Friday, March 1, 2013

February 2013: A Month of Acquisitions

Last month I made a few welcome additions to my ever-growing collection of antique books and newspapers related to the Civil War.  I am always on the lookout for intriguing acquisitions at a reasonable price, and February was a month of particularly notable discoveries.  I tend to gravitate towards publications with a Northern Virginia or Washington connection, although I am always open to purchasing books or papers on other interesting topics.

The on-line auction site eBay is an excellent starting point for finding original Civil War-era newspapers.  A few weeks ago I bid on, and won, a May 25, 1861 edition of Harper's Weekly.  This issue focuses heavily on the early days of the war in Washington.  In fact, I illustrated a two-part series on Union volunteers arriving in the nation's capital with prints from this edition of Harper's Weekly.  (See here and here.)   The front page features a dramatic engraving of the 11th New York Fire Zouaves fighting to extinguish flames that threatened to engulf the famed Willard's Hotel.  (The complete story can be found here.)  A few other prints depict the quartering of Federal troops in the U.S. Capitol and at the Treasury Department.  I also was drawn to a full-page illustration of the 79th New York on parade by Winslow Homer.  This regiment, which fought at Bull Run, was later commanded by Isaac Stevens and played at key role at Lewinsville, a local engagement near and dear to my heart.

Front cover of the May 25, 1861 issue of Harper's Weekly, showing "Willard's Hotel, Washington, Saved by the New York Fire Zouaves."  The paper noted that the soldiers "worked like heroes, performing wonderful feats of agility and bravery."  Their leader, Col. Elmer Ellsworth, was shot dead in Alexandria, Virginia by a secessionist the day before this issue appeared.
"The Seventy-Ninth Regiment (Highlanders) New York State Militia," Harper's Weekly, May 25, 1861.  The parade depicted here likely took place in New York City prior to the regiment's departure for Washington.

"Galleries Under the Senate Chamber, Converted into Granaries," Harper's Weekly, May 25, 1861.  
One evening last month I also spent some time browsing AbeBooks and ended up purchasing an 1881 first edition of John C. Ropes' The Army Under Pope for less than twenty dollars.  This slim book was part of a multi-volume series, Campaigns of the Civil War, published by Charles Scribner's Sons.  My copy, including a fold-out map, is in very good condition, with the exception of some minor shelf and edge wear.  Ropes, a lawyer and historian, founded the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts.  Incidentally, he was also a co-founder of the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray.  Ropes dedicated the book to his youngest brother Henry, a lieutenant in the 20th Massachusetts who fell at Gettysburg.

The Army Under Pope, which appeared less than 20 years after Second Manassas, offers a critical examination of John Pope's performance as commander of the short-lived Army of Virginia.  Ropes made use of official battle reports that were appearing in print for the first time.  The author defends Gen. Fitz John Porter, who was court-martialed and dismissed from the Union Army for his alleged failures at Second Bull Run.  In other passages that I've read, Ropes tackles the popular argument that Gen. George B. McClellan intentionally contributed to Pope's defeat. 

Of course, I don't purchase all of my books on-line.  One day in February I was browsing the shelves at my favorite bookstore, The Old Book Co. of McLean, when the owner alerted me to an 1860 first edition of Ezra B. Chase's Teachings of Patriots and Statesmen; or, the "Founders of the Republic" on Slavery.  I took one look and knew that I couldn't let this one get away.

The front cover of Teachings of Patriots and Statesmen, first edition, J.W. Bradley (publishers), Philadelphia, 1860.  I was particularly drawn to the gilt-embossed American eagle design.
At the outset, Chase informed readers that the was taking a non-controversial approach:
In compiling the following pages, I have not been influenced by partisan purposes; neither have I compiled them for the notoriety of having my name appended to a book. The country is sufficiently flooded already with partisan literature—books written for political advantage, or pecuniary gain, or both. To such authorship I do not aspire. If I have cherished an ambition in reference to this work, it has been an ambition to place before the people information upon the subject that is now agitating the country, upon which they can rely,—the views and opinions of those distinguished patriots and statesmen who formed the government, and whose intentions and principles should be heeded and carried out, if we would preserve it from disruption and decay. 
The book contains the text of various speeches and writings related to slavery, from the time of the Articles of Confederation through the 1860 election.  Chase covers such controversial issues as the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Dred Scott decision.  He also quotes liberally from the Founding Fathers, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.  Chase's book is a piece of history from a time when the nation was on the brink of war over slavery.  The copy at the Old Book Co. was in good condition, and the price was right, so I walked out the owner of this unique work.

I have no idea how many copies of Teachings of Patriots and Statesmen sold in 1860.  Presumably interest in such publications ran high as sectional tensions over slavery mounted.  Chase, a Democratic lawyer and former Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, became embroiled in controversy during the Civil War.  After losing an 1861 election for district attorney by a narrow margin attributable to the absentee soldiers' vote, Chase challenged the Pennsylvania law allowing for military voting before the state supreme court and won.  (See here.)  Chase was also arrested in 1862 for encouraging men to abstain from enlisting in the Union Army.  (See here.) 

All told, February was a better than expected month for acquisitions.  The discoveries that I made remind me why I enjoy the hobby of collecting antique books and newspapers.  Owning a tangible, written connection to the Civil War era brings the past alive on the paper before me in a way that a modern publication cannot do.  My only hope now is that I find a way to get more space, but I don't think a new home library is yet on the horizon!

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