Previews: New from Savas – Petersburg and The Iron Brigade

9 10 2012

I received over the past week or so two new releases from Savas Beatie: The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory by Lance J. Herdegen; and The Petersburg Campaign, Volume I by Edwin C. Bearss with Bryce A. Suderow.

I’m going to be really brief here, and will explain why. Herdegen’s book on The Black Hats from Bull Run to Appomattox and Thereafter is more than just an update of Alan Nolan’s groundbreaking study. There were weaknesses in that book that Herdegen shores up, and in the intervening 51 years since it was first published, new, umm, stuff has come to light (cleaning up the Dude’s language here). I will be interviewing Lance shortly and we’ll expand on his work there, but for now let me say that this is one beautiful and BIG book, and the bits I’ve read are engagingly written.

Bearss’s account of The Eastern Front Battles, June-August 1864, is based on NPS studies written by the Pied Piper of the Civil War, with additional work done by Bryce Suderow. As the title implies, this is but the first of two volumes that will culminate with The Breakthough in April 1865. I’m working on an interview for this one, too, but maybe I’ll be taking a different angle on it than most folks.

So, as always, stay tuned!





Preview – Guy Hasegawa “Mending Broken Soldiers”

7 10 2012

Sometimes the most mundane questions can lead to great enlightenment. Take for instance Mark Wilson’s The Business of Civil War. It opened my eyes in many ways, and actually led to a better understanding of how and why things worked the way they worked during the war, logistically speaking.

So here’s a question: how did the private and public sectors of the Union and Confederacy deal with the huge increase in the number of amputees in their respective populations? What happened when a previously limited demand for artificial limbs became widespread? Guy Hasegawa has taken on these questions in Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs. I received a copy recently and have skimmed it over. This slim volume relies on an impressive amount of published and unpublished materials, and appears to be clearly and concisely constructed. I’ll be reading this one next, and am really looking forward to it.

UPDATE: Author Guy Hasegawa has consented to an interview – keep an eye out for it here.





Two New Antietam Titles From Savas-Beatie

19 09 2012

This will be brief. Not because these two new books from Savas-Beatie don’t deserve blogspace, but because they are each parts of series’ which I’ve talked about before and which are familiar to most of my readers. Brad Gottfried’s The Maps of Antietam is the third entry from him in the now four-volume atlas series. The layout is the same: facing pages of text and maps, breaking the Maryland Campaign down into action sequences. Again, the maps are clear and uncluttered, which is a good thing if you’re looking for a nice smooth narrative. Not such a good thing if you’re a map geek, but then I don’t think this series targets you anyway. The number: 122 maps, covering the campaign from Sept. 2 through Sept. 20. I spoke briefly with Prof. Bradley at Antietam this past weekend and got him to inscribe my copy, however I forgot to ask what is next for him. Look for more details on this one in my upcoming review in America’s Civil War.

Next is volume 2 of Dr. Thomas Clemens’s edition of the Ezra Carman papers, The Maryland Campaign of September, 1862. Like volume 1, this one has the same thorough, insightful notes that can only be provided by one of the foremost authorities – arguably THE authority – on the 1862 Maryland Campaign. Different this time around is the incorporation of the Carman maps into the text, and rather than placing all maps at the beginning of the book they are inserted in the corresponding text sections. Volume 1 took us through South Mountain, and Volume 2 covers the battle of Antietam. Big news: there will be a volume 3 that will feature the close of the campaign after Sept. 17 including the Battle of Shepherdstown as well as some selected correspondence from Carman’s files. So, we got that going for us, which is nice. Unfortunately this one was in the mail when I left for Antietam on Saturday, so even though we spent the weekend hanging out I wasn’t able to get Tom to sign it. But I expect I’ll be seeing him again at the Save Historic Antietam Foundation work day on November 17. You should come down to the battlefield, help us out, and get your copy inscribed as well!





Interview: Blaikie Hines, “The Battle of First Bull Run”

26 05 2012

Blaikie Hines is the author of The Battle of First Bull Run, Manassas Campaign – July 16-22, 1861: An Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide (you can order it from Mr. Hines’s website here). The book is a little hard to explain (though I tried to do so here), so I thought it best to let the author tell us all about it:

BR: Blaikie, tell the readers about your background.

BH: I was born in New York City in 1949 and grew up in Connecticut. I  am  a well-known fine art conservator who specializes in 19th century paintings and frames.  I am also a Civil War collector, historian  and author.  I grew up in a family steeped in Civil War history.  Along with two great, great Grandfathers  who served from Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, my great-uncle was a Lutheran Minister who graduated from Gettysburg Seminary in 1909. He had first hand stories of that great battle from eye witnesses. My Massachusetts ancestor fought with the 1st Massachusetts Infantry at Blackburn’s Ford on July 18th, 1861.  In addition to my Bull Run book, I am also the author of  “Civil War Volunteer Sons of Connecticut”  Both are published by American Patriot Press.  I live in Thomaston, Maine with my wife Judith.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?

BH:  In 1963 at the age of fourteen, our family visited the battlefield at Gettysburg during that centennial year. My Lutheran minister uncle came with us and for the first time in my life I heard history become alive through his stories about that great battle. Some of his professors had been seminarians in 1863 and had actually witnessed the conflict. We were all so enthralled and eventually had a crowd that was following us around listening to Uncle Charlie’s stories.  After that, I remember my Dad began to buy Civil war books and when a my uncle passed away Dad inherited his books. For me, my youth took over and my interest in the Civil War lay dormant for about 30 years. When at the death of a great-aunt on my mother’s side I came into possession of a Civil War dog tag that had belonged to my great, great, Pennsylvania grandfather who had fought at Antietam and was eventually severally wounded at Fredericksburg fighting with the 132nd Pennsylvania Infantry. I began to look into the Civil War very deeply at first from his perspective and then from the perspective of my home state Connecticut. That research of seven years produced Civil War Volunteer Sons of Connecticut.

BR: Why did you decide to write The Battle of First Bull Run…, and what were you hoping to accomplish with it?

BH: In 2003 our daughter enrolled at American University located in Washington, DC. On one of our visits, my wife and daughter went off together to do “girl” things and I headed due west to the battlefield at Manassas about 30 miles away. I knew very little of the battle except for  the most elementary facts. I arrived at the visitor center and was very impressed by the facility and staff. Armed with the park service map I walked Henry Hill, then Matthews Hill, and finally the Stone Bridge  and Van Pelt area. I returned to the visitor center and went into the bookstore. I was surprised that there was no comprehensive guide-book. There were numerous books on 1st Bull Run but all were mostly narrative with a few maps and scattered photographs. The only book that came close to what I was looking for was Bearss’s map guide-book and accompanying maps. I found the maps so jammed packed as to be almost unreadable however the text part was extremely helpful but there were no photos or illustrations. I did not really know it at the time but I began to assemble, over several years, all of the components that would become my 1st Bull Run book. I finally set before me the task of putting together a fully illustrated battlefield atlas and guide. In essence I created what I thought someone else would have done years before.  In 2011 I finished writing and published that book I was looking for at the Manassas Battlefield bookstore eight years before.

BR: The layout/organization of The Battle of First Bull Run… is not conventional in any way. What was your concept of what you wanted the reader’s experience to be, and how do you feel you succeeded in that regard?

BH: Since the work before me was to create an illustrated atlas and battlefield guide, the landscape format served my needs very well. I wanted the text for each map or photo to appear right next to the accompanying  image so that one did not have to thumb through one page to connect with an image on another. A more traditional vertical format would have added not subtracted from this concern. I wanted the spread of two side by side pages to be as wide as practically possible. In my book it is about 24 inches.  I wanted the book to be as chronological as I could make it rather than divided up into separate geographical, organizational, uniform and artillery sections.  I was intrigued by the various uniforms and wanted to have an extensive treatment of them scattered through the time line.  I wanted every type of artillery piece engaged to have a separate photo with specs and organizational distribution. I wanted every photograph of identified individuals to include  rank, organization, state of birth and age along with any military training. West Point class and rank is intriguing to me. I have always loved historical photographs and wanted mine to be of the highest quality and of the largest size that could be reasonably confined to one page. I do not enjoy photos that spread across two pages mostly because of what is lost in the binding. I used enhancement techniques that were recommended to me by an Israeli defense photographic analyst. I feel that the quality of the period photographs in my book are superb. I also wanted a modern view to be placed right next to the period view hopefully from the same angle. With regard to the type of map I created, I used the most up to date satellite images. That way the modern vegetative pattern becomes the setting for the conflict even though the vegetation from the 1860′s in large part has changed. With my maps, it is much easier for an individual to locate oneself on the field relative to the map. I wanted the modern battlefield trails on the maps and an indication of the various battlefield markers. I wanted all significant distances to be indicated. One of my frustrations with my visit  to the field was my inability to judge where I was on the field and the distance to significant landmarks, not so much for historical purposes but for walking purposes. Inevitably I would run out of energy before I ran out of desire. The distances on the maps helps one plan the “walk”.

I am a perfectionist and in that light I can view my book with an eye to its weaknesses. By and large, I am very pleased. For those that have read the book, the overwhelming comment has been that I have been able to present the conflict in a very clear and compact manner. The one word that I often hear is that the book is  “beautiful”. I am aware of the grammatical errors and regret them  but I view them as minor and have tried not to confuse the baby with the bath water. I am also aware that 1st Bull Run was surrounded in much controversy so  I am very sure that not everyone fully agrees with my presentation of the events. Apart from the grammatical editing part (I know how to solve that), I would love for anyone to take my book and show me where it can be improved. I would have to trust that such an individual would do so from a constructive rather than a destructive point of view. My labor has been one of love. Nothing more than that. I simply love the study of the Civil War.

BR: Can you describe your writing and researching processes? How has the web impacted both?

BH:  Since my goal was primarily illustrative, my immediate challenge was to assemble as many images as possible.  Extensive internet searches led me to the major and minor collections of civil war images. Some I would visit personally, others I would buy specific images from, or in some instances hire someone to help me. The Library of Congress, United States Military History Institute, and the Montgomery County Historical Society in Dayton, Ohio were my major sources. Gettysburg College, Southern Methodist University, Louisiana State University, and the University of Georgia are just a few of my minor sources. Through Google Earth and Terre Server I was able to download amazing satellite images. There is also a web site called Historical Aerials were I found the 1949 battlefield aerials. I visited the battlefield many times and with a digital camera could fire away as much as I wished with no concern for cost of film, developing, etc.   With regard to the text, I read every First Bull Run history that I could find, from period writings to modern publications. The Internet Archive was hugely helpful for the period writings along with Google Books. The internet has had a gigantic impact on my research. When I came to writing the text I was not intent on discovering some new writing or anecdote.  I took the campaign day by day, hour by hour, and would compare text across many sources. I would use generally common knowledge, highlight differences when they occurred, and in essence boil down the narrative to fit a certain page space. The image, whether map or photo, along with the identifying labels was the most important component of each page.

BR: Why did you decide to self-publish, and what do you think are the pluses and minuses of self-publication.

BH: I decided to self publish because I wanted to make all of the critical decisions about every design aspect of the book from size, paper, layout, binding, font, etc. I did not want the quality of the publication left to someone else. I am pleased when someone says my book is unconventional. If I had gone to a regular publisher I fear I would have gotten conventional and lower quality.  I received 40 quotes from printers (not publishers) in the U.S. There is a general rule of thumb that the retail price of a book is eight times the cost of printing. My book at 225 pages, 9 x 12, softcover, and in edition of 2,000 copies was estimated at the low end to be $8 per copy all the way to $15. That means my book would have to have sold for $64 – $120. Who would buy that?  Hardcover would have been through the roof. Any regular American publisher would have had to lower the quality to have it printed here. I did not want that. Would they look offshore? I ultimately had the book printed in India for $5 per copy including shipping, customs etc. That is how I arrived at $39.50 retail. Another thing I did not want was for my book to be dumped to discount booksellers and sell for just above cost. Well, that is the upside of self publishing. Now to the down, the monetary risk is all mine, I should have hired a competent copy editor instead of having the editing done by an inexperienced editor, and finally I miss the wider distribution that would have come with a regular publisher. Even in that light I would do it all over again.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

BH: Apart from the remarks about grammar, the reviews have been excellent. It has been very satisfying. The battlefield park at Manassas now sells it along with the Manassas Museum, Amazon, Alibris, and the American Patriot Press website

BR: Do you plan to have any future printings, and what (if any) changes will you be making?

BH: I definitely plan future printings. In addition to the grammatical errors I would love to see some constructive changes that others may offer, be it historical or whatever. As along as it is done with the right spirit, I will listen.

BR: Are you working on anything else right now?

BH: I actually have three projects competing with one another. All are in the same vein and format as the Bull Run book. I have been working on the Battle of New Market, Battle of Fredericksburg, and Battle of 2nd Bull Run. In time one will begin to take the lead. Newmarket is perhaps the easiest  because of its size. The other two are huge and far more  daunting. The natural thing for me to do is 2nd Bull Run. I have most of the images already, am familiar with most of the field, and once again there is no comprehensive atlas and battlefield guide. Time will tell.





“Maps of Antietam” Trailer

18 05 2012





Scott Hartwig’s Maryland Campaign Magnum Opus Coming Soon

17 05 2012

Last night, Gettysburg NMP Supervisory Historian Scott Hartwig presented a program on The First Day at Gettysburg to the Western Pennsylvania Civil War Roundtable. Before the program (which was of course first-rate) I spoke with Scott, and as usual our conversation turned to the status of his proposed 2 volume work on the Maryland Campaign of 1862, which he’s been working on at least as long as I’ve known him (about 13 years or so, I think). Good news: Johns Hopkins University Press will publish Volume I, To Antietam Creek, in time for the 150th anniversary of the campaign this coming September! At 800 pages it will pack a wallop, and I’m sure will prove to be a must have for students of the campaign. Pre-order it here. In the meantime, check out From the Fields of Gettysburg, hosted by Scott, John Heiser, and the staff at the park.





Preview – Ralph Peters “Cain at Gettysburg”

17 04 2012

Forge sent me a copy of Ralph Peters’s Cain at Gettysburg, a novel of the Civil War. Please, please, please don’t take this to mean I will make any kind of habit of previewing novels. I won’t – I don’t have the time or inclination. This is an exception. I’m about a quarter of the way done with this. It’s a really well written novel – the characters have a lot of depth, and the whole work is more nuanced – and down & dirty – than The Killer Angels (which I think of more as a YA book). By merit, and based solely on what I’ve read so far, Cain should supplant Angels at the top of the Civil War novel heap, but I think the Electric Map lovers out there will cling desperately to the latter book for a long while. So far I’m very pleased, particularly with his decision to focus much of the book on 11th Corps. However, this is a novel; novels need certain character types that are black or white, and Cain is no exception to this rule. So far, though he’s not yet appeared in the book, it looks like Oliver Otis Howard is being set up as a black hat type. I can’t say that I agree with how Peters is molding Howard so far, as I think it flies in the face of evidence so far as his character goes. But this depiction of O. O. is conventional and comfortable to most, and I realize I’m in the minority with my thoughts on him (most people can’t get past an emotional – even irrational – approach to Howard, which I think says more about the analyst than the analyzed). I’m willing to set such things aside when reading a novel, particularly a good one, which Cain certainly is. I’ll post a fuller review when I’ve finished.

FYI, Peters is a retired U. S. Army officer, journalist, and TV talking head on military and intelligence matters. As reader Jeffry Burden reminds me, Peters is also the author of the Abel Jones series of Civil War detective novels, under the pen name of Owen Parry.





Preview – Katz & Virga, “Civil War Sketch Book”

16 04 2012

The good folks at Norton sent me a copy of Civil War Sketch Book: Drawings from the Battlefront, by Harry L. Katz and Vincent Virga, a nice, big, coffee-table book (without legs). Inside is the work of newspaper correspondents (or “specials” for short) who covered the war from the front, including Alfred & William Waud, Frank Vizetelly, Winslow Homer, Thomas Nast, Arthur Lumley, Edwin Forbes, and many more. Arranged in chronological order, the narrative tells the story of the illustrators, how they did their work and the conditions under which they did it. The reproductions of sketches and finished etchings are a delight – Kindle for this makes little sense. The book is a tie-in to the May 2012 issue of National Geographic Magazine and its cover story, Bringing the Civil War to Life by Katz. Follow the link and find a nice gallery of sketches from the book.





Preview: Bordewich, “America’s Great Debate”

12 04 2012

Simon & Schuster just sent me a copy of America’s Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union, by Fergus M. Bordewich. As the title more than implies, this is a study of how the U. S. Senate dealt with the thorny issue of slavery in the territories acquired as a result of the war with Mexico. The sun was setting on the careers of Daniel Webster, John Calhoun, and Clay, and stars Jefferson Davis, William Seward, and Douglas were on the rise. The debate resulted in the passage of five bills known collectively as the Compromise of 1850, brought forth the Fugitive Slave Act and the concept of Popular Sovereignty, admitted California to the Union as a free state, ended the slave trade in the District of Columbia, and established the borders of Texas. While the Union was, for the time being, saved, lines were being drawn in the political sand.

No manuscript sources are listed in the “selected bibliography”, however a review of the end notes indicates that quite a few were consulted.

Bordewich is the author of Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America’s First Civil Rights Movement and Washington: The Making of the American Capital.





Preview: Margaret Wagner,”The Library of Congress Illustrated Timeline of the Civil War”

29 03 2012

An embarrassingly long while ago I received a copy of Margaret Wagner’s The Library of Congress Illustrated Timeline of the Civil War. Things having settled own somewhat I find myself with a little time to address a backlog of obligations, this being one of them. This coffee-table-size book (no legs included) uses illustrations – photos, engravings, drawings, paintings – from the LOC collections to aid in a chronological retelling of the major events of the Civil War, from February 4, 1861 and the meeting of delegates in Montgomery, AL to begin deliberations that would create the Confederate States of America, to May 29, 1865, when President Andrew Johnson’s proclamation granting amnesty and pardons to “all persons who directly or indirectly participated ‘in the existing rebellion’ – with some exceptions – upon the taking of an oath.” The illustrations including many of the less than iconic variety, which is a good thing. Nothing in the narrative jumped out as particularly noteworthy, but that’s to be expected.








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