Sunday, August 8, 2010

Salling: "LOUISIANIANS IN THE WESTERN CONFEDERACY: The Adams-Gibson Brigade in the Civil War"

[Louisianians in the Western Confederacy: The Adams-Gibson Brigade in the Civil War by Stuart Salling (McFarland ph. 800-253-2187, 2010).  Softcover, photos, 43 maps, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:235/260.  ISBN:978-0-7864-4218-8   $39.95]

Commanded alternately by Randall Lee Gibson and Daniel Weisiger Adams, the western army's Louisiana Brigade had a long and bloody career. It battered itself against the Hornet's Nest at Shiloh on April 6, 1862, suffering tremendous casualties. Later at Perryville, it attacked on the left flank of the main Confederate assault. Coming up against the Union's formidable Round Forest position and later participating in John C. Breckinridge's doomed assault on the right, Murfreesboro further decimated the regiments of the brigade. Returning from a relatively quiet time in Mississippi as part of Joseph E. Johnston's Vicksburg relief army in mid-1863, the Louisianians fought hard at Chickamauga on the Confederate far right flank, getting severely cut up in the process at Kelly Field. Occupying a position on the left center of the Confederate siege lines at Chattanooga, Gibson's brigade was pushed off Missionary Ridge on the late afternoon of November 25, losing almost half of its remaining strength. The men then struggled through the disastrous Atlanta and Tennessee campaigns before finally being overcome at Mobile's Fort Blakely in April 1865.  The brigade's role in all of these campaigns and battles is ably described by Stuart Salling in his organizational and military history Louisianians in the Western Confederacy: The Adams-Gibson Brigade in the Civil War.

Better than most brigade histories, Salling's narrative traces in detail both the Louisiana Brigade's theater movements as well as its tactical role in each battle (the latter at regimental scale). His writing is supplemented and enriched throughout by the words of participants, discovered through the author's extensive manuscript research. The cartography is exceptional both in number (43) and quality. The operational maps chart the unit's progress on the campaign level, and tactical maps denote the movements and positions of each regiment on the battlefield. A wonderful array of well reproduced photographs, most of which I've never seen before, are also sprinkled liberally throughout the text. In a series of Gibson images, readers observe the striking aging effect the war had on the general.

An essential component of a good Civil War brigade history, especially one as unstatic in composition as the Adams-Gibson Brigade, is a careful accounting of its organization over time. In this regard, Salling once again performs exceptionally well, dutifully noting the comings and goings of various regiments and battalions (an excellent chart for the period between April and August 1862 is available on pg. 57), while also keeping in mind unit consolidations and reconstitutions, as well as strengths and losses at regular intervals. By the time of Hood's 1864 Tennessee Campaign, Gibson was down to a sad remnant of 660 men in ten regiments and battalions. Numerous capsule biographies of the endless parade of regimental, battalion, and battery officers that served with the Louisiana Brigade are also provided. Many readers will be familiar with Braxton Bragg's seemingly special antipathy directed toward Randall Gibson, essentially blocking Gibson's promotion to brigadier general until the army commander's own removal and replacement by Joe Johnston removed the obstacle.

The only serious source of complaint is with the numerous editing failures, mostly with proper names. It won't help the early purchasers, but I've been informed that these will be fixed in a later printing (3rd or 4th). Other than that, Louisianians in the Western Confederacy is highly recommended reading for western theater students. If you are not typically a fan of the greater run of Civil War brigade studies (as I am not), Stuart Salling's notably strong effort is the type of book that can change your mind.


  1. " If you are not typically a fan of the greater run of Civil War brigade studies (as I am not),"

    Why not?


  2. With brigade histories, due to the one step higher org level, you don't get the systematic analysis of the men like one might find inside the better regimentals. Writers also tend to choose brigades that served in the main armies, offering readers little more than a well worn battle narrative from which one learns almost nothing new about the brigade's particular role in a given battle or campaign.

    In my mind, the most fertile use of the brigade history would be with semi-independent units that fought in areas not already densely covered in the literature.


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