Monday, December 26, 2011

Bender (ed.): "WORTHY OF THE CAUSE FOR WHICH THEY FIGHT: The Civil War Diary of Brigadier General Daniel Harris Reynolds, 1861-1865"

[ Worthy of the Cause for Which They Fight: The Civil War Diary of Brigadier General Daniel Harris Reynolds, 1861-1865 edited by Robert Patrick Bender (University of Arkansas Press, 2011). Softcover, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 333 pp. ISBN:9781557289711 $34.95 ]

A native Ohioan and graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, Daniel H. Reynolds moved to Lake Village, Arkansas at the age of 26 to establish a law practice. An ideological ally to the Southern Democrats  but not a slaveholder, Reynolds used the proceeds from his successful legal career to amass a small real estate fortune. Supporting Arkansas's secession movement, Reynolds enthusiastically sought a military position, recruiting and leading the "Chicot Rangers" (Company A, 1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles). Steadily promoted after his early service in the Trans-Mississippi, he ended the war a brigadier general in the western theater. His Civil War diary*, wonderfully annotated by historian Robert Patrick Bender, has been published by University of Arkansas Press under the title Worthy of the Cause for Which They Fight.

Reynolds's diary is noteworthy on a number of counts. With daily entries during active campaigning throughout the entire war, his faithful attachment to his writing comprises a remarkably useful historical record of events associated with his various Arkansas unit commands. While many Civil War journal writers concentrated their thoughts on home, camp life, gossip, and local scenery, Reynolds mainly concerned himself with military matters such as march distances, camp locations, picket line skirmishes, and tactical battle details. Pointed opinions about superiors were also freely offered, from the questioning of Henry Heth's competence during the 1862 Kentucky Campaign to clashes with division commanders W.H.T. Walker and Samuel French over slights directed at Trans-Mississippi regiments.

Researchers and general readers alike should appreciate the attention to detail in Reynolds's writing. While his experience of Wilson's Creek is useful to no one (he was dehorsed by the battle's first shots and reduced to a dazed observer), the diary entries for the Pea Ridge Campaign are exceptionally vivid. His lengthy discussions regarding the role of the 1st Arkansas on both days of the Pea Ridge battle are superbly detailed for a company commander and his daily record of the retreat across the state preparatory to crossing the Mississippi ranks among the best. Most Trans-Mississippi cavalry officers and men were greatly upset at being dismounted for service in the western theater, but, if his diary reflects true feeling, Reynolds and his command accepted the disappointment with more equanimity than most. The next significant battle experience for the 1st was at Richmond, Kentucky, and recently elected Lt. Colonel Reynolds again recorded in his diary a fine account of his regiment's fight. Chickamauga followed and, after a March 1864 promotion to Brigadier General, Reynolds wrote of the Arkansas's Brigade's adventures during the Atlanta Campaign, Hood's Tennessee Campaign, and the Battle of Bentonville. At the latter, Reynolds received a bone shattering wound to the left leg that required amputation.

Bender's voluminous notes, burgeoning with almost 100 small print pages of background information and further insights into persons, places, and events mentioned in the diary, are the result of an impressive volume of research (the bibliography is richer than most original studies). He also pens nice introductions to each chapter representing a year of the war. Reader regrets associated with the book are few.  With so many obscure locations mentioned in the diary, the absence of maps is unfortunate.  Also, to reduce excessive page flipping, it would have been nice to have footnotes instead of endnotes.

Worthy of the Cause for Which They Fight is an incredibly useful resource for readers interested in the military career of General Reynolds, as well as the marches and battles associated with the 1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles and the brigade of Arkansans that fought in the western theater. Moreover, as Civil War in the West series editors Michael Parrish and Daniel Sutherland note in their preface, Worthy of the Cause for Which They Fight is now the closest thing we have in the literature to a biography of Reynolds, who left little in the way of correspondence to posterity. When one pairs Bender's book with James Willis's phenomenal dual unit study [9th Arkansas infantry regiment & Reynolds' Arkansas Brigade] titled Arkansas Confederates in the Western Theater (Morningside, 1998), a distinctly improved picture of Arkansas's military role in the West emerges.

* - The Reynolds diary edited by Bender was a typewritten copy held by the special collections department of the University of Arkansas library. It is thought possible that the original handwritten diary remains in the possession of a descendant, whose identity and whereabouts remain unknown.

Other CWBA reviews of UA Press titles:
* The Die Is Cast: Arkansas Goes to War, 1861 (Butler Center)
* Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Missouri in the Civil War
* Army Life: From a Soldier’s Journal
* The Fate of Texas: The Civil War and the Lone Star State
* A Rough Introduction to this Sunny Land (Butler Center)
* Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865
* A Thrilling Narrative
* Confederate Guerrilla
* Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front
* Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Tennessee in the Civil War
* Civil War Arkansas: Beyond Battles and Leaders
* "I Acted From Principle": The Civil War Diary Of Dr. William M. McPheeters, Confederate Surgeon In The Trans-Mississippi
* Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand

1 comment:

  1. Hello Drew

    Thanks for this review. It sounds like an interesting book. I wish it would have been published in hardcover considering the price. Thanks also for mentioning the other book "ARKANSAS CONFEDERATES IN THE WESTERN THEATER" - Willis. This sounds like a book I need to find.

    Don Hallstrom


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