Thursday, May 05, 2011

Ponce (ed.): "KANSAS'S WAR: The Civil War in Documents"

[Kansas's War: The Civil War in Documents edited by Pearl T. Ponce (Ohio University Press, 2011). Softcover, illustrations, timeline, notes, select bibliography. 282 Pages. ISBN:978-0-8214-1936-6 $18.65]

Kansas's War is the fourth volume from OUP's The Civil War in the Great Interior series, with previous works covering the states of Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri.  Historian Pearl Ponce's compilation of documents is the richest trove yet, bringing together newspaper articles; private diaries and letters; official records, reports, and correspondence; and interviews. She begins with Kansas's turbulent territorial origins and ends with events from the latter part of the nineteenth century such as the Exoduster movement. In terms of its conflict with Missouri before and during the Civil War, the state's role remains controversial to this day, and Ponce's selections demonstrate an expert level mastery of the relevant literature and her own editorial writings have a suitably disinterested tone. Along with abolitionist triumphalism, there is abundant documentation of Kansan political and financial corruption, jayhawking, and murder. A key figure in all of this was Senator James Lane and a host of writings are devoted to his heavy handed attempts at wielding power and patronage privileges in the state.

As with the other volumes, this one is sub-divided into thematic headings, each followed by a short introductory passage written by the editor. Kansas's War has nine such chapters, covering (1) settlement and the factional fighting between pro- and anti-slavery settlers, (2) early statehood, (3) patronage issues, (4) Kansas's Union soldiery, (5) Civil War border warfare, (6) Kansas's wartime anti-slavery stance and black enlistment, (7) corruption and prosperity amidst war, (8) creation of Indian Home Guard units and Kansas's role in pacifying the Plains, and finally (9) the post war arrival of the railroad and black emigration. Ponce also precedes each document with a brief contextual summary. All the bases are unusually well covered for a work of this type.

Kansas outfitted in Union blue a far higher percentage of its military age population than any other state, so perhaps it is fitting that the Kansas series entry has significantly more military related primary documents than previous volumes. There are around a dozen select collections of soldier letters and/or diaries detailing experiences fighting Indians on the plains, guerrillas in Missouri, and Confederate armies in the western theater, as well as officering Kansas Colored and Indian Home Guard regiments. Among the campaigns and battles described in these documents are Island Mound, Chickamauga, Poison Spring, Honey Springs, and the 1864 Price Raid. Together, they convey a full cross section of the types of fighting that Kansas troops endured as well as the vast geographical scope of their involvement.

A Kansas event timeline, a set of discussion questions geared to each chapter, a select bibliography, and an index round out the volume. A skillful selection of historical documents spanning the decades before, during, and after the Civil War, Kansas's War is a great introductory resource for college level classrooms and libraries.

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