October 31, 2008

George S. MacManus Co.

I'm back from a several day business trip to the Philadelphia area which included a side trip to Gettysburg on the front end and a visit to the absolutely amazing George S. MacManus Co. (est. 1937) bookstore at the very back end. In between, it was a non-stop Phillies Phever feeding frenzy. Since Tampa Bay was the American League rep, which is where my Detroit Tigers are stationed, and since I lived in Florida for most of my life, well, you can imagine who I was silently rooting for. Needless to say, I laid low in the sports bar on Wednesday night.

The trip to the MacManus shop was simply breathtaking. Never in my life have I seen such quantity and quality of rare Civil War books within the walls of one shop. As is mentioned in their current Civil War catalogue, MacManus acquired a significant portion of the inventory of the famous Chapel Hill Rare Books when its owner, Douglas O'Dell, passed away last year. Much of that stock has now been incorporated into their own offerings. 19th-century regimentals in pristine condition filled an entire bookcase. Multiple copies of scarce and rare Neale titles, some in jacket. Fine first editions from the 1940's and 1950's, all in crisp dust jackets. I could go on and on. I ended up digging deep into my pocket to buy a beautiful first edition 2-volume set of The Long Arm of Lee in the original slipcase. It was the only one of the four first edition sets in stock that had the slipcase.

I make it to Philly about three times a year for business purposes. This shop will be a standard stop going forward. Civil War bibliophiles visiting the City of Brotherly Love should do likewise. But be forewarned - this store can be dangerous to the thickness of one's wallet! :-)

October 30, 2008

McCain and Obama Share Their Favorite Books

From The Christian Science Monitor 10/29/2008 -

"It’s not the first question they generally toss out to presidential candidates, but Katie Couric finally got around to it and asked John McCain and Barack Obama to name their favorite books.

Their choices are illuminating – and yet at the same time completely unsurprising.

Both candidates stuck with American classics, although of different generations. McCain says his favorite book is Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 Spanish civil war novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Barack Obama’s favorite is Toni Morrison’s 1977 novel “Song of Solomon.”

The appeal of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” for McCain is easy to understand. Robert Jordan, the protagonist, is an American fighting on the side of the Republicans in Spain. The mission he is sent on, to blow up a bridge, is a doomed one, but Jordan’s greatest fear is being captured and tortured by the enemy. The horrors of war and the intense camaraderie of wartime are major themes throughout the book. Interestingly, there are also occasional discussions of politics and even (at least once) taxes.

“But are there not many fascists in your country?” one of the Republican fighters asks Jordan. “There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes,” he replies.

Obama’s attraction to “Song of Solomon” is equally easy to understand. The book is the life story of an African-American man named Macon “Milkman” Dead III, set during the 1950s and ’60s.

The narrative weaves together the points of view of various members of Milkman’s family. It touches on themes of identity, family relationships, the rootlessness of African-Americans who live in northern cities, and the effects of slavery. Part of Milkman’s quest is his search for connection to a community. “It was a good feeling to come into a strange town and find a stranger who knew your people,” he thinks at one point. “All his life he’d heard the tremor in the word: ‘I live here, but my people . . .’ or: ‘She acts like she ain’t got no people,’ or: ‘Do any of your people like there?’ But he hadn’t known what it meant: links.”

Two very different books – chosen by men with two very different world views."

October 28, 2008

My Visit to the Gettysburg VC

Much ink has been spilled over the past several months regarding the new Gettysburg Visitors Center and whether or not it has lived up to what different folks feel it should be. Based on what I’ve read, most of the commentary has been negative, especially in the pages of Civil War News with much of the opinion being that there is too much focus on slavery and “context” and not enough space devoted to the displaying of the artifact-rich Rosensteel Collection.

I have also weighed in on the slavery and context issues but not having seen the new VC, I based my general observations on those battlefields and museums I have visited, along with some of the commentary from the NPS. So needless to say, I was ready to give the Gettysburg VC a stern once-over when I had the opportunity to visit it this past Monday. I admit that I had visions of political correctness run amok and was already preparing for a scathing review.

Well, it’s not going to happen. Color me suitably impressed with what I saw and let me tell you why. First off, I’m not a ballistics or weapons guy. I don’t know the differences between revolver A and B or the nuances of one sword manufacturer versus another. Therefore, the half-dozen or so glass cases of various weaponry were more than adequate for me.

I should point out that the one-fee-for-everything including admission is now in effect. I paid $7.50 for admittance to the museum, Cyclorama painting, and the 22-minute film entitled “New Birth of Freedom.” I found that film to be an excellent introduction. Yes, it starts off by discussing slavery and how it shaped the war, yet by my watch, over half the film was still devoted to the battle of Gettysburg. The museum, by the way, is officially named the “Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War.” Like the film, it delves into the causes of the war as well as the war as a whole, nevertheless much of the museum is still devoted to the battle.

As for the bookstore/gift shop, there were far more books than I was expecting. Every major Gettysburg book I could think of from the past ten years or so was in stock, including the major offerings from authors such as Sears, Pfanz, Reardon, Wert, Wittenberg-Petruzzi, etc. Not only Gettysburg-oriented, but plenty of other battles, Union bios, Confederate bios, and every social aspect of the war including women, slavery, memoirs, etc. In addition, I was surprised to see quite a few long OP titles from Kessinger Publishers, which specializes in print-on-demand reprints of much older titles.

Regarding the debate as to how the VC was sold compared to what it is, well, I am simply not well-versed enough on those past promises to offer an educated opinion.

As for demographics, I’d say the mix of visitors was pretty evenly split between male and female, with average age definitely 40+, though there were several charter tours of high school/college age kids. I did not see any persons of color anywhere in the Visitors Center or during my audio tour of the battlefield. As I've written before, African-Americans as a group may simply have little interest in the American Civil War, regardless of how much "context" the NPS throws at the issue.

All in all, I was quite impressed with the new VC. Ample room, ample parking, good interpretation with plenty of focus on the core topic but just the right amount of context to aid the novice.

October 26, 2008

Off to the Gettysburg VC

I'm heading to southeast Pennsylvania for a several-day business trip, however I'm also leaving a day earlier than necessary so that I can take a side trip to Gettysburg. My intent is to do a thorough visit to the new Gettysburg Visitors Center and see first-hand what all the hubbub is about. I'll post my comments mid-week.

October 25, 2008

Andover, Ma. in the Civil War

Here's another small press, regional item just uncovered. This 128-page paperback book is titled Andover in the Civil War: The Spirit and Sacrifice of a New England Town and is authored by Joan Patrakis ($21.99, Historical Press). It discusses how Andover responded to the Civil War and how everyday folks were affected by it.

Her research shows that the Andover Light Infantry was the military company formed in Andover at the start of the Civil War. It was sent to Fort Warren on Georges Island, Boston, where it was mustered into the 14th Massachusetts Regiment as Company H. From Fort Warren, the 14th Regiment was sent off to the Virginia war front. The 14th regiment's assignment at the war front was to guard the city of Washington. For 2 1/2 years the Andover boys were assigned to the forts in Virginia. Company H, Andover, was one of 10 companies from the towns of Essex County that made up the 14th Massachusetts Regiment. The 14th Mass. Regiment eventually was designated as the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery.

Full online article here. It appears the author will have a discussion and signing October 29 for anyone in the Massachusetts area who would like a signed copy.

October 23, 2008

The Long Arm of Lee

If you have a penchant for Confederate artillery operations, then The Long Arm of Lee: The History of the Artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia by Jennings Cropper Wise is clearly the book to own. This standard work was originally published in 1915 by J. P. Bell of Lynchburg, Va. as a two-volume set, when Wise was commandant of the Virginia Military Institute and a skilled artillerist in his own right. He was also a lawyer and a grandson of a former governor of Virginia.

The Long Arm of Lee has never been surpassed as an authoritative study of the Confederate artillery in the Civil War. Nevins refers to it as “an exhaustive valuable study, often consulted and widely quoted.” Eicher’s Civil War in Books also heaps considerable praise, referring to it as “a book that after [90] years still dominates others on the topic,” while Douglas Freeman in his South to Posterity noted that Long Arm contained “many photographs not to be found elsewhere.” Volume I describes the organization and tactics of the field batteries of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and their performance in famous battles, including those at Bull Run, Malvern Hill, Cedar Mountain, Harper's Ferry, Sharpsburg, and Fredericksburg. It ends with the bitter winter interlude before the Chancellorsville campaign of the spring of 1863. Volume 2 of Wise's history, also in print as a Bison Book, takes up the harrowing events stretching from Chancellorsville to Appomattox. In his introduction to this newer reprint, historian Gary W. Gallagher addresses some of the myths exposed by Wise, touching on the persistent under-estimation of the artillery's role in winning battles.

First editions are obviously pricey. They were originally bound in red cloth and though I’m not 100% certain, I think they came housed in a slipcase. The book has also become quite scarce. In fact, bookseller Dave Zullo reports in his latest catalog that “most of the original 1915 editions were destroyed in a fire and most of the remaining unbound books were sold to Barnes and Noble.” Based on copies currently for sale on the internet, it appears that these later-bound “first editions” can be ascertained by “Barnes and Noble” being stamped at the base of the spine whereas the true firsts have "Bell Publishing Co." and an illustration of Lee on the spine.

The book is also available for reading online at Google Print.

October 20, 2008

Book TV - "The Slaves' War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves"

Saving Savannah

Acclaimed historian takes a broad look at city's Civil War experiences.... Check it out here.

October 19, 2008

The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research

I recently discovered this library-oriented reference book, which seems to be one of the newest and at 768 pages, one of largest devoted to the Civil War. It's titled The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research and is edited by Steven Woodworth. It first appeared twelve years ago from the Greenwood Press and seems to be still in print. The price however, is not for the faint of heart. It retails at $165 though copies can be had in the secondary market for as low as $125.

According to Booklist, "This is the third bibliography of Civil War books to be published this year [1996], and it is the most comprehensive. Woodworth is a history professor at Toccoa Falls College, Georgia, and the author of several books and articles on the war. This massive work has 47 contributors, all distinguished scholars on the period. Some of the well-known contributors are John Marszalek, Mark Grimsley, Mark Neely, and Stephen Wise. The 47 bibliographic essays are divided into 11 subject areas (e.g., "General Secondary Sources," "Illustrative Materials," "International Relations," "Leaders, Strategy and Tactics," "The Home Front"). There is good representation of both social and military issues. Most essays range from 10 to 20 pages in length, including a bibliography at the end of the essay with full bibliographic citations. This book is intended to guide both the neophyte and the experienced Civil War scholar. The essays show trends and changes in historical interpretations and sometimes even mention areas in need of further research. A random examination of several essays shows most of the items were published since 1970. The essays cite 3,960 books, articles, dissertations, and such media as videos, television, and recordings. For example, the essay on musical and narrative recordings surveys approximately 955 titles. A random comparison of the bibliographies of 10 essays found very little duplication of titles. A large appendix provides information on 516 publishers and dealers of Civil War literature, with address and telephone number and occasionally fax and toll-free telephone number and e-mail address. The volume concludes with author, title, and subject indexes."

James McPherson provides the introduction. In it, he writes: "The first guide to Civil War literature to appear in nearly 30 years, this book provides the most comprehensive, up-to-date, and informative survey and analysis of the vast body of Civil War literature. More than 40 essays, each by a specialist in a particular subfield of Civil War history, offer unmatched thoroughness and discerning assessments of each work's value. The essays cover every aspect of the war from strategy, tactics, and battles to logistics, intelligence, supply, and prisoner-of-war camps, from generals and admirals to the men in the ranks, from the Atlantic to the Far West, from fighting fronts to the home front. Some sections cover civilian leaders, the economy, and foreign policy, while others deal with the causes of war and aspects of Reconstruction, including the African-American experience during and after the war. Breadth of topics is matched by breadth of genres covered. Essays discuss surveys of the war, general reference works, published and unpublished papers, diaries and letters, as well as the vast body of monographic literature, including books, dissertations, and articles. Genealogical sources, historical fiction, and video and audio recordings also receive attention. Students of the American Civil War will find this work an indispensable gateway and guide to the enormous body of information on America's pivotal experience."

As I've written before, reference books and bibliographies are the core of any good library, whether assembled by a serious reader, reseracher, or author. Looks like this one should have a home on that Civil War library's reference shelf.

Portions of the book are available at Google Print.

October 16, 2008

"A Gift on Hallowed Ground"

Columnist George Will on the private sector efforts at Gettysburg in today's Washington Post. Amen to the next-to-last paragraph....

National Book Award Nominee

Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War has been nominated for this year's National Book Award in the non-fiction category. NY Times review here.

October 13, 2008

The Union Bookshelf

There have been plenty of Civil War bibliographies published over the years designed to assist the collector, librarian or researcher who is looking to assemble a first-rate Confederate library. At the top of the list are surely the venerable In Tall Cotton and its more recent cousin, In Taller Cotton. The granddaddy of all was Douglas Southall Freeman's South to Posterity: An Introduction to the Writing of Confederate History, published in 1939. A few years later came Travels in the Confederate States: A Bibliography by E. Merton Coulter.

The same cannot be said of Union bibliographies; at least until 1982 when Michael Mullins and Rowena Reed assembled The Union Bookshelf: A Selected Civil War Bibliography, which was published by Tom Broadfoot. Within the book's 81 sturdy pages, the authors have compiled and commented on the 246 books that they believed, at the time of its publication, represented the best work for those interested in studying or collecting books from the Union perspective. The book is divided into three sections: annotated works, regimental histories, and participant accounts. It includes an index and numerous reproductions of the books' title pages.

Though perhaps a bit dated, it is still a useful reference source for Civil War bibliophiles. I think it's still available from the publisher.

October 9, 2008

"Jeb" Stuart

The mail recently brought a copy of the just-published Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J.E.B. Stuart (Simon & Schuster, 512 pp.) by Jeffrey D. Wert. Its appearance reaffirms what appears to be an important and ongoing trend in contemporary Civil War scholarship; that being the thorough reexamining by today’s historians of important, though previously well-traveled Civil War subjects. Not that that’s a bad thing. The advent of the internet, email, and other technological advances within the past twenty years or so have unearthed scores of archival and primary sources that may have been previously unknown to researchers of earlier generations. This previously untapped material now allows for (hopefully) fresh insights into core Civil War campaigns and personalities. This year alone has seen new books by well-known authors on such topics as Sherman’s March, the Valley Campaign of 1862, and now a new bio of “Jeb” Stuart.

According to the jacket flap, it represents the first scholarly biography of Stuart in decades and draws upon such primary sources as those described above. The advance comments are what you would expect for an important, new work by a brand-name author in Civil War history. For instance, one jacket blurb notes that by “scrupulously avoiding the pitfalls of either blind worship or reckless iconoclasm, Jeffry Wert recounts the successes and failures of this remarkable soldier in a masterful study that combines diligent research and fresh analysis with the prose of a gripping novel. A must for any bookshelf.” I’d like to assume that’s true and I hope to give a more detailed commentary down the road.

Though I’ve not read the entire book, I immediately looked up one event as soon as it arrived. Having recently completed a biography of Orlando M. Poe, I wanted to see how Wert described the September 11, 1861 affair at Lewinsville, Va. Stuart and Poe had been West Point classmates and this minor engagement marked the only time they were directly engaged with each other on the field of battle. After the skirmish was over, Poe left a hastily-written letter on the field for Stuart “in care of whoever finds it.” What Poe wrote, who else he referenced in the letter, how Stuart responded and what Jeb then did with the letter are all well documented. Yet, in this instance, the author completely whiffed as to who wrote or said what, and to whom. Hopefully, this will end up being an inconsequential quibble on my end.

As for previous Stuart biographies, three come readily to mind. The first two are somewhat collectible, especially if the dust jacket is present. The first was authored by John A. Thomason and published by Scribners in 1930. It is simply titled Jeb Stuart. According to historian Allan Nevins, the book is “strongly sympathetic in tone” and is “fairly successful at capturing Stuart’s personality,” however “it includes little on the larger struggle in which Stuart was engaged.” First editions tend to be offered in the $50 range. If the rare jacket is present, it would probably command well over $100. Pictured copy offered here.

Burke Davis’ Jeb Stuart: The Last Cavalier followed twenty-seven years later in 1957. It was published by Rinehart and is still in print. Like Thomason’s earlier work, it is considered a “sympathetic and personal” look at Stuart that tends to focus on the man rather than cavalry ops. Reading copies of this work are everywhere though true first editions in jacket are priced similar to Thomason’s earlier bio.

The most recent of the three Stuart bios prior to Wert’s is Bold Dragoon: The Life of J.E.B. Stuart by Emory Thomas, which was published by Harper & Row in 1986. Like Davis’ work, it is still in print. It is also the only one of the three to be included in David Eicher’s Civil War in Books: An Analytical Bibliography. According to Eicher, thirty percent of the book focuses on Stuart’s pre-war years on the frontier, which helps make it a true biography rather than a mere record of Civil War service. Like the other two, it also presents a sympathetic portrait of Stuart.

October 7, 2008

Tomorrow Night in Columbus, Ohio

I'll be speaking tomorrow night (Wed.) before the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable in Columbus, Ohio. The topic pertains to my first book on the Civil War in Florida. Hope to see you there and let me know if you're a visitor to this blog!

October 6, 2008

Where Are the Best Civil War Bookstores?

It's safe to say that readers of this blog live throughout the four corners of our country and even outside the US. So as a community service to our fellow Civil War book lovers and bibliophiles, let me pose this question: What are the best used bookstores in the United States when it comes to the Civil War books? Open shops only – no mail order. Hopefully, I’ll get enough responses so that everyone will learn of one or two to keep in mind during future travels. My favorite has to be the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop in Chicago.

October 5, 2008

A Friendly Offer To Civil War Authors

New Civil War authors who are contemplating submitting work to North & South magazine and who would, of course, expect to be compensated are welcome to contact me regarding my recent experience with this publication.

October 1, 2008

Field Diary of a Confederate Soldier

A most interesting limited edition came to my attention the other day while looking over some upcoming auction items. This one is titled The Field Diary of a Confederate Soldier While Serving With the Army of Northern Virginia by Draughton Stith Haynes. It was published in 1963 by the Ashantilly Press out of Darien, Georgia. This fine press offering runs only forty-four pages and was limited to a mere 400 copies. The book is bound in maroon cloth and features a tipped-in portrait of Haynes in uniform which was used as the frontispiece. The press also added 3 maps and 3 woodcuts. Haynes’ diary seems to be routinely cited in books about the Antietam Campaign but beyond that, I can’t say much about it.

Copies for sale are not common. I found only two with asking prices of $125 and $235.

The Ashantilly Press was founded by Bill Haynes (related to the author?) in the mid-1950s and it became known as an outstanding, award-winning, private press. About 30 books were printed by Haynes at Ashantilly Press over the years with the press ceasing around 1991.

Draughton Haynes was born in 1837 and enlisted in the 49th Georgia Infantry in March 1862. He died in 1879. Anyone out there own a copy?