Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Booknotes III (April '10)

New Additions:

1. A Society of Gentlemen: Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, 1845-1861 by Mark C. Hunter (Naval Institute Press, 2010).

A social history and statistical analysis of Naval Academy cadets and their education, leading up to the Civil War.

2. Twilight on the South Carolina Rice Fields: Letters of the Heyward Family, 1862-1871 edited by Margaret Belser Hollis and Allen H. Stokes (U. of S. Carolina Press, 2010).

A hefty volume of Heyward family letters spanning the Civil War and Reconstruction, Twilight provides insight into the rice economy of the Beaufort area. With one family member (Barney Heyward) serving as an engineer officer on the coast during the Civil War, there is some military context as well. Considering how quickly and easily the Union navy subjugated the region, it makes one wonder how the pro-secession coastal and sea island planters originally envisioned their war going.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hughes: "YALE'S CONFEDERATES: A Biographical Dictionary"

[Yale's Confederates: A Biographical Dictionary by Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes (University of Tennessee Press, 2009). Cloth, drawings, photos, notes. 256 pages. ISBN:978-1-57233-635-3 $45]

Although respected institutions of higher learning existed in the South, wealthy antebellum southerners, then as today, often sent their sons north to obtain what we would today call an "Ivy League" education. In his new book Yale’s Confederates: A Biographical Dictionary, historian Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes (a Yalie himself) has exhaustively researched and compiled a fascinating and comprehensive biographical register of Yale students and graduates that later went on to serve in the Confederate army and/or government. In his introductory essay, Hughes gracefully acknowledges the earlier work and encouragement of Dr. Ellsworth Eliot, Jr., who published his own guide Yale in the Civil War in 1932. In Yale's Confederates, Hughes attempts a much more inclusive listing than those created by Eliot and others, the documenting and sourcing of which is outlined in a short essay.

Hughes organizes his biographical dictionary alphabetically, each entry beginning with name and graduation date(s) or years attended. This is followed by a few lines listing birth and death dates and place, as well as names of parents and spouse(s). The biographical information is presented in narrative form, and varies in length from a short paragraph to around five hundred words or more. If source material is available, Hughes also tells of the individual’s Yale experience. The biographies are largely professional in focus, highlighting the subject’s military and occupational contributions to public service much more than incidents from private life. There is no bibliography, but the author's source notes are bracketed within the narrative.

Illustrations are fairly sparse in the volume. Out of the over five hundred biographical entries, only a few dozen photographs or drawings were included in the book’s pages. However, as is typical with University of Tennessee Press publications, the overall presentation is attractive, and the book itself, covered in blue cloth, is of sound construction for repeated long term use.

Institutional libraries and serious researchers will want a copy of Hughes’s authoritative compilation. Yale graduates with a historical bent should also appreciate this record of the Civil War military service of their scholarly antecedents. Yale’s Confederates: A Biographical Dictionary is a highly useful and recommended reference book.

[adapted from my review appearing in On Point Magazine]

Monday, April 26, 2010

Booknotes II ( April '10 )

New additions:

1. The USS Carondelet: A Civil War Ironclad on Western Waters by Myron J. Smith, Jr. (McFarland, 2010).

The fourth volume from Smith dealing with Union naval operations in the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters, centering on the eponymous City-Class/Eads/"Pook Turtle" gunboat.

2. The Battles of New Hope Church by Russell W. Blount (Pelican, 2010).

A narrative summary of the New Hope Church and Pickett's Mill battles fought during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, written in the present tense (the author citing Castel as an influence, and apparently boldly ignoring the weight of criticism against the choice).

3. The Terrible Time: The Civil War in Kentucky's Bell, Knox, Laurel and Whitley Counties by Wayne Taylor (Lulu, 2004).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Michno: "THE DEADLIEST INDIAN WAR IN THE WEST: The Snake Conflict, 1864-1868"

[The Deadliest Indian War in the West: The Snake Conflict, 1864-1868 by Gregory Michno (Caxton Press, 2007). Softcover, maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:367/398. ISBN:9780870044601 $18.95]

"Snakes" is a crude catch-all term for those scattered bands of hostile non-treaty Bannocks, Shoshonis, and Paiutes living in the west's Columbia Plateau and Great Basin, a vast area comprising parts of Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and California. Finally fed up with escalating white incursions in the form of emigrant parties and miners numbering in the thousands, the previously isolated Snakes fought back with a vengeance.

Although the hundreds of battles, skirmishes, and incidents of the Snake War of 1864-1868 led to heavy casualties in toto, the conflict remains largely obscure. Gregory Michno, author of The Deadliest Indian War in the West, notes that a large segment of the conflict was overshadowed by the Civil War, reporters were few (especially early on), no famous Indian war leaders were involved, and the tribes involved did not carry the romantic cachet that others such the more mobile Plains Indians did. Before the war disabused them of such preconceived notions, whites, and even other Indians, looked down upon Snakes as backward, unmilitary, and undignified "dirteaters".

In the beginning, state and territorial volunteer units from California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada shouldered the burden of combating the Snakes, to be largely replaced by U.S. regulars led by George Crook in 1866. Using mostly official records and other published source materials, Michno recounts the major conflicts in chapter length detail, but also summarizes for the reader a countless number of smaller skirmishes and encounters. At times the sheer volume of information presented about movements and locations can be disorienting, but this is alleviated in most places by the inclusion of several area and battlefield maps*. A number of appendices [a list of battles and their casualty numbers, a list of Indian depredations referenced in the text, some financial figures, and an accounting by regiment of Indian casualties inflicted by California volunteer units] supplement the text, and photographs of people and places are spread generously throughout.

Until recently George Crook has enjoyed largely positive coverage in the Civil War and Indian Wars literature for his command effectiveness, yet recent works (especially those covering the Civil War campaigns in West Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley) have rather persuasively revised his military reputation downward. While Crook took command near the tail end of the Snake Conflict and indeed brought it to a conclusion, Michno credits the general with no groundbreaking tactics, just a basic continuation of the previous three years of steady military pressure that would eventually exhaust Indian resistance.

Anyone reading Michno's study will likely be struck by the scale of the conflict, but was it really the deadliest of the western Indian Wars? It appears so. The author examined best estimate casualty figures for the thirteen major Trans-Mississippi Indian Wars that occurred between 1865 and 1891 and found that the almost 1,800 casualties suffered by both sides during the battles of the 1864-1868 Snake Conflict far outstripped any other total. Exhaustive in the breadth of its coverage, The Deadliest Indian War in the West is a much needed study that fills in a large gap in the popular literature of the Indian Wars. Recommended.

[add. 4/24: The cartography featured in the general run of Indian Wars publications remains fairly wretched. The battlefield maps included in this book are better than average, depicting troop positions (at company level where possible), some terrain features, and elevation contour lines.]

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ramsey's 1st Georgia book and blog

A history of the active but short-lived 1st Georgia (Ramsey's) Volunteer Infantry Regiment is scheduled for publication by Mercer U. Press this winter, titled I Will Give Them One More Shot: Ramsey’s First Regiment Georgia Volunteers. The author, George W. Martin, has also just started a blog called One More Shot. Formed in March 1861, the men of the 1st served on the Gulf coast and in the mountains of western Virginia (two fronts of special interest to me) before being mustered out upon conclusion of their one year enlistment term in March 1862. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Review - "Mosquito Soldiers: Malaria, Yellow Fever, and the Course of the American Civil War" by Andrew Bell

[Mosquito Soldiers: Malaria, Yellow Fever, and the Course of the American Civil War by Andrew McIlwaine Bell (Louisiana State University Press, 2010). Cloth, illustrations, maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:134/206. ISBN:978-0-8071-3561-7. $29.95]

Regular readers of Civil War books are continually reminded of the fact that disease killed far more soldiers than bullets, but the effects these maladies had on the actual direction of military operations has been a bit of a neglected subject. This situation changes with the release of Andrew McIlwaine Bell's Mosquito Soldiers. Bell narrows his own inquiry to the study of a pair of mosquito-borne tropical diseases, malaria (a single-celled parasite) and yellow fever (a virus)1.

In the early sections of his book, Bell does a fine job of concisely outlining for readers the essential background information for both disease processes, including cause, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention data. Palliative care was the best that could be offered at the time for yellow fever sufferers, but quinine was available to alleviate the symptoms of malaria. Unfortunately, while clouds of mosquitoes annoyed soldiers in the field to no end, it would not be conclusively known for many years that the insect served as the vector for both diseases.

Mostly from the Union perspective, Bell's study examines a wide scope of military operations from all three major theaters, all altered to one degree or another by the dangers imposed by the swarms of mosquitoes. Even so, while Bell writes convincingly that disease loomed large in the minds of generals and politicians, it remains unclear (and perhaps impossible to prove) whether sickness or the fear of its further spread ever really served as the primary factor in deciding the direction of any major military operation. As an example, while swamp fevers were cited by General Halleck as a reason to press for the evacuation of the Army of the Potomac's Harrison Landing position on the Virginia Peninsula in 1862, it would be difficult to determine at this distance the true motivation. Was it really an overriding health concern or was it a rationalization of a preferred military or political option? On the other hand, Bell seems to be on much steadier ground when he cites seasonal (specifically in terms of disease cycle) correlations in Confederate activities along the South Atlantic front.

Some of the study's findings were a bit surprising, including the status of Arkansas as the most 'malarial' (in terms of disease incidence) of all areas occupied by Union troops for extended periods of time. Helena is often singled out in participant accounts and in the literature as a particular pestilential post, but one still might have expected the lower Mississippi region to hold the dubious overall honor.

A popular view at the time was that black soldiers were somehow immune to the tropical diseases that felled so many whites, and thus they were best suited for serving in the Deep South. While Bell briefly mentions that there is some genetic basis for the argument2, he explains that the preponderance of evidence did not support it. This fact was recognized by U.S. army physicians at the time, but the idea remained alive among Union military and political leaders, as well as in the minds of the general population.

Mosquito Soldiers is a solidly researched manuscript, but, in my view, Bell's thesis that malaria and yellow fever often served as decisive factors in operational decision making remains largely unproven. While no one can deny their importance as contributors, too many impactful military, political, and environmental considerations were involved in directing Civil War campaigns to allow for that kind of reductionism. On the other hand, I don't wish to devalue the attempt, as useful information can be drawn from it and much remains from Bell's investigation into the rarely explored intersection of medicine and military strategy to appreciate.

1 - Soldiers frequently were subjected to concurrent illnesses, and, in this context, dysentery -- that greatest of all killers of Civil War soldiers -- and other diseases are discussed, too.
2 - Although it would have made for an interesting sidebar, sickle cell trait's role in providing limited protection from malaria among those soldiers of African descent (esp. those from West Africa) is absent from the discussion.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Booknotes (April '10 )

New additions:

1. Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Petersburg's Fort Gregg on April 2, 1865 by John J. Fox III (Angle Valley Press, 2010).

Confederate Alamo is the only book length account of the fighting at Ft. Gregg during the closing moments of the '64-'65 Petersburg Campaign. There are many illustrations, and the George Skoch maps are nicely detailed. Appendices include an OB with numbers and losses information along with in-depth looks at some of the controversies surrounding the battle.

2. Deliver Us From This Cruel War: The Civil War Letters of Lieutenant Joseph J. Hoyle, 55th North Carolina Infantry by Joseph J. Hoyle, edited by Jeffrey M. Girvan (McFarland, 2010).

Editor Girvan provides a general introduction as well as a brief discussion of the historiography of the common soldier literature. Chapters are organized into chronological groupings of letters, transcribed in full, headed by a short overview of the regiment's activities during the period, all of which are annotated by Girvan. A number of battle maps are provided, as well as a roster of Hoyle's Company F, to also include lists of deaths from combat and disease.

3. Why Texans Fought in the Civil War by Charles David Grear (Texas A&M Univ. Press, 2010).

Grear's essay in The Fate of Texas (U. of Ark. Press, 2008) gives a taste of what to expect in this broader book length study.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Booknotes - Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 1

The first book from Tennessee's The Western Theater in the Civil War series (Gary Joiner, editor) is now out. Itself part of a new series of essay compilations, Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 1: Essays on America’s Civil War, edited by Lawrence Lee Hewitt and the late Arthur W. Bergeron Jr. (Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2010), revives fifteen previously published essays written by a distinguished set of Civil War historians specializing in the the war in the west. Previously published in journals and other out of print sources, this compilation is a welcome reissue. The essays, the majority of which are new to my reading, cover general officers of all ranks, and include Polk, both Johnstons, Beauregard, Lovell, Bragg (2), Pemberton, Cleburne, Forrest, Pres. Davis, Hood, Hardee, Patton Anderson, and Daniel Govan.

Volume 2 is composed of original essays from ten Civil War scholars and is due to be released at the beginning of June.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Curry; Sargeant & Brinsfield (eds.): "VOLUNTEERS' CAMP AND FIELD BOOK"

[Volunteers' Camp and Field Book, Containing Useful and General Information on the Art and Science of War for the Leisure Moments of the Soldier by John P. Curry, compiled and edited by William B. Sargeant and John W. Brinsfield (Mercer University Press, 2010). Softcover (paper flex binding), illustrations, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. 208 pages. ISBN:978-0-88146-169-5 $20]

With the outbreak of the Civil War, manuals and guidebooks for soldiers were highly sought after items. John P. Curry's Volunteers' Camp and Field Book was a bit unusual in that it was popular in both sections, perhaps even more so in the South. Originally published in New York in 1861, the Richmond publisher West and Johnston reissued the book the following year. This 1862 southern edition is quite rare, but William B. Sargeant (co-editor with John W. Brinsfield of the new annotated edition reviewed here) discovered a copy in an old suitcase belonging to his great-great-grandfather and submitted it to Mercer University Press for republication. Given the volume of useful information, tips, and 'tricks of the trade', the editors were surprised to find no evidence that Curry had ever actually served in the army (he had claimed antebellum service), leading readers to only guess at how the author obtained his body of knowledge.

Curry's field book covers a wide variety of subjects, from basic definitions and army regulations to personal advice, all written in an easygoing style that mixes formal and informal language. Undoubtedly, this ease of use made it popular with recruits of all education levels and those having no experience at all with military affairs. On the military side of things, entrenchments are discussed as well as the general equipment and tactics of the infantry, artillery, and cavalry arms. A broad range of basics, such as knowledge of military departments, uniforms, saluting, medical treatments, etc., are briefly summarized. As soldiers spent most of their time in camp, much of the book is devoted to camp organization, duties, inspections, health maintenance, and cooking. The manual of arms and company and regimental formations are also introduced to the novice soldier.

Editors Sargeant and Brinsfield left the author's text unchanged, but added their own preface, footnotes, bibliography, and index. The pair also contribute a lengthy appendix that provides background into what is known of Curry's life before and after the Civil War.

As one might expect given the limited expertise of the source and the state of medical science at the time, the quality of Curry's offerings range from the useful to the absurd. What Volunteers' Camp and Field Book does effectively convey to modern readers is insight into the type of information about army life that new recruits were exposed to and/or wished to learn before taking the field. Any reader interested in Civil War manuals and field guides will want a copy of Curry's book.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Christ (ed.): "THE DIE IS CAST: Arkansas Goes to War, 1861"

[The Die Is Cast: Arkansas Goes to War, 1861 edited by Mark K. Christ (The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, 2010). Softcover, map, photos, notes, index. 156 Pages. ISBN:978-1-935106-15-5 $19.95]

The essay collection The Die is Cast originated from a 2006 history seminar of the same name, hosted by the Old State House Museum in Little Rock. With the overall guidance of editor Mark K. Christ, the essence of these presentations are now able to reach a broader audience in book form. Among the contributors are a distinguished set of Civil War Arkansas scholars. Michael Dougan's Confederate Arkansas: The People and Policies of a Frontier State in Wartime (1976) and Carl Moneyhon's The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction in Arkansas (1994) are classic works, and, most recently, Thomas DeBlack has published a fine up-to-date overview study titleed With Fire and Sword: Arkansas 1861-1874 (2003). Two others, gender scholar Lisa Tendrich Frank and Wilson's Creek expert and historian William Garrett Piston, parley their own particular interests to the discussion of Arkansas's early Civil War experience. All five articles are fully documented.

Sourced largely from his book Confederate Arkansas, Dougan's familiar article traces the actions of the secession convention, and how the firing on Fort Sumter and Lincoln's call for volunteers dramatically altered the mindset of its members toward secession. In word and tone, he leaves no doubt about his personal distaste for Arkansas's Democratic Party leadership and their political machinations.

Frank's chapter recounts how the many ways that Arkansas women, shut out of the more direct political process, sought to further the particular cause they believed in. This was done through a variety of means, including domestic industry, formation of local aid societies, attendance at political events, and social ostracism of recalcitrant voters or hesitant military volunteers.

Investigating the reasons why Arkansas men volunteered for the Confederate army in the fevered atmosphere of 1861, historian Carl Moneyhon closely examined the writings from soldiers belonging to four representative infantry companies. He found little evidence that ideology was a primary factor in leading individuals to enlist. Instead, Moneyhon determined that their sense of "duty" stemmed less from moral or abstract political concerns than from defense of home and community from the prospect of invasion. His research also places individual glory seeking and the personal determination that war would be a grand adventure high on the hierarchical list of motivating factors.

Thomas DeBlack's essay, while it may not add a great deal of new interpretation to our current understanding of Arkansas unionists, does remind us that pro-Union sentiment was not regionally confined, but was a powerful force throughout the state that only grew in boldness and sentiment as the war dragged on. In the final chapter, a summary of Arkansas's participation in the southern victory at the Battle of Wilson's Creek is provided by William Garrett Piston.

Meshing well with a minimum of content overlap between contributors, Christ's compilation does a fine job of highlighting the great variety of political and military views and contributions to be found among Arkansas's divided citizenry. The Die is Cast is recommended reading for anyone interested in what motivated southern Americans to go to war in 1861, and all Arkansas libraries would do well to stock this slim yet useful volume.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I avoid galleys as a matter of policy, but the one I received a couple months ago for the May Savas Beatie release Valley Thunder: The Battle of New Market and the Opening of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, May 1864 was about as clean as they come (it appeared to be basically the final version minus an index). Charles Knight's book is truly dazzling, one of the best battle studies I have ever read. It is one of those rare books that impresses on all levels (research, writing, maps, supplemental material, and overall presentation), leaving absolutely no cause for complaint. Authors that produce this kind of work should be encouraged, and I hope Knight has writing interests beyond New Market. I'll post my review sometime around its May release date.

A June title from the same publisher will be Antietam guru Tom Clemens's The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Volume 1: South Mountain. Unlike the New Market book, much editing work remains so I am reluctant to offer any kind of evaluation beyond its superiority to the Carman project published two years ago. Both SB books employ footnotes, which I am certain will especially please the hardcore Carman students out there.

I've learned that the second book from Donald Frazier's "Louisiana Quadrille" (State House Press) will not make it out this year. Instead, expect it sometime in 2011.

John Fox has a new book release from Angle Valley Press, Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Petersburg's Fort Gregg on April 2, 1865. I just got it in and will be reviewing it in the near future. Considering the subject matter, I am sure Brett will be interested in it as well.

On the 'books from bloggers' front, Eric Wittenberg's The Battle of Brandy Station: North America's Largest Cavalry Battle will be out in general release any time now. You will also be able to catch his engagement with Woodbury Historical Tours the weekend after Labor Day. Victoria Bynum's The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies is another recent release. Eric Lindblade's Battle of Newport Barracks study was originally scheduled for a March release. Hopefully, we'll see it soon. As far as I know, Stuart Salling's Louisianians in the Western Confederacy: The Adams-Gibson Brigade in the Civil War is set for May. Another book from that month will be Michael Hardy's The Fifty-Eighth North Carolina Troops: Tar Heels in the Army of Tennessee.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Armstrong: "'GOD ALONE KNOWS WHICH WAS RIGHT': The Blue and Gray Terrill Family of Virginia in the Civil War"

["God Alone Knows Which Was Right": The Blue and Gray Terrill Family of Virginia in the Civil War by Richard L. Armstrong (McFarland 800-253-2187, 2010). Softcover, maps, photos, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 299 pages. ISBN:978-0-7864-4622-3 $38]

Many Civil War readers know something of the tragic Terrill family of Bath County, Virginia, but Richard L. Armstrong's new book "God Alone Knows Which Was Right" is the first to really provide an in-depth view of the family's background, relationships, and Civil War service. The author does this with a series of biographical narratives of varying length (seven in all -- father, four sons, one daughter and son-in-law).

At the center of Armstrong's family history is patriarch William H. Terrill, a longtime county prosecutor who himself served the Confederacy as a staff member and provost marshal. Of his eight children with Elizabeth Pitzer Terrill, four served as officers in the Civil War (one for the Union, three for the Confederacy), only one of whom survived. Dr. George Parker Terrill was a militia colonel and medical officer, the relative safety of his positions undoubtedly contributing to his survival. The same cannot be said for his brothers. William Rufus Terrill was disowned by his father upon remaining loyal to the Union. A regular army artillerist, William rose to the rank of Brigadier General and was famously killed at the 1862 Battle of Perryville. James Barbour Terrill, like George, was a VMI graduate. He served as a field officer in the 13th Virginia for much of the war before dying as a brigade commander at Bethesda Church on May 30, 1864. The fourth brother, Philip Mallory Terrill, abandoned his university studies at the outbreak of war and joined the 25th Virginia infantry regiment as a lieutenant. He later resigned and enlisted in the 12th Virginia Cavalry. He was killed in action in the Shenandoah Valley in November 1864.

The Civil War years comprise the heart of each biography, and the life and death of the best known of the four brothers, William R. Terrill, is explored at greater length and depth than the others. The women of the family are not ignored, with a chapter devoted to William H.'s daughter Emily Cornelia Clay Terrill and her husband George Alexander Porterfield. The Porterfield section is quite valuable, as not much has been published about this officer's life and career in the years since Eva Margaret Carnes's brief account from the early 1960s. Porterfield was the ranking officer of Confederate forces in western Virginia during the early months of the Civil War.

Also, many readers (including this one) may be surprised to learn that the story of the monument erected by William H. Terrill in honor of two of his sons (William Rufus and James Barbour) with the famous inscription, oft repeated in the Civil War literature, that "God Alone Knows Which Was Right" was a fabrication. In an appendix, Armstrong discusses his determination that no such monument ever existed. Other supplemental materials include a family tree, the burial address of William R., and information about light battery operation. Additionally, photographs are spread liberally throughout the text.

In assembling this series of select Terrill family biographies, Armstrong consulted a vast amount of manuscript material, and his detailed notes should be a great help to those wishing to learn more. "God Alone Knows Which Was Right" is a wonderfully rich look at a truly divided Virginia family that ended up paying a far higher price in blood than most.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Booknotes - "Trailing Clouds of Glory"

It is certainly not unusual for scholarly military histories published by academic presses to be authored by individuals with professional backgrounds far afield, and Felice Flanery Lewis's new book Trailing Clouds of Glory: Zachary Taylor's Mexican War Campaign and His Emerging Civil War Leaders (U. of Alabama Press, 2010) appears to be much more than a mere curiosity. The research is weighted heavily toward manuscripts and other primary source materials, and it covers the battles of Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, Monterrey, and Buena Vista in detail similar to that found in Timothy Johnson's recent history of Winfield Scott's Mexico City campaign (A Gallant Little Army). As the subtitle suggests, the careers of officers attached to Taylor who would later became famous Civil War generals is a major focus of the work. Regular readers would be correct in supposing that one of the first things I look at upon cracking open a new campaign history is the cartography. Although, few in number (about one for each battle), the maps here are better than average.