Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hewitt, Bergeron & Schott: "CONFEDERATE GENERALS OF THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI - Volume 1: Essays on America's Civil War"

[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 (University of Tennessee Press, 2013). Hardcover, 24 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 327 pp. ISBN:978-1-57233-866-1 $54.95]

After the publication of three western theater volumes, UT Press's Confederate Generals... essay series now moves across the great river with Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi - Volume 1: Essays on America's Civil War. The format is the same, and, with the sad passing of series co-editor Art Bergeron, Thomas Schott has come on board to assist Lawrence Hewitt.

The book contains eight essays, evenly split in number between one of two general types, either a complete career military biographical survey or a 'man and moment' assessment, these moments being particular battles, campaigns, or command tenures. Among the former grouping are Bill Gurley's "Mosby Monroe Parsons: Missouri's Forgotten Brigadier", Helen Trimpi's "A 'Gallant and Prudent Commander': Major General John S. Marmaduke", "'Not Fortunate in War': Major General Thomas James Churchill" by Mark Christ, and Stuart Sanders's "Exit to Submission, Death to Dishonor: General Joseph Orville Shelby". The latter set includes: "'An Ultra and Stupid Conservatism Ruined Us': General Thomas C. Hindman Jr. and the Defense of Arkansas" by Bobby Roberts, Joseph Dawson's "Theophilus Holmes and Confederate Generalship", "'To Carry Off the Glory': Edmund Kirby Smith in 1864" by Jeffrey Prushankin, and Curtis Milbourn's "Three Days in April: Tom Green's Contributions at Carroll's Mill, Mansfield, and Pleasant Hill during the Red River Campaign".

In his mini-biography of Mosby Monroe Parsons, Gurley makes a solid case that the Missouri general should be regarded as one of the best Confederate Trans-Mississippi army brigade and division commanders. The same cannot be said for Churchill, who was much more inconsistent.  According to Christ, a fair assessment of the general's Civil War career is no easy task given that Churchill was one of those unfortunate officers plagued with bad luck.  Trimpi's attempt to elevate Marmaduke's status to that of a top flight cavalry commander is one of the weaker entries in the volume. She gamely teases out the positives of the general's performances while passing over, or minimizing, his considerable lack of success as both independent raider (ex. Springfield and Cape Girardeau) and subordinate (ex. Byrum's Ford and Mine Creek).  It's entirely possible that he would have served his cause better by remaining an infantry commander. Finally, laudatory assessments of Jo Shelby's generalship are de rigueur in the literature, and Sanders offers more of the same in his contribution. While nothing appears to be out of order, one cannot help but get the feeling that Shelby's importance continues to be a bit exaggerated. That's not to say his abilities are overrated, but his scale of influence was fairly modest until late in the war (he was not promoted to brigadier general until December 1863) and he lacked frequent opportunities to shine in independent operations. Even the results of his famous Great Raid do not impress terribly much upon sober reflection.

Heading up the second group of four articles is Bobby Roberts's account of Thomas Hindman's remarkable feat of raising a new Trans-Mississippi army out of almost nothing and creating a fledgling arms and munitions industry to support it in isolated Arkansas.  These events have been documented before, but Roberts attempts to get at the reasons behind Hindman's unprecedentedly broad imposition of martial law in Arkansas in order to achieve the ends the general deemed necessary.   According to the author, it was a series of early war observations while serving in Kentucky and Tennessee that led Hindman to go to such lengths.  Hindman was dismayed at the troop raising inefficiencies stemming from divided (state and national) authority and was determined that the same mistake would not be made in Arkansas. A first hand view of irregular warfare in central Kentucky, specifically the early career of John Hunt Morgan, may also have inspired Hindman's infamous order promoting mass partisan action in Arkansas. Lastly, there is some likelihood that the breakdown in civil order that Hindman witnessed during the Confederate retreat through Nashville, and how it could only be stemmed through martial law, influenced his policy in Arkansas, which was in a similar state of panic after the post-Pea Ridge stripping of its defenses.  It is unclear how much direct evidence in favor of these suppositions exists in Hindman's writings, but the analysis is interesting in any event. Joseph Dawson's examination of Theophilus Holmes's tenure as department commander (July 1862 - March 1863) and then district commander reinforces the conventional picture of the general's flaws.  According to Dawson, Holmes, who constantly wrote to President Davis about his unsuitability for the job at hand, should have resigned for the good of the service when replacement was not forthcoming, and it is difficult to argue against that.  Jeffrey Prushankin's views on Edmund Kirby Smith, and his troubled relationship with Richard Taylor, have been widely disseminated in print already and readers of this fine earlier work will find familiar material here.  Lastly, Curtis Milbourn examines Texas cavalryman Tom Green's performance during a trio of Red River Campaign actions. Milbourn concludes that Green is a very underappreciated figure in the pantheon of legendary Confederate cavalry generals, excelling at all command levels.   According to the author, Green did about as well as could be expected during the Red River Campaign, being hampered by the headlong rush to the Louisiana battlefields from Texas and fighting on ground unsuitable to the sweeping cavalry movements favored by Green.

Generally speaking, the articles are all products of suitably wide ranging research, but one essay does stick out like a bit of a sore thumb in terms of questionable source selection. In the Marmaduke chapter, the author is heavily reliant upon the content and analysis of a Marmaduke biography written by a widely discredited figure in Missouri Civil War historiography. Other flaws include a few too many typos and the absence of any original maps (the set included in the study consisting only of previously published drawings). In the larger scheme of things, however, none of these complaints materially detract from the core value of the essay collection taken as a whole.

Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi is recommended reading for both subject area veterans, who will appreciate the collection's excellent short form biographies of those generals still lacking proper book length treatments of their own (ex. Parsons and Churchill), and more general readers who wish to learn more about Confederate military leadership west of the Mississippi. The series is off to a good start, and future volumes are anticipated with relish.

More CWBA reviews of UTP titles:
* Rethinking Shiloh: Myth and Memory
* Ruined by This Miserable War: The Dispatches of Charles Prosper Fauconnet, a French Diplomat in New Orleans, 1863-1868
* The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee
* To the Battles of Franklin and Nashville and Beyond: Stabilization and Reconstruction in Tennessee and Kentucky, 1864-1866
* Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 3: Essays on America's Civil War
* Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 2: Essays on America’s Civil War
* Great Things Are Expected of Us: The Letters of Colonel C. Irvine Walker, 10th South Carolina Infantry, C.S.A.
* Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 1: Classic Essays on America’s Civil War
* Crimson Confederates: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South
* Yale's Confederates: A Biographical Dictionary
* The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged
* The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion
* Echoes of Thunder: A Guide to the Seven Days Battles
* Little to Eat and Thin Mud to Drink: Letters, Diaries, and Memoirs from the Red River Campaigns, 1863–1864
* Earthen Walls, Iron Men: Fort DeRussy, Louisiana, and the Defense of Red River
* Through the Howling Wilderness: The 1864 Red River Campaign and Union Failure in the West


  1. Hello Drew

    Thanks for the review. I've been looking forward to this title for a while. I found the earlier 3 volumes all very enjoyable. I hope there are going to be other volumes.

    This is part of University of Tennessee's series,
    THE WESTERN THEATER OF THE CIVIL WAR. When this series was announced, I was hoping some good biographies and regimental histories would be included. However, up to this point the series has been composed of essay compilations and one biography of John Bell Hood.


    1. That's true. The series hasn't branched out yet.

  2. Overall, this is an excellent work covering an area that is overlooked. It is worth having in your library. Marmaduke's entry is a bit weak but it does have some good information. This book is worth the price of admission! I am looking forward to the second volume.

  3. Drew,

    Thanks for the review on the first volume of the CGTMD series. I was a bit reluctant to drop the $50+ for a collection of essays, but it was worth it. I especially enjoyed the essay on Mosby M. Parsons. I didn't realize what an integral role his Missourians played in the Trans-Mississippi. Can't wait for part two of the Parsons essay.

    Thanks for your honest book reviews. It is a great service to all of us Civil War bibliophiles.


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