Monday, August 07, 2006

Review: "A Crisis in Confederate Command"

A Crisis In Confederate Command: Edmund Kirby Smith, Richard Taylor, And The Army Of The Trans-Mississippiby Jeffrey S. Prushankin. (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2005). Pp. 274, $39.95, Hardcover, photos, maps, notes. ISBN 0-8071-3088-5)

In a war rife with unseemly discord at the command level, the degree of acrimony between Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department commander Edmund Kirby Smith and district commander Richard Taylor certainly stands out. Although Smith and Taylor were equally committed to the Confederate cause, their lengthy relationship throughout the 1863 Teche campaign, the attempts to relieve the Vicksburg siege, and the 1864 Red River Campaign was often marred by misunderstanding, deliberate distortions, and breaches of faith both petty and serious. Personality differences aside, many of the problems between the two officers stemmed from diametrically opposed strategic views. Smith fixated on Arkansas and Missouri and favored trading large areas of space for time to effect a concentration of forces. Taylor, on the other hand, as a native son was firmly committed to Louisiana and desired to aggressively defend the borders of his district command. His constant desire to occupy the LaFourche area and threaten Union occupied New Orleans was seldom shared by Smith.

Prushankin approaches the subject in a refreshingly objective manner and does not explicitly take sides. The personality flaws and command failings of both men are clearly drawn and appropriately detailed. Thankfully, we are spared the unqualified psychiatric examinations we see all too often in Civil War biographies these days. Each general is allowed to state his case in his own words and the author additionally draws upon a multitude of third party opinions in the form of politicians, civilians, fellow general officers, and private soldiers.

As might be expected, the centerpiece of A Crisis in Confederate Command is the Red River Campaign, the aftermath of which expedited the final break between Smith and Taylor. Prushankin has consulted a thorough array of primary sources and a well-chosen set of secondary sources to craft an excellent command history of the campaign. His fresh ideas and insights are welcomed. Contemporary commentary from outside the Trans-Mississippi theater is thoughtfully included as well. The author’s evenhanded approach and deft analysis will mark this study as the standard work on this specialized subject for some time to come. Readers interested in Civil War command relationships in general and the Trans-Mississippi theater in particular should reserve a space on their bookshelf for this excellent study.

(This review is reprinted with the permission of
North and South Magazine, originally appearing in vol. 9 #1, pp. 91-92, reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer--me)

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