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.





Preview: Crenshaw, “Richmond Shall Not Be Given Up”

18 08 2017

RichmondGivenUp_LRGIf you’ve been reading Bull Runnings for a while, you know that I’ve previewed all of the titles in Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War series. And you also know how these books work. Concise histories, lots of maps and illustrations, tough paperbacks, suitable for the field. The really interesting parts, to me anyway, are the appendices. So, for this newest publication, I’m going to give you the bare minimum, and flesh out those appendices for you.

Richmond Shall Not Be Given Up: The Seven Days Battles, June 25 – July 1, 1862, by Doug Crenshaw

  • Foreword by Robert M. Dunkerly
  • Four page prologue
  • Narrative 131 pages in fourteen chapters
  • Fourteen Hal Jesperson maps
  • Appendix A: Stuart’s ride around McClellan
  • Appendix B: The Civilians
  • Appendix C: Preservation Efforts
  • Order of Battle
  • Suggested Reading
  • No index, no bibliography, no footnotes – I’m informed they are or will be available online

Doug Crenshaw is a volunteer at Richmond National Battlefield Park. He is the author of Fort Harrison and the Battle of Chaffin’s Bluff and The Battle of Glendale: Robert E. Lee’s Lost Opportunity.





Preview: Rossino, “Six Days in September”

11 08 2017

9781611213454_2Just in from Savas Beatie is the unedited galley proof of Six Days in September: A Novel of Lee’s Army in Maryland, 1862, by Alexander B. Rossino. (It appears that this is a new edition of the work previously published in 2015.) Novels are problematic subjects for a preview, since the typical features of notes, bibliography, maps, prefaces, and conclusions aren’t present. The subject matter is self-explanatory, thanks again to the post-colon subtitle. A flip-through reveals that this story is focused on the Confederate angle, and focuses on familiar “real life” players with a smattering of what I’m guessing are narrative-propelling, representative fictional characters.

The book is impressively blurbed, with James McPherson calling it a “page turner” that “provides the most vivid description…of the desperate plight of Southern forces” during these events; Scott Hartwig notes that it “provides the best that historical fiction has to offer”; and Tom Clemens calls it “an insightful look” and “a great read!”

Alexander B. Rossino is a resident of Boonsboro, MD. He is the author of Hitler Strikes Poland: Blitzkrieg, Ideology, and Atrocity. 





Preview: Coleman, “Discovering Gettysburg”

19 07 2017

thContinuing the Savas Beatie trend of really, really long, self-descriptive book titles that don’t leave much room in which a previewer can expand is W. Stephen Coleman’s Discovering Gettysburg: An Unconventional Introduction to the Greatest Little Town in America and the Monumental Battle that Made it Famous. Now, most of us realize that Gettysburg is a very weird place, and I’m not talking about ghosts. If you want to get a good idea of just how weird, check out the little film Route 30 (and it’s so-far-two sequels).

This is described by the author as his personal journey of coming to know the place:

“…you will visit with me a host of famous and off-the-beaten-path places on the battlefield, explore the historic town of Gettysburg as it is today, chat with some of the town’s fascinating ‘resources,’ enjoy ‘conversations’ with a variety of experts on the battle, and follow along, as I did, with some of the most engaging storytelling I have ever had the pleasure of hearing.”

Tim Hartman provides maps and caricatures of historic personalities and, most interestingly, acquaintances like Sue Boardman, Lance Herdegen, Scott Mingus, Scott Hartwig, James Hessler, Eric Lindblade, and Steve Stanley, all of whom have been interviewed here, as well as a few other friends like John Heiser, Chuck Teague, J. D. Petruzzi, Dean Schultz, Eric Wittenberg, and Pete Carmichael.

Stephen Coleman was, until his retirement, a theater professor at the University of Pittsburgh (I have to wonder if he crossed paths with my brother Dennis Smeltzer there?), and you may remember him as the guy who got his face ripped off by Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

Tim Hartman is also a local Pittsburgh actor and cartoonist, and sometimes gigs as a stand-up comic.