February 28, 2008

Reminds Me of One of My First Book Signings

New Orleans 1867

A bit off-topic but I felt it worthy of mention because it appears to be such a beautiful book of important old photos taken of a key Confederate city. According to the publisher, This book brings together all the surviving photographs – 126 of the original 150 – from the remarkable series La Nouvelle Orléans et ses environs, taken in 1867 by the New Orleans photographer Theodore Lilienthal (1829–1894). Comprising the first official photographic survey of any American city, the images – featuring every aspect of the city, from mansions and churches to factories and asylums – were exhibited at the Paris World Exposition of 1867 before being presented to Napoléon III, emperor of France (reigned 1852–70). Gary A. Van Zante discusses Lilienthal’s techniques and places each work in the context of a city embarking on reconstruction. Extensive biographical and bibliographical information is also provided. This detailed and evocative pictorial and historical survey of Civil War-era New Orleans will appeal to anyone interested in American history, the history of photography or the development of the modern city.

This article gives in an depth perspective of the book and the images' history. According to Gary Van Zante, the book's editior,"I quickly saw that there were many stories to tell about the Lilienthal photographs, many stories about the Civil War and Reconstruction era, and about city building before the war," he said, speaking from his office in Cambridge. "There were clearly also important stories about the failures of Reconstruction and the war's legacy.

For those interested, Gary Van Zante will discuss and sign New Orleans 1867: Photographs by Theodore Lilienthal on Wednesday, March 5, at 6:30 p.m. at Octavia Books and again Thursday, March 6, 5 to 7 p.m., at Garden District Book Shop.

February 24, 2008

Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Yesterday's lighthearted post (or so intended) has prompted me to examine the Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee in a bit more depth. The book's title can be sneakily deceptive to the casual reader. Lee died in 1870, before he had the opportunity to write his autobiography although he had been mulling it over for several years. This collection of Lee's unpublished letters was collected by his son, Captain Robert Edward Lee, who also fought for the Confederacy, while the recollections are also written by the son and are of the father. Much of the recollections are anecdotal and provide charming accounts written by a clearly devoted son. In spite of the book's lack of objectivity, it provides an invaluable insight into the Marble Man and is necessary for any study of Lee. Of particular note is that almost half the book covers Lee's five post-war years. As historian Richard Harwell noted in In Tall Cotton, this book is "as close to an autobiography of Lee as it is possible to come." On the other hand, Harwell felt that the book "lacks unity and is otherwise less than satisfying" while Nevins referred to it as "disjointed and sentimental."

The first edition was published in 1904 by Doubleday and Co. It was bound in gray cloth with a square shaped gilt, green and red device on the front cover, and featured gilt lettering on the spine. The book has been in print practically from the day it first appeared. An early 1920's reprint in uncommon jacket is pictured and available for sale here. The book was also reprinted in 1926 with ten pages of new material and then fully reissued in 1960 with a new introduction by Philip Van Doren Stern. An inexpensive facsimile has also been published in the last decade by the reprint house of Konecky & Konecky (pictured). Nevertheless, for a book of such age and importance, first edition copies are still reasonably priced. The book is also readily available for online reading at Google print.

February 23, 2008

Who Needs Books With Robert E. Lee v1.0?

"Learn about Civil War Confederate General Robert E. Lee. This is a computer version of the book: Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee by Captain Robert E. Lee, His Son. A view of Robert E. Lee from letters Lee wrote to family, friends, business associates, and by personal stories and memories of his son. This engaging book will help you to understand what Robert E. Lee was really like as a general, husband, friend, father, and president of a college. Read on screen, print, or listen to the book. Features Text-To-Speech technology. This software can speak in a human-sounding voice and read aloud the Civil War book."

Yes, but can "James" bring me a beer if I want one?

February 21, 2008

Rare Confederate Book on Botanicals

"It was not President Lincoln's Union Army that dealt the Confederacy its greatest blow. While 94,000 Southerners died in battle, a staggering 164,000 died of disease. Much of the suffering was due to a rapidly declining supply of medicine in the South as blockades restricted importation of all essentials.
When enemy camps were overrun, speculators raided the medical stores, capturing morphine, quinine and chloroform to resell at 50 times their original value. It was such a problem that Gen. Lee called upon the secretary of war to put an end to the practice.

In anticipation of this supply problem, Surgeon Maj. Francis Perye Porcher set about creating a manual on indigenous botanical substitutes titled "Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests, Medical, Economic and Agricultural." Published in 1863, the 600-page book was distributed to medical officers to help aid the sick and wounded. It is said to have helped so many that Confederates were able to hold off the Union Army for two additional years."

So states this online article that highlights Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests by Francis P. Porcher, an extremely rare Confederate title that offers amazing examples of what the Confederate homefront went through in order to treat their sick civilians and soldiers. The article further notes that "thanks to the Internet and the University of North Carolina, this formerly obscure text is online and free for everyone to peruse.

According to Willian Reese Booksellers, "Porcher was one of the most prominent medical figures in the antebellum South, and the founder of a hospital for slaves in Charleston in 1855. His early work on medical botany and his reputation as a physician led to his appointment as Surgeon- General of the Confederate States. Porcher's book was roundly hailed in its day by Confederate boosters, and the work was commissioned by the Surgeon-General of the C.S.A. It remains a thorough and impressive work on the agricultural, botanic, and economic resources of the South." Richard Harwell in his classic In Tall Cotton (#150) described the book as "probably the most ambitious and important work produced in the Confederacy.

The book itself is obviously very rare in the first edition. The 4 copies I found on the internet range in price. from $2500 to $6000. A new edition was produced in 1869 and for Civil War booklovers of more modest means, it appears that a sturdy modern hardcover reprint from 2007 also exists that can be had for $75.

February 20, 2008

I Hate It When This happens

I just logged on to eBay and missed by seconds the opportunity to buy a unique Gettysburg tour guide book from 1924 for a few bucks. This softcover is titled Gettysburg: What They Did Here and runs about 165 pages. It bills itself as the "Standard Historical Guide on the Battle" and is a reprint of the very scarce 1892 first printing. This version is profusely illustrated with plates and portraits and has a large folding map of the battlefield inside. A nice item if you like old pictures of the battlefield. Ample copies on ABE with reprint copies running from $11 to $85. Caveat emptor.

Book Collecting 101

The Student Book-Collecting Contest as hosted by the University of Virginia. I love it. Building tomorrow's collectors/bibliomaniacs today.

February 18, 2008

From the Self-Promotion Department

I've just been informed by Pineapple Press, the publisher for my first book, Discovering the Civil War in Florida, that the first printing is almost gone and that they'll be reprinting the paperback version. If my memory serves correctly, the first printing was 1000 hardback copies and 3000 paperbacks, so I'd say it's been a respectable seller over the past seven years. If you're interested in getting a signed, first edition hardcover, drop me a line.

February 17, 2008

How to Build a Lincoln Collection

Someone calculated that approximately 14,000 Abe Lincoln titles have been published over the years. Which ones should you own? This article offers some advice.

Bigelow's Campaign of Chancellorsville

One of my favorite and most famous of all tactical battle studies is John Bigelow's The Campaign of Chancellorsville: A Strategic and Tactical Study. In his Preface, Bigelow points out how he was assigned in 1894 to be a Professor of Military Science and Tactics at MIT. Once there, he selected Chancellorsville as the theme for a course he would be teaching. From his perspective, the Chancellorsville campaign presented a greater variety of military problems and critical situations than any other battle the United States had been in up to that point. He further writes that his goal was to not only tell what was done, but also how it was done and to relay, as best as possible, the "fog of war" that all battlefield commanders face.

Bigelow certainly had the background to accomplish his goal for he was clearly both a military man and a professional academic. He was born on May 12, 1854 in New York City and entered the military on June 15, 1877 as a second lieutenant in the 10th Cavalry after graduating from West Point. He remained in the military serving as an adjutant-general in the D. C. Militia in the late 1880's, and was promoted to captain in 1893. As mentioned above, he was the Professor of Military Science, Mass. Institute of Technology between 1894 and 1898. He saw battlefield action in the attack on San Juan, July 1, 1898 during which he was wounded. He retired as a major at his own request on September 15, 1904. Following his military retirement, he served as the Professor of French at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1904-1910, and also saw duty with the organized militia of Massachusetts. Among his other published works were Mars-la-Tour and Gravelotte, 1884; Principles of Strategy, 1894; Reminiscences of the Santiago Campaign, 1899; and American Policy, the Western Hemisphere in its Relation to the Eastern, 1914.

Bigelow made wide use of the sources available to him, including the then-recently published Official Records. Like John Bachelder did with Gettysburg, Bigelow also wrote to and spoke with scores of the battle's particpants, assembling a collection of letters and papers that span over 25,000 items and are now housed at the Library of Congress.

His final result was a whale of a book, both in size and quality. The first edition ran 528 pages and was bound in full red cloth in an 8 1/2 x 11" format. Published by Yale University Press in 1910 , the first printing was limited to 1000 numbered copies priced at a very hefty $10 per copy. Factoring in inflation, that price equals $228 in 2007 dollars! Not a price point that the average reader could have afforded. Today, those copies still around command upwards of $500 when found for sale. What really made the book stand out however were the forty-four three-color maps that accompanied the book in a pocket inside the back cover. These maps showed the various troop movements in exquisite detail throughout the campaign.

Morningside Books also produced a gorgeous facsimile of this book in the early 1990's in two editions: an 8 1/2 x 11" cloth-bound replica complete with all maps (pictured) and a stunning full-leather version in matching leather slipcase at $250. I believe both editions are now out of print.

The book has been widely praised from the day it was published, including this glowing review from 1910 in the New York Times. Especially prevalent in the commentary was Bigelow's objectivity, praising and criticizing each side's commanders as warranted. According to Nevins, Robertson, and Wiley, the Campaign of Chancellorsville is "a masterful study -- one of the very finest ever written on an American campaign; thoroughly documented and noticably impartial." Truly an indispensable book for students of Chancellorsville and an extremely desirable title in the first edition for Civil War book collectors.

February 15, 2008

The Five Best Reconstruction Books

At least according to this article in the Wall Street Journal. They are:
1) The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877 by Kenneth Stamp
2) The South As It Is, 1865-1866 by John Richard Dennett
3) Those Terrible Carpetbaggers by Richard Current
4) Yazoo by Albert T. Morgan
5) Reconstruction by Eric Foner
Thoughts anyone?

February 8, 2008

On Furlough

I'll be away from this blog for the next week. Time to break away from Old Man Winter and thaw out in a warmer climate. Cheers to all.

NEW Regional Press Letters Collection

The Minnesota Historical Society Press has recently published a hardbound collection of Civil War letters pertaining to the Third Minnesota Infantry. According to the publisher, "James Madison Bowler and Elizabeth Caleff Bowler courted, married, became parents, and bought a farm [during the Civil War]. They attended dances, talked politics, and confided their deepest fears. Because of the war, however, they experienced all of these events separately, sharing them through hundreds of letters from 1861 to 1865 while Madison served in the Third Minnesota Volunteer Regiment.

The couple’s separation—which led Madison to battle in the Tennessee Surrender and the Dakota War of 1862—challenged their commitment to the war and to each other. These poignant letters provided them a space to voice their fear for and frustration with each other, and they now provide readers with a window into one couple’s Civil War."
Battle buffs should note that, as the book's editor points out in this review, “There are no big name battles. The Third Minnesota was the runt of the seven Minnesota regiments. Their officers surrendered at Murfreesboro, Tenn. (the infamous ‘Tennessee Surrender’). They had a shameful reputation; they were paroled as prisoners.”

February 6, 2008

You Just Never Know!

I've been on a business trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula over the past several days. While in Marquette, I discovered a book store that had a nice selection of new, used, and remainder books. With an hour to kill, I decided to check it out.

Northern Michigan is not what I would have thought was strong Civil War country, nevertheless the shop had a very nice selection. Nestled in there was a like-new 1st edition of Russel Beatie's second volume on the Army of the Potomac entitled McClellan Takes Command, September 1861 - February 1862. The price was only 10 bucks so I bought it. I walked briskly to my car to get out of the 20 degree weather and once there, decided to take a closer look at my purchase. To my surprise, the book also contained a warm inscription and signature from the author which, of course, only adds to any 1st edition's desirability! You just never know what will turn up in unexpected places!

Beatie's history of the AOP high command currently consists of three volumes and have received immense critical acclaim. Some claim that they are now the standard works on the topic.

February 1, 2008

Does This Happen to Civil War Authors?

eBay - Squeezing Out the Little Guy?

Looks like eBay has instituted a new price structure that touts lower listing fees but higher back-end sales fees if an item actually sells. That's the whole point of offering items for sale there, right? The net effect seems to be an increase for sellers of lower priced items, such as books.

Selling Books blog gives a good rundown on the story here.