Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Thomas Lanier Clingman: Fire Eater From the Carolina Mountains

Been traveling as of late, and I’ve been reading – still continuing my “tour” of books relating to North Carolina and the War. I’ve finished two since posting that last review on the biography of Governor Clark.

The first book I finished was Thomas E. Jeffrey’s Thomas Lanier Clingman: Fire Eater From the Carolina Mountains (University of Georgia Press, 1998). This is actually a re-read for me. When this book came out in 1998, I checked out a copy from the library and spent several days within its pages. I recently acquired my own copy (not a cheap book, either), and enjoyed my re-read. There is not much to say about Jeffrey’s book except that it is a really, really good biography. Jeffrey explores every facet of Clingman’s life, from his early days in the US House and Senate, to his services during the War, to his work as a promoter and inventor, along with his quest after the war to regain his position in the Senate. Clingman was born 1812 in Surry County, and was a graduate from the University of North Carolina. Clingman’s greatest claim-to-fame, at least the one he is best remembered for, came during the pre-war period of his life. Clingman got into an argument with one of his former professors, Dr. Elisha Mitchell, over who had measured the highest peak in the Black Mountains in Yancey County. Mitchell went back to re-measure the peak, and fell to his death in the process. Today, Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi, bears his name, while Clingman’s name is attached to a peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Clingman is hailed as “Prince of Politicians” and in 1889, “one of the most remarkable men who have figured in politics in North Carolina…” Clingman was a rival of North Carolina’s more famous son, Zebulon Baird Vance. Clingman died in Morganton in 1897 and was originally buried in Concord. He was later reinterred in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville, not far from the grave of Zeb Vance. One thing that does puzzle me is this: Jeffrey’s title proclaims Clingman as a “Fire-Eater” Yet in the last paragraph of the conclusion, Jeffrey’s states that “Clingman was never a fire eater in the Rhett-Yancey mold.” If that is true, then it is an interesting sub-title. You’ll need to read the book to judge for yourself if Clingman was truly a fire-eater.

The next review will be on Travis’s history of the Rowan Artillery. I’m currently reading Escott’s North Carolinians in the Era of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

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