Sunday, December 14, 2008

Civil War Publishing in 2008: The Year in Review

Maybe it's perception more than reality, but this year's book output* seemed a bit sparse in many areas. Therefore, some categories have been added to last year's list, and some dropped due to lack of standout choices among those that I had an opportunity to read. On the other hand, it was a bit of a banner year for reference books.

* - I consider titles from roughly the period between November 2007 and November 2008. The overlap allows for the time between a book's publication date and when I can reasonably get to it.

The Best of Civil War Publishing for 2008:

Best Book:

Vital Rails: The Charleston & Savannah Railroad and the Civil War in Coastal South Carolina (H. David Stone, Jr., Univ. of South Carolina Press).

Stone's volume is equally adept at illustrating the financial and organizational weaknesses of the Confederate railroad system in general as he is highlighting specific pre-war, wartime, and post-war issues pertaining to the Charleston & Savannah Railroad. On top of that, the author combines this study with an excellent operational and tactical history of the railroad's military role in the mobile defense network aimed at protecting important points along the Georgia and Carolina coastlines.

Best Social-Political History:

Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession (Russell McClintock, Univ. of N. Carolina Press). One of the best examinations of the secession crisis from the viewpoints of northern political leaders.

Caution and Cooperation: The American Civil War in British-American Relations (Phillip E. Myers, Kent State Univ. Press).

Best Battle/Campaign History:

Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester
(Gary Ecelbarger, Univ. of Oklahoma Press). Like his earlier Kernstown study, this book is another shining example of the best of Civil War battle history research, writing, and analysis.

Best Naval History:

The Timberclads in the Civil War: The Lexington, Conestoga, and Tyler on the Western Waters (Myron J. Smith, Jr., McFarland).

Best Manuscript Editing:

The Maryland Campaign of September 1862: Ezra A. Carman's Definitive Study of the Union and Confederate Armies at Antietam (Carman - ed. by Joseph Pierro, Routledge). The presentation is spartan, but, in terms of matching skillful editing with the importance of the manuscript itself, this volume is tough to beat.

Best Reference Work:

Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865 (James E. McGhee, Univ. of Arkansas Press) and Confederate Colonels: A Biographical Register (Bruce S. Allardice, Univ. of Missouri Press). In general terms, useful unit histories of Missouri Confederate regiments and batteries are non-existent, making McGhee's thorough and well-researched study particularly valuable. Allardice's book is an essential addition to all research libraries.

Encyclopedia of Civil War Shipwrecks (W. Craig Gaines, LSU Press).

Best Local/Regional History:

Skim Milk Yankees Fighting: The Battle of Athens, Missouri, August 5, 1861 (Jonathan K. Cooper-Wiele, The Press of the Camp Pope Bookshop). Cooper-Wiele spent many years gathering all available materials pertaining to this obscure Missouri battle. His is the first truly noteworthy chronicling and analysis of Athens, as well as the events surrounding it. A very fine effort.

* A Slight Demonstration: Decatur, October 1864, Clumsy Beginning of Gen. John B. Hood's Tennessee Campaign (Noel Carpenter, Legacy Books & Letters).

Best Self-Publishing Effort:

The Stone's River Campaign: 26 December 1862 - 5 January 1863 (Lanny Kelton Smith, Author). Research and writing of an astounding scale that simply must be seen to be believed.

Best Reprint of a Classic:

Sterling Price's Lieutenants: A Guide to the Officers and Organization of the Missouri State Guard 1861-1865 (James E. McGhee, Richard C. Peterson, Kip A. Lindberg, and Keith I. Daleen; Two Trails Publishing). Out of print for some time, this book came back with a roar with an impressive revised and expanded edition. A vital resource for those researching the Civil War in Missouri (especially the 1861-1862 period).


  1. Drew, Thanks for the kind words about Skim Milk Yankees Fighting. Author Jon Cooper-Wiele can be very proud of this excellent little study.

  2. And thanks from me. I am proud, but that pride must be parceled out to a host of local Clark County historians like Kenny Doud, Ben Dixon, Patricia Mullenix, Steve Murphy and others who assembled sources over the years and, through perseverance fueled by love, succeeded in getting the field to be a state historic site. The book is indebted to all of them and, of course, as well to Clark Kenyon who was masterful in doing so many tasks well to bring it to the final form in which it could achieve such a distinction.

    Jon Cooper-Wiele
    Boston, Mass.


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