“I Cannot Live without Books”

3 04 2007

Library

The quote is attributed to Thomas Jefferson in an 1815 letter to John Adams.  Like most Jefferson quotes it’s taken a little out of context.  In the rest of the sentence TJ clarifies that he could certainly live with fewer books, “where amusement, and not use, is the only future object”.  In fact, Jefferson sold over 6,000 volumes of his personal collection to restock the recently destroyed Library of Congress.

Civil War enthusiasts are notorious bibliophiles, and I’m no exception.  I have just short of 1,600 Civil War titles in my library, not counting magazines and journals.  To some of you that may sound like a lot, but to others not.  Since I began to concentrate on the outbreak of the war in general and Bull Run in particular, I’ve noticed that I don’t buy nearly so many books.  Thank God for a little focus.

The fact is I have more unread books right now than I could ever possibly read.  Of course, I have no intention of reading many of them – cover to cover, that is.  Take the ORs for instance (War of the Rebellion, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, ORs for short).  I have them on CD.  I have them on DVD.  They are available for free from several sources online.  Yet I also have about 100 volumes on my shelves.  Why?  I have no idea.  I just like books.  I like to hold them in my hands and flip through them and see where they take me.  I like to read something in a blog post or on a discussion group and then yank a book off my shelves to find an answer or get more detail.  Not that I don’t take advantage of the ever growing number of books available for free downloading online.  I do.  But I have a real hard time actually reading them online.  I print out lots of pages, and have many books and parts of books in this format in plastic binders (but I don’t count those as part of my library – that would be cheating).

Lately I’ve gotten into buying reference works.  I have the massive single volume edition of Dyer’s Compendium, Heitman’s Historical Register and Dictionary of the U.S. Army, Fox’s Regimental Losses, Lincoln Day by Day, and AL’s Collected Works.  All of these are available free online.  It seems to me that if a reference book is not available for free downloading online, it will be shortly after I buy it.  The Reports of the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War are available, but if I find the volume I need (the second volume, which includes Bull Run) at a good price, I know I won’t be able to resist.  I buy 90% of my books second hand, either at one of four used book stores I haunt or on Ebay, though I’m finding it harder and harder to get really good deals on the latter.  I also buy from Amazon’s market place, which has good deals on used and remaindered books.  And last year I bought the four volumes of Dornbusch’s Military Bibliography of the Civil War at the Mansfield, OH show.  Morningside had a table there, and the price was right.

I made some pretty good buys (I think) last week, and will share them with you now.

J. Willard Brown, The Signal Corps in the War of the Rebellion.  It’s a Butternut and Blue reprint of the 1896 edition that I picked up for $15 (using a 50% off coupon).  Jim McLean at Butternut and Blue should be pleased that Half Price Books in Pittsburgh put a bunch of recently purchased B&B books in their collectible section.  A nice reflection on the quality of his books.

Jesse Bowman Young’s The Battle of Gettysburg.  A reprint of the 1913 edition that can be found online, but it only cost me eight bucks.  Sadly, I have about 125 books on the Gettysburg Campaign.  Admitting that is a big step in the right direction, I think.  I hope.

Nicholas Lemann’s Redemption, The Last Battle of the Civil War, which just came out in 2006.  Eight bucks.

Another B&B reprint, Historical Sketch of the Nottoway Grays by Richard Irbay.  This is the story of Company G of the 18th VA.  It includes an interesting account of the treatment of wounded Federals at First Bull Run.  I’m finding that a lot of the stories of atrocities there which are often dismissed as myth have their bases in cold hard fact.  Also more confusion caused by red pants.  Twelve dollars.

An Easton Press edition of Fuller & Steuart’s Firearms of the Confederacy which I couldn’t pass up for $15.

Civil War Naval Chronology, 1861-1865, compiled by the Naval History Division of the Navy Department and printed by the GPO.  This is the single volume 1971 edition of the six volumes printed during the Centennial (thanks to friend David Langbart for filling me in on the history).  A really cool reference.  It includes chronologies for each year of the war, highlighting naval events.  It also has twelve appendices, including naval sheet music and the journal of a US Marine.  I got it for all of $19.

I also found a couple of modern biographies of prominent Bull Runners Edward Porter Alexander and John Imboden for six and eight dollars, respectively.

The last I’ll mention are five of the nine volumes of The Official Army Register.  Most of these are available online, but I think they are the individual years rather than the four year compilations reprinted by Ron R. Van Sickle Military Books in 1987.  I got them for $3.98 each.  I have found the rest of these on Bookfinder, for about $30-$40 per volume.  These list the officers and their promotions, resignations, dismissals and deaths for each regiment mustered into Federal service.  Their use is a little limited for my purposes though, because most ninety day units are not included.  Like the Massachusetts Military History Society volumes (I have six out of fifteen), I’ll be keeping an eye out for the ones I’m missing.

I like books.  I like ‘em a whole lot.  How about you?

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13 responses

3 04 2007
sulz

i love me books too, though they’re comparably more superficial than your genre. ;) i like reading children’s lit, chick lit and some general fiction. i used to buy books so indiscriminately when i was a young kid, that one day my mother blew up and whacked me for it!

http://sulz.daria.be

3 04 2007
Mike Peters

Harry:

Great post! I’m coming up on 1000 titles. Should hit the majic mark sometime around the Mansfield show. And if you’re interested, I’m looking for a sponsor. “Hello I’m Mike & I’m a CW bibliophile.”

Mike

3 04 2007
Eric Wittenberg

Harry,

I can’t, either. I have something close to 2000 Civil War books, including a complete set of the OR’s and most of the OR Supplements. Our house is completely full of books. Between Susan and me, we have thousands of them, and there is a bookcase ful in every room of the house but the kitchen and the dining room. There probably would be one in the dining room, but there’s just not room with the table in there.

We’re out of space, and the piles are beginning to accumulate in my office.

Eric

3 04 2007
Steve Basic

Harry,

Don’t have an accurate count here of just how many I have, but they are all over the place in the house, and like you, I know I will not get to read them all, but am going to try to put a dent into as many I have here before my time on Earth is done. :)

Regards from the Garden State,

Steve

4 04 2007
Dave Powell

Harry,

Focus does help. A lot. I have something like 2000k ACW books, and another 2000 general fiction, military history, (WWII East Front and Napoleonics are big collections) but I have greatly slowed the book-buying pace.

Why? Chickamauga. Now my greatest thrill does not come from finding books, but finding new archival accounts of the battle. So I go to Libraries, sit in reading rooms, and look at old papers. When I find something cool I get a little dizzy. If I hear about a source in a bibliography, I get pretty obsessive about tracking it down.

Recently I found a 20+ page description of the fight by an Lt in the 84th Indiana. Full of detail, brutally honest (sick colonel, cowardly major) and never used, as far as I can tell.

This means that while I buy many fewer books a year, now, I have about 8 linear feet of binders full of xeroxes of these things. As you get deeper into Bull Run, you will see what I mean, if you are not already there. Have you started on letters home int he newspapers, yet?

Dave Powell

4 04 2007
Mike

Harry,

You beat my collection hands down. There is definitely something about books though. Electronic versions are ok, but I have never been a able to sit down and read something online. I usually end up printing it out. There is just something about paper!

@Eric… my wife and I have been talking about getting rid of our dining room furniture. It’s old and we never really use the room. So out will go the furniture and in comes some bookshelves, reading chair and such. A lot of wall space there … :-)

Thanks for the great post. And kudos on the frugality of the purchases.

Mike

4 04 2007
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks to everyone for the response to this post. It’s been a very pleasant surprise.

Dave:

I haven’t had much time lately for off-line research, but one area I hope to really dig into is newspaper accounts. And there are lots of them. Mike Peters has been forwarding me a number of transcriptions from New York state papers. All of these accounts I’ve been looking at are remarkable in the uniformity of their misinformation!

I’m not very organized with respect to the papers. I have lots of PDF files, but can’t figure out how to print them in an enlarged format so I can read them. I’m sure it’s a simple Acrobat function. Also, I’m a little distrustful of transcriptions – I want to see a picture of the paper itself.

One project I’m considering is putting together all the National Tribune articles that pertain to BR1, kind of like what Sauers did with Gettysburg. Maybe combine it with accounts from the SHSP (I have all those in digital) and Confederate Veteran. Of course, I may just do that as part of the website that still is no closer to completion.

Mike K: I’ve been trying to convince my wife to do the same thing with our living room.

Mike P: It’s not books in general that’s a problem, it’s Gettysburg books. No matter how many Gettysburg books most of us have, it’s probably way too many! BTW, I won’t be at Mansfield this year – I’m making a trip to Carlisle and Antietam at that time.

Eric: At least you’re “allowed” to spread your books thoughout the house. Mine are limited to my home office. I’ve got one 8 foot section above the cases along one wall left, and I’ll be putting that shelf up this weekend. And I’ll be partially blocking the cold air return.

Steve: Dents are about the most we can hope for!

4 04 2007
Eric Wittenberg

Harry,

Fortunately, Susan loves books as much as I do. It’s the saving grace.

Eric

5 04 2007
Dave Powell

Harry,

newspapers: First, concentrate on soldier accounts. Their content will likely contain a good deal of misinformation about stuff outside their own observation. What they observe, however, (accounts of their own unit’s action, etc) is pretty solid, IMO. The earlier the battle, the more accounts per capita, as everyone scrambles to tell the home folks what thier ‘first battle’ is like.

Correspondent accounts are not so hot, IMO. There are a few I rely on, but for the most part, gimme the soldier accounts.

I eventually want to take all of the soldier accounts, organize them by brigade, juxtapose Union and Confederate accounts where they fought against each other, and publish that. Way down on the list, but I think it would be very interesting. However, the big problem right now is lack of Reb accounts vis a vis the Federal ones.

A Nat Tribune collection would be good, too, but I find the NT to be a little too heavy on the “old soldier” story kind of distortion after the fact. Too much romance bleeding into some of those accounts.

The soldier accounts have an immediacy that is really moving, IMO.

If I had a blog, see, I could publish one letter a week.:) Of course, right now, I have hardcopy prints of the microfilm, so that means a lot of transcribing. I have not had much luck with OCR scanning of these things – image quality old newspapers on Microfilm is not exactly first rate.

5 04 2007
Mike Peters

Harry:

Yeah, I’m real selective when it comes to Gettysburg books. The last one I got was Eric & JD’s groundbreaking work on JEB’s ride. Bradley Gottfried’s new map book looks compelling, especially to one who doesn’t own Imhoof’s Day 2 work. Also might hunt for the Gettysburg portion of the OR while at Mansfield.

Mike

22 07 2007
Terry

Harry, have you seen the current CEO-as-reader story in the NYT? None of us need to feel badly about our Civil War proclivities!

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/21/business/21libraries.html?em&ex=1185249600&en=91c86ccdf44acc31&ei=5087

I’m making my start at reviews here:

http://wonderworldofbooks.blogspot.com/

13 06 2012
Ed Halloran

Harry,
I have been doing research on Florence Nightingale’s influence on Union disease mortality and have long used a Xeroxed version of a British Military Reform report that had been microfilmed many years ago. I obtained an original copy from a rare book dealer and realized the difference between books and the information they contain. Size, shape, clarity, organization and significance became much more apparent to me after reading the work in its original form. Content was the same but pagination, charts, diagrams and the like were frustratingly useless in the copied version. ED

13 06 2012
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks Ed – I’m with you.

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