Sunday, May 4, 2008

McGhee: "Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865"

[ Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865by James E. McGhee (University of Arkansas Press, The Civil War in the West Series, 2008). Cloth, photos, footnotes, bibliography, index. Pp. 314. ISBN: 978-1-55728-870-7 $34.95 ]

Civil War reference works that are enjoyably readable from cover to cover, yet are at the same time able to meet or exceed the exacting standards of professional researchers, are relatively rare. Students of Civil War Missouri and the Trans-Mississippi theater in general will be gratified to learn that James E. McGhee's Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865 qualifies as just such a study. It holds the further distinction of being the first modern and truly comprehensive Missouri unit guide.

McGhee's book utilizes a structure similar to that found in Arthur Bergeron's Guide to Louisiana Confederate Military Units (LSU Press, 1989). Military organizations from all three service branches -- artillery (batteries), cavalry (regiments, battalions, squadrons, and independent companies), and infantry (regiments and battalions) are exhaustively compiled. Even units that failed to completed their organization are investigated. Field grade officers are listed as well as company commanders. If the information is available, the counties each company was primarily drawn from are indicated in parentheses. The author also ably navigates the reader through the reorganizations and consolidations many Missouri units were put through during their period of service.

A one to two page length narrative summary, a concise service history from initial muster to final surrender, was written for each unit. Such compression cannot have been an easy task, but McGhee handled the job superbly. His overviews are models of useful thrift, providing the most amount of useful information in a limited space. They are also remarkable for their consistency. McGhee admirably avoids the common tendency to lavish attention upon the more "famous" units while devoting only a cursory look at the lesser lights. Particular attention is paid to strengths and casualties at significant junctures, with a final computation at the end. In terms of weaponry information, tube types are given for the artillery units. The abundant detail should more than satisfy a broad range of interested readerships, from hobbyists and casual researchers to historians, genealogists, and wargamers.

Illustrations are sparse overall, but a gallery of photographs, some rare and perhaps published here for the first time, was thoughtfully included. Unfortunately, a few of the images suffered adversely from the reproduction process; a minor cosmetic flaw in a uniformly impressive book. The range of research materials [manuscripts, government records, books, and articles] examined by the author is wide reaching. A short list of sources is placed at the conclusion of each unit entry, with a larger supplementary bibliography placed at the rear of the book.

James E. McGhee's Guide to Missouri Confederate Units is deeply researched, skillfully compiled, deftly organized, and remarkably complete. It is truly an authoritative reference book that deserves placement in home libraries and institutions across the country.

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