Monday, August 31, 2009

Booknotes IV (August '09)

New additions:

1. The Charleston & Hamburg: A South Carolina Railroad & an American Legacy by Thomas Fetters (The History Press, 2008).

Railroad history enthusiasts will like this one, a complete history of the C&H Railroad. Like all books from this publisher, illustrations abound, but abundant maps (not always a THP staple) also distinguish the volume. A twenty page chapter specifically covers the Civil War years.

2. General John S. Marmaduke and the Battle of Ashley's Mill by George A. Brown (Author, 1991).

This is one of the weirdest books I've encountered (on a whim, I picked it up on eBay). The author researched and compiled the volume while serving a jail sentence on a divorce proceeding. It is a collection of newspaper clippings, journal articles, and some original writing by the author dealing with Gen. Marmaduke, the Battle of Ashley's Mill, and a history of the area.

3. Like a Meteor Burning Brightly: The Short but Controversial Life of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren by Eric J. Wittenberg (Edinborough Press, 2009).

The foolishness of its conception seems to be the only thing not controversial about Dahlgren's famous raid ending in his death and the discovery on his person of documents of propaganda gold for the Confederates. Of course, that event was not his entire life, and we'll see what Eric has to say about it all.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Perello: "THE QUEST FOR ANNIHILATION: The Role & Mechanics of Battle in the American Civil War"

[The Quest for Annihilation: The Role & Mechanics of Battle in the American Civil War by Christopher Perello (Strategy & Tactics Press, 2009). Hardcover, photos, 220 maps, diagrams, tables, OBs, source notes, index. 320 pages. ISBN:978-0-9823343-0-0 $35 ]

Theories abound in books and articles seeking to explain the reason(s) behind the failure of Civil War armies to achieve decisive tactical victory. Taking this prior literature into account, the arguments presented in Christopher Perello's The Quest for Annihilation are pretty standard fare. What sets it apart from earlier works is the depth of its tactical and operational vignettes. These are chapter length examinations of a variety of significant topics relevant to the book's subtitle, The Role & Mechanics of Battle in the American Civil War.

The case study format of the chapters works well, immersing the reader in a detailed example of the theme at hand. As an added bonus for the more widely read student, these studies within a study are often drawn from the more underappreciated campaigns and battles. The first such chapter, dealing with how the armies fought on the battlefield, takes the Battle of Pea Ridge as its laboratory. The Seven Days provides a very well chosen context for Perello's discussion of operational planning, and how it often miscarried on the Civil War stage due to incompetent or inadequate staff work (in this case Lee's). Following that is an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the organization, equipment, and tactical use of artillery on the battlefield (of Murfreesboro), the emphasis being on the long arm's ability to be locally decisive while at the same time remaining, at best, a support arm. One of the book's best chapters examines the elements of Civil War siege warfare, using the 1863 Port Hudson Campaign as the backdrop. The (often failed) offensive strategies employed to overcome earthwork defenses and obstructions are well presented. The internal and external constraints imposed on active campaigning are outlined using the Fall 1863 campaign in central Virginia (Bristoe Station and Mine Run) as a model for discussion. Another chapter looks at the Atlanta Campaign and the expanding role of earthworks in slowing the operational offensive. The cavalry chapter takes the 1864 Tennessee Campaign and views the mounted arm's offensive role in it from both sides, with particular attention paid to the Union cavalry's attack on the Confederate left at Nashville, and the conduct of the subsequent pursuit. Finally, the book's Appomattox Campaign chapter reveals the elements of a skillfully coordinated operational pursuit and capture of an enemy army.

Readers familiar with Strategy & Tactics magazine will recognize a similar style and presentation with Perello's study, namely straightforward, unadorned text and abundant sidebars, cartography, and illustrations. In fact, with its excess of 220 maps and 100 charts, tables, and diagrams, this book must set some kind of record for a non-atlas military study. The maps span all categories of scale (tactical, operational, and strategic) and, overall, given their necessarily small size are quite good in their depiction of terrain and troop positions and movements.

Where the book falters is in its documentation. Neither the text nor the data tables and illustrations are directly sourced. There is no bibliography, but a source essay, divided by chapter, is included at the end of the book. However, the material discussed there is very general in nature. The significant space devoted in the essay to cinematic examples of the events described in the text might have been better spent listing the best sources available from the literature.

The Quest for Annihilation is the first volume published by Strategy & Tactics Press and is a worthwhile addition to the libraries of both new Civil War students and old hands. While many readers will find the thrust of much of book's content familiar, its lavish visuals, in-depth presentation, and emphasis on lesser known campaigns and engagements gives it a fresh appeal nonetheless. Recommended.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


[Lincoln's Political Generals by David Work (University of Illinois Press, 2009). Cloth, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 234/287. ISBN:978-0-252-03445-9 $34.95]

While the reputations of the volunteer political generals appointed to high command by Abraham Lincoln continue to suffer in the popular literature, recent scholars have placed less emphasis on the high profile military failures of these men and more on the consideration of their contributions in the spheres of civil administration and politics. Thomas Goss1 and now David Work in his new book Lincoln's Political Generals reject the traditional military-centric interpretation, arguing instead that a host of factors (military and non-military) need to be applied to any proper assessment of those in command. Both Goss and Work believe the president's pragmatic strategy of appointing politicians to posts of the highest military responsibility was an overall success.

One of the difficulties in examining the relative merits of the policy is in defining exactly what made an officer a political general. Another is determining the scope of the inquiry -- does one do an in-depth study of a small number of generals or a necessarily more cursory glance through a larger sample. In both cases, selection bias is a significant concern. Goss's 2003 study involved a small number of generals (six), while Lincoln's Political Generals looks at sixteen general officers2. Whereas Goss took great care in categorizing his generals, Work applies no strict parameters to his own selection criteria, but he does come up with a well balanced regional, political, and ethnic representation. Also, while Goss's study examined at length the dual (professional-amateur) military tradition in America, Work avoids repeating this developed theme and instead expands upon several other important points pertaining to the military and non-military roles of politicians in uniform.

While one might quibble with some of his battle and campaign details and interpretations, Work's narrative supports several insightful observations. The author's mostly judicious summaries of each general's military career clearly demonstrate that political generals appointed to substantial independent commands (e.g. Fremont, Banks3, Butler, and Sigel) almost always failed. Only two generals, Blair and Logan, were successful corps commanders, and only Logan really showed any potential for army command. On the other hand, significant battlefield success could be had when political generals were placed in subordinate positions. Also, Work found low initial rank a good predictor for future military success among the politician soldiers. Gradual increases in command responsibility tended to nurture the command abilities of professional and amateur alike. Good examples of this fruitful progression can be found with Logan, Blair, and Wadsworth, but, overall, the evidence is quite strong that political generals were best limited to brigade and division level postings.

Political generals could contribute, and even excel, in areas of civil administration (e.g. Butler in New Orleans). They could also promote and/or shape the political policies of the president (e.g. Butler again, Dix, and Schenck), undertaking critical tasks in the areas of emancipation policy, draft enforcement, and wartime reconstruction. Even so, by their independent actions, these officers could be political hindrances, too. While one finds much evidence that political generals performed their best service to the Union cause in administrating military districts and departments (as opposed to direct combat roles), given their mixed record overall, it would be difficult to sustain a general argument that politicians were better than professional military officers in these roles.

Command harmony could also be problematic. The placement of West Point trained officers under politician generals in the hopes of steering the latter in the right direction had its share of spectacular failures4. Most of these relationships failed due to opposing egos, personalities, and prejudices, and no satisfactory solution to this problem was ever developed.

Work also writes of the role of political generals in accelerating the enrollment and use of black troops. In forcing Lincoln to respond to radical measures before he was ready, the direction of government policy was often shaped by these generals. As politicians, they were also expected to periodically return to their districts and stump for the war and for the election of administration-friendly representatives. Interestingly, Work concludes that, while some indirect effect on constituent voters was possible, there is little concrete evidence that these generals were able to effect political conversion to any significant degree (the exception being the transformation of the Egypt region of southern Illinois from solid Democrat to slightly Republican).

All of this brings us back to how one goes about determining whether the experiment in political generals was a "success". No great calculus has been developed, and it remains unclear whether the consequences of the military failures (often great) of those placed too high in seniority were really outweighed by perceived gains in administrative capacity or a host of other intangibles. Nevertheless, the debate over the presence of politician generals in the Union army's high command will go on, and David Work has provided readers with an ably argued and thoughtful discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the practice. Lincoln's Political Generals is the best work on the subject to date, and is recommended reading for all Civil War students.

1 - The War Within the Union High Command: Politics and Generalship During the Civil War (Univ. Press of Kansas, 2003).
2 - Nathaniel Banks, Benjamin Butler, John A. Dix, Daniel Sickles, James Wadsworth, Stephen Hurlbut, John Logan, John McClernand, Robert Schenck, Frank Blair Jr., James Denver, John C. Fremont, Carl Shurz, Franz Sigel, Thomas Meagher, and James Shields.
3. Some of the military assessments rendered in the text (e.g. Banks in particular) are a bit dated, embodying the harshly negative traditional interpretations gleaned from standard works, with opinions unleavened by the findings of more recent revisionist studies of excellent quality.
4 - Respected professionals William F. Smith and Quincy Gillmore were placed under Butler prior to the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, and William Franklin and A.J. Smith under Banks for the Red River undertaking. In both cases, command coordination was abysmal, leading to campaign failures of great consequence to the Union war effort.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bonds: "WAR LIKE THE THUNDERBOLT: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta"

[War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta by Russell S. Bonds (Westholme Publishing, 2009). Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 426/544. ISBN:9781594161001 $29.95]

Students of the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, while treated to an excellent campaign overview in Albert Castel's classic Decision in the West (Univ. Press of Kansas, 1992), reserve the right to be continually dismayed at the absence of full length battle histories of any of the campaign's great clashes of arms. Thus, any word of a new Atlanta book from a respectable publisher is bound to arouse the slumbering hopes of the faithful. Given this intense interest in a neglected campaign, it might be useful to begin a review of Russell Bonds's War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta by informing readers what the book is and what it isn't, so it can be evaluated in the context of the author's intent rather than what readers may wish it to be. While chapters summarizing Peachtree Creek, Bald Hill/Battle of Atlanta, Ezra Church, Utoy Creek, and Jonesboro(ugh) are present, along with descriptions of numerous other skirmishes and cavalry raids, these are not what one might consider traditional accounts replete with minute tactical detail and analysis. What readers do get is an expansive overview examination of the great events that occurred during and surrounding the battles, bombardment, and burning of Atlanta, all from both military and civilian perspectives. Post war remembrance and recovery is discussed, as well.

From a military standpoint, no new interpretations or revelations will greet the well read student, but Bonds's writing in War Like the Thunderbolt exhibits the same masterful stylistic command of historical narrative present in the author's first book, Stealing the General. The experiences of private soldiers add much personal flavor to Bonds's accounts of the fighting, but he centers much of his battle descriptions on the generals involved, their personalities and their military faults and strengths. In fact, much of the book's first half seems organized around linked biographical sketches.

Blending civilian and military perspectives, Bonds handles the artillery bombardment and later burning of Atlanta evenhandedly and well. He deftly summarizes and assesses the conclusions of historians about the extent of the damage, who was to blame, and General Sherman's direct and indirect role in it. Issuing no orders to destroy private businesses and residences, the commanding general nevertheless did little if anything to stop it in practice, commenting to more than one observer that the city was destined to burn and he could do nothing to change it. Indeed, self-justifications abound, and Bonds was able to assemble a remarkable number of like-minded responses among the private soldiers. Even when these men knew burning private property was against orders, they would confidently assert that 'Uncle Billy wanted it done'.

The book is well stocked with photographs. The cartography matches the text in terms of level of tactical detail (in this case, brigade and division scale). In them, modern roads underlay the historical action, giving modern readers some perspective of where these battles occurred (important, given the lack of preservation of the battlefields surrounding Atlanta -- an issue discussed by Bonds in an appendix). The addition of more topographical features would have been helpful, visually enhancing the author's colorful descriptions in the text of the wildness and difficulty of the terrain, and at the same time aiding reader comprehension of the reasons behind many of the critical delays and misdirected movements of attacking columns.

The endnotes are thorough and well worth browsing through, as commentary and analysis is scattered about in addition to good suggestions for further reading. Appendices include a division level order of battle and a transcription of an official report to Georgia's Governor Brown assessing in some detail the extent of the destruction to Atlanta [a carefully constructed city map was attached to the original].

Written in an inviting manner, but fully documented and solidly researched, War Like the Thunderbolt will likely appeal to a large range of readers. New or more general interest Civil War readers will undoubtedly get the most out of it, but veterans of the Atlanta Campaign literature should still find themselves challenged in places and the familiar parts worth another going over.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Booknotes III (August '09)

New additions:

1. Punitive War: Confederate Guerrillas and Union Reprisals by Clay Mountcastle (Univ. Press of Kansas, 2009).

A number of prominent Civil War historians of the guerrilla conflict have been high on Mountcastle's dissertation. Now, it's been published by UPK as a part of their excellent Modern War Studies series.

2. Captives in Gray: The Civil War Prisons of the Union by Roger Pickenpaugh (Univ. of Alabama Press, 2009).

I liked Pickenpaugh's earlier book Camp Chase and the Evolution of Union Prison Policy (Alabama, 2007), and now he's expanded his research to the Federal POW system in toto.

3. The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta by Marc Wortman (PublicAffairs, 2009).

The retail version of Russell Bonds's War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta (the review will appear on or near the Sept. 2 release date) arrived in the mail the same day as this one. I've read the ARC of Bonds in its entirety but have yet to make anything of Bonfire.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sutherland: "A SAVAGE CONFLICT: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War"

[ A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War by Daniel E. Sutherland (University of North Carolina Press, 2009). Hardcover, 3 maps, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:295/451. ISBN:9780807832776 $35]

Over the past few decades, our understanding of Civil War irregular warfare has been greatly enhanced by a number of excellent local and regional studies published in essay and book length format. However, until now, no scholar has attempted a broad scope examination of the subject on a national scale. The difficulties are legion. Definitions are murky, and individual motivations numerous as the stars and often confined to local conditions not easily explained or understood. At the time, neither side could agree on the legal state of a range of behaviors, and, consequently, the proper disposition of captured persons variously labeled as, among other terms, recruiting officers, raiders, bushwhackers, partisan rangers, jayhawkers, and guerrillas. At various times, both sides (with misgivings) actively promoted their use while at the same time seeking to deny the enemy the same privilege. One of the best known scholars attempting to make sense of this complex and messy subject is University of Arkansas professor Daniel E. Sutherland. His new book, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War is the first modern study that examines irregular warfare spanning the continent, and how it shaped the character and conduct of the Civil War, the unintended consequences of which hastened Confederate defeat.

Sutherland has long maintained that the guerrilla conflict was far from an irritant sideshow to the clashes of the great armies. It was the war experienced by the vast majority of the southern population. A Savage Conflict effectively supports this observation, one that seems to be gaining steam with every publishing season. Utilizing material gleaned from over 600 manuscript collections, as well as legions of published primary accounts and other books, articles, newspapers, government records, theses, and dissertations [the bibliography alone is a valuable resource], the geographical reach of Sutherland's land and sea narrative stretches from Texas to Florida and from the Gulf coast up to the Great Lakes. Attentive to detail, the work presented is remarkably comprehensive. Even the most dedicated students will find numerous starting places for further research.

The one significant point that the author fails to do is explicitly categorize irregular operations, something along the lines of what Robert Mackey attempted in his book The Uncivil War: Irregular Warfare In The Upper South, 1861-1865*. While that author effectively differentiated between "partisans", "guerrillas", and "raiders" (all three discussed within the context of the acceptable military practices of the time), Sutherland seems content to use "guerrilla" as a catch-all term for individuals as far apart in character and operational conduct as J.O. Shelby and John Hunt Morgan on one extreme (raiders), and Champ Ferguson and Tinker Dave Beatty (guerrillas/bushwhackers) on the other. Even so, the gray areas surrounding each type can be significant, and distinctions imperfect.

Throughout his book, Sutherland effectively traces the countryside's inexorable descent into civil chaos, a situation that rapidly accelerated in 1862 with Confederate conscription and the Partisan Ranger Act. The U.S. government deplored the Ranger Act from the beginning as sanctioning unlawful warfare, and even the Confederate government and military was deeply conflicted over its propriety, in terms of its exposure of the civilian population to harm and as a serious siphon on recruiting. As the war dragged on into 1863, the worst fears of both sides began to be realized, as ever expanding regions of the South and Border States were given to robbery, property destruction, murder, and other forms of physical violence. Rangers could simply not be controlled, and, while some bands did operate successfully as a kind of civil defense force, their own actions and the harsh retribution meted out in return often left locals with nowhere to turn for protection. The violence spiraled out of control, effectively disbanding courts and government services and wrecking regional economies. Finding that the Confederate government could not protect them (the first obligation of any government) from the enemy or from the depredations of their own "defenders", increasing numbers of southern civilians came to view Union occupation as the lesser of two evils. Thus, guerrilla warfare ended up seriously eroding public support for the Confederacy, a decisive factor [not the decisive factor, as the author is careful to maintain] in southern defeat.

Sutherland also examines the U.S. government's response to the irregular conflict, noting that the severity of countermeasures often depended upon the attitude of the local commander, as policy direction from above was inconsistent and advice nearly always after-the-fact. Union generals like Robert Milroy in Tennessee and Stephen Burbridge in Kentucky shot and hanged large numbers of suspected guerrillas (with or without trial), while others conducted themselves in a more measured manner. Additionally, a comprehensive study of guerrilla warfare such as this leads one to reject the simplistic, and inaccurate, supposition commonly found in the literature, of a linear progression from conciliatory to hard war U.S. policies. In the Trans-Mississippi and western theater border regions, it is abundantly clear that "hard war" existed from day one.

A Savage Conflict is an original work of weighty import to the ongoing study of the conduct and nature of the American Civil War. Successful on its own merits, it should also lead other scholars to delve into previously untouched (or understudied) local conflicts, as well as critically reexamine the role of guerrilla warfare in hastening the demise of the Confederacy. Highly recommended.

* - The Uncivil War: Irregular Warfare In The Upper South, 1861-1865 (Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 2004).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Other recent CWBA reviews of UNC Press titles:
* In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat
* The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864
* Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign
* Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession
* Trench Warfare under Grant & Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign
* Plain Folk’s Fight: The Civil War & Reconstruction in Piney Woods Georgia
* Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign
* Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"BRILLIANT SUCCESS IN MISSOURI: Sterling Price's Patriot Army and the 1861 Campaign for Lexington"

The Missouri State Guard's September 1861 campaign, orchestrated by General Sterling Price, that culminated in the capture of the brigade sized Union garrison at Lexington has been the subject of several booklets and articles, the best being Michael Gillespie's The Civil War Battle of Lexington Missouri (issued back in the mid-1990s). While a truly full length study is yet to be written, area native Kevin L. Tilly recently self-published another overview treatment titled Brilliant Success in Missouri: Sterling Price's Patriot Army and the 1861 Campaign for Lexington [2008, comb-bound, 80 pages, $28*].

Events immediately before and after the September 12-20 investment and capture of Colonel James Mulligan's fortified camp north of town are discussed, but the heart of the study is a 35-page annotated narrative history of the "siege". Tilly's treatment is similar in detail to Gillespie's, but incorporates more first person accounts (military and civilian) into its narrative. Three maps are present, including the obligatory reproduction of the one from Battles & Leaders, as well as a color photo gallery. The bibliography is made up of published sources. Appendices include a casualty list (partial), orders of battle, and several transcribed historical documents.

Although many readers will likely balk at paying $28 for a spiral bound softcover of any kind, Brilliant Success in Missouri can serve as a reasonable placeholder summary history of the campaign until a book length project is finally published.

* - Ordering info (from Missouri Historical Review, July 2009 Vol. 103, issue no. 4): Kevin Tilly, 1494 South 13 Highway, Lexington, MO 64067.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Civil War California

The Backroads article in the latest issue (Volume XXVI, Issue #1) of Blue & Gray Magazine leads readers through the remnants of Civil War-era Sacramento, and it reminds me indirectly of how little shelf space Civil War California occupies in the literature. Sure, there are some good pieces scattered around, but I am aware of no decent book length study of the Civil War years in CA [Aurora Hunt's now dated The Army of the Pacific covers military operations in a very general manner, and this one, apparently, isn't much good, so if someone knows of any hidden gems I would love to hear about them].

The glittery metal was just a part of California's legacy. Its social and political characters and conflicts were as interesting as any other state, and its military volunteers ranged all over the West ensuring civil order, policing emigrant trails, garrisoning forts, and fighting hostile Indian bands. Given the magnifying glass that's been taken to legions of Civil War subjects of far less significance, a comprehensive look at The Golden State would seem to be in order.

David, put off your writing no longer. Your project awaits.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Thompson (ed.): "NEW MEXICO TERRITORY DURING THE CIVIL WAR: Wallen and Evens Inspection Reports, 1862-1863"

[New Mexico Territory During the Civil War: Wallen and Evans Inspection Reports, 1862-1863 edited by Jerry D. Thompson (University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, NM, 2008). Hardcover, illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. 312 pp. ISBN: 978-0-8263-4479-3 $34.95]

Civil War events in the desert Southwest have been the recipient of a number of excellent military histories from the likes of Don Alberts, Donald Frazier, L. Boyd Finch, John Taylor, Jerry Thompson, and most recently Flint Whitlock and Andrew Masich. However, this fine body of literature is chronologically short-lived, tending to dry up after the conclusion of the Confederacy’s disastrous Henry Hopkins Sibley expedition. It is therefore a welcome boon to Trans-Mississippi theater researchers to find that Mr. Thompson has rescued a number of 1862-1863 territorial post inspection reports from obscurity and published them here for the first time under the title New Mexico Territory During the Civil War: Wallen and Evans Inspection Reports, 1862-1863.

Thompson’s introduction to his edited volume is a lengthy, journal quality essay summarizing the Civil War in New Mexico Territory. It is remarkable for its outlining of the Union army’s continual fears of another Confederate invasion, and for its strongly worded condemnation of Federal Indian policy in the hands of military officers like James H. Carleton and Joseph R. West. Unfortunately, in respect to the latter, repeated attachment of the adjectives “ruthless” and “merciless” to the officers seemed a bit out of place for a scholarly study, especially where lacking context. It’s a minor complaint, though, in an overall impressive body of research and writing. Thompson’s introduction, his brief background summaries of each military post, and his notes all indicate a great degree of original research. The explanatory endnotes run nearly one hundred pages in length and are voluminous expositions of biographical and contextual information. The study’s bibliography is equally impressive, comprising a deep array of primary and secondary sources, the depth and amount of which exceeds that found in most original scholarly studies let alone edited documents.

Both native southerners, Union officers Major Henry Davies Wallen and Captain Andrew Wallace Evans were thought highly enough by their commander to be assigned post inspection duties throughout the Department of New Mexico. Inspector General Wallen toured Forts Garland, Marcy, Union, Craig and Sumner, along with military posts at Mesilla, Franklin, Los Pinos, and Albuquerque. Assistant Inspector General Wallace inspected Franklin as well as Forts McRae, West, and Stanton. Initially ignorant of what their inspection duties entailed, both officers proved to be meticulous in their attention to detail, leaving for posterity a vivid description of frontier service. Wallen and Wallace’s commentary on the health and competence of the officers was blunt, as was their assessment of each post’s state of drill, arms, and overall efficiency. Both inspections included a thorough accounting (both qualitative and quantitative) of quartermaster, medical, and commissary departments. It immediately becomes clear to the reader the difficulties in keeping these frontier posts supplied and in an efficient state of discipline.

Supplementing the transcribed inspection reports are a number of maps, also from the National Archives. These reproduced drawings detail the physical layout of the post and fort buildings, as well as some aspects of their defenses. In addition to photographs of Wallen and Wallace, two original maps are also included, one indicating the locations of the various battles fought in New Mexico and the other each point along the inspection tour conducted by each officer.

New Mexico Territory during the Civil War provides a treasure trove of data pertaining to the supply and operation of frontier military posts in the southwest. Jerry Thompson has contributed to the Civil War literature a book that will appeal to a range of interested readers, from the avocational enthusiast to the professional historian. The transcribed reports, along with Thompson’s scholarly notes and attached background text, should serve as an invaluable reference work for future researchers of the Civil and Indian Wars of the Trans-Mississippi West. In addition, anthropological and archaeological specialists are presented with very useful data pertaining to the physical structures and material culture of the inhabitants of each post. Highly recommended.

[review originally appeared in On Point magazine]

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Booknotes II (August '09)

Acquisitions or review copies received:

1. Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History by Richard D. Sears (Univ. Press of Kentucky, 2002).
This book is a compilation of primary source documents tracing Camp Nelson's evolution from military base to refugee camp.

2. Pillars of Power: Steps Toward Secession by Jim Lair (Tate Publishing, 2009).
Covering the events of 1861, this is the first of a four volume series tracing the history of the Civil War in Arkansas from a "Confederate point of view". The first 100 pages is a fairly horrific slog through competing viewpoints on the legality and prudence of secession on a national scale. It improves somewhat when it finally gets to discussing the perspectives of Arkansas's unionists and secessionists.

3. The Boys of Adams' Battery G: The Civil War Through the Eyes of a Union Light Artillery Unit by Robert Grandchamp (McFarland, 2009).
At least in terms of the primary source-heavy research effort, my first impression of Grandchamp's history of Company G 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery is a positive one.

Monday, August 10, 2009

"FORT WOOL: Star-Spangled Banner Rising"

Work commenced on Fort (or Castle) Calhoun in 1818. Situated on a man-made island approximately one mile from the more celebrated Fortress Monroe, the installation guarded the entrance to Hampton Roads from the Jacksonian Era through World War II. In 1862, with southern feelings no longer of concern, its name would be changed to the more politically acceptable Fort Wool. A new volume in The History Press's Landmarks Series, Hampton History Museum curator J. Michael Cobb's Fort Wool: Star-Spangled Banner Rising (2009, softcover, 189 pages, $22.99) is a comprehensive and visually pleasing narrative history of the stone fortress, from its initial planning to the present day.

Three chapters (numbers seven through nine) in the book are devoted to the Civil War years, with roughly equal attention in the text additionally paid to the antebellum and post war years. Originally planned as a four-tiered facility, by 1860 only two levels had been constructed, and the fort was essentially unarmed. This changed quickly, however, with the coming of Civil War and the erection of Confederate batteries opposite Fort Calhoun at Sewall's Point. In fact, Calhoun's Sawyer rifle [pictured above on the book's cover] was the only Federal gun that had the range to hit the Confederate earthworks. Other Civil War events discussed are the 1862 naval actions at Hampton Roads, and Lincoln's famous personal reconnaissance for suitable landing points for a Union expedition against Norfolk. Renamed Fort Wool by then, the walls of the fortress also served as a prison for U.S. and Confederate civilian and military detainees.

As is typical with History Press publications, Fort Wool is lavishly illustrated with professionally reproduced archival maps, lithographs, and woodcuts, as well as both period and modern photographs. The text is annotated, and a bibliography is included (but no index). This is a fine historical and pictorial overview of Fort Wool's period of active service, and should prove useful to students of several American wars.

Other CWBA Reviews and Notes of other History Press titles:
* No Holier Spot of Ground: Confederate Monuments and Cemeteries of South Carolina
* Louisville and the Civil War: A History & Guide
* Lee in the Lowcountry: Defending Charleston & Savannah 1861-1862
* Andover in the Civil War: The Spirit & Sacrifice of a New England Town
* South Carolina Military Organizations During the War Between the States: Statewide Units, Militia & Reserves
* Elizabeth City, North Carolina and the Civil War: A History of Battle and Occupation

Friday, August 7, 2009

Kirk: "A THOUSAND TEXANS: Men of the 9th Texas Cavalry"

[A Thousand Texans: Men of the 9th Texas Cavalry by Stephen S. Kirk (Two Trails Publishing, 2009). Softcover, notes, detailed combined roster, bibliography, index. 463 pages. ISBN:9781929311521 $23.95*]

A Thousand Texans is the second in Stephen Kirk's series of roster studies of the regiments comprising what would later become known as Ross's brigade of Texas cavalry [click here to read my review of Sul Ross' Sixth Texas Cavalry: Six-Shooters & Bowie Knives (Two Trails, 2008)]. Organized at Camp Reeves (Grayson County) in October 1861, the 9th Texas Cavalry, under its first colonel William B. Sims, was sent directly to the Indian Territory to combat pro-Union Indian forces under Opothleyaholo. The unit next fought at Pea Ridge, Arkansas before being ordered across the Mississippi River. The 9th (brigaded with fellow Texans from the 3rd and 6th regiments) participated in the Corinth Campaign, the Battle of Thompson's Station, the raid on Holly Springs, and in the defense of Vicksburg. After the fall of the Hill City, the Texans remained in Mississippi for a time, but spent 1864 actively campaigning in Georgia and Tennessee. Subsequent to the disastrous defeat at Nashville, the men were attached to Richard Taylor's department, and finally surrendered in May 1865.

A Thousand Texans begins with a very brief (15 pages in length) regimental history sketch. Subsequent chapters are devoted to each company, the format of which includes an introduction, officer list, a deployment summary (written by the mustering officer), and a combined (officer, NCO, enlisted) roster. The company rosters, compiled from CSRs, census & POW records, pension applications, letters, diaries, county histories, cemetery records, and other publications, are extensively detailed. As with the previous volume, these rosters are far more extensive than those typically found in other research tools of this type. The main focus of the book, they are its best and most useful feature. Entries range from a few lines to several pages of information. Kirk's rosters are also different from just about any other one will find, in that, for many individuals, he also includes lengthy excerpts from primary and secondary sources that specifically mention that person. With the completion of the company rosters, the next chapter in the book provides capsule biographies of field and staff officers, and the final one pension records. There's also a good name index.

A Thousand Texans yields a treasure trove of information for researchers, family members, and other genealogy enthusiasts interested in the men of the 9th Texas Cavalry. This is a very beneficial reference book for students of the Lone Star state's contributions to the Confederate mounted forces that operated in the Trans-Mississippi and western theaters.

* Ordering Information - note from the author: "The cost of the book is $23.95, and there is a $4.95 shipping charge. Institutions may order the book by sending or emailing a purchase order to Stephen S.Kirk, 4414 West 111th Terrace, Leawood, Kansas 66211. Others may order by sending a personal check or money order to the same address."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hess: "IN THE TRENCHES AT PETERSBURG: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat"

[ In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat by Earl J. Hess (University of North Carolina Press, 2009). Hardcover, 27 maps, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 306/424. ISBN:9780807832820 $45]

In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat is the third and concluding volume of historian Earl J. Hess's series examining the evolution of field works in the Civil War's eastern theater [links to reviews of Volumes One and Two]. The broadest of the three works in terms of geographic extent and time period spanned, Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War covered battlefield engineering for both sides across the entire eastern theater from 1861-1864. Its release was followed two years later by that of Trench Warfare under Grant & Lee, a similarly structured examination of the Overland Campaign. The present volume takes an in-depth look at the war's final evolution of field fortifications and countermeasures, and explores the central role they played in the various Union offensives (and Confederate countermoves) conducted during the ten month Petersburg Campaign.

The Petersburg Campaign was by far the longest of the war, and historians have found it useful to manage its discussion by breaking it up into a series of numbered offensives. Given that, it should come as no surprise that the number, and what actions should be included within each, remains a controversial subject among experts. Hess settled on nine offensives, his succinct chapter length summaries of which are excellent. The book operates successfully on two levels, as an in-depth study of fieldworks and a comprehensive narrative summary of the campaign.

Any serious examination of field fortifications requires the inclusion of complex drawings and maps. Similar in detail and style to that of the previous two volumes, the extensive cartography in In the Trenches of Petersburg traces the full extent of either side's earthwork defenses, at a general operational scale and at a more detailed tactical level. These networks stretched for miles both above and below the James River. The drawings feature gun emplacements, traverses, ditches, rifle pits, communicating trenches, bombproofs, galleries, mines, countermines, and various obstructions (e.g. mines, slashings, abatis, chaveaux-de-frise). The locations of relevant elements of battlefield topography, such as ravines, streams, roads, and lakes, are also duly noted in the maps. A drawback is the inconsistent inclusion of a distance scale, a hold over from the previous volumes.

Other supplementary material abounds. A large number of period photographs of various works augment the technical text descriptions. A lengthy appendix, replete with maps and photos, goes into even greater detail about key military points (e.g. forts and salients) located along the Richmond to Petersburg lines.

What life was like in the trenches is another major focus of Hess's writing. Spread throughout are subsections dealing with issues of immediate personal importance to the men, such as habitation, sanitation, supply, morale, mental and physical stress, and desertion. Specific aspects of the trench combat experience, like raids, mining operations, picketing, sharpshooting, and bombardment, are discussed.

One of the best features of the series as a whole is Hess's highlighting of the critical roles of talented engineering officers and specialized engineer units. Operating largely under the radar during the first years of the war, the duties performed by individuals like U.S. army officers Nathaniel Michler and Peter Michie, and Martin L. Smith for the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, had a practical impact in the field far out of proportion to rank and credit given.

The scale of Hess's research effort is impressive. Having mined over two hundred manuscript collections located all around the country, he also consulted a vast number of newspapers, books, articles, dissertations, archaeological field reports, maps, and guides.

In the Trenches at Petersburg
is a fitting conclusion to a groundbreaking Civil War trilogy documenting and analyzing the construction and use of field fortifications during the eastern campaigns. These essential reference books are highly recommended additions to the shelves of academic and personal libraries.

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Other recent CWBA reviews of UNC Press titles:
* The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864
* Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign
* Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession
* Trench Warfare under Grant & Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign
* Plain Folk’s Fight: The Civil War & Reconstruction in Piney Woods Georgia
* Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign
* Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864

Monday, August 3, 2009

Booknotes (August '09)

Acquisitions or review copies received:

1. Lincoln's Political Generalsby David Work (Univ. of Illinois Press, 2009).

At least from what's conveyed by the jacket flap text, Work's conclusions appear to be very similar to those formulated by other historians (most recently and most notably by Thomas Goss in his The War Within the Union High Command: Politics and Generalship During the Civil War, a largely persuasive book that, in my opinion, framed and developed the debates well, but argued unevenly when it came to discussing professional vs. amateur military performance).

2. Warships of the Civil War Naviesby Paul H. Silverstone (Naval Institute Press, 1989).

Silverstone is the author of numerous naval reference books, and here he provides a good general reference book for the ships of both navies (including dates, construction specs, armaments, brief comments, photos, etc.). This edition is out-of-print but can still be obtained used at a very reasonable price. More recent editions of his work expand the range of information a bit, with more copious commentary, but are far more expensive [Routledge edition of Civil War Navies, 1855-1883 (2006) and Naval Institute Press's of same (2001)].

3. A History of the 15th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry 1861-1865 by James B. Clary (Broadfoot Publishing, 2009).

The second wave of SC Regimental Roster Series volumes has been released [I wrote a short review of the 14th Regiment study earlier], bringing the published total up to seven. Over the past couple years, I've heard great things about Clary's work on the 15th, so I anticipate a top-level series entry. The mailer that arrived with the book identified the other units currently under production. They are the 2nd, 5th, 8th, 12th, and 20th Infantries and the Stono Scouts. Also, in a bit of good news for Palmetto-philes, Brett mentioned earlier that the publisher is now confident that all 50 planned volumes will be published.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Dollar, Whiteaker, and Dickinson (eds.): "SISTER STATES, ENEMY STATES: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee"

[Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee edited by Kent T. Dollar, Larry H. Whiteaker, and W. Calvin Dickinson (University Press of Kentucky, 2009). Cloth, map, photos, notes, index. 400 pages. ISBN:9780813125411 $40]

Socially and politically, the slave states of Tennessee and Kentucky had much in common during the antebellum period. Additionally, during the Deep South's rush to secession in late 1860, strong unionist majorities held sway in both states. Yet, with the firing on Fort Sumter, their fates diverged. Why Tennessee moved toward secession and Kentucky remained in the federal union is just one of the complexities explored in Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee (co-edited by contributing historians Kent T. Dollar, Larry H. Whiteaker, and W. Calvin Dickinson).

Economics, slavery, familial ties, political traditions, localism, geography and more all played roles in deciding what areas within the two states would vote for secession or decide to remain loyal to the U.S. government. In Part I of Sister States, Enemy States, essays by Gary Mathews and Thomas Mackey discuss the debate within Kentucky and the actions of both sides during the secession crisis, with Mackey joining previous historians in arguing that Kentucky was the "keystone" of the western theater. While this view is accurate on a macro scale, the author seems to too broadly discount the "pariah" treatment at the local setting. The other three chapters address the secession issue regionally, in West and East Tennessee. Derek Frisby's article is especially striking, as his well documented investigation credits the presence of outside agitators for swinging many West Tennessee voters' support toward the Confederacy.

Part II explores guerrilla warfare and the wartime roles of Kentucky blacks (slave and free) and women. To begin, Kenneth Noe examines the motivations of Middle Tennessee soldiers enlisting in the 9th Kentucky (U.S.). With much of the study of Tennessee unionism centered on the eastern section, Noe's work illuminates yet another aspect of Upper South unionism and anti-Confederate feeling. Brian McKnight summarizes his upcoming biography of guerrilla Champ Ferguson (who operated in both states), and Michael Bradley looks at the treatment of civilians in Middle Tennessee, the latter emphasizing oft overlooked provost marshal records. The social and political controversies surrounding the recruitment of black Kentucky soldiers and the privations of their families is discussed in another chapter, while Richard Sears recapitulates the findings of his well received book length study of Camp Nelson. The final essay recounts the large number of arrests of Kentucky women, with the author arguing (controversially, one suspects) that all support for the Confederacy, ranging from passive to active measures, comprised political acts justifying arrest, imprisonment, and/or banishment. The article provides some original insights into the limits of free speech in a border state.

The final section, Part III, begins with two personal stories. The first is a look at how the Christian faith of Alfred T. Fielder informed his outlook and interpretation of the war, and the second a biographical sketch of Col. Sidney Smith Stanton. The three concluding essays deal with Reconstruction. Jonathan Atkins argues persuasively that Andrew Johnson's personal and political shortcomings were significantly responsible for the failures of Tennessee's wartime reconstruction. Next, historian Ben Severance critically examines the 1877 Nashville mayoral election as a window into the bitter conflict between Tennessee radicals and conservatives, while B.F. Cooling completes the volume with an overview of the Reconstruction era in Kentucky.

Eschewing most military subjects by design1, Sister States, Enemy States is nevertheless a large book covering a lot of other important ground. Each chapter is well researched and fully documented. Beyond citation, the notes consistently fulfill an additional role as excellent resources for suggested reading lists. Comprised of a good mix of familiar2 and fresh subjects and analyses penned by specialist scholars well selected for the task, this is an important contribution to the western theater Civil War literature.

1 - For an excellent set of military essays, one cannot do better than The Civil War in Kentucky, edited by Kent Masterson Brown (Savas Publishing Co., 2000).
2 - Several essays are revised and expanded examinations of material gleaned from the author's book length studies of the same subject.

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Other CWBA reviews of UPK titles:
* Kentuckians in Gray: Confederate Generals and Field Officers of the Bluegrass State
* Virginia at War, 1863
* Contested Borderland