Home Libraries: Civil War Library Ramblings

“I like Civil War books and I cannot lie,
You ECW readers can’t deny,
That when a brown paper package arrives at your place,
With a Savas Beatie or SIUP sticker in your face,
You get…”

Most people don’t know those are the original lyrics to Sir Mix A Lot’s “Baby Got Back”…I kid, I kid.

But that’s essentially how this post is going to go, people. I tried to make all of this go somewhere and I just couldn’t. So this is more like a stream of consciousness. Let’s go…

    • You wouldn’t know by looking at my home library that I hold a Master of Library & Information Science. Flying in the face of my education, my books are arranged by type (hardcover on three bookcases, softcover in another) and by size (small to large, descending by shelf). No cataloging or subject arrangement here! No doubt it can take a few minutes to find a volume but damn if it’s doesn’t display well. In my defense, rather than cataloging, reference interviews, and technical services, my studies focused on archives, preservation, and museum studies. Can I share one other dirty little secret?
    • Library books gross me out. Just like the Seinfeld episode, I envision every library book as having been ‘flagged’ and undoubtedly been in one or multiple bathrooms. You will only find a handful of former library books on my shelves and most of them I’d purchased used online without knowing they had been discards. And library stickers? Don’t even get me started on them. Mylar? Not for me. While I’m sure I have some undiagnosed OCD and germaphobe tendencies, I also just don’t want to give the books back. If I need to reference a book badly enough, it should probably just live in my library.
    • I’m lucky enough to have a dedicated library room in my house…no small feat with two young children. Any other room is toys up to my eyeballs but my library is my oasis, where I don’t have to step on legos or roll an ankle on a bouncy ball. My collection clocks in somewhere north of 1,000 volumes, all Civil War era, ranging from an ultra-rare 1818 volume of The Philanthropist (the earliest newspaper to argue for the immediate abolition of slavery) to my latest arrival, a copy of Eric Wittenberg and Dave Powell’s new study on Tullahoma, and most everything in between.

    • The pandemic was bad for my book buying. And by bad I mean that I was sitting home for nine weeks and bought an obscene amount of books. I had to start sneaking them into the house. On the other hand, the pandemic was outstanding for book reading. My ‘to read’ stack stands typically around 30 books…some come in and go straight to the front of the line while others can languish there for years. I don’t have a number on how many read but I put a significant dent in my stack, so much so that I don’t feel nearly as guilty about buying books now as I did four months ago. In the bullpen are books on the Battle of Unison and Britt Isenberg’s study on the 105th Pennsylvania.
    • A chill goes down my spine every time I hear Garry Adelman say he throws away all of his dust jackets. I can’t imagine losing a dust jacket OR reading a book with one on. All of mine are removed until the book is finished, and returned when the book is shelved. Bent corners on pages? Never. Marginalia, cracked bindings? Ab-so-lute-ly not. I may use the occasional post-it, but they don’t stay long term. I do a pretty good job of reading or skimming everything that hits my library, but you’d never know it looking at the books.
    • Speaking of reading or skimming all of the books in my library, have you ever tried to explain to your significant other that there are some books not meant to be read cover to cover? Last year when I received my set of the National Tribune index, my wife caught me putting them right onto the shelves instead of the previously mentioned ‘to read’ pile. She asked what I was doing and I casually told her “Oh, I’m not going to read those.” She was incredulous…I thought her head was going to pop off. So I explained they were indexes for me to pinpoint specific issues and pages. I feel like since then she’s seen me reference them enough times to accept that they were a necessary purchase. I imagine the forthcoming Bachelder Papers will go over about as well…
    • Favorite books in my collection, you ask? The James Taylor Civil War Sketchbook is high on the list. I searched for years for a reasonably priced copy. It’s a must have for students of the war in the Shenandoah Valley. I also prize a copy of Stars in their Courses that Shelby Foote inscribed to me more than twenty years ago. I understand Shelby Foote inscriptions are rare, so I’ve instructed my wife not to pitch that one if I were to suddenly keel over. I also prize my copies of Terry Lowry’s various West Virginia studies, including Scary Creek, Droop Mountain, and the Battle of Charleston. These books aren’t rare or hard to find, but are just outstanding examples of battle/campaign micro histories that were such a pleasure to read. I’m a sucker for small battle studies…that’s probably why I’m on the edge of my seat over here waiting for Ryan Quint’s forthcoming book on Dranesville. Any other recommendations I can put on my list?
    • All of us here love Civil War books. And while I may buy my fair share of books on Facebook (and I’m not telling you the names of the groups…I don’t need the competition!) and Amazon, but we all need to do our part to prop up the publishers we love. What would we do if Savas Beatie wasn’t pushing out all of these great titles? Do you see any other publishers lining up to reprint the Bachelder Papers? Another one of my favorites is 35th Star Publishing, which has recently put out some top notch studies on small battles like Lewisburg and Hurricane Bridge. They’re soon putting out Scott Patchan’s new study on Colonel Joseph Thoburn…I’m really looking forward to that one.
    • How about publishers who have gone by the wayside? Blue Acorn Press is an all time favorite. Rick Baumgartner was a sweet man and a dear friend. His books have been a pleasure to collect over the years. Butternut & Blue Press was another quality publisher. I’m not sure whether Schroeder Publications is still around (their website seems to be down) but I’ve really enjoyed a number of their books, especially Cooper Wingert’s study on the 26th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia.
    • Beyond what’s on the shelves I also keep hundreds of back issues of magazines like Gettysburg Magazine, Blue & Gray, Civil War Times, Civil War Monitor, Military Images, as well as around 10 linear feet of research files. I also keep a sizable collection of original letters, photographs and artifacts, principally relating to the Civil War in my geographic area of study (eastern Ohio and West Virginia). You may be able to spot in one photo a set of crutches – those are identified to a local soldier (Lafayette Hess, Co. E, 15th Ohio) who was captured at Stones River, wounded at Liberty Gap (after which he used the crutches), and killed at Kennesaw Mountain. The army diploma on the wall was for a young man (Geo. W. Tweedy, Co. B, 52nd Ohio) from my hometown, listing all the battles he participated in. The walls also sport several Harper’s and Leslie’s engravings.
    • Outside the Civil War I’m also a fan of the Beats and Realist authors and poets like Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. My favorite non-Civil War author at the moment is David Giffels, whose latest book, “Barnstorming Ohio: To Understand America” was just released last month.
    • Finally, I’d also like to publicly state that last month I loaned fellow ECWer Phill Greenwalt my five volume set of Lewis Schmidt’s study on Florida in the Civil War. You people need to back me up when he later claims the books are his or that he doesn’t know anything about them.


7 Responses to Home Libraries: Civil War Library Ramblings

  1. Reads like a post from Dr. Brackish Okun from Independence Day. Definitely does not get out enough.??? Library discards find a place of honor in my library, and bathroom for that matter. Who cares about the aesthetics, it’s the content that matters. And I’ve given away three libraries, to my high school, to the Coast Guard Academy, and a previous civil war one to the devastated high schools of Joplin Missouri, 100 or so miles from our former family homestead in NW Arkansas.

    1. I’ll agree with you, John. Between the pandemic and two young children I definitely do not get out often enough! But as for library books, to each his own. I’m not saying I don’t support libraries. I use my library card to access several databases, and I worked closely with my local library in establishing their local history archives. I’m just not a fan of library books. And good on you for donating your collection! If your books helped to get even one child interested in history, you’ve done your job!

      1. I love my books. But there are so many out there who love history and never have had the opportunity to further their interest, I feel selfish in holding onto them past a point. Pay it forward! I’m sure all members of this group have done the same, nothing special or unique to me. I always end up filling in the holes.

  2. It’s gonna take a bit to get that song out of my head now, haha. An entertaining read for sure. And I’m so glad that someone out there does exactly what I do with dust jackets. I have a stack on my desk of those “in use” dust jackets right now.

  3. Looks like a great group of books. I love the prints on the wall as well. I feel the same, except for library books. Until covid,my library had shelves where people donated books for sale. I buy some new,but these sales have added at least 300 great books to my history and photography library,some signed and older first editions for $3 per book,many like new. There is nothing like a book. Like you, I read some and thumb through others. I will take a look at any book on the Civil War or Lincoln or the American Revolution.

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