Preview – Croon (Ed), “The War Outside My Window”

17 04 2018

9781611213881This is a little different for Bull Runnings. The good folks at Savas Beatie sent me a digital, advance unedited galley of a unique diary, The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, edited by Janet Elizabeth Croon. The story of this diary, which I’ll describe below, has been bouncing around for quite some time – here’s a WaPo article from 2012.

I’ve read snippets of LeRoy’s diary, and enough of other online sources which you can find yourself to get a good idea of his back story (note this is a preview, not a review.) Here’s the gist – he was a very bright, well-read, and articulate young man, living in Macon, GA. He suffered from a disease resulting from a severe injury to his leg – when the diary opens, he’s already an invalid and would need to be pulled about in a wagon of sorts. Unlike the reader LeRoy was of course unaware that his condition was mortal, and he would barely outlive the war that understandably occupied so much of his thoughts. Our knowledge of his impending doom makes his daily writings, spanning the whole conflict and very much of and in the moment, all the more poignant in their innocence, ignorance, and wit. You’ll feel for the kid.

Here’s young Gresham’s entry for July 22, 1861, with the early news of the fighting at Manassas:

Macon July 22 1861: Another great battle at Manassas! Sherman’s Battery taken! Terrible Slaughter on both sides! The enemy retired from the field. The Fight commenced 4 oclock this morning and continued until about seven. The battle raged with terrible force and a heavy loss on both sides. There has evidently been a signal Victory at Bulls Run. President Davis’ message is out. It is not only well written, but beautiful in contrast to the boorish effort of Doctor Lincoln, Chief magistrate of United States. Raining very slightly before breakfast this morning. Sad news Gen. F. S. Bartow is killed. Macon Gaurds in the fight. President Davis commanded in person; Beauregarde + Johnson’s army both engaged 40 000 to 70 000 on a side. Beauregarde’s horse shot from under him. It will be sometime before we can get the truth of it. Dressed my back this morning and its healing though very slowly. General Wise has also gained a signal Victory in western Virginia, killing 150 federals and losing few of his men. Julia Ann is up and about again. Very heavy shower this afternoon. Uncle John, Deo Volente [God willing], leaves for Athens tomorrow. Father comes home but there are no more reliable dispatches. The battles undoubtedly sends a thrill of Anguish to many an anxious heart in the newborn Confederacy. Ave Maria Jose [goodbye].

Undoubtedly, some will latch on to the undeniable fact that LeRoy was a youth of privilege and wealth, a member of a slaveholding family with personal servants, and may argue that these are the most important, or even the only, aspects of his life with which we should concern ourselves, to the exclusion of all others. To the contrary, young Gresham’s story and personal observations give great insight into the mind of someone raised in the reality of the times, and should provide a tool for historians to interpret those times in context as opposed to retrospect. I mean, that’s their job, after all. It’s not everyone’s job. But it is that of the historian.

It’s hard to tell you what you’ll get with the final product. Of course you get the diary and detailed annotations in bottom of page footnotes; illustrations including a few of actual diary pages with what we refer to today as “metadata” (doodling, sweat stains, etc.); Hal Jesperson maps; extensive dramatis personae; and appendices related to LeRoy’s medical condition. A lot of detective work went into this.

I am perhaps dying ebook[7587][Dennis Rasbach, MD, has written an e-book (not yet available), I Am Perhaps Dying: The Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham and the Medical Backstory of his Private Battle with Tuberculosis During the Civil War. Keep on the lookout for that.]

The War Outside My Window is scheduled to drop in June, with national coverage and a feature in the Sunday Parade magazine. Advance orders or signed copies are being taken at the Savas Beatie site linked above. I think this will be an important work, and well worth your time.





Preview – Loperfido (Ed.), “Death, Disease, and Life at War”

27 03 2018

Layout 1I previewed Christopher Loperfido’s A Surgeon’s Tale here back in 2011. So I’ll let that serve as part of this preview of a new Savas Beatie edition of the book, retitled (with a much appreciated Oxford comma) Death Disease, and Life at War: The Civil War Letters of Surgeon James D. Benton, 111th and 98th New York Infantry Regiments, 1862-1865. There have been changes made to this edition, and Christopher laid them out for me. I thought about rewriting this myself, but hey, seems clear enough:

  • The military organization has been cleaned up a bit to give readers a better understanding of military lingo that James might reference if they were not already aware.
  • The introduction includes all new photos and is more detailed regarding the status of the union army medical department at the beginning of the war, what an assistant surgeon would have done during the war, more background information about James and his family, and sets the stage at Harper’s Ferry for the beginning of James’s letters after the 111th was captured and paroled.
  • Footnotes have been tweaked, more information and some have been added and others subtracted.
  • A postscript section has been added about a bible James picked up during the war and returned in 1885.
  • 5 appendices were added to give an introduction to Jonathan Letterman, Sanitary Commission, Ambulance Corps, Amputations, and Civil War dressings.
  • More context about what was going on during the war in each year has been added and cleaned up as well.




Preview: Hardy, “General Lee’s Immortals”

6 03 2018

GenLeeImmortals_LRG

New from Savas Beatie is a unit history by author and blogger Michael Hardy, General Lee’s Immortals: The Battles and Campaigns of the Branch-Lane Brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865. Here’s a brief summary and a description of the contents.

Successively commanded by Lawrence O’Bryan Branch (until his death at the Battle of Antietam) and James H. Lane, the brigade and its North Carolina regiments served with the Army of Northern Virginia for the length of its existence.

The history is laid out in chronological order, starting with a biography of Branch and the formation of the brigade, then from the Battle of Hanover’s Court House through Appomattox, with stops along the way for chapters on Medical Care, Daily Camp Life, the Plight of the Prisoner, and Crime and Punishment. A closing chapter and epilogue look at the brigade in memory and its Place in History.

You get:

  • 373 pages of text in 18 chapters and the epilogue.
  • A 14 page bibliography with substantial manuscript and newspaper sources.
  • A somewhat brief 7 page index.
  • 10 Hal Jesperson maps
  • Dozens of images, both portraiture and modern, as well as engravings.
  • Savas Beatie staple bottom of page footnotes.




Preview: Tagg, “The Generals of Shiloh”

7 02 2018

GeneralsShiloh_LRGAuthor Larry Tagg’s 1998 The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle, is by now a pretty standard book in the libraries of countless Gettysburg geeks. Brief sketches of general officers and their involvement, arranged in order of battle format, with a photo and suggested readings after each bio. (I’ve long been working on a something similar, however, with so few actual “generals” involved at First Bull Run, I have it down to regimental and battery command level.) It’s a handy and useful guide.

Now from Savas Beatie we have a new, similar work from Mr. Tagg (whom I interviewed here about his The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln), The Generals of Shiloh: Character in Leadership, April 6-7, 1862. Same order of battle format. In a preview, I can’t really get into the thoroughness of these sketches but they are, keep in mind, sketches. So let’s focus on what you get.

  • 236 pages of narrative
  • A “Critical Bibliography,” that is, a bibliography of sorts, in narrative form.
  • No notes, end or foot. Also, no suggested readings at the end of each entry, as in the Gettysburg book.
  • No Index

Now, this last bit, the index, is perplexing. (Yes, I know the notes are perplexing too, however at least some explanation can be given by way of the bibliographic essay.) Despite arguments that “you can find whoever you want by the order of battle” you can’t find whatever you want without an index. This was a huge gripe about Generals of Gettysburg. In one discussion group, years ago, it was discussed so often that I finally contacted Mr. Tagg for an index, which he graciously sent, and which I forwarded to the discussion group for inclusion on their website. When Generals of Gettysburg was reprinted by a different publisher later, I believe an index was included. So, I’m not quite sure why the exclusion here. But, let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.

As a guide to the commanders of both armies at the Battle of Shiloh, The Generals of Shiloh is a nice addition to your Shiloh library. Albeit, maybe a little frustrating to use.





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.