One of my favorite Civil War book collecting categories is battle books. These are the tactical or strategic narratives that describe anything from grand campaigns on down to daily or even hourly segments of certain engagements. For me, the more obscure the battle or skirmish, the better. From a collector’s perspective, if the publisher is likewise small or unknown, that’s fine as well. Of course, all of that has to be tempered with the perceived quality of the book. As other Civil War book buyers have written, some tell-tale indicators of a book’s scholarly qualities are the presence of notes and a bibliography that clearly illustrates the depth of primary source research, good quality maps, ample illustrations, as well as a good, detailed index. If any of these are lacking, I tend to pass.
Of course, collectors will often relax or even set aside these new book requirements when considering a battle book that’s 100 years old or more. One such title that is both quite valuable and exceedingly rare is Battle of Young's Branch or, Manassas Plain, Fought July 21, 1861. It was initially published in Richmond in 1862 in yellow paper wrappers and represents a highly partisan though reasonably accurate account of First Bull Run. The book is noted for being an important Confederate imprint, along with one having one of the engagement’s best maps. I also discovered an old New York Times online article from 1910 that described this item even back then as a “rare book.”
Certainly nothing has changed in that regard for a rebound copy offered for sale on ABE has an asking price of $2500. Fortunately, for those who would like to read the book, there exists a modern reprint published by the Prince William Historical Commission (see pic). According to the reprint’s new introduction, the book was written by its two authors to capitalize on the Confederate victory and to foster a martial spirit throughout the South. In addition, this rather thin book (145 pp.) contains details and anecdotes not found in any other study of First Manassas. To assist the modern reader, the new edition also features an index and a fold-out map of the battlefield which has been reproduced from the original at the National Archives. This title is also listed in Richard Harwell’s Cornerstones of Confederate Collecting. I know that the Manassas Battlefield Park bookstore had copies for sale just a few years ago so those interested may want to check with them.