Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Booknotes X (Mar '15)

New Arrivals:

1. Engineering Victory: The Union Siege of Vicksburg Justin S. Solonick (SIUP, 2015).

From the publisher's description: "After opening with a sophisticated examination of nineteenth-century military engineering and the history of siege craft, Solonick discusses the stages of the Vicksburg siege and the implements and tactics Grant’s soldiers used to achieve victory. As Solonick shows, though Grant lacked sufficient professional engineers to organize a traditional siege—an offensive tactic characterized by cutting the enemy’s communication lines and digging forward-moving approach trenches—the few engineers available, when possible, gave Union troops a crash course in military engineering. Ingenious midwestern soldiers, in turn, creatively applied engineering maxims to the situation at Vicksburg, demonstrating a remarkable ability to adapt in the face of adversity. When instruction and oversight were not possible, the common soldiers improvised. Solonick concludes with a description of the surrender of Vicksburg, an analysis of the siege’s effect on the outcome of the Civil War, and a discussion of its significance in western military history." The study emphasizes the success of Federal offensive siege engineering over starvation as the key factor in forcing Confederate surrender. Where the final volume of Bearss's Vicksburg Campaign trilogy offered a highly detailed on-the-ground account of the various siege approaches, Solonick is going for more high level analysis (at least that's my initial impression).

2. The Madman and the Assassin: The Strange Life of Boston Corbett, the Man Who Killed John Wilkes Booth by Scott Martelle (Chicago Review Pr, 2015).

At this point, most Civil War readers probably know at least something about the bizarre personality of John Wilkes Booth killer Boston Corbett but those wanting a full biography of the man now have one in Martelle's study. From the publisher: "The killing of Booth made Corbett an instant celebrity whose peculiarities made him the object of fascination and derision. Corbett was an English immigrant, a hatter by trade, who was likely poisoned by the mercury then used in the manufacturing process. A devout Christian, he castrated himself so that his sexual urges would not distract him from serving God. He was one of the first volunteers to join the US Army in the first days of the Civil War, a path that would in time land him in the notorious Andersonville prison camp, and eventually in the squadron that cornered Booth in a Virginia barn."

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