Book Review: German Prisoners of War at Camp Cooke, California

Geiger, Jeffrey E. German Prisoners of War at Camp Cooke, CaliforniaMechanicsburg: Sunbury Press. 2018. 271 pages, index, bibliography, end notes, b/w photos, maps. ISBN 9781620067505, $19.95.

The issue of what to do with prisoners of war has always been a vexing one for conquering armies. Decisions on how to transport them, where to keep them, dietary needs, healthcare, clothing, work, security and more must be answered. While the standards set by the Geneva Convention helped answer some of these questions the requirements still must be implemented.

For the Allies this problem was extraordinarily difficult. It was known that prisoners of the Germans were not always treated in the most humane way but to treat German POWs similarly went against American values and opened the door to further abuses by the Germans and their Axis partners.

For the more than 370,000 German prisoners, many from the Afrika Corps of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, sent to the United States their time fighting was done. While thousands of miles from home they could be assured of better treatment than they often received from their own commanders. It is these type men that author Jeffrey E. Geiger, the retired chief civilian historian from Vandenberg Air Force Base, sets out to introduce us to in his book German Prisoners of War at Camp Cooke, California.

Geiger begins his work with a history of Camp Cooke which was originally established in 1941 as a training facility before becoming a prisoner of war camp in June 1944. Camp Cooke was home to around 1,200 prisoners and also oversaw sixteen branch camps within a 200 mile radius. The camp remained open until May 1946 when the last prisoners began their journey home. Some would find their way home quickly, especially if they were from the “American Zone”. Others were handed to the British or French and these men were often put to work while others came from lands controlled by the Russians. Their lives were forever changed.

After Camp Cooke closed the army was still there until completely vacating the property in 1953. In 1958 the lands were transferred to the U.S. Air Force and the name was changed to Vandenberg Air Force Base. Today Vandenberg is used by the Department of Defense as a missile testing base and space launch facility for both military and commercial ventures.

Geiger takes the unique approach of having former prisoners tell the story directly in their own words. Geiger systematically chose soldiers, leaving out Nazi party members and known members from the SS based upon the knowledge that many of these men did not feel a remorse for the actions of the German army. Geiger sensed their recollections would prove untrustworthy. Geiger finally settled on approximately 140 names. Many of the men could not be located, were deceased, or declined to be interviewed. We are left with the recollections of fourteen men. These fourteen men provide an often times similar, and sometimes differing account of their time in captivity and in California.

The book is broken into nine chapters with each man having their story translated and reprinted. Mr. Geiger begins each chapter with a brief background to the subject, helping orient the reader as to what is being discussed. The nine chapters include: From Wehrmacht to Captivity, Journey to America, The First Weeks as POWs, Organization and Management at Camp Cooke, Prisoner of War Labor Program, Everyday Life in the Camp, The Branch Camps, and Auf Wiedersehen.

To me the most interesting chapters dealt with the labor program and everyday life. Both really drilled into what life had become for these men. The chapter on work showed the importance and value of the labor these men provided. It kept them occupied and out of trouble while allowing them to earn a small amount of money; script that could be spent at the camp. Also discussed is the Geneva Convention, which lays out the treatment that prisoners are to receive. For those interested in the work regulations see Section III Articles 27-34 which formed the basis of the prisoner work program. The chapter on everyday life teaches us how prisoners lived. We find out about recreation and sports, theater, religion, food, medical and dental care, deaths, and more. One of the most interesting aspects to me dealt with escapes, or should I say the few attempts that were made.

Mr. Geiger is to be commended for his fine work. His efforts to root out and track down the common soldier have paid tremendous dividends. This type of story could easily have been lost; and let’s face it, has been lost on the larger scale. Through their memories we gain insight into the minds of German soldiers showing that not all those fighting were hardened Nazis. Many felt shame and embarrassment for their own actions and those of their country. And while a small gesture, the prisoners at Camp Cooke donated almost $8,300 (just over $117,000 using inflation tables) to relief efforts. Throughout, we see these men view the United States in a positive light and take those ideas home with them as Germany began the painful process of rebuilding.

This is a book that does not require a large background in World War II to read and appreciate. While it is certainly helpful to have some knowledge of what happened anybody with an interest in history can pick this up and enjoy. Technical language is at a minimum and it is not required to know battles, tactics, or geography of the war. The translations are easy to read thanks to the editing Mr. Geiger has provided. While probably not available at your local bookstore this is a book that is well worth ordering. Recommended!

Book Review–A Fierce Glory

Martin, Justin. A Fierce Glory: Antietam–The Desperate Battle That Saved Lincoln and Doomed Slavery. New York: Da Capo Press. 2018. 318 pages, 256 pages of text. Index, notes, b/w photos, three maps. ISBN 9780306825255, $28.00.

When it comes to Civil War battles there are several that are most prominently mentioned: Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Antietam. Gettysburg is of course by far the most widely studied and written about with microhistories on topics that can not begin to be comprehended by the average reader. Antietam has not  reached that level yet. In his recently published book A Fierce Glory, author Justin Martin attempts to provide a more general history of the battle; one that the novice can sink their teeth into and use as a springboard for some of the more dense works like those by Carmen, Harsh, or Sears.

Antietam was the deadliest single day in American war history. Martin uses the generic number of more than 3,500 killed on both sides (XIII). The National Park Service provides us with the approximate number 3,650 killed and a total of 22,720 casualties (dead, captures, wounded). As John Meade Gould is quoted “how mighty easy it was to get killed or wounded that day.” (XI)

Martin has two focuses in his text; the Maryland battle including the main leaders McClellan and Lee and then Washington D.C. and the tragic hero Abraham Lincoln. Robert E. Lee is shown in a positive light, especially in light of the injuries suffered in a fall from his horse Traveller. Martin states that Lee was radicalized, truly turned into a Rebel, with the seizing of Arlington by Union forces. (132) McClellan however is described as being “…inflated; his broad shoulders, puffed-out chest, showy uniforms, and the alpha-rooster bearing.” (59) Despite this negative view Martin does stray from the often stated view that McClellan did not act in a timely manner when presented with Lee’s “lost order”; “McClellan responded with uncharacteristic alacrity.” (76) Lincoln is often portrayed in a tragic light, with the sickness and death of his son Willie being a major focus.  With the White House being a sad place for him, the President was known to spend many of his nights in the Soldier’s Home, located a distance from the hum of the capital. The Emancipation Proclamation is discussed  throughout the story as Lincoln waited for the perfect time to make his announcement. The book is finished with a section titled Further Explorations; suggestions for readers to visit.

Overall, this is a good book for someone just learning about the Battle of Antietam or for a general reader. They will not be overwhelmed with regiments, lower ranking officers, troop movements, and in depth battle analysis. Instead, a general history with coverage of major events such as the Rohrbach Bridge (soon to be nicknamed the Burnside Bridge), the cornfield, the sunken road, the Confederate retreat, and a fine section on the medical situation in the area during and after the battle, coupled with accessible writing is a good launch point for more in depth study.

This is not to say however I don’t have some quibbles with the book however. My guess that most of these are publisher related rather than author choices. Having three maps, one of which I consider useless (the map from the Soldiers Home to the White House), is unjustifiable in my mind. The general battlefield map is serviceable but hardly good enough and provides no real perspective. The map placing the town of Sharpsburg area is of limited value to the story. Another issue for me is the formatting of the endnotes. Sure, I prefer footnotes so as to not have to flip back and forth but I am willing to work with publishers. Instead of the traditional numbering system which lets a reader know there is a note there is nothing. Instead, there are page numbers listed and the reader is forced to hope there is a note for something they want to check on. Rather inconvenient in my view. Finally, the lack of a proper bibliography is quite bothersome.

For readers with a grasp of the battle or looking for new research leads this is probably not for you. For a reader new to the Civil War, the armchair traveler, or somebody with a casual interest this is certainly a book to consider. The writing is easy to follow and the pace of the book moves along well. The book will certainly find a place on the Antietam shelf in my library.

Thank you to Da Capo Press for providing a complimentary review copy.

 

Book Review–Recalling Deeds Immortal: Florida Monuments to the Civil War

Lees, William B. and Frederick P. Gaske. Recalling Deeds Immortal: Florida Monuments to the Civil War. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. 2014. 370 pages, 305 pages text. Index, bibliography, end notes, b/w photos. ISBN 9780813049960, $44.95.

With the recent controversies over monuments and memorials, and not just those with some attachment to the Civil War as a whole or the Confederacy specifically, it can be easy to lose sight where monuments are, who or what the were erected to or for, who erected them, or in some unfortunate cases, what they even looked like. Authors William B. Lees and Frederick P. Gaske have done a fine job in rounding up and researching Civil War monuments located in the Sunshine State.

Lees and Gaske are well qualified to write such a book. Lees serves as Director of Florida Public Archaeology Network at the University of West Florida and Gaske has served as the state of Florida’s Historic Preservation Officer in addition to having coauthored the Florida Civil War Heritage Trail Guide, a free publication produced by the state.

The authors argue that to truly understand these monuments we must place them in the context of the time they were erected. Different monuments mean different things. It is also important that we understand that sacrifice meant different things to Union and Confederate soldiers.

The book is broken down chronologically which while it has its benefits, particularly in backing the author’s argument of understanding monuments and their place in time, also can become difficult for the reader if they are only looking to know about particular monuments. For those readers a straight alphabetical system would be a better choice. Readers searching for information on a favorite monument have to refer to the index to find where to turn.

The book is broken into five chapters: Reconstruction and Beyond, Remembering Confederate Sacrifice and Valor After Reconstruction, Remembering the Union Soldier and Sailor, Remembering Hallowed Ground, and Monuments Erected After the Civil War Centennial. The authors take each monument and work to tell its story through the use of contemporary sources, whether they be newspapers, archives, government records, and more. A look at the notes and bibliography of this book will show the research efforts that were expended.

While the Reconstruction period saw only a small handful of monuments erected, the ending of federal occupation was a boom period for remembering and honoring the dead. With the creation of the Daughters of the Confederacy and their later incarnation as United Daughters of the Confederacy at least 34 monuments were erected in the state. The subject matter and location of monuments varied from outright Lost Cause to monuments such as that in a Deland cemetery which contained a list of Confederate soldiers buried there. While the majority of these monuments are still in place some, such as the Daytona Beach monument, have been damaged or altered, and some, such as Orlando, have been removed since publication of this book.

What is fascinating is the continued creation and placing of memorials and monuments. In the post 1968 period Lees and Gaske account for 33 new monuments with more being erected today. This growth is provided by organizations such as Sons of Confederate Veterans who have this as one of their stated goals. The trend on these new monuments is toward smaller and less elaborate design which is probably due to design trends but more likely cost and budget concerns. While these new monuments are often meant to commemorate hallowed ground or to honor specific soldiers the fact that the Confederate flag has been used by many other groups, often with negative consequences, the claim of “heritage not hate” is a message that is often considered to be false.

This is a valuable book and should be on the shelves of those interested in Civil War history, Florida history, and even Civil Rights history. The story is an important one and one that will not be going away. It is our responsibility to understand those of the past did not live by our standards of today. To argue that the war was not based upon the issue of slavery would fly in the face of the Articles of Secession; to erase reminders of the war will not erase the war and to me is not the correct way to deal with the issue. We should not be standing in judgement of those who came before us for erecting these memorials and monuments, but rather, we should convey that history and work to tell a new full sided and complete story. To those putting up new monuments, you have a responsibility to be honest and not hide what we now understand to be true.

To see other posts dealing with the University Press of Florida click here.

Book Review: Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection

Smithsonian Books. Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection.  Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books. 2013. ISBN 9781588343895, color and b/w photos, index, 368 pages, $40.

If you are searching for an impressive looking and hefty coffee table book that you can leave out for guests to browse and perhaps use as a conversation starter this would be an excellent choice. If you are looking for something with more depth you should look elsewhere.

Published to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the war, the book unimaginatively uses 150 objects from the Smithsonian collections to illustrate the Civil War. While it is very nice to see these items, especially for those of us who do not have the ability to easily visit the various Smithsonian museums, it just seems as if this is a large grouping thrown together in order to publish an expensive book. While loosely chronological, the book is not put into real chapters. Rather, each of the 150 objects forms its own short chapter so to speak. Another difficulty of this book for me is trying to figure out which museum holds which object. These individual artifacts are not labeled, instead the reader must turn to the back of the book and by using page numbers, rather than artifact/chapter number, find the listing, then translate that by using the key provided. Be sure to have your magnifying sheet handy, the type is quite small. No bibliography or notes are included so verifying statements and conclusions is difficult.

This brings me to another point this book drives home to me, which is the donating of historical objects. Please, please, please, do yourselves and others a favor and consider your local historical museums. The Smithsonian, and similar institutions, are cram packed with objects that will NEVER see the light of day. Think Raiders of the Lost Ark. These monstrous archives can not be cared for properly and with the exception of genuinely unique items pieces will eventually be accessioned, boxed, and forgotten about or disposed of in some manner. At smaller museums, these pieces will more likely than not be treasured and put on display. People will actually be able to enjoy the artifacts you have donated and isn’t that the purpose. For many small museums donations are their only source of new materials. Their budgets do not allow for purchases so your item could become a show piece.

Back to the book, as mentioned, it is truly a beautiful book. The photography is top-notch and the book is solid. It really is more a coffee table piece rather than anything you will learn from or actually sit down and read cover to cover. The chapters are brief so you can easily pick this up, put it down, and start on it again whenever and not have forgotten anything. Don’t expect to learn much, but rather, just marvel in the images.

Book Review–Finding the Fountain of Youth

Kilby, Rick. Finding the Fountain of Youth: Ponce de Leon and Florida’s Magical Waters. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. 2013. Bibliography, color & b/w photos. ISBN 9780813044873, $14.95.

I imagine in some ways we are all searching for the Fountain of Youth. We may want to have the wisdom of being a few years older but for most of us we want to hang on to our youth as long as possible.

In his beautifully illustrated book, author Rick Kilby  lets us in on the myths and legends surrounding Juan Ponce de Leon, the Fountain of Youth, and how this dream has been, and continues to be, used in marketing.

Mr. Kilby points out a common narrative in regards to many of the springs in the state. First is that these sites are sacred to Native Americans who lived near them for years before colonial settlers take up residence near them, drawn by the cool and pure water. As tourism becomes more important to Florida, entrepreneurs such as steamboat owners, begin using the “fountain of youth” myth to draw visitors to the healing waters. With family travel becoming more common these springs were often turned into tourist attractions with highlights such as waterskiing elephants (De Leon Springs), glass bottom boats (Silver Springs), mermaids (Weekie Watchie), and more. In the days of segregation African-Americans could visit locations such as Paradise Park, which was “For colored people only” according to period advertisements.

The myth of Juan Ponce de Leon searching for the “fountain of youth” is laid out and addressed thoroughly by Mr. Kilby. Let’s also be honest; how was Ponce supposed to find the real “Fountain” when it seems to have been located in so many places. Florida cities as diverse and far away from each other such as St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Sarasota County, De Leon Springs, and Venice, have use the “fountain of youth” motif in advertising and promotion. But let us not forget that drinking a glass of Florida orange juice may also be the key to staying young.

While this book is fun, enjoyable, and upbeat, there is also a sadness to be recognized when one realizes much of what Mr. Kilby puts forth is no longer available. The interstate system, along with the ease of flying, have put many of these locations out-of-the-way and no longer relevant to today’s visitor to the state. The quaintness of these attractions make them seem outdated and boring when compared to billion dollar theme parks with every bell and whistle imaginable. A cell phone in hand is oftentimes more interesting to not just the young but their parents as well. In addition, the reality is that today’s world is doing considerable damage to springs and our underground water reservoirs. Fertilizers, pesticides, and septic field runoff, have changed many springs from clear and beautiful to overgrown with algae and murky to the eye. Fish, which were often abundant, can be difficult to find in some locations.

All is not a lost cause however. Many of the springs are now part of state parks so they have a measure of protection. Many of them are regularly open and can be used for recreational purposes and these are often full of visitors to whom the water seems clear because they do not know better. It will take a large turnabout however to fully save and replenish these natural beauties. We need to look at and address population growth. Further, the use of native plants should be encouraged rather than trying to all have lawns that look like manicured golf courses. Fertilizers and pest control are large problems for our spring systems.  Nature is resilient and these wonders can return to their former state if we allow them to.

While not a large book this is a book that packs a wallop. It is full of dozens of vintage images including brochures, photos, post cards, and more. There is a retro, or maybe kitsch, vibe here that is quite appealing. The writing is easy to follow and presents a lot of interesting information. Those interested in natural Florida, those interested in the history of tourism in our state, and those with a nostalgic bent, would be wise to pick up a copy of this book and enjoy a couple of hours of reading! You won’t regret it.

Rick Kilby is the President of Kilby Creative, a graphic design and advertising firm.

You may keep up with Rick by reading his Old Florida blog.

Other reviews of University Press of Florida books may be found here.

Book Review–Hidden History of Civil War Savannah

Jordan, Michael L. Hidden History of Civil War Savannah (Civil War Series). Charleston: Arcadia Publishing. 2017. 159 pages, index, selected bibliography, notes, b/w photos. ISBN 9781626196438, $21.99.

Attracting nearly 14 million visitors a year who make an economic impact of over 2.5 BILLION dollars, Savannah is a tourist mecca whether it be for partying such as St. Patrick’s Day, the food and drink selections, or for business. There is no doubt many of these visitors will be taken by the beauty and the history this city has to offer. Of those interested in history a high percentage will certainly be interested in the Civil War if for no reason other than the  famous words sent by William T. Sherman to President Lincoln; “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.” A book such as this will be a good introduction to the city for those interested in the “late unpleasantness” or maybe a souvenir for the armchair historian.

Nine different aspects of Civil War history in Savannah are covered in the book. The first chapter jumps right into the fray by discussing Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens “Corner-stone Speech” from March 21, 1861, given in Savannah. It was in this speech that Stephens uttered the words; “…that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery–subordination to the superior race–is his natural and normal condition.” Those looking for the cause of the war should probably look no further.

Further chapters cover the story of local hero Francis Bartow and his untimely death during the Battle of First Bull Run. An interesting story here concerns the placing of what might be called the first battlefield monument in his honor, though it was later destroyed by relic hunters and Union soldiers.  Future Army of Northern Virginia leader Robert E. Lee made stopped in the city before the war and then returned after the war in the spring of 1870. The story of the ill-fated ironclad CSS Atlanta is told here for those with an interest in naval concerns. The hard to maneuver, deep drafted ship never did put up a good fight as its multiple design flaws led to it running aground during its first battle.

As the war continued the number of prisoners of war increased and as the war came further south, in March 1864 Savannah became home to more than 600 Union officers who had been captured and imprisoned. Before being transferred to Charleston these men remarked on the decent food provided, the shade of the live oak trees, and humane treatment by guards. In October more than 7,000 prisoners being evacuated from Andersonville called Savannah home for a very short time. Despite conditions being better than they were accustomed to, more than 100 of the ill prisoners died while in the city.

The final chapters tell the story of the Confederate Army escape from the city in anticipation of the arrival of Sherman and his men. A seemingly out-of-order chapter on the Savannah fire of January 1865 that while not set by Union troops occurred while they inhabited the city tells an interesting story considering the legends of Sherman burning his way through the state. The story of the citizens of Savannah wanting to rejoin the Union, particularly once the city was occupied by Union forces is given a chapter. The book closes with the mandatory chapter on Confederate memory in the city. Efforts by the local Ladies Memorial Association and their contribution to the Laurel Grove North (read that as white) cemetery are covered well. The history, and controversy, over the large Confederate monument in Forsyth park is well told.

Overall I found this to be a good introduction to the city and it’s part in the war. This is certainly not a full in-depth treatment and much more could be said. For most however this is a book that will fill their needs. It covers some basics, includes plenty of notes for those wanting to find further sources, and is easy to read.

For those wondering, this is not a tour guide. If that is what you are looking for you should also consider picking up a copy of Civil War Walking Tour of Savannah. This book contains two walking and two driving tours that will lead you to many well-known, and some lesser known locations. These two books, taken as a pair, will be more than enough for the majority of visitors.

Book Review–Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg

Cover--Pickett's Charge
Cover–Pickett’s Charge

Hessler, James, Wayne Motts, and Steven Stanley. Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg: A Guide to the Most Famous Attack in American History. El Dorado Hills, CA, Savas Beatie. 2015.

Details: 310 pages, index, bibliography, end notes, color and b/w photos, maps. ISBN 9781611212006, $37.95.

A reader may ask themselves several questions before making a decision to purchase yet another book on Gettysburg in general and another book on Pickett’s Charge specifically. Heck, there are several excellent Day 3 books available including books such as Pickett’s Charge–The Last Attack at Gettysburg (Civil War America)by Earl Hess, Gettysburg, Day Three by Jeffry Wert, and others. Once you take a look at this beauty you won’t be asking yourself any questions. All you will say is Ted Savas has done it again. You will have to have purchase it.

Part travel guide and part history this is a book that despite its heft can be used to tour the battlefield The book has the field is divided into four tours for ease of use. Tours include Confederate Battle Line, Pettigrew-Trimble Charge, Pickett’s Charge, and Union Battle Line. Tour stops include full GPS coordinates making it easy to pick and choose should a reader wish to only visit certain locations. Driving directions from stop to stop are included as well. Also included in the book is a full order of battle. The research is thorough, the bibliography is massive and there are nearly twenty pages of end notes. While the end notes take a bit of getting used to due to the numerous, yet informative, sidebars they are complete and a must review for those looking for further information. The book is full of maps and photos, both historic and modern.

Authors Hessler and Motts are both Licensed Battlefield Guides, a group who prides itself on strenuous standards and accurate story telling. The maps are beautifully crafted by cartographer Steven Stanley, who is known for his excellent work for the Civil War Trust.

This is a book that is highly recommended for any level of student of the battle of Gettysburg. The text is accessible and easy to read. The photos and maps are beautiful to look at. The book itself is sturdy and built to withstand use on the field or look great on a bookshelf. Don’t miss this title. It should be in every Civil War library.

Book Review–Lincoln in Indiana

Dirck, Brian R. Lincoln in Indiana. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 2017. 132 pages, notes, bibliography, index, b/w photos. ISBN 9780809335657, $24.95.

The newest title in the Concise Lincoln Library series is Lincoln in Indiana written by Anderson University history professor Brian R. Dirck. Dr. Dirck has written several other books on Lincoln and received the Barondess Award from the Civil War Roundtable of New York for his book Lincoln the Lawyer. Here in a few short pages, Dirck confirms his spot as a strong Lincoln scholar.

Slim in pages this book packs a pop when it comes to the understudied period of 1816-1830 when Lincoln was molded by his years in Indiana. As Dr. Dirck points out there is little material to work with on these years. Lincoln himself left a sparse 800 written words about this time. For other sources questions have to be asked. Are these memories correct, what biases and agendas might the person have had, and finally does martyrdom play a role in the views people put forth.

It is in the seeming wilds of Indiana that the anti-slavery Thomas Lincoln took his family in order to escape the peculiar institution, which he felt he could not compete against. Free whites could not compete with farmers who owned African slaves. It was here that Lincoln learned about hard physical labor; grubbing and   log-rolling were not what the young Lincoln ultimately wanted out of life however. He also learned of loss with the death of his mother, Nancy, due to milk sickness.

While Thomas did not fail as a farmer it can not be said that he was successful either. The farm teetered and Thomas used his marginal skills as a carpenter to bring in extra for the family.

As young Abraham grew up the bonds between father and son grew strained despite a good relationship with his stepmother Sarah. Thomas needed the young, strong Abraham to help provide labor. While education was important it was not a priority for the elder Lincoln. Abraham had an overriding interest in accomplishing more than his father. His lack of a formal education haunted Abraham in many ways as an adult.

By 1829 Abraham wanted out of Indiana. He was  tired of his labors supporting his father. Intellectually he was moving on as well. He became interested in politics and was often found at the local courthouse when court was in session. Despite his yearnings Abraham followed his family to Illinois where Thomas failed miserably. Within a year Thomas has returned in Indiana.

By this time Abraham was gone. The gulf between father and son had developed such that the younger Lincoln did not visit his dying father nor did he attend Thomas’s funeral in 1851.

Dr. Dirck has written a book that is easily readable and digestible. The length of books in this series make it easy to consume them in a couple of brief sittings. The research looks to be of high quality and the notes and bibliography are extensive for those looking to follow-up on source material.

Highly recommended for not just an introductory level work but even for those with a deeper knowledge of Lincoln. This developmental period in Lincoln’s life is important and this volume helps explain why.

Book Review–18 and Life on Skid Row

Bach, Sebastian. 18 and Life on Skid Row. New York: Dey Street Books. 2016. 431 pages, color and b/w photos. ISBN 9780062265395, $27.99.

While a new generation of fans may know Sebastian Bach from his Broadway roles in Jekyll and Hyde and Rocky Horror Picture Show or perhaps his work as Gil on Gilmore Girls, Sebastian Bach owes his fame to his time as front man for the band Skid Row.

In his new memoir 18 and Life on Skid Row Bach details his life from his early days, where he was influenced by his parents divorce to his hard rocking (and heavily drug and alcohol filled) days with Skid Row to his solo career to his reluctance to appear on Broadway, to the tragedy of losing his home to Hurricane Sandy.

Several themes popped out to me in reading this tale of life in the fast lane. First is that of excess. If Bach is to be believed it is amazing that he and his friends are still alive. The level of drug and alcohol abuse is a sad testament to the lifestyle of fame they were leading. Was there nobody who could rein them in? This is a story that has been told over and over; naïve young musicians who find fame, and they believe, fortune that they feel will be flowing forever. As with the majority of young musicians that pipeline of record label advances dries up and for Skid Row it slammed them hard when after a successful tour they ended up in the hole and owing the label money. Of course if you believe record labels are honest I have plenty of oceanfront property to sell you at bargain prices.

A second theme is that of loss, disappointment, and abandonment. Bach has suffered greatly in his life there is no doubt. The divorce of his parents was a terrible blow as was the death of his influential father at a young age from cancer. On multiple occasions Bach speaks of his hero worship for other musicians and yet at several times he was let down by these men despite Bach already having achieved a level of fame. Bach specifically calls out some of them including Ace Frehley of Kiss and his former band mates from Skid Row. Don’t mess with a musician and his song writing royalties. While Bach has certainly persevered and has had success post Skid Row, his firing from the band in December 1996 and ultimately being dropped by both his management and record label left a large gap in his life. For somebody who had spent their entire life wanting to rock the change in music fashion was a hard pill to swallow (OK, that’s a bad pun when you consider all the drug use recounted in the book).

Despite these triumphs and setbacks it appears that Bach is happy with his life. He says he is happily married to his second wife. He has kids with his first wife that he loves. He has a successful career as a musician, actor, and now author. And while there is no real mention of being clean and sober (thank God, I didn’t want to read a book about 12 step programs and the like) we can hope that the days of partying excess are behind him. Life really is much better sober.

If you grew up in the generation of bands such as Skid Row, Poison, Motley Crue at their best, Cinderella, and other hair metal bands (a term Bach despises by the way)  pick this one up. You will actually get to read about somebody with good things to say about Axl Rose!

 

Book Review–Civil War Graves of Northern Virginia

Mills, Charles A. Civil War Graves of Northern Virginia (Images of America). Charleston: Arcadia Publishing.  2017. 128 pages, ISBN 9781467124225, $21.99.

The grounds of Virginia practically ran red with the blood of the Civil War. With bloody battles such as The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Manassas I and II, Chancellorsville, and dozens more, thousands of men lost their lives in the Old Dominion. Even more were injured, many to a level they never returned to a normal life.

In his introduction author Charles A. Mills estimates there are more than 1,000 cemeteries in northern Virginia. Using this as a baseline it is easy to see that a book of only 128 pages can only scratch the surface.  Once mammoth cemeteries such as Arlington National Cemetery are taken into account that lessens even further the inclusion of smaller and lesser known cemeteries.

Mills relies on two sources for images in the book; his own images and those from the Library of Congress collection. Unfortunately this leads to some images being relatively already well known and then the problem with inconsistent quality of author taken photos. An example is shown on page 70; two images of stones from Falls Church both of which could have been taken at a different time of day and had better results. Library of Congress images often contain standard photos of generals and other war era scenes.

I also noted a few issues throughout the text that could have been remedied. On page 18 Mills uses the number 600,000 in regards to Civil War combatant and non-combatant deaths. Recent scholarship has placed that number to be around 750,000, a number that has been gaining much more acceptance. On page 111 a photo of Abner Doubleday recounts the story of his being the inventor of baseball. A short line then attempts to throw doubt on that story; “an honor that some contest.” A review of one of the leading baseball statistical websites disproves the baseball story and it would have been better left out.

These qualms aside I did enjoy this book and made fast work of it. There are some fascinating stories included and while there were more non-cemetery photos than I would have preferred in many instances it was important to the story to show background history. I particularly enjoyed seeing church cemeteries such as Pohick Church, the parish church of George Washington. Anybody with an interest in cemeteries can not help but be moved by Arlington National Cemetery and Mills does a fine job representing both historical and modern images of perhaps the greatest cemetery in the United States.

For those with an interest in cemeteries this is a book that should be added to your collection. If you are interested in Civil War memory this is one you might consider thumbing through though it will probably not end up on your bookshelf. For the average Civil War enthusiast this is a book well worth including in your library despite the reservations mentioned above. The photos are well worth the overall minor quibbles I had regarding text.

Thanks to Arcadia Publishing for providing a complimentary review copy.