Friday, September 23, 2022

Booknotes: Irish American Civil War Songs

New Arrival:
Irish American Civil War Songs: Identity, Loyalty, and Nationhood by Catherine V. Bateson (LSU Press, 2022).

By University of Kent historian Catherine Bateson's estimate, over 11,000 songs were published during the American Civil War, and Irish Americans were responsible for an outsized proportion of that prodigious output in both numbers and cultural influence. Bateson's Irish American Civil War Songs "provides the first in-depth exploration of Irish Americans’ use of balladry to portray and comment on virtually every aspect of the war as witnessed by the Irish on the front line and home front." Over the length of the war, Irish American soldiers and sailors "shared their wartime experiences through songs and song lyrics, leaving behind a vast trove of ballads in songbooks, letters, newspaper publications, wartime diaries, and other accounts. Taken together, these songs and lyrics offer an underappreciated source of contemporary feelings and opinions about the war."

Bateson's study seeks to promote a wider appreciation for the scholarly value of Irish American Civil War song lyrics along with the material culture associated with those songs. Her consideration of the "lyrics, themes, and sentiments of wartime songs produced in America," gives rise to new insights "into views held by the Irish migrant diaspora about the conflict and the ways those of Irish descent identified with and fought to defend their adopted homeland." As one example, the book's analysis of Irish American song lyrics challenges the scholarly view that a sharp break in Irish attitudes toward the war and war service occurred in 1863. Also, with Irish immigrants in America being so closely associated with Catholicism, it is perhaps surprising that Bateson's examination of their war ballads found the lyrics to be "relatively silent on religious affiliation and related topics."

The first chapter discusses the cultural influence of Irish American music and songs in the years leading up to the Civil War, and the next chapter follows the dissemination of Irish American wartime songs from battlefield to American society at large. Chapter 3 relates how these songs conveyed the Irish American war experience to a broad audience and extolled the exploits of Irish-born Union war heroes such as generals Michael Corcoran and Thomas Meagher. Expanding on the previous chapter's martial theme, Chapter 4 examines "the diaspora's lyrical recollection of Irish foreign fighting service and expression of ethnic cultural heritage within the warring country." The fifth chapter focuses on expressions of Irish nationalism within the ACW ballads. The ways in which songs addressed contemporary politics is the subject of the next section. The seventh and final chapter delves into the ways in which Irish American songwriting explored issues of identity and loyalty, with Bateson coming to the conclusion that, while traditional Irish culture was surely represented in the lyrics of their war songs, it was an "American spirit" and identity that dominated.

Employing transnational and interdisciplinary approaches, Bateson's research "enhances our understanding of the Irish contribution to the American Civil War. At the same time, it demonstrates how Irish songs shaped many American balladry traditions as they laid the foundation of the Civil War’s musical soundscape."

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Review - "The Nashville and Decatur in the Civil War: History of an Embattled Railroad" by Walter Green

[The Nashville and Decatur in the Civil War: History of an Embattled Railroad by Walter R. Green, Jr. (McFarland, 2022). Softcover, maps, photos, sidebars, tables, illustrations, appendix section, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:viii,175/256. ISBN:978-1-4766-8852-7. $39.95]

Following a relatively direct 122-mile path between its namesake Tennessee and Alabama cities, the Nashville and Decatur Railroad passed through a number of other settlements and towns similarly steeped in Civil War history, including Brentwood, Franklin, Thompson's Station, Spring Hill, Columbia, Pulaski and Athens. An aggregation of three railroad companies (the Tennessee & Alabama RR, the Central Southern RR, and Tennessee & Alabama Central RR), the N&D was the western face of an important heartland transportation triangle completed by the Memphis & Charleston RR (which formed the southern side of the triangle between Decatur Junction and Stevenson, Ala) and Nashville & Chattanooga RR (the eastern face from Stevenson back to the Tennessee capital). Much shorter in length and less strategically significant than other tracked arteries  that formed more of the true backbone of the Confederate South's rail network (among those the Mobile & Ohio and Memphis & Charleston railroads), the N&D nevertheless shaped several Civil War campaigns in significant ways and was, when controlled by federal forces, a vital lifeline for otherwise isolated Union supporters in North Alabama. The N&D's full Civil War story is presented in comprehensive fashion for the first time in Walter Green's very impressive book The Nashville and Decatur in the Civil War: History of an Embattled Railroad.

After briefly charting the early story of the railroad, Green's narrative exhaustively documents the N&D's wartime history and the multiple cycles of destruction and reconstruction that it, and nearby communities, endured. After the victorious conclusion to General U.S. Grant's forts Henry and Donelson campaign completely unhinged the western Confederacy's over-extended cordon defense line in early 1862, the precipitous Confederate retreat south across central Tennessee inflicted the first great wave of bridge and rail destruction below Nashville. Union repair crews were quickly mobilized to repair the damage. Nevertheless, a combination of civilian saboteurs, Confederate cavalry raiders, and severe weather events targeted vulnerable N&D rail crossings throughout 1862 and 1863. By February 1864, and after great effort and expense, the railroad was back in working order and shuttling men and supplies to General William T. Sherman's army group, then poised to invade North Georgia. During September and October of 1864, Confederate cavalry under General Nathan Bedford Forrest swarmed all over the N&D, the damage being extensive but administered far too late to deter Sherman's campaign in Georgia. During John Bell Hood's bold advance into Middle Tennessee later that year, which largely followed the line of the N&D, both sides meted out heavy damage to the railroad, and, well into the following spring, heavy rains continued to wash out spans repaired by Union forces after Hood's retreat.

Much of Green's narrative is framed around four individuals (three military officers and a civilian contractor) heavily tasked by Union authorities with repairing, maintaining, and defending the tracks of the N&D. The first is Col. William P. Innis of the First Michigan Engineers and Mechanics regiment. Though an excellent and thorough history of the First Michigan (Mark Hoffman's "My Brave Mechanics")  was published in 2007, Green's exploration of the regiment's activities along the N&D further extends our knowledge and appreciation of that specialized unit by presenting a detailed picture of the period during which the regiment first began to earn its stellar reputation. These sections of the book also usefully complement recent work in the literature crediting clear Union superiority in engineering and logistics with being a prime factor in winning the war. Also covered in meticulous fashion is the expansive Union effort, in response to larger and more effective Confederate raids, to replace stockades with more secure blockhouses at each bridge/trestle and to build major forts (ex. Fort Granger near Franklin) near other strategic locations.

Improving military defenses was not enough, however, and a parallel Union initiative was launched to rebuild trestles and bridges using more robust designs and construction materials. A civil and structural engineer himself, Green seems to revel in these details, and readers also interested in such matters are the beneficiaries of his insights.

Grenville Dodge, as Union general, railroad engineer, and intelligence gathering innovator, needs no introduction to regular readers of western theater Civil War history. His lauded management of bridge repair/replacement is covered at length by Green, as is the central part General Dodge played in organizing black regiments. The general was also chiefly responsible for creation of the Tunnel Hill contraband camp and its nearby railroad timber supply complex. Under Dodge, businessman and civilian contractor Lucius Boomer worked behind the scenes to replace the N&D's bridges with stronger steel and wood designs using state of the art Howe trusses shipped prefabricated from the North.

The fourth recipient of Green's special attention is Col. William Merrill. While it was well recognized at the time that isolated railroad defenses could not consistently resist large enemy forces armed with artillery, blockhouses were nevertheless deemed essential to slow the progress of those raids and protect crossings from small-scale attacks conducted by guerrilla bands and lighter cavalry forces. As the book explains at length, Merrill was the man behind experimental blockhouse designs that were quickly adopted throughout the Tennessee-Alabama railroad 'triangle' referred to earlier. The book's detailed coverage of the September and October 1864 Forrest raids shows how and where Merrill's blockhouses were tested, and under what circumstances they succeeded and failed.

As mentioned earlier, the N&D had a direct impact on two major 1864 campaigns, Sherman's in North Georgia and later Hood's in Middle Tennessee. Green explains how the counterclockwise flow of train traffic along the strategic triangle formed by the N&D, M&C, and N&C filled Sherman's advance depots with enough supplies to keep his men from starving or running out of ammunition if the Western & Atlantic RR was later cut. Green also keenly observes that once Sherman's campaign was in motion, most of the supplies were routed through the N&C, making the N&D no longer essential and rendering the fall Confederate raids on it, as destructive as they were, of little consequence to Sherman. During Hood's campaign, N&D defenses repaired and re-manned after Forrest's fall raiding were again targeted for destruction by both advancing Confederates and retreating Union forces. Later, when Hood found himself and his much-depleted army outside Nashville and in desperate need of reestablishing lines of supply, repair work to the N&D was again given priority only to have subsequent retreat spark yet another cycle of Confederate destruction and Union repair. Indeed, the book's detailed account of the railroad's role in Hood's 1864 Tennessee Campaign provides one of the literature's best examples of the fine line drawn between preserving rail service for one's own use and denying it to the enemy. Within Green's recounting of a multitude of raiding events and military campaigns, discourse is consistently steered toward how the N&D railroad and its defenses shaped operational conduct and goals. As just one example, his discussion of the bridge crossings at Franklin, Tennessee offers fresh insights surrounding that aspect of the November 1864 battle, its lead in, and its aftermath.

Augmenting the narrative is a vast array of visual aids and other supporting materials. Photographs and biographical sidebars are sprinkled throughout the text. A wonderful collection of both original and archival maps are included, one of the most impressive being the six-map series of full-page drawings tracing in detailed fashion the entire length of the railroad between Nashville and Decatur, with due emphasis being placed on the location of each river and creek crossing, fort, station, and town along the railroad's path. A great host of additional data and text information can be found in the appendix section. Among the most impressive resources found there is an exhaustive documentation of N&D crossings and fortifications built between November 1863 and mid-1864.

A stupendous Civil War railroad study (one of the best you'll find), Walter Green's The Nashville and Decatur in the Civil War will likely stand far into the future as the standard history of this relatively short but important western theater rail line. Presented in a manner worthy of emulation by other writers contemplating similar projects, this volume is a highly notable contribution to the growing modern library of Civil War railroad, transportation, engineering, and logistics studies.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Booknotes: Behind the Rifle

New Arrival:
Behind the Rifle: Women Soldiers in Civil War Mississippi by Shelby Harriel (Univ Pr of MS, 2022).

This is a paperback reissue of a title first published in hardcover format in 2019.

Billed as "the first study with a regional focus on the role women soldiers played in the Civil War," Shelby Harriel's Behind the Rifle is "a groundbreaking study that discusses women soldiers with a connection to Mississippi—either those who hailed from the Magnolia State or those from elsewhere who fought in Mississippi battles. Readers will learn who they were, why they chose to fight at a time when military service for women was banned, and the horrors they experienced. Included are two maps and over twenty period photographs of locations relative to the stories of these female fighters along with images of some of the women themselves."

The first three chapters explore the hardships and motivations of these female fighters disguised as men while also documenting the sufferings of those who were killed or wounded in action. Following chapters recount their roles in a series of well-known campaigns and battles fought in Mississippi, including Iuka/Corinth, the Mississippi Central Campaign, Chickasaw Bayou, the 1863 Vicksburg campaign and siege, Brice's Crossroads, and Tupelo. An addendum briefly explores "myths and mysteries" associated with the topic.

More from the description: "The product of over ten years of research, this work provides new details of formerly recorded female fighters, debunks some cases, and introduces over twenty previously undocumented ones. Among these are women soldiers who were involved in such battles beyond Mississippi as Shiloh, Antietam, and Gettysburg. Readers will also find new documentation regarding female fighters held as prisoners of war in such notorious prisons as Andersonville."

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Booknotes: Engineering in the Confederate Heartland

New Arrival:
Engineering in the Confederate Heartland by Larry J. Daniel (LSU Press, 2022).

Northern engineers and their engineering exploits have been featured and celebrated in a number of recent Civil War railroad, fortification, and technology studies. Finally offering detailed insights into the other side's engineering capabilities is Larry Daniel's new book Engineering in the Confederate Heartland, which "fills a gap in th(e) historiography by analyzing the accomplishments of these individuals working for the Confederacy in the vast region between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, commonly referred to as the Western Theater."

As was the case with most northerners who lent their professional engineering expertise to assist the volunteer mass armies of the Union, "(m)ost Confederate engineers possessed little to no military training, transitioning from the civilian tasks of water drainage, railroad construction, and land surveys to overseeing highly technical war-related projects." While the tasks of Union military engineers were often offensive in nature, defense-oriented Confederate engineers were called upon most to "utilize their specialized skills to defeat, or at least slow, the Union juggernaut."

Internal and external obstacles hindered Confederate military engineers at every turn, but the sheer scope of land mass that needed to be defended was one of the most challenging problems they faced. The nature of the ground was another. More from the description: "The geographical diversity of the Heartland further complicated their charge. The expansive area featured elevations reaching over six thousand feet, sandstone bluffs cut by running valleys on the Cumberland Plateau, the Nashville basin’s thick cedar glades and rolling farmland, and the wind-blown silt soil of the Loess Plains of the Mississippi Valley." Also, as Kenneth Noe recently documented in exhaustive fashion, across the country from mountains to plains weather had it own say in the matter. "Regardless of the topography, engineers encountered persistent flooding in all sectors."

Daniel's study also seeks to reshape long-held popular beliefs regarding the scope and successes of the Confederacy's western engineer corps. His work "challenges the long-held thesis that the area lacked adept professionals. Engineers’ expertise and labor, especially in the construction of small bridges and the laying of pontoons, often proved pivotal. Lacking sophisticated equipment and technical instruments, they nonetheless achieved numerous successes: the Union army never breached the defenses at Vicksburg or Atlanta, and by late 1864, the Army of Tennessee boasted a pontoon train sufficient to span the Tennessee River. Daniel uncovers these and other essential contributions to the war effort made by the Confederacy’s western engineers."

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Review - "Early Struggles for Vicksburg: The Mississippi Central Campaign and Chickasaw Bayou, October 25-December 31, 1862" by Timothy Smith

[Early Struggles for Vicksburg: The Mississippi Central Campaign and Chickasaw Bayou, October 25-December 31, 1862 by Timothy B. Smith (University Press of Kansas, 2022). Hardcover, 21 maps, photos, orders of battle, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xxv,430/603. ISBN:978-0-7006-3324-1. $44.95]

Before now, the initial phases of the 1862-63 Vicksburg Campaign have received only rudimentary attention outside of rather detailed treatment in the pages of Edwin C. Bearss's timeless trilogy The Vicksburg Campaign. An argument could be made that the Mississippi Central and Chickasaw Bayou operations are both large enough and self-contained enough to be deserving of book-length treatments of their own, but Timothy Smith's Early Struggles for Vicksburg: The Mississippi Central Campaign and Chickasaw Bayou, October 25-December 31, 1862, the third of what will become a five-volume series published through University Press of Kansas, reminds readers early and often that the two subjects, in all of their parallel and tandem intertwinings, are best understood when addressed together.

There are two schools of thought regarding the larger conceptualization of this fascinating fall-winter campaign. On one side, the 1862 Vicksburg campaign that unfolded during this period is often presented as a single, two-pronged overland and downriver operation designed and overseen by General U.S. Grant as department commander. On the other end of the spectrum, others describe them as largely parallel operations. Grant had his own overland approach down the Mississippi Central, and Memphis would be the base for an amphibious attack directly against Vicksburg itself, the latter being a concoction of President Abraham Lincoln and high-ranking political general John C. McClernand, with a strong hand of support from General in Chief Henry Halleck if someone else but McClernand, preferably Sherman, could lead it. Smith seems to favor a 'two campaigns in parallel' line of understanding, with real coordination a late developing phenomenon. As the author reminds us, the dismal failure of Union forces in Mississippi in late 1862 provides students of military history with yet another textbook lesson in the hazards of beginning a major campaign without unity of command and purpose.

North Mississippi presented Grant's overland approach with a host of challenges, not least of which were numerous river lines that needed to be crossed and a single rail line (vulnerable to breakage at many points) for long-range logistical support. As Smith demonstrates, Grant met those challenges early on by employing a three-wing approach, the turning threats of which convinced his outnumbered Confederate foes to fall back from a series of defensible positions. In addition to that, a well-timed Union infantry and cavalry raid into the enemy rear greatly facilitated overall Confederate discomfort. Nevertheless, the Union advance proceeded slowly and in fits and starts. By the time both armies faced off across the Yalobusha River just north of Grenada, it was becoming increasingly clear to Grant (and already was to Halleck) that conventional logistics would likely be insufficient to sustain further advances. The developing ration situation was made even worse by Confederate general Earl Van Dorn's spectacular destruction of Grant's forward supply depot at Holly Springs and Nathan Bedford Forrest's effective raiding of West Tennessee's rail network. Both of those series of events are detailed in the text.

Smith presents Grant's Mississippi Central Campaign as a conventional, "by the book" application of what the general's professional military education taught him about how best to conduct operational warfare. Just how much the November-December 1862 stage of Grant's ongoing development as army commander should have better anticipated troubles stemming from a deep thrust supported only by a single rail line is an issue up for debate. A rail-supported land advance into the hostile Lower South's interior was a first for any Civil War commander. Up to that time, Grant's operations benefited from the close proximity of well-developed railroad networks and especially major rivers to sustain his army, the latter also adding essential direct naval support. Grant learned valuable lessons from his 1862 failure in North Mississippi, however. In addition to radically altering his line of approach toward the unconventional one that achieved total success by the middle of the following year, the abundance of food Grant's army seized from the North Mississippi countryside after the destruction of his Holly Springs depots raised his confidence that similar bounty could be had below and east of Vicksburg. On the less flattering side of things, Smith might have added the Van Dorn/Forrest upending of the Mississippi Central Campaign to the surprises sprung on him earlier at Belmont, Fort Donelson, and Shiloh as part of a running pattern of Grant overconfidence regarding what the enemy was capable (or not capable) of doing to upset his own plans.

In the book's discussion of the Mississippi Central Campaign's stalled momentum and the launching of what seemed at the time to be a promising downriver expedition, Grant's agency in the decision-making process is emphasized most. While that is quite natural given that all of the events described lay within Grant's military department, one might argue that General Halleck's key role in voicing dissatisfaction with the overland approach and promoting the riverine expedition is not presented forcefully enough in the narrative.

Much has been made in the literature of Lincoln's "promise" to General McClernand that he would, upon personally recruiting and organizing a mass of new Midwest regiments, lead a combined army-navy expedition from Memphis to capture Vicksburg. However, Smith reminds us that no actual orders to that effect were ever issued. Halleck effectively stonewalled McClernand's increasingly urgent requests to be ordered to the front, and supposed friend Lincoln and cagey Secretary of War Stanton did not actively intervene when requested to do so by McClernand. This allowed time for Halleck and Grant to gather at Memphis enough spare troops for a powerful waterborne strike force and place Sherman at the head of it. In a war filled with countless examples of interdepartmental friction, the degree to which General Samuel R. Curtis was willing to strip his own manpower to supply reinforcements for Sherman's expedition was exceptional, and Smith properly credits Curtis for that general's unusually selfless spirit of cooperation.

A relatively recent book-length study of the so-called Battle of Coffeeville authored by Don Sides credits the Confederate victory there with having a decisive effect on Grant's decision to halt his North Mississippi advance. Smith's more persuasive take on the successful Confederate ambush and counterattack assesses it primarily as a morale and confidence booster, attributing Grant's pause more to weather and overextended logistics than the bloody nose received at Coffeeville. Bearss also saw the event as more incidental than critical in its impact on Grant's subsequent actions.

In his meticulous account of the multi-day Battle of Chickasaw Bayou, Smith does an excellent job of clearly describing the battlefield terrain there along with the many constraints that challenging military environment placed on Sherman's attacking options. Mere glance at a map might falsely give the impression that the Yazoo River offered a lengthy stretch of fine approaches to the gates of Vicksburg, but Smith painstakingly explains to the reader that the usable battle space between Vicksburg and the fortified bluffs to the north was in actuality quite small. Indeed, it was restricted to four tightly compressed sectors separated by long and frequently deep bayous. Additionally, well-sited Confederate earthworks faced down all four approaches.

Smith's narrative clearly details in blow by blow fashion Sherman's ultimately vain attempts at scoring a breakthrough at Chickasaw Bayou. Of course, controversy follows every surprising military failure, especially when defeat of that nature is accompanied by a wide disparity in casualties. Smith argues that only a tiny window for Union success existed—right after the initial landings and before Confederate reinforcements arrived—and Sherman's measured bridgehead buildup missed it. How much Sherman could have achieved had me moved forward faster is a debatable point, but it does seem clear through Smith's recounting of events that subordinate brigade and division commanders are not deserving of any particular censure. Sherman has been criticized for the hasty nature of his operation, but the rush to preempt McClernand is understandable on some level and extensive reconnaissance of the ground might have prematurely tipped his hand. The tactical employment of pontoon bridging, a lesser appreciated aspect of the operation, was badly bungled, leaving one to wonder (assuming bayou banks in the area were not a tangled mess of natural obstacles) what opportunities were available for using them as assault boats across the bayous à la the Rappahannock River crossing conducted successfully a few weeks earlier at Fredericksburg.

Smith's text is supported by 21 maps, and they are mostly satisfactory. Many of these, especially the sizable set tracing the progress of the Mississippi Central Campaign, are large-scale representations of corps and division-level movements. As expected, more small-unit detail is found in the tactical battlefield maps assigned to the Chickasaw Bayou, Holly Springs, and Parker's Crossroads sections of the book, where there is much more regimental-level depiction of the fighting. Roads, buildings, and terrain obstacles are duly represented in the tactical maps, but there is still a lot of white space remaining that could have been filled with more natural terrain and topographical features. Orders of battle are provided for Chickasaw Bayou, Holly Springs, Parker's Crossroads, and the Mississippi Central Campaign. For the last, "(d)ue to the amazing amount of shuffling of regiments, brigades, and divisions" Smith did not attempt to reconstruct regimental-level orders of battle.

This review focuses on the Union side, but it needs to be said that the book also offers full Confederate analysis and perspective. General Stephen D. Lee is properly credited for his sharp repulse of Sherman's expedition at little cost in Confederate casualties. At the top level of command, General John C. Pemberton's largely CEO approach, while it proved successful, is more difficult to assess. Smith is probably correct in opining that Pemberton's decisive success in stopping both major enemy thrusts in his department was in large part a function of the time afforded him by the rather slow tempo of unfolding events. As the author persuasively reasons, it would only be after Grant later crossed his army below Vicksburg and presented Pemberton with a series of rapidly developing crises of decision that the limitations in Pemberton's ability to manage a field army would be revealed in full, that leadership deficiency having disastrous consequences for both Vicksburg and the Confederate war effort on the whole.

As mentioned above, the late Ed Bearss's operational and tactical accounts of both the Mississippi Central Campaign and Chickasaw Bayou still hold up today. However, the truly massive breadth and depth of Smith's current-day research dwarfs Bearss's limited approach from many decades ago. The result is a far more detailed rendering of these events, with both sharpened interpretation and vastly greater emphasis on the soldier and civilian experience. Of course, some issues remain unresolved and matters of opinion will vary (that's the case with every Civil War campaign), but Timothy Smith's Early Struggles for Vicksburg unquestionably provides us with the best researched and most closely detailed account yet published of a complex series of events that proved to be one of the bleaker moments of Grant's early-war career and for the Confederates a momentary ray of hope in maintaining their foothold on a strategic stretch of the Mississippi River.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Booknotes: Healing a Divided Nation

New Arrival:
Healing a Divided Nation: How the American Civil War Revolutionized Western Medicine by Carole Adrienne (Pegasus Bks, 2022).

From the description: "At the start of the Civil War, the medical field in America was rudimentary, unsanitary, and woefully underprepared to address what would become the bloodiest conflict on U.S. soil. However, in this historic moment of pivotal social and political change, medicine was also fast evolving to meet the needs of the time. Unprecedented strides were made in the science of medicine, and as women and African Americans were admitted into the field for the first time."

One of the overarching themes of Carole Adrienne's Healing a Divided Nation is her argument that we can trace much of our current healthcare system and its diverse practitioners to the ways in which the Civil War transformed western medicine. Primarily in its "cultural and historical context," Adrienne's book illustrates "how the advancements made in these four years reverberated throughout the western world for years to come."

More from the description: "Beginning with the state of medicine at the outset of the war, when doctors did not even know about sterilizing their tools, Adrienne illuminates the transformation in American healthcare through primary source texts that document the lives and achievements of the individuals who pioneered these changes in medicine and society." Glancing through the book, which is written in popular history style, narrative emphasis is primarily placed on individual stories and their sociological impact. That said, the historical outlook is broad. "Analyzing the changes in education, society, humanitarianism, and technology in addition to the scientific strides of the period lends Healing a Divided Nation a uniquely wide lens to the topic, expanding the legacy of the developments made."

The first chapter looks at the state of medicine in the US on the eve of the Civil War (including a rundown of some common treatment protocols), and the second summarizes how emerging weapons and technology expanded killing power and contributed to the war's carnage. The next section focuses on the impact and careers of individual physicians (men and women, white and black). The expanded role of women in nursing is examined next, again with considerable focus on individual stories. External challenges to treating the war's mass casualties and innovations addressing those and others are the subject of the next chapter, which also credits the war's extensive documentation of medical information as invaluably benefiting future physician training and treatment of wounds and disease. Another section discusses how the war drove the evolution of hospitals. The final part of the book addresses how civilian volunteerism and organized humanitarian efforts (ex. Civil War sanitary fairs, ladies' aid societies, etc.) aided active, wounded, and recovering soldiers. That chapter also explores international connections that reverberate today in the form of the Geneva Convention's rules of war and the Red Cross.

Monday, September 12, 2022

2022 Civil War book award winners list

Tom Watson Brown Award:
Sebastian Page for Black Resettlement and the American Civil War (Cambridge UP).

Bobbie and John Nau Book Prize in American Civil War Era History:
Kate Masur for Until Justice Be Done: America's First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction (W. W. Norton).

A.M. Pate Award:
(TBA in January)

Albert Castel Book Award:
David Powell & Eric Wittenberg for Tullahoma: The Forgotten Campaign that Changed the Course of the Civil War, June 23-July 4, 1863 (Savas Beatie).

Dan and Marilyn Laney Prize:
Robert Elder for Calhoun: American Heretic (Basic Books).

Richard Barksdale Harwell Book Award:
Caroline Janney for Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee's Army After Appomattox (UNC Press) and Charles Knight for From Arlington to Appomattox, Robert E Lee's Civil War by Day: 1861-1865 (Savas Beatie).

Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize:
Caroline Janney for Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee's Army After Appomattox (UNC Press).

Wiley-Silver Prize:
Kevin Waite for West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire (UNC Press).

Fletcher Pratt Award:
(TBA in January)

Douglas Southall Freeman History Award:
Christopher Thrasher for Suffering in the Army of Tennessee: A Social History of the Confederate Army of the Heartland from the Battles for Atlanta to the Retreat from Nashville (UTenn Press).

OAH Civil War and Reconstruction Book Award:
Lorien Foote for Rites of Retaliation: Civilization, Soldiers, and Campaigns in the Civil War (UNC Press).

CWBA Book of the Year:
TBA

Friday, September 9, 2022

Booknotes: When Emancipation Came

New Arrival:
When Emancipation Came: The End of Enslavement on a Southern Plantation and a Russian Estate by Sally Stocksdale (McFarland, 2022).

From the description: "Linked by declarations of emancipation within the same five-year period, two countries shared human rights issues on two distinct continents. In this book, readers will find a case-study comparison of the emancipation of Russian serfs on the Yazykovo Selo estate and American slaves at the Palmyra Plantation."

This book is part of a recent trend in the historiography that seeks to explore the causes, conduct, and aftermath of the American Civil War in a more international/global context. For geographical point of reference, the Yazykovo Selo estate was located in Simbirsk Province of Imperial Russia, west of the provincial capital (now known as Ulyanovsk). Palmyra Plantation, owned by John Quitman, was situated near Davis Bend in Mississippi. Both mansion houses of the estate/plantation owners, Yazykov and the Quitman/Lovell house in Natchez, survive today.

"Although state policies and reactions may not follow the same paths in each area, there were striking thematic parallels." As revealed in the preface, "thematic categories" explored in the book's four parts include: immobility vs. mobility in labor obligations, contracts, and performance; variables in contract and wage labor; rumors, fears, and suspicions surrounding emancipation; war and armies (both emancipation processes were forged in a wartime context); and, finally, the differing views between former serfs/slaves and former masters/slaveowners when it came to expectations of freedom's meaning and limits in newly emancipated society.

More from the description: "These findings add to our understanding of what happens throughout an emancipation process in which the state grants freedom, and therefore speaks to the universality of the human experience. Despite the political and economic differences between the two countries, as well as their geographic and cultural distances, this book re-conceptualizes emancipation and its aftermath in each country: from a history that treats each as a separate, self-contained story to one with a unified, global framework."

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Booknotes: The Battle of Jackson, Mississippi

New Arrival:
The Battle of Jackson, Mississippi, May 14, 1863 by Chris Mackowski (Savas Beatie, 2022).

From the description: "Jackson, Mississippi, played an important role in the decisive Vicksburg Campaign and was the third Confederate state capital to fall to the Union when Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant captured the important rail junction in May of 1863. Drawing on dozens of primary sources and contextualized by the latest scholarship, Chris Mackowski’s The Battle of Jackson, Mississippi, May 14, 1863, offers the most comprehensive account ever published on the subject."

This is the second installment of publisher Savas Beatie's Battles & Leaders series. We'll see how things progress, but the new series seems to be a good home for military monographs that are a bit too big for the ECW series and maybe a bit too small for the 'standard' SB product line.

Only one book published prior to this one has the Battle of Jackson as a major point of focus. Ed Bearss and Warren Grabau devote around 31 pages of densely-packed narrative in their three-part 1981 book The Battle of Jackson May 14, 1863 - The Siege of Jackson, July 10-17, 1863 - and Three Other Post-Vicksburg Actions to this battle and subsequent Union occupation/destruction of the city. Of course, the topic is also covered in Bearss's classic Vicksburg Campaign trilogy, but Mackowski's B&L volume represents the first truly standalone book-length history of the brief May battle fought for control of Mississippi's state capital and primary logistical nerve center.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Book Snapshot: Old Glory at the Crossroads 1861-1865

Between January 8, 1961 and June 6, 1965, the Chicago Tribune and its newspaper affiliates published the color comic strip "Old Glory at the Crossroads 1861-1865." The Civil War Centennial project was the combined work of writer Athena Robbins and artist Rick Fletcher, the latter perhaps best known for his work on the Dick Tracy strip (which he worked on for decades and headed from 1977-1982). Compiled, edited, and self-published by Thomas S. Suhs, Old Glory at the Crossroads, 1861-1865: The Original and Complete Tribune Newspapers Civil War Centennial Comic Strip (2021) gathers together all 230 strips for the first time in book format (it is a 8.5" x 11" paperback presented in landscape orientation) and arranges them in order of original publication.

Iowans Fletcher and Robbins previously collaborated on an award-winning illustrated history of the American flag ("The Old Glory Story"), and were asked to take on the American Civil War in commemoration of the Centennial. At the time, the series was lauded for its "accurate portrayal of the personalities, battles and equipment." In terms of popular print media sources capable of sparking a life-long interest in the war, I can imagine the strip possibly having an effect on Midwest youth similar to what the American Heritage tome and the more modest How and Why Wonder Book of the Civil War did for the same generation. After the war concluded, Fletcher and Robbins extended their work for another year, the focus then being on postwar westward expansion.

As one might have anticipated given the sensibilities of the period and Sunday comic page placement, the strip avoids dark or controversial themes in its presentation of a largely military history-focused story line. That said, with the strip covering topics ranging from well-known to quite obscure (even to today's readers), it's obvious Robbins and Fletcher went beyond superficial research. Of course, a weekly comic of only 5 or 6 panels can't be expected to go much beyond simplified, broad-brush text.

The image source was strips cut from original newspaper copy, but surviving artwork color and clarity is rather surprisingly good in quality, with Suhs's apology for his image reproduction of sixty-plus year old newsprint largely unnecessary. It actually looks rather good (see example at right). Suhs also created a nine-page index for the book. A labor of love, Suhs's volume represents a wonderful print preservation of the Centennial-period comic series.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Massive new Kearny bio released this month

Given how many titles skip over online pre-order status in their journey toward publication (and thus escape my notice for a while after release), I've been toying with the idea of doing a regular "straggler" feature each month to complement the Coming Soon posts. One noteworthy title that did not make September's Coming Soon list (but I did add in retroactively) is William Styple's new biography of Major General Philip Kearny, which I may not have picked up on for a while without the help of ALB's A House Divided list of upcoming episodes.

Most Civil War readers are familiar with Styple due to his 2005 book Generals in Bronze: Interviewing the Commanders of the Civil War, which was much talked about at the time. However, his real passion project appears to have been digging into the life of General Kearny. Bellegrove Publishing describes Styple's General Philip Kearny - A Very God of War: The Life & Letters of General Philip Kearny as being the product of fifty years of research, the resulting 880-page(!) biography being the "definitive life story" of the man.

The next most recent Kearny biography was published only a short time ago, but that slender volume never made it to my bookshelf so I can't comment on it. Styples's book certainly promises to offer much more than what has come before it. Like most Civil War generals, Kearny had then and has now both admirers and detractors. His aggressive demeanor as Army of the Potomac brigade and division commander draws support from many observers today as being a welcome antidote to AoP high command "McClellanism," but his volatile antics have also been regarded as being too reckless in nature. I will be very interested in reading Styple's assessment of both man and general. Upon reading the publisher's description, it also appears that Styple views some of the criticisms aimed toward Kearny by West Point-trained officers as being sourced primarily from jealousy. I have a review copy request in the email ether and hope to pick up a copy of this promising tome at some point.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Review - "The Mobile & Ohio Railroad in the Civil War: The Struggle for Control of the Nation's Longest Railway" by Dan Lee

[The Mobile & Ohio Railroad in the Civil War: The Struggle for Control of the Nation's Longest Railway by Dan Lee (McFarland, 2022). Softcover, map, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:viii,206/244. ISBN:978-1-4766-8972-2. $39.95]

Originating on Alabama's Gulf Coast, the Mobile & Ohio Railroad initially followed a northwesterly course into Mississippi, where it then skirted that state's eastern border for much of its length before plunging through the heart of West Tennessee. From there, the M&O tracks entered Kentucky's Jackson Purchase, finally terminating on the Mississippi River at Columbus. Familiar to all Civil War students, that long stretch of western geography hosted some of the conflict's most bitterly contested ground. Those campaigns and raids intimately tied to the M&O along with the many challenges the railroad faced on a daily basis in order to remain afloat in that environment are the focus of Dan Lee's The Mobile & Ohio Railroad in the Civil War: The Struggle for Control of the Nation's Longest Railway.

Lee's chronological narrative recounts, at varying degrees of detail, the series of Civil War operations in which the railroad played a key role as either logistical lifeline or target of destruction. In 1861, the M&O supported Confederate forces during their controversial movement into western Kentucky and their establishment of an extensive fortified position at Columbus. Throughout 1862, during the Shiloh Campaign, Siege of Corinth, and fall battles fought at Iuka and Corinth, the contest for control of the M&O would intensify. By the end of the year, Union forces would be firmly in control of the railroad's northern half. In contrast to the previous year, the situation would stabilize in 1863, with action against the railroad mostly confined to raids behind Union lines. Though the damage inflicted by those raids was swiftly repaired, numerous towns in West Tennessee and North Mississippi were victimized by wanton destruction. The Meridian Expedition led by General Sherman in early 1864 brought more extensive damage to the M&O, this time farther south. Later that summer, two more Union expeditions led by generals Samuel Sturgis and A.J. Smith (the former leading to disaster at Brice's Crossroads and the latter inflicting heavy casualties on southern mounted forces at Tupelo) spread further destruction but kept Nathan Bedford Forrest and his feared raiders fixed in North Mississippi and unable to target Union supply lines feeding General Sherman's army group in Georgia. Late in 1864, the crippled M&O was tasked with supplying Confederate general John Bell Hood's desperate advance into Middle Tennessee. The line was targeted later that winter by another Grierson's Raid (the lesser-known of the two), which was aimed at both cutting off Hood's retreat and applying the coup de grace to the rickety M&O's remaining capacity for supporting Confederate forces in the region. During the war's final spring, the M&O was used to reinforce and supply beleaguered Mobile, and it transported the garrison into the interior after the port city was evacuated. The Citronelle surrender, one of the war's most significant, occurred on the M&O. While these large sections of the narrative sometimes lose focus on the railroad itself in favor of detailing military operations (even at tactical level), they nevertheless prove useful in demonstrating to readers the critical role the M&O played in Mississippi River Valley supply and strategy.

Lee's narrative also frequently reminds readers of the range of dire threats the war imposed on the viability of southern railroads. At the start of the war, the modern M&O was fully capable of supporting military traffic and civilian commerce. However, it did was not long before nearby armies immediately threw a series of challenges in its path, and, by the end of the Civil War, the railroad was only a shadow of its former self. The physical destruction inflicted by both sides to stations, tracks, bridges, culverts, etc. was both extensive and repeated. Regular line and equipment maintenance proved impossible, with currency inflation and supply shortages making replacement parts for equipment and railroad repair materials either prohibitively expensive or unobtainable at any price. This rendered the M&O, which prided itself prewar for having suffered no deaths along its length, prone to deadly accidents.

Lee's history of the M&O also illustrates how often railroads were at the center of the war's struggle to balance the competing needs of the fighting and home fronts. Army quartermasters frequently interfered, sometimes illegally, with civilian use of the line to feed urban populations. In the case of the M&O, this became a particular problem for Mobile's hungry citizens, who had to petition Richmond authorities for relief. Army-mandated intermingling of M&O locomotives and cars with other lines also led to missing, neglected, abused, or destroyed equipment that could not be replaced during the war.

In describing the M&O as the "nation's longest railway," the author is specifically referring to the M&O being the longest line controlled by a single corporate entity. That unity of effort undoubtedly helped the railroad survive its wartime trials, but the author additionally credits continuity in leadership (in particular company president Milton Brown and superintendent L.J. Fleming) for keeping the railroad in near-continuous operation and in the red (though Lee sagely admits that paper profits and other forms of creative accounting were involved). Given the railroad's ability to recover its function throughout the war (for example, the massive destruction from the Meridian Raid was repaired sufficiently in less than 50 days), it would have been interesting to read more detail as to how that was achieved in the face of the challenges listed above. Likewise, more information about those who performed those minor miracles on the ground (ex. the railroad's work crews and hired or impressed slave labor) would have been welcome. Perhaps significant source material on those matters does not exist. With the government eventually comprising nearly all of its business (and either not paying its bills or forcing the railroad to accept increasingly worthless Confederate bonds in exchange), how the railroad managed to repair itself and remain in operation throughout the war remains an impressive feat.

Though lighter on matters of railroad management, defense, repair work, and operations detail than some readers might have wanted, Dan Lee's The Mobile & Ohio Railroad in the Civil War very clearly demonstrates the great degree by which this vital logistical artery shaped how and where major western theater military campaigns were conducted over the entire length of the war.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Coming Soon (September '22 Edition)

**NEW RELEASES1** Scheduled for SEPT 2022:

Dear Uncles: The Civil War Letters of Arthur McKinstry, A Soldier in the Excelsior Brigade ed. by Rick Barram.
Engineering in the Confederate Heartland by Larry Daniel.
The Battle of Jackson, Mississippi, May 14, 1863 by Chris Mackowski.
St. Louis Civil War Sites and the Fight for Freedom by Peter Downs.
At War with King Alcohol: Debating Drinking and Masculinity in the Civil War by Megan Bever.
Civil Wars and Reconstructions in the Americas: The United States, Mexico, and Argentina, 1860–1880 by Evan Rothera.
The Confederate Military Forces in the Trans-Mississippi West, 1861-1865: A Study in Command by William Royston Geise, ed. by Michael Forsyth.
General Philip Kearny, A Very God of War: The Life & Letters of General Philip Kearny by William Styple.
Irish American Civil War Songs: Identity, Loyalty, and Nationhood by Catherine Bateson.
“If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania”: The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac March to Gettysburg - Volume 1: June 3–21, 1863 by Scott Mingus and Eric Wittenberg.

Comments: September will be a great month for SB releases. I am especially looking forward to the Jackson battle history and seeing what was done with editing the Geise dissertation. The Daniel book on Confederate military engineering in the West also closely aligns with my reading interests.

1 - These monthly release lists are not meant to be exhaustive compilations of non-fiction releases. They do not include non-revised/expanded reprints of previously published books, special editions not distributed to reviewers, and digital-only titles. Works that only tangentially address the war years are also generally excluded. Inevitably, one or more titles on this list will get a rescheduled release (and they do not get repeated later), so revisiting the past few "Coming Soon" posts is the best way to pick up stragglers.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Booknotes: As Wolves upon a Sheep Fold

New Arrival:
As Wolves upon a Sheep Fold: The Civil War Letters of Ohio Surgeon William S. Newton edited by Aaron D. Purcell (UT Press, 2022)

Dr. William S. Newton served the officers and men of three Union regiments. He was "an assistant surgeon with the 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, but also spent a few months as acting surgeon with the 2nd Virginia Cavalry (US). Toward the end of the war, he was promoted to surgeon for the 193rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry." The great many surviving letters he wrote to his wife and sons (but primarily to his wife) were recently acquired by Virginia Tech, and these have been compiled and edited in As Wolves upon a Sheep Fold: The Civil War Letters of Ohio Surgeon William S. Newton, the latest volume in UT Press's Voices of the Civil War series.

In the preface, it is noted that Newton writings are part of only a handful of available firsthand accounts of service with the 91st Ohio. From the description: "Newton’s units fought in the Appalachian Highlands, mostly in Virginia and West Virginia. He treated wounded soldiers after significant battles including Opequon and Cedar Creek. In May 1864, following the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain, John Hunt Morgan’s Raiders captured Newton and other medical personnel. After three weeks, Newton and his fellow prisoners were given the option of either treating Confederate soldiers or going to Libby Prison; they chose the latter. Newton spent only three days at Libby Prison before being released, but the experience took a significant toll on his health."

Like many Civil War officers and men, Newton undoubtedly employed the time spent writing home as a temporary escape from the stresses and horrors of his regular duties. According to the introduction, Newton "focused a majority of his words on more personal matters, observations, and friends and family," rather than his medical service activities. Nevertheless, his letters "provide a window into (the peculiar nature of the) fighting in the Appalachian borderlands, where the differences between battle, guerilla warfare, and occupation were often blurred. As a noncombatant, the doctor observed life beyond troop movements and the brutality of war. Newton’s detailed letters cover his living quarters, race relations, transportation and communication, the comfort of a good meal, and the antics of his teenage son Ned."

Editor Aaron Purcell's volume preface and introduction provide the reader with historiographical context, some biographical details (not much is known about Dr. Newton's early life), and thematic outline. Bridging narrative is placed at the beginning of each chapter, and there are copious endnotes. A brief epilogue explores Newton's postwar activities. Additionally, numerous mini-bios of individuals frequently mentioned in Newton's correspondence (ex. family members, friends, associates, and army comrades) can be found in the appendix.

In sum, As Wolves upon a Sheep Fold "provides new insights into the medical and social history of the war, the war in Western Virginia, local and regional history, the perspective of a noncombatant, life on the home front, and the porous lines between home and battlefront."