Monday, March 17, 2014

Citrusy History: St. Augustine and the Civil War

"Yet St. Augustine is a most beautiful place, and the scenery - the oranges - lemons - dates and bananas are a source of continual wonder to me, and the gorgeous tropical plants and the beautiful flowers I have not tired of, and though I never go out of my Fort without a guard to protect me, yet I constantly see curious things and strange customs that are a ceaseless source of interest to me, and would be to you were you with that husband who loves you so much."

- Letter, March 25, 1862, Col. Louis Bell, 4th New Hampshire Infantry, to wife.

About a year and a half ago I had the great privilege and pleasure of assisting author and blogger Robert Redd with the proposal/outline for his first book project.  It was with great enjoyment and no small amount of pride in his accomplishment that I recently read the "finished product": St. Augustine and the Civil War (2014, The History Press).

 His kind mention of my assistance in the Acknowledgments in his book touched me greatly; truth be told, I get tremendous satisfaction in seeing my friends achieve their goals. All the more so when the writing entertains and edifies, as this effort does!

 1) I had no background at all on Florida in the Civil War, and this book was a great introduction to that topic.

2) The longest chapter and the meat of the book - "The War Years" - was great...the early exuberance of the secession-minded majority, the courageous actions of the town's few Unionists, the strategic abandonment of Floridamby the Confederate government, the capture of the city by Union forces, the hardships of the citizens due to the Union blockade and occupation, ambushes by Confederate guerillas, the joy upon news of victory and peace, and sadness on news of Lincoln's assassination are told very well, indeed.

3) His telling of the Union soldiers' experience in wartime St. Augustine is exceptional as is his use of primary sources to share their words...he used primary material from archives as far north as Connecticut, as far west as Texas, and - of course - multiple collections in Florida...and a quick search indicates that some of these sources are rarely, if ever, used, and will be fresh voices to many readers. Readers will especially delight in first hand accounts of the men seeing and savoring flora and fauna they might never have seen in their lives...from oranges and other fruits, beautiful plants and flowers, and fresh-caught bass.

4) Supporting chapters on associations of St. Augustine with Abraham Lincoln (a letter from the widow Mrs. Lincoln during her 1875 visit to the town is very affecting), African-American history, blockade runners/privateers, and more are interesting. Especially interesting is the town's association with so many Civil War generals - Union and Confederate - with the town, both pre-war (associations that similarly attach to other well known posts across the country) and post-war.
5) The inclusion of walking and driving tours is just excellent and will be a great guide for any visitor to the city and almost certainly for townspeople who want to reacquaint themselves. with St. Augustine's rich history The descriptions and transitions are all the better because they are expertly written by the visitor, and show his great firsthand familiarity with the sites that is often missing from similar tours. It would serve as a great model for other writers and makes me wish I had added a similar section to my own local history efforts, assuming I could have attained his level of quality.

6) The book is very well-illustrated with period and modern photographs and engravings, especially the walking/driving tour section.

Highly recommended!

1 comment:

Mark said...

Oh, man I always totally wanted to go there! This only make my desire to visit worse;)