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Ralph G. Newman, 1911-1998 John Y. Simon Some could argue that 1 940 marked a turning point in the American Civil War. In that year a twenty-nine-year-old Chicago bookseller renamed his store the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop and led fifteen friends out to dine at the Bismarck Hotel before listening to Percival G. Hart's presentation, "Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign." Ralph G. Newman recalled that he and his companions had "no noble motives. . . . We simply liked each other and we shared an interest in a special period of American history." Soon these informal gatherings became monthly affairs that adopted the name Civil War Round Table. Based in a bookstore , the Round Table reflected Newman's tastes and interests. A congenial circle discussed the Civil War while imbibing liquor, which Newman poured so generously that he later frequently complained he should have sold drinks and given books away. Round tablers wealthy enough to buy drinks elsewhere congregated around Newman for conversation and companionship. At the Round Table's fiftieth anniversary, Newman reminisced that early members were "wealthier and were heavier drinkers." As for newer members, "most of you are better scholars." Newman was a self-made man; indeed, self-invented. Bom in Chicago, he attended Northwestern University for one year, other schools even more briefly, played minor league baseball for Wichita and Tucson, worked in a bank, and wondered what to do with his life before deciding to buy a bookstore that had succumbed to the Depression. Customers Carl Sandburg and Lloyd Lewis influenced Newman to specialize in Civil War titles. He could boast that he had more formal education than Lincoln and, in addition to selling books, he read them. Later, he branched out into manuscripts, a far more lucrative and challenging field. When the great Lincoln collection of Oliver R. Barrett, the subject of a book by Sandburg, was sold at auction in 1952, Newman bought 80 percent of the documents and became predominant in the field. In the meantime, the round table concept had spread across the country. Its inauguration coincided with the decline of veteran and other hereditary Civil War groups and a growing distaste for military history among academic historians. Avery Craven of the University of Chicago and J. G. Randall of the University Civil War History, Vol. xlv No. i © 1999 by The Kent State University Press 62CIVIL WAR HISTORY of Illinois had declared the Civil War "repressible" and "needless." Biographers glorified both Stephen A. Douglas and Andrew Johnson at Lincoln's expense. Interest in the Civil War itself fell to nonprofessionals, led by Newman, who perennially insisted that Round Table meetings provide fun as well as education , fellowship as well as scholarship. Civil War History was founded in 1955, chiefly to appeal to the burgeoning round table movement. Under its initial editor, Clyde C. Walton, librarian at Iowa State and a longtime Newman ally, the first issue opened with a transcription of an address made by Douglas Southall Freeman during a Round Table tour ofRichmond. The issue included a piece by Newman's longtime friend E. B. "Pete" Long presenting the text of two Ulysses S. Grant letters then owned by Newman. Long also inaugurated a column, "The Continuing War," presenting news of forthcoming Civil War books, while Newman offered "For Collectors Only," listing and evaluating books already published. Chicago chemist Otto Eisenschiml, co-author with Newman of The American Iliad (1947) and then co-author with Long of As Luck Would Have It (1948), contributed "Bragg's Headquarters," an article that was little more than a padded personal anecdote. Other articles, including an excerpt from T. Harry Williams's forthcoming biography of Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard, set a more learned tone without diminishing the journal's appeal to exuberant amateurs. Almost imperceptibly over the years Civil War History achieved a more scholarly aspect. Newman, who served on thejournal's editorial board for twenty years, faded as a dominant presence in Civil War History but achieved prominence elsewhere . He became the nation's leading manuscript appraiser, an enterprise that proved costly when Richard Nixon betrayed him. Newman rebounded from a 1975 conviction to triple his appraisal business. His...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 61-63
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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