Sunday, January 20, 2013

Daniel: "BATTLE OF STONES RIVER: The Forgotten Conflict Between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland"

[Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict Between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland by Larry J. Daniel (Louisiana State University Press, 2012). Hardcover, 13 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, appendices, index. Pages main/total:225/327. ISBN:978-0-8071-4516-6  $38.50]

With existing modern studies from James L. McDonough, Peter Cozzens, and Lanny K. Smith1, saying the Battle of Stones River is a 'forgotten' conflict goes a bit too far, but one can make an argument that, for such a staggeringly bloody fight (in raw casualty numbers and especially as a percentage of those engaged), it remains unjustly overshadowed by the other great battles of the Civil War. However, the Sesquicentennial publication of Larry Daniel's Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict Between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland just might renew interest in the battle. In largely admirable fashion, Daniel applies his western theater expertise toward a battle history that can both introduce new readers to the subject as well as act as a useful refresher course for the older guard.

At less than 250 pages of narrative, Battle of Stones River is a mid-sized battle study. The tactical scale alternates between brigade and regiment, moving quickly from one sector of the battlefield to the next, never lingering for extended periods on tactical minutiae. This moderate complexity, combined with clear writing substantially enhanced by first person accounts gleaned from a vast array of manuscript sources, will broaden the book's appeal. The negative effect of this jumping about from one detailed action point to the next is the potential of the reader losing sight of the big picture. Unfortunately, Daniel does not do enough to ameliorate this potentiality, largely failing to reorient readers to the entire battlefield situation at regular intervals [if I recall correctly, Cozzens' book had the same issue].

Readers familiar with the secondary literature for Stones River probably will not encounter much in the way of earth shattering revelation (on the main points, the narrative is fairly conventional), but there are subtle analytical differences noted throughout. As an example, one of Daniel's most interesting claims is that all previous histories have badly undercounted the actual numbers present in the Union army (over 55,000 vs. the traditional present for duty in the low to mid 40s). This is such a profound revision that one wishes for more documentation2. Also, while it is commonly known that Rosecrans was a devout Catholic, Daniel's presentation of the degree by which the Union commander alienated subordinates with favoritism directed toward Catholic generals is a fresh way of looking at the command structure and relationships of the Army of the Cumberland3.

In terms of performance, the Army of Tennessee put in its typical effort, a smashing initial attack that eventually unraveled due to poor coordination, faulty battlefield intelligence, and lack of reserves necessary to exploit gains. Daniel correctly chastises Bragg for poor utilization of his mounted arm, sending Wheeler off to raid the Union rear rather than operating closely on the army's flanks, a choice the western army leadership repeated throughout the war. In another pattern formed from the beginning of Bragg's tenure as head of the Army of Tennessee, several division leaders ill served their commander. John McCown spoiled early success by not cooperating with his colleagues to the right in their attempts to roll up the Union flank, and John C. Breckinridge is faulted for misleading Bragg with his poor grasp of the situation east of Stones River on December 31. On the Union side, the reader is presented with a similarly familiar series of heroes and goats, among the former Philip Sheridan and the latter Alexander McCook. Given the arrival of fresh troops from Nashville, and the revision in pre-battle numbers, Daniel's criticism of Rosecrans' lack of determined pursuit gains more weight.

Most of what I would assail the book upon centers on cartography and editing. The maps included in the book are fine, but more were needed to bridge some of the gaps. Also, more large-scale situational maps were needed (there's only a single drawing noting the brigade positions of both armies at the start of the battle) to at least partially offset the aforementioned lack of big picture support within the narrative. On the proofreading front, typos were unusually numerous for an LSU Press title. The book also ends a bit abruptly. With the lion's share of the final chapter centering on post-battle Confederate command dissention, less than two pages are reserved for discussing the wider meaning (or lack of meaning) of the victory to the citizens of the North.

In terms of narrative scale, Daniel's book is quite similar to Cozzens' No Better Place to Die, although it surpasses the earlier work in depth of research, especially in manuscript and newspaper resources. While not approaching the monumental dimensions of tactical micro-history presented in Lanny K. Smith's two volume study of the battle, Daniel's descriptive level is certainly more than adequate for the purposes of the vast majority of readers, serious and casual students alike. Aside from the flaws mentioned above, a powerful argument could be made that Battle of Stones River should now assume the role of standard work on the subject, the single work best serving the needs of the widest number of readers.

1 - Stones River: Bloody Winter in Tennessee by James Lee McDonough (Univ of Tenn Pr, 1981),  No Better Place to Die: The Battle of Stones River by Peter Cozzens (Univ of Ill Pr, 1989), and Lanny Kelton Smith's The Stone's River Campaign 26 December 1862 - 5 January 1863: The Union Army (Author, 2008) and The Stone's River Campaign 26 December 1862 - 5 January 1863: Army of Tennessee (Author, 2010).
2 - Daniel simply asserts that after battle strengths have been used and a brigade was missing altogether (the footnote provides only the author's wing/corps strength estimates). Incorporating these new numbers into the book's order of battle or analyzing them in an appendix would have been helpful in solidifying acceptance of this new insight, although Civil War historians as a whole have been remarkably stubborn in sticking with traditional, even if convincingly debunked, army strength numbers.
3 - Perhaps the subject of religious favoritism was also raised in Daniel's earlier book length study of the Army of the Cumberland, but I don't recall it being mentioned elsewhere in the literature as a pervasive impression formed by Rosecrans's subordinates.

More CWBA reviews of LSU Press titles:

* Granbury's Texas Brigade: Diehard Western Confederates
* The Last Battle of the Civil War: United States Versus Lee, 1861-1883
* Confederate Guerrilla: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia
* Lincoln and Citizens' Rights in Civil War Missouri: Balancing Freedom and Security
* War No More: The Antiwar Impulse in American Literature, 1861-1914
* Isham G. Harris of Tennessee: Confederate Governor and United States Senator
* Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community 1861-1865
* Mosquito Soldiers: Malaria, Yellow Fever, and the Course of the American Civil War
* Homegrown Yankees: Tennessee's Union Cavalry in the Civil War
* John Bankhead Magruder: A Military Reappraisal
* A Wisconsin Yankee in the Confederate Bayou Country: The Civil War Reminiscences of a Union General
* Bleeding Borders: Race, Gender, and Violence in Pre-Civil War Kansas
* Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era
* Where Men Only Dare to Go Or the Story of a Boy Company, C.S.A.
* Encyclopedia of Civil War Shipwrecks
* Walker’s Texas Division, C.S.A.: Greyhounds of the Trans-Mississippi
* The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew's Regiment of Mounted Rifles
* A Crisis In Confederate Command: Edmund Kirby Smith, Richard Taylor, And The Army Of The Trans-Mississippi
* The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock

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