Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Booknotes - "Soldier Life -- Many Must Fall"

The Camp Pope Bookshop has a new release
that contributes to its ever growing line of published Civil War diaries, letters, and reminiscences from the Trans-Mississippi soldiers. Regular Camp Pope customers know of proprietor Clark Kenyon's special interest in Iowa units, and this is the second Hawkeye book to be published this year [the first being Vanishing Footprints -- 22nd Iowa].

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Norris: "Potter's Raid: The Union Cavalry's Boldest Expedition in Eastern North Carolina"

[Potter's Raid: The Union Cavalry's Boldest Expedition in Eastern North Carolina by David A. Norris (Dram Tree Books, 2008). Softcover, 5 maps, illustrations, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN: 9780981460321 $24.95]

Modern armchair strategists often decry the Union high command's lack of a vigorous exploitation of the 1862 Burnside Expedition's success in securing much of North Carolina's vital coastline. With the exception of John G. Foster's late 1862 Goldsboro campaign, Federal forces were largely content (until late in the war) with securing its many coastal enclaves and occasionally raiding inland to secure supplies or attack the important Wilmington & Weldon Railroad. An action fitting the latter category is the subject of David Norris's book Potter's Raid: The Union Cavalry's Boldest Expedition in Eastern North Carolina.

From July 18-23, 1863, 800 Union cavalrymen under the overall command of Brig. Gen. Edward Potter conducted an expedition into the North Carolina interior, striking the railroad at Rocky Mount Station and Tarboro. While damage to the rails was minimal, much in the way of public buildings and property were destroyed. Both homes and businesses were also looted along the raid route, but the author found evidence of only one private dwelling being set afire. Norris's gathering of a broad range of source materials for his study is noteworthy, and he does a fine job of weaving civilian and military accounts into his narrative. Crafting a detailed cavalry raid narrative that doesn't confuse readers unfamiliar with the geographic area traversed can be a difficult task, and Mr. Norris largely succeeds in this regard. He also successfully places Potter's Raid within the context of larger Union military objectives, without exaggerating its importance. Beyond the typos and somewhat unpolished formatting*, there is precious little to complain about.

In addition to Potter's Raid, military events before and after are also covered in the book. The July 3-7 Kenansville-Warsaw Raid is detailed in the main text, as well as the follow-up action at Boon's Mill (July 28). Supplementing these treatments, an appendix recounts other army and navy raids in the region, such as those directed toward the town of Greenville and various locations within Pitt County.

Photographs and other illustrations are sprinkled liberally throughout the text. The five original maps [(1) modern map with marker locations, (2) Potter's Raid route, (3) area of Kenansville-Warsaw Raid, and depictions of (4) New Bern and (5) Rocky Mount locales] are adequate. Other appendices include an order of battle for each side, as well as a detailed register of each known casualty (civilian and military).

David Norris's Potter's Raid is a fine piece of local North Carolina Civil War history. The raid's results may not have been significant or far reaching, but readers that appreciate highly original efforts at producing deeply researched and highly detailed accounts of obscure military events will enjoy and value this title.

* - the usual problems with galley text are here, and I can only assume they were fixed for the retail version. As mentioned before, I don't normally review uncorrected proofs, but I made an exception here as I neglected to specifically provide a link to my review policy in my correspondence with the publisher.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Civil War Publishing in 2008: The Year in Review

Maybe it's perception more than reality, but this year's book output* seemed a bit sparse in many areas. Therefore, some categories have been added to last year's list, and some dropped due to lack of standout choices among those that I had an opportunity to read. On the other hand, it was a bit of a banner year for reference books.

* - I consider titles from roughly the period between November 2007 and November 2008. The overlap allows for the time between a book's publication date and when I can reasonably get to it.

The Best of Civil War Publishing for 2008:

Best Book:

Vital Rails: The Charleston & Savannah Railroad and the Civil War in Coastal South Carolina (H. David Stone, Jr., Univ. of South Carolina Press).

Stone's volume is equally adept at illustrating the financial and organizational weaknesses of the Confederate railroad system in general as he is highlighting specific pre-war, wartime, and post-war issues pertaining to the Charleston & Savannah Railroad. On top of that, the author combines this study with an excellent operational and tactical history of the railroad's military role in the mobile defense network aimed at protecting important points along the Georgia and Carolina coastlines.

Best Social-Political History:

Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession (Russell McClintock, Univ. of N. Carolina Press). One of the best examinations of the secession crisis from the viewpoints of northern political leaders.

Caution and Cooperation: The American Civil War in British-American Relations (Phillip E. Myers, Kent State Univ. Press).

Best Battle/Campaign History:

Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester
(Gary Ecelbarger, Univ. of Oklahoma Press). Like his earlier Kernstown study, this book is another shining example of the best of Civil War battle history research, writing, and analysis.

Best Naval History:

The Timberclads in the Civil War: The Lexington, Conestoga, and Tyler on the Western Waters (Myron J. Smith, Jr., McFarland).

Best Manuscript Editing:

The Maryland Campaign of September 1862: Ezra A. Carman's Definitive Study of the Union and Confederate Armies at Antietam (Carman - ed. by Joseph Pierro, Routledge). The presentation is spartan, but, in terms of matching skillful editing with the importance of the manuscript itself, this volume is tough to beat.

Best Reference Work:

Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865 (James E. McGhee, Univ. of Arkansas Press) and Confederate Colonels: A Biographical Register (Bruce S. Allardice, Univ. of Missouri Press). In general terms, useful unit histories of Missouri Confederate regiments and batteries are non-existent, making McGhee's thorough and well-researched study particularly valuable. Allardice's book is an essential addition to all research libraries.

Encyclopedia of Civil War Shipwrecks (W. Craig Gaines, LSU Press).

Best Local/Regional History:

Skim Milk Yankees Fighting: The Battle of Athens, Missouri, August 5, 1861 (Jonathan K. Cooper-Wiele, The Press of the Camp Pope Bookshop). Cooper-Wiele spent many years gathering all available materials pertaining to this obscure Missouri battle. His is the first truly noteworthy chronicling and analysis of Athens, as well as the events surrounding it. A very fine effort.

* A Slight Demonstration: Decatur, October 1864, Clumsy Beginning of Gen. John B. Hood's Tennessee Campaign (Noel Carpenter, Legacy Books & Letters).

Best Self-Publishing Effort:

The Stone's River Campaign: 26 December 1862 - 5 January 1863 (Lanny Kelton Smith, Author). Research and writing of an astounding scale that simply must be seen to be believed.

Best Reprint of a Classic:

Sterling Price's Lieutenants: A Guide to the Officers and Organization of the Missouri State Guard 1861-1865 (James E. McGhee, Richard C. Peterson, Kip A. Lindberg, and Keith I. Daleen; Two Trails Publishing). Out of print for some time, this book came back with a roar with an impressive revised and expanded edition. A vital resource for those researching the Civil War in Missouri (especially the 1861-1862 period).

Friday, December 12, 2008

Booknotes (December 08)

Other acquisitions or review copies received this month:

Sull Ross' Sixth Texas Cavalry: Six-Shooters & Bowie Knives by Stephen S. Kirk (Two Trails Publishing, 2008). I don't have any weblink for this book, but a review will be available in coming weeks. In the meantime, if you have questions you may contact the author at the link above.

Faces of the Confederacy: An Album of Southern Soldiers and Their Stories by Ronald S. Coddington (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2009). Back in 2004, JHUP published Coddington's companion volume, Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Union Soldiers and Their Stories.

Lee in the Lowcountry: Defending Charleston & Savannah 1861-1862 by Daniel J. Crooks, Jr. (The History Press, 2008).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hoffman: "'My Brave Mechanics': The First Michigan Engineers and Their Civil War"

["My Brave Mechanics": The First Michigan Engineers and Their Civil War by Mark Hoffman (Wayne State Univ. Press - Great Lakes Books, 2007) Cloth, 6 maps, tables, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 333/498. ISBN:978-08143-3292-4 $44.95]

Engineering and logistics subjects remain small segments of Civil War publishing, a meagerness certainly not commensurate with their wartime importance. The opposing war departments themselves were initially unable to conceive of the critical role of specialized engineering units in the upcoming conflict, with the U.S. army electing to hold off on expanding the ranks of its regular army engineer formations. This left new volunteer units to pick up the slack. The First Michigan Engineers and Mechanics was just such a unit, and Mark Hoffman's recent book My Brave Mechanics is an exemplary regimental history.

Mr. Hoffman's service history of the regiment strikes the right note in terms of scope and level of detail. The First saw initial service in Kentucky, guarding supply lines and having a reserve role during the Battle of Mill Springs. As part of Don Carlos Buell's command, they moved into Tennessee and Mississippi (Corinth Campaign), before falling back into the Bluegrass State to oppose Braxton Bragg's invasion. Often operating in company and battalion sized detachments, the unit also lent its engineering expertise to the 1862-1863 Tennessee campaigns, as well as the Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea. The final acts of the war saw the engineers in the Carolinas and back in familiar Tennessee. Providing societal insights as well, the best modern regimental histories also explore unit demographics, and Hoffman's is no exception. The data compiled by the author is sprinkled throughout the text, as well as organized into several tables located in an appendix*.

The author does a very thorough job of explaining the many supporting roles performed by engineering formations within the Union army. These include the construction (as well as destruction) of bridges, railroads, telegraph lines, roads, blockhouses, and field fortifications. I only wish more line drawings were provided to go along with the technical descriptions. While often detailed to the rear areas, combat was not an uncommon experience for the First, as supply and lines of communication were frequently targeted by Confederate raiders and regular forces.

My Brave Mechanics
has all the elements of a first-rate regimental history. The research is exemplary, the bibliography displaying a vast array of unpublished source materials, as well as a great volume and variety of published works consulted. The book's six maps, as large-scale representations of the areas traversed by the engineers during their war service, are adequate. The work's construction and materials quality are top notch. Well presented, deeply researched, and appropriately detailed, My Brave Mechanics is an original and important addition to the literature, a wonderful history of the military contribution of the volunteer engineers to the ultimate victory of the Union army in the western theater.

* - A complete roster is not included, but Hoffman has discovered some individuals missing from the list that is provided in vol. 43 of Record of Service of Michigan Volunteers in the Civil War.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Booknotes - "Kentuckians in Gray: Confederate Generals and Field Officers of the Bluegrass State"

Kentuckians in Gray: Confederate Generals and Field Officers of the Bluegrass State edited by Bruce S. Allardice and Lawrence Lee Hewitt (University of Kentucky Press, 2008) is yet another fine reference guide published this year. Each general officer profile includes a photograph, a roughly seven page biographical sketch, and a short bibliography. The number of contributors is large and noteworthy in scholarly stature. Field officers are compiled in alphabetical order at the book's rear, with a small paragraph devoted to each (similar in format to Allardice's earlier work Confederate Colonels).

Monday, December 8, 2008

Thompson: "Mexican Texans in the Union Army"

[Mexican Texans in the Union Army by Jerry D. Thompson (Texas Western Press, 1986) Softcover, 3 maps, photos, appendices, notes. Pages main/total: 41/87. ISBN: 0-87404-155-4]

Broadly speaking, the Hispanic contribution to the Civil War has been understudied, but historian Jerry Thompson has devoted a large segment of his research and writing career to the subject. At only 41 pages of main text, Mexican Texans in the Union Army [No. 78 in Texas Western Press's Southwestern Studies monograph series] is only a brief survey. The operations of irregular leaders such as Octavio Zapata and Cecelio Valerio are discussed, among others. Texas attorney Edmund J. Davis and prominent Unionist John L. Haynes attempted to form regular units [1st and later 2nd Texas Cavalry] from men recruited on both sides of the border. A brief operational history of these units is also included.

Mexican-American motivations to fight were complex. According to Thompson, they had more to do with anti-Texas [i.e. the state government and large landowners] feeling than any kind of loyalty to the U.S. or the Union cause in general. Inefficiency (to include communication difficulties) and a massive desertion rate, were probably factors in their ultimate obscurity, but external problems were equally significant. Due to questions about the units's legality, pay and equipment for these men were not forthcoming.

More detailed demographic information can be found in the appendices. Thompson also compiled a list of all known Mexican and Mexican-American individuals that served in the Union army. Each entry includes name, rank, unit, birth date, occupation, and date of death, if known or applicable. Packed with information, this slim volume is an excellent introductory-level study and valuable reference book [although I understand that the soldier list has been updated in the most recent edition of Thompson's Vaqueros in Blue and Gray].

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Booknotes - "South Carolina's Military Organizations During the War Between the States" Volume IV

I mentioned Robert S. Seigler's South Carolina's Military Organizations During the War Between the States series in an earlier post. All four books are now available, and I've just received Vol. IV South Carolina Military Organizations During the War Between the States: Statewide Units, Militia & Reserves (The History Press, 2008). I am very impressed with this guide's research and the depth of the unit histories. The content is annotated, and a bibliography and index are provided as well. After the introduction, unit information is dealt with in narrative subsections, to include discussions of field officers, companies, brigade affiliations, and a really nice summary of major movements and battles engaged. This series appears to be a must-have for your reference library.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

ed. Grear: "The Fate of Texas: The Civil War and the Lone Star State"

[The Fate of Texas: The Civil War and the Lone Star State ed. by Charles D. Grear (Univ. of Arkansas Press, 2008). Cloth, 2 maps, charts, tables, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 204/294. ISBN: 1-55728-883-6 $37.50]

From past to present, The Fate of Texas examines a number of broad social issues associated with the Civil War experience of the citizenry of the Lone Star State. Like many recent essay collections published by major university presses, this volume carries a heavy race/ethnicity, gender, and public history focus. No battle or campaign articles were included*, but the first chapter by Joseph Dawson seeks to explain Texas's role in the Confederacy's strategic military planning. It includes a summarization of the state's importance as a key jump off point for the new nation's planned expansion into the southwest. Coastal and border defense are also discussed.

Readers familiar with the scholarship of Richard Lowe and Richard McCaslin** will be familiar with the material presented in their chapters. Through a thorough examination of soldier letters, Lowe discovers that Texas fathers at war, far from the stern taskmasters of Victorian era stereotype, openly expressed great affection for their wives and children, respectful of the former and intimately involved in the raising of the latter. McCaslin reopens his investigation into the tragedy of large scale pro-Confederate vigilantism in North Texas, focusing on the infamous Gainesville hangings.

Concentrating her own study on Colorado County, Angela Boswell, through the use of legal documents and private correspondence, relates to the reader the new public and private roles assumed by Texas women during wartime. Issues covered include farm and business management, divorce, estate execution, and lawsuits, all lying within the male domain in the pre-war period.

Walter Kamphoefner weighs the evidence surrounding the German immigrant attitude toward slavery and secession. He convincingly refutes the contention that, over time, Germans tended to adopt the attitudes of the general population of the state. Of course, selective bias can be problematic in studies such as these, but Kamphoefner's research into slaveholding and voting patters [he supports his case with economic and voting pattern data arranged in tabular format], private correspondence, and German support for Republicans during Reconstruction, is solid.

Picking through tax and census records, Dale Baum was able to, for the first time, provide fairly reliable numbers [approx. 47,800-51,000] concerning the number of slaves relocated ("refugeed") to Texas by their owners -- east and west -- to keep them away from advancing Union armies. Baum also looked at the accompanying planters, finding them to not be additionally motivated by conscription avoidance (contrary to the conjecture of others). Also, both previous owner and ex-slave tended to stay in Texas when the war ended.

General editor Charles Grear explored the reason why so many Texans were motivated to fight on the other side of the Mississippi River, far away from their homes. Narrowly focusing his study on members of the Texas Brigade that fought in Virginia and the western theater's Terry's Texas Rangers, Grear came to the very reasonable conclusion that much of this was based on extended family connections to other states (surprisingly, only 25% of white males living in Texas in 1860 were born in the state). A subject for future inquiry might be to broaden the sample base and also examine how such attitudes changed over time.

Other chapters explore the post-war period. Carl Moneyhon studied the experiences, attitudes, and public roles of Confederate veterans in Texas during Reconstruction and beyond; and Randolph Campbell examined the post-war lives of Harrison County veterans. The final two essays bring the reader to the present, addressing the many challenges and disparate points of view inherent to memorializing divisive figures from the past and in presenting public history. In both content and presentation, The Fate of Texas is a fine addition to University of Arkansas Press's The Civil War in the West series.

* - the degree of lament associated with this will vary with the reader, but, as military operations within the state remain comparatively neglected in the literature, I thought the editor missed a good opportunity here.
* - Lowe, Walker's Texas Division (LSU, 2006) and McCaslin, Tainted Breeze: The Great Hanging at Gainesville, Texas, 1862 (LSU, 1994).

Links to other CWBA reviews of Univ. of Arkansas Press titles:
* Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865
* A Thrilling Narrative
* Confederate Guerrilla
* Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front
* Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Tennessee in the Civil War
* Civil War Arkansas: Beyond Battles and Leaders
* "I Acted From Principle": The Civil War Diary Of Dr. William M. McPheeters, Confederate Surgeon In The Trans-Mississippi
* Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Cloth" vs. "Hardcover"

A recent post by Dimitri recalls the tactile experience of owning, reading and appreciating quality history books; but it also brings to mind a common misrepresentation. The publishing industry generally deems it an acceptable shorthand to list all hardcovers as "cloth", as if the two terms were interchangeable. Buyers should have a right to expect that "cloth" books be fully covered with real cloth material -- not spine-only cloth, textured faux-cloth, or (worst of all) simply heavy paper. I suppose an important question is whether we have deliberate deception here or simply antiquated supply chain terminology that hasn't yet adapted to the industry's use of ever cheapening materials. I would guess it's more of the latter.

Even the finer purveyors of Civil War books, if they use cloth at all, seem to use it on a case by case basis. It is surprising that those that do do it, tend to never mention it as a selling point. Anyway, as a nod toward the more concerned bibliophiles that frequent CWBA, I try to remember to note the true state in the info line of each review.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Patrakis: "Andover in the Civil War"

[Andover in the Civil War: The Spirit & Sacrifice of a New England Town by Joan Silva Patrakis (The History Press, 2008). Softcover, illustrations, photos, notes, bibliography. Pages main/total:113/128. ISBN: 978-1-59629-437-0 $21.99]

With her book Andover and the Civil War, local researcher and writer Joan S. Patrakis provides readers with a war and home front narrative history of the Massachusetts town (located near the Merrimack and Shawsheen rivers) and its contributions to the Union war effort. Riding the initial wave of patriotic fervor, the citizens formed the Andover Light Infantry (Co. H, 14th Massachusetts), whose early war duties were spent garrisoning forts [the 14th regiment was later re-designated the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery].

Patrakis traces the men's service at places like Ft. Warren, the Washington defenses, and Maryland Heights. Outside the military sphere, the reactions and contributions of the home front are given equal attention. Prominent citizens, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, are featured. The community received a terrible blow when the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery suffered heavy losses at Spotsylvania, the first significant battle the Andover men from Company H participated in. Cold Harbor and the Petersburg Campaign followed. The post-war period and commemorative efforts by Andover to honor the service of its soldiers are also discussed by the author.

In creating her narrative, Patrakis incorporates lengthy excerpts from letters, journals, and newspaper articles -- many of which were unpublished items culled from local historical society archives. History Press publications typically excel in their presentation and visual impact, and this one, heavily supported with period photographs and other illustrations, is no exception; the only drawback is the lack of an index.

The impact of this study will likely be most felt in the local market, where it will serve as a useful, broadly appealing introduction to the impact of the Civil War on the Andover community, highlighting the contributions and sacrifices of its citizens. But others interested in the wartime experiences of small New England communities should find Andover in the Civil War useful as well.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Booknotes (Nov 08)

Other acquisitions or review copies received this month:

A Revised List of Texas Confederate Regiments, Battalions, Field Officers, and Local Designations (Author, 2007) by James E. Williams.

Virginia at War, 1863 ed. by William C. Davis and James I. Robertson, Jr. (Univ. of Kentucky Press, 2008).

Abraham Lincoln: A Life by Thomas Keneally (Penguin, 2008 - paperback reprint).

Andover in the Civil War: The Spirit & Sacrifice of a New England Town
by Joan Silva Patrakis (The History Press, 2008).

Now the Drum of War: Walt Whitman and His Brothers in the Civil War by Robert Roper (Walker & Co., 2008).

Mystery of the Irish Wilderness: Land and Legend of Father John Joseph Hogan's Lost Irish Colony in the Ozark Wilderness by Leland and Crystal Payton (Lens and Pen Press, 2008).

Mexican Texans in the Union Army by Jerry D. Thompson (Texas Western Press, 1986).

Potter's Raid: The Union Cavalry's Boldest Expedition in Eastern North Carolina by David A. Norris (Dram Tree, 2008).

2008 Pate Award - Stephen Dupree

Author Stephen A. Dupree's Planting the Union Flag in Texas: The Campaigns of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks in the West was recently chosen as the winner of the 2008 Pate Award. Presented by the Fort Worth Civil War Round Table, the award honors "outstanding original research on the Trans-Mississippi sector of the Civil War". Congratulations, Dr. Dupree.

If you'll recall, last year's winner was Steven Mayeux for Earthen Walls, Iron Men: Fort DeRussy, Louisiana and the Defense of Red River.

I'll be posting my own list of favorites from the past year soon, probably in early to mid December rather than January this time.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Estaville, Jr.: "Confederate Neckties: Louisiana Railroads in the Civil War"

[Confederate Neckties: Louisiana Railroads in the Civil War by Lawrence E. Estaville, Jr. (Louisiana Tech Univ., 1989) Hardcover, 12 maps, photos, drawings, notes, bibliography, index. 123 pp. ISBN: 0940231050]

Part of a series of scholarly monographs, Confederate Neckties is a fascinating little military, economic, and financial study of Louisiana's 395 miles of track. In 1861, there were twelve railroad companies in the state, the longest 88 miles and the shortest 0.5. Estaville's brief, but fully documented, study is packed with information. Company financial concerns are covered as well as the regional economic impact of each line. Additionally, a physical description [materials used, stations, depots, number of locomotives and cars, etc.] is provided. The maps trace the course of each railroad, showing the important stations and depots along the way. Also, if relevant, the operational and tactical military use of each railroad is explained.

On a side note, I learned of a previously unknown to me peril of riding over strap-rails. With the cheap, flimsy iron rails, a phenomenon called "Snake Heads" occurred. With this situation, a passing train would cause the rail to separate from the tie and spring up; the next wheel would roll under the "sprung" rail, shooting it through the floor of the car and impaling the passenger against the roof. How quaint.

Grisly interlude aside, I would recommend this well researched and informative volume for any Trans-Mississippi theater or Civil War railroad history reference library.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Northern Appalachia in the Civil War

The flurry in recent decades of scholarly activity dealing with the Civil War experiences and attitudes of the Appalachian population has been overwhelmingly centered on the southern reaches of the great range. Finally, we have someone directing his efforts north of the Mason-Dixon line, investigating whether parallels exist between mountain South opposition to the Confederate war effort and northern Appalachia's relationship to the Union cause. Robert M. Sandow's Deserter Country: Civil War Opposition in the Pennsylvania Appalachians (Fordham Univ. Press, April 2009) sounds very promising, and I hope to review it when the time comes.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Spurgeon: "Man of Douglas, Man of Lincoln: The Political Odyssey of James Henry Lane"

[Man of Douglas, Man of Lincoln: The Political Odyssey of James Henry Lane by Ian Michael Spurgeon (Univ. of Missouri Press, 2008). Cloth, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 278/301. ISBN: 978-0826218148 $42.50]

The view of Senator James H. Lane conveyed by the popular and scholarly literature is an often negative one1. A fiery and effective stump speaker, his public rhetoric was unfailingly inflammatory. His political actions were also baffling to many, leading to persistent allegations of unprincipled political opportunism. In the Kansas-Missouri border conflict, his military depredations, while popular in some fronts, were often denounced by both sides.

Unfortunately, writers' characterizations of Lane are often presented in black and white, with little serious effort to delve below the surface. Ian Michael Spurgeon's study Man of Douglas, Man of Lincoln maintains that previous efforts at understanding Lane are too heavily dependent on the superficial judgments of the past. He argues for a new view of the man, one that recognizes a string of consistency throughout Lane's political career. It is the main theme of Spurgeon's tightly focused political biography covering the period beginning with Lane's 1854 move from Indiana to Kansas through the senator's 1866 suicide.

One of the main charges of political opportunism leveled against Jim Lane was his transformation from Douglas Democrat to Lincoln Republican. Spurgeon argues persuasively that it was the Democratic Party that abandoned Lane, not the other way around. In perhaps his book's best section, the author details Lane's shabby treatment at the hands of Douglas and other party leaders during Lane's presentation in Washington of the Kansas Memorial2 in 1856. Even so, as a member of the Free State party in Kansas, Lane remained a supporter of popular sovereignty and Democratic principles generally. It was the Civil War that eventually transformed Lane into a pro-Lincoln Republican, a path certainly not unique to the Kansan's career.

Spurgeon concentrates his biographical study on the political sphere of his subject, and thus does not delve heavily into the 1861-1862 raids into Missouri conducted by the Lane Brigade3. However, Spurgeon does recognize Lane as an early supporter of the enlistment of black troops, and also an early adopter of "hard war". The author also sees strong consistency in Lane's views on slavery, which were based on practical, not humanitarian, grounds. According to Spurgeon, the Kansan supported the raising of black regiments primarily as a war measure, a move to spare whites more than a means to raise the status of blacks in society.

The post-war period was especially difficult for Lane. His support of President Andrew Johnston's Civil Rights Bill veto was extremely problematic for the maintenance of Lane's political career, but Spurgeon again sees a pattern of consistency in his actions rather than an about-face. Fire-breathing political rhetoric, and public insistence of his radical credentials aside, Lane was at heart a conservative Republican, more like Lincoln than any of the prominent Radical Republican senators.

Ian Michael Spurgeon's fresh and highly original treatment of Lane's political career is an important contribution to the literature. His thoughtful assertions are well supported and largely persuasive. While the "Grim Chieftain" awaits a definitive full biography, Spurgeon has added a new voice that any future author of such a work must seriously consider.

1 - The author feels the best Lane biography to date is Wendell Stephenson's
The Political Career of General James H. Lane (B.P Walker, 1930).
2 - A petition from the Free State settlers of Kansas urging the U.S. Congress to accept the Topeka Constitution, which would allow Kansas to enter the Union as a free state.
3 - Presumably, we can expect this from Bryce Benedict's forthcoming history of the Lane Brigade (University of Oklahoma Press, Spring 2009).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Even more Spring/Summer 09 books

Continuing on from previous posts (here and here) listing book scheduled for the first half of next year that I have my eye out for:

John Bankhead Magruder: A Military Reappraisal by Thomas Settles (LSU, June 2009). As a subject of a book length study, this one is somewhat surprising. I'll be keeping my eye on it, and I hope it takes a broader view of his Civil War service than simply his time on the Peninsula. I am far more interested in Prince John's Trans-Mississippi career.

A Wisconsin Yankee in the Confederate Bayou: The Civil War Reminiscences of a Union General by Halbert Eleazer Paine, Samuel C. Hyde, Jr. (ed.) (LSU, May 2009).

Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Gordon Expedition, June 1863 by Scott Mingus (Ironclad Publishing, Q1-Q2 2009). -- according to the author, it's scheduled for limited publication around the end of the year, with a late winter or early spring general release. Nice cover art, too.

I've read two of the four volumes from Ironclad's
Discovering Civil War America series and found them thoroughly satisfying. Both "No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar" and A Little Short of Boats: The Fights at Ball's Bluff and Edward's Ferry, October 21-22, 1861 are fascinating and truly original military studies. From the same publisher, while not part of the series noted above, John C. Pemberton's manuscript Compelled to Appear in Print (ably edited by David M. Smith) is an essential part of understanding the Vicksburg Campaign.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

George Thomas bios

Isn't this how it often happens...the Civil War community long laments the lack of a modern biography of a major Civil War figure, then suddenly three appear at roughly the same moment [well, in the publishing world's timetable, I consider within 18 months the 'same time'!].

Christopher J. Einolf had the good fortune to make it out of the gate first, with his well reviewed (but unfortunately still unread by me) Univ. of Oklahoma Press book George Thomas: Virginian for the Union(Nov. 2007).

Up next, by the first half of next year, we'll see:

Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas by Benson Bobrick (Simon & Schuster, Feb. 2009).

General George H. Thomas: A Biography of the Union’s “Rock of Chickamauga”
by Robert P. Broadwater (McFarland, Spring/Summer 09).

Taking reviews of prior work into consideration, I don't hold out a great deal of hope for the last. I've never heard of Mr. Bobrick before, but a quick Amazon search comes up with quite a range of subjects (many well-received) from this very prolific author.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Smith: "The Timberclads in the Civil War: The Lexington, Conestoga, and Tyler on the Western Waters"

[The Timberclads in the Civil War: The Lexington, Conestoga, and Tyler on the Western Waters by Myron J. Smith, Jr. (McFarland - ph.800-253-2187, 2008). Hardcover, photos, maps, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 482/552. ISBN: 978-0-7864-3578-4 $75]

Until the first major employment of ironclad gunboats in February 1862, the timberclads [U.S.S. Lexington, Tyler, and Conestoga] comprised the front line naval power of the U.S. Navy along the inland waterways of the western theater. Myron J. Smith, author of Le Roy Fitch: The Civil War Career of a Union River Gunboat Commander, continues his extraordinary chronicling of gunboat operations with his new book The Timberclads in the Civil War.

Smith devotes the first half of his study to a narrative history of timberclad organization, construction, and naval operations. Commensurate with their important placekeeping role as the riverine capital ships for the early war period, almost 200 pages [nearly half the text] are devoted to this relatively short period. Operations along the Ohio and upper Mississippi rivers, to include reconnaissance and anti-guerrilla missions along with demonstrations against Columbus, KY and support for Grant's Belmont campaign, are recounted in minute detail.

With the completion of the first group of heavy ironclads, and the addition of the tinclads to the fleet, the timberclads took on more supporting roles, such as river patrol, reconnaissance, and convoy duties. However, participation in significant direct combat operations did not cease. The latter half of Smith's book details the timberclad contribution to the Henry/Donelson, Island No. 10, Shiloh, White River (1862), Arkansas Post, Helena, Red River, and NE Arkansas (1864) campaigns. The detail is unprecedented, and many obscure actions are presented here as published narratives for the first time.

As with his previous book, Smith's research is exhaustive, and supported by expansive explanatory endnotes. The bibliography lists a wide range of primary and secondary source materials, including manuscripts, official documents, newspapers, online sources, dissertations, and published books and articles. At almost 500 pages of main text, packed tightly into a large trim hardcover, the amount of information is staggering. Timberclads is also handsomely illustrated, with numerous photographs, many rare. Unfortunately, some of the same flaws remain present in the form of typographical errors and inadequate maps. Fortunately, the book's many strengths far outweigh any of its weaknesses.

With this book, Myron Smith has once again provided readers with a definitive naval history. Encyclopedic in scope and remarkably detailed, the information contained in The Timberclads in the Civil War is a boon for serious students and researchers of the Brown Water Navy. Both as a highly original narrative history and an invaluable reference, this book is a significant contribution to the Civil War naval literature.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Booknotes - "Texas Civil War Artifacts"

I love reference books, all the more if they have a Trans-Mississippi focus. Texas Civil War Artifacts: A Photographic Guide to the Physical Culture of Texas Civil War Soldiers by Richard Mather Ahlstrom (U. of North Texas Press, 2008) has chapters devoted to the uniforms, weapons, accouterments, and other equipment produced within the state for the use of its fighting men. There's also a gallery of soldier photos. "A valuable reference guide for Civil War collectors, historians, museum curators, re-enactors, and federal and state agencies", indeed.

Monday, November 10, 2008

More Spring 09 books

More Spring 2009 titles that intrigue me:

Homegrown Yankees: Tennessee's Union Cavalry in the Civil War by James Alex Baggett (LSU Press, June 2009). My G-G-G Grandfather, William C. Pickens, was Colonel of the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry, U.S.A. so this one is of particular interest to me.

Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee, gen. eds. Kent Dollar, Larry Whiteaker, and W. Calvin Dickinson (U. of Kentucky Press, May 2009).

Commanding Lincoln's Navy: Union Naval Leadership During the Civil War by Stephen Taafe (Naval Inst. Press, May 2009). I haven't read Taafe's earlier book about the Army of the Potomac corps commanders, but I recall liking many of the author's ideas as expressed in his Civil War Talk Radio interview [see sidebar link for access to show archives].

The War in Words: Reading the Dakota Conflict through the Captivity Literature by Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola (U. of Nebraska Press, May 2009).

The Second United States Sharpshooters in the Civil War: A History and Roster by Gerald L. Earley (McFarland, Spring 09).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Symonds: "Lincoln and His Admirals"

[Lincoln and His Admirals by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford Univ. Press, 2008). Hardcover, maps, illustrations, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 381/445. ISBN: 9780195310221 $27.95]

Craig Symonds's new book Lincoln and His Admirals is not a history of naval operations nor is it a comprehensive look at the U.S. Navy in the Civil War at the strategic level. It's primary focus is the often tangled relationship between President Lincoln, his cabinet (with an obvious spotlight on Secretary of Navy Gideon Welles), and the admirals1 spearheading the navy's war effort. More triangular in nature, in contrast to a more tightly disciplined linear order of command authority, these relationships -- at least early on -- were characterized by cabinet secretaries overstepping their bounds, the president sometimes taking direct charge of naval operations2, and ambitious officers taking their concerns directly to the president or ignoring explicit directives altogether.

Symonds's descriptions of the personalities of the naval officers and assessment of their relative strengths and weaknesses are in line with convention. Perhaps the greatest amount of space is devoted to the partnership between Lincoln and Welles (and by extension Asst. Secretary Gustavus V. Fox). While the navy secretary had an aggressively prickly nature combined with a largely black and white world view, Lincoln was a far more practical politician and deliberate decision maker. According to the author, the pair forged an effective "good cop, bad cop" means of dealing with difficult admirals. Overall, Lincoln came out better in terms of sustained relationships, with even dismissed officers believing they had the president's support all along, leaving Welles the messier fallout.

The study has a clear emphasis on the Atlantic seaboard. With only brief forays into the riverine war and Gulf operations, the book might surprise readers with its only passing discussion of the war's most famous naval officer, Admiral Farragut. Symonds's narrative is at its best discussing U.S./British relations and in its treatment of South Atlantic Blockading Squadron commander Samuel F. Du Pont. In description and analysis, both sections are largely confirmatory of the best recent scholarship3.

Readers steeped in the modern literature of the Civil War navies will recognize Symonds's study as a work of synthesis rather than a source of significant new revelation, but, as a high command-level overview, it is authoritative and useful. While students and historians anxiously await the emergence of the definitive study of the 16th president as Commander-in-Chief, Lincoln and His Admirals also serves as a gentle reminder that no such work can be considered complete without full consideration of the naval contribution.

1 - Admirals David Dixon Porter, Charles Wilkes, Samuel F. Du Pont, John Dahlgren, Samuel Phillips Lee, Andrew Hull Foote, David Glasgow Farragut.
2 - the best example given in the book is Lincoln's "suggestion" that the Sewell's Point batteries be neutralized and an amphibious landing be made above Norfolk. The president even participated in the scouting of proper landing sites.
3 - Phillip E. Myers on the Lincoln administration's policies toward managing the relationship between the U.S. and Great Britain, and Robert M. Browning for the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Booknotes - "The Civil War in Northwestern Virginia"

The Civil War in Northwestern Virginia: The Military, Political, and Economic Events Surrounding the Creation of West Virginia, and the Role of Parkersburg, West Virginia in those Events by David L. McKain (Author, 2004) is a self-published local history book that arrived this week. I've glanced through it, and it is a pretty handsome compilation, well bound and full of historical photographs and drawings. The first part is a political and military overview of Civil War West Virginia, not footnoted unfortunately but it does have a bibliography and index. The latter section (over 200 densely packed pages) is composed of transcribed source materials, including newspaper articles, official documents, letters, diaries/memoir excerpts, etc. This is the first time someone has sent me a review copy with a note that just says "Good Luck". Not sure how I should take that.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cooper: "Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era"

[Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era by William J. Cooper, Jr. (Louisiana State University Press, 2008). Cloth, illustrations, notes, index. Pages main/total: 108/144. ISBN: 978-0-8071-3371-2 $24.95]

Confederate President Jefferson Davis has been the subject of a number of biographies, but historian William J. Cooper's decorated Jefferson Davis, American is widely considered the best of them all. Marking the 200th anniversary of Davis's birth, Cooper's latest work Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era is an essay collection that critically examines the Mississippian's antebellum political career, as well as his performance as Confederate president and commander-in-chief.

Based on a series of lectures, Cooper's nine chapters are standalone essays. Short in length and direct in nature, each examines a specific facet of Davis's political life. Contrary to his reputation as an 'anti'-politician, Davis is clearly portrayed in Cooper's writing as a dedicated and ambitious office seeker, and also a man keenly aware of the political needs of others. Considering the extreme wartime pressures the new nation was placed under, Cooper finds little contradiction in Davis's seeming transformation from an ardent States Rights supporter in the antebellum period to a strong nationalist upon assumption of the Confederate presidency. He correctly notes that nearly all of Davis's controversial proposals were ultimately supported by the Confederate legislature. Davis almost always got what he wanted.

As much as Davis is criticized in the literature for his policy of employing a broad forward frontier defense, as opposed to a concentration of forces at key points, Cooper maintains that Davis's strategy, flawed as it was in pure military terms, was required by the political realities of the time. Where the president failed most egregiously as commander-in-chief was in his command relationships. He neglected to exert his ultimate authority where needed and did not intervene decisively enough in command disputes. Obviously, the role of commander-in-chief has a political side and a military side. In giving Davis generally high marks for the former and a decidedly mixed grade for the latter, I think Cooper makes a pretty persuasive case overall. In his final chapter, the author marks Davis's participation in the 1886 commemoration of the soldier monument in Montgomery (a "second inaugural", to use Cooper's term) as a watershed moment in the rise of the "Lost Cause" interpretation of the war.

As a persuasively argued and focused primer, Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era will appeal to a range of readers. New students interested in learning about Davis's presidency and his connection to the important political issues of the day will find Cooper's essay compilation a useful introduction. Likewise, more experienced readers will gain a valuable refresher course from an authoritative source.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Shea update

William Shea has confirmed that his next book, Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign, will be released next fall by UNC Press. The publisher's presentation of his Pea Ridge study (co-authored with Earl Hess) was near perfection. Hopefully, Prairie Grove will get the same treatment.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Booknotes - "The Fate of Texas"

The Fate of Texas: The Civil War and the Lone Star State (Univ. of Arkansas Press, 2008) is a new essay collection, edited by Charles Grear. The book is notable for an excellent matching of subject to author expertise. As examples, we have Richard Lowe reprising his study of Texas soldier families (readers of his Walker's Division study will recognize the work), Richard McCaslin discusses The Great Hanging at Gainesville (I highly recommend his earlier book Tainted Breeze), and Walter Kamphoefer also looks into German Texans. Other articles cover the role of Texas in Confederate grand strategy, the volunteers's motivations for fighting, the wartime lives of Texas women, and several chapters examine the legacy of defeat among the veterans and civilian population of the state.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Booknotes (Oct 08)

Other acquisitions or review copies received this month:

Battle At Sand Creek: The Military Perspective by Gregory Michno (Upton & Sons, 2004). This is one of the more original contextualizations of the Sand Creek tragedy that I've come across. I'm only halfway through so I'll withhold judgment about its overall effectiveness.

Mine Run: A Campaign of Lost Opportunities October 21. 1863-May 1, 1864 by Martin Graham and George F. Skoch (H.E. Howard, 1987). Not definitive by any means, but remains one of the better volumes from the uneven Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders series.

Incident at San Augustine Springs: A Hearing for Major Isaac Lynde by Richard Wadsworth (Yucca Tree Press, 2002). While fully acknowledging the mistakes of the Ft. Fillmore commander, Wadsworth makes a fairly persuasive case that the blame for the disastrous loss of Lynde's New Mexico command is more properly widespread. At the very least, we can put to bed the myth that whiskey was a major factor in the breakdown of discipline in the ranks of the regulars. That said, one cannot escape the truth of Lynde's responsibility for his command's dissolution in the field. The dry, repetitive nature of the book will not appeal to the more casually interested reader, but it's a worthwhile study for students of the New Mexico Campaign.

Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln by John Stauffer (Twelve, 2008). Biographies of paired contemporaries seem to be a popular genre these days. Some heavy hitters provide the jacket blurbs for this one.

A Scratch With the Rebels: A Pennsylvania Roundhead and a South Carolina Cavalier by Carolyn Poling Schriber (Mechling, 2008). This book is a history of the Battle of Secessionville built around the stories of James McCaskey of the 100th Pennsylvania and the 24th South Carolina's Gus Smythe.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The History Press (November books)

The History Press is an extremely prolific publisher based out of Charleston, SC. They do frequently put out Civil War related titles, but I've only sampled one so far, a very good one authored by Chris Meekins, reviewed here back in February. More recently, Kentucky author Bryan Bush has published a touring book with them, Louisville & the Civil War: A History & Guide.

November will see the release of several titles of interest to me. I've often pondered why no one has yet written a book length account of Robert E. Lee's time as a department commander responsible for the defense of the Confederacy's South Atlantic seaboard. The wait appears to over with Daniel J. Crooks's Lee in the Lowcountry: Defending Charleston & Savannah 1861-1862

A four-volume series of South Carolina unit histories authored by Robert S. Seigler is also in the November pipeline:
  1. South Carolina's Military Organizations During the War Between the States: The Lowcountry & Pee Dee
  2. South Carolina's Military Organizations During the War Between the States: The Midlands
  3. South Carolina's Military Organizations During the War Between the States: The Upstate
  4. South Carolina Military Organizations During the War Between the States: Statewide Units, Militia & Reserves
Each volume is of substantial length, at around 400 pages or more, and promises a hearty amount of detail for each unit. For the moment, I don't know anything more about these beyond the short descriptions from the publisher website (scroll down near the bottom to find the series list).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hess: "The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth"

[The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth by Earl J. Hess (Univ. Press of Kansas, 2008). Hardcover, tables, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 227/288. ISBN: 978-0-7006-1607-7 $29.95] The issue of the combat effectiveness of the rifle musket in the American Civil War has been hotly debated for some time. In 1989, British historian Paddy Griffith launched a shot across the bow of prominent rifle advocates Perry Jamieson and Grady McWhiney with his book Battle Tactics of the Civil War. Griffith argued the overall impact of the rifle relative to the smoothbore musket was negligible, a tiny improvement at best and far from revolutionary. This work was followed up by Brent Nosworthy and others, generally confirming Griffith's contentions. Part synthesis part original inquiry, Earl J. Hess's The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth is a consensus building effort of high quality. While heavily influenced by Griffith et al., Hess's views and analyses are in the main better organized and supported. Hess concurs with the proposition that the rifle musket was at best an incremental improvement over the smoothbore musket on the Civil War battlefield, supporting his thesis with range data drawn from primary sources*. Finding his conclusions to be rather closely aligned with those of Nosworthy, Griffith, and Mark Grimsley, Hess is confident in his findings, yet I cannot help but feel that even incremental range increases translated to underappreciated advantages for the rifle-armed soldier. The moral impact strikes me as deserving of greater consideration. Beyond the obvious increase in physical danger due to increased time under fire, the argument could be made that any lengthened exposure period to combat stresses on individuals and formation integrity is significant, leading to more individuals and groups dropping out, going to ground, or otherwise being rendered combat ineffective. Overall, I think the mental/emotional effects of massed rifle musket fire are due more careful assessment. It is beyond doubt that the practical impact of the rifle on the Civil War battle line has been exaggerated by many writers and historians, yet I do have some concerns that we might be going too far in the other direction -- toward underestimating its consequences. As opposed to combat between competing lines of battle, the areas where Hess concedes clear rifle superiority over the smoothbore shoulder arm is in the skirmishing and sniping/sharpshooting roles [both of which are sharply defined and differentiated by the author]. The two chapters (one descriptive and the other examining actual combat performance) on skirmishing are quite thorough. According to Hess, the best skirmishing performance of the war was put in by the regiments of Sherman's army during the Atlanta Campaign. This contention is well supported. The author is rather less impressed with the skirmish line-dominating abilities of the Army of Northern Virginia's specialized sharpshooter battalions, and found himself largely unmoved by the arguments put forth by the units's modern chronicler Fred Ray**. Abundantly documented, Hess's chapter on sniping is similarly good. In my mind, the sniping and skirmishing sections of the study are the book's best and freshest components. The author supports all of his major themes in the text with numerous examples gleaned from primary sources. One of the finest features of Hess's study is the transparency of the data pool from which he drew his conclusions. Organized into detailed data tables, and accompanied by footnotes, these supporting materials are interspersed throughout the text. Near the end of his study, Hess dispenses with a number of common myths in a chapter length essay. Briefly, he refutes the significance of the rifle's impact in the areas of combat casualties, battle decisiveness, infantry vs. artillery/cavalry, and field fortifications. Only summarized here, some of these are points are addressed at much greater depth in other works previously published by Hess. Tying it all together, a final chapter addresses the battlefield role of the rifle from the end of the Civil War to today. Although reasonable individuals might quibble with some of his conclusions, Earl Hess's analysis of his most significant points is broadly persuasive. A mixture of confirmatory findings and original conclusions, The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat should be regarded as the best single volume treatment of the subject so far. If not the last word, Hess's study is a major work, an important contribution to the literature that's fully deserving of a prominent place in the library of every student of Civil War military history. Add'l Notes: * - I think some comments about the range data are in order:
  • I assume the author went through the records of each unit in question in order to confirm rifle armament; this is not evident in the notes or text.
  • Sample sorting by environmental constraints is needed. Only open terrain truly offers the full gamut of range options (short, medium, long) for initial fire, while other terrain features can restrict firing to point blank range only. The latter situation comprises useless data for thesis application.
  • There is also something of an inherent contradiction to be considered. If a primary contention is that the vast majority of Civil War soldiers received little or no specialized training in range estimation, how much useful data can we really derive from the range estimates provided in reports, diaries, letters, and other primary sources written by these very same men so badly untrained in the art of doing so? Of course, one must work with what's available, but that, combined with the small sample sizes used, certainly leaves room for further inquiry.
** - at the time of my own reading of Shock Troops of the Confederacy, I found Ray's arguments pretty persuasive.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Booknotes - ""My Brave Mechanics": The First Michigan Engineers and Their Civil War"

Praised elsewhere, and covering western engineering and logistical subjects of interest, Mark Hoffman's "My Brave Mechanics": The First Michigan Engineers and Their Civil War (Wayne State Univ. Press, 2007) appears to embody all the elements of the better modern regimental histories and should be well worth a look. The bibliography indicates very solid research, heavily original. In addition to the usual service narrative, an appendix of demographic data charts and information is included. A review will follow in the future.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mendoza: "Confederate Struggle for Command: General James Longstreet and the First Corps in the West"

[Confederate Struggle For Command: General James Longstreet and the First Corps in the West by Alexander Mendoza (Texas A&M University Press, 2008). Cloth1, photos, illustrations, maps, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 215/304. ISBN: 978-1-60344-052-3 $32.95]

During the Civil War, both sides were plagued with command frictions, but the western Confederate armies highlighted a special brand of toxic bickering that had an enormous impact on military operations. The fact that it pervaded the high commands of the western and trans-Mississippi armies, but had comparatively little negative impact in Lee's army, certainly promotes the idea that success, if not actually breeding harmony, certainly helps to mute dissent. The degree to which command in-fighting could destroy an army's effectiveness is exemplified by the Army of Tennessee during the 1863 Chickamauga-Chattanooga campaigns. It is directly into this chaotic situation that James Longstreet and his First Corps was thrust in September 1863.

In the introduction to his book Confederate Struggle For Command: General James Longstreet and the First Corps in the West, author Alexander Mendoza broadly characterizes his study as 'pro-Longstreet', but he is, in fact, deeply critical of the general's conduct during his six months in the west. It would probably be more accurate to say that Mendoza is most interested in providing a critical yet fair assessment of Longstreet, something he believes is missing from the literature (especially from the only previous book wholly dedicated to this period).

Longstreet made several errors in judgement right off the bat, including aligning with President Davis's political enemies and holding a preconceived negative view of General Bragg. On the positive side, Mendoza justifiably praises Longstreet's tactical planning at Chickamauga, especially in light of an almost complete lack of prior knowledge of the ground or dispositions of friend and foe. The author is critical of Longstreet's insistence on placing personal favorite Micah Jenkins in command of Hood's former division, an unpopular move after Chickamauga that created dissension within the officer ranks of the division. It doomed cooperation between Jenkins and Evander Law, an unfortunate by-product that, along with Longstreet's poor judgment, contributed to the loss of the western approaches to Chattanooga during the siege and carried over into the Knoxville campaign. After Lenoir and Campbell's Station, and the unsuccessful assault on Knoxville's Fort Sanders, it was becoming clear that First Corps command relationships were taking on the worst characteristics of the Army of Tennessee. Jerome Robertson and Lafayette McLaws were added to list of officers with command grievances against Longstreet.

According to Mendoza, Longstreet regained his confidence after the retreat from Knoxville toward the Tennessee-Virginia border area between the Holston and French Broad Rivers. Unfortunately, the lack of cooperation between subordinates helped upset a decent plan at Bean's Station, further exposing the weaknesses of Longstreet's command. It would take wholesale command reshuffling and a return to Lee's army in the spring of 1864 to return the First Corps to an effective fighting unit.

Mendoza writes very well, and at around 200 pages, his finely focused study employs an effective economy. It's also evident that he's gone back to the original source materials to construct his arguments; this is not a synthetic work. The cartography, on the other hand, is a source of disappointment in an otherwise high quality study. While the broad geographic overviews are not without use, the maps fail to seriously address unit movements and positions. The study's overall effectiveness is not greatly harmed, but a good opportunity to provide readers with a visual rendering and clearer understanding of the First Corps battlefield failures is missed.

With this fine study, Mendoza successfully places the personal and military strengths and weaknesses of General Longstreet within the larger contexts of the disastrously dysfunctional command situation of the Army of the Tennessee and the complete inability of the Davis Administration to ameliorate the problem(s). Confederate Struggle for Command is worthy of recommendation on several fronts, from specific reader interests in Longstreet or the 1863-64 East Tennessee campaigns to broader studies of Confederate political and military command culture and failures. Professor Mendoza is a fresh face in the crowd of western theater Civil War scholars, and I look forward to reading his future contributions2. Highly recommended.

1 - As always, I like to express my appreciation for publishers that use full cloth boards for their hardcovers.
2 - “‘A Terrible Baptism By Fire’: Stuart’s Defense in The Battle of Shiloh, April 6, 1862,” in Steven E. Woodworth, ed., The Shiloh Campaign (Southern Illinois U. Press), forthcoming.

“‘The Harmony and Subordination Essential for Success’: Generals James Longstreet and Braxton Bragg in the Western Theater,” in Lawrence Lee Hewitt and Art Bergeron, eds.,
Confederate Generals in the Western Theater (University of Tennessee Press), forthcoming.

“Causes Lost, But Not Forgotten: George Washington Littlefield, Jefferson Davis, and the Confederate Statues at The University of Texas at Austin,” in Charles Grear, ed., The Fate of Texas: The Civil War and the Lone Star State (University of Arkansas Press, 2008).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Booknotes - "Thomas Ewing Jr.: Frontier Lawyer and Civil War General"

Like his brother-in-law William T. Sherman, Union General Thomas Ewing remains a despised figure in some Civil War circles. While Uncle Billy isn't fondly remembered in parts of Mississippi, Georgia, and the Carolinas, Ewing's General Order #11 is an infamous reminder of hard war to many Missourians. Thomas Ewing Jr.: Frontier Lawyer and Civil War General by Ronald D. Smith (Univ. of Missouri Press, Oct. 2008) is a scholarly, full biography of the man, with what appears to be a reasonably balanced dual emphasis of the political and military aspects of Ewing's life. I look forward to reading the author's interpretation of the controversy surrounding Order #11, and his military service in Missouri generally.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ecelbarger: "The Great Comeback: How Abraham Lincoln Beat the Odds to Win the 1860 Republication Nomination"

[The Great Comeback: How Abraham Lincoln Beat the Odds to Win the 1860 Republican Nomination by Gary Ecelbarger (Thomas Dunne Books, 2008). Hardcover, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 304 pp. ISBN: 0-312-37413-5 $25.95]

Civil War author Gary Ecelbarger's new book The Great Comeback: How Abraham Lincoln Beat the Odds to Win the 1860 Republication Nomination addresses the question of how Abraham Lincoln, a one-term Congressman and two-time Senate race loser by 1858, was transformed into the Republican party's 1860 nominee for President. Certainly, the year 1859 was key. Most histories trumpet the watershed moment of the February 27, 1860 Cooper Union speech propelling Lincoln onto the national political scene as a serious presidential contender, but Ecelbarger concentrates his own research efforts into the earlier speaking circuit that took Lincoln all over the states of Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin, as well as Kansas territory. About half the text is devoted to these events. Indeed, without those two months of exhaustive meetings and travel -- aided by the telegraphed texts of his speeches spreading across the north-- would the invitation to Cooper Union even have been offered?

In addition to the Decatur Convention, Ecelbarger highlights the earlier struggle to consolidate the Illinois Republican delegates into a pro-Lincoln bloc. The nasty party infighting between Republicans Norman Judd and Chicago Mayor "Long" John Wentworth, and how it would potentially help or harm Lincoln's chances, is a common thread during this period. While Lincoln outwardly discounted his own presidential abilities and desires early on in order to not peak too early and create unnecessary enemies, his ambitious 1859-1860 speaking circuit throughout the west and northeast was a presidential campaign under the thinnest of deniable disguises.

Ecelbarger ably recounts the mechanics, strategies, and "corrupt bargains" inherent in national political conventions, in this case the Republican convention in Chicago. Even before it started, likely candidates were whittled down to two, Lincoln and William Seward, the latter harmed more by his "Irrepressible Conflict" speech than Lincoln by his own equally controversial "House Divided" words. Lincoln was perceived as a moderate to the radical Seward, a significant advantage for the former. Nevertheless, it was a close run thing, with Lincoln's cause immeasurably aided by the convention management of Judge David Davis and Norman Judd. Ecelbarger credits much of the victory to a range of politically shrewd actions, from successful backroom deals (e.g. "promising" of a cabinet post to the Pennsylvanians) to brilliant crowd management and arrangement of convention seating. Ecelbarger really take the reader on an entertaining and enlightening journey into mid-19th century presidential convention politics.

To be honest, I do not know how well other Lincoln books have covered this particular period, but I would venture to guess that this book's main value (to separate it from the more common mass of Lincoln books that are churned out every year) is in Ecelbarger's finely considered coverage of Lincoln's extensive speaking circuit conducted prior to the famous Cooper Union address. It clearly set up all that was to follow.