Friday, November 16, 2018

Booknotes: The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee

New Arrival:
The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee: The Forgotten Case Against an American Icon
  by John Reeves (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018).

The reputations of major historical figures often follow an undulating course according to the changing cultural zeitgeist and many other factors that tell us just as much about the judges as they do those put in the dock. This is certainly the case with Robert E. Lee. While later generations of Americans would find much to admire in Lee, the years immediately following the end of the Civil War were filled with attacks on the character and moral standing of the Confederacy's leading general. It is this early period in the development of Lee's historical legacy that is the subject of John Reeves's The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee.

From the description: "Immediately after the Civil War, ... many northerners believed Lee should be hanged for treason and war crimes. Americans will be surprised to learn that in June of 1865 Robert E. Lee was indicted for treason by a Norfolk, Virginia grand jury. In his instructions to the grand jury, Judge John C. Underwood described treason as “wholesale murder,” and declared that the instigators of the rebellion had “hands dripping with the blood of slaughtered innocents.” In early 1866, Lee decided against visiting friends while in Washington, D.C. for a congressional hearing, because he was conscious of being perceived as a “monster” by citizens of the nation’s capital. Yet somehow, roughly fifty years after his trip to Washington, Lee had been transformed into a venerable American hero, who was highly regarded by southerners and northerners alike."

The book "tells the story of the forgotten legal and moral case that was made against the Confederate general after the Civil War" and "illuminates the incredible turnaround in attitudes towards the defeated general by examining the evolving case against him from 1865 to 1870 and beyond."

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Booknotes: Don Troiani's Civil War Soldiers

New Arrival:
Don Troiani's Civil War Soldiers by Don Troiani, Earl J. Coates, and Michael J. McAfee   (Stackpole, 2017).

During the 1990s, Civil War artwork peaked in popularity alongside book publishing. Art calendars and advertising could be found all over the place and the original oils went for small fortunes. Even before factoring in matte and framing costs, the numbered prints were outside my poor student means. 

One of the biggest figures in this art scene was Don Troiani, recognized for his battle scenes along with his exhaustively researched and intricately detailed individual officer and soldier portrayals on canvas. A new collection of the latter (27 Confederate. and 22 Union) are featured in Don Troiani's Civil War Soldiers [see the table of contents at the title link above for a complete list].

The range of soldier and officer subjects is impressive—with the three major branches (infantry, cavalry, and artillery) and regulars, volunteers, militia, USCT, specialist and support troops, colorbearers, and more all represented. The large-dimension volume from Stackpole is beautifully presented. The heavy, glossy 8.5" x 11" pages allow full appreciation of all the realistic detail and vivid colors associated with each art reproduction. Every portrait is supported by extensive background and explanatory text contributed by Coates and McAfee as well as captioned photographs (over 300 in number) of the uniforms, accoutrements, and other historical artifacts that Troiani used as painting props.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Review - "War Matters: Material Culture in the Civil War Era" by Joan Cashin, ed.

[War Matters: Material Culture in the Civil War Era edited by Joan E. Cashin (University of North Carolina Press, 2018). Softcover, photos, illustrations, notes index. Pages main/total:244/280. ISBN:978-1-4696-4320-5. $29.95]

Within Civil War scholarship, material culture studies continue to be an undervalued academic sub-discipline, a state of affairs that the new essay anthology War Matters: Material Culture in the Civil War Era seeks to address and change. Volume editor Joan Cashin's introductory essay recognizes that there is no universally agreed upon current definition of "material culture" from those that use it most (i.e. anthropologists, archaeologists, folklorists, and the like). The term originated in the anthropology of the early twentieth century and generally refers to "the study of physical objects as evidence of cultural values." Some also believe that particularly valued objects need to be also understood as themselves affecting human behaviors and attitudes. The fairly inclusive definition quoted above serves well enough as the foundation of the broad range of ideas aired in War Matters. While professional Civil War historians as a whole have not fully embraced material culture studies as a significant tool for use in their own work, the following essays represent at least some evidence of growing acceptance and appreciation.

Jason Phillips begins the proceedings by looking at the historical and physical origins of John Brown's famous pikes and their cultural meaning and evolution. After his victory over proslavery militants at Black Jack in Kansas, Brown proudly displayed to supporters and financial backers a captured dagger as emblematic of his cause and evidence of his triumph. Symbolically turning the weapon against its previous owner and the "Slave Power" he represented, Brown commissioned 1,000 pikes with the bladed tips precisely modeled after that of the Black Jack dagger. While the pikes never drew blood in the hands of fellow abolitionist fighters or rebellious slaves, they became meaningful objects on both sides of the cultural divide, with abolitionists keeping them as treasured relics and proslavery activists displaying them as powerful material proof of the North's support for the violent overthrow of slavery and the presumed race war that would ensue. The chapter provides a good example of how the physical nature and symbolic meaning of material objects can evolve in both intended and unintended ways.

Both sides during the Civil War earnestly attempted to appropriate the legacy of the American Revolution in support of their respective causes, and Joan Cashin's chapter discusses the relics from that treasured period of history that were physically threatened by the fighting. Union soldiers wanted to see, touch, and often take sacred objects; Southern Unionists sought to display them as proof of their loyalty; and pro-Confederate citizens tried to protect and preserve them from outright theft and destruction. In citing these examples, Cashin forcefully demonstrates how much Civil War era Americans wanted to possess physical reminders of past glories while also using them as tools of political and cultural expression in their own lives.

By interpreting the entire Antietam National Battlefield as a historical artifact, Lisa Brady and Timothy Silver take perhaps the book's most expansive approach to defining material culture.  Conducting material culture studies through the lens of environmental history, Brady and Silver look beyond relatively small, inanimate objects to large, culturally significant landscapes and their living ecosystems. Their long-term method of examining the complex interplay between the human and natural origins and histories of particular landscapes provides another way of looking at Civil War battlefields.

Everyone has read Civil War anecdotes about printed material in breast pockets stopping bullets and saving lives, but Ronald and Mary Zboray's article offers the first comprehensive examination of the practice, which originated in Cromwellian England. Documenting 108 cases in both Civil War armies, they thoughtfully explore the individual, religious (most were bibles), and cultural significance of using books as personal shields. The printed objects came to be proactively viewed by many as talismans that could ward off harm on the battlefield, and in the case of bibles took on additional elements of divine grace and intervention.

Military material culture studies (particularly those associated with modern conflict archaeology) have made impressive strides in recent decades, but Earl Hess points out that the examination of Civil War weapons as culturally-significant objects has lagged behind. Adopting an international cross-cultural approach, Hess's chapter interprets weapons—in the context of both user and target—from the individual perspective (ex. noting the tendency of many soldiers to see their weapons not as mass-produced things but personally meaningful objects) as well as through societal lenses such as American gun culture and the pervasive 'new is better' attitude toward technology.

Robert Hicks moves the discussion from man-made objects to man-modified natural materials, in this case smallpox vaccine matter extracted from individuals by Confederate Army doctors and prepared for general use in inoculating civilian and military populations. There is a particular focus on failed inoculations and how they prompted a scientific reevaluation of each stage of the vaccination process. This led to improved methods and the compilation of a large body of data and observations useful for future research.

Within black refugee camps managed by white northern relief workers, ex-slaves lived in either tents or existing built structures, and these intimate material spaces are the subject of Sara Jones Weicksel's chapter. In it Weicksel sees refugee dwellings and the artifacts that adorned and furnished them as representations of freedpeople's personal visions of freedom.

Unlike women of the wealthier classes who could afford to leave the home to participate in fundraisers, attend political rallies, and nurse the wounded, Alabama's common folk women found ways to support the Confederate cause and supplement their more meager incomes through home industry, both through hand-made goods and food production. However, Victoria Ott's chapter also shows how hardships and scarcities in those very same material items fueled opposition, often class-based in nature, as the war dragged on.

The final two essays explore the popular passion for relics of the war. Peter Carmichael discusses relic hunting in the context of the conflict's final weeks, when veterans of both armies sought to substantiate their service through keepsakes, while Yael Sternhell recounts Jefferson Davis's twenty-year quest to reclaim his lost or confiscated material belongings. Ironically, those objects held by the federal government were the easiest to get back while those taken by ex-associates the most frustratingly elusive. Davis's loss of control over his own material legacy serves as a notable reminder of how the private artifacts of historically significant figures eventually become public property.

All of the contributors to War Matters successfully argue for the appropriateness and validity of incorporating into the historical scholarship the study of material items of cultural significance. Certainly the book should be read by all Civil War professional historians and graduate students, but many of the essays also exhibit popular appeal sufficient to gain the volume a wider reading audience. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Book News: The Fight for the Old North State

Back in February when I reviewed James White's New Bern and the Civil War (2018) and noted that it offered the first serious book-length treatment of the 1863-64 Confederate offensives in eastern North Carolina, I had no inkling that Hampton Newsome was finishing up a similar project of his own. It's another example of what I call the 'nothing-then-two-books' pattern that comes up in the Civil War military history literature frequently enough to be noticeable.

While White's slim volume took the broader overview approach, Newsome's study will focus on the 1864 offensives. The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864 (Kansas, Feb 2019) recounts "a momentous series of events as the Confederates, threatened by a supply crisis and an emerging peace movement, sought to seize Federal bases in eastern North Carolina. This book tells the story of these operations—the late war Confederate resurgence in the Old North State."

A number of Confederate offensive operations conducted over the first half of the year are covered. These would have varying degrees of success. "Using rail lines to rapidly consolidate their forces, the Confederates would attack the main Federal position at New Bern in February, raid the northeastern counties in March, hit the Union garrisons at Plymouth and Washington in late April, and conclude with another attempt at New Bern in early May. The expeditions would involve joint-service operations, as the Confederates looked to support their attacks with powerful, homegrown ironclad gunboats."

Analysis of events also ranges beyond the battlefield. "Newsome does not neglect the broader context, revealing how these military events related to a contested gubernatorial election; the social transformations in the state brought on by the war; the execution of Union prisoners at Kinston; and the activities of North Carolina Unionists." I can't wait to read it. Fortunately, it will be out relatively soon.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Booknotes: The Million-Dollar Man Who Helped Kill a President

New Arrival:
The Million-Dollar Man Who Helped Kill a President: George Washington Gayle and the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln by Christopher Lyle McIlwain, Sr. (Savas Beatie, 2018).

I don't have a great sense of when the modern peak period was (perhaps the years surrounding the publication of Blood on the Moon), but it does seem like Lincoln assassination books appear with lesser frequency these days. The spigot is never turned off, though.

Christopher McIlwain is one of those many lawyers drawn to writing serious Civil War history. The author of a companion pair of well-received Alabama state histories—Civil War Alabama (2016) and 1865 Alabama: From Civil War to Uncivil Peace (2017)—he now turns his attention to a lesser-known figure in Lincoln assassination studies. His new book The Million-Dollar Man Who Helped Kill a President argues that the true motivating force behind John Wilkes Booth's determination to kill the president was money raised by radical secessionist lawyer George Washington Gayle.

From the description: "The deadly scheme to kill Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward was Gayle’s brainchild. The assassins were motivated by money Gayle raised. Lots of money. $20,000,000 in today’s value. Gayle, a prominent South Carolina-born Alabama lawyer, had been a Unionist and Jacksonian Democrat before walking the road of radicalization following the admission of California as a free state in 1850. Thereafter, he became Alabama’s most earnest secessionist, though he would never hold any position within the Confederate government or serve in its military. After the slaying of the president, Gayle was arrested and taken to Washington, DC in chains to be tried by a military tribunal for conspiracy in connection with the horrendous crimes."

Apparently, Gayle became pretty widely known across the country for soliciting funds for an assassin's bounty (thus the "Million-Dollar Man" sobriquet) after publicly advertising his intentions in a newspaper. According to McIlwain, historians generally dismiss Gayle's direct involvement with the plot, but the author attempts in the book to demonstrate otherwise, though he readily admits that his case is based only on circumstantial evidence. It might have the greatest bibliography size (50+ packed pages) to page length (140 pages of narrative) ratio of any study I've come across.

More from the description: "There is little doubt that if Gayle had been tried, he would have been convicted and executed. However, he not only avoided trial, but ultimately escaped punishment of any kind for reasons that will surprise readers." You'll have to read the book to find out.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Booknotes: The Real Horse Soldiers

New Arrival:
The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson’s Epic 1863 Civil War Raid Through Mississippi by Timothy B. Smith (Savas Beatie, 2018).

General Grant ordered a number of diversionary movements to mask the main crossing of his army below Vicksburg. As April turned to May, when the Army of the Tennessee finally did land on solid ground in Mississippi near Bruinsburg, the Confederate response could only be charitably described as disorganized. The consensus among Vicksburg Campaign historians is that Benjamin Grierson's cavalry raid, which sowed destruction and confusion in the Mississippi interior, was a significant factor in ensuring that the early stages of Grant's inland movement did not meet concentrated opposition. Not exactly neglected, the history of the raid has been recounted in several books (most notably the writings of Dee Brown and Ed Bearss), but Timothy Smith's The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson’s Epic 1863 Civil War Raid Through Mississippi promises us the first full treatment of the operation.

From the description: "For 16 days (April 17 to May 2) Grierson led Confederate pursuers on a high-stakes chase through the entire state of Mississippi, entering the northern border with Tennessee and exiting its southern border with Louisiana. The daily rides were long, the rest stops short, and the tension high. Ironically, the man who led the raid was a former music teacher who some say disliked horses. Throughout, he displayed outstanding leadership and cunning, destroyed railroad tracks, burned trestles and bridges, freed slaves, and created as much damage and chaos as possible."

Many readers will be familiar with John Ford's The Horse Soldiers (1959). While the well-known film is obviously referenced in the book's title, it doesn't appear that the movie, which was based on the Harold Sinclair novel of the same name, is part of Smith's discussion of the raid (perhaps because the intersection of history, novel, and movie has already been thoroughly examined in Neal Longley York's book Fiction as Fact: "The Horse Soldiers" and Popular Memory). Anyway, the book looks like another winner from Smith, who continues to produce original western theater scholarship at a positively Hess-ian pace.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Review - "Upon the Fields of Battle: Essays on the Military History of America's Civil War" by Bledsoe & Lang, eds.

[Upon the Fields of Battle: Essays on the Military History of America's Civil War edited by Andrew S. Bledsoe & Andrew F. Lang (Louisiana State University Press, 2018). Cloth, notes, index. 320 pp. ISBN:978-0-8071-6977-3. $48]

What has been termed "traditional" military history (i.e. the study of war-related national politics and diplomacy, generals and soldiers, strategy, operations, battles, weapons, tactics, logistics, and the like) reached its highest prominence and acceptance among academic historians during the 1960s only to be mostly replaced over the ensuing decades by the work of scholars with professional interests grounded in the social and cultural aspects of the American Civil War. Today, this so-called "New Military History" that emerged during the 1970s has itself been largely subsumed by the "War and Society" label (after all, how long can any approach continue to be called "new" decades onward)1. In Part I of Upon the Fields of Battle: Essays on the Military History of America's Civil War contributing editors Andrew S. Bledsoe and Andrew F. Lang join military historian Earl Hess in discussing this evolution in Civil War studies and proposing to their readers how military history topics might (and should) be reintegrated into the academic scholarship. Hess in particular laments the many misconceptions their colleagues still have regarding military history and suggests that the oldest approach to studying the Civil War actually "has the most potential for future work." His essay backs this statement up by presenting many new avenues through which historians can use their unique professional training to "revitalize'"the role of military history in the academy.2 Hess, Bledsoe, and Lang together forcefully argue for a dismantling of the persistent barrier existing between traditional military history and War and Society studies. With each body of scholarship borrowing useful elements and methods from the other, there is no compelling reason for the division to remain.

Kenneth Noe begins Part II, which comprises five essays exploring "The Contested Battlefield." For the most part, western culture trains us to believe that truly exceptional individuals can overcome almost any obstacle along the way to achieving their goals, and those that allow roadblocks to deter them are said to be engaged in excuse-making. Kenneth Noe's examination of the effects of poor weather conditions on the 1862 Peninsula Campaign is an interesting case study of this idea, with most modern observers seeing McClellan's persistent complaints about rain, mud, and terrible roads as just another excuse for his allegedly slow pace of operations. Noe's meticulous survey of atypical rainfall levels, combined with his observations regarding the Peninsula's soil composition and primitive transportation network (neither of which could hold up to heavy military traffic in such weather), invites readers to reconsider both McClellan's conduct of the campaign and the effects of weather in general on Civil War military operations. Many readers will recall Robert Krick's Civil War Weather in Virginia (which is primarily a reference tool), but Noe usefully reminds us that no comprehensive study of how weather and other natural forces factored into limiting Civil War military operations yet exists, and he persuasively argues that one is needed3.

In her piece concerning the Union pursuit after Gettysburg, Jennifer Murray (who is in the middle of writing a biography of General George G. Meade) joins a chorus of fellow historians in urging readers and fellow scholars alike to reconsider the feasibility of truly complete campaigns of annihilation. While Murray admits that Meade's pursuit was far from ideally aggressive, considering the destruction of field armies after defeat and pursuit as "extremely rare" events throughout history (a determination in itself arguable) isn't always a convincing defense. Nevertheless, Murray is surely right in asserting that armchair generals remain far too enamored with campaigns of annihilation and their expectations of Civil War generals too lofty in that regard.

Andrew Bledsoe's chapter provides a fresh look at the infamous Confederate command fiasco at McLemore's Cove during the Chickamauga Campaign. In it, Bledsoe appropriately assigns criticism broadly, finding significant fault with Bragg's orders as well as with the high-ranking subordinate generals that either bungled or intentionally disobeyed them (and sometimes both). None of that will surprise students of the campaign. What makes Bledsoe's article most interesting is the way it stresses the "language of command," explaining how its misuse directly impacted the missed opportunity in North Georgia while also showing how inconsistent and poorly worded orders were part of a more general failure among Civil War commanders to adopt a standard format for writing orders that would make intentions clear as possible to the recipient and less open to (mis)interpretation. As the chapter demonstrates, standardizing the structure of orders is something that modern armies work hard at achieving, and they have processes in place to facilitate it. General Grant's headquarters has traditionally been seen as the best performer in this regard, but current scholars are now uncovering so many glaring exceptions that it is probably more accurate to say that no Civil War army leader truly stood head and shoulders above the rest.

In addition to providing a vivid account of the bombardment of Fredericksburg in December 1862, John Hennessy effectively situates the event within the context of current limited vs. hard war debates while also helpfully informing modern discussions of the laws of war and how they affected troop conduct over the second half of the conflict. Hennessy's vivid depiction of the artillery bombardment of the city, which is characterized as initial targeted firing upon enemy military positions within the buildings rapidly escalating into massive indiscriminate bombardment in the face of stubborn resistance, could be seen as a microcosm of the larger transition of the war in the East from limited to hard war. That said, Hennessy clearly counts himself among those believing the Union war to be one primarily of restraint, citing the orgy of looting that occurred in the angry wake of the defeat as supportive of this interpretation due to such extreme behavior not being repeated again by the Army of the Potomac.

The section is closed with Brian McKnight's examination of the guerrilla war in the Border South, a hotly contested region that the author has studied at length over his career4. While those who have kept up with the expansive guerrilla war scholarship that has developed over the past decade and a half are less in need of a reminder, McKnight prompts readers to view the irregular conflict through the lenses of military, social, and local history in order to obtain a fuller understanding. He also sees successful resistance to guerrilla violence on the community level as an important and understudied aspect of the literature, which tends most often to see local civilians as either victims or facilitators.

Part III, five essays under the collective title "The Soldiers' War," urges us to continue moving Civil War soldier studies beyond army demographics and motivational/ideological investigations (as important as those areas have proven to be). In addition to attempting to integrate elements of emancipation and Reconstruction into the American exceptionalism discussion, Andrew Lang's opening chapter deals broadly with the military's role in those areas as well as the wartime occupation of the South. While the men in the ranks generally accepted the necessity of ending slavery, they were at the same time uncomfortable with the fact that abrupt social and political change was primarily occurring at the point of the bayonet. Such feelings were clearly associated with the traditional distrust among nineteenth-century Americans of standing armies and their potential for military despotism5.

Civil War desertion is a common topic of discussion and debate in the literature, but less so is the most extreme of the many possible punishments involved—execution. Kevin Levin's examination of Confederate Army executions concludes that the common soldiers, though they had strong emotional reactions to seeing comrades shot (especially when family care was the condemned's primary motivation to desert), strongly supported capital punishment as necessary to enforce discipline and deter others. On the latter point, Levin points out that any real study of execution as effective deterrence falters in the face of sparse record-keeping, particularly over the final two years of the war when desertion became a key factor feeding the collapse of Confederate armies. His emphasis on the ceremony of execution also seems apt, as the great amount of detail rendered within soldier accounts suggests that witnessing such events became deeply ingrained in the psyches and memories of observers.

Keith Altavilla's contribution targets the many factors that motivated a minority of Union soldiers to vote for Democratic presidential candidate George McClellan in the 1864 election. Among them are the perception of a failed war with no end in sight, anger at the administration's assault on dissenting voices, ineffective governance by the party in power, and starkly different views on government policies regarding emancipation and race.

Modern regimental histories never fail to emphasize the community-based recruitment of most companies, but Brian Matthew Jordan's essay surveys the "human longitude" of the 107th Ohio's heavy Gettysburg casualties. In addition to seeing the need for more research on the often crippling consequences the war's physical and psychological wounds had on veterans, Jordan enjoins historians to pay more attention to the long-term effects battlefield deaths had on soldier families, close social networks, and those very same communities that sent them to war in the first place.

Finally, Robert Glaze invites us to recall the lesser-appreciated Lost Cause stature of Albert Sidney Johnston, which was prominent in popular memory for decades after the war before being surpassed in the mythology by the first-rank triumvirate of President Davis and Virginia generals Lee and Jackson. Glaze points to Johnston's embodiment of the 'what-if' fantasy as the chief source of his appeal, with his death at the assumed moment of victory at Shiloh representing a devastating blow to a young and still vibrant republic's chances for independence and a tragic loss that made possible the rise of Grant.

In terms of possible sources of complaint, Bledsoe's essay could have used a map or two to help visualize the battlefield discussion, and many readers will undoubtedly notice that there is only one female historian in the group of contributors. The latter situation was surely unintentional, as the last thing the editors would want is to refuel the old stereotypical view of military history being a primarily male domain.

As might be expected, some of the essays are more subtle than others in drawing connections between traditional military history and other sub-disciplines of Civil War studies, but the volume as a whole very much succeeds in what it sets out to do. Upon the Fields of Battle deserves to be widely read, but it especially warrants the attention of both current and budding professional historians. Hopefully, the essays in the book will prompt them to cast aside acquired misconceptions of the scholarly value of military history and inspire them to seek points of connection in their own work.


Notes:
1 - Gary Gallagher wrote the foreword to the book. For a fuller discussion of his views see Gary W. Gallagher and Kathryn Shively Meier, "Coming to Terms with Civil War Military History," Journal of the Civil War Era 4 (Dec. 2014): 487-508.
2 - For more of the writer's perspectives on the subject see Earl J. Hess, "Where Do We Stand? A Critical Assessment of Civil War Studies in the Sesquicentennial Era," Civil War History 60, No. 4 (Dec. 2014): 371-403.
3 - Noe is currently researching "the role of climate and weather" in the war, presumably for a future book project.
4 - See also  McKnight's Contested Borderland: The Civil War in Appalachian Kentucky and Virginia (2006).
5 - Highly recommended follow-up reading is Lang's award-winning In the Wake of War: Military Occupation, Emancipation, and Civil War America (2017).

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Five Books on Civil War archaeology

1. Look To Earth: Historical Archaeology and the American Civil War by Clarence R. Geier, Jr. & Susan E. Winter (1994).
All of the contributors to my most recent read, Joan Cashin's War Matters (review to follow later this month), enjoin their still largely skeptical professional colleagues to incorporate material culture studies into their own work. Since modern historical archaeology offers us some of the best ways to facilitate this connectivity, I thought I would highlight some good representative examples from the book literature. The description to Look to Earth provides a nice summary of how and why this approach to history can be important: "archaeological research can be used alongside historical documentation to verify or discount events referred to in the printed record; it can also provide physical details of events that may not be available in written reports. In some cases, historical archaeology may provide the only documentation of particular events and effects of the war. This is especially true with regard to those segments of society - freed slaves, poor whites, farmers, and rural millers, among others - whose voices have been lost in the filtering process of history." The topical expansiveness of Look to Earth makes it a fine introduction to Civil War archaeology.
2. Archaeological Perspectives on the American Civil War edited by Clarence R. Geier and Stephen R. Potter (2003) [Review].
This is another great stepping stone into gaining an appreciation of Civil War archaeology. Exploring archaeological insights into the conduct of Civil War battles along with home front and army life, the essays cover a wide range of topics on and off the battlefield. The book also has a fascinating section on the use of new methodologies, technology, and equipment.
3. From These Honored Dead: Historical Archaeology of the American Civil War edited by Clarence R. Geier, Douglas D. Scott, & Lawrence E. Babits (2014) [Review].
Yes, Clarence Geier, one of the preeminent figures in Civil War archaeology, is a common thread on this list! Another anthology with a diverse range of essays looking at battles, battlefields, camps, fortifications, army life, and more, this one is unique in its emphasis (in Part 1 of 3 anyway) on Trans-Mississippi battles, where Douglas Scott has done much of his professional work.
4. Huts and History: The Historical Archaeology of Military Encampment During the American Civil War edited by David G. Orr, Matthew B. Reeves, & Clarence R. Geier (2006) [Review].
As the title suggests, this collection of essays explores a variety of methods for interpreting and preserving Civil War camps. These lived-in spaces are where soldiers spent the greatest amount of time during their military service and are some of the richest sources of artifacts.
5. Misadventures of a Civil War Submarine: Iron, Guns, and Pearls by James P. Delgado (2012) [Review].
In the marine archaeology arena much as been written about the famous CSS Hunley and USS Monitor, so I thought I would instead highlight a fine history and archaeological study of an obscure, technologically-advanced Civil War submersible, a diving bell-submarine hybrid its designer called the Sub Marine Explorer.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Booknotes: The Lost Civil War Diary of John Rigdon King

New Arrival:
The Lost Civil War Diary of John Rigdon King: The Story of an American Civil War Hero by Donald B. Jenkins (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Press, 2018).

At a 2004 farm auction in Virginia, the Civil War diary (October 22, 1861-May 22, 1862) of Marylander John Rigdon King was obtained by Donald Jenkins and his brother in their purchase of a lot of old books. An army sutler and photographer from Hagerstown, the entrepreneurial teenager King accompanied advancing federal forces up the Shenandoah Valley, selling pictures of Union soldiers and keeping a diary of his wartime experiences. Taken prisoner on May 23, 1862 during the Union retreat north after the twin defeats at Front Royal and Winchester, King was imprisoned and his diary confiscated. Passed down through the families of Confederate soldiers and eventually sold at the auction referenced above, the rediscovered diary is the basis for Jenkins's The Lost Civil War Diary of John Rigdon King.

At roughly 70 pages the annotated diary itself is only a part of the nearly 400-page volume, the rest consisting of a great host of heavily-researched biographical and supplementary features. In addition to documenting the early history of the King family, Jenkins offers readers an expansive parallel discussion at the bottom of each diary page. Dated to coincide with King's entries, the author's notations provide abundant background information regarding persons, places, and events mentioned in the diary.

Following the diary, other chapters cover the Shenandoah battles witnessed by King, his capture, his three-month imprisonment, his escape, and his enlistment and Civil War service with Company H, Sixth Maryland Vol. Inf. (August 1862-May 1865). In addition to recounting the mid to late war fighting in Virginia that would lead to King suffering three battle wounds (at Second Winchester, Mine Run, and the Wilderness), Jenkins compiles a good deal of information on the other men of Company H (and includes numerous demographic tables in the text).

For the book, Jenkins also researched the family history of the Confederate soldiers that took King's diary and served as its series of stewards over the decades between the war and the auction. Other lengthy chapters cover King's post-war life back in Maryland, where he held several different government jobs and was a very prominent GAR leader at the state and national levels. There's even a short biography of King's younger brother, William Richard King, who would also serve in the war but as a naval officer. The book lacks a general index, but it does have a highly detailed company roster.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Booknotes: Fort Snelling and the Civil War

New Arrival:
Fort Snelling and the Civil War by Stephen E. Osman (Ramsey County Historical Society, 2017).

I have a high level of appreciation for books published by museums and historical societies. Though it's not always the case, they are quite frequently the product of lifetimes of study by local and site historians or highly dedicated volunteer enthusiasts. Even though they surely recognize the non-commercial appeal of many of their topics, local authors and publishers of such works still frequently pull out all the stops in production value. The problem for the rest of us often lies in finding out about them in the first place! Unless you live nearby, or come across a book notice through random happenstance (like I did for this one), news of their existence frequently doesn't spread very fast or far. Understandably, it can be difficult getting review copies of titles like these, but a special thanks goes out to the Ramsey County Historical Society (see link above) for sending me a copy of last year's Fort Snelling and the Civil War. The author, Stephen Osman, has managed Historic Fort Snelling for over thirty years so he's certainly uniquely positioned to write the definitive history of the installation.

A large paperback (9"x11" trim size and over an inch thick), the book is a lavishly illustrated (with over 100 photos and 7 maps) and detailed history of a regionally significant Minnesota fort. Fort Snelling had some of the very first Civil War volunteers pass through it and was also a key command center and logistical hub for managing the U.S. response to the 1862 Sioux Uprising and the army's 1863-65 punitive campaigns that spread west into the Northern Plains. 

From the description: "Every Minnesota soldier passed through historic Fort Snelling to the fighting. Using detailed research and first-hand accounts, Stephen E. Osman’s new book, Fort Snelling and the Civil War, tells the stories of the men and women who created a community in the old Fort," which "eventually expanded to include several large camps of Native Americans, massive stock yards, huge warehouses, and secure barracks for draftees before reverting to a supply depot in 1865." The book looks great, and I'm certainly looking forward to reading and reviewing it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Review - "The Battle of Ball's Bluff: All the Drowned Soldiers" by Bill Howard

[The Battle of Ball's Bluff: All the Drowned Soldiers by Bill Howard (Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, 2018). Softcover, 10 maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:140/189. ISBN:978-1-4671-4073-7. $23.99]

The October 21, 1861 Battle of Ball's Bluff, a Confederate victory in Virginia that decisively crowned that year's string of early-war successes in the state, has been covered well and often in the Civil War literature. The 1990s alone witnessed the publication of three major studies during the first half of that decade, Byron Farwell's Ball's Bluff: A Small Battle and Its Long Shadow (1990), William Howard's The Battle of Ball's Bluff: The "Leesburg Affair," October 21, 1861 (1994), and Kim Bernard Holien's Battle at Ball's Bluff (1995). Almost ten years later, in 2004, James Morgan's A Little Short of Boats: The Civil War Battles of Ball's Bluff and Edwards Ferry, October 21 - 22, 1861 superseded all previous efforts at documenting the battle itself, and the gap widened further in 2011 with the release of a revised and expanded edition1. Published this year, William (Bill) Howard's The Battle of Ball's Bluff: All the Drowned Soldiers is a newly revised, expanded, and retitled version of his own 1994 book. A significantly enhanced and updated effort, it goes a great distance toward reestablishing the relevance and stature of the author's work in the face of Morgan's consensus gold standard treatment of the battle.

Howard's meticulous reconstruction of the fighting at Ball's Bluff skillfully manages the difficult task of offering readers a highly detailed tactical description of the battle while at the same time presenting the information in an artfully appealing narrative. The strategic situation in northern Virginia during the fall of 1861, particularly the disposition of opposing forces stationed along both sides of the Potomac, is well summarized, as is the origin of the battle itself, which started as the infamous "slight demonstration" before aggressive local Union commanders recklessly expanded the mission into a full-fledged (by 1861 standards) battle. Indeed, the Battle of Ball's Bluff serves as an excellent example of how military clashes often take on lives of their own. As is often the case, at Ball's Bluff the inherent fog and friction of war, combined with good faith mistakes in judgment from those in charge on the ground, led to a military action (and eventual disaster) not at all anticipated by the top planners involved.

Accompanied by detailed tactical maps at frequent intervals2 and well stocked with firsthand accounts and impressions, each stage of the battle—the initial river crossing, the opening skirmishes, the escalation of force commitment by both sides, the solidification of the fighting front at the top of the bluff, the eventual Confederate envelopment of the Union position, and the failed breakout attempt that accelerated the panicked Union retreat to the river below—is presented in clear and reasonably balanced (the narrative is weighted toward the Union perspective) fashion. The brave but inexperienced Union commander on the ground, Col. Edward Baker, is appropriately criticized for rashly pushing troops across the river without a clear idea of the military situation on the other side and for his poorly arranged battle line. While Howard holds Col. Baker's misguided initiative primarily responsible for how the battle turned out, the author also feels that Baker's division commander, General Charles P. Stone, should have made a more concerted effort to inform himself about what was happening and should have moved closer to the action (perhaps even overseeing the operation in person). To be fair, though, Stone never received any indication from the field reports he did receive that things were going wrong or that his demonstration had turned into a real battle that endangered a large part of his command.

Sadly for Stone, it was politically inexpedient to hold a respected war martyr (especially one who was a U.S. Senator and personal friend of the president) chiefly to blame for the casualty-heavy fiasco, and the inevitable mission to find an acceptable scapegoat quickly found a rich target in the politically naive Massachusetts general. Howard perceptively observes that Stone, unlike so many of his other professional and non-professional general officer colleagues, did not make any effort to cultivate political allies in the capital, even after having had a large hand in securing the District of Columbia during the early months of the war. The extremely shabby treatment of Stone, who was arrested and imprisoned for 189 days but never formally charged, is recounted at some length in the book. No other high-ranking general would be treated this way during the war, and it rebounds to the credit of neither leader that both General McClellan and President Lincoln declined to intervene in what was obviously a travesty.

The Union debacle at Ball's Bluff was strategically insignificant and the losses catastrophic only by early-war expectations, and Howard is certainly correct to deem the battle's chief legacy to be its important role (in conjunction with other federal defeats that year) in prompting the formation of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. Though the investigative committee did some demonstrably helpful things to aid the Union war effort (ex. weeding out corruption in war contracts), most scholars feel that its radically partisan members too frequently interfered counterproductively in both military affairs and administration prerogatives. Howard's informed appreciation of these aspects of Ball's Bluff's lasting influence is another strength of the book.

Like most volumes from this publisher's Civil War series, The Battle of Ball's Bluff is filled with period photographs and other illustrations. More useful extras can also be found in the appendix section. Among historical documents and other items of interest located there are Howard's updated casualty rosters and tables.

In the end, the leading Ball's Bluff studies of James Morgan and Bill Howard complement each other well. Morgan's more narrowly-focused battle study exhibits deeper research, engages in historiographical debate and diversion more extensively, gives full treatment to Edward's Ferry (which is only a minor part of Howard's study), and also serves as a touring guide, but Howard's book is the reading option best balanced between battle detail, wide audience appeal, and post-battle context. Whereas the long-term plight of General Stone and the damaging political fallout from Ball's Bluff are beyond the scope of Morgan's investigation, they are integral to Howard's, filling four chapters in The Battle of Ball's Bluff. Both updated works are essential.


Notes:
1 - The book's map set is drawn from Ted Ballard's Staff Ride Guide: Battle of Ball's Bluff (U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2014).
2 - The first edition of Morgan's book was put out by Ironclad Publishing (now defunct) in paperback. The revised and expanded edition A Little Short of Boats: The Civil War Battles of Ball's Bluff and Edwards Ferry, October 21 - 22, 1861 was published in hardcover by Savas Beatie in 2011.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Booknotes: War Matters

New Arrival:
War Matters: Material Culture in the Civil War Era edited by Joan E. Cashin
  (UNC Press, 2018).

The use of objects to open historical discussion and inspire imagination has always been around in the museum setting, but the practice has increased in popularity of late among a variety of other learning outlets, included books and podcasts. This idea that things you can see and/or touch add an extra element toward feeling connected to the past appeals to many people. Lens of War: Exploring Iconic Photographs of the Civil War had historians choose a favorite period image of theirs and write a brief interpretive essay about it. Civil War material culture, long the domain of private collectors and metal detecting enthusiasts, has experienced a bit of a scholarly surge in recent decades that I would attribute in no little way to the increased exposure of professional historians to inter-disciplinary conflict archaeology and what it has to teach us.

Joan Cashin's essay anthology War Matters: Material Culture in the Civil War Era invites nine colleagues to join her in considering the meaning material objects hold in shaping historical understanding. From the description: "Before, during, and after the war, Americans from all walks of life created, used, revered, exploited, discarded, mocked, and destroyed objects for countless reasons. These objects had symbolic significance for millions of people. The essays in this volume consider a wide range of material objects, including weapons, Revolutionary artifacts, landscapes, books, vaccine matter, human bodies, houses, clothing, and documents. Together, the contributors argue that an examination of the meaning of material objects can shed new light on the social, economic, and cultural history of the conflict."

Friday, October 26, 2018

Booknotes: Aberration of Mind

New Arrival:
Aberration of Mind: Suicide and Suffering in the Civil War–Era South
  by Diane Miller Sommerville (UNC Press, 2018).

It's probably safe to say that a 450-page book about psychological suffering and suicide in the stricken South is not on the Christmas list of too many Civil War readers, but it is an important, understudied social and cultural topic that Diane Sommerville's Aberration of Mind: Suicide and Suffering in the Civil War–Era South examines for the first time in comprehensive fashion. The study takes a very broad approach to addressing suicide among men and women, white and black. There are three sections, with one devoted to slave suicides during the Civil War era and the other two examining suicide and other manifestations of traumatic mental distress among southern whites during and after the war.

From the description: "With a thorough examination of the dynamics of both racial and gendered dimensions of psychological distress, Sommerville reveals how the suffering experienced by Southerners living in a war zone generated trauma that, in extreme cases, led some Southerners to contemplate or act on suicidal thoughts." In the book, "Sommerville recovers previously hidden stories of individuals exhibiting suicidal activity or aberrant psychological behavior she links to the war and its aftermath. This work adds crucial nuance to our understanding of how personal suffering shaped the way southerners viewed themselves in the Civil War era and underscores the full human costs of war."

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Booknotes: Movements and Positions in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

New Arrival:
Movements and Positions in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain: The Memoir of Colonel James T. Holmes, 52d Ohio Volunteer Infantry by James T. Holmes, edited by Garth D. Bishop, with intro. and annotations by Mark A. Smith (McFarland, 2018).

Written in 1915 and published for the first time in the pages of Movements and Positions in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain: The Memoir of Colonel James T. Holmes, 52d Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Col. Holmes's reminiscences of his regiment and brigade's participation in the 1864 battle "differs on key points from the accepted scholarship on troop movements and positions at Kennesaw, and contests the legitimacy of a battlefield monument." The account is fervently written, very detailed, and supported by numerous hand-drawn maps and unit diagrams.

Bishop, the writer's great-grandson and current custodian of the original document, serves as general editor for the volume and enlisted the expert help of historian Mark Smith in order to properly contextualize his ancestor's Civil War career and writing. To this end, Smith contributes a lengthy introduction, nearly fifty pages in length. In it, he provides essential background information regarding Holmes's Civil War service and his unit's exploits at Cheatham's Hill, as well as a wider view of the Kennesaw battle overall. Smith also discusses the history of the Union monument erected at the Confederate salient atop Cheatham's Hill, an Illinois-centric memorial that Holmes objected to on the grounds that it improperly slighted his own state (as well as Indiana). The marble monument inspired Holmes to write his own account of the fight at Cheatham's Hill and the resulting military memoir represents an attempt to correct the historical record as he saw it. Smith also extensively annotates the volume and includes a number of his own photographs.

In addition to the memoir, which is presented in two chapters, there is some appendix material drawn from Holmes's other writings and an index. The book looks like a very worthwhile read for those deeply interested in interpreting the Kennesaw Mountain battle.