Wednesday, June 3, 2015

New Releases from Southern Illinois University Press

Thanks going out to Southern Illinois University Press for sending along copies of two new releases. The Grant book looks particularly interesting especially since I have failed to read his Memoirs yet.

Marszalek, John F. editor. The Best Writings of Ulysses S. Grant (The World of Ulysses Grant) .
Famous for his military acumen and for his part in saving the Union during the American Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant also remains known for his two-volume memoirs, considered among the greatest military Memoirs ever written. Grant’s other writings, however, have not received the same acclaim, even though they show the same literary skill. Originally published in the thirty-two volumes of The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, the letters and speeches are the major source of information about Grant’s life and era and have played a key role in elevating his reputation to that of the leading general of the Civil War and the first of the modern presidents. In this collection, editor John F. Marszalek presents excerpts from Grant’s  most insightful and skillfully composed writings and provides perspective through introductory comments tying each piece to the next. The result is a fascinating overview of Grant’s life and career.

In sixteen chronological chapters, selections from Grant’s letters and other writings reveal his personal thoughts on the major events of his momentous life, including the start of the Civil War, the capture of Vicksburg, Lincoln’s reelection, Lee’s surrender, his terms as president, the Panic of 1873, and his bouts of mouth and throat cancer. Throughout, Grant’s prose reveals clearly the power of his words and his ability to present them well. Although some historians have maligned his presidency as one of the most corrupt periods in American history, these writings reinforce Grant’s greatness as a general, demonstrate the importance of his presidency, and show him to be one of the driving forces of the nineteenth century.

With this compendium, Marszalek not only celebrates the literary talent of one of America’s greatest military figures but also vindicates an individual who, for so long, has been unfairly denigrated. A concise reference for students of American history and Civil War enthusiasts as well as a valuable introduction for those who are new to Grant’s writings, this volume provides intriguing insight into one of the nineteenth century’s most important Americans.

Medford Edna Greene. Lincoln and Emancipation (Concise Lincoln Library).

In this succinct study, Edna Greene Medford examines the ideas and events that shaped President Lincoln’s responses to slavery, following the arc of his ideological development from the beginning of the Civil War, when he aimed to pursue a course of noninterference, to his championing of slavery’s destruction before the conflict ended. Throughout, Medford juxtaposes the president’s motivations for advocating freedom with the aspirations of African Americans themselves, restoring African Americans to the center of the story about the struggle for their own liberation.

Lincoln and African Americans, Medford argues, approached emancipation differently, with the president moving slowly and cautiously in order to save the Union while the enslaved and their supporters pressed more urgently for an end to slavery. Despite the differences, an undeclared partnership existed between the president and slaves that led to both preservation of the Union and freedom for those in bondage. Medford chronicles Lincoln’s transition from advocating gradual abolition to campaigning for immediate emancipation for the majority of the enslaved, a change effected by the military and by the efforts of African Americans. The author argues that many players—including the abolitionists and Radical Republicans, War Democrats, and black men and women—participated in the drama through agitation, military support of the Union, and destruction of the institution from within. Medford also addresses differences in the interpretation of freedom: Lincoln and most Americans defined it as the destruction of slavery, but African Americans understood the term to involve equality and full inclusion into American society. An epilogue considers Lincoln’s death, African American efforts to honor him, and the president’s legacy at home and abroad.

Both enslaved and free black people, Medford demonstrates, were fervent participants in the emancipation effort, showing an eagerness to get on with the business of freedom long before the president or the North did. By including African American voices in the emancipation narrative, this insightful volume offers a fresh and welcome perspective on Lincoln’s America.

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