Monday, November 27, 2006

Simon: "Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney"

John F. Simon's Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney: Slavery, Secession, and the President's War Powers is a narrative history that traces the political development of Abraham Lincoln and the legal career of Roger Taney in the context of the pressing issues of the day. In my mind, although Simon largely overcomes them, several factors seem to conspire together to increase a prospective author's difficulties in crafting this story into something compelling to a popular audience. To begin with, it is a battle of extreme unequals in terms of public memory. We have one of the most revered American presidents pitted against of one of American history's "villains", the author of the Dred Scott case's majority opinion. More than a generation apart in age and nothing much in common, there seems to have been little if any personal interaction between the two. We have no great body of personal correspondence to draw from and the only face to face meeting mentioned in the text of this book is the administration of the oath of office. Lincoln's background is well known, but Taney's long and distinguished legal career is often casually reduced to his dreadful Dred Scott ruling. While acknowledging the great harm done to the country by Dred Scott and the poor legal reasoning behind it, Simon avoids this kind of career reductionism and his lengthy and thoughtful discussion of Taney's contributions to the country's jurisprudence is perhaps his book's most original aspect.

While the legal conflicts over secession and presidential war powers do not come up until well into the book's second half, Simon does use this dwindling space to provide useful summaries of the major wartime cases to come before the Supreme Court--including Merryman, the Prize Cases, and the Vallandigham affair. In his analysis, the author is consistently fair-minded toward both of his main subjects and uses his extensive legal background to outline clearly the arguments for and against. It is readily apparent that Simon is a fervent admirer of Lincoln. Although he doesn't shy away from concerns about the president's actions (or lack of action), he consistently steps away from anything approaching serious condemnation.

I did have a few problems with the book. The unorthodox citation method employed in Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney is the same one I objected to in an earlier post (here). Also, the background material related to the progress of the war itself has many factual errors and often relies on rather outdated assessments of events. As an example, it states on page 254 that "A third of Lee's army was killed at Gettysburg, virtually eliminating any chance that the Confederacy could win the war" and "one-fourth of all Union forces lay dead on the battlefield". Sure, these things are far from the book's main focus, but they're distracting errors nonetheless.

In the end, although a broad spectrum of readers will likely find it of interest, Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney appears to be directed largely toward a general audience. Beyond the author's own insights and his informative legal biography of Justice Taney, much of what is discussed in Simon's book can be found in detailed form elsewhere in the literature. Therefore, I believe this volume's lasting usefulness will be as a balanced introductory volume to the great legal disputes of the antebellum and Civil War years.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Getting the right Sibley

I don't subscribe to it, but I thumb through Civil War Historian magazine at the local B&N when I get the chance. In the latest issue, there is a short piece about the 1862 Dakota War. This is at least the third publication that I've come across that's inserted a picture of Confederate General Henry Hopkins Sibley (famous drinker, tent&stove designer, and desert fox) for Union officer Henry Hastings Sibley. It's such a consistent mistake that it's become almost expected. Perhaps the old whiskeykeg's face isn't instantly recognizable to most people, but why has no one sufficiently questioned the fact that he's wearing his Confederate uniform in the picture? [see this Wikipedia page for the most commonly published picture of Henry Hopkins Sibley]

The most interesting tidbit I found in this relatively new magazine was a photocopy of the govt. form that requires the magazine to provide circulation data. I've always wondered about circulation numbers for the less popular "popular" CW mags. If I recall correctly, they mail issues to 8,500+ subscribers and send a few thousand more to bookstores, retailers, etc. This compares with the figure of almost 64,000 paid mail subscribers to Civil War Times. Now, if all those people actually bought Civil War books on a consistent basis we'd be in business! (BTW, if you're wondering about truly popular magazines, the same form in my latest National Geographic shows that over 4.1 million copies are mailed each month to paid subscribers!)


Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and a safe long weekend!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Foster: "Sherman's Mississippi Campaign"

[Sherman's Mississippi Campaign by Buckley Foster. (University of Alabama Press: Tuscaloosa, Alabama. 2006) Hardback, 10 maps, notes, bibliography. pp. 232, ISBN 0-8173-1519-5] $29.95

In February 1864, William T. Sherman took two infantry corps on a march from Vicksburg across the width of central Mississippi, ending up at the important railroad junction at Meridian. At the same time, a Union cavalry force under William Sooy Smith was to depart the Memphis area and travel down the Mobile and Ohio Railroad to meet Sherman in Meridian. From there a decision would be made whether to continue on into Alabama. Both wings were to forage liberally and destroy everything of military value (with particular attention paid to the rail transportation network).

An excellent, minutely detailed military study of the campaign has already been written (Margie Bearss' Sherman's Forgotten Campaign: The Meridian Expedition, OP-1987, Gateway Press), but Buckley Foster's new book Sherman's Mississippi Campaign is the first modern attempt at an in-depth analysis of the campaign. Foster marks the Meridian expedition as a crucial milestone in the evolution of W.T. Sherman's strategic thinking, a proving ground for the later Georgia and Carolinas campaigns. For this campaign, Sherman completely abandoned his supply lines and lines of communication. He stripped down his complement of wheeled vehicles, taking along only a minimal number of artillery pieces and supply wagons. The two infantry corps would advance on parallel axes; which aided speed and provided as wide an area as possible for the collection of food and forage. Any public property (and large amounts of private property as well) that could aid Confederate forces would be destroyed.

However, the one part of Foster's analysis that I am particular skeptical of is his assertion that Sherman developed a workable policy of allowing a wide latitude for destroying private property only in towns and areas deemed important to the Confederate war effort. Beyond finding no convincing evidence for it, I would object to this proposed framework in terms of both practicality and effectiveness. I don't believe the comparatively indisciplined citizen soldiers were particularly concerned with such nuances. An idea that the high command could turn the 'looting switch' on and off at their whim is unrealistic. Additionally, with comparatively little attempt to apprehend even serious looters/pillagers and no consistent application of punishment, the lack of deterrence value seriously harms the credibility of the direction from above. Then there is the question of just what constitutes property essential to the enemy war effort. While I quibble with Foster on this particular point, I commend his attempt at creating a framework of understanding for such a difficult and highly contradictory subject. In my mind, the great disconnect between evolving "hard war" policy (as nicely outlined in Mark Grimsley's Hard Hand of War) and actual enforcement is an area of study that deserves much more attention.

Beyond analyzing the larger meaning and effectiveness of the Meridian Campaign, the author (aided by a number of helpful maps) does provide the reader with a clear and concise operational military history. The blow by blow recitation of military events in Sherman's Mississippi Campaign is not nearly as detailed as Bearss' earlier account, but it's more than adequate and Foster does do a much better job than Bearss did of integrating Sooy Smiths' cavalry column into his account.

In the final estimation, Buckley Foster's Sherman's Mississippi Campaign is an important contribution to the historiography of the Civil War in the West and of the military career of William T. Sherman. Students at all levels should find much to appreciate and much to ponder.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Publisher Q&A: Clark Kenyon (Part 2)

Continuing on from Part 1 of my interview with The Camp Pope Bookshop's Clark Kenyon.

DW: You started out as a mail-order business (and of course still do mail out catalogs). Have your online operations largely overtaken the mail-order part of your business?

CK: Online sales represent the bulk of my business now. But the catalog still is important. Last year, after Catalog 41 came out, I got a tremendous spike in online sales. There had to be a connection. The problem with the paper catalog, aside from the cost of printing and mailing, is that it can’t be updated in real time like the online catalog can. But it gets people to look at the website, which can lead to sales.

DW: You’ve obviously been successful as a Civil War niche book publisher and seller. As you continue to concentrate almost exclusively on the T-M theater, what are you finding to be your biggest challenge in maintaining the viability of your business?

CK: Limited capital. I could publish more if I could finance it. But, as you say, it’s a niche. It’s a small area of a big war with a correspondingly small audience. So I’m not sure that would be a very sound investment. I’ve pondered the question for years of how to attract more people to the study of the Trans-Miss theater, and I have found that unless you had an ancestor who fought here or you yourself live here, you don’t really care. Interest in the Trans-Miss cannot be manufactured.

DW: I've read several news articles that mention used books as the fastest growing segment of the bookselling market. Do you have any desire to expand that part of your business?

CK: I just got out of the used book business (which is how I started) because it was so slow. I do maintain a catalog of what’s left of my used inventory on my website and on a couple of others. I hadn’t heard that used books were making a comeback. But maybe those articles refer to how the Internet has made it so easy to find a readable copy of a book. When I want to buy a book I don’t go the local bookstore (which is how it’s been done for centuries), I go to and get the cheapest used copy I can find. It’s simple economics. Unfortunately, it has run a lot of booksellers out of business; but that’s life. CPB can keep going because I’m small and the stuff I publish is available only from me (unless you can get it used). Gives me a little bit of a foothold.

DW: You mentioned the reasons behind the demise of The Trans-Miss. News as a declining subscription base and your need to devote your time to publishing projects. Based on your experience and with so much information available for free on the internet (and the common expectation that it be free), do you think a subscription-based newsletter of similar scope is even a viable possibility today?

CK: During the two years or so I was working on TMN I had no time for book publishing. I would have liked to do both, but one of them had to go. TMN was very difficult, not the least because I have no aptitude for journalism. It was more of a digest of stuff I had found published elsewhere. And it was expensive. Subscriptions barely paid for printing and mailing. It would make no sense today with the existence of websites, blogs, and message boards. You can do the work you do with so much greater efficiency and immediacy that I can’t see the point in a physical newsletter, unless it contains detailed instructions on how to do something that are difficult to follow in a browser window.

DW: What types of CW books do you treasure most from your own personal library at home?

CK: I wanted to collect all the books in the Iowa section of Dornbusch’s bibliography, and I almost had them all. But somewhere along the line I lost my desire to own rare books. I’m afraid I have sold them all. There’s a guy on the radio who says never fall in love with something that can’t love you back. It’s so true.

DW: Are there any Camp Pope projects in the pipeline (at least the ones you can speak of publicly) that you'd like to mention?

CK: Of course you know about my forthcoming book on the Battle of Athens, Missouri (August 5, 1861). I’m really excited about this because this is an original work of scholarship by author Jonathan Cooper-Wiele on a battle that has gotten very little attention. We’ll have some illustrations that have never appeared in print before, too.

Mike Banasik is working on a new book that is a compilation of postwar newspaper articles on the Trans-Miss from the Southern perspective. That will be a couple of years down the line. There’s been some talk of me reprinting his Embattled Arkansas, but no decision has been made.

I’m always eager to do contract work. In the past couple of years I’ve done two books for Kenneth Lyftogt, who is a teacher at the University of Northern Iowa, and these have been very successful. I get a lot of manuscripts pitched to me, but people usually want a traditional publishing relationship, where I get to pay for it. That’s pretty uncommon at CPB.

DW: I am certainly looking forward to the Athens study and want to extend my best wishes toward all your future efforts, Clark. And thanks again for your time.!

[Click here to read Part One of the Q&A with Clark Kenyon of Camp Pope Bookshop]

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Publisher Q&A: Clark Kenyon of the Camp Pope Bookshop

In something of a departure from the usual interview subject on CWBA, I thought readers might be interesting in hearing from a small publisher. Clark Kenyon, founder and sole proprietor of The Camp Pope Bookshop has kindly agreed to join us for a Q&A session.

DW: Hi Clark. Thank you for participating in the first publisher Q&A. I suppose I can start with the usual question--what got you into Civil War bookselling in the first place?

CK: Hi Drew. I’m flattered that you would want to interview me. It’s an old story: you start collecting books, you get too many, but you want more. How does one justify a hobby that takes up so much time and money? Turn it into a business. Why the Civil War? Visited Gettysburg when I was 12. You know what that does to you.

DW: Indeed. Did you realize early on that you'd be able to make a living dealing with T-M books almost exclusively? Or was it a gradual process?

CK: I might have thought I could make a living at it, but the scale is too small. The book publishing/selling business only represents about 8% of my total net income (I also have another business). So, were I to increase my volume tenfold I might be able to support myself with books alone. But the niche character of the Trans-Miss makes that unlikely.

DW: Which segment of your business—primary publishing, bookselling, contract publishing—do you find the most rewarding?

CK: I think I take the most enjoyment from designing and laying out books. I’m a little obsessive about it; I’ll spend weeks working on a book cover. (Since I have no formal graphic design training and no real artistic sense it takes that long.) But when everything finally falls into place it is very gratifying.

DW: What do you see as your greatest strength as a small publisher and a bookseller?

CK: As a publisher, that my standards are high for every book I do, not just my own. I have never produced a piece of crap for a contract job. As a bookseller, I am often complimented on the range of books I carry. People are happy that they can find so many Trans-Miss titles in one place.

DW: And, if I may add, many are available nowhere else! You are doing some really important work publishing annotated primary source materials with your series Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River (for book list go to The Camp Pope Bookshop). How did Michael Banasik’s involvement as series editor come about? Do you see the series continuing indefinitely?

CK: I met Mike in the mid 1990s when he was giving a talk at a local Civil War Round Table on his book Embattled Arkansas. We got to talking about books and the Trans-Miss, and he told me he had an idea to edit an original series of books containing primary material (diaries, letters, etc.) on the subject. He needed a publisher and wondered if I would be interested. I said yes. Our first book Missouri Brothers in Gray came out in 1998. Since then we’ve added five more titles.

Mike’s original proposal was for eight or ten titles and I don’t know if he has added anything beyond that. I suggested one title to him, Missouri in 1861: The Civil War Letters of Franc. B. Wilkie, Newspaper Correspondent, which turned out to be a very important contribution to the series. I imagine we could keep it going indefinitely.

[To be continued. Part 2 will be posted later in the week.]

Friday, November 10, 2006

Michael Burlingame

If you haven't had the chance to hear it yet, Civil War Talk Radio interviewed Michael Burlingame (the author of my favorite Lincoln book The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln) last week.

I was most interested in finding out how his multivolume biography of Lincoln was coming along. According to the author, the first two volumes are with outside readers and the final two covering his presidency are in draft form. Apparently, two publishing options are still being contemplated: all four volumes in 2008 or two volumes each in 2007 and 2008 depending on scheduling issues with Johns Hopkins Press. Considering the prices of university press books, that's going to be one pricey set.

I have another Q&A scheduled for posting next week. This time it'll be with a small publisher instead of an author. Hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Magazine articles as book promotion

One of Eric's recent posts on Rantings of a Civil War Historian resonated with me. With commendable honesty, he speaks of writing a magazine article for the specific purpose of promoting his most recent book (the Stuart's Raid book "Plenty of Blame Go Around" that he co-authored with J.D. Petruzzi). First off, I want to be clear I am not singling out Eric with what I am about to say below because he makes an important distinction that excludes him from other 'offenders'..for lack of a better word.

Without harping on any particular magazine, I've noticed a discouraging trend in the publication of so many articles that merely summarize a book an author has recently (or even worse not so recently) published. Alternatively, a portion of a book may be converted into an article, but does not add detail from what was previously found in the book it's based on or utilize new information that has come to light since the book's publication.

I realize this complaint is a little bit unfair, because large numbers of subscribers don't read legions of books. I certainly don't mind finding these articles every once in awhile (there are many monographs I have no desire to read in book form but would gladly see summarized at article length--to keep up with the current literature if nothing else), but it's the frequency that bothers me. In the main, I pay for subscriptions to read original material articles about subjects that do not lend themselves to book-length study.

Now, getting back to Eric's post. His upcoming article is an example of what I would view as an 'acceptable' book promotion. Quoting from his post, Eric's article "will be an even more detailed treatment (my emphasis) of the charge of the 1st Delaware Cavalry, also known as Corbit’s Charge, at Westminster, MD than what appears in the book." Eric goes on to say:

"After the book was completely finished, I found a couple of additional sources, including an extremely detailed account by a trooper of one of Corbit’s men, who managed to avoid capture that proably would not have been used in the book, had we known of it then. The emphasis in the book is on Stuart’s Ride, and hence on the Confederates, and this account is very much a Union account. The nice thing about the article, therefore, is that it permitted us to add to the chapter in our book."

With significant original content, this kind of article promotes the book yet adds value for the reader who either has or hasn't already read the book. Everybody wins.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Eagleburger: "The Fighting 10th: The History of the 10th Missouri Cavalry US"

[The Fighting 10th: The History of the 10th Missouri Cavalry US by Len Eagleburger. (Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2005). Pp. 636, $26.00, Hardcover, photos, rosters, appendices, ISBN 141403296X)]

The 10th Missouri Cavalry (Union) regiment is probably best known for its spearheading of the great cavalry charge at Mine Creek in Kansas and for its commander, Frederick Benteen of Little Bighorn infamy. Created from the consolidation of other units, the regiment served extensively in both the West and Trans-Mississippi theaters. According to the author, one of the difficulties in writing a history of this unit is that any prospective researcher has to work around the accidental wartime loss of the regimental records. Unfortunately, the effort here cannot be described as a success.

The Fighting 10th is strictly a top-down history of the regiment’s military service. The demographic analysis and social history elements found in most modern regimental histories are completely absent here. Aside from viewing the unit rosters, the reader can learn little of the backgrounds of the common soldiers and lower ranking officers. I could find no evidence that letters, diaries, or manuscript collections of any kind were consulted. The result is a narrative that traces the military history of the higher organizations (brigade, division, army) to which the 10th belonged at least as much as that of the unit itself.

The book’s text runs 190 pages and is highly problematic in both formatting and content. The writing is of a rough draft level of polish and is poorly edited for spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. Additionally, the more general background material is error-prone. The lack of footnotes, an index, and a formal bibliography (the one in the book is clearly incomplete, listing only five sources) is just as troubling. Unit rosters and appendices comprise the balance of the book’s 636 pages. Overall, The Fighting 10th contains very little to recommend it beyond the rosters, although readers with a very narrow interest in this particular regiment might seek to venture into its pages.

Friday, November 3, 2006

The Indiana Legion

State armies are interesting organizations (I am endlessly fascinated with the Missouri State Guard). A while back when I was casually researching northern militia units I came across an organization called the Indiana Legion. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to find much data or background about it beyond some uniform information for the various units. Now I see a fellow named John Etter has written a book-length monograph The Indiana Legion: A Civil War Militia (no publisher information that I could find).

Along similar lines, I've been meaning to check out William Harris Bragg's works Joe Brown's Army: The Georgia State Line, 1862-1865 and (with William Scaife) Joe Brown's Pets: The Georgia Militia, 1862-1865. If you've read either of them, feel free to comment below!