May 2008 Book Notes

Those that can’t write, review!

May 2008

James Durney

Book News

First, let me correct something from the April column, The Maryland Campaign of September 1862: Ezra A. Carman’s Definitive Study of the Union and Confederate Armies at Antietam is not close to a thousand pages as reported but just under 600 pages. However, it is an oversized book weighing in at about three pounds. Joseph Pierro, the editor, says it reminds him of his Algebra text book. The book has gone through a number of redesigns and at one time was reported to be much larger. Jake assures us that NO INFORMATION was removed.

Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions by Eric Wittenberg is going to be published again. This was his first book in 1998, winning the Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award as the best new work interpreting the Battle of Gettysburg. Thomas Publications stopped printing the book and the rights reverted to Eric. He has found a new publisher; the book should soon be available, from Amazon, for much less than the current asking price of $45 on the secondary market. The book will be released with a redesigned cover and new ISBN to cover some legal issues.

Civil War Almanac (Almanacs of American Wars) (Paperback) was profiled last month and I do not wish to bore you. However, I am finding this to be an excellent book in every respect. One feature in our local Round Table Newsletter is 145 Years Ago. Each month we list events that occurred as an unfolding story. This column was always done by chasing around the internet for hours, cutting and pasting. The other option, was four to six books lying everywhere as I tried to pick up the sequence of events. ONE book is all that I needed to do a bigger and more detailed column. It isn’t often that you find a book so useful and I wanted to recommend it a second time.

Guide to the Atlanta Campaign: Rocky Face Ridge to Kennesaw Mountain (U.S. Army War College Guides to Civil War Battles) has a publication date of May 7, 2008. estimates the shipping date as May 12, 2008. This joins a distinguished series of Battlefield guides. Being a huge fan of the series, I have rated them all of them five stars. The only guides that come close to this series is the excellent work the magazine Blue & Gray does on their tours. My collection is old enough that many are hardback; all of these are paperback books.

The books in the series are:

Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg (U.S. Army War College Guides to Civil War Battles)

Guide to the Battle of Antietam

Guide to the Battle of Shiloh

Guide to the Battles of Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg

Guide to the Battle of Chickamauga (The U.S. Army War College Guides to Civil War Battles)

Guide to the Vicksburg Campaign (U.S. Army War College Guides to Civil War Battles, Vol 6)

Echoes of Thunder: A Guide to the Seven Days Battles

Amazon has notified me that they are unable to obtain Timothy B. Smith’s The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation: The Decade of the 1890’s and the Establishment of America’s First Five Military Parks and have cancelled my order. The book is still listed on their site but marked as unavailable with no pricing information. This is disappointing; we need books on this important subject and there are few books like this available.

Southern Storm: Sherman‘s March to the Sea by Noah Andre Trudeau from Harper has a publication date of August 2008 and contains 700+ pages. A book by Noah Andre Trudeau always rates serious consideration.

Scheduled for mid-May is The Training Ground: Grant, Lee, Sherman, and Davis in the Mexican War, 1846-1848 by Martin Dugard. This is a history of the Civil War generals and a president, who fought in Mexico as company and field grade officers. Grant, Lee, Longstreet and Jefferson Davis all served there. The press release promises “dramatic battles, daring rescues, secret missions, soaring triumphs and tragic losses”.

Introducing Author Brian Holden Reid

Professor of American History and Military Institutions. He is a graduate of the Universities of Hull, Sussex and London. He first joined the Department in 1982. having also taught at the Polytechnic of North London and City University. In tandem with his study of British military history, Professor Holden Reid has long been interested in the history of the United States. He was first attracted to the history of British military thought by studying accounts of the American Civil War by British military writers, such as Maurice, Fuller and Liddell Hart. He has written numerous essays on aspects of American history, political, economic and social, as well as military. Professor Holden Reid hopes to complete a trilogy on the ACW with a book on the war’s impact.


His current book is America‘s Civil War: The Operational Battlefield, 1861-1863. This is the successor volume to Origins of the American Civil War. This book is an operational military history of the war’s first three years. It focuses on generalship, command decisions, strategy, and tactics, as well as the experiences of ordinary soldiers. Their was a considerable indecisiveness in the North, a hesitancy to punish the South, and a fruitless hope that the Confederacy would agree to some form of reconciliation. Certain important political and social developments during the course of the war have an effect on Union soldiers. These events changed their views becoming the catalyst that hardened attitudes in the North. lists a publication date of March 2008 for The Operational Battlefield. My order has not been assigned a shipping date and the book still has the 5% pre-publication discount.



What Makes Us Buy That Book?

Steven Woodworth’s Decision in the Heartland: The Civil War in the West (Reflections on the Civil War Era) created a discussion on Yahoo Civil War Groups over reasons to buy or not buy this book. Robert K Krick’s Civil War Weather in Virginia caused a similar discussion a couple of months prior when published. These two discussions started me considering what factors make up the decision to buy a book.

· Subject seems to be a major factor. Books on Gettysburg or Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia always seem to sell well. Noah Andre Trudeau once called writing about Gettysburg a “cottage industry”. Social histories seem to be developing a following and books on the end of Reconstruction enjoy a bull market.

· Author is a second major factor for me. Books on the Western Theater by Steven Woodworth, Larry Daniel, Wiley Sword or Timothy B. Smith are always considered. Russell Beatie’s series on The Army of the Potomac, Ethan Rafuse on McClellan, Stephen Sears on any ACW battle, and Eric Wittenberg on the cavalry are all part of a long list of authors that merit special consideration due to consistent excellent work.

· Publisher, I feel we overlook the publishing house when considering a book. Doing so puts us in a “Buyer Beware” position, as some houses simply do not do good work. Savas Beatie and Morningside have established a deserved reputation for excellence. Another publisher that merits automatic consideration is Ironclad Publishing. Their series of paperback books on the Civil War are excellent and provide some of the best value in ACW books. University of North Carolina Press and Louisiana State University Press consistently publish quality books and are well represented in my library. I will no longer purchase books published by McFarland & Company. For my reasons, see my review of The Battle of Olustee 1864: The Final Union Attempt to Seize Florida.

· Price is a factor and can be a major one. I think of this factor as pennies per page (PPP). The price of the book divided by the number of pages in the book equals PPP. About seven cents a page is the average for ACW books with most books falling into a six to nine cent PPP range. From experience and discussions, a PPP of ten cents or more will influence the buying decision. A PPP above fifteen cents is almost the kiss of death.

All of these factors are part of the yes/no when we consider buying. No single consideration, especially PPP, should be the deciding factor. On a personal note: Thirty years ago, with two small children, price was often THE deciding factor. Most of my books from 1975 to 1990 are Christmas, Birthday or Father’s Day gifts.


New Amazon Reviews

The Maryland Campaign of September 1862: Ezra A. Carman’s Definitive Study of the Union and Confederate Armies at Antietam edited by Joseph Pierro. This impressive oversized book presents a detailed account of the whole campaign and rates five stars. This book was all that I had hoped for and is well worth the price.


General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse by Joseph T. Glatthaar is the subject of a 1,400-word two star review. The review covers the many inaccuracies and omissions in the book. I am very disappointed in this book, having eagerly anticipated a great read and learning experience.

James Donovan has authored more than one book on Custer and the Little Bighorn. His newest book is A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn – the Last Great Battle of the American West. This book contains almost 100 pages of “aftermath” that is often ignored has excellent maps and is very readable. Ten reviewers, me included, give it five stars. While technically not a Civil War book, considering the number of veterans involved, I feel it can be included.

Glorious Contentment: The Grand Army of the Republic, 1865-1900 by Stuart McConnell, is a history of The Grand Army of the Republic from 1865 to 1900. I feel the author neither likes nor respects the GAR, choosing to judge them and their society by current standards. For this reason, the book received three stars. However, the other review gave the book four stars.

Chancellorsville (Paperback) by Stephen W. Sears. I am trying to get current on reviews of books I have read. This is one of the best and few histories of this battle. This is one of Sears’ best books and rates five stars.

Battlefield: Farming a Civil War Battleground by Peter Svenson is not a new book but it is a wonderful book about dreams. The author wanted to leave our Dilbert world and become a gentleman farmer. This book is about realizing his dream on part of the Cross Key Battlefield in Virginia. It is as close as I ever came to buying Hallowed Ground and recommend it to you. This book is only available on the secondary market but is worth the effort to obtain.

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