Monday, November 11, 2019

Booknotes: Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America

New Arrival:
Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America by Thomas J. Brown (UNC Press, 2019).

It is quite the appropriate happenstance that this Booknotes entry appears on Veterans Day. A "sweeping new assessment of Civil War monuments unveiled in the United States between the 1860s and 1930s," Thomas Brown's Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America "argues that they were pivotal to a national embrace of military values." Given that the U.S. military establishment was consistently gutted to below even the minimal standards of a world power up through the mid-1930s, it is presumed that Brown is using the term "militarization" in a more restrained cultural context.

According to Brown, "Americans' wariness of standing armies limited construction of war memorials in the early republic,..., and continued to influence commemoration after the Civil War. As large cities and small towns across the North and South installed an astonishing range of statues, memorial halls, and other sculptural and architectural tributes to Civil War heroes, communities debated the relationship of military service to civilian life through fund-raising campaigns, artistic designs, oratory, and ceremonial practices. Brown shows that distrust of standing armies gave way to broader enthusiasm for soldiers in the Gilded Age. Some important projects challenged the trend, but many Civil War monuments proposed new norms of discipline and vigor that lifted veterans to a favored political status and modeled racial and class hierarchies."

The decades prior to the beginning of the Great War were a boon to Civil War monument construction, and Brown also notes that in the years following the return of American troops from Europe the country still looked to their Civil War past to inform how they would memorialize the 1917-18 experience of World War. In the end, "(a) half century of Civil War commemoration reshaped remembrance of the American Revolution and guided American responses to World War I."

Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America "provides the most comprehensive overview of the American war memorial as a cultural form and reframes the national debate over Civil War monuments that remain potent presences on the civic landscape."

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Captain Voigt's Company of Waul's Texas Legion

When I was putting together my recent review of Michael Steinman's Waul's Legion: History of the Texas Legion (2019), my online search for book-length topical antecedents uncovered a recent (and also self-published) company history. Going only by the very limited preview available through the following link, Wolfram M. Von-Maszewski's Captain Voigt's Company of Waul's Texas Legion (2017) looks like it might be a worthwhile use of the book fund.

From the description: "Robert Julius Voigt (1832-1866) emigrated from Germany to Texas in 1850. In Houston he became a founding member of the Houston Turn Verein, a German cultural and social organization and participated in its ceremonial and para-military organization. At the outbreak of the Civil War he joined a militia company in Austin County, Texas, that was composed of German-Texans. On the strength of his informal military training, he was elected captain. When the company volunteered to serve in the Confederate Army, his men again chose him as their captain. He took the responsibility seriously. Years later one of his soldiers recalled that Voigt took care of his men like a father. He was their spokesman as they served among an English-speaking population. In turn, the company was recognized for its military conduct and was entrusted with special assignments in Greenwood and Yazoo City, Mississippi."

The volume and diversity of sources referenced in the footnotes of the sample pages certainly gives the impression that serious, in-depth research is behind the project. It also does seem to support the assumption that more than enough primary source material exists to construct the richly detailed history of Waul's Legion that many students of the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters still seek. I'll report back if and when I get a hold of a copy.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Review - "Gettysburg's Coster Avenue: The Brickyard Fight and the Mural" by Mark Dunkelman

[Gettysburg's Coster Avenue: The Brickyard Fight and the Mural by Mark H. Dunkelman (Gettysburg Publishing, 2018). Softcover, map, photos, drawings, notes. Pp. 50. ISBN:978-0-9993049-1-4. $18.95]

The author or editor of six well-received books and numerous articles published about the men and exploits of the 154th New York, Mark Dunkelman is the modern voice of the regiment and chief custodian of its historical memory. Among the 154th's most trying Civil War experiences was its doomed July 1, 1863 defense of Kuhn's Brickyard on the northeastern outskirts of Gettysburg. The story of this action and the mural that Dunkelman (with artist and co-designer Johan Bjurman) created to commemorate it is the subject of Gettysburg's Coster Avenue: The Brickyard Fight and the Mural.

The first part of the book is a well composed overview of the "Brickyard Fight" between Col. Charles Coster's understrength brigade (the 154th NY flanked on either side by the 27th Pa and 134th NY) and an attacking pair of North Carolina and Louisiana brigades under Col. Isaac Avery and Brig. Gen. Harry Hays. After a brief but furious assault, Avery's Tar Heels and Hays's Tigers utterly smashed Coster's Brigade, overlapping both flanks and inflicting heavy casualties. The piece also discusses the erection decades later of the 154th's monument, with the nearby street renamed Coster Avenue in honor of the brigade's stand that some have credited with helping save Cemetery Hill from capture. Though Coster Avenue was not unknown to visitors, for many decades Gettysburg tourists as a whole typically skipped the Brickyard Fight site in favor of seeing those associated with famous July 2-3 events [ed. I'll reluctantly admit that I never went there during either of my 1990s visits to the battlefield]. Though July 1 events like the Brickyard Fight eventually received their just due in the literature, the Dunkelman-Bjurman mural preceded the publication of David Martin and Harry Pfanz's standard histories by a number of years and undoubtedly had a singularly positive effect on increased site visitation and wider recognition of what occurred there.

In engagingly personalized fashion, the second part of the book traces the story of the Coster Avenue mural from initial brainstorming and development of the 1977 concept sketches through the original 1988 dedication and subsequent 2001 and 2015 major restorations. Readers might justly wonder how oil canvases protected only by layers of varnish were expected to fare when fully exposed over time to both the seasonal elements in Pennsylvania and the predations of vandals. Surprisingly, the mural was never defaced, but, unsurprisingly, the weather slowly wreaked havoc with the first two versions. The book doesn't reveal how long the mural project was originally intended to last, but if permanency was the goal it quickly became clear that it would be far too costly to repaint and reseal the massive canvasses on a regular basis. Something new had to be done, and the elegant solution of paint on glass for the current 2015 version seems to have worked very well, with the only major drawback being the unavoidable surface glare.

As one would hope to find in an art discussion book, Dunkelman's slim 81/2" x 11" paperback is well stocked with illustrations. Dozens of archival and modern photographs (the latter in both color and B&W) are sprinkled about, and the map located at the back of the book clearly depicts both the historical clash at the Brickyard in some detail and the location of the battle site in relation to the modern street map of Gettysburg. The only major lament is the lack of a large-scale photographic representation of the mural in all its glory, something the volume's landscape format could have well facilitated over a series of pages. On the other hand, nothing can replace an actual visit to the site, and perhaps a little bit of mystery can provide some extra incentive to seek out the place in person.

A significant part of Gettysburg's visitor experience three decades on from its original installation, the Coster Avenue mural has finally received a fine history of its own.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Booknotes: The Second American Revolution

New Arrival:
The Second American Revolution: The Civil War-Era Struggle over Cuba and the Rebirth of the American Republic by Gregory P. Downs (UNC Press, 2019).

Long dominated by diplomatic studies of relations between the dueling Union and Confederacy and the great European powers of Britain and France, scholarly publications dealing with the international dimensions of the American Civil War in the Atlantic World and beyond have significantly expanded in number and scope. Gregory Downs's The Second American Revolution: The Civil War-Era Struggle over Cuba and the Rebirth of the American Republic joins other recent works in interpreting the American Civil War as not just a shooting war between North and South but a truly international conflict situated within a worldwide debate and struggle over republican revolution (both proslavery and antislavery), self-government, and the meaning of freedom.

Focusing his study's attention on the two-way traffic in influence and rhetoric between the United States and Cuban rebel movements before, during, and after the American Civil War, Downs see the ACW as "an international conflict of ideas as well as armies. Its implications transformed the U.S. Constitution and reshaped a world order, as political and economic systems grounded in slavery and empire clashed with the democratic process of republican forms of government. And it spilled over national boundaries, tying the United States together with Cuba, Spain, Mexico, Britain, and France in a struggle over the future of slavery and of republics."

In The Second American Revolution, the author "argues that we can see the Civil War anew by understanding it as a revolution. More than a fight to preserve the Union and end slavery, the conflict refashioned a nation, in part by remaking its Constitution. More than a struggle of brother against brother, it entailed remaking an Atlantic world that centered in surprising ways on Cuba and Spain. Downs introduces a range of actors not often considered as central to the conflict but clearly engaged in broader questions and acts they regarded as revolutionary. This expansive canvas allows Downs to describe a broad and world-shaking war with implications far greater than often recognized."

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Coming Soon (Nov '19 Edition)

*NEW RELEASES* Scheduled for November 2019:
Rhode Island's Civil War Dead: A Complete Roster by Robert Grandchamp.
Visions of Glory: The Civil War in Word and Image ed. by Kathleen Diffley & Benjamin Fagan.
The Visible Confederacy: Images and Objects in the Civil War South by Ross Brooks.
The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War: A History of the 12th Virginia Infantry from John Brown’s Hanging to Appomattox, 1859-1865 by John Horn.

Comments: I thought the November schedule would flesh itself out a bit the closer we got to it, but that clearly did not turn out to be the case. Slim pickings this month! I will most likely get only one or two of these, but there are still some October releases that haven't arrived yet.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Review - "Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part Five: 1864-1865" by Banasik & Banasik, eds.

[Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part Five: 1864-1865 edited by Michael E. Banasik & Brenda F. Banasik (Camp Pope Publishing, 2019). Paperback, 11 maps, photos, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 528 pp. ISBN:978-1-929919-89-5. $29.95]

Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part Five: 1864-1865 is the latest addition to Camp Pope Publishing's profoundly useful and important Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River series. Part Five of Volume VII also marks the conclusion of Michael and Brenda Banasik's editing of the Confederate collection of "Tales of the War" reminiscences first published in the St. Louis Missouri Republican between 1885 and 1887. It is no promotional exaggeration to say that the still-growing Unwritten Chapters series "probably constitutes the greatest single collection of primary material ever assembled on the Trans-Mississippi to date."

The first chapter of Part Five deals with the aftermath of the 1864 Camden Expedition in Arkansas, which ended with Union defeat and retreat but was costly in Confederate casualties during its final stage. Other articles in the section deal with late-war fighting along the Mississippi and White rivers. Most prominent of the events discussed by the "Tales of the War" writers are the Battle of Ditch Bayou and Jo Shelby's celebrated capture of the gunboat U.S.S. Queen City.

The next chapter continues to explore events related to the war's finishing strokes in the Trans-Mississippi, but its unique highlight is the trio of accounts dealing with the August 1865 murders in Mexico of Missouri Confederate general Mosby Monroe Parsons and his traveling companions. Their deaths remain shrouded in mystery, and the three historical articles along with the deeply researched editorial commentary in the footnotes offer readers multiple views and perspectives that together remind us that we will likely never know the complete truth about the bloody affair and its perpetrators.

While the 1864 Red River Campaign was a major focus of Part Four, Sterling Price's 1864 Missouri Expedition is the major military operation at the heart of Part Five. Based on his meticulous campaign diary, 10th Missouri cavalryman Henry Luttrell's third chapter article offers readers one of the most extensive eyewitness accounts available of the operation from beginning to end. A significant resource, Luttrell's memoir addresses aspects of nearly all major battles fought during the campaign, from Pilot Knob through Second Newtonia.

Last but not least, the book's fourth chapter deals with irregular operations, and its deep coverage of lesser-known actors associated with the guerrilla conflict greatly enhances its appeal and value to readers. While the figure of Sidney Drake Jackman is well recognized by most students of the war in Missouri (two articles, a biography of Jackman and Jackman's own account of his 1863 recruiting operations, are included), the other individuals featured in the chapter—Charles Harrison, James W. Cooper, and August Doley—are obscure or completely unknown to most. On a Confederate mission to Colorado, the purpose of which remains a subject of debate, Harrison and nearly his entire traveling party were killed by pro-Union Osages in Kansas. Cooper was a guerrilla who operated mostly in NW Arkansas, and his article describes his experiences over the second half of the war. Doley was a Confederate recruiter who was captured behind enemy lines and, like many of his compatriots (regularly commissioned or not) performing similar duty, executed.

A great deal of well-deserved skepticism is directed toward memoir-type materials, but "Tales" writers frequently employed research along with their own wartime documents to create articles with useful amounts of detail, specificity of dates, etc. Also, contributors to the series were mostly low-ranking officers and men without lofty public reputations to promote or protect (or prominent enemies to try to discredit).

As is the case with all volumes in the series, the book's many editorial features are invaluable supplements to the historical articles. Because article introductions and bridging narrative are not components of the book's format, those types of traditional editorial text are instead placed in the notes. It is often the case that the footnote section fills nearly the entire page with heavily-referenced historical context along with extensive descriptions of persons, places, and events mentioned in the associated article. The editors' wide-ranging research in primary and secondary sources includes a vast array of books, articles, government documents, newspapers, and manuscript materials of all kinds. The footnotes and appendix section alone are worth more than the book's purchase price.

Much of the volume's 200-page appendix section is focused on the 1864 Missouri Expedition. Inside are additional documents and editorial commentary; a collection of short biographies; an extensively annotated September 1864 Army of Missouri order of battle; orders of battle for Pilot Knob, Glasgow, and Westport; a reassessment of Confederate casualties at Mine Creek; and a quantitative summary of the results of the Missouri Expedition (more specifically, data and numbers regarding federal prisoners captured, arms and artillery lost and captured, Confederate prisoners lost, Confederate recruits gained, value and type of property destroyed or captured, and damage levels to the state's railroad network). Numbers and losses of all kinds are heavily documented and analysis of them results in many conclusions that challenge established interpretations. As just one example, the editors arrived at a range of initial effective troop numbers in Price's army that are as much as 50% higher than the traditionally accepted range of 10-12,000. Their manpower analysis, combined with their recruitment versus loss estimates over the course of the campaign, generally supports Walter Busch's revisionist determination (the product of a decade of records research by Fort Davidson park staff) that Price had over 20,000 fighting men at Westport.

The publication of Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part Five marks the completion of just one major phase of the massive effort on the part of Michael and Brenda Banasik to bring the St. Louis Missouri Republican articles the wider attention that they deserve. The editorial pair are now on to Union "Tales of the War," and in the coming years those will be just as highly anticipated.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Booknotes: Mark Twain's Civil War

New Arrival:
Mark Twain's Civil War: "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" by Mark Twain, edited by Benjamin Griffin (Heyday, 2019).

I last revisited Mark Twain's "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" back in 2010, having a little bit of fun with the writer's account of the 'battle' of Mason's Farm (particularly the cartography part of it). There's now a new edited version of Twain's story out in book form. Mark Twain's Civil War: "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" is the work of Benjamin Griffin, an editor with UC-Berkeley's Mark Twain Project. From the description: "Twenty years after Appomattox, Twain published a highly fictionalized account of his two-week stint in the Confederate Army. Ostensibly this told what he did (or, in his own words, why he “didn’t do anything”) in the war; but the article was criticized as disingenuous, and it did little to address a growing curiosity about the nature of his brief military service."

Though entertaining, the story sparked many questions about Twain's Civil War. "The complex political situation in Missouri during the early months of the war and Twain’s genius for transforming life into fiction have tended to obstruct historical understanding of “The Private History”; interpretations of Samuel Clemens’s enthusiastic enlistment, sedulous avoidance of combat, and abandonment of the rebellion have ranged from condemnation to celebration."

"Aided by Twain’s notes and correspondence―transcribed and published here for the first time―"Griffin, through his own extensive notes and scholarly commentary,"offers a new and cogent analysis, particularly of Clemens’s multiple revisions of his own war experience. In addition to including other illustrations, the book contains the Twain maps referenced in my 2010 post linked above. "A necessity for any Twain bookshelf, Mark Twain’s Civil War sheds light on a great writer’s changeable and challenging position on the deadliest of American conflicts." Sounds very interesting.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Booknotes: Johnsonville

New Arrival:
Johnsonville: Union Supply Operations on the Tennessee River and the Battle of Johnsonville, November 4-5, 1864 by Jerry T. Wooten (Savas Beatie, 2019).

The flow of materiel shipped to the Union logistics and supply center at Nashville was frequently interrupted by low water on the Cumberland River and enemy cavalry raids against the railroad lines feeding into the city. To ensure a more consistent supply chain, federal forces built a massive logistics complex on the banks of the Tennessee River at Johnsonville, which had its own direct rail line to the Tennessee capital. Former Johnsonville SHP Park Manager James Wooten's Johnsonville: Union Supply Operations on the Tennessee River and the Battle of Johnsonville, November 4-5, 1864 recounts the history of the place, discussing its significance to the Union war effort in the West as well as the audacious Confederate operation led by Nathan Bedford Forrest that successfully destroyed much of it in late 1864.

The only previous book-length treatment of the subject is Donald Steenburn's Silent Echoes of Johnsonville: Nathan B. Forrest, Rebel Cavalry & Yankee Gunboats [see my brief 2007 review]. In the twenty-five years since the publication of Steenburn's book, Wooten "unearthed a wealth of new material that sheds light on the creation and strategic role of the Union supply depot, the use of railroads and logistics, and its defense by U. S. Colored Troops. His study covers the emergence of a civilian town around the depot, and the role all of this played in making possible the Union victories with which we are all familiar."

As expected, the book contains a full-length account of the battle. More from the description: "On November 4-5, 1864, Forrest’s troopers attacked the depot and shelled the city, destroying tons of invaluable supplies. The complex land-water operation nearly wiped out the Johnsonville supply depot, severely disrupted Gen. George Thomas’s army in Nashville, and impeded his operations against John Bell Hood’s Confederate army."

With much of the existing work on Johnsonville, including Steenburn's book, focused on the battle and Forrest's raiding operation in West Tennessee, Wooten's study "peels back the decades to reveal significantly more on that battle as well as what life was like in and around the area for both military men and civilians."

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Booknotes: Mississippi Bishop William Henry Elder and the Civil War

New Arrival:
Mississippi Bishop William Henry Elder and the Civil War by Ryan Starrett (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Press, 2019).

The prosperous river city of Natchez was also the Catholic center of Mississippi, and in May 1857 Marylander William Henry Elder was appointed bishop of the diocese there. He would remain in Natchez for over two decades, with the war years of his early tenure the focus of Ryan Starratt's Mississippi Bishop William Henry Elder and the Civil War

During that strife-filled period, Elder "witnessed many of the pivotal moments of the Civil War--the capitulation of Natchez, the Siege of Vicksburg, the destruction of Jackson and the overall desolation of a state. And in the midst of the conflict, Bishop Elder went about his daily duties of baptizing, teaching, praying, preaching, performing marriages, confirming, comforting and burying the dead."

The footnotes indicate that the book is primarily constructed around the bishop's diary, which was locally published during the Centennial as Civil War Diary (1862-1865) of Bishop William Henry Elder, Bishop of Natchez. Supplementing the text are numerous photographs, artwork reproductions, and other illustrations. Beyond its biographical features, the book looks to be a useful resource for studying Civil War Natchez and mid-nineteenth century Catholic history in the state.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Review - "Waul's Legion: History of the Texas Legion" by Michael Steinman

[Waul's Legion: History of the Texas Legion by Michael Steinman (Author, 2019). Softcover, maps, diagrams, tables, roster, notes, bibliography. Pages:xiv,331/346. ISBN:978-1-4834-9606-1. $29.99]

The Union and Confederate volunteer armies shared the same basic top-to-bottom organization and unit types, but the Confederates in particular were most enamored, albeit briefly, with the concept of the legion, an all-arms formation that swiftly proved impractical to integrate into the rest of the army. The infantry, cavalry, and artillery components of legions typically did not go into action together as designed but were rather detached from one another at the front or before and reassigned to different formations that often ending up serving hundreds of miles apart from each other.

Legions came in a variety of strengths, and the one organized in Texas in early spring 1862 by Colonel Thomas Neville Waul was one of the larger ones, being initially composed of twelve infantry companies commanded by Lt. Col. B. Timmons, six mounted companies led by Lt. Col. L. Willis, and two (instead of the more typical one) artillery batteries led by captains W. Edgar and J.Q. Wall. Preceded only by Robert and Leif Hasskarl's rudimentary 1976 work Waul's Texas Legion, 1862-1865, Michael Steinman's Waul's Legion: History of the Texas Legion is only the second book-length study of the unit to appear in the literature. It is divided into four major parts: service history (50 pages), assignments and orders of battle (20 pages), biographical sketches (30 pages), and roster (200 pages).

The large dimensions of Steinman's book (an 81/2 x 11 inch softcover 346 pages in length) might lead a prospective reader to expect an extensive narrative history of the legion's Civil War service, but that isn't really the case. As indicated above, the service histories, which follow each of the infantry, cavalry, and artillery components across the Trans-Mississippi and western theaters, are basic overviews that together run around 50 pages. Though each branch of the legion participated in the 1862-63 Vicksburg Campaign, they did not actively serve together in the field. After the Vicksburg surrender, the paroled infantry reorganized back to Texas, where the two battalions were consolidated into what would be called Timmons's Regiment. There they defended the state's vulnerable coastline for the duration of the conflict. When the cavalry battalion (a.k.a. Willis's Texas Cavalry Battalion) was split off in October 1862, it was first assigned to William H. Jackson's command in North Mississippi. The battalion participated in the Holly Springs Raid and operated around the Vicksburg area over the first half of 1863 before being reassigned to Chalmers's Brigade of General Forrest's cavalry command. Over the next twelve months, the battalion fought in several raids and battles. including the Meridian Expedition, Fort Pillow, and Tupelo. It ended the war serving in the Gulf region. Edgar's Battery did not cross the Mississippi. Instead, it was attached to Walker's Texas Division and marched and fought all over Arkansas and Louisiana. Hogue's Battery (Company B) did cross into Mississippi with the rest of Legion. After its Vicksburg parole and exchange, it was disbanded in February 1864, the remaining men reassigned to the McMahan's Battery (2nd Texas Field Artillery). Being a bit more detailed, the cavalry section is arguably the strongest of the three parts, with the artillery the least developed. Supporting cartography (collected at the rear of the book) consists of a set of state maps with location labels for sites mentioned in the text.

As mentioned above, the service narratives are followed by the order of battle section. In it, the infantry, cavalry, and artillery formation and administrative assignments are arranged in tabular format by date. An organizational history of each company is next, with officer and NCO tables attached along with some brief text. The volume's collection of biographical sketches covers individuals that either served with the unit or were associated with it in some significant manner. Their ranks range from private soldiers on up to general officers. As is the case for most studies of this type, roster information was gleaned primarily from the CSRs. Entries typically include name, unit, enlistment date and location, rank, and miscellaneous remarks (the last often related to notes regarding death, discharge, transfer(s), surrender/parole, desertion, and illness).

Given the large number of officers and men that fought with Waul's Texas Legion and the wide breadth of their war service, there's little doubt that enough source material exists to produce a truly comprehensive narrative history of the unit's Civil War career. While readers will have to wait for another author to produce a work along those lines, Michael Steinman's multi-purpose study does provide an abundance of valuable reference tools to go along with its more outline-form history of the Legion's many campaigns and battles.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Dram Tree Books resurrected

I recently noticed online that some old Dram Tree titles are back in print. You might recall that the press published all manner of North Carolina history titles, including some fine Civil War books, before shutting its doors in 2010. Just off the top of my head, two Civil War volumes from Dram Tree that I still heartily recommend are Davis Norris's Potter's Raid: The Union Cavalry's Boldest Expedition in Eastern North Carolina (2008) and James Walker's Rebel Gibraltar: Fort Fisher and Wilmington, C.S.A. (2005).

Getting back to the reason for this post, I found a Wilmington Star News article [click here] from last summer announcing the revival of the press under a new partnership between original owner Jack Fryer and historian Chris Fonvielle. Hopefully, we'll see some more original Civil War histories from them. According to the article, planned releases so far include "a guide to North Carolina plantations, a guide to North Carolina historic sites, and a number of books for student readers on such topics as the 19th century Life Saving Service on the Tar Heel coast and on the 1861 battle of Fort Sumter."

It's nice to see a niche press with a proven record come back. Check out their new home page here.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Booknotes: An Everlasting Circle

New Arrival:
An Everlasting Circle: Letters of the Haskell Family of Abbeville, South Carolina, 1861-1865 edited by Karen Stokes (Mercer UP, 2019).

An Everlasting Circle: Letters of the Haskell Family of Abbeville, South Carolina, 1861-1865 presents the Civil War correspondence of seven Haskell brothers and their parents. As noted in the description, it is indeed an unusually expansive collection of family letters, the volume running well over four hundred pages.

"The Haskell brothers were literate, well-educated men, most of whom became officers highly regarded for their ability, courage, and character. Their letters are particularly strong in documenting the beginning days of the war in Charleston, as well as many significant battles in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. They also tell the love story of Alexander C. Haskell and his bride Decca Singleton, a poignant romance chronicled by Mary Chesnut in her famous diary."

The war was a trial for any mother, and with so many of her offspring in harm's way Sophia Haskell certainly had more than her share of worries and woes. "At the center of the story is Sophia Haskell, the mother whose unfailing love and Christian faith was a source of strength for the family through many extraordinary trials. One of the worst of those trials occurred the day she received news of the death of her brother and two of her sons, but she took consolation in knowing that she would be reunited someday with all those she loved. The messages of condolence sent to her and her husband are some of the most moving writings of their kind, and a letter that Alexander C. Haskell penned to his mother after his wife's death has been called one of the noblest and most beautiful of the war."

Editor Karen Stokes's lengthy opening essay delves into Haskell family history and introduces readers to the volume's many contributing correspondents and their Civil War experiences. The letters are also extensively footnoted. In addition to the editor's epilogue and an afterword by James E. Kibler, the book also has a two-part appendix section. The first is a discussion of the postwar lives of the surviving Haskells and the second a transcription of a biographical sketch of South Carolina Ordinance of Secession signer Langdon Cheves (written by his nephew of the same name).

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Booknotes: Lone Star Valor

New Arrival:
Lone Star Valor: Texans of the Blue & Gray at Gettysburg by Joe Owen (Gettysburg Pub, 2019).

In 2017, a collection of Antietam "official reports, diary entries, interviews, newspaper articles, and letters to families at home" written by members of Hood's Texas Brigade and co-edited by the trio of Joe Owen, Philip McBride, and Joe Allport, was published by Fonthill Media under the title Texans at Antietam: A Terrible Clash of Arms, September 16-17, 1862. A similar sort of project is Owen's Lone Star Valor: Texans of the Blue & Gray at Gettysburg.

From the description: "Thousands of soldiers who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg for both the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia settled in Texas after the Civil War. Throughout the days, weeks, and years after the battle, these soldiers captured their stories in diary entries, letters, interviews, and newspaper articles. From the first crossing of the Potomac River to the intense fighting on July 1, July 2, and ultimately at Pickett’s Charge on July 3, these Texans of the Blue and the Gray played a key role in the Gettysburg Campaign. This collection of soldiers' accounts written during and after the war provides a unique perspective from Texans in the ranks over the course of those historic days in the summer of 1863. Also included are the stories of civilians who bore witness to the tremendous battle and who settled in Texas after the Civil War. Collected for the first time in a single volume, this is essential reference for historians of the Lone Star State and Civil War researchers."

While recognizing the value of the collection overall, one magazine reviewer of the earlier Antietam book lamented the dearth of archival digging behind it. With only eight manuscript items (mostly letters) included in Lone Star Valor, this one also focuses primarily on the large body of available published letters and newspaper articles. Owen was also selective in other ways, using only one article from a Texas Brigade veteran in order to better highlight individuals who served in other Confederate regiments but moved to Texas after the war. Union accounts are fifteen in number. I couldn't find exactly how many items are included in the book in total, but it must run in the hundreds. Arranged alphabetically by writer name, the materials (which range in length from just a few sentences to several pages) are indexed by Owen but only sparsely footnoted. Photographs and other illustrations are additionally sprinkled throughout.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Review - "Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed" by Larry Daniel

[Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed by Larry J. Daniel (University of North Carolina Press, 2019). Hardcover, 5 maps, illustrations, tables, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xiii,329/453. ISBN:978-1-4696-4950-4. $35]

As every Civil War student knows, the Army of Northern Virginia's impressive resume of eastern theater battlefield victories was not at all matched by the Confederacy's principal field army out west, the star-crossed Army of Tennessee. The reason or reasons behind this grand disparity between eastern successes and western failures has long been a topic of scholarly and popular debate. While both armies possessed the same highly motivated and resilient rank-and-file fighting material, and through much of its history the Army of Tennessee confronted far less daunting numerical odds than Robert E. Lee's army most often faced, many internal and external factors conspired to hamstring the Confederacy's defense of its western heartland. In various forms, the literature has devoted no little amount of coverage to these factors. The two classic book studies are Stanley F. Horn's The Army of Tennessee (1941) and a two-volume history (Army of the Heartland: The Army of Tennessee, 1861-1862 and Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee, 1862-1865) authored decades later by Thomas L. Connelly. The more influential writer of the two, Connelly still serves as one of the leading proponents of the idea that the Army of Tennessee's consistent military failure was chiefly the product of extreme levels of high command dysfunction. Of course many other human, organizational, material, political, and geographical explanations have also been raised over the decades, and almost fifty years on from Autumn of Glory we are well overdue for an updated grand synthesis of the topic. Just such an attempt is prolific western theater expert Larry Daniel's latest work Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed. Though their courses are frequently interrupted, two main investigative threads flow through Conquered from beginning to end. The first is a chronologically-arranged general overview of the army's campaigns and battles. Interwoven into that is a large collection of theme-based standalone chapters that reexamine why the Army of Tennessee experienced such a remarkable lack of success.

Daniel's 1861-65 campaign narrative is an excellent updated overview skillfully pieced together using a massive volume and variety of primary and secondary sources. Embedded within it is the author's fine analytical recounting of the army's consistent record of high command dissension and ineptitude. In addition to stating his own views, Daniel judiciously weighs the relative merits of the published findings of generations of modern historians who have written major works on the Army of Tennessee's campaigns, battles, and leaders. While the great multitude of topics raised will likely be already familiar to many, if not most, of Daniel's audience (and thus need not be listed in total here), there is clear value gained through a fresh aggregation of them by a learned source. Further enhancement is achieved through the author's own thoughtful commentaries, which consistently impress the reader as being products of mature reflection distilled from decades of research and writing.

As expected, the book's comprehensive campaign coverage reassesses the merits of all the major army commanders (Albert Sidney Johnston, Braxton Bragg, P.G.T. Beauregard, Joseph E. Johnston, and John Bell Hood), largely framing the discussion around how and why these leaders could not create and maintain an effective command culture. Some opinions, like Daniel's insistence that Davis erred frequently in not bringing Beauregard back to lead the army, will likely inspire a wide range of reader reactions. Other conclusions (among them the author's determination that Bragg's defining leadership flaw was his having both the ability to envision opportunity and plan well for seizing it but no ability to carry those arrangements to fruition) will have few objectors. Also implicit in title and text is the awarding of due credit to the enemy for the army's ultimate demise. The narrative overall clearly benefits from the author's plumbing the depths of manuscript archives located all across the country as well as his keen absorption of the relevant published literature. In many ways, the book serves as a capstone to Daniel's long and accomplished Civil War writing career.

As good as the rest of the book is, it is probably the collection of themed chapters and sections referenced earlier that will interest experienced readers most. One of these explores the flawed genesis of the Army of Tennessee. While the U.S. government's existing military bureaucracy gave it a clear leg up on their Confederate counterparts at the beginning of the conflict, it is nevertheless the case that both sides had to build their citizen armies from scratch, and Daniel well recognizes that some of the recurring problems within the Army of Tennessee stretched all the way back to its inception. The Tennessee state army formed the core of the later-christened Army of Tennessee and top leadership positions were initially filled by the governor's cronies and other state political leaders who supported the war effort. Of course, political appointees populated the officer ranks of both Union and Confederate military forces, but there were also significant qualitative imbalances between Confederate field armies. Richard McMurry's classic study Two Great Rebel Armies clearly demonstrated that the distribution of professionals among the two main Confederate armies was vastly disproportionate, with the western army lacking anything like the core of professional soldiers (officers and NCOs alike) that formed the backbone of Lee's army in the East. As all Civil War armies would be forced to do, the Confederacy's western soldiers would learn on the job, but time was of the essence and the steeper hill to climb in the west had very real consequences. While the citizen-officers and volunteers were slowly but surely growing into their new roles over the first twelve months of fighting, over that same period the western Confederacy suffered grievous, permanent losses in territory and precious manpower. Though it could also be argued that creating an officer corps through field experience rather than established seniority had its own advantages, Daniel is undoubtedly correct in his observation that high battlefield losses among the most promising meant that the army as a whole could never really achieve and maintain the pool of talent and experience necessary to run the western army efficiently.

Daniel's study also notes the existence of cultural and political divides within the three major subregions of the Confederate West, with citizens of the Lower South mistrusting the commitment of the late-seceding Upper South (and both of those regions together having little faith in the patriotism of the Upland neighbors in their midst). The author correctly cautions against exaggerating the scale of these internal problems, but any source of division was costly and officer factions clearly did form that had a negative effect on army unity. It might also seem reasonable to suggest that enough state rivalries existed among the men in the ranks to inhibit solidarity to some degree. All Civil War armies possessed these problems on some level, but they do seem to have been more pronounced in the Army of Tennessee, which unlike their Union foes had no margin for such distractions.

Though the vast geographical size of the Confederacy's western theater is frequently cited as a reason for its failed defense, Daniel agrees with those that see the strategic conundrum presented by the river system within it as the chief concern. Everyone at the time recognized that the major western rivers were daggers aimed at the Confederacy's vitals, but directly defending them meant manning fixed garrisons highly vulnerable to capture by the enemy's unmatchable combined operations resources while the other option, that of offering only token resistance on the riverbanks (where many major cities were situated) to free armies to maneuver, was politically inconceivable. The Davis administration's inability to find a winning strategic balance between mobile warfare and manning fixed fortifications, one that would also serve the political and economic needs and demands of the people, was an important factor in defeat. However, in Davis's defense, the author also raises the distinct possibility that a military policy that could meet all of those requirements was impossible to achieve.

The Army of Tennessee also frequently found itself caught up in another strategic dilemma. Though abandoning one or the other would have been political suicide, the Confederate high command never developed a consistent priority system for military resource allocation between the widely-separated Mississippi River and Middle Tennessee fronts (or, if it did, it never clearly communicated it to the department and army commanders). Perhaps the best-known example of the negative impact this policy indecision had on the Army of the Tennessee was the transfer of Carter Stevenson's large division to Mississippi in December 1862, a directive from above that left Bragg's army without the services of a major asset during the Stones River battle fought later that month.

Army of Tennessee cavalry commander Joseph Wheeler's military reputation continues to progress on a mostly downward trajectory in the literature, and Daniel likewise sees the deterioration of the western cavalry under the "War Child" as another major contribution to the Army of Tennessee's downfall. Others have argued that the army's mounted forces formed too high a proportion of its total strength, and Daniel agrees that this was a misuse of scarce manpower, a problem further magnified by the fact that Wheeler's poor leadership and administration skills translated into bad discipline and huge numbers of troopers consistently absent from the ranks.

Acute shortages of manpower existed everywhere in the Confederacy, but it was made worse in the Army of Tennessee by high levels of desertion stemming from both opposition to conscription and demoralization produced by constant battlefield defeats and long retreats. Many attempts were made at mitigating the crisis, from draft age adjustments and harsh punishments to more positive measures such as granting more furloughs, but nothing worked. Desertion was a systemic, intractable issue that contributed a great deal to the army's ultimate demise.

Curiously for a book concerned with the many factors that went into defeat, Conquered also discusses in several places those things that unified the rank and file of the Army of Tennessee. Of arguably the greatest impact were the wave of religious revivals that swept through the army during 1863-64. These had the effect of renewing within the common soldiers the sense of purpose and confidence among many in ultimate victory (although the extent of this might be exaggerated). But the effect of this spiritual renewal could also plausibly be turned on its head, as one might suppose that continued defeats well into the late-war period might have led many to believe that divine providence was perhaps not on their side after all. While straying from the book's main theme, these sections do offer readers informative insights into why an army with so many serious problems nevertheless took many long years of bloody conflict to defeat.

Daniel also documents those incremental improvements in medical care and logistics support that, while impressive considering the depths from which they started, nevertheless let the army down at key moments. Examples of the latter include the severe food shortages that followed the conclusions of the 1862 Kentucky and 1863 Chickamauga campaigns and contributed to the high desertion rates that occurred during those periods. The theater's rapidly deteriorating transportation system was partially responsible for food not reaching the men and also for several critical delays in troop transfers. Though it is often said that no Confederate army lost a battle primarily due to shortages in arms and ammunition, it is nevertheless the case that the farther west one traveled across the Confederacy the more one tended to encounter critical deficiencies in both. Daniel's own excellent study Cannoneers in Gray correctly noted that the modernization of the long arm of the Army of Tennessee trailed significantly behind that of the Army of Northern Virginia throughout the conflict. The author, also the modern historian of the Union's Army of the Cumberland, additionally notes that that army was able to fully equip itself with modern small arms a full year before its foes in the Army of Tennessee mostly did. It is effectively argued in the book that this endless game of catch-up contributed materially to the Army of Tennessee's lack of success.

Conquered also addresses connections between the home and military fronts that are generally supportive of the well-established argument that military defeat, immense territorial losses, and general privation led to collapsing home front morale that in turn sparked desertion and demoralization in the armies. Over time, this negative feedback loop developed into a death spiral that hastened Confederate defeat.

There's even more in the book, but these examples are sufficient enough to show that Daniel studiously avoids simplicity when discussing why the Army of Tennessee failed. He doesn't assign overarching primacy to one factor over any other, nor does he attempt to rank their significance. Instead the more reasonable impression is given that a perfect storm of elements were involved in determining how a highly motivated army that fought so well on the small-unit level (along the way conducting some of the war's most impressive battlefield assaults) ultimately succumbed to disastrous defeat and surrender. None of Daniel's explanations of the many components that lay behind the Army of Tennessee's failure are new candidates for readers to consider, but the fact that they are all gathered together in one place, freshly rearticulated, and skillfully integrated into a masterfully-written critical narrative makes the book highly valuable. While Conquered will still primarily appeal to western theater students, all Civil War readers will benefit from its many insights, many of which might be applied to all Confederate armies and the Confederate war effort as a whole. Highly recommended.