Saturday, July 21, 2018

Booknotes: The American Military

New Arrival:
The American Military: A Concise History by Joseph T. Glatthaar (Oxford UP, 2018).

In The American Military: A Concise History, Joseph Glaathaar undertakes the task of condensing American military history from Jamestown through today in around 125 pages of narrative. Descriptive accounts of America's wars are discussed in chronological order and organized under the umbrella of big themes such as the early ideological debates over standing armies and the slow rise of professionalism during the eighteenth century.

From the description: "During the Revolutionary War, tension grew between local militias and a standing army. The Founding Fathers attempted to strike a balance, enshrining an army, navy, and a "well-regulated Militia" in the Constitution. The US soon witnessed the rise of a professional military, a boon to its successes in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War. However, after the Civil War, the US soon learned that the purpose of a peacetime army is to prepare for war.

When war did arrive, it arrived with a vengeance, gutting the trenches of the Great War with effective innovations: tanks, planes, machine guns, and poison gas. The US embraced the technology that would win both world wars and change the nature of battle in the Second World War. The nuclear era brought encounters defined by stalemate--from the Cold War conflicts of Korea and Vietnam to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since 9/11, the US has been frustrated by unconventional warfare, including terrorism and cyberwar, largely negating the technological advantage it had held. Glatthaar examines all these challenges, looking to the future of the U.S. military and its often proud and complicated legacy.
"

Friday, July 20, 2018

Booknotes: An Antietam Veteran's Montana Journey

New Arrival:
An Antietam Veteran's Montana Journey: The Lost Memoir of James Howard Lowell edited by Katherine Seaton Squires (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Press, 2018).

"In this recently unearthed memoir," edited by Katherine Seaton Squires and published as An Antietam Veteran's Montana Journey, "Civil War veteran James Howard Lowell offers a firsthand account of his brutal journey west on a wagon train attacked by Indian Dog Soldiers. The Boston Yank staggers snow blind through a Laramie Plains blizzard to reach Salt Lake City, where he meets Brigham Young. In Montana, he joins an old forty-niner to work a mining claim, practices "tomahawk jurisprudence" in Fort Benton and builds a mackinaw to head downriver through Deadman Rapids to trade with the Crow and Gros Ventre tribes."

Like many Civil War soldiers who pondered what to do next with their lives after the guns fell silent, Lowell struck west across the Kansas plains in 1865, seeking both adventure (the scope only hinted at above) and fortune. A literate fellow, in 1872 he began a memoir of these westering experiences as freight driver, hunter, miner, teacher, county government official, and lawyer. The best available evidence uncovered by Squires seems to suggest that he concluded his writing project in the early 1890s. Foreword writer Ken Robison, Fort Benton historian and author of both Confederates in Montana Territory and Montana Territory and the Civil War, notes that Lowell's reminiscences of his time at the fort beginning in 1868 also offer a fresh new perspective from that period of the post's history.

The unpublished memoir was passed down through the family until Squires (Lowell's great-great-granddaughter) embarked on the task of editing the material. She seems to have taken to this with considerable gusto. In addition to arranging the material for publication, Squires contributes editorial commentary throughout as well as endnotes. She's also put together a large collection of photographs, and numerous maps chart the progress of Lowell's journeys across the developing West. The memoir portion of the book comprises Part I.

Lowell did not write about his Civil War experiences in the memoir, but in Section II Squires remedies the deficiency by assembling some wartime correspondence between Lowell (who served in the 13th Massachusetts and was wounded at Antietam) and various individuals. She also helpfully includes some of the pieces Lowell wrote for his regiment's reunion pamphlets (called "circulars"). An appendix features Lowell descendants, explores the memoir's provenance, and includes the text from newspaper obituaries for Lowell and his wife.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Review - "An Aide to Custer: The Civil War Letters of Lt. Edward G. Granger" by Barnard, ed. & Singelyn, comp.

[An Aide to Custer: The Civil War Letters of Lt. Edward G. Granger edited by Sandy Barnard & compiled by Thomas E. Singelyn (University of Oklahoma Press, 2018). Hardcover, 10 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 316 pp. ISBN:978-0-8061-6018-4. $39.95]

By the Civil War's second year, nineteen-year-old frustrated college dropout and aspiring lawyer Edward Granger of Grand Rapids, Michigan was considering a position in the ranks of the Union Army. In August 1862, with the help of an uncle who was a high-level Republican Party official in the state, Granger secured a second lieutenant appointment with the 5th Michigan, a then newly-forming volunteer cavalry regiment. With all officer slots initially full, he started out as a supernumerary but would eventually be formally attached to Company C. Granger's forty-four letters home written between 1862 and his battlefield death in 1864 comprise the heart of the excellent new book An Aide to Custer: The Civil War Letters of Lt. Edward G. Granger, edited by Sandy Barnard.

In the Acknowledgments section, Barnard credits Thomas Singelyn with being instrumental in both recognizing the historical merit of Granger's letters and preparing them for publication. Barnard's own value-added contributions as volume editor are substantial. His general introduction recounts Granger's early life, and in it Barnard utilizes well the young man's college journal to offer character insights. Perhaps it was Granger's youthful exuberance and ready willingness to question authority that first brought him to the notice of George Armstrong Custer, his eventual chief. Quite often filling most of the page, Barnard's footnotes can be extraordinarily expansive. Individuals mentioned by Granger only once in passing are frequently treated to biographical sketches several hundred words in length. The editor's notes also do a very fine job of filling in the extended time gaps between letters and providing detailed supporting summaries of the great many important military events recounted in the correspondence. Barnard's lengthy chapter introductions to the letters than follow it are highly informative along similar lines.

Civil War soldiers often used their writing time as an escape from the war itself, but today's readers have the constant entreaties of Granger's family to thank for the long, detailed letters that survived. Though he often complained about how much he truly disliked writing, Granger repaid with interest the desires of his recipients to learn as much as possible about his war experiences and staff duties. Combined with Barnard's top-shelf editing, the letter collection is truly is one of the more remarkable ones of recent memory.

In terms of major operations the months between the conclusion of the Fredericksburg Campaign and the beginning of the Chancellorsville Campaign were relative quiescent, but the northern cavalry in the theater were constantly on the move. Granger's letters during this period intimately describe picket service in both its serious and light moments, but their rather involved descriptions of various mounted expeditions conducted in northern Virginia are useful resources for eastern theater cavalry historians. During this time, the 5th Michigan Cavalry was posted to the Washington capital defenses as part of General Julius Stahel's division.

In mid-1863, Granger's war experiences would dramatically switch from months of mostly picket and patrolling duties to serious fighting. His company served as train guards during the Gettysburg Campaign, so they missed the battles at Hanover and East Cavalry Field, but after Gettysburg Granger was placed at the head of Company C, which was designated General Custer's escort company. Granger's writings don't indicate why Custer appointed him to the general's staff on August 20, but the young man's escort duties would have made him visible and he must have impressed Custer in some way.

In typically observant fashion, Granger goes on to recount his experiences of the summer and fall campaigning in Virginia. His highly descriptive account of his first significant fighting in the field (during the Second Battle of Brandy Station) is demonstrative of the types of abilities (particularly his powers of observation, memory, and attention to detail) that were desirable staff officer traits. His letters chronicling the fighting at Buckland Mills, Culpeper, and Kelly's Ford are similarly useful eyewitness accounts of the action as well as Custer's presence and command performance during those events.

From there, Granger's letters move on to highlight the operations of the Michigan Brigade during the 1864 Overland Campaign, in particular the fighting at the Wilderness, Yellow Tavern, Salem Church, Haw's Shop, Bethesda Church, Cold Harbor, and Trevilian Station. Presentation of the last is particularly vivid. His last letter was written on July 17, 1864. The book's epilogue helpfully fills in the gap between Granger's July letter and his death at the Battle of Crooked Run just north of Front Royal in the Shenandoah Valley. The exact circumstances surrounding the young man's demise remain murky. Apparently Granger was dispatched from headquarters with orders, and his horse, which was an unfamiliar mount, became unmanageable and took Granger into enemy lines, where he was shot and killed. His body was never recovered.

The volume is impressively enhanced with maps and photographs. Among them are presumably all known images of Granger, and the cartography is generally superior to that typically found in published Civil War correspondence. The map depictions of Trevilian Station and Crooked Run are particularly fine.

Editing the Granger letters for publication is a very worthwhile project on multiple levels. In addition to sensitively preserving the historical memory of Lt. Granger's tragically brief but meritorious life, the book offers readers a remarkable new look inside the famed Michigan Brigade. While certainly not coming from a disinterested source (Granger was greatly taken with Custer), the correspondence offers very valuable firsthand insights into the leadership, command style, and battlefield behavior of Custer himself. The general's famously playful personality also emerges from Granger's descriptions of his many personal interactions with his chief. Serious students of eastern theater Union cavalry operations, especially for the period between the conclusions of the Fredericksburg and Overland campaigns, will certainly want to add a copy of this book to their personal libraries.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Booknotes: Decisions at Chickamauga

New Arrival:
Decisions at Chickamauga: The Twenty-four Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle by Dave Powell with maps by David Friedrichs (UT Press, 2018).

Dave Powell's Decisions at Chickamauga is the third volume from University of Tennessee Press's Command Decisions in America's Civil War series. You can find my positive reviews of the earlier titles covering Stones River and Second Bull Run here and here. Like the others, Decisions at Chickamauga "introduces readers to critical decisions made by Confederate and Union commanders during that fateful battle. Rather than offering a history of the Battle of Chickamauga, Powell focuses on critical decisions as they developed. This account is designed to present the reader with a coherent and manageable interpretive blueprint of the battle’s key moments. Exploring and studying these critical decisions allows the reader to progress from an understanding of what happened to why events happened as they did."

There will be more in the future (including the next one on Chattanooga), but this is also the first volume not authored by one or more of the Spruills, who were the original developers of the series. As one would expect, Powell's book adopts the established decision analysis format [Situation → Options (2 or 3) → Decision → Results/Impact subsections for each] but does not repeat the extensive preamble discussing terminology and format, so readers would be well served by referring to the first volume for this information. The author also eschews alternative history subsections for Chickamauga, perhaps because he selected a much higher number of decisions than previous volumes, which had sixteen and fourteen respectively, and space considerations came into play.

Powell's set of twenty-four critical decisions does encompass the same wide scale array (strategic, operational, and tactical) as before. These are organized into five chapters, all annotated. While the popular understanding of Chickamauga still deems it a two-day battle, the consensus among experts is that we should regard it as a three-day affair, so Powell's chapters revolve around decisions made during each of the three days of battle plus campaign prologue and aftermath.

In line with the rest of the series, a 17-stop battlefield tour on park grounds (plus some optional locations beyond) is a major component of the book, providing experiential reinforcement to the armchair decision analysis that precedes it. Different from its predecessors, because this touring section does not have its own series of small-scale tactical maps (just a general overview), the volume only has eleven maps in total. Army orders of battle complete the appendix section. Chickamauga students will definitely want to check this one out.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Booknotes: Under the Crescent Moon with the XI Corps in the Civil War, Volume 2

New Arrival:
Under the Crescent Moon with the XI Corps in the Civil War, Volume 2: From Gettysburg to Victory, 1863-1865 by James S. Pula (Savas Beatie, 2018).

James Pula's Under the Crescent Moon with the XI Corps in the Civil War, Volume 1: From the Defenses of Washington to Chancellorsville, 1862-1863 was published last year and this book completes the most in-depth history to date of the Union's most star-crossed corps. The Under the Crescent Moon with the XI Corps in the Civil War set "draws extensively on primary sources and allows the participants to speak directly to readers. The result is a comprehensive personalized portrait of the men who fought in the “unlucky” XI Corps, from the difficulties it faced to the accomplishments it earned."

Obviously, the Eleventh Corps's biggest and most controversial moments occurred during the 1863 Chancellorsville and Gettysburg battles. The former was featured in Volume 1, and Gettysburg figures most prominently here. Slightly more than two-thirds of the Volume 2 narrative covers the period between July 1 and July 16, which should delight Gettysburg readers, especially those interested in a measured reassessment of the corps's performance during the first day of the battle. 

The Eleventh Corps was one of those selected to reinforce the Chattanooga defenders in the wake of Chickamauga, so the rest of the book recounts their contributions to the Chattanooga and Knoxville Campaigns in the West. Pula's study concludes with the consolidation of the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps into the new Twentieth Corps, which would go on to earn laurels during the Atlanta Campaign and beyond.

By all appearances, Pula's coverage of the July 1 fighting incorporates a multitude of first-person accounts and is heavy on small-unit detail. The July 2 chapter is similarly presented. The text is supported by numerous photographs and seven maps. In the appendix section, one can find the June 30 strength return for the Army of the Potomac, a Gettysburg casualty table, the Eleventh Corps OB at Chattanooga, and a list of Eleventh Corps Medal of Honor winners with brief commentary.

Readers might also be interested to learn that the publisher's website redesign went live earlier this month. Go to the link above and check it out.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Author Q&A - Paul Taylor and "The Most Complete Political Machine Ever Known"

Paul Taylor is the award-winning author of a number of well-received Civil War titles, among them Glory Was Not Their Companion: The Twenty-Sixth New York Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War (2005), He Hath Loosed the Fateful Lightning: The Battle of Ox Hill (Chantilly), September 1, 1862 (2003), Orlando M. Poe: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer (2009), and "Old Slow Town": Detroit during the Civil War (2013). His latest book is The Most Complete Political Machine Ever Known: The North's Union Leagues in the American Civil War (Kent St Univ Press, 2018). It covers an important topic that until now has not received the full attention it deserves and is the subject of this interview.

DW: Do we know when and where the first Union League chapter formed? Is any particular individual regarded as the group’s founder?

PT: Several disparate organizations existed prior to summer 1862 that utilized the words “Union League” in their name, including a politically conservative New York organization that existed for a year or so prior to the 1860 election but folded soon after Lincoln’s win. The first council to form under what became the national Union League of America umbrella group is credited to the Pekin, Illinois council (Tazewell County) in June 1862. It was formed by 12 local and prominent men, some of whom had previously experienced the ravages of being a Unionist in Confederate-held East Tennessee. No one man can claim to be the “founder” of the Civil War’s Union League movement.

DW: What did the leagues see as their primary mission(s)?

PT: Their primary mission was to promote unqualified loyalty toward the policies and decisions of the Lincoln administration. The Leagues argued that in the midst of a civil war where the nation’s survival was at stake, there was no differentiating between the government and the administration. They were one and the same. As one of the Constitution’s definitions of treason is offering “aid and comfort” to the enemy, any resistance to the administration’s policies – especially if that resistance was overt and subversive – surely afforded the rebels aid and comfort, since the Confederacy would learn of such dissent through easy access to Northern newspapers. Therefore, this opposition or even “conditional” support was equated with treason. For many of the smaller Midwestern Leagues, a second though no less important reason for their formation was for protection against anti-Lincoln (Copperhead) violence. They considered themselves not only a patriotic society but also an armed home guard.

DW: What sort of political propaganda activities did they engage in?

PT: As I point out in the Introduction, it’s important to note that I use the term “propaganda” in the more classical sense, defined simply as “the shaping of public opinion.” Through their quasi-affiliated Publication Societies, the Leagues sponsored, prepared, and disseminated hundreds of thousands of pamphlets and broadsides that varied between heartfelt pleas for support of the Lincoln administration as well as open hostility toward their political enemies. One excellent example was the modus operandi of the New England Loyal Publication Society (NELPS). It sent out scores of inexpensive broadsides free of charge to hundreds of small town pro-Lincoln newspapers throughout the North. These broadsides featured previously published, pro-Lincoln newspaper articles or editorials. Many of those newspaper editors often struggled for timely, front-page material and therefore welcomed the NELPS broadsides. Thus, the NELPS became the unseen co-editor for scores of Northern newspapers. Though the Union League movement initially described itself as nonpartisan, by the last year of the war they were an open arm of the Republican Party, with League members working diligently on the party’s behalf. By the way, this clear alliance with the Republican Party was viewed by the Leagues as a consequence, as those “properly loyal” Democrats were already supporting the war with full vigor. I liken the Leagues to a forerunner of the modern political action committee.

DW: You mention that the movement spread rapidly into cities, towns, and villages. Was there any kind of central organization?

PT: As the movement began to build in the second half of 1862 and early 1863, the small and mid-sized town councils realized the need for some manner of coordination. This resulted in what became known as the Cleveland Convention in May 1863, where the Union League of America was born with its national headquarters in Washington D.C. It’s also important to point out that the aristocratic and wealthy Union League of Philadelphia, the Union League Club of New York, and the Union Club of Boston – each formed in late 1862, early 1863 – all chose to maintain their autonomy, though there was ample cooperation amongst these three elite clubs and the nationalized ULA.

DW: Did the Union League model any of its recruitment, initiation rituals, or any other practices on those of past or existing secret/fraternal orders? Would league chapters be best described as open or closed organizations?

PT: Secretive fraternal organizations were extremely popular to 19th-century men. Popular examples include the Masons, the Odd Fellows, and the Sons of Temperance. Like the Masons, the Union Leagues utilized secret handshakes, signs, and passwords so that members might be known to each other in areas where loyalty to the Union was contested.

League chapters were closed in the sense that proposed new members were discussed and then voted on by existing members. Those who were refused membership were not told why they were declined though, in some cases, they were told if and when they might reapply. In the case of the Union Leagues, a new member’s initiation rite featured prayers, oaths, and song that was akin to a solemn religious ceremony.

DW: When did the Union Leagues reach their peak in membership and influence?

PT: Probably during the 1864 presidential campaign and election’s home stretch. By that point, the Union Leagues, related offshoots, and other smaller yet like-minded groups represented a million-man civilian army working on behalf of the Lincoln administration.

DW: Did members frequently engage in violence or other acts of political intimidation (for example, at polling places during major elections)?

PT: Sometimes. During an election, a polling place’s exterior ground was deemed a public space. Both sides often used burly men to intimidate those voters known to be sympathetic to the other side. Democrats also accused League men of gathering at local businesses to “warn” employees what a vote for Democrats could mean for their future employment. In addition, Democrats accused “Union Leaguers” of smashing and torching Democratic newspaper offices and presses.

DW: Union Leagues fiercely advocated unconditional support of the Lincoln administration and all of its war policies as a loyalty test, an extreme position that would obviously clash with conservative proslavery Unionist majorities in states like Missouri and Kentucky. Outside of obvious Republican strongholds (ex. the city of St. Louis), did Border State communities generally welcome or oppose Union League chapters and their activities?

PT: It all depended on the community’s overall sentiment. In areas where proslavery, anti-Lincoln sentiment was strong, a Union League council served as a means of collective support and protection for its members and their families. Moreover, Union League men often served as a form of civilian informers for the Union military as the army made its way through a particular area. In far west California, for example, Union generals viewed armed Union League men as a reliable civilian paramilitary force, to the consternation of local Democrats.

DW: Do you believe the Union Leagues collectively were instrumental to the success of Lincoln’s reelection campaign?

PT: Absolutely. These men served as campaign workers, stood on sidewalks and handed out pro-Lincoln newspapers, went door to door ensuring that the residents (or resident soldier in the field) was properly registered to vote with all pertinent taxes paid. They also worked tirelessly to recruit new members; by 1864 the Leagues’ leadership realized there was no difference between Union League membership and a Republican vote.

DW: What roles did women play in the organization?

PT: Like almost all political activities of the era, the Union Leagues were originally created as a male-only domain. By the spring of 1863, however, pro-Lincoln women saw what their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons were creating and wanted to take part as well. Thus, what became known as Ladies Union Leagues were formed by patriotic women, particularly in the Midwest. They continued the home front war in ways that men could not, such as occasionally punching Democratic women and ensuring that local merchants were properly patriotic. Those merchants who were not were often boycotted.

DW: Presumably, membership rapidly dwindled at the war’s conclusion. What responsibilities did remaining league members take upon themselves during Reconstruction?

PT: Having won the Northern home front war, the nationalized Union League of America turned its eyes southward during Reconstruction with the objective of organizing freedmen. Its twin goals of racial political equality and Republican Party dominance went hand in hand. For many post-war Southerners, there was no difference between a northern Union League man and a “carpetbagger,” regardless of the former’s intentions. Those southern-born men who joined or were sympathetic to the Leagues were known as “scalawags.”

DW: When did the leagues finally cease operation (at least in the capacity of political action groups)? You mention in the book that some survive to this day as tony social clubs.

PT: The small town councils were the first to close up shop in the summer and fall of 1865; their reason for being having ended. The aristocratic Union Leagues in Philadelphia and New York, as well as Boston’s Union Club continued on – essentially as social clubs – and still exist to this day.

DW: Thanks, Paul.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Booknotes: September Mourn

New Arrival:
September Mourn: The Dunker Church of Antietam by Alann D. Schmidt & Terry W. Barkley (Savas Beatie, 2018).

In the ranks of nondescript buildings that famous Civil War battles turned into legendary historical landmarks, Antietam's Dunker Church surely ranks near the top. However, according to Alann Schmidt and Terry Barkley's September Mourn: The Dunker Church of Antietam, "few people know much if anything about its fascinating story or the role it played within the community of Sharpsburg and its importance during and after the Battle of Antietam."

"(B)ased upon years of meticulous research from both a Church of the Brethren (Dunkers) and a National Park Service perspective," their book is an attempt to tell the meetinghouse's full story. "The authors establish the importance of the structure to Sharpsburg and its citizens, its role during the battle and its aftermath, and how it helped establish tourism and education for future generations of Americans." Schmidt was an Antietam park ranger for 15 years and Barkley is an archivist and museum specialist.

More from the description: "The German Baptist Brethren, or Dunkers (Dunkards) as they were colloquially known, built the Mumma Church of the Manor congregation in 1853 just nine years before Antietam. In addition to being a house of worship with important ties to the local community, the history of the Dunker Church is interwoven with such notable figures as Stonewall Jackson, Clara Barton, Abraham Lincoln, and even Mark Twain. The structure was heavily damaged during the battle, housed torn bodies as a hospital in its aftermath, and suffered a complete collapse before undergoing the long and arduous process of being rebuilt."

The rebuilding and rededication process is recounted at length near the end of the book. The volume is well illustrated, and in an appendix Antietam historian Ted Alexander offers a "tactical overview" of the fighting that swirled around the church on September 17.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Booknotes: How the West Was Drawn

New Arrival:
How the West Was Drawn: Mapping, Indians, and the Construction of the Trans-Mississippi West by David Bernstein (Univ of Neb Press, 2018).

How the West Was Drawn "explores the geographic and historical experiences of the Pawnees, the Iowas, and the Lakotas during the European and American contest for imperial control of the Great Plains during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. David Bernstein argues that the American West was a collaborative construction between Native peoples and Euro-American empires that developed cartographic processes and culturally specific maps, which in turn reflected encounter and conflict between settler states and indigenous peoples."

More from the description: Author David Berstein "explores the cartographic creation of the Trans-Mississippi West through an interdisciplinary methodology in geography and history. He shows how the Pawnees and the Iowas—wedged between powerful Osages, Sioux, the horse- and captive-rich Comanche Empire, French fur traders, Spanish merchants, and American Indian agents and explorers—devised strategies of survivance and diplomacy to retain autonomy during this era. The Pawnees and the Iowas developed a strategy of cartographic resistance to predations by both Euro-American imperial powers and strong indigenous empires, navigating the volatile and rapidly changing world of the Great Plains by brokering their spatial and territorial knowledge either to stronger indigenous nations or to much weaker and conquerable American and European powers." As one would hope for in a study of this kind, a large number of historical map reproductions are included (46 in total). As suggested above, the geographical area under primary consideration in the book consists roughly of today's Nebraska and Kansas.

The study is a "revisionist and interdisciplinary understanding of the global imperial contest for North America’s Great Plains that illuminates in fine detail the strategies of survival of the Pawnees, the Iowas, and the Lakotas amid accommodation to predatory Euro-American and Native empires."

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Booknotes: The Decision Was Always My Own

New Arrival:
The Decision Was Always My Own: Ulysses S. Grant and the Vicksburg Campaign
  by Timothy B. Smith (SIU Press, 2018).

Most admirers of U.S. Grant's Civil War career agree that the Vicksburg Campaign was the general's masterpiece. Prolific western theater military historian Timothy Smith certainly seems to concur with this view, arguing that the campaign was the "showcase of Ulysses S. Grant’s military genius."

"Showing how and why Grant became such a successful general," Smith in his new book The Decision Was Always My Own: Ulysses S. Grant and the Vicksburg Campaign "presents a fast-paced reexamination of the commander and the campaign. His fresh analysis of Grant’s decision-making process during the Vicksburg maneuvers, battles, and siege details the course of campaigning on military, political, administrative, and personal levels. The narrative is organized around Grant’s eight key decisions: to begin operations against Vicksburg, to place himself in personal charge of the campaign, to begin active operations around the city, to sweep toward Vicksburg from the south, to march east of Vicksburg and cut the railroad before attacking, to assault Vicksburg twice in an attempt to end the campaign quickly, to lay siege after the assaults had failed, and to parole the surrendered Confederate garrison rather than send the Southern soldiers to prison camps."

Smith also shows how Grant's management of off the battlefield issues rebounded to his credit. "The successful military campaign also required Grant to master political efforts, including handling Lincoln’s impatience and dealing with the troublesome political general John A. McClernand. Further, he had to juggle administrative work with military decision making. Grant was more than a military genius, however; he was also a husband and a father, and Smith shows how Grant’s family was a part of everything he did." In the end, "Smith shows how Grant’s decisions created and won the Civil War’s most brilliant, complex, decisive, and lengthy campaign."

The book is the third volume in SIU Press's relatively new World of Ulysses S. Grant series, for which Smith also serves as co-editor with John Marszalek.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Review - "Practical Liberators: Union Officers in the Western Theater during the Civil War" by Kristopher Teters

[Practical Liberators: Union Officers in the Western Theater during the Civil War by Kristopher A. Teters (University of North Carolina Press, 2018). Hardcover, notes, bibliography, index. 240 pp. ISBN:978-1-4696-3886-7. $32.95]

The popular understanding of the general course of the American Civil War suggests that northern volunteers enlisted to save the Union, but when emancipation became an official war aim the conflict became a moral crusade that rejuvenated a somewhat flagging cause and boosted federal arms to ultimate victory. In truth, this is a gross overgeneralization of a complex set of circumstances and attitudes. While no one who has read large numbers of diaries and letters written by Union soldiers in the field could honestly construct a serious argument that those men as a whole were primarily inspired by moral and ethical objections to slavery, such motivations nevertheless existed in consequential numbers. That said, Kristopher Teters's Practical Liberators powerfully argues that soldiers with pure abolitionist motives composed a very distinct minority within the Union's western armies, with the vast majority of Civil War officers that fought in the West supportive of emancipation primarily (or in many cases only) on grounds of wartime necessity.

Teters appropriately describes Union military policy during the war's first year regarding what should be done with slaves encountered by the army as "inconsistent." With no explicit directives from top civilian and military leaders, officers on the ground were most often left to their own devices. Some barred escaped slaves from camp and returned them to their owners regardless of loyalty while others actively sought to free slaves and threatened violence toward anyone (even demonstrably loyal owners) attempting to reclaim their human property. With federal armies in the West coming into daily contact with thousands of slaves during their relentless drive south into the heartland of the Confederacy, more concrete instructions were needed.

Real clarity on the issue would not emerge until mid-1862, and Teters argues that the most important turning point came in the form of July's Second Confiscation Act. The author himself doesn't go quite this far, but one might even consider that legislative act more practically significant than the later Emancipation Proclamation. The act codified and accelerated what many Union officers had been doing since the beginning of the war, and by January 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, the Union Army had already essentially killed the institution in vast areas of the West (even making inroads inside regions where slavery would be ostensibly protected by Lincoln's war edict). There would always be fears of backsliding from some kind of future political settlement, but it seems even more clear that the liberating army of the western theater operating under the Confiscation Acts placed slavery permanently on the road to extinction.

On the other hand, near unanimous support for emancipation among Midwest officers did not mean that most by any means supported social and political equality for blacks. The author's reading of officer letters, journals, and official reports reveals that enthusiasm for emancipation largely rested on freeing slaves as a practical means of weakening the Confederacy and boosting Union chances for victory. Emancipation was a very useful double-edged weapon, harming the southern economy while at the same time providing Union armies with labor and camp services of all kinds along with soldiers to serve in both combat and non-combat roles. However, contact between western officers and freedpeople, which were accompanied by very real benefits derived for the former from the latter, did not greatly alter preconceived views on racial differences.

Seemingly every Union officer in the West desired a hired black servant to perform menial support tasks such as cleaning, foraging, and cooking, and many were able to secure a valet of sorts from the abundance of often eager candidates present in and around camp. Teters is almost certainly correct in arguing that it was these personal servants that were the primary source of softened racial prejudice among western officers. Nevertheless, the author also found that while those officers very often displayed great affection and personal respect for individual servants, whom they often conceded to be hardworking, intelligent, and well deserving of freedom, most remained unwilling to extend similar regard to the black race overall. Teters perceptively notes that Union officers generally used the same language to describe their personal servants as southern slaveholders did, with the important caveat that the servants of officers were paid relatively well (not too much less than a Union private) and were theoretically free to leave for other opportunities. On the last point, though, one has to wonder how widespread coercion (explicit or implied) was involved given how often officers complained about the poor service provided by their black valets.

Civil War researchers are fortunate in the vast scale of primary source material at their fingertips, but this also means that one can often assemble rather impressive anecdotal evidence to support contrasting views on many different topics. Indeed, one wishes that Teters, while largely persuasive in supporting his arguments, had been able to offer some quantitative thrust to his constant use in the text of nebulous qualifiers like 'some,' 'many,' and 'most.' In his methodology note in the rear of the book, Teters acknowledges that his study lacks scientific sampling but does suggest that his rather large assemblage of letters, diaries, and military correspondence from 410 western Union officers is "fairly representative" (pg. 163). Nearly 78% of the officers in the sample hailed from the Midwest (the majority of these from Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana), with an additional 10.5% from border states. The last could be expected to have very different views regarding emancipation. As they were the men chiefly responsible for designing and carrying out policy, general officers are overrepresented by design. At the very least, Teter's sample size and breadth generally strikes one as an adequate basis for study.

In terms of future research, it might prove instructive to compare the racial attitudes of these western officers with those of their eastern theater counterparts. Contrasting the views and motivations of western officers to those of the privates and NCOs that served under them could also be a fruitful avenue of investigation. The far more numerous men in the ranks were at the true ground level of emancipation, and one might reasonably wonder whether they displayed or evolved viewpoints and sensibilities on race different from those expressed by their officers. The author might also have better considered the possibility that western Union officers held decidedly mixed views on the morality and practical benefits of emancipation rather than primarily one or the other. Especially in official military correspondence, a major source component of the study, it seems reasonable that officers would stress practical factors related to their professional duties rather than moral or ethical discourse.

Practical Liberators persuasively concludes that overwhelming support for emancipation among the officer class of the federal armies in the western theater was not widely matched by transformative personal attitudes on race and racial equality. The study furthermore soundly argues that this less than radical mindset, carried forward into the postwar period, had a significant effect on limiting the civil rights successes of southern Reconstruction. In a scholarly climate that increasingly discounts the emancipating role of the military in favor of emphasizing the primacy of slave agency, the book also aims, and does so with some success, to reestablish the Union Army as the chief (or at the very least equally important) force of liberation during the war. Whichever position one supports in that particular debate, this study is essential reading.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Booknotes: "The Most Complete Political Machine Ever Known"

New Arrival:
The Most Complete Political Machine Ever Known: The North's Union Leagues in the American Civil War by Paul Taylor (Kent St Univ Press, 2018).

Paul Taylor's The Most Complete Political Machine Ever Known is the first full-length study of the Union Leagues. The book discusses at length the heavy influence that grassroots organization had on checking political inroads made by Peace Democrats on the northern home front beginning in late 1862. At the same time, the leagues labored indefatigably to garner support for Republican candidates and the war effort against the Confederacy in general. 

From the description: "Across the North, ardent pro-Lincoln men realized their country needed a patriotic stimulus, as well as an organized means of countering what they viewed as their Copperhead adversaries treasonous pronouncements and subversion. These men formed what became known as Union Leagues: semisecretive societies whose members had to possess unconditional loyalty to the Lincoln administration and unwavering support for all of its efforts to suppress the rebellion."

According to Taylor, "the Union League's influence on the Northern home front was far more important and consequential than previously considered. The Union League and its various offshoots spread rapidly across the North, and in this first comprehensive examination of the leagues, Taylor discusses what made them so effective, including their recruitment strategies, their use of ostracism as a way of stifling dissent, and their distribution of political propaganda in quantities unlike anything previously imagined. By the end of 1863, readers learn, it seemed as if every hamlet from Maine to California had formed its own league chapter, collectively overwhelming their Democratic foe in the 1864 presidential election."

I am currently in the process of putting together a Q&A with the author so look for the interview to appear here on the site soon.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Book News: The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19–22, 1863

I always look forward to the next volume in SIU Press's Civil War Campaigns in the West series. Five books have been published so far, the most recent covering the Tennessee Campaign of 1864, and I've liked them all. We now have some solid intel regarding when we'll see the next one.

The release of The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19–22, 1863 is currently scheduled for late spring 2019, so patient anticipation is in order. It picks up where the first Vicksburg entry in the series, The Vicksburg Campaign, March 29-May 18, 1863, left off and there will be more to follow. Grant's two failed assaults in front of Vicksburg after a string of devastating victories have never had an entire book devoted to them. I am very curious to discover what the contributing authors have to say.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Five books on the Missouri State Guard in action

1. The Battle Of Carthage: Border War In Southwest Missouri by David C. Hinze and Karen Farnham (1997).
Last time, a list of five essential Missouri State Guard reference books was presented. Today, we'll look at five representative studies of MSG operations in the field, listed in chronological order by event. Though Kenneth Burchett's more recent study of the July 5, 1861 Battle of Carthage is wider in scope (see my review), it does not supplant Hinze and Farnham's account of the fighting, and the latter serves our purposes here better with its primary focus on MSG units and men.
2. Skim Milk Yankees Fighting: The Battle of Athens, Missouri, August 5, 1861
by Jonathan K. Cooper-Wiele (2007).
One might not expect the obscure little battle at Athens to have two book treatments, but it does. Ben F. Dixon and Patricia Mullenix's The Battle of Athens (1991) is a worthwhile and now hard to find source compilation, but Cooper-Wiele's well-researched book is clearly the best available narrative history of the battle. Its discussion of military events and MSG operations in NE Missouri during the opening moments of the war is invaluable.
3. Wilson's Creek: The Second Battle of the Civil War and the Men Who Fought It
by William Garrett Piston and Richard W. Hatcher (2000).
Ed Bearss's The Battle of Wilson's Creek has undergone several editions and is still a highly useful classic account. In some ways, I prefer its tactical treatment of the battle to Piston & Hatcher's, but Wilson's Creek is the most comprehensive and expansively researched examination of the battle and the MSG's integral role in it.
4. The Siege of Lexington, Missouri: The Battle of the Hemp Bales by Larry Wood (2014).
Rumors that Michael Gillespie was looking to expand his wonderful plus-sized pamphlet history of the MSG's Lexington Campaign into a full-fledged book treatment unfortunately never panned out. Though also not definitive in scale, Wood's book picks up the slack and easily provides the most detailed overall account of the MSG's last great independent operation.
5. Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West by William L. Shea and Earl J. Hess (1992).
In addition to being the standard study of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Shea and Hess's book recounts at unsurpassed depth the MSG's participation in the battle and the events leading up to it. This campaign marks the Guard's last significant field operation, with most of its members either joining Confederate service or going home.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Booknotes: An Aide to Custer

New Arrival:
An Aide to Custer: The Civil War Letters of Lt. Edward G. Granger edited by Sandy Barnard & compiled by Thomas E. Singelyn (OU Press, 2018).

"In August 1862, nineteen-year-old Edward G. Granger joined the 5th Michigan Cavalry Regiment as a second lieutenant. On August 20, 1863, the newly promoted Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer appointed Granger as one of his aides, a position Granger would hold until his death in August 1864." In An Aide to Custer, Sandy Barnard edits the letters that Granger wrote home to various family members during this two-year period. They "provide a unique look into the words and actions of his legendary commander. At the same time, Granger’s correspondence offers an intimate picture of life on the picket lines of the Army of the Potomac and a staff officer’s experiences in the field."

More from the description: "As Custer’s aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Granger was in an ideal position to record the inner workings of the Michigan Brigade’s command echelon. Riding at Custer’s side, he could closely observe one of America’s most celebrated and controversial military figures during the very days that cemented his fame. With a keen eye and occasional humor, Granger describes the brigade’s operations, including numerous battles and skirmishes. His letters also show the evolution of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps from the laughingstock of the Eastern Theater to an increasingly potent, well-led force. By the time of Granger’s death at the Battle of Crooked Run, he and his comrades were on the verge of wresting mounted supremacy from their Confederate opponents."

These types of publications often skimp on maps (both in number and quality), but that's not the case with the ten detailed maps included here. In addition to being abundantly illustrated, the volume is extensively annotated with voluminous, well-researched footnotes. Editor Barnard also contributes an extensive introduction and pens supporting chapter narrative throughout the book. His epilogue describes at length the circumstances of Granger's death. An Aide to Custer "gives readers an unprecedented view of the Civil War and one of its most important commanders, and unusual insight into the experience of a staff officer who served alongside him."