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At the Library: A sampling of United States history at the Captiva Memorial Library

By Staff | Oct 28, 2015

“Lincoln’s Greatest Case: The River, the Bridge, and the Making of America”

by Brian McGinty

“The untold story of how one sensational trial propelled a self-taught lawyer and a future president into the national spotlightIn the early hours of May 6, 1856, the steamboat Effie Afton barreled into a pillar of the Rock Island Bridge -the first railroad bridge ever to span the Mississippi River. Soon after, the newly constructed vessel, crowded with passengers and livestock, erupted into flames and sank in the river below, taking much of the bridge with it. As lawyer and Lincoln scholar Brian McGinty dramatically reveals in Lincoln’s Greatest Case, no one was killed, but the question of who was at fault cried out for an answer. Backed by powerful steamboat interests in St. Louis, the owners of the Effie Afton quickly pressed suit, hoping that a victory would not only prevent the construction of any future bridges from crossing the Mississippi, but also thwart the burgeoning spread of railroads from Chicago. The fate of the long-dreamed-of transcontinental railroad lurked ominously in the background, for if rails could not cross the Mississippi by bridge, how could they span the continent all the way to the Pacific? The official title of the case was Hurd et al. v. The Railroad Bridge Company, but it could have been St. Louis v. Chicago, for the transportation future of the whole nation was at stake. Indeed, was it to be dominated by steamboats or by railroads? Conducted at almost the same time as the notorious Dred Scott case, this new trial riveted the nation’s attention. Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln, already well-known as one of the best trial lawyers in Illinois, was summoned to Chicago to join a handful of crack legal practitioners in the defense of the bridge. While there, he successfully helped unite the disparate regions of the country with a truly transcontinental rail system and, in the process, added to the stellar reputation that vaulted him into the White House less than four years later. Re-creating the Effie Afton case from its unlikely inception to its controversial finale, McGinty brilliantly animates this legal cauldron of the late 1850s, which turned out to be the most consequential trial in Lincoln’s nearly quarter century as a lawyer. Along the way, the tall prairie lawyer’s consummate legal skills and instincts are also brought to vivid life, as is the history of steamboat traffic on the Mississippi, the progress of railroads west of the Appalachians, and the epochal clashes of railroads and steamboats at the river’s edge. Lincoln’s Greatest Case is legal history on a grand scale and an essential first act to a pivotal Lincoln drama we did not know was there.” *

“The Last Days of George Armstrong Custer”

by Thom Hatch

“In this thrilling narrative history of George Armstrong Custer’s death at the Little Bighorn, award-winning historian Thom Hatch puts to rest the questions and conspiracies that have made Custer’s last stand one of the most misunderstood events in American history. While numerous historians have investigated the battle, what happened on those plains hundreds of miles from even a whisper of civilization has been obscured by intrigue and deception starting with the very first shots fired. Custer’s death and the defeat of the 7th Calvary by the Sioux was a shock to a nation that had come to believe that its westward expansion was a matter of destiny. While the first reports defended Custer, many have come to judge him by this single event, leveling claims of racism, disobedience, and incompetence. These false claims unjustly color Custer’s otherwise extraordinarily life and fall far short of encompassing his service to his countryby putting Custer within the context of his time and his career as a soldierreveals the untold and controversial truth of what really happened in the valley of the Little Bighorn, making it the definitive history of Custer’s last stand. This history of charging cavalry, desperate defenses, and malicious intrigue finally sets the record straight for one of history’s most dynamic and misunderstood figures.” *

“Drinking in America: Our Secret History”

by Susan Cheever

“chronicles our national love affair with liquor, taking a long, thoughtful look at the way alcohol has changed our nation’s history. This is the often-overlooked story of how alcohol has shaped American events and the American character from the 17th to the 20th century. Seen through the lens of alcoholism, American history takes on a vibrancy and a tragedy missing from many earlier accounts. From the drunkenness of the Pilgrims to Prohibition hijinks, drinking has always been a cherished American custom: a way to celebrate and a way to grieve and a way to take the edge off. At many pivotal points in our history, the illegal Mayflower landing at Cape Cod, the enslavement of African Americans, the McCarthy witch hunts, and the Kennedy assassination, to name only a few-alcohol has acted as a catalyst. Some nations drink more than we do, some drink less, but no other nation has been the drunkest in the world as America was in the 1830s only to outlaw drinking entirely a 100 years later. Both a lively history and an unflinching cultural investigationunveils the volatile ambivalence within one nation’s tumultuous affair with alcohol.” *

“Washington’s Revolution: The Making of America’s First Leader”

by Robert Middlekauff

“A vivid, insightful, essential new account of the formative years that shaped a callow George Washington into an extraordinary leaderGeorge Washington was famously unknowable, a man of deep passions hidden behind a facade of rigid self-control. Yet before he was a great general and president, Washington was a young man prone to peevishness and a volcanic temper. His greatness as a leader evolved over time, the product of experience and maturity, but also a willed effort to restrain his wilder impulses. Focusing on early yearsrevealing his all-too-human fears, values, and passions. Rich in psychological detail regarding Washington’s temperament, idiosyncrasies, and experiences, this book shows a self-conscious Washington who grew in confidence and experience as a young soldier, businessman, and Virginia gentleman, and who was transformed into a patriot by the revolutionary ferment of the 1760s and ’70s. Taking command of an army in constant dire need-of adequate food, weapons, and, at times, even clothing and shoes-Washington displayed incredible persistence and resourcefulness, growing into a leader who both understood and defined the crucial role of the army in the formation of a new American societyWashington was at the heart of not just the revolution’s course and outcome but also the success of the nation it produced.” *

* Book jacket/publisher description

-Senior Librarian Ann Bradley is branch manager Captiva Memorial Library.