Just Started: Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

I’ve decided on book 8 of my Project: Civil War reading.  It’s Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, which has been mentioned and recommended to me by many.  It also feels like a good fit since *spoiler alert!* 🙂 Stonewall Jackson (the subject of the last book I read) doesn’t survive through the entire war and dies before the Battle of Gettysburg, which is the focus of this book.  It’s also mercifully short (295 pages on my e-reader) so I should be able to get a little bit ahead again on my 12 Civil War books in 12 Months concept.

I’m also open to suggestions for book 9 of Project: Civil War.  I’d prefer non-fiction, but any ideas are appreciated.

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Stonewall Jackson: Portrait of a Soldier

This book was written by John Bowers

I picked this book up a couple months ago at Jerry Musich’s Rare & Collectible Books” at 86th & Ditch on the north side of Indianapolis.  This was the seventh U.S. Civil War-related book that I have completed this year  (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Storm Over the Land, Gone With the Wind, The Red Badge of Courage, Company Aytch, and The House Divides are the others).

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a biography, and I’d forgotten how enjoyable a good one can be.  I learned a lot more about the legendary Civil War general (whose mother is coincidentally buried in the town that my own mom was born in – Ansted, West Virginia).  I admit also, that I didn’t know too much in detail about Stonewall (Thomas J.) Jackson aside from the popular legends.  (Below: a picture of Stone Mountain, GA, where the likeness of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson are carved)

He was a ‘simple man’ who saw things simply in black & white – or right or wrong.  Also very religious, he hated fighting on the Sabbath and would often take time out to pray as part of his preparations for battle.  As Bowers put it, “Jackson loved the regulated life, loved to know what to expect and to do his duty to the almighty.”

There was also much in this book that reminded me of two of my other Civil War books – The Red Badge of Courage, and Company Aytch.  Both spoke to the chaos of the battlefield could leave one with the impression that “no one really knew what was going on.”  Bowers cites The Duke of Wellington’s thoughts on this: “…battles, if not history itself, could never be recalled with total accuracy.  He compared the past to a grand ball, where everyone in attendance sees but little moments, and all have different reactions and never the definitive picture.” This seems a very apt analogy to me.  Bowers puts it into his own words as well:  “Battlefields are not sports arenas – a designed region, there for the purpose of a refereed engagement.  A battlefield is not neatly set up with markers saying what is in and out of bounds.  Battlefields come into being when a general decides “Here I’ll stand”; when armies stumble over one another; when a marauder seeks out his prey and pounces; by wild chance or divine providence, depending upon viewpoint.” In short, once again I was reminded that “War is hell.”

There is a ‘glorious’ side to war too, of course. Why else would – across countless generations of history – there be a seemingly limitless supply of volunteers?  As Robert E. Lee said (quoted in this book, though I was already familiar with the phrase): “It is well that war is so terrible.  We should grow too fond of it!”

In another section – chronicling what became known as the Seven Days’ battle – I was reminded of a phrase you hear often these days (though most often related to sports) which is “No excuses, no explanations.”  Jackson and Lee meet, after Lee had failed to appear at the proper place and time earlier in the conflict.   The meeting was summed up thus: “Well, forget the delay, and what had taken place; never apologize, never explain.”  In other words, there was work to be done in the here and now, we can worry about the past later.  A sound policy, widely applicable, not just in war.

“We will give them the bayonet.”

I think the reason Jackson was so successful (he was studied by future generals, including Patton & Rommel, and his tactics were supposedly the basis for Germany’s concept of “Blitzkrieg” warfare) was that he ‘understood’ war.  Where others would maybe cling to ‘peacetime values’ and let them temper decisions and actions, Jackson realized those must be suspended in the face of battle.  He was ruthless with deserters (they were shot) and did not tolerate those who would not follow orders.  A good summary of Jackson’s strategies, related by John Imboden who served closely with him:

“he often said there were two things never to be lost sight of by a military commander: ‘Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy, if possible; and when you strike and overcome him, never let up in the pursuit so long as your men have strength to follow; for an army routed, if hotly pursued, becomes panic-stricken, and can then be destroyed  by half their number. The other rule is, never fight against heavy odds, f by any possible maneuvering you can hurl your own force on only a part – and that the weakest part – of you enemy and crush it.  Such tactics will win every time, and a small army may thus destroy a large one in detail; and repeated victory will make it invincible.”

All in all, a very interesting book.  It’s made me want to read about many of the other historical figures I encountered within…

More new Book purchases!

Friday after work I stopped by “Jerry Musich’s Rare & Collectible Books” at 86th & Ditch on the north side of Indianapolis.  I was primarily searching for any Sir Walter Scott that he might have, but “all” he had was a complete set, which was (A) more than I wanted to spend and (B) too nice for me to read (I’ve mentioned before that I’m an inveterate highlighter/underliner and note-taker) since they were more ‘collectible.’  I ‘saved’ the trip by picking up a couple other books, though.

For my Project: Civil War, I bought a biography of Stonewall Jackson, Stonewall Jackson, Portrait of a Soldier by John Bowers.  Also, as a follow up to my January reading of Rex Stout’s Some Buried Caesar, I bought another Stout mystery, The Second Confession, which I look forward to reading. This latter book is older, and more of a collectible as it is the 1946 edition.  Pretty neat.

The other book was one I downloaded to my nook® and a title that will likely not be unfamiliar to you.  It’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  I’m already about 15% into this one just from reading this morning.  It comes highly recommended on several of the blogs I follow, and I confess I find Lisbeth Salander quite an intriguing character.  I’ll write about this book when I’m done…

Here is a link to a quick summary of the bookstore.

On tap for April Reading

Wow.  Hard to believe another month has already come and gone – and with me ’failing’ to meet many of my goals I brazenly posted about previously (you’ll get used to this from me… 🙂 )
I am, however, a little ahead of schedule in regards to the total number of books I hope to read this year (goal: 50 – I have 33 to go) and in my “Project: Civil War” in which I hope to read 1 book related to the Civil War per month for a total of 12 (progess: 5 down, 7 to go).

What do I plan to read this month?  Well, next up in P:CW is a history book by Paul I. Wellman titled The House Divides, which covers United States history from the time of Andrew Jackson to the start of the Civil War.  I’m about 40 pages in and have found it interesting so far and am learning a lot already.  Completion of this book will get me to the halfway point in P:CW.

I also think it’s time to finally read Shakespeare’s MacBeth. (in 2008, my project was “Project: Shakespeare”, where I hoped to read all of his plays throughout the year. – I only got about 2/3 of the way through this project, but have continued to read the remaining plays occasionally ever since.  I posted some information on this project within my  book club’s website.
I should also mention that I have since discovered another blogger who had a much more macho project:  “38 plays, 38 days”  wherein he is reading through the entire catalog at a rate of one play per day.  Now THAT is hardcore reading…

This WILL be the month I finish reading Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering.  If I fail, I invite all readers (“both of them”) of my blog to publicly chastise and ridicule the weakness of my resolve on May 1st…

One more book would make it a good month… hmm… Maybe it will be Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Gods of Mars, or Albert Camus’ The Plague, which I started once long ago but never got back to.  Wish me luck!

P.S. And, of course, once again I will pledge to try to post more often to this blog and to improve its appearance…

Finally Finished!

Yes! I was able to complete this book over the weekend, reading the final 200 pages or so today.  I liked it very much, and it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.  I’ve written earlier that I’ve never seen the movie or read the book, and I was under the impression all the action took place during the Civil War, but the book goes well beyond the end of the war and far into the Reconstruction era.  I’ll write something longer about my overall impressions later, but wanted to brag that I had indeed finished this very long novel.

Another Progress Report: Gone With the Wind

I just finished with part four of GWTW (this is one loooonnng book – 959 pages in my edition). I have 170 pages to go – roughly four hours of reading at my ‘slow’ pace. Can I make it to the end today? We’ll see…

Progress report: Gone With the Wind

As of this morning, I have completed part 2 (I think that’s up to chapter 19).

****READ NO FURTHER if you don’t want me to spoil anything…****

Ashley Wilkes is a POW in Rock Island, Illinois. Sherman’s army is “at the gates” of Atlanta. Rhett Butler is still ‘working on’ Scarlett. Melanie Wilkes is still oblivious to Scarlett’s true nature (seemingly). Scarlett is still remarkably self-centered in spite of all the suffering and privation surrounding her. Oh, and Melanie is pregnant (Scarlett is predictably upset by this development)

The Civil War is about 75% over (chronologically) but the book is only about 30% over. How is MM going to fill up another 600 pages? I will find out soon, hopefully…

More on Company Aytch

I’d have to say that one of the things I enjoyed about this book is Watkins’s ‘humbleness’ in his writing. He knows there are some things that cannot be explained or described (and I don’t just mean by HIM, but more so by any writer, although he graciously speculates otherwise). One particular passage struck me.

Presentinent, or The Wing of the Angel of Death:

“Presentinent is always a mystery. The soldier may at one moment be in good spirits, laughing and talking. The wing of the angel of death touches him. He knows that his time has come. It is but a question of time with him then. He knows that his days are numbered. I cannot explain it.”

He goes on to relate the story of Bob Stout, who declines three days of rations because he “knows” that his time has come. Of course Stout is killed just as Watkins is telling him “you wern’t killed, as you expected.”

Finished Book #7 of 2010

Just finished Company Aytch by Samuel Watkins this morning.  It is a memoir of the civil war by a private in the Army of Tennessee.   Total of 240 pages and fairly fast and compelling reading.  It is more a series of short two or three page sketches about various battles, incidents and people.

Watkins is “a good writer for just a Private” – that sounds bad, but I guess one expects the ‘rank and file’ of the army to not be as educated or literarily (is that a word?) adept.  The book was written over 20 years after the end of the war, and Watkins continually inserts the disclaimer that he’s “just a private soldier” and to “consult the histories” for more information.

He also has a habit of describing half the people in the book as “the best soldier ever to shoulder a rifle” or “the best soldier ever to tear a cartridge”, etc., etc.  Many of the descriptions in the book are not for the faint-hearted though, as war is, indeed, hell (I believe that quotation belongs to Sherman).

Well, that’s three books on the Civil War I’ve read this year (goal of 12), so I’m actually a month ahead (!)  (I’m never ahead on my projects.)

If you want to sample this book, it is available in the public domain.  Here is a link to the book on Google Books.

More on Storm Over the Land

Several times in this book, the author illustrates the ferocity of a particular battle by relating how many bullets were dug out of a tree in the line of fire or, in one case, how a tree “22 inches in diameter” was “gnawed and cut down by bullet fire.”

Makes me wonder who these people were digging out and counting these imbedded bullets…

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