August 31, 2008

Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune

Greetings from “Up North,” Michigan where my family and I are enjoying the Labor Day weekend. I drove into Charlevoix yesterday and did a bit of “booking” at the Pine River used and rare bookstore. It was my first visit and I was pleasantly surprised. They carry a nice selection of first editions in all categories, many of which feature Brodart dust jacket protectors. That’s always a good sign for book lovers.

I ended up purchasing a pristine first printing of Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The of Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, as published by the University of Georgia Press in 1992. If you’ve seen the film Glory, then you certainly know of Shaw and his Fifty-fourth Massachusetts (Colored) Infantry. The success of that film, which garnered three Oscars, certainly helped pave the way for this volume.

Though I bought a first printing of this edition, I determined in reading the introductory matter that it should not be called a first edition. In bookman’s parlance, “first edition thus” would be the correct description as many of these letters first appeared in a now exceedingly rare volume titled RGS: Letters, which was privately published by Shaw’s family in 1864 primarily for friends and relations. First Edition Thus describes a book which has seen print previously but now offers significant new or previously unpublished material. Good luck finding a copy of RGS:Letters for it now exists only in rare book rooms or private collections. I found no copies for sale on ABE nor is the book available online at Google Book Search.

Many of Robert Gould Shaw’s letters contained personal or controversial passages which were intentionally excised by his family prior to the publication of RGS: Letters, in keeping with social norms of the era. For this 400+ page volume, editor Russell Duncan restored passages where possible, gathered up additional letters from the four manuscript respositories who hold RGS letters, and added biographical material and annotations that place Shaw’s letters in the proper historical context.

The book’s title is taken from the philosopher William James’ speech at the dedication of the Fifty-fourth Mass. / RG Shaw memorial on the Boston Commons. On a cool day in May 1897 James said, “There they march, warm-blooded champions of a better day for men. There on horseback among them, in his very habit as he lived, sits the blue-eyed child of fortune.”

August 27, 2008

My Book Collecting Interview at Civil War Network

My full interview on Civil War book collecting with Francis Rose of the Civil War Network has now been posted online at that site in podcast format. Other interviewees include James McPherson discussing "On the Battlefield," Harry Smeltzer's "Bull Runnings," Jenine Culligan of the Huntington WV Museum of Art, and Dr. Carroll Van West on “Civil War Trails: Fighting for the Rails." Hope you like it!

August 26, 2008

NEW Primary Source Book on New Mexico in the Civil War

"In December 1861 more than three thousand Texas Confederate troops amassed at Franklin (El Paso) to clear the Rocky Mountain West of Union troops. Eventually, the Texans won the battle at Valverde, New Mexico, but fresh Union reinforcements from Colorado crushed them at Glorieta Pass and drove them back to Texas. Being far removed from the battles in the East, the New Mexico Union army fell in sloppy habits and was beset with a lack of supplies and poor living conditions. Concerned the army would not be able to maintain control of the vast region, inspectors were sent from California to assess the army’s condition and military preparedness. The reports of inspectors, Major Henry Davies Wallen and Captain Andrew Wallace Evans are interestingly told in New Mexico Territory During the Civil War edited and with an introduction by Jerry D. Thompson published by the University of New Mexico.

Drunkenness of the troops and poor relations with the locals seemed to be the major problems being reported to superiors in far away California and Washington, D.C. They also reported on logistical and operational problems faced by the demoralized Union soldiers.

Wallen and Evans found the majority of the nine army posts visited to be in drastic need of repair. Most of the problems had to do with health, sanitation and general living conditions, but at Fort Craig, New Mexico, the inspectors discovered prostitutes living on base and receiving food and medication while the men did without. The fort had become intolerable because of the “sins of the officers.”

Thompson provides a unique insight into the military, cultural, and social life of posts far removed from the primary concentration of command. The men often felt forgotten by their government by being stationed a half continent away."

Full article here.

August 23, 2008

Collecting Autographed First-Edition Books

Interesting article / news release on collecting autographed first editions. Though the article focuses more on fiction, the underlying principles certainly apply to Civil War books.

August 20, 2008

What's a Book Worth?

So for the past week, I was watching this interesting item on eBay: A lovely, 750-copy limited edition reprint of William Allan's The Army of Northen Virginia in 1862. I didn't win and as you can see, the book sold for $113.50. My maximum bid wasn't anywhere near that high because I noticed that there are three identical copies currently for sale on ABE, all with asking prices at $75.

Am I missing something here? This clearly illustrates that any item is worth whatever someone is willing to pay. I'm not willing to shell out $113.50 when I can get the same item elsewhere for $75. On the other hand, perhaps Mr. Krick's signature commands a premium.

It also appears here that an 1892 first edition, rebound in quarter blue leather with blue cloth over boards, sold for $266 on eBay several weeks ago.

Nevins describes the book as "an early balanced documented study in detail of the operations of Lee's army in the year 1862." Allan served as a colonel and chief ordnance officer for generals Jackson, Ewell, and Early in the Army of Northern Virginia. He was referred to by a colleague as "the most competent man for all sorts of work I ever saw." Allan passed away in 1889, making this book a posthumous publication.

August 16, 2008

Video from a South Carolina Museum

From the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.

August 14, 2008

Bonnet Brigades

As part of the research for my next book, I’ve been delving into the social aspects of the war much more than the military ones. Much of this is fairly new to me, which is just the way I like it as I always try to take my learning and research experiences in fresh directions. Of special interest is the role of women in the Civil War, which has currently led me to Bonnet Brigades: American Women and the Civil War, written by Mary Elizabeth Massey and first published by Alfred Knopf in 1966.The book was part of The Impact of the Civil War series that was planned by the Civil War Centennial Commission and edited by Allan Nevins. Based on the back panel of the jacket, there were to be fifteen volumes in the series, all of which dealt with some non-military aspect of the war. The book is still in print but under the drab title of Women in the Civil War.

According to the flap, the author “shows how the war exerted a significant influence on the development of women in the Union and the Confederacy.” An early review from Library Journal states that the work "presents a comprehensive yet readable account of a long-neglected aspect of American history. Massey contends that the Civil War aided women's emancipation by creating ‘nondomestic opportunities’ for them as industrial workers, writers, and even spies.” Almost concurrently, series editor Allan Nevins disliked the original name, asserting in his bibliography that the book featured “A poor title for a splendid book; all important facets of women in wartime have been covered in a scholarly and colorful manner.” Clearly this is a scholarly book, in fact the bibliography mentioned below describes it as "a standard text," but I’m wondering if a newer work has since replaced it?

First edition copies in collector’s condition can be had but are not cheap, as evidenced here. Expect to pay $50 or more for a desirable copy.

ADDENDA: As I've written before, reference books and bibliographies are the core of any superior book collection. Those wanting to seriously research women and the Civil War will need to examine (or even obtain) Women and the American Civil War: An Annotated Bibliography by Theresa McDevitt.

"The first reference work to draw together the stories and studies of women in the American Civil War, this annotated bibliography offers access to the literature that documents the history of women who experienced the war, changed it, and were changed by it. Offering nearly 800 entries, it lists both primary and secondary sources, classic and current works, and items in print and available on the Internet. Drawing together over one hundred years of writings, Women in the American Civil War: An Annotated Bibliography is an invaluable resource for readers and researchers interested in this neglected topic. During the American Civil War women played a highly significant role, yet modern writers often overlook their experiences and contributions. Women in the American Civil War: An Annotated Bibliography is the first reference work to focus exclusively on women in the war. Sections list sources on such diverse topics as women as nurses and medical relief workers, women's changing economic roles, their lives as refugees, as spies and scouts, or in military camps. It also looks at the literature on the miscellaneous topics of women in public, wives of politicians and military commanders, family life, and women on the wrong side of the law."

August 11, 2008

Two NEW Battle Books of Note

Two renowned Civil War authors have just published new studies of major Civil War campaigns. It is obvious that the internet and email have helped uncover scores of primary source documents that were previously hidden to scholars working in the "old school" days of snail mail and post cards. All of which benefits the Civil War student with modern studies such as these, which are not merely a rehash of old, classic works, but contain many new, previously untapped sources that allow for fresh interpretations.

Noah Andre Trudeau offers Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea, a hefty, 688-page tome from Harper Collins that retells that famous general's legendary campaign. This one is now available.

In a few short weeks, Peter Cozzens and the University of North Carolina Press will give us Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign, which comes in at an equally solid 644 pages.

August 9, 2008

You Win Some, You Lose Some

One of the fundamental guidelines in buying any type of collectible book through the mail is “know your seller.” In other words, make sure you’re dealing with someone knowledgeable and reputable. If you don’t, you run the risk of getting burned. This, of course, is the big chance you take when buying books through eBay.

I’ve found many great books and bargains over the years through eBay, in large measure because I look for a detailed description and read it closely, ask questions, and always want to see pictures. My advice is to scrutinize the seller’s feedback and make sure you know what the return and shipping policies are. On the few occasions when I didn’t do these things, I often ended up disappointed.

Which is what happened this week. I found a copy for sale of William C. Oates’ The War Between the Union and the Confederacy and its Lost Opportunities. Not the exceedingly rare Neale first edition from 1905, but the Morningside reprint which sells new for $50. The initial listing had no pics and virtually no description but I knew what it was and thought I might be able to score a bargain. I asked the seller to send me a few scans, which he did, but it was still tough to ascertain the book’s condition. Nevertheless, I put in a low bid and ended up getting the book for $6.50. What I foolishly didn’t notice until after the fact was that the seller is in Canada. So I ended up having to fork over an additional $14 in postage plus the seller tacked on $3 for the shipping mailer. This guy clearly is not a professional bookseller because the “mailer” was nothing more than an oh-so-slightly padded bag that the book was merely tossed in to. Tip – always make sure the seller uses a sturdy box with ample padding.

The book itself was beat. Bumped tips with heavy sunning to the spine which the pictures did not reveal, plus the spine was loose and “shaken.” Bottom line – I ended up paying about $24 for a well-worn reading copy because I ignored my own rules and ended up paying the price. Live and learn.

It is a desirable book to have for its contents however. According to the Morningside webpage,“This book describes the great sectional conflict as seen and experienced by a field officer in the Army of Northern Virginia. Colonel William C. Oates (pictured), an outspoken, candid, ambitious, and aggressive man, tells the story of the people and events that surround him. And what events they are! His regiment, the 15th Alabama, was the regiment that grappled with the 20th Maine and made itself famous on the rocky slopes of Little Round Top as the day’s battle and possibly the fate of the entire Confederacy hung in the balance at Gettysburg. Oates’ superb account must be read in order to fully understand how the actual conditions, the decisions of small unit commanders, and the chances of fate combined in one of the most heroic, desperate, and gripping actions of the war. Oates’ regiment was a member of Trimble’s and later of Law’s brigade, and he keenly records his observations while campaigning with them at such locations as the Shenandoah Valley, the Second Manassas (including battles at Groveton and at Chantilly), Fredericksburg, and Chickamauga. He also takes us to the Lee-Grant confrontation of 1864. Included in this volume is a completely detailed roster of the 15th Alabama, as well as sketches of the other four Alabama regiments of Law’s brigade. In addition, Mr. Robert Krick adds a detailed introduction on Oates’ life which certainly makes this reprint a bargain. Written in 1905 and first published by The Neale Company, William Oates’ The War Between the Union and the Confederacy is indeed among the rarest of today’s Confederate books.”

That last sentence certainly rings true, for as you can see here, there are only two first editions currently for sale and with hefty price tags at that. The Morningside hardcover reprint certainly offers a handsome alternative to the pricey first edition.

August 8, 2008

Forthcoming Podcast Interview on the Civil War Network

Last night I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Francis Rose, the host of The Civil War Network , a new blog and podcast about current events having to do with the Civil War. Francis wanted to chat with me after discovering this blog and felt a discussion about Civil War book collecting would be a nice fit for his new effort. We chatted for about 30 minutes on how a new collector can build a desirable first edition Civil War library as opposed to just a rag-tag collection of books. In addition, we discussed my background as both book collector and Civil War author. Rose hopes to have his first broadcast in late August which will also feature an interview with James McPherson.

He certainly has the professional background for such an endeavor. Rose entered the broadcasting field in 1985, starting in radio at a station in his home town. He then moved to a station in Baltimore in 1986, and has worked in large-market and network radio ever since. Today, he is a producer and news anchor at Federal News Radio AM 1050 in Washington DC.

According to Rose, "The mission of The Civil War Network is to inform, educate, and entertain people interested in the Civil War. The Civil War Network will fulfill its mission through audio, video, the written word, and other forms of media presentations. The Civil War Network will fulfill its mission while adhering to the highest journalistic, entertainment, and ethical standards."

Our interview was certainly lots of fun on my end and I look forward to hearing it over the internet. Thanks again Francis, and best wishes for your blog's success!

August 6, 2008

The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged

The University of Tennessee Press has just reissued one of the seminal works on the battle of Shiloh; one that, amazingly, had been out of print for almost a century. The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged was written by David W. Reed, a Shiloh veteran, and represented the official version of the battle by the Shiloh Battlefield Park Commission. It first saw print in 1902 as a rather dull hardcover (plain black boards, no dj) that was published in an edition of 2500 copies. The book was reprinted in a 1909 second edition that corrected some minor errors which was in turn, reprinted for the last time in 1913.

As you can see here, surviving copies are indeed hard to come by, which helped give way to this long overdue reprint. Its a very nice production that features Timothy Smith's excellent introduction to Reed's cornerstone work. A second highlight is a CD-Rom that contains Reed's masterful battle line and troop movement maps. I've just submitted a much longer review of this work to Civil War News which will appear in an upcoming issue. This one belongs on every Shiloh student's bookshelf.