Two Charlestonians at War: The Civil War Odysseys of a Lowcountry Aristocrat and a Black Abolitionist.
This dual biography weaves together the lives of two men who outwardly present as polar opposites: a Confederate aristocrat and a free black soldier in the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Yet in October 1864 on Morris Island, Captain Thomas Pinckney, a prisoner of war and a member of one of South Carolina's founding families, had a long and civil exchange with his captor--Sergeant Joseph Humphries Barquet, an educated free man of color and a brick mason. For just a moment, Pinckney and Barquet transgressed racial and political boundaries warmly to discuss Charleston, South Carolina, the city in which both men had been born.
This pivotal moment seems to have captivated Bellows, inspiring her to trace the lives of these two Charlestonians in alternating chapters that focus most intently upon the war and its aftermath. In so doing, she adds much to our understanding of race during and after slavery, since Joseph Barquet used his membership in Charleston's elite free black community to distinguish himself from the enslaved. Even white elites like Pinckney viewed this "most useful class" with some respect, which reveals the generally complicated views on antebellum race and class (174). Clearly a lover of the Lowcountry, Bellows weaves together a tapestry of Charleston's social geography and does the same for Pinckney's plantations and struggle with "The River", which became the downfall of his agrarian dreams.
As the first full-length biography of a black soldier from the 54th Massachusetts, this study traces Barquet's regiment far beyond the ill-fated events of Battery Wagner. Most captivating to this reviewer, however, is the examination of his abolitionism. This study would benefit from a deeper intellectual dive into Barquet's politics, as he was incredibly active in the plight of the black man both before and after slavery. The examination of Barquet's struggle with postwar politics in Illinois is a particularly welcome geographic expansion of Reconstruction studies.
Pinckney's life in Reconstruction-era South Carolina is a more familiar tale. Bellows confesses that she has "probably violated the biographer's first rule and developed too much empathy" for her subjects, and in this section her empathy for Pinckney manifests in sometimes harmful ways (9). While historians today view Reconstruction as a radical expansion of democracy to African Americans, Bellows lingers over the negative effects of the Republican presence, dubbing Military Reconstruction a "purgatory" and minimizing white violence against African Americans (255). Her positive portrait of Wade Hampton III neglects to mention that his Red Shirts used paramilitary violence and fraud to ensure his election in 1876. Bellows utilizes Thomas Pinckney's own memoirs to tell his tale, obfuscating the voices of author and subject. Pinckney was known as a stoic and noble hero of the Lost Cause, and perhaps Bellows leans too heavily upon this image.
The book's descriptive, literary nature will lend itself well to the general public. Civil War enthusiasts will no doubt enjoy the immersive ways in which Bellows traces both men's wartime struggles. Its engaging stories guide the reader through the fascinating Civil War Odysseys of two very different men, with two very different definitions of "freedom".
University of South Carolina
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|Title Annotation:||THE AMERICAS|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2019|
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