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Sweetsmoke by David Fuller

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This weekend I finished David Fuller’s novel, Sweetsmoke, which I first mentioned on WigWags here.

sweetsmoke

A work of fiction can be judged by many criteria. My approach is pretty simple.

  1. Did it keep my interest past page five?
  2. Did I find myself wanting to set other pressing activities aside to return to the story?
  3. Did the characters grab me?
  4. Was the writing such that I could see what the characters see?
  5. If a mystery, did it keep me guessing?
  6. Did I learn something?
  7. Was I a bit blue the day after I finished it because — I didn’t want to be finished?
  8. Would I recommend it to family, friend, or colleague?

Here is my run down on Sweetsmoke. The numbered answers below correlate, of course, to the aforementioned questions above.

  1. By the time I thought about whether the story had held my interest past page five, I’d just finished Chapter 5. Enough said on that one.
  2. My finances remain in a growing “to do” pile.
  3. The protagonist, Cassius Howard, was entirely satisfying as the central player in the story. I found particularly intriguing his relationship with his owner, Hoke Howard. And what a fresh idea to make the “sleuth” of the murder mystery that is the undercurrent of the story, a plantation slave.
  4. I found Mr. Fuller’s descriptive writing excellent. His recounting of the Battle of Antietam (see Antietam National Battleground link here), was shockingly realistic and worth the price of the book alone. He is a master of “showing,” not telling. Well done.
  5. The mystery’s twists and turns definitely kept me guessing. I won’t reveal anything here…
  6. While I was familiar with the history, Mr. Fuller’s description of plantation life from the slave’s perspective was insightful. Many readers will benefit from the historical aspects of the book.
  7. I am completely miffed that I don’t get to continue the story this evening.
  8. I just this minute loaned my copy to my sister to read on her vacation. She and her daughter will likely fight over it. Vacation reading is sacred. Only the best.

The Bloody Lane, Antietam Battlefield. Photo: National Park Service

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And so…The American Civil War

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We haFor the Common Defenseve arrived in “Studies in U.S. Military History” (see course information here) at the American Civil War. We’ll spend two weeks on this war, more than any other. Millett and Maslowski’s For the Common Defense splits the war into two periods: chapter six, 1861 – 1862 and chapter seIdeas, Organization, and Field Command (Midland Book)ven, 1863-1865. It is chock full of interesting statistics, enough to begin to fill a “page” on the blog where I can keep them handy. And so, yet another new page: the statistics.

Next, a book I’ve already done a little reading in but am very much looking forward to, Edward Hagerman’s The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command. This does not strike me as a fast read which is fine. I’m glad we can give it a solid two weeks.

And so a few statistics from Millett and Maslowski – always fascinating for this student of mathematics and engineering.

  • 1861 White Male Population: North – 20 million; South – 6 million
  • 800,000 immigrants arrived in the North, betwee 1861 adn 1865, including a high proportion of males liable for military service
  • 20 – 25 percent of the Union Army was foreign-born
  • 2 million men served in the Union Army
  • 750,000 men fought in the Confederate Army which was a maximum strenght in late 1863 with 464,500
  • Not all of these men on either side were “present for duty.” Out of the 464,500 Confederates, only 233,500 were “present for duty.”
  • Taxation produced less than 5% of the Confederacy’s income. It produced 21% of Union government income.
  • The Confederacy printed $1.5 billion in paper money, the Union $450 million in “greenbacks.”
  • In 1860, the nothern states had 110,000 manufacturing establishments, the southern states, 18,000.
  • During the year ending June 1, 1860, the states forming the Confederacy produced 36,790 tons of pig iron. The state of Pennsylvania alone produced 580,049 tons.
  • The South contained 9,000 miles of railroad track to the North’s 30,000 miles.
  • 100,000 Southern Unionists fought for the North with every Confederate state except South Carolina providing at least a battalion of white soldiers for the Union Army. Millett and Maslowski call these the “missing” Southern Army and “a crucial element in the ultimate Confederate defeat.

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Source: Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 163-167.