Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Booknotes II (April 08)

Regular rundown of book purchases or review copies received so far this April (part 2):

Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865 by James E. McGhee (Univ. of Arkansas Press, 2008). A review of this invaluable reference guide should be posted soon. Beyond its own intrinsic merits, it is a wonderful companion piece to Sterling Price's Lieutenants, the organizational history of the Missouri State Guard (from which so many Missouri Confederate units and individuals first served).

Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester by Gary Ecelbarger (University of Oklahoma Press, 2008). Ecelbarger once again revisits the 1862 Valley Campaign. His earlier Kernstown book "We Are In For It!" is a first-rate battle history, and the author's biographical study Frederick W. Lander: The Great Natural American Soldier is valley related, as well. On a different note, later on this year Ecelbarger will make his own contribution to the AL publishing onslaught with The Great Comeback: How Abraham Lincoln Beat the Odds to Win the 1860 Republican Nomination.

Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign by Peter Cozzens (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2008). UNC Press recently sent me an ARC. Although I will hold off on a review until I've examined the retail version [according to the mailer, it's scheduled for an Oct. 08 release], I'll post some thoughts about the book when I finish the galley.

The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine by Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein (M.E. Sharpe, 2008).

The Deadliest Indian War in the West: The Snake Conflict, 1864-1868 by Gregory Michno. It is somewhat surprising that many of the most visited pages on this blog are those dealing with the Indian conflicts of the Civil War period. The Snake War, fought for four years over portions of Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and California, is relatively obscure, but according to the author the conflict led to more deaths than any other Indian war in the west.

The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre by Brigham Madsen (Univ. of Utah Press, 1995 pb reprint). The Bear River battle took place on January 29, 1863 in what is now Franklin County, Idaho. This book is widely regarded as the best history to date of the Utah sojourn and Bear River Expedition of Col. Patrick Connor and his California volunteers.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Foley & Whicker: "The Civil War Ends: Greensboro, April 1865"

[ The Civil War Ends: Greensboro, April 1865 - A Historical Study of the Civil War in Guilford County ed. by Bradley R. Foley and Adrian L. Whicker (Guilford County Genealogical Society, 2008). Softcover, maps, illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography. Pages main/total: 106/148 $19 ]

The Civil War Ends* is an edited compilation of articles and primary accounts that serves to illustrate the military and civilian experience during the final chaotic month of the conflict in North Carolina. In the first chapter, general editor and contributor Bradley R. Foley vividly describes the widespread looting that occurred in Greensboro during the period between the surrender of Lee's army in Virginia and Joseph E. Johnston's command in North Carolina. The author provides evidence to contest the traditional view that President Davis received a decidedly cold reception from unionist Greensboro during his flight. Foley also briefly summarizes the actions of detachments from General George Stoneman's union cavalry raiding column in Guilford County in mid-April, and offers a summary account of the surrender negotiations at Bennett Place.

The next section of the book, also by Bradley Foley (with Christina Foley), is a photographic tour of Greensboro. While detailed directions are absent, the locations are helpfully pinpointed on maps from 1882 and 2008. Written by Patricia Kohler, the next two chapters consider divergent subject matter. The first studies the role of prominent citizens' investments in the North Carolina Volunteer Navy and the other furnishes brief biographical data for a select number of soldiers from Company C (Guilford Light Infantry), 45th North Carolina. Foley and Whicker's final essay records the flight of the Confederate cabinet through the state. Eight appendices, largely consisting of official documents and reminiscences (both military and civilian), comprise the rest of the volume.

The study is prodigiously illustrated, with dozens of photographs, drawings, engravings, and maps. The editors have also assembled a fine bibliography, with a satisfying range of source materials consulted. The use of footnotes vs. endnotes was appreciated as well. Like many county history publications directed at a local market, the reader is not presented with a unifying narrative, but rather a loose collection of primary accounts and self contained articles. While there may not be enough context in the study to draw in the broader audience, the articles and supplementary materials contained in The Civil War Ends should be of interest to researchers and students of the war's denouement.

* - One might quibble with the title, as the final organized surrender of Richard Taylor's and Kirby Smith's departments did not occur until the following month, but Bennett Place and the earlier Appomattox surrender certainly ended the conflict in the eastern theater.

[As an aside, Foley is also the co-author, with J. Timothy Cole, of Collett Leventhorpe, the English Confederate: The Life of a Civil War General 1815-1889 (McFarland, 2006)]

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Two edited memoirs from U. of Ark. Press: Bergeron on Haynes - "A Thrilling Narrative" and Baker on Bailey "Confederate Guerrilla"

University of Arkansas Press's The Civil War in the West series (ed. Daniel E. Sutherland) is one of the few, and perhaps the only, academic press series entirely devoted to the Trans-Mississippi theater. Its adeptly edited memoirs and other first person accounts are rare gems. The two books mentioned below are particularly important as they provide uncommon insights into the inner Civil War from opposing views. Bailey was a Confederate guerrilla operating in Union occupied northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri, while unionist southerner Haynes fled from Texas to Louisiana and organized a company of scouts.


[A Thrilling Narrative: The Memoir of a Southern Unionist by Capt. Dennis E. Haynes and edited by Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr. (Univ. of Arkansas Press, 2006). Cloth, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pp. 190. ISBN: 978-1-55728-811-0 $29.95 ]

This publication marks the first time the Haynes manuscript has seen the printed page since 1866 [apparently, only two known copies of the McGill and Witherow edition remain - take note Paul Taylor]. With connections in both Texas and Louisiana, Dennis Haynes's stong unionist views eventually forced him to flee to the bush, before finally coming into contact with invading Federal forces during Nathaniel Banks's first Red River campaign. Haynes described the retributive period following the withdrawal of the Union army as a "reign of terror". Later, he organized Co. B, First Louisiana Cavalry Battalion Scouts, and served for a three month period during the 1864 Red River Campaign. His military experience ended soon after. Haynes's vivid memoir of his struggle is certainly not reconciliationist in nature, and its portrait of the popular struggle in Louisiana is an insightful contribution to the literature. It is unlikely that anyone more qualified than Art Bergeron could be found to edit the Haynes memoir. The editor's explanatory notes are corrective where needed, and provide in depth background and contextual detail. Also, as with all of the best edited works, additional information is given for individuals, events, and locations specifically mentioned in the text.

[Confederate Guerrilla: The Civil War Memoir of Joseph M. Bailey edited by T. Lindsay Baker (Univ. of Arkansas Press, 2007). Cloth, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pp. 167. ISBN: 978-1557288387 $29.95 ]

As opposed to Haynes's more immediate account, Bailey's story was written long after the war's conclusion (in 1920), but editor Baker's remarkably expansive notes both address inconsistencies and enrich the value of the text. Writings from Confederate guerrillas are rare to begin with, but Bailey has the added distinction of inhabiting both the regular and irregular military worlds. For the first half of the conflict, he served in the regular forces, initially in the Arkansas state forces at Wilson's Creek, then as a member of the 16th Arkansas at Pea Ridge, the Corinth campaign, and the Port Hudson siege and surrender. The period after his escape from captivity - Bailey's guerrilla career in NW Arkansas and SW Missouri, comprises the bulk of his memoir.


While the dearth of illustrations is a bit disappointing, both books are attractively produced overall, and the full cloth binding and boards (a sadly diminishing tradition among publishers) are a professional and durable touch. In terms of presentation, content, research, and editing, A Thrilling Narrative and Confederate Guerrilla are exemplars of the modern edited Civil War memoir.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Orr, Reeves & Geier (eds): "HUTS AND HISTORY: The Historical Archaeology of Military Encampment During the American Civil War"

[Huts and History: The Historical Archaeology of Military Encampment During the American Civil War ed. by David G. Orr, Matthew B. Reeves, and Clarence R. Geier* (Univ. Press of Florida, 2006). Hardcover, maps, drawings, tables, source notes. Pp. total/main: 288/267 ISBN: 978-0813029412 $65]

Civil War camps can take many forms, from a simple fire pit for an overnight stay to elaborately constructed cabins for the winter months. A collection of scholarly essays, Huts and History is a masterful introduction to both practical and technical issues of modern archaeology as applied to Civil War encampments.

The art of laying out a military encampment (castrametation) following the regulations of the period is discussed in detail and compared with the survey evidence. The study also provides a frank and balanced discussion of the strained relationship between professional archaeologists and relic hunters. As with a previous UPF publication [see note * below], the authors find value in cooperation and here admit that amateurs are actually more successful in finding camp sites than are trained archaeologists. While some chapters go into some depth describing survey and material culture examination and survey methodologies, the degree of specialist technical detail is not overwhelming to the patient general reader. Their findings reveal a great deal about soldier society -- its tools, technology, rituals, diet, and social systems.

Specific sites covered include the 14th New Jersey camp at Monocacy, Confederate cantonments supporting the 1861-62 Potomac blockade, Camp Nelson (KY), Confederate winter camps at Orange (VA), urban Confederate camps at Yorktown, and Grant's cabin complex at City Point. Huts and History employs an immensely satisfying array of illustrations as well. Photographs, drawings, sketches, tables, site maps, artifact distribution plots, and archival maps are placed throughout the text. My only quibble is with the lack of regional balance. No sites from the Trans-Mississippi were included for chapter length study, and Camp Nelson in Kentucky was the lone western theater representative.

Huts and History is yet another insightful and abundantly visual archaeological compilation from the University Press of Florida. Its articles comprise a rich blend of scholarly interpretation and practical advice. While there is much within for the general reader to ponder, certainly any professional or amateur interested in Civil War archaeology will greatly benefit from reading this volume. Highly recommended.

* - This is the second archaeological study involving the work of Dr. Geier reviewed here. Follow the link below for my comments on the excellent Archaeological Perspectives on the American Civil War, also published by UP of Florida.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"The Battle of Massard Prairie" release

On Friday the 18th, author Dale Cox announced the release of his latest book, The Battle of Massard Prairie. He's been telling me 'it's a week away' for the last six months so it's great to finally get an official proclamation...Ha!

Beyond contributing well written and deeply researched studies covering small, relatively obscure military campaigns [see reviews of The Battle of Natural Bridge and the earlier Marianna study], Cox also directs sales proceeds to preservation causes. For instance, half the profits from Massard Prairie will go to the Cane Hill Driving Tour project. Thanks and praise for both efforts are in order.

[Cane Hill is a fascinating segment of the Prairie Grove campaign. For reading, I recommend the relevant chapters of Michael Banasik's Embattled Arkansas, and the even better pamphlet written by Kim Allen Scott and Stephen Burgess titled "Pursuing an Elusive Quarry: The Battle of Cane Hill, Arkansas". Both, unfortunately, are out of print, but the latter can be found in original form in Arkansas Historical Quarterly, vol. 56, Spring 1997, pp. 26-55]

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Peterson, McGhee, et al: "Sterling Price's Lieutenants: A Guide to the Officers and Organization of the Missouri State Guard 1861-1865"

[Sterling Price's Lieutenants: A Guide to the Officers and Organization of the Missouri State Guard 1861-1865 by Richard C. Peterson, James E. McGhee, Kip A. Lindberg, and Keith I. Daleen (Two Trails Publishing, 2007, 2nd Ed. - revised and expanded). Softcover, photos, maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pp. 533 ISBN: 1-929311-26-5 $33]

The Missouri State Guard (MSG) is a fascinating military formation. Hurriedly voted into existence by the state legislature's Military Bill the day after the infamous Camp Jackson Massacre of May 10, 1861, the MSG was afforded precious little time for assembling camps of instruction, purchasing military arms, and constructing logistical bases. Mere weeks passed before Union Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon launched a full scale invasion of the state. Nevertheless, the Guard fought exceptionally well at Carthage, Cole Camp, Wilson's Creek, Dry Wood Creek, Lexington, and Pea Ridge. While comprehensive social and military studies of the MSG do not exist yet, researchers of the war in Missouri and the rest of the Trans-Mississippi theater do owe a debt of gratitude for the leadership and organizational history that is Sterling Price's Lieutenants. Originally published by Two Trails in 1995, the reference guide has come back into print in the form of a new revised and expanded edition1.

The book is roughly divided into three parts: (1) an introduction, (2) an organizational chart and officer list, and (3) a set of appendices. Co-author Richard Peterson's lengthy introduction, unchanged from the first edition, eases the unfamiliar reader into the subject. It provides a detailed background history of the MSG, summarizes some of the more salient findings, and establishes the study's overall structure. While his narrative is laced with some emotion-tinged admiration for the subject, Peterson does not shy away from indicating relevant flaws and failures.

As per the law authorizing its formation, the Missouri State Guard was organized geographically into nine divisions2 led by brigadier generals. While the governor, Claiborne Jackson, was the statutory 'commander in chief', Mexican War hero and former governor Sterling Price was the Major General appointed to direct command. The bulk of SPL's pages consists of an order-of-battle style organizational chart of each division3 that includes all subordinate formations and unit components [e.g. regiments, battalions, companies, batteries]. To these are attached a list of officers. All entries are footnoted, with the explanatory notes occupying the bulk of each page.

Far more than common grade supplementary material, the information contained in the book's seven appendices (A through G) will likely draw the attention of most readers. In addition to simple listings of abbreviations used, local unit designations, and unit affiliation by county, brief discussions of the flags, uniforms, and weapons used by the MSG are located in this section. Perhaps the most provocative appendix is F, a detailed and sourced analysis of the estimated numerical strength of the Guard. It proposes a degree of participation far exceeding previous estimates.

In terms of research, Sterling Price's Lieutenants is the product of decades of dedicated labor. At 30+ oversize pages, the bibliography is an exceedingly rich resource. By my count, approximately 150 manuscript collections were consulted. Other materials used include US, CS, and state government documents, newspapers, unpublished theses, and secondary books & articles. The explanatory notes, exceptional in depth, are the heart of the book. In addition to indicating source materials, the notes often provide lengthy background and contextual detail, along with recommendations for further reading. Officer entries also may include information on the individual's post-Guard war service.

It is difficult to adequately convey the notion of just how invaluable this book will be to researchers of the Civil War in Missouri and adjacent areas of the Trans-Mississippi theater. When award season comes around reference works are often unfairly overlooked, but the monumental research effort that went into compiling Sterling Price's Lieutenants is richly deserving of consideration. Very highly recommended.

1 - Summary of changes from co-author James E. McGhee: "The second edition corrects errors found in the first edition; contains more officers and a few newly discovered units; expands considerably on the organization of the 2nd, 5th, and 7th Divisions; and includes a massive bibliography of sources for further study of the Missouri State Guard."
2 - This is not to be confused with the much larger division organization of the US and CS armies. The MSG division did not have brigades and was closer in size and combined arms components to an early war Confederate legion.
3 - Headquarters and staff officers are also included here, as well as a listing of officers for whom no command position has been identified from the records.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Booknotes (April 08)

Regular rundown of book purchases or review copies received so far this month:

Encyclopedia of Civil War Shipwrecks by W. Craig Gaines (Louisiana State Univ. Press, 2008). What a great resource this book will be. Organized by country, state, and/or body of water, this indexed reference guide lists known oceanic and inland water vessel losses. Ship entries range in detail from a few sentences to several hundred words, and a number of maps are provide to indicate approximate resting places. Quite a departure in subject matter from the author's previous Civil War related work, The Confederate Cherokees.

Confederates on the Caney: An Illustrated Account of the Civil War on the Texas Gulf Coast by B.J. McKinney (Mouth of Caney Publication, 1997 rev. ed.). Purchased this one through Research Unlimited. Nice customer service.

A Gallant Little Army: The Mexico City Campaign by Timothy D. Johnson (Univ. Press of Kansas, 2007). In terms of military histories, KU is probably best known for its phenomenal WW2 publications, but late last year they released this history of Scott's famous campaign [the first ever modern full account, I believe] from the Mexican War.

General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse by Joseph Glatthaar (Simon and Schuster, 2008). This is another book from a major trade publisher that one might have expected to be released by an academic press. If it indicates that the big boys still believe that there is enough interest in the wider market for serious analysis then that's a good thing.

The Feud That Wasn't: The Taylor Ring, Bill Sutton, John Wesley Hardin, and Violence in Texas by James M. Smallwood (Texas A&M University Press, 2008). This is another book advancing the thesis of Reconstruction era gang violence as an extension of the Civil War.

Civil War Regiments: A Journal of the American Civil War : Charleston : Battles and Seacoast Operations in South Carolina (Savas Publishing, 1997). Vol. 5, No. 2. CWR is a journal I regret not subscribing to back in the day [you should see what some of these things go for on the secondary market]. I try to snatch up the most interesting ones when I find them.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

McClintock: "Lincoln and the Decision for War"

[Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession by Russell McClintock (University of North Carolina Press, 2008). Hardcover, notes, bibliography. Pages main/total: 292/400 ISBN: 978-0-8078-3188-5 $35]

Most studies of the critical period between Abraham Lincoln's election and the Confederate firing on Fort Sumter fail to adequately address the northern population's broad range of responses to the crisis. In his book Lincoln and the Decision for War, Russell McClintock seeks to address this deficiency, while at the same time examining the role of the American political structure (i.e. party system, patronage, partisanship) in shaping Lincoln's options and strategy. In this, the author is largely successful.

Beyond inheriting problems left over from Buchanan's administration, Lincoln's was beset by new concerns from multiple fronts. According to McClintock, the president was at least as concerned with maintaining Republican party unity as any of the questions at hand. Lincoln did his utmost to forestall defections and open clashes within the party, which was composed of radicals as well as ex-Whigs and former Democrats. By remaining largely silent on specific issues during the critical gelling period of his new administration, and divvying up patronage between both coercionist and conciliatory factions, Lincoln invested all factions into the maintenance of Republican party unity. He would concede small points, but would not budge on the issue that might be considered the cornerstone of the party platform, which was steadfast opposition to the extension of slavery into the territories. While McClintock spills much ink detailing the various compromise proposals (especially the activities of William Seward, cabinet member and most prominent leader of the compromise faction within the Republican party), it eventually became clear to everyone that competing influences mattered little, for the final decision rested with a single individual, the president.

Another delicate juggling act for Lincoln to perform was how to remain committed to the Republican platform while doing as little as possible to endanger unionist majorities in the states of the Upper South. Delay and inaction1, along with suppressing threatening rhetoric, kept these critical states within the union fold, until the Sumter crisis exploded. The author notes that Lincoln was very late in the game before finally learning that what Upper South unionists actually required in order to remain in the union, namely withdrawal from the two remaining contested military installations [Pickens and Sumter], was incompatible with his presidential duties as he saw them.

In order to keep his inquiry into the northern population's reaction to secession at a manageable level, McClintock narrows his area of research by selecting three regionally representative states, New York [Mid-Atlantic], Massachusetts [New England], and Illinois [Old Northwest]. Citing the American tradition of looking to their elected representatives and party managers to solve political problems, the author's study is largely of a top-down nature. While reactions of the rank and file of the body politic are not ignored, the views of politicians, newspaper editors, and other politically prominent individuals are what drive McClintock's analysis. The meager attention paid to the views of women, along with class and ethnic representation, may irk modern readers, but the author is more particularly concerned with contemporary realities of direct political influence and decision making. The broader social response is largely beyond the scope of the study. However, this selective concentration on the views of top down opinion leaders can weaken the author's basis for making broad generalizations2 about the northern population as a whole. For instance, McClintock's concluding arguments supporting the notion of a largely unified northern political front favoring war (at least during the emotionally charged period after the surrender of Fort Sumter) could be characterized by some observers as being more asserted than demonstrated.

Regardless, Lincoln and the Decision for War is a balanced and erudite examination of the secession crisis from the all too neglected northern political angle. Author Russell McClintock is at his best navigating the struggles of competing hard line and conciliatory factions within the nascent Republican party, as they vied for national influence and for determining the best way to preserve the union. His deeply researched study promotes fresh interpretations and insights that are deserving of a wide readership. The literature of the secession winter is appreciably richer for its existence. Highly recommended.


1 - I believe McClintock termed this period Lincoln's "masterly inactivity". However, the author also makes the thought provoking point that Lincoln's lengthy period of vacillation and indecision, often praised for its craft, was actually remarkably similar in nature to President Buchanan's much reviled handling of the crisis.
2 - As an example, while the bibliography is more than adequately impressive overall, the list of newspaper sources indicates a narrow, major urban center selection. There are only 13 total, with more than half devoted to Boston and New York City. The larger question is just how representative are these sources of the opinions and attitudes of the northern population as a whole.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sifakis - "Compendium of the Confederate Armies" reprints

The ten volumes of Stewart Sifakis's Confederate answer to Dyer's Compendium have never been pronounced perfect, but until something better comes around they remain the best quick reference unit guides available.

Indeed, something better has come along in some instances. Improvements on the theme include Art Bergeron's sterling Guide to Louisiana Confederate Military Units and Jim McGhee's new release (just now) Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861–1865. I haven't had a chance to read Ralph Wooster's Lone Star Regiments in Gray or Clark's Regiments for North Carolina.

The hardcover editions of the Sifakis set are out of print, with wildly varying prices on the secondary market, but Heritage Books, Inc. has reprinted them in paperback format, at a price range from $25-$30 -- providing a serviceable, if rather overpriced, fall back position for obtaining a complete set.

Volumes - Compendium of the Confederate Armies:
Unit organizations covered are infantry/cavalry regiments & battalions along with artillery batteries. Entries are structured thusly: a very short commentary on organization, name of first commander, list of field grade officers, chronological listing of higher organizations unit was assigned to throughout the war, battle list, and finally a short suggested reading section. Weaponry is not discussed, but tube types are sometimes provided for artillery batteries.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dupree: "Planting the Union Flag in Texas"

[Planting The Union Flag In Texas: The Campaigns of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks in the West by Stephen A. Dupree (Texas A&M University Press, 2008). Cloth, 6 maps, photos, notes, appendix/OB, bibliography. Pages main/total: 212/306 ISBN: 978-1585446414 $40 ]

From 1862-1864, Union troops from the Department of the Gulf made numerous attempts by land and sea to invade and occupy vulnerable areas along the Texas coastline and the state's northeast border with Louisiana. Author Stephen Dupree is correct in noting that several excellent and highly detailed studies exist for these operations*, but no prior work has specifically advanced the notion that each expedition was really part of a single campaign to exploit Texas's economic resources, install a new Unionist state government, interdict the lucrative cross-border cotton trade, and provide a show of force against Imperial forces in Mexico. Dupree's Planting the Union Flag in Texas attempts just such a synthesis, and also critically examines the generalship of the commander of the Department of the Gulf, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks.

Mr. Dupree's military overviews of Galveston, Sabine Pass, the Rio Grande Expedition, the 1863 Overland Campaign, and the 1864 Red River Campaign are solid, with a heavy focus on the latter. While the descriptions and conclusions drawn would be considered conventional by most readers, the author is consistent in placing each within the unifying economic, political, and military context mentioned above. A common thread is the flawed leadership of General Banks. Dupree finds fault with the general on many fronts, but most specifically with Banks's personal traits of indecisiveness, lack of imagination, tendency to exaggerate successes, and stubborn loyalty to incompetent subordinates. Of course, these weaknesses are hardly singular to Banks, and, according to the author, the Massachusetts officer demonstrated enough battlefield success to place him among the ranks of the better high ranking political generals. In the end, however, Dupree's intentions clearly do not include image rehabilitation, and he adopts much of the consensus view of Banks's military ability. On the other hand, the author does take his inquiry in something of a new direction by aiming his harshest criticisms at the general's top subordinate, William B. Franklin, a highly experienced officer whom Dupree dismisses as a complete incompetent for egregious command failures at Sabine Pass and during the 1863-1864 Red River campaigns.

Readers intimately familiar with the literature detailing the operational and tactical aspects of the aforementioned military operations [see list in * comment below] are not likely to find significant amounts of new information and interpretation on a micro level, but that is not the book's primary purpose. The greater value of Planting the Union Flag in Texas lies in its seamless synthesis. Its broad examination of the intersection of politics, economics, and military objectives is a useful tool for exploring the importance of Texas to the overall war effort of the United States from 1862 to 1864. Recommended.


* - See Edward Cotham's Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston and Sabine Pass: The Confederacy's Thermopylae. Both are sparkling histories. The Yankee Invasion of Texas by Stephen A. Townsend ably covers the Rio Grande Expedition. The 1863 Overland Expedition is exhaustively studied in Yankee Autumn in Acadiana by David C. Edmonds and The Texas Overland Expedition of 1863 by Richard Lowe. From the multitude of 1864 Red River overviews, I recommend Ludwell Johnson's classic Red River Campaign: Politics and Cotton in the Civil War and Gary Joiner's recent Through the Howling Wilderness: The 1864 Red River Campaign and Union Failure in the West

Saturday, April 5, 2008

D'Arcy and Mammina: Savannah and SC Low Country Tour Guides

Civil War Tours of the Low Country: Beaufort, Hilton Head, & Charleston, South Carolina by David D'arcy & Ben Mammina (Schiffer Publishing Ltd.*, 2008).
Civil War Walking Tour of Savannah by David D'Arcy & Ben Mammina (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2006).

In my mind, the better Civil War guidebooks provide an interesting browsing experience at home in addition to on-site utility. For the most part, both of these guides, which combine walking and driving tours, pass this personalized test.

Civil War Walking Tour of Savannah includes two downtown walking tours that are thematically differentiated between early and late war related public buildings and private dwellings. These excursions are complemented by the two driving tours that are generally military in focus, one covering outlying batteries, forts, etc. located along the city's eastern approaches and the other the direct defenses of Savannah as encountered by Sherman's army. Civil War Tours of the Low Country provides eight tours (evenly divided between walking and driving): driving tours of the Charleston & Savannah Railroad and the islands of Hilton Head, St. Helena, and Daufuskie; with further walking tours of Bluffton and Beaufort(3).

Both volumes are sturdily constructed of quality materials, and are very heavily illustrated; archival photographs, maps, and drawings are included, along with the modern color photography of co-author Ben Mammina. While the walking tours have attached map guides, they are curiously absent for the driving tours. The text, with attached notes and bibliography, is brief; overall, it's probably safe to say the photography [which is quite good, especially for the antebellum residences] is at the core of these books.

Informal in style and format, Schiffer Publishing's Savannah and South Carolina Low Country touring books should appeal to a broad range of visitors. Casual tourists, architectural enthusiasts (for the walking tours, especially), and battlefield trampers should find both publications useful. If I ever get the opportunity to visit these southern jewels, I will certainly bring these books along.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Simons: "In Their Words: A Chronology of the Civil War in Chicot County, Arkansas and Adjacent Waters of the Mississippi River"

[In Their Words: A Chronology of the Civil War in Chicot County, Arkansas and Adjacent Waters of the Mississippi River by Don Simons (Wise Publications, 2000). Softcover, maps, notes, bibliography, Pp. 202 $20.00]

In Their Words is a valuable collection of primary source materials dealing with the lesser known Civil War in southeastern Arkansas. Sprinkled with plentiful maps, photos, and drawings, the book provides a chronology of events as written in the diaries, letters, and reports of the participants—male, female, civilian and military alike. The main focus is military, though, and much of the text recalls repeated interdiction attacks by Confederate regular and guerrilla forces on both sides of the Mississippi River, and the Federal naval and land response to those attacks.

The book is organized by date with chapters on major events like the Vicksburg Campaign, Cypress Bend and Deer Creek Expeditions, Red River Campaign, Battle of Ditch Bayou, and the Bayou Bartholomew Expedition. Author Don Simons wields a very restrained [probably too much so] editorial hand, preferring to include many reports verbatim with only a few words of introduction. This is both a positive and negative depending on the reader’s expectations. While researchers will appreciate the multitude of complete primary reports from both sides covering the same action, some readers may tire of the frequent repetition and lack of narrative flow.

In sum, In Their Words is a useful assemblage of materials detailing the Civil War battles and skirmishes from a backwater front that nonetheless had a noticeable impact on the major campaigns further south. With the Civil War Arkansas literature centered in the northern sections of the state, such attention paid to the neglected southeast in much welcomed. Simons' work is impressive in the level of detail provided and is also an admirable example of local history.