Monday, January 14, 2019

Booknotes: The Vermont Brigade in the Seven Days

New Arrival:
The Vermont Brigade in the Seven Days: The Battles and Their Personal Aftermath
  by Paul G. Zeller (McFarland, 2019).

The first arrival of the new year! One of many distinguished infantry brigades that served in the Army of the Potomac, the First Vermont Brigade was organized during the war's first fall and remained in the field throughout the remainder of the conflict. Composed of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Vermont, all under the command of Brig. Gen. W.H.T. Brooks, the Vermonters experienced their baptism of fire at Dam #1 on the Virginia Peninsula's Warwick River Line.

However, "The Vermont Brigade, sometimes referred to as the "First Vermont Brigade" or the "Old Brigade," fought its first full-brigade engagement in the Seven Days' battles," and it is that major but still relatively understudied early-war campaign period that is the focus of Paul Zeller's The Vermont Brigade in the Seven Days: The Battles and Their Personal Aftermath. More from the description: "Using soldiers' letters, diaries, and service and pension records, this book gives a soldier's-eye-view of the Virginia summer heat, days of marching with very little rest or nourishment, and the fear and exhilaration of combat. Also included are the stories of 29 men that were wounded or killed and how the tragedies affected their families."

Brigade organization and the earlier fighting on the Peninsula are discussed in the book, with standalone chapters covering the Vermont Brigade's skirmishes at the Garnett and Golding farms (those engagements have many different names, but the author's preference of Gouldin for the latter is interesting), the Battle of Savage's Station, and the White Oak Swamp defense line. The volume also has some nice full-page maps.


  1. Just two quick things:
    1.) I know everyone says it but I'll say it again to get it off my chest. McFarland is ridiculously pricey, this book is right up my alley but the price point is absurd. I could buy several of the books and primary sources this book mentions for the price of this book.
    2. I don't have a point on this but it's interesting how reviewers like yourself drive sales/views. Currently on the Amazon page about 1/2 the "also viewed" section are selections that I would expect only come from your site. Including the Kentucky campaign history you most recently discussed

  2. Drew:

    I share THT's frustration with the price of McFarland's books and others (university press books sometimes costing $60-$70), I assume he/she is not criticizing you for bringing these important books to our attention and letting us make our own buying decisions. For my part, I find having patience and hunting in the secondary market results in finding some of these pricey books at significantly reduced prices after a year or two.

    John Sinclair

    1. John,
      I was going to comment something along the lines of your last sentence but you beat me to it. Probably even less patience is required now. These days I'm seeing that far fewer books hold their value for even that kind of time. You can often find great deals much sooner, if you can trust that the source is telling the truth about condition!

  3. No criticism intended at all. I'm glad having these books put on my radar. I just can't understand how Savas Beatie can serve a similar niche market and keep their prices much more affordable (and have a product that is much more presentable).

  4. Teaching, John, etc.

    As a publisher, pricing is obviously very important for a host of reasons. Often it depends on the market the publisher is serving, and the sort of things they are publishing. Personally, I think the prices of many of the books being published today (not by this current publisher in question) are driven by the small sales numbers. The costs of acquisition, editing, proofing, etc. are mostly fixed, but if you are only selling 300 or 500 copies, you can't sell what should be a $29.95 book for anywhere close to that price. I think the dwindling sales numbers for so many titles are also the result of subject matter that regular CW readers just don't care all that much about (but the editors and internal powers-that-be do).

  5. Good point, THT. McFarland puts out a number of good Civil War books at an average price of $45 (my estimate) for a paperback. Savas, Beatie publishes many excellent Civil War hardbacks at an average price (my estimate) of $32.95 - with discounts available on Amazon. Why the difference? Thank you, Ted Savas!

  6. I hit the send button on my second comment before Ted's comment was published. Ted, thank you for your explanation and the breadth/quality of your Civil War and Revolutionary War (more please) books.

  7. Thanks John. We have several Rev War titles in the mix, including a new bio on Tarleton, and a complete study of the Battle of Germantown, by the author of Brandywine.

  8. Drew: Just my oft-repeated $.02 - I still don't understand McFarland's pricing, especially given that they don't seem to invest much in editorial expense. What you get seems to be pretty much a function of the author and they don't appear to be committed to cartography.

    Ted: Excellent news about Harris and Germantown. I was hoping he'd follow the dual approach of his "mentor" and cover both battles.

  9. Thanks John. I believe Tarlton comes out this late fall, and Germantown in Spring 2020.

    Editing is a real bottleneck/issue. Finding a good editor who can develop, edit, write, manage an author, take charge, and finish a project is a real art. I still have to do several a year to keep up because of how difficult it is to find someone. Once they finish you can't read and triple check everything. So you do the best you can.

    But I understand what you are saying about some presses. In fact, many of the manuscripts I reject end up being published elsewhere a few months later. It is impossible to read, develop, edit, proof, and produce a book in that amount of time. But you can accept it and produce it that fast--and some do.


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