Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Faller: "THE INDIANA JACKASS REGIMENT IN THE CIVIL WAR: A History of the 21st Infantry / 1st Heavy Artillery Regiment, with a Roster"

[ 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 (McFarland 800-253-2187, 2013). Softcover, 23 maps, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:272/375. ISBN:978-0-7864-7046-4 $45]

Its formation authorized by the Indiana legislature in June 1861, the 21st Indiana Volunteer Infantry organized and trained at camps Morton and Sullivan under the command of Colonel James W. McMillan. Sent to Baltimore, the men saw their first "action" clearing Virginia's Eastern Shore. Ordered in March 1862 to embark for Ship Island as part of Benjamin Butler's New Orleans expedition, the Hoosiers did not stay in the east long. After spending a time manning the Crescent City defenses and conducting operations in the swamps opposite, the 21st was shipped north to occupied Baton Rouge, where they played an important role in repulsing the August 5, 1862 Confederate assault on the Louisiana capital city. After the battle, they returned to the LaFourche District.

In an unusual turn of events, the entire regiment was converted to heavy artillery in February 1863. Their first major operation as the newly designated 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery was against Fort Bisland during Nathaniel Banks's Bayou Teche Campaign. In May, most of the 1st was sent to Port Hudson (Company F was left behind in the LaFourche), where the companies were parceled out among the besieging batteries. They served there for the duration of the long, bloody siege. Later, a detachment accompanied Banks's Red River expedition. After reorganization subsequent to the expiration of the original enlistment period, the 1st participated in the closing of Mobile Bay and the later siege and capture of the inner forts protecting the port city of Mobile itself.

Well researched and with an abundantly detailed narrative, Phillip Faller's The Indiana Jackass Regiment in the Civil War is a remarkable regimental history. In addition to providing a fine account of the 21st regiment's place in the Battle of Baton Rouge itself, a very good overview of the entire engagement is provided [deserving of recognition alongside the earlier work of Ed Bearss and Thomas Richey]. The maps for this section are among the best ever created for this battle. Every bit as good are the sections covering the 21st/1st's various periods of service in SW Louisiana. Students of the 1862-63 fighting along the railroad, bayous, bays, and lakes in this hotly contested area will greatly benefit from Faller's research. However, as impressive as all these finely crafted components are, perhaps the most significant historical value resides in the Port Hudson chapters, meticulous depictions of field and siege artillery operations that go far beyond just the actions of the 1st Indiana.

When the subject of Union heavy artillery regiments is raised, the thoughts of most Civil War readers and scholars undoubtedly are directed toward those unfortunate units repurposed from static Washington garrison duty to active service as line infantry with an Army of the Potomac bled white during the 1864 Overland Campaign. Faller deserves credit for not only moving the discussion to the western theater, but also for enhancing the historiography with easily the best unit history of a heavy artillery regiment performing its originally intended branch of service specialization. Supplemental material in the form of detailed order of battle data, lists, and charts rewards the more serious student with a wealth of battery armament, munitions, unit position, and firing range data for Baton Rouge, Bisland, Port Hudson, Spanish Fort, and Fort Blakely. For the Port Hudson siege, the author's research into the artillery used by both sides corrects the historical record in several areas, including battery commander names and gun tube classifications.

Overall, there's not much to complain about beyond the need for another round of copyediting. If one really wants to quibble, the rest of the maps don't match the refined quality of the excellent Battle of Baton Rouge series. But these are only minor reservations that don't detract significantly from what is an exceptionally good unit study. Many audiences will appreciate this book. While the extensive officer biographies common to books of this type are not present here, those interested in Indiana's Civil War soldier perspectives will nevertheless find copious first hand information gleaned from manuscripts and other primary source materials, as well as a detailed roster. As one might guess from the descriptions above, artillery students are in for a real treat. Finally, significant light is shed on the oft neglected Civil War in SW Louisiana. Even those already familiar with the work of Christopher Pena, Donald Frazier, Art Bergeron, and others will find much to consider. To these individuals, and really anyone with a desire to read something truly off the beaten path of Civil War publishing, The Indiana Jackass Regiment in the Civil War is highly recommended.

[I may have missed it, but I don't recall specific mention of the origins of the "Jackass Regiment" moniker, or how the men felt about it. The infantry regiment had a mule-drawn battery of captured guns attached to it, and perhaps the siege guns were largely transported by mule. The men might also have been temporarily mounted on the beasts for a specific mission a la Joe Mower's Jackass Cavalry.]

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Greyhound Commander

Reader Don H. notified me that the next LSUP catalog is already available. Gordon Rhea fans will lament yet another year passing with no final volume from his Overland Campaign series.  The one that interests me most is a primary source history edited by Richard Lowe and titled Greyhound Commander: Confederate General John G. Walker’s History of the Civil War West of the Mississippi (September 2013). From the description:
"While a political refugee in London, former Confederate general John G. Walker wrote a history of the Civil War west of the Mississippi River. Walker’s account, composed shortly after the war and unpublished until now, remains one of only two memoirs by high-ranking Confederate officials who fought in the Trans Mississippi theater. Edited and expertly annotated by Richard Lowe—author of the definitive history of Walker’s Texas division—the general’s insightful narrative describes firsthand his experience and many other military events west of the great river."
Others directly Civil War-related:
Confederate General William Dorsey Pender: The Hope of Glory by Brian Steel Wills.
Apocalypse and the Millennium in the American Civil War Era edited by Ben Wright and Zachary W. Dresser.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Booknotes VI (Apr '13)

New Arrivals:

1. A Kansas Soldier at War: The Civil War Letters of Christian and Elise Dubach Isely by Ken Spurgeon (The History Pr, 2013).

This is a welcome study of a soldier who served in the Trans-Mississippi with the 2nd Kansas Cavalry. Isely's letters to his wife are not reproduced in full but rather as excerpts integrated into a narrative. I am not yet sure if arrangements have been made to make the full letter transcriptions available online.

2. Guerrilla Hunters in Civil War Missouri by James W. Erwin (The History Pr, 2013).

Rather than a high level overview of the counterinsurgency campaign in Missouri (though there are probably elements present), this book appears to concern itself instead with geographically representative individual accounts.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


[James Buchanan and the Coming of the Civil War edited by John W. Quist and Michael J. Birkner (University Press of Florida, 2013). Hardcover, notes, index. 299 pp. ISBN:9780813044262 $69.95]

The man many historians rate as the worst American president isn't the object of much genuine reflection in the modern Civil War era historiography. This certainly isn't the case in editors John Quist and Michael Birkner's James Buchanan and the Coming of the Civil War, a compilation of meaty essays dealing with the entirety of Old Buck's time in office. The nine chapters [8 essays by eight different scholars and an interview with William Freehling and Michael Holt] range in tone from partly sympathetic to downright hostile. As one might guess, none attempt a complete rehabilitation of the image of Buchanan but several offer compelling reasons to temper popular disdain for the Pennsylvanian Democrat.

Historian Jean Baker and legal scholar Paul Finkelman author the two most fervently condemnatory articles. Finkelman is critical of Buchanan's support for the Dred Scott decision and expresses considerable dismay at the unethical lengths Buchanan was willing to go to pressure wavering justices. The writer presents the latter as an extraordinary breach of the separation of powers, but undermines his own case by admitting in the notes what the more cynical reader already suspected, namely that politicians meddling with court cases was not unprecedented in the history of nineteenth century American governance. Finkelman's view that an early demonstration of Jacksonian resolve could have headed off the spread of secession strikes one as both a misreading of the Nullification Crisis and a misjudgment of the political realities of 1860. Baker is alone among the writers in considering Buchanan to be quasi-disunionist, a man with such deeply ingrained pro-Southern sympathies that every decision, whether consciously or unconsciously made, furthered secessionist interests. More persuasive are those that paint a picture of a solid unionist whose ideas of limited government could not countenance the type of executive action that might precipitate sectional warfare. Buchanan's essential determination that secession was illegal but the president lacked the constitutional means to prevent any state from doing it is an intellectually confounding construct for sure, but one wishes the view had been treated with enough seriousness to at least inspire a detailed critique of it somewhere in the volume.

Of course, there was more to Buchanan's presidency than the secession crisis and several essays address these topics. Nicole Etcheson applies her considerable "Bleeding Kansas" expertise to Buchanan's handling of the Lecompton Constitution, the legacy of which was a deep wedge driven between northern and southern Democrats and political enmity between the president and 1860 election hopeful Stephen Douglas. John Belohlavek's contribution reminds readers of the foreign policy successes of the Buchanan administration, those that advanced American security and/or business interests in Asia, the Pacific Northwest, Central America, and the Caribbean. One of the better articles is William MacKinnon's analysis of the Utah crisis and military expedition. MacKinnon credits the president with finally addressing the problem of Brigham Young's theocratic governorship of Utah Territory, a thorny issue sidestepped by predecessor Franklin Pierce. On the other hand, the writer argues persuasively that Buchanan bungled the Utah situation with poor leadership appointments, badly informed decisions on the use of the military, deficiencies in establishing communications, and burdening the country with a huge debt load. An interesting question is whether any useful comparisons can be made between how Buchanan handled this first instance of rebellion and the second far more serious one. The answer remains unclear, but MacKinnon notes that it is not unreasonable to suppose that bad memories of decisive federal action in Utah informed a more passive approach to southern secession. MacKinnon also remarks upon the research of Jane Flaherty, whose work enumerating the considerable cost of the Utah War found that the abysmal condition of the federal treasury at the time of the 1860 election undoubtedly constrained Lincoln's options early on. Different from Etcheson, Belohlavek, and MacKinnon, Michael Morrison takes a more general look at Buchanan's presidential leadership. Along with the Freehling and Holt interview, his contribution makes the case that Democratic Party corruption was a significant campaign issue in 1860, a factor still underappreciated in the literature. Michael Holt mentions in the interview section that historian Michael Burlingame remains adamant that Republican use of the corruption issue was vital to Lincoln's electoral victory. If that be the case, or something close to it, one wishes that an essay more specifically devoted to corruption was solicited for this compilation.

Finally, readers are taken back to the secession crisis with articles by William Shade and Daniel Crofts. Shade summarizes the response to secession above the Mason-Dixon Line, emphasizing the fragmented nature of northern political opinion. Daniel Crofts takes the novel approach of viewing the crisis through the lens of Buchanan's relationship with Secretary of War Joseph Holt, a rare Lincoln administration figure who continued to view his first presidential boss with warm respect. Predictably, opinions of Buchanan's handling of the secession crisis vary among the contributors. Crofts formulates his own perspective especially well, and there does seem to be a wider willingness among the writers to at least consider a more respectful appreciation of Buchanan's actions (and inaction) in the face of an unprecedented political catastrophe. Paramount to Buchanan during his last few months in office was the avoidance of a shooting war, the maintenance of Border and Upper South states within the Union, and the buying of time for compromise to exert itself as it had always done in the past. All of this was achieved, although at the cost of allowing federal arsenals and other Deep South government properties to be confiscated without opposition or stern warning. Buchanan could not have known that compromise or reassurance was impossible with a silent president-elect and immoveable Republican legislators. What could or should have been done to prevent further federal humiliations in the form of installation seizures in the southern states remains controversial, but the preponderance of evidence supports wider secession and an immediate outbreak of general war rather than some kind of fantasy that would involve southern hotheads backing down. Unmentioned in the book is the immense difficulties bloodshed of several month's duration would have conferred upon the nuts and bolts transfer of power to Lincoln, a situation made even more difficult given the drastic change from a Democratic establishment to a brand new political organization of untested unity. Really, if one compares the actions of Buchanan to those of Lincoln between his inauguration and the firing on Fort Sumter there is little to choose between the two.

James Buchanan and the Coming of the Civil War is not a rehabilitation of the current image of the 15th president of the United States, nor was it intended to be, but what it is is a much needed, and satisfyingly comprehensive, reassessment of the Buchanan presidency from a variety of informed perspectives. This is one of the must-read political history books of the year. While the hefty price tag will likely preclude its addition to most home libraries, it is sincerely hoped that most academic institutions and many public libraries will add this exceptional compilation to their collection.

More CWBA reviews of UPF titles:
* A Civil War Gunboat in Pacific Waters: Life on Board USS Saginaw
* Thunder on the River: The Civil War in Northeast Florida
* The Southern Mind Under Union Rule: The Diary of James Rumley, Beaufort, North Carolina, 1862-1865
* A Brief Guide to Florida's Monuments and Memorials
* Huts and History: The Historical Archaeology of Military Encampment During the American Civil War
* Archaeological Perspectives on the American Civil War

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Booknotes V (Apr '13)

New Arrivals:

1. Grant at Vicksburg: The General and the Siege by Michael B. Ballard (SIUP, 2013).

This the first book length history of the siege portion of the Vicksburg Campaign to appear since the publication of the third volume of Bearss's trilogy. Where Bearss delved into the on-the-ground minutiae associated with each of a series of Vicksburg siege approaches, Ballard offers a more top down "in-depth exploration of Grant’s thoughts and actions during this critical operation."

2. The 6th United States Cavalry in the Civil War: A History and Roster by Donald C. Caughey and Jimmy J. Jones (McFarland, 2013).

Early adopting followers of Civil War blogs and Crossed Sabers in particular will know that Don Caughey has been working on this project, a well researched unit history and detailed roster, for a long time.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hess: "KENNESAW MOUNTAIN: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign"

[Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign by Earl Hess (University of North Carolina Press, 2013). Hardcover, 21 maps, table, photos, orders of battle, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:242/337. ISBN:978-0-4696-0211-0 $35]

Although several 1864 Atlanta Campaign overview histories have been published, by far the deepest being Albert Castel's deservedly celebrated Decision in the West (1992), battle studies remain scarce. Thankfully, Earl Hess has addressed this deficiency for the period from late June through early July in exemplary fashion with his new book Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign.

The meat of the book begins with Kolb's Farm, but the set up text and maps together comprise one of the best summarizations in brief (less than 30 pages) of the military campaign up to that point, accounting for nine successive Confederate fortified lines between Dalton and Kennesaw Mountain, but particularly useful in understanding the period June 5 - June 19. A full chapter is devoted to Kolb's Farm, a battle that highlighted both John Bell Hood's inaptitude for higher levels of command and the growing danger to the left flank of Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee, which was deployed in a semi-circular line covering Marietta and anchored on the twin eminences of Big and Little Kennesaw.

For the June 27 Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, General Sherman committed only eight brigades from his massive army group. Although skirmish fire broke out all along the front, the relatively small number of isolated attacks afforded Hess the opportunity to explore each attack in detail, a task he attends to with the considerable descriptive and analytical skill one expects from one of today's very best Civil War military historians.

The battlefield terrain, the extremely rugged natural landscape as well as the field fortifications designed by the Confederates to exploit any advantages offered by the local geography, played a critical role in breaking up and stalling the Union assaults. In Kennesaw Mountain, readers of Hess's earlier three-volume series on eastern theater field fortifications will find the same depth and type of information for the fieldworks around Kennesaw. The battlefield today offers the best example of a continuous line of preserved earthworks in the entire park system, and their shape and arrangement at key points are wonderfully illustrated by the author's field note-based drawings. The locations and course of other features, like skirmisher pits, traverses, reserve lines, redoubts, batteries, and communication trenches, are also traced [note: most of this material is located in the appendix]. The only complaint associated with the maps is the rather bare look to them.  With the focus on unit locations and defensive line arrangements, the drawings omit natural terrain features outside of streams and ridge lines.

Each attack -- Fifteenth Corps opposite Pigeon Hill, the Fourth Corps fronting Patrick Cleburne's division south of the Dallas Road, and the Fourteenth Corps against Cheatham Hill -- is minutely detailed. The latter, famously undertaken by the brigades of McCook and Mitchell and the one lodged closest to the Confederate works, has slightly more space devoted to it. This is understandable, given the great level of sustained fighting and the post-battle controversy over whether more might have been achieved if the gallant McCook had not fallen. A factor common to each attack was the deep column formation employed, a choice lamented by both contemporary officers and modern historians. Thick undergrowth and deep gullies located between the lines served to break up the columns before contact, and enemy regiments, able to concentrate their fire both directly and obliquely upon a narrow front, induced the Union attackers to go to ground, stalling the assault. Hess makes an excellent additional point in questioning the decision to deploy each brigade in a column of regiments. By this time in the war, regiments were so reduced in size that the width of the columns were imprudently narrow. Sherman himself comes under a great deal of criticism in the literature (much of it deserved) for tactical blundering on many battlefields, but it should be remembered for Kennesaw that he left it to his subordinates to choose where and how to conduct their attacks. In addition to an unusual, but refreshing, amount of attention paid to formation arrangements, Hess also fashions in these chapters one of the literature's best characterization of the type of brutal and sustained close-range fighting associated with the perfection of field fortifications and no-man's-land obstructions during the final year of the war.

In addition to the heavier assaults, the same day extension of the Union right flank and the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Corps demonstrations against Big Kennesaw and the Confederate far right are also recounted. The book ends with Sherman's reinforcement in the days following the battle of the flank march begun on the 27th. This movement forced Johnston to once again abandon a strongly fortified position, stopping briefly at Smyrna Station before retreating south across the Chattahoochee River.

Hess's history of the battle certainly offers little that would aid Sherman's attempts at self-justification in the wake of his army group's failed Kennesaw assaults. The fear (unrealistic as it was in hindsight) that Johnston might detach part of his army to reinforce Lee in Virginia was present throughout the entire campaign, with nothing particularly distinguishing Kennesaw from other enemy positions that were turned rather than attacked. It is also equally puzzling to reader and author alike that, given how easily and quickly Johnston was flanked out of his Kennesaw position after the battle, Sherman would have deemed it necessary to attack the strongest works he'd yet encountered. There was no reason to believe that Johnston would not yet again simply retreat when threatened. Similarly, there is nothing exceptional about the Kennesaw position that should have induced Sherman to believe his own communications vulnerable there any more than any of the other times he temporarily abandoned them in order to conduct turning movements. The only line of reasoning that Hess seems to have at least some sympathy for is the 'experiment' argument, with Sherman testing the defenses with a deliberately small part of his army in order to reduce the consequences of any failure. Even here, the extent of the casualties would argue against this. Regardless, the defeat was minor in the overall scheme of things, and Sherman quickly righted the ship, getting back to the maneuver warfare he did best.

Demonstrating exhaustive research, abundant visual aids, and unusually thoughtful approaches to operational and tactical discussion and analysis, Kennesaw Mountain is everything serious Civil War military history readers want from modern battle studies. Beyond this more general appreciation of the value of Earl Hess's work, the completely satisfying manner in which this book bridges a significant gap in the Atlanta Campaign historiography makes it all the more indispensable to the Civil War library.

More CWBA reviews of UNC Press titles:
* With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other: The Problem of Military Thought in the Civil War North
* The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi
* Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina
* West Pointers and the Civil War: The Old Army in War and Peace
* Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign (link to author interview)
* A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (link to author interview)
* In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat
* The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864
* Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign
* Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession
* Trench Warfare under Grant & Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign
* Plain Folk’s Fight: The Civil War & Reconstruction in Piney Woods Georgia
* Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign
* Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Booknotes IV (Apr '13)

New Arrivals:

1. Lee's Army During the Overland Campaign: A Numerical Study by Alfred C. Young III (LSU Pr, 2013).

Few historians in the Civil War field embark on the type of serious number study that can convincingly confirm, revise, or even completely overturn accepted figures associated with significant military events. In this book, Young does so for the Army of Northern Virginia in the Overland Campaign. He claims that Lee's command "stood far larger in strength and size and suffered considerably higher casualties than previously believed". His is a thick study, divided evenly between (a) a narrative examination of the actions, and losses sustained, of each infantry and cavalry brigade (and artillery battalion) in the campaign, and (b) a series of supporting tables, maps, and notes.

2. Heaven's Soldiers: Free People of Color and the Spanish Legacy in Antebellum Florida by Frank Marroti, Jr. (Univ of Ala Press, 2013).

From the publisher description: "Heaven’s Soldiers chronicles the history of a community of free people of African descent who lived and thrived, while resisting the constraints of legal bondage, in East Florida in the four decades leading up to the Civil War" ... "Marotti surveys black opportunities and liabilities under the Spaniards; successful defenses of black rights in the 1820s as well as chilling statutory assaults on those rights; the black community’s complex involvement in the Patriot War and the Second Seminole War; black migration in the two decades leading up to the US Civil War; and African American efforts to preserve marriage and emancipation customs, and black land ownership."

Friday, April 12, 2013

Arkansas Late in the Civil War: The 8th Missouri Volunteer Cavalry, 1864-1865

One of the great things about The History Press's Civil War Sesquicentennial series is its willingness to embrace subject matter that most publishers wouldn't even consider. Sure, they do many titles of a commercial nature, but they also release more narrow interest histories like this West Point battle study. A book that should raise the antennae of Trans-Mississippi students is David Casto's soon to be released Arkansas Late in the Civil War: The 8th Missouri Volunteer Cavalry, 1864-1865 (May 2013). Message board postings are my only exposure to the author, but he strikes as a serious and diligent researcher. Modern Union Missouri cavalry regimental studies are rare, as are glimpses at late-period Civil War Arkansas, so the book intrigues me on more than one level.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cook, Barney & Varon: "SECESSION WINTER: When the Union Fell Apart"

[Secession Winter: When the Union Fell Apart by Robert J. Cook, William L. Barney, and Elizabeth R. Varon (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013). Softcover, notes, reading guide, index. Pages main/total:98/127. ISBN:978-1-4214-0896-5 $19.95]

Secession Winter is a publication spawned from three Cunliffe Lecture Series [University of Sussex's Marcus Cunliffe Centre for the Study of the American South] presentations by historians Robert Cook, William Barney, and Elizabeth Varon. The introduction establishes the big picture, but the essays drill down to either specific events or smaller segments of broader themes, all significantly associated with the controversial five-month period surrounding the winter of 1860-61.

By providing numerous examples from the private writings of religious leaders and wealthy slaveowners, the opening essay by William Barney highlights the Upper and Lower South divide over the moral implications of slavery. Unlike the Upper South, which had more acceptable outlets for anxiety, doubt, and debate, the Lower South's guilt over slavery (conscious or not) could only be expressed through a form of "denial, repression, and projection that so distorted their perception of reality, ... the whites in the Lower South ignored all the risks involved" (pg. 10) in secession. For Cotton Belt planters, secession was the only relief from being constantly peppered with northern abolitionists assaults on the moral foundations of their society. One always treads on shaky ground when attempting to psychoanalyze previous generations, but there is surely something to the idea. One's own life experiences find retrenchment in the face of withering criticism, whether the target recognizes he or she is in the wrong or not, to be a far more universal human response than one of reflection, openness to opposing views, and commitment to change.

Elizabeth Varon's piece on Robert E. Lee's decision to resign from the U.S. Army makes several interesting points. In it, she interprets Lee's public and private justifications for his action (only defense of Virginia and family are mentioned in his statements) as rebukes of both northern and Confederate radicals. The qualification is such that many newspapers questioned his loyalty well into the war, at least until the Seven Days. According to Varon, Lee as committed southern nationalist developed later, with the binding effects of the war's bloodshed and shared sacrifice on and off the battlefield. This probably accurately describes the transformation of many Upper South conditional unionists. She also notes the secessionist propaganda value (unintended by Lee, of course) of Lee's resignation and acceptance of the leadership of Virginia state forces. It was a significant demonstration that the separatist movement, so resoundingly rejected by Virginians a short time earlier, had a place for well respected moderates.

Robert Cook's final chapter examines the use of selective historical memory in the promotion of causes, both for the Union and for secession. Both sides promoted self-serving interpretations of the meaning of the American War of Independence, with northerners emphasizing shared history and nationalization and Deep South secessionists trumpeting the right of revolution. Republicans and their allies constantly raised the specter of a Slave Power conspiracy as reason to reject further compromise in the issue of extension of slavery in the territories. On the other side, southern partisans proclaimed the existence of a popular northern led war on slavery, while not mentioning the Kansas-Nebraska Act nor the fraudulent Lecompton Constitution that a northern Democratic president endorsed. Throughout, Cook uses an apt term, the "grievance narrative", to characterize the use of synthetic history -- selection of politically useful supporting elements while discarding "inconvenient facts" -- as a means of marshaling popular support for a cause.

Readers seeking all encompassing treatments of events from this period would be best advised to consult seminal works such as those authored by William Freehling, Kenneth Stampp, David Potter, and Russell McClintock [Secession Winter's reading list considers Stampp, Potter, and McClintock to be the Big 3 on the subject], but those already intimately familiar with the literature should still be able to find points of interest in the three essays comprising this collection*.

* - Varon, especially, considers her views expressed in her essay to be different from all previous interpretations of Lee's resignation. At the two poles lie Douglas Southall Freeman's influential opinion that it was a decision Lee was "born to make" and Alan Nolan's much more recent view that it was one of base treason. In Varon's opinion, the mass of other published explanation attempts can all be ultimately traced back to Freeman's emotional foundation. In contrast, Varon lends the most weight to a calculated thought process on Lee's part.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Booknotes III (Apr '13)

New Arrivals:

1. The Big Divide: A Travel Guide to Historic and Civil War Sites in the Missouri-Kansas Border Region by Diane Eickhoff and Aaron Barnhart (Quindaro Pr, 2013).

This is a natural, historical and cultural site register and driving tour guide to the MO-KS border. For our purposes here, there are large sections devoted to the Bleeding Kansas and Civil War periods.

2. Civil War Battlegrounds: The Illustrated History of the War's Pivotal Battles and Campaigns by Richard Sauers (Zenith Pr, 2013).

Synopses of battles selected from all three theaters, complemented by photos, maps (contemporary and modern), and drawings.

Monday, April 8, 2013

"About Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, U.S. Army Volunteers and Wilson's Creek"

Before I came across About Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, U.S. Army Volunteers and Wilson's Creek by Hardy A. Kemp (Author, 1978) in a recent visit to my favorite local bookstore, I thought I was familiar with all the modern book length treatments of the campaign. No publisher or even a publishing date is mentioned in its pages, so the assumption is that it is self-published with the given date corresponding to the one attached to an author appreciation piece inside written by a Missouri state senator. Initially, as Hardy does not mention Bearss's work, I thought the manuscript was written much earlier, but the notes do cite works from the early to mid 1970s. Online used book outlets and bibliographical listings confirm the 1978 date so that's good enough for me, I guess.

As the title suggests, the book is a combination Lyon biography and examination of the general's role in the 1861 Missouri Campaign. The study does not go as far as Lyon biographer Christopher Phillips went in attempting to drill inside their subject's psyche, but Kemp does offer a portrait of Lyon's volatile personality using contemporary sources (salient among these the writings of Thomas Snead, James Peckham, and Drs. Ashbel Woodward and William Hammond).  The picture of Lyon that emerges is the fairly typical one of an officer with rigid beliefs in the areas of slavery, military duty, and federal supremacy, while at the same time unabashedly insubordinate and entirely intolerant of dissenting views.

Kemp also studies the ways that Lyon's West Point education and his experiences in the Mexican War and antebellum Far West Indian conflicts informed his Civil War generalship.  The most helpful professional development section deals with practical lessons learned from the Mexican War, although the author's criticism of Lyon's artillery deployments at Wilson's Creek as not indicative of best practices learned from that conflict is strikingly unpersuasive.  It's a small part of the book overall, but the discussion of Lyon's tactical and command failings at Wilson's Creek is where I found the study's freshest material and most trenchant analysis. Kemp favors comparison via excerpts from some translation of Jomini, but the principles cited are common sense observations of military history and practice more than anything else.

The choice of constructing the book as a hybrid of sequential thematic analysis with narrative makes it a structural mess, and better books exist in the arenas of Lyon biography and Wilson's Creek battle history, but there are more than enough thoughtful bits and pieces spread throughout Kemp's study to recommend it to those with a special interest in both subjects (if a copy can be found!).

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Booknotes II (Apr '13)

New Arrivals:

1. Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War by David C. Keehn (LSU Pr, 2013).

Finally, a modern study dedicated to the KGC, hopefully offering a compelling case for the true size, power, and influence of this shadowy organization mentioned in the pages of so many Civil War era history books. The blurbs on the back cover make it pretty clear the author believes that the KGC was a widespread organization that should be credited with an even more forceful Civil War presence than previous scholars have allowed.

2. Milliken's Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory by Linda Barnickel (LSU Pr, 2013).

This is the first book length history of Milliken's Bend, with equal emphasis on the battle and its larger meaning to the soldiers themselves, the newly formalized emancipation war aim, and attitudes toward the use of black soldiers in the field.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Kohl: "THE PRAIRIE BOYS GO TO WAR: The Fifth Illinois Cavalry, 1861-1865"

[The Prairie Boys Go to War: The Fifth Illinois Cavalry, 1861-1865 by Rhonda M. Kohl (Southern Illinois University Press, 2013). Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:260/317. ISBN:9780809332038 $39.95]

With no spotlight performances during any major western battle or famous raid, the 5th Illinois Cavalry's labors in obscurity over vast areas of Union occupied Arkansas and Mississippi were nonetheless essential in their own way. Additionally, western cavalry regimental histories with keen military and cultural insights remain rare, making Rhonda Kohl's The Prairie Boys Go to War: The Fifth Illinois Cavalry, 1861-1865 well worthy of attention.

On the face of it, many readers will be unimpressed with the 5th's military pedigree, but students of counter-guerrilla operations in the Trans-Mississippi and post-Vicksburg Campaign scouting and raiding in Mississippi will be treated to impressive accounts of events only lightly touched upon in the existing literature. Organized in August 1861, the "prairie boys" spent the balance of the year training in their home state. February 1862 saw them enter neighboring Missouri, where they did pacification duty in the extreme SE part of the state and eventually joined the Union invasion of NE Arkansas. It was during this time that the 5th received their first taste of guerrilla warfare. From July through October, sickly Helena, Arkansas was the regiment's home. Here, clashes with both regular and irregular Confederate opponents frequently occurred. The next month, the Illinoisans crossed the Mississippi River and participated in the Grenada Expedition, a mounted raid launched in conjunction with U.S. Grant's overland approach on Vicksburg. The men returned to Helena but became a permanent part of Grant's army during the final 1863 campaign to capture the Hill City, operating primarily in the Mechanicsburg Corridor, where they screened the rear of the besieging Union army and kept an eye out to the east for Joseph Johnston's Confederate relief army. After Vicksburg's fall, the regiment took part in the recapture of Jackson and a raid to the north that promised much but delivered little. The author goes into some detail reciting the cavalry's role in the ensuing Meridian Expedition, where the 5th fought at Jackson, Hillsborough, and Meridian itself. The unit reorganized with enough reenlistments to qualify for veteran status, but, with the exception of Osband's Raid, the rest of the war was spent in mostly uneventful occupation duty. Overall, Kohl does an excellent job of documenting these more obscure military happenings in Arkansas and Mississippi, many of the latter having received little attention in the decades since park service historian Ed Bearss first covered them in print.

But there is more to The Prairie Boys Go to War than tales of military exploits. Given the 5th regiment's geographical area of operation, bad water and deadly mosquito-borne diseases were constant companions. With Helena, Arkansas's reputation as one of the most pestilential postings in all of the South, it is no surprise the Illinoisans's overall health declined greatly during their extended tour there. Oddly enough, the regiment suffered far more disease deaths around Vicksburg in 1864, than Helena in 1862, although there is little doubt that many of the Mississippi dead had their constitutions previously comprised in Arkansas.

Culture at the command level and in the ranks, and it's effects on the cohesion and performance of the regiment, is one of the best developed themes of the book. Companies were drawn from all over Illinois, with a large contingent hailing from the conservative Democratic bastion of southern counties known as "Egypt". Ideological tensions were only enhanced when the field grade officer appointments went predominantly Republican. According to Kohl, the volatile situation was worsened by the fact that the officers were collectively a poor lot with a high rate of turnover. In the Civil War, regiments situated thus often performed unevenly on the battlefield and exhibited discipline problems such as widespread plundering, an apt description of the 5th's reputation. What did unite the men, however, was their zeal for the Union. While many did not approve of the Emancipation Proclamation, men of all political stripes had little patience for those on the home front that actively opposed the war.

The book's bibliography is certainly consistent with the work of a dedicated scholar with ten years of research and published articles dealing with the 5th Illinois behind her. Within the volume are a good number of maps conveying useful detail, but the choice to make them schematic rather than accurate renderings to scale was a bit disappointing. Also, more drawings tracing the paths of some of the lesser known raids that were covered in the text would have been very helpful. It should also be mentioned that the book is not a roster history, and the fact that the study ends abruptly is not a problem as the author plans another volume covering the post-war experiences of the veterans.

The Prairie Boys Go to War does in excellent fashion what so many Civil War regimental histories continue to do poorly, namely strike a satisfactory balance between a detailed military record of a unit's service and a critical exploration of the societal values brought to it by those that fill its ranks. In addition to pleasing demanding students in those two areas, the book's contributions to Civil War medical history, occupation studies, and guerrilla warfare are also significant. Add to that the overall scarcity of modern treatments of western cavalry units serving in the Union army, and we really have something of award worthy mention in Rhonda Kohl's study.

[ed. 4/4: the roster is hosted by the publisher's website and available for download as a .pdf]

More CWBA reviews of SIUP titles:
* 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

Monday, April 1, 2013

Booknotes (Apr '13)

New Arrivals:

1. Secession Winter: When the Union Fell Apart by Robert J. Cook, William L. Barney, and Elizabeth R. Varon (Johns Hopkins UP, 2013).

A variety of perspectives on this important period continue to emerge in the scholarly literature, and I always enjoy learning from them. Some of my favorite books from the past decade, like those from Russell McClintock and William Cooper, deal with the subject. This slim volume has three sections, each written by one of the co-authors: "Barney contends that white southerners were driven to secede by anxiety and guilt over slavery. Varon takes a new look at Robert E. Lee's decision to join the Confederacy. Cook argues that both northern and southern politicians claimed the rightness of their cause by constructing selective narratives of historical grievances".

2. The 14th Brooklyn Regiment in the Civil War: A History and Roster by Frank Callenda (McFarland, 2013).

This unit history, which also includes an extensive roster, provides a complete narrative rundown of the 14th's Civil War military service from First Bull Run through Spotsylvania Court House.

3. Captives in Blue: The Civil War Prisons of the Confederacy by Roger Pickenpaugh (U of Ala Pr, 2013).

If there was ever a publishing lull in the arena of Civil War prisons, Pickenpaugh has surely picked up the slack. His other recent works include Camp Chase and the Evolution of Union Prison Policy and Captives in Gray: The Civil War Prisons of the Union. In this study, he "tackles issues such as the ways the Confederate Army contended with the growing prison population, the variations in the policies and practices in the different Confederate prison camps, the effects these policies and practices had on Union prisoners, and the logistics of prisoner exchanges. Digging further into prison policy and practices, Pickenpaugh explores conditions that arose from conscious government policy decisions and conditions that were the product of local officials or unique local situations. One issue unique to Captives in Blue is the way Confederate prisons and policies dealt with African American Union soldiers. Black soldiers held captive in Confederate prisons faced uncertain fates; many former slaves were returned to their former owners, while others were tortured in the camps. Drawing on prisoner diaries, Pickenpaugh provides compelling first-person accounts of life in prison camps often overlooked by scholars in the field".

4. James F. Jaquess: Scholar, Soldier and Private Agent for President Lincoln by Patricia B. Burnette (McFarland, 2013).

This guy had a pretty colorful life. On the one hand, he was the chaplain of the 6th Illinois Cavalry, colonel of the 73rd Illinois infantry, and a personal emissary of Lincoln, but on the other he was tried for murder, failed at business, and served time in prison.