Reading about history is typically associated with lengthy, boring textbooks that weigh down backpacks in high school, but when the focus is less generalized than say, “American history,” and the writer brings passion to the subject, learning becomes more enjoyable.
This is precisely what Isaiah L. Reed, an Ashe County native, accomplishes in his book, “The Forgotten Act: General Sherman’s Special Field Order 15.”
A longtime passion of Reed’s, the book dives into Major General William Tecumseh Sherman’s “Special Field Order No. 15,” which provided emancipated slaves an opportunity for a fresh start.
The process began on Jan. 12, 1865, when Sherman and Secretary of War, Edwin McMasters Stanton, met with 20 freed African Americans in Savannah, Ga., to gain an understanding about the way the men viewed their future as a free people.
The result of the meeting was the setting aside of 400,000 acres of land along the Atlantic coast of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, for the exclusive settlement of freed and former slaves.
The order was officially put into place on Jan. 16, 1865, only to be revoked in the fall of that same year by President Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Abraham Lincoln after his assassination.
It appears to be a failed effort on the surface, but in “The Forgotten Act,” readers learn this was actually a significant and complex milestone during the Civil War.
More specifically, the book digs deep into the true intentions of Sherman, who today, continues to be attacked for his assumed negative views and lack of compassion for the freed people.
However, Reed’s research argues otherwise, stating that Sherman’s initial conflicted and racist opinions transformed into sympathy, hence his No. 15 plan to take action and lend a helping hand.
With a very fact-forward approach, “The Forgotten Act” certainly maintains a standard history book feel, but in a way that is easy to read through its simply termed, yet engaging content.
The end result of Reed’s work is a thought provoking, well-researched look into the past, supported by logical arguments and direct quotes, leaving the reader to ask the question — what other misconceptions do I have about American history?