Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Civil War: A Visual History. Parragon, New York, NY. 223 pages, index, b/w photos. ISBN 9781445440378. $14.99.

The Civil War: A Visual History is a collection of photos and other visual items from the Library of Congress and the National Archives mixed with copies of letters and speeches in an attempt to tell a visual story of the war. These images are put together on the page "scrapbook" style occasionally overlapping or at angles. Each is given a brief description and more complete credit information, including LOC catalog numbers is at the back of the book.

The book is laid out by theme including prisons, front lines, the home front, four sections on battles, and more. Many of the images will be familiar to experienced Civil War readers including the famous seated John Burns, three Confederate Prisoners at Gettysburg, Lewis Payne, and others. Many of the images though will be new.

An area confusing to me was the set up of the index. Most individuals are listed under first name rather than the traditional last name. However, some are listed just by last name such as first name provided. Devil's Den is listed separately but not under Gettysburg. If you are looking for something in particular it's best to look under all possible names.

While interesting this book is no substitute for more in depth volumes such as the multi volume works The Photographic History of the Civil War and the Image of War 1861-1865 series. That really isn't this books aim though. With the holidays quickly approaching this is more likely to be a gift you will receive from a well meaning family member who knows you are interested in the Civil War but doesn't have any idea what book you really want.

For those of you reading this review Susan Blond, Inc., who is handling publicity for the book, kindly sent me two copies of this book. I would be pleased to send one to a reader. Here's what we'll do...If you are interested please leave a comment explaining why you would like the book. The last week of October I will choose a winner and contact them to arrange sending them the book. Fair?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Book Review--Florida Civil War Blockades

Florida Civil War Blockades: Battling for the Coast
Wynne, Nick and Joe Crankshaw. Florida Civil War Blockades: Battling for the Coast. The History Press, Charleston, SC. 2011. 126 pages, b/w photos. ISBN 9781609493400, $19.99.

While being the third state to secede from the Union, Florida played a fairly small and limited role in the Confederacy in terms of men. With a population of less than 75,000 free citizens the state contributed only around 15,000 soldiers. In addition, being removed from the major theatres of battle little fighting took place in the state. While this makes it appear that the state was an unimportant one that is hardly the case as authors Nick Wynn and Joe Crankshaw attempt to show in their new work discussing the Union blockade of Florida's coastline.

When the Union blockade of the Confederate coast was instituted in early 1861 it seems that little thought was given to how this was going to be carried out. The Union navy at the time consisted of less than 100 ships with only a dozen or so being ready and available to cover more than 3,000 miles of coast with half belonging to Florida. In addition to a lack of ships there was also the issue of supplying the blockaders with training, food and water, and medical supplies. In addition the 1856 Treaty of Paris, which stated that for a blockade to be legal it must be effective, was a concern. With the effectiveness of the blockade in question the Union had to be concerned about the Confederacy being granted European recognition.

Wynne and Crankshaw discuss the state by geographic region. On the east coast the Union established control at Jacksonville, Fernandina, and St. Augustine forcing blockade runners to use smaller ports such as New Smyrna. The problem with such small ports was theft. This was the case with a shipment of shoes and guns that arrived via the Kate in 1862. While some of the guns were recovered the majority of supplies vanished into the hands of locals or into the interior wilderness of the state.

The west coast of the state was led by the port at Tampa. Tampa Bay proved difficult to patrol due to the large entry way. This along with the Hillsboro River that emptied into the Bay made this an attractive target for blockade runners. Charlotte Harbor and Punta Gorda also became important for Confederates.

The final area of the state was the area between Cedar Key and Pensacola, probably the most heavily populated area of the state at the time. While both areas were controlled by Union forces small ports at places such as St. Andrews Bay and Apalachee Bay allowed a continued flow of supplies in and out of the state.

The Union blockade could point to other areas of success in addition to preventing transport of goods and supplies. Salt was a valuable commodity whose price rose considerably during the war. Saltworks were vulnerable to Union blockaders on several fronts. Many saltworks, which were located near the coast, were manned by slaves. Being close to the Atlantic or Gulf made saltworks prime targets of destruction for Union troops. Former slaves or "contraband" as they were known were dealt with in a couple of different ways. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles had authorized using the contrabands as sailors if they could be useful. Most however were taken to collection points that would serve as prime recruiting grounds later in the war. By destroying two economic drivers at once the blockade helped further pinch and already cramped state.

So do Wynne and Crankshaw think the Union blockade was effective? In their own words "Yes and no." The blockade was leaky at best. Small ports allowed quick moving runners entry into the vast array of waterways leading to the interior of the state. Despite this however around 1,500 blockade runners were stopped. These shipments prevented much needed supplies from entering the state and being shipped over land northward. It also prevented outgoing freight that was bound for ports further north to supply troops or from going to overseas ports that could have provided much needed capital. The success in lowering the production of salt and stopping of fishing vessels put a crimp in the daily lives of many Floridians. Floridians also had to be concerned about the possibility of invading troops coming from blockaders. These factors help push the scales toward a Union success.

This is a quick reading book that provides a good introduction to the topic. It is however far from definitive. Due to space constraints the book does not contain an index, proper bibliography, or notes making it difficult for future researchers to use the book. There is a small essay of suggested reading but this is really of limited value. A few minor typos, including a wrong date of secession for South Carolina, would show a need for a further proof-reading. These issues aside if you are looking for an introduction to the subject this is a book that will fit your needs until a more complete coverage is released.

Book Review--The McGavock Confederate Cemetery

Jacobson, Eric A. The McGavock Confederate Cemetery: "A Revised and Updated Compilation". Self Published, 2007. 168 pages, index, bibliography, color and b/w photos. No ISBN.

In late November 1864 a vicious five hour battle took place in Franklin, TN. In these short hours nearly 10,000 soldiers were killed (including six Confederate generals), wounded, or missing, making the Battle of Franklin one of the Civil Wars most bloody battles and a further blow to the Confederacy.

Eric A. Jacobsen has written a short but informative book dealing with the carnage left on the battlefield and the people who helped bury the dead with the dignity they deserved. On December 1, 1864 burial details were sent to the field to bury the dead and bring the wounded to care. In total around 1,750 Confederates were buried in makeshift plots, many only a couple of feet deep. Most burials were arranged by state and when details were known they were carved into boards and placed at the head of the burial. By the fall of 1865 any Union dead had been removed with the majority being buried at Stones River National Cemetery.

With the war over a need to return to normalcy came over the country. For those in the Franklin area this was difficult with Confederate dead being buried in yards and farmlands. Enter John and Carrie McGavock.

John McGavock*
John and Carrie became the driving force in establishing a cemetery for the Confederate dead, even going so far as to donate two acres of land next to their own family cemetery. A burial association was formed to help raise the needed funds to find and rebury the soldiers. Funds were requested from each state with men who would be reburied. Money was also raised privately with many soldiers donating to the cause. Through a bidding process George Cupett was awarded the contract to find, exhume, and rebury the bodies of dead soldiers. For this he was to be paid $5 per body. As bodies were found records were made so they could be marked at reburial, the body placed in an oak coffin, and reburied in the new cemetery.

Once burials were completed the cemetery fell to the McGavocks to maintain. Each faithfully upheld this service until their deaths. John dying in 1893 and Carrie in 1905. Around 1925 responsibility for the cemetery was taken over by the Franklin Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Carrie McGavock*
Jacobson has the book broken into two parts. The first which is briefly told above runs a mere 30 pages or so. The remainder is a listing of the dead buried at McGavock Confederate Cemetery.

The cemetery is broken into 103 sections and here Jacobson outlines what is known about each burial. Where known he provides name, rank, regiment, company and brigade. Notes are provided for burials where there may be further information.

Jacobson has written a short but interesting, and in some senses vital, book for anybody interested in the Battle of Franklin or for those who are doing genealogical work and find they have a relative who fought and perhaps died there. He has used primary sources including the heavily relied upon original McGavock Cemetery Book (which itself has a unique story that Jacobson passes along to readers). Newspapers and original soldier letters, one of which proves to be an excellent example outlining a "good death"** are also used, along with a selection of secondary sources.

If you are interested in this book I would recommend purchasing through the Battle of Franklin Trust website.

*Photos of John and Carrie McGavock are used from the Battle of Franklin Trust, Carton Plantation, Images website.

**For further information on "good death" I highly recommend Drew Gilpen Faust's book This Repulic of Suffering. Please see my review here.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Upcoming Posts

Several new releases have been received from publishers over the last few weeks and I'd like to bring you up to date on them.

Florida Civil War Blockades: Battling for the Coast--From The History Press. Authors Nick Wynne and Joe Crankshaw discuss the Union's attempt to shut down over 1,500 miles of coastline.

Forrest's Fighting Preacher: David Campbell Kelley of Tennessee--From The History Press. Author Michael R. Bradley brings us the life of Nathan Bedford Forrest's second in command. Kelley returned to preaching after the war and also helped to establish Vanderbilt University.

Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted (A Merloyd Lawrence Book)--From DaCapo Press.  Author Justin Martin treats us to the life of Frederick Law Olmsted "abolitionist, conservationist, and designer of Central Park".

The Civil War: A Visual History--From Parragon Press. Letters, speeches, and memoirs mixed with images from photographers, sketch artists, and reporters all in a gift book type format to be released in time for holiday giving.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Book Review: Inventing Stonewall Jackson

Hettle, Wallace. Inventing Stonewall Jackson: A Civil War Hero in History and Memory (Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War). LSU Press, Baton Rouge. 200 pages, 148 pages text. Index, bibliography, notes, b/w photos. ISBN 9780807137819. $34.95.

Inventing Stonewall Jackson: A Civil War Hero in History and Memory (Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War)In the hierarchy of Confederate legends perhaps only Robert E. Lee is more and has been more worshipped than Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. For a man who perished at seemingly the top of his game Jackson left a surprisingly small paper trail for historians to examine. In his new book Inventing Stonewall Jackson author Wallace Hettle rather than examine Jackson himself examines some of the most famous Jackson biographers and how their lives may tie in to their portrayal of the Confederate heroes legend.

For readers wanting to have a short introductory biography to Jackson this is not the place to look. While readers will learn about the legendary general this is really more a book for advanced students of Jackson who are widely read and looking to further their understanding of him. For those unfamiliar with the literature on Jackson this could become a difficult read.

The span of works covered by Hettle include those from Lost Cause advocates such as Robert Lewis Dabney, a fictionalized work by Mary Johnston, a work by the nationally known poet Allen Tate, the movie Gods and  Generals, amongst others. This broad body of work that is examined is a strength of this book. In examining these works Hettle attempts to point out how the lives of the authors are put into their version of Jackson's life and how these works play into the entire legend that now surrounds Jackson.

Hettle has chosen a path that should probably be employed by anbody doing research on a historical figure that has had considerable material written about them. While I enjoyed this book I would have been much better prepared for it had I been more familiar with the source material. This is a book that can be recommended to the moderate to advanced student of Jackson and should be considered for any serious Civil War library. While not a large book the thorough bibliography and notes sections show the research that has gone into this work.
Thanks to LSU Press for kindly sending a complimentary review copy.

Below are links to several of the works covered by Dr. Hettle in his book.

16th Annual Lincoln Forum Announcement

I recently received this reminder about the fast approaching 16th annual Lincoln Forum Symposium. Click here for further information and to download a registration form.

The 16th Annual Lincoln Forum Symposium

“Lincoln and the Homefront: The Civil War Comes to Washington”

November 16th – 18th

Gettysburg, PA

Year Two of a Five-Year Focus on the Civil War Sesquicentennial


Ed Bearss, Stephen Lang, Jason Emerson, William C. (“Jack”) Davis, William Seale, Stephen Berry, Victoria Ott, Michael Kline, Thomas Craughwell, Harold Holzer and Frank J. Williams


Panel Discussions, Breakout Sessions, Author Book-Signings, Battlefield Tour, Cooking Demonstration, James Getty & George Buss Performing Lincoln’s History-Changing Words


The Wyndham Hotel, 95 Presidential Circle, Gettysburg, PA

(717) 339-0020 OR (866) 845-8885 (TOLL FREE)