June 2008 Book Notes

Those that can’t write, Review!

June 2008

James Durney


Book News

Amazon.com has the long awaited MAJOR GENERAL ROBERT E RODES OF THE ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA: A Biography by Darrell L Collins listed for July. The May Savas Beatie Newsletter has the book listed for June.

Also scheduled for June is ONE CONTINUOUS FIGHT: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863. This is the new book is written by Eric J. Wittenberg, J. David Petruzzi and Michael F. Nugent. Savas Beatie is the publisher and we are promised 18 original maps, photos and a complete driving tour. About the Authors: Eric J. Wittenberg has written widely on Civil War cavalry operations. His books include Glory Enough for All (2002), The Union Cavalry Comes of Age (2003), and The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads and the Civil War’s Final Campaign (2005). He lives in Columbus, Ohio.

J. David Petruzzi is the author of several magazine articles on Eastern Theater cavalry operations, conducts tours of cavalry sites of the Gettysburg Campaign, and is the author of the popular “Buford’s Boys” website at www.bufordsboys.com. Petruzzi lives in Brockway, Pennsylvania. A long time student of the Gettysburg Campaign, Michael Nugent is a retired US Army Armored Cavalry Officer and the descendant of a Civil War Cavalry soldier. He has previously written for several military publications. Nugent lives in Wells, Maine.

Kate Clifford Larson newest book is The Assassin’s Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln. She is the author of the well-received biography Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman: Portrait of an American Hero. Larson has a very readable style that makes her histories seem like reading a novel. This looks to be, like the Tubman book, a very solid four or five star effort.

Due in mid-June is Grant’s Lieutenants: From Chattanooga to Appomattox edited by Steven E. Woodworth and is part of the Modern War Studies series. This book is the companion volume and continuation of Grant’s Lieutenants: From Cairo to Vicksburg.

While I am very skeptical, many are very interested in these books. Due in July is Haunted Battlefields: Virginia’s Civil War Ghosts by Beth Brown. The book promises readers will “Journey to thirteen of Virginia’s most haunted Civil War sites in search of spectral residents. Hear stories that have swayed skeptics and learn about new encounters with Civil War ghosts”.

Also due in July is Britannia’s Fist: From Civil War to World War: An Alternate History by Peter G. Tsouras. This “what if” assumes that England builds one Confederate raider to many. The author has written a number of alternate histories, is a regular on the History Channel with many works selected by the History Book Club and the Mystery Book Club.

Scheduled for September is The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth by Earl J. Hess. This book is part of the Modern War Studies series. Hess can be technical but his work is an important step toward understanding the mechanics of combat.

Also in September is Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign from Peter Cozzens. This is a 632-page book covering the military and political aspects of this campaign. The pre-release information says both the Union and Confederate sides are covered.

November promises Brady’s Civil War Journal: Day-by-Day Events 1861-1865 by Theodore P. Savas. The title is enough to warrant looking into this book.

Due in December from Ethan S. Rafuse is Antietam, South Mountain and Harpers Ferry. This is the next entry in This Hallowed Ground: Guides to Civil War Battlefields series. These are excellent guides at a reasonable price, written by experts on the battle.

More Damning than Slaughter Desertion in the Confederate Army by Mark A. Weitz is being released as a paperback. This is an excellent book on this subject and on why Southerners enlisted, endured or deserted.

Another interesting title, with little else is Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War by Marc Egnal is scheduled for January 2009.

The current issue of North & South has the following information: “This article is a condensed version of one the chapters in his [Gordon C. Rhea] upcoming book on the Overland Campaign from Cold Harbor to Petersburg.” This would be the next book in his excellent series on the Overland Campaign.


Introducing Author Gary Ecelbarger

Gary Ecelbarger is an independent historian and scholar living in Annandale, Virginia. He is a highly respected tour guide for the American History Forum, an excellent speaker on the Civil War circuit, in addition to authoring three books and numerous magazine articles.

Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester was published in April. The book covers the battles of Front Royal and Winchester in May 1862. During this time, Stonewall Jackson frightened Washington almost to death. These small battles reaped huge benefits for the Confederacy.

We are in for it!: The First Battle of Kernstown March 23, 1862 is rated five stars on Amazon.com by four different reviewers. This book is one of the best histories of this battle.

He is the author of a well-received biography of John “Blackjack” Logan entitled: Black Jack Logan: an Extraordinary Life in Peace and War. Amazon reviewers have nothing but good things to say about this book.

His newest book The Great Comeback: How Abraham Lincoln Beat the Odds to Win the 1860 Republican Nomination has a September release scheduled.

What is Your Tradition?

I have been reading and debating how we think about the Civil War for some time. Yahoo Groups and Round Tables contain many people with very strong feelings on this subject. This is not a new issue, nor is it one that shows any signs of quieting down or going away. In truth, this is often a case of “My mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with facts!” This produces endless circular debates, fills up in boxes and drives up message counts. Our local Round Table has lost more than one member, when they found the majority was not accepting of their tradition. Yahoo Groups suffers from endless raids of a new members trying to force a tradition onto an established group. Two books explore this question and are well worth reading, they are:

Causes Won, Lost and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War by Gary W. Gallagher

The Legacy of the Civil War by Robert Penn Warren

Gallagher’s book identifies four major traditions and discusses how they interact in movies and art. Published in 2008 by UNC Press, this small book contains a large number of illustrations. Gallagher is an original thinker, who likes to work in “broad strokes”. He is in his element here. This is a thought-provoking book that can cause the reader to think about their tradition.

Gallagher’s traditions are:

1. The Lost Cause Tradition developed in the years after the war and designed to help Southerners cope with the loss and devastation they were enduring.

2. The Union Cause holds that the North’s major goal was to stop secession and preserve the United States as one country.

3. The Emancipation Tradition developed after the war by Northern abolitionists and the Radical Republicans casting the war as America’s great anti-slavery crusade.

4. The Reconciliation Tradition starting at the end of Reconstruction and holding that the war was over and had produced a stronger unified America.

Robert Penn Warren’s book is an extended essay written in 1961 for the centennial celebration. While not a trained historian, Warren collected a couple of Pulitzer Prizes for his writing. He was an original thinker, with an excellent eye and the ability to put things into words. His essay pulls no punches and is less forgiving than Gallagher’s book. Additionally, Warren is much harder on all those involved. He is less forgiving of the South’s need to come to grips with the post war world and the North’s idea that the war was a crusade to end slavery.

Warren’s traditions are:

  1. The Great Alibi is the South’s view that Northern action forced them into the war. This is not the complete Lost Cause, but contains the essential elements of justification and view of Southern society.
  2. The Treasury of Virtue holds the North redeemed by the loss of life, limb and treasure in ending slavery. This view aligns with the Emancipation tradition, going a step farther in giving virtue to the North.
  3. The Great Sell Out is what Warren calls the North’s retreat from the goals of Reconstruction and allowing Jim Crow laws in the South. He sees this as the price for Reconciliation and a victory for the white South.
  4. Warren has no Union tradition in his book. Gallagher includes this as a historical fact while observing it has all but disappeared in our time.

Each of the books is worth reading. Each provides insights into how we see history and how this view colors our acceptance of history. Reading these books should be a journey of self-discovery as you identify your tradition. I feel that by identifying and understanding the groupings we may become better able to get past name-calling and arm waving.

I see some merit in the Lost Cause Tradition but find they are prone to overstatement and seek simplistic answers to complex issues. While understanding Warren’s position on The Great Alibi, I find him to judgmental tending toward The Treasury of Virtue School when talking about this tradition.

I find little merit in the Emancipation Tradition. While agreeing emancipation is an important item and a major factor in winning the war, I cannot agree it is the sole cause of the war. This tradition’s tendency toward Treasury of Virtue and Citadel of Vice turns me away, just as the dogmatic Lost Cause traditions do. I cannot see the American Civil war as a version of a Lord of the Rings battle between good and evil. I recognize that the Emancipation Tradition is the fastest growing and likely to become more accepted that the Lost Cause tradition was 100 years ago.

Gallagher makes the point that the Union Tradition suffers from post Viet Nam anti-war feelings and suspicion of the government. Many people in our society cannot understand the love country and readiness to serve America that is the foundation of this tradition.

Reconciliation suffers from Warren calling it the Great Sell Out. The Emancipation Tradition people agree with his idea and dislike this tradition.

Black Confederates

No subject is as likely to cause as strong a response as Afro-Americans serving with Confederate armies. No single subject carries as many problems for believers in the Lost Cause or Emancipation Tradition as this subject. In the years after the war, contributions made by Afro-Americans during the war became a problem for white America. The Lost Cause Tradition reduced Afro-Americans to Gone with the Wind stereotypes. The Union and Reconciliation Traditions simply ignored their contributions to both sides during the war. The Emancipation Tradition made freeing them the central issue of the war and attacked the Reconciliation Tradition as the Great Sell Out. Much is made of slaves seeking freedom inside Union lines during the war but little is said about those that stayed and worked. Less has been mentioned about the men and women who spent time as servants, teamsters, labors, nurses, musicians in Confederate service, here is a group of books that address this subject.

The most accepted book is Bruce Levine’s Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War. In this book Levine shows that very few Blacks were enlisted in Confederate armies.

There is series of older books that have not been accepted by the professional historical community as they draw less accepted sources. However, these books offer a compelling reason for historians to take a closer look at this question. These books are:

Black Southerners in Gray: Essays on Afro-Americans in Confederate Armies

Black Southerners in Confederate Armies

Black Confederates

Lately, a number of books are starting to address the number of Afro-Americans with the Army of Northern Virginia. The Gettysburg Campaign is the central point of this. A major reason being Lee’s teamsters were largely Afro-American and some of them went into the line at the battle of Williamsport. No book has expended a major effort to put this before the reading public but some books are starting to mention this subject.

Gary W. Gallagher’s newest book Causes Won, Lost and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War mentions this a number of times.

General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse has more information than most books. University of North Carolina professor Joseph Glatthaar is not a great supporter of Black Confederates and this book both admits their existence while debunking their numbers.

Kent Masterson Brown’s Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign is a foundation book on the subject. Glatthaar cites this book several times and goes to great pains to dispute his numbers.

A major original source is Freemantle’s Three Months in the Southern States; April-June 1863. This book has several passages about black men traveling with the AoNV.

In any event, this is subject will not go away and excites great passion within our community.


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