Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Hard-Tack and Coffee

Hardtack & Coffee or The Unwritten Story of Army Life
by John D. Billings

 Most histories of the Civil War focus on battles and top brass. Hardtack and Coffee is one of the few to give a vivid, detailed picture of what ordinary soldiers endured every day—in camp, on the march, at the edge of a booming, smoking hell. John D. Billings of Massachusetts enlisted in the Army of the Potomac and survived the conditions he recorded. The authenticity of his book is heightened by the many drawings that a comrade, Charles W. Reed, made in the field.

 This is the story of how the Civil War soldier was recruited, provisioned, and disciplined. Described here are the types of men found in any outfit; their not very uniform uniforms; crowded tents and makeshift shelters; difficulties in keeping clean, warm, and dry; their pleasure in a cup of coffee; food rations, dominated by salt pork and the versatile cracker or hardtack; their brave pastimes in the face of death; punishments for various offenses; treatment in sick bay; firearms and signals and modes of transportation. Comprehensive and anecdotal, Hardtack and Coffee is striking for the pulse of life that runs through it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hallowed Ground

Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg
by James M. McPherson

“[I]n a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our power to add or detract.”
—President Abraham Lincoln

James M. McPherson, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom, and arguably the finest Civil War historian in the world, walks us through the site of the bloodiest and perhaps most consequential battle ever fought by Americans. 

The events that occurred at Gettysburg are etched into our collective memory, as they served to change the course of the Civil War and with it the course of history. More than any other place in the United States, Gettysburg is indeed hallowed ground. It’s no surprise that it is one of the nation’s most visited sites (nearly two million annual visitors), attracting tourists, military buffs, and students of American history. 

McPherson, who has led countless tours of Gettysburg over the years, makes stops at Seminary Ridge, the Peach Orchard, Cemetery Hill, and Little Round Top, among other key locations. He reflects on the meaning of the battle, describes the events of those terrible three days in July 1863, and places the struggle in the greater context of American and world history. Along the way, he intersperses stories of his own encounters with the place over several decades, as well as debunking several popular myths about the battle itself.

What brought those 165,000 soldiers—75,000 Confederate, 90,000 Union—to Gettysburg? Why did they lock themselves in such a death grip across these once bucolic fields until 11,000 of them were killed or mortally wounded, another 29,000 were wounded and survived, and about 10,000 were “missing”—mostly captured? What was accomplished by all of this carnage? Join James M. McPherson on a walk across this hallowed ground as he be encompasses the depth of meaning and historical impact of a place that helped define the nation’s character.

Friday, January 4, 2013

At Gettysburg

At Gettysburg, or What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle
by Tillie Pierce Alleman

The experience of a little girl, during three days of a hard fought battle, as portrayed in this volume is certainly of rare occurrence, and very likely has never been realized before. Such a narrative as the following, is worthy of preservation among the pages of our nations literature. The story is told with such marked faithfulness, such honesty of expression, such vividness of portrayal, that those who lived in, and passed through those scenes, or similar ones, will at once recognize the situations, and surroundings, as natural and real.

While perusing its pages, the veteran will again live in the days gone by; when he tramped the dusty march, joined in the terrible charge, or suffered in the army hospital. The Heroine of this book, performed her part well; but it is doubtful whether, at the time, she fully realized the heart-felt thanks, and noble thoughts that sprang from the "Boys in Blue," in response to her heroism and kindness. How vividly is presented the weary march to the field of conflict; our eagerness to quaff the sparkling water, as she handed it to us, fresh from the cooling spring. We thanked her, but she did not hear the full gratitude that was in our hearts. Who but a soldier can know the welling emotions in that dying general's breast, when, perhaps for the first time in many months, he gazed into an innocent and child-like face, seeing naught but tender love and deep sympathy.

Did she not in part, take the place of those near and dear to his heart, but who, on that fearful night were many miles away? How his thoughts must have flashed homeward! And oh! the tender chords that must have been touched in his valiant soul! No wonder he looked "so earnestly" in her face. He was feasting on the sympathies that sprang from her heart and illumined her countenance. She did greater things than she knew, and her reward will follow. But we shall refer to no more scenes. They are many and varied. In their contemplation, the reader will experience his own thoughts and emotions. We have been asked to write a preface to her narrative; but we cannot slight this opportunity of thanking her in the name of the "Boys in Blue," and all patriots, for what she did. We are truly glad to have this touching and thrilling story of her experience at the battle of Gettysburg, even though after many years; and our only regret is, that many of our comrades have answered to the last roll-call, before its publication. We will rejoice in its publication, and wide circulation; for it is deserving a welcome, not only in public libraries, but in the family circle of every American. It cannot fail to interest and instruct both old and young. The book will speak for itself.

Fear in Chile

Fear in Chile: Lives Under Pinochet
by Patricia Politzer

First-person accounts of life in Pinochet's Chile—"the perfect epitaph to a violent dictatorship" (Library Journal). "Like a García Márquez novel that has suddenly, horrifyingly, come to real life" (New York Newsday), Fear in Chile is an extraordinary collection of first-person accounts of life under dictatorship. In the 1980s, shortly after Chile emerged from one of the century's most notorious reigns of terror, Chilean journalist Patricia Politzer interviewed figures including a revolutionary activist, a military leader loyal to General Augusto Pinochet, a bank clerk concerned with the status quo, the mother of one of the "disappeared," as well as a dozen other men and women from every political position and social stratum of Chilean life. The result is a broad, vivid, yet nonideological view of modern life under military rule, about which Ariel Dorfman writes, "I can think of no better introduction to my country." With the October 1998 arrest of General Pinochet in Great Britain and renewed world awareness of the horrendous crimes committed during his regime, Fear in Chile, updated with a new afterword by the author that considers the recent attempts to prosecute Pinochet for human-rights violations, offers a vivid portrait of Chile's Pinochet era.

Mornings in Mexico

Mornings In Mexico
by D.H. Lawrence

Much of D.H. Lawrence's life was defined by his passion for travel and it was those wanderings that gave life to some of his greatest novels. In the 1920s Lawrence travelled several times to Mexico, where he was fascinated by the clash of beauty and brutality, purity and darkness that he observed. The diverse and evocative essays that make up Mornings in Mexico wander from an admiring portrayal of the Indian way of life to a visit to the studio of Diego Rivera and are brightly adorned with simple and evocative details: piles of fruit in a village market, strolls in a courtyard filled with hibiscus and roses, the play of light on an adobe wall. It was during his time in Mexico that Lawrence re-wrote The Plumed Serpent, which is infused with his own experiences there. To read Mornings in Mexico is thus to discover the inspiration behind of one of Lawrence's most loved works and to be immersed in a portrait of the country like no other.