Friday, December 11, 2020

Booknotes: Storm Over Key West

New Arrival:
Storm Over Key West: The Civil War and the Call of Freedom by Mike Pride (Pineapple Pr, 2020).

Many different approaches can be taken when examining Civil War-era Key West, but Mike Pride's Storm Over Key West seems to focus most on emancipation, black army recruitment, and civil rights issues. The book self-describes its overarching theme as "the denial to black people of the equality central to the American ideal."

During the Civil War, many localities up and down the South Atlantic seaboard were viewed as fertile ground for recruiting or impressing black soldiers to add to the ranks of regiments organizing at Hilton Head, and Key West was also visited upon for that purpose. From the description: "A few weeks after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, James Montgomery sailed into Key West Harbor looking for black men to draft into the Union army. Eager to oblige him, the military commander in town ordered every black man from fifteen to fifty to report to the courthouse, “there to undergo a medical examination, preparatory to embarking for Hilton Head, S.C.”"

With Key West controlling oceanic traffic back and forth between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, the strategic importance of the island chain to the Union war effort is certainly also addressed in the book. More from the description: "Key West’s harbor and two major federal forts were often referred to as “America’s Gibraltar.” This Gibraltar guarded the Florida Straits between Key West and Cuba and thus access to the Gulf of Mexico. When Union forces seized it before the war, the southernmost point of the Confederacy slipped out of Confederate hands. This led to a naval blockade based in Key West that devastated commerce in Florida and beyond."

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