Monday, May 25, 2009

CWL---Open On The Desk, In The Car and On The Nightstand: Three Books To Start The Summer

Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J. E. B. Stuart, Jeffry D. Wert, Simon and Schuster, 496 pages, illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index, $32.00.

Jeff Werts' books take up about half of a shelf of my 12 seven shelf book cases; his book on Stuart is his newest and like his others uses the familar to open up the nuances of personalities and events. His one volume history of the Army of the Potomac presents a topic that is often encountered battle by battle but rarely from beginning to end. Reading Wert's Sword of Lincoln and Glatthaar's General Lee's Army one would probably be encountering the two best books in their field.

CWL is up to page 160 and the Second Manassas/Antietam Campaign is finished. Stuart shines while in Virginia but loses control while in Maryland. The expeditions against Catlett, Bristoe and Manassas stations are remarkable preludes to the Battle of Second Manassas. But on September 8 Stuart hosts the Sabers and Roses ball in Urbana Maryland, while the Federal cavalry occupies Poolesvile a few miles to the south and cuts Rebels off from a Potomac River ford. Wert states that "Lee's lack of undertanding of the progress of McClellan's army resulted from an apparent lack of vigilance on the part of Stuart." (p. 144) On September 11, Stuart is again dancing, Heros Von Borcke reports, with spirited Irish girls at a farmhouse west of Frederick as the Federal army is readies itself to occupy Frederick the next day. Stuart rides to Harpers Ferry with a small escort to be present at its surrender while Confederate forces are forced out of the South Mountain gaps and his cavalry is idle. Lee orders a cavalry assault on the Federal right during the afternoon of the battle of Antietam but Stuart tips his hand in the attempt by having the horse artillery put the Federal First Corps on notice that the game is still being played.

CWL recommends each of Wert's books: General James Longstreet: The Confederacy's Most Controversial Soldier , Mosby's Rangers, The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac , Gettysburg, Day Three, A Brotherhood Of Valor: The Common Soldiers Of The Stonewall Brigade C S A And The Iron Brigade U S A and From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864.

Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer, Fred Kaplan, Harper Collins, 406pp, $27.95. While reading Cavalryman of the Lost Cause at Starbucks and on the patio, CWL has Lincoln: Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan on audio compact disk in the car; the commute to work is 45 minutes, 90 minutes round trip. In the deluge of new Lincoln biographies, CWL recommends Ron White's A. Lincoln: A Biography and Kaplan's. The more one wrestles with Lincoln intellect the more one wrestles with the question: What did Lincoln Read? Kaplan examines in his first chapter entitled 'All The Books He Could Lay His Hands On---1809-1825' Lincoln's childhood opportunities and the main ideas found in what the young impoverished reader encountered. CWL finds that Lincoln by the age of 15 is familar with the best literature in West Civilization: the Bible, Shakespeare, Aesops' Fables and the Arabian Nights. Also, Lincoln is familar and adept at the oratory of stump politics and chapel pulpits.

On the nightstand is Jacob's Run: A Novel of 1860 Wilmington (Whittler's Bench Press, $24.95). What initially attracted CWL was to this novel is that one of the authors is the founder of the Center for Civil War Photography. The other attraction is that the setting is in a Southern antebellum city, a topic in which CWL reads at least one book a year. Bob Zellers The Blue and Gray in Black and White: A History of Civil War Photography, and The Civil War In Depth, Volumes 1 and 2. Zellers and co-author John Beshears balance historic details with characters that are larger than the mundane life of a North Carlina port city. A devil-may-care newspaper reporter, a nasty plantation family, a Yankee insurance investigator, a bright, articulate slave who hides behind a thick accent and a bum leg, a second villian who is a black lowlife and owns slaves are wrapped together in the historically accurate aspect of Southern slaveholders insuring the lives of their slaves. CWL asks readers of Jacob's Run to happily suspend their disbelief and be intertained.

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