Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bradley: "With Blood & Fire: Life Behind Union Lines in Middle Tennessee, 1863-65"

["With Blood & Fire": Life Behind Union Lines in Middle Tennessee, 1863-65 by Michael R. Bradley (Burd Street Press, 2003) Softcover, maps, photos, notes, bibliography. Pages total/main: 210/197. ISBN: 1572493232]

While most of the popular literature examining "hard war" aspects of Federal policy continue to concentrate on active campaigns (e.g. Sherman's March), it seems clear that the worst abuses by far occurred in those occupied rear areas heavily exposed to guerrilla warfare. If the area was strategically critical to the occupiers, as in the case of Middle Tennessee, tensions with the local population were only intensified, and forbearance of even passive dissent considerably weaker.

In researching his book With Blood & Fire: Life Behind Union Lines in Middle Tennessee, 1863-65, historian Michael Bradley mined hundreds of reels of microfilm holding the provost marshal records of "Military Sub District #1, Defenses of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad" and other records of the provost's involvement with individuals and groups of citizens. Complicating matters, these records were poorly organized and un-indexed, making the task of finding even simple information extremely cumbersome.

Bradley organizes the book around these records, quoting at length (perhaps too much so) from military reports and civilian testimony. His examination of occupation policies and military-civilian interaction in Middle Tennessee is not systematic, but rather takes the form of selective snapshots. Union Gen. Alpheus Williams's time in command is contrasted sharply with that of Gen. Robert Milroy. Union forces (assisted by local Home Guards) dealt harshly with guerrillas and with civilians suspected of aiding them. Milroy actually incorporated death lists into his orders, hanging or shooting numerous civilians without trial. Even neutrality or passive support for the Confederacy led to being a target for violence. Banishment, levies, and the refusal to grant permits to buy personal goods were other tactics used by Union commanders to combat guerrilla attacks and weaken Confederate civilian support for the war. The book's final chapter documents the involvement of ex-slaves in the provost marshal system, either in criminal matters or in civil issues such as distribution of property, lost wages, or other compensation owed.

In the end, With Blood & Fire utilizes the provost marshal records perhaps a bit too exclusively. The bibliography has less than 20 entries, and a far richer picture of civilian life in Middle Tennessee could be painted if the author broadened his range of primary source materials consulted. While the focus is narrow and selective, Bradley and his colleagues deserve praise for bringing these neglected provost marshal records to light. It's an intriguing introduction and hopefully others will expand upon this work. Clearly, unwarranted abuses occurred with alarming regularity under Milroy's tenure, but a broader and more analytical approach to examining Union military policy toward civilians in the region would be welcomed.

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