Sunday, March 28, 2010

Book Review--A Small But Spartan Band

Waters, Zack C. and James C. Edmonds. A Small But Spartan Band: The Florida Brigade in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL. 2010. 254 pages 194 pages of text. Index, bibliography, notes, 21 Illustrations (maps and photos). $29.95.

For those with an interest in Floridians who fought in the Civil War you understand the difficulties in finding good material. For the most part the contributions to the fighting side of the war were limited and source material is difficult to find. This is not to say that Floridians did not do their part for the Confederate effort however. Zack Waters and James Edmonds have spent years researching to try and put an end to the belief that Floridians (or Flowers as they were often called due to Florida being the "Land of Flowers") were cowards in battle as has been put forth in the past. For those Floridians who fought in the Army of Norhtern Virginia they have finally received their due credit.

Traditionally the Florida Brigade has consisted of the 2nd, 5th, and 8th Infantry Regiments and was led by Edward A. Perry (thus Perry's Brigade). Three other regiments (9th, 10th, and 11th) were added later in the war. As the war progressed the brigade was at times led by Col. David Lang and later on a permanent basis by Brigadier General Joseph Finegan. The very end of the war saw T.W. Brevard promoted to Brigadier General. Brevard was commanding at the surrender at Appomattox.

Perry's Brigade was at many of the major battles of the war though they did not participate in all of them. Floridians suffered major losses at battles such as Seven Pines, Sharpsburg, Gettysburg (they took part in Pickett's Charge), The Wilderness, and Cold Harbor. In addition to battlefield casualties the brigade had major issues with sickness and desertion which became more problematic as the war progressed. Sickness during the siege at Petersburg became rampant as poor rations, poor living conditions (including filth and vermin), and bad weather took their toll. The winter of 1864 prompted Dr. Thomas Palmer to ask that the Florida troops be sent home as they were unaccustomed to such conditions. His request was of course denied.

Desertion, or French leave as Waters and Edmonds call it, became a problem for the Confederacy as a whole but a major issue for the Florida brigade. While the above mentioned rations and living conditions played a major part in why men left there were other reasons as well. While a general sense of hoplessness was beginning to take over Waters and Edmonds argue that the home front played a larger part in desertions. While morale was low on the field it was even lower at home. Letters from home described the difficulties those left behind were suffering, including slave issues. Many men were torn between their duty as soldiers and their duty as husbands and fathers. Often being a family man prevailed. It is also argued that a lack of strong command help push men to leave. In the Florida brigade under Finegan many officer positions went unfilled due to both lack of qualified men and also Finegan's failings. Those higher up also must share blame. By not being able to provide food, clothing, and pay to the soldiers the Confederate government must be held accountable.

Waters and Edmonds have shown that the men from Florida who fought in the Civil War were neither cowards nor were they the major leaders. These were average men fighting for what they believed in. All they asked in return was to be treated fairly by their government. Unfortunately issues beyond their control did not allow this to happen. While many deserted the large majority remained and ultimately surrendered their weapons at Appomattox, effectively signalling the end of the war.

Waters and Edmonds have written a much needed work and they are to be commended for the effort it has  taken. The lack of and difficulty in finding Florida material makes this book an achievement to be respected. The notes section runs over 30 pages and contains much valueable information. The bibliography will no doubt be relied upon by generations of future researchers.

There are some areas I feel improvements could be made however. As I have seen other reviewers say more maps could be added. This is a consistant gripe with almost every book however. Cartographers could make a living just off of Civil War books with the way we want maps. While overall the writing is good I found myself confused regarding the Seige of Petersburg and what transpired. I don't know much about this though so it could just be my lack of knowledge of the subject. Col. David Lang played a vital role in Perry's Brigade and I would have like to have had more information on him and also on how and why T. W. Brevard was appointed Brigadier General over him.

A Small But Spartan Band has earned it's place amongst the important works on Florida during the Civil War. I do not believe this to be the final or ultimately most authoritative work we will see however. That being said based upon what I have seen this is the leader and future authors will rely on the research Waters and Edmonds have done. Recommended!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Anniversary in Savannah, GA

My wife and I were able to get away for a few days just before our anniversary. We spent several days in Savannah, Georgia. Having been to Savannah in June let me tell you March is much better. The heat in Juene is just stiffling. Just be sure not to try and go on St. Patricks Day. This is a huge event there and hotel prices are through the roof not to mention the crowds. We were there the days following and it was not bad at all.

Our first day there had highs and lows. Our first stop once arriving on Thursday was Laurel Grove Cemetery. Laurel Grove is the final resting place of notables such as Francis Bartow, General Lafayette McLaws, Juliette Gordon Low (Girl Scouts), Moxley Sorrel, and James Pierpoint. Pierpoint is best known for having written Jingle Bells. There is also an area devoted to the brave men who fought at Gettysburg. In all over 600 known Confederate soldiers are buried in Laurel Grove. This was a nice cemetery to walk during the day. I would probably suggest being aware of your surroundings and not be there near dark. Like many older cemeteries it is not in the best part of town and no matter how interesting sometimes personal safety is the best option.

From there we made the drive to Bonaventure Cemetery. Bonaventure is probably best known from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  Here we saw the final resting places of notables such as General Robert H. Anderson, Confederate Surgeon Brodie Herndon, General Henry R. Jackson, Josiah Tattnall III, and many others. This is a large cemetery that you could probably spend days walking through. Also located here are the remains of songwriter Johnny Mercer, the ashes of 344 Holocaust victims, a section for Spanish-American War veterans and more. Well worth the visit if you are in town. Be sure to stop at the front office and pick up a map!

From here we headed back into the historic district and stopped by the Visitor's Center. We picked up some brochures and then headed to check in at our hotel. We decided to stay at the Double Tree in the historic district. As you can see we had a really nice room. Just a word of advice. Parking is at a premium in Savannah and hotels in the historic district pretty much all charge for parking. It is best to ask if there are any kinds of deals available. Parking was normally $18 per day. We managed to get a deal that provided parking and breakfast for both of us for $25 per day. For only $7 more we each got a huge buffet breakfast onsite and we were able to skip having a full lunch. We just got a quick snack each afternoon saving us much more than the original cost.

Before arriving we had checked at to see if there were any good gift certificates available. We chose Moon River Brewing Co. It was close to our hotel and it didn't look too bad. We had seen it while in town last year but hadn't stopped in. After eating there I would highly recommend passing on this bar that just happens to have food available. I ordered the chicken and sausage creole. Not at all what I expected. First off if you are going to put mushrooms in a dish ADVERTISE IT ON THE MENU! I have found that online it says this but not on the menu you are given in person. Second, it just didn't taste that good. My wife ordered a steak that was WAY overdone. After having waited nearly an hour for our food it was quite a disappointment. Bad cooking, bad menu descriptions, and just not very good food. This could have and should have been a much better experience.   BUT for every bad there is always a better side. After "dinner" we walked over to Savannah Smiles Piano Bar. We had a great time listening to the dueling pianos. At one point one of the singers was belting out Waylon Jennings/Willie Nelson's "Mamma's Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys". He really did sound like an exaggerated way of course. Between the great entertainment on stage and watching those who had had just a few too many to drink it made for a great end of evening. Be sure to bag your clothes or get them laundered once you leave. Cigarette smoking is allowed inside and we reaked of it afterwards.

After breakfast on Friday we headed out on foot towards Forsyth Park. This is a large park with a playground, beautiful fountain, Confederate memorial, and of course a Starbucks located inside the Visitor's Center area. Can't be without your mocha-triple-caramel-whatchamcoffee while watching the kids. This was a great place to spend the morning. There's pleny of benches and room to run with your dogs or your kids.
From Forsyth Park we headed back through town. Next on our agenda was a riverboat cruise. This cruise on the Savannah River was just over an hour. It was pretty interesting but I would have preferred to head toward the ocean and Tybee island rather than further inland. I probably wouldn't do it again but for a one time thing it was pretty neat. They also offer dinner cruises and murder mystery cruises. These might be fun to take as well. Prices are fairly reasonable for the regular cruise (ask for the AAA discount if you are a member) but they go up considerably for any of the package deals. The huge bridge seen in the distance does not do justice to just how large it is especially when you go under it. The height allows all but the largest of cargo ships to access docks upriver. If you were to drive over the bridge you would soon arrive in South Carolina.

After docking we did a little bit of walking along the shops located next to the river. There are plenty of stores, restaurants, and bars to keep you busy here. We then headed back to the room for a short break before dinner. Dinner on Friday was at Churchill's. I had the fish and chips and Chris had shepherd's pie. We were both pleased with the meals. Overall good food and atmosphere. Be sure to pick up one of their fliers at the visitor's center. It has a 10% off coupon attached. After dinner we took a stroll through part of the historic district and ended up sitting in the City Market area. There was a band playing cover songs and we just sat, listened, people watched and had a good evening.

Saturday was a bit of a late start. After breakfast we headed out to explore some of the many squares in town. When we would come to an interesting one we would just sit and people watch. Savannah seems to have a bit of a homeless or unemployment problem and many of these people can be found in the squares. One was giving a concert on his flute playing beginning versions of songs such as Take Me Out to the Ball Game. You just never know what you'll see or hear. We eventually made our way towards our goal which was the Georgia Historical Society. Due to funding cuts they have reduced hours and didn't open until noon. Unfortunately there was not really a lot to see here but there are plenty of research materials should you need them. If nothing else it's worth a walk by just for the impressive building.

Our next stop was V & J Duncan Antique Maps, Prints & Books.  What a treasure this place is! Drawer after drawer of antique prints and maps divided by subject. Case after case of books. Do you collect postcards? Don't miss the drawers full nicely divided by category. This store is a paper collectors dream. I picked up a nice woodcut print of the Confederate Cabinet while there and some postcards for my dad's collection. Make sure to say hello to Sally and Emma the shop dogs while there.

It was now time to wander back towards the river and the hotel. We stopped in several "antique" shops just to see what was there. Antiques such as "confederate" money dated well after the war, a nazi coat that was so obviously wrong somebody had written "fake" on the price tag (it could be yours for $500), and display after dispaly of items that look like they came from grandma's house. Not antiques or even really collectible just kind of old and dusty. I'm sure there were some finds somewhere in those shops but I'm not sure where. We then went back to the hotel for a brief rest before going to dinner. Dinner on Saturday was at Ruth's Chris Steak House. Expensive yes, delicious yes, great way to wrap up an anniversary trip, yes! Currently they are running a three course special for around $40 per person before 6:30. Quite a bargain and the food was excellent. Top notch service as well. When we finished it was still fairly early so we headed back toward City Market to see what was happening. No band that night but we grabbed a table and just sat and watched. Chris went and talked to the owner of a white, deaf, great dane. Beautiful dog and very calm despite all the people around. I noticed many stop to take photos of or with the dog. The owners were very patient with the onlookers. It was kind of weird but we saw close to half a dozen great danes while there. Not a dog you see all that often.

Sunday we awoke to rain and the drive home. It rained the entire way back. Better to have rained on Sunday than on any of the days we were there.  Overall it was a really fun time. The weather was nice and it wasn't too crowded. Savannah is a great town to walk through. There are tons of squares to stop in, loads of historic house museums, historic cemeteries, beautiful churches, and more. Outside of town are Fort Pulaski and Old Fort Jackson, not to mention Tybee Island. Shopping and restaurants are plentiful. Staying in the historic area is not cheap but good prices can be found with some effort. If you don't mind driving in and dealing with the parking problem hotels near I-95 are always an option. Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

UNC Press 20% off sale

Yesterday I received the new catalog from the University of North Carolina Press. I was excited to see that they are offering a 20% discount on orders. Just use the code 01DAH10 to receive this discount. It can be used online, over the phone (1-800-848-6224),  and through the mail. UNC Press has a strong Civil War catalog so you may want to check out this sale.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lincoln Forum announcement

I received this link from the Lincoln Forum today. Join the Rhode Island Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission  for a trip with "Abraham Lincoln" to the Blackstone Valley. Learn more about the train ride here. Sounds like it could be a fun time.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Book Review--Like a Meteor Blazing Brightly

Wittenberg, Eric. Like a Meteor Blazing Brightly: The Short But Controversial Life of Colonel Ulrich Dahlgren. Edinborough Press, Roseville, MN. 2009, 318 pages, 249 pages text. Index, bibliography, notes, maps, b/w photos.

Brave, enthusiastic, careless, connected, smart, daring, careless, lucky, unlucky. These are just some of the words that quickly come to mind after having read Eric Wittenberg's highly entertaining work on Ulrich Dahlgren.

Wittenberg has taken on an important, but often overlooked, subject in Dahlgren. Dahlgren came from a well connected family, his father being John Dahlgren, "The Father of Modern Naval Ordnance." Through his father Ully was able to meet presidents Zachary Taylor and later Abraham Lincoln. These connections, in addition to his own abilities, led to his being promoted to the youngest Colonel in the United States Army.

Wittenberg traces the military career of young Ulrich including his stints working along side Generals such as Franz Sigel, Joe Hooker, and later George Meade. We read of Dahlgren and his enthusiasm and the problems this caused at Fredericksburg. In the Gettysburg campaign Dahlgren makes a major find in seizing letters to Robert E. Lee from Jefferson Davis. These letters showed that Lee would not be receiving reinforcements and that he would be on his own. General Meade however did not follow up on this intelligence and eventually Lee and his army were able cross the Potomac and make an escape. Shortly after the battle Dahlgren was shot in the leg while in Hagerstown. The injury cost him his leg below the knee shortly thereafter. He returned from this injury with the new title of Colonel.

Judson Kilpatrick then helps recruit Dahlgren in his plan ostensibly to free prisoners from Belle Isle and Libby Prison. Whether this was really the goal of the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid has been the subject of debate ever since. Dahlgren led a group of 500 men who attacked from the south of Richmond. Delays caused him to miss his meeting with Kilpatrick and ultimately led to Dahlgren being killed during a Confederate ambush. Here's where the story takes a turn. Papers were found on Dahlgren's body that he was to burn Richmond, free the prisoners, capture Jefferson Davis and the Confederate cabinet and assassinate them. Based upon this strained relations are even more so. Dahlgren is give an "anonymous" burial though there is an interesting story included on the retrieval of his body for burial by family. Wittenberg then spends a good amount of time examining the "papers". He puts forth a compelling argument that shouldn't be shared in a review. Whether you agree with his ultimate findings there is little doubt that Wittenberg has done his research and his conclusion is well thought out and stated.

Overall a well written book that reads quickly. The research is extensive (40 pages of notes and 18 pages of bibliography). Wittenberg does rely heavily on a memoir written by Ulrich's father and of course objectivity of such a source can be questioned. Overall though Wittenberg has written what seems to be a balanced account of this young man. While pointing out the potential greatness of Ully he doesn't hide the warts. For anybody interested in the Civil War this should be on your "to be read" list. Unfortunately you are unlikely to find this at your local B&N so online ordering is your best bet.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Oxford Univeristy Press--Up to 65% off Spring Sale

I received the following email from Oxford Univeristy Press today. I noticed a few Civil War related titles. Might be worth checking out.

Get your hands on new books for the new season! Take advantage of our famous annual Spring Sale with savings of up to 65% on new and bestselling titles. Choose from a wide variety of subject areas—including Political Science, Religion, Business and Economics, Reference, Dictionaries and many more.
To purchase the perfect title, simply:

1. Click on the subject area you are interested in and filter by a discount-savings range—30% off, 50% off, or 65% off.
2. Add your books to the cart.
3. Once your books are in the cart, the discounted price will display in red. Complete your order as usual.

Promo Code:28514