Tuesday, April 26, 2011

New Arrival--Confederate Outlaw

Confederate Outlaw: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia (Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War)Thanks to the good folks at LSU Press. Today I received a review copy of Confederate Outlaw: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia written by Brian D. McKnight. McKnight is Associate Professor of History at the University of Virginia's College at Wise and is a past winner of the James I Robertson Literary Prize presented by the Robert E. Lee Civil War Round Table.

Below is information on the book:

In the fall of 1865, the United States Army executed Confederate guerrilla Champ Ferguson for his role in murdering fifty-three loyal citizens of Kentucky and Tennessee during the Civil War. Long remembered as the most unforgiving and inglorious warrior of the Confederacy, Ferguson has often been dismissed by historians as a cold-blooded killer. In Confederate Outlaw: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia, biographer Brian D. McKnight demonstrates how such a simple judgment ignores the complexity of this legendary character.

In his analysis, McKnight maintains that Ferguson fought the war on personal terms and with an Old Testament mentality regarding the righteousness of his cause. He believed that friends were friends and enemies were enemies--no middle ground existed. As a result, he killed prewar comrades as well as longtime adversaries without regret, all the while knowing that he might one day face his own brother, who served as a Union scout.

Ferguson's continued popularity demonstrates that his bloody legend did not die on the gallows. Widespread rumors endured of his last-minute escape from justice, and over time, the borderland terrorist emerged as a folk hero for many southerners. Numerous authors resurrected and romanticized his story for popular audiences, and even Hollywood used Ferguson's life to create the composite role played by Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales. McKnight's study deftly separates the myths from reality and weaves a thoughtful, captivating, and accurate portrait of the Confederacy's most celebrated guerrilla.

An impeccably researched biography, Confederate Outlaw offers an abundance of insight into Ferguson's wartime motivations, actions, and tactics, and also describes borderland loyalties, guerrilla operations, and military retribution. McKnight concludes that Ferguson, and other irregular warriors operating during the Civil War, saw the conflict as far more of a personal battle than a political one.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New Arrival--A Glorious Army

A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee's Triumph, 1862-1863Boy UPS was late tonight. Thanks to Amanda Ferber and the good folks at Simon & Schuster for sending along a copy of Jeffry D. Wert's new book A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee's Triumph 1862-1863.  From the S&S website:

From the time Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia on June 1, 1862, until the Battle of Gettysburg thirteen months later, the Confederate army compiled a record of military achievement almost unparalleled in our nation's history. How it happened—the relative contributions of Lee, his top command, opposing Union generals, and of course the rebel army itself—is the subject of Civil War historian Jeffry D. Wert's fascinating and riveting new history.

In the year following Lee's appointment, his army won four major battles or campaigns and fought Union forces to a draw at the bloody Battle of Antietam. Washington itself was threatened, as a succession of Union commanders failed to stop Lee's offensive. Until Gettysburg, it looked as if Lee might force the Union to negotiate a peace rather than risk surrendering the capital or even losing the war. Lee's victories fired southern ambition and emboldened Confederate soldiers everywhere.

Wert shows how the same audacity and aggression that fueled these victories proved disastrous at Gettysburg. But, as Wert explains, Lee had little choice: outnumbered by an opponent with superior resources, he had to take the fight to the enemy in order to win. For a year his superior generalship prevailed against his opponents, but eventually what Lee's trusted lieutenant General James Longstreet called "headlong combativeness" caused Lee to miscalculate. When an equally combative Union general—Ulysses S. Grant—took command of northern forces in 1864, Lee was defeated. A Glorious Army draws on the latest scholarship, including letters and diaries, to provide a brilliant analysis of Lee's triumphs. It offers fresh assessments of Lee; his top commanders Longstreet, Jackson, and Stuart; and a shrewd battle strategy that still offers lessons to military commanders today. A Glorious Army is a dramatic account of major battles from Seven Days to Gettysburg that is as gripping as it is convincing, a must-read for anyone interested in the Civil War.

Newsletter Review--The Surratt Courier

The Surratt Courier. The Surratt Society. Volume XXXVI No. 4, April 2011.

We all know the big news is the release of the film The Conspirator. However, every month the good folks at the Surratt Society put out their newsletter and keep the Surratt House Museum in Maryland going. CONGRATULATIONS to you wonderful people. I hope to visit you one day.

The April issue has the normal President's Message and upcoming events. The meat of this issue is devoted to an excerpt from a soon to be released book titled
Inside the Walls: The Final Days of the Lincoln Conspirators written by Barry M. Cauchon and John E. Elliott. I searched both Amazon and B&N and could find no reference to this title so I don't have a publication date, cover photo, or even publisher to share at this time. Hopefully there will be more information soon as the book looks promising.

The subject of the excerpt is who actually gave the signal to spring the traps on the condemned. In this brief discussion the authors compare eye witness accounts to the photographic evidence that is available. They conclude that General Hartranft gave approval to Christian Rath who, standing in front of the gallows, with a clapping motion directed soldiers to knock posts from under the traps on which the condemned were standing.

The newsletter wraps up with a short essay on the Pony Express and an April 1861 timeline. It has been often told that the Surratt's oldest son Isaac was a Pony Express rider. This is untrue and Isaac's name does not appear in any records. Isaac did however serve in the 33rd Texas Cavalry Co. A. According to the CWSS website he entered as a private and was discharged as a sergeant.

Book Review--Test Your Knowledge on the Battle of Gettysburg

Drake, Kevin. Test Your Knowledge on the Battle of Gettysburg. Xulon Press, Longwood, FL. 158 pages, b/w photos.

Test Your Knowledge On The Battle Of GettysburgBooks on the battle of Gettysburg seem to be a dime a dozen. Authors are mining every nugget of the battle in attempts to find or say something new. These micro histories are great for advanced students and those that want to know every last detail. Many times they are also must reads for those looking to take the highly competitive and difficult test as the first part of becoming a Licensed Battlefield Guide at the park.

For students who think they know it all though author Kevin Drake presents his new book Test Your Knowledge on the Battle of Gettysburg in an attempt to prove you wrong. Broken down into three sections this book has something for students of all knowledge levels. Each of the three levels is broken down by subject. Questions may cover areas like pre-battle, first day, second day, third day, post battle, miscellaneous, and a "who am I". Level three contains questions on monuments, the Gettysburg Address, cemeteries, Generals, and several very difficult matching sections. The book is neatly wrapped up with a short listing of recommended books.

After each question the answer is shown. This makes it a bit tough if you are wanting to think about an answer since it is kind of difficult to not notice the correct reply. A few black and white photos round out the presentation.

While Xulon Press appears to be a self publishing company I was impressed overall. I've seen books of much worse quality come out of self publishing outfits. I would have liked more pictures and the opportunity to try and figure out where they are or what they are of but I imagine that would have cost more to produce. As to content this is a must read for those who study the battle. Score high enough and you just may earn the rank of Major General. As for me, you'll find me eating my hardtack over with the other Privates.

Highly recommended!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

History Channel Encourages Battlefield Preservation

The History Channel is sponsoring a fundraising drive called Give150. Read details below.

In commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, HISTORY invites all Americans to help preserve Civil War sites and stories through the Give 150TM national campaign. Give 150TM donations will go directly to the Civil War Trust and the National Park Foundation, both non-profit 501(c)3 organizations, to help protect Civil War sites and lands, and support their interpretation.

Give 150TM will also provide the American public with the opportunity to actively give back to their own communities through service and preservation activities.

While we all know the channel is short on actual history most of the time this is a worthwhile project that might reach those who would not have been aware of these Let's hope it raises a lot of money that can be put to good use!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Gettysburg Visitors Center Price Debate

With the recent celebratory mood over the defeat of casinos near Gettysburg National Military Park you would think things were all good. Little could be further from the truth. The Gettysburg Foundation has recently announced plans to request a $2 increase in adult admission, and also to reclassify the adult age bracket, to the three attractions at the Visitor's Center: the museum, the restored cyclorama painting, and the film A New Birth of Freedom. This increase will bring the adult admission to $12.50. The driving reason behind this proposed increase? Turns out the Foundation says it is operating at a loss. Read more on that story here.

As a recent visitor to Gettysburg I'd like to put my two cents in. The Visitor's Center is a great building. It's obvious that it was built to impress. That said let's get to the meat of it all. We didn't go to the food service area so I can't comment on that. The bookstore is a site to behold. It is a treasure trove of all things Gettysburg. The book selection is very nice but you are going to pay full retail. For a town like Gettysburg I'd probably rather give my hard earned dollars to Bernadette at Battlefields and Beyond or one of the other local bookstores. I'm not saying the employees at the VC aren't passionate about their jobs but to own an independant bookstore says a lot about the person and for me if I'm going to pay the same price I'd rather it go to a local than to a faceless company. Just me maybe. The movie didn't do too much for me one way or the other. I'm glad we saw it but it's not going to draw me back. The museum left me somewhat underwhelmed to be honest. Where are the artifacts? The guns? The cool stuff? Sure there was some of it out there but there's only so much reading of big displays I can do and I was tired after leaving. What could draw me back is the very cool Cyclorama of Pickett's Charge. Unfortunately you are herded like cattle in and out and you have a very short window of time to see the painting. Enough time to take it in? NO. Would I go back to the VC? Maybe. Of course by the time we get back to Gettysburg the cost will probably be $15 or more. If you do go be sure to get out your AAA card for the discount.

I've read very little that isn't down right hostile to the Foundation. I get that there are some issues still around from the original plans. Apparently the stated goal was for the museum to be free. There are issues about the lack of artifacts on display. These are issues that GNMP or the NPS needs to address with the Foundation. The problem as I see it is financing. I run a large retail store for a very large private company. I understand the costs of doing business. For almost all businesses, and yes the Foundation is a business no matter how it is set up, margins have been squeezed as of late. Unfortunately as costs to business rise so do prices to end users. The Foundation has chosen to go the Disney and Universal Studios route of continuing to increase prices rather than try to attract more visitors possibly with a lower price. For these two it hasn't seemed to hurt business. Of course ask the average family which they would rather go to the Magic Kingdom or a Civil War Battlefield and Museum and I'm sure you can guess the answer. Will this ticket price increase end up causing more visitors to stay away from the VC and roam the battlefield on their own or perhaps stay away all together? Time will tell. Personally I'm not sure the $2 will keep folks away. $12.50 will still seem like a fairly low price to many, for a one time visit that is. It's when prices continue to creep up and get near that $20 figure that people may start reconsidering. Of course if gas prices continue to rise then all bets are off.

In my opinion for the average visitor the best money they can spend is on a Licensed Battlefield Guide. For about the same price as admission for four you get a dedicated, knowledgeable professional how can teach you about the battle and the battlefield. Of course you are probably going to meet your guide at the VC and get sucked into the Refreshment Saloon and maybe into the museum after all. Well, I tried to give good advice.

Anyway...Let's hear what you think. Have you been to the VC? Would you go back? What did you like or dislike? And let's try to keep it on the VC itself and not about the politics of the Foundation. I think we all agree there enough issues there and they have been hashed over enough recently.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

New Gettysburg Blog

Thanks to Harry Smeltzer for alerting readers to a new Gettysburg blog through the NPS. I agree with Harry in regards to the format. Considering the ease of Blogger and Wordpress I'm shocked they didn't go this route. Anyway let's hope this one develops into a good resource for students of the battle.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

New Arrival--Lincoln on War

The good folks at Algonquin Books recently sent me a review copy of the new book edited by Harold Holzer, Lincoln on War. Below is the information included. A review will be up shortly.

About Harold Holzer's LINCOLN ON WAR

President Lincoln used his own weapons—his words—to fight the Civil War as brilliantly as any general who ever took the field. In Lincoln on War, historian Harold Holzer gathers and interprets Lincoln’s speeches, letters, memoranda, orders, telegrams, and casual remarks, organizing them chronologically and allowing readers to experience Lincoln’s growth from an eager young Indian War officer to a middle-aged dove congressman to a surprisingly hardened and determined hawk as the Union’s commander-in-chief.

We observe a man willing to sacrifice life and treasure in unprecedented quantities, to risk wounding the pride of vain generals, and even to mislead the public if it meant the preservation of an unbreakable union of states, the destruction of slavery, and the restoration of America as an example to inspire the world. This volume covers strategy; tactics; the endless hiring, sustaining, motivating, and dismissal of commanders; military discipline; and military technology. Modern commanders-in-chief have repeatedly quoted Lincoln to justify their own wars, so it behooves us as citizens to know Lincoln’s record well. From masterpieces such as the Gettysburg Address to lesser-known meditations on God’s purposes, Lincoln on War is the first book to highlight exclusively Lincoln’s sublime and enduring words on war.

Harold Holzer is one of the country’s leading authorities on Abraham Lincoln and the political culture of the Civil War era. He has published over thirty books, including "The New York Times" Complete Civil War (Black Dog and Leventhal), and is the recipient of numerous awards, among them the Lincoln Prize and the National Humanities Medal. He lectures widely, appears on television frequently, and has written for the New York Times, American Heritage, and America’s Civil War. Most recently he served as co-chair of the United States Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and is senior vice president for external affairs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Find him online at http://www.haroldholzer.com/.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Book Review--Guide to Civil War Philadelphia

Sauers, Richard A. Guide to Civil War PhiladelphiaDa Capo Press, Cambridge, MA. 2003. 182 pages, b/w photos, index, bibliography. ISBN 0306812320, $18.95.

Guide To Civil War Philadelphia The City of Brotherly Love is most commonly associated with the American Revolution and the founding of our great country. With Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin's grave and more this is completely understandable. However don't that fool you. For Civil War enthusiasts there is a wealth of things to do  as this book so capably shows.

Part history guide and mostly travel guide this is a must have for those interested in the Civil War who are travelling to Philadelphia. The book is broken down by category: abolition and underground railroad, museums and libraries, Civil War sites, vanished Civil War sites, cemeteries, and outlying sites.

For a city that was as far from the actual war as Philadelphia was there are an amazing number of places to see. Listed by category in alphabetical order Saunders gives a brief description of each site and it's importance or relevance to the war. This is helpful but then we run into the main problem with the book.

The book is dated badly. Travel guides are old even by the time they are printed. This one unfortunately is eight years old. Museums come and go, hours and admissions change, and perhaps most importantly is the explosion of the Internet. Very few listings are shown as having a website which in this day and age I find hard to believe. Da Capo Press if you are reading...How about an updated version? A very good book could be made even better.

For researchers the large appendix will be very useful. Included are listings of manuscript holdings at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Chester County Historical Society. A listing of Philadelphia shipyards and Civil War vessels is included as is a large listing of Civil War regiments and company breakdowns that were recruited in the city and surrounding area. A small listing of regimental histories is included separately from the bibliography.

Despite my reservation regarding the age of the book I can still recommend it as a starting point for those visiting Philadelphia who want to explore it's Civil War history. Take the information you gather inside and sit down with your computer and get the updated information that way. There are plenty of places listed here that you would miss otherwise.

Thanks to Bern at Battlefields & Beyond Military History Book Shoppe for reinforcing my purchase decision on this book.

Monday, April 4, 2011

American Civil War Newspapers Online

I came across this interesting website today. I haven't dug into it much but it looks like it would be of value to researchers. The quote below is from the main page and is written by noted scholar William C. Davis from Virginia Tech.

For many years the newspapers of the Civil War era were probably the most neglected of all sources, and yet they are one of the richest. The reason no doubt lay in the sheer mass of them, their inaccessibility, and the fact that they were not indexed. Few if any scholars had the time or resources to spend weeks and months scanning page by page in the hope of finding something of use to their projects. Yet the newspapers are the surest windows on the attitudes of the time, despite their inevitable editorial bias.

All of the daily affairs of the common people play out in the pages of newspapers, only perhaps in smaller type than the antics of the great and powerful. Moreover, thousands of soldier letters, military reports, general orders, and even occasionally diaries, found their way into ink on newsprint, many of them items available nowhere else. Thanks to the policy of editors exchanging newspapers among themselves and borrowing stories from each other, often newspapers for which not a single issue survives, still live in excerpts published in other journals. Even the advertisements are mirrors of consumers and their concerns in the 1860s.

The goal of the American Civil War Newspapers database is to select a representative group of journals to index, with digital images of the newspapers themselves, for use by students and scholars. The newspapers selected will be a representative sampling of Union and Confederate, urban and small town, Eastern and Western, pro– and anti–administration

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Book Review--The Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama

Boardman, Sue and Kathryn Porch. The Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama: A History and Guide. Thomas Publications, Gettysburg, PA. 2008. 79 pages, bibliography, color and b/w photos. ISBN 9781577471387, $19.95.

The Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama: A History and Guide For most visitors to the hallowed ground of Gettysburg the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitors Center is a must see. The museum will help get you oriented to the battlefield, is where you can view the large museum, is where most tour guides are hired at and more. Included in the price of admission is the legendary Cyclorama! The Gettysburg Cyclorama depicts what for most is the defining moment of the battle, if not the entire Civil War, Pickett's Charge. Taking place on July 3, 1863 after a large Confederate artillery fire troops led by General George Pickett (with others) attacked the center of the Union line only to be repulsed. From there the Confederate army moved back toward Virginia and in many people's mind the battle turned the fortunes toward the Union.

Licensed Battlefield Guide Sue Boardman and Kathryn Porch have written an interesting and much needed guide to go with the Cyclorama. A cyclorama is a panoramic painting viewed in the round from a central platform that allows viewers a 360 degree view. In Europe these are often called panoramas. While originating in Europe the trend reached American soil in the 1870's with landscapes, religious works, and historical events being the main subjects. The technical aspects of a cyclorama are huge with both painting and architectural features of the building needing to work together to achieve the maximum viewing pleasure. In addition to the painting a diorama must be built between the viewing platform and the painting in order to extend the paintings features and create the full illusion desired. When these aspects work together the result is fantastic.

Paul Philippoteaux in
front of Pickett's Charge
 With the increasing popularity of the medium in the United States businessman Charles Willoughby commissioned French artist Paul Philippoteaux to create a battle scene that would be displayed in Chicago. Once Pickett's Charge was decided upon work was begun and over a year later in October 1883 the painting was unveiled. After three years in Chicago the painting travelled to Detroit. Due to it's popularity, and financial success, a second version was commissioned and opened in Boston in 1884 before being "traded" with Philadelphia for a Custer's Last Fight painting. Two other versions of Pickett's Charge were created by Philippoteaux both opening in 1886. In the early 1900's the Boston version of the painting was acquired by Albert Hahne and the Picture Association of Gettysburg allowing the painting to be shown in the town that inspired it's subject. Due to neglect, including having been left in a crate in a field, the painting was deteriorating and several attempts at restoration were made. In 1959 construction began on what is now known as the "old visitor's center". This building ultimately proved unsuitable for the painting due to issues such as the building not being tall enough, lack of humidity control, no proper viewing platform, and roof leaks. Thanks to a new and proper building, modern restoration techniques, and appreciative visitors the painting can now be seen in all it's glory.

Boardman and Porch have done a fine job in outlining the history of this marvelous painting. The book is short and broken into logical chapters. Included is a quite helpful "key to the scene" section where the authors briefly label sections of the painting in order to help viewers follow the action. Included in this section are vintage and current photos showing what the actual areas look like. While this book is not cheap ($20 for less than 100 pages) it is a worthwhile purchase. The writing is good and the photos are wonderful. Recommended if you have an interest in the history of Gettysburg.