Monday, April 27, 2015

Booknotes VII (Apr '15)

New Arrivals:

1. Lone Star Blue and Gray: Essays on Texas and the Civil War, Second Edition edited by Ralph A. Wooster and Robert Wooster (Tex State Hist Assoc, 2015).

If I were to hand out grades for such things, the TSHA would get a rare 'A' for packaging, inside and out. The first edition of Lone Star Blue and Gray came out in 1995 and it remains a useful compilation of journal articles. With 11 new essays out of 16 total, this new Second Edition largely transforms the volume, addressing subjects and themes (e.g. ethnicity, gender, and historical memory) of current interest to many scholars. Given how very different the two versions are I would heartily recommend owning both.

2. Sea of Darkness: Unraveling the Mysteries of the H.L. Hunley by Brian Hicks (Spry Publishing, 2015).

"Sea of Darkness recounts the most historically accurate narrative of the sinking and eventual recovery ever written. Hicks has been given unprecedented access to all the main characters involved in the discovery, raising, and restoration of the Hunley. ... Sea of Darkness offers new, never-before-published evidence on the cause of the Hunley’s sinking, providing readers a tantalizing behind-the-scenes look inside the historic submarine." The book is a popular style narrative that weaves together Hunley history with the modern efforts to find, raise, and preserve the vessel.

3. In the Land of the Living: Wartime Letters by Confederates from the Chattahoochee Valley of Alabama and Georgia edited by Ray Mathis, with Douglas Clare Purcell (Mercer UP, 2015).

"This unique book, originally published in a limited edition in 1982 and out of print for many years, is the most comprehensive collection of Civil War letters written by residents of Southeastern Alabama and Southwestern Georgia to be published." The 2nd edition has a new preface. Notable changes include a new trim size format (the original was oversize, apparently) and some minor editing changes to standardize the entries. The body of the material remains the same. The selected letters are representative of Alabama and Georgia soldiers and grouped by chapter across theater and time [Florida and Virginia, 1861; Tennessee and Kentucky, 1862; Virginia, 1862-63; Tennessee 1863-64; Georgia, 1864; Virginia, 1864-65].

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Various release related things

1. Publisher Savas Beatie sent me their release schedule for the next two months. Readers looking to satisfy their Gettysburg itch will be especially pleased. Resisting Sherman: A Confederate Surgeon's Journal and the Civil War in the Carolinas, 1865 will ship from the printer in mid-May and The Gettysburg Cyclorama: The Turning Point of the Civil War on Canvas, Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg: A Guide to the Most Famous Attack in American History, Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign: How the Critical Role of Intelligence Impacted the Outcome of Lee's Invasion of the North, June-July 1863 and The First Battle for Petersburg: The Attack and Defense of the Cockade City, June 9, 1864 (150th Anniv. Ed.) will all be available in June.

2. The third volume in Robert Browning's series Lincoln's Trident: The West Gulf Blockading Squadron during the Civil War is out now. I harbor few doubts that this one will end up being the naval book of the year.

3. Their website still doesn't have a page for it, but Tennessee tells me that Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Volume 2 : Essays on America's Civil War is still set to ship from the printer at the end of the month.  Can't wait.

4. Like Price's army itself, Mark Lause's The Collapse of Price's Raid: The Beginning of the End in Civil War Missouri keeps getting pushed further and further down the road. It currently stands as an end of June release.

5. On another T-M note, an edited Civil War journal of a captain in the 7th Missouri Cavalry regiment [Missouri Volunteer: The Civil War Journal of Captain Benjamin T. Humphrey] was self-published this month. Might be interesting. These kinds of Missouri related things don't come around very often.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Booknotes VI (Apr '15)

New Arrivals:

1. The 21st North Carolina Infantry: A Civil War History, With a Roster of Officers by Lee W. Sherrill, Jr. (McFarland, 2015).

"The 21st North Carolina Troops (11th North Carolina Volunteers) was one of only two Tar Heel Confederate regiments that in 1865 could boast "From Manassas to Appomattox." The 21st was the only North Carolina regiment with Stonewall Jackson during his 1862 Valley Campaign and remained with the same division throughout the war. It participated in every major battle fought by the Army of Northern Virginia except the 1864 Overland Campaign, when General Lee sent it to fight its own intense battles near New Bern and Plymouth." A smallish-print, double-columned, oversized book coming in at well over 500 pages in length, this is one huge regimental history. Heavy on primary sources (including a great deal of manuscript material), the depth of research appears to match that of the text, which is comprised of very detailed accounts of the 21st's campaigns. The description states that over 700 letters and memoirs were utilized. Battle maps are plentiful and always show the position of the regiment on the field and within the brigade line. The roster is limited to just officers and staff.

2. The Civil War Guerrilla: Unfolding the Black Flag in History, Memory, and Myth edited by Joseph M. Beilein, Jr. and Matthew C. Hulbert (UP of KY, 2015).

Together, the eight essays "discuss irregular combat as practiced by various communities in multiple contexts, including how it was used by Native Americans, the factors that motivated raiders in the border states, and the women who participated as messengers, informants, collaborators, and combatants. They also explore how the Civil War guerrilla has been mythologized in history, literature, and folklore."

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Gaddis: "RICHARD GATLIN AND THE CONFEDERATE DEFENSE OF EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA"

[Richard Gatlin and the Confederate Defense of Eastern North Carolina by James L. Gaddis, Jr. (The History Press, 2015). Softcover, maps, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:167/191. ISBN:978-1-62619-842-5 $19.99]

Even though Civil War armies were desperate for trained officers to lead troops in the field, many West Point graduates on both sides toiled away in low rank obscurity. Others achieved positions of great responsibility at the beginning of the war only to quickly disappear from the scene. Confederate general Richard Caswell Gatlin belonged in the latter group, his life and military career the subject of James Gaddis's Richard Gatlin and the Confederate Defense of Eastern North Carolina.

Unusual for Civil War military biographical treatments, the majority (albeit a slim one) of Gaddis's text is devoted to his subject's life and antebellum army service. A native of Lenoir County, North Carolina, Richard Gatlin was born into a socially prominent yet not particularly wealthy family. An 1832 graduate of West Point, Gatlin spent his entire U.S. Army career as an officer in the 7th Infantry and postings took him all over the country. He first gained notice by passing up the traditional post-graduation leave to participate in the Black Hawk War. Later, several tours of duty were spent along the Arkansas-Indian Territory frontier and in Florida fighting Seminoles. In between involvement in the obscure Patriot's War border affair in 1838 and the Utah Expedition of the late 1850s, Gatlin was wounded fighting with General Taylor's army in Mexico, returning to duty there only after the war ended.

In addition to describing in some detail Gatlin's actions during the above events, the author also provides insight into Gatlin's family life, one frequently marred by tragedy. Unfortunately for those researching his place in nineteenth century American history, Gatlin did not leave any great volume of writings behind and the few letters that did survive are not particularly insightful avenues into his private life and personality. Nevertheless, there is enough source material available to piece together a reasonably thorough history of his Civil War career.

Like many Tar Heels, Gatlin was a late supporter of secession. Nevertheless, when war came he served enthusiastically under both state and Confederate army banners. In June 1861, the governor of North Carolina appointed him brigadier general of state troops and commander of the southern coastal defenses. Rapidly exhausting state funds, arms, and men, Gatlin and Governor Ellis looked to Richmond for help and found the response less than encouraging. In August, Gatlin was made a Confederate brigadier general and placed at the helm of the newly formed Department of North Carolina. Few resources followed, which was doubly unfortunate given how many state initiatives were discontinued in anticipation of the transfer of authority.  Within a week of Gatlin's assumption of departmental command, Union land and naval forces captured Hatteras Inlet, opening the North Carolina sounds to invasion and giving the harried general his first taste of public ire.

The ensuing fall and winter months witnessed many organizational changes and new officer appointments but no great response to pleas for additional men and coastal guns, though one might argue that local cries of abandonment by the national government were somewhat misinformed. According to Gaddis, Gatlin actually reported rather substantial department strength during this time, with nearly 12,000 PFD in February 1862 when the Burnside Expedition first swept into Pamlico Sound and seized Roanoke Island. A recurrence of an illness first contracted on the frontier kept Gatlin from front line duty, although it's unclear whether or not he ever planned on leaving his Goldsboro headquarters behind to take personal command. Roanoke Island itself was the Norfolk Department's responsibility but the March 14 fall of New Bern was immediately followed by Gatlin's relief from command, an unfortunate bit of timing as the government was acting on the general's own earlier request to step down due to ill health. Over the following weeks, Washington, Morehead City, Beaufort, and Fort Macon would all come under Union control, further staining Gatlin's record as the individual most responsible for preparing the state's coastal defenses.

As the man in charge, Gatlin received a great deal of public blame for the enemy capture and occupation of the North Carolina coastline but as time went on most civilian and military observers came to sympathize with his difficulties. More critical of Richmond's neglect, today's historians have similarly allowed little direct blame to permanently rest upon Gatlin's shoulders. Most, including Gaddis, generally approve of his troop dispositions but one can't help but compare Gatlin's force allocations to similarly catastrophic Confederate defense plans characterized by dispersal of forces to garrison key points. In contrast to Gatlin in North Carolina, General Lee in South Carolina and Georgia recognized the lessons of Port Royal, a campaign that spotlighted the Union army and navy's ability to achieve overwhelming local superiority at points of their own choosing. Instead of employing a cordon defense of the coastline, Lee only lightly screened vulnerable coast areas, keeping his main forces at places conducive to rapid concentration against Union incursion. While Gatlin did keep a central reserve, it consisted only of two newly raised regiments, both poorly armed and untrained. It might have been interesting for Gaddis to consider the suitability of Lee's coastal defense strategy (which proved successful long term) to Gatlin's situation in North Carolina.

Largely forgiven by the end of 1862, Gatlin nevertheless was not entrusted with another Confederate command. As other Confederate generals like Mansfield Lovell and John C. Pemberton quickly discovered, presiding over very public defeats (regardless of degree of culpability) meant accepting a much diminished role if further military service was desired. Beginning in August 1863, Gatlin served as North Carolina governor Zebulon Vance's adjutant general and remained at that post until war's end. Unable to make a living in his home state during Reconstruction, Gatlin relocated his family to Fort Smith, Arkansas and died there in 1896 at the ripe old age of 87.

An important early war military figure, Richard Gatlin is certainly deserving of a modern biographical treatment and James Gaddis's Richard Gatlin and the Confederate Defense of Eastern North Carolina does a fine job of elevating the general's life and long military career out of the depths of obscurity. Civil War students seeking to answer the question of why North Carolina ports, forts, and sounds fell so quickly to Union forces will find in the book a useful historical overview of related decisions and events from the Confederate perspective.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Highway robbery is it?

In the category of more dumb review stuff are those [like this "reviewer"] that believe scholarship should be valued using a completely arbitrary hierarchy of media packaging. Mobile apps have the same warped perceptions to overcome. It's bad enough in the mature market PC software realm that digital download prices remain substantial after leaving printed manuals, boxes and CDs behind but outfits actually have to the gall to charge the "premium" price of $1.99 for phone and tablet apps that took teams years to create! At least books aren't expected to be free yet.

With the company's high profile battles with publishers over setting e-book prices below $10 across the board regardless of market circumstances, The River is partly to blame for shaping thoughtless consumer expectations, but given America's decades-long shift toward a service economy one would think at this point there would be a more broadly savvy appreciation of what might go into the value creation of non-physical goods. The amount of resources publishers invest in proper e-book conversions certainly must be non-trivial (and the process difficult, given the tremendous amount of scathing e-book reviews I continue to encounter online) but they could probably do a better job of educating consumers. Whether anyone would listen is another matter.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Powell: "THE CHICKAMAUGA CAMPAIGN - A MAD IRREGULAR BATTLE: From the Crossing of the Tennessee River Through the Second Day, August 22 - September 19, 1863"

[The Chickamauga Campaign - A Mad Irregular Battle: From the Crossing of the Tennessee River Through the Second Day, August 22 - September 19, 1863 by David A. Powell (Savas Beatie, 2014). Hardcover, 28 maps, photos, notes, appendix, index. Pages main/total:650/693. ISBN:978-1-61121-174-0 $37.50]

With only two major modern campaign studies to its credit [Glenn Tucker's Chickamauga (1961) and This Terrible Sound (1992) by Peter Cozzens], Chickamauga is one of the rare Civil War battles with coverage inversely proportional to its scale and significance. The first of three volumes, David Powell's The Chickamauga Campaign - A Mad Irregular Battle kicks off a massive project that should go a long way toward addressing the historiographical imbalance*.

Many books like this begin with overlong background discourse of the type unnecessary to their well defined and informed niche audience, but A Mad Irregular Battle knows its target readers well, dispensing quickly but thoroughly with Chickamauga's historical setup. All major Civil War operations are complicated affairs rife with tangled webs of contradiction and confusion but the Chickamauga campaign and battle perhaps defy easy understanding more than any other, with man and nature equally responsible. Powell does a wonderful job of cutting through this historical fog, his skillfully woven operational campaign and tactical battle accounts providing unprecedented detail and clarity (not an easy combination to pull off). Spotlighting the Army of the Cumberland's generally good intelligence gathering and its commander's diversionary skills, the book carefully traces Union General William Rosecrans's daring and risky plan to sweep toward and below Chattanooga on a wide front. The tabletop of war, stretching from the initial Tennessee River barrier to the seemingly endless series of parallel ridges and valleys beyond (all only sparsely populated and densely choked with forests and streams), is clearly recreated in the text, as are the effects this forbidding terrain had on movements and lines of communication.

Initially caught off guard, Braxton Bragg abandoned Chattanooga but reinforcements from all corners of the Confederacy allowed his army to stay in the fight. Powell details Bragg's failure to damage the Union army when it was scattered across the landscape, most famously at McLemore's Cove, and carefully analyzes the reasons behind those lost opportunities. Typical Army of Tennessee command dysfunction, only enhanced by the presence of so many new faces and egos, combined with confusing orders and untimely losses of nerve made a mockery of Bragg's plausibly grand plans.

In its coverage of the initial fighting along Chickamauga Creek on September 18, the book makes the strongest case possible that the battle should really be considered a three-day, rather than two-day, affair. Overnight adjustments by both sides, Rosecrans's sidle to the left and Bragg's frustrating struggle to mass of his own army across the creek, are thoroughly documented. From opening guns at Jay's Mill through the conclusion of Patrick Cleburne's fruitless divisional night assault at Winfrey's Field, the September 19 battle is recounted in extraordinarily detailed yet easily understood fashion over nearly 350 pages of text. Powell's level headed assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of the generals leading armies, corps, divisions, and brigades during these events are sometimes non-traditional but never obtusely contrarian or bent on creating outsized heroes and villains.

The author has always been a keen student of western theater mounted operations and his rich depiction of the contrasting effectiveness of Union and Confederate cavalry leadership and organization proves very useful in understanding the Chickamauga campaign and battle. At the beginning of the campaign, Confederate cavalry commander Joe Wheeler's incredible dereliction of duty left nearly 90 miles of front essentially unguarded. Later, he failed to coordinate protection of the army's front and flanks during Bragg's contemplated campaign counteroffensives and on the 18th and 19th the Confederate cavalry helped render what should have been a hammer blow to Rosecrans's exposed left yet another missed opportunity. On the other side, the Union cavalry was masterful in comparison, causing Bragg no end of worry to the safety of his army's right flank and shifting base of operations beyond. The gallant stands of General Minty at Reed's Bridge and Colonel Wilder at Alexander's Bridge, each episode meticulously recounted in the book, were instrumental in upsetting Confederate plans and saving the Union army from considerable embarrassment, if not outright defeat.

The generous map set allows the reader to easily follow campaign progression and trace regimental scale movements on the battlefield. Unit positions and terrain features are fully rendered and closely tied to the text. For a book with 28 maps (far more than the typical battle study), it might seem puerile to demand more but it would have been really helpful to have a few more snapshots of the entire battlefield situation at each stage of the back and forth fighting on the 19th.

In contrast to the relative scarcity of Chickamauga publications the amount of available source material is staggering, and with decades spent scouring archives and digesting the relevant published primary and secondary sources there doesn't seem to be much of significance that Powell hasn't uncovered. While a bibliography of most frequently cited works won't appear until the second volume, footnotes are available throughout. The final volume in the trilogy will carry the bulk of the appendices and a complete list of sources but A Mad Irregular Battle does contain an important supplement, orders of battle that include number and loss data created from the latest research.

While the impact of Powell's trilogy will not be fully apparent for some time yet (volume 2 is scheduled for a June 2015 release), A Mad Irregular Battle clearly demonstrates that an exceptional achievement in western theater Civil War military history is in the offing. It seems beyond question that these three books together will eventually comprise the accepted standard in Chickamauga studies.


* - see also Powell's Chickamauga map study and Confederate cavalry analysis.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Rattling Spurs and Broad-Brimmed Hats

I've corresponded a bit with author William Penn over the years (but not recently) about his plans for a new expanded edition of Rattling Spurs and Broad-Brimmed Hats: The Civil War in Cynthiana and Harrison County, Kentucky, his 1995 book that combines county history with accounts of 1862 and 1864 John Hunt Morgan raids (specifically the two Cynthiana battles). The 1st ed. has been out of print for quite a while and commands a hefty asking price on the secondary market but a 2014 revised version is now available for free viewing and download on the http://www.harrisoncountyky.us/ website [direct link to book here]. If you're at all interested in the subject matter, I recommend picking it up.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Booknotes V (Apr '15)

New Arrivals:

1. Potter's Raid Through South Carolina: The Final Days of the Confederacy by Tom Elmore (The Hist Pr, 2015).

With the main Confederate armies in Virginia and North Carolina dead or dying, General Edward Potter led a cavalry raid into the interior of South Carolina, adding a final layer of destruction to the state's infrastructure. Author Tom Elmore's written several books now about the Civil War in the Palmetto State, including a highly detailed history of Sherman's swing through South Carolina titled A Carnival of Destruction.

2. The Gray Fox: George Crook and the Indian Wars by Paul Magid (Univ of Okla Pr, 2015).

I liked the first volume of Magid's biographical trilogy George Crook: From the Redwoods to Appomattox. The Gray Fox scrutinizes Crook's leadership in post-Civil War army campaigns designed to subdue the western tribes, including the Paiutes, Apaches, Sioux, and Cheyenne, and ends with the removal of the Sioux to their reservations.

3. Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and Ari Kelman (Hill and Wang, 2015).

A history presented in the graphic novel inspired visual style with muted colors that tells the story of the Civil War through a selection of objects, in Battle Lines "each object tells its own story. A tattered flag, lowered in defeat at Fort Sumter. A set of chains, locked to the ankles of a slave as he scrambles toward freedom. A bullet, launched from the bore of a terrifying new rifle. A brick, hurled from a crowd of ration-starved rioters. With these objects and others, both iconic and commonplace, Battle Lines traces a broad and ambitious narrative from the early rumblings of secession to the dark years of Reconstruction." The release date is early May.

4. For Brotherhood and Duty: The Civil War History of the West Point Class of 1862 by Brian R. McEnany (UP of KY, 2015).

Only 28 members of the West Point Class of 1862 stuck with it to the end, the other half resigning before graduation. In For Brotherhood and Glory, McEnany selects 16 young men (12 Union and 4 Confederates) and explores their lives as cadets and Civil War officers. Some, like Ranald Mackenzie, James Dearing, and John Calef are well known to the students of the war, but Tully McCrea, MOH recipient George Gillespie, and others are less well known today. The appendix contains useful information, including biographical sketches for all 28 class graduates.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Banasik & Banasik, eds.: "CONFEDERATE "TALES OF THE WAR" IN THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI, Part Four: 1864. From Winter Camp to Pleasant Hill and Jenkins' Ferry"

[CONFEDERATE "TALES OF THE WAR" IN THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI, Part Four: 1864. From Winter Camp to Pleasant Hill and Jenkins' Ferry. Edited by Michael Banasik and Brenda F. Banasik (Camp Pope Publishing, 2015). Paperback, illustrations, maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 288 pp. $17.95]

Tales of the War, Part 4
Click on image to order
For those unfamiliar with Camp Pope Publishing's "Tales of the War" sub-series of its Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River Volume VII, content is drawn from participant reminiscences published on Saturdays in The Missouri Republican newspaper between 1885 and 1887. This is the fourth Confederate "Tales of the War" installment to be published (with one more on the way before moving on to the Union contributors). In Part Four, the writers recall 1864 events beginning with the 1863-64 winter encampments and ending with the conclusion of the Camden Expedition.

The winter remembrances aren't just limited to typical camp antics and mundane duties, they also document little known military operations directed toward logistical support for upcoming campaigns. 1864 Red River Campaign coverage centers around the battles of Pleasant Hill and Jenkins' Ferry. Mansfield, the battle that turned the tide of the campaign, is largely unaddressed but some material does touch  upon other important actions like Poison Spring and Marks' Mills in Arkansas. Writer stature ranges widely, from enlisted man to major general.

Memoir writing is often subordinated to journals, diaries, and letters in terms of preferred Civil War source material but sometimes distance and cooled passion can bring detached honesty of its own. More than one contributor freely admits that the Confederate right at Pleasant Hill was driven off the field in disorder. Regular readers will recognize writers from earlier Tales installments like Henry Luttrell of the 10th Missouri Cavalry and the 27th Arkansas's Silas Turnbo, but high ranking officers like General Thomas Churchill also offer their memories of campaign events. Editor Michael Banasik [beginning with Part Four, he's also brought in wife Brenda Banasik as co-editor] claims that no Red River Campaign author has used the original "Tales of the War" articles as source material in book or article so their publication here adds a freshness factor to already considerable intrinsic value.

As in previous volumes, the depth of the Banasik footnotes is incredible.  Created using a wide range of primary and secondary sources, the annotations are on their own immensely informative as both parallel narrative and in-depth investigator of persons, places, events, and claims mentioned in the text. Biographical material (often quite extensive) is offered for every individual named. Events are often fleshed out considerably, with heavily researched descriptions frequently running upwards of 200-300 words in length. In addition to confirming or correcting author claims and figures, the notes also often weigh the validity of competing interpretations from the major secondary works. While unfailingly interesting, some of these exercises are clearly open to further debate.  For example, while most observers consider Pleasant Hill to be a tactical defeat for the Confederates, Banasik cites similar casualty levels and the continued presence of part of Taylor's army on the battlefield as reason enough to rate the action a solid draw.

Extensive and richly informative appendices have always been highly regarded features of the Unwritten Chapters series volumes and those included in Part Four are very worthy of reader attention. Appendix A consists of a selection of letter and order documents.  Well researched short biographies of key Trans-Mississippi military figures mentioned in the text are a common feature of the series and the quality of those present in Appendix B is in keeping with precedent. Appendix C offers a serious reassessment of Confederate order of battle, numbers, and losses for the Battle of Pleasant Hill. Nearly every line of the OB is annotated, with a selection of published research supplemented by the editor's consultation of the O.R., newspaper resources, unit histories, letters, reports and more used to come up with numbers of effectives, casualties, and battery compositions. Conclusions frequently conflict with traditional ones. Additional Red River editorial commentary can be found in Appendix D, while E consists of Confederate orders of battle (similar in detail and scope to Appendix C's) for Poison Spring, Marks' Mills, and Jenkins' Ferry. Another notable feature of the OB research is its original attempt to describe and quantify the Red River Campaign roles of parolees and state militia, participant groups not mentioned much in existing narratives. Complaints with the book mainly pertain to presentation issues. Typos are frequently found in the notes and the cartography selections are weaker than those in earlier volumes.  Given how often the alignment of the Confederate right at Pleasant Hill was described in error by the contributors, a better detailed battle map would have been helpful.

The soldier remembrances collected in the many Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River volumes are unique and invaluable resources for Trans-Mississippi scholars and research enthusiasts. Part Four of Confederate "Tales of the War" is yet another highly recommended addition to the series, especially for students of the 1864 Red River Campaign and its associated Camden Expedition. With Confederate "Tales" ending with the next release, their Union counterparts will soon take the stage, a switch in perspective that is anticipated with great relish.


*** For more information and to order this title, go to Camp Pope Publishing ***

Friday, April 10, 2015

Booknotes IV (Apr '15)

New Arrivals:

1. Decapitating the Union: Jefferson Davis, Judah Benjamin and the Plot to Assassinate Lincoln by John C. Fazio (McFarland, 2015).

Publisher's description: "The literature on Abraham Lincoln's assassination is replete with errors, theories and guesswork. This comprehensive re-examination of the facts seeks to correct errors in the record, reconcile differences of opinion, offer explanations for unknowns and evaluate theories. Drawing on hundreds of sources, the author covers the prelude to the war, Booth's accomplices and their roles in the conspiracy, the kidnapping ruse that concealed the intended decapitation of the government, the mysteries surrounding key players, the assassination itself, Booth's escape, the pursuit of the fugitives, the death of Booth and the trial and sentencing of his co-conspirators (except John Surratt) and one innocent man. The simple conspiracy theory is rejected by the author in favor of the theory that Booth worked with the complicity of the highest levels of the Confederate government and its Secret Service Bureau, whose twofold purpose was retribution and snatching Southern independence from a weakened and chaotic Federal Government."

2. The Civilian War: Confederate Women and Union Soldiers During Sherman's March by Lisa Tendrich Frank (LSU Pr, 2015).

"The Civilian War explores home front encounters between elite Confederate women and Union soldiers during Sherman’s March, a campaign that put women at the center of a Union army operation for the first time. ... To drive home the full extent of northern domination over the South, Sherman’s soldiers besieged the female domain—going into bedrooms and parlors, seizing correspondence and personal treasures—with the aim of insulting and humiliating upper-class southern women. These efforts blurred the distinction between home front and warfront, creating confrontations in the domestic sphere as a part of the war itself. ... Although Sherman intended his efforts to demoralize the civilian population, Frank suggests that his strategies frequently had the opposite effect. Confederate women accepted the plunder of food and munitions as an inevitable part of the conflict, but they considered Union invasion of their private spaces an unforgivable and unreasonable transgression. These intrusions strengthened the resolve of many southern women to continue the fight against the Union and its most despised general."

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Hurt: "AGRICULTURE AND THE CONFEDERACY: Policy, Productivity, and Power in the Civil War South"

[Agriculture and the Confederacy: Policy, Productivity, and Power in the Civil War South by R. Douglas Hurt (University of North Carolina Press, 2015). Softcover, 2 maps, tables, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:301/360. ISBN:978-1-4696-2000-8 $45]

When it became clear that secession meant war, farmers, plantation owners, and city dwellers across the new Confederacy were equally confident in the power wielded by southern agriculture to defy northern predictions of starvation and ruin. Little worry was felt over feeding and clothing citizens and soldiers alike and they believed northern efforts to disrupt southern exports would frighten foreign markets enough to intervene in the conflict. The Civil War ultimately proved all these grand assumptions false and how this unexpected outcome came to be is the subject of R. Douglas Hurt's fine new study Agriculture and the Confederacy: Policy, Productivity, and Power in the Civil War South.

The decision to structure the book on a chronological rather than thematic basis has inherent strengths. While moving the narrative forward year by year results in a great deal of cause and effect repetition it impresses upon readers the clearest means of appreciating the gradual breakdown of the southern economy's driving force. Presenting data and analysis by theater also serves as an effective reminder of the increasingly localized nature of wartime agricultural markets in the South. There never was a managed Confederate agricultural economy but rather an aggregation of isolated economies. The foreign blockade, the cessation of northern trade, the encroachment of Union armies, and the deterioration of the South's internal transportation networks compartmentalized prices, supply, and other market forces, with abundance available in some areas and severe shortages of the same commodity in others.

As Hurt demonstrates, collapse in confidence in the war winning power of Confederate agriculture was both gradual and multifactorial. Southern farmers initially benefited from high demand and prices after the blockade shut off northern imports but, similar to Germany's WW1 experience, serious shortages were already becoming widespread as early as the first six months of the conflict. An inefficient transportation network often meant that even where there was temporary abundance it could not get to where it was needed most. Production capacity also took hits from all sides.  Early in the war, the Union army and navy (especially in the West) quickly invaded and occupied large swaths of the most productive agricultural regions of the South. National conscription of able bodied white males and losses in slave labor through both opportunistic flight and Union military confiscation decreased farm and plantation output. Even basic farming implements, most of which were manufactured in the North during the antebellum period, became scarce.

Producers also voluntarily influenced supply. Farmers and planters came to avoid markets for fear of impressment by Confederate officials and confiscation by Union occupation forces. Many growers did heed patriotic requests to forgo cultivating cotton for wheat and corn, but many others did not, leaving food production below optimum levels. Hurt makes a good point when he notes that no one knew that an end to the blockade and war wasn't just over the horizon during 1861-63 and no one wanted to be left without a prime cash crop like cotton when full trade suddenly resumed. Confederate societal solidarity also suffered when scarcities and allegations of war profiteering set food producers and consumers (whose purchasing power plummeted with devalued currency and skyrocketing prices) at increasing odds with each other.

In the midst of all this, the national government in Richmond was not entirely idle but their initiatives were often either late, ineffective or both. Confederate national policy was reactive rather than centrally proactive when it came to railroad management, which crops to grow, impressment prices, etc. The early war partial cotton embargo failed to have the desired effect. Farmers and planters needed cash to pay expenses year to year, and Confederate bond and loan program failures along with unstable paper currency and price fixing together meant that revenues and expenses could not be reliably reconciled. Failed monetary policies and incredible supply-demand disparities resulted in rampant inflation that far outpaced consumer wages and incomes. Impressment at far below market prices led to hoarding of agricultural products and productivity dipped when essential items like horses and wagons were appropriated by the army. The 10% tax-in-kind was designed to supply the army and help pay for the war but it was subject to rampant abuse and inequity.  Farmers and planters objected to paying their taxes with high value foodstuffs, cotton, tobacco, beef, and hogs instead of devalued currency. With assessment agents on their property and directly probing into their affairs, producers felt increasingly oppressed by their own government and enthusiasm for the Confederacy waned. Additionally, by decreasing market supplies by 10%, tax-in-kind measures drove up food prices for the general population even more.

Though serious cracks in the foundations of Confederate agricultural power only enlarged in 1863, confidence in victory still existed at the war's midpoint and slave prices remained high in many places. In early 1864, the Confederate government created a new currency and reformed (at least on paper) the impressment and tax-in-kind laws. However, these attempts to supply the armies, relieve civilian want and suffering, and restore relations with farmers and planters all failed, and the war's penultimate year witnessed the irredeemable collapse of Confederate agricultural power.

In addition to synthesizing the existing literature, Hurt conducted archival research of his own for Agriculture and the Confederacy, peppering the narrative with a variety of perspectives from the front lines of the agricultural home front. Taking readers to far flung Confederate outposts like Fort Smith, Arkansas, Hurt didn't limit his efforts to major cities like Richmond and New Orleans. While the constant parade of local pricing information can become a bit numbing it serves an important purpose by highlighting in stark terms the consequences of wartime economic dislocation and the failures of policies meant to address the problems the war created for both producers and consumers.  Hurt documents food riots and other lawless episodes of desperation that materialized in places throughout the South in response to shortages and high prices but he also mentions the extensive state and local relief efforts directed toward helping the most vulnerable elements of society, like soldier families and the poor.

Finally, the author discusses the end of slavery and the development of the contract work arrangement and early sharecropping systems that resulted in partial southern agricultural recovery but relegated freedmen and their families to a social status somewhere in between slavery and true freedom. In the epilogue, Hurt also goes over some of the lasting, and even permanent, agricultural changes wrought by the war. For example, it took decades for the labor, land, and capital intensive sugar industry to recover and almost the entire South Atlantic rice growing economy disappeared during and after the war, rising from the ashes instead in Louisiana.

An appendix lists monthly 1860 commodity prices in southern and northeastern U.S. cities, presumably to give readers a solid baseline for comparison to subsequent inflation levels.  This is useful, but it would also have been helpful if Hurt had found a way to collect in tabular format the wartime pricing data that he used throughout the text to such good effect. Having that information available in one place would serve as a valuable reference tool for researchers.

At its most fundamental level, Hurt's study demonstrates that commodity prices high enough to undermine the Confederate war effort by making basic subsistence unaffordable to vast numbers of citizens stemmed from three main factors: inflated currency, breakdown in transportation, and falling production. Through external wartime forces and mismanagement, all of these problems proved insoluble. Amply researched and persuasively argued, Agriculture and the Confederacy offers the best account yet of how a war winning assumption (southern agriculture abundance and power) was instead transformed into a powerful force driving Confederate defeat.


More CWBA reviews of UNC Press titles:
* A Gunner in Lee's Army: The Civil War Letters of Thomas Henry Carter
* Nature's Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia
* A Field Guide to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People
* Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign
* With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other: The Problem of Military Thought in the Civil War North
* The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi
* Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina
* West Pointers and the Civil War: The Old Army in War and Peace
* Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign (link to author interview)
* A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (link to author interview)
* In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat
* The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864
* Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign
* Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession
* Trench Warfare under Grant & Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign
* Plain Folk’s Fight: The Civil War & Reconstruction in Piney Woods Georgia
* Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign
* Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Booknotes III (Apr '15)

New Arrivals:

1. Dawn of Victory: Breakthrough at Petersburg, March 25 - April 2, 1865 by Edward S. Alexander (Savas Beatie, 2015).

A. Wilson Greene is the go-to guy for the full story of the final Union breakthrough that ended the long Petersburg-Richmond Campaign once and for all, but many readers will find Pamplin park ranger Edward Alexander's Dawn of Victory to be a suitable lighter alternative.

2. Lincoln's Autocrat: The Life of Edwin Stanton by William Marvel (UNC Pr, 2015).

There's another choice word beginning with the letter "A" that many Stanton critics would use, and this is William Marvel here so no one should be expecting a softball treatment of Lincoln's controversial Secretary of War. "In the first full biography of Stanton in more than fifty years, William Marvel offers a detailed reexamination of Stanton's life, career, and legacy. Marvel argues that while Stanton was a formidable advocate and politician, his character was hardly benign. Climbing from a difficult youth to the pinnacle of power, Stanton used his authority--and the public coffers--to pursue political vendettas, and he exercised sweeping wartime powers with a cavalier disregard for civil liberties." The author "suggests that Stanton's tenure raises important questions about Lincoln's actual control over the executive branch. This insightful biography also reveals why men like Ulysses S. Grant considered Stanton a coward and a bully, who was unashamed to use political power for partisan enforcement and personal preservation." Thick biographies tend to be CWBA kryponite but I'm sorely tempted by this one.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Booknotes II (Apr '15)

New Arrivals:

1. Lincoln's Last Speech: Wartime Reconstruction and the Crisis of Reunion by Louis P. Masur (Oxford UP, 2015).

Part of Oxford's Pivotal Moments in American History series, Lincoln's Last Speech examines the April 11, 1865 address that outlined the president's thoughts on Reconstruction. "Delving into the language and arguments of Lincoln's last address, Masur traces the theme of reconstruction as it developed throughout his presidency, starting with the very earliest days of the war." The author "illuminates the evolution of Lincoln's thinking and the national debate around reconstruction, touching on key moments such as the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction on December 8, 1863, and Lincoln's pocket veto of the Wade-Davis bill in July 1864. He also examines social reconstruction, including the plight of freedmen and the debate over the place of blacks in society; and considers the implications of Lincoln's speech after April 1865, when Andrew Johnson assumed office and the ground was laid for the most radical phases of the postwar policy."

2. Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War by Elizabeth Varon (Oxford UP, 2015).

Originally published in 2013, this is the paperback reprint of Varon's prizing-winning Appomattox study.

3. Mrs. Lee's Rose Garden: The True Story of the Founding of Arlington National Cemetery by Carlo DeVito (Cider Mill Pr, 2015).

This upcoming book weaves together the lives of three individuals (Mary Ann Randolph Custis Lee, Robert E. Lee, and Montgomery C. Meigs) to tell the story of Arlington National Cemetery.

4. The War Worth Fighting: Abraham Lincoln's Presidency and Civil War America edited by Stephen D. Engle (UP of Fla, 2015).

The nine essays in "this volume examine how Lincoln actively and consciously managed the war—diplomatically, militarily, and in the realm of what we might now call public relations—and in doing so, reshaped and redefined the fundamental role of the president."

Friday, April 03, 2015

Davis & Greenwalt: "CALAMITY IN CAROLINA: The Battles of Averasboro and Bentonville, March 1865"

[Calamity in Carolina: The Battles of Averasboro and Bentonville, March 1865 by Daniel T. Davis and Phillip S. Greenwalt (Savas Beatie, 2015). Softcover, 8 maps, photos, illustrations, appendices. 168 pp. ISBN:978-1-61121-245-7 $12.95]

With one or more existing full length studies of most of the major events associated with it, the military literature of the final stages of the Civil War in North Carolina is in a robust state of development at this point. That said, there are large numbers of readers that are interested in learning what happened between the beginning of Sherman's march through the Carolinas and the final Confederate surrender at Bennett Place but have neither the time nor the inclination to absorb the major works on the subject. This is where the Emerging Civil War series steps in, with the group's heavily illustrated short narratives and tour guides for the introductory student.

Calamity in Carolina offers its audience a capsule history of the early stages of the Carolinas Campaign, which would be a chess match between William T. Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston, before quickly moving to the main object of the book, the battles of Averasboro and Bentonville. As expected, the treatments are descriptively brief but they do zero in effectively on the most important interpretive points. The volume is profusely illustrated, with period photographs of key figures and modern images of the battle landscapes, monuments, and surviving structures spread liberally throughout. Sidebars expand on subjects mentioned in the main text and the cartography (6 campaign and battle maps and 2 tour maps) is a helpful aid. The Emerging Civil War website is a collaborative effort by many writers so it's no great surprise that several ECW colleagues were invited to pen appendices for the book. These cover topics like the impact of Sherman's March, Sherman and Joe Mower's lost opportunity at Bentonville, a short military biography of Mower, thoughts on Bennett Place, discussion of the Johnston-Sherman relationship, and finally Bentonville battlefield preservation. An annotated order of battle for Bentonville is also included.

The driving tours, one each for Averasboro (3 stops) and Bentonville (7 stops), are tied to the interpreted parts of the battlefields (ex. buildings, monuments, and markers) and are generously supported by maps and photographs. The tours hit the high points of each battle and are ideal for quick visits. The volume lacks notes and bibliography but there's a reasonable amount of assumed authority given that Davis and Greenwalt are both National Park Service historians. There is a "Suggested Reading" list containing worthy titles but it's largely a promotional vehicle and omits two of the three major Averasboro and Bentonville works (Sokolosky & Smith's excellent Averasboro study No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar and Cheairs Hughes's Bentonville).

ECW crew members and publisher Savas Beatie have maintained an incredibly rapid release schedule over the past few years but have also been remarkably consistent on their delivery of content format and quality. Calamity in Carolina is another fine addition to their series.