Lankford, Nelson D. 1948–

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Lankford, Nelson D. 1948–


Born May 6, 1948, in VA; son of George S. and Ida D. Lankford; married Judy Baughan (a museum official), August 7, 1971. Education: University of Richmond, B.A., 1970; Indiana University—Bloomington, M.A., 1972, Ph.D., 1976, M.B.A., 1983.


Office—Virginia Historical Society, P.O. Box 7311, Richmond, VA 23225. E-mail—[email protected].


American Historical Review, assistant editor, 1978-83; Indiana University—Bloomington, reprint officer in Budget Office, 1983-84; Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, editor of Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1984—, assistant director, 1990—.; Conference of Historical Journals, president, 1989-91.


American Historical Association, Southern Historical Association.



An Irishman in Dixie, University of South Carolina Press (Columbia, SC), 1988.

OSS against the Reich, Kent State University Press (Kent, OH), 1991.

The Last American Aristocrat: The Biography of David K.E. Bruce, 1898-1977, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.

(Editor, with Charles F. Bryan, Jr.) Robert Knox Sneden, Eye of the Storm: A Civil War Odyssey, Free Press (New York, NY), 2000.

(Editor with Charles F. Bryan, Jr., and James C. Kelly) Robert Knox Sneden, Images from the Storm: Three Hundred Civil War Images by the Author of "Eye of the Storm," Free Press (New York, NY), 2001.

Richmond Burning: The Last Days of the Confederate Capitol, Viking Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Cry Havoc!: The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861, Viking (New York, NY), 2007.


The subject of Nelson D. Lankford's The Last American Aristocrat: The Biography of David K.E. Bruce, 1898-1977 is a wealthy Virginian who married the daughter of billionaire Andrew Mellon, became an important figure in the world of espionage during World War II, and spent thirty years after the war in public service. Lankford edited Bruce's war diaries in 1991, which gave him a solid foundation for the biography, and extensively researched Bruce's papers held in Richmond and other institutions worldwide.

Lankford also gained the confidence and cooperation of the Bruce and Mellon families, as well as of Bruce's second wife, Evangeline Bell Bruce. A reviewer for Booklist called the biography "a superb chronicle of the evolution of an old-fashioned public servant," and a critic for Publishers Weekly wrote that The Last American Aristocrat "fleshes out the life with a felicity the old patrician would have admired."

In contrast to the praise of other reviewers, Kai Bird of Washington Monthly commented, "This book is neither very compelling biography nor original history…. Lankford writes uncritically of Bruce's diplomatic career, even though the list of Bruce's misjudgments and failures is not short…. It was obviously not his intention, but Lankford's narrative will convince many readers that the Honorable David K.E. Bruce was a much over-rated figure. No doubt a gentleman, he hardly ever had an original thought in his head, and never, ever acted out of turn. No wonder the Establishment of the 1950s—when the premium on consensus was easily maintained—so liked this unflappable Virginian aristocrat that they gave him one plum job after another."

Eye of the Storm: A Civil War Odyssey and its follow-up, Images from the Storm: Three Hundred Civil War Images by the Author of "Eye of the Storm," evolved following the discovery of a post-Civil War memoir by Robert Sneden, an architect, engineer, and landscape painter in New York who joined the Fortieth New York Volunteer Infantry. Sneden was captured by the Confederates, imprisoned at Richmond, and was among the first batch of Union prisoners of war transferred to the Andersonville prison in Georgia where more than 13,000 would ultimately die. Sneden kept a detailed journal and sketches of his entire wartime experience, including his year-long prison experience. Although the journal was lost, his previously unpublished, handwritten, five-volume memoir—composed between the 1870s and 1880s and containing 5,000 pages and more than 1,000 watercolors and sketches—were found in a Connecticut bank vault and purchased by the Virginia Historical Society. In compiling Eye of the Storm, the editors include what they deemed were Sneden's most important accounts and chose seventy color illustrations to complement the narrative. Because Sneden was a corps cartographer, he had access to camps, picket lines, and earthworks; as a soldier and POW, he also saw the front line and POW camps. The editors wrote of his observations and subsequent drawings: "It is as though he had a video recorder and kept it running throughout the war." James A. Ramage commented of Eye of the Storm in the Journal of Southern History, "This exciting book is one of the most colorful, revealing, and valuable Civil War memoirs in print."

Images of the Storm contains more than three hundred of Sneden's depictions, ranging from the panoramic to the personal. Reviewing the volume for Booklist, Gilbert Taylor wrote that, despite Sneden's artistic shortcomings, "the vividness of his scenes is undeniable, unmatched, and, in certain instances, unrecorded by any other extant document." This and other reviewers concurred the book is "required" or "necessary" for all with an interest in the U.S. Civil War.

In Richmond Burning: The Last Days of the Confederate Capitol Lankford again turns his attention to the Civil War. The narrative depicting the fall of Richmond in 1865, which virtually predicted the war's end, is based on information gleaned from diaries, letters, newspaper accounts, and other historical documents. "The author examines and dismisses a few myths along the way," commented a critic in Kirkus Reviews. Theresa R. McDevitt explained in Library Journal that the story is told from the perspective of "military and political leaders to invading soldiers and civilian inhabitants," and called it a "beautifully written work." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that Lankford's deft research allows him to describe the intensifying confusion that overtook the city as Union troops approached, government officials fled, and Confederate troops fired the city to destroy military stores. The reviewer also describes the "tentative triumphalism" displayed by the Northern soldiers—many segregated into all-black regiments—as they occupied the city. "The particular strength of Lankford's book is its demonstration of the rage with which most of the white population accepted that situation," wrote the Publishers Weekly reviewer.

In Cry Havoc! The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861 Lankford focuses on the fateful months leading up to the U.S. Civil War. He begins with the arrest of abolitionist John Brown, an action that polarized the country and was one of several factors to finally provoke the outbreak of war. Another factor was probably U.S. President Abraham Lincoln's decision to reprovision Fort Sumter; Southerners saw this action as a threat. The author proposes that war could have been averted if different decisions had been made during the critical months of 1861. In the words of a Publishers Weekly writer, "might-have-beens haunt this absorbing study of the opening act of the Civil War." Lankford's musings are "provocative," according to William Grimes in the New York Times. As Grimes added, the author is "interested in personalities as much as in ideas and in the pulse of public opinion, which he vividly represents through diaries, speeches and newspaper editorials. For Mr. Lankford the national drama was a clash not only of political theories but also of personalities and temperaments."



American Historical Review, February, 1999, review of The Last American Aristocrat: The Biography of David K.E. Bruce, 1898-1977, p. 217.

Booklist, August, 1996, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Last American Aristocrat, p. 1862; June 15, 2001, Gilbert Taylor, review of Images from the Storm: Three Hundred Civil War Images by the Author of "Eye of the Storm"; November 15, 2006, Jay Freeman, review of Cry Havoc!: The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861, p. 21.

History: Review of New Books, fall, 1997, Marjorie W. Cline, review of The Last American Aristocrat, p. 51.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2002, review of Richmond Burning: The Last Days of the Confederate Capitol, p. 786; November 1, 2006, review of Cry Havoc!, p. 1114.

Library Journal, July, 2002, Theresa R. McDevitt, review of Richmond Burning, p. 97.

New York Times, January 31, 2007, William Grimes, review of Cry Havoc!

Observer (London, England), October 13, 1996, review of The Last American Aristocrat, p. 16.

Publishers Weekly, May 20, 1996, review of The Last American Aristocrat, p. 244; September 4, 2000, review of Eye of the Storm, p. 96; May 27, 2002, review of Richmond Burning, p. 46; October 16, 2006, review of Cry Havoc!, p. 47.

Spectator, September 28, 1996, review of The Last American Aristocrat, p. 49.

Times Literary Supplement, September 13, 1996, review of The Last American Aristocrat, p. 30.

Washington Monthly, May 1997, Kai Bird, review of The Last American Aristocrat, p. 45.