Thursday, September 30, 2010

Booknotes V (September '10)

New Arrivals:

1. Fort Davidson and the Battle of Pilot Knob: Missouri's Alamo by Walter E. Busch (The History Press, 2010).

This is not a battle history. According to the author, his Pilot Knob project was originally to be simply a compilation of memorial association booklets, and they do comprise the bulk of the book along with about 60 pages of author narrative.

2. A Perfect Gibraltar: The Battle for Monterrey, Mexico, 1846 by Christopher D. Dishman (U. of Okla Pr, 2010).

Incorporating quite a bit of Mexican source material (mostly published), A Perfect Gibraltar is a worthwhile looking medium length study of the Battle of Monterrey. Unfortunately, there are no original maps (argh!).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"The Autobiography of Henry Merrell: Industrial Missionary to the South"

One would never guess it from the title, but The Autobiography of Henry Merrell: Industrial Missionary to the South (Univ of Georgia Pr, 1991) is full of information about the Civil War in Arkansas. A Utica, New York native, Merrell parleyed a short stint at the Oneida Institute into a manufacturing and mechanical engineering career, much of it spent in the South in Georgia and Arkansas. Edited and annotated by James L. Skinner, The Autobiography of Henry Merrell comes to almost 600 pages, divided into three sections detailing Merrell's ventures in New York, Georgia, and Arkansas, the latter being of most interest here, as they comprise the Civil War years. With his autobiographical writing compiled at different times, Merrell made numerous mistakes, stumbling with dates and names, but Skinner's editorial notes, while not terribly extensive, correct these and also provide some additional background information.

Although a loyal Confederate through his southern economic and family ties, Merrell's experiences in convincing the local population that he was not just another 'yankee speculator' were not always successful. The army, conversely, was much more trustful and sought to utilize the New Yorker's manufacturing business and engineering background [apparently, his impressively designed dam and factory on the Little Missouri River brought Merrell a degree of regional fame]. In the spring of 1863, he was awarded the honorary rank of major and the task of obstructing the Arkansas River. Merrell's detailed description (accompanied by a drawing) of his ingeniously anchored river abatis is fascinating. Additionally, some striking personal insights into the guerrilla conflict within the state are offered.

On the other hand, his secondhand descriptions of many battles and campaigns in the state (e.g. Arkansas Post, Prairie Grove, Cotton Plant, etc.) often seem misplaced and bloat the narrative without providing substantive material for present day historians. A devoted partisan of generals Edmund Kirby Smith and Theophilus Holmes, Merrell had less positive things to say about Sterling Price and Richard Taylor. After the fall of Little Rock, Merrell moved his family to Camden, where he assisted in some capacity in its earthwork defense preparations [a nice map of Camden and its forts is provided by the editor] until the relief of his patron, General Holmes, left him temporarily without employment. At the end of 1864, Merrell was sent by Kirby Smith to Europe on a mission to obtain machinery for a new manufacturing center in Texas, finding himself in England when the war ended. It would be fair to say that students of a variety of historical interests, from early 19th century southern industry to the Civil War in Arkansas, will find this book of particular relevancy to their work.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mylar jackets in thick or thin

A short while ago, I invested in a roll of the best quality adjustable fold mylar jacket protectors and began applying them to my favorite and/or most valuable books from my collection. What struck me was just how thick they were (robust polyester sheeting with paper backing). Even before I read this short piece from a Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar attendee, I had concerns that, in the interest of preventing chips, tears, and overall shelfwear, I was actually malforming my jackets. It is curious that the biggest name in protectors, Brodart, applies paper backing to all of their archival safe covers, save one, their cheapest offering--the Econo-fold.

Now I'm not quite sure how I want to proceed. What do the long time collectors among my readers think? Please share.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hewitt & Bergeron (eds.): "CONFEDERATE GENERALS IN THE WESTERN THEATER, Vol. 2: Essays on America’s Civil War"

[Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 2: Essays on America’s Civil War edited by Lawrence Lee Hewitt and Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr. (University of Tennessee Press, 2010). Cloth, 19 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. 320 Pages. ISBN:978-1-57233-699-5 $45.95]

Volume 2 of the Confederate Generals in the Western Theater series is the first to include all original essays, ten in number and all are written by Civil War scholars with recognized western theater expertise.  To begin the book, James Prichard reassesses the career of Major General George B. Crittenden, a figure much maligned by many writers and historians as a drunken incompetent. Here, however the author presents a more complex view of the Kentuckian's up and down career. While Prichard found no evidence that Crittenden was ever drunk in battle and a good argument could be made that his hand was forced by subordinate blunders during the Mill Springs campaign, surely high command duties off the battlefield are just as important and the correct decision was made to sack him if for nothing else than the future risk was too great. However, in a case similar to John C. Pemberton, the disgraced general officer rejoined the war at a much lower rank (Colonel) and fought creditably to the end, and the author reminds us that, when viewed in its totality, Crittenden's Civil War career could be viewed as a credit to the Confederacy. The conclusion is certainly debatable, but the overall point that one shouldn't judge an officer that served throughout the war on the basis of a single campaign is well taken.

Stuart Sanders's second chapter is a swift moving overview of the Civil War career of Alfred Vaughan, a relatively obscure figure that the author opines to be one of the best regiment and brigade commanders in the West. Although length permits much in the way of detail, his argument is largely persuasive. In a similar fashion, Brian Steel Wills's article follows the hoofprints of Hylan B. Lyon, strongly making the case that the Kentuckian should be regarded as one of the best brigade level cavalry leaders in the western Confederate armies.

Major General Earl Van Dorn's 1862 Baton Rouge campaign is the subject of an essay by Charles Elliott. His observation that the Mississippian's hyper aggressive tactics and lack of attention to logistical matters had its origins in small unit actions against Indians strikes one as reasonable, although many other officers with the opposite Civil War command temperament had the same pre-war army experience. The writer's contention that Van Dorn's misuse of the CSS Arkansas was a major blunder strikes one as valid, considering the ironclad -- balky though its engines were -- was really the only Confederate vessel of its kind with substantial freedom of movement (the others bottled up in harbors and obstructed waterways).

The two Joseph E. Johnston chapters depict that general at his best and worst. Vicksburg Campaign historian Terrence Winschel offers the now standard view of Johnston's failure to relieve the besieged garrison. Whatever one thinks of the chances of success or the amount of support rendered to Johnston, the Virginian is rightly damned for not even trying.  One the other end of scale, is Craig Symonds's look at Johnston in North Carolina. Given the impossible task of checking Sherman's northward advance, the general skillfully concentrated widely scattered bits and pieces of unfamiliar parts of battered Confederate formations to fight them well at the Battle of Bentonville, and later surrender the whole lot honorably.

Alexander Mendoza's contribution is a distillation of the views presented in his book about James Longstreet's time in the western theater, from Chickamauga to First Corps's return to the Army of Northern Virginia, a period wracked by insubordination, intrigue, and failure on the part of Longstreet, as well as Old Pete's vindictive attacks on his own lieutenants. Much better able to avoid personal and political backbiting was Alexander P. Stewart, and Sam Davis Elliot examines Stewart's creditable performance in the opening battles of the 1864 Atlanta Campaign.

Taking a look at the historical images of controversial Civil War generals, a pair of chapters trace how difficult it can be to alter convention, even those cemented on slim or no evidence. Stephen Davis takes historians to task for asserting (or using unsourced weighted language to hint at) John Bell Hood's use/overuse of opiates. In another article, Thomas Schott seeks to revive corps commander William J. Hardee's reputation as "Old Reliable", although, in this reader's opinion, his arguments that Hardee was a faithful subordinate are unconvincing. Perhaps the most interesting of Schott's arguments is his idea that corps commanders should not be criticized by historians for their battlefield management, as their ability to direct events extended little beyond the planning stages. While the idea is intriguing on the surface, the author proceeds a bit too far with it. While it's obvious that multiple variables and events beyond a commander's control make results unpredictable, one can find numerous prominent examples of corps commanders (think George Thomas at Chickamauga) personally shaping and reshaping in mid-stream the course of Civil War battles. However, it is agreed that criticism of this kind should be used more sparingly in the literature.

Gathered together in a handsome black cloth volume and supported with numerous maps, this group of wide ranging and thoughtful essays on Confederate western leaders and leadership is a worthy addition to personal and institutional libraries. With subject officers ranging from the famous to the obscure, and with a fair bit of healthy evidentiary-based historiographical revisionism added, there is something here for western theater students of all levels. One greatly looks forward to future volumes in the series.

Also from this publisher:
* Great Things Are Expected of Us: The Letters of Colonel C. Irvine Walker, 10th South Carolina Infantry, C.S.A.
* Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 1: Classic Essays on America’s Civil War
* Crimson Confederates: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South
* Yale's Confederates: A Biographical Dictionary
* The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged
* The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion
* Echoes of Thunder: A Guide to the Seven Days Battles
* Little to Eat and Thin Mud to Drink: Letters, Diaries, and Memoirs from the Red River Campaigns, 1863–1864
* Earthen Walls, Iron Men: Fort DeRussy, Louisiana, and the Defense of Red River
* Through the Howling Wilderness: The 1864 Red River Campaign and Union Failure in the West

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Booknotes IV (September '10)

New Arrivals:

1. Every Day of the Civil War: A Chronological Encyclopedia by Bud Hannings (McFarland, 2010).

At over 600 small print, triple-columned pages, this day-by-day military (army and navy) account of the war is massive. Based primarily on official records, it describes as many battles and skirmishes as possible, as well as general officer activities (e.g. appointments, promotions, sackings, etc.). Political events, however, are not a focus of the work.

2. Civil War Justice in Southeast Missouri by Bob Schmidt (Camp Pope Publishing, 2010).

From Publisher:
"Civil War Justice in Southeast Missouri documents seven cases involving both civilians and soldiers in the Missouri Bootheel: The Murder of Samuel Vance McFarland; Cpl. John F. Abshire, Martyr of the Confederacy; The Arrests of John Benton and Missouri Coffman; The Killing of Addison Cunningham; The Killing of Joseph Jokerst; Found Guilty: Spitting on a Soldier; and Drinking On Duty: The Case of Pvt. James Shields."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reading List: Indian Wars 1861 - '65

Earlier, I posted a list of what I thought are worthwhile books dealing with the Civil War in the Indian Territory, but the war scarcely had an diminishing effect on the conflicts between whites and Indians elsewhere throughout the west. I've compiled a short list of titles, subdivided regionally.


The Deadliest Indian War in the West: The Snake Conflict, 1864-1868 by Gregory F. Michno.

All Quiet on the Yamhill: The Civil War in Oregon by Royal A. Bensell.

Shoshoni Frontier & Bear River Massacre by Brigham Madsen.

New Mexico:

The Kit Carson Campaign: The Last Great Navajo War by Clifford E. Trafzer.

Navajo Roundup: Selected Correspondence of Kit Carson's Expedition Against the Navajo, 1863-1865 by Lawrence C. Kelly.


Battle At Sand Creek: The Military Perspective by Gregory F. Michno.

Sand Creek Massacre by Stan Hoig.

Finding Sand Creek: History, Archeology, And the 1864 Massacre Site by Jerome A. Green and Douglas D. Scott.


Confederate Pathway to the Pacific: Major Sherod Hunter and Arizona Territory, C.S.A by L. Boyd Finch.

One Blanket and Ten Days Rations: 1st Infantry New Mexico Volunteers in Arizona 1864-1866 by Charles and Jacqeline Meketa.

The Civil War in Arizona: The Story of the California Volunteers, 1861-1865 by Andrew E. Masich.


Nevada Military Place Names of the Indian Wars and Civil War by Daniel C.B. Rathbun.


Frontier Defense in the Civil War: Texas' Rangers and Rebels by David Paul Smith.

Minnesota and Dakota Territory:

The Dakota War: The United States Army Versus the Sioux, 1862-1865
by Micheal Clodfelter.

Over the Earth I Come: The Great Sioux Uprising of 1862 by Duane Schultz.

The Dakota War of 1862: Minnesota's Other Civil War
by Kenneth Carley.

The Iowa Northern Border Brigade by Marshall McKusick.

Memories of the Battle of New Ulm: Personal Accounts of the Sioux Uprising. L. A. Fritsche's History of Brown County, Minnesota (1916) edited by Don Heinrich Tolzmann.

Memories of New Ulm by Rudolf Leonhart, edited by Don Heinrich Tolzmann.

The Plains:

Massacre Along the Medicine Road: A Social History of the Indian War of 1864 in Nebraska Territory by Ronald Becher. (also, an in interesting guidebook companion is Battlefields of Nebraska by Thomas Phillips).

Powder River Odyssey: Nelson Cole's Western Campaign of 1865 the Journals of Lyman G. Bennett and Other Eyewitness Accounts and Patrick Connor's War: The 1865 Powder River Indian Expedition by David E. Wagner.

Guarding The Overland Trails: The Eleventh Ohio Cavalry In The Civil War by Robert Huhn Jones.

The Indian War of 1864 by Eugene F. Ware.


Civil War in the Northwest: Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. by Robert Huhn Jones.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Roughshod Through Dixie: Grierson's Raid 1863"

Given the renowned Civil War "story" of Grierson's Raid told in print and film, it's a bit surprising that a modern study has not arrived to surpass Dee Brown's decades old classic. Volume 12 of Osprey Publishing's Raid series and coming in at a slender 80 pages, Mark Lardas's Roughshod Through Dixie: Grierson's Raid 1863 [2010, ISBN:9781846039935 $18.95] is not such an ambitious attempt, but rather a sleek overview of the 1863 Union cavalry raid that set out from LaGrange, Tennessee, taking a disruptive and destructive course through Mississippi before concluding in Louisiana at Baton Rouge.

Always keeping in mind the raid's supporting role within the overall 1863 Mississippi campaign, Lardas takes the reader through it's planning and execution in daily increments (sixteen in all). A map and sidebar time and event markers further chart the progress of the mounted raiders, as they wrecked Mississippi transportation infrastructure and successfully diverted Confederate attention from the movements of Grant's army below Vicksburg. The author is correct that leader Benjamin Grierson materially aided the long process of capturing the Hill City, but is premature in asserting that the mid-1863 operation demonstrated that the Confederacy was "a hollow shell". That would certainly be the case in the following year, but Confederate mismanagement of their substantial western theater mounted forces was a much greater factor in this particular raid's success than a wider lack of resources.

This study has all of the typical visual presentation hallmarks of an Osprey book, with numerous period photographs and illustrations, as well as original color artwork [among them, bird's eye view paintings of the attacks on the towns of Enterprise and Hazelhurst]. The operational map traces the progress of the main force, as well as the movements of its trio of diversionary and supporting detachments. Confederate troop concentrations are also marked. Roughshod Through Dixie is a solid history of Grierson's famous raid.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Booknotes III (September '10)

New Arrivals:

1. Crossroads of Conflict: A Guide to Civil War Sites in Georgia by Barry L. Brown and Gordon R. Elwell (Univ of Georgia Pr, 2010).

Organized by region, this book covers 350 sites across the state, supplemented with over 200 photographs, paintings, drawings, and maps, the majority in color. At the rear of the book is a table of GPS coordinates for each location.  It's a nicely put together reinforced softcover with thick glossy pages at a very reasonable price.

2. The Battle of Glorieta Pass: The Colorado Volunteers in the Civil War March 26, 27, 28, 1862 by William C. Whitford (Rio Grande Press, 1991).

Published in 1906 after the author's death, William Clarke Whitford's manuscript was the first substantial work on the Glorieta battle. The 1991 edition added a new index (Whitford's original lacked one) and a 22 page appendix comprising a map series, battle analysis, and detailed OBs by Burt Schmitz. The edition is not scarce, and, in my opinion, the additional material alone is worth the modest purchase price.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Wagner: "PATRICK CONNOR'S WAR: The 1865 Powder River Indian Expedition"

[Patrick Connor's War: The 1865 Powder River Indian Expedition by David E. Wagner (Arthur H. Clark Co., 2010). Cloth, 16 maps, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:268/296. ISBN:978-0-87062-393-6 $39.95]

Native Irishman and Mexican War veteran Patrick Edward Connor is best known for his controversial 1862-63 Bear River Expedition against the Shoshone in present-day Utah and Idaho1, the personal result of which was a promotion to Brigadier General. However, in 1865, in response to Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Sioux raids on the western plains, he was ordered to lead an operation of vastly greater size and scope, the Powder River Indian Expedition (August - September).

Connor's strike force was organized into three columns, all composed of mounted Civil War volunteer units, many quite surly over being sent out west instead of  mustered out. Nelson Cole's eastern column set out from Omaha, while the 16th Kansas (under Lt. Col. Samuel Walker) moved north from Fort Laramie. Connor himself oversaw the western wing, which was under the direct command of Col. James H. Kidd (6th Michigan Cavalry). Heavily laden with the expedition's supply train, the Connor/Kidd force was tasked first with establishing a fort on the Powder River before joining up with and resupplying the other two columns near Panther Mountain in Montana Territory. While it was hoped that native resistance would be crushed, military results were indecisive.

Patrick Connor's War is the second Powder River Expedition study from the late David E. Wagner, both published by noted western Americana press Arthur H. Clark Company. While his earlier volume2 detailed the marches and skirmishes of the center and eastern wings, the new book focuses on the force directly led by Connor, as well as the ill-timed federally funded road surveying expedition led by civilian James A. Sawyers.

Stylistically, Wagner's writing is terse and tightly organized, with each chapter broken down into subheadings by date and column (Connor, Sawyers, and Cole/Walker). The system works well, allowing readers to easily chart the positions of the converging forces on any given day. The book's maps, while lean of terrain and landmark detail, are numerous and provide an adequate visual representation of each day's movement. A product of the author's extensive research into published and unpublished primary source materials, much of the action is told in the words of the participants. Also, Connor's official report, long believed to be non-existent by historians, is included as an appendix.

Ultimately, the expedition's primary goal of crushing the northern plains tribes to such a degree as to compel favorable treaty agreements was not met. Wagner's explanations of key errors made in the campaign are compelling. In his view, the overall plan was flawed from the beginning by starting Cole's eastern column from Omaha instead of far nearer Fort Pierre. Also, the expedition's logistical support, coming right as the Civil War-weary federal government was seeking to drastically cut short overall military spending, was abysmal. With the Civil War's end fulfilling their reason for enlisting, the volunteer regiments used were also extremely reluctant to fight Indians, and even mutinous in some cases. Finally, Wagner does make a good case throughout that subsequent questions about the competence of Cole and Walker, raised by Connor and others, are largely unjustified.  Taken together, David Wagner's Powder River Odyssey and Patrick Connor's War comprise the best modern study of the Powder River Indian Expedition. Both volumes are highly recommended.

1 - The best treatment remains Brigham Madsen's The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre (University of Utah Press, 1985).
2 - Powder River Odyssey: Nelson Cole's Western Campaign of 1865 the Journals of Lyman G. Bennett and Other Eyewitness Accounts by David E. Wagner (Arthur H. Clark Co., 2009).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Booknotes II (September '10)

New Arrivals:

1. Into the Crater: The Mine Attack at Petersburg by Earl J. Hess (Univ of S. Carolina Pr, 2010).

My interest in the subject cratered long ago, but I'll read anything by Hess and the research and writing here look top notch as expected. Similar in design to those from his eastern theater fortifications trilogy, maps are plentiful and informative.

2. Lee and Jackson's Bloody Twelfth: The Letters of Irby Goodwin Scott, First Lieutenant, Company G, Putnam Light Infantry, Twelfth Georgia Volunteer Infantry edited by Johnnie Perry Pearson (Univ of Tenn Pr, 2010).

The latest volume from UT Press's Voices of the Civil War series, the Scott letters span nearly the entire war, from June '61 through February '65. Maps, photos, and a unit roster supplement the text.

Monday, September 13, 2010


[Mississippi in the Civil War: The Home Front by Timothy B. Smith (University Press of Mississippi, 2010). Cloth, 2 maps, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:212/274.  ISBN:978-1-60473-429-4  $40]

Timothy Smith's Mississippi in the Civil War is not the first study of the state's home front experience, but it is the first to integrate the subject matter emphases of modern scholarship (e.g. southern unionism, the contributions of blacks and women, etc.) into the state's wartime economic, social, and political history. Masterfully, the author, a frequent contributor to western theater historical studies, is able to fit all of this material into a relatively brief study without sacrificing depth.

Appropriately enough, Smith begins Part One with a discussion of the Mississippi secession convention and the key figures involved in creating what was to them a newly independent country. The centrality of slavery's role in fostering secession is emphasized, as well as the significant unionist sentiment in the state. Another chapter contrasts the ineffective administration of Governor John Jones Pettus with that of former Confederate General Charles Clark, a much more practical and competent politician who arrived on the scene in November 1863, far too late to correct previous gubernatorial mistakes. The newly seceded state also had to quickly put itself on a war footing, and Smith provides readers with a brief rundown of the Military Board's efforts to raise volunteer and militia units to defend the state and the budding Confederacy. While good, one wished for a bit more detailed look at the Mississippi State Troops, appropriate to a home front study given that its units served within the Magnolia State's borders. The economic infrastructure (plantations, industry, railroads, shipyards, shipping, etc.) destroyed by the series of federal incursions from 1862 onward is covered in a subsequent chapter. Smith effectively demonstrates, how, by late in the war, the mass destruction of private property and the choking off of commerce led to widespread disaffection among the loyal population. A chapter on finance and taxation closes out Part One.

Part Two delves into areas of research comparatively neglected by previous generations of home front historians. Here, one finds some reinforcement of the "loss of will" argument for the collapse of the Confederacy. Union forces often raided with impunity, and Smith argues that the loss of the capital city of Jackson, located at the heart of the state and surrendered without a determined fight, should be viewed as a greater tipping point than the capture of Vicksburg. As mentioned before, unionist (perhaps better described in many cases as anti-Confederate) sentiment -- passive and active -- was strong in the state, and only increased as the war dragged on. While Jones County grabs most the headlines in other studies, here Smith tells the stories of many unionist and disillusioned Confederate individuals and families located throughout the state, one of the most prominent being James L. Alcorn. The contributions of black residents of the state to the Union effort is also outlined. While slaves disrupted the plantation system by escaping bondage or by slowing or stopping work, they, along with free blacks, also actively served as spies and guides. Significant numbers also enlisted in USCT formations, with Smith's research finding it likely that the official number (around 17,000) has been greatly underestimated. Another chapter highlights the contributions and sufferings of Mississippi women, many of whom were ardent supporters of the Confederate cause, losing hope only when Union soldiers arrived at their own doorsteps. Finally, the understudied subject of the cultural destruction wrought by the war is summarized. Many schools and churches throughout the state were either destroyed or forced to close. The activities of Mississippi newspapers, publishers, entertainers, and artists were also severely curtailed, denying an already stressed civilian population traditional outlets for information, intellectual stimulation, and leisure.

As one can see, Mississippi in the Civil War is about as comprehensive a home front treatment as one can expect. Fully documented and based on extensive manuscript research, it is also a product of dedicated and sound scholarship on the part of historian Timothy Smith. This book is highly recommended, both on its own and as an excellent companion to the many existing studies of military campaigns and battles fought in and around the state.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Corps histories

I can't recall the last time one of these was published, but there's one coming in April.

Defeating Lee: A History of the Second Corps, Army of the Potomac by Lawrence A. Kreiser (Indiana Univ Pr, 2011).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Author Q & A: Chris Hartley

Last month, North Carolina publisher John F. Blair released Chris Hartley's Stoneman's Raid, 1865.  According to his author bio, Hartley has worked in marketing and communications for several large companies and has published several Civil War articles. Most recently, he contributed the feature article (dealing with a portion of Stoneman's Raid) for Blue & Gray magazine Issue #6, Volume XXVI. 

DW: Chris, thank you for joining me for a short conversation about your new book. What got you interested in Stoneman’s Raid? When you mention your “Stoneman’s Raid” book to others (and don’t mention the year) do they automatically think Chancellorsville Campaign?

CH: I grew up in the area that Stoneman’s cavalry raided in 1865, and today I still live there, so I could not help but be drawn to this event. It is hard to miss the historical markers commemorating the raid – they seem to be everywhere – yet not many people know much about it, so I set out to correct that.

That lack of knowledge about the raid is even more common outside of North Carolina and Virginia. In fact, except for serious Civil War students, I’ve encountered few people who know much about any of Stoneman’s raids. That includes his Chancellorsville raid, his ill-fated July 1864 Atlanta campaign raid, his more successful outing in Southwestern Virginia in December 1864, and his 1865 effort.

DW: Just briefly for the readers unfamiliar with the subject, can you summarize the main points of the raid and how your book addresses them?

CW: In the spring of 1865, Federal Maj. Gen. George Stoneman launched a cavalry raid deep into the heart of the Confederacy that was designed to help end the Civil War. Over a span of two months, Stoneman’s cavalry rode well over a thousand miles across six southern states, fighting fierce skirmishes and destroying massive amounts of supplies and facilities. It stands as one of the longest raids in American military history.

My book tells the story of the raid, from its conception to its conclusion, and also analyzes the results. Taking a cue from the odd fact that Stoneman’s raid is the backdrop for a hit song from the 1960s – the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” – I attempt to assess whether or not Stoneman’s Raid truly did “Drive Old Dixie Down.”

DW: George Stoneman clearly had his ups and downs during the Civil War. What do you make of his strengths and weaknesses as an independent cavalry commander?

CH: As a battlefield commander, Stoneman enjoyed mixed success. Perhaps he deserves some of the blame for the cavalry’s failures during the Chancellorsville and Atlanta campaigns, but by no means does he deserve all of it as he was also the victim of bad weather, conflicting orders, and other difficulties. To his credit, he learned from those experiences and was afterward careful to execute his orders to the letter. Stoneman’s 1865 raid was his best. He led decisively and creatively and used his men in a manner that showed he understood their individual strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps Bruce Catton said it best: “Operating under a better general [George Thomas], he [Stoneman] was a better cavalryman.”

I should add that Stoneman contributed much to the ultimate success of the Union cavalry, and that is often overlooked. In 1861, he became the first chief of cavalry of the Army of the Potomac. Although the job was more title than substance at the time, he managed to improve the mounted arm by emphasizing drill and discipline, improving rations, medical facilities, and equipment, and by culling out weak officers. In 1863, Stoneman became chief of the Cavalry Bureau. In that role he did even more to enhance the Union cavalry as he focused on training and procuring horses and equipment. His work then was still being felt in 1865 when the Union cavalry had become a mighty force.

DW: Are there any underappreciated individuals or events associated with the raid that you’d like to mention?

CH: Stoneman’s final raid strikes me as remarkable because of the number of luminaries from both sides that were involved to some degree. Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Lee, Johnston, Pemberton, Semmes, and Beauregard are among those famous men who cross the stage.

There were also a number of memorable characters who were direct participants, starting with William J. Palmer. The best Union brigade commander on the raid, Palmer was one of the Union’s youngest generals and a Medal of Honor winner who went on to become a railroad tycoon. Another is Myles Keogh, Stoneman’s aide during the raid, who fought with distinction during the raid. After the war, Keogh remained in the cavalry, and went on to die at Custer’s side at Little Bighorn.

From an event standpoint, this raid has much to offer. The includes difficulties and controversies in planning, indiscretions, and a series of surprisingly sharp skirmishes at unexpected places such as present-day Martinsville, Virginia, and Salisbury, Morganton, and Asheville, N.C. The action at Salisbury itself is high drama, with Stoneman’s desire to liberate the Confederate Prison there – a desire that is frustrated. The raiders even go on to play a role in the pursuit and capture of Jefferson Davis.

DW: Prior to your book, the only full length treatment that I can readily recall is The Raid: East Tennessee, Western N. Carolina, Southwest Virginia by Thomas Ramsey (self published, I think, back in the 1970s). Does it have any value for readers today?

CH: Actually, Ramsey’s The Raid is about Stoneman’s Raid of December 1864, which targeted the salt and lead mines in Southwestern Virginia. The only book about Stoneman’s subsequent 1865 raid is Ina W. Van Noppen’s Stoneman’s Last Raid. Published in 1961, Van Noppen’s book is good but it is out of print, hard to find, and slim - and it overlooked a number of primary sources on the raid that I was able to consult for my book.

DW: Thanks for the clarification on Ramsey. That's what I get for making an assumption just from the title. I haven't checked lately, but don't think I've ever seen a copy for sale on the secondary market. In your research did you find any books associated with the raid that you could recommend to today’s reader as little noticed gems?

CH: Two regimental histories stand out in my mind. The 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry’s unit history (History of the Fifteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, Which Was Recruited and Known as the Anderson Cavalry in the Rebellion of 1861-1865, edited by Charles H. Kirk) is a must read for anyone interested in the raid. So too is the unit history for the Union 13th Tennessee Cavalry, Samuel W. Scott and Samuel P. Angel’s History of the Thirteenth Regiment Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry, U.S.A.

Also, Cornelia P. Spencer’s The Last Ninety Days of the War in North Carolina is valuable and a historical document in its own right as it was published soon after the war. Ms. Spencer gives the contemporary Southern viewpoint of the raid, and also traces other late-war activities in North Carolina. Her book is quite well done – she relied on eyewitness sources wherever possible.

DW: In the literature, is there much controversy about whether the raid was necessary, and, if so, whether the level of destruction was excessive? What are your personal thoughts on the matter?

CH: There is indeed some controversy. Despite the implications of the Band’s song, the destruction wrought by Stoneman’s raiders was largely confined to objectives that were military in nature – rails, rolling stock, military supplies, public buildings, etc. In contrast to some other operations in the Civil War, the raiders did not wantonly destroy everything in their path. So from that standpoint, it can be argued that the raiders’ destruction was not excessive.

However, that did not mean that the local population did not suffer, or that the raid came at the wrong time – the waning days of the war. Since the raiders operated with no supply line, they had to take food, forage, and horses wherever they found it. As Grant put it, “Indeed much valuable property was destroyed and many lives lost at a time when we would have liked to spare them.” Because of this, I argue in my book that the destruction the raiders sowed retarded postwar recovery in the areas it touched.

DW: What is the ultimate legacy of Stoneman’s Raid? Do you think the raid hastened the end of the war in any significant way?

CH: Had Lee’s or Johnston’s Confederate armies somehow managed to escape the grasp of their Union foes, they would most likely have headed west, directly into the region Stoneman raided. There they would have been in trouble with no supplies or infrastructure to rely on, for Stoneman’s raiders did their job well. Of course, that did not happen, so Stoneman’s final raid did little to help end the war, except for a very minor impact on the Appomattox Campaign.

As Grant later wrote of Stoneman’s and some companion raids farther west, “The war was practically over before their victories were gained. They were so late in commencing operations, that they did not hold any troops away that otherwise would have been operating against the armies which were gradually forcing the Confederate armies to a surrender.”

Instead, as I pointed out earlier, the raid’s destruction made Reconstruction harder.

DW:  Now for the question I ask every author. Do you have anything currently in the works or planned for the future that you can mention?

CH: Yes – I’m working on a new expanded edition of my first book, Stuart’s Tarheels: James B. Gordon and his North Carolina Cavalry, which has been out of print for over a decade. I am also in the very early stages of a new biography of Confederate Gen. D.H. Hill. Hill was a prolific writer, so it is going to take a while.

DW: Thanks for your time, Chris, and best of luck with Stoneman's Raid, 1865. I look forward to reading it.

CH: Thank you!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Unit chauvinism

This. Even given that we've seen such things before from unit fanboys, that's pretty bold. Ha.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Booknotes (September '10)

New Arrivals:

1. Friend and Foe Alike: A Tour Guide to Missouri's Civil War by Gregory Wolk (Monograph Publishing, 2010).

At first glance, Wolk's book appears to fit its billing as "the first comprehensive sesquicentennial driver's guide to Civil War battlefields and sites in Missouri". With five looping tours, it covers the areas where most of the action took place -- St. Louis, Kansas City, and the southwest, southeast, north central, and south central regions of the state. The explanatory text looks to be adequate in depth for such a broad guide and the volume is heavily illustrated with period and modern maps, photos, and drawings. There are sample pages to be downloaded from the author's website.

2. Robert E. Lee by Ron Field and ill. by Adam Hook (Osprey Publishing, 2010).

This is a part of Osprey's Command series, "The background, strategies, tactics and battlefield experiences of the greatest commanders of history". I haven't read any entries from this particular line, but the Lee book has the same length as the typical Osprey offering (64 pgs) and basically looks like a heavily illustrated (w/ photos, paintings, and maps) introductory military biography.

3. At the Precipice: Americans North and South during the Secession Crisis by Shearer Davis Bowman (UNC Press, 2010).

A look at the secession crisis through the eyes of individuals across society's spectrum.

Monday, September 6, 2010

New look

The old template had some customized elements that kept me from adding or tweaking many of the new Blogger features that pop up occasionally, so I've finally decided to ditch it and go with something else. I'm not entirely satisfied with any of the new ones to choose from, so this one may not last.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Lewis: "TRAILING CLOUDS OF GLORY: Zachary Taylor's Mexican War Campaign and His Emerging Civil War Leaders"

[Trailing Clouds of Glory: Zachary Taylor's Mexican War Campaign and His Emerging Civil War Leaders by Felice Flanery Lewis (University of Alabama Press, 2010). Hardcover, 5 maps, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:242/340. ISBN:978-0-8173-1678-5  $35]

Although not as impressive a military feat as Winfield Scott's winning advance from Vera Cruz to Mexico City, Zachary Taylor's campaign in northern Mexico was nevertheless an important contribution to victory in the U.S.-Mexican War. His army's victories at Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, Monterrey, and Buena Vista secured the Texan border and materially weakened the Mexican army as well as that country's strategic position. Felice Flanery Lewis's Trailing Clouds of Glory: Zachary Taylor's Mexican War Campaign and His Emerging Civil War Leaders is both an operational history of the northern campaign and a focused look at the combat, engineering, and logistical services rendered by the impressive group of young military professionals that accompanied Taylor's army, over 170 of whom would achieve general officer rank during the Civil War.

As mentioned above, Lewis's narrative is of an organizational and operational nature, with the battles themselves dispensed with rather summarily (an exception being that of the multi-day battle at Monterrey, which is recounted in some detail). Taylor's army was constantly in a state of organizational flux, from its origins in Louisiana as the Corps of Observation to its offensive role as the Army of Occupation in a series of movements and battles culminating in the tough victory at Buena Vista. The author dutifully notes the comings and goings of the various companies and regiments (and their many West Point trained officers) at each stage of the campaign. The maps (one theater and four battle drawings, all original) are helpful, but, given the orientation of the narrative, the study would have greatly benefited from the inclusion of those of a more operational nature. Also somewhat disappointing is the book's lack of any meaningful forward looking discussion of how combat in the U.S.-Mexican War informed (if indeed it did) how these officers would later fight the Civil War. How this can be done well is by no means obvious, and there is a little of it scattered about, but one might have expected a more determined attempt of some kind.

The author consulted a large number of personal paper collections located in several major east coast manuscript repositories for her study, utilizing this body of material to effectively chronicle the campaign largely from the perspective of the captains and lieutenants that comprise the book's main focus. The material is evenly balanced, north and south. Several officers (e.g. Napoleon J.T. Dana and D.H. Hill) are quoted throughout, perhaps a function of the volume of correspondence left behind.

Lewis is clearly an earnest admirer of Taylor, and another goal of her study is to defend the general against what she perceives to be unfair charges by recent historians (especially Scott biographers). She rather effectively counters contentions that Taylor was an indifferently concerned logistician, but is less successful in her defense of the general's battlefield management (especially at Monterrey) and is arguably not critical enough of the inadvisedly long truce negotiated there. Other points of contention strike one as minor, and the author's arguments, though convincing overall, might have had more impact had the opposing views been presented more fully.

Nevertheless, students of both wars will find much of value and interest in Trailing Clouds of Glory. No other book attempts on this scale such a precise accounting of the presence of Civil War officers on the battlefields and dusty trails of northern Mexico in the period between the establishment of Fort Brown and the American victory at Buena Vista.

Also from this publisher:
* A Small but Spartan Band: The Florida Brigade in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia
* Columbus, Georgia, 1865: The Last True Battle of the Civil War
* Engineering Security: The Corps of Engineers and Third System Defense Policy, 1815-1861
* Battle: The Nature and Consequences of Civil War Combat
* Camp Chase and the Evolution of Civil War Prison Policy
* Blockaders, Refugees, and Contrabands: Civil War on Florida's Gulf Coast, 1861-1865
* Civil War Weather in Virginia
* From Conciliation to Conquest
* Like Grass Before the Scythe
* Navy Gray
* Sherman's Mississippi Campaign
* Confederate Florida

Saturday, September 4, 2010

CWTR returns

Fire up your iPods (or whatever mp3 device you might have), Civil War Talk Radio is back from its summer hiatus. The first guest of the new season is Mark A. Lause. I can't say I would recommend his book Race & Radicalism in the Union Army (U. of Ill. Pr, 2009), but I welcome any discussion of the Battle of Honey Springs.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What's coming up this month

Click here for my most up to date list of September titles (from Upcoming American Civil War Books).

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Manassas touring guide

It's been a couple years since we've seen a new volume from University of Nebraska [go Huskers, by the way] Press's great battlefield guidebook series This Hallowed Ground, so I was glad to read in a recent Chantilly related post by Ethan Rafuse that he was there working on a Bull Run volume (whether it will cover both battles, I don't know at this point).