CivilWarNavyMagazineSummer2018Vol6No1McQuarrie, Gary & Williams, Charles (eds.). Civil War Navy: The Magazine. (CSA Media, LLC). 64 pages, images, maps, notes.  ISSN: 978-1-61121-216-7. 1 year (4 issues): $24.99; 2 years (8 issues): $45.99

Fans of the naval portion of the American Civil War have a solid alternative to the many Civil War magazines out on the market today.  In Civil War Navy: The Magazine, a quarterly publication, editors Gary McQuarrie and Charles Williams have produced a gorgeously laid out magazine and web site aimed at the everyday reader interested in Civil War naval affairs.  All theaters and aspects of the naval war appear to receive loving attention.  Images, maps, and sidebars are paired with an excellent lineup of contributors and annotated articles to produce content well worth the published subscription price.

Editor Gary McQuarrie was kind enough to provide some additional background on the origins of the magazine:

The inaugural issue of Civil War Navy—The Magazine was the Spring 2012 issue. The Editor & Publisher, Charles Williams (Savannah, GA), started purchasing Civil War-related domain names in 2003 because of his interest in the subject and had planned to develop a website on the Civil War navies. Over several years, Charles extended his contacts and by 2011 a group of 6 individuals (including Charles) with enthusiasm for the topic decided to start the magazine. It is and always has been published quarterly. By 2016, individuals in the group had fallen out of the process and left only Charles to produce and publish the magazine. In one of his Editor’s Notes, he asked readers for any assistance and I ultimately responded and offered to become the Managing Editor, which occurred in March 2017. We completely redesigned the magazine and moved to an expert-contributor model and expanded the content. The first issue of the redesigned version was Summer 2017. We also updated and redesigned the website at the same time.

The editors describe their magazine as follows on the main page of their web site: http://www.civilwarnavy.com:

Civil War Navy – The Magazine, published quarterly, was launched in 2012 to explore and describe in detail the naval history of the conflict and more fully underpin its military role and importance. The Civil War naval history explodes into life on the pages of Civil War Navy, a magazine about a time-honored era. The magazine was updated with a new design in 2017 and features new, expert-authored content supplemented with extensive period black and white photographs, illustrations, and artwork that define the naval history of the War Between the North and South. Our latest issue, the Table of Contents, and first pages of some of its articles are shown below. We invite you to subscribe to the magazine and support our mission.

I’m extremely impressed by the work of Mssrs. McQuarrie and Williams.  Since becoming a dad, my available time to read Civil War magazines has significantly declined, and I hadn’t heard of Civil War Navy—The Magazine until I was contacted by Mr. McQuarrie via email about items on my Siege of Petersburg site.  I was surprised to find out the magazine has been published for six years already! Currently, there are 64 pages of text with a few pages of advertisements added to the back of the magazine.  Images, maps, endnotes (sometimes), tables and more grace the pages.  The sheer amount and pleasing placement of images is what strikes first time readers the most.  You can’t hardly turn a page without finding something to break up the text, and in some articles images ARE the main story. With explanatory text tracking down identities or better explaining what the reader is viewing.

SummerTOC

In the two issues I was given for review, the articles run the gamut of Civil War naval topics.  Various theaters are covered, as well as fresh water and salt water stories.  Articles appear to be your typical mix of what veteran Civil War magazine subscribers have come to expect: original articles, excerpts from books on Civil War navies, and reprints of classic articles which may not have very wide circulation.

In the Spring 2018 (Volume 5 Issue 4) and Summer 2018 (Volume 6 Issue 1) issues, for example, you get the following:

Camp Pope Publishing

Original Articles:

  • “The Capture of Gosport Navy Yard” by John V. Quarstein
  • “Creating the Union Inland Navy” by Gary D. Joiner
  • “Bluejackets and Contrabands: African Americans in the Union Navy” by Barbara Brooks Tomblin
  • “African American Bluejackets: Identified Seamen Photographs” by Ron Field
  • “’Powder Monkeys:’ Boy Seamen of the Union Navy” by Ron Field
  • “Iconic Civil War Navy Image Revisited: The Story of First Class Boy Aspinwall Fuller” by Ron Field
  • “Perish Thus If Duty Calls: James E. Taylor and His Scrapbooks” by Olga Tsapina
  • “Pursuit of the USS Indianola” Dramatic Chase and Capture on the Mississippi River” by R. Thomas Campbell
  • “Collecting Admiral David Glasgow Farragut Memorabilia”” by Paul DeHaan
  • “USS Cumberland” Sink Before Surrender” by John V. Quarstein

CumberlandBook Excerpts

Reprinted Articles

  • “Black Men in Navy Blue During the Civil War” by Joseph P. Reidy (reprinted from Prologue Quarterly, Fall 2001, Volume 33 (No 3))
  • “Last Moments of the Cumberland” by Thomas O. Selfridge, U. S. N. (reprinted from the Memoirs of Thomas O. Selfridge; Selfridge was a Lieutenant on board the Cumberland during the battle and had an eyewitness view to momentous events)

Departments

  • Naval Art Gallery: A Look at a specific piece of art and the story behind it
  • Military Images: A guest column written by Ronald Coddington, wel known among Civil War buffs for his excellent Military Images magazine, also referred to as “MI.” It turns out the two magazines are supporters of one another, and both are excellently run and beautifully published.

Powder-Monkeys-1

As an added bonus, Mr. McQuarrie sent along an important reference article for people doing research on Civil War naval affairs.  This article, “Guide to Finding Civil War Naval Photographs,” appears in the Fall 2017 issue of Civil War Navy—The Magazine. In it, the editors of the magazine show interested researchers how to find naval images for free online.  They based this article on the Center for Civil War Photography’s guide of the same name, but added much to it.  This is an excellent guide to gathering and studying original Civil War images, and a purchase of this issue as a back copy is worth it for this article alone.

If you’re still with me, I highly recommend checking out the magazine’s web site: http://www.civilwarnavy.com

Subscribing online could not be simpler.  As of late August 2018, you have a choice of 1 year (4 issues) for $24.99 or 2 years, (8 issues) for $45.99.  The latter is the better value. If you’re not convinced, the editors offer sneak peeks of the magazine on their site as well.

Civil War Navy—The Magazine is an impressive addition to the often crowded Civil War magazine field.  However, this magazine fills a specific niche, and fills it well.  The content you get for the subscription price is extremely reasonable when compared with its peers.  While the magazine appears to mainly aimed at the non-professional Civil War reading public, I know many academics would enjoy it as well.  If you are at all interested in the Civil War on the water, Civil War Navy—The Magazine is a worthwhile addition to your stable of Civil War magazines.  Subscribe today!

Note: Two issues of Civil War Navy (Spring 2018 (Volume 5 Issue 4) and Summer 2018 (Volume 6 Issue 1)) were provided free of charge for the purposes of this review.

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ChallengesofCommandV1Sommers2018Sommers, Richard. Challenges of Command in the Civil War: Generalship, Leadership, and Strategy at Gettysburg, Petersburg, and Beyond: Volume 1: Generals and Generalship. (Savas Beatie: May 2018). 288 pages, 80 images, 7 maps, 7 tables, notes, bibliography, index.  ISBN: 978-1-61121-432-1. $29.95 (Cloth)

Richard Sommers returns to Savas Beatie, this time releasing the first of a two volume series entitled Challenges of Command in the Civil War: Generalship, Leadership, and Strategy at Gettysburg, Petersburg, and Beyond: Volume 1: Generals and Generalship.  The book is a collection of essays which are text versions of presentations Dr. Sommers has given in various venues across the years.  While the subject matter is interesting and the author is knowledgeable, the execution of this book has some issues, including repetition in places as well as noticeably excessive alliteration at times. Despite these issues, the end result is a solid book and worth a place in Civil War libraries.

Dr. Sommers is immensely respected for his lengthy service of over four decades with the US Army Heritage and Education Center.  In addition, his Richmond Redeemed, either the original version or the second edition recently published by Savas Beatie, exhaustively and definitively covers the Fifth Offensive at the Siege of Petersburg.  He retired in 2014, but continues to teach at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and also continues to write and speak about the Civil War.

There have been some negative reviews of this book, including one unfortunate review which contains personal attacks by someone claiming to be the book review editor of a Civil War magazine. Fortunately, I preserved the original review in the comments below the revised review I just linked to.  Judge for yourself the merits, or lack thereof, of the reviewer.  Given these negative reviews, it seemed important to discuss what this book is here.  It IS a book of essays, similar in format and content to what you would see in many collections of essays on the Civil War.  The main difference here is that these essays are all written by Dr. Sommers, rather than gathered from a collection of authors.  In addition, there is overlap in topics, and in my opinion this overlap is where a lot of the negative reviews are focused. There will be more to come on this later.  If you view the book in this manner, as a collection of essays, it delivers as a valuable addition to Civil War literature with some shortcomings.

The book can be divided into three main portions:

  • Essays on Lee and Grant
  • Essays on Subordinate Generals
  • One essay with a focus on the Revolution and the Civil War both

The section on Lee and Grant contains five essays, and there is considerable overlap.  The first two essays cover the generalship of Grant and Lee over the course of the entire Civil War.  The third covers Grant in the 1864-65 Virginia Campaigns.  The fourth covers Grant at Petersburg.  And the fifth covers Grant and Lee at Petersburg.  This leads to multiple issues of repetition, and many times exact phrases are repeated in multiple essays.  For instance, by the time you get through the fifth essay, you’ll have read about both Grant and Lee, or at least one of them, at Petersburg, up to five times.  This leads to an uncomfortable feeling when reading.   Taken individually, all of these essays are perfectly fine and would make good additions to any collection of essays by multiple authors.  Taken together like this, it is problematic.  A better solution would have been to combine these essays in a different way, perhaps looking at Grant and Lee prior to 1864, then looking at their performances in the Overland Campaign up to Petersburg, and then focusing on their work at Petersburg over three essays.  Another minor issue was the excessive use of alliteration in places.  This probably works well when giving a presentation, but it was periodically jarring in print.

The next four essays focus on subordinate generals.  First up is a look at the Political Generals of the North.  Sommers is not fond of this term to describe these men, and he goes on to cover their war service in a way that was new to me.  Typically I focus on campaigns, so it was interesting to see some of these men jump from assignment to assignment for various reasons, often moving to entirely different theaters of war.  The last three essays focus on the subordinates of McClellan, Meade, and Grant at Antietam, Gettysburg, and Petersburg, respectively.  These follow a consistent template, which some might also feel is somewhat repetitive.  Despite that, these essays flow much better than the first five and also provide interesting and useful looks at what happened to these men.  It also shows the massive turnover in senior leadership in the Army of the Potomac from late 1862 to early 1865.  By the end of the Civil War, George G. Meade was one of only a handful of men left in the leadership of the AotP at division level or higher who served in that role at Antietam.

The last essay, and one which has also been criticized for some reason, discusses known ties between the Founding Fathers and Civil War soldiers.  Most readers are familiar with Robert E. Lee’s famous father leading cavalry for George Washington, but there are many more, and Sommers admits he doesn’t have an exhaustive list even now.  It was an enjoyable article and provided a different look at some famous and not so famous Civil War soldiers through a new lens.

One very useful feature of this book is the frequent mention of good books for further reading on the various generals mentioned here.  Sommers even goes so far as to recommend theses and dissertations on these men if they are the best coverage of a given general to date.

There is one last thing which needs to be done here, and that is to comment on this atrocious review left at Amazon in late June 2018.  Let’s just pick a few of the absured comments made there and rebut them:

  1. “I consider it without any doubt the absolute worst Civil War book I have read in decades.”
    1. REBUTTAL: This is absolute nonsense. All of the essays in this book are well done, and other than some excessive alliteration, each would be given good marks if it were in a collection of essays by many authors.
  2. “What Sommers has obviously done is to pull the texts of his previous presentations/lectures on CW subjects and, without any apparent editing to remove any redundancies and leaving in his constant repetitiveness present these presentations as a ‘book.’”
    1. REBUTTAL: This one comes closest to hitting the mark, but is also hyperbolic and states a fact as a negative. Yes, Dr. Sommers did take a collection of his presentations and convert them to essays for a book.  I don’t know about the majority of the people reading this review, but I have never had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Sommers speak.  As a result, this book allowed me to take in his presentations in a more permanent way. The one shred of truth is that the book is too repetitive at times and a different editing approach would have helped.
  3. “After two introductory ‘chapters’ on the leadership of Grant and Lee (shallow, unenlightened, extremely short takes on the leadership of those two iconic CW leaders that readers would get much better insight by reading their Wikipedia entries…”
    1. REBUTTAL: This “reviewer,” a person who claims to be the book review editor of a “Civil War magazine,” wrote this and apparently means it. To even begin to compare Wikipedia entries to these essays is silly.
  4. “After wading through that miasma of endless repetition, Sommers perseveres with more of his apparently unedited, re-cycled presentations/lectures that add nothing to our knowledge of the Civil War but merely repeats and repeats what he brought out in his one book, Richmond Redeemed — which was unfortunately republished by Savas Beatie a couple of years ago — Ted Savas, what were you thinking, my friend?!?”
    1. REBUTTAL: I’ve noted the validity of the repetition before, but this reviewer apparently does not realize the irony of complaining about repetition in a book…repetitively. He goes on to disparage Richmond Redeemed, widely regarded as an exhaustive and definitive account of the Fifth Offensive at Petersburg, and chastises Savas Beatie for  “unfortunately” republishing the book.  I have nothing to add here.  You judge for yourself.

I could go on here, but I’ve given you the “flavor” of what is a ridiculous “review.”  I expect these from people who don’t know any better, but a professional reviewer who writes this unprofessional a review should no longer review books for a paying audience.

All in all, Challenges of Command in the Civil War: Generalship, Leadership, and Strategy at Gettysburg, Petersburg, and Beyond: Volume 1: Generals and Generalship is a group of very good essays, which, if read on their own, provide definite value to Civil War readers, especially those new to the Siege of Petersburg.  This book serves as a great “jumping off point” to study these men in further detail via the frequent endnotes containing bibliographical information.  There is absolutely repetition here, however, and it detracts somewhat from the enjoyment of the individual essays.  Combining the first five essays into three and adding some tweaks to the three essays on subordinate generals at Antietam, Gettysburg, and Petersburg would have made this a better received book by all. That said, the repetition does not prevent me from recommending this book as a worthwhile edition to your Civil War library.

NOTE: THIS BOOK WAS PROVIDED GRATIS FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS REVIEW.

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Check out the Siege of Petersburg Online for daily posts on battle accounts in newspaper articles, diary entries, letters and more!

What are your Top 10 Gettysburg Books? See what a panel of bloggers said recently.

Want to read some interesting Civil War content from amateurs and pros alike? Check out the Top 10 Civil War Blogs and Top 10 Civil War Blogs: 11-20.

Her Majesty Takes a Shot

by Fred Ray August 4, 2018

It is the summer of 1860. The British government, rattled by a French invasion scare, seeks to train a sizable corps of volunteers armed with the new rifles, much as the Americans had done to them eight-five years earlier. To properly kick things off the queen herself pulls a silken cord and fires the first […]

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James Burton and Firearms Design and Development

by Fred Ray July 27, 2018

Nice article on James Burton, who, as it says, was one of the most important and influential men in firearms design and development, especially regarding manufacture. An American, he also figures prominently in the Civil War. In April 1844, Burton took a job as a machinist at the Harpers Ferry Armory. Coincidentally, the B&O Railroad […]

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Happy 4th (and a couple of new books)

by Fred Ray July 4, 2018

Hope everyone is having a bang-up (so to speak) 4th of July. It was not such a great day for the Confederacy in 1863, when the news came that Vicksburg had fallen and Lee had been defeated at Gettysburg. Picked up a couple of books recently, which I will try to review in due course. […]

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Dead Men Do Tell Tales

by Fred Ray June 22, 2018

In fact, they can, with modern forensic archeology, be quite eloquent. Case in point comes from the Manassas battlefield, when recent excavations have revealed quite a lot about about wounds and surgical practices. In an article for Smithsonian magazine, recently discovered remains of Union soldiers show a lot about their fate. The bones were discovered […]

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Turner Rifle Update

by Fred Ray June 2, 2018

My previous post on the Turner rifle has been updated to reflect the fact that it will in fact take a standard P53 Enfield bayonet, which would make it a fully functional military rifle. It has turned out to be a fine shooter.

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