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Book Reviews (Con't)
Civil War Nonfiction
by David Madden, 4/20/99
There are thousands of enthusiasts about whom it could be said, "What he doesn't know about the Civil War isn't worth knowing." Some know-it-alls are not content to gloat, but are eager to open their treasure trove to the citizens at large. Kenneth C. Davis offers to share what he knows with those who Dont Know Much About the Civil War. His book is subtitled "Everything You Need to Know About Americas Greatest Conflict But Never Learned" (William Morrow & Company, Inc., $25.00).
Davis' book will inspire both those who don't know much and those who think they know it all already to be more responsive to other books that fill gaps in our common store of knowledge about the war. Here, with sparse commentary, is a listing of a careful selection from the many books received at the United States Civil War Center.
Eager always to recommend controversial points of view, we point to Jeffrey Rogers Hummel's Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War (Open Court, $39.95). Having argued against the claim by some Southerners that slavery did not cause the War, Hummel argues that the North covered its own sins by using the freeing of the slaves as a justification for the War, and further, that governmental policies and procedures grew out of the North's handling of the war that effectually enslaved the free men of both the North and the South.
Among recent publications, are a fair number of the kind of books we need most, those that explore unusual facets of the war.
Winning And Losing In The Civil War:
Essays and Stories
by Albert Castel
(University of South Carolina Press, $29.95)
How the South Won the War
By Stetson Kennedy
(University of Florida,$49.95)
Guns For Cotton: England Arms the Confederacy
by Thomas Boaz
(Burred Street Press, $19.95)
The Planters Railway
by Paul Harnourt
(Heritage Publication Company)
Spies And Spymasters Of The Civil War
by Donald E. Markle
(Hippocrene Books, Inc,$11.95)
The Military Legacy Of The Civil War:
The European Inheritance
by Jay Luvaas
(University Press Kansas)
Social and cultural aspects of the war are attracting more and more effective writers, such as the authors of the following works.
Samuel Medary And The Crises:
Testing the Limits of Press Freedom
by Reed W. Smith
(Ohio State University Press, $45.00)
Debt, Investment, Slaves:
Credit Relations in East Feliciana Parish,
by Richard Holcombe Kilbourne, Jr.
(The University of Alabama Press)
What you don't know about Andersonville prison, you may learn through the reasoning processes of apologists for its commandant and through the eyes of a screenwriter (the movie itself is a Turner Production), and a prisoner.
Andersonville: The Southern Perspective:
Captain Henry Wirz, Martyr of the South
by J. H. Secars
(Southern Heritage Press)
Screenplay by David W. Rintels
A Captive of War
by Solon Hyde
(Burred Street Press, 17.99)
What do you know or need to know about the role of Native Americans and African Americans Louisianans in the war? These books are unusually valuable contributions to your efforts to learn more:
Now The Wolf Has Come:
The Creek Nation In The Civil War
by Christine Schultz White and Benton R. White
(Texas A&M University Press, $29.95)
Between Two Fires:
American Indians in the Civil War
by Laurence M Hauptman
(The Free Press)
The Louisiana Native Guards;
The Black Military Experience
During The Civil War
by James G. Hollandsworth, Jr.
(LSU Press, $24.95)
Readers who wish to know are learning more and more about the role of women in the war, and indirectly therefore about the effects on children, as individual diaries, collections of eyewitness accounts, and studies continue to appear with greater frequency than ever before.
The Civil War; Crisis in Gender
by LeeAnn Whites
(The University of Georgia Press, 35.00)
A Plantation Mistress On The Eve of The Civil War:
The Diary of Kaziah Goodwood
Hopkins Brevard, 1860-1861
by John Hammond Moore
(University of South Carolina Press, $12.95)
An American Tragedy
by Elizabeth Steger Trindal
(Pelican Publication Company)
Diary of A Southern Refugee:
During the War by A Lady of Virginia
by Judith W. McGuire
Introduction by Jean V. Berlin
(University of Nebraska Press, $15.00)
My Story of the War:
The Civil War Memories of the Famous Nurse, Relief Organizer and Suffragette
By Mary A. Livermore
New Introduction by Nina Silber
(Da Capo Press,$19.95)
Readers want to know how specific kinds of folks experienced the war.
A Mennonite Journal, 1862-1865:
A Fathers Account Of The Civil War In The Shenandoah Valley
by John R. Hildebrand
(Burd Street, $9.95)
In the space age, a young man, having followed the trail of tears, sets out to follow the smell of charred wood still smoldering from Sherman's firemarch.
Marching Through Georgia:
My Walk With Sherman
by Jerry Ellis
Just when, having read maybe 25 of the 30,000 or more books on Lincoln, we think we know everything about him, we are blessed with Lincolns Unknown Private Life: An Oral History by His Black Housekeeper by Mariah Vence 1850-1860 (Hasting House Book Publication, $30.00).
We Saw Lincoln Shot: One Hundred Eye Witness Accounts is Timothy S. Good's attempt to make us feel that tragedy with poignant immediacy (University of Mississippi). Mr. Good is a National Park Ranger who spent a year on assignment with the U. S. Civil War Center entering regimentals into a database.
The reader refreshed by the unusual approaches provided by the books listed above, may be ready to return with a more complex vision to what historians have to show us. Short histories fill a recurrent need, satisfying those know-nothings who need to scratch a raw curiosity and those know-it-alls who suddenly realize they have lost sight of the sweep of events.
A Short History of Civil War
by James L. Stokesbury
(William Morrow Company, $25.00)
Stokesburys short history will teach you everything you need to know to put in context an intriguing array of books on actions or campaigns in other states or expeditions in specific areas that will add variety to your growing Civil War bookshelf.
Touring the Carolinas Civil War Sites
by Clint Johnson
(John F. Blair, Publisher, $19.95).
The Texas Overland Expedition of 1863
[Civil War Campaigns and Commanders Series]
by Richard Lowe
(Ryan Place Publication, $11.95)
The Battle of Galveston and the Defense of the Texas Coast
by Donald Frazier
(Ryan Place Publishers, $11.95)
The Saga of Confederate General Jo Shelby's March to Mexico
by Edwin Adams Davis
(Texas A&M University Press)
Chesapeake Bay in the Civil War
by Eric Mills
(Tide Water Publishers, $29.95)
The Port Hudson Campaign, 1862-1863
by Edward Cunningham
As stressed in earlier columns, our bookshelves are overcrowded with biographies of the great generals. Room needs to be made for the lesser, but in many ways no less fascinating, figures.
More Generals In Gray
by Bruce S. Allardice
General Robert F. Hoke:
Lees Modest Warrior
by Daniel W. Barefoot
(John F. Blair, Publisher, $24.95)
We need to know more about Buford, whom Michael Shaara made famous in his novel The Killer Angels.
General John Buford:
A Military Biography
by Edward Longacre
(Combined Books. $24.95)
Porter is among the five or so great naval figures, but not enough people know enough about him because books about the naval campaigns, compared with the land battles, are far fewer.
Admiral David Porter:
The Civil War Years
by Chester G. Hearn
(Naval Institute Press $35.00)
Just when we have had just about enough of the great generals, a trend is fully under way to publish for the first time or reprint the diaries or memoirs of the lower ranking officers and the enlisted men.
One Surgeons Private War:
Doctor William W. Potter of the 57th New York
by John Michael Prist (aided by his high school students)
(White Mane Publishing Co.,$19.95)
Rebel Sons of Erin :
Rebel Private Front & Rear:
Memoirs of a Confederate Soldier
by William A. Fletcher
The Civil War Letters of the Truehearts
Edited by Edward B. Williams
(Texas A&M University Press,$35.00)
A Mississippi Rebel on the Army of North Virginia:
The Civil War Memories Of Private David Holt
by Thomas D. Cockrell & Michael B. Ballard
(LSU Press, $34.95)
Hard Marching Every Day:
The Civil War Letters of Private Wilbur Fisk 1861-1865
Edited by Emil & Ruth Rosenblatt
(University Press of Kansas, $27.50, $15.95)
At the suggestion of the U. S. Civil War Center, LSU Press has reprinted A Volunteer's Adventures: A Union Captain's Record of the Civil War by John William De Forest ($11.95) DeForest is the author of one of the ten or so finest novels on the war, Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty, set at Port Hudson and on area plantations. That novel and DeForest's memoir of Reconstruction are slated for reprint as well.
Having read all the books listed above, one may be tempted to enlist in the know-it-alls division. Those who surrender to that temptation are doomed to disillusionment when the next installment of "The Endless Civil War Bookshelf" appears, because increasingly, what one knows or doesn't know about the Civil War falls in a plenitude of areas outside the parameters of battlefields, where, as we all know, few people knew anything at the time and about which many have known far too little ever since.
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Civil War FictionBy David Madden, 4/20/99
The Civil War novel flourishes. Not just because Cold Mountain rides high on the Bestseller List. There are other reasons. Here are eight of them.
Most of these writers, all male, are first novelists who, inspired by family stories, have turned to simple and brief narratives. They share those and other features with Charles Frazier, one difference being that it is his Cold Mountain that rose to number 2 on the bestseller list. What has that to do with quality? Only those who read all these Civil War novels are in a position to answer that toughest of all questions.
One of the most impressive reasons for the vigor of Civil War fiction is that small presses are venturing bravely into this relatively unstable field, a healthy sign of the attraction of Civil War fiction for new novelists and all kinds of publishers.
The Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company of America, for instance, took on Howard Bahr's A Black Flower and has been rewarded with good reviews and sales. A native of Oxford, Mississippi, Bahr teaches in Tennessee, and has set his novel, at Franklin, just below Nashville. Told in an omniscient style that is often poetic in effect, his simple story is this: Confederate Bushrod Carter is a veteran of many battles when he arrives at the small town of Franklin, Tennessee, just below Nashville, but it is there that he faces the final test; a young girl who has been through a hell of her own is his final solace.
Like the author of Cold Mountain, Charles F. Price was inspired by family stories to write Hiawassee ($20.00) and both are from North Carolina where their stories are set. Employing an omniscient point of view, Price shifts back and forth, as omniscient authors allow themselves to do, among 6 or so male and female characters. In a mountainous region where Unionists and Confederates carry on their own isolated conflicts, Union Partisan bushwackers terrorize a Confederate couple who are hiding their son, wounded in battle; the reader also shares the experiences of two other sons who are fighting at Chicamauga. At the moment, the appeal of kind of Civil War story has an edge over novels that focus on Generals and major battles. Coming from the somewhat unlikely Academy Chicago Publishers, this novel has sold well.
Blue Heron, a new, small regional press out of Thibodoux, Louisiana has faith in another first novel. Professor H. R. Grafs Memoirs and Murder: A Reconstruction Mystery set in the French Quarter of New Orleans, employs the device of a journal kept by Agnes Lee to tell the story of an attempt by Thomas Overton Moore, a former Louisiana Governor, to prevent the murder of General Robert E. Lee.
For a nice parallel and a neat contrast, another mystery, Eye of the Agency ($22.95), set on the Mississippi River itself, during Reconstruction, comes from a major publisher, St. Martins, and from another first novelist, Richard Moquist, who lives in Fargo, North Dakota. The very original conception of his book of stories, The Franklin Mysteries (Ben Franklin solves nine criminal cases), led to another imaginative leap: a Chicago newspaper woman helps her husband, a Pinkerton detective, solve the murder of a river boat owner.
Sunflower University Press agrees with author Louise McCants Barry that readers still crave the long Civil War novel and A Price Beyond Rubies ($25,95) satisfies. Getting to the end takes 490 pages, a length characteristic of Civil War novels in the public mind, a length from which most of these other novels depart, placing them more in the tradition of A Red Badge of Courage and Shiloh than Gone with the Wind. Another first novelist, Ms. Barry is active in Civil War Organizations; she draws on family stories and takes place in her native Arkansas Ozarks. Her hero is a Unionist in conflict with his Confederate brothers.
One of the most aggressively creative of the small presses us J. S. Sanders & Company, located in Nashville. Madison Jones, who has a hard-earned reputation as a literary novelist, offered Sanders Nashville 1864: The Dying of the Light ($17.95). which is reaching a good many readers. The narrative in this novel, presented as a memoir written many years later, is very short and quite simple: taking a young slave with him, a twelve year old boy searches the battlefield for his father, a Confederate soldier, and finds him. Cold Mountain has a similar narrative simplicity: a wounded soldiers walks home. One of Faulkner's simplest novels, The Unvanquished, is similar to Jones in its early chapters, but is far more complex in implication.
From a big publisher, Simon and Schuster, comes a big novel, Until the End ($25.00), Harold Coyle's eighth novel and the end of his best-selling Civil War saga that began with Look Away. Coyle tells this epic story of two brothers on opposing sides in the omniscient point of view. Coyle gets some of his enthusiasm for storytelling, not so much from family stories as, one may imagine, from his adventures as a re-enactor.
All Civil War novels published this year are eligible to be considered for the first Michael Shaara prize for excellence in Civil War fiction. The prize is administered by the United States Civil War Center and is funded by Michael Shaara's son, Jeff, whose first novel, Gods and Generals, a prequel to his father's The Killer Angels, has had a great, and well-deserved success.
Because it is the most original Civil War novel in decade, it is unfortunate that Raising Holy Hell by Bruce Olds appeared in 1995 from Henry Holt (Quality Paperback Book Club). I tack it on to this roundup of current fiction because in conception and technique, if not finally in execution, it is one of the most experimental novels in American literature, and so it deserves more attention than it has thus far received. It is about John Brown. The key word is "about." Olds takes the reader round and about John Brown, whose last words to his family, in a letter, were: "Be good haters." Whether Olds loves or hates John Brown is unclear and irrelevant to his purposes. I'm not sure whether I even like Old's novel, because his mind seems often shallow, his sensibility crude, his style too flippant or cute, his wit dull. His convictions seem strong, although I'm not sure what they are.
What is clear enough is that his imagination is superb. I don't mean in creating characters (they are historically fixed) and story (we know it) but in the creation of a very complex web of documents, scenes real and made up, and images that conjure up a John Brown found no where else but in this work of fiction. I read some of it in-flight to Harper's Ferry and some of it in the stone hotel there that seemed adrift in clouds. But being there neither enhanced nor detracted from Olds' fragmented perspective on Brown. I had never heard of Olds before and this is apparently a first novel. I expect to hear from him again, loudly and clearly.
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