Thursday, August 22, 2019

Review - "Held in Highest Esteem by All: The Civil War Letters of William B. Chilvers, 95th Illinois Infantry" by Pressly & Joiner, eds.

[Held in Highest Esteem by All: The Civil War Letters of William B. Chilvers, 95th Illinois Infantry edited by Thomas A. Pressly, III and Gary D. Joiner (State House Press, 2018). Softcover, maps, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:x,149/250. ISBN978-1-933337-71-5. $39.95]

Raised in straitened circumstances in Norfolk, England and orphaned at a young age, William B. Chilvers immigrated to the United States with his aunt and uncle (George and Rebecca Burnham). Settling in northern Illinois with the Burnhams, Chilvers employed himself in carpentry and farming in the years before the outbreak of the Civil War. He enlisted in the 95th Illinois in August 1862. Returning home after the war, he split his time between the Chicago area and Nebraska, permanently settling in the latter with his wife in 1874. Through various government jobs in Plainview and Pierce, Chilvers achieved local prominence (even having a street and city park named after him) and raised a large family. Chilvers's family correspondence covering various aspects of his wartime service and postwar life is the subject of Held in Highest Esteem by All: The Civil War Letters of William B. Chilvers, 95th Illinois Infantry, edited by Thomas Pressly and Gary Joiner.

After an extended period of garrison duty in Tennessee and Mississippi, Chilvers and the 95th first saw major action during the Vicksburg siege. After the Hill City's fall, the regiment went back to rear area duties in and around Vicksburg and Natchez before joining the Red River Expedition in early 1864. Upon the conclusion of that disastrous Trans-Mississippi campaign, the regiment was sent to Memphis and took part in General Samuel Sturgis's sweep through northern Mississippi that ended in crushing defeat at Brice's Crossroads. Chilvers and his unit then crossed the Mississippi River once again for their new garrison assignment to NE Arkansas. Later in the year in response to Confederate general Sterling Price's Missouri expedition, the 95th was shipped to St. Louis and trailed Price through the middle part of the state before turning back and undertaking another long journey back across the Mississippi, this time to Nashville. After participating in the Battle of Nashville and subsequent pursuit of Hood's crumbling Army of Tennessee, the regiment was once again transferred to its familiar haunts in the lower Mississippi. Active campaigning ended with the final assaults on the enemy fortifications protecting Mobile, with Corporal Chilvers carrying the 95th's battle flag over the ramparts of Spanish Fort. For Chilvers, it was the end of an exceptionally winding wartime journey.

In full, the Chilvers correspondence collection comprises 170 letters written between William Chilvers and family members living in Illinois (the Burnhams) and England. Inside the book these are either reproduced in full or excerpted at varying lengths. In addition to inserting throughout the volume numerous photographs and supporting maps, the editors also offer extensively researched bridging narrative that effectively ties together the letters and fills in many coverage gaps.

Judging from the selections of letter material presented, the amount of direct combat experience Chilvers had during the war is unclear. Readers hoping for detailed accounts of Chilvers's far-flung battle service on both sides of the Mississippi will often be treated to tantalizing lead-ins that ultimately lack payoff. For example, in early 1864 Chilvers describes his unit's initial passage up the lower Red River (the 95th's companies were spread across a number of vessels, some serving as sharpshooters) but ends there. His recounting of his unit's participation in the Missouri Campaign later that year ends in a manner similarly abrupt with the regiment boarding transports to St. Louis. There are other examples. The 95th Illinois was positioned in the center of Sturgis's battle line at Brice's Crossroads, but Chilvers eschews chronicling his own personal experiences at the heart of the maelstrom there in favor of lambasting the courage and performance of his fellow white Union soldiers during that terrible defeat and rout. In all these cases, one would have to assume the editors would have included those passages telling 'the rest of the story' if they existed.

With battle details sparse, what is perhaps most remarkable about the Chilvers collection is its contribution to our understanding of how foreign-born soldiers viewed their army service and the Union war effort itself. Chilvers and the Burnhams were all three imbued with strong abolitionist feelings. Unlike many of their fellow Midwesterners, none of the three expressed any reservations toward emancipation being added to Union war aims. Chilvers himself was an early advocate of black enlistment into the army. In his letters, Chilvers sharply condemns the many episodes of both casual and malicious mistreatment of southern blacks by Union soldiers that he witnessed in the field. In some cases, he personally intervened. All in all, Chilvers had few good things to say about his fellow volunteers. According to him, they did not measure up to the discipline and fighting standards of British soldiers, or even their Confederate opponents.

Even though he chose to fight for an adopted country that provided opportunities for personal advancement and security that he never could have obtained as a poor orphan back in England, Chilvers still struggled with issues of national loyalty. In a letter to the Burnhams written in response to rumors of potential war between Britain and the U.S., Chilvers maintained that he was entirely uncertain about which side he would take in any potential conflict.

Chilvers and the Burnhams were Fremont Republicans through and through and favored Lincoln being replaced on the 1864 ticket (Chilvers had few problems with Lincoln himself in terms of ideological alignment but perceived him as a weak, indecisive leader that allowed a corrupt cabinet to run the war effort). With Lincoln support strong on both home and fighting fronts, they found their political stance to be unpopular to say the least. The Burnhams even complained that their neighbors saw them as little better than Copperheads. Chilvers also vented frustration at being lumped into the category of foreign-born mercenary, though it's unclear if nativist prejudice was something he encountered himself in the army or read about in anti-war newspaper editorials.

Effectively contextualized through well-researched notes and text from Pressly and Joiner, the collection of edited correspondence published in Held in Highest Esteem by All offers readers unusual insights into the western war as viewed through the reflective perspective of an immigrant volunteer. Recommended.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Book News: Tullahoma

Conducted concurrently with two major campaigns (Grant's siege of Vicksburg and Meade's defensive stand in Pennsylvania) that were both approaching triumphal conclusion, William S. Rosecrans's own forward movement in Tennessee on the war's central front (what came to be known as the Tullahoma Campaign) was also dramatically successful. Even so, after driving the Confederacy's principal western army almost entirely out of Tennessee through maneuver rather than heavy fighting, the operation has been doomed to comparative obscurity. Though generally well-known to students of the war, and considered a masterpiece of the operational art by some, literature treatment of the Tullahoma Campaign has been relegated to articles and book chapters along with a single, very brief monograph. However, this will change sometime in the near future when the campaign will finally be given the full-length treatment it deserves in David Powell and Eric Wittenberg's Tullahoma: The Forgotten Campaign that changed the Civil War, June 23 - July 4, 1863 (Savas Beatie, est. 2020).

From the description: "The complex and fascinating campaign included deceit, hard marching, fighting, and incredible luck—both good and bad. Rosecrans executed a pair of feints against Guy’s Gap and Liberty Gap to deceive the Rebels into thinking the main blow would fall somewhere other than where it was designed to strike. An ineffective Confederate response exposed one of Bragg’s flanks—and his entire army—to complete disaster. Torrential rains and consequential decisions in the field wreaked havoc on the best-laid plans. Still Bragg hesitated, teetering on the brink of losing the second most important field army in the Confederacy. The hour was late and time was short, and his limited withdrawal left the armies poised for a climactic engagement that may have decided the fate of Middle Tennessee, and perhaps the war. Finally fully alert to the mortal threat facing him, Bragg pulled back from the iron jaws of defeat about to engulf him and retreated—this time all the way to Chattanooga, the gateway to the rest of the Southern Confederacy."

Given the qualities of exhaustive research, attention to detail, and keen analysis that are characteristic of prior works from both prolific authors, there's no doubt the book will meet high expectations. More: "Powell and Wittenberg mined hundreds of archival and firsthand accounts to craft a splendid study of this overlooked campaign that set the stage for the Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, the removal of Rosecrans and Bragg from the chessboard of war, the elevation of U.S. Grant to command all Union armies, and the early stages of William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. Tullahoma—one of the most brilliantly executed major campaigns of the war—was pivotal to Union success in 1863 and beyond." Looking forward to it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Booknotes: The Battle of the Wilderness in Myth and Memory

New Arrival:
The Battle of the Wilderness in Myth and Memory: Reconsidering Virginia's Most Notorious Civil War Battlefield by Adam H. Petty (LSU Press, 2019).

During the Civil War and after, Virginia's Wilderness became a legendary place, a thickly wooded forest with exceptionally choked undergrowth that combined to blot out the sun and render disoriented travelers almost instantly lost. Some accounts read like a medieval fairy tale, with Union soldiers substituting for stray children and the Confederates for the monsters lurking in every dark recess in readiness to pounce on the unwary. I'm sure we've all lost count of how many authors continue to assert that the Wilderness somehow evened the odds between the opposing armies during the 1864 Overland Campaign. However, Adam Petty's The Battle of the Wilderness in Myth and Memory: Reconsidering Virginia's Most Notorious Civil War Battlefield, which "tracks how veterans and historians of the Civil War created and perpetuated myths about the Wilderness," offers a "highly revisionist" alternative interpretation.

From the description: "According to Petty, the mythology surrounding the campaigns in the Wilderness began to take shape during the war but truly blossomed in the postwar years, continuing into the present. Those myths, he suggests, confounded accurate understandings of how the physical environment influenced combat and military operations. While the Wilderness did create difficult combat conditions, Petty refutes claims that it was unique and favored the Confederates."

The book examines the Wilderness's place in the war and remembrance of it using a broad perspective. "Unlike previous studies of the Wilderness, this work does not focus on a single battle or campaign. Instead, Petty explores all the major clashes there―Chancellorsville, Mine Run, and the battle of the Wilderness―which allows Petty to observe changes over time, especially regarding the attitudes and actions of generals and soldiers. Yet Petty’s study is not a narrative history of the campaigns. Instead, he reconsiders traditional interpretations surrounding the nature of the Wilderness and how it affected military operations and combat. His work analyzes not only the interaction between military campaigns and environment but also how the memory of that interaction evolved into the myth we know today."

This sounds very interesting, just the kind of thing Earl Hess (who also contributed an enthusiastic jacket blurb for the book) was arguing for in his recent essay advocating the continual expansion of new topics to be examined under the general umbrella of military history.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Review - "Union Sharpshooter Versus Confederate Sharpshooter: American Civil War 1861–65" by Gary Yee

[Union Sharpshooter Versus Confederate Sharpshooter: American Civil War 1861–65 by Gary Yee (Osprey Publishing, 2019). Softcover, maps, photos, sidebars, drawings, original artwork, notes, bibliography, index. 80 Pages. ISBN:978-1-4728-3185-9. $22]

Part of Osprey's Combat series matching historical battlefield opponents, Gary Yee's Union Sharpshooter Versus Confederate Sharpshooter describes and assesses the "fighting techniques, armament, and combat record" of Union and Confederate sharpshooters across the various theaters of war. In creating the study, Yee, who is a gunsmith, firearms museum curator, and author of the well-received 2009 book Sharpshooters 1750-1900: The Men, Their Guns, Their Story, brings both practical and documentary knowledge to the table.

Fitting as much information as possible into Osprey's long-standing format of compressed history, Yee skillfully introduces readers to Union and Confederate sharpshooter recruitment, organization, training, weapons, tactics, and coordination. Union forces were the first to organize specialized sharpshooter regiments (i.e. Hiram Berdan's 1st and later 2nd USSS), though they were misused on the firing line and suffered high attrition. Many other regiments and battalions on both sides were sharpshooters in name only, having the same training and performing the same basic roles as standard line units. During the Civil War period the term "sharpshooter" was broadly applied, encompassing those engaged in a range of activities from skirmishing (with or without specialized training) to what we would today call sniping. Though addressing the former, Yee's short study focuses more on the latter.

Yee primarily blames lack of foresight on the part of the commanders of both sides for the fact that it would be the late-war period before the combat value of using specialized sharpshooter formations on the skirmish line was fully appreciated. The height of their development would be seen on the Confederate side during the 1864 campaigns in the East, with the ANV's employment of brigade sharpshooter battalions (coordinated on divisional scale) that possessed considerable offensive punch to go along with their screening and recon roles. The author briefly discusses these attempts at using elite specialists to dominate the space between opposing lines of battle, but, as mentioned before, is primarily concerned with sniper weapons, tactics, and roles.

Through three case studies well selected for their theater and situational diversity (Fredericksburg, Vicksburg, and Morris Island), Yee effectively demonstrates in the book how snipers became prized by both sides for their ability to create noteworthy mayhem on the battlefield. While sharpshooters certainly could not win battles on their own, they could suppress batteries, inflict highly disproportionate casualties, and seriously hamper enemy battlefield activities of all kinds. They were also sources of constant fear and stress to enemy soldiers already mentally and physically taxed by their regular duties.

At Fredericksburg, Confederate marksmen firmly ensconced in buildings and cellars picked off Union engineers trying to bridge the Rappahannock River. Union attempts to match them were hindered by their own artillery fire, and the result was a delay in crossing significant enough to allow further perfection of the Confederate defenses west and south of the city.

With the siege lines so close together at Vicksburg, both sides employed sharpshooters to good effect. Though Confederate sharpshooters had an effect on harrying the Union siege approaches, their opponents, larger in number and supplied with practically endless ammunition, gradually gained the upper hand. Yee also cites the exceptional efforts of Indiana's Henry "Coonskin" Foster and the sniper tower he built and used to deadly effect during the static siege.

Though Union sharpshooter fire aided their gaining an initial lodgment on Morris Island, the battlefield addition of Whitworth rifle armed Confederate snipers (who could hit targets at extreme range) made life hell for Union artillerymen and those working on the siege approaches. This small group of sharpshooters could not stop but did appreciably slow the pace of the siege (which stretched to two months before the island was lost, allowing plenty of time for the Confederates to reorient the harbor defenses toward the new threat).

In supporting the text, the book contains the usual dense collection of photographs, illustrations, maps, and original artwork characteristic of all Osprey titles. Yee's book is a well organized and informative summary of the ways sharpshooters (and snipers in particular) impacted the Civil War battlefield and developed a combat effectiveness vastly disproportionate to the tiny numbers employed.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Booknotes: "Gettysburg: Kids Who Did the Impossible!"

New Arrival:
Gettysburg: Kids Who Did the Impossible! by Gregory Christianson (Savas Beatie, 2019).

Gettysburg: Kids Who Did the Impossible! is a book designed to spark in young people an interest in the Civil War, and what better setting than that little town in Pennsylvania about which most of us have heard a few things.

From the description: "Gettysburg was one of the most important battles of the entire Civil War, and author Gregory Christianson brings it to life through breathtaking photographs, extraordinary watercolors, and exciting true-to-life stories. This is the perfect platform for “story guides” Liam and Jaden (the lad and lass gracing the cover) to celebrate Gettysburg’s young heroes—kids who defied age and inexperience to serve their town, country, and fellow human beings far beyond common valor."

Packed with old B&W photos, modern color images, and artwork (watercolors from Tom Rutherford and the paintings of Dale Gallon), the heavily illustrated book has a lively presentation that should appeal to its intended audience. "This remarkable and wholly unique presentation has something for everyone: single-page introductions for each day of the battle and lots of “have-to-know” facts, all wrapped in a photographic essay of the Gettysburg battlefield as you’ve never seen before."

Friday, August 16, 2019

Booknotes: Star Spangled Scandal

New Arrival:
Star Spangled Scandal: Sex, Murder, and the Trial that Changed America by Chris DeRose (Regnery History, 2019).

New York Congressman and Civil War major general Daniel E. Sickles is famous/infamous for two things: (1) his murder of his wife's lover and consequent acquittal using the then novel plea of not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, and (2) his unauthorized rearrangement of the Union far left flank on Day 2 of Gettysburg that resulted in his own corps and parts of the rest of the army being chewed to pieces. Much has been written about the the latter (that's an understatement), but those interested in the topic would be well-advised to pick up a copy of James Hessler's Sickles at Gettysburg: The Controversial Civil War General Who Committed Murder, Abandoned Little Round Top, and Declared Himself the Hero of Gettysburg (2009) or the more recent book Gettysburg’s Peach Orchard: Longstreet, Sickles, and the Bloody Fight for the “Commanding Ground” Along the Emmitsburg Road that Hessler co-authored with Britt Isenberg (2019). The latest reexamination of Congressman Sickles's shooting of Philip Barton Key and the subsequent murder trial is Chris DeRose's Star Spangled Scandal: Sex, Murder, and the Trial that Changed America.

From the description: "It is two years before the Civil War, and Congressman Daniel Sickles and his lovely wife Teresa are popular fixtures in Washington, D.C. society. Their house sits on Lafayette Square across from White House grounds, and the president himself is godfather to the Sickles’ six-year-old daughter. Because Congressman Sickles is frequently out of town, he trusts his friend, U.S. Attorney Philip Barton Key—son of Francis Scott Key—to escort the beautiful Mrs. Sickles to parties in his absence. Revelers in D.C. are accustomed to the sight of the congressman’s wife with the tall, Apollo-like Philip Barton Key, who is considered “the handsomest man in all Washington society… foremost among the popular men of the capital.” Then one day an anonymous note sets into motion a tragic course of events that culminates in a shocking murder in broad daylight in Lafayette Square."

More: Author DeRose "uses diary entries, letters, newspaper accounts, and eyewitness testimonies to bring the characters to thrilling life in this antebellum true crime history" of events that "sparked a national debate on madness, male honor, female virtue, fidelity, and the rule of law."

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Review - "British Blockade Runners in the American Civil War" by Joseph McKenna

[British Blockade Runners in the American Civil War by Joseph McKenna (McFarland, 2019). Softcover, maps, photos, drawings, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:vii,191/216. ISBN:9781476676791. $49.95]

Joseph McKenna's British Ships in the Confederate Navy (2010) examined British-built Confederate warships that cruised the oceans as commerce raiders while also shining light on the large proportion of British citizens that crewed those vessels. His new book British Blockade Runners in the American Civil War offers readers an in-depth look at the British maritime industrial firms, businesses, investors, and individuals who participated in and profited from the immensely lucrative illicit trade with the Confederacy.

As all Civil War readers are doubtlessly aware, the lure of quick profits from blockade running and the textile industry's need for southern cotton taxed official British neutrality throughout the war. Though private firms (the largest and most well known being Fraser, Trenholm & Co., the Liverpool subsidiary of John Fraser & Co. out of Charleston) and even the state and Richmond governments were directly involved in blockade running, it was British-owned and crewed vessels that comprised a substantial majority of the ships that passed through the U.S. blockade of southern ports.

In addition to relating numerous standalone adventure stories of ships and men who braved the dangerous passage, the book also provides some more macro-level discussions of the process, risks, and rewards of blockade running. A selection of cargo lists (and their values) presents readers with a good general impression of the scale and variety of essential military arms, ammunition, and supplies that were imported during the war. The evolution of blockade running, particularly in the construction of vessels particularly designed for the task, is also discussed at some length. Even though ships routinely evaded the blockade throughout the conflict, the ever tightening cordon established around the southern coastline did force prospective runners to switch from using huge, slow bulk transports to a new generation of low, swift, narrow beam, and shallow draft vessels that were difficult to spot let alone stop.

Though Confederate representatives and their foreign business collaborators went to great lengths, at least on paper, to remain clandestine, the book abundantly documents how U.S. consular officials and their spy networks throughout Europe and the Caribbean were able to quickly identify potential runners and compile accurate cargo lists and drawings of ships. It was a remarkably effective bureaucratic system, but catching the vessels at sea was another matter entirely. Given the near impossibility of maintaining secrecy, runners needed ever more creative ways of circumventing the "continuous voyage" doctrine of established blockade law. Describing this process, the book provides an informative chapter on how blockade running firms employed a variety of devious transshipment strategies to prevent seizure of their cargoes (even to the extent of using northern ports to disguise port to port continuity in sending goods between European and Confederate ports!) .

McKenna also examines Confederate bonds as funding source and object of speculative investment. With the borrowed money to be repaid in cotton after the war ended, foreign investment in Confederate cotton bonds was high risk-high reward (thus the appeal to speculators). In addition to tracing the changing value and attractiveness of these bonds over the course of the war, the book discusses the 1864 Confederate law aimed at eliminating contract fraud and waste by centralizing foreign purchasing through only two Confederate government agents—one for the army (Caleb Huse) and one for the navy (James Bulloch). By all estimates, this measure and the later commercial act that banned importation of most luxury items and forced blockade runners to set aside half of the cargo space for the government were imposed far too late.

In addition to gleaning information from previously published works, McKenna (a librarian and resident of Birmingham, England) also wades deeply into British diplomatic, trade, and newspaper archives to get at information not readily available to U.S.-based researchers. Among the results are a pair of comprehensive descriptive registers of British firms that built blockade runners and British ships (arranged alphabetically) that ran the blockade during the war. The author also uncovered the real names of several captains of blockade runners who used aliases. McKenna found that many of these men were Royal Navy officers inactive or on leave, who wanted to turn a quick profit without endangering their professional careers or causing further diplomatic rows with an already thoroughly annoyed U.S. State Department. The author also usefully reminds readers that British vessels and crews always had to remain completely unarmed, as any hostile measures taken, even in self-defense, would be construed as acts of piracy. No one wanted to risk being hanged when the typical treatment of captured foreign officers and crewmen was only a few weeks of detention before release.

Abundantly documenting the activities of British government officials, ship-building firms, investors, captains, and crews, British Blockade Runners in the American Civil War is a useful history and reference guide that appreciably augments our knowledge and understanding of the British role in the exportation and transit of contraband of war. Recommended.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Booknotes: "Lee is Trapped, and Must be Taken"

New Arrival:
"Lee is Trapped, and Must be Taken": Eleven Fateful Days after Gettysburg: July 4 - 14, 1863 by Thomas J. Ryan and Richard R. Schaus (Savas Beatie, 2019).

The output of the Gettysburg Campaign literature continues to be unrelenting in pace and scope; however, major works covering the retreat (even for the most important events that occurred between the end of the battle and the Confederate escape across the Potomac) have appeared only recently. In 2005, Kent Masterson Brown's Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign was published, to be followed only three years later by Wittenberg, Petruzzi, and Nugent's One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863. Both are excellent. Now we have a third treatment of the period in Thomas Ryan and Richard Schaus's "Lee is Trapped, and Must be Taken": Eleven Fateful Days after Gettysburg: July 4 - 14, 1863

A third major study within 15 years might appear on the surface to be topical overkill but really we have the best of situations, with each treatment possessing significant complementary features that clearly set it apart from the others. The 2005 and 2008 studies both address the fighting during the retreat at length, but Brown's logistical focus clearly distinguishes it from the purely military coverage of Wittenberg et al. Ryan and Schaus's book also has a unique emphasis, in this case the role of military intelligence. It is additionally positioned as a sequel to Ryan's award-winning Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign: How the Critical Role of Intelligence Impacted the Outcome of Lee's Invasion of the North, June-July 1863 (2015).

From the description: "The long and bloody three-day battle exhausted both armies. Their respective commanders faced difficult tasks, including the rallying of their troops for more marching and fighting. Lee had to keep his army organized and motivated enough to conduct an orderly withdrawal away from the field. Meade faced the same organizational and motivational challenges, while assessing the condition of his victorious but heavily damaged army, to determine if it had sufficient strength to pursue and crush a still-dangerous enemy. Central to the respective commanders’ decisions was the information they received from their intelligence-gathering resources about the movements, intentions, and capability of the enemy. The eleven-day period after Gettysburg was a battle of wits to determine which commander better understood the information he received, and directed the movements of his army accordingly. Prepare for some surprising revelations."

Other aspects of the retreat are featured as well. "Woven into this account is the fate of thousands of Union prisoners who envisioned rescue to avoid incarceration in wretched Confederate prisons, and a characterization of how the Union and Confederate media portrayed the ongoing conflict for consumption on the home front."

More: "The authors utilized a host of primary sources to craft their study, including letters, memoirs, diaries, official reports, newspapers, and telegrams, and have threaded these intelligence gems in an exciting and fast-paced narrative that includes a significant amount of new information." As we've come to expect from SB titles, maps (14 in number), photographs, and other illustrations are interspersed throughout. The appendix section includes transcriptions of some intelligence documents and a short piece examining the relationship between General Meade and the BMI.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Booknotes: Civil War Taxes

New Arrival:
Civil War Taxes: A Documentary History, 1861-1900 by John Martin Davis, Jr.
  (McFarland, 2019).

As we all know, fighting the Civil War was an enormously expensive drain on the public coffers. In his book Civil War Taxes: A Documentary History, 1861-1900 retired tax attorney John Martin Davis provides a comprehensive overview of the tax initiatives each side devised to fund their war efforts.

From the description: "To raise revenue for the war effort, every possible person, business, activity and property was assessed, but projections and collections were seldom up to expectations, and waste, fraud and ineffectiveness in the administration of the tax systems plagued both sides. This economic history uses forensic examination of actual documents to discover the various taxes that developed from the Civil War, including the direct and poll taxes, which were dropped; the income tax, which stands today; and the war tax, which was effective for only a short time."

Roughly speaking, the book is equally divided between narrative text and document images. After a short bit of background history of antebellum federal tax systems, the book dives into the tax history of each year of the war, with alternating US and CS chapters.

The second half of the book consists of 124 photographic images of tax documents, to include receipts, certificates, bonds, licenses, permits, and more. The book's oversize page dimensions (8 1/2" by 11") allow the document images to be reproduced at a size and clarity sufficient to allow readers to make out all the details. With the resized illustrations in so many history books rendering them indecipherable even to those with hawk-like vision, this treatment is a nice touch.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Review - "Life In Jefferson Davis' Navy" by Barbara Tomblin

[Life In Jefferson Davis' Navy by Barbara Brooks Tomblin (Naval Institute Press, 2019). Hardcover, 2 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:vii,240/325. ISBN:978-1-68247-118-0. $54]

Even after taking into account the fact that the total number of sailors who served in the Union and Confederate navies was almost tiny when measured against the millions of soldiers that took the field, comprehensive exploration of what life was like aboard Civil War fighting vessels remains underrepresented in the literature. Less than a handful of Union studies of this type exist, and arguably none of similar scope have been produced for the Confederate side until now with the publication of Barbara Brooks Tomblin's Life In Jefferson Davis' Navy.

With armies prioritized from the start, both navies struggled with meeting their manpower needs. Not surprisingly, the problem was much more acute for the CSN, which basically had to start from scratch. By the time large numbers of sailors could be employed on newly commissioned vessels, many individuals with prior nautical experience were already in the army and authorities there were understandably reluctant to approve transfers. In the early chapters of the book, Tomblin informatively covers the recruitment, enlistment, and induction processes. According to the author's figures, peak strength eventually hovered around 5,000 men. Interestingly, unlike the Confederate Army, the navy had regulations in place that allowed free blacks and slaves to serve on vessel crews (to be employed as pilots, servants, coal heavers, landsmen, and ordinary sailors) as long as the ratio did not exceed 1 to 5. More specifically, the Savannah Squadron capped black service at 5% of total strength. However, in what would become a common theme throughout the book, surviving Confederate naval records are far too incomplete to come to any conclusion on whether the reality ever approached those proportions. Foreign citizens were another source of manpower, particularly for service aboard commerce raiders.

Another chapter discusses the acclimation process of raw recruits into naval culture and shipboard routine. Contemporary observers frequently noted that Confederate ships did not exhibit expected levels of discipline and order. While many of these negative statements were made by Union captives and understandably disgruntled prize ship passengers, Confederates themselves frequently lamented the loose manner in which many of their ships were run and often ascribed the result to the scarcity of proven officers and the high proportion among ship crews of foreign enlistees lacking patriotic motivation.

Most Confederate naval officers keenly recognized the value of maintaining morale through generous shore leave and various kinds of onboard entertainment, and these important ways of relieving crew stress and boredom are highlighted. How discipline was enforced and punishments meted out for offenses large and small are also discussed at some length in the book. While hard numbers are not available for comparison to the U.S. Navy's rate of six percent, desertion did prove to be major problem in the Confederate Navy. The loss of already scarce manpower was not the only negative consequence, too, as deserters proved to be vital sources of information for the enemy.

As one would suspect, disease killed far more Confederate sailors than enemy action, and medical care (both on ship and in naval hospitals established ashore) is another major focus of the book. Once again statistical data is generally unavailable, but anecdotal evidence suggests that officers and sailors suffered and died from the same maladies that affected soldiers on land, with additional problems like scurvy when undertaking especially long ocean cruises.

The experience of naval combat is also addressed in Tomblin's study. A trio of chapters examine Confederate naval actions fought along coastal sounds, rivers, and the deep ocean. Coverage is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather limited to representative sampling of fighting by Confederate ironclads, wooden "mosquito fleets," and commerce raiders. These examples, greatly enhanced by numerous firsthand accounts, offers readers a good sense of the CSN's range of operations. In her consideration of Confederate submarine, torpedo boat, and mine warfare technology, Tomblin also appropriately emphasizes Confederate innovation as a frequently effective countermeasure to overwhelming Union naval might.

Confederate naval personnel manned batteries onshore and later in the war formed infantry units that served alongside their army comrades. These ad-hoc aspects of naval service are covered in the book, as are the travails of captured personnel. Apparently, few POW camp accounts written by Confederate sailors exist, but those that do tell of experiences similar to those of army comrades in the service.

As repeatedly mentioned above, the body of record data that would allow more complex statistical analysis of many important aspects of Confederate naval service is unavailable to researchers; however, through focused archival research and skilled synthesis of the current literature, Tomblin is nevertheless able to piece together a richly expansive portrait of officer and sailor life at sea and on land. A very useful addressing of a neglected topic, Life In Jefferson Davis' Navy is highly recommended.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Booknotes: "May God have Mercy on Us."

New Arrival:
"May God have Mercy on Us.": The Twenty Days of the Cane River Campaign in Louisiana by Weldon Nash, Jr., John Taylor & Mitchel Whitington (23 House Publishing, 2019).

Despite the 1864 Red River Campaign's status as the Trans-Mississippi's largest military operation, the literature's treatment of it remains remarkably lacking in depth. Sure, the topic has been covered in numerous general overview studies from Johnson, Joiner, Robertson, Forsyth, Brooksher, and others, but accounts of both signature battles (Mansfield and Pleasant Hill) still exist only in article or chapter form.

The newly released "May God have Mercy on Us.": The Twenty Days of the Cane River Campaign in Louisiana promises a more in-depth look at a three-week segment of the Red River Campaign that occurred between the conclusion of the fighting at Pleasant Hill and the escape of Banks's retreating army from Richard Taylor's aggressive Cane River "trap." Authored by Weldon Nash, Jr., John Taylor, and Mitchel Whitington, the book recounts the action on a day-by-day basis, the main feature being the controversial Battle of Monett's Ferry.

From the description: "Most give the Battle of Monett's Ferry only a paragraph or two in the overall affair, if that. In reality, the entire Cane River episode of the war lasted for almost a month and included a myriad of confrontations from minor skirmishes to all-out battle, a near-mutiny on the side of the North, a struggle for ships to escape down the Red River, and a wave of wanton destruction through what is now Natchitoches Parish. This book brings together all the elements of the war that took place along the Cane River in Louisiana in the spring of 1864. Whenever possible, the story is told in the words of the people who actually lived it the soldiers and officers through their diaries, letters, and journal entries."

The narrative portion of the book runs around 115 pages and is profusely illustrated with photographs and previously published maps. Detail level appears middle range. The bibliography consists of published sources of various types and a few primary sources made available online.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Book News: Major General Joseph King Fenno Mansfield

Many Civil War readers will likely hesitate before taking on an 800+ page biography of a Civil War general who was killed at the head of his corps during the opening moments of his first real battle, but JKF Mansfield had a long and distinguished military career before his fateful encounter at Antietam. A very highly regarded engineer and officer in the Old Army, Mansfield oversaw the construction of major coastal fortifications early in his career and was repeatedly promoted during the war with Mexico. Just before the outbreak of the Civil War, he partnered with Joseph E. Johnston for an extensive inspection tour of U.S. Army posts (if you're interested, there's a great book about it titled Texas and New Mexico on the Eve of the Civil War: The Mansfield & Johnston Inspections, 1859-1861).

Mansfield was leaned on heavily by General-in-Chief Scott with his appointment to head the Department of Washington during the chaotic uncertainty of the war's early months. Scott failed, however, in his quest to reward Mansfield with a major field command. After that, Mansfield served in the relative backwater of SE Virginia before being given command of the Army of the Potomac's Twelfth Corps only days before the Maryland Campaign's climactic battle. I haven't seen the book yet, but all of this will presumably be covered at length in Laurence Freiheit's Major General Joseph King Fenno Mansfield: A Soldier From Beginning to End (CPP, 2019), which is "profusely illustrated with period maps and images" and available now. Having authored an extensive study of cavalry operations in the eastern theater during September 1862, Freiheit is also no stranger to the Maryland Campaign.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Review - "The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19-22, 1863" by Woodworth and Grear, eds.

[The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19-22, 1863 edited by Steven E. Woodworth and Charles D. Grear (Southern Illinois University Press, 2019). Hardcover, 4 maps, photos, notes, index. Pages:xi,133. ISBN:978-0-8093-3719-4. $29.50]

After finally getting his frustrated army across the Mississippi River after a series of failed "experiments" aimed at capturing fortress Vicksburg, U.S. Grant conducted a campaign of unbroken success against his Confederate opponents. By the third week in May, his victorious army found itself opposite the ramparts of the Hill City itself. However, the events of May 19, 1863 brought with them a rude awakening, and the bloody repulse of an even larger attack three days later consigned the final phase of the struggle for Vicksburg to a six-week siege. How those May assaults were conducted, why they failed, and how the Midwestern public viewed the setbacks are topics addressed at length by the five essays in The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19-22, 1863. The book is the sixth release from SIUP's Civil War Campaigns in the West series (formerly the Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland series), and it is the second of five planned Vicksburg Campaign volumes*.

The first two essays, both from Parker Hills, discuss the May 19 and May 22 attacks. While some readers will be left wanting more small-unit detail in the assault descriptions, both chapters offer solid overviews of the two events accompanied by incisive criticisms and observations. According to Hills, the key takeaway from May 19 was the danger of conducting a hasty attack without any prior reconnaissance against a prepared position using only a small part of the available force. Grant felt that the attack's risks were justified by the reasonable assumption that the Confederates, who were driven from the field in some disorder at Champion Hill and quickly collapsed at Big Black River when the Union army pressed the fortified bridgehead there, would be demoralized from those thorough defeats and would not vigorously defend their lines. Arguments could be made for and against Hills's contention that on May 19 Grant "struck when he should have probed" (Pg. 21).

Better prepared, the results of the follow-on May 22 attack were nevertheless similarly disastrous, the entire effort a victim of poor coordination, horrendous terrain obstacles, strong earthworks, and determined defenders. While Thirteenth Corps commander John A. McClernand became the convenient scapegoat of that day, Hills's essay argues that his command deserves credit for being the only corps to attack at full strength (25 of 30 regiments went into action) and come anywhere close to fulfilling Grant's orders. The contributions of fellow corps commanders William T. Sherman and James B. McPherson were pitiful by comparison. While suggesting in his memoirs that he regretted the May 22 attack almost as much as Cold Harbor, Grant nevertheless skirted full responsibility and went great lengths to justify his actions using the same laundry list of reasons first raised in his July 1863 report: worries about Joe Johnston's growing relief army, concern over how the summer weather would affect his troops during a siege, the wish to avoid diverting the additional troops necessary for siege operations from the larger war effort, and his claimed knowledge that the troops under his command wanted to try another attack. All were valid considerations on some level, but Hills objects most to the last for its apparent speciousness. Though the chapter provides some evidence that individual soldiers expressed serious reservations about participating in further frontal attacks against Vicksburg's earthworks, one would really have to delve at much greater depth into letter and journal material written between May 19 and 22 to come to any useful conclusion on the matter.

Steven Woodworth's following chapter closely examines the May 22 fighting on McClernand's front, focusing chiefly on the fighting at Railroad Redoubt. It is an excellent account, easily the most detailed micro-level treatment of the various military actions addressed in the book. Concerning McClernand's role directing the attack, Woodworth is much more critical than Hills. Although correctly seeing Railroad Redoubt as the key enemy position on his front, McClernand nevertheless spread his available strength (seven brigades) evenly over all three objectives, assigning two brigades each to Railroad Redoubt, Square Fort, and 2nd Texas Lunette along with one brigade in overall reserve. Woodworth also astutely observes that McClernand further erred by assigning the brigade pairings to different divisions, an order that made command and control unnecessarily more difficult. Differing from the previous essay, Woodworth is much less censorious than Hills regarding both Grant's alleged lateness in dispatching reinforcements (Quinby's Division of McPherson's Corps) and the conduct of Quinby himself. Due to considerations of terrain and distance, it is doubtful that any reinforcements could have arrived at the critical moment. Rather than blaming Grant and Quinby for an alleged lack of timely and effective support, Woodworth emphasizes McClernand's misuse of Quinby's division, which arrived at 4 pm and was promptly broken up. Instead of concentrating the entire division against Railroad Redoubt to exploit the minor lodgement achieved there, one brigade was directed to  reinforce the stalled attacks against all three corps objectives. In line with the consensus of the Grant circle and most historians today, Woodworth maintains that McClernand's exaggeration of his gains as expressed in his urgent dispatches to Grant resulted in a large and unnecessary increase in casualties. In the writer's view, McClernand's failure to confirm the erroneous claims of his subordinate at the redoubt, who had only a limited perspective, before passing the information on to Grant was a serious error in judgment but not a willful attempt to deceive. In the end, Woodworth is persuasive in arguing that the scale of reinforcements necessary to have any chance of achieving a clear breakthrough (something on the order of two full divisions) could not have been marshaled before the Confederates were offered, in turn, ample time to meet them with their own reserves.

Indeed, Confederate reserves were well placed by army commander John C. Pemberton, and Brandon Franke's essay examines the key role Waul's Texas Legion played in ejecting Union troops from their tenuous foothold in and around Railroad Redoubt. The Legion's actions, in conjunction with those of surrounding units, essentially ensured that no breakthrough would be possible on May 22. In addition to providing details about the fighting on that day not present in the Hills and Woodworth essays, the chapter also serves as a fine summary of the Legion's participation in the campaign as a whole.

The final essay from Charles Grear transports the reader from the fighting front to the home front, examining along the way the popular reaction of the citizens of the Old Northwest to the failed assaults at Vicksburg. With those states supplying the vast majority of troops in Grant's army, it should come as no surprise that press attention in the region was focused overwhelmingly on events in Mississippi rather than the next round of bloody campaigning in the East. Predictably, after some initial misgivings the pro-war newspapers emphasized the overall success of the campaign, with the failed assaults simply a temporary setback in the reopening of the Mississippi River to western commerce. On the other hand, the most fervently anti-war Democratic organs decried Grant's indifference (in their view) to the lives of his men in pursuit of the administration's abolitionist war aims. Even so, as the siege progressed, criticism of Grant's conduct of the lengthening campaign would emerge periodically on both sides of the ideological divide. The political reaction to bloody battles with no discernible gain was always going to be variable, but according to Grear the most common public reaction to the failed May attacks was one of support for the soldiers. This was expressed through mass donations of food, supplies, and medical aid to the men serving at the front as well as those languishing in army hospitals.

By nature, subject coverage in essay anthologies is more topically arranged than comprehensive, but the book can still perhaps be criticized for how much the Thirteenth Corps attack on May 22 dominates the overall discussion. McClernand's assault, and even more particularly the fighting at Railroad Redoubt, gets the lion's share of the attention in Hill's second chapter and practically all of it in the Woodworth and Franke essays. This is understandable. However, while the Railroad Redoubt was where Union forces made their deepest penetration on either day and spawned by far the most enduring and interesting questions, one could still argue that the fighting there is overrepresented in the collection. But that's a relatively minor issue. The most significant problem with the book is the inadequate map coverage, even for the mid-level detail presented in most places in the text. In the drawings that accompany the first two essays, no unit below corps level on the Union side and division level for the Confederates is labeled, nor are some of the targeted geographical features prominently mentioned in the text. It gets somewhat better in the following essay but even then there are clear areas of disagreement between map and text. For example, Woodworth talks about the two wings of the 22nd Iowa being widely divided by the attack on Railroad Redoubt yet the accompanying map shows the 21st Iowa as the divided regiment. Also, while the text clearly states that the 77th Illinois formed on the left of the 22nd Iowa the map places them well to the Iowan right.

Those reservations aside, the essay collection offers more than enough useful contributions to the Vicksburg Campaign historiography to make the book well worthy of recommendation. In recent years, SIU Press has become the preeminent publisher of Vicksburg-related military studies, and one looks forward to future volumes from them addressing that still very much open area of study.

* - See also The Vicksburg Campaign, March 29–May 18, 1863 (2013) [CWBA review]. As the title indicates, the earlier anthology addresses the entire campaign leading up to the May 19 and 22 assaults. You can read the full list of planned series titles here. Future Vicksburg volumes will continue with the siege and also backtrack to fill in earlier phases of the campaign.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Booknotes: Lee's Body Guards

New Arrival:
Lee's Body Guards: The 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry by Michael C. Hardy (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Press).

In addition to being headquarters guards for the Army of Northern Virginia, the four companies that made up the 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry performed vital service in a staff support role. Michael Hardy's Lee's Body Guards: The 39th Virginia Cavalry tells the story of these men, who were "cavalrymen specifically recruited to serve as scouts, couriers and guides for General Robert E. Lee."

From the description: "Though their battle experiences might pale compared to those of soldiers under J.E.B. Stuart and Wade Hampton, the men of the 39th Virginia served crucial roles in the Confederate army. From the fields of Second Manassas to Appomattox Court House, they were privy to the inner workings of the Confederate high command. They were also firsthand witnesses to the army's victories and triumphs and to its tragedies and trials, from losing Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville to losing the opportunity to win the war at Gettysburg."

The book's treatment of the battalion's service history, which began in Fall 1862 and ended with the Appomattox surrender, runs roughly 90 pages of narrative. Hardy's study also includes a detailed roster (75 pages) organized alphabetically by name.