Rare Civil War book collection donated to UND’s Chester Fritz Library

The University of North Dakota’s Chester Fritz Library received a cool gift recently. Their website reported it today that Robert Henry, UND alum from the Class of 1960 donated several rare Civil War books to the Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections. I had the opportunity to see them a few weeks back, while up in the department doing research and they were really something. One book was an original work of George B. McClellan from 1864. Needless to say, it was hard not to drool over such unique finds. Thank you Mr. Henry for your gift to UND. We appreciate it.

A new Civil War Roundtable

I would like to take this opportunity to announce that a colleague and I have decided to form a physical Civil War Round Table. I have mentioned in the past my wish to create a virtual one, due to our remote location in North Dakota. Well, fellow doctoral student Stuart Lawrence put together the organizational materials, with me helping plug the group and offer moral support, and we have created the Northern Plains Civil War Roundtable. We are constructing a web-based home (will link that very soon). Anyway, if you live in the Grand Forks area and read this blog, please consider joining us at the E. Grand Forks, MN VFW Club this Tuesday, April 27 at 7:00 PM. Stuart will present the first paper, which will deal with the Zuoves in the Union Army. This blog will give coverage of the first meeting and I will explore how to put presentations on Youtube. I hope you will support us through encouragement and suggestions of ways we can reach those physically unable to join us at our meetings.

Click here to download an info. sheet on the group.

Access to online Civil War database announced by H-CivWar

I received the following announcement via H-CivWar:

Readex is offering instant access this week (upon completion of a very
brief registration form) to The Civil War: Antebellum Period to
Reconstruction.  This searchable database features historical
newspapers, government documents and printed ephemera from the Readex Archive of Americana.


Now, for those of you who do not belong to H-CivWar or any other H-Net discussion network, I would urge you to subscribe to receive emails, as there is some useful and interesting information in the emails, including job opportunities.

This offer is only valid until April 19, 2010, so check it out while you can.

Thoughts on the new Civil War journal adopted by SCWH

As many members of the Society of Civil War Historians (SCWH) know, the Society will be adopting a new journal being created at the University of North Carolina Press, to be called Journal of the Civil War Era. While I welcome a new journal, which will only add to the rich historiography on the war, I am saddened by the loss of an established and reputable publication as an adopted publication of a historical society. I have waited a while to weigh in on this (both because of being busy with studies and wanting to have a greater chance to reflect on this), but want to share a couple of thoughts about this.

First, let me state that I plan to subscribe to both publications. This is so that I can support a new journal, as well as stay abreast of scholarship within the established periodical. A new journal offers wonderful opportunities for young scholars to get that all-important publication line on their vita. However, my one concern is how will the end of the SCWH using Civil War History as their journal effect that journal’s success.

Second, will this issue eventually cause a new historical organization for Civil War scholars to form? I am torn on this, as such possible dissension could hurt organized Civil War scholarship by creating several small groups that lack cohesive power to assert the value of their research to the larger profession. However, the possibility of another group raises thought of a situation akin to The Historical Society, which began as an off-shoot of the American Historical Association, but now has a solid reputation. Whatever eventually happens in the next year, Civil War scholars will let their voices be heard on this. Hopefully, they will continue to support Civil War History and embrace the new journal at the same time. I hope that the two publications do not hurt each other by competing for material.

Overall, I believe this transition will be relatively painless. There will be some upset, but the research and scholarship will continue. I urge readers to join the Society and to subscribe to Civil War History.

Civil War reading recommended by the US Army

The fine folks at the US Army’s Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth have several bibliographies relating to military science and history, including Dr. Robert Berlin’s Historical Bibliography No. 8:Military Classics (1991), which has a section devoted to the Civil War. Here are the books they list on the war:

Beringer, Richard E., et al. Why the South Lost the Civil War. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986.

    This study offers serious students an interpretation of why the South lost the Civil War. The authors, all history professors, believe the Confederacy succumbed to internal rather than external causes.

Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox. New York: Washington Square Press/Simon & Schuster, 1970, c1953.

    Written with vigor, clarity, and warmth, Catton’s work describes the last year of the Civil War, including the Battle of the Wilderness and the siege of Petersburg. This is the third volume in the author’s trilogy about the war. It is preceded by Mr. Lincoln’s Army and Glory Road. Catton’s Civil War volumes are simply magnificent.

_______.The Coming Fury (vol. 1), Terrible Swift Sword (vol, 2), and Never Call Retreat (vol. 3). Centennial History of the Civil War series. New York: Doubleday, 1961-65.

    Catton was America’s leading Civil War writer, and all of his books are worth reading. These volumes provide an exciting account of the Civil War from the Union perspective.

Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1984, c1968.

    For those seeking a thorough examination of the Battle of Gettysburg, this book provides a comprehensive battle analysis and evaluates command during the entire campaign leading to the battle.

Foote, Shelby. The Civil War, a Narrative. 3 vols. New York: Random House, 1958-74.

    A Mississippian, novelist, World War II field artillery captain, and master narrator of men and battles, Shelby Foote captures the flavor of the times and examines the war as a whole, including all the major campaigns. While the three volumes contain nearly 3,000 pages of text, they are beautifully written and easily read.

Freeman, Douglas Southall. Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command. 3 vols. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1942-44; New York: Scribner, 1986.

    Once very popular with U.S. military officers, this readable narrative is a composite biography of Confederate generals and a masterful study of command and war. Freeman takes great care to preserve some Confederate legends.

Fuller, J. F. C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982, cl933.

    Major General Fuller examines the influence of personality on generalship. He broke with the then-conventional view that Grant was a butcher and Lee one of the world’s greatest generals.

Hattaway, Herman, and Archer Jones. How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983.

    Emphasizing strategy and logistics, these two history professors have produced a thorough, comprehensive analysis of the Civil War from the viewpoint of the high-level commanders on both sides. Also included is an excellent appendix on how to study military operations.

Henderson, George Francis Robert. Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War. Abridged by E. B. Long. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1968, c1962.

    Written in 1898 by a famous British officer and military historian, this book is the classic analysis of the great Confederate general and was required reading for generations of British officers.

Luvaas, Jay, and Harold W. Nelson. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Antietam: The Maryland Campaign in 1862. Carlisle, PA: South Mountain Press, 1987.

    The authors, who teach at the U.S. Army War College, provide a valuable tool for conducting a staff ride of Antietam, covering the Battles of South Mountain, Crampton’s Gap, Harpers Ferry, and Antietam. If you have the opportunity to conduct your own staff ride at this well-preserved battlefield located near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., you should first read Landscape Turned Red by Stephen Sears, then examine the Center of Military History pamphlet, The Staff Ride (CMH Pub 70-21) by Dr. William Glenn Robertson of the Combat Studies Institute, and finally, go to the field with this guide. Luvaas and Nelson have also written a similar guide to Gettysburg.

McPherson, James. Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction. New York: Knopf, 1982.

    McPherson, in the best one-volume survey of the war, examines political, military, social, and economic aspects of the Civil War.

Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam. New Haven, CT: Ticknor and Fields, 1983; New York: Warner Books, 1985.

    In this recent, splendid battle analysis, Sears provides gripping reading about a battlefield you will want to visit.

Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels. New York: McKay, 1974; New York: Ballantine Books, 1980.

    This historical novel of the Battle of Gettysburg is accurate, easy to read, and a much-discussed book at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (and for reasons other than it being required reading). Featured in this memorable war novel are Confederate General James Longstreet and the hero of Little Round Top, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

Williams, T. Harry. Lincoln and His Generals. New York: Random House, 1967, c1952.

    Williams, one, of America’s greatest professors of history, presents the controversial thesis that President Lincoln was an outstanding commander in chief whose strategic vision brought victory to the Union. The author also shows how Lincoln developed a modern command system for the United States. Students admire this book for its keen analysis bright narrative.

While this list is certainly a bit dated and several recent landmark works of scholarship are absent because of that, I do think that this list is quite good. I will explore a little further and see if an updated list has surfaced and will post it if found. I will also invite you all to consider their list of Books for the Military Professional, which has several of the works from the above list.

The Naval Civil War Encyclopedia


Military History Series


March 17, 2009


Dear Colleague:


Once more, we are at the beginning stage of a new military history project, The Naval Civil War Encyclopedia.  Attached is an entry list of topics for which we seek authors.  Our goal is to assign these subjects out and have them written and submitted as soon as possible. 


These essays will be used in a variety of products beyond the printed book, including interactive web sites, workbooks, chronologies, handbooks, etc.  They are designed to appeal to a broad audience, including academics, students, and general readers alike. 


ABC-CLIO has more than 50 years of experience in historical reference publishing, and has won many awards for its books and publications.  It has also recently acquired Greenwood Press and Praeger Publishing and now controls over 18,000 titles.  Our Military History Series has earned the Editor’s Choice Award from Booklist for 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 and the Distinguished Achievement Award for 2006 (United States at War database), among many others. 


I hope you will consider taking on as many topics as you can.  The due dates are flexible, but I prefer to have essays completed within 60 days of their assignment.  ALL must be submitted by no later than July 15, 2009.


If you are able to contribute, please send me an e-mail at wwhyte@rcn.com with a list of the entries you would be willing to write along with any specific time constraints you might have in completing them.  I will get back to you ASAP to make formal assignments.


If you have any ideas for entries you believe are important to this project (such as individual ships) please suggest them. Thank you.


Best wishes,


Billy Whyte

Assistant Editor


Civil War Naval Encyclopedia


ABC-CLIO publishers have initiated a project for a Civil War Naval Encyclopedia.  Spencer Tucker is the lead editor on the project.  Paul Pierpaoli and myself are assistant editors.

We should have the final headword list completed this week.  If you know of any scholars or graduate students interested in working on this project please contact me for details.

Federal Baked Ovens – Life on Union Gunboats

Here is a brief excerpt on some research I have been doing on the Union river sailors and they’re experiences aboard the gunboat fleet.

Tight quarters surrounded by iron plating, boilers with an insatiable appetite for coal, poor ventilation, little wind and a lot of sun earned the river ironclads the handle of “federal baked ovens.”[1] Life in the river navy was fundamentally different from life aboard men-of-war performing blockade duty. Sailors, also referred to as bluejackets or jacks, of the regular navy enjoyed fresh air above deck and little danger; although monotonous and uneventful, save the occasional chase of smugglers, the deep water sailor enjoyed a much higher standard of living than his cousin in the brown water navy. The river sailors cruised close to land and became choice targets of confederate guerillas. The southern climate bred mosquitoes and disease, and particularly irksome to river jacks was the fact that blockaders were entitled to prize money from captured vessels while they were not. Naval officers frowned upon river service; even  Flag Officer Foote confided to his wife that he would rather be commanding in the Atlantic.[2] River navigation created another distinction between the two naval sectors.

The rivers of the Mississippi Valley were circuitous, shallow, narrow and constantly changing due to weather and floods. The weight of the gunboats caused them to frequently run aground; the constant scraping along the river’s bottom weakened the boats’ hulls causing leaks. Trees damaged the tall smokestacks or obstructed navigation. While the blockade sailor learned how to mend sails or navigate by the stars, the river tar became adept at: repairing boilers and smoke stacks, fixing leaks, and freeing their vessels from river bottoms.[3] The narrowness of the rivers also meant that crews spent most of their time within site of land.

Not only did gunboat crews come into contact with confederate guerillas but their closeness to land brought them in direct contact with southern civilians and slaves. As the war progressed and the boats descended further south, southern plantations were freed of their cotton as well as their slaves. Many of the contraband, the union term given to former slaves, would serve aboard gunboats. Castoffs from blockade duty, transfers from the army, contraband and even some confederate prisoners-of-war would man the boats in this new navy.[4] Although still short of manpower, enough crews existed to support the federal army advance into confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston’s precarious defensive line in early 1862.

[1] Michael J. Bennett, Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 78. Dennis J. Ringle. Life in Mr. Lincoln’s Navy (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1998), 47. River ironclads consumed 2000 pounds of coal per hour when cruising at 6 knots.

[2] James M. Merrill, “Cairo, Illinois: Strategic Civil War Port,” Journal of Illinois State History 76 (winter 1983): 251-52; Bennett, Union Jacks, 94-95. Gunboat crews became adept at stealing cotton throughout the war. Cotton became prize money for the river sailors.

[3] Bennett, Union Jacks, 83-85. A gunboat sailor described the Cumberland River as, “so crooked that sometimes a steamer a half mile ahead of us would be apparently coming directly in the opposite direction and suddenly turn around a bend and lo’ she proves to be going up the river.”

[4] Bennett, Union Jacks, 80. Merrill, “Cairo, Illinois,” 251;255.

Lincoln bicentennial sale at Indiana University Press

Thanks to Rene at Wig-wags for pointing out this sale by Indiana University Press. Until Feb. 28, the IUP is offering its Civil War and Lincoln titles at up to 75% off the regular price. In addition, the Press offers free shipping on orders over $25 for this sale. I ordered four books and hope many of you will take advantage of this sale.

Lincoln Bicentennial Sale

Lincoln and His Admirals

Civil War literature is copious.  This is both a blessing and a curse for civil war buffs and scholars.  One facet of civil war historiography that is attracting more attention is naval operations.  This is a subject I am very much interested in; my master’s thesis focuses on the river ironclads of the west.


Craig L. Symonds’, Lincoln and His Admirals, is an excellent new book on the Union naval campaigns throughout the war.  As the title implies, Symonds focuses on Lincoln’s relationships with the U.S. naval high command and how they affected the outcome of naval policy and maneuvers.  It is a political history as well demonstrating, as so many Lincoln scholars have argued before, that Lincoln became such a strong commander-in-chief through trial and error during our nation’s greatest crisis.


One of Lincoln’s first dilemmas upon taking office was how to handle the Fort Sumter situation.  Secretary of State Seward argued to have Fort Sumter surrendered to South Carolina, hoping rather naively, that there was still time for reconciliation.  Lincoln, through the urging of soon-to-be Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Vasa Fox, opted to re-supply Fort Sumter with a naval expedition.  Meanwhile, in a series of peculiar actions on the part of Seward, Lincoln allowed his Secretary of State and two junior officers, Captain Meigs of the army and Lieutenant Porter of the navy, to undermine the Sumter expedition.  Seward had the U.S.S. Powhatan diverted from the Sumter operation and sent to Pensacola, Florida to secure Fort Pickens.  All of this was done without Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welle’s knowledge. Ultimately, the relief expedition was too late since Lincoln had warned South Carolina of the supply mission and the Confederacy began bombing the fort on 12-April-1861.  Lincoln, as he so often did throughout his presidency, learned from this episode and took full responsibility.


Lincoln’s trust in both Secretary of the Navy Welles and his assistant Gustavus V. Fox proved invaluable.  The Welles-Fox adept administration of naval affairs throughout the war allowed Lincoln to focus on other matters, mainly the army and its long list of incompetent political officers.  Lincoln and His Admirals is a welcome addition to Civil War navy historiography.


Some other Civil War naval books on my shelf waiting to be read are:


Gustavus Vasa Fox of the Union Navy: A Biography – Ari Hoogenboom


The Timberclads in the Civil War – Myron J.Smith Jr.


Blue and Gray Navies: The Civil War Afloat – Spencer C. Tucker


Island No.10: Struggle for the Mississippi Valley – Larry J. Daniel


Happy New Year to everyone and I concur with Dan lets resolve to do more research and writing on the Civil War!