historian, author, film producer

Tracking Dr. Alexander T. Augusta, black soldier and doctor

After five years, The Iron Way: Railroads, The Civil War, and the Making of Modern America is moving through copyediting and should be ready for publication in November 2011.

And I’m still finding new material to include or reference. The book will cover the way that Americans experienced the technological transformation surrounding the railroads and at the same time how these changes helped make the Civil War more likely, as well as more destructive. Railroads did not cause the Civil War, slavery did, but railroads were changing slavery, making its extension all the more possible into the West in the 1850s.

There are many new pieces of material I keep finding after the manuscript went in. One example is the story of Dr. Alexander T. Augusta, one of the highest ranking African Americans in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was a surgeon and after the war became a prominent black physician in Washington, D.C. I was writing about his involvement in the case of Catharine (Kate) Brown, who filed a lawsuit in 1868 because she was violently thrown off of the Washington & Alexandria Railroad for attempting to sit in the ladies car. The railroad claimed segregation was common and lawful, yet Brown succeeded in taking the case to the Supreme Court where she prevailed.

I knew relatively little about Augusta, and began searching for more information. Then I found out that he had written a piece for The Christian Recorder on an 1863 incident in Baltimore, and on an streetcar confrontation in Washington, D.C., when he too was violently thrown out of the cars. Need to work this, and many other notes, into the next round of edits for The Iron Way.

Kate Masur’s new book, An Example for All the Land, fills in much of this important history of Washington, D.C., after the Civil War.