November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day

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."

Below: Alfred Waud Thanksgiving sketch of Union soldiers in camp.

November 22, 2009

Gone With The Wind "Ultimate Collectors Edition"

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 Rare Book World is Teeming With Thieves

"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

The Roswell Mills

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

Giant in Gray

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.