Monday, January 30, 2012

New eBook Series from UNC Press

The University of North Carolina Press -- one of the premier publishers of Civil War titles -- has launched a new digital inititive involving electronic excerpts of various titles. It will be interesting to learn how this new program works out for them. It's not a new idea, exactly, but seems pretty bold and far-thinking for the staid and conservative world of university presses.

UNC's Marketing Director, Dino Battista, asserted in a press release that the press is "confident that after reading one of these Civil War Shorts, the reader will want more, and be drawn to the fuller treatment in the original work." That's quite possible, though I wonder if this model will apply to history texts in the same way that students might wish to purchase only the assigned parts of an expensive textbook. A lot of Civil War book buyers, it seems to me, are commonly adding to their personal library, not conducting research or studying for a final. That reader -- it seems to me -- may be unlikely to spend $7.99 to read 177 pages of Michael Ballards excellent book on Vicksburg, for example, when he or she can get all 512 pages for $25.00.

On the other hand, important and riveting excerpts from massive volumes may be just what the doctor ordered for people who wish to get right to the heart of the matter, or who are content to focus on one free-standing section of the larger story (e.g., the wounding and death of Stonewall Jackson). I love my Kindle, and my iPad, and have purchased a number of electronic versions of books for which I already have a copy on the shelf -- strictly for the convenience of not carrying around heavy books. I could envision loading up the Kindle with "E-book Shorts" in preparation for traveling and battlefield visits. There is a lot of value in portabillity. Costs for these initial "shorts" run from $2.99 through $9.99.

In addition to offering the Shorts, UNC is also packaging multiple eBooks together in what it's calling Omnibus E-books. Offering up all three Harry Pfanz Gettysburg books in a single e-book is a stroke of genius.

From the UNC Press announcement:
"At UNC Press, we pride ourselves on publishing campaign studies that take into account the larger contexts in which Civil War battles were fought. But as we developed our program of E-book Shorts, we were pleased to discover within those longer works tightly written  narratives of the battles themselves that work very well as standalone books," said UNC Press Civil War editor David Perry, who worked with the authors on the original publication of the full books.
"Today's advances in digital content delivery give us great flexibility in how we deliver our content to readers. The E-book Shorts format, delivering readable and engaging accounts of the key battles and other critical moments in the Civil War, is the perfect way to reach new readers for our books," said Dino Battista, the Press's Senior Director of Marketing.
UNC Press Civil War Shorts and Omnibus E-Books are available from for the Kindle ebook reader, at for the Nook reader, and at Sony's
For more information, visit UNC Press at


The Mortal Wounding of Stonewall Jackson: A UNC Press Civil War Short, Excerpted from Chancellorsville: The Battle and Its Aftermath, edited by Gary W. Gallagher
by Robert K. Krick
ISBN: 978-0-8078-37108; 38 pp., 6 illus., 2 maps, $2.99

On Pickett's Charge: A UNC Press Civil War Short, Excerpted from Pickett's Charge in History and Memory
by Carol Reardon
ISBN: 978-0-8078-3620-0;74 pp., $6.99

The Battle of Fredericksburg: A UNC Press Civil War Short, Excerpted from Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!
by George C. Rable
ISBN: 978-0-8078-3622-4; 332 pp., 5 illus., 6 maps, $9.99

The Battle of Vicksburg: A UNC Press Civil War Short, Excerpted from Vicksburg: The Campaign that Opened the Mississippi
by Michael B. Ballard
ISBN: 978-0-8078-3621-7; 177 pp., 10 illus., 2 maps, $9.99


The Harry Pfanz Gettysburg Trilogy
Includes Gettysburg: The First Day; Gettysburg: The Second Day; and Gettysburg:  Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill
by Harry W. Pfanz
ISBN: 978-0-8078-7281-9; 1648 pp., $75.00

The Earl J. Hess Fortifications Trilogy
Includes Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War; Trench Warfare Under Grant and Lee; and In the Trenches at Petersburg
by Earl J. Hess
ISBN: 978-0-8078-7282-6; 1216 pp., $60.00

The Shenandoah Valley Campaigns
Includes The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 and The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864
Edited by Gary W. Gallagher
ISBN: 978-0-8078-7283-3; 696 pp., $40.00

Thursday, January 26, 2012

“I must post myself in Canuck airs,” said John Wilkes Booth

     John Wilkes Booth Lived Here. . .
       How Montreal fell for the Confederacy

       by Matt Herzfeld
       The McGill Daily
       full article is here

Booth’s desire – to seek political refuge in Canada – has been shared by generations of Americans, from British Loyalists after the American Revolution to Iraq War resisters. And as the newest parade of laughable candidates for President takes to the nation’s podiums, town halls, and state fairs, America will ring once again with the rallying cry of, “If so and so is elected, I’m moving to Canada.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Huntington Library acquires trove of Lincoln, Civil War telegrams, codes

( Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times )
Olga Tsapina, a history curator who will be cataloging the logs, points to Abraham Lincoln's code name, "Ida," in a log listing code names for members of government
A long-unknown, 150-year-old trove of handwritten ledgers and calfskin-covered code books that give a potentially revelatory glimpse into both the dawn of electronic battlefield communications and the day-to-day exchanges between Abraham Lincoln and his generals as they fought the Civil War now belongs to the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. . . .

The Eckert collection's code books show that Lincoln had an assortment of aliases: Ida, India, Irving, Ingress, Ingrate and Ingot. His war secretary, Edwin Stanton, was Indigo or Infant. If a message said "shaker" or "sable," it was talking about an attack. The code words for "infantry" were "rapture" and "ramble."

The terminology seems "completely arbitrary," Tsapina said — which may have been why the Confederates were never able to crack the code.

In her initial sifting through the material during the month before the Huntington decided to buy it, Tsapina said, she found some very human moments along with messages that appear to convey historically important facts.

In February 1862, two months before sharing command with Grant at the Battle of Shiloh, an important and extremely bloody Union victory in Tennessee, Gen. Don Carlos Buell sent a telegram from his headquarters in Louisville, Ky., to unknown recipients code-named Andes and Ocean, complaining of "constant intrigue to displace army officers" under his command, "which I beg you to defeat … until I tell you there is just cause. I learn that Col. Hazin is one of the purposed victims. His removal would be gross injustice and a serious loss."

After the concluding signature, "Alvard" — Buell's code name — appear three additional words: "Good for Alvard," a nod of approval by a telegraph operator putting in his own two cents. Tsapina said she also has found instances in which telegraph operators tacked on insider investment tips to one another, based on how the battlefield news they were transmitting might affect the market price of cotton or gold.

Tsapina said there are "masses of telegrams" concerning supplies and railroad operations, which could help scholars studying Civil War logistics.
The full Los Angeles Times article is here.

iTunesU and the National Portrait Gallery

It's been over four years since I wrote this blog entry on iTunesU, and the free lectures available there from a growing number of institutions, from Stanford to Yale. Professor David Blight's 27 lectures on "The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1845-1877" remains one of the exceptional educational offerings on the site. 

Naturally, in the intervening years, there has been a veritable digital explosion of online material presented at no cost. This may explain why pioneers like The Teaching Company are offering some of their packages at greatly reduced discounts [incidentally, I was given the set of Gary Gallagher lectures as a gift, and you can't go wrong with that product]. 

More recently, I happened upon this nifty collection of 15 video and audio pieces from the National Portrait Gallery, ranging in length from a 4-minute snippet to an 85-minute lecture by James McPherson. It's really nicely done, all in the spirit of commemorating the 150th anniversary.

Two thumbs up. You can access all of this material, and much, much more through the iTunesU page of the iTunes store, or through this handy smartphone app

Monday, January 23, 2012

Castle Pinkney back in (Sons of) Confederate Hands

Castle Pinkney, on Charleston Harbor, was the first U.S. fort to fall into Confederate hands, and after passing through federal and then state ownership, now belongs to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Thanks to fellow blogger Craig Swain for correcting my previous post. Turns out the old fort changed hands again last summer for the price of $10 (which Craig reported on his blog back on June 29).

There's also an article and a video on the sale here.
The State Ports Authority has long wanted to be rid of the Castle Pinckney; selling the crumbling site to theSons of Confederate Veterans for a bargain price of $10. The SPA has owned the site, off and on, since 1958. Twice, they gave the Castle to historic societies, only to have it given back. However, both parties are optimistic about this transfer."We've been looking for a proper home for Castle Pinckney for many years," says SPA spokesmanByron Miller.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

(the erstwhile) Castle Pinckney National Monument

 from National Geographic Daily News:
Pictures: America's "Lost" National Parks
(view the entire slide show here)

Castle Pinckney National Monument
Photograph from Corbis

This Confederate island fortress in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, was used to house Union POWs, like these men from the Civil War's First Battle of Bull Run. During the war, Castle Pinckney was bombarded twice before falling to the Union with the rest of Charleston in 1865.

After the war, Castle Pinckney fell into general disuse and then into the hands of the National Park Service in 1933. After more than two sleepy decades, the Castle Pinckney National Monument was abolished in 1956—and still little has changed  since.

Several aborted development schemes later, Castle Pinckney, now owned by the South Carolina State Ports Authority, sits today in a state of gradual decomposition.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hunley Unveiled

The full article can be read here
Visit the MSNBC Photo Blog on the Hunley here

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Why did so many Civil War battles take place inside of national parks?

Nice try citizen, but the moon only looks small. 
Michael Lynch, in his Past in the Present blog, has a post reflecting on the confusion of American tourists who somehow conflate the Revolution with the Civil War. This prompted Michael to relate a personal anecdote about an encounter he had with a gentleman while Michael was manning the counter in a small museum in Harrogate, Tennessee. You can read that amusing, and depressing, story here.

In the discussion that followed, a reader of Michael's blog invoked one of the most famous of all Civil War tourist stories -- the one in which a visitor to a battlefield allegedly asks the park ranger, something to the effect of, "why did so many of these Civil War battles take place in national parks?"

It's a good question, and the way I first heard the story -- from Jerry Russell, I think -- was that the ranger, without skipping a beat, replied, "because that's where all the cannon were."

Reading this reminded me of a conversation I had with Bobby Krick, historian at Richmond National Battlefields, during the Civil War Forum's visit to Richmond last spring. I knew he had spent many years on battlefields, and that he was the son of a career NPS historian, so figured he must have some good tales to tell. I asked him about the famous story -- the one about why battles were fought on park service grounds -- and whether those kinds of things really happened, or were merely apocryphal. It's easy to imagine that a story like that is made up to accentuate the humor, while still being emblematic of the fact that we are a nation of idiots.

Bobby said that indeed, people do ask questions like that, and he had a pretty good story from his first NPS assignment, one summer years ago at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Anyone who has visited, or seen pictures of that battlefield knows that the landscape is open, with little in the way of trees beyond the edges of meager watercourses. Bobby tells of a tourist on Last Stand Hill who, feverishly working through in his or her head how exposed the troopers were to the storm of Indian bullets and arrows, asked, "why didn't the soldiers take cover behind all these grave markers?"

And that, my friends, was Custer's last and probably most egregious mistake.