The Civil War: Strange & Fascinating Facts, by Burke Davis
This book mostly lives up to its name. The anecdotes and comments in this book are certainly strange and fascinating, although they are not necessarily facts. The author passes along some old canards about the rebels looking for shoes in Gettysburg, for example , and the fact that the author gives false facts does not exactly inspire a great deal of confidence in his veracity, as does the fact that he declines to cite his sources. This is an entertaining book on the Civil War, and it is certainly odd, and contains a great deal of interest. However, it should be noted clearly that this book is not reliable and therefore must be considered as a lesser work. The fact that the author operates from a clear pro-Southern bias, which he is at least honest enough to admit, suggests that there may be some general reliability concerns based on the slant that the writer has. It is especially notable, for example, that the author praises both the gallantry of rebel soldiers as well as their inventive use of landmines, which would appear to be in tension with each other, and example of an a priori bias on the part of the author.
The oddities and curiosities of this book, which is between 200 and 250 pages and was published in 1960, are divided into various chapters according to the whim of the author. The chapters deal with firsts, with divided families, with areas of special interest to the writer–Abraham Lincoln’s beard, the grammar of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the machine gun, riots, the Rains brothers, youth, the Albemarle, whether or not Stonewall Jackson was a hypochondriac, the widow Fritchie, submarines, sex and the Civil War, atrocities, the human side of Robert E. Lee, and so on. As a book this volume is wildly inconsistent in tone, as it shifts from a high-minded discussion about documentary evidence concerning the health of generals to a salacious discussion about the ubiquity of prostitutes and women of low virtue in the armies to a praise of military technology and its development. One does not really know where the author is going to go from one chapter to another, and whether the discussion will include often-forgotten sources of a high degree of historical value or whether they will include unsubstantiated rumors which are in fact inaccurate. There simply is no way to tell.
It should go without saying that this book is not a scholarly reference about the Civil War or the sort of book that a professor or even high school teacher would consider worthwhile as a reference material. If one is reading this book for entertainment and is not offended by the author’s pro-rebel boosterism, then this book can be read with at least some enjoyment, but one should temper one’s expectations and not demand too much from it. The lack of citations means that the quality of the author’s sources is impossible to tell even when, as is sometimes the case, the author himself comments that he did a great deal of original research to find obscure and neglected areas of Civil War technology to recount. Since the book isn’t too long and the bias is not nearly as offensive as is sometimes the case, I still found this book to be at least moderately amusing and slightly enjoyable, as I tend to be somewhat hostile to pro-Southern writings. Even so, most readers will probably be a good deal less picky about such matters than I am, and probably more interested in the author’s fascination with prostitutes and dueling and people hiding out trying to escape capture.
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