Thursday, July 23, 2015

News---Harpers Ferry Fire Across From Current Railroad/Metro Station; Shops Burned

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HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. (AP) — A fire has devastated the commercial area in the historic town of Harpers Ferry, destroying some buildings that were constructed in the 1800s.
Harpers Ferry Mayor Gregory Vaughn said the early morning fire Thursday destroyed seven to eight businesses housed in one building. An adjacent restaurant sustained substantial damage. No one was injured. The cause hasn't been determined.
The commercial area is adjacent to Harpers Ferry National Historic Park.
Harpers Ferry was the site of a failed raid on a federal arsenal in 1858 by abolitionist John Brown. During the Civil War, Harpers Ferry changed hands eight times between 1861 and 1865.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Gateway to Freedom: The Somewhat Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

Gateway To Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad, Eric Foner, W.W.Norton Publishing, 302 pp., 3 maps, 33b/w illustrations, end notes, bibliography, index, $26.95.

The focus of Gateway To Freedom is on the route of the UGRR from the Mid-Atlantic border states through Philadelphia, New York City, upper central and western New York and into Canada. The subtitle is "The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad."  The front cover and the blurbs on the back cover do not mention that the story is an East Coast centric one with a concentration on NYC. Yet, if you are looking for a general overview of the topic, this work will suffice. Foner vividly reveals the process of how the Underground Railroad worked.  In general, his description of the process may be transferred to other urban environments.

Pluses for the book include the first chapter which outlines the historiography of the Underground Railroad from the very first participants' accounts through the current era. Also, Sydney Howard Gay's detailed record of slaves passing through NYC is integrated with other UGRR operators accounts from Delaware, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Syracuse.  Foner is successful in tracing the paths of runaway slaves who left Maryland, Delaware and Virginia and finished the journey in Canada.

 \On two maps related to the Mid-Atlantic states Chambersburg, York and Harrisburg Pennsylvania are cited as UGRR sites.  Gettysburg and Adams County Pennsylvania are not.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New and Noteworthy---Engineering Victory at Vicksburg: Shovels or Starvation?

Engineering Victory: The Union Siege of Vicksburg, Justin S. Solonick, Southern Illinois University Press, 289 pp., 23 illustrations, 4 maps, 9 diagrams and figures, 1 table, 1 appendix, glossary, bibliographic essay, bibliography, end notes, index, $37.50.

From the Publisher: On May 25, 1863, after driving the Confederate army into defensive lines surrounding Vicksburg, Mississippi, Union major general Ulysses S. Grant and his Army of the Tennessee laid siege to the fortress city. With no reinforcements and dwindling supplies, the Army of Vicksburg finally surrendered on July 4, yielding command of the Mississippi River to Union forces and effectively severing the Confederacy. In this illuminating volume, Justin S. Solonick offers the first detailed study of how Grant’s midwesterners serving in the Army of the Tennessee engineered the siege of Vicksburg, placing the event within the broader context of U.S. and European military history and nineteenth-century applied science in trench warfare and field fortifications. In doing so, he shatters the Lost Cause myth that Vicksburg’s Confederate garrison surrendered due to lack of provisions. Instead of being starved out, Solonick explains, the Confederates were dug out.
After opening with a sophisticated examination of nineteenth-century military engineering and the history of siege craft, Solonick discusses the stages of the Vicksburg siege and the implements and tactics Grant’s soldiers used to achieve victory. As Solonick shows, though Grant lacked sufficient professional engineers to organize a traditional siege—an offensive tactic characterized by cutting the enemy’s communication lines and digging forward-moving approach trenches—the few engineers available, when possible, gave Union troops a crash course in military engineering. Ingenious midwestern soldiers, in turn, creatively applied engineering maxims to the situation at Vicksburg, demonstrating a remarkable ability to adapt in the face of adversity. When instruction and oversight were not possible, the common soldiers improvised. Solonick concludes with a description of the surrender of Vicksburg, an analysis of the siege’s effect on the outcome of the Civil War, and a discussion of its significance in western military history.
Solonick’s study of the Vicksburg siege focuses on how the American Civil War was a transitional one with its own distinct nature, not the last Napoleonic war or the herald of modern warfare. At Vicksburg, he reveals, a melding of traditional siege craft with the soldiers’ own inventiveness resulted in Union victory during the largest, most successful siege in American history.

Justin S. Solonick, PhD, is an adjunct instructor in the Department of History and Geography at Texas Christian University. His most recent publication, “Saving the Army of Tennessee: The Confederate Rear Guard at Ringgold Gap,” appeared in The Chattanooga Campaign, published by SIU Press in 2012.
Remarks by esteemed colleagues: 
“By showing why Vicksburg fell when it did, Justin S. Solonick’s book sheds new light on one of the most important campaigns of the Civil War. By exploring how Grant’s army achieved that success, it illuminates the nature of Civil War armies and on the society that raised them.”—Steven E. Woodworth, author of Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861–1865

“If Vicksburg was the front door to the Confederacy, it was engineering that proved to be the key to opening the door. Thus argues Solonick, as he proceeds to methodically and convincingly make his case. Lacking professional engineers, U. S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee often relied upon western ingenuity for mining and trenching. Their efforts, not fully appreciated by West Point theorists even after the war, won the day. Must reading not only for western theater enthusiasts but also for those who wish to grasp how the war evolved.”—Larry J. Daniel, author of Days of Glory: The Army of the Cumberland, 1861–1865 

“Justin Solonick has produced an important and necessary study of siege operations at Vicksburg, setting the story within the context of European siege craft and pointing to new directions in the history of Civil War military operations. This book is a breath of fresh air.”—Earl J. Hess, author of Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign

CWL: Exactly how did the Army of the Tennessee's engineers get a nearly all volunteer army to dig an impenetrable series of trenches around the Gibraltar of the Confederacy and gradually tighten the noose until starvation doomed the city?  Yankee ingenuity? Western can-do attitude?  West Point sophistication? Engineering Victory: The Union Siege of Vicksburg emphasizes the Union siege.  It's focus is on on the besieged army's efforts to resist encirclement. Justin S. Solonick provides in one chapter on the engineers' art and in a second chapter a discussion of America's other sieges of Yorktown and Vera Cruz and how West Point taught the art of the siege. Eight other chapters are details the siege of Vicksburg. The bibliographic notes, appendix, glossary, maps, illustrations and tables each add to the value of the book. Readers may imagine that reading a book on engineering would be dry, but Solonick focus includes the recollections of the enlisted men and their life in individual rifle pits, lunettes, and behind head logs. 

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

New and Noteworthy--Freedom's Dawn, October 16 through December 2, 1860

Freedoms' Dawn: The Last Days of John Brown in Virginia, Louis DeCaro, Jr., Rowman and Littlefield, Publishing, 450 pp, 18 b/w illustrations, end notes, bibliography, index, $45.00.

From the publisher: John Brown’s failed raid on the federal armory in Harper’s Ferry Virginia served as a vital precursor to the Civil War, but its importance to the struggle for justice is free standing and exceptional in the history of the United States. In Freedom's Dawn, Louis DeCaro, Jr., has written the first book devoted exclusively to Brown during the six weeks between his arrest and execution. DeCaro traces his evolution from prisoner to convicted felon, to a prophetic figure, then martyr, and finally the rise of his legacy. In doing so he touches upon major biographical themes in Brown’s story, but also upon antebellum political issues, violence and terrorism, and the themes of political imprisonment and martyrdom. 

Blurbs: "Louis DeCaro's treatment of the prophetic John Brown's last six weeks is a gem. Don't miss it!"    Cornel West, Union Theological Seminary

No scholar has contributed more to John Brown studies than Louis DeCaro, and Freedom’s Dawn is a masterful new contribution to his indispensable body of work.                                                            Steven Lubet, author of The "Colored Hero" of Harper's Ferry: John Anthony Copeland and the War Against Slavery and John Brown's Spy: The Adventurous Life and Tragic Confession of John E. Cook

"Freedom's Dawn" is the most thoughtful and judicious rendering yet of John Brown's final weeks.  In a moving narrative, Louis DeCaro, Jr. presents Brown not as a crazed terrorist but as a determined, heroic prophet of human rights"  David S. Reynolds, author of John Brown, Abolitionist and Walt Whitman's America

Front Flap: John Brown's failed raid on the Federal arsenal in Harper's Ferry,Virginia, served as a vital precursor to the Civil War, and its importance to the struggle for justice is exceptional in the history of the United States.  Freedom's Dawn is the first book devoted exclusively to Brown during the six weeks between his arrest and execution.  Louis DeCaro Jr. traces Brown's evolution from prisoner to convicted felon, to prophetic figure, and then martyr, finally examining the rise of his legacy.  In doing so, DeCaro touches upon major biographical themes in Brown's story, and also upon antebellum political issues, violence and terrorism and the themes of political imprisonment and martyrdom.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Off Topic-- Raymond Chandler: His World In His Own Words

The World of Raymond Chandler In His Own Words, Barry Day, ed., 239 images, chronology, 250 pp., 2014, $27.95.

The World of Raymond Chandler In His Own Word offers a fine introduction to Chandler's life and work and supplies a refreshing reminder to those who are quite familiar with his novels and short stories. It is well illustrated with historic photographs of Chandler's life, his book covers and Los Angles during the era in which the novels and short stories are set. The chronology is a very helpful guide to Chandler's childhood, World War One experiences, his business career, and his work writing short stories, novels, and screen plays.

Chandler along with Hamett, Cain and McDonald had an immense impact on American popular literature and cinema. He was twice nominated for Academy Awards for his screenplays and several films of his novels helped to make the careers of Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, Fred McMurray, Lauren Bacall and Barbara Stanwyck.  Chandler wrote for both Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock. Additionally, Chandler wrote extensively on the craft of writing as it relates to the genres of  hard boiled and noir detective fiction.

Notable chapters in The World of Raymond Chandler In His Own Words include those on his birth, childhood and growing up in Chicago, Nebraska and the England, the development of his writing style for the pulp literature market, the urban history of Los Angles, and his literary and film industry criticism. Barry Day relies almost exclusively on Chandler's novels, short stories and personal letters; most of the book is Chandlers words organized by Day whose transitions within chapters are clear and concise.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Author Interview---Tom Ryan's Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign

Author Interview: Thomas Ryan   Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign [2015]

CWL:  How many file drawers have you fill with the research that went into Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign {SSSGC} ?  

TR: It is difficult to separate the SSSGC research from my other Civil War research, because in some cases the files are in the same drawers. However, rough estimate for SSSGC would be two file drawers. I also have a full set of the Official Records which takes up a wall of shelving, and several shelves of intelligence-related publications that have been useful in my research.

CWL: on page 6   SSSGC states that Hooker’s background and knowledge called forth the BMI during the early months of 1863.  What in his background allowed for this?

TR: I elaborate on Hooker’s earlier interest in conducting intelligence gathering on pages 60-61, including employing elements of the 3rd Indiana Cavalry in early 1862 to scout enemy forces and track down smugglers and blockade-runners carrying mail, newspapers, and contraband through southern Maryland. He also employed agents in an attempt to halt the smuggling, and used air balloons to observe enemy positions. He also exchanged information about the enemy with Union naval units operating in the area.  This experience in intelligence operations earlier in his career evidently motivated him to create an intelligence staff that became known as the BMI, when he took command of the Army of the Potomac.

CWL: Describe Record Group 393 in the National Archives.

TR: Record Group 393 is a generic designation for the Records of United States Army Continental Commands, 1821-1920 at the National Archives, including various Civil War records. The BMI files fall within that category. 

CWL: How close are you with both Feis and Fishel?

TR: Although Ed Fishel and I worked for the Department of Defense, I did not know him personally. He published his book, The Secret War for the Union, in 1996, I believe some years after he retired from the federal government. However, I admired his perseverance in conducting research over some four decades to produce his monumental study. I consider it the standard in the field.
With regard to William Feis, a professor at Buena Vista University in Iowa, I was pleasantly surprised when his marvelous work titled Grant’s Secret Service became available in 2002. He was one of the few (possibly only) academics who devoted himself to the study of Civil War intelligence. I wrote a very positive review of his book for The Washington Times in May 2002, and commented that there was a need for a “comparative study of opposing Union and Confederate intelligence activities during specific campaigns.” Since no one else took up the challenge, it turns out that my effort some 13 years later fulfills that objective with regard to the Gettysburg campaign.  Professor Feis was extremely pleased about my review of his book, and sent a letter of gratitude at the time. He and I have stayed in touch on occasion over the years; however, distance and his family and university duties limited these contacts. He graciously wrote advance praise for SSSGC.

CWL:  pg 25   Describe how a civilian telegraph operator was chosen and trained to handle the ciphers?  

TR: When Edwin Stanton became Secretary of War in 1862, he took personal interest and control of the U.S. Military Telegraph Service. He specifically determined that telegraph operators would be civilians and only designated operators would be responsible for enciphering and deciphering message traffic. In other words, military commanders had no control over the telegraph operators assigned to their command. These operators functioned independently, and answered only to USMT headquarters regarding their activities and behavior. General Meade experienced this anomaly when he found during the heat of battle at Gettysburg that he could not read or send enciphered messages from and to Washington, because his senior operator named Caldwell decided to take a trip to Westminster without informing Meade and his officers beforehand. This situation was highlighted in OR, 27, I, pp. 74 and 78.

CWL:  pg 31     SSSGC states that Meade’s and Hooker’s of the BMI were different.  What in Meade’s background made it different for him as compared to Hooker?  

TR: Meade’s philosophy regarding the gathering and processing of information was different than Hooker’s , because Meade preferred to control the evaluation of information gathered by different methods, rather than simply depending on the BMI to fulfill this role and produce a finished product, i.e., a report that synthesizes this information into an intelligence report. In this regard, Meade may have been mimicking his former commander George McClellan who acted as his own intelligence officer. McClellan took the raw data from his information gatherers, specifically Pinkerton’s staff, and personally determined its meaning and value as intelligence. We know that McClellan was particularly inept in this regard. Nonetheless, Meade more or less followed in McClellan’s footsteps, and proved on more than one occasion that his method was ineffective. During the latter stages of the Gettysburg campaign, Meade complained about the lack of information about the enemy, yet his intelligence operations personnel were steadily feeding him information about the enemy’s location, strength, and intentions that went unheeded. This is just one of the mysteries in a campaign that also fostered many others.

CWL:  pp 32-33    SSSGC states that Lee began to rely on cavalry more for information gathering since Hooker had increased camp security and information began to drop off from CS scouts and spies.  How did Hooker achieve this?  

TR: Hooker increased security in a number of ways. He clamped down on civilians passing through his lines into those of the enemy, since every civilian was a potential spy for the enemy. He halted the previously common practice of exchanging newspapers with the enemy (the Northern papers tended to report more military-related information than the Southern papers). He issued orders to Northern newspaper editors regarding the type of information that could be printed about his army’s operations. He also insisted that stories carry a reporter’s byline, so that errant reporting could be traced back to its origin. Also, the provost marshal cracked down on any suspected spies in and around the Union army camps.

CWL:  on page 71 and 73       SSGC states that Lee had his own covert operations personnel in Washington DC. Please describe this.  

TR: Lee did not have a high opinion of the information he received from the Confederate secret service operation headquartered in Richmond. This group controlled a number of routes into the North called the “secret line.” There is evidence that Lee decided to establish his own link into the North. This was accomplished by his cavalry commander Jeb Stuart assigning the task to a particularly clever and successful agent by the name of Frank Stringfellow. Briefly stated, Stringfellow made his way into the North, established contacts in Washington and created another “secret line” down which information would travel about the enemy’s plans and movements to Stuart who would pass it on to Lee.  Not much is known about this link, if it in fact did exist; however, there is some indication that it in fact was up and operating.

CWL:   442 pp is a long book.  What did you have to leave out?

TR: Good question. Actually, the book was much longer before the editing process began. To reduce the amount of detail, I moved considerable data into the footnotes. My editor, Tom Schott (who did a marvelous job getting the text ready for prime time) recommended that some of this material be placed back into the text while a good deal of the rest would simply be eliminated  for clarity. As every writer knows, we tend to “own” whatever we write and find it difficult to hit the delete button. Looking back, however, the weeding process was needed, and generally beneficial.

CWL:   Should a biography of George Sharp be written?

TR: I have had that same thought for a number of years, and it is a project that has been on the back burner. I am not certain there is enough information available about Sharpe to merit a full-fledged bio. However, conceivably a combination of the BMI “big three” of Sharpe, Babcock, and McEntee could make for an interesting story. I have also thought that the BMI story could be depicted in the format of a novel — similar to The Killer Angels.  That is, an historical novel that manages to tell the story in a lively and interesting fashion.

CWL:  What findings are in the book that you feel might be contested regarding Lee, Longstreet, Hill, Ewell and Stuart?  

TR: There is actually very little in my book regarding Longstreet, Hill and Ewell, primarily because there was not much to say about them from an intelligence operations point of view. Longstreet of course saved the day for Lee by hiring Henry Thomas Harrison. who brought the news to Lee at Chambersburg that the Army of the Potomac had crossed the Potomac and was not that far away in the Frederick, MD area. But, even that was more about Harrison than about Longstreet. The thing that might be contested is the argument I make about how poorly Lee planned the coordination of Stuart’s three cavalry brigades passing through the Union army on June 25, and Lee’s sending both Hill and Longstreet’s corps across the Potomac without allowing Stuart sufficient time to pass through Hooker’s army safely. Over the years, there has been reams written about these events, but the finger of blame has been mainly pointed toward Stuart. Also, this controversy has almost exclusively focused on the actions of the Confederates involved. My book demonstrates that Stuart likely would have been successful in his attempt to pass through the Union army, except for the timely intelligence sent to Hooker’s headquarters by the signal corps on Maryland Heights and a BMI agent operating under cover in the Frederick/South Mountain area of Maryland. I welcome discussion of these events.

CWL:  How many books do you own regarding SSSGC topic?  

TR: Sad to say, very little has been published over the years regarding intelligence operations during the Gettysburg campaign. In part, Fishel’s book deals with Gettysburg, but does not devote a lot of time to the retreat and pursuit after Gettysburg. Of the Gettysburg historians of note, Stephen Sears’ Gettysburg is the most intelligence knowledgeable. Coddington’s The Gettysburg Campaign was written long before we knew what the BMI was, so it contained much less about intel ops. Allen Guelzo’s recent study deserves all the acclaim it has received, but it also addresses intelligence on a limited basis. William Feis’s book Grant’s Secret Service deals with the period after the Gettysburg campaign had ended. Peter Tsouras recently published a book titled Scouting for Grant and Meade which provides the reminiscences of Judson Knight, the BMI’s chief scout. But, again, this deals with the post-Gettysburg era. Bottom line is that the body of work on SSSGC is still quite slim.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Chained To The Land: Voices From Louisiana's Cotton and Cane Plantations

Chained To The Land: Voices From  Cotton and Cane Plantations From Interviews of Former Slaves, Lynette Ater Tanner, editor, John F. Blair, Publisher, 2014, photographs, maps, 2014, $9.95.

During the Great Depression, the Federal Writers' Project interviewed over 2,200 ex-slaves who lived in 17 states. Most of those interviewed were in the eighties, nineties and a few over 100 years old. Interviews in this book are of Louisiana slaves who worked in a legal environment of state laws of a French tradition. Many of these interviews are not found in the Library of Congress' collection; they are held in the Northwestern State University Archives in Natchitoches, Louisiana.  The Writers' Project in Louisiana was directed by Lyle Saxton. Most of the former slave narrations in this volume were kept in Natchitoches at Melrose Plantation, owned by Cammie henry, who donated the items to the state archives.  Within the book are a few Louisiana slave interviews that are housed by the Library of Congress.

The slaves recollections of housing, food, clothing, weddings, funerals, and relations contain anger, joy, sadness, religious practices and wit. The slaves hailed from eight distinct regions including New Orleans. The collection offers not only memories of the work-a-day world of slavery but also reflections of the personal ties that were found in slave families and church congregations. Interviewees who were children during the Civil War reflect on the loss of fathers who fought with the Federal army, the significance of Abraham Lincoln, and the variety of masters that existed during the era of slavery.

Chained To The Land: Voices From  Cotton and Cane Plantations From Interviews of Former Slaves is accessible to most readers and may be used in both classrooms or living rooms.