Preview: Fitch & Fitch, “Postmarked: Bleeding Kansas”

9 11 2013

18437634Kansans (and Missourians, for that matter) are quick to point out that the Civil War started in that state, and there’s plenty of evidence to support the claim. The internecine character of the conflict out that way makes the history that much more gnarly to study and to follow. Chad Lawhorn, a writer with the Lawrence Journal-World, has gathered and published the letters of Edward and Sarah Fitch, abolitionist residents of Lawrence, in Postmarked: Bleeding Kansas, Letters from the Birthplace of the Civil War. This is a collection of more than 150 letters written from 1855 to 1863, which describe the bitter conflict as well as the day-to-day travails of pioneer life, and culminate with the August, 1863, raid on Lawrence by William Quantrill. All the terror of the raid seems captured in Sarah Fitch’s final letter, a fitting, if horrific, ending to the collection.

Note – This book is essentially a reprint of Yours for Freedom in Kansas, published by the Douglas County Historical Society in 1997.





Preview: Leigh (ed), “Co. Aytch”

29 10 2013

9781594161797_p0_v1_s260x420Philip Leigh’s edition of Sam Watkins’s Co. Aytch, Or, A Side Show to the Big Show is the fourth version of the book I have owned. The first, a small paperback which I read cover to cover, is gone. The second is a nice Morningside edition, and the third is a version revised and expanded by Watkins and edited by his great-granddaughter in 2007. Of course, the first exposure many had to Watkins’s memoir was via Ken Burns’s documentary The Civil War, in which, with Elijah Hunt Rhodes, Watkins supplied the perspective of the common soldier.

Leigh, a contributor to the New York Times Opinionator blog-like project (it’s not a blog really, but rather a series of print articles available online), has “fleshed out” Watkins’s recollections with 240 or so sometimes lengthy annotations. In addition to the color and detail it provides, Watkins’s book has long been noted for some pretty significant mis-rememberings, and some of the annotations help to identify and explain them. They also provide background on military situations, personalities, and terminology. A nice feature are numerous clear, Hal Jesperson maps which along with the annotations help put Sam’s travels in perspective, and give a clearer picture of the bigger show. Do you need this to replace whatever other edition of Co. Aytch you may own? Probably not, but if someone is considering taking a first dip into soldiers’ memoirs this may be a nice place to start.





Preview: “The Civil War Lover’s Guide to New York City”

18 10 2013

NYCCWLoverI attended college back in the day when the mere thought of being forced into taking a job in New York City made a business major’s skin crawl (unless of course you were from there, then you thought it was great.) And as an ACW enthusiast later, I thought that there couldn’t possibly be much to see there outside of Grant’s Tomb. In Bill Morgan’s new The Civil War Lover’s Guide to New York City, I find there is far, far more to see in the city relating to the Civil War than I had imagined, though some of the links are tenuous at best. The book is laid out geographically by borough and neighborhood, and includes many period and modern photographs. The illustrations vary in quality and descriptiveness, and sometimes the narrative is vague as to whether or not the building in question still stands. I suppose I would have preferred more of a template layout by site. But the color photos of statues and monuments are at times stunning. As with most good guidebooks, this sturdy Savas Beatie paperback is ideal for packing along as you walk the city. Just be careful that you’re not “marked” as a tourist. I’ve seen enough episodes of Barney Miller to know how that will end (I’m still living in 1978 I guess.)





Preview: “Smithsonian Civil War”

17 10 2013


Smithsonian-Civil-War-Inside-the-National-Collection-Hardcover-L9781588343895
Smithsonian Books sent me a copy of this beautiful, coffee table (without legs) book, Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection. This is an old fashioned “picture book,” the kind that has hooked thousands of kids on the Civil War (or baseball, or whatever) over the years. Mine was The American Heritage Golden Book of the Civil War. As the title implies, the eye candy inside is from the Smithsonian’s Civil War collection, which has been acquired primarily via donation over the years. Photographs are grouped thematically and are accompanied with descriptive narrative often including the artifact’s journey to the collection. My copy has a slightly oily fragrance, likely a result of the process used to produce the full color images, but I imagine that will dissipate over time. I have a soft spot for books like this, as I can think back on long hours spent in libraries and on living room floors staring at those pictures. Do kids still do that? I like to think so.





Reference Library: Bibliographies

16 10 2013

Biblio

Bibliographies are handy when you want to find out more – who else has written on the topic? Some bibliographies tell you more than others, some are more comprehensive, some more specific. The problem with all of them is that by the time they’re compiled, printed, bound, and delivered to the marketplace, they’re already dated. I suspect bibliographies in hard-copy will go the way of the dodo before most other books do, likely replaced by an on-line version that can be continuously updated (will we see a reader compiled, wiki-like version some day?) and available for free. But for now, these will have to do:

 

Cole, Civil War Eyewitnesses: An Annotated Bibliography of Books and Articles, 1955-1986

Cole, Civil War Eyewitnesses: An Annotated Bibliography of Books and Articles, 1986-1996

Dornbusch, Military Bibliography of the Civil War (4 Volumes)

Eicher, The Civil War in Books

Sauers, The Gettysburg Campaign Bibliography

Woodworth, The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research





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:

IMG_20130920_045500_235





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.








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