Why I Collect Civil War Books

Like many of you, many of us at ECW are avid collectors of Civil War books. We’re pleased to share a guest post by Mark Wade that speaks to that passion so many of us share. Marks’s post also appeared today at the Savas Beatie blog.

When people find out I collect Civil War books and own more than 3,000, I’m usually asked two questions: “Why would anyone collect Civil War books?” and “Have you read them all?”

No, I haven’t read them all! My obsession with books about the “Late Unpleasantness” started when my mother bought me the newly released Robert Tanner’s Stonewall in the ValleyThomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Spring 1862 (Doubleday, 1976). I’ve been buying and selling books ever since.

If you take the time, really take the time, to appreciate the physical books you discover each has its own personality. Like your kids, they look different, and speak to you differently. Getting shelves to organize and display them is a real pleasure. They are part of you and your home. You leave notes inside some, bookmark certain locations.

They become old friends. When I have a spare hour I often crack one open and reread an Introduction or Conclusion. It’s like picking up the phone and calling someone you haven’t spoken with in a long time. You know the saying “A home without books is like a person without a soul.” Truth.

After a while—and it doesn’t take long—you begin to have favorites. Mine are my first editions written by Maryland veterans. And I love seeing them out. While I enjoy hitting the battlefields with good friends, I really loved visiting a good used bookstore or going to a Civil War Book and Relic show to search for titles to build my collection. I traded books there for others, bought and sold some, and really got to know the market.

The Civil War book niche is a small world and collecting makes it smaller. I’ve made many great friends over the years while collecting, sharing, and reading Civil War titles, including book dealers, small publishers, licensed battlefield guides, park rangers, and other enthusiasts like me.

Giants in the hobby back then included Bob Younger of Morningside Books, Tom Broadfoot of Broadfoot Publishing, Jim McLean at Butternut and Blue, Dave Zullo of Olde Soldier Books, Clark Kenyon of Camp Pope Bookshop, and a few others. These larger-than-life personalities often reprinted scarce and desirable titles. If you love Civil War books, and have the itch to collect, you know what I mean.

Unfortunately, many of these book dealers and small publishers have retired over the past couple decades, usually forced out of business by companies like Amazon and eBay, who intentionally engage in price-cutting to drive others out of the market. The Internet helped build our hobby and kill it. One hand gave, the other took away.

Who is left? Tom the Tar Heel is getting up there in years and has done his duty. He’s about ready to fish full time. About the only small publisher left is Theodore Savas of Savas Beatie. Ted and me have a long history.

I was living in Maryland when I started buying some of his books in the early 1990s. He began publishing as Savas Woodbury, and a few years later as Savas Publishing. I was an early subscriber to his quarterly journal Civil War Regiments. (Wish he would start it again!) About six years ago my career took me from Maryland to California, and it didn’t take long for Ted and I to get together. He invited me to one of his rock concerts with his band Arminius, and tricked me into hauling his amps and equipment in exchange for hanging out with a bunch of old dudes.

I don’t go to his office too often because his dog Kenya, the pit bull, doesn’t like me much. But that’s a story for another day.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been harassing Ted to fill the void left by the other dealers and publishers who are no longer in business. I’m sure he grew tired of my incessant nagging. No joke. I nagged him relentlessly. Sometimes he wouldn’t take my calls. He finally gave in and reprinted The Bachelder Papers, which was a big expensive risk. Covid hit right after he sent them to the printer.

Fortunately for everyone, the set was a huge success. I can tell you Ted and his staff were blown away when dozens of customers posted photos of the set online, emailed them, and even called to talk about them. “These people are happy because you made it possible to get this amazing resource for a very reasonable price,” I told him. “And it’s quality. No one else is listening to them.” They had been going for $750-850 on the used book market. Less than $200—and 100 signed/numbered?

That’s a steal.

2020 was a tough year for many small businesses, but I kept nagging. This time he took my calls. “Do Bachelder’s Gettysburg history!” I insisted. “Talk about a scarce book—it’s the ‘fourth’ volume of The Bachelder Papers.” I even volunteered mine for him to destroy and scan. That’s at the printer now.

Ted was friends with the late Ed Bearss and decided to reprint his Vicksburg trilogy. (He was going to fly and see Ed and hand him a fresh new set.) He got fancy with color maps (donated by Hal Jespersen in Ed’s memory), dust jackets, and more. And many missed out on the original Papers so Ted ran off another 300 sets.

The Internet also gave us chat forums and our love-hate relationship with Facebook. How many of us would know one another without it, and if we hadn’t been buying and reading Civil War books. Some on those groups have been very close friends over the past decade. If I hadn’t been collecting, I would have never met all these fine people, or hauled amps until my back hurt.

Oh, there is also a third question I get asked. “Don’t these books cost a lot of money?” A guy asked me that recently.

I pointed out that he pays $4.00 a day for a cup of sweet coffee and eats out for lunch or dinner several times a week, and pays a couple hundred a month for cable packages, 99% of which he never watches. “What’s all that cost you?” I asked. “What do you have to show for it? Dude, do the math. I have a large room full of friends, you have 20 extra pounds.”

A book lasts a lifetime and provides endless hours of pleasure and knowledge. Some go up in value, some go down. Coffee is with you for an hour and then you get rid of it.

So if you collect, keep at it. If you don’t, consider doing so, find your favorite area, and share your knowledge and experiences with others.

Take care and I hope to see many of you online, walking the battlefields, or visiting book and relic shows trying to find that elusive book you are seeking.

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31 Responses to Why I Collect Civil War Books

  1. Ted P. Savas says:

    Loved this article. Thanks for posting, Chris.

  2. Mark Wade says:

    Thanks for sharing my humble guest post on Savas Beatie’s blog. The great work done by ECW compliments what Savas Beatie is doing for our hobby. Keep up the great work. Mark

  3. Andy Douglas says:

    Hi Wade. You are right. I have a small collection of about 500 books. They are like old friends. When the time gets heavy from sitting out the virus, I go upstairs and visit with these “friends”. And even if I’ve read some of them many times, I welcome them to my hands. And they bring me joy by sharing old memories or stirring new thoughts. I appreciate your article and I am glad I’m not the only one who welcomes a visit from our collection of Civil War books.

    • Mark Wade says:

      Thanks for your reply Andy. 500 isn’t small really. I could look at your collection and in a few minutes know much about your interest in our shared hobby. Keep collecting. ?

  4. nygiant1952 says:

    Nice article!

    Thank you for posting.

  5. James L. McLean says:

    Thanks for including me as one of the giants of the hobby.

    • John B. Sinclair says:

      Jim:

      I spent many wonderful hours in your shop over the years hunting for selected Civil War and other books, and then unexpectedly finding others through serendipity. I enjoyed the comradery found during those moments as well as the Civil War CDs playing in the background. I had to control myself from indulging in the doughnuts you offered us in your dining room. The pit beef offerings were also terrific. My wife would groan and laugh when I returned home with a pile of books. Your books form the core of my ever-growing collection. And your Don Troiani “Clear the Way” Fredericksburg print now hangs over my cigar humidor that I open nearly every afternoon for a cigar to enjoy while reading a book on my back porch. Thanks so much for the memories and great books. Well done!

      John Sinclair

      • James L. McLean says:

        Thanks John…Judy and I enjoyed seeing our customers at those events. Fairly soon I’ll be finished the first draft of my first volume on the 14th Brooklyn.

    • Mark Wade says:

      I miss your BBQ book sales in Carney Jim ?

  6. Stephen Harper says:

    Thanks for the great article. I feel humbled by my modest Civil War library.

    Although people do not understand it, I often re-read my books. I find newer volumes to be somewhat lacking at times, even with typos which drives me nuts. I won’t name the book but my current read spoke of a promotion for Abram Duryea with a date 100 years after its actual occurrence. I notified the publisher but needless to say, I received no reply.

    I second the notion about the old publishers like Bob Younger at Morningside Books. They were first rate and produced some great titles. One of my favorite books is History of the “Bucktails” by Thomson and Rauch. It is great reading plus Morningside produced it as a beautiful hardbound volume in green with gold lettering.

    If anyone ever wants to rid themselves of some of these titles, I want first dibs.

    • Mark Wade says:

      Thanks for the compliment Stephen, good luck finding some of the older reprints. With the above mentioned book dealers retired these books have lapsed into out of print status and many are commanding a premium price. I’ve been working with Ted at Savas Beatie to try and fill the void.

  7. Melanie says:

    I have a great deal of Civil War books from a collection. How can I sell them? Mostly excellent condition hard back.

    • Bill Price says:

      Melanie, you can sell them to a Civil War book collector or you can try eBay. They are worth a great deal to some people, so don’t dispose of them. When Covid19 ends, the Civil War Book/Artifact shows will probably start back up.

      Good luck—-Bill

    • Mark Wade says:

      Feel free to email me Melanie and I can give you ideas of how to sell off your collection.
      mdsuperglide@gmail.com

  8. Jim Munyer says:

    Refreshing to know that Civil War books still inspire folks. I have been a voracious reader for years and continue to enjoy my hobby. As pointed out, my books are my “loyal and true friends.”

    • Mark Wade says:

      Touched that my post touched a chord with so many people, I thought I was the only one who considered my library as family.

  9. Richard Athey says:

    Great article! I also collect these wonderful books. My favorite author is Shelby Foote.

    • Mark Wade says:

      Mr Foote was a great story teller, I have a lot of family in Mississippi. Shelby’s accent reminds me of my grandfather.

  10. nygiant1952 says:

    I too, will re-read some of my favorite Civil War books. Taken at the Flood by Joseph Harsh, in my opinion, is the best book I have ever read on the Civil War.

  11. Ed Flanagan says:

    Thanks Wade for your post on why you collect Civil War Books. To me books are more like children, to be loved and cherished. I still have the books that I got as a boy, “Golden Book of the Civil War,” , Bruce Catton’s Army of the Potomac Trilogy, MacKinlay Kantor’s “Gettysburg” and Robert Paul Jordan’s National Geographic “The Civil War.”

    My modest Civil War Library is over thousand books that I have collected over the last 30 years at seminars and CWRT meetings. I must have over 250 plus books signed by the authors from Dr. Budd Robertson’s “Stonewall Jackson” to Dr. Joe Harsh’s “Taken at the Flood” to a pile of Ed Bearss books. My favorite book is Colonel George Meade’s “Photographic Collection of Union and Confederate Officers.”

    Thank God that Ted Savas has started to reprint some of Morningside Press important titles like the “Bachelder Papers” and Ed Bearss’ magna opus “Vicksburg Campaign.” I wished that Savas Beatie would reprint Morningside’s 2 volume “Gettysburg Papers.”

    • Mark Wade says:

      Thanks Ed, thanks for offering up the Gettysburg Papers by Bandy and Freeland. I have beat Ted down enough on what would be popular reprints to do. He literally won’t take my phone call anymore. Haha Ted loves to hear from his clients about what they like. Drop him a line, tell him what books you would like to see reprinted.

  12. It’s so true that old books have personalities of their own. I often ask guests on Civil War Talk Radio (www.impedimentsofwar.org) about what got them started, and if they are of my generation (b. 1958) the chances are better than even that it was a copy of the American Heritage history of the Civil War.

    • Savas Beatie says:

      I used to take a magnifying glass into the library as a kid, sit on the floor and study those maps with the little soldiers on them in American Heritage History of the Civil War. Endless enjoyment. Can’t see kids doing that today.

      But if I was 11 and had Call of Duty at home, I would have been playing that as well. The times, they are a’changing.

    • Mark Wade says:

      Probably right Gerald, that seems to be a staple in collections

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  14. Bill Andrew says:

    I have my father’s 3 vols. of Lee’s Lieutenants by Douglas Southhall Freeman, signed by Lt. Sam H Andrew when he was a Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps 1947.
    Dad enjoyed reading them because he had heard the stories of the Civil War related to his Grandfather, by his father, Sam David Andrew, 8th Georgia Militia, Pulaski Co.

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