Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A New Mahone Biography?

William Mahone (LOC)
Over at the Civil War Memory blog, Kevin Levin recently posted some interesting news about a new William Mahone biography.

Mahone stands as one of the war's more intriguing figures.  A native Virginian and prewar railroad executive, he failed to shine at brigade command through the first few years of the war.  However, in 1864, he enjoyed significant success at Petersburg, leading his division in a series of sharp counterattacks against Union offensives. After the war, Mahone resumed his railroad career and became a major figure in Virginia politics.  Among other things, he emerged as a key leader of the Readjuster Party, an unlikely coalition of white and black Republicans.  His reformist political activities nudged him out of the pantheon of Confederate heroes erected by Lost Cause architects.

Near the end of his life in the 1890's, Mahone shared his recollections of several battles with George S. Bernard of Petersburg - the reminiscences covered Seven Pines, Malvern Hill, the Weldon Railroad, Burgess Mill, and Appomattox.  These accounts, most of them unknown until recently, were published in Civil War Talks.  

Mahone was a prolific correspondent and his papers are housed in several locations, including the Library of Virginia and Duke University.  The Mahone collection at Duke is massive, large enough to discourage even the most tenacious researcher. To date, the only lengthy Mahone biography is Nelson M. Blake's work, published in 1935. Since then, scholars have touched on Mahone and the Readjusters.   For example, Jane Dailey examined the turbulent world of late 19th century Virginia politics in Before Jim Crow: The Politics of Race in Postemancipation Virginia (UNC Press, 2000).  A few years ago, Kevin Levin wrote an essay titled "William Mahone, the Lost Cause and Civil War History" for the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.  However, an updated full-length biography is sorely needed.

Happily, a recent dissertation written by John F. Chappo when he was at the University of Southern Mississippi is under review at an academic press, as noted by Levin's post and Chappo's own webpage.  Let's hope things work out.