Back in the 90’s, Judi and I loved cruising beautiful Virginia country byways and rural towns always seeking that musty little used-book store. She headed for the garden section and I, of course, made a beeline for the Civil War shelves. Collected a lot of good books that way, but not many on the naval side of the war, which is my particular passion.
However, one fine day in Fredericksburg, I found a first edition of Admiral Raphael Semmes’s superb Memoirs of Service Afloat in original leather boards and beautifully re-backed spine. Another trip produced a first-edition set of Battles and Leaders with minor fire damage to the covers.
That got me started: first editions concentrating on but not exclusive to naval topics, some from stores but most from antiquarian dealers online. Unfortunately, there are not so many of those old bookstores anymore.
I now have a full (plus) bookcase of about 150 volumes including memoirs, journals, diaries, contemporary histories, etc., as well as nineteenth century publications on naval/maritime seamanship, gunnery and ordnance, steam engineering, and tactics.
One of the gems is an 1841 edition of General Regulations of Navy and Marine Corps with a signature on the title page: “S. P. Lee, U.S.N.” That’s Union Rear Admiral Samuel Phillips Lee, third cousin to R. E. Lee, and brother in law to Maj. Gen. Francis Preston, Blair, Jr. and Postmaster General Montgomery Blair.
Another is a 3-volume, leather bound The War with the South: A History of the Great American Rebellion published during the war with beautiful illustrations, maps, and woodblock prints—real artwork. These were not as expensive as one might think, at least when I found them.
Judi and I have been collecting for over thirty years. We had to downsize for the last move, but you couldn’t tell since every room is still chock with books. Nothing compulsive about that.
I have around 1200 volumes of military, naval, and maritime history, of which over 80% are related to the Civil War and three or four Lincoln shelves. Haven’t counted her garden, bird, and nature collection.
Also around me in the study are nautical artifacts and antiques including a liberty-ship hatch cover table and a Civil War artillery spotting scope. It’s an inspiring place to read and write.