"There are currently fewer than ten members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) under the age of forty. It's one of the dark jokes about the rare book trade that rare book shops are where old books go to die. In Korea it's becoming a reality."
December 18, 2009
"There are currently fewer than ten members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) under the age of forty. It's one of the dark jokes about the rare book trade that rare book shops are where old books go to die. In Korea it's becoming a reality."
When I posted a week ago about John Page Nicholson's 1914 Civil War bibliography, I felt it might have been the first book of its type ever published. Boy, was I wrong. The true granddaddy of all such books has to be John Russell Bartlett's Literature of the Rebellion: A Catalogue of Books and Pamphlets Relating to the Civil War in the United States which first appeared in 1866, only a year after the war ended.
This hardbound book was fully cloth bound, published in Boston by Draper & Halliday, and clocked in at 477 pages. Like most obscure reference books, it was a very limited edition as it was printed in a total run of only 310 copies: 250 in royal octavo (roughly 6" x 9") and 60 copies in quarto (roughly 9 1/2" x 12") .
Barlett's book was the first and still one of the most comprehensive bibliographies on the literature of the American Civil War. Because of this, and as with the Nicholson book, Martino Publishers reprinted the book in recent years. It also still appears to be available direct from them at $65. Included are 6073 printed items divided into the following categories: 1] Books and pamphlets relating to the Rebellion and to related topics published anywhere, 2] Congressional reports and speeches etc., 3] Official publications of the several States covering the period of the war, 4] Official publications of the British government relating to the War, 5] Works on American Slavery, and several other headings. It's also available online at Google Print. This one looks like it might be indispensable for researchers seeking those obscure nineteenth-century pamphlets pertaining to the "Late Unpleasantness."
December 12, 2009
I've just learned that my new biography of Orlando M. Poe (pictured at upper left corner) has been selected by the Library of Michigan as a recipient of their 2010 Michigan Notable Books award. According to their website and press release, they review anywhere from 250 to 400 titles "published in the previous calendar year that are about, or set in, Michigan or the Great Lakes region, or are written by a Michigan author." From those, they then select "up to 20 recommended books reflecting Michigan's rich cultural heritage." This is my first award and, obviously, I am quite honored.
December 11, 2009
I love reference bibliographies because, as both an author and book collector, they always provide the bibliographic answers that I'm seeking. As I've opined on more than one occasion, "books about books" are at the core of any bibliophile's collection or author's working library.
Thus it's always a pleasant surprise when I discover one that had previously slipped under the radar - and that's exactly what happened this past week when I learned of the Catalogue of the Library of Brevet Lieutenant Colonel John Page Nicholson: Relating to the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866.
This exceedingly rare book was privately printed in 1914 and limited to only 300 numbered copies. To the best of my knowledge, it can be considered one of the grandfathers of all Civil War bibliographies as it lists over 7,500 titles, all published prior to 1900. Newman and Long described the book in their A Basic Civil War Library: A Bibliographic Essay as "The most comprehensive bibliography of Civil War books before 1900." Nicholson did even more than that. He indicated the number of copies printed and listed the many variant printings in his "catalogue," which runs to a very hefty 1022 pages.
In addition, a review of the book in the April 1915 issue of Pennsylvania magazine stated, "No more important or valuable contribution to the literature of the War of the Rebellion has been published, than the catalogue of the library of Colonel Nicholson, comprising books, manuscripts, pamphlets, and excerpts, which are serviceably and handsomely bound." Most of Nicholson's books ultimately went to the Henry E. Huntington Library in 1927.
During the Civil War John Page Nicholson served as regimental quartermaster with the 28th Pennsylvania throughout Sherman's March to the Sea. He began building his great library as soon as the war ended in 1865 with much of his success in creating so vast a library being due to the ceaseless assistance of his many soldier friends. Though almost a century old, this work clearly retains great value as it contains information on limited printings not found elsewhere.
Fortunately for those of us of more modest means, the book was reprinted in 1995 by Martino Publishing of Mansfield, Connecticut in a very limited edition of only 150 copies (pictured). Though it appears to be sold out at the publisher, copies are available in the secondary market. For those interested only in the data, it is also available online at Google Print.
December 6, 2009
NEW YORK (Reuters) - An 1827 first edition copy of poems by Edgar Allan Poe sold for $662,500 on Friday setting a record for a 19th century book of poetry, said a spokeswoman for Christie's auction house.
"Tamerlane and Other Poems," Poe's first book as an author, was sold to an unidentified American collector. Only a dozen copies of the book exist from that first edition, said Jessie Edelman of Christie's. Full story here.
December 2, 2009
According to the BBC, a first edition of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, which was kept in a toilet in Oxfordshire, has sold for nearly twice the expected price.
The book was bought at Christie's Auction House for £103,250 ($172,242). It was expected to reach £60,000.
The book was kept on a bookcase in a guest lavatory at the owner's family home in Oxfordshire.
It was sold on the 150th anniversary of its publication. Just 1,250 copies of the work were produced in 1859.
The revolutionary scientific work, which has the full title On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, had the original publisher's green cloth cover and gilt-decorated spine.
Christie's described the book, that was bought about 40 years ago in a West Country shop for a few shillings, as "lightly bumped" around the corners.
December 1, 2009
Yesterday was the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin (Tenn.), one of the opening salvos ultimately leading to the virtual destruction of the Confederacy's Army of Tennessee. This battle in particular and Hood's Tennessee Campaign in general have received copious treatment over the decades, from General Jacob Cox's 1897 The Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, November 30, 1864 to the more recent Embrace an Angry Wind: The Confederacy's Last Hurrah, written by Wiley Sword and published in 1992.One of the more obscure monographs on the battle and certainly one of the priciest from the collectors perspective is The Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864, The Bloodiest Engagement of the War Between the States by Robert Webb Banks (1843-1919) and published in 1908. Banks was enrolled at the University of Alabama when the war broke out but he left after Shiloh and joined the Confederate army as a private, ultimately rising to the rank of captain with the 37th Mississippi Infantry by the time of this battle. Just how pricey is this book? The few first editions offered through the internet are currently commanding asking prices well over $500. In my opinion, its demand and value stem almost solely from the fact that it is a Neale book. And at only 88 pages long, it's probably the thinnest hardcover ever published on this engagement and one whose focus is certainly quite narrow. The title is a bit of a misnomer, as the book focuses on a small segment of the battle in which the book's author took part. In fact, in C. E. Dornbusch's Military Bibliography of the Civil War, this title shows up under the 37th Mississippi rather than as a source pertaining to the Franklin battle.
The Neale bibliography notes that Confederate Veteran reported in 1911 that they had bought up all remaining stock for resale and for promotional use. Morningside Bookshop reprinted the book in 1988 in a limited edition of 500 copies and is easily obtainable today.
Pictured copy offered here.
November 26, 2009
Happy Thanksgiving to all - after all the food, football and naps, it's a day whose history is mired in controversy. Here's a brand new work that attempts to set the record straight.
"In this, the first in-depth study of the most American of holidays, James Baker sweeps away lingering myths and misconceptions to show how this celebration day was born and grew to be an essential part of our national spirit. Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday opens with an overview of the popular mythos of the holiday before discussing its possible religious and cultural precedents. This classic Yankee holiday is examined in historical and contemporary detail that embraces everything from proclamations, sermons, and local and regional traditions to family reunions, turkey dinners, and recipes. Thanksgiving's evolving face is illustrated with charming and often revealing period prints that chart our changing attitudes: the influence of Victorian sentiment in Thanksgiving's development, Progressive utilitarianism, intellectual "debunking," patriotic wartime reclamation, and 1960s-era protest. Thanksgiving remains controversial up to the present day, as Mayflower descendants, Native Americans, and commercial exploiters compete for the American public's opinion of the holiday's contemporary significance and its future status. This is an intelligent and illuminating introduction to a beloved holiday and a fascinating cultural history of America and Americana."
November 22, 2009
This post briefly takes us from the world of books and into DVD's with the recent release of the Ultimate Collectors Edition of Gone With the Wind, David O. Selznick's four-hour epic of the Old South that, to this day, is adored by some and villified by others. In addition to the film, the set also includes eight hours of bonus features.
As Bruce Dancis writes in this Seattle Times review of the new Blu-Ray DVD release, "The enduring popularity of Gone With the Wind is based on many things: Scarlett's fearless will to survive, the complicated love story of Scarlett and Rhett, the epic sweep of the film's historical storytelling, the beauty of its production values and its eternal themes of suffering, resilience and hope.
At its core, the essence of 'GWTW' is its fond remembrance of a social order that no longer exists, just as the Confederate flag remains a symbol of gallantry and pride to some white Southerners. Yet for others, this most famous of American movies represents nothing less than a celebration of the worst aspects of our country's history and the triumph of racial prejudice over fairness, decency and equality."
As they say, "beauty is in eye of the beholder." But I'll bet that Jubal Early would have LOVED this film.
November 17, 2009
"The Man Who Loved Books Too Much." Bartlett. Riverhead. $24.95.
"This is the biography of John Charles Gilkey, internationally known thief of books - rare books. This book will keep you up very late at night." Full article here.
I wonder if he ever pinched any Civil War books?
November 12, 2009
I spent this past weekend in the Atlanta area visiting family and part of that time included a visit to the Roswell Mill ruins in Roswell, Ga. (pictured) Up until General Sherman’s visit to the area in 1864, those mills were producers of some of the finest cloth in the Confederacy that was known as “Roswell Grey.”
When Sherman arrived, the French owner of the mill raised the French flag in an attempt to play the neutrality card, however when Union troops realized that the “CSA” initials were stamped all over the packing crates, the mill’s fate was sealed and it was soon put to the torch. The Roswell mills actually included facilities built in 1839 and 1857. The 1839 mill was never rebuilt though the 1857 portion was rebuilt after the war in 1867.
More infamous was the fate of the women working in the mill. Sherman had them charged with treason and then sent packing to the north on trains, where they were released and left to fend for themselves. What happened to these poor women and their children has become the stuff of legend, including numerous written works. One of the more recent is “The Women Will Howl:” The Union Army Capture of Roswell and New Manchester, Georgia, and the Forced Relocation of Mill Workers by Mary Deborah Petite. My July 2008 review of this book for Civil War News is available here.
We didn’t have time to visit the New Manchester ruins at Sweetwater Creek State Park, but as this picture shows, they seem a bit more impressive, if that’s the right word, than what we visited at Roswell. In any case, these mill ruins are some of the few existing reminders of Sherman’s 1864 visit to the Peach State.
November 2, 2009
Long before I started collecting Civil War books, I knew of Manly Wade Wellman (1903 – 1986) as a classic science fiction and dark fantasy author. He was considered one of the old school masters of the macabre with numerous titles to his credit, such as Worse Things Waiting, which won the World Fantasy Award in 1973 and Who Fears the Devil, published by the venerable Arkham House publishers. To this day, he is considered quite a collectible author in science fiction and fantasy circles. He was also a popular writer of Civil War non-fiction throughout the 1950’s, including such well-known works as , Rebel Boast: First at Bethel, Last at Appomattox from 1956, and They Took Their Stand: The Founders of the Confederacy in 1959. His first Civil War book however was the first-ever life story of Confederate general Wade Hampton, titled Giant in Gray: A Biography of Wade Hampton of South Carolina.
Wade Hampton III was alleged to be one of, if not the wealthiest landowner in the South when hostilities commenced. He personally raised what would become known as “Hampton’s Legion,” which initially consisted of six infantry companies, four cavalry companies, and one artillery battery. Hampton then transferred to the cavalry after the Peninsula Campaign and ultimately led that arm of the service following the death of Jeb Stuart. He distinguished himself in his new role at the bloody Battle of Trevilian Station and purportedly lost no cavalry battles for the remainder of the war. In September 1864, Hampton conducted what became known as the "Beefsteak Raid", where his troopers captured over 2400 head of cattle and over 300 prisoners behind enemy lines. In the postwar years, Hampton was both a popular and successful politician in his native South Carolina as well as Washington.
Giant in Gray was considered to be “popularly written” by Nevins and “serviceable” by Eichner that moves along in a spry, almost novel-like pace. It appears to be sufficiently documented, primarily from printed sources though there are some manuscript sources as well. Since its appearance sixty years ago, several more bios of Hampton have appeared.
The first edition of Giant in Gray was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1949 and can be ascertained by the presence of the Scribners “A” on the copyright page. No “A”, no first. Copies seem plentiful but as always, condition and the presence of a dust jacket can vary an older book’s value quite extensively. The title was also reprinted by Morningside in 1980 and is still available in HC from them.
October 29, 2009
"I'm not a friend of Ebay but I do know a few serious and savvy collectors who've picked up some good material through the site but only because they knew a whole lot more about the book being offered than the seller and asked important, key questions. On balance, however, Ebay continues to be a rare book source where those who know little if anything about what they have sell to those who know little if anything about what they're doing. It's still caveat emptor-land in capital letters."
October 26, 2009
"HP and the University of Michigan have inked a deal that will see HP reprinting rare and out-of-print books from Michigan's library via the printer maker's print-on-demand service. Here's why this is potentially as important as anything Google Books is doing."
October 25, 2009
I received an email the other day from AbeBooks that promoted what they termed “Military History – The Forgotten Books.” It went on to suggest that the reader should “For a second, put aside Antony Beevor, John Keegan, Stephen Ambrose and the other popular writers in today’s military history genre and delve into the past. Countless books about conflicts, soldiering and warfare have slipped into obscurity” and that “Long after the combatants have gone, the books remain. Forgotten memoirs, biographies, and regimental histories offer memorable stories of soldiering.”
Their list featured twenty books, only one of which involved the Civil War. That lone, highlighted book is Charles W. Quantrell: A True History of His Guerrilla Warfare on the Missouri and Kansas Border During the Civil War of 1861 to 1865, by John P. Burch as told by Captain Harrison Trow. It seems odd that this book was chosen because from what I can gather, its reputation is not high, though the book appears to be routinely cited in numerous modern books pertaining to the west in general and Quantrill in particular. Ramon F. Adams writes of this title (#323) is his bibliography of western outlaws, Six Guns and Saddle Leather, that "Somehow one loses confidence in a biographer who does not know how to spell his subject's name correctly. His name was spelled Quantrill and his Christian names were William Clarke, not Charles W. The text of this book is just as unreliable. It has some material on Cole Younger and Jesse James as guerrillas." The book is essentially Trow’s recollections, given when he was a very elderly man, of his days riding with Quantrill and is clearly sympathetic to the guerilla side of things. I know little about Quantrill and even less about this book so reader commentary is welcomed, as usual.
William Clarke Quantrill (July 31, 1837 – June 6, 1865) was an infamous Confederate bushwhacker/guerrilla during the Civil War. His command operated along the Missouri-Kansas border throughout the early 1860’s and part of of his infamy includes the 1863 raid and sacking of Lawrence, Kansas. Quantrill ended up in Kentucky where he was killed in a Union ambush in 1865.
The first edition of this book was self-published by the author in Vega, Texas in 1923. Back in the day before POD technology, such “vanity press” publications sometimes suggested that the work lacked the quality that a mainstream publishing house would seek, though it must be stressed that this was not always the case. Copies seem reasonably plentiful, though of course, those in jacket will command an extra premium. A print-on-demand reprint is currently available from Kessinger Publishing. Pictured copy offered here.
October 21, 2009
October 20, 2009
"Three historic documents that distinguished Abraham Lincoln's presidency will be on rare display at Cornell University. An original handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address and signed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution will be part of the exhibit at Cornell's Carl A. Kroch Library." Check out the full article here.
October 17, 2009
I recently returned from a business trip to the metro Philadelphia area which also meant a mandatory stop at the George MacManus Bookshop in Bryn Mawr, just down the street from Villanova. If you find yourself anywhere near the City of Brotherly Love, you simply owe it to yourself to stop there, especially if you’re an avid Civil War or history book lover.
I picked up a couple of books including an interesting primary source titled “The Desolate South” by John Townsend Trowbridge (1827 – 1916). Trowbridge was a well-known Northern author and journalist of his day and his book is an on-the-scene report of his lengthy journey throughout the South in the year following the Civil War.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, few Southern pens or publishers had the means or desire to describe the physical and emotional devastation that the hostilities brought to their lives and homes. Trowbridge undertook the task by traveling from his home in Boston to Gettysburg and then into the South where he played the role of intrepid observer, sociologist and psychologist in his reporting of the South’s desolation. For four months and in eight key states, Trowbridge spoke to whites from a variety of socio-economic levels as well as freed blacks. The author noticed that many whites were obviously humbled and bitter by what the war had brought them but surprisingly for many, an irrepressible war spirit still remained. The result of Trowbridge’s long-forgotten journey was a 200,000 word, 690-page tome that may well be one of our greatest national Iliads.
This important post-war primary source also stands as a useful resource for modern memory studies for as this Historynet review of the book points out:
"Battlefield tourists today are not much different from Trowbridge; they return to the fields searching for that mystical connection to the past. We should remember that Trowbridge never allowed romanticism to twist his view of the war as a tragedy among brothers. [No "Moonlight and Magnolias" here. - PT] He knew what many Americans have forgotten today—that political and ideological differences had unleashed a terrible bloodletting that neither side could easily forget. Trowbridge, however, could not have anticipated a reconciliation movement that erased white American memory over the contested meaning of the war.
Along Fredericksburg’s Sunken Lane stands a monument erected in the 1960s to pay tribute to Confederate Richard Kirkland, the ‘Angel of Marye’s Heights.’ At great personal risk, Kirkland purportedly crossed the stone wall and gave water to the wounded Union soldiers. The monument’s message of American unity and brotherhood amounts to a historical apostasy when compared to Trowbridge’s findings in 1865. An unidentified Virginian reminded Trowbridge that the embers of resistance continued to burn in the hearts of the white South: ‘The war feeling around here is like a burning bush with a wet blanket wrapped around it. Looked at from the outside, the fire seems quenched. But just peep under the blanket and there it is, all alive, and eating, eating in.’”
The first edition of this important travelogue was titled A Picture of the Desolated States and the Work of Restoration and was published by Hartford in 1868. Bound in brown cloth with gilt lettering, it is indeed a scarce book, especially in collector’s condition, and there have been few reprints since. The most notable perhaps was a hardcover version published by Little Brown in 1956 and retitled as The Desolate South: 1865 – 1866. This newer edition replaces the original’s steel engravings with a broad selection of period photographs that amply illustrate that devastation that Trowbridge reported. The copy I acquired is the scarce “Reunion Edition” signed by editor Gordon Carroll on a special tipped-in sheet for members of the Civil War Book Club. (Despite being targeted for members of a book club, this version retains the words “First Edition” on the copyright page as well as the $6.00 price on the front jacket flap.) This copy is also housed in a matching slipcase but it may be a custom addition after the fact and not issued by the publisher. Mercer University Press has also recently reissued the book as seen here.
October 8, 2009
October 5, 2009
I spent this past Sunday at the annual Michigan Antiquarian Book Fair in Lansing, which bills itself as the largest such show in the Midwest. I love book fairs as they’re a chance to catch up with old bookselling friends, meet new ones, and check out a lot of interesting books from all genres under one roof at one time. It’s also a good place to “people watch” as there were ample tables set up throughout the floor where one could take a break with a cuppa joe and watch the multitudes. One observation stayed with me: The number of patrons I saw who appeared to be under the age of forty could probably be counted on two hands. That may not bode well for the long-term future of these gatherings.
Sunday’s show featured about 70 dealers and there was a good amount of Civil War stock, especially from the generalized dealers. Not only books, but plenty of paper items, prints, and related ephemera. As is sadly often the case, much of it was in less-than-desirable condition though priced as if it were in stellar shape (IMO). I noted however that those dealers who specialize in military history tended to have a larger selection of WWII books on hand than Civil War. That conflict seems to have supplanted the Civil War as the book collector’s military topic du jour for many. In answering my question about the overall health of the Civil War book trade, one specialty dealer reported that sales of older, OP titles in premium condition still sell very well and at good prices, however much of the newer stuff moves a lot slower these days. Of course, he reiterated the old maxim that condition of both book and dust jacket is everything.
As for myself, I picked up a like-new first edition of E. A. Porter’s Fighting for the Confederacy at what I felt was a good price and a nice 1st from 1984 of the late Professor Frank Klement’s Dark Lanterns: Secret Political Societies, Conspiracies and Treason Trials in the Civil War. That topic is of considerable interest to me as part of my ongoing research on Detroit during the Civil War. In reading the jacket flaps, I note that Klement, who spent much of his academic career exploring this topic as well as Copperhead resistance to Lincoln, asserts that these so-called secret societies ultimately existed more on paper than in reality. I think my best find though was beautiful copy in jacket of The Civil War in the Indian Territory (modern day Oklahoma) by Donald and Larry Rampp. And at a great price to boot – considering the prices being asked here, I’d say my $40 purchase was quite the bargain! It was published by Presidial Press in 1975. That small press out of Austin, Texas seems to have published quite a few military titles over the years that focused on the American Southwest, in particular the Civil War. I could find very little info on them during a cursory web search. If anyone can let me know more about Presidial or if they’re still active, I’d certainly appreciate it.
One item I didn’t buy but struck me as quite interesting was a copy of Earl Schenck Meirs’ The General Who Marched to Hell: William Tecumseh Sherman and His March to Fame and Infamy. It’s very common OP book (Alfred Knopf, 1951) that’s readily available in its trade state, however this copy was bound in full blue leather with gilt lettering and raised bands on the spine, and also featured special endpapers. It was also signed by the author and warmly inscribed to the recipient. It’s simply too recent of a title and of insufficient collectors value for someone to go through the expense of having it custom bound like that, therefore my thought is that it was one of perhaps several specially bound by the publisher for the author’s personal use. The price was $135. If this is of interest to you, let me know and I’ll give you the bookseller’s info.
October 3, 2009
By the fall of 1864, thirty-five-year-old Henry Hitchcock felt the pull of the Civil War, despite the fact that for the first three and a half years of the conflict he had been a successful attorney in St. Louis. His uncle, Major General Ethan Allen Hitchcock, had stressed to Henry that he would be of more use to the Union cause by being a member of the Missouri Convention and handling other patriotic duties than as a soldier at the front, yet by September 1864, Henry was, in his uncle’s words, “spoiling for a fight." Later that month Henry applied in person to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton for a commission. Realizing the inevitable, General Hitchcock wrote to his friend William T. Sherman, asking if there might be a place for the younger Hitchcock on his staff. Sherman readily agreed and the rest as they say, is history. Henry Hitchcock was given the appointment of assistant adjutant general of volunteers with the rank of major, and by October 1, 1864, had arrived At Sherman’s headquarters in Georgia as the army was preparing for its legendary march to the sea.
What follows in this book over the next 300+ pages are the home letters and campaign diaries of a very literate man who was with Sherman’s headquarters for six months, from the time of its leaving Atlanta up through the end of the campaign in the Carolinas. He often jotted down conversations with Sherman and made numerous observations about “soldiering” though analysis of military and combat issues is light. Unlike numerous other accounts written after the fact, Hitchcock’s writings were composed as events unfolded and therefore have that air of immediacy desired by historians. In his famous bibliography, Allan Nevins noted how "the highly educated Hitchcock rarely failed to note incidents and scenes of interest." M. A. DeWolfe Howe edited Hitchcock’s letters and diaries and brought them to publication with the Yale University Press in 1927. Since then, Marching with Sherman: Passages from the Letters and Campaign Diaries of Henry Hitchcock, Major and Assistant Adjutant General of Volunteers, November 1864-May 1865, has become a cornerstone primary source for anyone interested in the study of Sherman’s final campaigns.
The first printing of this work was bound in blue cloth and printed on high quality paper. Despite being a well-made book, first edition copies in collector’s condition are not abundant as shown here, and those in the original white with blue lettering dust jacket are extremely rare. In fact, the copy pictured is the only one I have ever seen in jacket. For those students who are interested only in Hitchcock’s words, the book appears to have been reprinted by Bison Books in 1995.
September 30, 2009
Interesting BBC article here.
"The books we choose to display in our bookcases say a lot as to how we want others to see us," says Mr Sandico. "People who want to appear to have serious or academic reading tastes display their classics, while keeping popular novels at the back of the bookcases."
So what does it say to you when you walk into someone's home and you see a roomful of books? How about homes where there are no books whatsoever?
Personally, I love Cicero's quote that says (paraphrased) "a library is the soul of a home."
September 26, 2009
Confederate general Henry Heth earned the title of “goat” during his years at West Point as he graduated at the very bottom of his 1847 class. Such ignominy relegated him to 14 years of frontier duty before he resigned his commission on April 25, 1861, to serve his native Virginia.
He became colonel of the 45th Virginia in 1861, was promoted to brigadier general in January 1862, which then led to various district and department commands. By the time of Gettysburg, Heth was a major general in the Army of Northern Virginia and in command of a 3rd corps division, a rank he held until the war’s waning months. In February 1865, Heth was appointed to command of that corps, ultimately surrendering with his men at Appomattox.
Heth was one of the most liked men in all of the army and it is written that Lee referred to Heth by his first name, allegedly the only case of Lee doing this with his generals. Following the war, Heth was involved in the insurance business.
The general’s memoirs remained unpublished for the better part of a century until rescued by editor James Morrison. Greenwood Press, best known as a publisher of scholarly reference books, released the memoirs in 1974 in a very small print run that included a solid introduction by Morrison of Heth’s life. According to Eicher’s The Civil War in Books (#235), “the narrative focuses on Heth’s more successful actions while dismissing others with little comment.” For instance, Heth remarks on his actions that about the start of Gettysburg with no more than a single paragraph. Nevertheless, in its commentary of Heth’s memoirs, Military Review noted that “Of particular interest to students of history are Heth's accounts of life in the Army and the United States before and after the Civil War.... Morrison's introductory essay on Heth the man, Indian fighter, Confederate general and loyal Virginian, is a masterpiece of scholarship, subtle wit and graceful writing.” I also especially liked veteran Civil War bookseller Dave Zullo's remarks on this book: "Henry Heth was an interesting character but the stories he tells of the antics of him and his best friend, Winfield Scott Hancock, during their West Point years and thereafter, are priceless. This is a book that would make any Hancock or Heth fan laugh until their sides hurt. But he also discusses the reality of war. This has a sadness to it that will make you want to cry. Of the many, many biographies and memoirs that I have read, this is one of my favorites...."
Though initially published in 1974, it appears that Greenwood still has the book in print at $57.95. For a title that is relatively recent, first editions are quite uncommon (therefore pricey) and even scarcer in premium condition with dust jacket. As you can see here, there are only a handful of copies currently offered for sale.
September 24, 2009
After close to a year of sabbatical, I’ve decided to revisit my love of old and rare Civil War books via this blog. While the reasons I set it aside for awhile still exist, the blogging “itch” has returned. The difference this time is that I no longer feel compelled to post every few days. After all, there are quite a few Civil War-oriented blogs that I routinely visit who post only on a weekly or even bi-weekly basis.
As before, my focus will be on rare or uncommon Civil War first editions that appeal to collectors of such books. If you consider yourself an avid bibliophile who is afflicted with "the gentle madness,” then you know what I mean. Of course, like any blogger, I reserve the right to offer my two cents on whatever topic du jour may be floating around the blogosphere at a given time. :-) For the most part, this site will not be a review of just-published titles, unless the book is somehow of special interest to collectors. If you’re looking for that kind of resource, then I happily refer you to Drew Wagenhoffer’s excellent blog. First up will be a review of the unusually scarce Memoirs of Henry Heth. Look for it in a few days. Welcome back!