History & Politics

03/12/2012 - 12:17pm
Rebel River by Mark Nesbitt

Virginia's many rivers were strategic points in the Civil War. Thousands of men had to cross them at a time, whether by boat or pontoon bridge, or, in shallower places, on foot.  Major rivers slowed down--or, in the case of flood, could block movement entirely. Generals placed their supply depots on rivers, and gunboats patrolled the waters, blasting artillery positions as well as enemy strongholds in large plantation houses.

In Mark Nesbitt's Rebel Rivers, readers are treated to an easy-to-follow guide to river sites and their Civil War history. Rebel Rivers, published by Stackpole Books, is available to check out from the library. The author is also the creator of the Ghosts of Gettysburg Candlelight Walking Tours® and the Ghosts of Fredericksburg Tours.

This excerpt is used with the author/copyright holder's permission.

03/12/2012 - 10:43am
Seeds of Discontent: The Deep Roots of the American Revolution, 1650-1750, by J.

The American Revolution didn’t start with the Tea Party.

For more than 100 years before that, the immigrants who came to America had very cogent reasons for leaving the civilized world. Many were hotheads—rebels against the king and his policies on religion. Others had come to the colonies hoping to make their fortunes and discovered much to their dismay that the king was very interested in taking a cut of their profits through high taxes, particularly on tobacco.

In Virginia, high taxes meant that the small farmers were left landless when they could not pay. Their farms were taken by wealthier landholders and the dispossessed went to the frontier to find new land to support them and their families. Not surprisingly, this meant clashes with the native population, some of which were quite bloody. Royal Governor Berkeley’s refusal to support the frontier farmers with soldiers—and his obvious friendships with the wealthier Tidewater land barons--led to Bacon’s Rebellion against the king’s most powerful representative and was but one example of the tension felt between the colonists and their royal masters’ representatives.

04/03/2014 - 1:41pm
Ethan Allen: His Life and Times by Willard Sterne Randall

If you don’t live in Vermont, the name Ethan Allen may just be a furniture brand to you. But the life of this key figure in the American Revolution embodied a lot of the conflict between the colonists and their English overlords. From relatively humble beginnings, the Allen family became involved in trade and land ownership. The problem was, wildly rich speculators from New York had in mind to keep New Hampshire land under the tenant farm system whilst the struggling farmers wanted to be able to own their land outright.

01/17/2012 - 3:30am
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond reviews parts of history in order to theorize how different cultures became civilization's haves and how others became its have-nots. Diamond is a biologist, and here he seeks to explain why Eurasians--rather than Native Americans, Africans, and Native Australians--became successful conquerors. Diamond argues that rather than race and culture, factors such as food production and animal domestication allowed Eurasians to economically dominate the world.

03/12/2012 - 11:45am
War So Terrible: A Popular History of the Battle of Fredericksburg, by Donald C.

Excerpt from War So Terrible: A Popular History of the Battle of Fredericksburg, by Donald C. Pfanz, (pp. 44-46)

Donald C. Pfanz is staff historian with Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. He is also the author of Abraham Lincoln at City Point and Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life.  This chapter is reprinted on CRRL's history site with his permission.

“The Sacking of Fredericksburg”

By the time the fighting ended on Dec. 11, Fredericksburg was desolate.  Fighting in the streets combined with a bombardment by more than 180 cannons had left the venerable old town shattered and ruins.  Those citizens who had not fled Fredericksburg had seen their homes riddled with bullets, shot and shell.

10/31/2011 - 3:39pm

James Wallace McGinly visited the Central Rappahannock region several times. Nothing unusual about that -- except that McGinly visited in 1862, 1863 and 1864; he was wearing a blue uniform at the time; and he recorded the details of his visits in a diary.

CRRL has been given a photocopy of that diary, thanks to Edward G. Nix of Illinois. It will be cataloged, and placed in CRRL’s Virginiana Collection.

10/27/2011 - 12:42pm
Starving the South: How the North Won the Civil War, by Andrew F. Smith

It’s been said an army travels on its stomach, and though many of the starving Confederate troops at the war’s end were still willing to fight, ultimately it was a physically broken army returning to their devastated, burned out farms that sounded the death knell of the nascent nation, so contends gastronomical historian Andrew F. Smith in his recent book, Starving the South.

10/26/2011 - 3:30am
Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

If you’re in the mood for a harrowing reality check, Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death is the antidote to your craving. Postman’s revelatory book was initially published in the 1980s, but his exploration of America’s preoccupation with entertainment is still sharp and pertinent. And it has retained its power to make us re-think the role of technology in our everyday lives.

Throughout Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman questions how the content of our culture has been radically altered by the emergence of new media. As he states, “our notions of truth and our ideas of intelligence have changed as a result of new media displacing the old.” The assertion that cultural practices and technologies constantly influence and respond to one another might seem like a value neutral observation, but as Postman delves deeper into his analysis, it becomes obvious that he views the shift from the Age of Exposition (text-based communication) to the Age of Show Business (image-based communication) as a profoundly problematic and troubling phenomenon.

10/25/2011 - 3:30am
Mayada: Daughter of Iraq by Jean Sasson

She was an educated daughter of the privileged class—granddaughter of two of Iraq’s heroes from its pre-Saddam era. A successful journalist and later owner of a printing business, she seemed to live a more charmed life than most of Iraq’s citizens. But as the door of the women’s prison closed behind her, leaving her virtually entombed, she realized that her sense of security had been nothing more than an illusion, and as one prisoner after another was dragged away to be tortured, she understood the true horror that underlay her world. Mayada: Daughter of Iraq: One Woman’s Survival Under Saddam Hussein is her story as shared with fellow writer Jean Sasson.

10/31/2011 - 12:10pm
The Smoothbore Volley That Doomed the Confederacy, Chapter 1, by Robert K. Krick

The first eighteen pages of The Smoothbore Volley That Doomed the Confederacy, by Robert K. Krick, are reprinted here with permission from the author and publisher, Louisiana State University Press, which retains all republication rights. Library copies of The Smoothbore Volley are available for check-out.

Nineteen men in two distinct groups rode forward from the coalescing Confederate lines west of Chancellorsville at about 9:00 P.M. on May 2, 1863. Only seven of the nineteen came back untouched, man or horse. Although one of those nearest the offending musket muzzles, Major General A. P. Hill escaped among the unscathed handful. Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, among those farthest from the flash point, was one of the five men killed or mortally wounded. The capricious paths of a few dozen one-ounce lead balls caroming off the dense shrubbery of Spotsylvania’s Wilderness that night had much to do with the course of the Civil War.

From every imaginable perspective, the afternoon of May 2 had been a stunning Confederate success of unprecedented magnitude. Lee and Jackson had crafted between them a dazzling tactical initiative that sent Stonewall covertly all the way across the front of a Federal army that outnumbered the southerners by more than two to one. The redoubtable corps commander managed the remarkable march without serious interruption, arrayed his first two divisions in a wide line, and descended upon the Federals like a thunderbolt. Those northerners who rallied bravely against the tide faced an inexorable outflanking by the outriders of Jackson’s line, who stretched far beyond the center of the attack in both directions. In this fashion Jackson routed one Union corps, trapped another out of the line, and left the others shaky, uncertain, and vulnerable to be stampeded.

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