Thursday, August 7, 2008

Thompson & Jones: "Civil War & Revolution On The Rio Grande Frontier: A Narrative And Photographic History

[Civil War & Revolution On The Rio Grande Frontier: A Narrative And Photographic History by Jerry D. Thompson and Lawrence T. Jones III (Texas State Historical Association, 2004). Cloth quarto, photos, maps, notes, bibliography, index. Page total: 174 ISBN: 978-0876112014 $39.95 ]

The border conflict in the Rio Grande Valley in the years during and surrounding the Civil War has received some scholarly publishing attention in the fairly recent past. Jerry Thompson has edited or written several works in addition to this one*, James Irby penned a fine overall (albeit much older) introductory pamphlet, and two accounts of the Palmito Ranch battle have been published since 2001. Co-authored by Jerry Thompson and Lawrence Jones, Civil War & Revolution On The Rio Grande Frontier is a particularly notable contribution to the region's Civil War literature. By concentrating on events south of the border, and stretching its focus past the war years, the study provides readers with a broader sense of the impact of the war upon future U.S.-Mexico relations.

Presented by individuals with well regarded expertise on the subject matter, the narrative history and photographic study Civil War & Revolution On The Rio Grande Frontier was a winner of the A.M. Pate Award. The first few chapters, covering the Civil War years, lean heavily upon Thompson's earlier work mentioned above (and below in the notes). Military, social, and economic facets of the border situation are addressed. Not surprisingly, given the author's previous research interests, significant attention is paid to people and events south of the border, an area fraught with brutal collisions between contending Imperial and Juarista forces. Cross border raids led by men of pliant loyalties such as Juan Cortina are also discussed in some detail. Confederate political and military** efforts at maintaining the lucrative cotton trade and ensuring a steady flow of supplies are also outlined. On the Union side, attempts by the Federal government to recruit Texas unionists and thwart Imperial designs on the border region are chronicled. Special attention is paid to the officers and men of Mexican ancestry that supported each side, often with complex (and shifting) loyalties and motivations of an exclusively local nature.

The photographic element of the study is an important aspect of its overall impact. Most of the 125+ images (many from the [co-author] Lawrence T. Jones III collection) have never been published before. The reproductions are crisp and large. Taken together, the photo collection comprises a wonderfully rounded depiction of people and place. Exceedingly rare images of the dusty streets of Brownsville, Matamoros, and Bagdad are includes as well as a broadly inclusive array of individual photos [water carriers, bandits, Civil War officers, Imperialistas, Juaristas, merchants, and other civilian inhabitants of the region] As with many image studies, biographical information about the photographers is included. Many of the best photographs were the work of Louis de Planque and his associates.

The turbulent post-Civil War years are discussed from perspectives of individuals on both sides of border (including Reconstruction Texas), but the primary emphasis is on the continuing struggle in Mexico between the Liberal and Imperial forces. The narrative centers around the fight to control Brownsville and the internal squabbles between rival Juarista chieftains. The impact of the great hurricane of October 7, 1867 [a terrible event, the physical aftermath of which was dutifully photographed by de Planque] is also chronicled in detail.

The book itself is a large (quarto) format publication, with quality glossy pages, thread binding, and cloth boards. Illustrations are first rate. However, while a handful of maps were included, a few more tracing military movements and depicting valley places and landmarks in more detail would have been very helpful to the non-resident reader.

As a broadly inclusive overview of a decade of border strife, Civil War & Revolution On The Rio Grande Frontier will appeal to a variety of readerships. Students of U.S.-Mexican relations, the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi, and the the wartime cross-border trade will find much useful information. Likewise, Civil War photography enthusiasts will gain an invaluable volume for their collections. Highly recommended.


* - Other related books by Jerry Thompson:
** - Confederate military leaders with prominent roles in the study include men like John S. "Rip" Ford, James Slaughter, and the Benavides family. Rare photographs of Slaughter and his staff are included as well.

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