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From Broomsticks to Battlefields: The Cadets of Delaware Military Academy in the Civil War and Beyond, by Bill Speer

Athens, GA.: Deeds Publishing, 2016, revised second edition. Pp.: xxi, 258. Illus., maps, notes, bibliography. $19.95 paper. ISBN: 1944193243.

The Delaware Military Academy in the Civil War

Many books have been written on many military schools. Southern military schools have hitherto been a favorite for military and local historians. These Southern schools, such as the Citadel, have many works documenting their past as well as the lives of their most notable alumni. Yet, not many works have focused on those schools in the North, with West Point as a very notable exception. That changes with this new edition of From Broomsticks to Battlefields by Bill Speer, an alumnus of the Pennsylvania Military College and the American Military University.

The work is an obvious labor of love for Speer, as it documents the Civil War history of the Delaware Military Academy, which later became the Pennsylvania Military College and is now Widener University. He uses the lives of two DMA alumni, Henry Clay Robinett and David Vickers, Jr., both of whom achieved some distinction in the Civil War, to document the history of the institution itself. He adroitly weaves their concomitant histories with the passion of a dedicated alumnus on one hand, and as an experienced military historian with an eye for the important fact to guide his story on the other. Where, too often, those with a close personal connection to their subject matter become lost in the incidental and trivial details, Speer makes excellent use of the primary sources, to bring out evidence that drives his narrative forward, and his interpretations of those facts stand to be good at worst, and utterly fascinating at his best.

The book’s four chapters are conveniently broken down into sub-sections that address particular topics. Each chapter culminates with endnotes that document the primary and secondary sources alongside Gibbon-esque insights into the interpretations and contexts of the quoted material. Speer mixes an excellent historical style with his obvious love of classic poetry, working Sir Thomas Moore’s “After the Battle” into the closing of his section on Robinett. A quick perusal of the bibliography offers evidence of the rich primary and secondary sources that. Speer employs throughout the book.

Every work, though, has its weaknesses. This reviewer would have liked to see a table of contents that includes the subsections of each chapter, for example, as well as more care from the publisher in avoiding occasional editing mistakes. Finally, one would like to see an index in a work as seminal as this. These small items are more of a wish list for such a work. In the foreword, Speer admits that this is his first essay at a scholarly publication, but he demonstrates the qualities of a seasoned, experienced author.

Our Reviewer: Ben Sorensen received an AA in Music Education from Potomac State College. He earned his BA at Excelsior College in Albany New York, dual majoring in Music and History. He holds an MA in History (Ancient History) from American Public University, as well as a graduate certificate in American Revolutionary Studies—also from American Public University. He is an adjunct History instructor at Cape Fear Community College, Brunswick Community College, and at Ashford University. He is also the historian for St. John’s Lodge No. 1 in Wilmington, NC as well as the Past President for the Cape Fear Revolutionary War Round Table.

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Reviewer: Ben Sorensen   


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