At this time of year, friends who know about my passion for Civil War history sometimes ask for help in choosing war-related gifts. I'm only too happy to help.
A number of new Civil War books are out this year, and many have received excellent reviews. I surveyed several experts on the war and asked them which book they would recommend if they could choose only one. Here's what they said:
Harold Holzer, a member of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission: "Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam," by James M. McPherson. That book also drew votes from Frank J. Williams, another member of the Lincoln Commission, and Ed Smith, a professor at American University.
Ed Bearss, National Park Service historian emeritus: "The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock," by Francis Augustin O'Reilly.
Edna Greene Medford, Howard University professor: "Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory," by David Blight.
Jean Baker, Goucher College professor: "They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War," Deanne Blanton and Lauren Cook.
Gabor Boritt, Gettysburg College professor: "Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!" by George C. Rable.
For the enthusiast who is also a tree lover, American Forests has a selection of nine trees with Civil War pedigrees.
Through cuttings, seed propagation and grafts, the choices include an offspring of the Wilderness Kentucky Coffee Tree of the Ellwood Plantation that shades the grave of Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's arm, amputated during the Battle of the Wilderness.
There is also the Antietam Sycamore that survived that battle and the Gettysburg Address Honey Locust, the only tree surviving at the site of the famous speech.
Each tree comes with a certificate of authenticity that gives the history of the tree and an arboretum tag embossed with the tree's name, species and botanical name.
For more information, call 800-320-8733 or visit www.historictrees.org.
If books or trees don't sound just right, consider the gift of knowledge. Each year in July, American University offers the Civil War Institute, an intense five-day course that can be taken for credit. Morning lectures are followed by afternoon bus tours. It is a kind of boot camp for the beginner and an intellectual challenge for the more learned. Call 202-885-1192 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Each November, the Lincoln Forum holds a three-day symposium in Gettysburg with an array of excellent speakers addressing Lincoln-related themes. The atmosphere is relaxed, but the subject is taken very seriously. I have attended the past three years and highly recommend it.
The Web site is www.thelincolnforum.org, or e-mail email@example.com.
The bargain on this list of suggested gifts is a membership in the Civil War Preservation Trust, the country's largest nonprofit battlefield-protection organization. Spokesman Jim Campi said there is a holiday special membership for $26. The usual rate is $35. That includes four issues of the trust magazine, "Hallowed Ground," and a Preservation Trust baseball cap.
The Web site is www.civilwar.org, or call 202-367-1861.
Calendar of Events
Washington: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., through Jan. 4. At the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, "West Point in the Making of America, 1802-1918," in honor of the academy's bicentennial. Covers graduates Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and other Civil War figures. Free. 202-357-2700.
Baltimore: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m, through Jan. 5. At the Maryland Historical Society, "Remembering the Battle of Antietam: John Philemon Smith's Shadow Box," display of objects collected from the battlefield and memorabilia of the dedication of Antietam National Cemetery on Sept. 17, 1867. The shadow box containing the items was made in 1866 by Smith, who witnessed the battle. Fee charged. 410-385-3750.
Centreville: 6:30 tonight. At Centreville Regional Library, monthly meeting of the Bull Run Civil War Round Table, with "Civil War 101" at 7:25 p.m. Speaker Donald Hakenson will discuss forgotten war landmarks south of Alexandria. Free. 703-830-2223.
Fredericksburg: 7-9 p.m. tomorrow. At Fredericksburg Square, book signing and reception by National Park Service historian Frank O'Reilly, author of "The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock," sponsored by Central Virginia Battlefield Trust. Fee charged. Reception tickets must be purchased in advance. 430-659-6819.
Frederick: 2-7 p.m. Saturday. At The National Museum of Civil War Medicine and other museums and historic sites, annual open house and candlelight tours sponsored by Historic Sites Consortium. Free. 301-695-1864.
Alexandria: noon-4 p.m. Saturday. At Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site, a program on how Christmas was observed during the war, including a Victorian Christmas tree and period music. Donation suggested. 703-838-4848.
Fredericksburg: noon Sunday. As part of the 140th commemoration of the Battle of Fredericksburg, National Park Service historian Frank O'Reilly will lead a two-hour walking tour on the path of the Irish Brigade. Meet at City Dock. Free. 430-371-0802.
Richmond: noon-5 p.m. Sunday. At the Museum and White House of the Confederacy, period music, children's crafts and refreshments. Free. 717-260-1861.
Petersburg: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 28-31. At Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Common Soldier, military encampment activities including cooking, period games and drills. Fee charged. 877-726-7546.