Sherman: Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman by William T. Sherman

Sherman: Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman by William T. Sherman is a must book for anyone serious in learning about the life and experiences of Union General William T. Sherman.

I have read numerous Civil War books, including the prominent historical volumes by the leading scholars. Reading these volumes led me to begin reading the memoirs and books of the significant people involved in the war – Grant, Longstreet, etc. Sherman’s memoirs have been the most fascinating.

Sherman is an interesting writer. His descriptions of early California life were beautiful. It paints a great picture of 1840’s San Francisco and northern California. In other places, the writing bogged down where it felt you were reading a military TO&E (table of organization and equipment).

Sherman was not a failure in anything that he did. On the contrary, I think he led a full and fascinating life that would be difficult to duplicate in the present times, even with our transportation abilities. Sherman was a brilliant military leader and you feel as though you are with him throughout his many marches and campaigns. He includes many letters and orders in the book that I believe substantiate his writing and give proof that he was one of a kind.

I was surprised to learn that he served as commanding general of the US Army from 1868 – 1884, longer than any other person. That would be like being US Army chief of staff today for 16 years!

Yes, the book did have some hubris and he did defend some of his actions. All in all, a must read.


Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories, Beyond Imagination, The Dead Mule School for Southern Literature, Poetry & Prose Magazine, and vox poetica. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffee house, he supports his literary habit working as an IT application support engineer. He is a former Captain in the US Army. Kepler’s Military History Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs.


Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara

gandgbookGods and Generals is a 1996 novel which serves as a prequel to his father Michael Shaara’s 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning work about the Battle of Gettysburg, The Killer Angels. The book relates events from 1858 through 1863 during the American Civil War, ending just as the two armies march toward Gettysburg.

Copying his father’s approach of focusing on a few of the prominent officers of the two armies, Shaara depicted the emotional drama of soldiers fighting old friends while accurately detailing historical details including troop movements, strategies, and tactical combat situations. General Hancock, for instance, spends much of the novel dreading the day he will have to fire on his friend in the Confederate Army, Lewis “Lo” Armistead. The story also deals with General Lee’s disillusionment with the Confederate bureaucracy and General Jackson’s religious fervor.

In addition to covering events leading up to the war, the book includes the battles of First Bull Run (mentioned only), Williamsburg, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.

In 1997, it received the W. Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction from the American Library Association.

A film based on the novel was released in 2003. The film version provides only cursory coverage of immediate pre-war events, focusing primarily on Jackson and the secession of Virginia, and omits the Battle of Antietam (included in the Director’s Cut). My recommendation is read the book and skip the film.

Note: I am a Jeff Shaara fan. He is the author of 14 military historical fiction books. I met him on November 11, 2009, at The University of Texas at Arlington where he was the speaker at their An Evening With the Author Series. I met him in a small group of about a dozen private meet and greet sponsored by the UTA history department.

The below photo is Author Jeff Shaara and Amy J. Schultz, Associate Vice President, Communications and Community Relations, The University of Texas at Arlington.

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The last photo is Author Jeff Shaara. What he was explaining his historical research methodology.

1048312_545255378872387_537356674_oPhotos were taken by Jimmie Aaron Kepler on November 11, 2009, at Davis Hall, The University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, Texas.


Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffeehouse, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support analyst. He is a former Captain in the US Army. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. Kepler has a Bachelor of Arts in history with an English minor. He also earned a Master of Religious Education, Master of Arts and Doctor of Education degrees. You can also visit him at http://www.jimmiekepler.com.

“Shades of Gray: A Novel of the Civil War in Virginia” by Jessica James

Let me start with a confession. I am a man. I read Jessica James’ “Shades of Gray: A Novel of the Civil War in Virginia”. I found the book interesting and engaging. I liked it!

The story is about Andrea (Sinclair) and Hunter. She is a southerner who works as a Union scout while hiding under a floppy hat impersonating a young man. Hunter is the confederate Cavalry commander. The beginning and ending of the book were excellent and deserve five stars.

The middle part of the book slowed down a little for me. A lack of action and repetitiveness had the middle lacking the magic found at the book’s beginning and end. I pressed on in my reading because of all the great reviews and awards “Shades of Gray” had received. I was wondering what I was missing. I am glad I continued reading and finished the book. The last third had me turning the pages and unable to put the book down.

The story line is Andrea is the Union scout with world-class horseman skills that gives Hunter fits. Andrea saves Hunter’s life. Their fates become intertwined. She goes to Richmond as a spy posing as a Southern woman. She is captured and reveals her true identity as a Unionist. She spends time in a dreadful prison. Eventually, she ends up near death under house arrest in Hunter’s home as he makes good on a promise (read the book to find out!).

Andrea and Hunter are inflexible to an obsession. Andre has a volatile temper. She and Hunter have a clash of wills and wits. Their attraction for each other builds throughout the novel. They finally admit their feelings, and nothing but difficulties come their way. About this point, the book grabbed me with their fighting and the plot twists where I just read the book straight through to the end.

Jessica James’ novel is very good. I am a Civil War buff, holder of a B.A. degree in history, former U.S. Army officer and reader of over a hundred books about the Civil War. That said, the book is up there with the best I’ve read on the Civil War. I am glad I continued through the middle and finished the book. Even guys will like the book!

“Shades of Gray: A Novel of the Civil War in Virginia” hit number one on Amazon.com in the romance/ historical category, beating “Gone with the Wind”.

Awards and Honors for “Shades of Gray”: 2008 IPPY Award, 2008 Indie Award, 2008 Book Of The Year Finalist (ForeWord Magazine), 2009 Top Five Best Southern Theme (Virginia Romance Writers), and 2008 Favorite Book by The Book Connection and Bookworm’s Dinner


jak-moustacheJimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffee house, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support analyst. He is a former Captain in the US Army. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs in 2010. You can visit him at http://www.jimmiekepler.com.

Barksdale’s Charge: The True High Tide of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863 by Phillip Thomas Tucker

Phillip Thomas Tucker’s has written a well researched, very readable book titled “Barksdale’s Charge: The True High Tide of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863”.

Dr. Tucker’s book makes the premise that at the Battle of Gettysburg General Barksdale’s charge is more significant that General Picket’s charge. The author presents detail after detail.

The book gives a wonderful history of the Mississippi Brigade. He points out they are tall, straight shooters, and brave. I found the book redundant at points.

The author makes good arguments for Barksdale’s charge being more important than Pickett’s. If Barksdale had lived and expended the same energy that Pickett did in defending his actions, we think more highly of his Mississippi brigade’s contributions. Interestingly, the point of view presented was almost exclusively southern apologetic.

The book was an enjoyable read. The history of the Mississippi brigade and its contributions is worth the purchase price. I think the historians have already decided Pickett charge was more important than Barksdale’s, but it made me reevaluate.

I am well read on the subject of Gettysburg having read more than twenty books and memoirs on the battle. I am a trained historian by education who studied military history. I am a former US Army infantry officer who has studied the battle in detail in my military science curriculum. All this said; I can examine the premise, but respectfully disagree with it.


jak-moustacheJimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffee house, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support analyst. He is a former Captain in the US Army. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs in 2010. You can visit him at http://www.jimmiekepler.com.

Book Review – White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson

White HeatHe had seen men enslaved, and seen death in battle on a terrible scale. So when a young, unknown poet named Emily Dickinson wrote to ask whether he thought her verse was “alive”, Thomas Wentworth Higginson – a critic for The Atlantic Monthly and a decorated Union veteran – knew he was seeing poetry that lived and breathed like nothing he had seen before.

Higginson was immediately awed by Emily Dickinson, and went on to become her editor, mentor, and one of the reclusive poet’s closest confidantes. The two met only twice, but exchanged hundreds of deeply personal letters over the next twenty-five years; they commented on each other’s work, mulled over writers they admired, and dazzled each other with nimble turns of phrase. After she died, he shepherded the first collected edition of her poetry into publication, and was a tireless champion of her work in his influential Recent Poems column for The Nation.

Later generations of literary scholars have dismissed Higginson as a dull, ordinary mind, blaming him for the decision to strip some of the distinctive, unusual structure from Dickinson’s poems for publication. However, Brenda Wineapple offers a portrait of Higginson that is far beyond ordinary. He was a widely respected writer, a fervent abolitionist, and a secret accomplice to John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry; wounded in the first year of the Civil War, he returned to service as colonel of the first federally-authorized regiment of former slaves. White Heat reveals a rich, remarkable friendship between the citizen soldier and the poet, a correspondence from which Dickinson drew tremendous passion and inspiration – and which she credited, more than once, with saving her life.

Brenda Wineapple is the author and editor of five books, including the award-winning Hawthorne: A Life and Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in The American Scholar, The New York Times Book Review, Parnassus, Poetry, and The Nation. She teaches in the MFA programs at Columbia University and The New School in New York.

The Campaigns for Vicksburg, 1862-63: Leadership Lessons by Kevin Dougherty

Five stars plus! I loved reading this amazing book by Kevin Dougherty. “The Campaigns for Vicksburg, 1862-63: Leadership Lessons” is too good of a book to be relegated as just another history of Vicksburg. Bookstores should not limit the book to assignment in the military history section. It deserves a prominent place in the business section with the books on leadership and management as well as the military history section. As I read the book I was reminded of a book I read in the early 1990s, “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun”. The book is that good!

Kevin Dougherty does a great job of providing leadership lessons from the key military and political leaders of the time.  He helps us understand Vicksburg. He does this by sharing the challenges, characteristics, and styles associated with leadership during the Civil War. He follows with an overview of the entire Vicksburg Campaign.

Next, he provides thirty case studies or leadership vignettes. He starts with General Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan. He carries us systematically through the campaign. We meet and learn about the key leaders and engagements. Each of the thirty vignettes begins with the short summary. It follows with a succinct history of the event (e.g. Chickasaw Bayou: William Sherman and Knowing When to Quit). Sharing the resulting leadership lessons learned from the event follow. The chapters (vignettes) conclude with a sidebar of “Takeaways” which provide a succinct summary of the lessons learned.

As you are enjoying reading the book, you learn valuable lessons on the difference between management and leadership. You gain an understanding of servant leadership. You see the value of clear communication from leaders to their subordinates. You comprehend the worth of personal presence of the leader in an organization.

The author ends the book with conclusions about leadership during the Vicksburg campaign. The areas covered are strategy, confidence, unity of effort, frame of reference, situational awareness, risk taking, problem solving, personal bravery, and technical skill. The inclusion of the Vicksburg Campaign Order of Battle as an appendix is appreciated and helps with the understanding of the size of the leadership task faced by General U.S. Grant.

“The Campaigns for Vicksburg, 1862-63: Leadership Lessons” is a valuable addition to the study of leadership and Vicksburg.  It would be an excellent study for business leaders as well as the professional officer and soldier. I recommend its addition to the personal library of all students of military science. My hope is it would be included in the reading lists of the officer basic or advanced courses. As in “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun”, the lessons presented in “The Campaigns for Vicksburg, 1862-63: Leadership Lessons” are timeless.

Well done, Lt. Col. Kevin Dougherty, Ph.D. , US Army (retired) Adjunct Professor, Tactical Officer at The Citadel. I enjoyed your book. Well done, indeed!

How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War

How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War by Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones is a scholarly look at the Civil War. Hattaway and Jones have produced a great book on Civil War logistics, planning, and administration. They authors seem to focus more on the logistics and strategy side over the tactical side.

The book was very good, but at times, it was a dry recitation of chronology, dull facts, and statistics. I had to force my way to complete the book, and it took two attempts to get it read. Most copies of the book will collect dust on some university library bookshelf. It is too deep and too dry for most readers. Better to borrow this book from your library than spend your money purchasing the book.

Review: How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War by Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones

Review: Guns of the Civil War

“Guns of the Civil War” by Dennis Adler is a wonderful book. The work provides a much need detailed reference for the guns used in the US Civil War. The release of the book is timely as it helps celebrate the 150th anniversary of the war. The book is a high quality publication with a stylish and thorough history of Colt, Henry, Manhattan, Remington, Sharps, Spencer, and S&W Firearms, and guns by many other competitors and contemporaries. The history and high-level coverage given to the arms makers of the US Civil War era is without equal. The photography is high-definition, beautiful, and world-class. The photographs easily would make an excellent gallery showing by themselves.

I enjoyed sitting on the couch with my 85 years old father going through the book. We turned page by page and talked about the both the weapons, their descriptions, and the beauty of the photography. The book is an excellent reference. It will be enjoyed by historian,  US Civil War buff, as well as gun collectors.

I have provided a copy of the book to my writer’s workshop to use for a reference. Any author of historical fiction will benefit from the detailed descriptions in the book. It would make a great addition to any community library.