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 Thomas Nelson Conrad 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.


Monday, June 15, 2015

New and Noteworthy---Spies, Scouts and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign

Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign: How the Critical Role of Intelligence Impacted  the Outcome of Lee's Invasion of the North, June-July, 1863 Thomas J. Ryan, Savas Beatie LLC,  482 pp.,  70 b/w illustrations, 23 maps, bibliographic notes, bibliography, index, $32.95.

Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign is very likely the first study that compares and contrasts the Confederates' and Federals' work of gathering, using, and misusing strategic and tactical intelligence during the Gettysburg Campaign. Ryan, former U.S. Army and U.S. Department of Defense intelligence analyst, presents an informed and compelling narrative that at times becomes suspenseful though, of course, the reader knows the outcome.

Having published six related articles between 2002 and 2005 in Gettysburg Magazine, the only magazine ever to focus on a single campaign and battle,  Ryan has expanded and deepened his research in the Official Records of the Civil War, primary sources, secondary sources and online sources.In the Forward, Stephen Sears notes that Lee explained the loss at Gettysburg "was occasioned by a combination of circumstances." One of which, Lee stated, was that 'it was commenced in the absence or correct intelligence."  Additionally, Sears notes that Meade, if asked, may have stated that "the battle was won because of the timeliness and accuracy of intelligence."  

Predecessor to Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign is Edwin C. Fishel's 1996 The Secret War for the Union: The Untold Story of Military Intelligence  in the Civil War. It is an extensive rendering of the evolution of Federal intelligence operations during the war.  Until Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign a comprehensive documentation of Confederate intelligence efforts during the Gettysburg Campaign was nearly non-existent.

Ryan offers a nearly hour-by-hour and day-by-day focus on both the Federal and Confederate generals'  efforts to find and describe the movements of the opposing army. Joseph Hooker may be remembered for four positive changes he made to the Army of the Potomac during the spring 1863. He reorganized and centralized the cavalry corps; he added corps badges to the army's units; he vastly improved the system of furloughs; he created the Bureau of Military Intelligence. This unit had its own scouts and interrogated prisoners captured by both infantry and cavalry units. Contrabands and local citizens were systematically questioned. Analytical reports were prepared and placed on the desks of both Hooker and Meade. The Federal Signal Corps 'wigwag' stations reported to Federal headquarters and managed telegraphic communications

Conversely, there was not systematic effort by the Confederate commanders to gather, analyze and place military intelligence in front of the headquarters staff.  Longstreet had his own spies, as did Lee.  Ewell and Hill relied closely upon local residents who were sympathetic to the Confederacy and depended upon maps located in Maryland and Pennsylvania county court houses. Jed Hotchkiss, Thomas Jackson's cartographer was inherited by Ewell but also worked for Lee, during the fall of 1862 and the winter of 1863. Lee was his own intelligence analyst. The Confederate Signal Corps was limited to intra-corps communications and Lee, believing that telegraphic communication was not secure, relied upon couriers.

Ryan's work should not be the first book one reads on the Gettysburg Campaign.  Though the style is accessible to most, readers should have a good background in the strategic and tactical workings of the campaign.   Within each chapter, Ryan divides the text between five and ten brief segments. Frequently these segments introduce elements of intelligence gathering and analysis with which he has practiced in his professional career with the U.S. Army and the U.S. Department of Defense. 

Some readers may wish for Ryan to have paid a closer attention to Meade's orders after the Grand Assault of July 3. Neither Farnesworth's unsuccessful cavalry charge nor the successful assault of the Pennsylvania Reserves' on Longstreet's lines are addressed. One of the many strengths of Ryan'swork is that he follows the path of the intelligence through the hands of initial collectors, then Hooker, then Halleck, then Stanton, and then Lincoln.  Often, Hooker tells Stanton intelligence that he does not send to Halleck, his immediate commander. As usual, politics permeates the leadership of the Army of the Potomac. The final chapter offers a nice 12 page appraisal of 'The Intelligence Battle.'

Without a doubt,  Thomas J. Ryan's Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign: How the Critical Role of Intelligence Impacted  the Outcome of Lee's Invasion of the North, June-July, 1863 most likely will be considered one of the best Civil War books published in 2015, will be nominated for several annual book awards, and be a winner. 



Thursday, June 11, 2015

New and Noteworthy---Civil War Controversies, Questions, Speculations and How To Think About Them

Lee's Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies, Philip Leigh, Westholme Press, 2015, 215 pp.. 33 illustrations, 10 maps, 2 charts,  chapter bibliographic notes, index, bibliography, $18.95.

Biggest Confederate Error? Biggest Federal Error? Could the war have been preempted in January 1861? How many times was Atlanta burned?  Should Thomas have been chosen over Sherman in Spring 1864? Eleven chapters focus upon controversies with a glace in the direction of alternate histories.  Not far from the mind of the author is the question is 'if one thing had been changed'. Philip Leigh's Lee's Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies, Philip Leigh offers eleven episodes that challenge readers' understanding of  the significance of particular turning points of the war.

When contemplating alternatives to conventional conclusions and analyses, Leigh invites discussions and debates on the Confederacy's King Cotton diplomacy and fiscal policy, the Federal policy of breech loading and repeating rifles, Buchanan's choice of ships sent to relieve Fort Sumter, Salmon Chase's solutions to the Federal war debt and its relation to his daughter, her husband William Sprague, and money broker Jay Cooke.

Several chapters take relatively new paths. How did Florida become so important to the Confederacy after Vicksburg surrendered in July 1863? In 1864 at Spring Hill Tennessee were Hood, Cheatman and Cleburne victims of behind-the-Confederate lines Union spies? Was Lincoln wrong to keep McDowell's 40,000 troops out of McClellan's hands in June 1862?   Leigh suggests a logical change of one link in the chain of events and shows that much of the Civil War was contingent on a particular person reaching an ill-informed opinion or having a predisposition to dismiss information out-of-hand.

Many readers approach the American Civil with the notion that 'it happened this way' and the causes-and-effects are immutable.  Regarding reasonable possibilities, Leigh gently offers suggestions at the conclusion of most chapters.  These brief remarks offers tips on how to handle evidence, primary documents, gaps in the records, and the possibility of variations of the well-worn path of most Civil War books written for the general audience.  

The narrative style Lee's Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies is clear and not complexly written.  Most general readers will find it both easy to read and enjoyable to contemplate. Leigh's previous work Trading With The Enemy: The Covert Economy During the American Civil War was similarly accessible and eye-opening.

Monday, May 04, 2015

New and Noteworthy: Lincoln, His Anti-Semitic Friends and His Jewish Friends

Lincoln And The Jews: A History, Jonathan D. Sarna and Benjamin Shapell, St. Martins Press, 2015, 272 pp., bibliographic notes, index, profusely illustrated with color and b/w photographs, $40.00.

Having been a manuscript and letter collector for 35 years, Benjamin Shapell's interest has been absorbed by Lincoln more than anyone else. He has found among Lincoln's letters to be jewels 'having a poetic flair and marvelous turns of phrase.'  Portions of his collection has been have been exhibited by the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution,  the New York Historical Society, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. In his collection of Lincoln documents he found Lincoln expressing humility, biblical imagery, compassion and respect for a people and a religion.

Jonathan Sarna, the author of When General Grant Expelled The Jews [2012] and notes that Lincoln  order expelling 'Jews as a class' from his encampments, Lincoln rescinded the order with the caveat "I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners."  The authors have found correspondence between Lincoln and five close Jewish friends and 14 among his associates and supporters. Lincoln appointed or pardoned 48 Jews during the course of his administrations.  They also note that Lincoln also subtly changed his personal statements in response to Jewish sensitivities. As late at 1862 he described America as a Christian nation and a Christian people. By November 1863 he began to utter 'this nation under God.' Additionally, the authors examine anti-Semitism among Americans in general and abolitionists specifically.

Lincoln And The Jews: A History address in the first three chapters Lincoln's upbringing, what he learned about Judaism for his readings of the Bible and traces his earliest Jewish friends and acquaintances in Illinois.  In particular, the authors focus upon the relationship between Abraham Jonas and Lincoln during his campaigns for elective office. The middle chapters recount the role Jews played in the 1860 presidential campaign and during the presidency.  Lincoln's decision to appoint Jewish chaplains and Grant's Order 11 are thoroughly examined.  Issachar Zacharie, Lincoln's foot doctor, along with General Meade and his order to execute  a Jew, two Roman Catholics and and two Protestants at Beverly Ford, Virginia are recounted and explained. The last chapter and the epilogue recount the assassination, the Jewish response to Lincoln's funeral and later memorializing.  Also discussed is Mary Todd Lincoln's 1866 recounting that her husband remarked that he wished to Palestine and Jerusalem after his second term of was completed.

There is much to enjoy in Lincoln And The Jews: A History. The binding allows the thick pages to fall open, the illustrations are exceeding well reproduced, the narrative is accessible to a wide range of readers. There are approximately 150 hand written letters reproduced, numerous broadsides, ledger account books, and other assorted ephemera such as inauguration tickets and bank checks..  There are about 100 photographic portraits and carte d'visits.  Lincoln And The Jews: A History is an informative and handsome book which is reminiscent of the best work offered during the late 20th century by The American Heritage P
ress.