Saturday, November 28, 2009

Booknotes IV (November '09)

New additions this month:

1. Engineering Security: The Corps of Engineers and Third System Defense Policy, 1815-1861 by Mark A. Smith (Univ. of Alabama Press, 2009).

I think anyone interested in the philosophy and implementation of the Third System will want to read this one. A drawback that is immediately apparent is the inclusion of only a handful of illustrations. Those expecting detailed maps and schematics (similar to the one on the cover) will be disappointed.

2. Indiana's War: The Civil War in Documents edited by Richard F. Nation and Stephen E. Towne (Ohio Univ. Press, 2009).

3. The Maps of Chickamauga: An Atlas of the Chickamauga Campaign, Including the Tullahoma Operations, June 22 - September 23, 1863 by David A. Powell and David A. Friedrichs (Savas Beatie, 2009).

Friday, November 27, 2009

"THE BATTLE OF FRANKLIN: When the Devil had Full Possession of the Earth"

The History Press's Civil War Sesquicentennial Series has published a number of battle overviews over the past year or so. Along with Cedar Creek, Chancellorsville, and Perryville titles is James R. Knight's The Battle of Franklin: When the Devil had Full Possession of the Earth (2009. Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, appendix, notes. 160 pages. $19.99). In it, the author recounts the missed Confederate opportunity at Spring Hill, Tennessee (November 29, 1864) and the horrific battle that followed late the next day at Franklin, weaving into it the human interest story of the Fountain Branch Carter family.

The main body of the narrative covers 110 heavily illustrated pages, which obviously precludes a detailed tactical history, but Knight writes very well and, working within the framework given, does a fine job of paring events down to their essentials while at the time time maintaining a lively narrative. His study is synthetic in nature, the notes indicating a reliance on the established book length works on the campaign from McDonough, Connelly, Sword, and particularly the newest study by Eric Jacobson*, with his own opinions offered. Knight's tone is dispassionate, and his coverage evenhanded. He does not dwell on the major controversies of the campaign, simply expressing his agreement with the lack of evidence for prior assertions that John Bell Hood was under the influence of heavy medication or was seeking to punish his army (especially Cheatham's Corps) at Franklin for the earlier failure at Spring Hill.

As stated above, the volume is well stocked with maps, drawings, and photographs (period and modern). The cartography is reproduced from other sources, the best of which were taken from a large, very detailed Battle of Franklin map (attributed to the Carter House Archives) that I haven't seen before. The appendix is a good regiment and battery-scale order of battle that provides additional information on numbers, leader casualties, and flag captures.

Knight's book is an excellent option for introducing new readers to the subject, and also will serve well those general Civil War enthusiasts looking for a quick, objective, and up to date survey of military events surrounding Spring Hill and Franklin.

* - CWBA review and interview with Jacobson.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Author Q & A: Daniel E. Sutherland

Dr. Daniel E. Sutherland is currently a professor in the history department of the University of Arkansas. He has written or edited twelve Civil War-related books*, and has graciously agreed to discuss with me his latest work, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (UNC Press, 2009).

DW: Prof. Sutherland, you have published widely on various aspects of the guerrilla conflict, what got you interested in the subject?

DES: Pure chance. Around 1992, the editor of the Arkansas Historical Quarterly asked me to write an article about guerrillas in Arkansas for a special Civil War issue of the journal. At the time, I had published an edited edition of the reminiscences of a Confederate soldier from Arkansas [ed. note: Reminiscences of a Private: William E. Bevins of the First Arkansas Infantry (University of Arkansas Press, 1992)] , but, having just moved to the state a couple of years earlier, I still knew little about the war in Arkansas, and virtually nothing about the guerrilla war. But the editor cajoled me, I complied, and the seed was sown. I then began to take notice of the guerrilla war in other parts of the Confederacy and to compare what had happened in those places to what had happened in Arkansas. I discovered enormous gaps in our historical knowledge of the guerrilla war, and soon realized that it had been treated, as Bruce Catton once wrote, as a mere “side show.” That was when I decided to take a crack at telling the whole story.

DW: I gather that you’ve been at the University of Arkansas for some time now. Have you noticed any trends – good or bad – in student interest in the study of the Civil War (in Arkansas or as a whole)?

DES: I have been at the U. of A. since 1989, but I cannot say that I have seen any shift in student interest in the war. Interest has remained consistently high, and I certainly have never had a problem filling my course on the war, which I teach every fall term. I think that may be due to my efforts to include all dimensions of the war. I devote about half the course to military history, but also address important political, diplomatic, economic, and social issues. Nor do I play favorites by presenting either a “northern” or “southern” view of the war. I think that is not always the case in college courses, and I know there is a trend in some places to slight the military side altogether.

DW: The best work on the guerrilla war remains the many local and regional studies published over the past few decades, covering nearly all the border and Confederate states. Do you view your own work in “A Savage Conflict” as a signal of sorts that we can now begin to synthesize all of this great foundational work?

DES: My intention was to write as much of a synthesis as possible, as well as to place the guerrilla war in the context of the broader conflict. Indeed, I wrote the book as a narrative of the Civil War, though told from the perspective of the guerrilla war. In order to do that, I relied heavily on existing local and regional studies, but I also filled in significant gaps with my own original research. Altogether, it took me about fifteen years to research and write the book. I think, though, that before the next synthesis of the guerrilla war is written, even more work should be done at the local and regional level. As I said, I tried to fill some of the gaps, but that is not to say much more might yet be done. I must say, too, that I am struck by the startling implications of this question: Who, fifteen years or twenty ago, would have suggested the need for a synthesis of the guerrilla war?! That old “side show” has finally been recognized for the important subject it is, and one worthy of continuing investigation. Bruce Catton would be pleased.

DW: Would you briefly outline for the readers what you feel to be the main point(s) you wished to get across to readers of “A Savage Conflict”?

DES: I tried to summarize those main points in a recent article for North & South magazine (the June issue). I listed ten issues in the article, but I suppose that number could be boiled down to four main points. First, I would stress the enormous geographical scope of the guerrilla war, which has been sorely underestimated. Most students of the war are aware of important pockets of guerrilla activity, such as Missouri and Virginia, but the fact is that fierce guerrilla conflicts could be found in every southern state plus Kansas and parts of the lower Midwest, from Iowa to Ohio. Second, it must be remembered that the guerrilla war was not a one-sided affair, waged only by the Confederates. Plenty of southern unionists also organized guerrilla bands to wage war against rebel neighbors. Third, and leading from this second point, the guerrilla war was not an entirely military affair, in the sense of Confederate guerrillas doing battle with the Union army. The majority of guerrilla violence came from conflicts between neighboring bands of rebel and unionists guerrillas, which struggled to protect their families and maintain control of their communities. Fourth, the response of the Union army to rebel guerrillas and to the civilian populations that supported them changed the entire nature of the war. This is where the war became a savage conflict. The Union army retaliated against everyone associated with rebel guerrilla resistance, thus spreading the violence of the war to parts of the South that never witnessed a conventional battle or dealt with an army of occupation. Add to this the bitter neighborhood wars between rival guerrilla bands and the tendency of the guerrilla war to dissolve into mere brigandage, and much of the South had fallen into utter chaos by the spring of 1865. These circumstances demoralized Confederate civilians, made them think their government could no longer protect them, and, if not turning them actively against the war, led them at least to prefer peace. So, far from being a “side show,” the guerrilla war was a decisive element in Confederate defeat.

DW: At this point, what direction would you like to see the study of Civil War guerrilla warfare take?

DES: As I said, we can never have too many studies of local and regional conditions. That is the best way to check and possibly correct the generalizations made in work like my own. Such micro-studies might examine the composition of guerrilla bands, to see exactly who became a guerrilla and why people preferred to fight the war in that way. They might also examine the reasons for those local wars, between rebel and unionist guerrillas. Were they caused by disagreements over political issues, or were economic concerns of great import? Perhaps they were purely personal affairs, family feuds if you will. I know all three of these things to have been important in some places. Personally, I would also like to know more about Union counter-guerrilla operations and the impact of the guerrilla war on the northern public’s perception of the war. I spend some time in my book discussing the response to immediate threats by rebel guerrillas to the security of the lower Midwest, but I think there is much more to learn about the situation north of the Ohio River. Speaking of rivers, I believe more could be done to understand the war between the Union navy and rebel guerrillas. Attacks on Union shipping on the western rivers, especially, was a major headache for the Federals, and retaliation by the Union navy was as fierce as that by the Union army.

DW: There does need to be more work published about the navy's role. In Punitive War, Clay Mountcastle did a good job of summarizing the extent and severity of the Brown Water Navy's retaliatory operations, but, like you say, there is more to be done. What do you think of Mountcastle’s thesis, put forth in Punitive War, that the southern resort to guerrilla warfare was the primary driving force behind the application of hard war/punitive (whatever one wishes to call it) war?

DES: Clay is exactly right, and, as suggested above, that is an important theme in my own book. The difference in our books is that Clay uses selected instances to make his case, whereas Union retaliation is a consistent sub-theme in my work. I would be careful, though, about suggesting that the Confederates “resorted” to guerrilla warfare. Rebel guerrilla bands were organized and engaged in action before any Confederate armies could be mustered, organized, equipped, and trained. Likewise, rebel guerrillas were the last of the Confederates to give up the war. The grand Confederate hope was to integrate the conventional and unconventional wars in a united strategy, but, for a variety of reasons that I discuss in the book, this proved impossible.

DW: Yes, "resorted" was simply sloppy wording on my part! I certainly agree that the irregular and regular 'wars' operated in parallel (with some cross-over) rather than from some sort of progression. In your opinion, what remains the most significant misconception among Civil War historians about the impact and significance of the guerrilla war?

DES: To return once more to my list of ten, I suppose I would say the extent of its impact. Everyone knows that the guerrilla war was a brutal business, but it has been hard to shake that “side show” image. Yet, given the scope of the guerrilla war and significance of its direct and indirect impact on soldiers and civilians alike, I do not see how it can be judged as anything less than a decisive factor in determining the outcome of the war.

DW: Do you agree that much of the scholarly literature continues to understate the scale of physical destruction wrought by the armies on the civilian population, and, if so, what do you attribute it to?

DES: Very much understates it, and I can only attribute this tendency to a lack of balance and historical context. Every historian who has taken this position has viewed the war from a largely northern perspective, usually in an effort to explain (and sometimes to justify) Union military policy. That is all well and good as far as it goes, but when policy is viewed from only one perspective, the practical consequences of its implementation can too easily be underestimated. In trying to understand the Union perspective, too many scholars also accept the justification for Union actions without looking closely enough at the consequences. A Union raiding party that destroyed only the out buildings, crops, and tools on a rebel farm, while leaving the house untouched, might have thought it was showing leniency and practicing conciliation, but the now destitute rebel family, with nothing left to eat and no means of sustaining itself, likely took a very different view. I think it behooves scholars to look beyond the official documents and policy justifications of one side, be it Union or Confederate, to read a few letters and diaries written by the people who become the targets of that policy. I like to think that I have avoided this trap in my book by offering a balanced assessment of both sides.

DW: It is still very common for Civil War authors (scholars and amateurs alike) to divide the war into "conciliatory" and "hard war" periods. Do you find this to be a useful distinction in your own work?

DES: It is useful only to a point, and not nearly as neat and orderly a division as some scholars have suggested. Abraham Lincoln hoped, without question, that a conciliatory approach to the South would pay political dividends early in the war, but it is unwise to think that all commanders in the field, let alone men in the ranks, shared the president’s generous spirit. Instances of “hard war” (little more than a northern euphemism for “total war”) abounded (and on both sides) from the earliest days of the war, the supposed “conciliatory” period. Going beyond my response to the previous question, I would agree that historians who write about the restraint of Union policy are right in identifying the preferred treatment of rebel property and citizens, but the real world of military campaigns and the reaction of soldiers in the field to the perils around them quickly made nonsense of the ideal. For example, some scholars offer the Lieber Code as proof that the Union army waged a restrained and morally justifiable war against rebel citizens. Well, it is nothing of the kind. The code shows only the intentions and hopes of a few men in the Union high command, and even Professor Lieber doubted the practical value of his work in controlling the behavior of soldiers in the field. I have also been struck by how very rarely the code is mentioned in the letters, dairies, and reports of Union soldiers and officers.

DW: A good part of your work is focused on the Trans-Mississippi. I find it a little dismaying that so many people, even in the face of a constant stream of books and articles, still try to maintain that the western theater is overly neglected. It is still overshadowed by the East, but not terribly so. They could make a better argument for the status of Trans-Mississippi theater scholarship, but, even there, the literature is fairly substantial. Do you think we are yet at the point when we can shed labels like ignored, overlooked, neglected, understudied, etc. when it comes to the T-M?

DES: Do you mean shedding such labels as “side show”?! I fear not. Even the guerrilla war now stands a better chance than the Trans-Mississippi of being taken seriously. The fact is that our national narrative of the Civil War still revolves around the big Eastern campaigns, battles, and personalities, especially for the general or casual student of the war. And, in truth, this is not entirely unreasonable. After all, the focus during the war was also on the East. There stood the two national capitals, at Washington and Richmond. The bulk of the population, North and South, resided in the East. Lincoln himself lamented this perception of the East as the place where the war would be won or lost, and, in point of fact, a growing number of scholars now understand that Union victory in the Western Theater, if not the Trans-Mississippi, ultimately decided the contest. But I fear the Trans-Mississippi will never receive as much attention as it deserves. The most we can hope is that people will eventually appreciate its role in the war, and of that, there are, in fact, encouraging signs.

DW: Well, that will do it. Thank you again for joining me for this author Q&A. Can you tell the readers anything about your next project?

DES: I am taking a break from the Civil War in my current project, which is a biography of American artist James McNeill Whistler. I have never written exclusively about the war, or even of the war years, and I have always wanted to write a biography. I have found a fascinating subject in Whistler, who, in his own way, might be considered a guerrilla in the world of nineteenth-century art.

* - Listing of Prof. Sutherland's Civil War books in reverse chronological order, with links to site reviews:

- A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).
- From Shiloh to Savannah: The Seventh Illinois Infantry in the Civil War, by Daniel Leib Ambrose; editor (Northern Illinois University Press, 2003).
- This Terrible War: The Civil War and Its Aftermath, editor with Michael Fellman and Lesley Jill Gordon (Longman, 2002).
- Civil War Arkansas: Beyond Battles and Leaders, co-editor with Anne J. Bailey (University of Arkansas Press, 2000).
- Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front, editor (University of Arkansas Press, 1999).
- Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville: The Dare Mark Campaign (University of Nebraska Press, 1998).
- A Very Violent Rebel: The Civil War Diary of Ellen Renshaw House. editor (University of Tennesse Press, 1996).
- The Emergence of Total War (Ryan Place, 1996).
- Seasons of War: The Ordeal of a Confederate Community, 1861-1865 (Free Press, 1995).
- Reminiscences of a Private: William E. Bevins of the First Arkansas Infantry. editor (University of Arkansas Press, 1992).
- The Expansion of Everyday Life, 1860-1876 (HarperCollins, 1989).
- The Confederate Carpetbaggers (Louisiana State University Press, 1988).

Friday, November 20, 2009

New "Camp Pope Publishing" website

The new website for Clark Kenyon's revamped and refocused publishing service business entity Camp Pope Publishing is up and running.

The booklist of press titles can be found at this link: The Camp Pope Bookshop.

On a side note: the liquidation sale is still on, having been extended from its previously announced November 15 end. There are still some good titles available.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Booknotes III (November '09)

The flu has laid me low, and now my On The Shelf list is burgeoning. With reading giving me a headache, it's a good thing I always have a ready backlog of posts and reviews for just such an occasion.

New additions this month:

1. Mr. Lincoln's Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington, New Edition by Benjamin Franklin Cooling III and Walton H. Owen II (The Scarecrow Press, 2010).

I first read this book back in the late 1990s and have been wanting a personal copy ever since. Originally published in 1988 by White Mane -- one of their good ones -- (with a subsequent paperback edition), prices for out-of-print copies were steep until the announcement of a new edition by The Scarecrow Press, a Rowman & Littlefield imprint. I was pleased to obtain a copy from them for review, and looking through it reminds me of how much I admired the 1st ed. Along with the descriptive text, it's a map lover's dream that's also packed with great old photographs. I wonder if the visible remains sections were updated ...

2. Orlando M. Poe: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer by Paul Taylor (Kent State Univ. Press, 2009).

One of the great engineering officers of the war finally gets his due.

3. Blue Springs: A History of the Desperate Battles at Blue Springs for the Control of Upper East Tennessee During the Civil War by William A. Beard III (Town of Mosheim and Strawberry Plains Press, 1997).

As we all know, much of the fighting in E. Tennessee has been neglected in the published literature. Commissioned by the Town of Mosheim, which puts on a Blue Springs reenactment, this study does a nice job of filling in some of the gaps. I'll write much more about Beard's book in a pair of future posts.

Monday, November 16, 2009

"ARMY LIFE: From a Soldier’s Journal"

First published in 1884, Albert O. Marshall's memoir of his service with the 33rd Illinois Infantry (the "Normal Regiment") is an account certainly worthy of a new annotated edition. Army Life: From a Soldier’s Journal, Incidents, Sketches, and Record of Union Soldier's Army Life, in Camp and Field, 1861-1864, edited by Missouri historian Robert G. Schultz (University of Arkansas Press, 2009), documents an unusual wartime journey. The 33rd was an Illinois regiment that spent nearly all of its active service in the Trans-Mississippi theater [in Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas]. It also participated in the Vicksburg Campaign.

The richness and detail of Marshall's writing (especially that of military events), compiled in 1880 using a range of other documents, is atypical of memoirs written from the perspective of private Civil War soldiers. The author recounts the usual experiences of camp life and interactions with the local populace, but what sets his memoir apart are his minute accounts of his regiment's involvement in a number of military campaigns. Trans-Mississippi researchers will appreciate Marshall's history of his unit's movements and fighting in SE Missouri in 1861, NE Arkansas in 1862 (specifically the battle of Cache River), and operations on the Texas coast (Matagorda Island) in 1863-1864.

Though relatively few in number, editor Robert Schultz's annotations of the text perform a valuable function in providing extensive background material, source discussions, and correctives. In addition to some photographs of key figures, Schultz also gathered a pretty good set of previously published maps to orient the reader. A full bibliography and a good index round out the volume. This new edition of Army Life is an admirable addition to the Trans-Mississippi Civil War literature, and is deserving of an even wider readership.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Booknotes II (November '09)

New additions this month:

1. Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign by William L. Shea (UNC Press, 2009).

Fields of Blood has been one of the most anticipated T-M titles of recent years, and it's finally here. It looks almost certain to fulfill lofty expectations. The only instant shortcoming I see is the lack of topographical detail (at least in comparison to Shea and Hess's Pea Ridge campaign study) with the cartography, which is otherwise fine in its depiction of small unit battlefield movements and positions.

2. Missouri's War: The Civil War in Documents edited by Silvana R. Siddali (Ohio Univ. Press, 2009).

This is the second volume in OUP's Civil War in the Great Interior series. Ohio was the first, and this Missouri entry appears to be a much more substantial collection of documents. There is an Indiana volume just out, as well, with future ones on Kansas, Michigan, and Wisconsin in the works.

3. Arming the Suckers 1861-1865: A Compilation of Illinois Civil War Weapons by Ken Baumann (Morningside, 1989).

The best resource out there for information on the weaponry issued to Illinois units.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


[ Battlefields of Nebraska by Thomas D. Phillips (Caxton Press, 2009). Softcover, 13 maps, photos, notes, appendices, index. 300 Pages. ISBN:9780870044717 $18.95 ]

Beginning in the early 18th century and ending with the conclusion of the Plains Indian wars of the 19th, the lands encompassing the state of Nebraska saw many bloody clashes between whites and Indians. With his new book Battlefields of Nebraska, author Thomas D. Phillips has skillfully compiled an encyclopedic reference work documenting these events. Rather than employing a strictly chronological approach, Phillips chose to divide his work into three parts [I - Major Battles and Campaigns, II - Significant Encounters, and III - Skirmishes, Incidents, and the Shadows of History], differentiating events by criteria such as scale of forces involved, the significance (both locally and nationally) of the event, and availability of source material. It works well, and there are far too many to go into here, but a few examples will suffice to give the reader an idea of the book's content.

Part I begins with the Spaniard Villasur's 1720 expedition, and then moves on to a good essay length account of the 1855 Battle of the Blue Water (Ash Hollow). For Civil War readers, this section provides a good overview of the overlooked (at least compared with the 1862 Santee Sioux uprising in Minnesota) 1864 clashes between white civilians and soldiers and Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho raiders that occurred along the trails, ranches, mail stations, and settlements from Colorado to Nebraska. Chapters are also devoted to the February 1865 battles of Mud Springs and Rush Creek. The 1858-1869 Republican River campaigns are also covered, as well as the Battle of the Blow Out and Warbonnet Creek. Part II covers the establishment of the first American forts in the early 19th century, the Pawnee War of 1859, Mackenzie's Raid, and the battles of Spring Creek, Sioux Creek, and Pebble Creek. The final section provides paragraph length summaries of 93 additional raids and skirmishes.

Although there is the occasional modern site description and mention of preservation levels, Battlefields of Nebraska is not a guide or touring book. With a couple exceptions, the 13 maps simply provide general locations as dots on a state map. Other illustrations, to include period and modern photographs, are sprinkled throughout the text. The narrative accounts are annotated, the notes indicating a reliance on published sources. The eight appendices provide some additional information about Civil War units raised in the state, along with some numbers and losses data. Appendix maps also locate for the reader the Nebraska Pony Express stations, ranches, camps, and forts mentioned in the book.

As a comprehensive reference that compares favorably to books like Michno's Encyclopedia of Indian Wars and Forgotten Fights or Rathbun's Nevada Military Place Names of the Indian Wars and Civil War, Battlefields of Nebraska is a very useful book for students of the Plains Indian wars. There is also enough relevant content to draw the interest of Civil War enthusiasts wishing to learn more about the outposts of the conflict. This accessible compilation will also make for a nice gift for any history-minded Nebraska native.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Upcoming author Q & As

Once again, I've been neglecting the Q&A feature of the site, with the last interview posted way back in April. I do have a couple new ones lined up. Next up will be Dr. Daniel E. Sutherland of the University of Arkansas. I reviewed his latest book A Savage Conflict back in August. He always has something interesting to say.

Following that will be a Q&A with Dr. William L. Shea, University of Arkansas at Monticello professor and author of the new Prairie Grove campaign study Fields of Blood. A preview-type interview has already been done elsewhere, so I am looking to put something together after I've finished the book and digested it. I am getting antsy because my copy hasn't arrived yet.

I would also like to do an interview with someone at a university press, but I haven't decided on whom to ask.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Booknotes - "Cavalry of the Heartland"

For as many books as Edward Longacre has authored, I don't think I've actually read any of them (maybe his Pickett bio years ago), but the subject matter of his new study Cavalry of the Heartland: The Mounted Forces of the Army of Tennessee (Westholme Publishing, 2009) alone marked it as a highly anticipated title for me.

Glancing through it, it looks to be a quite detailed operational history of the western cavalry [the main text runs almost 350 pages at a small print font]. The bibliography is extensive -- by my rough count, almost 400 manuscript collections were cited. There are ten maps altogether, two battlefield drawings (Ft. Donelson and Monroe's Crossroads) with the balance composed of maps tracing operational scale movements.

I think it's safe to say that western theater enthusiasts will want to grab a copy of this book, another good looking title from Westholme. From what I can tell online, it appears to be scheduled for general release in a week or so.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Speicher: "THE SUMTER FLYING ARTILLERY: A Civil War History of the Eleventh Battalion Georgia Light Artillery"

Histories and rosters of Civil War infantry and cavalry regiments are common enough (with artillery batteries less so), but very rarely does one come across such a work aimed at artillery battalions. James L. Speicher's new book The Sumter Flying Artillery: A Civil War History of the Eleventh Battalion Georgia Light Artillery (Pelican Publishing Co., 2009) is a promising example. Composed of five batteries (A through E), and served mostly by men from Sumter County, the 11th Battalion of Georgia Light Artillery was formally organized in early 1862, fighting as part of the Army of Northern Virginia from the Seven Days battles onward [Battery A (Cutt's/Sumter Flying Artillery battery) fought in the earlier battle at Dranesville in December 1861].

Speicher's annotated narrative follows the typical model of the modern unit history, beginning with an organizational summary accompanied by biographical sketches of the major figures involved in the raising and officering of the battalion and its component batteries. The text is a straightforward recounting of military events, with personal accounts from dairies, letters, and memoirs incorporated. The author does a good job of maintaining the focus on the movements and positions assumed by the battalion's batteries in each campaign and battle [contrary to what one might expect, an attention to detail that is far from a given in too many published unit histories].

The volume is well stocked with maps, photos, and reproduced artwork, drawings, and documents. While plentiful, the maps are rather primitive in design and execution. An extensive photo gallery of battalion members, many published for the first time, is included here. At only four pages (albeit small print), the bibliography appears limited on the face of it, but it does exhibit a good balance of published and unpublished source materials.

Numerous appendices (seven in number, running over 150 pages) provide valuable supplementary material. There are notes on artillery organization and command structure, as well as several casualty lists. Absent is a tabular accounting of the types of guns each battery had at various times during the war, but such information is scattered throughout the text. The alphabetical roster is full of information gleaned from federal and state archives, with individual entries ranging from a couple to around ten lines, with an emphasis on the person's combat/muster record rather than on non-military personal data.

Interesting, informative, and at a rarely studied level of military organization, The Sumter Flying Artillery is very worthwhile reading for students of Confederate artillery in the eastern theater. Recommended.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Given the wide distribution network of Osprey Publishing, one would guess that nearly every military history reader has some familiarity with their vast array of book series. The Elite Series "explores the history of military forces, artifacts, personalities, and techniques of warfare". Heavily illustrated with photographs, drawings, maps, and full color artwork, and at 64 pages in length, books from the series are summary in nature, but not necessarily aimed only at introductory level readerships.
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[ American Civil War Railroad Tactics by Robert Hodges and Peter Dennis (illus.) (Osprey Publishing, 2009). Softcover, maps, photos, color illustrations, reading list, index. 64 Pages. ISBN:978-1-84603-452-7 $18.95 ]

The full gamut of uses Union and Confederate armies had for railroads and railroad equipment is examined in the first of two books to be discussed here. Author Robert Hodges begins with an introduction into the relative success of each side's attempt to balance the military and non-military use of the railroads. Not surprisingly, he finds the Union system, with its early creation of a U.S. Military Railroad network, superior.

Numerous examples of the operational use of railroads are highlighted, including their familiar impact on the 1st Manassas, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga campaigns. Perhaps the most detailed, and best, section of the book is the one illustrating the construction, design, and use of railroad artillery and armored cars, subjects not often covered in depth elsewhere in the literature. The various means of destroying and repairing rails are also explored, with some emphasis on specialized rail cars designed for transporting prefabricated bridge trusses.

The battlefield uses of trains comprise another important aspect of the book's umbrella coverage. Trains carried cavalry and infantry on the tactical offensive, especially for counterguerrilla operations, as well as for protection during repair duties. The machines were also assigned to reconnaissance duties and for transporting and tethering observation balloons. Command cars were purpose-built for the comfort of commanders and a number of pages are also devoted to hospital trains. In the limited space available, American Civil War Railroad Tactics covers the basics quite well.

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[ American Civil War Guerrilla Tactics by Sean McLachlan and G & S Embleton (illus.) (Osprey Publishing, 2009). Softcover, maps, photos, color illustrations, bibliography, index. 64 Pages. ISBN:978-1-84603-494-7 $18.95 ]

While the more widely read student with find the material to be easily recognizable, author Sean McLachlan's narrative takes pains to draw his summaries and examples from all three major Civil War theaters. In his discussion of irregular warfare, he adopts historian Robert Mackey's three categories: guerrillas, partisans, and raiders (in my opinion, a wise choice) and capsulizes the character of the conflicts in a broad swath of states, to include Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana. The importance of the 1862 Partisan Ranger Act is properly put into context.

The tactical discussions are featured in sidebars accompanied by watercolor paintings and maps from artists Gerry and Sam Embleton. Examples include the August 1863 Burning of Lawrence, "Bloody Bill" Anderson ambush tactics outside Centralia (MO) on September 27, 1864, John Singleton Mosby's evasion tactics, John Hunt Morgan's tapping into telegraph lines to spread misinformation, Nathan Bedford Forrest's tactics at the Battle of Brice's Crossroads, and finally railroad wrecking techniques. Some defensive tactics are also highlighted, most specifically the use of fortified courthouses in defending small towns.

Given its questionable relevance as an examplar of irregular tactics on the battlefield, the selection of Brice's Crossroads in the book is curious, but the rest comprise a good cross section of irregular actions. While there is clearly a Confederate imbalance in these more detailed examples that could further the common notion in the novice reader that irregular warfare was primarily a Confederate strategy, overall, American Civil War Guerrilla Tactics does provide a comprehensive introductory summary to the conduct of irregular warfare worthy of a prospective buyer's consideration, with some anecdotes and examples from both sides.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Booknotes (November '09)

New additions this month:

1. Defending South Carolina's Coast: The Civil War from Georgetown to Little River by Rick Simmons (The History Press, 2009).

The comparatively little that is written about the Civil War along South Carolina's coast overwhelmingly focuses on the Charleston environs and the area to the south between that city and Savannah. What makes this book so interesting is that it shifts the attention in the opposite direction, up the coast. I admit I had to look up Georgetown and Little River on Google maps. If Georgetown's historical location is roughly the same as the current one, then the town was and is situated approximately halfway between Charleston and the South Carolina/North Carolina border (with the current Little River Inlet located just south of the state line) -- think Myrtle Beach and you're right in the middle of it. Can't wait to read it.

2. The Tygarts Valley Line June - July 1861 by Eva Margaret Carnes (McClain Publishing, 2003 3rd ed.).

This one was the subject of an earlier snapshot review, but I haven't held a copy of the newest edition until now. It's a softcover facsimile reprint of the staple bound 1961 original, with no new material. Focusing on June 3 battle at Philippi and the Belington skirmishes fought during the second week in July, this remains a very worthwhile study of the early stages of the 1861 western Virginia campaign.

3. The Battle of Franklin: When the Devil had Full Possession of the Earth by James R. Knight (The History Press, 2009).

This short battle history is also part of THP's Civil War Sesquicentennial series. I haven't cracked it open yet, so it's too early to tell if the Hoodites will flip out over it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Tamblin: "BLUEJACKETS AND CONTRABANDS: African Americans and the Union Navy"

[ Bluejackets and Contrabands: African Americans and the Union Navy by Barbara Brooks Tomblin (University Press of Kentucky, 2009). Cloth, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 287/381. ISBN: 978-0-8131-2554-1 $39.95 ]

The assistance black individuals (slave and free) rendered to the U.S. army and navy during the Civil War has been well documented throughout the literature; however, rarely, if ever, has the subject been treated to a specialized book length examination similar to what historian Barbara Brooks Tomblin has done with her new book Bluejackets and Contrabands. Future writers and historians will appreciate Tomblin's synthetic approach, as well as her gathering of some fresh material, all available together in a single volume.

The author organizes her study well, with lengthy chapters devoted to the great variety of direct and supporting roles assumed by blacks, to include intelligence gathering, piloting vessels in inland waterways, guiding amphibious expeditions, and serving in both combat and non-combat positions on naval bases and aboard ship. When the war rapidly expanded the size of the U.S. Navy, blacks helped fill in the enlistment gaps. Tomblin also traces the evolution of Union policy toward escaped/freed slaves and their dependents, with a great deal of attention paid to the many contraband camps that sprung up on the sea islands located off the Carolina and Georgia coasts. Although hiccups in relations inevitably occurred, both groups benefited from the arrangement. In return for the services outlined above, blacks received food, clothing, employment, safety for their families, and freedom.

Tomblin's narrative cites numerous examples from primary and secondary sources to support her thesis that escaped slaves played an important role in the success of the Atlantic blockade and coastal combined operations. Six maps are provided, but they are of only general assistance in locating the myriad of geographic points and waterways mentioned in the text. Readers should also be reminded that Tomblin's work only covers the Atlantic coast from Virginia to northern Florida, leaving the Gulf and inland waterways to future scholars.

Bluejackets and Contrabands
is a well conceived and executed scholarly study outlining an important chapter in the history of the contribution of blacks to the success of the Union cause during the Civil War. Students of the U.S. Navy's South Atlantic Blockading Squadron will also find the book to be of value.


Other recent CWBA reviews of UPK titles:

* Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History
* Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee
* Kentuckians in Gray: Confederate Generals and Field Officers of the Bluegrass State
* Virginia at War, 1863
* Contested Borderland