Bloody Williamson Revisited

When I was a kid, I spent countless hours seeking out familiar places and unspeakable acts in the soldiers of local history standing at attention on my grandmother’s bookshelf: Gallatin County: Gateway to Illinois by Lucille Lawler; Murder in Little Egypt by Darcy O’Brien; A Knight of Another Sort: Prohibition Days and Charlie Birger by Gary DeNeal; and Bloody Williamson: A Chapter in American Lawlessness by Paul M. Angle.

Little did I know then that my future employer, the University of Illinois Press, would rescue Bloody Williamson from out-of-print oblivion via a new edition in 1993. We are lucky to have this classic on our backlist.

Recently my favorite bibliophile, Gordon Pruett (whose period photos enhance our edition of Bloody Williamson), shared one of the gems of his expansive southern Illinois ephemera collection: a July 31, 1952, letter from Paul Angle to Ralph Newman. Newman was the founder of the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago, still the preeminent source for Lincolniana and Civil War materials. In the letter, Angle explains why he came to write Bloody Williamson:

 Finally, I became convinced that the story of “Bloody Williamson” had broad significance. The conflicts that had exploded there—the “old” American vs. the recent immigrant, Protestant vs. Catholic, union vs. non-union, Negro vs. white—are evident in much of the United States, and I concluded that it would be worth while to investigate thoroughly one region where they had led to violence repeatedly. Nobody else wanted to write the story in terms of serious history, so I decided to do it.

Given the continuing keen interest in a book now well over a half-century old and events much older than that, Angle’s instincts as an historian were spot on.

Many thanks to Gordon for permission to quote from the letter.

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