Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Various book-related news items

1. Gene Salecker is a major figure in keeping the history of the Sultana steamboat disaster alive. In addition to being an avid artifact collector, he is the historical consultant for the  Sultana Disaster Museum of Marion, Arkansas and is the author of the best regarded (I believe) book on the topic, 1996's Disaster on the Mississippi: The Sultana Explosion, April 27, 1865. Twenty-five years later, Salecker has taken advantage of all of the source material that has emerged since then and created a new history titled Destruction of the Steamboat Sultana: The Worst Maritime Disaster in American History. This is not a revised anniversary edition but an entirely new study. I've been told that it, among many other things, provides a lot of new evidence that the tragedy's death toll is lower than previously thought. Like his earlier book, this one will be published by the Naval Institute Press and is currently scheduled for a March 2022 release.

2. A short while ago I favorably reviewed "We Gave Them Thunder": Marmaduke’s Raid and the Civil War in Missouri and Arkansas by William Garrett Piston and John Rutherford, which was officially released in August in paperback. I've now learned that there is also a Special Library Limited Edition for those who want a hardcover copy. It's a thick book that's worth the format upgrade.

3. Award-winning biographer Elizabeth Leonard (her book Lincoln's Forgotten Ally: Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt of Kentucky shared the 2012 Lincoln Prize) has now set her sights on another major Union figure, one even more controversial. Scheduled for an April 2022 release from UNC Press, Benjamin Franklin Butler: A Noisy, Fearless Life "chronicles Butler's successful career in the law defending the rights of the Lowell Mill girls and other workers, his achievements as one of Abraham Lincoln's premier civilian generals, and his role in developing wartime policy in support of slavery's fugitives as the nation advanced toward emancipation." The book "also highlights Butler's personal and political evolution, revealing how his limited understanding of racism and the horrors of slavery transformed over time, leading him into a postwar role as one of the nation's foremost advocates for Black freedom and civil rights..."

4. Also from the new UNC Press catalog is Jeffry Wert's The Heart of Hell: The Soldiers' Struggle for Spotsylvania's Bloody Angle (May 2022). The brutal mass brawl there is considered by many to have been the war's largest-scale and most terrible example of sustained, close-contact fighting. Wert's book "draws on the personal narratives of Union and Confederate troops who survived the fight to offer a gripping story of Civil War combat at its most difficult." There's no doubt that the book will be more than just description, and I will be interested to see what insights Wert's account might have to contribute to our ongoing investigation of the nature of Civil War combat.

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