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]


  1. Drew,

    That was an excellent critique. I love to see worthwhile texts like this added -- ever so slowly -- to the body of work on the SW. This one sounds worth it for the footnotes alone.


  2. Thanks, David. Another title along similar lines that I picked up most recently was "TEXAS AND NEW MEXICO ON THE EVE OF THE CIVIL WAR: THE MANSFIELD AND JOHNSTON INSPECTIONS, 1859-1861", also edited by Thompson. A nice pair of books.


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