Monday, May 25, 2009

President makes right choice

I believe President Barack Obama has made the right choice in continuing the tradition to lay flowers at the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. Rather than bow to pressure from those who want to be seen as politically correct he has had aides lay a wreath in honor of Confederate veterans. In addition he has made a wise decision and will also have a wreath laid at the African American Civil War Memorial located in Washington D.C. A more full report on President Obama's Memorial Day activites can be read here.

To those who have served, are serving, or have family serving in the military the United States says "Thank you!"

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Book Review--Last Flag Down

Baldwin, John and Ron Powers. Last Flag Down: The Epic Journey of the Last Confederate Warship. Three Rivers Press, New York. 2007. 354 pages 332 text. Notes, glossary, bibliography, index, map.

I must admit to knowing very little about the naval aspects of the Civil War. After reading Last Flag Down: The Epic Journey of the Last Confederate Warship I can't say I know much more. The is supposed to be the story of the warship Shenandoah's 15,000 mile trip to help save the Confederacy. While loosely it succeeds it is really more a work to glorify one of the crew.

What I did learn was that the book was a seemingly biased account that would have probably been better off written as a biography of Lt. Conway Whittle, the Shenandoah's second in command. The reason for this is that co-author John Baldwin (Ron Powers of Flags of our Fathers fame is the other co-author) is a relative of Whittle. Whittle is portrayed as being the rational and talented leader while commander James Waddell is seen to be a brooding incompatant who should not have been in his position. Is this truthful? I can't say becasue I haven't read anything else on the subject. Am I inclined to take this at face value? No, especially once you realize that one of the prime sources is Whittle's log. Whittle of course feels he should have been in command and his log shows a strained relationship with Waddell all the way through.

We do learn that the crew managed to outsmart the Union navy and get the ship out of England. From there they were able to get the ship renamed and in condition to go after northern ships. Though shorthanded the raider is able to use it's superior speed and manueverability to run down and capture "enemy" ships. Capture means take the crew prisoner, take what they can use and then sink the ship. Many of these prisoners sign on to work on the ship. Their options of course were to do this or stay below deck shackled only to be dumped at whatever port is convenient. Enemy means mostly unarmed commercial vessels and not Union warships. The CSS Shenandoah makes a year long voyage, crossing the equator four times in it's attempt to help save the Confederacy. In the end the crew ends up where they started and ultimately left to the mercy of the English court system.

The book clocks in at 354 pages with index, bibliography, notes, and a much needed and used glossary. If you don't have a good grasp of boating terms you will use this repeatedly. There is a sail plan and also a diagram of the Shenandoah which are useful. Also included is a very simplistic map with an outline of the route taken. While better than nothing the map was not of great value and showed little detail. While not a difficult read the book never really grabbed hold of me and made me want to not put it down.

Again the work is really short on Civil War history and would be better classified as a biographical work. For those interested in life aboard an early naval ship this might be an interesting work. For those hoping for an unbiased work dealing with Civil War naval history they should look elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

David H. Donald passing

I found out today that Lincoln historian David H. Donald passed away over the weekend. Donald wrote what is considered by many to be the best and most well balanced one volume work on Abraham Lincoln. He will be truly missed. Please see the New York Times for an article on the life of Donald.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Magazine Review--America's Civil War

America's Civil War July 2009 Weider History Group, Inc.

The July 2009 issue of America's Civil War has just been released. A standard issue with plenty of color and b/w photos. Photos are both vintage and modern. Overall a nice looking magazine with plenty to read that will appeal to most Civil War historians.

The cover article deals with the legend of Dan Sickles and his cigar at Gettysburg. Did he or did he not leave the battlefield with a cigar in his mouth. The evidence is somewhat sketchy but historians as famous and revered as Harry Pfanz, Noah Andre Trudeau, and Stephen Sears have included the story in their works.

A medium length excerpt from Winston Groom's new book Vicksburg 1863 is included. If you think you remember the name you do...the author of Forest Gump amongst others.

Other articles include the controversy surrounding Andrew Jackson Grigsby and Stonewall Jackson. Abraham Lincoln and the Sioux uprising of 1862 are discussed and the leniancy shown by Lincoln to many of the indians. There is a great article dealing with "witness trees". What would a Civil War magazine be right now without a discussion on the new visitor center at Gettysburg. Love it or hate it it is impressive. Also included are the regular letters to the editor, book reviews, and the occasional article "Smeltzer's Six-Pack" . Harry Smeltzer runs the popular Bullrunnings blog. Here Smeltzer quickly goes over six books from his shelves.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Newsletter Review--The Surratt Courier

The Surratt Courier. Volume XXXIV No. 5 May 2009.

The Surratt Courier is a monthly publication of The Surratt Society .The Surratt Society has the goal of preserving and interpreting the Surratt House and the role it played in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The monthly issued Courier is available as a benefit of membership in the Society. Memberships run as low as $7 which is quite a bargain.

The May issue begins with the President's Message which includes notice of the recent death of historian Steven Lee Carson. The front page also has a listing of upcoming and ongoing events at the Surratt House. Also included is a listing of new items available through the society bookstore. Included are three new titles dealing with assassination and those implicated. Also included is a brief article titled "Music About Abraham Lincoln" written by Charles Becker.

The feature article this month is titled "A Response to the Kate Thompson Theory" written by Carman Cumming. Cumming is noted for his work on Confederate operations in Canada during the Civil War. Cumming argues that it is highly unlikely that Jacob Thompson, a Confederate commissioner in Canada during the war, traveled to Washington under the guise of Kate Thompson. While it is possible that Jacob did receive an invitation to Washington it appears that he did not meet with anyone of importance and possibly did not go at all. The alleged purporse of the visit was to try and end the war with a program of continental expansion with the Union taking over Canada and other British areas while the Confederacy would move on Mexico and/or the Caribbean. While it is possible the Seward and Stanton MIGHT have had an interest in expansion there appears to be no evidence that any real discussions on such a plan took place. As Cumming himself says this whole thing probably doesn't much matter except to show the importance of the Confederate Canadian operations.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Web Site Review: Civil War Book Review

The Spring 2009 issue of Civil War Book Review has been issued. Be sure to check it out for information on some great Civil War titles. Abraham Lincoln is a major focus this year.

The Civil War Book Review is a quarterly published online by the LSU Library Special Collections. The lead featured review this quarter is Tried By War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief by the legendary James McPherson. As the reviewer puts it this is another addition to the literature of Lincoln "hero-worship." A second feature review is General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse written by Joseph T. Glatthaar. The review has high praise and calls this not just a must read but a book that will be read, digested, and debated for years to come. High praise indeed. Included amongst the other reviews is an interview with Paul D. Escott author of "What Shall We Do With the Negro?": Lincoln, White Racism, and Civil War America. The interview is available in print or as an audio version.

Civil War Book Review is a great site that should be referenced by anybody wondering "What should I read next?" There are more than enough books reviewed to get you to the next issue. Dig in and enjoy the books!