As late as 1964 a New York Times investigative reporter described Hot Springs, Arkansas as America’s largest illegal gambling center. Although Las Vegas was bigger, gambling was legal in Nevada whereas it was officially illegal in Arkansas. At times Hot Springs gambling was limited to private clubs whose members secretly included the guests of leading hotels. At other times it was brazen with neon lighted casinos and sidewalk loudspeakers announcing horse race results from across the country. Much depended upon who was mayor of the town and who was governor of the state.
The Devil’s Town tells the story of the resort city from 1927 to 1967 when legendary gangsters were among her most notorious visitors. Instead of merely summarizing incidents about such visits the book explores how they integrate into a narrative of the entire American Mafia.
While the 1933 Union Station massacre that left four lawmen dead culminated in Kansas City, it began Hot Springs. Similarly, the only Public Enemy Number One ever taken alive was hunted down through Hot Springs contacts. Conversely, even though Charles “Lucky” Luciano’s story centers in New York the biggest Mafioso Boss of the 1930s and 1940s lost his freedom in Hot Springs. Finally, the end of prohibition brought gangster, Harlem Cotton Club owner, and boxing promoter Owney Madden to Hot Springs as a permanent resident where he made the town his little corner of the underworld. Still inside his body when he arrived were five of the eleven bullets he had taken in a New York assassination attempt years earlier.
During the first half of the forty-year period covered by the book Mayor Leo McLaughlin’s iron-fisted political machine ruled the town. His regime fell only after the victorious crusading spirit of World War II inspired voters to support a group of army veteran candidates who disclosed McLaughlin’s fabrication of illegal votes. Although Hot Springs got honest elections, illegal gambling continued until Arkansas elected Winthrop Rockefeller governor in 1966.
Even though Rockefeller was too wealthy to be swayed by political donations from the town’s gaming interests they did not give up without a fight. After the governor appointed a former FBI agent as the new State Police Chief, their political allies threw the man in jail on trumped up charges. Chief Lynn Davis and the governor took assassination rumors seriously. Davis bluntly told his adversaries that they would suffer revenge “if anything happened to me or Win Rockefeller.”
Although Hot Springs gambling continues today at the Oaklawn Park horse race track where it is legal, the town’s illicit gaming ended in 1967.
Southern Reconstruction targets two defects in modern Reconstruction histories. First is their failure to adequately examine how developments in one part of the country affected other parts. A valid picture of Reconstruction, for example, requires knowledge of how the Gilded Age in the North impacted the South. The experience of Amos Akerman is an example.
Five years after Akerman served as a Confederate quartermaster during the Civil War, President Ulysses Grant appointed him attorney general. He was the most vigorous of Grant’s five appointees for that office to pursue Southern racial justice. After only a year in office, however, Grant abruptly asked him to resign after Akerman had taken actions contrary to the interests of the Union Pacific Railroad and railroad moguls Collis Huntington and Jay Gould. Akerman’s replacement would later resign under bribery accusations.
A second fault of recent histories is their near total focus on racial injustice even though Reconstruction effects were far more multi-racial, and longer lasting, than generally supposed. Even as late as the 1930s most white and black Southern farmers lived well below the poverty line.
Except for the Emancipation Proclamation, other histories often fail to explain how emergency Civil War polices shaped Reconstruction. Among them were the Confiscation Acts, Morrill Tariff, Pacific Railroad Acts, Homestead Act, Legal Tender Act, National Banking Acts and Veterans Pensions. They transformed America’s banking system, erected an 80-year tariff wall, built a railroad web, and inflated federal spending with vote-getting pensions, which equaled 40% of the budget in 1893. But they also created a dubious alliance between banks and government, sparked corruption, trapped Southern farmers in endless annual peonage cycles, and failed to provide lands for freedmen. Consequently, Southern poverty lasted as long, or longer, than legal segregation.
Publisher’s Weekly May 2017
Cotton Boll Conspiracy Blog, August 2017
Abbeville Institute, September 2017
Civil War News, December 2017
TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog, March 2, 2018
Choice Magazine (American Library Association) May 2018 (Vol. 55, No. 9)
The Fleeting Moment When the Confederate States of America Had the Best Opportunity to Achieve Independence and Why Their Efforts Failed.
The first six months of 1862 provided a string of Federal victories in the West at Mill Springs, Fort Donelson, Pea Ridge, and Shiloh. In May, New Orleans fell, and Union General George McClellan’s army was so close to the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, that the troops could set their watches by the city’s church bells.
But then the unexpected happened. In June, Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia pushed McClellan’s much larger army back to the James River. In Europe, Confederate diplomats sought international recognition for the Confederate States of America, which was made even more attractive now that a shortage of cotton made the powerful textile interests anxious to end the war. Further tipping the balance, in July, the Confederacy secretly ordered two of the latest ironclad ships from England’s famous Laird Shipyard—the same yard that built the commerce raider Alabama. These steam-powered ironclads would be far superior to anything in the Federal navy.
While the “high tide” of the Confederacy is often identifed as Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, the most opportune time for the Confederacy vanished seven months earlier, coinciding with President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 and the failure of the secessionist states to be recognized as a sovereign nation.
As Philip Leigh explains in his engrossing new book, The Confederacy at Flood Tide: The Political and Military Ascension, June to December 1862, on every battlefront and in the governmental halls of Europe, the Confederate effort reached its furthest extent during the second half of 1862. But with the president’s proclamation, and decline in the production of the very products that were sustaining the Southern economy became real coupled with Europe’s decision to reject Confederate overtures and halt the sale of the ironclads, the opportunity for Confederate success ended. The Confederacy would recede, and the great battles of 1863 and 1864 only marked the Southerners’ tenacity and stubborn belief in a lost cause.
Confederates from Iowa, August 2017
Civil War Monitor Magazine, February 2017
The Journal of America’s Military Past, November 2016
LSU Civil War Book Reviews, November 2016
Journal of America’s Military Past, Fall 2016
Civil War Librarian, May 2016
Which over-arching decisions made by the Confederacy or Union had a greater effect on the course of the war than generally thought? Were there lauded command changes that may not have been as beneficial as presumed? How intertwined were the business aspirations on both sides of the conflict and what role did disinformation play in key battles? In Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies, New York Times “Disunion” contributor Philip Leigh presents twelve stories from these turbulent times that afford a better understanding of how the war unfolded and how it was fought.
The stories range from the Union’s delayed introduction of repeating arms and why a commercial steamer and not a warship was sent to relieve Fort Sumter to how Robert E. Lee’s critical dispatch at the battle of Antietam may have been lost along with nine other stories. Written to promote discussion and debate, this volume will intrigue those who enjoy Civil War history and contemplating alternatives to many assumed conclusions.
Trading With the Enemy – 2014
While Confederate blockade runners famously carried the seaborne trade for the South during the American Civil War, the amount of Southern cotton exported to Europe was only half of that shipped illicitly to the North. Most went to New England textile mills where business “was better than ever,” according to textile mogul Amos Lawrence. Rhode Island senator William Sprague, a mill owner and son-in-law to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, was a member of a partnership supplying weapons to the Confederacy in exchange for cotton.
The trade in contraband was not confined to New England. Union General William T. Sherman claimed Confederates were supplied with weapons from Cincinnati, while General Ulysses S. Grant captured Rebel cavalry armed with carbines purchased in Union-occupied Memphis. During the last months of the war, supplies entering the Union-controlled port of Norfolk, Virginia, were one of the principal factors enabling Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army to avoid starvation. Indeed, many of the supplies that passed through the Union blockade into the Confederacy originated in Northern states, instead of Europe as is commonly supposed. Merchants were not the only ones who profited; Union officers General Benjamin Butler and Admiral David Dixon Porter benefited from this black market. President Lincoln admitted that numerous military leaders and public officials were involved, but refused to stop the trade.
In “Trading With the Enemy” New York Times Disunion contributor Philip Leigh recounts the little-known story of clandestine commerce between the North and South. Cotton was so important to the Northern economy that Yankees began growing it on the captured Sea Islands of South Carolina. Soon the neutral port of Matamoras, Mexico, became a major trading center, where nearly all the munitions shipped to the port—much of it from the Northern states—went to the Confederacy. After the fall of New Orleans and Vicksburg, a frenzy of contraband-for-cotton swept across the vast trans-Mississippi Confederacy, with Northerners sometimes buying the cotton directly from the Confederate government. A fascinating study, “Trading With the Enemy” adds another layer to our understanding of the Civil War.
Interview of Me by Sarah Richardson of Civil War Times
Civil War News, December 2015
Journal of Southern History, November 2015
Civil War Monitor, December 2014
TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog, October 2014
LSU Libraries: Civil War Book Review, Summer 2014
Washington Times, July 2014
Publisher’s Weekly, June 2014
Civil War Books and Authors, June 2014
Civil War Librarian, June 2014
“Company H,” the Classic Civil War Memoir in a New Edition, Completely Annotated for the First Time and Illustrated with Twenty-Four Maps
Co. Aytch, or a Side Show of the Big Show is perhaps the finest memoir of an ordinary Confederate soldier. According to Margaret Mitchell, “a better book there never was.”
Sam Watkins served in Company H of the First Tennessee Infantry for the duration of the Civil War. Remarkably, he survived some of the most intense battles of the war, including Shiloh, Chickamauga, Kennesaw Mountain, Atlanta, and Franklin. He was one of only seven of the original members of Company H remaining when it surrendered in April 1865.
Watkins’s memoir was written in the winter of 1882–83. The humor and depth of writing at times rises to a level resembling Mark Twain; thus, twenty-first-century readers can still discover the everlasting treasures of Private Sam Watkins’s story just as it was. It is this reason that excerpts were featured frequently in Ken Burns’s documentary on the Civil War. However, since most of Sam’s original readers—or some of their family members—actually lived through the Civil War, much of the context for the narrative was common knowledge. But what was once received history has gradually disappeared, and presently only specialists can fully understand and appreciate Sam’s tale.
The chief aim for this new annotated edition of Co. Aytch—the first of its kind—is to amplify the experience for today’s readers by providing the missing context. Over 240 annotations clarify the situational backgrounds, personalities, and terminology that might not be familiar to most readers. The annotations also identify and explain errors mostly resulting from Sam’s occasionally faulty memory or limited perspective. Similarly, twenty-four battlefield and war theater maps enable readers to track Sam’s combat participation as well as his journeys while marching with the army. Finally fifteen photographs and prints illustrate some of the battles, people, towns, buildings, tools of war, and ruins that Sam witnessed. As someone once cleverly observed, “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.” If nothing else, Sam’s memoir is a foot soldier’s view of the resulting horrors, heroics, and healing humor when war planning routinely goes awry.
To buy a signed copy of any of my books, email: phil_leigh(AT)me. com