Monday, October 30, 2006

Banasik (ed.): "Duty, Honor and Country"

[From the The Camp Pope Bookshop website: Volume VI: DUTY, HONOR AND COUNTRY: THE CIVIL WAR EXPERIENCES OF CAPTAIN WILLIAM P. BLACK, THIRTY-SEVENTH ILLINOIS INFANTRY. Edited by Michael Banasik. Volume VI of our series presents 119 letters written by William P. Black, Captain of Co K, 37th Illinois Infantry. The letters cover a multitude of subjects from the Battles of Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove, Arkansas, to operations in Louisiana and Texas. William’s letters are straightforward, well-written, and informative. Editor Michael Banasik has added his usual exhaustive historical annotation, and he has compiled the most detailed roster of the 37th Illinois Infantry ever published. The book is further enhanced by other useful appendices, including, for the first time since its publication in the St. Louis Daily Missouri Democrat, January 1, 1863, the infamous Prairie Grove letter by officer “F” of the 37th, in which the bravery and leadership of William’s older brother Colonel John Black at Prairie Grove is impugned. The scandalous letter led to the Court Martial of its author, the unpopular Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Frisbie. 512 pages, 6 x 9 paperback, illustrations, maps, notes, roster, appendices, bibliography, index. (Published 2006; ISBN 1-929919-10-7) $24.95.]

I am very impressed with the overall effort behind Duty, Honor and Country, Camp Pope's latest contribution to its long standing (and much appreciated) leadership role in the publication of primary source materials from the Civil War's Trans-Mississippi theater. Captain Black's letters are presented in an attractive, yet sturdy paperback, richly augmented with notes, maps, and illustrations.

Duty, Honor and Country
The notes deserve special mention. "Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River" series editor Michael Banasik's annotations are deeply researched and highly informative. Background material for persons, places, and events mentioned in the letters are lengthy, detailed, and often constructed from a great variety of sources. Each letter is thus placed in as broad a context as possible. A complete roster of the 37th Illinois is also provided, a gem for researchers and an "extra" I don't recall ever seeing in an edited volume of letters before. Orders of battle for different periods of the 37th's service are also included in the appendices along with some supplemental letters. Overall, the volume of information included in the book along with the level of skill and expertise in the editing far exceeds what one normally finds in a published letter collection.

As the introduction above notes, Capt. Black experienced the war in all the states of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi. He doesn't relate his battle experiences in great detail--except for an account of the battle of Prairie Grove for the National Tribune--but Black writes well and does provide the reader with great insight into the often destructive world of officer politicking in a Civil War regiment. The subject is brought up to some degree in almost every letter, often involving the writer's older brother, Col. John Black. A picture of camp life at various postings throughout the T-M is effectively drawn, and some of Black's most interesting and novel observations involve border happenings near Brownsville, Texas during the war's latter period.

I would highly recommend Duty, Honor and Country's inclusion in the library of any reader or researcher of T-M Civil War history. The experience has certainly left me favorably disposed toward obtaining other volumes in the series and we can only hope future installments are planned as well!


  1. Drew: Another excellent book in Mike Banasik's series is "Serving With Honor: The Diary of Captain Eathan Allen Pinnell of the Eighth Missouri Infantry (Confederate), published by Camp Pope in 1999. Pinnell was an educated man, and a keen observer of places and events. For the every day life of a Confederate in the Trans-Mississippi Dept, 1862-1865, it can't be beat.

  2. Jim,
    Thanks for writing and for the suggestion. I hope to get them all someday.



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