Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Keller: "LIFE DURING WARTIME - 1861: The Civil War Comes to Missouri"

[Life During Wartime - 1861: The Civil War Comes to Missouri by Rudi Keller (Columbia Daily Tribune, 2012). Oversize hardcover, maps, photos, illustrations, bibliography, index. 295 pp. ISBN:978-0-9890176-0-2 $39.95]

Life During Wartime is a planned series of hardcover volumes compiling Columbia Daily Tribune journalist Rudi Keller's 150 Years Ago columns. Keller's goal is to provide a daily record of nearby Civil War military, political, and home front anecdotes and events for his newspaper's readers. His region of concern covers roughly eight counties [Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Cole, Cooper, Howard, Moniteau, and Randolph] straddling the Missouri River in the central part of the state. Beyond obvious reasons of local interest, Columbia being in Boone County, the chosen geographical area should be of broader interest as it illustrates well the state's ideological and economic divide, with secession sympathizers, conservative Unionists, and radicals all in significant numbers within the state's slaveholding Boonslick region. With Jefferson City located in Cole County, the political machinations of the capital city are also presented at some length.

Daily entries generally consist of a handful of events from several locations. Outside influences from places like St. Louis to the east are also included to provide necessary context for incidents occurring inside the eight-country area. The text is not annotated, and the source list that accompanies each online column is not reproduced in the hardcover compilation for reasons of space, but a bibliography is included. Research materials include newspapers, books, articles, online resources, and manuscript collections, enough to suggest that the effort involved was substantial.

Given that Nathaniel Lyon's small army swept through "Little Dixie" during the first year of the war, it should come as no surprise that military events comprise a large part of Volume 1 [1861: The Civil War Comes to Missouri]. An advantage of remaining within a defined geographical area is that incidents and skirmishes passed over by other published studies, which generally leave the region following the Battle of Boonville, can be given full attention. After Boonville, Keller recounts threats to shipping and almost daily guerrilla attacks upon the North Missouri Railroad, the only one spanning the entire state from east to west and thus a critically important transportation asset. He also describes Fremont's military build up in central Missouri, preparatory to evicting the Missouri State Guard from the state after that army's Lexington victory. Of additional interest is the book's tracing of U.S. Grant's early Civil War military career. Finally, John Pope's struggle to keep the North Missouri Railroad in running order in the face of incessant attack and sabotage, his solution being the U.S. military's earliest comprehensive anti-guerrilla policy, is highlighted.

Keller's writings also provide a useful daily record of the political debates within the Missouri legislature, before, during, and after the shooting war began. Even though large numbers of secessionist sympathizers were present throughout the state (though concentrated within the slaveholding counties hugging the Missouri River in the central part of the state), Governor Claiborne Jackson utterly failed to foster a secession movement, the vast majority of the citizens ranging in sentiment from Conditional Unionists to Unconditional Unionists. Keller utilizes the newspaper columns of William Switzler as representative of the views of  conservative Unionists. In the minds of national authorities and more radical Missourians, these pro-slavery Unionists, who generally opposed the policies of the Republican administration and its often heavy handed military occupation of Missouri, were always suspect in loyalty. In contrast, the views of pro-secessionist Missouri newspapers, when they could stay open, are also offered, as well as those of the far more radical pro-Union opinion makers in St. Louis.  The entire kaleidoscope of attitudes and opinions is presented. 

The deposing of the elected government, and the creation of a new provisional state government led by conservative Unionist Hamilton Gamble, is also traced, with the oath of allegiance to the federal government a new requirement to hold office. Although military and political topics dominate, home front issues are not entirely neglected. Keller also correctly notes that the war's first shots started slavery down the path to extinction in the state, with practical emancipation taking precedence over official policy almost from day one.

The book itself is solidly constructed in textbook binding format and well illustrated with photographs and period drawings; however, more maps were needed, especially one detailing all the geographical points of interest in the eight-county region. Editing could also have been improved, from fixing the occasional typographical error to eliminating the repetition of material from one entry to the next. For example, frequent background information repetition and reintroduction of important figures may have been helpful in the daily online format, but book readers perusing weeks of material in a single sitting will find the practice extremely tedious.

Presentation niggles aside, the Life During Wartime project promises to be a very functional Civil War Day-by-Day record for Central Missouri, a region often ignored in the general literature between the passage of Lyon early in 1861 and the entrance of Sterling Price's raiding force in the fall of 1864. One hopes that Volume I will be successful enough for the rest of the yearly compilations to be published.

1 comment:

  1. Drew - really nice review. Having moved to Columbia in mid-March, one of the great joys in my six-plus months here has been reading Rudi's daily column.

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