Library Additions: October 2018 (1)

Thank you to the good people at Da Capo Press for providing a complimentary copy of the new book A Fierce Glory: Antietam–The Desperate Battle That Saved Lincoln and Doomed Slavery  written by Justin Martin. ISBN 9780306825255, cover price $28.

From the publisher website:

On September 17, 1862, the “United States” was on the brink, facing a permanent split into two separate nations. America’s very future hung on the outcome of a single battle–and the result reverberates to this day. Given the deep divisions that still rive the nation, given what unites the country, too, Antietam is more relevant now than ever.

The epic battle, fought near Sharpsburg, Maryland, was a Civil War turning point. The South had just launched its first invasion of the North; victory for Robert E. Lee would almost certainly have ended the war on Confederate terms. If the Union prevailed, Lincoln stood ready to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. He knew that freeing the slaves would lend renewed energy and lofty purpose to the North’s war effort. Lincoln needed a victory to save the divided country, but victory would come at a price. Detailed here is the cannon din and desperation, the horrors and heroes of this monumental battle, one that killed 3,650 soldiers, still the highest single-day toll in American history.

Justin Martin, an acclaimed writer of narrative nonfiction, renders this landmark event in a revealing new way. More than in previous accounts, Lincoln is laced deeply into the story. Antietam represents Lincoln at his finest, as the grief-racked president–struggling with the recent death of his son, Willie–summoned the guile necessary to manage his reluctant general, George McClellan. The Emancipation Proclamation would be the greatest gambit of the nation’s most inspired leader. And, in fact, the battle’s impact extended far beyond the field; brilliant and lasting innovations in medicine, photography, and communications were given crucial real-world tests. No mere gunfight, Antietam rippled through politics and society, transforming history.

A Fierce Glory is a fresh and vibrant account of an event that had enduring consequences that still resonate today.

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Controversial New Release from Fonthill Media

Today brought news of what is sure to be a controversial new release from Fonthill Media and distributed by Arcadia Publishing and author Phillip Thomas Tucker. The book is titled Blacks in Gray Uniforms: A New Look at the South’s Most Forgotten Combat Troops 1861-1865. Needless to say the title will no doubt come under some scrutiny as will the subject matter.

This is a subject that has hot feelings on both sides and some, including Kevin Levin, have almost made a career of arguing against the notion of black Confederate soldiers. In fact, he has a soon to be released book on the subject, Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth.

Author Phillip Thomas Tucker has written widely on several historical themes including the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Alamo, Custer’s Last Stand, and others, often with poor to mixed reviews, especially from authoritative sources.

As for whether there were black soldiers in the Confederate army you will have to make your own decision. The evidence, including findings I made working on my book ST. AUGUSTINE & THE CIVIL WAR (Civil War Series), shows there were black soldiers in the Confederate army. My small number of finds however were musicians and non combat soldiers. North Carolina historian Michael Hardy however has found record of several black Confederates who fought. These trace amounts do not lead to the claims many have put forth of large numbers of blacks fighting for the Confederacy but they should make us step back from the statement that there were NO black troops in the Confederate service.

While Arcadia is often very generous in supplying me with review copies I did not receive a copy of this title. Personally, while skeptical, I will withhold judgement until seeing the book and reviewing the notes and bibliography which I hope are included. Often times, with the space limitations imposed by Fonthill Media these are left out. For a title like this that would be a critical error in my view.

Blue & Gray Magazine to Cease Publication

Today marks a sad day as the excellent Civil War magazine Blue & Gray announced they will cease publication. You may read their post outlining the reasons by clicking here. It’s nothing you wouldn’t expect.

Please remember we have to support the independent publishers that remain, whether it be books or magazines, or they too may go the way of North & South several years ago and now Blue & Gray. Remember we almost lost Civil War News recently as well.

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–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.

New Nathan Bedford Forrest Biography

Bust Hell Wide Open: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest
Bust Hell Wide Open: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest

Nathan Bedford Forrest: Hero or Villain? Defending the Legacy of One of America’s Greatest Generals

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Union General William Tecumseh Sherman cursed him as “That devil Forrest.” Confederate Commander Robert E. Lee said he was the greatest military genius of the war. This giant of a man—six foot two, two hundred and ten pounds—was Nathan Bedford Forrest, a general who killed no less than thirty men in man-to-man combat in the Civil War. There have been other biographies of Forrest, but none like Bust Hell Wide Open: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest (Regnery History; $29.99; October 3, 2016) by Professor Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr.

Forrest’s legacy is clouded by his role as the first Grand Wizard of the KKK (a group he later helped to disband and disavow); however, there is more than meets the eye behind his controversial past. Bust Hell Wide Open is a comprehensive portrait of Forrest as a man: his achievements, failings, reflections, and regrets.

Mitcham taps all the latest scholarship while approaching Forrest not just as a celebrated general whose campaigns are studied to this day, but as a man in full, a man raised and shaped by the Tennessee frontier, with a conscience sharpened by his devoutly Christian wife.

Gallant, tough, chivalrous, Forrest was the epitome of a Confederate cavalryman, but without the polish and education of a Virginia aristocrat.

Bust Hell Wide Open reveals little-known, fascinating stories about a multi-faceted man, such as:

· When Forrest said he would “bust Hell wide open” rather than surrender to the Federals during the siege of Fort Donelson

· How he hunted down a panther when he was fifteen

· When he fought a gunfight in the Western frontier

· How he grew up in poverty on a ramshackle farm—responsible, as a teenager, for the well-being of his widowed mother and nine siblings

· How he amassed a business fortune, which he spent on his troops

Civil War Times August 2016

Here’s a brief rundown of what is in the August 2016 issue of Civil War Times.

An Uncommon Look at the Common Soldier by Benjamin E. Myers

A Different World: Abe Lincoln’s Hardscrabble Upbringing Taught Him to Value Immigration by Jason H. Silverman

A Vivid Picture: A Pennsylvania Officer was Among the First to Serve in the Union Signal Corps by Susannah J. Ural

Wigwags, Torches and Towers: Tools of the Signal Corps

Tempest at Cool Spring: Union Pursuers Caught up with Jubal Early’s Footsore Washington Raiders Along the Shenandoah River in 1864 by Jonathan A. Noyalas

Also included are regular features that this month cover topics such as Lincoln on Canvas and in Bronze, Confederate POWs in Illinois, Gettysburg’s Evergreen Cemetery, and Gary Gallagher revisits Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The issue wraps up with reviews of the film “The Fiery Trail” from the Civil War Museum in Kenosha, Wisconsin and the book A Self-Made Man: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln Vol. I, 1809 – 1849 by Sidney Blumenthal.

Book Review–On this Day in West Virginia Civil War History

The cover for On This Day in West Virginia Civil War History
The cover for On This Day in West Virginia Civil War History

Graham, Michael B. On This Day in West Virginia Civil War History. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing. 2015. Bibliography, b/w photos. 191 pages. ISBN 9781467117913, $21.99.

Having broken away from Virginia in 1862 and being admitted to the Union in June 1863, West Virginia despite being small in size and population was still an important border state especially with an uncertain election happening the following year.

In his new book Dr. Michael B. Graham takes a day by day look at the war through the eyes, ears and terrain of the Mountaineer State. I should clarify that this is not an attempt to tell the story of the war in West Virginia. Rather, for each day a fact is provided relative to the war and the state.

If you were to scan through and take a sampling of years you would find that all years are covered. The length and depth of entries varies from just a sentence to at most half a page. This brevity is both a blessing and a curse. The book can be digested in short snippets. If you only have a few minutes you can read through a day or twos events with little problem and not feel bad about putting it down. Because of this brevity however this is little flow and so it becomes easy to put it down and not pick it up for a few days.

The book is interesting and the writing is fine. The research appears to be quite solid (more on that in a minute). Because there is no continuity or background I often found myself confused. I am not familiar with West Virginia geography so a map would have been a tremendous help. Also, from day-to-day, readers will find themselves going from one campaign or battle to another, from a regiment activity to a brigade level action on the other side of the state. Perhaps if I was more familiar with West Virginia history and geography it would make more sense.

As mentioned, there is no map, so finding where events took place requires an outside source. That said, having worked with them I know Arcadia has firm space limitations and the cost of developing a map would fall to the author. The book contains more than fifty photos, the majority of which are from the Library of Congress. There are no footnotes, again, most likely a concession to space. The bibliography however is over ten pages long and features many primary sources along with more current scholarship. It’s obvious Dr. Graham did his homework.

This is a book that I can certainly see being very popular in the state. It takes events relevant to home and puts them in an easy to read and digest fashion. I know that living in Florida I enjoy the Florida version. Recommended for those living in the geographic area or for those just looking for a brief introduction to the war efforts in West Virginia.

Death Date of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass, Courtesy Library of Congress.
Frederick Douglass, Courtesy Library of Congress.

Frederick Douglass was born in 1818 and died on February 20, 1895.

My connection to Douglass is through my research for my book ST. AUGUSTINE & THE CIVIL WAR (Civil War Series). It turns out Douglass, who had personally met with Abraham Lincoln on several occasions, gave a speech in St. Augustine in August 1889.

Douglass was visiting nearby Jacksonville to give a speech at the Sub-Tropical Exhibition. Douglass was convinced to take a train ride and speak in the nearby city. He was given an afternoon reception at the Genovar Opera House located on St. George Street. He later spoke to a racially mixed audience of approximately 700. His speech was an abbreviated version of his Jacksonville lecture.

Unfortunately the Genovar Opera House and other nearby buildings burned to

The Frederick Douglass Monument located in St. Augustine. Courtesy Robert Redd.
The Frederick Douglass Monument located in St. Augustine. Courtesy Robert Redd.

the ground in April 1914.

In June 2009 the City of St. Augustine erected a small marker on St. George St. commemorating the speech and Douglass’s trip to the city. The marker is easy to pass by. It is located near Treasury Street on the left hand side as you are walking toward the Plaza. GPS N29.53.638 W081.18.772

Library Additions-December 2015 (1)

While I have been regularly purchasing books as of late I did want to share these couple with you that were sent to me as a review copies. Thank you to the good people at Southern Illinois University Press for sending one and to author David Dixon for sending the other.

Dividing the Union
Dividing the Union

Hall, Matthew W. Dividing the Union: Jesse Burgess Thomas and the Making of the Missouri Compromise. $29.50

In 1820 the Missouri controversy erupted over the issue of slavery in the newly acquired lands of the Louisiana Purchase. It fell to Jesse Burgess Thomas (1777–1853), a junior U.S. senator from the new state of Illinois, to handle the delicate negotiations that led to the Missouri Compromise. Thomas’s maturity, good judgment, and restraint helped pull the country back from the brink of disunion and created a compromise that held for thirty-four years. In Dividing the Union, Matthew W. Hall examines the legal issues underlying the controversy and the legislative history of the Missouri Compromise while focusing on the aspects of Thomas’s life and character that gave him such influence. The first in-depth biography of Thomas, Hall’s work demonstrates how the legislative battle over the Compromise reflected the underlying nuances of the larger struggle over slavery.

The text of the Missouri Compromise originated from the Northwest Ordinance. Article VI of the Ordinance purported to prohibit slavery in the Northwest Territory, but paradoxically, a provision that assured property rights in another article was used to protect slavery. People in some parts of the Northwest sought to circumvent Article VI by formulating indenture laws and various state constitutional provisions addressing slavery. Pro- and antislavery activists eventually developed quite different interpretations of the relevant language in these documents, making negotiations over slavery in the new territory extremely complicated.

As Hall demonstrates, Thomas was perfectly situated geographically, politically, and ideologically to navigate the Missouri controversy. He was the first speaker of the Indiana Territorial General Assembly, one of the first territorial judges in the Illinois Territory, and the president of the Illinois State Constitutional Convention in 1818. Because the drive for statehood in Illinois was strong, the convention managed to skirt the divisive issue of slavery, due in large part to Thomas’s efforts. That he was never required to clearly articulate his own views on slavery allowed Thomas to maintain a degree of neutrality, and his varied political career gave him the experience necessary to craft a compromise.

Thomas’s final version of the Compromise included shrewdly worded ambiguities that supported opposing interests in the matter of slavery. These ambiguities secured the passage of the Compromise and its endurance until the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. By weaving Thomas’s life story into the history of the Missouri Compromise, Hall offers new insight into both a pivotal piece of legislation and an important, previously overlooked figure in nineteenth-century American politics.

The Lost Gettysburg Address
The Lost Gettysburg Address

Dixon, David T. The Lost Gettysburg Address

$23.95.
Few remember that two famous orators shared the stage with Lincoln at the Gettysburg dedication. The day’s concluding speech remained lost until recently, when an anthropologist stumbled upon it in a cardboard box at a remote ranch in Wyoming. Forgotten too was the incredible true story of its author, Charles Anderson, a slave owner who risked everything to save the Union. We accompany Anderson on his exciting journey through some of the most dramatic events of the Civil War. Born on a Kentucky slave plantation, he struggles to reconcile a morally bankrupt slavery system that yet holds the nation together. Imagine yourself standing in the crowd as Anderson delivers a bold Union speech in San Antonio just weeks after Lincoln’s election. Imprisoned by Confederate officers, he makes a daring escape, and arrives in New York a national hero. Anderson nearly loses his life in the battle of Stones River. He is elected Lieutenant Governor of Ohio on a ticket that defeats exiled Copperhead Democrat Clement Vallandigham. Two years later, Anderson becomes Ohio’s governor. The New York Times called Anderson’s story, “among the most moving and romantic episodes of the war.” This is the inspiring tale of a true patriot. Charles Anderson had the courage to hold steadfast to his convictions, remaining loyal to the Union at a time when nearly all Southerners turned against their country.