Book Review: The Struggle for the Life of the Republic

The Struggle for the Life of the Republic: A Civil War Narrative by Brevet Major Charles Dana Miller, 76th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Edited by Stewart Bennett and Barbara Tillery (Kent: The Kent State University Pres, 2004. xxiii, 301 pp. $34.00, ISBN 0-87338-785 -6.)

Among the thousands of books stemming from the American Civil War, memoirs of soldiers, Union and Confederate, constitute an appreciable share.  Given the accumulation of such books, perhaps publishers considering expending print and paper on another manuscript of personalia should weigh several questions:  does it present a significant view of a battle or campaign, of leading military figures, of ordinary soldiers or of why men fight.  Though hardly remarkable on any of these counts, The Struggle for the Life of the Republic, a reminiscent narrative of Charles Dana Miller, a soldier from Ohio, deserves publication primarily because of his description of camp life.

The editors, Barbara Tillery, a descendant of Miller and a desktop publisher, and Stewart Bennett, a historian, have given order to a narrative that Miller composed sometime between 1869 and 1881. Continue reading Book Review: The Struggle for the Life of the Republic

Book Review: A Politician Turned General

A Politician Turned General: The Civil War Career of Stephen Augustus Hurlbut. By Jeffrey N. Lash. (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 2003. xii, 300 pp. Cloth, $49.00, ISBN 0-87338-766-x.)

In recent years, readers of Civil War history have enjoyed a spate of works detailing the lives and contributions of so-called “political generals,” those elected officials, North and South, who received important military positions in recognition of partisan service to their respective sections. Books by James Hollandsworth and Richard Kiper have, for example, presented nuanced looks at Nathaniel P. Banks and John A McClernand respectively, two of the more notable politician-soldiers employed by the Union. As a practice, the awarding of general’s stars to rank amateurs strikes most modern students as at best cynical politicking, and at worst as a monstrous roll of the dice—many soldiers paid dearly for these battlefield neophytes’ lack of military acumen. Yet it must be remembered that military professionalism, now accepted as an article of faith in Western culture, was a nascent phenomenon during the middle nineteenth century. Early American society generally held career officers at arms length, preferring, in a paean to republican simplicity, the presumed talents of the virtuous citizen-soldier, one who dutifully left his civilian post to provide sagacious leadership in a military setting. Moreover, political generals, as Thomas J. Goss cogently argues in his important study The War within the Union High Command, played a vital role in garnering and maintaining national backing for war. To the growing list of quality volumes on such figures as Banks and McClernand we now include the work of Jeffrey N. Lash, whose A Politician Turned General examines the lesser-known (but no less controversial) Stephen A. Hurlbut.

The author’s chief contribution to the literature is one that, on the surface, appears to be purely semantic, but is in fact essential to understanding Hurlbut’s long and tumultuous Civil War career. Continue reading Book Review: A Politician Turned General

Book Review: The 1858 Oberlin-Wellington Rescue

The 1858 Oberlin-Wellington Rescue: A Reappraisal. By Roland M. Baumann. (Oberlin, Ohio: The Oberlin College Archives, 2003.  52  pp. Paper, $9.95.)

On September 13, 1858, thirty-seven ardent abolitionists rescued fugitive slave John Price before Kentucky slave catchers could return him to bondage. The rescue was completed without violence, and within days, Price was removed to Canada. To scholars of the mid-nineteenth century and the Civil War, the Oberlin Wellington Rescue is an event of incredible importance. Some declare that dedicated abolitionists made Oberlin the town that started the Civil War. While Roland Baumann would not go as far as to give Oberlin this title, he does recognize the importance and unique character of the people of Oberlin, the rescue, and the subsequent trial of those involved and how these events effect the local and national discussion of slavery. The 1858 Oberlin-Wellington Rescue: A Reappraisal written by Roland M. Baumann, Archivist and Adjunct Professor of History at Oberlin College, provides a basic narrative of the events of 1858-1859, while focusing on the underlying theme he sees as essential to the incident and the town’s reaction. In addition, Baumann addresses the motivations of the participants, the degree of organization that existed among the rescuers, and the significance of the event. While his attention to these points feeds the traditional historiography of the rescue, his main thesis looks at Oberlin’s unique character and brand of abolitionism. He argues that Oberlin’s evangelical based beliefs in the abolitionist movement created an environment and people that were unique in their worldview. Continue reading Book Review: The 1858 Oberlin-Wellington Rescue

Book Review: Confronting the Odds

Confronting the Odds: African-American Entrepreneurship in Cleveland, Ohio.  By Bessie House-Soremekun. (Kent: Kent State University Press, 2002. xxvi, 202 pp. Paper, $21.00, ISBN 0873387341.)

In the book Confronting the Odds: African American Entrepreneurship in Cleveland, Ohio Bessie House-Soremekun looks at the African American experience in developing a business foundation in Cleveland, Ohio. Using a variety of sources including interviews, newspapers, and books, Soremekun paints both an optimistic and troubling picture of Cleveland’s African American experience in business development. The book traces the many successes and failures of African American entrepreneurs in Cleveland, while analyzing the many difficulties they faced. Soremekun relies heavily on Jesse Jackson’s analysis of the underserved economy of African Americans, Hispanics and urbanites who encompass more than sixty million people and more than $600 billion in annual earnings. The books talks about the untapped potential of those undeserved communities and how they could serve as a powerful engine for expanding African Americans entrepreneurial success. Continue reading Book Review: Confronting the Odds

Book Review: Ohio Is My Dwelling Place

Ohio Is My Dwelling Place: Schoolgirl Embroideries, 1800-1850.  By Sue Studebaker. With a foreword by Kimberly Smith Ivey.  (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2002.  xxvi, 310 pp.  Cloth, $70.00, ISBN 0-8214-1452-6.  Paper, $34.95, ISBN 0-8214-1453-4.)

In 1777, a Continental Army officer complimented Philadelphian Sarah Wister on her “needle wisdom.” The young Miss Wister’s sampler, hanging in the parlor of the family’s Germantown home, served as the sole evidence of this trait. One necessarily wonders how much wisdom, a term so often applied to the learned, the experienced, or the elderly, may have been possessed by a sixteen-year-old Quaker girl. We do know that Sally (as she was called by family and friends) attended Anthony Benezet’s school, British America’s first public school for women. There Sally learned the basics of education, but also learned the “higher branches” of French and Latin. In the last quarter of the eighteenth century American girls’ school curricula did approach that of boys; the differences, though, charted gender roles and class expectations. Sally Wister still learned needlework as she parsed French, as did other young girls of the time. In 1777, Alice Lee Shippen wrote to her daughter Nancy (who attended a Trenton, New Jersey, boarding school) of her expectations of these “ornamental branches” of a young lady’s education:

Tell me how you improve in your work. Needle work is a most important branch of a female education, & tell me how you have improved in holding your head & sholders, in making a curtsy, in going out or coming into a room, in giving & receiving, holding your knive & fork, walking and seting. These things contribute so much to a good appearance that they are of great consequence.

From the mid eighteenth century through the Civil War, wisdom meant to Americans the ability to judge rightly in matters relating to life and conduct. Wisdom could also define learning or erudition, or a type of knowledge, as well as the spiritual life attained through biblical study. Young ladies’ use of needle, thread, and other tools with which to create alphabets, verses, images, and symbols, was not the necessary skill of a tailor. A genteel girl’s needlework signaled to all the acquisition of an education and a specific set of social graces. In Sally Wister’s case, as in those of many other American girls in this era, “needle wisdom” embodied in a sampler symbolized the pursuit of refinement, the acquisition of a specific skill and, especially after the American Revolution, more cosmopolitan knowledge, and even a spiritual nature deemed peculiar to women.[1. Sally Wister’s “needle wisdom” found in Kathryn Zabelle Derounian, ed. and intro., The Journal and Occasional Writings of Sarah Wister (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; London and Toronto: Associated Universities Press, 1987), 61;  (Anne Home Shippen Livingston), Nancy Shippen Her Journal Book, ed. Ethel Armes (Philadelphia, 1935; rpt. New York, 1968), 39-40, quoted in Davida Tenenbaum Deutsch, “The polite lady:  portraits of American schoolgirls and their accomplishments, 1725-1830,” The Magazine Antiques 135 (March 1989): 742-753, at 744-45.] Continue reading Book Review: Ohio Is My Dwelling Place

Book Review: Ohio States

Ohio States: A Twentieth-Century Midwestern, by Jeffrey Hammond. Kent: Kent State University Press, 2002. pp. X, 195. $14.95

It may seem a bit out of place for a journal of history to review what is essentially a literary work, but a strict distinction between “literary” and “historical” can be a false dichotomy when discussing worthwhile reading on Ohio.  Books such as John Baskin’s New Burlington: The Life and Death of an American Village and Terry Ryan’s The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio have demonstrated that compelling accounts of late 20th-century Ohio are as likely to come from professional journalists and writers as they are from professional historians.  Jeffrey Hammond’s Ohio States–a collection of charming and thoughtful essays on growing up in Findlay, Ohio in the 1950s and 1960s–is an important entry into this admittedly small genre.  Deceptively modest and straightforward in approach, this extremely well-written work touches on issues of religion, politics, race, gender, and even philosophy en route to a deeper understanding of people, life, and what it means to be an Ohioan. Continue reading Book Review: Ohio States

Book Review: The Weary Boys

The Weary Boys: Colonel J. Warren Keifer and the 110th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  By Thomas E. Pope. (Kent: The Kent State University Press, 2002.  183 pp.  Softcover, $16.00, ISBN 0-87338-729-5.)

The Civil War is one of the most written about events in American History.  Books detailing every aspect of the war find an eager audience made up not only of scholars but also of history buffs.  Studies of battles and leaders are especially popular with the general reader, and of this genre Thomas Pope’s The Weary Boys: Colonel J. Warren Keifer and the 110th Ohio Volunteer Infantry is one such example. Continue reading Book Review: The Weary Boys

Book Review: A History of Jonathan Alder

A History of Jonathan Alder: His Captivity and Life with the Indians. Ed. by Larry Nelson. (Akron: University of Akron Press, 2002. ix, 222 pp. Cloth, $34.95, ISBN 1-884836-80-1. Paper, $14.95, 1-884836-98-4.)

In 1795, Jonathan Alder settled in today’s central Ohio. Shortly thereafter, other settlers began to move into the area; and within a decade the small community of Darby, composed of both white settlers and Indians, had been formed.  Alder played a unique role in this young settlement.  He acted as an interpreter and intermediary between the two races and helped them co-exist under unusually peaceful terms. “Here,” Alder rejoiced, he “could lie down at night without fear . . . and [he] could rise up in the morning and shake hands with the white man and the Indians, all in perfect peace and safety” (119).  The unusual, yet true story of this Ohio settler is told in autobiographical format in A History of Jonathan Alder: His Captivity and Life with the Indians (2002), edited by Larry Nelson, chief administrator at Fort Meigs State Memorial in Perrysburg, Ohio and adjunct professor of history at Firelands College of Bowling Green State University. The narrative recounts half a century of Alder’s experiences, from his 1782 capture by Indians at the age of nine, to the early 1830’s when the United States federal government removed the Indians with whom Alder had lived to the territory west of the Mississippi River.

Alder’s story provides a rare glimpse into the Indian experience and frontier life in Ohio in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s at a time when the native nations of the region were experiencing the growing pressures of Anglo-American settlement. Continue reading Book Review: A History of Jonathan Alder

Book Review: The Once and Future Union

The Once and Future Union: The Rise and Fall of the United Rubber Workers, 1935-1995. By Bruce M. Meyer. (Akron: University of Akron Press, 2002. xviii, 457 pp., photographs, index. Paper $27.95, ISBN 1-88483-685-2.)

Bruce M. Meyer’s account of the “rise and fall” of the United Rubber Workers is a welcome addition to the region’s historical literature. It provides a useful overview of an institution that was once thought to play a critical role in the region’s economy and unquestionably did play a central role in the lives of many individuals. It rises above that level in portraying the last third of the union’s history, the years from the mid-1970s to 1995, when the URW became a symbol of industrial decline in Ohio and the Midwest. Yet because Meyer devotes approximately two thirds of the book to those years, he inadvertently creates the impression that the URW’s “fall” was more important than either its “rise,” in the 1930s, or the long period, ranging from l940 to the 1970s, when it represented virtually all U.S. and Canadian tire workers and bargained aggressively to improve their wages and working conditions. Continue reading Book Review: The Once and Future Union

Book Review: Helping Others, Helping Ourselves

Helping Others, Helping Ourselves: Power, Giving and Community Identity in Cleveland, Ohio, 1880-1930. By Laura Tuennerman-Kaplan. (Kent: Kent State University Press, 2001. 222 pp. Paper, $29.00, ISBN 0-87338-711-2.)

Until the New Deal era, much social support in the U.S. came through private philanthropy. In considering the means and ends of such private philanthropy, historians have explored “top-down” philanthropy whereby wealthy Americans gave funds and endowed non-profit organizations to shape society in particular ways. When Andrew Carnegie, for example, chose to finance public libraries he was not merely expressing a benign belief in the power of reading. He gave his money to support his idea that the less fortunate should not be provided direct aid, but rather given the indirect means by which they could choose to help themselves. For Carnegie and other wealthy philanthropists, thus, giving was a way to control other groups in the U.S.

In Helping Others, Helping Ourselves, Laura Tuennerman-Kaplan has written a social analysis of philanthropy that moves beyond this top-down approach by shifting from philanthropy of the wealthy to that of more “ordinary” people in Cleveland and asking how and why they chose to give to others within their community. She admits that such philanthropy too was an exercise in power, but insists that the “giving” of more ordinary people was rooted in their sense of belonging to Cleveland and that patterns of giving reveal “a social relation, one that both reflected and shaped society” (150). Continue reading Book Review: Helping Others, Helping Ourselves