Archive for the ‘Civil War’ Category

Thursday, October 11, 2012; 6:30-8:00 P.M.

Jack Dempsey, author of the 2012 Michigan Notable Book Michigan & the Civil War:  A Great and Bloody Sacrifice, will visit the library to discuss his book.  

Copies will be available for purchase and signing.  

All author proceeds are donated to Michigan’s Civil War Sesquicentennial commemoration.

Registration begins September 13th.


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Natasha Trethewey, Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2012-2013.
Photo by Nancy Crampton.

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Emory University English and creative writing professor, Natasha Trethewey has been named by the Library of Congress as the 19th U.S. Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2012-2013.

The first poet to hail from the South since Robert Penn Warren in 1986, Trethewey is one of the youngest laureates to take up residence in Washington, whose term begins this September—coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the poetry center. Trethewey will also have the unique distinction of serving as Mississippi’s poet laureate while concurrently serving as the U.S. laureate.

It is altogether fitting that Trethewey has been named U.S. Poet Laureate during the Civil War’s Sesquicentennial: she won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2007 for her volume Native Guard about a black Civil War regiment, the Louisiana Native Guards, who were assigned to guard white Confederate POWs on Ship Island off the coast of Mississippi.

While holding the position as Poet Laureate Trethewey intends to promote national activity around the writings and to connect with the library and people who visit it in the nation’s capital.

For more information on the U. S. Poet Laureates and poetry in general visit: http://www.loc.gov/poetry/

And for your reading pleasure check out:
The Poets Laureate Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Schmidt (W. W. Norton & Co., 2010.)

Poems by each of the 43 poets who have been named our nation’s Poet Laureate since the post (originally called Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress) was established in 1937.

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April 6th & 7th of this year mark the 150th anniversary of the battle of Shiloh–the first major battle in the western theatre of the Civil War, and also the first of many bloody battles to come.

In the spring of 1862 the battle of Shiloh was a rude awakening for a country that assumed the war “would be over by Christmas.”  In a faraway corner of southwest Tennessee 24,000 soldiers fell on a single day–more men than in all previous U. S. wars combined.  This first truly “great and terrible” battle not only changed the character of the war, but left both sides with the realization that this was to be a long and bloody conflict

Here are some titles for the reader’s consideration, available within the library’s collection:

Shiloh 1862 by Winston Groom (National Geographic Society, 2012.)  Just in time for the battle’s 150th anniversary is this latest title by the author of Forrest Gump.  Groom, who had previously authored two other well-written and researched volumes on the Civil War–Vicksburg 1863 (2009) and Shrouds of Glory:  Atlanta to Nashville : The Last Great Campaign of the Civil War (1995)–returns to familiar territory with his latest foray into non-fiction.

Shiloh (Time-Life Books, 1996).  One of several entries in Time-Life’s Voices of the Civil War series which expands upon their previous multi-volume set The Civil War.  This series offers in-depth coverage on the battle from the perspective of those who experienced it.  Hundreds of published & unpublished sources were used to compile these accounts, including:  letters, diaries, journals, memoirs, and regimental histories.  Many photos of the participants (both soldiers and civilians) were located to accompany their stories, along with numerous maps and illustrations pertaining to the battle. This volume is rounded out with a useful glossary of military terms, a chronology, the order of battle (i.e. organziation of the armies for this battle) and a bibliography for further reading.

The Road to Shiloh:  Early Battles in the West by David Nevin (Time-Life Books, 1983.)  Time-Life’s tradition for titles that are comprehensive yet accessible continues with this volume in their series The Civil War.  As with other volumes in the series it is well-illustrated throughout with excellent maps and photographs. Only 2 of the 5 chapters in this volume are devoted to the battle of Shiloh–preceded by details of earlier battles such as Wilson’s Creek and Forts Henry & Donelson. While this is by no means an exhaustive account on Shiloh, it remains an excellent overview and introduction for the fledgling student of the war.

Shiloh: A Novel by Shelby Foote (Originally published in 1952 by The Dial Press; reprinted by Vintage Books, 1991.)  After writing three Southern novels, Foote turned his attention to history to tell the tale of the bloodiest day of the war up to that point through the eyes of seven different participants–Union and Confederate.  Later he expanded upon his use of historical narrative to pen his monumental achievement, the definitive 3-volume study The Civil War, A Narrative.  In 1990 Foote became a minor celebrity after being featured prominently in Ken Burns’ PBS series The Civil War.  Burns’ film not only introduced a new generation to the war, but also to the work of Shelby Foote.

Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman (Originally published in 1886; reprinted by The Library of America, 1990.)  Sherman remains one of the most beloved and controversial generals of the Civil War period. His memoirs are written with the same energy and intelligence which marked his military campaigns, and are filled with anecdotes, incidents, and numerous wartime orders and reports. Sherman saw some of the worst fighting of the war, and lived to tell about it:  1st Bull Run, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattannooga, Atlanta, the March to the Sea through Georgia and the Carolinas.  During the war Sherman became Grant’s most trusted subordinate, and won both his friendship and admiration.

Memoirs and Selected Letters:  Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, Selected Letters 1839-1865 by Ulysses S. Grant (Originally published 1885; reprinted by The Library of America, 1990.) After rising through the ranks in the west following battles at Forts Henry & Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga, Grant was promoted to general-in-chief and came east. He spent the remainder of the war opposite Robert E. Lee, where he attempted to grind down the Confederate army in a series of costly battles before laying siege to Petersburg. In the spring of 1865 Lee finally surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courhouse, effectively ending the war in the east.  Yet, just twenty years after the war’s end, and following two terms as President of the United States, Grant depleted most of his savings following a world tour, while failed business ventures left him nearly destitute.  To make matters worse, Grant was diagnosed at the time with throat cancer.  Fighting time and an imminent death, Grant wrote his memoirs to secure his family’s financial future, and finished them only days before he succumbed to his cancer.  His work remains a classic and is still highly regarded by literary critics, military historians, and the general public.  This volume includes 174 letters written by Grant between 1839 and 1865 to his wife, Julia, fellow generals and government officials, which serves to supplement the narrative of Grant’s memoirs.

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2012 marks the 2nd year of the Civil War’s Sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary.  Michigan’s role in the war has been well-documented–especially during the war’s centennial in the 1960’s–and will no doubt be further recorded and enumerated during the sesquicentennial period, as well. 

Michigan was well-represented during the conflict.  Nearly 90,000 troops saw service in one of the state’s 45 regiments of infantry, cavalry, artillery, sharpshooters, engineers/mechanics, within one of 50 other military units from other states, or the Union navy. Michiganders fought in nearly every major battle–from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.    

Wading through the ever-growing mass of Civil War literature can be daunting, so here are some recommended titles to get one started:

Father Abraham’s Children:  Michigan Episodes in the Civil War by Frank B. Woodford.  (Originally published in 1961 by Wayne State University Press and reprinted in 1999.)  This volume is a collection of anecdotes and stories culled from a variety of sources including written accounts and veteran’s reminiscences.  Highlights of the collection include:  Gen. Custer & the Michigan Cavalry Brigade; the Confederate plot for releasing POWs from Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie; the heroic stand of the 24th MI Infantry at Gettysburg; Sarah Emma Edmonds who served in the ranks of the 2nd MI Infantry as “Franklin Thompson” ; the Sultana disaster–the worst martime tragedy in U.S. history (overshadowed by Lincoln’s death and the end of the war); and the capture of Confederate Pres. Jefferson Davis by the 4th MI Cavalry.

A Distant Thunder:  Michigan in the Civil War by Richard Bak. This amply illustrated work briefly chronicles Michigan’s involvement in the Underground Railroad before turning its attention to the war years.  Bak doesn’t focus solely on Michigan’s soldiers in battle; he also details the home-front in Michigan, children at war, Medal of Honor winners,  prisoners of war, and Civil War veterans and the G.A.R in the aftermath of the conflict. The book is rounded out by a bibliography for further reading, and a list of suggested resources for those seeking additional information on Michigan’s role in the Civil War at archives, libraries, museums and other organizations.

From the Cannon’s Mouth:  The Civil War letters of General Alpheus S. Williams edited by Milo M. Quaife. (Originally published by Wayne State University Press & the Detroit Historical Society in 1959 and reprinted by the University of Nebraska Press in 1995.) Williams’s letters to his daughters offer astute observations of this general officer from Michigan.  Active in Detroit society prior to the war, Williams served variously as a probate court judge, bank president, newspaper owner/editor, postmaster, and was also involved with the state militia.  When the war came he was involved in training the first volunteers for service, before a promotion to brigadier general himself.  Williams saw major action in the Shenandoah Valley, Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg in the east before being transferred to the western theatre to reinforce Grant at Chattanooga.  For the remainder of the war Williams served variously as a division or corps commander under Sherman in the battles for Atlanta, the March to the Sea, and the Carolinas. After the war he served as a diplomat and was later elected a U.S. Congressman. A capable and dedicated officer, Williams was too often overlooked and overshadowed by the cadre of West Point generals with whom he served.  Buried in Detroit’s Elmwood Cemetery, an equestrian statue in his honor has graced Belle Isle since 1921.

If I Am Found Dead : Michigan Voices from the Civil War edited by David L. Poremba.  Culled from the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library, Poremba has transcribed the letters and diaries of four Michigan soldiers:  George Vanderpool of Muskegon (3rd MI Infantry), Charles Salter of Detroit (1st & 16th MI Infantry), John Presley of Stockbridge (7th MI Infantry), and James Vernor of Detroit (4th MI Cavalry).  Vernor, who would later go on to fame creating the beloved ginger ale that bears his name, served in the west with the Army of the Cumberland, while Presley, Salter & Vanderpool all saw action in the Army of the Potomac in the east.  All but one of them would survive the war.

“My Brave Mechanics” :  The First Michigan Engineers and Their Civil War by Mark Hoffman.  When the Civil War began the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers consisted of 44 officers & 100 men.  In response to the lack of experienced engineers in an ever-growing army, Congress authorized a substantial increase in the number of troops to serve as engineers.  Michigan was one of only a few northern states to recruit a regiment of volunteer engineers for the Union.  Comprised of engineers, railroad men, artisans and craftsmen, the 1st Michigan Engineers & Mechanics served exclusively in the western theatre of the war where they constructed or repaired railroads, telegraph lines, bridges, blockhouses and fortifications–all to keep the Union army’s crucial supply line functioning, and ultimately contributing to a northern victory.  In addition to tracing their behind-the-scenes engineering feats, Hoffman also reveals the considerable combat experiences of this little-known unit against Confederate guerillas and bushwhackers.

The Iron Brigade:  A Military History by Alan T. Nolan.  This history of the only all-western brigade fighting in the eastern Army of the Potomac “remains one of the best unit histories of the Union Army during the Civil War.”  Comprised of the 2nd, 6th & 7th Wisconsin Infantry, the 19th Indiana Infantry, and the 24th Michigan Infantry, this unit fought hard and with distinction from 2nd Manassas to the end of the war.  At Gettysburg the 24th MI alone lost more killed and wounded than any Union regiment during the 3-day battle due to death, wounds or capture.  For its actions at Gettysburg, the 24th would become one of the most celebrated units from the Great Lakes State. The 24th was later given the honor of serving as the escort  for Pres. Lincoln’s funeral.

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