Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Review for Curiosities of the Civil War by Webb Garrison and other Civil War books

Curiosities of the Civil War: Strange Stories, Infamous Characters and Bizarre Events

Ever since I visited West Point, I have become a Civil War Buff. So when BookSneeze offered  Curiosities of the Civil War  by Webb Garrison, I eagerly requested a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review (had to fit that in somehow).

Webb's intention in writing this book was to cite unknown and unusual tidbits of information regarding this tragic war between the states. The book is divided up into nine sections and each section lists brief anecdotes under different themes. For instance, Part one contains little known facts about Lincoln and Jefferson Davis (Davis lost his sight in one eye during the Mexican War, Lincoln may have had Marfan syndrome which would have accounted for his elongated features).

The section also provides brief facts about famous people at the time, apparently with the intention of debunking any myths that give credit to otherwise honored individuals. E.g. Walt Whitman was a nobody until after his death when Europeans first, then Americans recognized his poetry. Matthew Brady didn't really see any Civil War activity; his hired photographers took all the photos et al.

I found those parts to be a bit negative but other sections are rather interesting. There's a section that recounts different men who kept fighting even after they were severely wounded or even lost limbs.

Another section tells about women who followed their husbands into battle, providing support and home cooked meals. Some wives even stayed with their loved ones during imprisonment.

The section called, “No Two Military Events Were Identical” includes some graphic hand to hand combat scenes and includes a particularly memorable quote from a Federal officer:

 The shells shrieked and screamed over our heads, and each shell seemed to cry, 'It's you, it's you!' as if flew on its errand of death. (Chapter 11, pg. 123: "Sights and Sounds of Combat")

Webb includes facts on the machinery, artillery, boats ships, how black soldiers were treated and an informative chapter on different inventions that were produced as a result of the war. A couple examples of these are dehydrated food and an assembly line machine that rapidly produced shoes to replace foot gear that quickly wore out due to heavy use (this particular invention benefited Union soldiers, Confederates got to go barefoot throughout the war).

Garrison does not appear to like our 16th president. Lincoln is painted in none-too-flattering hues. If his book was your only source of information on the subject you'd think one of our most beloved presidents was a corrupt, politicking cronier who only served his own and his buddies' interests.

Nevertheless, if you enjoy collecting every source you can about this monumental time in our country's history, then this book is a good addition.

Here are some other books I've acquired about the Civil War:

                                                      A War to Petrify the Heart

This is a collection of 197 letters from Richard T. Van, a 24 year old Union soldier from Dutchess County New York. Van Wyck wrote these letters to his family and fiancee while fighting with the 150th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

His first battle was at Gettysburg where he aptly describes the horrendous carnage:

  We did terrible execution, literally piling the Rebs up in masses....I never was on a battlefield before and the Lord preserve me from such a sight again.

That wasn't to be. The 150th were then packed on trains and sent west to join Sherman's armies as they “cut a swath” through Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas.

The letters are in an easy to read style with the plain-spoken Mid western tones of a northerner. There's no charm or manner to his mode of speech, as he honestly describes the battles, his comrades, southern women (whom he refers to as “tobacco chewing angels”-something he found almost as shocking as the war) and the southern soldiers (whom he considers more honorable then his drinking, gambling Union companions). He told his family that this was a “War to petrify the heart,” hence the title of this book. I bought this book at West Point and recommend it to all Civil War and American history buffs.

The Civil War by William C. Davis

This is a three book collection. One book is about the battles, one about the leaders and one on the fighting men. As the other book, it contains  a lot of written information,  photos and paintings.

Eyewitness History of the Civil War by Joe H. Krichberger

This book is a collection of stories and letters by people who witnessed the Civil War first hand. It's a favorite of mine because instead of a dry chronicle of what happened, it becomes a personal rendering as men and women from both sides of the Mason Dixon Line describe what they saw and heard in their own words.

Mathew Brady by Barry Pritzker

Finally, if you like documentary photography, you'll enjoy this book that is filled with Civil War photos taken by Brady and his troupe of photographers.


  1. Interesting! This war fought on our own soil against our own people intrigues me the most. I'm sure Lincoln had his bad points but...I think I'd like to remember his good ones. ;)

  2. I agree with you! This is one of the most intriguing wars and I prefer to remember Lincoln as an honorable man.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.