Sunday, November 30, 2008

Patrakis: "Andover in the Civil War"

[Andover in the Civil War: The Spirit & Sacrifice of a New England Town by Joan Silva Patrakis (The History Press, 2008). Softcover, illustrations, photos, notes, bibliography. Pages main/total:113/128. ISBN: 978-1-59629-437-0 $21.99]

With her book Andover and the Civil War, local researcher and writer Joan S. Patrakis provides readers with a war and home front narrative history of the Massachusetts town (located near the Merrimack and Shawsheen rivers) and its contributions to the Union war effort. Riding the initial wave of patriotic fervor, the citizens formed the Andover Light Infantry (Co. H, 14th Massachusetts), whose early war duties were spent garrisoning forts [the 14th regiment was later re-designated the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery].

Patrakis traces the men's service at places like Ft. Warren, the Washington defenses, and Maryland Heights. Outside the military sphere, the reactions and contributions of the home front are given equal attention. Prominent citizens, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, are featured. The community received a terrible blow when the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery suffered heavy losses at Spotsylvania, the first significant battle the Andover men from Company H participated in. Cold Harbor and the Petersburg Campaign followed. The post-war period and commemorative efforts by Andover to honor the service of its soldiers are also discussed by the author.

In creating her narrative, Patrakis incorporates lengthy excerpts from letters, journals, and newspaper articles -- many of which were unpublished items culled from local historical society archives. History Press publications typically excel in their presentation and visual impact, and this one, heavily supported with period photographs and other illustrations, is no exception; the only drawback is the lack of an index.

The impact of this study will likely be most felt in the local market, where it will serve as a useful, broadly appealing introduction to the impact of the Civil War on the Andover community, highlighting the contributions and sacrifices of its citizens. But others interested in the wartime experiences of small New England communities should find Andover in the Civil War useful as well.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Booknotes (Nov 08)

Other acquisitions or review copies received this month:

A Revised List of Texas Confederate Regiments, Battalions, Field Officers, and Local Designations (Author, 2007) by James E. Williams.

Virginia at War, 1863 ed. by William C. Davis and James I. Robertson, Jr. (Univ. of Kentucky Press, 2008).

Abraham Lincoln: A Life by Thomas Keneally (Penguin, 2008 - paperback reprint).

Andover in the Civil War: The Spirit & Sacrifice of a New England Town
by Joan Silva Patrakis (The History Press, 2008).

Now the Drum of War: Walt Whitman and His Brothers in the Civil War by Robert Roper (Walker & Co., 2008).

Mystery of the Irish Wilderness: Land and Legend of Father John Joseph Hogan's Lost Irish Colony in the Ozark Wilderness by Leland and Crystal Payton (Lens and Pen Press, 2008).

Mexican Texans in the Union Army by Jerry D. Thompson (Texas Western Press, 1986).

Potter's Raid: The Union Cavalry's Boldest Expedition in Eastern North Carolina by David A. Norris (Dram Tree, 2008).

2008 Pate Award - Stephen Dupree

Author Stephen A. Dupree's Planting the Union Flag in Texas: The Campaigns of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks in the West was recently chosen as the winner of the 2008 Pate Award. Presented by the Fort Worth Civil War Round Table, the award honors "outstanding original research on the Trans-Mississippi sector of the Civil War". Congratulations, Dr. Dupree.

If you'll recall, last year's winner was Steven Mayeux for Earthen Walls, Iron Men: Fort DeRussy, Louisiana and the Defense of Red River.

I'll be posting my own list of favorites from the past year soon, probably in early to mid December rather than January this time.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Estaville, Jr.: "Confederate Neckties: Louisiana Railroads in the Civil War"

[Confederate Neckties: Louisiana Railroads in the Civil War by Lawrence E. Estaville, Jr. (Louisiana Tech Univ., 1989) Hardcover, 12 maps, photos, drawings, notes, bibliography, index. 123 pp. ISBN: 0940231050]

Part of a series of scholarly monographs, Confederate Neckties is a fascinating little military, economic, and financial study of Louisiana's 395 miles of track. In 1861, there were twelve railroad companies in the state, the longest 88 miles and the shortest 0.5. Estaville's brief, but fully documented, study is packed with information. Company financial concerns are covered as well as the regional economic impact of each line. Additionally, a physical description [materials used, stations, depots, number of locomotives and cars, etc.] is provided. The maps trace the course of each railroad, showing the important stations and depots along the way. Also, if relevant, the operational and tactical military use of each railroad is explained.

On a side note, I learned of a previously unknown to me peril of riding over strap-rails. With the cheap, flimsy iron rails, a phenomenon called "Snake Heads" occurred. With this situation, a passing train would cause the rail to separate from the tie and spring up; the next wheel would roll under the "sprung" rail, shooting it through the floor of the car and impaling the passenger against the roof. How quaint.

Grisly interlude aside, I would recommend this well researched and informative volume for any Trans-Mississippi theater or Civil War railroad history reference library.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Northern Appalachia in the Civil War

The flurry in recent decades of scholarly activity dealing with the Civil War experiences and attitudes of the Appalachian population has been overwhelmingly centered on the southern reaches of the great range. Finally, we have someone directing his efforts north of the Mason-Dixon line, investigating whether parallels exist between mountain South opposition to the Confederate war effort and northern Appalachia's relationship to the Union cause. Robert M. Sandow's Deserter Country: Civil War Opposition in the Pennsylvania Appalachians (Fordham Univ. Press, April 2009) sounds very promising, and I hope to review it when the time comes.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Spurgeon: "Man of Douglas, Man of Lincoln: The Political Odyssey of James Henry Lane"

[Man of Douglas, Man of Lincoln: The Political Odyssey of James Henry Lane by Ian Michael Spurgeon (Univ. of Missouri Press, 2008). Cloth, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 278/301. ISBN: 978-0826218148 $42.50]

The view of Senator James H. Lane conveyed by the popular and scholarly literature is an often negative one1. A fiery and effective stump speaker, his public rhetoric was unfailingly inflammatory. His political actions were also baffling to many, leading to persistent allegations of unprincipled political opportunism. In the Kansas-Missouri border conflict, his military depredations, while popular in some fronts, were often denounced by both sides.

Unfortunately, writers' characterizations of Lane are often presented in black and white, with little serious effort to delve below the surface. Ian Michael Spurgeon's study Man of Douglas, Man of Lincoln maintains that previous efforts at understanding Lane are too heavily dependent on the superficial judgments of the past. He argues for a new view of the man, one that recognizes a string of consistency throughout Lane's political career. It is the main theme of Spurgeon's tightly focused political biography covering the period beginning with Lane's 1854 move from Indiana to Kansas through the senator's 1866 suicide.

One of the main charges of political opportunism leveled against Jim Lane was his transformation from Douglas Democrat to Lincoln Republican. Spurgeon argues persuasively that it was the Democratic Party that abandoned Lane, not the other way around. In perhaps his book's best section, the author details Lane's shabby treatment at the hands of Douglas and other party leaders during Lane's presentation in Washington of the Kansas Memorial2 in 1856. Even so, as a member of the Free State party in Kansas, Lane remained a supporter of popular sovereignty and Democratic principles generally. It was the Civil War that eventually transformed Lane into a pro-Lincoln Republican, a path certainly not unique to the Kansan's career.

Spurgeon concentrates his biographical study on the political sphere of his subject, and thus does not delve heavily into the 1861-1862 raids into Missouri conducted by the Lane Brigade3. However, Spurgeon does recognize Lane as an early supporter of the enlistment of black troops, and also an early adopter of "hard war". The author also sees strong consistency in Lane's views on slavery, which were based on practical, not humanitarian, grounds. According to Spurgeon, the Kansan supported the raising of black regiments primarily as a war measure, a move to spare whites more than a means to raise the status of blacks in society.

The post-war period was especially difficult for Lane. His support of President Andrew Johnston's Civil Rights Bill veto was extremely problematic for the maintenance of Lane's political career, but Spurgeon again sees a pattern of consistency in his actions rather than an about-face. Fire-breathing political rhetoric, and public insistence of his radical credentials aside, Lane was at heart a conservative Republican, more like Lincoln than any of the prominent Radical Republican senators.

Ian Michael Spurgeon's fresh and highly original treatment of Lane's political career is an important contribution to the literature. His thoughtful assertions are well supported and largely persuasive. While the "Grim Chieftain" awaits a definitive full biography, Spurgeon has added a new voice that any future author of such a work must seriously consider.

1 - The author feels the best Lane biography to date is Wendell Stephenson's
The Political Career of General James H. Lane (B.P Walker, 1930).
2 - A petition from the Free State settlers of Kansas urging the U.S. Congress to accept the Topeka Constitution, which would allow Kansas to enter the Union as a free state.
3 - Presumably, we can expect this from Bryce Benedict's forthcoming history of the Lane Brigade (University of Oklahoma Press, Spring 2009).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Even more Spring/Summer 09 books

Continuing on from previous posts (here and here) listing book scheduled for the first half of next year that I have my eye out for:

John Bankhead Magruder: A Military Reappraisal by Thomas Settles (LSU, June 2009). As a subject of a book length study, this one is somewhat surprising. I'll be keeping my eye on it, and I hope it takes a broader view of his Civil War service than simply his time on the Peninsula. I am far more interested in Prince John's Trans-Mississippi career.

A Wisconsin Yankee in the Confederate Bayou: The Civil War Reminiscences of a Union General by Halbert Eleazer Paine, Samuel C. Hyde, Jr. (ed.) (LSU, May 2009).

Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Gordon Expedition, June 1863 by Scott Mingus (Ironclad Publishing, Q1-Q2 2009). -- according to the author, it's scheduled for limited publication around the end of the year, with a late winter or early spring general release. Nice cover art, too.

I've read two of the four volumes from Ironclad's
Discovering Civil War America series and found them thoroughly satisfying. Both "No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar" and A Little Short of Boats: The Fights at Ball's Bluff and Edward's Ferry, October 21-22, 1861 are fascinating and truly original military studies. From the same publisher, while not part of the series noted above, John C. Pemberton's manuscript Compelled to Appear in Print (ably edited by David M. Smith) is an essential part of understanding the Vicksburg Campaign.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

George Thomas bios

Isn't this how it often happens...the Civil War community long laments the lack of a modern biography of a major Civil War figure, then suddenly three appear at roughly the same moment [well, in the publishing world's timetable, I consider within 18 months the 'same time'!].

Christopher J. Einolf had the good fortune to make it out of the gate first, with his well reviewed (but unfortunately still unread by me) Univ. of Oklahoma Press book George Thomas: Virginian for the Union(Nov. 2007).

Up next, by the first half of next year, we'll see:

Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas by Benson Bobrick (Simon & Schuster, Feb. 2009).

General George H. Thomas: A Biography of the Union’s “Rock of Chickamauga”
by Robert P. Broadwater (McFarland, Spring/Summer 09).

Taking reviews of prior work into consideration, I don't hold out a great deal of hope for the last. I've never heard of Mr. Bobrick before, but a quick Amazon search comes up with quite a range of subjects (many well-received) from this very prolific author.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Smith: "The Timberclads in the Civil War: The Lexington, Conestoga, and Tyler on the Western Waters"

[The Timberclads in the Civil War: The Lexington, Conestoga, and Tyler on the Western Waters by Myron J. Smith, Jr. (McFarland - ph.800-253-2187, 2008). Hardcover, photos, maps, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 482/552. ISBN: 978-0-7864-3578-4 $75]

Until the first major employment of ironclad gunboats in February 1862, the timberclads [U.S.S. Lexington, Tyler, and Conestoga] comprised the front line naval power of the U.S. Navy along the inland waterways of the western theater. Myron J. Smith, author of Le Roy Fitch: The Civil War Career of a Union River Gunboat Commander, continues his extraordinary chronicling of gunboat operations with his new book The Timberclads in the Civil War.

Smith devotes the first half of his study to a narrative history of timberclad organization, construction, and naval operations. Commensurate with their important placekeeping role as the riverine capital ships for the early war period, almost 200 pages [nearly half the text] are devoted to this relatively short period. Operations along the Ohio and upper Mississippi rivers, to include reconnaissance and anti-guerrilla missions along with demonstrations against Columbus, KY and support for Grant's Belmont campaign, are recounted in minute detail.

With the completion of the first group of heavy ironclads, and the addition of the tinclads to the fleet, the timberclads took on more supporting roles, such as river patrol, reconnaissance, and convoy duties. However, participation in significant direct combat operations did not cease. The latter half of Smith's book details the timberclad contribution to the Henry/Donelson, Island No. 10, Shiloh, White River (1862), Arkansas Post, Helena, Red River, and NE Arkansas (1864) campaigns. The detail is unprecedented, and many obscure actions are presented here as published narratives for the first time.

As with his previous book, Smith's research is exhaustive, and supported by expansive explanatory endnotes. The bibliography lists a wide range of primary and secondary source materials, including manuscripts, official documents, newspapers, online sources, dissertations, and published books and articles. At almost 500 pages of main text, packed tightly into a large trim hardcover, the amount of information is staggering. Timberclads is also handsomely illustrated, with numerous photographs, many rare. Unfortunately, some of the same flaws remain present in the form of typographical errors and inadequate maps. Fortunately, the book's many strengths far outweigh any of its weaknesses.

With this book, Myron Smith has once again provided readers with a definitive naval history. Encyclopedic in scope and remarkably detailed, the information contained in The Timberclads in the Civil War is a boon for serious students and researchers of the Brown Water Navy. Both as a highly original narrative history and an invaluable reference, this book is a significant contribution to the Civil War naval literature.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Booknotes - "Texas Civil War Artifacts"

I love reference books, all the more if they have a Trans-Mississippi focus. Texas Civil War Artifacts: A Photographic Guide to the Physical Culture of Texas Civil War Soldiers by Richard Mather Ahlstrom (U. of North Texas Press, 2008) has chapters devoted to the uniforms, weapons, accouterments, and other equipment produced within the state for the use of its fighting men. There's also a gallery of soldier photos. "A valuable reference guide for Civil War collectors, historians, museum curators, re-enactors, and federal and state agencies", indeed.

Monday, November 10, 2008

More Spring 09 books

More Spring 2009 titles that intrigue me:

Homegrown Yankees: Tennessee's Union Cavalry in the Civil War by James Alex Baggett (LSU Press, June 2009). My G-G-G Grandfather, William C. Pickens, was Colonel of the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry, U.S.A. so this one is of particular interest to me.

Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee, gen. eds. Kent Dollar, Larry Whiteaker, and W. Calvin Dickinson (U. of Kentucky Press, May 2009).

Commanding Lincoln's Navy: Union Naval Leadership During the Civil War by Stephen Taafe (Naval Inst. Press, May 2009). I haven't read Taafe's earlier book about the Army of the Potomac corps commanders, but I recall liking many of the author's ideas as expressed in his Civil War Talk Radio interview [see sidebar link for access to show archives].

The War in Words: Reading the Dakota Conflict through the Captivity Literature by Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola (U. of Nebraska Press, May 2009).

The Second United States Sharpshooters in the Civil War: A History and Roster by Gerald L. Earley (McFarland, Spring 09).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Symonds: "Lincoln and His Admirals"

[Lincoln and His Admirals by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford Univ. Press, 2008). Hardcover, maps, illustrations, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 381/445. ISBN: 9780195310221 $27.95]

Craig Symonds's new book Lincoln and His Admirals is not a history of naval operations nor is it a comprehensive look at the U.S. Navy in the Civil War at the strategic level. It's primary focus is the often tangled relationship between President Lincoln, his cabinet (with an obvious spotlight on Secretary of Navy Gideon Welles), and the admirals1 spearheading the navy's war effort. More triangular in nature, in contrast to a more tightly disciplined linear order of command authority, these relationships -- at least early on -- were characterized by cabinet secretaries overstepping their bounds, the president sometimes taking direct charge of naval operations2, and ambitious officers taking their concerns directly to the president or ignoring explicit directives altogether.

Symonds's descriptions of the personalities of the naval officers and assessment of their relative strengths and weaknesses are in line with convention. Perhaps the greatest amount of space is devoted to the partnership between Lincoln and Welles (and by extension Asst. Secretary Gustavus V. Fox). While the navy secretary had an aggressively prickly nature combined with a largely black and white world view, Lincoln was a far more practical politician and deliberate decision maker. According to the author, the pair forged an effective "good cop, bad cop" means of dealing with difficult admirals. Overall, Lincoln came out better in terms of sustained relationships, with even dismissed officers believing they had the president's support all along, leaving Welles the messier fallout.

The study has a clear emphasis on the Atlantic seaboard. With only brief forays into the riverine war and Gulf operations, the book might surprise readers with its only passing discussion of the war's most famous naval officer, Admiral Farragut. Symonds's narrative is at its best discussing U.S./British relations and in its treatment of South Atlantic Blockading Squadron commander Samuel F. Du Pont. In description and analysis, both sections are largely confirmatory of the best recent scholarship3.

Readers steeped in the modern literature of the Civil War navies will recognize Symonds's study as a work of synthesis rather than a source of significant new revelation, but, as a high command-level overview, it is authoritative and useful. While students and historians anxiously await the emergence of the definitive study of the 16th president as Commander-in-Chief, Lincoln and His Admirals also serves as a gentle reminder that no such work can be considered complete without full consideration of the naval contribution.

1 - Admirals David Dixon Porter, Charles Wilkes, Samuel F. Du Pont, John Dahlgren, Samuel Phillips Lee, Andrew Hull Foote, David Glasgow Farragut.
2 - the best example given in the book is Lincoln's "suggestion" that the Sewell's Point batteries be neutralized and an amphibious landing be made above Norfolk. The president even participated in the scouting of proper landing sites.
3 - Phillip E. Myers on the Lincoln administration's policies toward managing the relationship between the U.S. and Great Britain, and Robert M. Browning for the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Booknotes - "The Civil War in Northwestern Virginia"

The Civil War in Northwestern Virginia: The Military, Political, and Economic Events Surrounding the Creation of West Virginia, and the Role of Parkersburg, West Virginia in those Events by David L. McKain (Author, 2004) is a self-published local history book that arrived this week. I've glanced through it, and it is a pretty handsome compilation, well bound and full of historical photographs and drawings. The first part is a political and military overview of Civil War West Virginia, not footnoted unfortunately but it does have a bibliography and index. The latter section (over 200 densely packed pages) is composed of transcribed source materials, including newspaper articles, official documents, letters, diaries/memoir excerpts, etc. This is the first time someone has sent me a review copy with a note that just says "Good Luck". Not sure how I should take that.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cooper: "Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era"

[Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era by William J. Cooper, Jr. (Louisiana State University Press, 2008). Cloth, illustrations, notes, index. Pages main/total: 108/144. ISBN: 978-0-8071-3371-2 $24.95]

Confederate President Jefferson Davis has been the subject of a number of biographies, but historian William J. Cooper's decorated Jefferson Davis, American is widely considered the best of them all. Marking the 200th anniversary of Davis's birth, Cooper's latest work Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era is an essay collection that critically examines the Mississippian's antebellum political career, as well as his performance as Confederate president and commander-in-chief.

Based on a series of lectures, Cooper's nine chapters are standalone essays. Short in length and direct in nature, each examines a specific facet of Davis's political life. Contrary to his reputation as an 'anti'-politician, Davis is clearly portrayed in Cooper's writing as a dedicated and ambitious office seeker, and also a man keenly aware of the political needs of others. Considering the extreme wartime pressures the new nation was placed under, Cooper finds little contradiction in Davis's seeming transformation from an ardent States Rights supporter in the antebellum period to a strong nationalist upon assumption of the Confederate presidency. He correctly notes that nearly all of Davis's controversial proposals were ultimately supported by the Confederate legislature. Davis almost always got what he wanted.

As much as Davis is criticized in the literature for his policy of employing a broad forward frontier defense, as opposed to a concentration of forces at key points, Cooper maintains that Davis's strategy, flawed as it was in pure military terms, was required by the political realities of the time. Where the president failed most egregiously as commander-in-chief was in his command relationships. He neglected to exert his ultimate authority where needed and did not intervene decisively enough in command disputes. Obviously, the role of commander-in-chief has a political side and a military side. In giving Davis generally high marks for the former and a decidedly mixed grade for the latter, I think Cooper makes a pretty persuasive case overall. In his final chapter, the author marks Davis's participation in the 1886 commemoration of the soldier monument in Montgomery (a "second inaugural", to use Cooper's term) as a watershed moment in the rise of the "Lost Cause" interpretation of the war.

As a persuasively argued and focused primer, Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era will appeal to a range of readers. New students interested in learning about Davis's presidency and his connection to the important political issues of the day will find Cooper's essay compilation a useful introduction. Likewise, more experienced readers will gain a valuable refresher course from an authoritative source.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Shea update

William Shea has confirmed that his next book, Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign, will be released next fall by UNC Press. The publisher's presentation of his Pea Ridge study (co-authored with Earl Hess) was near perfection. Hopefully, Prairie Grove will get the same treatment.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Booknotes - "The Fate of Texas"

The Fate of Texas: The Civil War and the Lone Star State (Univ. of Arkansas Press, 2008) is a new essay collection, edited by Charles Grear. The book is notable for an excellent matching of subject to author expertise. As examples, we have Richard Lowe reprising his study of Texas soldier families (readers of his Walker's Division study will recognize the work), Richard McCaslin discusses The Great Hanging at Gainesville (I highly recommend his earlier book Tainted Breeze), and Walter Kamphoefer also looks into German Texans. Other articles cover the role of Texas in Confederate grand strategy, the volunteers's motivations for fighting, the wartime lives of Texas women, and several chapters examine the legacy of defeat among the veterans and civilian population of the state.