Book Review – Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

ECW welcomes back guest author Nathan Varnold.

Understanding the life of the most famous and most outspoken black abolitionist in American history is no easy task, but David W. Blight has spent most of his career attempting to simplify a complicated subject. His latest publication, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, is a testament to his twenty-plus year career devoted to understanding Frederick Douglass; the man, the words, the historical figure. It does not disappoint. Historians have access to Douglass’s life works – speeches, writings, letters, and his autobiographies – but those same historians struggle to define him. Blight summarized the difficulties he faced in a book talk at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C. Whenever the renowned author thought he had a firm idea of Douglass, a new letter or article would surface and pull Douglass from his grasp. Think of holding an ice cube. You have a firm grip on the cube only to watch it melt and drip through your fingers. This biography is Blight’s attempt to fully and deeply understand Frederick Douglass. Continue reading

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Question of the Week: 6/24-6/30/19

During the Atlanta Campaign, Jefferson Davis replaced General Joseph E. Johnston – appointing General John B. Hood to command the Confederate defense.

In your opinion, was Hood the best choice? Or who would you have placed in command?

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Week In Review: June 17-23, 2019

Summer is officially here! And as usually, ECW had a busy week on the blog…

From the Gettysburg Campaign to the Atlanta Campaign to Petersburg to Hawaii and the Lincoln Presidential Library, let us take you on a “history journey” from our week’s “passport” to the past. Continue reading

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A Visit to the Site of the Final Surrender

To reach the site of the last Confederate surrender, I first have to cross a cemetery. Along the back wall, three brick stairs offer access to a gravel pathway that leads off into the woods and the 35-acre Doaksville archaeological site. However, recent rains have flooded across this cemetery, funneling down the back slope and washing away part of the brick wall. In my cowboy boots, with their smooth soles, I have to pick my way careful across the soggy mess. Otherwise, I’ll slip and slide down the bank, too.

I make it to the stairs and then up and over. Along the waiting path, fourteen interpretive panels explain the history of the former trading community–once the largest in all of Indian Territory. Today, nothing remains of Doaksville except for a number of stone wells, all capped, that dot the landscape like checkers that have all been kinged. A few stone foundations hunker next to the path and behind trees. In an old stone jail, the outline of the three jail cells remains clearly visible, even if now completely impotent with no walls or bars.

The 3/4-mile trail makes a topsy-turvy loop the way a go-kart track might twist back-and-forth and go up and down small rises before bringing you back to the start. I’m the only one out here, so there’ll be no racing. Continue reading

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Saving History Saturday: President Lincoln’s Bible Donated to the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

This week, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois announced its latest acquisition: one of Lincoln’s Bibles.

At a fundraiser for wounded soldiers in Philadelphia on June 16, 1864, the Ladies of the Citizens Volunteer Hospital of Philadelphia gifted Lincoln an 18-pound Bible. Reflecting its heavy weight, the Bible is over 14 inches long and nearly 12 inches wide. Remarkably, it is only one of six Bibles known to have been owned by the Lincoln family. Until now, 150 years later, historians did not know of its existence.

The official press release photograph of the Lincoln Bible. Courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

In 1872, Lincoln’s widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, gave the Bible to the family’s Springfield neighbor and friend, Reverend Noyes Miner. Inscribed on the back of the Bible is the notation, “Mrs. Abraham Lincoln to N.W. Miner, D.D., Oct. 15, 1872.” The Miner family had kept this Lincoln memento for several generations, until donating it to the museum. Continue reading

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ECW Weekender: Keedysville, Maryland

I’d spent the day driving and researching at three different libraries. By the time the late sunset hour approached, I needed to get out-of-doors, but I didn’t really feel like going battlefielding that evening. Then, I remembered Keedysville…

It’s a small village, north of the town of Sharpsburg and Antietam battlefield. In fact, if you don’t know the turn-off from Maryland Route 34, you just might miss the historic main street. Why is Keedysville important to Civil War history? Let us count the reasons why! (And we’ll just name a few, there are even more when you starting looking deeper at local history that goes back to the Colonial Era and developed beyond the Civil War, too.) Continue reading

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An Equine Casualty on the Road to Gettysburg

The citizens of the Loudoun Valley awoke on Sunday morning, June 21, 1863, not to the sound of church bells. Instead, the thunder of cannon ripped through the region as the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia sought to buy another day for their infantry comrades to make their way north unimpeded. Alfred Pleasonton’s Federals drove Stuart’s southerners closer and closer to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Stuart’s back was against the wall. He found a hill outside the town of Upperville called Vineyard Hill and determined to make his stand there and keep the Federal eyes away from the foot soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia.

This wartime sketch of the action at Vineyard Hill shows the vineyard in the center and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background.

Continue reading

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“One of the Hardest Marches”: Two Lieutenants & The Gettysburg Campaign, Part 3

Gettysburg Campaign (Map by Hal Jespersen,, CC BY 3.0,

Part 1 and Part 2 are available.

Heat and dust became common themes in soldier’s diaries during the Gettysburg Campaign. Lieutenants Dooley and Rhodes offered no exception. In fact, the difficulties of the march proved so great that Rhodes penned only one entry on the third week of the campaign. Dooley did not write a dated entry at all, though he wrote generally about the march sometime in those weeks or later when he added to his journal to fill in the blank periods.

Interestingly, both of these lieutenants and their regiments moved at the tail ends of their respective armies. The 1st Virginia still had not crossed the Potomac even though the advance of Lee’s army had been terrifying Pennsylvanians. The 2nd Rhode Island in the Army of the Potomac’s VI Corps marched and waited in northern Virginia also. Continue reading

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Before They Were Americans: ERW’s Upcoming Event

From our friends at Emerging Revolutionary War. For more information about our sister site, click here.

Mark your calendars for September 28, 2019!  Emerging Revolutionary War is excited toPrint announce that we are partnering with Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and The Lyceum of Alexandria, VA to bring to you a day long Symposium focusing on the American Revolution. Continue reading

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The Significance of June 19 in the Civil War Era—and Beyond

Juneteenth in Richmond, 1905

Amidst seemingly constant reminders that genuine equality for all in the United States remains elusive, it is worth remembering that today, June 19, has repeatedly been a momentous one for the cause of American freedom—particularly with regard to race.  While many of the events that give June 19 its significance took place before or during the Civil War, just as many took place afterwards but serve to remind us of that era’s difficult and unfinished history. Continue reading

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