Monday, June 1, 2015
Interview With Author & History Professor Richard W. Smith
1. What is your new book about? The volume is a study of Bishop Charles P. McIlvaine (1799-1873). The Ohioan was an important figure in nineteenth century America. A leader among evangelical Episcopalians, he became the pivotal figure in the evangelical, Anglican-Episcopal community. His endeavors resulted in honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge Universities. In the States, he was involved with secular issues, especially the explosive slavery-race controversy. An anti-slave advocated, the Lincoln Administration sent him to Great Britain in 1861. He sought to bring middle and upper class opinion into a pro-Federal position early in the Civil War. McIlvaine had several connections with the British Cabinet and Anglican leaders. His labors were deflected and negated, however.
In late 1862, he led the Federal division of the Church to a supporting position for the war effort and emancipation. The bishop became a friend and advisor to key cabinet members and the president. In 1864, he toiled in the Federal Military Hospital Network near Fredericksburg, Virginia. After the war, he supported full civil rights for African Americans. McIlvaine was also busy with domestic and several foreign religious questions. Honored in Britain after his death, he was buried in Cincinnati, Ohio.
2. What inspired you to write it? When I learned that several scholarly works on Civil War diplomacy scarcely mentioned his mission to the United Kingdom, I decided to research the topic. The dimension of the project grew as he emerged as a central figure in several endeavors.
3. What did you learn upon researching material for your book that just shocked you?
McIlavine was given “leaks” from the highest circles of the leadership in Britain that the U.K. would not formally challenge the federal native blockade of the confederacy. He informed one cabinet member of that important policy decision, but the man did not tell President Lincoln or Secretary of State William Seward. The federal war effort was bedeviled by the dysfunctional interplay of rival personalities.
4. What challenges and rewards have been associated with writing it? The major challenge involved finding enough primary documents (after a fire destroyed thousands of his letters) to enable one to finish a detailed and fulsome account of this aspect of his career. The rewards fell into place as the work progressed.
5. Any advice to a struggling writer? Be active and precise in your research and do not give up the project as other issues enter your life.
6. Where do you see publishing heading? I am not as down-hearted as many persons are; printed works, of varying lengths, will remain the best instrument for exact communication in every field of endeavor.
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