Thursday, October 17, 2019

Booknotes: Yank and Rebel Rangers

New Arrival:
Yank and Rebel Rangers: Special Operations in the American Civil War by Robert W. Black (Pen & Sword, 2019).

Yank and Rebel Rangers discusses Civil War individuals and units who conducted what we might today call "special operations." From the description: "Both the Union and the Confederacy employed small forces of bold and highly motivated soldiers for special operations behind enemy lines. Skilled in infiltration—sometimes disguising themselves as rural mail carriers—these warriors deftly scouted deep into enemy territory, captured important personnel, disrupted lines of communication and logistics, and sowed confusion and fear. Often wearing the uniform of the enemy, they faced execution as spies if captured. Despite these risks, and in part because of them, these warriors fought and died as American rangers."

There are thirteen Confederate chapters and ten Union chapters. Each chapter appears to be a standalone essay, primarily descriptive in nature. Just to name a few prominent examples from each side, Confederate coverage includes overviews of the operations of units like the Moccasin Rangers, Iron Scouts, and White's Comanches while the actions of the Blazer Scouts, Jessie Scouts, and Loudoun Rangers are represented in the Union section. With the bibliography consisting of a selection of book-length secondary works, unit histories, and a handful of newspapers (all supplemented by the O.R.), it's probably fair to characterize the study in the main as a synthesis of the published literature.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Review - "Hidden History of Civil War Williamsburg" by Carson Hudson

[Hidden History of Civil War Williamsburg by Carson O. Hudson, Jr. (Arcadia Publishing & The History Press, 2019). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:159/238. ISBN:978-1-4671-4293-9. $21.99]

Carson Hudson's Hidden History of Civil War Williamsburg is a revised and expanded edition of his 2016 book Yankees in the Streets: Forgotten People and Stories of Civil War Williamsburg. Not a narrative account, the volume instead consists of a sizable compilation (nearly three dozen in number) of chapter-length wartime anecdotes, episodes, and biographical features sourced from a suitably diverse collection of book, article, newspaper, and manuscript materials. Though several high-profile events and historical figures are addressed, the author's attention is aimed more toward exploring lesser-known aspects of the town's Civil War history.

In keeping with the "hidden history" focus of the book and series, the most significant single event associated with the town's Civil War history—the May 5, 1862 Battle of Williamsburg—is only tangentially addressed at various places. The town of Williamsburg disappears from most general narratives after the early part of the Peninsula Campaign, but this book largely concerns itself with the 1862-65 period when the town was under almost continuous Union occupation. Lying along the western edge of the Union Department of Virginia, Williamsburg and environs were frequently visited by Confederate troops, both regular and irregular, during this time. Such military episodes are covered in the book, as is the 1863 Wistar Raid on Richmond that was launched from the surrounding area.

Due to their living in close proximity to the no-man's land separating Union and Confederate lines, the town's residents found their lives, occupations, and trade relationships strictly regulated. The Emancipation Proclamation created another border straddled by town and residents, with the dividing line between exempt and non-exempt Virginia counties running right through the heart of Williamsburg. 

Many buildings in and around Williamsburg served as military hospitals for the sick and wounded, and refugees from other parts of Peninsula were also housed in the town. The book also shows how the Eastern State Lunatic Asylum became a bit of an oasis for locals, as the institution's staff and temporary occupants found themselves mostly protected from the harshest aspects of Union military rule. In addition to relating the stories of generals, common soldiers, and units that passed through Williamsburg during the war, the actions and experiences of many local residents of various occupations and dueling loyalties (including spies, doctors, nurses, and traders) are recounted in the book.

Visual aids of various kinds are a key feature of all books from this publisher, and the volume is filled with photographs and other illustrations. Hudson's work also possesses substantial reference value. Contained in the appendix section are a list of town residents from the 1860 census; a roster of the Williamsburg Junior Guard company; Union and Confederate orders of battle for the May 5 fight; a list of Medal of Honor recipients and citations from the battle; and more discussion of army hospitals, historical maps, and emancipation.

Hidden History of Civil War Williamsburg is an informative work of local history that will appeal to those readers whose curiosity extends beyond the town's much more celebrated Colonial past. Elements of the book should also prove useful for those working in occupation studies, a branch of Civil War history that has garnered an increasing share of scholarly attention in recent years.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Booknotes: Decisions at Gettysburg, Second Edition

New Arrival:
Decisions at Gettysburg: The Twenty Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle, Second Edition by Matt Spruill (UT Press, 2019).

Published in 2011, Matt Spruill's Decisions at Gettysburg was the progenitor of University of Tennessee Press's Command Decisions in America’s Civil War series, which did not formally launch until 2018. That original volume has now been revised and republished as Decisions at Gettysburg: The Twenty Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle, Second Edition. The new version, which is now the seventh installment in the series, "updates the nineteen critical decisions, adding a twentieth decision, and aligns the book with others in the Command Decisions in America’s Civil War series."

From the description: "Decisions at Gettysburg, second edition, further defines the critical decisions made by Confederate and Union commanders throughout the battle. Matt Spruill examines the decisions that prefigured the action and shaped the course of battle as it unfolded. Rather than a linear history of the battles, Spruill’s discussion of the critical decisions presents readers with a vivid blueprint of the battle’s development. Exploring the critical decisions in this way allows the reader to progress from a sense of what happened in these battles to why they happened as they did." I don't have a copy of the first edition for comparison, but the second edition clearly possesses the series's standardized format of critical decision analysis.

There are ten maps in total, which is a number considerably less than that found inside the typical series volume (I am thinking these are first edition carryovers), but Decisions at Gettysburg does have the modern photographic views of the battlefield that are characteristic of Spruill's books but absent from the works of other contributors. In addition to dozens of officer images, there are three order of battle diagrams in the main text and a pair of more extensive, formal OBs for both armies in the appendix section. Of the twenty critical decisions examined, one is strategic, three operational, fourteen tactical, and two organizational. Balance is eight Union vs. twelve Confederate, with eight being army-level decisions, six corps level, three division level, and three brigade level.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Book News: The Second Colorado Cavalry

The Second Colorado Cavalry is another Civil War regiment that served with distinction on the geographical fringes of the conflict and has long deserved a standalone unit study. Organized in October 1863 through a consolidation of the Second and Third Colorado infantry regiments, the Second Colorado Cavalry guarded the western overland trails, combated guerrillas along the Missouri-Kansas border, and played a prominent role in repelling Sterling Price's Confederate expedition into Missouri and Kansas in late 1864. Christopher Rein's upcoming The Second Colorado Cavalry: A Civil War Regiment on the Great Plains (OU Press, Feb '20) "is the first in-depth history of this regiment operating at the nexus of the Civil War and the settlement of the American West."

From the description: "Composed largely of footloose ’59ers who raced west to participate in the gold rush in Colorado, the troopers of the Second Colorado repelled Confederate invasions in New Mexico and Indian Territory before wading into the Burned District along the Kansas border, the bloodiest region of the guerilla war in Missouri."

The Second was also one of those volunteer regiments that stayed in active service through much of the remaining year in the frontier west before being replaced by the new regular regiments. "In 1865, the regiment moved back out onto the Plains, applying what it had learned to peacekeeping operations along the Santa Fe Trail, thus definitively linking the Civil War and the military conquest of the American West in a single act of continental expansion."

More from the description: "Emphasizing the cavalry units, whose mobility proved critical in suppressing both Confederate bushwhackers and Indian raiders, Rein tells the neglected tale of the “fire brigade” of the Trans-Mississippi Theater—a group of men, and a few women, who enabled the most significant environmental shift in the Great Plains’ history: the displacement of Native Americans by Euro-American settlers, the swapping of bison herds for fenced cattle ranges, and the substitution of iron horses for those of flesh and bone."

It is gratifying to see more of these obscure yet historically significant multi-duty units getting more attention in the published literature. I know that many Trans-Mississippi Civil War students have been clamoring for a Second Colorado regimental history for a long time.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Booknotes: "The Civil War, Vol. 1: The 3D Experience"

New Arrival:
The Civil War, Vol. 1: The 3D Experience by Ingo Bauernfeind (Bauernfeind Press, 2018).

3-D viewing was popular during the Civil War period using stereograph cards consisting of side-by-side photographic images that were examined through a special device. Ingo Bauernfeind's The Civil War, Vol. 1: The 3D Experience uses the process much more familiar to modern audiences, one that converts photographic images into anaglyphs that are in turn viewed through glasses with red and blue lenses.

Bauernfeind's book is an 8" x 11" paperback organized around a timeline of selected Civil War events from Lincoln's election through the end of the war. When opened, the left side typically contains one or two of those events (with a 'regular' photograph attached to each along with some brief descriptive text). Opposite to that, on the right side, is a nearly full-page anaglyph (also captioned) viewable through the 3D glasses provided with the book. It looks like there are around 90 in number. Most of the 3D images are military in nature depicting camp scenes, fortifications, batteries, ships, battlefield landscapes and casualties, military hospitals, field burial sites, and more.

The author's introduction briefly discusses Civil War photography and the development of 3D imagery. NPS Chief Historian Robert Sutton writes the preface and is additionally interviewed inside  about the Sesquicentennial as well as the Civil War in general (the Q&A is placed at the end of the book).

Although the distributor lists it as a 2018 title (so I went with that date), the volume is a "Sesquicentennial Edition" that only indicates a 2013 copyright date in the front matter.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Booknotes: William Gregg's Civil War

New Arrival:
William Gregg's Civil War: The Battle to Shape the History of Guerrilla Warfare edited by Joseph M. Beilein, Jr. (UGA Press, 2019).

Even though it was completed under less than ideal conditions in 1906 when the writer was an old man, William H. Gregg's memoir of his Civil War experiences as a notorious bushwhacker remains a valuable record of events in Missouri and Kansas as witnessed by a close associate of William C. Quantrill. "Whether it was the origins of Quantrill’s band, the early warfare along the border, the planning and execution of the raid on Lawrence, Kansas, the Battle of Baxter Springs, or the dissolution of the company in early 1864, Gregg was there as a participant and observer." Edited by Missouri guerrilla conflict historian Joseph Beilein, William Gregg's Civil War: The Battle to Shape the History of Guerrilla Warfare contains the Gregg memoir along with other documents and features that should be of interest to students and scholars of the subject matter.

In addition to annotating Gregg's personal account (which runs 32 pages in the book, with 10 more pages of addenda), Beilein "also includes correspondence between Gregg and William E. Connelley, a historian. Connelley was deeply affected by the war and was a staunch Unionist and Republican. Even as much of the country was focusing on reunification, Connelley refused to forgive the South and felt little if any empathy for his Southern peers. Connelley’s relationship with Gregg was complicated and exploitive. Their bond appeared mutually beneficial, but Connelley manipulated an old, weak, and na├»ve Gregg, offering to help him publish his memoir in exchange for Gregg’s inside information for a biography of Quantrill."

The editor also contributes a lengthy introduction that discusses the origins of the Gregg memoir while also offering extensive historiographical context for it.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Review - "Decisions of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign: The Twenty-Seven Critical Decisions That Defined the Operation" by Larry Peterson

[Decisions of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign: The Twenty-Seven Critical Decisions That Defined the Operation by Larry Peterson (University of Tennessee Press, 2019) Softcover, maps, photos, appendix section, notes, bibliography, index. Pages:xvii,195. ISBN:978-1-62190-519-6. $29.95]

Decisions of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign: The Twenty-Seven Critical Decisions That Defined the Operation is the sixth installment in University of Tennessee Press's rapidly expanding Command Decisions in America's Civil War series. The list of contributing authors is continually expanding, and this particular volume is Larry Peterson's third [see also his Chattanooga and Atlanta titles].

For those unfamiliar with these books, the basic definition of a "critical" decision as first established by series creator Matt Spruill has remained consistent over the course of the six volumes. It can be articulated as an apex decision that shapes "not only the events immediately following it but also the events from that point on" (xii). Analysis of critical decisions progresses through five areas with the subheadings Situation, Options, Decision, Results/Impact, and Alternate Scenario. Situation, the initial and typically lengthiest part of each decision analysis, describes the state of affairs at a key crossroads moment in the campaign. It provides readers with the background information necessary to recognize and evaluate the enumerated decision Options (in this case up to five in number) that immediately follow. The historical Decision is then outlined very briefly before the Results/Impact section recounts what happened and shows readers how those results shaped ensuing events. The Situation and Results/Impact sections frequently reference earlier decisions in a meaningful way, providing further evidence and vivid reminder that truly critical decisions have cascading consequences over a long campaign like this one. Each decision also has an Alternate Scenario section that delves into reasonable alternative history conjecture(s) based on one or more interesting choices not made. In the appendix section is another consistent series component, the driving tour. In this case, ten tour spots associated with the critical decision analysis can be visited. In support of both main text and appendix are 22 maps (11 historical military maps and 11 modern tour maps, all original creations by Alex Mendoza). Also included are orders of battle for both armies.

Though the general format remains the same for every series title, it is apparent that individual authors have been granted a small degree of freedom to vary content structure. As was the case with Atlanta, Peterson's Kentucky volume shifts emphasis from battle decisions to campaign decisions (note the subtitle change in both books from decisions that defined the "battle" to those that defined the "operation"). Though there are tactical-level decisions examined in the book, including several battlefield decisions related to the Confederate victory at Richmond, any related to Perryville are omitted by design, with the author raising the possibility that those might be covered in a separate volume sometime in the future.

The Kentucky Campaign volume shares the same range of six critical decision types offered in the author's earlier Atlanta Campaign title, classified here again as "strategic, tactical, organizational, operational, logistical, and personnel." (xiii). The book's 27 decisions are further subdivided into six campaign time frames beginning with the campaign's original conception and ending with Bragg's largely uncontested retreat from the state. Of the total number of decisions examined in the book, thirteen are strategic, seven tactical, two organizational, two operational, one logistical, and finally three are related to personnel appointments. That distribution supports the notion that early, high-level decisions did most to shape the character of the campaign (and for the Confederates formed key sources of their ultimate failure).

Although the author seems a bit more sanguine that most regarding Bragg's opportunities for achieving strategic success in Kentucky, Peterson is almost certainly correct that the Confederate failure to establish a unified command structure (an almost inexplicable blunder with responsibility primarily placed at the feet of President Davis but also shared by generals Bragg and Kirby Smith) practically doomed the campaign from the start. On the Union side, Buell's decision to not confront the Confederates early in the campaign allowed the initiative to pass to the enemy. Buell's initial actions would aid the Confederates by partially mitigating the negative effects of their divided command structure. In effect, the Union commander's reactive approach also set up the loss of both the Munfordville post defenders and nearly an entire division at Richmond.

The book has the novelty of including a shared critical decision for the first time in the series, but for this operation in particular the author might also have considered the opportunity to expand the critical decision concept beyond those made by individual commanders and political leaders. The collective decision of the proslavery Kentucky population to not support the Confederate invasion is arguably the critical decision that most affected the outcome of the campaign. Prominent Kentucky Confederates convinced the high command that large masses of Bluegrass citizens were ready to lift the yoke of Union oppression and needed only the presence of a large Confederate army to support a popular uprising that would fill Rebel ranks with untold thousands of eager volunteers. The fact that the determination among Kentuckians to remain loyal to the Union was already solidified more than a year before the invasion does argue against its inclusion as a critical decision that specifically shaped the 1862 operation, but the issue remains that the combined Confederate armies of Bragg and Kirby Smith made their own decisions under entirely false assumptions and expectations stemming from it.

In the end, if you liked Larry Peterson's other contributions to the series then you'll surely want to pick up a copy of Decisions of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign, which employs the same style and approach.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Booknotes: Colonels in Blue - Missouri and the Western States and Territories

New Arrival:
Colonels in Blue - Missouri and the Western States and Territories: A Civil War Biographical Dictionary by Roger D. Hunt (McFarland, 2019).

I've been out of town for the past two weeks and a bunch of new books (at least nine) arrived during that time, so I have some catching up to do in the Booknotes category. I had some prearranged posts ready to go so the site wouldn't go completely dark during the break but basically only did comment approval while I was away. I'm just now getting back into the swing of things.

Roger Hunt's Colonels in Blue series (now seven volumes in size) is a valuable biographical registry of Union officers who did not progress beyond the rank of colonel during the war. Colonels in Blue - Missouri and the Western States and Territories has chapters covering the states of Missouri, Arkansas, California, Kansas, Louisiana, Oregon, and Texas along with the territories of Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, and Washington. Given that geographical lineup, I would imagine that this volume has more obscure figures per page than any other book in the series.

Individual entries include (if known) a brief Civil War service history, birth and death date and place, occupation(s), any public offices/honors, educational background, burial place, a miscellaneous section, and reference list. An abundance of photographs, many apparently published for the first time, are also provided.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Coming Soon (Oct '19 Edition)

*NEW RELEASES* Scheduled for October 2019:
Colonels in Blue - Missouri and the Western States and Territories: A Civil War Biographical Dictionary by Roger Hunt.
An Everlasting Circle: Letters of the Haskell Family of Abbeville, South Carolina, 1861-1865 edited by Karen Stokes.
Decisions at Gettysburg: The Twenty Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle by Matt Spruill.
Lincoln's Informer: Charles A. Dana and the Inside Story of the Union War by Carl Guarneri.
American Zouaves, 1859-1959: An Illustrated History by Daniel Miller.
Liberty and Slavery: European Separatists, Southern Secession, and the American Civil War by Neils Eichhorn.
Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862, the Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History by Gary Clayton Anderson.
Vicksburg: Grant's Campaign That Broke the Confederacy by Donald Miller.
Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War by S.C. Gwynne.
Mississippi Bishop William Henry Elder and the Civil War by Ryan Starratt.

Comments: Of the titles from this list that haven't been profiled already through past Book News postings, the Anderson book is the most highly anticipated. I am always up for reading another scholarly contribution to the 1862-65 Dakota War literature. The description reveals certain areas of focus, but I will be keen to discover how it sets itself apart from the host of other titles available. As far as I can tell, Vicksburg is Donald Miller's first Civil War title. I have no firsthand knowledge of his other military history works (all WW2 related it seems) that might help form any expectations about the nature of it, but the publisher does typically target a more popular audience with its history titles.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Book News: Commonwealth of Compromise

Kentucky tends to overshadow Missouri in book and essay discussions of Civil War remembrance and commemoration in the Border States, or at least that's my impression. The Confederate identity popularly forged in Kentucky during the postwar period belied its wartime experience, when it provided critical military and political support to the Union cause that was vastly disproportionate to that supplied to the other side by the state's minority pro-Confederate faction. This turn of events eventually led to historian E. Merton Coulter's famous remark, oft repeated in the literature, that the state waited until after the war to secede. Was this also the case in Missouri?  Many antebellum Missourians came to refer to themselves as westerners rather than northerners or southerners, wishing to avoid direct participation in the divisive national politics of the day in favor of forging a politically moderate (albeit proslavery) western identity that would carry the torch of shared continental expansion. Then southern secession and Civil War threw those lofty aspirations of peaceable cooperation into disarray.

Attempting to answer the many questions surrounding how Missourians remembered the war is Amy Laurel Fluker's upcoming Commonwealth of Compromise: Civil War Commemoration in Missouri (Univ. of Missouri Press, May 2020). In it, Fluker "offers a history of Civil War commemoration in Missouri, shifting focus away from the guerrilla war and devoting equal attention to Union, African American, and Confederate commemoration. She provides the most complete look yet at the construction of Civil War memory in Missouri, illuminating the particular challenges that shaped Civil War commemoration."

Fluker's book will also highlight the unique features of Civil War commemoration in Missouri. "As a slaveholding Union state on the Western frontier, Missouri found itself at odds with the popular narratives of Civil War memory developing in the North and the South. At the same time, the state’s deeply divided population clashed with one another as they tried to find meaning in their complicated and divisive history. As Missouri’s Civil War generation constructed and competed to control Civil War memory, they undertook a series of collaborative efforts that paved the way for reconciliation to a degree unmatched by other states."

More from the description: "Understanding this process lends informative context to contemporary debates about Civil War memory. Acts of Civil War commemoration have long been controversial and were never undertaken for objective purposes, but instead served to transmit particular values to future generations."

Friday, September 27, 2019

Booknotes: Too Useful to Sacrifice

New Arrival:
Too Useful to Sacrifice: Reconsidering George B. McClellan’s Generalship in the Maryland Campaign from South Mountain to Antietam by Steven R. Stotelmyer
(Savas Beatie, 2019).

McClellan revisionism will seemingly always have a steep hill to climb when it comes to even scratching, let alone cracking, the hardened edifice of negative opinion related to the general's army leadership and politics. Proponents range from those who just want to give McClellan a fair shake in the historiography to those who truly believe him to have been one of the war's great captains. I still think Ethan Rafuse, whose views I place closer to the former end of that spectrum, has written the best McClellan book of any kind. I obviously haven't read his book yet, but I would guess that Steven Stotelmyer would also situate himself somewhere in the middle. His book Too Useful to Sacrifice: Reconsidering George B. McClellan’s Generalship in the Maryland Campaign from South Mountain to Antietam seeks to explode a host of what the author sees as key myths and misconceptions about the campaign and McClellan's role in it.

The book is essentially a collection of five interpretive essays. The first discusses a variety of hotly debated topics related to Lee's Special Orders No. 191. The next chapter attempts to reframe the discussion of the affect of the South Mountain battle on the course of the campaign and elevate the fighting there from its traditional secondary position. The third essay addresses criticism of the Union pursuit of Lee's army as it fell back from South Mountain to its next defensive position behind Antietam Creek. Chapter Four examines how the political firestorm against General Porter stemming from his actions at Second Bull Run affected how history would assess both the McClellan-Porter relationship and the role of the reserves at Antietam. Finally, Chapter Five deals with the Army of the Potomac's post-Antietam pursuit of Lee and the subsequent decision by the Lincoln administration to remove McClellan from command.

From the description: "Utilizing extensive primary documents and with a keen appreciation for the infrastructure of the nineteenth century Maryland terrain, Stotelmyer deeply explores these long-held beliefs, revealing that often the influence of political considerations dictated military decision-making, and the deliberate actions of the Lincoln Administration behind McClellan’s back resulted in bringing about many of the general’s supposed shortcomings. As readers will soon discover, Lincoln did not need to continue searching for a capable commander; he already had one."

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Review - "'May God have Mercy on Us.': The Twenty Days of the Cane River Campaign in Louisiana" by Nash, Taylor, and Whitington

["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). Softcover, 10 maps, photos, illustrations, footnotes, site tour, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:123/152. ISBN:978-1-9393063-2-6. $18.95]

The 1864 Red River Campaign encompassing two widely separated fronts in Arkansas and Louisiana was the largest military operation conducted in the Trans-Mississippi during the Civil War. Even without incorporating the political and economic elements that are critical to understanding the campaign's inception, it would be a struggle for any author to comprehensively cover its numerous skirmishes and battles within a single volume of any depth. Yet the middling-sized collection of major secondary works associated with the Red River Campaign consists of little more than that. Though only an overview itself, Ludwell Johnson's pioneering Red River Campaign: Politics and Cotton in the Civil War (1958) remains the standard campaign history. Modern successor works from the likes of Gary Joiner, Henry Robertson, Michael Forsyth, William Brooksher, and others offer even more concise narratives, though most add useful bits and pieces of new information and alternate interpretations of interest. While survey histories are abundant, the current collection of book-length Red River operational and battle studies remains in a pitiable state of incompleteness in no way commensurate with the campaign's scale and significance. So a book like Weldon Nash, John Taylor, and Mitchel Whitington's "May God have Mercy on Us.": The Twenty Days of the Cane River Campaign in Louisiana will immediately grab the attention of students wishing to learn more about the retreat phase of the Red River operation. Recounting the retrograde movement of the Union army in Louisiana from Grand Ecore to Alexandria, their study freshly focuses on a sequence of events believed by many at the time to have been a great lost opportunity for the Confederates to achieve a victory of strategic dimensions.

From April 10 to 27, the interval between the conclusion of the Battle of Pleasant Hill and the "escape" of Nathaniel Bank's army from its isolated position within the inland island formed by the Red and Cane rivers, constant rearguard skirmishing occurred and two battles (Blair's Landing and Monett's Ferry) were fought. Though the book covers land and naval military actions from that roughly three-week period on a day-by-day basis, the primary selling point of the study is its coverage of the Battle of Monett's Ferry. Though a quick perusal of the Red River library reveals slightly broader handling than the "only a paragraph or two" treatments claimed to be typical, this study's chapter-length account of Monett's Ferry, while still not exhaustive in nature, does indeed have small-unit depth that surpasses the rest.

Basically, the pursuing Confederates under Richard Taylor had the bulk of General Banks's army hemmed in on the Cane River island in front, flank, and rear by a thin screen of mostly cavalry. Confederate general Hamilton Bee held the most important blocking position atop the heights overlooking Monett's Ferry, a choke point that represented the only major Cane River crossing suitable for wheeled traffic. However, as so often proved providential during the war, a local slave showed Banks the location of a low-water ford that would allow him to outflank Bee's heavily outnumbered defenders. The small force Banks sent across the river on the flanking mission quickly surprised and drove back Bee's weakly defended left flank, leading Bee to abandon the ferry crossing altogether. With Monett's Ferry uncovered, Banks effected an uncontested crossing of Cane River and continued his retreat to Alexandria.

In the wake of Monett's Ferry, press and army criticism of the already lowly regarded Bee was harsh. Taylor in particular believed that Bee's position was strong enough to have been held indefinitely. For the rest of his days, Taylor maintained that only Bee's spineless incompetence prevented the wholesale surrender of Banks's army. On the other hand, modern writers and historians (including the three co-authors of this study) have reassessed the controversial Cane River mythology with far greater objectivity and a much clearer knowledge of the military situation on the ground. Their publications generally present a more sympathetic appreciation of the long odds faced by Bee's command. Even though Bee can be justly criticized for being inflexible and slow to react to the Union assault on his left, most (and probably all) writers agree that Banks would have forced a crossing one way or another in the low-water conditions present at the time. Contrary to some contemporary Confederate assertions, there's no evidence that the Union troops or their leaders were greatly demoralized by the retreat or panicked by the circumstances they found themselves in at Cane River. Though most of the worst criticisms leveled at Bee have little to support them, the general certainly didn't help his own case by essentially fleeing the front rather than sticking close by to further harass and slow the enemy. In the end, Nash, Taylor, and Whitington's analysis soundly reinforces the scholarly consensus that Monett's Ferry did not represent a golden opportunity to force the surrender of an entire Union field army and reshape the strategic balance in the West.

The volume is generously supplied with photos, maps, and figures. That all of the military maps are borrowed from earlier publications is not ideal, but they do convey a generally adequate picture of the Monett's Ferry battlefield and the geography of the larger campaign. Research consists mostly of published primary and secondary sources. A small number of unpublished diaries were accessed by the authors online, and while these were used effectively one can't help but surmise that some research effort in physical manuscript archives would have resulted in an even richer narrative.

"May God have Mercy on Us." is not definitive in its treatment of the Cane River episode, but it does represent a step forward in fleshing out the details of a major and frequently misunderstood component of the 1864 Red River Campaign.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Booknotes: Iron Maidens and the Devil's Daughters

New Arrival:
Iron Maidens and the Devil's Daughters: US Navy Gunboats versus Confederate Gunners and Cavalry on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, 1861-65 by Mark Zimmerman (Author-Zimco Publications, 2019).

Ship-versus-shore engagements between Confederate cavalry and Union gunboats were a common occurrence along western river systems. Especially when the element of surprise was maintained, direct attacks on gunboats using artillery and small arms frequently proved effective (particularly against the more lightly armored tinclads and timberclads). After fixed fortifications so often failed to block river passage against the combined might of the Union army and navy, the Confederates shifted gears and preyed upon the enemy's more vulnerable river supply lines using mobile batteries protected by cavalry. These types of actions and more are recounted in Mark Zimmerman's Iron Maidens and the Devil's Daughters: US Navy Gunboats versus Confederate Gunners and Cavalry on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, 1861-65.

From the description: "Through the use of period photographs and more than a dozen original battle maps, the author details the clashes between Federal gunboats, including ironclads, and Confederate cavalry on the twin rivers of invasion into the heartland. Explore the US river gunboat flotilla (its creation, its commanders, its vessels) and subsequent joint navy-army invasion of Middle Tennessee up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers."

A large number of ship v. cavalry engagements, both celebrated and lesser known ones, are described in the book. "Chapters cover the naval battles at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson and the remarkable and daring Phelps Raid; the capture of Clarksville and Nashville; the little-known first battle of Shiloh; the strange Duck River Affair; Federal counterinsurgency measures; convoy operations; and the brilliant raids of 1864 by Nathan Bedford Forrest, including Eastport, Paris Landing, Reynoldsburg Island, Johnsonville, and Bell's Bend."

More: "Especially noteworthy are the building and operations of the river fleet--timberclads, ironclads, tinclads, and river monitors. From the groundwork laid by Rodgers and Eads, to the amphibious operations of Grant and Foote, the raids by Phelps, the tinclad mosquito fleet of Fitch, to the Confederate warfare waged by Forrest, Kelley, and Wheeler, and the guerilla operations of McCann, Woodward, and Hinson, Iron Maidens and the Devil's Daughters explores these little-known fierce battles and skirmishes between Federal naval forces and the pride of Southern mounted infantry."

Friday, September 20, 2019

Guidebooks to Civil War Richmond?

In response to my 9/17 Booknotes entry for Stephen Ash's new urban study Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital, a reader asked me if I could recommend any book-length walking and/or driving tour guides to Civil War Richmond. You'd think there would have been several produced over the decades, but I couldn't come up with a single example offhand and my admittedly cursory online search came up empty. My correspondent dug deeper and discovered the out-of-print but still easily obtainable title General Lee's City: An Illustrated Guide to the Historical Sites of Confederate Richmond (1987) by Richard M. Lee.

So this leads to my question for the rest of you out there. Does anyone know of any other candidates? If so, please leave your response in the comments section. Thank you in advance.