Alexander Terrell's career placed him at the center of some of the most pivotal events in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century history, ranging from the Civil War to Emperor Maximilian's reign over Mexico and an Armenian genocide under the Ottoman Empire. Alexander Watkins Terrell at last provides the first complete biographical portrait of this complex figure.
Born in Virginia in 1827, Terrell moved to Texas in 1852, rising to the rank of Confederate brigadier general when the Civil War erupted. Afterwards, he briefly served in Maximilian's army before returning to Texas, where he was elected to four terms in the state Senate and three terms in the House. President Grover Cleveland appointed him minister to the Ottoman Empire, dispatching him to Turkey and the Middle East for four years while the issues surrounding the existence of Christians in a Muslim empire stoked violent confrontations there. His other accomplishments included writing legislation that created the Texas Railroad Commission and what became the Permanent University Fund (the cornerstone of the University of Texas's multibillion-dollar endowment).
In this balanced exploration of Terrell's life, Gould also examines Terrell's views on race, the impact of the charges of cowardice in the Civil War that dogged him, and his spiritual searching beyond the established religions of his time. In his rich and varied life, Alexander Watkins Terrell experienced aspects of nineteenth-century Texas and American history whose effects have continued down to the present day.
In 1937 thirty-six nervous young men dressed in ill-fitting blue suits, wearing berets, and carrying identical black valises, were given tickets for an American Export Lines ship. They were told to conduct themselves as ordinary tourists, to be "inconspicuous." They were volunteers for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, traveling the French underground to join in the fight against Franco. Among them was Milt Felsen, a young New Yorker and radical antiwar activist on the University of Iowa campus who had decided that fascism had to be opposed. Some of these young men never made it to their destination. But Milt Felsen did, beginning a march across the Pyrenees which was only the first of his many battles and adventures.
Told with uncommon wit and verve, this memoir of war and resistance is a stirring account of Felsen's involvement in two decades of battle. Surprisingly, this is a spirited and even funny book, infused with Felsen's unbeatable personality. After the Spanish Civil War, Felsen helped form the O.S.S. in World War II. Taken prisoner of war, he escaped in his inimitable style during a 1,200-mile prisoner-of-war march and drove out of Nazi Germany in a Mercedes-Benz. He returned to the United States more convinced than ever of war's insanity and its extreme human cost.
Most of us are only spectators of the world's larger events. Milt Felsen knew the excitement and despair of being a participant. While most war books abound in details of what happened, this one also delves into why. Felsen's straightforward account is refreshingly frank and doesn't pretend to be more than it is—his own lived version of war and common truths.
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