Monday, December 10, 2018

Booknotes: All Because of a Mormon Cow

New Arrival:
All Because of a Mormon Cow: Historical Accounts of the Grattan Massacre, 1854–1855 edited by John D. McDermott, R. Eli Paul, and Sandra J. Lowry (OU Press, 2018).

So many U.S.-Indian conflicts arose from small incidents that quickly escalated into tragic open warfare. In August 1854, near Fort Laramie, a Lakota man was accused of killing a cow belonging to a Mormon emigrant. On the 19th, Lt. John Grattan and thirty men (twenty-nine soldiers and a civilian interpreter) arrived at the Indian camp to make the arrest. Tensions boiled over during the encounter, and the soldiers fired into the camp, killing a chief. In response, the angry Lakota turned on Grattan's command and massacred them. This incident sparked the First Sioux War, which lasted until 1856. Indecisive in its results, peace between the sides would be only temporary, and much larger and bloodier conflicts would follow.

In All Because of a Mormon Cow: Historical Accounts of the Grattan Massacre, 1854–1855, editors John McDermott, Eli Paul, and Sandra Lowry bring together "all known contemporary accounts of the Grattan fight and its immediate aftermath" (xii). From the description: "Where previous accounts of the Grattan Massacre have made do with limited primary sources, this volume includes eighty contemporary, annotated accounts of the fight and its aftermath, many newly discovered or recovered from obscurity. Recorded when the events were fresh in their narrators’ memories, these documents bring a sense of immediacy to a story more than a century and a half old. Alongside the voices heard here—of the Indian leaders Little Thunder and Big Partisan, of Mormons from passing emigrant trains, and of government officials charged with investigating the massacre, among many others—the editors include a substantial and thorough introduction that underscores the significance of the Grattan Massacre in all its depth and detail." According to the editors, the accounts of the Lakota leaders mentioned above have never been published before in their entirety, and prior studies have overlooked many of the valuable firsthand writings from Mormon emigrants that can be found in this collection.

Among the Grattan Massacre perspectives anthologized in the book are those from military officers, traders, emigrants, civilian travelers, Indian leaders, an interpreter, and a mail carrier. Arranged in chronological order, each account is preceded by editorial commentary. The book's introduction also contains a fairly lengthy, scholarly overview of the incident itself.

All Because of a Mormon Cow is the first of two planned volumes. Spanning many postwar decades, the second book will contain later accounts of the massacre, both "reminiscent and reflective." In evaluating the different character of retrospective accounts written long after the incident in question, the upcoming volume will also look closely at "the nature of oral history and Indian testimony, their strengths and weaknesses, and the mechanisms for recording and remembering the Plains Indian Wars" (xiii).

Sunday, December 9, 2018

2018 Civil War book awards list

Tom Watson Brown Award:
Andrew F. Lang for In the Wake of War: Military Occupation, Emancipation, and Civil War America (LSU). (review)

A.M. Pate Award:
(TBA soon)

Albert Castel Book Award:
Timothy B. Smith for Grant Invades Tennessee: The 1862 Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson (Kansas). (review)

Dan and Marilyn Laney Prize:
Gordon C. Rhea for On to Petersburg: Grant and Lee, June 4-15, 1864 (LSU). (review)

Richard Barksdale Harwell Book Award:
Brian Steel Wills for Inglorious Passages: Noncombat Deaths in the American Civil War (Kansas). (review)

Bobbie and John Nau Book Prize in American Civil War Era History:
Andrew E. Masich for Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands, 1861-1867 (Oklahoma). (review)

Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize :
Edward L. Ayers for The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America (Norton).

Wiley-Silver Prize:
Matthew E. Stanley for The Loyal West: Civil War & Reunion in Middle America (Illinois).

Douglas Southall Freeman History Award:
(TBA)

Nevins-Freeman Award:
Greg Biggs for ??

Barondess/Lincoln Award:
Elizabeth Brown Pryor for Six Encounters With Lincoln: A President Confronts Democracy and it's Demons (Viking).

Jefferson Davis Award:
(TBA)

Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award:
(TBA)

Founders Award:
(TBA)

Avery O. Craven Award:
Edward L. Ayers for The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America (Norton).

General Basil W. Duke Literary Award:
(TBA)

CWBA Book of the Year::
(TBA)

Friday, December 7, 2018

Booknotes: Ironclad Captains of the Civil War

New Arrival:
Ironclad Captains of the Civil War by Myron J. Smith, Jr. (McFarland, 2018).

With now nine thick tomes under his belt documenting the naval men, machines, and their operations along the western waterways, Myron Smith certainly ranks among the most knowledgeable and accomplished historians of the Civil War's brown water navies. His newest book, and second biographical reference guide to his credit (the other being Civil War Biographies from the Western Waters), is Ironclad Captains of the Civil War.

From the description: "Based on the Official Records, biographical works, ship and operations histories, newspapers and other sources, this book chronicles the lives of 158 ironclad captains, North and South, who were charged with outfitting and commanding these then revolutionary vessels in combat. Each biography includes (where known) birth and death information, pre- and post-war career, and details about ships served upon or commanded." Images of most (if not all) officers are included, as are many photographs of the vessels they commanded.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Book News: The Civil War on the Rio Grande, 1846–1876

Military and civil strife in the Rio Grande River Valley during 1861-65 have been explored in a number of useful books from historians Jerry Thompson, Stephen Townsend, Stephen Dupree, Michael Collins, James Irby, and others. The most recent works have placed more emphasis on the transnational and cross-cultural aspects of the border region's involvement in the Civil War, with analysis often extending both long before and well after the war years. The newest entry in the historiography, The Civil War on the Rio Grande, 1846–1876 (TAMU Press, Jan 2019), agrees with its predecessors that "(t)o understand the American Civil War in Texas also requires an understanding of the history of Mexico."

Edited by Christopher L. Miller, Roseann Bacha-Garza, and Russell K. Skowronek, the book "focuses on the region’s forced annexation from Mexico in 1848 through the Civil War and Reconstruction. In a very real sense, the Lower Rio Grande Valley was a microcosm not only of the United States but also of increasing globalization as revealed by the intersections of races, cultures, economic forces, historical dynamics, and individual destinies."

Miller, Bacha-Garza, and Skowronek are also the authors of Blue and Gray on the Border: The Rio Grande Valley Civil War Trail, which should be released any day now by the same publisher. It's advertised as "a densely illustrated travel guide featuring important historical and military sites of the Civil War period." A close companion to that guidebook, The Civil War on the Rio Grande "provides the scholarly backbone to a larger public history project exploring three decades of ethnic conflict, shifting international alliances, and competing economic proxies at the border." I'm looking forward to reading and reviewing both titles.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Booknotes: This War Ain't Over

New Arrival:
This War Ain't Over: Fighting the Civil War in New Deal America
  by Nina Silber (UNC Press, 2018).

From the description: "The New Deal era witnessed a surprising surge in popular engagement with the history and memory of the Civil War era. From the omnipresent book and film Gone with the Wind and the scores of popular theater productions to Aaron Copeland's "A Lincoln Portrait," it was hard to miss America's fascination with the war in the 1930s and 1940s."

Nina Silber's This War Ain't Over: Fighting the Civil War in New Deal America "deftly examines the often conflicting and politically contentious ways in which Americans remembered the Civil War era during the years of the Depression, the New Deal, and World War II. In doing so, she reveals how the debates and events of that earlier period resonated so profoundly with New Deal rhetoric about state power, emerging civil rights activism, labor organizing and trade unionism, and popular culture in wartime."

More: "At the heart of this book is an examination of how historical memory offers people a means of understanding and defining themselves in the present. Silber reveals how, during a moment of enormous national turmoil, the events and personages of the Civil War provided a framework for reassessing national identity, class conflict, and racial and ethnic division." The book suggests that the New Deal period was the "the first time Civil War memory loomed so large for the nation as a whole."

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Review - "The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson’s Epic 1863 Civil War Raid Through Mississippi" by Timothy Smith

[The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson’s Epic 1863 Civil War Raid Through Mississippi by Timothy B. Smith (Savas Beatie, 2018). Hardcover, 13 maps, photos, footnotes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xxiv,315/369. ISBN:978-1-61121-428-4. $32.95]

To mask his bold amphibious landing of the main army below Vicksburg, General U.S. Grant ordered a number of diversionary operations over a wide geographical area. Conducted across from and above Vicksburg as well as in North Mississippi, all played important roles and were successful beyond expectation. The most famous and most substantial of these movements was Col. Benjamin Grierson's cavalry raid down the length of Confederate Mississippi. Launched from LaGrange, Tennessee on April 17 and concluding two weeks later at Baton Rouge, Louisiana on May 2, Grierson's Raid damaged enemy railroad tracks and destroyed trains and depot facilities, but its most telling feature was the mass confusion sown in the rear of General John C. Pemberton's Vicksburg defenders, who were concentrated along the east bank of the Mississippi. With Confederate attention temporarily reoriented to the east, the raid helped open a critical time window for Grant's army to land on the Mississippi shore unopposed and consolidate a bridgehead.

Grierson's Raid has been examined in a number of magazine articles, essays, and book-length secondary works over the years. Ed Bearss detailed the operation in his Vicksburg Campaign trilogy and the raid has also been covered more recently in a pair of short works—Tom Lalicki's Grierson's Raid: A Daring Cavalry Strike Through the Heart of the Confederacy (2004) and Roughshod Through Dixie: Grierson’s Raid 1863 (2010) by Mark Lardas. The most popularly known (and oldest) treatment is Dee Brown's Grierson's Raid, which hasn't aged well since its 1954 release and in reality never upheld scholarly standards in the first place. Happily, military historian Timothy Smith's The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson’s Epic 1863 Civil War Raid Through Mississippi fulfills the need for a full-length study that meets the demands of modern scholarship.

In some ways, former music teacher Benjamin Grierson was a curious choice to lead the brigade-sized raiding force that consisted of the 6th Illinois, 7th Illinois, and 2nd Iowa cavalry regiments with an attached battery. Prior to the 1863 raid that made him instantly famous, Grierson was a relatively quiet wartime figure who only distinguished himself in a series of minor cavalry actions at the head of the 6th Illinois, none of which approached the scale, complexity, importance, length, and danger of the great Mississippi mounted operation. It seems he was selected primarily on the basis that no other immediately available cavalry officer was trusted as much as Grierson was by both generals Grant and Stephen A. Hurlbut, the latter a corps commander in Grant's army and head of the Memphis district of occupation. Exactly why this was so isn't entirely clear. Grierson would certainly repay with interest the confidence placed in him by his superiors.

The book documents well the above mentioned diversionary expeditions, all of which served Grant's purposes but also immeasurably eased the initial passage of Grierson himself. As Smith shows, the two small movements from Memphis combined with a larger operation east out of Corinth opened a gaping hole in the already thin Confederate defenses of North Mississippi, an open doorway that Grierson was perfectly positioned to exploit. That the raiders were able to penetrate deep into Mississippi with no significant resistance demonstrated to all that the state's defensive arrangements lacked any real depth.

Smith's minutely detailed narrative, which follows the course of the raid on a day-by-day basis, really gets to the heart of what made Grierson such an effective cavalry raider. He moved fast and employed active deception and diversion to great effect. Even though most civilian residents along the raid route felt themselves far from the fighting front and did not expect to see enemy soldiers of any kind, it still remains rather impressive that Grierson was able to convince so many Mississippians in so many places that his men were Confederate cavalry. He also availed himself of the services of many friendly residents and guides as he passed through counties with sizable pro-Union populations, and their contributions to his success should not be underestimated.

Over an exhausting two-week period, Grierson also was able to consistently keep a clear head when confronted with a series of very stressful and fluid situations. With enemy forces finally closing in with dangerous numbers after he damaged the vital rail link between Vicksburg and Meridian, his flexible state of mind constantly weighed the benefits vs. risks of all possible escape options. These options ranged from (1) swinging back north (the preferred route of General Hurlbut, who feared losing his best cavalry to another district command) to (2) moving southwest to link up with Grant near the Mississippi River to (3) continuing directly south to shelter within Union lines at Baton Rouge. Recognizing that returning to Tennessee was by far the most dangerous option (especially for tired men and horses) and meeting up safely with Grant would have required exceptional timing that was deemed too risky, Grierson's choice to head for Baton Rouge was likely the most logical option, even though it had dangers of its own due to the heavy presence of Confederate troops at Port Hudson.

In addition to the main force constantly feinting in different directions to confuse any pursuers, Grierson also sent out a constant parade of detachments varying in size from individuals to an entire regiment (Edward Hatch's 2nd Iowa Cavalry). Either looping back to the main force or returning all the way back to friendly lines in Tennessee, all of these actions (in addition to hitting ancillary infrastructure targets) helped keep the Confederates in the dark as to the location and intentions of the main body of Union raiders at any given moment. Smith properly praises the leadership shown by the officers that led Grierson's detachments, all of whom did their jobs to near perfection and at great risk to themselves. Fortunately for all involved, casualties were also light to non-existent.

Clearly, Grierson was aided by an ineffectual Confederate response, which consisted primarily of hastily raised state troops and small regular detachments, none of which managed to strike Grierson (or any of his detachments) with enough strength or surprise to seriously endanger the mission. In assessing the response, Smith is more charitable toward Pemberton than most other writers have been, his critique taking into account the full range of the Confederate commander's responsibilities at the moment and the limited resources (particularly in mounted troops, which were necessarily concentrated in the north) available. Even so, the net was tightening considerably by the time Grierson reached southern Mississippi, and safe haven in Union-controlled Louisiana proved to be an invaluable 'get out of jail free' card. The raid was impressive by any measure, but Grierson clearly benefited immensely from the fact that he and his men did not have to return to their original starting point in the face of mounting opposition.

It is popularly repeated in the literature that Grierson's Raid drew upwards of 20,000 Confederate soldiers or all types to the interior (away from the Mississippi River border counties) and afforded Grant a critical five-day window in which to land his army and consolidate his beachhead. Smith confirms the last point, but the former contention is left underdeveloped and only mentioned in passing. It's a long-held claim that probably deserved a fresh reappraisal in the book.

Many readers will readily recognize the cinematic/literary origins of the book's title. Neither John Ford's The Horse Soldiers (1959) nor the Harold Sinclair novel of the same name that spawned the movie are discussed at any length in Smith's study; however, this represents no great missed opportunity as the intersection of history, novel, and movie has already been thoroughly examined by Neal Longley York in his 2001 book Fiction as Fact: "The Horse Soldiers" and Popular Memory.

As one might anticipate given the past record of both author and publisher, The Real Horse Soldiers is well stocked with maps and illustrations. Also manifest in Smith's prior scholarship is deep research into primary sources, and this expectation is also met here in full. This exhaustive and engrossing study is the history of Grierson's Raid that's been long overdue. It is as notable a contribution to the wider Civil War cavalry literature as it is a newly essential component of the Vicksburg Campaign bookshelf. Highly recommended.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Booknotes: Visual Antietam Vol. 1

New Arrival:
Visual Antietam Vol. 1: Ezra Carman’s Antietam Through Maps and Pictures: Dawn to Dunker Church by Ezra Carman, ed. and illus. by Brad Butkovich (Historic Imagination, 2018).

Only recently published, Ezra Carman's Antietam manuscript is one of the most celebrated accounts of any Civil War battle written by a participant. Carman, who led the 13th New Jersey (Gordon's Brigade/Williams's Division/ Twelfth Corps) as its colonel during the 1862 Maryland Campaign, solicited accounts of the battle from both Union and Confederate veterans and created an extensive history of the battle that holds up well to this day.

Brad Butkovich's Visual Antietam series (a planned three volumes) publishes the Carman manuscript again, but while others have focused on extensive annotation of the document itself this time the greatest emphasis is placed on creating visual reader aids (maps and photographs) directly tied to Carman's writing. Visual Antietam Vol. 1: Ezra Carman’s Antietam Through Maps and Pictures: Dawn to Dunker Church "contains sixty-three (63) images, both period and modern, allowing the reader to see the battlefield today and as it was only days after the battle. Twenty-six (26) original maps intricately detail troop movements that fateful morning." Covering the initial phases of the battle, the maps consist of highly detailed renderings of the natural and built landscapes upon which the small-scale troop movements and positions of both sides are dutifully traced. If you're unfamiliar with the author, I've discussed some of Butkovich's earlier work (see links here) where he's displayed considerable mapmaking and history writing talents.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Booknotes: Rebel Guerrillas

New Arrival:
Rebel Guerrillas: Mosby, Quantrill and Anderson by Paul Williams (McFarland, 2018).

The publisher's description for Rebel Guerrillas: Mosby, Quantrill and Anderson only broadly hints at what interpretive slant(s) might be taken in the book: "From the hills and valleys of the eastern Confederate states to the sun-drenched plains of Missouri and "Bleeding Kansas," a vicious, clandestine war was fought behind the big-battle clashes of the American Civil War. In the east, John Singleton Mosby became renowned for the daring hit-and-run tactics of his rebel horsemen. Here a relatively civilized war was fought; women and children usually left with a roof over their heads. But along the Kansas-Missouri border it was a far more brutal clash; no quarter given. William Clarke Quantrill and William "Bloody Bill" Anderson became notorious for their savagery."

The short prologue is similarly Booknotes-unfriendly in terms of giving me little in the way of a clear layout of the book's overall intentions, though it does offer perhaps some insight into what author Paul Williams plans to do with a trio of already well-documented irregular war figures. With John Singleton Mosby the ideally realized product of what the Confederacy's Partisan Ranger Act of 1862 intended to create, it seems the book will contrast the Virginian's actions with those of notorious Missouri bushwhackers William C. Quantrill and William T. "Bloody Bill" Anderson. It appears the study might also attempt to delineate some essential East vs. West differences in the character of the Civil War's irregular component, though one hopes the author doesn't go too far with drawing radical distinctions given that various savage forms of guerrilla warfare existed across all fronts. With Quantrill and Anderson being the same brand of fighter, it is a bit curious to include both men in what is presumably a three-way comparative study.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Booknotes: Embattled Freedom

New Arrival:
Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps
  by Amy Murrell Taylor (UNC Press, 2018).

Long before the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, wherever Union armies and navies went in the southern and border states slavery was put on the practical path to extinction. During the war years, an estimated 500,000 enslaved persons took the opportunity that nearby military operations afforded them to flee to Union lines for freedom and protection. Similar to what happened to the medical services when confronted and overwhelmed with the realities of camp sicknesses and the mass casualties of the battlefield, the military authorities tasked with running refugee camps were ill-prepared to house and care for the mass of humanity. Lack of resources, the inherent limitations of mid-nineteenth century medical knowledge, and sometimes neglect often meant that the camps that were set up to shelter ex-slaves became rife with disease and death. But the camps were certainly more than that to all involved, and Amy Murrell Taylor's Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps examines the full breadth of the refugee camp experience and the meaning those places had to their inhabitants and their aspirations for more permanent freedom.

From the description: "Drawing on an extraordinary survey of slave refugee camps throughout the country, Embattled Freedom reveals as never before the everyday experiences of these refugees from slavery as they made their way through the vast landscape of army-supervised camps that emerged during the war. Amy Murrell Taylor vividly reconstructs the human world of wartime emancipation, taking readers inside military-issued tents and makeshift towns, through commissary warehouses and active combat, and into the realities of individuals and families struggling to survive physically as well as spiritually. Narrating their journeys in and out of the confines of the camps, Taylor shows in often gripping detail how the most basic necessities of life were elemental to a former slave's quest for freedom and full citizenship."

The author integrates a multitude of personal histories into her narrative. "The stories of individuals--storekeepers, a laundress, and a minister among them--anchor this ambitious and wide-ranging history and demonstrate with new clarity how contingent the slaves' pursuit of freedom was on the rhythms and culture of military life. Taylor brings new insight into the enormous risks taken by formerly enslaved people to find freedom in the midst of the nation's most destructive war."

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Review - "Lincoln's Mercenaries: Economic Motivation Among Union Soldiers During the Civil War" by William Marvel

[Lincoln's Mercenaries: Economic Motivation Among Union Soldiers During the Civil War by William Marvel (Louisiana State University Press, 2018). Hardcover, illustrations, tables, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xviii,236/347. ISBN:978-0-8071-6952-0. $48]

At this point, the question of why men enlisted in the Union Army has been studied in innumerable books and articles. Among the many motivational factors raised and explored in this large body of scholarship are patriotic fervor, sense of duty, principles of masculine honor, ideology (be it antislavery or just pro-Union), hope for social advancement, religious conviction, or even just sheer boredom and desire for grand adventure. Absent in most of these discussions of early-war volunteerism is the economic incentive, which few soldiers readily admitted to in direct fashion either at the time or in retrospect. However, historian William Marvel believes money to have been a significant inducement at every stage of the conflict, even in its earliest months. In his new book Lincoln's Mercenaries: Economic Motivation Among Union Soldiers During the Civil War Marvel offers the first comprehensive examination of how a lingering downturn in the northern farm and industrial economies (which began during the Panic of 1857 and didn't have an opportunity to recover before being hit anew with the secession crisis's currency, commerce, and trade disruptions) led legions of northern men in 1861-62 to see the volunteer army as the only way to adequately support themselves and their families. In addressing the 1863-65 period, the study confirms some long-held popular and scholarly views on bounty incentives while also proposing fresh perspectives on late-war volunteerism.

Before now, the absence of useful statistical data regarding the financial situations of recruits and their families has severely limited research. Marvel cites the recent availability of median income data from the 1860 census, made possible by the University of Minnesota's Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS), as the research tool most indispensable to his study. Previous historians had only anecdotal primary sources and average wealth numbers to rely upon, the latter obviously too skewed by income extremes to be truly valuable. Access to state by state median income figures allowed the author to divide recruits into equally sized study groups. Lest anyone get too carried away with the "rich man's war, poor man's fight" aspects of Marvel's interpretation, the author firmly reminds the reader that recruits with incomes below the median were not necessarily poor (or part of the lowest social class). With that in mind, however, the median income dividing point does for the first time allow meaningful (albeit imperfect) large-scale analysis based on economic class.

On the face of it, it seems quite reasonable for past historians to have viewed the eager response to Lincoln's post-Sumter call for 75,000 militia to put down the rebellion as the war's most fervent expression of northern patriotism. This is certainly part of the story, but Marvel's research also finds that 71% of northern 90-day militia volunteers were men with below-median incomes and attributes this heavy overrepresentation to the dire economic conditions that existed in early 1861 and the vast available pool of unemployed men of military age. This 71% figure is higher than any of the other major recruitment drives examined in the book [the 3-year volunteers of 1861 (the next closest at 70%), 3-year 1862, 9-month militia 1862, 3-year 1863-64 (also 70%), 100-days 1864, and 1-year 1864-65]. While no one reasonably expects to encounter even distribution by income under any circumstances, an observer could be forgiven for anticipating the economic class disparity among the first 90-day volunteers to rank among the lowest of any group, especially if one believes (as Marvel does) that patriotic feeling was more or less evenly distributed during the initial war fever period. This counterintuitive result suggests a disproportionately compelling economic incentive.

Even though the war economy might have been expected to pick up at a time coinciding with the mustering out of the 90-day regiments, Marvel perceptively notes that the extended prewar economic downturn had created surpluses in enough key industries (an important factor in combination with continued currency shortages, trade embargoes, and crop failures) to still make military service attractive on its own. This delay in the wide-scale emergence of competing employment opportunities in the civilian sphere allowed authorities to maintain comparatively low monetary incentives (monthly army pay plus state and local bounties plus monthly family support payments) for the first wave of 3-year volunteer regiments in summer 1861.

As other historians have pointed out, communal generosity in the form of military family stipends dried up relatively quickly in the face of an extended war and promises of support were widely reneged upon. By the time Secretary of War Edwin Stanton unwisely suspended recruitment all across the country in April 1862, the revitalized war economy was already attracting workers in large numbers. Thus when the call for new troops resumed that summer the response was tepid, requiring much larger bounties to convince men already accustomed to reading frightening casualty lists in the newspaper, and who now had more and better employment options than they did in 1861, to volunteer. Confusion over the threat of conscription also had some effect in spurring enlistment. With much higher monetary rewards attached to enlistment for this period, many 1861 volunteers understandably seethed at the lavish (as they saw it) generosity bestowed upon the later volunteers, and their anger was redoubled when they learned it would be taxes on their own property that would help pay for the bounties. As it was in 1861, sizable majorities (typically percentages in the low 60s) of the volunteers that filled the ranks of 1862's three-year regiments came from the poorer side of their state's median income. A notable exception was Iowa, which had very nearly equal representation.

Concurrent with the new three-year regiment recruitment drive of mid-1862 were the 9-month militia regiments, which unlike the former did carry the conscription threat if left unfilled. According to Marvel's research, the militia regiments did not have the same financial inducements but had other obvious benefits of their own. In most states, enlistee rates for those above the median income were decidedly higher in the short-term militia regiments than the three-year formations.

The late-war "bounty men" are those most commonly disparaged then and now, but Marvel finds that even the 1862 volunteers were widely jeered in the army for being latecomers with pockets filled more with money than heads with patriotism. When the first implementation of conscription arrived in March 1863, after liberal draft exemptions and substitute-commutation payments no state exceeded 5% enrollment (and most far less). Even less than that actually entered the ranks in the field. In Marvel's view this is more clear evidence that financial incentives, combined with the draft threat, were required to get any serious number of men into the ranks by the mid-war period.

The recruitment pattern of the 1864 100-day regiments further confirms Marvel's thesis that the higher-than-median income recruits were concentrated in the short-term regiments. Indeed, for some states the roughly two-thirds representation of less-than-median income recruits in their long-term regiments almost exactly matched the representation of higher-than-median recruits in their short-term regiments.

Marvel well recognizes the fact that multiple sources of motivation existed in most individuals and it would be utterly impossible for anyone today to establish a clear-cut hierarchy of motivations with any degree of certitude. Really, most of the men themselves probably could not have honestly done it at the time. It is a common refrain among Civil War researchers that so much primary source material exists that one can anecdotally support a whole range of conclusions associated with almost any issue. That said, Marvel's extensive manuscript research nevertheless powers the creation of an intellectually compelling assembly of individual vignettes supported by personal writings that together lend credence to his thesis. Thickly and evenly spread throughout the chapter-length discussions of the public response to each national appeal for volunteers, the collective thrust of these individual testimonials and vignettes (in combination with the supporting quantitative data presented) suggests a widespread impact of economic incentives. Even though the vast majority of new volunteers understandably avoided any kind of direct admission of money being the primary or sole inducement for joining the army or navy, financial matters and concerns very often dominated their early letters home.

Marvel readily admits that many readers will object to his chosen title of "Lincoln's Mercenaries" as overly burdened with negative connotations, but defends his use of the term "mercenary" as being a selective yet technically appropriate usage of the dictionary definition. Even so, it still seems rather needlessly provocative in the sense that some otherwise reasonable readers might dismiss the book on the title alone or begin reading this important study with a mind less open than it might have been with a different title. Marvel makes clear repeatedly throughout the book that he does not want to create the impression that he's impugning the patriotism of northern soldiers, but this doesn't help.

In persuasively challenging the traditional interpretation of enlistment motives among the 1861-62 recruiting classes as being primarily ideological in nature, Marvel's book is force to be reckoned with in future studies. The author does not seek to elevate money as the top reason that men went into the ranks of the Union Army, only that the strength of economic incentives has been misunderstood and vastly underappreciated by nearly all historians that have studied early Civil War volunteerism. His arguments in this regard are very powerful.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Booknotes: The Calculus of Violence

New Arrival:
The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War by Aaron Sheehan-Dean (Harvard UP, 2018).

The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War represents yet another call to scrap the traditional interpretation of the Civil War's violence and destruction as a linear progression from conciliation/limited war to hard/total war. Instead, author Aaron Sheehan-Dean wades into the war's endless cascade of contradictions and recognizes that the worst aspects of the conflict were present from the start but also that restraint was evident at every stage.

The book "demonstrates that this notoriously bloody war could have been much worse. Military forces on both sides sought to contain casualties inflicted on soldiers and civilians. In Congress, in church pews, and in letters home, Americans debated the conditions under which lethal violence was legitimate, and their arguments differentiated carefully among victims―women and men, black and white, enslaved and free. Sometimes, as Sheehan-Dean shows, these well-meaning restraints led to more carnage by implicitly justifying the killing of people who were not protected by the laws of war. As the Civil War raged on, the Union’s confrontations with guerrillas and the Confederacy’s confrontations with black soldiers forced a new reckoning with traditional categories of lawful combatants and raised legal disputes that still hang over military operations around the world today."

"In examining the agonizing debates," both domestic and international, "about the meaning of a just war in the Civil War era, Sheehan-Dean discards conventional abstractions―total, soft, limited―as too tidy to contain what actually happened on the ground."

Monday, November 26, 2018

Booknotes: High Private

New Arrival:
High Private: The Trans-Mississippi Correspondence of Humorist R. R. Gilbert, 1862–1865 edited by Mary M. Cronin (UT Press, 2018).

Mary Cronin's High Private: The Trans-Mississippi Correspondence of Humorist R. R. Gilbert, 1862–1865 explores the life, military service, and journalistic career of Vermont-raised but passionately Confederate Rensselaer Reed Gilbert (the book's title refers to Gilbert's newspaper nom de plume). According to Cronin, Gilbert "was one of the most prolific newspaper correspondents during the years of the U.S. Civil War. He penned several hundred news and editorial columns, as well as comic sketches, for the Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph."

Cronin has written about Gilbert before in a journal article and as a contributor to the essay anthology Knights of the Quill, and that earlier scholarship is significantly expanded upon in the first two chapters of High Private. In addition to serving a biographical purpose, those opening sections (which together run over fifty pages) also delve into the comic nature of much of his writing. The book "provides new insight into this form of journalism but also addresses military humor produced while the author was in uniform. When he returned to civilian life, Gilbert wrote chiefly from various military commanders’ headquarters. His work records the social and political experiences of soldiers and civilians living in the Trans-Mississippi region, especially after it was cut off from the rest of the Confederacy following the capture of New Orleans in 1862."

More from the description: "Through parody and satire, Gilbert’s often sharp pen revealed uncomfortable truths, attacked sentimentality and pretension, provided emotional release for those living in the Trans-Mississippi area—particularly Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas—and served as a critical voice for the region. That Gilbert remains readable today is a testament to his imagination, creativity, and power of observation. In writing about a journalist who covered both military and civilian affairs, Cronin reveals not only a talented writer but also an understudied region in the American Civil War through the keen eyes and pen of a working journalist." Introduced with editorial commentary and arranged in yearly chapters, Gilbert's extensive wartime correspondence is transcribed in full and also annotated.

Cronin’s "extensive look at Gilbert’s life and work introduces readers to the forgotten voice of a Trans-Mississippi comic, correspondent, and Southern advocate" and her work significantly "expands research into the field of Civil War-era humor writing and news reporting."

Friday, November 23, 2018

Booknotes: The War for the Common Soldier

New Arrival:
The War for the Common Soldier: How Men Thought, Fought, and Survived in Civil War Armies by Peter S. Carmichael (UNC Press, 2018).

While there's no particular shortage of books describing and interpreting the experiences of Civil War soldiers in camp, on the march, and on the battlefield, new ideas and perspectives are always welcome. Central to Peter Carmichael's new book The War for the Common Soldier is the author's broad-themed attempt to answer the age old question of how Civil War soldiers coped with "the brutal and unpredictable existence of army life."

From the description: "Based on close examination of the letters and records left behind by individual soldiers from both the North and the South, Carmichael explores the totality of the Civil War experience--the marching, the fighting, the boredom, the idealism, the exhaustion, the punishments, and the frustrations of being away from families who often faced their own dire circumstances. Carmichael focuses not on what soldiers thought but rather how they thought. In doing so, he reveals how, to the shock of most men, well-established notions of duty or disobedience, morality or immorality, loyalty or disloyalty, and bravery or cowardice were blurred by war." Chapter headings "Comrades, Camp and Community"; "Providence and Cheerfulness"; "Writing Home"; "Courage and Cowardice"; "Desertion and Military Justice"; "Facing the Enemy and Confronting Defeat"; and "The Trophies of Victory and the Relics of Defeat" hint at the wide range of discussion.

More: "Digging deeply into his soldiers' writing, Carmichael resists the idea that there was "a common soldier" but looks into their own words to find common threads in soldiers' experiences and ways of understanding what was happening around them. In the end, he argues that a pragmatic philosophy of soldiering emerged, guiding members of the rank and file as they struggled to live with the contradictory elements of their violent and volatile world."

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Booknotes: Deep in the Piney Woods

New Arrival:
Deep in the Piney Woods: Southeastern Alabama from Statehood to the Civil War, 1800–1865 by Tommy C. Brown (Univ of Ala Press, 2018).

Scholarly trends in Civil War home front studies are always in flux and that rarely results in the various sub-regions within states being accorded equal coverage. For Alabama, the recent explosion of Southern Unionist scholarship has diverted much of the attention from the Gulf Coast and black belt to the northern counties. Though many readers will be familiar with Mark Wetherington's superb 2005 study Plain Folk's Fight: The Civil War and Reconstruction in Piney Woods Georgia, Tommy Brown contends in his new book Deep in the Piney Woods: Southeastern Alabama from Statehood to the Civil War, 1800–1865 that the wiregrass region "is one of the most understudied areas in Alabama history." His study "offers a comprehensive and long overdue account of a historically rich region of the state, challenging many commonly held assumptions about the area’s formation and settlement, economy, politics, race relations, and its role in both the secession of the state and the Civil War."

"Historians routinely depict this part of the state as an isolated, economically backward wilderness filled with poor whites who showed little interest in supporting the Confederacy once civil war erupted in 1861." However, like Wetherington did in his own study of five south-central Georgia wiregrass/piney woods counties, Brown "challenges those traditional interpretations, arguing instead that many white Alabamians in this territory participated in the market economy, supported slavery, favored secession, and supported the Confederate war effort for the bulk of the conflict, sending thousands of soldiers to fight in some of the bloodiest campaigns of the war."

More from the description: "This thorough and expansive account of southeastern Alabama’s role in the Civil War also discusses its advocacy for state secession in January 1861; the effects of Confederate conscription on the home front; the economic devastation wrought on the area; and the participation of local military companies in key campaigns in both the eastern and western theaters, including Shiloh, the Peninsula Campaign, the Overland Campaign, Atlanta, and Franklin-Nashville. Brown argues that the lasting effects of the war on the region’s politics, identity, economy, and culture define it in ways that are still evident today."