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.

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