[Gateway to the Confederacy: New Perspectives on the Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns, 1862-1863 edited by Evan C. Jones and Wiley Sword (Louisiana State University Press, 2014). Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, essay appendices, index. 333 pp. ISBN:978-0-8071-5509-7 $39.95]
Given the military value of Chattanooga and sheer scale of effort devoted to its possession by both sides, it's a bit surprising that the recent trend producing scholarly city studies has not yet reached this particular East Tennessee town. Gateway to the Confederacy's first chapter does the subject ample justice in short form. Russell Bonds's thoughtful and elegantly written essay traces Chattanooga's regional development, from early Indian trading post to emerging transportation corridor to vital wartime strategic and political nexus. Bonds effectively drives home the location's indispensability to both local Tennessee River Valley industrial interests (primarily mines and nitre caves) and the most vital Deep South mines, mills, arsenals, foundries, etc. [a great pair of maps clearly illustrate this network]. Chattanooga possessed direct rail connections with the latter and also shielded them from enemy contact.
The next contribution is Gerald Prokopowicz's account of the two Union attempts (one small and one large) to seize Chattanooga in 1862. While his description of events and assessments of the personalities involved are largely conventional in the broad sense, the author is more sympathetic than most to Don Carlos Buell's logistical difficulties as a reasonable limiting factor to his command's pace of advance. The game changing possibilities of an early 1862 capture of Chattanooga are also emphasized in a reasonable manner, although the confident assertion that it would have shaved a full year off the war's duration is unknowable given the infinite number of variables introduced by such drastic alternative history.
Two essays in the book are written by Chickamauga expert David Powell. The first summarizes several themes (primarily involving the shortcomings of Nathan Bedford Forrest as close subordinate and corps commander) from his excellent 2010 study Failure in the Saddle, a pointed critique of Confederate cavalry generalship during the Chickamauga Campaign. The second is a fascinating treatise on the spirit of military invention and innovation in the Army of the Cumberland, a legacy of creativity that Powell credits William Rosecrans a great deal for fostering. In it, Powell examines evidence of an attempt by Rosecrans, ultimately thwarted by army regulations, to create a flying corps of elite, repeating rifle-armed battalions designed to counteract the huge numerical edge the Confederates maintained in cavalry in the department. Tactical innovations are also discussed, from the "advance, firing" technique first suggested by August Willich at the regimental level to the Cumberland army's more rapid and systematic adoption of the new 'Casey Method' of deploying brigades with shorter frontage and greater depth (a combination allowing more flexible use of reserves). Not joining the chorus of historians who dismiss Rosecrans as a leader stubbornly requiring gross levels of overpreparation before initiating movement, Powell is instead impressed by the general's unusually high level of campaign foresight, examples of this trait being Rosecrans's creation of topographical and pioneer/engineering assets of unmatched quality and his training of staff to expertly manage advanced depot systems for sustaining long campaigns.
William Glenn Robertson's chapter invites readers to cast aside what they think they already know about two of the most controversial aspects of the Chickamauga battle (both occurring on September 20), Union general Thomas Wood's creation of the fatal gap through which Longstreet's assault column surged and Confederate general Leonidas Polk's delay in initiating Bragg's planned dawn attack. Widely regarded as the leading authority on the battle, Robertson persuasively argues that many of the details and assumptions surrounding these events that have repeated by historians are wrong. As a whole, the essay is yet another attention grabbing critique of historical writers that unquestioningly repeat established "facts", all too often selecting among competing sources those that tell the better story rather than those providing the most compelling evidence.
The longest essay, and one of the best, is volume co-editor Evan Jones's comprehensive history of the decades long Rosecrans-Grant connection, from West Point origins to postwar political and military legacy rivalry. Meticulously documenting the relationship's transformation from one of apparent cordiality to implacable bitterness, Jones's treatment is both more fair and more measured in interpretation and tone than two recent book length studies covering the same subject.
A departure from the historian's perspective is literature and poetry professor Stephen Cushman's reassessment of Ambrose Bierce through the latter's public and private writings. While elements of the type of tortuous literary deconstruction often painful to the memories of legions of undergraduates is present, the piece is accessible and quite engrossing. Cushman's study of the correspondence regarding Chickamauga between Bierce and budding historian Archibald Gracie leads him to cast doubt on Bierce's famed reliability. He also interprets Bierce's appreciation of D.H. Hill's writing style and the content of one of his lectures to a military audience to mean that the famously bitter Bierce was perhaps less disillusioned with his army experiences than previously believed. It is arguable whether similar degrees of historical scrutiny should be applied to both fiction and non-fiction writing in our assessment of Bierce's skills as a historian, but in Cushman's hands it is a fascinating exercise.
Craig Symonds's chapter retells the story of President Davis's visit to the Army of Tennessee after Chickamauga and his failure to adequately resolve the latest eruption from the army's poisonous command culture. Wiley Sword's recounting of the long term consequences to Confederate fortunes of the crushing defeat at Chattanooga is remarkable primarily for insights related to Patrick Cleburne's much scrutinized proposal to arm slaves for Confederate army service that were found inside the general's recently uncovered diary [to be published in the future by Lee White]. Caroline Janney's final essay reminds us that, while the institutional face of commemoration at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga battlefields was one of reconciliation, partisan veterans of both sides remained defiant in maintaining the righteousness of their own cause and the wickedness of the other.
Civil War essay collections dealing with key campaigns* already well covered in the literature invariably extol the presence of fresh ideas and new perspectives in their pages but Gateway to the Confederacy, with its greater than typical preponderance of truly original content, really does live up to the promise. It is highly recommended.
* - As one can see from above, Gateway topics are weighted toward Chickamauga and the events leading up to it. Those interested in essays more specifically related to the winter 1863 Chattanooga campaign and battle should consult The Chattanooga Campaign edited by Steven Woodworth and Charles Grear (SIU Press, 2012).
More CWBA reviews of LSUP titles:
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* Greyhound Commander: Confederate General John G. Walker's History of the Civil War West of the Mississippi
* Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War
* Milliken's Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory
* Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict Between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland
* Granbury's Texas Brigade: Diehard Western Confederates
* The Last Battle of the Civil War: United States Versus Lee, 1861-1883
* Confederate Guerrilla: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia
* Lincoln and Citizens' Rights in Civil War Missouri: Balancing Freedom and Security
* War No More: The Antiwar Impulse in American Literature, 1861-1914
* Isham G. Harris of Tennessee: Confederate Governor and United States Senator
* Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community 1861-1865
* Mosquito Soldiers: Malaria, Yellow Fever, and the Course of the American Civil War
* Homegrown Yankees: Tennessee's Union Cavalry in the Civil War
* John Bankhead Magruder: A Military Reappraisal
* A Wisconsin Yankee in the Confederate Bayou Country: The Civil War Reminiscences of a Union General
* Bleeding Borders: Race, Gender, and Violence in Pre-Civil War Kansas
* Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era
* Where Men Only Dare to Go Or the Story of a Boy Company, C.S.A.
* Encyclopedia of Civil War Shipwrecks
* Walker’s Texas Division, C.S.A.: Greyhounds of the Trans-Mississippi
* The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew's Regiment of Mounted Rifles
* A Crisis In Confederate Command: Edmund Kirby Smith, Richard Taylor, And The Army Of The Trans-Mississippi
* The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock