BOOK REVIEWS BY PSCWRT MEMBERS
AMIABLE SCOUNDREL: SIMON CAMERON, LINCOLN’S SCANDALOUS SECRETARY OF WAR
By Paul Kahan Everyone knows that Simon Cameron was a crooked politician...well, there are many factors that militate against that notion. Paul Kahan brings them all forward in a fact-based, story about the life and times of Lincoln's first Secretary of War. Without getting into the details, Cameron was loyal to his state, his friends and to the Civil War effort. He probably got into trouble by championing the enlistment and deployment of freedmen and runaway slaves. He also was probably the best user of the "spoils system", EVER! And, the challenges he faced moving from a 15,000-man army to a 90,000-man army are unfathomable. And, yet, he was a terrible administrator. Paul Kahan has done an outstanding job of research and storytelling. He's a gem!!
By Mike Movius
CRUCIBLE OF COMMAND: ULYSSES S. GRANT AND ROBERT E. LEE-THE WAR THEY FOUGHT, THE PEACE THEY FORGED
By William C. Davis Boston: Da Capo Press, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-306-82245-2, 629 pp., cloth, $32.50.
What do we really know about Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee? What is left after the legends are left out? William C. Davis, a prolific author, tackles these questions in a dual biography that sticks “as much as possible to … the directly contemporary writings of the men themselves” and of eyewitnesses (xi-xii). Davis limits his use of later writings, even those of Grant and Lee. When Lee was gathering army records after the war for the memoir he never wrote, he trusted documents more than memory. So does Davis.
Confining evidence to contemporaneous documents sets an ideal standard, but one too restrictive when sources are scarce. It would, for example, rule out most of our sources for Abraham Lincoln’s early years, and it leaves few for Lee’s. The problem, Davis allows, is that young Robert “left no trace” of his eleventh through seventeenth years, spent all-but-invisible years caring for his ailing mother, and seemed a “cipher” at West Point, leaving behind only his stellar class standing and a few Academy files to mark his passage (25, 500n46). Applied to Lee’s youth, Davis’s strict standard leaves him relying largely on wills, local newspapers, and letters from Lee’s mother. But when ideal evidence is in short supply, Davis admits evidence that is less than ideal, such as the much later autobiography of William Hallowell, a teacher who made a strong impression on Lee. When Hallowell proves inaccurate on one point, Davis excuses “a forgivable lapse of memory after almost sixty years” (504n82). Relaxing the standards for Grant’s youth as well as Lee’s, Davis draws on Grant’s Personal Memoirs—though written a half-century later—as the “most likely reliable source” for stories his father told him (505n99).
When it comes to the Civil War, however, an oversupply of sources means Davis can afford strict standards indeed. So he banishes from his bibliography whole battalions of recollections beloved of Civil War buffs, and from his text many stock stories found in those recollections. In Davis’s pages we hear nothing, for example, of Grant whittling for hours to calm his nerves while the Battle of the Wilderness raged and roared to his front.
Though Davis trusts Grant’s Memoirs for the boyhood years, he discounts them as too self-serving for the war years. In those 1885 Memoirs, for example, Grant declared that after the April 1862 bloodbath at Shiloh, he first realized that nothing but total conquest of the Confederacy could save the Union. Writing with hindsight two decades after the fact, Grant was pretending to foresight in 1862, a pretense punctured by Davis. Instead of the Memoirs, Davis quotes Grant’s prediction, made when the Shiloh graves still lay fresh by the Peach Orchard, that he would need only “one more fight, and then easy sailing to the close of the war” (208). Grant’s shortsighted boast was off by many hard fights and three long years. No wonder he retouched the past in his Memoirs, and no wonder Davis will not let him get away with it.
Suspect stories that never make it into Davis’s text often turn up in the endnotes, where he shreds them and scolds their purveyors. Those notes—nearly a hundred pages of them—offer a running commentary on evidence, a hornbook for historians, marred only by their omission from the index, making them less accessible. In notes overflowing with historical sleuthing, Davis uncovers and untangles false memories, conflated stories, campus rumors, and hearsay on hearsay. He has great fun and the reader will too. Davis treats no predecessor as sacred, not even Douglas Southall Freeman, whose four volumes loom large over any study of Lee. Freeman’s evidentiary misdeeds, Davis charges, include altering a quotation, using sources out of context, and leading his followers into error.
Davis’s painstaking search for primary sources leads him to some seldom seen in accounts of the great captains. He scours the census for the names of an overseer hired by Lee and of slaves in Lee’s charge; and he tracks down the compiled service records of 218 soldiers condemned for desertion or other offenses, in an effort to figure out just how many death sentences reviewed by Lee were actually carried out.
Grant and Lee presented contrasts: young Ulysses somehow picked up the nickname “Toad,” while young Robert acquired none; decades later Johnny Reb called General Lee “Marse Robert,” “Uncle Robert,” and “Old Pap,” but Billy Yank bestowed no fond names on General Grant, fifteen years Lee’s junior. Despite different backgrounds, the two commanders sometimes mirrored each other: both took chances, Grant’s aggressiveness fueled by perennial overoptimism, Lee’s audacity by providential fatalism—risks seemed less rash when all rested in God’s hands. And the two protagonists sometimes complemented one another: if Grant declared his “inclination … to whip the rebellion into submission,” Lee vowed that, “We may be annihilated but we cannot be conquered” (175, 262). With his attitude hardening as the war swept over family dwellings and laid low kin and comrades, Lee came to call the Federals “those people” less and the “enemy” more (xviii, 348).
Davis tells more about Grant’s early developmental fights at Belmont (seven pages) and Fort Donelson (eight) than his later and bigger battles. When Grant finally squares off against Lee in Virginia in 1864, Davis delivers a brisk broadcast of the heavyweight bout, from the opening rounds at the Wilderness (three pages) and Spotsylvania (five) to the finale at Appomattox.
Over the years Grant and Lee have drawn many individual biographies, as well as dual biographies by Frederick Hill, J.F.C. Fuller, Gene Smith, Charles Bowery, Edward Bonekemper, and by two teams of dual biographers--Nancy and Dwight Anderson, and William Rasmussen and Robert Tilton. After all this, Davis scrapes away the accretions and starts over in a work that is authentic and unadorned, like Shaker furniture. Enjoy the craftsmanship, and don’t forget the endnotes.
Patrick S. Brady
HIDDEN HISTORY OF CIVIL WAR OREGON
By Randol B. Fletcher Fletcher can spin a yarn, that's for sure. He certainly delved into a yet-to-fore empty historical space, and yet... The page-eating story about Salmon Brown is essentially not about Oregon or the Civil War. And, Edward Baker was not much of a battlefield leader. He dismissed a suggestion by one of his subordinate colonels (a former tactics instructor at West Point, no less) who advised him to move on the ridge that was subsequently the downfall of the botched recon at Balls Bluff.
Most of his subjects moved to Oregon after the war and died there. (Maybe that's the headline). Very few Oregonians actually traveled east to participate, therein. So, it's interesting and perhaps fun, but don't expect too much.
VERMONT’S PROPER SON: THE LETTERS OF SOLDIER AND SCHOLAR EDWIN HALL HIGLEY, 1861-1871By Richard A. Hanks As is often the case in this type of literature, Vermont's Proper Son is able to present only one side of the multi-year correspondence between obviously dear friends and fellow scholars Edwin Hall Higley and Calvin Day Noble. Nevertheless, it is a work that can be appreciated on multiple levels, depending on what the reader brings to it.
To begin with, the Civil War enthusiast is offered a compelling narrative of the activities of a unit – the 1st Vermont Cavalry - in these letters so carefully transcribed by Richard A. Hanks. Such personal descriptions enable readers to experience the war, not as “The Big Picture,” but as it really was for the individual soldier. And Higley's images are often quite moving. I cite as one example the following:
The infantry have been kept out of danger, but it has been our work to keep a wall of steel round about their precious heads and it has been a fatigueing [sic] and sometimes perilous task. Riding day and night, through cross roads, forests, and swamps, in passing from one exposed point to another and exerting a sleepless vigilance all the time, dashing against the pursuing foe when in his eagerness he approached too near; never unsaddling and rarely feeding our poor, patient, patriotic horses, shivering without blankets or tents awning the cutting frosts, or quailing beneath the beating of the rainstorms, - this is what the past two two weeks have been filled with. We don't exactly understand what it all amounts to.
On another level, Higley's formal education, which is interrupted during his sophomore year at Vermont's Middlebury College when the war broke out, is clearly evident in the literary prose of his writing. This aspect was what I found most meaningful. Beyond the Civil War connection, these letters offer even the casual reader wonderful examples of very good writing.
Again, a single example as an illustration:
Fancy the hush of twilight sending its solemn benediction through the grand, vast forest under which our Regiment rests. The men are silent, mainly invisible, or clustered in still small groups around the campfires, which just begin to sparkle. The horses are quietly munching their evening meal, adding by their somber figures, as they are scattered here and there among the trees, to the prevailing idea of motionless repose. All at once the light click of a horses hoof is heard, and the familiar form of the Regimental mail carrier is seen, as his steed trots leisurely into camp, and halts before the Adjutants quarters. The loudest alarm notes of the bugle could not go more quickly through the camp than those light hoof beats upon the forest carpet. Instantaneously from all parts of the woods the sun-browned and dusty figures of the war-worn troopers are seen flocking together around that solitary horseman. A ring is made, a blanket spread upon the turf, the anxious faces peer eagerly on as the priceless treasures of the gray saddle-bag are poured out and sorted before them. It is soon over, and they scatter back: some, with disappointed faces, in the deepening darkness, to their fragile shelters; others with elated steps to devour the kind words of “Father”, “Mother”, “Sweet-heart”, or “Friend” by the flickering light of the blazing fire.
For the beginning reader of Civil War history, Hanks provides, in his between-the-letters introductions, a helpful summary of what was transpiring between both sets of combatants in both the Eastern and Western Fronts. These introductions put Higley's letters within the context of what he would have been aware of, or what he experienced, when he wrote to Noble.
They may easily be skipped over by the more informed reader. The following passage provides an example of this aspect of the book:
Following the disastrous rout of Union forces under Irvin McDowell at First Bull Run on July 21, 1861, Lincoln gave command of the newly formulated Army of the Potomac to General George Brinton McClellan whose demeanor was described by one historian as “imperious arrogance.” McClellan was a superb organizer at a time when the Union army needed organizing but would prove overly cautious in battle and prone to over-estimating the strength of his Confederate opposition. Urged by Lincoln to move against the rebels, McClellan devised a plan to transport his 100,000 man army down the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay to Fortress Monroe at the tip of the Virginia peninsula and from there begin a march northwest up the neck of land between the York and James Rivers to the Confederate capital at Richmond. Higley and his regiment would be continually involved in skirmishes with Confederate units, primarily cavalry, throughout the spring and summer of 1862.
And finally, Hanks has added an abundance of enriching background material for the Civil War enthusiast. Not only does he provide a remarkable collection of photographs of the people and places mentioned in Higley's letters, but in his wealth of annotated footnotes he also provides any interested reader the documentation and details of those citations. The one footnote I have chosen as an example happens to be a member of my own Vermont family, a distant cousin for whom my great-great-grandfather and Civil War letter writer as well (www.Civil-War-Letters.com) was named!
Professor Brainerd Kellogg (1834-1920): Kellogg graduated from Middlebury College in 1858 where he would be a professor of Rhetoric and English Literature (1868-1880). He then taught at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn where he was Dean of the Faculty from 1899-1907. He was a long-time trustee of Middlebury College (1885-1920). See Middlebury History Online...
As I said in the beginning, this book proves to be rewarding on several different levels. I enjoyed it thoroughly and recommend it to you for your next book, if you enjoy such personal accounts found in Civil War letters.
Nick K. Adams
GLORIOUS WAR: THE CIVIL WAR ADVENTURES OF GEORGE ARMSTRONG CUSTERBy Thom Hatch The Custer quote chosen for this book’s title – “Oh, could you have seen some of the charges that were made! While thinking of them I cannot but exclaim ‘Glorious War!’” – embodies an accurate portrayal of a man enthralled with warfare. It certainly sets the stage for the author to describe Custer’s boisterous behavior while training at West Point and his fearless, if not recklessly foolish, battlefield success.
I liked how George Armstrong Custer’s participation in the American Civil War, from Bull Run near its beginning to Appomattox near its ending, was always relayed within the context of the surrounding people and events. It was that unusually rich background, particularly the impressive number of gathered personal anecdotes and reflections, which made this book an engaging story rather than just a history. And I appreciated how Thom Hatch’s virtual roll call of the major and minor Eastern Theater engagements
focused on the impressive contributions made by the cavalry, not just in support, but often actually determining the outcomes.
His many poetic images made enjoyable reading: “barbed-wire wind,” “thrust a massive gray fist into the belly of the blue line,” and regarding the eagerness of his courting of Libbie Bacon “he executed a frontal assault that Jeb Stuart could not have withstood.” Likewise, the fascinating tidbits he dropped into the narrative, such as the May 6, 1864 near capture/killing of Lee and most of the Confederate high command preceding the battle at Spotsylvania (p. 241).
I personally found the chapter “Custer vs. Stuart” the most informative. It concerned the cavalry battle east of Gettysburg on July 3, and I felt he made a convincing case for understanding Stuart as Gen. Lee’s rear pincer to Pickett’s Charge. The two chapters that followed clarified for me how much action between the armies actually occurred as the one from the South accomplished its withdrawal back across the Potomac nine days later. This is a point that so often seems to be neglected when the story of Gettysburg is told.
While I am not personally knowledgeable enough about all the details of the many battles and skirmishes the author described as he told Custer’s war story, I assume on the basis of his extensive references that his writing is accurate. It didn’t matter to me that the footnotes themselves were relegated to the back of the book, since they offered no additional information.
Some glaring problems presented themselves, however. Lincoln’s “splintered trio of Democratic candidates” for the 1860 election (p. 18) were Douglas, Breckenridge and Bell, not “Dickinson, Lane and Hunter” (actually opponents of Douglas!). The author claims (p. 54) that at Shiloh “reinforcements arrived on both sides,” but wasn’t that was true of only the Union Army? Grant did not require “unconditional surrender” at Vicksburg (p. 162), as at Fort Donelson, but allowed the 30,000 Confederates to sign paroles. I believe the origin of the appellation “Copperhead” was a reference to the Northern Democrats’ likeness to the venomous snake not to the cut copper pennies they later adopted as a badge (p. 217). Rosecrans was the “commander of the Army of the Cumberland” at Chickamauga, not Sheridan (p.237) who was only a division commander at both Chickamauga and Chattanooga. And there is a contradiction in the texts on pp. 255-56 and 261 regarding the mortal wounding of Stuart.
Small area maps would have been very helpful throughout the book in order to better follow the narrative. And editorially, to paraphrase Joseph II, the Holy Roman Emperor in the movie Amadeus, there are “too many commas.”
In all, Tom Hatch clearly and convincingly makes his point that Custer’s end at Little Big Horn should not overshadow or diminish the fearless leadership he provided during the Civil War. He has intrigued me as well into investigating further the question of Custer’s role in the surrender events at Appomattox.
Nick K. Adams
RICHMOND DURING THE WAR: FOUR YEARS OF PERSONAL OBSERVATIONBy Sallie Brock The author wrote this memoir of the war and its effects on Richmond soon after Appomattox, as the book was published in 1867. Ms. Putnam gives an interesting perspective of the war and how it influenced her beloved city. The things I learned include:
- Rather than Big Bethel, the Confederates called it Great Bethel
- The Zouaves from New Orleans were apparently cutthroats and thieves. Crime soared while they were in Richmond. Citizenry was greatly relieved when they left the city for the Peninsula.
- During the Peninsula Campaign, there was a mass exodus of members of the Confederate Congress from Richmond. Many residents were not impressed.
- The bread riots of 1863 were described as not just being about food. It was reported that there were many who looted local businesses so they could sell the ill-gotten merchandize from their own stores.
- By 1863, the economy of the Confederacy was spiraling downward. Food and fuel were in short supply, speculators were charging exorbitant rates, the value of the currency had plummeted to $.04 per $1.00 and clothing was either homespun or rags. There was no hope of being shielded from this harshness during the succeeding winter.
- In the description of Gettysburg, there was no mention of General J. E. B. Stuart and the Confederate cavalry not being more involved. (This is contrary to the Lost Cause advocates like Jubal Early.)
- Blame for the loss at Gettysburg was laid at the feet of Pettigrew's "green" soldiers who retreated rather than covering the flank of General Pickett's division.
- Although a "lady," she clearly reflects her times being racist and anti-Semitic.
LAST IN THEIR CLASS: CUSTER, PICKETT AND THE GOATS OF WEST POINTBy James S. Robbins I just finished reading a book that I highly recommend. It's called "Last in their Class...Custer, Pickett and the Goats of West Point".
It's about the so-called "Immortals" (cadets at the bottom of their respective classes like Longstreet, Hancock, Heth, etc.) and what became of them. But it's more than just that. It's also a history of West Point before, during and after the Civil War.
It's a good read...you'll enjoy it.
BRIDGE BUILDING IN WARTIME: COLONEL WESLEY BRAINERDS MEMOIREdited by Ed Malles The title refers to the fact that there are VERY few memoirs, diaries or published letters relating to the engineers in the Civil War, even though the engineers were considered the "elite" of the army. "Bridge Building in Wartime" is a great addition to the literature of the engineers. As a field officer, Brainerd was "in the know" about many behind the scenes occurrences in the 50th New York Volunteer Engineers. Because the memoir was not for publication, but written chiefly for his son, it contains many honest and frank comments about his colleagues and superior officers that might not have seen the light of day had his reminiscences been published while he lived.
Ed Malles, the editor, needs to be thanked for bringing Brainerd's memoir to the public. He does a good job of explaining things Brainerd takes for granted in the memoirs. The only disappointment is that the memoirs end about the time the siege of Petersburg begins in June of 1864. Hopefully, the rest of the manuscript (if available) will be found and brought to light in time... I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the War Between the States and especially for those who want to know more about the war fought by the engineers.
By Mark Terry
CHANCELLORSVILLEBy Stephen W. Sears In telling the story of the battle, Stephen Sears goes to great lengths to exonerate Gen. Hooker from culpability in the disaster that Chancellorsville became. Sear's research is excellent, taking into account previous secret service records that were unavailable to previous historians writing about the battle. The only problem is, in doing so Sears inadvertently proves the point that it was Hooker who blew it. After reading this book, you find out that except for two regiments Hooker knew Lee's entire order of battle! He knew exactly what he was up against, that he had Lee vastly outnumbered- but still lost. It is interesting the difference between the two- Lee trusting in God, Hooker trusting in himself. And when Hooker and Sedgwick needed to know what Lee had across the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg, a mysterious fog settled across the field, making it impossible, even with instant telegraphic communication between the two to know what Lee was up to. It was partially because of that fog and the indecision it caused that Lee was able to divide his forces and still win.
I would have given the book 5 stars, except for the fact that Sears can't absolve Hooker of the blame he so rightly deserves. But there is enough new information in this book to make it a "must read" of the campaign.
By Mark Terry
THE DAMNED RED FLAGS OF REBELLIONBy Richard Rollins It has been some time since I read Mr. Rollins' book, but I will try to give my best recollections of it. To me the best parts were first off the chapter on the meaning of the Confederate battle flag. I felt then and still do now that this is the best dissertation on what the battle flag meant to the typical soldier in the field. It would be instructive reading for those who are negative about the flag. Secondly, it is wonderful that for each description of a flag there is a color photograph of that flag. That alone is worth the price of the book. The only negative that I could find was Rollins' description of how the colors were employed by the typical regiment in battle.
A color guard (if carrying one flag) usually consisted of 9 soldiers, lined up in 3 ranks of 3 men each. The center soldier in the front rank carried the colors. Just prior to a regiment marching forward, the color bearer and ONLY the other two soldiers in his rank stepped out six paces. The rest remained in the ranks. In Rollins' book he has the entire color guard stepping out. Why would this be a problem? Because as the regiment marched forward, they were to dress towards the center. If there was a gap left because the entire color guard was out in front, the color guard would soon find their place in the ranks gone and would have no place to go. It is simply a misreading of the drill manual. As I said the book is excellent- a good read and reference for anyone interested in the Battle of Gettysburg and the Southern Cross.
By Mark Terry
UNGENTLEMANLY ACTS: THE ARMY'S NOTORIOUS INCEST TRIALBy Louise Barnett This was an eye-opening story about an Army captain in Post-Civil War Texas who reported an incestuous relationship between a lieutenant and his daughter, but upon reporting it to General Ord, was himself accused and court-martialed. Not only was the U S Code of Military Justice flawed in its organization and processes, but the whole Army was corrupted by its leadership...all the way up to General-of-the-Army, William T. Sherman. A great and exasperating story.
THE CIVIL WAR ARCHIVE: THE HISTORY OF THE CIVIL WAR IN DOCUMENTSBy Henry Steele Commager and Erik Bruun Originally, this book was titled "The Blue and the Gray" and was fine as it was. Apparently, to sound more impressive and authoritative, the editors decided to call it "The Civil War Archive: The History of the American Civil War in Documents". This title is extremely misleading. Over 800 pages long, anyone who approaches it would think it is a reference book that the reader could go to and examine the complete speeches and documents that had so much of an influence on the war. Unfortunately, the editors have taken bits and pieces out, apparently for readability. In the case of the Emancipation Proclamation, the parts taken out completely change the character and meaning of the original. The Confederate Constitution is full of holes. There are other examples as well. The objectivity of the original documents is lost as the reader is dependent on what the editor feels is important.
To be sure, there are good parts in the book, but they are the first person accounts that were in the original. If it is read for that, then the book has value, but if reliance is made upon the documents contained…other sources must be referenced.
By Mark Terry
THE WIDOW OF THE SOUTHBy Robert Hicks There are so many fictional works based on the Civil War, that when I first saw the book, I passed over it. However, after reading a review from the Civil War Preservation Trust, I changed my mind and purchased the book.
I am so glad that I did! The author, Robert Hicks, knows his facts and they come through the fictional story that he builds around them. It is a serious "page turner". I found that in the last 100 or so pages, I could not put the book down, even though it was very late and I ended up only having 3 hours' sleep before work!
Beyond the book I highly recommend a visit to Franklin. Carnton, the McGavock Cemetery and the Carter House, where the scars of battle have been preserved. A friend and I visited in 2003, and though I have been to many battlefields, I never felt the reality of the War like I did at these places. Inside the Carnton mansion you can see the places on the floor, bloodstained, where the surgeons piled the amputated limbs of the wounded soldiers.
The Carter House and the outbuildings with all the bullet holes...we were there within a week of the anniversary of the battle- it was truly chilling- and moving. After reading the book, I am so impressed by what Carrie McGavock did in creating a final resting place for so many of those who fell at Franklin. A walk through of that cemetery is a must when visiting...
By Mark Terry
GENERALS IN BRONZE: INTERVIEWING THE COMMANDERS OF THE CIVIL WARBy William B. Styple It is hard to add anything new to what has already been written in the reviews, although I would say that not only does the book have excellent insight into many of the key Federal officers that fought in the war, but it is a window into 19th Century post war culture. James Kelly, the sculptor and artist who is at the center of the book, vividly recounts how he meets these gentlemen. Most of the time he must use calling cards to announce his arrival before he is called in- something wholly archaic in our modern casual society. There are other tidbits that are fascinating. One general whom he calls on uses a fan and a block of ice to keep cool as he answers Kelly's questions.
Speaking of these questions, we the readers are very fortunate in that Kelly had studied the war and often asked the same questions we would. He was a small boy during the war, and these men were his heroes. We meet these men as real people, not just as names in a book. I do agree with one reviewer who writes that there is too much detail, but there again, it is the details that make the book come alive.
My only regret (but it is a very small one) is that Kelly was so prejudiced against Southerners that he only recounts his meeting with one of them, and absolutely refused to sculpt any ex-Confederate officers. However, given his time and how he felt about the war, such feelings are understandable. It is instructive that most of the men he talked with did not share his extreme negative views about Confederate veterans.
I would recommend this book for any seasoned Civil War enthusiast, as they would be familiar with the controversies and issues Kelly recounts. But Styple does a great job as editor and so perhaps even a novice might be able to wade through some of this and get something from it.
Speaking of Styple, he deserves much credit for bringing this book into print, as he had to wade through all of Kelly's material to publish it. Not only that, but Styple researched Kelly's life and found that Kelly died a pauper with an unmarked grave! Styple was able to remedy that and recently had a grave marker erected for one of the finest sculptors our country ever produced.
By Mark Terry
COVERED WITH GLORY: THE 26TH NORTH CAROLINA INFANTRY AT THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURGBy Rod Gragg Regimental histories are often not the most compelling reading. Few authors find a way to balance good historical research with the kind of prose that pull the reader into the story. Rod Gragg has done this with "Covered With Glory". There is plenty of detail for those who want them, but the text flows so well the general reader would hardly notice. But Gragg has done his research as well. For instance, he is the first to make the case for the bloodstains on the regimental colors to be those other than the commander's. He also elegantly deals with the matter of the regiment's contact point with the Federal lines on July 3, an item that has been something of a controversy- whether they went in at base of "The Angle", or whether they made contact with Federals further north on the wall. When you are done, you are left with a feel for the men who made up the 26th North Carolina, and are saddened by their loss. But you are also inspired as well by that same sacrifice. Good Read!
By Mark Terry
FIGHTING FOR THE CONFEDERACY: THE PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF GENERAL EDWARD PORTER ALEXANDERBy Edward Porter Alexander Edward Porter Alexander was one of the most fascinating figures in the civil war. He was not only an innovator, but his analysis of battles is absolutely insightful. For example, Porter Alexander played a key role at First Bull Run as he was the signals officer who informed Beauregard of Burnside's movement to the Confederate left; at Fredericksburg as Longstreet's artillery officer in the placement and firing of guns above the stone wall on Mary's Heights; and at Chancellorsville when once again he was able to place the artillery in Hazel Grove and bombard Chancellorsville to the point of wounding Hooker and robbing the Federal army of its leadership. This is a recollection that no one should overlook!
By Mike Movius
LINCOLN'S GREATEST SPEECH: THE SECOND INAUGURALBy Ronald C. White, Jr. A very well researched, detailed analysis and explanation of President Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural speech. Because of the in depth analysis, one learns not only to appreciate the political environment of March 4,1865, but also the historical significance of religious and literary research the President undertook to prepare the speech. Wonderful!
By Mike Movius
ON HALLOWED GROUND: THE STORY OF ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERYBy Robert M. Poole This is a great story about Arlington, how it was once the beloved home of Robert E. Lee and family, and became the most revered burial ground in America.
By Mike Movius
REDEMPTION: THE LAST BATTLE OF THE CIVIL WARBy Nicholas Lemann Nicholas Lemann provides a gripping account of Reconstruction and how white Democrats wrenched power from the majority of black Republicans in Mississippi through a conspiracy of murder and intimidation. Once in power, they sought to rewrite the history and purpose of Reconstruction, ensuring the rights of Negroes under the U.S. Constitution were completely abridged and terming their barbarism "Redemption". Moreover, it was instructive to learn the roles of Democrats Woodrow Wilson and J.F. Kennedy and their hand in whitewashing this continuance of utter betrayal.
By Mike Movius
STONEWALL JACKSONBy Lenoir Chambers This is one of my all-time favorite biographies. Mr. Chambers takes you on a first-class journey through the life of one of the most fascinating generals of the Civil War. From being orphaned, to life with his young uncle, to West Point to heroism in the Mexican War and near-paranoid behavior while stationed in Florida during the Seminole War, you get a sense of the rigidity and complexity of the man.
His 10 years as a dismally inadequate instructor at VMI are juxtaposed with the deep love for his family, his God and his state. Chambers reveals all of Jackson’s warts…from his belief about the consequences of eating pepper and his behavioral quirks to his inexplicably poor generalship during the Seven Days Campaign. And yet, for all of the attempts to control his life and those around him, he was both fearless and brave in combat.
This two-volume masterpiece was recommended to me by a young park ranger at Guinea Station, Virginia…and, I highly recommend it to you.
By Mike Movius
THE PERSONAL MEMOIRS OF JULIA DENT GRANT (MRS. ULYSSES S. GRANT)By Julia Grant Mrs. Grant becomes known to the reader as a flawed, but wonderful woman whose love of husband and family were central to her life. Her remembrances of their trip around the world, after the Grant Presidency are remarkable.
By Mike Movius
THE GUNS OF CEDAR CREEKBy Thomas A. Lewis I would like to share a review of the book that I received from a member of the PSCWRT. Thanks to the person who provided such a nice gift. In the front it says “Happy 76th Birthday to Jim O’Hagan”
At my first meeting I was asked to choose a book. Because I knew that the battle of Cedar Creek had taken place in the Shenandoah Valley, I picked Mr. Lewis’s book. My interest in this very interesting and beautiful part of Virginia is not just in the Civil War days but the area generally because my family lived there starting in 1738. My many cousins, who knows how many times removed, still live there. It takes place south of Winchester near Middletown along the Valley Pike Road.
The reader is treated to high drama, rivalry, bravery, seldom seen humility, loyalty, and all the good stuff that we have come to expect from those days long ago. Present are the usual characters. The contributions made by Phil Sheridan, Jubal Early, George Custer, and John Gordon are all included. Two future Presidents were on the scene as well, Hayes and McKinley. But, this time we get to peek into the private lives of some of the other combatants: remarkable men in their own way. The ones that usually don’t garner all the praise, or blame. Also, this clash is one of the last in the Valley that saw troops up and down and in and out of the mountains and rivers of the Shenandoah for four climactic years. This is the place that supplied much of the food, forage, and sympathy that the Confederates counted on to keep fighting.
Featured prominently are the bios of Maj. General Stephen Dodson Ramseur of Army of the Valley and in contrast Charles Russell Lowell III, Cavalry Reserve Brigade for the Union Army. These two very different soldiers both died during the Battle of Cedar Creek. They both were happily in love, newly married with babies.
Ramseur went to West Point, after having trouble qualifying. He became captain of cadets in his fifth year. He celebrated his graduation with Custer, Rosser, Merritt, and John Pellam. When out of West Point, he was assigned to an Artillery Unit and posted to Fort Monroe. In 1861, before his home state of North Carolina seceded, he resigned his commission and became a major commanding the North Carolina Artillery. A tough leader, he was known for relentlessly drilling his soldiers for weeks that turned into months. He was in the vanguard of the force that stopped the Federal advance at Chancellorsville. Stephen was in Stonewall Jackson’s Second Corps.
After the loss of Jackson, his regimental commander refused an order to attack. Ramseur stepped forward and shouted “Give me the order and I will charge”. He and some of the Stonewall Brigade rolled over the Federal breastworks. He was promoted regularly, but was seemingly over anxious to gain recognition, praise, and notoriety. He chafed when others in his command, who deserved praise, received it. Stephen complained in letters home and to fellow officers that he didn’t get his due. He was resourceful and admired by his troops for being aggressive and all that drilling which made getting into the line of battle easier.
Lowell went to Harvard, entering when he was 15. He was the valedictorian at his graduation: an intellectual with poets and philosophers in his wealthy mill-owner family. He took menial jobs of every type to get experience when he could have had any high-paying corporate position. He had tuberculosis when young, travelled extensively and mastered several languages. In Europe he observed French and Austrian troops movements. He learned to ride expertly and to become an accomplished swordsman. He liked to quote Plato. He demonstrated ability in leadership, finance, politics and culture. Like Custer he was known for his headlong audacity.
When troops from Massachusetts were fired on by rebels in Baltimore, he resigned his business position and wrote a letter asking to do his part in the war effort. He was commissioned a captain in the 3rd US Cavalry and later formed his own regiment, the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. Many members were ex-California gold-rush miners who had come home to fight for their state. Charlie was fearless and always ahead of the other horsemen, charging from the front into the enemy. He never complained or bragged about his accomplishments. He did the job of a brigadier general, but never showed impatience for promotion. He thought Custer was a laughing-stock for wanting his name in the newspapers. His wife Josephine, who was a businesswoman when they married, was the sister of Robert Guild Shaw who proudly commanded the 54th Massachusetts USCT Infantry regiment. Charlie died while leading a charge. A sharpshooter’s musket ball which was fired from the window of the Brinton House in Middletown entered his already damaged lungs.
By Marilyn Rexilius