Thursday, January 14, 2010

Reynolds & Schultz (ed.): "GENERAL STERLING PRICE AND THE CONFEDERACY"

[General Sterling Price and the Confederacy by Thomas C. Reynolds, edited by Robert G. Schultz (Missouri History Museum Press, 2009). Softcover, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 152/279. ISBN: 978-1-883982-68-3 $24.95 ]

In any list of difficult Confederate generals, Sterling Price would rank near the top. While charismatic and personally brave on the battlefield, the Missourian's personal vanity and his penchants for intrigue and insubordination combined to alienate many a person needed for his own success, from President Jefferson Davis himself down through a host of prominent Trans-Mississippi military and political figures. One of these was Confederate Missouri governor Thomas Caute Reynolds.

Missouri's Lieutenant Governor at the start of the Civil War, Reynolds ascended to the top post with the untimely death of Claiborne Fox Jackson in December 1862. In what would be an essentially ceremonial political position, Reynolds served as "governor" for the rest of the war. Composed in exile in Mexico City in 1867, his Price manuscript, edited by Robert G. Schultz and published for the first time under the title General Sterling Price and the Confederacy, is in the possession of the Missouri Historical Society. Unlike many memoirs penned in the aftermath of the war, Reynold's writing is less about self-aggrandizement (in fact, there is very little in the way of personal promotion). Rather, the manuscript concerns itself with 'setting the record straight' about the Civil War career of the antagonizing figure Sterling Price. However, with Price's unexpected demise so soon after the war ended, the project was abandoned, unfortunately just at the point of onset of the controversial 1864 Price Raid into Missouri, a lamentable circumstance for future historians.

Not surprisingly, Reynolds's account is completely one-sided. Somewhat defensive in tone, he constantly reminds the reader of his own personal friendship and regard toward Price (especially early on in their working relationship) and prides himself on his willingness to overlook slights, a kindness and measure of respect that was evidently not returned. Unfortunately, the governor did not accompany Price in the field in 1863, so his information about the disastrous Helena and Little Rock campaigns is necessarily secondhand. Reynolds's narrative gives full flight to the many rumors about Price's supposed political intrigues, including the fanciful ones of the general leading a great Northwest confederation of states (from both sections) and another, hatched around the time of the darkest period of the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, that would have had Price leading the Confederacy as generalissimo upon the deposing of Davis.

A common thread throughout the manuscript is that of doubts about Price's Confederate loyalties, exacerbated by the apparent sweetheart deal given to one of the general's sons, a Missouri State Guard officer who was allowed to take the oath of allegiance and return to lucrative private pursuits in Missouri, unmolested by federal authorities. One wishes that Schultz had elaborated on these events and charges in more detail in his notes, attempting to separate fact from fiction according to information available today. That would have made for highly interesting reading.

In form and style, Reynolds was not a gifted writer (to put it kindly), and Schultz bases his new book upon Dr. Cyrus A. Peterson's transcribed version of Reynold's now quite fragile manuscript, which strove to make readable what was essentially a continuous narrative without standard punctuation or paragraph breaks. Schultz inserts his own chapter breaks (by date), as well as bracketed notations within the text. His endnotes are very helpful in providing background information for persons, places, and events mentioned in the manuscript.

The edited Price manuscript runs 120 pages, but Schultz further enhanced the value of his book by including 136 pages of additional documentation. A small portion of this material is composed of Reynolds correspondence (reports and letters) earlier compiled by Dr. Peterson. The rest is Schultz's compilation of a series of documents pertaining specifically to the 1864 Price Raid, a helpful attempt to at least partially fill in the yawning gap created by the unfinished manuscript. These documents are composed of correspondence contained in the Official Records, a court of inquiry transcription, and a collection of newspaper letters to the editor with responses. A final appendix lists Missouri senators and representatives to the Confederate Congress.

Usefully edited and supported by a wealth of additional documentation, General Sterling Price and the Confederacy is an important addition to our knowledge and understanding of a pair of prominent Confederate figures from the Trans-Mississippi theater. Editor Robert G. Schultz and his publisher are richly deserving of praise for bringing this long neglected manuscript to the attention of the public, and for according it such an impressive and expansive presentation.

[this book is distributed by University of Missouri Press]

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