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Conspicuous Gallantry

The Civil War and Reconstruction Letters of James W. King, 11th Michigan Volunteer Infantry

The Union states of what is now the Midwest have received far less attention from historians than those of the East, and much of Michigan’s Civil War story remains untold. The eloquent letters of James W. King shed light on a Civil War regiment that played important roles in the battles of Stones River, Chickamauga, and Missionary Ridge. King enlisted in the 11th Michigan in 1861 as a private and rose to the rank of quartermaster sergeant. His correspondence continues into the era of Reconstruction, when he tried his hand at raising cotton in Tennessee and Alabama and found himself caught up in the social and political upheavals of the postwar South.

King went off to war as an obscure nineteen year old farm boy, but he was anything but average. His letters to Sarah Jane Babcock, his future wife, vividly illustrate the plight and perspective of the rank­and­file Union infantryman while revealing the innermost thoughts of an articulate, romantic, and educated young man.

King’s wartime correspondence explores a myriad of issues faced by the common Federal soldier: the angst, uncertainty, and hope associated with long distance courtship; the scourge of widespread and often fatal diseases; the rapid evolution of views on race and slavery; the doldrums of camp life punctuated with the horrors of combat and its aftermath; the gnawing anxiety while waiting for mail from home; the incessant gambling, drunkenness, and profanity of his comrades; and the omnipresent risk of death or crippling disability as the cost of performing his duty: to preserve the Union.

Through meticulous research and careful editing, Eric R. Faust presents a story that does not cease with King’s muster out, or even with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. King’s postwar correspondence illuminates the struggles of a soldier disabled by wounds, trying to find his place in a civilian world forever changed by war. Like thousands of other Northern soldiers, King traveled south to raise cotton.

The letters he penned on the plantation defy the timeworn stereotype of carpetbaggers as ruthless opportunists who deprived the South of its capital and dignity after the war. A kind twist of fate boosted King to prominence in his home state as editor of Michigan’s foremost Republican newspaper and set him on a path to national notoriety. Through King’s remarkable rise to the national stage, the reader gains insight into the heated political climate of the Reconstruction era and the Gilded Age, and more generally into the deeply complex legacy of the American Civil War.

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The Dead Eat Everything

“This book is a document of a particular world, real, wrenched from the poet’s life, as if written with a gun to his head or a spike through his heart. Reading it is like opening a damp newspaper wrapped around a big fish just caught, fins glistening, scales shining, one rhymed eye open and looking right at you, daring you to eat the whole thing.” —Dorianne Laux, author of The Book of Men

“The Dead Eat Everything, Michael Mlekoday’s furious first collection, is a cypher of old-school curses, elegy, and wordplay that snaps like gunplay. The book begins with a self-portrait when ‘summer was one wet weapon after another’ and doesn’t stop. Not for a power outage, Catholic mass, or sewer steam. Not for a ‘four-finger ring that says DOPE.’ Not for the city that repeats itself like breakbeats in the head. The poems in this book are as relentless as a Minneapolis winter. And when the speaker says, ‘Scientists have proven that the mouth is the last part of the body to die,’ we understand that the mouth hangs on just to speak poems like these.”—Adrian Matejka, author of The Big Smoke

“It’s easy to forget—because of the brute beauty of the language; because of lines like ‘I have made gods / of my skinned hands’; because of the whiplash brilliance roped through these poems—that deeply, ultimately, this is a book of mourning, of sorrow, of loss: for a dad, a Baba, a city, a home. But, to boot, Michael Mlekoday’s The Dead Eat Everything is a book of magic: watch sorrows be converted to music. And music, don’t forget, makes you dance. Makes you move. Moves you.” —Ross Gay, author of Bringing the Shovel Down

“The Dead Eat Everything is a haunting—an unsharpened visitation of memories. Each poem unfolds itself as if we are just now remembering stories told to us long ago, simultaneously new and exciting while comforting in their familiarity. Mlekoday’s debut collection glows. Let it. Let it light the way home.”—Sierra DeMulder, author of New Shoes on a Dead Horse

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Death of an Assassin

The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee

From the depths of German and American archives comes a story one soldier never wanted told. The first volunteer killed defending Robert E. Lee’s position in battle was really a German assassin. After fleeing to the United States to escape prosecution for murder, the assassin enlisted in a German company of the Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Mexican-American War and died defending Lee’s battery at the Siege of Veracruz in 1847. Lee wrote a letter home, praising this unnamed fallen volunteer defender. Military records identify him, but none of the Americans knew about his past life of crime.

Before fighting with the Americans, Lee’s defender had assassinated Johann Heinrich Rieber, mayor of Bönnigheim, Germany, in 1835. Rieber’s assassination became 19th-century Germany’s coldest case ever solved by a non–law enforcement professional and the only 19th-century German murder ever solved in the United States. Thirty-seven years later, another suspect in the assassination who had also fled to America found evidence in Washington, D.C., that would clear his own name, and he forwarded it to Germany. The German prosecutor Ernst von Hochstetter corroborated the story and closed the case file in 1872, naming Lee’s defender as Rieber’s murderer.

Relying primarily on German sources, Death of an Assassin tracks the never-before-told story of this German company of Pennsylvania volunteers. It follows both Lee’s and the assassin’s lives until their dramatic encounter in Veracruz and picks up again with the surprising case resolution decades later.

This case also reveals that forensic ballistics—firearm identification through comparison of the striations on a projectile with the rifling in the barrel—is much older than previously thought. History credits Alexandre Laccasagne for inventing forensic ballistics in 1888. But more than 50 years earlier, Eduard Hammer, the magistrate who investigated the Rieber assassination in 1835, used the same technique to eliminate a forester’s rifle as the murder weapon. A firearms technician with state police of Baden-Württemberg tested Hammer’s technique in 2015 and confirmed its efficacy, cementing the argument that Hammer, not Laccasagne, should be considered the father of forensic ballistics.

The roles the volunteer soldier/assassin and Robert E. Lee played at the Siege of Veracruz are part of American history, and the record-breaking, 19th-century cold case is part of German history. For the first time, Death of an Assassin brings the two stories together.

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Democracy and the American Civil War

Race and African Americans in the Nineteenth Century

In 1865, after four tumultuous years of fighting, Americans welcomed the opportunity to return to a life of normalcy. President Abraham Lincoln issued his emancipation decree in January 1863 and had set the stage for what he hoped would be a smooth transition from war to peace with the announcement of his reconstruction program in December 1863 and with his call of “malice toward none and charity for all” in his Second Inaugural Address in March 1865. Lincoln’s dream of completing the process of reconstructing the nation was cut short just one month later by the hand of an assassin.

The essays in this volume—by Adams and Hudson along with Stanley Harrold, John David Smith, Mitchell Snay, and Fay Yarbrough—represent an exemplary collection on the importance of democracy and race during and after America’s most devastating conflict. Ranging from a consideration of antebellum abolitionists to the racial policies adopted by Native American tribes that had allied with the Confederacy to the ambiguous legacies of Reconstruction, these chapters are thoroughly researched, persuasively argued, and beautifully crafted. Democracy and the American Civil War is a compelling examination of black Americans and their quest for citizenship rights in the face of violence and ostracism.

As volume coeditor Leonne Hudson points out in his introduction, Lincoln’s actions were significant steps on the road toward the fulfillment of the democratic tenets contained in the foundational documents of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. By the end of the Civil War, President Lincoln had come to realize that individual freedom was an inalienable right. Furthermore, he believed that in a democratic nation all men were not only entitled to freedom but to equality as well. Although African Americans had played an unforgettable role in helping to preserve the Union, they found their path to full democracy littered with political and legal obstacles that would bedevil them for decades. This collection enriches our understanding of democracy, race, and the Civil War, and it reminds us that the historical importance of democracy and the complexity of race are topics with which we should continue to engage.

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Democratic Narrative, History, and Memory

The most recent book from the Symposia on Democracy SeriesThe essays in this volume explore the complex relationships among events, memory, and portrayal of those events and the deepest questions of human experience, all viewed through a range of disciplinary lenses but grouped into three sections, each with its own focus and meaning.

The first group of essays focuses on the events of May 4, 1970, when the Ohio National Guard shot Kent State University students, killing four of them and causing shock waves that continue to resonate among those concerned with peace and violence, silence, and giving voice. Essays in the second group address the part played by corporate and noncorporate media in shaping public memory and raising public consciousness. The final section examines acts of remembrance and reconciliation within local communities and the long history of discrimination within the national community, directly and indirectly proposing ways in which society can move toward social justice.

For four decades, the Kent State University community has worked to preserve the stories of those who were lost on May 4th, both to honor them and to reveal the universal meanings behind the events. The community is negotiating, in a literal sense, the space between memory and history and between social remembering and historical analysis. For many at Kent State and in other communities that have experienced violence, the historical event is a lived event. Acts of scholarship are sometimes acts of remembrance and commemoration at the same time.

This volume emanates from a commemorative act—the University’s tenth Symposium on Democracy, founded in 2000 as a living memorial to the four students who lost their lives and as an enduring dedication to scholarship that seeks to prevent violence and promote democratic values and civil discourse. The work in this collection pursues historical meaning that holds relevance both for a particular community and speaks indelibly to the entire human community.

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Denmark Vesey's Revolt

The Slave Plot That Lit a Fuse to Fort Sumter

In 1822, Denmark Vesey was found guilty of plotting an insurrection—what would have been the biggest slave uprising in U.S. history. A free man of color, he was hanged along with 34 other African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, in what historians agree was probably the largest civil execution in U.S. history. At the time of Vesey’s conviction, Charleston was America’s chief slave port and one of its most racially tense cities. Whites were outnumbered by slaves three to one, and they were haunted by memories of the 1791 slave rebellion in Haiti.

In Denmark Vesey’s Revolt, John Lofton draws upon primary sources to examine the trial and provide, as Peter Hoffer says in his new introduction, “one of the most sensible and measured” accounts of the subject. This classic book was originally published in 1964 as Insurrection in South Carolina: The Turbulent World of Denmark Vesey,and then reissued by the Kent State University Press in 1983 as Denmark Vesey’s Revolt: The Slave Plot That Lit a Fuse to Fort Sumter.

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“These nineteen supple poems have both a strong sense of unity and a wide spectrum of forms, themes, and moods. Virtuosic writing combines with jagged feeling, and the end result is engaging, dramatic, and unpredictable.”—Henri Cole

“These poems have a strong voice and a bold reach: they turn outwards, finding big subjects and solid narratives. They seek to make a world: and then they persuade the reader to live in it.”—Eavan Boland

“Determinant is a strong, assured collection that begins with our planet Earth and ends with an egg. This poetic echoing of subjects and objects is indicative of Alex Fabrizio’s range: these poems guide us to a vantage point from which wonder contracts and expands without a diminishing of its essence. Her speakers are calmly certain of uncertainty. Let this collection trouble what one might assume about the explanatory connotation of the title—the poems have little concern for the didacticism of cause and embrace the effects of the world on the ambiguous lyric self. They encourage a reintegration of the ‘I’ with that world, a ‘turning returning’ to it. They give the reader that gift.”—Lo Kwa Mei-en

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Eddie Hart, Munich 1972, and the Voices of the Most Tragic Olympics

Having previously tied the world record, Eddie Hart was a strong favorite to win the 100-meter dash at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. Then the inexplicable happened: he was disqualified after arriving seconds late for a quarterfinal heat. Ten years of training to become the “World’s Fastest Human,” the title attached to an Olympic 100-meter champion, was lost in a heartbeat. But who was to blame?

Hart’s disappointment, though excruciating, was just one of many subplots to the most tragic of Olympic Games, at which eight Arab terrorists assassinated eleven Israeli athletes and coaches as the world watched in horror. Five terrorists were killed, but three escaped to their homeland as heroes and were never brought to trial. Swimmer Mark Spitz won seven gold medals but was rushed out of Germany afterward because he was Jewish. Other American athletes, besides Hart, seemed jinxed in Munich. The USA men’s basketball team thought it had earned the gold medal, but the Russians received it instead through an unprecedented technicality. Bob Seagren, the defending pole vault champion, was barred from using his poles and forced to compete with unfamiliar poles. And swimmer Rick DeMont lost one gold medal and the possibility of winning a second because of an allergy drug that had passed U.S. Olympic Committee specifications but was disallowed by the International Olympic Committee.

It was that kind of Olympics, confusing to some, fatal to others. Hart traveled back to Munich forty-three years later to relive his utter disappointment. He returned to the same stadium where he did earn a gold medal in the 400-meter relay. In Disqualified, his interesting life story, told with author Dave Newhouse, sheds entirely new light on what really happened at Munich. It includes interviews with Spitz and the victimized American athletes and conversations with two Israelis who escaped the terrorists. And Hart finally learned who was responsible for his disqualifications and those of Rey Robinson, who was in the same heat, leading to an interesting epilogue in which these two seniors reflect on the opportunity denied them long ago.

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Dissolving Tensions

Rapprochement and Resolution in British- American-Canadian Relations in the Treaty of Washington Era, 1865–1914

Dissolving Tensions dismisses the long­held argument that a British­ American rapprochement did not occur until the mid­1890s. In­ stead, author Phillip E. Myers shows that the rapprochement was distinct prior to the Civil War, became more distinctive during the conflict, and continued to take shape afterward.

Myers illustrates clearly that the Treaty of Washington of 1871 was a defining ingredient in resolving British­American­Canadian tensions and sent the rapprochement into a new period of stability and dispute resolution during the three decades before World War I. Drawing upon a wide variety of primary and secondary sources, Myers makes his argument from the perspectives of geopolitics, finance, investments, and commerce, demonstrating that British­ American­Canadian relations followed a pragmatic, consistent path in keeping the spirit of the comprehensive Treaty of Washington alive. After 1871, peaceful diplomacy shaped the triangular relation­ ship for nearly five decades.

Myers delineates the contributions of British, American, and Canadian statesmen—among them, William Henry Seward, Lord John Russell, Hamilton Fish, William Ewart Gladstone, and Ulysses S. Grant—to defining and stabilizing the rapprochement against the background of American Reconstruction, global events such as the Franco­Prussian War, and issues such as the Alabama claims dispute, fisheries, boundaries, and Fenian insurgents.

Dissolving Tensions lays the groundwork for understanding how the period from 1865 to 1914 was a watershed era in Anglo­American relations that established the contours of twentieth­century diplomacy.

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Donn Piatt

Gadfly of the Gilded Age

The life of a celebrated diplomat and editor whose opinions helped to shape views on the national agenda

Born in 1819 in Cincinnati, Donn Piatt died in 1891 at the Piatt Castles that still stand in western Ohio. He was a diplomat, historian, journalist, judge, lawyer, legislator, lobbyist, novelist, playwright, poet, and politician—and a well-known humorist, once called on to replace Mark Twain when Twain’s humor failed him. A staunch opponent of slavery, Piatt campaigned in 1860 for Abraham Lincoln, who briefly took a liking to him but found him too outspoken and later cursed him when, as a Union officer, Piatt recruited slaves in Maryland.

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