MORE BOOK REVIEWS

 
Title:  The Civil War Years
Author:  Robert E. Denney
ISBN:  0-517-18945-3
Random House
 
    I have not read Civil War Day by Day by the Longs so I won't attempt to compare books.  Let me just say that I found a few inaccuracies but overall the book was good.
    Besides giving what happened each day chronologically the author mixes in diary notes from a few divergent personalities.  One is a solder in the Union Army of the Tennessee (Luke Barber), one is a private in the Orphan Brigade (John Jackman) and another was on coastal duty in north Carolina in the 25th MA (Sgt. Day).  This I found very interesting, albeit at times tedious, reading.  The author also uses a few other individuals at various points.  I find this helps tell the war in a different light which is good.
    This book is fine for a reference but it is not a good sit-down and read kind of book.  It took me a while to complete it - in small doses.  I'd give this book a lower grade if it weren't for the fact that it was an $8 Wal-Mart bargain bin book.  Beginning with these reviews I am going to go on Antietam's eight point scale instead of my 4 point scale.  Because of  that I give it 4 1/2 stars.

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Title:  Don Troiani's American Battles
ISBN:  978-0-8117-3327-4
Stackpole Books
 
    An ABSOLUTE MUST HAVE for any Civil War Buff.  The narrative of the book is done in a unique manner.  Noted historians (Robert Krick - elder and younger, the late, great Brian Pohanka, just to name-drop) write a segment on the historical event/period upon which each painting is based.  Troiani himself then describes how he went about painting it. He describes how he clothes and set-up models and even how he acquires/builds props.
    The featured attraction of the book is, of course, Troiani's paintings. Spell bounding.  I must have found myself wishing every other segment for the money to just wallpaper a room with prints of his art work.
    No Civil War buff's coffee table should be without a copy of this book. Definitely, a perfect 8, or 10, or 20 , or 100 (You get the picture)

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Title: Grant - Sherman: The Friendship that Won the Civil War:
Author:  Charles Bracelen Flood
ISBN:  0-374-16600-5
Farrar, Strauz, and Giroux
 
    Another excellent contemporary book on the personalities of the Civil War.  Mr. Flood tells of the humble beginning of first US Grant, then WT Sherman up to their linking up in the field prior to the Shiloh campaign.  Even before Shiloh you could see thanks to Mr. Flood's research that they would work well together.  It was Sherman, in his post of a Dept commander in Kentucky that forwarded supplies and reinforcements to Grant in a timely manner in the campaign against Forts Henry and Donelson.
    From Shiloh on these two men worked so well in tandem that their forces were always moving forward.  When Grant was ordered to Washington Sherman encouraged him to stay in the West (in no small part doubting his own ability in an independent command).  Grant knew his subordinate's ability better than he himself did and insisted on going - what confidence!
    After the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia Sherman offered way too lenient terms of surrender to J. E. Johnston.  Grant was ordered south to take over talks, rather than supersede his friend he stayed out of the talks and coached Sherman.
    After reading this book the famous quote by Sherman,  "I stood by Grant when he was drunk, he stood by me when I was crazy" was never more graphically illustrated. This book was so remarkably easy to read (It seemed like I read 50 pages or more in an hour on more than one occasion) that I am compelled to give this a high 7 1/2 stars

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Title : Nothing But Victory: The Army of the Tennessee
Author:  Steven Woodworth
ISBN:  1-375-41218
 
    An excellent book on this ultimate instrument of the South's destruction.  From Forts. Henry and Donelson we get a close-up look at an army that seldom, if ever, was stopped - let alone defeated.  First, under U.S. Grant, then later under William T. Sherman this army arguably did more for the union cause than any army.
    Woodworth uses simple soldiers diaries and letters to do much of the behind-the-scenes telling of the army's story besides the usual historical texts.   He does this wonderfully.  He gives drama, and in certain soldiers' cases tragic closures.  For example Lute Barber of the 15th IL is quoted many times in the script.  Only days before the end of the war he was brutally murdered while on a foraging expedition in the Carolinas and left to be found by his mates.
    The one flaw in the book was the editing.  I found numerous spelling errors including two different spellings (one wrong) for the same location only 3 or 4 lines apart in the same paragraph. Mysterious was spelled "misterious", that one I remember.
    Woodworth tells funny and somber anecdotes.  For Example soldiers swam nude across a river to capture a confederate flag in GA, the Wallaces at Shiloh, a soldier singing as he died.  He called a group of soldiers called on to rush a position at Vicksburg, "the forlorn hope" and would constantly refer to it even later in the book.
    I liked this book, editing errors aside and highly recommend it.  3 1/2 stars

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Title: The Civil War Experience
Author: Jeffrey Wert
ISBN:  1-84442-311-5
 
    I read some of Mr. Wert's prior efforts and like them, found this to be a worthwhile addition to one's library.  As the title says, this "book" is an experience.  You see, besides being a brief text on the war it contains many extras.
    By extras, I am referring to an audio CD in front jacket with readings of diaries, letters, and speeches (Yes, foremost being Lincoln's Gettysburg Address).  Many sections of the book contained such things as copies of letters, diaries, speeches, and  replica fold-out maps.
    The only glaring error I found - and this could be just my book - was a replica map that was supposed to be done by Jedediah Hotchkiss of the Shenandoah.  Instead, it was a map of the Dallas, GA area.  I think this is a worthwhile addition to a young student of the war especially, but most adults should enjoy it too.   3 stars

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Title:  The Iron Brigade
Author:  Alan T. Nolan
ISBN:0-253-20863-7    
 
    A wonderful book!  Alan Nolan does a very good job of describing the actions and campaigns of this vital cog in the Army of The Potomac from the recruitment of the soldiers just after the attack on Fort Sumter right up to the time that losses had become so heavy that the unit had to have reinforcements which altered its face and character to the point of non-existence.
    From one of its original regiments actions at first Manassas till the horrific losses at Gettysburg this unit was a pillar of strength for the Union.  From its original 3 Wisc / 1 IN formation Nolan tells of the identity given the brigade by their commander John Gibbon and their reluctance to accept later reinforcement by a Michigan brigade until that units stellar performance on the battlefield at Fredericksburg.  Nolan tells of how the unit came to acquire its nickname as well.
    One particularly outstanding feature of the book was its maps.  Little battlefield maps with arrows showing individual regimental placing at beginning of battles with arrows showing adjustments.  And some very good seldom-seen photographs add a nice finishing touch..  I give it 4 stars and recommend it as a must read for anyone studying individual units/brigades.

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Title: Company Aytch: A Sideshow to the Big show
Author: Sam Watkins
ISBN:  0-452-28144-5
 
    Hilariously Funny!  Sam wrote it 20 years after the word and makes no bones about apologizing if his memory fails him.  Unlike officer's memoirs Sam's tells of life in the rifle pits and tents and picket lines.  Being a non college-educated man Sam gives a unique expression and vision of the war.
    I had been introduced to Watkins thru the voice of Garrison Keilor on Ken Burn's Civil War and was always looking for his quotes in the book.  I must say I found every one I heard at least once.
    He uses expressions like bang, boom bang ,,,, twit twit twit to simulate sounds of battle.  He's always saying of dead comrades "never a better soldier or friend was he"  He took great pains to bless God.  It was actually a blessing to read it.  Watkins giave a truly unique perspective to one battle in particular, the Dead Angle on Kenesaw.  He made it sound even more impregnable than any place in history.
    Sam must have fallen in love four or five times in the book.  Even though he had a girlfriend Jenny (later Mrs Sam Watkins) at home he still was quite the ladies man or so it seemed - although he never acted on the impulses or so he says.
    Anyone who enjoys light-hearted reading about war should absolutely read this book.  I give it 4 stars.  It will indeed be read again and again by me.

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Title:  The Civil War:  a Narrative
Author: Shelby Foote
Publisher:  Random House
 
    This is not so much a book review as a notice.  For those of you that may be unaware Shelby Foote passed away last year.  In honor of that Random House re-released his classic narrative in an easier-to-read format.  Instead of 3 4-inch thick books it is now in 9 one-inch books.  I have both versions and can testify that it is identical in text.
    What I like about the new version is that it is so much easier to handle and thus, can be read in more places and can be carried easier.  You can read it in a plane, a bus, a car (if you are the passenger) waiting in line , in bed you name it.  It can fit in your briefcase, your handbag and each volume doesn't weigh a lot.  And the cost is reasonable - borders had it for $7.99 each (total 72 -same as the original 3 vol. set) and if you're a coupon user like me you can pay even less - I did not pay more than $6 for any one volume.
    For those of you who have not read the book -- it is top-shelf.  Shelby was a writer without peer.  He gave you every bit of necessary information as well as some lesser-known material.  Having read his Narrative before Ken Burns' Civil War it was nice to re-read it and discover many of the quips he mentioned in the movie was stuff in the book (My favorite?  --  Run ole hare- if I was a ole hare I'd run too).  I give it 4 stars
    As an aside, as if that wasn't enough when I was just about finished Vol. 6. I got a mailing from Time-Life Books for an Illustrated version.  Since the first volume of the 9 -vol. set was Ft. Sumter to Kernstown and the first one of the illustrated is Secession to Ft. Sumter I have to believe it must be 18 -24 vols. total.

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Title: Struggle For A Vast Future
Editor:  Aaron Sheehan- Davis
ISBN:  1-84603-011-0
 
    An EXCELLENT book.  I most definitely recommend it for serious students of the Civil War.  If you are only interested in narrative don't read it.  But if you are the type who likes thought provoking text this is it.  Anyone who teaches Civil War should read it.
    The book is divided into several parts, each dealing with a different aspect of the war and written by a different expert on the war.  The Forward is by James McPherson and writers include Robert Krick (who I met back in April) and Craig Symonds (who wrote the recently reviewed biography on Patrick Cleburne).  The different parts deal with causes of the war, results of the war, the war at sea, a comparison of the political leadership and military leadership, effects at home, spies, African- Americans, you get the picture.
    This a great book for discussion (agreement vs. disagreement) with the writers and amongst yourselves.  I give it 4 stars

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Title:  Dixie Victorious
Editor : Peter Tsouras
ISBN:  0-7394-4333-X
 
    Dixie Victorious is an Alternate History of the Civil War.  It is divided into several distinct parts -each dealing a particular incident in the war and how things could turn out in the advent of what actually happened did not happen; ie, Jackson wasn't killed at Chancellorsville, or Secret Orders 191 was actually bait to draw McLellan into a trap.  Each section was written by a different person.
    I enjoyed the book but I found it kind of repetitive.  In more than half the scenarios the South did not actually win the war -- the war was ended arbitrarily by foreign intervention.  Another problem was that scenarios such as the alternate Red River campaign result could not possibly end the war.
    On the positive side, I could actually see where the CSS Virginia (Merrimac) destroying the Monitor and steaming up to Washington coast.  Or the Confederates capturing the high ground at Gettysburg, or even the Early raid to Ft Stevens, for in the book a sharpshooter actually kills Lincoln.
    For those who don't care for What-ifs avoid this book. For those who do, give it a read (although I suggest getting it from a library) .  I give it 2 1/2 stars

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Title: A History of the Confederate Navy
Author:  Raimondo Luraghi
ISBN: 1-55750-527-6
 
    As an ex-Navy man I have always had an interest in war at sea.  The Civil War at sea and particularly the Confederate Navy has not been written about in depth that I have been able to find - until now- and it took a native of a foreign country to write it!  Yes, there have been books about the ironclads, the raiders, the officers but not all inclusive.  Unlike other aspects of the war - official records either were destroyed in Richmond or, if they survived, they languished in private collections or got lost.  Thanks to some discoveries and diaries, letters and the like the pieces have fallen in place. 
    This book was an excellent presentation of the trials/tribulations and successes/failures of the Confederate Navy.   After I finished the book I am convinced that even with a delay of just one year to build up that the South would have gained independence because she would have been strong enough at sea to make it a war of attrition that would have brought down Lincoln's government as well gaining the South British and French recognition.
    Many times, throughout the book, I read how timing was so close that only a delay of a day or two would have resulted in dramatic differences to the results.  For example, just another week and the CSS Mississippi would have been finished - she would have been the largest ironclad afloat at that point. 
    The book gives a look into the tireless efforts of Stephen Mallory and James Bulloch as well as the in competency of James North.  It reveals the thoughts of officers such as James Read, Franklin Buchanan, John Woods and the incomparable, Raphael Semmes.
    Almost everyone is familiar with the Merrimac and the Hunley.  Even though they were not the first of their kind (Robert Fulton of steamboat fame, actually tried to sell a submarine to the British years before the war).  they were the first of their kind in combat.  The South was the first to use rifled ordnance on ships, mines, armor-piercing shells, and commandos.  Many of the CSN's innovations were incorporated into the US Navy immediately after the war.
    I highly recommend this book and thanks to the bibliography at back I have learned of other books to find  I give this 4 stars.

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Book Review:
 
Title:  Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative
Author: Edward Porter Alexander
Paper ISBN:  0-306-80509-X
Written in 1907
 
    E.P. Alexander (as he mostly referred to) wrote two memoirs. The more well-known one, Fighting for The Confederacy, published in the 1960's, was meant for his family and heirs.  This one was meant for publication and was released shortly before his death.
    I have not as read the other but from what I suppose,, it may have more to do with just his involvement as opposed to a general look at the entire war from multiple person's perspectives.
    As is the case with all memoirs that I have read that were written by the subject themselves the reading is difficult and slow because they don't possess the fluency of people whose profession IS writing.  That said, I still found this book to be a good read.  Alexander had many times been an integral part of the operations of whatever army he was attached to.
    One unusual thing about this book is that he does not talk in the first person as much as you'd think.  He uses post-war records to reinforce cloudy recollections and in most cases only mentions his part in a battle with a 3rd-party like impartiality, never giving credit or placing blame.
    Speaking of blame,  most everyone is well-acquainted with James Longstreet's criticism of R E Lee after Gettysburg.  He was blasted by many Virginians (Jubal Early, the foremost) for tainting Lee.  Having read Longstreet's memoirs I have to say he was mild in that regard compared to Alexander.  Being Longstreet's artillery chief makes me take some of this with a grain of salt but still it amazes me where the Virginians were at this time.  Apparently, Early spoke for them all and since he was dead by 1907 that explains some of it. However, even today there are folks who dis Longstreet and surely, they must have seen Alexander's writings.
    In closing this long-winded review I would like to mention one story that sums up both Lee and Alexander's contrasting outlook in the closing days of the war.  On the retreat from Petersburg as the army was being surrounded the much-younger Alexander suggested the army disperse and take to the woods as guerillas.  The wise, old Lee countered with the argument with the fact that the war so far had spread such destruction to families and the land itself that a guerilla type war would only multiply that and prolong it by who knows how many years.  Did Alexander really think that should be the way the Confederacy was to be thought of for now and forever?  Alexander had to grudgingly agree.
    I encourage everyone to give this book or Fighting For the Confederacy a read.  Alexander was a key figure and provides a distance from Lee that is somewhat refreshing.. 4 Stars
 
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