Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hood, Trobisch & Johnson: "A CIVIL WAR CAMPAIGN THROUGH MISSOURI: Recollections of a German Soldier"

[A Civil War Campaign Through Missouri: Recollections of a German Soldier comp. by Dennis Hood, trans. by Stephen Trobisch, and ed. by Cynthia Johnson (Leonard Press, 2012). Softcover, maps, notes, index. 169 pp. ISBN:978-1-931475-59-4 $18]

Through the efforts of a small group of historians and enthusiasts (like Kentuckian Joe Reinhart), a growing number of Civil War diaries, reminiscences, and letters written by German-American soldiers are being translated and published. The German memoir published in the pages of A Civil War Campaign Through Missouri is noteworthy both for its anonymity and its literary quality.

Translator Stephen Trobisch also contributes the introduction to the volume. In it, he describes the nature of the original handwritten manuscript, essentially two parallel but intersecting narratives, which, due to the depth of detail, were likely based upon a wartime journal of some sort. Trobisch also recounts the unsuccessful quest to discover the name of the author. He offers up a few candidates, none of whom really stand out. It is fairly clear from clues in the writing itself that the man was an officer of some kind, although, curiously, he never describes his duties and/or command responsibilities as a member of the 15th Missouri.

The writer [for simplicity's sake, named "Alexander" by the editors] betrays a cultural chauvinism similar to that of Reinhart's German soldier correspondents. He is critical of the "American" volunteer army (and a vocal defender of incompetent Euro-phile John C. Fremont), and clearly does not think much of Missourians or their brand of civilization, the latter an opinion also shared by many native soldiers.

At around 70 pages of narrative, Alexander offers a detailed rendering of the first months of what would be the 1862 Pea Ridge Campaign, basically the long march by the Army of the Southwest from Rolla (Mo.) to Bentonville, Arkansas. There's not a great deal of strictly military discussion, but Alexander's depictions of the march itself, along with the natural landscape, towns, and villages traversed, are vivid.  Along the way, he records many of his personal interactions with the inhabitants of the area.  His writing is also spiced throughout with European literary and historical allusion.

Rather than adopting the scholarly convention of an abundance of sourced notations attached to persons, places, and events mentioned in the text, the book's sparse footnotes are mostly translation comments. No map charts the progress of Alexander's march, but a pair of drawings show the locations of the Union winter camps at Rolla and the area around the towns of Springfield and Little York. A complete German language transcription of the original manuscript is also included.

Though they cover only a very brief time interval, the depth of Alexander's writings do provide much in the way of individual insights of the type useful to those researching the attitudes and experiences of ethnic Civil War soldiers. Students of the Pea Ridge Campaign should also find the book helpful to their investigations. The editors of A Civil War Campaign Through Missouri have earnest hopes that its publication will spark the uncovering of more information, including the identity of its author, the result of which will be a new edition clearing up old mysteries. Appreciating all that they've done so far, I wish them luck.

Friday, July 27, 2012

I've got the wrong gig

Reviewing liquid media is the way to go.

Apparently, it's not too shabby.  The smooth satisfying Burnside of Knoxville and the Carolina sounds, not the rot gut of Fredericksburg.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Booknotes V (July '12)

New Arrivals:

1. By the Noble Daring of Her Sons: The Florida Brigade of the Army of Tennessee by Jonathan C. Sheppard (U of Ala Pr, 2012).

Waters and Edmonds did a nice job with the Florida Brigade attached to Lee's army in the eastern theater, and now Sheppard takes up the baton for the Floridians of the premier western Confederate army.

2. No Freedom Shrieker: The Civil War Letters of Union Soldier Charles Biddlecom edited by Katherine Aldridge (Paramount Market Pub, 2011).

Biddlecom was a soldier in the 147th New York and this book is an edited collection of more than 100 of his letters home covering his experiences of the Overland and Petersburg campaigns.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Pop history magazine subscribers read articles, wargamers buy books

The recent anniversary of First Bull Run brought to mind one of my major influences in taking up serious study of the American Civil War.  People often mention the Centennial, books, movies, tv series, and battlefield visits as planting the seed for a lifetime of obsession, but what really got me going was the Avalon Hill boardgame Bull Run [Did you ever play this one, Harry?]. I still remember the box cover (at right), with Jackson standing there with a bandaged hand and some idiot at his side firing a pistol at an unreasonable range.  It wasn't even that great of a wargame/conflict simulation/historical strategy game, and I soon switched to computer offerings (Apple IIe, no less) from companies like SSI, but it played a large role in steering me toward the Civil War and away from the Napoleonic Wars and WW2.

Board wargaming is still alive and well, though even more of a niche relegated largely to the Internet, conventions, small clubs, and few and far between tiny corners in general hobby shops.  Young boardgamers today would be very surprised to know that during the 70s and 80s, department stores and drug stores all over the country stocked serious wargames on their shelves, with games like Empires in Arms selling 200,000 copies.  Those days are long, long gone.

The point of all this is my long held belief that wargames in general are a vastly underappreciated (by book publishers*) gateway drug to serious subject reading. The best designed strategic-level games inspire players to actively seek out more information about military, political, diplomatic, social, and economic history.  Recently, I purchased a WW1 game and playing it led me to pick up copies of at least 50 books that I would not otherwise have bothered to read.  Yet, as far as I can tell from hobby magazines and websites (I've never been to a gaming conference or convention, so I could be wrong about those venues), book publishers have made little or no effort to market their products to the hobby, both the PC and boardgame varieties.   To the lament of their suffering spouses, wargamers spend money, lots of it, to further their interest and knowledge, and I can't help but think neglected opportunity exists for book publishers to exploit.

* - reader Chris makes a good point in the comments section about European publishing. Admittedly, my thoughts did not stray outside the U.S. when writing this post.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


[The Civil War in Appalachia -Tennessee in the Civil War, Volume 2 edited by Spurgeon King (The Tennessee Historical Society, 2011) Softcover, map, photos, notes, index. 232 pp. ISBN:978-0-9615966-4-4 $25).

To commemorate the Sesquicentennial, the Tennessee Historical Society is republishing articles from their scholarly journal Tennessee Historical Quarterly in a twelve volume series titled Tennessee in the Civil War. Published in 2011, the second book, The Civil War in Appalachia, comprises ten articles selected by editor Spurgeon King, who also wrote the introduction.

In the first article, Charles F. Bryan traces the efforts of the East Tennessee Convention of 1861, a hastily assembled collection of Unionist delegates, to galvanize opposition to the upcoming secession vote. Often viewed as a failure (secession succeeded after all), Bryan argues that it was instead a crucial event in unifying the pro-Union cause in the state, bringing together old political enemies and forging new bonds for a common purpose. Martha Turner's next chapter builds on the first, providing readers with a brief summary of the class, cultural, economic, and political origins of Tennessee's brand of Appalachian Unionism. The fact that pro-Union does not always equal anti-slavery always bears repeating for the benefit of the more casual readers that tend to conflate the two stances.

The essay by Sam Bollier is a particularly revealing exploration of how the region was viewed in the north via the lens of the popular media of the time, specifically newspapers. Before the war, the stereotypical northern view of southerners as lazy was also applied to Appalachian residents, with an additional nod to their supposed fierce independence and savage appearance and behavior. This immediately changed during the war, with Yankee values like thrift and hard, honest labor now ascribed to mountain Unionists, who were also often mistakenly assumed to be members of the abolitionist cause. After the war, these cause serving projections of commonality with northern society disappeared and all the old prejudices returned.

Until recently, the preponderance of the literature dealing with Civil War guerrilla warfare focused on the deeply personal level, and that is the case here with Robert Wasner's account of the killing of former deputy provost Joseph Devine. Beyond providing readers with insights into the nature of East Tennessee violence against civilians, Wasner also examines the legend that the killing was instigated by Confederate general John C. Vaughn in retaliation for Devine's arrest and deportation of Vaughn's family. The author found no evidence of any direct involvement by Vaughn.

Of course, no volume of essays dealing with Civil War East Tennessee can omit the person of William G. Brownlow. James Kelly's lengthy contribution, originally published in two parts, serves as an excellent, and balanced, mini-biography and appreciation of "Parson" Brownlow's prominent political role during the years of Civil War and Reconstruction. While acknowledging the very distasteful (and even corrupt) nature of Brownlow's public life as a newspaper editor and politician, Kelly tempers this with the argument that, although Brownlow was certainly over the top, much of the man's tone was consistent with what was expected of partisan newspapermen of the period.

Letters home written by Confederate engineer Richard McCalla figure prominently in Robert Partin's article about building and maintaining bridges and fortifications in the East Tennessee-Southwest Virginia theater.  The variety of wartime roles assumed by Confederate women (e.g. provision of food and clothing to combatants, petitioning governments and military occupation authorities for redress of grievances, intelligence gathering, even prostitution) are explored by William Strasser, with a nod also to their key presence in post-war memorial organizations.

In recognition that battles and campaigns also significantly shaped the Civil War experience in Appalachian Tennessee, a trio of military themed articles were also included. Douglas Cubbison offers a piece lauding the generalship of Joseph Hooker and John White Geary at the Battle of Lookout Mountain.   The legend of "Long Tom", a cannon placed atop Cumberland Gap that could reportedly fire five miles in any direction, is thoroughly debunked by William Provine. Finally, Melanie Greer Storie briefly chronicles the career of the Union's 13th Tennessee Cavalry (the regiment that killed John Hunt Morgan), gazing backward from its 1896 veteran's reunion.

Of course, any collection of previously published essays from a single journal on a specific theme, as opposed to commissioned pieces, will have some gaps, but editor Spurgeon King does a generally fine job of covering the bases in The Civil War in Appalachia.  His selections also effectively convey to readers the important truth that supporters of secession also formed a significant presence in the region.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Confederate Invasion of Iowa"

David Woodbury, of the always excellent Of Battlefields and Bibliophiles blog, posted today a note about a marker in Bloomfield (Davis County), Iowa commemorating the northernmost point reached by pro-Confederate forces in the state. Take a look at it here.

I just thought I would add a CWBA addendum and mention the only publication I know of that documents the event, Russell Corder's The Confederate Invasion of Iowa (1997). No copies have been made available through interlibrary loan, and I've looked off and on for years in the online book markets and have never come across a listing for this 30 page booklet. It remains a mystery.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Booknotes IV (July '12)

New Arrivals:

1. Civil War Talks: Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans edited by Hampton Newsome, John Horn, and John G. Selby (U of Va Press, 2012).

George Bernard fought with the 12th Virginia during the war, publishing several decades later a compilation of participant accounts of the regiment's campaigns under the title War Talks of Confederate Veterans. A second volume was planned but not completed. However, a series of Bernard papers discoveries has allowed modern editors the opportunity to piece together the old manuscript. Civil War Talks contains Bernard's war diary, speeches, and letters, along with a number of veteran accounts from both sides of Seven Pines, Malvern Hill, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Petersburg, and Appomattox.

2. Wilson's Creek National Battlefield: Civil War Collection by Anita L. Roberts and Savannah G. Roberts (Arcadia Pub, 2012).

Part of the popular Images of America series, this book of captioned images samples the substantial photographic collection housed at the Wilson's Creek archive.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


[The Battle of Brice's Crossroads by Stewart L. Bennett (The History Press, 2012). Softcover, 4 maps, photos, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:126/158. ISBN:978-1-60949-502-2 $21.99]

On a sweltering June day in 1864, Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry crushed a veteran Union force twice its size at Brice's Crossroads in northern Mississippi. The Federals, a cavalry division under General Benjamin Grierson and three brigades of infantry led by senior Colonel William McMillen, were committed piecemeal by commanding general Samuel Sturgis, the foot soldiers force marched in the heat to rescue the cavalry at the crossroads. The result was two distinct fights, with Forrest's mostly dismounted cavalry successively defeating both Grierson's initial line and the two brigades from McMillen's division sent to relieve the cavalry (Edward Bouton's USCT third brigade was posted in the rear guarding the trains). The retreat turned into something of a rout in the muddy bottoms northwest of the battlefield, but the pursuit was gradually checked by a cluster of regiments from McMillen's division. Nevertheless, up to sixteen guns and most of the trains were captured or destroyed.

Somewhat surprisingly, Stewart Bennett's The Battle of Brice's Crossroads is the first stand alone scholarly history of the campaign and battle to be published. There are now two major works covering the subject, this one and Ed Bearss's Forrest at Brice's Cross Roads and in North Mississippi in 1864* See Note. The author's summaries of Sturgis's first expedition and the mission of the second (to protect Sherman's lines of communication and supply by crippling Forrest's raiding capacity) set the stage well for the finely executed tactical account of the Battle of Brice's Crossroads that ensues. Bennett's detailed descriptions of the terrain involved, aided by an excellent collection of modern photographs of the sites, greatly enhance the reader's understanding of the difficulties involved in maneuvering to advantage in the area around the crossroads. The author's assessments of the broad stroke features of the battle and the leadership of both sides are conventional, but the narrative definitely has unique moments. For example, the role of the 9th Minnesota in anchoring the Union right center at a critical point during the battle is more fully explored here than in Bearss's earlier book.

Weaknesses are few. The maps do represent the terrain and positions of the regiments of both sides adequately, but they are too few in number. The battle was one of constantly shifting deployments (especially on the Union side) but only one map for each major phase of the battle -- the cavalry fight, the infantry fight, and the rear guard action at the Agnew House -- is provided. Typos and other little editing issues are also lightly scattered about.

The Battle of Brice's Crossroads is highly recommended reading. In addition to its well balanced and suitably detailed tactical account of the battle, the larger meaning of the deadly clash is fully appreciated. The human cost was far higher than it should have been, but Sturgis's failed expedition, along with A.J. Smith's subsequent one that defeated the Confederates at Tupelo, nevertheless contributed mightily to the preservation of the logistical network feeding Sherman's army in Georgia.

* - Ed Bearss's Forrest at Brice's Cross Roads and in North Mississippi in 1864 (Morningside, 1979) is a lengthy three part book, only the first section covering the campaign and battle of Brice's Crossroads. The total number of pages devoted to the subject are roughly similar between Bearss and Bennett, with Bearss offering slightly more background material d and Bennett arguably richer detail on the battle itself. Bearss's earlier classic is frequently referenced in Bennett's notes, but the latter's account is also heavily accented with manuscript material unavailable or unknown to Bearss. Overall, neither has a decisive edge over the other. Both should be regarded as essential reading.

Friday, July 13, 2012

e-Book conversions

I've yet to purchase one of the proprietary e-book readers so I can't speak from personal experience, but  botched conversions appear to be commonplace.  If you browse through Amazon listings, there are many 1-star reviews of otherwise fine books that refer solely to the deficiencies of the e-book version formatting.  You get these kinds of complaints often in the software world, where it can be difficult for developers to take into account the almost infinite combination of PC hardware configurations, but the readers do not have this problem.  I seem to recall a tweet from a publisher referring to an article explaining why these conversions are much more difficult to do right than one might suppose (wish I had read it!).

Anyway, for those of you who have ordered new release Civil War e-books, what has your experience been like so far?  Have publishers been able to format text, illustrations, maps, footnotes, etc. to your satisfaction?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Booknotes III (July '12)

New Arrivals:

1. Remembering The Battle of the Crater: War as Murder by Kevin M. Levin (UP of KY, 2012).

Several Crater books have been published in recent years, but the emphasis and interpretive slant of this one sets it apart from the others.

2. The Hammer and the Anvil: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the End of Slavery in America by Dwight Jon Zimmerman and Wayne Vansant, ill. (Hill and Wang, 2012).

This is the first time I've been sent a history book in graphic novel format.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Miller: "TRIUMPH & TRAGEDY: The Story of the 35th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the Civil War"

[ Triumph & Tragedy: The Story of the 35th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the Civil War by Lee Miller (Camp Pope Publishing, 2012). Softcover, 8 maps, photos, roster, notes, index. Pages main/total:90/154. ISBN:978-1-929919-41-3 $12 ]

Triumph & Tragedy
Click above for more info
A popular Civil War publishing subgenre, unit roster histories range in complexity from simple name registers accompanied by rather non-specific service history summaries on up to mammoth scholarly military, biographical, social, and demographic investigations that alter in significant ways our interpretation of particular battles and the men that fought in them. Lee Miller's Triumph & Tragedy lies somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, closer to the former category.

The 35th Iowa Volunteer Infantry regiment was mustered into service at Camp Strong (Muscatine County) in September 1862, its colonel lumber businessman Sylvester G. Hill. After garrison duty in Cairo, the Iowans were sent to cover the rear of Grant's siege lines surrounding Vicksburg. The regiment was involved in significant action during 1864 the Red River Campaign, followed by the Tupelo battle, Sterling Price's Missouri expedition, Nashville, and Mobile. It was at Nashville, during an impetuous assault on one of the forts defending the Confederate left, that Colonel Hill was killed.

Triumph and Tragedy covers all of the above in less than 80 pages of narrative, so details are sparse, but there are interesting tidbits about a few lesser known Trans-Mississippi fights like Yellow Bayou and Ditch Bayou. Similarly scarce is much in the way of biographical information for the regiment's officers and men, but the author does incorporate a number of soldier accounts into the text. No demographic analysis is attempted but roster information for each individual includes name, age, home town, and wartime fate in terms of death, wounds, and capture.

There are a few errors scattered about, examples including a passage describing the Vicksburg assaults confusing corps with armies (though corrected later) and a statement that 6,000 guerrillas joined Price's army crossing Missouri in 1864. Miller would also have been better served to utilize the many fine print secondary sources available for background material rather than Wikipedia. This non-scholarly approach will probably limit the book's appeal to a more local audience of general interest readers, which was likely the author's intention.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Booknotes II (July '12)

New Arrivals:

1. A Rough Business: Fighting the Civil War in Missouri edited by William Garrett Piston (The State Historical Society of Missouri, 2012).

A nice compilation of 14 articles previously published in Missouri Historical Review. This is the second volume of this type to be released [see The Civil War in Missouri: Essays from the Missouri Historical Review, 1906-2006, 2006]. This one purports to emphasize military history, but that appears to be only partially accurate. It is a nice looking book with some great selections for those of us who don't subscribe to the journal or have back issues handy.

2. The Maps of Antietam: An Atlas of the Antietam (Sharpsburg) Campaign, including the Battle of South Mountain, September 2 - 20, 1862 by Bradley M. Gottfried (Savas Beatie, 2012).

The third book in the Savas Beatie Military Atlas Series.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

O'Neill: "CHASING JEB STUART AND JOHN MOSBY: The Union Cavalry in Northern Virginia from Second Manassas to Gettysburg"

[ Chasing Jeb Stuart and John Mosby: The Union Cavalry in Northern Virginia from Second Manassas to Gettysburg by Robert F. O'Neill (McFarland, 2012). Softcover, 10 maps, photos, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:273/328. ISBN:978-0-7864-9256-5 $45 ]

Many books have been written about the exploits of John Singleton Mosby and his band of Confederate partisans in the Fauquier and Loudoun counties of northern Virginia, but comprehensive histories of the operations of the Union units that opposed them are less common. Over a defined interval, Robert O'Neill's Chasing Jeb Stuart and John Mosby: The Union Cavalry in Northern Virginia from Second Manassas to Gettysburg goes far in rectifying this deficiency.

In covering a relatively short period, roughly September 1862 through June 1863, an incredible level of operational detail and background information about the men and units of both sides is offered. The content presented in the book would easily fit inside twice the number of pages of a volume with more typical physical dimensions, print size, and spacing. Using a large collection of participant accounts, a dizzying number of raids and skirmishes, both famous (like the celebrated capture of Brigadier General Edwin Stoughton in his bed) and obscure, are described in Chasing Jeb Stuart and John Mosby. O'Neill effectively conveys to the reader the mounting frustration of Union officials and military commanders, from the Secretary of War on down, as they struggled to effectively secure lines of supply and communication through "Mosby's Confederacy", particularly the Orange & Alexandria Railroad.

As the title implies, the book is primarily written from the Union perspective. The first half is largely the story of the cavalry brigade of Colonel Richard Butler Price (formerly that of John Buford), comprised of the 1st Michigan, 1st Vermont, 1st West Virginia, and 5th New York volunteer cavalry regiments. In March 1863, these units, along with the famed Michigan Brigade, would be incorporated into a division of cavalry attached to the Defenses of Washington and commanded by Major General Julius Stahel.

In addition to accounts of the action, the author does a fine job of integrating smaller scale events in the sector to the major campaigns engulfing the region, like Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. O'Neill opines that perhaps Mosby's greatest contribution occurred during the early stages of the Gettysburg Campaign, when one of the Gray Ghost's raids led to the recall of Stahel's Division, which had been perfectly positioned to wreak havoc upon the undefended trains of A.P. Hill's III Corps.

Better maps and more of them would have been preferable, but the ones included do a fairly acceptable job of locating important geographical points and tracing Union movements in a general fashion. More impressive is the bibliography, the author having rooted out mounds of manuscript material located in repositories across the country, the content of which enriched his narrative immeasurably.

Chasing Jeb Stuart and John Mosby is highly recommended as an original and substantial contribution to the history of Union cavalry operations in the eastern theater, as well as an excellent case study of an ineffective anti-partisan strategy. Mosby students will also want a copy of this book, as it fleshes out his opponents to an unprecedented degree.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Booknotes (July '12)

New Arrivals:

1. The 10th Minnesota Volunteers, 1862-1865: A History of Action in the Sioux Uprising and the Civil War, with a Regimental Roster by Michael A. Eggleston (McFarland, 2012).

The narrative runs a bit over 100 pages, with most of it devoted to action against the Sioux in Minnesota and further out west on the plains of the Dakotas. In 1864, the 10th fought at Tupelo, Mississippi, aided in repelling the Price Expedition in Missouri, and clashed with Hood at Nashville. A roster, casualty list, and a number of appendices round out the volume.

2. A Civil War Campaign Through Missouri compiled by Dennis Hood, translated by Stephen Trobisch, and edited by Cynthia Johnson (Leonard Press, 2012).

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Battle of Baton Rouge Second Edition

Self-published in 2006, Thomas Richey's The Battle of Baton Rouge added depth to Ed Bearss's forty year old Louisiana History article detailing in minute fashion the tactical aspects of the fight.  In the meantime, the author has uncovered enough new manuscript material to justify putting together an updated work, released last month as The Battle of Baton Rouge, Second Edition. I haven't seen the new one yet, but the first edition was well worth the time of any student of the battle.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Confederate "Tales of the War" Part Three news

Confederate Tales of the War Part  2Confederate Tales of the WarThe 'Coming Soon' section of the latest issue of Camp Pope Publishing News makes an announcement about the third volume in the press's "Tales of the War" series.  As you might recall, these books comprise Civil War reminiscences first published in the newspaper Missouri Republican, the material edited by Michael Banasik. As with other Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River volumes, these are full of juicy extras. The first two [ Part One covering 1861 and Two the following year] are all Confederate writings.  Part Three will also be Confederate, but will take us through the end of the war.  The Union side will appear in future volumes.