Sunday, February 25, 2007

Mulesky: "Thunder From a Clear Sky"

I've never been one to dismiss all print-on-demand publishing efforts out of hand; however, it bears repeating that it remains a difficult and very time consuming task to wade through the offal and uncover good--or even adequate--Civil War books published by the growing number of POD service companies. Because of this, most people understandably won't make the effort, but I try to keep abreast of what comes out of Civil War publishing, no matter the outlet. I am certainly happy to say I wasn't disappointed with this book, author Raymond Mulesky's Thunder from a Clear Sky: Stovepipe Johnson's Confederate Raid on Newburgh, Indiana.

On July 18th, 1862 Adam Rankin (soon to be "Stovepipe") Johnson raided the town of Newburg, Indiana, capturing a sizeable cache of supplies and weapons. Johnson's success was due to several factors, not the least of which was intelligence help from three sympathetic Newburg citizens. Additionally, the weapons were stored unguarded inside a warehouse located near the river. Across the Ohio, a section of Quaker guns (one of which sported a barrel constructed from a section of stovepipe) threatened the town, further discouraging resistance. Although a massive naval and land force was assembled to punish Johnson and his raiders, he eluded his pursuers and lived to fight on later on at the head of what would become the 10th Kentucky Cavalry.

Ray Mulesky has written a stirring account of the events surrounding this raid in his book Thunder from a Clear Sky: Stovepipe Johnson's Confederate Raid on Newburgh, Indiana(the 'h' was added in the postwar period). Mulesky sets the stage by recounting Johnson's raiding and recruiting operations in western Kentucky, including the actions at Henderson and Slaughtersville. The reaction of Union forces to these raids is detailed, as the Federals struggled to respond to Johnson after sending away most of the garrison troops to defend vital points from John Hunt Morgan's troublemaking horsemen in central Kentucky.

The author writes very well and his deeply researched chronicle of the Newburg Raid is an excellent piece of military history. However, the story doesn't end with the raiders' recrossing of the Ohio River and their finely orchestrated escape with goods in hand. In the long view, Johnson's daring exploit backfired in a way, as it actually served to increase volunteering in Indiana. The raid also led to large numbers of vengeful Federal troops descending upon towns in western Kentucky and arresting both real and suspected southern sympathizers. Whether the raid was ultimately worth it or not is certainly up for debate.

I am not a big fan of the workmanship put out by the general run of print-on-demand publishers, but this book's overall value is clearly among the best. The text is expertly edited and the layout attractive. Binding and paper are also of a fine quality. The only aesthetic complaint I have pertains to the continued limitations of the technology in terms of reproducing photographs. The lone preventable aspect of the book that I would quibble with was the absense of fully original maps to augment the two period maps that were included.

I would suspect that anyone interested in Civil War irregular operations, and the war in general in Kentucky and Indiana, would benefit from reading this fascinating history of the Newburg Raid. Ray Mulesky is to be congratulated on bringing an obscure event to light, while at the same time fleshing the story out into a book length study that examines the events preceding the raid in depth and also analyzes its strategic consequences. I look forward to this talented author's next project.

[A note on the different versions of this book: I originally purchased the hardback first edition, but since that time an improved version has been released--called the iUniverse Star Edition or Thunder Star Edition (here). This review is based on this new updated edition. The differences are discussed here on the author's website. Having read both (albeit more than a year apart), I concur about the noteworthiness of the reedited manuscript]

***Also, check back later this week for a short interview with author Ray Mulesky focusing on his experience with Print-on-Demand publishing.***

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