Thursday, April 30, 2009

Krick: "The 14th South Carolina Infantry Regiment, of the Gregg- McGowan Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia"

[The 14th South Carolina Infantry Regiment, of the Gregg- McGowan Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia by Robert K. Krick (Broadfoot Pub. Co., 2009). Cloth, illustrations, roster, bibliography. 311 pages. ISBN: 978-1-56837-408-6 $35]

Robert K. Krick's The 14th South Carolina Infantry Regiment is the first in a hoped for 50 volume regimental roster series1 from Broadfoot. Readers familiar with the H.E. Howard series for Virginia regiments and batteries will recognize the general format presented here for the South Carolina series -- a unit service sketch/history plus full regimental roster.

Like many units raised in the Carolinas and initially assigned to coastal defense2, the 14th South Carolina Infantry was transported to the Virginia theater in response to General McClellan's inexorable advance toward Richmond in June 1862. As part of A.P. Hill's famed Light Division it thereafter fought in all of the Army of Northern Virginia's major battles, from the Seven Days through Sailor's Creek and final surrender at Appomattox.

Krick's unit sketch is only a few dozen pages in length, and is undocumented3. However, it should be mentioned the main thrust of the series is intended to be the rosters. As such, the detailed roster for the 14th regiment comprises the vast bulk of the book's pages and is a complete reproduction of each member's service record, arranged alphabetically. The information from the CSR is also enhanced with information gleaned from other sources. The following is an example of a typical entry:
BAKER, C.C.: Co. A. Enl. Sept 25, 1861 at Lightwood Knot Springs. PVT. Present on all surviving rolls through Feb 28, 1862. d. Nov 7, 1862. Appears on a Registry of Confederate Burial Ground in Cemetery at Winchester, VA in Grave # 933. Death claim filed on Mar 17, 1863 and presented by the soldier's mother, Elizabeth Abigail Baker. CSR4
In an era of declining craftmanship, buyers of Broadfoot titles have always been led to expect the best. This series is no different. The binding, paper, and overall material quality of this book certainly meet the publisher's established high standards.

While those readers desirous of a comprehensive regimental history will need to look elsewhere, when viewed in the context of the series's intent, Krick's study is a very useful reference volume for researchers, genealogists, and historians.

Add'l Comments:
1 - The completion of the full 50 volume run is entirely dependent on the success rate of current sales.
2- The 14th's first losses in killed and wounded were suffered at the January 1, 1862 action at Port Royal Ferry (S.C.).
3 - Brett Schulte at TOCWOC has received all four volumes, and has found the brevity of the unit history and lack of notes in volume one to be the exception rather than the rule. See his review of the particularly impressive sounding Hampton Legion book, as well as his review of the Krick study here.
4 - You can view more samples from the publisher here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Booknotes III (April '09)

Acquisitions or review copies received this month:

1. Bleeding Borders: Race, Gender, and Violence in Pre-Civil War Kansas by Kristen Tegtmeier Oertel (LSU Press, 2009).
The only other recent book I can think of with a similar take on the border conflict is Virgil Dean's essay compilation Kansas Territorial Reader (Kansas State Historical Society, 2005).

2. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War by Warren Ripley (Author, 1984).
The 4th (revised) edition appears to be self published after previous editions from the early 1970s by Litton Educational Publishing and Promontory Press. It's a great all-in-one guide, although most consider the best specialized artillery reference works to be Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, Revised Edition (Univ. of Illinois Press, 2004) and The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast, and Naval Cannon (Museum Restoration Service, 1997).

3. Moore's Historical Guide To The Battle Of Bentonville by Mark A. Moore (Savas Publishing Co., 1997).
A great map study companion to Mark Bradley's Last Stand in the Carolinas.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pinnell, Banasik (ed.): "Serving With Honor: The Diary of Captain Eathan Allen Pinnell of the Eighth Missouri Infantry (Confederate)"

[Serving With Honor: The Diary of Captain Eathan Allen Pinnell of the Eighth Missouri Infantry (Confederate) edited by Michael Banasik (The Camp Pope Bookshop, 1999). Softcover, 7 maps, illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 448 pages. ISBN: 0-9628936-9-2 $19.95]

(This book is Vol. III of Camp Pope's Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River series.)

Serving With Honor
Click image for order info
Eathan Allen Pinnell served in the Missouri State Guard before joining the Confederate Army as captain of Co. D, 8th Missouri Infantry. While his 1862-1865 term of service with the 8th was certainly an active one traversing much of the state of Arkansas, Pinnell experienced significant combat only three times, at Prairie Grove, Pleasant Hill, and Jenkins' Ferry.

Capt. Pinnell's diary is distinctive in several ways. For one, he didn't seem to miss a single day, even if only to record a couple words. He also was meticulous in recording places and distances traveled, marking his work as an important and useful record of the movements of the 8th Missouri. While the Missourian's combat descriptions weren't especially detailed, he did devote much of his diary to military business and critical observations about the conduct of the war. Unlike many other Civil War diarists, he had no aversion to "talking shop". His writing and actions described therein display a singular unconcern with promotion and being popular with the privates. Inferred instead is a devotion to providing for the men of Co. D and readying them for combat.

The value of the diary is significantly enhanced by the work of series editor Michael Banasik. His footnotes cover a broad range of subjects, from biographical sketches and historical background to factual corrections. A few maps (geographical overviews and battle drawings from other sources) accompany the text.

Like all the books in the Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River series, this one is full of extras. The first appendix is an organizational summary and detailed 150 page roster of the 8th Missouri. This is followed by a series of short biographies, a casualty list for Parsons's brigade at Prairie Grove, an OB for Churchill's Corps, and a few other small items. A bibliography and good index complete the volume.

The work of a sharp mind and dutiful diarist, Serving With Honor is an exceptionally rich and informative personal account of the Civil War in Arkansas. With its rare coverage of events in NE Arkansas prior to the Prairie Grove Campaign and 1864 operations in southern Arkansas while the rest of the region focused on the Price Raid, Pinnell's writing bridges gaps in the available literature. Highly recommended.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Williams: "Chicago's Battery Boys: The Chicago Mercantile Battery in the Civil War's Western Theater"

[Chicago's Battery Boys: The Chicago Mercantile Battery in the Civil War's Western Theater by Richard Brady Williams (Savas Beatie, 2008 revised edition). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, appendices, index. Pages main/total: 424/606 ISBN:9781932714388 $22.95]

The Chicago Board of Trade battery may be the more celebrated of the two, but the Mercantile Battery now has a modern unit history of enviable quality and depth -- Richard Brady's Williams's Chicago's Battery Boys. With the hardcover first edition receiving just praise (and presumably favorable sales) after its 2005 release, 2008 saw the publication of the revised paperback edition to be reviewed here.

Entering U.S. service in August 1862, the Chicago Mercantile Battery went on to fight in a number of western and Trans-Mississippi theater campaigns. Their first battle was at Chickasaw Bayou, but Arkansas Post marked their first success. Next came the Vicksburg Campaign, where the May 22nd, 1863 attack on the 2nd Texas Lunette brought some renown to the unit, and to six members of the battery the Medal of Honor. The Mercantile Battery was then transferred to the Department of the Gulf, where it participated in the Rio Grande Expedition, the Texas Overland Expedition, and the 1864 Red River Campaign. It was during the Battle of Mansfield that the battery was overrun, losing all its guns and many of its men. After a quiescent period at Camp Parapet, New Orleans, the unit was finally reorganized as horse artillery, to accompany cavalry raiders in the region until the end of the war.

Williams's unit history is part author narrative, part source compilation (more on the latter below). Appropriately, the Mercantile Battery's most desperate fight (Mansfield, Louisiana) is also the battle treated with the greatest depth. The text is supported by a number of original and archival maps, as well as many photographs [the revised paperback edition has a new photo appendix, containing several dozen CDVs discovered since the original publication]. The research is solid, and the often extensive explanatory notes provide much added value. In addition to the photo gallery, two additional appendices (a Vicksburg walking tour and a battery roster) grace the book's pages.

The author made effective use of many manuscript collections, but the William L. Brown letters (mostly to the soldier's father) were integral to the telling of the Mercantile Battery's story. Williams transcribed these letters in their entirety, arranging them in groups located at the end of chapters. Photographic images of quartermaster Brown's many maps and drawings accompany the letters. These are laden with information useful to researchers and historians.

Chicago's Battery Boys is one of the best artillery unit histories from either side in the modern literature, a significant contribution to our knowledge of the western and Trans-Mississippi campaigns and a fine tribute to the officers and men of the Chicago Mercantile Battery. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Abe Lincoln: Emancipator Vampire Slayer

Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is an unexpected commercial success that's also received some positive review buzz in various magazines (love the cover art). So much so that the author's already signed a book deal to pen Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. While Zombies sought to retain elements of the manners and language from Austen's classic, it's been reported that the Lincoln book will emulate the popular biographical format that sells so many non-fiction books, something similar to Goodwin and McCullough. Who knew all that rail splitting was just to make stakes.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Fox: "Our Honored Dead: Allegheny County, Pennsylvania in the American Civil War"

[Our Honored Dead: Allegheny County, Pennsylvania in the American Civil War by Arthur B. Fox (Mechling Bookbindery, 2008). Hardcover, 27 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 534 pages. ISBN: 0-9793772-1-8 $39.95]

Arthur Fox is probably best known to Civil War readers for his book Pittsburgh during the American Civil War, 1860-1865 (Mechling, 2002), and his latest book is a direct offshoot of his previous work on Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Befitting the contributions of Allegheny County's fighting men, Our Honored Dead is a mighty reference book.

It begins with a 35-page social and economic history of Pittsburgh and its role in the Civil War. What follows is a deeply researched unit guide. Where many reference books begin and end with the three-year volunteer infantry, cavalry, and infantry units, Fox's study focuses equally on the various militia and short-term organizations. In addition to the aforementioned 3-year volunteers and Pennsylvania Reserves, county home guard organizations, three- and nine-month regiments, 100-day regiments, independent companies, and militia regiments (raised in response to the 1863 Confederate invasion) are all covered.

The study roughly follows the format of Dyer's Compendium-type guide, in most cases providing more detail and more extensive service histories. As an example of a typical regimental unit entry, Fox lists the field officers (with promotion and discharge dates, notice of wounds, etc.) for the unit, and also does this for the companies composed of Allegheny County men. An organizational summary and service history follows, as well as company losses. Notice of existing regimental histories are thoughtfully included, as well a short paragraph highlighting other sources of interest. The test is extensively documented.

Our Honored Dead is also heavy on visuals. There are 27 maps (including 3 pullouts), and drawings and photographs are sprinkled throughout the text. My sole complaint is with the photocopy quality of the reproductions (really my only significant problem with the book as a whole). The ten appendices address a wide range of subjects -- a statistical summary; listings of Medal of Honor recipients, black Allegheny County soldiers in the 54th Massachusetts, Union generals associated with Pittsburgh, steamships constructed in the county, and county nuns serving as nurses; an Allegheny Arsenal payroll; a monuments guide; a veteran case study, and a discussion of manuscript repositories. A bibliography and index cap it all off.

Our Honored Dead: Allegheny County, Pennsylvania in the American Civil War is an exhaustively compiled reference guide to the region's fighting men and units. It's a worthy addition to both public and home libraries. Anyone researching Civil War Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania's contribution to the Union war effort will find Fox's work of uncommon utility.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Article: Battle of Fredericktown (Missouri), October 21, 1861

State historical society journals can be invaluable repositories of well researched and documented battle histories that are perhaps too small in scale, duration, or strategic importance to merit a book length study. For students of the Civil War in Missouri and the Confederacy's vast Department No. 2, the Battle of Fredericktown (October 21, 1861) is an interesting early war fight . No good modern articles (as far as I know) or book length studies1 exist, until now. The current volume of the journal Missouri Historical Review2 contains a stellar article by James E. McGhee titled "A Damned Tight Place": General Jeff Thompson Confronts the Federals at Fredericktown, Missouri. McGhee's account of the battle and the maps (two by James Denny) are the best narrative and visual representations of the battle yet published. As an avid compiler of unpublished source materials and the author of many books3 on Missouri's Civil War, McGhee is abundantly qualified to write about this obscure battle and its place in the war. At the western end of Albert Sidney Johnston's much maligned 1861-62 forward defensive line, Thompson's offensive action was designed to threaten Federal communications with St. Louis and relieve the pressure on pro-southern forces in the southwest corner of the state from General Fremont's advancing army of 38,000 men. Thompson experienced some success with the former mission, but his operations did little if anything to hinder the latter.

[Wikipedia summary of the battle]

1. Jerry Ponder's The Civil War Battle of Fredericktown, Missouri (Author, 1996) does not merit serious consideration. Jeff Thompson's published memoir does have some detail on the operation.

2. Full citation for those readers wishing to obtain a copy:
McGhee, James E. ""A Damned Tight Place": General Jeff Thompson Confronts the Federals at Fredericktown, Missouri." Missouri Historical Review 103:3 (April 2009): 148-160.

3. CWBA reviews of McGhee book titles:
* Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865
* Sterling Price's Lieutenants: A Guide to the Officers and Organization of the Missouri State Guard 1861-1865

Thursday, April 16, 2009

North & South Magazine awakens from coma

Today, the editor sent out a reviewer book list mass email claiming that long dormant issue 11:3 is being mailed out tomorrow (4/17). Good news, I suppose, to those that still subscribe.

de la Cova: "Cuban Confederate Colonel: The Life of Ambrosio Jose Gonzales"

[Cuban Confederate Colonel: The Life of Ambrosio Jose Gonzales by Antonio Rafael de la Cova (University of South Carolina Press, 2009 - PB reprint). Softcover, 7 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 396/592. ISBN: 9781570038440 $29.95]

Ambrosio Jose Gonzales (1818-1893) was born into a prominent Cuban family. His earnest efforts to oust Spanish rule over his home country led him to the U.S. and involvement in the controversial filibuster movements that dotted the 1850s. Their failure led to a permanent settlement in South Carolina for the Cuban and marriage into the influential Elliot clan. The Civil War years saw Gonzales rise to departmental Chief of Artillery, with responsibility for the organization and placement of almost 700 guns in the states of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. However, the post war years were characterized by both financial and personal disappointment.

Antonio Rafael de la Cova's Cuban Confederate Colonel is the first full biography of Gonzales. The author was able to uncover a large trove of unpublished source material. The assembled bibliography is impressive, allowing de la Cova to piece together a densely detailed biography, one that devotes just as much attention to events preceding and following the Civil War as it does the Confederate years.

Students of the 1850s filibuster movement will revel in de la Cova's accounts of the Narciso Lopez expeditions to Cuba*. The blow by blow account of the May 1850 attack and defense of Cardenas (where Gonzales was seriously wounded in the leg) is among the book's best stretches of historical narrative.

Gonzales spent most of his Civil War career defending the South Carolina coastline. As Chief of Artillery for the department, his efforts are credited by the author with a major role in blunting numerous U.S. naval and amphibious incursions. De la Cova maintains (unconventionally, I think) that the 'Siege Train' concept for the mobile defense of Charleston was designed by Colonel Gonzales. The author also believes that the Cuban's management of the artillery at the 1864 Battle of Honey Hill was a key factor in the Confederate defensive victory. Although much of it is background material, the Honey Hill chapter is quite extensive, making the book a useful resource for that particular battle.

However, not all of his military peers were enamored with the often difficult Colonel Gonzales, whose near constant angling for promotion to general officer rank wore on his superiors's patience (especially President Davis, whom Gonzales unwisely, but rather inadvertently, offended early in the war). The Cuban also feuded with the department's district commanders (most prominently Roswell Ripley), and frequently violated chain of command protocols.

De la Cova's exhaustive biography is a sympathetic, yet balanced new look at an almost forgotten Confederate officer. Students of the mid-19th century American filibuster movements and those readers interested in the Civil War defense of Charleston will appreciate the degree of military detail provided. A major focus of the book, the political and social integration of the Cuban Gonzales into southern high society is equally fascinating. Recommended.

* - The book's two appendices are lists of participants in the 1850 (A) and 1851 (B) filibuster expeditions to Cuba. B is a simple list, but A provides more personal information about each member.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Booknotes II (April '09)

Acquisitions or review copies received this month:

1. Lone Star Regiments in Gray by Ralph A. Wooster (Eakin Press, 2002).
Wooster's regimental guide is unusual in that he organizes it by brigade and region served, rather than by the typical regiment and number. There are also brief summaries for each artillery battery.

2. Moss Bluff Rebel: A Texas Pioneer in the Civil War by Philip Caudill (TAMU Press, 2009).
A biographical account, based on the papers of William Berry Duncan, a reluctant Confederate soldier who served in the 11th Texas (Spaight's) Battalion, later the 21st Texas Infantry. Looks like some good insight into the Civil War in the SE Texas/SW Louisiana region.

3. Upcountry South Carolina Goes to War: Letters of the Anderson, Brockman, and Moore Families, 1853-1865 edited by Tom Moore Craig (USC Press, 2009).
This is an edited collection of over a decade of correspondence between neighboring members of three upper class Spartanburg County, SC families. The wartime letters are to and from the eastern theater campaigns and home. The press materials note that the collection contains two very rare slave letters written by body servants at the front.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Underwood: "Waters of Discord: The Union Blockade of Texas During the Civil War"

[Waters of Discord: The Union Blockade of Texas During the Civil War by Rodman L. Underwood (McFarland ph. 800-253-2187, 2008-pb). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 169/207 $35]

Rodman Underwood's Waters of Discord is a sound synthesis of the blockade literature that pays special attention to the ports and coastline of Texas. Recognizing the existence of detailed accounts of several of the major military campaigns in the region [e.g. Galveston, Sabine Pass, Rio Grande Expedition, etc.], the author does not spent an inordinate amount of text covering well trodden ground. Geographical features of Texas relevant to the blockade are well described by Underwood, supplemented by a mixture of original and reproduced maps that aid reader comprehension. While the importance of amphibious invasion to the effectiveness of the blockade is not understated by the author, much of his study's attention is directed toward the blockade's international dimensions and logistical considerations (for both Union enforcement and Confederate evasion).

One of the book's best sections is the discussion of the Texas-Mexican border situation, a constantly shifting political environment that was both a source of frustration for both sides and a vital economic conduit for the Confederacy. Open by treaty, the mouth of the Rio Grande River could not be blockaded, and it became a booming trade highway for the export of southern cotton and importation of needed war materiel.

The various French and Confederate diplomatic overtures are well outlined. The author also delved into a number of interesting historical background vignettes, perhaps the oddest being a pre-Civil War French emissary's proposal of a colonization charter with the government of the Republic of Texas. It would have allowed thousands of French families to settle in Texas, protected by a chain of forts operated by the colonists themselves. Although the bill died in the legislature, it is hard to conceive any Texas lawmaker supporting such a venture, trading short term economic development with the likely potential of a myriad of domestic and international problems.

Sometimes the author's lengthy presentation of background material gets a bit far afield. This can be good or bad, depending on the reader. The general reader will appreciate the broader political, economic, and military contexts, but others might lament the loss of an opportunity to devote more attention to Texas-specific issues not otherwise covered at length in the literature (e.g. the state's fixed coastal defenses and intercoastal trade).

Underwood also summarizes the published views of a number of historians seeking to assess the degree of success enjoyed by the Union blockading squadrons. Predictably, opinions are all over the board, with wide disagreement over which objectives were met and what metrics should be used for their evaluation. Underwood himself argues persuasively that the blockade did indeed largely satisfy the goals set out by President Lincoln and Secretary Welles. More of a synthesis and analysis of the available literature than a work of original research, Waters of Discord is nevertheless a solid military, economic, and political evaluation of the West Gulf blockade's effectiveness.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Another 14th Iowa book

With two new publications by The Press of the Camp Pope Bookshop, the 14th Iowa infantry regiment has been getting its share of attention lately. Last month, I reviewed Soldier Life—Many Must Fall. The new release is Micajah Peyton: The Civil War Years (The Camp Pope Bookshop). Quoting the publisher's most recent (4/5/09) newsletter:
"MICAJAH PEYTON: THE CIVIL WAR YEARS, by Ken Ossian, a history of the 14th Iowa as it might have been experienced by Micajah "Dick" Peyton of Co H. Peyton wrote home often, but all but one of his letters were lost. So Ken Ossian, a Davenport, Iowa, businessman and Civil War collector, utilized the diaries of B. F. Thomas and F. F. Kiner (author of ONE YEAR'S SOLDIERING), plus the OFFICIAL RECORDS and other sources to reconstruct Peyton's Civil War. This is a limited edition, 8 ½ x 11", clothbound book (with dj), of 136 pages, and 72 illustrations and maps..."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Booknotes (April '09)

Acquisitions or review copies received this month:

1. The Seventh Star of the Confederacy: Texas During the Civil War edited by Kenneth W. Howell (University of North Texas Press, 2009).
This is a fully inclusive collection of 17 essays in four parts that retains a military flavor absent from the otherwise fine recent Lone Star compilation The Fate of Texas.

2. Confederate Pathway to the Pacific: Major Sherod Hunter and Arizona Territory, C.S.A by L. Boyd Finch (Arizona Historical Society, 1996).
I reviewed this book back in 2006 [link]. Every Trans-Mississippi library should have a copy.

3. Powder River Odyssey: Nelson Cole's Western Campaign of 1865 the Journals of Lyman G. Bennett and Other Eyewitness Accounts by David E. Wagner (Arthur H. Clark Co., 2009).
This is an interesting book documenting the early period of the U.S. army's often awkward transformation from a Civil War winning force to guardian and spear point of western frontier expansion. Wagner studies the punitive Powder River Expedition directed against the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho bands that were harassing emigrant and commercial trails.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Swan: "Chicago's Irish Legion: The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War"

[Chicago's Irish Legion: The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War by James B. Swan (Southern Illinois University Press, 2009). Cloth, 17 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, roster, appendices, index. Pages main/total:253/319. ISBN: 978-0-8093-2890-1 $32.95]

Formed under the unusual pre-condition that Chicago's Father Denis Dunne would select the field grade officers, the 90th Illinois ("Irish Legion") had to overcome more than a few problems before it took to the field. The summer of 1862's slowed recruiting drives, along with political squabbles over the keeping of Governor Yates's promise to Dunne and a massive desertion problem, ensured a rocky start to the unit's U.S. army service. Fortunately for the men of the 90th, a fine officer, Timothy J. O'Meara, was finally appointed to command the regiment.

The Irishmen saw their first action at Coldwater Station during U.S. Grant's 1862 overland advance through northern Mississippi toward Vicksburg. They spent the early part of 1863 guarding railroads before being ordered to participate in the Vicksburg siege. After assisting in the recapture of Jackson after the Hill City's fall, the regiment remained in the region before marching to the relief of Chattanooga (and later Knoxville). Next for the Legion came the Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea. As part of Hazen's division, The 90th stormed Ft. McAllister, the guardian of Savannah. Its active service concluded with the Carolinas campaign and the Grand Review in Washington. Overall, the unit did more hard marching than bloody fighting during the war, but the regiment did suffer heavy casualties at Chattanooga in 1863 and during the series of defensive battles around Atlanta the following year.

In several instances, James B. Swan's Chicago's Irish Legion: The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War makes significant original contributions to the battle and campaign literature. The author's account of the skirmish at Coldwater Station, Mississippi (a few miles north of Holly Springs, and fought in the wake of General Van Dorn's capture of Grant's supply depot there) is a very detailed rendering of events. The book's painstaking reconstruction of the 90th's participation in the Battle of Chattanooga comprises another terrific tactical vignette of value to readers. Attached to Sherman's command, the regiment's attack on the Confederate right flank cost the unit its highest casualties of the war, and eviscerated its command structure (to include the mortal wounding of Col. O'Meara). A fine recital of the Legion's crossing of the Ogeechee River and assault on Ft. McAllister at the conclusion of Sherman's March to the Sea is also provided.

As revealed by his notes and bibliography, Swan's research appears satisfactory. He uncovered a number of manuscript collections that aided his narrative immeasurably throughout. His appendices include a monthly muster roll (between February 1863 and war's end) and a regimental roster.

What the book's cartography lacks in artistry it more than makes up for in functionality. The lion's share of the 17 maps trace the operational movements of the regiment. Significant towns and terrain features mentioned in the text were diligently placed on the maps and labeled, a useful but all too sadly neglected feature of most unit histories. Here, the task was performed quite well. The material attributes of the study are similarly satisfying. Full cloth binding (fittingly green in this case) is always welcome.

In content and presentation, Swan's Chicago's Irish Legion is a fine regimental history of the 90th Illinois, and a notable contribution to the military and ethnic Civil War literature.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Booknotes - "Fire In The Cane Field: The Federal Invasion of Louisiana and Texas, January 1861-January 1863"

In January of last year, I reported on the plans from State House Press for a four book series (the "Louisiana Quadrille", as they say) by historian Donald S. Frazier detailing the history of the Civil War in the Louisiana region. After a year delay, the first volume is now out, and is titled Fire In The Cane Field: The Federal Invasion of Louisiana and Texas, January 1861 - January 1863 (State House Press, 2009). A review will be up soon.

Volume 2, Thunder Across the Swamp: The Fight for the Lower Mississippi, February - May 1863, is scheduled for 2010. It will include the first scholarly history of the Bayou Teche campaign as well as other operations along the Mississippi's west bank.

Friday, April 3, 2009

"Camp Fires of Georgia's Troops: 1861-1865"

An updated edition of William S. Smedlund's reference book Camp Fires of Georgia's Troops: 1861-1865 (Author, 1995) closely followed the first. The link above and cover art at right are to the revised expanded edition (with a new ISBN: 0964576406) of the 1994 publication by Kennesaw Mountain Press (ISBN: 0963586122). The book basically documents locations, events, and associated units for various Georgia unit camp sites throughout the eastern and western theaters. Archival map reproductions of varying quality augment the text. Early chapters introduce the reader to camp life and how they were typically organized (by type, size, and duration). The bulk of the book is a numbered listing and annotated description of the sites (756 in all). Three indices [of proper names, by unit in chronological order, and by state and county in alphabetical order] enhance the usefulness of the book as a reference guide.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Gordon: "The Last Confederate General: John C. Vaughn and His East Tennessee Cavalry"

[The Last Confederate General: John C. Vaughn and His East Tennessee Cavalry by Charles Larry Gordon (Zenith Press, 2009). Hardcover, 7 maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 202/272. ISBN: 9780760335178 $27]

Modern reappraisals of maligned Civil War figures like Confederate General John Crawford Vaughn often attempt to even the score by either going too far in the other direction or attacking the subject's critics. Fortunately, Charles Larry Gordon's The Last Confederate General: John C. Vaughn and His East Tennessee Cavalry avoids such tactics, and instead attempts a balanced, 'warts and all' portrait of the man.

Largely a military biography, Gordon's book broadly examines the major and minor campaigns Vaughn participated in stretching from Mississippi to Virginia. The general commanded an infantry regiment at First Bull Run and a brigade during the Vicksburg Campaign. Returning to service after the surrender in Mississippi, Vaughn assumed command of a cavalry brigade that engaged in numerous 1863-1864 East Tennessee operations. These ended in the loss of most of the region to Federal control. The brigade was then transferred east across the mountains, meeting disaster at the Battle of Piedmont but performing generally well during Early's subsequent Shenandoah ventures. Later in the year, Vaughn returned to East Tennessee, finding some success in keeping Union forces out of its upper reaches and in rooting out guerrillas. The general ended the war in Georgia, having linked up with President Davis's fleeing government.

Much space is devoted to Vaughn's association with the 1863 Vicksburg Campaign and the 1864 Battle of Piedmont. Unfortunately for the general's reputation, these highly visible fights were the sources of his greatest personal command disasters, although Gordon reasonably maintains that the severe losses suffered at Big Black Bridge and Piedmont were as much the product of poor initial deployment by Vaughn's superiors as any kind of personal mismanagement.

One of the best services modern military biographies and unit histories provide is in detailing smaller battles and campaigns often overlooked by other studies. While Vaughn's sometimes successful 1864-1865 East Tennessee operations are briefly summarized, by not examining these neglected operations in greater detail, the author missed a golden opportunity to significantly enhance the value of his study for scholars and serious avocational students. Gordon also could have used his study to highlight many of the broader problems with the Confederacy's western mounted arm. The wretched discipline of Vaughn's brigade was a command failure endemic to much of the western cavalry. Poor equipment and irregular supply cannot excuse the degree of straggling and marauding. Additionally, one finds no evidence in Gordon's study that Vaughn, like all too many of his peers, made any serious attempt to impose discipline on his men, even in the face of a constant stream of real and implied reprimands from brother officers and superiors. Even the decision to mount the men of Vaughn's command in the first place was controversial, as the department was ill equipped to support yet more cavalry and was in dire need of infantry. These theater-wide leadership, organizational, and logistical failures would indeed make for an interesting study by some enterprising scholar.

Challenged by the lack of a surviving cache of his subject's private papers, Gordon was nevertheless able to draw enough from a variety of other sources to piece together a suitably detailed history of Vaughn's early life and post-war years. The general experienced many of the privations common to Confederates attempting to return to East Tennessee. Financially ruined, his personal reputation was also tarnished by his involvement in a pension fraud scheme.

The Last Confederate General is a largely sympathetic, yet even handed, appraisal of the checkered military career of John C. Vaughn. In addition to the narrative account of the general's military service, the lengthy biographical sketch is useful, both as a portrait of a neglected Civil War figure and a personalized example of the deep divisions within East Tennessee politics and society.