Books on Books
Ours is an era with deep interest in listing and evaluating–even rating in order of importance and relative value–the myriad of books and other items pertaining to the Civil War. Gary Gallagher, perhaps the most productive scholar who indulges in the list-making game, wrote the foreword to one of the two books under review; the dean of living Civil War historians, James M. McPherson, wrote one for the other. These two works, alike only in their extensive lists (with commentary), are essentials for Civil War specialists and highly recommended even for enthusiasts only slightly past the neophyte stage.
The Civil War in Books: An Analytical Bibliography, by David J. Eicher, is a tour de force, an idiosyncratic, extensively annotated bibliography of 1,100 well-selected books. Not modest in his view of his ability to select, Eicher asserts that these are the most important 1,100 books. His original target had been 1,000, but there were another 100 books that just couldn’t be left out. His categories include “Battles and Campaigns,” “Confederate Biographies, Memoirs, and Letters,” “Union Biographies, Memoirs, and Letters,” “General Works,” and “Unit Histories.” It is amazing, really, that one person could read and thoughtfully comment on so many works–comprising, Eicher says, 952,482 pages of text–but it appears convincingly that he did just that.
Conversely, Woodworth, editor of The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research, is joined by 48 other expert contributors who cite a multitude of works, numbering several thousands. And not just printed books but also recorded books, art, maps, music, and more. Each contributor offers a fairly extensive commentary and concludes with a formal, unannotated bibliography. The various topics are incorporated into 12 parts: “General Secondary Sources,” “General Primary Sources,” “Illustrative Materials,” “Causation
–Events Leading to the War,” “Leaders,” “International Relations,” “Strategy and Tactics: Operations, Campaigns, and Battles,” “Conduct of the War,” “The Home Front,” “Reconstruction and Beyond,” and “Popular Media.”
As a result, Woodworth’s work is mainly a reference tool for the scholar, while Eicher’s is more for the general reader. But both are so readable and so impressively informative that they could be enjoyed in and of themselves, as well as used from time to time as reference tools–as they no doubt will be by all serious scholars.
Eicher’s Bibliography includes commentaries on my three major works to date. On these he is quite kind, but still offers little zingers. At the end of his note on my book General Stephen D. Lee, he says: “One curious error: an engraving of Fitzhugh Lee presented as an image of the subject.” I am sure he means my first illustration–Lee as a freshly minted second lieutenant, which was provided by the Library of Congress and identified at the source as being a picture of S.D. Lee. I admit this may be Fitzhugh, but on the other hand, S.D. and Fitzhugh looked a lot alike! (Just as, in later life, S.D. Lee came to look a great deal like Robert E. Lee had looked at the same age; they were related, but the South Carolina and the Virginia branches of the family simply had lost track of the reality.)
Eicher himself is not always so keenly observant when it comes to correct identification of pictures. He has only one criticism for Emory Thomas’s new R.E. Lee biography (otherwise it is a totally lauding commentary): he accuses Thomas of “a few minor spelling errors.” However, Thomas includes in his book a picture from the Virginia Historical Society that is noted as being of “Stephen Dill Lee, James Ewell Brown Stuart, and George Washington Custis Lee…soon after their graduation from West Point.” Now, Stuart and G.W.C. Lee may be in that picture, but I am certain the other man is not S.D Lee! And, although I am not a gambling man, I bet Eicher would agree. He just didn’t notice.
Woodworth’s work, meanwhile, is simply a treasure-trove of Civil War knowledge, going well beyond the boundaries of books. I especially like the chapter on “Musical and Narrative Recordings.” But, that said, I am egregiously disappointed to note the absence of my favorite Civil War album: The Blue and the Gray in Black and White by James “Sparky” Rucker, Kentucky Colonel, and his wife, Rhonda (Flying Fish Records). On the other hand, it is gratifying to see the fine offerings by Blackstone Audio Books, Ashland, Oregon, at last getting some well deserved recognition. In addition, the Western Theater of the war, and the western borderlands, all too typically under-treated, are nicely noted. Check out, for example, Cathy Barton’s regionally known Johnny Whistletrigger, published by Big Canoe Records in Boonville, Missouri.
Both books include useful appendices and indices. Eicher offers the names and addresses of 57 “Prolific Publishers of Civil War Books” and “A Short List of Civil War Bibliographies,” which is quite good. T. Michael Parish, a writer from Austin, Texas, does double duty in the Woodworth work, contributing one whole chapter on “Bibliographies” and an “Appendix: Publishers and Dealers of Civil War Literature,” which he asserts “is extensive but by no means comprehensive.” It certainly is impressive: he lists more than 500 publishers and dealers, gives names of managers where appropriate, and includes telephone and fax numbers.
To conclude, it is hard to say enough about how important and useful these two books are and how important it is that all Civil War enthusiasts should know about them. I guarantee they’ll come to treasure them.
University of Missouri-Kansas City
More recommended readings:
* Civil War Firearms: Their Historical Background, Tactical Use and Modern Collecting and Shooting, by Joseph G. Bilby, Combined Books, Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, 252 pages, $34.95. A Civil War News columnist focuses on period guns–their evolution, their use on the battlefield, and their current value as collectibles.
* Sherman’s Horsemen: Union Cavalry Operations in the Atlanta Campaign, by David Evans, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana, 683 pages, $40. Eyewitness accounts and diaries highlight Evans’s look at a rarely discussed aspect of Sherman’s 1864 Atlanta Campaign.
* In Search of Robert E. Lee, by Chuck Lawliss, Combined Books, Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, 119 pages, $24.95. Lawliss’s photographs and text tell the story of the Confederate leader’s life, capturing his successes and failures on and off the battlefield.
* John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir, by Asia Booth Clarke, edited by Terry Alford, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi, 169 pages, $20. Newly reprinted, Clarke’s work, written in 1874 and first published in 1938, details the turbulent childhood of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassin and how it shaped the rest of his troubled life.
* A Rebel’s Recollections, by George Cary Eggleston, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 187 pages, $10.95. Originally published in 1875, Eggleston’s memoirs provide a nostalgic, often amusing look at Southern life before and during the Civil War, featuring military leaders such as Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart.
* Fallen Soldier: Memoir of a Civil War Casualty, Elliot and Clark, Montgomery, Alabama, 160 pages, $14.95. In memoirs originally published in 1909, Union Private Andrew Roy describes what it was like to be left for dead on the battlefield.
* Lincoln’s Admiral: The Civil War Campaigns of David Farragut, by James P. Duffy, John Wiley and Sons, New York, 288 pages, $27.95. Duffy draws on primary sources discovered in the past 20 years to create a life of the first full admiral in American history.
* On Many a Bloody Field: Four Years in the Iron Brigade, by Alan D. Gaff, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana, 520 pages, $29.95. Gaff follows Company B of the 19th Indiana Infantry from Virginia through Maryland to Pennsylvania and back. CWT