Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Beilein & Hulbert, eds.: "THE CIVIL WAR GUERRILLA: Unfolding the Black Flag in History, Memory, and Myth"

[The Civil War Guerrilla: Unfolding the Black Flag in History, Memory, and Myth edited by Joseph M. Beilein, Jr. and Matthew C. Hulbert (University Press of Kentucky, 2015). Hardcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, index. 255 pp. ISBN:978-0-8131-6532-5 $50]

Recent decades have witnessed an explosion of Civil War guerrilla warfare studies that have manifestly altered previously simplistic perceptions and understanding (for the better) of the "inner war" that raged across much of the continent during the conflict. This newfound sophistication has immeasurably enhanced the quality of many of the military, social, economic, political, and local home front studies being published today. Drawing from this new breadth of knowledge while offering significant insights of their own are the eight essays contained in The Civil War Guerrilla: Unfolding the Black Flag in History, Memory, and Myth, edited by historians Joseph Beilein and Matthew Hulbert.

In his introduction to the volume, Christopher Phillips expresses his appreciation for the pioneering scholarship of Michael Fellman while also politely but firmly rejecting some of the late professor's most tightly held views on the guerrilla war as a largely nihilistic arena of violence created by the basest instincts of mankind when unshackled by civilization's prior constraints. Unlike Fellman, Phillips believes that strong ideological concerns underpinned the actions of most Civil War irregular warriors in Missouri, among other things (including draft evasion) citing evidence for a demonstrably strong upswing in guerrilla violence in the state immediately after the Emancipation Proclamation that continued to escalate to coincide with the enlistment of black troops. 

Another contributor that sees clear patterns rather than random violence and chaos is Andrew Fialka, whose utterly fascinating article attempts to discover Central Missouri trends using a novel quantitative "spatiotemporal" mapping technique plotting guerrilla incidents over time. Overall, Fialka's data finds that guerrillas primarily targeted Union troops and militia but perhaps the most interesting finding is the close relationship between temporary Union occupation of an area and retaliatory violence against civilians. With large permanent garrisons established all over the state, 1861 witnessed little guerrilla violence but as the war progressed, and more and more regiments were withdrawn from Missouri, the increasingly sporadic presence of occupying forces and reliance instead on short-lived expeditions correlate strongly in time and place with the tragic explosions of guerrilla violence that occurred during 1863-64.

The next essay contrasts levels of anti-Confederate feeling and local unrest in the adjacent Piedmont regions of North Carolina (where it was widespread and strong) and South Carolina (where it was largely muted outside of a passing surge of desertion in 1863 within regiments exiting the state).  The most obvious difference is near unanimity among South Carolinians on the issues of secession and the legitimacy of the Confederate government while this was far from the case among citizens of the Tar Heel Piedmont.  Noel Fisher's now classic East Tennessee study revolutionized in readers's minds the importance of pre-war kinship, religion, political party, and economic ties in determining wartime loyalties and those factors also apply to the Carolinas Piedmont and a South Carolina section more strongly infiltrated by cotton and slavery.

Megan Kate Nelson takes the study of Civil War irregular warfare farther west than most, in her case the arid Desert Southwest. Nelson's essay quite rightly suggests that American Indian forces have been too often excluded from the Civil War guerrilla discussion. Specifically, her chapter seeks a greater appreciation for the role of American Indian raiders, their stealth tactics for stealing enemy horses and supplies honed by centuries of experience and necessity, in blocking Confederate efforts to conquer New Mexico and Arizona.

Sergeant Thomas Goodman's published captivity narrative of his time spent with William T. Anderson's band after Centralia is examined closely by Matthew Hulbert. Far from simply enriching himself by telling an exciting tale to a hungry reading audience, Goodman had clear objectives in drawing public attention to the service of federal units opposing guerrilla bands and persuading readers that their sacrifices were just as honorable and deserving of commemoration as those of Union soldiers fighting in the great battles to the east.  For modern readers, Goodman's account also serves as an effective counterpoint to John Newman Edwards's popular heroic portrayal of pro-southern guerrillas.

Fictionalized accounts of the inner war experience in southern Appalachia as expressed in literature and theater are the subject of John Inscoe's essay. As is often the case with fiction created with the intention of persuading a given audience, exaggerated accounts extolling the virtues of one side and condemning the perfidy of the other are common in the three works analyzed in Inscoe's chapter. In addition to the insertion of romantic elements for popular entertainment value, the works on a more serious level do draw appropriate attention to the critical active and support roles assumed by women during those troubled times. Curiously, given the traditional view that slavery and emancipation issues were less important to Appalachian residents, the writers also assign prominent roles to black characters, albeit in blatantly ideological fashion.

Finally, Rod Andrews attempts to sort fact from fiction in the life of Reconstruction guerrilla Manse Jolly of South Carolina while co-editor Joseph Beilein picks apart the scholarly sins of William Connelley's seminal work Quantrill and the Border Wars. While today's historians have well identified the specific flaws in Connelley's book, its broad brush portrayal of Missouri bushwhackers as murderous unprincipled outlaws remains immensely influential today. One of the most fascinating aspects of Beulein's essay is its recounting of Connelley's cunning manipulation of ex-guerrilla William H. Gregg and partisan cherry picking of Gregg's memoir for source material.

The contents of The Civil War Guerrilla leave little cause for complaint, the absence of a specifically Kentucky-based essay (though the first chapter does touch upon shared Border State contexts) perhaps being the most unexpected omission given the state's high profile connections with the topic. The fact that half the essays center on Missouri keenly reminds us how events in that most troubled of states continue to most prominently inform our general awareness and understanding of the guerrilla conflict during the Civil War. The great variety of inner war experiences are certainly well matched by the diversity of scholarly approaches adopted by the book's contributors. All of the essays are solidly grounded in the current literature of the guerrilla conflict while offering substantive and frequently quite striking contributions of their own. The Civil War Guerrilla is highly recommended.

More CWBA reviews of UPK titles:
* For Brotherhood and Duty: The Civil War History of the West Point Class of 1862
* Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase
* A General Who Will Fight: The Leadership of Ulysses S. Grant
* The Union Forever: Lincoln, Grant, and the Civil War
* One of Morgan's Men: Memoirs of Lieutenant John M. Porter of the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry
* My Old Confederate Home: A Respectable Place for Civil War Veterans
* Lincoln on Trial: Southern Civilians and the Law of War
* Bluejackets and Contrabands: African Americans and the Union Navy
* Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History
* Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee
* Kentuckians in Gray: Confederate Generals and Field Officers of the Bluegrass State
* Virginia at War, 1863
* Contested Borderland: The Civil War in Appalachian Kentucky and Virginia

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