Pet Book Report #1: The Civil War in Song and Story

The edition of Frank Moore’s The Civil War in Song and Story in our archives is from 1888; it’s an anthology of about 500 pages collecting poetry, popular music, the 19th-century equivalent of human interest pieces, and news articles that were published in local newspapers over the course of the war. Our edition is a reprint of the same work from 1882 due to, according the preface, the editor having “almost daily, for years past…received letters requesting a re-issue of the work” (Moore 3). The 1882 version is in itself a republication of what was originally titled Anecdotes, poetry, and incidents of the war, first printed in 1865 by a different publishing company, which itself reprints pieces from the twelve-volume Rebellion Record, a series of pamphlets which Moore printed throughout the war. Darnton points out that it might be impossible to capture the evolution of books through a flow chart, and I think this is a potentially fascinating case study, crossing media from newspapers to pamphlets to books to archived text (504). Some version of Moore’s Civil War anthology has been printed six times (by Arundel, P. F. Collier, and the Bible House) in the 19th century, and then reprinted five more times in recent decades, primarily by publishing houses specializing in producing works out of copyright on demand; these modern reprints and various digitization efforts have varyingly taken as definitive the 1867, 1882, and 1889 editions. In Boston, BU’s Mugar Memorial has a copy of the original printing, and the Mass Historical Society has several volumes of the Rebellion Record in their archives, and it’s possible to find the newspapers in which many of the stories, poems, and articles collected were originally printed online.

One of the things I find so interesting about this work is how it resists the conventional understanding by bibliographers of bibliography as a normative process, an attempt to figure out what the text should read “in its most accurate form” (Gaskell 1). It takes a village to write a book, and especially this book: an anecdote that spans a paragraph in The Civil War and Song and Story might first have been written (or invented!) by a journalist, then published by Moore in The Rebellion Record as journalism, then collected by him in Anecdotes, poetry, and incidents of the war as contemporary history, then republished in The Civil War in Song and Story as memorial, then republished/digitized/studied in our era as history and myth. When we refer to authorial intention in reference to this book, can we ever refer to the meaning of The Civil War in Song and Story as a whole, or are we only able to construct what the potentially anonymous author of a particular poem “meant us to read” (Gaskell 1)? At what point can it be said that Moore has made not a collection of misreadings but an entirely new argument; that he is doing more than attempting to communicate to the reader (his reading) of the original authors’ intentions but is attempting to communicate to the reader what he has to say about the war through the medium of others’ words?

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that I’m also very interested in exploring McKenzie’s idea of “textual ephermera as a record of cultural change” (13). In positioning himself as an impartial observer collecting data from both Northern and Southern periodicals, an editor who can’t be held responsible for the opinions expressed within the pages, a presenter and not a commentator, this book marks the changing public perception of the war in a subtler, more material way than, say, successive outdated historical explanations for the war. Even the title change demonstrates the war’s changing context and its incredible influence on the way in which Americans conceptualize America between 1867 and 1882: two years after the end of the war, simply saying “the war” was enough to get the idea across; almost three decades later (after a Great Sioux War), it wasn’t. What other changes were made to accommodate a changing audience? The Rebellion Record was organized into sections: “‘Documents,’ ‘Poetry,’ ‘Rumors,’ ‘Incidents’ and ‘Anecdotes'”; The Civil War in Song and Story has no such organizational scheme (Fahs 76). This anthology exists as one of a genre of books each attempting to give a complete account of the Civil War beyond what most readers could learn from their local newspapers–how is Moore’s different? What stories does Moore recirculate that others in the genre don’t; what stories does he suppress?

Finally, I’m also interested in how Moore, as editor, employs or disregards the tools of bibliography. Darnton’s treatment of books as a business makes me curious about the economics and legalities of putting this book together. Did he select pieces he believed would be commercial successful? Did he get permissions? (Probably not.) How does that affect the history he tells? On intertextuality, Darnton explains that in the 18th century, anecdotes were “hidden incidents from the private lives of public persons, things that had really happened, though they might be distorted in the telling, and that therefore revealed the inadequacies in official versions of events” (507). “Anecdotes” as it appears in the 1866 title and in the Rebellion Record refers to a genre, but certainly there’s an element of the older definition of “anecdote” in Moore’s work as it relates to supplementing the public record (Fahs 76). I’m curious whether other elements about the culture of anecdotes also hold true: do other books in the genre reprint the same articles, the same poems? How do they express the editors’ possibly very different perceptions’ of the piece’s meaning and importance? Have they been republished at the same rate? What does that say about the meaning we’ve made from them?

Lastly, a few physical facts about the book: its paratextual elements include footnotes, an index, and a preface by Frank Moore (written for the 1882 edition and included as part of the main print run for the 1889 edition, based on pagination); illustrations (black-and-white woodcuts, I believe, with hatched shading) are placed in between each gathering on unnumbered pages; the pages have a running headline “ANECDOTES, POETRY, AND INCIDENTS.”; the main body of text is set solid, but the index is set with interlinear leads in a slightly smaller font; the boards are cardboard, a red mostly faded from the front and spine, with a diamond designed stamped on the back cover and the title (in a font with horizontal stress) embossed in faux-gold on the spine and front cover.

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