Friday, September 18, 2009


[The Civil War in the Big Sandy Valley of Kentucky, Second Edition* by John David Preston (Gateway Press, 2008). Cloth, 11 maps, charts, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 257/525. LCCN:84-80689 $35 ]

The Civil War in the southeastern corner of Kentucky is one of the Bluegrass State's least studied regions of conflict, and John David Preston's The Civil War in the Big Sandy Valley of Kentucky [Gateway Press, 1984] was the first specialized book length study on the subject. Long out of print and difficult to find, the book has now been reissued in a lengthier, vastly improved Second Edition.

The four Kentucky counties of Floyd, Johnson, Lawrence, and Pike comprise Preston's primary area of study. As with the earlier edition, the new book undertakes a demographic analysis of the area's residents, seeking to uncover useful patterns in predetermining Union vs. Confederate sympathies. The conclusions are unchanged. Preston found no significant difference in property ownership, education, and slaveholding between the two groups. At the beginning of the war, enlistments were about equal, but Union recruitment rapidly outpaced Confederate efforts to the tune of three to one. The author attributes this disparity to the Union's continual occupation of the valley, its relatively benign treatment of the civilian population and economy, and the valley's geographic isolation from Confederate influence [e.g. they had to traverse rugged mountain passes, while navigable rivers were available to Union military movements and commerce]. Additionally, local pro-Confederate political leaders lost all influence in the area when it came under permanent Union occupation in late 1862. Originally formulated in 1984, it remains a convincing thesis.

The main text of the Second Edition is nearly three times the length of the first, and the discussion of military events greatly expanded. Chapter length treatments of the battles of Ivy Mountain, Paintsville-Jennies Creek, Middle Creek, and Pound Gap are included, as well as Humphrey Marshall's second invasion of the valley and the Battle of Wireman's Shoals. The new volume also devotes much more attention to the 1863-1865 period, covering Marshall's third invasion, Morgan's Last Raid, and clashes at Gladesville, Turman's Ferry, Paintsville-Little Half Mountain, and Saltville.

With new battlefield and campaign maps, the cartography is also much improved, if not spectacularly so. Not of much use to begin with, the first edition's large pullout map depicting James Garfield's Big Sandy campaign has been dispensed with. Instead two-page sets for each campaign were produced, a full-page operational map on the right, faced on the left by a campaign timeline. They work fairly well, although, for more clarity, I would have preferred the more traditional directional lines versus the often jumbled look of the large block path arrows. The battle maps (Paintsville and Middle Creek), while good, were reproduced from other sources, and one wishes for more of them, especially one for Ivy Mountain.

The appendices run over 200 pages, the majority of these comprising rosters of the 3,700 Big Sandy Union and Confederate soldiers, divided by side and county. Lists of battles, valley slaveholders, election results, and soldiers who served in both armies are also present.

The research is solid overall, with a good amount of manuscript research, supplemented by government records, newspapers, books, and articles. Greatly expanded in length and depth, The Civil War in the Big Sandy Valley of Kentucky, Second Edition is an essential new volume for students of the military campaigns and social patterns of the inhabitants of SE Kentucky. Highly recommended.

* - The author does not have a website for his book (nor does the publisher, a self publishing outfit) but, if you'd like to purchase the book, Preston recommends his online partner. I've found the proprietor there to be reliable.

No comments:

Post a Comment

When commenting, PLEASE SIGN YOUR NAME. In order to maintain civil discourse and ease moderating duties anonymous comments will be deleted. Comments containing outside promotions and/or product links will also be deleted. Thank you.