January 30, 2008

Under Both Flags

Two days ago I wrote about Annals of the Civil War, a collection of serious articles written by the war's participants that initially appeared in 1879. Today I'll examine a much lesser-known work and frankly, one that I still can't get a good handle on. Its title is Under Both Flags and was published in 1896. I've seen it listed as being published in both Philadelphia and Chicago. The former was done in a dark blue cloth with the latter bound in maroon cloth. Both had gilt lettering and designs on the spine and cover. In addition, I've seen it listed with a couple of different subtitles, one being Personal Stories of Sacrifice and Struggle During the Civil War and the other A Panorama of the Great Civil War As Represented in Story, Anecdote, Adventure, and the Romance of Reality. It's that last bit that concerns me as to the historical accuracy of much of the book's contents. "Anecdotes" and the "romance of reality" do not strike me as good descriptors of reliable history.

The editor writes in the introduction that every article, sketch, or vignette, was written by "the living actors or witnesses of the events related" and that "in no other from can these historical treasures be obtained." So, on the surface, this could be an important primary source collection. However, many of the articles and sketches included have, IMO, a very romanticized feel. Not surprising, considering that the recollections were written and published close to forty years after the fact.

One interesting point is the illustrations. Approximately 250 "superb illustrations from photographs and drawings accurately picturing the scenes described" adorn the book. It's a large book as well. A facsimile reprint of the original was published in 2003 in softcover and is easily had. The hardcover first edition is tough to find in good condition. Books of this type were handled heavily over the years leading to excessive wear. Those copies out there on ABE tend to to be priced in the $50 - $100 range. I'd love to hear from anyone who can add to the history and accuracy (or lack thereof) of this book. Pictured copy for sale here.

January 27, 2008

The Annals of the War

In 1879, the Times Publishing Company published a fat 800+ page collection of fifty-six articles that had originally appeared on the front page of the Philadelphia Weekly Times beginning in 1877. The book was titled The Annals of the War, Written by Leading Participants North and South, as the articles had been penned by various well-known and not-so-well-known veterans of the "late unpleasantness." According to editor Alexander McClure, "the series of contributions contained in this volume were furnished as special articles with the view of correcting many of the grave errors of the hastily compiled, heedlessly imperfect, and strongly partisan histories which appeared during and soon after the close of the war."

Historian Peter Cozzens wrote in his New Annals of the Civil War that McClure's "lofty claims were largely justified." Most of the books appearing up to that time were heavily biased crap. Cozzens notes that McClure's Weekly Times became the first prominent publication to feature quality articles on the war. The National Tribune for Union veterans did not run war-related articles on a consistent basis until 1881. Confederate Veteran did not commence until 1893 and Century Magazine did not begin its famous Battles and Leaders series until 1884.

In addition, the chosen topics were "written by soldiers and civilians of both sides, presenting the same battles and the same results from entirely different standpoints" and therefore "proffer antagonistic conclusions." Historians James I. Robertson and Gary Gallagher deemed the Annals articles to be "of greater reliability and more provocative than those in the more famous Battles and Leaders series.

This important primary source book has been reprinted numerous times and is easy to come by if one just wants a reading or research copy. First editions in fine shape are a different story as the immense size of the book along with its brown, gilt-laden cover precluded it from wearing well over the years. Expect to pay in the $200 range for a copy in collector's condition. Copy pictured is available for sale here.

January 21, 2008

Poll Results

The results are in for my far-from-scientific poll pertaining to what types of ACW books visitors to this blog like to read. Here are the results:
Campaign or battle tactical studies 7 (35%)
Biography 3 (15%)
Social Issues 0 (0%)
Soldier's letters, diary, or memoir 5 (25%)
Modern interpretive studies 3 (15%)
Regimental histories 2 (10%)
I'm generally not one for prognostications, but in this case, I predicted the first and last place finisher right on the money. As others have written, it appears that most readers like to smell the powder in their Civil War reading; clearly being more interested in what happened than why. It appears that learning about the "what and where" is almost as interesting coming from the soldiers' pens themselves as modern historians. The battlefield is what interests them, obviously not home front or emancipation issues.

January 20, 2008

The Collecting Bug Finds Us...

...and not the other way around, as this human interest story about a 71-year-old Civil War collector points out!

NEW Small, Regional Publication

Regular visitors know by now that I'm a big fan of regional, small press publications. I've just discovered another new one. According to this story, Larry and Koren Lowenthal of Brimfield, Massachusetts have overseen the first-ever publication of Trying to Do My Duty, a fully annotated collection of sixty-odd letters written by Captain Francis D. Lincoln and his wife Rebecca while he served in the 46th Massachusetts Infantry. The 46th was a nine month unit mustered around October 1862 and sent home in July 1863.

Of particular note is how the letters were found. Apparently, Larry, a former National Park Service employee, was involved with the Hitchcock Free Academy (founded 1855) in the center of Brimfield which is where the letters were found unexpectedly a few years ago. There was no indication how the letters came to be there. Larry believes it is possible that nobody knew they were there since the 1930's.

The Lowenthals printed 600 copies of the book in paperback format only under the Marker Press banner. Copies of the book cost $17.95. They may be ordered direct by emailing the Lowenthals at Marker_Press@comcast.net or sending a check to Marker Press, PO 390, Brimfield, Mass., 01010. Include $2.95 for shipping.

January 19, 2008

The Civil War's "Secret Societies"

Research for my current book project has prompted me to purchase a copy of George F. Milton’s Abraham Lincoln and the Fifth Column, published by the Vanguard Press in 1942 and now out of print. This World War II-era book, described by historian Allan Nevins as a “classic work,” explores the “secret and treasonous societies” that purportedly existed in the north during the Civil War. Milton’s book was one of the first to delve into this topic and received much critical acclaim when it was first published, not surprising since the nation was embroiled in a conflict that called for patriotic fervor. The late scholar Frank Klement would later note how President Franklin D. Roosevelt was photographed holding the book while boarding a plane to visit with Churchill and Stalin. The president also plugged the book by equating dissenters of his era with those of the Civil War, even referring to both as Copperheads. Meanwhile, FDR’s attorney general also endorsed Milton’s book by proclaiming that it dealt with “the appeasers, the seditionists, and the faint-hearted of another day when the nation was in peril.” (And some think that the present administration’s tactics are somehow new…) It’s not a tough find if one just wants a reading copy, however first editions in choice condition with like dust jackets can be another matter.

Modern scholars have not been so kind however. Klement, who was a leading authority on Democratic Party dissent in the Midwest during the Civil War, strongly refuted Milton’s book in his Dark Lanterns: Secret Political Societies, Conspiracies, and Treason Trials in the Civil War, published in 1984 and also recently acquired. He criticized Fifth Column as a “poorly researched and hurriedly written potboiler” that “read like a detective thriller.” His central thesis was that subversive, secret Civil War societies such as the Knights of the Golden Circle, the Order of American Knights, and the Sons of Liberty were never much more than paper-based organizations with vague goals and little ability to carry them out.

Most recent is Jennifer L. Weber’s Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln's Opponents in the North, published in 2006 by Oxford University Press. The issue of vehement anti-Lincoln and anti-war plots in the Midwest during the Civil War is one I shall investigate further.

January 14, 2008

A Book Lover's Poll

I have often wondered what types of Civil War books others like to read, so I've set up a brief poll at the left of the screen. It will run for a week. Remember, no blue or red in this poll, just blue and gray. Thankee.

January 13, 2008

The Battle of Seven Pines

A scarce, 1891 first edition copy of The Battle of Seven Pines by Confederate general Gustavus Smith went for $237 this past week on eBay. This stiff-paperback copy was not in the best of condition and was an ex-library copy to boot, nevertheless the bidding appeared to get quite spirited in the waning moments. Frankly, I was a bit surprised as to the final price, thinking that it was higher than I would have predicted given the condition and ex-lib status. The interest though does seem to reflect bookseller opinion that rare Confederate titles are the current hot items in Civil War book collecting. In this case, the book represents one of earliest “battle of” books written by a leading participant and is noteworthy for that reason alone if for no other.

The first edition was published by the C. G. Crawford Co. of New York in simultaneous hardcover and stiff paperback versions. Hardcovers tend to command more as illustrated in this case by Tom Broadfoot’s Civil War Books: A Priced Checklist (5th Ed.) which has Smith’s book valued at $300 and $250 respectively.

Smith led a wing of the Confederate army during the Peninsula Campaign, however command of the entire army briefly fell on his shoulders after General Joseph E. Johnston was wounded while riding along his lines during the May 31, 1862 battle at Seven Pines, aka Fair Oaks. Within two days, command of the Army of Northern Virginia was given to Robert E. Lee. Allan Nevins described Smith’s book as a “detailed but painfully defensive tract” that often serves as the general’s podium to defend his own actions at Seven Pines; actions that were roundly criticized in the years after the battle for their tardiness. The book was reprinted by Morningside as a hardcover in 1974 and is currently out of print.

January 11, 2008

New Civil War Guide Books...

... for those battlefield stompers so inclined. Check it out.

January 10, 2008

From the P. T. Barnum Department

A bit off topic, but I found this book collecting story amusing nonetheless. Just the thought of paying that kind of dough for a "first edition, second printing" of this guy's memoir gives me the vapors....

January 9, 2008

I Rode With Stonewall

I've started a full reading of Henry Kyd Douglas' I Rode With Stonewall, originally published by the University of North Carolina Press in 1940. The author had quite a story to tell, as he was the youngest member of Jackson's staff. His story runs from John Brown's raid up through the hanging of the Lincoln conspirators, of which Douglas was an eyewitness to the trial.

His manuscript had quite a unique history up to the point of its publication. Douglas kept a diary throughout the war, which along with letters and other papers formed the basis for the book. When the hostilities were over, he began putting pen to paper. Once finished, Douglas essentially put his manuscript in a drawer, though for the next three decades his manuscript provided the basis for several articles and speeches, even serving as a source document for other authors.

In 1899 and having mellowed with age, Douglas decided to revisit his manuscript and incorporated a number of revisions. He passed away in 1903, at which point the manuscript was inherited by his sole nephew, John Kyd Beckenbaugh.

Beckenbaugh offered Douglas' memoir to the UNC Press around 1939-40. The press was amazed at such a find and freely admitted "when we first read the typescript we thought it was too good to be true." It was turned over to scholar Fletcher M. Green for review and who ultimately edited the book with the first printing appearing in late 1940. Broadfoot reports in his Civil War Books: A Priced Checklist that at least five printings of 2,000 copies each took place between November - December of 1940, making the book a hefty seller. Today however, first printings in the original dust jacket (pictured) are a tough find. As of this writing in fact, I could find no first edition copies with jacket for sale in collector's condition. The book was a critical success as well. In Tall Cotton descibes it as "one of the finest of Confederate narratives" while Nevins termed it a "delightful memoir."

January 6, 2008

Rare Joe Hooker Letter at Auction

Deep-pocketed collectors take note: A nine-page letter in crisp condition dated December 20, 1877 from General Joseph Hooker to General Henry Shippen Huidekoper of the Pennsylvania National Guard will come up for auction next month. More info here.

Hooker writes in part, Until the War of the Rebellion, I had been made to believe that the strength of a military power lay in its trained troops, and my conviction remained unchanged until the battle of Williamsburg...In that fight the greater part of my troops were under fire for the first time, and many of whom, I have no doubt, had never before heard the report of the discharge of a musket, and yet they went into battle at the earliest dawn, at one time engaged with unusual violence, and stuck to it until night came....

As for books on this battle, there is to the best of my knowledge, but one book-length study devoted exclusively to this engagement. That would be A Pitiless Rain: The Battle of Williamsburg, 1862, written by Earl C. and David S. Hastings. I have not read it though noted author Noah Andre Trudeau has described it as "a little gem of a combat history."

Such lengthy, detailed letters from famous major generals rarely come on the market and when they do, the bidding is usually heavy. Much of Hooker's papers are gathered at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. I wonder if their representatives will be going after this item?

January 4, 2008

This Republic of Suffering

Interesting review in Forbes magazine on the new book by the recently inaugurated president of Harvard.

January 1, 2008

Rebel Private: Front and Rear

One of the most desirable and rarest of all Civil War books has to be the first edition of William A. Fletcher’s memoir, Rebel Private: Front and Rear. In 1908, Fletcher published his recollections of serving in two of the Confederacy’s most famed units: Hood’s Texas Brigade and Terry’s Texas Rangers. The first edition was a small printing published by the Press of the Greer Print of Beaumont, Texas. Fletcher died in 1915 however the majority of his inventory remained in the family home which was completely destroyed by fire in 1924. Most of the remaining books were lost in the blaze and the few that survived all show varying degrees of smoke damage. Only the limited number sold prior show no traces of damage. According to the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop, only about 25 copies are known to exist today. In fact, they are currently offering one at $3,750 (pictured).

Despite the fire, the book ultimately achieved some notoriety. One copy had already been sent to the National Archives which allowed a young Margaret Mitchell to examine it as part of her research for Gone With the Wind; a fact acknowledged by Mitchell in a letter to Fletcher's daughter a half-century ago.

According to Civil War historian Robert Krick, “Fletcher wrote with rambunctious good humor and deadly realism” and even “reported his own drunken sprees.” Moreover, Fletcher displayed an “unmistakable relish over the number of dead Federals in evidence at Fredericksburg.” Wrote Fletcher, “the more dead the less risk.” While the book is certainly famous, not all critics agree with the accuracy of Fletcher’s memory. David Eicher in his The Civil War in Books described Rebel Private as “entertaining reading” but then warned that the book “bears the marks of much-embellished stories and so must be viewed and used with caution.” Nevins was also not so generous, writing that “what it omitted was more valuable than what it contains.”

The book was first reprinted by the University of Texas Press in 1954 with a new preface by Bell I. Wiley and has been reprinted many times since then.