National Geographic Atlas of the Civil War

2 11 2009

AtlasI recently received a review copy of the National Geographic Atlas of the Civil War by Neil Kagan and Stephen G. Hyslop.  Billed as A Comprehensive Guide to the Tactics and Terrain of Battle, this atlas presents a chronological account of the war using more than 80 archival maps as well as about three dozen original battle maps created using satellite data.  The archival maps are not limited to those of battles and campaigns but include maps of rail lines, slave populations, fortifications, and more.  The book is copiously illustrated with hundreds of photographs and drawings.  Personally, I don’t have much use for comprehensive atlases, and find that when I do consult them I can usually find what I want in the Atlas to the Official Records and the West Point Atlas, and for detail you can’t beat the numerous online map collections.  This National Geographic Atlas is a beautiful, glossy, coffee table book, more for the casual Civil War enthusiast or beginner, but full of tidbits of interest to all levels.  Not a must have, but very nice for what it is.

Thanks to John McFeely of National Geographic.

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John Hoptak’s “Our Boys Did Nobly”

1 11 2009

41YejDu4b9L__SL500_AA240_Fellow blogger, NPS ranger, and author John Hoptak was nice enough to send me a copy of his most recent book, Our Boys Did Nobly: Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania  Soldiers at the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam.  Hoptak uses the story of Schuylkill County soldiers of the 48th, 50th, & 96th PA Volunteer Infantry regiments to tell the larger tale of the 1862 Maryland Campaign.  It’s an original and effective approach, and a good read.

The 48th and 50th PAVI of Ambrose Burnside’s 9th Corps, and the 96th of William Franklin’s 6th Corps were in good positions to use as bases for a narrative of the battles of South Mountain and Crampton’s Gap, with all three units seeing action.  And while the 50th saw the biggest part of the elephant at Antietam, the author fleshes out the story of the rest of the battle more than adequately and with a variety of primary accounts.  What happened on the southern end of the field after the crossing of the Antietam by 9th Corps typically gets short shrift in most studies of Antietam, and Hoptak has gone a long way to bringing into sharper focus those events.  I’ve been reading and stomping Antietam for years, and learned a lot from Our Boys.

The book is self published and has some of the editing problems attendant to such a product, but the author more than makes up for those deficiencies with his demonstrated command of the subject and materials, and he’s put together a fast-paced narrative that will be eye-opening for readers of all levels.

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America’s Civil War: January 2010

29 10 2009

Jan 10 ACW cvr

Inside this issue of America’s Civil War:

  • in the news, somebody paid $39k for Confederate Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee’s gauntlets and sash, and the grave of Confederate financier Charles Kuhn Prioleau was “discovered” in England;
  • an interview with Ed Bearss;
  • Frank Van Der Linden on Confederate General Joe Johnston’s feud with President Jefferson Davis;
  • Robert Behre on Why Cotton got to be King;
  • Joan Waugh on Ulysses S. Grant, The Celebrity Soldier;
  • Three Kunhardts examine The Burden of War on Lincoln through photographs;
  • Blogger and author Michael Hardy on Irvin McDowell, The Most Unpopular Man in America (I’ll have a review of this here after I read it);
  • Jon Guttman on The Man Who Shot A. P. Hill;
  • my Six-Pack reviews pair up
    • No Peace for the Wicked: Northern Protestant Soldiers in the American Civil War (David Rolf) with The Harp and the Eagle: Irish-American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865 (Susannah Ural);
    • Lee in the Low Country: Defending Charleston and Savannah, 1861-1862 (Daniel J. Crooks, Jr) with Siege Train: The Journal of a Confederate Artilleryman in the Defense of Charleston (Arthur Manigault);
    • The Ship Killers: The Definitive Illustrated History of the Torpedo Boat (Joe Hinds) with Ellet’s Brigade: The Strangest Outfit of All (Chester Hearn).

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Undaunted Heart

15 10 2009

Undaunted-HeartI received a copy of  Undaunted Heart from Eno Publishing in Hillsborough, NC a few weeks ago, and finished it up last week.  I don’t read every book publishers send me cover to cover – I’m a slow reader and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.  But I had read snippets of the story of the courtship and marriage of Union general Smith Atkins and southern belle Ella Swain before and figured the book, written by Swain descendant and Raleigh area writer Suzy Barile, was enough of a departure to be worthwhile.  I do that a lot lately, read books that fall outside what I typically read.  I guess by definition if I keep doing that then I’m not doing that.  Dang, lost my train of thought…where was I…oh yeah, Undaunted Heart.

Twenty-two year old Ella was the daughter of University of North Carolina president and former North Carolina governor David Swain.  Atkins had been colonel of the 92nd IL Mounted Infantry (which Barile for some odd reason referred to as Mounted Cavalry), which was part of Wilder’s Lightning Brigade, and on Aril 17, 1865 was in command of a brigade that was the first to occupy the college town of Chapel Hill.  While visiting with Gov. Swain in his home, he met Ella and it was love at first sight.

Predictably, the romance was a scandal, particularly among the women of Chapel Hill.  Ella’s mother, despite, over many years, forming a close bond with Atkins, still never took a meal with him.  Through family letters discovered in an attic by the author, the courtship, marriage, and many trials and tribulations of the Swains’ and Atkins’s are recreated in an engaging, easy to read style.  While the military aspects contain some inaccuracies and will appear muddled to folks used to more precision, they’re really ancillary to the personal story and as such don’t detract from it.  In many ways it’s a sad tale: early and sudden death stalked Ella’s family, and did not spare even her in the end.  Undaunted Heart gives us a glimpse of life in 19th century America in ways military history can’t.

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The Bonfire

13 10 2009

Bonfire, theI finished up Mark Wortman’s The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta.  Let me start off with a warning – this is possibly the most inappropriately titled book I’ve ever read.  Unlike Russell Bonds’s War Like the Thunderbolt, and despite the claims of its title, Wortman’s book is most definitely not primarily concerned with the siege and burning of Atlanta.  It’s more accurately described as a history of the city of Atlanta, from its wilderness days up through the climactic events of 1864.

Look at it this way: Wortman’s story takes up 361 pages.  John Bell Hood doesn’t take over command of the Army of  Tennessee until page 259, and William T. Sherman marches out of the burning city on page 336.  But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Bonfire is a social history first and foremost.  And it compliments rather than competes with Thunderbolt.  You’ll get more back story on the people and places in Bonfire, and more focus on a narrower timeframe in Thunderbolt.

I’m not a fan of Wortman’s writing style: as I’ve said before, I dig Hemingway, not Steinbeck, and so prefer fewer words to more.  Wortman is heavy on the adjectives and uses so many compound sentences I found myself having to read a lot of them more than once.  He’s at his weakest when he’s discussing military matters: Abraham Lincoln changed commanders of the Army of the Potomac two times in the first two years of the war, not five (from McClellan to Burnside and from Burnside to Hooker – that’s two.  Neither McDowell nor Pope ever commanded the AotP, and McClellan organized it);  the Army of the Cumberland was commanded by William Rosecrans, not William Rosencrans, and his army was attacked by that of Braxton Bragg at Chickamauga, not the other way around; Jefferson Davis placed Robert E. Lee in command of the army outside Richmond in 1862 because Joe Johnston was wounded, not because Lee was more aggressive.  But the correction of these problems would not significantly alter the product, which again is not a military history.  Of course, it does bring into question the accuracy of the non-military aspects of the book.  But I’m having trouble getting fired up about that – I guess I’m mellowing in my old age.

Bonds’s writing style is more appealing to me, but that’s a matter of personal taste.  The contents are so dissimilar that comparisons would be apples to oranges.  I think the way to approach these books would be to start reading Wortman, then read the two in tandem when they synch up time-wise.

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SCWH Newsletter

9 10 2009

I received the Fall 2009 Society of Civil War Historians newsletter today.  Mostly it lists the Civil War related sessions at the upcoming Southern Historical Association‘s conference in Louisville, KY in November.

By far the best thing in this issue of the newsletter is Mark Grimsley’s review of Battle: the Nature and Consequences of Civil War Combat, a collection of essays edited by Kent Gramm.  I reviewed the collection in brief for America’s Civil War last year, and there’s only so much one can do with the “in brief” format.  Prof. Grimsley gave the essays by GNMP historian Scott Hartwig and Dr. Bruce Evans high marks, but skewered the remaining four with considerable flair.  Check it out – it should be in your mailbox today, unless you’re not a member.  You can fix that by going here.





Review Policy

7 10 2009

In light of the recent FTC ruling concerning requirements for product reviews, I’ve posted a Review Policy.  I realize that perhaps this ruling doesn’t apply to book reviews, but I’d rather not take the chance.  Check it out and let me know what you think.  Any suggestions are appreciated.





Breaking News – FTC Ruling Affects Bloggers

5 10 2009

OK, have to break a rule here: I don’t typically regurgitate a news item here that originates elsewhere on the web – I just provide a link.  But this is pretty big news for us Civil War bloggers, many of who review books regularly.

FTC: Bloggers must disclose payments for reviews

PHILADELPHIA — The Federal Trade Commission will require bloggers to clearly disclose any freebies or payments they get from companies for reviewing their products.

It is the first time since 1980 that the commission has revised its guidelines on endorsements and testimonials, and the first time the rules have covered bloggers.

But the commission stopped short Monday of specifying how bloggers must disclose any conflicts of interest.

The FTC said its commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the final guidelines, which had been expected. Penalties include up to $11,000 in fines per violation.

The rules take effect Dec. 1.

See here.

Up until recently, most of my reviews have concerned books that I’ve purchased.  Lately I’ve been receiving more unsolicited, free books for review.  I’m not sure that I’ve been clear when those are reviews of books I’ve received in this manner.  When I say I received a book for review, that means I didn’t buy it.  But I guess I need to come up with some sort of stock comment that states the case more clearly – I don’t want a “free” book to end up costing me $11,000.

See NYT article here.





Books and More Books

25 09 2009

41YejDu4b9L__SL500_AA240_Today’s mail brought seven, count ‘em, seven new books for review.  One is for a full review in Civil War Times; five are for my regular Six-Pack column in America’s Civil War (in a departure, I’ll review five new books and only one older, but that one is among my all time favorite biographies); and one for this blog, fellow blogger John Hoptak’s own Our Boys Did Nobly, pictured at left.  As the subtitle says, this 345 page paperback is the story of Schuylkill County, PA Soldiers at the battles of South Mountain and Antietam.  I just flipped through it, and see that Mannie Gentile has put art back into maps!  I’m gonna move John’s book up to second on my list, right after Suzy Barile’s Undaunted Hearts.  Thanks for the nice inscription, John!

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Recent Arrivals

14 09 2009

Publishers don’t send a ton of books for review here, but when they do they seem to do it in bunches.  Over the past few weeks I’ve received three, and since I’m not sure exactly when I’ll get to them I think it’s fair to give you a little information on them in the meantime.  I’ll discuss them here in order of receipt.

A-Separate-CountryA Separate Country  is by Robert Hicks, author of the bestseller The Widow of the South.  The novel centers around the life of John Bell Hood in post-war New Orleans.  But skimming through the book I get the idea that this is something other than a simple imagination of Hood’s life, as it seems to be told from several perspectives and is maybe something of a mystery.  Forty reviewers on Amazon average to a little over three out of five stars.

The-Mule-ShoeThe Mule Shoe  has the potential to be really interesting in a good way, or really interesting in a train-wreck way.  It’s a novel by Perry Trouche, a Charleston, SC shrink.  It appears to be an examination of a fictional rebel soldier as he descends into, well, I want to say psychosis but will probably wind up being lashed for my imprecision.  The bulk of the book is set against the fighting at Spotsylvania, where the voices in the protagonist Conner’s head and his visions force a resolution. 

Undaunted-HeartLast is Undaunted Heart, by Suzy Barile, an English and journalism instructor in North Carolina and the great-great-granddaughter of Ella Swain Atkins and General Smith Dykins Atkins, the subjects of her non-fiction study.  Atkins was in command of a brigade of William Sherman’s cavalry that occupied Chapel Hill, NC after the surrender of Joseph Johnston’s army at Bennett Place; Ella was the daughter of the president of the University of North Carolina.  They did some courtin’ & sparkin’ and were married, much to the chagrin of many.  I have heard some of the basics of their courtship and marriage before, but Undaunted Heart promises to tell the rest of the story.

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