Monday, January 30, 2006

25 Great Trans-Mississippi books (Part 3 - Final)

10. Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era by Nicole Etcheson

9. The Battle of Carthage: Border War in Southwest Missouri, July 5, 1861 by David Hinze and Karen Farnham
(comment: good coverage of battles and events in Missouri up to the Battle of Wilson's Creek. A nice account of the battle of Boonville is included followed by a highly detailed tactical history of the running fight at Carthage.)

8. Sabine Pass : The Confederacy's Thermopylae by Edward Cotham

7. Island No. 10 : Struggle for the Mississippi Valley by Larry Daniel and Lynn Bock

6. The Battle of Wilson’s Creek by Edwin C. Bearss
(comment: thorough, clearly written account and remains the best tactical history of the battle itself. Very nice maps.)

5. October 25th and the Battle of Mine Creek by Lumir Buresh
(comment: a great tactical history of Mine Creek and a wonderfully rich retelling of the Confederate retreat and Union pursuit after the 1864 Battle of Westport)

4. The Division: Defending Little Rock, Aug. 24th-Sept. 10th, 1863 by Timothy Burford and Stephanie McBride
(comment: this is a marginal inclusion to the list. Although harmed by very poor binding and printing along with a novelistic writing style that takes a lot of liberties, this book is the only detailed history of the battles surrounding the capture of Little Rock. In that respect, it is quite good. Maps, although a bit crude, are plentiful and very detailed.)

3. Embattled Arkansas by Michael Banasik
(comment: the centerpiece of this book is the Prairie Grove campaign but many chapters cover 1862 events in Missouri, including the massive recruiting campaigns, and the battles of Newtonia and Lone Jack. Extensive coverage of Union campaigns into Indian Territory is present as well.)

2. The Vicksburg Campaign 3 Vols by Edwin C. Bearss
(comment: heavy T-M coverage, both land and naval. Including great sections on Arkansas Post, the Battle of Helena, and various other attacks on Union conclaves along the west bank of the Mississippi.)

1. Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West by Earl Hess and William Shea
(comment: IMO, this is the best history of any CW battle or campaign. But then again Pea Ridge is my favorite battle to study so I am biased.)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

25 Great Trans-Mississippi books (Part 2)

20. Battle on the Bay : The Civil War Struggle for Galveston by Ed Cotham.

19. A Severe and Bloody Fight: The Battle of Whitney's Lane and Military Occupation of White County, Arkansas, May and June 1862 by Scott Akridge and Emmett Powers.
(comment: best example of local history I've seen for the T-M region. Exceptionally well-researched and packed with maps and photos. Even has an archaeology section.)

18. Blood & Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest by Donald Frazier
(comment: best single-volume overview of Sibley's New Mexico campaign)

17. Scarred By War: Civil War In Southeast Louisiana by Christopher Pena
(comment: although marred by poor editing, this is the best single source on the CW in the LaFourche district of Louisiana. This volume is a revised and expanded edition of Pena's "Touched By War", with new sections on the guerrila war in 1864-5)

16. Red River Campaign: Politics and Cotton in the Civil War by Ludwell Johnson
(comment: the oldest but still the best overall treatment of the campaign)

15. The Battle of Belmont: Grant Strikes South by Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes

14. Steele’s Retreat from Camden and the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry by Ed Bearss.
(comment: although it doesn't cover events up to Camden, this is the best history of Steele's northern wing of the combined 1864 Red River Campaign. Unfortunately, I believe the new paperback edition is out of print as well)

13. The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch by Jeffrey Hunt
(comment: IMO, far superior to Tucker's work on the same subject)

12. Yankee Autumn in Acadiana by David C. Edmonds
(comment: full account of the 1863 Texas Overland Expedition)

11. Wilson's Creek : The Second Battle of the Civil War and the Men Who Fought It by William Garrett Piston and Richard Hatcher
(comment: a combined social and campaign history, and a great companion to Bearss's excellent microhistory of the battle itself)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

25 Great Trans-Mississippi books (Part 1)

Lawyer/historian and author Jim McGhee recently asked me if I would consider doing a top-25 list of Trans-Mississippi books. I usually don't like 'top' or 'best of' lists because they are so obviously subjective, or skewed simply by a bias of interest if nothing else, but I was curious to see what I would come up with as well. Part One will follow in a second, but first a few caveats:

1. The list is not comprehensive in terms of being multi-disciplinary, it is just my personal opinion in line with my own study interests. Although I regularly read all types, I think from reading my blog you can pretty much determine what kinds of books I most like to read--i.e. detailed modern battle and campaign histories over social or political histories, biographies, diaries, memoirs, essay compilations, unit histories, etc. Judge the list for what it is, not for what it isn't.

2. If I haven't read it it won't be on the list. I won't go on reputation only no matter how lofty, so obviously this leaves out some very fine books.

3. The list will not be in any kind of order, so #1 will not necessarily be my favorite.

With the preliminaries out of the way, here we go:

25. Kirby Smith's Confederacy : The TransMississippi South, 1863-1865 by Robert Kerby

24. Bloody Valverde: A Civil War Battle on the Rio Grande, February 21, 1862 by John Taylor
(comment: the only modern book-length study of this battle)

23. The Battle of Glorieta by Don Alberts
(comment: I think this is the best of the three or four Glorieta books, with the Edrington and Taylor book coming in second)

22. Civil War Kansas: Reaping the Whirlwind by Albert Castel
(comment: Castel calls this the "authorized edition")

21. Walker's Texas Division, C.S.A: Greyhounds of the Trans-Mississippi by Richard Lowe
(comment: the best modern history of a Trans-Mississippi division, and one of the best of all CW divisional studies)

(TO BE CONTINUED--Next 11 Through 20)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Brady and the walrus

Dimitri's posting today about the the work of photographer Matthew Brady, reminding me of an anecdote told by William Styple during the Booktv program a few weeks ago dealing with his book Generals in Bronze. If I recall the story correctly, the artist James E. Kelly was friends with Brady, who related an interesting story to him. A certain U.S. member of Congress proposed that the federal government purchase Brady's CW plate collection for $25,000. The motion passed but it was (politely?) demanded from Brady that he pay half the amount to the good, honest public servant who made the proposal in Congress. Anyone want to guess who this person was? The name was omitted from later interview draft notes, but Styple found the originals and the incorruptible personage was revealed there as none other than Benjamin Butler.

"Ohio Valley History" journal

Kentucky historian Randall Osborne helpfully pointed me toward another history journal that publishes online versions of its articles. Ohio Valley History, published by The Filson Historical Society, has the articles from the latest two issues available in pdt format for downloading.

I found Hope and Humiliation: Humphrey Marshall, the Mountaineers, and the Confederacy’s Last Chance in Eastern Kentucky by Brian D. McKnight (Vol. 5 No. 3) to be interesting.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Twin Commonwealth Publishers

Twin Commonwealth Publishers, a joint effort by Jeff Weaver and Randall Osborne, looks to be a useful resource for those individuals looking for inexpensive reprints of rare OP histories as well as original works. I don't have any personal experience ordering a book through this company, but the home page explains how the publisher operates:

"We take old texts, scan them, clean them up, create an index if the book warrants one. We then upload them to, a Print on Demand provider. When you select one of our titles, and make payment through Lulu’s secure server, a copy is printed, and mailed directly to you in a sturdy carton. The whole process takes about 10 days from order to receipt of your books. Each order is custom crafted at Lulu’s facilities in the United States."

A glance through the Summer 2005 catalog (it appears to be the most current) reveals a wide range of subject matter, including a number of intriguing Civil War titles. I was amused by:

The Mistakes of Grant. By William S. Rosecrans. 1883. William Starke Rosecrans answers criticism of his action in the Chickamauga/Chattanooga campaign in the fall of 1863 in this tract, placing blame on others and defending his own record. This booklet, despite the title, never mentions Grant. American Civil War. Full index and illustrations added to the original text. 36 pages $5.95

Among the others, a volume by Weaver dealing with the Kentucky State Guard caught my eye. I think I'll be checking back with this site frequently.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Kansas Historical Quarterly

Another good use of the Internet... With the permission of the Kansas State Historical Society, articles from Kansas Historical Quarterly (1931-1977) are being transcribed by volunteers for online posting. Many are available now for viewing. Not as many Civil War related articles (not even a Centennial uptick) compared with other quarterly state historical journals but worth a look nonetheless. I hope this becomes a trend. Sure, the articles are easy enough to obtain through ILL, but being able to look through them first online to separate the wheat from the chaff would save a lot of time and expense.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Lexington and lost opportunities(?) in Missouri

I was corresponding with Missouri author, historian, and (of course) lawyer James McGhee the other day and we were both lamenting the lack of a book length study of the period surrounding the Battle of Lexington. Missouri State Guard General Sterling Price's successful advance to the pro-Southern "Little Dixie" region astride the Missouri River after the victory at Wilson's Creek is a neglected piece of Civil War military history. Price's capture of the large brigade-sized Federal force under Colonel James Mulligan at Lexington was an impressive victory for his large but poorly trained, supplied, and equipped army. The success resulted in recruits flocking to Price's standard and perhaps represented the high water mark of Southern hopes for the state. Although several short articles have been written, the best single source remains Michael Gillespie's short booklet The Civil War Battle of Lexington, Missouri. I purchased a copy from Camp Pope a few years ago but it looks like they don't sell it there anymore. The bookstore at the Battle of Lexington State Historic Site is probably the best bet for finding a copy.

Three independent Confederate forces were in position to cooperate with Missouri State forces but proved unable or unwilling to help. Ben McCulloch, who hated Price, returned his division-sized force to Arkansas after Wilson's Creek. William Hardee's brigade-sized command in northeast Arkansas and Gideon Pillow's 6,000 man Army of Liberation at New Madrid, MO similarly declined to assist MSG General M. Jeff Thompson in the bootheel region of SE Missouri. This lack of pressure on multiple fronts allowed John C. Fremont the opportunity to concentrate against Sterling Price's guardsmen at Lexington. The large 38,000 man Union force easily herded Price back into the southwest corner of Missouri, permanently solidifying U.S. control over the state.

Jim and I both agree that mid-summer 1861 was the South's last real opportunity to accomplish something important in Missouri. However, with no overall directing hand, the combined Confederate-Missouri State Guard victory at Wilson's Creek went largely unexploited. Although I doubt that any permanent Confederate stronghold in Missouri was possible, active Confederate armies operating in Missouri in the latter part of 1861 could have had a serious effect on Union plans for the Western theater in the first months of 1862, perhaps allowing A.S. Johnston's Confederates more time to prepare river defenses in Tennessee. In January of 1862, with only a weak enemy presence in Missouri, Union Department of the Missouri commander Henry Halleck had over 70000 men stationed in the state, leaving only around 20000 men with Grant east of the Mississippi. With a graver threat to Missouri, would Halleck have even authorized the Henry-Donelson thrust?

Once this summer 1861 window of opportunity passed, all possibility of sustaining a strong Confederate presence in Missouri evaporated. The Missouri River ran east-west across the middle part of the state and the Federal army controlled the railroads, all of which exited Missouri only into Northern states. The fact that Missouri was hemmed in geographically by free states on three sides didn't help either. Unfortunately for the Confederacy, Missouri's natural and man-made supply and communication network could only help Union armies and the many fortified strongpoints constructed by the Federals could not be taken by the South's mobile but equipment starved and logistically poor upper Trans-Mississippi theater forces.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Review: "One Damn Blunder from Beginning to End"

(Reprinted with the permission of North and South Magazine, originally appeared in vol. 6 #6, pp. 90-91, reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer)

[One Damn Blunder from Beginning to End: The Red River Campaign of 1864 by Gary Dillard Joiner. (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., 2003. Pp. 198, $17.95, Paper. 16 Maps. ISBN 0-8420-2936-2)]

In March of 1864 Union forces led by Major General Nathaniel Banks launched a massive three-pronged land and riverine assault up Louisiana’s Red River valley that eventually included over 40,000 soldiers and 60 vessels. The capture of Shreveport, the capital of Confederate Louisiana and a major supply and logistics center in the Trans-Mississippi theater, was the operation’s main military objective. Economic and political goals included the confiscation of vast amounts of cotton for starving Eastern mills and the further establishment of a Federally-controlled state government in Louisiana and perhaps East Texas as well. Partisan politics, greed, and infighting doomed the campaign seemingly from the start and the result was a complete disaster. Historian and cartographer Gary Joiner’s One Damn Blunder From Beginning to End provides the reader with a concise narrative history of this important but often overlooked campaign.

Since the publication in 1958 of Ludwell Johnson’s classic Politics and Cotton, several modern campaign histories of similar breadth of scope have been written. None are exhaustive, but what sets Joiner’s work apart is his mastery of the area’s geography. The author is at his best when describing and analyzing the peculiarities of the Red River and its tributaries along with their crucial impact on the operations of Admiral Porter’s Union fleet. Where the book falls flat is in the descriptions of the land battles, particularly the showcase battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill. Although a general understanding of the fighting is enhanced by the book’s inclusion of plentiful maps drawn by the author, the battle accounts are a bit too brief even for an overview.

Another way in which One Damn Blunder improves upon previous overview histories of the campaign is in its use of recently uncovered information, which is spread liberally throughout the book. As examples, the means applied by Confederate engineers to temporarily divert the flow of the Red River in case of attack are fascinating and the author provides a rare in-depth look at the military defenses of Shreveport.

Though conventional, Joiner’s analysis of the campaign is logical and covers all of the important points. The author casts an equally critical eye towards all levels of leadership on both sides. The result is a well-balanced account that avoids assigning all the blame for the defeat to the popular villain, General Banks. As is clearly illustrated in the book, the direction of the Union effort in the campaign from Lincoln on down was a credit to no one. On the other side, Confederate department head Edmund Kirby Smith made several crucial blunders that limited the extent of the overall Southern victory. In the end, Richard Taylor and Union engineer Joseph Bailey are perhaps the only major players who exit the campaign with their reputations enhanced.

Although students of the Red River Campaign will be familiar with author Gary Joiner’s interpretation of events, enough new (or rarely known) information is provided that enhances our understanding of this important 1864 operation. The same cannot be said for many of the campaign overviews published today. One Damn Blunder is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in the Trans-Mississippi theater and 1864 campaigns in general.

Monday, January 9, 2006

Battlefield Detectives: Shiloh

Did anyone else watch this History Channel program that aired on Friday (I know Mike mentioned it on his blog)? It bothers me that they took archaeological evidence that seemed rather inconclusive to me (a ratio of a sample of fired vs. dropped small arms ammo found in the Duncan and Sarah Bell fields) and so confidently attempted a major historical revision of what happened around the Hornet's Nest area. Additionally, if I recall correctly, they neglected to provide an alternative overall day 1 scenario that they feel would better fit the new theory. Stacy Allen obviously knows a lot about the battle but I would have loved to hear both Sword's and Daniel's opinion about this new evidence (or for that matter what poor Randal Gibson would think of it if he was still around).

The shell skipping theory espoused by Gary Joiner was interesting. Joiner believes it was probable that the gunboats Lexington and Tyler fired up Dill Branch using the slope to ricochet 10 to 15-second fused shells into the air and over a wide area of the battlefield. It was unclear to me if Joiner came up with this theory himself or read about it through the accounts of actual participants.

Sunday, January 8, 2006

"Confederate Florida"

Continuing on with the Florida theme from a couple of entries ago, in my opinion, the best single volume dealing with the Civil War period in the state is William N. Nulty's Confederate Florida : The Road to Olustee (1994: Univ. of Alabama Press). While the heart of the book is an excellent and detailed battle study of the Confederate victory at Olustee (aka Ocean Pond), military history is only a part of what makes Nulty's scholarship useful. Confederate Florida is also a well-researched general overview of the state's entry and service in the Confederacy, especially its vital role in keeping the Southern field armies supplied with beef.

For those readers more interested in Florida's Gulf Coast, George Buker's Blockaders, Refugees, and Contrabands : Civil War on Florida's Gulf Coast, 1861-1865 isn't definitive but is nevertheless a good place to start due to the broad range of subjects introduced.

Friday, January 6, 2006

Overmountain Press

I've only read one book published by this primarily Appalachian history press (William Garrett Piston's Carter's Raid) but was favorably disposed toward my single foray. Piston, probably best known for his Longstreet bio and his Wilson's Creek study in partnership with Richard Hatcher, is a good historian so it's no surprise. The Overmountain Press website lists the following titles from the Civil War section of its catalog:

Civil War History:
History of the Fourth Tennessee Cavalry
History of the 13th Regiment Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry
History of the First Regiment of the Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry
East Tennessee and the Civil War
Miss Nan: Beloved Rebel
The Loyal Mountaineers of Tennessee
Voices from Cemetery Hill
Jack May’s War
The Bridge Burners
Thrilling Adventures of Daniel Ellis
Carter’s Raid
Sisters of Providence

Just click on the Civil War History link for access to each book's webpage. Brett Schulte, who is looking for regimentals at the moment, might be interested in the first three titles listed (although I can't personally vouch for their quality). I am a bit intrigued by Jack May's War.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Another "Swamp Fox of the Confederacy"

If you are a successful guerrilla leader near some soggy ground, there's a good chance you'll be awarded the coveted nom de guerre 'Swamp Fox'. For me, M. Jeff Thompson is the Swamp Fox of the Confederacy, but J.J. Dickison's operations in Florida apparently earned him a similar degree of notoriety. John J. Koblas's J.J. Dickison: Swamp Fox of the Confederacy is a highly laudatory account of Capt. Dickison's operations. Cheesy cover art aside, the book is a serious study that sports an impressive bibliography, although I have mixed feelings about how well he used his wide assemblage of sources. Additionally, for such an experienced writer, Koblas's historial narrative skills are a bit unpolished. His method of integrating first person accounts into his own narrative of events is often ponderous and repetitive.

The first half of the book is surprisingly passive on the wartime role of Dickison and is more of a general history of the war in north Florida up to 1864. However, the action picks up during the last two years of the war and we are treated to a retelling of Dickison's exploits at Palatka, Gainesville, Marianna, Braddock's Farm, and his celebrated capture of the U.S.S. Columbine (a wooden sidewheel steamer rather than the city-class ironclad depicted on the cover). There is also an account of the Battle of Natural Bridge near the end of the book.

Although the author probably isn't sufficiently skeptical of the claims made by pro-Southern officers and civilians as to the true extent of Dickison's military victories, the detailed examination here of these rarely explored events is very much welcomed. Dickison, who went on to write the Florida volume of the Confederate Military History series edited by Clement A. Evans, is a Civil War figure worthy of note, and Koblas's book, despite its flaws, is worth a look if you are interested in Florida's Civil War experience.