Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Hewitt & Schott, eds.: "CONFEDERATE GENERALS IN THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI, VOL. 2: Essays on America's Civil War"

[Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Vol. 2: Essays on America's Civil War edited by Lawrence Lee Hewitt and Thomas E. Schott (University of Tennessee Press, 2015). Cloth, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, appendix1, bibliography, index. 309 pp. ISBN:978-1-62190-089-4 $64.95]

University of Tennessee Press's essay series on western and Trans-Mississippi theater Confederate generals is now up to five volumes2. The newest installment Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Vol. 2 also marks the moment when Thomas Schott assumes permanent co-editor duties with series originator Lawrence Hewitt. Like the first book, the biographical subjects of Vol. 2 comprise a mixture of well known figures and those deserving of greater recognition. Eight chapters explore the lives and military careers of generals Ben McCulloch, Henry Sibley, Prince de Polignac, Joseph L. Brent, John B. Magruder, Alfred Mouton, Mosby Monroe Parsons (Part 2), and Richard Gano. Typically, the essays in books like these either offer career overviews with some broad analysis or focused investigations of the officer's role in a specific campaign or battle. Both types are contained in this volume. With the book's strong Louisiana flavor, the continuing presence of series co-creator Art Bergeron, who sadly passed away in 2010, is also felt.

Students of 1861-62 operations in Missouri and Arkansas are familiar with the bitterly divided command structure in the region, but Benjamin McCulloch biographer Thomas Cutrer's essay offers a bit more detailed consideration than one typically finds in the campaign literature of the animosity between Confederate district commander McCulloch and Missouri State Guard commander Sterling Price. Both men had strong partisan support in terms of assigning blame and significant Arkansas vs. Missouri antagonism exists in the source material, making the job of the dispassionate historian difficult. Cutrer doesn't take sides in the debate. Instead, he presents both perspectives utilizing the available source material and leaves it to the reader to decide.

One can make a strong case that Henry Hopkins Sibley was the worst of Confederate general officers and there is precious little in Thomas Schott's essay that might disabuse anyone of that notion. In the search for something positive to say, given that Sibley was able to recruit and put together a relatively large military expedition with few local resources and little help from the Confederate government, Schott opines that the general must have possessed at least some public speaking skills and ability in military organization. One of the great questions about Sibley's Confederate career is why the general, after being drunk and absent from every engagement in New Mexico, was allowed to remain in command of his brigade in Louisiana. The writer's surmise that it stemmed from Jefferson Davis's personal regard for the man seems persuasive, providing yet another clear example (though one not often raised by Davis's many critics) of the Confederate president as poor judge of military capacity.

As sometimes remains the case with JEB Stuart, the public flamboyance of John B. Magruder often overshadows a full appreciation of the general's true military talent. Robert Girardi's essay focuses on Magruder's planning, organization, and execution of the brilliant Confederate expedition that recaptured Galveston on January 1, 1863, one of the most impressive combined operations conducted by either side during the war. As the writer shows, however, the native Virginian's command resolve and battlefield skills were counterbalanced by personal flaws. Like many Civil War officers, Magruder chafed in the role of subordinate and could be difficult for his superiors to handle. His tendency to live the high life of a privileged commander in full view of his men also did not endear him to the rank and file.

The opposite of Magruder is Alfred Mouton, a Louisiana officer who excelled in subordinate roles leading regiments and brigades yet proved hesitant and slow moving when granted higher independent command. Jeffrey Prushankin, perhaps the foremost authority on the Confederate command structure in Louisiana during 1864-64, offers a solid overview of West Pointer Mouton's Civil War career, which was confined entirely to Louisiana and ended in his death at the Battle of Mansfield. Another career encompassing essay with a strong focus on leadership in Louisiana, and particularly during the 1864 Red River Campaign, is Jeff Kinard's study of Camille Armand Jules Marie, Prince de Polignac. As a foreigner, Polignac struggled to gain the trust and respect of officers and common soldiers alike, but his personal bravery and professional military skill demonstrated during the Red River Campaign finally gained for the Frenchman a full measure of appreciation.

Native Kentuckian Richard Gano figured effectively and prominently in both the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters and Charles Grear's essay concentrates on Gano's late war military pursuits inside Indian Territory and along the NW Arkansas frontier. His raiding activities in the region contributed mightily to shrinking federal control over the countryside and to the Confederate victory at Cabin Creek on September 19, 1864.

The book also contains the final half of Bill Gurley's study of the life and military career of Mosby Monroe Parsons. The combined essays constitute the best and fullest biographical treatment available for the general. In addition to discussing Parsons's participation in the battles of Pleasant Hill and Jenkins Ferry, the chapter offers new details and insights into the general's mysterious demise in Mexico at the hands of Mexican cavalry only a short time after the Civil War ended. Parsons forged one of the most impressive military resumes of any Confederate Missourian and Gurley's well researched two-part essay comprises an appropriate record of this.

In the final essay, Steve Mayeaux makes a strong argument that Joseph L. Brent (one of Kirby Smith's unofficial brigadier general appointments) deserves a place in the pantheon of great Civil War civilian-turned-soldier figures. A complete autodidact when it came to military matters, Brent rather improbably excelled in one of the more technical branches of the service (ordnance) and became a highly respected and much in demand staff officer. He also demonstrated remarkable versatility. Having no prior naval experience, Brent nevertheless orchestrated the capture of the U.S. Navy ironclad Indianola, a remarkable feat achieved against all odds. Regardless of how much luck was involved the result remains deeply impressive. Mayeux also promotes the idea that Brent should be recognized as a military theorist. Though the idea of employing armored railroad artillery was not Brent's own, he took his initial experience with rail guns on the Virginia Peninsula to heart and after the war authored the book Mobilizable Fortifications and Their Controlling Influence in War (1885, Houghton Mifflin). While armored trains did heavily influence future military conflicts (perhaps most famously the Russian Civil War), Mayeaux takes Brent's ideas one step further and credits the creative Civil War officer as one of the earliest proponents of tank theory. The appropriateness of the link between train and tank is surely debatable but the connection is at the very least thought provoking.

Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Vol. 2 is another highly recommended entry in the series. With many other worthy biographical candidates lacking much in the way of modern scholarly attention, one hopes this volume is not the press and editors's final word on the general officers serving the Trans-Mississippi portion of the vast Confederate West.

1 - Unlike its eastern and western counterparts, the Confederacy beyond the Mississippi River lacked a signature army and the book's appendix offers a comprehensive summary (to include dates, compositional data, area of operation and other useful information) of the large number of mostly ephemeral army formations that operated in the theater.
2 - Links to site reviews of previous four volumes in the series:
Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 1: Classic Essays on America’s Civil War
Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 2: Essays on America’s Civil War
Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 3: Essays on America's Civil War
Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi - Volume 1: Essays on America's Civil War

More CWBA reviews of UT Press titles:
* To Live and Die in Dixie: Native Northerners Who Fought for the Confederacy
* To Retain Command of the Mississippi: The Civil War Naval Campaign for Memphis
* Rethinking Shiloh: Myth and Memory
* Ruined by This Miserable War: The Dispatches of Charles Prosper Fauconnet, a French Diplomat in New Orleans, 1863-1868
* The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee
* To the Battles of Franklin and Nashville and Beyond: Stabilization and Reconstruction in Tennessee and Kentucky, 1864-1866
* Great Things Are Expected of Us: The Letters of Colonel C. Irvine Walker, 10th South Carolina Infantry, C.S.A.
* Crimson Confederates: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South
* Yale's Confederates: A Biographical Dictionary
* The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged
* The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion
* Echoes of Thunder: A Guide to the Seven Days Battles
* Little to Eat and Thin Mud to Drink: Letters, Diaries, and Memoirs from the Red River Campaigns, 1863–1864
* Earthen Walls, Iron Men: Fort DeRussy, Louisiana, and the Defense of Red River
* Through the Howling Wilderness: The 1864 Red River Campaign and Union Failure in the West


  1. A wonderful series, and I have reach each installment from cover to cover. The truth is that this sort of thing is hard to sell, won't sell all that well, and the few places that will give it extensive coverage include this fine blog. And yours, Drew, is many months or even years ahead of the journals, etc. that will eventually, maybe . . . get to it.

    PS: Tom Schott does great work and is one of our lead editors for Savas Beatie.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Unfortunately, if I ran a press that only published books I most wanted to read it would go bust in 3 months!

  2. A wonderful series, and I have reach each installment from cover to cover. The truth is that this sort of thing is hard to sell, won't sell all that well, and the few places that will give it extensive coverage include this fine blog.

    And yours, Drew, is many months or even years ahead of the journals, etc. that will eventually, maybe . . . get to it. And by then it will be out of print or the marketing will have wound down.

    PS: Tom Schott does great work and is one of our lead editors for Savas Beatie.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. I keep wondering when you’re going to get around to reviewing "Mobilizable Fortifications and Their Controlling Influence in War." It’s only been out 130 years now.

    And as concerns the appropriateness of the link between railroad artillery and tanks, what is a tank? It’s a heavily armed, heavily armored tracked vehicle, is it not? And to this day that particular machine has never been given its own name – the name “tank” was a code name for the vehicles, used to fend off any questions about what was going on with all the iron plates going into those secret military factories – “nothing to see here, folks, we’re just making tanks.” The most accurately descriptive name I’ve ever seen for them is “mobilizable fortifications.” And if you’d read his book, you’d see that Brent was describing modern tank tactics in detail. All he needed for a real tank was for someone to invent the internal combustion engine so he could get rid of that cumbersome locomotive, and for someone else to figure out how to make self-laying tracks so they could run totally wild. Once those two details were handled, Brent had already written the book on how to use those “mobilizable fortifications.”

    I still don't understand how, to this day, Robert E. Lee has never been given credit for inventing the tank.

    Steve Mayeux


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