Monday, April 6, 2020

Booknotes: Obstinate Heroism

New Arrival:
Obstinate Heroism: The Confederate Surrenders after Appomattox by Steven J. Ramold (UNT Press, 2020).

The surrender of Lee's army on April 9, 1865 still left many thousands of organized Confederate troops physically and materially capable of further resistance. In some places, the nearest Union forces were well out of contact and very far away indeed. Nevertheless Appomattox and evolving events quickly convinced most Confederate generals and common soldiers alike that further resistance was fruitless. Recounting the Confederate surrenders in North Carolina, Alabama, and the Trans-Mississippi along with the final clashes of arms that preceded them is Steven Ramold's Obstinate Heroism: The Confederate Surrenders after Appomattox.

From the description: "Although pressed by Union forces at varying degrees, all of the remaining Confederate armies were capable of continuing the war if they chose to do so. But they did not, even when their political leaders ordered them to continue the fight. Convinced that most civilians no longer wanted to continue the war, the senior Confederate military leadership, over the course of several weeks, surrendered their armies under different circumstances."

Though General Johnston's capitulation in North Carolina has been abundantly documented in the recent literature, events the occurred out west and across the Mississippi have received lesser attention. As mentioned above, Ramold's study demonstrates how differently each major post-Appomattox surrender played out. "Gen. Joseph Johnston surrendered his army in North Carolina only after contentious negotiations with Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. Gen. Richard Taylor ended the fighting in Alabama in the face of two massive Union incursions into the state rather than try to consolidate with other Confederate armies. Personal rivalry also played a part in his practical considerations to surrender. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith had the decision to surrender taken out of his hands—disastrous economic conditions in his Trans-Mississippi Department had eroded morale to such an extent that his soldiers demobilized themselves, leaving Kirby Smith a general without an army. The end of the Confederacy was a messy and complicated affair, a far cry from the tidy closure associated with the events at Appomattox."

This review copy made it through the blockade in a fast runner. The port remains open for business, but only time will tell when it is considered safe again for the supplier warehouses to discharge their contents generally.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Booknotes: The Cornfield

New Arrival:
The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point by David A. Welker (Casemate, 2020).

If I'm correct, The Cornfield is David Welker's first Civil War book since the 2001 publication of his Chantilly battle study Tempest at Ox Hill. If memory serves, I recall thinking at the time that the author was a more than capable writer of battle history and his version was the better of the two major Chantilly studies.

But is there a great need for another Cornfield narrative? According to the description: The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point "tells for the first time the full story of the exciting struggle to control “the Cornfield,” the action on which the costly battle of Antietam turned, in a thorough yet readable narrative. It explains what happened in Antietam’s Cornfield and why. Because Federal and Confederate forces repeatedly traded control of the spot, the fight for the Cornfield is a story of human struggle against fearful odds, of men seeking to do their duty, of simply trying to survive." I know it is almost routine marketing strategy, but I always cringe when I read claims that a particular book "tells for the first time" the story of a topic most would consider already exhaustively treated, but there's always room for new interpretation.

In hinting at how Welker's account differentiates itself from the pack, the description states that "many of the included firsthand accounts have never been revealed to modern readers and never have they been assembled in such a comprehensive, readable form." Of an even more intriguing nature, it is claimed that the book "offers new perspectives that may be controversial—particularly to those who accept unchallenged the views of the battle's first historians and its generals, who too often sought to shape our understanding for their own purposes—but which are certain to change modern understanding of how the battle of Antietam was fought and its role in American history." I was hoping there would be an introduction section that would provide us with some hints regarding the nature of some of these new perspectives but no dice.

Finally, the book doesn't present the Cornfield fighting in a vacuum. It also "offers fresh views of the battle as a whole, arguing that it turned on events in the Cornfield because of two central facts — Union General George McClellan’s linear thinking demanded that the Cornfield must be taken and, because of this, the repeated failure by the generals McClellan charged with fulfilling this task created a self-reinforcing cycle of disaster that doomed the Union's prospects for success—at the cost of thousands of lives."

In close support of the author's extensive Cornfield narrative is an impressive-looking set of troop movement and terrain maps, the kind of battlefield cartography that doesn't skimp on showing practically every ear of corn, fence post, and furrow in the field. The bibliography is of expected size and breadth for a book of this type, and there is pretty extensive adjudication of source conflicts in the endnotes. If you are an Antietam person, this looks to be well deserving of your consideration.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Review - "Caught in the Maelstrom: The Indian Nations in the Civil War, 1861-1865" by Clint Crowe

[Caught in the Maelstrom: The Indian Nations in the Civil War, 1861-1865 by Clint Crowe (Savas Beatie, 2019). Hardcover, 12 maps, photos, footnotes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:x,243/271. ISBN:9781611213362. $32.95]

In many ways, the early twentieth-century scholarship of historian Annie Abel has served as the foundation of modern studies of the Civil War experiences of the "Five Civilized Tribes" (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole) of Indian Territory. After the 1925 completion of her pioneering trilogy, the subject largely languished outside the pages of the history journal Chronicles of Oklahoma. A larger revival of publications in book form really didn't occur until decades later, and it would be 1975 before the first attempt at a comprehensive overview (Rampp and Rampp's The Civil War in the Indian Territory) was published. However, even with wide recognition of the general inadequacy of works in the field, many more decades would pass before the publication of Mary Jane Warde's When the Wolf Came: The Civil War and the Indian Territory (2013), which immediately became the new standard history. In some ways less expansive than Warde's study but still satisfying all the essential expectations is Clint Crowe's Caught in the Maelstrom: The Indian Nations in the Civil War, 1861-1865.

No insightful examination of Civil War histories of the five principal nations of Indian Territory is possible without first reaching back to the removal treaties of the 1830s as chief source of the most bitter divisions that existed within them. Particularly among the powerful Creek and Cherokee populations, no united front was possible when it came to confronting the dangers of encroaching Civil War. It would mischaracterize the population of Indian Territory as a whole to say that all full-bloods were pro-Union and mixed-bloods pro-Confederate, but when it came to choosing allegiances the ethnocultural discord being traditional and non-traditional members was certainly highly pronounced among those nations. Crowe also usefully reminds readers of the role played by secret society membership in facilitating Cherokee factionalism and side choosing (the Keehtoowah Society being popular among pro-Union full-bloods and Knights of the Golden Circle influencing those members most closely associated with southern culture and slave-based economic activity). After U.S. forces abruptly withdrew from the frontier in 1861, representatives of all five nations (with varying degrees of enthusiasm) negotiated alliance treaties with the Confederate government and contributed military units for defense. On the Union side, Indian Home Guard regiments were eventually formed from refugees in Kansas as well as from numerous Cherokee defectors. Both home and fighting fronts are accorded significant attention and detailed consideration in Crowe's book, though, in common with of all general examinations of Civil War-era Indian Territory, Cherokee affairs tend to overshadow others.

On the military side of the discussion, Crowe addresses the many campaigns, battles, and skirmishes fought within Indian Territory (ex. Opothleyahola's escape, the Indian Expedition of 1862, Old Fort Wayne, First and Second Cabin Creek, Honey Springs, Perryville, Phillips's 1864 Raid, Massard Prairie, and more) as well as Union and Confederate Indian participation in operations outside the borders of Indian Territory (ex. Pea Ridge, Newtonia, Cane Hill, and Camden Expedition). Most, if not all, of these events are covered in more detail in other published sources, and the greatest strength of Crowe's series of military action accounts (which are perfectly adequate in their own right) is in their comprehensive integration. Like others have before him, Crowe sees the Union victory at the July 17, 1863 Battle of Honey Springs as the major turning point that eliminated once and for all Confederate hopes of permanently reoccupying Indian Territory. For the rest of the war, Confederate forces, while still dangerous, could do little more than launch raids and demonstrations. In common with Warde, the irregular war in the territory is mostly addressed tangentially. As has become standard practice, Confederate general Stand Watie dominates much of the narrative, but Crowe also offers suitable coverage of other military leaders, along with way presenting a renewed appreciation of the military and administrative talents of Confederate major general. Samuel Bell Maxey. Though political interference from high above eventually sidelined him, Maxey proved himself to be arguably the most effective overall commander of Confederate forces in Indian Territory.

Scholars have pointed out before that Indian Territory residents suffered the Civil War's highest proportional losses in population and property destruction, and Crowe's book contains a fairly extensive exploration of home front displacement and material loss. A handful of insightful case studies detail individual stories that mirror civilian experiences common to Missouri and other regions of the country wracked by similar levels of home front violence. In response to the back and forth fighting in Indian Territory, tens of thousands fled their homes. Pro-Union families temporarily settled in Kansas in large numbers while pro-Confederate Indians relocated to refugee camps established along the Red River border with Texas. Disease and deprivation were rampant, and both tribal and government authorities struggled to supply the needs of refugees. Though government assistance (aided by active lobbying from religious groups) allowed some farms in Union-controlled areas to return to production during the war's final months, the vast majority of displaced persons could not return home until the war ended.

When peace returned, the nations of Indian Territory were surprised to learn that all of their antebellum treaties with the U.S. were voided and needed to be renegotiated. As was the case before the Civil War, factionalism prevented a united diplomatic front. The new treaties with the United States ended slavery, addressed citizenship, and included extensive (though compensated) land cessions and railroad right-of-way concessions. At least for the time being, though, the sovereign nations avoided the single government and U.S. territorial status desired by many political leaders in Washington. Spread over two chapters, Crowe's discussion of postwar recovery is less extensive than Warde's (which stretched into the following century), but it provides a good overview of the immediate postwar struggle to obtain the best terms possible from the federal government.

Those seeking a general history of the experience and participation of Indian Territory nations (particularly the Five Civilized Tribes) in the American Civil War now have two reading options worthy of recommendation. With both works exhibiting up to date scholarship while covering roughly similar ground (though at varying degrees of depth), preference will largely be a matter of individual taste. The best option to take, however, is to appreciate their complementary strengths by reading both. Generally speaking, it is probably safe to say that Crowe's Caught in the Maelstrom is more accessible to a wider audience and its military coverage more thorough in places (and with far better maps) while Warde's social, economic, and political treatments are deeper throughout.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Coming Soon (April '20 Edition)

*NEW RELEASES* - Scheduled for April 2020:

The War Went On: Reconsidering the Lives of Civil War Veterans edited by Jordan and Rothera.
Grant's Victory: How Ulysses S. Grant Won the Civil War by Bruce Brager.
The Diary of Serepta Jordan: A Southern Woman's Struggle With War and Family, 1857-1864 ed. by Uffelman, Kanervo, Smith, and Williams.
The Irish Brigade: A Pictorial History of the Famed Civil War Fighters by Russ Pritchard.
Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington by Ted Widmer.
In the Waves: My Quest to Solve the Mystery of a Civil War Submarine by Rachel Lance.
Not Till Then Can the World Know: Replacement Companies of the Fourteenth Iowa Infantry in the Trans-Mississippi by L. Spencer Busch.
States at War: A Reference Guide for Michigan in the Civil War by Richard Miller.
Gunboats, Muskets, and Torpedoes: Coastal North Carolina, 1861–1865 by Michael Laramie.
Organizing Freedom: Black Emancipation Activism in the Civil War Midwest by Jennifer Harbour.
Faces of Civil War Nurses by Ronald Coddington.
Ex Parte Milligan Reconsidered: Race and Civil Liberties from the Lincoln Administration to the War on Terror ed. by Stewart Winger & Jonathan White.
Marriage on the Border: Love, Mutuality, and Divorce in the Upper South during the Civil War by Allison Dorothy Fredette.
The War for Missouri: 1861-1862 by Joseph McCoskrie.
Catholic Confederates: Faith and Duty in the Civil War South by Gracjan Kraszewski.

Comments: Some big distributors continue to ship out books, so I suppose these monthly lists are still worth doing. A couple of these (this and this) I already have in hand.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Booknotes: A Republic in the Ranks

New Arrival:
A Republic in the Ranks: Loyalty and Dissent in the Army of the Potomac by Zachery A. Fry (UNC Press, 2020).

"The Army of the Potomac was a hotbed of political activity during the Civil War." One could hardly expect anything less. Any mass volunteer army would naturally reflect the kaleidoscope of political views present in its recruitment geography. 

From the description: "(I)n this comprehensive reassessment of the army's politics, Zachery A. Fry argues that the war was an intense political education for its common soldiers. Fry examines several key crisis points to show how enlisted men developed political awareness that went beyond personal loyalties. By studying the struggle between Republicans and Democrats for political allegiance among the army's rank and file, Fry reveals how captains, majors, and colonels spurred a pro-Republican political awakening among the enlisted men, culminating in the army's resounding Republican voice in state and national elections in 1864."

As referenced both above and below, rather than adopting a top-down approach Fry's A Republic in the Ranks: Loyalty and Dissent in the Army of the Potomac examines more ground-level sources of political expression and change. More from the description: "For decades, historians have been content to view the Army of the Potomac primarily through the prism of its general officer corps, portraying it as an arm of the Democratic Party loyal to McClellan's leadership and legacy. Fry, in contrast, shifts the story's emphasis to resurrect the successful efforts of proadministration junior officers who educated their men on the war's political dynamics and laid the groundwork for Lincoln's victory in 1864." As even Civil War-era citizen-armies were not institutions allowing the kinds of freedom of expression guaranteed in civilian life, there can be a fine line between education and coercion. Hopefully, Fry takes that factor into account, as well. It looks like the book might be a good companion read to Jonathan White's excellent 2014 study Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Book News: Storming Vicksburg

The ink on Timothy Smith's The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863 has barely dried and we already have news of another upcoming release covering the very same topic, Earl Hess's Storming Vicksburg: Grant, Pemberton, and the Battles of May 19-22, 1863 (October 2020). It never ceases to amaze me how often this sort of thing occurs, when significant subject matter finally receives a major treatment for the first time only to have that happy surprise followed soon after by the release of another book-length study of similar stature. I never see this as a negative thing on the reader side, the more the merrier. At least outwardly, most Civil War authors caught up in this kind of situation seem to take it in stride, emphasizing complementary aspects of each other's work. I'm looking forward to reading them both.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Booknotes: War and Peace on the Rio Grande Frontier

New Arrival:
War and Peace on the Rio Grande Frontier, 1830–1880 by Miguel Ángel González-Quiroga (OU Press, 2020).

With much in the way of documented justification, the historical characterization of the nineteenth-century borderland between the United States and Mexico has often been one of "violence fueled by racial hatred, national rivalries, lack of governmental authority, competition for resources, and an international border that offered refuge to lawless men." However, conflict and violence obviously do not comprise the entire story. Miguel Ángel González-Quiroga's sweeping new study War and Peace on the Rio Grande Frontier, 1830–1880 also examines "the region’s other everyday reality, one based on coexistence and cooperation among Mexicans, Anglo-Americans, and the Native Americans, African Americans, and Europeans who also inhabited the borderlands." What emerges is a picture of the border as a place "that gave rise not only to violent conflict but also cooperation and economic and social advancement."

More from the description: "Meeting here are the Anglo-Americans who came to the border region to trade, spread Christianity, and settle; Mexicans seeking opportunity in el norte; Native Americans who raided American and Mexican settlements alike for plunder and captives; and Europeans who crisscrossed the borderlands seeking new futures in a fluid frontier space. Historian Miguel Ángel González-Quiroga draws on national archives, letters, consular records, periodicals, and a host of other sources to give voice to borderlanders’ perspectives as he weaves their many, varied stories into one sweeping narrative. The tale he tells is one of economic connections and territorial disputes, of refugees and bounty hunters, speculation and stakeholding, smuggling and theft and other activities in which economic considerations often carried more weight than racial prejudice."

The book's coverage spans five decades encompassing "Anglo settlement of Texas in the 1830s, the Texas Revolution, the Republic of Texas , the US-Mexican War, various Indian wars, the US Civil War, the French intervention into Mexico, and the final subjugation of borderlands Indians by the combined forces of the US and Mexican armies." Among American Civil War readers, the book's broadest theme of a borderland region rife with paradoxes of societal and cultural attraction and rejection (along with contrasting forces of violence and cooperation) might evoke some commonalities with Andrew Masich's recent award-winning book Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands, 1861–1867 (2017). However, the two studies are more complementary than otherwise. While both authors make extensive use of  U.S. and Mexican archives, González-Quiroga concentrates his efforts on the lower Rio Grande while Masich focused on the lesser-studied (at least for the Civil War era) upper Rio Grande. The time span covered by each book (50 years of border history versus 7) is obviously much different, as well. For his own examination of the Civil War years, González-Quiroga devotes two long chapters to the same 1861-67 period that comprised Masich's entire study. The first discusses the impact of concurrent civil wars (U.S. and Mexican) on the Rio Grande frontier, and the second delves into aspects of cross-border cooperation in wartime (with great emphasis placed on expansive commercial ties as a salient feature of an otherwise chaotic time).

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Review - "Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood" by Stephen Davis

[Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood by Stephen Davis (Mercer University Press, 2019). Hardcover, 28 maps, footnotes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xi,439/514. ISBN:978-0-88146-720-8. $35]

John Bell Hood's blemished record as lieutenant general and his dismal failure as acting full general, both in 1864, have largely overshadowed a stellar Civil War career up to that point. Until fairly recently, the literature's dominant characterization of corps commander Hood was that of a disloyal subordinate who lied and schemed his way into becoming the Davis administration's choice for replacing Joe Johnston at the head of the Army of Tennessee. According to many of those same critics, once Hood got command of the Confederacy's principal western army he then proceeded to bleed it white by launching an unimaginative series of bloody frontal assaults against a capable enemy that greatly outnumbered him. To further discredit Hood, some have gone so far as to paint the crippled general as a drug-addled military egoist who callously sacrificed a brave army he angrily blamed for ruining his brilliant plans. Such assessments, oft repeated, die hard, but the more recent generations of Civil War historians have effectively countered the most unsupportable of those charges. In that group is Atlanta historian Stephen Davis, who is, with the publication of his latest book Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood, now halfway through an exhaustive two-volume military biography of the general.

Roughly one-quarter of Davis's narrative recounts Hood's dynamic exploits on the Virginia Peninsula and at Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Suffolk, and Chickamauga. This 1861-63 coverage might seem proportionally inadequate given the tome-like dimensions of the first volume, but there is already broad consensus concerning the details and analysis of that early to mid-war period of Hood's Civil War career. Even so, it is an excellent critical summary. What is perhaps more interesting than yet another recounting of Hood's celebrated exploits as brigade and division commander is Davis's identification of troubling portents. One of these involves official notice of Hood's negligent oversight of the clothing, equipping, and hygiene of his men, along with reprimands regarding his men's indiscipline off the battlefield. Additionally, when bored with static operations around Suffolk in early 1863, Hood first displayed what would become a troubling penchant for communicating directly with Richmond authorities, bypassing chain of command with self-serving messages.

The extended prologue referenced above also establishes the author's opinion that "ambition" was Hood's "salient characteristic," (pg. 105) a finding mirrored by other writers. Of course, possessing a healthy measure of personal ambition and cultivating powerful patrons were almost prerequisites for any fast rise into the high command ranks of the Civil War's politically-charged volunteer armies. This is a truth many Hood detractors either minimize or ignore. The more important consideration surrounding Hood's ambition was whether it was toxic (i.e. did it negatively affect military operations at key moments, worsen the western army's already divisive command structure, undermine the authority of the army commander, or lead to Hood's elevation over clearly better available candidates). The author's likely answer to most of those questions is a qualified 'yes.'

Part 1 of Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta comprehensively covers Hood's February-July 1864 tenure as corps commander in Joe Johnston's revitalized Army of Tennessee. According to Davis's research, the new lieutenant general immediately proved popular with the troops (though Hood privately complained, inaccurately, that his corps contained all the "untried" men in the army, as if by pointing this out more than once he could avoid responsibility if his corps performed poorly in the upcoming campaign). As he had done earlier in his career, Hood also continued to violate army regulations by regularly corresponding with military and political officials in Richmond. To be fair, as Davis points out, the army's senior corps commander, William J. Hardee, did the same.

Though the the two men became bitter enemies during the postwar blame game and memoir battles, the much younger Hood seems to have become Johnston's chief advisor among his lieutenant generals (a personal relationship that makes the backdoor correspondence with Richmond all the more unseemly). Davis develops this conclusion through a number of sources, including the writings of officers and civilian visitors who frequently found Johnston and Hood in intimate consultation at army headquarters. Though other writers still seem hesitant to do so, Davis incorporates author and Hood apologist Stephen Hood's strongest arguments into his analysis, but he more compellingly sees the matter of General Hood's correspondence as one of the major blind spots in author Hood's often convincing brand of revisionism. In the end, Davis justifiably stands with the chorus of historians who see the content and nature of Hood's self-serving letter campaign (culminating in his infamous July 14 letter to General Bragg) as dishonest scheming for army command.

Though the matter of "phantom legions" being the source of Hood's aborted attack at Cassville has been thoroughly debunked for some time now, the historiography long-condemned Hood for allegedly ruining Johnston's most promising offensive battle plan. Davis thoroughly agrees with the current historical consensus that there was indeed a strong force beyond Hood's right that had to be taken into account. As Davis reiterates, though, Hood's continuous complaints about Johnston's timidity belied his own lack of fighting spirit at key moments in the campaign. For instance, after the army recollected itself atop a ridge south of Cassville, Hood and Polk's combined belief that they could not hold their defensive lines convinced Johnston against his own judgment to withdraw from yet another seemingly strong position.

In discussing key issues in the text, Davis does a great job of weighing the published thoughts and views of a host of prominent biographers and Atlanta Campaign historians (among others Dyer, Connelly, McMurry, Symonds, Newton, Hess, Woodworth, Scaife, and Castel) against his own research and analysis. One salient feature of Davis's literature review is a renewed appreciation for local historian Wilbur Kurtz to a degree not seen in other current Atlanta campaign and battle studies. It's also extremely helpful that this comparative assessment is frequently outlined in the main text instead of being relegated to the notes. Since there is so much extensive discussion, both on-point and discursive, contained in the notes their placement at the bottom of the page was an excellent decision. Descriptions of military movements are also well supported by a large set of original maps. One really gets the impression through text, notes, and massive bibliography that Davis possesses an exceptional mastery of the campaign literature.

To put it mildly, the level of controversy surrounding Hood's corps leadership is dwarfed by what would emerge after his appointment as Johnston's replacement. Thus begins Part 2. All acknowledge that Hood was placed in a tight spot when tasked with defending Atlanta after Sherman's immensely powerful army group was already beyond the last great natural barrier of defense (the Chattahoochee River) and approaching the gates of the city. The first clash would be at Peach Tree Creek.

In recounting the rift between Hood and Hardee that widened during the July 20 Battle of Peach Tree Creek and the great July 22 battle fought east of Atlanta, Davis acknowledges Hardee's shortcomings but agrees with other writers that Hood also deserves censure for not monitoring the action more closely and not accepting more responsibility for the results of the fighting (especially when they came at Hood's intercession). On a related note, many observers have drawn comparisons between Hood's July 22 battle plan and Stonewall Jackson's celebrated march around the Union right flank at Chancellorsville. For those interested in engaging further with that topic, Davis's sixteen-point contrasting assessment of why Lee's attack succeeded and Hood's failed is highly recommended reading.

With Sherman's advances north and east of Atlanta temporarily blocked, Hood's battle plan for Ezra Church west of the city was much more realistic than the overambitious one devised earlier for attacking the other Union flank on July 22. Even with more achievable goals, Ezra Church was another unquestionable defeat for the Confederate army. Rather than blaming Hood, though, the author joins with others (Ezra Church chronicler Gary Ecelbarger being a chief dissenter) in laying the poor results of the fight squarely at the feet of newly-arrived corps commander S.D. Lee.

An underappreciated aspect of Hood's actions during this period was his effectiveness in adding strength to his army during the middle of the campaign (and without the benefit of outside reinforcement beyond Georgia state militia). Though some have criticized Hood for going too far, Davis is not the first to credit Hood's success in returning able-bodied men to his army mid-campaign. It obviously was not enough to make a difference between victory and defeat, but Davis's demonstration that Hood was able to improve the strength ratio of his own army to Sherman's over the final two months of the campaign argues against the long-held view, though much altered in recent times, that Hood was engaged in mindlessly battering his own army to dust.

Though the series of attacks that Hood launched around Atlanta were clear tactical defeats, each served to temporarily stymie Sherman's lunges and cause the Union commander to reconsider his plans. Unlike many other historians, Davis does not find great fault in Hood's generalship between Utoy Creek and the fall of Atlanta. The author points to persistent allegations that Hood lost track of Sherman's final big flanking maneuver for many critical days as being both inaccurate and unfair. Davis stresses that the already overstretched Hood should not be blamed for the inability to divine precisely when and where Sherman planned to break the Macon & Western R.R. south of Atlanta. In Davis's view, if the idea (and it was) was to thwart Sherman's distant maneuvering against his railroad lifeline while simultaneously maintaining possession of Atlanta, there was little more that Hood could possibly have done.

Generally speaking, the author's views seem to align with those who have contended that Hood's losing Atlanta was inevitable given the unenviable military situation and fighting directives he was first presented with in July. Some could have done better and a whole lot could have done worse, and Davis describes his own evaluation of Hood's overall command performance in delaying Sherman's capture of Atlanta as being a "favorable assessment" (pg. 436). In the end, though one might disagree with certain arguments or points of emphasis, the book offers a highly judicious weighing of Hood's strengths against his flaws of character and military conduct.

Even though the book's greatest focus is obviously on Confederate general John Bell Hood, more than enough Union perspective is present to also rank the volume among the finest overall accounts of the Atlanta Campaign. Worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Albert Castel's classic study (and sharing similar jabs at Sherman!), it's a well-conceived and impressively executed hybrid of biography and campaign history. It would be hard to imagine a reader finishing Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta and not looking forward to the release of the second volume, Into Tennessee and Failure.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Booknotes: Section 27 and Freedman's Village in Arlington National Cemetery

New Arrival:
Section 27 and Freedman's Village in Arlington National Cemetery: The African American History of America's Most Hallowed Ground by Ric Murphy and Tim Stephens (McFarland, 2020).

Section 27 and Freedman's Village in Arlington National Cemetery "explains how the grounds of Arlington House, formerly the home of Robert E. Lee and a plantation of the enslaved, became a military camp for Federal troops, a freedmen's village and farm, and America's most important burial ground. 

During the Civil War, the property served as a pauper's cemetery for men too poor to be returned to their families, and some of the very first war dead to be buried there include over 1,500 men who served in the United States Colored Troops. More than 3,800 former slaves are interred in section 27, the property's original cemetery."

Beginning in 1888, the Freedman's Village residents were given small compensation by the federal government and ordered to leave the grounds, which were then converted into burial sections 3,4,8, and 18. According to the book, the main road of the historical Freedman's Village roughly corresponds to "(t)oday's section of Grant Drive, Clayton Drive, and Jessup Drive..." 

In support of the text are numerous photographs, figures, tables, and maps. The book has an extensive appendix section, which includes a an Arlington timeline, an 1858 slave inventory of the Arlington estate, the December 1862 emancipation document of the estate's slave population signed by Custis will executor R.E. Lee, employment records, and a walking tour of African American history at Arlington Cemetery. As noted on the cover, the book is also the recent winner of the Phillis Wheatley Book Award.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Booknotes: The War Went On

New Arrival:
The War Went On: Reconsidering the Lives of Civil War Veterans edited by Brian Matthew Jordan & Evan C. Rothera (LSU Press, 2020).

"Inspired by recent interest in memory studies and energized by the ongoing neorevisionist turn," Civil War veterans studies have received quite a boost in recent years. A major scholar in this corner of Civil War studies is Brian Matthew Jordan, so he's a natural choice (with Evan Rothera) to introduce, edit, and contribute to the new essay anthology The War Went On: Reconsidering the Lives of Civil War Veterans.

From the description: "Despite this flood of historical scholarship, fundamental questions about the essential character of Civil War veteranhood remain unanswered. Moreover, because work on veterans has often proceeded from a preoccupation with cultural memory, the Civil War’s ex­-soldiers have typically been analyzed as either symbols or producers of texts."

Often taking a different tack, the fifteen essays in The War Went On largely "approach Civil War veterans from oblique angles, including theater, political, and disability history, as well as borderlands and memory studies." I don't see any links online to the full table of contents, so I've transcribed it below from my print copy.

1. "Let Us Everywhere Charge the Enemy Home": Army of the Potomac Veterans and Public Partisanship, 1864-1880 by Zachery Fry.

2. The Men Are Understood to Have Been Generally Americans, in the Employ of the Liberal Government": Civil War Veterans and Mexico, 1865-1867 by Evan Rothera.

3. Civil War Veteran Colonies on the Western Frontier by Kurt Hackemer.

4. The Trials of Frank James: Guerrilla Veteranhood and the Double Edge of Wartime Notoriety by Matthew Hulbert.

5. Speaking for Themselves: Disabled Veterans and Civil War Medical Photography by Sarah Handley-Cousins.

6. Remembering "That Dark Episode": Union and Confederate Ex-Prisoners of War and Their Captivity Narratives by Angela Riotto.

7. "Exposing False History": The Voice of the Union Veteran in the Pages of the National Tribune by Steven Sodergren.

8. "It Is Natural That Each Comrade Should Think His Corps the Best": Sheridan's Veterans Refight the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign by Jonathan Noyalas.

9. A Building Very Useful: The Grand Army Memorial Hall in US Civil Life, 1880-1920 by Jonathan Neu.

10. Veterans at the Footlights: Unionism and White Supremacy in the Theater of the Grand Army of the Republic by Tyler Sperrazza.

11. "Our Beloved Father Abraham": African American Civil War Veterans and Abraham Lincoln in War and Memory by Matthew Norman.

12. "The Colored Veteran Soldiers Should Receive the Same Tender Care": Soldiers' Homes, Race, and the Post-Civil War Midwest by Kelly Mezurek

13. Lost to the Lost Cause: Arkansas's Union Veterans by Rebecca Howard.

14. Loyal Deserters and the Veterans Who Werent: Pension Fund Fraud in Lost Cause Memory by Adam Domby.

15. Veterans in New Fields: Directions for Future Scholarship on Civil War Veterans by Brian Matthew Jordan.

Friday, March 20, 2020


I fully expected there to be massive supply chain disruptions in the publishing world during the pandemic crisis, and there have been some announcements by publishers that review copies will be unavailable for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, for some others it is still business as usual, at least for the moment. I did receive one book in the mail just yesterday but wouldn't be too surprised if the valve was shut off almost completely through the summer and maybe even beyond. So this has obvious consequences for the site, but I do have a pretty sizable collection of recent releases waiting to be read. That should keep me busy for a while so keep checking back.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Review - "The Battle of Shiloh - The Union Armies: 6 April 1862 - Vol I & 7 April 1862 - Vol II" by Lanny Smith (to be continued)

[The Battle of Shiloh - The Union Armies - 6 April 1862 - Vol I by Lanny K. Smith (Author, 2018). Hardcover, 58 maps, notes, name index, unit index. Pages main/total:xii,597/704. ISBN:978-1-56837-444-4. $120 (2 Vol. set)]

A decade ago, Lanny Kelton Smith completed his publication of a two-volume history of the Stones River campaign and battle [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)]. Even more ambitious, Smith's newest battle history project is a planned four-volume examination of the Battle of Shiloh, with the first two installments The Battle of Shiloh - The Union Armies: 6 April 1862 - Vol I and 7 April 1862 - Vol II recently completed and a pair of Confederate companion volumes to follow sometime in the future. Though the Stones River books were well received by subject experts and enthusiasts alike, it should be mentioned straight away that Smith's books are not designed for general audience appeal. Both Stones River and Shiloh already have multiple popular treatments written along traditional lines, some being model battle studies that are great favorites among Civil War readers. Smith has alternatively assigned himself a very different task and focus, that of recounting the events of these battles from an incredibly comprehensive ground-level perspective at unprecedented levels of small-unit tactical detail. If anything, this unique quality is even more pronounced in the new Shiloh books.

Just to begin with an overview of the contents of Volume I, the first hundred pages are comprised of a fine summary of the origins of U.S. Grant's 'twin rivers' campaign through his army's establishment of forward posts at Crump's Landing and Pittsburg Landing. Covering the six days prior to the battle, the next section discusses at great length the layout of the Union camps and the various scouting expeditions conducted west of Crump's Landing and south of Pittsburg Landing. More than any other Shiloh study, Smith's intricate account of this period really shows how frequently and actively the pickets of both sides were in contact during the days preceding the battle. Lest this point be used to even further condemn the unpreparedness of the Union Army on the eve of Shiloh, it may perhaps be appropriate to remind potential critics that picket firing was not unusual whenever major armies were in close proximity to each other and no army can be on full alert indefinitely. The great middle of the book, around 400 pages of content, covers the Army of the Tennessee's conduct and experience of the April 6 battle (more on that below). A late chapter also discusses naval participation in the campaign and battle through the activities of the timberclads Lexington and Tyler. Starting on March 16, a pair of lengthy chapters recount the march of General Don Carlos Buell's army to the battlefield on a day-by-day basis. They discuss the arrival of the Army of the Ohio's advance elements and their reactions to what they saw while also plotting in great detail the staging positions taken by each unit on the combined army's left for the next day's dawn assault. Finally, Grant's personal activities are traced in the book's last chapter. In it some emphasis is placed on the Wallace controversy and questions regarding the veracity of Grant's later claim to have been everywhere on the field giving orders subsequent to his mid-battle arrival by boat from Savannah.

Unlike the major single-volume works (among them books by Wiley Sword, James McDonough, Larry Daniel, Edward Cunningham, and Timothy Smith) that cover the fighting in flowing narrative fashion, Lanny Smith's battle history is comprehensively displayed in distinct stages through a methodically-arranged series of hierarchical subsections based upon the Union order of battle. From top to bottom, sections start with the division and flow downward through each and every assigned brigade, regiment, and artillery battery). Unbrigaded cavalry battalions and independent companies are not forgotten in the process. There are even standalone sections detailing the personal movements and activities of the commanding officer of each division, brigade, and regiment. For the three divisions that experienced the longest sustained fighting of the day (Sherman's, McClernand's, and Prentiss's), these treatments are divided further into early morning and late morning/afternoon phases. The main battle section also includes a fairly exhaustive rundown of Col. Webster's arrangement of artillery in Grant's "Final Line." It would be difficult to overstate the volume and density of descriptive detail present in all of these parts. Perhaps more will be said about the bibliography in the review of Volume II, but from the notes it is clear that the text is O.R.-based and richly enhanced through skillful integration of many firsthand accounts written by participants of all ranks. Thankfully, Smith is more judicious than many other authors in his use (but not overuse) of block quotes.

The book's unusual but effective format is highly conducive to giving readers the unprecedented ability to follow with relative ease the movements and fighting activities of every component of Grant's army from dawn to dusk on April 6. This is just not possible using the traditional way of rendering battle history. In even the best narrative histories, through space limitations or any number of other practical reasons, a multitude of units get only abbreviated coverage, mere mention, or are not referenced at all. Using his own method, units that Smith feels have never been properly credited for their part in the battle (ex. the 15th and 16th Iowa) get full treatment. Of course, this ground-level focus risks distorting reader perception of the overall flow of the battle, and no one would recommend this style of book as a reader's very first exposure to the topic. Indeed, the audience group really capable of appreciating Smith's books for what they are is probably rather sharply limited to those already steeped in the Shiloh literature (or at the very least possessing a passing familiarity with the major secondary works).

While the material quality of the volumes is high and their overall presentation appealing, they do exhibit some of the common problems associated with self-publishing. The author's framing of events in nested-org fashion, combined with the fact that units from other divisions frequently intermixed on the firing line, means there's a great deal of content repetition throughout the volume. Some of this is native to the chosen format and unavoidable in that way, but a ruthless outside editor might have been able to apply some beneficial trimming while at the same time fixing up the text's pervasive typographical errors.

The book's 58 maps are hand-drawn at various scales and are stylistically similar to those found in Smith's other books. They are generally well integrated with nearby text and display most of the features that readers expect and want from maps tasked with showing complex military events (though a more standardized compass orientation would have helped).

The book's assessments of Union generals are a solid mixture of deference to established views and the author's own judicious interpretations. For example, Smith's discussion of the Lew Wallace controversy is in line with many of the learned opinions expressed in recent scholarship from Gail Stephens, Charles Beemer, and Christopher Mortenson (particularly the first two). Like those authors and others who have weighed in on the matter, Smith rejects the idea that Wallace got lost on the wrong road and marched inordinately slow, but he also appreciates that Wallace's decision to break for supper and his reversing his division's order of march in the most time-consuming manner possible are choices that still leave the prickly political general open to some level of criticism. While all of Grant's divisions were eventually driven back in varying degrees of disorder, the author convincingly singles out (1) McClernand's generous support of his fellow commanders on either flank, (2) his key role in the midday counterattack in the center that historians Cunningham and Smith cite as one of the most underappreciated aspects of the first day's fighting, and (3) his generally well-managed withdrawal throughout the day as providing ample support for concluding that the much-maligned McClernand's overall performance on April 6 was "equal to or better" than that of any of this division-leading colleagues (including Sherman).

At least so far, the author does not appear to be deeply wedded to any of the major schools of thought assigning primacy to particular Shiloh battlefield events and moments (ex. the Hornet's Nest fighting). If anything, Smith probably aligns himself closest with the ongoing "revisionist school" said to have its origins in Cunningham's work in the 1960s. There are other April 6 controversies and issues of contention, among them General Beauregard's decision to not launch a final assault late in the day and the effect that Albert Sidney Johnston's death had on Confederate momentum, that will presumably be addressed in the remaining volumes.


[The Battle of Shiloh - The Union Armies - 7 April 1862 - Vol II by Lanny K. Smith (Author, 2019).

Click here for ordering information.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Booknotes: Entertaining History

New Arrival:
Entertaining History: The Civil War in Literature, Film, and Song edited by Chris Mackowski (SIU Press, 2020).

The "collection of essays and feature stories" in Entertaining History: The Civil War in Literature, Film, and Song "celebrates the novels, popular histories, magazines, movies, television shows, photography, and songs that have enticed Americans to learn more about our most dramatic historical era." Though organized into the three main media themes referred to above in the subtitle, the volume consists of twenty-five standalone pieces. To make reviewing it manageable, perhaps I'll just choose some particular favorites in each section to talk about. We'll see.

The following excerpt from the description offers an idea of the range of topics discussed in the essays: "From Ulysses S. Grant’s Memoirs to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, from Roots to Ken Burns’s The Civil War, from “Dixie” to “Ashokan Farewell,” and from Civil War photography to the Gettysburg Cyclorama, trendy and well-loved depictions of the Civil War are the subjects of twenty contributors who tell how they and the general public have been influenced by them. Sarah Kay Bierle examines the eternal appeal of Gone with the Wind and asks how it is that a protagonist who so opposed the war has become such a figurehead for it. H. R. Gordon talks with New York Times–bestselling novelist Jeff Shaara to discuss the power of storytelling. Paul Ashdown explores Cold Mountain’s value as a portrait of the war as national upheaval, and Kevin Pawlak traces a shift in cinema’s depiction of slavery epitomized by 12 Years a Slave. Tony Horwitz revisits his iconic Confederates in the Attic twenty years later."

The book also has supplements available online through accessing the QR codes placed at the end of the introduction and beginnings of the three parts. There is an alternative URL but I couldn't get it to work just now, so perhaps it's not finished yet.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Booknotes: Arguing until Doomsday

New Arrival:
Arguing Until Doomsday: Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and the Struggle for American Democracy by Michael E. Woods (UNC Press, 2020).

Well this is clearly something different, a dual political biography with the Little Giant as one subject and the contrasting figure isn't Lincoln! In Arguing Until Doomsday: Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and the Struggle for American Democracy historian Michael Woods see the two senators as representative poles of the widening rift within the Democratic Party that became a decisive break just before the 1860 election. "As leaders of the Democrats' northern and southern factions before the Civil War, their passionate conflict of words and ideas has been overshadowed by their opposition to Abraham Lincoln. But here, weaving together biography and political history, Michael E. Woods restores Davis and Douglas's fatefully entwined lives and careers to the center of the Civil War era."

Woods's title "Arguing Until Doomsday" refers to Georgia senator Alfred Iverson's exasperated quip upon being forced to listen to the pair's February 1859  three-hour debate over Kansas statehood that discussed "property rights, democracy, and the future of the American West" (pg. 1) and widened into another unresolvable intra-party quarrel over slavery. In weaving together "personal, partisan, and national" contexts of the rivalry, the author professes to have no interest in rehabilitating the historical reputation of Douglas. However, he does wish to foster a wider re-appreciation of the wide diversity of views present in the Democratic Party of the time, a political body still popularly dismissed as an unholy alliance between proslavery southerners and meek northern collaborators.

More from the description: "Operating on personal, partisan, and national levels, Woods traces the deep roots of Democrats' internal strife, with fault lines drawn around fundamental questions of property rights and majority rule. Neither belief in white supremacy nor expansionist zeal could reconcile Douglas and Davis's factions as their constituents formed their own lines in the proverbial soil of westward expansion. The first major reinterpretation of the Democratic Party's internal schism in more than a generation, Arguing until Doomsday shows how two leading antebellum politicians ultimately shattered their party and hastened the coming of the Civil War."