They say when you invest in something it has more value to you. That investment might be time, resources, skill-sets, or money. Last week, I shared about moving boxes of books cross-country and I remembered the first big books of Civil War history I ever purchased.
Meet Ezra J. Warner’s Generals In Blue and Generals in Gray.
I don’t remember how old I was. I’m going to guess between about age ten or eleven. But I had questions about Civil War generals and my grandfather introduced me to Warner’s volumes. In case you’re not familiar with these books, they are biographical encyclopedias of Civil War generals. It was wonderful! I started looking up the names mentioned in the children’s versions of history books. The biographical snippets are short and a little boring to read, but it’s a great starting point. I still reference these books when I’m studying a new chain of command, battle, or campaign because it’s a quick way to get some background on the leaders.
So…the books were great! But…they belonged to my grandfather’s public library—thirty miles south of where we lived. He patiently took my childish phone calls asking if he could please check out “the generals” again and bring them to me next weekend. I suspect those books had never been out of the library as often as in that period. Library books have to go back eventually though. And they can only be renewed a few times.
I wondered how much it would cost to get my own volumes. Fortunately my dad was an early EBay user… He found used copies of the volumes. I don’t have the receipt, but I think they were about forty dollars each. That’s a lot if your income is babysitting, Christmas and birthday money, and doing work for neighbors. But I had the funds in savings and would still have a little leftover. (Never go into debt to buy books!)
It felt like a lot of money, but in my mind, these books were key to my “research” and understanding of the Civil War. The purchase was made! And I became the proud owner of both volumes: Generals In Blue and Generals In Gray.
In the following years, I continued using these resources. I researched and wrote out an order of battle list for the armies at Gettysburg, using those book as reference. (Much to my chagrin, I discovered that Order of Battle lists are a relatively common thing and readily available if one knows where to look. But in my early teens I thought I was doing ground-breaking research.)
But it wasn’t all seriousness… I spent time playing a game called “who’s most handsome.” I would page through the volumes and nominate the best-looking general for the day or week. When that got boring, the game morphed into “ugliness general” and the “general with the most messed up hair.” Geeky history girl!
Looking back, “The Generals” were my first major Civil War book purchase in my collection (addiction?) and I think the choice the invest added seriousness in my childish mind for research and chasing down the facts.
What history book purchases have been “transformative” for your collection or grounding your studies?
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