Monday, May 1, 2017

The Gatekeeper. Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership That Defined a Presidency. By Kathryn Smith

book cover

The first biography of arguably the most influential member of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration, Marguerite “Missy” LeHand, FDR’s de facto chief of staff, who has been misrepresented, mischaracterized, and overlooked throughout history…until now.
Widely considered the first female presidential chief of staff, Marguerite “Missy” LeHand was the right-hand woman to Franklin Delano Roosevelt—both personally and professionally—for more than twenty years. Although her official title as personal secretary was relatively humble, her power and influence were unparalleled. Everyone in the White House knew one truth: If you wanted access to Franklin, you had to get through Missy. She was one of his most trusted advisors, affording her a unique perspective on the president that no one else could claim, and she was deeply admired and respected by Eleanor and the Roosevelt children.

With unprecedented access to Missy’s family and original source materials, journalist Kathryn Smith tells the captivating and forgotten story of the intelligent, loyal, and clever woman who had a front-row seat to history in the making. The Gatekeeper is a thoughtful, revealing unsung-hero story about a woman ahead of her time, the true weight of her responsibility, and the tumultuous era in which she lived—and a long overdue tribute to one of the most important female figures in American history.
"[A] fine biography....Ms. Smith has filled a small gap in Roosevelt historiography with this compelling personal story."
— The Wall Street Journal

"Highly readable....Smith's biography represents her subject perfectly."
— Washington Post

More from Publisher Simon and Schuster

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Slaves Gamble by Gene Allen Smith

The Slaves' Gamble by Gene Allen Smith

Why would slaves fight for the United States, a nation that kept them in bondage, during the War of 1812? Why did free blacks join with the British or with the Spanish, or with Native American communities during the conflict? These questions form the basis for Gene Allen Smith’s new book, The Slaves’ Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812. In this gripping story, Smith, a history professor at Texas Christian University, recreates the growing conflicts between the fledgling United States, Great Britain, Spain, and various Native American groups, and shows how each group “tried to mobilize the free black and slave populations in the hopes of defeating the other.” When the War of 1812 began, free blacks and slaves consciously chose the side they would support, and those tenuous choices dramatically impacted their future freedom and opportunity as well as the future of the United States.

This book looks at African American combatants during the War of 1812 as a way to understand the conflict as well as the evolution of racial relations during the early nineteenth century. Black participants—slaves and freemen both—had to choose sides and these choices ultimately defined their individual and collective identities. Canadian slaves escaped south into Michigan during the first decade of the nineteenth century and joined the militia in Detroit and later surrendered with General William Hull in August 1812; this contradicts common perceptions that the Underground Railroad always ran north to freedom in Canada. In fact, for a very few years during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the route to freedom proceeded south from Canada to the free territories of the Old Northwest. Once the war ended, the route turned north to freedom in Canada.

Along the Chesapeake Bay during 1813 and 1814 many slaves joined the British Colonial Marines and later marched with Redcoats on Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, while others chose to remain with their masters. Maryland slave Charles Ball consciously declared himself a freeman and joined Joshua Barney’s flotilla in the Chesapeake. During the British 1814 Chesapeake campaign Ball fought for the Americans at Bladensburg and in the defense of Baltimore. During the fall of 1814 in New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, slaves and free blacks joined alongside white American workers to construct defenses for those cities.
Later in 1814 along the coast of Georgia and South Carolina slaves had to choose sides. Cumberland Island slave Ned Simmons immediately discarded his shackles to join the British army, yet he was never transferred off the island. When peace came he became victim of tense Anglo-American negotiations. Stripped of his British uniform, Simmons was re-enslaved, and did not secure his freedom until 1863; the centenarian Simmons died only a few months after being liberated by Union troops.

Along the Gulf of Mexico during the War of 1812 slaves found multiple choices—some joined with the Spanish, some with Native American tribes and others with the British. During the weeks before the climactic January 1815 Battle of New Orleans, both the British and General Andrew Jackson competed for slaves and free blacks. Two regiments of free men of color volunteered to defend the city, and then Jackson promised freedom to slaves who would labor on the American line. Jackson ultimately secured their assistance with promises of equality and freedom that never fully appeared.

During the years prior to the War of 1812 African Americans had gained increased political, economic, and civic rights; many of these concessions had been won by black participation during the War for Independence and their support for a new political system based on the primacy of the United States. Slaves saw this jostling for their loyalties as “an avenue to freedom,” and consequently joined armies or communities of Native Americans or mulattoes on the fringes of society.

The War of 1812 did not create opportunities for all slaves, as for the most part slaves fled or joined militias only when hospitable troops were in the area. Those who remained in the United States generally remained in bondage, while those who took the chance to flee to British lines were mostly evacuated from the United States. The latter group found freedom in British colonies such as Bermuda, Canada, or Trinidad, where they and many of their descendants remained impoverished economically. This gripping tale of the evolution of race relations in early America reveals how these people won their freedom.

By the time the War of 1812 ended the United States had reaffirmed its political, economic, and cultural freedom, and white Americans had finally realized that armed blacks posed serious threats to the existing status quo, and that threat would have to be eliminated. The optimism that had flowed from the Revolutionary period into the War of 1812 era lost its influence on American southerners who still maintained their human property, but thereafter had to worry about holding onto it. In the end, the free blacks and slaves who had sided with the Americans, like those who had joined with the British, the Spanish, or with Native Americans, wanted only one thing—their land of the FREE. Instead the War of 1812 confirmed the security of the United States, and provided the last chance for blacks as a group to secure their freedom through force of arms until the American Civil War finally ended slavery once and for all.

The Slaves' Gamble is written by:
Gene Allen Smith
Dept of History
Texas Christian University

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Civil War Sketch Book

Here at US History we're reviewing the new book by Harry L. Katz and Vincent Virga,  "Civil War Sketch Book - Drawings from the Battlefront".     It's a remarkable collections of drawings from the Civil War with extensive historical narrative.   Soon available.   Publisher is W.W. Norton and Company.   The lowest price we've seen is via at about $33, available via pre-order.

May 2012's National Geographic will be featuring some of this extensive Civil War collection, the largest organized sketch book collection to date.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

American History through American Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

If you're in the New York Area don't miss the new wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art featuring American history through art.  

Following are excerpts from the Exhibit Introduction:

The Metropolitan Museum's collection of American art, one of the finest and most comprehensive in the world, returned to view in expanded, reconceived, and dramatic new galleries on January 16, 2012, when the Museum inaugurated the New American Wing Galleries for Paintings, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts. The new installation provides visitors with a rich and captivating experience of the history of American art from the eighteenth through the early twentieth century. The suite of elegant new galleries encompasses 30,000 square feet for the display of the Museum's superb collection.
The Museum's holdings are particularly rich in the works of the great masters, including John Singleton Copley (Daniel Crommelin Verplanck), Gilbert Stuart (George Washington), Thomas Cole (The Oxbow), Church (The Heart of the Andes), Winslow Homer (Prisoners from the Front), Thomas Eakins (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull), and John Singer Sargent (Madame X).
The centerpiece of the new installation is one of the best-known works in all of American art, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's 1851 painting Washington Crossing the Delaware.  This double-sized gallery showcases Leutze's iconic work alongside two other masterpieces—Church's Heart of the Andes and Albert Bierstadt's Rocky Mountains.
The Museum's encyclopedic collection offers visitors the broad sweep of American history as told through great works of art.  [US History themes in the art collection include]  Colonial Portraiture, the American Revolution, the Young Republic, the Civil War Era, Art in the Folk Tradition, the Hudson River School, the West, the Cosmopolitan Spirit, and American Impressionism.
Interspersed among the pictures is the American Wing's sculpture collection.   Artists represented include Erastus Dow Palmer, John Quincy Adams Ward, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, Frederic Remington, and Frederick William MacMonnies.
The new suite of galleries also feature four rooms dedicated to the display of American decorative arts, principally treasures of colonial furniture and silver. Selected highlights of the Museum's extraordinary collection of early American silver include works by John Hull and Robert Sanderson, Myer Myers, and Paul Revere. The furniture gallery has masterpieces of late colonial case furniture by John Townsend of Newport and Thomas Affleck of Philadelphia, complemented by imposing architectural elements. In addition, the galleries include the grand pre-revolutionary entrance hall of the Van Rensselaer Manor House, Albany, New York.
The opening of the New American Wing Galleries for Paintings, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts in January 2012 represents the third and final phase of a major, multi-part renovation project. Part 1 opened in January 2007 with galleries dedicated to the classical arts of America, 1810–1845. Part 2 opened in May 2009 with the renovation of The Charles Engelhard Court and the Period Rooms. Now that Part 3 is completed, nearly all of the American Wing's seventeen thousand works are on view.
Visit the Metropolitan's website for more pictures and information about this spectacular new exhibit of American Art and US History.  Metropolitan Museum of Art

Monday, January 23, 2012

Making Each Day Unique

A US History Guest post

By:  Evan Britton

One of the most commonly used expressions is “Time Flies Fast”.  And it does, people’s lives pass them by way too fast, and when children come into our lives, they grew up right before our own very eyes.  Before we know it – the kids are doing things that we can’t believe.  Times really moves.

A major reason why time moves so fast is that we do the same thing each day.  When you do the same thing over and over – the days run into each other and the weeks go by.  And without different things happening in a given day – memories slip away and before you know it – a year has passed and you can’t remember many unique things that you did in that given year. 

This is why birthdays are so important.  As it gives everyone a chance to have one day which is special and unique.  People look forward to that one day out of 365 in which everything is more important to them.  However, part of the reason why birthdays are so great is that they are simply better than just about all of the other 364 more common days throughout the year.

It is important to realize that each day is special and unique.  And with that in mind – the Famous Daily (  was launched.  The Famous Daily shows us what important events in history happened on this day.  This allows us to understand that today’s date isn’t random and that it does have importance.  The important historical events are displayed by categories which include general history, entertainment, geography, business, and sports.

In addition to history, the Famous Daily displays today’s Famous Birthdays.  It is always fun to see what influential people and celebrities were born today to help give more importance to this day.  Furthermore, the Famous Daily highlights a Famous Quote that was said on this date in history.  By learning of a quote that has withstood the test of time, which was said today – it is easier for us to appreciate today and be excited about it.

Time flies fast – but the Famous Daily is here to help you stop, smell the roses, see what makes today special, so that you can better enjoy the day.  You can sign up to the Famous Daily for free ( ) each day via email.

Tomorrow may just be another day.  However, important historical events happened tomorrow which helped to shape our world.  And important people have a birthday tomorrow.  So, tomorrow isn’t that boring afer all – and by realizing it – time will slow down!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Dead Sea Scrolls online

The Dead Sea Scrolls are coming alive online thanks to a joint project with Google and the Israeli Museum that has provided high resolution imagery of the scrolls along with translations:

Official Blog: From the desert to the web: bringing the Dead Sea Scrolls online

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Museums of Richmond Virginia

Richmond Virginia offers visitors one of the most fascinating and significant historical landscapes in the United States. As one of the most important and prominent cities of the Civil War era and the capitol of the Confederacy during the US Civil War, Richmond represents the charm and mystique of the antebellum South, the evils of the US slave trade, and arguably the most important and strategic city in the American Civil War.

Near Richmond you find the Richmond National Battlefield Park with extensive information about the two key Union Army campaigns to capture Richmond. Here you'll explore battlefields from the Peninsula Campaign and later actions.

A driving tour of several civil war sites in the greater Richmond area is maintained by the "Virginia Civil War Trails". The White House of the Confederacy is now part of the Museum of the Confederacy. This building has been fully restored to look as it did in the Civil War era. Daily tours. Next door is the "must see" attraction of this area - the Museum of the Confederacy (see below for description).

Do not miss the new "Richmond Slave Trail" and museum, which features exhibits and a walking trail to showcase the inhumanity and hardships of the southern slave economy.

Here, from the Richmond Visitors Website, are descriptions of more of the museums in this amazing and historical southern city:

Agecroft Hall

4305 Sulgrave Road. English manor home originally built in 15th century and then dismantled and transported to Richmond in 1928. Leaded glass windows, Tudor and Stuart artifacts, authentic furnishings and formal gardens.

Beth Ahabah Museum and Archives

1109 W. Franklin St., the museum features artifacts of international, national and local Jewish life and history. It is open to the public Sunday through Thursday from 10 am to 3 pm. For information on exhibits, guided tours, lectures or volunteer opportunities, please call (804)353-2668.

American Historical Foundation Museum

Located at 1142 W. Grace St., this National Historic Landmark was restored to Federal Period grandeur. It houses the Monument Avenue Museum, The US Marine Raider Museum and the Military Knife and Bayonet Museum.

For additional information, call (804) 353-1812.

Black History Museum & Cultural Center

00 Clay Street. Neoclassical style structure built in 1832 and purchased by Maggie L. Walker in 1922. In 1932, it became the African-American branch of the Richmond Public Library; in 1991 it was converted to a museum and cultural center for visual, oral and written records and artifacts commemorating the lives and accomplishments of Blacks in Virginia from their arrival in 1619 to present. Artifacts, videos, historical documents, and photographs are used to highlight the achievements of African-Americans in Virginia through.

For more information, call (804)780-9093.

Children's Museum of Richmond

The Children's Museum of Richmond is located at 2626 W. Broad St.. Come out and explore over 250 interactive exhibits including the wonders of flight, illusions and astronomy in the 42,000 square-foot museum. An interactive, hands-on museum for children ages 6 months to 12 years. Permanent participatory exhibits include - How it Works, the Feeling Food Neighborhood, the Art Studio and Our Great Outdoors. There is also an OMNIMAX film and multimedia planetarium show.

For more information, call (804)474-2667.

Chimborazo Medical Museum

Located at 3215 E. Broad St., the museum stands on the eastern end of downtown Richmond, at the site of the Civil War's famous Chimborazo Hospital. Between 1861 and 1865 more than 75,000 Confederate soldiers received treatment at this sprawling facility. The medical museum tells the story of those patients and the hospital and physicians that cared for them. Using artifacts, uniforms and documents, the exhibits describe the state of medicine in 1860. In highlights the care of wounded and sick soldiers on the battlefields, and in the many large centralized Richmond hospitals like Chimborazo. Chimborazo Medical Museum is open to the public, free of charge from 9 - 5 daily.

For more information, call (804)226-1981.

Edgar Allan Poe Museum

Located between 19th & 20th Streets on East Main Street, this museum features exhibits on the life and career of Edgar Allan Poe. By documenting his accomplishments with pictures, relics, and verse, and focusing on his many years in Richmond; visitors get a glimpse of what Edgar Allan Poe was like. Five small buildings and an enclosed garden house the poet's possessions and memorabilia.

For more information, please call (804)648-5523.

John Marshall House

Located at Ninth and Marshall Streets, this house was the home of John Marshall for 45 years. He was the pioneer chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The house was built in 1790 and is the oldest brick house surviving the City. Restored as a house museum, it contains artifacts from Marshall's home and professional life.

For more information, call (804)648-1889.

Maggie L. Walker House National Historic Site

Located at 110-1/2 E. Leigh St., the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site commemorates the life of a progressive and talented African American woman. Despite many adversities, she achieved success in the world of business and finance. She was the first woman in the United States to found and serve as president of a bank. The bank she founded, now Consolidated Bank & Trust, is the oldest surviving black-operated bank in the United States. The site includes her residence of thirty years and a visitor center detailing her life and the Jackson Ward community, in which, she lived and worked. The house is restored to its 1930's appearance with original Walker family pieces.

For more information, call (804)780-1380.

Maymont House and Park

Located at 1700 Hampton St., this 100-acre Victorian estate, once home of Major James H. and Sallie May Dooley, was bequeathed to the City of Richmond in 1925. Features include: nature center and gardens, a carriage collection, children's farm and native Virginia wildlife exhibits (with more than 300 animals, almost 60 species), and the restored mansion. Since 1975, Maymont has been maintained and operated by the private nonprofit Maymont Foundation.

For more information, call (804)358-7166.

Meadow Farm Museum/Crump Park

Located at 3400 Mountain in Richmond, this 1860's living historical farm recreates the life of a middle-class rural family. Changing exhibits, gift shop and orientation videos are features in the orientation center.

For more information, call (804)501-5520.

Museum of the Confederacy

Located at 1201 E. Clay St., adjacent to the restored historic White House of the Confederacy, this modern facility holds the world's most comprehensive collection of military, political and domestic artifacts and art associated with the period of the Confederacy, 1861-1865.

For more information, call (804)649-1861.

Old Dominion Railway Museum

Located at 102 Hull St., steam, passenger, freight and other artifacts of Virginia's rail heritage are on display near the 1831 birthplace of Virginia railroading. For more information, call (804)233-6237.

Richmond National Battlefield Parks

Located at 3215 E. Broad St., in the Chimborazo Park Visitor's Center Between 1861 and 1865, Union armies repeatedly set out to capture Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, to end the Civil War. Three of those campaigns came within a few miles of the city. The park commemorates eleven different sites associated with those campaigns, including the battlefields at Gaines' Mill, Malvern Hill and Cold Harbor. Established in 1936, the park protects 763 acres of historic ground. Begin with an explanatory film, and then tour the well-preserved sites of the Civil War battle fields. There are history programs and more at the Chimborazo Park Visitors Center.

For more information, call (804)226-1981.

Science Museum of Virginia

Located at 2500 W. Broad St., this museum offers wonderful hands-on learning and fun. There is also a planetarium and special shows all year.

For more information, call (804)864-1400.

University of Richmond Museum

Located on the University of Richmond campus, the university has three museums: The Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, The Marsh Art Gallery and The Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center.

For more information, call (804)287-6424.

Valentine Museum

Located at 1015 E. Clay St., this museum features the life and history of Richmond. Major changing exhibitions focus on American urban and social history, costumes, decorative arts and architecture. The museum's 1812 Wickham House features rare neoclassical wall paintings.

For more information, call (804)649-0711.

Virginia Aviation Museum

Located at Richmond International Airport, 5701 Huntsman Road, the Virginia Aviation Museum is a division of theScience Museum of Virginia. This shrine to the "Golden Age of Aviation" enhances the Science Museum's aerospace exhibits with its extensive collection of vintage flying machines. Learn which planes earned the nicknames: Rolls Royce, Cadillac and Flying Bathtub. Stroll past exhibits on pioneer aviation, World War II and the Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame. Enjoy aviation films and lectures in the Benn Theater. And if that's still not enough, how about getting an up-close view of the incomparable SR-71 Blackbird!

For more information, call (804)236-3622.

Virginia Fire & Police Museum

Located at 200 W. Marshall St., this museum houses antique fire and crime fighting memorabilia and operates as a museum and educational center. The museum is a National Historic Landmark. Richmond has the distinction of having the second oldest police force in the country and one of the oldest fire departments as well.

Virginia Holocaust Museum

Located at 2000 E. Cary St. in Shockoe Bottom, this museum is a tribute to Holocaust survivors. It features hands-on children's exhibits and an educational resource center. For more information, call (804)257-5400.

Virginia Historical Society

Located at 428 N. Boulevard, this museum offers a comprehensive collection of Virginia History. Nine-museum galleries exhibit rarely seen Virginia treasures. An extensive library for historical and genealogical research is also available. For more information, please call (804)358-4901.

Virginia House

Located at 4301 Sulgrave Road, this reconstructed English manor was home to Alexander Weddell, former United States Ambassador to Spain, and reflects his fascination with England and its history. The gardens are one of the highlights of the tour.

For more information, call (804)353-4251.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

This top ten comprehensive art museum features 5,000 years of artistic achievement from the glories of ancient Greece and India, to contemporary international art. Major special exhibitions at all times. Also a not-to-be-missed museum shop, cafe´ and restaurant. Open 365 days a year and general admission is always free. For more information, call (804) 340-1400. Located at 200 N. Boulevard.

Virginia Randolph Museum

Located at 2200 Mountain Road, this National Historic Landmark commemorates the career of a pioneer of vocational education. For more information, call (804)261-5029.

Wilton House Museum

Located at 215 S. Wilton Rd. off Cary Street, this house is an impressive example of mid-18th century Georgian architecture with fine interior paneling accented by exquisite period furnishings. Wilton house is one of Richmond's architectural treasures.

For more information, call (804)282-5936.