TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog

December 2008 Book Notes

Those that can’t write, Review!

December 2008

James Durney


That last minute gift!

It is always when an unexpected gift is needed.  This occurs with very little warning and almost no time to shop.  Here is a list of Civil War books that seem to be stocked in Borders or Barnes & Nobel.  If one is on the way, you might be able to solve your problem, get a good gift and maybe find something for yourself.

  • Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J. E. B. Stuart by Jeffery D. Wert is an in-depth look at this very complex person.  Wert has established his ability to write bios with his well received General James Longstreet: The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier.
  • Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea by Noah Andre Trudeau has mixed reviews.  Given the subject, not everyone will like this book and some feel the need to review it poorly.  The majority of the reviews are five stars for this excellent campaign study.
  • Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign by Peter Cozzens is an excellent account of Stonewall Jackson’s famous campaign.
  • Gettysburg by Stephen W. Sears, this is the most detailed and readable account of this battle.  It is an excellent read and very informative.
  • Gettysburg / Gods and Generals is available on one DVD.  Ron Maxwell did an excellent job on these movies.  Ted Turner put some of his money to good use in bankrolling them and the reenact or community had a great time during the filming.
  • Glory a Hollywood “history” of the 54th Mass has some moments but is a second choice.
  • Gone With the Wind like the book, there is nothing to compare it with.  This movie was the number one grosser for over 30 years and is an American classic.  Read the book first!
  • The Civil War Trilogy: Gods and Generals / The Killer Angels / The Last Full Measure by Jeff & Michael Shaara.  We may as well do this right and get all of them in a boxed set.  The Killer Angles is another of the “must read” fiction books about the war.
  • Britannia’s Fist: from Civil War to World War: an Alternate History by Peter G. Tsouras is not a standard item but you might get lucky.  This is great fun and assumes Great Britain goes to war with the United States in 1863.   One of the Laird Brothers rams is the flashpoint starting an engagement in British waters that leads to war.  This is a very fast-paced fun read that is the first book in a series. *************************************************************

Book News

Those Damned Blackhats! The Iron Brigade at Gettysburg by Lance J. Herdegen is available.  The author is the former director of the Institute of Civil War Studies at Carroll University and has written a number of well-received books on the Iron Brigade.

Men of Granite: New Hampshire’s Soldiers in the Civil War by Duane E. Shaffer is a history of the seventeen infantry regiments, two cavalry regiments, three artillery batteries, and three companies of sharpshooters and members of miscellaneous naval and marine units from New Hampshire in the Civil War.

The Great Comeback: How Abraham Lincoln Beat the Odds to Win the 1860 Republican Nomination by Gary Ecelbarger is in the stores.  Gary Ecelbarger has written two excellent books on Stonewall Jackson’s battles in the Shenandoah Valley

Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861 by Harold Holzer is in stores.  Harold Holzer is the author of several well-received books on Lincoln and this promises to be no exception.

Scheduled for October 30th 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.

Another November publication is The Fog of Gettysburg: The Myth and Mysteries of a Battle by Kenneth L. Allers Jr.  The book is divided into five sections, each with approximately ten episodes, covering the period leading up to the battle, the three days of battle (July 1-3, 1864), and the period following the battle. The author is a member of the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides to Gettysburg, living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  This is his first 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.

Disunion!: The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859 by Elizabeth R. Varon puts politics and ideas in perspective.  See the review in later in this column.

Now the Drum of War: Walt Whitman and His Brothers in the Civil War by Robert Roper is part biography, part family history and part the impact of the Civil War on one family.  Based on the Whitman family letter, this is the war as they saw it from hospitals in Washington and as a company commander.  This is the “real Civil War” as they saw it, that Walt Whitman said would never get into books.  It is and enjoyable, informative history of the era.

In June 2009, Earl J. Hess is scheduled to publish the third volume in his study of field fortifications.  The title is In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat. Previous books in his series on field fortifications are Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864 and Trench Warfare under Grant and Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign.

Also due in June is Eric Wittenberg’s Like a Meteor Burning Brightly: The Short but Controversial Life of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren.

In May, Jim Mills has another of his excellent history & guide books scheduled, this one is Into the Valley: A History and Tour Guide of Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley, 1861-1865.

Savas Beatie is scheduling a biography of Dan Sickles entitled SICKLES AT GETTYSBURG: The Controversial Civil War General Who Committed Murder, Abandoned Little Round Top, and Declared Himself the Hero of Gettysburg by Jim Hessler for May 2009.  The press release promises a full biography of Sickles.  This will cover his pre war activities, his actions as a Union General and his post war activities including his role in the establishment of the park

In April Winston Groom’s Vicksburg, 1863 is scheduled.  Winston Groom has written a number of excellent histories and is returning to the Civil War after a number of years.  Shrouds of Glory: From Atlanta to Nashville: The Last Great Campaign of the Civil War was his last book on the Civil War.


Introducing Author Craig L. Symonds

Born in Long Beach, Calif., Dr. Symonds received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and his master’s and doctorate from the University of Florida. He retired from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2005 after 30 years of teaching. Winner of both the Naval Academy’s “Excellence in Teaching” award (1988) and its “Excellence in Research” award (1998), he also served as History Department chair from 1988 to 1992, and received the Superior Civilian Service medal on three occasions. He also served as Professor of Strategy at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island (1971-74), and at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, England (1994-95).

Dr. Symonds is the author of a prize-winning biographies of Joseph E. Johnston: A Civil War Biography (finalist, Lincoln Prize), Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War (winner, S.A. Cunningham Award for Literary Achievement) and Confederate Admiral: The Life and Wars of Franklin Buchanan (winner, John Lyman Book Award), as well as The American Heritage History of the Battle of Gettysburg, Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles that Shaped American History. He is the editor of several books including Charleston Blockade, Recollections of a Naval Officer, and A Year on a Monitor.  His current book is

Lincoln and His Admirals.


Disunion!: The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859 by Elizabeth R. Varon

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (October 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807832324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807832325

For the definition of a word, we consult the dictionary and find the current acceptable definition of the word.  Words can have much more than a definition.  Words can have meaning and emotions that change with time and place.  Disunion is a word with a definition that has not changed much in 200 years.  However, the meaning, the emotions that disunion had are no longer available to us.  These were unique to 19th Century Americans in the years leading up to the Civil War.  Their reaction to the word disunion was much different and meaningful than ours.  This book is a history of the meaning and emotions of one word during that time.  The author has recreated the meaning and emotions of those times, giving us a real understanding of this highly charged word.

This book shows how disunion was the code for a “sublimely adaptable concept” that had a wide usage in politics.  Disunion was at the same time, a prophecy or a threat, or an accusation and a process.  Politicians used all to these tools to force an agenda on their opponents.  At the same time, social groups made use of these tools to push forward their causes.  From 1789 to 1859, when secession becomes fact, disunion is often spoken or considered by both Northerners and Southerners.  The author states she is a firm member of the Emancipation Tradition and declares her sympathies are with the Abolitionists.  However, she never lets this keep her from telling all sides of the story.  She never allows this to descend into attacks on The South or to keep her from telling the full story.  Her even handed treatment results in an excellent history that is well balanced and fairly presents all sides.

This can be a very revealing book to read.  Consider the following:

Abolitionists were the biggest users of the word.  Garrison wanted disunion and wrote that it was best for the nation.

Disunion petitions were common from people living in the Northern part of the nation.

The South had considered disunion a number of times prior to 1860.  Pro-Union Southerners had always defeated this idea.  Lincoln’s hope that war could be avoided is not such a forlorn hope after reading the history of these conventions.

The history of the word “disunion” is a history of American from 1789 to 1859.  The book covers each major political event and many minor ones at the right level of detail.  We never get bogged down but we have the information needed to understand the causes and motivations involved.  In addition, the reader gets a history of the Abolition Movement and race relations in the North and South.  This is quite an amount of information for one book.  The author’s writing is for academia and can be somewhat difficult.  I never found her boring and will state that any “work” involved in reading this book is going to pay dividends later.

I recommend this book to all Civil War readers as an essential foundation to understanding why the war came and many of the decisions of 1860 to 1862.

On a personal note, I would like to wish all my readers the happiest of holidays.  May this be the best holiday season of your life and may the next one be better.  Thank you for taking the time to read my column and for your comments.

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