Book blurt (Aug-Nov 2012)
Compared to 1997, when Civil War Book News launched, the number of titles published per month is noticeably smaller. What follows is NOT me being picky. The spring and fall lists are shrinking.
If you find this useful, it might be worth doing quarterly. I want to comment on some books received from publishers in my next post. Meanwhile...
A U G U S T
Terrible Swift Sword: The Life of General Philip H. Sheridan
A sympathetic portrait of “Grant’s most dependable troubleshooter.”
Comment: Not sure I understand the value in this book but it has a solid five-star rating from seven reviewers on Amazon. One of the reviewers headlines his comment "Unsung Hero," referring to Sheridan. This suggests a naive readership. Surprised Da Capo is still active in Civil War publishing - they've had good acquisition editors in the past, so this may be worth a look.
One Drop in a Sea of Blue: The Liberators of the Ninth Minnesota
John B. Lundstrom
In November 1863, thirty-eight men of the Minnesota Ninth Regiment responded to a fugitive slave’s desperate plea by holding a train at gunpoint and liberating his wife, five children, and three other family members who were being shipped off to be sold. But this rescue happened in Missouri, where Union soldiers had firm orders not to interfere with loyal slaveholders.
Comment: From the Minnesota Historical Society Press weighing in at 512 pages, this is probably not a quick buck, feelgood pop history.
Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War
Tony Horwitz's Midnight Rising brings Brown and his uprising vividly to life and charts America’s descent into explosive conflict.
Comment: Horwitz fans might like his writing - I'm not sure what else would recommend this. Clearly a play for the mass market. It has slightly better than a four-star rating and the kudos are naive and about Horwitz's virtues as a journalist. Beware of journalists doing history!
The Chattanooga Campaign
Steven E. Woodworth, Charles D Grear
Ten insightful essays that provide new analysis of this crucial campaign.
Comment: Woodworth is a serious author but such essay collections strike me generally as back-scratching drills. They're also a road to irrelevance.
Lincoln and Leadership: Military, Political, and Religious Decision Making
Allen C. Guelzo (Author), Randall M. Miller (Editor)
This book offers fresh perspectives on the 16th president, making novel contributions to the scholarship of one of the more studied figures of American history.
Comment: The marketing text shows a certain neglect, a certain lack of interest by the publisher in his own project. My hunch is that book buyers are gambling the price of a whole book on getting a single interesting essay out of the deal.
An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C.
Kate Masur offers the first major study of Washington during Reconstruction in over fifty years. Masur's panoramic account considers grassroots struggles, city politics, Congress, and the presidency, revealing the District of Columbia as a unique battleground in the American struggle over equality.
Comment: This represents local interest for me. Seven Amazonians have rated it a solid five stars.
Army at Home: Women and the Civil War on the Northern Home Front
Introducing readers to women whose Civil War experiences have long been ignored, Judith Giesberg examines the lives of working-class women in the North, for whom the home front was a battlefield of its own.
Comment: Matthew Gallman says this is a "highly original" work that applies "theoretical insights" (of some kind) to the ACW. The Amazon text gives no hint as to what he might be talking about. The promotional text fails to distinguish this from the many home front works that have preceded it.
Conflicting Memories on the "River of Death": The Chickamauga Battlefield and the Spanish-American War, 1863-1933
Bradley S. Keefer
Examines how the veterans of both sides constructed memories of this battle during the three decades leading to the creation of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. At the core is a conflict between Spanish-American and Civil War veterans over the battle site.
Comment: This new book seems to be out of print already with no marketplace sales of used editions to fill the gap. These are rich pickings for "memory" writers and readers, with ACW vets triumphing in civil struggle over their Spanish-American War counterparts.
S E P T E M B E R
THE IRON BRIGADE IN CIVIL WAR AND MEMORY: The Black Hats from Bull Run to Appomattox and Thereafter
More than a standard military account, Herdegen's latest puts flesh and faces on the men who sat around the campfires, marched through mud and snow and dust, fought to put down the rebellion, and recorded much of what they did and witnessed for posterity.
Comment: At a hefty 696 pages with 124 photos and 15 maps, the "why" of this book is to reorient on the human element. The author has spent decades collecting personal data on the men in the unit, including hundreds of letters recently discovered and not previously mined. Hertegen actually contributed some research to Alan Nolan's 1961 The Iron Brigade. There are two appendices and a 13 page bibliography (non-discursive).
War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865
James M. McPherson
James M. McPherson has crafted an enlightening, at times harrowing, and ultimately thrilling account of the war's naval campaigns and their military leaders.
Comment: Everything you already knew about the naval war retold in language borrowed from previous histories. Be sure to wash hands after reading.
To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862
David S. Hartwig
For the sesquicentennial of Antietam and the Maryland Campaign, D. Scott Hartwig delivers a riveting first installment of a two-volume study of the campaign and climactic battle.
Comment: A well-written book drained of controversy and filled with research short-cuts. Considered as entertainment, probably worth the price, pound for pound.
THE MARYLAND CAMPAIGN OF SEPTEMBER 1862: Volume II, Antietam
Ezra Carman (Author), Thomas Clemens
Carman's invaluable prose is augmented by his detailed maps of the dawn to nearly dusk fighting on September 17, which have never appeared in their original form in any book on the battle. Even more exciting are the newly discovered 19th century photographs authorized by Carman to document his work laying out the battlefield, a haunting visual record of how the battlefield appeared to Carman as he tried to unravel its mysteries.
Comment: Superbly noted and illustrated, this is an essential component to a Civil War library - as well as good reading. Clemens has hid his light under a bushel for decades, at least publishing-wise. Go and sample the editing goodness here.
Lincoln's Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union
Louis P. Masur
This is the first book to tell the full story of the critical period between September 22, 1862, when Lincoln issued his preliminary Proclamation, and January 1, 1863, when he signed the final, significantly altered, decree. With his deadline looming, Lincoln hesitated and calculated, frustrating friends and foes alike, as he reckoned with the anxieties and expectations of millions.
Comment: It's hard not to think of Masur as a one-man Springsteen fanzine (see here and here). Mazur does write ACW history, however, and the great gleaner himself, James McPherson, was moved to snatch one of Mazur's ACW book covers for a tome of his own. I like the claims the publisher makes for this volume but I am skeptical of the enjoyment pop historians like Mazur can deliver to deep readers.
The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses: Synopses, Orders of Battle, Strengths, Casualties, and Maps, June 9 - July 14, 1863
J. David Petruzzi, Steven Stanley
This is a full-color, master work decades in the making. Presented for the first time in print are comprehensive orders of battle for more than three dozen engagements both large and small waged during the five weeks of the Gettysburg Campaign (June 9 - July 14, 1863).
Comment: Petruzzi is reliable and Savas-Beatie will go all-out on this volume. Publication has been rescheduled to February 2013, however.
We Have the War Upon Us: The Onset of the Civil War, November 1860-April 1861
William J. Cooper
We Have the War Upon Us helps us understand what the major actors said and did: the Republican party, the Democratic party, southern secessionists, southern Unionists; why the pro-compromise forces lost; and why the American tradition of sectional compromise failed.
Comment: This is an attempt to revive the old "Blundering Generation" school of history against the near total control held by today's "Inevitability of War" historians. The major problem with this kind of book is that it attempts to do historiography by retelling the history instead of by critical analysis of the opponent's arguments. Because the Blundering Generation narrative feels so natural to readers, the net feeling can be "tell me what I don't know." I cannot say it strongly enough: you do not win historiographical arguments by writing best sellers. Get to the disagreement and make your case.
The Fire of Freedom: Abraham Galloway and the Slaves' Civil War
David S. Cecelski
Abraham H. Galloway (1837-70) was a fiery young slave rebel, radical abolitionist, and Union spy who rose out of bondage to become one of the most significant and stirring black leaders in the South during the Civil War. He risked his life behind enemy lines, recruited black soldiers for the North, and fought racism in the Union army's ranks. He also stood at the forefront of an African American political movement that flourished in the Union-occupied parts of North Carolina...
Comment: From the dependable UNC Press, this looks like a solid work of regional interest, with the possibility of broader appeal.
The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee
Earl J. Hess
This important campaign has never received a full scholarly treatment. In this landmark book, award-winning historian Earl J. Hess fills a gap in Civil War scholarship.
Comment: The one Amazon comment posted notes that Hess is kind to Longstreet and Burnside both. As sideshows go, Knoxville was probably one fraught with major potential.
The Last Battle of Winchester: Phil Sheridan, Jubal Early, and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, August 7 - September 19, 1864
The first serious study to chronicle the Third Battle of Winchester. Rich in analysis and character development, The Last Battle of Winchester is certain to become a classic Civil War battle study.
Comment: "Character development"?
The Real History of the Civil War: A New Look at the Past
Axelrod addresses a range of less-discussed subjects such as the efforts made to avert war (including Lincoln's initial hesitant response), the fragmentation of popular opinion in both the North and the South' and the institutional problems that afflicted the Union and Confederate Armies.
Comment: The author is a great simplifier with a ton of pop history and pop biz books in his portfolio.
America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation
The first major new interpretation of the Civil War era ... Where past scholars have limned the war as a triumph of freedom, Goldfield sees it as America's greatest failure: the result of a breakdown caused by the infusion of evangelical religion into the public sphere. As the Second Great Awakening surged through America, political questions became matters of good and evil to be fought to the death.
Comment: From the (fuller) description (not shown here), what we have is an effort to recast the ACW in the framework offered by the Agrarians or Fugitives. I like that framework but (again) you don't do historiography by telling stories; you do it by engaging the competing interpretations analytically. Anyway, this book has four stars from 17 Amazon commenters, so there is a market for this viewpoint, and that's a healthy thing. (For more on the inhuman fanaticism of the Civil War and other modern conflicts, see the new book The Verdict of Battle.)
The Union War
Gary W. Gallagher
Today, many believe that the war was fought over slavery. This answer satisfies our contemporary sense of justice, but as Gary Gallagher shows in this brilliant revisionist history, it is an anachronistic judgment.
Comment: This is the paperback release of an earlier hardback issue and I was not going to list these. However, this is an opportunity to address the apparently crazy idea that Gallagher could write a "revisionist history." No one has been more steadfast in defending the interpretations of 1945-1965 than Gallagher. In his treatment of the "Lost Cause" issue, I pronounced Gallagher incompetent to handle historiography (as opposed to storytelling). But Gallagher has been coming along over time to the point where he might be considered as a junior/journeyman historiographer. He still tends to absolutism, my way or the highway; he still lacks a constructive faculty for engaging opposing views; but he has reached the point where he can at least recognize opposing views and discuss them without personal attacks or gross mischaracterizations. This critical NYT review of the book by Eric Foner highlights some of the points that would allow a publisher to claim Gallagher as a "revisionist." I don't endorse the claim, but have a look.
Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors
Mark Elson’s expressive images, themselves evoking the look and style of nineteenth-century photographs, capture the painstaking attention to detail that goes into such reenactments.
Comment: There used to be more books aimed at the re-enactor market. You would think the hobby should be surging right now, but publishing points to a decline in interest.
African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album
Ronald S. Coddington
A renowned collector of Civil War photographs and a prodigious researcher, Ronald S. Coddington combines compelling archival images with biographical stories that reveal the human side of the war.
Comment: This is a beautifully designed book printed on superb glossy paper with crisp photographs and concise stories of each man pictured. The prose is restrained and dignified. The clarity of the images transcends the "old-timey" effect of so much ACW photography. This is not an album but a casebook and the overall feeling is one of presence.
Reconstructing the Campus: Higher Education and the American Civil War
Michael David Cohen
Then moving beyond 1865, the book explores the war’s long-term effects on colleges. Michael David Cohen argues that the Civil War ... prompted major reforms, including the establishment of a new federal role in education.
Comment: The question would be general tendencies vs. war impetus. I would need grounding in the history of American education to benefit from this.
In the Very Thickest of the Fight: The Civil War Service of the 78th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Its story is told here mostly in the words of its soldiers through letters, diaries and other sources, many never before accessed by historians. This book sheds new light on many important incidents and battles in the Civil War’s Western Theater.
Comment: At 392 pages, this represents no trivial reading commitment. One would hope for payoff in insights on the Western campaigns.
The Untried Life: The Story of the Twenty-Ninth Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War
James T. Fritsch
Told in unflinching detail, this is the story of the Twenty-Ninth Ohio Volunteer Infantry, also known as the Giddings Regiment or the Abolition Regiment, after its founder, radical abolitionist Congressman J. R. Giddings. The men who enlisted were, according to its lore, handpicked to ensure each was as pure in his antislavery beliefs as its founder.
Comment: "Unflinching detail" is the very best kind. It is the enemy of "extensive detail" and "adequate detail." Another labor of love at 512 pages and years in the making. The Giddings angle and hand-picking soldiers by means of ideological testing is interesting. We need readers to understand that the North fought the war with a Republican army. This book might help in that.
Two Captains from Carolina: Moses Grandy, John Newland Maffitt, and the Coming of the Civil War
The author twines together the lives of two accomplished nineteenth-century mariners from North Carolina--one African American, one Irish American. Though Moses Grandy and John Newland Maffitt Jr. (1819-1886) never met, their stories bring to vivid life the saga of race and maritime culture in the antebellum and Civil War-era South.
Comment: It seems an expedient for the author or publisher to combine two biographies into one and then fabricate links and parallels using false historical reasoning to glue the thing together. I'm not saying that such was done here but that this would be the temptation. A buddy story where the principals are not actually buddies. (Would Bland Simpson be related to Brooks "Spicy" Simpson?)
O C T O B E R
The Petersburg Campaign, Vol. 1: The Eastern Front Battles, June - August 1864
Edwin Bearss, Bryce Suderow
This is the first in a ground-breaking two-volume compendium. Although commonly referred to as the "Siege of Petersburg," much of the wide-ranging fighting involved large-scale Union offensives. Included are original maps by Civil War cartographer George Skoch, together with photos and illustrations. The result is a richer and deeper presentation of the major military episodes comprising the Petersburg Campaign.
Comment: The basis of this book is an extensive series of National Park Service reports prepared by Bearss "back in the day" with editing done by Bryce Suderow. One chapter on the Crater was contributed by Patrick Brennan to fix a gap in the material and complete the campaign's timeline. Bearss's introduction clearly lays out the genesis of the content (while taking time to complement Beatie's majestic three volumes of McClellan history). There are 23 very clean maps by my count and a five-page (non-discursive) bibliography.
The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace
In Brands's sweeping, majestic full biography, Grant emerges as a heroic figure who was fearlessly on the side of right.
Comment: In Dimitri's sweeping, majestic blog, he emerges as an heroic figure who is fearlessly on the side of right. (Not too sure about this book, though.)
Clash at Kennesaw: June and July 1864
Russell Blount Jr.
This dramatic recounting covers one of the Civil War's most gruesome battles ... No misery endured by troops is withheld. Along with details of the grisly battle, author Russell W. Blount, Jr. provides insight into the character of commanders William T. Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston.
Comment: Gorefest! Yum!
Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year
David Von Drehle
Here, acclaimed author David Von Drehle has created both a deeply human portrait of America’s greatest president and a rich, dramatic narrative about our most fateful year.
Comment: Focuses on 1862 as the year of personal development. This reader has experienced way too much greatness from Lincoln authors to sit through another 480 pages of panegyric.
THE BATTLES THAT MADE ABRAHAM LINCOLN: How Lincoln Mastered his Enemies to Win the Civil War, Free the Slaves, and Preserve the Union
The first study of its kind to concentrate on what Lincoln's contemporaries thought of him during his lifetime, and the obstacles they set before him.
Comment: The "battles" referred to are personal and political. Tagg is developing material he introduced previously on the theme of Lincoln's unpopularity. He is a reliable author with an eye for the interesting.
Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs
Guy R. Hasegawa
The first volume to explore the wartime provisions made for amputees in need of artificial limbs—programs that, while they revealed stark differences between the resources and capabilities of the North and the South, were the forebears of modern government efforts to assist in the rehabilitation of wounded service members.
Comment: When I was young, Civil War psychiatry was important in the general literature of psychiatry, especially in terms of understanding what we now call PTSD. That has slipped away. I would like to see Civil War medicine generally take its place in an historic continuum. This book will help.
THE BATTLE OF BIG BETHEL: Crucial Clash in Early Civil War Virginia
J. Michael Cobb, Edward Hicks, Wythe Holt Wythe
The first full-length treatment of the small but consequential June 1861 battle that reshaped both Northern and Southern perceptions about what lay in store for the divided nation.
Comment: The extended description on Amazon is not very interesting but for we early war people, the purchase and reading of this book will be mandatory.
Suppliers to the Confederacy: English Arms and Accoutrements
Craig L. Barry, David C. Burt
New research includes the discovery of lost information on many of the commercial gun makers. The book also looks at all the implements and accoutrements issued with the Enfield rifle musket... Each piece of equipment is examined in great detail and is accompanied by detailed photographs...
Comment: A specialist offering with re-enactor and collector overtones.
This Wicked Rebellion: Wisconsin Civil War Soldiers Write Home
Engaging, unique, moving, and humorous accounts from the letters of Wisconsin Civil War soldiers.
Comment: A Wisconsin Historical Society Press offering and I would say at first glance, of regional interest.
N O V E M B E R
Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict Between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland
Larry J. Daniel
Using previously neglected sources, Larry J. Daniel rescues this important campaign from obscurity. Three days of savage and bloody fighting between Confederate and Union troops at Stones River in Middle Tennessee ended with nearly 25,000 casualties ... The staggering number of killed or wounded equaled the losses suffered in the well-known Battle of Shiloh.
Comment: Daniels has an interesting resume. Readers generally will recognize him as a repeat visitor to the Army of the Cumberland and its variants.
Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864
In Richmond Must Fall, Hampton Newsome examines these October battles in unprecedented scope and detail. Drawing on an array of original sources, Newsome focuses on the October battles themselves, examining the plans for the operations, the decisions made by commanders on the battlefield, and the soldiers' view from the ground. At the same time, he places these military actions in the larger political context of the fall of 1864.
Comment: I wonder if he makes the connection between failed battles motivated by political desires and the November ballot?
Lincoln as Hero
Frank J. Williams
Lincoln as Hero shows how—whether it was as president, lawyer, or schoolboy—Lincoln extolled the foundational virtues of American society.
Comment: The choice is between "no comment" and "beneath comment."
Lincoln's Forgotten Friend, Leonard Swett
Robert S. Eckley
Robert S. Eckley provides the first biography of Swett, crafting an intimate portrait of his experiences as a loyal member of Lincoln’s inner circle.
Comment: "Companions of the prophet" is a genre of hagiography. The only justification for a Swett biography on historical grounds would be to map his views and their influence on Lincoln's important decisions. Is that what we have here? What is the point of being in Lincoln's inner circle given the methods by which Lincoln took advice and then action?
The Civil War and American Art
Eleanor Jones Harvey
Artists and writers wrestled with the ambiguity and anxiety of the Civil War and used landscape imagery to give voice to their misgivings as well as their hopes for themselves and the nation. Its grim reality, captured through the new medium of photography, was laid bare. American artists could not approach the conflict with the conventions of European history painting, which glamorized the hero on the battlefield.
Comment: A Smithsonian release through Yale University Press, this is one I'll be pre-ordering. Harvey's tastes in art are very conservative and I'll be reading her analysis skeptically, but this is one I can't pass up.
"A Punishment on the Nation" - An Iowa Soldier Endures the Civil War
Brian Craig Miller
Haven's Civil War crackles across each page as he chronicles one man s journey from Iowa to war and back again.
Comment: The marketers who write this copy need to spend more time figuring out what the specific historical value of a title might be. This is very hard, but they need to do it. "Crackling pages" sounds like an entertainment proposition.
Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Alabama in the Civil War
Ben H. Severance
The tenth volume in this acclaimed series showing the human side of the country's great national conflict.
Comment: If you're an Alabaman, go for it. Otherwise, this is like keeping a family album of someone else's family.
GENERAL GRANT AND THE REWRITING OF HISTORY: How a Great General (and Others) Helped Destroy General William S. Rosecrans and Influence our Understanding of the Civil War
Juxtaposing primary source documents (some of them published here for the first time) against Grant's own pen and other sources, Professor Varney sheds new light on what really happened on some of the Civil War's most important battlefields.
Comment: This is the 2012 book I've been waiting for: in-your-face historiography. If you've read Lamers, you have had a foretaste of this.