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CW - 150
The Civil War 150th Anniversary
Interesting facts, links, and suggested books for each month of the Civil War.
This Month's Events
- 3 September. The State of Kentucky has tried to remain "neutral": -- almost as if it is a separate country -- but to prevent Union forces from occupying various strong points, Confederate General Leonidas K. Polk sends his men in as a pre-emptive move. However, this so annoys Kentucky that while officially "neutral", the bulk of the state's men and resources go to the Union.
A letter published in the September 4th issue of the Richmond, Virginia Dispatch comments forcibly on this situation. "Gallatin, Tenn., Aug. 26, 1861.... We are not a little annoyed by the course pursued and likely to be continued by Kentucky. We desire peace with her, and though we do not so well like her neutrality, believing that she should be with us, adding another star to our Confederacy, we could be reconciled to it if she would in reality preserve neutrality. Instead of which, she only cries neutrality, whilst Lincoln & Co. are sending in arms, money (if any he can get) and men to aid her disloyal sons to deprive the rest of all power, and finally, in a fight which they must soon have among themselves, to subjugate and turn Kentucky over to the usurper. Kentucky is in a woeful fix - divided into two parties. Hard to tell which has the majority. Neither will give up or yield. Therefore, we anticipate a Kilkenny cat fight among them."
- 11 September. A new company, the "Shady Grove Rangers" (Co. E, 34th Regiment North Carolina Infantry) is raised in Lincoln County. John F. Hill is the first captain.
- 14 September. At Pensacola, Florida, a detachment of the crew of the USS Colorado attacks the Confederate Navy yard there and burns the steamer Judah. This is regarded as the first naval battle in the war.
- 17 September. Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Attorney General, and a man with no military experience, becomes Confederate Secretary of War. He will become embroiled in difficulties with a number of generals and be blamed for the loss of Roanoke Island off North Carolina in the next year. His Jewish ancestry makes him a target for anti-Semitism.
- This month following the First Battle of Bull Run, there is a hiatus in the conflict. McClellan's reports read "All quiet along the Potomac tonight." Noticing that this report was followed by a report on the death of a picket, poet "E. B." writes the poem first published as "The Picket-Guard" in Harper's Weekly. As the poem becomes popular, many people claim authorship. Finally Harper's reveals that the author is a woman, Ethel Lynn Beers.
The poem begins:
- "All quiet along the Potomac," they say,
- "Except now and then a stray picket
- Is shot, as he walks on his beat, to and fro,
- By a rifleman hid in the thicket.
- 'Tis nothing-a private or two, now and then,
- Will not count in the news of the battle.
In 1863 the poem was set to music by John Hill Hewitt, then a Confederate soldier. It was a hit, going through 5 printings. In her journal entry for March 18, 1863, Ellie Andrews of Statesville, North Carolina mentions singing it at a party along with "Rock Me to Sleep, Mother", describing them both as songs just out. (If you're curious, versions of both songs can be found on YouTube.)
This Month's Fiction
A Killing at Ball's Bluff
Call Number: FIC KIL MYS
Publication Date: 2001-01-01
Harrison Raines of Virginia, the likable myopic operative working on the northern side for Allan Pinkerton's newly formed U.S. Secret Service, returns for another romp through the battlefields of the Civil War, in this case the fighting atop Ball's Bluff late in 1861. In his effort to solve the actual murder of a good friend of Lincoln's, Col. Edward Baker (a mystery unsolved to this day), Raines encounters such historical figures as Confederate spies Belle Boyd and Rose Greenhow, and the Cuban Loreta Janeta Velasquez (who dressed as a man and fought in the early battles). It seems a bit much when Nathaniel Hawthorne appears briefly to stiff Raines for a bar tab, but then our hero's lady love favors the arms of John Wilkes Booth (one senses this could lead to real trouble). Kilian offers clues for anyone wishing to guess the identity of the murderer, but also indulges in a case of misdirection that might nag at a genuine mystery buff for months. The weightier issues of slavery and the horrors of combat are sketched in, but the gist here is picaresque adventure, spy vs. spy, chase scenes on land and water: Civil War lite.
Seeing the Elephant
Call Number: J HUG
Publication Date: 2007-09-18
his story is based on a phrase frequently found in Civil War correspondence; "seeing the elephant" meant to have experienced combat. Ten-year-old Israel is both jealous of and lonely for his two older brothers who have gone off to fight in the Union army. When his Aunt Bell, a nurse, takes him to a Washington, DC, hospital and introduces him to a captured Confederate soldier, he comes to realize that the issues are not as clear and simple as he had thought, and he writes to his brother: "I didn't go to battle, but I have seen the elephant. He was even bigger than I thought he'd be, and he was the ugliest beast on this earth." Stark's realistic paintings are remarkable both for their artistry and their meticulous attention to historical accuracy. For example, the Capitol dome is shown as being only partially constructed. An author's note provides background information. This book deserves a place in most collections. Gr. 2-4.
This Month's Non-Fiction
A Brotherhood of Valor
Call Number: 973.74 WER
Publication Date: 1999-02-17
This book follows the fortunes of the Stonewall Brigade and the Iron Brigade from their formation in the early days of the war to one's surrender at Appomattox and the other's disbandment a few months later. Werts relied on the diaries, memoirs, and letters written by the members to chronicle their daily lives, their motivations, exploits, and valor. Both groups had unparalleled combat records that were earned through four years of some of the most intense fighting of the war. Often enduring appalling conditions and immense casualties, the men of both troops exhibited a fighting skill and courage that made them and their commanders legends. What is not generally known about these two units is that they faced one another on numerous battlefields. So when Werts describes the battles, he does it from the perspective of the men serving on both sides, often incorporating their words into the narrative, allowing readers to see what the soldiers thought of their foes. A readable history, and a good overview of what life was like in both armies for the average soldier.
Blue and Gray at Sea
Call Number: 973.7 BLU
Publication Date: 2003-12-01
Editor Thomsen adds notably to his roster of historical anthologies with this selection of writings by naval participants in the Civil War that perforce delves into what for many readers will be relatively unknown territory, because knowledge of the naval side of the war is hardly general. The relatively famous Confederate raider Alabama is represented, of course, but by a junior officer's testimony rather than the celebrated Captain Semmes' account. A set of documents chronicles the ingenious, ill-fated Confederate submarine Hunley, and officers of both the Monitor and the Merrimac describe the ironclads' storied duel. Admiral David Porter, who did a great deal, claims to have done even more. Admiral David Farragut's letters bespeak a man of superior achievements and character, only enhancing his stature as the war's naval hero and one of the supreme sea fighters in American history.
Judah P. Benjamin
Call Number: 923.273 Benjamin E
Publication Date: 1988-02-08
This biography was acclaimed by The New York Times as "deeply interesting" and "an absorbing account" of the life of the man called "the brains of the Confederacy". Judah Benjamin served in the Confederate cabinet as secretary of state and of war, as well as attorney general; he sat at President Jefferson Davis' right hand. But, as he wished it, little information about him exists in the history books. Evans rectifies the situation and does it well.
Ellie's book : the journal kept by Ellie M. Andrews from January 1862 through May 1865, transcribed and annotated by Ann Campbell MacBryde, pub. 1984, 147 p., call #: 973.782 A NC. A Pennsylvania girl who married a Southerner, Ellie spent much of the war in Statesville, North Carolina where she waited and worried about her Confederate officer husband, a widespread network of local kin and neighbors, and her family in the North. In common with most other diarists of the time, she discusses rising prices and shortages of such items as cloth to make a dress, despite her family's more upper class status. The book has a detailed genealogical preface, but the footnoted journal can be read alone.
Two Miserable Presidents
Call Number: j973.7 SHE
Publication Date: 2008-07-22
Chatty and accessible, this book does double duty: it introduces Civil War history for readers who don't know much about it and supplies browsable commentary for those familiar with the big picture. Although Sheinkin apologizes for the dull textbooks he used to write in an author's note, his experiences give him the authority to tell the history from the inside, and he supports his material with an extensive array of source notes. His background also gives him a store of lively, interesting anecdotes, which appear here. Beginning with a look at the role cotton played in the history, his fast-paced narrative is broken into short, tersely titled vignettes ( Brother against brother? The bloody road to Richmond ). There's no in-depth analysis, but that doesn't equate with simplistic. Gr. 5-8.
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