Library Additions–November 2018 (2)

Thank you to Arcadia Publishing for providing a review copy of The Battle of Ball’s Bluff: All the Drowned Soldiers (Civil War Series) written by Bill Howard.

Softcover, 189 pages, 162 pages of text. Index, bibliography, notes, b/w images, maps. ISBN 9781467140737, $23.99.

From the publisher website:

Three months after the Civil War’s first important battle at Manassas in 1861, Union and Confederate armies met again near the sleepy town of Leesburg. What began as a simple scouting mission evolved into a full-scale battle when a regiment of Union soldiers unexpectedly encountered a detachment of Confederate cavalry. The Confederates pushed forward and scattered the Union line. Soldiers drowned trying to escape back to Union lines on the other side of the Potomac River. A congressional investigation of the battle had long-lasting effects on the war’s political and military administration. Bill Howard narrates the history of the battle as well as its thorny aftermath.

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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.

Library Additions–February 2018 (2)

Thank you to Arcadia Publishing for sending along review copies of the following books. Both look like they will be very good. They both follow the standard Arcadia format; image heavy and less than 200 pages in length total. Both books contain end notes and index. Blount’s contains a bibliography while the longer book by Hardy did not have space but his notes are always thorough.

First up is Kirk’s Civil War Raids Along the Blue Ridge (Civil War Series) written by the prolific and award-winning North Carolina Civil War author, and friend of mine, Michael C. Hardy.

In the Southern Appalachian Mountains, no character was more loved or despised than Union officer George W. Kirk. He led a group of deserters on numerous raids between Tennessee and North Carolina in 1863. At Camp Vance in Morganton, Kirk’s mounted raiders showcased guerrilla warfare penetrating deep within Confederate territory. As Home Guards struggled to keep Western North Carolina communities safe, Kirk’s men brought fear throughout the region for their ability to strike and create havoc without warning.

Author Russell W. Blount gives us Wilson’s Raid: The Final Blow to the Confederacy (Civil War Series). In the closing months of the Civil War, General James Wilson led a Union cavalry raid through Alabama and parts of Georgia. Wilson, the young, brash “boy general” of the Union, matched wits against Nathan Bedford Forrest, the South’s legendary “wizard of the saddle.” Wilson’s Raiders swept through cities like Selma, Tuscaloosa and Montgomery, destroying the last remaining industrial production centers of the Confederacy along with any hopes of its survival. Forrest and his desperately outnumbered cavalry had no option but to try to stop the Union’s advance. Join Russell Blount as he examines the eyewitness accounts and diaries chronicling this defining moment in America’s bloodiest war.

Library Additions–July 2017 (1)

Hurley, Richard. California and the Civil War (Civil War Series). Charleston: Arcadia Publishing. 2017. 176 pages, index, annotated bibliography, end notes, b/w photos. ISBN 9781625858245, $21.99.

Thank you to Arcadia Publishing for sending along a complimentary review copy. From their website:

In the long and bitter prelude to war, southern transplants dominated California government, keeping the state aligned with Dixie. However, a murderous duel in 1859 killed “Free Soil” U.S. Senator David C. Broderick, and public opinion began to change. As war broke out back east, a golden-tongued preacher named Reverend Thomas Starr King crisscrossed the state endeavoring to save the Golden State for the Union. Seventeen thousand California volunteers thwarted secessionist schemes and waged brutal campaigns against native tribesmen resisting white encroachment as far away as Idaho and New Mexico. And a determined battalion of California cavalry journeyed to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to battle John Singleton Mosby, the South’s deadliest partisan ranger. Author Richard Hurley delves into homefront activities during the nation’s bloodiest war and chronicles the adventures of the brave men who fought far from home.

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.

Book Review–Central Florida’s World War II Veterans

Central Florida's World War II Veterans cover
Central Florida’s World War II Veterans cover

Grenier, Bob. Central Florida’s World War II Veterans (Images of America). Charleston: Arcadia Publishing. 2016. 128 pages, b/w photos. ISBN 9781467116794, $21.99.

The Greatest Generation is silently, yet rapidly, passing on to their reward. When you stop to think that the end of World War II was more than 70 years ago you can easily fathom that it will not be long until the last veterans from the war pass.

Author Bob Grenier, who wears many hats including historian, museum curator, Walt Disney World employee, politician, historical activist, and more, has written what I find to be a very fitting tribute to the common soldier. This is not a book glamorizing the Generals or the Colonels, or even the Lieutenants. This is not a book glamorizing war nor condemning the enemy. Instead, it is a book that reminds us the soldiers who went to serve in far away lands they might not have been able to find on a map were real people. They were fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, husbands, or boyfriends. In some cases, they were daughters, wives, sisters, aunts, or girl friends who served in organizations like WAVES, or as nurses, or were part of the Red Cross. Not all of the men in the book survived. Some, like Medal of Honor recipient Robert McTureous, paid the ultimate price.

The book is broken down geographically into eight chapters with a concluding chapter titled Florida’s Gallant Sons and Daughters. The chapters feature soldiers who lived in or moved to an area and markers or memorials to the War. Each chapter is loaded with photos; some contemporary, some from the war, some personal such as wedding photos, and some are memorials and remembrances. All tell a story though and through the limited text allowed for each image Grenier helps evoke feeling of the image whether it be happy, sad, uncertain, confident, or scared.

This book reminds us how precious life is and that our time is fleeting. A generation called the greatest is rapidly leaving us. It will be left for us, the living, to remember them. With this slim volume Bob Grenier has provided us a way to remember the men and women who helped stop Axis forces and allow the American way of life to continue. One can not finish this volume and not be moved. Highly recommended.

**For full disclosure: Mr. Grenier has spoken at the museum where I work and I would consider him to be a friend. I did however purchase my copy of his book and he has in no way asked for me to write a review. The review is based upon my own reading and viewing of the book.

My New Book Release: New Smyrna Beach (Postcard History Series)

My new book from Arcadia Publishing will be released next week, September 26, 2016!

New Smyrna Beach (Postcard Series)
New Smyrna Beach (Postcard History Series)
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You may order copies at Amazon, Barnes and Noble or other online retailers. If you live in the New Smyrna Beach area please feel free to stop at the New Smyrna Museum of History to purchase a signed copy. Your purchase will benefit the museum. You may also order a signed copy directly from me. Copies directly from me will cost $20 including shipping. Please pay by paypal: Robert at robertreddhistorian dot com. Be sure to let me know which book you are ordering (I have three out now and all cost $20 each), how you would like it signed, and where I am sending it to.

In addition, I will be at Renewals: A Bookshop on Friday, October 7 from 11am until 1pm. Stop buy, purchase a book, and browse Debbie’s great shop. Please let me know if you would like to schedule a signing or know of somebody who would. I have two New Smyrna Beach titles and my third book deals with St. Augustine and the Civil War. I would be glad to attend your event!

In the mean time, here’s a trailer that Arcadia has put together. Enjoy!

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.