Thursday, January 10, 2008

Driscoll: " The Civil War on Pensacola Bay, 1861–1862"

[Civil War on Pensacola Bay, 1861-1862 by John K. Driscoll (McFarland - ph. 800-253-2187, 2007). Hardcover, 1 map, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography. Pages total/main: 234/212. ISBN: 978-0-7864-3175-5. $55]

While the dramatic saga of Fort Sumter has been re-told many times in the Civil War literature [most recently by David Detzer's Allegiance: Fort Sumter, Charleston, and the Beginning of the Civil War (2001), and slightly earlier, but perhaps best of all, by Maury Klein's Days of Defiance: Sumter, Secession, and the Coming of the Civil War (1997)], that of Fort Pickens has received only a fraction of the public and publishing attention accorded to Sumter. At the time, both places certainly weighed heavily upon the minds of the leadership atop the U.S. and the Confederate governments. It has often been said that either fort could have provided the spark that would lead to civil war, but it is difficult to deny the greater symbolic power of Sumter. Unlike Charleston's harbor fort, Pensacola and Pickens were not nestled directly against the most fevered bosom of secession, and the Florida bay was relatively isolated. Nevertheless, saving Fort Pickens was critically important to President Lincoln's determination to uphold his stated oath to protect and maintain all federal military installations remaining in U.S. hands.

With his book The Civil War on Pensacola Bay, John K. Driscoll has penned the first complete history of Pickens' role in the secession crisis and in the early months of civil war. Centering on the alternating boldness and indecision of the 'men on the scene', Driscoll's narrative radiates an air of immediacy and contingency, yet it never fails to connect these local events with the other heated national crises that erupted between the U.S. and Confederate governments. The author does well to link the fates of Sumter and Pickens, and astutely analyzes the military opportunities gained or lost by the reluctance from both sides to instigate formal hostilities. Driscoll creates balanced portraits of the many army and navy officers involved from both sides1, and is appropriately critical of the often disjointed efforts of Lincoln and his cabinet, many of whom operated at cross purposes through improper channels.

Driscoll's manuscript makes good use of archival and other primary source materials; and the author's fine narrative and analytical skills are augmented by detailed notes. The book's relatively short page length masks its true size, as the text's small print is packed densely on the pages. That's not to say The Civil War on Pensacola Bay lacks illustrations. Dozens of well chosen photographs, both period and modern, are included. On the other hand, I would like to have seen more maps beyond a single archival reproduction of opposing battery locations and ranges. A tactical map of the October 9, 1861 Battle of Santa Rosa Island2 was especially needed. However, the most significant lament is with the copy editing. The number of typos is surprising, given the usual fine work by the publisher in this regard.

However, in the final estimation, this book's abundant positives far outweigh its weaknesses. John K. Driscoll has provided us with an excellent scholarly work that is easily the best history of the military and political crisis over Fort Pickens to date. This well written, fully documented, and richly informative account is highly recommended3.

1 - Men like US army officers Adam Slemmer, Jeremiah Gilman, Israel Vogdes, Montgomery Meigs, and Harvey Brown; the USN's Henry Adams and David Porter; and the CSA's William Chase, Braxton Bragg, and Richard Anderson.
2 - This battle, an unsuccessful Confederate attempt to capture Fort Pickens from the east, is well documented in Chapter 10. Interestingly, the officers (James Chalmers, John K. Jackson, and J. Patton Anderson) leading the three small battalions, headed overall by Richard Anderson, were all prominent brigade commanders during the Battle of Shiloh six months later.
3 - My year in review post lists
The Civil War in Pensacola Bay as the best naval history of 2007.

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