Monday, October 20, 2014

Booknotes VI (Oct '14)

Just In:

The Early Morning of War: Bull Run, 1861 by Edward G. Longacre (Univ of Okla Pr, 2014).

I am quite close to giddy at finally having my hands on the first micro-treatment of First Bull Run. The narrative part runs at just over 500 pages and with Blackburn's Ford not coming into the picture until around pg. 250 it really is a campaign history. Longacre has clearly done his homework on this one, with the manuscript section alone comprising over 20 densely packed pages of unpublished civilian and military primary sources. I am sure Harry will have a fine time picking his way through it. For a study this detailed, it's a shame that the maps are so few in number, especially for the confused, piecemeal back and forth exchanges around Henry Hill.

The author interview accompanying the press package hints at some of Longacre's unconventional conclusions. His reading of civilian letters leaves him convinced that home front morale was already falling before the campaign was even fought, and this in turn impacted military morale to a degree not previously understood. Longacre's findings also led him to question whether Joe Johnston's use of rail movement to reach the Manassas battlefield was truly an essential element in the Confederate victory. In another take on the "There stands Jackson like a stone wall!" controversy, the author promises a fresh look into the matter at an unprecedented level of detail. Suffice it to say that those adhering to the view that Bee intended a negative connotation will find a friend in Longacre.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta

In my interview with historian Earl Hess back in 2012, he mentioned that he had "books well advanced on Stones River, on infantry tactics in the Civil War, and on the battle of Ezra Church." It now appears that the last one on the list will make it out first. The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta will be a Spring 2015 release from UNC Press's wonderful Civil War America series.  Many of the recent Atlanta Campaign battle books have been the first of their kind and this one will be no exception.

Friday, October 17, 2014


Of the two battles, 1874's Second Adobe Walls is the more famous event, but the November 25, 1864 Battle of Adobe Walls has enough drama and consequence to make it deserving of more recognition. There's an obvious Civil War connection worthy of investigation, but it was also one of the continent's largest Indian Wars engagements.

Alvin R. Lynn's Kit Carson and the First Battle of Adobe Walls: A Tale of Two Journeys (2014) is a non-traditional treatment of the subject. The research is adequate enough to construct a reasonably good overview of the campaign's background, approach march, battle, and aftermath, but, as the subtitle indicates, the narrative is really a combination of history and personal travelogue. The author spent well over a decade of dusty field work attempting to accurately trace the path of Carson's command from Fort Bascom in New Mexico to Adobe Walls in the Texas Panhandle, so his own "journey" is integrated into Carson's.

Kit Carson's historical campaign was undertaken in response to 1864's bloody upswing in western trail raiding. The battle, fought between a few hundred New Mexico and California volunteers (with Ute and Jicarilla Apache scouts) and 1,300 or more Kiowa and Commanche warriors led by Dohäsan, was indecisive, with a pair of howitzers instrumental in keeping the aggressive Indian forces from the type of close range combat that might have overwhelmed Carson's command. Both sides claimed victory in the 29 day campaign. While Carson retreated from the field, Lynn views the complete destruction of the Kiowa village and heavier than previously believed Indian casualties as reasonable factors to justify U.S. claims. This part of the book is less than 90 heavily illustrated pages, the rest (more than half the total) is devoted to Lynn's archaeological discoveries, complete with methodological discussion, artifact tables, relic distribution maps, and photographic register of each unearthed item.

The author's maps of the Carson march route and the battlefield itself are disappointingly spare, lacking both period detail and modern reference points. The B&W as well as selected color photographs, on the other hand, are wonderful visual records of campaign related sites and vistas, many of which are probably little changed today. Unlike a recent study of the 1862-65 U.S.-Sioux war that began in Minnesota, Lynn is less interested in developing a Civil War context for Adobe Walls. Overall, the book leaves ample room for a better campaign and battle history of First Adobe Walls but those interested in the growing field of military archaeology will relish Lynn's thoroughly documented labor of love in that regard.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Booknotes V (Oct '14)

New Arrivals:

1. The Logbooks: Connecticut's Slave Ships and Human Memory by Anne Farrow (Wesleyan Univ Pr, 2014).

Farrow writes a combined narrative memory study, that of three largely forgotten slave ship voyages told through log books and her own mother's dementia induced cognitive loss. "As Farrow bore witness to the impact of memory loss on her mother’s sense of self, she also began a journey into the world of the logbooks and the Atlantic slave trade, eventually retracing part of the Africa’s long-ago voyage to Sierra Leone. As the narrative unfolds in The Logbooks, Farrow explores the idea that if our history is incomplete, then collectively we have forgotten who we are—a loss that is in some ways similar to what her mother experienced. Her meditations are well rounded with references to the work of writers, historians, and psychologists. Forthright, well researched, and warmly recounted, Farrow’s writing is that of a novelist’s, with an eye for detail. Using a wealth of primary sources, she paints a vivid picture of the eighteenth-century Connecticut slavers. The multiple narratives combine in surprising and effective ways to make this an intimate confrontation with the past, and a powerful meditation on how slavery still affects us."

2. The Civil War Diary of Gideon Welles, Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy: The Original Manuscript Edition edited by William E. Gienapp and Erica L. Gienapp (Univ of Ill Pr, 2014).

As any footnote reader knows, the Welles diary has long been an essential resource for studying the Lincoln cabinet and administration. "In this new edition, William E. and Erica L. Gienapp have restored Welles’s original observations, gleaned from the manuscript diaries at the Library of Congress and freed from his many later revisions, so that the reader can experience what he wrote in the moment." In addition to the diary itself, which is "carefully edited and extensively annotated, this edition contains a wealth of supplementary material. The several appendixes include short biographies of the members of Lincoln’s cabinet, the retrospective Welles wrote after leaving office covering the period missing from the diary proper, and important letters regarding naval matters and international law." If you want the Welles diary on your shelf for reference purposes, this is the edition you need.

3. The Medal of Honor: A History of Service Above and Beyond by The Editors of Boston Publishing Company (Zenith Pr, 2014).

A pictorial history of the award, this book tells recipient stories while also discussing the origins and evolution of the MOH.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Craig: "KENTUCKY CONFEDERATES: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase"

[Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase by Berry Craig (University Press of Kentucky, 2014). Casebound hardcover, map, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:294/365. ISBN:978-0-8131-4692-8 $45]

In recent decades, regional studies have comprised one of the high points of Civil War scholarship. Among of the most useful are those examining Upper South and Border State political divides.  Until this year, the Jackson Purchase of Kentucky has not been the subject of this brand of specialized attention.  While Dan Lee's The Civil War in the Jackson Purchase, 1861-1862 (2014) edged out Berry Craig's Kentucky Confederates in the race to be the first to hit the presses, the latter possesses superior scholarship*. A large expanse of western Kentucky stretching south to the border with Tennessee and bounded on its west, north, and east sides by the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee Rivers, the Jackson Purchase was by far the state's most pro-Confederate section, so much so that it was sometimes referred to as the "South Carolina of Kentucky."

Just what factors led men and women to support the Confederacy has been a burgeoning field of scholarly inquiry, and Border State citizens like those of Kentucky have been popular study subjects. Readers of this relatively new body of literature will not be too surprised to learn of the reasons why residents of the Purchase sympathized so strongly with the Confederacy. Craig is surely correct to emphasize the geographic isolation of the Purchase from the rest of the state as a key factor in the creation of its unique regional identity within the Kentucky body politic. With lateral communications impeded by the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, but direct rail links to the cities of Memphis, Nashville, Mobile, and New Orleans, Purchase commerce was more tightly bound to the South than the rest of Kentucky and the states of the Old Northwest. Emigration followed the same isolated pattern of southern influence, with the influx from West Tennessee predominating. In politics, unlike the rest of Kentucky, the Whigs were weak and Southern Democrats strong in the Purchase. Craig also cites Alan Bearman's research into the role played by religion, with pro-slavery evangelical Protestant churches (frequently led by southern pastors) spread throughout the region. The direction slavery was moving also shaped the attitudes of the populace. While slave ownership was lower in the Purchase than in the Bluegrass, it was growing there while waning elsewhere [Craig cites historian Patricia Hoskins's figure of a 41% increase in Purchase slave population during the 1850s]. Together, these elements offer a compelling explanation for the Purchase's uniquely pro-Confederate flavor.

The description of Kentucky Confederates rather downplays its military aspects, but for the topics it does cover — primarily the conflicts over possession of the strategically important river towns of Columbus and Paducah — it does so extensively and quite well.  Craig's detailed chronicling of heightened tensions in Columbus during both the uneasy neutrality period and the build up of the fortified bastion of Columbus as the Confederacy's most forward western theater anchor point is the best available. Lesser known Kentucky State Guard actions, among them the pro-Southern militia's collusion with Tennessee Confederate forces to keep Kentucky state weapons from being transferred to arsenals outside the Purchase, are also documented. Additionally, in keeping with the more sophisticated understanding of guerrilla warfare that has emerged in recent scholarship, the author does devote a significant amount of attention to irregular operations (pro-Confederate and pro-Union) in the region. Nathan Bedford Forrest's failed Paducah raid is also treated at some length.

The lion's share of attention is directed at Purchase political figures, movements, and events. Purchase politicians were never able to convince their fellow Kentuckians that secession was the best course for its citizens to take. Instead, they found themselves just as isolated politically as they were geographically. In the past, writers and historians almost uniformly interpreted the Confederate occupation of Columbus as a colossal blunder that decisively tipped the state toward the Union cause, but this outlook has been tempered quite a bit in recent times with the recognition by most (including Craig) of just how completely the Kentucky legislature had already aligned itself with the Union cause by September 1861.

Purchase politicians also could not unite on what course they thought the region should ultimately take. Options like forming their own state or attaching themselves to Tennessee were opposed by those that held on to hopes that the state might secede as a whole. This indecision made the secession movement in the Purchase a reactive rather than proactive one.  In the end military events would trump political considerations as the Union army gained a firm hold over the Purchase soon after the Confederate forward defense line was fatally punctured in early 1862 at Forts Henry and Donelson.

In his study, Craig effectively uses the sharp duels between Purchase newspaper editors and those located elsewhere in Kentucky (especially George Prentice's Louisville Journal) to illustrate the state's ideological divide, which demonstrably softened after the Emancipation Proclamation, mass federal recruitment of black soldiers within Kentucky, and harsh military repression angered pro-slavery Unionists statewide. This sets up well the book's final section dealing with Confederate remembrance and memorialization in Kentucky.

Kentucky Confederates contains more than enough unique insights to unreservedly recommend it for placement in the essential Civil War Kentucky bookshelf.  In a more general sense, it's also one of the better executed regional histories in the literature of the conflict.

* - In this reviewer's opinion, Lee's book only betters Craig's in its discussion of the economic development of the Purchase. The great majority of Lee's work is directed toward military campaigns, while Craig's meatier narrative is much better balanced between military, political, and societal topics and themes. Craig also consulted a deeper and far more diverse collection of source material.

More CWBA reviews of UPK titles:
* A General Who Will Fight: The Leadership of Ulysses S. Grant
* The Union Forever: Lincoln, Grant, and the Civil War
* One of Morgan's Men: Memoirs of Lieutenant John M. Porter of the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry
* My Old Confederate Home: A Respectable Place for Civil War Veterans
* Lincoln on Trial: Southern Civilians and the Law of War
* Bluejackets and Contrabands: African Americans and the Union Navy
* Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History
* Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee
* Kentuckians in Gray: Confederate Generals and Field Officers of the Bluegrass State
* Virginia at War, 1863
* Contested Borderland: The Civil War in Appalachian Kentucky and Virginia

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Corps Commanders in Blue

LSU Press's Corps Commanders in Blue: Union Major Generals in the Civil War (edited by Ethan Rafuse) is out now a few weeks early. The guys under the microscope are Porter, Mansfield, McPherson, Meade, Hancock, Hooker, Franklin, and Gilbert. The last is a curious choice as he was never confirmed as a major general, fighting in only one battle (Perryville) at that rank in an acting capacity. The East and West balance is fairly good, with Franklin even serving a bit in the Trans-Mississippi, and there's more than enough controversy surrounding most to fuel interesting debate. The last essay collection published by LSUP was exceptionally good so here's hoping that high level is maintained.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Booknotes IV (Oct '14)

New Arrivals:

1. Soldiers in the Army of Freedom: The 1st Kansas Colored, the Civil War's First African American Combat Unit by Ian Michael Spurgeon (Univ of Okla Pr, 2014).

Spurgeon's book is the first full history of this pioneering regiment, which fought in Missouri, Arkansas and Indian Territory, most prominently at Island Mound, Honey Springs, Cabin Creek, and the Camden Expedition. A detailed roster is also included.

2. Vicksburg and Chattanooga: The Battles That Doomed the Confederacy by Jack H. Lepa (McFarland, 2014).

Lepa has written several books about western theater campaigns as well as one dealing with the 1864 campaign in the Shenandoah. The research and content of this one appear light, but as I haven't read any of the author's previous works I have no idea of his skill at synthesizing for a popular audience.

3. The Father of Virginia Military Institute: A Biography of Colonel J.T.L. Preston, CSA by Randolph P. Shaffner (McFarland, 2014).

Unlike the above volume, this biography from the same publisher has the type of massive bibliography and expansive scholarly documentation seen in quality original works. I can't say I am familiar with this particular fellow (Civil War readers encounter a lot of Prestons), but, as the title indicates, he was a key figure in the institutional development of VMI. Preston and Stonewall Jackson both married Junkin sisters, and the professor would also serve on Jackson's staff during the war.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Gifford: "WHERE VALOR AND DEVOTION MET: The Battle of Pilot Knob"

[Where Valor and Devotion Met: The Battle of Pilot Knob by Douglas L. Gifford by Douglas L. Gifford (Historynutt Books, 2014). Softcover, maps, photos, footnotes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:222/252. ISBN:978-0-578-14600-3 $19.99]

Of the many battles and skirmishes fought during General Sterling Price's 1864 Confederate campaign in Missouri, the Union army's successful defense of Fort Davidson and miraculous nighttime escape is among the best documented. For decades, the standard account has been Bryce Suderow's Thunder in Arcadia Valley: The Battle of Pilot Knob (SEMO University Press, 1986)1 and the book under consideration here, Douglas Gifford's Where Valor and Devotion Met: The Battle of Pilot Knob, is a more than worthy successor.

With its iron ore industry and rail connection to St. Louis, it's easy to see why Missouri's Arcadia Valley attracted the attention of both sides. In 1864, the valley's defense was anchored by Fort Davidson, an enclosed hexagonal earthwork located between the town of Pilot Knob to its immediate north and Ironton a short distance through Ironton Gap to the south. Shut-Ins Gap formed the southeastern entrance to the valley. The fort was protected by a deep ditch and well stocked with heavy siege guns, its weakness being its potential to be commanded by a pair of steep eminences, Shepherd Mountain to the west and Pilot Knob to the east.

With Jo Shelby's Confederate division operating to the north isolating the Arcadia Valley and blocking possible Union reinforcements, the Battle of Pilot Knob began when one brigade of James Fagan's Confederate division captured Shut-ins Gap and attacked Ironton. The next day, Fagan's entire command and the third division of Sterling Price's Army of Missouri under John Marmaduke surrounded Fort Davidson. Inside the earthworks and also deployed just outside the fort walls in rifle pits were 1,500 Missouri and Iowa troops augmented by white and black civilian volunteers, the entire force under the command of General Thomas Ewing. During the battle, Price's artillery was dominated by the Union siege guns and the piecemeal Confederate dismounted cavalry assaults against the fort were all repulsed with heavy losses. Low on artillery ammunition, Ewing was determined to evacuate the fort during the night instead of surrender.  He marched his command right through Confederate lines, the rear guard blowing up the fort's magazine. The next morning, Marmaduke's division pursued but was unable to bring Ewing to heel before the Union command reached safety at Leasburg2. Demonstrating solid grasp of the valley terrain as well as the tactical movements and command dilemmas of both sides, Gifford covers all of the above events with clarity and skill. The initial Arkansas phase of the campaign is also ably summarized. While the published literature hasn't advanced a great deal in the intervening period between Thunder in Arcadia Valley and today, Gifford's integration of a much larger body of archival material into his lengthier narrative makes Where Valor and Devotion Met a richer and more satisfying learning experience.

The author's deft analyses of the command decisions made at each stage of the operation are among the book's best features. On the Union side, Gifford is sharply critical of Arkansas district commander Frederick Steele's remarkable passivity in allowing Price to arrive at the Arkansas-Missouri border undamaged. One can only wonder how much lingering memories of near disaster earlier in the year during the Camden Expedition affected Steele's command mindset.  Ewing gets high marks but is also credited with an incredible turn of pure good luck.  The more famous Spring Hill incident has nothing on the Fort Davidson garrison's passage through Confederate lines unchallenged along the Caledonia-Potosi Road during the night of the 27th-28th. In equally fortuitous fashion, when the men tasked with blowing up the fort did so right as the tail of the column was leaving instead of two hours later, the Confederates didn't even bother to investigate. On the retreat, Ewing did make an excellent decision to reroute his foot bound column along ground unfavorable to Confederate cavalry, but luck in the form of an unusually passive Shelby and impeccable timing again emerged. Like other writers, Gifford lauds Lt. David Murphy's handling of the siege artillery, his gunners blasting to ground each assault and smashing every Confederate attempt to mount their own inferior weight guns on the high ground above the fort. The skill and bravery of Major James Wilson on the Pilot Knob battlefield is duly recognized, but the author correctly admonishes the unfortunate officer for failing to properly scout the approaches to Arcadia Valley and keep Ewing informed of the strength and location of Confederate forces beyond the immediate environs.

On the Confederate side, the command assessment is much more negative. Price conducted yet another undisciplined operation, not keeping his forces concentrated and taking no preventive measures to limit looting of homes and businesses. The dispersed Confederates missed a golden opportunity to surprise the Union defenders and maybe even catch a large proportion of the garrison outside the walls of the fort. Fagan attacked Ironton on the 26th with a force too small to carry the position and too big to keep secret the presence of Price's army. With Marmaduke too far away to join the fight until the following day, Ewing was able to perfect his defenses. On the 27th, Price's plan of attack was conventional yet too optimistic in its timetable, with the outnumbered defenders able to repel each attack in turn.  Most assaults did not reach the ditch in front of the fort and some (especially those of Slemons and McCray's) were truly feeble attempts. As mentioned above, how Archibald Dobbins's brigade, camped just off the very road utilized by Ewing to escape, missed the passing Union column during the night is unexplainable.

Where Valor and Devotion Met does discuss many of the enduring controversies surrounding Pilot Knob. The strength of Price's army is the focus of some debate, especially recently3. In the text, Gifford goes with the traditional 10-12,000 figure, mentioning in the footnotes but not addressing critically Fort Davidson State Historical Site resource manager Walter Busch's claim that Price took twice that many men into Missouri. The author challenges the conventional view that much of the newly conscripted strength of Price's army was made up of inexperienced men. No sources are provided to back up this assertion, but Gifford's conjecture that many of the men rounded up by Shelby in NE Missouri during summer 1864 were discharged soldiers, deserters, or guerrillas sounds plausible. Unlike many of Price's modern critics, Gifford has more sympathy for the measured pace of Price's movements during the early Arkansas and Missouri phases of the expedition, which wasn't a raid in the traditional sense. Although he doesn't present a detailed explanation of his view, the author dismisses the claims of other writers that St. Louis could have been captured if Price had moved faster. Rather than dooming once and for all Confederate chances at capturing St. Louis, Gifford finds the real significance of Pilot Knob to be its role as savior of Union controlled Jefferson City, with the time and blood expended in Arcadia Valley allowing the Missouri capital to be transformed from ripe plum to impregnable. On a similar note, the author might have explored in more depth the Confederate option of bypassing Pilot Knob altogether. Finally, wide disagreement remains over Confederate casualty figures for the Pilot Knob battle, with some modern estimates as low as 500 and contemporary figures running as high as 1,500. Gifford is very skeptical of the lowest figure, though given how quickly most of the assaults went to ground that number seems reasonable to this reviewer.

Maps are plentiful in Gifford's study. Though they lack scale and are a bit raw in execution, they do adequately provide the terrain and troop movement information necessary for readers to understand the battle. The greatest complaint lies with the unpolished state of manuscript, with its frequent typographical errors and other editorial missteps. However, the positives of Where Valor and Devotion Met far outweigh shortcomings in presentation. In content and analysis, Gifford's book offers the best treatment to date of the September 1864 clashes in Missouri's Arcadia Valley and how the results of these battles affected the conduct and outcome of the greater campaign across the state.

1 - A revised and much expanded 2nd edition of this study has just been released by Southeast Missouri State University Press under the new title The Battle of Pilot Knob: Thunder in Arcadia Valley. Gifford's book raises the bar of Pilot Knob studies and the ball is now in the court of the new Suderow-House edition to raise it even further.
2 - Gary Scheel's Sixty-Six Miles in Thirty-Nine Hours: The Retreat from Fort Davidson, Pilot Knob to the Battle of Leasburg (Author, 2002) is a nice account of this phase of the battle.
3 - See Busch's Fort Davidson and the Battle of Pilot Knob: Missouri's Alamo (2010). Busch backs up his astonishing claim by citing a list of names compiled by park staff over a ten year period.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Booknotes III (Oct '14)

New Arrivals:

1. The Battle of Pilot Knob: Thunder in Arcadia Valley by Bryce A. Suderow and R. Scott House (SEMO Univ Pr, 2014).

Suderow's long out of print Thunder in Arcadia Valley [title and subtitle are reversed in the new edition co-authored with Scott House] has enjoyed a well deserved reputation as the best account of the Battle of Pilot Knob. Significantly updated with new source material and maps, the revised and expanded 2nd edition is twice the length of the original.

2. Civil War Boston: Home Front and Battlefield by Thomas H. O'Connor (Northeastern UP, 2014).

This is a new paperback edition of O'Connor's classic 1997 social and political history of Civil War Boston. The "narrative follows the experiences of four distinctive and significant groups of people who formed antebellum Boston—businessmen, Irish Catholic immigrants, African Americans, and women. Interweaving vivid portraits of the Boston community with major political and military events of the Civil War, O’Connor relates how the war forever changed lives, disrupted homes, altered work habits, reshaped political allegiances, and transformed ideas."

3. Civil War Chicago: Eyewitness to History edited by Theodore J. Karamanski and Eileen M. McMahon (Ohio Univ Pr, 2014).

Ohio is in the middle of publishing an excellent series of Civil War manuscript material selections pertaining to various states [I had positive things to say about the Kansas and Missouri entries]. Now they are adopting a similar format for the city of Chicago. At 300 pages of smallish-font text, there is the same broad reach of subject matter and themes. Sections cover the 1860 elections, early recruitment, home/battle front connections, politics, POW camps, business, immigrant/free black/women's perspectives, and how the city dealt with the war's aftermath. There's even a guide to Civil War Chicago sites.

Sorry about the slow pace of reviews lately. The unusually barren summer that I've complained about too many times already emptied the CWBA reserve banks of the late draft reviews necessary to keep a steady schedule. A new one should be up by tomorrow.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Booknotes II (Oct '14)

New Arrivals:

1. Where Valor and Devotion Met: The Battle of Pilot Knob by Douglas L. Gifford (Historynutt Books, 2014).

Gifford is the author of several brief but useful tour guides, but this new book is a full length history of the Pilot Knob battle. The depth of the narrative appears similar to that of Suderow's standard account.

2. Recalling Deeds Immortal: Florida Monuments to the Civil War by William B. Lees & Frederick P. Gaske (UP of Florida, 2014).

Florida always produces beautiful books and this detailed photographic register of Confederate and Union monuments to Florida soldiers is no exception. This is a comprehensive social history of the memorialization of these men from Reconstruction to the present, tracing the efforts of various organizations to control the messages conveyed by these bronze and stone markers.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Booknotes (Oct '14)

New Arrivals:

1. Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief by James M. McPherson (Penguin, 2014).

Clearly intended as a companion piece to McPherson's Lincoln as C-in-C book, this one looks like another light popular history in similar vein to that one and the author's more recent naval war overview. When I'm done with it I'm sending it to Dimitri as a Christmas present.

2. The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege: A Sensory History of the Civil War by Mark M. Smith (Oxford UP, 2014).

Drawing inspiration from Sumter, First Bull Run, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Charleston (the Hunley) events, Smith "considers how all five senses, including sight, shaped the experience of the Civil War and thus its memory, exploring its full sensory impact on everyone from the soldiers on the field to the civilians waiting at home."

3. A Dog Before a Soldier: Almost-lost Episodes in the U.S. Navy's Civil War by Chuck Veit (Author, 2010).

I missed this one when it first came out, but found the author's interview on CWTR to be fascinating. In ten chapters, the book explores the contributions of naval landing parties to Civil War campaigns. As the subtitle suggests, Veit aims for detailing more obscure actions that nevertheless had great impact. For a self-published study, the book's presentation is unusually professional, including footnotes and numerous top quality maps and illustrations.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Arrival of more interactive history e-books?

I should preface this by saying that my experience with e-books is still very limited, but it does occur to me that we still haven't really taken advantage of available technology to provide a book reading experience any different than just viewing the same printed page through another medium ... and from what I glean from online reviews, even accomplishing that first generation paper-to-digital formatting is immensely problematic for many.

In the Civil War publishing world, it appears that Savas Beatie will be among the first to dip their toes into this pool of unrealized digital potential. For their upcoming new edition of the Richard Sommers classic Richmond Redeemed, the publisher has teamed up with a content technology outfit called Olive Software to create an interactive e-book version. According to the Savas Beatie press release, using Olive Software's proprietary platform called SmartLayers the "digital edition offers scores of icons and links representing photos, further reading on related subjects, videos, and, most important of all, original author marginalia in the form of dozens of comments, assessments, and additional insights and information keyed to specific personalities, combat, tactics, and decision-making."

With a reading public trained to expect sub-$10 e-books [though serious Civil War history books are frequently priced substantially higher], one wonders how quickly premium priced "enhanced" e-books will catch on, if at all. Another question mark would involve the willingness of today's non-fiction publishers to allocate the time and dollar resources necessary to do this right while at the same time fulfilling their other more traditional duties. Surely this type of thing will become commonplace at some point, the only uncertainty being when.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

October is going to be a great month for CW military history

After a lamest of lame summer, October is shaping up to be a banner month for new Civil War military history releases:

* The Battle of Pilot Knob: Thunder in Arcadia Valley by Bryce Suderow and Scott House. Decades ago, Bryce Suderow authored the first full length modern account of Pilot Knob. The new material in this revised 2nd edition, co-authored with Scott House, makes it twice the length of the original.

* Soldiers in the Army of Freedom: The 1st Kansas Colored, the Civil War's First African American Combat Unit by Ian Spurgeon. "(T)he first black regiment raised in a northern state, and the first black unit to see combat during the Civil War," this book is the first 1st Kansas regimental history.

* Work for Giants: The Campaign and Battle of Tupelo/Harrisburg, Mississippi, June-July 1864 by Thomas Parson. "Firsts" are becoming a common theme here. The Tupelo campaign and battle comprised a large part of Ed Bearss's Forrest at Brice's Crossroads and in North Mississippi in 1864, but no book has been devoted solely to the operation until now. For a detailed preview, see the author's feature article in the current issue of Blue and Gray Magazine.

* The Early Morning of War: Bull Run, 1861 by Ed Longacre. Harry and legions of others have been waiting for an all encompassing FBR study of this type for a long time. Here's wishing our high hopes will not be dashed.

* Shiloh: Conquer or Perish by Timothy Smith.  Finally, a Shiloh history that doesn't hurry itself over the battle's 2nd day. We should also look forward to it as a career's worth of highly respected Shiloh expertise put to page.

* To Retain Command of the Mississippi: The Civil War Naval Campaign for Memphis by Edward McCaul.  Perhaps the most neglected of the major Mississippi naval confrontations, the gunboat battles for control of the Memphis stretch of river get a book of their own at last.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Booknotes III (Sept '14)

New Arrivals:

1. Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase by Berry Craig (UP of KY, 2014).

With no previous book length studies of the Jackson Purchase in the Civil War, it's a bit unusual to have two released in the same year.  Given the region's reputation as the South Carolina of Kentucky, it's no surprise that both Dan Lee's The Civil War in the Jackson Purchase, 1861-62 [my review] and Berry Craig's Kentucky Confederates focus on the Confederate perspective. Craig's study possesses the archival research its antecedent lacks and seems to take more of a political history approach to the topic than Lee's military-centered examination.  So far, I like it.

2. Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynn (Scribner, 2014).

I read somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of a pre-pub version of the book. Written in a popular style, the sections that I made it through didn't conjure up any surprises, but neither did they contain have anything particularly galling. Peter Cozzens's jacket blurb proclaims it to be the best Jackson biography he's ever read but I am skeptical of it supplanting Robertson's classic. Robertson's bio is well known for its admiring tone and we get some of that vibe here, too.