Friday, April 28, 2006

Battle of Athens

That latest Camp Pope News (the infrequent, but always eagerly welcomed, newsletter published by Clark Kenyon's Camp Pope Bookshop) contains an interesting announcement that a new book about the Battle of Athens, MO is in the works:

"I'm working on a new, detailed study of this battle that took place between Union Home Guard troops and the Missouri State Guard in far northeast Missouri on August 5, 1861. It's best known as the closest actual fighting got to Iowa (Croton, Iowa, stood right across the Des Moines River from Athens). The author Jonathan Cooper-Wiele and I have been discussing the publication of this work for several years, and now we are definitely going ahead with it."

I eagerly await this book. The best single source for information on this battle remains an old article by Leslie Anders in Missouri Historical Review ("‘Farthest North:’ The Historian and the Battle of Athens," MISSOURI HISTORICAL REVIEW 69 (Jan 1975): pp 147-168). A book was also published a while back (now long out of print) written by a Mr. Dixon which I understand from trusted sources is a fairly informal, loosely organized collection of information on the battle.

As for projects farther along the pipeline, the Camp Pope series Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River has a new installment coming out soon (perhaps this summer). Duty, Honor, Country is an annotated compilation of the letters of William Black, Captain of Company K (Fremont Rifles), 37th Illinois Infantry. The series is edited by Michael Banasik.

If you would like to subscribe to the Camp Pope newsletter, click here. I highly recommend it.

Monday, April 24, 2006

"The Raiders of 1862"

Retired army officer James Brewer's The Raiders of 1862 is one of my favorite 'cavalry books'. Sure, it's treatment of its subjects is not as exhaustive as say David Evans' Sherman's Horsemen, but the level of research is adequate and author's writing style is a pleasure to read. What really hooked me was Brewer's choice of cavalry raids for study.

The book is divided into three parts. Part I covers Frank Armstrong's West Tennessee raid (Aug.24 - Sept.4, 1862). This one appealed to me the most as it had direct relevance to one of my wargame design projects. Fights at Medon Station, Middleburg, and Britton's Lane are detailed in this section. Part II is a history of Forrest's West Tennessee raid (Dec.13, 1862 - Jan.3, 1863), with its battles at Lexington, Salem Cemetary, and Parker's Crossroads. Lastly, you get a nice overview of John Hunt Morgan's Christmas Raid (Dec.22, 1862 - Jan.5, 1863) in Part III.

Raiders is a fairly high quality hardback, similar to a McFarland effort. Although grainy computer generations, the maps are numerous, detailed, and very helpful in fostering an operational and tactical understanding of each raid. I would recommend the book to anyone interested in western theater cavalry raids.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Primitive Baptists

In his nice overview of the Civil War in Appalachian Virginia and Kentucky, Contested Borderland, Brian McKnight made an interesting observation about the role of religious doctrine in rallying support for the Confederate cause. Specifically, he talked a bit about the Primitive Baptist sect ('primitive' as in clinging to strict interpretations of older doctrines such as Predestination). McKnight argued that the worshippers's strict interpretation of Predestination fostered a firm attachment to the new Confederate cause--after all, it was preordained. He didn't mention if he also believed it eased the transition toward defeat and Reconstruction. Mark Wetherington also wrote about the Primitive Baptists among Georgia's wiregrass population in Plain Folk's Fight, but did not explicitly make the interpretive leap that McKnight made.

(P.S. It made me wonder if this particular sect has much influence today. With the help of Google, I browsed a few sites. Acknowledging the difficulty of estimating this group's current membership size, this site estimated that only around 8,500 adult Primitive Baptists remain as Strict Predestinarians.)

Monday, April 17, 2006

"Civil War in Cabell County, WV 1861-1865"

When a price comparison inquiry on the many used book search sites comes up empty, it seems like many booksellers simply tag a $150 price on their copy and see if anyone bites. This is indeed what I found when I first attempted to find a used copy of Joe Geiger's Civil War in Cabell County, West Virginia 1861-1865 (Pictorial Histories Publishing: Charleston, WV, softcover, 1991 OP, 2 maps, photos, rosters, notes, pp. 140). Lo and behold, I check out Morningside recently and they have a new copy (must be a slooow seller) for 10 bucks. It pays to know where to look!

It's a worthwhile purchase, but I think anyone who pays anywhere close to three figures would be ultimately disappointed. On the plus side, Mr. Geiger's book is made up of high quality materials and is very nicely presented and well-researched. The author made a solid effort to uncover and examine a range of previously unpublished source materials. Like most books from this publisher, photographs are sprinkled liberally throughout. Coverage of events (military or otherwise) in the county during the first two years of the war is adequately detailed, with nice chapters on the 1861 Battle of Barboursville and the Clarkson/Jenkins raid on Guyandotte later on that year. Additionally, capsule biographies of prominent individuals and families are included, as well as unit rosters of both Union and Confederate Cabell countians.

Unfortunately, like many county histories where the main events occurred early in the war, the amount of material rapidly dwindles as the war goes on, making the book progressively less interesting. The reading here was a bit of chore to get through after 1862. Also, the maps aren't much help for those readers unfamiliar with the area, another lamentable feature of CW county histories.

Overall, I would recommend the book to anyone interested in the early years of the Civil War in West Virginia.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Brian Downey's Antietam maps

Today's posting on Brian's blog mentions a wonderful Antietam campaign map project he's working on--daily operational maps from September 4-20. I am impressed with the detail and the beauty of the maps and have a deep appreciation for this comment of his:

As I have been plotting units, though, I’m finding there are far more of them than I’d read of previously, and the neat orders of battle with which I’m familiar are of less and less help. Local militia, orphaned cavalry detachments, signalmen, state troops; not to mention rear-area logistics, supply, and communications points.

The OBs of most campaign and battle histories (even the very good ones) include only the formations present on the "main" subject battlefield, generally ignoring those-- both large and small--that played even significant operational roles at some point in the campaign leading up to the climactic battle.

"The Tygarts Valley Line June - July 1861"

The Tygarts Valley Line, June-July 1861 by Eva Margaret Carnes (1961--Third Printing 2003, Barbour County Historical Society, paperback, 112 pages, ISBN: 0-87012-703-9) is a useful little booklet written during the Centennial period. On one level, it's a short military history of the June 3, 1861 Battle of Philippi and the skirmishes in the Tygarts River valley during the second week of July; but, through a number of interesting vignettes, the book also paints a nice portrait of the valley's conflicted populace and of individual citizens rarely mentioned in later histories.

Carnes writes perhaps the most detailed and nuanced view I've come across of Confederate Colonel George A. Porterfield and his actions. On the Union side, she writes in admiration of Benjamin Kelley while passing harsh judgement upon George McClellan and Robert Milroy. However, Carnes is certainly no Lost Cause advocate either as she aims perhaps her most strident criticisms at Robert E. Lee for his apparent ignorance of and lack of concern for the region and its inhabitants and also for not following through on written promises of reinforcements, arms, and supplies. Her points are well taken but, given the situation the Confederates were in in May of 1861, it's difficult to imagine alternative results given the resources the Union army was pouring into their effort in western Virginia.

Monday, April 3, 2006

Review: "A Single Grand Victory"

[A Single Grand Victory: The First Campaign and Battle of Manassas by Ethan S. Rafuse (Wilmington, Delaware: SR Books, 2002, Pp. 232 est., Paper, $17.95, ISBN: 0-8420-2876-5)]

West Point professor Ethan Rafuse’s new book A Single Grand Victory is volume seven of the American Crisis Series edited by Steven Woodworth. Despite a few quibbles with the book’s presentation, A Single Grand Victory is a worthy addition to the series. While acknowledging the previous excellent work of William C. Davis and John Hennessy in their books Battle at Bull Run and The First Battle of Manassas, the author seeks to expand our understanding of the first major campaign of the Civil War by also discussing the social, political, economic, and gender-related factors that led to the outbreak of civil strife. Indeed, the author has mined the wealth of current research and scholarship pertaining to cultural influences and summarizes the findings well. The issues of soldier motivation and what factors led each side to expect a war that would be largely decided in one decisive battle are also examined.

The sections covering the campaign and battle are written in a lively fashion with many first-person accounts woven seamlessly into the text. Though no groundbreaking discoveries are made, the analysis throughout is sound. Unfortunately, the reader’s understanding of the Manassas campaign’s operational and tactical movements is hampered by maps that are both too few and lacking in detail. For example, in a battle often characterized by uncoordinated regimental level attacks, the maps are mostly brigade-level and lack important terrain features.

Though not necessarily meriting great criticism, some omissions in the text are curious. For instance, the author mentions the civilian spectators only in passing and chose not to delve into the Bee/Jackson controversy, limiting the treatment of the subject to a short paragraph. In his analysis of the battle, Rafuse does not criticize McDowell’s decision to make Tyler’s diversion on the same flank where the main attack was to be made. No formal order-of-battle or discussion of weapons, tactics or training is included either.

These criticisms aside, Rafuse has written a solid overview of the First Manassas campaign that places military events in a cultural context. The general reader especially will find the book’s comprehensive coverage of the campaign and battle to be interesting and informative. On the other hand, though the discussion of the campaign’s operational elements is particularly useful to students of military history, readers interested mainly in the battle’s tactical details will still find Hennessy’s book to be the best source available.

(The following review is reprinted with the permission of North and South Magazine, originally appeared in vol. 5 #4, reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer)