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If Heaven had looked upon riches to be a valuable thing, it would not have given them to such a scoundrel.

Robert E. Lee never called northerners “yankees” [much less damnyankees] but always referred to them as “those people”. While you can find no default of courtesy in this utterance – and Robert E. Lee was a gentleman first, last and always – you may also garner that it is a condemnation of a lesser group. Less refined with a lower set of standards and finally not “people like us”. If there were to be a poster child for this group we assume it could be Dan Sickles and since Keneally revels in being a descendent…

American scoundrel : the life of the notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles    New York : Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2002  Thomas Keneally Generals United States Biography, Sickles, Daniel Edgar, 1819-1914 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xii, 397 p. ; 24 cm. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

On the last Sunday of February 1859, Dan Sickles, a congressman from New York, murdered his good friend Philip Barton Key (son of Francis Scott Key)– who was also his wife’s lover – in Washington’s Lafayette Square. The shooting took place directly across the street from the White House, the home of Sickles’s friend and protector, President James Buchanan. Sickles turned himself in; political friends in New York’s Tammany Hall machinery, including the dynamic criminal lawyer James Brady, quickly gathered around. While his beautiful young wife was banned from public life and shunned by society,  Sickles was acquitted.

American Scoundrel is the extraordinary story of this powerful mid-nineteenth century politician and inveterate womanizer, whose irresistible charms and rock-solid connections not only allowed him to get away with murder — literally — but also paved the way to a stunning career.

Once free to resume his life, Sickles raised a regiment for the Union political elite and went on to become a general in the army, rising to the rank of brigadier general and commanding a flank at the Battle of Gettysburg in a maneuver so controversial it is still argued over by scholars today. After losing a leg in that battle, Sickles fought on and after the war became military governor of South Carolina, and later was named minister to Spain, where he continued astonishingly to conduct his amorous assignations.

Keneally has brought to light a tale of American history that resonates with uncomfortable truths about the politics, ethics, and morality of the so-called victors of the War of Northern Aggression.


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