Previews: New from Savas Beatie

10 02 2017

Bear with me – I’m spinning my wheels as fast as I can. I have two new, well, maybe newish, releases from Savas Beatie to which I must hip you all.

nosucharmy_lrgFirst is a new edition of Mark A. Smith’s and Wade Sokolosky’s “No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar:” Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign from Fayetteville to Averasboro, March 1865. This one was originally published by Ironclad back in 2005, not too long after I had the pleasure of touring the area with the authors. Important differences between the new edition and the old, in addition to the move from paperback to hardcover: nineteen all new Hal Jesperson maps (replacing the thirteen by Mark Smith); new soldier photographs, some reproduced for the first time; and inclusion of a letter detailing the damage done to the Fayetteville Arsenal.

Also new is a booklet by David Hirsch and Dan Van Haften, 51k6hsdbopl-_sy348_bo1204203200_authors of Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason, who concentrate in a nice, brief presentation the construction of the 16th President’s most famous speech in The Ultimate Guide to the Gettysburg Address. Using geographic diagrams the authors “deconstruct the speech into its basic elements and demonstrate how the scientific method is basic to the structure of the Gettysburg Address.”





Preview: Hutchison, “Artifacts of the Battle of Little Big Horn”

18 12 2016

517bvmwsael-_sx375_bo1204203200_I know this is not a Civil War book, per se. But a good friend has invited me on a week-long July trip to Indian War sites including the Big Kahuna, Little Big Horn, and if my brother doesn’t wuss out, I think I’ll be going. Around the same time I got the invitation, I received an inquiry from the publisher of Will Hutchison’s Artifacts of the Battle of Little Big Horn: Custer, the 7th Cavalry & the Lakota and Cheyenne Warriors. It’s fate, Kismet, the stars aligning. Or something.

This is a very attractive book. Glossy pages, full color photos, a narrative portion including descriptions of the ephemera carried into the field by members of Custer’s expedition, and notes on each and every item pictured. I’m no expert by any means – I’ve read two books on Little Big Horn, the non-linear, unreadable (for me) Son of the Morning Star, and the more recent A Terrible Glory. I plan to bulk up on that in 2017, and Artifacts seems like a good place to start. I checked with someone who IS something of a LBH expert, and he tells me that, while few of the items included are new and most have been published elsewhere, this book represents the largest collection of artifact images presented in a single volume.

How can I convey to you the many and varied types of artifacts you’ll find inside? I think one item will do – though it’s not the same image as is in the book. This image of George Custer’s jock strap (technically, his Rawson’s Patent Elastic Self-Adjusting U. S. Army Suspensory Bandage C-7A Size 5) can be found here.

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The image in Artifacts is much better, not such a jumbled mess, and appears on the same page as an image of Custer’s apparently blood-stained socks.

The point is, this book is a feast for the eyes not only for Custer and LBH buffs, but for pretty much anyone who likes viewing, and learning about, old stuff owned and handled by legendary figures. If that sounds like you, check out Artifacts of the Battle of Little Bighorn.





Notes on “Early Morning of War” – Part 2

9 12 2016

51gm8atoyol-_sx329_bo1204203200_I know, it’s been eight months since Part 1 of this series. Life goes on. To recap, here’s how this works: as I read Edward Longacre’s study of the First Battle of Bull Run, The Early Morning of War, I put little Post-Its where I saw something with which I agreed or disagreed, or which I didn’t know, or which I did know and was really glad to see; essentially, anything that made me say “hmm…” So I’ll go through the book and cover in these updates where I put the Post-It and why. Some of these will be nit-picky for sure. Some of them will be issues that can’t have a right or wrong position. Some of them are, I think, cut and dry. So, here we go:

Chapter 1: The Great Creole and the Obscure Ohioan

The biographical sketch of McDowell is pretty good here, more in-depth than you’ll find pretty much anywhere else. It touches on McDowell’s familial political connections, his broad education, experiences as a staff officer, alcohol abstention, and generally favorable impression upon military and political figures. This all contributes to making his ultimate appointment to command of an army more understandable and less serendipitous. I would have preferred a little more on McDowell’s actual rank (while a brevetted major, his actual rank prior to appointment as a full Brigadier General U. S. A. was as First Lieutenant) affected his relationship with other officers and his boss, Winfield Scott.

This chapter (p. 29) also gives the first glimpses into McDowell’s planning process, primarily with very preliminary plans he presented to his benefactor, Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, in May, 1861. These plans far exceeded McDowell’s areas of influence, and I think should not be given too much weight in examining the plans he would later develop, under changed circumstances, for moving on Manassas. It seems to me some of the assumptions and conditions in these earlier, larger plans get conflated by analysts into McDowell’s later, more narrow plans.

The background provided on Beauregard in this chapter is pretty standard, with a little more discussion of his pre-war politics than one normally finds in general sketches. One surprise here is a description of Beauregard’s character (p. 22) provided by South Carolina Governor Pickens in a 7/7/1861 letter to fellow South Carolinian Milledge Luke Bonahm, whom Bory had succeeded in command of the Bull Run line. In that letter, which may have been written in part as salve for the wounded pride of the recipient, Beauregard is described  in terms usually applied to his comrade Joe Johnston (“His reputation is so high that he fears to risk it”).

Also in this chapter is a brief recap of General Scott’s “offering” of “command” of “the” Union army to Robert E. Lee which left me as dissatisfied as most accounts of the meeting.

Check back here often for the next installment. I’m going to make an effort to put up a couple chapters per month from here on out.

Part 1





Projecting

5 12 2016

I’m getting around to outlining my thoughts on Irvin McDowell’s plan for the campaign on Manassas. If you’ve been following along, you know that I am firmly of the opinion that McDowell’s intentions and expectations for the campaign have been grossly misrepresented over the years, with resulting, understandable effects on the analysis of the failure of his plans (keeping in mind that reasons for the failure of plans and reasons for defeat are two very, very different things). While I think I’m no longer completely alone in that opinion, and may never have been, I’m still pretty sure I’m in a very small minority.

anteffcoverIn the meantime, I’m reading a very interesting book by Bradley Graham, The Antietam Effect. I’ve heard rumblings about this book over the past few years (self published in 2012), but never saw it until stumbling over it in the Fredericksburg Battlefield visitor’s center. This is a collection of essays dealing with various topics of the campaign. It’s wide-ranging, even eclectic. The titles listed in the footnotes may leave you scratching your head at first glance but, trust me, there’s a point to everything (and yes, you have to read the notes). I don’t necessarily agree with all the author’s conclusions, but I love his approach and find it very similar to my own, on a basic level.

One passage I found particularly intriguing, and applicable with some bending to my own experience with the historiography of First Bull Run, can be found on page 175:

To make their views more compelling, some authors enlist the unspoken opinions of key players…They engage in a species of psychological projection – projecting their own internalized impressions onto important historical characters. This cognitive bias tends to shape analysis, and good scholarship devolves into advocacy for the favored view, and the ascription of the author’s opinions onto those who did not espouse them.

It seems to me that, when it comes to McDowell’s intentions and expectations, authors have developed impressions of what they must have been or should have been, and in the absence of confirming evidence projected those impressions as being those of the man himself. The strange thing to me is how consistently this has been done over the years, so that those impressions have become generally accepted. When the legend becomes fact…





Review: Arwen Bicknell, “Justice and Vengeance”

25 11 2016

justice_and_vengeance_with_coinI received Justice and Vengeance: Scandal, Honor, and Murder in 1872 Virginia from author Arwen Bicknell a while back, and intended on writing a brief preview. However, I was intrigued enough by the very limited details provided on the back cover (including a good blurb from John Hennessy) and website to read the whole thing. I don’t usually do this, but want to get the synopsis from Amazon out of the way so I can discuss the cooler parts of this book:

In Justice and Vengeance, Arwen Bicknell offers the first full account of the events leading up to the shooting of James Clark by Lucien Fewell and the sensational, headline-grabbing murder trial that followed. Set against the backdrop of Reconstruction, tumultuous Virginia politics, and the presidential election of 1872 featuring Ulysses Grant, Horace Greeley, and protofeminist Victoria Woodhull, the first female presidential candidate, Bicknell paints a vivid picture of the evolving South as she traces the families and fortunes of Lucien Fewell, a hellraiser with a passion for drink and for abusing Yankees and scalawags, and James Clark, a rising legal and political star with a wife, a daughter, and a baby on the way.

A marvelous work of historical re-creation, Justice and Vengeance is sure to fascinate anyone interested in crime drama, the Civil War and its aftermath, and the history of Virginia and the politics of the American South.

OK, so why would anyone interested in the First Battle of Bull Run be interested in this 51vvmjvwiel-_sx311_bo1204203200_work, concerning a murder and trial which occur a decade after the battle? First of all, the bulk of the story takes place in the general Manassas vicinity, and particularly in Brentsville, and in the Brentsville jail house which you can visit today. Second, two fairly prominent Confederate participants in First Bull Run, Eppa Hunton of the 8th Virginia Infantry and Billy Payne of the Black Horse Troop, play very prominent roles as attorneys for the defense of the accused, Confederate veteran Lucien Fewell, who openly shot and mortally wounded Confederate veteran James Clark. Former Virginia governor Henry Wise assisted the prosecution.

But what is particularly fun is how the author pulls strings, albeit sometimes tenuously connected, to weave a wide ranging tapestry of the times in which these local events took place. It’s difficult to describe, which I imagine is why I found available summaries so dissatisfying.

Regardless, I recommend you give this book a tumble, if post-war politics, gender roles, legal proceedings, and general roller-coasterly good times flip your switch.





Preview: Powell, “The Chickamauga Campaign: Barren Victory”

24 09 2016

Layout 1The third and final volume of David A. Powell’s history of The Chickamauga Campaign – Barren Victory: The Retreat into Chattanooga, the Confederate Pursuit, and the Aftermath of Battle, September 21 to October 20, 1863, has been released by publisher Savas Beatie. (You can find my notes on the first two volumes here and here.)

This completes the most thorough history of the campaign to date. Volume III is a mixed bag, wrapping up the first two volumes and providing meat and potatoes statistics and research tidbits that all footnote readers will enjoy. The narrative portion of the book picks up on the morning of September 21, with both armies dealing with the immediate effects of defeat and victory. Three chapters follow both armies to the environs of Chattanooga. Two chapters discuss the costs and consequences of the campaign, and appendices deal with rear guard cavalry action in The Last Clash at Chickamauga and the relationship between William Rosecrans, James Garfield, and Charles Dana.

Then the fun begins. In a manner reminiscent of Joseph L. Harsh’s wonderful Sounding the Shallows, Powell offers the reader insight into both the numbers of the thing and the researching and writing process itself. Five appendices include: Union Order of Battle; Union Losses; Confederate Strength with Sources and Methodology (arranged in Order of Battle format); Confederate Losses (Powell provides the most detailed and complete look at Confederate numbers and losses to be found); and a Return for Polk’s Corps for October 22, 1863.

These are followed by a magnificent 85 page (!) bibliography. Powell’s extensive use of newspaper accounts from all points of the compass is impressively displayed. The different contemporary newspapers from which he drew number approximately 150!

The whole book is complimented with bottom of the page, detailed footnotes (with the exception of the Union OOB through Confederate Losses appendices which employ end-notes for purposes of style).

This is a great capstone to Powell’s take on the Chickamauga campaign (and let’s not forget his Campaign Atlas and his iconoclastic look at Confederate cavalry during this time, Failure in the Saddle). Don’t miss it.





Preview – Biggs, “They Fought for the Union”

6 09 2016

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They Fought for the Union, by Jeffrey R. Biggs, is a history of the First Delaware Volunteers in the Army of the Potomac. In this video, the author discusses the regiment and his reasons for writing the book:

As the author points out, the 1st Delaware had a knack, from Antietam to Fredericksburg to Gettysburg, of winding up in some pretty hot battlefield spots. As Mr. Biggs has already hipped us to their story, I’ll give you the lowdown on the book itself.

You get 447 pp of narrative in paperback for $19.99 from Amazon. These include 26 maps and 20 pages of photos and illustrations. You also get a full index, bibliography, and end-notes. The bibliography consists of a slew of published works, but also lists nine newspapers and eight manuscript sources, which are cited in the notes.

I’ve long been intrigued by the frequency with which this regiment turned up in what could be argued to be the wrong place at the wrong time – now I have a chance to learn a bit more. This is the first in-depth look at the unit in 130 years (see original regimental by William Seville here). Check out the author’s website here.

I also must thank the author for answering that age-old question famously posed by Rev. Jim Ignatowski – Delawareans or Delawarites? Mr. Biggs describes himself as a life-long Delawarean. That’s a load off my mind.