Wednesday, December 28, 2016

McClellan and the Union High Command, 1861-1863

Sometimes it is interesting to see what a Civil War 'outsider' can bring to the discussion of a well-worn topic. The author of the upcoming McClellan and the Union High Command, 1861-1863: Leadership Gaps That Cost A Timely Victory (McFarland, January 2017) is Jeffrey Green, a history professor who teaches in Australia and has previously published books on modern wars in the Far East and Pacific. Hopefully, in dipping his toes into unfamiliar waters, the author does not grasp at appallingly outdated cliches to the degree found in the recent A Savage War. Perhaps Hsieh & Murray's book immeasurably improves after the first 100 pages, which was all I could take before quitting on it. Neither author is a serially published Civil War specialist, but I mostly liked Hsieh's book about 19th Century West Point officers (a work that received mixed reviews from readers at large) and didn't recognize his stamp on any of the early parts of A Savage War that I read.

Anyway, getting back to Green ... the book description is very brief and shy about hinting at what directions it will take. I would reword the following passage from it — "McClellan's "On to Richmond" battle cry dominated strategic thinking in the high command." The last sentence is tantalizing and reads: "This re-examination of the high command and McClellan's war in the East provides a broader understanding of the Union's inability to achieve victory in the first two years, and takes the debate about the Union's leadership into new areas." I am curious as to what these "new areas" might be.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Booknotes: John Quincy Adams and the Politics of Slavery

New Arrival:
John Quincy Adams and the Politics of Slavery: Selections from the Diary by David Waldstreicher & Matthew Mason (Oxford UP, 2016).

This book uses John Quincy Adams's own words (in the form of a series of diary selections) to examine the life-long evolution of the sixth president's views on slavery and slavery politics. In addition to selecting the material, the editors contribute a general introduction, chapter introductions, bridging commentary covering gaps between diary texts, and footnotes. 

From the description: "Expertly edited by David Waldstreicher and Matthew Mason, John Quincy Adams and the Politics of Slavery offers an unusual perspective on the dramatic and shifting politics of slavery in the early republic, as it moved from the margins to the center of public life and from the shadows to the substance of Adams's politics. The editors provide a lucid introduction to the collection as a whole and frame the individual documents with brief and engaging insights, rendering both Adams's life and the controversies over slavery into a mutually illuminating narrative. By juxtaposing Adams's personal reflections on slavery with what he said-and did not say-publicly on the issue, the editors offer a nuanced portrait of how he interacted with prevailing ideologies during his consequential career and life."

Friday, December 23, 2016

CWBA book "awards"

My annual list of favorite Civil War books across a slew of categories will be a bit delayed this time around. Though I've never been shy about including early winter titles on the following year's list, there are a number of candidates I want to finish up first. You can expect the 2016 group to appear sometime in the middle of January. For those new to the site and wondering what I'm talking about, go here to view the 2015 list.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Booknotes: The First Republican Army

New Arrival:
The First Republican Army: The Army of Virginia and the Radicalization of the Civil War by John H. Matsui (Univ of Va Pr, 2016).

John Pope gained early-war notoriety for targeting Missouri civilians in retaliation for guerrilla attacks on infrastructure. But he's better known for the bombastic manner by which he brought this harsher brand of western frontier warfare east to Virginia, where he assumed command of the Army of Virginia and quickly drew the ire of Robert E. Lee. In his book The First Republican Army, author John Matsui argues that ideological differences between the Army of Virginia and the Army of the Potomac ran much deeper than the politics, mindset, and leadership style of the man at the top.

From the description: "If the Army of the Potomac (the major Union force in Virginia) was dominated by generals who concurred with the ideology of the Democratic Party, the Army of Virginia (though likewise a Union force) was its political opposite, from its senior generals to the common soldiers. The majority of officers and soldiers in the Army of Virginia saw slavery and pro-Confederate civilians as crucial components of the rebel war effort and blamed them for prolonging the war. The frustrating occupation experiences of the Army of Virginia radicalized them further, making them a vanguard against Southern rebellion and slavery within the Union army as a whole and paving the way for Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation."

It looks like the author assembled a pretty good-sized study group. "Drawing on archival sources from twenty-five generals and 250 volunteer officers and enlisted men, John Matsui offers the first major study to examine the ways in which individual politics were as important as military considerations to battlefield outcomes and how the experience of war could alter soldiers’ political views." If I recall correctly, Joseph Glatthaar's cohort numbered 600 for his celebrated quantitative Army of Northern Virginia study.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review of Baker - "THE SACRED CAUSE OF UNION: Iowa in the Civil War"

[The Sacred Cause of Union: Iowa in the Civil War by Thomas R. Baker (University of Iowa Press, 2016). Softcover, maps, photos, notes, index. Pages main/total:259/293. ISBN:978-1-60938-435-7. $27.50]

Iowa was the first state in what author Thomas Baker calls the "New West" (i.e. the states and territories carved up by 1860 from the vast Louisiana Purchase) to prohibit slavery, and his book The Sacred Cause of Union argues that Iowa also forged a distinctive military and political Civil War legacy richly deserving of wider appreciation. Baker's case is difficult to dispute.

Though Iowa's Civil War volunteers were not much different than their comrades from other northern states in that their primary enlistment motivation was to punish the secessionists and preserve the Union, their state's shared border with Missouri and Nebraska meant that Iowans had a front row seat to the mid-1850s Kansas violence that radicalized the slavery politics of many U.S. citizens. While the broad overview nature of Baker's book also meant that the author could not explore Iowa's prewar role as a haven for escaped slaves and its connections with abolitionist militants in as much depth as, for example, Lowell Soike's recent study Busy in the Cause: Iowa, the Free-State Struggle in the West, and the Prelude to the Civil War (2014) did, The Sacred Cause of Union does touch upon those and other antebellum antislavery actions as early signs pointing toward a rapid Republican ascendancy in state politics during the war.

The book documents at some length the Hawkeye State's enthusiastic and full response to the federal government's constant and insistent calls for army volunteers. Even though non-urbanized frontier states like Iowa did not possess a superabundance of labor, young men needed on their family farms nevertheless flocked to the army in 1861 (during both the initial 90-day and later 3-year enlistment waves). The state quotas of nearly every War Department manpower levy from 1862 onward also tended to be quickly filled in Iowa. Conscription was unpopular throughout the North, and Iowa was fortunate that its sustained volunteering meant that, when federal demands finally exceeded supply in 1864, only a few men needed to be drafted. According to Baker, Iowa was remarkable for its peaceful bipartisan acceptance of federal draft policy, a pacific stance in marked contrast to the violent reactions to conscription that occurred in New York City or in the timber counties of western Pennsylvania. The author credits much of the lack of civil unrest to the state's Peace Democrats for not organizing opposition to conscription, though his case is weakened by a statement later in the book that two draft officials were killed in one county. How isolated that type of incident truly was is not examined further.

The lion's share of credit for successfully creating and sustaining the massive Union volunteer army that won the Civil War has generally gone to the Lincoln administration, but there is a growing literature that seeks to better appreciate the work of the states. It was the North's immense good fortune to possess a group of extremely talented state governors whose dedication to winning the war matched that of the nation's chief executive. While Iowa governor Samuel Kirkwood is not often placed in the same meritorious category occupied by fellow Republican state chief executives Oliver Morton, Richard Yates, John Andrew, Andrew Curtin, and others, Baker effectively argues in the book that Kirkwood should rank among the best of the North's war governors.

How "radical" Iowa became during the Civil War is one of the book's major themes. The study's survey of Iowa political trends seems to indicate that the war radicalized the Hawkeye electorate much more quickly and widely than it did the voters of other western states (though the author is careful not to overstate the matter). In contrast with other states across the West, the triumvirate of war weariness, conscription, and emancipation did not significantly revitalize the Democratic political opposition in Iowa. When Republican majorities suffered crushing losses across the nation during the fall midterm elections in 1862, all six Iowa congressional races went against the Democrats. However, as Baker takes great pains to show, that isn't to say that pro-emancipation Iowans suddenly became friendly to the presence of black refugees in their communities or warmed to the idea of granting ex-slaves voting rights and the full privileges of citizenship. Those changes would come later in the decade after a series of political advances and retreats.

Much of the book is comprised of a thorough and often fascinating (and even sometimes surprising) accounting of the specific contributions of Iowa regiments to the many campaigns fought in the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters. Baker appropriately grants Iowa regiments a great deal of credit for securing Missouri in 1861-62, a vital job which needed to be done before any Union advances into the Confederate heartland could be contemplated. The narrative can be a bit over congratulatory at times and rating the contributions of single states among massive combined efforts is surely almost hopelessly subjective, but Baker does very compellingly document the uncanny knack that so many Iowa officers and regiments had for being at the right place at the right time during many pivotal battles. His point that Crocker's Iowa Brigade deserves wider recognition as one of the best Union fighting brigades is similarly forceful.

As a way to represent the human range of the Iowa Civil War experience on a more intimate level, Baker selected six individuals [Cyrus Carpenter, Ferdinand Dunham, Charles Musser, Simeon Stevens, Alexander Clark, and Annie Wittenmyer] from different parts of the state to follow throughout the book. It is a mostly fruitful exercise, though the soldiers in the group rather blend together over time and their writings seem a bit underutilized in the military narrative. For the sake of greater diversity, it might also have been more interesting to have included a Peace Democrat in the group. Of the six, Wittenmyer and Clark stand out the most. Wittenmyer was a prominent aid society organizer who tirelessly worked to provide Iowa soldiers with food, clothing, supplies, and medicine, all the while fighting powerful internal and external forces that sought to abolish state organizations by merging them with the United State Sanitary Commission. Clark was a successful black businessman who became a leading advocate in the state for African American army enlistment and civil rights.

Thomas Baker's The Sacred Cause of Union admirably addresses the literature's longstanding need for a general study of Iowa's involvement in the Civil War. It is a fine survey history of the military and home front contributions of Iowa citizens to victory, exposing as well the many momentous political and social changes wrought by the conflict. Recommended.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Ordered West

It seems like it's been a long while since an edited letter collection/diary/memoir written by a soldier that fought in the Desert Southwest during the Civil War has been published. An upcoming volume from University of North Texas Press, Ordered West: The Civil War Exploits of Charles A. Curtis (June, 2017), sounds very interesting. Curtis served in New Mexico and Arizona, and his wartime experiences between 1862 and 1865 were recounted at length in a memoir originally published as a newspaper serial.

From the description:
"In addition to his keen observations of daily life as a soldier serving in the American Southwest, Curtis’s reminiscences include extensive descriptions of Arizona and New Mexico and detail his encounters with Indians, notable military figures, eccentrics, and other characters from the Old West. Among these many stories readers will find Curtis’s accounts of meeting Kit Carson, the construction of Fort Whipple, and expeditions against the Navajo and Apache."

"In Ordered West, editors Alan D. Gaff and Donald H. Gaff have pulled together the pieces of Curtis’s story and assembled them into a single narrative. Annotated with footnotes identifying people, places, and events, the text is lavishly illustrated throughout with pictures of key figures and maps. A detailed biographical overview of Curtis and how his story came to print is also included."
The book will apparently run over 700 pages so the description of Curtis's writing as "extensive" might be an understatement.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Stahr on Stanton

Next summer, Simon & Schuster will publish Walter Stahr's Stanton: Lincoln's Staunch Secretary of War (August, '17). The author's Seward biography was well received (I think), and in Stanton he takes on a much more controversial figure from the Lincoln cabinet. The author certainly well recognizes the man's hotly disputed legacy — from the description: "Of the crucial men close to President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814–1869) was the most powerful and controversial. Stanton raised, armed, and supervised the army of a million men who won the Civil War. He organized the war effort. He directed military movements from his telegraph office, where Lincoln literally hung out with him. He arrested and imprisoned thousands for “war crimes,” such as resisting the draft or calling for an armistice. Stanton was so controversial that some accused him at that time of complicity in Lincoln’s assassination. He was a stubborn genius who was both reviled and revered in his time." — but one can probably safely assume that Stahr's assessment of Stanton's actions will be much more sympathetic as a whole than William Marvel's in Lincoln's Autocrat: The Life of Edwin Stanton (2015).

Speaking of Marvel's book, the marketing copy writer assigned to Stanton who dreamed up the following arresting passage for the description — "Walter Stahr’s essential book is the first major biography of Stanton in fifty years" — apparently wants to wish away the very existence of the competition. A full scholarly biography written by a well-known author and published by one of the field's top university presses is clearly impossible to miss without deliberately doing so.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Booknotes: Independence or Annihilation

New Arrival:
Independence or Annihilation: Campaigns of the 60th Virginia Infantry Regiment
by William L. Caynor Sr. (Civil War Collectibles, 2016).

The title "Independence or Annihilation" refers to the motto of the 60th Virginia, which was formed in western Virginia in 1861 and became part of the Wise Legion. Before the publication of William Caynor's book, the only reasonably complete 60th Va unit study was John L. Scott's 1997 contribution to the H.E. Howard series of Virginia regimental roster histories.

The 60th fought in the Kanawha Valley in 1861 and in the Peninsula and 2nd Bull Run campaigns of 1862 before returning to the mountains of western (soon to be West) Virginia. The regiment participated in the Battle of Cloyd's Mountain in 1864 and subsequently joined Jubal Early's army in the Shenandoah, where it battled Union forces in a long string of engagements there. The 60th's last major fight was at Waynesboro in March 1865.

In the book, the introductory chapters and the regimental organization and service history narrative together run around 250 pages, much of the last written in a format akin to a daily unit diary. Photos and illustrations are abundantly sprinkled throughout the volume. Presented after the unit history are numerous tables and appendix discussions on a great variety of related topics. The author visited a number of archives during his research, but what really stands out in the bibliography is the exceptional number of newspaper resources that Caynor examined.

Caynor's 2,011-man roster, which includes officers & staff and takes up roughly 300 of the book's 735 total pages, contains much in the way of service record details. The author also discovered 113 additional soldiers absent from Scott's 1997 roster. The roster is indexed, as well.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Civil War Logistics

There are many monographs floating around that analyze Civil War logistics as applied to specific campaigns, but I can't recall (at least at the moment) an existing standard work that broadly addresses the topic in scholarly fashion. Now it appears that Earl Hess will give it a go next September with Civil War Logistics: A Study of Military Transportation (LSU). Beyond his rare ability to produce top-notch scholarship at a nearly unbelievable pace, Earl Hess's body of work also appeals as a great mix of the familiar and the unique. A logistics study certainly shades toward the latter group. I am looking forward to reading it. LSU Press is really on a roll lately.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Review of Lowry - "THE BATTLE OF CHARLESTON AND THE 1862 KANAWHA VALLEY CAMPAIGN"

[The Battle of Charleston and the 1862 Kanawha Valley Campaign by Terry Lowry (35th Star Publishing, 2016). 8 1/2" x 11" hardcover, 11 maps, 332 photos & illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:416/492. ISBN:9780966453485. $34.95]

Occurring simultaneously with renowned 1862 Confederate grand offensives into Kentucky and Maryland (and dwarfed in size by both), it is no great surprise that the 1862 Kanawha Valley Campaign remains virtually unknown to the general interest Civil War reader. Until now, the operation has lacked a competent standalone campaign history of any length1 and has been only lightly addressed within wider studies. Stepping into this void, and filling it to the brim, is Terry Lowry's The Battle of Charleston and the 1862 Kanawha Valley Campaign, a sweeping and utterly exhaustive examination of the topic. Lowry is one of a very small group of authors specializing in Civil War West(ern) Virginia military history. Among his many works is an excellent study of the Union conquest of the Kanawha Valley in early 18612, making Lowry a natural candidate for examining the next major phase of the Civil War struggle for control of the strategic valley.

To briefly summarize, in early September 1862 the Confederate Army of Southwest Virginia, consisting of roughly 5,000 men (the figure is the subject of some debate3) under General W.W. Loring organized into three and sometimes four brigades, launched an offensive north from the Narrows of New River. The goal was to eject occupying Union forces entirely from the Kanawha River Valley and reestablish Confederate control over the resources and manpower of the area. Loring's Union Army opponent was Colonel Joseph A.J. Lightburn, whose District of the Kanawha troop numbers were similar in size to Loring's own. However, whereas Loring's force was concentrated, the federal troops of the district were scattered all over the valley performing garrison duty. Union attention was also diverted from Loring's impending advance by a summer mounted raid conducted far to the rear by Confederate cavalry general Albert Gallatin Jenkins.

The campaign's first major encounter occurred on September 10 at Fayetteville, where Loring attacked a series of detached Union fortifications surrounding the town. The Union defenders, ably led by Colonel Edward Siber, held their position and later escaped during the night. Gathering in forces from the surrounding countryside as they retreated, the Federals split into two groups after the September 11 skirmish at Montgomery's Ferry (near Gauley Bridge). With Union forces traveling down both banks of the Kanawha River, the pursuing Confederates likewise divided. They soon caught up with Lightburn's united command at Charleston. On the 13th, Loring's men drove the federals through the town and forced them to continue their retreat, which didn't end until the Ohio River itself was reached at Point Pleasant.

Upon conclusion of this dramatic week-long offensive, the Confederates occupied the valley for six weeks, securing an enormous quantity of precious salt but few recruits. Rapidly reinforced to perhaps 20,000 men (including the tattered division of General George W. Morgan that had just completed a truly epic escape from Cumberland Gap), the Union forces in the Kanawha, led by freshly returned General Jacob Cox (the valley's original conqueror), turned the tables on the Confederates and drove them from the valley for the final time. Loring actually began his retreat before the federal counter-offensive even started, an unauthorized action for which he was sacked in favor of General John Echols. Echols promptly reversed course and returned to Charleston only to evacuate the entire valley soon after. No significant battle was fought during Cox's successful and almost bloodless October-November operation.

All of the events described above are meticulously recounted in the book. The word exhaustive is a common descriptor attached to historical works that are merely detailed, but, if anything, the term is an understatement when applied to this book. Physically, the volume is fairly massive, with the manuscript comprised of nearly 500 text-heavy pages presented in oversized 8.5" x 11" format. Integrated into every page are innumerable firsthand accounts written by civilian observers and military participants of all ranks. The book is first and foremost a campaign history, but a great deal of attention is devoted to the affects of the fighting (both conventional and irregular) on civilian lives, property, and commerce. Though casualties were minimal, the initial phase of the campaign (Loring's advance and Lightburn's retreat) was quite destructive. Much of Charleston was burned during the federal withdrawal from the town, and the fine suspension bridge over the Elk River demolished. As mentioned before, the valley had coveted economic value, and the Confederate occupation put salt production and transportation of the commodity back to friendly lines in high gear.

The study begins with a very thorough examination of the officer corps and campaign order of battle for both sides. The background history of each regiment's Civil War service up to September 1862 is discussed at some length, and capsules biographies are offered for seemingly every field grade and general officer in either army. A full account of the August-September cavalry raid conducted by Jenkins that preceded Loring's advance is delivered, as well. Events large and small are duly described in the book on a daily basis between September 6 and November 20, with even the most minute peripheral actions diligently studied.

The tactical treatments of the main battles at Fayetteville and Charleston (as well as several smaller skirmishes at Cotton Hill, Montgomery's Ferry, and elsewhere) are well executed. Discussions of the campaign's military geography are informative, and the battlefield actions of each regiment and battery are generally made clear. It's a testament to the thoroughness of the narrative that visualizing the course of each skirmish and battle is not difficult. However, a set of  tactical maps originally designed to accompany the text (especially for the chapters on Fayetteville and Charleston) would have been immensely helpful. The campaign and battle drawings actually included in the book are rough schematic affairs with very limited features. It is much regretted that so much fine work went into the making of the book only for a critical element like maps to fall short of the high standards displayed elsewhere. The lack of an index is another source of complaint.

Lowry's command evaluations seem well justified. Lightburn was much faulted at the time for what was considered an overly precipitate withdrawal, but his command suffered few casualties in the process and arrived at the Ohio River with both its combat effectiveness and its 700-wagon supply train almost entirely intact. These would be important factors in determining how quickly a Union counteroffensive could be launched. Loring's unspectacular performance was typical of his Civil War career as a whole, but he achieved his primary goal of reoccupying the Kanawaha Valley, all at a relatively small cost in men. If the enemy escaped largely unscathed and the occupation proved only short lived, the Confederate operation nevertheless did make a significant contribution to the war effort by acquiring vast quantities of invaluable salt. Expectations up the chain of command that Loring might advance north against Union railroads or act in support of Robert E. Lee's western flank were completely unrealistic given the Kanawha army's small numbers and logistical limitations.

One of the book's most impressive features is its collection of more than 300 photographs (which range from modern photos to rare archival images) and other illustrations related to the Kanawha Campaign. Lowry also usefully compiled a casualty appendix that significantly revises the official loss numbers, which have been deemed too low by the author.

Among Terry Lowry's many fine contributions to the historiography of the Civil War in West(ern) Virginia, The Battle of Charleston and the 1862 Kanawha Valley Campaign makes by far the fewest concessions to popular history. The casual reader might easily be overwhelmed by the depth involved, but others will revel in the historical micro-details present in the book's expansive combination of full-scale campaign narrative and encyclopedic officer and unit reference guide. The first of its kind and exceeding expectations in many ways, this study will very likely remain the standard treatment of the campaign long into the foreseeable future.


Notes:
1 - This may not be entirely true. In comparing views on a number of matters, Lowry cites an obscure self-published book, Kanawha Valley Campaign of 1862 or West Virginia History Lost and Found (2012), by Joseph A.J. Lightburn descendant Frances Lightburn Cressman. Not being aware of its existence prior to reading Lowry's book, the quality and extent of Cressman's work is unknown to me.
2 - The Battle of Scary Creek: Military Operations in the Kanawha Valley, April-July 1861 (1998, 2nd edition).
3 - That is the official figure, but some have suggested Loring might have actually commanded upwards of twice that number, though that seems unlikely given the established order of battle.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Booknotes: John McDonald and the Whiskey Ring

New Arrival:
John McDonald and the Whiskey Ring: From Thug to Grant's Inner Circle by Edward S. Cooper (Rowman & Littlefield Univ Press Copublishing Division / Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Pr, 2016).

I anticipated that December was going to be a slow month for new releases, but by the midpoint I was expecting to see more than a grand total of two arrivals in the mail. This one was the first.

I reviewed one of Cooper's books before on the site, it being a pretty good small unit history of Company A, 41st Ohio. His new work explores the black career of John McDonald, who, according to Cooper, was the ringleader of the infamous Whiskey Ring that scandalized the Grant Administration. Apparently, he had an early career as a shady riverfront tough. As major of the 8th Missouri, McDonald early in the war fought with distinction in SE Missouri and during the Fort Donelson Campaign. Court-martialed after a fit of insubordinate rage, McDonald resigned his commission and redirected his efforts to war profiteering in Memphis, where he also used his insider status to sell draft exemptions.

After the Civil War, from the Grant Administration he received a patronage post of Supervisor of Internal Revenue, through which he conspired with distillers to defraud the federal government out of millions of dollars of alcohol tax revenues. What a guy. From the description: "McDonald organized and ran the Whiskey Ring but he always credited Grant with the initiation of the Ring declaring that the president “actually stood god-father at its christening.” The demise of the Ring rivals anything that the real or fictional Elliot Ness and his “Untouchables” ever accomplished during the prohibition era in America."

Monday, December 12, 2016

Gordon Rhea's "On to Petersburg" (at last)

Finally, some solid information about Gordon Rhea's long-awaited fifth and final volume of his acclaimed Overland Campaign series. LSU Press is scheduled to release On to Petersburg: Grant and Lee, June 4-15, 1864 in August of 2017. From the description: "...Rhea concludes his series with a comprehensive account of the last twelve days of the campaign, which concluded with the beginning of the siege of Petersburg. Like the four volumes that preceded it, On to Petersburg represents decades of research and scholarship and will stand as the most authoritative history of the final battles in the campaign." I'm sure many people acquainted with the author already knew this was happening, but it's news to me. By a wide margin, this is the upcoming title that I get asked about more than any other.

Tejano Tiger

Back in 2011, The Texas Biography Series from TCU Press published the award-winning Fighting Stock: John S. "Rip" Ford of Texas by Richard McCaslin. It's a fine account of the life and Civil War military career of the well-known Confederate officer. The series will soon be revisiting the Civil War era with Jerry Thompson's Tejano Tiger: Jose de los Santos Benavides and the Texas-Mexico Borderlands, 1823-1891 (March 2017). Thompson spent much of his professional career researching and writing about the antebellum and Civil War years along the South Texas border with Mexico, and is arguably the preeminent scholar of the Hispanic Civil War military experience. Thus, he's more than well suited to provide us with a much needed Benavides biography. According to the book description, Benavides owed much of his future public prominence to his uncle, Basilio Benavides, who was a Texas mayor, judge, and state lawmaker. "It was under the Confederacy in the disputed Texas-Mexico borderlands that Santos Benavides reached the pinnacle of his military career as the highest-ranking Tejano in the entire Confederate army. In the decades that followed the Civil War, he became an esteemed political leader, highly respected on both sides of the border. This is the first scholarly study of this important historical figure."

Friday, December 9, 2016

Review of Hutchison - "ARTIFACTS OF THE BATTLE OF LITTLE BIG HORN: Custer, the 7th Cavalry & the Lakota and Cheyenne Warriors"

[Artifacts of the Battle of Little Big Horn: Custer, the 7th Cavalry & the Lakota and Cheyenne Warriors by Will Hutchison (Schiffer, 2016). 9"x12" hardcover, 355 color images. 224 pp. ISBN:9780764351471. $49.95]

Artifacts of the Battle of Little Big Horn is an engrossing photographic study of personal items owned and used by battle participants from both sides. Some objects were present during the actual battle, and others are associated either with the earlier military lives of slain men or the later service of survivors. These artifacts and the stories behind their possession and use before, during, and after the famous 1876 campaign valuably inform our understanding of the material cultures of post-Civil War U.S. frontier cavalrymen, as well as their Lakota and Cheyenne opponents.

Accompanying the photographic images in the book are a trio of brief narratives from author Will Hutchison. The first is a general overview of the Little Big Horn campaign and battle. The other two introduce the book's remaining pair of chapters, which are separately devoted to the 7th Cavalry and Lakota-Cheyenne artifacts. Among other themes, the chapter introductions briefly discuss contrasting U.S. and Northern Plains Indian military cultures and the uniforms/clothing, weapons, and accoutrements typically used by the troopers and braves.

What becomes immediately apparent to the reader is the book's rather significant imbalance in artifact distribution. While it probably goes without saying that cavalry-related objects would have a higher likelihood of surviving the passage of time, other factors were involved in creating the wide disparity. According to Hutchison, while collectors of historical trooper and Indian items both could be quite guarded about access, tribal owners were especially reticent when it came to divulging information and were much less willing to grant permission to photograph artifacts from their heritage. Also, objects disputed under the nebulous umbrella of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, of which there are many, apparently cannot be photographed for publication until claims upon them are fully resolved. It should also be mentioned that 60% of the images in the book were photographed by Hutchison (who concentrated his own efforts on the major collections) in person, and the rest were obtained from other sources.

The artifact photographs, 355 by official count, are marvelously crisp, high-resolution color images. These are reproduced in the book on heavy, high-gloss paper in an oversize 9"x12" format, exposing all the fine details of each object. For the cavalry, we see photos of coats, uniforms, headgear, buttons, shirts, guns, ammunition, swords, knives, military accoutrements, flags, medals, and personal items of all kinds. For the Lakota and Cheyenne, we also find images of bows and arrows, headdresses, moccasins, tomahawks, war clubs, battle art, beaded clothing and objects, vests, shields, lances, and coup sticks. When applicable, a photograph (if one exists) and capsule biography of the item owner is included at the top left corner of the page.

The photo captions are informative. Varying in length between a few sentences and several long paragraphs, they generally describe the artifact's physical properties, history, provenance (including points of dispute), and current location. They also frequently contain interesting personal anecdotes related to the item.

A significant number of Little Big Horn books of assorted merit are published each year, but Hutchison's impressive photographic compendium of artifacts directly related to the men that fought in the battle possesses one-of-a-kind qualities that should greatly appeal to scholars and enthusiasts alike. Readers with a more general interest in the material culture of the Northern Plains Indian Wars should also find Artifacts of the Battle of Little Big Horn to be a more than worthwhile addition to their own collections.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Booknotes: A More Civil War

New Arrival:
A More Civil War: How the Union Waged a Just War
by D.H. Dilbeck (UNC Press, 2016).

"In this innovative book, D. H. Dilbeck reveals how the Union sought to wage a just war against the Confederacy. He shows that northerners fought according to a distinct "moral vision of war," an array of ideas about the nature of a truly just and humane military effort. Dilbeck tells how Union commanders crafted rules of conduct to ensure their soldiers defeated the Confederacy as swiftly as possible while also limiting the total destruction unleashed by the fighting. Dilbeck explores how Union soldiers abided by official just-war policies as they battled guerrillas, occupied cities, retaliated against enemy soldiers, and came into contact with Confederate civilians." Dilbeck is far from the first person to make these arguments, and it will be interesting to see what his slim volume might add to the conversation. I haven't had a chance to look through any of it yet. In general, those that write books and articles along this vein tend to do a fine job of context and analysis when it comes to official policy and intent, but I have been less impressed with most regarding interpretation of actual ground-level implementation.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Booknotes: The Sharpshooters

New Arrival:
The Sharpshooters: A History of the Ninth New Jersey Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War by Edward G. Longacre (Potomac, 2016).

"Recruited as sharpshooters and clothed in distinctive uniforms with green trim, the hand-picked regiment of the Ninth New Jersey Volunteer Infantry was renowned and admired far and wide. The only New Jersey regiment to reenlist for the duration of the Civil War at the close of its initial three-year term, the Ninth saw action in forty-two battles and engagements across three states." With the 9th spending much of its service in North Carolina, this is a refreshing diversion from the typical Army of the Potomac experience of a northeastern state regiment fighting in the Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania string of battles. The bibliography reveals a substantial amount of archival research. There's also a unit roster. "Recruited largely from socially conservative cities and villages in northern and central New Jersey, the Ninth Volunteer Infantry consisted of men with widely differing opinions about the Union and their enemy. Edward G. Longacre unearths these complicated political and social views, tracing the history of this esteemed regiment before, during, and after the war—from recruitment at Camp Olden to final operations in North Carolina."

Monday, December 5, 2016

Review of Revels - "FLORIDA'S CIVIL WAR: Terrible Sacrifices"

[Florida's Civil War: Terrible Sacrifices by Tracy J. Revels (Mercer University Press, 2016). Hardcover, map, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:187/210. ISBN:978-0-88146-589-1. $29]

Florida's Civil War by Tracy Revels is the second volume in Mercer University Press's State Narratives of Civil War series. That new initiative apparently looks to provide a wide range of readers with relatively brief but comprehensive state home front histories. It's a laudable goal, and one that is well achieved by the series contribution of Revels. In less than two hundred pages of scholarly synthesis, she manages to thoroughly survey the military, social, political, and economic facets of Florida's Civil War experience.

Though the third Deep South state to declare independence, Florida had real and potential social divisions not represented in the secession convention and that did not bode well for unity during a long and destructive Civil War. Confederate support was strongest in Middle Florida, the most populous section as well as the one with the highest imprint of plantation style agriculture. In many cases, coastal cities had strong commercial ties with the North and significant northern-born populations to go along with those connections. In terms of executive power, the Confederacy was very fortunate in having a Florida governor (John Milton) who was a strong nationalist. Though Milton heatedly protested Richmond's constant and unrealistic dictates, the governor eventually acquiesced to every national demand made upon his state, even when those most draconian Davis administration policies and decisions rendered Florida almost entirely defenseless for much of the war.

Obviously a volume of this size cannot exhaustively cite, let alone discuss, the entire panorama of military events that occurred on Florida soil during the Civil War. Nevertheless, Revels does a fine job of singling out the most consequential campaigns and battles (ex. the early war standoff at Pensacola/Fort Pickens, the Union combined operations on the Atlantic side of the state that seized key points such as Fernandina and Jacksonville, and the Battle of Olustee) for relatively in-depth coverage. The author also effectively samples raids, guerrilla actions, and other smaller scale military operations representative of the more common statewide experience. Revels is clearly well cognizant of current trends in Civil War military scholarship, as her exploration of Florida's 'inner war' is no less well developed than her conventional war treatment. As the war dragged on, enough Unionists and disaffected Confederates were found to form federal units like the 2nd Florida Cavalry for operations within the state. Confederate guerrilla bands also coalesced to oppose enemy inroads and suppress dissent, and unique state units like the fabled "Cow Cavalry" were organized to protect South Florida's vital cattle herds from internal and external disruption.

Revels has spent a good portion of her professional career studying the women of Civil War Florida, and her findings are encapsulated in the new volume. Many features of the Florida wartime experience are common to the ladies of other Confederate states. As elsewhere, Florida women were very visible and vocal in their popular support of independence, and they also broadly supported the war effort with home industry (i.e. sewed flags, made uniforms, etc.) and nursing care. While the general tumult surrounding secession and Civil War eroded many of antebellum southern society's traditional barriers to female expression, Revels finds that the frontier culture of Florida further loosened gendered boundaries of behavior. So Florida's women freely engaged in public political speech, attended the secession convention in person, wrote newspaper editorials, published broadsides, and spearheaded "aggressive" fund raising. Though the war dramatically increased their domestic challenges, women living in isolated South Florida were already used to providing for their families and conducting business during long spouse absences, so for many of these individuals the general adjustment proved somewhat less traumatic. As the book shows, pro-Union women had their own set of problems, not the least of which involved guerrilla threats and the possibility of sudden, life-altering exile.

Though slave life was as harsh and dehumanizing in Florida as it was elsewhere, the author notes that the frontier necessity of white owners working intimately alongside slaves and the great distances involved between neighboring homesteads and settlements necessitated more than typical trust levels from the master and more independent movement granted the slave. Slavery's somewhat atypical situation in underdeveloped and underpopulated Florida also tended to erase gendered norms when it came to slave work, so female slaves in Florida were expected to labor alongside male slaves in the performance of the most physically demanding tasks like forest clearing and canal digging. Late in the war, as coercive means of control crumbled in Florida like they did elsewhere in the Confederacy, slaves in large numbers escaped bondage and made for the protection of Union held coastal enclaves or passing naval vessels. Around 1,000 of these ex-slaves joined the U.S. Army. The existence of contraband camps is briefly mentioned, but the book does not examine the workings of any specific facility.

In addition to its manpower, Florida held great economic value to the Confederacy, and that aspect of the state's contribution to the war effort is particularly well developed in the book. While hopes for niter production were dashed early on, Florida became a prime supplier of salt and beef, especially during the last half of the war. Revels describes well the wartime scale of Gulf Coast salt production and how the lucrative, but simple and portable, nature of the industry evaded the Union Navy's determined efforts to destroy it. When other beef sources for the Confederacy's eastern and western armies dried up by the war's midpoint, Florida was looked to to supply the military's needs. While the sheer distances involved and the primitive transportation infrastructure rendered hoped for requisition numbers flights of fancy, roughly 75,000 head of cattle eventually made it to Confederate quartermasters. This number might have been increased, but internal corruption and Union military interference hampered the transfer of herds from South Florida, and the Confederate government waited too long to approve the conscription-exempt Cow Cavalry until it was too late to make a major difference.

As is common with historical survey books of this type, the published literature is the bedrock source material for Florida's Civil War. It is difficult to quibble with the author's general approach to sources, but at times Revels does perhaps unfairly privilege dated scholarly publications over much more modern, and arguably better, works from non-professional historians of Civil War Florida (the relatively recent Marianna and Natural Bridge studies authored by Dale Cox come to mind). That said, the assemblage of scholarly books and articles noted in the bibliography is nicely supplemented by targeted archival and newspaper research. As a final note of minor criticism, the book really could have used a better state map, with the one included barely readable.

For readers seeking to quickly absorb the full spectrum of Florida's Civil War experience, this volume is a great option, perhaps the very best available. Valuable on its own merits, Florida's Civil War should also serve as a fine model for the rest of the series authors to follow.


Click HERE for more links to CWBA reviews of Mercer UP titles

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Easy (and free) way for you to support the site

With the Christmas holiday shopping season in full swing, I wanted to mention on last time a way for you the reader to support the site in a way that is both free for you and helps me greatly. By purchasing your books, gifts, or anything else through the Amazon links and search portals on my site (or just click on the *Support the Site* tab and use the search box there), a small percentage of the total purchase price goes directly back to CWBA in the form of a referral fee.

As always, a big thank you to everyone who participates. Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Various things

Yesterday, Richmond National Battlefield volunteer Doug Crenshaw wrote a nice post on Emerging Civil War summing up the enigmas and problems surrounding John B. Magruder, Robert E. Lee, and the Confederate frontal attack launched on Malvern Hill (to read it, go HERE). I've already mentioned Crenshaw's upcoming Glendale study, but the piece referred to above also notes that Crenshaw will be contributing Peninsula and Seven Days titles to the ECW series. Though I've read and reviewed some of the volumes for the site, most ECW topics have been outside my areas of interest up to this point. This seems to be changing as the expanding crew there continues (slowly but surely) to broaden their horizons beyond already lavishly covered eastern theater events.

A source I often encounter in my Civil War in Indian Territory readings is Jason T. Harris's thesis Combat, Supply, and the Influence of Logistics During the Civil War in Indian Territory (2008). Before now, I'd only been able to access pieces of it, but it is now available in its entirety as a PDF download from the University of Central Oklahoma website [to get it, click HERE]. The thesis broadly covers the territory's military campaigns, with emphasis on those facets of warfare indicated by the title, but it also provides a useful historiographical review. I haven't had the chance to read the document in its entirety, but, if nothing else, I would highly recommend taking a look at the literature evaluation section at the beginning.

Ironclad Publishing had a relatively short life, but they published a string of very fine books. One of the best was Mark Smith and Wade Sokolosky's "No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar": Sherman's Carolinas Campaign from Fayetteville to Averasboro, March 1865, which is being re-released by Savas Beatie. The publisher's December newsletter announced that the title is now at the printer, so we should expect it sometime early in 2017. Greg Michno's The Three Battles of Sand Creek: The Cheyenne Massacre in Blood, in Court, and as the End of History will be on the same boat.

Still no word on whether a print version of Charles D. Collins Jr.'s Battlefield Atlas of Price's Missouri Expedition of 1864 is in the offing. My email inquiry to the powers that be was deemed unworthy of reply.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Booknotes: The Union Sixth Corps in the Shenandoah Valley

New Arrival:
The Union Sixth Corps in the Shenandoah Valley, June-October 1864
by Jack Lepa (McFarland, 2016).

Lepa's book is a short history of the final campaign in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864, when Union general Philip Sheridan's heavily reinforced Army of the Shenandoah crushed Jubal Early's much smaller Confederate command in a series of battles that finally closed the book on Confederate side offensives in the eastern theater. As the title states, the focus is on General Horatio G. Wright's Sixth Corps (the veteran heart of Sheridan's army), and the book follows the unit through the Third Winchester, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek battles. "Following victories at Winchester and Fisher's Hill the Sixth Corps campaign culminated with a remarkable stand that stopped the attacking enemy and turned what began as a disastrous defeat into a spectacular victory at Cedar Creek."