Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

The Life and Times of John Brown Baldwin, 1820-1873

Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

The Life and Times of John Brown Baldwin, 1820-1873

Article excerpt

The Life and Times of John Brown Baldwin, 1820-1873 * John R. Hildebrand * Staunton, Va.: Lot's Wife Publishing, 2008 * xii, 308 pp. * $21.95

Reviewed by Kathryn Shively Meier, doctoral candidate at the University of Virginia. She is the author of "'Dante's Inferno': Changing Perceptions of Civil War Combat in the Spotsylvania Wilderness from 1863 to 1864," in Militarized Landscapes: Comparative Histories and Geographies (2009).

John R. Hildebrand, author of Iron Horses in the Valley: The Valley and Shenandoah Valley Railroads, 1866-1882 (2001), has focused on another mid-nineteenthcentury topic in this biography of the forgotten Civil War leader John Brown Baldwin. Using United States and Virginia congressional records and personal correspondence, the author locates Baldwin at the center of important and often mysterious moments of Virginia history from the antebellum period to Reconstruction.

Baldwin, an Augusta County legislator, orator, lawyer, and respected community leader, was a conditional unionist who resisted secession and served as a special delegate to President Lincoln before the clash at Fort Sumter. Though Baldwin carried to Washington a conciliatory message from the Virginia Convention, Lincoln greeted him with the prophetic and baffling words: "you have come too late" (p. 3). Indeed war came, during which Baldwin served briefly as a Confederate colonel and, more importantly, as a member of the Confederate Congress. While in Richmond, he stridently rebuked Jefferson Davis's infringements upon civil liberties and tackled the cumbersome wartime tasks of supporting the army and filling its ranks, tempering civil disorder, and generating financial stability through currency and tax policies. When the Confederate war effort began to crack in 1864, Baldwin was appointed to the Special Joint Committee in the Means of Public Defense to determine if the conflict could be sustained. As a committee member, Baldwin resisted Gen. Robert E. Lee's insistence on arming the enslaved and found little to recommend prolonging the war. When the Confederacy did collapse and Reconstruction followed, Baldwin, as an unofficial Virginia adviser and one of the Committee of Nine, helped negotiate a new constitution, which included unencumbered universal suffrage and contributed to Virginias readmission to the Union. …

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