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.