A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Originally, I had intended on doing something different to mark America’s national holiday, but the 4th of July was mentioned so much in this book, that I figured it was kismet.
The author, with the old-fashioned name which shouts of Americana, has written a splendid book that centers on the beginning of the American Civil War, hence the title. All of the familiar characters are here, but the focus is on the personalities and incidents that are less known and gives a wider background to those that are famous.
Beginning in the midst of the 1860 presidential campaign that ultimately saw Lincoln elected as a “Black Republican”, as the anti-slavery faction of the then more liberal party was called(today, Democrats are the liberal party). Goodheart traces the rising abolitionist feeling and how it affected national policies, such as the 20 year delay on expanding the railroad westward, because Congress could not decide whether to run it through free northern states or pro-slavery southern states.
The discussion of slavery included attitudes that boggle the modern mind. Such as James Chestnut, whose family owned over 500 slaves “declared on the Senate floor that “…commerce, civilization and Christianity” all went hand-in-hand to sanctify negro servitude.” And calling escaped slaves ‘contraband’, so that they were considered property seized in war and not required to be sent back.
When discussing the actual war, Goodheart doesn’t rattle off a list of battles and troop numbers, but tells stories of the actual people involved. This makes it more relatable, as well as having a stronger emotional impact. Most of us know about the Union troops in blue uniforms and the Confederates in grey, but we don’t know about the Zouves cadets. Modeled on the French Zouves, Elmer Ellsworth formed this acrobatic and disciplined group of soldiers to encourage military enlistment, but they were also among the earliest troops to fight in the war.
I was surprised at the many Cleveland connections in the book, some of them upsetting, such as the one involving Lucy Bagby. She was a fugitive slave who had made it to Ohio, just a short way from Canada and freedom, when she was arrested in Cleveland and despite public outcry, returned to her owner, a minister from Virginia.I was pleased to learn later in the book that she was eventually freed, and lived out the rest of her life in Cleveland.
Another connection to my hometown is through James Garfield, whose pioneer parents settled in the Western Reserve(northeastern Ohio). He became a university professor, then a general in the Union forces and eventually president in 1880. Before he was assassinated in late 1881, he worked tirelessly for civil rights, some of which didn’t come into being until almost a century later. This is a man I want to learn more about.
Throughout the book, written in a lively, engaging style, the author throws in little fun facts, such as the cost of a half ounce letter delivered by the famed Pony Express(a five dollar gold piece. Yikes!). Each section is marked by a black and white photo and a quote from poet Walt Whitman, who was a nurse during the war. It adds to the atmosphere. There’s also an epilogue, which tells the reader what happened to many of the people mentioned in the book, something I wish more authors would feature.
I was sorry when I reached the end of this intriguing, well written book. In this 150th anniversary of the start of the war between the states, Goodheart explains the complex issues with clarity and enthusiasm, leavened with empathy and a bit of humor. I will definitely be looking forward to anything else he cares to write, no matter the subject.
Borzoi Books 2011 481 pp. ISBN 978-1-4000-4015-5
There is a Facebook page on this book, which features photos and documents from that period. If interested, please go here . You can even ‘Like’ it.
Jackie recalls singing rousing Civil War songs in elementary school and quite enjoying them.