Book Nook


Jackie Brownhill led the discussion on American Colossus, which was greatly appreciated by all.  Thank you Jackie for an excellent and lively discussion.  The next book will be on Theodore Roosevelt, called Unreasonable Men by Michael Wolraich.



At Jim Downe’s House

5730 Stag Thicket’s Lane, Palm Harbor

Book – Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 Paperback – by Eric Foner


NPRC-Book Club Meeting – Feb. 12, 2015
Present: P. McAloon, S. Wartenberg, E. Wartenberg, T. Bryce, R. Walker, J. Downes , J. Halpin, L. Marlin, A. Crompton, K. Crompton, H. Nunn and new attendees: Jude Zentmeyer, Renata St. Lawrence, Rich Vaughan, and Carl Carlsson.

Next Meeting March 12th. The book is in a long version or short version, both by Eric Foner. Long Version is Reconstruction, updated edition: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 and short version is titled: Short History of Reconstruction (there is also an updated version).

Discussion Questions for” Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara

A.Why does General Longstreet doubt his own spy’s report? Thought he would have heard something from other sources but did not. Harrison, a spy, tells General James Longstreet, Lee’s friend, that the Union army is drawing near. They go to Lee, who is reluctant to trust a spy and in information you had to pay for, but has to, because his usual source of intelligence, Jeb Stuart’s cavalry, is out of touch. He sets out to meet the enemy. Spy said Union army on the move and Reynolds in command of lead unit. Buford also on the move, which Longstreet found hard to believe. Learned Meade replaced Hooker and Reynolds refused the job. When infantry come, calvalry precedes them.
Discussion: Longstreet’s spy was an actor as a profession. Spies had to be paid which was not honorable. Gentlemen did not spy. Military always had spies, and they had to report to top commander.

b.What was the importance of spies at the time, and contrast their methodologies to that of later wars such as WW11. Obviously the South benefitted from Longstreet’s spy because he learned about the union troops’ position. Many did not believe in the use of spies until WW11. The OSS was an organization of military spies and predated CIA. OSS started in WW11.

C. Why was Fremantle with Longstreet and who was he? Lt. Col Arthur Fremantle was an Englishman observing for the queen. Talk that the English would come to support the south but Longsteet did not think they would come.

Discussion: Fremantle thought democracy was unattainable. Was observing commanding general on the field. Fremantle learns as an observer and he was the 1st to observe the use of trench warfare. Only one in book who thought there was a possibility of getting back under British rule-admired the Southerners, who were so similar to Englishmen or white aristocracy. British biggest user of cotton and other southern products. Longstreet lost religion and loss faith in Lee. He also lost 3 children. Longstreet wanted Lee to be more defensive.

A.Describe John Buford as a soldier and why he decided to choose Gettysburg as the place to fight despite being concerned about the position of Lee’s troops possibly cutting him off from Washington? At the road junction of Gettysburg, Confederate infantry encounters the Union cavalry of General John Buford. He seizes the high ground and holds it against a Confederate attack at dawn on July 1. Troops of General John Reynolds come to support Buford. Reynolds is killed and the Union troops are pushed back, but at nightfall they entrench on high ground while the Confederates celebrate what appears to them to be another Lee victory.—Buford had been tracking Lee’s army for 5 days and saw Lee had turned with main body. Buford was old army cavalry raised in Indian wars, slow and careful Sent Reynolds message that he was occupying Gettysburg and rebels were coming. His lieutenants thought he was a genius

B.What happened to Reynolds? Reynolds came up from the south to support Buford. Reynolds expected Ewell to come from the north. Wanted Buford on his flanks. Reynolds was killed –one of the first casualties.
Discussion: Burford had the high ground. Needed Reynolds –was cavalry and had repeat rifles. Reynolds group were called Black Hats. After Hooker, Meade and not Reynolds was appointed. Reynolds was offered that position but turned it down. Wanted free reign and knew he could not have it.

C.How did the war continue under Reynolds’s orders after he was killed? After Reynolds was killed the battle continued without a commander. His men just fought where Reynolds had placed them. Reynolds had sent out messages to Meade and all his commanders and said we would fight the rebels inch by inch, thru the town, barricading the streets. We will delay them as long as possible.
A.What did Buford spot in the cemetery when he was writing a note to Reynolds regarding the positioning of his troops and the oncoming rebels? Was writing Reynolds after rebels attacked at dawn and then withdrew. Holding west of Gettysburg, expecting relief. Fighting against Harry Heth’s division. He noticed that he was being hit by one brigade and he is dug in..Rebs Should have probed the position first to find out what he was attacking.
Discussion: Lincoln was an abysmal commander-in-chief. Lincoln wanted his generals to go fight the rebels. Both Union and Confederate officers were classmates at West Point. Both sides had problems killing one another. Buford spotted angels in the cemetery. Killer angels-angels don’t kill each other.
B.What was unusual about his attitude toward Reynolds when he arrived at Gettysburg with troop reinforcement? Reynolds was an immaculate man, almost elegant. He felt a huge weight lifted from him. Now it belonged to Reynolds and there was no regret Thru most of his life he had resented the appearance of a higher command. Now he did not mind at all.

A.What soldier/General did Lee miss the most as he was worried about the absence of General Stuart and the absence of important information?

Discussion: Stonewall Jackson was missed the most. Lee and Stuart were together at Ft. Sumpter. Lee was commander at Ft. Hamilton, located at mouth of NY harbor. Located near this fort was St. John’s Episcopal church, nicknamed the Church of the Generals. Known and beloved as the “Church of The Generals,” many significant figures in American History have passed through our doors – from Robert E. Lee, who was a Vestryman, to Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, who was baptized in the font we still use to this day.
B.What was the relationship between General Armistead and General Hancock? Armistead was Brig. Gen. under Lee and commander of one of Pickett’s brigades. Armistead had an affection for Gen. Hancock because of many years of service under him.

Why did Lee’s Generals want Stuart court marshaled? He was a Lt. Gen. under Lee and was to keep Lee informed of the Union Army movement. Stuart never delivered any information about union troops and was AWOL during the fighting. Lee said you were the eyes of this army! Your mission was to screen this army from the enemy cavalry and report any movement by the enemy’s main body. That mission was not fulfilled. You left this army without word of your movements or the movements of the enemy for several days. We were forced to battle without adequate knowledge of the enemy’s position, strength or ground.

A.Describe Colonel Chamberlain, his perspective on the war

B., his dealings with the Maine mutineers, Because he was from Maine and they were, he would not shoot them. He offered them to fight again for the cause. All did but 6. Later he asked those 6 again and 3 finally did. He said that there would be no charges for those that fought.

C. and his battle strategy on Little Round Top at Gettysburg. 2nd day at Little round top. Was told he could not retreat under any circumstances. Ran out of bullets, rebels kept coming so he called for his soldiers to fix bayonets and rush the enemy head on. It scared the rebels and they retreated.
Describe Gettysburg , the location, during this time The battle brought devastation to the residents of Gettysburg. Every farm field or garden was a graveyard. Churches, public buildings and even private homes were hospitals, filled with wounded soldiers. The Union medical staff that remained were strained to treat so many wounded scattered about the county. To meet the demand, Camp Letterman General Hospital was established east of Gettysburg where all of the wounded were eventually taken to before transport to permanent hospitals in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. Union surgeons worked with members of the U.S Sanitary Commission and Christian Commission to treat and care for the over 20,000 injured Union and Confederate soldiers that passed through the hospital’s wards, housed under large tents. By January 1864, the last patients were gone as were the surgeons, guards, nurses, tents and cookhouses. Only a temporary cemetery on the hillside remained as a testament to the courageous battle to save lives that took place at Camp Letterman.
Gettysburg was located in PA near the MD border. It was nestled between high ridges and rolling hills. Dead bodies were used as bulwarks.
A.What were the differences in battle tactics between Lee and Longstreet?
Longstreet is filled with foreboding. On July 2, he tries to persuade Lee that the Union position is too strong. He urges Lee to march away and make the fight on more favorable ground. But Lee orders a flanking attack on the Union position. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of Maine is told by his superiors that he occupies the end of the Union line, and that he must hold at any cost. In a brilliant, costly action, Chamberlain succeeds in repulsing the Confederate attack.On July 3, Lee orders a frontal assault on the center of the Union line. Knowing it is doomed, Longstreet argues against it. But Lee is confident and Longstreet despairs. General George Pickett leads the charge, which is turned back with heavy losses. A shaken Lee orders retreat. Chamberlain is now confident of Union victory.
Discussion: Lee took the offense while Longstreet focused on defense. Lee’s attitude was to say here’s the enemy and we must fight them. Longstreet would say get the best ground and build defenses.
B.How did this impact the end result of the war at Gettysburg? Lee LOST. The Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, sometimes referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Rebellion” resulted not only in Lee’s retreat to Virginia, but an end to the hopes of the Confederate States of America for independence.
B Could Longstreet have made the difference in the outcome of the war if Lee had listened to him?
Discussion: If Lee had listened to Longstreet, he might have won the ar. This was backed up in Longstreet’s memoires. Lee tendered his resignation after Gettysburg-always fighting for a tie. According to Longstreet who quoted other officers, Lee admitted he was wrong in his strategy at Gettysburg. When he tendered his resignation to Jefferson Davis, Davis turned him down.
After the Civil War, Grant, Sherman and Sheridan fought the Indians and exterminated many of them.
A.What was the pont-au-feu battle tactic of Lee and why did it fail?
B.Where did the tactic originate?
Literally, in French, a “bridge of fire.” In the context of military tactics it means a preliminary bombardment from artillery that suppresses and demoralizes opposing forces before your own troops charge the enemy. It was a favorite tactic of Napoleon and other French generals during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

Discussion: Even though Lee was 25 miles from Wash. DC, Lee never did say he would go to Wash. Union lost as many men as Confederates. Lee thought he was the aggressor. Nice guys finish last. After Gettysburg, Lee stopped at Antietam. “ The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia began its Retreat from Gettysburg on July 4, 1863. Following General Robert E. Lee’s failure to defeat the Union Army at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863), he ordered a retreat through Maryland and over the Potomac River to relative safety in Virginia. The Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, was unable to maneuver quickly enough to launch a significant attack on the Confederates, who crossed the river on the night of July 13–14.
A.What did Lee mean when he said he broke the vow?
B.Why did Trimble thank Lee for sending him into harm’s way at Pickett’s charge?
Trimble did not have to fight with Ewell, who he blamed for not taking the high ground on Day 2 of the battle.
Was Ewell, commander of 20,000 men, a failure in his leadership at Gettysburg?

Why or why not? Lee said Ewell used to be a good soldier but was indecisive on 2nd day.Trimble blamed Ewell for not taking the hill and said he would not serve with him. Give me one brigade Gen. Ewell and I will take the hill. Lee thought Ewell had frozen and deferred to Early. Ewell acknowledged that he was too slow on 2nd day.
A.What soldier was described as looking like a French king with” curls and feathers”? Gen. George Pickett. Pickett  ranked last out of the 59 surviving students in the Class of 1846. “ It is a position held with some backhanded distinction, referred to today as the “goat”, both for its stubbornness and tenacity.[8] The position usually relegated its holder to a posting commanding infantry in some far away outpost, which if no conflict arose, would offer little opportunity to advance. Two of the most famous “goats” were Pickett and George Armstrong Custer (as was also Pickett’s cousin, Harry Heth). All of them had the good fortune to graduate shortly before a war broke out, when the army had a sudden need for officers, greatly improving their opportunities.”

Discussion: Lee extended the war by using trench warfare.

B. How was he as a soldier at Gettysburg? No fear. Smiled when sent into battle. He lived but all of his colonels were gone and most of his men.They rode into the northern artillery barrage.

What happened at “Pickett’s Charge”? See:
Lee thought the flanks were strong so directed Pickett to charge up the middle. Longstreet tried to get Lee to direct his troops to fight on the flanks but did not continue to argue the point with Lee. Test of an officer that his people were going to their deaths.

A.What was Chamberlain’s opinion of the end result should the south win the war?
He knew he had been present at one of the greatest moments in history-when he watched the rebels coming out of the trees coming to kill you but dying all the while. He thought of Aristotle and tragedy. Yes, this is tragedy.
B. What was Chamberlain’s opinion about the reason for the war itself? He had forgotten the cause. If it weren’t for slaves, there never would have been a war.
Discussion: Besides fighting against slavery, the war was to recreate Europe. Divide the country into 3, ie. France, Germany and the West balancing those two out.

Where did “Killer Angels” the term, originate? J.L. Chamberlain, a major character, recalls reciting to his father the speech from Hamlet: “What a piece of work is man…in action how like an angel!” The father comments, “Well, boy, if he’s an angel, he’s sure a murderin’ angel.” Chamberlain had gone on to school to make an oration on the subject: Man, the Killer Angel

Discussion: General George Custer was a graduate of West Point near the bottom of the class along with Pickett. He never came near Brooklyn but wife died in Brooklyn. He was only soldier ever to be make a general which happened on during the battle of Gettysburg. Nobody else ever made General on the battlefield. Custard with ½ the number of men as Stuart chased Stuart off the field of battle and captured many rebels running away. Custard caught up to Lee at Appomattox.
Comments on Book: The dialogue kept the reader’s attention.
Joshua Chamberlain: Became the 32nd Gov. of Maine, a Professor and he was present at Appomattox. At the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap in VA, Chamberlain had held off Longstreet. At Appomattox, Chamberlain had his soldiers salute the Confederates. In 1893, Chamberlain received the medal of honor for his heroism at Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Longstreet was also at the signing in Appomattox. In 1848, he had been in Grant’s wedding party- Julia Dent was a cousin to Longstreet.
After the peace treaty signed, the United States went from “are” to being treated as one union to “is”.
Armistead and Hancock (in charge of battery in front of Pickett’s charge)
Ft. Clinch in Fernandina Beach was built like a Masonic Lodge and used as a prison during Civil War. During the Civil War, the yanks talked to the rebels so they could get their 3 degree Mason since they did not have a lodge to go to where they were fighting.

“The H. L. Hunley was a submarine of the Confederate States of America that played a small part in theAmerican Civil War. The Hunley demonstrated the advantages and the dangers of undersea warfare. She was the first combat submarine to sink a warship, although the Hunley was not completely submerged and, following her successful attack, was lost along with her crew before she could return to base. The Confederacy lost 21 crewmen in three sinkings of the Hunley during her short career. She was named for her inventor, Horace Lawson Hunley, shortly after she was taken into government service under the control of the Confederate Army at Charleston, South Carolina.
The Hunley, nearly 40 feet (12 m) long, was built at Mobile, Alabama, and launched in July 1863. She was then shipped by rail on August 12, 1863, to Charleston, South Carolina. The Hunley (then called Fish Boat) sank on August 29, 1863, during a training exercise, killing five members of her crew. She sank again on October 15, 1863, killing all eight of her second crew, including Horace Hunley himself, who was aboard at the time, even though he was not a member of the Confederate militia. Both times the Hunley was raised and returned to service.

On February 17, 1864, The Hunley attacked and sank the 1240-short ton (1124 metric tons)[2] screw sloop USSHousatonic, which had been on Union blockade-duty in Charleston’s outer harbor. Soon afterwards, the Hunleysank, killing all eight of her third crew. This time, the innovative ship was lost.

Finally located in 1995, the Hunley was raised in 2000 and is on display in North Charleston, South Carolina, at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center on the Cooper River. Examination, in 2012, of recovered Hunleyartifacts suggests that the submarine was as close as 20 feet to her target, the Housatonic, when her deployed torpedo exploded, which eventually caused the sub’s own loss.”



“Impending Crisis” by y David M. Potter

This meeting will be held at the CAC office in Oldsmar, beginning at 6:20 p.m.


NPRC Book Club Oct. 2, 2014
Present: – John Halpin-leader of Book Review,
H. Nunn, T. Bryce, L.Marlin, R. Clark, K. Crompton, R.Walker, S. Wartenberg, E. Wartenberg, P. McAloon, K. Andreassen,
Next book club meeting will be Nov. 6th held at the CAC office in Oldsmar. Ken Crompton will lead the book review on “The Impending Crisis- America Before the Civil War 1848-1861” by David Potter.
How interesting and helpful was this book in understanding American History? Unanimous that it was easy reading, interesting and informative.
Background- 1821 was the Mexican rebellion with Spain.
“In August 1844, in the midst of the election campaign for president, Tyler withdrew from the race. The Democratic party was by then unequivocally committed to Texas annexation, and Tyler, assured by Polk’s envoys that as president he would effect Texas annexation, urged his supporters to cast their votes for the Democratic Party. Polk narrowly defeated Whig Henry Clay in the November election. The victorious Democrats were poised to acquire Texas under the leadership of their president-elect James K. Polk, the pro-Texas annexation champion of Manifest Destiny, rather than on the pro-slavery agenda favored by the Tyler-Calhoun expansionists….“On February 27, 1845, less than a week before Polk’s inauguration, the Senate voted 27-25 to admit Texas, based on the Tyler protocols of simple majority passage.  The next day, in an almost strict party line vote the Benton-Milton measure was passed in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. President Tyler signed the bill the following day, March 1, 1845. On March 3, 1845, with his cabinet’s assent, he dispatched an offer of annexation to the Republic of Texas by courier, exclusively under the terms of the Brown-Foster option of the joint house measure. Secretary Calhoun apprised president-elect Polk of the action, who demurred without comment. Tyler justified his preemptive move on the grounds that Polk was likely to come under pressure to abandon immediate annexation and reopen negotiations under the Benton alternative. When President Polk entered the White House the following day, March 4, 1845, he was in a position to recall Tyler’s dispatch to Texas and reverse his decision. On March 10, after conferring with his cabinet, Polk upheld Tyler’s action and allowed the courier to proceed with the offer of immediate annexation to Texas. The only modification was to exhort Texans to accept the annexation terms unconditionally. A Texas annexation convention debated the Tyler-Polk annexation offer and almost unanimously passed it on July 4, 1845. President James K. Polk signed the legislation making the former Lone Star Republic a state of the Union on December 29, 1845. Texas formally relinquished its sovereignty to the United States on February 14, 1846.”
Were the protrayals of the major characters balanced? Definitely. The characters were honest protrayals: Houston (liked to drink), James Bowie (scoundrel and con man), Santa Anna (untrustworthy, ladies man, ambitious), Moses Austin (audacious, entrepreneur – from rags to riches and back again), Steven Austin (more cautious than his father and more of a diplomat)
What was Jackson’s relationship with Houston and Polk. They had a very close relationship with Jackson and turned to Jackson for advice numerous times.
On March 2, 1836, his 43rd birthday, Houston signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. Mexican soldiers killed all those at the Alamo Mission at the end of the Santa Anna siege on March 6. At Goliad, Santa Anna ordered the execution of approx.. 400 volunteer Texas militia led by James Fannin who had surrendered his forces on March 20. Cry was “Remember the Alamo and Remember Goliad.” After the Alamo, Santa Anna caught up with Houston’s army, but had split his own army into three separate forces in an attempt to encircle the Texans. At the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, Houston surprised Santa Anna and the Mexican forces during their afternoon “siesta.” The Texans won a decisive victory in under 18 minutes, suffering few casualties. Houston’s ankle was shattered by a stray bullet. Badly beaten, Santa Anna was captured and forced to sign a treaty giving Texas its independence In the fall of 1836, Samuel Houston was inaugurated as president of the independent Republic of Texas..
Brands painted the character of Texans very well. First settlers- Mexican government allowed people to have plots of land if they settled it. Steven Austin-impressario and buddy with Santa Anna. He was given the power to distribute land but was eventually put in jail. (Moses, Austin’s father started his enterprise with mining lead which he gave to his son, Steven.) When Austin moved to Texas he agreed to abide by the Mexican Constitution but Santa Anna did away with it. Anna was a ladies’ man with more lives than a cat. He was the most elected President of all time. Huston took him to NY for negotiations. Polk allowed safe passage for Santa Anna back into Mexico so he could settle the dispute with the US.
John Quincy Adams did not want Texas because of slavery and did not want Wash. DC to have slavery. Polk wanted to bring in territories and Wilmot Proviso in 1848 would ban slavery and if passed would have divided the support in the voting for the new territories. “The Wilmot Proviso, one of the major events leading to the American Civil War, would have banned slavery in any territory to be acquired from Mexico in the Mexican War or in the future, including the area later known as the Mexican Cession, but which some proponents construed to also include the disputed lands in south Texas and New Mexico east of the Rio Grande.”
Slavery-peculiar institution. P. 170. Slaves were banned from being brought into the US. Yet they were smuggled in primarily from the Caribbean and then auctioned off by the US gov’t. From 1845 onward, slave population increased until 1861 when Texas seceded and joined the Confederate States of America. At that time 30% were slaves. Texas was most difficult in the union to reconstruct after the Civil War. They struggled against armies sent in to rule them by Johnson-who actually did a good job on reconstruction.
Quakers in PA. During 1760 onward, they were against slavery. Came up with a compromise and Franklin was part of that compromise. Slavery was involved in everything. Every president except the two Adams were slave owners.
Mexico banned slavery in 1810. Britain banned slavery thruout the British Empire in 1833 with a few exceptions, ie. St. Helena, East Indian holdings. Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793. Whitney’s invention made upland short cotton into a profitable crop. Whitney’s gin revolutionized the cotton industry in the United States, and led to the growth of slavery in the American South as the demand for cotton workers rapidly increased. The invention has thus been identified as an inadvertent contributing factor to the outbreak of the American Civil War.
When Spain went to Central America and Mexico, it was after gold. They found it in the heart of Mexico. This is why Spain had no interest in settling Texas. Few Mexicans migrated to Texas. They lived in towns, not on the farms themselves.
New Orleans was an incredible port. National Road went from Manhattan to KY and OH. Tariff benefitted the North at South’s expense. Mexican government also taxed exports. Crockett was opposed to the Cotton tariff. In 1816 the Protective Tariff was passed. “The Tariff of 1816 (also known as the Dallas tariff) is notable as the first tariff passed by Congress with an explicit function of protecting U.S. manufactured items from foreign competition. Prior to the War of 1812, tariffs had primarily served to raise revenues to operate the national government. Another unique aspect of the tariff was the strong support it received from Southern states. This tariff was only to last 3 years. However, Northern efforts to establish permanent protection in 1820, after tensions with Great Britain had eased provoked a backlash among Southern legislators. The South consistently opposed protective tariffs during the remainder of the ante bellum period.”
In 1828 the Abomination Tariff was passed. Andrew Jackson coined the phrase abomination tariff. “The major goal of the tariff was to protect industries in the northern United States which were being driven out of business by low-priced imported goods by taxing them. The South, however, was harmed directly by having to pay higher prices on goods the region did not produce, and indirectly because reducing the exportation of British goods to the US made it difficult for the British to pay for the cotton they imported from the South. The reaction in the South, particularly in  South Carolina, would lead to the Nullification Crisis that began in late 1832.”
There were several Indian tribes in Texas when settlers immigrated and most were hostile. The Commanche Indians were dominant and were excellent horse and cattle rustlers. The Karankawa Indians were cannibals. In the 1500’s Indians were attacking explorers but at first were not hostile but curious. Then the Spanish came in and took their land away from them. The Indians also killed people in their ceremonies. The Spanish used that as an excuse to kill the Indians and to force them into slavery. In 1526 Indians realized white man not their friend. They killed DeSoto along the Mississippi and Ponce de Leon. Cortez came in to Mexico in 1618 and conquered the Aztecs. The Spanish established missions in their territories to convert the Indians to Catholicism. The Indians then came under the protection of the mission if converted.
The value of slaves went up when the slave trade was abolished. Before the Civil War, both sides were rigid. Lincoln tried to avoid a civil war and wanted to compensate the slave owners. They were offered $400 a slave, the same figure that the English offered their own plantation owners and it took a few years to do because they would apprentice the slaves first to make sure they learned a trade. Lincoln apparently had the money which he would use from the money that had been set aside for the war.
When CA applied for statehood, the state had abolished slavery. In CA the people had the right to determine the slave issue, and the South was not happy with this rule. In the new territories, the federal government determined territory rights. Nullification was not allowed.
Lone Star Nation
The Epic Story of the Battle for Texas Independence
Book Review by Steve Labinski
H.W. Brands is a very good storyteller, bringing to life all the famous characters and events that walk through the founding of Texas. Despite years of tall tales, movies and others taking liberties with the facts, on its own the story is a good one. He begins by painting a picture of Moses Austin, a failed businessman who, like many others, was driven to this remote border province of Mexico.
Austin and his brother successfully operated a lead mine in Virginia, borrowing heavily to finance the venture. A bank downturn left him holding worthless bank notes, starting his push to the Western borders to do business. He ends up over five hundred miles from the United States border at San Antonio de Béxar, the capital of Texas.
He negotiates with a hostile Spanish governor for a land deal in the state, if he brings American immigrants inside. Moses’s son, Stephen F. Austin, ends up leading a group of settlers to Texas on the promise of his dying father’s last wish. Thus begins the balanced, informative account of one of America’s best epics.
“The land was enough to excite any man’s lust, and perhaps emotions more deadly,” writes Brands. The author tells the complete background of the states original settlers, how the Spanish and the French ended up there, and how Spain’s grip on the region quickly loosed in the early 1800s.
By 1835 native Tejanos and Comanches were outnumbered 10 to 1 by an onrush of American settlers, then around 30,000. The rebellion was a triumph in many cases simply because of poor organization, illustrating why the far-flung empires of France and Spain were on the decline.
Brands teaches history at the University of Texas at Austin. His book takes to opportunity to correct many misconceptions and myths, often relying on historical accounts, and corroborating evidence. Viewers of Hollywood’s The Alamo will probably notice a number of them. The writer also takes the modern approach to discussing the Texas founders, warts and all. He recounts an often told story of how Sam Houston was an alleged drunk.
Houston’s venture into the Arkansas Territory took him to the illegal practice of selling whiskey, gin and other spirits to the local indians. When arrested, his case to the court was that the nine barrels of booze were for his own consumption. Houston got off the hook, but the tale evolved from that about his personal alcohol consumption. Depite what really happened, these are certainly not the untarnished stories told about America’s colonial founding fathers.
Brands vividly paints a despotic portait of General Santa Anna, the completely unlikable “Napoleon of the West.” San Houston, Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett appear interesting and heroic, while exposed by the author whole and unvarnished.
In just over 500 pages, Brands calmly describes how this historic contest plays out. Everyone knows the ending, and many of the events. But it is always good to read through a full telling of this dramatic story.
From Lone Star Nation by H.W. Brands
For obvious reasons, the strategies of opposing generals in war tend to be inverse images of each other. Thus it was with Santa Anna and Houston. Where the Texan leader wished to avoid battle, to give space and get time, Santa Anna aimed to provoke battle, to save space and steal time. Any general in Santa Anna’s position would have adopted the same strategy, for Houston’s army would only get stronger the nearer it got to the heavily settled regions of Texas and the closer it drew to the United States.
Yet Santa Anna had special reason for wanting to end the Texas war quickly. As important as Texas was to the Texans, it was only a small part of Mexico, and perhaps less important than its size suggested. However apt or inaccurate Santa Anna’s identification with Napoleon may have been, the Mexican president-general shared a signal liability with the French emperor-general: neither could leave his capital for long without worrying that enemies were conspiring against him, and hence neither could afford a distant campaign.
From the moment Santa Anna set out for Texas in December, 1835, he reckoned how he might bring the war against the rebels to a rapid close. A patient man, or merely a general who wasn’t also president, could have taken time to consolidate his victories over the Texans, to secure the lines of communication, and to drive Houston and his untrained troops across the Sabine and out of Texas. But Santa Anna couldn’t stand to let an underling wear the laurels that would come to a general who preserved the integrity of Mexico. The hero of Tampico must be the hero of Texas.
In some respects the war was going too well. As the Mexican forces marched east, the only sign that a rebellion even existed was the ruin in which the rebels left the countryside. Like the Russian army that had opposed Napoleon, the Texas army burned the towns from which they retreated, the fields through which it marched, and the supplies it couldn’t carry. It was a harsh policy, but it had the desired effect, rendering an occupation of Texas by Santa Anna’s army difficult and unattractive.
Lone Star Nation: The Epic Story of the Battle for Texas Independence
Softcover: 608 pages
Publisher: Anchor (Feb. 8, 2005)

Notes submitted by Helena Nunn


NPRC Book Club Notes: September 4, 2014

Tonight’s Leader: Jim Downes – “A Country of Vast Designs” by Robert Merry (biography of President Polk)

Present: H. Nunn, T. Bryce, L. Marlin, R. Clark, K. Crompton, R. Walker, S. Wartenberg, E. Wartenberg
* What did the author think of Jackson? He admired him, embellished him and revered the old man. Did not like Clay but after son’s death had sympathy. Jackson was a player with Polk. Clayism permeates today.

* What was tariff issue and its importance? The North liked the protective tariff and the opposite was true with the South who didn’t like it. The tariff took wealth from the South and gave it to the North. Purpose was to raise revenue for the government. Polk made the tariff palatable to the South. In 1846, the tariff was modified to 1842. Tariff was highest in 1819, amounting to a 40% tax on various goods.

* Describe Polk- honest, loyal, astute, shrewd, but did not know how to deal with Buchanan, his secretary of state. He told everyone he would only stay for one term and not run again and did not run again.

* What was American System espoused by Clay. Clay wanted to build up highways, canals, infrastructure.

* How does political wrangling differ from today? There is not much different except for more politicians interested in the interests of their country. Not as much corruption, but still many politicians wanted patronage jobs for themselves or friends, etc.

* What do you think of President Jackson now that he was out of office? Jackson got involved with his protégés like Polk. He would be asked advice and always gave advice, mostly correct. Wildly popular with his own party.

* What did you think of Calhoun of South Carolina? People in SC revered him. Was for states’ rights. Ranked next to Clay. Favorite son. Supported slavery issue. Spokesman for the South.

* On slave issue: Polk was a slave owner and in his will he freed his slaves. Calhoun will not give his slaves up. Inherited them from his father. Why take slaves to new territories. Calhoun said no reason to have slaves.

* Tyler threw down the annexation issues. Clay did not support them- said would be a breeding ground for slavery. Whigs were also against annexation. Whigs were divided on slavery-why Clay was losing. Not as pro-slavery as Jacksonians.

* Why did Britain want Oregon (primarily wanted access and control of Columbia river.) Russia also had claims but not as solid as the Brits.

* The fight over Oregon was whether the boundary would be at 54/40 which included all of Vancouver –important to Canada or at the 49th parallel.

* State of war existed between Mexico and US-our troops were attacked by Mexico. Polk hated Winfield Scott but Scott was a winner on battlefield. Scott bad mouthed Polk and there were bad feelings between them as a result. Scott was known as Old Fuss and Feathers and served on active duty as a general longer than any other man in American history. He was an unsuccessful presidential candidate of the Whig Party in 1852.

* Fremont was an explorer and army major in Mexican War. He took CA from the Bear Flag Republic in 1846, but was put under court martial for mutiny and insubordination. His sentence was commuted by Polk. Fremont married Senator Benton’s daughter –Fremont was also a candidate for President in 1856.

* Who was Nicholas Trist? He negotiated the Mexican Treaty without authority. Initially Polk made him an emissary with powers to legally represent the US in negotiations with Mexico. Polk lost faith in him and fired him, but Trist did not give up his position and took advantage of the moment, ending up negotiating a wonderful deal because he won so much territory from Mexico. Polk wanted to gain more land and Trist wanted to end the war. They were 1500 miles away from each other and did not know what each other wanted. Eventually Trist did do what he needed to do. Mexico wanted him to have credentials, and he came out with a good treaty. Mexico gave up 50% of their lands, CA, New Mexico, etc.

* What was the Wilmot Proviso. This was an amendment by Congressman David Wilmot which was added to the 2 million dollar appropriations bill to help end the Mex. War. It would not allow any slavery in any Mexican territories won by the US as a result of the war. Passed the House but not the Senate. This proviso was a hindrance to getting Congress to pass the eventual treaty with Mexico.

* In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ending the war was submitted to the Senate for approval. Douglas, now in the Senate, was among those who joined with the South to defeat an effort to attach the Wilmot Proviso to the treaty. In the prior year’s debate in the House Douglas had argued that all of the debate over slavery in the territories was premature; the time to deal with that issue was when the territory was actually organized by Congress. Lewis Cass (Democrat) in December 1847, in his famous letter to A. O. P. Nicholson in Tennessee, further defined the concept of popular sovereignty which would soon evolve as the mainstream Democratic alternative to the Wilmot Proviso:

* Leave it to the people, who will be affected by this question to adjust it upon their own responsibility, and in their own manner, and we shall render another tribute to the original principles of our government, and furnish another for its permanence and prosperity.” Polk was willing to accept the Missouri compromise of 1850 to establish line for slavery, and he was adamant that slavery would not exist in Oregon based on that compromise.

* How did author handle Polk. He showed that Polk kept his promise: to reduce the tariff (and not be used to protect particular industries), form an independent treasury (to ensure gov. funds not deposited in private banks and that the gov’t must confine itself to hard money policies and not be able to print money) and fulfill his manifest destiny of acquiring Texas, Oregon, New Mexico and CA. “The continental US had taken shape” from sea to shining sea. The author said Polk was a better President ranked in top 15. He showed that by reducing tariffs, it brought in more money to the treasury.

Next Book: “Lone Star Nation: The Epic Story of the Battle for Texas Independence” by HW Brands for Oct. 2nd meeting and “Impending Crisis” by David M. Potter for Nov. 6th meeting.

Meetings will take place at CAC in Oldsmar and start at 6:30 pm

Notes courtesy of Helena Nunn


Our next book club meeting will be held on Thursday, April 10th at 6:30 p.m. at the Oldsmar office.  We will be discussing “John Quincy Adams:  A Public Life, A Private Life” by Richard Brookhiser.


Our next book club meeting will be held on Thursday, March 6th at 6:30 p.m. at the Oldsmar office.  We will be discussing “James Madison” by Richard Brookhiser.


Our next book club meeting will be held on February 6th at 6:30 p.m. at the Oldsmar office. We will be discussing “Benjamin Franklin, An American Life” by Walter Isaacson. The book can be found in paper back or in audio version that can be checked out of the library if currently available.

Our last discussion centered upon Thomas Jefferson. It was a very lively discussion and quite informative. Of course, one of his legacies was the Louisiana Purchase. He believed in the power of the individual and of the states. He also believed in austerity and the simplicity of government, which had placed him at odds with federalists such as John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. He did not believe in generational debt and felt that it should be retired every generation; a far cry from what we are currently experiencing.

Again, please join us. We look forward to seeing you at CAC(where our monthly meetings are held).


Pam McAloon, Chairman


Good evening, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays!! Our book club is rolling along as we continue to discuss the framework of the founding of our country.Our next book club meeting will be on January 9th, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. at CAC(where we hold our monthly meetings).

The book to be discussed will be :
American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph Ellis…

Please join the fun as we discuss this very interesting man who served as our third President of the United States..Again, I wish each and everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year!!


Pam McAloon, Chairman

Next Book Club Meeting: “Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen 6:30 p.m.@ CAC

Our NPRC book club recently reviewed “John Adams” by David McCullough. John Adams, our second President, was a Federalist. As early as the Boston Massacre of 1770, he believed that the British soldiers, who were being vilified by the colonists, should not just be executed. Mr. Adams, an attorney and advocate for our independence from England, thought wisely that we cannot achieve true independence if we do not grant those accused a fair trial. He has been credited with championing the Declaration of Independence. His presidency was very challenging with the French Revolution being in full swing, American Republican sympathy for the revolutionists was a reaction to Federalist philosophy and the alien and sedition act. He ultimately kept us out of a war with France. He narrowly missed being re-elected as a result of New York voting for Jefferson. He was a remarkable man and a true patriot.

You are cordially invited to attend our next book club session as we are now planning to meet the first Thursday of the month. Thank you.

Pam McAloon, Chairman

NPRC Book Club News 9/23/2013

We met last night at Tim Bryce’s office and discussed “This Town” by Mark Leibovich. It was an eye opener as to what is happening in Washington,D.C.. The next book to be discussed on October 29th @ 6:30 p.m. at Community Action Committee, Oldsmar (our monthly meeting venue) will be “John Adams” by David McCullough. We also thought  it to be a good idea to decide on the book for November in order to get a head start on the reading of the book for the next month. The members present tonight would like to discuss “Miracle at Philadelphia” by Catherine Bowen in November. The November date was not discussed as the fourth Tuesday will fall on Thanksgiving week. Perhaps we can meet the Tuesday during the previous week.. We can decide this later.

Also, if you are unable to come, please email me and let me know in advance.. Thank you.

Pam McAloon

P.S. Here is Tim’s Book Review of “This Town”

NPRC Book Club News – Our Book for our September 24th meeting
“This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral-Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!-in America’s Gilded Capital” by Mark Leibovich
The question: Is this an accurate description of Washington?
See you then.


Our book club had a very exciting discussion regarding “His Excellency: George Washington” by Joseph Ellis. The “Father of our Country” was a very interesting person who despite his herculean strengths in leading us to victory against England, was very human in many ways. He was not a brilliant tactician, but was always willing to learn from his mistakes in both military battles and in the founding of our country. We recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn more about George Washington’s life in both his boyhood, and in the obstacles that he had to overcome in ultimately constructing the building blocks of what has made our country great!

Please join us at our next book club meeting scheduled for Tuesday, August 20th, 6:30 p.m. at Tim Bryce’s office in Palm Harbor (3310 Bayshore Boulevard, aka Alt-19). We will be discussing “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow. This is a longer book, but we have two momnths in which to read it. Again, come and join us even if you have neither finished nor read the book. We welcome you!

Pam McAloon


1776 by David McCullough
ISBN 0-7432-2671-2 (hardcover)
ISBN 0-7432-2672-0 (paperback)
ISBN 1-4165-4210-8 (Illustrated Edition)

The book 1776 by David McCullough covers a series of events from the announcement of war against the American colonies by King George the III in 1775 to the great American victory at Trenton in 1776. Washington led an army of Americans from various backgrounds and ages most of whom were inexperienced, ill-equipped, and had had no training. The British Redcoats on the other hand were well equipped and experienced and were being commanded by General William Howe.

The journey first starts off with the battle of Bunker Hill, where the Americans suffer a defeat by the British, but with thousands of British casualties. The Americans recover and attempt a surprise attack on Boston at Dorchester Heights where the British are caught by surprise. The British leave Boston and retreat to Halifax on their ships. . This humiliation caused great concern in England but King George was not open to reconciliation with the colonists and doubled down by sending Hessian soldiers to support his troops led by General Howe. Washington decided to move down to New York, predicting that would be the next move by the British. However, Washington showed his inexperience and lost 2 key battles in New York at Brooklyn Heights and Fort Washington, primarily due to poor strategy and being outmanned by the British army and its navy which controlled the waters around New York. Miraculously, Washington was able to escape Brooklyn but was forced to retreat loosing precious territories along the way. Because of these defeats and retreats, his army was losing faith in him. But he was able to keep his army together even though he doubted himself on several occasions.

The turning point came with Washington ordering his army to cross the Delaware River Dec. 25th, 1776 in a blinding snow storm, to launch a surprise attack on Trenton. This resulted in a resounding defeat of the British with the capture of 1000 Hessians. “Washington, Mr. McCullough concludes, was not a brilliant strategist or tactician, not a gifted orator, not an intellectual, and at several crucial moments had made serious mistakes in judgment. But experience had been his great teacher from boyhood, and in this his greatest test, he learned steadily from experience. Above all, he adds, Washington never forgot what was at stake and he never gave up.”

The war would continue another six and a half years before the Paris peace treaty in 1783, where America finally achieved their independence.

– Helena Nunn

NPRC Book Nook
by Pam McAloon, Chairman


(March 26, 2013) – The NPRC Book Club held its first meeting at the offices of Tim Bryce in Palm Harbor.  Pam McAloon chairs the committee which is intended to review books related to government and politics.  Eleven people attended.  The first book selected for review was The 5000 Year Leap by author Cleon Skousen, an excellent analysis of how our founding fathers developed the Constitution.

The next meeting will be held on Thursday, April 25, 6:30pm, at Tim Bryce’s office in Palm Harbor (3310 Bayshore Boulevard, Alt-19; click for MAP).  The group’s next book will be David McCullough’s “1776.”  The meetings are open to the NPRC membership and interested parties.

The book club planning committee has come up with many great books (non-fictional) for discussion. We are going to be discussing books that are germane to the founding of our country. We plan to keep the meetings limited to 1 ½ hour discussions (discussions being led by the person who selected the book), and we will also be keeping a book journal of our books that have been discussed; summarizing each book and how well liked it was by the club itself. The regular meeting dates and venues for the future will be reviewed, but we would like to meet monthly. Our book club is evolving, which makes it both fun and exciting!! Let us all keep an open mind to new ideas as they arise, and I am certain that it will be a huge success!! See you April 25th!!!

Pam McAloon