Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Casto: "ARKANSAS LATE IN THE CIVIL WAR: The 8th Missouri Volunteer Cavalry, April 1864 - July 1865"

[Arkansas Late in the Civil War: The 8th Missouri Volunteer Cavalry, April 1864 - July 1865 by David E. Casto (The History Press, 2013). Softcover, 6 maps, photos, illustrations, notes. Pages main/total:118/126. ISBN:978-1-62619-107-5 $19.99]

As its title and subtitle suggest, David Casto's Arkansas Late in the Civil War: The 8th Missouri Volunteer Cavalry, April 1864 - July 1865 is a local history-regimental study hybrid.  Fortunately or unfortunately, the 8th spent the entirety of its service in the Trans-Mississippi theater while at the same time managing to avoid nearly all the great battles fought there. As Casto mentions, the regiment didn't play a prominent role at Prairie Grove. It did fight in the campaign to capture Little Rock, but was not present at Arkansas Post, Helena, the Camden Expedition, or in Missouri opposing the 1864 Price Raid. Casto chose to concentrate his research and writing on April 1864 onward because that was the period when his ancestor served with the regiment. It also marked a time of increased military activity north of the Arkansas River, offering the author a signal opportunity to relate the history of a number of expeditions, skirmishes, and battles only lightly addressed in the literature.

By the spring of 1864, the Union army was in firm possession of Little Rock, along with a string of other Arkansas River strongholds, but that did not stop regular and irregular Confederate forces ranging throughout the wilds north and east of the capital. The entry of Jo Shelby's cavalry into NE Arkansas, his command having crossed the river upstream of Little Rock against feeble opposition, increased the pace of operations considerably. From their secure bases, the Union army launched several expeditions against these Confederates, and the 8th, as a whole or in detachments, served in most of them. Casto describes these events [a scouting trip to Augusta (resulting in the Battle of Fitzhugh's Woods), the initial failure to intercept Shelby, the Clarendon and Searcy expeditions, the mission to protect the Memphis & Little Rock railroad and hay stations from Shelby's men, and more] in detail. The largest battle fought by members of the 8th was at Jones Station.

Shelby's operations in northeast Arkansas have received an increased amount of scholarly attention in recent years, but Casto's accounts of the Union responses to these are the best and most thorough available. The author also appropriately highlights the importance of the Union held stronghold of DeValls Bluff, as well as the river post's recently completed railroad connection to Little Rock, to the logistical network and military occupation of the region.

Casto is in agreement with Grant and Halleck that the generals in charge of Arkansas (Steele, West, Carr, and Andrews), officers who spent as much time bickering with subordinates and each other as they did planning operations, did a poor job of defending their district and supplying their forces. While mounted Confederates ranged around in increasing numbers and often with impunity, the Union army in Arkansas could only keep a small proportion of its own cavalry in the field, complaining of a lack of forage. The inability to deal Shelby a telling blow in the spring and summer of 1864 undoubtedly gave the Confederates a good deal of confidence that Sterling Price's much larger force could also cross the Arkansas River and pass through the state later that year on its way to Missouri. Thus, Union mismanagement in northern Arkansas had a significant strategic impact on the conduct of the war, the result of Price's raid being a diversion of resources from higher priority western theater operations.

The book's presentation has both positives and negatives. There are footnotes indicating an acceptable level of research, but no bibliography or index. Also, while a number of rarely seen photographs were included, the maps are unscaled, hand drawn affairs. Tracing the movements of the various expeditions, something that was not attempted, would have been very helpful. On the other hand, the set does offer a reasonably good general idea of the 8th's geographic span of operations and includes an interesting representation of the DeValls Bluff fortress complex.  David Casto's Arkansas Late in the Civil War may have begun as a limited inquiry into the service of an ancestor who fought with the 8th Missouri, but the result is much more than that, a very useful and unique history of the Union occupation of NE Arkansas during the final fifteen months of the Civil War.

2 comments:

  1. Drew, I appreciate your comments on my book. I think you "got" what I was trying to do. As far as the maps, I drew large color maps, just to give people a general idea of central Arkansas towns, roads, & waterways in 1864-65. Of course, for a book of its size, they were condensed down, not as readable as I would have liked. David Casto

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  2. David, My name is Tim Roberts. I am a descendant of the same Castoe family. I live in North Arkansas, my Email is troberts37@hotmail.com

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