24 December 2005 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 7 comments

I have a great love for regimental histories. I buy a lot of them. Mostly, I need them for my work, but I really enjoy having them around. I like knowing what specific units did during the course of their careers, and I also find having the rosters, etc., useful. It really puts a human face on the men who fought the Civil War.

The vast majority of regimental histories were written in the thirty-five years between the end of the war and the end of the Nineteenth Century. Most of them were written by veterans of their units, and they were primarily written for the men of those particular regiments as a chronicle of their service during the war. Often, those original regimental histories were written by the regimental chaplains. The best ones include both a narrative of the regiment’s service as well as anecdotal material by the soldiers who served in the unit. They’re often filled with photos of the members of the unit. One of the best I’ve ever seen is the history of the 10th New York Cavalry, which includes photos of the members of the regiment, an excellent narrative, a complete roster, and lots of good anecdotal stuff.

One of the worst, by contrast, was that of the 3rd Indiana Cavalry. The 3rd Indiana is an unusual regiment. Half of it served with the Army of the Potomac, while the other half served in the Western Theatre. It made it difficult to document the regiment’s service, and the regimental history, by a fellow named William N. Pickrell, and published in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, doesn’t consist of much besides reports included in the Official Records. It is, for the most part, useless. Even though it’s incredibly rare, it’s okay, because it has little value.

So, here’s the problem. The old books, which were not printed with acid-free pape, tend to be extremely brittle and very fragile. The bindings often are delicate and falling apart. So, while I need the material, I’m afraid to use the books because they’re investments and I’m afraid of damaging them. Consequently, I’ve found a solution. I buy almost exclusively reprints, unless I find a great deal on a first edition, or it’s one that has special meaning to me (I own two of the 750 copies of the 1868 regimental history of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry published, including the personal copy of the author, Chaplain Samuel L. Gracey). The reprints are inexpensive enough that it doesn’t much matter if I mess one up, or if I write in it. Plus, I can usually buy three or four reprints for the price of one first edition. From a practicality standpoint, that’s a no-brainer for me.

There are three great sources for reprints. My current favorite is Ward House Books, a division of Higginson Books. They do replica reprints of the original editions, and are very faithful reprints. They’re inexpensive, no frills books–they’re done with simple library bindings–done print-on-demand, so it takes 3-4 weeks to get them when you place an order. Once or so a year, they have a significant sale with a 25% discount. They have some really rare titles–such as the history of the 1st New York Dragoons, which is one of the most rare of all of the regimental histories–and provide an invaluable service.

Then, there’s Jim McLean’s Butternut and Blue of Baltimore, which has done replica reprints of numerous Union and Confederate regimental histories that cannot be found anywhere else. Jim has done some excellent and very rare books such of Lt. George W. Beale’s A Lieutenant of Cavalry in Lee’s Army.

Finally, there’s Morningside House of Dayton, Ohio. This is a mixed bag at best. On one hand Morningside has done some fabulous books that cannot be found anywhere else, such as Dr. Abner Hard’s regimental history of the 8th Illinois Cavalry. Again, the books are no-frills and don’t have dust jackets. They’re functional but certainly not pretty. On the other hand, if you buy from Morningside, it means that you have to deal with the owner of the company, who is proud to be called an S.O.B. He is his company’s own worst enemy, which is a shame, because he was the trailblazer for the replica reprint business.

My own companies, first VanBerg Publishing, and then its successor, Ironclad Publishing, have done some high quality reprints of some very rare regimental histories–the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry, the 9th Massachusetts Battery, the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry, and the 124th New York Volunteer Infantry. The problem is that we have found that these books don’t move quickly and that it’s very difficult for us to make back the money that we invest in them in anything close to a reasonable amount of time. Consequently, we made a concerted business decision to stop doing regimental histories about two years ago, and will no longer be doing them, simply because we find that they’re not a good investment for us.

Finally, there are some pretty good modern regimental histories being published, such as Rod Gragg’s study of the 26th North Carolina Infantry, as well as other good recent titles.

A major portion of my library is devoted to regimental histories. One can never have too many.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Sat 24th Dec 2005 at 8:03 pm

    I had to laugh with the Bob Younger=SOB thing. While I love Morningside to death and have bought many things from them over the past 10+ years, I have never talked to a more gruff bookseller in my life. Back in the days before he sold books over the Internet, you had to talk to him personally in order to order books by phone. Each time Bob was as personable as a rock and didn’t once thank me for an order. It was like he was doing me a big favor and it was hard to tell if your order mattered to him one bit…LOL.

    I always wondered what he was like for an author to work with. Ed seems to have a great working relationship with him.

  2. Sat 24th Dec 2005 at 11:00 pm

    Drew,

    Remind me some time, and I will tell you a long story.

    I used to spend a LOT of money with Morningside, but I absolutely and categorically refuse to spend a dime with or through that company today.

    Anybody who is as fond of the moniker SOB as that man is deserves to be called SOB.

    Eric

  3. Paul Taylor
    Mon 26th Dec 2005 at 2:27 pm

    Hi Eric,

    Your experience as a publisher of regimental histories caught my attention because it was a story I heard at least four or five times while I was searching for a publisher for my history of the 26th NYSV. Like your firm, a number of small and/or well-known Civil War publishers responded to my inquiries by stating that they were no longer doing regimental histories, period. A few smaller companies told me that they had even stopped publishing Civil War titles altogether! This was around late 2003 – early 2004 and probably hasn’t changed since then.

    My book was accepted and published earlier this year by McFarland, who seem to do quite a few regimentals in spite of an apparent industry trend to shy away from them. I’d say they have their niche in the library market, where $45 to $60 price tags for 200-page-books are apparently not too big of an issue. By the way, IMO, many of their books are only 200 pages because the font size is unusually small. Saves paper I guess.

    In an earlier rant, you wrote how you were considering several publishers for your work on the 6th Pa. Cavalry. Prior to announcing that you had chosen Westholme, my guess was that McFarland might have been on your short list. For me, I found them a pleasure to work with — the epitome of southern hospitality. Despite one important disappointment at publication, I’d consider them again, assuming that I had firm assurances that this issue would not reoccur. Live and learn as they say…

    Happy Holidays!
    Paul Taylor

  4. Andy
    Mon 26th Dec 2005 at 3:14 pm

    Eirc, you CW Book collection sounds alot like mine. I do own a handful of orignal regimentals of Maine Units. Someday I would like to have an orginal of each one published but since the prices keep gowing up I am note sure I will be able to complete my collection. I will have to check out the sites you referenced.

    Regards
    Andy

  5. Mon 26th Dec 2005 at 5:16 pm

    Paul,

    McFarland actually was at the top of that very short list. I was genuinely but pelasantly surprised when I heard that Westholme wanted to do the book. I have heard fairly good things about them, and was fully prepared to present the manuscript proposal to them.

    I have long toyed with the idea of doing a regimental of the 6th Michigan Cavalry. If I do, McFarland seems like a good option for it.

    Congratulations on your book. I’ve heard good things about it.

    Eric

  6. Mon 26th Dec 2005 at 5:16 pm

    Andy,

    I would too, but some of them are just TOO expensive, too rare, or, in the worst case scenario, both. So, the reprints do just fine.

    Eric

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