Book Review: Vicksburg: Grant’s Campaign That Broke the Confederacy by Donald L. Miller

Posted February 23rd, 2020 by Devin and filed in Civil War, History, Ironclads and Gunboats

Vicksburg: Grant's Campaign That Broke the ConfederacyVicksburg: Grant’s Campaign That Broke the Confederacy by Donald L. Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Donald L. Miller’s book is a mid-level look at the events from Grants first arrival at Cairo, Illinois, in 1861, up through the capture of Vicksburg in 1863. Miller covers the planning and thought behind the push to recapture the entire Mississippi river valley, focusing more on plans, logistics, and political intent than on the soldier’s eye view of the conflict; there’s still some of this, but those looking for pages of “a day in the life” of the soldiers on the line, they need to look elsewhere.

Two aspects of Miller’s work are a refreshing change. Continue Reading »

Book Review: The Path Between the Seas

Posted July 8th, 2018 by Devin and filed in History, Review

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 by David McCullough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great read from David McCullough. This one is a little denser than the other recent titles I’ve finished by him – The Johnstown Flood and The Great Bridge – but that doesn’t detract from the book. Indeed, the scope of the work requires the density. McCullough covers not only the American involvement in the canal, but the initial surveys and the aborted French project, and all of the associated drama. He recounts the engineering and medical advancements brought about by the project, as well as the darker side of the racism prevalent in the lives of the workers, and the dubious circumstances of Panamanian independence at the insistence of the United States.

My only quibble is that I’d like to have an addendum that covers the canal as it is today, after the ceding of ownership back to Panama, and with the new locks and other improvements recently added. Others can cover that, though, as McCullough’s book stands fine on its own as a thorough and compelling chronicle of an astounding project. Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Model Completed: Ironclad CSS Atlanta

Posted September 19th, 2016 by Devin and filed in Civil War, History, Ironclads and Gunboats, Modeling

title2Here’s another that’s been done for a bit, but is just now getting added to the website. A simple kit, easy build, fun project.

Added to the Model Building page, and can also be reached directly HERE.

Driving through History: Visits to the USS Monitor, Smithsonian Air, Richmond, Gettysburg and Brawner’s Farm

Posted July 6th, 2016 by Devin and filed in Civil War, History, Ironclads and Gunboats, Travel

2016-06-24 09.32.14

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” ― William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

William Faulkner famously struggled with the history of the South. Born and raised at a time when Civil War veterans still lived, he didn’t have to walk the battlefields at Gettysburg in order to be able to write his stirring piece on how those days in 1863 have never left us. But once the people who lived during significant events have passed into that same history, no longer to tell their stories, we have to find other ways to touch the past.

Recently, I was made aware that the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia, the home of the restoration of the USS Monitor turret and other recovered artifacts, was giving tours of the facilities and the turret itself. See, the turret is kept in a tank filled with water the majority of the time, fresh water and a slight electrical current leech the accumulated salt from metal that spent 140 years on the bottom of the Atlantic. Once I heard of the tours, I made plans, borrowed a car, and drove south on a Thursday afternoon.

The USS Monitor had a short lifespan, yet was a truly revolutionary ship. After careful perusal, I can actually recommend the Wikipedia article on her as a good source for her history during the Civil War, and post recovery in 2002. I’ve read a lot about the Monitor during years of model building, general historical curiosity, and research for my New York Times pieces, so I was well versed in her past when I arrived at the museum on Friday morning. I was greeted by Hannah, who took me through the initial  Monitor related exhibits. These artifacts include, among many other items, a busted Dahlgren cannon fired from the CSS Virginia, and a full-sized partial depiction of the Virginia herself. Several preserved artifacts recovered from the Monitor’s wreck are displayed, the most impressive of which is the red signal lantern at the top of this entry. The red lantern, the distress signal the Monitor raised on New Years Eve in 1862, was the last thing anyone ever saw of her as she sank. 140 year later, it was also the first thing found of her wreck, spotted laying on the ocean floor, literally rolling in the sand and current, several hundred yards from Monitor herself. Continue Reading »

Book Review: Battleship Sailor by Theodore C. Mason

Posted July 1st, 2015 by Devin and filed in History, Review

Just finished reading this title. A fantastic look at enlisted life in the Pre-WWII U.S. Navy:
Battleship SailorBattleship Sailor by Theodore C. Mason

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mason has done a fantastic job of describing the life of an enlisted man on a battleship on the eve of WWII. His description of arriving at the training command in San Diego in 1940 was almost exactly the same as mine in 1988: the same late night arrival, not knowing what’s going on, finding an open bunk in a strange barracks in the dark, and the following days of figuring out where one belongs in a totally foreign new world.

His descriptions of time in the fleet also show how little the Navy changed in a half-century, with the Continue Reading »

Book Review Posted

Posted September 4th, 2014 by Devin and filed in History

swordI’ve posted a review of “Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway” over on the USS Yorktown website. This is a book I’ve had on my shelf for years, but my detour into all things Civil War pulled me away from my studies of the Pacific war. Really glad I got around to this, as it’s a truly ground-breaking treatment on the battle from the Japanese point of view.

From WWI to Thomas Edison to the New York Circle Line to the banks of the Ohio

Posted March 10th, 2014 by Devin and filed in History

8561349835_7276b0d119_oHere’s a fascinating article about one of my favorite things in life: abandoned and rusting ships. Known as the USS Sachem during WWI and Circle Line V in New York City during the 1980’s, the boat has had a long and varied life, but now sits on the banks of the Ohio River in Kentucky, rusting away. While I hope someone comes to the boat’s rescue, for now I really love the photos of this rusty old hulk.

Full article on the Queen City Discovery website HERE.

USS Monitor Lab Dark and Shuttered

Posted January 10th, 2014 by Devin and filed in Civil War, History, Ironclads and Gunboats

Photo taken during September 2011 visit to Mariner's Museum.

NOAA doesn’t have the funding to support operations of the USS Monitor wet lab at the Mariner’s Museum. While the regular museum, and I assume the research library, is still open, the lab with the tanks that house the turret, guns, engine, and other artifacts, have had the lights turned off and the tanks covered with tarps.

You can read the full story in the Virginia Pilot’s Online Edition.

The Mariner’s Museum web page has the full press release and various links of use.

There’s also a petition on the matter.

Wreck of Gunboat USS Westfield Recovery

Posted January 7th, 2014 by Devin and filed in Civil War, History, Ironclads and Gunboats

USS Westfield image from gulfwrecks.netOne of my big areas of interest that I’ve yet to really delve into in Civil War history is that of the ferry gunboats. When President Lincoln immediately implemented a blockade in 1861, there simply weren’t enough ships in the Union Navy to seal off the Confederate ports. The government set to buying anything that would float, including New York City ferries. The idea of a Staten Island ferry, loaded with guns, sent south and made a Continue Reading »

July 1st, 1863: Pawns

Posted July 1st, 2013 by Devin and filed in Civil War, History, Iron Brigade

Among the first units of the Army of the Potomac to pass into Pennsylvania on June 30th, 1863, the Iron Brigade enjoyed the cheering crowds and free food from grateful civilians that Robert E. Lee’s “Army of Liberation” had been expecting but never saw. The men that made up the Brigade — of the 2nd, 6th and 7th Wisconsin, the 19th Indiana, and the 24th Michigan — spent the night camped where Marsh Creek crosses the Emmitsburg Road (this area today is a non-descript dip in Highway 15, but if you know what to look for, you can find it). Members of the 19th Indiana pulled picket duty on the northern border of the camp, and found themselves the very tip of the spear of the Union Army, the furthest north and closest to the enemy. A few of the men on picket duty noticed a prominent hill in the distance that passing locals identified as Big Round Top, just outside of the town of Gettysburg.

The men had been told by those in charge that there were no Confederates about, and not to expect action on July 1st, but a detachment of John Buford’s cavalry passed through the camp late on the 30th and the horsemen spoke of going to greet some enemy infantry just down the road. Elements of Buford’s cavalry had fought with the brigade throughout the past year, and the Iron Brigade soldiers trusted their take on events more than any general’s. The troopers rode Continue Reading »