(September 2013 Civil War News Web-Exclusive Book Review)

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The Untold Story of Civil War Selma, Alabama, as a Center of Manufacturing, Transportation, Shipbuilding and Logistics during the War of Northern Aggression, 1861-1865. By William E. Lockridge. Illustrated, photos, map, bibliography, 250 pp., 2013, Selma Research Project, welhunter@aol.com, $25 softcover.

 

This is a nicely researched book by an amateur historian that covers two topics, the Selma naval foundry and some of the men who operated it. The 70-plus pages of color photos William Lockridge has assembled to support his text are outstanding.

However, the book is marred by Lost Cause rhetoric and wanders from the topic of the book to speculation on how the Confederacy could have won the war. Overall, I found the book to be a goldmine of information concerning Confederate Navy heavy artillery production at Selma, Ala.

The author outlines Selma’s commercial, manufacturing, transportation and communication infrastructure at the start of the war. He reports that slaves outnumbered the white population almost three to one.

In 1860 Selma was a small community lacking most of the infrastructure needed to become an industrial city. Yet, between 1861 and 1864, Selma became one of the main arms-producing foundry of the Confederacy.

The story of this change from rural settlement to an industrial powerhouse, while lacking in detail, is very informative. Perhaps due to a lack of surviving contemporary documents, the author is not able to provide a detailed examination of the foundry’s labor force, its capability to manufacture and difficulties it had to overcome to obtain raw material.

All of these topics are mentioned in the book but are lacking in quantitative information. An example of this failure to quantify information is found in the author’s statement that the arsenal employed 50 military/white/freed black employees and approximately 350 slaves. Yet we do not know what services each of these groups performed, how they were recruited and housed, and what skills they brought to the arsenal.

There are 16 great photos of surviving Brooke guns manufactured at Selma. Each photo is accompanied by a short history of the gun and information on where it is located. A wealth of photos concern various weapons and equipment found in recent years in and around Selma.

The photos lackprovenance as to where they were found. Thus while they are informative as to personal weapons and accoutrements found in the Selma area, they cannot be tied directly to manufacture in Selma or use during the Civil War.

Lockridge also provides a nice selection of contemporary supporting documentation, both photocopies and retypes, that relate to the arsenal and the guns it manufactured. Among these documents is a list of the Brooke guns manufactured at Selma, their service during the war and their disposition afterward.

The book closes with a very nice bibliography. Beneath each book listing the author provides his opinion as to what the book’s strengths and weaknesses are. I agree with many of these assessments.

The basic problem with the book is the author’s failure to concentrate on the topic of Selma in the Civil War. There is too much of a Lost Cause vendetta woven into the pages. As an example, it’s always “Confederate” and “yankee” in the text.

He closes the book by noting “…the war for and by the average Southerner was not about slavery, taxes, tariffs, or even states rights. Most Southerners fought for love of and loyalty to family and home. … It was their incredibly intense resentment of the foreign military assault on their families, lands, and personal property that forced those good men to arms.”

Overall, I found the gems of information concerning naval gun manufacturing at Salem to outweigh the Lost Cause rantings. During forthcoming trips to Civil War sites, I will be using the book to locate the Brooke guns shown in the book

Charles H. Bogart

   

Charles H. Bogart has a B.A. in history from Thomas More College and an MA in urban planning from Ohio State University. He is the historian for Frankfort, Kentucky's Fort Boone Civil War Battle Site.