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.


  1. Drew,

    The narrative history sounds very promising. Any idea about the author's timeline?

    One pet peave, though. These volumes appear to be excellent resource works for students of the Trans-Mississippi, rather than popular history. Knowing this audience, why would the publisher choose for the cover a well-known Redwood woodcut depicting Fredericksburg street fighting? I can think of at least a half dozen paintings and illustrations depicting the book's topic.

    Chris Van Blargan

    1. Chris,
      The author told me Vol. 2 will be released soon, but I don't have any more information about the narrative history.

      Thanks for bringing up the cover art. That was something I intended to mention but couldn't recall the battle in question.


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