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.