The Carrolls, Antietam, ire, voodoo

Books Of The Region

September 17, 2000|By James H. Bready | By James H. Bready,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Why are Maryland's colonial Carrolls, in retrospect, so unlikable? The three successive Charles Carrolls (known as "the Settler," "of Annapolis" and "of Carrollton" or "the Signer") amassed, over the years, the most land of anybody, the most money, the most field and house slaves. Later in life, the Settler grabbed also for political power, but as Roman Catholics the Carrolls were by then ineligible. Not that, formalities aside, grandfather or father or son was a religious man. Good works? Not from people who sought life's social and material pleasures, for themselves. (These were 17th and 18th century figures; why the similarity to people around us in the 20th and 21st?)

"On the make" is the phrase used by Ronald Hoffman in his book "Princes of Ireland, Planters of Maryland: A Carroll Saga, 1500-1782" (University of North Carolina Press, 429 pages, $39.95). Hoffman, a Williamsburg professor and historian, renders no judgment with this description, which then and since could be widely applied. What Hoffman has done, adding significantly to the many previous Carroll studies, is investigate the family's background -- the chaotic Ireland of Tudor and Stuart times. "Princes" is a large word for these landholders in County Offaly, toward the island's center, but the O Cearbhaill sept or clan had substance.

The biggest opportunist among them was the Settler, who arrived here in 1688 at age 27 already holding the office of attorney general -- he had managed to become a protege of Richard Grace, an influential Anglo-Irish Protestant. The most famous Carroll, of course, was "of Carrollton," a short, slight man of controlled emotion. (Historians bless the Carrolls for writing, and saving, letters. The Signer didn't save those from his wife Molly; his letters to her scarcely exist -- he wrote to his father, not his wife.)

The day after this longest-lived of 1776's independence-declarers died, the U.S. government shut down, in respect. On the other hand, the Signer failed to produce a son equal to the burdens of aristocracy. Charles Carroll IV, of Homewood, a drunkard, predeceased his father.

This is a complicated narrative, but Ronald Hoffman tells it surely and well.

The you-are-there technique called true fiction was already in use in 1974, to depict the Battle of Gettysburg in Michael Shaara's novel, "The Killer Angels." Its logical followup, the Battle of Antietam, arrives now in "Promise of Glory," by C. X. Moreau (Forge Books, 302 pages, $24.95).

Physical details abound, as do dabs of character and personality; the reader goes readily along, lulled by the book's conformity to textbook fact. In the main, Moreau limits us to generals -- McClellan, the winner despite his peacock self, Lee the noble risk-taker, each attended by a naysayer (Fitzjohn Porter, U.S.A.; James "Pete" Longstreet, C.S.A.).

The difficulty is Moreau's use of conversation, in quotes, throughout. Since long before Jeanne d'Arc the French dubbed their expletive-using English foe "les Godons" (the Goddamns) -- military speech, including that of many a general, has been earthy. "Promise of Glory" contains not one soiled word (or mention of slavery).

To the already sizable shelf of Antietam books, Moreau, a former Marine, has added a verbal movie. Its celebrity cast performs with dash and distinction.

Ross Z. Pierpont has been raging about in this china shop called Maryland for more than half a century. Entering via the surgery aisle, he has snorted his way on to government, pro sports, broadcasting, moneymaking and repetitive electoral candidacy. And, at this point, to

bookstores. His self-published autobiography, "Never, Never, Ever Give Up!" (412 pages, $24.95) is written (Claude Gerard assisting) and on sale, if anything, too soon. Pierpont is still only in his 80s; no telling what local or statewide office he may seek in 2002.

Pierpont hails from rural Woodlawn. He was 3 when his father died; low-level jobs and self-denial saw Pierpont through Catonsville High and the University of Maryland's schools of both pharmacy and medicine. And later on, after the daily rounds of surgeon,administrator and teacher, his energy still bubbled. (The Z is for Zimmerman; this Germanic note peaks in a daughter, who is now the mistress of a Hanoverian schloss.)

Our public life has produced a fair number of satisfied, book-length self-interviews. Alongside "Never, Never," they're dishwater. Pierpont was a Democrat, is a Republican and, 2000's bystanders may add, a mossback. But his writing kit gleams with candor, some jollity, exceptional recall, his own plan for national medical-dental health care and, here and there, blistering ire. Pierpont flames medical bigwigs, mayors, congressmen, an Evening Sun editorial page editor and five U.S. senators from Maryland.

All by name. Sorry -- no index.

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