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


  1. Drew,

    I'm going to have to pick this one up. I was kind of bored by Townsend's book, but I loved _Yankee Autumn in Acadiana_. I've started to take a harder look at Union attempts to establish footholds along the Confederate Gulf and Atlantic coasts. I wonder what would have happened had the North decided to make one of these efforts a maximum attempt while simply standing on the defensive in either Virginia or the West.


  2. It's amazing how often Union coastal operations were in position to exploit their gains against overmatched local Confederate defenders, but, instead of getting supported, were always withdrawn to reinforce stalemated situations on more "important" fronts.


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