Book blurt (Aug-Nov 2012)

Have been meaning to present the old Civil War Book News information in a new way on this blog without duplicating what Drew is doing on one of his subsites. This first experiment does as the old site does: it lists all the hardcopies out on a date but excludes e-editions. I have gone a step further here and excluded simple reprints of known works, reprints of new titles recently released, kids books, and patently ridiculous self-published work. Where the old site compiled its list from multiple sources, this listing is strictly from Amazon, a time saver. As a result, Amazon's often erroneous release dates were used to save myself the labor I used to do cross-checking stated dates with the publisher's own data.

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...


Terrible Swift Sword: The Life of General Philip H. Sheridan
Joseph Wheelan

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

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

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
Judith Giesberg

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.


THE IRON BRIGADE IN CIVIL WAR AND MEMORY: The Black Hats from Bull Run to Appomattox and Thereafter
Lance Herdegen

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.


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
Scott Patchan

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

Alan Axelrod

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

David Goldfield

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

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
Steve Raymond

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
Bland Simpson

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?)


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

HW Brands

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
Larry Tagg

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

John Zimm

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.


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
Hampton Newsome

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
Frank Varney

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.


Generals who faint (cont.)

The general who faints is now going to lose his scalp, along with the AFRICOM commander, both of them having watched a seven-hour attack on security cam feeds, drone television, cell phone and radio audio and who knows what else. The public will not understand their deep political motivations for non-action and judge them simply as soldiers who failed to do the right thing.

Over a week ago, I heard Col. David Hunt tick off which feeds were going to which operational headquarters and which commanders and politicos were watching the carnage in real-time. Today he was on New England radio again and he said (paraphrasing):
If the State Department tells you, a general, no go, you call the New York Times immediately. But we don't have that kind of officer anymore.
A young USAF intel analyst called a morning talk show in D.C. to explain the FLASH messaging system triggers and the protocols that would move message traffic up to the president in cases where an ambassador was missing or under attack. The host wanted to argue with him on the subject of Why didn't the generals act and the young analyst took great pains to explain to him what a U.S. general is, in fact, and that it would be very foolish to expect such action. The host could not absorb the information.

The difference between a Civil War general and a 2012 general is that a Civil War general needed significant political sponsorship to gain his rank (even at one star) and he needed sustained sponsorship to remain in command. A modern general needs political approval to serve at the three and four star level - the one and two star guys are selected by other generals, including the political powerhouse three and four star men.

We confuse ourselves as a culture by perpetuating the nonsense that the Civil War sidelined political generals in favor of technocrats who could perform. Generals are highly political, highly sensitive to politics, and could not achieve rank or function bureaucratically without all of the dark arts associated with politics.

Wesley Clark, to take an example, is not a "Clinton general" because he speaks out in favor of Clinton causes. He is a "Clinton general" because Clinton made him. Every four star combatant commander is a man made by the White House and/or Congress. Every modern general praises Robert E. Lee and Ulysses Grant (both were highly political generals, BTW) with his mouth while acting the Benjamin Butler with his other parts.

If we could fix Civil War history on this score, it would advance the general understanding of what a general is and does.

p.s. See this report on a CIA press release as well. The headline and analysis have reversed the meaning of the release.

Update, 10/27: Scalp number one.


Unknown portrait of George Thomas

Have not seen this portrait of George Thomas in the literature before. It seems based on a photograph. The picture hangs in the Army & Navy Club in DC and no date is given, no artist is credited. Have seen it often but decided to snap it at lunch yesterday using my crappy phonecam.

If you are planning on writing a George Thomas bio (possible theme: America's unknown hero), go get a better photo for your cover art.


The Mysterioso returns

Rick Beard is back in the public eye, his background totally erased by the New York Times. (They're really good at removing and revising information, I think.)

Scroll down to the bottom to read his spiffy new legend.

(H/T to RC)


"To Antietam Creek" with Scott Hartwig

How odd this is: D. Scott Hartwig, the supervisory park historian at Gettysburg writes a book, and it is The Maryland Campaign of September 1862. The Maryland Campaign! (The first volume, To Antietam Creek, is out now.)

And, if you were the supervisory park historian at Gettysburg with an itch to write about Maryland, of all topics, what one major qualification would you bring to the table? What is the main thing you have learned at Gettysburg? That thing that defines your job? That thing that the public pounds into your skull every day of your waking life and again at night, in your dreams?

You would know controversy. You would know it as well as any man can know anything. And for you to know controversy through Gettysburg and then march your readers through 794 pages of the Maryland Campaign as if it were a controversy-free zone, that is very odd. I can’t even say how strange that is.

If you tasked me to write about Gettysburg, I would research and write outwards from the points of scholarly contention to the general account. I cannot imagine another way. And yet here ...

Perhaps “controversy-free zone” is overstatement for this new book. There are whiffs of controversy in the end notes but these are shrunk smaller than pick six tickets and then resolved with speed and certitude or sidestepped entirely.

For instance, the command crisis of early September would easily make a 794 page book of its own, but Hartwig spares much ink by deciding that Halleck’s unsubstantiated testimony to the CCW is the whole story: Lincoln ordered McClellan to the field. Lincoln contradicts this, McClellan contradicts this but in Hartwig’s lottery system, he picks one answer out of hat and declares it the winner.

In related strangeness, Hartwig gives kudos to Ethan Rafuse’s McClellan War which reports the command crisis correctly and in some detail. Could he trouble himself with a comment to say why he rejects Rafuse's account?

Sometimes, these bizarre resolutions work in the reader’s favor. Hartwig has no use for the ridiculous claim that McClellan issued no directives after finding SO 191; he discusses a couple of afternoon orders in particular. Again, he does so without bringing on a general engagement with the authors who he says influenced him. Let’s refresh our memories on this point:
Every writer agrees that Little Mac erred egregiously when he failed to order an immediate march toward the west on the afternoon of September 13. [...] Instead, McClellan squandered the afternoon and evening of the 13th, sending orders after dark for a two-pronged advance the next morning... A. Wilson Greene, "I Fought the Battle Splendidly," Antietam: Essays on the 1862 Maryland Campaign, Gary Gallagher, ed.

A full 18 hours would pass before the first Yankee soldiers marched in response to the discovery of 'all the plans of the rebels.' Stephen Sears, A Landscape Turned Red

Instead of setting his troops in motion immediately, McClellan made careful plans and did not order the men forward until daybreak on September 14, 18 hours after he had learned Lee's dispositions. As things turned out, this delay enabled Lee to concentrate and save his army. James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom
The LOL foolishness above is quoted en bloc because these very authors and these same books are named explicitly by Hartwig as having influenced his own work.

In fact, these three plus Harsh, Carman, and Rafuse are almost the only secondary sources named in the context of influencing our author’s work. Praise for them is fulsome. But why if their views are put to curb like broken furniture? Can’t we then call Hartwig's praise insincere or meaningless?

The impression given by the end notes is that Hartwig built this book out of the OR, some diaries, Landscape Turned Red, Sears' bio of GBM, and what Hartwig imagines to be McClellan’s "letters to his wife." That is a simplification but that's what the notes convey. The severe shortage of secondary source analysis is unforgivable. The absence of Harsh and Rafuse here is especially striking.

So, bad controversy and evidence handling prevail over good. Hartwig first narrows the field of contestants in a controversy, then picks a lottery winner without resorting to argument.

Let me give a severe but representative example.

McClellan had ridden out of the city limits to meet Pope’s returning command. Hartwig recaps Jacob Cox’s account of the encounter of McClellan, Pope, and McDowell and he notes the account with an aside: “For McClellan’s fanciful and largely innacurate account of this meeting, see McClellan, McClellan’s Own Story, 537.”

So there are two versions of the event, one by a principal (GBM) and one by an observer (JC) and we are to take the observer’s version as real and the principal’s as “fanciful” and “innacurate.”

Why? No answer is given.

The distinctions in the two stories are simplicity and complexity. Cox tells a simple story: Pope’s party, looking tired, approached, received orders where to position units, saluted, and moved on. McClellan’s version recounts the substance of the conversation with Pope aside from the matter of positioning units in the defenses. The content of this conversation had to do with status of units and firing in the distance. This is what Hartwig says is “fanciful” and “largely innacurate.”

Hartwig continues in his note to say, “Also see Sears, George B. McClellan, 262, for Cox’s comments on McClellan’s account.” We turn to that work with high expectations and on said page we read: “In preparing a review of McClellan’s Own Story, Cox, a witness to the encounter, jotted in the margin of his copy, ‘Certainly not true.’”

And there you have it. Cox is the winner through the magic of simple assertion. We now know what happened when McClellan met Pope. All we had to do was debit GBM's account 100% and credit Cox's the same amount.

I could go through the end notes compiling a list of these, where a variant account is acknowledged in the back of the book and then disposed of by coin toss or lottery.

If history were only that easy. Gettysburg teaches us that it isn’t.

I have a couple of suspicions about this book.

- Hartwig started the book one way, many years ago, and resolved not to be influenced by the many new works or their implications before he finished his study.

- He believes the determinative outcome on all controversies lies with the author; the author must make the call.

- He believes that once the author makes the call, the qualities of the narrative and the reading experience, not the evidence, will determine for the reader if the calls were right.

- He believes he has written an authoritative account of the campaign.

And this takes me to another assumption. In my 794-page first volume, I see an introduction of two and one-tenth pages length. I see a bibliographical essay of three and one quarter pages length. Astonishing. My surmise is that Scott was compelled to add these by his publisher and did so with the greatest haste (if not reluctance).

We have in this large volume nowhere that the the author states his case for this book, why he wrote it, what it’s supposed to do for us, how it relates to the field in which it appears.

And that is the oddest thing of all.

p.s. It is with great reluctance that I criticize at length someone’s labor of love, especially someone with the good-guy reputation of D. Scott Hartwig. This book is readable and on levels enjoyable. I found things I did not know and Mr. Hartwig, to my great fun, rolls over some conventional wisdom like a steamroller when his sources lead him to do so. The extended criticism in this post is a recommendation with caveats - I don’t link to authors I can’t recommend.

The problem is his is no broad view of the evidence; there is narrative driving analysis; there is a haste to close open questions and to avoid engaging in controversy in a deep or meaningful way.

Epistemology is at the root of history - why do we believe that we know this or that as “fact”? Evidence handling flows from that. If we don’t ask the right questions we are left with a story that obeys the inner logic of fiction plotting.

I am going to post on some individual topics out of this book and dissect them in detail in the weeks ahead. This is not an all-out assault on Scott Hartwig but an opportunity to review failings across the spectrum of Civil War history.

This is a criticism blog and critics will be critics.

p.p.s. Harry has an interview with the author here.

A UFO sighting called "Lincoln"

It's not out yet but IMDb has 916 users who rated the Spielberg film "Lincoln" an aggregate 7.9 stars out of 10.

How do they do that?

An unfinished version of the film was shown in NY recently. Here's the report, here's a review.
Lincoln isn't as sentimental as you might expect from Spielberg ... Lincoln veers too often toward becoming a somnolent period piece ... Though it might have worked better as a tighter, purely political thriller...
I'm hearing OSCAR, baby!

Meanwhile, here's a compendium of twitter reviews from the watchers. Do we like on twitter? Or is that facebook? Because I like:
Not as bad as the trailers suggested but not interesting enough to watch again...

... [watch] only for hilarious overacting ...
Maybe this is a template, Shakespeare for the Americans. Lots of shouting, arm waving, "scenery chewing." Why should a lot of out-of-control stage actors own all that excess?

(Lon Chaney Sr. would have made a great Spielberg Lincoln.)


Gardening advice

The host of a gardening show this morning observed (paraphrase follows):
I've been at this for 50 years and I still struggle to understand things. But if you go into the big box store and the clerk reads you something off a product label, that's now expert opinion.
Do you go to the big box stores in Civil War history (McPherson, Davis, Gallagher, etc.)? They have tiny labels on their products that solve all sorts of Civil War problems. Is that where your "expert opinion" is coming from?

Gardening is harder than that.


Sludge alert - Lincoln edition

A correspondent kindly sent me a little item.
Get ready for a lot more of this with the Spielberg movie coming out.

“Sidney Blumenthal, journalist, author, historian, and former senior adviser to President Clinton, is completing a book titled The Man Who Became Abraham Lincoln: How He Won the Civil War and Was Assassinated.”
Indeed, the more of a hit this Lincoln film is, the more bad Lincoln books will clog the bookstores.

Don't expect Lincoln scholars to put up a fight, though. They rolled over for Cuomo, Goodwin, O'Reilly and McPherson.* They will welcome their new sludge overlords.

It's become a habit with them.

*Small Caveats for Guelzo and Foner however, for remarks against Goodwin's book made in reviews.

Update, 10/19:
Our correspondent writes,
And what’s with that awful book title? You could envision a series:

The Man Who Became John Kennedy: How He Wooed Marilyn and Was Assassinated

The Man Who Became James Garfield: How He Pissed off Charles Guiteau and Was Assassinated

The Man Who Became Elvis: How He Became a Star and Was Found Dead on the Toilet

The Woman Who Became Margaret Mitchell: How She Wrote Gone With the Wind and Was Run Over by a Taxi
Maybe we should go easy on him - is it his first book? Isn't everyone's first book about Lincoln?


The greatest thing about Civil War history

This blog was founded oh so many years ago in violent reaction to the low standards in Civil War history. Over the last decade it has stayed "on topic" - in other words, it has remained dour, pessimistic, bitter, and critical.

The next post will be number 4,000 and so I wanted to log a kudo to a field that may be unique in this one very important respect. Civil War history is powered by self-taught aficionados who do original research, publish books and articles, and search for the truth on a path by which they learn good historical practice, ethical evidence handling, and judicious evaluation. I am continuously impressed by the vibrant subculture. I am continuously impressed by amateurs who discover and maintain the highest professional standards.

You might even say that the ACW subculture is actually the dominant culture. That is very, very cool and what other scene can touch that?

I came to this field from from 20 years reading in modern European history. They don't have this. Their professional standards are infinitely higher than a McPherson's, but they don't have a vibrant subculture of independent researchers concerned with truth over narrative.

As the Internet and its manifestations enable one to break down "authority" with deeply researched challenges, the ACW buff is/was already there before the Web with pamphlets, tour guide spiels, roundtable talks, USENET posts, and the dark private mutterings issued over every primary source discovery that overturns conventional wisdom.

The ACW scene had all the potential of a self-policing discipline. My involvement with USENET and FTP in the mid-90s showed me the promise of a search for "new knowledge."

Today, we ACW readers have our professors, we have our Pulitzers, and God help us. So does every other corner of the historical publishing trade. Believe me when I say that absolutely everyone else has better of such than we - much, much better.

Nevertheless, we do love our few good professors (Harsh, Clemens, Simpson, Rafuse, Rowland, Reed, some others). And yet our real ACW juice is coming from self-taught scholars who are concerned with the ethical treatment of sources, contradictions in the master narrative handed down from the Centennial, and concerned with new research. They are enabled by small publishing houses, self publishing technology, and the Internet with all its publishing ramifications.

The headlock we as ACW readers have been held in from the nightmarish 1960s until the founding of this blog has been broken through the efforts of the self-taught researchers following moral rather than narrative compasses. They have been aided and abetted by the Savas-Beaties of the world and by other independent and adventurous publishers, often university presses.

Unless the day comes when we readers get swamped again by another tidal wave of ignoramus readers inspired by some future Ken Burns' "Civil War" schlock or by a pulp novel bestseller like Michael Shaara's "Killer Angels," we should do well. We deserve to do well.

This new century looks very promising indeed.


Foner and Hobsbawm

Blogger Ron Radosh uses the matter of fawning obituaries for Eric Hobsbawm to apply a few lashes to Eric Foner's hide:
Naturally, writing in The Nation, the left-wing’s most prominent historian and Pulitzer Prize winner, Eric Foner, lauded Hobsbawm in very different terms. Playing the old Popular Front game, Foner ignored even commenting on his defense of the old Soviet Union and of Stalin’s terror. Rather, Foner simply called him a “life-long advocate of social justice.” Obviously, in Foner’s eyes, anyone supporting Stalin and the old Soviet cause was simply revealing his concern for the peoples of the world and their persistent struggles for equality. Hobsbawm never gave up his beliefs, Foner writes- although Foner never tells readers what these were- saying only that Hobsbawm stayed firm because “out of respect for the memory of comrades who had suffered persecution or death for their political beliefs.”

Not a word from Foner about the many who were persecuted or went to death in the Soviet system that Hobsbawm (and Foner) so revere. This is not surprising. In 1994, Foner attacked Eugene D. Genovese’s Dissent essay “The Question,” writing that Genovese was prone to “right-wing ideology” because he dared to acknowledge what Foner and Hobsbawm never could — that in supporting the Soviet Union, the Left was as guilty as Stalin, and that “social movements that have espoused radical egalitarianism and participatory democracy have begun with mass murder and ended in despotism.” To Foner, the great sin is anti-Communism, and he believes that supporting left-wing tyranny is excusable and understandable.

Foner concludes that “Hobsbawm’s historical writings brought to bear a sophisticated Marxist analysis that saw class conflict as a driving force of historical change but rejected narrow economic determinism and teleological frameworks. Like Marx himself, Hobsbawm saw capitalism as a total social system, which had to be analyzed in its entirety, and rejected notions of historical inevitability. He insisted that people must strive to envision a more humane social order, but that history had no predetermined trajectory.”

So we are not surprised that Eric Foner thinks Hobsbawm to be a great historian. How could he not, since he shares with the late scholar a fond remembrance for the old Soviet Union and a nostalgia for the good work engaged in by the old Communists, like Foner’s own parents and uncles.
A commenter chips in with this note:
You mention Eric Foner. He’s best known as the author of the standard (don’t ask me why) history of Reconstruction in the United States, but the book of his that I read was an essay collection titled “The Battle for History” or some such. In it, he recounted some of his early life and background. His father taught (if I remember right) history at Columbia, and lost his job during the height of the McCarthy Red “Scare” for what Foner thought were completely bogus reasons. Anyway, after telling you of this, the author recounts that he was at an awards dinner with Gabor Borritt, a reasonably well-known Civil War historian who was born in Czechoslovakia, participated in the “Prague Spring” as a teenager, and fled in the aftermath, winding up in the United States. Borritt tells Foner that he grew up in a totalitarian state where freedom of expression was brutally suppressed, and Foner responds that he was brought up in such a country, too… ‘Nuff said…
I think I could have put this whole case more simply. Anyone who applies dialectical materialism to the study of history is building paradigms, not doing history. Whether Foner is in that group, I don't know.


Cats of the Civil War

Not that I visit cat sites, but is this true? The cartoonist says Abe kept four kitties in the White House. As for Lee, his cats would have to inhabit various field HQ, which seems unlikely.

Cats of the Civil War - a coffee table book concept that will eventually have its day.


Sesquicentennial beers

The full story is here with a derivative report here.

I drank a glass of Antietam Ale with my oysters last week.It was way too hoppy - left me thinking the brewers did not understand the bitter style of ales. On the other hand, they could be following demand and right now, in the beer world, hopheads are ruining it for absolutely everyone else.

IIRC, Col. Wainwright, in Diary of Battle, remarks that visitors to Burnside's tent/HQ were offered a choice of hard cider, wine, beer, or porter (the darker, fuller bodied beer whose heaviest incarnation is known as "stout porter"). Quite an incentive to coordinate.

Frederick radio, meanwhile, had a news report last weekend from a beer festival, that mentioned the porter style and explained it to the general public as being dark because it is brewed with malt.

Sorry to go all Michael Jackson on you. (Chris Wehner got to this first.)

Civil War tours of Connecticut

"Civil War sesquicentennial fever is gripping Connecticut."

Who am I to gainsay?


Celebrate Columbus Day

Here's a 572-page book that argues Columbus was Portuguese, Jewish, and an agent planted on Spain. For one cent per copy is the risk worth the expenditure?


Authors who stop writing

Very interesting topic. H/T Instapundit.

I have an ACW list: you do too.

Mine starts with Edward Steere. Yours?


Faust pities the cheaters

Drew G. Faust, the Civil War historian at the head of Harvard,
blames the current cheating scandal raging on campus, which involves as many as 125 Harvard students, on societal “pressures” and a lack of intellectual “excitement.”
This is another way of saying that her customers are determined to get the credentials they are paying for. (Link)

The Crimson reports,
Harvard first launched an investigation of 125 students in Matthew Platt’s government course “Introduction to Congress” in May after teaching fellows suspected that students may have plagiarized answers or inappropriately collaborated on the class’ final take-home exam.
The tenured professors are cheating by having "teaching fellows" handle the grading, if not the teaching. But that's not the scandal we're talking about here. And just think. An introduction to Congress - that's got to be an unbelievably hard subject. It's a tribute to our educational system that young people would even enroll in a course so daunting.

If I were Faust, I might say, "Why in Civil War history, we don't even know what plagiarism is." But that again is a different scandal and I don't know if it would help the cheaters.

Speaking of history, in the middle of the last century, Harvard ceased being a finishing school for the regional gentry. Today, it is a diploma mill for manic strivers nationally, kids who at age four are already signed up for the very best pre-kindergartens. Now the funny thing about manic strivers is that they tend to strive maniacally.

This cheating therefore opens an interesting question. If you cheat, does than make you more of a striver or more of a slacker? Because if it makes you more of a slacker, Harvard is right to be outraged to its very core and no punishment will be harsh enough. But if cheating makes the striver even more of a striver, well then, yeah societal pressures, blah blah blah, we understand, etc.

In her comments, Faust may be signalling that cheaters are the more intense flavor of what Harvard is really all about.

Update, 10/09: Meanwhile there's money to be made off of strivers:
Gerald and Lily Chow say in their suit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston that they gave Mark Zimny more than $2 million to get their sons into an elite American university, preferably Harvard.

Thanks for visiting!

If you see an idea you like here, take it, claim it as your own and run with it. You'll be helping me drain the noxious swamp that is "Civil War history."


Civil War history and the larger problem

Just when you think the social sciences have reached an acme of corruption and incompetence, Nature rides to the rescue. Scientific papers: Fraud, fraud, fraud, and fraud.

I'll give this to the natural sciences, however. I have NEVER heard of an ACW paper or book being retracted due to to errors.

Either we do a much better job than the scientists or uh ...

Charles Wilkes, in thoughtful retrospect

Wilkes was something of a loose cannon in the American navy. James McPherson, War on the Waters, 2012, p. 44

"This was the last straw for Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, who now considered Wilkes a dangerous loose cannon." Item description, Raab Collection, 2011.

"CHARLES WILTS [sic] IS A LOOSE CANNON ON A ROLLING DECK." - comments section, C-Span "Person of the Year, 1861" program, 2011.

"Captain Wilkes was what one might call a bit of a 'loose cannon,' so to speak." Paul Culliton, "What Might Have Been," 2010.

"Wilkes was a loose cannon..." Kirkus Reviews on Sea of Glory, 2004

"It wasn't until years later, finally promoted first to captain then rear-admiral, that [Wilkes] this 'loose cannon' finally became too much of a liability ..." Discussion board, 2004

"Wilkes was an egotist, a little bit of a loose cannon..." James McPherson, interview, World Socialist Website, 1999

Death of an historian

The fawning obits over historian Eric Hobsbawm's passing triggered this little thought experiment.

p.s.,Thought for the day from this obit compendium:
Most historians are by nature either short-story writers or novelists...
More the pity.

p.s. I last blogged about Hobsbawm in 2006. Kevin Levin complemented the posting. If you ride the "Lost Cause" hobbyhorse (if you believe there is such a thing as a "Lost Cause" tradition), you have to read Hobsbawm and the concept of "invented traditions," no excuses. Then you have to read Popper on what a conspiracy theory is and ask yourself if you belong to one.


Self-plagiarism webinar

This was addressed to me but I see no reason why you couldn't enroll. I'm not shilling, I'm interested in a little-discussed ethical area where our ACW friends love to romp:
Hello Dimitri,

What exactly is wrong with re-using one’s own work? Why do publications care? Join iThenticate and three expert panelists for a free, 1-hour webcast to address this widely debated and misunderstood area of misconduct.

Date/Time: Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 11:30am PST


Hear why self-plagiarism is a significant concern in scholarly publishing
Explore the reasons for the rise of self-plagiarism
Get insights into journalism ethics, publication ethics and how to best avoid self-plagiarism

Kelly McBride, Poynter
Rachael Lammey, CrossRef
Jonathan Bailey, Plagiarism Today

Register now

Spots are limited, register early! We look forward to seeing you online in a few weeks.

Best regards,

iThenticate Team


Eight volumes of stories

Last month, Drew Wagenhoffer noticed Scott Bowden's eight-volume military biography of Lee.

The publisher's key statement is: "Military History Press has committed to a lavish graphic presentation, sure to set a new standard in campaign and combat studies." The publisher is going to outdo the old American Heritage Press, if it can, and has a sample chapter online that you can peruse as I did.

The graphics claim holds up.

A claim made about the author does not:
Never before addressed topics include a complete analysis of Lee's art of war. Also, and for the first time, Bowden explains in great detail Lee's ongoing efforts to craft and reorganize the army he inherited from Joe Johnston-a force unevenly led and inefficiently organized-into a modern and fierce fighting machine known as the Army of Northern Virginia.
These may be addressed in another chapter, however.

As you will see in the sample chapter, Mr. Bowden is a very good writer; facile, interesting, and in control of his material. The problem is the kind of control he exerts over all that material.

Our sample Chapter 3 covers the period immediately after the Lee-Pemberton team was broken up in South Carolina and it carries through Seven Pines and Lee's accession to Smith's command.

There are so many historical problems and controversies here that you couldn't address them all in one chapter. Our author doesn't try - he takes a single outcome or interpretation in each case and runs with it.

Take for example the business of Lee, as Davis's advisor, secretly giving orders to Johnston's units in the Valley. Dowdey, in his classic treatment of this period gives a whole chapter to Lee's "machiavellian" behavior. But Bowden says, "Lee's proximity required he supervise" Jackson and Ewell. Required. Further, "the baffling chain-of-command left Lee in a nebulous and needlessly complicated position." What nebulous is not: issuing orders to other people's troops.

Point of delicacy: Bowden notes Lee had to "acquire [Davis's] permission for such movements" and "while having done so, try with great tact to avoid offending the touchy Johnston."

He gets touchy when you move his units ... when you fail to inform him of your orders ... when you seek higher authority to command his men.

What a grouch!

"Having backed his army into the environs of the Confederate capital, Johnston waited there incommunicado." "Thus Johnston had carried out his original insubordinate intention with seeming malice."

And so you see how it goes here. Seven Pines was "phenomenally mismanaged." Lee suffered the "personality flaws of Davis."

I could take it controversy by controversy but it would exceed comfortable blogging length, for these historical problems require careful handling and attention. Here, they are given the storyteller's short shrift.

Take a look. Don't mind "capitol" for "capital" or "throws" for "throes" for this is a draft.

If the publisher commissioned a coffee table picture book, his author gave him more quality than is required. If he commissioned a military biography of Lee, the reader is sold short.