Preview – “Hurricane from the Heavens”

21 05 2014

Layout 1Just a quickie here. New in the Emerging Civil War series from Savas Beatie is another by NPSers Daniel Davis and Philip Greenwalt, Hurricane from the Heavens: The Battle of Cold Harbor, May 26 – June 5, 1864. You know the drill: a concise narrative of the events of the campaign in question; good, clear, and plentiful maps by Hal Jesperson; a lot of illustrations including numerous modern-day photos; an order of battle; a driving tour; sites to see in Richmond; an essay on the campaign in memory; another on North Anna by Don Pfanz. Concise, manageable, portable. What’s not to like?





Previews: New from Savas Beatie

25 04 2014

Three new(er) releases from Savas Beatie have hit the shelves. I do apologize for the delay in announcing these, but now that our government has exacted it’s pound of flesh (that is, I have rendered unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s), I’m hoping to get back to more regular posting beyond the stuff I find and share on the blog’s Facebook page (which you can follow by clicking on the link over to the right.)

PETERS_CAMP2_lgFirst up is Volume II of Ed Bearss’s writings on the Petersburg Campaign, entitled The Petersburg Campaign Volume II: The Western Front Battles September 1864 – April 1865. The title is self-explanatory. You can read an interview with co-author/editor Bryce A. Suderow about the project here. This interview addresses to some extent who wrote what. 557 pages of text for you muddy trench fans. No order of battle, but clear George Skoch maps abound, and if you need more on the organization of the forces, check out Brett Schulte’s site here. And don’t miss the interview with Mr. Bearss on the back of the dust jacket.

We also have two new entries in the Mackowski and White edited Emerging Civil War series (see ECW’s site here.) Layout 1The first, No Turning Back is a guide to the Overland Campaign from Wilderness to Cold Harbor, and is the product of the combined efforts of National Park Service current and former employees Robert M. Dunkerly, Donald C. Pfanz, and David R. Ruth. Unlike most other ECW series entries, in which the battlefield tours are more or less appendices to a narrative, this is 165 pages of touring, supplemented with numerous maps and illustrations. Siegel’s No Backward Step has thus far been my go-to Overland guide, but the cheap binding really doesn’t lend itself to use in the field. No Turning Back relies on a more narrative flow and less reproduction of large chunks of text from eyewitnesses.

Layout 1The second new ECW title is Bloody Autumn: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, by NPS alums Daniel Davis and Phillip Greenwalt. This format will be more familiar to readers who have viewed other entries in the series. The narrative is concise at 90 pages, and, as the action is so spread out, appendices include four separate driving tours and an essay on battlefield preservation by one of my favorite rangers, Eric Campbell of Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park.

 





For Bibliophiles

12 02 2014





Hood and Me (But Mostly Me)

3 02 2014

JBHWhile reading John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General, I realized something about myself: the more ubiquitous the application of hyperbole to an individual or event, the more willing I am to consider challenges to the established line on them. Does that make me an iconoclast? To some extent, maybe, and certainly in cases where it appears to me writers have worked backwards from their fundamental diagnoses and bent evidence to fit their conclusion. Author Stephen M. Hood makes a compelling case that this is precisely what has happened over the years with his collateral relative. I think.

(It’s not hard to find “discussion” of this book on blogs and social media. Some clear thinking, some dogma, the usual “I haven’t read it, have no intention of reading it, but am happy to tell you what I think of its content” type comments. Some compelling arguments that author Hood committed some of the same crimes of which he is accusing others. Lots of folks talking past one another. Lots of pots shouting at kettles. Google to your heart’s content. You’ll find all of it out there.)

To me, the  book is strongest when it points out that sources cited as support in a particular work do not say what the author of that work claims they say. Author Hood does so often. And he does so convincingly. This is why you should read the book. In my opinion.

While I’ve had Wiley Sword’s The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah (aka Embrace and Angry Wind) on my shelf for years with every intention of reading it, I don’t see how I can possibly do so now with an open mind. Many of the indictments of Sword in author Hood’s book appear so cut and dry that I have difficulty perceiving of a scenario in which reading Sword’s book will make me think, “you know, with regards to these particulars, Sword is right and author Hood is wrong.” Again, that may say a lot more about me than about Sword or author Hood. And Hood doesn’t stop at Sword. He points out weaknesses in the works of Sword’s predecessors and followers. Out of necessity writers of non-fiction build upon the work of those who have gone before. Sometimes what they accept, they accept in error. I’ve seen it in my research of First Bull Run. I imagine everyone who has researched anything has seen it as well. Sometimes it’s purposeful, sometimes it’s not, but when discovered and proven it’s always wrong and should be corrected. At least, if you ask me it should.

Of note, author Hood points out that, despite what most students of the war believe, General Hood was not overly fond of frontal attacks, and rarely employed them of his own volition. Read that again. And he backs it up, too. Hey, don’t get mad at me. Relax. Count to ten. Now, if it’s true, does that affect your overall impression of General Hood? It affected mine.

On the other hand, I found the book weakest when it reached down deep in the ranks to find contemporary Hood praises; when it presented defenses consisting of “how could all these guys say such nice things” and “well, if Hood was so bad, why don’t you think so-and-so was bad for doing the same things?” Now, in a lot of instances author Hood is right, double standards have been established, but the exposition of double standards has rarely ever done anything but dredge up the old “you’re trying to tear down our guy to build up yours” response. That is to say, it’s an emotional thing, and the consideration of cold, hard facts carries more weight. With me.

I felt the Foreword and Introduction didn’t serve the book well. I was in fact concerned about the book’s prospects after reading them – they laid out a game plan that was inconsistent with my understanding of the focus of the work. After deliberation, I determined to forge ahead. I also found the author’s attempt to discredit Jefferson Davis’s writings about and dealings with Hood, coupled with his uncritical, face value acceptance of Davis’s criticisms of Joe Johnston, to be an odd and hypocritical juxtaposition. But maybe that’s just me.

Despite these and other, as I view them, weaknesses, I think John Bell Hood is an important book, and one that should be read by anyone interested in Hood and his tenure at the helm of the Army of Tennessee, and/or historiography in general. This book will make you think, whether or not you agree with the resurrection bit in the title. For this reason, it was picked as a runner-up for best book of 2013 in Civil War Monitor. By me.

I thought about this song a lot while reading this book, and while reading discussions of this book. I think sometimes it illustrates the relationship between authors and their subjects.





Preview: Ural, “Don’t Hurry Me Down to Hades”

19 12 2013

HadesNew from Osprey Publishing and Dr. Susannah J. Ural is Don’t Hurry Me Down to Hades: The Civil War In the Words of Those Who Lived It. I’m a little leery of collections of first person accounts from different sources, unless the theme is compelling. And that appears to be the case here. Dr. Ural has chosen letters and diaries to tell the stories of families (well-known and not, north and south, free and slave) during the war. There also appear to be a few memoirs in there – that gets my Spidey-senses tingling, as I’ve never been able to get over how the co-mingling of immediate and recollected accounts fatally flawed Richard Moe’s otherwise fine The Last Full Measure (the use of a lone memoir to provide a counter-point to overwhelming contemporary opinion really changed the tone, IMO.) We’ll have to see how that affects things here. But this one looks good at first glance, and as soon as I finish this light-weight, really kinda silly account of George Washington’s New York spy ring I’m going to dive in.





Preview: Cobb, Hicks, & Holt, “Battle of Big Bethel”

4 12 2013

Layout 1Brian Pohanka’s Vortex of Hell provides a pretty good account of the Battle of Big Bethel, in which the 5th New York Infantry played a prominent role. And typically those are the types of books you need to read to find out about the fight; Big Bethel, or Bethel Church, or Great Bethel, is a battle most often covered in works covering a wider time frame. Messrs. Cobb, Hicks, and Holt, with Battle of Big Bethel: Crucial Clash in Early Civil War Virginia, have turned a magnifying glass on this June, 1861 meeting of forces under Benjamin Butler and John Magruder. At 266 pages, it dwarfs any previous study of which I am aware (and if one exists out there, please let me know about it.) Cobb and Hicks are affiliated with the Hampton (Va) History Museum (the battle was fought near the York County town), while Holt is an attorney. The book includes numerous photographs and illustrations and clear Hal Jesperson maps describe the action. Footnotes – at the bottom of the page – have become a Savas Beatie staple. The bibliography lists a respectable number of unpublished primary sources and contemporary newspaper accounts, as well as the expected published primary and secondary sources (though not Vortex, which I imagine was published too late in the process.) I try not to give too much weight to blurbs (hell, even I wrote one, once), but endorsements from R. E. L. Krick and Edward L. Ayers bode well.





Preview: Gottfried, “The Maps of the Bristoe Station and Mine Run Campaigns”

10 11 2013

91Bka6INr4L._SL1500_I have a soft spot for the subject of this latest entry in Savas Beatie’s Atlas series. Long before I decided to focus my energies on First Bull Run I attempted to tackle the period in the history of the Army of the Potomac between the end of the Gettysburg Campaign and the arrival of U. S. Grant in the spring of 1864. I wrote a bit about that aborted project here. The whole series of events has received short shrift from most historians, and usually gets covered in a few pages (or even paragraphs) when it gets covered at all. Brad Gottfried helps shed some more light on this time with The Maps of the Bristoe Station and Mine Run Campaigns. The subtitle gives a little more detail on the details: An Atlas of the Battles and Movements in the Eastern Theater after Gettysburg, Including Rappahannock Station, Kelly’s Ford, and Morton’s Ford, July 1863-February 1864. You’re familiar with the format by now: individual time-coded maps (87 of ‘em) with their own facing narrative page. This really is a must-have, not just to keep your set intact, but to give some much needed perspective to this black hole in the history of the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia.








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