Wednesday, May 27, 2009

From the Shelves of the Paco Library

I’ve got two from the American Civil War, today, both of which I highly recommend.

They Called Him Stonewall, by the eminent Civil War historian Burke Davis, is a comprehensive biography which includes much original research and provides perhaps one of the best overall assessments we have of this brilliant, but undeniably eccentric, Confederate general. He was one of the South’s best tacticians, perhaps best known for the Valley Campaign, during which his army of 17,000 men inflicted five defeats on three separate Union forces totaling over 60,000 troops that had been sent to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia to destroy him.

As to his eccentricity, Davis captures one example immediately:

“He sat, incongruously sucking a lemon, on the outskirts of the village of New Market, Virginia, this spring day in 1862, surrounded by his troops, who rested after a brief noon meal. Wry-faced and pensive, he dealt with his everlasting lemon, evidently oblivious to all else.

No one knew where the fruit came from, but it was always on hand. He spent half his time with one of the yellow skins gleaming in his beard, and his men had been waved into combat with his half-sucked lemons, as if by the baton of some imperial marshal…It was one of the least of his mysteries, vaguely connected with the nervous indigestion and cold feet of which he complained.”

A struggling, but determined, student at West Point, Jackson first saw action during the Mexican War, winning several promotions. After the war, he became an instructor at the Virginia Military Institute (an unpopular one, as a matter of fact), and was present at the execution of radical abolitionist, John Brown. He began the American Civil War as a drill master, and finished as a Lieutenant General. His death by friendly fire after the battle of Chancellorsville deprived the Confederacy of one of its chief military assets, and was a great blow to Southern morale.

* * *

The American Civil War - a two-volume set which includes a history of the war by Ralph Newman and Otto Eisenschimmel (with an introduction by Bruce Catton), entitled The American Iliad, and a monthly calendar of important events for each year of the conflict, in addition to short biographies and photographs of the war’s major military and political leaders, entitled The Picture Chronicle - is a wonderful general introduction and basic reference work. The first volume is largely a collection of first-hand accounts by the people who were there, so there is an immediacy about the book that makes for very compelling reading.


bruce said...

One day I may have time to read this to understand the complexities of that tragic time. For now what I know comes from movies like Santa Fe Trail.

But didn't Raymond Massey as John Brown teach us a powerful lesson about the dangers of fanatics and zealots?

Paco said...

Yes he did, Bruce (btw, I think that was one of Massey's greatest performances).

richard mcenroe said...

The 'imminent' historian? When does he start?

BTW and FWIW (like OMG, txting shrthnd!)The Killer Angels and Gods and Generals are available in a two-dvd pack at Walmart. Martin Sheen makes a dumpy, pudgy Robert E. Lee but Robert Duvall is a great Jackason. Sam Elliot as John Burford is excellent.

richard mcenroe said...

Jackason = Jackson. My spelling is imminent too.

Paco said...


"Very good, young Paco. You may resume your seat."

JeffS said...

I have both those DVDs, Richard. There's a certain amount of overacting, but good flicks none-the-less.

Paco, I'm still working my way through a set of Civil War books you recommended earlier ("Mr. Lincoln's Army", for example). These new ones sound great, but I have to pace myself, y'know?

Still, Jackson is a fascinating man. The Confederacy was dealt a serious blow when he died.

Vicky said...

I am also looking for some books on civil wars. I hae managed to get my hands on 2-3 titles but cn you people suggest me some more.

Anonymous said...

Otto Eisenschimmel was my father's close friend. He was born in Austria, but an American citizen because his father had fought at Shiloh in the Union Army. He came here about age 22 knowing no English and made his fortune. He was fascinated by the Civil War and has written several excellent books about it. Also his autobiography, "Without Fame" is fascinating reading.

S. Lachman