Wednesday, June 13, 2007

ed. Christ: "'The Earth Reeled and Trees Trembled': Civil War Arkansas"

[ “The Earth Reeled and Trees Trembled”: Civil War Arkansas, 1863-1864, ed. Mark Christ [(Old State House Museum, 2007). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes. Page Total/Main Text=168/159 ISBN 978-0-9789148-0-6 $24.95 ]

The Earth Reeled and Trees Trembled is a fascinating collection of essays based on Old State House Museum (Little Rock, AR) seminar topics originally presented in 2003 and 2004. Gathered together in a volume edited by Mark Christ, Community Outreach Director for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, these essays cover a broad range of subjects from politics and society to military campaigns. Readers will also find fascinating monographs on geography and medicine. Christ, the editor of several fine books to include Rugged and Sublime and All Cut to Pieces and Gone to Hell among others, is also a contributor of two articles.

I'll begin with a brief description of the book's overall presentation and then comment on each essay separately below. The collection is bound in a sturdy paperback that's also very attractive. Numerous maps, photographs, and illustrations enhance the text, which is arranged in double column format for easy reading. Each essay is also thoroughly annotated, some with quite extensive commentary. In terms of consistent quality and freshness of approach among the chapters, this is one of the best Civil War essay collections I have come across.

Michael Dougan-- Say "Au Revoir" but not "Good-Bye”: The Enduring Confederate Government of Arkansas
Prof. Dougan, perhaps best known for his book Confederate Arkansas: The People and Politics of a Frontier State in Wartime (Univ. of Alabama Press, 1976), starts things off with a lively account of Arkansas history from its origins through the late 19th century. His often biting wit rather reminds me of Richard McMurry's forthright style of analysis. With early Arkansas's rejection of banks and funding for higher education and internal improvements, Dougan makes a case for a long standing state political culture of deliberate backwardness. The essay is also an interesting examination of antebellum Arkansas politics and the relative merits of Confederate war governors Henry Rector and Harris Flanagin.

Mark K. Christ-- “As Much As Humanity Can Stand”: The Little Rock Campaign of 1863
The first Christ essay is a marvelous summary of Union General Frederick Steele's campaign that resulted in the capture of Little Rock in September 1863. The author, whose masters thesis is a study of this campaign, observes (correctly, I believe) that the seeds of the Arkansas capital's fall were sown in the disastrous Confederate defeat at Helena in July. The Union march to Little Rock and the battles of Brownsville, Bayou Meto, and Bayou Fourche are covered, along with the Confederate retreat and the limited Union pursuit. Losing the capital was a disastrous blow to Arkansas's Confederate supporters. Manpower losses were slight but state morale and political will was shattered. Steele was able to take the fortified capital swiftly and cheaply, with less than 150 battle casualties. The only quibble I have with this fine account is the dearth of maps. A single campaign map was reproduced from the O.R. Atlas but it's very reduced in size and difficult to read.

Douglas E. Larson-- Alfred Gales and the Third Minnesota in Arkansas
This essay details a regiment's experience of occupation duties in Little Rock and along the Arkansas River at places like Pine Bluff. [An aesthetic aside: The 3rd Minnesota was one of the first Federal units to enter Little Rock, and I was glad to see the publisher include a reproduction of the Arthurs painting that so vividly depicts this event.] While in Little Rock, the 3rd found that a generally conciliatory policy toward the citizens paid dividends. On the other hand, garrison life had its perils, with the regiment suffering tremendously from disease. Recruitment of black soldiers is also discussed by Larson. The individual mentioned in the title (Alfred Gales, last name later changed to Miller) was an escaped slave who became a cook for the regiment and followed the unit back to Minnesota after the war. Unfortunately, very little is known about him, leaving his story frustratingly incomplete.

Cynthia DeHaven Pitcock-- Gunpowder, Lard and Kerosene: Civil War Medicine in the Trans-Mississippi
This brief essay outlines the staffing and equipping of the medical corps in the Confederacy's Trans-Mississippi Department. A brief rundown of the medical education options for period physicians is given, with due notice given to several well educated doctors that served with particular distinction. Not surprisingly, as Pitcock co-edited his diary* with Bill Gurley in 2002, Dr. William McPheeters's efforts in improving patient care figure prominently. Finally, the difficulties experienced (and creative methods employed) in obtaining medicines are recounted.

Bobby Roberts-- Rivers of No Return
Here, Roberts examines the hydrology of the waterways of Arkansas and their relative merits as transportation routes. With the Arkansas River so frustratingly unpredictable, he rightly views the White River as the most useful river supply avenue in the state for Union forces. While the ironclads grab the headlines, this essay correctly gives the tinclad its proper due as the workhorse of the Union's inland waterway navy. With no comparable naval presence, the Confederates depended on fixed points of defense and harrassment by small scale hit and run attacks. Most Arkansas rivers were narrow and shallow, with dense foliage lining the banks, perfect for ambush attacks. In the end, however, neither strategy scored lasting success.

Gary Dillard Joiner-- Fred Steele's Dilemma and Kirby Smith's Quest for Glory
Gary Joiner's contribution is a nice summary of the Camden Expedition (the northern wing of the 1864 Red River Campaign). Readers of the author's previous works One Damn Blunder and Through the Howling Wilderness will find themselves on familiar ground. The skill of Confederate cavalry generals Marmaduke and Fagan is lauded, while the decision making of the high command of both sides (Price, Kirby Smith and Steele) comes under heavy criticism.

Bill Gurley-- The Civil War Journal of Dr. Henry Dye: Texas Surgeon in the District of Arkansas
This is a truly wonderful chapter, both for its originality and for the fascinating insights it provides into battlefield medicine. Here, Bill Gurley examines the detailed journal of Dr. Henry Dye and gleans his surgeon's notes for 25 selected case studies of wounded Confederate soldiers from the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry. Dye's sketches of the wounds are reproduced in the essay (the originals are in color) and the notes include both wound descriptions and diagnostic/treatment information. It is perhaps surprising how many serious limb wounds were successfully cared for without resorting to amputation, and medically knowledgable readers will likely marvel at some of the innovative treatment methods.

Tom Wing-- A Sink of Iniquity and Corruption: The Civil War in Fort Smith and Indian Territory
Tom Wing gives us a look at the various conflicts surrounding Fort Smith*** in 1864. Both Little Rock and Fort Smith fell to Union forces in September 1863, and 1864 saw efforts by the Confederates to harass the Union defenders and perhaps recapture the fort. Brief overviews of these battles and skirmishes are provided, along with a really nice period map of Fort Smith and environs.

Mark K. Christ-- “The Queen City Was a Helpless Wreck”: J.O. Shelby’s Summer of ’64
Mark Christ's second essay chronicles Confederate general J.O. Shelby's successful campaign of recruitment and harassment in northeast Arkansas in the months preceding Price's Raid. With Union garrisons spread thinly throughout the region, Shelby was able to cross the Arkansas River above Little Rock and strike at two critical nodes of Union transportation and supply, the White River and the Little Rock and Memphis Railroad. Isolated Union garrisons and forage stations in the region were struck repeatedly. The most noteable Confederate success on the White River was the capture and destruction of the U.S.S. Queen City, a heavily armed tinclad. During this time, Shelby gathered in thousands of recruits (both willing and unwilling). The Union army's focus on Shelby's efforts also facilitated Sterling Price's ability to traverse northern Arkansas relatively unhindered on his way to Missouri.

Daniel Sutherland-- Guerrilla Conflict in 1864: Day of the Outlaw
Daniel Sutherland is no stranger to the study of guerrilla warfare in Arkansas***, and here he surveys the evolution of guerrilla conflict in the state and its negative consequences upon the civilian population and the opposing militaries.

* - I Acted from Principle: The Civil War Diary of Dr. William M. McPheeters, Confederate Surgeon in the Trans-Mississippi (University of Arkansas Press, 2002).
** - It is fitting that Ed Bearss is mentioned in the book's dedication as he pioneered the study of the Civil War at Fort Smith.
*** - Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front (Univ. of Arkansas Press, 1999) and Civil War Arkansas: Beyond Battles and Leaders (Univ. of Arkansas Press, 2000).


  1. Drew,

    That was helpful. Thanks. I'm going to send off for a couple copies of this one. One for my little brother, who lives on the White River.

    I wondered if William C. Davis might make an appearance. He wrote an article for CW History (Kent State) on how the fighting in the Trans-Mississippi was more brutal than elsewhere. I heard him give a talk on that same subject. He focused as Mark's Mill and Poison Spring as representative examples.


  2. Mark will be glad to hear that!

    One of the other books mentioned above, ""All Cut to Pieces and Gone to Hell": the Civil War, Race Relations, and the Battle of Poison Spring", picks up the theme you mention.

  3. The link to some of these are broken, such as the first book, The Earth Reeled..."

    1. Yes, that tends to happen to 10 year-old posts.


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