Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Book Review--Stealing Lincoln's Body

Craughwell, Thomas J., Stealing Lincoln's Body. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge. 2007. 250 pages. 210 pages of text. Notes, bibliography, index, b/w photos.

As if the tragedy of the Civil War during his life and then his assassination weren't enough the body of Abraham Lincoln had to deal with even further indignities once buried. A little known aspect of President Abraham Lincoln's life and death was the attempt to steal his corpse and hold it for ransom. The plot was doomed from the beginning due to the ineptitude of the perpetrators. Yet more criminals who just can't keep their mouth shut.

Author Thomas J. Craughwell has documented this sad story in his wonderful book Stealing Lincoln's Body published by Belknap Press. The book is 250 pages with index, bibliography, notes, and b/w photos. I found myself referring to the notes on many ocassions just to see where the material had come from. Craughwell uses a mix of primary and secondary sources. The book is well referenced and overall easy to read despite being from a scholarly press.

Before the positives there are areas where Craughwell gets a bit long-winded. We get to learn about counterfeiters, George Pullman and his employee relations, the Irish in Chicago, and the formation of the Secret Service. Craughwell ties these in but for some readers they might make the journey longer than expected.

After Lincoln's death a strange series of events takes place. From the long funeral trip across the country to Mary Lincoln's fight to have her husband buried where she wanted to the attempted theft of his body by counterfeiters to the formation of the Lincoln Guard of Honor to being buried in a shallow grave in the basement of his monument to the final viewing of his face to the final burial under thousands of pounds of concrete. Craughwell covers it in great detail and has written what might ultimately become a standard work on this subject.

Don't have time to read this book you say? Not to worry the History Channel has produced an excellent documentary based upon this book. It is currently in rotation on the channel and will be available for purchase in May. This is well worth catching and you will then no doubt be hooked.

Book Review--Rebel Storehouse

Taylor, Robert A., Rebel Storehouse: Florida's Contribution to the Confederacy. Fire Ant Books 2003. 219 pages total 159 pages text. Notes, bibliography, index.

While Florida was an early joiner of the Confederacy her importance to the cause is often overlooked or ignored completely. Historian Robert A. Taylor attempts to change this view in his book Rebel Storehouse Florida's Contribution to the Confederacy.

Florida's economy during the 1850's was mostly agricultural made up of small to medium sized farms. Most trading was done with Cuba and the Bahamas with some products going to Savannah, GA or Charleston, SC.

The election of 1860 was a turning point in Florida history and the state gave it's electoral votes to John Breckinridge. With the election of Abraham Lincoln Florida quickly withdrew from the Union and joined the seceeded and soon to seceed states. While little action took place comparitively in the state Taylor argues Florida played a vital role in the Confederacy lasting as long as it did. Florida played a vital role in providing armies with food amd much need salt. Saltworks were set up in many locations along the coasts where sea water could easily be gathered and boiled. These became prime targets for Union warships acting as a blockade. Floridians however were resiliant and as quickly as Union troops would destroy a saltworks they would be rebuilt.

Agriculture was vital importance as crops in more northern Confederate states were destroyed by war or Union troops. Without food the armies of the Confederacy would grind to a halt. In order to encourage food crops limits were placed on crops such as cotton and tobacco. Corn and grains were needed to help feed locals and troops in the field. Citrus crops such as oranges, lemons, and limes helped to reduce disease by providing much needed vitamins. Sugar and molasses were also shipped north to the front lines.

Meat was much needed by the troops and Florida provided fish, pork and beef. Cattle ranching was a profitable venture as beef was need by all the Confederate troops and was also needed to help feed the growing prisoner populations. Cattle were also prized for the leather they would provide for shoes.

Not all was rosy however in the state. Support for the Confederacy was by no means unanimous and many resented the demands being placed upon them by the new government. Food supplies were short in the state and sending the limited resources north caused residents to go without. Confederate currency was not trusted by many who preferred a backed currency or hard assets such as gold. Many Floridians also resented the mandatory selling of goods to the government at set prices. This came about through the Impressment Act of 1863. This was put in place as a means to help support the government and also to prevent speculation and rising prices. The Impressment Act became so unpopular it was taken to state court where the Florida Supreme Court ruled in Yulee v. Canova that state courts could limit the rights of government supply officers within state borders.

Unrealistic demands continued to be placed upon the state by armies who had no idea of the true issues in the state. Crops were not as unlimited as generals believed. Cattle supplies were shrinking and those that were available had to be driven north due to poor transportation facilities. These long drives were punishing to cattle at often caused them to be in poor condition when they finally arrived at the slaughterhouse.

Taylor has written an easily readable book. He is convincing in his arguement that the state was vital to the Confederacy lasting as long as it did but that Florida would not be able to supply all of the needs for the new country. While little fighting was done on Florida soil the state can no longer be overlooked in its importance to the cause.