Sunday, December 30, 2012

CWBA Year in Review: Standout Books of 2012

This list is part "best of" compilation and part desire to reward those works that, though imperfect, nevertheless address neglected topics in a manner useful and creative enough to be deserving of special recognition. As with all my previous lists, the current one also considers late date titles from the previous year.

Battle/Campaign Histories:
Trans-Mississippi Theater:
The Battle of Carthage, Missouri: First Trans-Mississippi Conflict of the Civil War by Kenneth E. Burchett (McFarland).

Western Theater:
Corinth 1862: Siege, Battle, Occupation by Timothy B. Smith (Univ Press of Kansas).

Eastern Theater:
Holding the Line: The Battle of Allegheny Mountain and Confederate Defense of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, 1861-62 by Joe Geiger (West Virginia Book Co.).

General Military:
The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi by Earl J. Hess (Univ of N. Carolina Press).

Social-Cultural History:
The Golden State in the Civil War: Thomas Starr King, the Republican Party, and the Birth of Modern California by Glenna Matthews (Cambridge Univ Press, 2012).

Political History:
We Have the War Upon Us: The Onset of the Civil War, November 1860-April 1861 by William J. Cooper (Knopf).

Economics, Technology and Society:
Misadventures of a Civil War Submarine: Iron, Guns, and Pearls by James P. Delgado (Texas A&M Univ Press).

Unit History:
The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory: The Black Hats from Bull Run to Appomattox and Thereafter by Lance J. Herdegen. (Savas Beatie).

Essay Collection:
The Chattanooga Campaign ed. by Steven E. Woodworth and Charles D. Grear (So. Illinois Univ Pr, 2012).

George Henry Thomas: As True As Steel by Brian Steel Wills (Univ Pr of Kansas).

Naval History:
The Best Station of Them All: The Savannah Squadron, 1861-1865 by Maurice Melton. (Univ of Alabama Press).

Edited Letters/Memoir/Diary:
Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part Three: 1863 edited by Michael Banasik (Camp Pope Publishing).

Edited Manuscript:
The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Volume II: Antietam edited by Thomas G. Clemens (Savas Beatie).

Guide Book/Map Study:
The Battle of First Bull Run - Manassas Campaign July 16-22, 1861 - An Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide by Blaikie Hines (American Patriot Pr).

Self-Published Effort:
Kirksville: The True Story of Urban Warfare in America's Heartland by D. Craig Asbury (Author).

Friday, December 28, 2012

"Morgan's Cavalry 1861-1862" now available

Long time readers will recall my admiration of Lanny K. Smith's monumental two-volume history of the Union and Confederate armies at Stones River [You can read the reviews here and here].

His newest book, Morgan's Cavalry 1861-1862, is now available.

Details (provided by author):
* Limited Print of 271 copies.
* Format/Style is identical to Stone's River Volume II: Same dimensions/color/ lettering.
* 520 pages text/116 pages notes/bibliography/index
* 45 Maps/sketches
* Covers day to day operations. First and "Christmas" Raids - Actions/Battles of Lebanon, Hartsville, Hartsville Road, Tompkinsville, Cynthiana, Augusta, Shiloh, Bragg's Invasion of Kentucky, and more.
* Includes all units/commanders that served with Morgan during this period.

Those interested in purchasing the book can contact the author at:

Payment is $60 (plus $6 Shipping), payable by Check or Money Order.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Booknotes V (December '12)

New Arrivals:

1. The Fishing Creek Confederacy: A Story of Civil War Draft Resistance by Richard A. Sauers and Peter Tomasak (Univ of Missouri Pr, 2012).

Robert Sandow's excellent Deserter Country: Civil War Opposition in the Pennsylvania Appalachians opened the eyes of readers to the serious civil unrest that erupted in the lumber region of the state when conscription was enacted. Where Sandow devoted a part of one chapter to Fishing Creek's armed draft resistance and the U.S. military response to it, Sauers and Tomasak have now fully fleshed out in book length form these Columbia County events and their enduring legacy.

2. Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance by Ellen Gruber Garvey (Oxford Univ Pr, 2012).

Garvey's book studies scrapbooks of individuals from all walks to life with a view to understanding what these 'personal archives' tell us about what public issues and events mattered most to their creators.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sesqui Vicksburg

It's a little too early to tell if Vicksburg will be one of the major CW events that doesn't get its Sesquicentennial due (at least in terms of memorable publications), but there are at least two promising books scheduled for next year: Michael Ballard's Grant at Vicksburg: The General and the Siege and the next volume from SIUP's essay series The Vicksburg Campaign, March 29-May 18, 1863.

A potentially very exciting prospect gleaned from a reviewer bio (Arnold Blumberg's) in the latest issue of B&G magazine is the first dedicated study of Grant's overland Mississippi campaign of 1862.  Years ago, so long ago I forget the fellow's name, there was a Chickasaw Bayou book in the works, but I've not heard a peep since.

Enjoy the holidays!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

More 2013 catalogs

More from the new UP seasonal catalogs:

* Constitutionalism in the Aftermath of the Civil War

Not this time


* Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War
* Lee's Army during the Overland Campaign: A Numerical Study
* Milliken's Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory
* The Politics of Faith during the Civil War
* Still Fighting the Civil War: The American South and Southern History, updated edition

North Texas:
* Civil War General and Indian Fighter James M. Williams: Leader of the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry and the 8th U.S. Cavalry

South Carolina:
* A Confederate Englishman: The Civil War Letters of Henry Wemyss Feilden

Southern Illinois:
* The Vicksburg Campaign, March 29-May 18, 1863
* Union Heartland: The Midwestern Home Front during the Civil War
* Lincoln and Reconstruction
* Grant at Vicksburg: The General and the Siege

Texas A&M:

There are outliers, but it looks like my prediction that it would be business as usual for publishers during the Sesquicentennial has largely held true.  Unfortunate, but not surprising.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Booknotes IV (December '12)

New Arrivals:

1. Our War: Days and Events in the Fight for the Union by Mike Pride (Monitor Publishing Co., 2012).

Our War weaves together the Civil War stories of 50 individuals from New Hampshire using diaries, memoirs, and more (though not footnoted correction: the footnotes are online at this link). Cloth bound and packed with photos and maps, it is a nice looking volume, as well. Readers might recognize the author from his previous book, the well received My Brave Boys: To War with Colonel Cross and the Fighting Fifth, co-written with Mark Travis.

2. What the Yankees Did to Us: Sherman's Bombardment and Wrecking of Atlanta by Stephen Davis (Mercer Univ Pr, 2012).

At over 500 small print pages (with generous photos, illustrations, and maps), this is a massive study of the Union army's final approach to the city, the bombardment, the occupation, and the destruction of much of Atlanta when abandoned prior to the March to the Sea.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The unusual suspects

Everyone reading this knows about the quantity and quality of Civil War books coming out each season from academic presses like LSU and UNC, but, every once in a while, the ones we don't usually think of as "Civil War" publishers throw us a bone.

University of North Texas Press's War and the Southwest series has released a pair of worthwhile Civil War titles already (it probably helps that Richard Lowe is one of the editors), and another one is scheduled for early next year, Robert Lull's Civil War General and Indian Fighter James M. Williams: Leader of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry and the 8th U.S. Cavalry. This book promises to be significant on several levels. In addition to being the first biography of Williams, it will bring renewed (and hopefully detailed) attention to a pioneering black combat unit and will shed light on the neglected war in the Indian Territory.

Going all the way out west, Oregon State University Press will publish Lincoln and Oregon Country Politics in the Civil War Era (also in February). The author, Richard Etulain, is an authority on western frontier history, and he's delved into Lincoln before, editing a 2010 collection of essays for SIUP under the title Lincoln Looks West: From the Mississippi to the Pacific.

Monday, December 17, 2012


[Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part Three: 1863 edited by Michael Banasik (Camp Pope Publishing, 2012). Softcover, illustrations, maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 244 pp. ISBN: 978-1-929919-45-1 $17.95]

Tales of the War, Part 3
click on image for link
For those unfamiliar with it, Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part Three is the latest release from a sub-series of titles together comprising Volume VII of Camp Pope's Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River series. "Tales of the War" were 94 St. Louis Missouri Republican newspaper articles written by participants of both sides, appearing in the paper over a two year period. Writings cover both the Trans-Mississippi and western theaters, and editor Michael Banasik has assembled the T-M related pieces in yearly volumes [Confederate articles are compiled for Parts 1 (1861), 2 (1862), and 3 (1863), with 4 combining the last two years of the war. From there, the Union volumes will appear].

Part Three: 1863 actually starts out in late 1862 with the December Raid on Van Buren, Arkansas. Several pieces cover the retreat to Little Rock and garrison life in the capital, as well as the Battle of Arkansas Post in January. Summer operations by Walker's Texas Division against Grant's lines of communication in NE Louisiana, with skirmishes at places like Delphi and Richmond, are also touched upon. Several articles reminisce about the Battle of Helena (July 4), the Little Rock Campaign, and the Marmaduke-Walker duel that resulted in the death of the latter. The tales end with the Battle of Pine Bluff (October 25). Of added value is the consideration that most of these events are only lightly covered in the secondary literature.

As with any collection, the writings vary in length, detail, and accuracy. Some individuals (e.g. Henry Luttrell, Silas Turnbo, James Grubbs, and James McNamara) were multiple contributors, with Turnbo (the oft cited chronicler of the 27th Arkansas) among those featuring particularly useful content. The passages are extensively footnoted from a variety of sources. Especially for the "tales" describing skirmishes and battles, these notes often comprise something of a parallel narrative, cobbled together from the best available material. Differences in interpretation and factual errors in the original texts are duly noted. The sheer amount of information contained in the notes is immense. In contrast to the famous Battles and Leaders collection, "Tales of the War" contributors were typically of much lower military rank, with a corresponding difference in perspective.

Similar to previous volumes in the series, the appendices in Part Three comprise a delightful range of biographical information, official correspondence, numbers data, and ephemera. In this section, there's a fine organizational and command history of the infantry, artillery, and mounted units that made up Parsons's Missouri brigade. The unit composition of Walker's Texas Division is listed, but much more detailed (in terms of numerical effectives, casualties, etc.) are orders of battle for Confederate forces that fought at Helena and Pine Bluff. In addition to far surpassing the typical Civil War OB in terms of information provided, sources and methodology are also documented. The only complaints I have with the volume are the frequency of typos and the wish for a more robust index.

Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part Three is yet another important contribution to the Civil War scholarship of this theater. Whichever role one occupies -- scholar, researcher, dedicated enthusiast, or even casual reader -- there is a great deal of substantive material of all kinds available in the book. At the conclusion of each and every volume of this wonderful series, one's thoughts immediate turn in anticipation toward the next.

Also See:
Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part One: 1861
Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part Two: 1862

Booknotes III (December '12)

New Arrivals:

1. The Battles that Made Abraham Lincoln: How Lincoln Mastered his Enemies to Win the Civil War, Free the Slaves, and Preserve the Union by Larry Tagg (Savas Beatie, 2012).

The "battles" referred to are Lincoln's clashes with secessionists, party radicals, his cabinet, generals, opposition Democrats, the 19th century political spoils system, and more -- a pretty broad look. Dimitri's blurb calls this "the best Lincoln tome I have seen in 15 years of compiling and reviewing Civil War book releases".

2. Divided Loyalties: Kentucky's Struggle for Armed Neutrality in the Civil War by James W. Finck (Savas Beatie, 2012).

I've been looking for a book on this subject for years.  Glad to see someone tackle it.

3. Simply Murder: The Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862 by Chris Mackowski and Kristopher White (Savas Beatie, 2012).

4. Confrontation at Gettysburg: A Nation Saved, a Cause Lost by John David Hoptak (The History Pr, 2012).

A summary, at around 250 pages of narrative, of the three days of combat at Gettysburg for THP's Civil War Sesquicentennial series.

5. The Battle of Stones River and the Fight for Middle Tennessee, Volume 4 edited by Timothy D. Johnson (The Tenn Hist Society, 2012).

The collection of Forrest cavalry articles (the original Vol. 4) has been bumped in favor of the Stones River compilation of previously published Tennessee Historical Quarterly pieces.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Go read "We Have the War Upon Us"

Since 2005, I've maintained a fairly rigorous pace of reading and reviewing books of all types on this site, and I'll admit that it somtimes feels like work more than anything else. Often, I just like to check a Civil War related book out from the library and read it, relieved of the task of feeling pressed to write about it. My most recent choice along these lines was William Cooper's We Have the War Upon Us: The Onset of the Civil War, November 1860-April 1861. In my opinion, this and Russell McClintock's Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession are the two works of recent vintage that best and most challenge key things about what we know and what we think we know about the period between the election of Lincoln and the Confederate firing on Fort Sumter.

But not all views of it have been as rosy. I generally avoid commenting on other reviews (especially when I do not offer one of my own) but Bruce Levine's largely dismissive CWBR review baffles me in innumerable ways.  I actually read his piece before beginning the book and at no time during my reading did I feel the reviewer's critical commentary about Cooper's content and alleged interpretive failures gain substantial traction.  In my mind, it is one of the best studies to appear in 2012, and serious readers would do themselves a great disservice if they didn't pick up a copy of We Have the War Upon Us and consider its merits on their own.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Blood on the Streets

I enjoy discovering little gems published by local museums and historical societies, especially those located in the Trans-Mississippi. I don't know if Blood on the Streets: The Civil War Comes to Jackson County, Missouri, August 1862 by Ralph A. Monaco (Jackson County Historical Society, 2012) qualifies as such, most unfortunately don't. I'll pick up a copy at some point, hoping that Mr. Monaco has something interesting to say about, among other things, Independence and Lone Jack.

The author does seem a bit preoccupied with conveying how bloody everything was -- with book title "Blood on the Streets", Chapter IV title "Blood Battle in Independence", and Chapter VI title "Blood Splattering in Lone Jack"...Yikes. I've mentioned it before, how often we see the same overwrought words and phrases all over titles these days. I think I've come up with one that brings it all together: Thunder, Blood, Lightning, and Murder at 'X': In History and Memory. Feel free to borrow it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hess: "THE KNOXVILLE CAMPAIGN: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee"

[The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee by Earl J. Hess (University of Tennessee Press, 2012). Cloth, 22 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:263/418. 978-1-57233-916-3 $39.95]

Until now, Digby Gordon Seymour's popular and thrice revised, but non-scholarly, illustrated study Divided Loyalties: Fort Sanders and the Civil War in East Tennessee1 was the only useful history of the Confederate attempt to recapture Knoxville. A vast improvement is  Earl Hess's deeply researched and critically sound The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee. This new release more than rectifies the scholarly deficiency in the literature of the campaign.

The Knoxville Campaign provides a full rendering of military events in East Tennessee from August 1863 through the April 1864. Hess begins with a nice, albeit brief, summary of Ambrose Burnside's invasion through the mountains from Kentucky and his army's occupation of East Tennessee. The author then discusses the strategic options available to both sides in the wake of the September 1863 Confederate victory at Chickamauga and Union attempts to relieve the Army of the Cumberland bottled up in Chattanooga.

From there commences a clearly described operational history of James Longstreet's campaign to recapture Knoxville. In terms of depth of tactical detail and complexity, Hess's study occupies the middle ground between popular writing and specialized microhistory, shading toward the latter. It should satisfy the needs and wants of most serious students. A thorough picture of the defenses of Knoxville is presented, and the reasons behind the failure of the short lived but bloody Confederate assault on Fort Sanders [November 29, 1863] are effectively conveyed.  With the approach of a large Union relief force, Longstreet abandoned the "siege" and relocated his command to a new position northeast of Knoxville. For several months, except for a failed attempt in December to crush the federal cavalry at Bean's Station, most of the fighting in the region consisted of skirmishes over ground both sides wished to use for foraging.

You will rarely read praise of Ambrose Burnside outside the printed pages of his foremost biographer2, but Hess also depicts Burnside at his best. His invasion of East Tennessee from Kentucky (discussed briefly but well in the book) was a skillful operation. Although one might argue that Burnside allowed his occupying forces to become a bit scattered, his competent troop handling at Lenoir's and Campbell's stations denied the Confederates the chance to defeat Union forces in the open. His defense of Knoxville was equally solid. Unfortunately for Burnside, very high profile failures in command of the Union's largest army [Fredericksburg] and as a subordinate [the Crater] overshadowed his excellent leadership and conduct of mid-sized independent operations (e.g. the Carolina coast and East Tennessee). Engineer officer Orlando Poe3 is another Union hero of the campaign. His professional oversight of the construction of a series of detached forts and connecting trench lines rendered the city of Knoxville impervious to direct assault by a force of Longstreet's size.

Hess's critical yet fair assessment of Longstreet's performance is largely in agreement with that of historian Alexander Mendoza, the author of a recent study detailing Longstreet's tenure in the West4. In offensive operations in East Tennessee, Longstreet failed at every turn. His best chance of recapturing Knoxville was to defeat Burnside in the open, but Confederate attacks at Lenoir's Station and later at Campbell's Station were poorly planned and executed, and the federals escaped. Hess makes a good point that Longstreet was badly hampered by poor maps and guides, but the general also misused Joe Wheeler's cavalry, sending them away to threaten Knoxville from the south side of the Tennessee River when they might have rendered more effective service remaining with the main force and striving to cut off Burnside's retreat. Longstreet was able to disengage cleanly when a large relief force under William T. Sherman approached.  He maintained a threatening posture in the theater until returning to Virginia months later in the spring of 1864, but the offensive capability of his command remained poor, exemplified by the missed opportunity at Bean's Station5. Like other historians, Hess faults Longstreet for fostering a divisive atmosphere in his own command by pursuing charges against capable division and brigade commanders like Lafayette McLaws, Evander Law, and Jerome Robertson. Longstreet might also be criticized for clinging too long to a fantastical scheme of mounting his entire force for a raid into Kentucky. On the positive side, Longstreet kept his command in fighting shape and was able to position himself for several months as a viable threat to the rear of the Union army group assembling around Chattanooga.

In terms of the complicated internal politics and social history of Civil War East Tennessee, the subjects are broached only briefly, which is perfectly fine given the fact that a voluminous literature touching upon these themes already exists6. A great deal of supplemental material is provided in the appendices. In addition to orders of battle and a register of the Knoxville forts located on both sides of the river, an eclectic collection of information related to Knoxville and the campaign (e.g. on reunions, monuments, literature, art, compensation claims, and current state of the various battlefields) is included. The book is also well illustrated, making good use of the Barnard photographs of the Knoxville defenses. Maps are plentiful and generally useful, although more unit position and terrain detail for the tactical maps would have been appreciated. As one expects from a Hess project, the bibliography is bursting with source material of all types, headlined by a massive collection of manuscript materials located in repositories all over the country.

Earl Hess's The Knoxville Campaign impressively fulfills the need for a modern scholarly account of military operations in upper East Tennessee from the summer of 1863 through the spring of 1864. This original history should excite all western theater students and deserves a spot on the bookshelves of all Civil War libraries.

1 - In 2009, I posted a brief assessment of the various editions of Seymour's book. See  Navigating the three editions of "Divided Loyalties".
2 - Burnside by William Marvel (Univ of N Carolina Pr, 1991).
3 - For an excellent biography of Poe, see Paul Taylor's Orlando M. Poe: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer (Kent St Univ Pr, 2009).
4 - Confederate Struggle For Command: General James Longstreet and the First Corps in the West by Alexander Mendoza (TAMU Press, 2008).
5 - The most detailed accounts of the fighting in East Tennessee after the termination of the Knoxville siege can be found in David C. Smith's self published, and quite scarce, Campaign to Nowhere (1999, rep. 2013).
6 - For Knoxville specifically, Lincolnites and Rebels: A Divided Town in the American Civil War (Oxford UP, 2006) by Robert McKenzie is recommended.

More CWBA reviews of UTP titles:
* To the Battles of Franklin and Nashville and Beyond: Stabilization and Reconstruction in Tennessee and Kentucky, 1864-1866
* Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 3: Essays on America's Civil War
* Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 2: Essays on America’s Civil War
* Great Things Are Expected of Us: The Letters of Colonel C. Irvine Walker, 10th South Carolina Infantry, C.S.A.
* Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 1: Classic Essays on America’s Civil War
* Crimson Confederates: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South
* Yale's Confederates: A Biographical Dictionary
* The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged
* The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion
* Echoes of Thunder: A Guide to the Seven Days Battles
* Little to Eat and Thin Mud to Drink: Letters, Diaries, and Memoirs from the Red River Campaigns, 1863–1864
* Earthen Walls, Iron Men: Fort DeRussy, Louisiana, and the Defense of Red River
* Through the Howling Wilderness: The 1864 Red River Campaign and Union Failure in the West

More 2012 Civil War book prizes

Dan and Marilyn Laney Prize: Gary Gallagher for The Union War (also the winner of The Tom Watson Brown Book Prize, as mentioned earlier).

Richard Harwell Book Award: A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 by Jeffrey Wert.

Wiley-Silver Book Prize: The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic by Barbara Gannon.

Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship: Robert E. McGlone's John Brown's War Against Slavery.

Summerfield G. Roberts Book Award: Tejanos in Gray: Civil War Letters of Captains Joseph Rafael de la Garza and Manuel Yturri by Jerry D. Thompson.

Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize: William C. Harris's Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union and Elizabeth D. Leonard for Lincoln’s Forgotten Ally: Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt of Kentucky.

Avery O. Craven Award: Nicole Etcheson's A Generation at War: The Civil War Era in a Northern Community.

Granbury brigade history wins 2012 Pate book award

John Lundberg's Granbury's Texas Brigade: Diehard Western Confederates (LSU, 2012) was announced last evening at the winner of the 2012 A.M. Pate, Jr. Award. The award recognizes "outstanding original research on the Trans-Mississippi sector of the Civil War".

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Booknotes II (December '12)

New Arrivals:

1. The Battle of Carthage, Missouri: First Trans-Mississippi Conflict of the Civil War by Kenneth E. Burchett (McFarland, 2012).

See my Q&A with the author.

2. Command Conflicts in Grant's Overland Campaign: Ambition and Animosity in the Army of the Potomac by Diane Monroe Smith (McFarland, 2012).

This study considers the role of V Corps (presumably through the lens of leadership clashes and failures) during the Overland Campaign and the bungled initial Petersburg assaults.

3. Avenging Angel: John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry 1859 by Ron Field (Osprey, 2012).

One of the latest volumes from the publisher's Raid series, this one relates the story of Brown's Raid through narrative (80 pages) and Osprey's usual collection of photos, maps, orders of battle, original artwork, and drawings.

4. Ulysses S. Grant by Mark Lardas (Osprey, 2012).

Part of Osprey's Command series, a brief (65 pages) overview of Grant's military career.

UNC also sent a prepub copy of Earl Hess's Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign. Look for it in April '13.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Author Q & A: Kenneth E. Burchett

University of Central Arkansas professor Ken Burchett's The Battle of Carthage, Missouri: First Trans-Mississippi Conflict of the Civil War was released last week by McFarland. I don't have a copy yet, but, with my abiding interest in early Civil War Missouri, I've had my eye on it for a while.

DW: Hi Ken. You mentioned in our initial email exchange that this is your first Civil War book. What subject(s) do you teach at Central Arkansas and what got you interested in doing a book on an obscure Missouri battle like Carthage?

KB: I should have said that this is the first book I have published on the Civil War; one other manuscript is completed, a second well on the way and a third that covers American history from Jamestown to the Civil War. My first published book was on the subject of color, a subject more closely related to my academic field of art and humanities. When this question comes up—why is an art person interested in the Civil War—I always tell them that art is not about art; it is about life and the events that shape it and give it feeling. My interest in the Civil War probably precedes my interest in art and humanities as a field of study, and since the Battle of Carthage took place only a few miles from where I grew up in Missouri, it was a good subject to test my theory about art and life. I have always believed, too, that the qualities that go into making art are the same qualities for any of the arts whether art, music, architecture, or writing; the only difference is in the mechanics. One of the qualities of good writing, I think, is to be able to take the reader on a visual journey, to meet the characters, and come away feeling as if they were actually there as a part of something. As an artist, I feel I know how to do this; the mechanics of actually doing it is the challenge. I would not want to cultivate a misunderstanding about my ability to distinguish art from the Civil War. Nevertheless, my ideas about both perhaps do not flow from the expected definitions of each.

DW: Many readers interested in your book will already have read the only other serious study of the battle by David Hinze and Karen Farnham [The Battle of Carthage: Border War in Southwest Missouri, July 5, 1861 (Savas Publishing Co., 1997)]. How does your book differ in focus and scope?

KB: Hinze and Farnham is the best reporting of the events of the Battle of Carthage up to this point. In a well-researched account, the authors give a general background of the events that led up to the battle and go to some length to interpret the battlefield tactics of the opposing sides. The work focuses primarily on an analysis of the military history of the event to tell how the battle unfolded on the ground, to include a tourist section for anyone wanting to visit the battlefield. It has a few inaccuracies and some lapses in geography but overall is a good addition to Civil War literature. My book covers all the events in the Hinze book, plus more and in substantially more detail. The writing styles are very different. Hinze describes the events from a historian’s perspective; my book uses the individual experiences of the officers and soldiers on the ground to tell the stories and to take the reader inside the events. Hinze uses several modern photographs, diagrams, and maps to analyze the battle. I use only photographs, etchings, and maps of the vintage of the events portrayed. Another difference between the two books is in the voice of the writing. My book corrects a few oversights in the Hinze and Farnham account and goes into more detail to resolve some of the lingering issues surrounding the battle; e.g., the timeline of the rebel troop movements and a lengthy appraisal of casualties. Hinze and Farnham, VanGilder, and Schrantz each made their respective contributions to the understanding of the battle of Carthage. I am pleased to acknowledge each of them in my book.

DW: What reading audience do you foresee for The Battle of Carthage, Missouri?

KB: I wrote the book for readers from young adult upward. I would particularly like to see the book find its way into schools and colleges. The book is carefully researched, extensively footnoted, and hopefully will stand scholarly scrutiny; therefore, students of the Civil War may also find it of interest in their own work. Above all, the book tells a story, not unlike a novel inasmuch as there is a plot, interesting characters, and a made-to-order setting. The subject of the book is the battle of Carthage, but the book is about the men who fought the battle and the human consequences that the battle brought to one small community in southwest Missouri. To answer the question, though, I suppose I have to equivocate and say the book is for a general audience.

DW: Was there new source material associated with the Battle of Carthage that you uncovered that you would like to highlight for students of Civil War Missouri?

KB: Students of Civil War Missouri may not have previously seen some additions. (1) The book includes the only known photograph of General James S. Rains. (2) It publishes for the first time Brigadier General Sweeny’s battlefield map and letter describing the outcome of the battle for General Lyon. (3) A rare source discloses that Governor Jackson remained in command of Missouri State Guard forces, although not on the battlefield (heretofore, it was believed that General Rains as field commander led the rebel army into battle). The book publishes a rare photo of General Slack (the only known image of him) obtained from a copy of a glass negative taken by Mathew Brady. It also includes other original source materials that are included in the notes to the book and an extensive bibliography. One other document I will mention that was crucial to the description of the rebel batteries at the Battle of Carthage was the complete original inventory of arms taken by the rebels from the depot at Liberty, Missouri. This document helped to correct previous misinformation about the batteries. It is an important source because it also bears on the makeup of the batteries that the Missouri State Guard took into the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.

DW: With two books on the subject now available, do any particularly confounding mysteries remain?

KB: There will probably always be unsolved mysteries growing out of the battle of Carthage. One that I was not able to resolve to my own satisfaction concerns the very first contact between the two forces. Some argue that this occurred at the Carthage mills between rival squads of pickets, but the timeline of the battle does not appear to substantiate that. Another unresolved event, which I call the mystery of the Shoal Creek 200 in the book, is worthy of future investigation. When Colonel Franz Sigel began his retreat back across Dry Fork Creek, his men were concentrated at the ford and vulnerable to attack as they slowly tried to make the crossing. My research found reference to a large company of mounted men identified only as being from Shoal Creek who rode to the rescue of Sigel’s rear guard. I believe these men were part of a local home guard unit that had earlier joined Sigel. However, Sigel makes no mention of local soldiers in his after-action report, and further research did not identify the soldiers who were crucial to Sigel’s withdrawal. The last mystery I will mention concerns Sigel’s buried cannon. He supposedly buried two pieces in Spring River but no one has ever found them. There are many other stories that qualify as mysteries, especially concerning individual soldiers some of whom disappeared without a trace, and were never mentioned in any battle records. Whoever writes the next book on this battle, and on Wilson’s Creek that followed, should take a close look at the local men who comprised both sides of the conflict. There are many stories about the fight for Missouri that are yet untold.

DW: Did your foray into Civil War history whet your appetite for more? There’s certainly fertile scholarly ground remaining in your own general neck of the woods (e.g. Battle of Pine Bluff, Little Rock Campaign, etc.).

KB: Yes. The full story of the Trans-Mississippi history of the Civil War is a much longer story than has been written so far. While it is true that the war was won and lost in the great battles east of the Mississippi, what happened along the Kansas border and in the Border State of Missouri helped to shape what was to come later. If events west of the Mississippi had unfolded differently, it would likely have been a different war.

DW: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me about your book, Ken. I expect my copy to arrive any day now and the readers can expect a review soon.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Booknotes II (December '12)

New Arrivals:

1. Standing Firmly by the Flag: Nebraska Territory and the Civil War, 1861-1867 by James E. Potter (Bison, 2012).

This project started out as a regimental history of the First Nebraska (that would have been cool) but morphed into a more general study. Too bad the author didn't feel he could do both. Breaking it into two books would have been great. Then again, I should just be happy that someone tried to tackle this subject at all.

2. Major General Alexander M. McCook, USA: A Civil War Biography by Wayne Fanebust (McFarland, 2012).

A military biography of the lightly regarded McCook, based on published sources.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Knights of the Golden Circle

Yet another 2013 title from LSU Press of interest to me is David Keehn's Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War. Few contemporary organizations were surrounded by more myth, fear, and exaggeration, and it will be nice to finally have a scholarly book that will hopefully make sense of it all.

Milliken's Bend

The military and cultural significance of the Union army's employment of black soldiers is part of an expanding literature, but detailed, scholarly book length looks at specific engagements comprise a more recent phenomenon. Deep Bottom and Crater books have been published within the past two years.  Honey Hill remains a notable omission, but next year will see the release of Linda Barnickel's Milliken's Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory (LSUP, 2013). The military aspects of Milliken's Bend are well documented, but this is the first book level treatment.

From the publisher: "In addition to describing the battle and the situations leading up to it, the work also provides a much broader examination of the Southern fears over slave insurrection; the violent culture of Texas; what Emancipation meant to white Southerners, white Northerners and black slaves; prejudice against African Americans in the Union army; the violence of Reconstruction in northern Louisiana; and an examination of the ways Milliken’s Bend has been forgotten – and remembered, over the past 150 years."

Quantitative study of Overland Campaign

I'm a big enthusiast of military numbers studies and what they can tell us. Unfortunately, these emerge in published book form only rarely in our Civil War universe. The latest addition will be Lee's Army During the Overland Campaign: A Numerical Study by Alfred C. Young III (LSUP, 2013).  Quantitative studies are most widely useful when campaign numbers and losses comparisons over time figure largely in the accepted historical narrative, and one can argue that the 1864 Overland Campaign is the best example of this.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Booknotes (December '12)

New Arrivals:

1. The Confederate Approach on Harrisburg: The Gettysburg Campaign's Northernmost Reaches by Cooper H. Wingert (The History Pr, 2012).

As first glance, this is a very appealing book -- well illustrated, with good Heiser maps, and all indications are that it is thoroughly researched. This and Scott Mingus's Flames Beyond Gettysburg should form a nice pairing (Mingus wrote the foreword to Wingert's book). Among other things, Wingert covers the defensive preparations of Harrisburg, the fighting at Oyster Point and Sporting Hill, and the bombardment of Carlisle. While having gone no further than page flipping, I would venture that most Gettysburg students would want to grab a copy of this.

2. Confederate Incognito: The Civil War Reports of "Long Grabs," a.k.a. Murdoch John McSween, 26th and 35th North Carolina Infantry by Murdoch John McSween, edited by E.B. Munson (McFarland, 2012).

During the war, McSween wrote more than 80 letters to the Fayetteville Observer under the pen name "Long Grabs". His correspondence covers fighting in Virginia and North Carolina, as well as experiences training conscripts in his home state.

3. Colonel Edward E. Cross, New Hampshire Fighting Fifth: A Civil War Biography by Robert Grandchamp (McFarland, 2012).

Grandchamp, the author of several works of Rhode Island military history, here offers a biography of Edward Cross, who fought well in many great eastern theater battles before being mortally wounded at Gettysburg. It is a warts and all look at the man's life, with the book suggesting that he was an alcoholic with a combative personality off the battlefield, as well.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Lindmier: "THE GREAT BLUE ARMY WAGON: The History of Wheeled Transportation in the Frontier Army""

[The Great Blue Army Wagon: The History of Wheeled Transportation in the Frontier Army by Thomas Lindmier (Carriage Museum of America, 2009). Oversize softcover, photos, drawings, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 139 pp. ISBN:1-880499-19-3 $30]

From the Revolutionary period all the way into the early twentieth century, the  wagon comprised the primary wheeled transport of the U.S. Army. Thomas Lindmier's The Great Blue Army Wagon is a wonderful illustrated history and reference guide to these vital pieces of equipment, primarily the workhorse four and six mule wagons.

Lindmier begins his study with a brief history of the Quartermaster Department, an institution that took decades to become truly professional. In typical early American fashion, military parsimony was in order, with massive expansion during wartime and equally drastic contraction during the following peace. For the Revolution and much of the first half of the next century, the department was underequipped and understaffed, with private contractors the mainstay of army transport.

The author traces well the development of what would become the standard wagon design for the army, first the four mule wagon followed quickly by the six mule wagon, the latter being the main vehicle used during the Civil War and beyond, really being only replaced by twentieth century motorization. Descriptive detail is very dense in the study. Field adaptations (e.g. chain bracing of the side boards) are evaluated, as well as long standing challenges associated with functional improvements on an official level, a prime example being the development of an effective braking system. Some attention is also given to macro-level issues like regulations for how many wagons would be assigned to the various army formations within the order of battle.

Later chapters describe the campaign to come up with a lighter, more mobile, vehicle for service on the plains, the result being the Escort Wagon. Sections cover spring wagons, hand carts, water wagons, post wagons, and portable forges. Some unsuccessful designs, like the metallic floating wagon (a vehicle, tested during the Civil War and apparently found wanting, that would double as freight hauler and bridging equipment) and the Sully 'pursuit wagon' are also introduced. The large ten mule wagon was used only for a brief time before being retired before the Civil War.

The book is beautifully illustrated throughout. Full page photographs of the various vehicles afford readers an excellent opportunity to see them close up and fully equipped for use. Line drawings of the wagons as well as the harness system (with labeled parts) are also provided. Lindmier's footnotes indicate a great emphasis on research in primary contemporary sources, especially in government documents at the National Archives. A series of lengthy appendices go into even more minute detail on wagon specifications. A particularly interesting appendix (G) sporting paint swatches reminds readers accustomed to black and white photographic images, as well as the unpainted replicas seen in movies and elsewhere, just how bright and colorful army wagons were in appearance.

Complaints include a thin index and perhaps a bit too much reader prior knowledge assumption in places, but these are very minor. The Great Blue Army Wagon succeeds in all that it attempts. Perhaps they exist (and, to be honest, I've never sought one), but I don't recall ever coming across another study of Civil War era wagons with this much substance. I would recommend this fine history and reference guide to anyone with a specialized interest in horse and mule drawn army vehicles.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Columns of Vengeance

There are many, many books out there that deal with the 1862 Sioux uprising in Minnesota, but few authors have been interested in carrying the conflict out on to the Dakota plains, where it spread to tribes that had no involvement with the initial attacks. The last really substantive book addressing the topic was Micheal Clodfelter's The Dakota War: The United States Army Versus the Sioux, 1862-1865 (McFarland, 1998), but, in the spring of next year, University of Oklahoma Press will publish Columns of Vengeance: Soldiers, Sioux, and the Punitive Expeditions, 1863-1864 by Paul N. Beck. I'm looking forward to it, not least because it promises to link "the Punitive Expeditions of 1863 and 1864 to the overall Civil War experience".