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"Old Hoodoo" The Battleship Texas: America's First Battleship 1895-1911 Paperback – October 5, 2011
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About the Author
Mark David Cowan is a native Texan and has a Masters Degree in Architecture with a Certificate in Historic Preservation from Texas A&M University where, in addition to his architectural studies, he completed courses in engineering, nautical archeology, military, and naval history. He has worked both privately and for the State of Texas in the field of architectural preservation for over a decade and is currently a project reviewer for the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program at the Texas Historical Commission. Alan K. Sumrall is the author of the book Battle Flags of Texans in the Confederacy, published by Eakin Press, Austin, 1995. He is by profession an attorney at law in Austin, Texas and volunteers as the Antique Vehicle Coordinator at the Pioneer Flight Museum located at Kingsbury, Texas. He is a contributing author to the Spanish American War Centennial and the Flags of the Confederacy websites and is a member of the associated email-ring of Confederate vexillologists. His next literary project is anticipated to be “America's First Machine Gun - The Colt 1895 Automatic.” He is also an active living history participant focusing on 1916 US Army Impression (border period).
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What I was sent was a bulky, large format paper-bound book, containing all of four hundred and eleven pages of information. However, not all of it pertains to the USS Texas (edition #1) - indeed, it would be hard to write an account of a single ship that would stretch to that length, at least one not stuffed with anecdotal details about the chief yeoman's love life.
And, that is exactly NOT what the authors have provided. True, the detailed history of Old Hoodoo is here in spades, and written in a combination of photographs and drawings combined with narrative text. But, don't make the mistake of considering this to be just another picture book, a type all too common when dealing with military topics.
A couple of years ago, I bought (and promptly returned) what I call a "Wikipedia book" on an obscure Japanese armored personnel carrier from the World War II period. In it, the oddly named "authors" had collected just about every detail pertaining to Imperial Japan, from the Sino-Japanese War to the history of Hino Motors (a firm not involved in any way with the vehicle), but only two pages on the actual topic - the same paragraphs of which had already been included in the ad for the book on Amazon.com. I wrote a scathing review, which can be found in the body of reviews that I've written, but with the title of the book deleted - clever protection of your profit makers, Amazon.com.
That said, this book is NOT the same. What Mark and Alan have concocted here is an omnibus collection of facts surrounding a relatively obscure topic. And, that said, I find that the book has as much value in what is off of the direct topic (USS Texas, first edition) as what is on it.
The USS Texas was the first "modern" US warship of the modern era. Built to a British design, the ship had a long gestation period, this due to the limitations of US industries at the time. The various components of the ship, as they are assembled in the long, complicated process of the ship's fabrication, are covered, but not just in the "here is a gun, there is a boiler" fashion of most books on warships. While not quite up to the details offered in the Norman Friedman book on the engineering behind US battleships, this book makes up for it in spades by publishing (again, sourced from obscure magazines of the era, or from long-out of print issues of magazines like Warship International) both text and illustrations of the technology involved.
There aren't any great engineering concepts developed here - for a detailed understanding of the vertical triple expansion (VTE) steam engine, you'll still have to look elsewhere. But, as far as the installation of such a plant in the USS Texas, and the horrible problems encountered with this "first example" of modern warship design, it's all there, complete with comprehensive diagrams.
(More that this, if you are so enamored of the ugly duckling that was the USS Texas (first edition), you have the option to purchase a set of large scale drawings of the ship through a mail order program. A nice touch, that.)
So, there's a lot here about the Texas, from the armament design and modifications (complete with comprehensive drawings) to the life of the ship's mascot. About what you would expect from a book on the ship, after all.
But wait - there's more - far, FAR more. What Alan and Mark have delivered here is a comprehensive graphic history of the ship and its milieu. You get the history line of the naval campaign of the Spanish American War. You get a capsule history of each of the Texas's officers, even including a rundown on the court marshal of the ship's chaplain. You get a detailed examination of the electrical systems installed in the ship, including a detailed drawing and explanation of the primitive electrical range-finding system (based upon a similar one used by the US coast artillery), down to the operation of its individual receivers scattered at the ship's gunnery emplacements.
That last alone was enough for me to order a second copy of the book (which I intend to have hard-bound, as a permanent reference volume) But, there's a lot more.
For example, you get a detailed examination (more detailed than I'e seen in most books and articles on the topic) of the Texas's opponents at the Battle of Santiago. You get a detailed (with drawings as well as text) examination of the weapons included on the Spanish ships, down to some very minor details on the gun mounts. (This book answered a question about the secondary weapons on the Spanish armored cruisers that has been troubling me for many years, one that none of the enthusiasts who read and write for the Warship International magazine were able to answer. Again, more than worth the money that I paid for my two copies.) You get a capsule analysis of torpedo theory and practice at the time of the Spanish American War - better done and more concise than in any of the books on the automotive torpedo that are out there today. You get ot read about the problems with early automatic cannon, and why we aren't sure if any of them were on the ship during the Yanko-Spanko War.
True, the book is published on less than ideal media - the photographs don't come through as well as they would have on gloss paper like you would find in a Naval Institute book. But, much of what is included here is in the form of drawings - patent drawings, drawings from plans, and drawings from early magazines like Scientific American, which back in the day was far more interested in warships and weaponry. They reproduce very well on the paper chosen.
In the end, this is a book that (while not in the strict, scholarly traditions of the likes of Norman Friedman) is a very important addition to the modern (i.e., available to the masses) body of work on the Spanish American War. If you want to learn about the USS Texas (first edition), get this book. If you want to learn about the Spanish fleet circa 1898, get this book. If you want an easily accessible text on naval warfare at the turn of the previous century, get this book. Hell, if you want to learn about the USS Maine, the contemporary ship that served alongside of the USS Texas (when they were both operational) get this book - there's more here on the ill-fated ship than in most books about the Maine.
Too bad the authors couldn't have coaxed a higher quality edition from a more-enabled publisher.
The one thing that could have improved the book was to "Photoshop" the photos to improve the visual quality. Some historians will say that violates historical principles, but I prefer that since very old photos have deteriorated to the point of being almost useable. With that said, this adds to the publishing cost and I am sure that was a trade-off. Just be forewarned that some of the photos are of poor quality.
If you are interested in the first battleship USS Texas, this is the book. After you read it, you will feel like you were onboard.
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The book also has some extra s include
* -detail on Spanish...Read more