August 22, 2007

Florida and the Civil War

The Civil War in Florida has always been my first love in ACW studies, as illustrated by my first book, Discovering the Civil War in Florida: A Reader and Guide. Even as a complete novice working on his first project, it didn't take long for me to realize that very few historical works existed which focused on "the smallest tadpole in the pool of secession."

Those that did were exceedingly rare and expensive in the first edition. Two of the best known are Dickison and His Men by Mary Elizabeth Dickison and The Civil War and Reconstruction in Florida by William Watson Davis.

In the case of Dickison, the book tells the tale of Captain John J. Dickison and his 2nd Florida Cavalry, CSA. The book's by-line states that it was written by the subject's wife, though modern historians tend to agree that Dickison, known to the Yankees as "Dixie" or the "Swamp Fox," was at the helm. According to one Florida newspaper, he was without a doubt the most conspicuous soldier Florida sent into the war. His command never left Florida and served that state in a fashion similar to Mosby's Rangers in northern Virginia.

The first edition was published in 1890 by the Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky and featured brown cloth boards stamped in gilt measuring 5 ½" x 8 1/2." Civil War Books described the work as "a poorly organized but splendid picture of the almost unknown Florida campaigns." Of particular interest are twelve original woodcuts that have become standard fare when seeking illustrations on the war in Florida.

The book can be had if one is willing to pay the price. Currently, first editions in collector's condition will fetch in the $500 range. A reasonable alternative is a facsimile edition published in 1984 by the San Marco Bookstore of Jacksonville, Florida.

Davis's work is considered the first scholarly look at Florida's role in the war though it's also generally deemed to be now outdated. Published in 1913 by Columbia University, this fat tome clocks in at a hefty 769 pages. Its size makes finding a copy in fine condition a difficult task plus the book's paper is of poor quality. My copy is bound in brown cloth with gilt lettering on the spine though I've also seen first editions bound in dark green cloth.

It is also a pricey book. Be prepared to pay $500 to $750 for a fine first edition, though like the Dickison book, a modern facsimile reprint exists which can generally be had for under $100.

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