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.

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