Local Historian And Author’s 92nd Book Illuminates River War | Local News

The most recent book by one of Greene County’s most extensively published writers provides a detailed look at one of the lesser-explored chapters of the American Civil War.

Tusculum University Professor Emeritus Myron J. “Jack” Smith Jr.’s newest work is a 327-page book, “After Vicksburg: The Civil War on Western Waters, 1863-1865.” This title is the 92nd volume from the prolific historian, and the ninth in a series of related works from McFarland & Company, of Jefferson, NC

Prior to retirement, Smith was a professional librarian and historian for 50 years, with two interests and concurrent careers that harmonized well for him. Smith was director of Tusculum University’s Thomas J. Garland Library from 1990 until his 2015 retirement.

Smith describes the new 327-page book, “After Vicksburg: The Civil War on Western Waters, 1863-1865,” as the “first published comprehensive survey of naval action on the Mississippi River and its tributaries after the Union capture of Vicksburg in July 1863.”

Over the years, Smith has built a reputation as an author of note in his fields of expertise, and his works are in many libraries. Like “After Vicksburg,” much of Smith’s work is published by McFarland & Company, a publishing firm in Jefferson, NC

Smith dedicated “After Vicksburg” to his wife, Dennie.

In a recent written response to queries from The Greeneville Sun about his new book and his writing career in general, Smith replied, “I am personally rather proud that many libraries hold my 92 works around the world. Last count was nearly 50 countries and of course all 50 states and territories.

“Libraries that I know of holding complete sets in the United States are Cleveland Public Library in Ohio, Library of Congress, Navy Department Library, US Naval Academy Library, Shippensburg University Library in Pennsylvania; overseas, several national libraries hold full sets including those in the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and Europe’s largest contemporary history library, the Bibliothek für Zeitgeschichte in Stuttgart, Germany.”

He continued: “Numerous institutions where I was employed or a frequent researcher (or sometimes a guest) hold partial sets; here in Tennessee they include Tusculum University, University of Tennessee, ETSU, Vanderbilt, Tennessee State Library, Carson-Newman, Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee State, University of Memphis, Lincoln Memorial, Maryville, Tennessee State and a few others.”

Additionally, he said, online versions of many of his titles are available. “Readers can see Amazon, Books-a-Million, Barnes & Noble, etc. for listings to purchase,” he said.

Further, numerous titles are available from e-book bundlers such EBSCO who include them in packages sold to libraries.

EBSCO Information Services is a major supplier of informational resources for researchers.

The book’s descriptive blurb on Amazon says: “This is the first published comprehensive survey of naval action on the Mississippi River and its tributaries for the years 1863-1865. Following introductory reviews of the rivers and of the US Navy’s Mississippi Squadron, chronological Federal naval participation in various raids and larger campaigns is highlighted, as well as counterinsurgency, economical support and control, and logistical protection. The book includes details on units, locations and activities that have been previously under-reported or ignored.”

The new volume owes its existence to Smith’s discovery of a gap in published historical data on waterborne military activity on the western waters.

He told The Greeneville Sun that when he began his writing career “as strictly an article writer for scholarly journals, and a book reviewer,” he discovered a market for Civil War naval articles, “particularly anything having to do with the inland rivers. At the same time, I could not easily find published information on what some thought a minor topic.”

But Smith kept pushing. “As I delved more deeply,” Smith noted, “it became apparent there were no published single-volume guides to US nautical writings period. Casting about, I was able to convince Robert Franklin, who retired a couple of years ago as president of McFarland & Co., but who was then a New York editor, to take one on.”

Helping Smith make the case for such a volume were leading Civil War scholars Bruce Catton, Cornelius Ryan, and Ed Bearss, whom Smith had contacted.

The result was Smith’s “American Civil War Navies: A Bibliography,” the success of which opened the door to further research, compiling and writing.

“I have been fortunate to continue publishing in the years since, offering both text and pictorial history type monographs in addition to numerous reference titles and articles,” he said.

His persistence has enabled him to achieve a few “firsts.”

Smith said: “During the 15 years I was at a college in West Virginia, for example, I wrote the first detailed historical journal articles detailing the 1863 Battle of Buffington Island (a tiny spot in the Ohio River which WV owns), during which Union gunboats prevented (John Hunt) Morgan’s successful return back South.”

Asked which of his many writings are in his opinion most significant, Smith said: “Based on all-time sales to date, my most important Civil War contributions have been ‘Civil War Biographies from the Western Waters’ and ‘Tinclads in the Civil War .’”

On a more subjective and less commercial basis, Smith cited a different work as his “most satisfying.”

He said: “Personally, my most satisfying was ‘Joseph Brown and His Civil War Ironclads.’ Brown was the most unique Civil War personality I have ever run across. He was a completely unknown man – of whom there isn’t even a photograph – who had an important and fascinating career before, during, and after the conflict.”

Brown’s wartime activity helped guarantee federal success on the rivers, a contribution to this day “underappreciated,” in Smith’s view. So also is Brown’s “very successful post-war two terms as mayor of St. Louis,” a time of public service that Smith said is “totally forgotten even in Missouri. No ‘Show Me State’ graduate student has even written a masters paper on him to my knowledge.”

Of Smith’s published reference works and bibliographies, which are not limited to Civil War subjects, he said his “greatest success” came with his “original five-volume American Navy set, his ‘The Baseball Bibliography,’ and for a four-volume ‘ Airline Encyclopedia.’”

A set of the latter work was donated to the Greeneville-Greene County Public Library in 2003.

Several of Smith’s pictorial histories also have done well, he said, especially “Keystone Battlewagon: USS Pennsylvania” and “Passenger Airliners of the United States.”

Orders for Smith’s new book may be placed with Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, or at the Tusculum University bookstore.

In an earlier interview with former Greeneville Sun Lifestyles Editor Lori Goff, Smith said he is currently penning “The Old War Horse: USS ‘Benton’ in the Civil War,” a companion to his earlier histories of the river ironclads USS ‘Carondelet’ and CSS ‘Arkansas.’ Beginning as a pre-war government snagboat, the vessel was converted into the flagship of the Union river navy.

Smith lives with his wife in northern Greene County and writes in a small building on his property.

He is a prize-winning writer. In 1993, I received professional football’s Nelson Ross Award. In 2016, the American Library Association named his “Civil War Biographies from the Western Waters” its Outstanding Reference Source of the year.

Smith also is the only American to have received the Richard Franck Preis for historical bibliography from the German government.

In 2006, Smith became what is believed to be the first Greene Countian to publish an e-book.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.