Sunday, January 27, 2008

Denny & Bradbury: "The Civil War's First Blood"

[The Civil War's First Blood: Missouri, 1854-1861 by James Denny and John Bradbury (Missouri Life/University of Missouri Press, 2007). Softcover, photos, illustrations, maps, bibliography. Pp. 144 ISBN: 978-0974934129 $29.95]

While the subtitle implies a broader focus, The Civil War's First Blood is really the first modern work that attempts a complete overview of Missouri in 1861, the most critical year of the state's Civil War experience on many levels. Even though only a few pages were devoted to the violent and politically charged years leading up to secession and Civil War, the omission becomes less significant with the realization that the period is already ably covered in the literature. On a similar note, it might also be admitted that the major military events of 1861 are fairly well documented in the literature as well, but no previous effort has synthesized the best of this current scholarship into the formation of a single work covering the entire state. With their book The Civil War's First Blood, authors Denny and Bradbury have performed this needed labor to a satisfying end.

State historian James Denny and manuscript specialist John Bradbury write well and their bibliography lists the best of up-to-date scholarship contained in books and articles. The narrative is well balanced, and augmented by a nice array of color and B&W drawings, maps, and photographs. Expertise is demonstrated in their selection (some of which, as far as I can tell, were published here for the first time). Of special note to this reviewer is an impressive wide-view photograph of state militia drilling at Lindell Grove (Camp Jackson) [pp. 20-21]. Although a few more were needed, the maps included in the book, both original creations and archival reproductions, are attractive and helpful visual aids.

Perhaps not surprisingly, The Civil War's First Blood is presented by Missouri Life with a magazine's sensibility--that of heavily illustrated text written in a pleasing narrative style (e.g. without notes) on glossy paper. Even with the popular focus, I was impressed by the level of detail accorded the military summaries. Their depth far exceeds that commonly found in other works of this type. My only complaint relevant to coverage is with the book's comparative neglect of the northwest quadrant of the state.

Denny and Bradbury's excellent narrative history of the opening moments of the Civil War in Missouri (the period before guerrilla warfare became the center of attention--then and now) is highly recommended. Expanding upon their role as chroniclers, the authors' engagement in the analysis of events is both astute and refreshingly evenhanded. New readers and well read students alike will find much to appreciate in The Civil War's First Blood.


  1. I wish they had come up with a different title for this one. We've already got the "First Blood" book by Swanberg (on Fort Sumter) -- one of the most ubiquitous used books in the world -- and the Time-Life "First Blood" book by Davis (on Sumter to Bull Run). Not to mention the Rambo book and movie.

    Nit picking, I know.


  2. Ha, no kidding. Every used bookstore that has more than one CW book has a copy of "First Blood" and "Glory Road".

    I had no idea the first Rambo movie was adapted from a book.


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