Friday, June 10, 2011

Hewitt and Bergeron (eds.): "CONFEDERATE GENERALS IN THE WESTERN THEATER, VOL. 3: Essays on America's Civil War"

[Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 3: Essays on America's Civil War edited by Lawrence Lee Hewitt and Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr. (University of Tennessee Press, 2011). Cloth, 18 maps, photos, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. 336 Pages. ISBN:978-1-57233-753-4  $59.95]

Like the second book in the series, Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 3 is comprised of ten original essays. These scholarly pieces basically fit into two categories, either a recounting of a general's entire Civil War service or a more detailed critique of an officer's role during a particular campaign or battle.

Six of the ten essays can be placed in the second category described above, the emphasis placed on how the subject helped shape the course of a campaign or the conduct of a battle.  The first is Robert Girardi's thoughtful reexamination of Leonidas Polk's oft ridiculed September 1861 violation of Kentucky's armed "neutrality". The author makes a reasonable case for Polk's intervention and I believe Girardi is correct that a Union presence of greater scope than Polk's was somewhat imminent [exactly when who can tell] and would have elicited far less condemnation within the state. The legislature was decisively pro-Union and federal forces were already massing outside Kentucky and assembling within its borders in places like Camp Dick Robinson.  What is questioned by Girardi is the timing (every day of Kentucky neutrality afforded the opportunity to improve southern defenses in the West) and the limited reach of Polk's occupation. Girardi joins many other writers and historians in faulting Polk for stopping at Columbus and not continuing north to seize Paducah and Smithville, but does not explain how this massive salient and potentially dangerous extension of Polk's limited manpower could be maintained against what would soon become overwhelming federal land and naval forces. Another point overlooked by Girardi's article is that, while initiative is often to be lauded, a military decision with as much political ramifications as Polk's had really should have been unthinkable without explicit prior approval from the Confederate president.

Shiloh is the subject of the next two essays, with Timothy Smith summarizing the last moments of Albert Sidney Johnston's life and Wiley Sword offering a critical look at P. G. T. Beauregard generalship at the battle. Both are well written and argued, but readers already familiar with the published Shiloh literature will discover little in the way of fresh perspectives. Beyond the usual complaints of the general's poor tactical plan, early termination of the battle, and non-recognition of large scale Union reinforcements, one of Sword's most telling criticisms of Beauregard was the general's failure to undertake any kind of intelligence gathering prior to and during the battle. Beauregard also neglected to properly inform himself of the terrain around Pittsburg Landing (especially on his right flank), even after being present in the area for weeks. Perhaps an article detailing the effects of Beauregard's poor health during this period could have provided more insights into the general's many Shiloh campaign omissions and failures.

One of the best offerings in terms of fresher material is Art Bergeron's account of engineer and major general Martin Luther Smith's positive influence on the earthwork defenses of the Mississippi Valley over the first two years of the war. The naval aspects of the 1862 New Orleans campaign grab most of the attention in the literature and Bergeron provides a useful alternative overview of the land defenses of the Crescent City and the key roles played by Smith in their construction and use. In the material and command chaos following the fall of New Orleans, Smith is credited with quickly putting the Vicksburg defenses in order. He also proved to be an able infantry general, his men acquitting themselves well during both the Vicksburg siege and the earlier Chickasaw Bayou expedition.

The final two articles relating to specific campaigns and battles are by Stuart Sanders and Bruce Allardice. Sanders summarizes Simon Bolivar Buckner's dual military and political impacts on the 1862 Kentucky campaign while Allardice reassesses the culpability of Stephen Dill Lee for the Confederate disaster at the July 28, 1864 Battle of Ezra Church. Like the Union's James B. McPherson, Lee seems to have been a general liked and respected by everyone regardless of his sparse record of high command achievement. While Allardice concedes that Lee's attack was very poorly organized and not what Hood had in mind (likely a consequence of having no prior experience leading an infantry corps into battle), he does make a strong case that the general did not disobey or exceed his written orders as has been alleged. Allardice also makes a good point that the discretionary parts of Lee's orders could just as well have been achieved by a strong skirmish line than a direct attack.

The rest of the articles provide broader summaries of Civil War careers. M. Jane Johansson takes the reader through Daniel Weisiger Adams's experiences at Shiloh, Perryville, Murfreesboro, and Chickamauga (where he was wounded and captured). Thomas Schott provides a similarly positive picture of Preston Johnston's administrative ability and combat leadership, and John Lundberg writes glowingly of Hiram Granbury's growth into one of the Army of Tenneessee's best brigade commanders. Perhaps the finest of this grouping of four articles is furnished by Rory Cornish. In it he attempts to counter the literature's prevailing negative view of Joseph Finegan's generalship. Cornish is most successful in advancing and defending his view that Finegan's defense of Florida during 1862-64 is underappreciated.

With its mixture of fresh analytical pieces and straightforward capsule military biographies of generals both little known and famous, this third installment of essays is a worthy addition to the series. Undoubtedly, given the vast scope of the fighting in the West, ample material remains for future Confederate Generals in the Western Theater volumes, as well as more covering the lesser served Trans-Mississippi area of operations. With the dependably high quality of content and presentation of the first three, future releases will be sources of great anticipation to a wide range of Civil War students.

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