Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Smith's Corinth

An advanced copy of Tim Smith's Corinth 1862: Siege, Battle, Occupation (UP of Kansas, May 2012) just arrived in the mail. Things may change during final formatting, but the main text in the ARC runs around 300 pages, with 100 devoted to the 1862 "siege" and a bit more to the October campaign and battle. Discussions of the social impact of occupation as well as the town's evolving importance (including it's status as a forward located contraband camp and recruiting station) make up the rest of the content. Many of the Skoch maps appear to be variations on the ones he created earlier for Peter Cozzens and Smith's two decades of research is really apparent in the massive number (in the 100s) of manuscript collections listed in the bibliography.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


[ Military Strategy in the American Civil War edited by James I. Robertson, Jr. (Virginia Sesquicentennial of the ACW Commission, 2012). Hardcover, chronology, reading list, index. Pages main/total:110/158.  ISBN:978-0-9834012-1-6   $23.95 ]

The Virginia state commission charged with commemorating the Civil War Sesquicentennial has sponsored and will continue to sponsor a series of Signature Conferences featuring noted scholars. Each is accompanied by a later print publication and associated with the third event is Military Strategy in the Civil War. The volume is edited by James I. Robertson, Jr., who himself contributes a pair of chapters in addition to the book's introduction.  Other authors in this impressive lineup of historians include Dennis Frye, Richard Sommers, Gary Gallagher, Joseph Glatthaar, William Davis, Richard McMurry, Steven Woodworth, and J.M. Bowen.

With twelve essays distributed over only 110 pages of main text, the chapters are brief. The main eastern and western theaters are covered, of course, but dedicated assessments of the Trans-Mississippi theater and the naval, blockade, and combined operations aspects of the oceanic and riverine wars are absent. The final three chapters examine subjects less often included in discussions of Civil War strategy -- horses, weather, and water.

Primarily composed of operational histories covering one or two year periods of fighting on a given front (with fleeting glimpses of higher level strategic planning), the majority of articles interpret true strategy in the broadest of terms. Only Richard McMurry's essay on the Confederacy's 1863 western strategy actually enumerates and outlines specific strategic principles formulated at the top, and discusses the human, time, distance, and material factors behind their feasibilities and failures. In this reader's opinion, this chapter is by far the best of the bunch.

While readers most familiar with the military literature of the Civil War will not find much in the way of significant challenges to their assumptions, for a general audience or a newer student of Civil War military history, the book can serve as a useful introduction to the land war strategies employed by both sides.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Hess: "THE CIVIL WAR IN THE WEST: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi"

[ The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi by Earl J. Hess (University of North Carolina Press, 2012).  Hardcover, map, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:334/407. ISBN:978-0-8078-3542-5  $40 ]

 The question of which major Civil War theater of operations -- East or West -- was more important to the conflict's outcome remains a controversial one. However, there can be little argument over which region witnessed each side's greatest array of battlefield successes and failures.  Earl Hess's The Civil War in the West is less a thesis driven work about why the Union smashingly won and the Confederacy dismally failed in the West and more of a narrative recounting of military events. With tactical considerations beyond the scope of the work and larger strategic analysis dealt with only briefly (and at far less detail than even the moderate complexity of Donald Stoker's recent book), Hess's focus is operational. Minus a few quibbles here and there about numbers and interpretation, a wonderful job is done by the author summarizing western army and inland naval operations. With coverage of battles small, medium, and large in size, the work is satisfyingly comprehensive.

Even so, The Civil War in the West is concerned with far more than campaigns and battles. Hess skillfully and consistently integrates several parallel narratives into his overarching military one.  Perhaps the most significant one revolves around the myriad of challenges faced by the Union army as occupier and administrator of vast swaths of southern territory.  Such issues addressed, and how they changed over the course of the war in terms of character and severity, include property confiscation, prize taking, trading rights, retaliation, and banishment. How the army dealt with slavery and the enlistment of black troops in conquered territories (along with the evolution of attitudes towards their military service) is also frequently discussed.  Hess does a good job throughout the book in presenting the reader with a proper idea of the scale of the guerrilla war in the West and the level of disruption it caused enemy operations and communications.  He also emphasizes the often overlooked point that Union joint operations seizures of key coastal points (which are often criticized as violations of the principle of concentration) were prerequisites to the successful conduct of full scale inland invasions of the Deep South.

While the irregular conflict is accorded a proper level of significance by Hess, it is curious how abruptly the author discounts recent scholarship positing a central role for guerrilla warfare in fostering the war's increasing level of destructiveness.  Given how convincing many readers and scholars have found the recent work of Daniel Sutherland and Clay Mountcastle, one wishes Hess had developed his counterarguments in more depth.  A more defined concept of which areas comprised the "West" in terms of Civil War operations might also have been offered. Given the book's general neglect of Florida and the South Carolina front prior to Sherman's March, it might be assumed that the author does not consider these regions part of the western theater.  This is not without precedent (some military historians consider the Gulf and South Atlantic fronts "theaters" of their own), but a transparent declaration on the subject would have been helpful.  One might also have wished for a wider look at more nuts and bolts strategic issues (e.g. the comparative strategic importance of the Mississippi Valley vs. the central heartland -- Nashville, Chattanooga, Atlanta -- axis, the strengths and weaknesses of each side's departmental systems, and the advisability of the Confederacy's decision to allow such a huge ratio of cavalry to infantry in the West).

While readers steeped in the literature will find in The Civil War in the West a very familiar narrative rundown of campaigns and battles, as a comprehensive summary of the war in this critical theater, Hess's work shines brightly.  New students and those whose prior experience with the military side of the war is largely confined to the eastern theater will be best positioned to appreciate the value of Hess's volume.  While the idea that the western theater is vastly understudied compared to the east is no longer valid, this excellent and suitably broad summary work should serve as a valuable introduction to the western war for a wide reading audience. With The Civil War in the West, it's safe to say we have in our hands the subject's new standard single volume history.

More CWBA reviews of UNC Press titles:
* Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina
* West Pointers and the Civil War: The Old Army in War and Peace
* Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign (link to author interview)
* A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (link to author interview)
* In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat
* The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864
* Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign
* Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession
* Trench Warfare under Grant & Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign
* Plain Folk’s Fight: The Civil War & Reconstruction in Piney Woods Georgia
* Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign
* Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Booknotes V (February '12)

New Arrivals:

1. Birch Coulie: The Epic Battle of the Dakota War by John Christgau (Bison Books, 2012).

With irregular citation, no bibliography, and no maps or illustrations of any kind, first impressions do not impress. I expect more from Nebraska's Bison imprint, but it may turn out okay. 

2. Historical Atlas of Oklahoma by Charles Robert Goins & Danney Goble, maps by James H. Anderson (Univ of Okla Pr, 2012).

This new paperback reissue of the 2006 4th edition has just been released.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Rowland & Hoffius (eds.): "THE CIVIL WAR IN SOUTH CAROLINA: Selections from the South Carolina Historical Magazine"

[ The Civil War in South Carolina: Selections from the South Carolina Historical Magazine edited by Lawrence S. Rowland and Stephen G. Hoffius (Home House Press, 2011). Softcover, illustrations, maps, notes, index. 607 pp. ISBN:9780984558025  $30 ]

South Carolina Historical Magazine is the quarterly publication of the South Carolina Historical Society. While the name has changed, the periodical has been going strong for 112 years. During that time, many Civil War related articles have appeared in its pages. In commemoration of the conflict's Sesquicentennial, editors Lawrence S. Rowland and Stephen G. Hoffius have selected 44 of these Civil War pieces (with a few coming from Carologue, the society's more general audience directed magazine) for inclusion in their book The Civil War in South Carolina.

As one might guess coming from such a long lived print entity subject to evolving standards of scholarship, the quality and usefulness of the articles varies, with some chapters extensively annotated and others very little, if at all. The editors have grouped their selections into the following thematic areas:  the secession convention, Fort Sumter, the sea island occupations, the Charleston "siege", Sherman's March, the physical destruction of the war, business, technology, and the homefront. As one can see, the subject matter wanders down many different paths and spans the entire war.  For readers interested in first person accounts, a good proportion of the chapters comprise edited diaries, letters, and memoirs.

A sampling of the best scholarship from the book will reveal the impressive range of the articles.  Ralph Wooster's demographic analysis of the members of the South Carolina secession convention reveals a revolutionary body dominated by wealthy farmers, planters, lawyers, and physicians (over 90% of whom held slaves, with slightly over 61% classified as planters). Not surprisingly, eight articles, a mix of eyewitness accounts and later histories, pertain to Fort Sumter. 

A similar variety applies to the Union occupation of the sea islands.  W. Eric Emerson contributes a nice capsule history of the 1862 Pocotaligo and Coosawhatchie raids, Howard Westwood examines the difficulties and controversies surrounding the recruitment of regiments from the slave population that fled to the protection of the islands, and Kurt Wolf offers an extensive accounting of the experience of Laura Towne, one of many northerners who traveled to the occupied areas to run missionary schools for ex-slaves.  The case of Towne was exceptional in that she stayed through Reconstruction and beyond.

For the "siege", readers are treated to C.A. Bennett's often convincing revisionist portrayal of General Roswell S. Ripley as an unfairly maligned key defender of Charleston.  An interesting article about the life of artist Conrad Wise Chapman, and the historical and aesthetic importance of his painting "The Bombardment of Fort Moultrie, November 16, 1863", is also present. The many articles dealing with small battles, raids and skirmishes (e.g. in no particular order: Honey Hill, Mt. Pleasant, Camden, Cheraw, Crescent Ridge and the Brown, Stoneman, and Potter raids) are mainly limited to the 1864-65 years.  Larry Nelson argues strongly that the town of Cheraw was a critical 1865 Carolinas Campaign military objective that has been wrongly pushed into the historiographical background.  The chapter best highlighting the destructive interaction between Sherman's soldiers and South Carolina civilians is Sarah D. Trapier's narrative of her experience, masterfully edited by Karen Stokes. 

Near the end of the book, C.R. Horres's history of the pair of massive Blakely rifled cannon emplaced on the Charleston waterfront offers fascinating insights on the technological front.  The guns arrived without their manuals, forcing the Confederates to guess at their proper operation.  Unfortunately for the gunners, confusion sown by one of the Blakely's advanced features (a bronze shock absorbing chamber located in the breech), led to incorrect charge loading during testing and disabling of the gun. 

A home front themed article takes a extensive look at the preparation of food in an environment of critical shortages, with an appendix reproducing a Confederate recipe book (called a "receipt book" in period parlance).  The word "Confederate" itself became a derisive adjective, denoting unsatisfactory substitutions for formerly plentiful foods and food recipes.  Finally, while no one hews to the notion of a South uniformly behind the Confederacy, James Otten's account of upper district dissent in South Carolina will surprise many readers. It may remain true that South Carolina was the only Confederate state not to contribute organized white military units to the Union army, CSA formations raised in the region, such as Evans's Brigade, suffered mass desertion relatively early in the war.  Armed bands (perhaps as much as 1,000 in total) of these men operated freely in the upper districts of the state, protecting unionists, abusing Confederates, and actively aiding northern escapees from nearby prison camps.

As one can see, The Civil War in South Carolina contains articles dealing with many of the major modern interests and concerns of academics and non-professionals alike. This highly recommended compilation of previously published essays belongs in the libraries of all individuals and institutions devoted to the study of the Civil War in the Palmetto State.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Booknotes IV (February '12)

New Arrival:

After Gettysburg: Cavalry Operations in the Eastern Theater July 14 1863 to Dec 31 1863 by Robert J. Trout (Eagle Editions, Ltd., 2012).

Trout's book covers cavalry operations in the main theater in the east during the six months following Gettysburg. It features the battles of Shepherdstown, Brandy Station, Bristoe Station, Mine Run and host of other skirmishes fought before winter set in. The maps and research impress at first glance, and the material quality, with its old fashioned heft, is quite noteworthy. To cap it off, the price is very reasonable.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


[Tried Men and True, or Union Life in Dixie by Thomas Jefferson Cypert, edited by Margaret M. Storey (University of Alabama Press, 2011). Hardcover, map, photo, timeline, notes, index. Pages main/total:137/187. ISBN:978-0-8173-1750-8 $26]

The study of southern unionism forms one of the most popular arenas for academic Civil War and Reconstruction scholarship, and Margaret Storey's editing of Captain Thomas J. Cypert's never before published 1866 memoir Tried Men and True, or Union Life in Dixie is an important contribution. Before the war, Cypert settled in Wayne County, Tennessee, a Whig stronghold located along the state's border with Alabama. Slaves made up 14% of the county's population (far less than the state average), and Cypert, whose antebellum party affiliation is not known for certain (but was likely American Party post breakup of the Whigs), did not own any and opposed secession along with the majority of county voters.

Tried Men and True is both a civilian and military memoir. Cypert begins his writing with the secession of Tennessee, bitterly describing the mistreatment of unconditional unionists by Confederates. In 1863, Cypert joined the 2nd Tennessee Mounted Infantry, a unit that conducted scouting operations and anti-guerrilla sweeps in the region. It was often brutal fighting, with atrocities against soldiers and civilians committed by both sides. Cypert was captured by Confederate authorities at home in 1864, but later escaped and returned to his command for a time before being discharged. Writing his memoir immediately after the war, with the purpose of promoting loyalist political power and denouncing former Confederates, state Senator Cypert had no interest in detailing his own command's misdeeds.

Editing the Cypert manuscript could be in no better hands than those of historian Margaret Storey, the author of the pathbreaking Loyalty and Loss: Alabama's Unionists in the Civil War and Reconstruction (LSU Press, 2004). In her explanatory notes, she addresses Cypert's omissions and mistakes and offers helpful context pertaining to persons, places, and events. She even went so far as to compile an extensive biographical register of notable persons mentioned in the memoir. Additionally, she provides a terrific introduction that both outlines Cypert's prewar life (sketchy as the details are) and presents a useful socio-political profile of Wayne County.  Like other scholars of Tennessee unionism have discovered, kinship ties and antebellum Whig political affiliation traditions, rather than particular views on slavery, strongly correlated with anti-Confederate ideology and willingness to enlist in southern unionist military units like the 2nd Tennessee Mounted Infantry.

Although naturally one sided and agenda driven, Cypert's memoir offers Civil War students a vivid portrait of what life was like for vocal unconditional unionists residing on the cusp of the Deep South. Its value is only enhanced by the atypical geography and rare first person narrative of unionist counterinsurgency operations along the Tennessee-Alabama border. Highlighting the post war struggles of these men to justify their wartime positions and maintain political power in the difficult years of Reconstruction, Tried Men and True significantly enriches the scholarly literature of southern unionism.

Other CWBA Reviews of UA Press titles:
* The Perfect Lion: The Life and Death of Confederate Artillerist John Pelham
* Trailing Clouds of Glory: Zachary Taylor's Mexican War Campaign and His Emerging Civil War Leaders
* A Small but Spartan Band: The Florida Brigade in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia
* Columbus, Georgia, 1865: The Last True Battle of the Civil War
* Engineering Security: The Corps of Engineers and Third System Defense Policy, 1815-1861
* Battle: The Nature and Consequences of Civil War Combat
* Camp Chase and the Evolution of Civil War Prison Policy
* Blockaders, Refugees, and Contrabands: Civil War on Florida's Gulf Coast, 1861-1865 (Fire Ant)
* Civil War Weather in Virginia
* From Conciliation to Conquest
* Like Grass Before the Scythe
* Navy Gray
* Sherman's Mississippi Campaign
* Confederate Florida (Fire Ant)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Booknotes III (February '12)

New Arrivals:

1. Freedom's Cap: The United States Capitol and the Coming of the Civil War by Guy Gugliotta (Hill and Wang, 2012).

Gugliotta is not the first writer to use the construction of the capitol dome in Washington as a literary metaphor for the state of the nation, but his own lengthy study concentrates on the efforts of three men, project advocate Jefferson Davis, lead engineer Montgomery Meigs, and architect Thomas Walter.

2. Military Strategy in the American Civil War edited by James I. Robertson, Jr. (Virginia  Sesquicentennial of the ACW Commission, 2012).

Volume 3 of a series of commission publications associated with their yearly "Signature Conference".  Previous books include Race, Slavery, and the Civil War: The Tough Stuff of American History and Memory, edited by James O. Horton from the 2010 conference, and 2009's America on the Eve of the Civil War, edited by Edward L. Ayers and Carolyn R. Martin.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


[ The 11th Missouri Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster by Dennis W. Belcher (McFarland 800-253-2187, 2011).] Softcover, 14 maps, 91 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index.  Pages main/total:240/347.   ISBN: 978-0-7864-4882-1  $39.95 ]

Not unusual for Missouri regiments organized for Union service during the first months of the Civil War, the 11th Missouri Volunteer Infantry was primarily manned by Illinoisans (in this case, 9 out of 10 companies). One of Fox's Three Hundred Fighting Regiments, the 11th had a distinguished combat record, beginning at Fredericktown, Missouri and ending at Spanish Fort near Mobile, Alabama.

In defeating M. Jeff Thompson's Missouri State Guard division at Fredericktown on October 21, 1861, the 11th occupied the center of the Union attack. Later, it played active roles in the Island No. 10 and Siege of Corinth campaigns. Bolstering General William S. Rosecrans's right flank at Iuka, the regiment suffered heavy casualties. It repeated this stalwart performance in other Mississippi battles, backing up Battery Robinett at Corinth and assaulting the Stockade Redan at Vicksburg, where it lost one-third of its strength. In 1864, the by then decimated Missourians, joined by re-upped volunteers from the 7th Missouri, were reorganized as the 11th Veteran Volunteers, fighting at Nashville and ending their active service with the capture of Spanish Fort in 1865. Historian Dennis Belcher covers these events and more in his regimental history and roster study The 11th Missouri Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War.

Belcher's narrative is not an aesthetic success (and remains in need of a copyeditor's service), but it is well researched and packed with detailed information about the 11th Missouri's often critical role in numerous Trans-Mississippi and Western Theater skirmishes and battles. The author recognizes that regimental leadership during the formative years is often the determining factor in how well a unit performs under the stress of combat, and the 11th was fortunate in this regard to have had commanders of the quality of Joseph Plummer and Joseph Mower. Happily, this extensive military and organizational history is supplemented with many excellent operational scale and battlefield maps created by noted cartographer George Skoch.

The sections that arguably shine best in comparison to the typical regimental history are those associated with the officers and men of the 11th. In addition to the manuscript material incorporated into the text, a body of wartime letters are reproduced in full in the appendix section. At frequent intervals in the narrative, Belcher also inserts loss tables listing the fate (e.g. discharge, death, desertion, transfer, resignation) of individuals over specific periods of time. Another appendix contains biographical sketches of the regiment's officers. Full rosters of both the 11th and its later Veteran Volunteer incarnation are included. In these, vital statistics and available commentary are provided for each soldier.

Civil War history and roster studies comprise one of the most popular segments of the publishing market and most do not succeed on both levels, but that is not the case here. The history portion of The 11th Missouri Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War, presentational warts and all, nevertheless represents a complete narrative record of the regiment's service, and the information provided about the officers and men should prove invaluable for researchers, genealogists, and historians.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Booknotes II (February '12)

New Arrivals:

1. A Guide to Civil War in the Mountains of West Virginia, 1861 - Three One-Day Driving Tours by Hunter Lesser (Quarrier Press, 2011).

Both from the same publisher, this one is not altogether useless in text, direction, and visual aid presentation, but it's clearly a lesser product to David Bard's The Civil War in the New River Valley, 1861-1865: 3 One-Day Driving Tours.  I love Quarrier, but it's baffling how that title got past the proofing stages.

2. Enduring Legacy: Rhetoric and Ritual of the Lost Cause by W. Stuart Towns (Univ of Ala Press, 2012).

Communications professor Towns take a critical look at the variety of southern oratory traditions aimed at celebrating the Lost Cause.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

"The Press Covers the Invasion of Arkansas, 1862: Vol. 1 January-June"

In the winter of 1862, Union General Samuel R. Curtis's Army of the Southwest quickly drove General Sterling Price's Missourians out of Springfield and into the Ozark wilds of northwest Arkansas. The Confederate counteroffensive undertaken by newly arrived General Earl Van Dorn failed at Pea Ridge. The subsequent withdrawal of his command from the state to reinforce Beauregard's beleaguered army at Corinth, left the state of Arkansas largely bereft of organized defenders.

Seeking to take advantage of this opportunity by advancing on Little Rock, Curtis marched his army east, where he hoped his base in northeast Arkansas at Batesville and Jacksonport could be supplied via the White River. Fine historical accounts of these movements have appeared in Michael Banasik's Embattled Arkansas and A Severe and Bloody Fight by Scott Akridge and Emmet Powers.  It is the newspaper accounts, north and south, pertaining to the early stage of this invasion that comprise H.L. Hanna's The Press Covers the Invasion of Arkansas, 1862: Vol. 1 January-June (Createspace, 2011).  The book ends with the tragic disabling and mass scalding of the crew of the USS Mound City, the ironclad escorting Union supplies up the White River.

The newspaper articles read like one would expect. For every sober after-action report republished for the public, there are sensational accounts of atrocities on both sides and wildly exaggerated estimates of enemy strengths and losses. One wonders how much these tales of murder, scalping, and mass poisoning affected contemporary readers, especially those in the east who already held disdainful views of a lawless Trans-Mississippi.   The indexed book runs almost 350 pages, with the largest body of articles associated with the Battle of Pea Ridge and published by newspapers stretching from Texas to New York. While the newspaper clippings alone represent a useful compilation of research materials, the book's value would have increased significantly with more notes evaluating the claims made in the articles and reports.

Presumably, Volume 2 will cover Whitney's Lane, Cotton Plant/Cache River, and the Union occupation of Helena.  Hanna has also promised a third book, a narrative history of the invasion. Readers with an interest in how the 1862 Arkansas campaign was publicly perceived in various parts of the U.S. and the Confederacy will certainly find Volume 1 helpful in their research.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ted Mahr news

Ted Mahr, author of Early's Valley Campaign - Battle of Cedar Creek: Showdown in the Shenandoah, October 1 - 30, 1864 (H.E. Howard, 1992), wrote me a note this morning to pass along here apprising us of the progress of the new revised edition. He didn't mention which outfit would publish it, but Mahr hopes for an early summer '12 release.

The first edition is widely regarded as the best history of the battle, and clearly one of the best of the Howard series, so there should be more than a little interest in the revised study. Check out the link above. More copies have emerged in the secondary market and prices have come way down.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Booknotes (February '12)

New Arrivals:

1. Lincoln's Cavalrymen: A History of the Mounted Forces of the Army of the Potomac, 1861-1865 by Edward G Longacre (Univ of Okla Pr, 2012).

2. Lee's Cavalrymen: A History of the Mounted Forces of the Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865 by Edward G Longacre (Univ of Okla Pr, 2012).

This is a set of paperback reprints of the original Stackpole publications from 2000 and 2002. Excepting his recent history of the cavalry of the Army of Tennessee, I've never been much of a Longacre reader, so I can't speak to how important these two books are to the study of the opposing eastern theater mounted arms. Perhaps Eric can chime in.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Hines: "THE BATTLE OF FIRST BULL RUN - Manassas Campaign July 16-22, 1861 - An Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide"

[ The Battle of First Bull Run, Manassas Campaign July 16-22, 1861 - An Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide by Blaikie Hines (American Patriot Press, 2011).  Softcover, 82 maps, 500+ images, notes, bibliography, index. 224 pp. ISBN:978-1-61364-129-3  $39.50 ]

Civil War battle atlases continue to be rare, but students of the First Bull Run campaign and battle have been quite fortunate to see a pair of fine map studies emerge recently, 2009's The Maps of First Bull Run by Bradley Gottfried and now Blaikie Hines's The Battle of First Bull Run, Manassas Campaign July 16-22, 1861 - An Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide. As an added benefit, their main features do not overlap.

As opposed to Gottfried's traditional cartography, photography, much of it rarely seen, is at the heart of Hines's visual treatment. He has assembled hundreds of period and modern images of buildings and landscapes, and has created 82 color battle overlays of recent satellite (as well as some 20th century aerial) photos of the Manassas battlefield park and environs. For many of the period landscape photographs, in addition to applying labels identifying persons, buildings, geographical points, and military unit positions, Hines includes his own matching perspective modern photographs on the same page. These side by side comparisons are fascinating records of changing landscapes, as well as useful guidebook features. The color map overlays offer all the tactical detail desired, from the positioning of  individual artillery pieces on the battlefield to the locations and movements of the infantry and cavalry companies, battalions, and regiments of both sides. In depth organizational sidebars, with officer photos attached to each formation, are also sprinkled throughout the book.

The accompanying text is very stripped down, favoring dry detail over pleasing narrative.  There is nothing wrong with this, and indeed it's preferable and probably necessary given the space limitations.  New military historical interpretations are not attempted. What is offered is a synthesis of the best current scholarship.  That said, the writing would certainly benefit from another pass by a professional editor in order to fix the numerous typographical errors and instances of information repetition. In fact, to alleviate the meandering quality of the text, a complete separation of the tactical treatment from the family and farm history sections associated with the battlefield might have been a better choice.  Some of these interludes, such as the investigation of the Thornberry property and Sudley Springs photography, represent quite extensive breaks in the flow of the surrounding battle history.

Overall, Hines does a fine job of maximizing the amount of data incorporated into the maps (which include the unit information mentioned above, as well as monument, park trail, and other geographically notable locations) without making them appear too cluttered.  However, it might have served the reader better to have the ubiquitous on-map distance markers depicted by something other than thick arrows, which also represent unit movements. A sample can be seen here.

In the end, the book's many strengths far outweigh its flaws.  Blaikie Hines has applied his substantial visual arts skills to the crafting of a highly original and broadly useful contribution to the military and civilian historiography of the Manassas battlefield and battle.  Certainly, nothing else offers readers at home and dedicated trampers in the field a more effective way to trace the course of the battle on the current landscape.  Hines's The Battle of First Bull Run can be confidently placed alongside top shelf subject matter works by Johnston, Gottfried, Bearss, Davis, and Hennessy.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Publications from the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the ACW Commission

The Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission is actively publishing books and lecture DVDs related to conferences they hosted. The most recent of these is Military Strategy in the American Civil War, edited by James I. Robertson, Jr.  Previous volumes include Race, Slavery, and the Civil War: The Tough Stuff of American History and Memory  (James O. Horton, ed.) and America on the Eve of the Civil War (Edward L. Ayers and Carolyn R. Martin, eds.).  

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Harris: "LINCOLN AND THE BORDER STATES: Preserving the Union"

[ Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union by William C. Harris (University Press of Kansas, 2011). Hardcover, map, photos, notes, index. Pages main/total:363/430. ISBN:978-0-7006-1804-0 $34.95 ]

The conservative pro-slavery politicians and citizens of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware are all too often presented in the literature as barely loyal obstacles in the way of President Lincoln's war and emancipation policies. The truth is, these Border State citizens, buffeted by both sides, were absolutely critical to Union victory, supporting to the end the preeminent aim of the war -- restoration of the Union -- even in the face of numerous indignities stemming from a brand of harsh military rule that often treated them as occupied enemies. William C. Harris's Lincoln and the Border States navigates all of these complicated issues with admirable depth and understanding. The word 'comprehensive' is overused in describing scholarly works, but it is entirely appropriate here.

Coverage of Delaware is very brief, centering on the Lincoln administration's early failed attempt to get the tiny state to accept compensated emancipation. In contrast, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri issues are examined in much more depth. The 1861 crisis in Maryland is a very familiar story, but its events are handled by Harris with refreshing sensitivity to the viewpoints of all concerned. Instead of the traditional assumption of the blackest of motives on the part of men like Governor Thomas Hicks and Baltimore's Mayor Brown and Police Chief Kane, Harris seeks to convey a fuller understanding of the difficulties imposed on these men by a mistake filled military transit strategy, one that added greatly to the state's already overexcited political passions. He provides a more nuanced portrait of those holding an understandable yet confounding mindset, one that both opposed secession and the forcible suppression of it.

The 1861-62 attempts by Missouri and Kentucky to maintain an armed neutrality (the former's obviously less sincere) are also capably outlined. In contrast to Claiborne Jackson of Missouri, the portrait of Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin's handling of his state's difficulties is largely sympathetic.  It may disappoint some readers that the guerrilla mess in Missouri is only handled in broad brush strokes.  Additionally, although the author does briefly discuss the command arrangements of the Missouri State Militia, it might have been fruitful to go into more depth about the Lincoln's administration's involvement in this unique joint initiative between the state provisional and federal governments.

Harris is generally approving, and often admiring, of the Lincoln administration's political skill in handling political disputes with the Border States, but he also astutely points to many of Lincoln's flaws as chief executive when it came to handling prickly state officials who were staunchly loyal to the Union yet wanted nothing to do with Republican policies and ideology.  For instance, in Missouri, the president would appoint and sack in rapid succession commanders overseeing military affairs in the state, fostering the appearance of rudderless federal leadership. Also, instead of establishing policy guidelines from the outset, he was always rushing to douse crises created by military district and department commanders left to their own devices in difficult places like Missouri and Kentucky.   Along this same line, the president, tone deaf to the feelings of the majority of Border State loyalists, also repeatedly erred in appointing a succession of politically radical officers in Border State department and district commands [ex. John C. Fremont and Samuel R. Curtis in Missouri and Stephen Burbridge in Kentucky].   This guaranteed constant and needless friction with state officials, without improving peace and security.  Also done well is the book's tracing of the Border States's evolving stance on freedom for their slave populations, from early rejection of administration derived compensated emancipation plans and heated popular opposition to the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation to a final acceptance of abolition's inevitability and the drafting of new state constitutions abolishing the institution.

The book deals at length with how the Border States dealt with the ramifications of the Emancipation Proclamation and the instate raising of large numbers of black military units.  Civil unrest and guerrilla warfare was a constant concern, but a close reading of Harris's treatment leads the reader to conclude that Lincoln's July 1864 declaration of martial law in the state and the suspension of habeas corpus was a clear overreaction to events.  As Harris demonstrates, the level of sustained anti-administration rhetoric among politicians and newspaper editors reached highest levels in Kentucky. This is reflected in the text's emphasis, with Missouri and Maryland accorded far less space than the Bluegrass State. Space limitations undoubtedly force many omissions upon such a broad study, but it is somewhat disappointing that inquiry into fact and myth surrounding predictions of mass desertion by Border State soldiers spawned by the proclamation is neglected.

In terms of obvious flaws, the decision to omit a bibliography was unfortunate. Lincoln and the Border States will likely be considered by many to be the modern standard for the subject, and a listing of sources, or at least a bibliographical essay, would have been greatly helpful to readers and scholars. In addition to some readers being disappointed with the favored status of Kentucky in the volume, one might make the argument that West Virginia should have been included in the analysis.

Even so, a collective and thoroughly detailed examination of the turbulent Civil War political relationships of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware with the Lincoln administration is unprecedented in the literature, and Harris carries it all off with scholarly authority and a deep concern with analyzing the views of all sides. As a result, Lincoln and the Border States represents a body of scholarship of considerable value to Civil War students and is highly recommended.

More CWBA reviews of UP of Kansas titles:
* Punitive War: Confederate Guerrillas and Union Reprisals
* A Gallant Little Army: The Mexico City Campaign
* The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth
* Guide to the Atlanta Campaign: Rocky Face Ridge to Kennesaw Mountain
* Bloody Bill Anderson: The Short, Savage Life of a Civil War Guerrilla
* Civil War St. Louis
* The War Within the Union High Command: Politics and Generalship During the Civil War
* Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era