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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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.








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