Tuesday, December 31, 2013

CWBA Year in Review: Standout Books of 2013

*** My Favorite 2013 Books ***

Battle/Campaign Histories:
Trans-Mississippi Theater:
Milliken's Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory by Linda Barnickel.

Western Theater:
Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign by Earl Hess.

Eastern Theater:
Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864 by Hampton Newsome.

General History:
Standing Firmly by the Flag: Nebraska Territory and the Civil War, 1861-1867 by James E. Potter.

Social-Cultural History:
The Fishing Creek Confederacy: A Story of Civil War Draft Resistance by Richard A. Sauers and Peter Tomasak.

Political History:
James Buchanan and the Coming of the Civil War edited by John W. Quist and Michael J. Birkner.

Unit History:
The Indiana Jackass Regiment in the Civil War: A History of the 21st Infantry / 1st Heavy Artillery Regiment, with a Roster by Phillip E. Faller.

Essay Collection:
Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi - Volume 1: Essays on America's Civil War edited by Lawrence Lee Hewitt with Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr. and Thomas E. Schott.

Biographical Treatment:
The Maltby Brothers' Civil War by Norman C. Delaney.

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

Edited Letters/Memoir/Diary:
A Civil War Correspondent in New Orleans: The Journals and Reports of Albert Gaius Hills of the Boston Journal edited by Gary L. Dyson.

Guide Book or Map Study:
A Field Guide to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People by Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler.

Self-Published Study:
Morgan's Cavalry 1861-1862 by Lanny Kelton Smith.

Local History:
The Civil War on Hatteras: The Chicamacomico Affair and the Capture of the U.S. Gunboat Fanny by Lee Thomas Oxford.

Reference Book:
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.

Classic Reprint:
Los Angeles in Civil War Days, 1860-1865 by John W. Robinson.

[yes, I know some of these are 2012 titles but it's the only fair way to account for end-of-year releases]

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Woodworth & Grear, eds.: "THE VICKSBURG CAMPAIGN, MARCH 29-MAY 18, 1863"

[The Vicksburg Campaign, March 29-May 18, 1863 edited by Steven E. Woodworth and Charles D. Grear (Southern Illinois University Press, 2013). Hardcover, maps, notes, index. 272 pp. ISBN:978-0-8093-3269-4 $32.50]

In terms of military history, the mobile portion of the Vicksburg Campaign is easily its published literature's best covered segment. Given this, one might reasonably question how deeply editors Steven Woodworth and Charles Grear's new essay collection titled The Vicksburg Campaign, March 29-May 18, 1863 will challenge those already familiar with the works of Bearss, Grabau, Ballard, Winschel and a host of other long and short form studies detailing the period between the Army of the Tennessee's tortuous initial advance to Hard Times, Louisiana at the end of March and the May 19 and 22 assaults that failed to carry the Vicksburg defenses.  Most of the material in the 11 essays comprising The Vicksburg Campaign ranges toward the familiar but there are some intriguing elements.

With a definitive-scale Champion Hill battle history easily found in the form of Timothy Smith's 2006 book, the editors wisely chose to skip commissioning yet another short summary of the campaign's signature field engagement.   That said, a number of essays recount other important battles from the campaign that have been covered well elsewhere.  Among these are Jason Frawley's examination of Port Gibson, Steven Woodworth's take on the first battle of Jackson, and the aforementioned Timothy Smith's piece on the Battle of Big Black Bridge.  These are all rather straightforward treatments with no surprises, as are Gary Joiner's laudatory assessment of Union combined operations and J. Parker Hills's discussion of the operational level decision-making of both sides between the Port Gibson and Raymond battles.

Charles Grear's contribution is less remarkable for its summarization of Grierson's Raid than for its tracing of the operation's unlikely emergence in popular culture circles.  According to Grear, the raid's wartime acclaim was brief, rapidly overshadowed by larger events, with only a low level of attention paid to it during the ensuing decades. This all changed in the 1950s, with the publication of Dee Brown's popular history, a novelization by Harold Sinclair, and the major Hollywood movie The Horse Soldiers. Grear also notes that the raid story, as well as Grierson's post-Civil War military career, continues to inspire writers and enthusiasts today. Perhaps the phenomenon is ultimately unexplainable, but, after reading the piece, one remains left to wonder why such a relatively obscure military event excited the popular imagination in such a profound manner when vastly more important stories were readily available to draw from.

All historians would agree that the summer of 1863 was not Joe Johnston's finest hour, but readers of John Lundberg's piece might very well conclude that the level of incompetence and moral cowardice exhibited by Johnston during the Vicksburg Campaign ranks his performance the worst of any Civil War army and/or theater commander -- and there are more than a few to choose from. New information is not in the offing but Lundberg's harshly condemnatory, and at his point rather conventional, interpretation is framed in an unusually powerful manner.

Michael Ballard's analysis of the Grant-McClernand relationship is another essay covering subject matter detailed within existing biographies and histories, yet skillfully organized and presented.  While acknowledging the Illinois political general's many faults as both man and military commander, Ballard definitely counts himself among those historians holding a sympathetic view of the professional military establishment's ill treatment of McClernand and a mostly positive opinion of the general's martial abilities.  The best sub-section is Ballard's cogent analysis of the many possible explanations advanced by both contemporary observers and later historians for why Grant used his least liked subordinate to spearhead the most important and dangerous campaign of his career up to that point.  The truth will probably never be entirely known (even Grant himself may not have possessed honest enough self-knowledge -- when it came to McClernand -- to express a truthful answer).  The chapter also offers a good summary of McClernand's role in the campaign, emphasizing his successful exercise of responsibility at key moments. Like Timothy Smith in his Champion Hill study, Ballard does not offer a particularly compelling case for giving McClernand a pass for the general's less than aggressive role in the battle, but it might be fair to conclude that his smashing pursuit victory at Big Black River made up for any shortcomings that preceded it.

Most of the major Vicksburg works predominately address military matters, making Steven Dossman's essay detailing the campaign's impact on the local civilian population a welcome addition.  Experienced readers are familiar with the destruction visited upon Jackson, but Dossman also recounts the looting and property destruction that occurred all along the route, at Port Gibson, Raymond, and countless farms and plantations.  The massive Union effort directed toward impressing civilian owned horses and wheeled transportation of all kinds in order to create a makeshift supply and ammunition train is also highlighted.  Another understudied aspect of the campaign touched upon by Dossman was the attachment of swarms of newly escaped slaves to the advancing columns.  How Grant, with his own tenuous communications and supply lines, dealt with this situation and how it affected his movements (if at all) is worthy of another look [ex. were precedents set during the Vicksburg Campaign that might have established policy for handling the even larger numbers of ex-slaves accompanying later Union penetrations of the Deep South?]. The implications of guerrilla warfare are only superficially addressed. Given that scholarly appreciation of the irregular war is at its peak right now, hopefully a future essay [four more Vicksburg volumes are in the works for this series] will explore relevant Vicksburg Campaign contexts, if they exist.

The timely arrival of accurate and actionable intelligence at important moments in the campaign is a known background factor in Grant's victory, but Grant's Secret Service author William Feis's chapter does a brief but noteworthy job of bringing the Mississippi spy network out of the shadows.  As often happens in historical discourse, Feis ends up awarding perhaps too much of the credit to the top man (Grant), rather than Grenville Dodge, who took his superior's general wishes and created on his own the extensive and effective apparatus that provided so much vital intelligence.

Finally, Paul Schmelzer applies a Clausewitzian lens to Grant's conduct of the Vicksburg Campaign.  Not having read On War, the impact of the essay on this reader depends less on specific comparative analysis than a more general recognition that the way Grant fought the campaign was shaped significantly by his appreciation of the current political situation on the home front.

In the main, The Vicksburg Campaign, March 29-May 18, 1863 possesses a strong, if largely comfortable for veteran readers, set of essays. It's a good beginning to a planned five volume Vicksburg subset within SIUP's fine Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland series.

More CWBA reviews of SIUP titles:
* Grant at Vicksburg: The General and the Siege
* The Prairie Boys Go to War: The Fifth Illinois Cavalry, 1861-1865
* The Chattanooga Campaign
* Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs
* An Illustrated Guide to Virginia's Confederate Monuments
* The Notorious "Bull" Nelson: Murdered Civil War General
* The Chickamauga Campaign
* Chicago's Irish Legion: The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War
* The Shiloh Campaign

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Another Civil War archaeology title

University Press of Florida has published some great Civil War archaeology titles, and they have a new one on the way in the spring titled From These Honored Dead: Historical Archaeology of the American Civil War and edited by distinguished field veterans Clarence Geier, Douglas Scott, and Lawrence Babits. Topics from this particular set of essays "include soldier life in camp and on the battlefield, defense mechanisms such as earthworks construction, the role of animals during military operations, and a refreshing focus on the conflict in the Trans-Mississippi West". Sounds good to me.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

May your Christmas holidays be more like this:

than this:

I Do Wish This Cruel War Was Over

The state historical society journals are a great resource for expertly edited Civil War letters and diaries, and Arkansas Historical Quarterly is an essential one for Trans-Mississippi students.  Thus, I was rather excited to find that University of Arkansas Press was publishing I Do Wish This Cruel War Was Over: First-Person Accounts of Civil War Arkansas from the Arkansas Historical Quarterly early next year.  Anything Mark Christ is involved with is worth our time and money and he is teaming up with Patrick Williams to edit this collection.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Booknotes II (Dec '13)

I just discovered that part of the scarcity of recent releases was due to the USPS dropping the ball on mail forwarding.

New Arrivals:

1. Parole, Pardon, Pass and Amnesty Documents of the Civil War: An Illustrated History by John Martin Davis, Jr. and George B. Tremmel (McFarland, 2013).

This study of Union and Confederate passes, paroles, presidential pardons, prisoner oaths, 1865 surrender paroles, and amnesty papers is both a history of the documents and their legal origins as well as a photographic record. There are probably over a hundred photographed documents, sized appropriately for reading clarity, in the main text and in the appendices.

2. The Ozarks in Missouri History: Discoveries in an American Region edited by Lynn Morrow (Univ of Missouri Pr, 2013).

A collection of 15 essays previously published in the journal Missouri Historical Review, the Civil War related piece selected was John Bradbury's article discussing the reaction of mid-western Union soldiers to the Ozark geography and populace.

3. The Physics of War: From Arrows to Atoms by Barry Parker (Prometheus Books, 2014).

This book traces in popular fashion technological innovation in war. The American Civil War section highlights the use of advances like the percussion firing mechanism, rifling, the telegraph, early electric generators, Gatling guns, torpedoes, submarines, and balloons.

4. A Rogue's Life: R. Clay Crawford, Prison Escapee, Union Army Officer, Pretend Millionaire, Phony Physician and the Most Respected Man in Macon, Georgia by Lewis A. Lawson (McFarland, 2013).

Sounds like a Civil War version of Catch Me If You Can. The description seems to frame it as a bit of a cautionary tale in terms of excessive regard toward the 'self-made man'.

5. Colonels in Blue - Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee: A Civil War Biographical Dictionary by Roger Hunt (McFarland, 2013).

I've found the other Hunt reference book that I own to be useful and there's no reason to think this one isn't more of the same. The author certainly consulted an extensive array of source materials in compiling his register of Union officers leading Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee regiments.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Frozen pipeline

In terms of book arrivals at CWBAHQ, this has been a very atypical winter.  The first installment of December Booknotes is actually composed entirely of November arrivals and only a single title has made its way into the mailbox so far this month.  With few books hitting their original publishing dates, it is impossible to keep to even a loose reading schedule, but I try anyway.  I can't recall another two month period like Dec '13 - Jan '14 on my calendar of prospects, with no titles on the request list until the end of January and the absence of unsolicited packages (which usually far outnumber the rest) over a three week period.  Not complaining, though; a break might be nice.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Collapse of Price’s Raid

I just finished browsing through the newly released spring catalog for University of Missouri Press. There's only one Civil War title, but it's an intriguing one in Mark Lause's The Collapse of Price's Raid: The Beginning of the End in Civil War Missouri. It picks up where 2011's Price's Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri left off and follows the operation to its completion. In my opinion [revisit my review if you're so inclined], the earlier book was a decided mixed bag, only grudgingly recommended by me. I still think it bizarre that it ended early in the raid's progress with no hint that a second book completing the story was in the works (in fact, the author went out of his way to justify his decision to end the project where he did, as if anticipating the criticism to follow). Anyway, that doesn't matter now, and I look forward to the second book regardless of my problems with the first.  The 1864 Price Raid still lacks a good complete history.  However this two-volume set ends up in our estimation, Lause at least has the commercial advantage of beating Citadel professor Kyle Sinisi to the punch.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sesser: "THE LITTLE ROCK ARSENAL CRISIS: On the Precipice of the American Civil War"

[The Little Rock Arsenal Crisis: On the Precipice of the American Civil War by David Sesser (The History Press, 2013). Softcover, photos, illustrations, appendices, maps, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:88/124. ISBN:978-1-60949-969-3 $19.99]

The United States arsenal at Little Rock had only a caretaker staff present when the result of the 1860 presidential election inflamed secessionist feeling in the South and raised fears for the security of federal installations in the affected areas. On December 6, Captain James Totten's Battery F, 2nd US Artillery arrived at the arsenal from Fort Smith. Totten had respected ties to the community but the increased federal military presence prompted Arkansas militia, with the unofficial approval of Governor Henry Rector, to pour into Little Rock from the more pro-secession eastern and southern counties. Rector made no attempt to assert control over the militia but nevertheless demanded that Totten turn over the arsenal to the state. By a mutually acceptable agreement, Totten surrendered the post on February 8, 1861, he and his men being allowed free passage out of the state. The capture of thousands of antiquated, mostly flintlock, arms was hardly a boon to Arkansas's defense, but the bloodless surrenders of the Little Rock Arsenal and Fort Smith removed the largest military obstacles to secession, which occurred on May 6. David Sesser's new book The Little Rock Arsenal Crisis: On the Precipice of the American Civil War is the most detailed account of the events and major figures involved.

With the main narrative coming in at less than eighty often illustration-filled pages, the scope of Sesser's study is something between a long journal article and a book. In a short space, the author does a fine job of sketching out the arsenal's history, the 1860-61 political situation in Arkansas, and the backgrounds of the two primary personalities involved -- Governor Rector and Captain Totten. While not based on exhaustive archival research, the author's account of the crisis itself is a good synthesis of existing sources and is the best treatment one can find. As an added documentary bonus, the appendices include official reports and correspondence related to the surrenders of both the Little Rock arsenal and Fort Smith, as well as an inventory of weapons and items held at the arsenal at the time of its capture.

Sesser's portrait of Rector is that of a weak leader who desired to influence events without taking executive responsibility for their creation and their consequences.  A potentially dangerous leadership vacuum was created, with violence averted largely through good fortune and timely intervention.  According to the author, the Little Rock city council deserves some credit for this. To prevent violence, city leaders actually had the Capitol Guards, a venerable local militia company, interpose itself between the U.S. garrison and the increasingly belligerent secessionist forces.  The voters at the time seem to have recognized the kind of man they had earlier placed in the governor's chair, as he was decisively defeated in the election following the post-secession drafting of a new state constitution. On the other side, Captain Totten readily surrendered the post rather than risk bloodshed and destruction without explicit instructions from the administration in Washington. In gratitude, a group of Little Rock ladies later commissioned a presentation sword for Totten, which he accepted. Totten would eventually be promoted to brigadier general, known more for his legendary profanity than brilliant field service.  Sesser does not engage in speculative history, but one wonders what might have happened had an officer like Nathaniel Lyon been in charge of the arsenal instead of Totten.

Complaints are small in number. Like other titles from this publisher, the book is full of large numbers of appropriate photographs and illustrations. What's missing are maps of the arsenal complex (by 1860, there were 28 buildings on its grounds) and of Little Rock itself, the latter needed to visualize the relative locations of sites mentioned in the text. In terms of content and context, relying on published sources in creating a largely top-down treatment conveyed through the eyes of state-level military and political leaders is fine but it limits perspective.  Given the study's lack of letters, diaries, and other eyewitness primary accounts written by city residents, what went through the minds of the Little Rock citizenry as they assessed the gathering crisis and pondered the potential of their city becoming a battleground is mostly absent.  This is a bit unfortunate given that shielding civilian life and property was expressed by both sides to be of paramount concern.

In the end, David Sesser's The Little Rock Arsenal Crisis does not significantly alter our views of the secession period in Arkansas, but it does certainly sharpen the details surrounding one of its big moments. As it's the best synthesis available, the book deserves to be read by all students of Civil War Arkansas and, for its particular subject, should be regarded as the current go-to work.

Friday, December 13, 2013

More spring '14 catalog news

Texas A&M:
* Lens on the Texas Frontier by Lawrence T. Jones III.
* The Red River Campaign The Union’s Final Attempt to Invade Texas by Gary D. Joiner (for State House Press).
* Letters from Prison: Jefferson Davis to his Wife, 1865–1866 edited by Felicity Allen (for Texas Review Press).
* Women of War: Selected Memoirs, Poems, and Fiction by Virginia Women Who Lived Through the Civil War edited by Casey Clabough (for Texas Review Press).

* The River Was Dyed with Blood: Nathan Bedford Forrest and Fort Pillow by Brian Steel Wills.
* Battles and Massacres on the Southwestern Frontier: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives edited by Ronald K. Wetherington and Frances Levine [chosen for Civil War period content of Adobe Walls ('64) and Sand Creek ('64)].


Johns Hopkins:
* Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War by Michael C.C. Adams.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Eric Jacobson, author and apparently master independent marketer

On my last run, I was listening to the latest Civil War Talk Radio podcast with guest Eric Jacobson and was stunned by Eric's revelation that he sold 25,000 copies of For Cause & for Country: A Study of the Affair At Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin. I had to stop, rewind, and listen to it again to see if I had experienced an auditory hallucination. The book is an excellent military history written well enough to at least have the potential to draw in marginally interested readers (I suppose) but, let's face it, it's a specialized western theater book, the subject matter a niche within a niche. I didn't believe there remained 25K serious Civil War book readers in the entire country, let alone a number like that willing to delve down that deep in the ranks of famous Civil War battles.  His publisher, O'More, was created as an outlet for the Franklin design school's own instructors and, according to them, has largely remained so. It's a local college but I still have to think that the marketing and promotion of the book landed almost solely in Jacobson's lap. Good show, Eric. Count me impressed.

Monday, December 9, 2013


[The Maltby Brothers' Civil War by Norman C. Delaney (Texas A&M University Press, 2013). Hardcover, 2 maps, photos, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:208/245. ISBN:978-1-62349-025-6 $32.95]

For Jasper, Henry, and William Maltby, the Civil War truly was brother vs. brother, though theirs was considerably less bitterly contested than some. All Ohio-born Democrats, Henry and William migrated to Texas during the 1850s where they worked together as newspapermen, while Jasper settled in Galena, Illinois as a respected gunsmith.  Their parents remained in Ohio during the war, initially shunning their wayward Confederate sons but eventually reconciling with and even joining the younger Maltbys in Texas.  The siblings certainly lived lives of historical significance and Norman Delaney's expansive The Maltby Brothers' Civil War has clear value as both joint biography and historical record of rarely studied Civil War era events in South Texas.

Readers most interested in the Civil War career of Jasper A. Maltby, the eldest of the three Maltbys, a Mexican War veteran and well respected Union officer [he was colonel of the 45th Illinois and later brigadier general], will likely be a bit disappointed to find that he gets the shortest straw of the three in terms of content. Though his Civil War military career was far more illustrious than William's, Jasper's service is retold in far less detail. The reason isn't exactly spelled out, but the author hints that primary source material for Jasper is lacking (it's likely his papers perished in a fire). Delaney's research interests also seem to have been more inclined toward the younger Maltbys and associated happenings in South Texas. Jasper is far from ignored, however, as fairly substantial attention is paid to his antebellum life, the kindness he extended to his captured Confederate brother [When William was captured in November 1863, Jasper was able to secure his transfer from a New Orleans prison camp and take him to Vicksburg, where William was afforded the freedom of the town until released], and the pension struggles of his widow. His involvement with the Army of the Tennessee is only briefly outlined. Maltby was wounded at Donelson and Vicksburg before being promoted to brigadier general, eventually leading a brigade assigned to garrison the Hill City after its surrender. Jasper died in Vicksburg in 1867, either from his wounds, yellow fever, or a combination of both. Even with a military career section that's not as fleshed out as one might wish, the book serves as the closest thing to a Jasper Maltby biography that can be found in the published literature.

Henry A. Maltby first appears in Texas records in 1851 as owner of a large circus, one that failed by 1853. Emerging from bankrupcy, Henry settled in Corpus Christi, where he was selected as mayor by the board of aldermen in 1856. Although Maltby's whereabouts for a seven month period following his resignation as mayor after serving only eight months remain a mystery, Delaney offers a convincing corrective to the literature claiming Henry was a filibuster participant and promoter. After holding a number of jobs and political posts, Henry launched his own newspaper, the Ranchero, which would consume his public life for the next eleven years. He also persuaded his younger brother William, an experienced typesetter, to leave Ohio and join the Ranchero in 1859. According to Delaney, Henry was ideologically aligned with the John C. Calhoun brand of Democratic politics and supported John C. Breckinridge during the 1860 presidential election. While neither Henry nor William aspired to own slaves, Henry, who was also a secession convention member, expressed conventional Deep South views of slavery and the 'proper' place of blacks in society. During the war, Henry remained at the helm of the Ranchero. Overcoming numerous funding and material obstacles, as well as the necessity of temporarily relocating south of the border, his editorials blasted the conduct of the Union army and naval forces in the region as well as the disloyalty of unionist civilians and collaborators. The political stances of the Ranchero were far from consistent, however. Shifting views may have been a matter of survival in Mexico, but Maltby also frequently altered his editorial positions in Texas politics depending on immediate circumstances. As one example, after declaring himself an enemy of Texas Unionist and general Edmund Davis during the war, Henry became an ardent promoter of the Republican Davis for governor during Reconstruction. To him, Davis was likely a lesser evil to a more radical candidate. After selling the Ranchero in 1870, Henry briefly reentered the newspaper sphere in 1874. He worked as a printer, insurance agent, and merchant before his death in 1906.

As mentioned above, William H. Maltby emigrated to Texas in 1859, where, through the influence of his brother and his July 1860 marriage to Mary Grace Swift, he cemented his place in the Corpus Christi community. As a member of the Cleveland Light Guards back home in Ohio, William was more militarily inclined than brother Henry, joining the Confederate army as an artillery officer. Though health problems limited his active service, he rose to the rank of captain. Captured at Fort Semmes in November 1863 along with a number of fellow Confederate defenders [the complete list is available in the appendix], William is justifiably criticized by the author and his own contemporaries for the collective lack of defensive preparation on Mustang Island. Leaving the army in 1864 on medical grounds, William Maltby rejoined the paper business. After the war, he ran his own paper, the Advertiser, before selling it in 1873. Like his brother, he couldn't stay away for long, returning to paper publishing in 1877 and dying only three years later at the age of 43.

In the overall scheme of things, William proved to be a lesser figure in Texas history, but his military career was very effectively exploited by Delaney to craft fine accounts of several little-known coastal operations. Thus, The Maltby Brothers' Civil War boasts considerable value as a military and social history of the war in South Texas. A handful of scholarly journal articles and recent books by Stephen Dupree and Stephen Townsend offer good overviews of Union amphibious operations around the mouth of the Rio Grande and up the barrier island chain lining the Texas coastline, but Delaney's book is the first detailed documentation of Union blockade and combined operations directed toward neutralizing Corpus Christi in particular by capturing surrounding islands and controlling the bays and waterways harboring Confederate blockade runners and coastal shipping. Inadequate maps are the only major drawback associated with the coverage.

In addition to the book's biographical and military history components, given the influential nature of the Ranchero, those researching Texas newspapers in operation during the Civil War and Reconstruction will find Delaney's study quite useful, as will readers investigating border politics and violence during the imperial period in Mexico. For all the above reasons, The Maltby Brothers' Civil War is highly recommended as one of the best Trans-Mississippi Civil War titles published this year.

More CWBA reviews of TAMU Press titles:
* Misadventures of a Civil War Submarine: Iron, Guns, and Pearls
* Turmoil on the Rio Grande: The Territorial History of the Mesilla Valley, 1846-1865
* Tejanos in Gray: Civil War Letters of Captains Joseph Rafael de la Garza and Manuel Yturri
* Why Texans Fought in the Civil War
* Moss Bluff Rebel: A Texas Pioneer in the Civil War
* Frontier Defense in the Civil War: Texas' Rangers and Rebels
* Confederate Struggle For Command: General James Longstreet and the First Corps in the West
* Planting The Union Flag In Texas: The Campaigns of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks in the West
* The Yankee Invasion of Texas
* Blood & Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Some Spring '14 catalog offerings

The first of the Spring/Summer 2014 university press catalogs are trickling out. I've listed below the Civil War period titles to be released by each. On a related note, it's also winter sale season for many of these presses. 

* Reconstructing Appalachia: The Civil War’s Aftermath edited by Andrew L. Slap

* Guide to the Richmond- Petersburg Campaign edited by Charles R. Bowery, Jr. and Ethan S. Rafuse.

* Loathing Lincoln: An American Tradition from the Civil War to the Present by John McKee Barr.
* Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln by Jonathan W. White.
* Gateway to the Confederacy: New Perspectives on the Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns, 1862–1863 by Edited by Evan C. Jones and Wiley Sword.

North Carolina:
* With Malice toward Some: Treason and Loyalty in the Civil War Era by William A. Blair.
* Stonewall’s Prussian Mapmaker: The Journals of Captain Oscar Hinrichs edited by Richard Brady Williams.
* Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science by Shauna Devine.

* Music Along the Rapidan: Civil War Soldiers, Music, and Community during Winter Quarters, Virginia by James A. Davis.
* Manassas: A Battlefield Guide by Ethan S. Rafuse.
* A Lincoln Dialogue by James A. Rawley, edited by William G. Thomas.

* Citizen-General: Jacob Dolson Cox and the Civil War Era by Eugene D. Schmiel.
* Civil War Chicago: Eyewitness to History edited by Theodore J. Karamanski and Eileen M. McMahon.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Booknotes (Dec '13)

New Arrivals:

1. General Gordon Granger: The Savior of Chickamauga and the Man Behind "Juneteenth" by Robert C. Connor (Casemate, 2013).

Connor, a recent site interpreter at Grant Cottage, pens the first military biography of a man who was definitely not a Grant favorite. A glance through the introduction raises hope for a judicious assessment of the general's career.

2. Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War by Elizabeth Varon (Oxford UP, 2013).

3. The Vicksburg Campaign, March 29-May 18, 1863 edited by Steven E. Woodworth and Charles D. Grear (SIUP, 2013).

With so many books, essays, and articles covering this phase of the Vicksburg Campaign, it will be interesting to see if any fresh ideas emerge in this volume.  Follow the link for the table of contents.  I like the series so far, though the presentation was a bit spare in the early entries.

4. The Little Rock Arsenal Crisis: On the Precipice of the American Civil War by David Sesser (The Hist Pr, 2013).

This is the first book length history of the Little Rock Arsenal stand off, a volatile situation that could have sparked bloodshed between secessionist militia and the U.S. army weeks before the firing on Fort Sumter.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Phillips, ed. : "TORN BY WAR: The Civil War Journal of Mary Adelia Byers"

[Torn by War: The Civil War Journal of Mary Adelia Byers edited by Samuel R. Phillips (University of Oklahoma Press, 2013). Softcover, 3 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, appendices, index. 253 pp. ISBN:978-0-8061-4395-8 $19.95]

Teenager Mary Adelia Byers begins her Civil War journal with the Union occupation of Batesville, Arkansas in May 1862. Byers correctly saw that the arrival of Union forces was a seminal event affecting personal, family, and community fortunes and was determined to document the experience. For the rest of the war (with the exception of 1865's single entry and a long period of malarial illness the previous year), she was a steady chronicler of events.  Edited by Samuel Phillips, this remarkable first person record has been published under the title Torn by War: The Civil War Journal of Mary Adelia Byers.

What becomes immediately apparent to the reader of the Mary Byers journal is the deep level of self-knowledge for such a young person (she was only 15 in 1862) and how clearly, confidently, and well she articulates her thoughts and feelings. While Mary often decries her own silliness in social situations, neglectfulness in household duties, etc., the opposite impression of her character emerges from her writing. Throughout the journal, she maturely documents her sincere struggle with Christian faith and the internal and external pressures to publicly embrace organized religion by joining a local congregation. The manner in which she handles her suitors (though with the occasional outburst of teenage caprice), soberly evaluates the romantic attachments of others in her social group, and deals with difficult relatives demonstrate wisdom beyond her years.

Slavery is mentioned very little, though her widowed mother [Mary's father, John Hancock Byers, died before the war] had a maid and family benefactor Uncle William was a slaveholder. When news of the Emancipation Proclamation spread, the slaves became unruly to such a degree that they were given the ultimatum to either stay or leave. Unsurprisingly, they departed service, with the journal treating with little fanfare and seemingly few regrets what most whites at the time considered shocking social upheaval.

With many southern civilian Civil War diaries and journals full of tales of privation and destruction, the Byers family and circle of friends appear to have escaped the worst experiences of those with pro-Confederate allegiances in the occupied South. Beyond passing note of some fencing lost to a nearby Union encampment, Byers does not mention any serious property loss or really any substantial want in food, clothing, and shelter. It undoubtedly helped that they adopted proven self-preservation measures, among them not resisting Union soldier visits and boarders. In fact, the Confederate Arkansans's Missouri allies end up being the primary targets of abuse, especially from the disliked Byers cousin Henry. No one explains why in their minds Missourians were deserving of such vitriolic disdain, but readers familiar with the Arkansas Civil War primary source literature recognize the posture as by no means rare.  The irony that thousands of Missouri soldiers risked their lives defending the very Arkansas homes of those so loudly voicing such views went apparently unappreciated. The negative feeling reached far beyond mere state rivalry and one wonders how seriously the animosity damaged cooperative defense of the upper reaches of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi department.

Even though it was a military event that sparked the beginning of the Byers journal, little thought and content are directed toward the movements of nearby armies, or the campaigns and battles fought elsewhere. Perhaps this is to be expected from the personal journal of a teenage girl likely more interested in other things, but those seeking such information are advised to look elsewhere. Editor Phillips makes heavy use in his contextual footnotes of Freeman Mobley's Making Sense of the Civil War in Batesville-Jacksonport and Northeast Arkansas 1861-1874 (2005)*, and that wouldn't be a bad starting point.

Though the array of source material utilized for annotation is not exhaustive, the editorial package overall is more than solid. To help readers keep track of the diary's often bewildering cast of friends, acquaintances, and family members, Phillips assembles a helpful Byers family tree and descriptive list of individuals roughly in order of first appearance in Byers's writing. Of the trio of maps, the one depicting Batesville and environs is very helpful in locating places mentioned in the diary. Phillips was also able to collect a good number of photographs of Byers family and friends. The four appendices reproduce interesting published articles and reports. They include a collection of federal army impressions of Batesville, a Civil War-centric history of the Catalpa Hall estate built by William Byers, brief biographical material on Judge Byers, and some accounts of the February 1864 skirmish at Waugh's Farm. It's all very relevant and worthwhile local history.

Torn By War
is a rich personal account of the middle class Confederate civilian experience in a geographically isolated, yet militarily contested, region (NE Arkansas and the town of Batesville) not often addressed in the published Civil War literature. Its value is only enhanced by the precociously perceptive nature of young Mary Byers and her unusually expressive writing. Indeed, social historians would do well to add this journal to any bibliography hosting the finest examples of female Civil War diarists, journal writers, and correspondents.

* - This somewhat flawed but useful book was briefly discussed on this site [here], and was also reissued recently under a new title Civil War!: A Missing Piece of the Puzzle Northeast Arkansas 1861-1874.

More CWBA reviews of UOP titles:
* Columns of Vengeance: Soldiers, Sioux, and the Punitive Expeditions, 1863-1864
* Los Angeles in Civil War Days, 1860-1865
* Historical Atlas of Oklahoma, 4th edition
* George Crook: From the Redwoods to Appomattox
* Violent Encounters: Interviews on Western Massacres
* A Perfect Gibraltar: The Battle for Monterrey, Mexico, 1846
* Patrick Connor's War: The 1865 Powder River Indian Expedition (Arthur H. Clark)
* Texas: A Historical Atlas
* Civil War Arkansas 1863: The Battle for a State
* Jayhawkers: The Civil War Brigade of James Henry Lane
* Powder River Odyssey: Nelson Cole's Western Campaign of 1865 the Journals of Lyman G. Bennett and Other Eyewitness Accounts (Arthur H. Clark)
* Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester
* The Uncivil War: Irregular Warfare In The Upper South, 1861-1865
* The Civil War in Arizona: The Story of the California Volunteers, 1861-1865

Friday, November 29, 2013

Wise's Forks update

As an admirer of Mark Smith and Wade Sokolosky's “No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar” Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign: from Fayetteville to Averasboro, it's good to finally read some concrete news on the progress of their current collaboration, a history of the Wyse/Wise's Fork battle in North Carolina. Last month, Sokoloski posted this update. It sounds like the project is still a great deal short of completion, but it's good to know that they're still diligently plugging away at it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

'The Civil War in the American West' bibliography

The Civil War in the American West

This compilation by Gordon Chappell has been substantially enhanced since my last viewing.  I would love to see even more critical commentary, especially for the more obscure works, but it's a great list-in-progress nonetheless.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sutherland: "AMERICAN CIVIL WAR GUERRILLAS: Changing the Rules of Warfare"

[American Civil War Guerrillas: Changing the Rules of Warfare by Daniel Sutherland (Praeger, 2013). Hardcover, photos, appendices, notes, bibliographical essay, index. Pages main/total:123/175. ISBN:978-0-313-37766-2 $37]

Daniel Sutherland's American Civil War Guerrillas is one of the newest volumes from Praeger's Reflections on the Civil War Era series, volumes intended to provide "strong syntheses that also include new material and provide fresh arguments. Aimed at public library and general readers, these books should also be useful as classroom readings for college students." This book certainly fits the mold, and, given that Sutherland has already published arguably the finest single volume overview and analysis of the guerrilla aspect of the Civil War, Praeger could not have selected a better authorial candidate.

American Civil War Guerrillas is a brief study, but effectively addresses at varying length the full range of issues surrounding the subject. The book begins in 1861, with the initial formation of small guerrilla bands, explaining where these groups emerged and what motivated them. Personal concerns like neighbor grudges, local defense, desire to avoid national service, and revenge/retaliation were omnipresent, but Sutherland also raises the important point that guerrilla warfare as understood at the time was deemed by many an honorable, albeit romanticized, mode of fighting. This was especially true in the South, with its tradition of irregular war heroes from the Revolution like Francis Marion. Another chapter discusses the daily existence of the Civil War guerrilla -- how they dressed, how they were armed, and how they operated.

With the 1862 Partisan Ranger Act, the Confederate government attempted to give legal status to guerrillas and place them under some semblance of control. The legislation backfired, however, with masses of men avoiding, or deserting from, the regular service to join free bands of irregulars. These men operated under fewer and fewer constraints as the war progressed, eventually plunging huge areas of the Border States and South into civil chaos. Sutherland also documents the progression of counterguerrilla policy from the Union perspective, one that eventually codified formal terminology for irregular fighters and defined punishments (the Lieber Code). Also discussed in the book is the Union army's use of local control measures like banishment, hostage taking, fine levying, property assessments, imprisonment, and extreme measures like summary death sentences and the burning of towns thought to harbor bushwhackers and their supporters.

While the 'turning point' mythologizing of 1863 events like Gettysburg and Vicksburg is no longer a given, Sutherland believes the year to be the negative tipping point in the strategic value of guerrilla warfare to the Confederacy. The widespread incidence of lawless depredations committed by guerrillas upon the civilian population regardless of allegiance combined with the enormity of the Union army's retaliatory capacity and willingness to use it together resulted in plummeting home front morale and confidence in the Confederate government. In the midst of social chaos, some pro-Confederate communities even came to welcome order-sustaining Union occupation as the lesser of two evils. In American Civil War Guerrillas, Sutherland holds firmly to the idea originally developed in A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (UNC Press, 2009) that guerrilla warfare and it consequences were a factor in Confederate defeat no less decisive than any other single cause. It remains a powerful theme in this book.

The final chapter traces the ultimate defeat of Confederate guerrillas, from a combination of military defeat and withdrawn local and Confederate government support. The epilogue recounts the various means by which surviving partisans and guerrillas defended their wartime deeds (though not all felt the need or obligation to do so), and the degree of success these ex-irregulars had in shaping the historical perspectives of later generations.

Complaints with the book are primarily a product of inherent space limitations. Clearly a study designed to cover the entire breadth of guerrilla topics in little over 100 pages will be forced to compress, generalize, and omit. While individuals like "Tinker Dave" Beatty are indeed mentioned, more emphasis on the employment of pro-Union guerrillas would have been welcome and discussion of whether Union leaders ever attempted to justify their own use of guerrillas is missing. Also, while Sutherland does at least outline the vast extent of the guerrilla conflict, the text constantly returns to Missouri and Virginia. In his wonderfully educational bibliographical essay, the author appropriately explains the reasons behind this. Unlike the other studies in the series which are synthetic works employing primarily secondary sources, this book does not have the benefit of a deep literature to draw from, analytical scholarship on the subject of guerrilla warfare being only a recent phenomenon; the unavoidable consequence of this being that the author was forced instead to go to primary sources, the vast majority of which are products of Quantrill and Mosby associates. Though reasonably mitigated through explanation, the situation inadvertently ends up reinforcing the distorted and outdated popular image of Civil War guerrilla warfare as mostly a 'Mosby and Missouri' thing (especially for those general interest readers most likely to skip over the book's notes and source essay).  Sutherland also remains less interested than subject scholars like Robert Mackey in categorizing the operators of Civil War irregular warfare.  However, whether this is a critical omission or simply a recognition that such messy subject matter does not lend itself to defined classification is in the eye of the beholder.  I would also liked to have seen Sutherland address the debate between historians Mackey [yes] and Clay Mountcastle [no] in their respective scholarship over whether the Union army developed an effective military strategy deserving of credit for the eventual defeat of the pro-Confederate guerrilla menace. 

In considering the overall value of American Civil War Guerrillas, however, the significance of the concerns listed above pale in the face of the book's many strengths.  As a scholarly primer on Civil War guerrilla warfare, Sutherland's study takes first prize.

Booknotes III (Nov '13)

New Arrivals:

1. Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South by Jaime Amanda Martinez (Univ of NC Pr, 2013).

This is a social and political history of the Confederate policy of obtaining slaves for use as labor on fortifications. The book "challenges the assumption that the conduct of the program, and the resistance it engendered, was an indication of weakness and highlights instead how the strong governments of the states contributed to the war effort." Going further, Martinez "argues that the ability of local, state, and national governments to cooperate and enforce unpopular impressment laws indicates the overall strength of the Confederate government as it struggled to enforce its independence."

2. Theophilus Hunter Holmes: A North Carolina General in the Civil War by Walter C. Hilderman III (McFarland, 2013).

Hilderman, the author of a good study of Confederate conscription in North Carolina, here offers a military biography of one of the state's highest ranking sons. Holmes spent most of the war out west, so there's quite a bit of content devoted to his Trans-Mississippi commands, including a fairly lengthy chapter on Helena.

3. Brigadier General John Adams, CSA: A Biography by Leslie R. Tucker (McFarland, 2013).

According to Tucker, very little in the way of personal papers exist for Adams, who is probably best known as one of the Confederate generals killed at the Battle of Franklin. The result of this is that only around 1/4 of the book is devoted to the Civil War, the rest covering his wide ranging antebellum army career. McFarland also appears to have adopted an improved binding and wrapper material for their softcovers.

4. New Haven's Civil War Hospital: A History of Knight U.S. General Hospital, 1862-1865 by Ira Spar (McFarland, 2013).

"This history of the hospital's construction and operation during the war discusses the state of medicine at the time as well as the administrative side of providing care to sick and wounded soldiers."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Best Civil War Books of 2013

No, I'm not referring to my annual CWBA list (that will come later) but the one from the Winter 2013 issue of Civil War Monitor magazine.  In it, six illustrious persons plus me were asked by editor Terry Johnston to select a "Top Pick" and an "Honorable Mention" [my two are on pages 68-69].  I'll not spoil anything so check your mailbox or newsstand.

The adjunct sidebar listing the ten best-selling Civil War books of the year is interesting in that it speaks to the enduring, if flagging, heft of the traditional marketing and distribution model for bookselling.  The first eight were far and away among the most prominently featured titles in my local Barnes & Noble store this year. #9 is a complete ('baffling' might be a better descriptor) surprise and #10 an entirely pleasant one.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Booknotes II (Nov '13)

New Arrivals:

1. Washington Brotherhood: Politics, Social Life, and the Coming of the Civil War by Rachel A. Shelden (UNC Pr, 2013).

Shelden examines the political culture and social life of the legislators in D.C., showing how personal relationships helped guide the country through the political crises of the early and mid nineteenth century. Presumably, she traces the reasons behind the breakdown in this cooperative intersectional social atmosphere in the years prior to secession.

2. When the Wolf Came: The Civil War and the Indian Territory by Mary Jane Warde (Univ of Ark Pr, 2013).

I've never taken a close look at Warde's previous work, so I don't know what to expect from this one; however, it's been sometime since someone attempted a full length survey history of the war years in the Indian Territory. I can't say I would recommend much among what's come before, so I welcome Warde's new and up to date effort. If the title sounds familiar, you're probably thinking of White & White's Now the Wolf Has Come: The Creek Nation in the Civil War.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Book collecting ain't what it used to be

When it comes to Civil War book collecting, Paul Taylor always has something interesting to say.  Check out his latest commentary on the current state of the lifestyle.  [While you're at it, take a look at his new book about Civil War Detroit titled "Old Slow Town". I have a copy and it looks good.]

My own collecting bug is geared toward modern books -- from the Centennial period to today -- and I've always considered it an intellectual and aesthetic investment rather than any kind of financial one. Paul's comment that the peak period of collecting was the mid-1990s, before internet tools broke down the traditional forces propping up prices, has the ring of truth to it.  I recall a dealer remarking in a 2005 article somewhere that a good Civil War book collection valued at $200,000 in the 90s was only worth $40,000 a decade later.   Going on ten years more, the value gap has undoubtedly only widened further.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Meier: "NATURE'S CIVIL WAR: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia"

[ Nature's Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia by Kathryn Shively Meier (University of North Carolina Press, 2013) Hardcover, 2 maps, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:164/232. ISBN:978-1-4696-1076-4  $39.95]

Major and minor fads are always running a waxing and waning course throughout Civil War scholarship and publishing. A current climber is "environmental history", perhaps most recognizable in book form by the recent works of Lisa Brady, Kelby Ouchley, and Megan Kate Nelson*.  One might reasonably question whether environmental history has the legs to develop into a truly distinctive force in the Civil War literature, but the practice thus far has yielded points of interest.  While its own content could rather easily fit into existing categories, Kathryn Shively Meier's Nature's Civil War nevertheless eagerly attaches itself to this new interpretive school.  Meier's book offers useful insight into the common soldier's difficult task of maintaining personal health amid the dual stressors of a harsh natural environment and a system of official army care which seemed a disorganized, uncaring, and frequently incompetent bureaucracy to those used to the loving attentions of home and family.

Nature's Civil War is a brief work that nevertheless takes on some large topics. To give readers an idea of what 1860s soldiers expected out of medical care, Meier provides a brief rundown of the competing positions of official and unofficial medicine in the nineteenth century United States. This section documents the debates within states over the need for professionalization in the form of formal schooling and licensing and within the medical establishment itself between traditional physicians and those practicing controversial offshoots like homeopathy. One of the more relevant points raised is the author's contention that the majority of private soldiers had never been under a doctor's care at any time during their pre-military lives, thus they already possessed a foundation of self reliant expectation when it came to treating sickness and maintaining general health.

Meier's focus is not on the health services rendered through official military channels, but rather the steps taken by individuals or small groups to keep their bodies in fighting condition -- a concept she calls "self-care". Her sample of correspondents is not a scientific one, but it's large enough to present insightful anecdotal data. Meier's chosen time period (1862) and geographical area (the Shenandoah Valley and the Virginia Peninsula) are astutely selected to examine self-care issues related to the environment. The spring of 1862 was after the time when soldiers occupied massive training camps filled with those lacking immunity to childhood diseases often lethal to adults but before the creation of efficient medical and hospital systems with the ability to handle common camp ailments of environmental origin.

Meier's documentation of health self-reporting in the correspondence home of soldiers fighting in the Valley and in the Peninsula provides points of comparison between the presumably healthy Shenandoah air and the sickly Chickahominy swamps. Contrary to what was believed at the time to be true, Meier finds no evidence through her self-reporting sample that southern soldiers had any advantage over Union troops in terms of local climate and disease "seasoning". Official U.S. government research (see Appendix 1 chart, pg. 154) also had some interesting findings pertaining to the health of Union soldiers in both locales. While Peninsula soldiers were indeed much sicker during the summer, during the later winter/early spring months Union soldiers serving in the Valley had the higher rate of illness (a situation Meier attributes to exposure to greater extremes of weather). The effects of sickness on the conduct of the Peninsula Campaign by both sides is beyond the scope of Meier's book and remains an understudied and underappreciated aspect of the campaign's historiography.

The previously mentioned concept of self-care is really the heart of the book. Meier describes the attempts by soldiers, in camp and on the march, to look out for their own health, often in direct defiance of the regimentation imposed by the army. While the author does delve into the specifics of self-care, including those related to shelter construction, campsite selection, and the seeking of natural remedies and outside sources of food, I was expecting an even larger collection of concrete examples given the centrality of the theme.

One of the most intriguing sections of the book is the short chapter on straggling. The idea that straggling (to be differentiated from falling out of the ranks with the intent to desert) was an essential component of self-care in 1862, before adequately prepared Union and Confederate medical, ambulance, and hospital systems were in place, is one of Nature's Civil War's more thoughtful contributions. However, this is largely conjecture until someone publishes a focused scholarly study of straggling. Meier recognizes this, duly putting out an appeal for someone to take on such a project. The author also powerfully calls for a change in the literature's traditional definition of a "seasoned" Civil War soldier, from that of a passive survivor with good fortune to one involving a successful implementation of self-care techniques of health and survival. Though erratically focused for such a short work, often seeming like several different research interests loosely combined and lacking a unifying theme,  Nature's Civil War does contribute more than enough interpretive heft to Civil War soldier studies to make it worthy of recommendation.

*. - Flora and Fauna of the Civil War: An Environmental Reference Guide (LSU, 2010) by Kelby Ouchley; Lisa Brady's War upon the Land: Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscapes during the American Civil War (Georgia, 2012); and Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War [link is to my review] by Megan Kate Nelson (Georgia, 2012).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Outside review of Hood on Hood

Having selectively read only around 60% of Sam Hood's aggressively revisionist John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General (Savas Beatie, 2013), I'll not be formally reviewing it here and have mostly avoided comment. However, the critical views, both positive and negative, expressed in Zac Cowsert's recent "Emerging Civil War" review so closely match my own that I thought I would mention it here for those that may have been wondering what I thought about the book.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Robison: "MONTANA TERRITORY AND THE CIVIL WAR: A Frontier Forged on the Battlefield"

[Montana Territory and the Civil War: A Frontier Forged on the Battlefield by Ken Robison (The History Press, 2013). Softcover, photos, illustrations, bibliography, index. 156 pp. ISBN:978-1-62619-175-4 $19.99]

Though studies related to the Civil War years in the states and territories of the Far West remain few are far between, a small number have appeared recently, including a Pacific Northwest military history, a look at Lincoln's connections to Oregon County, and a survey of Civil War California. The newest example, Ken Robison's Montana Territory and the Civil War, is probably the first of its kind, a book length treatment emphasizing the Civil War origins of a mineral rich region organized in May 1864 from portions of existing Idaho and Dakota domains.

The format is a bit unusual. Montana Territory in the Civil War is not a popular narrative history nor is it a formal documented study. A short introductory section of the book describes the formation of the territory and its economic contribution to the Union war effort, but the great majority of the text consists of an extensive series of biographical sketches of individuals associated with the governance, settlement, and economic development of the territory.

Robison begins his collection of biographical vignettes, many of which have been previously published elsewhere, with those appointed territorial governor. As historian Richard Etulain and others have noted, Lincoln appointees had a spotty record of leadership in the Far West, and the situation in Montana was no exception. For the first 20 years of the territory's existence, all governors save one served in the Union army, and Robison highlights the unwillingness of many of these men to share the political process with conservative Democratic majorities in the legislature.

Thousands of Civil War veterans emigrated west to Montana (at least 6,200 by current count) during and after the war, and Robison profiles in his book eight men -- officers and enlisted soldiers, Union and Confederate -- who became prominent or colorful Montana residents. Other groups that served the Union cause, from black soldiers and sailors to female nurses and spies, are also represented, as are a number of Union generals that fought in Montana during the Indian Wars of the mid to late nineteenth century. The book concludes with a look at Civil War monuments erected in Montana and how the war was commemorated during the reconciliation period.  According to Robison, one of these granite structures is exceptional for being the northernmost monument honoring the service of Confederate soldiers.

Montana Territory and the Civil War does leave a great deal of room for a more in depth, scholarly examination of the Civil War years in Montana, one that documents and analyzes the civilian wartime experiences of the settlers and miners, their undoubtedly diverse attitudes toward the war raging far to the east, and the spectrum of their interactions and relationships with political leaders and the army. The main value of Robison's book, I think, is its attempt to awaken modern Montanans to their state's Civil War roots and connections, a common goal of many Sesquicentennial inspired projects. One wishes the author the best of luck with that very worthwhile endeavor.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Epic Chickamauga trilogy

Having neither the spare room available nor a clinically diagnosable hoarding instinct, I'm not one to keep every single Civil War book that I acquire in one manner or another. Taking into account both personal interest and shelving limits, for many subjects I am content to have the best available treatment and good riddance to everything else. If something better comes along, it's out with the old and in with the new. In the military campaign sphere, Chickamauga for me is pretty much 'keep the best, chuck the rest'. With the latest Savas Beatie newsletter announcing the first volume of David Powell's trilogy -- The Chickamauga Campaign—A Mad Irregular Battle: From the Crossing of the Tennessee River Through the First Day, August 22-September 19, 1863 -- it looks like some shelf cleaning is in the future [the Chickamauga atlas, of course being immune]. In my opinion, if the tale of Chickamauga is to be told in epic fashion the person for the job is either William Glenn Robertson or David Powell, and the fact that the latter is actually doing it is a source of great satisfaction.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Booknotes (Nov '13)

New Arrivals:

1. Those Who Fought: Allegheny County, Pa., and the Gettysburg Campaign by Arthur B. Fox (Mechling Bookbindery, 2013).

Similar in presentation to Fox's earlier Our Honored Dead, Allegheny Co., Pa., in the American Civil War, Those Who Fought focuses its attention on the county's contribution to the Gettysburg Campaign. It provides numerous capsule biographies of individuals as well as a unit by unit reference guide to the various actions fought by companies raised in the county, the latter also paying close attention to numbers, equipment, and casualty data. The volume is also handsomely illustrated.

2. Don't Hurry Me Down to Hades: The Civil War In The Words of Those Who Lived It by Susannah Ural (Osprey, 2013).

3. The Maps of the Bristoe Station and Mine Run Campaigns: An Atlas of the Battles and Movements in the Eastern Theater after Gettysburg, Including Rappahannock Station, Kelly's Ford, and Morton's Ford, July 1863-February 1864 by Bradley Gottfried (Savas Beatie, 2013).

It was a surprise, albeit a pleasant one, that these campaigns emerged this early (#5) in the S-B atlas series. The mouthful that is the book's Victorian-era style title and subtitle tell you exactly what you get. Outside of the H.E. Howard series books and the Tighe Bristoe Campaign study, coverage of the long period between the end of the Gettysburg and the beginning of the Overland Campaign remains sparse. Looking forward to reading this one and enjoying the maps.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Fox: "STUART'S FINEST HOUR: The Ride Around McClellan, June 1862"

[Stuart's Finest Hour: The Ride Around McClellan, June 1862 by John J. Fox (Angle Valley Press, 2013). Hardcover, 7 maps, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:266/344. ISBN:978-0-9711950-5-9 $31.95]

JEB Stuart's famous June 12-15, 1862 "Ride Around McClellan" has been discussed in book chapters and articles*, but, until now, has escaped the type of modern full length treatment accorded so many other great Civil War mounted raids. More important than its status as a publishing "first", John Fox's Stuart's Finest Hour on many levels meets or exceeds the expectations of a demanding readership. It's not a placeholder until something better comes along.

Those familiar with Fox's earlier works, especially his excellent micro-history of the Confederate defense of Fort Gregg in 1865, will recognize the same level of sound research and serious historical narrative presented in a spirited manner. All aspects of the planning and execution of the raid, as well as the Union response, are meticulously detailed in the text. Rather than mighty clashes with the enemy, the operation's salient features were those of movement and misdirection. With a handful of picket clashes to go along with a battalion-sized skirmish on the afternoon of the 13th near Linney's Corner, fighting was on a decidedly small scale. The descriptive depth of the writing seems to indicate on the part of the author an intimate knowledge of the raid route and surrounding landscape. A good set of maps produced by George Skoch lays out Stuart's marching route, but the book also contains an extensive collection of modern photographs of sites associated with the raid. Unlike those found in many Civil War studies, the images in Stuart's Finest Hour are both professionally composed and crisply reproduced on the page.

Celebrated as it may be, the conduct of Stuart's raid is not without its critics (then and now), and Fox does a fine job of evaluating the validity of the various claims. As one example, the size of the raiding force (estimated at 1,200 riders and 2 cannon) is regarded by some as too large, suggesting that a few scouts could have gained the same amount of information in a much stealthier manner.  In their minds, the unnecessarily large scale operation jolted McClellan to an earlier recognition of the vulnerability of his right flank and logistical network north of the Chickahominy River. While these claims have some merit, Fox is persuasive in arguing that there is too much benefit of hindsight in these complaints.  The weakness, to the point of almost non-existence, of the Union cavalry screen was not known at the time and possible betraying of future plans is an inherent risk of any reconnaissance operation.  Further, the Union commander was already well aware of the exposed nature of his lines of communication and has already taken initial steps to prepare a James River logistical base.

The decision to attempt a ride completely around the Army of the Potomac is perhaps the issue most open to reasoned debate. In his main text as well as in Appendix C, Fox weighs the merits of turning back at Old Church versus continuing forward. The author presents a solid argument that both options were similarly fraught with danger. Turning back at Old Church would force Stuart into a dangerously narrow path closed off closely on the right by the Pamunkey River.  The chosen alternative of continuing forward also involved potentially serious terrain obstacles, with the added risk of requiring a river crossing without the benefit of a bridge or known ford.  Additionally, the deeper the Confederates plunged into the Union rear the easier it became for even slow moving enemy infantry to cut off the Confederate return to Richmond.   The longer ride also greatly increased the amount of time it would take to get the vital intelligence gained in the operation back to Lee, narrowing the window of opportunity to exploit the situation. Fox constructs a reasonable defense of Stuart, but it is difficult to shake the feeling as the reader that the Virginian's decision to ride a complete circuit around the Army of the Potomac was a foolhardy one that had no business succeeding as well as it did. The evidence presented in the book makes it pretty clear that even a minimally competent Union response to the raid almost could not have failed to capture or destroy a significant part of Stuart's command, if not force a complete surrender.

The picture of the opposing commanders presented in the book could not be more different. On the Confederate side, Lee made clear what was expected of Stuart; though, as later in the war during the Gettysburg Campaign, he left important details open to wide interpretation. Stuart himself was an active leader, keeping his command firmly in hand and not panicking in difficult situations. His policy of selecting units containing men familiar with the area to be traversed paid dividends on several occasions. On the other hand, with the exception of brave actions on the company level, the Union effort was bungled from top to bottom. Fox shares the conventional wisdom that McClellan misused his cavalry. In some ways, this judgment is unfair. In the spring of 1862, it was still unclear how to deploy cavalry for best effect and the Cavalry Reserve was at least organized on paper in the manner later employed by both armies. However, there is no doubt that the man selected to command the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac was not equal to the task. In addition to neglecting to adequately screen the Union far right, Philip St. George Cooke was paralyzed by indecision when news of the raid reached him. Instead of attempting to rescue the floundering Cooke with transparent expectations, McClellan unhelpfully inserted another command layer, placing Cooke under the direct oversight of unsympathetic V Corps commander Fitz John Porter. When Cooke did move, he moved at a snail's pace, refusing to leave the protection of his supporting infantry. As a result, Stuart was never challenged at any point by Cooke or anyone else for that matter, the Confederate general's most serious opponent not the Union army but the flood stage Chickahominy. Unlike many Civil War figures unfairly scapegoated for failures either real or perceived, the opprobrium heaped upon Cooke by contemporaries and later historians alike appears fully deserved.

One of the most famous events linked to the raid is the death of Confederate Captain William Latane at Linney's Corner. The officer's death inspired a popular poem by John R. Thompson and the painting The Burial of Latane became an iconic image. Curiously, Fox does not reproduce either in the book, but he does author an appendix documenting the transport of Latane's body from the battlefield and his subsequent interment. Other appendices comprise orders of battle, an analysis of the decision to continue the raid beyond Old Church, a reassessment of conflicting accounts of the route used during June 12, and a link to an online driving tour.

Complaints are few and comparatively insignificant. Fox is a fine writer of military history, but some passages speculating on the thoughts and emotions of the historical actors for dramatic effect are a bit much. Also, the modern tour route mentioned above as available online [here] is a bit skeletal in its features compared with similar efforts in other books. At this time, interested parties are best served by consulting the General's Tour feature of the Mewborn article cited below. But these are minor quibbles with what is an excellent account of an event that has been relatively neglected in the literature. Stuart's Finest Hour is highly recommended reading for students of the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, the command exploits of JEB Stuart, and Civil War cavalry operations in general.

* - arguably the best is Horace Mewborn's 1998 Blue & Gray Magazine feature article "A Wonderful Exploit: Jeb Stuart's Ride Around the Army of the Potomac."