Thursday, December 27, 2007

Lowe: "Walker's Texas Division"

[Walker's Texas Division, C.S.A: Greyhounds of the Trans-Mississippi by Richard Lowe (Louisiana State University Press, 2006).Softcover reprint, photos, 12 maps, 9 tables, casualty appendix, notes, bibliography. Page total/main: 344/262. ISBN:978-0-8071-3153-4. $24.95]

Truly the "Greyhounds of the Trans-Mississippi", Walker's Division marched over 3,500 miles in military operations criss-crossing the states of Arkansas and Louisiana. These footsore men fought at Perkins Landing, Milliken's Bend, Bayou Bourbeau, Mansfield, Pleasant Hill, and Jenkins's Ferry. 12,000 strong at formation, Walker's Division was reduced by discharge and disease to 6,000 men before it ever fired a shot. The organization's entire combat history spanned a period lasting less than one year--from May 1863 to April 1864--, and, in that time, the unit suffered almost 40% combat casualties. With his book Walker's Texas Division, CSA, historian Richard Lowe provides us with the first complete history of this remarkable group of men.

Prior to Lowe, perhaps the most well known chronicler of the division was Joseph Palmer Blessington, a private and later a non-com in the 16th Texas Infantry. His classic history The Campaigns of Walker's Texas Division was first published in 1875 [and recently reprinted by State House Press]. Additionally, a handful of Greyhound regiments have received recent scholarly attention, perhaps most notably by M. Jane Johansson [28th Texas Cavalry]1 and Thomas Reid [13th Texas Cavalry]2.

For his division level study, Lowe's depth of original research into manuscript and other primary source materials is exceptional, allowing him the large sample size (1,557 men) needed for meaningful social history and analysis. Undoubtedly, the difficult task of assembling the data was helped by the formation's unusually uniform composition (every unit was from Texas) and its organizational stability, but Lowe richly deserves accolades for his diligence. Useful unit demography data is presented to the reader in a number of easy to read tables. Formed in the period after the initial wave of patriotic fervor (but before conscription), the men of Walker's Division were slightly older, much more likely to be married, less wealthy, and less likely to be a slaveholder3 as compared with earlier volunteers. Lowe's lengthy chapter detailing soldier letters home to their wives provides the reader with an insightful and often touching picture of the domestic life these men left behind.

While the author's recounting of the campaigns of the Greyhounds is not likely to lead to significantly new interpretations of these events, the battle depictions are highly detailed (often at regimental level). The maps are helpful and original to the work. As for relevant strategic assessments of the Confederate army's Trans-Mississippi high command, Lowe's views are largely conventional. The author gives high marks to the leadership abilities of division commander John G. Walker, who led the Greyhounds through all the key moments of its history, and also to the quality of direction at brigade and regimental levels3. The fact that the division was able to train for an entire year before it ever participated in battle undoubtedly contributed to its unit cohesiveness and combat effectiveness.

Division histories remain sparse in the Civil War literature, but Richard Lowe's well written and exhaustively researched study of Walker's Texas Division is exemplary. Lowe's efforts transcend the inherent difficulties of research into the Trans-Mississippi theater, and the result is a complete, model study of a truly unique unit. Highly recommended.

1 - Peculiar Honor: A History of the 28th Texas Cavalry, 1862-1865
2 - Spartan Band: Burnett's 13th Texas Cavalry In The Civil War
3 - Although still slightly overrepresented, the number of members of Walker's Division hailing from slaveholding families roughly matches that of the general population of Texas.
4 - Lowe's characterization of John H. Forney, who led the division during the war's latter moments when Walker was transferred to a district command, is enlighteningly shocking. In comparison with the personal behavior of Forney, Earl Van Dorn was an ascetic!

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