December 25, 2010

Santa brought me...

... a copy of The New York Times Complete Civil War 1861-1865, which is a new, massive coffee-table reference work of all the Civil War reporting from this then-Republican leaning newspaper during the ACW. Included with the 500+ page book is a fully searchable DVD-Rom of every article that was published during that era. Profusely illustrated with scores of footnotes by editors Harold Holzer and Craig Symonds, this wonderful work is a must-have for any Civil War researcher or author.

All those trips to the local library to examine roll after roll of Civil War-era NY Times microfilm hopefully just ended. With books like this, the proliferation of Google Print, and the continued online digitization of manuscript material, I think the day is fast approaching, if not already here, where an author will be able to write a scholarly book without ever leaving his/her office.

December 5, 2010

Good News!

I'm pleased to announce that I've signed an advance contract for my next book. The manuscript has the working title of "Old Slow Town": A Social, Political, and Military History of Detroit During the Civil War and will be published by Detroit's very own Wayne State University Press.

If all goes as hoped, I'll turn in the manuscript sometime in mid-to-late 2011 with the book then seeing print in 2013, at the height of the ACW sesquicentennial.

December 4, 2010

Confederate Operations in Canada and New York

I’ve been working my way through this book as part of some ongoing research and thought I’d share its history here. From what I’ve gathered so far, it is the only primary source work pertaining to Confederate Secret Service activities in the north during the latter half of the war. It’s important to note however, that like so many other reminiscences, the author wrote this book well after the fact and therefore should be used carefully.

John W. Headley (1841-1930) was a Kentuckian by birth who worked in his father’s store in Madisonville at the age of twelve and by the time he turned seventeen had become an expert accountant. He joined the Confederate army at the age of twenty, later serving as a spy for General Braxton Bragg and then riding with General John Hunt Morgan. In 1864 he was sent to Canada where he served with the Confederate Secret Service under Colonel Robert Martin. In 1906, Headley’s book dealing with his wartime service for the Confederacy entitled Confederate Operations in Canada and New York was published by the Neale Publishing Company. That publishing affiliation is what gives the work its primary collector’s value. As I wrote in earlier post, first editions of Neale books are some of the most desirable Civil War books in existence.

Despite its title, a good third of the book deals with Headley’s adventures in the South during the first half of the war. After being sent to Canada in 1864, Headley then describes his various clandestine activities along with Confederate operations in general, discussing at length John Yates Beall and the ill-fated Johnson’s Island raid as well as Confederate attempts to burn New York City. First editions of Confederate Operations are scarce and expensive. As you can see here, there are only four first edition copies currently offered on ABE and none are in very good condition, as evidenced by the pictured copy offered here. For those just interested in reading the book, it is available via Google Print and Internet Archive.

Headley also authored "The Secret Service of the Confederacy" in Volume 8 of The Photographic History of the Civil War.

According to an online bio, Headley married in Tennessee after the war and then engaged in the tobacco business in Evansville, Indiana. From Indiana he moved to Louisville as a member of the tobacco house of Givens, Headley & Company. In his book he recalls that after the war he spent two years in Hopkins County, sixteen years in Evansville, Indiana, and twenty years in Louisville. Headley was a lifelong and loyal Democrat who served as Kentucky’s Secretary of State from 1891 to 1895 in the administration of John Young Brown. He is listed in the federal census of 1900 and 1910 as living in Louisville with his wife Mary J. and children.

Sometime after 1910, he moved to Beverly Hills, California, where he died on November 6, 1930. He is buried in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.

December 2, 2010

Off Topic: George Bush's "Decision Points" Limited Ed.

The Booktryst blog has a great post about how the so-called signed, limited edition of the ex-president's new memoir has turned out to be a sham, and serves as another cautionary tale to collectors. (Another earlier post here). The book was initially announced as being strictly limited to 1,000 signed copies with the hefty price tag of $350. Now it turns out that the print run is really 4,500 (!) copies because, according to the publisher, "there were a great number of consumers who expressed disappointment at not being able to purchase a copy and we sought to accommodate them."

As Booktryst accurately points out, "a print run of 4,500 is not a 'limited edition.' It is, in reality, close to the average print run for any new, trade (standard) edition book by a non-celebrity.... And the lack of a limitation statement in the book declaring the number of copies in the edition is a huge caveat emptor for the collector. A truly collectible limited edition book always states the number of copies printed."

It will be interesting to see if their prediction regarding this "bogus collectible" comes true: "In the future, sooner or later, copies in very fine (mint) condition of the limited edition of Decision Points will be selling for $75, tops. There are just too many of them." I would tend to agree with that. Good commentary and advice for book collectors of any genre in this one.

November 15, 2010

Diary of George Templeton Strong

George Templeton Strong (1820-1875) might very well be the most famous Northern civilian diarist from the Civil War (with Mary Chestnut having the same honor from the South). As a prominent New York real estate attorney and socialite who was born into some privilege, Strong fastidiously made detailed daily entrees that fully caught the atmosphere and action of the times he lived in. He was also an opinionated man. According to Professor John Willis, “Strong combined a distinct elitism with his high attainments, and probably suffered from few doubts about the validity of his opinions, even after he altered them.” His first entry was made in 1835 and he continued on an almost daily basis right up through to his death in 1875.

According to this contemporary obituary, Strong was a founder and treasurer of the United States Sanitary Commission during the Civil War, which allowed him an enhanced position in viewing the war. Strong was also a founding member of the Union League Club, an organization pledged to "cultivate a profound national devotion" and to "strengthen a love and respect for the Union.”

Strong’s 2,250-page diary was first discovered in the 1930s but not made available to the general public until 1952, when MacMillan released it as a four-volume hardcover set in slipcase with wraparound artwork. Complete first edition sets with the slipcase in fine condition are extremely difficult to find and generally run in the $500 range.

Noted Civil War historian Allen Nevins edited the work and provided the introduction. Considering Strong’s Sanitary Commission work, Nevins noted that, “It is evident that during the war few men in the country toiled harder than Strong, or with less thought of reward.” Strong and his diary were extensively quoted in Ken Burns’ TV documentary The Civil War with George Plimpton providing the voice of Strong. Volume 3 covered the Civil War years and was released by MacMillan as a standalone volume in 1962 titled Diary of the Civil War, 1860-1865. Whether one has the four-volume set or the standalone edition, this is a primary source cornerstone of the Civil War.

November 10, 2010

35 Years Ago Today - "Lest We Forget"

Michigan's sad version of the Titanic story. The Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest freighter on the Great Lakes and from what I've read, considered unsinkable by some. She went down with all 29 hands on Nov. 10, 1975 in the midst of hurricane-like conditions on Lake Superior. Why she sank is still debated and now the stuff of legend.

October 30, 2010

Donation of Rare Civil War Books

Dr. D.J. Canale recently donated a large collection of rare Civil War medical books to the University of Mississippi's J.D. Williams Library.

October 24, 2010

Rare Books as Investments? Good Luck.

An interesting piece with commentary from leading rare book dealers on the above topic.

October 23, 2010

Canada and the United States: The Civil War Years

I came across this book as part of the background reading for my current project and was completely taken in by its lively narrative, superb research, and interpretations. In fact, I’d say that over 95% of the work was written based solely off of primary sources. Canada and the United States: The Civil War Years was published fifty years ago in 1960 by the Johns Hopkins Press as a revised version of author Robin Winks’ (1930-2003) doctoral dissertation. The book is still in print and has seen four editions, though this finely nuanced work is now retitled as The Civil War Years: Canada and the United States. Go figure. Other works on the Civil War-era “cold war” between Canada (in other words, Great Britain) and the United States have appeared in the intervening years, however this one is still the standard work, in my opinion.

The Canadian Historical Review described it as “A searching examination of Canadian and American attitudes throughout the Civil War, and the effect of attitudes and incidents upon the continuing problems of British-American relations ... The great value of Professor Winks' book is not only in its detailed analysis of Canadian and American attitudes, but also in its conspicuous fairness ... Comprehensive and objective." If you’re a student of the international and diplomatic aspects of the war, then I heartily recommend this book. Winks’ analysis and detective work in illuminating the Confederate cloak-and-dagger operations that emanated from Canada is first rate as well. As a more recent review of the reissue also noted, “A number of the stories here--the Trent Affair of 1861, the St. Albans Raid of 1864--will be familiar to students of North American history. Among Winks's contributions in this study is his ability to place these familiar wartime highlights in a much subtler and more gradual political evolution so as to give us the impression that we are learning of them for the first time.”

The first edition is bound in green cloth with silver lettering on the spine and simply states "©1960 by The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore" on the copyright page. There is no statement of first edition status or number row. Like all university press books of this vintage, finding a first edition that’s not a library discard can be challenging. It’s doubly challenging if you want one in fine condition in like dust jacket, as this book’s white jacket is very easily soiled. I’ve yet to find one, so let me know if you do. I’ll make you a great offer!

October 16, 2010

State History Award!

Last night I had the privilege and honor of receiving another award for my biography of Orlando M. Poe. The Historical Society of Michigan bestowed their State History Award in their Commercial and University Press Books category at their annual conference and banquet in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Though this is my fifth book overall, it is the first to be published by a university press. In looking back over the publishing timeline, it’s easy to see that the peer review process utilized by Kent State University Press was invaluable in making the final product a more complete work. In retrospect, the critiques and suggestions offered by the University’s outside reviewers were simply priceless. Even though the publishing timeframe was longer than what I initially expected, the result was obviously well worth the wait. So thanks Kent State, for accepting this work and helping to shape it into an award-winning book!

October 5, 2010

NEW & Interesting Small Press Book

From the PR Newswire:

PA Historical and Museum Commission Releases New Book Focused on Civil War Soldiers Who Became PA Governors

HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept. 22 In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has published a book that traces the life of five soldiers who went on to be elected the state's chief executive.

Soldiers to Governors: Pennsylvania's Civil War Veterans who Became State Leaders was researched and written by Richard C. Saylor, an archivist for the Pennsylvania State Archives. Most of the material in the 196-page, full-color, and cloth-cover book has never before been published or exhibited.

"Five of Pennsylvania's first eight post-Civil War governors were veterans of the American Civil War," said Saylor. "This streak spanned four decades, from the election of John White Geary in 1866 to Samuel W. Pennypacker's final day in office, in January 1907.

"Even though these individuals rose to great political height and power, they did not forget their combat memories or neglect their old military comrades. Their war experiences shaped their vision and beliefs."

Pennsylvania governors who fought in the Civil War include John White Geary (1819–1873), in office from 1867 to 1873; John Frederick Hartranft (1830–1889), in office from 1873 to 1879; Henry Martyn Hoyt (1830–1892), in office from 1879 to 1883; James Addams Beaver (1837–1914); in office from 1887 to 1891; and Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker (1843–1916), in office from 1903 to 1907.

The author follows each of the individuals through his military service, discussing the engagements and battles in which he participated. Also included is an assessment of his political career.

In addition to photographs, "Soldiers to Governors" includes extensive endnotes, an index and bibliography. The book is available now at

The Rebellion Record

The Rebellion Record was in total a twelve-volume set that was published during the Civil War and in the three years following. Both during the war and in the decade following the conflict, it was certainly a valuable repository of primary source information for general readers, students and historians, but once the Official Records appeared on the scene, much if not most of its value vanished. Each volume is comprised of three sections: “Diary of Events,” “Documents,” and “Poetry and Incidents.” Within those sections, one will find newspaper reports from North and South, various documents and reports, public addresses, maps, engravings, and the aforementioned poetry.

Eicher’s bibliography (#748) refers to the set as an “entertaining hodgepodge of valuable documents and worthless material” that while it does provide “an authentic flavor of the reporting of the war,” the set “contains little worth reading that does not appear elsewhere in a more accessible form.” Any value to modern bibliophiles will be that of a period piece coupled with the always requisite condition, condition, and condition.

I will say that while Eicher’s sentiments are probably accurate in an overarching sense, nevertheless I have always found some very useful nuggets in here for my various book projects. Therefore I would always advise anyone conducting ACW research to give a glance into the Rebellion Record.

The set had two publishers during its initial appearance. G. P. Putnam’s Sons was the publisher from 1861-1863. D. Van Nostrand Co. then took over from 1864-1868 with G.P. Putnams and Henry Holt publishing the twelfth and final Supplemental volume. The entire set was reprinted by Arno Press in a faux leather, facsimile edition in 1977, though I believe that it too is now out of print.

I’ve always noticed that any copies I found for sale were usually ratty and beat, and never in a complete set. So when I saw the pictured leather bound set for sale, it certainly caught my eye. The full set is currently being offered at eBay here for a cool $1750 if you’re so inclined.

September 24, 2010

Lee and Longstreet at High Tide

Georgia-born Helen Dortch (1863-1962) was thirty-four years old when she became the second wife of then seventy-six-year-old General James Longstreet in 1897. When Lee’s “old war horse” passed away six years later, he was still considered a persona non-grata in ex-Confederate circles. As part of the burgeoning Lost Cause mythology which fervently implied that Lee was blameless for anything, many of Longstreet’s ex-Confederate colleagues had for decades made him the fall guy for the loss at the battle of Gettysburg and further scorned him for the manner in which he sought to reconcile with Northern politicians and soldiers.

Following the general’s death, Helen Dortch Longstreet vigorously set about to rehabilitate her husband’s reputation. Her result was Lee and Longstreet at High Tide: Gettysburg in Light of the Official Records, a 346-page work that was privately published (i.e. vanity press) in Gainesville, Georgia in 1904 at a price of $2.75. In her book, she sets out to exonerate her husband through a close examination of the Official Records and concludes that “because of the scurrilous comments made by petty men, the South was seditiously taught to believe that the Federal Victory was wholly the fortuitous outcome of the culpable disobedience of General Longstreet."

David Eicher included Mrs. Longstreet’s work is his bibliography of the most important Civil War books (#90), and notes that her analysis was successful and that the case she presented was “strong in Longstreet’s favor.” At the other end, Allen Nevins considered the book to be “painfully defensive in tone” and that while her defense was convincing, it was “at times overdrawn.”

The book is considered an important one on the Gettysburg campaign and first editions are certainly viewed as collector’s items. Expect to pay $300+ for a copy in fine condition, if one can be found. Copies autographed by Mrs. Longstreet will certainly command a higher premium. Sales were such that a second edition appeared in 1905, which is so stated on the copyright page. The book was reissued by Broadfoot Publishers in a facsimile edition in 1988 that included a new introduction by Carl W. Breihan.

September 14, 2010

The Most Expensive Book in the World?

According to, deep-pocketed bibliophiles will have the chance to bid for the world's most expensive book this December. There are only around 100 copies of John James Audubon's massive "Birds of America." The book, which contains 435 hand-colored prints and is more than three feet tall, last sold for $8.8 million in 2000. Sotheby's estimates that the book of four volumes could reach 6 million pounds ($9.25 million) when it is auctioned off at Sotheby's London on December 7, 2010. The sale will also feature a first folio of Shakespeare's plays dating back to 1623 which could bring in at least one million pounds ($1.54 million). These two amazing books come from the same collection, the estate of the 2nd Baron Hesketh, an aristocratic book collector who died way back in 1955. Hmmm....maybe if I raided my daughter's piggy bank....

September 5, 2010

A Texan in Search of a Fight

This small and slender volume represents the wartime letters and diary entries of Private John Camden West (1834-1927), who served in Company E of the Fourth Texas Infantry. It is considered one of the better primary source books for anyone with an interest in Hood’s Texas Brigade. According to an obituary and biography of West, he was reputed to have been one of the few who witnessed the death of "Stonewall" Jackson. West was born at Camden, SC in 1834 and married Miss Mary E. Stark there in 1858. After coming to Texas, he was appointed district attorney by Jefferson Davis, but gave up his post to enlist in Speight's Regiment of the Confederate Army in 1862. In the permanent Confederate Government he was again appointed attorney for Western Texas. Determined to see action in the Civil War, West again resigned his position and reenlisted with Company E, Fourth Texas Infantry, in April 1863; he fought at Gettysburg, Chickamauga, and Knoxville before being honorably discharged in February 1864. “Judge West” died in 1927 in the same home he was living in when he enlisted the last time. He was believed to be the last surviving member of Company E.

West’s wartime letters, most of which are addressed to “My precious wife,” form the bulk of the book. The diary entries cover the initial and final periods of West’s service; from April 9, 1863 to June 9, 1863 and March 8 to April 18, 1864. He was a very keen observer and as an educated man, he wrote well, often with a type of humor that is wonderful to read and so often endemic to Texans. According to Gary Gallagher, “West's book includes valuable information about the battles in which he took part, attitudes and concerns of soldiers in the ranks, and the nature of travel between the trans-Mississippi and the eastern Confederacy at the mid-point of the war.”

The first edition is quite pricey though not exactly rare as seen here. Initially published in 1901 by the Press of J. H. Hill in Waco, Texas, the first printing was considered a limited edition and is essentially a paperback original though with flexible orange cloth covers rather than paper wrappers. I'm still trying to learn how many copies were printed as in the initial run. Tom Broadfoot's Civil War Books: A Priced Checklist (5th Ed.) notes that there were two versions: one with an appendix and one without, the former being considered more valuable to collectors. Within a few short years, the book was already being viewed as a collector’s item. For those of more modest means, such as your humble correspondent, a 1969 facsimile reprint from the Texian Press (pictured) is certainly more affordable.

September 3, 2010

"The Protocols of Used Bookstores"

The title of this post refers to an eighteen page, serio-comic pamphlet written by David Mason, a fine and rare bookseller in the Toronto area. According to the author of this article, "Mason lists forty-four Rules to be heeded by the used and rare book buyer when patronizing a brick and mortar shop if they wish the proprietor to give them the time of day and a piece of their expertise as opposed to a time of death and a piece of their mind. Mason has put forth these rules 'to help make your quest for a book simpler.'

And to make the collector and seller allies instead of antagonists. Few things are as annoying to a used and rare bookseller as intelligent people leaving their brain at shop's entrance. And few things are as annoying to the collector as a bookseller so aloof that they seem to be at lunch, full-time."

Number One on the hit parade is commonly encountered when a stranger enters the shop. "A library, huh?" Or its close cousin, "Books, eh?"

I'm going to have get one of these just for the laughs. Note ordering info at the bottom of the article if you're so inclined.

August 31, 2010

Speaking Out Against the Gettysburg Casino

A professional video prepared by the CWPT.

August 24, 2010

26th NYSV Regimental Back in Print

I'm pleased to see that my regimental history of the 26th New York Volunteer Infantry is back in print from McFarland Publishers, this time as an oversized trade paperback. The original 7" x 10" hardcover edition was first published in 2005 and was declared "sold out" by McFarland late last year. Though never a huge seller, the book did receive positive press and has always been one of my own favorites.

August 17, 2010

The Battle of the Wilderness

When it was first published in 1910 by Houghton Mifflin, author Morris Schaff’s The Battle of the Wilderness stood as the first ever book-length study of that engagement, and would remain the only such study for the next fifty years. Schaff (1840-1929) seemed to know of what he wrote. He graduated West Point in 1862 as a second lieutenant of ordinance. In March, 1863 Schaff became a first lieutenant and saw action in the Rappahannock campaign. When the Overland campaign opened in May 1864, Lieutenant Schaff was serving as Aide-de-Camp to Major General Warren, and before the war was over he would serve under Generals Hooker, Meade and Grant. Schaff resigned from the Army on December 31, 1871.

Despite Schaff’s closeness to the action, the book was characterized by one early review as “the poetry and romance” of war. Schaff was obviously a soldier but was also considered by his contemporaries to be a poet and a philosopher, thus the reviewer noted how “the two natures are apparent in his writings. You are astonished and your mind is stimulated by some logical and brilliant discussion with shrewd, thoughtful, discriminating comment or suggestion; you feel that the battle and its tactics are being set forth by a master hand, when suddenly the poet seizes the pen and the war is forgotten.” Less forgivable was a critique still endemic to modern tactical studies: the lack of adequate maps, described as “few and woefully inadequate.” Allen Nevins was as equally ambivalent in his more modern description of the book, noting that even though Schaff was “at times pompous, rambling, and lyrical” The Battle of the Wilderness “remains a work of some merit.” First editions of Schaff’s book can be identified by matching dates on the title and copyright page. The title page must state 1910 at the bottom and the copyright page must state “Published October 1910.” As seen here, fine first editions are not all that common. Expect to pay in the $100 range. Today, the work is more of a curiosity as Gordon Rhea’s 1994 book on the battle is now considered the standard work.

Schaff also authored several other military works during his later life. The best known are The Spirit of Old West Point (1907) and Sunset of the Confederacy (1912).

August 15, 2010

Used Books: On the Up and Up

Judith Rosen writes the following at Publisher's Weekly:

Even before the recession hit, used-book sales were on the rise. During the past decade, they grew so rapidly that by April 2002 the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers attacked Amazon for placing new books at risk. "If your aggressive promotion of used book sales becomes popular among Amazon's customers, this service will cut significantly into sales of new titles, directly harming authors and publishers," they wrote in an open letter to Jeff Bezos. In the intervening years, not just Amazon but brick-and-mortar bookstores that rely on sales through Amazon, eBay, and Alibris to bolster walk-in traffic, have benefited from the growth of used books. "We do more business online, make more money, than in the store," says Dan Moore, co-owner of 27-year-old McIntyre and Moore Booksellers, a used-book store with a scholarly bent in Cambridge, Mass.

That's no surprise to Brian Elliott, CEO of Alibris, which has 15,000 active sellers, including 80 ABA members. "Alibris had a great 2009. We saw double-digit growth and are still seeing growth overall in 2010," says Elliott. To make it easier for booksellers to manage their business across multiple marketplaces like Amazon, eBay,, and, Alibris bought the software provider Monsoon in March. In addition, Alibris continues to partner with retailers like Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, and Borders to match buyers and sellers.

At Half Price Books, the leading dedicated brick-and-mortar retailer of used books in the country, revenue rose nearly 8%, to $220 million, for the fiscal year ending June 30. Last week the bookseller held a grand reopening for its location in Brookfield, Wis., which has added 20% more shelf space. The company is also in the process of moving its Maplewood, Minn., store into larger space at the end of September and will open a new store in Oklahoma City, Okla., later this month. According to spokesperson Rebekah Gannaway, Half Price will have 113 stores by the first quarter of 2011.

But it's not just big resellers that are benefiting from customers trying to stretch their dollars. Earlier this summer, Left Bank Books in St. Louis rearranged its flagship store in the Central West End to devote more space to used. "With the current economic climate," says manager Anna Rimel, "we noticed our used books were high on the list of what we are selling and decided to expand." Left Bank now devotes most of its downstairs to used, although it continues to shelve new and used gender studies titles together upstairs. As part of the transition, the store has enlarged its used children's section and added more teen fiction as well as picture books. Used fiction, philosophy, cookbooks, and art are doing especially well, says Rimel.

Although online buying and selling of used books has come to dominate the market, the recession has increased the used-book supply in general. "Sometimes," says Left Bank used-book buyer Sean Semones, "it seems really overwhelming. There are so few places to take used books that it seems like we are taking all the used books in St. Louis."

Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood, Calif. (so named because of its original location next to Odyssey Video), has also been overwhelmed by walk-in customers selling books. "It's insane," says Lisa Morton, Stoker Award–winning author and store manager. "I feel like I've been working on the New York Stock Exchange." For her, one of the biggest challenges is simply keeping up with the buying. "Our business is up all the way around. Just in the last year it's exploded," says Morton. In 2009, Iliad doubled in size to 5,000 sq. ft., and it recently hired a fifth full-time staffer with a sixth to be added soon.

Morton attributes Iliad's uptick in sales to the economy. "People who have been collecting for years are suddenly selling their collections. They're telling us they've had to downsize; they've had to move." As for the store's inventory, Morton says that with the exception of a few pop-ups, it's 99.1% used. And being in L.A., many of the books that sell fastest are driven by movies, like Eat, Pray, Love and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

While Iliad and Left Bank do most of their used-book buying in-store, Powell's Books is one of the few independents to have additional purchasing capability on its Web site ( The software enables it to make an offer based on the ISBN; Powell's pays for shipping. "It's nice after years of buying locally and selling globally to be able to buy globally," says Jon Guetschow, director of used books, who is bullish about used. "We don't know the limits of what we're able to sell. So far we haven't reached the point where the supply exceeds the demand."

The Portland retailer, which also pioneered selling used and new side-by-side, even at its three airport stores, has seen used sales grow consistently. "We think they're a fantastic value," says Guetschow. "The more we put in, the more we sell. I think we stock new books because we can't buy it in used."

In addition, Guetschow has observed a marked increase, roughly 20%, in the number of people asking to be paid in store credit. He attributes the change to cash-strapped customers trying to find a way to replace older books with new. Quoting Erasmus, says Guetschow, "When I get a little money, I buy books, and if any is left I buy food and clothes."

At the Strand Bookstore in New York City, used books have always been a healthy part of the business. Sales have been split 50/50 between new and used (antiquarian, rare, and out-of-print) for a number of years, and both contribute to growth. "Used books have increased and new has increased," says co-owner Fred Bass, who anticipates a 3% rise in total sales this year over sales of $26 million in 2009. In addition, the Strand has seen its online sales, which include both used and new, rise to 25% of revenue through its own Web site ( and online marketplaces like Amazon and Alibris.

While the Strand continues to stock reviewers' copies, which it sells at half off, lately it has begun carrying more new books. "If we run out, we don't want our customers to go to our competitors," says Bass. One thing he doesn't anticipate lacking anytime soon is quality used books. Like other booksellers, Bass singles out the "tremendous" volume of books being offered as the biggest change in the business in the past year and a half. "We're buying more than ever before," he says. "The rare book department is getting fantastic stuff, and our art department is bursting." Since its purchase of Hacker Art Books several years ago, the Strand has one million art books split between the store and at its 10,000-sq.-ft. warehouse in Brooklyn. Soon customers will be able to get store credit for the first time in the Strand's 80-year history. "Cash has always seemed the most clean-cut and simple method of payment. However, we hope to change that policy in the near future," says Bass.

Some Bumpy Spots

Tony Weller, co-owner of Sam Weller's Bookstore in Salt Lake City, is rethinking everything as he prepares to move the 80-year-old bookstore founded by his grandparents into new quarters with a smaller footprint than the current 37,000 sq. ft. "For years I've held the belief that the presence of my used books helps me sell my new books, and the presence of my new books helps me sell my used," says Weller. He plans to keep a mix of new, used, and rare in the new store and to offer a searchable database of the store's inventory on its upgraded Web site (, which will launch when the store opens.

Unlike many booksellers, he is far less gung ho about the long-term prospects for the used-book market. "We've seen the market shrink over the last 15 years," says Weller, for whom one of the biggest challenges is curbing the appetite of the store's used-book buyers. "The easiest mistake is to buy too much," he says, which is one reason that he asks customers to call first before bringing in their books for sale. "We'd rather disappoint over the phone," he adds.

Although Weller remains committed to used, Peter Aaron, owner of Elliott Bay Book Co. in Seattle, is not sure that they're right for everyone. When the store relocated this summer, he decided to stop selling used entirely. "It had never grown into a significant percentage of our business," says Aaron. "I didn't think we were particularly good at it. It's fine to be seduced by gross profit percentages. Our experience was that it wasn't nearly as profitable as it looked to be."

Certainly the used-book market has undergone tremendous change in large part because of the Internet. As Moore points out, book dealers no longer travel overseas to search out books for resale, and there's a lot of pressure to keep book prices low in part because customers can check more readily online. Penny and 99¢ resellers, who make their money on shipping, also drive down prices. At the same time, increased shipping charges from the U.S. to overseas has discouraged in-store visits from Europeans or Asians who would have to pay $300 in shipping to buy $400 worth of books.

The heady days of the 1970s and early '80s, when used books practically sold themselves through brick-and-mortar outlets, are over. In an interview with the Somerville (Mass.) News, Moore's partner, Mike McIntyre, described selling used books then as "a lot like selling drugs." Still, the Internet and the economy are both providing new opportunities for booksellers. As Powell's Guetschow points out, "As long as people want a tangible copy, used books are designed to compete.

August 5, 2010

Speculating on the Book Trade - Rare Books as Investments?

Interesting article. Check it out here.

"My earnings as a book dealer have always been either supplemented, or often superseded by, my earnings from the stock market. I can see a time when the book trade will be reduced to a handful of big businesses in London. There are not enough books to go round, and the present hierarchy of dealers operating at different levels will ultimately disappear. The internet has made the business a level playing field."

July 25, 2010

Four Years With General Lee

I would imagine that most serious readers of Civil War books are familiar with Walter Herron Taylor’s (1838-1916) Four Years with General Lee, which is a cornerstone book of Army of Northern Virginia literature. A graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, Walter H. Taylor was only 23 when he joined Lee as an adjutant in 1861. For the next four years, Taylor would serve as Lee’s principal staff officer. Following the war’s close, Taylor returned to Richmond with Lee where he was able to pose with the general and Lee's son Custis in the famous Brady photograph. He then returned home to Norfolk and began a long and successful business and political career. According to James I. Robertson’s introduction to the 1961 edition, “Walter Taylor was ‘first to last the closest’ of all staff officers to General Robert E. Lee, and his intimate relationship with his commander gives Taylor's writings signal importance in any study of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.” Among the many firsthand reminiscences are descriptions of all the major eastern theater battles from the Peninsula Campaign through the 1864 campaigns as well as discussions of Lee’s opinions regarding various commanders. In a review, Peter Carmichael writes that Taylor’s recollections “never violated Lost Cause dogma, but he also never celebrated it. This is what makes Four Years With General Lee so refreshing to read. While most Confederate veterans attacked one another with the aggressive spirit that they had once reserved for the Yankees, Taylor rose above petty disputes. He wrote a relatively objective history of the Army of Northern Virginia that dissects the war without any particular agenda.” Considered a classic, Four Years with General Lee was first published in 1877 by D. Appleton and Company and was already a collector's item by the turn of the century.

What I was not aware of was that Taylor published a second book of reminiscences in 1906 titled General Lee, His Campaigns in Virginia, 1861-1865: With Personal Reminiscences. This work was published by the Press of Braunworth and Company is somewhat of a reworking of the first book with additional material. The extra material consists of more personal observations and reminiscences which, critically, is why this volume is considered the superior of the two works.

As a further note, Taylor’s wartime correspondence titled Lee's Adjutant: The Wartime Letters of Colonel Walter Herron Taylor, 1862–1865 was published by the Univ. of South Carolina Press in 1995.

Pictured copies offered here and here.

July 11, 2010

More Digitizing of ACW Primary Sources

MALVERN, Pa., June 17 /PRNewswire/ -- Accessible Archives, Inc., an electronic publisher of primary source full-text historical databases, has signed an agreement with the University of Iowa to preserve in digital format a number of primary source publications from the Civil War era. The major public research university located in Iowa City counts among its holdings various Civil War memoirs, pamphlets, and regimental histories, which up to now have been available only for those with access to its Special Collections Department. Once the materials have been digitized and made fully searchable, they will become a new portion - an additional part - of The Civil War, a collection from Accessible Archives that has been well received by university and public libraries....

Full story here.

July 10, 2010

The Radical Republicans: Lincoln's Vanguard for Racial Justice

No, this isn’t the latest left-wing screed that rails against the Conservative right. Rather, it is author Hans Trefousse’s (1921-2010) classic 1969 work that tells the story of the US Senators and Congressman known as the “Radical Republicans” who fought for racial reform in America before, during and after the Civil War. In addition to their early desire to see black men in the ranks of the US army, they also wanted a very firm and vigorous prosectution of the war with stern treatment of Rebel prisoners and civilians.

A recent obituary for the late professor states that after he wrote biographies that defended Benjamin "Bluff" Wade and Thaddeus Stevens, two detested radicals, “Trefousse wrote arguably his best book, The Radical Republicans: Lincoln’s Vanguard for Racial Justice, tracing radicalism from its late 1840 beginnings to its decline in Ulysses S. Grant’s administration. For a generation, radicals ‘had been in the political struggle for human rights’ and were the driving force within the Republican Party, liberating slaves and guaranteeing black males the right to vote. Trefousse maintains that the radicals ‘laid the foundation’ for the subsequent achievement of their goals.”

The 1969 first edition was published in hardcover by Alfred Knopf in a 5 ¾” x 8 ½” trim size and must say “First Edition” on the copyright page. The blue dust jacket should have the $10.00 price tag on the bottom right of the jacket’s front flap. As you can see here, first editions are not uncommon though as is the case with any 40-yr-old book, condition can be trickier. Pictured copy offered here.

A highly recommended work that is built primarily upon then-unpublished manuscript sources and a must for anyone interested in Northern politics during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

July 9, 2010

Civil War Artifacts - Auction Results

Confederate Battle Flag Of Gen. Lloyd Tilghman Brings $59,750 As Top Lot In $1.16 Million Civil War Auction

Rare artifacts relating to famous Sons of the South proved both popular and valuable with the more than 780 bidders who competed for almost 900 lots in Heritage Auctions' $1.5 million June 25 Signature Arms & Militaria Including Civil War auction, with the Presentation Flag of Confederate Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman, along with the Inscribed Sword and Sword Belt he was wearing when he was killed in battle at Champion's Hill, leading the way with a $59,750 price realized. All prices include 19.5% Buyer's Premium.

"This was the very first time that this flag, along with the entire set, has ever been offered," said Dennis Lowe, Director of Arms & Militaria Including Civil War Auctions at Heritage, "and collectors took very close notice. All three of these pieces have descended, uninterrupted, through Tilghman's family for almost 150 years. This beautiful and moving piece is simply steeped in American history."

Tilghman was born in Maryland and graduated from West Point in 1836. In 1847 he saw action in the Mexican War and, at the outbreak of the Civil War, commanded the Kentucky State Guard, assuming command of the 3rd Kentucky Inf. on July 5, 1861 and being promoted to Brig. Gen. on Oct. 18 of that same year.

Tilghman oversaw the construction of Forts Henry & Donelson and was subsequently captured at Fort Henry on Feb. 6, 1862 before being imprisoned at Fort Warren for six months. On Aug. 15 of that year he was exchanged for Union Gen. John Reynolds. Nine months later he was killed in action at the Battle of Champion's Hill, on May 16, 1863.

One of the most hotly anticipated lots of the auction, a Matthew Brady Half Plate Ambrotype featuring "The Gallant Pelham," Lieut. John Pelham, circa 1858, was the subject of much pre-auction buzz, and did not disappoint as it brought $41,825. Pelham is one of the most highly romanticized figures of the American Civil War.

"This important original image, while copied countless hundreds of times," said Lowe, "was presumed lost for more than a century before it was discovered to have descended in the family of Pelham's sister for the last 100 years."

Civil War Battle Flags, as evidenced by the top lot in this auction, are among the most highly desirable artifacts from the War Between the States, especially if they are specifically associated with important figures from the war. However, flags without specific association, but important and unimpeachable provenance are also very much coveted by collectors, as seen by the $50,788 final price realized for an early Civil War prototype Confederate National/Battle Flag manufactured for the cause in Georgia.

June 30, 2010

Sign o' the Times - A Total Bummer

Michigan has a statewide inter-library loan service known as MelCat. From it, a researcher can easily get library books held in other Michigan libraries that are not in the collections of his/her home library. It's a very smooth and efficient system, as long as what you're looking for is available for lending in a Michigan library.

For really obscure stuff, such as dissertations, that even though available to the public may be found in only one or two other institutions, the researcher had to rely on the traditional inter-library loan system. Just last night I contacted my home library and requested a dissertation from Northern Illinois Univ. that I had confirmed beforehand was available for loan.

Well, I've just been informed that as of July 1, that traditional ILL service to out-of-state institutions has been stopped in all public county libraries, "due to budgetary restrictions." The only advice was to get a card from a local college or university, which I've done in the past. Nevertheless, this was another indication of the times we live in....

At least my local library is still open, which is hardly the case all across the Wolverine State. Cie la vie.

June 20, 2010

Rebels on Lake Erie

During the course of research for my current project, I discovered a slender book entitled Rebels on Lake Erie, a work by author Charles Frohman that was first published in 1965 by the Ohio Historical Society. Though still in print as a trade paperback, the original hardcover first edition appears rather scarce, and I really don't know if that edition included a dust jacket.

A review of the book from 1965 describes how the book "details the many plots formulated in the island regions of Canada and the United States to free the imprisoned 'flower of Southern manhood,', who could again take up arms under the stars and bars of the Confederacy."

The work had been serialized in the Sandusky Register in 1964 and early 1965 as part of the war's centennial and timed to coincide with the Confederacy's ill-fated raid on Johnson's Island on Sept 21, 1864. That island, which sits in Ohio's Sandusky Bay, is about a mile from the shoreline and was home to approximately 2500 Rebel POW's, mostly officers, from 1862-65.

Frohman's book also contains insights into the physical aspects of the prison, escapes, executions of both enemy and convicted Union troops by musket and the rope; the health and welfare of the prisoners; and the guard units. More than 30 rare drawings and photographs illustrate the 200-plus page volume. Also included are lists of Confederate dead buried in the island cemetery, a history of the island after the war, and poems by some of the 2500 men who at one time or another were imprisoned there.

The book reproduces a healthy dose of letters pertaining to the island and the rescue plots. A good starting point for those not familiar with the Confederate schemes to disrupt Great Lakes life that emanated from Canada.

June 13, 2010

New Interesting Auction Site for Booklovers

If you're a booklover who buys or sells books via auction (think eBay), then you'll want to check out The site was developed by Clarke’s Africana & Rare Books (ABA member) over the past five years during which time they've conducted over seventy successful online auctions.

Auctions are held every five weeks and run for a week at a time. They start and end at fixed times, extended time bidding avoids Ebay-type auction sniping. Booksellers upload their books to the auctions directly fully describing and illustrating them. Dealers sell under their own names and upon conclusion of the auctions they deal with the buyers directly: They are meeting new customers. There are no interfaces and no additional fees and commissions. Most important: There is no buyer's premium (premiums charged by auctioneers have grown steadily over the years and are now 25 % in some cases and should be challenged by the book trade).

Check out full article here.

May 27, 2010

Rare Book Dealers to Become Rarer

More sad news on the road to the book apocalypse.... Check it out here.

Collectors of first editions of important books tended to be middle-aged men, according to Mr. Gekoski, and he was concerned that collectors would disappear. "I am very concerned that 20-year-olds, who are used to e-books and reading on iPhones, do not have a communal reading life," he said.

May 26, 2010

"Michigan In Letters" at Clarke Library

John Fierst and Susan Powers of the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University have created a blog titled Michigan in Letters. The goal of their blog is to transcribe selected documents from various collections in their library as well as to tell the story of how these documents relate to Michigan history.

One of the series they are currently working on relate to Orlando M. Poe, which I am pleased to share with you here and via the blogroll.

Jefferson Davis: American Patriot 1808-1861

I recently picked up a first edition copy of this 1955 book while "booking" in upstate Michigan and it involved a pleasant surprise that all serious book collectors can appreciate. The book itself was in very nice condition for a 55-year-old book; crisp white pages, firm binding, nothing dog-eared, however the dust jacket was what you might expect. The white back panel was soiled while the brown spine was noticeably faded, plus there were the usual minor creases at the edges. Still, at $7, I figured I'd spring for it. However, while checking over the jacket one last time, I noticed what appeared to be a piece of paper lying underneath the jacket, yet almost attached. As I carefully started pealing away the worn top dust jacket, I realized that hiding underneath was a second, pristine dust jacket!

Dust jackets are folded onto the book by a machine that, in this case, simply grabbed two jackets in a manner not unlike a copier pulling through two pieces of paper. So for 55 years, while the outer jacket was taking the abuse, carefully preserved underneath it was a second jacket that is as factory fresh as the day it was made. Obviously that one went straight into a glassine jacket protector!

The book itself was authored by University of Alabama professor Hudson Strode (1892-1976) and represented the first of a three-volume trilogy on the life of Jefferson Davis. All three books were published by Harcourt Brace between the years of 1955 and 1964. This first volume covers all of his pre-Civil War life. In total, the three volumes were described in the Nevins-Robertson-Wiley bibliography as "ambitious and sympathetic" as well as "meticulously researched and well-written." Another contemporary review of the book described the author's style as "fascinating" and that "his revelation of the character and the personality of his subject is superb." This first volume is particularly interesting from the research end of things as the author was granted access to a large collection of family letters owned by Davis's grandson that had never before been seen by scholars.

I'll have to add this one to the "must read" pile and then start looking for the other two volumes, though I doubt I'll get as lucky with jackets!

May 18, 2010

Orlando M. Poe Book Discussion

My "virtual booksigning" interview on March 27 at Chicago's Abraham Lincoln Bookshop with owner Daniel Weinberg has now been posted in four parts on their Recent Signings page.

These interviews and booksignings are initially presented live via webcam and offer the viewer an opportunity to ask questions and watch their book being signed; all while in their skivvies at home!

May 4, 2010

Is Book Collecting a Dying Hobby?

That's the 64 million dollar question that's being asked by bibliophiles everywhere. Oh, it won't happen next month or next year, but perhaps at some point in the next decade, the question may become fully answered.

I had posted earlier on this but just discovered this recent essay that again discusses this very issue. A lot depends on how you view books in general. If you view a book as nothing more than a data repository, then one day Google Print will probably become all you need. On the other hand, if you view books as tangible, desirable artifacts that have an intrinsic value beyond mere words on a page, then they'll probably always hold a soft spot in one's psyche.

The jury is still out, but if and when the day comes that we start seeing an across the board decrease in collectible book prices, we'll then have our answer.

"I’m a book collector and I know a treasure when I see one. This book will be on my shelves until I die. Until recently we could say with complete confidence that it would then pass safely into the hands of another collector but unfortunately I’m not so sure. I love old books, and so do you, but the cosy old world of cosy old books is heading for a showdown, a title fight to the death that has already begun. A slick silicon upstart with warm electric blood is gunning for books and if it wins the war our lives will never be the same again. The story now is not bits from a bookshop; it’s bits from a computer, the bits and bytes that might well kill paper books forever."

May 1, 2010

Sleeper's Tenth Massachusetts Battery

Back in January I posted on John Billings' seminal work about the common ACW soldier titled Hardtack and Coffee. In the course of research for that post, I learned that Billings had served in the 10th Massachusetts Battery and that he also authored the history of that unit. That book was begun in the 1870s and then initially appeared in 1881, six years before Hardtack.

Billings' unit history is titled The History of the Tenth Massachusetts Battery of Light Artillery in the War of the Rebellion and according to the Nevins-Robertson-Wiley bibliography, is considered to be "among the top dozen unit histories pertaining to the Civil War." His sources were about as good as it gets for the era, for he used his own wartime diary, about 300 letters, and a comrade's manuscript as the foundation for his work.

The battery served in the Army of the Potomac from August 1862 through the end of the war and in addition to the unit's movements, Billings paints a worthy portrait of soldier life, the countryside they moved in, and of the various officers. David Eicher opines in his bibliography that the best material "focuses on camp life outside Washington, the Antietam campaign, Brandy Station, and the Wilderness campaign."

The first edition was published in 1881 by Hall and Whiting in Boston. That is a highly collectible and pricey book as illustrated by the fact that I could find only a few copies for sale via the internet. The book was then reprinted in 1909 by the Arakelyan Press and was bound in reddish-orange cloth with gilt lettering on the spine and front panel.

More recently, Butternut and Blue reissued the book as a facsimile edition, though it now appears to be out of print.

April 28, 2010

Wow! More wonderful news

In the past several weeks, I've learned of two more awards given to my biography of Union officer Orlando M. Poe.

The Chicago-based Society of Midland Authors has voted the book a Finalist in the Biography category for their 2009-2010 Awards Competition. According to their press release: "The Society, founded in 1915 by a group of authors including Hamlin Garland, Harriet Monroe and Vachel Lindsay, has given out annual awards since 1957. The juried competition is open to authors who live in, were born in, or have strong ties to Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota or Wisconsin. Notable winners in past years have included Saul Bellow, Studs Terkel, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mike Royko, Jane Smiley and Scott Turow."

Currently, the book is also a Finalist in the History category for ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award. The winners will be determined by a panel of librarians and booksellers selected from the magazine's readership. Gold, Silver, and Bronze winners, as well as Editor's Choice Prizes for Fiction and Nonfiction will be announced at a special program at BookExpo America in New York City on May 26.

All very flattering, indeed.

April 26, 2010

This Would Never Happen Here, Right?

The arguments are so bitter, precisely because the consequences are so small. Check it out.

"Prof Figes's critical comments are not unusually vitriolic by historians' standards. The benchmark in pugilistic fervour against which others are often compared is the 1960s dispute between Oxford dons Hugh Trevor-Roper and Lawrence Stone over the arcane matter of whether the English Civil War was caused by a fall (the Trevor-Roper theory) or rise (the Stone hypothesis) in the power of the gentry. The dispute dragged in numerous other famous historians, including R.H. Tawney and Geoffrey Elton."

April 18, 2010

Woman collects the pages of slavery’s imprint

Interesting article about a woman who has collected historical newspapers; all with stories pertaining in some way to African-Americans and slavery.

Over the years, she says, she’s forgotten what she paid for many of the newspapers. She recalls one costing as little as $30, others so much more that she had to arrange to put them on layaway with the seller, often another collector.

“I’d pinch away a little bit from the bill-paying money and the grocery money,” said Mitchell, who lives with her two daughters, now 25 and 26, and her 4-year-old grandson. “There were times I didn’t go to the mall and buy a dress because I had some document on layaway.”

All of us with the collecting "bug" can relate.

April 14, 2010

Knoxville's Divided Loyalties

This past Tuesday night I had the pleasure of speaking to the Knoxville Civil War Roundtable on Union engineer Orlando M. Poe, who is the subject of my newest book. Poe played an extremely important role in the East Tennessee campaign during the fall of 1863 and especially the subsequent siege of Knoxville, as he was the man responsible for overseeing design and construction of most of the sixteen Union forts and batteries that ringed the city. Most notable was Fort Sanders, which was the target of the climactic and failed Confederate assault on the morning of November 29, 1863.

Prior to the talk, I was driven around and shown several of the town’s few remaining Civil War sites, including the well-preserved Fort Dickerson on the south side of the Tennessee River. We also drove past the spot where the famous northwest bastion of Fort Sanders once stood. It’s in the middle of total development and other than a few nearby historical markers and a UDC monument, you’d never know anything was once there, though the lay of the land still shows the high ground it was on and therefore, its importance to the Union defensive effort.

All of this, of course, got me thinking about important books that pertain to the East Tennessee Campaign of 1863. I couldn’t recall any detailed battle studies and considering all of the untapped sources that have been uncovered over the past twenty-five years or so, it’s evident that this campaign could really use a modern strategic and tactical study. I’d be amazed if such a project is not in fact already underway somewhere…. By far, the best book that has been published is now close to fifty years old, and that would be Divided Loyalties: Fort Sanders and the Civil War in East Tennessee by Digby Gordon Seymour (1923 - ), who was a practicing anesthesiologist when the book was first published. The first edition was published by the University of Tennessee Press in 1963 as an oversized 8 ½ x 11” hardcover (see image). Because of its size, it is a difficult find in collector’s condition. The book contains scores of historical photographs of the campaign’s major players as well as historical and early 1960’s Knoxville. Maps are not in short supply either, including one invaluable two-page spread that superimposes the locations of all of the Civil War forts, batteries, and lines over a modern (1963) street map of Knoxville. It’s important to note that East Tennessee was hardly a bastion of Confederate loyalty during the war. Unionism was quite strong, especially in the more rural area though the city of Knoxville itself proudly wore the gray. Seymour does a fine job of delving into the social aspects of this dynamic as well as the military movements of the competing armies.

The book has been reprinted a couple of times and a 3rd edition is currently available in hardcover or paperback from the East Tennessee Historical Society. Some feel this is a preferred edition as it features photographs and maps not in any previous edition, though I’ve also heard that the photograph quality is not as good as the first edition.

April 11, 2010

Tuesday Night in Knoxville

I will be speaking this coming Tuesday night, April 13, to the Knoxville (TN) Civil War Roundtable on Union officer and engineer Orlando M. Poe. Hopefully that afternoon I'll get to see a bit of what remains of Knoxville's Civil War heritage. Please stop by and say hello if you're in the area!

March 30, 2010

Lincoln's Fifth Wheel

I picked up a beautiful first edition of Lincoln's Fifth Wheel: The Political History of the U.S. Sanitary Commission this past weekend in Chicago while participating in a booksigning at the venerable Abraham Lincoln Bookshop. Not only a first, but the signed "Camp and Field Edition" that was autographed by the author (William Quentin Maxwell) for members of the Civil War Book Club. Even though serious collectors know that the phrase "book club edition" is to be generally avoided like the plague, these books were publishers trade editions in every sense, but then had the special signature leaf bound in.

The title takes its name from Lincoln's remark as to how he feared the U. S. Sanitary Commission would become the "fifth wheel to a coach" after he reluctantly signed the the order that made the commission an official government agency. Initially, the Sanitary Commission was to merely monitor the health and sanitary conditions of Union camps, but it soon found itself well out into the field. It served troops in camp, on hospital transports, and even up to the battle line. Allan Nevins (1890-1971), who wrote the Preface, writes that "in a nation that had no medical association, no nursing schools, no apparatus for meeting a sudden strain on hospital facilities, it mobilized the best talent available for the war emergency." In his Civil War bibliography, Nevins summarizes the work as a "a scholarly and comprehensive narrative, covering all aspects of the treatment of the sick."

The book was published in 1956 by Longmans, Green and Co., has a price of $5.00 on the front jacket flap, and states "First Edition" on the copyright page. With ample footnotes, bibliography and index, this book offers an important look into an organization that formed an integral and often overlooked part of the Union war effort.

March 19, 2010

President James Buchanan's Memoirs

The Political Bookworm blog recently asked a number of past and present politicos to offer up their opinion of the least accurate political memoir ever written. While contemporary works get their fair share of raspberries, one Civil War-era memoir is suggested for the prize.

That book would be Mr. Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion, the presidential memoirs of James Buchanan, which was published in the U.S. by Appleton & Company in 1866. The true first edition however, appears to be the British edition, simply titled The Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion which was published in London by Sampson Low, Son, and Marston in 1865. The book was chosen by Douglas Brinkley, author and professor of history at Rice University. Brinkley writes that, "Buchanan had the gall to shirk all responsibility for the Civil War. He blamed everybody but himself for the dissolution of the Union. A pathetic memoir aimed at trying to exonerate himself from serial wrongheadedness and flatfooted policy initiatives. What Buchanan wrote was revisionist blather."

I admit to not being all that familiar with this book. From a book collector's perspective, American first editions do not seem to be all that common, yet on the other hand, not all that pricey either, despite being the first-ever published presidential memoir.

March 17, 2010

"Virtual" Booksigning in Chicago - March 27

On Saturday, March 27 at noon, I'll be discussing and signing my new O. M. Poe biography at the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop's latest "virtual" booksigning. As their VBS website points out, "Virtual Book Signing™ provides the excitement of attending a booksigning, without having to leave your home. Sit on your couch in your pj's, sipping a margarita, and watch on the computer as your own book is signed. This is a true, 'real time' book signing. You are here virtually, watching an event unfold with you as a participant. You can interact with the author via email, order a book and watch it signed online. In a few days your book will arrive at your doorstep.... This new venture was introduced by Daniel Weinberg, an antiquarian book and autograph dealer, and proprietor of the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago. 'Traditionally, book signings mean leaving home and then waiting in line in order to meet an author for a few seconds to get a book signed,' says Weinberg. 'Virtual Book Signing™ permits you to attend an in-shop booksiging without leaving home. You see an author speak via a streaming web cast. Then you may place an order and see the book signed while you watch.'”

Learn more in this Wall Street Journal article.

The shop has maintained an archive of their past signings if you want to get an idea of what they're like. If you're a collector of signed first editions, this might be right up your alley. Sounds like fun and I'm looking forward to it.

March 11, 2010

The (2nd) Most Expensive Civil War Book

While doing some mindless book surfing through the internet the other night, I decided to find out what was the most expensive Civil War book currently offered for sale at AbeBooks (ABE). Using "Civil War" as a keyword search, I had to wade past all manner of antique prints, maps, artwork, manuscript material, etc., before finding my answer. Actually, the most expensive book offered was Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook, which I covered in a previous post.

After that, we get Cavalry Tactics, or Regulations for the Instruction, Formations and Movements of the Cavalry of the Army and Volunteers of the United States with an asking price of $8500. Admittedly, I've never heard of it, though I'm sure some of our cavalry experts have and perhaps can fill us in on its importance. (Eric?)

This copy is two volumes bound in one and is described as a good copy, in original condition. It is housed in a paper chemise and cloth slipcase within a pigskin slipcase. Further described as a Texas and Civil War rarity that bears a pencil inscription on the inside of the front wrapper: "D.F. Boyd, used in Confederate Army 1864." The book is described by the seller as "the rare Houston edition of the handbook of cavalry tactics that was used by both the Union and Confederate cavalry during the Civil War. It was written by Philip St. George Cooke, initially published in 1861, and then subsequently revised in 1862. The text is very thorough, covering all aspects of cavalry tactics and techniques. Cooke had a long military career, graduating from West Point in 1827, and he participated in the Black Hawk War and the Mexican War. He served as a U.S. Army observer during the Crimean War, and learned much about European cavalry tactics. He was a general in the Union Army during the Civil War, and is considered the father of the American cavalry. Interestingly, Cooke's son-in-law was Confederate Cavalry general J.E.B. Stuart, and Cooke's son, John Rogers Cooke, was a brigade commander in the Army of Northern Virginia. This very rare Houston edition was 'published by order of Lt. Gen. E. Kirby Smith, for the use of the cavalry of the Trans-Mississippi Department.'" If you're interested, see here.

March 10, 2010

Is There a Future for Book Collecting?

As someone who considers himself an avid collector of first editions, new changes in technology along with simple demographics sometimes makes me wonder about the long term future of book collecting. I’ve noticed many times at book fairs that most of the crowd is by far and away over the age of 40, if not 50. Then there was a recent stat I saw that stated there were only a handful of member book dealers of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) who were under the age of 40. That blends in with comments from over the years by longtime Civil War booksellers I know who see their oldest (and best) customers now liquidating the libraries they built over a lifetime, but that there are no new, younger collectors to take their place.

The founder of Americana Exchange, Bruce McKinney, takes on this troublesome issue of how book collecting is to survive if there is no one to mentor younger generations which rarely spend much time with printed books. Meanwhile, book collectors clubs, which have served this purpose for at least two centuries, have seen their membership numbers plummet in recent decades. Then there are the economics of the times we live in. As one collector noted, “I have half the money, books cost twice as much, and there are four times as many of them on the market.” Is the writing on the wall?

March 7, 2010

Are You Missing Some Rare Civil War Books?

If so, the New York Police Department would like to speak with you.

"In their search, police came across eleven Civil War books in excellent condition. Perhaps you or I would have assumed Ms. Kolompar was a Civil War book collector, but police are a suspicious lot. They assumed the heavily accented Romanian immigrant was a thief."

Check out the full story here.

March 2, 2010

700 Copies of the Same Book?

Talk about yer obsession. Check it out here.

February 26, 2010

The Naval History of the Civil War

David Dixon Porter (June 8, 1813 – February 13, 1891) was the son of Commodore David Porter, a hero of the War of 1812. D. Like his father, D. D. Porter chose a military career, initially becoming an 1833 graduate of West Point who then went on to serve in the Mexican-American War.

When the Civil War came about, he joined the Navy's Gulf Squadron in command of the USS Powhatan. Promotion soon followed including captaincy on February 7, 1863. Porter was well known for his role in the 1862 expedition up the Mississippi River against Confederate New Orleans, where he commanded 21 mortar boats and several steamers. He then commanded the Mississippi River Squadron during the Vicksburg Campaigns in 1862–63. Porter and his sailors were also active in the siege at Vicksburg which resulted in his promotion to rear admiral on July 4, 1863, the same day of the Confederate surrender at Vicksburg. His presence was again duly noted during the Red River Campaign in 1864 and 1865. In late March 1865, near the end of the war, Ulysses S. Grant invited President Abraham Lincoln to visit his headquarters at City Point, Virginia. William Sherman happened to come up to City Point from North Carolina at that time, with Porter also joining the group. As a result, Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, and Porter conferred together on the President's boat, the "River Queen." This four-way meeting is memorialized in the famous painting by George P.A. Healy, entitled The Peacemakers.

Porter was promoted to Vice Admiral in July 1866, and to Admiral on October 17, 1870. This made him the Navy's senior officer of the post-war era. His first assignment was Chief of the Bureau of Navigation of the U.S. Navy. From 1866 to 1870 he was Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy. In the post-war years, Porter wrote eight non-fiction books and novels. Most notable among them was The Naval History of the Civil War, a huge, oversized 843-page tome published in 1886 by the Sherman Publishing Co. of New York. The work is a straightforward, though obviously partisan chronological narrative of Union naval ops during the war. Considering the author’s rank and reputation, one would think the work would have the stamp of reliability, but that would apparently be an error. While the book is filled with a trove of interesting facts, official reports, tables, dozens of original engravings, and dramatic accounts of naval engagements, the book is also said to have numerous inaccuracies, especially with regards to the author’s recollection of dates and events. David Eicher reports in his bibliography (#11) that there “are many ambiguous references to names, a poor index, and numerous misspellings” nevertheless Eicher also writes that Porter’s book “shines with personal comments on commanders and battles in which Porter himself played a significant role.”

Considering the major and important role that Admiral Porter played in the conflict, the book is considered an early, important, and therefore collectible book on naval actions in the Civil War. Due to its sheer size and heft, most copies of the book have not worn well over the years, as such those in stellar condition will command a premium price.

February 25, 2010

Forget the Frat Party, There's Rare Books to Collect

"While some college students are perfecting their beer pong, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Assn. of America, the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies, the Center for the Book and the Rare Books and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress are teaming up to tempt them into the field of rare book collecting." Full story here.

Quite understandable. It seems that most serious collectors of first editions are 40+ years of age, if not 50+. Go to any book fair and see what I mean.

February 6, 2010

Shadow Looms Over Google Books' Future

The Daily Online Examiner reports the following:

In late 2008, the Department of Justice threatened to file an antitrust lawsuit against Google unless it backed out of a deal to power search ads for Yahoo. Google agreed to nix the deal, leaving Yahoo to form a partnership with Microsoft instead.

Now, the DOJ might be getting ready to again flex its muscle with Google, this time to force the company to abandon ambitious plans to publish out-of-print books. The authorities argue in court papers that a proposed lawsuit settlement allowing Google to digitize and sell "orphan works" -- books under copyright whose owners can't be found -- would give the company an unfair advantage over competitors.

The DOJ said it was committed to working with Google, authors and publishers to reach a new settlement agreement, but it's not clear that any resolution will satisfy everyone.

Settlement critic and New York Law School professor James Grimmelmann tells MediaPost he believes the DOJ will be troubled by any resolution that allows Google to publish out-of-print books. Instead, Grimmelmann thinks the feds will push for a settlement that allows Google to continue to scan and index such books, but not publish them.

For Google, however, the right to publish out-of-print books is central to its plan to create a new book registry. And in a larger sense, it's also in keeping with the company's mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

Despite the DOJ's position, Google, authors and publishers might not be all that eager to return to the bargaining table. Grimmelmann, for one, thinks it's more likely that they'll appear in court on Feb. 18 and make their case to U.S. District Court Denny Chin. "They parties don't have much to lose from presenting their motion for approval to Judge Chin," he says.

Meanwhile the Authors Guild is defending the settlement on its own blog. In a post titled "To RIAA Or Not To RIAA." the organization says it didn't want to risk litigating the key question in the case -- whether Google infringed on copyright by scanning books and displaying brief snippets -- because Google might have convinced the court that doing so was a fair use.

"If we'd lost, it would then be open season on scanning of your out-of-print and in-print books," the group wrote. "All one would need is a scanner and a friend with a little bit of technical knowledge to start displaying 'snippets' at your science fiction, humor, Civil War, or Harry Potter website."

Still, that scenario could happen even with the settlement. After all, Yahoo, Amazon or anyone else can scan and index books and, if sued, can argue that they had a fair use right to do so.

The organization also says that even had it won, the victory might not have amounted to much. "Copyright victories tend to be Pyrrhic in the digital age," the group said.

Of course, that raises the larger question of why the Authors Guild sued at all. If the purpose all along was to create a new book registry, perhaps the group would have made better use of its funds by lobbying Congress for new laws rather than forging a lawsuit settlement that might never meet with approval.

February 5, 2010

This Monday in Traverse City, MI

I'll be giving a radio interview this coming Monday, Feb 8, at around 9:10am on the Ron Jolly Show (580AM) out of Traverse City, MI. Then from 1:00 to 3:00, I'll be at Horizon Books downtown signing copies of my new Orlando Poe biography. If you're a visitor to this blog and in the area, I'd love to meet you so please drop by and say hi.

February 1, 2010

The Battles of Appomattox & The Final Bivouac

"Longtime Civil War historian Chris Calkins began looking for the lost battlefield of Appomattox Station in the early 1970s. Back then, he and many other Civil War buffs feared the site of the April 8, 1865 battle was buried somewhere under asphalt in the Town of Appomattox."

Thus begins this online article about how Calkin's dogged determination and Sherlock Holmes-like skills uncovered the site of the final battle at Appomattox that was then owned by a local trucking company and was in fact not commercially developed.

This wonderful story first appeared online at the Civil War Preservation Trust's website and can be read in full here.

As many serious students know, Chris Calkins is currently the park manager of Sailor’s Creek Battlefield State Park and a man who has devoted much of his adult life to studying the final days of the war in Virginia. He has written extensively on what transpired between Petersburg and Appomattox during the time of March 30 - April 9, 1865.

His first solo hardcover effort was The Battles of Appomattox Station and Appomattox Court House April 8-9, 1865. Published in 1987 when he was Park Historian at Petersburg, the 300-page tome was published by H. E. Howard Inc. as part of their uniform Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders Series, which I discussed in a previous post. Calkins then issued a companion volume the following year titled The Final Bivouac: The Surrender Parade at Appomattox and the Disbanding of the Armies April 10 - May 20, 1865. That work vividly described the final surrender proceedings and then, for the first time ever as best I can tell, told the story of how the soldiers reacted to the news of Lincoln's death, featured accounts of the homeward bound Confederates as well as the northward bound Yankees.

Second and subsequent printings of these titles are probably easy finds, however as mentioned in that earlier post, finding a first edition of either of these titles, especially in the elusive white dust jacket may prove difficult. As you can see here, there is only one collectors copy of Final Bivouac currently offered for sale at ABE. As for The Battles of Appomattox Station, there is one first edition without jacket currently for sale, though second and later printings are plentiful.

Whether you are a collector or just want a reading copy, these two titles paint an excellent portrait of the final days of the war in Virginia.