- Harrisburg and the Civil War: Defending the Keystone of the Union by Cooper H. Wingert
Reviewing a book written by a fourteen-year-old young person, which, according to the series editor, is his sixth published work, is a difficult task if for no other reason than it is difficult to imagine having had the fortitude at that age to sit down and research and write a book. So regardless of what the remainder of the review notes, the beginning should indicate that for a fourteen-year-old, Cooper H. Wingert has done a fine job of researching and writing this thin volume. Likely, it fortells a bright future for this energetic and careful researcher.
Harrisburg and the Civil War: Defending the Keystone of the Union is one of a series of books published by the History Press that document American cities during the political and military conflict of the 1860s. Other Pennsylvania-focused editions describe this period in Germantown, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. Readers interested in the mid-nineteenth-century history of Pennsylvania’s capital or local impacts of the US Civil War alike will find this volume of popular history helpful. The book is comprised of seven chapters. Chapter 1 sets the scene in Harrisburg in 1861, beginning with a brief review of the history of this city hard on the eastern bank of the Susquehanna River. Wingert very briefly describes the history of the city, focusing particularly on Harrisburg’s importance as a railroad and transport hub. A map of Harrisburg’s situation along the Susquehanna and the local region, including major rail lines, is included and provides a basic geographic context [End Page 548] for understanding local transport options as of 1860. There is also some brief description of the city’s business and social structures and the citizens’ reaction to the outbreak of hostilities with the South.
Chapters 2 and 3, composing about 40 percent of the text, describe the creation, physical structures, operations, and soldiers’ life within Camp Curtin. (If one considers that the final one-third of chapter 1 also details the creation and early operation of Camp Curtin, this topic then accounts for almost 50 percent of the book’s page count.) Initially a hastily constructed rendezvous point for early Union Civil War enlistees and later a site for “assembly and training,” Camp Curtin, named after the state’s sitting governor, had extensive operations of varying types over the course of the conflagration. Much space in these chapters is devoted to the men who became early commanding officials. In fact, the early parts of the book might be entitled “Men Who Managed Harrisburg’s Civil War Camps,” so thick are the biographical sketches. The four final chapters are each rather short, providing some insight into “Civilian-Soldier Interaction in Harrisburg,” “The Politics of Civil War Harrisburg,” “Harrisburg and the Gettysburg Campaign” and concludes with a few pages about the city after the war’s ending.
Harrisburg and the Civil War is basically a book about Camp Curtin and the other “subsidiary” (p. 43) camps in and around the city, many in close proximity to Camp Curtin itself. While a preliminary descriptive history of the city is provided, it is somewhat thin. Wingert provides descriptions of some neighborhoods and business locations. However, with descriptions of streets and intersections so common in the text, a map of the city detailing the main thoroughfares, camps, and other locations mentioned would be very useful and would make the descriptions much more informative. Illustrations, engravings and photographs abound and provide a visual context for understanding Harrisburg in the 1860s. The sentences in the text are well written, although the flow of text from paragraph to paragraph and topic to topic is often abrupt as if the book was a collected listing of brief biographies or descriptions rather than a unified whole. The inclusion of odd details of a place or its history occasionally interrupt the flow of the story of Harrisburg from 1861...