Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Beatie Vol. 3 has arrived

Volume 3 of Russel Beatie's Army of the Potomac series, McClellan's First Campaign, finally arrived on the doorstep yesterday. I read the first chapter last night, but Dimitri has already been blogging about it (see here and here).

These books are so broad and deep that I almost despair of reconnecting the interwoven threads that become unravelled in the mind in the years since the previous volume's release. I have some problems with the two Da Capo published volumes and the earlier books have received some harsh reviews [perhaps most notably from John Hennessy and a more recent one by Ball's Bluff expert Jim Morgan], but nevertheless view the series as indispensable reading in spite of the flaws. I kind of like Dimitri's characterization of Beatie's books as director's cuts. Beatie's writing could be described as extended meandering to the point of self indulgence, but I prize the rather expansive 'mini-studies' that the author sprinkles throughout his books--narrative flow be damned. There are books within books here, perhaps some better than others, but it's all so fresh and absorbing that I don't want to miss any of it.


  1. Drew,
    So does that make the series a 'should buy', or a 'shouldn't buy'? I've only recently noticed it, and had hopes for it.


  2. Don,
    I think the series is a 'must buy' for anyone with a serious interest in the war in the East.


  3. Hello Drew

    Thanks for the update the subject certainly is interesting. Much more interested in ANV, but it is good to see both sides.

    I noticed in the posts you referenced from the other blog that Beatie mentioned other authors that were working on similar studies? Had you ever heard that before? Just curious if you know who it might have been?

    Based on how much time is being covered in each volume, do you think he will ever finish the series? Seems like a monumental task.

    What did you think of Wert's THE SWORD OF LINCOLN? I've not gotten to it yet.

    Thanks for keeping us updated.

    Don H.

  4. Don,
    I am unaware of any other projects like it that are in the works. I don't know what Beatie's ultimate goal is, but it is clearly not possible for any single person to do it all the way to Appomattox at the current 2-3 months of CW time interval per volume. The commitment must be extraordinary!

    I haven't read Wert's AofP book.


  5. If I may steal Mr. Wagenhoffer's thunder, I was impressed with the huge number of sources that Wert referenced, especially the manuscript sources. I was not impressed, however, with his writing style, which is somewhat florid and relies too heavily on quotes (many of these being quotes any Civil War reader has read dozens of times). The post-Gettysburg phase is given scant attention. Wert also uses up valuable pages discussing the Confederate perspective (example: what is the "Lee to the rear" story doing in an Army of the Potomac history?)

  6. Hello Drew, all.

    Thanks for the discussion. I hesitated jumping in, but wanted to answer a few of the questions mentioned here (questions I field nearly every day).

    First, I think both Drew and Dimitri have a good handle on this series. Everyone has different styles of writing and presentation, which are of course subjective to the reader. The real meaningful issues are quality of research and thoughtful analysis. In that regard (and Drew hit the nail on the head here), there are indeed books within books in each Beatie volume, and facts and manuscripts you have never seen presented anywhere, ever.

    Second, there were many other people working on studies of the AOP officer corps. Two have since told me that when they saw the level of Beatie’s 30 years of research in the first installment, they dropped their own efforts. I know that another individual who had aspirations of producing a similar AOP offered a negative review of volume one, leveling several nitpicking attacks. There was some back channel discussion between the reviewer and the author, and the former backed off his assertions. I think the reviewer was rip-roaring angry that someone else beat him to the punch.

    Reviews like this are nothing new. We experienced it with Dr. Smith’s Champion Hill book. That study is so good, so thorough, and so well presented it knocked the foundation out from under another guy who had been working for several years on that battle. He bad-mouthed the book everywhere to anyone who would listen. Why? He disagreed with a difference of opinion of McPherson’s capabilities and McClernand’s actions. It turned conventional wisdom on its head. That’s life in publishing. I know our new Shiloh book is also upsetting a couple apple carts. Why? The analysis was nearly four decades ahead of its time and casts a shadow on other work on the same battle.

    Third, some ask why Da Capo did not publish this volume. The answer is that press did a lousy job marketing the first two. It was even too cheap to produce advance galleys and refused to consider Beatie’s marketing suggestions. One example will suffice: he offered to host and pay for a Manhattan book signing party and the press snubbed him.

    Last, as for whether Beatie will finish is a question no one can answer. He has told me that once the early fighting on the Virginia Peninsula and around Richmond ends the coverage will pick up. The first 3-4 volumes span shorter periods because so much ground needs to covered to reestablish facts left out by a host of writers and historians. (I won’t name them---you can figure out who they are). When the histories designed for wide public consumption were penned, especially during the Centennial period to the present, an agenda-driven framework was established that was simplified, woefully incomplete, and in many cases, flat out incorrect--and often intentionally so. That is why Beatie largely ignores secondary sources and writes, thinks, and analyzes from the original record. This includes diaries and letters other researchers have never used.

    Now, with all this said, will some readers not care for Beatie's "meandering" narrative style? Sure. Can you disagree with some of his conclusions? Absolutely. But so what? You can’t argue with the depth of his research and the thought and time he has invested in this endeavor. If you are serious about the AOP and the study of the Civil War, and don’t mind being challenged with facts and original sources—and what they shout fairly clearly across the years—the series is indispensable. If you want the same 300 pages of pablum, you won't like this book.

    BTW, Dimitri conducted an insightful interview with "Cap" (Beatie was a Captain in the army, hence the nickname), and I highly recommend it to everyone. It can be found on his website or on ours, here:

    Thanks for reading this, and for your interest in this title.

    Best regards

    Theodore P. Savas, publisher


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