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Civil War mule musings 

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A North Carolina author has sent along a poem from his forthcoming book, “Amongst Immortals Raging,” published this month by Pelican in Gretna, La. The poem is titled “Ol’ Dan” and it claims to be an eyewitness account of the third day of fighting at Gettysburg, told by one of the artillery mules.

I’m not the judge of mules that, say, Judge Bill Wilson is, but these sound to me more like the projection of human thoughts into the head of a mule than they do authentic mule thoughts. Mules are not philosophically disposed, in my experience of them. They don’t waste time pondering the tragic aspect of human folly in this manner. They didn’t used to, anyway.

The University of Arkansas Press at Fayetteville has just published “The Death of a Confederate Colonel: Civil War Stories and a Novella” by Pat Carr of Elkins. It is $14.95 in the paperback edition. Carr is something of a specialist in historical fiction –- perhaps our Arkansas successor to the late, great Douglas C. Jones. This is her 12th book of fiction, and you can read a sample story from the book at the uapress.com website.

She says in an interview on the website that her next book will be a Civil War novel set in Little Rock in 1864 “after the war had gone bad for everyone.” Maybe this is the one in which the rascal David O. Dodd finally gets his due.

The Cherokees were a badly divided people from the time of the Removal, and as the Civil War approached the slavery question widened and embittered the fissure, as it did for the United States as a whole. The Cherokee Nation was drawn into the war for much the same reason that Arkansas was –- that is, the noisy pro-slavery element wanted to protect its lucrative investment in slave labor –- but the opposing elements couldn’t pull themselves together politically sufficiently to pledge to either South or North, and as a result the Cherokee Nation suffered grievously, just as their neighbors in Northwest Arkansas did, from the border-trash irregulars who soughed back and forth through the region, preying on anyone they came across, with little attention to allegiance.

The tribe’s sad Civil War story is told rather sparsely and dryly in “The Cherokee Nation in the Civil War” by Clarissa W. Confer, a historian at California College in Pennsylvania, published this month by the University of Oklahoma Press at Norman. The hardcover is $24.95.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a big-time national musical celebrity in that hard time just before World War II, and both as gospel singer and guitarist she is said to have been a major influence on the rock ’n’ rollers who erupted in the 1950s. Elvis gospeling was a notable pale imitation.

Sister Rosetta was born at Cotton Plant, one of a number of important black music-makers to come up out of the Arkansas flatlands in that generation. She was profiled extensively a couple of years ago in a book from the University of North Carolina Press called “Religion in the American South,” and we expressed the hope here then that she’d get her own biography — one that ought to make a swell movie.

Well, the biography is out. It’s “Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe,” by Gayle F. Wald, from Beacon Press $25.95 hard cover. The book got a big promotional boost when the New York Times published the first chapter a few Sundays ago. That chapter tries, not very successfully because it’s just an impossible task, to convey what it must have been like growing up poor and black in the Arkansas Delta in the time of the Elaine massacre. No word yet on a movie deal.

Long-awaited from C.D. Wright, the Arkansas-born Rhode Island poet, is “One Big Self: An Investigation” –- her attempt to get a poetic handle on Louisiana prison hard time.

Louisiana prison life is a son-of-a-bitch, all right, but it’s not without its whimsical turns. This poem cycle has little in common with Bobby Lounge’s masterpiece “Take Me to Angola,” but they are both ways of peeking out from cover at the same desolation. Among Wright’s interesting souvenirs is a list of the penitentiary library books available to inmates. “One Big Self” is from Copper Canyon Press and is $15 (paperback).

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