Monday, November 20, 2017

New----The Best Gun In The World Came From South Carolina

The Best Gun in the World: George Woodward Morse and the South Carolina State Military Works, Robert S. Seigler, University of South Carolina Press; 288 pages; 9 color photographs, 71 black and white photographs, notes, index, bibliography, $49.95.

From the Publisher:

A thoroughly researched account of weapons innovation and industrialization during the Civil War

A year after seceding from the Union, South Carolina faced the daunting challenge of equipping soldiers with weapons, ammunition, and other military implements during the American Civil War, a problem faced by the Confederate States government as well. In The Best Gun in the World, Robert S. Seigler explains how South Carolina created its own armory and then enlisted the help of a weapons technology inventor to meet the demand. Seigler mined state and federal factory records, national and state archives, and U.S. patents for detailed information on weapons production, the salaries and status of free and enslaved employees, and other financial records to reveal an interesting, distinctive story of technological innovation and industrialization in South Carolina.

George Woodward Morse, originally from New Hampshire, was a machinist and firearms innovator who settled in Louisiana in the 1840s. He invented a reliable breechloading firearm in the mid-1850s to replace the muzzleloaders that were ubiquitous throughout the world. Essential to the successful operation of any breechloader was its ammunition, and Morse perfected the first metallic, center-fire, preprimed cartridge, his most notable contribution to the development of modern firearms.

The U.S. War Department tested Morse rifles and cartridges prior to the beginning of the Civil War and contracted with the inventor to produce the weapons at Harpers Ferry Armory. However, when the war began, Morse, a slaveholding plantation owner, determined that he could sell more of his guns in the South. The South Carolina State Military Works, originally designed to cast cannon, produced Morse’s carbine and modified muskets, brass cartridges, cartridge boxes, and other military accoutrements. The armory ultimately produced only about 1,350 Morse firearms. For the next twenty years, Morse sought to regain his legacy as the inventor of the center-fire brass cartridges that are today standard ammunition for military and sporting firearms.

Robert S. Seigler, a South Carolina native, is a recipient of the Order of the Palmetto (the highest civilian honor in South Carolina) and is a fellow in the Explorers Club and the Royal Geographical Society. He is the author of eight books and several journal articles about South Carolina’s Civil War history. Seigler practices medicine in Greenville, South Carolina, where he is the medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit and a professor of pediatrics at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville.  

Publisher's web site for The Best Gun in the World University of South Carolina Press


Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man In the Confederacy

Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy, Earl J. Hess, North Carolina University Press, 361 Pages, 28 illustrations, 2 maps, notes, index, bibliography,  2016. $35 hardcover.

Michigan War Studies Review, November 13, 2017, Robert L. Glaze, reviewer states: 

Braxton BraggThis superb study of Braxton Bragg is very aptly subtitled.  A punch line of many a joke at conferences and Civil War roundtables, Bragg has fared poorly in both the war's historiography and its popular memory.  The conventional image oi the general is of an obtuse, irascible, cold-hearted, and incapable officer who, more than any other Rebel leader, doomed the confederacy. He poisoned relations within the western Confederate high command and stymied the South's war effort on both the strategic and tactical levels.  While some of this rings true, the prolific Civil War historian Earl Hess has now given readers a more proficient, nuanced and, indeed, human Braxton Bragg.

To claim that Bragg was the most capable of all the Army of Tennessee's commanders seems like faint praise, but Hess marshals considerable evidence that the general was an excellent administrator, devoted and brave Southern patriot, and skilled tactician.  Granted, he lost more battles than he won, but Hess reminds us that he was commander of the army when it reached its organization and tactical apes.  Bragg managed to reinvigorate that army after its bloody defeat at Shiloh and led it to 'its most impressive tactical victories'. . on October 8 at Perryville, December 31 at Stones River and September 20 at Chickamauga. (276)  Hess backs up his assertions with compelling statistics, noting that Bragg was responsible for 75 percent of the army's tactical successes and only 28.5 percent of its failures.  Such numbers lead him to the bold, sure-to-be-controversial, yet reasoned claim that 'the Army of Tennessee was Bragg's Army." (276)

While the general was far from a flawless field commander, Hess argues that his wartime failures were more personal than military. It was, he posits, Bragg's stubborn recalcitrance and poor relations with his subordinates and the Southern press, that more than anything else, damaged his reputation.  Like many of the South's generals, he proved to be a poor politician. He rarely courted Southern newspaper editors and proved  remarkably clumsy when he tried to.   . . . .

 Full Text is continues at Michigan War Studies Review, November 13, 2017.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Forthcoming in early 2018: The Civil War Dead--What Their Photographs Did To Americans and Their Culture

  The Civil War Dead and American Modernity, Ian Finseth, Oxford University Press, 352 pages, February 2018, $65.00 hardcover

From The Publisher:   The Civil War Dead and American Modernity offers a fundamental rethinking of the cultural importance of the American Civil War dead. Tracing their representational afterlife across a massive array of historical, visual, and literary documents from 1861 to 1914, Ian Finseth maintains that the war dead played a central, complex, and paradoxical role in how Americans experienced and understood the modernization of the United States. From eyewitness accounts of battle to photographs and paintings, and from full-dress histories of the war to fictional narratives, Finseth shows that the dead circulated through American cultural life in ways that we have not fully appreciated, and that require an expanded range of interpretive strategies to understand.

While individuals grieved and relinquished their own loved ones, the collective Civil War dead, Finseth argues, came to form a kind of symbolic currency that informed Americans' melancholic relationship to their own past. Amid the turbulence of the postbellum era, as the United States embarked decisively upon its technological, geopolitical, and intellectual modernity, the dead provided an illusion of coherence, intelligibility, and continuity in the national self. At the same time, they seemed to represent a traumatic break in history and the loss of a simpler world, and their meanings could never be completely contained by the political discourse that surrounded them.

Reconstructing the formal, rhetorical, and ideological strategies by which postwar American society reimagined, and continues to reimagine, the Civil War dead, Finseth also shows that a strain of critical thought was alert to this dynamic from the very years of the war itself. The Civil War Dead and American Modernity is at once a study of the politics of mortality, the disintegration of American Victorianism, and the role of visual and literary art in both forming and undermining social consensus.
Table of Contents

Section I. The "Ghastly Spectacle": Witnessing Civil War Death Chapter 1: The problem of experience
Chapter 2: Sense, affect, representation
Chapter 3: Faces, names, types, families
Chapter 4: Melancholy reflections

Section II. Body Images: The Civil War Dead in Visual CultureChapter 1: Photography and the question of empathy
Chapter 2: The illustrated dead
Chapter 3: Lithography, history, allegory
Chapter 4: Painting and the enigma of visibility

Section III. Blood and Ink: Historicizing the Civil War Dead Chapter 1: Objectivity, partisanship, nationalism
Chapter 2: The early years: Northern determinism
Chapter 3: The early years: Southern alienation
Chapter 4: Later years: The convergence
Chapter 5: African American counterhistory

Section IV. Plotting Mortality: The Civil War Dead and the Narrative ImaginationChapter 1: Modernity, disenchantment, and the agons of realism
Chapter 2: "Grieve not so": Loss and the new woman
Chapter 3: Narratives ajar: Elizabeth Stuart Phelps and the refusal of closure
Chapter 4: Farewell, sacrificial hero
Chapter 5: The returning dead

About The Author: Ian Finseth is Associate Professor of American Literature at the University of North Texas. His scholarly work focuses on the literary history of transatlantic slavery, abolitionism, and the American Civil War. Dr. Finseth was born in Boston, grew up in California, and earned degrees from UC Berkeley (B.A.), the University of Virginia (M.A.), and UNC-Chapel Hill (Ph.D.)

Friday, November 03, 2017

News--U.S. Grant To Get The Hollywood Treatment

Lionsgate, Appian Way To Make Ulysses S. Grant Film; Option Ron Chernow Bio, Mike Fleming, Deadline Hollywood, online, November 1, 2017.


Lionstate and Appian Way have acquired movie rights to Grant, the new bestselling Ron Chernow  biography of Ulysses S. Grant.    David James Kelly has been set to adapt. Chernow is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Washington: A Life, [and] whose Alexander Hamilton was the inspiration for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony winning musical Hamilton. [Film] will be produced by Appian Way’s Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Davisson, with Chernow the exec producer.

 Full Text Link: Deadline Hollywood

Friday, October 27, 2017

Forthcoming---A Vast Sea of Misery: The Classic To Be Reissued

A Vast Sea of Misery: A History and Guide To the Union and Confederate Hospitals at Gettysburg, June 1-November 20, 1863, Gregory Coco,  Savas Beatie Publishing, Paperback, 224pages, profusely illustrated, maps, appendices, index, bibliographic endnotes,   $19.95 On Sale: January 15, 2018

Nearly 26,000 men were wounded in the three-day battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863). It didn't matter if the soldier wore blue or gray or was an officer or enlisted man, for bullets, shell fragments, bayonets, and swords made no class or sectional distinction. Almost 21,000 of the wounded were left behind by the two armies in and around the small town of 2,400 civilians. 

Most ended up being treated in makeshift medical facilities overwhelmed by the flood of injured. Many of these and their valiant efforts are covered in Greg Coco's A Vast Sea of Misery: A History and Guide to the Union and Confederate Field Hospitals at Gettysburg, July 1-November 20, 1863.

The battle to save the wounded was nearly as terrible as the battle that placed them in such a perilous position. Once the fighting ended, the maimed and suffering warriors could be found in churches, public buildings, private homes, farmhouses, barns, and outbuildings. 

Thousands more, unreachable or unable to be moved remained in the open, subject to the uncertain whims of the July elements. As one surgeon unhappily recalled, "No written nor expressed language could ever picture the field of Gettysburg! Blood! blood! And tattered flesh! Shattered bones and mangled forms almost without the semblance of human beings!"

Based upon years of firsthand research, Coco's A Vast Sea of Misery introduces readers to 160 of those frightful places called field hospitals. It is a sad journey you will never forget, and you won't feel quite the same about Gettysburg once you finish reading.

CWL: The first published in 1988 by Thomas Publications [Gettysburg, Pennsylvania], A Vast Sea of Misery is 30 years old.  Coco's work on this and related fields began something new. Firm in in his  scholarship and relying upon soldiers' recollections and letters,  Coco then integrated farmers' damage claims to both the Federal and Pennsylvania governments into the Battle of Gettysburg narrative.   A Vast Sea of Misery also opened up the study of the borough and its civilians, religion and the volunteerism which occurred after the battle. CWL has two copies, one hardback and paperback; the former near mint the latter thoroughly marked with notes. Savas Beatie is congratulated for keeping  A Vast Sea of Misery in print.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

News--Soldiers' Vulgar Vocabulary


I Want To Kick Ass, Ben Zimmer, October 6, 2017, Strong Language weblog, Wordpress.Com

A new online archive of Civil War correspondence promises to shed light on historical varieties of nonstandard American English. Two linguists, Michael Ellis (Missouri State University) and Michael Montgomery (University of South Carolina), have teamed up with historian Stephen Berry (University of Georgia) to create Private Voices  an archive of letters from Civil War soldiers. Based on correspondence collected by Ellis and Montgomery as part of the Corpus of American Civil War Letters the Private Voices archive focuses on the writing of soldiers who were “untrained in spelling, punctuation, or the use of capital letters,” according to the press release announcing the launch of the site.

Soon after news of the archive  was shared on the American Dialect Society mailing list, Jonathan Lighter (author of the Historical Dictionary of American Slang) began looking for hidden treasures. He swiftly turned up a letter from 1862  in which the author, an infantryman from Virginia, appears to express a violent sentiment: “I want to kick ass.”

The writer was John B. Gregory of Pittsylvania County, Virginia, serving in Company B of the 38th Virginia Infantry. His letter is dated Feb. 17, 1862, from a camp near Manassas Junction. In the letter, Gregory writes to the folks back home, “old capen gilburt is doun her doing All he Can to get us to volenter Agan he Think evry one orter stay” (i.e., “Old Captain Gilbert is down here doing all he can to get us to volunteer again; he thinks everyone ought to stay”). And then, in between the lines right above “one orter stay,” Gregory adds, “I want to kick ass.”

At least that’s what it looks like. But was Gregory suggesting he wanted to kick Old Captain Gilbert’s ass — or did he want to “kick ass” in general? Jonathan Lighter notes on the weblog ADS-L  “Something sounds a little off about ‘kick ass,’ but I don’t know how to interpret it except in the current sense.” The “current sense” is defined by Lighter’s Historical Dictionary of American Slang as follows:

kick ass [or (euphem.) butt or tail] 1 Esp. Mil. to enforce one’s authority or otherwise assert oneself mercilessly or pugnaciously; (also) (prob. the orig. sense) to subdue others by beatings…
2. to inflict punishment or defeat (in general). — usu. considered vulgar.

The earliest citation given in Historical Dictionary is from exactly one hundred years after the 1862 letter:

1962 Killens Heard the Thunder 44 [ref. to WWII]: Them Japs are kicking asses and taking names [in the Pacific].
Jonathon Green takes the expression back a bit further, to 1956, in his more recent work, Green's Dictionary of Slang:

1956 N. Algren Walk on the Wild Side 78: I’m so tired of kickin’ asses I just think I’ll start crushing skulls.

Could the Civil War letter really represent an antedating of nearly a century? It’s true that obscene language can persist for decades in oral use before appearing in print, but it’s hard to believe kick ass could have stayed under the radar for that long. Still, the transcription here looks accurate.

Regardless of how we interpret the letter, this is just one tantalizing example of many that should turn up in the Private Voices archive as the site grows. It launched with 4,000 letters from four Southern states (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama), and according to the press release, 6,000 more transcribed letters from New England, the Northeast, and the Midwest are expected in the coming year, “along with a dynamic mapping feature so users can explore regional variations in word usage and speech patterns.”

CWL: This is the full text of the Strong Language weblog with some slight edits

Monday, September 11, 2017

New and Noteworthy: California and the American Civil War



California and the Civil War, Richard Hurley, History Press, 176 pages,  profusely illustrated, end notes, bibliography. July 2017. $19.95.

California and the Civil War is a clear and concise exposition on the Golden State’s history from The Bear Flag Republic through 1865. Hurley presents the geography of the state as a way of discussing the political leanings of Southern immigrants and Northern immigrants. California played a crucial part in political challenges during the 1850s. Statehood with or without slavery was a microcosm of national politics. Civil unrest in the state may be compared to civil war in the Kansas territory. Confederate military strategy included California and the author sees the state as suffering through the turmoil in the Southwest.
Hurley offers a discussion of civic life during the war that includes both Confederate partisans and Federal military adventures. He also notes the presence of the Sanitary Commission, its fairs and the Californians fighting east of the Mississippi River and even Mark Twain enters into the picture. The author gives a thorough accounting of his sources with end notes and a bibliography.

From The Publisher:  In the long and bitter prelude to war, southern transplants dominated California government, keeping the state aligned with Dixie. However, a murderous duel in 1859 killed "Free Soil" U.S. Senator David C. Broderick, and public opinion began to change. As war broke out back east, a golden-tongued preacher named Reverend Thomas Starr King crisscrossed the state endeavoring to save the Golden State for the Union. Seventeen thousand California volunteers thwarted secessionist schemes and waged brutal campaigns against native tribesmen resisting white encroachment as far away as Idaho and New Mexico. And a determined battalion of California cavalry journeyed to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley to battle John Singleton Mosby, the South's deadliest partisan ranger. Author Richard Hurley delves into homefront activities during the nation's bloodiest war and chronicles the adventures of the brave men who fought far from home.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

New and Noteworthy---Jefferson Davis, Confederate Nationalism and the Possibility of Arming Slaves

Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign: Confederate Nationalism and the Fight to Arm Slaves, Philip D. Dillard, Mercer University Press, 286 pages, eight photos, 8 maps, footnotes, bibliography, index, 2017, $35.


 Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign: Confederate Nationalism and the Fight to Arm Slaves focuses upon the Southern public's debate over the enlistment of free blacks and slaves into the military forces of the Confederacy. Virginia, Georgia and Texas newspapers are closely examined as well as Davis' statements and correspondence. Also the author relies on Davis' annual address of 1864 and his letters to to Confederate States officials.

The chief conclusion the author reaches is that the closer the Federal armies came to Southern communities the more prevalent and vocal came the call from those communities to consider the enlistment of African Americans. The proposition to arm the slaves came from those most threatened by Federal armies.

 Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign begins with  a survey of current work done on the topic of the enlistment of slaves. Dillard's research takes into consideration the various social classes in the Confederacy.  His narrative suggests the consideration of the question: what would an independent Confederate nation look like if it contained former slaves  who were veterans or if it contained slaves who were once armed but not emancipated.

Dillard discusses three phases which the debate of arming the slaves passed through: during the second half of 1863 (post Gettysburg and Vicksburg); the summer and autumn of 1864 with Sherman approaching Atlanta, Grant approaching Richmond and Thomas waiting at Nashville for Hood to arrive; Davis' annual address at the end of 1864 and the February 1865 Hampton Roads conference.

The author derives most of the support for his  arguments from newspaper editorials and letters to the editor from soldiers and civilians. Contrary to popular understandings of Davis effectiveness, Dillard finds that Davis successfully marshaled support for his views, though the support he received may have been too little and too late.  Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign: Confederate Nationalism and the Fight to Arm Slaves is a thought provoking study of the Confederate nation at the brink of its extinction and what possible life-saving remedies were acceptable to its leaders and citizens.