December 14, 2007

Civil War-era Book Reviews

A number of fellow bloggers, such as Civil War Books and Authors and Civil War Librarian offer up fresh reviews of newly published books as the stated mission of their blogs. It's made me casually wonder how book reviewers in the Reconstruction era viewed the titles then being published. Some research the other day into Sherman's March led me to a post-war review of then-new titles; books that are highly collectible, pricey, and sought-after today. As you'll see, just because an individual was supposedly "there," doesn't mean the book holds much water, even well back in the day.

At the very least, I found the below review most entertaining, especially considering how the use of language has changed over the past century and a half. It appeared in the January 1866 issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine.

I especially love the first sentence. Though certainly apropos for today, such sentiment was obviously felt a mere eight months after the war ended!

The most omnivorous reader would vainly attempt to keep up with all the books - Histories, Biographies, Personal Adventures, Sketches, and Novels — for
which the war has given occasion. Sherman’s triumphant campaign has produced at least two of decided merit. Of Major Nichol’s Great March we have already
spoken at some length. Since the appearance of the early editions (the Twenty-Second has already been issued) the work has received a few important corrections from the Commanding General himself. A number of errors which had crept into his reports and letters as heretofore printed are corrected, and some valuable matter is added. Sherman and his Campaigns, by Colonel S. M. BOWMAN and Lieutenant-Colonel R. B. IRWIN (published, by Charles B. Richardson), takes a wider range, and claims to be a “Military Biography.” In preparing the work the authors had access to the Letter-Books and Order-Books of General Sherman and of other officers. The history of military operations seems to us to have been executed with great care and judgment. Its value is much enhanced by careful military maps, furnished by [Brevet] General [Orlando M.] Poe, the Chief Engineer, of the Operations around Resaca, of the Atlanta Campaign, of the March from Atlanta to the Sea, and of the March from Savannah to Goldsboro. Sherman’s March through the South, by Captain DAVID P. CONYNGHAM (published by Sheldon and Company), can hardly claim to be more than the residuum of the note-book of a “War Correspondent” — that being the precise function of the author. Among “War Correspondents” there is more than one who can, and we trust will, write books which will be portions of the History of the War. Mr. Conyngham has certainly failed to do this. Prison Life at the South, by Lieutenant A. O. ABBOTT(published by Harper and Brothers), is a section of a chapter in the war which we could almost wish might have remained forever unwritten; for, forget if we may, and forgive if we can, it must remain on perpetual record through all time that in the history of civilized nations there is nothing to compare with the wanton cruelties inflicted upon our prisoners who fell into the hands of the Confederates. Lieutenant Abbott, of the First New York Dragoons, was captured in the Wilderness early in May, 1864, and was liberated by exchange in February, 1865. During these nine months he was successively confined at Libby, Macon,Charleston, Savannah, and Columbia. He was spared from enduring the horrors of Andersonville. His narrative, written without bitterness, and with special mention of acts of consideration, which were exceptions to the rule, is full of interest. To it is appended about a score of narratives furnished by other prisoners at various points. The brief account by a prisoner at Andersonville confirms to a great extent—though also narrating some exceptions, especially on the part of the surgeons in charge — the representations elicited at the trial of [Captain Henry] Wirz. Not the least interesting portion of the book is the narrative of two escaped prisoners, one of whom was sheltered by ‘the negroes,’though afterward recaptured, and the other was for five weeks concealed in Charleston by members of the “Loyal Legion."

1 comment:

J. A. Barnes said...

Thanks for this post. I am right now immersed in the language of Civil War-era writers. I'm publishing a "collage novel." Through actual and fictional letters, journals, news stories, memoirs, official reports, and for the first time, the words of ex-slaves themselves, Sherman’s Fifth Corps gives a day by day account of Sherman's great march--on a blog.
Check it out at