Friday, August 16, 2019

Booknotes: Star Spangled Scandal

New Arrival:
Star Spangled Scandal: Sex, Murder, and the Trial that Changed America by Chris DeRose (Regnery History, 2019).

New York Congressman and Civil War major general Daniel E. Sickles is famous/infamous for two things: (1) his murder of his wife's lover and consequent acquittal using the then novel plea of not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, and (2) his unauthorized rearrangement of the Union far left flank on Day 2 of Gettysburg that resulted in his own corps and parts of the rest of the army being chewed to pieces. Much has been written about the the latter (that's an understatement), but those interested in the topic would be well-advised to pick up a copy of James Hessler's Sickles at Gettysburg: The Controversial Civil War General Who Committed Murder, Abandoned Little Round Top, and Declared Himself the Hero of Gettysburg (2009) or the more recent book Gettysburg’s Peach Orchard: Longstreet, Sickles, and the Bloody Fight for the “Commanding Ground” Along the Emmitsburg Road that Hessler co-authored with Britt Isenberg (2019). The latest reexamination of Congressman Sickles's shooting of Philip Barton Key and the subsequent murder trial is Chris DeRose's Star Spangled Scandal: Sex, Murder, and the Trial that Changed America.

From the description: "It is two years before the Civil War, and Congressman Daniel Sickles and his lovely wife Teresa are popular fixtures in Washington, D.C. society. Their house sits on Lafayette Square across from White House grounds, and the president himself is godfather to the Sickles’ six-year-old daughter. Because Congressman Sickles is frequently out of town, he trusts his friend, U.S. Attorney Philip Barton Key—son of Francis Scott Key—to escort the beautiful Mrs. Sickles to parties in his absence. Revelers in D.C. are accustomed to the sight of the congressman’s wife with the tall, Apollo-like Philip Barton Key, who is considered “the handsomest man in all Washington society… foremost among the popular men of the capital.” Then one day an anonymous note sets into motion a tragic course of events that culminates in a shocking murder in broad daylight in Lafayette Square."

More: Author DeRose "uses diary entries, letters, newspaper accounts, and eyewitness testimonies to bring the characters to thrilling life in this antebellum true crime history" of events that "sparked a national debate on madness, male honor, female virtue, fidelity, and the rule of law."

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