Friday, October 31, 2008

Booknotes (Oct 08)

Other acquisitions or review copies received this month:

Battle At Sand Creek: The Military Perspective by Gregory Michno (Upton & Sons, 2004). This is one of the more original contextualizations of the Sand Creek tragedy that I've come across. I'm only halfway through so I'll withhold judgment about its overall effectiveness.

Mine Run: A Campaign of Lost Opportunities October 21. 1863-May 1, 1864 by Martin Graham and George F. Skoch (H.E. Howard, 1987). Not definitive by any means, but remains one of the better volumes from the uneven Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders series.

Incident at San Augustine Springs: A Hearing for Major Isaac Lynde by Richard Wadsworth (Yucca Tree Press, 2002). While fully acknowledging the mistakes of the Ft. Fillmore commander, Wadsworth makes a fairly persuasive case that the blame for the disastrous loss of Lynde's New Mexico command is more properly widespread. At the very least, we can put to bed the myth that whiskey was a major factor in the breakdown of discipline in the ranks of the regulars. That said, one cannot escape the truth of Lynde's responsibility for his command's dissolution in the field. The dry, repetitive nature of the book will not appeal to the more casually interested reader, but it's a worthwhile study for students of the New Mexico Campaign.

Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln by John Stauffer (Twelve, 2008). Biographies of paired contemporaries seem to be a popular genre these days. Some heavy hitters provide the jacket blurbs for this one.

A Scratch With the Rebels: A Pennsylvania Roundhead and a South Carolina Cavalier by Carolyn Poling Schriber (Mechling, 2008). This book is a history of the Battle of Secessionville built around the stories of James McCaskey of the 100th Pennsylvania and the 24th South Carolina's Gus Smythe.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The History Press (November books)

The History Press is an extremely prolific publisher based out of Charleston, SC. They do frequently put out Civil War related titles, but I've only sampled one so far, a very good one authored by Chris Meekins, reviewed here back in February. More recently, Kentucky author Bryan Bush has published a touring book with them, Louisville & the Civil War: A History & Guide.

November will see the release of several titles of interest to me. I've often pondered why no one has yet written a book length account of Robert E. Lee's time as a department commander responsible for the defense of the Confederacy's South Atlantic seaboard. The wait appears to over with Daniel J. Crooks's Lee in the Lowcountry: Defending Charleston & Savannah 1861-1862
.

A four-volume series of South Carolina unit histories authored by Robert S. Seigler is also in the November pipeline:
  1. South Carolina's Military Organizations During the War Between the States: The Lowcountry & Pee Dee
  2. South Carolina's Military Organizations During the War Between the States: The Midlands
  3. South Carolina's Military Organizations During the War Between the States: The Upstate
  4. South Carolina Military Organizations During the War Between the States: Statewide Units, Militia & Reserves
Each volume is of substantial length, at around 400 pages or more, and promises a hearty amount of detail for each unit. For the moment, I don't know anything more about these beyond the short descriptions from the publisher website (scroll down near the bottom to find the series list).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hess: "The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth"

[The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth by Earl J. Hess (Univ. Press of Kansas, 2008). Hardcover, tables, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 227/288. ISBN: 978-0-7006-1607-7 $29.95]

The issue of the combat effectiveness of the rifle musket in the American Civil War has been hotly debated for some time. In 1989, British historian Paddy Griffith launched a shot across the bow of prominent rifle advocates Perry Jamieson and Grady McWhiney with his book Battle Tactics of the Civil War. Griffith argued the overall impact of the rifle relative to the smoothbore musket was negligible, a tiny improvement at best and far from revolutionary. This work was followed up by Brent Nosworthy and others, generally confirming Griffith's contentions. Part synthesis part original inquiry, Earl J. Hess's The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth is a consensus building effort of high quality. While heavily influenced by Griffith et al., Hess's views and analyses are in the main better organized and supported.

Hess concurs with the proposition that the rifle musket was at best an incremental improvement over the smoothbore musket on the Civil War battlefield, supporting his thesis with range data drawn from primary sources*. Finding his conclusions to be rather closely aligned with those of Nosworthy, Griffith, and Mark Grimsley, Hess is confident in his findings, yet I cannot help but feel that even incremental range increases translated to underappreciated advantages for the rifle-armed soldier. The moral impact strikes me as deserving of greater consideration. Beyond the obvious increase in physical danger due to increased time under fire, the argument could be made that any lengthened exposure period to combat stresses on individuals and formation integrity is significant, leading to more individuals and groups dropping out, going to ground, or otherwise being rendered combat ineffective. Overall, I think the mental/emotional effects of massed rifle musket fire are due more careful assessment. It is beyond doubt that the practical impact of the rifle on the Civil War battle line has been exaggerated by many writers and historians, yet I do have some concerns that we might be going too far in the other direction -- toward underestimating its consequences.

As opposed to combat between competing lines of battle, the areas where Hess concedes clear rifle superiority over the smoothbore shoulder arm is in the skirmishing and sniping roles [both of which are sharply defined and differentiated by the author]. The two chapters (one descriptive and the other examining actual combat performance) on skirmishing are quite thorough. According to Hess, the best skirmishing performance of the war was put in by the regiments of Sherman's army during the Atlanta Campaign. This contention is well supported. The author is rather less impressed with the skirmish line-dominating abilities of the Army of Northern Virginia's specialized sharpshooter battalions, and found himself largely unmoved by the arguments put forth by the units's modern chronicler Fred Ray**. Abundantly documented, Hess's chapter on sniping is similarly good. In my mind, the sniping and skirmishing sections of the study are the book's best and freshest components.

The author supports all of his major themes in the text with numerous examples gleaned from primary sources. One of the finest features of Hess's study is the transparency of the data pool from which he drew his conclusions. Organized into detailed data tables, and accompanied by footnotes, these supporting materials are interspersed throughout the text.

Near the end of his study, Hess dispenses with a number of common myths in a chapter length essay. Briefly, he refutes the significance of the rifle's impact in the areas of combat casualties, battle decisiveness, infantry vs. artillery/cavalry, and field fortifications. Only summarized here, some of these are points are addressed at much greater depth in other works previously published by Hess. Tying it all together, a final chapter addresses the battlefield role of the rifle from the end of the Civil War to today.

Although reasonable individuals might quibble with some of his conclusions, Earl Hess's analysis of his most significant points is broadly persuasive. A mixture of confirmatory findings and original conclusions, The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat should be regarded as the best single volume treatment of the subject so far. If not the last word, Hess's study is a major work, an important contribution to the literature that's fully deserving of a prominent place in the library of every student of Civil War military history.

Add'l Notes:
* - I think some comments about the range data are in order:
  • I assume the author went through the records of each unit in question in order to confirm rifle armament; this is not evident in the notes or text.
  • Sample sorting by environmental constraints is needed. Only open terrain truly offers the full gamut of range options (short, medium, long) for initial fire, while other terrain features can restrict firing to point blank range only. The latter situation comprises useless data for thesis application.
  • There is also something of an inherent contradiction to be considered. If a primary contention is that the vast majority of Civil War soldiers received little or no specialized training in range estimation, how much useful data can we really derive from the range estimates provided in reports, diaries, letters, and other primary sources written by these very same men so badly untrained in the art of doing so? Of course, one must work with what's available, but that, combined with the small sample sizes used, certainly leaves room for further inquiry.
** - at the time of my own reading of Shock Troops of the Confederacy, I found Ray's arguments pretty persuasive.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Booknotes - ""My Brave Mechanics": The First Michigan Engineers and Their Civil War"

Praised elsewhere, and covering western engineering and logistical subjects of interest, Mark Hoffman's "My Brave Mechanics": The First Michigan Engineers and Their Civil War (Wayne State Univ. Press, 2007) appears to embody all the elements of the better modern regimental histories and should be well worth a look. The bibliography indicates very solid research, heavily original. In addition to the usual service narrative, an appendix of demographic data charts and information is included. A review will follow in the future.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mendoza: "Confederate Struggle for Command: General James Longstreet and the First Corps in the West"

[Confederate Struggle For Command: General James Longstreet and the First Corps in the West by Alexander Mendoza (Texas A&M University Press, 2008). Cloth1, photos, illustrations, maps, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 215/304. ISBN: 978-1-60344-052-3 $32.95]

During the Civil War, both sides were plagued with command frictions, but the western Confederate armies highlighted a special brand of toxic bickering that had an enormous impact on military operations. The fact that it pervaded the high commands of the western and trans-Mississippi armies, but had comparatively little negative impact in Lee's army, certainly promotes the idea that success, if not actually breeding harmony, certainly helps to mute dissent. The degree to which command in-fighting could destroy an army's effectiveness is exemplified by the Army of Tennessee during the 1863 Chickamauga-Chattanooga campaigns. It is directly into this chaotic situation that James Longstreet and his First Corps was thrust in September 1863.

In the introduction to his book Confederate Struggle For Command: General James Longstreet and the First Corps in the West, author Alexander Mendoza broadly characterizes his study as 'pro-Longstreet', but he is, in fact, deeply critical of the general's conduct during his six months in the west. It would probably be more accurate to say that Mendoza is most interested in providing a critical yet fair assessment of Longstreet, something he believes is missing from the literature (especially from the only previous book wholly dedicated to this period).

Longstreet made several errors in judgement right off the bat, including aligning with President Davis's political enemies and holding a preconceived negative view of General Bragg. On the positive side, Mendoza justifiably praises Longstreet's tactical planning at Chickamauga, especially in light of an almost complete lack of prior knowledge of the ground or dispositions of friend and foe. The author is critical of Longstreet's insistence on placing personal favorite Micah Jenkins in command of Hood's former division, an unpopular move after Chickamauga that created dissension within the officer ranks of the division. It doomed cooperation between Jenkins and Evander Law, an unfortunate by-product that, along with Longstreet's poor judgment, contributed to the loss of the western approaches to Chattanooga during the siege and carried over into the Knoxville campaign. After Lenoir and Campbell's Station, and the unsuccessful assault on Knoxville's Fort Sanders, it was becoming clear that First Corps command relationships were taking on the worst characteristics of the Army of Tennessee. Jerome Robertson and Lafayette McLaws were added to list of officers with command grievances against Longstreet.

According to Mendoza, Longstreet regained his confidence after the retreat from Knoxville toward the Tennessee-Virginia border area between the Holston and French Broad Rivers. Unfortunately, the lack of cooperation between subordinates helped upset a decent plan at Bean's Station, further exposing the weaknesses of Longstreet's command. It would take wholesale command reshuffling and a return to Lee's army in the spring of 1864 to return the First Corps to an effective fighting unit.

Mendoza writes very well, and at around 200 pages, his finely focused study employs an effective economy. It's also evident that he's gone back to the original source materials to construct his arguments; this is not a synthetic work. The cartography, on the other hand, is a source of disappointment in an otherwise high quality study. While the broad geographic overviews are not without use, the maps fail to seriously address unit movements and positions. The study's overall effectiveness is not greatly harmed, but a good opportunity to provide readers with a visual rendering and clearer understanding of the First Corps battlefield failures is missed.

With this fine study, Mendoza successfully places the personal and military strengths and weaknesses of General Longstreet within the larger contexts of the disastrously dysfunctional command situation of the Army of the Tennessee and the complete inability of the Davis Administration to ameliorate the problem(s). Confederate Struggle for Command is worthy of recommendation on several fronts, from specific reader interests in Longstreet or the 1863-64 East Tennessee campaigns to broader studies of Confederate political and military command culture and failures. Professor Mendoza is a fresh face in the crowd of western theater Civil War scholars, and I look forward to reading his future contributions2. Highly recommended.

Comments:
1 - As always, I like to express my appreciation for publishers that use full cloth boards for their hardcovers.
2 - “‘A Terrible Baptism By Fire’: Stuart’s Defense in The Battle of Shiloh, April 6, 1862,” in Steven E. Woodworth, ed., The Shiloh Campaign (Southern Illinois U. Press), forthcoming.

“‘The Harmony and Subordination Essential for Success’: Generals James Longstreet and Braxton Bragg in the Western Theater,” in Lawrence Lee Hewitt and Art Bergeron, eds.,
Confederate Generals in the Western Theater (University of Tennessee Press), forthcoming.

“Causes Lost, But Not Forgotten: George Washington Littlefield, Jefferson Davis, and the Confederate Statues at The University of Texas at Austin,” in Charles Grear, ed., The Fate of Texas: The Civil War and the Lone Star State (University of Arkansas Press, 2008).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Booknotes - "Thomas Ewing Jr.: Frontier Lawyer and Civil War General"

Like his brother-in-law William T. Sherman, Union General Thomas Ewing remains a despised figure in some Civil War circles. While Uncle Billy isn't fondly remembered in parts of Mississippi, Georgia, and the Carolinas, Ewing's General Order #11 is an infamous reminder of hard war to many Missourians. Thomas Ewing Jr.: Frontier Lawyer and Civil War General by Ronald D. Smith (Univ. of Missouri Press, Oct. 2008) is a scholarly, full biography of the man, with what appears to be a reasonably balanced dual emphasis of the political and military aspects of Ewing's life. I look forward to reading the author's interpretation of the controversy surrounding Order #11, and his military service in Missouri generally.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ecelbarger: "The Great Comeback: How Abraham Lincoln Beat the Odds to Win the 1860 Republication Nomination"

[The Great Comeback: How Abraham Lincoln Beat the Odds to Win the 1860 Republican Nomination by Gary Ecelbarger (Thomas Dunne Books, 2008). Hardcover, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 304 pp. ISBN: 0-312-37413-5 $25.95]

Civil War author Gary Ecelbarger's new book The Great Comeback: How Abraham Lincoln Beat the Odds to Win the 1860 Republication Nomination addresses the question of how Abraham Lincoln, a one-term Congressman and two-time Senate race loser by 1858, was transformed into the Republican party's 1860 nominee for President. Certainly, the year 1859 was key. Most histories trumpet the watershed moment of the February 27, 1860 Cooper Union speech propelling Lincoln onto the national political scene as a serious presidential contender, but Ecelbarger concentrates his own research efforts into the earlier speaking circuit that took Lincoln all over the states of Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin, as well as Kansas territory. About half the text is devoted to these events. Indeed, without those two months of exhaustive meetings and travel -- aided by the telegraphed texts of his speeches spreading across the north-- would the invitation to Cooper Union even have been offered?

In addition to the Decatur Convention, Ecelbarger highlights the earlier struggle to consolidate the Illinois Republican delegates into a pro-Lincoln bloc. The nasty party infighting between Republicans Norman Judd and Chicago Mayor "Long" John Wentworth, and how it would potentially help or harm Lincoln's chances, is a common thread during this period. While Lincoln outwardly discounted his own presidential abilities and desires early on in order to not peak too early and create unnecessary enemies, his ambitious 1859-1860 speaking circuit throughout the west and northeast was a presidential campaign under the thinnest of deniable disguises.

Ecelbarger ably recounts the mechanics, strategies, and "corrupt bargains" inherent in national political conventions, in this case the Republican convention in Chicago. Even before it started, likely candidates were whittled down to two, Lincoln and William Seward, the latter harmed more by his "Irrepressible Conflict" speech than Lincoln by his own equally controversial "House Divided" words. Lincoln was perceived as a moderate to the radical Seward, a significant advantage for the former. Nevertheless, it was a close run thing, with Lincoln's cause immeasurably aided by the convention management of Judge David Davis and Norman Judd. Ecelbarger credits much of the victory to a range of politically shrewd actions, from successful backroom deals (e.g. "promising" of a cabinet post to the Pennsylvanians) to brilliant crowd management and arrangement of convention seating. Ecelbarger really take the reader on an entertaining and enlightening journey into mid-19th century presidential convention politics.

To be honest, I do not know how well other Lincoln books have covered this particular period, but I would venture to guess that this book's main value (to separate it from the more common mass of Lincoln books that are churned out every year) is in Ecelbarger's finely considered coverage of Lincoln's extensive speaking circuit conducted prior to the famous Cooper Union address. It clearly set up all that was to follow.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Savas-Beatie Atlas Series

I recently received some press materials for the planned Spring 2009 releases from publisher Savas-Beatie and immediately zeroed in on the next volume in their planned series of battle/campaign atlases. If you'll recall, back in January I gave favorable marks to the Gettysburg atlas (which will be released in paperback format next spring).

Volume 2 of the Savas-Beatie Atlas Series, The Maps of First Bull Run: An Atlas of the First Bull Run (Manassas) Campaign, including the Battle of Ball's Bluff, June - October 1861 is also authored by Bradley M. Gottfried. The general format (map and full text pages facing each other) remains, but they've implemented something new called "action-sections", which are map sets comprising anywhere from two to seventeen maps. In another new feature, there are now more than fifty full color maps, as well. FBR is my favorite eastern theater campaign, and I greatly look forward to this book's release. Undoubtedly, Harry will be much pleased, as well.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Booknotes - "Man of Douglas, Man of Lincoln"

Man of Douglas, Man of Lincoln: The Political Odyssey of James Henry Lane by Ian Michael Spurgeon (Univ. of Missouri Press, Nov. 2008) is the second political biography of Lane to appear within the last couple years. Not surprisingly, Spurgeon's is the more scholarly monograph of the two. Of course, when Lane comes to mind, politics is only the half of it, the Civil War providing a legitimizing arena for the Kansan's military aspirations as well. Happily, we don't have to wait much longer for Bryce Benedict's promising study Jayhawkers: The Civil War Brigade of James Henry Lane (University of Oklahoma Press, March 2009).

Monday, October 13, 2008

"Where Men Only Dare to Go"

Virginia artilleryman Royall W. Figg's Where Men Only Dare to Go Or the Story of a Boy Company, C.S.A. (Louisiana State University Press, updated edition - Oct. 2008) has been treated to a new paperback edition. Figg was a member of Parker's Virginia Battery, a unit that fought from 1862-1865 attached to the Army of Northern Virginia. Campaigns receiving the most attention in the memoir include 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Longstreet's East Tennessee campaigns, and the ensuing Overland Campaign. A chapter is also devoted to prison camp experiences at Point Lookout, Maryland.

In his new annotated Foreword to Figg's book, Robert K. Krick lauds the soldier's storytelling ability as well as the usefulness of his battle and campaign descriptions as source material for modern historians. Additional personal background information is provided as well as insight into the circumstances surrounding the original publication of the book. The new Krick edition also has an index, an always welcome addition.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Booknotes - "Lincoln President-Elect"

I wasn't expecting Harold Holzer's new book Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861 (Simon & Schuster, Oct. 2008) to be so substantially sized -- at over 600 pages. The central theme of the book -- compromise vs. war, and Lincoln's unwillingness to countenance the former in any way that would avoid the latter -- would seem to frame the heart of the matter in the correct fashion. Lincoln scholars tend to favor characterizing Lincoln's political actions in any given period as calculated genius, and it appears that Holzer will attempt just such a framework for his analysis of the Secession Winter. This is in conflict with previous studies covering this period that project the image of a man fraught with indecision (an excellent example is Lincoln and the Decision for War, a superb book published earlier in the year).

Chaffin: "The H. L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy"

[The H. L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy by Tom Chaffin (Hill and Wang, 2008). Hardcover, maps, illustrations, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 285/352. ISBN: 978-0-8090-9512-4 $26]

Numerous books have been written about the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, and one might rightly question the need for another overview treatment, but Tom Chaffin's new book The H.L. Hunley is worthwhile for its comprehensive focus and for its exploration of the latest archaeological findings. Chaffin places the Hunley within the larger historical context of the movement to create underwater fighting ships (before, during, and after the Civil War), as well as the evolution of the controversies attached to the development and use of such "infernal machines".

With a fast paced narrative, mostly light but sufficient on technological detail, the author provides a complete history of the Hunley as well as biographical sketches of the individuals involved in its financing, design, construction, and operation. There are some illustrations, but, while the endpapers are comprised of schematic 'blueprints' of the Hunley [see also title link above], I would like to have seen some detailed smaller scale nautical maps of the areas where the submarine operated (and was lost).

Utilizing a variety of published and unpublished source materials, as well as interviews with the Lasch Conservation Center archaeologists tasked with the vessel's excavation and preservation, Chaffin also dispassionately examines the many myths and mysteries surrounding the Hunley. The relative viability of competing theories, among them inquiries into the mythical "blue light", the location of the wreck, how the submarine was lost, etc. is addressed, often raising more questions than answers. With well supported conclusions and appealing writing, The H.L. Hunley will serve as a fine introductory book for the interested general reader, as well as a handy resource for the more dedicated students of the Civil War navies.

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J.E.B. Stuart"

Jeffry Wert is no stranger to Civil War biography and his new book Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J. E. B. Stuart (Simon & Schuster, 2008) is another fine study of a prominent Confederate general. While the Civil War years are by far the book's main focus [less than fifty pages are devoted to Stuart's early life and pre-war U.S. army career -- readers looking forward to an in-depth look at the Virginian's frontier cavalry service will likely be disappointed in that regard], the book has both familial and military elements. Stuart was a very religious man with a marriage marked by devotion on both sides. His wife, Flora, became an ardent defender of the general's legacy after his untimely death, details of which are examined in the book's final chapter. Overall, Wert's study is primarily a military biography, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. Excelling at all aspects of Civil War cavalry operations, Stuart is definitely one of those Civil War officers whose reputation holds its own under the objective scrutiny of modern eyes. That said, Wert does not shy away from taking strong stands on controversial issues; as an example, he is very critical in the traditional manner of Stuart's role in the Gettysburg campaign [in contrast to the arguments presented in the new standard work on Stuart's Ride, Plenty of Blame to Go Around].

Wert's research into unpublished primary sources is phenomenal. Close to 300 manuscript items and collections from repositories located all around the country were consulted. The maps, drawn by well-known cartographer George Skoch, are fairly numerous, and detailed enough for the reader to follow Stuart's Civil War movements and battles. As always, Wert's writing is clear and engaging. The significant elements of the better Civil War military biographies are present here, and it's safe to say that Cavalryman of the Lost Cause is the best J.E.B. Stuart treatment to date.

[add. - others on the web have weighed in already, first John Hoptak and most recently Paul Taylor]

Thursday, October 09, 2008

B&G: Lincoln at Gettysburg

The Table of Contents and cover art for Volume XXV Issue #3 is out as a sneak peek on the Blue and Gray magazine website.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Spring 09 titles of note

In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat by Earl J. Hess (Univ. of North Carolina Press, June 2009).

Emancipation's Diaspora: Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest by Leslie A. Schwalm (Univ. of North Carolina Press, June 2009).

A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War by Daniel E. Sutherland (Univ. of North Carolina Press, June 2009).

Wars within a War: Controversy and Conflict over the American Civil War eds. Joan Waugh and Gary W. Gallagher (Univ. of North Carolina Press, May 2009).

The Shiloh Campaign by Charles D Grear, Gary D. Joiner, John R Lundberg, and Grady McWhiney (Southern Illinois Univ. Press, April 2009).

The State of Jones: The Small Southern County that Seceded from the Confederacy by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer (Doubleday, May 2009).

Modernizing a Slave Economy: The Economic Vision of the Confederate Nation by John Majewski (Univ. of North Carolina Press, March 2009).

Fire In The Cane Field: The Federal Invasion of Louisiana and Texas, January 1861-January 1863 by Donald S. Frazier (State House Press, April 2009).

Missouri's War: The Civil War in Documents by Silvana R. Siddali (Ohio Univ. Press, April 2009).

Chicago's Irish Legion: The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War by James B. Swan (Southern Illinois Univ. Press, March 2009).

The Last Confederate General: John C. Vaughn and His East Tennessee Cavalry by Charles Larry Gordon (Zenith Press, March 2009).

Jayhawkers: The Civil War Brigade of James Henry Lane
by Bryce D. Benedict (University of Oklahoma Press, March 2009).

The War in Words: Reading the Dakota Conflict Through the Captivity Literature by Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola (Univ. of Nebraska Press, March 2009).

What Shall We Do with the Negro?: Lincoln, White Racism, and Civil War America by Paul D. Escott (Univ. of Virginia Press, March 2009).

Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas by Benson Bobrick (Simon & Schuster, Feb. 2009).

And, a whole bunch of Lincoln books by some guys.

Booknotes - "Lincoln and his Admirals"

This arrival was a pleasant surprise. Abraham Lincoln's relationships with his army generals have received far more attention in the literature than his interactions with his admirals. Craig L. Symonds's new book Lincoln and his Admirals (Oxford Univ. Press, Sept. 2008) will attempt to fill the void. One of the author's major themes appears to be the president's growth as a naval strategist. A quote from the dust jacket stating that Lincoln had "transformed himself into one of the greatest naval strategists of his age" is an extremely bold contention from the marketing department. Some fairly critical accounts exist (e.g. Robert Browning's conclusion is that the Lincoln-Welles team provided basically no strategic coordination of blockading squadrons), and it will be interesting to see how well Symonds supports his case.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Clinard & Russell: "Fear in North Carolina: The Civil War Journals and Letters of the Henry Family"

[Fear in North Carolina: The Civil War Journals and Letters of the Henry Family compiled and edited by Karen L. Clinard and Richard Russell (Reminiscing Books, 2008). Softcover, photos, maps, illustrations, notes, appendices, source list, index. Pages main/total: 400/456. ISBN: 978-0-9793961-3-7 $29.95]

Fear in North Carolina marks the first publication of the journals of Asheville, North Carolina resident and supporter of the Confederate cause Cornelia Henry. Originally written in three volumes spanning the period 1860-1868, the journals have been compiled and edited for publication in a single volume by Karen Clinard and Richard Russell.

Not surprisingly, much of Mrs. Henry's daily concerns are related to raising a family and running a household and farm (with the help of slaves). Although frequently wracked with headache complaints, Henry was nevertheless an extremely diligent diarist, a boon to future researchers and historians. Non-domestic matters are also prominent, especially with husband William Henry away in the army. With the Union occupation of East Tennessee, the western border of North Carolina was open to Federal incursion, the fears and realities of which Mrs. Henry was completely aware. Earlier, her husband was able to resign from the Confederate army in order to lead a local home defense company. In western North Carolina, their war then became one of raids and guerrilla attacks. During this most turbulent period, the journal entries became even more detailed, with Cornelia Henry perhaps seeking comfort in her writing. Diary entries continue through the occupation of Asheville in 1865 and early Reconstruction, providing readers with a lengthy account of one family's experience during those difficult transition years of political, economic, and social upheaval.

In preparing the journals for publication, editors Clinard and Russell took Mrs. Henry's original writing, which lacked formatting and punctuation, and organized it into paragraphs, inserting sentence breaks and some spelling correction. Footnotes were also included, albeit infrequently. Interspersed among the journal pages are full transcriptions of letters to and from Mrs. Henry, the most frequent correspondent being Mr. Henry. Beyond providing insight into relations between the devoted couple, it brings to light William Henry's war service. Illustrations also abound in the form of newspaper clippings and other document reproductions. Photographs of persons and places are inserted throughout, with a set of family images assembled in the back of the book. Other appendices include a family tree, obituaries, a short history of the slaves associated with the Henrys, a will, and a set of maps. One of the latter depicts the battle of Asheville, illustrating troop positions along with other landmarks, including military camps. More detailed information about wartime Asheville and environs is provided by three other archival maps. All are quite useful.

Fear in North Carolina is highly recommended reading for researchers interested in the civilian experience of the Civil War and Reconstruction years in western North Carolina. Presumably, it is quite rare to find continuous journals spanning both periods. In terms of useful supplemental material inclusion and overall presentation, the editors and their publisher, Reminiscing Books, went above and beyond that typically found in books of this type. I look forward to this publisher's future efforts.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Russell Bonds news

A first-rate historical study (and extraordinary first effort), Russell Bonds's Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor (Westholme, 2006) was my book-of-the-year pick. It is now out in paperback.

Of further interest is the announcement of a working title for the author's next project, War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and the Burning of Atlanta. The book is expected to be released late 2009. I'm not privy to any details, but it's fair to say that this one is near the top of my list of next year's most anticipated titles.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Schmidt: "Lincoln's Labels: America's Best Known Brands and the Civil War"

[Lincoln's Labels: America's Best Known Brands and the Civil War by James M. Schmidt (Edinborough Press, 2008). Hardcover, illustrations, notes, source essay, bibliography, index. Page total: 224 ISBN:978-1-889020-21-1 $27.95 ]

With it's shrewdly alliterative title and popular style, Lincoln's Labels is an interesting introduction to the impact of the Civil War on business entities (and vice versa) directed at a general audience. Applying various preconditions [to include availability of source materials, continued existence, and significance of impact], Mr. Schmidt has chosen his subjects well, although the absence of a firearms manufacturer was a curious omission. Firms include Brooks Brothers (uniforms), Borden (condensed milk), Tiffany (blades and finery), Scientific American magazine, Du Pont (gunpowder), E.R. Squibb (pharmaceuticals), and American Express/Adams Express (express mailing).

Each chapter provides brief background for the company and principle founder(s), along with nice annotated summaries of the enterprise's contribution to the Union war effort. The author also includes one or more colorful anecdotes illustrating the impact of the company's products on life at the front. These associations work well for the most part, and at least are fresh personal stories rather than well worn tales.

The company profiles also serve to illustrate various ancillary points, such as the importance of and struggle to achieve good quality control in the areas of medicine, food, textiles, and powder. Issues of war profiteering and shoddy manufactures are also touched upon.

While written in an informal, storytelling fashion, an examination of Schmidt's bibliography reveals a serious research effort. As stated above, the text is annotated, and source materials consulted include various unpublished manuscripts, newspapers, books, and articles. A helpful essay explaining how these sources were used was also included. It also performs good service in directing interested individuals to related reading. This book marks my first exposure to Minnesota publisher Edinborough Press and I am impressed with their professional presentation and material quality. Small presses like these have always been essential to the breadth and continued health of Civil War publishing. A lively, out of the ordinary work, Lincoln's Labels is a fine introductory survey of the understudied intersection of the business enterprise and military aspects of the Civil War.
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You can also catch the author on Civil War Talk Radio this Friday (October 3) at noon PST; or regularly on his blog Civil War Medicine.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Booknotes - "Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era"

New release Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era (LSU Press, 2008) is a collection of essays by noted historian and Davis biographer William J. Cooper. The slim hardcover covers a range of political and military topics including secession, state's rights, command relationships, leadership, and strategy. The Lincoln bicentennial is witnessing/feeding a landslide of Lincoln books, not so much for Mr. Davis. So far, this is all we've got (as far as I know), but it should be an interesting and easily digestible adjunct to his earlier full bio Jefferson Davis, American (Vintage, 2001 and Knopf, 2000).