A Civil War Book Collection for 2002

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

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