Friday, December 30, 2011

Wilson: "SOLDIERS OF THE SOUTHERN CROSS: The Confederate Soldiers of Tallapoosa County, Alabama"

[Soldiers of the Southern Cross: The Confederate Soldiers of Tallapoosa County, Alabama by William Gregory Wilson (Author, 2011 2nd ed.). Softcover, maps, photos, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:165/318. ISBN:978-1-4507-4962-6 $35]

Although Rousseau's Raid went through it in 1864, Tallapoosa County, Alabama did not host any major Civil War battles. In terms of military history, it is far better known as the site of the March 27, 1814 Battle of Horseshoe Bend. However, the county did contribute greatly to the manpower needs of many Confederate units, and that part of the story is the subject of William G. Wilson's highly informative Soldiers of the Southern Cross. First published in 2002, this new 2011 edition incorporates editorial changes and corrections, as well as new research.

The main text of Soldiers is comprised of 160 pages describing the military contributions of Tallapoosa County men, organized around the companies and regiments that these Alabamians fought for in the eastern and western theaters. A bit of county history background is also provided.  This section is structured more like a reference work than narrative history, a good decision in terms of enhancing the book's utility as a resource for others to use. Unit coverage ranges from a few paragraphs to several dozen pages.  Unlike many other books of this type, the author does not forget artillery and home guard units. Full transcriptions of official reports, letters, and newspaper articles appear in large numbers throughout the text, offering soldier perspectives in their own unedited words.

The bibliography is impressive, listing a large number of archival collections, as well as a suitable range of published primary and secondary source materials.  The text is documented, and it was nice to see the author use footnotes instead of endnotes. Forty-three appendices provide company roster data, mostly in the form of rank, wound, and parole information gleaned from CSRs. I can't speak to the scale of the revisions and additions between the first and second editions, but all Alabama research and genealogy libraries would benefit from adding Soldiers of the Southern Cross to their collections.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Praeger series

Praeger, an imprint of library and school publisher ABC-CLIO, is not really known as a big time Civil War presence, but they have an avalanche of small and spendy titles scheduled for the first half of next year, grouped into two series.

Battles and Leaders of the American Civil War:
* Shiloh: Confederate High Tide in the Heartland by Steven E. Woodworth.
* Antietam 1862 by T. Stephen Whitman.
* The Seven Days' Battles: The War Begins Anew by Judkin Browning.

Reflections on the Civil War Era:
* American Civil War Guerrillas: Changing the Rules of Warfare by Daniel E. Sutherland.
* Edifice of Freedom: The Civil War Amendments in Historical Perspective by James Humphreys.
* Civil War Journalism by Ford Risley.
* The Northern Home Front during the Civil War by Paul A. Cimbala and Randall M. Miller.

I like Judkin Browning as a scholar and essentially nothing worthwhile has been written about the Seven Days since Burton so I wouldn't mind checking that one out. It also might be interesting to see if Sutherland's book is a repackaging of A Savage Conflict or an exploration of a new theme associated with the guerrilla war. I have similar questions about the Shiloh volume by Woodworth. I would welcome being wrong, but, given the publisher's more generalist educational priorities, my gut feeling tells me it will be a brief synthesis of current Shiloh scholarship for the non-specialist.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Bender (ed.): "WORTHY OF THE CAUSE FOR WHICH THEY FIGHT: The Civil War Diary of Brigadier General Daniel Harris Reynolds, 1861-1865"

[ Worthy of the Cause for Which They Fight: The Civil War Diary of Brigadier General Daniel Harris Reynolds, 1861-1865 edited by Robert Patrick Bender (University of Arkansas Press, 2011). Softcover, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 333 pp. ISBN:9781557289711 $34.95 ]

A native Ohioan and graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, Daniel H. Reynolds moved to Lake Village, Arkansas at the age of 26 to establish a law practice. An ideological ally to the Southern Democrats  but not a slaveholder, Reynolds used the proceeds from his successful legal career to amass a small real estate fortune. Supporting Arkansas's secession movement, Reynolds enthusiastically sought a military position, recruiting and leading the "Chicot Rangers" (Company A, 1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles). Steadily promoted after his early service in the Trans-Mississippi, he ended the war a brigadier general in the western theater. His Civil War diary*, wonderfully annotated by historian Robert Patrick Bender, has been published by University of Arkansas Press under the title Worthy of the Cause for Which They Fight.

Reynolds's diary is noteworthy on a number of counts. With daily entries during active campaigning throughout the entire war, his faithful attachment to his writing comprises a remarkably useful historical record of events associated with his various Arkansas unit commands. While many Civil War journal writers concentrated their thoughts on home, camp life, gossip, and local scenery, Reynolds mainly concerned himself with military matters such as march distances, camp locations, picket line skirmishes, and tactical battle details. Pointed opinions about superiors were also freely offered, from the questioning of Henry Heth's competence during the 1862 Kentucky Campaign to clashes with division commanders W.H.T. Walker and Samuel French over slights directed at Trans-Mississippi regiments.

Researchers and general readers alike should appreciate the attention to detail in Reynolds's writing. While his experience of Wilson's Creek is useful to no one (he was dehorsed by the battle's first shots and reduced to a dazed observer), the diary entries for the Pea Ridge Campaign are exceptionally vivid. His lengthy discussions regarding the role of the 1st Arkansas on both days of the Pea Ridge battle are superbly detailed for a company commander and his daily record of the retreat across the state preparatory to crossing the Mississippi ranks among the best. Most Trans-Mississippi cavalry officers and men were greatly upset at being dismounted for service in the western theater, but, if his diary reflects true feeling, Reynolds and his command accepted the disappointment with more equanimity than most. The next significant battle experience for the 1st was at Richmond, Kentucky, and recently elected Lt. Colonel Reynolds again recorded in his diary a fine account of his regiment's fight. Chickamauga followed and, after a March 1864 promotion to Brigadier General, Reynolds wrote of the Arkansas's Brigade's adventures during the Atlanta Campaign, Hood's Tennessee Campaign, and the Battle of Bentonville. At the latter, Reynolds received a bone shattering wound to the left leg that required amputation.

Bender's voluminous notes, burgeoning with almost 100 small print pages of background information and further insights into persons, places, and events mentioned in the diary, are the result of an impressive volume of research (the bibliography is richer than most original studies). He also pens nice introductions to each chapter representing a year of the war. Reader regrets associated with the book are few.  With so many obscure locations mentioned in the diary, the absence of maps is unfortunate.  Also, to reduce excessive page flipping, it would have been nice to have footnotes instead of endnotes.

Worthy of the Cause for Which They Fight is an incredibly useful resource for readers interested in the military career of General Reynolds, as well as the marches and battles associated with the 1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles and the brigade of Arkansans that fought in the western theater. Moreover, as Civil War in the West series editors Michael Parrish and Daniel Sutherland note in their preface, Worthy of the Cause for Which They Fight is now the closest thing we have in the literature to a biography of Reynolds, who left little in the way of correspondence to posterity. When one pairs Bender's book with James Willis's phenomenal dual unit study [9th Arkansas infantry regiment & Reynolds' Arkansas Brigade] titled Arkansas Confederates in the Western Theater (Morningside, 1998), a distinctly improved picture of Arkansas's military role in the West emerges.

* - The Reynolds diary edited by Bender was a typewritten copy held by the special collections department of the University of Arkansas library. It is thought possible that the original handwritten diary remains in the possession of a descendant, whose identity and whereabouts remain unknown.

Other CWBA reviews of UA Press titles:
* The Die Is Cast: Arkansas Goes to War, 1861 (Butler Center)
* Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Missouri in the Civil War
* Army Life: From a Soldier’s Journal
* The Fate of Texas: The Civil War and the Lone Star State
* A Rough Introduction to this Sunny Land (Butler Center)
* Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865
* A Thrilling Narrative
* Confederate Guerrilla
* Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front
* Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Tennessee in the Civil War
* Civil War Arkansas: Beyond Battles and Leaders
* "I Acted From Principle": The Civil War Diary Of Dr. William M. McPheeters, Confederate Surgeon In The Trans-Mississippi
* Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Civil War themed journal issues

I missed it the first time around, but the Summer 2011 issue of Arkansas Historical Quarterly was a Civil War themed special issue, with more promised throughout the Sesquicentennial. It might be worthwhile to periodically check the links I provide in the sidebar (a ways down). It's good bet that some of the other journals will be doing the same.

And...

Merry Christmas to all, and thanks to those that have purchased items through my links. It is an essential part of allowing me to obtain books for which no review copies are available.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Booknotes IV (December '11)

New Arrivals:

1. Demon of the Lost Cause: Sherman and Civil War History by Wesley Moody (Univ of Missouri Pr, 2011).

Moody explores how and why Sherman's reputation, north and south, has shifted over time and in what ways Sherman himself actively sought to shape how he would be remembered.

2. Trembling in the Balance: The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal During the Civil War by Timothy R. Snyder (Blue Mustang Press, 2011).

Like the B&O Railroad, the C&O Canal had experiences of its own as a military target. Synder's book deals with the business struggle, as well.

Monday, December 19, 2011

10th Missouri CSA journal published

The Arkansas History Commission has just published Traveled through a Fine Country: The Journal of Captain Henry Brockman Company K, 10th Missouri Volunteer Infantry, C.S.A..

Description:
"Captain Henry Brockman served in Company K, 10TH Missouri Volunteer Infantry, Confederate Army during the Civil War. In his journal, he describes in detail his daily activities, the many places he visited, and the things he saw during his time in the military. As Brockman "traveled through fine country," his tour of duty took him to major battles in Arkansas and Louisiana, including stops at Jacksonport, Pocahontas, Yellville, Des Arc, Helena, Little Rock, Benton, Arkadelphia, Warren, Camden, and Shreveport. For over 100 years, the Arkansas History Commission has preserved Brockman's writings. The captain's journal has been meticulously transcribed, and is now published and available in book format".

It's too bad there's have no purchasing alternative to the outdated method of printing out a form and mailing a check ($17).

Thanks to Jim McGhee for the heads up.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Year in Review: 2011


***  CWBA Favorite Books of 2011  ***

[ NOTE: As always, Fall 2010 titles may be included here as my reading backlog tends to build up substantially during this typically busy time for new releases. ]

Battle/Campaign Histories:

Trans-Mississippi Theater:
Thunder Across the Swamp: The Fight for the Lower Mississippi, February-May 1863 by Donald S. Frazier (State House Pr).
Western Theater:
Failure in the Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joe Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign by David A. Powell (Savas Beatie, 2010).
Eastern Theater:
Second Manassas: Longstreet's Attack and the Struggle for Chinn Ridge by Scott C. Patchan (Potomac Books).
Small/Obscure Battle:
The Battle of White Sulphur Springs: Averell Fails to Secure West Virginia by Eric J. Wittenberg (The History Pr).
CW Indian Wars:
Dakota Dawn: The Decisive First Week of the Sioux Uprising, August 17-24, 1862 by Gregory F. Michno (Savas Beatie, 2011).

Social History:

The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War by Adam Arenson (Harvard Univ Pr).

Political History:

Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union by William C. Harris (Univ Pr of Kansas).

Economics, Technology and Society:

The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America by William G. Thomas III (Yale Univ Pr).

Most Welcome Reprint:

The Battle of Piedmont and Hunter's Raid on Staunton: The 1864 Shenandoah Campaign by Scott C. Patchan (The History Press, 2011).

Unit History:

I Will Give Them One More Shot: Ramsey's First Regiment Georgia Volunteers by George W. Martin (Mercer Univ Pr).

Essay Collection:

Violent Encounters: Interviews on Western Massacres by Deborah and Jon Lawrence (Univ of Oklahoma Pr).

Reference Book:

Of Duty Well and Faithfully Done: A History of the Regular Army in the Civil War by Clayton R. Newell and Charles R. Shrader (Univ of Nebraska Pr).

Biography:

Confederate Outlaw: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia by Brian D. McKnight (Louisiana St Univ Pr).

Naval History:

A Civil War Gunboat in Pacific Waters: Life on Board USS Saginaw by Hans Konrad Van Tilburg (Univ Pr of Florida).

Edited Letters/Memoir/Diary:

Worthy of the Cause for Which They Fight: The Civil War Diary of Brigadier General Daniel Harris Reynolds, 1861-1865 edited by Robert Patrick Bender (Univ of Ark Press).

Guide Book/Map Study:

Savannah, Immortal City: Volume I - Civil War Savannah by Barry Sheehy & Cindy Wallace with Vaughnette Goode-Walker (Emerald Book Co).

Local/Regional History:

Turmoil on the Rio Grande: The Territorial History of the Mesilla Valley, 1846-1865 by William S. Kiser (Texas A&M Univ Pr).

Self-Publishing Effort:

The Bristoe Campaign: General Lee's Last Strategic Offensive with the Army of Northern Virginia October 1863 by Adrian G. Tighe.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Kiser: TURMOIL ON THE RIO GRANDE: The Territorial History of the Mesilla Valley, 1846-1865"

[Turmoil on the Rio Grande: The Territorial History of the Mesilla Valley, 1846-1865 by William S. Kiser (Texas A&M University Press, 2011). Cloth, 10 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:228/301. ISBN:978-1-60344-296-1 $35]

According to historian Jerry D. Thompson, Mesilla, a New Mexican town located astride the most direct and favorable invasion route to and from Texas, experienced the harshest degree of Civil War military rule of any occupied community in the southwest. Arizona State University grad student William Kiser's Turmoil on the Rio Grande confirms this judgment and more with his military and political history of the strategic territorial region centering roughly on the southern New Mexico towns of Mesilla, Las Cruces, and Doña Ana.

Beginning with the Mexican War conquest of New Mexico and Alexander Doniphan's victory at Brazito, the greater part of Kiser's study deals with the pre-Civil War years. Students of U.S.-Mexican relations will appreciate the extensive attention paid to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the bilaterial international commission charged with surveying the permanent border. The war and its legacy inspired heated conflicts between Whigs and Democrats, so matters dealing with the Mexican Cession, including the U.S.-Mexico border and potential trans-continental railroad routes, inevitably became hot button political issues. Kiser's discussion of the partisan politicization of the U.S. commissioner position, a long and wasteful process that saw the appointing and firing of several individuals, is enlightening.

With the Gadsden Purchase and the final sorting out of the border, the next pre-Civil War source of turmoil was the dissatisfaction felt by many inhabitants with the U.S. government's denial of their request for a new territorial status apart from New Mexico, an issue that would later lead to significant local support for the formation of Confederate Arizona in 1861-62.  Another historical thread common throughout the period examined by the book was the problem of Apache raids.

Turmoil informs us that Mesilla Valley civil authorities, newspaper editors, and business interests were strongly pro-Confederate, welcoming Lt. Colonel John R. Baylor's initiation of what would become a full scale invasion of the New Mexico Territory. Kiser summarizes well the subsequent Battle of Mesilla, as well as Baylor's dramatic pursuit and capture of U.S. army Major Isaac Lynde's far larger Fort Fillmore garrison command near the San Augustine springs. Conventional wisdom from the historical literature holds that Lynde's superior force collapsed from lack of water and wide scale drunkenness, with many soldiers foolishly filling their canteens with whiskey instead of water for the long desert trek, but Kiser suggests the possibility that the troops were slyly plied with the foul liquid by pro-Confederate fort sutlers and even disloyal officers. While one generally wishes to shy away from unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, the idea might be worthy of consideration.

While the Mesilla Valley ruling classes supported the Confederates, what the Hispanic majority thought of the Civil War in terms of governmental loyalty remains largely enigmatic after reading the book; however, it is entirely possible that the needed primary source material is unavailable. This lack of evidence makes the assumption by both sides that the Mexicans were predominately pro-Union in sentiment unsatisfactory. The civil and property rights of the newly American inhabitants were not a serious consideration for either side. Confederate actions against suspected unionists were harsh, but the property confiscation, arbitrary arrest, and travel restriction policies of Union officers James H. Carleton and Joseph R. West during the period 1862-65 were less discriminant and demonstrably more severe.  A proper social and cultural history of the experiences and attitudes of the New Mexico-Arizona territorial inhabitants during this period would make for a useful and original adjunct to the existing scholarship.

City, county, and other local Civil War era studies abound but few if any of these venture into the Trans-Mississippi theater's desert regions. Turmoil on the Rio Grande is an notable foray into this historical genre. If William Kiser can research and write a scholarly study of this quality as an undergraduate and graduate student, one suspects he has a bright future in his chosen field.


Other CWBA reviews of TAMU Press titles:
* Tejanos in Gray: Civil War Letters of Captains Joseph Rafael de la Garza and Manuel Yturri
* Why Texans Fought in the Civil War
* Moss Bluff Rebel: A Texas Pioneer in the Civil War
* Frontier Defense in the Civil War: Texas' Rangers and Rebels
* Confederate Struggle For Command: General James Longstreet and the First Corps in the West
* Planting The Union Flag In Texas: The Campaigns of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks in the West
* The Yankee Invasion of Texas
* Blood & Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Stratagem 1861: Early Civil War Battles and the Battle for the Potomac"

The 1861-62 Confederate "blockade" of the Potomac River has not been covered extensively in the literature, with the standard work from Mary Alice Wills now almost four decades old.  Robert H.C. Alton covers similar ground with his book Stratagem 1861: Early Civil War Battles and the Battle for the Potomac (Walsworth Publishing Co., 2011) with mixed results.

The book itself is beautiful to behold, full of color illustrations, photos, maps, and order of battle tables. Land and naval actions at Aquia Creek, Freestone Point, Evansport, and Cockpit Point are covered, albeit not at the level of detail that the most serious segment of the reading audience would find satisfying. One of the best passages discusses (with several good color maps attached) General Hooker's rejected plan to clear the batteries from the lower Potomac and reopen the river to free navigation.

While nothing strikes the reader as grossly inaccurate, significant flaws abound. Like many first time non-fiction writers who are basically self publishing, Alton's text really misses the skill of a professional editor. The bibliography is insubstantial and obviously incomplete, with sources mentioned in the notes missing from the bibliography. Speaking of the endnotes, there are only twelve for a 160 page book. Also, there is a bit of an overreliance in places on substituting narrative with full reports reproduced as sidebars.

Overall, I do think Stratagem 1861 is worth a look by those particularly interested in this period of the war. If it comes to choosing between the two, I do think the more scholarly inclined reading audience will be best off sticking with Wills. While she also did not fully document The Confederate Blockade of Washington, D.C., 1861-1862, her depth of research, especially in all types of  primary source material, is far superior. However, if Alton were able to publish another edition correcting the shortcomings mentioned above, his work might very well take on more serious value beyond local interest.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Booknotes III (December '11)

New Arrivals:

1. The Battle of First Bull Run - Manassas Campaign July 16-22, 1861 - An Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide by Blaikie Hines (American Patriot Press, 2011).

My first impressions of this book are positive. Differing from traditional atlas maps depicting historical terrain, the author instead takes modern satellite photos and superimposes troop positions and movements on them. If you'd like to see some sample pages, click on the publisher link above. Harry at Bull Runnings plans to conduct an interview with the author in the near future.

2. I Fear I Shall Never Leave This Island: Life in a Civil War Prison by David R. Bush (UP of Florida, 2011).

This book takes the novel approach of pairing the author's two decades of archaeological investigations at the Johnson's Island POW camp off Sandusky, Ohio with the letters home of a Virginia officer, Capt. Wesley Makely, imprisoned there.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Magid: "GEORGE CROOK: From the Redwoods to Appomattox"

[ George Crook: From the Redwoods to Appomattox by Paul Magid (University of Oklahoma Press, 2011). Hardcover, 4 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:356/417. ISBN:978-0-8061-4207-4  $39.95 ]

Much has been written about General George Crook's career fighting western Indian tribes in the 1870s and 1880s (including his own autobiography), but Paul Magid's military biography George Crook: From the Redwoods to Appomattox takes the novel approach of closely following the Ohioan's earlier professional life, from company command in the Pacific Northwest to successive regiment, brigade, and division leaderships during the Civil War.  Charles Robinson's recent comprehensive biography George Crook and the Western Frontier (Oklahoma, 2001) stressed some of the same points*, but the earlier biographer devoted less than 100 pages to this significant period of Crook's life, while Magid explores it fully.

Magid's work is primarily focused on the Civil War, but Crook's experiences in northern California, Oregon, and Washington are recounted in some detail (highlights include the Williamson-Abbot Expedition and the Rogue River War). It is always difficult to take an officer's duty performance in tiny, company sized outposts and use it to predict ability to handle massive Civil War formations, and Crook is no different. However, several personal characteristics, good and bad, clearly can be traced back to his first postings in the Far West.  With an emphasis on training (and even regular target practice), Crook did develop a reputation for taking care of his men and always having them ready to fight.  But a less admirable character trait, quarreling with fellow officers (the best example being his long feud with Capt. Henry Judah), also became apparent during this period. Highlighting both strengths and faults of his biographical subject, and weighing both with equal seriousness, is one of the finest aspects of Magid's writing.

Crook's first active Civil War command was colonel of the 36th Ohio, an infantry regiment assigned to the wilds of western Virginia. Later, temporarily taking charge of a brigade, Crook performed well at the Battle of Lewisburg, where he was wounded for the first and only time during the war. There, he defeated a superior Confederate force led by Henry Heth and began to attract positive notice. During the South Mountain and Antietam battles,  Crook once again led a brigade, this time with mixed results.  After fine work at South Mountain, he exhibited command confusion and lack of aggressive action at Antietam. He also failed to obtain information about the enemy in his front. Although lethargy would not be a hallmark of his service, the end of the campaign established a discreditable pattern of post battle behavior on the part of Crook -- blaming others for his mistakes and writing self serving reports that took liberties with the truth.

In the west with the Army of the Cumberland, as in rugged West Virginia earlier, Crook developed something of a reputation for skillfulness in counter guerrilla operations. Although Magid notes that the general did not create Blazer's Scouts as claimed in his autobiography, the author credits the Ohioan for prioritizing them and using them effectively. Combined with his antebellum Indian fighting service, this guerrilla warfare and scout unit experience would serve Crook well in post-Civil War army operations in the West.

After a discussion of the Dublin Raid and Crook's victory at Cloyd's Mountain, Magid continues his balanced assessment of Crook's leadership with a detailed examination of the Shenandoah campaigns of 1864.  The general's mishandling of subordinate intelligence again caused his command dearly, this time at Second Kernstown. The defeat again highlighted Crook's unfortunate tendency to ignore military information offered by personally disliked sources and unfairly blame generals for his own errors.  Crook performed better under Philip Sheridan at Opequon and Fisher's Hill, where his VIII Corps drove off Jubal Early's smaller army with well executed flanking attacks.  Although Crook didn't know it at the time, Sheridan would take credit for these moments of glory in later writings, embittering the Ohioan, whose personal initiative in the matters was key.  Later on at Cedar Creek, in another demonstration of his inconsistency, Crook failed again to adequately police his front, although, in his defense, Sheridan ordered away his cavalry screen before the Confederates attacked and sent it to the opposite flank. Thus, Crook's performance continued to be mixed, though with mistakes masked by overall victory and the patronage of then friend Sheridan.

That winter, Crook and General Benjamin Kelley were captured in their hotel rooms at Cumberland, Maryland by Confederate rangers.  Confinement was brief, but calls for a return to command from professional colleagues (most notably by General Grant) lessened Crook's personal embarrassment and held off career ending threats made by Secretary of War Stanton.  Though acknowledging Crook's overall command responsibility in terms of post security, the author is not highly critical of the general's role in his own capture. Regardless, the final stage of the war was spent by Crook in a comparatively undistinguished capacity commanding a cavalry formation in the Army of the Potomac.

George Crook ends with a nice summary of the general's Civil War legacy, the good and the bad, although the discussion of lessons learned for future service might have been explored in more depth.  Then again, one gets the impression the author is not finished with his subject. A greater source of disappointment lies with the cartography.  Military biographies, like unit histories, too often neglect this area, and, indeed, the four large scale maps gracing the text are inadequate visual supplements to the text's detailed descriptions of Crook's roles in so many Civil War battles, large and small.  However, these are only minor irritations from what will clearly come to be regarded as the standard work on George Crook's antebellum and Civil War military service.

* - Examples include Crook's emphasis on duties often left neglected by frontier colleagues (e.g. training and marksmanship), as well as his flawed relationships with fellow officers and inability to accept responsibility for defeats suffered during the Civil War.

Other CWBA reviews of OU Press titles:
* Violent Encounters: Interviews on Western Massacres
* A Perfect Gibraltar: The Battle for Monterrey, Mexico, 1846
* Patrick Connor's War: The 1865 Powder River Indian Expedition (Arthur H. Clark)
* Texas: A Historical Atlas
* Civil War Arkansas 1863: The Battle for a State
* Jayhawkers: The Civil War Brigade of James Henry Lane
* Powder River Odyssey: Nelson Cole's Western Campaign of 1865 the Journals of Lyman G. Bennett and Other Eyewitness Accounts (Arthur H. Clark)
* Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester
* The Uncivil War: Irregular Warfare In The Upper South, 1861-1865
* The Civil War in Arizona: The Story of the California Volunteers, 1861-1865

Booknotes II (December '11)

New Arrivals:

1. The Settlers' War: The Struggle for the Texas Frontier in the 1860s by Gregory Michno (Caxton Pr, 2011).

The post-secession withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Lone Star State's northern and western borders, and their inadequate replacement with Texas and Confederate units, led to large scale Indian troubles for the region's settlers. The story has been told before in scholarly publications, but Michno's perspective should prove interesting.

2. Civil War in Northern Virginia 1861 by William S. Connery (The History Pr, 2011).

A brief summary of the first months of the war in Loudon, Prince William, and Fairfax counties.

3. The 1865 Stoneman's Raid Ends: Follow Him to the Ends of the Earth by Joshua Beau Blackwell (The History Pr, 2011).

The second of a two-volume popular history of Stoneman's Raid.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Civil War Bookshelf

It's been nearly three months since Dimitri's last post. With Civil War blogs coming and going in a flash this is no big deal in the overall scheme of things, but CWB is basically the granddaddy of us all and, with near daily postings for years on end, it has always been among the most consistently engrossing and contentious of blogs. The output has definitely slowed since last summer. I hope he returns, as the Civil War blogosphere is far less interesting without him.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Spring titles of interest: Birch Coulee and a captivity narrative

Regular readers know that I rarely miss the opportunity to mention upcoming books dealing with the 1862-65 Dakota War. Next spring, University of Nebraska imprint Bison Books will publish the first book length treatment of the Battle of Birch Coulee. John Christgau's Birch Coulie: The Epic Battle of the Dakota War [not sure where that spelling of coulee comes from, even the cover art print takes issue with it] is planned for March, while Nebraska's new edition of a once-printed classic  A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War will follow a few months later.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Arnold: "THE DENBIGH'S CIVILIAN IMPORTS: Customs Records of a Civil War Blockade Runner between Mobile and Havana"

[ The Denbigh's Civilian Imports: Customs Records of a Civil War Blockade Runner between Mobile and Havana by J. Barto Arnold III (Institute of Nautical Archaeology, 2011). Softcover, map, figures, tables, notes, bibliography. 512 pp. ISBN:978-0-9795874-2-9  $40 ]

Launched in 1860 by Laird, Sons & Co. in Birkenhead, England, the Denbigh was a low-profile, swift ocean steamer, perfect for running the Civil War blockade of southern ports. Beginning late in 1863 and ending in May 1865, the vessel completed 13 round trips between Mobile, Alabama and Havana, Cuba, exchanging outgoing cotton with needed military and civilian goods. Its attention paid to the latter, J. Barto Arnold's The Denbigh's Civilian Imports is a massive new reference work, reproducing for researchers hundreds of invoices, bills of lading, and custom forms (as well as a number of other documents and letters) associated with the blockade runner.

Such a work is useful on a number of counts. Organized chronologically, Part I is comprised of a year-long (Jan. 1864 - Dec. 1864) period of wartime customs data (i.e. package content, weight, numbers of units, price, and duty owed).  This information offers researchers valuable insights into what items -- both necessities and luxury goods -- were needed and valued by area households. By 1864, inflation was a major concern in the Confederacy, and the ability to compare price levels on similar items over a year long period makes the book an important tool for students of the southern economy and blockade. The names of individuals and businesses mentioned in the documents also allows for the tracing of items through advertised auctions all the way to the end user. It all contributes to an overall picture of the needs and wants of civilian life in Mobile and beyond.

Part II's documents center around customs data from the fall of 1860, the collection as a whole providing a treasure trove of comparative (pre war to late war) cargo information. Other miscellaneous pieces contain tidbits about other ships and crews operating out of the city of Mobile.  The Denbigh's outgoing cargoes are also documented in this section.

As stated before, The Denbigh's Civilian Imports is a highly specialized and highly useful reference guide directed toward a specific audience of researchers and historians. There is no narrative beyond a very brief introductory chapter offering a few facts pertaining to the Denbigh and its career, as well as some descriptive explanations of the customs documents (both typed reproductions and photographs) which together comprise almost 500 of the book's pages. Anyone with a serious interest in the nuts and bolts of the blockade, and the full range of scarce items valued by an increasingly deprived 1864 Confederate home front, will benefit from owning a copy of Arnold's impressive document collection.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Books of the Year coming soon

Well, it's that time of the year again...when perennially inconsiderate neighbors don't pick up their leaves knowing the prevailing winds will land them on my lawn; but it is also time to reflect back on the year of publishing and recall my favorite reading experiences. Because October & November are such busy release months and I obviously cannot read all the new titles of interest from that period by December's end, my year end lists typically run November to November, with some fudging here and there.

The 2011 compilation should appear here in the next week or two.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Booknotes (December '11)

New Arrivals:

1. Price's Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri by Mark A. Lause (U. of Missouri Pr, 2011).

Glancing through the book, it appears that Lause has oddly chosen to end his raid history at Jefferson City. I will be curious to find out why.

2. Civil War Springfield by Larry Wood (The History Pr, 2011).

Springfield, Missouri is deserving of a Civil War town study. Wood's book concentrates on events from the first half of the war (e.g. Wilson's Creek, the occupations and reoccupations, Zagonyi's Charge, the Battle of Springfield, etc.), with short chapters dealing with conflict's the latter half, Reconstruction, and commemoration.

3. The Battle of White Sulphur Springs: Averell Fails to Secure West Virginia by Eric J. Wittenberg (The History Pr, 2011).

This is the first full length treatment of the August 26, 1863 battle fought between a Union mounted brigade commanded by Gen. W.W. Averell and Confederates led by Col. George S. Patton. Readers of the author's many previous books know what to expect in terms of research and writing. As an added bonus, we get the maps of Steven Stanley, one of the best cartographers in Civil War publishing.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Smith, Jr. : "THE CSS ARKANSAS: A Confederate Ironclad on the Western Waters"

[ The CSS Arkansas: A Confederate Ironclad on the Western Waters by Myron J. Smith, Jr. (McFarland 800-253-2187, 2011).  7 x 10 Softcover, 101 photos, 2 maps, notes, bibliography, index. Page main/total:306/360. ISBN:978-0-7864-4726-8  $45 ]

The Confederate navy built and operated a large number of formidable ironclads during the Civil War. Unfortunately for them, these expensive fleets were typically bottled up in obstructed bays and waterways surrounding key cities and ports, forcing the ships to be destroyed by their own crews when Union armies approached. A single exception to this intractable CSN problem of free range ability for ironclads was the CSS Arkansas, which for three weeks in June and July 1862 was a terror to the US Navy on the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers. With a number of impressive 'Civil War on the western waterways' titles to his credit, librarian and professor Myron Smith has now turns his attention to this remarkable vessel with his study The CSS Arkansas: A Confederate Ironclad on the Western Waters, an incredibly detailed chronicling of the river gunboat's career from construction to self-destruction.

One of the enduring mysteries surrounding the Arkansas is what exactly it looked like. No final blueprints or photograph's survive (and artist drawings vary on details), but Smith's book diligently sifts through the available evidence, arriving at the most likely scenarios for architectural design, propulsion system, and armament. A few modern schematic drawings based on outside research are reproduced in the text to help readers visualize the vessel. Unlike the other Confederate ironclads built as some variation of the Virginia design, the broadsides of the Arkansas's casemate were flat (perpendicular to the water) as opposed to sloped. It is posited in the book, but not explained thoroughly, that this improved stability. With rolled plates unavailable, railroad iron was used to armor the vessel. With so many other features described in minute fashion in the text, a full explanation of how this rail iron was applied would have been helpful (along with a drawing). A final note of interest on the appearance of the Arkansas pertains to its color. Painted a chocolate brown, the ship blended well into the western rivers' muddy waters, bluffs, and banks.

Although Smith's end notes, which often collect dozens of sources under a single citation, require a great deal of work on the part of the reader to deconstruct, the author's books utilize an exhaustive depth and range of primary and secondary source materials. Helped significantly by the writings of four key officers from the Arkansas, the ship's 23-day operational career is meticulously recounted. The narrative begins with the ironclad's scattering of an enemy recon flotilla on the Yazoo River and its celebrated Mississippi River run past the entire US naval force arrayed against the Vicksburg defenses, both events occurring on July 15, 1862. Anchored under the Hill City's guns at the end of that exciting day, the Arkansas survived a night bombardment and ram attack ordered by Admiral Farragut. Over the next few days, other attempts were made to cut the ironclad out from under Vicksburg's protection, but these failed and the US Navy's upper and lower Mississippi fleets retreated in opposite directions. Sensing an opportunity, General Earl Van Dorn ordered the Arkansas to assist Breckenridge's land assault on Baton Rouge. The situation resulted in disaster on both counts.  On August 6, the Arkansas, its always balky engines then beyond redemption, met its end at the hands of its own crew when immobilized above the Louisiana capital.

Several attempts have been made over the years to explain the original cause of the chronic mechanical problems suffered by the Arkansas's engines. Smith does a good job of describing in some detail the nature of repairs needed [although, once again, some mechanical drawings would have been enormously helpful for landlubber readers unfamiliar with 19th century steam engines], but it has always been strongly suspected that these efforts were only band-aid attempts to ameliorate a larger problem which has remained a mystery. The book's suggestion that lingering damage from an earlier ramming by the Queen of the West is as reasonable an explanation as any.

Smith's study does have problems of its own, mainly in the arena of editing. Typographical errors and repetitive passages abound. Also, the citing of internet postings as source material without offering more information about the writer's degree of authority on the subject strikes one as inadvisable. However, these flaws should not deter readers from appreciating The CSS Arkansas as the most thorough, and best by far, treatment of the vessel's history, surpassing the previous standard work on the subject by Tom Z. Parrish.





Monday, November 28, 2011

The Civil War in the West

Most publishers request that reviews be held until release time [this one is scheduled for March, but I would bet it comes out a couple months early] so until then I thought I would post a little preview of Earl Hess's The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi (UNC Press, 2012).

At its heart, The Civil War in the West is a theater level operational summary. Although Hess doesn't strictly define the boundaries of the "West" and generally leaves out East Gulf and South Atlantic coastal areas, his coverage of the campaigns and battles is suitably comprehensive. Readers with a high interest level in the irregular war will be gratified by the depth offered. While Hess disagrees with the recent theses of Mountcastle and Sutherland pertaining to the implications of the guerrilla conflict on the war's overall level of destructiveness, he certainly appreciates its physical scale and significance.

Beyond the military campaigns, the Union army's constant struggle to maintain control over the civilian population in occupied areas, and at the same time foster viable trade practices that would not inordinately benefit the Confederacy, is another major theme of the book. The evolution of army policies and attitudes dealing with slavery and black enlistment is also broadly considered.

Of the three levels of warfare -- strategic, operational, and tactical -- only the first two apply to studies of this type, and Hess's work is weakest on the first.  With much of the military narrative comprising straightforward operational history, such high level matters are largely squeezed out.  Even so, I think even those readers that generally devour everything western theater related might benefit from a refresher course integrating the conventional war with the pervasive guerrilla and civil relations conflicts.  Generally speaking, though, the audiences best served by The Civil War in the West will probably be subject novices and those well read eastern theater enthusiasts looking to expand their area of study.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

New KSU Press series

For a long time, Kent State University Press has carried only one Civil War related series in their catalog, Lesley Gordon's Civil War in the North. However, the first volume from a new military focused series Civil War Soldiers and Strategies (edited by Brian Steel Wills) will be published in 2012. This inaugural study will be Hampton Newsome's Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864. Brett should be excited about that.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Gerteis on the conventional military side of the Civil War in Missouri

In May 2012, University of Missouri Press will publish Louis Gerteis's The Civil War in Missouri: A Military History.  It is highly unfortunate that the overwhelming amount of amateur and scholarly Missouri guerrilla war publications have obscured the state's significant (and, to me, endlessly fascinating) conventional war experience.  Before now, no one has attempted an all encompassing examination of the regular campaigns and battles in the state.  Although Gerteis himself didn't pay much attention to the subject in his previous work, Civil War St. Louis -- a fine socio-political city study if you're interested --, I remain optimistic about this book's landmark potential.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Another George Thomas biography slated for next spring

George Henry Thomas: As True As Steel by Brian Steel Wills (Univ Pr of Kansas, 2012) is currently scheduled for a March release.  After a long hiatus, Thomas bios have been sprouting up all over the place.  I didn't bother with Bobrick or Broadwater, and Christopher Einolf's book, while generally well regarded, didn't have the detail I was looking for.

With this one (600 pages), and the Corinth study mentioned earlier, the fine editors at Kansas seem to be hearkening back to a time of more liberal page length limitations.

Savannah Squadron - "The Best Station of Them All"

In glancing through the catalogs listed below, one book stood out as particularly appealing in terms of my own personal interests. For Civil War naval history students, a pathbreaking study by Maurice Melton will be released during the spring 2012 publishing season. The Best Station of Them All: The Savannah Squadron, 1861-1865 (Univ of Ala Pr, August) is a big book at 632 pages, with a cringe inducing price tag to go along with it, but it promises to provide unprecedented coverage of the Confederacy's naval war along Georgia's coast and inland waterways.

Spring 2012 catalogs

A number of the university presses have their Spring-Summer '12 catalogs available for viewing online. So far, you can see or download LSU, Mercer, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Alabama, and North Carolina.  Scroll down the sidebar to the University Press Profiles for links to each press' main page.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Booknotes IV (November '11)

New Arrivals: 

 1. The Civil War in South Carolina: Selections from the South Carolina Historical Magazine edited by Lawrence S. Rowland and Stephen G. Hoffius (Home House Pr, 2011).

A well selected compilation of over 40 articles from the SCHS's scholarly journal, the book's 607 pages cover a variety of wartime subjects (at least half are military in nature) across all areas of the state.

 2. Virginia at War, 1865 edited by William C. Davis and James I. Robertson, Jr. (Univ Pr of Kentucky, 2011).

This is the concluding volume of the five-part UPK essay series concentrating on Virginia home front and societal issues over each year of the war.
   
3. Hungarian Emigres in the American Civil War: A History and Biographical Dictionary by Istvan Kornel Vida (McFarland, 2011).

The Civil War contexts of the 1848 uprisings in Europe typically focus on the Germans, but thousands of Hungarians also immigrated to the U.S. in their wake.  A professor of American history at a Hungarian university, Vida brings these men's services to light with a scholarly work that is part narrative, part biographical register.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Finally ... The Siege of Corinth

At last, a major work concerning the 1862 "Siege" of Corinth is in the offing. Although from the title, Corinth 1862: Siege, Battle, Occupation (Univ Pr of Kansas, May 2012), it certainly looks like Smith is going for a broader look, 472 pages should afford enough space for a decent history of the siege operation.

Booknotes III (November '11)

New Arrivals:

1. Tried Men and True, or Union Life in Dixie by Thomas Jefferson Cypert, edited by Margaret M. Storey (Univ of Ala Press, 2011).

East Tennessee unionists get all the press, but adherents to the old flag were present all over the state. Cypert, an officer in the 2nd Tennessee Mounted Infantry (US), penned this memoir (published here for the first time) to defend the actions of unionists during the war and to support their cause in the postwar political struggle. It is also a descriptive account of the irregular conflict in West Tennessee.

2. The Library of Congress Illustrated Timeline of the Civil War by Margaret E. Wagner (Little, Brown & Co., 2011).

This coffee table sized book, similar to a condensed The Civil War Day by Day but with more visual focus, is a chronological rendering of significant events from the war. The top half of each page is filled with captioned photos, maps, drawings, etc.

3. Soldiers of the Southern Cross: The Confederate Soldiers of Tallapoosa County, Alabama by William Gregory Wilson (Author, 2011 2nd ed.).

This is a documented narrative history and roster study of the county soldiers that served in many 'Bama units in the western and eastern theaters. Wilson has a web presence for the book here.

4. Views from the Dark Side of American History by Michael Fellman (LSU Press, 2011).

A collection of essays that taken together comprise something of a career memoir, this slim volume promises to be an personal look into the perspectives of a historian drawn to more disturbing subject matter.