Friday, January 30, 2015

Hennessy's FBR reprint

In the fall, Stackpole will be reprinting a paperback edition of John Hennessy's The First Battle of Manassas: An End to Innocence, July 18-21, 1861. Those most interested in the battle already own a copy of the H.E. Howard series volume in blue cloth so the main source of curiosity surrounding the new edition will be the question of whether it's a revised and/or expanded book or just a straight reprint. The online listing at the link provided here has little in the way of information but the page count (if it's accurate) is almost thirty pages higher in the new edition, something that may or may not mean anything given differences in layout and text formatting. I'll keep an eye on it.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Harris: "THE CONFEDERATE HOSPITALS OF MADISON, GEORGIA: their records & histories 1861-1865"

[The Confederate Hospitals of Madison, Georgia: their records & histories 1861-1865 by Bonnie P. Harris (Author, 2014). Cloth, maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. 587 pp. ISBN:978-0-9911125-4-8 $45]

Civil War students are demanding readers and legions of thick reference tomes dedicated to feeding the voracious informational appetites of specialists and enthusiasts alike have been published. Bonnie Harris's The Confederate Hospitals of Madison, Georgia: their records & histories 1861-1865 certainly fits into this group. The four hospitals under the microscope — Asylum, Blackie, Stout and May — served the CSA's Army of Tennessee and relocated when required to do so by the fortunes of war. The first three hospitals listed above eventually settled in Madison, Georgia, a town useful for its rail connection, good water, and suitable buildings. These hospitals would have to leave again on the approach of Sherman's army. With the transit of Union forces out of the region, the May Hospital would move into Madison from Augusta in 1865 and stay open for the rest of the war. The overview history of these four medical institutions is related in the first section of the book as is more general information about the citizenry and town of Madison.

Each hospital is given its own chapter consisting of a brief narrative supported by a large collection of official documents related to staff and patients. These archival transcriptions include every conceivable category of surviving pieces of history, including military orders, forms, staff reports, inspection reports, muster rolls, supply acquisition papers, weekly hospital property reports, returns, patient admission registers, discharge lists and more all arranged in easy to read format. There's a surgeon application questionnaire (with answers) that offers readers great insight into the medical knowledge and expertise expected from qualified army physicians. For May Hospital, Harris includes the entire medical examining board register consisting of 1,133 soldier records in two parts. Maps, photographs, diagrams and tables are also sprinkled throughout.

Morning reports comprise another chapter. Comprised of daily listings of patient admissions, furloughs, transfers, discharges, these were required from the head surgeon of each hospital. Soldiers deemed well enough to return to duty where examined by a local board and these certificates and records are also contained in the book. Payment vouchers to local suppliers of goods and services provide insights into the material and labor needs of Civil War hospitals. Harris also assembles a graves register complete with marker photographs, diagrams, and maps. The Army of Tennessee's Receiving & Distribution Hospital obtained from their field hospitals information about thousands of sick and wounded soldiers and an extensive mass of records from this system is also contained in the book as are some patient General Registers, which were logbook consolidations of daily and weekly reports overseen by the Army of Tennessee's Medical Director of Hospitals.

Appendices are comprised of a map of Madison, GPS coordinates of important sites, sets of definitions for medical terms and medicines, a roster of local Madison soldiers that were either patients of staff of the local hospitals, and other bits of supplementary data and information. Sources for the text and documents in the book are duly referenced in both the main text and endnotes. The bibliography boasts an impressive range of archival research and it's easy to see why the author was awarded a Georgia Archive Award for Excellence for her prodigious efforts in digging up manuscript material. A noteworthy feat of historical detective work and documentary compilation, The Confederate Hospitals of Madison, Georgia will be a immensely useful reference tool for researchers and genealogists seeking information about the sick and wounded soldiers of the hard luck Army of Tennessee. Harris's book is also an invaluable resource for those studying the day to day operations of a Civil War military hospital and all the human and material management minutiae that running such a massive operation entailed.

Monday, January 26, 2015

More on "Blood on the Bayou"

I've been told that the third volume of Don Frazier's "Louisiana Quadrille" titled Blood on the Bayou: Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and the Trans-Mississippi remains on track for an early February release. In the meantime, the author kindly sent me a digital version of a late galley to peruse. Military actions remain the primary focus, with full coverage of a range of skirmishes and battles fought during June and July 1863 (some fought to divert Union attention from and relieve pressure on Vicksburg and Port Hudson), including Milliken's Bend and the Confederate offensive and Union counteroffensive into the LaFourche District (i.e. battles at Brashear City, Fort Butler, Donaldsonville, Kock's Plantation and more). Coincident with the fighting was a massive Union campaign to seize control of the slave population, transforming ex-slaves into either soldiers or workers on federal government managed plantations. This plan to permanently destroy slavery and harness a vast new source of labor and manpower was at its most aggressive in the Lower Mississippi Valley and thus is an important theme in the book.  The maps look really great and the series as a whole comprises something of an atlas of Civil War Louisiana.  Having to incorporate the 1863 Texas Overland Campaign, the 1864 Red River Campaign, and all manner of smaller scale events before and between, the final volume will have to be a thick tome.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

John Hill

A bit over a week ago I came across several announcements online of the sudden passing of John Hill. Hill was a titan of board wargaming during its heyday, his Squad Leader and Advanced Squad Leader selling in the hundreds of thousands of copies (as a point of comparison, many developers today are fortunate to ship a few thousand units) and influencing in innumerable ways the work of other designers.  But he also was involved in tabletop miniatures and to get to the subject of the Civil War (this is a Civil War site after all) he created the popular regimental scale Johnny Reb rule system in 1983. I've never been into that particular branch of the hobby but do make some effort to leaf through publications related to it every once in a while. Hill's most current iteration Across A Deadly Field: Regimental Rules for Civil War Battles was released by Osprey last year. Where there's a wargaming system there are expansions and supplements soon to follow and this is the case here as well with Across A Deadly Field: The War in the East (2014) and the upcoming Across A Deadly Field: The War in the West (May '15). I may have to check these out.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Schultz: "THE MARCH TO THE RIVER: From the Battle of Pea Ridge to Helena, Spring 1862"

[The March to the River: From the Battle of Pea Ridge to Helena, Spring 1862 by Robert G. Schultz (Camp Pope Publishing, 2014). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:341/452. ISBN: 978-1-929919-60-4 $24.95]

The March to the River
Click image for order info
Union General Samuel R. Curtis's March 1862 victory at Pea Ridge in northwest Arkansas was an impressive feat of arms but it left his Army of the Southwest with only limited strategic options along the same line of operations. In a bold change of front, the army would march east over the sparsely populated wilds of the southern Ozark Plateau. Arriving at Batesville and Jacksonport, Arkansas after a month long journey, Curtis would be joined by reinforcements under Frederick Steele, whose own trip from Pilot Knob, Missouri was roughly equidistant but took twice as long.

Union hopes of capturing Little Rock were dashed by a combination of factors. Supply lines connecting to the Rolla and Pilot Knob railheads were overstretched and continually harassed by Confederate irregulars. The weather also took a turn for the worse with heavy rains swelling rivers and streams and transforming roads into muddy morasses. The operational pause also allowed the new Confederate district commander, General Thomas Hindman, to patch together enough Texas and Arkansas troops (mostly cavalry) to make any direct advance on Little Rock no longer certain of success.

A renewed offensive down the east bank of the White River led to a Union victory at Cache River. However, the advance terminated at Clarendon, and after close misses with naval reinforcements and supplies sent up the White, the Little Rock operation was abandoned and the army instead established a new base to the east at Helena. The history of this remarkable campaign stretching over 500 rugged miles is explored in Robert Schultz's The March to the River: From the Battle of Pea Ridge to Helena, Spring 1862.

The subject matter has been addressed in limited fashion in other books. The entire operation is briefly covered as part of Michael Banasik's Embattled Arkansas and a pair of studies — A Severe and Bloody Fight by Akridge & Powers and Chris Wehner's regimental history of the 11th Wisconsin — document several NE Arkansas episodes in excellent fashion, but Schultz's book is the first full treatment of the campaign from Pea Ridge to Helena. The author devotes chapters to each stage of the Union campaign, including the White River relief expeditions, but the Confederate perspective is not ignored. Schultz does not find to be exaggerated the conventional criticisms directed toward Earl Van Dorn for his ruthless stripping of Arkansas's men, arms, and war industry for service across the Mississippi. Hindman is credited for bringing a semblance of order to the situation but is criticized for encouraging a wider and looser application of the recently passed Partisan Ranger Act of 1862.

The March to the River is not a work of narrative history. There are certainly strong narrative sections and a general thread runs the entirely length of the book but much of the time the author is content to let these sources speak for themselves, with letters, sets of diary and journal entries, reports, newspaper articles and more transcribed in their entirety (all properly cited) and often several pages in length. Readers are not entirely left to their own devices for interpretation but being forced to navigate reams of first hand accounts with sometimes minimal authorial input can sometimes be frustrating. Maps are numerous. While none directly trace the route of the march, several area maps locate for the reader the major points of interest. Many topographic drawings of towns and environs encountered along the route are provided courtesy of engineer Lyman Bennett of the 36th Illinois. Details from archival maps of this type often do not survive the printing process but they are rendered crisply here.

In researching the volume, Schultz collected an impressive array of archival materials, government documents, newspaper articles, and a host of books, articles, online resources, theses, and dissertations. The quality of witness and participant accounts (both military and civilian) are really quite exceptional. One of the most interesting sources is General Curtis's campaign journal, a rare thing from a Civil War army commander. The appendix section also includes a useful collection of information, from a weather discussion to additional personal letters, official documents and orders.

No major battles were fought and the campaign ultimately failed in its object of capturing the Arkansas capital, but the author perceptively points to several reasons why the operation is deserving of modern appreciation and study. While Curtis was never entirely cut off from his Missouri bases, his operation comprised one of the earliest examples of the ability of a medium sized army to sustain itself deep in enemy territory, even in areas relatively poor in food and fodder. Incessant partisan and guerrilla attacks on supply trains and foraging parties were a shock to Curtis and his subordinates and a harbinger of what would become an increasingly serious problem for Union forces the deeper they penetrated enemy home territory. During an early war period more typically associated with cautious advances on the part of Union commanders, the march also marked Curtis as a man capable of bold, sweeping offensive maneuvers. His modern day supporters will forever debate whether the appointment of Curtis to primarily administrative commands for the rest of the war was a waste of his talents. The March to the River brings to the table the kind of serious attention that the post-Pea Ridge campaign in Arkansas has long needed and deserved.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Booknotes (Jan '15)

New Arrivals:

1. Walking the Line: Rediscovering and Touring the Civil War Defenses on Modern Atlanta's Landscape With Photographs of All 36 Fort Sites, Plus Walking Trail Maps by Lawrence Krumenaker (Hermograph Press, 2014).

Like Richmond's, Atlanta's urban sprawl makes Civil War battlefield and site touring a challenge. Krumenaker's book is a color photograph, map, and text guide to sites related to Atlanta's inner defenses. The three walking tours appear well designed.

2. To Live and Die in Dixie: Native Northerners Who Fought for the Confederacy by David Ross Zimring (Univ of Tenn Pr, 2014).

This study promises the deepest examination yet of the motivations behind northern-born Confederates. "By analyzing the lives of northern emigrants in the South, Zimring deepens our understanding of the nature of sectional identity as well as the strength of Confederate nationalism. Focusing on a representative sample of emigrants, Zimring identifies two subgroups: "adoptive southerners," individuals born and raised in a state above the Mason-Dixon line but who but did not necessarily join the Confederacy after they moved south, and "Northern Confederates," emigrants who sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. After analyzing statistical data on states of origin, age, education, decade of migration, and, most importantly, the reasons why these individuals embarked for the South in the first place, Zimring goes on to explore the prewar lives of adoptive southerners, the adaptations they made with regard to slavery, and the factors that influenced their allegiances during the secession crisis. He also analyzes their contributions to the Confederate military and home front, the emergence of their Confederate identities and nationalism, their experiences as prisoners of war in the North, and the reactions they elicited from native southerners."

3. Matthew Fontaine Maury, Father of Oceanography: A Biography, 1806-1873 by John Grady (McFarland, 2015).

I know very little about Maury's place in Civil War history. If Grady's bibliography, which lists the most impressive collection of source material I've ever encountered in a McFarland-published biography, is any indication of the overall quality of the book it will be well worth reading.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Swain: "THE BLOODY 7TH"

[The Bloody 7th by Glen Allan Swain, Jr. (Broadfoot, 2014). Cloths, maps, photos, footnotes, roster, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:416/719. ISBN:978-1-56837-433-8 $45]

Though brothers in spirit with H.E. Howard's Virginia Regimental Histories Series, it's fairly safe to say that the typical volume from The South Carolina Regimental-Roster Set is better researched, far better stocked with maps and photographs, and contains a far deeper and richer unit history than the average Old Dominion counterpart. This is certainly the case with Glen Allan Swain's The Bloody 7th.

Taking both foot and rail travel into account, it becomes difficult to think of a regiment that logged more miles during the Civil War than the 7th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry. The 10 original companies that formed the 7th South Carolina hailed from the two far western districts of Abbeville and Edgefield. Dispatched to the Manassas front, the regiment occupied an advanced position at Fairfax Court House and was positioned in the Confederate center during the Battle of First Bull Run. The following year, the South Carolinians confronted McClellan's army on the Virginia Peninsula as a part of Kershaw's Brigade yet it would be the middle of the Seven Days (at the Battle of Savage Station) before a member of the regiment would lose his life in combat. Deployed only in a supporting position at Malvern Hill and missing 2nd Bull Run, the unit transformed into the "Bloody" Seventh on September 13, 1862 atop Maryland Heights. Moving from Harpers Ferry to the Sharpsburg front, the regiment fought over ground south of the Dunker Church during the Antietam battle. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, the 7th was in reserve behind the left rear of the Stone Wall, offering overhead supporting fire from the top of Marye's Heights. In 1863, the South Carolinians distinguished themselves during the Chancellorsville Campaign at Salem Church. Passing through the Rose Farm on Gettysburg's 2nd Day, the regiment helped crush Sickle's salient opposite the Confederate right flank.

Sent west with Longstreet and the rest of I Corps in September, Kershaw's brigade would see action at Chickamauga and Knoxville before returning to Virginia in the spring of 1864 to participate in the Overland Campaign, figuring prominently in the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, and Cold Harbor fighting. On June 18, they helped save Petersburg but failed to dislodge Union forces at Deep Bottom the following month. In August, the 7th hit the road again, joining Jubal Early's command in the Shenandoah. At the unsuccessful conclusion of that campaign, they settled into winter quarters at the Richmond front before again hitting the road, this time home to South Carolina to oppose Sherman's advance north. The 7th would fight at both Averasboro and Bentonville before surrendering. It was a remarkable journey across multiple eastern and western theater fronts and, with almost 500 men (evenly divided between combat and disease) losing their lives during the conflict, a bloody trail indeed. The regiment's role in all of these events is discussed in great detail in The Bloody 7th.

With little emphasis on home front connections and no demographic analysis of the unit's social makeup, The Bloody 7th does not follow in the footsteps of the most recent trends in unit history scholarship. Instead, the over 400 page narrative is overwhelmingly focused on the campaign and battle experiences of the men. The mass of descriptive detail is impressive, not overwhelming but far greater than that found inside the typical Civil War regimental study. In doing so, the author, importantly, never loses sight of how the specific actions of the 7th fit into the overall flow and historical significance of each battle.

Bibliography and notes are heavily weighted toward primary sources. During his research, Swain uncovered a wealth of published and unpublished first-hand accounts written by individuals of all ranks. Skillfully incorporated into the narrative, this material offers readers a lively and very informative running commentary on people, places, and events associated with the regiment and its military service. Also helpful throughout are select observations from D. Augustus Dickert. While Dickert personally served in the 3rd South Carolina, his classic History of Kershaw's Brigade remains an invaluable resource for those researching the 7th.

The book's maps, all original creations of popular cartographer George Skoch, are great in number and coverage. They more than adequately orient the reader to the 7th's place on its many fields of battle. Also worthy of note are the numerous photographs of officers and men that Swain was able to track down and include in the volume. The most obvious source of complaint with the book is the editing. The main problem lies not with serial factual missteps but rather the alarming frequency of all manner of typographical errors.

A major feature of the series as a whole, of course, is the roster. At almost 270 pages in length, Swain's massive roster of the 7th is arranged alphabetically and composed of substantial CSR and pension record data for each individual. In a novel move, the author also attached a photograph of the soldier's signature when available. Why Swain did this is not explained (perhaps he felt it added a personal touch). In providing both the first in-depth military history of the 7th South Carolina as well as a valuable research tool in the form of an expansive roster, The Bloody 7th achieves its content goals in memorable fashion, the unit history in particular surpassing expectations.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Agriculture and society in the Civil War era

Every once in a while you see some cross-publisher synergy over topics that don't arise all that often in the literature. For this catalog season, agriculture seems more intellectually popular than usual.

In The British Gentry, the Southern Planter, and the Northern Family Farmer: Agriculture and Sectional Antagonism in North America (LSU) author James Huston "argues that the ideological chasm between plantation owners in the South and family farmers in the North led to the political eruption of 1854–56 and the birth of a sectionalized party system. Huston shows that over 70 percent of the northern population—by far the dominant economic and social element—had close ties to agriculture. More invested in egalitarianism and personal competency than in capitalism, small farmers in the North operated under a free labor ideology that emphasized the ideals of independence and mastery over oneself. The ideology of the plantation, by contrast, reflected the conservative ethos of the British aristocracy, which was the product of immense landed inequality and the assertion of mastery over others. By examining the dominant populations in northern and southern congressional districts, Huston reveals that economic interests pitted the plantation South against the small-farm North. The northern shift toward Republicanism depended on farmers, not industrialists ..."

R. Douglas Hurt's Agriculture and the Confederacy: Policy, Productivity, and Power in the Civil War South (UNC) "traces the decline and fall of agriculture in the Confederate States of America. The backbone of the southern economy, agriculture was a source of power that southerners believed would ensure their independence. But, season by season and year by year, Hurt convincingly shows how the disintegration of southern agriculture led to the decline of the Confederacy's military, economic, and political power. He examines regional variations in the Eastern and Western Confederacy, linking the fates of individual crops and different modes of farming and planting to the wider story. After a dismal harvest in late 1864, southerners--faced with hunger and privation throughout the region--ransacked farms in the Shenandoah Valley and pillaged plantations in the Carolinas and the Mississippi Delta, they finally realized that their agricultural power, and their government itself, had failed."

An Agrarian Republic: Farming, Antislavery Politics, and Nature Parks in the Civil War Era (UNC) by Adam Wesley Dean seems to agree with Huston that Republicanism's ascendancy had its essential roots in the North's small farmers. Dean "argues that the Republican Party's political ideology was fundamentally agrarian. Believing that small farms owned by families for generations led to a model society, Republicans supported a northern agricultural ideal in opposition to southern plantation agriculture, which destroyed the land's productivity, required constant western expansion, and produced an elite landed gentry hostile to the Union. Dean shows how agrarian republicanism shaped the debate over slavery's expansion, spurred the creation of the Department of Agriculture and the passage of the Homestead Act, and laid the foundation for the development of the earliest nature parks."

Monday, January 12, 2015

Price: "THE BATTLE OF FIRST DEEP BOTTOM"

[The Battle of First Deep Bottom by James S. Price (The History Press, 2014). Softcover, 3 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:129/156. ISBN:978-1-60949-541-1 $19.99]

After a long dry period, the recent upswing in Richmond-Petersburg campaign studies is fairly remarkable both in numbers and quality. A new addition to this impressive group is James Price's The Battle of First Deep Bottom which tells the tale of the northern wing of U.S. Grant's "Third Offensive." This operation north of the James River was led by Winfield Scott Hancock, his command consisting of three II Corps infantry divisions and three cavalry divisions (two from the Army of the Potomac and one from the Army of the James). The Union plan was to quickly cross the James River at a previously established bridgehead, the infantry immediately pressing directly toward Richmond while the cavalry swung north and west to strike the railroads leading into the capital. Though Richmond itself was not the express goal, it was hoped that the threat against the city would at the very least force Robert E. Lee to weaken his Petersburg front, where the main Union offensive effort would be made.

With the flawless establishment of a fortified bridgehead (with two pontoon crossings) opposite a sharp bend in the James River at Deep Bottom, the campaign got off to an auspicious start in late June. With few mobile formations north of the river, the Confederate response was initially weak. Lee would eventually dispatch the divisions of Henry Heth and Joseph Kershaw to Chaffin's Bluff and New Market Heights to contain and hopefully eliminate the Union strongpoint. Distrustful of Richard Ewell, he would also eventually place Richard Anderson in charge of the attack.

On the night of July 26, Hancock led his command across the river. During the next day, his advance defeated Martin Gary's small Confederate cavalry brigade and two of Kershaw's brigades near Tilghman's Gate. Instead of pressing forward with the aggression that Grant wished Hancock only consolidated his position. Meanwhile, the three cavalry divisions moved ahead with their part of the operation, utilizing the opening afforded them by the previous day's victory to ride around the the Confederate New Market Heights position using the Long Bridge Road. In the woods and fields on either side of the Darby Farm, they were struck by three Confederate brigades led by Anderson. In the short range fighting, Sheridan's troopers were able to use their breechloading carbines to good effect, driving the Confederate infantry back to their initial positions near Fussell's Mill. A rattled Hancock then went entirely on the defensive, his infantry and cavalry deployed in a defensive arc around Deep Bottom. Meanwhile, Anderson received massive reinforcements, the entire Army of Northern Virginia save three divisions left behind in the Petersburg trenches. Slipping across the river on the night of the 29th, the federals denied the Confederates the opportunity to try to bag Hancock and Sheridan.

As part of a book series designed to appeal to both serious students and more general interest Civil War readers, James Price's The Battle of First Deep Bottom strikes an ideal balance when it comes to small unit detail within a larger battle narrative. The author proves himself adept at simplifying complex events without the demanding reader feeling shortchanged in the bargain. How the topographical features of Deep Bottom's surrounding military landscape would affect both defensive and offensive operations are clearly explained in the text but they are also well rendered visually in the three maps created by master cartographer Steven Stanley. What's missing are maps expanding the front to offer a better sense of the big picture. Also, a discussion of the Richmond front's road network might have led the author to another reason for the failure of the Union operation. With the best roads emanating from Richmond itself and running lengthwise up and down the Peninsula (perpendicular to Sheridan's proposed movement), Confederate infantry could use interior lines to even greater advantage in negating the Union cavalry's superior mobility.

In author Price's estimation, both Union and Confederate commanders performed poorly at Deep Bottom. It would be difficult to disagree with him. Hancock possessed none of the confidence and dash demonstrated during his prime. Changing the initial plan and cautiously crossing both infantry and cavalry at the lower bridge, Hancock needlessly created a traffic jam and squandered the element of surprise. Price persuasively argues that the Hancock of July 1864 was not to be trusted with independent command. Declining to vigorously test the Confederate defenses in front with his infantry following the success at Tilghman's Gate, the Union commander made no serious attempt to achieve the operation's primary objectives. Serially seeking higher guidance at key stages, Hancock's passivity and delay demonstrated a complete lack of initiative while the weak substance of his unseemly public beratings of soon to be ex-friend John Gibbon cast further doubt on his judgment.

The situation was little better for the Confederates. The chain of command was a muddled, with Richmond Defenses head Richard Ewell nominally in charge of all units north of the James but field command of the force opposing Hancock assigned to a series of representatives from Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Finally, Richard Anderson, the heavily experienced corps commander eventually tasked with attacking the Deep Bottom bridgehead, bungled the affair at Darby's Farm.

Unofficially, Grant must have been deeply disappointed in Hancock's handling of the Deep Bottom operation. However, with the Confederates leaving their Petersburg defenses dangerously thin to oppose it, the Union commander couldn't have asked for a better diversion to aid the main effort of his Third Offensive, the July 30 Crater battle that so famously and disastrously failed. In the overall history of the 1864-65 Richmond-Petersburg campaign, that is the legacy of First Deep Bottom and James Price's study is a very solid overview of this unfairly overshadowed series of events.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Potter's Raid

When the name "Potter" comes up in the context of the Civil War, most readers probably assume the reference is to Robert Brown Potter, the NY lawyer who earned his stripes by working his way up from private to major general in the Union army's IX Corps. While never mentioned in the same breath as other prominent political generals, he seems to have had a solid career and his story worth telling but this isn't who we're talking about here.

Another New York Potter, Brigadier General Edward E. Potter, led a cavalry raid in eastern North Carolina, a wide ranging July 1863 operation that struck Greenville, Rocky Mount, and Tarboro. There's even a pretty good book written about it. This is our guy but a different "Potter's Raid."

The upcoming Potter's Raid book in question here covers a mounted operation conducted in the closing moments of the war, one that began on the South Carolina coast and ranged into the interior adding some final touches (and torches!) to the Confederacy's already tapped out means of defending itself. Articles exist here and there but Tom Elmore's Potter's Raid Through South Carolina: The Final Days of the Confederacy will be the first book length treatment of the subject.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Last Surrender - B&G (Vol. XXX, No. 2)

Blue & Gray Magazine recently redesigned their website the result of which is a bloggish style. The most recent post , a guest submission by Fort Smith National Historic Site superintendent Lisa Frost, talks about an important historical event, the Fort Smith Council of 1865 [Coincidentally,The Trans-Mississippian's Jane blogged about this subject a couple months ago (here), with special mention of the 1996 symposium and companion book]. The post also acts as a teaser for the next issue of B&G (Vol. XXX, No. 2), the cover image showing the feature article title to be "The Last Surrender: Indian Territory June 1865."

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Parson: "WORK FOR GIANTS: The Campaign and Battle of Tupelo/Harrisburg, Mississippi, June-July 1864"

[Work for Giants: The Campaign and Battle of Tupelo/Harrisburg, Mississippi, June-July 1864 by Thomas E. Parson (Kent State University Press, 2014). Cloth, maps, photos, OB, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:320/381. ISBN:9781606352229 $39.95]

For decades, the best single resource for the 1864 military campaigning in North Mississippi has been Ed Bearss's Forrest at Brice's Cross Roads and in North Mississippi in 1864 (Morningside, 1979). Inside that book is a fairly extensive description and analysis of the Tupelo Campaign that closely followed the Confederate victory at Brice's Crossroads, but Thomas Parson's Work for Giants: The Campaign and Battle of Tupelo / Harrisburg, Mississippi, June-July 1864 is the first book length treatment of the Union victory that shattered Nathan Bedford Forrest's aura of invincibility.

The thousands of men that fought and died under a blistering Mississippi sun that summer might beg to differ, but many military historians consider the tactical result of the Union expeditions irrelevant when weighed against their ability to keep Forrest's cavalry from raiding the tightly stretched supply lines of William T. Sherman's army group operating in Georgia. By that measure, Samuel Sturgis succeeded in spite of himself and A.J. Smith achieved well earned laurels by winning on both counts.

The Union high command doubled down in the wake of Brice's Crossroads, raising the strength of Smith's follow up expedition to two full infantry divisions, a USCT brigade and a cavalry division, altogether almost 14,000 veterans. The objective was threefold: whip Forrest's command, destroy a stretch of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, and prevent the Confederates from getting at Sherman's supply lines through Middle Tennessee. Smith's strike force was opposed by less than 10,000 Confederates led by department commander S.D. Lee with Forrest as his chief subordinate.

Smith's expedition marched at a measured pace due to the crippling Mississippi sun [one struggles to recall an operation more adversely affected by heat attrition], the advance finally directly confronting Forrest at Pinson's Hill just south of Pontotoc. Rather than attack in front, Smith skillfully sidestepped east toward Tupelo, his command kept so well in hand that Forrest was unable to repeat his oft successful tactic of striking moving enemy columns, though, with attempts at Bertram's Shop and Camargo Crossroads, it wasn't for want of trying. Safely arriving at Harrisburg1 just west Tupelo, Smith deployed his army in a compact line, repulsing with ease on July 14 a series of piecemeal Confederate assaults. Remaining in place during most of the next day, Smith, citing shortages of food and artillery ammunition, determined to return to Tennessee. Along the way, he inflicted upon Forrest's pursuers a sharp reverse at Old Town Creek late on the 15th before evading a final Confederate ambush attempt and arriving no worse for wear at LaGrange. All of these military actions are minutely detailed in Work for Giants, each section supported by regimental scale troop maps created by magazine publisher and cartographer David Roth2.

A newcomer to publishing in book format, Parson proves himself adept in all aspects of researching and writing Civil War campaign history. Located throughout the text are on-the-ground perspectives gleaned from the author's prodigious manuscript research, a particularly noteworthy example being the journal of Chaplain Edwards of the 7th Minnesota whose detailed observations of Smith's march south and the Union army's flank approach to Harrisburg immeasurable enrich the narrative. Parson's terrain and tactical analyses as well as his incisive leadership critiques demonstrate fresh thinking and an open minded approach to weighing competing sources and challenging traditional interpretations.

Parson has nothing but positive things to say about Smith's handling of the expedition. With the complete destruction of the more mobile Lee and Forrest an unlikely outcome, demanding a better result than the historical one hardly seems fair. Smith maintained a tight control over his command during the entire operation, never allowing Forrest an opening to penetrate his marching columns and possibly provoke the panicked response that doomed so many other Forrest opponents. Smith achieved all three of his main objectives and while he did not destroy Forrest's corps he did inflict far more casualties at each set piece battle and damaged the enemy cavalry severely enough (officer casualties were especially crippling) that the Wizard of the Saddle's remaining Civil War career never matched its earlier heights.

The author effectively deflects the common view among Forrest partisans that Tupelo was S.D. Lee's fight and Forrest thus cannot be held responsible for the defeat and heavy (more than 2-to-1) casualties suffered. While it is true that Lee as senior officer would direct any battle when present on the field, Forrest uncharacteristically declined Lee's offer to grant field command to Forrest. As he had demonstrated on many other occasions during the war, Forrest was a poor subordinate at Tupelo, conducting his corps commander duties in a passive manner then suddenly changing the battle plan without informing his superior. The resulting battle was an uncoordinated collection of brigade sized assaults, none of which were remotely successful3. Lee hardly covered himself in glory either, his gross mismanagement of the battle seemingly overlooked by the Confederate high command before they transferred him to corps command in the Army of Tennessee.

The final section offers brief rundowns (a couple pages or so each) of the most enduring controversies surrounding the Tupelo campaign and battle, with Parson assessing the strengths and weaknesses of their historiographical underpinnings and offering his own conclusions based upon the evidence. Most are touched upon to some degree elsewhere in the book but the chapter deals with many of the myths and legends at greater depth than before. Common themes also emerge, one of the most prominent being the attempt by Forrest friends and ex-subordinates to disassociate their hero from any great responsibility for the defeat. Another involves minimizing the impact of the tactical Union victory at Tupelo by painting the operation as a strategic defeat (i.e. emphasizing A.J. Smith's retreat to Tennessee the day after the battle and crediting Confederate forces for holding the field and saving an objective — the Black Prairie breadbasket — never actually targeted by Smith's force). Though supported by evidence, some of Parson's arguments have lesser impact. For instance, with so many Civil War leaders conveniently citing lack of food and ammunition as an excuse for retreat, Parson comes across as overly dismissive of Smith critics who might justifiably be skeptical of yet another general employing the same line of reasoning.

In a year witnessing the publication of several top rank Civil War campaign studies, Work for Giants is one of the very finest. With Parson's work and Hampton Newsome's Richmond Must Fall, Kent State's Civil War Soldiers and Strategies series is off to a rousing start.


Comments:
1 - The fight really should be called the Battle of Harrisburg. With the entire battle fought there and not at Tupelo, history's naming the clash "The Battle of Tupelo" added a bit of insult to injury to a dying town already superseded by the railroad connected community (Tupelo) located a few miles to the east.
2 - Parson recently authored a Tupelo Campaign feature article for Roth's magazine Blue and Gray and the maps in Work for Giants are common to both publications.
3 - During the Civil War it was extremely rare for dismounted cavalry to successfully confront formed veteran infantry in comparable numbers (especially Confederate units fighting without the benefit of breechloading shoulder arms like the Spencers issued to some of Grierson's regiments immediately prior to the commencement of Smith's expedition). Decisively beating the Union infantry and cavalry at Brice's Crossroads was improbable enough and it seems barely in the realm of possibility that Lee and Forrest's cavalry, no matter how creative the plan, could have defeated the far stronger infantry component of Smith's command, essentially an entire corps of battle hardened foot soldiers backed with plentiful artillery.


More CWBA reviews of KSUP titles:
* Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864
* A German Hurrah!: Civil War Letters of Friedrich Bertsch and Wilhelm Stängel, 9th Ohio Infantry
* Orlando M. Poe: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer
* August Willich's Gallant Dutchmen: Civil War Letters from the 32nd Indiana Infantry
* Caution and Cooperation: The American Civil War in British-American Relations
* Winfield Scott and the Profession of Arms

Sunday, January 04, 2015

More Civil War North Carolina studies

In an earlier post [here], I remarked upon the mini-avalanche of North Carolina titles that a single publisher had planned for 2015. South Carolina's The History Press also has something in store for Civil War readers interested in their neighbor just to the north.

The Civil War furnishes several examples of high ranking professional soldiers holding substantial state and Confederate commands early in the war only to disappear abruptly from the history books. Arkansas West Pointer N. Bart Pearce immediately comes to mind but another is North Carolina's Richard Caswell Gatlin. Also a USMA graduate, the older Gatlin was promoted to CSA brigadier general in August 1861 and placed in charge of the coastal defenses of North Carolina just in time to witness the arrival of the first wave of overpowering Union land and naval forces that would eventually seize control of the region. Naturally, Gatlin was blamed for the loss of eastern North Carolina but historians have been kinder, citing the scarcity of resources available. I've long sought a book length study reevaluating Gatlin's command tenure and with James Gaddis's Richard Gatlin and the Confederate Defense of Eastern North Carolina set for a March release the very thing is just over the horizon.

Also scheduled that month is The History of Fort Ocracoke in Pamlico Sound by Robert Smith. Built by the Confederates on Beacon Island to act as guardian of Ocracoke Inlet, it was abandoned upon the loss of Hatteras Island and razed by Union forces soon after. If the quality of Smith's book is anything like series mate The Civil War on Hatteras it will be worth reading.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Osborne: "MARAUDER: The Life and Times of Nathaniel McClure Menefee"

[Marauder: The Life and Times of Nathaniel McClure Menefee by Randall Osborne (East Kentucky Press, 2014). Cloth, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:186/203. ISBN:978-1-941272-14-5 $34]

Nathaniel Menefee may be an obscure figure today to Civil War scholars and enthusiasts alike but citizens of the border country shared by Kentucky and Virginia would have been well aware of his activities during the first two years of the conflict. Randall Osborne has spent decades researching and writing about individuals, units, and events associated with this region's Civil War experiences and his new book Marauder: The Life and Times of Nathaniel McClure Menefee is both groundbreaking biography and informative local history.

Menefee certainly led a colorful life. A native of Lincoln County, Kentucky, teenager Menefee emigrated to Missouri with his family. Fighting under Sterling Price during the final stages of the Mexican War, he lost a leg to cannon fire. Obtaining a disability pension, Menefee succumbed to gold fever like many of his countrymen, but found farming in California and a post as Sonoma County clerk more amenable to his physical limitations. Returning to Kentucky, he graduated from law school in Louisville just in time to be caught up in secession and Civil War.

 Menefee apparently fought at Bull Run in an unofficial capacity before his failure to obtain a regular Confederate commission made him turn to guerrilla fighting in his native state. Operating on the upper reaches of the Big Sandy River valley, he was a terror to civilian life and property. Brought up on murder charges by Confederate authorities in early 1863, Menefee escaped from jail and disappeared from view for the next two years [Osborne speculates that he may have been shielded by General John S. Williams] before leaving the country for a Confederado colony in Santarem, Brazil following the war.

Biographers are often accused of falling in love with their subjects but that is clearly not the case here. Osborne titles his treatment "Marauder" for good reason, as the Kentuckian's career of killing and plundering (with none of the latter making its way into the coffers of the authorities) accomplished little toward advancing the cause of the Confederacy in the region. The author details in the book all of Menefee's major operations in East Kentucky, his most militarily significant action being the summer 1862 capture of Pikeville in cooperation with Confederate forces. Menefee frequently detailed his exploits in letters to newspapers, all written in third person and with a content and tone truly remarkable for bombastic and narcissistic untruth. Fortunately, Osborne uncovered many other sources to weigh against Menefee's exaggerated self-promotion and self-pity, offering readers a much more balanced picture of what really happened. In a situation similar to many others across the Border and Upper South, such depredations backfired. Far from weakening Union control or cowing the populace, Menefee's actions instead prompted the formation of the 39th Kentucky Mounted Infantry led by wealthy Unionist and frequent marauder target John Dils. The presence of this regiment only solidified Union control of the Upper Sandy.

A published expert on the Virginia State Line, the militia organization headed by failed Confederate general John Floyd, Osborne also details Menefee's attempt to gain legitimate combatant status by associating with the VSL. He obtained this presumed cover for his bushwhacker activities by an extralegal agreement with Floyd by which the Virginian would personally secure paperwork for Menefee and his men but preserve the Kentuckian's independence by not officially submitting the commission and rolls to state authorities. Whatever one thinks of his military exploits, Menefee did prove an able recruiter, by some estimates bringing up to 13 companies into the ranks of the
VSL. Floyd eventually broke his word, assigning Menefee's recruits to officers under his own command. Throughout his career as a self-styled "colonel" of Kentucky partisans, Menefee frequently clashed with Confederate and Virginia state military authorities, lamenting his inability to obtain a regular Confederate commission and railing against broken promises real and imagined. With such a divided and hostile command structure among the triumvirate of secessionist irregular bands, Confederate army forces under General Humphrey Marshall, and Virginia state forces under Floyd, it is easy for readers to contemplate the reasons behind their failure to seriously threaten Union control of the Big Sandy.

As mentioned above, Marauder is also a useful tool for local and family history. Consulting an array of newspapers, publications of all types, and manuscript collections along with an extensive body of city and county pension, census, tax and court records, Osborne presents a vivid picture of the "inner" Civil War as experienced by SE Kentucky residents of both political persuasions. This study is highly recommended reading for those wishing to delve deeper into East Kentucky's oft overlooked Civil War. In addition to its sound biographical treatment and learned reexamination of hazy truths surrounding Confederate guerrilla chieftain Nathaniel Menefee, the book's perspective expands beyond ground level coverage to incorporate a useful overview of the region's general state of military affairs over the first two years of the war while also addressing a host of associated home front issues.