Friday, December 30, 2005

Guided Tour of wartime St. Louis

I mentioned in a previous review of Louis Gerteis' Civil War St. Louisthat the book would have benefitted immensely from a map of the city to orient readers unfamiliar with its landmarks and street system. A nice little book exists that can serve as a useful companion volume for interested readers. William C. Winters' The Civil War in St. Louis: A Guided Tour both explains events and helps readers locate important Civil War sites in the large modern city that is today's St. Louis.

Subject matter ranging from prominent military and civilian figures to buildings is presented. The Camp Jackson Affair is detailed and several maps are provided that allow modern visitors to follow the events of the surrender and its tragic aftermath. Winters' work is sufficiently scholarly with detailed notes and a bibliography included. It is also an attractive book, full of photos, illustrations, and maps. I appreciated the detailed reproduced map of the extensive ring of forts built by the Federal garrison for the landward defense of the city.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Gerteis: "Civil War St. Louis"

[Civil War St. Louis, by Louis S. Gerteis. (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2001. Pp. 410, $34.95, Cloth. ISBN 0-7006-1124-X)]

By the middle of the 19th Century, the small river town of St. Louis, Missouri had been transformed into a thriving metropolis teeming with commerce. The radical changes brought to St. Louis by the influx of German immigrants and New England businessmen during the 1850’s went a long way toward fulfilling the city’s dream of becoming the true “Gateway to the West”. In only a short time, these rising political and economic forces gained the strength to challenge the conservative, pro-slavery majority in the state. St. Louis became a microcosm of the sectional issues that gradually tore apart the country.

The reader of Civil War St. Louis is introduced to an astonishing range of people and events. While focusing on the Civil War years, author Louis Gerteis’s traces in extraordinary breadth and detail the experience of St. Louisans from antebellum times through Reconstruction. From the Camp Jackson affair, Gerteis moves to the imposition of martial law and suspension of civil rights by Federal authorities. Conditions at Gratiot Street Prison and similar facilities that housed a large array of inmates are described in great detail. The story of organizations such as the Western Sanitary Commission and the Ladies Union Aid Society is told. Furthermore, the vital role of women in these groups and in the multitude of military hospitals is prominently featured. The author also traces the construction of the Federal ironclad river fleet and recounts its service on the Western waterways. Included at the end is a short chapter on Reconstruction. Overall, in what must have been a rather difficult task, Gerteis deftly illuminates for the reader the complex politics and realities of slavery in a conservative slave state loyal to a Federal government that increasingly became bent on the institution’s destruction.

Of course, no book is without flaws and a few errors made their way into the final text. For instance, Colonel Emmet McDonald was killed at the Battle of Hartville rather than at Huntsville and Lincoln of course was the 16th president not the 14th. Additionally, though the book is well-researched and highly detailed, it is rather thin on critical analysis when dealing with intensely controversial issues such as the Federal imposition of martial law and suspension of civil rights. While naval events are detailed, other military aspects are largely overlooked. The reality of St. Louis’s wartime role as a vital military nerve center in the West is greatly underdeveloped. Depictions of soldier life at Camp Benton and Jefferson Barracks and of the construction and occupation of the chain of forts surrounding St. Louis are almost entirely absent. Lastly, a period map of the city and environs would have been of great help to the uninitiated as most places and events in the book are located for the reader with street addresses as the sole geographical reference.

These issues aside, Mr. Gerteis has written a fine addition to a growing body of studies that deal comprehensively with the wartime experience of specific cities and towns. Readers interested in the political, economic, ethnic and racial divisions in a unique Border State city will find much to learn about and admire in this book.

(Reprinted with the permission of North and South Magazine, originally appeared in vol. 6 #1, reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Civil War in North Carolina

In a blog posting today, historian Eric Wittenberg laments the comparative neglect of Civil War sites and battlefields in North Carolina. Eric has also helpfully provided a list of sites there complete with links. I have a great interest in the war in North Carolina and view the Union operations there post-Burnside Expedition as one of the great underexploited opportunities of the war. Luckily for us, the great overshadowing of sites in the Old North State by those in Virginia is compensated somewhat by a number of books that rank among the best of all Civil War military studies.

Mark L. Bradley
Last Stand in the Carolinas: The Battle of Bentonville.
This Astounding Close: The Road to Bennett Place.
(comments: Bradley's two-volume study of Sherman's Carolinas campaign is unmatched and augmented by brilliant maps.)

Richard Sauers
The Burnside Expedition in North Carolina: A Succession of Honorable Victories.
(comments: definitive story of the Burnside Expedition from beginning to end and a great tactical study of the campaign's many skirmishes and battles. I wish Sauers wrote more.)

Chris Fonvielle, Jr.

The Wilmington Campaign: Last Departing Rays of Hope.
Fort Anderson: Battle for Wilmington.
(comments: Fonvielle's work is highly underrated and I am baffled by the continual reference to Gragg's Fort Fisher book "Confederate Goliath" as the definitive treatment of the subject.)

Mark Moore
Moore's Historical Guide to the Battle of Bentonville.
(comments: a model map study and a great companion work to Bradley's Bentonville book. I believe Moore did the cartographic work for both of Bradley's books listed above.)

Cincy in the Civil War

The Cincinnati Civil War Round Table has one of the more attractive websites as CWRTs go. My favorite section is reached by pressing the 'Panic On The Ohio!' button. Several excellent articles by Geoffrey Walden, Dave Roth, and James Ramage are reprinted here with the permission of Blue and Gray Magazine and are available in PDF format for download. All deal with some aspect of the civilian and military response in the city to Bragg's invasion of Kentucky in the summer of 1862.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Some 'Bluegrass State' books

In keeping with my primary Civil War related interests, I enthusiastically collect any good book having to do with the conflict in Kentucky during the first two years of the war. Perhaps if anyone is interested I'll list my favorites in another post, but what I wanted to mention here were a couple that sound promising (although I have no real idea of their quality) but have so far eluded me.

"Louisville, on the fingertips of an invasion: Civil War skirmishes and engagements in Jefferson County, Kentucky during Braxton Bragg's 1862 Confederate invasion" by J. Andrew White (1993: Publisher ?)

"Snow's Pond: The forgotten Civil War skirmish in Boone County, Kentucky's past" by Daniel F. Dixon (1999: Windmill Pub)

A recent publication that I did obtain thanks to its mention in Dimitri's Civil War Book News was Raymond Mulesky's Thunder From a Clear Sky : Stovepipe Johnson's Confederate Raid on Newburgh, Indiana . I've only been able to glance through it so far. Once I finish reading it I'll publish my thoughts on it in a separate post.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Order Books

The reviewer of the Anne Bailey edited order book In The Saddle With The Texans: Day-by-Day with Parsons's Cavalry Brigade, 1862-1865 in the current issue of Blue & Gray notes that it is rare to see order books published. Perhaps the smaller scale just makes the project more doable (I can imagine the size of an Army of the Potomac order book), but the ones I have seen all relate to operations in the Trans-Mississippi. James McGhee has done some nice work with:

McGhee, James E. ed. GENERAL M. JEFF THOMPSON’S LETTER BOOK JULY 1861-JUNE 1862. Independence, MO: Two Trails Publishing, 2004. Illustrated, index, paperback.

McGhee, James E. LETTER AND ORDER BOOK, MISSOURI STATE GUARD 1861-1862. Independence, MO: Two Trails, 2001.


Researcher Carolyn Bartels has also compiled the following:

Bartels, Carolyn M., CONFEDERATE STATES ARMY TRANS-MISSISSIPPI ORDER BOOK 1862-1864 BRIGADIER GENERAL JOHN S. MARMADUKE. Independence, MO: Two Trails Publishing, 2000. Hardcover, 2 vols. in one.

These letter and order books are a good resource, and Two Trails Publishing and Camp Pope Bookshop have been printing and reprinting valuable Trans-Mississippi primary source materials for many years. Click on the above links for more information on these titles and more.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Equivocation on endnotes?

I was thumbing through the new Grant and Sherman friendship book in the bookstore and noted the same strange source citation method I had seen in another recent Civil War book. The notes are not cited with numbers placed throughout the text, rather they are grouped at the end of the book by page number with the following method:

Page Number, "First two words of passage to be cited...last two words", Source.

55, "Lincoln said...a general.", O.R.
55, "Stanton raged...the rebels.", M.O.S.
and so forth.

I seem to recall that Goodwin's Team of Rivals uses the same method. I personally find it a clumsy methodology and unnecessarily burdensome to the deeper readers who wish to examine the notes. Clearly, it is an author/publisher compromise between the sales requirements of pop history and the author's desire for his or her work to be treated as serious history. I wasn't aware that this was even an acceptable method of citation (maybe some of our friends in the publishing arena can comment on this).

I remember reading an interview several years ago with an editor of a major publishing house. He stated that, all other things being the same, the mere presence of notes can take a book from successful sales numbers to an utter commercial failure. Those tiny superscripted numbers scattered throughout the text are oh so intimidating.

Friday, December 9, 2005

McKinney: "The Civil War in Greenbrier County, West Virginia"

[The Civil War in Greenbrier County, West Virginia by Tim McKinney. (Charleston, WV: Quarrier Press, 2004). Pp. 396, $29.95, Hardback, photos, maps, notes, appendices. ISBN 1-891852-36-1)]

During the Civil War, Greenbrier County, West(ern) Virginia had the misfortune of occupying a place on the map that was strategically important to both sides. The James River-Kanawha Turnpike was a made to order avenue for invasion and its course ran right through the county seat at Lewisburg on its way to the upper Shenandoah Valley. Mineral and resource rich itself, Greenbrier County was additionally located only a short distance north of the vital salt works at Saltville and the critical east-west running Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. All of this geographical importance translated into invasion, occupation, and material devastation for the area’s inhabitants.

With this book, Tim McKinney, author of a number of West Virginia history and reference works, has contributed greatly to our understanding of the Civil War in western Virginia. The many battles and raids that crisscrossed throughout Greenbrier County are detailed here, including the relatively little known engagements at Lewisburg, White Sulphur Springs, Sinking Creek, and Tuckwiller Hill. Union General George Crook’s 1862 victory at Lewisburg over a Confederate force led by Henry Heth is given the most thorough treatment.

Although much of the book is dedicated to military matters, the civilian experience is far from ignored. The citizens’ grim struggle to survive in the face of constant raids and arbitrary seizure of life, sustenance, and property is starkly portrayed. Civilians were often arrested and held as hostages and the infamous hanging of prominent civic leader David Creigh provides a clear example of the hazards of living in a war zone. Being one of the solidly pro-Secession counties to be attached to the new state of West Virginia only added to the post-war burdens of the people of Greenbrier County.

The story of the region’s many spas and resorts is also told. The famous Old White Hotel at White Sulfur Springs quickly went from vacation spot for the rich and famous to a Confederate hospital and supply depot. Only by sheer luck was it spared the incendiary proclivities of Union General David Hunter.

The Civil War in Greenbrier County is obviously a labor of love and the product of years of careful research. Almost half of the entries in the bibliography are manuscript sources. As an added bonus, a great deal of reference material is interspersed throughout the text and in the appendices. The only significant complaint I have with this fine work is the absence of a detailed county map that would make the geography-heavy text more welcoming to outsiders. This particular region is clearly important enough in the conduct of the war to merit attention beyond local interest. Overall, this history is an excellent addition to Quarrier Press’s long line of books dealing with West Virginia’s Civil War heritage.

(Reprinted with Permission from North & South Magazine. Originally published in Vol. 8 #5, pg. 86, reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer)

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Marvel's dips into the Antietam

The January 2006 article of America's Civil War magazine has an article written by William Marvel on the subject of the possible usefulness of the creek crossings on the Union left flank during the battle. The author waded through the creek himself and recorded the depth at various places. He seems to make the quite reasonable assumption that the flow today is about the same as it was back in 1862. What makes me think twice about this is an episode of Battlefield Detectives I watched a few nights ago that investigated the Revolutionary War battle at Oriskany. The cartographer/geographer was puzzled why the raging creek of today on a key area in the battlefield was not noted on period maps. After studying the problem, he posited that the considerable deforestation and other vegetation losses in the intervening years led to a high erosion situation that resulted in a far greater volume of free water flowing into low lying areas. Thus, rivulets are transformed by the increased runoff into creeks and creeks into small rivers and so forth. Makes me wonder if Marvel took this possibility into consideration.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Wood: "The Civil War Along the Lower Kansas-Missouri Border"

Though the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi still occupies a relatively small space in the popular imagination, recent years have seen an explosion of new works on a wide variety of subjects dealing with the war beyond the Mississippi. A large portion of these books, most of which are published by small presses, covers the conflict in Missouri. Control of the state of Missouri was vitally important to each side’s war effort, especially in the first two years of the war, and thus this particular region is a richly deserving area of study.

Larry Wood, a writer and retired schoolteacher, has published a new edition of his military history of the often brutal and unforgiving internecine warfare that raged across southeastern Kansas and southwestern Missouri [The Civil War on the Lower Kansas-Missouri Border (Hickory Press, 2003). Pp. 249, $ 17.95, 2nd Edition, completely revised. Paperback, illustrated, map, notes, appendix. ISBN 0-9702829-1-5]. The geographical focus is narrow, purposefully avoiding the better known stories of events such as Wilson’s Creek and the sacking of Lawrence in favor of more obscure but locally important skirmishes and battles. Both sides launched savage raids, leading to the burning of several locally prominent towns such as Osceola, Humboldt, Sherwood, and Nevada. Further military actions at Carthage, Dry Wood Creek, Island Mound, Newtonia, and Germantown are briefly described in the text while the events of the Battle of Mine Creek, Shelby’s 1863 “Great Raid”, and Baxter Springs are recounted in greater detail. Although the writing is a bit unpolished, the comprehensiveness of this fast-paced book is impressive.

Excepting chapters chronicling the depredations of Jim Lane and his Kansas Brigade, much of the book’s focus is on the actions (and atrocities) of pro-Southern Missouri regular and irregular “bushwhacker” forces and the response to these attacks by regular federal forces from several states and pro-Northern Missouri militia. Entire chapters are devoted to the actions of lesser-known guerilla leaders such as Tom Livingston and John Coffee. Unfortunately, this emphasis may lead the unwary reader into having a one-sided view of wartime atrocities in Missouri. While the author provides a balanced account of abuse and property loss, the same cannot be said for the subject of murders and executions. It should have been made more explicitly clear that both sides murdered civilians and performed unlawful executions on a similarly unfortunate scale.

Other flaws include an inadequate number and quality of maps. The single map provided is too general and does not show county boundaries or the location of many towns and landmarks mentioned in the text. On the technical side, an unfortunate printing mistake has led to the omission of headings I through M in the index. Additionally, as a general criticism, along with a more balanced depiction of wartime atrocities, a more in-depth exploration of participant motivations and strategic considerations was needed.

On the positive side, the book is adequately researched. The author makes good use of official records, newspapers, county histories, manuscripts, and select secondary sources. For those not familiar with the area, a useful appendix listing and describing relevant area museums and historical sites to visit is included. Overall, The Civil War on the Lower Kansas-Missouri Border provides the reader with an intriguing regional history that brings to light many little known wartime episodes and personalities. Students of the Trans-Mississippi theater in general and the Missouri brand of guerilla warfare in particular will find a great deal of useful information in this book and many ideas for further study.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

"The Civil War in Louisiana"

In my frequent searches for specialized books, I often come across good ones that are completely unpromoted. Some places you swear are trying to collect their own books! The Center for Louisiana Studies has published a nice series for the Louisiana Purchase bicentennial. Volume V, Part A of that series is titled The Civil War in Louisiana: Military Activities and is an excellent 750 page collection of previously published essays and journal articles. Go here for a table of contents.

Alternatively, those readers more interested in social and political subject matter have Part B, The Civil War in Louisiana: The Home Front for their perusal. Click on this link for more information about this book, including a contents list. Both A and B are edited by noted Louisiana historian Arthur Bergeron, Jr. and would be great additions to anyone's library of Trans-Mississippi books. The Center recently published a new much appreciated edition of the long out-of-print Yankee Autumn in Acadiana and I plan on regularly monitoring their site for any upcoming reprints or new publications.

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Cannoneers in Gray (revised ed.)

Larry Daniel's Cannoneers in Gray: The Field Artillery of the Army of Tennessee (2005) is a completely revised and updated edition of his 1984 work of the same title. With the inclusion of more tables and new primary source material from both sides, this edition is a significantly better book.

Cannoneers in Gray is more of an organizational and logistical study than a combat history. Historians, buffs, and wargamers will appreciate the author's attention to detail in terms of orders-of-battle and battery compositions but one wishes Daniel had gone the extra mile and produced detailed maps and battery composition charts for all the major battles. As it is, you can amass a great deal of information from the notes, text, and tables but Daniel could have made this information collection easier for the reader to assemble. Although a bibliographic essay was included, a proper bibliography would have been helpful as well for those interested in further research. Overall, even with the book's many strengths, the picture is still in an incomplete state for the most demanding readers.

Many things strike you as you read the book, mainly how poorly equipped, organized, and supplied the Confederate batteries were in the western theater. Even by 1863, 85% of the Army of Tennessee's guns were either obsolete 6 lb. smoothbores or 12 lb. howitzers. It wasn't until the beginning of Sherman's Atlanta campaign that all the 6 lb. guns were exchanged with Napoleons. It was also at this time, with the arrival of Joseph E. Johnston to army command, that Daniel believes the Army of Tennessee finally achieved a viable artillery organization that could achieve concentration of fire on the battlefield.

The complete inability to create a regulation reserve of fixed artillery rounds was appalling as well, ranging from 1/3 to 1/2 of what was common for Union guns. This severely hampered training and battlefield performance. Defective shells and fuses were the rule rather than the exception. In one action, a Union artillerist noted that 128 Confederate shells passed near his position with only 19 bursting. As with many Confederate units of all arms, the lack of replacements for manpower and horse losses was even more keenly felt in the artillery, where they were crippling for the batteries's mobility and fighting ability on and off the battlefield. All this makes me wish Daniel had included a more in-depth comparison of these problems with those of the eastern artillery arm of the Confederacy and also of their Union opponents. (btw, there was an interesting article about Confederate artillery shells at Gettysburg written by Richard Rollins and published in North and South Magazine, the exact issue escapes me.)

Friday, December 2, 2005

Review: "Retreat From Gettysburg"

[Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign by Kent Masterson Brown. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2005). Pp. 474, $34.95, Hardback, photos, 21 maps, illustrations, notes, appendix. ISBN 0-8078-2921-8)]

Among the relentless flood of Gettysburg-related books published each year, relatively few are truly groundbreaking. Fortunately for experienced and novice readers alike, Retreat from Gettysburg is just such a work. Author Kent Masterson Brown’s study begins at the planning stages of the campaign and carefully reconstructs the movements of the Army of Northern Virginia’s logistical apparatus along the army’s invasion route through Maryland and Pennsylvania. For the first time, the story behind the truly massive scale of the “foraging” operations by Lee’s subsistence and quartermaster teams is thoroughly told, almost to the level of being itemized. After a brief summarization of the three-day battle, the bulk of the book comprises a definitive account of the organization and execution of the southern army’s escape back to Virginia. Beyond the purely material aspects of the retreat, the sad odyssey of the thousands of wounded officers and men is heartbreakingly told.

As the title suggests, the main focus is on Lee’s army, but the post-battle condition and movements of the Union army (especially the cavalry divisions) are far from ignored. Meade’s own significant logistical problems are illuminated, along with an accounting of the reasoning behind the movements of the Army of the Potomac in pursuit. Long gone (hopefully) are the days when writers will confidently continue to put forth the idea that only Meade’s caution and/or blundering kept the Confederate army from being destroyed.

The often severe fighting that occurred during the retreat at places like Monterey Pass, Smithsburg, Funkstown, Hagerstown, Williamsport, and Falling Waters is described at a level of combat detail that readers of tactical histories will find more than acceptable. The accompanying maps cover the important strategic and tactical movements and are both sufficient in number and of a high quality. Additionally, there are some wonderful never-before-published photographs of several personages and sites that figure prominently in the text.

Beyond being a great read, Retreat from Gettysburg is exceptionally well researched. The author’s twenty years of gathering source material is readily apparent after viewing the impressive array of archival sources listed in the bibliography. Such skillful use of these source materials provides the reader with probably the best account of a Civil War army’s retreat after a major battle in existence.

Although the assertion that the Battle of Gettysburg was not a decisive turning point is not new, Brown contends that it was largely the success of the retreat (and more particularly the saving of the army’s gigantic ordnance, subsistence, and quartermaster trains along with the tens of thousands of captured horses, beeves, and hogs) that allowed the rapid reestablishment of a military equilibrium in the East. Brown argues that the forage and food obtained from the North supplied Lee’s army throughout the rest of the summer and early fall and allowed it to stay in the field and, thus, on balance, the Confederates were able to claim a level of strategic success for the campaign. Whether you agree with this idea or not, this remarkable book deserves the highest of recommendations.

(Reprinted with Permission from North & South Magazine. Originally published in Vol. 8 #6, pg. 90, reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer)

Thursday, December 1, 2005

"Discovering Civil War America" series

One of the most promising Civil War history series of recent times is Ironclad Publishing's "Discovering Civil War America". Although each entry is softcover only and very reasonably priced, the presentation is not cheap, with large numbers of excellent maps included along with a battlefield tour at the end. Two volumes have been released so far:

Volume 1)Protecting the Flank: The Battles for Brinkerhoff's Ridge and East Cavalry Field, Battle of Gettysburg by Eric Wittenberg

Volume 2) A LITTLE SHORT OF BOATS : The Fights at Ball's Bluff and Edward's Ferry, October 21-22, 1861 by James Morgan

I unfortunately haven't gotten further than thumbing through volume one yet but have heard nothing but praise for it. I can't say enough good things about Morgan's work. It is the definitive history of Ball's Bluff by one who is clearly the leading expert on the battle. In my opinion, it was the best battle study of 2004.

The third volume "No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar" Sherman's Carolinas Campaign: from Fayetteville to Averasboro by Mark A. Smith and Wade Sokolosky is set to be released soon. I can't wait for this one. Click on the link for more information from the publisher.

(P.S. Eric Wittenberg of Ironclad Publishing kindly commented about what is in store for the future of the series. Here is what he wrote:

The fourth volume, which is just about ready to go to typesetting, is titled "The Battle Between the Farm Lanes", by Dave Shultz and David F. Wieck, and deals with Hancock's Corps on day 2 at Gettysburg.

The fifth volume, which will be out in the first half of 2006, is titled "One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg, July 4-13, 1863" by J. D. Petruzzi, Michael F. Nugent, and yours truly. It contains two driving tours (complete with GPS coordinates): the route of the Wagon Train of Wounded, and the fighting between Gettysburg and Potomac River.

The sixth volume, which should come out about the same time, is titled "Flames Across the Susquehanna: The Gordon Expedition", by Scott Mingus, Sr., and deals with the first skirmishes at Gettysburg, the fall of York, and the burning of the covered bridge across the Susquehanna at Columbia.

We have a few other things in the works for the series (J. D. and I are going to do a volume on Monocacy, and I also hope to have a volume on Perryville as soon as I find an appropriate author) that will keep up the quality of the series. We're focusing all of our efforts on this series, and we're proud of it.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Civil War Talk Radio

Civil War Talk Radio is an online author interview forum like no other. Each program is approximately an hour in length and host Professor (and ex-lawyer) Gerald Prokopowicz for the most part asks questions that deep readers would appreciate.

I was finally able to catch the Dimitri Rotov program, which was a very enjoyable encapsulation of Dimitri's views. If you really want to know the backstory of Dimitri's unique viewpoint you can either go to his blog and read every post in his archives (like I did) or listen to this program for the Cliff's Notes version. Actually, I would highly recommend doing both!

While you're at it, take a look at the CW Talk Radio archive of programs. You'll find an excellent range of authors from famous to relatively obscure with the entire spectrum of Civil War studies present.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Goss: "The War Within the Union High Command: Politics and Generalship During the Civil War"

[The War Within the Union High Command: Politics and Generalship During the Civil War by Thomas J. Goss. (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2003. Pp. 271, $34.95, Hardback, notes. ISBN:0-7006-1263-7)]

The Lincoln administration’s use of political generals in the Union army’s high command has a definite image problem in the eyes of both historians and the general public. Thomas Goss enthusiastically sets out to improve this view in his book The War Within the Union High Command. Far from Henry Halleck’s claim that placing amateurs in uniform was “simply murder”, Goss argues that political generals were a necessary offshoot of contemporary partisan politics and national culture and were in the end vital to Union victory.

One of the problems of studying political generals is formulating an all-encompassing definition of just what makes an officer a political general. Goss uses three major criteria: (1) the person must jump from civilian life immediately to general officer rank and command, (2) the candidate’s pre-war career must be a political one, and (3) a political general must lack enough previous military experience to justify an appointment as a general officer purely on a military basis. Of course, exceptions abound, and the author freely admits it.

Though many are mentioned in the text, the author has selected six high-ranking generals to focus on. These are equally divided between West Point trained professional officers (Halleck, Grant, and Sherman) and politicians (Ben Butler, Nathaniel Banks, and John Logan). The list is a good one, though the inclusion of Logan can be quibbled with. To begin with, he fails the first of Goss’s criteria in that he began the war as a regimental commander. More important, the validity of comparison suffers because, unlike the other five generals, Logan did not have long-standing independent command at the army level. His inclusion appears to be mostly for balance, to show that some political generals had considerable tactical skill.

Using a long list of examples, Goss examines America’s long standing dual military tradition that has career officers fighting alongside amateurs of natural ability and character. Though the process began at the end of 1864, generalship did not take on the qualities of a true exclusive profession until after the Civil War ended. Politicians and the general public had at least as much regard for the self-made adaptable citizen-soldier as they did for the West Point “clique”, probably more so. Lincoln certainly embraced this dual tradition, it was just a question if the political gains of the amateurs outweighed the costs of their military defeats. Goss argues that the president had distinctly different expectations of professional and political generals. West Pointers were expected to win military victories and political generals were to recruit, rally public support for the war, and advance the government’s political aims at home and at the front. Proof of this is in Lincoln’s swift removal of professionals after a single large defeat while he continued to place constantly defeated men like Banks and Butler in one important army-level command after another.

Goss argues for a new assessment of Civil War generalship in which political skills are valued as highly as tactical ability. All generals in a civil war must be politicians to some degree. For advancement, both officer types relied similarly on patronage and political intrigue. The author also makes the intriguing point that political generals made better department commanders of occupied territory as they were more in-tune with the partisan politics and war aims of the Lincoln administration and could use their political skills to better regulate the populace.

All of Goss’s arguments have merit but he sometimes overreaches when illustrating his points. In attempting to prove his assertion that both amateurs and professionals had similarly mixed military results (especially early in the war), the author uses data points that are too one-sided in number and uses parameters that are so subjective in nature that useful conclusions cannot really be formed. Additionally, Goss exaggerates the military successes of some of the political generals while minimizing the costs of their defeats. As an example, he gives Butler too much credit for what were essentially naval victories at New Orleans and Hatteras Inlet.

Not everyone will agree with the author’s bolder assertions, but The War Within the Union High Command is a thought-provoking book that the specialist and general reader alike can enjoy. Those interested in the subject of political generals and the evolution of the American concept of generalship will want this book on their shelves at home.

(Reprinted with the permission of North and South Magazine, originally appeared in vol. 7 #6, reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Recent and Upcoming Biographies

Here is a listing of a number of biographies (or at least books with heavy biographical elements) scheduled for release between now and the end of the year.

*Robert E. Lee : Virginian Soldier, American Citizen by James I. Robertson

*Basil Wilson Duke, CSA: The Right Man in the Right Place by Gary Robert Matthews (Univ. Press of Kentucky, November 2005)

John Hunt Morgan's right hand man and brain behind his operations. By 'brain' I mean the man that is responsible for Morgan really having any positive reputation at all in terms of military prowess.

*Alexander "Fighting Elleck" Hays: The Life Of A Civil War General, From West Point To The Wilderness by Wayne Mahood (McFarland & Co., December 2005)

Seems we are seeing an increased number of Union Army of the Potomac division commander bios recently--Barlow, Wadsworth, etc.

*They Also Commanded: Forgotten Generals of the Civil War by Ronald Killian (Westholme Publishing)

I'm not sure I would label Generals Harker, Stoneman, Law, Stone, Tilghman and Charles Hamilton as 'forgotten', but that is quite a rainbow of a selection.

*Disgrace At Gettysburg: The Arrest And Court Martial Of Brigadier General Thomas A. Rowley by John Krumwiede (McFarland, December 2005)

Not really a biography per se, but it is interesting that someone would take enough interest in an event dealing with a rather unimportant figure and see fit to write a book length examination of it. I guess if you put Gettysburg in the title...

*Rogue: A Biography of Civil War General Justus Mckinstry by John Driscoll (McFarland..again, December 2005)

An apt title for the bio of a thoroughly disreputable man. McFarland seems to keep churning out Civil War related books at a rapid clip. This company gives me mixed feelings. They have very high prices for short books and they unfortunately don't seem to make it into physical bookstores much at all so you can't look before you buy. But they are generally well presented and well-stocked with photos, illustrations, etc.

Etcheson: "Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era"

[Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era by Nicole Etcheson. (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2004. Pp. 327, $35.00, Hardback, map, notes, photos, illustrations. ISBN 0-7006-1287-4)]

No shortage exists of modern books covering the pre-Civil War struggles of the Kansas Territory, but there is always room in a crowded field for exceptional works. Well written and phenomenally well researched, Bleeding Kansas is a wonderful addition to the scholarship of this important time in our history. Professor Etcheson has written a remarkably thorough social and political history of the Kansas conflict from the debates over the Kansas-Nebraska act through to the Exoduster migration in the decades after the war. Getting to the crux of what was most important to contemporary figures, the main theme of the book is the differing concepts of political liberty between whites of the Free State and Pro-slavery parties. Pro-slavery forces increasingly denied any assertion that slavery could be excluded from the territories by legislation and Free Staters would not allow slavery in territories where a popular majority was against it. Eventually, the Free State party would meld with the Republicans, who were against any extension of slavery into the territories.

Etcheson is strongly critical of Stephen Douglas’s advocacy of the concept of popular sovereignty, which was embodied in the disastrous Kansas-Nebraska Act. Considering the passions of the time, it was as an unworkable idea in practice that was additionally an unnecessary agitation of the slavery issue. The book clearly shows how the debates over the creation of Kansas’s territorial government and constitution served to radicalize both sides, immeasurably strengthening the Republican Party and fracturing the Democratic Party. Lack of support by northern Democrats for the pro-slavery Lecompton constitution and the English Compromise caused many southern Democrats to lose faith in the national party’s defense of slavery rights.

Beginning with the congressional debates and compromises over slavery, the author provides an insightful discussion of the social makeup of the twin migrations—north and south—into Kansas Territory. It quickly became clear that anti-slavery settlers would become the majority, but the later territorial elections were rife with fraud. Though Etcheson asserts this was not unusual during this period, what was different was the level of fraud, which reached new heights in Kansas. Competing territorial governments were created and the outbreak of wider violence followed. The Wakarusa War and the Guerrilla War of 1856 are described in detail. The discussion of violence in the book is fairly well balanced, making it clear that both sides were guilty of excesses stretching from robbery and property destruction all the way to murder. A chapter covering the fighting along the border region during the Civil War is included as well.

One of the best aspects of Bleeding Kansas is that it places the events in Kansas in a broad national context. The conflict served to radicalize both sections of the country. Etcheson demonstrates how John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry and the numerous violent raids into Missouri by men like Jim Lane and James Montgomery helped realize long-held southern views that slavery would soon be threatened where it already existed. In northern circles, the extended upheaval in Kansas eventually led to an increased acceptance of social and political freedoms for blacks and a hardened stance against slavery. Bleeding Kansas is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in studying the crucial role of Kansas in shaping the sectional ideologies that would lead eventually to Civil War.

(Reprinted with the permission of North and South Magazine, originally appeared in vol. 7 #5, reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer)

Bibliography of Civil War, Slavery, and Reconstruction in Missouri

This is another bookmark-worthy website similar to the Arkansas bibliography mentioned in an earlier post. Reference librarian Gary Shearer has compiled an extensive listing of books, articles, theses, dissertations, web URLs, and videos dealing with slavery, Civil War, and Reconstruction in the great state of Missouri. Go here to view Mr. Shearer's work.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Smith: "Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg"

[ Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg by Timothy B. Smith. (El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2004. Pp. 520, $34.95, Hardback, photos, 38 maps, OOB, notes. ISBN 1-932714-00-6)]

Although U.S. Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign has long been recognized as a masterpiece of operational skill, the individual battles have not received the same highly detailed book length treatment that so many less deserving engagements have been given. Until now, the chapters contained in Ed Bearss’s massive 3-volume history of the Vicksburg Campaign remained the best writing on the subject. If any of the campaign’s battles cry out for a modern book length assessment it is the decisive May 16, 1863 clash at Champion Hill. Historian Timothy Smith has responded to the call and has filled this void most admirably.

The first hundred pages comprise a quick overview of the Vicksburg campaign that is well organized, ably written, and supported by deft analysis. However, a few maps depicting operational movements in addition to the existing tactical battle maps would have been helpful. The bulk of the book is a classic tactical battle study of Champion Hill. The conduct of the fighting is described minutely from top level decision making all the way down to action at the regimental level. Dozens of maps track all troop movements described in the text and ensure that the reader is never lost in the details. The maps by Ted Savas deserve special mention as they are uniformly excellent, showing placement of individual regiments over finely represented terrain features. Additionally, a nice photo gallery is included at the end, which gives the reader a good visual representation of the terrain. Aside from a few typos, the book’s presentation is first rate.

As with previous works, Confederate Generals John Pemberton and William Loring do not come off well, although the author exonerates Loring from charges that he deliberately separated his division from the rest of the army during the retreat. Several regiments, specifically the 12th LA and the 35th AL are singled out as deserving of special mention. John S. Bowen’s division is justifiably praised for its gallant and effective counterattack that cleared the vital Jackson/Ratliff/Middle Road crossroads but I think that Smith joins previous authors in exaggerating the danger to Grant’s army. On the Union side, Smith lauds Grant’s approach to and conduct of the battle and avoids excessive criticism of John McClernand.

Champion Hill is exceptionally well researched. The list of manuscript sources alone is impressive, though I was a little disappointed to see no specific discussion in the book of Pemberton’s recently uncovered Vicksburg manuscript edited by David Smith and published in 1999. However, the criticisms here are only minor quibbles that cannot detract from the reality that this work is a top level battle study that will likely be the definitive treatment of the Battle of Champion Hill for some time to come. Champion Hill has my highest recommendation.

(p.s. the Pemberton manuscript has been mentioned before on this blog. See this posting.)

(Reprinted with Permission from North & South Magazine. Originally published in Vol. 8 #2, pp. 86-87, reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer)

Friday, November 25, 2005

"Decision in Mississippi"

I've been searching for this long, long out-of-print title from the great Edwin C. Bearss for years. It is a rare find and a bit too expensive on the secondary market, but I finally obtained one through ILL (strangely enough, it is a signed copy from a monastery library about an hour's drive from me!).

Decision in Mississippi (1962: Mississippi Commission on the War Between the States) is typical Ed in terms of style, depth, and content. This book precedes his monumental 3 vol. history of the Vicksburg Campaign and about three-fourths of DIM's content is made up of chapters that would later appear in the trilogy. What you won't find anywhere else is a 60-page article on the battle of Iuka, and chapters dealing with various Federal cavalry raids in SW Mississippi during the late summer and fall of 1864. The Battle of Woodville is detailed here along with the failed Union mounted raids on the Mobile and Ohio depots during Hood's Tennessee campaign.

Another thing of note is how serious Civil War military history was treated by local and state organizations in this period long before I was born, when these commissions would fund the research and writing of a 630 page scholarly CW military history. As an avid reader and collector of Bearss's work it is clear how much of it has benefitted from these groups, undoubtedly spawned by the Centennial.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Richard Miller on Maps and Authors

Harvard's Civil War: The History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry author Richard J. Miller made the following comment about my earlier post praising the quantity and quality of the maps in his book.

"I must add an acknowledgement--that my thinking about maps as well as that of my publisher (UPNE) was substantially influenced by the input of our mapmaker, Blake Magner. Magner's matching of the text with known infantry positions saved me from several horrific errors. I mention this not only out of gratitude but also to draw attention to a simple truth--creating effective Civil War battle narratives must be a collaboration between both authors and mapmakers."

I'll toast to that.

Positive Trend (Hopefully) in Regimentals

Most Civil War regimental histories (both classic and modern) have an abysmal record in the 'useful map' category. If a map is included at all, it is usually just a theater-wide one intended for general orientation. This issue aside, too many modern regimentals are also just glorified roster lists, with some general social and campaign information tossed in.

A couple recent publications have thankfully reversed this regrettable trend. Red Clay to Richmond: Trail Of The 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment, CSA (by John J. Fox) and Richard J. Miller's Harvard's Civil War: The History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry both include large numbers of tactical maps that place the subject regiment in the thick of the battle, allowing the reader to follow the action with a reasonably detailed knowledge of the area's terrain. In many cases, surrounding regiments are also indentified and placed on the maps, providing both context and a ready visual aid.

With these two books, military and social subject matter are given their full measure of importance. Readers interested in either or both will not feel neglected. Both publishers, Angle Valley Press and University Press of New England, should be commended for their roles in bringing such deeply researched, comprehensive, and wonderfully presented regimentals to the public.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Arkansas Civil War Bibliography

The website of the Civil War Round Table of Arkansas has put together a comprehensive Civil War bibliography webpage. Check it out here. It is a very nice book and journal resource which I've used many times to find articles to obtain through interlibrary loan.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Cotham: "Sabine Pass: The Confederacy’s Thermopylae"

[Sabine Pass : The Confederacy's Thermopylae by Edward T. Cotham. (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2004. Pp. 245, $21.95, Softcover, photos, maps, appendices, notes. ISBN 0-292-70603-0)]

On September 8, 1863 and handful of men occupying a mud fort under the command of Richard W. “Dick” Dowling turned back a massive U.S. invasion fleet at Sabine Pass and saved Texas, in the process becoming almost mythical heroes. The myth stretches the truth a bit but it is close to reality, a reality that is wonderfully recreated in Edward Cotham’s new book Sabine Pass: The Confederacy's Thermopylae. According to Cotham, Fort Griffin was not a simple mud fort but rather a well engineered and modern earthwork fort. The number of men (an understrength artillery company called the Davis Guards) manning the work was indeed small but entirely adequate for the task of firing the fort’s six antiquated guns. Although the Union fleet was large (22 ships) only four unarmored shallow draft steamers converted to gunboats were able to cross the bar and contribute to the attack. Seeing the naval attack end in disaster, the invasion’s advance army contingent of 5,000 men did not even land. Nevertheless, the Confederate victory was a stunning achievement.

Sabine Pass is an entertainingly written and extraordinarily well-researched and balanced account of this ship-to-shore battle. The author’s analysis of the actions of the participants is insightful and fair. Engineering officers rarely get their due and two foreign-born Confederate engineers (a Pole and a Swiss) are lauded here for their excellent design and construction of Fort Griffin.

In addition to the blow by blow battle history, the legacy of Sabine Pass in the hearts and minds of the area’s inhabitants and the Confederate populace in general is discussed. Monuments to the defenders were plentiful (at least six by the author’s count) and interestingly enough no two monuments have the same names and/or numbers of names inscribed upon them. As an appendix, Cotham weighs in on the controversy and provides an annotated list of Davis Guard participants compiled from his own research. Dick Dowling’s after action report and a list of Union casualties are also included.

Edward Cotham has written a first-rate history that deserves to be more widely read than it predictably will. The Battle of Sabine Pass is unfortunately little known outside of Texas and Cotham’s worthy addition to the literature will hopefully serve to raise the general level of awareness of this remarkable battle and the men who fought it.

(Reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer and reprinted with Permission from North & South Magazine. Originally published in Vol. 8 #2, pg. 89)

Friday, November 18, 2005

Confederate Sharpshooters

Shock Troops of the Confederacy (CFS Press)--This new study of Confederate sharpshooter battalions in the Army of Northern Virginia by Fred L. Ray looks to be one of the more interesting additions to the literature of elite Civil War combat units in recent times. I've never heard of CFS Press (oddly enough, they seem to specialize in emergency services publications) but this one has the look of a small press run that will likely be highly sought after in the secondary market. The inclusion of 43 maps is a good sign that the publisher is at least interested in serious CW works.

BOWM - Confederate Blockade of Washington

To be honest, I probably shouldn't include this here as it is only indirectly involved with White Mane (3rd printing only and through Burd Street Press, a division of White Mane) but I liked the book and it gives me an excuse to talk about it. It will also conclude my short 'Best of White Mane' series.

First published in 1975, Mary Alice Wills's The Confederate Blockade of Washington, D.C. 1861-1862 convincingly lays out the case for the complete physical ineffectiveness (its psychological impact was a different story altogether) of the Confederate shore batteries that supposedly "blockaded" the Potomac River during the first months of the war. It was all deeply humiliating to the Federal government and its image abroad.

If anything, the 5-month blockade was self-imposed (river traffic closed by order of the U.S.N.). There was no sustained effort early on to test or measure the actual effectiveness of the Confederate batteries, but when attempts were made the guns actually required very little effort to suppress. Sadly, many writers subsequent to the publication of Wills's work continue to uncritically credit the Confederate river batteries with imposing a blockade on the Potomac when in truth it was more of a bugaboo and psychological hurdle than anything else.

The hardback edition may be difficult to find at a reasonable price, but this latest paperback edition (cover art at top right) can be found rather easily and inexpensively.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Hess: "Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864"

[Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864 by Earl J. Hess. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2005). Pp. 391, $45.00, Hardback, photos, illustrations, maps, notes, glossary, appendices. ISBN 0-8078-2931-5)]

Earl Hess’s new scholarly study of field fortifications is a significant and welcome addition to our understanding of this important military facet of the Civil War. After a short introduction outlining the development of the Union and Confederate engineering corps, Hess immediately launches into a detailed yet non-technical examination of the design and construction of field fortifications in the eastern theater during the first half of the war. By the author’s count, fifty-seven battles and campaigns are included in the discussion. Far from being limited to the actions of the main armies in Virginia, equal attention is given to operations in the western mountains and the coastal areas of North and South Carolina. Field Armies and Fortifications only incidentally addresses permanent fortifications such as masonry forts. Instead, it is tightly focused on the subject of field fortifications, the variety of which ranges from hasty breastwork construction for immediate tactical purposes to semi-permanent fortifications such as the earthwork lines ringing the city of Richmond and coastal enclaves like New Bern and Plymouth.

As befits a largely visual subject of study, a number of maps and photographs (many rare) are included. The author’s review of archaeological research, supplemented by personal fieldwork at hundreds of sites, has resulted in a treasure trove of highly detailed drawings of selected fortifications. However, it would have been most helpful if more “big picture” tactical maps were also provided in order to allow the reader to quickly place these excellent drawings of bastions and stretches of earthworks in the context of the entire battlefield. Additionally, many battle descriptions in the book regrettably do not have any accompanying maps at all.

Hess rightly contends that the inclination to construct field fortifications existed in one form or another throughout the entire war. It was a question of degree. He also argues that the progression of trench warfare was intimately tied to commanders’s evolving conceptions of offensive and defensive action. An early war commander planning a tactical offensive generally would not consider entrenching his force as that would indicate a static posture. Similarly, an undecided leader often viewed entrenchments as limiting his tactical options. It is also asserted that the increased killing range of the rifle had far less to do with the average infantryman’s desire to dig in than did the increasingly constant nature of close contact between opposing armies in the second half of the conflict. The author also demonstrates that the nature of the war’s increasing reliance on earthworks was not linear but rather was characterized by fits and starts interspersed with periods of actual regression, where the preceding campaign’s lessons seem to have been forgotten. Perhaps uniquely among historians, Hess places the watershed moment of this evolution of trench warfare in the east at Chancellorsville.

This book is the first of a planned trilogy, with volumes two and three covering the Overland and Petersburg campaigns respectively. A complete assessment of Hess’s study and its conclusions must await the completion of the series, but the author is certainly off to a good start. This valuable work deserves to be read and digested by military students at all levels and will likely prove to be an important reference work for some time to come.

(My review is reprinted with permission from North & South Magazine. Originally published in Vol. 8 #4, pp. 82-83)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

BOWM - "Sumter is Avenged!"

Herbert M. Schiller's "Sumter is Avenged!": The Siege and Reduction of Fort Pulaski is the definitive account of the Federal campaign to close the port of Savannah to Confederate shipping.  In step by step fashion, Schiller recounts the Union efforts to construct batteries that would close the Savannah River preparatory to an attack on it's primary guardian, Fort Pulaski. In April of 1862, the massive rifled cannon emplaced in these batteries quickly breached the walls of the fort and forced its surrender after a bombardment of less than two days. The book includes a number of photographs and drawings (both period and modern) along with maps of the fort and Federal battery positions on the surrounding islands. Overall, this is one of the better books dealing with Civil War coastal operations.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Confederate Industry

Confederate manufacturing development during the war and domestic supply of wartime needs is a surprisingly understudied subject (at least in generally available book length studies). Well, maybe it isn't too surprising as it is a decidedly unsexy subject for most CW enthusiasts regardless of its level of importance. Confederate Industry: Manufacturers and Quartermasters in the Civil War is a brand new addition to this literature and is published by University of Mississippi Press (I haven't read the book or any lengthy reviews beyond those from Amazon readers but it certainly looks like the press did a better job here than with this).

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

BOWM - "Embattled Shrine"

My 'Best of White Mane' publishing series continues with David F. Riggs' fine book Embattled Shrine: Jamestown in the Civil War. I realize most people, including the unfortunate lone Amazon reviewer, would likely place this book in the 'who cares' category, but Peninsula Campaign enthusiasts (like me) and those interested in the Civil War on the Peninsula in general should find it of great interest. The amount of research material (especially the impressive array of manuscript sources) amassed by the author for such a relatively obscure project is to the highest degree commendable. Riggs, curator of the Jamestown museum collection at the national historical park there, is clearly an authority on the subject and meticulously traces the military development of Jamestown Island during the Civil War.

Although detailed, the text was rather short, running at around 100 pages. For me, the real value of the book was in the appendices (these actually make up about half the book). They include:
  • a Jamestown Civil War chronology
  • a list of Confederate commanders
  • a comprehensive list of Confederate military units stationed at Jamestown (including their armaments and dates served)
  • a table of Confederate strength at Jamestown by date
  • an index of Confederate artillery on the island by location, date, and gun type (very nice)
  • a survey of earthworks, including detailed schematic drawings of the various forts, redoubts, lunettes, redans, and batteries located at Jamestown
  • and a list of Union units stationed at Jamestown
If this kind of information is interesting or useful to you you should get this book. Really, used and new copies of this book are practically being given away (see Amazon above) so there is no excuse not to pick it up if you are even remotely interested in the subject matter.

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Best of White Mane - "We are in for it!"

Gary L. Ecelbarger's definitive account of the first battle of the Valley Campaign We Are in for It!": The First Battle of Kernstown March 23, 1862 is a prime example of the best of White Mane publishing. Credit goes to the author for his exhaustive research and crisp writing. The bibliography lists an impressive array of manuscript and other primary sources consulted. Any question that a reader interested in the opening action of Stonewall Jackson's famed Valley Campaign has will likely find his answer here in this book. Nathan Kimball finally gets his due as it was he rather than Shields that really directed the battle and deserves the lion's share of the credit for the victory over Jackson.

The regimental-level maps (all 20 of them) are among the best you'll find in a modern battle study. They include all relevant terrain features, such as roads, trails, countour lines, fields, tree stands, and fence lines. The heart of the book, of course, is a masterful microhistory of the battle itself, but this text is nicely bookended by a well-written prologue and epilogue that places Kernstown in the context of the larger campaign. The author also includes some useful appendices analyzing numbers and losses.

Ecelbarger is also the author of two biographies of prominent Civil War figures, Frederick W. Lander: The Great Natural American Soldier and Black Jack Logan : An Extraordinary Life in Peace and War (unfortunately, I haven't read either one). Lander is one of those interesting Civil War figures that didn't live long enough to fulfill promising beginnings. Whether he would have overcome his personal flaws to achieve greatness is impossible to guess, but I would like to read his bio someday to see what author Ecelbarger came up with.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

White Mane Publishing

The mention of White Mane in the company of fellow ACW enthusiasts will likely elicit a range of responses. Most recently in his blog, Eric Wittenberg has talked about a book recently published by White Mane that reflects very poorly on that press. I didn't like the book either and I was unfortunately unaware of the copyright problems mentioned by Eric when I wrote my review for North & South magazine. Even beyond that, I was hoping readers were able to “read between the lines” of my displeasure with the book…how successful I was I have no idea.

That being said, White Mane has published some very fine books that shouldn't be overlooked amongst the dreck so I’ve decided to do a short “Best of White Mane” series. I think in general that today's cost-cutting publishers (I presume especially so for the small ones) have largely abdicated their responsibilities in terms of fact checking and proofreading and rather depend far too much on the intellectual honesty and good faith thoroughness of the author. Some authors come through this with flying colors and others fail miserably. I have talked with a few CW authors who have even had to do their own indexes—is that typical? On the other hand, some authors of badly published works swear that, in their particular case, spelling errors and the like are on the publishing/printing side of the division of labor. Regardless of who is at fault, I am saddened and more than a bit angered when I read a book that has a typo on almost every page (even more so if the book is very good otherwise).

Installment one of “Best of White Mane” to follow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


I just wanted to thank everyone who has taken the time and effort to comment on any of the blog entries. As an added bonus they've all been polite! I may not respond to each comment made but I do read them all.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Curtis Milbourn

As lamented in earlier posts, the battles of the 1864 Red River Campaign lack modern definitive treatments (or really book-length studies of any kind). Additionally, the several campaign survey books cover specific military events only briefly. The best work we are likely to get for the forseeable future are the articles written by Curtis Milbourn and published in North & South Magazine. The three published articles listed below are models of modern tactical CW military history writing and are highly recommended.

  • "Fighting for Time" (vol. 5, #4) - covers cavalry delaying actions early in campaign.
  • "The Battle of Mansfield" (vol. 6, #2) - coauthored with Steve Bounds.
  • "The Battle of Pleasant Hill" (current issue, vol. 8, #6) - coauthored with Steve Bounds.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Civil War in the Southwest - 4

After the tactical victory at Valverde, Sibley's army left Canby and Fort Craig in his rear and resumed his northward march. Santa Fe fell to the Confederates and the vast supplies at Fort Union were threatened. Fortunately for the Federals, reinforcements arrived and they were able to assemble a mobile force under the command of John Slough to meet the advancing Confederates. When the two armies met in the mountains, a multi-day seesaw fight ensued. The Battle of Glorieta was indecisive but Colonel John Chivington's destruction of the Confederate supply train at Johnson's Ranch far to the rear was disastrous. Sibley's army was forced into a calamitous retreat back to Texas.

This final phase of the campaign is well told in two books, Don Alberts' The Battle of Glorieta: Union Victory in the West and John Taylor's (who we've seen before with Valverde but now teamed here with Thomas Edrington) The Battle of Glorieta Pass: A Gettysburg in the West. Both are worth reading, but I think Alberts' book and his grasp of the subject is superior overall. His strategic overview is more detailed and he does a better job of constructing a battle narrative. Additionally, Alberts' traditional-style maps show more information and are altogether more useful. Taylor does continue his fine numbers and losses analysis from his previous Valverde work and puts together an excellent order-of-battle for Glorieta that also includes unit strengths.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Civil War in the Southwest - 3

As General Sibley's command moved north through New Mexico, the Union force at Fort Craig under E.R.S. Canby was a significant obstacle, and one that could not be bluffed into surrender or evacuation. A siege was out of the question and the light artillery pieces of the Confederates made pounding it into submission unreasonable. A stab at maneuver on February 21, 1862 resulted in a battle north of Fort Craig along the banks of the Rio Grande at Valverde ford. The Confederates won a tactical victory but failed to force Canby to give up Fort Craig.

Bloody Valverde: A Civil War Battle on the Rio Grande, February 21, 1862 by John Taylor is the best treatment of this battle to date. The analysis is sound and the combat is detailed in short time increments at the company and battalion level. In addition to being numerous and well-chosen, the maps in Taylor's books are unusual in that, instead of the standard lines or NATO symbology representing formations, he places actual military figures (men, horses, guns) on the map that are representative of a certain number of men (ex. one soldier figure equals 30 infantrymen). On the negative side, the miniatures look is a bit cartoonish but, on the other hand, they do allow the reader to instantly visualize the relative size of opposing formations, the kind of information lines or NATO symbols do not typically show.

Gamers and other military enthusiasts will be happy to know that Taylor also provides an in-depth analysis of numbers and losses. Impressively, his order-of-battle actually lists the strength of each company for both armies. Obviously it is much easier to do this for the small battles, but it remains disappointingly rare to find even regimental strengths in battle study OBs.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Civil War in the Southwest - 2

While Sibley moved north into New Mexico, a company-sized cavalry detachment under Maj. Sherod Hunter was left with the difficult task of garrisoning Confederate Arizona, protecting the inhabitants from Apache raids, and with keeping the western road to Tucson open (apparently there were some filibustering pretensions directed at the Mexican state of Sonora as well). I haven't had the opportunity to read it, but author Boyd L. Finch has written a book on the subject titled Confederate Pathway to the Pacific: Major Sherod Hunter and Arizona Territory, CSA.

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Civil War in the Southwest - 1

The Confederate invasion of the territories of the U.S. desert southwest has received a fair bit of coverage over the years. The standard account for many years was Martin Hall's Sibley's New Mexico Campaign. Hall's book is a fine account, but in my opinion has been superseded by Donald Frazier's Blood & Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest (Texas A&M University Press).

Frazier's work is a more complete and more detailed chronicling of Confederate General Henry Hopkins Sibley's northern advance from west Texas into Arizona (Confederate Arizona anyway) and New Mexico territories during the first winter of the war. The author argues that the campaign was not a peripheral or discretionary move but rather a vital part of Confederate grand strategy for creation of a southwest empire. Although permanently seizing the gold fields of Colorado and opening a pathway to the Pacific through what is now Arizona and New Mexico would seem to be far beyond the resources of an already stretched Confederacy, Frazier argues that great results may have come from a greater allocation of Confederate resources to Sibley's effort. Whether you buy this argument or not, Blood & Treasure is the best military overview of the subject. The maps included are unspectacular but the battles are covered in more detail than is commonly seen with survey works of similar scale.

P.S. Camp Pope Bookshop has a nice selection of Civil War in the Far West books here, several of which will be discussed later on this blog.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Coastal City Studies 3 - Mobile

Unfortunately, a definitive military study of the 1864-5 Federal campaign that first closed the port then captured the city of Mobile itself does not exist. On the other hand, readers in need of a short survey of the city's war years cannot do better than Art Bergeron's Confederate Mobile, first published back in 1991. Bergeron has written an overview in the style of New Military History. He begins by outlining Mobile's strategic role as a blockade running port and rail hub. This is followed by a discussion of the various Confederate commanders who passed through.

In addition to outlining Mobile's progressive strengthening of it's defenses throughout 1862-3, chapters are included that deal with the hardships of civilian life, both white and black. Bergeron's treatment of the Battle of Mobile Bay and the subsequent massive land campaign against the forts guarding the city itself is accurate but disappointingly brief (the maps are weak as well). Overall though, as with all of his work, Bergeron's research is solidly based on primary source material and he writes an engaging narrative that is equal parts social and military history.

Saturday, October 1, 2005

McClellan Society

Speaking of McClellan, readers interested in reconsidering the popular view of George Brinton McClellan's record through the lens of some of his modern day supporters should check out Dimitri Rotov's McClellan Society webpage. To me, the most interesting section is the McClellan Controversies.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Smith & Pemberton: "Compelled to Appear in Print: The Vicksburg Manuscript of General John C. Pemberton"

In 1995, General John C. Pemberton’s 178-page defense of his actions during the Vicksburg Campaign turned up at an estate sale in Ohio. The manuscript was a refutation of the charges brought against him by his superior, General Joseph E. Johnston, in Johnston’s 1874 book Narrative of Military Operations. In 1999, David M. Smith finished editing the manuscript for Ironclad Publishing and the book was released as Compelled to Appear in Print: The Vicksburg Manuscript of General John C. Pemberton.

Smith does a great job of placing Pemberton’s manuscript in a proper context and provides a great deal of background information and analysis that greatly enhances the book's value. He begins by introducing the two Confederate leaders and outlining what Pemberton believed to be the eight charges leveled against him by Johnston in Johnston's Narrative. These charges involve several instances of disobedience of orders, including a failure to concentrate for battle and a determination to stand a siege rather than abandon Vicksburg to save the army.

The manuscript itself is very interesting in content but an often laborious read as Pemberton's writing style is dreadfully plodding and disjointed. Helpfully, Smith provides the reader with well-placed excerpts from Johnston’s book so the reader can make a side-by-side comparison at key points in the manuscript. What some readers may be surprised to find is the fact that Pemberton makes a very credible defense of his actions during the early stages of the campaign (at least up until his disastrous decision-making immediately preceding Champion Hill). However, like most human beings, he doesn't take responsibility for any specific mistakes and joins Johnston in this regard.

The manuscript does not include any significant new revelations but it is nonetheless an important historical document written by one of the commanders in defense of his actions during an important campaign. What is does serve to do (with the excellent assistance of editor Dave Smith) is confirm the absurdity of some of the charges leveled against Pemberton that seem to be continually accepted rather uncritically by subsequent readers and historians. In this regard, it rather reminds me of the treatment of George McClellan. Both Pemberton and McClellan were grudgingly given respect by their critics for their administrative abilities yet roundly condemned for their apparent lack of battlefield prowess. Additionally, the level of abuse heaped upon both men (both deserved and undeserved) has reached such a level of continual amplification that the men are permanently diminished in popular historical memory, immune to fair treatment. Well, nearly immune. I'm no great fan of McClellan--or Pemberton for that matter--, but as far as fair treatment goes, I think that Dave Smith in a small way has done for John C. Pemberton here what Ethan Rafuse (which reminds me that I need to read McClellan's War) and Russel Beatie have more recently done for McClellan. It's good to see.