Posts Tagged ‘Civil War’

Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee by Michael Korda

October 30, 2014

Clouds of Glory: the Life and Legend of Robert E. LeeClouds of Glory is not the definitive book on Robert E. Lee, but not even Douglas Freeman was able to do this in four volumes. Highly readable, Clouds of Glory is largely sympathetic to Lee. Korda does not present much in the way of new information. There is little analysis of Lee’s impact on postwar national culture. But Korda does an excellent job of describing Lee’s family and youth. Surprisingly, he shows that Lee was flirtatious and adored his children. The book also recounts how Lee’s life was shaped by his religious beliefs and the strong anti-federalist tradition in his family.

The account of Lee’s service in the war with Mexico is superb. Usually thought of as a minor conflict, Korda amply demonstrates that the Mexican war led directly to the Civil War. His descriptions Lee’s Civil War battles are pretty conventional, yet he does present Lee’s strategic thinking clearly and concisely. He also details Lee’s challenges working with Jefferson Davis, who was notorious for micromanaging and compartmentalizing the war. Korda also gives a compelling view of Lee at Gettysburg, making the case that, in the end, Lee’s leadership style and, in Lee’s own words, his overconfidence in the abilities of his men were key factors in the Confederate failure there. Lee worked best with aggressive subordinates like Stonewall Jackson, but fared poorly with those that needed a firm hand such as Richard Ewell. But still, it’s hard to fault Lee’s overall utilization of the scant resources available to him.

Korda presents Lee’s view on slavery as being benign and moderate, which has been somewhat disputed by recent evidence. But Clouds of Glory is a fine complement to the books of Burke Davis and Emory Thomas. Korda’s book is highly recommended for those seeking a better understanding of Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy, and the Civil War. Lee was one of the few leaders of the Civil War who did not write a memoir. There is much about Lee that can never be known, but Korda provides a glimpse of the “marble man.”

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Join us at the Southeast Regional Library on November 1st at 2 p.m. for the opening ceremonies of the Wake County Public Libraries participation in Civil War 150, a national program designed to encourage public exploration of the American Civil War.

Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz

August 4, 2014

Midnight RisingBefore the start of the Civil War, a man named John Brown, strong in his religious convictions and a fervent abolitionist, wreaked havoc across the nation. Brown’s presence was spread throughout the east, from New York to Virginia, and west to Kansas. He frequently found himself in the middle of the frantic social battles that were so violent they became dubbed “Bleeding Kansas.” There, with a team of followers in 1856, he led a massacre at Pottawatomie Creek, killing five settlers in violent reaction to severe anti-abolitionist sentiment in the area. Three years later, in October of 1859, Brown led the infamous raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, trying to form a slave rebellion and awaken the nation to the horrors and inhumanity of slavery. Because of his tactics, history has been understandably unkind to Brown, labeling the man as a religious lunatic or imbalanced madman. William Lloyd Garrison, the famous newspaper editor, abolitionist, and contemporary of Brown, even called him “misguided, wild and apparently insane.” But, was he truly insane?

In Midnight Rising, Tony Horwitz dedicates 365 pages to the narrative of John Brown’s life. In his famous investigative and journalistic tone, Horwitz details Brown’s upbringing, his days before the massacre, during his time spent building safe havens in New York farmland, and up to the raid on Harpers Ferry. He produces family letters, legal documents, newspaper stories, and more as evidence to try to get to the heart of the question: Was John Brown insane, or did he have any other choice in the society in which he lived? Can a person still do good for the world while doing so in a wicked manner?

We are all familiar with the shock and horror that grips the nation after such horrific tragedies as shootings and bombings, and it is difficult not to draw comparisons while reading. We collectively find ourselves wondering what makes people capable of such violence. At least in this case, Horwitz offers enough information on Brown’s life and society to help us understand a little more about why and how these things could happen in such a violent manner.

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The World Made Straight by Ron Rash

May 3, 2012

Are you on the waiting list for Ron Rash’s newest book, The Cove? Why not take the time to explore some of Rash’s earlier works. I have read all of his books and have thoroughly enjoyed them all but my personal favorite is The World Made Straight. Rash always features wonderful vivid characters and Travis Shelton, the anti-hero of The World Made Straight is one of my favorites.

Travis is a 17 year old dropout living in Madison County North Carolina with his abusive father. On a fishing trip one day, Travis finds a field of marijuana in the woods, and steals some plants and keeps going back for more. You just know this is not going to end well for Travis and it doesn’t’.

The only good thing to come out of all this is the friend he finds in Leonard, a drug dealing former teacher who is obsessed with the Shelton Laurel Massacre, a real event in the Civil War that affects all of the characters in subtle ways. Leonard becomes a mentor to Travis and an assortment of other wayward travelers including teenage runaway Dena.

The story moves and flows and never lags and you will find out interesting facts about an actual event in the Civil War. The characters are true to life and you will become very fond of them. I found the book to be gripping and full of action and surprises. I hoped and prayed for a happy ending for Travis. Read the book to find out what happens …

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Nowhere Else on Earth by Josephine Humphreys

April 9, 2012

This lyrical novel tells a little known story of North Carolina during the Civil War.  The inhabitants of Scuffletown are mostly Lumbee Indians and “free men of color”, who have not joined either side in the war but are still affected by it.  The turpentine factories have closed so they have no work; the Union Army keeps coming through and taking everything which is not nailed down; and the local Confederates keep kidnapping the young men to work as slave labor in Wilmington.  The population of Scuffletown generally sympathizes with the Yankees even though they don’t treat them much better than the Confederates.  But mostly they would like to just be left alone.

Sixteen year old Rhoda Strong’s brothers have joined a band of young men living in the swamps, hiding from the macks (the local white landowners, who are all a McSomething).  The outlaw band is made up of not only the local men, but also deserters from both armies.  As the war nears to an end, the residents of Scuffletown are getting desperate. The macks are losing the war and are blaming it on the outlaws instead of the Yankees.  There is very little food available for anyone, and violent acts committed by both the macks and the outlaws are increasing. Rhoda falls in love with the leader of outlaws, Henry Berry Lowrie and then becomes a target for the macks when it becomes known that Lowrie returns her feelings.

Humphrey’s novel has a basis in history.  Henry Berry Lowrie was actually the leader of an insurgent group in North Carolina.  To tell you his fate would give away the ending, though. I would recommend you read the novel, which not only tells a fascinating story but is also is beautifully written.

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How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove

February 23, 2012

All fiction asks “what if?” (What if a boy named Huck Finn ran away with a slave named Jim and sailed the Mississippi?)  Science Fiction and Fantasy do this to an even greater extent (What if a scientist was able to re-animate a human corpse using lightning?) Within Sci-Fi & Fantasy the sub-genre of Alternative History takes actual events from History and asks what if they had happened differently (What if Hitler’s Germany had won World War II?) Harry Turtledove is considered the master of Alternative History and in this novel he asks: “What if The North rises again – in the stunning saga of the Second Civil War?”

It’s been a generation since the South defeated the North in the Civil War, and a disgraced Abraham Lincoln now roams the United States preaching the gospel of socialism. Meanwhile, the Confederate States have purchased territories from the Empire of Mexico. This would extend the CSA’s rule from the Atlantic to the Pacific and the United States decides that they should not be allowed to expand, and thus begins the Second Civil War. Many familiar names appear as the story unfolds: George Armstrong Custer patrols the frontier of Kansas using the new fangled Gatling guns against the Indians; General Stonewall Jackson is the supreme military commander of the Confederate forces and directs the Battle of St. Louis; Frederick Douglas is a journalist from Rochester, New York who travels to the dangerous border covering the war; J.E.B. Stuart leads the CSA forces in the newly annexed south-west territories; and Samuel Langhorne Clemens is the editor of a newspaper in San Francisco with a loving wife and two children. The characters are all as vivid as one could hope for and the action of the war – both on and off the battlefield – moves the story along keeping the reader wondering what “happened” next.

I’m a huge Sci-Fi & Fantasy reader, but have never been much into Alternative History for some reason. Also, I must admit that I have been reluctant to try Mr. Turtledove due to my own preconceived notions. You see, being from the North, I was never very interested in a story in which the South won the Civil War. I now freely admit how wrong I was – this novel was thoroughly enjoyable! If you like Historical Fiction, then chances are good that you’ll enjoy Harry Turtledove’s exploration of “what if” there were a second Civil War in the 1880s. I listened to this book on audio, and while it took me a while to finish it (21 CDs), I enjoyed listening to the talented and prolific George Guidall. (As of this writing, there’s even an excerpt from this audio book on George’s website!)

One of the hallmarks of great fiction (speculative, or otherwise) is that it makes you stop and think – and maybe even reconsider what you thought – about the given subject. How Few Remain certainly made me reconsider my views of the historical figures and events surrounding the Civil War.

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Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier

December 29, 2011

 This book has been hailed by many as a fine example of modern literary fiction, and I have to agree with that assessment. I was drawn in by the aspect of a historical novel that was set in the North Carolina Mountains I love so much, and I kept reading because I was drawn in by Frazier’s way with words and the ability to paint a picture for the reader. One could almost believe that the author was actually there and witnessed these events.

Frazier uses the life story of the fictional Will Cooper to tell the larger story of a tumultuous 19th century and the immense challenges faced by the Cherokee during that time. At the age of twelve Cooper is sold into indentured servitude and left alone to run a trading outpost on The Nation, Cherokee territory. Though his presence there is an uneasy one at first, eventually he is adopted into a local tribe and establishes a close relationship with the tribal leader, Bear. As his life story progresses he finds his family, finds and loses the love of his life, fights in a war that is not his, makes and loses his fortune, and more. He becomes a business man, a tribal leader, a politician, a lobbyist, and a traveler. Throughout his life he struggles to find his way as a person who was born into the world of white men but came to manhood in the world of Indians.

Told as if Will Cooper himself had sat down in his old age and written down every part of his life that he could remember, this is a novel that will keep you turning the pages to the very end; and then perhaps wishing for a bit more.

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Silk Flags and Cold Steel by William R. Trotter

November 9, 2011

William R. Trotter is a native North Carolinian who has written in a wide range of genres, including historical fiction, horror, true crime, biography and non-fiction.    Silk Flags and Cold Steel:  The Piedmont  is part of Trotter’s trilogy, “The Civil War in North Carolina”.   Each volume deals with a separate geographical region of the state, and can be read as stand-alone volumes.   Trotter is eminently accessible and just as informative as more academic works on the Civil War in North Carolina.  Perhaps due to his extensive experience as a fiction writer,   Trotter’s Civil war trilogy reads nearly like a novel.    Silk Flags and Cold Steel covers the NC Piedmont from the war clouds of 1860 to the final surrender at the Bennett farmhouse in Durham in April, 1865. Also covered are the political issues   and Governor Zebulon Vance’s conduct of the war.

Though covering a wide time frame, Trotter is expertly judicious in keeping his narrative flowing.  Silk Flags and Cold Steel is also admirably balanced, discussion topics such as the Underground Railroad and Unionists in North Carolina in addition to Confederate leaders and military actions such as the Battle of Bentonville.   Trotter is entertaining as well as informative, relating episodes such as the famous dalliance between Union General Kilpatrick and Columbia society girl  Marie Boozer, including the General’s famous “shirttail skedaddle” near present-day Fort Bragg.   The author relates interesting tidbits such as how wartime shortages resulted in buttons being made from gourds and persimmon seeds while candles were made from pine knots.  The book contains numerous illustrations, photos, and maps, presenting a concise and readable overview of the Civil War in the central part of North Carolina.  After reading Silk Flags and Cold Steel, the reader will gain new insights into familiar places where we work and travel.  His other two volumes on the Civil war in North Carolina are also highly recommended!

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March by Geraldine Brooks

June 22, 2011

Since I first read it as a child, I was enraptured by Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.  The story of four young women growing up during the American Civil War has been a much read classic for years.  Many of you have probably read it, but did you ever wonder about the man that left his “Little Women” behind?  Geraldine Brooks did.  Her novel, March, focuses on Mr. March, the father of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, who left his wife and daughters behind in Little Women to serve in the Civil War.

Alcott presents Mr. March as the benevolent, yet distant father, who sends letters home offer advice and love yet little information on the war that surrounds him.  In her novel, Brooks looks at the experiences of Mr. March away from home and at war.  Entering the war as a Union minister, March is a witness the horrors of war that he is unable to write home about.  Delving into the past and the present, Brooks gives readers a heart-wrenching view of one man’s struggle with his ideals and the war that challenges them.

After March is caught in a compromising positions with a woman from his past, he is assigned to work with contraband slaves at a plantation.  When the plantation is attacked, March falls ill and is transplanted to Washington to a hospital.  Here Brooks’ novel meets up again with Alcott’s.  Marmee takes over as the narrator as she travels from home to the hospital to nurse Mr. March back to health.

As a child reading Little Women it had never really crossed to consider the impact of the Civil War and the role that the March’s played in the struggle.  This novel is a moving, powerful piece that examines not only the horrific war, but also its tole on families and the men who fought.  Beyond his physical injuries, the emotional and mental toll the war takes on Mr. March can only be seen as similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome seen today.  Though the historical aspects of the novel are interesting, it is the shock look at both the horror and beauty of humanity during the war that make March such a powerful read.

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My Old True Love by Sheila Kay Adams

February 16, 2010

If you don’t know who Sheila Kay Adams is, it’s about time that you found out.  Simply put, she is one of North Carolina’s most gifted storytellers, authors and musicians.  Originally from a small Appalachian community in Madison County, NC, Adams honed the gift of storytelling and folk singing passed down to her from generations of her family, as well as people in her closely-knit community.  I had the extraordinary pleasure of hearing Ms. Adams tell stories and sing at a luncheon several years ago, as she was promoting her book My Old True Love.

With its roots in Adams’ own family history, My Old True Love is the story of the Nortons and Stantons of Sodom, North Carolina.  Arty, the story’s narrator, looks back on her family’s story from the year 1919, when she herself is “older than God’s dog.”  In her mountain-tinged narrative voice, Arty relays a history of hard times and laughter, love and heartbreak beginning in the years before the Civil War and lasting just past the end of that conflict.  Through Arty, we meet her brother Hackley and their cousin Larkin, who have been raised like brothers, sharing a love of the ways of their mountain and for the traditional ballads that ring through the hollows and across the balds.  When the two come to love the same young woman, the result is as heartrending as the old songs they know so well.

Having only listened to Kate Forbes’s masterful audio recording of this historical novel, it is hard to imagine reading the story in print, especially because Adams relies on the traditional ballads to tell parts of the story.  Forbes’s voice rings true both as narrator Arty, as well as in the singing of the ballads that Adams uses to bind her story together.  This audiobook will have you sitting in your car, in the driveway, listening to the end of a track or a chapter, and will leave you longing for more when it is over.

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