Monday, May 31, 2010


[ South Carolina's Military Organizations During the War Between the States: Volumes I - The Lowcountry & Pee Dee, II - The Midlands, III - The Upstate, and IV - Statewide Units, Militia and Reserves  by Robert S. Seigler (The History Press, 2008).  Softcover, photographs, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. $34.99 ]

A four-volume series, Robert Seigler's South Carolina Military Organizations During the War Between the States together comprise a much needed update and expansion to previous attempts at a comprehensive Palmetto State unit register. The first serious effort, William J. Rivers's Rivers's Account of the Raising of Troops in South Carolina for State and Confederate Service 1861-1865, was published in 1899, with a supplemental report by John P. Thomas released later that year. While Stewart Sifakis's Compendium of the Confederate Armies: South Carolina and Georgia (Facts on File, 1994) provides good information about higher organizational involvement -- division, corps, army -- of South Carolina units, Seigler concentrates his work on minute company, battalion, and regimental detail (along with brigade affiliations).

A useful introductory overview, repeated inside each volume, provides basic background information about the raising and organization of Palmetto State units throughout the war. The body of data pertaining to each unit is far from a simple list, but rather is a detailed narrative that, while concise, is a treasure trove of names, dates, and places.  Unit information is dealt with in narrative subsections, to include a general introduction, field officer biographies, company sketches [including campaign participation and brief profiles of captains commanding], brigade affiliations, and really nice summaries of major unit movements and battles fought. These unadorned shorthand narratives maximize the amount of important information able to be presented in the face of space constraints. Appendices list infantry, cavalry, and artillery companies with unknown affiliations, as well as a final compilation of company nicknames. In terms of illustration, detailed maps of the three main geographic regions are absent, but a fairly extensive gallery of photographs is placed at the midpoint of each book. Finally, an officer name index completes each volume.

As one might guess from the subtitles, the first three volumes are not organized by unit number but by selected region. For instance, the Midlands book covers those formations raised roughly in the geographical area bounded by Lancaster and Darlington, Camden and Columbia, and Orangeburg and Edgefield.

Special mention should be made of the effort that went into the creation of Vol. IV. Here, the author tackles the especially difficult task of making sense out of the tangled web of local and state unit designations.  To this end, a myriad of militia and reserve formations were dutifully studied, to include 90-day regiments of reserves (1862-1863), 6-month regiments of State Troops (1863-1864), battalions of South Carolina Reserves (1864-1865), Junior Reserves regiments, and regiments of South Carolina Militia (infantry, cavalry, and artillery).

Seigler's research more than meets the high standards we attach to modern reference books. All sections are carefully annotated, and the information derived from a full range of sources (e.g. newspapers; government service records and other documents; unpublished manuscripts, correspondence, and diaries; as well as an array of published primary and secondary source materials). The books from this series should be deemed absolutely essential guides for serious inquiry into the organization, composition, and campaign history of South Carolina's state and Confederate military units. All are highly recommended for personal and institutional libraries.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

More Crater action

Petersburg's "Battle of the Crater" has received a great deal of attention recently, with two major works published just last year by Slotkin and Schmutz, but I hadn't realized that Earl Hess was also finishing up his own project during this time. His Into the Crater: The Mine Attack at Petersburg (U. of S. Carolina Press, 2010) is due out this September.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Christ: "CIVIL WAR ARKANSAS 1863: The Battle for a State"

[Civil War Arkansas 1863: The Battle for a State by Mark K. Christ (University of Oklahoma Press, 2010). Hardcover, 6 maps, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 261/336. ISBN:978-0-8061-4087-2 $34.95]

1863 was a year of unmitigated catastrophe for Arkansas Confederates and their Indian allies. For them, it began with hints of impending conflict and ended with shattered armies and Union forces firmly in control of the Arkansas River Valley, including the state capital of Little Rock. Tactical aspects of the Little Rock Campaign have been recounted in book form before, and several good journal articles and chapter length histories of the fighting at Fort Smith, Arkansas Post, Helena, and Pine Bluff exist in the literature, but Mark K. Christ's new book Civil War Arkansas 1863: The Battle for a State is the first to relate these events as a cohesive whole, each defeat or victory building upon the next, the end result of which was a significant military and political victory for the U.S.

With the fall of Little Rock, Arkansas unionists, a significant bloc both active and passive in the state ever since the secession crisis, were able to solidify their power and influence over the vital Arkansas River Valley. The year long series of campaigns fairly crushed the Confederate military establishment in Arkansas, relegating to district control only a toehold in the southwest corner of the state. Additionally, hopes, faint as they realistically were, of obtaining lasting inroads into Missouri were also permanently lost (a fact only reinforced by the quixotic 1864 Price Raid).

Before diving into his discussion of 1863, Christ provides readers unfamiliar with the conflicts in the region with a good background summary of the early war period in Arkansas and Indian Territory.  His later chapter length accounts of the battles of Arkansas Post, Helena, Little Rock (Brownsville, Bayou Meto, and Bayou Fourche), the capture of Forts Gibson and Smith, and Pine Bluff are detailed enough to satisfy most readers. The book's content is tightly organized and the narrative deep, with Christ synthesizing well the existing literature as well as integrating and interpreting his own extensive manuscript research. The cartography is the weakest point of the study's presentation. With roughly one provided for each of the chapters (several of which cover multiple engagements), they are too few and do not match the text's level of tactical and operational detail.

The author's views of the abilities of the commanding officers and their roles in each campaign [Thomas Churchill, Theophilus Holmes, Sterling Price, Douglas Cooper, William Steele, and John Marmaduke on the Confederate side, and the Union army's John McClernand, Benjamin Prentiss, Frederick Steele, John Davidson, James Blunt, and Powell Clayton] are well considered and fairly conventional, with the federals as a whole putting in much better command performances than their opposing counterparts. However, Christ's assessment of General Price's abandonment of Little Rock being the only viable option for his army to undertake seems open to reasonable debate. The capital was fortified, and, even after the heavy Confederate losses incurred weeks earlier at Helena, the numerical disparity was not particularly overwhelming. Also, the division of Federal forces on both sides of the Arkansas River in their advance on the city need not have been necessarily fatal to Confederate hopes, and indeed might have afforded an opportunity for a counterstroke. On the other hand, the true state of the defenses seems to be an open question [at least this reviewer has not encountered in the literature a detailed description of the earthworks' quality and extent] and the sinking morale of the southern forces in the district may not have been up to a stiffer fight.

In addition to his fine military narrative, Christ also does a good job of summarizing the shifting alliances of the tribes located in the Indian Territory, as they attempted to find the best means of self preservation amid frequent incursions by mixed white and Indian Confederate and Union forces. The impact of the 1863 military disasters on the political situation in Arkansas is also well developed by the author. Each major U.S. victory demoralized pro-Confederate civilians and emboldened unionists. The fall of Little Rock led a deputation of Pine Bluff citizens to request federal protection, and the well received Union officer sent there, Powell Clayton, later became a Reconstruction governor of the state.

Civil War Arkansas 1863 is a notable addition to University of Oklahoma Press's Campaigns and Commanders series. 1863 proved to be the most decisive year of the war for the soldiers and citizens of Arkansas, and Christ's scholarly study is an excellent military and political exposition of why that was so. It is essential reading for students of the Civil War in Arkansas, and assumes a prominent place in the literature of the Trans-Mississippi theater as a whole.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bull Nelson bio

A number of university press winter catalogs are now available (you can find the .pdf downloads easily by following the homepage links in my sidebar), and so far it looks like a fairly slow period, at least for those books matching my interests. One of much potential appeal is the upcoming William Nelson biography by Donald A. Clark titled The Notorious "Bull Nelson": Murdered Civil War General, to be published by Southern Illinois UP in late November. The war in Kentucky is one of my primary interests, so this new look at the abrasive big man will be much welcomed by me.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Booknotes IV (May '10)

New Additions:

1. Do They Miss Me at Home?: The Civil War Letters of William McKnight, Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry edited by Donald C. Maness & H. Jason Combs (Ohio U. Press, 2010).

McKnight campaigned with his fellow mounted Ohioans about a year and a half in Kentucky and Tennessee before being killed in 1864 at the Battle of Cynthiana. Around 100 surviving letters are featured here.

2. Great Things Are Expected of Us: The Letters of Colonel C. Irvine Walker, 10th South Carolina Infantry, C.S.A. edited by William Lee White and Charles Denny Runion (U. of Tenn. Press, 2009).

Part of UT Press's fine Voices of the Civil War series, Walker and editors White and Runion take the reader through the battles of the Army of Tennessee, and, from the publisher's description, apparently the colonel was quite high on Bragg.

3. The Red River Campaign of 1864 and the Loss by the Confederacy of the Civil War by Michael J. Forsyth (McFarland, 2010).

New paperback edition. Forsyth's book is the briefest of the worthwhile introductory studies of the campaign. Not a bad choice for someone just looking for the essentials.

Monday, May 24, 2010

When it comes to Civil War publishing, there truly is something for everyone. Plants & animals, envelopes, and woodworking.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


While it is unclear how author Bob Schmidt specifically selected the "soldiers, partisans, and citizens" for his latest book Civil War Veterans and Union Troop Organizations in Southeast Missouri (Printed by Camp Pope Publishing, 2010), approximately 100 biographical sketches of Union and Confederate soldiers, militiamen, etc. from SE Missouri, ranging in rank from officers on down to privates, are included. The detail accorded to each varies with the information available, but the typical entry includes name, rank, dates of birth and death, burial site, a service history, and some family background (sometimes quite extensive). Reproduced official documents, orders, drawings, and photographs supplement the text. The biography section also frequently provides additional information about the unit(s) in which the subject served. Source notes are inserted within the text body, which can give heavily footnoted paragraphs a cluttered look, but that is something of a minor complaint for a non-narrative book format.

Following the biographies is a series of brief unit histories of Missouri State Militia and Enrolled Missouri Militia units, and other militias, independent companies, and regular formations native in part or whole to the region -- too many to list here. Organizational and military capsule histories are provided, as well as many roster lists.

The structure of the material's presentation, loaded as it is with supplemental and tangential information, is a bit haphazard, and the index is far from complete, marking it as a reference tool not designed for ease of use. However, Schmidt's compiled a large mass of information little known or appreciated outside of the region for researchers and genealogists to consider, if they are patient. The Civil War in SE Missouri is a vastly understudied region of the Trans-Mississippi, and the author is to be commended for his efforts.


Schmidt's earlier book, Veterans and Events in the Civil War in Southeast Missouri, Volume II (The Camp Pope Bookshop, 2006 rep. ed.), is similar in design and appearance to the above volume, but more irregularly documented and without bibliography or index. Contents include (from the publisher): "Fresh research on another aspect of the Battle of Pilot Knob, concerning the execution of Major James Wilson and his men, the retaliation executions of the Confederates in St. Louis, and the planned retaliation execution of Major Enoch O. Wolf. Regimental history/roster of the 78th Enrolled Missouri Militia, which was comprised mostly of Ste. Genevieve and Perry County men. In depth information on John Koester, Charles Kannawurf, Charles Doerge, Anselm Stolzer and Leopold Naeger, who were immigrant Germans serving in the Civil War." Rosters of two companies of the 47th Missouri Vols. and Clardy's Battalion are included in the rear of the book.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A new Bragg biography

Someone is finally taking another stab at a Braxton Bragg biography. He's always struck me as an officer truly equal parts sinner and sinned against, and some modern historians are coming around to giving credit to the general as an able strategist. General Braxton Bragg, C.S.A. is scheduled for a winter release by McFarland. I am unfamiliar with the author, Samuel J. Martin, and his prior work, biographies of generals Judson Kilpatrick, Matthew C. Butler and Richard S. Ewell, so I don't know what to expect. I do seem to recall a rather negative review of the Ewell biography in one of the Civil War magazines, the writer finding Pfanz's tome much the better of the two.

Speaking of BB bios, has anyone read Don Seitz's Braxton Bragg: General of the Confederacy (1924)?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Booknotes III (May '10)

New additions:

1. Patrick Connor's War: The 1865 Powder River Indian Expedition by David E. Wagner  (Arthur H. Clark Co., 2010).

Wagner, who passed away last year, recently published an edited volume of journals from one wing of the multi-pronged 1865 Powder River Expedition directed against the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. This book also draws heavily upon participant accounts, but here the author attempted to reconstruct the campaign as a whole. Large numbers of maps will allow the reader to follow the action over great expanses of unfamiliar terrain.

2. A Hard Trip: A History of the 15th Mississippi Infantry, CSA by Ben Wynne (Mercer U. Press, 2010).

3. The Battle of Resaca: Atlanta Campaign, 1864 by Philip L. Secrist (Mercer U. Press, 2010).

The above pair of Mercer titles are new paperback reprints. Unread by me, both are welcome.  The Resaca book is a brief summary, with some interesting battle maps and photography.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Trimpi: "CRIMSON CONFEDERATES: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South"

[Crimson Confederates: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South by Helen Trimpi (University of Tennessee Press, 2010). Cloth, photos, notes, appendices. 408 Pages. ISBN: 978-157233-682-7  $59]

* * * * * * *

Dedicated on June 23, 1874, Memorial Hall on the campus of Harvard University formally honored the institution's graduates that went on to serve in the American Civil War. Conspicuously absent was any mention of the many alumni that served in the Confederate armies. Missing their chance to be immortalized in stone or bronze, these men will have to settle for the printed page, and a fine compilation it is. A vast improvement upon past efforts, Helen P. Trimpi's Crimson Confederates is a highly useful collection of biographical sketches of Harvard alumni that fought for the Confederacy.

In the introductory essay, Trimpi explains her vetting process, an attempt at assembling as complete a listing as possible that netted 357 individuals. In addition to detailing past efforts at publishing Harvard biographical registers of varying categories, Trimpi also describes the school's memorialization of its Union veterans and the differing attitudes and opinions directed toward the handful of campaigns aimed at commemorating Confederates, as well. Union veterans were divided on the issue of including any Confederate alumni, and special interest groups added their own pressure into the mix, the result of which was the tabling of all such proposals throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

An oversize hardcover running 362 double-column pages, Crimson Confederates is a hefty tome. As one might guess, the amount of available material varies greatly from one individual to another. Entries for prominent Confederate generals like John Sappington Marmaduke and William B. Taliaferro can run ten pages or more, while the most obscure individuals have only a few short paragraphs devoted to them.

The focus of each biographical sketch is on the subject's military service. In general, one paragraph each describes the soldier's pre- and post-war life and career. Entries are as precise as possible with dates and places, and each is accompanied by a source list. A small number of photographs were included (one might wish for more), and an asterisk precedes the name of each unfortunate that perished during the war.

The book is bound in red cloth, with a dust jacket to match in style and dimension the publisher's Yale volume, published the previous year [Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, Yale's Confederates: A Biographical Dictionary (Knoxville, TN: UT Press, 2009)]. Two appendices add even more information, the first a register of alumni who served the Confederacy in a civilian capacity and the second a data analysis. Crimson Confederates is an impressive tool for serious researchers. All individual and institutional libraries should consider adding this book to their Civil War collection. Additionally, it would make a nice gift for any Harvard graduate with an interest in the conflict. Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

What I look for in regimental histories

Recently on his blog, Michael Hardy asked for reader opinions about favorite regimental histories and what makes a good one. I don't know that I have a personal favorite, but I know what draws me to a particular unit history. Lee White commented "I want to know who the men were, where they came from, what they did before, during and after the war. I see each regiment as an armed representative of their community or town and each has its own unique story", and I think that's a good broad outline of the essentials, but I've become pretty jaded about the lack of ambition found in the general run of unit histories and biographies (the two categories of Civil War books that I believe carry the worst ratio of good to bad).

The typical regimental history "formula" involves a short organizational summary followed by chapters for each major campaign and battle the unit was involved in and a wrap-up, perhaps summarizing  the post-war lives and careers of some of the major players. Most also include a roster of a varying degree of depth, which unfortunately is often the only section of the book with any lasting value for researchers.  No matter what the unit's state of origin, North or South, may be, authors disproportionately tend to chose units that served primarily in the east, either with the Army of the Potomac or the ANV, inviting the reader to slog through yet another tiresome rundown of wartime events beginning with First Bull Run or the Peninsula and ending in  1864 enlistment expiration or at Appomattox. None of this is intrinsically worthless, but the majority of these narratives cast little if any new light on the regiment's unique role in any of the engagements, and, even worse, rarely go into enough detail to even distinguish the unit's positions, movements, and performance from any of the others in the same brigade or sometimes division. Also, given the explosion of documents and primary source materials of all types made available over the past few decades, there is little excuse not to at least attempt a rudimentary social history and some statistical analysis of the unit's manpower makeup. No one expects the kind of devotion that Mark Dunkelman has lavished upon his 154th New York, but at least a token effort beyond providing cursory officer sketches should be required before the author launches into the battles.

What really catches my eye is some kind of value-added factor about the unit or its service that makes its story extraordinary or unusual. One social historical example is Kirk Jenkins' history of the 15th Kentucky and how its diverse collection of officers and men, some of whom were slaveholders, found it to be in their best interest, and consistent with their sense of honor, to remain with and fight for the Union. By examining the personnel composition of a small unit in detail and showcasing its conflicts within and without, the book usefully informs the reader about Kentucky politics, institutions, and society as a whole. On the military side, I was impressed with Michael Martin's treatment of the 4th Wisconsin, a unit that criss-crossed the lower reaches of the Gulf states and was involved in several operations not detailed elsewhere in the literature. Donald Wickman's history of the 9th Vermont did much the same for the obscure Battle of Newport Barracks. I guess my overarching concern is that regimental histories in particular seem to have adopted a stagnant, self-limiting structure. What do you think?  Maybe I am overstating the case, and it's just more of a taste issue.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Knight: "VALLEY THUNDER: The Battle of New Market and the Opening of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, May 1864"

[Valley Thunder: The Battle of New Market and the Opening of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, May 1864 by Charles R. Knight (Savas Beatie, 2010).  Hardcover, 11 maps, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:264/344. ISBN:978-1-932714-80-7 $29.95]

William C. Davis's The Battle of New Market (Doubleday, 1975) has always been my favorite of his many books, but in the 35 years since its publication enough new source material has emerged to justify a new book length account. Happily for students of the Civil War and the 1864 campaign in the Shenandoah, Charles R. Knight's Valley Thunder is a masterpiece of modern battle history, firmly establishing itself as the new standard work on the subject, a situation that Davis himself readily concedes in his gracious and incredibly effusive introduction to Knight's book. When Davis places Valley Thunder in the top dozen Civil War battle histories that have ever been published, it should raise eyebrows a bit, but, if he's overdone it, he's not off by much.

In Valley Thunder, Knight, a former Historical Interpreter at New Market Battlefield State Historical Park, displays his expert knowledge of the terrain and of the body of source material pertaining to the battle. He also has the rare natural ability as a writer to take this unmatched knowledge base and use it to construct a tactical battle narrative that easily rivals any of the best to be found in the literature. Beyond the battle itself, enough background material is presented to give readers a solid conception of the campaign's planned coordination of three Union columns, Sigel's effort in the Shenandoah Valley and George Crook and W.W. Averell's raids against the industry and rail transportation system of southwest Virginia.

Knight deftly reconstructs the three distinct phases of the Battle of New Market, helped greatly by primary source material discovered over the past few decades. The only major movement remaining almost a complete mystery is that of John D. Imboden's cavalry east of Smith's Creek [a rain-swollen stream that marks the eastern boundary of the main battlefield], an issue that is further discussed in an informative appendix. Knight lauds the overall direction of Confederate commander John C. Breckinridge, as well as his units's regimental leadership, but is justifiably critical (especially in hindsight) of the sweeping movement of Imboden's brigade mentioned above, as it weakened Breckinridge's right flank at a critical moment and denied his army the ability to effectively pursue the Federal army when it was finally routed north of New Market in the late afternoon. On the Union side, the personal bravery of "army" commander Franz Sigel is duly noted, but the German's badly planned and organized advance to New Market is heavily and persuasively criticized. The lack of march discipline allowed the smaller Confederate force to defeat the Union army piecemeal. The federal cavalry division, under Julius Stahel, also performed poorly in the battle, but Colonel George D. Wells is well praised by Knight for his handling of the 34th Massachusetts infantry regiment.

Cartographer George Skoch's excellent sequence of tactical maps is heavily influenced by the Colonna Map of the Battle of New Market (reproduced on pg. 126), the strengths and weaknesses of which are noted by the author on the facing page. The battlefield was constricted on both sides by widely meandering water barriers (the North Fork of the Shenandoah River on the west and Smith's Creek to the east) and Knight does an excellent job of describing for the reader the critical role that the constantly shifting front length had on the tactical deployments employed by both sides. The effects of other natural and man-made terrain features (hills, ravines, fences, buildings, orchards, etc.), as well as the role of the weather (heavy rains and thick, deep mud) in retarding rapid movement, are also attended to in detail.

New Market is probably most well known for the Confederacy's battlefield deployment of VMI's corps of cadets, but Knight avoids the tendency of previous chroniclers to get carried away with describing their impact on the battle. The background of the cadets and their participation in the battle is discussed fully, but their brave and effective performance is placed in the proper context of being one among many. Another unusual unit that was singled out for special mention in the text (and in Appendix 8) was the only organized force of Missourians [Co. A, 1st Missouri Cavalry] to serve in the eastern armies.

In an additional nod to serious students, the source notes, which often burgeon with additional background and analysis, are placed at the bottom of each page. The appendices, eight in number, provide a wealth of  information, perhaps most significantly the annotated orders of battle complete with numbers and losses data. Others explore Imboden's flanking operation, the roles of specific units that fought in the battle [the 54th Pennsylvania, 23rd Virginia Cavalry, and 1st Missouri Cavalry], the story of the Bushong family, and the importance of VMI graduate and businessman George Collins in the genesis of the battlefield park.

Throughout the past couple decades, the concept and execution of the Civil War battle study has been both broadened and significantly refined, and Charles Knight's Valley Thunder embodies all the best elements of the genre that readers have come to expect, and more.  Award worthy, it is a masterwork in every regard.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Booknotes II (May '10)

New additions:

1. Union Combined Operations in the Civil War edited by Craig L. Symonds  (Fordham U. Press, 2010).

Symonds has assembled ten case studies of U.S. army-navy combined operations stretching all along the Confederate coastline. Post-war U.S. and international dimensions are also addressed. I should brush up on Rowena Reed again (it's been a while), as apparently several of the essays take a critical look at her seminal work. On the other hand, John Milligan's introduction to the 1993 Bison Books edition of Combined Operations in the Civil War (freely available from google books) summarizes its virtues, as well as the issues and concerns current scholars have with Reed's work, quite well.

2. The Chickamauga Campaign edited by Steven E. Woodworth (SIU Press, 2010).

The second volume from the Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland series, the eight essays assembled here are mostly battlefield analyses of division and corps commander performances from both sides. The new title remains very reasonably priced, with the downside that the series's cartographic shortcomings remain.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Myers: "EXECUTING DANIEL BRIGHT: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community 1861-1865"

[Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community 1861-1865 by Barton A. Myers (Louisiana State University Press, 2009). Hardcover, map, illustrations, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 146/206. ISBN: 978-0-8071-3475-7 $32.50]

The inner Civil War that raged within the coastal counties of North Carolina has been the subject of a number of excellent scholarly books and articles, and Barton Myers's award-winning monograph Executing Daniel Bright is yet another significant contribution to the Civil War historiography of the region. Although his title suggests a larger focus on the death of suspected Confederate guerrilla Daniel Bright, Myers's brief in length but deeply thoughtful study is really more of a Pasquotank County social, political, and military history.

Pasquotank, a northeastern North Carolina county whose major settlement was Elizabeth City, voted for compromise candidate John Bell during the 1860 presidential election. Like many others throughout the upper and border South, the county had Union and Confederate supporters spread across all social strata. Additionally, while many Pasquotank residents enrolled in the Confederate army, a significant number (white "Buffaloes", free blacks, and ex-slaves) joined Federal units.

When the U.S. army and navy together captured vast stretches North Carolina coast during Burnside's 1862 expedition, Elizabeth City also fell, significantly disrupting civil and social order in the city and surrounding lands. Myers describes well what followed soon after, a situation that unfortunately afflicted countless communities throughout the South. Union forces would often be ordered away from captured areas after brief occupations, inadvertently creating lawless zones controlled by the regular authorities of neither side. Into this power vacuum would step guerrillas like Daniel Bright.

Myers's account of the guerrilla war in the county reinforces Daniel Sutherland's thesis that the irregular war, far from being a broadly useful military tool to be used against invading U.S. armies, actually undermined popular support for the Confederacy by leaving the local populace undefended and open to harassment by both sides. In some cases, in exchange for nominal loyalty, locals were forced to look to federal forces for protection. Pro-Confederate guerrillas proved impossible to control (Pasquotank's irregulars were no exception), and the bands were generally unwilling and/or unable to consistently protect citizens and their property. Even worse, the presence of guerrillas only increased the likelihood of Federal raids and magnified the harshness of their retribution. This is clearly demonstrated by the author's excellent summary of Union general Edward A. Wild's December 1863 punitive raid from southeast Virginia into northeast North Carolina. It was during Wild's raid that Daniel Bright, an accused Confederate deserter and guerrilla, was captured and hanged. For an individual whose name is mentioned in the very title of the book, surprisingly little space is devoted to Bright's life, Civil War activities, and the circumstances of his capture and execution. However, his importance is mainly symbolic, ancillary to the overall thrust of Myers's book.

Wild's raiding force was composed of USCT units, a circumstance that concerned local families of all political persuasions. The image of black soldiers moving through the region with impunity, freeing slaves, accosting citizens, and taking white women as hostages unnerved many. Wild's raid led both sides to take the unusual step of meeting together and hammering out a neutrality agreement that would bring a modicum of peace to the area and also serve to forestall additional punitive raids. It did not work as planned, but demonstrated that some issues could be temporarily set aside if it meant the preservation of personal property and the existing racial/social order.

As stated above, Executing Daniel Bright is a valuable contribution to the social and military historiography of the Civil War in coastal North Carolina. It is also a model of concise scholarly rendering of a number of challenging subjects and themes that can be applied to the study of other regions. Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Booknotes (May '10)

New additions:

1. Louisianians in the Western Confederacy: The Adams-Gibson Brigade in the Civil War by Stuart Salling  (McFarland, 2010).

You can always get on my good side with great cartography, and the 43 maps that accompany this book are really quite good.

2. Texas: A Historical Atlas by A. Ray Stephens, maps by Carol Zuber-Mallison  (U. of Oklahoma Press, 2010).

Stephens published the Historical Atlas of Texas twenty years ago, and this is an updated and greatly expanded new edition, with all new color maps (175 of them). It's beautiful work, but Civil War coverage is sparse, with only four pages and two maps.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The online book buying jungle

I'm not sure we would want to go back to the pre-Internet days, when information about new and old books and their availability was fairly limited and purchasing out of print publications was much more difficult, time consuming, and expensive than it is today, but I find obtaining books from the general run of third-party sellers to be increasingly less enjoyable and often downright aggravating. With the trivial ease and relatively low expense of listing books online at various venues, the scene is flooded with amateurs, mega sellers, and hobbyists that invest no time in become familiar with books or in complying with even the basic rules of the various bookselling venues. Even worse, the bigger the seller the more willing the venue is to overlook a common pattern of transgressions.

Here is a recent example (one that is sadly all too common). I'd been searching for a reasonably priced copy of a certain Civil War book that's been OP for going on 15 years, and I found an online listing for a 'NEW' copy at less than 1/10 the going rate. Of course, the unlikely condition and price raised a number of obvious red flags, so I sent off a politely worded and apologetic inquiry seeking a reaffirmation of the book's condition and a description of how the seller packages his books. The replies (a series of increasingly insulting missives delivered in rapid succession, in which it was admitted that the seller was selling a used book with highlighting inside as 'new') ended with the lovely:
"Please don't order this book. I think you are going to be a pain in the ass, and I don't want trouble with [venue X]. Thanks for your interest."
I had a good laugh about that one.

It is also strange the defensiveness that inquiries about packaging engender. One would think independent sellers would jump at the opportunity to separate themselves from the competition, especially if the book's price is considerable. Instead, one often gets the canned response "I've had X number of customers and no one has ever complained". Invariably, this is code for 'I package as terribly as the next guy'. Sadly, if I requested a partial or full refund for every order that was grossly misgraded and/or underpackaged and consequently badly damaged (as I would be entitled to do), I would have my buying privileges revoked.

The seller rating systems employed by online venues are all fatally flawed. The vast majority of book buyers are only concerned with price and apparently have a bizarre conception of who controls delivery time, leaving the overall seller ratings of horrific mega sellers indistinguishable from those that excel through proper grading, packaging, and overall customer service. So where does this leave a buyer who actually does care about correctly identified books and their condition? You have to be a pain in the ass. You have to ask a lot of questions (politely and diplomatically, of course) a paying customer should never have to ask. The content of the reply and manner in which it is conveyed will inform you far more about the likelihood of you getting what you want than any of the silly rating systems out there.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Lorraine McConaghy

I thumbed through historian Lorraine McConaghy's Warship under Sail: The USS Decatur in the Pacific West at a bookstore (it looked good), but never did get around to requesting a review copy from Univ. of Washington Press. On April 30, she discussed the book on Civil War Talk Radio, and also summarized her ongoing research on the life of the governor of Washington Territory at the time of Lincoln's election. The man's name escapes me, but she mentioned to Gerry that he was a pro-southern appointee that resigned and went home to Kentucky to agitate for secession. Interestingly, in another interview, McConaghy stated that her next book project will be a history of the 'Civil War in Washington Territory'. I think a good title would be "Thunder Along Puget Sound".

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Schafer: "THUNDER ON THE RIVER: The Civil War in Northeast Florida"

[Thunder on the River: The Civil War in Northeast Florida by Daniel L. Schafer (University Press of Florida, 2010). Cloth, maps, photos, drawings, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:291/362. ISBN:978-008130-3419-5 $29.95]

Back in 1984, Daniel L. Schafer published Jacksonville's Ordeal By Fire: A Civil War History (Florida Publishing Company) with Richard A. Martin. Schafer's new history of the Civil War in the Jacksonville area, titled Thunder on the River, is an updated and greatly expanded continuation of his previous work. It's also much more detailed and scholarly in its composition.

While the geographical extent of the book's coverage encompasses a large, roughly triangular-shaped area (its corners the towns of Baldwin, Palatka, and Mayport), the greatest attention is still paid to Jacksonville, the most important city located along Florida's St. Johns River. Ancillary happenings at Fernandina and St. Augustine are also briefly touched upon. Thunder on the River centers on the four federal occupations of Jacksonville, beginning in 1862 and ending with final permanent holding of the city by the Union army and navy in 1864. The descriptions of the military operations surrounding these events are detailed enough to satisfy most readers, however original maps were needed. As often happens when large archival maps are reduced in size in order to fit comfortably inside modern book pages, details can be inscrutable. Additionally, because the images are not directly tied to the text, many important towns and locales are left out altogether.

The book also serves to tie up loose ends left by other authors and historians of Civil War Florida. Where Stephen Ash recounted the history of the third occupation of Jacksonville (1863) from the Union perspective in his excellent book Firebrand of Liberty (2008), Schafer's integration of the Confederate side into the story broadens the reader's understanding of these events, although his own book also tends to devote more space to Federal operations [presumably, a source material availability issue]. In perhaps a nod to previous book length work on the 1864 Battle of Olustee by William H. Nulty (1990) and Lewis G. Schmidt (1989), Schafer only briefly summarizes the events of the battle, but he does provide some interesting information about the latter stages of the campaign that does not appear elsewhere in the secondary literature. In another example of fresh military historical material presented in Thunder, the author describes the defensive network constructed by the Confederates to protect the important rail junction of Baldwin, Florida from the possibility of Union forces attacking the town from nearby Jacksonville.

Although military events are the main focus of the book, the impact of the war on the region's social and political structures are also discussed at length. The institution of slavery along the shores of the St. Johns River was essentially destroyed by Union forces, many of which were composed of black units organized at Hilton Head, South Carolina. The series of Union occupations and evacuations also imposed great hardships upon the civilian population, a significant segment of which was unionist in its loyalty. As with many regions only temporarily visited upon by the Union army and navy, much in the way of public and private property was destroyed (with or without orders), and the power vacuum created by the absence of regular garrison forces from either side led to a breakdown in civil order. This in turn allowed guerrillas and other lawless elements freer reign to further harass the inhabitants, regardless of loyalty. Property confiscation under the authority of northern agents of the Direct Tax Commission and the effort by the U.S. government in 1864 to bring Florida back into the fold under the "ten-percent plan" before the November election are also covered. The final chapter discusses the early Reconstruction-era conflicts that arose between the white populace and the occupying Union army, a force composed in large measure of black soldiers from the 34th and later the 3rd USCT regiments.

Solidly researched and thorough in its presentation of the region's wartime military, social, and political history, Thunder on the River is the most impressive book published about the Civil War in Florida in recent memory. One can confidently add Daniel Schafer's study to the short but growing list of essential Florida volumes.