[ A Unionist in East Tennessee: Captain William K. Byrd and the Mysterious Raid of 1861 by Marvin Byrd (The History Press, 2011). Softcover, map, illustrations, appendices, notes, index. Pages main/total:158/192. ISBN:978-1-60949-245-8 $21.99 ]
In his book, the author does a fine job of communicating the charged political atmosphere in 1861, in isolated Hawkins and Hancock counties and in East Tennessee at large. With local Civil War history publications (especially those authored by descendants) often characterized by wild leaps from scant evidence, Byrd's more careful handling of the available source material is refreshing. Just about every aspect of the raid -- who ordered it, who led it, the exact location of the clash, and the particulars of what happened -- is shrouded in mystery and conjecture. While the site location remains unknown and details of the fighting (often characterized as an ambush) sparse, the author constructs a strong case that the planning and conduct of the raid was a local affair not ordered by Confederate military authorities. Additionally, although built around circumstantial evidence, Byrd's case that the raid was planned and led by local secessionist and Confederate congressman Joseph Brown Heiskell is strongly presented. What happened after the death of William Byrd is better known, and the author's coverage of the region's arrest and imprisonment record is extensive, as is the subject of lawsuits (during and long after the war) brought against the alleged attackers and murderers of Byrd, including the socially and politically prominent Heiskell.
On the complaint front, while the book's endnotes indicate a wide net was cast for relevant source material, a bibliography should have been included. Also, the single tiny East Tennessee county map provided was wholly inadequate for guiding readers to the locations mentioned in the text. Especially for non-natives, a detailed map of Hancock and Hawkins counties would have been enormously helpful.
A Unionist in East Tennessee can be recommended on a number of counts. While the subject of East Tennessee unionism at large has been covered well in many books and articles, this monograph provides a satisfactorily researched and unique micro-examination of an obscure incident between opposing local forces in an area of East Tennessee far less well studied than others. Also, readers with genealogical interests will appreciate the massive amount of individual and family connection information uncovered by Byrd and presented in the text. Finally, scholars of post war lawsuits brought against ex-Confederates will find a great deal of useful information for their pursuits.