Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Book Review--The Mule Shoe

Trouche, Perry. The Mule Shoe. Star Cloud Press. Scottsdale, AZ. 2009, 216 pages. $18.95.

I would imagine every soldier who goes off to war has lingering doubts as to whether they are good enough. They also have concerns about those they have left behind. To top it all off those in war see sights the rest of us never dream of in our worst nightmares and many are never able to forget them. Dr. Perry Trouche, a psychiatrist from Charleston, South Carolina, has written a quick moving story dealing with these issues in his fictionalized account of a Confederate soldier whose regiment is on their way to Spotsylvania.

Connor Dumont is the newbie who is often picked upon by veteran soldiers. Characters (voices in his head) from his past including Grandma Mamere who berates him and constantly tells him he's not brave enough or good enough, Ezekiel the slave who condemns him for being a slaveholder, and others show up on a regular basis. As Connor loses friends and fellow soldiers in battle they too end up in his mind gnawing away to what sanity is left. Many times these voices battle for space in Connor's mind all looking to exert influence over him. Connor survives and begins working towards normalcy all the while changed due to the horrors he has witnessed and participated in.

The Civil War was not pretty and Dr. Trouche does not attempt to mask the violence. Soldiers are killed and their deaths are not sugar coated. This is how it should be. If you are going to write a war-time story tell it like it was. Overall I found Dr. Trouche to write engagingly and the book flowed well. The speech worked for me and sounded realistic.

For me however this story really could have been any war and Connor transported in time. For whatever reason I didn't really get a "Civil War vibe" out of the book. I can't put my finger on why however. Maybe it's because the main focus is on the lead character rather than the war itself.

A couple of small issues I noted...There were times when I found it difficult to keep track of what was real vs. what was being played out in Connor's head. I found myself on occasion rereading sections to make sure I understood what was happening. Maybe putting the sections that are in Connor's head in italics would make it easier for readers. On a picky note there are some spelling and grammatical errors spread throughout that could have been picked up during the editing process. And for me what I really didn't understand was why in a book dealing with Spotsylvania is the cover photo "Confederate Soldiers after the Battle of Gettysburg". It's a great Matthew Brady photo but it seems a bit out of place. I suppose though casual reader would not even notice such or care one way or the other.

While not the best work of fiction I have read this is a story that moves along well. The writing is enjoyable and accessible. Dr. Trouche creates atmosphere nicely. You are not going to learn anything about the Civil War here but that's not the point as I see it. You will however be entertained and that is the point. Overall a good read and recommended for times when you don't want anything too involved.

Thanks to the good people at Star Cloud Press for providing a review copy!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Historic photos found under Ft. Worth bridge

A group of historic photos including those of John F. Kennedy's Dallas motorcade, Jesse Owens, Gwendolyn Brooks, and many others were found dumped under a bridge in Ft. Worth, Texas. These are items that may have been stolen five years ago from the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society. They were discovered by Ft. Worth Code Compliance.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

CWPT New Goal--Appomattox Station

The Civil War Preservation Trust has a new goal. If they are able to raise a mere $15,000 they will be able to use federal and state matching funds along with a private donor to purchase 46 acres at Appomattox Station . The CWPT has put together an amazing $115 to $1 set of matching funds. Check the site to learn more about this incredible opportunity and to see the great maps they have available.

If you can, please consider a donation to help preserve this important land forever.

World's Ugliest Buildings

I came across this just now and wanted to share it. With libraries being such an important part of life for researchers and readers I found it interesting that there were several on the Travel and Leisure listing of World's Ugliest Buildings. The monstrosity on the left is the National Library in Minsk, Belarus.

Just a warning this loaded ran extremely slow on my computer even with high speed internet.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Book Review--Stealing the General

Bonds, Russell S. Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor. Westholme Publishing, Yardley, PA. 2006. 444 pages, 374 pages of text, maps, b/w photos, notes, bibliography, index.

It's a story many have heard of but how much do most people really know. Once you read Russell Bonds masterful work Stealing the General you'll know just about all there is to know on "the great locomotive chase". Forget the Disney film read this book!

Bonds skillfully incorporates a large list of primary and secondary sources to paint a complete picture of the plan hatched by civilian James Andrews and Union Brigadier General Ormsby Mitchel. This daring plan called for Andrews and a group of Union soldiers to sneak behind enemy lines and steal a train in Atlanta, they would then head north leaving destruction, including burned bridges, torn up railroad tracks, and cut telegraph wires behind them on their way to Chattanooga where they would meet up with Mitchel's troops to capture the city and effectively cut the Confederacy in half.

Andrews and 24 recruits (Andrews Raiders) made it to Atlanta, not without difficulties, where they proceeded to steal the train engine, The General. What they did not count on was being followed by the Generals conductor William Allen Fuller and several others. Despite the difficulties of following on foot, hand car, and later on a train engine running in reverse, the Confederates did not give up and the raiders were all eventually captured and arrested.

Bonds proceeds to tell the story of trials, jails, evil jailers, prison escapes, recaptures, executions (Andrews was the first to be executed and Bonds paints a grim picture of what happened), prisoner exchanges, the Medal of Honor, life after the war for the remaining raiders (some good and some bad), GAR reunions, friendships made amongst former enemies, and later infighting amongst the survivors as to what actually happened and the role each played.

Bonds has proven himself a writer of remarkable skill. As mentioned he has covered all the sources. His bibliography itself is 12 pages and his notes run 45 pages. Bonds incorporates maps and black and white photos to help readers visualize the action and put faces to names and places. Even more impressive than all this is the readability of his work. The writing itself is a joy to read. Bonds keeps the story moving at a fast clip all the while seeming to cover all the bases. For anybody researching this story Bonds has written what can no doubt be considered at this time the definitive work.

For further information please be sure to visit Mr. Bonds website for this book. It's full of interesting information and is well worth a look.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Newsletter Review--Surratt Courier

The Surratt Courier. Volume XXXIV No. 11 November 2009.

The Surratt Society has issued it's latest monthly newsletter. The issue starts off with the normal monthly items such as the President's Message and Mark Your Calendars. This month also includes a letter to the editor which is really a followup by Guy Moore to the October article dealing with how authorities came to suspect the Surratt Boardinghouse.

S. J. Ackerman writes an article titled The Navy Yard Bridge and the Lincoln Assassination. This nearly 3 page article discusses the history of the bridge and how security surrounding it helped change Booth's plan from kidnapping to murder. This is a nicely endnoted article for those interested in following up on sources.

Lowell Edminster follows with a somewhat confusing article titled A Penny For Your Thoughts. This deals with the Lincoln cent coin. I say confusing because he discusses the 1909 minting and claims there are 6 versions. I only count 4 that he discussed.

Patrick Dunigan and Rick Smith close out the issue with an article titled Points on Powell To Ponder--Apparel Wise. This goes over clothing worn the night of the attempt on Secretary of State William Seward's life.

Overall a better issue than has been printed lately. Good to see more articles showing up. Hopefully a sign of future issues. If you are a member don't forget dues are due!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Olustee Battlefield

Located about two hours east of Tallahassee and about 5 miles off of I-10 sits a little known Civil War battlefield that seems like it has been forgotten. Granted not too much of importance happened in Florida battle-wise during the war however the Olustee Battlefield is certainly not a way to create interest amongst youth. In fact this is without doubt one of the most disappointing Civil War sites you will ever visit.

Once you turn in it starts to go downhill. Parking is not clearly marked and in fact--just park anywhere really. There is a little building that houses the "museum" if you wish to call it that. After you get past the crude sign on the door telling you to keep it closed so the air conditioning doesn't get out (trust me the air left long ago as it was hot in the building) you step into a small and dark room that contains a few minnie balls and a couple of uniforms that you can't tell if they are authentic or reproduction. The most interesting item on display is a battle flag but there was no marker to tell the visitor anything about it. Off in a side room is a tired television playing an old video about the park. We sat and watched for a few minutes but it didn't do anything for me.

Located in a display box is an assortment of pamphlets/books that are supposed to be available for purchase. Alas there is no bookstore, gift shop, or even human being anywhere to be seen. In fact there weren't even any maps or handouts with information on the battle or what is there.

Things don't get too much better once you step back outside. Seeing that you don't have any information to orient you to what is what the next logical step would be to look for interpretive markers or any kind of signs for help. Again, don't look too hard, you won't find them. What you will find are a couple of cannons with no signage to tell you whether they are authentic and if so if they were actually at the battle. There are also a couple of makers that have been placed to commemorate the battle. Once you have seen this I would suggest taking a pass on the nature trail. The portion we walked is like every other nature trail in Florida--pine needles, mosquitoes, some brush, lizards, and not a heck of a lot more. We walked the first portion and took the cut through that led back towards where we started. If there was more to see it was not marked at all so I doubt we missed anything by not going further.

Olustee Battlefield does host a large reenactment every February that might be worth going to but I don't think I'll be doing that. Unfortunately the battlefield is a long way from just about everything and does not make for a worthwhile day trip. If you are driving by then by all means stop but don't make a special trip.