Saturday, February 18, 2017

Chernow's Grant

Back in January 2016, I posted a brief note acknowledging a pair of upcoming major Grant biographies from a pair of Rons.

Ronald White's American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant was duly published in the fall of last year. I borrowed a copy from the local library and selectively read the chapters covering Grant's early life and also the Civil War years. I don't know if I should have expected much more from a popular biography, but I was disappointed enough with the war period coverage, which I found too safely conventional and critically underengaged, to not go any further with it.

Ron Chernow's tersely titled Grant will also be published by trade press giant Penguin Random House. Follow the link for details. It looks like a mid-October 2017 release. At nearly 1,000 total pages, it's an even heavier door stopper than White's biography. Aimed at grabbing the attention of the widest possible reading audience and (of course) selling copies, book descriptions are often breathlessly celebratory in tone, but the person who penned this one was in rare form!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Booknotes: The Loyal West

New Arrival:
The Loyal West: Civil War and Reunion in Middle America
by Matthew E. Stanley (Univ of Ill Pr, 2017).

Stanley was a graduate student under Christopher Phillips at University of Cincinnati, and it's easy to see the influence of his mentor. Regular readers will recall how much I gushed last year over The Rivers Ran Backward: The Civil War and the Remaking of the American Middle Border, and Stanley's cultural interests here with the lower counties of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio (what he calls the "Lower Middle West") overlap with Phillips's.

From the description: "Here grew a Unionism steeped in the mythology of the Loyal West—a myth rooted in regional and racial animosities and the belief that westerners had won the war. Matthew E. Stanley's intimate study explores the Civil War, Reconstruction, and sectional reunion in this bellwether region. Using the lives of area soldiers and officers as a lens, Stanley reveals a place and a strain of collective memory that was anti-rebel, anti-eastern, and anti-black in its attitudes—one that came to be at the forefront of the northern retreat from Reconstruction and toward white reunion. The Lower Middle West's embrace of black exclusion laws, origination of the Copperhead movement, backlash against liberalizing war measures, and rejection of Reconstruction were all pivotal to broader American politics."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Dimitri is back

and, after a 14-month absence, he's still slinging zings.

Here, here, and here.

Welcome back!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review of Smith & Sokolosky - "'NO SUCH ARMY SINCE THE DAYS OF JULIUS CAESAR': Sherman's Carolinas Campaign from Fayetteville to Averasboro, March 1865"

["No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar": Sherman's Carolinas Campaign from Fayetteville to Averasboro, March 1865 *revised and updated edition* by Mark A. Smith & Wade Sokolosky (Savas Beatie, 2017). Hardcover, 19 maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:165/247. ISBN:978-1-61121-286-0. $29.95]

It wasn't that long ago that the cupboard was nearly bare when it came to the 1865 Carolinas Campaign. For decades, the main resource remained John Barrett's classic The Civil War in North Carolina from 1963. Mark Bradley deserves a great deal of credit for bringing the 1865 campaign in the state back out of the shadows. His 1996 book The Battle Of Bentonville: Last Stand In The Carolinas is an excellent campaign and battle study by any measure, and it undoubtedly sparked a wider interest in the final months of the Civil War in North Carolina1.

Since that time, a number of fine studies have been published, and two of the best were authored by retired military officers Mark Smith and Wade Sokolosky2. Back in 2005, the now defunct Ironclad Publishing released their first book “No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar” Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign: from Fayetteville to Averasboro, which was highly praised at the time. A revised and updated edition of this truly original work has just been published by Savas Beatie under the slightly different title "No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar": Sherman's Carolinas Campaign from Fayetteville to Averasboro, March 1865.

As Bradley himself notes in the foreword, the new edition is far more than a straight reprint. Immediately recognized are the content and aesthetic improvements in the cartography. The 19 maps provide detailed views of events from all three levels of war—strategic, operational, and tactical. A new letter transcription and more photographs have also been added. Holdovers in the appendix section include a driving tour (same number of stops, but content presumably updated), orders of battle, discussions of campaign logistics and military hospitals, the Janie Smith letter, and a campaign-related human interest/heirloom story.

The new No Such Army remains a compact narrative. The first two chapters quickly set the stage for the main event, a March 11-16, 1865 running battle of sorts in North Carolina between Fayetteville and Averasboro. During this time, William T. Sherman's army, four corps operating in two wings under Henry Slocum (Left Wing) and O.O. Howard (Right Wing), would feint toward the state capital of Raleigh and move on the Goldsboro rail junction. At Goldsboro, it was hoped that the increasingly ragged federals would meet up with fresh supplies and reinforcements from the coast. On the other side, the hastily assembled Confederate "army" under William J. Hardee, its numbers rapidly dwindling through desertion and march attrition, desperately sought to delay this seemingly unstoppable Union advance. Not knowing Sherman's next target, Hardee was tasked with covering the direct roads to Raleigh and Goldsboro while also buying precious time for Joe Johnston to gather enough men and resources together to strike one of the enemy's isolated wings.

Not wanting to fight Sherman with his back to the Cape Fear River, Hardee only briefly held Fayetteville before again moving north and setting up a triple line of defense in a narrow, swampy strip of land between the Cape Fear and Black rivers. Readers on top of their Revolutionary War reading will immediately see the similarities between Hardee's dispositions and those of Daniel Morgan at Cowpens, though the authors found no evidence that the Confederate battleplan represented a conscious effort at emulating Morgan. The book praises Hardee's skill in selecting the ground and arranging a fortified defense-in-depth as the best means to delay Sherman's Left Wing. The plan's flaws are also noted. Unlike Morgan, Hardee did not inform the leaders commanding the first two lines about when he expected them to withdraw, a serious omission. The Confederates also had too few troops to adequately man even the shortened lines they occupied. Another potentially disastrous drawback, left unmentioned in this case, was the very real possibility of a panicked rout by the less seasoned garrison troops of the first line blocking the field of fire of friendly troops to the rear (like Wagner's Division did at Franklin) and causing a complete, accordion-like collapse of the whole position. Thankfully for the Confederates, the brigades of Rhett and Elliot (especially the former) fought better than expected given their limited experience in the field.

As Slocum's Wing approached Hardee's defenses, its leading divisions dutifully deployed and gradually outflanked the first two lines. However, with the timely afternoon arrival of Joe Wheeler's cavalry on the Confederate right blocking the last Union flanking move, the same indirect approach to success failed to carry the third and final line of defense. The battle concluded when Sherman, feeling his army had already suffered too many casualties, declined to renew the attack. Whether Sherman could have finished off Hardee entirely on the 16th, an action that likely would have fatally compromised Johnston's already miniscule chances of crushing the Union Left Wing, is impossible to know.

According to Smith and Sokolosky, both sides could claim a measure of victory at Averasboro. Hardee's determined stand granted Johnston the time needed to assemble the strike force he would wield to great effect (at least initially) at Bentonville, and the morale boosting performance of the Confederates at Averasboro temporarily stemmed the tide of desertion. On the Union side, Sherman's army inflicted more casualties than it suffered, occupied the battlefield after the Confederates retreated, and had a free path to Goldsboro. 

All of the fighting described above, particularly the events of March 15-16 comprising the Battle of Averasboro, is minutely detailed in the book. In terms of organization, content, clarity, and style, the battle narrative grades high. The study's perceptive analysis of leadership, command, tactics, and terrain is undoubtedly informed by the professional military background of both authors. Maps are attractive, full featured, and plentiful.

The book does suffer from some editorial breakdowns. Numerous typos are scattered about3. In the section describing the mid-morning Union infantry deployments and reinforcements on March 16 at Averasboro, it seems the maps are referred to out of sequence. In addition to misspellings, a few units are incorrectly labeled by the cartographer (examples: on page 99, Ward arriving at the bottom should be Jackson, and on page 117 the text indicates that the 32nd Georgia reinforced the left flank but the map mistakenly labels that unit the 32nd SC).

Those issues aside, the new edition of No Such Army adds to and improves upon the old in more than enough ways to make it well worthy of renewed recommendation. Owners of the previous version will surely want to upgrade. With definitive-level treatments of Averasboro and Wise's Forks under their belts, Smith and Sokolsky have firmly established themselves within the highest echelon of 1865 Carolinas Campaign historians.


Comments:
1 - Historian Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes also published a Bentonville study of his own that very same year. While this book was also well received, it's my opinion that Bradley's is the far superior work of the two.
2 - This one and "To Prepare for Sherman's Coming": The Battle of Wise's Forks, March 1865 (2016).
3 - Personally mortifying is the publisher's dreadfully mangled misquoting of my 2005 magazine review for the Advance Praise blurbs on the rear jacket. The word substitution of "intended" for "interested" renders the comment nonsensical.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Booknotes: Unpopular Sovereignty

New Arrival:
Unpopular Sovereignty: Mormons and the Federal Management of Early Utah Territory by Brent M. Rogers (Univ of Neb Pr, 2017).

When the concept of 'popular sovereignty' is brought up for discussion, surely the first issue and territory that comes to mind for most people is slavery and Kansas (and with good reason).

"In Unpopular Sovereignty, Brent M. Rogers invokes the case of popular sovereignty in Utah as an important contrast to the better-known slavery question in Kansas. Rogers examines the complex relationship between sovereignty and territory along three main lines of inquiry: the implementation of a republican form of government, the administration of Indian policy and Native American affairs, and gender and familial relations—all of which played an important role in the national perception of the Mormons’ ability to self-govern. Utah’s status as a federal territory drew it into larger conversations about popular sovereignty and the expansion of federal power in the West. Ultimately, Rogers argues, managing sovereignty in Utah proved to have explosive and far-reaching consequences for the nation as a whole as it teetered on the brink of disunion and civil war."

Rogers makes the argument that the Utah War and various far-reaching laws passed during the Civil War marked the triumph of federal over local control in the developing West, the result being the creation of an alternative 'national sovereignty.'

Friday, February 10, 2017

Booknotes: Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands, 1861–1867

New Arrival:
Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands, 1861–1867
by Andrew E. Masich (Univ of Okla Press, 2017).

The clash of borders and cultures in the Southwest is an increasingly popular topic in the academic literature, but Masich's book is particularly noteworthy for its concentration on the Civil War era and the broad inclusiveness of its discussion of the Anglo, Hispano, Indian, and Mexican peoples involved. Masich "is the first to analyze these conflicts as interconnected civil wars. Based on previously overlooked Indian Depredation Claim records [ed. an increasing number of scholars are making good use of these] and a wealth of other sources, this book is both a close-up history of the Civil War in the region and an examination of the war-making traditions of its diverse peoples."

Masich contends that in the borderland between the United States and Mexico, "the Civil War played out as a collision between three warrior cultures. Indians, Hispanos, and Anglos brought their own weapons and tactics to the struggle, but they also shared many traditions. Before the war, the three groups engaged one another in cycles of raid and reprisal involving the taking of livestock and human captives, reflecting a peculiar mixture of conflict and interdependence."

When the U.S. Army abandoned the region in 1861, the traditional cycle of violence returned with renewed fury. "Indians fought Indians, Hispanos battled Hispanos, and Anglos vied for control of the Southwest, while each group sought allies in conflicts related only indirectly to the secession crisis. When Union and Confederate forces invaded the Southwest, Anglo soldiers, Hispanos, and sedentary Indian tribes forged alliances that allowed them to collectively wage a relentless war on Apaches, Comanches, and Navajos. Mexico’s civil war and European intervention served only to enlarge the conflict in the borderlands. When the fighting subsided, a new power hierarchy had emerged and relations between the region’s inhabitants, and their nations, forever changed."

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Review of Crenshaw - "THE BATTLE OF GLENDALE: Robert E. Lee's Lost Opportunity"

[The Battle of Glendale: Robert E. Lee's Lost Opportunity by Douglas Crenshaw (Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, 2017). Softcover, 8 maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, name index. Pages main/total:122/173. ISBN:978-1-62619-892-0. $21.99]

The actual number of books specifically devoted to the 1862 Peninsula Campaign is highly discordant with the scale and significance of the event. On the military front, the Civil War Sesquicentennial came and when without any related major contributions. However, with Gaines's Mill and Malvern Hill works supposedly on a path to publication, the dearth of Peninsula and Seven Days battle studies may finally begin to be adequately addressed. So far, the best treatment of the Seven Days period is Brian Burton's Extraordinary Circumstances (2009), its title a clever word play on Robert E. Lee's famous quip "(u)nder ordinary circumstances the Federal Army should have been destroyed." Probable outcomes of the Seven Days series of battles remain debatable to this day (and subject to quite a bit of hyperbole), but an argument can be made that the Union army's most vulnerable moment in the campaign occurred on June 30. The chief clash on that day is the subject of Douglas Crenshaw's The Battle of Glendale: Robert E. Lee's Lost Opportunity.

Crenshaw recounts well the events leading up to the battle from both perspectives. His narrative follows the movements of each of the major converging Confederate columns — those of Jackson, Huger, Magruder, Longstreet-Hill, and Holmes — and describes how each arrived at the front on the 30th in fine position to theoretically inflict a killing blow on a widely strung out Army of the Potomac. Alas, like so many other Civil War operations relying on close coordination and timing along a broad front, this one also utterly failed to achieve the desired result. The many reasons put forth then and later as to why only one Confederate column of less than 20,000 men (the divisions of James Longstreet and A.P. Hill) out of nearly 70,000 available troops launched a full scale attack are given due consideration in the book. These oft mentioned speculations include Stonewall Jackson's physical and mental exhaustion, poor staff work at Lee's HQ, order confusion, and too much dead weight in the Confederate high command (especially in the persons of Holmes and Huger). One might add to the list the Army of Northern Virginia's newness and top to bottom operational inexperience at this early stage in the war. On the Union side are similarly conventional command criticisms, the most important of these being George McClellan's absence from the battlefield and his failure to appoint a temporary overall commander in his stead.

The author's detailed account of the Glendale battle is a well crafted one. The Confederates launched a powerful sequence of assaults, but they were narrow, uncoordinated thrusts with at best only two or three brigades in action simultaneously. Generals of all levels of experience struggled throughout the conflict with division and corps sized tactical offensives, and, perhaps in recognition of this, Crenshaw doesn't unfairly hold Longstreet and Hill's piecemeal attacks on the 30th to a higher standard. As the book shows, rough terrain also played a key role in dissipating the strength of the Confederate onslaught. One of the most memorable parts of Crenshaw's battle narrative is his blow by blow recounting of the back and forth fighting that swirled around the front line Union batteries in the center. This section very vividly evokes the brutality of Civil War close range infantry vs. artillery combat.

The Confederate attack at Glendale landed directly on one of the campaign's most battered units (George McCall's First Corps division of Pennsylvania Reserves). However, unlike their attackers, the Union defenders were able to rely on eager voluntary assistance from both flanks (to the right and left of McCall, the Third Corps divisions of Phil Kearny and Joe Hooker) as well as more distant parts of the long, thin Union line that stretched from White Oak Swamp all the way to Malvern Hill. In this instance, lower level initiative and inter-corps cooperation adequately compensated for the lack of a guiding hand at the top.

Six of the book's eight maps are devoted to the various phases of the brief but violent Glendale battle. Detailed terrain rendering and small scale unit placements and movements are strong features of all of them. There are some occasional odd quirks, though. For example, a few isolated regimental actions described in the narrative are not depicted on any map, and some singular regimental maneuvers shown on the maps are not specifically accounted for in the text.

Crenshaw is level-headed when discussing the 'what-might-have-been' nature of the Glendale battle. To many observers (including, most famously, Lee himself), Glendale represented a golden opportunity to bag the Army of the Potomac. Perhaps with the oft repeated mantra about the near impossibility of destroying major Civil War field armies in mind, the author more soberly views the breaking of McClellan's army into pieces, with very heavy losses to the cut off portions, as a very achievable result. One might argue with sound reasoning that the Army of Northern Virginia was never better positioned to deliver a catastrophic blow to its nemesis, but it could also be maintained with equal force that the unseasoned early-1862 version of Lee's army was the one least prepared to exploit such an opening.

Overall, Crenshaw's book is a far better value than the only other standalone Glendale study (published in 2011), and its battle narrative rivals in quality that of the relevant chapters from Burton's campaign history. In addition to providing a more than satisfactory level of battlefield detail and analysis, The Battle of Glendale also presents a sound contextual understanding of Glendale as a moment of decisive possibility during the Seven Days.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

James Jewell and the Department of the Pacific

James Jewell is one of the few professional historians specializing in the Civil War in the Far West. I conversed with him years ago when he was trying to put together a volume of essays on the topic. Unfortunately, that particular project didn't work out, but he does have two new books in the works. Jewell's doctoral dissertation ("Left Arm of the Republic," 2006) was on the Department of the Pacific, and he is now parlaying that expertise into Little Glory to be Won: The Department of the Pacific and the Civil War in the Far West, which will be published by University of Oklahoma Press.

Jewell is also finishing up On Duty in the Pacific Northwest during the Civil War: Correspondence and Reminiscences of the First Oregon Cavalry Regiment for University of Tennessee Press, presumably for their Voices of the Civil War series. The best single source for the two Oregon volunteer regiments is still a 1960 master's thesis so this book will be a much welcomed.

Neither volume will likely make it to us this year, but both are something to look forward to by those of us interested in this largely untapped part of the Civil War experience.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Booknotes: Lincoln in Indiana

New Arrival:
Lincoln in Indiana by Brian Dirck (SIU Press, 2017).

This is the latest volume from SIUP's ever expanding Concise Lincoln Library series, which has 22 current or upcoming titles. "Abraham Lincoln, born in Kentucky in 1809, moved with his parents, Thomas and Nancy Lincoln, and his older sister, Sarah, to the Pigeon Creek area of southern Indiana in 1816. There Lincoln spent more than a quarter of his life." The source material available for this particular early period of Lincoln's life is the most dubious and fragmentary, nevertheless "Brian R. Dirck’s fascinating account of Lincoln’s boyhood sets what is known about the relationships, values, and environment that fundamentally shaped Lincoln’s character within the context of frontier and farm life in early nineteenth-century midwestern America."

Chapters explore the initial 1816 settlement of the Lincolns in Indiana, their family history, Lincoln's mother and stepmother, Thomas Lincoln and his relationship with his son, Abraham Lincoln's early ambitions and personal traits, and the family's reasons for ultimately leaving the state in 1830. The epilogue then describes the journeys the adult Lincoln made back to Indiana.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Booknotes: Winchester's Three Battles

New Arrival:
Winchester's Three Battles: A Civil War Driving Tour Through Virginia's Most War-Torn Town by Brandon H. Beck (Angle Valley Pr, 2016).

Brandon Beck has authored or co-authored a number of Shenandoah Valley Civil War titles, including standalone studies of the Winchester battles. His latest (published last September) "is a concise driving tour and history of three battles fought around the town: the First Battle of Winchester in March 1862; the Second Battle of Winchester in June 1863; and the Third Battle of Winchester in September 1864."

An oversize 8 1/2 x 11 softcover around 190 pages in length, it generally follows the conventional guidebook formula in terms of presentation, integrating detailed driving directions and tour stop orientation, historical text, photographs, modern tour route maps, sidebars, and orders of battle. It's all done in an appealing manner, although the omission of historical battle maps is unfortunate. An additional chapter covers more sites not covered in the main tours.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Review of Matsui - "THE FIRST REPUBLICAN ARMY: The Army of Virginia and the Radicalization of the Civil War"

[The First Republican Army: The Army of Virginia and the Radicalization of the Civil War by John H. Matsui (University of Virginia Press, 2016). Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:169/240. ISBN:978-0-8139-3927-8. $39.50]

The Union's Army of Virginia existed for less than three months in the summer of 1862 and was disastrously defeated in its only major battle (at Second Bull Run). Its dissolution and rapid absorption into the Army of the Potomac rendered it a footnote in the popular history of the Civil War. However, John's Matsui's The First Republican Army constructs a reasoned argument that General John Pope's command had an influence and significance to the course of war that belied its short-lived status and catastrophic military failure, enough to make it richly deserving of its own study.

As one might expect, the first few chapters discuss the origins of the Army of Virginia and its formation during a period of intense national debate over the conduct and progress of the war. In summer 1862, the stalled pace of the Army of the Potomac's drive on Richmond and the conservative generalship of its commander George B. McClellan both came under intense political scrutiny (especially from Radical Republicans). In response, the Lincoln administration combined several existing departments into the Department of Virginia and placed rising star John Pope in command. Matsui summarizes Pope's background and ably illustrates how the western general's successful early war military career and unabashed targeting of enemy civilians made the Kentucky-born Ohioan an immensely appealing figure for partisan Republican politicians. The book also informatively discusses how Pope took the punitive occupation measures he honed in the laboratory of Missouri's bitter internal conflict and applied them to his Virginia department. In the form of Pope's new army, a powerful counterpoint to the limited war previously practiced in the eastern theater was quickly established. In the views of its supporters, a vigorous and successful Army of Virginia would discredit both the conservative West Point clique that dominated the Army of the Potomac's high command and conciliatory "soft" war policy as a whole.

Matsui's vivid descriptions of the character of some of the partisan politicking that took place within units of the Army of Virginia effectively remind us of the nakedly political nature (to some degree or another) of all Civil War volunteer armies. However, the evidence that the author assembles in support of his claim that politics was of "particular significance" (pg. 8) to the experiences of the officers and men of the Army of Virginia from top to bottom isn't entirely compelling. Matsui effectively contrasts the Republican flavor of the Army of Virginia's high command with the more conservative outlook of the Army of the Potomac's leaders. The difference began at the very top with John Pope and permeated the Army of Virginia's corps, division, and brigade commanders with their higher proportion of citizen-generals and professionals who sympathized with the more radical war aims.

Among the men in the ranks, however, the differences cited by Matsui seem less clear. The author's remarks about the Army of Virginia being the most geographically representative of all Union armies formed during the war is interesting to consider, but it seems counterintuitive to argue that the men in the Army of Virginia were generally more sympathetic to the plight of contrabands and supportive of emancipation when the Army of the Potomac had by far the greater concentration of New England troops. In developing his own case for the Army of Virginia, Matsui is less convinced by Glenn David Brasher's argument that the Army of the Potomac's direct interactions with the Peninsula's black population led to widespread antislavery sentiment among its units. He cites Brasher's failure to adequately take into account the regional and demographic variations within McClellan's army. This may have merit, but the author's own Army of Virginia study sample (an unsystematic compilation having significant officer and unit overrepresentation) also makes broad ideological conclusions about the masses in the ranks less reliable.

If accurate, the book's contention that, even though the Army of the Potomac operated in the more plantation-rich southeastern tidewater counties, far greater numbers of slaves were sheltered by the Army of Virginia adds support to Matsui's characterization of Pope's command as the pioneering instrument of Radical war aims in the eastern theater. On the other hand, in pointing this out, the author's exclusive reference to the slaves as "self-emancipated" rather unfairly marginalizes the army's invaluable role as beacon, agent, and protector of black freedom. On a related note, the author credits Pope with the superior intelligence gathering system of the two, a significant part of it being local knowledge obtained from African Americans. Others, like Brasher, have also successfully argued that a similar relationship aided the Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula, but it seems that the major difference, according to Matsui, lies in the Army of Virginia's higher-level integration of black-sourced intelligence information.

Another contrast between the Virginia and Potomac armies explored in the book involves military-civilian relations. As stated before, John Pope refined hard war principles in the West and brought these punitive practices to Virginia. Unfortunately, as the book shows, all too many soldiers mistakenly interpreted Pope's harsh rhetoric as license to plunder and harass enemy civilians. Gross inconsistencies in punishment combined with the apathy displayed by too many officers toward curbing abuses led the high command to backtrack on the tone of its proclamations, but damage to property and army discipline alike was already done. Matsui also persuasively cites specific experiential factors, such as a much greater degree of involvement in fighting guerrillas and performing occupation duties amid hostile local populations, as particularly important in pushing those units that would comprise the Army of Virginia toward supporting and practicing punitive war. The author's determination that the mid-September assimilation of the Army of Virginia into the Army of the Potomac significantly accelerated antislavery and hard war sentiment in the Union's premier army may very well have credence, but it might also be true that the Potomac army's own bloody experiences on the Peninsula and in central Virginia during that summer played an equal or even greater role.

In addition to ideological concerns, the book also addresses some of the positive military reforms that Pope instituted within his command. For example, Matsui credits Pope for creating a cavalry organization that was ahead of its peers in the Army of the Potomac and, in bypassing seniority and jumping John Buford several grades up the command ladder, demonstrating a good eye for selecting leaders of promise for the Army of Virginia's mounted arm. 

While it's certainly true that all Union armies were shaped at some level by party politics, John Matsui's suggestion that the Army of Virginia as a whole was a uniquely Republican agent, forged and consumed at a key policymaking crossroads, is an intriguing one. In the eastern theater, the conflict's political center of gravity, the Army of Virginia came to embody the radical turn in war aims, away from status quo antebellum and toward punitive action and emancipation. Some are more powerfully supported than others, but the arguments contained in The First Republican Army go some distance toward ensuring that the Army of Virginia has a lasting legacy to challenge that of its terrible defeat at Second Bull Run.