August 2008 Book Notes

Those that can’t write, Review!

August 2008

James Durney


Book News

Reviewed on Amazon are two books that we have been waiting for: MAJOR GENERAL ROBERT E RODES OF THE ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA: A Biography by Darrell L Collins and ONE CONTINUOUS FIGHT: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863 by Eric J. Wittenberg, J David Petruzzi & Michael F. Nugent.

In January 2007, NYU Press published The Civil War Veteran: a Historical Reader by Larry Logue & Michael Barton.  This is a series of essays on problems Union & Confederate veterans faced in the years after the war.  The $75 price caused many people to question if this was required reading.  They now have a paperback for $26 that merits your attention.  The tradition is that “Good Wars” always have well adjusted veterans.  The Civil War and World War II are the two “GOOD WARS” in our history.  This book will show you the war did not end in 1865 and the price men on both sides paid for their service.  This is a collection of essays and suffers from the problems inherent in that format.  Some of the authors do not write well, some wear their politics on their sleeve and some of the essays will not interest you.

Lincoln’s Darkest Year: The War in 1862 by William Marvel is available.  This is the second in a planed series of four books on the Civil war.  The first in the series is Mr. Lincoln Goes to War. This book challenged the Emancipation Tradition’s idea that war was inevitable and forced on the North.   The book created no small amount of comment by questioning these ideas but started many rethinking this conventional position. William Marvel is the winner a Lincoln Prize, the Douglas Southall Freeman Award, and the Bell Award for his histories.

August will be an expensive month for books with two major Civil war authors having books scheduled for publication.  Peter Cozzens’s Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign has an August 22nd publication date.  The press release promises equal time to Union and Confederate views for the first time in a book about the Valley Campaign.  Noah Andre Trudeau’s Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea is scheduled for the fifth of the month.  Each book is about 650 pages, meaning we have some heavy reading that month.

In the May column, we profiled Brian Holden Reid.  His current book America’s Civil War: The Operational Battlefield, 1861-1863, the successor volume to Origins of the American Civil War, has an August publication date. 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. The book considers the 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.

Scheduled for late October is Andersonvilles of the North: the Myths and Realities of Northern Treatment of Civil War Confederate Prisoners by James M. Gillispie.

On the same schedule for publication is The Baltimore Plot: the First Conspiracy to Assassinate Abraham Lincoln by Michael J. Kline.

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.

Heroes and Cowards: the Social Face of War by Dora L. Costa & Matthew E. Kahn is scheduled for January 2009.  Based on a research project using information on over 40,000 Union soldiers, the book looks at “social influences, and crucial networks that influenced soldiers’ lives both during and after the war”.  The book description’s contains the question “what are the costs and benefits of being in a diverse community?”  Since most of the 1861 to 1863 regiments were raised from a small area or of the same ethnic group, the answer might be problematic.  This book contains a glowing endorsement by James McPherson, creating more questions for me.

Normally, I would be positive about BATTLE OF THE CRATER: a Complete History by John F. Schmutz, due in December.  However, Mr. Schmutz has no other books listed by Amazon and the book’s information contains no page count.  The killing blow is McFarland and Company is the publisher.  My experience is McFarland books are overpriced with poor production values.  I was robbed in the past and feel compelled to warn people away from this publisher.  My last experience with McFarland is The Battle of Olustee 1864: the Final Union Attempt to Seize Florida.  See my review on  Other people have told me they had the same experience with different McFarland titles.  This book is listed for $75 and I say buyer beware!

The hardback More Damning than Slaughter: Desertion in the Confederate Army by Mark A. Weitz is priced on at $25.  The paperback is scheduled in December for the same price.  If your reading is taking you beyond battles and leaders this is an excellent book on a very touchy subject.  The three Amazon reviews are all five stars and this is worth reading a second time.

While not a new book, Stealing Lincoln’s Body by Thomas J. Craughwell recounts the fascinating story of what happened to Lincoln’s body.  It provides a look at both how Springfield kept this tomb and the crime of grave robbery at the turn of the century.  Along the way, you learn the answer to the trivia question “When did the last person to look on Lincoln’s face die?”  This may not be the most serious of histories but it is a fun read.

Scheduled to be in the stores when you read this 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 to many Confederate raiders. The United States’ reaction provokes counter actions and war is declared.  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.  This book has the potential to stand with the Gingrich/Forstchen alternate Civil War history series.


Introducing Author Timothy B. Smith

Timothy B. Smith received his Ph.D. in history from Mississippi State. After working as a ranger at Shiloh National Battlefield Park, he took a position in the History Department at the University of Tennessee in Martin.

His first book Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg won the 2004 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Non-fiction Award.  It is considered one of the best books on that battle.  With Gary D. Joiner, he edited the Cunningham manuscript published as Shiloh and the Western Campaigns of 1862. Savas Beatie published these two books, which are still in print.

This Great Battlefield of Shiloh is a detailed history of the development of that national Battlefield Park.  After reading the book, you will always look at Shiloh in a different and more detailed way.

His newest book is The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation, covering the establishment of the first five National Battlefield Parks in the 1890s.   There is a history of each park from inception until they were taken away from the War Department.  The University of Tennessee Press publishes these two books.

August is vacation month for many for us and some of us will visit the National Battlefield Parks.  These books show the hard work, politics and dedication that went in to establishing these parks for our education and enjoyment.


U.S. Foreign Relations during the Civil War

While not a Civil War title the newest Oxford History of the United States From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776 rates a look.  I am working from an “Uncorrected Advanced Reading Copy” but this is another good book in the series.  The chapters on the 1800s are excellent.  This is as good an account of Civil War Diplomacy as I have found.  This overview will either give you a solid background on the subject or serve as a good introduction for additional reading.

Did you enjoy this post?  Subscribe to TOCWOC’s RSS feed today!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *