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In terms of campaign descriptions, the most impressive collection of articles is related to the writer's firsthand knowledge of the 1862 Prairie Grove Campaign (including the Van Buren Raid that followed it). In addition to relating details of the battle itself, Barnes spends a great deal of time on the plight of the wounded during the battle's immediate aftermath. He also offers an interesting perspective on what it was like on the far left flank of the Vicksburg siege lines (the quietest sector, and thus the least written about in most general histories). His account of the 1863 Rio Grande Expedition should also be of great interest to students of the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi, especially the parts regarding garrison duty on Mustang Island (the writer's self-described most pleasant wartime interlude) and events from the war along the U.S.-Mexican border near Brownsville. The book's account of the final assaults on the forts guarding Mobile in 1865 is worthwhile reading, as well.
Barnes claimed to have written his memoirs from memory, but it's readily apparent to the reader that, given the volume of intricate battle details (like who fell and where) contained in the articles, he must have used notes. He also consulted other sources. For instance, the Prairie Grove sections include not only the memoir of Barnes but also official reports and a lengthy account written by one of General Herron's staff officers [this officer is unfortunately unnamed, and the notes do not offer any additional information]. While his point of view is valuable, Barnes does often engage in the typical rhetoric of soldiers, exaggerating victory and massively overestimating enemy numbers and losses while minimizing those of his own side.
There's definitely a strong vein of seriousness coursing through the recollections of Barnes, but the writer also strove to entertain. Early on, he tells of an encounter with "Wild Bill" Hickok and relates a tall-tale of Bill's that's clearly dime novel material. Barnes also apparently was a believer in the mythology of Rebel officers plying their men with black powder and whiskey before a fight. But there are many other camp anecdotes that do ring true, though, as with many Civil War memoirs, there are also factual errors and faulty interpretations sprinkled around. With rare exception, Shannon allows the writing to speak for itself in the book, with few editorial interventions of any kind. There are only 29 endnotes in total for the entire article collection.
Midway through the book, Barnes interrupts his 20th Iowa series of writings to discuss the service histories of other Hawkeye units like the 2nd Iowa regiments of infantry and cavalry. Those sections merit less attention as the information provided is secondhand and the articles are mostly just campaign overview narratives (from both Union and Confederate perspectives). But, in the latter stages, Barnes returns to his own unit with a bang (literally). His detailed personal account of the catastrophic May 25, 1865 explosion of the main ordnance magazine in Mobile is fascinating. As the 20th was mustering out of service, Barnes was rewarded with a promotion to first lieutenant.
Those that enjoy reading lively Civil War reminiscences penned by rank and file soldiers will certainly get one from J.D. Barnes. There's a wider interest level involved to be sure, but students of the Trans-Mississippi theater (particularly the war in Arkansas and Texas) will probably get the most out of Campaigns of the 20th Iowa Infantry.