Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Booknotes: Absalom Hazlett

New Arrival:
Absalom Hazlett: A Loyal Soldier in John Brown’s Army by Spencer Sadler (America Through Time, 2020).

Absalom Hazlett tells the story of one of John Brown's Harpers Ferry raiders. Author Spencer Sadler self describes his book as "creative nonfiction" that is "told in an unorthodox manner." It employs a "backward narrative" structured around Hazlett's personal experiences, and the dialogue is a combination of direct quotes cited in the endnotes and uncited dialogue constructed from dramatic license that the Sadler insists has "historical basis and context."

From the description: "Hazlett was a lieutenant in John Brown's provisional army. He was introduced to Brown when he was fighting in the "Border Wars" with another American rebel, James Montgomery. Hazlett proved himself a cool, even-handed soldier, not easily frightened or thwarted, and he was an accessory in several major historical events, including the raid at Harpers Ferry, which some historians refer to as the catalyst to the Civil War. He helped Brown lead twelve fugitive slaves to freedom in Canada, and he battled with James Montgomery during the legendary Fort Scott affairs."

At least in the popular histories of the event, the drama of Brown's trial and execution tends to overshadow the fate of the other raiders who survived the deadly 1859 clash with U.S. Marines and angry locals. For the subject of Sadler's book, escape was only temporary and death was simply postponed. "When Brown attempted to overtake the arsenal at Harpers Ferry and spur a slave rebellion, Robert E. Lee was dispatched to quell the violence and end the three-day standoff between the townspeople and the raiders. Hazlett and Osborne Anderson escaped, hoping to run to freedom, but Hazlett succumbed to debilitating blisters and was eventually caught, put on trial, and hanged." In addition to endnotes and bibliography, the main text is supported by a collection of illustrations (B&W and color) and an event timeline.

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