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Military History Book Reviews: In Tall(er) Cotton

By Eric J. Mink
11/14/2018 • Military History Magazine

In Tall Cotton: The 200 Most Important Confederate Books for the Reader, Researcher and Collector

by Richard B. Harwell, Broadfoot Publishing Company, Wendell, N.C., 2006, $50.

In Taller Cotton: 200 More Important Confederate Books, for the Reader, Researcher, and Collector

by Gary W. Gallagher, Nathaniel C. Hughes Jr. and Robert K. Krick, Broadfoot Publishing Company, 2006, $50.

The Southern Confederacy continues to interest and entertain readers 141 years after the American Civil War ended. Each year, new titles further our understanding of those pivotal years in our nation’s history, while others merely seek to capitalize on the public’s craving for new material on Southern history. For many readers, it can be difficult to discern the worthy publications from those less valuable additions.

From time to time, leading historians are asked to list their favorite books on the subject to help guide prospective readers toward the better works that have reached publication. Many of these bibliographies exist, but none, perhaps, is more influential than the late Richard B. Harwell’s In Tall Cotton: The 200 Most Important Confederate Books for the Reader, Researcher and Collector. A respected Georgia librarian and historian, Harwell wrote and edited numerous books on the Civil War and the Confederacy. In Tall Cotton appeared in print in 1978 and is an annotated list of what he felt were classics in Confederate history. His inventory contains books of poetry, diaries, narratives and works of fiction, each accompanied by a brief explanation as to their importance. Douglas S. Freeman’s Pulitzer Prize biography R.E. Lee: A Biography (1934- 1935) and multi-volume Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command (1942-1945), Mary B. Chesnut’s A Diary From Dixie (1905), John O. Casler’s Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade (1893), and James Longstreet’s From Manassas to Appomattox (1896) are just some of the classics that appear on his list. So influential is Harwell’s bibliography that copies are much sought after, though only 29 years old, and command as much as $700 on the used-book market.

Historians continue to refer to In Tall Cotton for advice on what to read, while publishers frequently consult this venerated list when determining what books might be worthy of reprinting. One such publisher is Thomas Broadfoot of North Carolina. For years the Broadfoot Publishing Company has kept many of the titles on Harwell’s list available to the public, creating faithful reprints complete with facsimiles of the original dust jackets. This year Broadfoot has gone a step further by bringing In Tall Cotton back into print. This new project includes the issuance of a new list, designed to build upon Harwell’s.

In Taller Cotton: 200 More Important Confederate Books, for the Reader, Researcher, and Collector is a valuable addition to its predecessor. Since 1978, many worthy books have been written on the Confederacy, and Harwell’s decision to limit his list meant quite a few wonderful titles were left out. Broadfoot approached three leading historians and bibliophiles and asked them to contribute their favorites to this new inventory. Gary W. Gallagher of the University of Virginia, Nathaniel C. Hughes Jr. of Tennessee and historian and author Robert K. Krick are all experts on Confederate history and excellent choices to identify books that they felt were the most unique, influential and important on the subject. The result is a comprehensive guide that complements Harwell’s early effort.

Working under the agreement that none of the books that appear in In Tall Cotton could be listed, the three contributors have created a nice compilation of Confederate literature. The result obviously mirrors their own personal interests with Hughes’ expertise of the war in Georgia, Tennessee and areas far away from the main theater of the war, Gallagher’s understanding of the wide spectrum of Confederate historiography, and Krick’s knowledge of obscure pamphlets and rare yet useful publications. Understandably, included among the rich tomes on this list are some of the authors’ own contributions, such as Hughes’ biography of Confederate General William Hardee and his narrative of the Battle of Belmont, Mo., Gallagher’s masterfully edited version of General E. Porter Alexander’s memoirs, and Krick’s studies of the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic, as well as his useful biographical register of field officers who served in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

While In Taller Cotton does include some older titles that did not make the cut for inclusion on Harwell’s list, the works that have appeared in more recent years are what really make this compilation truly valuable. Recent scholarship on Southern society and politics is well represented with studies such as Peter S. Carmichael’s The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion (2005), Charles Dew’s Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War (2001), and W. Todd Groce’s Mountain Rebels: East Tennessee Confederates and the Civil War (1999). Military studies include such important works as J. Tracy Power’s Lee’s Miserables: Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to Appomattox (1998) and Thomas Connelly’s twovolume history of the Army of Tennessee. Simply put, In Taller Cotton is a valuable update to its predecessor.

Taken together, these two volumes represent the best that Confederate literature currently has to offer: battle narratives, personal memoirs and diaries, rare county histories that contain useful information, seminal studies on the home front, and social and political aspects of the war in the South.

Both books are also available in a onetime special limited edition. Fifty copies of In Tall Cotton will include a tipped-in page from an 1863 Richmond imprint of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and are being offered at the price of $200, with all proceeds going to the Civil War Preservation Trust. Likewise, buyers can obtain one of 50 copies of In Taller Cotton, signed by each of the contributors, for $200 with the money going to the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust. The cost of the limited editions can be deducted from taxes as a charitable donation, so readers and collectors have the opportunity to obtain copies of these wonderful books while helping save battlefields at the same time.

 

Originally published in the March 2007 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here

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