Friday, April 29, 2016

Slaughter at the Chapel

Every once in a while, we witness the sudden appearance of two studies published close together after a very long period of topical neglect. In 2015, the first Ezra Church battle study, Earl Hess's The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta, was released by UNC Press. It's a superior piece of work that left me satisfied. However, we've known for some time that Gary Ecelbarger, another of the great campaign study authors the Civil War world is blessed with, was working on a similar project of his own. Now we have a release date for it. Slaughter at the Chapel: The Battle of Ezra Church, 1864 is slotted for October from University of Oklahoma Press.

From the description:
"In an account that refutes and improves upon all other interpretations of the Battle of Ezra Church, noted battle historian Gary Ecelbarger consults extensive records, reports, and personal accounts to deliver a nuanced hour-by-hour overview of how the battle actually unfolded. His narrative fills in significant facts and facets of the battle that have long gone unexamined, correcting numerous conclusions that historians have reached about key officers intentions and actions before, during, and after this critical contest."
My only significant complaint with Hess's book involved the maps, and it sounds like the map set in Ecelbarger's study will address the matter in full.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Conner & Mackowski: "SEIZING DESTINY: The Army of the Potomac's 'Valley Forge' and the Civil War Winter that Saved the Union"

[Seizing Destiny: The Army of the Potomac's "Valley Forge" and the Civil War Winter that Saved the Union by Albert Z. Conner, Jr. with Chris Mackowski (Savas Beatie, 2016). Hardcover, 8 maps, photos, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:330/384. ISBN:978-1-61121-156-6. $34.95]

Joseph Hooker's January 25 - April 27 (93-day) resurrection of a dispirited Army of the Potomac during the winter of 1863 is lauded in many Civil War histories, but details have been generally sparse, and no one has written an entire book on the episode, until now. Albert Conner and Chris Mackowski's Seizing Destiny: The Army of the Potomac's "Valley Forge" and the Civil War Winter that Saved the Union brilliantly explains how Hooker took an army crippled by desertion and disease (and badly demoralized by the Fredericksburg disaster, political scheming, and command infighting) and transformed it within a few short months into a splendid fighting force at peak strength. Seizing Destiny demonstrates "Fighting Joe" at his best, when the bombastic personality revealed his most effective army command skills to be administrative in nature. The authors rank Hooker's achievement of this reversal of fortune up there with that of Washington's army at Valley Forge, noting that hundreds of writers at the time made the same comparison.

Conner and Mackowski emphatically agree with Hooker himself that the new commander's initial moves needed to target the most pressing issues from the bottom up. The first priority was stopping the army's hemorrhaging of manpower through desertion. Though never stopped completely, the plague was effectively managed. Improved troop care measures (in the form of hospitals, food, clothing, and more) were also immediately addressed. Hooker and his Chief of Staff Daniel Butterfield reformed the furlough system, weeded out incompetent officers, and pushed for merit promotions. They enhanced unit drilling and reorganized the logistical apparatus and wheeled transportation system. The book provides a fascinating short study of how the Army of the Potomac managed its prodigious equine needs. Other important administrative moves included an expanded inspector-general system and implementation of corps badges for ready identification as well as development of unit esprit de corps. All of the above measures are both described and analyzed in great detail by the authors. In addition to exploring many themes related to the Army of the Potomac's bottom up refitting under Hooker's direction, the physical layout of the winter encampment (including the systematic establishment of picket posts and erection of fortifications along essential lines of communication, especially to the main army supply base at Aquia Creek) is also explored at length.

The book properly recognizes that wintering armies were not just static beings but rather a continual bustle of activity and adjustment. The authors recount in some detail the myriad of small unit actions and area defense operations conducted during the season. One of the latter, the February 1863 reconnaissance mission toward Rappahannock Station conducted by a division of General George G. Meade's Fifth Corps, is well described given the lack of sources and also rather sharply criticized (perhaps overly so) as being an unnecessary wastage of troops. The book also details the late February Confederate raid on the Union outpost at Hartwood Church, the Federal rout demonstrating that the blue troopers and their leadership still had far to go. 

In a bid to reshape the army's command and control structure, Hooker reorganized the Army of the Potomac order of battle, abolishing the wing-equivalent Grand Division system created by Ambrose Burnside and reverting back to the corps as the largest army sub-unit. Hooker's move has been universally praised by historians (each accepting the view that the larger formation was irredeemably unwieldy), and it also garnered wide support from high ranking officers at the time. However, it would be difficult to form a convincing case that any aspect of the Fredericksburg Campaign disaster could be traced to the Grand Division concept, and one might reasonably argue they had unrealized merit as maneuver elements when commanded by the right men. A late suggestion in the book indicates that the authors agree that the blanket dismissal of Grand Divisions is something that needs reexamination.

The non-infantry branches of the army were also significantly retooled by Hooker. Some positive ordnance changes were made, but the authors fault Hooker's reorganization of the artillery for being too decentralized. For the mounted arm, Hooker's creation of the Cavalry Corps is highly praised. Building on their study of the corps's formation, the authors detail the new command's flailing before and during the critical phase of the Chancellorsville Campaign. While George Stoneman's appointment to lead the corps was justifiable at the time it was made, the general quickly proved himself unequal to the task and the narrative clearly shows this.

Hooker and Chief of Staff Daniel Butterfield also ordered the creation of the Army of the Potomac's first formal intelligence gathering organization. Headed by Colonel George H. Sharpe, the Bureau of Military Information (BMI) was designed to consider "all-source intelligence," with the aim of systematically increasing the accuracy of information and using it to aid command decisions. According to the authors, the BMI was far from a well oiled machine during Hooker's tenure, but it was a fine start.

In support of the many arguments put forth in Seizing Destiny, the authors assembled a vast number of accounts written by the officers and men that experienced the "Valley Forge" moment firsthand. These relate to a great number of topics. In addition to rank and file reactions to the conditions present in the army under Burnside and the reforms initiated by Hooker and Butterfield, the diary and letter writers also expound at length upon other weighty issues like emancipation, conscription, spiritual awakening, and the growing anti-war movement on the home front (which increased the communal resolve of many soldiers and disillusioned others). The words of the soldiers also mark the April visit of the president to the camps as a bonding event for many and an additional boost to morale.

A major theme of Seizing Destiny is the idea that the Army of the Potomac's "Valley Forge" moment shaped it into a war-winning instrument. Of course, the fly in the ointment of this argument is the embarrassing defeat (largely self-inflicted) at Chancellorsville that closely followed. But in examining soldier letters and diaries written immediately after the battle, the authors make at least a plausible case that, unlike Fredericksburg, the troops were not demoralized by Chancellorsville. Indeed, many participants did not view it as a major defeat at all, only a temporary setback. The remarkable speed by which the army recovered for the victorious Gettysburg Campaign supports this notion, as well.

Complaints are minor. The book suggests that Butterfield deserves more recognition for the army's transformation than he's been awarded historically (a new biography would be helpful), but the authors might also have advanced this cause with a more thoroughly explicit job of parsing credit (if indeed that's possible) for the initiative and administration of the many army reforms so well explained in the text. Also, to get a better idea of the relative scale and breadth of change that occurred in such a short period of time in early 1863, it might have been instructive for the book to summarize how the Army of the Potomac spent the winters bracketing the "Valley Forge" event, when General McClellan famously created the army in late 1861-early 1862 and the 1863-64 season that brought U.S. Grant to the East and ultimate victory.

Unlike many history books, which seem to cross the finish line with easily recognized relief, this one is reluctant to leave the reader. The epilogue offers an extensive analysis of the "Valley Forge" reforms using sixteen 'systems of war', the section both applying modern thinking and providing an excellent recapitulation of the book's major themes. The postscript delves into preservation issues while also reviewing the historiography of the winter events of 1863. Finally, the study ends with a trio of appendices. The first summarizes the historical legacy of many of the individuals mentioned in the book, the second is composed of rather lengthy biographical sketches of a large selection of women prominently involved in the proceedings, and the last is an order of battle (with organizational changes between Burnside's relief and the beginning of the Chancellorsville Campaign designated in bold).

Seizing Destiny conclusively demonstrates that the Army of the Potomac's much ballyhooed revival during the first months of Joe Hooker's command tenure was no exaggerated event. Nor was it simply a result of time healing all wounds or the consequence of talented individuals working magic within their limited spheres of expertise and responsibility. Real change on the order of what occurred in the Army of the Potomac during the dark interlude studied in the pages of this book requires extraordinary administrative leadership from the top, and Hooker and Butterfield provided that in spades in early 1863. Unfortunately for their place in history, how they would use the magnificent instrument they reforged would fall definitively flat soon after, leaving it to George Meade and U.S. Grant to wield the Army of the Potomac to final victory. Seizing Destiny is an award-worthy study.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Booknotes: Gaston County, North Carolina, in the Civil War

New Arrival:
Gaston County, North Carolina, in the Civil War by Robert C. Carpenter (McFarland, 2016).
"This unique study of one Southern county's war experience tells of ordinary soldiers and their wives, mothers and children, slaves, farmers, merchants, Unionists and deserters--through an examination of tax records. The recently discovered 1863 Gaston County, North Carolina, tax list provides a detailed economic and social picture of a war-weary community, recording what taxpayers owned, cataloging slaves by name, age and monetary value, and assessing luxury items. Contemporary diaries, letters and other previously unpublished documents complete the picture, describing cotton mill operations, the lives of slaves, political disagreements, rationales for soldiers' enlistments and desertions, and economic struggles on the home front."
The notes and bibliography indicate significant mining of public and private archives. Chapters profile life, commerce, and politics on the home front for white and black residents, while also discussing the county's contribution to the Confederate army and the Unionist segment of the population. Desertion and the breakdown of civil order during the war are other major concerns. The county tax list mentioned above is included as an appendix and should prove useful to researchers.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Booknotes: Engineering Victory

New Arrival:
Engineering Victory: How Technology Won the Civil War by Thomas F. Army, Jr. (Johns Hopkins Univ Pr, 2016).

I'm really looking forward to reading this book. The first section discusses antebellum science education and the means of transmitting scientific and mechanical knowledge during the period before closing with the building and management of railroads. Part two covers the early Civil War years, beginning with the necessity of employing volunteer engineers to assist an army exploding in size and need of their services. Chapters explore the important roles they played in the Twin Rivers campaign in the west, the Peninsula Campaign, and the summer and fall campaigns in Maryland, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The formation of the U.S. Military Railroad is also examined. The final section offers a series of case studies of applied engineering, with chapters for Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Chattanooga, Red River & Petersburg, and Atlanta & the Carolinas. Army seeks to place engineering front and center as a key to Union victory, with the North's combination of prewar investment in education and a labor system rewarding mechanical innovation fostering the development of skills that would lead to a dominating military advantage.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Maxwell: "THE CIVIL WAR YEARS IN UTAH: The Kingdom of God and the Territory That Did Not Fight"

[The Civil War Years in Utah: The Kingdom of God and the Territory That Did Not Fight by John Gary Maxwell (University of Oklahoma Press, 2016). Hardcover, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:379/487. ISBN:978-0-8061-4911-0. $29.95]

Facing hostility to their own peculiar institution from the federal government and hounded from state to state, the first major exodus of Mormons in 1847 initially found refuge far beyond the settled western border of the United States in rugged and isolated Utah. However, while Brigham Young's autocratic theocracy grew and prospered there, sustained defiance of federal authority and law led to another round of conflict. This time, war was narrowly averted during a tense 1857-58 standoff with the army that concluded with negotiated submission to the government and installation of a federally appointed territorial governor.

Even with the wary settlement of the Utah War, the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre and many other smaller incidents marked Utah as an insular, and increasingly paranoid, place violently antagonistic to the presence of non-Mormon "gentiles." When the Civil War broke out, the Latter Day Saints leadership remained distrustful of the national government and their official stance was to discourage Union Army enlistment and sit out the conflict. While no great battles were fought in Utah Territory, the period between 1861 and 1865 was far from uneventful and is the subject of John Gary Maxwell's new book The Civil War Years in Utah: The Kingdom of God and the Territory That Did Not Fight.

Maxwell organizes his chapters by year, with a helpful notable events timeline preceding each. A common theme throughout the book surrounds Brigham Young's efforts to exercise tight control over every religious and civil aspect of life in the territory, including Indian relations, commerce, the press, the courts, and internal security (through the Nauvoo Legion, the large and well-armed Mormon Militia), even entertainment. Governors, government agents, judges, and other federal appointees were continually harassed, threatened, and obstructed when attempting to perform any duty deemed obnoxious to Mormon interests.

Young failed to bend any of the governors installed by the Lincoln administration to his will and the book details his alternative efforts to undermine and replace them. Much of 1862 was spent by LDS officials trying to achieve statehood for Utah (or, as they called it, Deseret), their attempts repeatedly vetoed by the territorial governor due to the irregular legal procedures taken, concerns over the practice of polygamy, and the church's unconvincing attempt to satisfy the constitutional requirement of a republican form of government. Relations with the army were just as rancorous, with large sections of the book devoted to the personal war between Young and Colonel (later General) Patrick Edward Connor. All of these sections comprise a welcome contribution to the scholarly examination of the Civil War period in the Mountain West, a geographic expanse that remains comparatively little studied though it was critically important to continental travel and communications.

One thing that becomes immediately apparent when reading Maxwell's study is how stridently one-sided its serial indictments of Mormon society, and LDS leader Brigham Young in particular, are. Some interpretations are presented to the reader with a confidence seemingly incongruent with the thinness of the actual evidence offered in the narrative. For example, while recounting the outrageous assault upon Governor John Dawson by Mormon assailants, the author unreservedly names the individuals he believes were ultimately behind the attack but doesn't explicitly show the reader the links that form his case. Source material is also scant regarding the author's strongly worded contention that church leaders fostered close ties with Confederate agents.

Mormon disloyalty to the United States is one the book's most prominent themes. Maxwell unhelpfully does not define exactly what he means by disloyalty and seems little moved by the large body of recent Civil War scholarship that has shown us just how diverse and complex the quality and meaning of being pro-Union was to the country's home front citizenry. Though individual Mormons in some number certainly volunteered to fight in the Union Army for a variety of reasons, Maxwell does formulate an effective argument that the Saints in Utah were clearly unenthusiastic about the war and its aims. At least on the part of Young, investment was with Mormon interests foremost, not Union victory.

Utah's only military contribution during the Civil War years was a 90-day mounted company that patrolled the overland trails and it was the only Union state or territory that donated nothing to the U.S. Sanitary Commission for the support of wounded soldiers and their families. The author's investigation reveals that the Mormon press and leadership failed to trumpet Union victories, congratulate Lincoln on his 1864 reelection, celebrate the end of the war, or deeply mourn the president's assassination. Whether some or all of this equates to treason against the United States is a matter for debate. In his discussions of loyalty, Maxwell demonstrates little patience for the idea that lukewarm Mormon attitudes, if not justified by the outrageous persecution they experienced in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois (to include the lynch mob murder of founder Joseph Smith and his brother) or lingering existential fears from the very recent army intervention of 1857-58, were at least at some level an understandable reaction to prior experience.

The book only lightly touches upon Lincoln's thoughts on Utah personalities and events but the overall relationship between Mormon authorities and the federal government is well developed. Another aspect that renders the study essential reading is its excellent documentation of the antagonistic relationship between the LDS leadership and the army, a tension exacerbated by the close proximity of Connor's Camp Douglas to the heart of Mormon power in Salt Lake City. Maxwell effectively contrasts the Mormon press with the opposition organ created and run by the soldiers, The Vedette newspaper. The verbal jousting in the Vedette editorials is strongly reminiscent of the sincere outrage expressed by many Union soldiers regarding their "Copperhead" neighbors back home. It should be mentioned, though, that actual armed conflict was notably absent.

In writing The Civil War Years in Utah, author John Gary Maxwell set out to overturn what he viewed as a grossly inaccurate historical narrative of a Utah Territory solidly in the Union camp. Save some speculative wandering, the study does in many respects effectively meet this challenge, certainly more than enough to recommend it to those seeking fresh information about wartime U.S.-Mormon relations and the Civil War in the Far West.

More CWBA reviews of OUP titles:
* Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance: Other Sides of Civil War Texas
* Kill Jeff Davis: The Union Raid on Richmond, 1864
* Californio Lancers: The 1st Battalion of Native Cavalry in the Far West, 1863 - 1866 (Arthur H. Clark)
* Soldiers in the Army of Freedom: The 1st Kansas Colored, the Civil War's First African American Combat Unit
* The Early Morning of War: Bull Run, 1861
* Battles and Massacres on the Southwestern Frontier: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives
* The River Was Dyed with Blood: Nathan Bedford Forrest & Fort Pillow
* Civil War Arkansas 1863: The Battle for a State (PB edition)
* Torn by War: The Civil War Journal of Mary Adelia Byers
* Columns of Vengeance: Soldiers, Sioux, and the Punitive Expeditions, 1863-1864
* Los Angeles in Civil War Days, 1860-1865
* Historical Atlas of Oklahoma, 4th edition
* George Crook: From the Redwoods to Appomattox
* Violent Encounters: Interviews on Western Massacres
* A Perfect Gibraltar: The Battle for Monterrey, Mexico, 1846
* Patrick Connor's War: The 1865 Powder River Indian Expedition (Arthur H. Clark)
* Texas: A Historical Atlas
* Civil War Arkansas 1863: The Battle for a State
* Jayhawkers: The Civil War Brigade of James Henry Lane
* Powder River Odyssey: Nelson Cole's Western Campaign of 1865 the Journals of Lyman G. Bennett and Other Eyewitness Accounts (Arthur H. Clark)
* Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester
* The Uncivil War: Irregular Warfare In The Upper South, 1861-1865
* The Civil War in Arizona: The Story of the California Volunteers, 1861-1865

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Booknotes: A Self-Made Man

New Arrival:
A Self-Made Man: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln Vol. I, 1809 - 1849 by Sidney Blumenthal (Simon & Schuster, 2016).

A Self-Made Man is the first of a planned four-volume series on the political mind and career of Lincoln. Undoubtedly, the author's time as a senior Clinton aide will inform his views on the Washington scene and presidential politics. The book covers the first four decades of Lincoln's life, with 1849 being the year when the future president returned home after serving a single term in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bibliography runs around a dozen pages and is populated primarily with published sources, the absence of archival research revealing the work to be one of synthesis and re-analysis of the existing literature.

From the publisher's description:
"This first volume traces Lincoln from his painful youth, describing himself as “a slave,” to his emergence as the man we recognize as Abraham Lincoln. From his youth as a “newsboy,” a voracious newspaper reader, Lincoln became a free thinker, reading Tom Paine, as well as Shakespeare and the Bible, and studying Euclid to sharpen his arguments as a lawyer. Lincoln’s anti-slavery thinking began in his childhood amidst the Primitive Baptist antislavery dissidents in backwoods Kentucky and Indiana, the roots of his repudiation of Southern Christian pro-slavery theology. Intensely ambitious, he held political aspirations from his earliest years. Obsessed with Stephen Douglas, his political rival, he battled him for decades. Successful as a circuit lawyer, Lincoln built his team of loyalists. Blumenthal reveals how Douglas and Jefferson Davis acting together made possible Lincoln’s rise. Blumenthal describes a socially awkward suitor who had a nervous breakdown over his inability to deal with the opposite sex. His marriage to the upper class Mary Todd was crucial to his social aspirations and his political career. Blumenthal portrays Mary as an asset to her husband, a rare woman of her day with strong political opinions."

Friday, April 22, 2016

Booknotes: Lincoln's Generals' Wives

New Arrival:
Lincoln's Generals' Wives: Four Women Who Influenced the Civil War for Better and for Worse by Candice Shy Hooper (Kent St Univ Pr, 2016).

In this book, Hooper takes an in depth look at the lives and impact of Julia Grant, Ellen Sherman, Jessie Benton Fremont, and Mary Ellen Marcy McClellan on history and the careers of their husbands. The four selections could scarcely be improved upon. The following section of the book description hints at the author's "take" on each:
"The approaches and styles of Frémont and McClellan contrast with those of Sherman and Grant, and there is equal symmetry in their wives stories. Jessie Frémont and Nelly McClellan both encouraged their husbands to persist in their arrogance and delusion and to reject the advice and friendship of their commander in chief. In the end, Jessie and Nelly contributed most to the Union war effort by accelerating their husbands removal from active command. Conversely, while Ellen Sherman's and Julia Grant's belief in their husbands character and potential was ardent, it was not unbounded. Ellen and Julia did not hesitate to take issue with their spouses when they believed their actions were wrong or their judgments ill-advised. They intelligently supported their husbands best instincts including trust in and admiration for Lincoln and re-buffed their worst. They were the source of strength that Sherman and Grant used to win the Civil War."
An interview with the author is in the works, hopefully appearing here within a couple weeks.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Sacred Cause of Union

When considering famous Civil War fighting units, Iowa regiments probably don't enter the minds of most general readers. Nevertheless, in the West and in the Trans-Mississippi, Hawkeyes punched above their small state weight, figuring prominently in many important campaigns and battles. Lowell Soike looked toward the conflict in his fine recent study of antebellum Iowa [Busy in the Cause: Iowa, the Free-State Struggle in the West, and the Prelude to the Civil War (2014)] but The Sacred Cause of Union: Iowa in the Civil War (Iowa, November 2016) will be the "first-ever survey of the state’s Civil War history," weaving "economics, politics, army recruitment, battlefield performance, and government administration." It will also detail the roles of women's organizations that fed, clothed, and nursed the fighting men. From the description, it appears the narrative will closely follow six thematically representative individuals, as well.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Competing Memories

Whether it's engaging the public with his day job as community outreach director for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, expertly editing essay collections, or publishing his own original research, Mark Christ is a leading advocate of Civil War Arkansas history. His next project, Competing Memories: The Legacy of Arkansas's Civil War (September 2016), "collects the proceedings of the final seminar sponsored by the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, which sought to define the lasting impact that the nation’s deadliest conflict had on the state by bringing together some of the state’s leading historians."
"In these essays, Thomas A. DeBlack explores the post-war lives of both Union and Confederate soldiers who played prominent roles in Civil War Arkansas. Cherisse Jones-Branch delves into the lives of black Arkansans during the war and Reconstruction. Jeannie Whayne discusses the many ways the Civil War affected the state’s economic development, while Kelly Houston Jones investigates the Civil War’s impact on Arkansas women. Mary Jane Warde examines the devastating effects of the Civil War on Native Americans in Arkansas and the Indian Territory. Elliott West scrutinizes Civil War Arkansas from a continental perspective, and Carl Moneyhon considers the evolution of how we remember the Civil War."

For CWBA reviews of some of Christ's earlier work, see also:
“The Earth Reeled and Trees Trembled”: Civil War Arkansas, 1863-1864 (2007).
Civil War Arkansas 1863: The Battle for a State (2010).
The Die Is Cast: Arkansas Goes to War, 1861 (2010).
"This Day We Marched Again": A Union Soldier's Account of War in Arkansas and the Trans-Mississippi (2014).
I Do Wish This Cruel War Was Over: First-Person Accounts of Civil War Arkansas from the Arkansas Historical Quarterly (2014).

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Occupied Vicksburg

Book length studies of the 1862-63 Vicksburg Campaign have been published, as have other books and articles covering Union operations launched from the Hill City after its capture, but comparatively little has been written about the occupation itself. Once the Father of Waters ran unvexed to the sea again during the summer of 1863, this newly achieved control of the Mississippi River Valley had to be maintained and Vicksburg became a vitally important river post for the Union. Bradley Clampitt's upcoming book, Occupied Vicksburg (LSU, October 2016), will be the first in depth study of military and civilian life in and around the famously hard-won garrison town.

From the description:
"Bradley R. Clampitt is the first to offer a comprehensive examination of life there after its capture by the United States military. In the war-ravaged town, indiscriminate hardships befell soldiers and civilians alike during the last two years of the conflict and immediately after its end. In Occupied Vicksburg, Clampitt shows that following the Confederate withdrawal, Federal forces confronted myriad challenges in the city including filth, disease, and a never-ending stream of black and white refugees. Union leaders also responded to the pressures of newly free people and persistent guerrilla violence in the surrounding countryside."

Monday, April 18, 2016

Booknotes: Seizing Destiny

New Arrival:
Seizing Destiny: The Army of the Potomac's "Valley Forge" and the Civil War Winter that Saved the Union by Albert Z. Conner and Chris Mackowski (Savas Beatie, 2016).

Joe Hooker's winter resurrection of the Army of the Potomac is talked about in many studies but details are generally sparse and no one has written an entire book on the episode until now. Seizing Destiny describes how Hooker took an army demoralized by the Fredericksburg disaster, political scheming, and command infighting, and seemingly crippled by desertion and disease, and transformed it within a few short months into a splendid fighting force at top strength. Conner and Mackowski's book demonstrates Fighting Joe at his best, when he shocked many with his "amazing brilliance for organization and leadership."
"With Chief of Staff Dan Butterfield working alongside him, Hooker literally rebuilt the army from the bottom up. In addition to instituting vital logistical, ordnance, and administrative reforms, he insisted on proper troop care and rigorous inspections and battle drills. Hooker doled out promotions and furloughs by merit, conducted large-scale raids, streamlined the army’s command and control, and fielded a new cavalry corps and military intelligence organization.

Hooker’s war on poor discipline and harsh conditions revitalized a dying army and instilled individual and unit pride. During this 93-day resurgence, the Army of the Potomac reversed its fortunes and set itself on the path to ultimate victory."
The authors rank the achievement of this reversal up there with that of Washington's army at Valley Forge, noting that many at the time made the same comparison.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Booknotes: Henderson County

New Arrival:
Henderson County: Stories from the Civil War by W. Clay Crook (Main St. Pub-Author, 2016).

The book consists of "(t)wenty original stories of local events, places and people from Henderson County" in Tennessee "which was the home of the Battles of Lexington, Parker's Crossroads, Clarks Creek, Mifflin, and two battles at Jacks Creek, and was evenly divided between Union and Confederate families during the War." There is a table of contents at the link provided above.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Kentucky Rebel Town

It's rare indeed to find a self-published book reworked for publication decades later by a highly regarded university press. Back in 1995, William A. Penn published Rattling Spurs and Broad-Brimmed Hats: The Civil War in Cynthiana and Harrison County, Kentucky. Long out of print by the time I discovered it, the volume has since maintained three figure prices on the secondary market (whether they're actually selling at that price is another matter entirely). The author has always planned on revising the book and he actually released a digital 2014 edition that anyone can freely download [here]. The better news is this fall University Press of Kentucky will release Kentucky Rebel Town: The Civil War Battles of Cynthiana and Harrison County (October '16). From the description:
"In this fascinating book, William A. Penn provides an impressively detailed account of the region that saw more major military action during the Civil War than anywhere else in Kentucky. Because of its political leanings and strategic position along the Kentucky Central Railroad, Harrison County became the target of multiple raids by Confederate general John Hunt Morgan. Conflict in the area culminated in the Second Battle of Cynthiana, in which Morgan's men clashed with Union troops led by Major General Stephen G. Burbridge (the 'Butcher of Kentucky'), resulting in the destruction of much of the town by fire.

Penn draws on dozens of period newspapers as well as personal journals, memoirs, and correspondence from citizens, slaves, soldiers, and witnesses to provide a vivid account of the war's impact on the region. Featuring new maps that clearly illustrate the combat strategies in the various engagements, Kentucky Rebel Town provides an illuminating look at divided loyalties and dissent in Union Kentucky."

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Booknotes: The Last Civil War Veterans

New Arrival:
The Last Civil War Veterans: The Lives of the Final Survivors, State by State by Frank L. Grzyb (McFarland, 2016).

"Drawing on a wide range of sources including correspondence with descendants, this book covers the last living Civil War veterans in each state, providing details of their wartime service as soldiers and sailors and their postwar lives as family men, entrepreneurs, politicians, frontier pioneers and honored veterans." The entries for each soldier include both a quick unit history sketch and a brief biography, the latter averaging a few pages in length (with a photograph, if found). The appendices include even more trivia, with one detailing the last witness or survivor of a given major event like the Lincoln assassination or the Harpers Ferry Raid.