Thursday, January 23, 2020

Author Q&A: Laurence Freiheit on "Major General Joseph King Fenno Mansfield"

Today we are joined by Larry Freiheit to talk about his 2019 book Major General Joseph King Fenno Mansfield: A Soldier From Beginning to End. It is his second major Civil War study (both with Camp Pope Publishing), the first being Boots and Saddles: Cavalry During the Maryland Campaign of September 1862, which is now in its second edition. Freiheit's Mansfield biography is a massive and beautifully illustrated tome that exhaustively examines the general's life and military career, both of which tragically ended on September 17, 1862 at the Battle of Antietam. 

CWBA: Hi, Larry. Clearly a great deal of lifeblood went into your 800-page biography of J.K.F. Mansfield. In addition to being a keen student of the Maryland Campaign and your shared Connecticut origins, what else inspired you to involve yourself so deeply in Mansfield’s life story?

LF: First, thank you for your “keen student” comment, I don’t deserve that. This sounds silly but when I first started looking at Mansfield in the late 1990’s I identified with him not only because I was about his age when he was mortally wounded and I had a full beard at the time but with his somewhat acerbic wit and Puritanical bent. After I wrote my Maryland Campaign cavalry book my research and contacts with the primary Mansfield expert in the U.S., Dr. Tom Clemens, provided an easy gateway to a book about one of my home state’s most famous generals. Tom provided extensive help with my draft due to his expertise concerning Mansfield and the Battle of Antietam as well as 19th century U.S. military history.

CWBA: After graduation from West Point and appointment to the prestigious U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mansfield spent nearly three decades all told as a military engineer. What major construction projects did he oversee during that part of his army career?

LF: His most famous project was his decades-long involvement with the construction of Ft. Pulaski east of Savannah, Georgia. I visited the fort four times over the space of 20 years and talked with and received critical help from a ranger there, Michael Weinstein. He gave me access to hundreds of pages of documents about Mansfield’s involvement at the fort most importantly from Rogers W. Young, a Park Service employee. Young wrote extensively about the construction of Fort Pulaski and his research and writing are the most comprehensive available documents about Ft. Pulaski. His unpublished manuscripts, which include details from U.S. Army Engineering Department records, were the sources for his book A Connecticut Yankee on the Georgia Coast: The Engineering Epic of Fort Pulaski, 1821-1861 (subtitled “Being The Story of the Trials and Triumphs of Lieutenant, later Captain, Joseph K.F. Mansfield, United States Corps of Engineers, in the building of Fort Pulaski, on Cockspur Island, Savannah River, Georgia”) dated 1938. Ranger Weinstein copied the book for my use, which saved me countless hours at the National Archives.

While he was chief engineer for the fort Mansfield was also involved in many other projects since the Engineering Department allowed him to be absent during the summer “sickly months”. Most recognizable to readers would be his involvement with the National Road and help with projects such as assisting in the construction of Fort Hamilton, New York, and in the construction of the defenses of Hampton Roads, Virginia. He was in charge of Savannah River Improvement, Sullivan's Island Breakwater, South Carolina, and repairs to St. Augustine Seawall, Florida as well as improvement of Brunswick Harbor, Georgia. He was for about one year principal assistant at Fort Monroe and one year principal assistant at Fort Calhoun at the Rip Raps. While at Old Point Comfort Mansfield was detached and made a reconnaissance of the Pasquotank River from the Canal in the Dismal Swamp to Elizabeth City in North Carolina, and surveyed the bars.

CWBA: The Mexican-American War briefly interrupted his engineer work. What were the highlights of his service in that conflict?

LF: Mansfield served as Gen. Zachary Taylor’s chief engineer. His first important contribution to Taylor’s successes was the design and construction of what became Ft. Brown, Texas, across the Rio Grande from Matamoros, Mexico. After it was completed, he helped defend it when the Mexican Army attacked. Mansfield, while not in command of the fort, actively participated in its defense by leaving the fort one night to level a trench previously dug by U.S. Troops and by cutting down brush from which enemy snipers had been firing. An infantry officer in the fort wrote that “He is without doubt the soul of this little place and he is almost ubiquitous. He is without doubt of more service here than all the other officers put together.” Mansfield received a brevet to major for his actions.

But Mansfield’s most famous exploit was at the Battle of Monterrey, during which he was seriously wounded. Under Taylor’s orders, he was to show infantry units a way into the city. Taylor’s attack on Monterrey, a well-fortified city, was later viewed by some critics as ill-advised and unnecessary. Mansfield was praised by Lieutenant Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana: “That Mansfield is one of the most noble specimens of gallantry and heroism and chivalry I have ever met with. He is unacquainted with a feeling of fear and is persevering to death. After he was wounded, he tied a handkerchief round his leg and led the murderous charge on the enemy's works where the First and Third Divisions suffered so severely.” Mansfield received another brevet to lieutenant colonel for his bravery here. His flesh wound confined him to his bed for almost a month.

At the Battle of Buena Vista Mansfield again performed well, helping Taylor win his final major battle against the Mexican Army, this time commanded by Gen. Santa Anna. Here, Taylor was even more greatly outnumbered than he was in his previous battles, but, unlike before, most of his troops here were volunteers not regulars. Mansfield’s help was noted by Lt. John Pope in a tribute to all of Mansfield’s Mexican-American War exploits:
“I first saw him in action at the storming of Monterrey….I was one of the junior officers under him. We led the advance of the column which attacked and carried some of the fortifications on the lower part of the city. Of course Mansfield was wounded, shot through the calf of the leg; but he had it bound up, and the next I saw of him he was stretched out in a partly-reclining position behind a piece of artillery of Webster's battery, within open sight of the enemy's entrenchments, not 200 yards distant, and from which A TERRIFIC FIRE FROM ARTILLERY and small-arms was being poured upon the spot until the dust and dirt were flying in every direction. The place was too hot even for the gunners, and this one gun was served in person by Lieut. J.L. Donaldson, the First Lieutenant of the battery, who seemed as careless of his life as Mansfield. The latter was unable to walk on his wounded leg but was lying in the midst of this tremendous fire, in which it seemed impossible to live, with his field-glass to his eye, directing Donaldson where to aim his gun. Absolutely he seemed as unconscious of danger or as indifferent to it as if he had been walking the streets of Washington. I saw him again in battle under somewhat different circumstances at Buena Vista. Although still on General Taylor's staff, he did not go back with the General that night to Saltillo, but remained on the field with General Wool to help him select positions and post the troops for the next day's work. When we rode up on the plateau in the midst of a lost battle, as I have described, one of the first men I saw was General Mansfield. He rode a gray horse, which made him very conspicuous, and was charging furiously back and forth across the field, trying to rally the broken columns, but without success. He was beside himself with shame and humiliation, and the tears poured down his face. He was not tranquilized until the effects from Bragg's and Sherman's batteries became apparent. Mansfield had a keen military eye and most excellent military judgment, but he never afterward had the opportunity to exhibit them until the civil war, and he was killed, as it was almost certain he would be, in the first battle in which he was engaged.”
Pope’s 1891 encomium is a fitting tribute to Mansfield’s combat experiences during both the Mexican-American War and the U.S. Civil War.

CWBA: The nearly eight years Inspector General Mansfield spent conducting extensive inspection tours throughout the West are meticulously documented in your book. As a senior staff officer acting in this capacity, what impact did he have on the antebellum army?

LF: As one of the Army’s two inspector generals, his meticulous reviews of troops and posts mainly west of the Mississippi River focused on his main obsession that soldiers and the posts they manned were combat ready. He had no patience for Army regulations or policies which did not contribute to ensuring that men, equipment, animals, and facilities were prepared to perform the Army’s missions. His somewhat Puritanical bent also resulted in his repeated condemnations of alcohol abuse in many western posts. As a senior Army officer of over 30 years and a combat veteran, Col. Mansfield was keenly aware of what the Army had to do to prepare for the next war. Mansfield also paid attention to the care of enlisted men knowing that it was they who won or lost battles, so their quarters, food, medical care, and pay were among his priorities. His engineering background also allowed him to propose better locations for forts and champion better roads and even transcontinental railroads. In addition to the persistent alcohol problem at existed at almost every post he decried the lack of sufficient numbers of officers, especially at the company level, which affected soldier’s training and discipline. This lack of leadership at small western posts meant that troops were often not able to perform basic functions required of soldiers because officers were assigned to duties away from their companies. Those officers who remained had to perform extra duties to cover for missing comrades, so they could spend little time with their men. He also decried the general lack of marksmanship training, which the Army began to address some years later. In short, Mansfield simply wanted the Army to be ready to perform its duties ,and he was ready to criticize anyone or anything which prevented it from so doing.

CWBA: Mansfield commanded the Department of Washington during the first three months of the war and was in charge of the Washington city defenses for much of the second half of 1861. Was he a serious candidate for a major field command? What was his reaction to McDowell’s appointment to lead the army that would clash with the Confederates at First Bull Run?

LF: General Winfield Scott wanted Mansfield to lead the army in northern Virginia that confronted the Confederates at First Bull Run. Against Scott’s wishes, Pres. Lincoln appointed Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell, who suffered from lack of cooperation from Mansfield and Scott in his efforts to form his army and move west to challenge the Confederates. Mansfield was angry that Lincoln chose his junior, McDowell, to command the Union Army of Northeastern Virginia instead of him. It is unfortunate that the old general’s disappointment may have led to his not being enthusiastic or punctilious about helping McDowell’s efforts in the summer of 1861 prior to the battle: “Regiments were slow in coming across the river to take their assigned places with the Army of Northeastern Virginia. Scott or Mansfield had to approve each such assignment, and they took their time about it. When McDowell went personally to Mansfield to ask for more men, and more speedily, Mansfield just shook his head and replied, ‘I have no transportation.’” Scott was not opposed to McDowell’s advancement as he was adjutant general on Scott’s staff during the Mexican-American War, but Scott wanted Mansfield to command the army in northern Virginia.

CWBA: Did Mansfield have any powerful political patrons or military high command supporters to back his ambitions?

LF: Mansfield had only Sec. of the Navy Gideon Welles in Lincoln’s cabinet more or less on his side, likely along with the State of Connecticut’s Congressional representatives. Scott favored Mansfield also but Mansfield had apparently only had lukewarm support from Welles. Welles did not find Mansfield to be more aggressive or creative than fellow West Pointers, as he expressed in his diary on 17 August 1862:
“A difficulty has existed from the beginning in the military, and I may say general management of the War…. General Scott was for a defensive policy, and the same causes which influenced him in that matter, [reinforcement of Norfolk, Virginia, which Welles championed and Scott denied] and the line of policy which he marked out, have governed the educated officers of the Army and to a great extend shaped the war measures of the Government. ‘We must erect our batteries on the eminences in the vicinity of Washington,' said General Mansfield to me, ‘and establish our military lines; frontiers between the belligerents, as between the countries of Continental Europe, are requisite.’ They were necessary in order to adapt and reconcile the theory and instruction of West Point to the war that was being prosecuted. We should, however, by this process become rapidly two hostile nations…. Instead of halting on the borders, building entrenchments, and repelling indiscriminately and treating as Rebels—enemies—all, Union as well as disunion, men in the insurrectionary region, we should, I thought, penetrate their territory, nourish and protect the Union sentiment, and create and strengthen a national feeling counter to Secession.”
Welles and many others including Lincoln believed, unlike Scott, Mansfield, and other experienced Army officers, that the war would be short and could be won quickly by aggressive action rather than a more planned, considered method. Welles would quickly be proved wrong but his early lack of strong support for Mansfield allowed McDowell to command the Union army which lost at First Bull Run.

McDowell found very active support from Sec. of the Treasury Chase, who clearly favored fellow Ohioans for positions as generals in the Army. McDowell, as assistant Adjutant General of the Army, was an early favorite of his, perhaps helped by a plan he submitted to Chase describing a Union deployment toward Manassas Junction. With Chase’s support, McDowell was put in command of the new Department of Northeastern Virginia. McDowell also had the support of Gov. William Dennison of Ohio. At a cabinet meeting in May 1861, Chase ensured that McDowell received a brigadier general's star although Chase wanted him to be a major general. Outside of the cabinet meeting, Chase spoke to McDowell who was surprised and chagrined that he might be made a major general ahead of senior officers, but he acquiesced in accepting a single star. Scott had plans for Mansfield and McDowell, but McDowell did not cooperate. Scott wanted Mansfield to remain in charge at Washington but did not want McDowell to command in northern Virginia. Scott tried unsuccessfully to get McDowell to refuse the command of the new Department of Northeastern Virginia, but the War Department placed McDowell in command at Lincoln’s urging. Mansfield expressed his disappointment in a letter to his wife: “I don’t feel exactly right about the manner I have been used. I should have been given a separate command in the place others assigned. I shall not forget this soon. They have allowed politics to interfere with my matters, and deprive me of my just position.

CWBA: What was Mansfield doing between the end of his run commanding the Washington defenses and his assignment to lead the army’s Twelfth Corps in mid-September?

LF: Mansfield reported to Fort Monroe on 1 October 1861 and met with Maj. Gen. John E. Wool, who sent him to Hatteras Inlet to bring order out of chaos at Union outposts on the North Carolina coast. There, Mansfield took command at Hatteras Inlet as Col. Rush C. Hawkins, commanding the 9th N.Y. Infantry, was relieved. General Wool held Hawkins responsible for the debacle in which the Union steam tug Fanny was surrendered, and for the “Chicamacomico Races” a few days later. Mansfield returned to Fort Monroe on 14 October and was in command of Camp Hamilton near Fort Monroe from 13 October to 24 November 1861, when he turned over command to Col. Max Weber and was ordered to relieve Brigadier General John W. Phelps at Newport News 24 November 1861. On 3 March 1862, Mansfield’s command was designated the First Brigade, First Division, Department of Virginia. Dix sent Mansfield to Suffolk with three regiments on 13 June 1862. But the most noteworthy adventure Mansfield had while in command at Newport News was related to the remarkable naval battle of the Civil War, the U.S.S. Monitor versus the C.S.S. Virginia (U.S.S. Merrimack). While the battle between the two ironclads took place on 9 March, Mansfield’s involvement was primarily the day before when the Virginia attacked Union blockaders in Hampton Roads. Mansfield ordered Union shore batteries and infantry to fire at Rebel ships and sailors as they approached the helpless U.S.S. Congress which had run aground and surrendered. He was heavily criticized by Confederates for continuing to fire after the Union ships had run up the white flag. He reportedly replied that: "I know the damned ship has surrendered…but we haven't." The Merrimack responded by firing at Mansfield’s camp: “The large shot passed entirely through the post hospital and the headquarters' building of General Mansfield, tearing down the chimney of the latter, and nearly burying that venerable officer in the ruins. He was, fortunately, but little hurt, and soon emerged from the house white with plaster.” Mansfield continued to bombard his superiors with requests to be assigned to command a unit in an active theater but to no avail. Maj. Gen. McClellan recognized Mansfield’s abilities and asked Sec. of War Stanton to place Mansfield in command of a division to be stationed at Ft. Monroe, but that did not happen. Mansfield had little use for either Wool or McClellan. Mansfield participated along with Lincoln and some of his cabinet in the capture of Norfolk in early May 1862. Perhaps reminding Lincoln of his abilities, on 8 September 1862 Mansfield was ordered north to join McClellan’s army near Washington, DC.

CWBA: Was Mansfield the administration’s first choice to command the newly-formed Twelfth Corps?

LF: I found nothing to show when or why Lincoln or Stanton decided to give Mansfield a command with McClellan. Perhaps the administration was running out of experienced generals who had not failed in command and were not McClellan sycophants. Lincoln was likely casting about for generals in the east who were not part of McClellan’s coterie, who had faithful and unblemished military service and were available. It was also very likely that Mansfield had come to Lincoln’s attention again when Lincoln was at Fort Monroe and Norfolk, and, of course, Lincoln knew Mansfield well when he was in command of Washington in 1861. Mansfield’s recent letters to generals and politicians ardently requesting combat service likely reminded Lincoln that Mansfield should be a general pushed forward as others fell away due to poor performance or for political reasons. And it may be that finally his entreaties to friends and acquaintances such as Welles, Chase, Thayer, Totten, etc., bore fruit. McClellan did not choose Mansfield to command the XII Corps but rather Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick. Sedgwick did not want the command and refused thereby allowing McClellan to place Mansfield in command of his smallest corps. There is no record why McClellan replaced his first selection with Mansfield. Possibly he learned from Washington that Mansfield was soon to arrive and receive a command so if Mansfield’s fellow Nutmegger, Sedgwick, did not wish to leave his division, McClellan was not going to force the issue--Mansfield would command his smallest corps. These Old Army men, all Mexican-American War veterans--McClellan, Mansfield and Sedgwick--were not going to squabble at this time when combat was imminent. McClellan was obviously too busy to spend much time on what he probably wound up seeing as a relatively minor matter.

CWBA: Unfortunately, Mansfield’s tenure as corps commander was measured in mere days. Can we glean anything from that very brief period that might tell us anything about Mansfield’s leadership style and high command fitness?

LF: As noted by John Pope, “Mansfield had a keen military eye and most excellent military judgment, but he never afterward had the opportunity to exhibit them until the civil war, and he was killed, as it was almost certain he would be, in the first battle in which he was engaged.” Although Mansfield had always been a staff officer, in the Mexican-American War he was in close combat and able to observe field commanders in action. Additionally, being on Gen. Taylor’s staff and interacting with him and other top commanders, he knew what had to be done at all levels in Taylor’s army. His tours of installations in the West showed him what good commanders could do in difficult situations. In the Mexican-American War, he and other Regular Army officers saw firsthand the good and bad qualities of volunteers so Mansfield’s efforts at Antietam concentrated on ensuring that his mostly volunteer troops were under close command. However, leading from the front often led to the death and wounding of general and field grade officers, but that obviously did not deter them from so doing. Mansfield, as Pope wrote, was perhaps too willing to expose himself and maybe should have been more cautious since he commanded a corps (and it was important to lead it for more than a few hours in the most important battle of the Civil War). Also Mansfield was in command of his corps for only a few days so did not know the abilities of his commanders and the capabilities of his regiments, so in leading them into battle he was perhaps overly cautious. Had he lived I believe that he would have been one of Lincoln’s better generals—aggressive but not overly so and willing to obey orders. His other potential weakness was his fondness for his enlisted men, but there is nothing in his record to show that he would not send them into battle because many would be killed or wounded. As an Old Army soldier his foremost desire was to accomplish his assigned mission.

CWBA: In your opinion, has the battle’s traditional historical narrative gotten anything significantly wrong about how the general conducted himself at Antietam?

LF: Most historians spend little time on Mansfield at Antietam, justifiably so as he was wounded early in the battle and his influence was minimal. Since he was only in command of his corps for a few days he had little impact on its battle worthiness. Historians focus on Brig. Gen. Alpheus Williams’s comments about that morning; he described Mansfield as “an excellent gentleman, but a most fussy, obstinate officer.” Mansfield rode ahead to assess the situation and while he was gone, Williams saw that his division’s regiments were not deployed into line to meet the close-by enemy. Williams ordered his leading brigade, Crawford’s, to deploy, but Mansfield, upon returning, disagreed. The new corps commander was adamant about marching his troops to Hooker’s aid in formation of columns to maintain better control of his inexperienced troops, however, Williams did not agree: “I had five new regiments without drill or discipline. General Mansfield was greatly excited. Though an officer of acknowledged gallantry, he had a very nervous temperament and a very impatient manner. Feeling that our heavy masses of raw troops were sadly exposed, I begged him to let me deploy them in line of battle, in which the men present but two ranks or rows instead of twenty, as we were marching, but I could not move him. He was positive that all the new regiments would run away.” Mansfield’s experience with green volunteers clearly affected his view of how he should employ his regiments. Williams knew more about these regiments as he was in temporary command until Mansfield was assigned, so perhaps he might have trusted Williams’s judgement more. It is clear, however, based upon his combat experience and best judgement, that he proceeded as he thought best and his lack of fear of being in the line of fire sealed his fate. Historian Bruce Catton wrote a fitting summary for the old general’s efforts that day: “He had had the corps only two days, but he had already made the soldiers like and respect him; it seems likely that he might have made quite a name if he had been spared.

CWBA: Are there any lingering questions about his mortal wounding that your book attempts to answer?

LF: The controversies after the battle and after the end of the war revolved around who shot Mansfield and where Mansfield was when he was shot. John Mead Gould was the 10th Maine’s regiment’s historian and a participant at Antietam as a first lieutenant in Co. E, and the Adjutant of 10th Maine. He became an authority for the 10th Maine’s activities and collaborated with Antietam expert Ezra Carman for details of actions on that part of the field especially concerning Mansfield. Gould first recorded in his diary the circumstances of Mansfield’s wounding and later spent much time and effort to ensure that his recollection prevailed over all the others, especially the 125th Pennsylvania. Gould, having convinced Carman and most other veterans that Mansfield was wounded in front of the 10th Maine, determined after corresponding with Confederate veterans that the 21st Georgia were the ones most likely to have shot Mansfield although he admitted that units of the 5th Texas and 4th Alabama were mixed in. Today most historians agree with Gould and Carmen that Mansfield was near the 10th Maine when he was shot despite the believable claims of the 125th Pennsylvania location advocates. I have to agree with Gould and Carmen as they have the weight of the evidence. Dr. Tom Clemens believes that the Pennsylvanians witnessed another officer shot who resembled Mansfield thereby engendering the controversy.

CWBA: Finally, how would you summarize Mansfield’s Civil War legacy?

LF: Mansfield spent his entire life from age 13 in the U.S. Army, entering West Point at that age. He was a true soldier of the Old Army. His contribution to the Union Civil War effort was small but in every action or activity he did well, except arguably his last day on 17 September 1862 at Antietam. Perhaps his inspection of military posts as an Inspector General influenced the pre-war Army to have more company level officers available with their troops and ensure that enlisted men were adequately cared for and trained by their officers. So his Civil War influence started years before the war began. During the war his troops universally admired him, often commenting on his willingness to look after their well-being. He did well in command of Washington helping take parts of northern Virginia from the Confederates. His efforts during the Monitor-Merrimack battle showed that he was willing to bend rules to help his comrades in the Navy. He was a driven officer who did not suffer fools gladly. As he did not survive Antietam, his future as a Civil War commander is only speculative, but I believe that he would have been one of Lincoln’s best generals.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Book News: First for the Union

I recently noticed that there is another Army of the Potomac corps history in the works. Scheduled for release this fall, Darin Wipperman's First for the Union: Life and Death in a Civil War Army Corps from Antietam to Gettysburg (Stackpole, Oct 2020) follows on the heels of Lawrence Kreiser's Defeating Lee: A History of the Second Corps, Army of the Potomac (2011) and James Pula's two-volume Eleventh Corps project that was completed in 2018. I can't believe it's been nearly a decade already since Kreiser's Second Corps book was published (seems like it was only a few years ago!).

I was going to go into the rarity of Civil War corps histories (or divisions for that matter) in comparison to the far more popular regimental, brigade, and even army studies, but Wipperman's book description took the words right out of my mouth. According to the writer, "corps remain relatively overlooked—not because they are an unimportant or unappealing subject, but because mastering the subject is so difficult, requiring knowledge of many commanders’ careers, dozens of constituent units, and many battles. Few are willing to tackle the subject." I would agree that those reasons have something to do with it. On a related topic, using the AoP Fourth Corps (which was dissolved in 1863) as an example, a reader recently suggested to me that there is also good cause to study corps that were dysfunctional or otherwise did not live up to expectations. I would agree with that notion as well.

But getting back to the matter at hand, First Corps (unlike Fourth Corps) essentially fought itself to extinction. From the description: "The Army of the Potomac’s First Corps was one of the best corps in the entire Union army. In September 1862, it was chosen to spearhead the Union attack at Antietam, fighting Stonewall Jackson’s men in the Cornfield and at the Dunker Church. In July 1863 at Gettysburg, its men were the first Union infantry to reach the battle, where they relieved the cavalry and fought off the Confederate onslaught all day before retreating to Cemetery Hill. Their valiant stand west of Gettysburg saved the Union from disaster that day but came at great cost (60 percent casualties). The corps was disbanded the following spring, having bled itself out of existence."

I would be interested in reading this. I suppose it's no surprise that all the current Union corps-level scholarship is concentrated in the Army of the Potomac (though, of course, Eleventh Corps was transferred out west in '63). I have Pula's books, but not Kreiser's volume. My review copy request went unfulfilled at the time of release, and I never did get a chance to see it or read it. If you'd like to offer your own thoughts about the book, please feel free to share them in the comments section.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Booknotes: Owen Lovejoy and the Coalition for Equality

New Arrival:
Owen Lovejoy and the Coalition for Equality: Clergy, African Americans, and Women United for Abolition by Jane Ann Moore and William F. Moore (Univ of Ill Press, 2019).

The three antislavery groups explored in Jane and William Moore's Owen Lovejoy and the Coalition for Equality: Clergy, African Americans, and Women United for Abolition "attributed their common vision of a nation free from slavery to strong political and religious values. Owen Lovejoy’s gregarious personality, formidable oratorical talent, probing political analysis, and profound religious convictions made him the powerful leader the coalition needed." Beginning in 1846, these socially disparate groups "merged their agendas into a single antislavery, religious, political campaign for equality with Lovejoy at the helm."

A younger brother of the murdered abolitionist minister and newspaper editor Elijah Lovejoy, Owen Lovejoy was also a church leader who shared the same views on slavery, the destruction of which he devoted his religious as well as political activities (a Republican, he served Illinois's Third District in the U.S. House of Representatives). 

"Combining scholarly biography, historiography, and primary source material, Jane Ann and William F. Moore" (who are the authors, also through University of Illinois Press, of Collaborators for Emancipation: Abraham Lincoln and Owen Lovejoy, released earlier this year, and the editors of a 2004 collection of Owen's Lovejoy's speeches and writings titled His Brother's Blood) "demonstrate Lovejoy's crucial role in nineteenth-century politics, the rise of antislavery sentiment in religious spaces, and the emerging commitment to end slavery in Congress."

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Review - "William Gregg's Civil War: The Battle to Shape the History of Guerrilla Warfare" by Joseph Beilein, ed.

[William Gregg's Civil War: The Battle to Shape the History of Guerrilla Warfare edited by Joseph M. Beilein, Jr. (University of Georgia Press, 2019). Softcover, 3 maps, photos, footnotes, addenda, bibliography, index. Pages:xi,133. ISBN:978-0-8203-5577-1. $26.95]

Unlike their Revolutionary War forebears, Civil War guerrilla leaders as a whole have not been the recipients of enduring popular adulation. While some individuals such as Virginia partisan ranger officer John S. Mosby did achieve lasting acclaim, it's the Missouri bushwhackers and their much more desperate mode of fighting that have come to be most closely associated with Civil War guerrilla warfare. Fair or not, the actions of the most infamous practitioners, among them William Clarke Quantrill and William "Bloody Bill" Anderson, blackened the reputation of the Civil War's irregular warfare movement as a whole. Indeed, at the time it well suited the purposes of Union authorities struggling to pacify the southern home front to ascribe outlaw status as widely as possible. The fact that many of these brush men turned to criminal careers after the war also failed to burnish the modern image of the Civil War guerrilla. Early books had an important impact as well. In the context of the Missouri conflict, William E. Connelley's Quantrill and the Border Wars (1910) provided readers with a powerful counterpoint to contemporary hagiographical treatments, in particular John Newman Edwards's celebratory Noted Guerrillas, or the Warfare of the Border (1879). It is Connelley's relationship with Quantrill associate William H. Gregg that is at the center of Joseph Beilein's William Gregg's Civil War: The Battle to Shape the History of Guerrilla Warfare.

Wanting to set the record straight regarding what he viewed as the truth behind Quantrill's life and the actions of his command during the Civil War, Kansas resident and avocational historian William Connelley needed a prominent guerrilla participant source to add authority and authenticity to his study. To that end, Connelley engaged in a cynically-inspired friendship with an aging William Gregg, who was one of Quantrill's principal lieutenants and arguably his right arm during the first half of the war. In exchange for promising to help Gregg get his own memoir published, Connelley pumped the ex-guerrilla for information to include in Quantrill and the Border Wars. He succeeded in his scheme, but the relationship inevitably soured after Connelley blocked the publication of Gregg's memoir (likely because, according to Beilein, it contradicted key parts of Quantrill and the Border Wars that the author claimed to have been based on Gregg's writing). The entire truth behind Connelley's motivations will never be known, but Beilein offers a reasonable suggestion that ideological imperative (Connelley was intensely partisan in defense of the twin causes of Union and abolition) led Connelley to bypass any kind of scruples he may have had in betraying Gregg's friendship and trust.

In addition to detailing the complexities of the Connelley-Gregg relationship, Beilein's introduction also informatively surveys the early guerrilla historiography. With Noted Guerrillas and Quantrill and the Border Wars offering two very different sides of the same coin (and both written by untrained historians), Richard Brownlee's Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy (which also used Gregg's unpublished manuscript as a primary source) finally arrived in 1958 to provide the first scholarly history. It would surpass Connelley's book as the standard treatment of the topic. This was followed in 1962 by Albert Castel's William Clarke Quantrill: His Life and Times. While praising the overall quality of Castel's research, Beilein appropriately condemns as impossible Castel's self-proclaimed objective approach and criticizes his fellow historian for basing entire chapters on some of the most distorted sections of Connelley's deeply-slanted book. As pathbreaking as Michael Fellman's Inside War was in 1990 (and continues to be influential today), it is Beilein's view that the study falls into a similar trap of being too broadly dismissive of Missouri guerrilla sources. Fortunately, the current body of scholarship, to which Beilein himself is an important contributor, is offering a deeper and far more nuanced picture of the guerrilla war (and of guerrillas themselves and their supporters) than the nihilistic landscape of Fellman's imagination.

Also published (probably for the first time in its entirety) in the book is the author's transcription of Gregg's handwritten manuscript, which is currently held in the collection of the State Historical Society of Missouri. In addition to editing and annotating Gregg's memoir (self-titled "A Dab of History Without Embellishment"), Beilein includes copies of the Connelley-Gregg correspondence along with some additional Gregg documents not integrated into the main manuscript. These materials are also annotated. As a final remark on the volume's editing, while the Gregg memoir and other documents provided in the book are only lightly footnoted it should be mentioned that much additional scholarly commentary of the kind normally relegated to note sections can instead be found within the author's extensive introduction.

The Gregg memoir itself is fairly brief, only running 32 octavo-sized pages in the book, but it summarizes the major activities of Quantrill and his men pretty thoroughly. In it, Gregg also provides a brief account of what he knew of Quantrill's oft-disputed origins and motivations, but not his own. Beilein reasonably conjectures that Gregg's slaveholding family background, the unique situation of western Missouri, and the lure of independent military service near one's own home were all factors that contributed heavily to Gregg's decision to go to the brush rather than join the Confederate Army. The manuscript does offer an insider perspective on some persistent questions regarding Quantrill's outfit. Gregg's own explanation of the reasons behind the launching of the infamous Lawrence Raid, which center on guerrilla rage over the prison deaths of female relatives and accumulated feelings of revenge produced by years of Jayhawker incursions into western Missouri, will not surprise any reader familiar with the topic. He does assign a major factor behind the ultimate breakup of Quantrill's command to Quantrill's decision to forego a final assault on the Baxter Springs fort. This order was designed to spare guerrilla blood, but it deeply angered some of his more reckless sub-chieftains (Dave Pool and Bill Anderson in particular). Even though Gregg left Quantrill and joined Jo Shelby's cavalry before the guerrilla war in western Missouri took an even more grim turn in 1864, his manuscript does offer descriptions (albeit graphically muted ones) of the many acts of lethal violence he and his fellow bushwhackers committed before that time.

An important new editing and interpretation of a valuable primary source, William Gregg's Civil War is a decidedly useful contribution to the burgeoning historiography of the guerrilla conflict in Missouri and elsewhere. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Booknotes: The Women's Fight

New Arrival:
The Women's Fight: The Civil War's Battles for Home, Freedom, and Nation by Thavolia Glymph (UNC Press, 2020).

In her book The Women's Fight: The Civil War's Battles for Home, Freedom, and Nation, historian Thavolia Glymph "provides a comprehensive new history of women's roles and lives in the Civil War--North and South, white and black, slave and free--showing how women were essentially and fully engaged in all three arenas [military, home, and political fronts]. Glymph focuses on the ideas and ideologies that drove women's actions, allegiances, and politics. We encounter women as they stood their ground, moved into each other's territory, sought and found common ground, and fought for vastly different principles."

With Part I covering southern women (free and enslaved), Part II discussing northern women, and Part III more specifically addressing the harder edges of the intersection between home and fighting fronts (including the refugee crisis), the study is indeed "broadly conceived." I don't mean to pick on this book in particular, but I wonder if we'll ever reach the point when the people of Indian Territory, who were direct participants in the Civil War and suffered terribly in the bargain, are incorporated into home front studies like this one. Sure the research barriers are daunting, but today's historians pride themselves on elevating neglected voices from the past and they're well equipped to take on those kinds of challenges.

More from the description: The Women's Fight "shows how the Civil War exposed as never before the nation's fault lines, not just along race and class lines but also along the ragged boundaries of gender. However, Glymph makes clear that women's experiences were not new to the mid-nineteenth century; rather, many of them drew on memories of previous conflicts, like the American Revolution and the War of 1812, to make sense of the Civil War's disorder and death."

Monday, January 13, 2020

Booknotes: Lincoln Takes Command

New Arrival:
Lincoln Takes Command: The Campaign to Seize Norfolk and the Destruction of the CSS Virginia by Steve Norder (Savas Beatie, 2020).

From the description: "On a rainy evening during the Civil War’s second May, President Abraham Lincoln and two of his cabinet secretaries boarded a treasury department ship to sail to Union-held Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The trip resulted in the first and only time in the country’s history that a sitting president took direct control of military forces, both army and navy, to wage a campaign with wide-ranging consequences." The story of the Commander-in-Chief's Southside Virginia adventure has been repeated often in the literature, but Steve Norder is the first author to devote an entire book to the topic.

Over seven chapters comprising the heart of the study, Norder's Lincoln Takes Command: The Campaign to Seize Norfolk and the Destruction of the CSS Virginia examines the period between May 5 and May 12, 1862 on a day-by-day basis. More from the description: "For five days that May, Lincoln studied maps, suggested military actions and—in his quiet, respectful way—issued direct orders to subordinate commanders. Helped by movements farther up the Virginia peninsula, the president’s decisions resulted in a host of military actions and successes, including: a naval bombardment of a Confederate fort, the sailing of Union ships up the James River closer to the enemy capital, an amphibious landing of Union soldiers, the capture of Norfolk and the vital Portsmouth and Gosport navy yards, and the destruction of the Rebel ironclad CSS Virginia."

According to Norder, this productive week in May 1862 proved to be a seminal moment in Lincoln's development as a war leader. "The successes that crowned his short time in Hampton Roads changed the nation’s commander in chief by giving him more of an understanding and confidence in his ability to see what needed to be accomplished, insight that sustained him through the rest of the war." New book-length treatments of important episodes of the 1862 Peninsula Campaign still pop up only infrequently, and Lincoln Takes Command looks to be a welcome contribution to the Civil War literature on that level as well.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Booknotes: Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta

New Arrival:
Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood by Stephen Davis (Mercer UP, 2019).

In Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood, "the first of two volumes, Hood's rise in rank is chronicled. In three years, 1861-1864, Hood rose from lieutenant to full general in the Confederate army."

The project is not a conventional cradle-to-grave biography. The first volume doesn't cover Hood's early life or West Point period at any length, and dispenses with its subject's antebellum army career in just a few paragraphs. Instead, it is strictly a Civil War military biography. Less than a quarter of the study's roughly 450 pages of text are devoted to Hood's 1861-63 service (the period during which he indisputably excelled as hard-hitting brigade and division commander). The great majority of the narrative addresses the general's highly controversial western stints in corps and army command during the critical 1864 campaign in North Georgia.

Author Stephen Davis "emphasizes Hood's fatal flaw: ambition. Hood constantly sought promotion, even after he had found his highest level of competence as division commander in Robert E. Lee's army. As corps commander in the Army of Tennessee, his performance was good, but no better. Promoted to succeed Johnston, Hood did his utmost to defend Atlanta against Sherman. In this latter effort he failed. But he had won his spurs, even if he had been denied greatness as a general."

It would be difficult for any individual to experience such a meteoric rise in rank without possessing broad ambition, and its also hard to blame someone too much for wanting to push their professional advancement to the utmost, so it will be interesting to see what context Davis applies to this particular case. Dissenters of the long-held popular view of Hood as unseemly intriguer have gained some strength in recent years. Davis is already well established as an Atlanta Campaign historian, and his views on Hood's character and abilities during this period will be interesting to consider.

The preface notes that Volume 2, which will cover Hood's army leadership from the fall of Atlanta to his January 1865 resignation following an infamously disastrous series of battles in Tennessee, will be titled Into Tennessee and Failure. It is currently scheduled for a late 2020 release.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

A pair of upcoming western theater unit studies from MUP

While checking on the current status of Stephen Davis's John Bell Hood biography Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta (according to the publisher's website, it's now available), I noticed that publisher Mercer University Press also has two interesting-sounding Army of Tennessee unit histories in their release queue.

In a rare nod to the western long arm, Garry Fisher and Zack Waters's The Damnedest Set of Fellows: A History of Georgia's Cherokee Artillery (Feb 2020) "tells the story of one of the finest artillery batteries in the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Fighting in almost every major battle in the war's Western Theater, their first baptism of fire occurred at Tazewell, in East Tennessee. Later, they battled at Champion Hill in the Vicksburg Campaign, at Missionary Ridge and Tunnel Hill near Chattanooga, and throughout the Atlanta Campaign. Later, they fought upon the snowy fields of Nashville, and finally at Salisbury, North Carolina, where they manned their guns despite having no infantry support."

The following month, the press will release W. Clifford Roberts and Frank Clark's regimental study Atlanta's Fighting Forty-Second: Joseph Johnston's "Old Guard" (March 2020). The men of the 42nd Georgia "were major participants at Cumberland Gap, Champion's Hill, Vicksburg, Resaca, Atlanta, Nashville, and Bentonville. These Georgians proved to be capable fighters and were, on four occasions, assigned to cover the retreat of the Army of Tennessee. The furious charge of the Forty-Second Georgia that carried the Federal trenches near the Troup Hurt House was a pivotal moment in the Battle of Atlanta. Their capture of a Federal battery is depicted in the recently restored Atlanta Cyclorama painting."

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

2019 Pate Award winner announced

The Fort Worth Civil War Round Table just announced that the winner of their 2019 A.M. Pate, Jr. Award in Civil War History is Kenneth Lyftogt for his book Iowa in the Civil War; Volume 1: Free Child of the Missouri Compromise 1850-1862. This is the only book award devoted exclusively to Civil War topics directly tied to the Trans-Mississippi region. In making their decision, the committee considered nine nominated candidates for the honor, and, according to them, this was the "clear winner." Published by Camp Pope Publishing, it is the first of a planned trilogy. In addition to reading my review at the link above, you might also be interested in my 2018 interview with the author (to check it out, go here). Congratulations to all involved.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Review - "Colonels in Blue - Missouri and the Western States and Territories: A Civil War Biographical Dictionary" by Roger Hunt

[Colonels in Blue - Missouri and the Western States and Territories: A Civil War Biographical Dictionary by Roger D. Hunt (McFarland, 2019). Softcover, photos, reference lists, bibliography, name index. Pp. 249. ISBN:978-1-4766-7589-3 $39.95]

Roger Hunt's Colonels in Blue - Missouri and the Western States and Territories is the seventh installment in his Colonels in Blue series, which is an ongoing project aimed at creating a comprehensive "biographical dictionary" of Union officers who "attained the rank of colonel in the Union army, but failed to win promotion to brigadier general or brevet brigadier general"* (pg. 1). Existing series coverage encompasses "the New England states, New York, Pennsylvania, the Mid-Atlantic states, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin," and this book addresses colonels who led infantry, cavalry, and artillery regiments from Missouri, Arkansas, California, Kansas, Louisiana, Oregon, and Texas along with the western territories of Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, and Washington.

Every state and territory section in the book begins with a helpful regimental table that lists each commanding colonel and his dates of service. Unlike elsewhere, those colonels who were promoted out of the regiment are featured here, with their final rank designated in bold.

In the main biographical dictionary sections, the colonels are arranged alphabetically. Where applicable and/or known, individual entries include a brief Civil War service history, birth and death date and place, occupation(s), civilian public offices/honors, educational background, burial place, a miscellaneous section (most commonly consisting of residence information), and a full reference list. The service history sketch is a very date-intensive rundown of promotions, higher formation attachments, episodes of incapacitation (sickness/wounds/capture), and battle honors. Also frequently found are notes on personal conduct, particularly for those colonels who committed acts of gross malfeasance or were for a variety of reasons proved militarily unfit for command. The reference list section of each entry draws upon a large amount and variety of sources, including books, periodicals, government documents (especially pension records), archival collections, and a great number of newspapers.

As one might expect given the state's manpower contributions relative to the rest, well over half of the book is devoted to Missouri officers. Making his colonel register even more valuable was Hunt's wise decision to include all the home guard, reserve corps, and militia regiment commanders. This is particularly notable in the Missouri section of the book, for the Missouri State Militia, Enrolled Missouri Militia, and Provisional Enrolled Missouri Militia regiments were very important frontline and rear area units that served within the state's borders and they continue to receive little in the way of detailed attention in the literature. Those researching the Missouri-Kansas border war, and the 1864 Missouri Campaign in particular, will also benefit from the author's work on the Kansas militia colonels.

Uncovering photographs (CDV-type or otherwise) of obscure Civil War figures, of which there are an enormous number in this volume, can be a very frustrating task, and Hunt deserves a great deal of credit for his dedicated detective work in this regard. It's difficult to accurately assess without a manual count, but it does appear that Hunt's scouring of public and private archives (including his own personal collection, which must be quite extensive by now) for photographs of some kind produced success around half of the time for the figures listed in the book. At first glance, that might not seem too impressive, but it rather is. Undoubtedly, a large proportion of these images are published for the first time in the pages of this book.

Another highly useful tool for serious Civil War researchers and genealogists that's well organized to suit its purpose, Roger Hunt's newest installment in his authoritative Colonels in Blue series is a great addition to any reference library..

* - To read about those that did achieve the higher rank, start with Ezra Warner's classic Generals in Blue and Hunt's own (with Jack R. Brown) 1998 book Brevet Brigadier Generals in Blue.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Booknotes: A Yankee Regiment in Confederate Louisiana

New Arrival:
A Yankee Regiment in Confederate Louisiana: The 31st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in the Gulf South by Larry Lowenthal (LSU Press, 2019).

If you're like me and crave regimental histories of units that operated off the beaten path then Larry Lowenthal's A Yankee Regiment in Confederate Louisiana: The 31st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in the Gulf South looks like the book for us. The regiment "was one of only a handful of New England units to serve in Louisiana and the Gulf region during the Civil War, and, of those, it remained there the longest."

Units that fought in the Trans-Mississippi and western theaters often were forced to take the field in hybrid capacities, and the 31st "assumed numerous roles, functioning as infantry, cavalry, and mounted infantry when needed. The regiment operated as an army of occupation; participated in siege warfare at Port Hudson, Louisiana; marched and fought in long field operations such as the Red River campaign; engaged in guerrilla warfare; and garrisoned coastal defense fortifications. It also had the distinction of being the first Federal unit to enter and occupy New Orleans."

Lowenthal's chronicling of the 31st's Civil War service is also unprecedented. A Yankee Regiment in Confederate Louisiana "is the first comprehensive examination of this remarkable regiment and its men." Along the way, the author benefited from an unusual stroke of good fortune when it came to collecting unpublished firsthand sources.

More from the description: "When veterans of the unit attempted to write its history in the late nineteenth century, they were not able to complete the task, but they did collect a large quantity of primary-source materials and deposited them in a Springfield, Massachusetts, museum. Lowenthal’s work draws heavily from that unpublished cache. Among the documents are highly personal letters, diaries, and first-person recollections that offer vivid and unrivaled accounts of the unit’s military experiences, as well as its soldiers’ impressions of the people and physical conditions they encountered in Louisiana." The book adds a valuable new perspective to "the literature on occupied Louisiana and the Union Army’s service in the Gulf South."

Arriving on my doorstep over the holidays, this December 2019 release was one of my most highly anticipated titles of last year. At least from appearances, it would have a made a strong push for inclusion on my year-end list of favorites. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Booknotes: The Civil War in the South Carolina Lowcountry

New Arrival:
The Civil War in the South Carolina Lowcountry: How a Confederate Artillery Battery and a Black Union Regiment Defined the War by Ron Roth (McFarland, 2020).

In the Civil War publishing world, dual unit studies (of allies or enemies) are probably even less common than dual biographies. Among other things, behind this particular dual history is a desire to explore the many contrasts between two combat units of shared geographical background but polar opposite purposes (to put it mildly).

From the description: "Some of the most dramatic and consequential events of the Civil War era took place in the South Carolina Lowcountry between Charleston and Savannah." Ron Roth's The Civil War in the South Carolina Lowcountry: How a Confederate Artillery Battery and a Black Union Regiment Defined the War "tells the story through the experiences of two radically different military units--the Confederate Beaufort Volunteer Artillery and the U.S. 1st South Carolina Regiment, the first black Union regiment to fight in the war--both organized in Beaufort, the heart of the Lowcountry."

The book's parallel narratives begin decades before the Civil War and end with an epilogue discussion of the Reconstruction period. Military event coverage includes raiding operations back and forth across the Union-occupied sea islands and the Confederate-held mainland (ex. the 1862 Battle of Pocotaligo), the burning of Bluffton, the 1864 Battle of Honey Hill, and the 1865 Battle of Averasboro fought in neighboring North Carolina. Among some other supplementary materials, name-list rosters of both units can be found in the appendix section.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Giving thanks

As the current year winds down and another decade begins, I would like to say thanks to all the publishers and individuals who sent me books for review consideration on the site in 2019. Without that, CWBA as it is would not be possible. Also much appreciated are those readers who continue to make online purchases through links on the site. A special thank you goes out to the supporting sponsors, two of which have been with CWBA continuously for many years. Just as highly valued is the site's small group of direct book fund donors. Due to privacy concerns I won't reveal anyone's name, but rest assured I truly do consider any amount of giving an act of exceptional generosity.

Happy New Year! to everyone, and on to 2020.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Booknotes: Bull Run to Boer War

New Arrival:
Bull Run to Boer War: How the American Civil War Changed the British Army by Michael Somerville (Helion & Co, 2019).

From the description: "The American Civil War is often said to have predicted the way in which later wars such as the Boer War and the First World War would be fought. As a result the British Army has been criticised for not heeding its lessons, a view that can be traced back to the 1930s." Michael Somerville's Bull Run to Boer War: How the American Civil War Changed the British Army "challenges that long-held view, and demonstrates that the responses to the lessons of the war in the British Army were more complex, better informed, and of higher quality, than normally depicted. Key to this new interpretation is that it takes a nineteenth century perspective rather than pre-supposing what the British should have seen based upon hindsight from the South African veldt or the Western Front trenches."

The standard survey history of how European military observers interpreted the American Civil War is Jay Luvaas's 1959 book The Military Legacy of the Civil War: The European Inheritance. The first chapter of Bull Run to Boer War reassesses Luvaas's place in the historiography and the second reexamines the firsthand experiences of the conflict's British observers. Successive chapters consist of numerous topical discussions of Civil War lessons in the areas of artillery, military engineering, cavalry, infantry tactics, military ballooning, and railroads.

More from the description: "In studying how the Civil War changed the Late Victorian British Army, the book provides insight into its learning process, and concludes that although sometimes flawed, its study of the American Civil War meant that it was better prepared for the wars of the twentieth century than previously acknowledged."