Sunday, September 15, 2019

Booknotes: Civil War Gold and Other Lost Treasure, Revised Edition

New Arrival:
Civil War Gold and Other Lost Treasure, Revised Edition by W. Craig Gaines (Author, 2017).

It seems like every war has spawned a host of 'lost treasure' legends that are long on speculation and short on evidence. Apparently as popular as the ghost hunting shows are the treasure hunting programs on cable tv that find little beyond commercial ad revenue. When it comes to the American Civil War, there is certainly no shortage of lost gold tales. The author's preface to the 1999 first edition of W. Craig Gaines's Civil War Gold and Other Lost Treasure readily acknowledges that "(most) Civil War treasure stories ... are legends and exaggerations" warped through generations of spirited retelling. The book attempts to sort documented fact from fiction while compiling a comprehensive register of treasure tales from coast to coast.

The preface to the 2017 edition, which is titled Civil War Gold and Other Lost Treasure, Revised Edition, mentions that the new volume is the product of much additional research as well as error corrections and editorial changes. The book is organized by state (plus  Atlantic Ocean and Bahamas) chapters that are further subdivided by county. At the back of the book are chapter notes, a brief resources commentary, and the bibliography.

As you might recall, Gaines's other Civil War books, both of which are highly original works of  merit, have been covered on the site before. See my reviews of Encyclopedia of Civil War Shipwrecks (2008) and The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew's Regiment of Mounted Rifles, Updated Edition (2017), both published by LSU Press.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Booknotes: The Battle of Shiloh - The Union Armies (2 Vols.)

New Arrival:
The Battle of Shiloh - The Union Armies - 6 April 1862 - Vol I and The Battle of Shiloh - The Union Armies - 7 April 1862 - Vol II by Lanny K. Smith (Author, 2018-19).

Lanny Smith, the author of The Stone's River Campaign: 26 December 1862 - 5 January 1863: The Union Army (2008) and The Stone's River Campaign: 26 December 1862 - 5 January 1863: Army of Tennessee (2010), as well as the 2012 study Morgan's Cavalry 1861-1862, has now brought the same manner of attention to the Union forces at Shiloh.

From the author: "For the past six years I have been working on the battle of Shiloh and the Union forces engaged. The result is two volumes, closely mirroring the methodology used with Stone's River. Volume I covers the first day of battle with 692 pages. Volume II covers the second day of battle with 653 pages, and also includes appendices with army organization, casualties, and sketches of all commanders and their commands down to and including the regimental level. Both volumes will be identical in size, appearance, and construction as with Stone's River volumes."

Vol I covers the Union campaign from origins through the end of Shiloh Day 1. There are 58 maps. Vol. II covers the second day of battle and the action at Fallen Timbers. It includes 21 maps and also houses the extensive appendix section referenced above.

There is no website for the book so I've included the ordering information supplied by the author below.

***Limited edition of 274***
(Inquire about availability before ordering)
2 Volume Set @ $120
Plus Shipping (for US buyers) $10
Total: $130

Payment by check or money order.

Mail Payment To:
Lanny K. Smith
697 Redbud Lane
Jasper, TX 75951


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Review - "The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy" by Christian Keller

[The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy by Christian B. Keller (Pegasus Books, 2019). Hardcover, maps, photos, illustrations, appendix, notes, index. Pages main/total:xxiv,248/352. ISBN:978-1-64313-134-4. $28.95]

The May 10, 1863 death of Lieutenant General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson ended what was one of the Civil War's greatest winning combinations of army commander and principal subordinate. The relationship between Army of Northern Virginia commander Robert E. Lee and wing/corps commander Jackson was the military collaboration most celebrated in the Southern Confederacy and most feared in the North. In his new book The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy historian Christian Keller argues that Jackson's demise was not only a calamity for Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia but his irreplaceable loss formed a strategic inflection point, a contingent moment in history that significantly altered the course of the war in the East. While it is never suggested that Jackson's death doomed the Confederacy to defeat, the book does maintain that the Army of Northern Virginia's high command would never again perform on the level that it did under Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, and Stuart. By mid-1863 the Confederate war effort's margin for error was already growing conspicuously thin, and the absence of Jackson would make the road to ultimate victory a much steeper one to climb.

The greater narrative portion of the book comprises a thoughtful reflection on the performance of the Lee-Jackson command team from the Seven Days through Chancellorsville. While the author is obviously highly impressed with the partnership's strategic fit, he does dutifully address the military literature's coverage of Jackson's most frequently discussed flaws and missteps. Throughout, Keller effectively cuts through the pervasive post-war mythologizing of Jackson by employing a judicious assessment of both wartime and later writings. Readers are definitely encouraged to pore through the endnotes, which are rich in additional dissection of sources, their reliability, and areas of disagreement between contemporary and modern writers.

Jackson and Lee shared the same strict devotion to duty and both possessed exceptional military gifts independent of each other, but forming a truly extraordinary command team required more. According to Keller, three major factors—closely aligned strategic vision, personal friendship, and shared religious conviction—were essential elements that transformed the talented Lee-Jackson duo into the titular "great partnership." With the Army of Northern Virginia facing long odds in men and material, the relationships between Lee and his principal subordinates required exceptional sympatico in order to have any chance of ultimately triumphing over the North's principal field army and military colossus, the Army of the Potomac. In Keller's estimation, the war produced perhaps no better example than Lee and Jackson of mutual understanding between army and wing/corps commanders. Both men shared similar views on theater strategy and the necessity of conducting offensive operations to destroy or force to the negotiating table an already formidable enemy that would only get stronger as the war progressed. If anything, Jackson was even more aggressively offensive-minded, advocating very early in the war for destructive strikes into Pennsylvania against economic targets such as mines and factories. Jackson's role as strategic soulmate and advisor combined with his ability to carry off with full conviction the risky offensive maneuvers planned in concert with Lee cemented the partnership and brought with it key elements of impressive victories at Second Manassas, Harpers Ferry, and Chancellorsville. With Jackson's death, Lee never found a replacement who came anywhere near to possessing those same qualities. The wisdom of their shared offensive-mindedness has been the subject of endlessly inconclusive debate among both scholars and enthusiasts, but the greater point is that the army never regained the unity of purpose that it demonstrated during the height of Jackson's powers.

Absolute mutual trust was necessary in order to successfully carry out the high-risk strategy jointly favored by Lee and Jackson, and Keller persuasively argues that the close personal friendship that developed between the pair was key to their success. Lee saw great promise in Jackson very early in the war, but they didn't really become acquainted with each other until the Seven Days, when Jackson's performance did not come close to meeting Lee's lofty expectations. This disappointing showing is likely what made Lee apportion the greater part of his army to Longstreet during the post-Peninsula Campaign reorganization of the army into two wings. Such misgivings would prove only temporary, however, and the book traces how Jackson rapidly regained Lee's trust during the Second Manassas and Maryland campaigns. Their friendship blossomed during the winter of 1862-63, when both men camped in close proximity and interacted with each other on a regular basis. Keller believes that this bond, which included a free exchange of ideas, further streamlined army command and control in very significant ways. The author found no evidence that personal friendship clouded the subordination necessary to the smooth operation of all armies, which is always a possibility. Instead, the situation proved to be quite the opposite. Even when Jackson disagreed with Lee's decisions, as he did on several occasions, he did not sulk or continue to press his own views (as was the case with countless Civil War generals) but rather immediately set out to follow his commander's orders to the best of his ability. Keller further argues successfully that the exceptional professional trust that developed between Lee and Jackson, buttressed by the mutual personal knowledge and understanding gained through close friendship, made Jackson the ideal instrument for carrying out Lee's mission-oriented style of army leadership and command.

Friendship was not the only binding factor between Lee and Jackson that translated into professional success. Keller also builds a compelling case that profound and compatible religious conviction fostered an even deeper bond between the two men that bore strategic fruits. Even though they came from different denominational backgrounds, Lee and Jackson (along with Jeb Stuart as well) shared a providential, evangelical Protestantism that the author believes to have been a "gigantic bonus" in the sense that anything that forges through deeply-held beliefs and mutual ties an even deeper connection among strategic team members enhances "command-team efficacy." On the other hand, Keller perceptively notes that deaths within such tight-knit groups can also have disproportionately negative effects on the survivors, and indeed Lee (whose health was already failing in early 1863) and Stuart both took Jackson's loss very hard.

One of the book's most effective chapters demonstrates how the loss of Jackson stung the entire Confederate nation. In it, Keller quotes numerous passages from letters, journals, and newspaper editorials from Virginia to Texas sharing similar language of catastrophic loss. Some writers concluded that another leader would rise up to take Jackson's place, but they often seemed more hopeful than expectant and many more feared the loss would prove irreparable. The chapter supports the popular interpretation, most prominently expressed in the writings of Gary Gallagher, that by 1863 the entire Confederate nation, along with most northern and foreign observers, came to view the Army of Northern Virginia (and by extension the winning combination of Lee and Jackson) as the embodiment of the Confederate cause and its progress.

How the Gettysburg Campaign would have gone had Jackson lived has always been a popular parlor game among armchair generals, but Keller is more concerned with showing how Jackson's death had far-reaching strategic implications through its sweeping alteration of the high command composition and capabilities of the Army of Northern Virginia. This issue has also been a topic of frequent discussion in the literature. Soon after Jackson's death and on the very eve of a new campaign, the army was permanently reorganized from two large infantry corps into three smaller ones, with two (Second and Third Corps) led by generals entirely new to corps-level command. While General Ewell's signal success at Second Winchester briefly raised hopes that the spirit of Jackson was alive and well, for the rest of the campaign and beyond it would become clear that none of Lee's generals would be up to the task of adequately replacing Jackson. Though Keller fully acknowledges that the Army of Northern Virginia performed best when the complementary strengths of Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, and Stuart were at full flight, his many negative criticisms of James Longstreet in the book will undoubtedly raise the ire of Old Pete's most ardent admirers. Even so, the author mostly presents the post-Chancellorsville rise of Longstreet to the role of Lee's chief advisor and principal subordinate as a study in contrasts, with Longstreet consistently measuring up poorly when compared side-by-side with Jackson's strategic compatibility, loyalty, and trust with Lee.

A fresh reappraisal that should thoroughly engage even the most skeptical readers, Christian Keller's The Great Partnership combines sound, perceptive analysis with a deft sifting through postwar myth and legend to present a new and unfailingly interesting examination of what made the command team of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson so militarily effective. In recognizing that the influence of Lee and Jackson extended well beyond their own army, the book also informatively explores what the famous partnership meant to Confederate national fortunes before and after Jackson's death. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Booknotes: The Republic for Which It Stands (PB ed.)

New Arrival:
The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 by Richard White (Oxford UP, 2019).

The paperback version of Richard White's The Republic for Which It Stands has just been released. Part of the celebrated Oxford History of the United States series, the book "offers a fresh and integrated interpretation of Reconstruction and the Gilded Age as the seedbed of modern America."

From the description: "At the end of the Civil War the leaders and citizens of the victorious North envisioned the country's future as a free-labor republic, with a homogenous citizenry, both black and white. The South and West were to be reconstructed in the image of the North. Thirty years later Americans occupied an unimagined world. The unity that the Civil War supposedly secured had proved ephemeral. The country was larger, richer, and more extensive, but also more diverse. Life spans were shorter, and physical well-being had diminished, due to disease and hazardous working conditions. Independent producers had become wage earners. The country was Catholic and Jewish as well as Protestant, and increasingly urban and industrial. The "dangerous" classes of the very rich and poor expanded, and deep differences -- ethnic, racial, religious, economic, and political -- divided society. The corruption that gave the Gilded Age its name was pervasive.

These challenges also brought vigorous efforts to secure economic, moral, and cultural reforms. Real change -- technological, cultural, and political -- proliferated from below more than emerging from political leadership. Americans, mining their own traditions and borrowing ideas, produced creative possibilities for overcoming the crises that threatened their country.

Click here to read (or revisit) my interview with the author, which coincided with the 2017 release of the hardcover first edition.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Booknotes: The Constitutional Origins of the American Civil War

New Arrival:
The Constitutional Origins of the American Civil War by Michael F. Conlin (Cambridge UP, 2019).

"In an incisive analysis of over two dozen clauses as well as several 'unwritten' rules and practices," historian Michael Conlin's The Constitutional Origins of the American Civil War "shows how the Constitution aggravated the sectional conflict over slavery to the point of civil war. Going beyond the fugitive slave clause, the three-fifths clause, and the international slave trade clause, Michael F. Conlin demonstrates that many more constitutional provisions and practices played a crucial role in the bloody conflict that claimed the lives of over 750,000 Americans."

In describing popular debates over constitutional issues that took place during the lead up to secession and Civil War, writers frequently portray the southern population in particular as having been manipulated by radical demagogues, but Conlin's study "also reveals that ordinary Americans in the mid-nineteenth century had a surprisingly sophisticated knowledge of the provisions and the methods of interpretation of the Constitution."

"Lastly, Conlin reminds us that many of the debates that divide Americans today were present in the 1850s: minority rights vs. majority rule, original intent vs. a living Constitution, state's rights vs. federal supremacy, judicial activism vs. legislative prerogative, secession vs. union, and counter-majoritarianism vs. democracy."

Friday, September 6, 2019

Booknotes: General Hylan B. Lyon

New Arrival:
General Hylan B. Lyon: A Kentucky Confederate and the War in the West
  by Dan Lee (UT Press, 2019).

I believe that Dan Lee's General Hylan B. Lyon is the first military biography of the Kentucky Confederate officer, who fought in multiple service branches during the Civil War but achieved his greatest prominence and notoriety as a cavalry general. Beginning with the Kentuckian's antebellum U.S. Army career, Lee "chronicles Lyon’s military career, which began with service in the Third US Artillery after his graduation from West Point in 1856. Lyon first saw action in the Third Seminole War. Later stationed at Fort Yuma in California, he went on to fight in the Coeur d’Alene War. ... "After serving with troops building the Mullan Road between Washington and Montana, Lyon returned to Kentucky just as Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election."

After resigning his commission, Lyon raised a company that became a part of the 3rd Kentucky infantry regiment. Among those surrendered at Donelson, he emerged from captivity to lead the 8th Kentucky. His eventual transfer to cavalry service raised his profile considerably, and he would be mostly remembered for his late-war role as one of Nathan Bedford Forrest's principle subordinates, leading the mounted version of the famous Kentucky Brigade. "Lyon saw action in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, spending several months as a prisoner of war and winning special commendation for his performances at the Battles of Coffeeville and Brice’s Crossroads. He ultimately earned the rank of brigadier general." As an independent commander, Lyon also led a raid into western Kentucky in 1864 that was infamous for the many courthouses that he ordered burned.

"After the Civil War, Lyon sought refuge with other ex-Confederates in Mexico, working as a railroad surveyor. He requested and received a presidential pardon and returned to Kentucky by mid-1866. Lyon remained there until his death in 1907, devoting himself to farming and prison reform, as well as serving in the state house of representatives. He was the mayor of Eddyville, Kentucky, when he died in 1907."

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Review - "Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South: A Reevaluation" by Michael Frawley

[Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South: A Reevaluation by Michael S. Frawley (Louisiana State University Press, 2019). Cloth, maps, tables, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xiii,129/208. ISBN:978-0-8071-7068-7. $45]

According to both contemporary northern critics and the works of later scholars, the antebellum American South's agrarian export economy based on slave labor was incompatible with modernizing industrial development. Even many southerners at the time publicly extolled this view, some seeing it as a point of pride. Popular and scholarly traditions together hold that the antebellum South was lacking in every important prerequisite for industrial establishment and growth, namely the availability of locally-sourced raw materials, excess labor for skilled and unskilled factory work, sufficient capital investment, adequate transportation networks, and markets (local or regional) for native-produced goods. A fascinating and highly illuminating study, Michael Frawley's Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South: A Reevaluation examines all of these alleged hindrances to modernization in turn and arrives at a series of very different conclusions.

Ideally, the parameters of Frawley's study would have encompassed the entire slaveholding South, but he quite understandably limits his inquiry to a more manageable slate of states, specifically Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama. Given that those cotton-producing Gulf states were all in some ways still frontier-like in 1860 (and thus presumably among the least industrialized parts of the entire southern section), their selection as states representative of the agrarian South and the enduring economic mythology that surrounds the region makes a great deal of sense.

Though most were small in scale, the sheer number of Gulf State industrial businesses operating in 1860 will likely surprise most readers. They also have very apparently been vastly undercounted in the scholarship. Through meticulous examination of credit recording firms, local newspapers, and other sources, Frawley was able to uncover an enormous number of industrial establishments absent from the 1860 census. Oddly, while it is perhaps understandable that many sole proprietorships and partnerships located in far flung places were missed by census marshals, the truth was that entire counties were frequently skipped and even city-based industrial concerns were not fully tabulated (in Mobile alone, the author found 19 such enterprises absent from the census). Frawley's three-state sample strikingly shows that census officials actually missed the largest manufacturing firms nearly one-third of the time, a failure rate than exceeded even that for the individually-owned businesses that one might assume to have been most difficult to track (of those, roughly one in five were missed). Explanations as to how so many establishments in plain sight were so routinely overlooked by the census is unknown, but the author's suggestion that "incompetence" and "laziness" were likely culprits along with a lack of funding seems as good a guess as any.

Getting back to his book's addressing of the list of factors historically alleged to have stunted southern industry, Frawley counters the prevailing view of the South as lacking in those locally-sourced natural resources necessary to jump start an industrial economy. Among others discussed in the book, a particularly fine example lies in the coal belt counties of Alabama's northern half, which were extracting the combustible rock since 1830. Those counties also corresponded to ore deposits and other minerals that fueled the state's growing iron industry. Though the industry was still in its relatively infancy, and it would be the postwar period before deep underground mines went into widespread operation, enough coal was taken out of the ground above and beyond local needs to export to other regions.

Of course, the South's workforce percentage employed in industry in 1860 was dwarfed by the North's, but Frawley found little evidence to show that worker availability or willingness to toil in factory environments were limiting factors. Even so, just because the South's working population outside of agriculture was adequate for industrial growth does not mean their workers were good at their jobs. However, on that point as well, the book finds that southern workers compared favorably with their northern counterparts. Using one traditional measure of productivity (output per worker), Frawley's calculated Gulf South figures were in line with the national average (just slightly lower), demonstrating that southern whites were willing and entirely able to perform industrial work of all kinds.

Another leading myth of the agrarian South maintained that the region's industry, such as it was, was a product of northern and foreign-born entrepreneurship. Frawley's fairly large sample drawn from Dun credit reports comes to the opposite conclusion, with a solid majority of incorporated Gulf South firms created and run by southern-born owners. Even more myth-challenging is the fact that an even greater majority of heavy industry companies were the product of southern-born entrepreneurship. That many owners of these industrial firms listed themselves as planters in the census also to a degree contradicts traditional assertions by scholars that planters as a rule were risk-averse investors, putting profits back into known entities such as land and slaves and being generally unwilling to transfer excess capital into industrial pursuits.

Though Texas's only recent statehood placed it understandably behind Mississippi and Alabama when it came to railroad construction by 1860, the Gulf South's river and rail networks also proved more than adequate for industrial development. According to Frawley's research, the traditional conclusion that southern transportation was designed and used with exports in mind greatly underestimates the two-way traffic that existed as well as the size of industrial markets that grew along both major artery types. By the Civil War, the scale of industry was already branching beyond local needs to regional market integration, especially in Alabama and Mississippi. The Gulf South of Frawley's study had a far more diversified economy than biased northern critics, and even many southerners themselves, credited it with having. In the end Frawley paints a convincing picture of a Southern culture much more comfortable with industrial integration than scholars of the period have traditionally maintained.

For those wishing to delve deeper into the research behind the study, Frawley's appendix section provides additional sources and methods discussion. In addition to the 1860 census, Frawley examined local newspapers, journals, histories, and directories along with Dun credit reports. Readers can go to the author's own website ( to see the complete data set. The deeply flawed manufacturing information that emerges from the 1860 census data set should prompt readers and researchers to consider the probability that other aspects of census data might be similarly incomplete. After reading this book, one is led to suspect that a more general reassessment of the value of the 1860 census as a research tool for antebellum and Civil War studies might be in order.

After reading this book, one can easily imagine fruitful extensions of Frawley's pioneering work. Applying the author's research methodology to other parts of the South and border slave states would undoubtedly prove both intrinsically and comparatively useful. In terms of trend analysis, a more systematic comparison of 1850 manufacturing data to 1860 data might further strengthen many of the book's arguments. Though specialized studies already exist in the literature that have effectively countered the notion that slave labor itself was incompatible with heavy industry, it would still be interesting to find out how many of the industrial firms cited in Frawley's sample employed slave labor on some level. Unfortunately, according to the author, that kind of data apparently does not exist to the extent necessary to draw broad conclusions.

No one, including the author, will argue that the industrial capacity of the American South of 1860 had any hope of directly competing with the North's in the coming Civil War, but that's arguably an unfair basis of comparison. Just on manufacturing rankings that use the already demonstrably flawed census data, the states that comprised the Confederacy were already fifth in the world in cotton product manufacturing and eighth in iron production. Thus, though still in its infancy in terms of scale relative to the North, southern industry was already flourishing and regionally integrated by the end of the decade preceding the Civil War. Though much in the way of finished manufactured goods and armaments passed through the blockade, it says something about the South's native manufacturing base that it was able to help the Confederacy stave off the full might of the United States for four full years of industrialized warfare before being ultimately exhausted and overwhelmed. Though still small-scale in absolute terms, Gulf South industry is amply demonstrated through Michael Frawley's formidable corrective to be much more widespread and modern than traditionally supposed. Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South builds a powerful case that the industrial renaissance commonly presumed to have been a product of the postwar New South actually began much earlier during the 1850s.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Booknotes: Washington Roebling's Civil War

New Arrival:
Washington Roebling's Civil War: From the Bloody Battlefield at Gettysburg to the Brooklyn Bridge by Diane Monroe Smith (Stackpole Bks, 2019).

The Ken Burns Civil War documentary series was instrumental in raising the popular status of a number of diarists and letter writers, both military and civilian. Examples include Sam Watkins, Elisha Hunt Rhodes, and George Templeton Strong. Washington Roebling would have maintained a certain measure of renown from his directing the construction of the famous Brooklyn Bridge designed with his father, but the Burns series certainly played a role in highlighting another important component of Roebling's life story, his Civil War career. Roebling's 1861-65 time in uniform, which included a celebrated turn at Gettysburg, is exhaustively documented in Diane Monroe Smith's Washington Roebling's Civil War: From the Bloody Battlefield at Gettysburg to the Brooklyn Bridge.

From the description: "In addition to his brave, dramatic actions at Gettysburg, his Civil War service was remarkable: artilleryman, bridge builder, scout, balloonist, mapmaker, engineer, and staff officer. His story reveals much about Gettysburg but also about Civil War intelligence and engineering and the politics and infighting within the Army of the Potomac’s high command. Roebling’s service—leadership, engineering, decision-making, and managing personalities and politics—prepared him well for overseeing the Brooklyn Bridge."

Roebling's military service spanned the entire war, and during that period he wore many hats (see above). All of those experiences, from his accompaniment of the Union Army's initial advance into Virginia in 1861 through the Appomattox surrender, are recounted in a densely detailed, almost 400-page narrative supported by 41 maps.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Book News: Major General Philip Kearny

Way back when during my earliest Civil War reading, General Philip Kearny stood out to me as a brash and promising figure whose outward aggressiveness contrasted starkly with the inertia-bound eastern theater Union high command depicted in the popular literature. Though a well-known officer almost always positively portrayed as the 'anti-McClellan,' modern biographical coverage remains pretty scant. Dying early in the war in 1862 didn't help his case when it came to attracting chroniclers of his military career, but as far as I can tell there are still only two major studies, neither of which is recent. From what I gather (I haven't seen or read either one), Irving Werstein's Centennial-era Kearny the Magnificent: The Story of General Philip Kearny, 1815-1862 is not a scholarly biography and Kearny cousin John Watts De Peyster's much earlier Personal and Military History of Philip Kearny, Major-General United States Volunteers (1869) is highly hagiographical in nature. Also keeping it in the family is a 1937 joint biography the content of which I am also unfamiliar with, grandson Thomas Kearny's General Philip Kearny, Battle Soldier of Five Wars, Including the Conquest of the West by General Stephen Watts Kearny.

I would say we are due for an updated treatment of Kearny's life and Civil War career, and perhaps Robert Laven's upcoming book Major General Philip Kearny: A Soldier and His Time in the American Civil War (Spring '20) will suit our purposes.

From the description: "A talented field commander, Union General Philip Kearny began his career as a lieutenant with the 1st U.S. Dragoons. He studied cavalry tactics in France and fought with the Chasseurs d'Afrique in Algeria, where his fearlessness earned him the nickname "Kearny le Magnifique." Returning to America, he wrote a cavalry manual for the U.S. Army and later raised a troop of dragoons--using his own money to buy 120 matching dapple-gray mounts for his men--and led them during the Mexican War, where he lost an arm.

One of the most experienced officers at the outbreak of the Civil War, he commanded a division in the Army of the Potomac, famously leading a charge at the Battle of Williamsburg, saber in hand and reins in his teeth. He disliked and sometimes disobeyed General George McClellan, once protesting an order to retreat as "prompted by cowardice or treason." Kearny was on the verge of higher command when he was killed in action in the Battle of Chantilly in 1862.

Expanding on that last sentence above, multiple authors have maintained that Kearny was destined for greater things, with one or two even predicting that he would have eventually led the Army of the Potomac. I don't know about that. He always struck me as someone who didn't play well with others, and I could imagine him just as likely getting himself involved in career-damaging kerfuffles with corps and army superiors if he'd lived. Regardless, I am looking forward to seeing the book.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Coming Soon (Sept '19 Edition)

*NEW RELEASES* scheduled for September 2019:
Iowa Confederates in the Civil War by David Connon.
The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution by Eric Foner.
Iron Maidens and the Devil's Daughters: US Navy Gunboats versus Confederate Gunners and Cavalry on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, 1861-65 by Mark Zimmerman.
Untouched by the Conflict: The Civil War Letters of Singleton Ashenfelter, Dickinson College ed. by Jonathan White and Daniel Glenn.
The Hardest Lot of Men: The Third Minnesota Infantry in the Civil War by Joseph Fitzharris.
Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth by Kevin Levin.
The Constitutional Origins of the American Civil War by Michael Conlin.
Lions of the Dan: The Untold Story of Armistead's Brigade by J.K. Brandau.

Comments: As you can see from clicking on the links, many of these September titles are available already. I didn't include it because I don't know the actual title yet, but Lanny Smith will also be finishing up a massive two-volume study of the Union army at Shiloh (one book for each day, almost 1,400 pages in total). The general format will be the same as that found in his Union and Confederate Stones River volumes. I was told to expect copies by the end of the month. Greatly looking forward to poring through those tomes.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Review - "Leonidas Polk: Warrior Bishop of the Confederacy" by Huston Horn

[Leonidas Polk: Warrior Bishop of the Confederacy by Huston Horn (University Press of Kansas, 2019). Hardcover, 6 photos and illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:vii,427/599. ISBN:978-0-7006-2750-9. $39.95]

Episcopal bishop and highly controversial Confederate lieutenant general Leonidas Polk has long been in need of a modern reevaluation. Though a pair of minor biographies primarily concerned with Polk's clerical life were published earlier this century, the standard study remains Joseph Parks's General Leonidas Polk C.S.A.: The Fighting Bishop (1962). Generally speaking, the presentation of Polk in both the popular and scholarly Civil War literature has always been largely negative, with most authors questioning his military competence and work ethic while also condemning his serial acts of alleged insubordination. Seeking a more nuanced and complete treatment of Polk's life and Civil War generalship is Huston Horn's Leonidas Polk: Warrior Bishop of the Confederacy.

With roughly 150 pages covering the period between Polk's West Point enrollment and the beginning of the Civil War, the book is much more than a military biography. While a student at the Academy, he experienced a religious epiphany of sorts that concerned both his family and West Point officials. Soon after graduation, he determined upon a career in the cloth while also embracing the planter lifestyle, splitting time between Tennessee and Louisiana and eventually amassing ownership of hundreds of slaves. Though he briefly attained impressive wealth, at least on paper, his business judgment would prove far from infallible.

While some have questioned Polk's commitment to the cloth, the contrary impression clearly shines through Horn's narrative. In it Polk exhibits an extreme dedication to the development of religious life in Louisiana and other parts of the frontier Trans-Mississippi. Rising from Episcopal priest to bishop, Polk embarked upon extensive proselytizing tours of the region that kept him away from his family for months at a time, all the while suffering from a chronic lung ailment. He added to these burdens a serious educational mission that would eventually lead his to his co-founding of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, a process that was cut short by the outbreak of war. Not allowing occasional doubts regarding the morality and propriety of slavery to alter his course, Polk's actions during this period suggest a support for slavery, secession, and southern nationalism little different in character from that expressed by a great many members of the South's planter class.

Horn's account of the public reaction to Polk's agreeing to don a Confederate general's uniform is interesting in that Polk received criticism from both warring sections. While the northern press could mock the South's bishop-general for their own partisan purposes, even some of Polk's friends and supporters were shocked at the impropriety of a high-ranking clergyman taking on a leading military role in the war. Some likened Polk to a Middle Ages throwback whose actions were antithetical to nineteenth-century values.

Though largely sympathetic, Horn does acknowledge the insubordinate streak in Polk's character that frequently got him into trouble with superiors and later historians. In western Kentucky early in the war, he approved General Gideon Pillow's aggressive plan to occupy Columbus. Whatever one thinks of their joint belief that federal forces were on the cusp of moving en masse into the pro-Union border state and needed to be preempted, such a highly charged military and political move should never have been made without the prior approval of the Davis administration. Throughout the war, Polk was also not reluctant to go above the chain of command and offer unsolicited strategic advice (which often sounded more like lectures) to the president, with whom friendly relations existed. General Braxton Bragg would later complain that Polk always thought he knew better than those placed above him and allowed that mindset to guide his behavior. In those ways, Polk was not unlike many high-ranking Civil War generals.

The repulse of Grant's attack at Belmont in November 1861, which was coordinated by Polk, might have suggested that the general could prove militarily useful. However, Polk had accepted his major generalcy with grave misgivings and after Belmont was still unsure about army service. After having done his duty in weathering the early war emergency in the Mississippi Valley, he tried to resign on at least three occasions. Polk has often been criticized, and appropriately so, for having a one-track mind when it came to the defense of his Columbus fortress, and one might reasonably wonder whether his constant expectation of leaving the army also had any role in his neglect of other important posts.

Readers wanting an exhaustive tactical-scale description and analysis of Polk's actions and whereabouts on every major western theater battlefield will be somewhat disappointed to find that Horn's military assessment is mostly limited to high-level campaign and battle discussion, a course that is largely appropriate to Polk's capacity as corps commander. So in an otherwise lengthy book only a handful of pages each are devoted to Polk's direct role in battles such as Shiloh, Perryville, and Stones River.

Though Pillow drove him to distraction early in the war, clearly the most troublesome relationship of Polk's Civil War career was with Army of Tennessee commander Braxton Bragg, who upon multiple occasions accused Polk of disobedience and gross insubordination. Many historians have followed Bragg's lead. Horn, on the other hand, finds room for mitigating factors that, if generally accepted, should somewhat leaven the general opprobrium heaped upon Polk by history. The following are a few prime examples of Polk at his most controversial.

Though Bragg entirely misread the military situation in Kentucky during the close lead-in to Perryville (erroneously believing the small Union column moving on Frankfort was the enemy army's main body), he never forgave Polk for not following his order to quickly attack the opposing force in his front and join the rest of the army at Versailles. A serious disaster might have occurred had Polk obeyed, and most observers are in agreement that Polk acted wisely. Even so, from that point onward the Bragg-Polk relationship, never particularly warm, would grow bitterly antagonistic.

During the Chickamauga Campaign, Polk was ordered to attack General Thomas Crittenden's advancing Union corps on September 13 under the assumption it was near and isolated, and Polk again demurred. Horn is more forgiving of Polk's inaction during this episode than other writers have been, arguing that Crittenden had already turned away from Polk's front and positioned himself strongly behind Chickamauga Creek by the time any coordinated Confederate attack might have reached him.

The Chickamauga myth that Polk was found in an easy chair reading a paper and awaiting breakfast mid-morning on the 20th when his wing should have been conducting a dawn attack on the Union left stubbornly persists as perhaps the most commonly cited example of Polk's ingrained insubordination. However, more recent scholars of the battle (most notably William Glenn Robertson) have determined the story to be a fabrication with outrageous details that grew in the telling. Even Bragg himself contributed to it. The story and its later embellishments are also probably the source of much of the popular perception of Polk being exceptionally slothful in his personal habits. Horn's Polk is an active wing commander who had every intention of launching the ordered dawn attack, only to be thwarted in timing by a series of fog-of-war circumstances and classic D.H. Hill. Nevertheless, the delay in attacking led to Polk's arrest and removal from command.

Polk's first opportunity since 1861 to conduct an essentially independent operation of any size was his handling of the Army of Mississippi during the 1864 Meridian Campaign. Though Nathan Bedford Forrest turned back General Sherman's cooperating cavalry wing under Sooy Smith, Polk did little if anything to even annoy let alone directly oppose Sherman's infantry advance into the Mississippi interior, where Union soldiers wreaked havoc upon the infrastructure. Later, though there were few sources of major complaint with it, Polk's service in Georgia after joining forces with the Army of Tennessee was equally undistinguished before his grisly death at Pine Mountain. There was genuine sorrow in the ranks over Polk's passing, and it brings to mind how highly regarded he was by the Confederacy's western soldiers and many of their generals, even though some among the latter considered him less than attentive when it came to taking care of his command. Unfortunately, the phenomenon of Polk's immense popularity with the common soldier is not examined at any depth in the book.

As for problems with text and presentation, typos and careless content errors appear regularly. As an example of the latter, in the Chickamauga discussion Horn writes that General Thomas commanded the largest "brigade" in the federal army when, as evidenced elsewhere, he clearly knows the difference between brigades, divisions, and corps. While the book is generously sized the same cannot be said for its collection of illustrations, which comprise a meager handful. Far more unfortunate is the complete absence of map coverage of Polk's service in the field.

Leonidas Polk: Warrior Bishop of the Confederacy is easily the best and most comprehensive combined treatment of Polk's ecclesiastical and military careers. Nowhere else will readers find a more detailed, evenhanded, and understanding portrait of Polk as man, father, husband, priest, and general. Horn persuasively presents Polk as a flawed yet dutiful general. While Polk possessed no outstanding command attributes that would place him anywhere near the top echelon of Confederate military leaders, he also was not the hopelessly incompetent and unshakably insubordinate general that has so often emerged from the literature. For anyone seeking the most well-rounded reassessment of Polk's generalship and the insights that might provide into Confederate command relationships and failures in the western theater, Horn's study is essential new reading.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Booknotes: Visual Antietam Vol. 2

New Arrival:
Visual Antietam Vol. 2 - Ezra Carman’s Antietam Through Maps and Pictures: The West Woods to Bloody Lane by Ezra A. Carman and Brad Butkovich (Historic Imagination, 2019).

For many readers, especially Antietam students, Bvt. Brigadier General Ezra Carman needs no introduction, but just in case you do... "Ezra A. Carman is regarded as the father of Antietam historiography. Colonel of the 13th New Jersey Infantry during the battle, he spent the better part of his later life writing a comprehensive manuscript detailing the Maryland Campaign. He also spent a significant amount of effort to build an accurate order of battle, along with the strength of the armies engaged. The result was a detailed and meticulously researched account of the actions in Maryland and Virginia during that fateful September 1862. Adding to this work, he created a series of maps showing the movement and flow of the battle over the course of the day. His work has served as the foundation for much of the following history of the battle. Though written more than a century ago, it holds up to modern scrutiny quite well."

The middle volume of a planned trilogy, Visual Antietam Vol. 2 - Ezra Carman’s Antietam Through Maps and Pictures: The West Woods to Bloody Lane picks up at 9 a.m. on September 17 when Vol. 1 (which covered the preliminary fighting on the 16th through the next morning's action around Dunker Church) left off [click on the link to see my review of Vol. 1]. Format and presentation are exactly the same as before, so you can refer to my earlier review for the details that are all still relevant.

Vol. 2 "contains sixty (60) images, both period and modern, allowing the reader to see the battlefield today and as it was only days after the battle. Fifty-three (53) original maps explain the troop movements during the course of that morning and afternoon."

Monday, August 26, 2019

Booknotes: Bosom Friends

New Arrival:
Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King by Thomas J. Balcerski (Oxford UP, 2019).

Though the Buchanan scholarship has been just a bit more sympathetic of late, Old Buck still tops many 'worst president' lists. Thomas Balcerski's Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King takes a break from concentrating on Buchanan's much-abused presidential tenure to instead closely examine the personal and political friendship the developed between the Pennsylvanian Buchanan and Alabaman King. In the end, his book "discovers one of the most significant collaborations in American political history."

Balcerski "traces the parallels in the men's personal and professional lives before elected office, including their failed romantic courtships and the stories they told about them. Unlikely companions from the start, they lived together as congressional messmates in a Washington, DC, boardinghouse and became close confidantes. Around the nation's capital, the men were mocked for their effeminacy and perhaps their sexuality, and they were likened to Siamese twins."

The book ascribes to both men significant linked roles in the violently divisive politics of the 1850s. "Over time, their intimate friendship blossomed into a significant cross-sectional political partnership. Balcerski examines Buchanan's and King's contributions to the Jacksonian political agenda, manifest destiny, and the increasingly divisive debates over slavery, while contesting interpretations that the men lacked political principles and deserved blame for the breakdown of the union. He closely narrates each man's rise to national prominence, as William Rufus King was elected vice-president in 1852 and James Buchanan the nation's fifteenth president in 1856, despite the political gossip that circulated about them."

Finally, Bosom Friends "demonstrates that intimate male friendships among politicians were—and continue to be—an important part of success in American politics."

Friday, August 23, 2019

Booknotes: Sweet Taste of Liberty

New Arrival:
Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America by W. Caleb McDaniel (Oxford UP, 2019).

Sweet Taste of Liberty recounts the life story and long legal struggle of Henrietta Wood, who was abducted and re-enslaved in 1853 but eventually successfully sued her kidnapper for damages almost a decade and a half after the conclusion of the Civil War.

From the description: "Born into slavery, Henrietta Wood was taken to Cincinnati and legally freed in 1848. In 1853, a Kentucky deputy sheriff named Zebulon Ward colluded with Wood's employer, abducted her, and sold her back into bondage. She remained enslaved throughout the Civil War, giving birth to a son in Mississippi and never forgetting who had put her in this position."

More: "By 1869, Wood had obtained her freedom for a second time and returned to Cincinnati, where she sued Ward for damages in 1870. Astonishingly, after eight years of litigation, Wood won her case: in 1878, a Federal jury awarded her $2,500. The decision stuck on appeal. More important than the amount, though the largest ever awarded by an American court in restitution for slavery, was the fact that any money was awarded at all."

Author Caleb McDaniel's narrative also seeks to draw connections between slavery and the use of convict labor in the post-Civil War South, as "(b)y the time the case was decided, Ward had become a wealthy businessman and a pioneer of convict leasing in the South."