Monday, February 2, 2009

Smith: "Frontier Defense in the Civil War: Texas' Rangers and Rebels"

[ Frontier Defense in the Civil War: Texas' Rangers and Rebels by David Paul Smith (Texas A&M University Press, OP-1992, title link is to 1994 pb reprint). Hardcover, photos, 6 maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 189/253 ISBN: 089096484X ]

One quarter of the antebellum U.S. army was stationed in Texas protecting settlers from Indian raids and securing the Mexican border. Thus, when these forces exited the state following secession and the onset of Civil War, Texas had a huge security problem on its hands with most of its organized Confederate forces shunted off to other fronts. Over fifteen years old, David Paul Smith's Frontier Defense in the Civil War remains the best and most comprehensive scholarly study examining the various state and Confederate military and political initiatives that sought to provide an effective defensive umbrella over Texas's frontier settlements. These were objects of frequent raids by hostile Indians (primarily Comanches and Kiowas).

Frontier Defense in the Civil War delves into the thorny issue of which government (state or Confederate) would assume primary responsibility for protecting the Texas border, a natural question in regard to a national boundary. Smith covers this neverending political dispute in depth and well, while also providing readers with detailed unit histories of the organizations sequentially charged with border defense -- beginning with McCulloch's First Regiment Texas Mounted Rifles, and moving on to the Frontier Regiment, Bourland's Border Regiment, and the militia's Frontier Organization. The authorities experimented throughout the war period with various methods for countering Indian raids before finally settling on a combination of regular patrols backed by rapid response militia units. As the war dragged on, the already extended frontier units found themselves saddled with additional duties in the areas of conscription enforcement and in breaking up increasingly large pockets of deserters and other renegade groups.

The book's six maps are rather unremarkable, consisting mainly of large scale depictions of the settled areas of Texas with overlying military district boundaries. While major points of interest were included, many locations mentioned in the text were left out. The appendices consist of additional source notes, some Texas Rangers documents, and a reasonably detailed frontier order of battle for the 1861-1865 period.

Grounded in archival source materials, Smith's research is impressive and original. While the narrative is spare, it never lacks for useful information. Frontier Defense in the Civil War -- still in print in paperback format -- remains a significant and unsurpassed contribution to the literature of the Civil War period in Texas.

Other Civil War Books and Authors Reviews of TAMU Press titles:
* Confederate Struggle For Command: General James Longstreet and the First Corps in the West
* Planting The Union Flag In Texas: The Campaigns of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks in the West
* The Yankee Invasion of Texas
* Blood & Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest

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