Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Blog Roll additions

I have added a few new blogs to the blog roll recently. First and foremost is one familiar to most readers already but somehow slipped through the cracks on getting listed. Please be sure to check out Mike Noirot's This Mighty Scourge.  Also added is Brooks Simpson's new blog Crossroads. Both are well worth the time to read!

Do you have a favorite blog I don't have listed? Please feel free to drop me a line or post a comment. I'd love to add more!

Civil War Book Review--Fall 2010

I recently received word that LSU Libraries had posted the new edition of their very popular and interesting Civil War Book Review.

The Civil War Book Review, a quarterly journal published by the LSU Libraries’ Special Collections Division, has released its Fall 2010 issue at

While it is easy to question how anyone can possibly say anything new about the Civil War, time and again, we are encouraged by the richness and freshness of recently-published works by both young scholars and veteran historians. Civil War historians push one another to test the limits of historical research, seeking to approach old areas with a fresh perspective while continuing to uncover new subjects. Civil War Book Review is honored and proud to be a part of this public discussion as we seek to promote the further study of the antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction periods, while providing accountability through peer review.

Continuing our Sesquicentennial recognition of those who fought in the American Civil War, the Fall 2010 issue features a portrait of Private George Henry Graffam, a member of Company B, 30th Maine Infantry, U.S.A. He was eighteen-years-old when he enlisted in the Union army.

In this issue, we feature the most recent books by two of our field’s leading experts, in addition to some stellar first-book scholarship from two young, promising scholars who continue to give us hope that the study of this period remains in capable hands. First, Daniel W. Crofts provides us with an intriguing mystery as he attempts (he succeeds) to uncover the true identity of the author of “The Diary of a Public Man” in A Secession Crisis Enigma, William Henry Hurlbert and the “Diary of a Public Man.”  Next, Michael T. Bernath’s first book, Confederate Minds: The Struggle for Intellectual Independence in the Civil War South, analyzes the Confederate efforts to achieve “intellectual independence,” the attainment and promotion of a southern identity through its own literature and periodicals, as part of the larger war effort. Mark W. Geiger examines the political and social upheaval which resulted from the failed attempt by a group of prominent Missouri state politicians and bankers attempted to fund Confederate volunteers using money from the state treasury in Financial Fraud and Guerrilla Violence in Missouri’s Civil War, 1861-1865. Finally, in
Edmund J. Davis: Civil War General, Republican Leader, Reconstruction Governor, Carl H. Moneyhon seeks to bring an important figure in Civil War-era Texas history into a more positive light, resurrecting his reputation through a better understanding this man’s complex life.

This fall, Leah Wood Jewett reminds us of the tolls that Civil War soldiers and their families paid as she uses the superb Special Collections at Louisiana State University to highlight the death inherent in any war. As part of a larger exhibition that features the women’s experience during the Civil War at Hill Memorial Library on the campus of LSU, Jewett’s column sheds light on the ways in which Civil War women confronted the death or potential of death for their loved ones.

In further recognition of the Sesquicentennial, Frank Williams has graciously provided us with a survey of the existing scholarship on Abraham Lincoln. He has generously taken the time to highlight a score of books that show the complex character of Lincoln and the range and diversity of historians’ efforts to better understand this prominent historical figure.

Unfortunately, we are unable to provide an author interview in this issue. We are still working to include the interview that we conducted for this issue but we have encountered technical difficulties that have waylaid our efforts to include the interview in the publication at this time. We will certainly continue our efforts to process the interview and we appreciate your understanding this quarter. This issue, and everything in it, would not be possible were it for the efforts of the staff at Civil War Book Review, LSU Libraries and Special Collections. I am, as always, grateful for their continued support. We certainly appreciate our readers as well and wish you all a wonderful, safe, and fulfilling Holiday season.

Civil War Book Review is published in the first week of the months of February, May, August, and November. If you would like to receive e-mail reminders of upcoming issues and special features on the website, click on “Sign me up for CWBR Updates!” link at the bottom of any page in the journal. From there, you can provide us with your contact information so that you will receive these e-mail reminders. Of course, we will NEVER share your personal information with any third party.

Civil War Book Review is the journal of record for new or newly reprinted books about the antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction eras, and is a project of the United States Civil War Center, LSU Libraries Special Collections. A reader’s survey can be accessed through the CWBR homepage.

To contribute to the Civil War Book Review fund, or for information on editorial matters, contact Nathan Buman, Editor, by phone at (225) 578-3553 or by email at
Civil War Book Review

Louisiana State University
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Raphael Semmes Drive
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
(225) 578-3553 phone
(225) 578-4876 fax

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Civil War Message in a Bottle Decoded

A Civil War message in a bottle from the Museum of the Confederarcy has been opened and decoded. It reinforced the grim possibilities for Vicksburg.

By STEVE SZKOTAK, Associated Press Steve Szkotak, Associated Press – Sat Dec 25, 11:13 am ET

RICHMOND, Va. – A glass vial stopped with a cork during the Civil War has been opened, revealing a coded message to the desperate Confederate commander in Vicksburg on the day the Mississippi city fell to Union forces 147 years ago.

The dispatch offered no hope to doomed Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton: Reinforcements are not on the way.

The encrypted, 6-line message was dated July 4, 1863, the date of Pemberton's surrender to Union forces led by Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Siege of Vicksburg in what historians say was a turning point midway into the Civil War.

The message is from a Confederate commander on the west side of the Mississippi River across from Pemberton.

"He's saying, 'I can't help you. I have no troops, I have no supplies, I have no way to get over there,' " Museum of the Confederacy collections manager Catherine M. Wright said of the author of the dispiriting message. "It was just another punctuation mark to just how desperate and dire everything was."

The bottle, less than 2 inches in length, had sat undisturbed at the museum since 1896. It was a gift from Capt. William A. Smith, of King George County, who served during the Vicksburg siege.

It was Wright who decided to investigate the contents of the strange little bottle containing a tightly wrapped note, a .38-caliber bullet and a white thread.

"Just sort of a curiosity thing," said Wright. "This notion of, do we have any idea what his message says?"

The answer was no.

Wright asked a local art conservator, Scott Nolley, to examine the clear vial before she attempted to open it. He looked at the bottle under an electron microscope and discovered that salt had bonded the cork tightly to the bottle's mouth. He put the bottle on a hotplate to expand the glass, used a scalpel to loosen the cork, then gently plucked it out with tweezers.

The sewing thread was looped around the 6 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch paper, which was folded to fit into the bottle. The rolled message was removed and taken to a paper conservator, who successfully unfurled the message.

But the coded message, which appears to be a random collection of letters, did not reveal itself immediately.

Eager to learn the meaning of the code, Wright took the message home for the weekend to decipher. She had no success.

A retired CIA code breaker, David Gaddy, was contacted, and he cracked the code in several weeks.

A Navy cryptologist independently confirmed Gaddy's interpretation. Cmdr. John B. Hunter, an information warfare officer, said he deciphered the code over two weeks while on deployment aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. A computer could have unscrambled the words in a fraction of the time.

"To me, it was not that difficult," he said. "I had fun with this and it took me longer than I should have."

The code is called the "Vigenere cipher," a centuries-old encryption in which letters of the alphabet are shifted a set number of places so an "a" would become a "d" — essentially, creating words with different letter combinations.

The code was widely used by Southern forces during the Civil War, according to Civil War Times Illustrated.

The source of the message was likely Maj. Gen. John G. Walker, of the Texas Division, who had under his command William Smith, the donor of the bottle.

The full text of the message to Pemberton reads:

"Gen'l Pemberton:

You can expect no help from this side of the river. Let Gen'l Johnston know, if possible, when you can attack the same point on the enemy's lines. Inform me also and I will endeavor to make a diversion. I have sent some caps (explosive devices). I subjoin a despatch from General Johnston."

The last line, Wright said, seems to suggest a separate delivery to Pemberton would be the code to break the message.

"The date of this message clearly indicates that this person has no idea that the city is about to be surrendered," she said.

The Johnston mention in the dispatch is Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, whose 32,000 troops were encamped south of Vicksburg and prevented from assisting Pemberton by Grant's 35,000 Union troops. Pemberton had held out hope that Johnston would eventually come to his aid.

The message was dispatched during an especially terrible time in Vicksburg. Grant was unsuccessful in defeating Pemberton's troops on two occasions, so the Union commander instead decided to encircle the city and block the flow of supplies or support.

Many in the city resorted to eating cats, dogs and leather. Soup was made from wallpaper paste.

After a six-week siege, Pemberton relented. Vicksburg, so scarred by the experience, refused to celebrate July 4 for the next 80 years.

So what about the bullet in the bottom of the bottle?

Wright suspects the messenger was instructed to toss the bottle into the river if Union troops intercepted his passage. The weight of the bullet would have carried the corked bottle to the bottom, she said.

For Pemberton, the bottle is symbolic of his lost cause: the bad news never made it to him.

The Confederate messenger probably arrived to the river's edge and saw a U.S. flag flying over the city.

"He figured out what was going on and said, 'Well, this is pointless,' and turned back," Wright said.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book Review--Notre Dame and the Civil War

Schmidt, James M. Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory. The History Press, Charleston, SC. 2010. 142 pages, notes, b/w photos. ISBN 9781596298798. $19.99.

Notre Dame and the Civil War (IN): Marching Onward to VictoryWhen it comes to big name schools there are a few that will get mentioned by almost everybody. At the top of many lists will be Notre Dame. While much of this is due to the legacy created by Knute Rockne and the football program he and others were instrumental in creating, the university is of course MUCH more than that.

Author Jim Schmidt has written an enjoyable, fascinating, and needed book dealing with Notre Dame and the contribution it's students and administrators made during the Civil War. The culmination of more than a decades research Schmidt has proven that the young college did more than just contribute Father Corby to the war effort.

We begin with a short history of Notre Dame beginning with it's founding in 1844 by Father Edward Sorin. Also critical during the early years was Mother Angela Gillespie and the Holy Cross sisters. The first bachelor's degree was granted in 1849.

The book is broken into logical chapters each of which deal with a different aspect of Notre Dame's contribution to the war. In one chapter we learn the origin of the word chaplain and that there were only approximately 30 Catholic chaplains out of more than 300 in the Union army. Notre Dame contributed seven of which three perished either directly or indirectly due to the war. While Father Corby, of the famed general absolution speech, is probably the most widely known the others including Father Gillen and his portable "cathedral" and Father Dillon and his temperance campaign made a strong showing and earned the respect of those around them. Schmidt points out the anti-Catholic bias of the time and how the bravery of these men helped lessen this.

Notre Dame contributed more than 60 nuns who served as nurses during the war. The conditions these women endured were horrible but Schmidt ably points out how the religious vows taken by these women served them well under trying conditions. In fact the experiences they gained allowed the The Sisters of the Holy Cross of Notre Dame to expand their mission to health care which is still carried on today.

Perhaps the most famous association between Notre Dame and the Civil War comes from somebody who was neither a student nor a Father there. William T. Sherman and his wife Ellen sent their older children to Notre Dame prep schools as Ellen was impressed with "the campus, academics, and, of course, the religious training." (p. 62). Just after the completion of the war Sherman was visiting when he was asked to deliver remarks at the commencement. He gave some unprepared remarks in which he reminded the students of self reliance and a belief in Union and God. Sherman held the institution in such high regard that he eventually donated his family papers which now reside in the University of Notre Dame Archives.

As the war dragged on longer than any originally thought possible problems began popping up for colleges across the country. Fiscal problems were first and foremost in most minds. With declining enrollments and rampant inflation many schools were in dire straits with many closing their doors. While there may have been concerns Notre Dame actually fared well in this regard. With its distance from the main areas of fighting Notre Dame was actually able to increase its overall number of students when looked at across all programs. Not surprisingly much of this increase came from students living in border or Confederate states where much of the fighting took place. An interesting statistical analysis is provided.

The book is nicely wrapped up with a chapter dealing with monuments relating to Notre Dame and the Civil War. From the Notre Dame campus to Gettysburg to Washington D.C. and other places, statues and memorials to the brave men and women from Notre Dame can be visited.

This is an interesting book and a must read for anybody interested in the history of the University of Notre Dame and also anybody with an interest in the Civil War. The chapters are easy to read and the book can be read as a whole or the chapters as stand alones. The book is well illustrated with b/w photos both vintage and modern. End notes wrap up the work nicely. There is no bibliography included but Mr. Schmidt has provided a full accounting on his blog which I recommend you visit.

Please also be sure to check back as I will be conducting an interview with Mr. Schmidt in the very near future.

Thanks go to Katie Parry at The History Press for providing a complimentary review copy!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Co K. 1st Michigan Sharpshooter Descendents Meet at Petersburg

An often overlooked area of study is the contribution of American Indians to both sides in the Civil War. Recently Petersburg National Battlefield played host to descendents of members from Co. K 1st Michigan Sharpshooters. Co. K consisted entirely of American Indians from Michigan.

Read the full story about the meeting and future plans here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Magazine Review--Blue & Gray

Blue & Gray. Volume XXVII Issue 3. 66 pages $5.95.

Feature article--Van Dorn's Holly Springs Raid by Thomas E. Parson

• Where Was Julia Grant During the Raid? by Tom Parson

• WILEY SWORDS WAR LETTERS SERIES— A Massachusetts Socialite Gets A V.I.P. Tour of the Custis-Lee Mansion in April 1864, and Tells All In A Letter Home, Including Lee Family Items Taken As Souvenirs and Her Views on Emancipation

• DRIVING TOUR—The Holly Springs Raid by Dave Roth with Tom Parson.

The magazine lives up to its reputation. Excellent mix of current and historical photos along with a boat load of maps. Also included is a section of book reviews. If you like a magazine to be tightly focused on one subject Blue & Gray is for you.

Magazine Review--North & South

North & South. Volume 12 Number 5. 64 pages, $6.99.

Here's a brief run down on the highlights from the new issue. I have not read this issue so I will just list the articles.

Border War 1788-1860 written by Stanley Harrold    Discusses the decades of violence before the Civil War.

War Comes to West Point written by Brian R. McEnany   The problems caused to the U.S. Military Academy in the wake of secession.

Robert Bullock: Florida's Forgotten General written by Zack C. Waters  (Please be sure to see my review of Waters excellent book: A Small But Spartan Band)    A little known Brigadier General from Florida.

Gott Mit Uns written by George C. Rable    Religious explanations from both sides as to the results of First Bull Run.

Freemasons in the Civil War written by Michael A. Halleran

Also included is a small section of book reviews, letters to the editor, and Knapsack ( a series of brief Civil War items).  Overall it looks like a good issue with a couple of articles I will be interested to read. Zack Waters being the prime one for me. The article on Freemasons also looks promising even though in the contents listing it is shown as starting on a page different from it's true starting page (easy editing mistake to catch). Each article is accompanied end notes. Each article has photos but I'm not sure they are adding much. Also, I did not notice any maps. This is always a problem for a history magazine. In addition, does anybody know if there is a website for this magazine? I was unable to find one that was active.

Newsletter Review--The Lincoln Forum

The Lincoln Forum Bulletin. The Lincoln Forum. Issue 28, Fall 2010. 12 pages.

Another fine edition from a first rate organization. The lead article announces Mark Neely as being named the winner Richard Nelson Current Award of Achievement. Among his other works Neely is known for his Pulitzer Prize winning work The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties.

Other articles include an update on the Elizabeth Keckly Project, how New York helped Abraham Lincoln win the 1860 election, a memorial to member Budge Weidman, a longer article on Robert Todd Lincoln's love of golf, and a very interesting article written by John Marszalek and Ryan Semmes concerning Lincoln related items in the Ulysses S. Grant Association which is now located at the Mitchell Memorial Library at Mississippi State University.

If you are interested in Abraham Lincoln this is a group you might want to consider joining.