November 12, 2008

Sabbatical

I once read somewhere that blogging can become like an addictive drug. Not only thinking of things to post about, but also commenting at others sites and then of course, checking back to see if anyone responded and so on and so forth. Speaking solely for myself, I’d have to concur with that observation.

I had no idea what to expect when I started this blog fifteen months and close to 200 posts ago. At the time, and still for that matter, it was nothing more than a lite diversion; a means of sharing an enjoyable book collecting hobby with others of like mind, and perhaps a way to release the frustrated teacher in me. I’d say it’s been successful. The bibliographic research involved with this blog has certainly helped me learn more about various Civil War books, hit counts have steadily increased, and feedback has been positive.

But there’s been a downside, relatively speaking. It has seriously taken away from the time I could have been working on more serious stuff, like my next book for instance. For me anyway, blogging has started to give the illusion of productivity; whereas in the past I may have viewed my writing day as successful if I hammered out several pages of book-related narrative, I now measured it instead by blogging. As for my avocations, this became an unplanned reversal of priorities. After factoring in the day job and family obligations, I’ve come to realize that I can do one reasonably well but not both.

In order to refocus, I’m going to go cold turkey with this blog for the time being. My O.M. Poe biography has been in Kent State’s hands for awhile, which should have allowed me to make some headway on my next project. For the better part of the past year however, that book-length work on Detroit in the Civil War has languished while I’ve been a-bloggin’. I want to dive back into that book in the hope that it might be ready for the ACW sesquicentennial.

So for the time being, this blog is going on sabbatical. I’ll leave it up for those bibliophiles who might use it as a reference tool and I’ll certainly respond to anyone kind enough to write. Adios.

November 4, 2008

Lee's Lieutenants: A Study in Command

Douglas S. Freeman's Lee's Lieutenants is a cornerstone work for any Civil War library. This three-volume set was initially published during the WWII years (1942-45) by Charles Scribners Sons and according to Harwell's In Tall Cotton, "stands in its own right as one of the great works of military history." Praise is generally universal, though Freeman's tone occasionally becomes that of the Southern apologist. Nevins described it as "the ablest descriptive and evaluative study of the leading generals in Lee's army; massively documented, movingly written, highly authoritative, and faintly smug."

First edition copies seem plentiful, but like any books of this vintage, condition can be problematic. Look for the Scribner "A" on the copyright page to denote first edition status. Choice copies in jacket will obviously command premium prices. The pictured set, available here, features a rare Freeman signature and is available for a cool $5000.

The set has also recently been given the Easton Press leatherbound, gilt-edge treatment.

November 1, 2008

Upcoming Civil War Auction

For those interested in such things, Heritage Auction Galleries will be conducting their "2008 November Signature Civil War Auction" in Gettysburg, PA. on November 20-21. The entire 954-lot catalogue is online here. It looks to have only one book so far, but many artifacts and paper emphemera.

October 31, 2008

George S. MacManus Co.

I'm back from a several day business trip to the Philadelphia area which included a side trip to Gettysburg on the front end and a visit to the absolutely amazing George S. MacManus Co. (est. 1937) bookstore at the very back end. In between, it was a non-stop Phillies Phever feeding frenzy. Since Tampa Bay was the American League rep, which is where my Detroit Tigers are stationed, and since I lived in Florida for most of my life, well, you can imagine who I was silently rooting for. Needless to say, I laid low in the sports bar on Wednesday night.

The trip to the MacManus shop was simply breathtaking. Never in my life have I seen such quantity and quality of rare Civil War books within the walls of one shop. As is mentioned in their current Civil War catalogue, MacManus acquired a significant portion of the inventory of the famous Chapel Hill Rare Books when its owner, Douglas O'Dell, passed away last year. Much of that stock has now been incorporated into their own offerings. 19th-century regimentals in pristine condition filled an entire bookcase. Multiple copies of scarce and rare Neale titles, some in jacket. Fine first editions from the 1940's and 1950's, all in crisp dust jackets. I could go on and on. I ended up digging deep into my pocket to buy a beautiful first edition 2-volume set of The Long Arm of Lee in the original slipcase. It was the only one of the four first edition sets in stock that had the slipcase.

I make it to Philly about three times a year for business purposes. This shop will be a standard stop going forward. Civil War bibliophiles visiting the City of Brotherly Love should do likewise. But be forewarned - this store can be dangerous to the thickness of one's wallet! :-)

October 30, 2008

McCain and Obama Share Their Favorite Books

From The Christian Science Monitor 10/29/2008 -

"It’s not the first question they generally toss out to presidential candidates, but Katie Couric finally got around to it and asked John McCain and Barack Obama to name their favorite books.

Their choices are illuminating – and yet at the same time completely unsurprising.

Both candidates stuck with American classics, although of different generations. McCain says his favorite book is Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 Spanish civil war novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Barack Obama’s favorite is Toni Morrison’s 1977 novel “Song of Solomon.”

The appeal of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” for McCain is easy to understand. Robert Jordan, the protagonist, is an American fighting on the side of the Republicans in Spain. The mission he is sent on, to blow up a bridge, is a doomed one, but Jordan’s greatest fear is being captured and tortured by the enemy. The horrors of war and the intense camaraderie of wartime are major themes throughout the book. Interestingly, there are also occasional discussions of politics and even (at least once) taxes.

“But are there not many fascists in your country?” one of the Republican fighters asks Jordan. “There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes,” he replies.

Obama’s attraction to “Song of Solomon” is equally easy to understand. The book is the life story of an African-American man named Macon “Milkman” Dead III, set during the 1950s and ’60s.

The narrative weaves together the points of view of various members of Milkman’s family. It touches on themes of identity, family relationships, the rootlessness of African-Americans who live in northern cities, and the effects of slavery. Part of Milkman’s quest is his search for connection to a community. “It was a good feeling to come into a strange town and find a stranger who knew your people,” he thinks at one point. “All his life he’d heard the tremor in the word: ‘I live here, but my people . . .’ or: ‘She acts like she ain’t got no people,’ or: ‘Do any of your people like there?’ But he hadn’t known what it meant: links.”

Two very different books – chosen by men with two very different world views."

October 28, 2008

My Visit to the Gettysburg VC

Much ink has been spilled over the past several months regarding the new Gettysburg Visitors Center and whether or not it has lived up to what different folks feel it should be. Based on what I’ve read, most of the commentary has been negative, especially in the pages of Civil War News with much of the opinion being that there is too much focus on slavery and “context” and not enough space devoted to the displaying of the artifact-rich Rosensteel Collection.

I have also weighed in on the slavery and context issues but not having seen the new VC, I based my general observations on those battlefields and museums I have visited, along with some of the commentary from the NPS. So needless to say, I was ready to give the Gettysburg VC a stern once-over when I had the opportunity to visit it this past Monday. I admit that I had visions of political correctness run amok and was already preparing for a scathing review.

Well, it’s not going to happen. Color me suitably impressed with what I saw and let me tell you why. First off, I’m not a ballistics or weapons guy. I don’t know the differences between revolver A and B or the nuances of one sword manufacturer versus another. Therefore, the half-dozen or so glass cases of various weaponry were more than adequate for me.

I should point out that the one-fee-for-everything including admission is now in effect. I paid $7.50 for admittance to the museum, Cyclorama painting, and the 22-minute film entitled “New Birth of Freedom.” I found that film to be an excellent introduction. Yes, it starts off by discussing slavery and how it shaped the war, yet by my watch, over half the film was still devoted to the battle of Gettysburg. The museum, by the way, is officially named the “Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War.” Like the film, it delves into the causes of the war as well as the war as a whole, nevertheless much of the museum is still devoted to the battle.

As for the bookstore/gift shop, there were far more books than I was expecting. Every major Gettysburg book I could think of from the past ten years or so was in stock, including the major offerings from authors such as Sears, Pfanz, Reardon, Wert, Wittenberg-Petruzzi, etc. Not only Gettysburg-oriented, but plenty of other battles, Union bios, Confederate bios, and every social aspect of the war including women, slavery, memoirs, etc. In addition, I was surprised to see quite a few long OP titles from Kessinger Publishers, which specializes in print-on-demand reprints of much older titles.

Regarding the debate as to how the VC was sold compared to what it is, well, I am simply not well-versed enough on those past promises to offer an educated opinion.

As for demographics, I’d say the mix of visitors was pretty evenly split between male and female, with average age definitely 40+, though there were several charter tours of high school/college age kids. I did not see any persons of color anywhere in the Visitors Center or during my audio tour of the battlefield. As I've written before, African-Americans as a group may simply have little interest in the American Civil War, regardless of how much "context" the NPS throws at the issue.

All in all, I was quite impressed with the new VC. Ample room, ample parking, good interpretation with plenty of focus on the core topic but just the right amount of context to aid the novice.

October 26, 2008

Off to the Gettysburg VC

I'm heading to southeast Pennsylvania for a several-day business trip, however I'm also leaving a day earlier than necessary so that I can take a side trip to Gettysburg. My intent is to do a thorough visit to the new Gettysburg Visitors Center and see first-hand what all the hubbub is about. I'll post my comments mid-week.

October 25, 2008

Andover, Ma. in the Civil War

Here's another small press, regional item just uncovered. This 128-page paperback book is titled Andover in the Civil War: The Spirit and Sacrifice of a New England Town and is authored by Joan Patrakis ($21.99, Historical Press). It discusses how Andover responded to the Civil War and how everyday folks were affected by it.

Her research shows that the Andover Light Infantry was the military company formed in Andover at the start of the Civil War. It was sent to Fort Warren on Georges Island, Boston, where it was mustered into the 14th Massachusetts Regiment as Company H. From Fort Warren, the 14th Regiment was sent off to the Virginia war front. The 14th regiment's assignment at the war front was to guard the city of Washington. For 2 1/2 years the Andover boys were assigned to the forts in Virginia. Company H, Andover, was one of 10 companies from the towns of Essex County that made up the 14th Massachusetts Regiment. The 14th Mass. Regiment eventually was designated as the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery.

Full online article here. It appears the author will have a discussion and signing October 29 for anyone in the Massachusetts area who would like a signed copy.

October 23, 2008

The Long Arm of Lee

If you have a penchant for Confederate artillery operations, then The Long Arm of Lee: The History of the Artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia by Jennings Cropper Wise is clearly the book to own. This standard work was originally published in 1915 by J. P. Bell of Lynchburg, Va. as a two-volume set, when Wise was commandant of the Virginia Military Institute and a skilled artillerist in his own right. He was also a lawyer and a grandson of a former governor of Virginia.

The Long Arm of Lee has never been surpassed as an authoritative study of the Confederate artillery in the Civil War. Nevins refers to it as “an exhaustive valuable study, often consulted and widely quoted.” Eicher’s Civil War in Books also heaps considerable praise, referring to it as “a book that after [90] years still dominates others on the topic,” while Douglas Freeman in his South to Posterity noted that Long Arm contained “many photographs not to be found elsewhere.” Volume I describes the organization and tactics of the field batteries of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and their performance in famous battles, including those at Bull Run, Malvern Hill, Cedar Mountain, Harper's Ferry, Sharpsburg, and Fredericksburg. It ends with the bitter winter interlude before the Chancellorsville campaign of the spring of 1863. Volume 2 of Wise's history, also in print as a Bison Book, takes up the harrowing events stretching from Chancellorsville to Appomattox. In his introduction to this newer reprint, historian Gary W. Gallagher addresses some of the myths exposed by Wise, touching on the persistent under-estimation of the artillery's role in winning battles.

First editions are obviously pricey. They were originally bound in red cloth and though I’m not 100% certain, I think they came housed in a slipcase. The book has also become quite scarce. In fact, bookseller Dave Zullo reports in his latest catalog that “most of the original 1915 editions were destroyed in a fire and most of the remaining unbound books were sold to Barnes and Noble.” Based on copies currently for sale on the internet, it appears that these later-bound “first editions” can be ascertained by “Barnes and Noble” being stamped at the base of the spine whereas the true firsts have "Bell Publishing Co." and an illustration of Lee on the spine.

The book is also available for reading online at Google Print.

October 19, 2008

The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research

I recently discovered this library-oriented reference book, which seems to be one of the newest and at 768 pages, one of largest devoted to the Civil War. It's titled The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research and is edited by Steven Woodworth. It first appeared twelve years ago from the Greenwood Press and seems to be still in print. The price however, is not for the faint of heart. It retails at $165 though copies can be had in the secondary market for as low as $125.

According to Booklist, "This is the third bibliography of Civil War books to be published this year [1996], and it is the most comprehensive. Woodworth is a history professor at Toccoa Falls College, Georgia, and the author of several books and articles on the war. This massive work has 47 contributors, all distinguished scholars on the period. Some of the well-known contributors are John Marszalek, Mark Grimsley, Mark Neely, and Stephen Wise. The 47 bibliographic essays are divided into 11 subject areas (e.g., "General Secondary Sources," "Illustrative Materials," "International Relations," "Leaders, Strategy and Tactics," "The Home Front"). There is good representation of both social and military issues. Most essays range from 10 to 20 pages in length, including a bibliography at the end of the essay with full bibliographic citations. This book is intended to guide both the neophyte and the experienced Civil War scholar. The essays show trends and changes in historical interpretations and sometimes even mention areas in need of further research. A random examination of several essays shows most of the items were published since 1970. The essays cite 3,960 books, articles, dissertations, and such media as videos, television, and recordings. For example, the essay on musical and narrative recordings surveys approximately 955 titles. A random comparison of the bibliographies of 10 essays found very little duplication of titles. A large appendix provides information on 516 publishers and dealers of Civil War literature, with address and telephone number and occasionally fax and toll-free telephone number and e-mail address. The volume concludes with author, title, and subject indexes."

James McPherson provides the introduction. In it, he writes: "The first guide to Civil War literature to appear in nearly 30 years, this book provides the most comprehensive, up-to-date, and informative survey and analysis of the vast body of Civil War literature. More than 40 essays, each by a specialist in a particular subfield of Civil War history, offer unmatched thoroughness and discerning assessments of each work's value. The essays cover every aspect of the war from strategy, tactics, and battles to logistics, intelligence, supply, and prisoner-of-war camps, from generals and admirals to the men in the ranks, from the Atlantic to the Far West, from fighting fronts to the home front. Some sections cover civilian leaders, the economy, and foreign policy, while others deal with the causes of war and aspects of Reconstruction, including the African-American experience during and after the war. Breadth of topics is matched by breadth of genres covered. Essays discuss surveys of the war, general reference works, published and unpublished papers, diaries and letters, as well as the vast body of monographic literature, including books, dissertations, and articles. Genealogical sources, historical fiction, and video and audio recordings also receive attention. Students of the American Civil War will find this work an indispensable gateway and guide to the enormous body of information on America's pivotal experience."

As I've written before, reference books and bibliographies are the core of any good library, whether assembled by a serious reader, reseracher, or author. Looks like this one should have a home on that Civil War library's reference shelf.

Portions of the book are available at Google Print.

October 16, 2008

"A Gift on Hallowed Ground"

Columnist George Will on the private sector efforts at Gettysburg in today's Washington Post. Amen to the next-to-last paragraph....

National Book Award Nominee

Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War has been nominated for this year's National Book Award in the non-fiction category. NY Times review here.

October 13, 2008

The Union Bookshelf

There have been plenty of Civil War bibliographies published over the years designed to assist the collector, librarian or researcher who is looking to assemble a first-rate Confederate library. At the top of the list are surely the venerable In Tall Cotton and its more recent cousin, In Taller Cotton. The granddaddy of all was Douglas Southall Freeman's South to Posterity: An Introduction to the Writing of Confederate History, published in 1939. A few years later came Travels in the Confederate States: A Bibliography by E. Merton Coulter.

The same cannot be said of Union bibliographies; at least until 1982 when Michael Mullins and Rowena Reed assembled The Union Bookshelf: A Selected Civil War Bibliography, which was published by Tom Broadfoot. Within the book's 81 sturdy pages, the authors have compiled and commented on the 246 books that they believed, at the time of its publication, represented the best work for those interested in studying or collecting books from the Union perspective. The book is divided into three sections: annotated works, regimental histories, and participant accounts. It includes an index and numerous reproductions of the books' title pages.

Though perhaps a bit dated, it is still a useful reference source for Civil War bibliophiles. I think it's still available from the publisher.

October 9, 2008

"Jeb" Stuart

The mail recently brought a copy of the just-published Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J.E.B. Stuart (Simon & Schuster, 512 pp.) by Jeffrey D. Wert. Its appearance reaffirms what appears to be an important and ongoing trend in contemporary Civil War scholarship; that being the thorough reexamining by today’s historians of important, though previously well-traveled Civil War subjects. Not that that’s a bad thing. The advent of the internet, email, and other technological advances within the past twenty years or so have unearthed scores of archival and primary sources that may have been previously unknown to researchers of earlier generations. This previously untapped material now allows for (hopefully) fresh insights into core Civil War campaigns and personalities. This year alone has seen new books by well-known authors on such topics as Sherman’s March, the Valley Campaign of 1862, and now a new bio of “Jeb” Stuart.

According to the jacket flap, it represents the first scholarly biography of Stuart in decades and draws upon such primary sources as those described above. The advance comments are what you would expect for an important, new work by a brand-name author in Civil War history. For instance, one jacket blurb notes that by “scrupulously avoiding the pitfalls of either blind worship or reckless iconoclasm, Jeffry Wert recounts the successes and failures of this remarkable soldier in a masterful study that combines diligent research and fresh analysis with the prose of a gripping novel. A must for any bookshelf.” I’d like to assume that’s true and I hope to give a more detailed commentary down the road.

Though I’ve not read the entire book, I immediately looked up one event as soon as it arrived. Having recently completed a biography of Orlando M. Poe, I wanted to see how Wert described the September 11, 1861 affair at Lewinsville, Va. Stuart and Poe had been West Point classmates and this minor engagement marked the only time they were directly engaged with each other on the field of battle. After the skirmish was over, Poe left a hastily-written letter on the field for Stuart “in care of whoever finds it.” What Poe wrote, who else he referenced in the letter, how Stuart responded and what Jeb then did with the letter are all well documented. Yet, in this instance, the author completely whiffed as to who wrote or said what, and to whom. Hopefully, this will end up being an inconsequential quibble on my end.

As for previous Stuart biographies, three come readily to mind. The first two are somewhat collectible, especially if the dust jacket is present. The first was authored by John A. Thomason and published by Scribners in 1930. It is simply titled Jeb Stuart. According to historian Allan Nevins, the book is “strongly sympathetic in tone” and is “fairly successful at capturing Stuart’s personality,” however “it includes little on the larger struggle in which Stuart was engaged.” First editions tend to be offered in the $50 range. If the rare jacket is present, it would probably command well over $100. Pictured copy offered here.


Burke Davis’ Jeb Stuart: The Last Cavalier followed twenty-seven years later in 1957. It was published by Rinehart and is still in print. Like Thomason’s earlier work, it is considered a “sympathetic and personal” look at Stuart that tends to focus on the man rather than cavalry ops. Reading copies of this work are everywhere though true first editions in jacket are priced similar to Thomason’s earlier bio.

The most recent of the three Stuart bios prior to Wert’s is Bold Dragoon: The Life of J.E.B. Stuart by Emory Thomas, which was published by Harper & Row in 1986. Like Davis’ work, it is still in print. It is also the only one of the three to be included in David Eicher’s Civil War in Books: An Analytical Bibliography. According to Eicher, thirty percent of the book focuses on Stuart’s pre-war years on the frontier, which helps make it a true biography rather than a mere record of Civil War service. Like the other two, it also presents a sympathetic portrait of Stuart.

October 7, 2008

Tomorrow Night in Columbus, Ohio

I'll be speaking tomorrow night (Wed.) before the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable in Columbus, Ohio. The topic pertains to my first book on the Civil War in Florida. Hope to see you there and let me know if you're a visitor to this blog!


October 6, 2008

Where Are the Best Civil War Bookstores?

It's safe to say that readers of this blog live throughout the four corners of our country and even outside the US. So as a community service to our fellow Civil War book lovers and bibliophiles, let me pose this question: What are the best used bookstores in the United States when it comes to the Civil War books? Open shops only – no mail order. Hopefully, I’ll get enough responses so that everyone will learn of one or two to keep in mind during future travels. My favorite has to be the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop in Chicago.

October 5, 2008

A Friendly Offer To Civil War Authors

New Civil War authors who are contemplating submitting work to North & South magazine and who would, of course, expect to be compensated are welcome to contact me regarding my recent experience with this publication.

October 1, 2008

Field Diary of a Confederate Soldier

A most interesting limited edition came to my attention the other day while looking over some upcoming auction items. This one is titled The Field Diary of a Confederate Soldier While Serving With the Army of Northern Virginia by Draughton Stith Haynes. It was published in 1963 by the Ashantilly Press out of Darien, Georgia. This fine press offering runs only forty-four pages and was limited to a mere 400 copies. The book is bound in maroon cloth and features a tipped-in portrait of Haynes in uniform which was used as the frontispiece. The press also added 3 maps and 3 woodcuts. Haynes’ diary seems to be routinely cited in books about the Antietam Campaign but beyond that, I can’t say much about it.

Copies for sale are not common. I found only two with asking prices of $125 and $235.

The Ashantilly Press was founded by Bill Haynes (related to the author?) in the mid-1950s and it became known as an outstanding, award-winning, private press. About 30 books were printed by Haynes at Ashantilly Press over the years with the press ceasing around 1991.

Draughton Haynes was born in 1837 and enlisted in the 49th Georgia Infantry in March 1862. He died in 1879. Anyone out there own a copy?


September 29, 2008

Civil War Battlefield Exhibits - Final Comments

Kevin Levin and Eric Wittenberg have followed up my earlier post with their own takes on the interpretive changes underway at our ACW battlefields. Having read the many responses over the past several days, I’ll make this final observation.

Kevin makes the case that Gettysburg has become a symbol for so much more than just a large-scale Civil War battle. That Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the “tide-turning” historiography of Gettysburg and its sheer size make it a most unique place compared to any other Civil War battlefield. Therefore, I concede his point that Gettysburg can, and perhaps should be an excellent choice to feature a broad narrative of the entire war and its causes. In a response to Eric’s post, Kevin also points out that interpretive debate has been going on for decades at these parks and therefore, this latest round should be viewed as no big deal. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this latest round was the first time that Congress legislated that a certain perspective be presented! Further, it appears that the controversial Congressional mandates and Jesse Jackson Jr. speeches from the past decade dictated that such a broad-based view not be limited to our premier ACW battlefield, but should extend to all NPS sites. The fact that all sites must now broaden the scope of their interpretation and its apparent depth is the crux of my issue, which I think Kevin agrees with.

What seems to be oh-so-carefully-worded is the real “why” of those mandates, though I have a hunch that it’s a sister racial elephant sitting in the other corner of this room. Kevin writes how “one is hard pressed to find black Americans at Gettysburg today, although it seems to me that they have as much of a reason to do so as any citizen” and that “Gettysburg belongs to all Americans.” Jackson’s speech entitled “A More Perfect Union, which got the legislative ball rolling, says basically the same thing. No argument here to any of that. In fact, I’d say it’s self-evident, or, at least should be. The essence of the “problem” however, as vocalized by Jackson and Gettysburg Superintendent John Latschar, is a perceived lack of African-American interest in these Civil War sites, i.e., the absence of black faces at Gettysburg that Kevin mentions. This lack of interest was driven, in Jackson’s opinion, by an inability (unwillingness?) of African-Americans to “relate” to the traditional battlefield interpretations with their, as he saw it, narrow military focus which apparently translates into a primarily “white” focus. Latschar acknowledged this as well by saying in 2003 that, "Generally speaking, Civil War parks have failed to appeal to the black population of America." Further, any interpretation based solely on military matters put the NPS in the position of subtly endorsing a Southern point of view, a characterization that retired NPS Chief Historian Dr. Dwight Pitcaithley felt was well taken. According to Latschar, "For the past 100 years, we've been presenting this battlefield as the high watermark of the Confederacy and focusing on the personal valor of the soldiers who fought here." According to three visiting historians in 1998, Gettysburg's interpretive programs had a "pervasive southern sympathy." This is illustrated by what has become famously known as "Pickett's Charge" rather than, say, "Meade's Defense." The “cure” then, per Jackson and Congress, was to readjust the interpretive lens so that Civil War battlefields would be more “accessible.” As Jackson himself acknowledged, “Race, I must tell you, is the lens through which I, as an African American, view American history.”

Gee, and so many of us thought that the fundamental reason for the NPS’ interpretive sea-change was all in the name of superior scholarship and delivering a more advanced understanding of the war. While no one suggests that the purported African-American disinterest in the study of Civil War battlefields is a “good” thing, I’m still sincerely struggling to understand why so many view it as a “bad” thing. Again, to quote Latschar: "Park visitors are predominantly adult white males. Males far outnumber females and white visitors far, far outnumber black visitors and all other minorities. If the park is going to survive as a public institution supported by taxpayer funds, I suggested that it might want to appeal to a broader cross-section of the American taxpaying population." Is this a deftly-worded political statement or a simple economic one? Remember, there are historical topics ad infinitum that people could have an interest in, but simply don’t. My mother-in-law has a keen interest in 19th-century quilts and the related shows and events that go with it. The entire scene is female-dominated. Should they somehow change things to make it more palatable to males?

The black contribution to the northern war effort was immense and should be celebrated. It is quite possible the Union might not have been saved had it not been for the contribution of the 100,000+ USCT’s. Today, I believe there are a good number of African-American men who interpret these soldiers through various reenactment groups. I’ve also seen many African-American women at so-called “sutler’s camps.” The level of African-American scholarship within the Civil War is self-evident. My hope is that anyone of any ethnicity or color who wishes to learn about the Civil War will be welcomed into the public dialogue with open arms. This, of course, holds true for participatory activities as well.

On the other hand, it’s OK by me if someone has no interest, either. Let’s just not tap-dance around why we’re making these fundamental interpretive changes at our national military parks. From what’s been written and discussed, I’ve inferred that the core reason is a belief that we want to attract more African-American visitors to Civil War battlefields and in order to do so, we’re altering the narrative to include discussions that the powers that be believe will be of greater interest to them. Thus, another example of Gallagher’s Reconciliation Cause giving way to the currently vogue Emancipation Cause. Publicly proclaiming that we’re broadening the narrative to give visitors a more well-rounded, historically accurate contextual picture is a straw man argument that dodges the real issue, in my humble opinion. And there’s nothing wrong at all with that core reason – let’s just be honest about it!

Latschar has previously said that Lost Cause mythology was, in its day, the ultimate in “politically correct” thinking. He makes a very good point; let’s just admit that this current trend in revising the interpretation at Civil War battlefields is likewise primarily driven by contemporary racial politics. And hey, that’s OK! If so many of us say that we need an “open dialogue” about race, and I believe we do, then let’s start by admitting that we’re going to talk about race.


September 23, 2008

Pass the Maalox, Please...

Yeah, I know this one is way off-topic, but hey, it's still book related! Nevertheless, I've got to get this off my chest --- It's not even freakin' October yet and I'm ready to mail in my interest in the NFL season.

You see, I am a life-long, bleeding brown and orange, dog-barking Cleveland Browns fan. Is there any more long-suffering group of masochists? I'm convinced that much of my gray hair was caused by years of watching this team on autumn Sundays. For decades, I've been amazed at the way the Brownies could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The list is legendary - "The Drive," "The Fumble," "Red Right 88," etc, etc." It's gotten to the point that many are convinced there is a curse on Brownstown.

But this year was supposed to be different! The playoffs were in sight! It all was supposed to come together this year, what with a 10-6 season last year, five Pro Bowlers on offense and big money spent in the offseason for a revamped defensive line. The NFL, in turn, rewarded the Brownies with FIVE prime-time, national TV evening games!

Yeah right.... Can there be a more overrated team right now in the NFL, when you consider preseason expectations and the current 0 - 3 results? Which includes two divisional losses to the despised Ravens and the even more despised mouth-breathers from western Pa.! The vaunted offense has scored a grand total of 26 points thru three games and both sides of the ball are just riddled with injuries. The head coach looks lost as does the starting QB.

So, once again, it's back to the past for Browns fans and talk of "next year." At least we can take solace with the new book pictured above, cuz there sure aint nuthin' happening with the Browns this year, again....


September 21, 2008

On the Nature of Exhibits at ACW Battlefields

As anyone who surfs the Civil War blogosphere will know, the new Gettysburg Battlefield Visitors Center has stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy ever since its opening months back. It seems everything, including the quantity of artifacts, admission fees, and the quality or lack thereof of the bookstore/gift shop has come under fire. One issue that has also generated debate is the nature of the exhibits, which seem to have shifted from a purely military interpretation to one that now draws focus toward slavery, race and their roles as the cause of the war and their bitter legacy once the war ended.

Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory has done excellent work in chronicling these issues and their relativity to how we in the 21st century have chosen to remember the Civil War. He writes in a response to one comment as to how the new Gettysburg VC provides a "sophisticated narrative that deals with some very difficult issues such as the cause of the war." Let's be frank. The issues of slavery, race and the uneasiness that such topics still present to us as a society 150 years later is the elephant in the corner of the room that many are dancing around as part of this debate. Heck, anyone who is closely following the current presidential election has read editorials ad nauseum that describe this elephant. As to the ACW, a core question is in what type of venue, how, and to what extent should the central cause of the war be explained to a 21st-century public who wants to learn more about the Civil War.

All clear thinkers will acknowledge that slavery was the fundamental reason for the war, and that it left a bitter legacy for decades to follow. But should those facts be front, center, and rear at every turn? From what I've experienced from visits to major battlefield visitor centers and traveling museum exhibitions over the past ten years or so, it seems that race and gender (Gallagher’s Emancipation Cause) have taken leading positions in the "new" enlightened narrative which the NPS has obviously embraced. It appears that the traditional battlefield narratives of tactics, “glory,” gallantry, etc. have now been given a back seat, whereas the "why" of the war and its lasting social impact are paramount. In other words, and in my humble opinion, the racial "historical context" that we all agree is important has become preeminent and, dare I say, perhaps even somewhat "in your face." Let me stress, I am not arguing that slavery’s primacy should not be discussed at a battlefield dedicated to interpreting a specific Civil War engagement, but only questioning to what degree relative to the battlefield’s raison d'ĂȘtre. This applies to museum exhibits as well. To illustrate my point, I clearly recall how at a major museum exhibition in Orlando, Florida titled “The Civil War in Florida,” there was more space (which included interactive exhibits) given to the legacy of slavery and its impact on the 1960’s civil rights movement than there was to presenting the 1864 Florida Campaign and its climactic battle of Olustee.

It's just my non-scientific opinion, but I believe that most people who visit a Civil War battlefield like Gettysburg do so to learn about that particular 19th-century battle or campaign. They have their maps in hand and try to envision the gray or blue lines sweeping over the fields they’re standing on. Perhaps they’ll briefly close their eyes and try to smell the smoke and hear the roar of battle within their mind’s eye. Having seen the lay of the land, they now understand how a unique piece of geography may have affected a particular outcome. Everyone agrees that some background context is important but from what I’ve personally seen and read, it feels like there’s been a tidal-shift in the other direction – whether we, the Civil War consumer, need it, like it, or not.

The importance of slavery and its racial legacy should not be marginalized. These issues need to be presented to the public. But I do not believe they need to be front and center at every NPS or state battlefield. For those who want a more in-depth education about this sad chapter, there's the National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg, Va. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is in downtown Cincinnati. Here in southeast Michigan, there's the wonderful Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History. I'm sure there are more – and visitors to these excellent museums should not expect nor receive lectures on the battle of Gettysburg.

September 20, 2008

Major-General Hiram G. Berry

My local library called today with the good news that their inter-library loan department was able to obtain a copy of Major-General Hiram G. Berry by Edward K. Gould for me. I was pleasantly surprised for, despite my library's wonderful efficiency in such matters, this is a truly rare, 100-year-old book that has never been reprinted. Most libraries are not prone to lending out such volumes, nevertheless the Worcester (Mass.) Free Public Library stepped up and delivered the goods. More than just a biography, it also contains a good amount of Berry's Civil War correspondence, which I certainly wanted to look at as part of my O. M. Poe research.

Berry started the war as colonel of the 4th Maine volunteers. He was promoted to brigadier general and then led a brigade in Kearny's division, Heintzelman's Corp during the Peninsula Campaign. Illness sent him home for much of the summer and fall 1862 but returned to his command in time for Fredericksburg. He was promoted to major general, taking over Joseph Hooker's division after Fighting Joe was promoted to AOP command. Berry was killed at the head of his command during the battle of Chancellorsville.

I don't ever recall seeing a copy of this book at any book fair or on a bookstore's shelves for that matter. Currently, there is only one copy offered for sale at ABE and it has an asking price of $225. Truly a desirable book for any Civil War library.

September 17, 2008

146th Anniversary of Antietam

Today is the 146th anniversary of the battle of Antietam,or Sharpsburg, if you live below the Mason-Dixon line. I recall posting about a neat item last year at this time that pertained to the battle, so for those who may not have seen it, here 'tis.

Other posts pertaining to books about Antietam can be found here and here.

Poll Results

Though far from scientific or even possessing a large enough sample, the results of my recent poll do say something about books vs. digital downloads, at least as far as visitors to this site are concerned. Overwhelmingly, these visitors are bibliophiles over the age of 40 who clearly prefer books to digital downloads. Of course, given the focus of this blog, that's hardly a revelation.

September 13, 2008

Some Useful Book Collecting Videos

Bookseller Erik Bosee has posted a series of videos at Expert Village that discuss the basics of first edition book collecting. Good stuff for those getting underway with building a first edition library. The videos are also posted at YouTube, of course.

Expert Village describes itself as "the largest choice of informative videos from trusted sources to provide answers to your everyday questions. All Expert Village videos are part of a longer series, so if you find a video you like, visit www.expertvillage.com to view more in that series."

September 11, 2008

Anti-Rebel

This is one of those classic examples of bibliographic sleuthing that makes book collecting so enjoyable and highlights the sometimes wacky world of book pricing.

In 1992, the University of Kansas Press published Hard Marching Every Day: The Civil War Letters of Private Wilbur Fisk, 1861-1865. Wisk had enlisted in the 2nd Vermont Infantry and though a common foot soldier, he also served as an “in the field” correspondent for Montpelier’s Green Mountain Freeman. Over the course of the next four years, Fisk sent over 100 letters back to the paper, all written and published under the pseudonym of “Anti-Rebel.” Fisk was certainly no professional journalist and as such, he had no access to generals and headquarters. He was simply one of the boys and wrote proficiently of battlefields, camp life, and the trials and tribulations of being a simple soldier.

The book was well received and is in print to this day in paperback format. It seems to be a staple of eastern theater primary sources and is included in David Eicher’s The Civil War in Books: An Analytical Bibliography (#474). Civil War historian Herman Hattaway referred to Fisk’s epistolary efforts as “literary gems” while Library Journal described the book as “the best overall picture of Union Army life in epistolary form, this unique volume, quite different from other compendia of Civil War letters, should be purchased by all public and academic libraries with Civil War collections.” First printings seem readily available with asking prices all the way up to $60.

There’s just one thing. This edition as published by the University Press of Kansas is basically a reprint, though it does contain a new foreword by Reid Mitchell. None can be considered a first edition, because the book’s true first edition appeared nine years earlier in 1982 under the title of Anti-Rebel: The Civil War Letters of Wilbur Fisk. If you own a copy of Hard Marching and look at the copyright page, you’ll see the small print mention of this fact. The very small hardcover printing of Anti-Rebel was basically self-published by the editor, Emil Rosenblatt, at Croton-On-Hudson, New York. If you’re a first edition book collector, the earlier edition is certainly the one you’ll want on your bookshelf and as you can see here, far fewer copies are offered for sale.

September 9, 2008

Digital Downloads vs. Books as Objects

Ted Savas has recently asked readers at his blog about the viability or interest in his company producing digital downloads of various Savas titles. I was one of the seven who responded "no" and for me at least, the whole issue has to do with books being something more than just a medium for delivering information or data.

My sense is that for all or at least many who answered yes or maybe, that may not be the case; that for them, the delivery medium is perhaps irrelevant. I may be way off base, but I suspect most of these readers are relatively young. For other old-school types like me, a book is a physical object that has an intrinsic worth or value that transcends mere words on a page. There is something about its heft, feel, visual design or even smell that creates sensory enjoyment that goes beyond simply reading and absorbing information. So with that in mind, I've created another poll at left that's a combination of yes/no answers and age. I'd like to know if there's any correlation between age and viewing books as desirable objects or just as transmittors of data.


September 3, 2008

"Blue and Gray Weekly"

Today's mail brought a fat catalog for an upcoming Bloomsbury Auction. It is presented as The Bibliophile Sale and will he held in New York on September 17 - 18. There are 803 lots across all categories with the highlight being the Fred M. Meyer Collection of L. Frank Baum and Related Oziana. If The Wizard of Oz is your thing, you won't want to miss this one. There are also 32 lots of Civil War material, mostly signed documents, autographs and photography.

One lot in particular that caugt my eye is a 32-issue run of Blue and Gray Weekly (pre-sale estimate of $1000-$1500). These issues of this children's periodical appeared from August 12, 1904 through March 17, 1905 with titles from "Off to the War" to "Forced to Surrender."

Having recently read Gary Gallagher's Causes Won, Lost, & Forgotten, it is obvious that the illustration of the pictured item falls in neatly with the Reconciliation Cause described in Gallagher's book, which was the predominant theme from that era.

September 1, 2008

The Battle of Chantilly: September 1, 1862

Today is the 146th anniversary of the battle of Chantilly, which was referred to by the Confederates as the battle of Ox Hill. It was a short but intense fight that came on the heels of Second Bull Run and featured a number of unique characteristics. It was one the few Civil War battles that was fought partially in the dark. It also occurred in some of the worst weather conditions imaginable, including a torrential downpour, thunder and lightning that dazzled the senses, and unseasonably chilly weather. On a more gruesome note, Chantilly was one of the relatively few engagements where the bayonet was employed liberally.

I first learned the details of this battle when I moved to northern Virginia’s Fairfax County in the late 90’s due to a work transfer. The 5-acre Ox Hill Battlefield Park was only a few miles from where I lived and worked, so it became a popular spot for peaceful lunches and visits. Also piquing my interest at the time was the realization that no book-length work had ever been published on the battle. I soon set about my research and writing however by the time my book appeared in 2003, it had been relegated to third in line on books about this battle. All three books appeared within a 14 or 15-month timeframe in 2002-03 by authors who all lived in the immediate vicinity of Ox Hill. The first to appear was David Welker’s Tempest at Ox Hill: The Battle of Chantilly, published by the Da Capo Press in 2002. It features an excellent narrative of the battle as well as lengthy bios of Union generals Philip Kearny and Isaac Stevens, both of whom were killed during the brief encounter. Next up was Charles Mauro’s A Monumental Storm: The Battle of Chantilly, published by the Fairfax County Historical Society. This work is an oblong-shaped paperback that offers a general overview and description of the battle, but also features Mauro’s superb modern photographs of the extant battlefield and related sites. Your humble correspondent’s book appeared soon after and features numerous period illustrations, participant photos and primary sources not found in the other works.

The aforementioned 5-acre park has been recently renovated with the rededication ceremonies set for today. The rededication marks the completion of a $700,000 project to construct new trails, historic interpretive kiosks and signage, as well as landscape restoration and parking improvements. Sadly, the rest of the battlefield is gone, the victim of northern Virginia’s volcanic growth that continues to this day. In fact, even the modern view on page 73 of my book now no longer exists. The woods in that picture, a place where the 21st Massachusetts lost over 100 men in a single volley, have been cut down within the past couple of years. An apartment building / office complex now sits atop the hill. I wonder if anyone knew….

August 31, 2008

Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune

Greetings from “Up North,” Michigan where my family and I are enjoying the Labor Day weekend. I drove into Charlevoix yesterday and did a bit of “booking” at the Pine River used and rare bookstore. It was my first visit and I was pleasantly surprised. They carry a nice selection of first editions in all categories, many of which feature Brodart dust jacket protectors. That’s always a good sign for book lovers.

I ended up purchasing a pristine first printing of Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The of Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, as published by the University of Georgia Press in 1992. If you’ve seen the film Glory, then you certainly know of Shaw and his Fifty-fourth Massachusetts (Colored) Infantry. The success of that film, which garnered three Oscars, certainly helped pave the way for this volume.

Though I bought a first printing of this edition, I determined in reading the introductory matter that it should not be called a first edition. In bookman’s parlance, “first edition thus” would be the correct description as many of these letters first appeared in a now exceedingly rare volume titled RGS: Letters, which was privately published by Shaw’s family in 1864 primarily for friends and relations. First Edition Thus describes a book which has seen print previously but now offers significant new or previously unpublished material. Good luck finding a copy of RGS:Letters for it now exists only in rare book rooms or private collections. I found no copies for sale on ABE nor is the book available online at Google Book Search.

Many of Robert Gould Shaw’s letters contained personal or controversial passages which were intentionally excised by his family prior to the publication of RGS: Letters, in keeping with social norms of the era. For this 400+ page volume, editor Russell Duncan restored passages where possible, gathered up additional letters from the four manuscript respositories who hold RGS letters, and added biographical material and annotations that place Shaw’s letters in the proper historical context.

The book’s title is taken from the philosopher William James’ speech at the dedication of the Fifty-fourth Mass. / RG Shaw memorial on the Boston Commons. On a cool day in May 1897 James said, “There they march, warm-blooded champions of a better day for men. There on horseback among them, in his very habit as he lived, sits the blue-eyed child of fortune.”


August 27, 2008

My Book Collecting Interview at Civil War Network

My full interview on Civil War book collecting with Francis Rose of the Civil War Network has now been posted online at that site in podcast format. Other interviewees include James McPherson discussing "On the Battlefield," Harry Smeltzer's "Bull Runnings," Jenine Culligan of the Huntington WV Museum of Art, and Dr. Carroll Van West on “Civil War Trails: Fighting for the Rails." Hope you like it!

August 26, 2008

NEW Primary Source Book on New Mexico in the Civil War

"In December 1861 more than three thousand Texas Confederate troops amassed at Franklin (El Paso) to clear the Rocky Mountain West of Union troops. Eventually, the Texans won the battle at Valverde, New Mexico, but fresh Union reinforcements from Colorado crushed them at Glorieta Pass and drove them back to Texas. Being far removed from the battles in the East, the New Mexico Union army fell in sloppy habits and was beset with a lack of supplies and poor living conditions. Concerned the army would not be able to maintain control of the vast region, inspectors were sent from California to assess the army’s condition and military preparedness. The reports of inspectors, Major Henry Davies Wallen and Captain Andrew Wallace Evans are interestingly told in New Mexico Territory During the Civil War edited and with an introduction by Jerry D. Thompson published by the University of New Mexico.

Drunkenness of the troops and poor relations with the locals seemed to be the major problems being reported to superiors in far away California and Washington, D.C. They also reported on logistical and operational problems faced by the demoralized Union soldiers.

Wallen and Evans found the majority of the nine army posts visited to be in drastic need of repair. Most of the problems had to do with health, sanitation and general living conditions, but at Fort Craig, New Mexico, the inspectors discovered prostitutes living on base and receiving food and medication while the men did without. The fort had become intolerable because of the “sins of the officers.”

Thompson provides a unique insight into the military, cultural, and social life of posts far removed from the primary concentration of command. The men often felt forgotten by their government by being stationed a half continent away."

Full article here.

August 23, 2008

Collecting Autographed First-Edition Books

Interesting article / news release on collecting autographed first editions. Though the article focuses more on fiction, the underlying principles certainly apply to Civil War books.

August 20, 2008

What's a Book Worth?

So for the past week, I was watching this interesting item on eBay: A lovely, 750-copy limited edition reprint of William Allan's The Army of Northen Virginia in 1862. I didn't win and as you can see, the book sold for $113.50. My maximum bid wasn't anywhere near that high because I noticed that there are three identical copies currently for sale on ABE, all with asking prices at $75.

Am I missing something here? This clearly illustrates that any item is worth whatever someone is willing to pay. I'm not willing to shell out $113.50 when I can get the same item elsewhere for $75. On the other hand, perhaps Mr. Krick's signature commands a premium.

It also appears here that an 1892 first edition, rebound in quarter blue leather with blue cloth over boards, sold for $266 on eBay several weeks ago.

Nevins describes the book as "an early balanced documented study in detail of the operations of Lee's army in the year 1862." Allan served as a colonel and chief ordnance officer for generals Jackson, Ewell, and Early in the Army of Northern Virginia. He was referred to by a colleague as "the most competent man for all sorts of work I ever saw." Allan passed away in 1889, making this book a posthumous publication.

August 16, 2008

Video from a South Carolina Museum

From the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.


August 14, 2008

Bonnet Brigades

As part of the research for my next book, I’ve been delving into the social aspects of the war much more than the military ones. Much of this is fairly new to me, which is just the way I like it as I always try to take my learning and research experiences in fresh directions. Of special interest is the role of women in the Civil War, which has currently led me to Bonnet Brigades: American Women and the Civil War, written by Mary Elizabeth Massey and first published by Alfred Knopf in 1966.The book was part of The Impact of the Civil War series that was planned by the Civil War Centennial Commission and edited by Allan Nevins. Based on the back panel of the jacket, there were to be fifteen volumes in the series, all of which dealt with some non-military aspect of the war. The book is still in print but under the drab title of Women in the Civil War.

According to the flap, the author “shows how the war exerted a significant influence on the development of women in the Union and the Confederacy.” An early review from Library Journal states that the work "presents a comprehensive yet readable account of a long-neglected aspect of American history. Massey contends that the Civil War aided women's emancipation by creating ‘nondomestic opportunities’ for them as industrial workers, writers, and even spies.” Almost concurrently, series editor Allan Nevins disliked the original name, asserting in his bibliography that the book featured “A poor title for a splendid book; all important facets of women in wartime have been covered in a scholarly and colorful manner.” Clearly this is a scholarly book, in fact the bibliography mentioned below describes it as "a standard text," but I’m wondering if a newer work has since replaced it?

First edition copies in collector’s condition can be had but are not cheap, as evidenced here. Expect to pay $50 or more for a desirable copy.


ADDENDA: As I've written before, reference books and bibliographies are the core of any superior book collection. Those wanting to seriously research women and the Civil War will need to examine (or even obtain) Women and the American Civil War: An Annotated Bibliography by Theresa McDevitt.

"The first reference work to draw together the stories and studies of women in the American Civil War, this annotated bibliography offers access to the literature that documents the history of women who experienced the war, changed it, and were changed by it. Offering nearly 800 entries, it lists both primary and secondary sources, classic and current works, and items in print and available on the Internet. Drawing together over one hundred years of writings, Women in the American Civil War: An Annotated Bibliography is an invaluable resource for readers and researchers interested in this neglected topic. During the American Civil War women played a highly significant role, yet modern writers often overlook their experiences and contributions. Women in the American Civil War: An Annotated Bibliography is the first reference work to focus exclusively on women in the war. Sections list sources on such diverse topics as women as nurses and medical relief workers, women's changing economic roles, their lives as refugees, as spies and scouts, or in military camps. It also looks at the literature on the miscellaneous topics of women in public, wives of politicians and military commanders, family life, and women on the wrong side of the law."

August 11, 2008

Two NEW Battle Books of Note

Two renowned Civil War authors have just published new studies of major Civil War campaigns. It is obvious that the internet and email have helped uncover scores of primary source documents that were previously hidden to scholars working in the "old school" days of snail mail and post cards. All of which benefits the Civil War student with modern studies such as these, which are not merely a rehash of old, classic works, but contain many new, previously untapped sources that allow for fresh interpretations.

Noah Andre Trudeau offers Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea, a hefty, 688-page tome from Harper Collins that retells that famous general's legendary campaign. This one is now available.

In a few short weeks, Peter Cozzens and the University of North Carolina Press will give us Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign, which comes in at an equally solid 644 pages.

August 9, 2008

You Win Some, You Lose Some

One of the fundamental guidelines in buying any type of collectible book through the mail is “know your seller.” In other words, make sure you’re dealing with someone knowledgeable and reputable. If you don’t, you run the risk of getting burned. This, of course, is the big chance you take when buying books through eBay.

I’ve found many great books and bargains over the years through eBay, in large measure because I look for a detailed description and read it closely, ask questions, and always want to see pictures. My advice is to scrutinize the seller’s feedback and make sure you know what the return and shipping policies are. On the few occasions when I didn’t do these things, I often ended up disappointed.

Which is what happened this week. I found a copy for sale of William C. Oates’ The War Between the Union and the Confederacy and its Lost Opportunities. Not the exceedingly rare Neale first edition from 1905, but the Morningside reprint which sells new for $50. The initial listing had no pics and virtually no description but I knew what it was and thought I might be able to score a bargain. I asked the seller to send me a few scans, which he did, but it was still tough to ascertain the book’s condition. Nevertheless, I put in a low bid and ended up getting the book for $6.50. What I foolishly didn’t notice until after the fact was that the seller is in Canada. So I ended up having to fork over an additional $14 in postage plus the seller tacked on $3 for the shipping mailer. This guy clearly is not a professional bookseller because the “mailer” was nothing more than an oh-so-slightly padded bag that the book was merely tossed in to. Tip – always make sure the seller uses a sturdy box with ample padding.

The book itself was beat. Bumped tips with heavy sunning to the spine which the pictures did not reveal, plus the spine was loose and “shaken.” Bottom line – I ended up paying about $24 for a well-worn reading copy because I ignored my own rules and ended up paying the price. Live and learn.

It is a desirable book to have for its contents however. According to the Morningside webpage,“This book describes the great sectional conflict as seen and experienced by a field officer in the Army of Northern Virginia. Colonel William C. Oates (pictured), an outspoken, candid, ambitious, and aggressive man, tells the story of the people and events that surround him. And what events they are! His regiment, the 15th Alabama, was the regiment that grappled with the 20th Maine and made itself famous on the rocky slopes of Little Round Top as the day’s battle and possibly the fate of the entire Confederacy hung in the balance at Gettysburg. Oates’ superb account must be read in order to fully understand how the actual conditions, the decisions of small unit commanders, and the chances of fate combined in one of the most heroic, desperate, and gripping actions of the war. Oates’ regiment was a member of Trimble’s and later of Law’s brigade, and he keenly records his observations while campaigning with them at such locations as the Shenandoah Valley, the Second Manassas (including battles at Groveton and at Chantilly), Fredericksburg, and Chickamauga. He also takes us to the Lee-Grant confrontation of 1864. Included in this volume is a completely detailed roster of the 15th Alabama, as well as sketches of the other four Alabama regiments of Law’s brigade. In addition, Mr. Robert Krick adds a detailed introduction on Oates’ life which certainly makes this reprint a bargain. Written in 1905 and first published by The Neale Company, William Oates’ The War Between the Union and the Confederacy is indeed among the rarest of today’s Confederate books.”

That last sentence certainly rings true, for as you can see here, there are only two first editions currently for sale and with hefty price tags at that. The Morningside hardcover reprint certainly offers a handsome alternative to the pricey first edition.

August 8, 2008

Forthcoming Podcast Interview on the Civil War Network

Last night I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Francis Rose, the host of The Civil War Network , a new blog and podcast about current events having to do with the Civil War. Francis wanted to chat with me after discovering this blog and felt a discussion about Civil War book collecting would be a nice fit for his new effort. We chatted for about 30 minutes on how a new collector can build a desirable first edition Civil War library as opposed to just a rag-tag collection of books. In addition, we discussed my background as both book collector and Civil War author. Rose hopes to have his first broadcast in late August which will also feature an interview with James McPherson.

He certainly has the professional background for such an endeavor. Rose entered the broadcasting field in 1985, starting in radio at a station in his home town. He then moved to a station in Baltimore in 1986, and has worked in large-market and network radio ever since. Today, he is a producer and news anchor at Federal News Radio AM 1050 in Washington DC.

According to Rose, "The mission of The Civil War Network is to inform, educate, and entertain people interested in the Civil War. The Civil War Network will fulfill its mission through audio, video, the written word, and other forms of media presentations. The Civil War Network will fulfill its mission while adhering to the highest journalistic, entertainment, and ethical standards."

Our interview was certainly lots of fun on my end and I look forward to hearing it over the internet. Thanks again Francis, and best wishes for your blog's success!

August 6, 2008

The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged

The University of Tennessee Press has just reissued one of the seminal works on the battle of Shiloh; one that, amazingly, had been out of print for almost a century. The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged was written by David W. Reed, a Shiloh veteran, and represented the official version of the battle by the Shiloh Battlefield Park Commission. It first saw print in 1902 as a rather dull hardcover (plain black boards, no dj) that was published in an edition of 2500 copies. The book was reprinted in a 1909 second edition that corrected some minor errors which was in turn, reprinted for the last time in 1913.

As you can see here, surviving copies are indeed hard to come by, which helped give way to this long overdue reprint. Its a very nice production that features Timothy Smith's excellent introduction to Reed's cornerstone work. A second highlight is a CD-Rom that contains Reed's masterful battle line and troop movement maps. I've just submitted a much longer review of this work to Civil War News which will appear in an upcoming issue. This one belongs on every Shiloh student's bookshelf.

July 29, 2008

One Continuous Fight - Signed Limited Edition

Savas Publishers have produced a special "Gettysburg Edition" of One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863. The edition is limited to only 75 numbered copies and is in similar style to the authors' Plenty of Blame to Go Around.

Each copy, which includes a custom bookplate, is signed by authors Eric Wittenberg, J. D. Petruzzi, and Michael Nugent. Well-known Civil War authors Noah Andre Trudeau and Ted Alexander have also signed the bookplate, having written the book's preface and foreword respectively. Five signatures in all. Full info here.

"One Continuous Fight draws upon a massive array of documents, letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, and published primary and secondary sources. These long-ignored foundational sources allow the authors, each widely known for their expertise in Civil War cavalry operations, to describe carefully each engagement. The result is a rich and comprehensive study loaded with incisive tactical commentary, new perspectives on the strategic role of the Southern and Northern cavalry, and fresh insights on every engagement, large and small, fought during the retreat.

The retreat from Gettysburg was so punctuated with fighting that a soldier felt compelled to describe it as "One Continuous Fight." Until now, few students fully realized the accuracy of that description. Complimented with 18 original maps, dozens of photos, and a complete driving tour with GPS coordinates of the entire retreat, One Continuous Fight is an essential book for every student of the American Civil War in general, and for the student of Gettysburg in particular."

8/21 CORRECTION - I've learned that only the authors will be signing this edition.

July 27, 2008

"Your Affectionate Son: Charlie Mac"

Here's another regional small press collection of previously unpublished letters, this time courtesy of the Martha Vineyard's Museum / Historical Society in Edgartown, Massachusetts. The book debuted just a few days ago on July 24 and features the letters of Charles Macreading Vincent, who was 19-years old when he enlisted in 1862. I was not able to determine from the initial story what unit Vincent served in, however according to the online Massachusetts Civil War Research Center, a Charles M. Vincent served in the 40th Massachusetts Infantry.

The book's full title is Your affectionate son, Charlie Mac: Civil War Diaries & Letters by a Soldier from Martha's Vineyard. It runs 292 pages and costs 16.95, which leads me to conclude that it's a paperback. Full online story here.

July 22, 2008

Facsimile Dust Jackets

As any seasoned book collector can tell you, the presence or lack of a dust jacket can seriously affect the value of a collectible book. This is especially the case for all genres of early fiction where a pre-WWII jacket can increase the value three or four-fold in some cases. Books issued after, say 1965, that do not have their original dust jackets are generally of little value to first edition collectors.

Initially, book publishers and even collectors placed little emphasis on jackets believing them to be nothing more than a marketing tool while the book was on the bookseller's shelf or simply as a protector for the book itself. By WWI however, collectors began to have second thoughts as they now came to view the dust jacket as an integral part of the book itself.

Such is the importance given to these artistic wrappings that recent years have seen the rise of a cottage industry dedicated to the production of vintage facsimile dust jackets that collectors can then match up to their jacketless first editions. It must be stressed and cannot be overstated that from an ethical standpoint, these modern reproductions must be identified as such and therefore do not increase the first edition's value at all beyond the price of the facsimile. Collectors buy them simply for their artistic merit and as conversation pieces. Unfortunately, the handful of facsimile dust jacket websites that I've discovered online are all dedicated to various fictional genres. These sites include Lady Bluestocking, Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC, and Recoverings, which is solely dedicated to Edgar Rice Burroughs.

If anyone out there is aware of a site that reproduces vintage Civil War dust jackets, please let me know!

July 17, 2008

Forty-Six Years in the Army

Acquiring a first edition of Lieutenant General John M. Schofield's military memoirs will provide the Civil War book collector with quite a collecting coup but offers little in the way of great historical analysis. Though reading copies are quite easy to come by for the book is still in print, first editions are exceedingly rare with prices for premium copies often commanding in excess of $500. While they're for sale on ABE, I don't recall ever seeing a copy for sale in a bookstore or at a book fair. All of which is a bit surprising for the book was first published by The Century Co. (of Battles and Leaders fame) in 1897, which was the book division of the The Century Magazine, regarded as the leading periodical of the 1880's and 1890's. Though Schofield's public stature (he retired as General of the Army) was certainly not equal to Grant's or Sherman's, one would think that ample copies would still be around. Nevertheless, they are surprisingly scarce plus this massive, clothbound, 557-page tome did not wear well over the years.

Not only in the physical sense, but from a literary perspective as well. For instance, Nevins complains that "what could have been and enlightening and valuable memoir is little more than a critique of published official reports on the engagements of which Schofield was a part," while Eicher describes Schofield's memoirs as "a mishmash of notes and rememberances strung together chronologically in a rather diasappointing fashion."

As a brief overview and according to the Arlington National Cemetery website, "Schofield graduated from West Point in 1853, ranking seventh in his class. He served throughout the Civil War in command positions, receiving the Medal of Honor for heroism in battle. He remained in the Army following the war and was the military officer who recommended that Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, be established as a military base by the United States. From 1876 to 1881 Schofield was Superintendent at West Point. After serving in various departments throughout the country he succeeded to command of the entire Army upon the death of Lieutenant General Phil Sheridan. Schofield was retired for age on his 64th birthday and died in Saint Augustine, Florida, on March 4, 1906. He is buried in Section 2 of Arlington National Cemetery. Pictured copy for sale here.

July 10, 2008

Hard Times, Hard Bread, and Harder Coffee

I've written several times in the past as to how I'm always on the lookout for new regional, small press publications. Though often of varying literary quality and "importance," these books nevertheless showcase previously undiscovered letters, diaries, or journals from rank-and-file soldiers who hailed from the various regions around the country.

One such new title is the just-published Hard Times, Hard Bread, and Harder Coffee, a 227-page softcover that presents 128 previously unpublished Civil War letters of Hezekiah Long of South Thomaston, Maine. Long enlisted in the Union army in the summer of 1862 and served in the legendary 20th Maine Infantry until the end of the war. The book has been published by Richardson's Civil War Roundtable and I believe sells for $19.95. Full online story here.

July 8, 2008

Fighting Joe Hooker

I recently scored a lovely first edition (so stated) of Walter H. Hebert's Fighting Joe Hooker, which was originally published by the Bobbs Merrill Co. in 1944. This 64-year-old book even features a nice example of the now very uncommon dust jacket, complete with the $3.50 price on the jacket flap. As the book was published during WWII, the back panel features a plea from the author for the public to buy United States War Savings Bonds! This is the publisher's trade edition, however it appears that the publisher also prepared a signed limited edition. On a special tipped-in page, it reads "This edition of Fighting Joe Hooker is limited to 250 copies of which this in No. --."

Amazon describes the book as the "definitive biography of a man who could lead so brilliantly and yet fall so ignominiously remains [to this day] the only full-length treatment of Hooker's life. His renewal as an important commander in the western theater during the Chattanooga and Atlanta campaigns is discussed, as is his life before and after his Civil War military service." According to Nevins, the work is "A critical study, based on extensive research: contains a fine account of the Chancellorsville campaign."

I recall reading a story on the web where one collector was asked why he only bought first editions. He responded by saying, "because I can't afford not to." The point being that a first edition is the only book which may return its original purchase price to the buyer. Of course, there's no guarantee that it will, but it could. This book illustrates that concept perfectly. I paid thirty bucks for the book, including shipping, and I consider that a bargain. I don't think it will ever depreciate. Meanwhile, Fighting Joe Hooker is still in print in paperback format from the University of Nebraska Press at $21.95. Same price at Amazon. If you buy a new copy, it depreciates immediately upon purchase. If you go to sell it, you'll get a few bucks at best.

July 3, 2008

Troubled State: Civil War Journals of Franklin Archibald Dick


Interesting new book from Truman State University that seems to be getting some nice press in the midwest. Read here and here.

According to Amazon, "A benefit to scholars and buffs alike, the journals of Franklin Dick offer readers a different perspective on the Civil War from the contested and bloody battleground that was Missouri. The diaries provide valuable insights on how Unionists reacted to the shifting fortunes of war in Missouri and in St. Louis in particular, and how the life of a St. Louis attorney-turned-provost-marshal changed for all time. The annotations are helpful without being obtrusive, allowing Dick's personality to come through."

"Buried for years in family files, this important firsthand Civil War account of Franklin Dick's experiences as Missouri assistant adjunct general and provost marshal general gives a new view of politics, power, and divided loyalties in the state of Missouri. It is filled with the intrigue and emotion of major Civil War figures Nathaniel Lyon, Montgomery Blair, John C. Fremont, and Abraham Lincoln, Troubled State is a new resource for library collections, historians and Civil War buffs."