Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Talented historians can shed new light on familiar stories, sometimes by bringing additional data into the narrative, and some by enlarging the scope and context. In The Field of Blood, Joanne Freeman, the author of an earlier study on political violence, Affairs of Honor, does both. Historians, for example, have devoted numerous books and articles to Congressman Preston Brooks’ brutal caning of Senator Charles Sumner. But it was a revelation, to this reviewer, at least, that the affair led to eight duels or challenges, as the mayhem on the Senate floor rippled across the capital, or that Congressman Laurence Keitt, who kept others from interfering during Brooks’ assault, was himself targeted for political violence. As Republicans became determined to protect themselves, both on the streets of Washington and in their chambers, Pennsylvania Congressman Galusha Grow was among those who had grown weary of violence-prone slaveholders. After Grow issued an objection from the Democratic side of the chamber, a tipsy Keitt shouted that Grow should file his objection from his own side of the House. Grow responded that it was a free hall, prompting Keitt to grab the Pennsylvanian by the throat. Grow knocked Keitt’s hand away and then punched him hard enough to knock him to the floor. Congressmen from both parties raced toward the melee, overturning desks and unsheathing weapons as they ran. Southerners had long been “under the delusion that Northern men would not fight,” a triumphant Grow laughed (240). Now they knew better.