Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - May - 2006 Issue

The Civil War from Chapel Hill Rare Books

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The Civil War from Chapel Hill Rare Books.


By Michael Stillman

Though the last soldier to fight in this great war died half a century ago, it still rages on in the minds of collectors, historians, descendants, and all kinds of students of the war. "What ifs" abound for its many battles, so often won by the South despite daunting odds, though ultimately the South would fall to greater northern manpower and the indomitable will of its Commander in Chief. The Civil War is filled with stories of courage and honor, yet equally filled with tales of unspeakable horror. Chapel Hill Rare Books brings us back to this defining moment in U.S. history, when it was determined that the Union would stand but slavery would fall. Their latest catalogue, entitled Civil War, contains 375 items pertaining to the period when brother rose against brother, and much of a generation lay dead or maimed.

Chapel Hill is a North Carolina bookseller, so it should not be surprising that most of these items reflect the Confederate point of view. The majority are either books about Confederate leaders, soldiers, and their actions, or Confederate imprints. However, there are a few treatises from the northern side, and some from neither point of view. Whether you come from the North, South, or neither, if you remain fascinated by this enormous and deadly family dispute, as so many still do despite the passage of time, you will be fascinated by the collection Chapel Hill offers. Here is a quick look inside the catalogue.

Richard Taylor's Destruction and Reconstruction is generally considered one of the best memoirs of the Civil War, not to mention one of the more ironic. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant General in the ranks of the Confederacy, and was one of their more effective commanders in Louisiana and Alabama. His forces were the last east of the Mississippi to surrender, on May 8, 1865, a month after Lee threw in the towel. Taylor's memoir was published in 1879, the year he died, and covers his service in the war and post-war opposition to Reconstruction. The irony of Taylor's confederate career was that he was the son of President Zachary Taylor, who had pledged to personally lead troops against the South if it ever seceded, and would hang those who rebelled against the country with less reluctance than he had hanged deserters and spies while leading U.S. forces in the Mexican War. Richard chose to follow the path of his brother-in-law, Jefferson Davis, but it is a good thing Dad was not still around to discipline him after the South seceded! Item 251 is the rare first English edition, published the same year as the first American. Priced at $385.

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