Sunday, April 1, 2012

"To the Battles of Franklin and Nashville and Beyond: Stabilization and Reconstruction in Tennessee and Kentucky, 1864-1866"

After 25 years, B.F. Cooling's trilogy tracing the Civil War in the Confederate heartland was completed with last year's To the Battles of Franklin and Nashville and Beyond: Stabilization and Reconstruction in Tennessee and Kentucky, 1864-1866 (Univ of Tenn Press, 2011). I still think his Forts Henry and Donelson: The Key to the Confederate Heartland (1987) is the best of the small number of works dealing with the subject. The second volume, 1997’s Fort Donelson’s Legacy: War and Society in Kentucky and Tennessee, 1862-63, added several social and political layers absent from the chiefly military focus of the Donelson study. To the Battles of Franklin and Nashville and Beyond also has dual military and non-military features, and it expands upon challenging topics raised earlier such as guerrilla warfare, civil rights under military occupation, and "hard war".

Military events summarized in the book include the 1864-65 cavalry raids in Kentucky and Tennessee by Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joseph Wheeler, and John Hunt Morgan.  The 1864 Tennessee Campaign is also outlined. The amount of detail is moderate, which is fine given existing coverage in books and articles, and the number and quality of the maps are sufficient.  Documenting the increasing application of “hard war” to the region against armed enemies and civilians, as well as the uptick in guerrilla violence, are additional things the book does well.  Those readers hoping for more coverage of the Reconstruction period will be happy to hear that a fourth volume is a possibility.

Of course, a vast volume of scholarly literature similar in content and theme to the material presented in this book, much of it dealing specifically with Kentucky and Tennessee, has emerged over the past couple decades.  While the freshness factor may not be there for all readers, Cooling's synthesis of the current scholarship combined with analysis and interpretation drawn from his own in-depth research (which has obviously consumed a significant portion of his professional life) is a significant achievement in Civil War regional history.

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