April 30, 2008

A Little Self-Promotion

In 2005 as I was wrapping up the proofreading for my regimental history of the 26th NY Infantry, I learned of and ultimately bought a collection of 37 previously unseen Civil War and post-war letters from two New York brothers, one of whom served in the 26th. Clinton DeWitt Staring served throughout the war in the 26th NY and then the 3rd NY Light Artillery, Mercer's Battery C. His brother, Charles, briefly served in the 121st NYSV. I was able to weave some of the material into my regimental at the absolute last minute, but for the most part, these letters pertained to the other units.

The material was way too short and mundane for a regular publishing house to produce. However, given my love for fine, handmade books, I slowly laid plans to self-publish these letters in a very limited quantity. Two years later, the result was a 100-copy fine press limited edition entitled "Give My Love to All Our Folks:" Civil War and Post-War Letters of Clinton DeWitt Staring and Charles E. Staring."

Working with Chad Pastotnik and his Deep Wood Press, the finished product was quite literally a handmade effort. I describe the book at my website thusly: "This fully annotated, slender collection of 37 heretofore unseen letters offers a glimpse into a Civil War-era New York family through the letters of DeWitt and Charles as they write home to a third brother, Wellington. The book has been lovingly created by Deep Wood Press in a limited edition of only 100 copies. Using the highest quality materials and hand book binding techniques, this volume has been designed to appeal to not only the Civil War student, but to the connoisseur of fine press bookmaking as well. "Old world" craftsmanship at its finest!

The edition is comprised of 74 signed and numbered trade copies printed in three colors on Fox River Teton paper, 1/4 bound in gray book cloth and blue Hahnemuhle Bugra paper, copper foil stamped title on spine and cover. Also, an additional 26 slipcased, signed, and lettered deluxe copies printed in three colors on mould made Frankfurt paper by Zerkall. Hand bound 3/4 in gray Harmatan goatskin and blue Hahnemuhle Bugra paper, copper foil stamped title on spine and cover, slipcases covered in gray book cloth with copper foil stamped title. Composed in Intertype and ATF Garamond types. 6 1/2 x 9 3/4", 80 pages." Considering the quality of materials, the limited nature of the project and the labor costs involved, the trade edition was priced at $75 with the deluxe edition priced at $125. [click on pictures for larger images]

Let me be the first to admit that the book is my homage to the world of fine press bookmaking - "bookmaking as art" is how I would describe it. I think anyone would agree that there is a strong parallel between this type of work and others presented at this blog. The content of the letters however, cannot be considered an important addition to the Civil War's body of knowledge, though there are certainly very interesting passages, including Charles' description of the battle of Fredericksburg and his hastily drawn map of the same. Therefore, as expected, sales of this limited edition have been stronger in the fine press book community than in the Civil War community. That said, I'm offering a special deal to visitors of this blog. If you would like to own one, I will offer remaining copies at 40% off through May. That works out to $45 for the trade and $75 for the leatherbound limited. Add 5 bucks for shipping. Just shoot me an email and mention this blog. Cheers.

April 29, 2008

The Red Badge of Courage

I do not happen to own a copy of Stephen Crane's classic novel The Red Badge of Courage, therefore I've been considering which version to buy. I say that because the book has been published in umpteen "collectors editions" since its first publication in 1895. All manner of deluxe versions have appeared over the years, from fine presses such as Heritage and the Limited Editions Club, to Franklin Library and Easton Press leather bound editions. The original first edition however (pictured), published in New York by the D. Appleton Co. in 1895 is well beyond most collector's means, with choice copies going for well over several thousand dollars a copy.

Most Civil War bibliophiles know the basic plot of Crane's classic anti-war tale. It follow the trials and tribulations of Henry Fleming, a young northern recruit in the American Civil War who initially holds to visions of gallantry and grandeur. Although the author was born after the war and never participated in battle, The Red Badge of Courage is considered one of the most important war stories ever written. The story treats with the meaning of courage as the young protagonist Henry Fleming is cast into circumstances that take the full measure of his. For the most part, Fleming tries to make sense of the reality of battle and his own role within it, often arriving at somewhat self-serving and egocentric conclusions. Fleming serves in the fictitious 304th regiment and though the grand battle in which he fights is never named, it has since been identified as Chancellorsville.

One interesting version that has caught my eye is a gorgeous two-volume, slipcased facsimile of the author's original manuscript (see pic at right). Published by NCR/Microcard Editions in 1973, each set has a 7 3/4" x 11 1/4" trim size and was limited to 1000 numbered copies. The first volume is titled "Introduction and Apparatus" and is primarily a serious bibliographical study of the novel and the development of the manuscript. It includes a frontispiece color portrait of Stephen Crane. Volume 2 is the actual facsimile reproduction of Crane's handwritten manuscript which shows his various false starts and changes. All of his "crossouts" and notes are present. Both volumes and slipcase are handsomely bound in red buckram. It appears there are plenty of copies in the secondary market with (IMO) sets reasonably priced anywhere from $50 to $150.

April 22, 2008

"New" Publishing Blog

"If you haven't seen it, then it's new to you." At least that was the tag line a few years back from one of the TV networks regarding their upcoming rerun season. That sentiment seems to apply to finding an interesting blog as well.

Anyway, I've just discovered a blog geared toward the book publishing industry that calls itself "View From the Publishing Trenches." Should be of interest to book lovers of all stripes.

April 21, 2008

The Life of Johnny Reb and Billy Yank

It’s likely that anyone who has more than a passing interest in the Civil War has probably heard of Bell I. Wiley’s The Life of Johnny Reb and its companion volume The Life of Billy Yank. Both volumes saw their first printings issued in hardcover by the Bobbs-Merrill Co. of Indianapolis. Johnny Reb came first in 1943 while Billy Yank appeared nine years later in 1952. Both volumes were immensely popular and read extensively from the day of their release, which means that first edition copies with jackets are difficult to find in premium condition.

Both volumes contained numerous heretofore unpublished quotes and commentary from soldier’s letters and diaries, prompting Civil War Books: A Critical Bibliography to refer to them as the encyclopedia for the men in gray and blue, respectively. Camp life, foraging, what life was like while on march and in battle are all presented in great detail from the perspective of the common foot soldier. Johnny Reb can also be referenced in Harwell’s In Tall Cotton (#190). In its description, Harwell cites a letter that Margaret Mitchell wrote to Clifford Dowdey in May 1943 right after the book appeared. Mitchell happily mentions how the book is built from the letters of the common man. “Praise God,” exclaims Mitchell, “the writers are mainly privates, stout yeomen, good Crackers and outspoken po’ white trash. No one had ever taught them the proper form of a letter ( a disadvantage from which officers suffered) and their letters are the real McCoy.”

Both books have been in print from day one with the rights now being held by LSU press. The books also appeared as a slipcased set during the Civil War Centennial, however I’ve just learned of what I consider the real piece de resistance.

To celebrate the books’ 35th anniversary, LSU Press issued both volumes in 1978 as a deluxe, 500-copy slipcased set. Each set was also signed and numbered by Bell Wiley. As you can see from the pictures, each volume features leather spines and buckram boards. An absolutely gorgeous edition for the serious Civil War collector; a set that is now decidedly quite rare.

PS. I've just realized that this is my 125th post. It's certainly been fun and I've definitely learned a thing or two or three during research for some of the posts.

April 18, 2008

Causes Won, Lost, & Forgotten

I recently finished reading Gary Gallagher’s Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War. This is one of the current “hot” history titles being hyped within the mainstream media as it analyzes how Hollywood and popular contemporary art shape our understanding of those four years. I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since I learned of it earlier this year.

As trumpeted in the press, Gallagher offers up an in-depth explanation of what he considers the four key interpretive themes or “causes” of Civil War rememberance: The Lost Cause, the Union Cause, the Emancipation Cause, and the Reconciliation Cause. Each unique “cause” came into being during or just after the war and presented or explained the war’s origins in such a manner as to highlight its viewpoint, while perhaps minimizing or ignoring other factors that conflicted with its core beliefs. I'll let potential readers enjoy for themselves as to how Gallagher defines each cause.

The key element for the discussion of each cause is Gallagher’s excellent analysis of Hollywood’s Civil War films from the early part of the twentieth century to the present, with a heavy focus on the past twenty years. He concludes that while the Lost Cause may have dominated the interpretive focus in the first half of the twentieth century, its sympathetic Confederate focus and themes offend the politically correct sensibilities of modern viewers. Conversely, the Emancipation Cause is now the predominant theme in Hollywood’s public arena, which was heralded into vogue by the 1989 film Glory and continues to this day with offerings such as 2003’s Cold Mountain.

After finishing his analysis of contemporary cinema, Gallagher then turns to popular Civil War art, as depicted by such prominent artists as Mort Kunstler, Dale Galleon, Don Trojani, and others. His methodology was to closely scrutinize the advertisements from over 2700 issues of Civil War Times, North and South, and Blue and Gray magazine from their respective inceptions to the present. With such analysis, Gallagher could then measure which interpretative theme has held sway in the relatively private world of art offerings and purchases. In stark contrast to Hollywood, images depicting the pro-Confederacy “Lost Cause” mythology win hands down.

Within both sets of media, Gallagher points out that the literal “lost cause” is the Union Cause. That tradition, which was so predominant both during and immediately after the war, attempted to “frame the war as preeminently an effort to maintain a viable republic in the face of secessionist actions that threatened the work of the Founders.”

Professor Gallagher’s explanation of the four respective “causes” and how various films fit into one or more of them was most enjoyable. He considers each film and places its importance and message within the era in which it was released, providing further context. Nevertheless, I was hoping Gallagher would offer more “why” into his mix. In other words, why is the “Lost Cause” so popular in modern art yet anathema within Hollywood. The professor however, deftly dodges that contemporary political minefield by offering only the occasional opinion, such as how the disappearance of the Union Cause highlights the degree to which recent Hollywood culture no longer sees nationalism as a sufficient motivating force. To this end, according to Gallagher, modern Hollywood has tended to treat United States armies “whether rampaging through the Confederate countryside or in Vietnam, as largely malevolent expressions of national policy.”

I’ve attempted just a broad overview of this book, which I heartily recommend. As a political junkie, I know there’s an essay somewhere as to the “why” of Gallagher’s analysis.

April 15, 2008

Wow! Would / Could You Spend $156,000 For a Civil War Book?

There are plenty of folks out there with a ton of discretionary money... That was my immediate thought when I saw the final sale prices for the April 1 Bloomsbury auction I discussed in a previous post. Leading the charge was a unbelievably rare two-volume, first edition, first printing set of Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War, which was published in 1865 along with a slightly altered version in 1866. Each oblong volume consisted of fifty albumen print photographs, each with a descriptive caption, generally thought to have been written by Gardner himself.

Historians estimate that no more than 200 sets of the Sketch Book were produced. According to the Cornell University website, "the small print run was due primarily to the difficulty of mass-producing photographically illustrated books in the 1860s, before the advent of simple, reliable photomechanical processes. The original photographic prints were pasted onto boards, which were then bound together with letterpress-printed text." The set of two volumes originally sold for $150, a princely sum in those days, but one that reflected the laborious production methods necessary for this work. 200 sets were ultimately published, but many did not sell. The 100 images contained within are some of the most famous and recognized photographs from the war's eastern theatre, and appear chronologically starting from early 1862 to after the war's end in 1865.

The book seems to be technically out of print, though the title along with its original images and text can easily be had by the casual reader or student in the secondhand market. As for this auction, the presale estimate for the set in question (not pictured) was $130,000 - $150,000. The final hammer price was $130,000. Add in the buyer's premium of 20% and the lucky winner ended up forking over a cool $156,000. Like I said, wow....

April 13, 2008

The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida

I had a mixed reaction when I read that the Civil War Preservation Trust has placed the small Natural Bridge battlefield on its 2008 Top Ten endangered battlefields; delighted that one of may favorite locales is finally getting attention but concerned when I learned the scope of the danger. As you can see from the above link, only seven acres of this tranquil hallowed ground are saved. Meanwhile, the owner of 55 acres of core land has offered it for sale and is openly touting it as battlefield land. Thankfully, the state of Florida is engaged in negotiations to acquire it. Included in this land is the "natural bridge," the epicenter of the battle and the point where the St. Marks river actually flows underground into a cavern before reemerging after a short distance.

The Battle of Natural Bridge was fought on March 6, 1865 and represented one of the last Confederate victories of the war. It was the second largest battle fought on Florida soil (after Olustee) with roughly 1000 men on each side. Fought in woods and swamps just to the southeast of Tallahassee, the hastily assembled and rag-tag Confederate force included home guard, old men, young boys from the local seminary and soldiers on sick leave. After a day of hot work, they repelled a Union invading party comprised primarily of the 2nd and 99th USCT. The successful Rebel stand helped secure Tallahssee as the only Confederate state capital east of the Mississippi not taken by force at the end of the war.

These facts propelled the skirmish to near-mythical status within Florida in the years and decades following the war. One of my favorite quotes was the extreme opinion of a local newspaper when it wrote after the battle, "If the people of Georgia had turned out to oppose Sherman as the Floridians have in the battle of Natural Bridge, he never could have reached Savannah."

The only published book-length work on this obscure battle and campaign to date is Dale Cox's The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida: The Confederate Defense of Tallahassee. Self-published by the author in September 2007, the 200-page trade paperback includes about 85 pages of narrative, several dozen period and modern photographs, and approximately 100 pages of appendixes. Those tables include rosters of all the various commands engaged and casualty lists from both sides.

Given my strong interest in the war in Florida, I had at one time considered such a work but with the appearance of Dale's book, I've backburnered the project. Perhaps down the road and from a different angle.... Dale has a wonderful website devoted to the battle and also blogs at Civil War Florida. Anyone with an interest on the war in Florida will want to check out these first-rate sites.

April 10, 2008

Passing of the Armies - UPDATE

Looks like my comment in the below post that Broadfoot's $500 estimate for this book is now a bit low was right on the mark. The pictured copy was sold at the Bloomsbury's auction mentioned in my April 1 post with a hammer price of $650. The winning bidder actually ended up paying $780 when you factor in the 20% buyer's premium. Bloomsbury's pre-sale estimate was $300 - $400.

April 7, 2008

The Passing of the Armies

Anyone who would visit this blog is probably going to be familiar with Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Thanks to the film Gettysburg, Chamberlain is recognized by scores as the cerebral and heroic colonel of the Twentieth Maine Infantry, the regiment that valiantly held the Union left at Little Round Trip. Less known to the casual reader is that following the legendary battle, Chamberlain stayed in the AOP to the end and went on to have five horses shot out from under him, was wounded a total of six times, and had the eerie experience of reading his obituary twice. His final wound was deemed so serious that he was promoted to brigadier general as he supposedly lay dying on the field of battle.

Chamberlain’s post-war career was equally impressive, including four terms as governor of Maine and also serving as the president of Bowdoin College. Also known to most is that the Civil War never left Chamberlain. He was a frequent speaker at reunions and wrote a number of war-related essays. He began his memoir when in his 80’s but was not finished when he passed away in 1914.

Nevertheless, Chamberlain’s account of the final Appomattox campaign and the Grand Review was posthumously published in 1915 by G. P. Putnam’s under the full title of The Passing of the Armies: An Account of the Final Campaign of the Army of the Potomac. Considering what I know of Putnam’s during that timeframe, I assume the book was initially issued with some type of dust jacket, but I have never seen one or even read of one being offered for sale.

His participation in and description of the Appomattox surrender proceedings is legendary and forms the basis for numerous pieces of contemporary artwork. According to John Peterson, who wrote the preface to a new 1994 edition, Chamberlain’s writing has “a dreamy, ethereal quality – not surprising considering his age at the time of the writing and his wounds and precarious health at the time of the events described.” Eicher’s Civil War in Books in even more generous, describing the title as “one of the finest accounts of a campaign penned by a Federal soldier… a stellar work of Civil War history – a classic.”

The Passing of the Armies has been reprinted extensively over the past two decades, however it is an extremely rare book in the first edition (see pictures). In fact, as of today, there are no first edition copies available for sale on ABE, which of course, underscores its scarcity. Broadfoot’s most recent price guide places it at $500, which seems a bit low years after that reference work was printed. The presence of the dust jacket would increase the price three-fold. Given this work’s classic status, an original copy in fine condition could be considered a cornerstone of any first edition library.

April 6, 2008

Back From the Book Fair

I spent an enjoyable few hours this morning knocking around at the 47th Michigan Antiquarian Book Fair in Lansing. About 80 dealers were on hand to display their wares which ranged from rare books to old postcards and city maps, with everything in between. The crowd was fairly heavy when I left at noon and I overheard some dealers say that business was fairly good. That was music to my ears considering the in-the-tank Michigan economy.

Civil War books were quite common at the booths of those dealers who feature general history amongst their stock. But for the handful of dealers who specialized in military history, it was clearly evident that World War II interest has surpassed that of the Civil War. That is, if quantity of stock and customer interest in that inventory is any indicator. Several brief conversations with these dealers confirmed my hunch. Of course, they pointed out that rare and scare Civil War titles in premium condition will always sell well. As for myself, I walked away with Gary Gallagher's new book on the Civil War in popular culture, a fairly obscure book of Civil War letters called Soldier in the West: The Civil War Letters of Alfred Lacy Hough and a beautiful, 120-year-old copy of Zachariah Chandler: An Outline Sketch of His Life and Public Services.

I'm currently studying Civil War-era Michigan politics which, of course, means one must be conversant with Senator Chandler - lovingly known to many of that time and place as "Xanthippe in pants" and as George McClellan's drinking buddy. ;-)

April 1, 2008

Major Auction of Printed and Manuscript Civil War Material - April 9

Bloomsbury Auctions of New York will conduct a major auction of printed and manuscript Civil War material on Wednesday April 9. The entire 215-lot catalog is online (with images) and can be found here. This extremely rare material includes original slave broadsides, regimental recruiting handbills and broadsides, holograph letters, Confederate newspapers, autographs, and signed photographs. Surprisingly, there are few books. Though acquiring the vast majority of these items will command far deeper pockets than yours truly possesses, I find the auction catalog itself is often a valuable and usually affordable reference tool. Sometimes, but not often, these full-color catalogs are free for the asking to prospective patrons. (hint)

According to Bloomsbury's website, "The sale features the collection of Douglas G. O’Dell, the late proprietor of Chapel Hill Rare Books, and one of the preeminent Civil War dealers in the country. Born in the South, Doug O’Dell’s collection includes a strong emphasis on the Confederacy, with a remarkable assemblage of printed Confederate ephemera produced during the exigencies of war. Examples of this 'necessity printing' mark many of the high spots of this sale: wallpaper newspapers, broadsides printed on poor quality paper in a rainbow of pale and drab colors, and crudely-printed material done on field presses. The O’Dell collection also includes manuscript material of considerable importance, including letters written by Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and other Confederate and Union Generals.

Highlights include a remarkable January 1861 letter regarding Fort Sumter written just days after Robert Anderson’s occupation ($10,000 - $15,000), the complete manuscript for Richard Taylor’s important Confederate memoir titled Destruction and Reconstruction ($10,000 - $15,000), and a very rare copy of the final printing of the Confederate Constitution and a copy owned by an Alabama delegate to that convention ($50,000 - $70,000). Additional items featured in this auction are the most important and desirable photographically illustrated book about the conflict – Alexander Gardner’s Photographic History of the Civil War ($130,000- $150,000), an important handwritten order by Stonewall Jackson directing D. H. Hill to the Battle of Frederickburg ($12,000 - $18,000), a rare copy of the large, lithographed broadside printing of the South Carolina act of secession ($20,000 - $30,000), and an unpublished 1865 manuscript account of Andersonville Prison ($12,000 - $18,000).

Viewings will be held Tuesday, April 1st to Wednesday, April 3rd from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Friday, April 4th from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, Saturday April 5th from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm, Monday, April 7th from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Tuesday, April 8th from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm and on Wednesday, April 9th from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm. The auction will begin on Wednesday, April 9th at precisely 2:00 pm."