A number of other bloggers have already announced the release of his new book, The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth (University of Kansas Press, 2008), but when we are talking about Earl Hess my rule is the more talk the better. Hess is quite simply one of my favorite historians. I can best express my enthusiasm by admitting that when a new book of his is released everything else takes a side seat. I’ve read just about all of his books, my favorites including Lee’s Tar Heels: The Pettigrew-Kirkland-MacRae Brigade and Liberty, Virtue, and Progress: Northerners and Their War for the Union. Hess has tackled a broad range of topics within the sphere of military history, and readers can always count on a well written and analytically-driven interpretation that inevitably leads to a reassessment of basic assumptions concerning the subject at hand. In that sense, both the scope and quality of his work remind me of George Rable’s scholarship.
I’ve never met Professor Hess, though I did spend a few weeks in the summer of 2003 mining the Richmond archives for sources that will be used in his final volume of field fortifications during the Petersburg Campaign. Much of that source material became the foundation for my own work on the battle of the Crater. By the way, Hess is finishing up (and may even be finished) with a book-length manuscript on the Crater. [If I am not mistaken, UNC Press is going to publish it.] We haven’t seen a decent book-length account of this battle since Cavanaugh and Marvel’s study, which was published back in 1989.