Essential Civil War Reading

  • Battle Cry of Freedom, by James McPherson.  Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this is the best one volume account of the War told by its greatest storyteller.  It traces the conflict from Free Soil to the assassination of Lincoln in an authoritative voice that has yet to be rivaled.
  • To the Gates of Richmond, by Stephen Sears.  Only Sears could encapsulate the quagmire of McClellan’s Peninsular campaign into a single, eminently readable volume. The book brilliantly weaves multiple story-lines from common soldiers all the way to the Commander-in-Chief-  Sears proves there is no greater authority on the McClellan/Lincoln feud.
  • No Better Place to Die, by Peter Cozzens.  The rare book that definitively recounts the battle, while bringing humanity to the brave men who fought it.  Cozzens’ tactical knowledge is matched only by his exhaustive research into hundreds of primary sources.  No finer battle study has been produced- Stones River is no longer a forgotten battle.
  • Gettysburg; The Second Day, By Harry Pfanz.  No man knew Gettysburg better, Dr. Pfanz’s book is the definitive study of July 2, 1863.  By focusing on the pivotal day of the battle, Pfanz brings the sacrifices of the men into clearer perspective.  Far too much ink has been spilled on Pickett’s charge, Pfanz shows us  the battle was truly won the day before.
  • The Iron Brigade, By Alan Nolan.  More than a unit history, Nolan’s book is military history at its finest.  By tracing the unit through primary sources, from its Commanders to the private soldiers, Nolan’s book provides a rich and exciting narrative.  The detailed description of battles with the legendary Stonewall Brigade set the book apart.  This book is the standard all subsequent unit histories are measured.
  • Joshua Chamberlain: A Hero’s Life and Legacy, by John Pullen.   The perfect companion to Pullen’s regimental history of the 20th Maine, this biography of its legendary leader stands the test of time.  Pullen separates myth from fact in recounting Chamberlain’s heroic military service.  Like any great biographer, Pullen finds the man in the midst of hyperbole and legend.
Soul of a lion

Great American Duels- Congressional Violence

Challenger:  Henry Clay- United States Secretary of State, Former Speaker of the  US House of Representatives

Challenged: John Randolph- United States Senator from Virginia, Seven term US Representative from Virginia

The Offense:  On the floor of the US Senate, Randolph challenged the legitimacy of the John Quincy Adams administration and implicated Clay was part of the “Corrupt Bargain” which gave the presidency to Adams.  Clay demanded public satisfaction and was ignored; he quickly challenged Randolph to a duel. 

Clay

Background:  The fiercely proud, frontier statesman, Henry Clay had already been wounded in a duel in 1809.  Clay was arguably the most influential politician of the early republic period; guiding the country through the War of 1812, crafting the American System of economics following the war, and transforming the Speaker position to the powerful post we recognize today.  John Randolph of Roanoke was brilliant, eccentric, and unpredictable.  He defied Jefferson in 1807, opposed the War of 1812, and became a loyal Jacksonian; Randolph frustrated many in his native Virginia.  It is believed he suffered from consumption and consumed liberal amounts of opium to manage his pain.  Randolph was a crack shot and many powerful people in Washington approached him on Clay’s behalf- Henry Clay was too valuable to lose in a duel…..

Randolph

The Field of Honor:  Saturday, April 8, 1825- The duel was held in Virginia, Randolph declared that only Virginia soil could catch his blood.  Dueling was illegal in Virginia, so both men would face criminal charges.  Randolph’s Second, Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, tried in vain to settle the dispute; even after Randolph’s pistol discharged early because of a hare-trigger.  Clay demanded a reload and his satisfaction.  At 30 paces, the two men turned and fired….both missed.  Clay shouted, “This is child’s play!”  and pistols were reloaded.  Clay fired first and hit Randolph’s coat, missing the mark again.  The Code Duello demanded that Clay absorb his opponent’s charge.  Randolph took his time, a very tense 2 minutes passed…..he aimed high and fired over Clay’s head.  The two men met halfway and shook hands, Clay asked, “Mr. Randolph are you hurt?”  “No”, Randolph replied, ” but you owe me a new coat.”

Facts in Five- Monticello

Jefferson edition #2-  Monticello

  • Hurry up and finish!  – Jefferson started construction in 1769 and never stopped building until 1809.  Jefferson was the primary architect and a majority of the labor was completed by slaves.
  • The tour seemed rather short-  There are 43 rooms in Monticello, many are on the upper floors which are closed to the public today. 
  • Domes are all the rage-  The dome at Monticello was installed in 1800 and was the first ever seen in America.  All of the glass within the dome was made in Austria. 
  • Privacy please! – The green lattice installed around his bed chamber and office was to keep visitors from peeking in his windows…sorry, conspiracy theorists, it had nothing to do with secret rendezvouses with Sally Hemings
  • Plenty of elbow room-  Monticello is over 11,000 sq. feet including basement space.  There are eight fireplaces and two staircases.  Rooms on the second and third floor only have 8′ ceilings.  The house is 110′ long, 87′ wide, and nearly 45′ high.