Sunday, June 28, 2009

Coming Soon. . . .

. . .to a bookshelf near you. (Hopefully)


Click here for more and, please, stay tuned.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The State of Jones

The State of Jones, by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer.
Doubleday, 2009, 416 pages, $27.50.
For more information, click here.

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Since the guns of the American Civil War fell silent more than fourteen decades ago, there have been well over 50,000 books published that, in one way or another, focus on the four year, fratricidal struggle. To many, such a vast historiography lends credence to the argument that seemingly every aspect and every angle of the war has been ably and sufficiently covered. But this is simply not the case. Despite the books, the magazines, journals, documentaries, and so on, there still remain many aspects of the war that have remained in the shadows. Sally Jenkins, an award journalist for the Washington Post, and John Stauffer, professor of history at Harvard and author of Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, address one of these forgotten aspects of the American Civil War in The State of Jones. The story of Newton Knight and his band of followers--who, in 1863 displayed their loyalty to the United States by seceding from the Confederacy--appeared for the first time in 2003 with Victoria Bynum’s The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War, although, I am embarrassed to say, I have yet to read this work. When I thus read Jenkins and Stauffer’s work, the story of Knight and his supporters was, for the most part, new to me. It is an entirely fascinating story. Newton Knight was born into a slaveholding family but even from an early age, he displayed no inclination of ever becoming a member of slaveholding class nor the planter aristocracy, a goal for many white Southerners during the Antebellum years. Instead, Knight developed an antipathy toward the institution of slavery and, especially, the Slave Power. Adamantly opposed to both slavery and secession, Knight remained loyal to the United States after his native Mississippi seceded and civil war broke out. The following year, Knight was drafted into Confederate service and fought at several battles, including Corinth. Following this fight, Knight deserted. In the years that followed, he became a hero of sorts to many Mississippians who held no loyalty or connection with the Confederacy. Knight organized a company of like-minded individuals, who, in a display of loyalty to the United States, battled Confederate authorities all the while fighting for their own freedom. Jenkins and Stauffer do a good job in telling the dramatic and fascinating story of Newton Knight. Their research into this rather overlooked, rather obscure topic is impressive and their writing was effective. The story of Knight is, in itself, incredible enough and worthy of attention. But I believe the greatest value this book offers is its realistic portrait of the Confederacy during the Civil War. It was a land divided. Knight's story illustrates that not only were there thousands of Southerners who disapproved of secession as well as the instiutution of slavery, and who were perfectly willing to fight for the destruction of both, but also illustrates a different snapshot of the true Southern Confederacy; much different, but much more realistic than what we are force-fed with this Moonlight-and-Magnolias Lost Cause/Gone With The Wind nonsense. The State of Jones is a good book, well worth reading, which focuses on a laregely forgotten but important topic.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

An Excellent Account of a Hard-Fighting Civil War Regiment

The Seventh Rhode Island Infantry in the Civil War, by Robert Grandchamp.
McFarland Publishing Company, 2007, (www.mcfarlandpub.com) 203 pages; $49.95 hardcover (7"x10"), 109 photos, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index; for ordering information call 1-800-253-2187; to learn more about the book, click here.
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I have had the great pleasure to become acquainted with Robert Grandchamp over the past several years. Robert and I share a love for the study of the 9th Army Corps and he is, no doubt, the go-to-guy for anything related to Rhode Island's distinguished Civil War history. When I learned that Robert penned a history of the 7th Rhode Island, I was immediately interested since the regiment served alongside the 48th Pennsylvania for much of the war, and served in Nagle's Brigade from Fredericksburg, where they suffered heavy losses, until Nagle's resignation in May 1863. The book, published by McFarland, is of top-notch quality. It is well-laid out and contains scores of photographs, illustrations, and maps. Within the pages, Grandchamp takes us from the organization of the regiment, through all the campaigns and battles, and includes veterans' activities and information all the way until the regiment's final veteran died. Throughout discussion of the regiment's maneuverings and battlefield actions, Grandchamp weaves into the narrative the personal stories of the soldiers and, at times, I felt as though I got to know these men personally. The 7th fought in many of the war's fiercest struggles, and by war's end had suffered a casuatly rate of 80%. The chapters on the 7th's actions during the Overland Campaign and throughout the siege of Petersburg are especially well-written and are of particular value. Grandchamp places special emphasis on Colonel Zenas Bliss, a hard-fighting West Pointer and career-army man, who first led the 7th and who received a Medal of Honor for his battlefield heroics at Fredericksburg. Unfortunately, Bliss was caught up in the witchhunt following the Crater disaster, where the Army of the Potomac's brass sought scapegoats for the defeat and targetted the Ninth Army Corps. Bliss's stellar career was wrongfully tarnished after this battle. For anyone hoping to discover more about the day-to-day activities of a Civil War regiment, or wanting to learn more about the 7th Rhode Island in particular and the 9th Army Corps in general, this is an excellent account, well-written by a leading, indeed, the leading authority on the subject. Robert also hosts a blog on the 7th Rhode Island, which can be found here.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

New Civil War Heroes of Schuylkill County Illustrated Guide Now Available. . .


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During the four years of the American Civil War, thousands of Schuylkill County’s sons served in Union blue. More than six hundred never returned home. From throughout Schuylkill County’s anthracite-laden coalfields to its fertile farmlands, volunteers, both young and old, from all social backgrounds and from all walks of life, willingly left their homes and families behind to fight for the preservation of the Union and the destruction of slavery. Schuylkill County soldiers fought—and died—in all of the war’s great campaigns and epic battles, from Antietam and Gettysburg in the East to Shiloh and Chattanooga in the war’s Western Theatre. Some served at the rank of general, several received the Medal of Honor for battlefield heroics, and many rose to great prominence while displaying uncommon valor and playing important roles both on campaign and in battle. Yet, from the highest-ranking general on down to the enlisted soldier, all who served were heroes.
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They Will Be Remembered By A Grateful People focuses on the lives of but a few of the thousands of Civil War heroes who served from Schuylkill County. In this illustrated guide, designed specifically for children and young adults but entirely suitable for all ages, I tell the stories of such notables as General James Nagle, Colonels Benjamin Christ, George Wynkoop, and Henry Cake, as well some lesser-known but still very important figures such as Major Lewis Martin and young Jeremiah Helms, one of the youngest soldiers to give his life during the Civil War. Told, too, is the tragic story of the Allison Brothers from Port Carbon, all four of whom served, and all four of whom died. And, of course, the book begins with a look at the famed First Defenders, the first Northern volunteers to reach Washington following the commencement of the war. Two of the first five First Defender companies hailed from Pottsville. The story of Nicholas Biddle, an elderly African-American and former slave, is told as well. Biddle was among the first casualties of the war, struck down in the streets of Baltimore as he made his way with the First Defenders toward Washington.
In all, They Will Be Remembered By A Grateful People focuses on the lives and service of fifteen notable Civil War heroes from Schuylkill County. In addition to biographical sketches of these individuals, there are excellent illustrations of each, drawn by artist and Civil War historian Jared Frederick. It is my hope that as you read about these soldiers and reflect upon their service and sacrifice, you will discover just a small portion of Schuylkill County’s distinguished Civil War history and become inspired to learn more.

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Although designed for a younger audience, They Will Be Remembered By A Grateful People is suitable for Civil War buffs of all ages, and especially for anyone interested in the history of Schuylkill County. Published by LuLu, the illustrated guide numbers 36 pages, and is now available for purchase. This guide makes for an ideal gift and would be an excellent addition to any classroom. Parents and educators are encouraged to purchase this book for their children and students.
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For more information on They Will Be Remembered By A Grateful People, click here . Also, if you are interested in purchasing a copy, or several copies (remember, they make for a great gift), you can either order directly from the website linked above, or you can simply contact me at johnhoptak@hotmail.com
I am hoping that the book will soon be available at locations throughout Schuylkill County.
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One more note. Jared's illustrations are simply incredible, and I cannot thank him enough for his excellent work. Below is his illustration of General James Nagle as it appears in the book, following that is the same illustration colored in by my sister, Angie. . .


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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Another Fine Mess. . .

I grew up watching Laurel & Hardy. Every Sunday morning, Fox 9 from New York would play two hours' worth of Laurel & Hardy shorts, which my parents taped each and every week. Twenty years or so later, I still watch them and I still laugh, even though I have by this point memorized the clips, the lines, the slapstick. Doesn't matter. To me, this stuff never gets old.


So, what does this have to do with the Civil War? Well, last week, Ranger Gamble told me that Oliver Hardy's dad fought at Antietam. Say what? So, I did a little research and, sure enough, within the ranks of Company K, 16th Georgia, was one Oliver Hardy, father of the comedy legend. Hardy, Sr., was born on December 5, 1844, in Columbia County, Georgia. He was only sixteen when the war broke out, but he nonetheless enlisted. During the Maryland Campaign, Hardy's regiment formed part of Howell Cobb's Brigade, Lafayette McLaws's Division, and was engaged at Crampton's Gap where, by the way, they battled Schuylkill County's 96th Pennsylvania Infantry, and at Antietam. It was at Antietam where Sergeant Hardy fell wounded, most likely in the Sunken Road, immediately east of the Hagerstown Pike. Hardy survived the wound and returned to Georgia where he served out the war as a recruiting officer. He married Mary Emily Norvell in 1890 and, two years later, the couple welcomed their son, Oliver Norvell Hardy, into the world. Sadly, Oliver, Sr. died ten months after his son's birth.
Next time you're at Antietam and touring the field, keep in mind Sgt. Hardy of the 16th Georgia. I can only imagine him lying wounded, looking up at Cobb and saying, "Well, here's another fine mess you've gotten me into."






Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Stroll Through Washington's Congressional Cemetery

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This past Wednesday, friends and fellow rangers Rory Moore and Mannie Gentile and I took a day trip to Washington. We set out to do some cemetery tramping, and I suggested the capital's "other" famous graveyard, the Congressional Cemetery. This is a truly remarkable place. I have only been there once before in my life, and this was many years ago. I remember that at that time, the cemetery was not in the greatest of conditions. However, from the moment we pulled up, I noticed that much has changed. The cemetery is working hard at preserving this historic site. The three of us were greatly impressed by the amount of literature and interpretation available at the cemetery's gatehouse. You can pick up a host of walking tour brochures that highlight the gravesites of many American notables. There is a War of 1812 brochure, as well as brochures for the gravesites of American Indians, Civil War notables, Congressmen, and several others. There is even a cell phone tour where you can dial a number and an extension at a number of historic graves and hear biographical descriptions. To say that we were impressed is an understatement. The employee who greeted us was very friendly and helpful. I cannot recommend this cemetery greatly enough to anyone interested in historic graveyards, or to anyone interested in American history in general.
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The Congressional Cemetery has a park-like atmosphere. . .and is filled with impressive tombs and incredible statuary.
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There are a host of notable Civil War figures buried within the walls of the Congressional, including. . .
Major General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys,
Lincoln Assassination conspirator David Herold, who lies within the family plot,
and Major General Alfred Pleasonton, chief of the Army of the Potomac's Cavalry.
Alfred Pleasonton is buried alongside his father, Stephen Pleasonton, who, as a young clerk during the burning of Washington in August 1814, saved many famous documents from destruction, including the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
And, of course, the Congressional Cemetery is the final resting place of famed photographer Matthew Brady.
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The Congressional Cemetery dates to 1807, covers more than 30 acres and contains more than 55,000 burials, many dating to the early Nineteenth Century, and many Revolutionary War soldiers.
The engravings on many of the stones is very impressive. . .
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There are a countless number of important American political figures, such as. . .
Elbridge Gerry, vice-president under Thomas Jefferson and the only signer of the Declaration of Independence to be buried in Washington,
and John Forsyth, Secretary of State under Presidents Jackson and Van Buren.
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Other famous internments include. . . .
Robert Mills, the first Federal architect, who designed the Washington Monument, the Treasury Building and Old Post Office, among many other structures,
John Phillip Sousa, and
J. Edgar Hoover.
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The Congressional Cemetery also features a number of cenotaphs to deceased Representatives and Senators, who were buried here before their bodies could be taken home.
Among the many cenotaphs, one can find a veritable who's who of important Congressmen, including Henry Clay and John Calhoun, Andrew P. Butler, Thaddeus Stevens, and Preston Brooks, among many others.
Ranger Mannie imitating Senator Preston "Bully" Brooks and Brooks's cenotaph.
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For more information on the Congressional Cemetery, visit their website at