Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

Dapper Dan Flood: The Controversial Life of a Congressional Power Broker

by William C. Kashatus
published by the Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010; 350 pages, cloth, $29.95

William C. Kashatus’s Dapper Dan Flood: The Controversial Life of a Congressional Power Broker brings to life one of the most quixotic individuals to ever have served in the U.S. House of Representatives. His subject, Daniel J. Flood (1903–1994), of Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, who represented northeastern Pennsylvania in Congress from 1945 to 1947, 1949 to 1953, and 1955 to 1980, at first appears to be a caricature. His outlandish ensembles of flowing opera capes, silk top hats, and white linen suits may have made a less confident individual seem to be a buffoon, but Flood was much more than a flamboyant fop. As the book’s subtitle suggests, he was a power broker, a shrewd politician who wielded influence on national politics for more than three decades.

Flood delivered his addresses — on the floor of the House of Representatives and at parades, rallies, and public events in his home district — with the overly precise and clipped accent of an old-fashioned stage actor, and he reveled in the attention he attracted for every performance. His power derived from his prowess as the consummate dealmaker who could charm, berate, coddle, and persuade his colleagues on Capitol Hill to deliver exactly what he wanted. He feared no one and enjoyed a good fight, especially if it benefited his constituents, many of whom still consider the diminutive congressman a hero.

Dapper Dan Flood is much more than a series of accounts of braggadocio and bravura. Kashatus skillfully weaves social, political, military, state, and national history into a compelling story of one individual who was as devoted to his supporters as they were to him. Political grandstanding aside, Flood knew how to manipulate colleagues in backroom deals that remained largely unexplored until this book. However, Kashatus debunks the myth that suggests Flood’s political career was one of unconditional success. His “reelection to Congress during the 1940s and 1950s was not a forgone conclusion (as it was later on). He was an independent-minded Democratic candidate in a strongly Republican district controlled by a powerful — and corrupt — political machine.” After Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn assigned Flood to the House Appropriations Committee, an exceedingly rare appointment for a freshman congressman, he began establishing “a powerful network on Capitol Hill that would allow him to successfully sponsor many important measures for his district, eventually earning the loyalty of his constituents.” After Tropical Storm Agnes ravaged Wilkes-Barre and the surrounding Wyoming Valley in June 1972, Flood called in many favors for the rescue of stranded residents and the rebuilding of communities.

Flood was a complex and complicated individual, and Kashatus includes numerous anecdotes and eyewitness accounts that give context and perspective not only to the man, but also to the politics of the period. Although he resigned his seat in the midst of scandal, Flood remained an idol in northeastern Pennsylvania, where his appearances at public events continued attracting throngs of admirers. Kashatus’s portrayal of “Dapper Dan” Flood is by no means hagiography: it is a brutally honest biography of an individual and his accomplishments and failures, both in public and in private. By incorporating Flood’s speeches, interviews, and correspondence in the narrative, the author allows his subject to speak (with expletives intact) throughout the fast- paced book, imparting vitality, drama and, at times, pathos.

Later this year, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission will erect a state historical marker in Wilkes- Barre to mark Flood’s place in history.

 

Our Boys Did Nobly: Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, Soldiers at the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam

by John David Hoptak
published by John David Hoptak, 2009; 344 pages, paper, $22.95

Many historians consider the Maryland Campaign to be one of the key turning points in the American Civil War, with the Battle of Antietam being the battle that forever changed the meaning of the conflict. Not only was the war being fought solely to reunite a fractured country, it was being waged to create a new Union with freedom for all.

In Our Boys Did Nobly: Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, Soldiers at the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam, author John David Hoptak chronicles the engagements in which three Pennsylvania regiments — the 48th, 50th, and 96th — took part during the Maryland Campaign. The book opens with a look at the dark days following the Union defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run in late August 1862, when the prospect of victory for the North seemed dim. Our Boys Did Nobly traces the movement of the Schuylkill County soldiers from this point in the war through Maryland in pursuit of General Robert E. Lee’s invading Army of Northern Virginia. The book pays special attention to Brigadier General James Nagle (1822–1866), organizer of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry in 1861, and Colonel Benjamin Christ (1822– 1869), each of whom commanded a brigade in the Federal 9th Corps, as well as to Colonel Henry L. Cake (1827–1899), commander of the 96th Pennsylvania Regiment.

Our Boys Did Nobly focuses on the actions of the 48th and 50th Pennsylvania at the Battle of South Mountain at Fox’s Gap, followed by a discussion of the 96th Pennsylvania at Crampton’s Gap. The movement of the armies from South Mountain and toward Antietam Creek is recounted in the fifth chapter, and the following two chapters are devoted to Schuylkill County’s soldiers at Antietam. The author examines the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam in detail, and his epilogue provides a post-battle history of the three regiments and their officers.

Although it is impossible to determine the exact number of Schuylkill County soldiers engaged at the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam, it’s estimated that approximately eight hundred volunteers took part. Of this number, 178 were listed among the killed, wounded, captured or missing, nearly one out of every four who fought. Thirty-four soldiers were killed outright on the battlefields and another thirteen lingered for days, even weeks, before succumbing to their injuries. With these men included, forty-seven Schuylkill Countians who, according to Hoptak, “gave their last full measure of devotion during the Maryland campaign during the summer of 1862. One hundred and thirty-one Schuylkill County soldiers sustained non-fatal wounds.”

Painstaking research, coupled with gripping details of the battles, recaptures the courage that Pennsylvanians exhibited during the Maryland campaign. The battle of Antietam, waged for more than twelve hours on September 17, 1862, and accounting for the death, wounding, or loss of twenty-three thousand soldiers, was — and remains — the bloodiest single-day contest in American history.

The title of the book, Our Boys Did Nobly, was extracted from a letter written by Captain Oliver C. Bosbyshell, Company G, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, on September 21, 1862, to the Miners Journal, published in the Schuylkill County seat of Pottsville, in which he described the heroism of his fellow soldiers.

 

The Diary of Hannah Callender Sansom: Sense and Sensibility in the Age of the American Revolution

edited by Susan E. Kelp and Karin Wulf
published by Cornell University Press, 2010; 358 pages; cloth, $75.00, paper, $24.95

Long held in private hands, an extraordinary diary kept by Hannah Callender Sansom (1737–1801) has been published verbatim for the first time in The Diary of Hannah Callender Sansom: Sense and Sensibility in the Age of the American Revolution. Edited by Susan E. Klepp and Karin Wulf, the book includes in-depth interpretive essays and explanatory footnotes that provide context for readers. Sansom’s diary is one of the earliest, fullest documents written by an American woman, and it yields fresh insights into women’s experiences in early America, the urban milieu of the emerging middle class, and the culture that shaped both.

Hannah Callender Sansom witnessed the effects of the tumultuous eighteenth century: political upheavals, war and peace, and economic development. She experienced the pull of traditional emphases on duty, subjection, and hierarchy, and the emergence of radical new ideas promoting free choice, liberty, and independence. Regarding these changes from her position as a well-educated member of the colonial Quaker elite and as a resident of Philadelphia, the principal city in North America, this assertive, outspoken woman described her life and her society intermittently from the time she was twenty-one in 1758 through the birth of her first grandchild in 1788.

As a young woman, she enjoyed sociable rounds of visits and conviviality. She enjoyed considerable freedom to travel and to develop her interest in the arts, literature, and religion. In 1762, pressured by her father, she married fellow Quaker Samuel Sansom. While this marriage made financial and social sense, her father’s plans failed to consider the emerging sensibility, including free choice and emotional fulfillment in marriage. Hannah Callender Sansom’s struggle to become reconciled with an unhappy marriage is conveyed in frank terms through both diary entries and in certain silences to the record. Ultimately, she did create a life of meaning centered on children, religion, and domesticity. When her beloved daughter Sarah was of marriageable age, Hannah Callender Sansom made certain that, despite risking her standing among Quakers, Sarah was able to marry for love.

The Diary of Hannah Callender Sansom offers readers a new look at how a woman in eighteenth-century British America lived and observed the world around her. In more than two hundred pages written over thirty years, she kept note of her daily life, her courtship, her reading, her religion and philosophy and, above all, her family. Preserved by generations of Sansom’s granddaughter’s family, the diary was given to the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, in the 1990s.