June 8, 2008

Fighting for the Confederacy

David Eicher presents his Readers Guide of the ten best and most influential Confederate memoirs in the new issue of Civil War Times. Heading the list is Edward Porter Alexander's Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander which lay dormant and "undiscovered" for almost eighty years before being brought to life in 1989 under the editorial guidance of Gary W. Gallagher. Alexander was a Georgia native and West Point graduate who was active in nearly all of the Eastern theater's important battles and as Longstreet's Chief of Artillery came into frequent contact with the highest command of the Army of Northern Virginia, including "Marse Robert" and Stonewall Jackson. His perspective on such personalities and on the events unfolding around him is a most valuable one.

The book lay unseen by the public for so long because this version of Alexander's recollections was intended solely for family and close friends, as opposed to his Military Memoirs of a Confederate, published in 1907 by Scribners and which was his public history of time spent in the Army of Northern Virginia. In fact, Gallagher writes in his wonderful introduction to Fighting that it was actually written several years prior to Military Memoirs when Alexander was employed as an arbitrator in Greytown, Nicaragua. Each title though stands as a strong complement to the other. According to Eicher, Military Memoirs is a "superb history of Robert E. Lee's army" while Fighting is an excellent personal narrative with some analysis heaped in. Apparently Alexander pulled no punches in his private narrative, for as Gallagher writes, the author "completely avoided the ritual humility and saccharine praise of friend and foe alike," and even opted not to excise profanities when recalling conversations.

The first edition of Fighting was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 1989 and featured grey boards with gold letters on a half black spine. A mammoth undertaking at around 700 pages in length, it went on to win numerous prestigious awards. Being as relatively new as it is, first editions are not difficult to find. Collectors should note however that the book was heavily printed by the various book clubs. These editions may be easily confused with the publisher's trade edition. Make sure the copy you're examining has the full number row present on the copyright page, beginning with the #1.


Anonymous said...

Hello Paul

I'm going to have to get a hold of this article. I really agree with the author regarding the importance of Alexander's memoirs. Purchased a copy at publication time and found it very enjoyable.
I wanted to ask you a question as a fellow collector. You mention the complete number line 1-10 on he copyright page. Do most of the book clubs mention on the copyright page it is a book club edition? I've seen this book with full gray cloth boards and gray paper boards. I know UNC press published with full gray cloth boards.

I've noticed the publications of some publishers that the material on the boards is different, paper as compared to cloth on some books.

Specifically, LSU's publications by Gordon Rhea. What i've used as an identifier is the numbering sequence, a price on the flap and the board material. The true 1st has 5-1, price on flap of the jacket and the boards are a clothlike material.

This all may sound a little involved and at times can be somewhat complicated, but collecting only 1st editions, 1st printings requires the collector to do some homework.

As always, enjoy your posts.

Don Hallstrom

Paul Taylor said...


Generally, book clubs do not have the number row on the copyright page. For the vast majority of trade publishers, the absence of a price on the jacket is also a dead giveaway. This is not always the case with university presses however, for many of them do not print prices on their jacket flaps.

Sometimes, but not always, the binding material is also a giveaway. Many of the better trade and university presses will bind their books in some type of full cloth binding whereas the book club edition will be bound in paper-covered boards.

You are absolutely right about doing your homework. If any bibliophile wants their treasured collection to retain any semblance of its original cost, there is simply no other choice.