Monday, February 1, 2016

Pollard: "FORTS AND POSTS IN KANSAS DURING THE CIVIL WAR: 1861-1865"

[Forts and Posts in Kansas During the Civil War: 1861-1865 by William C. Pollard, Jr. (Author, 2015). 8.5 x 11 oversize softcover, maps, notes, appendices, index. 336 pp. ISBN:9781511874243. $12.20]

During the nineteenth century, fortifications sprouted up all over Kansas. During the territorial period, most were located in the western two-thirds of Kansas and were primarily aimed at Indian threats to homesteaders and the overland trails. During the "Bleeding Kansas" and Civil War years, however, the eastern third of the state was a beehive of military activity, with nearly every community erecting some kind of defensive measures against fellow settlers, guerrillas or enemy soldiers. 58 of these sites are compiled and discussed in William Pollard's Forts and Posts in Kansas During the Civil War: 1861-1865.

In his study, Pollard examines the entire spectrum of defensive installations in Kansas, from the sprawling military complexes of forts Riley, Leavenworth, Scott and Larned all the way down to the most modest of community and home protective measures like fortified log cabins. In between are a host of army camps, blockhouses, town posts, stockades, and variously fortified buildings. As one might guess, these are Union outposts but there is one enemy stronghold in Pollard's register, a well hidden guerrilla base used by the Livingston band.

Pollard's text commentaries range from just a few sentences to a half dozen pages or more for the larger fort communities. The author provides a physical description of each site (the level of detail available from the sources varies widely) and summarizes the Civil War role of each fort and post. Military actions that occurred in and around each location are recounted, and students of both the guerrilla conflict along the Kansas-Missouri border and the retreat through eastern Kansas of Sterling Price's army after the failed Missouri Expedition of 1864 will find much in the way of interesting material related to those particular events. There's social and political context in some chapters, as well. Several sites served as havens (albeit tragically inadequate ones) for pro-Union refugees from Indian Territory and others bases for some of the war's earliest black combat units. Pollard's notes certainly suggest that a serious research effort went into the project and many firsthand accounts are well integrated into the text.

The appendix set contains useful information but unfortunately much of it remains frustratingly unrealized as the generally poor quality of the map and diagram reproductions often results in vain reader attempts to decipher blurred lines and labels. The first appendix lists GPS coordinates for each of the forts and posts covered in the book and succeeding appendices document post establishment/deactivation dates and point out their location on modern maps. A number of fort diagrams are also included in this section.

Humble production values aside, this more than reasonably priced guidebook is a very useful reference tool for those studying the Civil War along the Kansas-Missouri border.

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