Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Booknotes: A Forgotten Front

New Arrival:
A Forgotten Front: Florida during the Civil War Era edited by Seth A. Weitz and Jonathan C. Sheppard (Univ of Ala Press, 2018).

This essay anthology had a place on my internal list of most anticipated titles of 2018. Civil War Florida is a far less neglected topic today than ever before, but it certainly remains a bit of a scholarly backwater so those responsible for this title can be forgiven for still calling the state "a forgotten front" of the Civil War.

A Forgotten Front: Florida during the Civil War Era, edited by Seth Weitz and Jonathan Sheppard, is comprised of ten essays. From the description: "Although it was the third state to secede, Florida’s small population and meager industrial resources made the state of little strategic importance. Because it was the site of only one major battle, it has, with a few exceptions, been overlooked within the field of Civil War studies.

During the Civil War, more than fifteen thousand Floridians served the Confederacy, a third of which were lost to combat and disease. The Union also drew the service of another twelve hundred white Floridians and more than a thousand free blacks and escaped slaves. Florida had more than eight thousand miles of coastline to defend, and eventually found itself with Confederates holding the interior and Federals occupying the coasts—a tenuous state of affairs for all. Florida’s substantial Hispanic and Catholic populations shaped wartime history in ways unique from many other states. Florida also served as a valuable supplier of cattle, salt, cotton, and other items to the blockaded South."

Taken together, the essays in this book serve as a useful overview of many important aspects of Florida's Civil War on and off the battlefield. The first three chapters explore Florida's antebellum history. Two contributions focus on military affairs, one reviewing the Confederate defense and Union capture of Amelia Island and the other offering an overview of the guerrilla conflict in the state. Another chapter profiles Florida governor John Milton, who couldn't cope with Confederate defeat and took his own life in April 1865. Other essays "look at the politics of war, beginning with the decade prior to the outbreak of the war through secession and wartime leadership and examine the period through the lenses of race, slavery, women, religion, ethnicity, and historical memory."

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