Thursday, December 30, 2010

Booknotes III (December '10)

New Arrivals:

1. The Reconstruction of Mark Twain: How a Confederate Bushwhacker Became the Lincoln of Our Literature by Joe B. Fulton (LSU Pr, 2010).

Fulton, the author of three earlier scholarly Twain studies, here attempts to demonstrate that the man in white's personal and literary transformation (in terms of his views on Union, politics, and race) was much more rocky and lengthy than popularly believed.

2. More Damning than Slaughter: Desertion in the Confederate Army by Mark A. Weitz (U of Neb Pr, 2008).

This is the paperback reissue of the author's highly regarded 2005 title, a key volume in understanding the disastrous impact of large scale desertion on both the Confederate army and the social order and morale of the southern home front.

3. The Confederacy's Last Northern Offensive: Jubal Early, the Army of the Valley and the Raid on Washington by Steven Bernstein (McFarland, 2010).

This book provides an overview of the 1864 Confederate advance to the outskirts of the capital, as well as short summaries of subsequent Valley battles all the way through the final southern stand at Waynesboro in March 1865. Looks to be a synthesis of the published literature, with a handful of manuscript collections utilized.

4. From Battlefields Rising: How The Civil War Transformed American Literature by Randall Fuller (Oxford Univ Pr, 2011).

Fuller examines the impact of the war on three literary giants. As with Cynthia Wachtell's recent book about northern anti-war writing, we meet Hawthorne and Whitman here, but the inclusion of Emily Dickinson will make the book most worth reading, at least for me.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A pair of upcoming Texas titles

The states of Arkansas, Missouri, and Louisiana witnessed far more fighting within their borders than Texas did, but, in terms of yearly output, the Civil War literature of the Lone Star State still dominates its Trans-Mississippi brethren. Keeping up the tradition, two new Texas studies are due to appear next February, Richard McCaslin's Fighting Stock: John S. "Rip" Ford of Texas (TCU Press) and Tejanos in Gray: Civil War Letters of Captains Joseph Rafael de la Garza and Manuel Yturri, edited by Jerry Thompson (TAMU Press).

No one's done more to bring Mexican Texans (both blue and gray) to the attention of the reading public than Thompson, and these letters, translated by José Roberto Juárez, should be yet another valuable contribution. Rip Ford is certainly deserving of an up to date biography and there's no reason to think McCaslin isn't the right man for the job. I just help it dwells far more on the Civil War years than a previous volume in the publisher's Texas Biography Series, which only lightly touched upon the unusual military career of General Edmund J. Davis, the prominent southern unionist and future governor who led the 1st Texas Cavalry.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Booknotes II (December '10)

New Arrivals:

1. The Rashness of That Hour: Politics, Gettysburg, and the Downfall of Confederate Brigadier General Alfred Iverson by Robert J. Wynstra (Savas Beatie, 2010).

There is no shortage of Gettysburg titles from this publisher, but among other things they do a fine job with 'man and moment' studies, the moment here being the mismanaged July 1, 1863 assault on Oak Hill by Alfred Iverson's North Carolina brigade. Even if you are not a Gettysburg wonk, the mass killing in front of the stone wall remains on of the war's most memorable disasters, with Iverson popularly cast as the incompetent villain. Wynstra presents the attack itself and its personal and political fallout in great detail.

2. Massacre Along the Medicine Road: A Social History of the Indian War of 1864 in Nebraska Territory by Ronald Becher (Caxton Pr, 1999).

This is a great book and I thought I would finally grab a new personal copy before it goes out of print.

3. Brother of Mine: The Civil War Letters of Thomas and William Christie edited by Hampton Smith (Minnesota Hist Society Pr, 2010).

The Christie brothers were battery mates with 1st Minnesota Light Artillery (Munch's), fighting at Shiloh, Corinth, and in the Vicksburg, Atlanta, and Carolinas campaigns. This volume comprises their letters (which reside in the society archive) home. The editor, MHS reference librarian Hampton Smith, provides scholarly editing and an introduction to this very worthwhile looking collection.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Powell: "FAILURE IN THE SADDLE: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joe Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign"

[Failure in the Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joe Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign by David A. Powell (Savas Beatie, 2010). Hardcover, 15 maps, photos, tour, order of battle, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:274/383. ISBN: 978-1-932714-87-6 $34.95]

Confederate missteps committed during the September 1863 Chickamauga Campaign are most often laid at the feet of commanding General Braxton Bragg and his principal subordinates, generals Leonidas Polk, D.H. Hill, and Thomas Hindman. Much of the literature either glosses over or omits entirely the significant impact of errors made by the leaders of the mounted forces of the Army of Tennessee, beginning with corps commanders Joseph Wheeler and Nathan Bedford Forrest. David Powell's Failure in the Saddle is an exhaustive descriptive and analytical account of the role of the Confederate cavalry in the campaign, and provides an expertly researched assessment of the varied performances of its corps, division, and brigade leaders.

Powell does a very good job of keeping his narrative sharply focused on the cavalry and its operational and tactical role in the campaign and battle. One cannot imagine a better balance struck between the author's often micro-detailed handling of the cavalry and the need to provide enough context for the reader to understand the larger picture. One is always kept abreast of how the cavalry's failures directly impacted the rest of the army.

While the book duly notes the mistakes of Braxton Bragg, both in general and in specific regard to the cavalry, the officer singled out for severest censure is the ranking cavalry general in the Army of Tennessee, Major General Joseph Wheeler, who seems to have neglected badly almost every important task assigned him. His greatest failure occurred a the very beginning when, given the task of scouting the Tennessee River crossings below Chattanooga and screening the army's left flank, Wheeler moved his corps dozens of miles to the south, only keeping two small regiments behind to do the job. This allowed the Army of the Cumberland's crossing to pass unhindered and unreported, a grave and unforgivable error. Wheeler also either ignored or was slow to react to a series of orders from Bragg to close up on the army's left in the days before the September 18-20 Battle of Chickamauga, keeping half of Nathan Bedford Forrest's command from its own task of securing the West Chickamauga Creek bridges and screening the army's right flank. During the battle itself, Wheeler accomplished little beyond overwhelming two small isolated Union brigades in separate actions. During the pursuit, the diminutive Georgian repeatedly failed to maintain contact with the retreating Federals, even to the point of sending his men miles to rear for rest.

Although his own performance was mixed, at least Nathan Bedford Forrest was active. Powell is critical of Forrest's September 17 failure to concentrate his available force and secure the Alexander and Reed's bridge crossings before the arrival of the infantry. The 18th also did not go well, although it was not all his fault. The morning was frittered away with a mix up in orders and the foot soldiers had to spend the greater part of the afternoon clearing the federal cavalry from the west bank. The trouble it took infantry to complete the task casts some doubt upon how feasible it would have been for cavalry alone to succeed, but Powell makes a good point that Forrest could at least have masked the blocked main crossings and secured alternate ones. On the other hand, skillful handling of cavalry seems to have been beyond Forrest subordinate John Pegram, who proceeded to foul up every assignment given his division. Like many judgments leveled against historical figures, some of Powell's criticisms of Forrest, formulated from peaceful consideration of decades of exhaustive research, seem too harsh by half given the lack of help rendered by Forrest's colleagues and subordinates, as well as his own need to make snap decisions amid the fog and chaos of battle. Nevertheless, blunders were made. Forrest's most significant and objectively censurable error, in this reviewer's opinion, was his failure to properly screen the Confederate right flank (John Bell Hood's infantry) that evening. Instead, the mounted flank guards were actually behind the road providing Hood's line of communication [a situation finely illustrated in a map]. Additionally, a gaping hole in the federal center was missed, as well as the position of the Union army's northern flank, information of grave importance to Bragg's plan to envelop the enemy left. During the pursuit, Forrest also provide poor intelligence about the Army of the Cumberland's temporary position at Missionary Ridge. All of these points are clearly and irrefutably outlined by the author.

As for corps subordinates, Powell praises William Martin, an officer that flawlessly executed his orders to scout and screen the McLemore's Cove operation. Gabriel Wharton, Wheeler's other division commander, performed competently although he was given no opportunity for independent action. On the other hand, John Scott, a brigade commander under Pegram, did his part as badly as his division commander, uncovering the army's base at Ringgold on two occasions, leaving his assigned post without orders at Red House Bridge, and never cooperating with Pegram. With officers like these, it is no wonder Forrest had a rocky beginning to corps command, although Frank Armstrong and George Dibrell proved themselves worthy of campaign laurels.

Powell ends his study in a manner that one wishes more authors would think to do. The penultimate chapter spends almost thirty pages summarizing the book's findings in a step-by-step manner, while the final section discusses in some detail the historiography of the campaign as it pertains to the Confederate cavalry. Most studies treat their wrap up only cursorily, as if in too great a hurry to end the book. Similarly, historiographical analysis, widely considered to be of limited value to the larger group of readers, is too often cut from non-academic publications or left buried in the end notes for independent investigation. Not so here, with Powell ably contrasting the findings of Connelly, Tucker, Cozzens, Woodworth, and Hallock, as well as that of the Forrest and Wheeler biographers.

The book's fifteen maps, of the operational and tactical variety, effectively complement the text. Other supplementary materials include an excellent driving tour (complete with detailed directions, photos, and GPS coordinates), an order of battle with strength and loss information and analysis, and the text of Colonel Alfred Roman's inspection report of Wheeler's corps. A reassessment of the famous confrontation between Forrest and Bragg and an author interview are also present as appendices.

Readers accustomed to the celebratory portraits of southern cavalry in the eastern theater literature might find Powell's analysis to be quite a shock and a revelation. Joe Wheeler was no J.E.B. Stuart and the western Confederate cavalry often paled in comparison to its eastern brethren in terms of discipline, organization, equipment, and leadership. In addition to this expertly managed expose of the structural failings of the western mounted arm, Failure in the Saddle should be considered a vital part of the small but growing essential Chickamauga bookshelf, joining the work of Cozzens and Robertson as exemplars of the best of modern scholarship. It is very highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Booknotes (December '10)

New Arrivals:

1. A Civil War Gunboat in Pacific Waters: Life on Board USS Saginaw by Hans Konrad Van Tilburg (U. Pr of Florida, 2010).

Between 1860 and 1870, the Saginaw patrolled all over the Pacific, from China and Japan in the Far East to the west coasts of North and South America, before sinking at the remote Kure Atoll. The wreckage was discovered in 2003 by a team led by Hans Van Tilburg, whose book appears to concentrate on the ship's history and its crew, with the archaeology dealt with in the afterword.

2. The Confederacy On Trial: The Piracy And Sequestration Cases Of 1861 by Mark A. Weitz (U. Pr of Kansas, 2005).

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Lone Star Regiments in Gray"

Anyone perusing the notes of a modern study of Civil War Texas doesn't have to go too far before running into the works of Lamar University professor Ralph A. Wooster. The author of seven books and many dozens more journal articles and essays, he's a 'go to' scholar in many respects. For me, his most valuable book is the reference guide Lone Star Regiments in Gray (Eakin Press, 2002). The hardcover has been out of print for a few years now, but last time I looked it remained available in paperback format.

Texas supplied a whopping 53 cavalry regiments to the Confederate army, along with 24 infantry regiments, an artillery regiment, 4 artillery battalions, and 35 batteries. Divided into chapters by geographical region of service, all of these units are discussed by Wooster. He also elected to group many of them by brigade, instead of by the more common sequential presentation, a logical choice given that so many Texas regiments were afforded the unusual privilege of being able to serve together in the same brigade for the entire war.

The capsule regimental histories are footnoted and provide basic organizational, leadership, and combat service information. Photos of prominent officers are present, as well as maps. While many of the regimental entries are quite lengthy, the book's artillery section is brief, with many batteries receiving only a single short paragraph. As so many Texas infantry and cavalry (mounted and dismounted) units, and nearly all the artillery, spent their entire Civil War careers in the Trans-Mississippi theater, the book is also a useful record of obscure formations. Wooster ends the book with an excellent bibliographical essay and index.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Shairer: "LEE'S BOLD PLAN FOR POINT LOOKOUT: The Rescue of Confederate Prisoners that Never Happened"

[Lee's Bold Plan For Point Lookout: The Rescue of Confederate Prisoners That Never Happened by Jack E. Schairer (McFarland, 2008). Softcover, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 265 pp. ISBN: 978-0-7864-3555-5. $39.95]

In 1864, a daring plan to free the thousands of Confederate prisoners housed at Point Lookout, Maryland was hatched. The raid was timed to coincide with Confederate General Jubal Early’s larger operation that would threaten Washington. As the Confederate army approached the U.S. capital, a small detached cavalry force under Bradley Johnson and Harry Gilmor would move around Washington, threaten Baltimore, and swing southeast to Point Lookout. Meanwhile, a naval force under John Taylor Wood would move up the coast from Wilmington and launch an amphibious assault on the prison complex from the Chesapeake. Once freed, the prisoners would then march overland across Maryland and enter Virginia via the upper Potomac crossings. None of these events occurred, however, as the scheme’s execution was botched from the beginning. Both forces failed to reach the prison, with the naval command turning back soon after leaving port.

Jack Schairer’s objective in Lee’s Bold Plan for Point Lookout is to convince readers of the brilliance of the plan’s conception, and how it should have succeeded and changed the course of the war. The author ably outlines the many reasons behind its failure (along with the factors precluding an opportunity by Early to capture Washington), but is unable to convince at least this reader that the prisoner release plan had any chance of success. Schairer does not address the difficulty of coordinating a widely separated army-navy operation that would rely on precise timing for success. It’s also no sure thing that the place could be taken by the forces allocated, even with a severely depleted defense force. Additionally, how a small escort and thousands of malnourished and hastily organized prisoners would be able to traverse the state of Maryland, and reach the upper Potomac without being intercepted, is not explained.

While the narrative is acceptable as a summary of Early’s raid, the book has little in the way of original research, instead relying almost entirely on published primary and secondary sources as well as a handful of newspapers. Of its 33 chapters, only four deal directly with the Point Lookout operation. As we already have several histories of Early’s raid, written by B.F. Cooling and others, it’s difficult to justify the need for another overview. The readership would have been better served if the author had focused his efforts more narrowly on the lesser covered titular operation.

[This review originally appeared in Blue & Gray Magazine, XXVII #2, Pg. 37-38]

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Q&A: Tom Post of University of Tennessee Press

I've been looking to interview a representative of an academic press for some time. As you might guess, most of my contact with publishers of all types is through their marketing and publicity managers. Tom Post is the publicist for University of Tennessee Press and he's kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his work and UTP.

DW:  Tom, what is a typical day like for a university press publicist?

TP:  A good thing about publishing is that there are deadlines everyday, but a book isn’t the daily newspaper, which gives flexibility in the workflow. I do all the typical things like press releases, direct mail, and answer requests from journals that you think of when you say publicity. I also organize our exhibit schedule-Society of Civil War Historians, Appalachian Studies and the Southern History Association to name a few. Books are also displayed at conferences that we choose not to attend. Publicity is the point of contact for most authors. It can be repetitive-you have to do the same things for every book, but some books get more. In the end, it is all about communications.

DW: Overseeing publicity for the entire press, with its vast variety of titles, must be challenging. Do you find that the (relative) popularity of Civil War titles outside of academic circles makes your job easier, or is that presumption overblown?

TP: In the entire scheme of things, it is still a niche market, but a large niche. It simplifies a good deal of the marketing, because there are a finite number of journals, outlets (Abraham Lincoln Bookstore, Gettysburg Battlefield Bookstore), reviewers (you) and events (CW Preservation Trust national meeting).

DW: Sometimes I lose sight of the fact that Civil War books are either a tiny part or completely absent from many, if not most, UP catalogs in a given season (the exception, of course, being many of the major southern presses). Can you quantify how important Civil War publishing is to the overall operation of UTP?

TP: We do about 35 books a year. CW books can be as few as 2 or 3 or as many as 8 or so, but books like James McDonough’s Shiloh and Five Tragic Hours consistently are in our year end top twenty-five bestsellers, which is huge. There is also a great deal of bad Civil War history-an example is the telling of what is essentially folklore presented as fact. Have you ever listened to Bud Robertson deconstruct a Jackson myth? Which means it is sometimes difficult for folks to separate out the good from the awful.

DW: Can you briefly describe for the readers the steps a manuscript must go through before it is published by UTP (and the time intervals involved)?

TP: There are four stages for a book. The book is acquired by an acquisitions editor who first determines if the proposal has merit, if the writing is acceptable, does it fit with other books we have done, and, finally, do experts in the field also think it has merit. Our editorial board formally votes the approval of a contract for each book we publish.

Second, the book moves to copyediting. The majority of our books go through three rounds of editing. There are also all the questions of maps, pictures, copyright and permissions that need to be done before the book moves to production.

The third step is design and production. Typesetting, cover design, type of paper and all the other many steps to take a pile of typing paper and make it something that you are proud to have in your bookcase.

Fourth, marketing, someone has to sell these things. That book might be your special baby, but not all children are gifted. Authors today have to take a great deal of the responsibility for the marketing of their books.

The average is about two years from contract to printing. Often longer, usually because the author is slow in getting back to us. There does seem to be a prevailing myth that what we really do can be compared to Kinkos when it comes to the schedule.

DW: Prices of UP titles in general are often a source of confusion among consumers, with books in the same catalog sharing similar presentations and material quality but priced at vastly different levels. What factors go into your pricing model?

TP: There are two pricing levels-short or trade. That means the bookseller pays 25%-off the list price or 40%. The more academic a book the more it is priced as a short discount. The biggest thing driving book prices today is the cost of paper. With current technology it is my opinion that we are producing better books more efficiently then we were a decade ago. Doesn’t mean the writing is any better.

DW: UTP's new Western Theater in the Civil War series is one of the more exciting to emerge in recent years and has had an auspicious start. Can you share a little bit about how it came about?

TP: Larry Hewitt is responsible. According to our Director, Scot Danforth, this whole project has been percolating in Larry’s head for a good while. He got folks lined up and went to work. There will be three volumes of Western Theater and two of Trans-Mississippi.

DW: What are your thoughts on the role (in the short and long term) of e-books for the future of UTP? Do you envision a time when UPs like your own no longer print physical books?

TP: We are still trying to figure that out-ask me in five years. Really, it seems we are wading through this swamp of enthusiastic bombast-Google or the naysayers who say it’s all a façade.

Short answer-no. There will, I think, always be a place for the traditionally edited and produced book, but you also might be able to look at the maps on your iPad. I don’t see a coffee table Kindle in my future.

DW: Does UT Press have any special plans (in terms of publishing and promotion) for the upcoming Civil War Sesquicentennial?

TP: With Tennessee being the site of so many battles, we will be making special note in our catalogs and on our website. I attended the first program to launch the commemoration over in Nashville a couple of weeks ago and had a great time. Got to hear some very good presentations. We will be trying to coordinate things with the TN Historical Society and the Department of Tourism.

DW: Finally, do you have any sage advice for prospective authors to follow that would increase the chance of getting published by a press like UTP?

TP: Take a look at what we have done. Follow our submission guidelines and ask yourself if what you want to write about is fresh and new. Then get going.

DW: Thanks for your time, Tom!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hannings: "EVERY DAY OF THE CIVIL WAR: A Chronological Encyclopedia"

Monday morning quarterbacking, theories, and conjectures of all types are endemic to the popular and academic study of the Civil War, yet many of these assertions, no matter how persuasive on the surface, can be rejected simply upon close examination of a relevant timeline of events. In addition to their inherent reference value, day-by-day guides are a great help in facilitating such lines of inquiry. Bud Hannings’s book Every Day of the Civil War: A Chronological Encyclopedia [(McFarland, 2010). Hardcover. 637 Pages. ISBN: 978-0-7864-4464-9. $125 ] might actually go further than any prior effort in chronicling the war's military features.

The net cast by Hannings is exceptionally broad. He's found a prominent place for all scales of combat, from tiny militia and guerrilla ambushes in the Trans-Mississippi on up to the colossal battles of the eastern and western theaters. The latter are often recorded with more than expected operational and tactical detail, but casualties are almost uniformly noted regardless of the fight's size. The degree of attention paid to geographical scope is equally wide.

Daily entries are presented in paragraph form, by state, with naval actions and officer (appointments, promotions, etc.) activities grouped into separate subheadings. Period illustrations are placed throughout, and appendices highlight Medal of Honor recipients as well as delve further in naval matters. An extensive index is essential for a work of this type, and the book does not disappoint.  Every Day of the Civil War is a hefty, oversize hardcover with a price to match, but it should prove to be a useful reference guide for personal and public libraries.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

White Mane / Burd Street still kicking

When their old website wasn't updated for a couple years I thought they were done for and forgot about them, but they are still around (here).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ecelbarger: "THE DAY DIXIE DIED: The Battle of Atlanta"

[The Day Dixie Died: The Battle of Atlanta by Gary Ecelbarger (Thomas Dunne Books, 2010).  Hardcover, 13 maps, illustrations, OB, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:249/317. ISBN:978-0-312-56399-8  $26.99]

Gary Ecelbarger's The Day Dixie Died: The Battle of Atlanta is the first full length treatment of the bloody July 21-22 fight east of the city, remarkable for the death of Union Army of the Tennessee commander James B. McPherson and intense clashes around local landmarks like Bald Hill and the "white house" of the Widow Pope. Professional and avocational historians alike have been remarkably reluctant to write histories of the battles that together comprise the 1864 Atlanta Campaign. In some ways, it is understandable in the sense that the battles were often chronologically close together and only decisive in a cumulative sense, but far smaller and less significant Civil War fights have been treated to impressive works of military historical value. Ecelbarger does not say so in so many words but his study impresses upon the reader the truth that Confederate general John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee, at best, had the strength remaining for one coordinated assault capable of crushing a portion of General Sherman's army group. July 22, 1864 was that effort and The Day Dixie Died demonstrates well its author's assertion that it was the most decisive battle of arguably the war's most decisive campaign.

Ecelbarger begins his study with a brief description of the fighting atop Bald Hill two miles east of Atlanta between the Confederate divisions of Patrick Cleburne and Joseph Wheeler and a pair of divisions from Frank Blair's 17th Corps under Giles A. Smith and Mortimer Leggett. It was an episode characterized less by a brilliant defense than excessive caution (again in a critical moment of the campaign) on the part of James B. McPherson. His army strongly positioned against Hood's weakest flank, he failed to move aggressively, likely forfeiting a golden opportunity to capture Atlanta.

All phases of the next day's battle are well documented in the book. The original plan of having William J. Hardee's corps conduct a night march around McPherson's southern flank, capture Decatur, and move west to attack the federal left rear, proved to be unrealistic. The alternate plan, fixed on the fly, was for Hardee's force (four divisions led by W.H.T. Walker, Patrick Cleburne, William Bate, and George Maney) to hit the Union left directly at its southern terminus, while Wheeler's cavalry division moved northeast to capture the federal trains at Decatur. Additionally, Benjamin Cheatham's corps (the divisions of Carter L. Stevenson, John C. Brown, and Henry Clayton's) together with Gustavus Smith's four brigades of Georgia militia, would launch a diversionary attack directly east from Atlanta.

The cavalry under Wheeler fulfilled their mission of capturing Decatur, but failed to prevent the escape of the  Army of the Tennessee's immense wagon train (estimated at 1,600 teams). The infantry attack went even worse, with Walker's division wasted in frontal brigade sized assaults against the unexpected presence of Grenville Dodge's understrength16th Corps (a pair of well led divisions under the Thomas Sweeny and John Fuller). Cleburne's division advanced west of Walker, passing through a gaping wooded gap between 16th and 17th Corps and striking the division of Giles Smith. Smith's bluecoats manned the refused flank of the Union army a half mile south of Bald Hill. Maney's division deployed on Cleburne's left and rear, and together they drove the Union forces from the lower works and back on Bald Hill. There, with the aid of timely reinforcements, the defenders stiffened.

The circumstances surrounding the death of McPherson inside the wooded area in Cleburne's front is covered well by Ecelbarger, as well as its consequences, short lived as they may have been, to army cohesion. The ascension of 15th Corps commander John A. Logan to head the Army of the Tennessee in mid battle sent ripples down the chain of command caused a temporary confusion within an army already back on its heels from relentless, if badly disjointed, Confederate assaults.

Cheatham's "diversion" was then launched en echelon from right to left, penetrating the Union line in two places, at the point where the Georgia Railroad and Decatur Road passed through the works1 and through a short section works one half mile to the south. Both breakthroughs were effectively contained and eliminated by the determined efforts of Logan and his subordinates. A final Confederate evening assault by a division sized force assembled ad-hoc by Patrick Cleburne failed to break the federal left and the battle finally ended.

Ecelbarger rightly points toward coordination problems, either through early leadership casualties, terrain difficulties, or typical command failures, for the inability of Confederate forces to achieve more on July 22 to compensate for the loss of approximately 6,000 men (against less than 4,000 for U.S. forces). Heat and exhaustion from the long march led to heavy straggling, as well. The author's enumeration of leadership casualties, with 30 general and field grade officers lost in a single day, is testament to the ferocity of the battle and the degree to which the fighting decapitated Hardee's Corps, crippling its effectiveness for the rest of the campaign.

The author also clears up some the popular mythology surrounding the battle, especially the notion that Sherman withheld reinforcements to the Army of the Tennessee, preferring to allow them to avenge McPherson's death on their own. In truth, substantial reinforcements were present or immediately available. Ecelbarger's timing of events also highlights the implausibility of claims that Union defenders frequently hopped back and forth across their own breastworks, repelling simultaneous assaults from both directions.

The battle narrative in The Day Dixie Died is presented at a mixture of brigade and regimental scales. Some readers might wish for more regimental level detail, but even the most demanding students of tactical minutiae will be largely satisfied with Ecelbarger's writing. The maps, thirteen excellent full page creations by noted cartographer George Skoch, match the scale presented in the text in terms of troop positions and movements, with terrain features also finely rendered.

In the nitpicking department, a pair of important commanders left the narrative a bit soon. Hardee disappears once the fighting begins, and Wheeler similarly leaves the scene after his capture of Decatur and attenuated pursuit. Perhaps the author subconsciously subscribes to Thomas Schott's2 contention that Civil War historians place too much emphasis on a corps commander's ability to influence events after the first bullets fly. It's also unclear if the failure to detect Dodge's 16th Corps was a reconnaissance omission on Wheeler's part or a consequence of an altered plan leaving no mounted units to spare for screening the infantry advance. Regardless, Confederate intelligence gathering was abysmal.

On the spectrum of tactical depth, The Day Dixie Died lies somewhere in between that found in popular military non-fiction and the author's previous work on the Battles of Kernstown and Winchester/Front Royal. Generally speaking, it is a very workable compromise that should satisfy readers in both camps. The essential canon of Atlanta Campaign military studies, pitifully small as it may be, has a significant addition with this highly recommended study.

1 - This is the scene depicted in the famous cyclorama painting, a part of which is reproduced in the book.
2 - Published in essay form in 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).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Best of Civil War Publishing - 2010: My Year in Review

With the advent of December, it's yet again time to go back and review the reviews, making my "best of" picks for the year (actually, roughly November to November).

General Military:
The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War by Donald Stoker (Oxford Univ Pr).

Social/Political/Economic History:
Mississippi in the Civil War: The Home Front by Timothy B. Smith (Univ Pr of Mississippi).

Battle/Campaign History:
Valley Thunder: The Battle of New Market and the Opening of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, May 1864 by Charles R. Knight (Savas Beatie).

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

Essay Collection:
Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 2: Essays on America’s Civil War edited by Lawrence Lee Hewitt and Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr. (Univ of Tennessee Pr).

Reference Book(s):
Crimson Confederates: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South by Helen Trimpi and Yale's Confederates: A Biographical Dictionary by Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes (Univ of Tenn Pr). [I don't believe these two were formally marketed as a set, but design and presentation are remarkably similar.]

Isham G. Harris of Tennessee: Confederate Governor and United States Senator by Sam Davis Elliott (LSU Pr).

Naval History:
Tinclads in the Civil War: Union Light-Draught Gunboat Operations on Western Waters, 1862-1865 by Myron J. Smith, Jr. (McFarland).

Edited Letters/Memoir/Diary:
Love and War: The Civil War Letters and Medicinal Book of Augustus V. Ball edited by Donald S. Frazier and Andrew Hillhouse, transcribed by Anne Ball Ryals (State House Pr).

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

Self-Publishing Effort:
The Stone's River Campaign, 26 December 1862 - 5 January 1863: Army of Tennessee by Lanny K. Smith.

Local/Regional History:
Thunder on the River: The Civil War in Northeast Florida by Daniel L. Schafer (Univ Pr of Florida).