Thursday, September 24, 2009

OHP Book Review - The Elementary Common Sense of Thomas Paine by Mark Wilensky

The Elementary Common Sense of Thomas Paine by Mark Wilensky
Savas Beatie,LLC - Publisher -2008
202 pages

I was not sure how I felt about this book when it arrived on my doorstep. It was about Thomas Paine’s writing of “Common Sense” which I was eager to explore and hopefully expand my understanding of Paine himself, but a whole book on the writing that would fit into modern books 30 or so pages?

What I found was an easy to understand portrait of not only the man himself but of the environment in which brought about the reasons for the writing. This book not only explores the Acts and Petitions between England and the Colonies but also the economic, social and moral aspects of times from both points of view.

Another thing I really enjoyed about the book is that it goes to great lengths to make sure you can understand the context of the writing with definitions on the same page, and it also includes tons of historical quotes by other notable characters of the time. This is meant to be an elementary book, but I would think that the grade level should be starting about fourth grade to get a good understanding of it. However Mark Wilensky has taken another step, which is rare to the aspects of historical books written for the mainstream and not educational focused publishing’s and has packed this book and corresponding website with games, audio, activities and timelines that could include almost any age or grade.

In terms of my review and the mentioning of the grades and ages that I referenced, don’t be misled this book is for anyone, young or old from eight to a hundred and eight. It should be on a shelf in every classroom and on your shelf at home as well…. Why?

Because, most of us today do not know the origins of our history, our story. Have you ever just read the Declaration of Independence, Poor Richard or Common Sense? I would bet that most have not. I could go on a tangent here but I won’t. I will in closing recommend this book whole heartedly; it’s clean concise and easy to understand. It crosses all the generational boundaries and is very interesting read. Pick up a copy, you will not be disappointed.

Craig Anderson
Our History Project

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Novel, photos, maps, exhibits, 327 pp., 2007. Tate Publishing & Enterprising, 127 E. Trade Center Terrace, Mustang, Oklahoma 73064. $25.99 plus shipping and handling.

When asked to name a prison camp during the War Between the States, the average person will normally respond “Andersonville.” The Confederate prisoner of war camp, Andersonville, or officially Camp Sumter, usually receives the most publicity out of all POW camps on both sides. Although the conditions at Camp Sumter were atrocious, there were Northern camps that were as bad or worse. The main difference, however, was that the South was under a blockade causing a lack of supplies for its soldiers and she was contending with an invading army. Captives received the same rations in most cases as the average soldier. The Southern force was a starving, ragged army at the end of the war. The Union contingency did not suffer with these issues, yet their prison camps were horrible. Prisoners were starved, used as target practice, not given the proper supplies to ward off the cold winters, and much more. This normally is overlooked as being a part of war.

Ron Jones once again does a superb job of weaving truth and fiction together to create a historical tale entitled The Road to Rock Island, A Confederate Soldier’s Story. While this is considered a novel, the publication shows more factual information then some non-fiction books. His work contains actual letters, information out of diaries and official documents. The story is true, only the inserted dialogue is invented.

In this manuscript, the reader learns about characters, many based on Mr. Jones’ ancestors, as they survive during the War Between the States. The main character, William Moore, is from Elbert County in Northeast Georgia. “Bloodshed. Fear. Elation. Sadness. Loneliness. Comradeship. Homesickness. Rejuvenation. Reunion. War. Peace. These are but a few of the ideas and emotions brought before readers as Ron Jones leads them along the path followed by William Moore,” states Dr. Michael J. Bradley in the Foreword of this book. The reader follows Moore through campaigns and ultimately into the prisoner of war camp known as Rock Island Prison. This hell on earth was endured by countless Confederate soldiers. The Road to Rock Island offers the reader a glimpse into what took place there on a daily basis. By being based on actual people, this allows the reader the ability to let history come alive for them.
The Road to Rock Island is a companion to Mr. Jones’ first book, War Comes to Broad River. Both are extensively researched and well written. Suitable for middle and high school students, either of these books would be a worth addition to personal or public libraries.

Written by Cassie A. Barrow


Fiction, resources, 189 pp., 2005. Pinata Publishing, 112 Dunbarton Dr., St. Simons Island, GA, 31522. $10.99, plus shipping and handling.

Few War Between the States authors write expressly for the middle school age group. Neptune’s Honor, A Story of Loyalty and Love by Pamela Bauer Mueller is a recent historical fiction publication that boast of this attribute. The book is written from the viewpoint of Neptune Small, a black servant to the King family who lived in South Georgia, namely St. Simons Island. Neptune was the childhood friend and companion of Henry “Lordy” King. Their friendship was more like a kindred spirit, making them closer than brothers.

Mrs. Mueller’s research led her to several transcripts of interviews with the real Neptune Small. She attempted to use Neptune’s own words as much as possible when writing; yet, the author assumes many of Neptune’s feelings, thoughts and statements. The key element to remember is that this is a historical fiction based on a real person’s life. Mrs. Mueller is writing her interpretation of the events that transpired.

The story is very choppy, jumping from one event to another. Mrs. Mueller only includes significant dates that Neptune mentions in his writings or interviews but she does not develop the story, leaving the reader lacking in many crucial details.

The reader enjoys learning more about Neptune, but the other characters are not well established. There is an entourage of different individuals that are brought into the story, so the reader is overwhelmed as to what role each person plays.

The main flaw with this book is the writer’s inability to understand slavery in the 19th Century. Mrs. Mueller states in the forward, “My research of pre-Civil War local plantation families, coupled with transcripts of interviews with Neptune Small, gave me a sense that he felt sincere allegiance to the family that owned him.” This statement by itself would have been sufficient since 87% of the slaves interviewed in the Slave Narratives agreed with it; however, it is the 13% that the public hears about on a regular basis. Mrs. Mueller apparently wants the reader to be reminded of that small minority because she goes on to say, “This is not necessarily the experience of slaves living on other Georgia plantations.” Our culture has been indoctrinated that slaves were always beaten and ridiculed and never loved and honored as part of the family. The real Neptune Small’s story shows the reader that this is not so. It is unfortunate that Mrs. Mueller chooses to elude the reader in believing his story is a rare occurrence.

Throughout the book, Mrs. Mueller does not have historical facts correct. One such incident is when she has a dialogue between Neptune and Adam on July 30, 1861. In the conversation she implies that the North is fighting over slavery and Adam cannot understand why Neptune would want to follow Lordy into a war that will liberate him and other slaves. Mrs. Mueller’s research failed to show her that the United States Congress passed on July 23, 1861 a Congressional Resolution stating that the war not over slavery but preserving the Union. This was adopted just seven days before this supposed conversation.

Mrs. Mueller, like so many current authors, wants the reader to believe the war was only over slavery. The other misconception is that whites owned blacks and the slaves were beaten regularly. It is conveyed that slavery was a practice only in the South and never in the North. The in-depth research never reveals that there were a lot of blacks and white that did not own anyone and there were free men of color who owned blacks. Most people also overlook the fact that the Union General Ulysses S. Grant, along with others Northerners, owned slaves until after the War Between the States.

The story of Neptune Small is one that needs to be taught to the public; however, Mrs. Mueller’s interpretation should only be used with caution. Even as a fiction story, this book leads the reader to believe the words within its pages are true and well researched.

Written by Cassie A. Barrow


Graphic Novel, illustrated, suggested reading, 208pp., 2008. Rampart Press, PO Box 551056, Jacksonville, FL, 32255, $24.95 plus shipping.

In the eve of the sesquicentennial, there is a dire need for War Between the States books that cater to a younger audience. Children find history boring and uninteresting due to an education system that puts restraints on teachers. Educators find they are unable to teach in an entertaining and informative hands-on style due to standards set by the government to ensure students can pass a test. Outside sources are needed to facilitate the learning of history.

A graphic novel tells a story by using vivid pictures, basically in a comic book style. They are a form of entertainment, especially for children. Cleburne is written in this approach. With full color, stunning images, Justin Murphy records the last year of Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne’s life in roughly the length of a nine issue comic book mini series.

An immigrant from County Cork Ireland who had served as a foot soldier in the British Army during the Potato Famine, Cleburne comes to America, after procuring his discharge, with his two brothers and older sister. He would arrive in New Orleans but would ultimately settle in Helena, Arkansas where he would become a naturalized citizen and practice law. When the call of arms came for his adopted homeland, he would answer by joining as a private but was promoted to captain. Even though Cleburne does not cover this information chronologically, it is brought out in the dialogue between the characters.

The story begins on November 25, 1863 and continues until Cleburne’s death at the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864. During this time, the reader is able to appreciate the fast pace setting of the army during the Atlanta Campaign, and the politics between the leaders. It even brings out the human side by showing Cleburne’s relationship with Susan Tarleton. The main concentration of Cleburne is the proposal that the General made allowing blacks to officially serve in the Confederate States Army in exchange for their freedom. This was a controversial issue, especially if one understands the antebellum period of compromises in the halls of Congress that lead up to the War Between the States. General Cleburne was willing to risk his career, which happened, for this proposition. Up to this point his reputation had been worthy of fame. He was a hero to many, a superb fighter that was shy around people. His men loved him and would rally behind his every order. When Johnston was removed as Commander of the Army of Tennessee, Cleburne should have been promoted since General Hardee had declined the advancement. However, as history will tell, General Hood would receive the elevation in rank. Many consider this a mistake.

As a historical fiction, it is important to point out that although majority of the characters are factual, this an invented story with the author’s theory of what might have been said. Several of Cleburne’s famous quotes are utilized in the appropriate settings. “I believe the job of any writer of historical fiction is to fill in the blanks and capture the essence and motivations of the individuals they choose to write about,” states Mr. Murphy in the forward.

Incredible artwork is used to allow the reader to visualize without words the events that unfold. The wide range of hues and details create a stunning success. Even historical elements are utilized, such as the Carter House in the Battle of Franklin, to portray every aspect of the scenery. The imagination of a reader can take these images and envision the story in greater detail. Inker Al Milgrom and colorist J. Brown have both worked with Marvel comics in their career, on such projects as The Incredible Hulk and Captain America respectively.

It is worthy to note that Cleburne has already been featured on the cover of Publishers Weekly and has received the 2008 Xeric Award. This creditable publication should be an essential part of any educator’s collection for students in middle and high school, not to mention is ideal for the adult reader also. The graphic nature of some of the illustrations is not recommended for younger children. Cleburne is a book that can educate the youth and grown-ups concerning an aspect of the War Between the States by using a medium that seizes their imagination.

Written by Cassie A. Barrow


Non-fiction, footnotes, index, bibliography, 332 pp., 2005. Algora Publishing, 222 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10025-6809.

Publication education as we know it today has not always existed in the form of tax payers paying for the government to education our children. The evolution to this mode of teaching actually began during the colonial period, but up until the War Between the States most schools were privately funded and only for white males. This would drastically change during Reconstruction.

Destroying the Republic: Jabez Curry and the Re-Education of the Old South explores the life of Jabez Curry before, during and after the War Between the States. By using primary sources, many from Mr. Curry’s own letters and writings, the author, Mr. John Chodes, exposes to the reader Mr. Curry, who was an aristocratic Alabamian who served his country prior to the onset of war in the Alabama Assembly and United States Congress where he steadfastly supported states rights and a small, limited Federal government. “As an active promoter of education, he (Mr. Curry) staunchly believed that this important function was entirely each state’s responsibility and completely outside Washington’s sphere,” Mr. Chodes states on the back cover.

Mr. Curry’s reflections of prominent people who served the Confederacy in some form or fashion are enlightening. Mr. Curry states this about the Vice President, Alexander H. Stephens, “Tall, spare, not weighing over one hundred pounds, nearly bloodless, with a feminine voice and appearance, he seemed incapable of physical labor or fatigue. He was spoken of as a ‘refugee from a graveyard.’…As a stump speaker he had few equals. His remarkable physique, penetrating voice, ingenious frankness, humor, satire, repartee, eloquence, made him a great favorite.” Curry was elected from the 4th District of Alabama in the Confederate Congress where he participated in the creation of the Confederate Constitution. He was assigned to four committees in the Provisional Congress: Postal, Commercial Affairs, Rules, and Flag and Seal. In February, Curry would end his term as a Congressman and return to Alabama, only to have Jefferson Davis appoint him as Commissioner under the Habeas Corpus Act, to serve with General Johnston’ army, where he would stay until the end of the war.

When the war was over, Curry returned home to Talladega to try to assume a normal life; however, Reconstruction was as cruel to him as it was too many Confederate soldiers and dignitaries. “For years after the surrender, detachments of Union troops marched through the country, searching for cotton and booty, arresting citizens on false charges supplied by war-time Unionists,” Mr. Chodes states in his book. Two principals used by the Radical Republicans to completely overthrow the South’s social, political and economic existence were “State Suicide” and “Conquered Province.” Both were vicious plans to subjugate the South and both had universal education proposals. President Andrew Johnson states this when the South was divided into military districts under a commander with absolute power, “It (Constitution) binds all people there, and should protect them; yet they are denied every one of its sacred guarantees. Of what avail will it be to these Southern people, when seized by a file of soldiers, to ask the cause of arrest, or for the production of the warrant? Of what avail to ask for the privilege of bail when in military custody, which knows no such things as bail? Of what avail to demand a trial by jury, process for witnesses, a copy of the indictment, the privilege of counsel, or that grater privilege, the writ of habeas corpus?”

Before a Southern state could be readmitted into the Union, it was required to have a public, tax supported education system clause in its post-war Constitution. According to Mr. Norton, a Minnesota Senator, “If the Congress of the United States can… compel us to make a system that will conform to the views of Congress, then, what becomes of the States, and why do we have States? Why have apportionment of the representatives in the other House, and in this, according to the States? Why not call us, as the Senator from Illinois says, all one people; one country and have no State government and no local government at all?” According to J.P. Wikersham, a Radical Republican educator, “The thing of highest interest in a republic is its schools… When our youth learn to read similar books, similar lessons, we shall become one people, possessing one organic nationality, and the Republic will be safe for all time.” Wikersham than goes on to state, “A republican form of government cannot exist without providing a system of free schools. A republic must make education universal among its people. Ignorant voters endangered liberty. With free schools in the South there could have been no rebellion. And free schools must now render impossible rebellion in the future.”

“It appears that Jabez had no problem joining forces with those who were intent on exterminating Southern culture and Southern minds,” per Mr. Chodes. Curry in 1881 became General Agent of the Peabody Education Board and a nationally prominent figure. This fund was used as a matching fund for communities starting public schools to entice the people to support a tax supported school. Curry states, “We are tethered to the lowest stratum of society, and if we do not lift it up, it will drag us down to the nethermost hell of poverty and degradation. In uplifting the Negro in manhood and womanhood, we are uplifting ourselves.” His viewpoint changes, but it appears in a desire to educate the South to better the citizens, not for government control. He will continue in many facets to evolve his train of thought. As the country took major steps toward nationalized schools, Curry seemed to progress in similar reflection. “Despite his disillusionment, he continued to press forward to nationalize Southern schools… Jabez Lafayette Monroe Curry, the former champion of home-rule, fought to the end of his life to make the South a ward of Washington, and near the end, only faintly realized the consequences of his labors.”

Destroying the Republic: Jabez Curry and the Re-Education of the Old South is an examination of not only the life of Curry, but also a study of Reconstruction and its affects on the Southern people. By using primary sources from Curry and many other individuals, Mr. Chodes is able to give a bird’s eye view of what tragedies took place. Worthy of note, it is unclear to this reviewer why Curry made such drastic changes in his thought process. This publication is required reading for any educator or person working tin the public school system. It is insightful to how the country arrived at the current state. “By the 20th century, this plan had turned on itself and emptied out Northern children’s minds as well. This transformed the US republic in the 21st Century into an emerging dictatorship,” states Mr. Chodes on the back cover.

Book review by Cassie A. Barrow

Saturday, September 5, 2009

OHP RADIO - The Ride Of Paul Revere by Gordon Syzymanski

“The Tale of Paul Revere” by Gordon Szymanski.

Folks this is our first step into the children shows that we want to be the next step in Our History Project. Gordon worked with us this summer for about a month. What you will hear is his creation and we are proud to have it. He worked hard and I think it shows. This story is for the elementary age and we invite you to listen, take it to school, hand out to teachers or anyone. It’s 4 ½ minutes long and tells the story of that famous ride so many years ago.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


All American, All the way is a fantastic read for any World War 2 or 82nd Airborne enthusiast, I would say that this is a must have. This book (part one) is a release of the large volume under the same name and the second will be released in 2010 (From Market Garden to Berlin).

I think it was a great marketing decision to split this into a two volume set, while both books will still be in excess of 400 pages it does make it manageable to read and may bring in some readers that were scared off by the all in one volume which was almost 900 pages. Ok, enough of the marketing of the book, lest talk about what you will find inside.

Phil Nordyke brings this story in our history to life giving different perspectives but continuing the story. It offers a wealth of firsthand accounts and tells the story through the eyes of the men who were there. He really hit my style of reading; there is enough information that you can follow this easily on a map and have a clear understanding of the timeline in which the campaign plays out, while at the same time the accounts are not drowned out the story because they are the story.

This is truly a great read and in my opinion a must have for any World War II fan, student or researcher. Our history is rich with the everyday way of life, the great heroics of people put into situations that really did not want to be there, but made the best of what they had. This book through its accounts brings American metal to bear and gives us a glimpse of what they sacrificed for us. It captures that moment in time and allows there and our history to be shared.

Purchase your copy through Our History Project Amazon Store.