December, 2005

31 Dec 2005, by

Happy New Year

To all who give part of their day to indulge my rantings, I hope that 2006 is a happy, healthy and prosperous year for all of us, filled with lots of good Civil War books.

Happy new year!

Eric and Susan
Augie, Cleo, and Nero (the golden retriever gang)

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I’m in the midst of writing my biography of Ulric Dahlgren. Beginning with Franz Sigel’s appointment to corps command in the Army of Virginia in June 1862, until Sigel was relieved of corps command in the Army of the Potomac in early 1863, Dahlgren served as on Sigel’s staff, and for much of that time, was Sigel’s acting chief of artillery. During October and November 1862, but especially during October, Dahlgren was particularly active, leading daring scouting missions, chasing Confederate guerrillas, and then commanding a bold dash into the town of Fredericksburg on November 9. Dahlgren particulalry distinguished himself during this period of time.

It’s an interesting period. Although there wasn’t much in the way of major fighting during this time frame, there was a lot of skirmishing, particularly cavalry skirmishing, in the Loudoun Valley. Some, in fact, have argued that this time frame truly marked the turning point for the Union cavalry and not the spring of 1863, as I have claimed in print. Stuart’s Second Ride Around McClellan occurred during this time. It’s also the period when Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s tenure as commander of the Army of the Potomac was under the heaviest scrutiny and when Abraham Lincoln became most dissatisfied with McClellan’s “slows,” as Lincoln put it. Consequently, McClellan was relieved of command on November 6, just before Dahlgren’s mad dash into Fredericksburg.

However, after a fair amount of searching, I have yet to find a detailed treatment of events (especially dealing with the tactical aspects that fall) during this period. I’ve even sent out e-mails to the discussion groups that I belong to, looking for input on books that address this period, all to little avail. That brings me to the point of this post.

Although there have been countless books written about major events, such as the Battle of Gettysburg–why in the world do we need yet another book on Pickett’s Charge, anyway–there are none on other, lengthy periods of the war where important events occurred. There are so many areas that have been done to death, and yet there are other significant areas where nothing at all has been written. The asymmetry of this can be stunning. I have tried very hard to choose topics that are off the beaten path–obscure things and events–instead of writing yet another useless account of Pickett’s Charge, or the invention of some bizarre theory in the hope of making my mark by coming up with something new on ground that’s already been plowed too damned many times. A careful review of my work will demonstrate this. When I have written about big battles like Gettysburg, I’ve selected small or obscure aspects of it. From my perspective, the more obscure the better.

Let me use one of my own books as an example. Sheridan’s second raid–and the resulting Battle of Trevilian Station–were important aspects of Grant’s Overland Campaign, but had not had any sort of a detailed treatment. There was PLENTY of excellent primary source material out there just waiting for somebody to tackle it, but it had never happened before I tackled it. I was able to cobble together a nearly 150,000 word treatment of this campaign that has been very well received, and has sold reasonably well.

Here’s another example. Until just a handful of years ago, there hadn’t been a good, modern, scholarly treatment of the Fredericksburg Campaign until two appeared in the space of one year–George Rable’s and Frank O’Reilly’s–that covered this campaign in the sort of detail it had been crying out for. The Petersburg Campaign really needs a detailed treatment–the entire campaign has never had one; only Andy Trudeau’s The Last Citadel covers the whole campaign, and that’s more of an overview than anything else. This campaign lasted 8 months, was really one of the most important phases of the war, but yet it’s been largely ignored by historians in spite of some brutal, bloody fighting. It really needs the sort of superb multi-volume treatment like the one that Gordon Rhea’s done on the previously overlooked Overland Campaign. I don’t understand why this hasn’t happened to date, but it clearly hasn’t.

Still others have gotten some attention, but cry out for a really thorough treatment. Two come to mind immediately. Until Ken Noe’s excellent Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle was published in 2001, the only detailed treatment that the Battle of Perryville had received was the God-awful and unreadable book by Kent Hafendorfer. Yet Perryville marked the high water mark of the Confederacy in the West. It needed a real treatment, and Ken finally gave it one. Or John Hunt Morgan’s Indiana and Ohio Raid of 1863, which also needs a solid tactical treatment based on real scholarship, and not on family oral history that cannot be corroborated.

Even though there have literally been tens of thousands of books published on the Civil War, there are still very large gaps in the historiography and there are still plenty of worthy topics that remain virgin, untouched territory. I would love to see someone beside me tackle some of these more obscure topics and a lot less speculation on Lee’s “true” plan at Gettysburg. Ultimately, we will all be richer for it.

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Our friends Greg and Karel Lea Biggs are in town, visiting us from Tennessee. Greg is a vexillologist who specializes in Confederate flags. The Ohio Historical Society houses more than 350 Ohio battle flags as well as a handful of other miscellaneous flags, including a recently discovered captured Confederate battleflag which Greg cannot identify. When examined closely, you can still plainly see the blood stains on the white portions of the flag. Greg really wanted to see this flag, and made arrangements for us to have access to the flag collection today to see it. They have all been photographed, and many of them have been rendered as paintings. Photos of all of them are available on the OHS web site.

Only 16 of the Ohio battleflags have been through a full conservation procedure, and are the only ones that are displayed as a result. The ones that have been done are quite nice. One, in particular, really caught my attention. It’s the national colors of the 10th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, and this flag is nothing short of spectacular. There are a handful of other flags that are similarly preserved and similarly displayed.

Sadly, the overwhelming majority of them are in bad shape. In the 1960’s, at the recommendation of the National Park Service, the flags were glued to nylon in the hope that they would not disintegrate completely, and were then furled. The furled flags are still on their staffs. They’re stored standing upright in four large wheeled bins, and have tags on them to identify them. Some of them are in such atrocious shape that there’s nothing left of them but dust. There’s nothing to unfurl, meaning that they have been lost forever. From what I could tell, there are 15-20 of these that are in such poor condition that they’re forever lost. Virtually all of them are missing large chunks, as silk does not age or wear well. These flags are not only display, are not in the main facility of the Ohio Historical Center, and are not generally available to the public. An appointment must be made, and visitors must be escorted. You’re really not supposed to touch them, but if you do, you must wear white cotton gloves to do so.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of the flags remain furled, as they cannot be unfurled without undergoing a special treatment. Once they’re unfurled, they have to be stored flat in special cabinets. Since Union flags can be quite large (6 feet by 6 feet square), the large flags must be stored one per shelf in these special cabinets. The curator of the flags told us today that in order to unfurl and store all of the flags flat will require 24 of these huge cabinets. Each of these cabinets costs about $15,000, but the Ohio Historical Society has no budget with which to purchase them.

My thoughts on battlefield preservation are well known. We can’t afford to lose an inch of valuable land, and I continue to support battlefield preservation as I always have. However, I’ve come to really appreciate these flags, as they won’t be with us much longer unless steps are taken to preserve them. At the very least, they need to be unfurled. They can’t be unfurled until OHS has sufficient storage facilities for it to do so. For those who are interested in this topic, please feel free to contribute to OHS’s fundraising efforts. I encourage you all to do so. The land will still be there. The flags won’t.

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Some of you might recall my mentioning that, while whiling away the hours in Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Parking Lot….oops, Airport…on our way home from California after Thanksgiving, that I had begun reading a joint biography of George S. Patton, Jr. and Erwin Rommel. The book is titled Patton and Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century by a fellow named Dennis Showalter. Showalter is the former head of the Society for Military History, and is a professor of history at Colorado College who has written several books and has a long resume. He is an expert on the Prussian military establishment, and is well-qualified, in particular, to address the life of the Desert Fox.

Given the author’s pedigree and the fascinating subject, I had very high expectations for this book. Having finally finished it last night, I unfortunately am left with the conclusion that this book is really a mixed bag. Although it is obviously not a Civil War book, I mention it because the book’s overall quality is spoiled by three of my biggest complaints: atrocious production values, not a single photograph, and not a single map.

Rommel performed some really remarkable deeds in the Tirolean Alps of Italy during World War I. Showalter spends a lot of ink and a lot pages describing these episodes in detail, but there is not a single maps. Personally, I had almost no familiarity with this theater of World War I, and REALLY would have liked to have seen some decent maps that portrayed these events to help me to understand them. Likewise, I would have liked to have seen maps of Rommel’s role in the invasion of France in 1939, and in North Africa during his tenure as commander of the Afrika Korps.

Likewise, I would have liked to have seen maps of Patton’s campaign in North Africa, his role in the invasion of Sicily, and finally of the dash across France, including his remarkable movement of a major portion of his Third Army to come to the aid of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. Again, I was left to try to recall, from memory, the geography of Europe and of Patton’s movements, and while my memory is pretty good, it’s not THAT good.

In addition, the only two photographs are images of Patton and Rommel that appear on the dust jacket to the book. There is not a single photo anywhere in the book, even though images of both of these military giants abound. There are plenty to go around, but either the author or the publisher, or, perhaps, both, dropped the ball, and left them out altogether.

Thus, while I think that the book was well-done–it’s pretty well researched, and written in a readable, conversational style that draws solid conclusions–I would have been significantly more impressed by, and ultimately more favorably inclined to recommend it to other readers, if it had contained good maps and good illustrations on top of the decent material that constitutes the book.

It’s a shame. It could have been a really great book, but without the inclusion of maps and illustrations, I can’t say that it is. Without maps and illustrations, it is, at best, a decent read that is ultimately disappointing. I hate that.

Another thing that really surprised me was that this book is so chock-full of typos, grammatical errors, and other screw-ups as to make it very difficult to read. The production values for the entire book are absolutely atrocious. How a book got into print with this many typos and grammatical errors mystifies me, especially when a distinguished academic historian is the author. Apparently, the publisher’s editorial/proofreading staff took that week off, because there simply is no evidence that they did their job. It’s sad, because these types of things really distract the reader and really harm the overall credibility of the book.

So, to conclude, this book sort of hits the grand slam of all of the things that I hate about books. That I actually finished it, given that fact, is really pretty remarkable.

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Paul Taylor left me a most insightful comment on his experience with McFarland Publishing. McFarland published Paul’s recent regimental history of the 26th New York Volunteer Infantry.

I was just looking through McFarland’s list of titles, and there is some REALLY interesting stuff there. The company bills itself as a “publisher of reference and scholarly books,” and it shows. As Paul pointed out in his comment, they have published a number of very useful regimental histories, as well as some interestng campaign studies. I just noticed that they have what appears to be a major scholarly work on the Battle of Brandy Station slated for 2006 that I was previously unaware of, and which looks interesting.

They also have two books listed in their list of forthcoming titles by Robert P. Broadwater, whose stinker on the Battle of Bentonville has been the subject of some of my ranting here. It’s an absolutely atrocious book, so I have no reason to think that these two will be any better, either.

Here’s the thing. McFarland has very little in the way of marketing; libraries seem to be their primary niche. The following statement from the company’s website really struck me about their marketing: “McFarland successfully sells directly to individuals. Specialists, professionals and enthusiasts form an important market for many kinds of books. For applicable books, college classroom adoptions play a role in sales. Most major online book retailers carry McFarland books—you may wish to keep a watch on your book’s listings. Chain book retailers will carry McFarland books in their system for special order, but are unlikely to stock books in stores (the same applies to the majority of our academic publisher peers). Specialty bookshops, on the other hand, can make suitable arrangements with McFarland. We welcome sales tips from authors for the latter. If you know of a mail-order distributor, museum shop, specialty bookshop, or internet-based book dealer that handles a specialized line, please provide addresses.” In other words, unless you’re willing to go and out and sell the hell out of your book by yourself, you’re pretty much out of luck. At least some university presses do a decent job of marketing.

Another issue, as Paul quite correctly points out, is that McFarland’s primary market sector is libraries, meaning that pricing is less of a concern than with normal commercial publishing houses. Consequently, most of their titles run in the range of $45-65 or so, and I am concerned that the price will scare off most potential buyers. This is basically a wash, irrespective of whether McFarland does the book or a university press does–university presses have the same pricing issues. There’s little enough demand for this book, so it’s something to be seriously concerned about.

Finally, there is the issue of timing. As I have pointed out here previously, university presses take forever to get stuff out. I have no idea whether McFarland does. So, the issue is how to handle this trade-off.

So, there’s a real trade-off here. They do some really good books that might not otherwise find a publisher, but outside of libraries, their marketing is pretty much non-existent. Talk about a Hobson’s choice….

I’m a little over one-third of the way through my new biography of Ulric Dahlgren. I went into this project knowing that it would be no small challenge to find the appropriate publisher for this work. Like so much of what I do, it’s a topic that interests me and that I find compelling, so I tackled it. Because I tend to choose topics that nobody else has, it means that the market is completely untested. And let’s face it–this book is not going to make the New York Times best seller list any time in my lifetime. So, I have to find a publisher for it, and it looks like my choices are a university press or McFarland. Neither excites me much, but I’m enough of a realist to know that there aren’t too many other options out there. So, let me ask my gentle readers your opinion–and you will be part of an active decision on where to shop this manuscript–where should I pitch this thing?

I look forward to your feedback, and thank you to Paul Taylor for inspiring this particular post.

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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.

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22 Dec 2005, by

Happy Holidays!

To all of you who give a little bit of your day to indulge my rantings, please accept my wishes to you and yours for a joyous holiday season–whichever holiday you may celebrate–and a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year filled with lots of good Civil War books. 🙂

Eric and Susan
Augie, Cleo, and Nero (the golden retriever gang)

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I am occasionally asked what I look for when I evaluate new books to see whether I might want to buy them. I have a pretty well established routine that I follow.

The first thing that I do is to look at the bibliography. I want to know what sources that author has used in drawing his or her conclusions. Did the author use almost all secondary sources? Did the author use a mix of primary and secondary sources? Within the primary sources, what’s the mix of published vs. manuscript materials? The thing that I’m looking for most of all is whether the author has done his or her homework. That’s why I will not even purchase a new book if it doesn’t have a bibliography. That was the very first thing that I noticed about Carhart’s festering pile of crap. If the book passes that test, then we move to the next test.

I will then see what maps and illustrations are included. I’ve already made my thoughts on this particular topic known, and won’t repeat them here. What I look for here is: are there maps? If so, are they any good? And what illustrations has the author used? Any that are new or different? Or are the same old tired ones that everyone uses?

If the book passes the map/illustration test, then I look at the notes to see how they look. I look to see whether they’re clear and comprehensive and whether they’re useful to me as the reader. If they aren’t, then I’m done. If they are, then we go to the final test.

The final test is to pick a random passage and read it, and see how the prose/editing is. If it’s good, and all other tests have been passed, then it’s time to crack open my wallet. If not, then it goes back on the shelf, and I move on.

Of course, all of this can go right out the window if the book seems to be something that’s pertinent to my work and that I need for something I’m working on. When this little gem came out, I bought it immediately, sight unseen, because my book on East Cavalry Field was being copyedited, and I had to know whether I had been trumped. Fortunately, it turned out to be a waste of about $20, to my great relief, but this is a book that would not have made it past the very first test otherwise.

My point in all of this is that the decision to buy a book is usually one that I spend a fair amount of time and energy in making, and I almost never buy on the spur of the moment or on an impulse. There are times when that’s a good thing, but there are also times when it’s not.

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Yesterday’s post on the contrast between Appomattox Court House and Bennett Place got me thinking about this issue further. The following is a National Park Service list of the battles that occurred in North Carolina or significant Civil War sites located in North Carolina:

Albemarle Sound
Fort Anderson
Fort Fisher
Fort Fisher
Fort Macon
Goldsborough Bridge
Hatteras Inlet Batteries
Monroe’s Cross Roads
New Berne
Roanoke Island
South Mills
Tranter’s Creek
White Hall
Wyse Fork

Distinctly missing from this list are Fayetteville, site of street fighting on March 11, 1865, and Bennett Place.

Roughly half of these sites pertain to Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign or to the Wilmington Campaign that preceeded it. Some of these sites have well-done North Carolina state parks: Bentonville, Fort Fisher, and Fort Anderson, although it’s interesting to note that the primary marketing of the site at Fort Anderson is the colonial Brunswick Town site, and not the awesome earthworks of Fort Anderson, which are really downplayed. Fort Macon is part of a state park in Atlantic Beach that has historic significance to more than just the Civil War–it was part of the network of World War II coastal defenses that also included Fort Sumter–and which also provides nice recreational facilities.

By contrast, the Kinston and Wyse Fork sites are run by a local preservation group, and Averasboro is operated by local not-for-profit organization. Monroe’s Crossroads sits in the middle of the drop zones at Fort Bragg and is almost completely inaccessible to the public. Maybe 100 people per year get to see it.

My point in all of this is that of these twenty battle sites–twenty-two, if you add in Bennett Place and Fayetteville–not a single one is a National Park Service property, and, other than Fort Anderson and Monroe’s Crossroads, which is sheltered by its location within the boundaries of Fort Bragg, none are fully preserved as a consequence. All that remains of Fort Fisher, by example, is a miniscule portion of the fort’s ramparts while the rest is either under water or under multi-million dollar beach front houses. Much of Bentonville remains in private hands. Large portions of the Averasboro battlefield are also still in private hands.

By contrast, there is a Revolutionary War site–Moore’s Creek–about twenty miles northwest of Wilmington that was a small skirmish between Tories and patriots that involved no more than a few hundred men that is fully preserved as a National Park Service site. Guilford Court House–a large scale engagement that directly led to Cornwallis moving his army to Yorktown–is also a National Park Service site. That’s not to downplay Guilford Court House–it was, in fact, one of the most pivotal battles of the Revolution. However, it is no more–or less–important than say Bentonville, and, in my humble opinion, is less important than Bennett Place in the big scheme of things.

What is it about these North Carolina Civil War battlefields that has caused them to be treated like the proverbial red-headed stepchild? Is it that these battles involved neither Lee nor Grant? Is it that there was no massive bloodletting such as that at Antietam, Gettysburg or Spotsylvania Court House? Is it that we’ve grown so parochial in our view of the war that only sites in Virginia are viewed as worthy? Is it that Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign came so late in the war that nobody cares? I genuinely don’t know.

I do know this: these battles are as full of human drama and human suffering as any other, and they deserve our respect just as much.

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David Terrenoire posted a comment in response to my entry “Of Books and Dilemmas”, and mentioned that he lives about a mile from Bennett Place, the site of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s surrender to William T. Sherman on April 26, 1865. His post reminded me of the absolutely stunning difference between the Bennett Place site and Appomattox Court House, the site of Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.

The entire village of Appomattox Court House was purchased by the War Department and was turned into a shrine. It’s now part of the National Park Service, with many of the buildings–including Wilmer McLean’s handsome home–having been reconstructed as replicas of the original structures. The Appomattox Court House National Park consists of 1800 acres and includes 27 original structures. It is amply monumented, and the small battlefield area–the fight was brief and aborted when Lee realized that Union infantry had arrived and that his plight was hopeless–is well interpreted. There’s even a small military cemetery on site, a large Eastern National Park & Monument Association book store with an excellent selection, and a visitor center with a nice museum. It’s a place well worth visiting. I’ve only been there once, but I spent the better part of a day there, exploring the place and seeing what there was to see.

There have been lots of books written about these events. Jay Winik’s April 1865: The Month that Saved America comes to mind immediately, as does William Marvel’s A Place Called Appomattox. There are also the many fine works by Chris Calkins on the Appomattox Campaign, and any number of other similar works.

It’s important to remember that after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, there were still three major Confederate armies in the field: Joseph E. Johnston’s army in North Carolina, Richard H. Taylor’s army in Alabama, and Edmund Kirby-Smith’s army in the Trans-Mississippi. Contrary to popular belief, Lee’s surrender did NOT end the Civil War. Johnston had a nearly insurmountable lead over Sherman’s army, and Sherman would have been hard-pressed to bring Johnston to bay had Johnston not decided that further bloodshed would have been completely useless.

Johnston asked for a truce, and arrangements were made for Johnston to meet Sherman at David Bennett’s farm, about four miles from Durham, NC. There, on April 17, the two commanders met and negotiated not just the surrender of Johnston’s army, but peace. They negotiated an end to hostilities as well as the surrender of Johnston’s army. Sherman gave Johnston extremely generous terms, and they signed an agreement on April 18, subject to government approval. Although Jefferson Davis readily approved these liberal terms, an angry Federal government, still stinging from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, rejected them. Grant then ordered Sherman to re-negotiate the terms with Johnston to match those given to Lee at Appomattox.

Davis, opposed the surrender of Johnston’s command under the terms given to Lee, ordered Johnston to disband the infantry and escape with the large force of cavalry attached to Johnston’s army. To his undying credit, Johnston disobeyed those orders, met Sherman again on April 26, and surrendered nearly 90,000 Confederate troops on the same terms given to Lee’s army at Appomattox. The troops included men in the Carolinas, Georga, and Florida. Only after Johnston surrendered did Taylor and Kirby-Smith finally surrender, too.

In many ways, what happened at Bennett Place is more remarkable, and more important, than what happened at Appomattox. However, the Bennett place episode has long been ignored in light of the more dramatic events at Appomattox. The Bennett Place surrender site is a North Carolina state park that occupies about four acres. It has a couple of monuments, a replica of the Bennett house, a small visitor center with a couple of museum exhibits, a movie, and about a dozen books for sale. The contrast is absolutely shocking when compared with the plush and huge national park at Appomattox. The Bennett Place park sits a couple of hundred yards from an Interstate freeway, nestled among houses, so there is no way that it could be expanded. There are a couple of monuments and gazebo. And that’s all there is to commemorate one of the most important events of the American Civil War.

Fortunately, in recent years, thanks to the brilliant work of Mark L. Bradley, Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign and the events at Bennett Place have finally begun to receive some recognition for their importance. Mark has written an excellent book titled This Astounding Close: The Road to Bennett Place, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2000. This outstanding book finally puts the last days of the Carolinas Campaign–the five weeks after the Battle of Bentonville–and the events at Bennett Place in their proper context. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the surrender of Johnston’s army. This book deserves its place next to Winik’s book (which I have always thought was badly overrated and overstated) on the shelf of anyone who claims to be truly interested in the healing of the war’s wounds.

I can only hope that some day, the events at Bennett Place will receive the level of attention and the volume of scholarship devoted to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. Sadly, though, I doubt that will happen.

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