Thursday, October 31, 2013

Morgan's Great Raid

Morgan's Great Raid will be the subject of Blue & Gray Magazine's Volume XXX Issue #2. It's been visited before in Vols. XII and XV, but I don't mind as the magazine's main feature (the historical narrative and "General's Tour") just gets better and better over time.  Plus, site preservation is always in flux (in both positive and negative ways) and updates are welcome.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Trans-Mississippi unit reference books

Jane aka "The Trans-Mississippian" just posted a short piece [here] about three of her favorite reference guides to military units raised by states located west of the big river.  I fully concur with her thoughts on their scholarly value and the need for more books of this type.  We do have the Sifakis series, but new volumes with the authority of those mentioned in Jane's post would be very welcome indeed.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Booknotes VII (Oct '13)

New Arrivals:

1. Montana Territory and the Civil War: A Frontier Forged on the Battlefield by Ken Robison (The History Pr, 2013).

This book provides a brief history of the Civil War role of Montana Territory (with a presumed focus on the mining camps), but the largest part of the text is devoted to individual stories.

2. The Maltby Brothers' Civil War by Norman C. Delaney (TAMU Pr, 2013).

Beyond the Maltby family story, I am looking forward to seeing how much and how well Delaney exploits the opportunity to also inform readers about the bigger picture of the Civil War in South Texas.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fort Pillow books

Way back in 2005, around the time John Cimprich's Fort Pillow study was being published, Greg Urwin mentioned to me that two more Ft. Pillow studies of some promise were in the works. He wasn't able to provide any specific information at the time, but did note that Oklahoma [he's the general editor of their Campaigns and Commanders series] was the prospective publisher of one, making it likely that Brian Steel Wills's upcoming spring 2014 release The River Was Dyed with Blood: Nathan Bedford Forrest and Fort Pillow is one of the candidates. Perhaps The Fort Pillow Massacre: North, South, and the Status of African Americans in the Civil War Era is the other.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Booknotes VI (Oct '13)

October continues to be a busy month for releases, or at least ones sent my way.

New Arrivals:

1. Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri: The Long Civil War on the Border edited by Jonathan Earle & Diane Mutti Burke (Univ Pr of Kansas, 2013).
"Essays on "Slavery and Politics of Law and Order along the Border" examine how the border region was transformed by the conflict over the status of slavery in Kansas Territory and how the emerging conflict on the Kansas-Missouri border took on a larger national significance. Other essays focus on the transition to total warfare and examine the wartime experiences of the diverse people who populated the region in "Making the Border Bleed." Final articles on "The Border Reconstructed and Remembered" explore the ways in which border residents rebuilt their society after the war and how they remembered it decades later."

2. A Quaker Officer in the Civil War: Henry Gawthrop of the 4th Delaware by Justin Carisio (The History Pr, 2013).

The author incorporates Gawthrop's memoir into his own narrative of the officer's Civil War service.

3. The Battle of Fisher's Hill: Breaking the Shenandoah Valley's Gibraltar by Jonathan A. Noyalas (The History Pr, 2013).

A very brief battle study intended for a popular audience, the research appears to be adequate for the purpose. It could use some more maps, though.

4. Robert E. Lee in War and Peace: The Photographic History of a Confederate and American Icon by Donald Hopkins (Savas Beatie, 2013).

This is a handsome collection of Lee images, the author searching archives and collections for all known photographs of the general.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Citizen General

I've always had deep respect for Jacob Cox, a civilian who thrived in both independent and subordinate command roles during the Civil War, so I'll be looking to get a copy of Eugene Schmiel's Citizen-General: Jacob Dolson Cox and the Civil War Era (Ohio Univ Pr, April '14) next spring. Be prepared for sticker shock on this one, though.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Booknotes V (Oct '13)

New Arrivals:

1. Torn by War: The Civil War Journal of Mary Adelia Byers edited by Samuel R. Phillips (U of Okla Pr, 2013).

Byers, a pro-Confederate teenage resident of Batesville, Arkansas, offers a civilian perspective on the Union occupation of NE Arkansas. Editor Phillips contributes notes, maps, and a number of appendices.

2. The Civil War Lover's Guide to New York City by Bill Morgan (Savas Beatie, 2013).

This full-color photographic guide documents 150 Civil War related sites, mostly buildings and monuments.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cobb, Hicks & Holt: "THE BATTLE OF BIG BETHEL: Crucial Clash in Early Civil War Virginia"

[The Battle of Big Bethel: Crucial Clash in Early Civil War Virginia by J. Michael Cobb, Edward B. Hicks, and Wythe Holt (Savas Beatie, 2013). Hardcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 285/310. ISBN:978-1-61121-116-0 $27.95 ]

For all the wide-eyed press accorded Big Bethel at the time, a full battle history has not appeared in print until recently. The first was John Quarstein's Big Bethel: The First Battle but closely following on the heels of that 2011 study is an even deeper treatment, The Battle of Big Bethel: Crucial Clash in Early Civil War Virginia, authored by the trio J. Michael Cobb, Edward B. Hicks, and Wythe Holt.

Before getting to the battle, the book sets the scene with a thorough description of the road network and militarily significant natural features of the Virginia Peninsula's eastern reaches. At the tip lay massive Fortress Monroe, a secure Union base and a potential dagger aimed westward toward the Confederate capital. In charge of the Union forces at Ft. Monroe was General Benjamin Butler, fresh off a determined and effective command performance in Maryland. The Confederate defenders, ensconced along a line of field works anchored at one end by the Yorktown forts, were led by General John Bankhead Magruder. The activities of each side pre-Big Bethel, with the Union army seeking to expand its foothold and the Confederates hurriedly fortifying key defensive points, are amply detailed in the text. As with most books of this type, biographical sketches of key figures are provided, as are organizational summaries for each regiment and battery later deployed at Bethel. The social, political, and economic situation on the lower Peninsula is also presented. Secessionists residents largely fled up the Peninsula, abandoning their property to Union occupation. Amid this chaotic breakdown of antebellum social order, growing numbers of slaves, bidding for freedom, sought to enter nearby federal lines.

The Bethel operation itself is described exceptionally well from beginning to end. Although poor reconnaissance and staff work were to be expected at this early period of the war, the authors are justly critical of the naive decision by Union leaders to launch at night a two-pronged envelopment of Little Bethel, where it was falsely believed the main Confederate force resided. The resulting confusion contributed to a tragic friendly fire incident that clouded the campaign. The commander of the combined Union forces, Massachusetts militia general Ebenezer Pierce [the authors chose to go with this spelling rather than the common alternative 'Peirce'], then frontally assaulted the entrenched Confederates at Big Bethel. Confederate Colonel D.H. Hill's 1st North Carolina, supported by dismounted cavalry and artillery, repulsed piecemeal attacks by the far larger Federal force, which retired in some confusion. The book's maps, one tracing the march route and several more showing each stage of the battle, are quite good. The ground features mentioned in the text are all easily found on these drawings, as are the shifting positions of regiments, companies, and individual guns.

Although there was brave and competent (given the common level of inexperience) small unit leadership on both sides, the authors offer a damning portrait of the Union high command during the entire operation. In contrast, Magruder and Hill, undoubtedly aided by being on the defensive and behind earthworks, performed at a higher level. The book conjectures that the diversion of public and governmental attention to the even larger debacle at Bull Run likely saved Butler's military career. The wily lawyer was also able to successfully scapegoat Pierce. With bigger fish to fry, most of the Union forces on the Peninsula were withdrawn to the national capital defenses and Butler escaped disgrace, to be later assigned to command the land component of the enormously successful New Orleans expedition.

At the conclusion of the battle, readers find themselves roughly at the book's halfway point. Lengthy treatments of the physical aftermath, and the military and political consequences of Union defeat and Confederate victory, are present here. The instrumental role Butler's tenure on the Peninsula played in shaping Union policy toward the slave property of secessionists is highlighted, as are associated events serving as harbingers of the level of destructiveness that would be visited upon southern farms, towns, and cities later in the war. The most prominent example of the latter involves the fate of the town of Hampton. After both Bethel and Bull Run, the downsized Union command on the Peninsula was forced to contract its zone of occupation. Some Hampton buildings were torched by the retreating Federals, but the Confederates, hearing that the town was destined to serve as a large contraband camp, moved in soon after and almost completely destroyed it.  The stories of prominent casualties and the post-Bethel careers of many figures associated with the battle are profiled in two lengthy chapters (which may have better served their purposes as appendices), and the following epilogue briefly recounts a number of early twentieth century Big Bethel commemoration ceremonies and monument dedications.

Military history students of the early Civil War period in Virginia have been waiting for a study of the depth and quality of The Battle of Big Bethel for some time. A serious treatment, presented in a scope commensurate with the level of importance felt toward Big Bethel by observers of the time, has finally emerged and is highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Join Joiner on the Red River again

Given the existence of so many already, the world has not been demanding yet another 150 page overview of this particular event, but Gary Joiner's The Red River Campaign: The Union's Final Attempt to Invade Texas might be worth a look on some level, even though he probably already had his say in One Damn Blunder from Beginning to End: The Red River Campaign of 1864 and Through the Howling Wilderness: The 1864 Red River Campaign and Union Failure in the West. This new one will be part of State House Press/McWhiney's Civil War Campaigns and Commanders series.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Booknotes IV (Oct '13)

New Arrivals:

1. Watauga County, North Carolina in the Civil War by Michael C. Hardy (The History Pr, 2013).

Michael Hardy's latest book is a chronicle of the Civil War in a western NC county. Far from the main theaters of war, the citizens nevertheless experienced plundering at the hands of Kirk's Raiders and witnessed the early stages of Stoneman's 1865 Raid.

2. "Old Slow Town": Detroit during the Civil War by Paul Taylor (Wayne St Univ Pr, 2013).

Taylor "charts Civil War­­-era Detroit's evolution from a quiet but growing industrial city (derisively called "old slow town" by some visitors) to a center of political contention and controversy. In eight chapters, Taylor details topics including the pre-war ethnic and commercial development of the city; fear and suspicion of "secret societies"; issues of race, gender, and economic strife during the war; Detroit's response to its soldiers' needs; and celebration and remembrance at the conclusion of the conflict."

3. The Battle of Big Bethel: Crucial Clash in Early Civil War Virginia by J. Michael Cobb, Edward Hicks, and Wythe Hicks (Savas Beatie, 2013).

A long anticipated title, one I'm glad to finally have in my hands.   I thoroughly enjoyed the pre-publication version I read way back when.

4. Nature's Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia by Kathryn Shively Meier (UNC Pr, 2013).

This study examines how soldiers fighting in the Shenandoah and on the Peninsula in 1862 struggled with natural obstacles as well as each other.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Walker, Lowe ed.: "GREYHOUND COMMANDER: Confederate General John G. Walker's History of the Civil War West of the Mississippi"

[Greyhound Commander: Confederate General John G. Walker's History of the Civil War West of the Mississippi by John G. Walker, edited by Richard Lowe (Louisiana State University Press, 2013). Cloth, maps, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:131/146. ISBN:9780807152508 $36]

John George Walker was a long serving Regular Army officer when he resigned his commission in 1861, casting his lot with the secessionist element of his native Missouri and the new Confederacy. He fought with Lee's army in Virginia, earning the approval of that legendary commander, before promotion to major general in November 1862 and transfer to the Trans-Mississippi1. There, he assumed command of a new three-brigade division composed entirely of Texans. Walker's Texas Division would later be known as "Walker's Greyhounds", a reference to the hundreds of marching miles they logged across Arkansas and Louisiana in an attempt relieve Vicksburg in 1863 and prevent Union penetrations of the Trans-Mississippi interior during 1863-642. Wounded during the successful Red River Campaign, Walker returned a few months later to head the District of West Louisiana, and, in August 1864, the District of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. In the waning months of the war, he led corps and division level cavalry and infantry commands before fleeing to England with his family. It was during this period of exile that Walker dictated his history of the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi, the preserved manuscript edited by historian Richard Lowe and published this year under the title Greyhound Commander: Confederate General John G. Walker's History of the Civil War West of the Mississippi.

Walker's narrative, titled The War of Secession West of the Mississippi River During the Years 1863 - 4 - &5, was unfinished, ending with the conclusion of the 1864 Red River Campaign. He actually begins his account with 1861 events in Missouri, summarizing the first two years of the Trans-Mississippi conflict, before offering more detail on events experienced in person. These include coverage of Confederate attacks on well defended Union Mississippi river enclaves (Milliken's Bend in particular), the 1863 Texas Overland Campaign, and the 1864 Red River Campaign. The historical account itself is rather brief, running a little over 90 octavo-sized pages, with a large proportion of the available space occupied by Lowe's footnotes.

Readers familiar with the relevant literature will not find anything in Walker's history that challenges the best modern interpretations of events. However, book length histories and memoirs3 written by ranking Trans-Mississippi figures are extremely rare (Richard Taylor's Destruction and Reconstruction being the most notable example), making Walker's work highly unusual. He does anticipate many of the critiques that would become etched in the writings of later historians. He strongly condemns Edmund Kirby Smith's operational direction of the 1864 Red River Campaign, believing that the infantry's transfer to Arkansas after Pleasant Hill, rather than closely pressing Banks's retreating columns, was a fatal mistake. Red River historians like Ludwell Johnson, Gary Joiner, and Michael Forsyth all agree that this decision eliminated the possibility of a Confederate campaign victory of war altering strategic importance. Walker's writings are also highly critical of the Confederate high command's penchant for ordering assaults on fortified Union positions located along rivers (e.g. Helena, Milliken's Bend, and Fort Butler), both for the high cost involved and the near certainty that none, if captured, could have been held for an extended period against the combined might of the federal army and navy.

The choice of editor for this volume could not have been improved. Richard Lowe, unit historian of Walker's Greyhounds and 1863 Texas Overland Campaign expert, is intimately familiar with the source material associated with the division and it's talented commander. His introduction to Greyhound Commander, a lengthy and well researched biographical feature on Walker, adds significant value to the work and would be an asset to any collection of leader focused scholarly essays (Tennessee's Confederate Generals in the Western Theater series comes to mind). Lowe preserves the content and format of Walker's manuscript, with his extensive footnotes supplying a range of factual and interpretive correctives, suggestions for further reading, and helpful information on persons, places, and events mentioned in the text. Maps and index are also attached. Some readers will be disappointed with the lack of revealing moments in Walker's work (the military events described in the narrative just happen to be among the best documented in the Trans-Mississippi literature), but the total package as described above is worthy of recommendation.

1 - It's something of a mystery why Walker, against his own wishes and those of Lee (who was generally able to keep favorites), was sent to the Trans-Mississippi. Though no direct evidence exists, Lowe speculates that Lt. General Theophilus Holmes, whose own promotion and appointment to T-M Department command roughly coincided with Walker's surprising development, was responsible.
2 - Lowe's own research estimates that Walker's division marched roughly 850 miles between mid-March and early May 1864, a remarkable feat.
3 - Walker's narrative is more history than memoir. He refers to himself in the third person throughout and attempts more of a general account without overriding focus on his own role (or that of his division) in the war. Walker also does not for the most part engage in the elaborate self-justification exercises common to the writings of so many high ranking Civil War figures.

More CWBA reviews of LSUP titles:
* Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War
* Milliken's Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory
* Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict Between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland
* 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

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Gettysburg Magazine, a new home and looking for an editor

David at OBAB notes that The Gettysburg Magazine is searching for a new managing editor. Apparently, Nebraska is in acquisition mode again (recall they recently purchased Potomac Books) and will be publishing the periodical twice yearly starting in 2014.

Booknotes III (Oct '13)

New Arrivals:

1. General Edwin Vose Sumner, USA: A Civil War Biography by Thomas K. Tate (McFarland, 2013).

This military biography of Sumner covers his entire professional career, not necessarily privileging the Civil War years. From the looks of the bibliography, it's among the more deeply researched biographies from this publisher.

2. Thirteen Months at Manassas / Bull Run: The Two Battles and the Confederate and Union Occupations by Don Johnson (McFarland, 2013).

In addition to summarizing the two battles, the book offers quite a bit of information about the hamlets, farms, and families living in the areas encompassing the fighting.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Rumor has it (thanks for the tip, Chris) that NPS ranger Tom Parsons has completed a Tupelo Campaign (1864) study, to be published next year by Kent State.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Booknotes II (October '13)

New Arrivals:

1. American Civil War Guerrillas: Changing the Rules of Warfare by Daniel Sutherland (Praeger, 2013).

Sutherland champions the idea that the irregular war, far from being a mere adjunct of or distraction from the conventional fighting, had a tremendous impact on the conduct and results of the Civil War. From the description, it appears this new book revisits many of the ideas raised and developed in Sutherland's earlier A Savage Conflict.

2. Union Infantryman vs Confederate Infantryman: Eastern Theater 1861-65 by Ron Field (Osprey, 2013).

Part of Osprey's Combat series, the book examines the character of Civil War action at a small scale, using situations drawn from First Bull Run, Spotsylvania, and Chaffin's Farm.

3. Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection edited by Neil Kagan and Stephen Hyslop (Smithsonian Books, 2013).

A pictorial history of over 500 objects from the Smithsonian's Civil War collection.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Simpson: "THE CIVIL WAR IN THE EAST: Struggle, Stalemate, and Victory"

[The Civil War in the East: Struggle, Stalemate, and Victory by Brooks D. Simpson (Potomac Books, 2013). Softcover, map, photos, notes, bibliographical essay, index. Pages main/total:152/177. ISBN:978-1-61234-628-1 $19.95]

Inattentive readers might be tempted to dismiss Brooks Simpson's The Civil War in the East: Struggle, Stalemate, and Victory as yet another brief and forgettable secondary source reliant tackling of a big subject. On the other hand, those mindful of just how few serious volumes examining military strategy exist in the Civil War literature may just find in their hands the most cogent military-political synthesis and analysis yet of existing eastern theater scholarship. Simpson's work also challenges in a persuasive manner the presumed consensus on a variety of military related topics.

Throughout his study, Simpson reminds readers that all military campaigns, especially those fought by democracies, are constrained by the political needs of those responsible for national policymaking, the willingness of the civilian population to support the war, and the resources available to conduct the war. Except in the case of Henry Halleck, the author studiously avoids the exaltation of heroes and the dismissal of goats, instead offering fair assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of the major political and military figures associated with the high commands of both sides. As an example, Simpson, in contrast with the literature's overwhelmingly fawning view of Lincoln's war leadership, presents the president's flaws as having significant negative consequence to the national war effort. For instance, Lincoln's willingness to bypass the established chain of command, and his frequent encouragement of many officers to do the same, facilitated a peer environment where conspiratorial backstabbing among the generals of the Army of the Potomac became acceptable. In another section, Simpson criticizes Lincoln for his stubborn, war long insistence that Lee's command was the Army of the Potomac's proper target, not any fixed geographical point of military, political, economic, or logistical significance. It's a neverending argument in the literature, but the author is correct in chastising Lincoln, and most historians and writers today, of being far too wedded to one choice or the other, when some mixture of both depending on particular circumstances seems the best solution. Lincoln's myopia in this regard essentially shrank the eastern theater to the overland corridor between Washington and Richmond, rejecting after 1862 the strategic potential of jumping off points located along the Virginia tidewater and the coastline of the Carolinas. This is a view shared by others and it also forms an effective counter to the argument by Lincoln partisans that he was an exceptional learner as Commander-in-Chief. One might even consider this tunnel vision as having a disastrous effect on the Union war effort in the East, the situation altered only by the arrival of Grant in 1864. The above examples are just a reviewer selected sampling, a few pieces chosen from among an entire host of dispassionately addressed topics.

Of course, when an author relies on a limited number of publications to offer both an up to date synthesis of the secondary literature and a reinforcement of the writer's own views, a ruthless search and selection of the best available representative works is key to the process. In this regard, Simpson displays considerable skill, populating his notes with older works of enduring value as well as the best of more recent revisionist studies. It was a bit disappointing not to see Russel Beatie's Army of the Potomac series specifically referenced anywhere in The Civil War in the East (at least not that I recall), but a survey of Simpson's views on the Lincoln-McClellan relationship in the early war period gives one the impression that wide areas of agreement might exist between the two authors.

Simpson's book also highlights several areas of enduring deficiency in the literature. Civil War scholars and readers would greatly benefit from the creation of similar volumes for the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters*, both of which had military complications (i.e. pervasive guerrilla warfare) different in scale and substance from those found in the East**. The Civil War in the East also serves as a useful reminder that a better critical analysis of Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief is needed. Also, in this study, Simpson joins other historians (among them Gary Gallagher) in arguing that, even though one can make a strong case that the western theater was more decisive, the eastern theater held primacy because it was perceived as so by the soldiers, press, civilians, and politicians of both sides

I would have no hesitation in recommending The Civil War in the East to any reader seeking an analytical top-down history of the fighting in the eastern theater. Indeed, there is no other work that I would rank above it in terms of thoughtful scrutiny of the meaning of the eastern campaigns as a collective whole to the overall course and conduct of the war.

* - or, even better, a single volume covering the war's entire geographical expanse similar to what Donald Stoker recently attempted.
** - Beyond brief mention of John S. Mosby's influence on disrupting communications in west-central Virginia, Simpson does not mention guerrilla warfare at all in his study of military strategy in the East.

[this book was first published in hardcover in 2011 as part of Praeger's Reflections on the Civil War Era series]

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Booknotes (October '13)

New Arrivals:

1. Stuart's Finest Hour: The Ride Around McClellan, June 1862 by John J. Fox (Angle Valley Pr, 2013).

The first book length history of JEB Stuart's famous "Ride Around McClellan", this is a scholarly study with a nice set of original Skoch maps.

2. Bushwhacking on a Grand Scale: The Battle of Chickamauga, September 18-20, 1863 by William Lee White (Savas Beatie, 2013).

The newest Emerging Civil War series title, a Chickamauga illustrated history and guide book.

3. Grant vs. Lee: The Graphic History of the Civil War's Greatest Rivals During the Last Year of the War by Wayne Vansant (Zenith Pr, 2013).

This full color history in graphic novel format takes the reader from the Overland Campaign through Appomattox.