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

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