America’s Civil War – November 2009

1 09 2009

ACW-Nov-2009Inside the November 2009 issue of America’s Civil War magazine:Ron Soodalter’s Fury in Vermont, the cover story on the 1864 Confederate raid on St. Albans;  Gordon Berg takes a look at Ambrose Bierce’s series of stories on Chickamauga, and tries to separate fact from fiction; Tamela Baker’s article is on Sweet Subversive Scribes, three female journalists in Virginia who published the pro-Union Waterford News; John Stauffer contributes an adaptation of their new and controversial book , The State of Jones (see here for some spirited discussion ofthe book); and Jonathan A. Noyalas writes of the return of  “Sheridan’s Veterans’ Association” to the Shenandoah Valley in 1883.

My Six-Pack column this time technically featured five new books and one old, though one of the new books is really a new paperback release of an eleven-year-old work.  No Holier Spot of Ground: Confederate Monuments & Cemeteries of South Carolina is paired with Testament to Union: Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.The Maps of First Bull Run with Gettysburg Day Two: A Study in Maps; and in a departure from the usual format, two new releases are reviewed together, General George H. Thomas: A Biography of the Union’s “Rock of Chickamauga” and Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas.

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War Like the Thunderbolt

28 07 2009

51lkliy3G4L__SS500_I received a bound galley of Russell Bonds’s upcoming study of the battle and burning of Atlanta, War Like the Thunderbolt, set for release on September 2, 2009.  I told Russell that I would look it over and give it the review-in-brief treatment.  But several forces have converged to alter that plan.  For one thing, I’m finishing up Volume I of Lincoln’s Collected Works; some of that has been mind-numbing, and I just don’t have it in me to jump right into volume II.  (I’m also reading Four Brother’s in Blue, and that thing is endless – good, but endless.)  For another, I’m not very well read on the Atlanta Campaign; I have all the standard works – except for that old Savas two volume essay collection, I’d like to get my hands on that – but haven’t got around to reading them.  Also, after flipping through the book (somebody needs to explain the difference between an uncorrected proof, an advanced reading copy, and a bound galley), I like the style.  It looks very readable, and I’m thinking it shouldn’t take too long.  I’ll report back to you when I’m finished.  In the meantime you may want to look into Russell’s critically acclaimed Stealing the General.

America’s Civil War – September 2009

10 07 2009

ACW-Sept-09As the 150th anniversary of his raid on Harper’s Ferry approaches, the September 2009 issue of America’s Civil War features John Brown on the cover.  Inside, related articles include the cover story by Tim Rowland, a timeline of slavery in North America; a look at David Hunter’s struggle to raise the all black 1st SC Volunteers (to be commanded by Brown “conspirator” Thomas Wentworth Higginson) by Tom Huntingdon; and a recounting of VMI instructor Thomas Jackson’s role in the hanging of Brown at Charlestown.90th-PA

Fellow blogger Mannie Gentile contributed a nice article on one of the most interesting regimental monuments on any battlefield, that of the 90th PA Volunteer Infantry at Antietam (at right is a photo I took of the replica monument  not long after its dedication in 2004).  Check out Mannie’s essay on the historiography of George B. McClellan here.

Also in this issue: Jared Frederick on Altoona, PA’s loyal governor’s conference in 1862; Daniel E. Sutherland on Missouri guerrillas; and a convincing letter from Doug Garnett (no relation) in Canada refutes an earlier identification of a photograph of the elusive Richard Brooke Garnett.

My contribution in Six-Pack has five new books and one old,  Bruce Allardice’s Kentuckians in Gray is paired with Josie Underwood’s Civil War Diary, edited by Nancy Baird; John Schmutz’s The Battle of the Crater: a Complete History with Richard Slotkin’s No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864; and Invisible Hero: Patrick R. Cleburne by Bruce Stewart with 1997′s Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne & the Civil War by Craig Symonds.

Review: The Maps of First Bull Run

26 06 2009

mapsLast week I received a copy of The Maps of First Bull Run, by Brad Gottfried.  In the interest of full disclosure I must say that I did review the manuscript and maps for the Bull Run portion of the book, so I was involved to some small degree in the bookmaking process.  I’ll leave the details of my personal involvement at that for now, and save my thoughts on that for a separate post.

This second in Savas Beatie’s series of campaign map studies follows the format of its predecessor The Maps of Gettysburg, also by Gottfried, with three noticeable differences.  First, it is a much slimmer volume, which is understandable due to the relative brevity of the campaign and battle and the fewer troops involved.  Second, The Maps of First Bull Run also includes maps of the skirmish at Lewinsville, VA on 9/11/1861 and the Battle of Ball’s Bluff on 10/21/1861.  Third, unlike the Gettysburg maps, these are in full color.

There are 37 maps for the Bull Run portion of the book (another 15 for the remainder – that portion of the manuscript was reveiwed by friend Jim Morgan, author of the definitive study of Ball’s Bluff, A Little Short of Boats), from the positions of the armies in June through the Union retreat to Washington ending July 22.  The maps are clean and clear, which is good from the standpoint that they help the reader visualize the “bigger picture”.  Each map is accompanied by one full facing page of text.  Notes are at the end of the book, arranged by map.  I prefer footnotes at the bottom of the page, but I understand why endnotes were necessary in this case due to the constraints attending the two page layout for each map and text. 

Other than some minor quibbles not worth mentioning, I’m pleased with the text.  Gottfried considered all the standard primary sources as well as soldier accounts and modern scholarship of folks like Ethan Rafuse and John Hennessy.  No two accounts of the fighting on Henry House Hill are ever going to agree in every detail, but Gottfried’s interpretation of events is plausible and well supported.

The maps are all oriented vertically north to south.  This limited the amount of west to east info that could be accurately depicted, and gives the impression of a more limited area of operations on the day of the battle – the Confederate line extended along that axis from Stone Bridge to Union Mills.  For the action on Henry House Hill, I think the orientation of the maps and the need to depict some pretty confusing action resulted in a misrepesentation of the relative proximity of the Union and Confederate artillery (hat tip to Drew for pointing this out – I completely missed it when I reviewed the maps).  I agree that on a few of the maps they are too close together.  Also, there are no topographical (elevation) lines on the maps.  As a map lover, this is a bit of a bummer to me.  But the stength of this book is the clear - if general - tactical picture it provides.  A visit to the field – the whole field – reveals that it’s more than just four hills or ridges (Matthews, Henry House, Dogan and Chinn), but is dotted with cuts and defiles.  The depiction of all these changes in elevation would possibly have “busied” the maps to the extent that they would have failed in their purpose.

All-in-all, this study provides the best visual impression of the battle I’ve seen.  Ed Bearss’s map study is not written in a narrative format, and the few maps use the same base map and are very crowded and confusing.  John Hennessy’s book uses clearer, simpler maps, but again they’re few in number.  The reader will find more detail in those two Howard campaign series books, but in my opinion will come away with a better understanding of the battle with Gottfried’s work.  If such were not the case, there would have been no point to it.

The Maps of First Bull Run should have a place on the shelves of Civil War students of all levels.  Hopefully it will create more interest in the battle, not just among newcomers, but with the scores of long time students who may have dismissed the battle as a confused meeting between inexperienced armies of little interest tactically.  If it spurs them to dig more deeply into the details, and perhaps even produce micro-studies, all the better.  I’ll keep my copy close at hand when I’m reading and writing about the battle, and when the paperback edition comes out, I’ll have it with me when I visit the battlefield.

The New Civil War Handbook

2 06 2009

The first book on the Civil War Mark Hughes ever purchased, at the ripe old age of ten, was William Price’s  Civil War New-CWHOld-CWHHandbook.  It must have made quite an impression, because nearly 50 years after that classic was first published Hughes – who has authored works on the final resting places of prominent Civil War veterans – offers The New Civil War Handbook as Price “updated and expanded for a 21st century audience”.

The slim (158 page) paperback is divided into four sections: Facts (including famous quotes, little known facts, notable personalities, and how armies were structured); Images (73 pages of the usual categories, with the notable additions of Women, African Americans, Native Americans, and Reconstruction); Figures (tables of statistics including strengths, losses, prisoners, wounds); and Miscellany (African and Native Americans in the war, glossary of terms, suggested bibliography, points of interest – including website addresses for those sites).

Also included in the Miscellany section is a listing of web resources, with some great suggestions of websites prospective and established enthusiasts should visit.  The last page lists eight blogs specializing in various aspects of the war.  I was pleasantly surprised to see Bull Runnings on the list, right at the top of the page (thanks, Guy who Wrote the Alphabet!).  Hughes describes it as A massive and simply outstanding site dedicated to all things related to the First Battle of Bull Run.  Thanks, Mark!  (No, I don’t know Mr. Hughes and as far as I know have never corresponded with him).

Mr. Hughes states in the intro that The New Civil War Handbook is meant to appeal to all levels, from serious researchers to novices.  While I can see tossing it in your pack for a day in the field (who wants to lug Livermore, Phisterer, Fox and Dyer around on a hot day?), I think it will be most useful to younger readers and those  just starting out in their studies.  And that’s not a bad thing at all.

America’s Civil War July 2009

8 05 2009

ACW July 2009This issue features a couple of fellow bloggers.  John Hoptak has an article (p. 54) on Colonel Andrew Jackson Grigsby of the 27th VA, who was passed over for command of the Stonewall Brigade by General Jackson, in favor of his staffer Frank Paxton, a major.  Was this the result of Grigsby’s support of Richard Garnett in the wake of the Battle of Kernstown and Garnett’s humiliation at the hands of Jackson?

Robert Moore gets some good pub, too.  Most prominently, Cenantua’s Blog is the subject of this issue’s Web Watch (p.66), which dubs Robert as “the hardest-blogging blogger in the Civil War blogosphere”, and with about six separate blogs to his credit it’s hard to argue with that.  Robert’s Southern Unionists Chronicles also gets a plug in my Smeltzer’s Six-Pack column on page 70.  This may require some explanation.

Smeltzer’s Six-Pack, as I think I’ve described before, is meant to give potential book buyers an idea of a book’s content and help them decide if it is indeed something they are interested in.  These “reviews” are not critical, beyond giving an indication – via a one to four can rating system – of whether or not it is something that appeals to me.  (By the way, the reason for a four can rating system in a column titled Six-Pack has something to do with layout space and graphics.)  I have one page to provide sketches of six books.  That doesn’t leave a whole lot of words for each book, and I think every one of the sketches so far has been cut from what I submitted.  It’s the cold, hard facts of words and defined space, unlike the web.  While I pride myself on literary economy, clearly I have a ways to go in my quest for Hemingway-esque thrift.  So, sometimes the tone of a sketch loses something in the editing process.  In the case of the sketch of Tom C. McKenney’s Jack Hinson’s One-Man War, what got lost was my reason for referencing Robert’s blog.  One of the central elements of McKenney’s book is an incident that led to Jack Hinson turning from neutral observer (think Jimmy Stewart in Shenandoah) to revenge-seeking Confederate sniper.  The section of the book that covers the killing and mutilation of Hinson’s sons by Union soldiers is lightly footnoted, and relies heavily on personal interviews and local lore.  My point was that, while this is something that in general concerns me, in the case of these incidents a dearth of formal documentation is not uncommon, as evidenced by some of the examples detailed on Robert’s site.

Here are the pairs of books that made up this issue’s Six-Pack:

Fitz-John Porter, Scapegoat of Second Manassas, Donald R. Jermann, and Injustice on Trial, Curt Anders

Jack Hinson’s One-Man War, Tom C. McKenney, and Berry Benson’s Civil War Book, Susan Williams Benson (ed.)

Stealing Lincoln’s Body (paperback), Thomas J. Craughwell, and Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell

There’s other good stuff in this issue (topics include Dan Sickles, Stephen Douglas, Lincoln and the Sioux, and Witness Trees), so head on out to your local newsstand if you don’t already subscribe.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War

21 03 2009

pigIn the current issue of America’s Civil War magazine, I gave a rating of one-half can (not one full can, as has been reported) to H. W. Crocker III’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War.  At least one blogger didn’t like the review (thanks for taking the time to prove my point about the EP thing.  By the way, the claim that the EP did not free a single slave is repeated on page 39, and in fact is not refuted anywhere in the book’s text so far as I could see.) 

My Six-Pack reviews are brief, informational reviews, 100-150 words for each book.  They are meant to give the reader an idea of whether or not the book in question is one they might be interested in reading.  The folks at the magazine asked me to provide some indication of whether or not I think the book is worth my time (the actual graphics were their idea).  At the same time, I try to give enough info to let the reader know if, regardless of my rating, the book is worth their time.  If any one of the six reviews in this column did that, it was the PIG book.  Whatever flavor tea you prefer, you should be able to tell from the review whether you want this book in your cup.

Book covers and blurbs are meant to attract readers, as well as to give them an idea of what they can expect to find between them.  The bullets on the front cover of this book do a fantastic job in both cases – I found them consistent with the content:

You think you know about the Civil War, but did you know:

  • That secession was legal
  • That the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave
  • That the South had the moral high ground in the war (and the editorial support of the Vatican’s own newspaper)
  • That Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis expected slavery to fade away naturally
  • That if the South had won, we might be able to enjoy holidays in the sunny Southern state of Cuba

What’s truly wonderful though are the praise quotes on the back cover (I don’t know who any of these people are, but my favorite is the one from Hays -  I’m not sure how the fairly neutral one at the end snuck in):

You can’t understand America until you understand the War of Northern Aggression, and Mr. Crocker tells the story in such a delightful, politically incorrect way that you can’t wait to get to the end of his book to see whether Marse Robert actually pulls out a stunning upset.  Great Scholarship, great story-telling, and great fun.

—Wesley Pruden, editor emeritus of the Washington Times and political columnist

In short order, Harry Crocker has lifted the modern veil of misinformation surrounding the major actors in the War.  In the process, he has rescued the character of Robert E. Lee and shown Union heroes such as Grant, Sherman, and Lincoln to be more human, complex, and in some cases loathsome than contemporary history texts suggest.  The South becomes more admirable and the North more contemptible.  Here is the war, warts and all, for everyone to see.

—Brion McClanahan, Ph.D. in American History, University of South Carolina

The only way this idiosyncratic take on the wa-wuh could be any better is if we’d won.  Even Harry Crocker couldn’t do that, but he has written a witty book full of history and insight.  If I’d ever gotten around to joining the United Daughters of the Confederacy, I bet my chapter would thank him.  Yankees will enjoy it too.

—Charlotte Hays, Southern gossip columnist and co-author (among other books) of Being Dead is No Excuse, The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral

I had supposed it wasn’t possible these days to talk reasonably, as well as informatively, about our great national cataclysm, the Civil War.  H. W. Crocker III brings off that extraordinary feat with style, verve, and wit.  Give that gentleman a medal for gallantry and public service.

—William Murchison, nationally syndicated columnist

OK, well there you have it.  I stand by my informational review.  The book isn’t necessarily chock full of misinformation.  But it has an agenda, for sure, and a slant, for sure.  It is bent on increasing the prestige of the Confederacy and its supporters, and on tearing down the Union cause and its proponents.  But it’s not like the author was acting surreptitiously – he is quite up front about it.  Such an agenda requires selectivity and nuance.

Bottom line – if this review pissed you off, buy this book.  It’s right up your alley.  I also recommend to you anything by James & Walter Kennedy or Thomas DiLorenzo.  And of course the original Confederate Catechism.

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America’s Civil War May 2009

27 02 2009

I received my complimentary copies today.  This is the first issue using new graphics with my Six-Pack column.   After reading my not-so-glowing revue of a book titled The Politically Incorrect Guide (PIG) to the Civil War, some folks may want my head on a platter.  I’m less than eager to comply with that, but here’s the next best thing:


OK, now, I know some of you are saying, “Hey Har, how do you expect anyone to take you seriously when you’ve got your mug plastered (or is that a plastered mug?) on what appears to be a beer can, and bunches of tiny beer cans too?”  All I can say is “Lighten up, Francis.”   And by the way, if you’re ticked off with the PIG review, I suggest you buy the book – it’s probably right up your alley.


26 01 2009

OK, a couple of things.  For one, I have another very long letter from T. J. Goree saved in my drafts.  Problem is, for some reason my visual editor is making a whole bunch of words run together every time I hit spell check or save.  I sent WordPress an email, but they haven’t responded, and I want to leave it there so they can see what I’m talking about.  Every time I have a problem it’s the first time they’ve seen it, despite the fact that there are millions of WordPress blogs.

Also, I’ve finished proofing a manuscript for an upcoming book on First Bull Run.  It was quite a learning experience on several levels, and I’m thankful to the publisher and author for the opportunity to contribute to the project.

I’ve determined that my recent purchase of the new two volume Lincoln biography by Michael Burlingame will be my last Lincoln purchase for a long while, unless I find something I just can’t pass up.  I’m creeping up on 200 AL books (if I haven’t topped it already), and that’s just inexcusable.

I’m still creeping along with the McDougall book Throes of Democracy.  It’s pretty good, but there’s a lot of stuff in there so it’s taking me awhile (I’m around 275 pages in with 335 to go).  After that, I think I’m going to do Vol. II of Freehling’s The Road to Disunion and then Burton’s The Age of Lincoln.  I need a better understanding of antebellum America.  I may throw some lighter reading in there as well.  All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.    I’m thinking of Heroes & Cowards – it may dovetail with a post I’m working on concerning Southern criticism of the character of Southern men.

My Six-Pack column for May’s America’s Civil War has been submitted, and I’ve seen a draft of the layout including the new graphics.  Interesting.

There is a possibility that I may be doing a tour of the First Bull Run battlefield this summer.  While I’ve participated in and even organized multi-day tours before, I’ve never actually conducted one.  I have turned down requests to do them, but I think now it’s time to bite the bullet if I get the chance.

Oh yeah: I’m all done posting the Bull Run OR’s from the Supplement.  Thanks again to Jonathan Soffe for sending those to me.  I wonder how long I should wait before asking him if he can send me the correspondence?

Set to be the Bad Guy

22 01 2009

Well, now I’ve done it.  I sent my Six-Pack reviews (so far, that’s the title for the column formerly known as Pick Six) to my editor yesterday.  We have a new rating system in keeping with the informal nature of the column.  Two of the books were interesting to review, four were fun, and one was torture.  For that one review, I’m sure I’m going to pay.  I suppose I’ll have to get used to being called a South-bashing Yankee, ’cause with some people, yer either fer ‘em or agin ‘em.

While on the topic of reviews, I sent an email to Joseph Glatthaar (author of the book I discussed here and here)  the other day, and he was kind enough to respond helpfully.  He went above and beyond in providing answers to my questions, and also took time to read my blog posts about his book and to comment.  In response to my comments regarding a claim in General Lee’s Army that the Confederates defeated a larger army at First Bull Run, he pointed out that in another part of the book he stated that such was not the case, and that the passage stating the opposite was an oversight.  As I gain more experience with the book publishing process, I better understand how such things can happen.  Thanks for the time and the interest, Dr. Glatthaar.


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