Sunday, September 23, 2012

Video Review--PBS American Experience Death and the Civil War

The PBS show American Experience has been broadcasting Death and the Civil War over the last week. The good people there were kind enough to send along a DVD review copy that I have been able to watch. Overall I was quite impressed.

Taking it's inspiration from Drew Gilpin Faust's excellent book This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (Vintage Civil War Library) this is a show that anybody interested in the Civil War should take the two hours needed to watch. While not breaking any new academic ground viewers can see photos of and hear the horror of the war. Despite early hopes this was not to be a quick event. With over 700,000 dead nearly every family in the country was affected.

Narration is broken up several ways. The main narrator is Oliver Platt and his voice lends a solemnity to the show befitting the subject. Letter excerpts are read by several others including Amy Madigan. Every documentary like this will have it's share of "talking heads" and this one is no exception. Dr. Faust of course plays a main role. Others, such as George Will, J. David Hacker, and Vincent Brown may or may not be known by viewers. I personally found the contribution by David Blight a highlight. I came to know of him after downloading a course of his from the Apple University site and find him to be an engaging speaker. I have not read any of his books so I can say what I feel about those however. Another surprisingly interesting speaker was Thomas Lynch. Lynch is an undertaker by trade but also an author of note. You can read an interesting, but older, interview with him here.

The video portion of the program is really quite haunting. The photos used are a nice mix of well known and those I have not seen before. The lighting of the whole program is done in such a manner as to constantly remind the viewer of the seriousness of the subject. The background music for the program should be payed attention to. It helps set the mood but at no point is it overwhelming. I was not familiar with the name Brian Keane until searching out the music credits here. He is however quite well known and has scored numerous films and documentaries and has won multiple major awards.

Overall the program is broken into six major subjects including: dying, burying, naming, believing and doubting, accounting, and remembering. A major question that is asked by the program is if it's citizens are expected to make the ultimate sacrifice (death) for the government what does the government owe to it's citizens who make this sacrifice. At the time of the war neither government was able or ready to answer this. Out of the war however came improved medical care including the formation of an ambulance service, an improved ability and desire to remove soldiers remains from the field and to identify them thus giving families closure, and with the formation of national cemeteries soldiers and their families are able to give a proper burial to their brave men (and now women).

Again, while not breaking any new ground this is a show I can highly recommend. The images and subject are likely to stick with you for quite a while after watching this. Be sure to check your local PBS station for times or watch it online at your convenience.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Book Review--Yorktown's Civil War Siege

Quarstein, John V. and J. Michael Moore. Yorktown's Civil War Siege: Drums along the Warwick (Civil War Sesquicentennial) . The History Press, Charleston, SC. 2012. 192 pages, 156 pages of text, Index, bibliography, notes, order of battle, b/w photos, maps. ISBN 9781609496562, $19.99.

For most readers of Civil War history Union General George McClellan has a reputation for being overly cautious with his own troops and for grossly overestimating the size and strength of the Confederate troops he was to face. In many ways it would be these types of actions that led Abraham Lincoln to remove him from his position at the head of the Army of the Potomac after the Antietam campaign. While the Union army missed a great opportunity in September 1862 authors John Quarstein and J. Michael Moore argue that McClellan missed just as large an opportunity earlier in the same year. While McClellan may have been a good strategist he was not a good battle leader.

In April 1862 General McClellan began his plan to march down the peninsula from the key location of Fort Monroe in an attempt to take the Confederate capital of Richmond. Had he been successful there is a real possibility the war would have ended three years earlier than it ultimately did. Things were never this easy for Little Mac however as several obstacles, including his own fear of imagined Confederate manpower, stood in his way.

Despite having a dramatic four to one edge in manpower McClellan was fooled into thinking the Confederates were massing a large force by a simple but clever ruse by John Magruder. Magruder divided his forces and had them move continually along their line making it appear as though reinforcements were continually arriving.

Perhaps beyond McClellan's control but not helping him at all was the Union Navy and Flag Officer Louis Goldsborough's failure to provide support along the James and York rivers. While it is true that the Confederates had a new fighting force in the ironclad CSS Virginia the Union failure to actively engage and attempt to draw out this new ship caused this vital route to be unusable until the Confederate withdrawal toward Richmond.

In addition to his own timidity and the failure of the Navy McClellan did not have the best of intelligence nor were his maps accurate. These combined factors led McClellan to decide upon a siege of Yorktown at the spot of the great Revolutionary War siege. Confederate troops suffered tremendously during the siege due to the poor weather, limited rations and lack of health care.

The month long siege was ultimately going to be ended by a relentless pounding of the city by McClellan's massive array of artillery. Unfortunately for the Union army, and McClellan's reputation, the Confederate army slipped away just days before the planned bombardment thus saving the city. On the retreat toward Richmond several indecisive battles took place that further frustrated Abraham Lincoln.

The book contains a large number of b/w photos and several maps. An order of battle is included as is an interesting run down on Union artillery in the Peninsula Campaign. An extensive bibliography is available for those wanting further source material.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rededication of the Olustee Battlefield Monument

Rededication of
The Confederate Monument at Olustee
October 13, 2012, 11 a.m. at the Olustee Battlefield State Park
On February 20, 1864, as Union troops stationed in Jacksonville, Florida, continued their march westward to capture the capital at Tallahassee, they were met near the small town of Olustee by Florida’s General Joseph Finnegan and his Confederate troops. The resulting battle was a great win for the Confederate troops. The Battle of Olustee (Southern name) or Ocean Pond (Northern Name) was the largest battle fought in Florida.
In 1897 the Florida Division of the UDC began raising funds to place a monument on the battlefield. The Florida legislature voted to spend $2,500 towards the construction of the monument. On October 23, 1912 (100 years ago) the monument was dedicated on the battlefield site. The monument faces south. 
The Battle of Olustee was fought on this ground February, 20th, 1864 between 5,000 Confederate troops commanded by Joseph E. Finnegan and 6,000 Federal troops under General Truman Seymore. The Federals were defeated with 2,000 casualties. The confederate loss was less than 1,000 men.
Please Join the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy on Saturday, October 13, 2012 at 11 a.m. for the Rededication of the Confederate Monument that was originally dedicated 100 years ago.
Dinner on the Grounds (covered dish) will follow after the Rededication program.
“Departed, but Not Forgotten!”
FOR FUTHER INFORMATION CALL: Commander Larry Rosenblatt @ 904-993-5019 or via Internet.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Press Release--LSU Press to Release New Book on Stones River

I recently received this press release on what looks to be a great new book on Stones River. The Amazon link below currently shows the book on at a pre release price of $21.87 or 43% off the cover price.

LSU Press Book News
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 5, 2012

Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict Between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland

"Prolific Civil War military historians, Larry J. Daniel has done it again."-John F. Marszalek, author of "Sherman's March to the Sea"

Baton Rouge-Three days of savage and bloody fighting between Confederate and Union troops at Stones River in Middle Tennessee ended with nearly 25,000 casualties but no clear victor. The staggering number of killed or wounded equaled the losses suffered in the well-known Battle of Shiloh. Using previously neglected sources, Larry J. Daniel rescues this important campaign from obscurity.

The Battle of Stones River, fought between December 31, 1862, and January 2, 1863, was a tactical draw but proved to be a strategic northern victory. According to Daniel, Union defeats in late 1862-both at Chickasaw Bayou in Mississippi and at Fredericksburg, Virginia-transformed the clash in Tennessee into a much-needed morale booster for the North.

Daniel's study of the battle's two antagonists, William S. Rosecrans for the Union Army of the Cumberland and Braxton Bragg for the Confederate Army of Tennessee, presents contrasts in leadership and a series of missteps. With only a few hundred yards separating the lines, Rosecrans allowed Confederates to surprise and route his right ring. Eventually, Union pressure forced Bragg to launch a division-size attack, a disastrous move. Neither side could claim victory on the battlefield.

Union commanders and northern newspapers portrayed the stalemate as a victory, bolstering confidence in the Lincoln administration and dimming the prospects for the "peace wing" of the northern Democratic Party. In the South, the deadlock led to continued bickering in the Confederate western high command and scorn for Braxton Bragg.

November 2012
344 pages, 6 x 9, 15 halftones, 13 maps
Cloth $38.50, ebook available

Book Review--Gettysburg Campaign Study Guide

Redd, Rea Andrew. Gettysburg Campaign Study Guide, Volume One: 700+ Questions and Answers For Students of Battle (Volume 1) . Createspace. 204 pages, bibliography. ISBN 9781470153687.

By way of full disclosure despite the author and myself having the same last name to the best of my knowledge we are not related and we have not yet had the pleasure of meeting.

Rea Andrew Redd is both a blogger of note (please be sure to see his Civil War Librarian blog) and an academician working as an instructor of history and also serves as Director of the Eberly Library at Waynesburg University. He has sat for the Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Exam on three occasions.

For anybody interested in Gettysburg history one of the ultimate goals might be to take and pass the Licensed Battlefield Guide Exam. This is a strenuous written exam that requires years of reading and studying to be qualified for. Even then the odds of scoring high enough to be invited to "charm school" and then take the oral exam are slim at best. Those who ultimately pass all parts and are licensed are truly the elite.

It's not just enough to read about and study the battle. The battle itself is only a portion of the exam. You need to know park history, be able to recognize photographs of generals and monuments, and understand geography. If you think you know all this then you need to know how to take the actual test. That's where a guide like this can help push a test taker over the top.

Mr. Redd has broken his book into sixteen chapters each covering a major aspect of the battle, the park, or style of test question. Areas covered include campaign dates, both armies, cemeteries, coverage of events on each battle day, park history, and more. A section of photos is included helping the reader be able to picture the main leaders on both sides of combat. The book is rounded out with a sample exam and also an in depth bibliography that lists dozens of resources for those wanting to further their knowledge. Questions are on the left hand page and answers conveniently on the right hand so there is no having to flip to the back of the book to see if you are correct or not.

This is not a book for the novice historian of the battle nor is it really useful for somebody with just a small level of knowledge. For those well read on the battle or really wanting to further their understanding of the events that took place in Gettysburg this is a book I can recommend without reservation. I have read a couple of reviews knocking this book for a very small number of factual errors. While troubling I am sure these will be corrected if that proves to be the case. Overall, well worth the money and I am looking forward to Volume 2!

For those looking for more information on becoming a Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide please click here.

Please see my reviews of similar titles:

Test Your Knowledge on the Battle of Gettysburg

So You Think You Know Gettysburg

Saturday, September 8, 2012

John Jakes Novels Are Now Available as eBooks

I received the following a while back and have been remiss for not passing it along for those interested Civil War fiction. You can see John Jakes eBooks on Amazon by starting here wit North and South: The North and South Trilogy (Book One) . Thanks to Open Road Media for supplying the press release.

NEWS FROM OPEN ROAD: July 10, 2012

John Jakes's North and South Trilogy, Kent Family Chronicles, and Three Other Titles Now Available as Ebooks from Open Road Integrated Media

"The godfather of historical novelists." —The Los Angeles Times

Today marks Open Road Integrated Media’s ebook publication of fourteen titles by celebrated author John Jakes, including his well-loved sagas—the North and South Trilogy and the Kent Family Chronicles.

Jakes's acclaimed North and South Trilogy is a sweeping saga about a friendship threatened by the divisions of the Civil War. North and South begins in the years leading up to the Civil War: Orry Main from South Carolina and George Hazard from Pennsylvania forge a lasting bond while training at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Together they fight in the Mexican-American War, but their closeness is tested as their regional politics diverge. As the first rounds are fired at Fort Sumter, Orry and George find themselves on different sides of the coming struggle. In Love and War, the Main and Hazard families clash on and off the Civil War’s battlefields as they grapple with the violent realities of a divided nation. Finally, Heaven and Hell brings the battle between the Mains and Hazards—and Confederate and Union armies—to a brilliantly satisfying end. In the series’ epic conclusion, Jakes expertly blends personal conflict with historical events,crafting a haunting page-turner about America’s constant change and unyielding hope.

The eight-volume Kent Family Chronicles begins with The Bastard, as one man’s quest for his destiny leads him to the New World and into the heart of the American Revolution. Phillipe Charboneau is the illegitimate son and unrecognized heir of the Duke of Kentland. Upon the Duke’s death, Phillipe is denied his birthright and left to build a life of his own. Seeking all that the New World promises, he leaves London for America, shedding his past and preparing for the future by changing his name to Philip Kent. He arrives at the brink of the American Revolution, which tests his allegiances in ways he never imagined. The first volume of John Jakes’s wildly successful and highly addictive Kent Family Chronicles, The Bastard is a triumph of historical fiction. In The Rebels, the rousing Kent family saga continues as Philip Kent fights for his new country alongside the greatest figures of the Revolutionary War. The Seekers is set against the backdrop of the harsh and unforgiving American frontier, as Abraham Kent seeks to build a life and identity of his own. Opening twenty-two years after the events of The Seekers, John Jakes’s fourth Kent Family novel—The Furiesspans the blood-soaked era of America’s relentless expansion into the West, and its first heroine takes center stage in the relentless struggle to build the family dynasty. In The Titans, the members of the Kent family’s most dynamic generation face internal clashes as the Civil War ignites. Book six, The Warriors, blends the Kents’ ruthless push for an empire with murderous betrayal and the Civil War’s life-altering culmination. In a flourishing post–Civil War America, the Kent family seizes good fortune again in The Lawless—until all is suddenly threatened by one woman’s return. Finally, in The Americansthe definitive volume in Jakes’s bestselling series—we find the Kent family reaching to finally embrace its legacy and its future.

In addition to the two series, Open Road Media is also releasing ebook editions of Jakes's other historical fiction, including The Bold Frontier, California Gold, and Homeland. On July 31, three works of Sword & Sorcery by John Jakes will join his Open Road Media ebook collection.

Extra content includes:

Behind-the-scenes author commentary and video at

An illustrated biography in each ebook, including never-before-seen photographs and documents from Jake's personal life and distinguished career

Available July 10, 2012, from, Apple iBookstore,, Google eBookstore/IndieBound, Kobo Books, Sony Reader Store, and OverDrive.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Press Release--Texas Historical Commission to Place Monument at Second Manassas

Civil War Trust: Saving America's Civil War Battlefields
For Immediate Release
August 31, 2012
For more information, contact:
William McWhorter, THC, (512) 463-5833
Mary Koik, Civil War Trust, (202) 367-1861 x7231

(Manassas, Va.) – The Texas Historical Commission (THC) will dedicate a monument Thursday, September 6, 2012, at 10am (E.S.T.) to Texas troops in Hood’s Texas Brigade who fought in the Battle of Second Manassas, Virginia, August 28-30, 1862. At this battlefield, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia won the decisive battle of the Northern Virginia Campaign. On the third day of battle (August 30th) Hood’s Texas Brigade contributed significantly to the collapse of the Union left flank which forced its retreat, opening the way for a Confederate invasion of Maryland.
The monument, placed through the THC’s Texas Civil War Monuments Fund, is the fifth in a series of distinctive granite memorials erected as Texans observes the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War (2011–2015). Efforts to obtain the monument were led by the THC and the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission. Donors to the monument project include private contributors, the Austin Civil War Roundtable, the Hood’s Texas Brigade Association, Re-Activated, and the Civil War Trust.

Continuing the tradition begun in the 1960s by the Texas Civil War Centennial Commission and the Texas State Historical Survey Committee (the THC’s predecessor), the THC seeks to commemorate the contributions of Texas’ military units during the war. To date, the THC has provided monuments at key Civil War sites including Vicksburg, Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, The Wilderness, Bentonville, Kennesaw Mountain, and Mansfield. Most recently, the agency has placed monuments in Galveston, Texas; Raymond and Corinth, MS; Rowletts and Richmond, KY; and Gaines’ Mill, Virginia.

Joining THC representatives as speakers at the dedication are: President James Lighthizer of the Civil War Trust; Rick Eiserman of Hood’s Texas Brigade Association, Re-activated, and Manassas National Battlefield Park Superintendent Ed Clark.

The dedication site is on Chinn Ridge near Stop 10 (Hazel Plain) on the park’s driving tour, less than one mile southwest of the Manassas National Battlefield Park’s Henry Hill visitor center at 6511 Sudley Road. Attendees may follow directional signage from the visitor center, or call the Civil War Trust at (202) 367-1861 ext. 7230 for directions.

WHAT: Dedication of Texas Monument on the Second Manassas Battlefield
WHEN: September 6, 2012 at 10:00 a.m.
WHERE: Chinn Ridge, Second Manassas Battlefield

COST: Free and open to the public
For more information about the Texas Civil War Monuments Fund contact the THC’s Military Historian William McWhorter at 512.463.5833 or

The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s remaining Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds through education and heritage tourism. Since 1987, the organization has helped save more than 32,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states. Learn more by visiting, the home of the Sesquicentennial.
1156 15th Street N.W., Suite 900, Washington D.C. 20005 | phone (202) 367-1861 | Change newsletter preferences/unsubscribe