October 29, 2009

Caveat Emptor (LOL)

"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."

Check this story out.

October 26, 2009

HP and U of MI Announce Joint Rare Book Venture

"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."

Full stories here, here and here.

October 25, 2009

Quantrill by Any Name....

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

Civil War Bibles

Krissy Dunn discusses Bibles and other books used by soldiers during the Civil War. Each item is a part of the library holdings of the S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum

October 20, 2009

Rare Lincolnia on Display at Cornell

"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

The Desolate South

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

Michigan Book Fair

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

Marching With Sherman

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.