Civil War books and authors

I have spent a lifetime building a library. I have more than 1500 Civil War books. I have probably another close to 1000 books of other categories, most of which are history books. Many of them are first editions, quite a number of them are signed, there are a fair number of antique books, and a number of unique ones. My library is my prized possession, and is something that I am quite proud of. Some photos of the Civil War portion of my library can be found here. I have added some new books since those were taken last August. The collection grows constantly; I purchased three more over the weekend.

I also have no children, so there is no prodigal son to inherit it. I have no brothers and sisters. None of my nieces or nephews share my interest in military history. In short, there is nobody within the family for me to bequeath my library to when the time comes for me to shuffle off this mortal coil.

That raises an important question. And it’s one that I have discussed with some others who are in the same position, including J. D. Petruzzi, who faces the same issues that I face. We all end up in the same place: we don’t know what to do with our libraries.

I can tell you what I DON’T want to happen to my library: I don’t want to donate it to a larger library where it will be broken up and only some of the volumes would be put on the shelves while others are disposed of. That is the very last thing that I want to happen to the library that I have so lovingly constructed over the course of my lifetime. Whatever happens to it, I want it kept together. I don’t want it pieced and parceled out. That’s completely unacceptable to me and is not an option under any circumstances.

I thought I had come up with the perfect solution. My alma mater, Dickinson College, is the beneficiary of the largesse of the Pohanka family, which endowed the Brian C. Pohanka Chair of Civil War History in Brian’s honor. Knowing that, and in keeping with Brian’s legacy, I thought it would be a perfect solution for me to bequeath my library to the history department at my alma mater, to be used in conjunction with the Civil War classes being taught there. It would be the perfect solution: I could honor Brian, my beloved Dickinson College could directly benefit, and my collection would be kept together as a cohesive unit. I even discussed this possibility with Bud Hall, who faces the same dilemma, and who was interested in paying tribute to Brian also. Perfect solution, right? Wrong. The College has no physical space in the building where the history department is located to house my library, meaning that it could not promise me that it would not end up being parceled and pieced out into the main college library, which, as pointed out above, is not an acceptable solution.

The other idea that I entertained for years was to leave it to the Brandy Station Foundation, but that was before the BSF stopped being a battlefield preservation organization and became the Joe McKinney appeasement society. And, after what the BSF did to Bud Hall, I would rather burn my books than see them end up there. There is less than a zero percent chance now that I would ever donate anything to that organization.

Finally, I could, of course, consign the whole thing to a book vendor and sell it. However, I doubt very much that I would recoup anything close to what I have invested in building it over the course of a lifetime, and it also means that it would be broken up and sold, like so many others. I have a book in my collection that was owned by Prof. Edwin B. Coddington, who wrote the “bible” on the Gettysburg Campaign. Obviously, his library was broken up and sold off piecemeal, and I don’t want to see that happen to mine.

This brings me back full circle: I have no idea what to do with this library of mine when the time comes. And so, I throw it open to you for suggestions. You know what my parameters are from the discussion above. No, I’m not going to donate it to one of you as an individual, so please don’t even suggest it. That will annoy me, and I don’t want to be annoyed. At the same time, I welcome legitimate, good faith suggestions, and promise to seriously consider all of them.

What are the rest of you with large collections of Civil War books planning to do with your libraries when that inevitable time comes?

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30 Mar 2012, by

PCN air date

As I mentioned earlier this week, I went to Pittsburgh on Monday to tape an interview that will air on Pennsylvania Cable Network’s regular book talk program. Today, I learned the air date: Sunday, April 29, 2012, at 9:00 pm. It will also be available by live streaming video on the PCN website at that time. Finally, I am advised that it will also be available as a podcast on the website for one week beginning on the Monday after the initial airing in case anyone wants to download it.

For those of you in Pennsylvania, there is a list of cable stations carrying PCN that can be found here.

I hope some of you will catch it!

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Today, I traveled to Pittsburgh and filmed an interview that will air on Pennsylvania Cable Network soon. PCN has an excellent ongoing series called PA Books, which features books about or impacting Pennsylvania. The Battle of Gettysburg has rightfully gotten a great deal of attention from this series, and I was asked to come and discuss the new edition of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions. We started out discussing the book, but ended up having a wide-ranging discussion of all things Civil War cavalry.

I don’t yet know when my episode will air, but as soon as I do, I will let you know here.

For those of you who can access PCN but have never watched PA Books, you’ve missed more than 500 interesting episodes about a lot of interesting books. Do yourself a favor and check it out if you have access to PCN on your cable system.

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When the original edition of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions was published in 1998, it was named the third winner of the Robert E. Lee Civil War Roundtable of Central New Jersey’s Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award as that year’s best new work interpreting the Battle of Gettysburg. The handsome glass award occupies a place of honor in my office, and I treasure that award every day.

Today, I learned that the new edition, which was published by Savas-Beatie last fall, is also in the running for a major award.

Along with my fellow Savas-Beatie authors and friends James A. Morgan, III and Scott Mingus, Sr., my book has been named a finalist for the Army Historical Foundation’s 2011 Distinguished Writing Award in the reprint category. I’m thrilled that the new edition has received this recognition, and even more so that I have done so with two friends whose first editions I published through the late, lamented Ironclad Publishing.

It would, of course, bring things full circle if the new edition also won a major award, just as the first edition did. That would be some neat symmetry indeed.

In any event, congratulations to Scott and Jim and to any other authors whose work has also achieved finalist status.

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Shameless self-promotion, November 16 edition: My NEW book, The Battle of White Sulphur Springs: Averell Fails to Secure West Virginia, is now out! This is the first and only detailed tactical study of this strategically important battle. It features the great maps of Steven Stanley and I am really excited about it. For those who have already ordered, you orders will ship on Saturday. If anyone is interested, please contact me!

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Please forgive a bit of shameless self-promotion.

For those who have been wondering about the status of the new edition of my first book, Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions, three cases of it were waiting for me when I got back from lunch just now.

The new edition features more than 10,000 words of new material in the main text, a 5500 word essay by J.D. Petruzzi and me on where Farnsworth’s Charge occurred, a new map, and a number of new illustrations. I’m really pleased with it.

If anyone is interested in a copy, let me know, and I can hook you up.

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17 Oct 2011, by

RIP, Blake Magner

Today, I received the sad news that my old friend Blake Magner has died. Blake did the maps for nearly half of my books, and we had a great working relationship. Blake was a Vietnam War veteran, and he was a fellow who enjoyed an adult beverage or six or seven. He could be crusty, but he was always fun to be around, and always good for a laugh.

For years, he was the book review editor for Civil War News, and I worked with him in that capacity. I also represented him and his company, CW Historicals, professionally, so I had a lot of dealings with Blake over the years.

You will be missed, old friend. Rest well. And have a beer with Brian Pohanka for me, please.

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12 Oct 2011, by

Cool news!

For those of you who have been waiting for the new edition of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions yesterday. The History Book Club and the Military Book Club have made a deal with Savas-Beatie to issue a special hardcover edition of the book for their members. That process has slowed up the printing process for the softcover edition, but I’m excited about it. This book has never had a hardcover version, nor did I ever expect that it would, so I am very excited about that.

The downside is that it will only be available to book club members. I will get a couple of personal copies, but I do NOT expect to have any to sell. If you want the hardcover edition, you will have to join the book club and purchase it that way. But I figured that you should know that that option will be available.

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5 Oct 2011, by

Upcoming events

Since I’ve been asked to report these things more often, I will try to remember to do so. Details, such as time and place, for each event are available by clicking on the link provided for each program.

Later this month, I have two Civil War Roundtable appearances, which are my last two of the year. On Wednesday, October 19, 2011, I will be presenting to the Civil War Forum of Metropolitan New York. The topic for that talk is Ulric Dahlgren’s short but controversial life.

The next night, October 20, I will be speaking to the Civil War Roundtable of Fairfield County, Connecticut, which meets at the Stamford Historical Society. The topic there will be an old favorite, Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg.

On November 16, I will be doing a presentation to the Ross County Historical Society in Chillicothe, Ohio. That talk will be titled “The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command.”

I hope to see some of you at one or more of these programs!

By the way, this is the 1,200th post that I’ve done since this blog began in September 2005. As always, I remain grateful for your continued support and for taking the time to visit my little corner of the Internet.

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15 Sep 2011, by

A eulogy

On Sunday, September 18, 2011–three days from today–the final Borders stores will close. Most of them have already shuttered up and gone dark. The last two Michigan stores close today. That’s especially sad, as Borders was born and based in Ann Arbor. The last store in Las Vegas also closes today. The last Chicago store closed yesterday, and the liquidator donated 8000 books to the Chicago schools. For those of us who love books, this is nothing but sad news.

I spent many an hour in our local Borders stores in the 20+ years that the company conducted business in Columbus, and God only knows how much money. I enjoyed the ambiance of the stores: LOTS of books on lots of subjects, nice, comfortable chairs to sit and browse the books, nice bistros to get a snack or something to drink. The stores always had excellent inventories and selections of Civil War books, which I always very much appreciated, usually including at least one of my titles and usually more. I could–and did–spend many hours in Borders, and I have felt a persistent sense of loss since our local stores closed several months ago during the first major round of store closures.

Sadly, the story of the failure of Borders may never be told. It is a sad tale of bad business decisions, a terrible choice of CEO in hiring someone who knew nothing about the bookselling business, really unfavorable leases (the flagship Chicago store had monthly rent of $1,000,000 per month–you have to sell a LOT of books to meet that nut), staying in the CD business too long when the music business has changed dramatically due to the popularity of devices like the iPod, poor technology–whomever thought that it was a smart move to partner with Amazon, Borders’ primary competitor, for online sales wasn’t terribly bright, and whomever missed the boat on developing and marketing an e-reader to compete with the Nook and the Kindle was just plain stupid. Finally, Borders was a victim of the changing paradigm of the book publishing business, which is filled with uncertainty as to what the future holds. Thus, the Borders saga is a cautionary tale, both of how NOT to run a business, but also of how to run a business into the ground, and its failure was probably inevitable. There are many lessons to be learned from its failure. However, the inevitable failure of Borders is nevertheless a sad thing for anyone who loves books.

Simon & Schuster, which was Borders’ biggest creditor and which recently negotiated a more favorable deal with Barnes & Noble, put the kaibosh on a potential sale of the corpse of Borders to the Book-of-the-Month Club, which was going to dip a toe into the water of brick and mortal retail sales. It also nixed the sale of more than 30 of the Borders leases to Books-a-Million in order to cozy up to Barnes & Noble.

And so, we’re left with Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million. I detest Barnes & Noble. The stores carry only a tiny percentage of the incredible inventory that Borders maintained and it’s a quintessential big box retailer that cares nothing about the customers. The last time that I was in the local B & N superstore, it had about 30 Civil War titles in its inventory–that’s it. Even though I am a local author who lives about five miles from the store, they rarely ever have any of my stuff, even in the local interest section. It really makes me angry, if the truth be told. Books-a-Million does not maintain a presence in Central Ohio, so our only option is B&N, meaning that it looks like I will be doing the overwhelming majority of my future book buying through Amazon.

The only good thing that may come out of the death of Borders is a rebirth for the small, independent bookseller, as this article points out. No matter how popular electronic gadgets like the Nook or Kindle may become, old school guys like me will always prefer to hold the real thing. I just prefer the look and smell and feel of a real book, and I will always prefer them to my Nook. The failure of big box Borders opens the door for the independent booksellers to cater to the likes of me, and I hope that they do. I would dearly love to have an alternative to Barnes & Noble in Columbus, and I will continue to buy books from the independent booksellers (such as the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop, which is a sponsor of this blog).

Fare thee well, Borders. You will be missed.

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