A Civil War Book Collection for 2002

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

As
a boy and teenager I came to know a woman who was born in 1866,
one year after the war ended. She was Mary Lyde Hicks Williams,
my great-grandmother. She lived in North Carolina in an antebellum
plantation home that General Alfred Howe Terry of General Sherman's
Army used as his headquarters during Sherman's march through North
Carolina. Her father fought for the Confederacy at Fredericksburg,
Antietam, and Chancellorsville, and led the 20th North
Carolina Regiment in the Battle at Gettysburg. He was captured on
the first day of that latter battle after losing eighty percent
of his men in two-and-a-half hours of fighting, and spent the rest
of the war in prison at Johnson's Island, Ohio.

His
daughter lived in good estate well into her nineties and died when
I was eighteen. She took a fancy to me, even though she would remonstrate
that I was ill-mannered and should be sent to military school. Mary
Lyde Williams was an old-school Southern Presbyterian, who, as a
leader in the Daughters of the Confederacy, gave the Presentation
Address at the Unveiling of the North Carolina Memorial on the Battlefield
of Gettysburg, on July 3, 1929. She had many books on the Civil
War in her library, some of which are now in my collection.

Captivated
as I was with my great-grandmother and her Southern views on the
Civil War, I learned in public school that it was wrong for people
like her to support secession and the Confederacy, and for her father
and his compatriots to fight and die for it. I was led to believe
that a person who says the South did the right thing by seceding
from the Union, while not openly admitting it, must secretly approve
of slavery.

The
first books about the Civil War I began collecting after my formal
education was completed were biographies of Ulysses S. Grant. Grant's
own Personal
Memoirs of U. S. Grant
(2 vols., Charles L. Webster and
Co., 1885–86) is arguably the best of all the Grant books.
David Eicher in his analytical bibliography The
Civil War in Books
(University of Illinois Press, 1997)
says, "Grant's memoirs comprise one of the most valuable writings
by a military commander in history." Not only a remarkable
work by a military commander, Memoirs is a great work of
literature. Although my views on the nature and significance of
the Civil War have changed, I nevertheless continue to collect and
read books about General, and later President, Grant. Two recently
published ones stand out: Al Kaltman's Cigars,
Whiskey & Winning: Leadership Lessons from General Ulysses S.
Grant
(Prentice Hall Press, 1998), which encapsulates many
interesting facets of Grant's character; and Frank Scaturro's President
Grant Reconsidered
(University Press of America, 1998),
a valuable corrective to the view held by mainstream historians
that Grant's presidency was a near-complete failure. (One good thing
that Grant did as president was to resurrect the gold standard,
which brought on a fifty-year period of economic prosperity in America.)

Collectors
group books about the Civil War into these categories: General works,
which include Histories and books on Battlefields, Equipment, Common
Soldiers, Slaves and Black Americans, Politics and Society, Medical
Aspects, Prisons, etc.; Battles and Campaigns; Confederate and Union
Biographies, Participant accounts, and Letters; Unit Histories,
particularly Regimental Histories; and Civil War fiction. A special
set of books in my collection is the Photographic
History of the Civil War
(Francis Trevelyan Miller, Ed.-in-Chief,
The Review of Reviews Co., 1911) that was published on the fiftieth
anniversary of the war's start. David Eicher calls it "The
grandfather of pictorial histories," and writes, "This
mammoth work is a necessary part of any Civil War library."
My set came from my great-grandmother's library, shortly before
most of her collection was lost in a fire. This 3,497-page 10-volume
set has 3,389 photographs taken during the war – of battlefields,
camp scenes, hospitals, prisons, forts and artillery, army movements,
and materiel. Tucked away in one of the volumes was a newspaper
clipping from the September 1, 1949 New York Times. It described
the last official "encampment" of the Grand Army of the
Republic, held in Indianapolis that year. A photograph shows the
six GAR veterans who attended the event – the youngest at age
100, the oldest at 108.

There
are a few core works that every Civil War book collector will have.
Battles
and Leaders of the Civil War
(4 volumes, Century Co., 1887–1888)
is the classic 19th century work containing 388 articles
with 197 maps that were published in the Century magazine
between 1884 and 1887. Another is Allan Nevins' 8-volume history
of the Civil War, in three sections titled Ordeal
of the Union
, 1847–1857; The
Emergence of Lincoln
, 1857–1861; and The
War for the Union
, 1861–1865 (Scribners, 1947–71).
As befits one of the leading court historians who presents the victors'
view of the war, Nevin idolizes Lincoln and argues that the war
was a necessary catalyst for establishing the modern American state.

A
listing of core works must include Bruce Catton's The Centennial
History of the Civil War in 3 volumes titled The
Coming Fury
, Terrible
Swift Sword
, and Never
Call Retreat
(Doubleday, 1961–65); James M. McPherson's
Battle
Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
(Oxford University Press,
1988); and my favorite, Shelby Foote's 3-volume The
Civil War: A Narrative
(Random House, 1958, 1963, 1974).

Two
resources that I have used in putting together my Civil War book
collection are Richard Barksdale Harwell's In Tall Cotton: The
200 Most Important Confederate Books for the Reader, Researcher
and Collector (Jenkins Publishing Co., Austin, 1978) and Michael
Mullins and Rowena Reed's The
Union Bookshelf: A Selected Civil War Bibliography
(Broadfoot's
Bookmark, Wendell, North Carolina, 1982). Part I of The Union
bookshelf contains 114 Annotated Books; Part II, a List of Regimental
Histories; and Part III, a List of Participant Accounts.

Four
books about the Confederacy belong in every Civil War library. One
is Mary
Chesnut's Civil War
(C. Vann Woodward, Ed., Yale University
Press, 1981), certainly the best of all Civil War memoirs. This
well-edited edition won the 1982 Pulitzer Prize in History. Another
is Children
of Pride: A True Story of Georgia and the Civil War
(Robert
Manson Myers, Ed., Yale University Press, 1972). The third is Robert
Selph Henry's The
Story of the Confederacy
(De Capo Press, 1989); and the
fourth, Margaret Mitchell's great American novel, Gone
with the Wind
(Macmillan, 1936). Those who have read Mitchell's
prose will agree that the book is much better than the famous film
based on it. (One bookseller is currently offering this book in
a first edition, first printing, in a first-issue dust wrapper,
signed by Mitchell in near fine condition for $17,500.00.)

To
date more than 60,000 books and pamphlets have been published on
America's Civil War. By serious collectors' standards I have a relatively
small and undistinguished Civil War book collection – three
hundred books in all, with only a few of them first editions in
fine or near fine condition. But my collection has seven books,
all published in the last twelve years, that I consider vitally
important in helping one to understand the true nature and significance
of the war. They are:

The
authors of these books reach startling conclusions that stand the
conventional schoolbook account of the Civil War on its head.

Until
a few years ago, I, like most Americans, had accepted the standard
view of the Civil War. In this version, historians portray Abraham
Lincoln as one of our greatest presidents because he ended slavery
and restored to the Union the slaveholding states that had seceded.
But, as James McPherson puts it, Lincoln also engineered "a
Second American Revolution." This revolution, in contrast the
first revolution of nearly ninety years earlier, established a strong,
centralized form of government, an outcome that has rendered the
founder's emphasis on state sovereignty an anachronism.

The
first thing one learns from reading the books listed above is that
America did not need a war to end slavery. Every other Western
country that held slaves in the nineteeth century – which included
Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico,
Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Jamaica – freed them peacefully.
The South would have done the same before the century was over.
If anything, the fact that seven slaveholding states seceded from
the Union when Lincoln was elected president would have sped up
the process. As several of the historians above point out, many
people in the North considered the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law to be
an abomination, and the law would have been repealed if Lincoln
had allowed the Southern states to go their own way. The Constitution
of the Confederate States of American prohibited the importation
of slaves (Article I, Section 9); with their supply thus restricted,
and slaves now having a place to escape to, slavery in the Confederacy
would have ended as it did elsewhere, without war.

Charles
Adams in When in the Course of Human Events and Thomas DiLorenzo
in The Real Lincoln show in a convincing fashion that the
Civil War was not fought over slavery. It was fought over money
and politics. Abraham Lincoln entered office with a political agenda
that did not include ending slavery. (Emancipation was introduced
as a "war measure," as Lincoln put it, in 1863, in the
third year of the war.) Following in the footsteps of Alexander
Hamilton and Henry Clay, his idol and mentor, Lincoln sought to
create a strong centralized national authority. This would enable
him, as president, to implement his long-held agenda of protective
tariffs, to shield (Northern) American industries from foreign competition;
centralized banking, which would give him control of the money supply;
and "internal improvements," i.e., government subsidies
to politically favored industries, particularly the railroad and
canal-building companies that bankrolled the Republican Party. With
no corporate, property, or income taxes then in force, the government's
principal source of revenue was import tariffs; and the South, with
the greater number of ports, paid 87 percent of the taxes that the
federal government collected to fund its operations and pay government
salaries. Lincoln was willing to let the South keep its slaves and
enforce the Fugitive Slave Law so long as the Southern states remained
in the Union and continued to pay its disproportionate percentage
of taxes.

American
political history since the founding has been divided into two great
camps – the Hamiltonians (beginning with Alexander Hamilton,
Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and on to Lincoln) who favor a highly
centralized state; and the Jeffersonians (beginning with Thomas
Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John C. Calhoun, John Randolph,
and Andrew Jackson) who espouse a limited, decentralized, constitutional
government constrained by state sovereignty. One camp sought to
have a Republic that respects and protects individual liberty and
property; the other, to establish an Empire where the ends justify
the means and the individual is subservient to the state. The American
Civil War was a pivotal event for these opposing views of government.
Abraham Lincoln prevailed and set the stage for the United States
to become an American Empire. We, in 2002, are living with the results
– with a currency managed by the Federal Reserve, today's central
bank, that has lost 95 percent of its value; with a continuing diminution
of individual liberty and freedom under the thumb of a federal government
that regulates every aspect of our lives; and now with suicidal
attacks on our home soil by terrorists who hate America and the
Empire it has become.

I
believe the seven books listed above belong in every serious American
Civil War book collectors' library. Read them, particularly Charles
Adams' When in the Course of Human Events and Thomas DiLorenzo's
The Real Lincoln, and you will begin to view America's Civil
War in a new, more penetrating, and truer light. These scholars
give us a much-needed insight into how what is happening in our
country today, in the twenty-first century, is in large part a consequence
of the outcome of its war that was fought 140 years ago.

September
2, 2002

Donald
Miller (send him mail)
is
a cardiac surgeon in Seattle. He is a director of Prepared
Response, Inc.
and a member of Doctors
for Disaster Preparedness
. His web site is www.donaldmiller.com.
This
article was published in the Summer 2002 issue of The Journal
of the Book Club of Washington (Volume 3, Number 1).

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare
  • LRC Blog

  • LRC Podcasts