December 29, 2007

Grant's Memoirs

Anyone remotely familiar with the Civil War will have heard of the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, supreme commander of the Union forces in the field and eighteenth president of the United States. Not only are they considered a cornerstone work of Civil War history, they are also deemed the finest memoirs ever written by a U.S. president.

The story of how the work came to be is also of interest to bibliophiles. Grant and his family were financially devastated by scandal and failed investments in the years following his presidency. Therefore, in 1884 Grant set out to write his memoirs as a hoped-for mechanism to bring needed funds to the family. Grant began to feel a pain in his throat soon after he began dictating to his secretary. His pain worsened and before long, eating and swallowing became almost impossible. He then learned that he had terminal cancer necessitating that his work pace quicken. In early 1885, Grant signed a deal with his friend Mark Twain to have Charles Webster and Co. publish the books; a firm co-owned by Twain and his niece's husband. That summer, Grant and his family moved to a cottage in the Adirondacks to escape the summer heat. It was there that Grant finished his manuscript, working feverishly day and night in order to beat the reaper’s arrival. Grant died on July 23, 1885, just several days after turning the completed manuscript in to the publisher.

Twain published the Memoirs later that year and sent 16 general agents along with 10,000 door-to-door salesmen all over the country to sell the work. Many of those sales reps were Civil War veterans who wore their old, tattered army uniforms to create sympathy for their beloved general. Twain sincerely appreciated Grant's writing and he praised the Memoirs warmly. Of Grant he wrote, “This is the simple soldier, who, all untaught of the silken phrase-makers, linked words together with an art surpassing the art of the schools and put into them a something which will still bring to American ears, as long as America shall last, the roll of his vanished drums and the tread of his marching hosts.”

Grant's memoirs won critical acclaim and about 300,000 sets were sold. His widow Julia ultimately received over $400,000 in royalties from the project, thereby restoring the family fortune. As to the books themselves, the Memoirs were offered as a two-volume set with five binding options. They included a fine cloth binding with plain edges at $7.00 a set to a full-leather binding with hand-tooled gilt lettering at, what was then, a whopping $25 a set. In between were three partial-leather options. The least expensive editions were bound in dark green cloth and are today relatively common, though appreciating in price. ABE for instance, currently offers 10 sets ranging from $525 to $1250 in the deluxe morocco leather binding. Personally, I think a cloth-bound set in very nice condition can be had for under $300. Those leather-bound sets however (see picture), are the most desirable and are indeed scarce. All editions contain a typeset facsimile of Grant’s signature, yet many owners mistakenly believe that their copy is indeed signed by the late war hero. Obviously, Grant never lived to see the final product, let alone inscribe any copies of it.

December 28, 2007

Here's Another Online Article...

... about collecting Civil War books. It's fairly short and primarily discusses works of fiction.

December 27, 2007

Fourth Iowa Cavalry - Deluxe Edition

Not too long ago I was doing some book-based internet surfing and came across the Camp Pope Bookshop and Press. It appears that their specialty are "new and used books on the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the American Civil War." Admittedly, this is one facet of the war that I know very little about. One offering however, immediately caught my eye and that was their reprint of the Fourth Iowa Cavalry's official regimental history. The Story of a Cavalry Regiment: The Career of the Fourth Iowa Veteran Volunteers From Kansas to Georgia was written by William Forse Scott, the regiment's final adjutant. It was originally published by G. P. Putnam's in 1893 and is now a scarce book, what with prices for the first edition in the $400 to $600 range. It is also considered "the best history of a Hawkeye cavalry unit," according to Nevins, Robertson, and Wiley in their Civil War Books: A Critical Bibliography.

Camp Pope reprinted the book in 1992, describing it as "one of the best regimental histories ever written." Of particular note was a ten-copy deluxe edition handbound in Nigerian goatskin and fine linen bookcloth by Jeff Sandlin of Valparaiso, Indiana [see pic]. I wrote to the press asking if they could fill me in a bit on the book's genesis and proprietor Clark Kenyon graciously responded thusly:

This edition was done back when I had the reprint done in 1992. I had met Jeff Sandlin at the Midwest CW Collectors' Show in Wheaton, Illinois, some time earlier and saw that he sold CW books in fine leather bindings. I decided, considering the excellence of Scott's book as a regimental history, to make something special out of my reprint. I sent Jeff 10 copies which he rebound with a numbered edition page that identified him as the bookbinder. These were all shrink-wrapped. I had to hand number the books, but I didn't want to take them out of the shrink-wrap until they were sold, so I put a small sticker on each and numbered that. When someone ordered a book, I took off the shrink-wrap and wrote the number from the sticker on the numbered edition page. I left the choice of materials up to Jeff, with the specification that I wanted the edition to resemble the first edition, which was also 3/4 leather, each copy signed by the author and General Edward F. Winslow, who had been the commander of the 4th Iowa Cavalry. After nearly 16 years there are still two copies left, numbers 3 and 10.

The deluxe edition is priced at $150 and the regular reprint at $40. If you'd just like to read about the 4th Iowa, then a historical sketch of the regiment can be found here. The book itself is available online here via Google Print.

December 25, 2007

Santa Brought Me...

... a copy of Troubled Commeration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965. I'd wanted this one since it came out earlier this fall as it combines two of my favorite pastimes: the Civil War and modern American politics. It's garnered much favorable press and fits right in with the extensive current interest in historical memory.

Here's the rundown from the publisher:

In 1957, Congress voted to set up the United States Civil War Centennial Commission. A federally funded agency within the Department of the Interior, the commission's charge was to oversee preparations to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the central event in the Republic's history. Politicians hoped that a formal program of activities to mark the centennial of the Civil War would both bolster American patriotism at the height of the cold war and increase tourism in the South. Almost overnight, however, the patriotic pageant that organizers envisioned was transformed into a struggle over the Civil War's historical memory and the injustices of Jim Crow. In Troubled Commemoration, Robert J. Cook recounts the planning, organization, and ultimate failure of this controversial event and reveals how the broadbased public history extravaganza was derailed by its appearance during the decisive phase of the civil rights movement.

Cook shows how the centennial provoked widespread alarm among many African Americans, white liberals, and cold warriors because the national commission failed to prevent southern whites from commemorating the Civil War in a racially exclusive fashion. The public outcry followed embarrassing attempts to mark secession, the attack on Fort Sumter, and the South's victory at First Manassas, and prompted backlash against the celebration, causing the emotional scars left by the war to resurface. Cook convincingly demonstrates that both segregationists and their opponents used the controversy that surrounded the commemoration to their own advantage. Southern whites initially embraced the centennial as a weapon in their fight to save racial segregation, while African Americans and liberal whites tried to transform the event into a celebration of black emancipation.

Forced to quickly reorganize the commission, the Kennedy administration replaced the conservative leadership team with historians, including Allan Nevins and a young James I. Robertson, Jr., who labored to rescue the centennial by promoting a more soberly considered view of the nation’s past. Though the commemoration survived, Cook illustrates that white southerners quickly lost interest in the event as it began to coincide with the years of Confederate defeat, and the original vision of celebrating America's triumph over division and strife was lost.

The first comprehensive analysis of the U.S. Civil War Centennial, Troubled Commemoration masterfully depicts the episode as an essential window into the political, social, and cultural conflicts of America in the 1960s and confirms that it has much to tell us about the development of the modern South.

As other bloggers have noted, it will be interesting to see if the federal government does anything with the upcoming sesquicentennial.

December 22, 2007

New Expanded Edition of "Co. Aytch"

In my opinion, a major Civil War "reissue" has occurred and with surprisingly little fanfare. That being the reissue of Sam Watkin's cornerstone classic Co. "Aytch:" First Tennessee Regiment, or, A Sideshow of the Big Show in an expanded edition. If you saw Ken Burns' The Civil War TV mini-series, then you know of Watkins, for his memoir of serving as a Confederate foot soldier was quoted at length. According to the publisher, "The classic Co. Aytch has reigned as one of the most memorable and honest depictions of the American Civil War since its original publication in 1882. Sam R. Watkins's first-hand account of life as a Confederate soldier eloquently captured the realities of war, the humor and pathos of soldiering, and the tragic, historic events in which he participated. Although there have been dozens of versions of Co. Aytch published, this is the first with new material and revisions by Sam Watkins himself. Intending to republish after his first edition sold out, Watkins edited and revised Co. Aytch adding a new perspective that only came with time. He died before accomplishing his goal. Now more than one hundred years later, Watkins's great granddaughter, Ruth Hill Fulton McAllister is fulfilling Watkins s dream. Using his yellowed, aged, and pencil-marked copy handed down through different family members, McAllister has crafted a masterpiece that combines the ageless text with Sam Watkins's intended revisions.

This new edition incorporates actual images of Watkins's handwritten additions, all his desired editorial changes, and more than forty images. Desiring to be true to both her ancestor's wishes and the sanctity of his classic memoir, McAllister skillfully included Watkins's additions and artfully indicated what he would have omitted, leaving the original text intact. The result is a rich, expanded, director's cut version of Co. Aytch, sure to fascinate historians, Civil War enthusiasts, and new readers alike."

Serious book collectors will know that this newly revised and expanded edition also earns the bibliographic designation of "First Edition Thus." Unless you're one of the blessed few who own one of Sam's original firsts, this is now the edition to have on the shelf. I'm usually not one for predictions, but in this case, I'll venture that this first printing will only rise in value over the coming years. With bookshelf space at a premium, my hardcover reprint of the original book will soon be gone in order to make way for this collectible edition. Hat tip to J. D. Petruzzi for alerting me to this via his blog.

December 21, 2007

General Robert McAllister

Farmer and railroad executive before the war, Robert McAllister (1813 - 1891) first became an officer in the Civil War as the Lieut. Colonel of the 1st New Jersey Infantry before being promoted to colonel of the 11th New Jersey Infantry in August 1862. From there, he led his regiment through the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. At Gettysburg, McAllister was severeley wounded and carried off the field. According to this bio, McAllister went through "a four-month convalescence, then returned to his unit and was given command of his brigade. He never relinquished brigade command after that, and was repeatedly commended for his leadership in the subsequent Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and the Petersburg Campaign. He was promoted to Brevet Brigadier General on October 24, 1864 for gallant and distinguished service at the battle of Boydton Plank Road and then brevetted a full major general on March 13, 1865 for overall meritorious service during the war. When the end came at Appomattox, McAllister was there.

According to the publisher, McAllister was "not a flamboyant leader or a braggart," but rather "one of the quietly efficient commanders whose noble gallantry ultimately proved to be the salvation of the Union. He took part in all but two engagements of the Army of the Potomac and was twice wounded and three times promoted for heroism on the battlefield."

The Civil War Letters of General Robert McAllister were published by Rutgers University Press in 1965 under the auspices of the Archive Society for the New Jersey Civil War Centennial Commission. Not daring to keep a diary that might fall into enemy hands, McAllister wrote daily to his wife and daughters, providing an intricately detailed description of his wartime ordeal for posterity. Enhanced by James I. Robertson’s scholarly editing, the 637 letters presented here provide a comprehensive look at the experiences of the Army of the Potomac and one of its more overlooked generals. Due to the usually low nature of university press print runs, copies in premium condition are not easily found. Collectors should expect to pay $50 and up for a choice copy of this title. If you're looking to dig deeper than what the major generals had to say, this obscure soldier's personal letters could be a good and uncommon place to start.

December 19, 2007

Harry Potter and His Uncle Tom

Interesting comparison: Princeton English professor William Gleason compares the [Potter] series' impact to the frenzy that surrounded Uncle Tom's Cabin before the Civil War. "That book penetrated all levels of society," he says. "It's remarkable how similar the two moments are." Full article here.

Rising abolition sentiment in New England and the controversial Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 helped propel Uncle Tom's Cabin to huge best seller status when published in 1852.

Pictured is the 2-volume first edition currently offered at $15,000 by Between the Covers booksellers. They describe Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel as "the best-selling novel of the 19th Century, it spawned numerous offshoots and dramatic adaptations, and so polarized the nation over the issue of slavery that, according to legend, upon meeting Stowe, Abraham Lincoln jokingly cited it as the cause of the Civil War. Perhaps not the most famous novel ever written, and certainly not the best, but probably the single novel to exert the greatest direct influence on the course of American and world history."

December 16, 2007

"The Patriots" 1906 Obscure Pro-South Novel

Some eBay surfing the other night led me to a book entitled The Patriots: The Story of Lee and the Last Hope by Cyrus Townsend Brady (1861-1920). I'd never heard of it and the book's description led me to infer that it was a very pro-southern history of the war. The full-color illustrations inside depict some of the most romanticized Confederate imagery imaginable. Just check out the one of a gray-clad officer embracing his love while two dead Yankees lie on porch steps just feet away! My initial impression was wrong however, for some quick research told me that the book is really a historical novel that is supposedly heavy on "fact."

Today, Brady is all but forgotten but apparently he was quite a popular author for his time. He was both a clergyman and a novelist. He was a graduate of Annapolis and then resigned to become a railroad worker out west. He is credited with numerous historical novels, stories for boys, biographies, and histories.

As for this title, a January 1906 announcement for the book in the New York Times declared that it was "in Dr. Brady's best vein." Years later, the 1929 edition of Guide to Best Historical Novels and Tales described the novel as "being written in a manner that indicates careful research; moreover - while Lee is - in the second half of the book - the real hero - ("the Bayard of the South"), the author has also given a very pleasing picture of Lincoln in the short account of an interview."

With an opening bid of $120, it will be interesting to see how this one does. Though advertised as a first edition, me thinks it's a reprint as the original publisher was Dodd Mead and this copy is published by Grosset and Dunlap, a well-known reprint house way back in the day. By way of comparison, a signed and inscribed copy in "fair" condition is available on ABE for $50. Kessinger Publishing also reissued the book earlier this year as part of their Legacy Reprint Series, claiming that the work is "culturally important." For those who would just like to peruse this title, it's available here via Google Book Search.

December 14, 2007

Civil War-era Book Reviews

A number of fellow bloggers, such as Civil War Books and Authors and Civil War Librarian offer up fresh reviews of newly published books as the stated mission of their blogs. It's made me casually wonder how book reviewers in the Reconstruction era viewed the titles then being published. Some research the other day into Sherman's March led me to a post-war review of then-new titles; books that are highly collectible, pricey, and sought-after today. As you'll see, just because an individual was supposedly "there," doesn't mean the book holds much water, even well back in the day.

At the very least, I found the below review most entertaining, especially considering how the use of language has changed over the past century and a half. It appeared in the January 1866 issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine.

I especially love the first sentence. Though certainly apropos for today, such sentiment was obviously felt a mere eight months after the war ended!

The most omnivorous reader would vainly attempt to keep up with all the books - Histories, Biographies, Personal Adventures, Sketches, and Novels — for
which the war has given occasion. Sherman’s triumphant campaign has produced at least two of decided merit. Of Major Nichol’s Great March we have already
spoken at some length. Since the appearance of the early editions (the Twenty-Second has already been issued) the work has received a few important corrections from the Commanding General himself. A number of errors which had crept into his reports and letters as heretofore printed are corrected, and some valuable matter is added. Sherman and his Campaigns, by Colonel S. M. BOWMAN and Lieutenant-Colonel R. B. IRWIN (published, by Charles B. Richardson), takes a wider range, and claims to be a “Military Biography.” In preparing the work the authors had access to the Letter-Books and Order-Books of General Sherman and of other officers. The history of military operations seems to us to have been executed with great care and judgment. Its value is much enhanced by careful military maps, furnished by [Brevet] General [Orlando M.] Poe, the Chief Engineer, of the Operations around Resaca, of the Atlanta Campaign, of the March from Atlanta to the Sea, and of the March from Savannah to Goldsboro. Sherman’s March through the South, by Captain DAVID P. CONYNGHAM (published by Sheldon and Company), can hardly claim to be more than the residuum of the note-book of a “War Correspondent” — that being the precise function of the author. Among “War Correspondents” there is more than one who can, and we trust will, write books which will be portions of the History of the War. Mr. Conyngham has certainly failed to do this. Prison Life at the South, by Lieutenant A. O. ABBOTT(published by Harper and Brothers), is a section of a chapter in the war which we could almost wish might have remained forever unwritten; for, forget if we may, and forgive if we can, it must remain on perpetual record through all time that in the history of civilized nations there is nothing to compare with the wanton cruelties inflicted upon our prisoners who fell into the hands of the Confederates. Lieutenant Abbott, of the First New York Dragoons, was captured in the Wilderness early in May, 1864, and was liberated by exchange in February, 1865. During these nine months he was successively confined at Libby, Macon,Charleston, Savannah, and Columbia. He was spared from enduring the horrors of Andersonville. His narrative, written without bitterness, and with special mention of acts of consideration, which were exceptions to the rule, is full of interest. To it is appended about a score of narratives furnished by other prisoners at various points. The brief account by a prisoner at Andersonville confirms to a great extent—though also narrating some exceptions, especially on the part of the surgeons in charge — the representations elicited at the trial of [Captain Henry] Wirz. Not the least interesting portion of the book is the narrative of two escaped prisoners, one of whom was sheltered by ‘the negroes,’though afterward recaptured, and the other was for five weeks concealed in Charleston by members of the “Loyal Legion."

December 10, 2007

"Collecting Civil War Books"

An online article that gives an overview to collecting Civil War books.

Signed Copies of "Neighbor to Neighbor"

A book signing for the memoir Neighbor to Neighbor: A Memoir of Family, Community and Civil War in Appalachian North Carolina will be held Tuesday, Dec. 11, from 4:30-6:00 p.m. in room 421 Belk Library and Information Commons at Appalachian State University. A book talk by editors Sandra Ballard and Leila Weinstein and contributor Pat Beaver will begin at 5 p.m. The public is invited. The memoir of William Albert Wilson is an intimate and dramatic telling of the Civil War at home on the north fork headwaters of the New River in Ashe County.

December 8, 2007

Civil War Soldiers Home

Talk about an obscure topic. Just when you think every possible angle of the war has been covered, someone comes along to dispel the thought. In keeping with my affinity for local publishers covering local history, I've learned that author Robert Yott has released an updated version of his history of the Bath, New York soldiers home, which was initially built in 1872. According to this article, the home "was deemed vital for New York's Civil War veterans who, falling hard times, had been forced to live in veterans' homes located in other states. Not surprisingly, the Legislature incorporated the institution without committing any funds for its construction." Yott serves both as author and publisher of the book, which originally went on sale in 2006.

"Two hundred copies went like that," he said, adding he has printed 1,000 copies of the book to date.

December 6, 2007

Adios (For Now) To One Of My Favorite Blogs

For well over a year, an enjoyable part of my reading day was to check out the Grumpy Old Bookman blog, which emanates from the UK. Alas, Michael has decided to take a sabbatical for who knows how long.

Nevertheless, his site will remain up and offers over 1 million words of wit and insight to those book lovers so inclined. I recommend it and enjoy.

Battle of Shepherdstown - NEW Small Press book

Schroeder Publications of Lynchburg, Virginia has just published the first-ever book length study of the neglected battle at Sheperdstown, West Virginia. This new work by Thomas A. McGrath is titled Shepherdstown: Last Clash of the Antietam Campaign September 19-20, 1862 and also presents a foreword by historian Thomas Clemens and preface by publisher Patrick A. Schroeder. This 251-page hardcover explains the events that occurred on the banks of the Potomac near Shepherdstown, West Virginia as the last battle of the Antietam Campaign, which has also been known as the battle at Boteler's Ford. Photographs, illustrations, and maps help round out the author's narrative.

For those in the area, the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association has announced that they are holding a benefit dinner on December 13 at the Clarion Hotel in Shepherdstown to celebrate the publication of this book. Click here for more information, including how to obtain signed copies. I've learned that 750 copies comprise the first printing, so collectors may not want to wait too long on this one. Get a signed copy through the SBPA and support a good cause.

December 4, 2007

Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac

I’ve had my eye on a copy of William Swinton’s Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac for awhile now. It was first published in 1866 and is considered the first comprehensive treatment of that army’s fabled operations. Swinton, a former scholar, was there for part of the AOP’s history, serving as a correspondent for the New York Times during the action. In the introduction to his book, Swinton remarks how he was given important source information even while in the field when the participants realized his ultimate intentions. "It soon came about that, respecting every important action of the Army of the Potomac, there were brought to my hand, not only the manuscript official reports of its corps, division, and brigade commanders, but, for the illustration of its inner life and history, a prodigious mass of memoirs, private note-books, dispatches, letter-books, etc. In addition, I have had the benefit of the memory and judgment of most of the chief officers."

Of course, not all approved of Swinton’s information gathering tactics. At one point he was accused of eavesdropping on Generals Grant and Meade’s conversations. Instead of shooting him, which other generals would have gladly done, Grant let Swinton off with a reprimand. The next week, Ambrose Burnside asked Meade "that this man immediately receive the justice which was so justly meted out to another libeler of the press a day or two since, or that I be allowed to arrest and punish him myself." Burnside was incensed over a report Swinton wrote about his corps. "Grant got the impression that Burnside intended to shoot the reporter, and immediately ordered Swinton’s expulsion instead. [source]

His post-war efforts in trying to get the Southern story also bore fruit. "For the elucidation of the deeds of the Army of Northern Virginia, the mighty rival of the Army of the Potomac, my sources of information have been scarcely less ample,” wrote Swinton. “These embrace the complete 'Reports of the Army of Northern Virginia,' and many manuscript reports and documents kindly forwarded to me. I have also had the advantage of full conversations with most of the chief commanders of the Confederate army.”

Considering the mountain of scholarship that has emerged over the past several generations, the book today has more value as a historical artifact than as a viable twenty-first century resource. Allan Nevins in his Civil War Books described it as “perspicacious and wordy, but invaluable interpretation.” More recently, David Eicher’s The Civil War in Books (#1030) considered it “an important early work that, among other things, contains the first discussion in print of the dissension between Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg,” based on discussions between Longstreet and the author. A, not surprisingly, glowing 1866 review of the book in Swinton’s own paper, the New York Times, predicted the controversy to follow, noting how “Swinton tilts with a free lance and has pricked a score of full-blown reputations.”

The book was first published in spring 1866 by the Charles B. Richardson press of New York, less than a year after the war ended. It was a hefty 640 pages long and bound in brown cloth with gilt lettering on the spine. Considering that the work is now close to 150 years old, first edition copies in premium condition are hard to come by. Collectors should expect to pay several hundred dollars for a copy in collectible condition. Beat up ones are far more prevalent and if the price is right, these can be good candidates for rebinding in some type of fine leather as long as there are no dog-eared, missing or torn pages, maps, etc.

November 29, 2007

Miller's "Photographic History of the Civil War"

The Yale Daily News has an online article which discusses Civil War photography scholar Alan Trachtenberg's paper and workshop entitled “Civil War Photographs as History." Trachtenberg's paper and workshop were based on his criticism of the “Photographic History of the Civil War,” a 10-volume text published in 1912 by Francis Trevelyan Miller and focused on the interplay between image and text within this work.

Miller's work is widely considered as the preeminent collection of Civil War photographs. ACW book collectors and students of Civil War photographs should be aware that the quality and clarity of the Miller's 1912 first edition far surpasses all other modern reprints. As I understand it, most or all of the original plates and negatives were destroyed following publication of the original work. All modern reprints are simply copied from the original photographs, resulting in a lower quality image.

H. E. Howard, Inc.

Over a roughly sixteen-year span from 1984 through 2000, H. E. Howard, Inc. of Lynchburg and Appomattox, Virginia published approximately fifty-seven matching volumes as part of their Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders Series. According to what appears to be the only website pertaining to this publisher, the series focused on “the battles, leaders, cities, and significant events associated with the history of the Civil War in Virginia.” The series produced books that dealt with the role of various towns and counties in Virginia during the war, some biographies and memoirs, however the cornerstone of the series was its focus on the various battles and skirmishes that occurred in the Old Dominion state during the Civil War. To this day, some of these books still represent the only book-length work devoted to a particular topic, battle or engagement.

The H. E. Howard books were and are of interest to collectors for each title’s first printing was strictly limited to 1000 copies that were signed and numbered by the author on a special limitation page at the front of each volume. Further, every hardcover volume in the series was of uniform appearance, being nicely presented in a sewn binding of dark blue cloth with gold gilt lettering on the front and spine. To top things off, every title was presented in a rather austere though matching white dust jacket that featured nothing more than the book’s title, author, and series logo on the front cover and spine. Other titles in the series were listed on the back flap.

Those jackets have presented the biggest challenge to Civil War book collectors over the years. Being white, they became easily yellowed and soiled however the biggest frustration was that, amazingly, not every first edition copy was initially wrapped in a jacket. The story I was told by one Virginia bookseller was that the publisher, for whatever reason, felt that producing the jackets was too much of a hassle. He then opted to produce only a limited number of dust jackets for certain titles and this primarily due to the insistence on a number of long-term and original customers who wanted matching sets. In many if not most cases however, the few jacketed copies issued ended up in libraries. In any event, a jacketed first edition of a H.E. Howard title that is not a library discard tends to be a collectable book in the secondary market.

Most, if not all first editions of each title are long gone, though many of the titles have been reprinted and are still available from the publisher. Many are also sold at the battlefield visitor centers in Virginia.

Critically, it is fair to say that the books are of varied quality. Some have been written by a few of the most respected names in Virginia Civil War scholarship while others are, well, not.
Howard’s equally impressive sister series is the Virginia Regimental Histories Series, which we’ll explore in another post.

November 26, 2007

For That Gettysburg Buff on Your Holiday List

If you had to come up with one book on the Gettysburg campaign that was an important first edition collectable and contained excellent scholarship, what would it be? My vote would go to Edwin B. Coddington's The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, published by Scribners in 1968. This massive 866-page tome set the standard for battle narratives for decades to follow. Though some now consider Stephen Sears' Gettysburg to be the best single-volume text on the battle, it is too new to garner the collectible mantel for purposes of this post.

According to David Eicher's The Civil War in Books: An Analytical Bibliography, Coddington's book is "massively documented and systematically even in its telling of the campaign. This work ranks as one of the best on a Civil War military campaign" and is a "wholly successful element of Civil War literature." The Gettysburg Bibliophile also writes, "What The Killer Angels did for the general reader, Edwin Coddington's Gettysburg: A Study In Command did for the serious historian. Coddington's account of the battle is an incredible mix of readability and depth, and is considered by many serious students of Gettysburg to be their favorite book on the battle."

The book was ultimately reprinted by both Scribners and Morningside, and was even issued by the Easton Press in a two-volume deluxe leatherbound edition, now out of print. The Scribners paperback reprint is still in print today. However, the 1968 first edition is the real long-term collectible for the book's massive heft, popularity, and easily rubbed dust jacket have conspired to make copies in premium condition rather scarce and therefore pricey. I found seven such copies for sale on ABE however none were in fine condition. Even still, prices ranged from $60 all the way to $200. This is a can't miss book for that Civil War bibliophile on your holiday shopping list. Any other ideas out there?

November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

The first official American Thanksgiving Proclamation was issued by the Continental Congress in 1777. Six more were made over the next thirty years, however after 1815 no more Thanksgiving Proclamations were issued until the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, who made two during the Civil War. Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday as a “prayerful day of Thanksgiving” on the last Thursday in November.

Among the words of his October 3, 1863 proclamation were "No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy" and "It has seemed to me fit and proper that they ['gracious gifts from God'] should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."

I know that I for one have much to be grateful and thankful for, including the kind words sent to me from those who have enjoyed my books and this blog. Here's hoping that all of you have an enjoyable holiday and that we all give thanks in our own way.

November 20, 2007

The James E. Taylor Sketchbook

In August 1864, artist James E. Taylor was sent by Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine to follow and record the fortunes of Union General Philip Sheridan’s army in the Shenandoah Valley. His sketches appeared in that publication but then languished for decades at Ohio's Western Reserve Historical Society. In 1989, Bob Younger and his Morningside Press collected these drawings and released them as the James E. Taylor Sketchbook: With Sheridan Up the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 : Leaves from a Special Artist's Sketchbook and Diary. Almost two decades later, photographer Dana Mac Bean of Beaufort, S.C. insists, "If there was a Top Ten list of Civil War books, this book would be on it."

Mac Bean has retraced Taylor's steps from all those years ago and matched up his modern photographs to the original drawings that Taylor made, according to this Winchester Star article. Mac Bean reports how "Over the years, I’ve documented 95 percent of the illustrations in the Sketchbook" creating in essence a "now and then" book. Mac Bean's photos and Taylor's sketches will be presented side-by-side in a new book to be published sometime in the future.

Taylor's Sketchbook is now out-of-print at the publisher and apparently a difficult acquisition. I could no copies for sale on ABE or eBay, but I'll certainly keep an eye peeled for a copy.

November 19, 2007

Pickett's Mill: Foredoomed to Oblivion

My 14-year-old-son and I had the opportunity this past weekend to traipse over the pristine Pickett’s Mill battlefield just northwest of metro Atlanta. Though somewhat familiar with the fight, I have to admit that I didn’t know the battlefield had been preserved until about a week prior to my visit. It’s a relatively “new” battlefield, the land having been bought by the state in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. The Pickett’s Mill Battlefield State Historic Site was interpreted in the late 1980’s; a visitor’s center was built in 1990, and then officially opened to the public in 1992. The 765-acre park is described as one of the most pristine battlefields in the country and I believe it. Several somewhat-rigorous hiking trails totaling just over four miles take the visitor over the deeply wooded hills, fields, and creeks that appear just as they did during the May 27, 1864 fight. Along the way, the remnants of numerous trenches are still clearly visible. Especially poignant is the deep-cut ravine, which is the focal point of the park and marks the place where scores of Union men met their fate in a futile rush up a gorge whose sides are at much more than a 45 degree angle.

The battle of Pickett’s Mill (see image) was a minor one during Sherman’s Atlanta campaign, being sandwiched between the better known engagements at New Hope Church and Dallas. Its result was the loss of 1600 bluecoats to only 500 Confederates making it a clear-cut Rebel victory. According to the video at the park’s visitor center, Sherman chose to completely ignore the battle when penning his official report as well as his post-war memoirs, perhaps due to not only the battle’s obscurity but also the tremendous Yankee losses. Based on the ratio of casualties to troops engaged, this was one of the bloodiest battles during the Atlanta campaign.

Apparently, only one book-length study has been written over the years that describe this battle. Written by Morton McInvale, that book is titled The Battle of Pickett’s Mill: Foredoomed to Oblivion and was published in 1977 by the state of Georgia. The subtitle is taken from the story The Crime at Pickett’s Mill, which was written by a young Ambrose Bierce and who was also a participant in the battle. It can be found in Shadows of Blue and Gray: The Civil War Writings of Ambrose Bierce. McInvale’s 175-page paperback is long out of print though a park ranger told me that the state is considering reissuing it. It’s also quite scarce for I could find only one copy on ABE and it’s priced at $50. Though the retelling of the battle itself may have been initially “foredoomed to oblivion,” the battlefield has been wonderfully preserved. Any civil warrior visiting Atlanta will want to check it out.

November 15, 2007

Are Old Books Becoming Irrelevant?

I wonder if the day is fast approaching when old books as unique sources of information will be functionally obsolete? From Cornell's Making of America to the University of Michigan digitizing program and now this story about a similar project at the University of North Carolina, it seems that older titles everywhere are going online. From my own experience, I can say that for my next book, I examined dozens of obscure titles online via Google Book Search, Live Search, and other databases rather than having to go through the lengthy and sometimes unfruitful ILL process. Could the day come when the public's primary interest in old books will be as historical artifacts rather than as sources of data?

November 14, 2007

A "Black Confederate" Rarity

The debate over whether or not blacks served as "soldiers" in the Confederate army is one that generates considerable heat and controversy. Let me say that I have not done enough research into the matter to form an educated opinion. Nevertheless, I was quite surprised when I learned of a letter from a "black Confederate" that Christie's of New York will auction off on December 3.

According to their description, the item is described as follows: Letter signed twice ("Aabram"), presumably dictated to and signed by a scribe, to his unidentified master, Petersburg, Virginia, 18 February 1865. 2 pages, 4to, creased.

A true rarity: a letter from a black soldier in the Confederate Army describing his experiences to his master. "...I am well and doing well. I am driving a wagon in a Georgia battalion of Artillery and have been principally engaged during the winter in hauling wood. I am very well satisfied--have a good and Comfortable house to stay in. I get rations just as the soldiers and draw the same they do. Give all at home my best love and tell them I am very anxious to hear from there. Tell them I dream about them frequently. I dream of Sarah oftener than any other. Offer my kindest wishes & feelings to Mistress and accept the same for yourself. Please write to me and give me all the news at home. Let me know if Massa John has been home since I left. I desire my Mother to receive the money from my corn crop. Again let me offer my best love to all. Am hoping to hear from you soon. I remain your Obt. Servant..." He sends his respects to "all his fellow servants" and closes by leaving his address: care of "Maj. John Lane, Sumter Arty. Battn. 3rd Corps."

Very interesting, indeed. Christies estimates the item at $4000 - $6000.

Civil War "Miniature Book"

I read online where the University of Tennessee’s Special Collections Library has acquired a very rare Civil War “miniature book” for its collections. Entitled “Orphan Willie” and published in 1862, this 64-page book tells the story of a young boy who runs away to join the Union army. For those who may not be aware, a miniature book is a very small book, roughly sized at 3 by 2 inches, but certainly no larger than 3 inches in height, width or thickness. Some are even smaller as the image indicates. They were quite popular in the last few decades of the 19th century because they were portable and easy to conceal. Such is the case with this Civil War title for its contents could have made it an item subject to confiscation. A person could carry many of these books in a small case when travelling.

Many are bound in fine leather, gilt in gold and contain excellent examples of woodcuts, etchings and watermarks. Another example of bookmaking as art. More popular topics at that time were dictionaries, language translators, religious stories and readings and occasionally tourist guides. Many are now collector's items with prices ranging from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars. Some of the oldest books are actually miniature clay tablets from Mesopotamia and recorded business and legal transactions. The Indiana University Lilly Library has an online exhibition of these types of books as does the Miniature Book Society.

November 12, 2007

For Those With the Deepest of Pockets

Heritage Auction Galleries will present the Civil War-era photo album of diarist Mary Chestnut, images from which were featured in Ken Burns' television series The Civil War, in their upcoming Grand Format auction, to be held December 1, 2007 in Nashville, Tennessee. The full story can found here.

The opening bid will be a cool $40,000 with the gallery's presale estimate of the winning bid range set at $80,000 - $120,000. (Gulp)

November 8, 2007

New Battle of Decatur Book w/ Small Print Run

I've just learned about a new "small press" book that discusses the overlooked engagement near Decatur, Alabama which became the opening salvo of Hood's ill-fated Tennessee Campaign. The book's full title is A Slight Demonstration: Decatur, October 1864, Clumsy Beginning of Gen. John B. Hood's Tennessee Campaign, which ended in disaster at the battles of Franklin and Nashville. According to the press release, "the new book by Decatur native Noel Carpenter (1918-2000) argues that Confederate General John B. Hood’s detour to Decatur in 1864 at the beginning of the Tennessee Campaign “was a defining event that re-shaped the entire campaign.”

The book is presented as "a meticulously detailed and documented account — the first book-length study of the four-day clash at Decatur," in which "the author examines the circumstances surrounding the events and how they overwhelmed the controversial young commander."

The posthumous publication of Carpenter's work has also garnered academic praise. Professor Daniel E. Sutherland, co-editor of The Civil War in the West, a series from The University of Arkansas Press, has said: “I found Carpenter’s account and analysis of events at Decatur thoroughly readable and quite convincing,” and “I came away from his narrative believing that historians may, indeed, not have given events at Decatur their due.”

From the collector's perspective, this is definitely a small press, regional publication which I touched on in an earlier post. According to the press release, following Carpenter's death in
December 2000, his daughter, Austin art director Carol Powell, undertook the task of preparing the manuscript for publication as a tribute to his effort. “As soon as I started reading the manuscript,” she says, “I recognized the quality of the work and wanted it to be shared with other history buffs and scholars. Daddy spent the last 12 years of his life — countless hours at the University of Texas libraries — researching and writing his story.

I've communicated with Powell who has informed me that the first printing is only 500 copies. It's hardbound with dust jacket and will be priced at $29.95. It seems the book will only be available through Robert Parham’s Civil War Relics shop at 723 Bank Street NW in Decatur, or by mail from the publisher, Legacy Books & Letters, 8308 Elander Drive, Austin, TX 78750. Collectors take note.

More Goodies on eBay

As I discussed in an earlier post, many if not most of my older Civil War book purchases are acquired through eBay. Sometimes, I just like to browse through the listings to see what's garnering the bulk of other folks' attention. Tonight, two items are standing out. The first is a rare 2-volume set of a Jefferson Davis memoir written by his second wife (Varina Howell Davis) that was published in 1890. It appears to be in not the greatest condition. According to the seller's listing, "This book is filled with the details and incidents during his captivity, concerns of his health, combined with conversations on topics of public interest. Filled with 1,638 very informative pages of the Confederate President's military and personal life, as told directly from his wife, this set is not only a history of the War but also a statement of personal knowledge of Jefferson Davis' character." As I write this, the item has generated 17 bids with the high bid at $152.50. Broadfoot's Civil War Books: A Priced Checklist (5th and most recent ed., 2000) shows the book at $225.

The other lot will be more common to most. It's ten original 1st editions and first printings of the Campaigns of the Civil War from the late 1800’s in beautiful condition. The gilt lettering and top edges appear just as fresh as the day they were published. So far, the set has 20 bids but with of a high bid of only $100.

November 6, 2007

"Gray is Always More Popular..."

…than blue,” according to Virginia bookseller Rick Stoutamyer, while discussing the Civil War book buying habits of his customers in this interview. His shop is in Middleburg, which also happens to be Virginia Hunt Country, allowing him to understand that some inventory will sell quicker than others. “In this area, anything equestrian is interesting, and books about the Civil War are good, but they have to be about the South," said Stoutamyer.” This preference for Confederate titles ties in with what Tom Broadfoot told me earlier. I can’t quite put my finger on why that is exactly, but part of me thinks some of it has to do with the romanticized imagery of the Confederacy.

"Gone With the Wind" as Autobiography?

I didn't know that either, but according to Dr. Elliot Engel, the story is really the masked autobiography of Margaret Mitchell, the book's author.

"'Gone With The Wind' is one of the most popular novels and motion pictures of all time, but you will be surprised when you learn the real story behind the novel and the glamorous Hollywood legends surrounding the film. Few know that the novel has little to do with the Civil War and the Deep South, but is really a glimpse into the real life and loves of Margaret Mitchell," said Engel.

"Mitchell was a shy woman," Engel said, "and 'Gone With The Wind' is her secret autobiography. She wove important events of her life into the storyline." Hmmm.

First Edition of Longstreet's Memoirs

Confederate James Longstreet has long been regarded as one of the most famous and controversial of Civil War generals. Warmly described by Robert E. Lee throughout the war as his “old war horse,” Longstreet, a Georgia native, earned the enmity of the ex-Confederacy’s surviving Virginia generals in the post-bellum years by cozying up to the Republican Party and generally trying to make an honest peace with his old northern enemies. In a series of blistering speeches led by Jubal Early and other “Lost Cause” apologists during the 1870’s, Longstreet became the fall guy for the South losing the war, primarily due to his alleged tardiness and perceived lack of conviction during the July 2-3, 1863 timeframe at Gettysburg. Longstreet remained relatively quiet in answering these charges however in 1896, after five years of research and writing, “Ol’ Pete” formally answered his critics by publishing his memoirs, creating a firestorm of controversy amongst the elderly Confederate survivors that may have rivaled the intense military debates of today.

The book was titled From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America and was published by the J. B. Lippincott Co. of Philadelphia. It was a huge, massive production, running just under 700 pages and featuring numerous illustrations and maps that had been commissioned specifically for the work. The book is a bit dry and the reader must keep in mind the author’s animus toward his critics, nevertheless historian Richard Harwell, in his famous In Tall Cotton, described Longstreet’s memoirs (#114) as ”provocative” and “basic to any study of the Army of Northern Virginia.”

The first edition was bound in deep red cloth and featured the inlaid design of a uniformed, gray-sleeved forearm with hand holding a sword on the front cover. The lettering was in gold gilt as were parts of the cover inlay. Truly a beautiful production. Because of Longstreet’s prominence, the first printing was quite healthy, meaning that finding a first edition today is not too difficult. Due to its thick size however, the book did not wear that well so finding a copy today in fine condition can be more problematic. Those that do exist tend to be priced in the $500 range. I chose the rebinding route which is also quite popular. I came across a reasonably priced first edition copy that was fairly beat up externally, however the pages were in good shape, so I had my bookbinder create a new binding of full English goatskin, a kangaroo skin label, with some nice inlays and gold leaf lettering on the spine (see pic). Bookbinding as art…. Of special interest to rare book collectors and something I only learned of recently, was that Longstreet and the publisher also issued an “Autograph Edition” limited to only 250 specially-bound copies. A copy was sold at auction on June 10, 2006 for $6,325. I’m sure the Longstreet autograph represented a good portion of that price. Particulars and pictures of this rare edition are available here.

November 1, 2007

"Rare Finds" Blog

I've discovered a blog that caters to book collectors of all stripes and is called Rare Finds - A Guide to Rare Book Collecting. A fairly recent post discusses Francis Trevelyan Miller's classic and essential 10-volume collection of Civil War photographs entitled Photographic History of the Civil War.

October 29, 2007

Ghosts, Spirits and Books at Point Lookout, Md.

"In terms of important historical associations with ghost stories and a grisly past, Point Lookout Lighthouse in St. Mary's County is right up there. It's five stars out of five stars," says Ed Okonowicz, semiretired college professor and Maryland's premier collector of ghost stories, regional folklore and supernatural tales. According to Okonowicz, the lighthouse at the tip of the island has garnered the title of "America's Most Haunted Lighthouse."

According to a story in the Baltimore Sun, the 530-acre site, including the lighthouse, has been a state park since 1962. It was once one of the most feared and notorious Union prisoner-of-war camps, where more than 4,000 Confederate prisoners died during the Civil War. "The tale of the camp," writes Edwin Warfield Beitzell in his book, Point Lookout, Prison Camp for Confederates, "is a horrid story to tell. It is a story of cruel decisions in high places, a story of diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid and typhus, of burning sands and freezing cold in rotten tents. It is a story of senseless shootings by guards. It is a story of the despair and death of 4,000 prisoners, many of whom could have been saved." Beitzell's book was privately published in the mid-1970's and then reprinted by the St. Mary's Historical Association in 1979. Copies seem hard to come by and tend to be priced in the $75 range.

Primary source recollections from Confederates who were imprisoned at Point Lookout also exist and can be quite pricey. Three Years in the Confederate Horse Artillery by George Neese (Neale, 1911), In Vinculis: or, The Prisoner of War by A.M. Keiley (1866), and In Prison at Point Lookout by G.W. Jones (1898) are just three of numerous titles that tell a tale of woe at this infamous Union POW camp. All three of these titles in the first edition command over $100. The Neese book in particular is quite sought after since it is also a Neale Book and is in demand for content that goes well beyond Point Lookout.

They say that Gettysburg is one of the most haunted places in America. Apparently Point Lookout, though not nearly as famous, might give the sleepy Pennsylvania town a run for its money!

October 28, 2007

A Rare Confederate Imprint: Battle of Young's Branch

One of my favorite Civil War book collecting categories is battle books. These are the tactical or strategic narratives that describe anything from grand campaigns on down to daily or even hourly segments of certain engagements. For me, the more obscure the battle or skirmish, the better. From a collector’s perspective, if the publisher is likewise small or unknown, that’s fine as well. Of course, all of that has to be tempered with the perceived quality of the book. As other Civil War book buyers have written, some tell-tale indicators of a book’s scholarly qualities are the presence of notes and a bibliography that clearly illustrates the depth of primary source research, good quality maps, ample illustrations, as well as a good, detailed index. If any of these are lacking, I tend to pass.

Of course, collectors will often relax or even set aside these new book requirements when considering a battle book that’s 100 years old or more. One such title that is both quite valuable and exceedingly rare is Battle of Young's Branch or, Manassas Plain, Fought July 21, 1861. It was initially published in Richmond in 1862 in yellow paper wrappers and represents a highly partisan though reasonably accurate account of First Bull Run. The book is noted for being an important Confederate imprint, along with one having one of the engagement’s best maps. I also discovered an old New York Times online article from 1910 that described this item even back then as a “rare book.”

Certainly nothing has changed in that regard for a rebound copy offered for sale on ABE has an asking price of $2500. Fortunately, for those who would like to read the book, there exists a modern reprint published by the Prince William Historical Commission (see pic). According to the reprint’s new introduction, the book was written by its two authors to capitalize on the Confederate victory and to foster a martial spirit throughout the South. In addition, this rather thin book (145 pp.) contains details and anecdotes not found in any other study of First Manassas. To assist the modern reader, the new edition also features an index and a fold-out map of the battlefield which has been reproduced from the original at the National Archives. This title is also listed in Richard Harwell’s Cornerstones of Confederate Collecting. I know that the Manassas Battlefield Park bookstore had copies for sale just a few years ago so those interested may want to check with them.

October 27, 2007

Off Topic Rant re Harry Potter

A true first edition, of which I believe only several hundred copies exist, of the first Harry Potter novel has sold at auction for $41,000. You read that right, I did not add an extra zero... Signed by the author as "Joanne Rowling," the book was sold to an anonymous bidder at Christie's auction house. More power to 'em, I guess.

Still, I consider that to be a ludicrous amount to pay for a book that's only 10 years old. I say that from a collector's perspective with an eye cast toward investment potential. Despite the current immense popularity of Harry Potter, it is anyone's guess as to whether these books will stand the test of time. Also consider that this price paid is far in excess of what true cornerstones of the fantasy field command. More than The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings and far more than anything by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, or H.P. Lovecraft.

Civil War Books: A Critical Bibliography

I once read and firmly believe that reference books and bibliographies form the core of any book collection, whether it's nonfiction or fiction. These can range from price guides to author bibliographies to critical analysis works. Into this last category comes a title that I picked up this week through eBay enitled Civil War Books: A Critical Bibliography. It's a one-volume 1996 reprint by Broadfoot Publishers of what was originally a 2-volume work published by LSU Press during the mid-to-late 1960's. The work was edited by Allen Nevins, James I. Robertson, and Bell I. Wiley, three of the twentieth century's most famous names when it comes to Civil War scholarship. As these men write in their preface, the purpose of the work was to establish an annotated, critical bibliography of the major works in the Civil War canon, all under the auspices and endorsement of the United States Civil War Centennial Commission. They point out that such a project had never before been so thoroughly undertaken, though several much earlier works had begun the process. Two in particular are very obscure, they being John Bartlett's The Literature of the Rebellion (Boston, 1866) and John P. Nicholson's Catalogue of the Library of Brevet Lieutenant Nicholson...Relating to the War of the Rebellion (Philadelphia, 1914).

It was obviously a massive undertaking. 15 esteemed professors of the day were each assigned a particular topic of the war with the task of determining the key titles within that area. The editors also point out that these volumes contain "bad works as well as good ones" and that "the overall aim of the project was to analyze those volumes familiar and unfamiliar, general or limited, indispensable or useless, for the benefit of anyone delving into the literature of the Civil War."

Close to 6000 titles are listed between the two volumes. In each case the editors state the usual bibliographic particulars, such as author, title, publisher, city, date published, as well as number of pages and trim size. A one or two sentence critical summary of the book then follows.

Since the work is now 40 years old, it obviously lacks all of the important scholarship published since then. Nevertheless, for researchers and those looking to build or expand their Civil War first edition library, it remains an invaluable reference tool.

October 22, 2007

Why Collect First Editions?

A neighbor asked me the other day why I collect Civil War first editions as opposed to a simple (and presumed cheaper) reprint. After all, he wondered, aren’t the words and information the same? His question was reflective of an age-old debate that has no right or wrong perspective. It is somewhat difficult, perhaps, for a “collector” to explain (justify?) his/her passion to a non-collector. I don’t think that I’ve ever been able to really convey my interest to those close to me, other than to say that for collectors, a book holds an intrinsic and magnetic interest as a physical artifact. It is much more than a collection of words and ideas. I came across this great article on the internet that explores our passion. You can check it out in two parts here and here.

It is more than a mere delivery method for the thoughts and ideas contained within, for as the article points out, to non-collectors “the physical book is nothing more than a reader’s fast food wrapper.” And as the second part illustrates, buying Civil War first editions always gives the buyer an opportunity to recoup his expenditures down the road. If you’re buying reprints, it’s likely you’ll never recover your costs.

October 18, 2007

"Abraham Lincoln and the Jews"

News announcements here and here that this long out-of-print and incredibly rare book is now available online as part of the Google project. There are no copies to be found on ABE so I'd say it is indeed a rarity. Does anyone have a copy?

October 16, 2007

Forthcoming Limited Edition of Texas Veterans

The Brenham Banner Press of Washington County, Texas will soon publish a "library quality hard bound publication [that] will feature up to 128 pages of veterans pictures and history from Washington County. The proposed format includes all veterans from the Civil War to present, if photographs and information are available."

In addition, "a leather-covered limited edition will be offered for those interested in a deluxe version. No more than 50 copies will be published. Each will include a numbered custom bookplate affixed to the inside cover."

The full story is available here.

October 14, 2007

Deluxe Edition of Walt Whitman's "Drum Taps"

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) is arguably one of American history’s most innovative and influential poets. His life story includes time spent in Washington DC during the Civil War where he worked as a male nurse in the Union hospitals. Whitman was so sickened by the horrors he witnessed during those years that it influenced him to write a series of poems that would ultimately be published in 1865 under the title of Drum-Taps. A second edition was soon printed that included additional verse written after Lincoln’s assassination. Both editions are extremely rare and pricey with asking prices anywhere from $3000 to $5000 depending on condition. The work is highly sought after by poetry and literary first edition collectors in addition to those who want the work for its Civil War connection. These poems were collected into a later edition of Leaves of Grass, ultimately growing in importance in the book as the war's historical significance became clearer in Whitman's mind. Whitman would later write that Leaves of Grass "revolves around that four year's war, which, as I was in the midst of it, becomes, in Drum-Taps, pivotal to the rest entire."

I’ve just learned that sixteen of those poems were brought together in 1991 in a deluxe, fine press edition titled Wrenching Times, Poems from Drum-Taps, which were selected by M. Wynn Thomas. According to the publisher, the poems are described as “standing unique as war poetry. Whitman's Drum-Taps continues to offer us an absolutely convincing and compelling poetic account of men at war.” I’m definitely an admirer of fine press books, which is bookmaking as art, and discuss them in an earlier post. It appears to be quite a production, courtesy of the Gregynog Press of Wales for their artistic vision is highlighted by a 30-copy edition printed on handmade paper and in a special binding. It is illustrated with colored wood-engravings by the American artist, Gaylord Schanilec, and features covers of hand-painted calf leather representing a pale blue sky, with multi-colored morocco leather overlays on lower covers forming the image of an abstract mountainscape. (bottom left) Open the book up and one will find linings made of suede. The entire package is presented in a blue cloth folding box. One dealer currently offering a copy describes it as “a beautifully crafted book with a superb hand binding” with an asking price of $5000. Deep pockets, indeed. Also available is a 450-copy edition designed and printed by David Esslemont with Hugh Willmer using Monotype Baskerville type. This version is illustrated with 8 multi-colored wood engravings executed by Schanilec during his residency at the Gregynog Press and printed from the original wood-blocks. This fine press edition is currently available for $500 or so. (bottom right)

October 12, 2007

The Brave New World of Book Collecting

Imagine going to a library book sale and finding a first edition of The Killer Angels for a buck! Let's see, a several thousand dollar book for $1. Someone else can calculate the return on investment of that purchase! Finding gems at library sales do happen occasionally but for the most part, you're having to wade through piles of slush to find a handful of desirable books -- and if you're not a member of the local "Friends of the Library," then forget it, for most library sales will have a special preview for their Friends before opening up the sale to the general public. 99.9% of all desirable books will be long gone by that point. I readily recall joining all the area Friends so that I, as a collector, could give myself first crack at the sale, only to discover that every other dealer and collector I knew had done the same! When the doors opened, a feeding frenzy often ensued with many dealers often just tossing old books into their boxes without even looking at what they were. They'd weed them out later...

But the times they are a changin'. Just check out this article about the 21st-century technology now being employed by book dealers at these type of sales. I'm sorry, I'm just way too old school to use a handheld scanner that monitors bar codes for pricey first editions. The whole thing just doesn't seem as sporting as it once did.

October 8, 2007

The 1862 Confederate Invasion of New Mexico

I was watching The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly the other night, which is my all-time favorite western and stars Clint Eastwood in his classic "The Man With No Name" persona. The film tells the tale of 3 less-than-savory characters seeking out buried Confederate gold in the American southwest.

unrelated sidebar - is there any better cinematography and musical score than this? :-)

General Henry Hopkins Sibley's 1862 Confederate invasion of New Mexico serves as a backdrop for the film which got me thinking about core and collectible books pertaining to that campaign. From my perspective, the standard work is still Sibley's New Mexico Campaign by Martin Hardwick Hall. It was originally published in 1960 by the University of Texas Press. First edition copies in fine condition are not easy to come by and command around $150 when found. Though it was long out-of-print, the book was reissued in 2001 and is now readily available. The dust jacket image is for this reprint but is very similar to the original. Hall also wrote The Confederate Army Of New Mexico, which is primarily a genealogical book that focuses on the personnel of the Army of New Mexico, comprised almost entirely of Texans, including some of the most prominent figures of the times.

It appears that the most desirable older title is Autobiography and Reminscences of Theophilius Noel, self-published in 1904 by the author, who served in Sibley's 4th Texas Cavalry. I found several copies for sale ranging from $200 to $450 for a signed copy.

There are several other modern titles that cover various engagements within the campaign and have become collectible due to their limited nature, including John Taylor's Bloody Valverde and Don Roberts' The Battle of Glorietta. This campaign has always fascinated me, occurring as it did thousands of miles away from the better known eastern battles.

October 4, 2007

I've Not Heard of This One...

Looks like the Friends of the Stones River Battlefield have come across an uncommon first edition copy of William D. Bickham's 1863 Rosecrans' Campaign With the Fourteenth Army Corps: A Narrative of Personal Observation, with an Appendix Consisting of Official Reports of the Battle of Stones River.” Not just any copy, but one that was owned by a Union soldier who particpated in the battle of Stones River. Apparently, this book represents one of a few first-hand accounts of the battle published during the war. According to this story, the book is being donated by the Friends to the Stones River Battlefield Park Library. Props to the Friends for their magnanimous gesture! Needless to say, the book is pricey though not too terribly rare as ABE lists 4 copies for sale with prices ranging from $150 to $440. According to one bookseller, "the author was a [Cinncinati Commercial] war correspondent during part of the war. His letters and dispatches soon gave him a valuable and reliable reputation." For those who want just a reading copy, it appears the book has been reprinted and is available for $29.99 through Amazon. The map is of the Stones River battlefield and is taken from the book.

October 3, 2007

Deluxe "Battle Cry of Freedom"

James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom has been hailed in some quarters as the best, single-volume modern history of the Civil War. Other critics have been less kind. The first edition was published in 1988 by Oxford University Press, has been in print ever since, and can be had in fine condition for around the $40 mark. The book was reissued in 2003 as a profusely illustrated "new" book which included a deluxe, leather-bound edition, limited to 1000 slipcased copies that were geared toward the collector's market. Each copy was hand-signed and numbered by the author. The work features high-quality paper, colored end-papers, gold-foil edging, and is now sold out from the publisher. Copies have become scarce in the secondary market and when available, tend to go for around $100. This beautiful book features some seven hundred pictures, including a hundred and fifty color images and twenty-four full-color maps personally selected by McPherson. As an intro into the Civil War or book collecting, this particular volume would be hard to beat!

October 1, 2007

An Interesting Guide

Here’s a webpage I've found that’s billed as “A Guide for the Civil War Book Collector” by E. E. Billings. As I’ve mentioned before, reference books and bibliographies form the core of any great book collection.

September 30, 2007

"Cleaning Up the Muss" - New Regional Publication

I've always been especially interested in Civil War books published by local museums or historical societies. The hardcovers for these regional publications tend to be well made, the print runs rather low, though the quality of the material inside can sometimes be sketchy. Generally, the potential appeal to buyers is more localized than national. Every now and then however, you can hit a home run as to collectability and first-rate material. Local letters and diaries usualy fall into this type of category.

It appears that the Hudson, MI museum is now producing a volume like I've just described. It's titled Cleaning Up the Muss [sic] and is a small collection of letters from the surgeon of the 4th Michigan Infantry who I assume was from the area. A full on-line article can be found here. I've lived in Michigan for several years and have to admit I didn't know where Hudson is. It's located in the far SE corner of the state possibly closer to Toledo, OH than Detroit. The book is $20 softcover and $40 hardcover and can be obtained from the museum or library. Shipping costs are $2.50. Call (517) 448–8858 for more information. Proceeds from the book support the museum.

September 28, 2007

"All for the Union"

I’m having some new bookcases built into my living room and as I was boxing up the books, I came across my copy of All for the Union, the famous Civil War diary of Elisha Hunt Rhodes. If you’ve seen Ken Burns’ The Civil War, then you certainly know who Rhodes is, even if the name no longer rings a bell. His journal was the most oft-quoted Union soldier diary during that famous TV miniseries. According to The Civil War website, Rhodes was “just 19 when he joined the [2nd] Rhode Island volunteers in 1861. Rhodes had little idea of what to expect from the war or the Union army. His diary of the war years provides candid, fascinating impressions of the slaughter and tragedy he encountered." IMO, it is one of the most readable and enjoyable wartime journals I’ve encountered. The Burns’ series certainly helped turn the Rhodes journal into a healthy seller.

All for the Union was packaged in hardcover and paperback by Orion Books in 1991 with prominent tie-in references on the jacket to the Burns’ series. In fact, many collectors and booksellers mistakenly thought they were acquiring a first edition. Some booksellers even advertise the Orion hardcover as a first edition to this day. The truth is that the true first printing appeared 6 years earlier and was published by the small firm of Andrew Mowbray Inc. of Lincoln, RI. (see image) That had to be a tiny print run for copies in premium condition are difficult to find. To illustrate, ABE currently lists 192 copies of the book for sale, however only 5 are described as being published by Mowbray and of those, only 2 are the hardcover first edition eagerly sought after by collectors.

September 25, 2007

A (mini) Interview with Tom Broadfoot

I recently had the opportunity to pose a few questions regarding the current state of Civil War book collecting to Tom Broadfoot, who, for those who may not know, is and has been one of the leading Civil War booksellers and publishers in the country. If you're not familiar with his website, you need to check it out here.

PT: You mentioned once to me that the collecting of 19th century Civil War first editions was a hobby in decline. Generally, older collectors were dying off and/or selling their collections and were not being replaced by younger collectors who had probably grown up in the new digital/video age. Do you still feel this way?
TB: Yes, yes, yes.
PT: Can you describe your typical collector? i.e. gender, age, income, southern, or northern? etc. Are most of your customers just interested in the “data” a book may contain?
TB: Male, 55-60, upper income bracket, Southern, ½ collecting data, ½ collecting collectibles.
PT: The Ken Burns miniseries in the early 90s’s along with Ted Turner’s Gettysburg seemed to generate a marked increase in interest in the Civil War. Do you think the upcoming sesquicentennial will have a similar impact in general, and any impact on Civil War book collecting in particular?
TB: Won’t have any impact on collecting, will have an impact on sales of new Civil War books at Barnes & Noble, etc.
PT: Are there any types of CW books that are especially in demand, or “hot?”
TB: Rare Confederate titles.

I, for one thoroughly enjoy my collecting passion (vice?) and hope it extends well into my golden years. (My wife will beg to differ) Nevertheless, his observations do not bode well for our hobby. I wonder if this situation extends into all fields or genres of book collecting? To take it a step further, are books as we've come to know them slowly going the way of the 78 rpm or LP record?