&printsec=frontcover&dq=etemology+of+the+word+chattel#PPA208,M1

Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South.

On Slavery – 5 Escaping

Original photo Library of Congress. LC-B8171-518″]escaping-slaves

Historian Kenneth Stampp makes an interesting point about differing locations of slaves determining the destination of escapees. Those living near Indians might, for example, seek refuge with local tribes, as was the case in Florida.

“…Florida slaves escaped to the Seminole Indians, aided them in their wars against the whites, and accompanied them when they moved to the West. At Key West, in 1858, a dozen slaves stole a small boat and successfully navigated it to freedom in the Bahamas. Arkansas runaways often tried to make their way to the Indian country.” (Stampp, 120)

Those nearer to the north often choose to escape to the north where there was a greater presence of abolitionists.

Those in Texas would escape in larger numbers to Mexico.

“In Mexico the fugitives generally were welcomed and protected and in some cases sympathetic peons guided them in their flight.” (Stampp, 120)

Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South

On Slavery – 4

 Cotton Harvest, U.S. South,1850s
Cotton Harvest, U.S. South,1850s Reference BLAKE4, as shown on www.slaveryimages.org, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

The experience of slaves could vary by region due in large part to the type of product the slave was engaged in bringing to market. Slaves in the hemp producing regions of Kentucky and Missouri, worked in rhythm with the cycles required by the crop. Similarly, slaves who worked in cotton producing areas (above) or regions in which tobacco was cultivated, would have had daily and seasonal work routines aligned with those crops. Regional weather would also have differentiated the experience of slaves in different parts of the south.

Slaves rented out to work in industrial areas with factories would have had a decidedly different experience than those working on a plantation. Author Kenneth Stampp suggests that factory slaves enjoyed more freedom and yet an equal if not higher incidence of overwork. The daily experience of slaves living in urban centers would have been decidedly different than rural slaves. Domestic assignments were not uncommon.

On Slavery – 3

[This post continues the series On Slavery (1 here and 2 here).]

missourislavewhipping
"Flogging the Negro" (Cropped) Full Image Reference NW0213, as shown on www.slaveryimages.org, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

Kenneth Stampp in his book, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South, suggests that some owners of slaves were conflicted about the need to apply punishment in the control of slaves and yet most felt fully justified in imposing that control. He sites on numerous occasions the willingness of owners to overlook the cruelty of overseers if they met or exceeded production goals. This head-in-the-sand approach to ethics undoubtedly had many causes but the most obvious was greed.

Owners also considered their slaves to have a “duty” to their master by virtue of the fact that they were, after all, his property and that the master provided and cared for them. But the most prevalent justification for imposing control on the slaves was to achieve maximum production from them as a labor force. Poor performers, for whatever reason, were seen as impacting the bottom-line.