Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Whitlock: "Distant Bugles, Distant Drums"

[Distant Bugles, Distant Drums: The Union Response to the Confederate Invasion of New Mexico by Flint Whitlock. (Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2006). Pp. 266, $29.95, Hardback, 23 maps, drawings, photos, notes, bibliography. ISBN-13: 978-0-87081-835-6 (ISBN-10: 0-87081-835-X)]

Although even dedicated students of the 1861-62 New Mexico Campaign will perhaps question the need for the publication of another overview history, Distant Bugles, Distant Drums author Flint Whitlock is largely correct in his assertion that previous works shade their focus toward the Confederate side of the story. By placing the Union effort at the forefront, Whitlock sets out to restore a balance to the campaign’s historiography, and succeeds admirably. Beginning with an introduction to the U.S. army’s pre-war role in the desert southwest, the author quickly centers his attention on the emerging strategic importance of the Colorado territory. With conflicting popular loyalties threatening trouble during the secession crisis, the territory was largely unified in its support of the Union by the time actual hostilities broke out in 1861. According to Whitlock, much of this success should be attributed to the political leadership of Governor William Gilpin. The depth of coverage for this period in Distant Bugles is one of its major strengths. This original contribution alone warrants the book’s placement on a list of standard reference works for the campaign.

After setting the stage, Whitlock, integrating his own original research with some of his predecessors’ specialized work, also constructs a creditable if not groundbreaking military history of the campaign. The author’s analysis of military events and his leadership assessments for both sides will be familiar to those already up to date with the current literature. Coverage of the campaign’s key battles at Valverde and Glorieta Pass is reasonably detailed, with much of the action conveyed to the reader through extended passages gleaned from participant accounts. To a small degree, this narrative structure can be mildly disruptive to the text’s flow, but it’s well executed for the most part. Another source of minor criticism would be the book’s light coverage of the other Union responses to the Confederate invasion (i.e. Carleton’s California column and the additional Federal relief forces assembling in Kansas). On the other hand, both author and publisher deserve high praise for the decision to include over two dozen fine maps. Ranging from large-scale operational overviews to detailed tactical maps, the book’s cartography contributes greatly to reader understanding. Other visual aids sprinkled throughout the text include a number of thoughtfully chosen photographs of people and places.

By focusing on the Federal response to the Confederate invasion of New Mexico (and Colorado’s political and military role in particular), author Flint Whitlock has made an important contribution to the literature of the campaign. While casual Civil War readers can certainly benefit from this enjoyable and eminently readable volume, Distant Bugles, Distant Drums should be considered required reading for researchers and students of the campaign.

(Review reprinted with the permission of North and South Magazine, originally appearing in vol.10 #3, pp. 90, reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer)


  1. Drew, -- I have to admit to never having heard of the University Press of Colorado.


    Kevin at Civil War Memory

  2. Kevin,
    Not that I expect them to do more, but the western states univ. presses (New Mexico is another) only infrequently publish CW books. Another Colorado publication that comes to mind is their POD, revised edition of Monnett's "Action Before Westport, 1864".



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