Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Book Review--In Tall Cotton

Harwell, Richard Barksdale. In Tall Cotton: The 200 Most Important Confederate Books for the Reader, Researcher and Collector. Broadfoot Publising Company, Wilmington, NC. 2006. Limited edition of 1050. 82 pages.

Just about every where you turn there is a list of "must reads", "top titles", etc. The Civil War is not different. While most of these lists have some level of value most don't seem to stand the test of time. In Tall Cotton is different in that it has stood the test of time for over 30 years and itself has become a collectible and expensive book. The reprint version, while not cheap, is an important addition to any Civil War book collection.

While certainly not a book to be read in the traditional sense (what bibliography is?) this is a book that can easily be purused in a couple of hours. Set up alphabetically by author it is easy to see if your favorites are here. I'll let you guess what book Harwell feels is the top must read book but suffice to say it will be easy to figure out. Most authors only have one book included but there are several with multiples including Harwell himself (he wrote it so why not include himself) with three listings, Bell Irvin Wiley with four titles, and one of the deans of Civil War writing Douglas Southall Freeman also with four titles. Of course Freeman really has 9 books if you count Lee's Lieutenants as three and then R.E.Lee as four.

For each title Harwell gives bibliographical information and then a brief description. He finishes up with cross references to other well known bibliographies the book may be listed in. A few of these include Civil War Books by Allan Nevins, et. al. , Harwell's own Confederate Hundred, Freeman's The South to Posterity and others.

It's unlikely you will want to read everything on the list. It includes everything from first hand accounts to poetry, to biographies, to fiction but there will no doubt be books that pique your interest. While most of the books listed are older many have new printings that include better editing and new introductions. For me I really like listings like this and can always find value in them. I think you will be able to as well and I recommend this book highly.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Newsletter Review--The Lincoln Forum Bulletin

The Lincoln Forum Bulletin. Issue 25 Spring 2009. 12 pages.

I just recently joined the Lincoln Forum and received my first issue of The Lincoln Forum Bulletin. This is a nicely done newsletter that puts forth news from one of the premiere Lincoln groups in the country. Well edited by perhaps the premiere Lincoln scholar of our time Harold Holzer this is definetely a keeper.

The cover article for this issue deals with the upcoming November Symposium. This is to be a three day event and have Supreme Court Associate Justice (ret.) Sandra Day O'Connor as the keynote speaker. Others scheduled to attend include 2009 Lincoln Prize winners James McPherson and Craig Symonds, Ronald White, Adam Gopnik, Fred Kaplan, Lewis Lehrman, Louise Taper, Harold Holzer, Catherine Clinton, amongst others. Suffice to say there will be plenty to do including a tour of the newly opened Wills House, thought to be where Lincoln composed the final draft to his Gettysburg Address. The symposium will only accomodate 300 attendees so get your reservation in quickly. If you need extra encouragement there is a two page spread of photos showing the fun from last years event.

Also included are rememberances for John Hope Franklin and David Herbert Donald. Both are sorely missed already. There is an article regarding Barrack Obama using the same bible as Abraham Lincoln for taking the oath of office. A nice article on the Lincoln Bicentennial Commision and new President Obama is included. There is also a great 2 page spread discussing nearly 30 new books dealing with Abraham Lincoln. This is a great reference to help weed through the mountain of new releases that are coming out.

Overall a very nice newsletter that I'll be glad to receive even though I wish there were more than two issues a year.

Book Review--Civil War Walking Tour of Savannah

D'Arcy, David and Ben Mammina. Civil War Walking Tour of Savannah. Schiffer Publishing Ltd, Atglen, PA. 2006. 159 pages, end notes, bibliography, color photos, b/w photos.

As a major part of Sherman's "March to the Sea" Savannah, GA holds a special place for those studying the end of the war. D'Arcy and Mammina have put together a book that anybody visiting Savannah who has an interest in the Civil War should consider purchasing. Despite the title the book actually contains two walking and two driving tours. Unfortunately I did not find this book until the last day of our trip so I don't have estimates on how long these tours take.

The first walking tour is titled Savannah Early in the War and includes 18 stops ranging from the Customs House and Union General John Geary's Headquarters (now a Tony Roma's Restaurant) both on Bay Street to various churches, homes, and squares. This tour is quite a long one and is probably not recommended for the hot summer months. Trust me, I just got back and it is scorching hot in June.

The second walking tour is a bit shorter at 14 stops and is titled Savannah Late in the War and After. Stops include churchs, homes, and the Colonial Cemetery where many of Sherman's trooops stayed during the occupation. Be sure to see the wall of headstones that came about due to damage caused by the troops.

The first driving tour is called Savannah's Eastern Defenses and includes 10 stops. This looks like it would be a long tour especially having to hit both Old Fort Jackson and Fort Pulaski on the same day. Also included are Bonaventure Cemetery ( Civil War Generals Paul Harrison, Robert Anderson, and Alexander Lawton are buried here)and Laurel Grove Cemetery (Civil War Generals Gilbert Moxley Sorrel, Lafayette Mclaws, Francis Bartow, Henry Rootes Jackson, Jeremy Gilmer, and over 600 other confederate dead are buried here) amongst other locations. Plan a couple days for this tour!

The second tour is titled Siege of Savannah December 1864 and includes just 7 stops but appears to have more driving time. Stops include Fort McAllister State Historic Site and the tour concludes at the Savannah Visitor Center and History Museum.

This is a very nice book to look at with excellent photos and no doubt a great set of tours to take. I do have a few issues with it however. The first has nothing to do with the book but my suggestion would not be to buy the book and try to head off on the tours. I highly suggest taking a bus/tram tour of the city first in order to get oriented. There are many choices ranging from about $10 and up depending on what you want. I think that will make things much easier as you get going. I would like to have had an essay of some kind discussing the role Savannah played in the war and what happened when Sherman arrived. As it is the stops are just that-stops. They don't seem to have much in the way of historical context. There is a brief description of each stop but I think a way to tie the whole city together would be a great addition to future editions. A better map would also be of value. There is one map included at the front of the book that outlines the two walking tours. One tour is in red and is somewhat easy to follow; the second however is done in purple can hardly be seen. Putting a map in for each walking tour and making them a bit more legible would be a great addition and not expensive to add to the book. Maps for the driving tour would not be easy to include and would prove most difficult to read on the scale that would be required to put in a book. These issues aside I still feel this is a great item for anybody with an interest in the Civil War who is visiting Savannah. Without it there are many places you'll not see or hear about. Well worth checking out.

Just as a note...I am including the Amazon link but please be aware that cover price on the book is only $19.95 so as of this writing the prices listed there are very high. It may pay to shop around.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Book Review--The 25 Best Civil War Sites

Johnson, Clint. The 25 Best Civil War Sites: The Ultimate Traveler's Guide to Battlefields, Monuments, & Museums. Greenline Publications, San Francisco, CA. 2005. 263 pages, maps. b/w photos, color photos, bibliography, index.

This is a nice compact book that is arranged by state. It mostly hits the high points of the war of course. Each site has a brief bit of background information on its importance to the Civil War. Following that is a shorter look at the area today. Then we get to the meat of each section. For each are there is a listing of 8-12 points of interest. These include a description and are rated with 1 to 5 stars--5 being a must see and 1 being only if you have extra time. I found the ratings to be a pretty good reference point. After the points of interest comes a listing of suggestions for further reading. This is great if you are planning a trip far enough out and have time to do some additional research. There is a brief section with directions to the area and suggestions for getting around. The last section for each is a listing of accomodations with some average prices listed. Most of these are on the higher end.

For me one thing that would have been nice is including website information for the points of interest. Yes, I know that's what Google is for but most travel guides include this information. Also, while there are some maps they are not included for each destination and those that are are not the best. They are better than nothing however.

There won't be anything here that a good internet search won't turn up. Also, for most interested in the Civil War this is really only a reminder type book and you are unlikely to find anything new. There is value though especially for the sites that are less well known or considered of less importance. I can recommend this as a book you check out from the library or maybe find used. The $20 new price however is certainly not prohibitive though if you are interested.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Newsletter Review--The Surratt Courier

The Surratt Courier. Volume XXXIV No. 6 June 2009.

The June 2009 issue of the Surratt Courier begins with the President's Message which discusses the Thomas S. Gwynn Jr. Memorial History Award. This award is given to a student who has created an impressive record in the study of history. This year two students were awarded to two students. I'm not sure what the award really is because nowhere is it mentioned. Is it a scholarship, a trohpy, a certificate, who knows.

A brief article titled "The Financial Page" discusses the value of the dollar today in comparison to the 1860's. For example in the calculations used a dollar in 1862 would be the equivilant of $22.08 today. Overall not a lot of relvance in my opinion. The newsletter also includes an article titled "On the Road Again..." which details museum guide Rick Smith's travels to places associated with the Lincoln Assassination. This month he discusses an attempt to locate the Adam House Tavern in Newport, MD.

Certainly not the best effort I have seen from the Surratt Society. This issue was pretty light on anything with real meat to it or anything of real historical interest in my view. Overall though the society is still well worth joining if you have an interest in the Lincoln Assassination.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

CWPT--2009 History Under Siege

I recently received my renewal confirmation for the Civil War Preservation Trust . Included was the 2009 History Under Siege: A Guide to America's Most Endangered Civil War Battlefields. This pamphlet includes the 10 most endangered sites and a secondary listing of 15 at risk sites. This is must have reading for those of us interested in the Civil War. If you are not a member of the CWPT I whole-heartedly urge you to join immediately. This wonderful organization works to preserve our shrinking battlefields which lose approximately 30 acres every day. They work to obtain local, state, and federal grants to help leverage their own fundraising so that future generations can learn and enjoy where so many paid the ultimate price.

Below are the top 10 sites with their greatest threat:

1) Cedar Creek, VA--Limestone mining and electrical lines

2) Fort Gaines, AL--Gulf of Mexico and erosion

3)Gettysburg, PA--Residential and commercial development

4) Monacacy, MD--Waste to Energy facility proposed

5)New Market Heights, VA--Residential development

6) Port Gibson, MS--Highway road widening

7)Sabine Pine, TX--Weather related problems

8) South Mountain, MD--Power plants

9)Spring Hill, TN--Residential and commercial development

10)Wilderness, VA--Wal-Mart

The one that upsets me the most would have to be Wal-Mart. They already operate 4 stores within a 20 mile radius and are looking to open a fifth. What possible need is there? CWPT currently has an online way to voice your concerns about this to the local politicians. Please fee free to voice your opinions using this link: No to Wal-Mart.

This very brief at 16 pages and not full of huge detail this is a must read for those of us concerned about the future of our battlefields. Get a copy, write a letter, make a contribution (be sure to see if your employer will match it), and save some land. If we don't do it who will?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

South Carolina selling Confederate money

In tight budget times you never know where the next revenue stream will come from. For the state of South Carolina it has come from some old Confederate currency that should have been destroyed many years ago. So far the South Carolina Department of Archives and History has made about $200,000 selling bills from approximately 40 boxes of "worthless" money. The money has been put to good use buying things such as acid free boxes for storage and also helping to pay for digitizing records.

LSU Press Red Hot Summer Sale

LSU Press is offering a great sale right now with plenty of Civil War related titles to choose from. I just picked up 5 books for less than $40 including shipping. Not bad at all when you consider what books from university presses can cost.

Thanks to Rea Andrew Redd at Civil War Librarian for pointing out this sale!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Upcoming posts

This weekend I finished reading The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics written by James Oakes. This book was a 2008 winner of the Lincoln Prize and it is easy to see why. Very good book. I hope to have a review posted in the next couple of days. It's just a matter of actually writing it.

On my "to read" list is Lincoln by David Herbert Donald. I have heard nothing but good about this work and can't wait to really get into it. I'm about 40 pages in right now and it reads wonderfully. This book was the 1996 Lincoln Prize winner. Honest I'm not trying to read all the winners right now though a couple others are in my near future stack.

I also plan on rereading Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering. I read it when it first came out and was impressed. Now that I have a blog to voice my opinions on I will need to reread it so that I can give a fair assessment.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts on either of these works. I'd love to see what you think.