First Edition Book Club
of the Blue and Gray Education Society
Reviews by Len Riedel
~ Please click on the underlined book title or scroll down for the review ~
All grayed out selections have passed the Order Deadline
FEBRUARY 2004 Offer Date:
Carrying the Flag
by Gordon Rhea
NOVEMBER Offer Date:
OCTOBER Offer Date:
The War within the Union High Command: Politics and Generalship During the Civil War
by Major Thomas Goss
AUGUST Offer Date:
Lincoln’s Moral Vision: The Second Inaugural Address
by James Tackach
JULY Offer Date:
Lee’s Tarheels: The Pettigrew-Kirkland-MacRae Brigade
by Professor Earl Hess
JUNE Offer Date:
Patriot Fires, Forging a New American Nationalism in the Civil War North
by Professor Melinda Lawson
MAY Offer Date:
The 16th Mississippi Infantry, Civil War Letters and Reminiscences
by Judge Robert G. Evans
APRIL Offer Date:
A Place Called Appomattox with Lee's Last Retreat
by Bill Marvel
Please mail all Book Orders to:
Blue and Gray Education Society
Attention: Beth Cromwell
PO Box 129
Danville, VA 24543
* note: Book orders will not be processed until the Order Deadline Date above.
I am encouraged by the number and quality of books that cover items other than battles and leaders. It may be that there is a glut of primary battle narratives that makes new efforts repetitive. On the other hand there are many new Civil War students and faculty members who are bringing the fruits of their special niches to print. In many instances these books represent years of research and scholarly deliberation. Our selection this month is the first book of my college mentor, Harold Wilson--don’t get me wrong I haven’t seen or spoken to Harold in over 10 years. His work Confederate Industry, Manufacturers and Quartermasters in the Civil War is a significant piece in a puzzle left uncompleted since Stephen Wise wrote his definitive work on blockade running.
When reading Wilson’s book I came to realize how little we understand of the Confederacy’s commerce infrastructure. Here in the pages of Wilson’s tome is a sophisticated and intricate look at the balance between Confederate war production and Southern capitalism. You will learn how the agents of the Confederacy operated both overseas and domestically to bring the stuffs of war to the South while permitting the capitalist infrastructure to flourish. Suddenly the transportation infrastructure, draft exemption debates and other domestic tensions come to life. The result is a sympathetic look at the dismantling of nationalistic objectives. AS Sherman and others march through the South you feel the conflicts between patriotism and self preservation. All told this is an excellent book.
I’ve good news and bad news. This important book is precisely the right book for anyone who wants a readable but scholarly look at the commercial underpinnings of the Southern nation. The bad news is that it is not likely to see a second print run. Most people are not as sophisticated or discriminating a group of scholars as you are. Despite being History and Military Book Club selections , the book will appear on relatively few bookstore shelves. You may see a paperback edition one day; however, it will be a while.
This is an important book from the
University of Mississippi Press. Its
412 pages and illustrations are useful.
At $50 postage paid it is a significant addition to your shelf and
the body academic.
About a year ago I offered you complimentary books on the surrenders at Appomattox and Durham Station. The huge response showed the intense and emotional interest in the topic. Now I am pleased to present you a book that will warm the hearts of Northern partisans who have long decried the “Romanticism” of the Southerners’ march to immortality.
Bill Marvel has supplemented his previous book A Place Called Appomattox with Lee’s Last Retreat. As before, The University of North Carolina Press has published it as part of its Civil War America series. Relatively thin at 199 pages with 38 illustrations and 6 maps it contains 109 pages of appendices, bibliography and indices. The result is a straight forward narrative from the mouths of the soldiers who experienced the Last Retreat.
If you are an unabashed and unreconstructed rebel, this book will cause you pain. It is not that Marvel is unkind to the southerners, rather he subscribes to the theory that the Union army had something to do with the defeat of Lee’s army and that the Confederates were whipped, ripped and demoralized. The retreat completed the disintegration of an army that had begun to fall apart over the long months of trench warfare.
Marvel challenges practically every myth still existing about the Last Retreat. Gone are the stock and trade stories that a lack of supplies necessitated Lee’s “fatal” delay at Amelia Court House and the Union soldiers kindly and willingly shared their rations with their starving Southern brethren or that they saluted their heroism at the surrender ceremony. As I said this book could make your blood boil.
In the final analysis as historians we must be
detached and open to all data. There
is a difference between revisionist history and a fresh look at primary
sources. Marvel has passed
a peer muster at UNC Press. This
means the sources and the thesis bear consideration and evaluation as
legitimate if painful (for some) historiography.
Like it or not this book will reward you with intellectual grist
for many arguments. That is
why I think it would make a great Father’s Day (June 15) gift!
I’ve discovered another wonderful series of letters that singularly didn’t total enough for a book but thanks to Judge Robert G. Evans of Raleigh, Mississippi have been compiled and edited to give an important look into a veteran regiment from Mississippi. The 16th Mississippi Infantry, Civil War Letters and Reminiscences has been published by the University of Mississippi Press.
Judge Evans has done us a service by bringing to life the stories and intimate thoughts of a regiment that spanned the war in the east from Jackson’s fabled Valley Campaign of 1862 through the Seven Days and every campaign of the Army of Northern Virginia until Appomattox. By carefully following the trials and tribulations of this group of Southern heroes, you can see the ebb and flow of the soldiers morale.
Of course the sentiments of these men are the reflections of Southern Americans. They sound like soldiers from all times and all sides. They are funny and mischievous; Lonely and excited; and most of all introspective. The collective effect is a look at a section of men who might be your father, brother, cousin, husband or dad! You know these men or men like them.
The record of the unit speaks for itself--the Valley in 1862, Seven Days, the 1862 Maryland Campaign, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Gettysburg Campaign, Grant’s Overland Campaign, Petersburg and Appomattox. We know they were at the Bloody Angel at Spotsylvania and in Fort Gregg during the furious and bloody end of the Petersburg Campaign and yet they are just men--the survivors who went home and tried to make something of their lives.
You know some of the more famous names--General
Carnot Posey; General Nathaniel Harris, General Issac Ridgeway Trimble
and General Winfield Scott Featherston.
The others are not so well known.
Evans uses secondary sources when necessary to fill in the gaps;
however as Vicksburg historian Terry Winschel says “Bob Evans scores a
triumph as he weaves an array of letters, diaries and memoirs into a
not-soon-to-be-forgotten read on common soldiers whose uncommon deeds
are nearly legendary.” High praise for an exceptional offering.
I know you’ll enjoy this 364 page book.
It has 14 illustrations and a map.
Enough for sentimentality, I have selected a book that will stretch your intellect. Professor Melinda Lawson has used the University Press of Kansas to publish Patriot Fires, Forging a New American Nationalism in the Civil War North. Originally presented as a dissertation topic at Columbia University under the direction of Professor Eric Foner it is a book whose questions are as relevant today as they were then.
In as much as America is basically a peaceful nation the process of mobilizing a country for war and igniting its people to support the war with their sons and treasure is a challenging proposition. When Lawson initiated the project she sought to answer the following questions: How does a wartime construct of patriotism redefine the relationship of a citizen to its nation? How would a democracy mobilize its populace for war and how would the people react? What is the role of a patriot in a democracy at war and what are the limits of dissent? The answers took her 11 years to articulate.
As this book is constructed the answers are extrapolated from the institutions and individuals that were key to the solution. You’ll consider such topics as The Sanitary Fairs, Civil War Patriotism and National Identity; Jay Cooke and the War Bond Drives; From Democracy to Loyalty, The partisan construct of National Identity; The Metropolitan Union Leagues, The Abolitionists Vision of the Nation and Patriotism and finally Abraham Lincoln and his vision and policies in the construction of a national patriotism. When you are finished you will appreciate the cliché that the Civil War made the United STATES into a NATION of United States.
is an ambitious effort from a newly minted scholar.
Where she will take her scholarship in the future remains to be
seen. As a first book it is
a profound statement that demands every student’s attention. This may very well be the first edition, and first print run
of a scholar who will define her generation much as people such as
McPherson, Weigley, McMurry, Simpson, Gallagher and others have defined
theirs. It has earned high
kudos from the intelligentsia of the Civil War community.
A tight read at just 186 pages you will find yourself pondering
its multiple meanings for a long time to come.
After the war many soldiers wrote histories of their regiments. These wonderful primary sources have enriched our understanding of what happened at the soldiers’ level throughout the war. While there were a number o superb regimentals all had to be examined with a questioning eye. Authors often embellished their accounts for understandable reasons. Therefore it is with great pleasure that I can report that many new regimentals are being written.
The advantage of this latest genre is that the authors have access to more source material than their predecessors and they have little to gain by knowingly revealing or perpetuating falsehoods. The past few years have introduced us to the fine works of Professor Earl Hess from Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee. Recently he released a book on Pickett’s charge--it is widely regarded as the best work on that seminal event. Now he has published Lee’s Tarheels: The Pettigrew-Kirkland-MacRae Brigade. The appearance of this book is not a surprise. Indeed the central role of this brigade at Gettysburg made this book a natural. Published by The University of North Carolina Press as part of its Civil War America series it is intimate and personal for the North Carolinians.
The brigade was relatively unknown until Gettysburg. It wasn’t mustered in until 1862 and it didn’t see significant combat until it ran into The Iron Brigade in the fields behind McPherson Ridge on July 1st. After being reconstituted on July 2nd it held a position of honor in Johnson Pettigrew’s portion of the line. The butcher’s bill was severe but it was just the start. The brigade would see harder fighting throughout the rest of the war--at Appomattox they stood tall. The role of honor for the 11th, 26th, 44th, 47th and 52nd is long and distinguished. In fact a separate book has been written about the 26th by Rod Gragg called Covered With Glory. This book will give you that and more.
A solid book at 326 pages with another 111 pages
of citations, footnotes, appendices, bibliography and indices it is both
a great read and a productive source document for further research.
I believe this book has many attractions and that you will enjoy
it for both the smooth flowing narrative and the historiographic
It has been called the greatest of Lincoln’s many great and important public pronouncements. The mandate of the Northern people had given Lincoln latitude to construct both victory and peace. How would he deal with it? We know that his plan was both magnanimous and visionary. It presented a path to reconstruction that would “Let ‘em down easy.” That he was murdered before it could be implemented was a loss to the country.
So many books have been written about Lincoln, who would think there could be another? Even more who would have expected the University of Mississippi Press to publish a scholarly book on Lincoln? Strange times indeed. Lincoln’s Moral Vision: The Second Inaugural Address by James Tackach is a fascinating and concise analysis of the real core of Lincoln’s persona. In this very public forum Lincoln crystallized the essence of the three great moral issues of his life: slavery, religion and race. In a personal letter just 11 days after the address he told New York’s Thurlow Weed that, “It is a truth which I thought needed to be told.”
Books like this aren’t written for the casual reader. They are a stimulating intellectual exercise that define key constructs in the great figures of our times. Lincoln can’t be understood until you examine his public record. He is a politician but, he is also one of the greatest moral men of the times.
In this relatively short 156 page book you’ll read six distinct essays. Each will open a dialogue with you. If you will remain open to the evolving nature of Lincoln’s political and moral maturity you will admit that it displays a great awakening. We can only speculate what that might have meant for the future of our country. Of course with his death we never knew.
I believe this book is an important addition to
the FEBC roster because it provides stimulating analysis. You may agree or disagree but you cannot deny the
significance of the topic. If
you are to know anything of the broader issues that faced our country at
that time you will want to open this dialogue.
Thank you for a strong response to the Campbell book offering. It is a book that will reward you in ways that you might not initially appreciate. Now I have another book that I am really hot on. For a long time I have admired the critical thinking of Mark Grimsley at The Ohio State University, now we have the work of one of his protégés: Major Thomas Goss of the United States Air Force completed his doctoral work and has moved on to work on Homeland Defense at United States Northern Command in Colorado Springs. His work The War within the Union High Command: Politics and Generalship During the Civil War is a keeper.
Grounded in the ongoing debate over “political” and regular army generals, Goss crafts a scholarly argument that should cause every serious student of the war to pause and digest it. The need for a “War” party and broad base of support in the states and Congress made the elevation of such politicos a necessity regardless of the butcher’s bill that might be paid--indeed Goss argues that without such aggressive support the Union armies would not have had the success in recruiting that they did. Conversely, Goss points out that the “Regular” officers were fighting for their own legitimacy and acceptance. West Pointers protected each other; however, there was not universal acclaim for the talents of the “professional” soldier. They eventually earned the respect of the political leadership and ultimately the premier position as the managers of violence for our society. It is a work of “Brain Salad” for students like you.
The book is a solid 211 pages divided into 8 essays. Each is logically presented and then summarized for the reader. A generous supplement of footnotes and a scholarly bibliography fill another 70 pages with a 17 page index wrapping up the University Press of Kansas’ publication. There are no pictures. The book retails at a typical university press rate of $35. We must add $8 for shipping and handling (three shippings before it gets to you). Additional copies to the same address will be just $40 inclusive. If you are a Virginia addressee add the state tax of $1.57 per book.
Of the 25 books I’ve read this year this is in the top 20%. It gets a “Len Highly Recommends” designation. I hope you will pick up your copy. Since it was just released on October 2nd, the ordering deadline will be November 7th. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.
I am so glad that
you are responding to the current offerings of our book club.
I keep getting great new books in--frankly my reading list is
longer than I have time for. Nonetheless,
I view it as my obligation to screen the most promising books and
identify those that are worthy of your time and money.
I spend an average of ten
hours reading a book before recommending it.
Greensboro, A Confederate Company in the Making of a Southern Community
is a wonderful book about the American South.
It is less about combat and more about the development of rural
Alabama as it develops a unique identity.
Granted this book focuses on central Alabama; however, I
frequently found myself reading between the lines.
It was an eye opening insight into mid-19th century America.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the
book’s genesis had a tangential relationship to me. The
Ron Cartee that Gerald Hubbs refers to was a colleague of mine in the
I remember him going to the ROTC assignment in the early 1990s.
If only I had known maybe the diary he gave to Hubbs would have
surfaced as a BGES publication. Trivia
coincidences aside this cover letter is about Hubbs’ book which is
based on numerous soldiers’ and civilians’ diaries.
The 231 page narrative tells the story
of Greensboro from its inception around 1819 until the completion of
The symbol of the Stone
Soldier provides the basis for the community’s pride.
It is the traditional monument dedicated to Southern soldiers in
practically every community around the country.
How that soldier comes to be
is the common thread.
As you read this book, you’ll see how
land speculators and migrant adventurers flowed through the region. Some settled in Alabama and others moved on after a few
The economy found root in cotton and the rich land of the Canebrake region. The
opportunity demanded a reliable labor source and slavery thrived in the
The Denmark Vessy
and Nat Turner slave uprisings caused great concern throughout the
South. In Greensboro local
militia were formed and drilled for the purposes of maintaining
security. When the
war came this company was mustered into service and sent to Fort Morgan.
There is a strong
theme of community bonding as a result of the common sacrifice of
soldiers in the service of their country.
The Guards soon find themselves in the 5th
Alabama under the command of Robert Rodes.
They were bloodied at Williamsburg, and Malvern Hill.
They fought throughout the war and at Appomattox only one soldier
was there to surrender. The
post war period reveals the discomfort created in the community as
blacks sought to assert their equality.
There is extraordinary resistance; however by 1900 the social
order has been restored to a region that has now become a community.
I scored this book an 88 on a 100 point
scale. Regardless of your
particular persuasion this is a book that will instruct you and I
Once a year we select a book for the entire
membership so that each of you can see what the club is all about. If you like what you see you can certainly order the book or
call us to add yourself to the list for the monthly mailings.
Although there are no minimum number of books to order the margin
on these mailings is very narrow and we ask you to add your name only if
you are seriously interested in adding books to your library or using
this as a gift source for friends.
If you order this book we will add you automatically -- otherwise
you’ll need to call me to request that you be added.
THIS IS A SERVICE FOR
ACTIVE BGES MEMBERS ONLY.
This month’s book Carrying the Flag by Gordon Rhea has just been released this week. It is the wonderful story of a epileptic, 40 year old Charlestonian who finally manages to enlist in the Army of Northern Virginia in the spring of 1864. He is physically unfit; but, the Rebels are scrapping the bottom of the manpower barrel and he is enrolled in the 1st SC--McGowan’s Brigade. Within two weeks of the campaign he finds himself in the vortex of the fighting at the Mule Shoe on May 12, 1864. As the color bearer he steps into the breach and becomes a hero. His health deteriorates and he is sent home shortly thereafter--unknown and overlooked. Shortly after the war he has a seizure and drowns in a puddle of water. The story doesn’t end there. This book is much more than it seems. Charles Whilden is not the exclusive focus of the book--you’ll learn a great deal of the society and the people who were a part of it. I PERSONALLY recommend it.