May 30, 2008

General Stand Watie's Confederate Indians

In this uncommon book, author Frank Cunnibgham tells the tale of Stand Watie, the only American Indian to attain the rank of general in the Confederate Army. He was born in 1806 near present-day Rome, Ga. and later learned to speak English at a mission school. In 1835, Watie and other Cherokees signed a treaty agreeing to the removal of the Cherokee to Oklahoma. This act split the tribe into two factions which resulted in Watie becoming the leader of the minority, "mixed blood," or treaty faction.

Once civil war came, the Cherokees wished to remain neutral, but ultimately divided along the same lines as the treaty decades before. Watie and his minority faction pledged allegiance to the Confederacy with the majority of the tribe declaring for the Union. According to this online biography of Watie, he aligned himself with the South "because he feared the consequences of Lincoln's election and the Republican Party's free soil promises to open the west and the Indian Territory to white settlement. The Union abandoned all Indian Territory military posts in the spring of 1861, violating treaty pledges and making the area vulnerable to Confederate attack." Watie was an aristocratic, prosperous slave-owning planter that shared many values of the Old South. When Albert Pike and Douglas Cooper recruited Indian soldiers for the Confederacy in 1861, Watie agreed to form a Cherokee cavalry unit to fight on the western front. He organized the First Cherokee Rifles on July 29, 1861, and was commissioned a colonel. In 1864, after battling at Wilson's Creek and Pea Ridge, he became brigadier general. Watie was purportedly the last Confederate general to lay down his arms in surrender, two months after Appomattox. Watie died in 1871 at his home in Oklahoma.

A brief 1959 review in the Mississippi Valley Historical Review noted that the book was "written for popular consumption" but was otherwise uncritical. Nevins described the book similarly, painting it as "a popular, undocumented but interesting story of the use of Indians by the Confederates in the Southwest."

The book itself was first published by the Naylor Company of San Antonio, Texas in 1959. It was bound in blue cloth with black print on cover and spine, with scenes of the Civil War battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas on the endpapers. First edition copies are not difficult to come by though with any book of this age, condition and the presence of a dust jacket are key variables. Pictured copy offered here. In fact, it appears that a good number of copies available are part of a signed edition though the number of copies so offered is unknown. One such copy even offers an inscription from the author which reads, "To General Braxton Bragg Chapter, UDC .Though the cause was lost, the dream was bold -- and honor's flag still flies." Not very PC by today's standards.

The book was reissued by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1998 and is still in print. In a new foreword, Brad Agnew discusses Watie's role in the Civil War and his reception by later historians.

May 26, 2008

"Crowdsourcing," Or, How Everyone Can Now Be a Historian

Interesting article for historians, or would-be historians. The times, they are a changin'...still.

May 19, 2008

Poll Results

Not a lot of surprise to my recent poll about the importance of buying first editions. 77% of the respondents replied that they specifically sought out first editions, assuming they were "affordable." I keep thinking of a commentary I read as to why the author bought only first editions. His reply was "Because I can't afford not to." First editions are the only versions of books that have any chance of holding their initial cost or even appreciating. That's certainly not to say that they will, but at least the chance is there. Reprints or paperbacks are strictly depreciating assets. If the Civil War book collector ever hopes to recoup anywhere near what she invested, it will only happen if the collection is comprised of first editions.

May 16, 2008

The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation

Here's a new book that appears to be right up my alley. The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation: The Decade of the 1890s and the Establishment of America’s First Five Military Parks by University of Tennessee Professor Dr. Timothy Smith discusses a topic that has not been hashed over to death, will undoubtedly touch on my growing interest in Civil War memory and historiography, and is written and published by well-respected parties.

As this article mentions, Dr. Smith "looks at the impulses behind the veterans’ creation of the battlefields at Chickamauga, Antietam, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Gettysburg, impulses that include the sentiments of reconciliation, brotherhood, and reunification and which resulted in arguably what are still today the best preserved of the war’s major battlefields. He also looks at what it took to make these places realities and how while they are similar, each is unique in its own ways individually. The stars of the book are the colorful, driven, and dedicated former soldiers who, sometimes as members of Congress, pushed these battlefield parks into being and who are largely responsible for the legacy from which we benefit today and which we should strive to still carry forward."

As a proud member of the Civil War Preservation Trust, it will be interesting to learn if some of the challenges faced by today's preservationists also existed back then.

May 11, 2008

New Poll at Left

Are you a hardcore, first edition book collector afflicted with a touch of bibliomania (aka "the gentle madness"), simply a "data" collector, or a combination of the two? I've put up a new poll (at left) that will try to measure the importance, or lack thereof, to this site's visitors for obtaining first editions when buying new or used Civil War books. It will run for a week. Comments and rationals are welcome!

May 8, 2008


Every now and then I’m asked to review a new book and I do my best to oblige. It’s genuinely flattering that my opinion is so desired. I stress however that I take the word “review” literally and that it’s not meant as a synonym for “hype.” Which brings me to the recently-released 1858: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and the War They Failed to See, a much-promoted new work by author Bruce Chadwick that by its title, suggests 1858 was a crucial and defining year in the run up to the Civil War.

Admittedly, I expected the work would be a traditional narrative that presents the author’s case. In an initial Author to Reader section though, Chadwick explains how he has set aside that common format and instead presents seven standalone narratives that discuss the history, 1858 whereabouts and actions pertaining to the book’s seven key characters. In addition to three of the men mentioned in the book’s subtitle, Chadwick also presents essays pertaining to William Seward, John Brown, William T. Sherman and the residents of Oberlin, Ohio. Their 1858 trial pertaining to the freeing of a runaway slave set off a controversy around the country. Interspersed between each tale are vignettes of 1858 events that marked James Buchanan’s fractured presidency in that year. According to the author, Buchanan “ignored slavery, engaged in questionable imperialist schemes, divided his own party during the elections, started feuds with dozens of important people, and exhibited a distinct lack of leadership at a time when the nation desperately needed some.” It is these accounts of Buchanan’s “meanness and ineptitude” that Chadwick hopes will act as the glue that brings the seven main stories together, so as “to offer a comprehensive account of a nation of angry people, North and South, drifting toward one of the tragic conflicts of history.”

While I applaud the author’s format experimentation, I was ultimately disappointed for there seemed to be little connectivity between the standalone essays other than the obvious fact that none of the protagonists realized war was on the horizon.

In the case of William Sherman for example, Chadwick takes twenty pages to give the reader a biographical essay of Sherman’s life up to and including 1858, highlighting how in that year, Sherman was reduced to selling corn at a roadside stand in Kansas. Such is the design for each character. In the book’s ten-page Epilogue, Chadwick then delivers a concise explanation of what happened to each subject from 1858 up to the start of the Civil War.

For my tastes, there was simply little analysis that connects the dots from the circumstances of the book’s protagonists to the fateful start of the Civil War. There is plenty of who, what, when, where, but very little why. On further thought, perhaps there is no connection and that these seven subjects simply serve to illustrate to the reader just how blind the country was to what lay ahead. I closed the book feeling that what I had just read was more of a multi-character biography (and well-travelled biography at that) than a scholarly assessment of how the events of 1858 specifically contributed to the start of the Civil War. Adding to my frustration is the book’s attractive though deceptive dust jacket, which bends over backwards to emphasize the desired, and from a marketing standpoint, all-important Civil War connection. The artwork highlights in its subtitle four of the war’s main players, features a painting of the Fort Sumter bombardment, as well as an inset portrait of Lincoln. As part of the sleight of hand, it is noted that even though Ulysses S. Grant appears prominently in the subtitle, he is mentioned in the text on no more than five pages, three of which are part of Sherman's essay. In reality, there is very little in the book that relates directly to the Civil War.

Technically, I found the book very well-written and easy to read. A solid bibliography and almost 750 endnotes show that the author did his homework. In addition, numerous portraits of the work’s key players are found in the mid-section. I recommend 1858 as a good introduction for the general reader on the antebellum lives of some of the Civil War’s more prominent names. If that was the author’s intent and target market, then in my opinion he has succeeded quite well. Unfortunately, for the more advanced student of the Civil War or antebellum America, there is little new here.

May 4, 2008

Another Major Civil War Auction - June 2008

The Heritage Auction Galleries will present another auction of significant Civil War artifacts with online bidding available throughout most of June. The auction will feature collectible items of every stripe, including uniforms, letters, other documents, photographs, weaponry, and some books.

Among the few notable books is the Personal Memoirs of Major General D. S. Stanley. David Sloane Stanley graduated from West Point in 1852, where he became a close friend of Philip Sheridan. When the Civil War broke out, Stanley was offered but refused a commission in the Confederate army. He saw action for the Union at Wilson's Creek, under John C. Frémont. Promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on September 28, 1861, Stanley commanded a division in the fighting at New Madrid and Island No. 10 under Major General John Pope in early 1862. More fighting soon followed at Iuka and Corinth, Mississippi. In November 1862, General William Rosecrans appointed Stanley chief of cavalry of the Army of the Cumberland, whose fighting strength Stanley greatly improved.

Stanley became a major general in April of 1863, and led a division throughout the 1864 Atlanta Campaign. His reputation suffered when Sherman thought he was too slow at Jonesborough, thereby allowing the Confederates to escape destruction. Stanley improved his reputation when he served well in the Tennessee campaign in November 1864, and was seriously wounded at Franklin. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions there and later recounted his wartime experiences in this beautiful 6" x 9" Moroccan leather-bound reminiscence. This scarce 271-page book was published in 1917 by the Harvard University Press and includes a pull-out map of wartime Tennessee. According to this online bio, Stanley's memoir also contains many colorful pictures of his extensive post-war service on the Texas frontier.

It appears to be a rather uncommon book as there are presently no copies offered for sale on ABE or