Saturday, September 5, 2020

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

This month I was able to pick up a few books to add to my "to be read" list. And I got a couple that I've read, but wanted in my library.

Up first is Zachary A. Fry's A Republic in the Ranks: Loyalty and Dissent in the Army of the Potomac. A question that historians have pondered is, what political allegiance did the Army of the Potomac primarily express? Democrat or Republican? Were the rank and file one or the other? Were the field and line officers one or the other? Did allegiance shift during the war? If so, who or what created the shift? Fry takes on these questions and others in what promises to be a fantastic look into the Union's most studied army.

Few conflicts have developed as many myths and stories as the American Civil War. It seems that seeds of myths and tales that get sown establish roots, trunks, and branches that never fully disappear, no matter the amount of primary source evidence presented against them. Surely these Civil War stories; how they started, how they changed, and why the remain, tell us something about ourselves, and about how the Civil War changed us as a nation. Cody Marrs explores this intriguing topic, and more, in Not Even Past: The Stories We Keep Telling about the Civil War.   

My current research project into prisoners of war captured during the Petersburg Campaign requires that I be familiar with current scholarship. At least I think that is a good idea . . . another plus is that it gives me excuses to get more books. 

The Battle of Five Forks produced hundreds of Confederate prisoners. I'm interested to learn about some of their capture experiences and compare them to those of prisoners taken earlier in the campaign. The latest study on this battle is Confederate Waterloo: The Battle of Five Forks, April 1, 1865, and the Controversy that Brought Down a General by Michael J. McCarthy. I've heard good things about this book and I'm looking forward to digging into it.

I do not have a whole lot of history heroes. Studying people of the past usually sheds light on unattractive facts that knock them off the pedestal we place them on. I have come to understand that no matter how much we want to admire historical figures they are human, they have faults, and sometimes they make bad decisions and act in less than desirable ways. At the same time, I find it troublesome that some people in our current society seem to dismiss the good that some people of the past accomplished because of some of their missteps. 

One person who I most admire is John Lewis. Reading about his role in the Nashville lunch counter sit ins, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, and other trailblazing Civil Rights Movement events shows his courage and commitment to better the United States. I've yet to encounter the erring John Lewis. From my past reading he seems to be a true model citizen. Perhaps Jon Meacham's His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope will point out some of Lewis' faults. If it does, it will not matter to me. John Lewis will always be one of my few history heroes.   

Every once in a while I have the great good fortune to read a book before it is released to help the author clarify their argument, catch unintended errors, or suggest additional sources. I enjoy providing what help I can. My friend Stuart Sanders' latest book Murder on the Ohio Belle combines a well-written story about Southern honor with excellent research on the history of a steamboat that served in several roles throughout its lifetime. Stuart was kind enough to provide me with a gratis copy for reading the manuscript. If that is not the definition of a win-win, I don't know what is. By the way, I highly recommend it!

I first read Nature's Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia by Kathryn Shively Meier a couple of years ago. I found the author's arguments thought provoking, and the book an excellent addition to the growing body of work about the environmental impact on conflict's fighting men. By studying the 1862 Peninsula and Shenandoah Valley Campaigns she shows how soldiers came up with practical "self-care" measures when the Union and Confederate armies guidelines proved harmful to their health, and thus their ability to soldier. Nature's Civil War is a book that should be in every enthusiast's library. Now, it is in mine. 

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