The first book I ever read
about the Battle of Gettysburg was Coddington's "Gettysburg
Campaign". To this day it remains my favorite book
on the battle. That may be, in part, because it was my first.
But the truth is that I really like how Coddington not only
explains decisions that were made within the context of
the limited options available to the commanders, but he
explains what those limited options are. I've never been
in the military so all of this was new to me.
There is a great story about how Coddington found some
fresh information for his book. Here is a passage from the Introduction
to the Bachelder Papers, published by the Morningside
Bookshop: "The Bachelder Papers remained in the
Hampshire Historical Society for decades, unknown to
and unused by historians of Gettysburg. They were rescued
from obscurity by Dr. Edwin B. Coddington, a professor of
history at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. Coddington
had an abiding interest in writing a fresh history of the
battle. He began work in the late 1950s by searching out
manuscript collections that had been little-used by previous
"Like other historians, Coddington did not know anything
about Bachelder. In a NY antique shop, Coddington's daughter
found one of Bachelder's pamphlets. Coddington wrote to
the historical society and received a reply two months later:
Yes, the Bachelder papers were housed with them, but no
one seemed to have ever used them, and the librarians had
no idea how much material they contained. Dr. and Mrs. Coddington
eagerly drove to Concord and spent three weeks examining
boxes and bound volumes. There, they found every historian's
dream - an unused manuscript collection of vast importance
to the subject at hand. The collection includes correspondence
he received from veterans of both armies on various aspects
of the battle, comments on his maps and isometircal drawing,
arguments regarding the marking of Confederate positions,
and other questions related to Gettysburg." I could
read that story a thousand times.
I've been collecting books for a few years now and I always
enter rare book shops with the anticiption of finding some
obscure book about Gettysburg for next to nothing. I did
have one particularly exciting find back in 1995. I was
in Atlanta on a rainy day, map in one hand, book store list
in the other. I had found some rare books about Confederate
currency in one shop, but in general it was a slow day.
Then my luck changed.
I happened upon a really quaint book shop and asked them
to point me to the Civil War books. (In Atlanta you don't
ask if they have Civil War books, you ask where.)
I was looking through some shelves for something that looked
Civil War-esque when I spotted a complete set of the Official
Records of the Rebellion. I wasn't sure exactly what I had
found, but they had so much energy coming off of them that
I had to catch my breath.
After the North won the war, the U.S. government compiled
the correspondence and reports from both sides and published
10,000 copies of what came to be known as the Official Records
of the Rebellion (OR) - 128 volumes released by subscription
over the course of twenty years, from about 1880 to 1900.
Two thousand of the copies were done in red morrocan leather,
embossed with the name of the dignitary to whom the set
The set in the shop is was in mint shape, so I was surprised
when the bookseller said that they had been sitting in the
shop for a while. My confusion turned to amusement when
my I learned that the volumes were embossed with the name
of a Republican Senator from Wisconsin who had served in
the 12th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. The South couldn't
forgive Longstreet for becoming a Republican, so I guess
a Republican Senator from Wisconsin didn't stand a chance.
And this was in the days before eBay, so you had to walk
into the shop to know they were for sale. All of these elements
worked in my favor and I was able to negotiate a great deal.
But the best was yet to come.
When the books arrived at my home I was particularly interested
to see what kind of shape the three Gettysburg volumes were
in. They were in fine shape, but I observed that the volumes
numbered right before the Gettysburg volumes, the ones about
Vicksburg, were the only ones that showed any wear. Then
it hit me. Wisconsin Senator Michael Griffin, the man whose
name is on every volume in that set, served - under Grant
- at Vicksburg.