Thursday, November 29, 2012

2013 Catalogs

The new seasonal catalogs (Spring/Summer 2013) are now starting to trickle out. I've selected the CW-related titles below for the early birds.

North Carolina:
Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign
Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation
A Field Guide to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places,
and People
Atlanta, Cradle of the New South: Race and Remembering in the Civil War’s Aftermath

Cotton and Conquest:  How the Plantation System Acquired Texas
Columns of Vengeance:  Soldiers, Sioux, and the Punitive Expeditions, 1863–1864
Los Angeles in Civil War Days, 1860–1865

Maybe next time!

Bloody Breathitt: Politics and Violence in the Appalachian South

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Anyone read this?

The Seven Days' Battles: The War Begins Anew by Judkin Browning.


(Got denied on the review copy front and haven't seen any reviews anywhere)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Emerging Civil War Series

A few weeks ago, I found online notices of a pair of early 2013 eastern theater titles by Chris Mackowski and Kristopher White, Simply Murder: The Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862 and A Season of Slaughter: The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, May 8-21, 1864. It turns out my guess that Savas-Beatie had a new series afoot is correct. A S-B press release put out today introduced The Emerging Civil War Series, its purpose being to offer "compelling and easy-to-read overviews of some of the Civil War's most important battles and issues". It sounds similar to what The History Press has been doing with their prolific and sometimes excellent Civil War Sesquicentennial Series. I am glad to see the publisher did not succumb to a predictable Gettysburg and Antietam start to it all.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Matthews: "THE GOLDEN STATE IN THE CIVIL WAR: Thomas Starr King, the Republican Party, and the Birth of Modern California"

[The Golden State in the Civil War: Thomas Starr King, the Republican Party, and the Birth of Modern California by Glenna Matthews (Cambridge University Press, 2012). Hardcover, 2 maps, photos, notes, index. Pages main/total:269/284. 978-0-521-19400-6 $95]

paperback cover art
Given the Golden State's contributions to the Union war effort, 17,000 men and a steady stream of gold bullion and other financial support, it is surprising that no scholar has attempted until now a survey of California's Civil War history. In terms of content, Glenna Matthews's The Golden State in the Civil War: Thomas Starr King, the Republican Party, and the Birth of Modern California follows the elective affinities of the author but, overall, the book succeeds in providing a much needed broad introduction to the subject.

An important element of the book is Matthews's mini-biography of Unitarian minister and abolitionist Thomas Starr King. A Massachusetts native, Starr King migrated from St. Louis to San Francisco right before the outbreak of the Civil War, where he became a popular public intellectual and strong supporter of pro-Union and Republican party causes. The author does a fine job of outlining Starr King's activist presence, which also included fund raising for the U.S. Sanitary Commission. Even so, the focus on a single man and his works might create an exaggerated image of his political and cultural importance in the mind of the reader.  However, Matthews's narrative, while it does comparatively relegate other leading California Republican figures like Leland Stanford to the background, does recognize that the crowning of Starr King as the savior of California for the Union (like some have done) overstates his role. Even so, his short-lived efforts (he died in 1864) on behalf of the Union cause were important and deserve to be remembered.

In the 1850s, the Democratic Party in California was a commanding political force, but its division allowed Lincoln to win the state's electoral votes in the 1860 presidential election by a razor thin margin [32.32% to Douglass's 31.71%, Breckinridge's 28.35%, and Bell's 7.6%]. In contrast, by 1864, the state was firmly Republican. Unfortunately, the book does a more thorough job of explaining how and why the state reverted back to a Democratic majority in the post-war years than it does discussing the reasons behind the brief Republican transformation during the war itself.

A minor focus, the study's military features center on the famed California Column and passing mention of campaigns by California volunteers to brutally suppress Indians within state borders and beyond. Those events were significant, but the study's narrow emphasis upon them greatly undervalues California's military contributions to the Union cause. California volunteers became the guardians of public safety in the vast expanses of the sparsely settled West. When the regulars left, and the state of Oregon and Washington Territory were unable or unwilling to raise enough troops for their own defense, it was California volunteers that stepped into the resulting void, protecting settlements and western emigrant trails all over wide swaths of Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, and Utah [the book contains a nice map of the extent of California troop dispersal].  This key history is underdeveloped in the book.  Use of the available literature exploring the central role played by California Column veterans in the economic development of the desert southwest (Arizona and New Mexico) might also have been fruitfully employed.

Among the book's best sections are those discussing California gold and its uses. National and state monetary policies are briefly explored. With so much gold and silver around, Californians decisively opposed soft money initiatives, passing their own hard currency laws in opposition to federal suspension of specie payments. Perhaps ironically, it was their own gold that helped maintain confidence in paper money in the east. According to Matthews, a ship containing 3 tons of gold left California for the eastern states every two weeks, supplying their banks with the gold reserves necessary to meet their paper obligations. Of course, given the enormous and constantly growing costs of the war, this influx of gold only delayed the inevitable, but it did keep banks afloat long enough for strategies of long term funding and currency viability to be developed and implemented by the Treasury Department. Readers will also learn (and this was a revelation to me) that California was also the state with the greatest contribution to the funding of the USSC mentioned above.

With so many Southern Democrats remaining within the state [spread all around but concentrated in southern California], a discussion of Copperhead activities was certainly in order and the "Coppery" California chapters discuss some of the opposition figures in the state, as well as the efforts of the authorities to suppress dissent. It is rather surprising so little violence occurred, with nearly all the comparatively small number of arrests made during the war for 'disturbing the peace'-type offenses. It is a marvel that the state experienced essentially no guerrilla violence, and it might make for a useful investigation why this was so.

Societal links between California and the rest of the country comprise another major theme of the book. Here, Starr King also comes into play as a prominent cultural bridge between the state (San Francisco in particular) and the U.S. northeast. California's minority groups (Indians, blacks, and Chinese) are also discussed, primarily in the narrow context of the violence, persecution, and exploitation directed against them.  One might quibble with the author's subject matter emphases and interpretations in places, but it can't be denied that in The Golden State in the Civil War we have the first truly worthwhile scholarly overview of the Civil War contributions and experiences of Californians.  It is fervently hoped that Matthews's work will inspire others, as much remains to be done.

[Note: For the budget minded, a very affordable paperback edition is available for $25.99]

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Schmidt: "GALVESTON AND THE CIVIL WAR: An Island City in the Maelstrom"

[Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom by James M. Schmidt (The History Press, 2012). Softcover, map, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:129/155. ISBN:978-1-60949-283-0 $19.99]

It is often said that not much happened in Texas during the Civil War, but the citizens of Galveston would beg to differ. The most famous Civil War event attached to the city is undoubtedly the dramatic and improbably successful Confederate January 1, 1863 combined operation that ejected Union forces and retook the port. It's history has been ably recounted in books and articles, most notably by Edward Cotham's excellent study Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston (University of Texas Press, 1998). Although the military situation remains an important part of James Schmidt's Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom, the book also highlights the tribulations of the local civilian and slave populations.

Having a fine natural harbor and a rail link to the Texas interior via nearby Houston, Galveston was an important port city in peacetime and war. It was deeply invested in the institution of slavery [according to Schmidt, Galveston had the largest slave market west of New Orleans] and Schmidt's book begins with background on the city's long history with the slave trade and importance of slave labor to it's antebellum marine economy.

From there, the book moves quickly to secession, a movement very popular in Galveston, at least until it's consequences were brought to the island's very shore. This happened quickly with the arrival of the U.S. naval blockade in the summer of 1861. Inadequately prepared for defense, the whole island was evacuated by the Confederate army in late 1862, setting up the land-sea battle that ultimately decided who would hold the city for the rest of the war.

Like many other Civil War local histories from this publisher, Schmidt's book seeks to engage a wider audience through a focus on lively writing and human interest storytelling. What sets Schmidt apart from the majority of local history writers with similar goals is his discontent with the all too common practice of dressing up poorly documented history with tale spinning. His book is a story-centric narrative but it is well researched and footnoted using a variety of primary and secondary sources.

The following are a few examples of the type of historical material presented in the book. There's an appreciation of the Ursuline nuns of Galveston, who tended to the sick and wounded of both sides. How the Confederate authorities dealt with trouble in the ranks, as well as pro-Union civilians, is also discussed. Galveston's role as a haven for blockade runners, one that became even more significant as the war dragged on and the other Gulf ports were closed, is traced. The terrible yellow fever epidemic of 1864, which killed far more soldiers than all the 1861-65 fighting combined, is another important event explored in the book.

Most Civil War local history writing is primarily directed toward area residents that are interested in some aspect of their community's past but are coming to the subject with little background knowledge. Galveston and the Civil War will serve this audience well, but with the added bonus of being able to extend its reach to satisfy outside readers with specialized interests.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Booknotes II (November '12)

New Arrival:

* The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory by Steven L. Warren (The History Pr, 2012).

THP's Civil War Sesquicentennial Series has published original studies and a few reprints. The first edition of Warren's 2nd Cabin Creek study was printed in hardcover back in 2002 by Gregath under the title Brilliant Victory: The Second Civil War Battle of Cabin Creek, Indian Territory. Articles exist, but it marked the first time this particular battle was accorded book length treatment. I don't have the hardback available for direct comparison, and there's no mention in the front of the paperback of any revisions or new information, so I can't really say whether any improvements were incorporated into the second edition.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New Release: Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part 3

Camp Pope Publishing has just released the 7th volume in its fabulous Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River series:

CONFEDERATE "TALES OF THE WAR" IN THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI, Part Three: 1863 Edited by Michael Banasik.
"In 1885, the St. Louis Missouri Republican began a Saturday series of articles on the Civil War by the participants, from the lowliest private to the most exalted general. The series ran for two years, comprising in all 94 articles, which dealt with all theaters of the war, including the high seas, from both the Northern and Southern perspectives. Being the home of most readers of the Republican, Missouri figures prominently in the series. Due to the number of pieces on Missouri and the Trans-Mississippi, editor Michael Banasik has grouped them by year.

Part Three covers the Van Buren, Arkansas, Raid (December 28, 1862) with the subsequent retreat to Little Rock, followed by the Battle of Arkansas Post (January 9–11, 1863). From Arkansas we travel briefly to northeast Louisiana for John G. Walker's efforts to relieve the pressure on Vicksburg, Mississippi, including several raids and skirmishes that took place from May–August 1863. Back in Arkansas, the Battle of Helena (July 4, 1863) and the 1863 Campaign for Little Rock are covered in detail, including the Marmaduke-Walker duel of September 6, 1863. The 1863 collection of the "Confederate Tales" is completed with the Battle of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, on October 25, 1863. Included in this volume are several appendices, with a detailed Confederate Order of Battle for the Battle of Helena, as well as a lesser, though still significant, Confederate Order of Battle for the Battle of Pine Bluff. As before, selected, detailed biographies are presented, with an assortment of correspondence from the principle personalities of the book, and a detailed index for easy reference. New in this edition, readers will be introduced to an assortment of Confederate poems or songs that were produced during or immediately following the war, as mentioned by one of the authors contained within the Tales. Also included in this edition is the organizational information on Parsons's Missouri Brigade, including brief biographies of all the principle commanders of regiments, battalions, and independent companies, who served in the unit during the war.

244 pages, 6 x 9 paperback, illustrations, maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. (Published 2012; ISBN: 978-1-929919-45-1) $17.95."

Camp Pope Publishing
Click above for more info and to order

[my reviews of Part One and Part Two]

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Discovering the Civil War in Florida: A Reader and Guide 2nd Ed. Rev. and Updated

The Civil War Florida bookshelf remains comparatively small, with many standard works now fifty years old or more, but there has been a recent uptick. One of the newest releases is Paul Taylor's revised and updated Second Edition of his introductory survey Discovering the Civil War in Florida: A Reader and Guide (Pineapple Press).

With most Civil War Florida books focusing on Pensacola or the far NE corner of the state, one of the strengths of Taylor's work is its geographical inclusiveness. He divides the study into four sections: Northwest, Northeast, Central, and South Florida, with chapters under these main headings dealing with the major military events associated with key towns within these regions. They include Marianna, Pensacola, Tallahassee, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Olustee, St. Augustine, Palatka, Cedar Key, New Smyrna, Tampa, Fort Myers, and Key West.

As the subtitle suggests, Discovering the Civil War in Florida is not a narrative history. Taylor provides a brief introduction to each chapter (usually around two pages in length), its focus on associated campaigns, skirmishes, and battles. Taylor's reader selections include official reports; book excerpts; magazine, journal, and newspaper articles; and other previously published documents. In terms of relevance and value of information provided (in places, quite detailed), the elements of the reader are uniformly well chosen. Residing at the end of each chapter is a section listing one or more sites for readers to visit. In addition to several paragraphs of descriptive text, photos, visitor hours, directions, entry fees, and website data are provided.

An appendix lists the Florida military engagements previously arranged inside Dyer's Compendium. The bibliography and reader's guide are up to date and together offer readers a good sense of the available literature. Discovering the Civil War in Florida is not an exhaustive record of military events in the state, nor is it meant to be. What is does do, and does well, is offer readers of all levels a sense of the scale and extent of the fighting in Florida, a broad introduction that will hopefully inspire readers to delve deeper and prospective authors to help fill remaining gaps in the historical record.

* - The 2nd Edition adds new sites and updated visiting information. There are also new documents, maps, and photographs.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Ah, Gettysburg

With all the clashes of 1862 that received nary a mention in the catalogs of 2012, we can take comfort in being fully compensated for the loss with a fresh sequence of ground breaking studies dealing with an all but unknown 1863 battle.
A Field Guide to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People by Carol Reardon and William Thomas Vossler.

Gettysburg: Lee's Grand Gambit by Jason M Frawley.

Gettysburg: The Story of the Battle with Maps by Stackpole Books eds.

Gettysburg: The Last Invasion by Allen C. Guelzo.

Eyewitness to Gettysburg by James I. Roberston.

Gettysburg, 1863 by Brooks D. Simpson.

TIME Gettysburg by Time Magazine ed. staff.

Gettysburg: A Graphic History of America's Most Famous Battle and Turning Point of The Civil War by Wayne Vansant.

The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses: Synopses, Orders of Battle, Strengths, Casualties, and Maps, June 9 - July 14, 1863 by J. David Petruzzi and Steven Stanley.

Confrontation at Gettysburg: A Nation Saved, a Cause Lost by John Hoptak.
Just an early sampling. I could count on one hand (with four fingers shot off by a Minie ball) how many of the above I actually want to read.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Gallagher wins 2012 Watson Brown prize

Gary Gallagher's The Union War (Harvard, 2011) is the winner of the Tom Watson Brown Book Award. It's a new award (the first biennial winner was Daniel Sutherland in 2010), but has instant prestige given the $50,000 check and the Society of Civil War Historians oversight.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Booknotes (November '12)

New Arrivals:

1. The Fight for the Yazoo, August 1862-July 1864: Swamps, Forts and Fleets on Vicksburg's Northern Flank by Myron J. Smith, Jr. (McFarland, 2012).

Those familiar with Smith's many other books dealing with naval vessels and campaigns on the western rivers will know what to expect from his new book in terms of depth of research and operational detail. The Fight for the Yazoo covers various recon expeditions, Chickasaw Bayou, Yazoo Pass, Steele's Bayou and a host of other actions associated with the approach of Union troops on Vicksburg and after the capture of the Hill City.

2. The Great Blue Army Wagon by Thomas Lindmier (Carriage Museum of America, 2012).

There are many books about Civil War era weapons, uniforms, and equipment but I don't recall any studies of wagons. This oversize paperback covers horse drawn transport before, during, and after the Civil War, and is pretty brief, but it is packed with nerdy wagon stuff.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"Los Angeles in Civil War Days" reprint

Previous post:
"Cool. John W. Robinson's Los Angeles in Civil War Days, 1860-1865 is scheduled for a May 2013 release. It's great to see a book length study of the Civil War experiences of LA and southern California finally emerge, and University of Oklahoma Press deserves no little praise for publishing it.  Keith should be excited, too."
[update: I just learned while reading through the notes of another book that this one is actually a reprint. The first edition (same title) was published in 1977 by Dawson's Book Shop of LA]

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Russel Beatie's Army of the Potomac

I've had my problems here and there with Russel Beatie's Army of the Potomac books, but it is still my favorite series of recent memory, truly epic in scope and insight. In my opinion, its pages contain the best overall portrayal and analysis of the early war in the eastern theater from the Union perspective.

Between 2002 and 2007, the author was able to churn out three volumes, the first two published by Da Capo and the third by Savas Beatie:

Vol. I - The Army of the Potomac: Birth of Command, November 1860-September 1861 (2002).
Vol. II - Army of the Potomac, Volume II: McClellan Takes Command, September 1861-February 1862 (2004).
Vol. III - Army of the Potomac: McClellan's First Campaign, March - May 1862 (2007).

It has now been 5 1/2 years since Volume III was published and still no hint of when the next one will appear. Given the extraordinary ambition of the series, especially one launched so late in active life, it comes as no surprise the original pace could not be continued. Even if we never see a IV (I am hoping Beatie will at least get through the Seven Days and 2nd Bull Run), the work done so far comprises a substantial career achievement.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

McArthur: "THE ENEMY NEVER CAME: The Civil War in the Pacific Northwest"

[The Enemy Never Came: The Civil War in the Pacific Northwest by Scott McArthur (Caxton Press, 2012). Softcover, map, photos, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:250/286. ISBN:978-0-87004-512-7 $18.95]

Those seeking an education in the Pacific Northwest Civil War experience can point to a number of useful journal articles, theses, and dissertations, as well as other bits and pieces scattered about, but Scott McArthur's The Enemy Never Came: The Civil War in the Pacific Northwest is the first book length study to be published. Though McArthur does at times venture to the far reaches of the PNW, his book is largely centered upon the Willamette Valley of Oregon. This narrower focus than the title implies will disappoint some readers, but it is understandable given the valley's population and its political, economic, and cultural significance (e.g. the capital lies in the valley, Portland is located at its north end, and the most important newspapers hailed from the region).

McArthur begins with a brief history of the settlement of the Pacific Northwest and the response of its residents to the outbreak of Civil War. A significant number of settlers were from the border states and the South, and Democratic governor John Whiteaker was not especially keen on participating in the conflict. The author cites the insular political climate, the great distance to the fighting fronts, and the proximity of newly discovered gold fields in Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia as important factors in the generally poor response to the call for troops (at least in Oregon). Only three regiments, the 1st Oregon Volunteer Cavalry, 1st Oregon Volunteer Infantry, and the 1st Washington Territorial Infantry, were raised in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike the Washington unit, the Oregon formations did not accept Californians and were only able to recruit in fits and starts, never achieving full regulation strength.

With the departure of all but a few companies of regulars, the most immediate threat came in the form of restive Indian tribes. McArthur describes many small scale punitive expeditions, the most significant conducted east of the Cascade Mountains. Other threats, imagined real at the time, were omnipresent. Authorities feared uprisings by southern sympathizers in the Willamette Valley and below (perhaps fomented by secret societies like the Knights of the Golden Circle), seaborne threats by the British navy and Confederate privateers, and land incursions from Canada and even the Mormons of Utah. In addition to highlighting these largely groundless fears, McArthur covers responses to them like the suppression of Democratic "Copperhead" newspapers in Portland, Salem, Eugene, Albany, and Corvallis.

Civilian and soldier life are also discussed. Frontier existence was isolated and difficult, but the regional economy benefited from the war to some extent. Proceeds from the gold fields enriched both individuals and those that supplied their efforts, and local industries (e.g. wool production, lumber, fisheries, and coal extraction) expanded. The soldiers had the usual complaints of Civil War fighting men, and the usual vices. Exceptional tedium, dreams of mining riches, and the false promise of transfer to the east, all undoubtedly contributed to a high rate of desertion in the Oregon and Washington regiments.

The bibliography offers a nice collection of material (including books, articles, newspapers, theses, dissertations, government documents, and manuscript collections) on a neglected subject. While still leaning on oft used primary sources like Royal Bensell and William Hilleary1, McArthur was also able to uncover other interesting on-the-ground perspectives from the archives.

Beyond the comparative neglect of the Washington Territory2, my main complaint with the book is with its organization. The writing is choppy and the chapters are largely self-contained discussions. The latter is not necessarily bad, but, in this case, significant gaps in coverage emerge. Nevertheless, The Enemy Never Came is easily the most comprehensive introduction to the subject of the Civil War in the Pacific Northwest that one can find in stores. Both author and publisher deserve a great deal of credit for bringing the topic out of the shadows.

1 - Both have been published, Bensell in Gunter Barth's All Quiet on the Yamhill (University of Oregon Press, 1959) and Hilleary in A Webfoot Volunteer: The Diary of William M. Hilleary, 1864-1866, edited by Herbert B. Nelson and Preston Onstad (Oregon State University Press, 1965), the latter much more difficult to obtain.
2 - Happily, historian Lorraine McConaghy plans to publish a study of the role of Washington Territory in the Civil War.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Civil War History Readers series

Thanks to friend Jim for pointing out the link to the table of contents for the first volume of Kent State's new series of themed compilations of old Civil War History articles. Civil War History Readers, Volume 1: Conflict & Command is a set of 15 military pieces [just click on the 'contents' tap to see the list] edited by historian John T. Hubbell, who also edited the journal itself for 35 years.