Saturday, May 26, 2018

2017 Civil War Book awards list

A reader recently asked me if I knew of any place on the web that compiled all the yearly Civil War book award winners. I've never encountered anything like that. Over the years, I've recognized various prizes and recipients here on CWBA and put together a limited list only in 2016. I am going to try to make it a yearly thing from now on (there will be permanent links in the sidebar), but the fact that many award sites either lack a web presence altogether or do not keep existing ones current still leaves gaps. Some prizes are also not awarded on a yearly basis.

I know there are many more in existence than I have listed below, so feel free to let me know of any additional ones (please keep them specific to the Civil War, though) in the comment section, with the relevant URL if possible. 2018 is incomplete at this time, of course, but I went back and completed a pretty good list for 2017:

Tom Watson Brown Award:
Christopher Phillips, The Rivers Ran Backward: The Civil War and the Remaking of the American Middle Border

A.M. Pate Award:
Andrew Masich, Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands 1861-1867

Dan and Marilyn Laney Prize:
David A. Powell, The Chickamauga Campaign―Barren Victory: The Retreat into Chattanooga, the Confederate Pursuit, and the Aftermath of the Battle, September 21 to October 20, 1863

Richard Barksdale Harwell Book Award:
Earl Hess, Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man in the Confederacy

Bobbie and John Nau Book Prize in American Civil War Era History:
Daniel W. Crofts, Lincoln and the Politics of Slavery: The Other Thirteenth Amendment and the Struggle to Save the Union

Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize :
(tie) James B. Conroy, Lincoln’s White House: The People’s House in Wartime and Douglas R. Egerton, Thunder at the Gates: The Black Civil War Regiments That Redeemed America

Douglas Southall Freeman History Award:
Timothy B. Smith, Grant Invades Tennessee: The 1862 Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson

Jefferson Davis Award:
Adam I.P. Smith, The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics, 1846–1865

Wiley-Silver Prize:
Matthew Hulbert, The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory: How Civil War Bushwhackers Became Gunslingers in the American West

Nevins - Freeman Award: ??

Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award: ??

General Basil W. Duke Literary Award:: ??

Some have already been mentioned here, but belated congratulations to the rest!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Booknotes: That Field of Blood

New Arrival:
That Field of Blood: The Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862 by Daniel J. Vermilya (Savas Beatie, 2018).

It seems like the Emerging Civil War series has been catching its breath for a while after a near constant stream of output (perhaps due to getting the crew's new Revolutionary War series up and running). But they are back now. GNMP ranger Dan Vermilya's That Field of Blood: The Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862 (do you get ribbed by park service colleagues if you work at Gettysburg but write about Antietam?) provides an overview of the entire campaign, beginning with the Confederate decision to move north into Maryland and ending with Lincoln's issuing of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

The book has all the elements of the series' now familiar format. There are 150 photos and illustrations, including six historical maps and one tour map. The battlefield tour has eight stops, all located on park grounds. The volume covers a lot of ground so there are only two appendix offerings this time around. The first briefly explores presidential visits to the battlefield from Lincoln to Carter, and the second provides a short history of the battlefield park. As with most other volumes, there are also orders of battle and a suggested reading summary.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Review of Greene - "A CAMPAIGN OF GIANTS - THE BATTLE FOR PETERSBURG, VOLUME 1: From the Crossing of the James to the Crater"

[A Campaign of Giants - The Battle for Petersburg, Volume 1: From the Crossing of the James to the Crater by A. Wilson Greene (University of North Carolina Press, 2018). Hardcover, 34 maps, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:530/726. ISBN:978-1-4696-3857-7. $45]

By an odd twist of fate, some of the Civil War's most momentous and iconic campaigns have for a long time been among the most neglected in the published literature. Fortunately for readers, some of these gaps are finally being filled. While the Seven Days still languishes far behind, exceptionally good book-length coverage of Atlanta Campaign battles has emerged of late. The same is true for the 1864-65 Richmond-Petersburg Campaign. While only a small number of widely spaced Petersburg volumes trickled out over previous decades, the last ten years or so have witnessed a steady stream of first-rate titles addressing may different aspects of the campaign. However, until now no one has attempted a truly in-depth military overview of the entire ten-month series of operations. Part of a planned trilogy, A. Wilson Greene's A Campaign of Giants - The Battle for Petersburg, Volume 1: From the Crossing of the James to the Crater is a highly successful first step toward reaching that long elusive goal.

Undoubtedly, the great majority of readers who will find A Campaign of Giants appealing are already familiar with Gordon Rhea's much celebrated Overland Campaign series. Those who have finished Rhea's recently published final volume in the series will find in this book content overlap regarding mid-June events placed at the end of the Overland Campaign by Rhea and the beginning of the Petersburg Campaign by Greene, in particular the famous crossing of the James River and the failed promise of the initial Union assaults on Petersburg. In the opening sections of Greene's narrative there is wide agreement between the two authors' views of the strategic-operational picture of the eastern theater during this time. Similarly to Rhea and others, Greene describes the Army of the Potomac's Cold Harbor disengagement, its march to the James, and the crossing of that wide river in the face of the enemy as remarkable operational achievements (with a few moments of inevitable 'friction of war' along the way). The lead up to and execution of the June 15 attack on Petersburg is where things were badly botched by Grant and Meade.

The general who would lead the operation, William F. Smith, was not even informed that he was to organize an assault on Petersburg until after he rejoined Benjamin Butler's Army of the James at Bermuda Hundred. This left Smith with precious little time to regather his units and organize the march in accordance with Grant and Meade's timetable. Compounding the confusion, Smith was also told to expect direct support from Winfield Scott Hancock's Second Corps, but no one told Hancock this! When Smith did eventually reach the outskirts of Petersburg, he did not press the attack against the city's badly outnumbered defenders, an oversight that most observers still deem one of the war's most significant lost opportunities. Like Rhea, Greene is more forgiving of Smith's caution than the majority of contemporary and later critics have been. Unlike some, the author is not eager to attribute hesitation before the Petersburg earthworks to 'Cold Harbor Syndrome', but feels (like Rhea does) that Smith was clearly taken aback by the stiff resistance at Baylor's Farm and the stronger than expected appearance of enemy strength in men, guns, and fortifications at Petersburg. Assigning the lion's share of blame for any given military failure to one man remains a popular temptation among authors, but Greene admirably resists that brand of simplicity. Instead he judiciously interprets the historical arguments critical of Grant, Meade, Smith, Hancock, and Butler, and finds (as the saying goes) plenty of blame to go around. If not justified, at the very least the actions of the lead actors in the failed drama become explicable.

The failure to seize Petersburg on the 15th is popularly seen as a Union blunder of epic proportions, but the book also well reminds us that there are two sides to every victory and defeat. On that day the oft-mocked Henry Wise proved himself more militarily competent than he ever had before, though his extremely poor combat record up to that time makes one wonder why Beauregard did not take personal command at Petersburg himself rather than entrust the entire front south of the Appomattox to the unreliable Wise.

At this time, Benjamin Butler also took the opportunity of thinning Confederate defenses to damage the vital rail connection between Petersburg and Richmond. He's been criticized for not holding the ground taken, but Greene persuasively withholds strong censure, citing Grant's cautious orders and the arrival of substantial enemy reinforcements.

On June 16, Meade attacked right to left with Smith and Hancock but failed to make much headway. Greene is justifiably critical of the federal plan of battle, which dissipated assault strength by spreading divisions thinly over a wide front instead of concentrating them on a narrow front for one powerful punch.

Only lightly engaged on the 16th, it would be Burnside's turn to shoulder the responsibility for the main attack on the 17th, his Ninth Corps going in just south of Hancock. With Lee still withholding the bulk of the Army of Northern Virginia from the Petersburg front, the force disparity on the 17th would be even greater than on the previous two days. One could argue that Burnside's assault with Robert Potter's division was the best arranged and executed of the campaign so far, seizing a mile of earthworks and gathering in as many as 600 prisoners from one Confederate brigade alone along with all of the enemy artillery at the cost of only 150 men. Unfortunately for the Union army's breakthrough prospects, no arrangements had been made to exploit Burnside's gains. After Potter's success, Hancock was directed by Meade to launch another assault. Though Hancock later claimed he complied with the order, Greene could find no evidence that he did. Later, Gouverneur Warren's Fifth Corps arrived behind Burnside and deployed on the Ninth Corps left facing the new Confederate defense line. There were more uncoordinated divisional attacks, with no sustained gains, for the rest of the evening before darkness ended the fighting.

On the 17th, Beauregard, by constantly feeding Lee contradictory information and inexplicably failing to notice the arrival of Burnside's Ninth and Warren's Fifth corps until many hours had passed, contributed little to improving Lee's still uncertain grasp of the overall situation on the Richmond-Petersburg front. These serious intelligence oversights aside, Greene justly praises Beauregard for containing all of the June 16-17 Union offensives. Even so, the author is probably correct that it was the self-inflicted series of command and control failures by Grant, Meade, and Butler (inexcusable by veteran commanders at this stage of the war) that were primarily responsible for keeping the federals out of Petersburg. Though they certainly don't place the author in the same room with the most violent critics, Greene's fault-finding interpretations of Grant's actions do somewhat tap the brakes on today's increasingly reverential portrayals of the general's operational genius.

After limited headway on the 17th, Meade planned for the following day a coordinated mass assault by all four corps, but the initial advance hit empty trenches as the Confederates had already pulled back westward from the Hagood Line to the more compact Harris Line. The second phase of the attack, launched at midday with Lee himself finally present, quickly went to ground. Meade, angry that his veteran corps commanders could not advance simultaneously at the appointed hour, still expected each corps to attack. Their heavy but localized frontal attacks (including the famous doomed charge of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery) were the order of the day for the rest of the 18th. All were repulsed with great loss.

Greene is mildly critical of Meade for not attempting to seek out Beauregard's southern flank and get around it before Lee arrived on the scene in greater strength, but an argument could be made that the front was not truly developed until late in the crucial 72-hour window when the force disparity between the two sides was at its most extreme (perhaps only by midday on the 18th). For those puzzled by Grant's hands-off approach to June 15-18, the author suggests that this was consistent both with his current general-in-chief position and the wide latitude Grant typically gave key subordinates in earlier campaigns. Regardless, one would think that Grant would have wished to more personally direct what most sensed to be the crowning moment of the 1864 summer offensive in the East. Unstated is whether the author believes that Grant was aware that the corps commanders were losing confidence in Meade. On the other side, Greene tempers the general praise directed toward Beauregard (noting that defending behind earthworks offered little opportunity for exceptional generalship), but the Louisiana general certainly deserves credit for keeping his head and his men in hand against fearful odds. Beauregard also effectively managed successive lines of defense against extreme pressure, which was no mean feat. Greene finds that Lee's reactions to events (often perceived in the literature as unduly slow) were actually quite reasonable given continued uncertainty and contradictory information coming from Beauregard.

Greene describes Grant's Second Offensive as "delusional" in conception. In the author's view, nowhere near enough troops were assigned (David Birney's Second Corps and Horatio Wright's Sixth Corps) to both pass around the Confederate right and reach the Appomattox River while also maintaining solid contact with the rest of the army. During the operation, Birney and especially Wright did not advance with the expected alacrity and their actions allowed the Confederates to seize the initiative. With support, William Mahone's Confederate division punished each Union corps severely on successive days (the Second Corps on June 22 and the Sixth on the 23rd), with the first riposte—one of the war's most impressive feats by a division—coming close to routing the entire Second Corps. Coming closely on the heels of June 15-18, these fresh federal defeats demoralized the Union army, and the book argues that the comprehensive rebuff of the Second Offensive forced an operational pause upon Grant that led the Union commander to realize for the first time that his initially promising Southside campaign could not end anytime soon.

Covered also in the book are related mounted operations conducted above the James and below Petersburg. Greene provides an especially good account of the Wilson-Kautz Raid and its battles at Staunton River Bridge, Sappony Church, and Reams' Station. Having opposed the raid, Meade pronounced it a "serious disaster," while Grant felt that the level of material destruction inflicted on the enemy outweighed the heavy losses in men, horses, artillery, and prestige. The author criticizes Grant for ordering the raid at a time when his available cavalry arm was widely divided. This impatience allowed the Confederates to concentrate their own forces against Wilson and Kautz and nearly destroy them. Greene reasonably deems Sheridan's move to support operations on the left as slow but not tardy enough to deserve serious censure, especially since speed was not expressly urged upon him by his superiors. The author also perceptively notes that it likely irked Grant personally to find two of his great favorites (Wilson and Sheridan) once again subject to Meade's ire, perhaps enough to even consider replacing the hero of Gettysburg as commander of the Army of the Potomac. At this stage of the campaign, Greene keenly argues that Meade's increasing tendency to alienate subordinates in intemperate fashion was seriously affecting his command effectiveness.

While Greene's study is mostly concerned with military operations, the narrative does occasionally pause to dwell upon other topics. One chapter offers a fine discussion of how Petersburg's white and black residents reacted to the early stages of the campaign and what they did to adapt to their new living situation. Civilian and military authorities alike decried the heavy bombardment of the town, which commenced without prior notice for the evacuation of noncombatants. Though the lack of resources for transportation and care of refugees is duly noted, the Confederates surely should have preemptively evacuated those portions of the town most likely to fall within range of Union siege guns. Much of the population ended up staying, and Greene vividly describes their life under fire and their daily struggles to feed themselves and maintain as much normalcy as possible under frightening circumstances.

Though trench life at the fighting front will very likely be addressed at great length in subsequent volumes, accompanied perhaps by a more in-depth discussion of the transition from mobile field operations to more static warfare [in the meantime, see Steven Sodergren's The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns: Union Soldiers and Trench Warfare, 1864-1865 (2017)], Volume 1 does delve into the initial impressions Union and Confederate soldiers had of the experience. Greene's reading of Confederate journals and letters written during this period found much more optimism than gloom. Rather than viewing the failure of Grant's first two offensives as just the beginning stages of inexorable defeat, most Rebels felt confident that the badly-blooded Union host would soon be forced to withdraw altogether. In stark contrast with the campaign's final stages, the flow of Union deserters greatly surpassed their opposite number during this time. Curiously, Confederate officials decried the level of disorder these enemy deserters caused behind the lines, which brings to mind that Civil War desertion studies generally neglect to examine how authorities handled enemy deserters once passed to the rear. Even though their efforts were stymied at a shockingly high cost in human lives, most low-ranking officers and men in the Union armies in the East seem to have retained confidence in Grant as the right man to see things through to the end.

The book then describes the operational lull on the Petersburg front that existed between the end of the Second Offensive and beginning of the Third Offensive (which would include the Crater debacle). Reminding readers that there was always action of some kind going on, Greene recounts a number of smaller-scale actions that occurred (along with some aborted larger ones) during this 'inactive' period, also showing that close proximity led to heavy cumulative losses from daily shelling and sharpshooter fire.

Greene's lengthy discussion of the preparation, fighting, and aftermath of the infamous Crater battle is a fine one. His investigation into the training of Ferraro's Fourth Division (the Ninth Corps's attached USCT division that was initially assigned to lead the attack) most likely explodes lingering myths that the black troops were specially trained for the operation (the best evidence gleaned from those actually in the units tagged for the job is that they were not) and their replacement by white troops late in the planning stage was thus a colossal blunder. The author also is likely more correct than others have been in describing the attitude of the Union high command as more apathetic than disdainful of the mine. Grant's apparent lack of interest is curious given that underground explosions of a similar nature were to have played a major role in the July 6 general assault at Vicksburg that was planned but ultimately never occurred due to the garrison's surrender. Perhaps his memory of the meager results of the detonation of the 3rd Louisiana Redan mine earlier in the siege led him to distrust the lofty promises of mining operations. Regardless, at least early on the Petersburg mine was not considered a fundamental part of Grant's upcoming Third Offensive, with the movement north of the James by Hancock and Sheridan deemed the primary action. However, Meade's suggestion that the defenses opposite Burnside were vulnerable led Grant to rethink the importance of the mine explosion to his overall plan. Among other moments, this consistent brand of indecision leads Greene to broadly characterize Grant's operational planning at this early stage in the Petersburg Campaign as highly vacillatory in nature.

Only after Hancock and Sheridan's advance fizzled at First Deep Bottom, with the addition of solid evidence that Lee had sent major reinforcements north of the James, did Grant offer his full backing to a major assault on Burnside's front, where he ordered the Fifth and Eighteenth corps to support the Ninth. Greene joins many other historians in assigning primary blame for the debacle to Meade and Burnside. As mentioned above, Meade nixed Burnside's assault preparations at the last moment, forcing him to swap the all-black Fourth Division with another and fundamentally changing the plan. With only twelve hours to comply, Burnside then inexplicably had his division commanders draw lots to determine who would lead the attack, the unfortunate result being the least capable commander (James Ledlie) would spearhead the operation. Compounding Burnside's poor judgement, Ledlie, either willfully or through misunderstanding, then proceeded to change the newly agreed upon plan of action midstream. It was a mess all around. In the author's view, by approving Meade's late meddling Grant also assumes some responsibility for the ensuing debacle.

Given its weight as the most famous, most ferociously fought, and most controversial event of the entire Petersburg Campaign, Greene discusses the Crater fight and its immediate aftermath in great detail. As is the case throughout the book, the section is immeasurably enhanced by the great multitude of firsthand accounts authored by participants of all ranks and from both sides. Greene describes at length how the attack quickly bogged down after initial penetration of the mine-shattered landscape. In addition to the Crater itself only short stretches of line were captured to the north and south, the result being that each new wave of attackers only served to crowd the front. This teeming mass of white and black soldiers became highly vulnerable to counterattack, and the Confederates were happy to oblige. Though the defenders had already largely sealed the breakthrough, the determined advance of Mahone's Division into the breach transformed the Union effort from mere defeat to disaster. Greene recounts in vivid detail the brutal hand to hand fighting in and around the Crater, emphasizing the exceptional racial animus felt between Confederate and USCT soldiers, who often engaged in no quarter fighting when facing each other. The presence of ex-slaves in blue uniform (seen as the embodiment of servile insurrection) deeply angered Confederates of all ranks. The Crater provided them with the opportunity to fully vent their rage, which was taken to fearful lengths during and after the battle. Greene's account of the fighting confirms the traditional story crediting Mahone for finally halting the wholesale killing of wounded and surrendered USCTs. It is here that the book ends.

While terrain detail is a bit inconsistent in the tactical maps, the book's nearly three dozen original maps of all scales follow the course of the text well and are an immense help to readers now unfortunately becoming accustomed to history publishers skimping on cartography. The great number and breadth of primary and secondary sources listed in the volume's nearly 50-page bibliography is impressive. In addition to mastering the existing literature, the author deeply mined manuscript archives located all across the country.

Wish-list items might include opposing orders of battle at regular intervals (something akin to what Ed Bearss did so well in his classic Vicksburg trilogy), but perhaps the final volume will have an appendix section containing that type of supplementary material. Though most readers are probably already exhausted after 500 pages of densely packed narrative, some kind of recap might also have been usefully inserted before what is otherwise a quite abrupt 'to be continued' ending.

Greene's assessments of the opposing high commands are judicious throughout. With his initial delay in sending reinforcements more understandable in Greene's view than many critics allow, Lee probably receives the highest marks, while Grant's much vaunted operational skill is more suspect. Meade is an interesting case. While the literature has spawned a small but ardent crop of Meade defenders in recent times, Greene's work seems to imply that the general's usefulness had passed by this early stage of the Petersburg Campaign. As many others have observed, the extra command layer inherent to the Grant-Meade arrangement did not smooth the conduct of operations in the field. What it did do was free Grant from day to day management of the armies, leave him with more mental time for formulating strategy, and diffuse criticism. Just how much of a positive balance came out of this trade-off remains open to debate.

In the introduction to A Campaign of Giants, Greene is surely correct in noting that an exhaustive military treatment of the Petersburg Campaign would fill many more volumes than he has planned, but he is too modest about the very impressive scale of his own work. The level of detail and insightful analysis achieved in Volume 1 should more than satisfy even the most demanding readers of Civil War campaign studies. Even at this early stage in the process, there exists few doubts that the trilogy will eventually rank among the classics of the field.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Booknotes: A Forgotten Front

New Arrival:
A Forgotten Front: Florida during the Civil War Era edited by Seth A. Weitz and Jonathan C. Sheppard (Univ of Ala Press, 2018).

This essay anthology had a place on my internal list of most anticipated titles of 2018. Civil War Florida is a far less neglected topic today than ever before, but it certainly remains a bit of a scholarly backwater so those responsible for this title can be forgiven for still calling the state "a forgotten front" of the Civil War.

A Forgotten Front: Florida during the Civil War Era, edited by Seth Weitz and Jonathan Sheppard, is comprised of ten essays. From the description: "Although it was the third state to secede, Florida’s small population and meager industrial resources made the state of little strategic importance. Because it was the site of only one major battle, it has, with a few exceptions, been overlooked within the field of Civil War studies.

During the Civil War, more than fifteen thousand Floridians served the Confederacy, a third of which were lost to combat and disease. The Union also drew the service of another twelve hundred white Floridians and more than a thousand free blacks and escaped slaves. Florida had more than eight thousand miles of coastline to defend, and eventually found itself with Confederates holding the interior and Federals occupying the coasts—a tenuous state of affairs for all. Florida’s substantial Hispanic and Catholic populations shaped wartime history in ways unique from many other states. Florida also served as a valuable supplier of cattle, salt, cotton, and other items to the blockaded South."

Taken together, the essays in this book serve as a useful overview of many important aspects of Florida's Civil War on and off the battlefield. The first three chapters explore Florida's antebellum history. Two contributions focus on military affairs, one reviewing the Confederate defense and Union capture of Amelia Island and the other offering an overview of the guerrilla conflict in the state. Another chapter profiles Florida governor John Milton, who couldn't cope with Confederate defeat and took his own life in April 1865. Other essays "look at the politics of war, beginning with the decade prior to the outbreak of the war through secession and wartime leadership and examine the period through the lenses of race, slavery, women, religion, ethnicity, and historical memory."

Monday, May 21, 2018

Another edition of "Battlefield Atlas of Price's Missouri Expedition of 1864"

I wish there were more new releases to talk about but May has been a complete bust so far, though I did get a couple of June titles early. So we'll get to some more book news instead.

About a year ago I mentioned the U.S. Army's Combat Studies Institute's print publication of Charles Collins's promising-looking atlas of the 1864 Confederate expedition into Missouri, which was previously only available in digital form. Now there's a new print version of Battlefield Atlas of Price's Missouri Expedition of 1864 priced at around half that of the original. Both editions are oversized paperbacks, but if you were turned off earlier by the cost now might be a good time to pick up a copy. The new one has a much more aesthetically pleasing cover, too. When it comes to atlases, I don't know about you but I still wholly prefer paper to screen.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Booknotes: Uncivil Warriors

New Arrival:
Uncivil Warriors: The Lawyers' Civil War by Peter Hoffer (Oxford UP, 2018).

I've often wondered if anyone was working on a Civil War book about lawyers in uniform, though I'm not sure what tack an author might take to might it most interesting. For the Civil War generation the law had always been viewed as the best profession for ambitious men wishing to both rise in society and realize their political aspirations at all levels, so it should surprise no one that lawyers and lawyer-politicians would be appointed generals and high-ranking regimental officers in both armies in vast numbers. But this book isn't about that!

On a broader level, Peter Hoffer's Uncivil Warriors discusses the many ways that lawyers North and South shaped events from secession through Reconstruction. It comes to the conclusion that "the Civil War was 'of' and 'by' the lawyer/politicians who sat in seats of power." Thus, Hoffer's study "focuses on these lawyers' civil war: on the legal professionals who plotted the course of the war from seats of power, the scenes of battle, and the home front. Both the North and the South had their complement of lawyers, and Hoffer provides coverage of each side's leading lawyers. In positions of leadership, they struggled to make sense of the conflict, and in the course of that struggle, began to glimpse of new world of law. It was a law that empowered as well as limited government, a law that conferred personal dignity and rights on those who, at the war's beginning, could claim neither in law. Comprehensive in coverage, Uncivil Warriors' focus on the central of lawyers and the law in America's worst conflict will transform how we think about the Civil War itself."

Chapters examine different views North and South regarding the legality of secession, contrast the Lincoln-Davis cabinets and US-Confederate Congresses, look at the Merryman case and its civil rights related offspring, debate the question of whether secession was a criminal act, and discuss the Emancipation Proclamation and subsequent amendment propositions. The book ends with a Reconstruction epilogue.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


[The Diaries of Reuben Smith, Kansas Settler and Civil War Soldier edited by Lana Wirt Myers (University Press of Kansas, 2018). Softcover, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:239/260. ISBN:978-0-7006-2623-6. $24.95]

Housed at the Kansas Historical Society archive, the diaries and other writings of Englishman and naturalized U.S. citizen Reuben Smith are remarkable records of early Kansas history and Civil War era conflicts along the Missouri-Kansas border. Editor Lana Wirt Myers deserves a great deal of credit for grasping the exceptional nature of the Smith materials and seeing the great value of bringing them to publication. The resulting volume, The Diaries of Reuben Smith, Kansas Settler and Civil War Soldier, is refreshingly out of the ordinary.

While the dated entry format of Smith's writings is akin to that of a typical diary or journal (though often covering very long periods of time under a single date heading) and Myers consistently refers to them as such, one thing that needs to be said straight away is that the "diaries" of Reuben Smith in their surviving form should really be considered a combination diary and memoir. According to the The Kansas Historical Society archive database, the "Reuben Smith Diaries, 1854-1904" collection consists of bound volumes (mostly typed) that "include, but are not limited to, journal entries, newspaper articles and pictures, military records, state government records, correspondence, speeches, and travel records." Created long after the war, the typewritten diaries are liberal self-edits/rewrites of Smith's contemporary journals with other source materials spliced in. Without suggesting a range of possible dates, Myers notes that Smith's granddaughter on numerous summer visits witnessed Smith typing the diaries himself, and the marginalia is written in his own hand. A question that begs what might be an unknowable answer is just how much original journal text is preserved in the typed diaries. One wishes that Myers, who is now the reigning expert on the material and perhaps best positioned to offer the most informed opinion, had addressed this important concern in the book. While the edited and revised version we have today certainly retains significant historical value, the credibility of  the diaries in terms of documenting history in the immediate moment is debatable.

The Diaries of Reuben Smith, Kansas Settler and Civil War Soldier does not contain the entirety of the Smith diaries. Myers selected what she felt to be the most interesting sections for inclusion in the book. In addition to contributing a general introduction she often fills time gaps with other materials in a helpful manner. Myers also provides useful bridging narrative both at the beginning and within chapters. Notes are pretty sparse, averaging only a few for each chapter. Given the unusual nature of the material overall and the many obscure individuals introduced in the text, more extensive annotation of persons, places, and events would have been very welcome.

The nineteenth-century travelogue nature of several significant parts of the Smith diaries should interest many readers. In his writings Smith offers a lively record of his 1854 voyage to America and eventual settlement in Kansas during the most turbulent period of that state's history. Long after the Civil War ended, Smith returned to the land of his birth for an extended visit, and his detailed observations of the differences between the two nations in their society, wealth, and progress (written from the perspective of an individual intimately familiar with both countries but a fierce defender of his adopted U.S.) are fascinating to read.

In the realm of firsthand accounts of Civil War service in the field, the Smith diaries are in rarefied air. Less than a handful of diaries and letters written by Missouri State Militia officers or men have ever been published. Additionally, no one has authored anything approaching a comprehensive history of the MSM even though the organization was the primary military force charged with guarding Missouri from Confederate incursion and actively confronting guerrillas in the state from the midpoint of the war onward. Such rarity confers exceptional value to any new publication of material that might add to the conversation. The fact that Smith also commanded a company of Kansas State Militia cavalry during one of the largest and most significant campaigns fought west of the Mississippi River only compounds the overall uniqueness of his recorded experiences. Given the shared animosity between even the Unionists of both states, the club of officers that led companies of both MSM and KSM units into battle at one point or another is more than likely a rather exclusive one!

At the outbreak of the war, Smith enlisted in A.G. Newgent's battalion of Missouri Home Guards recruited from the area around Kansas City and was appointed the unit's commissary sergeant. When that formation was disbanded, Smith was commissioned a lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion of Cavalry, Missouri State Militia. Why Smith, who owned a farm in Osawatomie, did not join a Kansas volunteer regiment is unexplained, but his lengthy descriptions of his militia service (which primarily consisted of guarding communications, fighting guerrillas, and rooting out the guerrillas' support network along the border) offer informative insights into a generally neglected aspect of the Civil War in Missouri. Guerrillas associated with Quantrill's band were frequent targets of Smith's company, and at one point Smith personally ordered the burning of Cole Younger's mother's house. While not offering much in way of detailed information about the battle itself, the diaries also delve at some length into events surrounding the Battle of Lone Jack, an 1862 engagement that prominently involved the MSM.

In March 1863, Smith's MSM battalion was mustered out of the service, and he was commissioned to recruit a company for a new Kansas Colored Regiment that was forming. However, ill-health stifled that opportunity, and Smith was sidelined for an extended period of time. When he was well enough to return to the war in the summer of 1864, Smith was appointed to a detective position in the provost marshal service. Making use of Smith's intimate knowledge of the local landscape and population, his superiors sent him into western Missouri in September of that year to gather intelligence about what Confederate sympathizers in the region knew of Sterling Price's impending invasion of the state.

Wishing to more actively participate in the looming campaign against Price's army, Smith joined Company A of the 5th Regiment, Kansas State Militia (eventually replacing its inexperienced captain). He vividly describes in his diary much of the confusion that reigned on both sides of the border as Price's army approached from the east and informatively recounts the struggle to arm, equip, and train his men in time to block what they assumed to be a planned enemy attack across the border into Kansas itself. By a combination of threats and persuasion, the KSM units crossed over into Missouri and played an important role in the Union victory at Westport, and Smith's diaries offer a fairly extensive record of the activities of the 5th KSM on both sides of the Big Blue River during the campaign.

After Price's Confederate army was finally driven from the region, Smith once again left the army. On the first day of 1865, he was appointed Special U.S. Detective for the District of South Kansas and served in that capacity for the duration of the war.

Upon discharge Smith returned to his Osawatomie farm, but soon heeded a new call. He was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 1868 and 1872, and his diaries provide interesting insights into local and state politics of the period. Other employments include two stints as steward of the Kansas State Insane Asylum, bank cashier, and county commissioner. Never retiring completely, Smith still occupied the last position when he took ill and died in 1905.

For all the reasons mentioned above, the volume represents a truly remarkable collection of documents. The Diaries of Reuben Smith, Kansas Settler and Civil War Soldier is highly recommended reading for students of early Kansas state history as well as those with an abiding interest in neglected corners of the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi theater.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Author Q&A - Timothy Roberts and "'This Infernal War'": The Civil War Letters of William and Jane Standard"

Timothy Mason Roberts is a history professor at Western Illinois University and the author or editor of two studies focused on American exceptionalism. The recently published "This Infernal War": The Civil War Letters of William and Jane Standard (Kent State UP, 2018) is his first Civil War book project and is the subject of this interview.

DW: Interpreting the nature of the "Copperhead" opposition in the North and assessing the threat these dissenters posed to the Union war effort still engenders a lot of healthy debate. The academic scholarship has certainly changed gears over time, with classic analysis from Frank Klement and much more recent work from Jennifer Weber occupying opposite poles. Where are your own views situated along this spectrum?

TMR: I am closer to Weber to the extent evidence in this book reflects her claim that war resistance flamed across pockets of the rural North and deterred the war effort in those areas until 1864. I don’t think that Peace Democrats nearly took over the Democratic Party, as she argues. The Standards’ correspondence seems to confirm that the fall of Atlanta changed the minds of war skeptics especially from the Northwest, though they did not accept abolitionism.

DW: Can you discuss a handful of titles that you feel are representative of the best scholarship on the northern opposition to the war?

TMR: Mark Neely, Lincoln and the Democrats: the Politics of Opposition in the Civil War – Contrary to Weber, Neely diminishes the significance of Democratic war opposition. His focus on election outcomes of course is sensible, though his argument that the war’s setbacks, not emancipation, caused Republicans’ loss of seats in Congress in 1863 doesn’t work well in downstate Illinois.

Matthew Gallman, Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front – A study of how war literature educated northerners on how to be good citizens through support for the war. This book sharpens the significance of the Standards’ more lowbrow dissent.

Robert Sandow, Deserter Country: Civil War Opposition in the Pennsylvania Appalachians – A study of another rural northern area where antiwar dissent raged, though Sandow shows that dissent there was partly fueled by resentment of big lumber business, a force absent in rural Illinois at the time.

DW: Briefly, who were William and Jane Standard?

TMR: William was a 40-year-old former schoolteacher and county sheriff, elected as a Democrat, when he enlisted in 1862. Jane was 34. Both were southern migrants to Illinois. They had three adolescent children when William left home. Jane’s father was a Republican.

DW: Did William Standard explicitly document in his writings his reasons for volunteering, and if so what were they?

TMR: It’s not clear why he enlisted, though I theorize his motives in the book.

DW: What were the chief sources of the Standards’s dissent and when did these antiwar attitudes emerge?

TMR: William expressed frustration generally with military life, especially the military’s slow pay of his wages as a sergeant and his regiment’s tedious assignment through much of 1863 mainly to protect the supply and railroad lines of the Army of the Tennessee. Jane expressed surprise and dismay that he left her without adequately communicating about his various financial obligations. Both decried the Lincoln administration’s increasingly antislavery approach to the war, though William relished the license to plunder southerners’ homes as part of the evolving confiscation policy.

DW: Did the Standards share their concerns (he with his comrades in the regiment and she with her neighbors), and if they did how were their objections received?

TMR: William indicated that others in his company were sympathetic, though rarely above the rank of lieutenant. He noted many officers resigned early in 1863, intimating they did not support the Emancipation Proclamation. He remained in contact with a Democratic newspaper editor at home during the war. Jane was more of a loner. She visited and entertained the families of men with whom William served, but didn’t participate in antiwar activities, and resented local Republicans’ celebration of news of the army’s victories.

DW: Did William ever seriously consider the ultimate act of opposition—desertion?

TMR: Yes, and at Jane’s encouragement. But his musing about this possibility diminished once his unit saw action for the first time at Missionary Ridge and then made no mention again beginning with the Atlanta Campaign.

DW: In the years following the end of the conflict, did the Standards remain unrepentant (for lack of a better word) in their antiwar stances? Was William proud of his service?

TMR: It’s not clear what their postwar attitudes were, because the collection ends in 1865. I surmise they remained staunchly Democratic, though William more likely than Jane remained locally politically active.

DW: Do you think it credible to argue that much of the public and private rhetoric employed by antiwar northerners (particularly when it came to race) is so offensive to modern sensibilities that it leads scholars to discredit the entire movement too readily (the result being a stifling of deeper and wider investigation)?

TMR: Possibly. Civil War scholarship has sometimes conflated the North’s antislavery position during the war with racial enlightenment. The Lincoln film in 2012, I think, startled audiences not only for showing Lincoln as a politician but also for dramatizing how explicitly racist opposition was in the North even to immediately abolishing slavery, let alone establishing black civil rights. Historians of late seem to agree that the South seceded to protect slavery, more than to defend “states’ rights.” But it is less clear to me that many or most northerners both supported the war’s prosecution against the South and opposed slavery.

DW: Finally, where would you like to see studies of northern home front opposition go from here?

TMR: There seems a need to trace letter-writing and newspaper-circulating connections between “bad” soldiers like William Standard and kindred communities back home, to understand how opposition politics functioned and flourished in ways besides electoral contests. There are also opportunities for comparing antiwar areas of the North and the South to identify cross-sectional themes in dissent and in the war’s impact on families that rejected their respective governments’ demands for their patriotism.

DW: Thank you for your time.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Book News: Blue and Gray on the Border

This is another interesting (to me anyway) title from the Fall-Winter catalogs that are just coming out.

Civil War archaeology book releases have never been a yearly thing, but we're due for another one. Borderland studies is a popular field at the moment and Civil War era events and personalities from both sides of the Rio Grande have also received renewed attention.

Stepping into these fruitful arenas of study, Christopher L. Miller, Russell K. Skowronek, and Roseann Bacha-Garza adopt an uncommon approach with their upcoming book Blue and Gray on the Border: The Rio Grande Valley Civil War Trail (TAMU, December 2018), which will blend multiple historical genres and topics. In it they've "woven together the history and archaeology of the Lower Rio Grande Valley into a densely illustrated travel guide featuring important historical and military sites of the Civil War period. Blue and Gray on the Border integrates the sites, colorful personalities, cross-border conflicts, and intriguing historical vignettes that outline the story of the Civil War along the Texas-Mexico border. This resource-packed book will aid heritage travelers, students, and history buffs in their discovery of the rich history of the Civil War in the Rio Grande Valley."

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Review of Spruill & Spruill - "DECISIONS AT STONES RIVER: The Sixteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle"

[Decisions at Stones River: The Sixteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle by Matt Spruill & Lee Spruill (University of Tennessee Press, 2018). Softcover, 26 maps, photos, diagrams, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:214/270. ISBN:978-1-62190-378-9. $29.95]

New approaches to framing the study of Civil War campaigns and battles are always welcome. In this vein, University of Tennessee Press has recently launched a new series that will focus on the most "critical" high command decisions made by both sides and how those choices shaped the course of events before, during, and after major battles. With Decisions at Stones River: The Sixteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle and Decisions at Second Manassas: The Fourteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle, the first two volumes of the Command Decisions of America's Civil War series have now been released. Others covering both eastern and western theater battles are already in the works.

In a necessary first step, Decisions at Stones River co-authors Matt and Lee Spruill firmly establish a hierarchy of decision-making and define for readers exactly what they mean by the term "critical decision." In the hierarchy, there are decisions, important decisions, and critical decisions. Only the last group is "of such magnitude that it shape(s) not only the events immediately following, but also the campaign or battle thereafter" (pg. xii). Several excellent narrative accounts of the Stones River battle exist in the literature so the differentiating emphasis in this book and the others in the series will be on why things occurred as they did, and to a more limited extent how things might have occurred differently if other choices had been made. Because the consequences of each decision must be "so great as to change the sequence and course of events" (pg. xiv), the authors wisely limit (with few exceptions) their examination to high-level decisions, those made by corps commanders and above in each army's leadership and command structure. In addition to being most sensible, this parameter should place a check on the popular temptation to blow out of all proportion the impact of more micro-scale tactical decisions. Because the unpredictable fortunes of war can render seemingly smart decisions disastrous (and vice versa), the authors also do well to avoid referring to particular choices as intrinsically "good" or "bad" ones.

For Stones River and many other Civil War battles, one might reasonably question the existence of sixteen truly critical decisions, but the series will approach decision-making from a very broad perspective. In any given series volume, critical choices in the areas of strategy, operations, tactics, organization, logistics, and personnel might be addressed. In the case of Stones River, the sixteen critical decisions are slotted within three of those categories: organizational (2), operational (4), and tactical (10). At nine Confederate decisions versus seven Union, side balance is fairly even.

In Decisions at Stones River, analysis of each critical decision follows a standard organizational format developed for the series. Discussion proceeds through five subheadings—Situation, Options, Decision, Result/Impact, and Alternate Decision/Scenario. The first and typically the lengthiest section, Situation describes the state of affairs at a crossroads moment in the campaign or battle. It provides readers with the background information necessary to recognize and evaluate the decision Options (two or three in number) that immediately follow. The historical Decision is then outlined very briefly before the Result/Impact section recounts what happened and how those events shaped the rest of the battle and perhaps beyond. The Situation and Result/Impact sections quite often reference other decisions in a meaningful way, further reminding readers of their interconnectedness and the cascading consequences of critical decisions made earlier. Not present for every decision, the optional Alternate Decision/Scenario section delves into alternative history conjecture based on choices not made.

Three examples, one for each of the decision categories referenced above, should suffice to illustrate how the book works. The first is an organizational decision. With the problems caused by divided command structure during the 1862 Kentucky Campaign in mind, two options were available to President Davis for organizing Confederate forces in Middle Tennessee: (1) keep the Braxton Bragg and E.K. Smith commands separate or (2) consolidate their forces under the senior general. This particular decision points to a potential pitfall of the series, wherein one option is a clear no-brainer with the rest having little or no reasonable justification. On the face of it, this might preclude interesting and meaningful discussion. However, in this case the Spruills effectively use the consolidation decision (in conjunction with another high-level organizational decision to strip the army of one of its divisions) as a springboard for analyzing the reorganization of Bragg's army and demonstrating to readers the "far-reaching consequences" organizational decisions would have on the Stones River "plan of attack, scheme of maneuver, and allocation of combat power." As the book goes on to show, other critical choices would flow from and be limited by these very early ones.

The second example is a three-option operational-level decision involving General Bragg's disposition and use of his available cavalry force of six brigades. The first option was for Bragg to send his two raiding brigades (under Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan) immediately behind enemy lines to harass the the enemy and provide early warning of a federal advance. The second option would direct Forrest and Morgan to conduct deep raids against enemy supply lines in Kentucky and Tennessee. The third choice would involve keeping all the cavalry nearby for close tactical support. All options could be justified militarily, but Bragg selected the second one. Both deep raids caused significant material damage, but while Forrest played a role in forcing General Grant to pull back in northern Mississippi Morgan's actions had no inhibiting affect on General Rosecrans's ability to sustain his own advance in Middle Tennessee. Additionally, the impact and result of Bragg's critical decision left the Confederate army without the services of Forrest and Morgan's 5,600 horsemen at Stones River. This particular decision is also one of those with an attached "Alternate Decision and Scenario." It posits the benefits at that Bragg would surely have gained from keeping Forrest and Morgan nearby in close support, with any of several different tactical options having the potential to significantly alter the course of the Stones River battle.

A critical tactical-level decision that confronted Union army commander William S. Rosecrans comprises our third and final example. Similar to First Bull Run, both armies at Stones River planned to attack the flank of the other. In this case, Bragg beat Rosecrans to the punch, leaving the federal commander to either continue with his original offensive plan (and hope to steal the initiative from the enemy) or go on the defensive to free up troops to confront any enemy breakthroughs that might occur (with different options related to how many men would be sent to shore up the Union center and right). Rosecrans chose the safest course, his defensive measures enabling the Army of the Cumberland to stabilize its position. Just as important, this early critical decision also made possible other critical choices down the line that would eventually lead to victory.

The book also has a lengthy appendix section. In addition to army orders of battle, there's an extensive Stones River tour that focuses on the ten critical decisions made on the immediate battlefield. Similar to their treatment in the classic U.S. Army War College series of guidebooks, the tour stops in Decisions combine driving and walking orientation with author narrative and lengthy excerpts from firsthand accounts. Even if skipping the tour section, readers would be well advised to consult the tactical maps in the appendix, which are generally more detailed than those found in the main text. As the maps are directly tied to both critical decision situations and tour stops, the book's cartography is one of its great strengths.

With Decisions at Stones River, the Command Decisions in America's Civil War series has gotten off to a very promising start. Civil War students, even those intimately familiar with the topic at hand, will appreciate the volume's fresh approach to thinking about Civil War campaigns and battles.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Battle of Coffeeville, Mississippi

The cavalry raids that played no small role in derailing Grant's first Vicksburg campaign in late 1862 continue to get coverage here and there, but decades on from Ed Bearss's classic trilogy there's really been no significant standalone work published on either Grant's overland march down the railroad line into northern Mississippi (which never resulted in any big battles) or Sherman's failed Chickasaw Bayou expedition. Even though I regularly look out for them, it's still easy to miss self and locally published history, and The Essential Guide to the Battle of Coffeeville, Mississippi - December 5, 1862 (2015) from Don Sides did escape my notice until now. Apparently, it was revised in 2016 and that is the version currently available. I have no idea if the book is any good. You can use the link provided and skim through the 'Look Inside' function yourself.

Grant never did get the chance to firmly come to grips with Pemberton in North Mississippi. From the book description: "Before Grant could reach Pemberton his cavalry was stopped in a hard-fought clash at Coffeeville. This action threw Grant’s progress into neutral and provided time for the Rebs to regroup and plan a counter-strike. On the early morning of December 20 the Rebel cavalry struck Grant’s main Mississippi base in Holly Springs, ending the Mississippi Central Railroad campaign, forcing the Federals out of Mississippi to re-plan the Vicksburg Campaign. Learn what led to these battles, how the out-manned and out-gunned Confederates fought and won them, what effect it had on the Vicksburg Campaign, and how it was part of the High Tide of the Confederacy."

Because I am interested in the topic, I plan to purchase the book and report back at some point. If you've read it, feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Book News: Palmito Ranch

The accepted name of this battle seems to be on a continuous loop, from Palmito Ranch to Palmetto Ranch and back again. In the current literature, the two standard works on the subject are Phillip Thomas Tucker's The Final Fury: Palmito Ranch - The Last Battle of the Civil War (2001) and The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch (2002) by Jeffrey Hunt, with most preferring the latter study (I think).

Jody Edward Ginn and William Alexander McWhorter's Palmito Ranch: From Civil War Battlefield to National Historic Landmark (TAMU Press, September 2018) will have an added (perhaps primary) emphasis on site preservation and interpretation. In addition to offering "new information" about the battles, the book will "recount the initiative pursued by a multidisciplinary team organized largely through the efforts of the Texas Historical Commission to study, document, and preserve this important Texas historic site. Now, visitors to the area may benefit from not only improved and expanded historical markers, but also a radio transmitter and a viewing platform, along with other interpretive aids. All this is due to the campaign spearheaded by McWhorter, Ginn, and a cohort of dedicated volunteers and professionals."

More from the description: "Providing a case study in constituency building and public awareness raising to preserve and promote historic sites, Palmito Ranch will interest and educate heritage tourists, Civil War enthusiasts, and travelers to South Texas and the Lower Rio Grande Valley."

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Review of Guelzo - "RECONSTRUCTION: A Concise History"

[Reconstruction: A Concise History by Allen C. Guelzo (Oxford University Press, 2018). Hardcover, 11 illustrations, event timeline, notes, bibliography, index. 192 pp. ISBN:978-0-19-086569-6. $18.95]

An octavo-sized volume containing roughly 130 pages of narrative, Allen Guelzo's Reconstruction: A Concise History is concise indeed. It's a chronologically arranged scholarly synthesis of the era, balancing some competing interpretations with the author's own views.

When it comes to speculation surrounding what Abraham Lincoln's Reconstruction legacy might have been had he lived to finish his second term, Guelzo's study generally avoids straying into that kind of what-if territory. In critiquing the actions and policies of Lincoln's immediate successor, the book's portrayal of Andrew Johnson as man and president is largely conventional in nature. Guelzo's U.S. Grant is well meaning when it came to freedmen citizenship and civil rights, but a bundle of weaknesses when it came to handling practical politics. In comparison to generations past, there is a wider divergence of opinion today regarding Grant's political acumen. In the author's view, the Civil War hero bungled his first cabinet appointments and when informed of growing violence against freedmen and white Republicans in the occupied South was too slow to react to events (and insufficiently draconian when he did act).

Guelzo is of the belief that the Reconstruction literature, in its greater focus on the conflicts between the legislative and executive branches, all too often leaves out the judiciary's role in shaping the era. While Salmon Chase as politician was considered reliably radical on the issue of black rights and in enforcing Republican war aims and policies, the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice Chase maintained the more traditional position that the the bulk of rights protections remained vested with the states. Under this legal interpretation, federal intervention was only appropriate when states absolutely refused implementation in the very broadest sense. When it came to non-state sponsored violence (e.g. individuals against other individuals), a series of high court decisions from the Waite court that succeeded Chase's weakened the Enforcement Acts and 14th Amendment protections to such a degree that black civil rights advocates' hopes that the courts would err in the direction of expanded rights versus fear of government overreach were largely lost.

Corruption is another major thematic element of the book. Guelzo does not back off from standard criticisms of widespread corruption within the Grant administration and among the black and white representatives of Republican Reconstruction state governments. However, especially at the state level, he does argue against their exceptionalism, maintaining (unfortunately by assertion rather than through evidence or examples) that antebellum southern politics and politicians were just as given to malfeasance.

The study does document dissension within Republican ranks as a weakening factor in Reconstruction, but the author is of the decided opinion that Democratic resurgence was far more responsible for the "failures" of Reconstruction than Republican abandonment of their black allies. While much has been said about the propaganda effectiveness of waving the bloody shirt in politics and continuing to make the taint of treason stick, the truth is that Democratic Party recovery on state and national levels was remarkable in its scale and rapidity. In the author's view, Reconstruction was to a greater degree overthrown by active and effective resistance than abandoned through a lack of political will on the part of proponents.

For those that criticize the relatively rapid downscaling of the army presence in the South during the Reconstruction era along with the decision to expeditiously reconstruct and readmit former Confederate states back into the Union rather than reverting them to territorial entities and starting over, Guelzo is surely correct in reminding readers that the American people, with their deep cultural mistrust of standing armies and military occupations, would not have tolerated decades of troops on the streets nor the crippling national expenditures that would have accompanied such policies. Critics of demobilization also overlook how much prolonged occupation would have distracted and hindered the national army from its primary task of being both spear point and shield of western frontier expansion.

With the bulk of the modern literature seemingly more concerned with the failures of Reconstruction, one of the great arguments of Guelzo's tiny volume is its insistence that we also not minimize the great strides that were made amid all the backsliding in the social, political, and judicial spheres. Imperfect as it was, the federal Union was restored and all possibility of its future breakup legally expunged. Freedmen were granted citizenship through constitutional amendments. However limited those rights and protections would tragically prove to be in ensuing decades, it was not slavery. Finally, almost uniquely to failed large-scale rebellions of world history, there were no mass executions of ex-Confederates or other similar acts of violent repression that might have permanently embittered future generations. Instead, an atmosphere was created that could emphasize national reunion (however skewed some of its tenets would become) on terms at least acceptable to both sections.

A well-balanced assessment of the achievements and lost opportunities of an era, Allen Guelzo's Reconstruction: A Concise History is a solid introduction to the topic. It's also a fitting gateway for those curious enough to want to investigate the more in-depth treatments of all kinds that populate the modern Reconstruction bookshelf.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Book News: A Burned Land

That's the way it works. No survey history of the war west of the Mississippi is penned since the end of the conflict itself and then suddenly we get two published within eighteen months of each other. My thoughts on Theater of a Separate War are unchanged (and it looks like Amazon is practically giving away copies at the moment for some reason), but others continue to see it in a much more positive light.

This coming October, McFarland will publish Robert Laven's A Burned Land: The Trans-Mississippi in the Civil War (2018). The official description is pretty coy about the contents, but it does suggest that the actual focus will be much narrower than Cutrer's theater-wide treatment. While the title implies a comprehensive study, the estimated page count is rather slim at less than 150 and only Missouri and Kansas are mentioned in the description. The author is a retired Defense Department intelligence analyst and that perspective might color the analysis in different and interesting ways.