Sunday, August 21, 2011


[ New Mexico and the Civil War by Walter Earl Pittman (The History Press, 2011). Softcover, maps, photos, index. 127 pp. ISBN:978-1-60949-137-6 $19.99 ]

New Mexico and the Civil War is one of the better volumes from The History Press's body of concise campaign and battle histories. Author Walter Pittman is a retired academic historian but his overview of the failed 1861-62 Confederate campaign to conquer the vast land mass that would later become the states of Arizona and New Mexico is not a scholarly work. Instead, it is a popular narrative summary aimed toward general readers and new students of the Civil War in the desert southwest.

Readers steeped in published New Mexico literature from the likes of Don Alberts, Jerry Thompson, John Taylor, Martin Hall, and Donald Frazier will not discover reams of new information in the pages of Pittman's book, but then Pittman is not attempting to and does not supplant Hall and Frazier's celebrated single volume campaign histories. In places there is a slightly different focus, with Pittman often emphasizing the contributions of the company sized guerrilla and scout units attached to Henry H. Sibley's Confederate Army of New Mexico. The portraits of significant commanders from each side (e.g. Union officers Edward R.S. Canby, Kit Carson, John Slough, John Chivington, and James Carleton and Confederates Henry Sibley, Tom Green, John Baylor, and William Scurry) are fairly conventional, although the author's condemnation of Carleton's questionably legal imposition of martial law and strict passport system for private citizens is harsher than most. The battle descriptions in the book are quite good given the space constraints. Near the end is a solid chapter length summary of the Indian conflicts that occurred in the territory during the period 1863-65, with Pittman aptly characterizing much of the war in New Mexico as three sided (Confederate vs. Union and both vs. the native bands of Apaches, Navaho, etc.).

In terms of illustrations, many photographs of the battle sites as they appear today were included. The maps, while not depicting tactical troop movements, give readers a good idea of the march routes and terrain fought over by the opposing armies. Hopefully, New Mexico and the Civil War can help expose a new audience to the desert campaigns of the Far West. Veteran students may also find it to be a useful refresher.

1 comment:

  1. I lived in Tucson for ten years, not far from the "westernmost battle of the Civil War" at Picacho Peak, so I love reading about the war in the far west. I'm glad another popular account is coming out to mark the Sesquicentennial.
    Since I've already read the more in-depth accounts, I doubt I'll read this one, but it's always good to have more material available for the general public.
    I'm looking forward to your review of the CSS Arkansas book!


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