Amerikan Rambler: Podcast 14: Nelson Lankford

From July 2016: “He talks with Colin about doing Civil War history, the publishing industry, the writing process, and the recent exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”

Nelson Lankford is the author of several books about the Civil War, including “Richmond Burning” and “Cry Havoc!: The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861.”

via Podcast 14: Nelson Lankford — Amerikan Rambler: Everybody Has a Story

Loreta’s Civil War: Swaggered about in fine style

Velazquez participates in the Civil War’s first major battle, the Battle of Bull Run. In retrospect, she admits that the Confederate victory was an empty one.


Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart will share edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Part 11: Velazquez participates in the Civil War’s first major battle, the Battle of Bull Run. In retrospect, she admits that the Confederate victory was an empty one.


As the hot July sun mounted upwards through the almost-cloudless sky, and the mists of the morning disappeared before His ardent beams, the approach of the enemy could be distinctly traced by the clouds of dust raised by the tramping of thousands of feet, and, once in a great while, the gleam of the bayonets was discerned among the heavy clumps of timber that covered the undulating plain which the commanders of the armies of the South and the North had selected for their first trial of strategy and of strength. The desultory firing with which the battle opened soon was followed by rapid volleys, and ere the morning was far advanced, the sharp rattling of the musketry, the roar of the artillery, and the yelling of the soldiers, developed into an incessant tumult; while along the entire line, for miles, arose clouds of yellow dust and blue smoke, as the desperateness of the conflict increased, and the men on either side became excited with the work they had in hand.

It soon became apparent that the position in which fortune had placed me was to be the chief point of the Federal attack, and that my immediate comrades would be compelled to bear the brunt of the battle. … The Federal artillery, which sent its shell showering over us, and bursting in our ranks, creating terrible slaughter, was commanded by an acquaintance of mine, Ricketts. I did the best I could to give him as good as he sent, for the sake of old times when we were friends, and when neither of us imagined that we would some day be opposed to each other on the battlefield. The Confederates, although greatly outnumbered, succeeded for a long time in maintaining their ground, in spite of the odds against them, and again and again pierced through the enemy’s lines. Our men suffered terribly … Bee was compelled to give the order for us to fall back, the enemy having been heavily reinforced by the commands of Sherman and Keyes.

The Federals, doubtless, thought that the victory was theirs when they saw us in retreat. It was a terrible moment, and my heart failed me when I heard Bee’s order. I was wrought up to such a pitch of excitement while the fight was going on that I had no comprehension whatever of the value of the movements being made by the different commanders. I only saw the enemy before me and was inspired by an eager desire to conquer him. I forgot that I was but a single figure in a great military scheme; and as, while we stood face to face with the foe, every man on the other side became for the moment my personal enemy, whom I was furious to overcome, so, when by the general’s command, we were compelled to fail back, I was overcome with rage and indignation, and felt all the shame and mortification of a personal defeat.

I soon, however, saw the object Bee had in view in his momentary retreat, when he rallied his men in the rear of a house, and gave them a breathing spell. … This movement on the part of Bee afforded me an opportunity to cool off a little, and to observe the ebb and flow of the tide of battle more critically. I ere long was able to understand the general plan upon which the action was being conducted, and to view the combatants as masses to be wielded in a certain way for the accomplishment of definite objects, and not as a mere howling mob, bent only on a momentary success. From this point, therefore, the battle became more interesting than ever, and while nonetheless exciting, simply as a personal adventure — for my spirit rose and sank as victory or defeat seemed likely to rest upon our banners — I was more under the dominion of my reason, and less of my passions, than I had been when the fight commenced.

Bee rallied his men, with a voice of thunder, saying, “My boys, at them again! Victory or death! See how Jackson stands there like a stone wall!” This last expression seemed to please the men mightily, for they took it up immediately; and with a cheer for “Stonewall” Jackson, they made another dash at the enemy.

At noon the battle was at its fiercest, and the scene was grand beyond description. The simile that came into my mind was the great Desert of Sahara, with a broiling sun overhead, and immense whirlwinds of sand rolling along over the plain between heaven and earth. The red dust from the parched and sun-dried roads arose in clouds in every direction, while the smoke from the artillery and musketry slowly floated aloft in huge, fantastic columns, marking the places where the battle was being fought with most bitterness. The dry and motionless air was choking, to the nostrils, from the dust and smoke which filled it, while the pitiless July sun poured its hottest rays upon the parched and weary combatants. It was a sight never to be forgotten — one of those magnificent spectacles that cannot be imagined, and that no description, no matter how eloquent, can do justice to. I would not have missed it for the wealth of the world and was more than repaid for all that I had undergone, and all the risks to my person and my womanly reputation that I incurred, in being not only a spectator, but an actor, in such a sublime, living drama.

At the moment when Bee rallied his men for another grapple with the enemy, I would have given anything could I but have had the strength to make a clean sweep of our opponents, and, by a single blow, end the great struggle. Looking towards the hill which, in the morning, had been occupied by three of our bravest and best generals — Beauregard, Johnston, and Bonham — and their staffs, I saw it covered with men fighting with desperation; all along the valley were dense clouds of dust and smoke, while the yells of the excited soldiery, and the roar of the guns, were almost deafening. … The fiercer the conflict grew the more my courage rose. The example of my commanders, the desire to avenge my slaughtered comrades, the salvation of the cause which I had espoused, all inspired me to do my utmost; and no man on the field that day fought with more energy or determination than the woman who figured as Lt. Harry T. Buford. …

The expression constantly heard, that one Southerner could whip five Yankees, was not mere bounce, but it really represented what nearly everybody thought; and very few had any doubt as to the speedy end of the conflict that had been begun, or that it would end in the recognition of Southern independence. It took time to convince our people that they had no holiday task to perform; but the difficulty of effectively forcing the Federal lines, in spite of victories won by Confederate arms in the field, combined with the privations caused by the constantly increasing efficiency of the blockade, at length compelled all classes of people at the South to realize the fact that they had a tough job on their hands, and that if they expected to obtain their independence it would be necessary for them to work, and to work hard for it.

In many respects, the [Confederate] victory at Bull Run was anything but a benefit to the South. The panic which overtook the Federal soldiers, so far from communicating itself to the people of the North, only inspired them with a determination to wipe out the disgrace, and they hurried men to the front with such rapidity and in such numbers, that they soon had a force in the field which compelled the Confederates to act upon the defensive, and to think about the means of resisting invasion instead of attempting to assume the aggressive. On the other hand, not only the men who fought at Bull Run, but the whole South, were greatly elated at having won the first great battle; and, overestimating the importance of their victory, they were more than ever impressed with the idea that whipping the Yankees was a remarkable easy thing to do.

The victory at Bull Run, while it elated the whole Southern people, and very greatly excited their hopes and expectations, was most demoralizing to Richmond, to which city the capital of the Confederacy had been removed a short time before the battle came off. Crowds of soldiers, officers, and privates thronged the streets, when they ought to have been on duty in the field; while innumerable adventurers, male and female, were attracted to the seat of government in the hope of making something out of the war, careless of what happened so long as they were able to fill their pockets. Money was plenty, entirely too plenty, and the drinking-saloons, gambling-houses, and worse resorts, reaped a rich harvest. For a time all went merrily; but after a while, as month after month wore away, and no substantial fruits of our brilliant victory were reaped, and the prospect of a severe contest became every day more decided, those who, like myself, had their hearts in the cause, began to be impatient and disgusted at the inactivity that prevailed, and were disposed to do a good deal of growling. I confess that I enjoyed the excitement of life in Richmond at this period hugely for a time, but I soon had enough of it, and was glad to get away.

After the battle of Bull Run I did as much tall talking as anybody, and swaggered about in fine style, sporting my uniform for the admiration of the ladies, and making myself agreeable to them in a manner that excited the envy of the men, and raised me immensely in my own esteem; for I began to pride myself as much upon being a successful lady’s man as upon being a valiant soldier. …

Not being successful in getting the kind of appointment I desired at Richmond, I concluded to try my luck elsewhere. I went to Danville, and remained a couple of days, and on my return to Richmond obtained a pass and transportation for the West. When I got as far as Lynchburg, however, I changed my mind, owing to meeting some of the boys from Leesburg, who persuaded me to go there with them, as there was every prospect of another fight coming off soon. This suited me exactly, and to Leesburg I accordingly went, with a full determination to take a hand in a battle if one did come off. The fight did occur, although not so soon as I expected or wished, and I played my part in it as successfully as I had done at Bull Run, In the mean time, however, I splurged around Leesburg in fine style, and enjoyed myself immensely, being quite as successful as I had been in other places in winning the regards of the members of my own sex, not one of whom appeared to have the slightest suspicion that I was other than I pretended to be.

One young lady in particular, Miss E., showed a marked regard for me; and as she was a very charming girl, our acquaintance would probably have developed into a decided attachment, had I not been sailing under false colors. I was sorry that I could not reciprocate, in a proper manner, the very evident partiality she displayed towards me; and I more than half regretted that I permitted matters to go as far as I did, when I found what an impression I was making on her susceptible heart. It was necessary for me to sustain the character I had assumed, of a dashing young officer; and, situated as I was, it was important that I should make myself as agreeable as possible to the members of my own sex. Apart from this, however, much of the male society into which I was thrown was so very disagreeable to me, that I was glad to escape from it by seeking that of lady friends. It afforded me some amusement, too, to carry on a bit of a flirtation with a nice girl; and was very much tempted to entertain myself in this manner, without reflecting very deeply as to the consequences. I am very willing to admit that I ought not to have acted as I did in this, and some other similar cases; and if anything should occur to induce me to assume male attire again, I should carefully avoid making love to young ladies, unless I had occasion to do so for the immediate furtherance of my plans. My error in allowing myself to indulge in flirtations with my own sex, arose from thoughtlessness, and from a desire to play my part to the best advantage; and I am sure my readers will forgive me, as I hope the young ladies, whom I induced to indulge false expectations, will, when the publication of this narrative makes known to the world the whole truth about the identity of Lt. Harry T. Buford, C.S.A.

I met Miss E., by accident, in a store, and she was introduced to me by a young dry goods clerk, with whom I had struck up an acquaintance. After a little conversation on indifferent subjects, she gave me a very pressing invitation to call on her. I said that I would do myself the honor, and accordingly put in an appearance, dressed in my best, at her residence. She received me with many smiles and with great cordiality, and introduced me to her father and mother. As I noticed that the old people were rather inclined to be a little cool, and evidently did not regard me with overmuch favor, I cut short my visit, and, politely bowing myself out, determined, in my own mind, never to enter the house again. Had I been a man, the conduct of the parents would probably have spurred me to court the favor of the daughter with more pertinacity than ever. I have noticed that parental opposition to a young man generally has this sort of stimulating effect upon him; but, being a woman, I did not look at the thing exactly from a masculine point of view, and, as the French say, Lejeuri’en valait jxis la chandelle. I was sufficiently piqued, however, to accept any advances the young lady might make with some degree of favor, and to revenge myself upon the old people, by making myself intensely agreeable to the daughter, in spite of them. When Miss E., therefore, showed a very marked disposition to continue our acquaintance. …She then informed me that, if I wished, I could see her at her cousin’s, and as she seemed to be exceedingly anxious to have me call upon her again, I consented to do so. As we walked up the street together she pointed out her cousin’s house, and I made an appointment to meet her there the next day, at five o’clock. …

I was punctual in keeping my appointment with Miss E. … she was even more cordial in her manner towards me than on the previous occasions when we had met. She asked me innumerable questions about myself, where I was from, who were my parents, and seemed to be particularly anxious to find out all about me. I made up a story that I thought was suited to the occasion and the auditor; and, among other things, told her that I was the son of a millionaire, that I had joined the army for the fun of the thing, and that I was paying my own expenses. This seemed to make a great impression, on her; and, with a very significant smile, she said she wished that the war would soon end, and that I would settle permanently in Leesburg.

This was a rather broad hint, and I could scarcely refrain from laughing at it; but restraining myself, and keeping my countenance straight, I asked, “Why do you take such a fancy to me, Miss E., when there are so many elegant, accomplished, and wealthy young men in Leesburg, with whom you have been acquainted for along time? You know nothing whatever of me.”

“It won’t be hard for us to become better acquainted,” she replied.

‘”Well,” said I, “I don’t want to deceive you; but the fact is, I am as good as married already,” and producing a young lady’s photograph, which I had in my pocket, added, “I expect to be married to this lady as soon as the war is over.”

She turned pale at this, and the tears sprang to her eyes, while I could not but feel regret at having permitted the matter to go thus far. For a time neither of us spoke; and at length, to put an end to a scene that was becoming embarrassing to both of us, I arose, and, extending my hand, said that I must bid her good evening. She looked at me in a pitiable sort of way, and said, “Will I never see you again?” I answered that she might, if I was not killed, but a battle was expected shortly, and it was my intention to take part in it. I then said adieu, and precipitately left her, not feeling altogether comfortable about the affair; but judging, as a woman, that the young lady would, before a great while, find herself heart-whole, and be none the worse for having permitted herself to become unduly interested in Lt. Harry T. Buford.

So ended my Leesburg flirtation; and a desire to avoid meeting Miss E. again, at least until she had had time to recover her equanimity, as well as my eager wish to see some more fighting, induced me to leave the town as soon as possible.

Loreta’s Civil War: The plucky little devil

Velazquez experiences combat for the first time, and she realizes that it is nothing compared to what is to come.


Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart will share edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Part 10: Velazquez experiences combat for the first time, and she realizes that it is nothing compared to what is to come.


On going to my room, I found a note from my lady friend, requesting me to visit her in her chamber. This considerably astonished me, and assuredly did not increase my good opinion of her. I was almost tempted, however, to comply, just for the sake of hearing what she had to say to me, but wisely concluded that, situated as I was, it would be more prudent to avoid any further acquaintance with such a forward specimen of my sex.

I slept late the next morning, having forgotten to give directions for being called, and found, much to my satisfaction, on inquiring of the clerk, that my lady had left before I was out of bed. After breakfast, I ordered Bob to have everything ready for our departure by the six o’clock train. While strolling about the street, I was accosted by an officer, who asked me to show my papers. I told him that I had none, but that I was an independent, and had recruited, and put in the field, at my own expense, a battalion of two hundred and thirty-six men. This seemed to highly delight him, for he shook me warmly by the hand, asked me to step over to his office, where he could furnish me with transportation, and otherwise showed a desire to be of service to me. I thanked him, but declined the offer, on the plea that I proposed to pay my own way.

During the day I bought two horses and shipped them, and provided myself with a number of articles necessary for the campaign upon which I was about entering. Returning to the hotel, I paid my bill, had a lunch put up, and my baggage got ready, while Bob blacked my boots and brushed my coat. As ill luck would have it, however, I missed the six o’clock train, and was consequently compelled to remain another night in Richmond. … I was now about to enter upon the realization of all my dreams, to see some real warfare, to engage in real battles, to do some real fighting, and, as I fondly hoped, to have some opportunities of distinguishing myself in a signal manner. I was never in better health and spirit than on that bright summer morning, when I left Richmond for the purpose of joining the forces of the Confederacy in the face of the enemy ; and the nearer we approached our destination, the more elated did I become at the prospect before me of being able to prove myself as good a fighter as any of the gallant men who had taken up arms in behalf of the cause of Southern independence. I had only one fear, and that was, that I should be stopped on account of not having the proper papers; but my motto was, “Nothing venture, nothing have,” and I was bent on facing the thing through, and trusting to luck to bring me out all right. Fortunately I had no trouble of any kind, and arrived safely at Clifton — a supply-station about a dozen miles from the headquarters of the army in the field.

At Clifton I bought a couple of fine horses, and on the 15th of July set out for headquarters, with a view of being assigned to a command where I should have a chance to see some fighting. I sought an interview with a prominent general, but he was in rather a crusty humor; and as he did not seem inclined to talk with me, I concluded not to bother him, but to take my chances as matters might shape themselves for the accomplishment of my designs. His adjutant was more polite and desired to employ me as a courier; but this did not suit my notions, and I consequently declined. I told him that I was an independent, paying my own expenses, and that the only thing I wanted was an opportunity to take a hand in the coming fight. I suppose he thought that I was entirely too independent for him, for he said no more, but turned away, and went about other affairs.

Gen. [P.G.T.] Beauregard was in command of the entire army; but I felt a hesitation in approaching him, especially after the rebuff I had just received. Thinking that the shortest way to get what I wanted was to obtain a regular commission, I offered an officer, with whom I became acquainted, five hundred dollars for his. He would not sell, however; and I then went over to Brig. Gen. Bonham, who was holding Mitchell’s Ford, and introduced myself to him. Gen. Bonham looked at me sharply and asked what company I belonged to.

“To none,” I replied. “I belong wherever there is work to do.”

“Well,” said Bonham, “you are the right sort to have around when a fight is going on. If you stay here a little while, I reckon you will be able to find plenty of work.”

I took this as a hint that I might make myself at home, and, bowing myself out of the general’s presence, went to look after my boy Bob. The darkey was just beginning to have some appreciation of what fighting was really like and was badly scared. I told him that if he ran off and left me, I would kill him if I ever caught him again; which threat had its desired effect, for he stuck to me through thick and thin.

At half past twelve o’clock, on the 18th, the enemy made a sharp attack, but did not do any great damage. … As they broke and ran, I fired a last shot at them with a dead man’s musket, which I picked up. During the greater part of this fight, the men belonging to the two armies who engaged in it were often not more than a few feet from each other, and it seemed more like a series of duels than anything such as I had imagined a battle would be. …

This skirmish was but the prelude to the great battles of Manassas or Bull’s Run, which was fought on the 21st of July, 1861. It served, however, to initiate me, and to make me impatient to see an engagement of real importance, in which I should have an opportunity to make a first-rate display of my fighting qualities. I was the more anxious for a big fight soon, as I had been placed temporarily in command of a company, the senior officer of which had been killed, and I was afraid that if a fight was long delayed I should be superseded, and should be compelled to lose my best chance of distinguishing myself. I had no occasion, however, to be afraid of a fight not coming off, for we had ample information of all the movements of the enemy, and knew that he was about to advance upon us in full force, so that the conflict was likely to begin at almost any moment. I was able, therefore, to take part m the first great battle of the war, under the best possible auspices, and to thus accomplish what had been one of the great objects of my ambition from my earliest childhood. There may have been men who did harder fighting at Bull Run than myself, but no one went through the fight with a stouter heart, or with a greater determination to behave valiantly, and, if possible, to give the enemy a sound thrashing, if only for the sake of affording him an idea of the magnitude of the job he had undertaken in attempting to coerce the Southern people.

On the 18th I assisted, with the rest, to bury the dead, my boy, Bob, rendering us efficient service in the performance of this duty. When night came I was tired out, and, lying down on the bare ground, slept soundly until four o’clock the next morning. When I awoke, I was weary and sore in all my limbs through the unusual exertions I had been compelled to make, and the exposure to the hot sun in the day time, and the damp air and cold ground at night. I was not sick, however; and as I had no doubt that I should soon get used to this kind of rough life, I never thought of giving up, especially as a great battle was impending, upon taking part in which my heart was bent.

At daybreak, on the 19th, I was in my boots, and ready to march. Passing through Ashby’s Gap, we reached the little town of Piedmont, on the Manassas Gap Railroad, where we halted. On the 20th, Gen. [Joseph E.] Johnston arrived at Manassas about noon, and was followed by two Georgia regiments and [Thomas] Jackson’s brigade of gallant Virginians. Then came Bernard E. Bee, with the 4th Alabama Regiment and the 2n Regiment, and three companies of the 11th Regiment of Mississippians. On account of some delay, or detention on the railroad, it was now found necessary to hold a council of war, and to make some changes in the plans already arranged. …

On the morning of the day of the battle I was awake at dawn, and ready to play my part in the great drama which was about to begin; and although some of the men around me had been disposed to laugh at the efforts of the little dandified independent to get a chance to display his valor, not one of them was more eager for the fight than myself, or was more bent upon doing deeds of heroism. If I had allowed myself to be irritated by snubs from officers, who behaved as if they thought the results of the war depended upon them alone, I should have gone back to Richmond in disgust several days before the battle came off, and should have resumed the garb of my sex, with a determination never to figure as a man again. I was not to be bluffed by anybody, however; and having come thus far to see and to take a hand in a great battle, I had no thought of turning back for any cause, or under any circumstances, no matter what might be said or thought of me.

I labored under some disadvantages in not having a regular commission, and not being attached to a regular command. This exposed me to slights that would otherwise not have been put upon me, and prevented officers, who would, under some circumstances, have gladly taken advantage of my readiness to attend faithfully to any task assigned me, to avail themselves of my services. On the other hand, my being an independent, enabled me, to a great extent, to choose my own position in the battle, and I probably, therefore, had a better opportunity of distinguishing myself than I should have had otherwise. I was especially bent upon showing some of them, who were disposed to smile at me on account of my petite figure and jaunty air, that I was as good a man as any one of them, and was able to face the enemy as valiantly. This I did show them before the day was over, and I was highly elated at the commendations which some of the best soldiers bestowed upon the “plucky little devil,” as they called me.

By the time it was fairly daylight, the preparations for meeting the enemy were well advanced, and the sun rose in all his majesty upon a host of men drawn up in battle array — the brave among them anxious for the fray to begin, the cowards — and there were plenty of them in both armies — trembling in their boots, and eager for a pretext to sneak away, and hide themselves from the coming danger. The morning was a beautiful one, although it gave promise of a sweltering day; and the scene presented to my eyes, as I surveyed the field, was one of marvelous beauty and grandeur. I cannot pretend to express in words what I felt, as I found myself one among thousands of combatants who were about to engage in a deadly and desperate struggle. … Fear was a word I did not know the meaning of; and as I noted the ashy faces, and the trembling limbs of some of the men about me, I almost wished that I could feel a little fear, if only for the sake of sympathizing with the poor devils. I do not say this for brag, for I despise braggarts as much as I do cowards; but, in a narrative like this, the reader has a right to know what my feelings, as well as my impressions, were, upon so important an occasion as my appearance as a combatant upon the battlefield, where the Confederate troops first gave the enemy a taste of their genuine quality, and achieved their first great victory.

Undiscovered countries: The books we need

Insightful celebrations of worthy works, considerations of upcoming titles, and general musings on great writing will all meet here on a regular basis.


Stillness of Heart‘s range of popular and academic book criticism widened and deepened in recent years, and many more reviews are on the way. Insightful celebrations of worthy works, considerations of upcoming titles, and general musings on great writing will all meet here on a regular basis.

As always, the Stillness of Heart community of writers, readers, intellectuals, historians, journalists, and artists welcomes your ideas and recommendations. Tell us what we should be reading.


Some of 2015’s best Civil War books … so far
Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign, edited by Gary W. Gallagher and Caroline E. Janney
Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front, by J. Matthew Gallman
The Civil War and Reconstruction in Indian Territory, by Bradley R. Clampitt
The World the Civil War Made, edited by Gregory P. Downs and Kate Masur
Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth, by Terry Allford
The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege: A Sensory History of the Civil War, by Mark Smith
The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters, by James M. McPherson
Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science, by Shauna Devine
Originally published in July 2015
“Publishers in 2015 offer excellent work that both casual and serious readers of the Civil War should know about.”

The Silent Enemy
Polio: An American Story, by David M. Oshinsky
Originally published in December 2014

“The United States battled polio long before it ever faced the Soviet hegemonic threat, but only during the Cold War did the U.S. achieve significant victories in the battle against the virus.”

From a flame into a firestorm
A consideration of the French Revolution and its unexpected consequences.
Originally published in September 2014
“Why the French Revolution devoured its own people”

Dealing with the real America
Puerto Rican Citizen: History and Political Identity in Twentieth-Century New York City, by Lorrin Thomas
Originally published in August 2014
“Dealing with Puerto Rico means dealing with the key issues of the 21st century. Few in the U.S. government may have the stomach for that rollercoaster.”

The wars over the war
Hospital Sketches, by Louisa May Alcott
Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War, by Charles B. Dew
The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict, by Andre Fleche
The Union War, by Gary W. Gallagher
The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians 1861-1865, by Mark Grimsley
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs
“The North American Crisis of the 1860s,” by Patrick J. Kelly, in The Journal of the Civil War Era
“Who Freed the Slaves?” by James M. McPherson, in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society
“Who Freed the Slaves? Emancipation and Its Meaning,” by Ira Berlin, in Union & Emancipation: Essays on Politics and Race in the Civil War Era
Originally published in July 2014

“Nine key books and articles taken together can explain what led to the first sparks of civil violence and how those sparks ignited what evolved into the bloodiest and most important war in U.S. history.”

Endless Borderlands
Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, by Gloria Anzaldua
Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands, by Juliana Barr
Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, by Wendy Brown
Pacific Connections: The Making of the U.S.-Canada Borderlands, by Kornel Chang
The Comanche Empire, by Pekka Hämäläinen
A Tale of Two Cities: Santo Domingo and New York after 1950, by Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof
Bridging National Borders in North America: Transnational and Comparative Histories, edited by Benjamin H. Johnson and Andre R. Graybill
Migra!: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol, by Kelly Lytle-Hernandez
The Line Which Separates: Race, Gender, and the Making of the Alberta-Montana Borderlands, by Sheila McManus
Border Dilemmas: Racial and National Uncertainties in New Mexico, 1848-1912, by Anthony P. Mora
Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West, by Nayan Shah
Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexico Border, by Rachel St. John
Bárbaros: Spaniards and their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment, by David Weber
“On Borderlands,” by Hämäläinen and Samuel Truett, in the Journal of American History
“From Borderlands to Borders: Empires, Nation-States, and the Peoples in Between in North American History,” by Jeremy Adelman and Stephen Aron, in American Historical Review
Originally published in June 2014
“Fifteen essays and books explore the borderlands field with passion and intelligence, daring their readers to leave behind their old worlds and follow them into new ones.”

The Battle for Boricua
Reproducing Empire: Race, Empire, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico, by Laura Briggs
Originally published in January 2014
“Is Puerto Rico the battleground for America’s intellectual future?”

Torn in the USA
Polio: An American Story, by David M. Oshinsky
Make Love, Not War: The Sexual Revolution: An Unfettered History, by David Allyn
Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939, by Lizabeth Cohen
Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class, by Jefferson Cowie
In Search of the Black Panther Party: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement, edited by Jama Lazerow and Yohuru Williams
Quixote’s Soldiers: A Local History of the Chicano Movement, 1966-1981, by David Montejano
“Resistance in the Urban North: Trumbull Park, Chicago, 1953-1966,” by Arnold R. Hirsch, in the Journal of American History
“Crabgrass-Roots Politics: Race, Rights, and the Reaction against Liberalism in the Urban North, 1940-1964,” by Thomas J. Sugrue, in the Journal of American History
Originally published in September 2013
“Life, liberty, and the doomed pursuit of happiness.”

Nixon lurking in the shadows
Richard M. Nixon in books, in the news, on TV, and in my dreams
Originally published in December 2011

“Richard Nixon was in my dream last night. The post-presidency Nixon. The bitter, self-pitying, damned Nixon, coiled in the shadows of La Casa Pacifica in San Clemente, dark eyes glaring at the world as it spun on without him.”

Homo universalis
A reflection on my intellectual ambitions.
Originally published in July 2011
“I’ve always been blessed with a hunger for knowledge, a curiosity that often flares into full-blown passion for new arenas of experience, a curiosity perhaps sparked by a bittersweet frustration that I don’t know as much about literature, science, mathematics, history and culture as I think I should.”

Kate Stone’s Civil War: The noble, gentle heart

Stone was an insightful, often self-deprecating, and intelligent writer, but she never wrote more beautifully than when she endured tragedy.

From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, the daughter of Louisiana cotton plantation owners who chronicled her turbulent life throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

Stone was an insightful, often self-deprecating, and intelligent writer, but she never wrote more beautifully than when she endured tragedy.

The sickness that ravaged the Stone family was too much for Stone’s brother Ashburn, who died soon after their older brother left to rejoin his Confederate unit. Their mother accompanied the soldier to his embarkation point at Vicksburg, Miss., and she was too far away to rejoin her dying son in his final moments. As Stone grieved, her journal sat silent for two weeks. In late November, she began to write again.

Amidst her sorrow she took a moment to reflect on her mother’s beauty and character. It’s a fascinating and affectionate celebration of the woman Stone admired above all others.

Nov. 27:

How can I write the record of the last two weeks? It seems that the trouble and grief of years has been pressed into that short space of time. Ashburn, our darling, has gone, never to return. Oh! how we miss him every hour in the day. The noble, gentle heart and the loving sensitive nature are stilled forever, passed from the world as though they had never been. What great thoughts, loving wishes, and proud hopes lie buried in his grave. So young, so bouyant, so full of life and happiness, brilliant with the very joy of living such a little while ago, and now dead. …

Nov. 28:

Ashburn died on Tuesday, November 12, at 11 o’clock at night of swamp fever. We sent for Mamma very early Tuesday morning, but she could not get here until Wednesday morning too late. She was so dreadfully distressed. As soon as he died, Brother Coley started at once to Vicksburg to meet Mamma and to make arrangements for the burial. He reached DeSoto just as she crossed the ferry, and as soon as she saw him she knew the worst.

Brother Walter had gone for her and brought her back. She so reproached herself for leaving him when he was sick, but we told her everybody on the place had been sick off and on all summer and she could not know this would be a serious illness. She loved him so. We always told her that she loved and indulged him more than any of us, and she always said, why, he was the best boy of them all and never gave any occasion to be scolded.

Nov. 29:

[Ashburn’s] was buried Thursday in a clump of woods just back of the house, the new family graveyard. Our Father and two little sisters were removed there from the old graveyard a year ago.

Here at home all seems strangely dull and sad. …

A warm lovely week, a wanderer from the April sisterhood. No frost and the flowers are still in fullest bloom roses and annuals, as gay as in May. “The Melancholy days have come” for our household but not for Dame Nature. The boys have been out hunting most of the day with poor success one duck but the woods are full of game and the lakes covered with ducks.

Brother Coley and Mr. Reading went to attend the drill at Willow Bayou and to bid adieu to Mr. Reading’s friends. They went from there to Omega. No mail. But Brother Coley brought back the paper containing the resolutions of sympathy passed by the Willow Bayou company on Ashburn’s death. How he loved all military matters.

Mamma was talking tonight of her early days. She was married before she was sixteen, before she had left school, but she had been out enough to reject ten lovers before she met papa. All of them are living still. She was and is a beautiful woman of most attractive manner and a brilliant conversationalist with a great power of attracting love, the first and greatest gift that can be bestowed on anyone. She has the most cheerful, brightest spirit and is a brave resourceful woman. None of the children bear a strong resemblance to either her or our Father. Brother Walter is most like her.

Nov. 30:

This is the last day of a month that brought us unmixed joy and hopeless sorrow. My Brother was with us at its commencement and now at the close he is in camp again, and one of our dearest and best has bidden farewell to Earth and floated out on the dark river.

Kate Stone’s Civil War: Gladden our hearts

As Stone celebrated one brother, she expressed deep discomfort with another.

From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, the daughter of Louisiana cotton plantation owners who chronicled her turbulent life throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

In mid-October 1861, Stone’s brother, who served in the Confederate army in Virginia, returned to Brokenburn for a rest. Stone was elated to see him. His stories from the battlefields fascinated and horrified her. He rejoined a family wracked by seasonal sicknesses. As Stone celebrated one brother, she expressed deep discomfort with another.

Oct. 19:

What a joyous evening to us all. My Brother came a complete surprise to us all. Sent home on sick furlough. He has had typhoid fever for a month and as soon as convalescent the surgeon sent him home. He looks taller and has lost forty pounds. Home life and love will soon build him up. He came at dusk. We have kept him talking until eleven, and that was not wise, as of course he is tired. He told us many funny anecdotes of his experiences as assistant provost marshal. He likes the marshal exceedingly. How horrible is the idea of the visitors to the Manassas battlefield rifling the graves of Northern soldiers for mementoes. They should be put in the front ranks of the next battle. It is positively ghoulish. Johnny went out for the mail and brought My Brother instead. Mr. Bledsoe kindly sent him out in his buggy. Our heartfelt thanks go up to God for having returned to us our best beloved brother.

Oct. 22:

My Brother is a bright yellow, even the skin of his head, like an orange or a pumpkin, and Dr. Lily has prescribed sugar cane for him. He is to eat all of it he can. Dr. Carson sent him a wagonload of it by the wagon that carried out the cotton that Mamma and others subscribed to the sewing society.

Oct. 28:

Today is but a catalogue of chills. Ashburn and Brother Coley shivered through the morning and burned all the evening. Timely doses of quinine kept them off Sister and Johnny. Sister has been sick since Friday and Mamma had Dr. Lily for her. Charles and Sarah are up today and Lucy and Prank down.

My Brother went out this evening to see Dr. Carson. His appetite is better and he is gaining strength.

They are digging potatoes today. Promises to be a noble lot. Annie is helping Uncle Hoccles gather the goober peas [peanuts]. It looks like a month’s job for him. Jimmy and I made some pecan and pull candy this evening and I wish we had not.

Brother Walter teased and worried us, and we all got tired of it and appealed to Mamma when Brother Walter flew into one of his unreasoning rages (fortunately such attacks are rare) and behaved so badly that we have all been uncomfortable ever since. He is the only one of my brothers I ever thought really needed punishing and the only one I ever feel like quarreling with. I believe he is the brightest of all the boys, converses so well, has Mamma’s gift in that, and looks more like her than any of her children.

Nov. 10:

My Brother left us today to join his regiment at Evansport on Occoquan Creek in Virginia. His health is quite restored but Oh! how we hate to give him up. His visit home has been such a delight to us. When will he come to gladden our hearts again?

Kate Stone’s Civil War: Gallantly fought and won

Families shattered. Love lost. Fears deepened. Tightly-held hopes slowly suffocating.

‘Capture of Ricketts’ Battery’ by Sidney E. King

From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, the daughter of Louisiana cotton plantation owners who chronicled her turbulent life throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

In late July, Stone’s diary recorded news of the first major battle between Union and Confederate forces in Virginia, the Battle of Bull Run, or the Battle of Manassas, fought on July 21, 1861. The word “First” often accompanies historical mention of this battle because a second battle would be fought on or near the same ground 13 months later.

July 26

Received telegraphic accounts of our first pitched battle fought at Manassas Junction. Our side victorious, of course. A reported loss of 3,000 for us and 7,000 for the Yankees. The losses we hope are exaggerated. Reported that Gen. [Winfield] Scott and [Jefferson] Davis were in command. If Gen. Scott is defeated, it will make our victory more complete. My Brother and Uncle Bo may have been in the fight, but we hardly think so as on the thirteenth they were still in Richmond.

Stone received wrong information on who was in field command. Irvin McDowell commanded Union forces, and Joseph E. Johnston and P.G.T Beauregard commanded the Confederates. Winfield Scott was general-in-chief of all Union forces, and he had remained in Washington. Confederate President Jefferson Davis visited the battlefield near the end of the fighting.

The battlefield maps and accounts of combat are always tragically fascinating, but Stone’s diary instilled in me a genuine sensitivity and respect for the real cost of these engagements. Families shattered. Love lost. Fears deepened. Tightly-held hopes slowly suffocating. Manassas was only the beginning.

July 29

Mamma and Mr. Newton rode to Omega yesterday morning and learned some of the details of the Manassas battle. It was gallantly fought and won. Poor Col. Bartow fell, banner in hand, rushing on so bravely. Mr. Newton heard his brother George was in the fight but came through unharmed.

Tomorrow is a day of thanksgiving for victory. Mr. Newton leaves us for his home early Monday. He is busy tonight packing. How much we will all miss him.

July 30

We are all sorry for Dr. Lily. Sunday, he sent Mamma word that he was going on to Richmond to see his brother and would take any letter or message. Mamma had only time to write a short letter to My Brother, and Brother Coley started with it and met Dr. Lily at the gate, just starting on his way to Richmond. He had received a dispatch that his brother, a boy of seventeen, was dangerously wounded in the battle, and he was going on to be with him. All the gentlemen seem to be leaving for Richmond. Mr. Catlin sent us word that he would leave at once and we sent letters by him. …

Kate Stone’s Civil War: The blood of her children

Hard, historic days of decision, she knew, lay ahead.

From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, the daughter of Louisiana cotton plantation owners who chronicled her turbulent life throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

Independence Day, 1861, inspired Stone to reflect on the remnants of the Union her generation inherited from the Founding Fathers. Hard, historic days of decision, she knew, lay ahead.

July 4

Mamma is still in bed but is better. The boys have holiday in honor of the Fourth but more I think to keep up old customs than for any feeling of respect for the day. This is the first Fourth in our memory to pass without a public merrymaking of some kind, but we do not hear of the day’s being celebrated in town or country. There are other and sterner duties before us. It would ill become us as a Nation to be celebrating a day of independence when we are fighting for our very existence.

This July sun has set on a Nation in arms against itself, host against host. Those who have clasped each other’s hands in kindest spirits less than one short year ago, as friends, as countrymen, as children of one common Mother, now stand opposing each other in deadliest hate, eager to water Old Mother Earth with the blood of her children. Our Cause is right and God will give us the victory. Will the next July sun rise on a Nation peaceful, prosperous, and happy, or on a land desolate and disgraced? He alone knows.

Congress meets today. The lives of thousands hang on its decision. Will it be for peace or war? We should know by Saturday.

July 5

The Fourth and today passed without any trouble with the Negroes. The general impression has been that the Negroes looked for a great upheaval of some kind on that day. In some way they have gotten a confused idea of Lincoln’s Congress meeting and of the war; they think it is all to help them, and they expected for “something to turn up.” I hope the house servants will settle to their work now.

July 17

Mamma and I went out Monday and took dinner with Mrs. Savage and went up in the afternoon to call on Mrs. Carson. I remained there until this evening. Mamma came out and spent the day. Had a delightful visit. It is a most hospitable home, complete in all its appointments lovely gardens and orchards, an old place well taken care of with perfect service because of so many servants.

We admire Dr. Carson greatly. He is such a humane master and good Christian. He has the minister to preach regularly to his Negroes, or if there is no minister, he or one of the boys reads a sermon, hymns, and the Bible to them every Sunday afternoon. And he has Sunday school for them. He raises plenty of fruit and vegetables for everybody on the place, and his quarter lot is the prettiest place, a great stretch of thick green turf dotted with great forest trees and a double row of two-room cabins shining with whitewash. It is the cleanest-looking place I ever saw. He is a good man. Mamma has the minister to preach to our Negroes when he can find time, but that is not as often as we wish.

Kate Stone’s Civil War: They thought me so ugly

She never thought she was attractive. She never thought she’d be loved. But on one rainy day, a conversation with her mother changed everything.

From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, the daughter of Louisiana cotton plantation owners who chronicled her turbulent life throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

July 1861 at Brokenburn began amidst sickness, and Stone was restless. She had always known she was smart, witty, well-read, and insightful. Like many people today, she never believed she was attractive, and that insecurity was a black cloud that darkened every aspect of her emotional life. But on one rainy day, a conversation with her mother inspired her to completely reshape her self-image.

July 1

Mamma is sick again today from the medicine. I hope she will be relieved by tomorrow. It upsets everything for her to be sick. I cannot settle to any work or even read with any comprehension. … A wet disagreeable day, Mamma sleeping through most of it, but she waked up this evening and was telling me tales of my babyhood and early childhood.

It seems My Brother and I were quite noted little people in our circle of acquaintances. At eighteen months I learned my letters with My Brother, who was fifteen months older, and by the time I was two and a half could read very well. I knew “Mother Goose” by heart, could repeat pages of poetry and a number of little tales, and chatter of any and everything by the hour.

And yet I was a good little child and the delight of my Father, who thought me a wonderful little creature and would never let me be crossed. I was his only daughter for so long. I remember his pleasure when Sister was born after six sons had been ushered into the world. …

I do not remember the time when I could not read. My first recollection of books was trying to teach my little Aunt Serena, three years the older, her letters, sitting side by side on the steps. How strange it seemed to me that she could not read. I thought everybody read as everybody talked naturally.

Mamma’s talk was a great surprise to me as I had always thought I was the ugly duckling of the whole family. … I had always, since I could think, had the idea that my Father and all the family petted and encouraged me because they thought me so ugly and were sorry all the time that I was suffering from this idea, for it has been the shadow on my life. I was my Father’s favorite; he thought me perfect. I had the admiration of the rest of the family for what they were pleased to think my quick, bright mind.

The knowledge of this will, I think, change my life from this night. Finding that I have been much beloved all my life, I will try to put away the morbid thoughts that have so often harassed me the fear that, being ugly and unattractive, no one could ever really care for me, and that I was doomed to a life of loneliness and despair. Mamma by one long, sweet talk … exorcised this gloomy spirit; from this time forth I will try to make the best of the girl that Father loved so.

Mamma says I was the quaintest-looking little figure when three years old, being small with long yellow hair plaited down my back my Father would never allow it to be touched with the scissors. I had a short, stumpy, little body and the very tiniest feet and hands, like bird claws, so small and thin, and a grave dignified manner. But I was an incessant chatterbox with the funniest lisp when perched in a high chair in the chimney corner reciting poetry and telling tales to amuse the laughing grown folks.

The lisp I have kept to this day, try as I will to get rid of it. But not another feature is like the Kate of today. I am tall, not quite five feet six, and thin, have an irregular face, a quantity of brown hair, a shy, quiet manner, and talk but little.

What an egotistical page, but it has made me happy. No more morose dreamings, but a new outlook on life.

Kate Stone’s Civil War: Whipped unmercifully

As the month closed, Stone’s natural defiance blossomed, she complained about the slaves, and a comet appeared in the sky.

From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, the daughter of Louisiana cotton plantation owners who chronicled her turbulent life throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

On June 18, 1861, tragic news darkened the pages of Stone’s diary:

Aunt Laura is ill. She has just lost a young baby and I know is much distressed and disappointed. She is so devoted to her only child, Beverly, the loveliest little girl I ever saw. Dr. Buckner thinks her perfect and really I believe she is, bodily, mentally, and physically.

The little baby, we hear, was horribly deformed. God in mercy took it, but Aunt Laura knows nothing of its misfortune.

June 19 saw an interesting incident:

Great excitement! About nine in the evening we were sitting on the front gallery and a runaway Negro passed just in front of the house. The boys rushed out after him, but he soon distanced them, and I was glad he escaped. I hate to think how he will be punished, perhaps whipped unmercifully.

The runaways are numerous and bold. We live on a mine that the Negroes are suspected of an intention to spring on the fourth of next month. The information may be true or false, but they are being well watched in every section where there are any suspects. Our faith is with God.

Stone expressed anxiety for the fate of the “runaway Negro” should he be captured. Was it private sympathy for someone hunted by a slaveholding machinery whose brutality she knew all too well? She encapsulated the family’s general paranoia as they wondered about their own fate. How did that uncertainty mutate Southern perspectives on American society, their sense of how the future of their nation should unfold, and their interpretation of God’s plan for their society? Was it easier to simply focus on how many berries they picked for supper that afternoon, whose baby was lost, or who was joining them for dinner that night?

As the month closed, Stone’s natural defiance blossomed, she complained about the slaves, and a comet appeared in the sky:

A beautiful sunshiny day. Just enough rain has fallen to perfect the corn and help the cotton. Surely this year we have had “the early and the latter rains” and the promise of abundant crops. The North cannot starve us, try as they may, and God will aid us in our righteous cause. …

The house servants have been giving a lot of trouble lately — lazy and disobedient. Will have to send one or two to the field and replace them from the quarters if they do not settle down. I suppose the excitement in the air has infected them. The field hands go on without trouble. …

There is a comet visible tonight. We were surprised to see it, as we did not know it was expected. Have seen nothing of it in the papers. It is not very bright but has the appearance of a large star, Venus at her brightest, with a long train of light seen dimly as through a mist. Jimmy first discovered it. Two splendid meteors fell just above it, and the boys said it was a big star chased by little ones trying to regain its orbit.