Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bailey & Sutherland: "Civil War Arkansas: Beyond Battles and Leaders"

[Civil War Arkansas: Beyond Battles and Leaders ed. by Anne Bailey and Daniel Sutherland (University of Arkansas Press, R-2000) Softcover, notes, photos, illustrations. Page Total/Main=314/239 ISBN: 1-55728-565-9 $22]

Civil War Arkansas is a collection of exceptional essays covering a wide range of topics. Previously published (mostly in Arkansas Historical Quarterly), each article was carefully chosen by editors Anne Bailey and Daniel Sutherland to illuminate an under appreciated facet of Arkansas's war. However, for me, perhaps the most priceless entry is the introduction. Bailey and Sutherland provide the reader with a phenomenally thorough survey of the literature of Civil War Arkansas, while at the same time tracing and evaluating the evolving trends of academic writing. This essay alone is worth the price of the book. If this wasn't enough to keep an interested student busy for years, the content of the notes only add to the pile of must-read books, articles, theses, and dissertations.

At the heart of this collection is Sutherland's notion that the guerrilla conflict was "the" war in Arkansas, with large scale regular operations the infrequent exception to the rule [an interpretation developed in Chap. 7, his own contribution to the collection]. Carl Moneyhon writes of a Unionist uprising in SW Arkansas, and the relationship of class to anti-Confederate feeling in the region. The story of the Unionist Williams family of northern Arkansas is told by Kenneth Barnes. Some regular operations are covered, with Anne Bailey's article demonstrating how the influx of Texas regiments saved a denuded Arkansas in 1862 and Jayme Stone's recounting of military operations along the Arkansas River in the winter of 1864-65.

Several articles attend to socio-economic matters. Michael Hughes writes of a Federal policy developed to protect Unionist citizens and at the same time strike at the economic heart of the Confederates. He details both sides' targeting of grist mills for destruction and the formation of Unionist farming colonies [I recommend Mackeyfor further reading on this fascinating subject]. James Johnston contributed a remarkably thorough article and appendices discussing the activities of the Confederate Nitre Bureau in the state. Kim Allen Scott views the war at a more personal level, examining the destruction wrought upon the property of select individuals by marauding soldiers.

Two chapters specifically address the issue of race, but in differing contexts. In Chapter 9, Carl Moneyhon spells out the failed Federal plan to lease plantations to freedman as an introduction to free labor and society. Gregory Urwin tackles an especially difficult subject in his essay. He attempts to understand what factors led Confederate soldiers (white and Indian) to kill wounded and surrendering U.S.C.T. soldiers during the 1864 Camden Expedition, and analyzes the reprisals that stemmed from these incidents.

William Shea's essay is fascinating and undoubtedly controversial. Most readers, however, will find it appropriate and I commend the editors for choosing it. It traces the perception of Arkansas and Arkansans from antebellum times through to today, and sensitively attempts to explain what is behind such a persistence of negative stereotyping from without.

In my estimation, Civil War Arkansas is one of the finest essay collections in the literature. There isn't a single chapter I would wish to discard in favor of another. The only complaint I have is that no maps were created specifically for any of the articles. The single state map provided is far too general, leaving out the vast majority of geographic features mentioned in the text. It amounts to only a minor quibble in this case, however, and does not detract seriously from the book's overwhelmingly positive qualities. Expertly edited, the compilation also has the uncommon quality of having no weak links and very little overlap. Those readers wishing to pursue inquiries of their own will appreciate the extensive endnotes. Highly recommended.


  1. Great review.
    Any particular reason this book stayed off the blog (or your bookshelf) for so long?

  2. In the past, essay collections have been a low prioritized part of my reading. This particular one has always been in the back of my mind, but just kept getting pushed back.

    Another U. of Ark. collection I plan to write up here someday is another Sutherland edited title, "Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front".


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