March 31, 2008

The Celebrated Case of Fitz John Porter

My recently-completed book on the life of Orlando Poe necessitated some deep research into the Washington wartime machinations of the Radical Republicans, the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, and all the other various high-level politics of that era. Seeing what has transpired over the past five years has convinced me yet again that history tends to repeat itself, especially when the lines between political and military become blurred. Perhaps there really is no line to begin with….

All of which has stirred an interest in learning more about the ordeal of General Fitz John Porter, a George McClellan favorite who was made the scapegoat by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and the Radicals for the Union failure at Second Bull Run. Porter was arrested in November 1862, formally charged with misconduct during that battle, found guilty by a tribunal that was practically hand-picked by Stanton and then cashiered from the army in January 1863. Porter spent virtually the rest of his life attempting to restore his reputation and rank. The Celebrated Case of Fitz John Porter: An American Dreyfus Affair by author Otto Eisenschiml tells the story of Porter’s alleged misdeeds at Second Manassas, his subsequent court martial and conviction, and then the years spent trying to restore his name. The “Dreyfus Affair” aspect refers to the case of Alfred Dreyfus, a French artillery officer who was wrongly imprisoned in the 1890’s for treason.

Published by the Bobbs-Merril Company in 1950, it was the first book-length look into this sorry chapter of American military jurisprudence written by a non-participant. Almost seventy years earlier, General Jacob D. Cox published The Second Battle of Bull Run, As Connected With the Fitz-John Porter Case, (Cincinnati: P. G. Thomson, 1882), which was an anti-Porter paper Cox had read before a society of ex-army and navy officers on February 28, 1882. Eisenschiml’s book however, is far more sympathetic to Porter than Cox’s earlier polemic. Scholar Allen Nevins described it as "a lightly documented, strongly argued, but on the whole convincing brief on behalf of Porter." David Eicher in his Civil War in Books: An Analytical Bibliography tends to agree with Nevins, pointing out that the narrative depends heavily on courtroom testimony, much of which was perjured or hearsay. He also deftly points out that Porter’s case was one of the more interesting postwar battles that emerged unrelated to the creation of Lost Cause folklore.

The book itself is not uncommon in the first edition. As this page shows, there are currently over 40 copies available for sale just on American Book Exchange, a number of which are signed by the author. Nor is it a particularly well-made title, the paper being easily susceptible to browning which was typical of books published during the WWII-era. Nevertheless, as collectors know, the three keys to determining a book’s collectability are “condition, condition, and condition.” As a closer examination of the search shows, finding both the book and dust jacket in fine shape can be difficult.

I’ve noticed that there are also a couple of recent and forthcoming books on this topic. Judging by the titles, they appear to be as sympathetic to Porter as was Eisenschiml’s book from a half-century earlier. In 2003 we saw Injustice on Trial: Second Bull Run, General Fitz John Porter's Court Martial, and the Schofield Board Investigation that Restored His Good Name by Curt Anders. Later this year, McFarland will publish Fitz-John Porter, Scapegoat of Second Manassas: The Rise, Fall and Rise of the General Accused of Disobedience by Donald R. Jermann.

March 26, 2008

Carman Book Now Available

My copy of Ezra Carman's legendary Maryland Campaign of September 1862 arrived today direct from the publisher. This is a big book. It runs over 500 pages of fairly small font and has an 8 1/2" x 11" trim size - all of which was obviously necessary to accommodate what editor Joseph Pierro says in his Acknowledgements was a 400,000 word project. It's also fashioned after the McFarland books in that it features illustrated boards rather than a cloth binding with dust jacket.

As previously discussed here and elsewhere, there are no maps. Other than a portrait of Brevet Brigadier General Ezra A. Carman on the frontispiece, there are no illustrations either. At $95 per copy, this one is definitely targeted at the library market. Still, I can't wait to dig in.

FURTHER UPDATE: Kim Guinta of Routledge Press reports that the first printing was only 500 copies but that they will reprint as necessary. First edition collectors take note.

March 24, 2008

Huzzah! A Home For Poe

I’m pleased to announce that my biography of Union officer and engineer Orlando M. Poe has been accepted for publication by Kent State University Press. The 126,000-word manuscript will contain fifteen maps commissioned especially for the book as well as 20 or so period photographs and drawings, at least five of which are previously unpublished.

I believe Poe to be one of the more underrated and overlooked individuals from both the Civil War and the late nineteenth-century. As important as many of his wartime engineering contributions were, I make the case that his post-war career spent largely on the Great Lakes had a far greater impact on society as a whole. Much of his work affects Great Lakes mariners to this very day. This work will tell his life’s story in depth for the first time ever.

I’m currently considering two titles. The original working title was Great Lakes Engineer: The Life of Civil War General Orlando M. Poe while a more recent idea is “An Approving Conscience is Sufficient Reward:” The Life of Civil War General Orlando M. Poe. I find the former to be more descriptive (think marketing) though the latter seems more “artsy.” Opinions are welcomed.

With the contracts now signed, it’s time to settle down into all the fun pre-production stuff! Also, an article-length version of Poe’s life, entitled Orlando Metcalfe Poe: General William T. Sherman’s Right Hand Man, will be published in North and South magazine. Editor Keith Poulter informs me it should appear in the upcoming issue.

March 23, 2008

The Abraham Lincoln Bookshop

The missus, daughter and I will heading west to the Windy City this coming weekend for a few days with friends. Chicago is a wonderful destination as many already know, filled with great restaurants, clubs, theaters, and yes, bookstores.

Any Civil War bibliophile who visits Chicago will want to pay a visit to the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop located at 357 West Chicago Avenue. In this correspondent's humble opinion, it is the finest open shop dedicated to Lincolnia and the Civil War that I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. You name it, they've got it. New titles, reading copies and the rarest of the rare. Much to the missus' humorous dismay, my wallet is always a tad thinner after visiting the ALB.

According to the shop's website, the store was established in 1938, and to this day "serves the needs of collectors and scholars, professional historians and independent writers, dedicated first edition hunters and casual history enthusiasts.

Ralph Newman, a master promoter, raconteur, one time merchant marine, minor-league baseball player and hopeless bibliophile, founded the shop in part to serve the passionate collecting needs of a small circle of friends devoted to the study of the Civil War and the Great Emancipator. Among that small circle were poet Carl Sandburg, authors Bruce Catton, Otto Eisenschiml, E. B. ‘Pete’ Long, Stanley Horn, Lloyd Lewis, and T. Harry Williams, Illinois Governor Otto Kerner and William O. Douglas, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Also among Newman’s circle of friends were the fifteen men who became the charter members of The Civil War Round Table, the first chapter in a movement of Civil War Round Tables that meet monthly across the U.S. and around the World. Round Table members from around the globe still visit the Book Shop and sit at the original “round table” while reviewing Lincoln autographs, manuscripts, artwork, or rare books. In 1971 Daniel Weinberg entered into a partnership with Ralph Newman, and in 1984 purchased Newman’s interest to become the sole proprietor."

March 21, 2008

Serious Research / Writing vs. "Only Blogging"

Crossed Sabers has a post containing this link on blogging and the potential peril it poses to the serious writer. Though the post is a humorous "Poe-esque" cautionary tale addressed to what I interpret would be writers of fiction, the same danger still holds true for non-fiction historians. In my opinion, the potential pitfalls are real.

Is Borders About To Go Belly Up?

Today's Detroit News reports in this story that Borders, the nations #2 bookseller, will consider putting itself up for sale in an attempt to save itself. Shares in the Ann Arbor-headquartered company fell more than 39% yesterday to close at $5.07 a share. Three years ago, it's shares traded at around $25.

Still, Borders might have a tough time finding interested buyers, analysts said, because of its shaky finances. "We see little opportunity in the near term for Borders to be sold," wrote Gary Balter, a Credit Suisse research analyst, in a Thursday note to investors. Given financials like the story reports, I kinda doubt that turning books face-out rather than spine out, thereby resulting in less choice, will turn things around.

March 20, 2008

The Hot Tampa Sun Must Have Brought This On...

The descendant of a 19th-century Tampa (Florida) business owner has sued the city to collect on a Civil War-era promissory note for implements and ammunition to defend the town. I kid you not. Hey Eric, does she have a case or what? :-)

With interest, the "bill" amounts to more than $22 million.

The note issued by the city June 28, 1861, was $299.58, but with the desired 8 percent interest since, the total comes to $22.72 million, an attorney for Joan Kennedy Biddle says in a December letter to the city requesting payment. Read the whole story here.

I really like the one reader's response. Since the suit is from 1861, if the city loses, they should pay her with Confederate dollars!

Speaking of Tampa, there's a wonderful book by Canter Brown that chronicles the role of this Florida Gulf Coast town during the Civil War. It's title is Tampa in Civil War & Reconstruction and was published in 2000 by the University of Tampa Press.

March 17, 2008

Tornado Seriously Damages Atlanta's Civil War-era Cemetery

Included in the damage were marble columns and angels at the site of Georgia's Civil War Gov. Joseph Emerson Brown (see picture) — but apparently didn't shred a leaf from a nearby willow oak. Full story here.

A recent book entitled Historic Oakland Cemetery covers the park's history. According to the publisher: "To learn about a community's past, the city cemetery is the place to visit. As Atlanta's oldest permanent landmark, Oakland Cemetery holds the past, present, and future history of the Gateway to the South. Established in 1850 as a small municipal cemetery on the southeastern edge of town, Historic Oakland has evolved into 88 acres of art, history, architecture, gardens, and peaceful green space in the heart of downtown Atlanta. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 as a significant example of an historic Victorian-era cemetery, Oakland is the final resting place of more than 70,000 deceased. People of both statewide and national importance have been buried throughout the cemetery's grounds in the past 150 years, including author Margaret Mitchell, golfing legend Bobby Jones, Confederate generals and soldiers, Georgia governors, Atlanta mayors, and ordinary people known only to their families.

Focusing more on the Civil War is Headstones of Heroes: The Restoration and History of Confederate Graves in Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery. This hardcover was publsihed in 1997 and is readily available in the secondary market.

The grounds also boast what is referred to as the Confederate Memorial Grounds. This section is the final resting place for approximately 6,900 Confederate soldiers including 3,000 unknowns. Through much of the Civil War, Atlanta hospitals overflowed with men wounded in battles to the north. The largest cluster of wartime hospitals was within half a mile of the cemetery. As fighting moved closer to Atlanta and deaths mounted. Land adjacent to the Cemetery was secured as a Confederate burial ground. After the war, several thousand soldiers who had fallen in the Atlanta campaign were moved from battlefield graves to Oakland. Approaching this area from the main gate, the Confederate Obelisk provides an orienting landmark. The 65-foot monument, made of Stone Mountain granite, was dedicated in 1874as a project of the Atlanta Ladies Memorial Association. For years it was the tallest structure in the city.

Marked military graves occupy a large central rectangle south of the Obelisk. Included are the headstones of 16 Union soldiers who died in local hospitals. Another area of marked Confederate graves lies along Oakland’s southern wall. Northeast of the Obelisk, the unknowns are guarded by the “Lion of Atlanta.” Modeled after the Swiss “Lion of Lucerne.” The Lion was carved in 1894 from the largest block of marble quarried in Georgia up to that time. For the nameless soldiers, the dying lion rests on the flag they followed and “guards their dust,” in the words of a commemorative poem.

To the northwest of the obelisk, three Confederate generals are buried: John Brown Gordon; Alfred Iverson, Jr.; Clement Anselm Evans. Generals Lucius Gartrell and William Stephen Walker are buried on family plots. Also within the grounds are Bell Tower Rdige, which is considered the highest point in the cemetery and the second highest point in all of Atlanta. A historical marker indicates that this was the observation point of Confederate Commander John B. Hood as the Battle of Atlanta raged to the east.

March 15, 2008

The Gleam of Bayonets

In an earlier post, I touched on some Antietam books, but glossed over James V. Murfin’s The Gleam of Bayonets, which is considered the first scholarly modern study of the battle and in some quarters is still deemed a standard work. Having finally found a nice first edition in jacket, I thought I’d give it a bit more discussion. As I mentioned before, for a book of such fairly recent vintage, finding that nice first edition copy was unusually difficult. The book was first published in 1965 by the small publishing house of Thomas Yoseloff, Inc. Some readers may recall that Yoseloff was an aggressive publisher of Civil War books from the mid-1950’s and well into the late 1960’s. In addition to new works, he brought back into print such classic, multi-volume sets as Battles & Leaders, the Photographic History of the Civil War, and the 16-volume Campaigns of the Civil War, no doubt all connected to the war’s centennial. As a sidebar, Yoseloff passed away late last year at the age of ninety-four.

The book was well received from the outset. It won the Fletcher Pratt Award of the New York Civil War Roundtable for the best nonfiction Civil War book of 1965. Its current publisher, LSU Press describes the book thusly: “The gentleness and patience of Lincoln, the vacillations of McClellan, and the grandeur of Lee—all unfold before the reader. The battle itself is presented with precision and scope as Murfin blends together atmosphere and fact, emotions and tactics, into a dramatic and coherent whole. Originally published in 1965, The Gleam of Bayonets is now recognized as a classic and the standard against which all books on Antietam are measured.” I would agree, for I found that as I was working on my regimental history of the 26th NYSV, I consulted this work considerably more than other, more recent works on the battle. According to Nevins, the book is “detailed and well-documented, [however] this account is strongly anti-McClellan and opinionated.”

Virtual Antietam also reports, and I was not aware of this, that Murfin’s book was until recently, the only published work based on the landmark 'Carman Maps'. Ezra A. Carman, a veteran of the battle and its first historian, produced an indispensable set of troop movement maps and edited them with prodigious input from Union and Confederate veterans alike, but never published the accompanying manuscript. Of course, most Civil War bibliophiles are now aware that Carman’s legendary work has just been published by Routledge Press. Those maps, however, are not in the new book but online for reader access.

James V. Murfin (1929-1987) spent most of his life studying the all-day engagement that took place close to his boyhood home of Hagerstown, Maryland. As historian James I. Robertson observed in his Introduction to the book, Murfin was not a professional historian by training nevertheless his book was surely “a labor of love” produced over years of prodigious research “and scores of hours spent trampling over the battlefield.” Murfin later worked for the National Park Service in the Publication's Division at Harpers Ferry for seventeen years and was ultimately authored or edited more than a dozen books, including Harpers Ferry and National Parks of the U.S.A. In fact, the Murfin Theater at Antietam National Battlefield Visitors Center is named in his honor.

The book has been in print consistently since its initial publication forty-three years ago. Bonanza Books did an inexpensive hardcover reprint I believe in the 1970’s while more recently, Easton Press rewarded the title with its full leather-and-gilt treatment in 1995. It was also reissued in paperback by LSU Press in 2004 with a new foreword by Scott Harwig.

March 13, 2008

Borders To Cut Number of Titles in Stores

I just finished reading an article in the local rag that originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal. It states that in an effort to jump-start sales, Borders Bookstores is "sharply increasing the number of titles in displays on shelves with the covers face-out. Because that takes up more room than the traditional spine-out style, the new approach will require a typical Borders superstore to shrink it's number of titles by five percent to ten percent."

Some think the move is long overdue, including John Deighton, editor of the Journal of Consumer Research. "Breakfast cereals are not stacked end of box out," says Deighton. "You want your product to be as enticing as possible." The article also points out how Border's new strategy reflects "a growing view that store customers can be intimidated by too great a selection." According to the story, too many titles (or options) can be potentially paralyzing to the potential book customer. "People don't want choice, they want what they want," says Deighton. "And what they want is sometimes constructed for them in the store by the attractiveness of what's on offer." Obviously this is not good news for mid-list or struggling new authors. It may mean even less space in the Civil War section unless, of course, you're a name-brand author offering up the latest Lincoln or Gettysburg tome.

"And the public wants what the public gets" - "Going Underground" - The Jam

March 10, 2008

Book of the Year Award Finalist - The Words of War

In this online press release, the History Publishing Company of Palisades, NY, has received notice from "Foreword Magazine" that one of its Civil War titles has been nominated for a 2008 Book Of The Year Award. The annual awards are sponsored by the prominent industry journal.

The Words of War by Donagh Bracken was chosen as a finalist for the History category. It is a study of the birth of American journalism during the American Civil War. Using the contrasting reportage of the New York Times and the Charleston Mercury placed in juxtaposition, the book shows that political belief by the reporters can alter their view of reality [no kidding!]. It has been hailed by such critics as Civil War News as a book that "will make you think and it will provoke questions," and The Midwest Book Review said it is "…an inherently fascinating, impressively informative, enthusiastically recommended contribution to…Civil War studies."

The final winners of the Book of the Year Award will be announced at the 2008 Book Expo in Los Angeles on May 29th.

March 9, 2008

The Diary of Gideon Welles

“The insightful diary Gideon Welles kept during his tenure as secretary of the navy, 1861–1869 (longer than any of his predecessors), is an extraordinary record of the people and events of official Washington during the Lincoln and Johnson administrations,” writes CivilWar@Smithsonian. More than just extraordinary, it is a necessary source for any study of the era. Continuing, this online bio of Welles notes that he “had been a bureau chief in the Navy Department between 1846 and 1849. This brief encounter was the extent of his practical experience as he assumed his new duties as navy secretary. The job was daunting from the start because there was almost no effective navy to speak of, and what vessels were in existence were mostly old and scattered around the globe. Moreover, many senior officers resigned during the secession crisis. In spite of difficulties, Welles succeeded in building a navy that played a vital role in winning the war. The Union blockade of the Confederate coast was typical of the challenges he faced with a makeshift fleet. Yet in time, this grand strategy eventually proved effective. Welles’s endorsement of the ironclad vessels was also ambitious for its day and had many influential detractors, but it pointed in the direction of the modern navy.”

Welles passed away in 1878 at the age of seventy-five. Thirty-three years later in 1911, his Diary of Gideon Welles was published as a three-volume set by Houghton Mifflin to critical acclaim. According to Eicher’s The Civil War in Books, Welles’ diary “offers a cornerstone source of many famous scenes and evaluations, including the failures of McClellan, the caustic nature of Stanton, the first tidings of emancipation, and the assassination of Lincoln.” Soon after its publication however, scholars noted that it was not an exact replica of his wartime diary. Historians quickly came to realize that certain passages were most likely written by Welles after the dates they were assigned to in the diary. With few exceptions, most changes were deemed minor though it did come to light that both Welles’ son and the editors at Houghton Mifflin had altered material that resulted in a historical record that may have wandered from Welles’ original meaning. Because of this, historian Howard Beale painstakingly went through all eighteen of Welles’ original journals now kept at the Library of Congress in order to determine the extent of the changes. He discovered that literally thousands of changes had been made by Welles, presumably between 1869 and 1878. His research was published in 1925 in the American Historical Review within the article “Is the Printed Diary of Gideon Welles Reliable?” Beale then set out to “restore” the diaries to their original state. The three-volume “corrected edition” (pictured bottom right and for sale here) was ultimately published in 1960 by W. W. Norton and Co. Such corrections prompted Allan Nevins to write in Civil War Books: A Critical Bibliography that the modern Beale-corrected set was the best version and that the earlier first edition “should be used with caution.” Thus, a quandary for the book collector-historian. Purist book collectors will want the first edition while scholars will gravitate toward the 1960 Beale-edited editions. That later edition seems to be less common than the original first edition though both versions sell for around $300 for the set.

March 7, 2008

Southwestern Michigan Residents Take Note

The "Antique Book Road Show" is coming to Kalamazoo on March 13. Check it out here.

March 6, 2008

The "Top" 50 Civil War Books of All Time

I love lists, especially those various Top 100 countdowns that VH1 Classic throws together. Now Civil War Interactive has released the results of their online poll to determine the "Top 50 Civil War Books of All Time." I'm not exactly sure what is meant by "top." Does that mean favorite, or best researched, or best prose? My guess is that for most voters, it was a healthy subjective dose of "most important" sprinkled with "personal favorite."

I find it interesting that, setting aside the government-produced O. R. and Stephen Crane's fictional novel, only 6 of the 50 titles were written by men who were actually there. Most in fact, are titles that were published within the past several decades. To be fair, I think there's a good reason for that: The advent of the computer age and ease of travel has made it far easier for today's scholars to access manuscript material than for the scholars of yesteryear.

All in all, it's an impressive list. In my opinion (and you know what they say about opinions), there are some glaring ommissions and some laughable inclusions. My one big complaint? The absence of How the North Won by Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones, arguably one of the most important books on the Civil War in the last half-century. But even as a guy who is primarily interested in the military aspects of the war, I have to agree with Kevin Levin's post where he expresses some dismay at the lack of non-military titles.

March 4, 2008

Fighting Over Lighthouses in Florida

In this new book on a most obscure topic, namely Florida’s Lighthouses in the Civil War, author Neil E. Hurley discusses the added significance of a lighthouse in a time of conflict. Hurley is the historian for the Florida Lighthouse Association, a statewide non-profit with 30 members, and has written a number of books on the history of lighthouses.

In this online article, the author states:

At the start of the country’s Civil War, there were 20 lighthouses and one lightship along Florida’s 1,197 miles coastline. The Sunshine State was sparsely populated in 1860, its citizens concentrated in communities along the coast and rivers. Although the peninsula had a railroad, neither roads nor railways crossed the state or ran the length of the east and west coasts. Trade and communication was done via water. Even with lighthouses, shipping was fraught with hazards. Hurricanes, shifting sandbars and coral reefs posed dangers. Lightships, bell boats, buoys, range lights and houses were built, moved, made higher and varied in design to accommodate the challenges of the environment. Many of the lighthouses also acted as customs houses and their keepers as collectors. During military conflict, control of the lighthouses was critical to obtain a victory on land. As the war went on, naval battles and blockades reduced trade. Lamp oil and functioning lenses were also in short supply. Early in the conflict, Union forces achieved control of the seven lighthouses in South Florida. This allowed Lincoln’s army to use Key West and the Dry Tortugas as a base. The 14 other lighthouses were battle sites. Some
were extinguished because they were damaged in the efforts to capture and control. Confederate forces intentionally and cautiously disabled other lights in order to create hazards to Union supply and troop ships traveling the coast. Hurley tells his story in 22 chapters, one for each Florida light and one for the Tortugas Harbor Light. In his preface, he explains the administration of lighthouses before and after the Confederate states seceded. In each chapter, Hurley provides the history of the light, its relevance in the region and the part it played during the Civil War.

As an avid student of the war in Florida, this is one book that I'll look to acquire.

March 2, 2008

A Few Memories of a Long Life / Ye Galleon Press

I'm in the process of acquiring a copy of A Few Memories of a Long Life by Robert C. Wallace. The book was originally issued in 1916 and seems rather uncommon, though not too valuable according to Broadfoot's Priced Checklist. It was also given the fine press treatment in 1988 when it was reissued by the Ye Galleon Press out of Fairfield, Washington.

According to the 1986-1996 edition of Civil War Eyewitnesses, Wallace first entered the war in 1861 as part of the First Michigan Infantry, a 3-month unit that was also known as the "Detroit Light Guard" and saw action at Bull Run. That's where my interest primarily lies since I'm currently researching and writing about Detroit in the Civil War. Once that unit was musterd out, Wallace reenlisted into the Fifth Michigan Cavalry and saw battle at Gettysburg, including the pursuit of Lee, Kilpatrick's raid on Richmond, Sheridan's Trevilian raid and numerous others. He recalls Custer with fondness and I also believe he served out west with Custer after the war, though I'm not yet certain of that.

It's that western service that probably prompted Ye Galleon Press to consider this book. This small and fine press began formal operations in 1964 and for the next 40 years, produced beautifully-bound and well-crafted limited editions that brought back into print rare and scarce books that focused on northwestern Americana. The press' work was considered to be of such caliber that Yale and Cambridge had standing orders for everything the press produced. Some of those works had a Civil War tint, such as the title previously mentioned and others such as Abraham Lincoln and the Washington Territory. Another title that I own is a gorgeous, three-color edition of Reports of Inspection Made in the Summer of 1877: Travel Accounts of General William T. Sherman to Spokan Falls, Washington Territory, in the Summers of 1877 and 1883. That book features a lengthy report of the excursion by then-Colonel Orlando M. Poe, who was an aide-de-camp to Sherman at the time and is the biographical subject of my upcoming book. Alas, the press slipped under the waves several years ago following the death of its founder. Nevertheless, many of its titles are still readily available through the usual secoundary outlets such as or ABE. I hope to learn more about this, sadly, now-defunct press.