November 6, 2007

First Edition of Longstreet's Memoirs

Confederate James Longstreet has long been regarded as one of the most famous and controversial of Civil War generals. Warmly described by Robert E. Lee throughout the war as his “old war horse,” Longstreet, a Georgia native, earned the enmity of the ex-Confederacy’s surviving Virginia generals in the post-bellum years by cozying up to the Republican Party and generally trying to make an honest peace with his old northern enemies. In a series of blistering speeches led by Jubal Early and other “Lost Cause” apologists during the 1870’s, Longstreet became the fall guy for the South losing the war, primarily due to his alleged tardiness and perceived lack of conviction during the July 2-3, 1863 timeframe at Gettysburg. Longstreet remained relatively quiet in answering these charges however in 1896, after five years of research and writing, “Ol’ Pete” formally answered his critics by publishing his memoirs, creating a firestorm of controversy amongst the elderly Confederate survivors that may have rivaled the intense military debates of today.

The book was titled From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America and was published by the J. B. Lippincott Co. of Philadelphia. It was a huge, massive production, running just under 700 pages and featuring numerous illustrations and maps that had been commissioned specifically for the work. The book is a bit dry and the reader must keep in mind the author’s animus toward his critics, nevertheless historian Richard Harwell, in his famous In Tall Cotton, described Longstreet’s memoirs (#114) as ”provocative” and “basic to any study of the Army of Northern Virginia.”

The first edition was bound in deep red cloth and featured the inlaid design of a uniformed, gray-sleeved forearm with hand holding a sword on the front cover. The lettering was in gold gilt as were parts of the cover inlay. Truly a beautiful production. Because of Longstreet’s prominence, the first printing was quite healthy, meaning that finding a first edition today is not too difficult. Due to its thick size however, the book did not wear that well so finding a copy today in fine condition can be more problematic. Those that do exist tend to be priced in the $500 range. I chose the rebinding route which is also quite popular. I came across a reasonably priced first edition copy that was fairly beat up externally, however the pages were in good shape, so I had my bookbinder create a new binding of full English goatskin, a kangaroo skin label, with some nice inlays and gold leaf lettering on the spine (see pic). Bookbinding as art…. Of special interest to rare book collectors and something I only learned of recently, was that Longstreet and the publisher also issued an “Autograph Edition” limited to only 250 specially-bound copies. A copy was sold at auction on June 10, 2006 for $6,325. I’m sure the Longstreet autograph represented a good portion of that price. Particulars and pictures of this rare edition are available here.

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