Thursday, April 14, 2011

"The Battle of Westport: Missouri's Great Confederate Raid"

Given the fight's position as the largest battle fought west of the Mississippi River, the absence of a full length military treatment of the October 1864 Battle of Westport remains a curious gap in the Civil War literature. A small number of writers and historians have made some valuable contributions, but none have pieced together a detailed tactical history on par with what readers have come to expect from modern Civil War campaign and battle histories. Paul Kirkman's new book The Battle of Westport: Missouri's Great Confederate Raid (The History Press, 2011) does not take on this long neglected challenge, nor does it claim to. Its goal is to provide a general history of the 1864 Price Raid, with a focus on the Westport battle(s) and the colorful history of the town itself.

Readers primarily concerned with the military aspects of the battles and skirmishes around Westport, and those already familiar with the classic works of Monnett, Lee, Castel, Hinton, etc., will not find any new revelations within Kirkman's narrative summaries of the clashes at Independence/Little Blue River, Brush Creek, Byrum's Ford, and Mine Run. However, the chapters covering the history of Westport and its early importance to the state as a transportation hub and jumping off point for westward expansion (before being overtaken after the war by its neighbor Kansas City) informatively cover a lesser known topic. Footnotes are absent, but an order of battle, bibliography, and index are present.

Given the street locations described in the text, one wishes a city map had been included. There are also a few factual errors sprinkled here and there [e.g. John C. Fremont was not a nephew of Thomas Hart Benton and Frederick Steele was a major general, not a colonel, at the time of the raid]. Overall, The Battle of Westport meets the expectations of The History Press's Civil War Sesquicentennial Series when it comes to providing popular narratives for a general reading audience. While long time students of the Civil War in Missouri will find little in the way of new information or perspectives, local history enthusiasts and those approaching the topic for the first time will appreciate the book's expansive viewpoint.

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