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In the opening days of the American Civil War, the U.S. Navy suffered the catastrophic loss of its most valuable navy yard at Gosport, Virginia, commonly known as the Norfolk Navy Yard. Its fate was sealed by Virginia’s vote for secession and the subsequent resignation of most of the yard’s Southern officers, leaving its commandant, Charles Stewart McCauley, virtually defenseless. Early in the morning of Sunday, 21 April, fleeing federal forces set fire to and abandoned the Gosport Navy Yard, burning ten warships and surrendering 1,200 naval guns to Virginia’s militia. A year later, the Confederate ironclad "Virginia", built on the charred hulk of the steam frigate "Merrimack", chose the sloop "Cumberland"—the one ship to escape Gosport—as her first target during the Battle of Hampton Roads. "Virginia" then attacked the frigate "Congress", leaving in her wake nearly 280 dead or wounded Union sailors and two sunken ships. The birds from the disaster of Gosport had finally come home to roost. In his quest to uncover the details behind Gosport’s destruction, the author methodically cross-tracked chronologies, carefully examined primary sources and dug deeper into the principal officers’ backgrounds to grasp just what was in their minds during the hours leading up to the navy yard’s burning. This fresh focus has yielded a more nuanced explanation of McCauley’s decision to hold back "Merrimack", of Paulding’s rush to burn the yard and run, and of opportunities for success missed by all three commodores present. "A Crisis of Loyalties" is the first full-length work of history to present the entire story of the destruction and abandonment of the Gosport Navy Yard.
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274pp. ¦ $75 £59 €69
Why did Jefferson write 'Notes on the State of Virginia'? There are today two common theses. The first, the Alphabet-Soup Thesis, maintains that the book is more or less a loose collection of notes in answer to the 22 queries given by French diplomat François Barbé-Marbois. Jefferson’s altering the arrangement of his answers to the questions is a matter of allowing for a smoother “narrative” for his answers, but other than that, one ought to be cautious not to read too much into his restructuring. The second, the Deconstructionist Thesis, is that meticulous deconstruction of the text reveals a latent thesis, which Jefferson, consciously or subconsciously, kept from his readers. Both views are problematic. The former cannot explain why Jefferson fell so deeply into the project, rearranged Marbois’ questions so that the book would flow smoothly from nature to culture, and continually revise his often-lengthy answers, even after the Stockdale edition in 1787. The latter suffers from the fact that Jefferson tended never to write elliptically. "Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Notes on the State of Virginia’: A Prolegomena" is an attempt to provide an alternative, “dialectical” reading to current interpretations of the book. The book, Holowchak asserts, is neither a simple omnium gatherum nor is its message accessible only through deconstruction. There is an obvious movement from nature (Gr., 'phusis') in the first seven queries to culture (Gr., 'nomos') in the remaining 16 queries, but that “movement” is not linear. Early naturalistic queries set up neatly Jefferson’s discussion of the cultural aspects of Virginia, and Jefferson’s explication of the cultural aspects of Virginia cannot be grasped without frequent returns to the naturalistic queries, hence its dialectic. Jefferson’s aim overall, sums Holowchak, is the appropriation of what nature had given for humans’ use—to perfect the social state by taming nature and putting it to use for human betterment.
Featuring the collected works from the Sweat Equity Investment in the Cotton Kingdom Symposium
C. Sade Turnipseed, Khafre, Inc ; Mississippi Valley State University, USA
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293pp. ¦ $77 £61 €67
Taking place annually in “the most southern place on earth,” aka, the “Cotton Kingdom,” the Sweat Equity Investment in the Cotton Kingdom Symposium offers a platform to honor, celebrate, and recognize the legacy of the African Americans who labored in the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta. The symposium intends to trigger discussions and provide a space where the histories and contributions of those Americans can be heard and learned from. Born in the antebellum south, the “soul of America” came to be through the tearful occupation of planting, chopping, picking and ginning cotton, where it was then brined within a system of enslavement, sharecropping and international trade that in so many ways provided America its “greatness.” Carefully compiled from works presented at the symposia, this anthology looks to expose the tortured “cotton-pickin’ spirit” embedded in America’s soul. A spirit that is rendered in song, chants, spoken word and field hollers, and revealed in this volume through the selected articles, lyric poetry, proverbs, speeches, slave narratives and workshop proposals. The rich and varied content of this book reflects the uniqueness of not only the Mississippi Delta but also the histories of those who lived and worked there.