Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Guerrilla Hunters

I experienced something of a mind meld with the book description writer for the upcoming The Guerrilla Hunters: Irregular Conflicts during the Civil War (LSU, Spring '17). The first sentence of this post was going to mention how we've experienced a renaissance in guerrilla war studies over the past decade and, lo and behold, the second sentence in the description matched my thoughts nearly word for word. The Guerrilla Hunters is an essay collection edited by Brian McKnight and Barton Myers. Publication is a ways off, and there's no table of contents available yet. But there are 14 contributors (including the two editors) listed, and I am looking forward to the seeing the variety of topics covered. Much of the irregular war literature still focuses primarily on the guerrillas themselves, with those men and units specifically tasked with destroying them (and often employing the same tactics of terror) getting far less attention, so this should be an important anthology.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Review of Barr, ed.: "A CIVIL WAR CAPTAIN AND HIS LADY: Love, Courtship, and Combat From Fort Donelson through the Vicksburg Campaign"

[A Civil War Captain and His Lady: Love, Courtship, and Combat From Fort Donelson through the Vicksburg Campaign edited by Gene Barr (Savas Beatie, 2016). Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 351 pp. ISBN:978-1-61121-290-7. $32.95]

Born in Ireland, Josiah Moore was raised from infancy in the United States, his family settling in Illinois. A Monmouth College student when the war broke out, the 27-year-old Moore volunteered for army service and was elected a captain in the newly formed 17th Illinois. After passing through the training camp at Peoria, Moore campaigned with the regiment on both sides of Mississippi, escaping death on several battlefields before his three-year term of service ended in July 1864. The intimate wartime correspondence between Moore and Peoria resident (and eventual wife) Jennie Lindsay are the subject of A Civil War Captain and His Lady, edited by Gene Barr.

A remarkable feature of the collection is that nearly the entire set of back and forth letters sent between 1861 and 1863 survives (unfortunately, Jennie's reply letters are missing from 1864 onward). The writings express a great deal of mutual religiosity, as well as the longing and playful teasing one might expect from budding lovers. Barr occasionally footnotes items of interest but reserves most of his rather substantial research material for incorporation into the book's extensive parallel narrative. In it, he provides much in the way of historical context for Civil War events, as well as insights into Victorian era courtship, letter writing protocols, and other common middle-class religious and social rituals of the period. Details about the Peoria home front experience are also communicated in Jennie's letters. Readers might be interested to learn that Jennie's politically prominent father switched from the Republican party to the Peace Democrats (an unusual ideological conversion), which apparently did not affect the relationship between the ardent war supporter and abolitionist Moore (who despised "Copperheads") and the Lindsay family. Of course, as Barr notes, it never helps to antagonize one's future father-in-law, so it's entirely possible that Moore's silence was a matter of strategic self-interest.

Military matters affecting Moore and his unit are another primary focus of Barr's accompanying text. A number of primary source materials written by other officers and men (both inside and outside the regiment) are utilized to good effect by the author, who significantly fleshes out the fighting career of the 17th Illinois. These unit history sections have a larger significance, too, as the 17th does not yet have a modern regimental study devoted to it. Barr discusses the unit's campaigns and battles, including Fredericktown, Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Corinth, and Vicksburg. Through much of the early war period, Moore himself did not devote much space to detailing his own military experiences (and Jennie actually requested that he not tell her about the battles), and Barr adeptly fills in many of these gaps. The book's account of the 17th's actions at Fort Donelson is particularly good.

The reticence displayed toward telling Jennie about military events changed, however, around the time of the Siege of Corinth, when Moore began to write more and more about what he witnessed on the battlefield. These sections of his letters contain useful information for modern readers, much of it related to the Vicksburg campaign and the far less written about federal occupation of the city*. Moore describes what he saw during the May 22 assault on the town's ramparts, as well as what life was like in the trenches during the siege. After the city fell, Moore and the regiment garrisoned the city for most of the rest of their enlistment period. In addition to informing Jennie (and the reader) about relatively obscure expeditions sent across the river to Monroe, Louisiana and into Arkansas, Moore also describes in his letters his thoughts on the 1864 Meridian Campaign and a subsequent military excursion up the Yazoo River. Declining to reenlist when his unit's term of service expired, Moore left the army in June 1864. He soon after married Jennie, went back to school, and embarked on a long career as a Presbyterian minister.

In the Civil War literature, there's no shortage of published correspondence between Civil War soldiers and their sweethearts or wives, but the letters in A Civil War Captain and His Lady are more revealing than the typical collection making its way into print these days. The value of the book is enhanced significantly by editor Gene Barr's supporting research and writing, and those readers with a special interest in the 17th Illinois will be well rewarded.

* - Coincidentally, Bradley Clampitt's Occupied Vicksburg (LSU, Oct '16) should appear soon. This will be the first full length study of the occupation.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Battle of Glendale

After decades of neglect, items on the checklist of Atlanta and Petersburg campaign battles without modern book length studies are being ticked off with regularity. The same cannot be said for the equally important 1862 Peninsula Campaign and its massive Seven Days denouement. A relatively recent attempt at a Glendale history fell far short of expectations, but another one is set for release early next year. The Battle of Glendale: Robert E. Lee's Lost Opportunity by Douglas Crenshaw (The History Press, Jan '17) will be part of a Civil War series that admittedly runs the gamut in terms of quality. I am not familiar with the author's work, but a positive review from Brett over at TOCWOC for Crenshaw's Fort Harrison study (from the same series) definitely puts the upcoming book on my to-read list.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Booknotes: Wolford's Cavalry

New Arrival:
Wolford's Cavalry: The Colonel, the War in the West, and the Emancipation Question in Kentucky by Dan Lee (Potomac Bks, 2016).

This is the second book (the first being Ronald Blair's Wild Wolf) to appear within a year that examines the life and Civil War career of Frank Wolford, the colonel of the First Kentucky Cavalry who forged a distinguished combat record with the Union Army but clashed with the administration over emancipation (an opposition that led to arrests and charges of disloyalty that eventually forced him out of the army). From the description: "Although his military record established him as one of the most vigorous, courageous, and original commanders in the cavalry, Wolford’s later reputation suffered. Dan Lee restores balance to the story of a crude, complicated, but talented man and the unconventional regiment he led in the fight to save the Union. Placing Wolford in the context of the political and cultural crosscurrents that tore at Kentucky during the war, Lee fills out the historical picture of 'Old Roman Nose.'"

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Review of Armstrong: "OPPOSING THE SECOND CORPS AT ANTIETAM: The Fight for the Confederate Left and Center on America's Bloodiest Day"

[Opposing the Second Corps at Antietam: The Fight for the Confederate Left and Center on America's Bloodiest Day by Marion V. Armstrong Jr. (University of Alabama Press, 2016). Hardcover, 41 maps, notes, select bibliography, index. Pages main/total:175/211. ISBN:978-0-8173-1904-5. $39.95]

In 2008, the University of Alabama press published Unfurl Those Colors: McClellan, Sumner, and the Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign, Marion V. Armstrong's minutely detailed tactical account of the desperate fighting in the West Woods and Sunken Road from the Union perspective. The quality of the study's intensive scrutiny of a key sector of the Antietam battlefield remains well respected by military students of the war. In terms of attempts at historiographical revision, the book also significantly softens traditional criticisms aimed at Second Corps commander Edwin V. Sumner, whose order sending John Sedgwick's division into the West Woods on a narrow front and without adequate reconnaissance has been roundly condemned ever since. From a desire on the part of the author to present the material using only information known to Union forces at the time, the Confederate perspective was intentionally blurred. Without knowledge that a companion volume would eventually be produced, this limitation was a source of some criticism. In his new book, Opposing the Second Corps at Antietam: The Fight for the Confederate Left and Center on America's Bloodiest Day, Armstrong now explores in matching depth and focus the very same events from the Confederate point of view.

The Confederate left at Antietam, commanded by Stonewall Jackson, suffered devastating losses in the process of repelling the early morning assaults of the Union First (Hooker) and Twelfth (Mansfield) Corps across Miller's Cornfield and into the surrounding woodlots. With Sumner's Second Corps on the way to deliver the knockout blow, Confederate reinforcements were urgently needed by mid-morning on September 17 to stave off total collapse in the sector. Robert E. Lee immediately dispatched reserves to his crumbling northern front, and it is at this critical moment that Armstrong's examination of the Army of Northern Virginia's battle on the left and center begins.

In the book, Armstrong weaves together official reports and other participant accounts into a masterfully crafted combat narrative of the West Woods and Sunken Road fighting. The text is remarkably comprehensive, pinpointing the positions and movements of each Confederate regiment and battery during both the devastating offensive counterstroke into the West Woods that nearly destroyed Sedgwick's division and the doomed defense of the Sunken Road by the divisions of D.H. Hill and R.H. Anderson. The book additionally covers a multitude of smaller scale actions on the part of individual regiments and brigades in support of the main events. An exception to the uneasy stalemate conditions that existed along most of the Confederate left and center during the later hours of the battle, the scramble to check a brief afternoon advance by the U.S. Regulars up the Boonsboro Pike is also recounted.

Charting the progress of the fighting at short intervals, the book's 41 maps comprise an immensely helpful support tool. Unlike the cartography of far too many modern battle studies, Armstrong's maps are original creations intimately tied to the narrative. Seemingly every action described in the text, large and small, is represented on map and at the appropriate small unit (regiment and battery) scale. Equal attention is given to the landscape of the battlefield, with the entire range of tactically relevant natural and man-made terrain features fully rendered. Elevation contour lines are also present, an often neglected aspect of battle cartography that is nevertheless essential to the understanding of a battle largely fought over open, gently rolling fields where even the smallest ground undulation provided tactically significant advantages and disadvantages. The only suggestion for improvement would have been to make the maps larger for greater ease of viewing.

The nature of the study is primarily descriptive, but there is some broader analysis present. The traditional conception of why battle was offered at Antietam stems from a tacit admission by Lee that the aims of his Maryland Campaign were effectively foiled by the unexpectedly rapid Union response, with Antietam representing the aggressive general's desire to not abandon the campaign entirely without first offering battle. Armstrong agrees instead with the idea that the Confederate stand at Antietam was a temporary measure designed to keep Lee's offensive options open (the road north to Hagerstown being unobstructed prior to the battle)*. Lee's orders late on the 17th, after his army was already badly battered, to assemble a force to pass behind the Union far right and secure a road north supports this view. As Armstrong shows, the movement was aborted when it was discovered that the Union flank (covered by a powerful massed battery of up to 30 guns) rested on the Potomac, the inward bend of which was a source of surprise [and, according to the author, an unwarranted surprise given that J.E.B. Stuart had plenty of time before the battle to scout the road network north of Sharpsburg] to the Confederates.

Fully complementing each other, the maps and battle narratives of the companion studies Unfurl Those Colors and Opposing the Second Corps at Antietam together comprise the literature's clearest and most complete tactical history of the West Woods and Sunken Road phases of the Antietam battle. These volumes should be regarded as essential components of the 1862 Maryland Campaign bookshelf.

* - The chapter notes to this discussion of Lee's true intention at Antietam are heavily referenced to the pair of works authored by historian Joseph Harsh—Confederate Tide Rising: Robert E. Lee and the Making of Southern Strategy, 1861-1862 (1998) and Taken at the Flood: Robert E. Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862 (1999)—and presumably it is a point of agreement between the two authors.

Go HERE to view more CWBA reviews of UA Press titles.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Booknotes: Braxton Bragg

New Arrival:
Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy
by Earl J. Hess (UNC Press, 2016).

History has not been kind to Braxton Bragg, to put it mildly. I've never held a copy of newspaperman Don Carlos Seitz's 1924 biography Braxton Bragg: General of the Confederacy, but the story goes that historian Grady McWhiney found Bragg so distasteful that he couldn't finish his own attempt at a biography, leaving the second volume to Judith Lee Hallock to complete. Readers tend to share the same dismissively negative opinion of the general's Civil War career. The McWhiney-Hallock biography was the standard treatment for a long time, but a much more recent effort, Samuel Martin's General Braxton Bragg, C.S.A. (2011), finally attempted to restore some balance to the equation (how well it did this, I cannot say firsthand). Earl Hess's new book also seeks to establish a more evenhanded picture of the man and the general. Braxton Bragg "analyzes Bragg's many campaigns and battles, he also emphasizes how his contemporaries viewed his successes and failures and how these reactions affected Bragg both personally and professionally. The testimony and opinions of other members of the Confederate army—including Bragg's superiors, his fellow generals, and his subordinates—reveal how the general became a symbol for the larger military failures that undid the Confederacy." Previously, Hess offered some hints to his approach in the Stones River essay he contributed to the 2015 anthology Border Wars: The Civil War in Tennessee and Kentucky, and I am looking forward to reading the full exploration of his ideas in this book.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Army of Tennessee OB study

Author Darrell Collins compiled information he extracted primarily from the O.R. in a useful way for his 2013 book The Army of the Potomac: Order of Battle, 1861-1865, with Commanders, Strengths, Losses and More. His next volume, The Army of Northern Virginia: Organization, Strength, Casualties 1861-1865 (2015), far exceeded the first in terms of scope and reference value, so much so that one wishes Collins might revisit the Potomac army. For now, though, the series (I suppose we can now call it that) has headed out west to examine another of the war's main field armies. The Army of Tennessee: Organization, Strength, Casualties, 1862-1865 (McFarland) is currently scheduled for a late 2016 release.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Review of Kahan: "AMIABLE SCOUNDREL: Simon Cameron, Lincoln's Scandalous Secretary of War"

[Amiable Scoundrel: Simon Cameron, Lincoln's Scandalous Secretary of War by Paul Kahan (Potomac Books, 2016). Hardcover, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 367 pp. ISBN:978-1-61234-814-8. $36.95]

In the popular mind, Simon Cameron is chiefly remembered for two things, his breathtaking personal corruption and a dismal record of incompetence as Abraham Lincoln's first Secretary of War. According to Paul Kahan, author of Amiable Scoundrel: Simon Cameron, Lincoln's Scandalous Secretary of War, both conclusions are grossly oversimplified and unfair characterizations of the life and career of a major figure in nineteenth century American politics. In Kahan's view, there is much to admire in Cameron, who rose from poverty to the heights of state and national power, demonstrating along the way strong loyalty to friends and allies while spending an entire political career tirelessly promoting the interests of his home state of Pennsylvania. An anti-slavery moderate, he was also comparatively liberal on race.

Simon Cameron was born in 1799 in Maytown, Pennsylvania. His father's business failures and early death left the elder Cameron's wife and children in dire financial straits, and, like his older siblings, young Simon was taken in by a prominent local family. Devouring all available reading material, Cameron devoted himself to personal advancement. His newspaper apprenticeship exposed him to the great political events and concerns of the day and fueled personal ambitions for a future in public life. While he eventually partnered in his own newspaper endeavors, Cameron's most fruitful occupational pursuit was banking, and the connections he made in both spheres fostered his growing influence in Pennsylvania's Democratic politics.

In evaluating historical charges that Cameron was exceptionally corrupt, Kahan begins his analysis with the budding politician's first public appointment. In 1838, Cameron obtained a patronage job from President Van Buren and powerful Pennsylvania Senator James Buchanan as one of the commissioners assigned to handle individual cash claims related to the government's 1837 land settlement with the Winnebago. Though a subsequent investigation cleared Cameron, who was accused of defrauding or allowing others to defraud claimants, the taint of corruption from the Winnebago affair would follow him throughout his political career. While it seems possible that Cameron's hands were not entirely clean, the author found no direct evidence to support the accusations, which were likely to a large degree politically motivated. This is a common theme in the book's examination of the many allegations made against Cameron for misusing high office for personal gain.

All his life, Cameron was an enthusiastic supporter and practitioner of the federal spoils and patronage system, but he comes across in Amiable Scoundrel as more of a skilled operator than an exceptionally venal actor. A distinction should also be made between outright fraud, bribery, or profiteering and the acceptable political methods of the period that would be considered "corrupt" today (like the aforementioned spoils and patronage system). It wasn't always smooth sailing, however. As Kahan describes in the book, Cameron clashed with president and fellow Democrat James Polk over appointments, exposing one of the great sources of friction within the patronage system. Traditionally, chief executives deferred to legislators of the same party when it came to home state appointments, but sometimes presidents (like Polk) assumed the privilege for themselves without consulting congressional allies. While supportive of the annexation of Texas and the War with Mexico, Cameron did break with Polk over adjusting the Tariff of 1842 (its revision known as the Walker Tariff), and this action made Cameron something of a hero to Pennsylvania's business interests. While other northern Democrats went down to defeat in the aftermath, Cameron's personal position was strengthened through his widely known opposition to weakening measures designed to protect northern industries.

Critics at the time regarded Cameron as a shameless and disloyal political opportunist, but Kahan usefully reminds us that the party system itself was fluid during the early to mid nineteenth century, with national movements and parties coming and going with some frequency. Cameron began political life as a Jacksonian Democrat but was often more Whig-like in ideology (he was pro-bank, a high-tariff protectionist, and supported government funding of internal improvements). Later on, he associated himself with the short-lived Know-Nothings before finally landing in the upstart Republican Party in 1856. According to Kahan, through all these political changes, Cameron viewed his primary job to be the champion of Pennsylvania interests, especially its businesses and industries. Career long stances on slavery, banks, high tariffs, immigration limits, and internal improvements made his career of party switching more a matter of consistent progression than unprincipled opportunism.

In the book, the author ably uses Cameron's status within the "Improvements Wing" to discuss factionalism within the Democratic Party. Other interesting insights into Pennsylvania state politics of the period are offered, as well, with the book documenting Cameron's early associations with the powerful Family Party. Pennsylvania Democrats cried foul over Cameron's first election to the U.S. Senate in 1845 (where he served four years as a replacement for Buchanan), sensing a corrupt bargain with the opposition. Going against the broader theme of unfailing loyalty to friends, accusations of personal betrayal at the party's presidential nominating convention for the 1852 election marked the beginning of a break between Cameron and erstwhile friend James Buchanan, which further fractured the state party apparatus. Cameron returned to the Senate at the same time that his now nemesis Buchanan entered the White House. Opposing Buchanan and solidly in the anti-slavery camp, Cameron (a popular figure among his state's voters, if not many of its politicians) himself sought the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1860. When it became clear that Cameron could not secure the big prize and would instead be promised a cabinet position, the anti-Cameron forces again went on the offensive, attempting to convince Lincoln of the old standby charges of corruption. Things were eventually smoothed over, and Cameron was offered the position of Secretary of War, but infighting between Cameron supporters and those of Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin remained.

The constant stream of rumor, innuendo, and outright accusations of official malfeasance against Cameron only increased during his brief stint as Secretary of War, when seemingly all of his enemies came out of the woodwork. When these charges were brought to Lincoln himself, the president invariably asked for proof, and, when none was forthcoming, let the matter drop. Kahan is to be commended for demanding clear evidence of graft before being willing to condemn his subject, but with so much smoke there almost certainly must have been fire somewhere. Politically motivated character assassination surely cannot entirely account for the sheer volume of complaints flying in from so many different directions.

Cameron was also widely believed to be grossly incompetent for the job of running the Union's war machine. Kahan readily acknowledges that Cameron's chief political talents were associated with fostering personal relationships and not at all in bureaucratic administration (a skill set surely making him a poor candidate for Secretary of War), but the author does reserve for Cameron the lion's share of credit for successfully mobilizing a vast national army on a scale unprecedented in U.S. history. There's certainly something to be said for a department head deserving credit due the top position, but the book's treatment of the issue lacks specific examples of critical directives originating from Cameron himself of a type and level that might lead readers to question the conventional wisdom regarding his "failed" War Department leadership. In fact, the book's discussion of Cameron's actions as Secretary of War during the conflict's first year is rather disappointingly brief, with more attention paid to the political machinations of his enemies than to details of how Cameron performed the duties of the office. While the book covers to general satisfaction the nervous struggle to secure the capital in the first months of the war and the arrests of allegedly disloyal elements in Maryland, there's little discussion of what role, if any, Cameron played in either formulating the early strategic plans of the Union military or in carrying them out. The author does praise Cameron's foresight in supporting very early on in the war more aggressive measures like the use of black troops in suppressing the rebellion, anticipating a possible blueprint for victory that many others would only advocate at a much later (and politically safer) date. However, to play devil's advocate, one might also view maverick promotion of a revolutionary policy in race relations at a time when Border State support was at its most precarious to be a further sign of Cameron's lack of suitability for his position. The book argues that this specific policy disagreement, not allegations of widespread corruption, was the chief factor behind Cameron's forced resignation.

Accepting the diplomatic post of Minister to Russia after the humiliating end to his brief tenure as Secretary of War, Cameron served only briefly before returning home, where he repaired his relationship with Lincoln and set himself to dominating his home state's political machine. In addition to coming out on top of the incessant faction wars of Pennsylvania's Republicans, Cameron campaigned for black voting rights and advancement opportunities. He returned to the U.S. Senate in 1867 and held the position for ten years before yielding it to his son. He battled successive Republican presidents over appointments and predictably opposed Rutherford B. Hayes's civil service reform initiative. In retirement, Cameron, ever the shrewd business investor, amassed a fortune for his heirs. He also deflected another great scandal (successfully defending a breach of promise suit brought by a "Mrs. Oliver") before he died in 1889. With a series of generous bequeathals to charities, Cameron's will put the capstone on a lifelong personal mission to aid the unfortunate.

Like all good biographers, Kahan effectively mined Cameron archives at many different locations, and his research promotes a much more nuanced appreciation of the wily Keystone politician. Between the 1830s and the approach of the century's end (the period spanning Simon Cameron's active public life), America underwent a bewildering transformation of growth and change, and another great strength of the study lies in its masterful presentation of the political and social milieu that Cameron operated within. Whatever one ultimately thinks of Paul Kahan's portrait of Simon Cameron as a politician who was never as corrupt as posterity has been led to believe and who deserves oracle status regarding what needed to be done to achieve Union victory, the author deserves a great deal of credit for tackling a difficult historical reappraisal with zest and skill. Amiable Scoundrel is a political biography that every Civil War student should read.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Booknotes: The Story of a Cavalryman

New Arrival:
The Story of a Cavalryman: The Civil War Memoirs of Bvt. Brig. Gen. Edward F. Winslow, 4th Iowa Cavalry edited by Dick Titterington & Daniel L. Smith (Author/Trans-Mississippi Musings Pr, 2016).

A complete novice to military affairs, Edward Francis Winslow forged an impressive Civil War career in the western theater, becoming one of the conflict's many under-celebrated Union cavalry officers. A native of Maine, Winslow was working in railroad construction in Iowa when war broke out. Elected captain of Company F, 4th Iowa Cavalry, he led blue troopers throughout the war. In the latter stages of the war, Winslow commanded brigades in campaigns fought across Mississippi, Missouri, Georgia, and Alabama, and he was eventually promoted to brigadier general by the end of 1864. 

His memoir, written with no intention to publish, begins with Winslow's elevation to regimental command during the Vicksburg Campaign, where his performance during a May 1863 fight at Fourteenmile Creek earned him notice by Grant and Sherman. The memoir's narrative recounts Winslow's participation in many western theater military operations at some length. They include his August 1863 expedition from Vicksburg to Memphis, the Yazoo and Canton expeditions, the 1864 Meridian Campaign, Brice's Crossroads, Tupelo, the Price Expedition in Missouri, and the late-war Grierson and Wilson raids (the latter including the battles at Selma and Columbus). Editors Titterington and Smith contribute to the volume an introduction, photographs, and maps. They also heavily annotate the text, with the chapter notes offering numerous mini-biographies of persons mentioned in Winslow's memoir.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Booknotes: Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln

New Arrival:
Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed by Charles B. Strozier (Columbia Univ Press, 2016).

Ever the politician, Abraham Lincoln called many individuals his friend, but his relationship with Joshua Speed was certainly one of the tightest developed during his life.

From the description: "Speed was Abraham Lincoln's closest confidant, offering him invaluable support after the death of his first love, Ann Rutledge, and during his rocky courtship of Mary Todd. Lincoln needed Speed for guidance, support, and empathy. [Charles Strozier's] Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln is a rich analysis of a relationship that was both a model of male friendship and a specific dynamic between two brilliant but fascinatingly flawed men who played off each other's strengths and weaknesses to launch themselves in love and life."

Strozier is a historian and psychotherapist of the psychoanalytic school, and his study of the Lincoln-Speed friendship can be characterized as psychobiography. And, yes, in case you're wondering, there is an entire chapter addressing speculation on the part of other historians and writers that a sexual relationship existed between the two men. Strozier finds no evidence to suggest that theory might be true, finding instead a fundamental misunderstanding among its proponents of the nature of male bonds and cultural mores of the period (arguments that have been made before in the literature).

Monday, August 15, 2016

Five books on Germans and the Civil War

1. Chancellorsville and the Germans: Nativism, Ethnicity, and Civil War Memory (2007) by Christian B. Keller.
Exploitation of German language sources in Civil War scholarship has largely been a recent phenomenon, and Keller's examination of the ethnic German soldiers that fought with the Union Eleventh Corps is one of the most illuminating studies to emerge from it. While others have argued that the war advanced German assimilation into American society, Keller offers an alternative view that many have come to accept, that the severity of the nativist backlash against the German soldiers in the wake of the Eleventh Corps's twin routs at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg instead prompted Germans to defensively retain their own separate cultural identity and reject broader assimilation. Support for Keller's thesis is contained in #3 below, as well.
2. The Germans of Charleston, Richmond and New Orleans during the Civil War Period, 1850-1870 (2011) by Andrea Mehrländer.
With the vast majority of the literature focusing on northern Germans, Mehrländer's study alternatively looks at the immigrant experience in three major southern cities. Her book is the "is the first monograph which closely examines the role of the German minority in the American South during the Civil War. In a comparative analysis of German civic leaders, businessmen, militia officers and blockade runners in Charleston, New Orleans and Richmond, it reveals a German immigrant population which not only largely supported slavery, but was also heavily involved in fighting the war." German unit roster tables are also included.
3. Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home (2006) edited by Walter D. Kamphoefner & Wolfgang Helbich.
The editors add much in the way of supporting text and footnotes to a collection of over 300 letters originally written in German by 78 individuals and addressed to family and friends back in their original Central Europe home lands. An attempt is made to make the selections as representative as possible, with home and military fronts covered and letter writers of both sexes and from both sections included in the book.
4. A German Hurrah!: Civil War Letters of Friedrich Bertsch and Wilhelm Stangel, 9th Ohio Infantry (2010) edited by Joseph R. Reinhart.
No short list would be complete without mentioning the prodigious efforts of Kentucky's Joseph Reinhart, who, in addition to translating and editing the above letters from 9th Ohio soldiers, has authored a number of other books highlighting the German-American military experience and contributions to the Union war effort in the western theater with the 6th Kentucky, 32nd Indiana, and 82nd Illinois regiments.
5. Abolitionizing Missouri: German Immigrants and Racial Ideology in Nineteenth-Century America (2016) by Kristen Layne Anderson.
Civil War era German immigrants were renowned for embracing the political views of the radical wing of the new Republican Party, but Anderson's study of the Germans of St. Louis reveals much more diverse and evolving attitudes toward slavery and racial equality among the population.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Volume 3 of Powell's Chickamauga trilogy coming soon

David Powell announced on his blog today [go here] that The Chickamauga Campaign, Barren Victory: The Retreat into Chattanooga, the Confederate Pursuit, and the Aftermath of the Battle, September 21 to October 20, 1863 is now at the printer, and that he should have his author copies in mere weeks. What this means for the general release date (The River still has it listed for late November) I don't know, but one has to think we'll see it earlier than that. Congratulations to David upon completing a project of such epic scale that it must have seemed overwhelming at times.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Review of Wittenberg & Davis: "OUT FLEW THE SABRES: The Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863"

[Out Flew the Sabres: The Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863 by Eric Wittenberg and Daniel Davis (Savas Beatie, 2016). Softcover, 9 maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, orders of battle, reading list. 168 pp. ISBN:978-1-61121-256-3. $14.95]

By all conventional measures, the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station was a clear cut Confederate victory. With material infantry support, the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac under Alfred Pleasonton attacked the Army of Northern Virginia's cavalry division under J.E.B. Stuart with superior numbers and was repulsed after a sharp and bloody battle. The Union troopers also failed to obtain any useful information (i.e. the location of Lee's infantry) regarding the enemy's plans and dispositions for the season's upcoming campaign. Stuart's command held the field and inflicted near 2:1 losses on the enemy.

Nevertheless the most popular interpretation of the battle is to view it as the eastern theater Union cavalry's "turning point," a demonstration of battlefield skill that provided a much needed infusion of self-confidence that also delivered a signal embarrassment to the Confederates. While certainly cognizant of the Confederate victory and dismissive of the idea that Stuart's command had been eclipsed by mid-1863, this notion that the battle "made" the Union cavalry is the main theme of author Eric Wittenberg and Daniel Davis's Out Flew the Sabres: The Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863.

Operating within the space confines of the Emerging Civil War series of introductory-scale volumes, it's difficult to imagine someone else doing a substantially better job of narrating the flow of the battle and hitting all the key clashes. The actions of John Buford's division—the initial crossing at Beverly Ford, the temporary stalemate at the Yew Ridge stone wall, and the eventual dislodging of the much diminished force opposite—are skillfully outlined. The razor thin margin between victory and defeat fairly jumping from the page, the key contest between David Gregg's division and Stuart himself at Fleetwood Hill is very well described, as are the indecisive engagements to the south at Stevensburg and Mountain Run. The book also discusses the Loudoun Valley skirmishes and battle that occurred after the battle, where the Confederatse again proved stiff on the defense and Pleasonton (whose subordinates fought well) again failed to locate Lee's infantry.

It is popular to criticize Stuart for being surprised at Brandy Station, but he recovered extremely well and brilliantly coordinated a multi-axis defense that was nevertheless a near run thing. According to the authors, Stuart subordinates Grumble Jones and Wade Hampton, along with staff officer Henry McClellan, aided this effort with inspired performances. Pleasonton, whose leadership was indecisive and planning questionable (Duffie's division would have been far more useful at Fleetwood Hill than Stevensburg), receives no such praise by the authors, who rightly determine that another leader would be needed to take the Union cavalry to the next level.

Like most books in the series, the abundant illustrations in Out Flew the Sabres substantially enhance the text. Modern photographic views of significant points on the battlefield are plentiful, and all of the important fighting locations are well represented in the small-scale map set provided. To better comprehend the big picture, a good map of the entire battlefield (one showing the initial dispositions of both sides in detail, as well as Pleasonton's battle plan) would have been very useful.

The appendices, a frequent highlight of series volumes, discuss the four battles of Brandy Station, the Battle of Kelly's Ford, the nearby 1863-64 winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac, and the long and expensive modern battle to preserve the ground for posterity. The tour part of the book is well integrated into the text. For each stop, the reader receives detailed driving instructions and viewing orientation (with GPS coordinates), as well as some interesting additional historical context.

A distillation of eastern theater cavalry expertise well-honed over decades of research and writing, Out Flew the Sabres exceeds expectations for a narrative overview of the Battle of Brandy Station. It also should prove equally handy on a personal visit to the battlefield.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Booknotes: "Hang Them All"

New Arrival:
"Hang Them All": George Wright and the Plateau Indian War, 1858
by Donald Cutler (Univ of Okla Press, 2016).

Colonel George Wright's 1858 campaign was the culminating event of a series of violent conflicts between whites and Indians that occurred over the previous three years on both sides of the Cascade Mountain divide in Washington Territory [including the Yakama War, the massacre of Columbia Gorge settlers at the Cascades, and the fighting around Puget Sound (the "Battle of Seattle")]. In 1858, while conducting a punitive expedition launched in the wake of the Steptoe defeat at Pine Creek earlier in the year, Wright defeated a number of loosely allied tribes in the eastern part of the territory at the Four Lakes and Spokane Plains battles. "Hang Them All" discusses this campaign and the enduring controversies over it and about Wright himself (deserved or not). The cover art is pretty provocative, and the book description seemingly provides little mystery over what direction the book will take.