Preview: William Lee White, “Bushwhacking on a Grand Scale”

2 10 2013

Layout 1The most recent installment in Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War Series is Bushwhacking on a Grand Scale: The Battle of Chickamauga, September 18-20, 1863, by William Lee White. Lee is a NPS Ranger at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park and a longtime presence in the online Civil War community (I think I’ve been yaking at and with him for over ten years now), and he’s always been quick to share his extensive knowledge on the park, the battles, and the labyrinthine Confederate command structure in the Western Theater. With Bushwhacking, he offers a profusely illustrated, concise, and easy to follow narrative of the campaign in the style to which we’ve become accustomed in this series. Appendices include notes on Longstreet’s attack, Chickamauga in Memory, Civilians in the Battle (Lee and Dave Powell helped me out in this regard with my Civil War Times article on the Snodgrass cabin a few years back), and an Order of Battle. A nice touch is a recommended Chickamauga reading list. The paperback format makes this ideal for tossing in the backpack for a day of tromping the fields – once Congress and POTUS get their stuff together and open them up again.





Reference Library: Biographical

20 09 2013

I often receive inquiries regarding books – recommendations, suggestions, questions, criticisms. I don’t know if this is because I’ve published quite a few, mostly quantitative reviews/previews both here and in print, or because in some circles I’m thought to own a lot of the little rascals myself (my current count of Civil War books is just over 2,100, which is a lot to some of you, not so many to others, and just-plain-silly to most.) So I thought it might be helpful to those interested to give a little insight into what’s on my shelves – particularly my reference shelves, the ones to which I turn most often. I’ll just list them here with no comment, but know that some are better than others. If you have any comments or questions regarding these volumes, or have any suggestions for possible additions – my wife will likely hunt you down and kill you, slowly and painfully – feel free to use the comments section below. Let’s start here with Biographical Reference works:

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In Dreams: Romance In the Valley

9 08 2013

I’m still – STILL - reading Voices from Company D. Thankfully though, it is now January of 1865. The other day night I came across tan entry from Henry Beck, a company member who was on detached duty as a commissary clerk. It’s from December 7, 1864, while Early’s forces were still operating in the Shenandoah Valley. Henry’s duties required him to travel about a good bit behind the lines, and while staying with the Heller family in Harrisonburg he spent his time a-courtin’ and a-sparkin’ young Lucy Heller. Before he left town to rejoin his command, he proposed. The next day, he wrote (bold font provided by me):

After several questions on both sides, I received an answer in the affirmative. With what joy my heart received it, is beyond my power to describe. I felt that I was entering upon a new life, from which I could foresee nothing but happiness. After this interesting interview was ended, I retired, but only to wake & dream. It must have been near two o’clock before I went to sleep, only to dream again of the one whom I have learned to love so devotedly, also of the tobacco bag received in the morning.*

Priorities, Henry. FYI, by 1870 Henry and Lucy had three children and were living in Greensboro, AL.

And here’s a little something on dreams because, well, because who in their right mind can’t use a little Roy Orbison every now and again?

Hubbs, G. Ward, ed., Voices from Company D, p. 330





To Read or Not to Read – That is the Question

3 08 2013

I get lots and lots of books sent to me. And I also still buy books “on my own.” And I read non-fiction slowly. And I read Civil War history very, very, VERY slowly. So, I really can’t read all the books I get, or all the books I have, cover to cover. That’s why I describe the book commentary you typically see here as Previews instead of Reviews. I scan the book, read the intro and (if there is one) the conclusion, check out the notes and bibliography. Basically, I do what I would normally do if I was considering buying the book myself. Hopefully you find that helpful.

So, when it comes to actually reading a book, I have to be very selective. Because it’s a significant investment of my time, and because the opportunity cost is great. So I don’t make the decision lightly. I have two books here, relatively slim volumes, recently received from Savas Beatie: General Grant and the Rewriting of History and John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General. I have reservations about both books – not about reading them, but reporting on them. The latter is written by a descendant of the subject, and my experience has shown such efforts to be typically problematic. Also, I’ve observed (and been slightly involved in) discussion of Hood’s reputation and it got heated. The former delves into the ever dangerous waters of U. S. Grant criticism. The mere mention of the book is likely to bring Grant fans out of the woodwork – I’ve seen them operate, and it ain’t pretty. They are such rabid gatekeepers (and I have no doubt they view themselves as such) that a perceived slight to anyone in the Grant solar system, let alone HUG himself, is likely to elicit a response of biblical proportions.

But after much discussion and deliberation, I’ve made my decision. As soon as I complete my current read, I’ll tackle these two. I have no dog in either fight, regardless of my thoughts on those who do (have dogs in the fight – I’m too distracted to figure out how to write that sentence so that it doesn’t end in a preposition.) I’ll report back to you as best I can. But I have a sneaky feeling that my efforts will be deemed woefully inadequate by partisans of all stripes.





Off the Record, On the QT, and Very Hush-Hush

1 08 2013

I’ve been waiting for a chance to use another James Elroy quote, and here it is! I just heard through the grapevine that a manuscript has been submitted to a university press – a First Bull Run campaign study that the editor indicates is “long, deeply researched, and extremely well written.” Can this be the type of study I called for in the roundtable article in Civil War History a while back?

It’s starting to sound like I’m advocating a big campaign study featuring coordinated coverage of the social, political, and military aspects of the campaign in context and detail, with an emphasis on how they all impacted what was to follow, and I guess I am.  I think it would make for a fascinating read.

Let’s hope this is it. Having some idea how the process works, I’m guessing it will be a couple of years before we see anything (as late as 2016, the 155th anniversary, perhaps.) But I could be way off on that. And no, I don’t know the writer’s identity. Refer again to the title of this post.

In other news, the program I will present to the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable (and talked about here) continues to evolve and I’ve decided to actually write this one up. I’ll share some bullet-points with you all later, but won’t make the big reveal until that evening, of course. Again, the program will focus on McDowell’s plans: what he expected, what he intended, and how and why we seem to miss the mark today when it comes to evaluating them and him.





Returning Fire

18 07 2013

I’m still making my way through Voices from Company D: Diaries by the Greensboro Guards, Fifth Alabama Infantry Regiment, Army of Northern Virginia. I’ve written a little about it before. If you haven’t already read it, you should add this one to your list. It features multiple diaries from members of the same company (they were present at First Bull Run, however they were Company I at the time – I need to change that on the entries I transcribed.) Right now (where I am in the book, April 1863), the daily entries are comprised of entries by two diarists – typically the first tersely describes the day as having no significant occurrence, followed by about 1,000 words from the second. It’s an entry from the second diarist on April 12, 1864 that caught my eye this time. The diarist is Jaimie Pickens (JP), who was not a slave owner – though his family owned about 200, which again proves the fallacy of the “most southern soldiers didn’t own slaves” argument. It caught my eye because it reminded me of a ferryboat ride out to Ft. Sumter about 18 years ago, during which the recorded NPS narrative pointed out the positions from which Confederate batteries “returned fire.”

To-day 3 years ago (Ap’l 12th & 13th 1861) the Yankees fired on Ft. Sumter – the inauguration of the war of invasion of the South & its people.

Yikes! JP happens to have been a very well educated and eloquent young man who had attended the University of Virginia. His entries give valuable insight not only into how he viewed the war historically as it happened, but also his views on the prospects for peace and from whence it was likely to come (right now, he’s hoping for a third party to take power in the North.) I know of no other collection like this. Check it out.





Russel Beatie

12 07 2013

BeatieI was surprised and saddened to learn, from the use of the word “late” in a Dimitri Rotov comment to a post on Kevin Levin’s blog, of the passing (in March of this year) of Russel M. Beatie of Savas Beatie publishing. I could find no mention of his death on the web, but was able to confirm it via his associate and friend Ted Savas, who wrote a eulogy in the Savas Beatie July newsletter, which you can read in it’s entirety here. Below is an excerpt. The photo at left was taken on a hunting trip to Scotland and is courtesy of Savas Beatie.

It is with tremendous sadness that I share with you that my publishing partner and good friend Russel H. “Cap” Beatie passed away recently. Cap didn’t want a long eulogy or extravagant send-off. That was not his way. So these few words will have to do.

Most of you know Cap (a Princeton grad and Veteran of the U.S. Army) through his magnificent multi-volume Army of the Potomac endeavor, a research and writing tour de force that will forever remain unfinished. (His fourth installment manuscript, which picks up where volume three left off and travels through the fighting at Seven Pines, is available; we are working with it to determine how or whether we can publish it for you.)

Cap was both an outstanding attorney and a true historian. The man lived and breathed our past. I know he was most happy not arguing in court but rooting in an archive somewhere to help write history “from the bottom up,” as he used to tell me. “I am going to let the sources take me where the sources take me, Savisky.” That was his nickname for me; he had nicknames for everyone. “To hell with all these biased opinions today masquerading as history. What did the men who were there living it think about it all?”

Reviews of the AotP series have been mixed at best, and savaging at times. To be sure, there were definitely problems with the first volume (the only one I’ve read cover-to-cover, though I’ve used all three.) But I’ve never been one to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Who else has pointed out that two of the regular army officers whose experience and advice Robert Patterson was advised by Winfield Scott to rely on in the Valley were the super-aggressive Fitz-John Porter and George Thomas? No one else has been able to communicate to me the complexity of the political and military intrigues at Washington during the period leading up to Bull Run. And his annotated bibliographies! That’s good stuff (I understand plans are afoot to publish a consolidated bibliography from the three completed volumes.) Mr. Beatie approached his research and writing from a different angle than most everybody else. Sometimes he missed, sometimes he made solid contact, but he always made me think.





Preview: Caughey & Jones, “The 6th United States Cavalry in the Civil War”

10 07 2013

CaugheyA recent release from McFarland is The 6th United States Cavalry in the Civil War: A History and Roster, by Donald C. Caughey and Jimmy J. Jones. Jones is an active duty U. S. Army officer who served two tours with the modern day 6th U. S. Cavalry, and Caughey is a retired U. S. Army officer who hosts Regular Cavalry in the Civil War. From a modern perspective and the standpoint of lineage, these guys have the pedigrees. The first 134 pages of the book cover the regiment’s Civil War service, with particular attention paid to its troubles at Fairfield in the Gettysburg Campaign. Another 114 pages is devoted to an biographical roster from James Oscar Ackerman to Henry Zimmerman. The bibliography cites mostly published works, but also newspaper and manuscript sources which the notes indicate were consulted frequently. Illustrations are light and not too surprising, but the maps are clear in typical Steve Stanley fashion.





How to Order “The Campaign of Gettysburg: Command Decisions”

8 07 2013

A few folks have informed me that they’ve had trouble finding information on ordering William Hewitt’s The Campaign of Gettysburg: Command Decisions. I know it’s available in places like the American History Store and the Visitor’s Center in Gettysburg. Also, if you’re interested contact Chris Army at C underscore army at hotmail dot com.





Preview: Rod Gragg, “The Illustrated Gettysburg Reader”

1 07 2013

P9781621570431Regnery History sent me a very nice, autographed copy of Rod Gragg’s new The Illustrated Gettysburg Reader: An Eyewitness History of the Civil War’s Greatest Battle. If you’re not familiar with Rod Gragg, you should be – he is, among other things, the author of a fine study of the battle of Fort Fisher, Confederate Goliath, and also a history of the 26th North Carolina Infantry at Gettysburg, Covered With Glory. This new book follows the traditional reader format, with first hand accounts presented in chronological order. What sets this apart are the extensive illustrations (photos, artwork, maps.) Is this something that every student of the Civil War in general and the Battle of Gettysburg in particular needs on their shelves? Probably not, but if you’re looking to introduce someone to the use of primary sources, or to that Pennsylvania battle, it’s a safe bet.








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