Book blurt (cont.)

The last post listed new books. This post plays “catch up” with older titles that were comp’d or bought.

The Civil War in the East: Struggle, Stalemate, and Victory
Brooks D. Simpson

... fills a gap in Civil War literature on the strategies employed by the Union and Confederacy in the East, offering a more integrated interpretation of military operations that shows how politics, public perception, geography, and logistics shaped the course of military operations in the East.

Comment: At about 176 pages, this is what a short history is meant to be: erudite, pungent, interesting, integrative, analytical, and engaging for deep readers already familiar with the material. I cannot think of another short history that lives up this purpose, although publishers keep issuing them. A great many controversies and issues are compressed throughout and that requires reader trust. It’s a lot to ask for from strangers. Myself, having seen Simpson handle evidence on a great many issues on USENET years ago, I’ll vouch for him, if that nudges you towards a good read. His justice to the record tends towards exceptional, although it is not transparent in this brief format. Some of his characterizations may irritate, but consider that the tax you pay for a top notch essay written for sophisticates like yourselves. It's a nice concentrate of the whole Simpsonian gestalt. This is a major author in a field generally bereft of major authors and Simpson is always worth your time.

The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom
Glenn David Brasher

... the campaign saw something new in the war - the participation of African Americans in ways that were critical to the Union offensive. Ultimately that participation influenced Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation proclamation...

Comment: This book is more about black participation than Lincoln’s cogitations. It contains lots of new research and the perspective is fresh and multidimensional, putting the military and political in tandem in a way few Civil War tomes do. I felt sorry for Brasher being directed by his park superiors to make social history for his battlefield interpretations but he has done a really fine piece of history, despite its luridly multicult overtones. It’s a delight to read a substantial ACW account where almost everything is new. The political analysis is deeper than the promotional copy implies and if the book suffers a fault it may be the narrowness of the focus here. But that is also a strength and will make this a source for future writing. This is an interesting young historian.

Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America
James Marten

... explains how the 19th Century’s “Greatest Generation” attempted to blend back into society and how their experiences were treated by non-veterans.

Comment: Marten is a prolific Civil War author you may have missed - he concentrates on social history and his books have the flavor of collections of anecdotes with fairly dry, short, spare bridges of his own text between Dickensian primary material. His taste is for the darker stuff - especially the grotesque inadequacies of 19th Century social services - and so despite the upbeat title here, when I saw “by James Marten” I knew my buzz would be harshed. Further, Marten’s technique is to transition between anecdotes by forcing a synthesis on literary terms, not analytically or conceptually. “Like many men, George Crosby had come to ...” “Despite loved ones’ resistance, veterans usually ...” “Dunn exemplifies the veteran who ...” These transitions build discontent in the reader as they seem expedients to tie the material together without leading to a general insight or argument. This all spells more ennui as readers plod through one misery after another expecting Marten to unveil a moral, an agenda, a cause. You think, “I feel I’m reading an IWW account of U.S. history but the author won’t own up.” It all just hangs there in a dark cloud. And Marten’s has been the strangest career in Civil War nonfiction.

A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War
Daniel E. Sutherland

A Savage Conflict is the first work to treat guerrilla warfare as critical to understanding the course and outcome of the Civil War. Daniel Sutherland argues that irregular warfare took a large toll on the Confederate war effort by weakening support for state and national governments and diminishing the trust citizens had in their officials to protect them.

Comment: This is a hard argument to prove and I am not sure the author succeeds. The shine in this book lies in its research. I feel that Sutherland trusts the immense weight of anecdotes to close the deal for him in lieu of deep analysis. However, the many primary sources are fresh, making the stories especially compelling and with 74 pages of discursive end notes and a 63 page bibliography, what’s not to like? Amazonians give it 4.5 stars.

Masters and Savages (Novel)
James Dawsey

A saint who despises slavery yet traffics in people. A Southern hero, but also a coward. A runaway aching for home. Civil War survivor Witfield Stone totters on the brink of insanity. Entrusted with transporting contract laborers from Africa to Brazil where his father and members of the Southern Land and Immigration Society plan to reconstruct their lost fortunes, Witfield takes special interest in the fate of eleven-year-old Fatima.

Comment: Dawsey was co-author of the nonfiction Civil War publishing sensation Confederados and here tries fiction writing. This book begins as a kind of psychological study with exotic overtones and becomes a sea dog action tale as disease, a misfit sea captain, and anti-slaver patrols put the ocean-going Confederados in grave peril. I should add that it helps to think of this in terms of 1950s Catholic novels, if you were ever into that scene. Also rated at 4.5 stars by Amazon reviewers.

Lincoln and McClellan at War
Chester Hearn
Lincoln, the Cabinet, and the Generals
Chester Hearn

Comment: I’ll review these two together in a posting of their own in the near future.