Friday, March 19, 2021

Some book news items

More cobwebs in the mailbox this week, so let's look at some more 2021 publishing news.

1. Way back when this site was launched, book-length studies of the Civil War in the Desert Southwest were pretty rare releases. Fast forward to today, however, and the situation is quite the reverse. It seems now that University of Oklahoma Press, the premier publisher of books covering the topic, alone releases at least one major title on the subject each year. The next in line will be James Blackshear and Glen Ely's Confederates and Comancheros: Skullduggery and Double-Dealing in the Texas–New Mexico Borderlands (September '21), which "takes us to the borderlands in the 1860s and 1870s for an in-depth look at Union-Confederate skullduggery amid the infamous Comanche-Comanchero trade in stolen Texas livestock." After the dismal failure of the over-ambitious Confederate military campaign into what is today New Mexico and Arizona, the region drops out of most general histories. However, struggles continued and this book documents an important aspect of it. More from the description: "In 1862, the Confederates abandoned New Mexico Territory and Texas west of the Pecos River, fully expecting to return someday. Meanwhile, administered by Union troops under martial law, the region became a hotbed of Rebel exiles and spies, who gathered intelligence, disrupted federal supply lines, and plotted to retake the Southwest. Using a treasure trove of previously unexplored documents, authors James Bailey Blackshear and Glen Sample Ely trace the complicated network of relationships that drew both Texas cattlemen and Comancheros into these borderlands, revealing the urban elite who were heavily involved in both the legal and illegal transactions that fueled the region’s economy." I will definitely be reading this one.

2. Another September release will freshly reexamine the topic of memoirs written by Civil War generals. Stephen Cushman's The Generals' Civil War: What Their Memoirs Can Teach Us Today (UNC Press) "considers Civil War generals' memoirs as both historical and literary works, revealing how they remain vital to understanding the interaction of memory, imagination, and the writing of American history. Cushman shows how market forces shaped the production of the memoirs and, therefore, memories of the war itself; how audiences have engaged with the works to create ideas of history that fit with time and circumstance; and what these texts tell us about current conflicts over the history and meanings of the Civil War." Grant's famous memoirs figures prominently in the book, and the description also mentions other published writings familiar to students of the war, those of Johnston, Sherman, Taylor, McClellan, and Sheridan.

3. The rifle's impact on the Civil War battlefield will always be a topic of debate. Wading into the fray next will be Scott Hippensteel with his book The Myth of the Civil War Sniper: The Fact, Fiction, and Science behind the Civil War’s Most-Told Stories (Stackpole, November '21). From the description: "In the spirit of Robert Adair’s cult classic The Physics of Baseball, here is a book that tackles the long-cherished myths of Civil War history—and ultimately shatters them, based on physics and mathematics. At what range was a Civil War sniper lethal? Did bullets ever “rain like hail”? Could one ever step across a battlefield by stepping only on bodies and never hard ground? How effective were Civil War muskets and rifles? How accurate are photographs and paintings?" "Combining science and history, Hippensteel reexamines much that we hold dear about the Civil War and convincingly argues that memoirs and histories have gotten it wrong." That last bit is a pretty strong claim. Hippensteel's 2019 book Rocks and Rifles: The Influence of Geology on Combat and Tactics during the American Civil War, which I liked very much, applied science well within the author's professional expertise in "coastal geology, geoarchaeology, and environmental micropaleontology," and I will be interested to see how deeply he will reach into the physics and math of Civil War ballistics.

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