Friday, November 1, 2019

November 1, 2019 Post #48

Quote for the day: "In 1889 Michigan was not only the greatest copper producing state in the United States, but it mined more copper than any foreign country." M. M. Quaife, Michigan: From Primitive Wilderness to Industrial Commonwealth. 1948.


The Women of the Copper Country
by Mary Doria Russell

This engrossing historical novel takes the reader back to Calumet, Michigan in 1913 when the copper miners at the Calumet & Hecla Mining Co. went on a months-long strike for better pay and better working conditions. What made the strike so extraordinary is that it was organized and led by a 25-year-old wife of a miner who opposed the strike. Annie Clements grew up in a Calumet mining family and was painfully aware of the miners' inherent dangers and the poor pay that barely kept food on the table. If a miner was injured and no longer able to work they were out of a job, received no recompense from the company and faced a complete absence of any state, federal, or local safety net that provided food or shelter to the miner and his family. 

To compete with the open-pit copper mining in the West the company began replacing the two-man drill with a drill operated by a single miner. The one-man drill was hard to control,  resulted in a flood of injuries, and sparked the strike. Annie Clement became a symbol of and a leader and organizer of the strike. She led daily marches through Calumet holding a huge American flag and won fame as the "Joan of Arc of America."  She was arrested, beaten, and jailed for her efforts. The book gives special and long overdue attention to the contributions of the Calumet women in the struggle for better pay, better working conditions, and a shorter workweek.

Although a novel, the book presents a powerful and honest portrait of Annie Clements and paints a colorful and authentic description of miners' lives in the company town of Calumet. Miners worked `12-hour shifts in dangerous, injury-plagued mile deep shafts that extended far out under Lake Superior. The miners and their families lived in company-owned houses and, could only shop in company-owned stores. The poor pay and company stores barely kept food on the table of a miner's family.  The work was dangerous and frequently fatal. This often forced a miner's young son to go in the mines so the family had food and a roof over their heads.

You will not find Annie Clements' name even mentioned in Michigan history textbooks and this compelling novel makes for a fine introduction to her life and courageous fight to better the lives of Michigan miners. Annie Clements, the company town of Calumet, and Michigan's copper mining era comes brilliantly alive under Russell's pen.  

Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell. Atria Books, 2019, $27.

Kingdom Forgotten: The Rise and Demise of a Mormon Island King
by Laurie Lounsbury

One of the strangest and most interesting chapters in Michigan's history is the story of James Jesse Strang who proclaimed the angels of the Lord anointed him the leader of the Mormon church after the death of Joseph Smith. Strang led his growing flock of believers to Beaver Island where he announced he was King of Beaver Island.  Strang preached that God gave Beaver Island to the Mormons and encouraged his flock to take what they needed from non-Mormons on the island. This thievery was called "consecrating." Strang took his second wife in secret and later told his first wife and his congregation the lord approved of multiple marriages. He took four "spiritual" wives who all gave birth to a child after his death.

Lounsbury's deeply researched, historically accurate, and utterly fascinating novel is a vivid and authentic depiction of life on the island for both recently converted Mormons and non-Mormon inhabitants who watched as several thousand Mormons flocked to the island. The non-Mormons found life difficult as arriving Mormons freely stole farming equipment and forced non-believers to pay an annual ten-percent tithe to Strang. 

The book is peopled by both fictional characters and real people. It realistically portrays the growing conflict between Mormons and Gentiles and paints a compelling portrait of James Jesse Strang and his lust for power and women. His authoritarian rule made enemies of both Gentiles and even among Strang's inner circle of followers. The novel is also noteworthy for its depiction of the women in his life, both Mormon and Gentiles, and how his multiple wives adjusted to polygamy. 

Strang's total control of his followers' lives even included what women should wear. And strangely enough, the issue of clothing played a part in his assassination. This is a well written and compelling novel that tells the fascinating story of the only man in America to declare himself king. That it happened in Michigan on Beaver Island makes it even more interesting.

Kingdom Forgotten: The Rise and Fall of a Mormon Island King by Laurie Lounsbury. Blue Foot Creative, 2019, $17.99.

The 16th Michigan Infantry in the Civil War
by Kim Crawford

The 16th Michigan Infantry Regiment arrived in the nation's capital and joined the Army of the Potomac after the First Battle of Bull Run. In the following four years, the regiment was engaged in every major battle fought by the Army of the Potomac and was on hand at Appomattox when Lee surrendered.  This revised and expanded edition is a sterling example of how well written and researched Civil War regimental histories capture the lives of Union soldiers and their day-to-day experiences in camp, on the march, and in battle.

The formation and organization of the regiment was entangled in controversy and their performance on Little Round Top at Gettysburg left a black mark on the unit's reputation. Colonel Thomas Stockton of Flint was a Mexican War officer and when the call went out for the states to send regiments to Washington Stockton was eager to raise and command a regiment.  Governor Blair, a staunch Republican, refused to accommodate Stockton, a Democrat. So Stockton raised his own regiment and had to petition the War Department to force Blair into equipping it, officially recognize the regiment's officers, and accept the unit as an official state regiment.

Of particular interest is the regiment's actions in the Battle of Gettysburg. The 16th was in the same battalion as the 20th Maine. The battalion was rushed to defend the Little Round Top from a flank attack by General Longstreet's division. The 20th Maine held the left flank of the Union forces on Little Round Top and the 16th Michigan held the rightwing of the Union line. Much has been written about the heroics of the 20th Maine including the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. During the same Rebel attack, several companies of the 16th Michigan were on the far right of the line and under great pressure from several Confederate units. Outflanked companies and broke and retreated. The timely arrival of another Union regiment halted the Confederates and sent them reeling. The men of the 16th were deeply embarrassed by the retreat. It was a black mark against the regiment and the 16th developed a code of silence around the retreat at Little Round Top and never talked or discussed the battle even long after the war.

Crawford maintains that the story of the 20th Maine's saving of the Army of the Potomac from defeat that day became a "mythic tale." The author supports his opinion with factual detail and keen analysis. He also maintains the retreat of 2 or 3 companies from the 16th (the smallest regiment in the battalion) was not an act of cowardness. On entering the battle the Michigan regiment was placed in the most exposed position, and simply overwhelmed by four Rebel regiments. Crawford breaks with many Civil War historians with the opinion that if Little Round Top had been lost to the Rebels it would not have automatically meant the Confederates would have won at Gettysburg.

The most important virtue of this book is to make the everyday lives of the men under arms in the 16th Michigan from Detroit, Saginaw, Hillsdale, Lansing, Adrian, Plymouth, Albion and far off Ontonogan a shared experience with the reader. As soldiers will, they complained about everything. It particularly irked the men that they had to support the regimental chaplain at $7 a day and felt they were not getting their money's worth from the man of God who did little more than pick up the mail daily and give a sermon on Sunday.  One soldier wrote, "It hain't preaching either; he gets up and yam[s] it a spell and sing[s] a patriotic song and dismiss[es] the men."

Crawford does justice to the men of the 16th Michigan who fought and died to save this country. High marks also go to the publisher for producing a beautiful book with high-quality paper, sewn not glued binding, great page layout, a wealth of photographs, and an attention-grabbing cover. Appendices include a complete regimental roster, footnotes, index, and an exhaustive bibliography.

Michigan Infantry in the Civil War, Revised and Updated by Kim Crawford. Michigan State University Press, 2019, $49.95.

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April 1, 2020 Post # 53

Quote for the day: "...[Lake Superior is] beautiful, empty, glittering, cold and brooding, gull-swept and impersonal; always there, alw...