Friday, July 21, 2017

Gaming the Secession Crisis and Ft. Sumter

Mark Herman is a world-renowned strategy boardgame designer who has some background in Civil War related topics (his We The People is one of his most highly regarded designs). I am not familiar enough with his body of work to speak from experience, but it seems like he's best known for his streamlined elegance in design (and the playability that comes from that) and for being one of the pioneers of the card-driven game (CDG).

One of his newest designs, Fort Sumter: The Secession Crisis 1860-61, has reached its P500 goal and has been greenlit for production. Depending on the validity of the historical assumptions made and the design itself, games can be an interesting way to look at contingency. To give prospective buyers a taste of what to expect, Herman is posting an After Action Report series on publisher GMT's website. So far, there have been two entries [Part 1, Part 2]. Given Fort Sumter's design goal of finishing each game in less than 40 minutes (and in as little as 20-25 minutes), this might be a useful tool for interactive teacher-student engagement.

Number three of the four "crisis dimensions" the simulation is designed around is a puzzlement. It would make more historical sense to have the Border States, Upper South, and Deep South as the game's "three basic axes" of secession rather than the Border States, Deep South, and Texas. In game terms, the Border States category combines the true Border States and Upper South into a single political bloc (at least that's what the map suggests).

I'll look forward to reading how things play out with the rest of Herman's AAR. It's a bit hard to follow for me given my complete unfamiliarity with the mechanics of this type of game.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Booknotes: Discovering Gettysburg

New Arrival:
Discovering Gettysburg: An Unconventional Introduction to the Greatest Little Town in America and the Monumental Battle that Made It Famous by W. Stephen Coleman (Savas Beatie, 2017).

Continuing in the SB tradition of releasing Gettysburg titles in July is W. Stephen Coleman's Discovering Gettysburg. It is hard to describe this book just from glancing through it. It appears to be something like Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic, a combination of history and travelogue from someone newly introduced to the subject and place. Unlike Horwitz's book, though, this one is heavily illustrated, with original artwork (mostly caricatures like the ones of Lee and Meade on the cover art) on almost every page along with photos and maps.

According to the author, in Discovering Gettysburg "you will visit with me a host of famous and off-the-beaten-path places on the battlefield, explore the historic town of Gettysburg as it is today, chat with some of the town’s fascinating “resources,” and follow along, as I did, with some of the most engaging storytelling I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. ... Thankfully, my friend and award-winning cartoonist Tim Hartman agreed to provide the magnificent maps and outstanding caricatures that grace this book."

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Booknotes: Confederate Courage on Other Fields

New Arrival:
Confederate Courage on Other Fields: Overlooked Episodes of Leadership, Cruelty, Character, and Kindness by Mark J. Crawford (Savas Beatie, 2017).

With everyone else apparently on vacation, SB is still releasing a steady stream of titles in July. Alas, I have mixed feelings about their latest, a reissue of Mark Crawford's Confederate Courage on Other Fields (originally published in 2000 by McFarland).

After a quick glance through the “An Eye for an Eye" section, it appears that the new edition is not backtracking from its endorsement of the mythical massacre of civilians at Pulliam's Spring/Farm (a.k.a. the "Christmas Massacre" or "Wilson Massacre") in 1863. A bloody fight did occur, but numerous reliable scholars of the Civil War in SE Missouri (people I respect like Bryce Suderow, Jim McGhee, Lou Wehmer, Kirby Ross, Ray Burson, and Bruce Nichols) have investigated the massacre claims, and none have uncovered a single shred of credible evidence that women and children were killed on that day. The late Jerry Ponder was the primary force behind the myth. For years he peddled a transcription of an alleged smoking gun document, the T. L. Wright paper (the original of which has never been produced), and built up quite a local following from the use of it even though the item's provenance is laughable. Anyway, I've had my say about that, and the nonsensical portion of the Pulliam's Spring section is just a tiny part of Crawford's book. 

Here's a rundown of the volume's contents from the description:

"“Rebel Resort of the Dead” introduces readers to General Hospital Number One in Kittrell Springs, North Carolina, where hospital chaplain Rev. M. M. Marshall did his best to tend to the religious needs of severely wounded men. Marshall’s recently discovered recollections are threaded throughout this moving narrative and include many of the last words of dying soldiers.

“I’ll Live Yet to Dance on That Foot!” offers the letters of Charles Blacknall, a wealthy plantation owner-turned-Confederate officer who penned candid letters back home that reveal not only an educated and passionate man, but one who is slowly being consumed by war.

The astonishing tale of a personal conflict between a Union major and a Confederate colonel unfolds in “An Eye for an Eye.” The quarrel, which quickly became deeply personal, resulted in a series of vicious retaliatory killings, guerrilla warfare, the eventual intervention of president Abraham Lincoln―and the murder of one of the officers.

The story of the Battle of Dinwiddie Courthouse, a bitter battle during the closing days of the war in Virginia, is told through many first-person accounts in “The South’s ‘Sunset Charge.’” In this fight, the prelude to the better-known battle of Five Forks, Federal troops put up a stout fight, despite being heavily outnumbered, with the help of their deadly repeating carbines.
"

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review of Hunt - "MEADE AND LEE AFTER GETTYSBURG: The Forgotten Final Stage of the Gettysburg Campaign, from Falling Waters to Culpeper Court House, July 14-31, 1863"

[Meade and Lee After Gettysburg: The Forgotten Final Stage of the Gettysburg Campaign, from Falling Waters to Culpeper Court House, July 14-31, 1863 by Jeffrey William Hunt (Savas Beatie, 2017). Hardcover, 16 maps, photos, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:291/312. ISBN:978-1-61121-343-0. $29.95]

Over the past decade or so, there's been a bit of a renaissance in the appreciation of George Gordon Meade. He is no longer considered merely the beneficiary of good defensive ground and Lee's blunders at Gettysburg, nor is he generally dismissed as an overcautious army commander who would never have defeated the Army of Northern Virginia in 1864-65 without U.S. Grant's overall direction of the Army of the Potomac.

Even so, most still view him as a flawed commander and doubts remain whether the Pennsylvanian was up to the task of finishing the war in the East. Clearly, the only way to truly assess Meade's performance in the role of independent army commander is to engage in a close analysis of his command tenure during the last six months of 1863, the period between Gettysburg and the arrival of General Grant in the East. This is one of the major goals of Jeffrey Hunt's planned trilogy, the first volume of which is Meade and Lee After Gettysburg: The Forgotten Final Stage of the Gettysburg Campaign, from Falling Waters to Culpeper Court House, July 14-31, 1863.

Many readers will recall the two fine Gettysburg retreat studies by Kent Masterson Brown and the team of Eric Wittenberg, Mike Nugent, and J.D. Petruzzi, and Hunt's book understandably does not find the need to tread the same ground. Instead, Meade and Lee After Gettysburg begins after Robert E. Lee's battered army crossed the Potomac River back to apparent safety in Virginia. It traces the continuous action that occurred over a two week period beginning on July 14, 1863 and ending on July 31 with the Confederate reoccupation of the Rappahannock River defense line.

The book provides readers with a very satisfying blow-by-blow account of the final stages of the Gettysburg Campaign, appropriately characterized as a 'cat-and-mouse game' played across the lower reaches of the Shenandoah and Loudoun valleys and within the Blue Ridge Mountain passes connecting them. Hunt does a very fine job of describing the operational decision-making of Lee and Meade as well as the flow of events that resulted from those decisions. At regular intervals in the book, the author pauses to take stock of the military situation as the opposing army commanders understood it at the time, assessing the relative positions of the major elements of each army and exploring both the quality of the intelligence available to Lee and Meade and how they reacted to what they thought they knew.

Hunt's incisive military narrative also extends down to the tactical level, where detailed accounts of the engagements at Shepherdstown (July 16), Manassas Gap (July 21), Chester Gap (July 22), Wapping Heights (July 23), and Newby's Crossroads (July 24) are presented. At Shepherdstown, a Union cavalry division successfully escaped a Confederate trap. Later, other blue troopers were able to seize advantageous positions inside the Manassas and Chester gaps in the Blue Ridge Mountains. However, Meade pushed his infantry forward cautiously, and the timidly fought Battle of Wapping Heights inside Manassas Gap was a stalemate, with the Excelsior Brigade's assault providing most of the drama. The clash at Newby's Crossroads (on the road to Culpeper Court House) between George Armstrong Custer's cavalry brigade and A.P. Hill's passing Confederate infantry represented a final (and rather foolhardy) Union effort at disrupting the retreat of Lee's army toward Culpeper. A multitude of smaller skirmishes are also covered in the book.

Maps are fairly numerous, and the best ones are at the operational scale. In these, the author carefully pinpoints all the major pieces on the chessboard of war. Tactical maps are functional, if rather spartan. The photographs included in the study are helpful visual aids, especially the series of mid-twentieth century images of the topography inside Manassas Gap.

Lee's escape across the Potomac is typically viewed as the end of the Gettysburg Campaign, and a major goal of Hunt's study is to convince readers that many more associated moments of military importance occurred after that artificial stopping point. Hunt builds a powerful argument for regarding July 31 as the true concluding date of the Gettysburg Campaign. In the end, Meade and Lee After Gettysburg offers ample demonstration that the events that occurred over the last half of July were in clear continuity with those that came before them. It also suggests the possibility of a more decisive conclusion to the campaign.

It would be difficult to argue against the author's contention that Lee consistently outgeneraled Meade during the last half of July. Whereas Lee saw the military situation clearly and acted decisively,  Meade was cautious and indecisive, continually misreading intelligence and reacting too slowly to fleeting opportunities. Hunt recognizes the fact that Meade was still new to army command and was justly concerned about his logistical position south of the Potomac, but it will be interesting to see if his largely negative assessment of Meade's capacity for army command evolves during his later volume discussions of Bristoe Station and Mine Run (though the author suggests already that he sees Meade's high command shortcomings as innate qualities).

The author does credit Meade with considerable strategic insight when the general used the Loudoun Valley as his base of operations for engaging Lee's army south of the Potomac. With the Blue Ridge passes in Union hands and his army's flank and rear reasonably secured, Meade would enjoy an advantageous position astride Lee's direct line of communication with Richmond.

Hunt marks July 21 as the moment of truth for Meade, and a signal failure of the test of command. A week into the operation, and with the Army of the Potomac well established in the Loudoun Valley, Meade received an intelligence report that fairly accurately mapped out the positions of Lee's army in the Shenandoah. The Union mounted arm had done its job well, and would continue to do so. Instead of acting on this report, Meade decided to rest his infantry on July 21. In the author's view this was a decision of unjustifiable timidity on Meade's part. The fact that it took Meade a full day and a half to set his infantry in motion toward engaging the enemy at Manassas Gap reinforces this view. On the other hand, the author perhaps too strongly condemns Meade for not immediately thrusting his army into the Shenandoah Valley below Lee's army. Hunt admits that the Army of the Potomac would have placed its own communications at considerable peril, but ignores the effect the raging Shenandoah River (which, as shown in the book, had already greatly hampered Confederate efforts to respond to the enemy presence in and around the Blue Ridge gaps) might have had on the general movement of the army into the Shenandoah Valley.

Meade's other option would have been to continue up the Loudoun Valley and hit Lee's army when it was in motion and strung out on the roads leading to Culpeper and the line of the Rappahannock. This was a safer offensive choice that still offered the possibility of achieving big results, but it seems not to have been considered by Meade, who mistakenly believed the bulk of the rebel army to still be in the Shenandoah Valley. By the time Meade felt confident enough to move his infantry forward into Manassas Gap in force (the result being the lengthy but timidly conducted fight at Wapping Heights on July 23), two-thirds of Lee's army was already through the Blue Ridge Mountains via Chester Gap and beyond easy reach. In the author's view, these are the kinds of limitations in strategic vision and initiative that would come to characterize Meade's performances as army commander.

For the Gettysburg literature, publisher Savas Beatie has for some time now performed excellent double duty in improving upon aging standard works and providing fresh perspectives on understudied or underappreciated aspects of the campaign. Meade and Lee After Gettysburg is an excellent example of the latter. In it, the true meaning of the events of the last half of July 1863 in northern Virginia are explored in detail for the first time and their importance (potential or otherwise) convincingly presented. The volume is highly recommended and certainly whets one's appetite for the final two books in the trilogy.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Booknotes: Fighting in the Shadows

New Arrival:
Fighting in the Shadows: Untold Stories of Deaf People in the Civil War by Harry G. Lang (Gallaudet Univ Pr, 2017).

If you've been craving something way out of the ordinary topical range of current Civil War studies, this book might be the ticket for you. A "groundbreaking study of deaf people’s experiences in the Civil War," Harry Lang's Fighting in the Shadows "reveals the stories of both ordinary and extraordinary deaf soldiers and civilians who lived through this transformative period in American history." 

Apparently, firsthand accounts of the lives of Civil War era deaf persons are very rare. Nevertheless, the author took up the challenge, scouring other sources of all kinds in his quest to find records of the Civil War contributions of deaf persons. Research into period newspapers, family histories, census data, and more all bore fruit. The lives of hundreds of individuals are explored in the book, and Lang was also able to find and display 160 photographs to accompany the narrative. Together, they "reveal a powerful new perspective on the Civil War."

In the book, Lang "documents the participation of deaf soldiers in the war, whose personal tests of fortitude and perseverance have not been previously explored. There were also many deaf people in noncombat roles whose stories have not yet been told—clerks and cooks, nurses and spies, tradespeople supporting the armies, farmers supplying food to soldiers, and landowners who assisted (or resisted) troops during battles. Deaf writers, diarists, and artists documented the war. Even deaf children contributed actively to the war efforts."

"This visually rich volume illuminates the sacrifices and accomplishments of these individuals and provides insights into deaf history and deaf culture as well as into mainstream interpretations of the Civil War."

Thursday, July 13, 2017

General E.A. Paine in Western Kentucky

Hand in hand with the rise of guerrilla studies over the past decade and more has been increased scrutiny of the civil rights record of Union military authorities (and their civilian oversight at the federal level) in occupied areas under martial law. Though still fairly restrained overall, a significant portion of this literature has been quite critical of Union policymakers and their agents on the ground. The issue becomes even more complex and controversial when the treatment of citizens of loyal Border States like Missouri and Kentucky is addressed. However, as is the case with so many hot Civil War topics, once a sort of critical mass is reached some push back tends to emerge. This appears to be the case with a new study scheduled for release later this year.

As district commanders in Kentucky, Union generals Eleazer Paine and Stephen Burbridge were the poster boys of bad behavior, and they continue to be vilified in some publications today. At least for General Paine, authors Dieter Ullrich and Berry Craig believe that most of this unsavory reputation is unearned. As they see it, their upcoming book General E.A. Paine in Western Kentucky: Assessing the "Reign of Terror" of the Summer of 1864 (McFarland, Nov 2017) sets the record straight. In their estimation, the general's radical views and ardent support for emancipation, black army enlistment, and fair treatment of freedmen made Paine the target of coordinated attacks from his many conservative political enemies in the state. In the end, the critics succeeded in painting Paine's tenure in command as a "reign of terror," and the general was removed. According to Ullrich and Craig, historians continue to accept this false image of the state of affairs in the District of Western Kentucky, and their study aims to tell "the complete story."

Not that first time authors can't come up with something astounding, but Ullrich and Craig certainly bring a lot to the table with established backgrounds in the study of the Civil War in the Jackson Purchase. The former is a documents expert and the latter has already published a number of popular and scholarly books. Craig also has another volume well on its way to publication. Kentucky's Rebel Press (UP of KY) is a study of the state's pro-Confederate newspapers during the secession crisis and is scheduled for release early next year.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review of DeWolf, ed. by Harburn - "A SURGEON WITH CUSTER AT THE LITTLE BIG HORN: James DeWolf's Diary and Letters, 1876"

[A Surgeon with Custer at the Little Big Horn: James DeWolf's Diary and Letters, 1876 by James Madison DeWolf, edited by Todd E. Harburn (University of Oklahoma Press, 2017). Hardcover, 2 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 282 pp. ISBN:978-0-8061-5694-1. $29.95]

The diary and letters of Dr. James Madison DeWolf are well known to scholars and students of the 1876 Little Big Horn Campaign. They've even been published before. After DeWolf's death on the battlefield, his medical colleague, Acting Asst. Surgeon Henry Porter, retrieved the diary and sent it to DeWolf's wife Fannie. That important resource, along with DeWolf's letters to Fannie, were preserved and eventually donated to the battlefield park. In 1958, former park superintendent Major Edward Luce published the materials in North Dakota History (the journal of that state's historical society). What sets A Surgeon with Custer at the Little Big Horn: James DeWolf's Diary and Letters, 1876 apart from the earlier publication is the far more extensive and expansive nature of physician Todd Harburn's editing of the documents.

One of the modern edition's most notable original contributions is its biographical feature. For the first time in print, readers learn about DeWolf's early life and army career (before, during, and after the Civil War) as well as his tragic death. To this end, Harburn begins with some family history and briefly recounts DeWolf's experiences growing up on the family farm in Meehoopany, Pennsylvania.

DeWolf joined the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War and was assigned to Battery A, First Pennsylvania Light Artillery as a private. Frequently praised by its superiors, the battery was involved in heavy fighting at Dranesville in 1861 and on the Peninsula and at Second Manassas in 1862. At Dogan Ridge (Second Manassas), DeWolf was badly injured in the right arm by an enemy projectile and was discharged from the army after a long hospital stay. Even though he applied for a disability pension, his wound apparently healed better than expected and he reentered the service with his old battery in March 1865.

Perhaps inspired by his hospital experiences, DeWolf decided to stay in the army after the Civil War, serving as a hospital attendant (and later hospital steward) at a number of frontier posts. In Oregon, he met and married his wife, Fannie. Seeking more formal medical training, DeWolf requested a transfer back east. His superiors approved, and DeWolf was allowed to enter Harvard Medical School while still attending to his army duties. Though, like many other competent doctors, DeWolf failed to obtain a commission in the army medical service, he was able to secure a contract surgeon position in the Department of Dakota. His letters to Fannie begin from Fort Seward in March 1876. Once the weather improved and Lt. Colonel Custer returned to command the Seventh Cavalry, the Terry/Custer column left Fort Abraham Lincoln on May 17 and marched west.

DeWolf's campaign diary meticulously notes the weather and terrain encountered along the march to the Little Big Horn, while also faithfully documenting distances traveled and specific campsites of the Terry/Custer column. Other scholars have cross-referenced these observations with other sources and found them to be quite accurate.

In contrast to his brief and to-the-point diary entries, DeWolf's letters to his wife are lengthy discourses on army life on the frontier. His correspondence from Forts Totten and Abraham Lincoln highlight the era's military social conventions and protocols for the officer class (even though DeWolf was a civilian contract surgeon, he was essentially treated as if he were an army medical officer). He was intensely conscious of not being the source of shared gossip and frequently marked portions of his letters describing his opinions of other officers as private. DeWolf's letters also describe his medical duties. Coming off a tough winter and with spring on the plains still bringing frequent snow flurries, the doctor treated primarily respiratory illnesses and frostbite injuries (the results of his operations on frostbitten toes are a common topic of conversation). In the past, it was popular to criticize Custer for leaving his Gatling guns behind for the sake of speed of advance, but this seemingly rash move becomes even more understandable given DeWolf's multiple observations regarding how badly the column's wheeled traffic was slowing down its progress through mud and difficult terrain.

The book's final chapter is a well researched account of the final day of Dr. DeWolf's life. Reconciling the handful of surviving eyewitness accounts, Harburn persuasively pieces together the most likely picture of how, when, and where DeWolf fell. For the regiment's attack on the Indian encampment at the Little Big Horn, DeWolf was attached to Major Reno's battalion. The doctor survived the initial attack, the general withdrawal to the tree line, and the crossing of the river. However, during the battalion's mad scramble to reach the heights beyond, DeWolf had the misfortune of moving up a northerly situated draw that was already dominated by the enemy, and he was killed by rifle fire from above. The chapter also documents the odyssey of DeWolf's remains. Though the army paid for the recovery of officer bodies and conveyance back to the forts, families had to arrange and pay for transport home and final burial.

Given the frequency of persons, places, and events mentioned without any prior context, use of footnotes (vs. endnotes) is particularly helpful with edited diaries and correspondence. However, because of the frequency and great length of Harburn's explanatory notes, it is entirely sensible that he elected to place them in the rear of the book instead. Otherwise, they would take up most of the page. Together, Harburn's tiny-print notes fill roughly 70 pages and comprise a rich contextual supplement to DeWolf's writings. The editor's medical background (he's an orthopedic surgeon) also leads to fruitful critiques and commentary on mid-nineteenth century army medicine and surgical practices. For visual aids, Harburn includes a large and well-chosen collection of archival photographs. These picture, among other things, the various army posts DeWolf served at during his career as well as many family members and army colleagues. In the appendix section, Harburn reproduces some account pages from DeWolf's diary, some early diary entries (eight pages) from 1875, and Edward Luce's introduction to his 1958 edition of the DeWolf writings.

Todd Harburn's skillful and exhaustive editing of the diary and letters of James DeWolf adds multiple layers of enhanced value to an already important firsthand component of the Little Big Horn Campaign historiography. By some recent estimates, over 3,000 books have been published on Custer and the 1876 Plains Indian campaign. Many more titles are added each year, and A Surgeon with Custer at the Little Big Horn easily merits placement on any shortlist of the best of these newer contributions.


Click here to read more CWBA reviews of OU Press titles

Monday, July 10, 2017

Booknotes: Meade and Lee After Gettysburg

New Arrival:
Meade and Lee After Gettysburg: The Forgotten Final Stage of the Gettysburg Campaign, from Falling Waters to Culpeper Court House, July 14-31, 1863 by Jeffrey William Hunt (Savas Beatie, 2017).

The fighting in the eastern theater between the end of the Battle of Gettysburg and the beginning of the 1864 Overland Campaign has received increased attention of late. The Confederate retreat to the Potomac has already been addressed to abundant satisfaction by both Kent Masterson Brown and Eric Wittenberg, and Jeffrey Hunt's Meade and Lee After Gettysburg doesn't feel the need to go over that ground yet again. Instead, Hunt's book picks up the action right after Lee's army crossed the Potomac back into Virginia, tracing those military events that occurred over a two week period beginning on July 14, 1863 and ending with the Confederate reoccupation of the Rappahannock River defense line.

From the description: "Contrary to popular belief, once Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia slipped across the swollen Potomac back to Virginia the Lincoln administration pressed George Meade to cross quickly in pursuit—and he did. Rather than follow in Lee’s wake, however, Meade moved south on the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains in a cat-and-mouse game to outthink his enemy and capture the strategic gaps penetrating the high wooded terrain. Doing so would trap Lee in the northern reaches of the Shenandoah Valley and potentially bring about the decisive victory that had eluded Union arms north of the Potomac."

As the Wittenberg and Brown's books demonstrated, the combatants engaged in near constant clashes of varying scale as they maneuvered across the landscape north of the Potomac over the first half of July, and Hunt finds the same case south of the river through the end of the month. "Meade and Lee After Gettysburg, the first of three volumes on the campaigns waged between the two adversaries from July 14 through the end of 1863, relies on the Official Records, regimental histories, letters, newspapers, and other sources to provide a day-by-day account of this fascinating high-stakes affair." The engagements examined in the book are Shepherdstown (July 16), Manassas Gap (July 21), Chester Gap (July 22), Wapping Heights (July 23), and Newby's Crossroads (July 24). Though total casualties were small (less than 350 on each side for the entire two weeks), the author argues in the book that the potential existed for much more momentous results.

* On a side note, if you're interested, Hunt's only previous book-length Civil War study The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch (2002) is quite good, easily the best of the two available treatments of that Texas battle.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Booknotes: This Bloody Field

New Arrival:
This Bloody Field: Regimental Wargame Scenarios for the Battle of Shiloh by Brad Butkovich (Historic Imagination, 2017).

There are more Civil War tabletop rule sets than you can shake a stick at, and it certainly behooves an independent scenario designer to make his creations as flexible as possible. Brad Butkovich does just this in his series of scenario guides. He's already published Antietam, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, and Atlanta Campaign scenario books, and his new volume takes the user to the forests and fields of Shiloh.

This Bloody Field: Regimental Wargame Scenarios for the Battle of Shiloh is "designed to be used with almost any American Civil War regimental level set of rules. Rules are included for figures based on 20, 30, 40, 50, and 100 historic men per figure/stand. Times are given for 10, 15, and 20 minutes per game turn. Maps are in full color, as are the numerous color photographs of the modern battlefield." As you can see from the cover, the author is also a fine cartographer. Really, even if you're not interested in gaming at all, the maps and detailed orders of battle provided alone are worth the price of the book.

The scenario list includes: Confederate Onslaught, Sherman Attacked!, McDowell vs. Pond, The Crossroads, The Peach Orchard, The Hornet’s Nest, Bull in the Cotton Field, Duncan Field, and End of the Line. A few pages of historical and scenario notes are attached to each.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review of Dillard - JEFFERSON DAVIS'S FINAL CAMPAIGN: Confederate Nationalism and the Fight to Arm Slaves"

[Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign: Confederate Nationalism and the Fight to Arm Slaves by Philip D. Dillard (Mercer University Press, 2017). Hardcover, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:283/293. ISBN:978-0-88146-605-8. $35]

Philip Dillard's Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign: Confederate Nationalism and the Fight to Arm Slaves is the latest book to examine the late-war Confederate dialogue regarding the enlistment of armed slaves in the army. The book's introduction offers a brief but insightful survey of studies that have addressed the topic so far. According to Dillard, Robert Durden's The Gray and the Black scrutinizes the debate at length but its perspective is limited to Richmond, and Bell Wiley's Southern Negroes doesn't go much beyond a descriptive account of the process involved in putting blacks into the ranks. In the author's estimation, the Deep South debate over arming slaves is best handled in Clarence Mohr's On the Threshold of Freedom. Like other critics, he finds that Ervin Jordan's Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia considerably overstates the level and character of black loyalty to the Confederacy. The most recent study is Bruce Levine's Confederate Emancipation. In Dillard's opinion, Levine's investigation failed to penetrate Confederate society beyond the elite proslavery ideologues and erroneously concluded that Confederate racial views remained constant to the end and Davis was never serious about emancipation. Dillard's Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign instead argues that an extensive national conversation on the issue occurred. Led by Davis and his allies, the campaign convinced much of the Confederate population (rich and poor) to break decisively with the core of diehard elites resistant to altering the racial status quo. In this view, the successful movement to arm slaves (and the promise of freedom that that entailed) represented a truly revolutionary change in white-black relations in the Confederate states. In the end, Confederate nationalism was redefined as broad swaths of every southern white socio-economic strata declared a willingness to sacrifice the very foundation of their cause for national independence.

Though Dillard cites soldier petitions as well as some diary and letter evidence contained in other published sources in his study, newspapers and letters to the editor overwhelmingly comprise the supporting primary source documentation for his arguments. In order to compile representative views from all parts of the Confederacy, the author pored through eight Virginia, thirteen Georgia, and seven Texas newspapers. Not only does this methodology of selection take into consideration all three major geographical theaters of war (East, West, and Trans-Mississippi), but Dillard's carefully chosen examples also astutely address the localized views and concerns of the different economic and political subregions within those states. Accounted for as well are the widely varying civilian experiences of direct Union invasion and hard war between and within Virginia, Georgia, and Texas.

Dillard usefully divides the debate over arming slaves into three distinct phases. While individuals broached the topic of arming slaves as early as the last half of 1863 (after that summer's twin military disasters at Gettysburg and Vicksburg), the debate reached all levels of society beginning with Jefferson Davis's November 1864 address to the Confederate Congress. In that speech he proposed that 40,000 slaves be taken into the army in non-combat roles in return for which they would receive their freedom. Many newspaper editorials and reader responses endorsed this move, even though it was widely recognized at the time that recruiting blacks to serve as army pioneers, teamsters, and cooks was likely only the first step taken toward eventually arming them. Those newspapers hailing from areas with local economies least dependent on plantation slavery were among the first to respond favorably to the plan. On the other side, there was also significant opposition to Davis's proposal on both constitutional/states's rights and ideological grounds.

The second phase of the debate was prompted by the string of military catastrophes that closed out 1864, most notably the crushing Confederate defeat at Nashville, the shattering conclusion to Sterling Price's Missouri campaign, and the Union capture of Savannah at the end of General Sherman's destructive march through Georgia. Even after being presented with such evidence of impending defeat, many citizens still regarded the military situation during winter 1864-65 as not so dire as to need black reinforcements. However, many other editors and readers in Dillard's sample (especially those in Georgia and Virginia) cast aside their earlier hesitations and openly advocated arming black soldiers in numbers ranging from 100,000 to 300,000. The most radical proslavery adherents continued to object on constitutional grounds and still insisted that making slaves soldiers was tantamount to admitting that slavery was wrong and freeing them was conceding to the North and to the rest of the world that the very foundation of Confederate society (that slavery was the ideal social condition for black welfare in America) was a monstrous mistake. Amazingly, some even referenced ethical concerns over the injustice that would be the lot of black soldiers fighting for a cause that kept their race in bondage. According to these diehard proslavery advocates, redoubling efforts at conscription and convincing deserters to return was the only honorable option for filling Confederate ranks. Others proposed cynically clever measures to address the 'rich man's war, poor man's fight' outcry. In their view, instead of freeing black soldiers for their service, the slaves would be awarded to poor whites in the army, a policy aimed at bonding common soldiers to the proslavery cause while also answering charges that the rich were not sacrificing enough. On the other side, many others (slaveholders and non-slaveholders alike) were rapidly coming to the conclusion that emancipation was preferable to defeat and subjugation, and that Confederate failure to employ all means possible for sustaining army manpower was proving to be a major blunder. Whether they wanted to or not, all sides recognized that employing slaves in the army in the kind of numbers referenced above meant the death knell of slavery.

The third and final phase of the debate began with the rebuff of the Confederate peace commissioners at the February 1865 Hampton Roads Conference, an event that finally convinced everyone in the South that no negotiated settlement with the North that would end in southern independence was possible. By this late date, Dillard argues for the likelihood that a majority of the Confederate population was supportive of arming blacks and trading emancipation for independence. Many soldiers in the Petersburg trenches openly advocated this view. During this end period of the debate, cracks also finally emerged among the proslavery radicals (even those located in faraway Texas), although most still would not concede the necessity of emancipating black veterans. Even though Congress eventually approved arming slaves and organizing them into fighting units, they could not take the final step of approving emancipation. However, President Davis and newly appointed General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee bypassed that part of the law and inserted into army regulations that black Confederate soldiers must be both documented volunteers and also manumitted by their masters. In the end, these measures in the spring of 1865 came far too late and the few organized black companies raised had no effect on the course of the war.

The newspaper evidence provided in the book offers a strong argument that the debate over arming slaves for service in the Confederate army was extensive, open, and sincere. This is contrary to the opinion of those in the field that insist the process was a completely cynical last ditch effort to save both slavery and the country. The study also usefully points out regional and intra-state differences in attitudes and their timing. Predictably, editorial writers and readers residing in those parts of Virginia and Georgia that were most closely subjected to the horrors of hard war were among the earliest supporters of arming slaves. The sustained profitability of plantation slavery (enhanced through readily available international trade conduits) in Texas, combined with the state's comparative isolation from the main seats of war and its limited experience of Union invasion and occupation, meant that its citizens generally lagged behind those of Georgia and Virginia when it came to advocating any kind of altering of the master-slave relationship. Even during the third and final phase of the debate, those Texas proslavery elites that could finally support black enlistment could not bring themselves generally to admit the propriety or necessity of emancipation.

Indicative of the diversity of the debate, and of the earnestness of all sides, is the collection of rather revolutionary proposals that emerged. Some supporters of black enlistment were able to go as far as recognizing slave marriage rights and rewarding black veterans and their families with freedom, homes, and land. Though much rarer, there were even suggestions of citizenship. On the other end of the spectrum, and in the name of saving slavery at all costs, some proslavery radicals attested to a willingness to revert the Confederate states to foreign protectorate status if that meant intervention by Britain and France.

Though the book is skillfully organized in support of its main thesis, the heavy repetition in newspaper rhetoric cited throughout might task the patience of some readers. On the other hand, one might view such extensive documentation and constant reinforcement as vital to conveying the true scale, tenor, and substance of the debate and its progression. On the subject of Texas, it could be argued that the book exaggerates the state's level of immunity from the war's hardships and underappreciates the level of popular engagement in Texas with the war fought elsewhere. Also, contrary to Dillard's assertion, recent books and articles have convincingly demonstrated that the civilian refugee crisis spawned by Union penetration into the Deep South had a rather profound affect on Texans and how they viewed the war.

While the author's desire to focus his efforts on newspaper editorials and reader letters is understandable, a deep dive into diary and letter archives in the three states under consideration would have added even more punch to his arguments. Similarly, while Dillard does specifically cite as a case study one Georgia regiment's submission of a public letter signed by a committee of soldiers who desired to express their support for integrating black soldiers into the ranks, his study might have benefited from a more in-depth examination of the range of similarly-themed soldier petitions issued at the time. By this late period of the war, the army came to embody the Confederate cause like no other institution and their voices mattered to the public.

So, did Jefferson Davis 'win' his final campaign? In comparison to Abraham Lincoln, the Confederate president's flexibility and skills at persuasion are poorly regarded by posterity, but Dillard puts forth a strong case that Davis effectively managed his campaign, judiciously employing emissaries to spread his views among the people and getting what he wanted in the end, even though the debate terms remained contested. Davis succeeded in convincing a large proportion of the Confederate populace (perhaps even the great majority) to accept armed black soldiers and to value national independence over slavery, so in that sense he was a winner. On the other hand, if the practical effect is to be the final arbiter for judging success, then the campaign failed in that it was initiated far too late and did not slow or alter to any appreciable degree the military progress of the war. Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign is the first scholarly study to support, and do so in such compelling fashion, the view that the debate over arming slaves truly represented a paradigm shift in the fighting cause of the Confederate nation and a revolutionary alteration in its social structure. However persuaded one might be by his arguments, Dillard has delivered a well supported and articulately formed alternate interpretation that is richly deserving of consideration by all.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Booknotes: Battle Above the Clouds

New Arrival:
Battle above the Clouds: Lifting the Siege of Chattanooga and the Battle of Lookout Mountain, October 16 - November 24, 1863 by David Powell (Savas Beatie, 2017).

Though obviously a much different type of book, David Powell's Battle Above the Clouds picks up where his acclaimed Chickamauga Campaign trilogy ended. It "recounts the first half of the campaign to lift the siege of Chattanooga, including the opening of the “cracker line,” the unusual night battle of Wauhatchie, and one of the most dramatic battles of the entire war: Lookout Mountain."

You get the typical ECW series arrangement of good maps and an abundance of photographs (both period and modern). The driving tour is another notable series feature, and there are two of them in this particular volume. The first is a day-long, 7-stop tour of Wheeler's Raid, which will require the user to visit three adjacent states (Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama). Sticking closer to the city, the second tour (9 stops) covers events at Brown's Ferry, the Wauhatchie Valley, and Lookout Mountain.

The appendix section has three parts. The first revisits the Cracker Line mythology and is written by Frank Varney. The second examines the two versions of artist James Walker's Battle of Lookout Mountain paintings (the 1873 canvas drew the viewer to the dashing figure of Joe Hooker while the earlier 1864 painting emphasized the daunting size of the mountain). The final appendix (replete with numerous photo examples) looks at how some of the natural features of the battlefield became popular tourist destinations, for veterans and civilians alike. The book ends with orders of battle and a suggested reading section.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Election of 1860

When it comes to the scholarly study of the sectional politics of the 1850s, historian Michael Holt remains one of our best resources. I don't think it would too unfairly pigeonhole his views on the coming of the Civil War to say that he is sympathetic to the "blundering generation" thesis. His next book will examine the Union-shattering event that kicked off the next decade. The Election of 1860: A Campaign Fraught with Consequences will be published later this year by University of Kansas Press. The book aims to create "a clearer and more comprehensive account of how the election unfolded and what it was actually about."

"Most critically, the book counters the common interpretation of the election as a referendum on slavery and the Republican Party’s purported threat to it." That's an odd way of putting it. "However significantly slavery figured in the election, The Election of 1860 reveals the key importance of widespread opposition to the Republican Party because of its overtly anti-southern rhetoric and seemingly unstoppable rise to power in the North after its emergence in 1854."

"Also of critical importance was the corruption of the incumbent administration of Democrat James Buchanan—and a nationwide revulsion against party." Michael Burlingame has said that playing the Democratic corruption angle was a successful strategy for the Republicans and a key element in their electoral victory in 1860. Two of the three jacket blurb writers confirm that this is a major theme of Holt's book.

More from the description: "Grounding his history in a nuanced retelling of the pre-1860 story, Michael F. Holt explores the sectional politics that permeated the election and foreshadowed the coming Civil War. He brings to light how the campaigns of the Republican Party and the National (Northern) Democrats and the Constitutional (Southern) Democrats and the newly formed Constitutional Union Party were not exclusively regional." That sounds interesting. "His attention to the little-studied role of the Buchanan Administration, and of perceived threats to the preservation of the Union, clarifies the true dynamic of the 1860 presidential election, particularly in its early stages."

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Booknotes: Civil War Hospital Newspapers

New Arrival:
Civil War Hospital Newspapers: Histories and Excerpts of Nine Union Publications by Ira Spar (McFarland, 2017).

"Nine of the 192 Union military hospitals during the Civil War circulated newspapers edited and printed by convalescents. The horrors of wound infection and amputation were reported in the words of surgeons, nurses and patients. Sermons cautioned against drink, tobacco and profanity while stressing patriotic sacrifice. Those who experienced the war wrote about it in simple narratives, and these are extensively quoted."

More from the description: "This book covers the founding and development of [these] hospital newspapers, each fully explored for such topics as patriotism, politics, religion, satire, romance and marriage, battlefield experience and treatment of prisoners of war."


A chapter is devoted to each of the nine newspapers, all of which were published from eastern hospitals. Here are the names of the papers, with the hospital and hospital location in parentheses:
  • Hospital Register (Satterlee in Phila.)
  • Armory Square Hospital Gazette (Armory Square in Wash.)
  • The Soldiers’ Journal (Augur in Alexandria)
  • The Cripple (Div. No. III in Alex.)
  • The Crutch (Div. No. I in Annapolis)
  • Hammond Gazette (Hammond in Pt. Lookout, Md)
  • The Cartridge Box (York in York)
  • Knight Hospital Record (Knight in New Haven)
  • Voice of the Soldier (Sloan in Montpelier)
The appendix section arranges some basic hospital data (names, locations, # of beds/occupants, medical officer in charge) in tabular format for U.S. Army general hospitals and those directly attached to a selection of military departments (Department of Washington, Department of Pennsylvania, Middle Department Hospitals, and Department of the East). The final appendix does the same for the hospitals of origin for each newspaper and also includes some circulation information.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Booknotes: Days of Destruction

New Arrival:
Days of Destruction: Augustine Thomas Smythe and the Civil War Siege of Charleston edited by W. Eric Emerson and Karen Stokes (Univ of S Carolina Pr, 2017).

Charleston native Augustine Thomas Smythe had quite the varied Civil War military experience. He fought at the Battle of Secessionville [if you haven't already done so, do yourself a favor and read Patrick Brennan's excellent Secessionville: Assault On Charleston], served afloat on the C.S.S. Palmetto State, and was also posted to the Confederate Signal Corps. In performing his Signal Corps duties, he was perched high above the city inside the steeple of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, where he was uniquely positioned to view the many land and naval actions fought around the city of Charleston and inside its contested harbor. His letters home describing these events and experiences have now been published in Days of Destruction: Augustine Thomas Smythe and the Civil War Siege of Charleston, edited by W. Eric Emerson and Karen Stokes.

From the description: "The Confederate Signal Corps played a vital role in the defense of Charleston and its environs, and Smythe’s letters, perhaps more than any other first-person account, detail the daily life and service experiences of signalmen in and around the city during the war." His correspondence home offers valuable insights into "the fierce attacks on Fort Sumter, the effects of the unrelenting shelling of the city by enemy guns at Morris Island, and the naval battles and operations in the harbor, including the actions of the Confederate torpedo boats and the H. L. Hunley submarine."

Like the Ripley bio referenced on the site earlier in the week, this book looks to be another highly distinctive contribution to the history of Civil War Charleston.