For Bibliophiles

12 02 2014





Hood and Me (But Mostly Me)

3 02 2014

JBHWhile reading John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General, I realized something about myself: the more ubiquitous the application of hyperbole to an individual or event, the more willing I am to consider challenges to the established line on them. Does that make me an iconoclast? To some extent, maybe, and certainly in cases where it appears to me writers have worked backwards from their fundamental diagnoses and bent evidence to fit their conclusion. Author Stephen M. Hood makes a compelling case that this is precisely what has happened over the years with his collateral relative. I think.

(It’s not hard to find “discussion” of this book on blogs and social media. Some clear thinking, some dogma, the usual “I haven’t read it, have no intention of reading it, but am happy to tell you what I think of its content” type comments. Some compelling arguments that author Hood committed some of the same crimes of which he is accusing others. Lots of folks talking past one another. Lots of pots shouting at kettles. Google to your heart’s content. You’ll find all of it out there.)

To me, the  book is strongest when it points out that sources cited as support in a particular work do not say what the author of that work claims they say. Author Hood does so often. And he does so convincingly. This is why you should read the book. In my opinion.

While I’ve had Wiley Sword’s The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah (aka Embrace and Angry Wind) on my shelf for years with every intention of reading it, I don’t see how I can possibly do so now with an open mind. Many of the indictments of Sword in author Hood’s book appear so cut and dry that I have difficulty perceiving of a scenario in which reading Sword’s book will make me think, “you know, with regards to these particulars, Sword is right and author Hood is wrong.” Again, that may say a lot more about me than about Sword or author Hood. And Hood doesn’t stop at Sword. He points out weaknesses in the works of Sword’s predecessors and followers. Out of necessity writers of non-fiction build upon the work of those who have gone before. Sometimes what they accept, they accept in error. I’ve seen it in my research of First Bull Run. I imagine everyone who has researched anything has seen it as well. Sometimes it’s purposeful, sometimes it’s not, but when discovered and proven it’s always wrong and should be corrected. At least, if you ask me it should.

Of note, author Hood points out that, despite what most students of the war believe, General Hood was not overly fond of frontal attacks, and rarely employed them of his own volition. Read that again. And he backs it up, too. Hey, don’t get mad at me. Relax. Count to ten. Now, if it’s true, does that affect your overall impression of General Hood? It affected mine.

On the other hand, I found the book weakest when it reached down deep in the ranks to find contemporary Hood praises; when it presented defenses consisting of “how could all these guys say such nice things” and “well, if Hood was so bad, why don’t you think so-and-so was bad for doing the same things?” Now, in a lot of instances author Hood is right, double standards have been established, but the exposition of double standards has rarely ever done anything but dredge up the old “you’re trying to tear down our guy to build up yours” response. That is to say, it’s an emotional thing, and the consideration of cold, hard facts carries more weight. With me.

I felt the Foreword and Introduction didn’t serve the book well. I was in fact concerned about the book’s prospects after reading them – they laid out a game plan that was inconsistent with my understanding of the focus of the work. After deliberation, I determined to forge ahead. I also found the author’s attempt to discredit Jefferson Davis’s writings about and dealings with Hood, coupled with his uncritical, face value acceptance of Davis’s criticisms of Joe Johnston, to be an odd and hypocritical juxtaposition. But maybe that’s just me.

Despite these and other, as I view them, weaknesses, I think John Bell Hood is an important book, and one that should be read by anyone interested in Hood and his tenure at the helm of the Army of Tennessee, and/or historiography in general. This book will make you think, whether or not you agree with the resurrection bit in the title. For this reason, it was picked as a runner-up for best book of 2013 in Civil War Monitor. By me.

I thought about this song a lot while reading this book, and while reading discussions of this book. I think sometimes it illustrates the relationship between authors and their subjects.





Preview: Ural, “Don’t Hurry Me Down to Hades”

19 12 2013

HadesNew from Osprey Publishing and Dr. Susannah J. Ural is Don’t Hurry Me Down to Hades: The Civil War In the Words of Those Who Lived It. I’m a little leery of collections of first person accounts from different sources, unless the theme is compelling. And that appears to be the case here. Dr. Ural has chosen letters and diaries to tell the stories of families (well-known and not, north and south, free and slave) during the war. There also appear to be a few memoirs in there – that gets my Spidey-senses tingling, as I’ve never been able to get over how the co-mingling of immediate and recollected accounts fatally flawed Richard Moe’s otherwise fine The Last Full Measure (the use of a lone memoir to provide a counter-point to overwhelming contemporary opinion really changed the tone, IMO.) We’ll have to see how that affects things here. But this one looks good at first glance, and as soon as I finish this light-weight, really kinda silly account of George Washington’s New York spy ring I’m going to dive in.





Preview: Cobb, Hicks, & Holt, “Battle of Big Bethel”

4 12 2013

Layout 1Brian Pohanka’s Vortex of Hell provides a pretty good account of the Battle of Big Bethel, in which the 5th New York Infantry played a prominent role. And typically those are the types of books you need to read to find out about the fight; Big Bethel, or Bethel Church, or Great Bethel, is a battle most often covered in works covering a wider time frame. Messrs. Cobb, Hicks, and Holt, with Battle of Big Bethel: Crucial Clash in Early Civil War Virginia, have turned a magnifying glass on this June, 1861 meeting of forces under Benjamin Butler and John Magruder. At 266 pages, it dwarfs any previous study of which I am aware (and if one exists out there, please let me know about it.) Cobb and Hicks are affiliated with the Hampton (Va) History Museum (the battle was fought near the York County town), while Holt is an attorney. The book includes numerous photographs and illustrations and clear Hal Jesperson maps describe the action. Footnotes – at the bottom of the page – have become a Savas Beatie staple. The bibliography lists a respectable number of unpublished primary sources and contemporary newspaper accounts, as well as the expected published primary and secondary sources (though not Vortex, which I imagine was published too late in the process.) I try not to give too much weight to blurbs (hell, even I wrote one, once), but endorsements from R. E. L. Krick and Edward L. Ayers bode well.





Preview: Gottfried, “The Maps of the Bristoe Station and Mine Run Campaigns”

10 11 2013

91Bka6INr4L._SL1500_I have a soft spot for the subject of this latest entry in Savas Beatie’s Atlas series. Long before I decided to focus my energies on First Bull Run I attempted to tackle the period in the history of the Army of the Potomac between the end of the Gettysburg Campaign and the arrival of U. S. Grant in the spring of 1864. I wrote a bit about that aborted project here. The whole series of events has received short shrift from most historians, and usually gets covered in a few pages (or even paragraphs) when it gets covered at all. Brad Gottfried helps shed some more light on this time with The Maps of the Bristoe Station and Mine Run Campaigns. The subtitle gives a little more detail on the details: An Atlas of the Battles and Movements in the Eastern Theater after Gettysburg, Including Rappahannock Station, Kelly’s Ford, and Morton’s Ford, July 1863-February 1864. You’re familiar with the format by now: individual time-coded maps (87 of ‘em) with their own facing narrative page. This really is a must-have, not just to keep your set intact, but to give some much needed perspective to this black hole in the history of the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia.





Preview: Fitch & Fitch, “Postmarked: Bleeding Kansas”

9 11 2013

18437634Kansans (and Missourians, for that matter) are quick to point out that the Civil War started in that state, and there’s plenty of evidence to support the claim. The internecine character of the conflict out that way makes the history that much more gnarly to study and to follow. Chad Lawhorn, a writer with the Lawrence Journal-World, has gathered and published the letters of Edward and Sarah Fitch, abolitionist residents of Lawrence, in Postmarked: Bleeding Kansas, Letters from the Birthplace of the Civil War. This is a collection of more than 150 letters written from 1855 to 1863, which describe the bitter conflict as well as the day-to-day travails of pioneer life, and culminate with the August, 1863, raid on Lawrence by William Quantrill. All the terror of the raid seems captured in Sarah Fitch’s final letter, a fitting, if horrific, ending to the collection.

Note – This book is essentially a reprint of Yours for Freedom in Kansas, published by the Douglas County Historical Society in 1997.





Preview: Leigh (ed), “Co. Aytch”

29 10 2013

9781594161797_p0_v1_s260x420Philip Leigh’s edition of Sam Watkins’s Co. Aytch, Or, A Side Show to the Big Show is the fourth version of the book I have owned. The first, a small paperback which I read cover to cover, is gone. The second is a nice Morningside edition, and the third is a version revised and expanded by Watkins and edited by his great-granddaughter in 2007. Of course, the first exposure many had to Watkins’s memoir was via Ken Burns’s documentary The Civil War, in which, with Elijah Hunt Rhodes, Watkins supplied the perspective of the common soldier.

Leigh, a contributor to the New York Times Opinionator blog-like project (it’s not a blog really, but rather a series of print articles available online), has “fleshed out” Watkins’s recollections with 240 or so sometimes lengthy annotations. In addition to the color and detail it provides, Watkins’s book has long been noted for some pretty significant mis-rememberings, and some of the annotations help to identify and explain them. They also provide background on military situations, personalities, and terminology. A nice feature are numerous clear, Hal Jesperson maps which along with the annotations help put Sam’s travels in perspective, and give a clearer picture of the bigger show. Do you need this to replace whatever other edition of Co. Aytch you may own? Probably not, but if someone is considering taking a first dip into soldiers’ memoirs this may be a nice place to start.





Preview: “The Civil War Lover’s Guide to New York City”

18 10 2013

NYCCWLoverI attended college back in the day when the mere thought of being forced into taking a job in New York City made a business major’s skin crawl (unless of course you were from there, then you thought it was great.) And as an ACW enthusiast later, I thought that there couldn’t possibly be much to see there outside of Grant’s Tomb. In Bill Morgan’s new The Civil War Lover’s Guide to New York City, I find there is far, far more to see in the city relating to the Civil War than I had imagined, though some of the links are tenuous at best. The book is laid out geographically by borough and neighborhood, and includes many period and modern photographs. The illustrations vary in quality and descriptiveness, and sometimes the narrative is vague as to whether or not the building in question still stands. I suppose I would have preferred more of a template layout by site. But the color photos of statues and monuments are at times stunning. As with most good guidebooks, this sturdy Savas Beatie paperback is ideal for packing along as you walk the city. Just be careful that you’re not “marked” as a tourist. I’ve seen enough episodes of Barney Miller to know how that will end (I’m still living in 1978 I guess.)





Preview: “Smithsonian Civil War”

17 10 2013


Smithsonian-Civil-War-Inside-the-National-Collection-Hardcover-L9781588343895
Smithsonian Books sent me a copy of this beautiful, coffee table (without legs) book, Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection. This is an old fashioned “picture book,” the kind that has hooked thousands of kids on the Civil War (or baseball, or whatever) over the years. Mine was The American Heritage Golden Book of the Civil War. As the title implies, the eye candy inside is from the Smithsonian’s Civil War collection, which has been acquired primarily via donation over the years. Photographs are grouped thematically and are accompanied with descriptive narrative often including the artifact’s journey to the collection. My copy has a slightly oily fragrance, likely a result of the process used to produce the full color images, but I imagine that will dissipate over time. I have a soft spot for books like this, as I can think back on long hours spent in libraries and on living room floors staring at those pictures. Do kids still do that? I like to think so.





Reference Library: Bibliographies

16 10 2013

Biblio

Bibliographies are handy when you want to find out more – who else has written on the topic? Some bibliographies tell you more than others, some are more comprehensive, some more specific. The problem with all of them is that by the time they’re compiled, printed, bound, and delivered to the marketplace, they’re already dated. I suspect bibliographies in hard-copy will go the way of the dodo before most other books do, likely replaced by an on-line version that can be continuously updated (will we see a reader compiled, wiki-like version some day?) and available for free. But for now, these will have to do:

 

Cole, Civil War Eyewitnesses: An Annotated Bibliography of Books and Articles, 1955-1986

Cole, Civil War Eyewitnesses: An Annotated Bibliography of Books and Articles, 1986-1996

Dornbusch, Military Bibliography of the Civil War (4 Volumes)

Eicher, The Civil War in Books

Sauers, The Gettysburg Campaign Bibliography

Woodworth, The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 781 other followers