Preview: Ayers, “The Thin Light of Freedom”

1 12 2017

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The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America is Edward Ayers’s follow-up or companion to 2003’s In the Presence of Mine Enemies. Both works benefit from and are in part a product of Ayers’s groundbreaking Valley of the Shadow project (watch a video presentation of it here).

The Thin Light of Freedom follows the story of the people of The Great Valley, basically that area of Virginia and Pennsylvania comprising the Shenandoah and Cumberland valleys, through the latter stages of the Civil War and Reconstruction to Virginia’s return to statehood in 1870.

The focus here is not just on military voices but on those of the people of the area, who lived through the war and its privations and the social upheaval attendant to emancipation. Diarists and letter writers north and south are featured, with a heavy reliance on manuscript sources. Follow all the links I’ve given you above and you’ll get an idea of the extent.

You get:

  • 501 pages of text in 11 chapters plus prologue and epilogue, starting with “The Great Invasion” of 1863 and ending up in 1902 (though we go from 1868 to 1902 in one chapter)
  • 25 maps and illustrations
  • No bibliography but rather “A Note on the Documentation”
  • 45 pages of end notes
  • A full index

It’s a big honkin’ book.

Edward L. Ayers is Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and president emeritus at the University of Richmond

 

 

 

 

 





Preview: Scales, “The Battles and Campaigns of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, 1861-1865”

30 11 2017

Layout 1The Battles and Campaigns of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, 1861-1865 is John R. Scales’s study not of the man, the myth, or the legend, but rather of his wartime activities. (Is it possible to examine these events without discussing the morals and politics of the man? Ummm, yeah, it is — don’t be fatuous.)

Essentially, this book serves as a staff ride of Forrest’s career. Each chapter discusses a particular raid or battle or campaign, for the most part. Each starts with a discussion of the operational environment. Then decisions made are examined. Each includes a driving tour, and each concludes with a review and evaluation of Forrest as commander.

You get:

  • 435 pages of text in 12 chapters, with plenty of charts and graphs, and 109 (one hundred and nine!!!) Hal Jesperson maps.
  • An epilogue with Scales’s assessment of Forrest.
  • A bibliography (primarily published works)
  • A full index
  • Bottom of page footnotes

John R. Scales is a retired brigadier general who served in Viet Nam and Afghanistan. He is the author of Sherman Invades Georgia and A Reluctant Hero’s Footsteps.





Preview: Savas Beatie Reprints Coco

29 11 2017

New from Savas Beatie are paperback reprints of two Gregory A. Coco titles, 1988’s A Vast Sea of Misery: A History and Guide to the Union and Confederate Field Hospitals at Gettysburg, and 1995’s A Strange and Blighted Land: Gettysburg The Aftermath of Battle. Each reprint includes a new preface by author and Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide James A. Hessler. These are must-haves for every Gettysburg student, and A Strange and Blighted Land appears regularly on general Civil War “Best Of” lists.

Layout 1A Vast Sea of Misery is a guide to 162 field hospitals that treated more than 26,000 wounded soldiers during and after the Battle of Gettysburg (an additional 14 identified after the 1st printing are listed as well). Nine maps show relative locations to help the tourist. The field hospital sites are broken down in three parts: Borough of Gettysburg area; Union Army areas; and Confederate Army areas. Additional sites are described in three additional parts:  other important sites; hospital sites in nearby towns; and Camp Letterman. Four appendices cover surgeons and physicians, how field hospital sites were selected, how wounded were moved to field hospitals, and general medical observations. There are seven pages of end notes and a full index.

Layout 1A Strange and Blighted Land is a detailed, heart-wrenching study of what came after the battle – the wounding, gathering, treating, assisting, obstructing, suffering, dying, interring, and remembering. I listed this as one of my ten favorite Gettysburg books. Relying mostly on eyewitness accounts, the reader learns of the scale of the suffering, the treatment of the wounded, the disposition of the dead, the establishment of the National Cemetery, the handling of prisoners and stragglers, and the preservation and establishment of the battlefield and its guides. This promotional passage sums this book up nicely, so I see no reason to rephrase:

Coco’s prose is gripping, personal, and brutally honest. There is no mistaking where he comes down on the issue: There was nothing pretty or glorious or romantic about the battle — especially once the fighting ended.

You get 377 pages of text, 27 pages of end-notes, a 14 page bibliography including three pages of manuscript sources, and a full index.

Gregory A. Coco was an army veteran who served in Vietnam, a degreed historian, a Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide, and a National Park Service Interpretive Ranger at GNMP. He  authored or edited of numerous books and articles on Gettysburg and the Civil War (I have had occasion to use his papers located in the Park’s archives). He died in 2009 at the age of 62.





Preview: Pula, “Under the Crescent Moon, Vol. 1”

21 11 2017

Layout 1Under the Crescent Moon with the XI Corps in the Civil War: Volume 1: From the Defenses of Washington to Chancellorsville, 1862-1863 is James Pula’s first in a planned two-part study of what was at the time known as the Eleventh Corps of the U. S. Army in the Civil War (the Roman numeral is a post-war affectation not used here at Bull Runnings). In this volume, the promotional material states, the actions of the Corps at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863 “are fully examined here for the first time, and at a depth no other study has attempted.” Considering the thoroughness of John Bigelow’s background on the Corps in The Campaign of Chancellorsville, and the depth of analysis in Augustus C. Hamlin’s The Attack of Stonewall at Chancellorsville, the proof of this claim will be in the pudding. Mr. Pula has previously written about 11th Corps related topics, including a biography of Wlodzimierz Krzyzanowski and a history of the 26th Wisconsin Infantry.

What you get:

  • 281 pages of text in nine chapters taking the history of the Corps up to June, 1863;
  • An appendix listing the casualties of the Corps during the Battle of Chancellorsville;
  • An appendix listing the German troops in the Corps;
  • A ten page bibliography, including two full pages of archival sources;
  • Same-page footnotes;
  • Numerous, mostly portrait photos.
  • (There appears to be only one detailed disposition/movement map in total, which is curious in a work that seeks to look at the Corps’ performance at Chancellorsville in depth. In contrast, the Hamlin book noted above has nine.)

Volume 2 of this history, release date not known, is expected to be 432 pages.





Preview: Waters and Brown, “Gabriel Rains and the Confederate Torpedo Bureau”

20 11 2017

51Vt7833uaLA recent publication of Savas Beatie is Gabriel Rains and the Confederate Torpedo Bureau, by W. Davis Waters and the late Joseph I. Brown. Rains is considered the father of landmine warfare (a dubious “honor,” at best), although in addition to the “subterra shell” he also designed two seagoing explosive devices. I admit to knowing very little about this subject, and will proceed to the physical description of this paperback.

You get:

  • 100 pages of narrative on Rains’s life and career. Chapter endnotes.
  • An analysis by Mr. Brown of a manuscript written by Rains, “National Defense Perfected by Land and Sea.”
  • Appendix – List of Men in Charleston’s Torpedo Service
  • Appendix – Rains Letter to Jefferson Davis About Sinking of the Tecumseh
  • Appendix – Report of John Maxwell on City Point Explosion and Endorsements by McDaniel and Rains
  • Appendix – Letter to W. T. Walthal for Use by Jefferson Davis for “Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government”
  • Appendix – Torpedoes
  • Appendix – List of Vessels Sunk by Torpedoes
  • Appendix – Rains Family Evacuates Richmond
  • Bibliography, including family papers of Jefferson Davis, T. H. Holmes, and Gabriel Rains
  • Index

 





Preview: Chernow, “Grant”

11 10 2017

51SNaH1F--L I received in the mail via Amazon yesterday the highly anticipated (in some quarters) biography of Ulysses Grant by Pulitzer Prize winning author Ron Chernow, titled Grant (where does this guy get off not giving us a colon and an all-encompassing subtitle?). Let’s start off by saying this giant (but not so giant as one might think) volume falls into the category of pop history. That is, the author has no established bonafides as an expert on Grant or his times. Chernow, as everyone not living under a rock knows, is the author of the best selling Alexander Hamilton, which inspired the prize winning Broadway musical Hamilton. He has also authored biographies of George Washington, John D. Rockefeller, and J. P. Morgan. Now, we can see some overlap with Washington/Hamilton and Morgan/Rockefeller, right? But on the face of it, it looks like Chernow has entered that period of American history which we like to call home a little, well, cold. So, what we have here is an established, acclaimed, fine writer (I have read Hamilton) stepping into what looks to us (you regular readers of this blog, and blogs like it) like unknown territory. But believe me, it doesn’t look like that to the other 99%, the people to whom this book is marketed. Chernow, to them, is an expert on American History. Period. So this sucker is gonna sell a lot of copies (it is already, on its release date, stacked up for sale in Costcos across the nation – at a price below the “pre-order discounted” price I got from Amazon). And it may well win Chernow another prize. But I’ve written about this phenomenon before, that is, how too much experience with one topic can “unfit” us for the carefree consumption of popular histories. Read that again here if you haven’t already. Really, go read it. I’ll wait. Then, come back to this and I’ll give you the lowdown on Grant, preview-wise.

So, just what do you get with Grant? Well, you get a lot of pages. 959 pages of narrative, to be precise. But don’t be too intimidated. The spacing isn’t too tight and the font is not too small. It will read faster than that. There are also 53 pages of tightly printed “normal” endnotes, not the abbreviated, worthless ones favored by the big publishing houses these days. And there IS a bibliography, another nice surprise in this day of cost cutting. Read any of the advance reviews on this book and you’re  likely to see references to Chernow’s  extensive research (NY Times: “Chernow likes extreme research”; USA Today: “Chernow’s exhaustive research”; Washington Post [T. J. Stiles, no less, refer to my earlier piece you were supposed to re-read]: “strong research”). OK, let’s check that out.

The bibliography is about 10.5 pages long. Six pages of published books, and 4.5 pages of published articles. No MSS sources are listed in the bibliography, but at the beginning of the notes there are abbreviations for what looks like 23 manuscript sources (you know, unpublished papers, letters, etc…) No newspaper collections are identified, but I do see newspaper articles listed in the bibliography. I gotta tell you, the fact that these sources were not listed where I expected to find them (in the bibliography) gave me a jolt.

Sometimes I have little tests. They’re my tests, and they don’t necessarily indicate anything to anyone but me. For instance, when I pick up any book about the Maryland Campaign, I go straight to the bits about S. O. 191 to see if the work cites recent scholarship (this is probably the biggest change in the interpretation of the campaign in the past 20 years, and to ignore it is folly). For Grant, I check to see if the author mentions his relationship with local Pittsburgh boy Alexander Hays (with whom by many accounts Grant had a close personal relationship). Take Ronald C. White’s American Ulysses from last year. He mentions Hays three times (White also lists his MSS sources and newspapers in the bibliography, where I think they belong). Fighting Elleck does not appear in Chernow’s index. Take that for what it’s worth, and I understand it may not be worth much. Also note that White’s book lists (in the bibliography) 48 MSS sources and 43 newspapers. What does it all mean? I don’t know. Sometimes the counting of MSS sources baffles me. One author might just note the repository, for example, while another will name each collection at that repository. I will say that I hate the endnote format of White’s book (page numbers and text snippets) and prefer that employed by Chernow.

I’ve heard some criticism of the book as synthesis. I don’t see that as a problem – that’s the process: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. If we’re going to dismiss Chernow as a synthesist, some pretty big-named CW authors will need to be dismissed as well. Different authors can draw different conclusions from the same sources (the reviews indicate that Chernow and White differ in some of their conclusions). I only have a problem with synthesis when all it synthesizes are syntheses. That’s worthless. I don’t know that that’s the case with Chernow – it may take nearly 1,000 pages to figure that out. The book seems to be fairly balanced in its wartime and post-war coverage, page-count-wise. And let’s not forget, there’s value in how a story is told, even if the story has been told before. Depending on the audience, of course. And our lot is a tough crowd.

Go ahead and read the reviews to which I linked above – I’m generously assuming the reviewers read the whole thing.





Preview: White, “The Republic for Which It Stands”

6 09 2017

6127ca7ZUKL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Just in from Oxford University Press is Richard White’s The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896. This is (quantitatively, not qualitatively) a doorstop at 872 pages of narrative. White is the author of Railroaded; The Middle Ground; and A New History of the American West.

A quick look-through is reminiscent – in layout, at least – of Walter McDougall’s Throes of Democracy. Keep in mind, this is not a history of Reconstruction, or of The Gilded Age, but rather of America during those periods, just like the post-colon title says. It’s divided into three parts: Reconstructing the Nation; The Quest of for Prosperity; The Crisis Arrives. Per Publisher’s Weekly, White’s “account’s central focus is public affairs and he foregrounds the West and its native tribes, farmers, workers, and cities; his astute examination of the ‘greater Reconstruction of the West’ works as a counterpoint to the failures of Southern Reconstruction.” That last bit is a theme that also runs through my current reading Thunder in the Mountains, a study of O. O. Howard and Nez Perce Chief Joseph.

So, you’re going to have to set aside a good bit of time if you choose to bite into this one. In the yay department, footnotes are real, bottom of the page footnotes. In the boo department, the book includes a 29 page bibliographic essay only. Wave of the future, I guess.