December 29, 2007

Grant's Memoirs

Anyone remotely familiar with the Civil War will have heard of the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, supreme commander of the Union forces in the field and eighteenth president of the United States. Not only are they considered a cornerstone work of Civil War history, they are also deemed the finest memoirs ever written by a U.S. president.

The story of how the work came to be is also of interest to bibliophiles. Grant and his family were financially devastated by scandal and failed investments in the years following his presidency. Therefore, in 1884 Grant set out to write his memoirs as a hoped-for mechanism to bring needed funds to the family. Grant began to feel a pain in his throat soon after he began dictating to his secretary. His pain worsened and before long, eating and swallowing became almost impossible. He then learned that he had terminal cancer necessitating that his work pace quicken. In early 1885, Grant signed a deal with his friend Mark Twain to have Charles Webster and Co. publish the books; a firm co-owned by Twain and his niece's husband. That summer, Grant and his family moved to a cottage in the Adirondacks to escape the summer heat. It was there that Grant finished his manuscript, working feverishly day and night in order to beat the reaper’s arrival. Grant died on July 23, 1885, just several days after turning the completed manuscript in to the publisher.

Twain published the Memoirs later that year and sent 16 general agents along with 10,000 door-to-door salesmen all over the country to sell the work. Many of those sales reps were Civil War veterans who wore their old, tattered army uniforms to create sympathy for their beloved general. Twain sincerely appreciated Grant's writing and he praised the Memoirs warmly. Of Grant he wrote, “This is the simple soldier, who, all untaught of the silken phrase-makers, linked words together with an art surpassing the art of the schools and put into them a something which will still bring to American ears, as long as America shall last, the roll of his vanished drums and the tread of his marching hosts.”

Grant's memoirs won critical acclaim and about 300,000 sets were sold. His widow Julia ultimately received over $400,000 in royalties from the project, thereby restoring the family fortune. As to the books themselves, the Memoirs were offered as a two-volume set with five binding options. They included a fine cloth binding with plain edges at $7.00 a set to a full-leather binding with hand-tooled gilt lettering at, what was then, a whopping $25 a set. In between were three partial-leather options. The least expensive editions were bound in dark green cloth and are today relatively common, though appreciating in price. ABE for instance, currently offers 10 sets ranging from $525 to $1250 in the deluxe morocco leather binding. Personally, I think a cloth-bound set in very nice condition can be had for under $300. Those leather-bound sets however (see picture), are the most desirable and are indeed scarce. All editions contain a typeset facsimile of Grant’s signature, yet many owners mistakenly believe that their copy is indeed signed by the late war hero. Obviously, Grant never lived to see the final product, let alone inscribe any copies of it.

December 28, 2007

Here's Another Online Article...

... about collecting Civil War books. It's fairly short and primarily discusses works of fiction.

December 27, 2007

Fourth Iowa Cavalry - Deluxe Edition

Not too long ago I was doing some book-based internet surfing and came across the Camp Pope Bookshop and Press. It appears that their specialty are "new and used books on the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the American Civil War." Admittedly, this is one facet of the war that I know very little about. One offering however, immediately caught my eye and that was their reprint of the Fourth Iowa Cavalry's official regimental history. The Story of a Cavalry Regiment: The Career of the Fourth Iowa Veteran Volunteers From Kansas to Georgia was written by William Forse Scott, the regiment's final adjutant. It was originally published by G. P. Putnam's in 1893 and is now a scarce book, what with prices for the first edition in the $400 to $600 range. It is also considered "the best history of a Hawkeye cavalry unit," according to Nevins, Robertson, and Wiley in their Civil War Books: A Critical Bibliography.

Camp Pope reprinted the book in 1992, describing it as "one of the best regimental histories ever written." Of particular note was a ten-copy deluxe edition handbound in Nigerian goatskin and fine linen bookcloth by Jeff Sandlin of Valparaiso, Indiana [see pic]. I wrote to the press asking if they could fill me in a bit on the book's genesis and proprietor Clark Kenyon graciously responded thusly:

This edition was done back when I had the reprint done in 1992. I had met Jeff Sandlin at the Midwest CW Collectors' Show in Wheaton, Illinois, some time earlier and saw that he sold CW books in fine leather bindings. I decided, considering the excellence of Scott's book as a regimental history, to make something special out of my reprint. I sent Jeff 10 copies which he rebound with a numbered edition page that identified him as the bookbinder. These were all shrink-wrapped. I had to hand number the books, but I didn't want to take them out of the shrink-wrap until they were sold, so I put a small sticker on each and numbered that. When someone ordered a book, I took off the shrink-wrap and wrote the number from the sticker on the numbered edition page. I left the choice of materials up to Jeff, with the specification that I wanted the edition to resemble the first edition, which was also 3/4 leather, each copy signed by the author and General Edward F. Winslow, who had been the commander of the 4th Iowa Cavalry. After nearly 16 years there are still two copies left, numbers 3 and 10.

The deluxe edition is priced at $150 and the regular reprint at $40. If you'd just like to read about the 4th Iowa, then a historical sketch of the regiment can be found here. The book itself is available online here via Google Print.

December 25, 2007

Santa Brought Me...

... a copy of Troubled Commeration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965. I'd wanted this one since it came out earlier this fall as it combines two of my favorite pastimes: the Civil War and modern American politics. It's garnered much favorable press and fits right in with the extensive current interest in historical memory.

Here's the rundown from the publisher:

In 1957, Congress voted to set up the United States Civil War Centennial Commission. A federally funded agency within the Department of the Interior, the commission's charge was to oversee preparations to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the central event in the Republic's history. Politicians hoped that a formal program of activities to mark the centennial of the Civil War would both bolster American patriotism at the height of the cold war and increase tourism in the South. Almost overnight, however, the patriotic pageant that organizers envisioned was transformed into a struggle over the Civil War's historical memory and the injustices of Jim Crow. In Troubled Commemoration, Robert J. Cook recounts the planning, organization, and ultimate failure of this controversial event and reveals how the broadbased public history extravaganza was derailed by its appearance during the decisive phase of the civil rights movement.

Cook shows how the centennial provoked widespread alarm among many African Americans, white liberals, and cold warriors because the national commission failed to prevent southern whites from commemorating the Civil War in a racially exclusive fashion. The public outcry followed embarrassing attempts to mark secession, the attack on Fort Sumter, and the South's victory at First Manassas, and prompted backlash against the celebration, causing the emotional scars left by the war to resurface. Cook convincingly demonstrates that both segregationists and their opponents used the controversy that surrounded the commemoration to their own advantage. Southern whites initially embraced the centennial as a weapon in their fight to save racial segregation, while African Americans and liberal whites tried to transform the event into a celebration of black emancipation.

Forced to quickly reorganize the commission, the Kennedy administration replaced the conservative leadership team with historians, including Allan Nevins and a young James I. Robertson, Jr., who labored to rescue the centennial by promoting a more soberly considered view of the nation’s past. Though the commemoration survived, Cook illustrates that white southerners quickly lost interest in the event as it began to coincide with the years of Confederate defeat, and the original vision of celebrating America's triumph over division and strife was lost.

The first comprehensive analysis of the U.S. Civil War Centennial, Troubled Commemoration masterfully depicts the episode as an essential window into the political, social, and cultural conflicts of America in the 1960s and confirms that it has much to tell us about the development of the modern South.

As other bloggers have noted, it will be interesting to see if the federal government does anything with the upcoming sesquicentennial.

December 22, 2007

New Expanded Edition of "Co. Aytch"

In my opinion, a major Civil War "reissue" has occurred and with surprisingly little fanfare. That being the reissue of Sam Watkin's cornerstone classic Co. "Aytch:" First Tennessee Regiment, or, A Sideshow of the Big Show in an expanded edition. If you saw Ken Burns' The Civil War TV mini-series, then you know of Watkins, for his memoir of serving as a Confederate foot soldier was quoted at length. According to the publisher, "The classic Co. Aytch has reigned as one of the most memorable and honest depictions of the American Civil War since its original publication in 1882. Sam R. Watkins's first-hand account of life as a Confederate soldier eloquently captured the realities of war, the humor and pathos of soldiering, and the tragic, historic events in which he participated. Although there have been dozens of versions of Co. Aytch published, this is the first with new material and revisions by Sam Watkins himself. Intending to republish after his first edition sold out, Watkins edited and revised Co. Aytch adding a new perspective that only came with time. He died before accomplishing his goal. Now more than one hundred years later, Watkins's great granddaughter, Ruth Hill Fulton McAllister is fulfilling Watkins s dream. Using his yellowed, aged, and pencil-marked copy handed down through different family members, McAllister has crafted a masterpiece that combines the ageless text with Sam Watkins's intended revisions.

This new edition incorporates actual images of Watkins's handwritten additions, all his desired editorial changes, and more than forty images. Desiring to be true to both her ancestor's wishes and the sanctity of his classic memoir, McAllister skillfully included Watkins's additions and artfully indicated what he would have omitted, leaving the original text intact. The result is a rich, expanded, director's cut version of Co. Aytch, sure to fascinate historians, Civil War enthusiasts, and new readers alike."

Serious book collectors will know that this newly revised and expanded edition also earns the bibliographic designation of "First Edition Thus." Unless you're one of the blessed few who own one of Sam's original firsts, this is now the edition to have on the shelf. I'm usually not one for predictions, but in this case, I'll venture that this first printing will only rise in value over the coming years. With bookshelf space at a premium, my hardcover reprint of the original book will soon be gone in order to make way for this collectible edition. Hat tip to J. D. Petruzzi for alerting me to this via his blog.

December 21, 2007

General Robert McAllister

Farmer and railroad executive before the war, Robert McAllister (1813 - 1891) first became an officer in the Civil War as the Lieut. Colonel of the 1st New Jersey Infantry before being promoted to colonel of the 11th New Jersey Infantry in August 1862. From there, he led his regiment through the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. At Gettysburg, McAllister was severeley wounded and carried off the field. According to this bio, McAllister went through "a four-month convalescence, then returned to his unit and was given command of his brigade. He never relinquished brigade command after that, and was repeatedly commended for his leadership in the subsequent Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and the Petersburg Campaign. He was promoted to Brevet Brigadier General on October 24, 1864 for gallant and distinguished service at the battle of Boydton Plank Road and then brevetted a full major general on March 13, 1865 for overall meritorious service during the war. When the end came at Appomattox, McAllister was there.

According to the publisher, McAllister was "not a flamboyant leader or a braggart," but rather "one of the quietly efficient commanders whose noble gallantry ultimately proved to be the salvation of the Union. He took part in all but two engagements of the Army of the Potomac and was twice wounded and three times promoted for heroism on the battlefield."

The Civil War Letters of General Robert McAllister were published by Rutgers University Press in 1965 under the auspices of the Archive Society for the New Jersey Civil War Centennial Commission. Not daring to keep a diary that might fall into enemy hands, McAllister wrote daily to his wife and daughters, providing an intricately detailed description of his wartime ordeal for posterity. Enhanced by James I. Robertson’s scholarly editing, the 637 letters presented here provide a comprehensive look at the experiences of the Army of the Potomac and one of its more overlooked generals. Due to the usually low nature of university press print runs, copies in premium condition are not easily found. Collectors should expect to pay $50 and up for a choice copy of this title. If you're looking to dig deeper than what the major generals had to say, this obscure soldier's personal letters could be a good and uncommon place to start.

December 19, 2007

Harry Potter and His Uncle Tom

Interesting comparison: Princeton English professor William Gleason compares the [Potter] series' impact to the frenzy that surrounded Uncle Tom's Cabin before the Civil War. "That book penetrated all levels of society," he says. "It's remarkable how similar the two moments are." Full article here.

Rising abolition sentiment in New England and the controversial Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 helped propel Uncle Tom's Cabin to huge best seller status when published in 1852.

Pictured is the 2-volume first edition currently offered at $15,000 by Between the Covers booksellers. They describe Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel as "the best-selling novel of the 19th Century, it spawned numerous offshoots and dramatic adaptations, and so polarized the nation over the issue of slavery that, according to legend, upon meeting Stowe, Abraham Lincoln jokingly cited it as the cause of the Civil War. Perhaps not the most famous novel ever written, and certainly not the best, but probably the single novel to exert the greatest direct influence on the course of American and world history."

December 16, 2007

"The Patriots" 1906 Obscure Pro-South Novel

Some eBay surfing the other night led me to a book entitled The Patriots: The Story of Lee and the Last Hope by Cyrus Townsend Brady (1861-1920). I'd never heard of it and the book's description led me to infer that it was a very pro-southern history of the war. The full-color illustrations inside depict some of the most romanticized Confederate imagery imaginable. Just check out the one of a gray-clad officer embracing his love while two dead Yankees lie on porch steps just feet away! My initial impression was wrong however, for some quick research told me that the book is really a historical novel that is supposedly heavy on "fact."

Today, Brady is all but forgotten but apparently he was quite a popular author for his time. He was both a clergyman and a novelist. He was a graduate of Annapolis and then resigned to become a railroad worker out west. He is credited with numerous historical novels, stories for boys, biographies, and histories.

As for this title, a January 1906 announcement for the book in the New York Times declared that it was "in Dr. Brady's best vein." Years later, the 1929 edition of Guide to Best Historical Novels and Tales described the novel as "being written in a manner that indicates careful research; moreover - while Lee is - in the second half of the book - the real hero - ("the Bayard of the South"), the author has also given a very pleasing picture of Lincoln in the short account of an interview."

With an opening bid of $120, it will be interesting to see how this one does. Though advertised as a first edition, me thinks it's a reprint as the original publisher was Dodd Mead and this copy is published by Grosset and Dunlap, a well-known reprint house way back in the day. By way of comparison, a signed and inscribed copy in "fair" condition is available on ABE for $50. Kessinger Publishing also reissued the book earlier this year as part of their Legacy Reprint Series, claiming that the work is "culturally important." For those who would just like to peruse this title, it's available here via Google Book Search.

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."

December 10, 2007

"Collecting Civil War Books"

An online article that gives an overview to collecting Civil War books.

Signed Copies of "Neighbor to Neighbor"

A book signing for the memoir Neighbor to Neighbor: A Memoir of Family, Community and Civil War in Appalachian North Carolina will be held Tuesday, Dec. 11, from 4:30-6:00 p.m. in room 421 Belk Library and Information Commons at Appalachian State University. A book talk by editors Sandra Ballard and Leila Weinstein and contributor Pat Beaver will begin at 5 p.m. The public is invited. The memoir of William Albert Wilson is an intimate and dramatic telling of the Civil War at home on the north fork headwaters of the New River in Ashe County.

December 8, 2007

Civil War Soldiers Home

Talk about an obscure topic. Just when you think every possible angle of the war has been covered, someone comes along to dispel the thought. In keeping with my affinity for local publishers covering local history, I've learned that author Robert Yott has released an updated version of his history of the Bath, New York soldiers home, which was initially built in 1872. According to this article, the home "was deemed vital for New York's Civil War veterans who, falling hard times, had been forced to live in veterans' homes located in other states. Not surprisingly, the Legislature incorporated the institution without committing any funds for its construction." Yott serves both as author and publisher of the book, which originally went on sale in 2006.

"Two hundred copies went like that," he said, adding he has printed 1,000 copies of the book to date.

December 6, 2007

Adios (For Now) To One Of My Favorite Blogs

For well over a year, an enjoyable part of my reading day was to check out the Grumpy Old Bookman blog, which emanates from the UK. Alas, Michael has decided to take a sabbatical for who knows how long.

Nevertheless, his site will remain up and offers over 1 million words of wit and insight to those book lovers so inclined. I recommend it and enjoy.

Battle of Shepherdstown - NEW Small Press book

Schroeder Publications of Lynchburg, Virginia has just published the first-ever book length study of the neglected battle at Sheperdstown, West Virginia. This new work by Thomas A. McGrath is titled Shepherdstown: Last Clash of the Antietam Campaign September 19-20, 1862 and also presents a foreword by historian Thomas Clemens and preface by publisher Patrick A. Schroeder. This 251-page hardcover explains the events that occurred on the banks of the Potomac near Shepherdstown, West Virginia as the last battle of the Antietam Campaign, which has also been known as the battle at Boteler's Ford. Photographs, illustrations, and maps help round out the author's narrative.

For those in the area, the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association has announced that they are holding a benefit dinner on December 13 at the Clarion Hotel in Shepherdstown to celebrate the publication of this book. Click here for more information, including how to obtain signed copies. I've learned that 750 copies comprise the first printing, so collectors may not want to wait too long on this one. Get a signed copy through the SBPA and support a good cause.

December 4, 2007

Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac

I’ve had my eye on a copy of William Swinton’s Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac for awhile now. It was first published in 1866 and is considered the first comprehensive treatment of that army’s fabled operations. Swinton, a former scholar, was there for part of the AOP’s history, serving as a correspondent for the New York Times during the action. In the introduction to his book, Swinton remarks how he was given important source information even while in the field when the participants realized his ultimate intentions. "It soon came about that, respecting every important action of the Army of the Potomac, there were brought to my hand, not only the manuscript official reports of its corps, division, and brigade commanders, but, for the illustration of its inner life and history, a prodigious mass of memoirs, private note-books, dispatches, letter-books, etc. In addition, I have had the benefit of the memory and judgment of most of the chief officers."

Of course, not all approved of Swinton’s information gathering tactics. At one point he was accused of eavesdropping on Generals Grant and Meade’s conversations. Instead of shooting him, which other generals would have gladly done, Grant let Swinton off with a reprimand. The next week, Ambrose Burnside asked Meade "that this man immediately receive the justice which was so justly meted out to another libeler of the press a day or two since, or that I be allowed to arrest and punish him myself." Burnside was incensed over a report Swinton wrote about his corps. "Grant got the impression that Burnside intended to shoot the reporter, and immediately ordered Swinton’s expulsion instead. [source]

His post-war efforts in trying to get the Southern story also bore fruit. "For the elucidation of the deeds of the Army of Northern Virginia, the mighty rival of the Army of the Potomac, my sources of information have been scarcely less ample,” wrote Swinton. “These embrace the complete 'Reports of the Army of Northern Virginia,' and many manuscript reports and documents kindly forwarded to me. I have also had the advantage of full conversations with most of the chief commanders of the Confederate army.”

Considering the mountain of scholarship that has emerged over the past several generations, the book today has more value as a historical artifact than as a viable twenty-first century resource. Allan Nevins in his Civil War Books described it as “perspicacious and wordy, but invaluable interpretation.” More recently, David Eicher’s The Civil War in Books (#1030) considered it “an important early work that, among other things, contains the first discussion in print of the dissension between Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg,” based on discussions between Longstreet and the author. A, not surprisingly, glowing 1866 review of the book in Swinton’s own paper, the New York Times, predicted the controversy to follow, noting how “Swinton tilts with a free lance and has pricked a score of full-blown reputations.”

The book was first published in spring 1866 by the Charles B. Richardson press of New York, less than a year after the war ended. It was a hefty 640 pages long and bound in brown cloth with gilt lettering on the spine. Considering that the work is now close to 150 years old, first edition copies in premium condition are hard to come by. Collectors should expect to pay several hundred dollars for a copy in collectible condition. Beat up ones are far more prevalent and if the price is right, these can be good candidates for rebinding in some type of fine leather as long as there are no dog-eared, missing or torn pages, maps, etc.