David Woodbury

Hat tip to Eric Wittenberg for pointing to David Woodbury's new Civil War blog. It's quite a feast: start with this post.

Woodbury is a writer who has paid his Civil War dues in a major way - as an editorial collaborator with Ted Savas bringing out innumerable specialist studies and as the patron saint of certain indispensable books, one of which I have failed to say enough about - Eicher and Eicher's Civil War High Commands.

Civil War High Commands originated in John Eicher's dissatisfaction with Civil War historians being unable to master even the most basic units of fact - e.g. who was promoted when and commanded what. As an ACW reader, he found himself keeping notes he could refer to and rely on in lieu of whatever book he might be reading at the time. (Sounds like my gateway into McClellanology.) The result is 1,040 pages of useful almanac-style data (and indirectly, 1,040 pages of commentary on the wretched state of previous ACW research). Shepherding this book through the publishing wilds must have been epic.

My admiration for Woodbury does not stop there. Civil War Regiments, which he co-edited, was an oasis of freethinking during one of the worst periods of consensus we have seen in Civil War publishing, the mid- to late1990s. His reasons for blogging resonate with me: "Let's be frank -- some of those authors didn't work as hard on their books as you did earning the money to buy them. And for that, they must be called out."

But I disagree - I think we're moving past the point where hack authors can still flood the market each publishing season with work struggling to retell the Catton story. New thinking has dominated each new release list for the last four or five seasons. My blog, with its cathartic vitriol, could better serve its readers turning attention to our dramatically new situation. I keep reminding myself, we've turned a corner. There's a new story to tell.

Then McPherson gives an interview and I'm called back to the hunt...

But we need expert readers like David Woodbury to help sort out the new scene. Crappy books will always be with us - it's the publishers' commitment to crap that is crumbling. It is a very talented cohort of writers that is taking advantage of the end of the Centennial ice ages.

Since his is a book blog, I hope Mr. Woodbury notices and takes the same pleasure I do in this new beginning for Civil War history.