Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Booknotes (July '15)

New Arrivals:

1. Grant Under Fire: An Expose of Generalship and Character in the American Civil War by Joseph A. Rose (Alderhanna Publishing, 2015).

This heavy tome (the main text runs over 600 pages) assumes a rigorous devil's advocate position for just about every aspect of Grant's generalship, character, and presidency. The author has an informative promotional website under construction (here) which offers a good idea of the type of content and context the reader can expect. It's all in how you use it but the book's bibliography is truly massive. The conclusions will be controversial but the pre-publication blurbs from well known Civil War historians (among them William Glenn Robertson, Gordon Rhea, Wiley Sword, and Larry Hewitt) laud Rose's research skills and argumentative powers. Grant's legendary integrity has received some convincing jabs in recent years but successfully presenting Grant as a bad general to today's informed readership strikes me as a task too tall for anyone. Rose seems game to attempt it, though.

2. Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861-1893: The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina, Volume 2 by Stephen R. Wise and Lawrence S. Rowland w/ Gerhart Spieler (Univ of S. Carolina Pr, 2015).

More on this book here.

Looks like a pretty slow summer coming up in terms of new releases but given the large backlog of unread titles the pace of reviews shouldn't change much.


  1. I guess we'll see about Grant Under Fire. The difficult line to draw for a historian is that between (1) objectively revisiting long-accepted versions of history and evaluations of historical figures, only to conclude that those versions/evaluations need to be refined and (2) becoming an advocate who "revises" everything in an effort to persuade the audience. We see some of this in the ever-entertaining debate about McClellan.

    1. When I get to it, I plan on skipping to the Grant areas I know best (Belmont, Iuka, Vicksburg) and seeing might be in there of interest. By adopting hostile partisan tones early and often, the authors of books like this one turn off many readers that might have otherwise been quite receptive to the arguments [the Hood book is a good example]. On the other side of the equation, too many readers allow themselves to get hung up in the disagreeable tone to such an extent that they fail to engage the arguments with an open mind [again, the Hood book being a prime example]. Like you say, we shall see with this one.

    2. If I may, the important questions when writing about history are whether the author got the facts right (or uncovered previously unknown information) and if he/she made the correct conclusions when using them. As just one example, almost every historian discussing it has accepted U.S. Grant's claim that he did not receive John Frémont's orders before occupying Paducah, Ky. I have shown that the circumstantial evidence contradicts him and that Grant's own unsubmitted report specifically asserts that he received Frémont's orders before embarking.


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