Saturday, May 27, 2017

Booknotes: "The Bloody Fifth" Vol. 2

New Arrival:
"The Bloody Fifth" The 5th Texas Infantry Regiment, Hood's Texas Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia - Volume 2: Gettysburg to Appomattox by John F. Schmutz (Savas Beatie, 2017).

In a recent ACW magazine review, the elder Krick expressed some pretty profound disappointment in finding the omission of numerous known primary sources in Volume 1, but even with that research criticism in mind it would be difficult to argue that Schmutz's bibliographies aren't far meatier than those found in the typical Civil War regimental study. 

The first book ended with the Suffolk Campaign, and Volume 2 "continues the regiment’s rich history from its march north into Pennsylvania and the battle of Gettysburg, its transfer west to Georgia and participation in the bloody battle of Chickamauga, operations in East Tennessee, and the regiment’s return to Virginia for the overland battles (Wilderness to Cold Harbor), Petersburg campaign, and the march to Appomattox Court House. The narrative ends by following many of the regiment’s soldiers on their long journey home."

The book is well-stocked with photos and maps. For the latter, it almost seems like one appears every handful of pages. The appendix section has four parts. The first is a list of non-combat deaths organized by year and company, the second battle deaths arranged in the same manner, the third a head count of Texans that served in the 5th, and the fourth is an author interview.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Booknotes: Regular Army O!

New Arrival:
Regular Army O!: Soldiering on the Western Frontier, 1865-1891 by Douglas C. McChristian (Univ of Okla Press, 2017).

Douglas McChristian has certainly established himself within the top echelon of frontier army historians. I had not heard of him before encountering his masterful 2009 study Fort Laramie: Military Bastion of the High Plains (another great Arthur H. Clark publication). Jerome Green and intro writer Robert Utley both rave about this new book being the most complete portrait of Regular Army life on the frontier between the end of the Civil War and the conclusion of the Indian Wars.

"At once panoramic and intimate, Regular Army O! uses the testimony of enlisted soldiers—drawn from more than 350 diaries, letters, and memoirs—to create a vivid picture of life in an evolving army on the western frontier." McChristian "plumbs the regulars’ accounts for frank descriptions of their training to be soldiers; their daily routines, including what they ate, how they kept clean, and what they did for amusement; the reasons a disproportionate number occasionally deserted, while black soldiers did so only rarely; how the men prepared for field service; and how the majority who survived mustered out.

A quick run through the chapters reveals a remarkably comprehensive examination of the soldier experience, including recruitment, enlistment, the journey to the front, garrison life, army material culture, relationships between officers and men, hygiene and medical care, training, and what it was like operating in the field. Also addressed in the study are the darker aspects of the frontier army, to include desertion, disease, alcoholism, suicide, and prostitution/VD. This looks like a must-have addition to the Indian Wars library.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Utah and the American Civil War

The Arthur H. Clark Company is one of the premier publishers of Western Americana, and they can always be counted on to publish some Civil War related books every once in a while. The Civil War in the Mountain West has received a bit more attention lately, most recently with The Civil War Years in Utah: The Kingdom of God and the Territory That Did Not Fight (Oklahoma, 2016) by John Gary Maxwell, and this summer Arthur H. Clark will release an edited documentary collection titled Utah and the American Civil War: The Written Record (August).

Edited by BYU history professor Kenneth L. Alford, "Utah and the American Civil War presents a wealth of primary sources pertaining to the territory’s participation in the Civil War—material that until now has mostly been scattered, incomplete, or difficult to locate. Organized and annotated for easy use, this rich mix of military orders, dispatches, letters, circulars, battle and skirmish reports, telegraph messages, command lists, and other correspondence shows how Utah’s wartime experience was shaped by a peculiar blend of geography, religion, and politics."

Listed at 864 pages, it's stuffed with material. Alford "opens the collection with a year-by-year summary of important events in Utah Territory during the war, with special attention paid to the army’s recall from Utah in 1861, the Lot Smith Utah Cavalry Company’s 107-day military service, the Union army’s return in 1862, and relations between the military and Mormons. Readers will find accounts of an 1861 attempt to court-martial a Virginia-born commander for treason, battle reports from the January 1863 Bear River Massacre, documents from the army’s high command authorizing Governor James Doty to enlist additional Utah troops in October 1864, and evidence of Colonel Patrick Edward Connor’s personal biases against Native Americans and Mormons. A glossary of nineteenth-century phrases, military terms, and abbreviations, along with a detailed timeline of key historical events, places the records in historical context." This sounds like a wonderful resource, and I can't wait to look through it.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Review of Belcher - "THE CAVALRIES AT STONES RIVER: An Analytical History"

[The Cavalries at Stones River: An Analytical History by Dennis W. Belcher (McFarland 800-253-2187, 2017). 7x10 softcover, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:262/301. ISBN:978-1-4766-6536-8. $39.95]

Published last year, Dennis Belcher's first-of-its-kind history of the cavalry of the Army of the Cumberland [see review] ably traced the development and operations of the Union mounted arm in the western heartland. In that book Belcher lamented how understudied the mounted actions of the Middle Tennessee Campaign of winter 1862-63 have been in the existing literature. Taking up the banner himself, his new study, The Cavalries at Stones River: An Analytical History, emphatically fills the void.

Part One looks at the movements of Union and Confederate cavalry beginning with the conclusion of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign and running up through Christmas Day of that year. The book provides a solid overview of the winter repositioning of both armies in Middle Tennessee and describes in some detail the many skirmishes and raids fought between the opposing cavalry forces. Given the foraging value of the area's fertile plains, both sides sought to control as much of the countryside as possible.

Belcher does a good job of defining the strengths and weaknesses of each side's mounted arm during the late-1862 period. Confederate cavalry chief General Joseph Wheeler's command certainly had shortages of arms and equipment, but its ranks were much more numerous (collectively comprising over 20% of total army strength) and initially better organized than their Union counterparts, who were parceled out to infantry control and persistently short on good horses. Critics of Army of the Cumberland commander William S. Rosecrans chide him for excessive preparation (the kind of deliberate style of generalship that got his predecessor, Don Carlos Buell, removed), but Belcher is much more sympathetic to Rosecrans's considerable problems, especially those concerning the serious material and manpower weaknesses of the Union mounted arm. The author compellingly supports Rosecrans's contention that the Union cavalry needed to be sorted out first before any general advance could be considered. The important role the "new" Union cavalry played in keeping their highly aggressive enemy counterparts at bay (and staving off disaster at several key points) during the Stones River Campaign seems to bear out the legitimacy of such a viewpoint. According to Belcher, Rosecrans should share credit with new cavalry chief General David Stanley for achieving such a quick turnaround in organization, arms, mounts, and confidence.

Part Two of the book discusses at length the cavalry organization of both armies, in the process providing informative capsule unit histories of the opposing regiments and batteries. This section usefully supports the main narrative but also should serve readers well in the role of a reference tool. The organizational tables collected throughout the book are helpful, as well.

Part Three comprises roughly half the book's narrative and recounts in minute fashion the cavalry's actions during the campaign and battle of Stones River. For the opening days of the campaign, Belcher effectively argues that the mounted brigades of both sides achieved their respective goals. Though roughly handled in spots, Wheeler's brigades were able to keep the enemy's heavy columns from unexpectedly striking the Confederate infantry and they also provided enough breathing space to allow the Army of Tennessee to concentrate at Murfreesboro without great hindrance. On the federal side, Stanley's troopers effectively screened the Union advance, seized vital water crossings intact, and protected the Army of the Cumberland's flanks and rear from enemy strikes.

During the next phase of the campaign, cavalry skirmishing continued until both armies settled into positions opposite one another and in front of Murfreesboro. On December 30, Wheeler embarked on a 60-mile raid around the Army of the Cumberland, disrupting the Union lines of communication with Nashville by capturing supplies and destroying isolated wagon trains. On the following day, the Battle of Stones River would begin.

On the morning of the 31st, with so many Union and Confederate cavalry still off to the north (including chiefs Wheeler and Stanley), mounted fighting was concentrated on the western extremity of the Stones River battlefield, with Colonel Lewis Zahm's blue brigade facing off with General John A. Wharton's more numerous gray troopers. Wharton offered indispensable assistance to the main Confederate attack, repeatedly turning the Union right throughout the morning hours and capturing great numbers of men and equipment. After finally dispersing Zahm's plucky brigade, they even briefly captured the Army of the Cumberland's main supply train before being driven off by reformed enemy units and fresh reinforcements (most prominent among the latter the 4th U.S. Cavalry regiment). For all the damage done by Wheeler's raid on the 30th, the author is undoubtedly correct that the Confederate cause would have been even better served by the tactical presence of Wheeler and his men on the main battlefield on December 31. On the Union side, the leadership of cavalry division commander Colonel John Kennett was far from effective on the 31st, further reinforcing the propriety of placing Stanley above him as army chief of cavalry.

On the east end of the battlefield, across Stones River, General John Pegram's brigade of two cavalry regiments has been blamed by some, then and now, for providing false intelligence regarding the continued presence of heavy Union forces on that flank subsequent to the aborted morning advance of Van Cleve's federal division. This alleged failure in turn kept General Breckinridge from sending timely reinforcements from his division to support the main Confederate attack in the center opposite the Round Forest. In the author's determination, there is too little documentation available (after early morning, only a single 10am dispatch survives) to support the view that Pegram was derelict in his information gathering duties (or was the party responsible for the false report of a Union column coming down the Lebanon Pike behind the Confederate right). The more likely explanation for the command missteps on the right is one of simple miscommunication between Breckinridge and Bragg, who heartily disliked one another. According to the author, there just isn't enough evidence available to assign blame for the alleged intelligence failures on the Confederate right to anyone in particular. Certainly there was enough Union activity at the fords (including that of engineer troops) to sow further confusion over their intentions. What more could have been achieved by throwing additional troops against the strong Union center is questionable anyway.

The final cavalry phase of the December 31 battle occurred during the mid to late afternoon hours, when Stanley and Colonel Robert Minty arrived on the Union far right flank, to the confront the Confederate brigades of Wheeler and General Abraham Buford, who also reached the main battlefield late in the day (replacing Wharton's exhausted troopers). Initially, forced to give ground, Stanley spied an opportunity for a mounted charge, and, in the final act of the day, outflanked and drove back the Confederate cavalry. The action again demonstrated to all the value of Stanley's judgment and leadership qualities, but it also illustrated a contrast in fighting style between Wheeler's dismounted cavalrymen and Stanley's use of the saber for shock effect.

On New Year's Day 1863 Wheeler was again tasked with taking his cavalry behind the enemy army and attack its trains, many of which were conveying Union dead and wounded back to Nashville. This time, the federal cavalry was much better prepared for Wheeler's foray. Wharton's brigade failed to dislodge the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics near La Vergne, and the main body with Wheeler was repulsed after destroying only a few wagons.

On January 2, like they had two days earlier, right flank communication breakdowns between army headquarters, division commander Breckinridge, and the cavalry meant that Pegram (and now Wharton) were given no clear instructions from above to participate in the Confederate attack, which was decisively repulsed. There's no indication that the cavalry could have changed the result, but the botched coordination effort gave all concerned another public black eye. In further raid action on January 3, Wheeler fought a skirmish at Cox Hill and his mistaken report that Rosecrans was being heavily reinforced is cited by some as heavily influencing Bragg's decision to retreat, a criticism that the author reasonably dismisses as a convenient cover.

The author certainly appears to have done his homework. He integrates a wide array of primary sources into his study, including a numerous and geographically wide assemblage of manuscript resources. Belcher also consulted a multitude of unit histories, government documents, and newspapers to go along with his demonstration of a solid grasp of the relevant published literature. The historical narrative is also well supported by maps from noted cartographer George Skoch. On the complaint side, some repetitious passages could have been trimmed away and there is a superabundance of typos in the text.

Belcher, who praises Stanley throughout, is more divided on Wheeler's performance, though he seems higher on Wheeler's potential and later war career than most modern critics. While Bragg was complicit in the raiding philosophy that took valuable cavalry away from tactical support of the main army, Wheeler too often acted like another brigade commander rather than chief of cavalry (indeed he retained personal command of his old brigade). Such failings Belcher primarily attributes to Wheeler's inexperience in carrying out his new responsibilities. Though Wheeler's raid on the 30th, his one truly noteworthy achievement of the campaign, would result in much material damage, it did not affect at all the fighting capacity of Rosecrans's army. In addition to his intelligence gathering mistake on the 3rd, the rest of his battlefield actions outside December 30 were either modest gains or defeats, but Belcher once again views those events as evidence of growing pains rather than demonstrations of ingrained incapacity. The military merits of Joe Wheeler will always remain a source of debate.

Though the old stereotype of the southern cavalryman superior in both marksmanship and riding ability will seemingly never die, the book's portrait of the Union cavalry's speedy qualitative transformation under Rosecrans and Stanley convincingly reinforces the view that, in terms of comparative performance in the field, leadership and organization trumped most other factors. Belcher's book convincingly frames the Stones River Campaign as the first major step taken by the western Union cavalry toward achieving operational and tactical parity with their southern foes. With David Powell's definitive series of Chickamauga studies and now Dennis Belcher's work on Stones River, we now have fully developed descriptive accounts and analyses of cavalry leaders, forces, and operations during the two signature campaigns fought between the Union Army of the Cumberland and the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Laney Prize goes to ...

The Austin Civil War Round Table's Laney Prize is "awarded each year to the author of the book that best advances the knowledge of the Civil War's military or political events and the Americans who took part in those events." Yesterday's press release from the ACWRT announced that the newest prizewinner (the 22nd recipient) is David Powell for The Chickamauga Campaign―Barren Victory: The Retreat into Chattanooga, the Confederate Pursuit, and the Aftermath of the Battle, September 21 to October 20, 1863 (Savas Beatie, 2016). With the honoring of the final volume as noteworthy capstone to a stupendous trilogy, it is appropriate that Powell's work has been given the Peter Jackson treatment.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Booknotes: A War of Words

New Arrival:

A War of Words: The Rhetorical Leadership of Jefferson Davis by R. Jarrod Atchison (Univ of Ala Pr, 2017).

In terms of their rallying their people to a common cause and eliciting support for government policies (especially the most controversial measures), the rhetorical powers of President Davis are typically deemed to have paled in comparison to those used by President Lincoln during the Civil War. R. Jarrod Atchison’s A War of Words is the first in-depth analysis of the leadership effectiveness of Davis's public speaking. The study "uses concepts from rhetorical theory and public address to help answer a question that has intrigued scholars from a variety of disciplines since the collapse of the Confederacy: what role, if any, did Davis play in the collapse of Confederate nationalism?"

Instead of focusing on the consequences to the Confederate nation of Davis's military decision-making, the book argues that "Jefferson Davis’s rhetorical leadership should have been responsible for articulating a vision for the nation—including the core tenets of its identity, the values the nation should hold dear, the principles it should never compromise, and the goals it should set for its future." Expressing the idea that "being a great orator is not synonymous with successful rhetorical leadership," the author "posits that Davis’s initial successes constrained his rhetorical options later in the war. A War of Words concludes that, in the end, Davis’s rhetorical leadership was a failure because he was unable to articulate a coherent Confederate identity in light of the sacrifices endured by the populace in order to sustain the war effort."

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Booknotes: The Three Battles of Sand Creek

New Arrival:

The Three Battles of Sand Creek: In Blood, in Court, and as the End of History
by Gregory F. Michno (Savas Beatie, 2017).

The most recent major work on Sand Creek is Ari Kelman's A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek (2013). I requested a review copy at the time of publication, didn't get it, and haven't picked up a copy yet. My local library buyers (fiction and non-fiction) are terrible so no luck there. A book I have had on the shelf for almost ten years now, and still haven't gotten around to reading, is Greg Michno's Battle At Sand Creek: The Military Perspective (2003).

His new book The Three Battles of Sand Creek is organized into three parts. "The first, 'In Blood,' details the events of November 29 and 30, 1864, in what is surely the most comprehensive account published to date. The second section, 'In Court,' focuses on the three investigations into the affair, illustrates some of the biases involved, and presents some of the contradictory testimony. The third and final section, 'The End of History,' shows the utter impossibility of sorting fact from fiction."

More from the description: "Living in a postmodern world of relativism suggests that all history is subject to the fancies and foibles of individual bias. The example of Sand Creek illustrates why we may be witnessing “the end of history.” Studying Sand Creek exposes our prejudices because facts will not change our minds―we invent them in our memories, we are poor eyewitnesses, we follow the leader, we are slaves to our preconceptions, and assuredly we never let truth get in the way of what we already think, feel, or even hope. We do not believe what we see; instead, we see what we believe." History has always had the kind of problems listed above, but certain topics (like the Indian Wars in North America) inarguably attract greater extremes. I surely don't envy being part of the firestorm that inevitably occurs when Indian Wars historians dare to question sacred cows of the most controversial sort.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Booknotes: Lincoln's Pathfinder

New Arrival:
Lincoln's Pathfinder: John C. Fremont and the Violent Election of 1856 by John Bicknell (Chicago Review Pr, 2017).

Though James Buchanan triumphed over John C. Fremont in the contest for the office of the U.S. presidency in 1856, the Republican showing was impressive enough to convince its followers that future victory was in the cards, even with a complete absence of southern votes. The 1856 results are commonly viewed as a harbinger of national electoral victory sooner rather than later, but, at least in comparison to 1860, the election itself hasn't received a great deal of attention in the popular literature. As the title suggests, this important event is the chief consideration of John Bicknell's new book Lincoln's Pathfinder: John C. Fremont and the Violent Election of 1856.

From the description: "The 1856 presidential race was the most violent peacetime election in American history. War between proslavery and antislavery settlers raged in Kansas; a congressman shot an Irish immigrant at a Washington hotel; and another congressman beat a US senator senseless on the floor of the Senate. But amid all the violence, the campaign of the new Republican Party, headed by famed explorer John C. Frémont, offered a ray of hope: a major party dedicated to limiting the spread of slavery. For the first time, women and African Americans actively engaged in a presidential contest, and the candidate’s wife, Jessie Benton Frémont, played a central role in both planning and executing strategy, and was a public face of the campaign. Even enslaved blacks in the South took hope from Frémont’s crusade."

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review of Roth - "J.O. SHELBY AT CLARENDON, ARKANSAS: The Capture and Destruction of the U.S.S. Queen City"

[General J. O. Shelby at Clarendon, Arkansas: The Capture and Destruction of the U.S.S. Queen City by Don Roth (Camp Pope Publishing, 2017). Softcover, 2 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 60 pp. ISBN:978-1-929919-77-2. $10]

Upon the costly but successful conclusion of the Camden Expedition (the Arkansas wing of the Red River Campaign) in spring 1864, the Confederate leadership in the Trans-Mississippi sent Joseph O. Shelby and his command behind enemy lines into NE Arkansas. There, the newly promoted General Shelby became in effect the sole Confederate military authority in the region, suppressing outlaws and guerrillas, vigorously enforcing conscription in anticipation of a fall expedition into Missouri, and conducting hit and run attacks on Union forces.

One of Shelby's most notable military achievements during this period was his brigade's surprise attack and destruction of the tinclad gunboat U.S.S. Queen City in June 1864. That dramatic event is the focus of Don Roth's book General J. O. Shelby at Clarendon, Arkansas: The Capture and Destruction of the U.S.S. Queen City. A slim volume of only 60 total pages, the study consists of a narrative history of the operation plus a number of brief appendices, among them a partial roster of Bledsoe's Battery (the unit that battered the vessel into submission), a sampling of artifacts taken from the wreck during a 1977 archeological survey, and a list of black sailors rescued from the sinking.

Also covered to satisfaction in the book is the Union response to the loss of the Queen City. Fearing the captured vessel's conversion into a Confederate gunboat, federal authorities quickly outfitted against Shelby a powerful naval flotilla accompanied by a full infantry division with a sizeable mounted detachment. Roth ably recounts the running engagement that ensued. Though Shelby and his field guns were overwhelmed by the Union Navy's weight of shot, the well-mounted Confederates were able to escape with relative ease. In the process, however, much of the fruits of Shelby's victory were lost. Due to the swiftness of the enemy's reaction, much of the offloaded equipment had to be abandoned and the disabled tinclad with its precious heavy guns burned to prevent recapture.

The Queen City escapade offers a clear demonstration of the danger that mobile Confederate forces armed with artillery posed to Union military and civilian shipping on the western rivers, a threat that was fully appreciated at the time by both sides. The pair of previously captured Parrott rifles used to rapidly force the surrender of the formidably armed Queen City are illustrative of how much more damage could have been inflicted had Confederate forces in the West and Trans-Mississippi not been saddled with so much third-rate artillery, and even worse ammunition, throughout the war. Also, the ease of Shelby's escape further showcased the futility of using primarily infantry (no matter what the number involved) to catch veteran cavalry.

The text is marred by a number of typos, but the main complaint is with the cartography. The two maps that are present are fine enough representations of the geographical area involved and Shelby's movements in the region, but no small-scale maps depicting either the June 24 fight at Clarendon or the revenge-seeking Union expedition that followed the Queen City's capture were included.

The Queen City incident is too small to merit mention in most general histories, but it has not been neglected within the Civil War literature as a whole. White River naval operations have enjoyed fairly good coverage over the years, and fine accounts of Jo Shelby's 1864 activities in NE Arkansas have been published before in historical journals and in a 2007 essay anthology. While not the first of its kind in terms of subject matter, Roth's streamlined study of Shelby's victory is a solid one that does represent the first standalone publication of the event.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Booknotes: Joseph Brown and His Civil War Ironclads

New Arrival:
Joseph Brown and His Civil War Ironclads: The USS Chillicothe, Indianola and Tuscumbia by Myron J. Smith, Jr. (McFarland, 2017).

From the description: "A Scottish immigrant to Illinois, Joseph Brown made his pre-Civil War fortune as a miller and steamboat captain who dabbled in riverboat design and the politics of small towns. When war erupted, he used his connections (including a friendship with Abraham Lincoln) to obtain contracts to build three ironclad gunboats for the U.S. War Department--the Chillicothe, Indianola and Tuscumbia.

Brown's ironclads were distinctive-looking river craft (much different in appearance from the famous Pook Turtles) and weren't too highly regarded, but they usefully served the U.S. Navy throughout the conflict (except the Indianola, which was rammed and sunk by the Confederates in 1862). Smith's books on the men and vessels of the Union and Confederate river navies in the west are numerous, and you can find reviews of all of them on this site. Some readers might find the level of detail contained in Smith's narratives crushing, but those with a special interest in the topic will revel in their depth. Smith's interests in man and machine have always gone hand in hand in his work, and "(t)his book covers [Brown's] life and career, as well as the construction and operational histories of his controversial trio of warships."

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Chris Fonvielle

One of my favorite Civil War military history books from the 1990s is Chris Fonvielle's The Wilmington Campaign: Last Rays of Departing Hope (1997). It's a truly superior campaign study and easily the best of the handful of other Wilmington contenders. A couple of years later he followed it up with a really impressive history and map study titled Fort Anderson: The Battle For Wilmington. Fast forwarding to today, I was lamenting to myself the fact that I hadn't come across much of anything from him between then and now. However, it didn't take long to find out that he's still at it. Unbeknownst to me, far from retiring from the Civil War scene Fonvielle's instead kept himself incredibly busy releasing with a local publisher a boatload of new works on his apparently favorite subject. Before I did a quick web search today, I'd only heard of one of the books listed below.

Historic Wilmington & The Lower Cape Fear (2007).
Last Stand at Wilmington: The Battle of Forks Road (2007).
Louis Froelich (2008).
Fort Fisher 1865: The Photographs of T.H. O'Sullivan. (2011).
Faces of Fort Fisher, 1861-1864 (2013).
To Forge a Thunderbolt: Fort Anderson and the Battle for Wilmington (2015).

Most of these books are pretty brief, but the last one appears to be a significantly revised and expanded version of Fonvielle's earlier Fort Anderson study.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Booknotes: Soldiers in the Southwest Borderlands, 1848–1886

New Arrival:
Soldiers in the Southwest Borderlands, 1848–1886
edited by Janne Lahti (Univ of Okla Press, 2017).

Venturing off the beaten path of officers and generals, this collection "offers new perspectives by focusing on the lives of enlisted soldiers from a variety of cultural and racial backgrounds." The ten biographical essays in Soldiers in the Southwest Borderlands reveal "the scholarship of experts who have mined military records, descendants’ recollections, genealogical sources, and even folklore to tell common soldiers’ stories." The time period covered in the book represents the years between the end of the U.S.-Mexican War and the subjugation of the tribes native to the Southwest.

"The essays examine enlisted soldiers’ cross-cultural interactions and dynamic, situational identities. They illuminate the intersections of class, culture, and race in the nineteenth-century Southwest. The men who served under U.S. or Mexican flags and on the payrolls of the federal government or as state or territorial volunteers represented most of the major ethnicities in the West—Hispanics, African Americans, Indians, American-born Anglos, and recent European immigrants—and many moved fluidly among various social and ethnic groups."

Several of the individuals showcased in the volume are Civil War soldiers, and readers will recognize many of the contributing authors (ex. William Kiser, Jerry Thompson, Megan Kate Nelson, Andrew Masich, and Robert Wooster) for their Civil War era scholarship. Adding more international perspective is volume editor Janne Lahti, a Finnish historian who specializes in American Studies at the University of Helsinki. In addition to supplying the book's introduction, he is also the author of the John Rope chapter.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

More Civil War dreams

It is certainly not unusual to find two Civil War scholars researching unusual or previously neglected topics without knowledge of the other's work, but it does seem to occur with a strangely high frequency that their books end up getting published around the same time. Just when you thought Jonathan White had the dream world of Civil War soldiers and civilians all to himself for while (with Midnight in America: Darkness, Sleep, and Dreams during the Civil War), you find that another study of wide thematic crossover is shortly on the way. Wanda Easter Burch's The Home Voices Speak Louder Than the Drums: Dreams and the Imagination in Civil War Letters and Memoirs will be published this summer. "Providing fresh perspective on the human side of the Civil War, (her) book explores the dreams and imaginings of those who fought it, as recorded in their letters, journals and memoirs. Sometimes published as poems or songs or printed in newspapers, these rarely acknowledged writings reflect the personalities and experiences of their authors. Some expressions of fear, pain, loss, homesickness and disappointment are related with grim fatalism, some with glimpses of humor."