America’s Civil War: March 2010

7 01 2010

Inside this issue of America’s Civil War:

Up Front

  • Pennsylvania gears up for the sesquicentennial (no, they didn’t contact me and no, I’m not holding my breath);
  • An interim (aren’t they all?) superintendent named for Gettysburg;
  • An interview with Virginia House Speaker Bill Howell on his state’s sesquicentennial efforts (let’s hope I don’t have to type that word again);
  • A short piece on the anecdotes, legends and lies about CSS Shenandoah;
  • A profile of Hinton Rowan Helper, a native-born Carolinian from a slave-holding family who published The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It in 1857, in which he blamed wealthy planters, “the slaveholding oligarchy” for his section’s ills and, while not disapproving of the institution morally, felt it was not a viable basis for an economic system.


  • Mike Clem: A Port in the Storm – on the US Naval Academy during the war.
  • Harold Holzer: Abraham Lincoln The Anti-Politician – hmm…this should be interesting considering the more you learn about Abe, the more you realize he was nothing if not a political animal.
  • Dana Shoaf: Grant’s Bridges to Victory – an illustrated essay on bridges in the Overland Campaign.
  • Jim Bradshaw: The Other Battle of Calcasieu Pass – some general wackiness caused by a 17-year-old Louisiana belle named Babette.  I wonder if vampires had something to do with it?
  • David McCormick: Knights in Binding Armor – on personal body armor in the Civil War.
  • Fight Songs – a pictorial essay on military music and musicians.



  • Five new books, and only one old one.  Two by fellow bloggers: The Boys of Adams’ Battery G by Robert Grandchamp, and John Hoptak’s Our Boys Did Nobly.  Add Paul Taylor and that makes three bloggers with traditional print books in this issue.  Also here is Brian McGinty’s John Bron’s Trial and Clay Mountcastle’s Punitive War: Confederate Guerillas and Union Reprisals.  The last two books and only pairing this time around are Jim Hessler’s Sickles at Gettysburg and the classic Sickles the Incredible by W. A. Swanson).  This Six-Pack was a little more heavily edited and lost some of what I was trying to get across, but that’s the nature of a one-page with graphics limit.  I do wish my editor would stop changing my Corps designations (i.e. 9th Corps to The IX Corps).  They didn’t use roman numerals, so why should we?  We go ‘roud and ’round on it, and it’s really a small thing.

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Civil War Times – February 2010

4 12 2009

The new issue of Civil War Times has been mailed.  The cover is one of my favorite photographs of Robert E. Lee, taken on the steps of his rented home in Richmond shortly after the surrender of his army at Appomattox Court House.  Lee’s face clearly shows bitterness and defiance – perhaps he was still in denial.  I saw the lens Matthew Brady used to take this photo, in Warren Motts’s Military Museum in Columbus (see here).  This issue includes two Lee pieces, one by Gary Gallagher (Do the Numbers Add Up for “Marse Robert”?), the other by Noah Andre Trudeau (Lee’s Last Hurrah, about his postwar tour through the South).  Other feature articles:

  • Guerilla War on the High Seas by Craig L. Symonds
  • “To Rise Again”: the salvage of  USS Monitor by Kristina Fiore.
  • Seeing the War Firsthand:  rare newspaper sketches by Helen Hannon.
  • “Mimic War” No More: Phil Sheridan’s and Jubal Early’s faceoff in August 1864 by Fred Ray.

I also have a review of R. K. Krick’s entry in Broadfoot’s South Carolina Regimental-Roster Set, The 14th South Carolina Infantry Regiment, of the Gregg-McGowan Brigade on page 66.  And on page 15, I have a brief news item and photo on the Potomac Crossing and Shepherdstown Battlefield Tour program I wrote about here.

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Turkey Break

25 11 2009

There won’t be much – if any – activity here for a while as I take a little holiday break.  Nope, no burnout.  I do have some posts to make, but won’t be able to get to them for a week or so.  Anyway, I try only to post when I a) have something to say and b) have the time.  This is a case of b.  When things break, I’ll finish four more posts on my Springfield trip, and hope to pick up the pace with Resources posts.  While I’m away from the blog, take some time to surf around it – go to the resources section; click on some of the tags in the tag cloud in the lower part of the right hand margin.  Also look for me in print in the upcoming Civil War Times magazine – I think I have a news item and a book review in there.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

National Geographic Atlas of the Civil War

2 11 2009

AtlasI recently received a review copy of the National Geographic Atlas of the Civil War by Neil Kagan and Stephen G. Hyslop.  Billed as A Comprehensive Guide to the Tactics and Terrain of Battle, this atlas presents a chronological account of the war using more than 80 archival maps as well as about three dozen original battle maps created using satellite data.  The archival maps are not limited to those of battles and campaigns but include maps of rail lines, slave populations, fortifications, and more.  The book is copiously illustrated with hundreds of photographs and drawings.  Personally, I don’t have much use for comprehensive atlases, and find that when I do consult them I can usually find what I want in the Atlas to the Official Records and the West Point Atlas, and for detail you can’t beat the numerous online map collections.  This National Geographic Atlas is a beautiful, glossy, coffee table book, more for the casual Civil War enthusiast or beginner, but full of tidbits of interest to all levels.  Not a must have, but very nice for what it is.

Thanks to John McFeely of National Geographic.

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John Hoptak’s “Our Boys Did Nobly”

1 11 2009

41YejDu4b9L__SL500_AA240_Fellow blogger, NPS ranger, and author John Hoptak was nice enough to send me a copy of his most recent book, Our Boys Did Nobly: Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania  Soldiers at the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam.  Hoptak uses the story of Schuylkill County soldiers of the 48th, 50th, & 96th PA Volunteer Infantry regiments to tell the larger tale of the 1862 Maryland Campaign.  It’s an original and effective approach, and a good read.

The 48th and 50th PAVI of Ambrose Burnside’s 9th Corps, and the 96th of William Franklin’s 6th Corps were in good positions to use as bases for a narrative of the battles of South Mountain and Crampton’s Gap, with all three units seeing action.  And while the 50th saw the biggest part of the elephant at Antietam, the author fleshes out the story of the rest of the battle more than adequately and with a variety of primary accounts.  What happened on the southern end of the field after the crossing of the Antietam by 9th Corps typically gets short shrift in most studies of Antietam, and Hoptak has gone a long way to bringing into sharper focus those events.  I’ve been reading and stomping Antietam for years, and learned a lot from Our Boys.

The book is self published and has some of the editing problems attendant to such a product, but the author more than makes up for those deficiencies with his demonstrated command of the subject and materials, and he’s put together a fast-paced narrative that will be eye-opening for readers of all levels.

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America’s Civil War: January 2010

29 10 2009

Jan 10 ACW cvr

Inside this issue of America’s Civil War:

  • in the news, somebody paid $39k for Confederate Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee’s gauntlets and sash, and the grave of Confederate financier Charles Kuhn Prioleau was “discovered” in England;
  • an interview with Ed Bearss;
  • Frank Van Der Linden on Confederate General Joe Johnston’s feud with President Jefferson Davis;
  • Robert Behre on Why Cotton got to be King;
  • Joan Waugh on Ulysses S. Grant, The Celebrity Soldier;
  • Three Kunhardts examine The Burden of War on Lincoln through photographs;
  • Blogger and author Michael Hardy on Irvin McDowell, The Most Unpopular Man in America (I’ll have a review of this here after I read it);
  • Jon Guttman on The Man Who Shot A. P. Hill;
  • my Six-Pack reviews pair up
    • No Peace for the Wicked: Northern Protestant Soldiers in the American Civil War (David Rolf) with The Harp and the Eagle: Irish-American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865 (Susannah Ural);
    • Lee in the Low Country: Defending Charleston and Savannah, 1861-1862 (Daniel J. Crooks, Jr) with Siege Train: The Journal of a Confederate Artilleryman in the Defense of Charleston (Arthur Manigault);
    • The Ship Killers: The Definitive Illustrated History of the Torpedo Boat (Joe Hinds) with Ellet’s Brigade: The Strangest Outfit of All (Chester Hearn).

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Undaunted Heart

15 10 2009

Undaunted-HeartI received a copy of  Undaunted Heart from Eno Publishing in Hillsborough, NC a few weeks ago, and finished it up last week.  I don’t read every book publishers send me cover to cover – I’m a slow reader and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.  But I had read snippets of the story of the courtship and marriage of Union general Smith Atkins and southern belle Ella Swain before and figured the book, written by Swain descendant and Raleigh area writer Suzy Barile, was enough of a departure to be worthwhile.  I do that a lot lately, read books that fall outside what I typically read.  I guess by definition if I keep doing that then I’m not doing that.  Dang, lost my train of thought…where was I…oh yeah, Undaunted Heart.

Twenty-two year old Ella was the daughter of University of North Carolina president and former North Carolina governor David Swain.  Atkins had been colonel of the 92nd IL Mounted Infantry (which Barile for some odd reason referred to as Mounted Cavalry), which was part of Wilder’s Lightning Brigade, and on Aril 17, 1865 was in command of a brigade that was the first to occupy the college town of Chapel Hill.  While visiting with Gov. Swain in his home, he met Ella and it was love at first sight.

Predictably, the romance was a scandal, particularly among the women of Chapel Hill.  Ella’s mother, despite, over many years, forming a close bond with Atkins, still never took a meal with him.  Through family letters discovered in an attic by the author, the courtship, marriage, and many trials and tribulations of the Swains’ and Atkins’s are recreated in an engaging, easy to read style.  While the military aspects contain some inaccuracies and will appear muddled to folks used to more precision, they’re really ancillary to the personal story and as such don’t detract from it.  In many ways it’s a sad tale: early and sudden death stalked Ella’s family, and did not spare even her in the end.  Undaunted Heart gives us a glimpse of life in 19th century America in ways military history can’t.

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