Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Booknotes: The Second Day at Gettysburg

New Arrival:

The Second Day at Gettysburg: The Attack and Defense of the Union Center on Cemetery Ridge, July 2, 1863 by David L. Schultz and Scott L. Mingus, Sr. (Savas Beatie, 2015).

About ten years ago, Schultz (with David Wieck) authored a book about the the Second Day at Gettysburg, The Battle Between the Farm Lanes: Hancock's Ride Saves the Union Center July 2, 1863, which was published by Ironclad. He returns, this time with Scott Mingus, to detail the entire July 2 series of events from the perspectives of both sides. At nearly 500 pages of narrative, The Second Day at Gettysburg is a huge book. As expected, it receives the full Savas Beatie treatment when it comes to maps. The new volume "expands on David Shultz and David Wieck’s critically acclaimed earlier work The Battle Between the Farm Lanes. This completely revised and expanded study, which includes new photographs, original maps, and a self-guided tour of the fighting, is grounded in extensive research and unmatched personal knowledge of the terrain. The result is a balanced and compelling account of this often overlooked portion of the battle." Another major work to add to your Gettysburg library.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sons of the White Eagle

Ever since I first read about the Civil War contributions of Polish-American engineer Valery Sulakowski to the Confederate cause in the Trans-Mississippi, I've wondered if anyone was working on a book about Polish officers that served in the war. I don't know if Sulakowski is one of the nine individuals profiled in Mark Bielski's upcoming Sons of the White Eagle in the American Civil War: Polish Officers on Both Sides of the War Between the States (Casemate, Spring '16) but I hope to find out soon.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Booknotes: Surgeon of the "Old Sixth"

New Arrival:

Surgeon of the ''Old Sixth'': The Life and Times of Dr. Norman Smith and the Civil War's 6th Massachusetts by M.P. McConnell (Ellen Carson Pub, 2015).

Dr. Smith was the regimental surgeon of the 6th and the book covers his time with the 90-day volunteer regiment from its famously warm April 1861 reception at Baltimore to its August mustering out. In the intervening period, the regiment safeguarded the approaches to Washington. Author "M.P. McConnell vividly exposes the chaos of the first days of the Civil War when the stakes were so high including new details about the ''Old Sixth'' Regiment's camp conditions, health problems, number of Baltimore casualties, and discipline challenges at the end of its service. The medical practice of a 19th century New England doctor comes alive in the story along with details of the first amputation of the Civil War by Dr. Smith just steps away from the Capitol Rotunda in the then chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court." The sexagenarian Smith didn't reenter military service but rather traveled to Europe for a time before returning home to the U.S. Also from the description, the book is "(r)ichly illustrated [much of it in color] with the first-ever gathering of period artwork and photographs chronicling the ''Old Sixth'' Regiment's service and is the product of "extensive research into archival collections with never before published first-hand accounts from letters, diaries, and orderly books ..."

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Booknotes: The First Battle of Manassas

New Arrival:

The First Battle of Manassas: An End to Innocence, July 18-21, 1861 Revised Edition by John J. Hennessy (Stackpole, 2015).

For detailed discussions of the fighting at Matthews Hill and Henry Hill on July 21, the appropriate sections of Edward Longacre's recent tome have been the closest rival to John Hennessy's 1989 classic The First Battle of Manassas. Now Hennessy had upped the ante with a revised edition that was just released about a week ago. There's no new introduction to orient readers regarding specific improvements but the maps have been redone (marginally improved, I would say) and there's around 30 pages worth of fresh text. This is a must-have for the FBR section of your home library.

[Check back soon for a Q&A with author John Hennessy]

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Beemer: "'MY GREATEST QUARREL WITH FORTUNE': Major General Lew Wallace in the West, 1861-1862"

["My Greatest Quarrel with Fortune": Major General Lew Wallace in the West, 1861-1862 by Charles G. Beemer (Kent State University Press, 2015). Hardcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:257/339. ISBN:978-1-60635-236-6. $39.95]

As author Charles Beemer amply demonstrates in "My Greatest Quarrel with Fortune": Major General Lew Wallace in the West, 1861-1862, the Indiana political general was a fine field commander whose Civil War career was marginalized largely due to his personality and conduct off the battlefield. Readers will perhaps recall that another book on the subject [Shadow of Shiloh: Major General Lew Wallace in the Civil War by Gail Stephens (Indiana Hist Society Press, 2010)] was published only a short time ago. While the authors find themselves in agreement on most key issues and controversies surrounding Wallace, their approach angles and analyses are different enough in nature to make both highly recommended reading. Unlike Stephens's more comprehensive career assessment, Beemer zeroes in on Wallace's first twelve months as a general in the western theater, concentrating on the disputed events of Shiloh's first day.

According to Beemer's interpretation, Mexican War veteran Wallace was highly motivated in the early months of the Civil War to redeem the military reputation of his home state, which was tainted by allegations of bad conduct by Indiana volunteers at the 1847 Battle of Buena Vista. His well executed 1861 surprise attack at Romney in western Virginia using the regiment he recruited and trained (the 11th Indiana, "Wallace's Zouaves") restored Indiana's honor in the mind of Wallace. Unfortunately, several troubling command traits would also be established early in the war. The impatient Wallace was ever ready to disregard or exceed orders and he repeatedly ignored the chain of command to promote his own views and concerns. As first demonstrated through his efforts at undermining Charles F. Smith in Kentucky, Wallace's military character would not include the loyalty to superior officers that was expected of subordinates.

During the February 1862 Henry-Donelson campaign, Wallace's value as a combat commander blossomed, although he would not receive the personal accolades he felt he deserved. With Grant temporarily absent, and his division commanders left with orders to remain in position, the Confederates attacked at a propitious moment on February 15, caving in the Union right and threatening to completely rout the federal army. On his own initiative, Wallace advanced up Wynn's Ferry Road and repelled multiple Confederate assaults, forcing the enemy to fall back. While Beemer is justly impressed by Wallace's actions, his characterization of them as offensive moves in direct disobedience of Grant's orders seems open to question. Surely high ranking officers possess the latitude to use their own judgment in moments of crisis, especially when the overall commander is absent from the field and unable to provide further direction. Also, it's debatable whether setting up a blocking position astride a key road behind one's own lines should be deemed an "offensive" move. Regardless, Beemer's characterization of Wallace as a cool-headed combat commander of considerable tactical acumen is well established in the book. On Wallace's part, he performed well and should have been satisfied with promotion to major general but he simply could not keep silent when talking would only cultivate powerful enemies.

By this point in history, most neutral observers of the Battle of Shiloh have accepted what we might call the "Wallace view" of events on April 6 and rejected most key tenets of the "Grant view" (principally created by staff officers William R. Rowley and John A. Rawlins). The charges central to the Grant view — that Wallace chose the wrong road to the battlefield, got "lost," and moved inordinately slow — have been effectively refuted in the literature and Beemer's own conclusions on these matters are confirmatory in nature. In discussing Shiloh, Beemer largely sticks to April 6 and does not address later claims by Wallace critics that the Indiana general's leadership was also dilatory during April 7, when his 3rd Division comprised the far right flank of the Union army. This area of censure has also been convincingly overturned by recent scholarship.

As Beemer shows, the Grant-Wallace controversy didn't really heat up until the 1880s with the publication in the O.R. of documents written by Grant staffers Rowley, Rawlins, and James B. McPherson in support of their chief and decidedly hostile to Wallace. These reports, originally composed in early 1863, were buried by then General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, who had no desire to revisit Shiloh at that critical point in the war. Curiously, the man who carried Grant's original order (which was subsequently lost), Captain Algernon S. Baxter, submitted no report of his own. Given the substance of later Baxter comments that were not in keeping with the evolving Grant view, Beemer takes this to mean that the staff officer chose loyal silence (the antithesis of the Wallace method of doing things) over rocking the boat and perhaps incurring the wrath of his wartime benefactor.

Beemer characterizes the popular post-war acceptance of the Grant view as the product of a cover-up by Grant, Rowley, Rawlins, and Halleck [Beemer excludes McPherson from the group]. "Cover-up" is a loaded term that implies a level of dark orchestration that, depending on the reader's view, may or may not be appropriate in this case but the author's analysis leading him to that conclusion is impressively constructed and presented. Beemer's meticulous dissection of the Rowley and Rawlins reports forcefully highlights the untruths, half-truths, misconceptions, and invented facts that would be collectively used to reinforce the image of Grant as the calm, decisive, and clear thinking commander and portray Wallace as the confused incompetent amateur that nearly lost the battle for the Union cause. Not all of Beemer's arguments are equally convincing and some minor points seem exaggerated in importance but the overall analysis is straightforward, deep, and persuasive. While the whole affair does not reveal Grant's character in the most flattering light, Beemer's assessment of Grant's relative silence during most of the period between Shiloh and the writing of his famous memoirs as mostly stemming from a desire to rid himself of a subordinate he felt he could not work with (even though he might have appreciated Wallace's fighting skills) seems reasonable. The author assigns much more direct malice to the machinations of Halleck, who hated having civilian-generals in positions of great authority and blocked Wallace's ambitions and petitions for redress at every turn. Halleck's placement of Wallace on his infamous list of Union political generals to whom entrusting important commands was "little better than murder" is patently absurd.

In this study, author Charles Beemer very effectively gets to the heart of why Wallace, who forged an enviable early war combat record that seemingly destined him for military fame and glory, was essentially rendered persona non grata in the Union high command. Clearly, Lew Wallace was ill-served by the nation's military apparatus but Beemer assigns secondary status to these outside forces. The primary source of Wallace's misfortune was his own behavior off the battlefield. Great controversies seek out scapegoats and men like Wallace, who could be their own worst enemies, have targets on their backs and are also least equipped to survive the storm. Nakedly ambitious subordinate generals who are disloyal to superiors, ignore the chain of command, and demonstrate a frequent willingness to exceed or disregard orders tend to acquire few friends, and many enemies, in high places. Lew Wallace's struggle with himself was truly his "greatest quarrel with fortune."

More CWBA reviews of KSUP titles:
* Work for Giants: The Campaign and Battle of Tupelo/Harrisburg, Mississippi, June-July 1864
* 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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Booknotes: Colonel Andrew Cowan

New Arrival:

Colonel Andrew Cowan: Union Soldier, Louisville Citizen, Peacemaker by Bryan S. Bush (Acclaim Pr, 2015).

Immigrating to the U.S. from Scotland as a youth, Cowan was a college student when the Civil War broke out. Commissioned as a lieutenant in the First New York Indep. Battery, Cowan fought with the Army of the Potomac from the Peninsula Campaign through Appomattox, ending the war as a VI Corps artillery brigade commander. Returning to civilian life, Cowan settled in Louisville, where he became a successful businessman and philanthropist, while also being very active in organizing veteran events. Bush's book is a full biography of Cowan, with substantial space devoted to the post-war period.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Booknotes: Damn Yankees!

New Arrival:

Damn Yankees!: Demonization and Defiance in the Confederate South by George C. Rable (LSU Press, 2015).

Wartime populations often dehumanize their foes and extol their own virtues. Both sides certainly did it during the Civil War. Studying the phenomenon from one side, this slim volume examines how anti-North rhetoric bolstered Confederate resistance.
"Drawing from speeches, cartoons, editorials, letters, and diaries, Damn Yankees! examines common themes in southern excoriation of the enemy. In sharp contrast to the presumed southern ideals of chivalry and honor, Confederates claimed that Yankees were rootless vagabonds who placed profit ahead of fidelity to religious and social traditions. Pervasive criticism of northerners created a framework for understanding their behavior during the war. When the Confederacy prevailed on the field of battle, it confirmed the Yankees’ reputed physical and moral weakness. When the Yankees achieved military success, reports of depravity against vanquished foes abounded, stiffening the resolve of Confederate soldiers and civilians alike to protect their homeland and the sanctity of their women from Union degeneracy."

Monday, November 16, 2015

Backus and Orrison: "A WANT OF VIGILANCE: The Bristoe Station Campaign, October 9-19, 1863"

[A Want of Vigilance: The Bristoe Station Campaign, October 9-19, 1863 by Bill Backus and Robert Orrison (Savas Beatie, 2015). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, tour guide, appendices. 190 pp. ISBN:978-1-61121-300-3. $14.95]

A new volume from the prolific Emerging Civil War group of writers, A Want of Vigilance addresses the oft neglected Bristoe Campaign, an indecisive yet vigorously pursued October 1863 military operation involving George Gordon Meade's Army of the Potomac and Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Though overshadowed by the massive bloodletting of the following year, total casualties were not insignificant and the Confederates lost several valuable brigade commanders killed or badly wounded, further leadership losses they could ill afford after Gettysburg's officer toll.

Authors Bill Backus and Robert Orrison begin by effectively set the scene of the Fall 1863 seat of war in Central Virginia before launching into a fine overview treatment of the series of Confederate offensive maneuvers aimed at turning the Union position from the west and perhaps falling on Meade's flank and rear. During the second week of October, cavalry battles involving the screening forces of both sides were fought at James City (Oct. 10) and Brandy Station (Oct. 11). JEB Stuart overreached and was surrounded at Auburn on October 13-14, necessitating a rescue operation by Richard Ewell's II Corps. After that close call, the overall Federal situation remained precarious, however, and Meade's army soon was in full retreat up the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. At Bristoe Station on the afternoon of the 14th, the Army of the Potomac repelled with heavy loss several charges from A.P. Hill's pursuing III Corps and escaped across nearby Broad Run during the night. With the Union army now firmly entrenched at Centerville, Lee ran out of options and withdrew, but not before Stuart's cavalry routed their Union counterparts at Buckland Mills on October 19.

With even the relatively short flank marches of the Bristoe Campaign stretching the logistical capabilities of Lee's army to the limit, readers of the book can readily appreciate the poor state of the support services of the post-Gettysburg Army of Northern Virginia and how they limited Lee's offensive options. In another area of concern, while the autumn campaigns allowed the Federals to identify and weed out ineffective commanders of their own (ex. French and Sykes), the Bristoe operation offered yet another clear indication of how an Army of Northern Virginia without Jackson and Longstreet was only a shadow of its former self when led by the likes of Ewell and Hill.

The relatively small scale of the Bristoe Campaign battles and skirmishes allowed fairly detailed accounts of each action [James City, Brandy Station, Auburn, Bristoe Station and Buckland Mills] to be presented in the book. Operating within the established constraints of the series format, Backus and Orrison demonstrate a great deal of skill in the art of campaign narrative. Supporting their text is a fine set of detailed maps.

In addition to the multitude of photographs and other illustrations that have become a hallmark of the ECW series, there is also a nine-stop driving tour, which is incorporated into the main text rather than offered as a separate feature. The appendices address a variety of topics. There is no way to know exactly what Lee said during his oft quoted rebuke of Hill in the wake of Bristoe Station, but from the five available sources evaluated by Backus in the first appendix it seems reasonable to conclude that heated words were spoken. Another piece recounts a 1st Maine Cavalry reconnaissance mission and other contributors survey the Rappahannock Station, Kelly's Ford, and First Bristoe Station battles. Along with a preservation timeline and orders of battle, a brief appreciation of the campaign as more than a historical blip between Gettysburg and the Overland Campaign is included. The only thing that really mars the reading experience is the excessive number of print gaffes (some quite embarrassing in nature) missed by the proofreading process. That issue aside, A Want of Vigilance ranks among the best entries in the ECW series to date and one looks forward to seeing more work from authors Backus and Orrison.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Nice try Currier & Ives ...

... but no one can make Henry Halleck look heroic.

I saw this illustration for the first time yesterday and had to share it.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Booknotes: James Garfield and the Civil War

New Arrival:

James Garfield and the Civil War: For Ohio and the Union by Dan Vermilya (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Pr, 2015).

In terms of historical memory, Garfield's assassination overshadowed a pretty interesting Civil War military career. Not generally thought of as an independent field commander, Colonel Garfield successfully drove Confederate forces out of East Kentucky during winter 1861-62, his Big Sandy Campaign only lightly addressed in the literature until recent years. His reward would be a brigadier's star. Garfield and his 18th Brigade arrived at Shiloh as the battle was ending and he spent a good chunk of the war's middle period sidelined by illness and court-martial duty (the Porter trial). He returned to field service as Rosecrans's Chief of Staff after Stones River, so the book covers Tullahoma and Chickamauga. Garfield resigned in December of that year and embarked on another career in national politics, one that would lead him all the way to the top. All of this is covered in Vermilya's concise study. An appendix goes into more detail about the controversial Garfield-Rosecrans relationship and another samples his oratorial skills.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Wise, Rowland, w/ Spieler: "REBELLION, RECONSTRUCTION, AND REDEMPTION, 1861-1893: The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina, Volume 2"

[Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861-1893: The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina, Volume 2 by Stephen R. Wise & Lawrence S. Rowland w/ Gerhart Spieler (University of South Carolina Press, 2015). Hardcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:601/716. ISBN:978-1-61117-484-7. $44.95]

The middle part of an ambitious trilogy, Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861-1893: The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina, Volume 2 picks up where The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina: 1514-1861* left off almost twenty years ago. Bringing historian Stephen Wise on board was an astute move on the part of project mainstay and co-author Lawrence Rowland, as Wise's Civil War in South Carolina expertise is a clear asset to Volume 2. With county boundaries shifting over time, the large geographical area under consideration in the book is better described as the Beaufort District. In general terms, the district encompasses the ground lying between the Savannah and Salkehatchie-Combahee rivers on one axis and between the 1878 Barnwell/Hampton county border and the sea islands on the other, with the societal transformations of the last comprising much of the volume's focus.

The breadth and depth of the portion of the narrative recounting military events that occurred within the district is rather astonishing. The treatment could work equally well as a standalone study of land and naval operations conducted up and down the South Carolina coast between the Charleston & Savannah Railroad and the sea islands. The book details the Confederate evacuation of the sea islands, the Union occupation and expansion of their coastal enclaves, the Confederate defensive arrangements for the Beaufort District, the 1862 Battle of Pocotaligo, the Combahee and Bluffton raids, the November 1864 Battle of Honey Hill, and the battles around Tulifinney's Crossroads. In addition to the more prominent military actions, innumerable lesser raids and skirmishes are described in the text. The study also offers an extensive treatment of the passage of William T. Sherman's army through the district during the last winter of the war. A well conceived Confederate mobile defense strategy protected the railroad and prevented inland occupation by Union forces for most of the war but the district was helpless to resist Sherman's blue tide.

Most scholars credit Robert E. Lee for designing a practical strategy for coastline defense in South Carolina after the Port Royal disaster in 1861, one that subsequent Confederate commanders used with great success before the arrival of Sherman's army in the district in early 1865, but the authors contend that Roswell Ripley deserves recognition for laying much of the initial groundwork. Overall, the military coverage is very comprehensive and the volume's account of the November 30, 1864 Honey Hill battle is the best in the Civil War literature.

Equally impressive is the book's historical treatment of the famous Port Royal Experiment, the government sponsored social program that sought to bring freedom, education and opportunity to thousands of South Carolina freedmen and their families. Following Union occupation of the sea islands, northern missionaries, teachers, nurses, government officials and observers flooded into Port Royal and Hilton Head, setting up churches, hospitals, and schools. Lessons in civics and free labor would prepare former slaves for a promised future as productive citizens. Federal revenue officers also arrived, tasked with enforcing newly imposed property tax laws. Thousands of acres of abandoned land were foreclosed upon and opened up for auction.

With successive Department of the South commanders displaying varying degrees of support for the Port Royal Experiment, Union general and military governor Rufus Saxon cheerfully assumed the position of primary protector of the welfare of freedmen. When northern speculators quickly grabbed up much of the available acreage, Saxton used his influence to ensure that some lands were set aside for ex-slaves. Black army recruitment (with Saxton moderating abuses in this arena, as well) and unit formation in the sea islands are also discussed at length. By mid-1864 half the combat troops in the Department of the South were black.

Beyond the general need for tighter proofreading, the book's most prominent flaw is the inadequacy of the map set. Some of the contemporary line drawings, along with maps borrowed from other sources like the atlas to the O.R., are fine on their own account but many are difficult to decipher in their shrunken form and none are associated closely enough with the text's descriptions of military operations to offer much in the way of material assistance to the reader.

The book concludes with a lengthy section examining the social, political, and economic changes in the district between 1865 and 1893. During this period of time, many freedmen gains with origins traced back to the wartime Port Royal Experiment would gradually be eroded. The authors point to Republican infighting, financial scandals, and skyrocketing taxes [mostly in the form of property taxes, which placed disproportionate burdens on cash-strapped small farmers, white and black] to pay for expensive and inefficient government as important factors contributing to Democratic resurgence. 

In their analysis, Rowland and Wise draw a clear distinction between the sea islands and mainland South Carolina. While black legislative majorities lasted eight years during Reconstruction in South Carolina, the power and influence of freedmen was sustained decades longer in the sea islands. Many black political leaders are profiled, but local civic leader, businessman, and long serving politician Robert Smalls (the freedman who became famous during the war after the Planter exploit) is the "indispensable man" of the narrative. On the islands, black land ownership was sustained and expanded post-bellum and the book documents many incidences of murder and violence instigated by both whites and blacks, the former seeking to regain lost properties and the latter equally determined to resist repossession.

According to Rowland and Wise, the postwar economic boon in places like the Beaufort District remains generally underappreciated in Reconstruction-era histories of South Carolina. The authors carefully document, among other things, the key roles that cotton growing, railroad expansion, and the timber and phosphate industries played in the increased prosperity enjoyed by the district's white and black residents. The deep water port facilities of Port Royal, brilliantly exploited by the Union navy during the war, also made the district attractive to maritime shipping, with growth and traffic increasing by leaps and bounds for both domestic and international trade. Finally, the book discusses the Redemption period and concludes with the 1892 election of the "People's Ticket." According to the authors, this last event marked the peak of fusion politics and also the real end to the district's ruling system that was forged decades earlier during Reconstruction.

If the scholarly depth and quality of the first and third installments of the series approach anywhere near the levels achieved in Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861-1893, the Beaufort District will have been accorded that rare type of magisterial local study that all regions of comparable size and importance to American history hope to attain. Indeed, the study's thematic reach in terms of societal transformation extends far beyond local concerns and the book is highly recommended reading for all students of the Civil War era.

* - The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina: 1514-1861 by Lawrence S. Rowland, George C. Rogers, and Alexander Moore (Univ of SC Press, 1996). The final volume was released this month.

More CWBA reviews of USC Press titles:
* South Carolina Fire-Eater: The Life of Laurence Massillon Keitt, 1824-1864
* A Confederate Englishman: The Civil War Letters of Henry Wemyss Feilden
* Promotion or the Bottom of the River: The Blue and Gray Naval Careers of Alexander F. Warley, South Carolinian
* Faith, Valor, and Devotion: The Civil War Letters of William Porcher DuBose and A Palmetto Boy: Civil War-Era Diaries and Letters of James Adams Tillman
* Twilight on the South Carolina Rice Fields: Letters of the Heyward Family, 1862-1871
* Never for Want of Powder: The Confederate Powder Works in Augusta, Georgia
* Upcountry South Carolina Goes to War: Letters of the Anderson, Brockman, and Moore Families, 1853-1865
* Cuban Confederate Colonel: The Life of Ambrosio Jose Gonzales
* The Good Fight That Didn't End: Henry P. Goddard's Accounts of Civil War and Peace
* Guardian of Savannah: Fort McAllister, Georgia, in the Civil War and Beyond
* High Seas And Yankee Gunboats: A Blockade-Running Adventure From The Diary Of James Dickson
* Vital Rails: The Charleston & Savannah Railroad and the Civil War in Coastal South Carolina

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Booknotes: New Directions in Slavery Studies

New Arrival:

New Directions in Slavery Studies: Commodification, Community, and Comparison edited by Jeff Forret and Christine E. Sears (LSU Press, 2015).

From the publisher's description:
"New Directions in Slavery Studies addresses the various ways in which the institution of slavery reduced human beings to a form of property. From the coastwise domestic slave trade in international context to the practice of slave mortgaging to the issuing of insurance policies on slaves, several essays reveal how southern whites treated slaves as a form of capital to be transferred or protected. An additional piece in this section contemplates the historian’s role in translating the fraught history of slavery into film.

Other essays examine the idea of the “slave community,” an increasingly embattled concept born of revisionist scholarship in the 1970s. This section’s contributors examine the process of community formation for black foreigners, the crucial role of violence in the negotiation of slaves’ sense of community, and the effect of the Civil War on slave society. A final essay asks readers to reassess the long-standing revisionist emphasis on slave agency and the ideological burdens it carries with it.

Essays in the final section discuss scholarship on comparative slavery, contrasting American slavery with similar, less restrictive practices in Brazil and North Africa. One essay negotiates a complicated tripartite comparison of secession in the United States, Brazil, and Cuba, while another uncovers subtle differences in slavery in separate regions of the American South, demonstrating that comparative slavery studies need not be transnational."

Monday, November 09, 2015

Engineering Victory... didn't we just...? yes, we did.

It's very common for books and movies to share titles with previous releases but you don't see it too much in Civil War non-fiction, especially two books sharing some common subject matter and published barely a year apart (thank heavens for subtitles). Justin Solonick's Engineering Victory: The Union Siege of Vicksburg was one of 2015's best books and in Spring '16 we'll see Engineering Victory: How Technology Won the Civil War from Thomas Army. Granted, it's an appealing play on words but someone at Johns Hopkins should have donned the creative hat and come up with something else. Title oddity aside, the book sounds intriguing.

Civil War authors continue to be very fond of reducing Union victory to one overarching factor of some kind, be it Lincoln's leadership, Grant's generalship, the navy, or the Irish Brigade, but Army "identifies strength in engineering―not superior military strategy or industrial advantage―as the critical determining factor in the war’s outcome."
"Army finds that Union soldiers were able to apply scientific ingenuity and innovation to complex problems in a way that Confederate soldiers simply could not match. Skilled Free State engineers who were trained during the antebellum period benefited from basic educational reforms, the spread of informal educational practices, and a culture that encouraged learning and innovation. During the war, their rapid construction and repair of roads, railways, and bridges allowed Northern troops to pass quickly through the forbidding terrain of the South as retreating and maneuvering Confederates struggled to cut supply lines and stop the Yankees from pressing any advantage. By presenting detailed case studies from both theaters of the war, Army clearly demonstrates how the soldiers’ education, training, and talents spelled the difference between success and failure, victory and defeat. He also reveals massive logistical operations as critical in determining the war’s outcome."
Swap "in a way" with "on a scale" in that first sentence and there isn't much that I would disagree with in the description and one certainly doesn't have to share Army's view of military engineering's primacy over all suggested factors underlying Union victory and Confederate defeat to appreciate its importance.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Booknotes: The Aftermath of Battle

New Arrival:

The Aftermath of Battle: The Burial of the Civil War Dead by Meg Groeling (Savas Beatie, 2015).

Groeling's book is a bit of a departure from the typical Emerging Civil War series volume in that it doesn't cover a specific military event but rather a subject common to all Civil War battles, the burial of the slain. It examines interment rituals, standards and practices with chapters constructed around individuals, places, and events. Cemeteries, monuments, markers, and museums associated with the history and remembrance of the chapter topics are also discussed, with the series's usual profusion of photographs and other illustrations.