Friday, June 19, 2015

Civil Rights Pioneer Elbert Williams to be remembered

I received this information on an event that will be taking place tomorrow. Sorry for not getting it posted earlier.

On Saturday, June 20, 2015, the Brownsville, Tennessee community will gather for the delayed memorial of Civil Rights Pioneer Elbert Williams at Haywood High School. Williams is the first known National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) official to be killed for his involvement in the local civil rights movement.
Light refreshments will be provided. The memorial service will begin promptly at 9 a.m. in the gymnasium and will feature NAACP National President Cornell William Brooks as the guest speaker.

At 11 a.m., a state historical marker will be unveiled in downtown Brownsville.

Following the unveiling, members of the Elbert Williams Memorial Committee will be available for media interviews at the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce, 121 W. Main Street, on the first floor level.

A brief service will be held at 1 p.m. at Taylor Cemetery, where Williams is buried.

Follow this link to view a map and directions for Saturday’s memorial service:

A live stream of the memorial service will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday.  Log on to to view. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Book Review: The Civil War Navy in Florida

Mattson, Robert A. The Civil War Navy in Florida. Self published, Palatka, FL. 2014. 194 pages, 161 pages of text. 2 appendices, bibliography, index. B/w photos. ISBN 9780692258743, $18.99.

The Civil War in Florida is an area that is starting to receive more and more interest. In the past few years there have been several major academic works to be published including those by Zach Waters and also by Jonathan Sheppard. I have made my own small contribution to the literature on the state during the war. Historians often find source material thin and many times interest low. "Oh, nothing happened there" is often heard.

An area that has been often ignored is the role of the Navy, both Union and Confederate, during the War. George Buker has written a very good book but it deals strictly with the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Living historian and blogger Rob Mattson has written a book that helps fill in some of the gaps.

The book starts out with a chapter outlining Civil War navies including a look at the major players, a listing of ranks and a discussion about integration in the US Navy; 16% of enlisted sailors were black according to Mattson. The second chapter gives a general overview of the Navies at the start of the war and their role in Florida. The Confederates really had none while the Union was taking over major ports and yards while attempting to impose a blockade.

The next four chapters discuss various geographic points in Florida and the actions that took place there: the Panhandle, Northeast, South and Tampa Bay. These chapters generally run chronologically. The final chapter covers 1865 and Mattson's concluding thoughts.

The book concludes with an appendix covering the major ships including type, dimensions and known armaments. This information is compiled from the ORN. A second appendix covers historical sites associated with the Navies that can be visited. The bibliography is broken down by books, articles and web resources.

As with many self published (and for that matter traditionally published) books there are some editing issues. On page 11 James McPherson is referred to as Bruce McPherson. Later on the Union ship Ethan Allen is spelled both Ethan and Ethen. These are really minor quibbles in an otherwise fine book.

While certainly not the final word on naval actions in the state of Florida this is a very good start and one that anybody studying the subject, or Florida in the War, should considering owning.

By way of full disclosure: Mr. Mattson has provided a review copy of this book and will also be speaking at the museum where I am employed.

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.