Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween

from Zombie Jeff Davis

Casting about the web for the creepiest contemporary drawing,  I found I couldn't better this one from Harper's Weekly, which first came to my attention as the cover art for 2011's Weirding the War.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Booknotes VIII (Oct '14)

New Arrivals:

1. John Wilkes Booth: Beyond the Grave by W.C. Jameson (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2014).

Alternative folklore abounds surrounding the deaths of famous and infamous historical figures (for the Civil War, John Wilkes Booth, Jesse James, and Bloody Bill Anderson come to mind), with some believing these men escaped their traditionally accepted fates and went on to live quieter lives elsewhere. This book, written by a distant relative, posits that the Lincoln assassin "was never captured but escaped to live for decades, continue his acting career, marry, and have children." What I think of this stuff you can probably guess.

2. The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction by Mark Wahlgren Summers (UNC Press, 2014).

With much of the current crop of Reconstruction era studies concerned primarily with the unrealized promise of full black citizenship in the decades following the Civil War, Summers "goes beyond this vitally important question, focusing on Reconstruction's need to form an enduring Union without sacrificing the framework of federalism and republican democracy. Assessing the era nationally, Summers emphasizes the variety of conservative strains that confined the scope of change, highlights the war's impact and its aftermath, and brings the West and foreign policy into an integrated narrative. In sum, this book offers a fresh explanation for Reconstruction's demise and a case for its essential successes as well as its great failures."

3. Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion by Harold Holzer (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

Lincoln the politician was always closely entwined with the newspaper press. He wrote editorials and even owned a paper at one point. Much is written about Lincoln being on the sharp end of press barbs, but he used the medium himself to attack his enemies and promote his own message. Though New York's Big 3 editors (Greeley, Bennett, and Raymond) are singled out for special attention, Holzer's thick tome attempts a wide ranging examination of the relationship.

4. The West Point History of the Civil War by the U.S. Military Academy (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

Among the section contributors to this new history are Neely, Glatthaar, Woodworth, and Hess so readers can expect reliably authoritative text. The full color maps are clearly inspired by Esposito's classic West Point atlas, but the unit scale (mostly division and higher) will disappoint many. More than anything else the book's look and feel reminds one of the American Heritage volume updated with current scholarship.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Confederate Artillery Organizations

F. Ray Sibley's Confederate Artillery Organizations: An Alphabetical Listing of the Officers and Batteries of the Confederacy, 1861-1865 has the unusual distinction of arriving months early at warehouse, before I could even get to the preview. Originally part of Savas Beatie's 2015 lineup, the book isn't even on the publisher's website yet, though it should be in coming weeks. Whether early publication means early distribution, I don't know.

Originally published by the War Department in 1898, the new edition benefits from the extensive editing of Sibley, whom most readers will recognize from his earlier work The Confederate Order of Battle: The Army of Northern Virginia (1996).

I'll just let the official description speak for itself:
"Editor Ray Sibley spent more than a decade researching the thousands of entries, correcting mistakes, and adding many artillery units and additional officers unknown to the original compilers more than a century ago. Sibley utilized archival records, manuscripts, letters, diaries, and other sources to verify the original work, correct mistakes, and add further useful information in the form of hundreds of valuable footnotes.

This new updated and easy-to-use reference work sets forth the linage of the Confederate artillery. It lists, in alphabetical order, individual batteries to artillery regiments, the names and alternate names for the batteries and the names of the men who led them. Also included are the dates of acceptance into Confederate service for each unit. Most companies have an annotation that includes an alternate name (if there was one), and the date if a unit disbanded or was merged into another organization. The annotations for officers include date of appointment, date of promotion to a higher grade (if any), date of transfers (if any), date dropped from rolls (if any), and date relieved of command (if any).

Confederate Artillery Organizations also contains four rare and hard-to-find lists of Confederate artillery officers: “Memorandum of Artillery Officers, C. S. A.,” “List of Officers Corps of Artillery, C. S. Army, on U.S. Register of 1861,” “Superintendents of Armories,” and “Military Store-Keeper of Ordnance.” These lists illustrate the ranking of each officer in his respective grade. The extensive bibliography prepared by Mr. Sibley is an invaluable guide to Civil War historiography."
Incidentally, the press material for this book mentions that Sibley remains hard at work on his order of battle reference guides to the Confederate West, Trans-Mississippi, and coastal defense theaters. Publication of organizational studies of this type remain few and far between and one hopes the author has a lot of uninterrupted free time in his retirement.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pamplin Park acquires Wiley Sword collection

Blue & Gray regularly features pieces from author Wiley Sword's enormous private manuscript collection.  Pamplin Park just announced that they've acquired the entire 1,000+ letters and other unpublished historical documents.  According to the press release, park staff are currently noodling how this material will be shared with the public.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Veit: "A DOG BEFORE A SOLDIER: Almost-lost Episodes in the U.S. Navy's Civil War"

[A Dog Before a Soldier: Almost-lost Episodes in the U.S. Navy's Civil War by Chuck Veit (Author, 2010). Softcover, 22 maps, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. 198 pp. ISBN:978-0-557-37497-7 $21.50]

At this point, most serious students of the Civil War should find it difficult to imagine Union victory without the U.S. Navy, with the nautical arm's matchless proficiency at a seemingly endless list of direct action and support roles. However, through his living history interactions with thousands of period enthusiasts over the years, Chuck Veit, President of the Navy & Marine Living History Association and active landing party reenactor, certainly can speak with some authority when he claims to encounter little of this appreciation during his presentations.

Veit's book A Dog Before a Soldier: Almost-lost Episodes in the U.S. Navy's Civil War is a valuable compilation of both new and previously published articles covering specific topics that even seasoned readers may not have encountered before, though the larger themes are familiar.

"Episode" summaries:
  • First Battle of Shiloh (March 1, 1862) - A Union landing party with close support from timberclad gunboats went ashore to destroy Confederate field guns situated above Pittsburg Landing. The Confederates declared victory after pushing the smaller Union detail back to their boats, but the naval presence prevented the Confederates from erecting a permanent battery position. 
  • Civilian rams on the James River (March 1862) - This article recalls a needlessly desperate and badly conceived plan to employ civilian rams to destroy the CSS Virginia at Hampton Roads. The whole snafu was indicative of early war growing pains and jurisdictional confusion.
  • Appomattox River Raid (June 26-28, 1862) - Lost in the general turmoil of the Seven Days was another failed Union operation, this one an ill-planned naval raid up the Appomattox River to cut the Richmond & Petersburg R.R. at the Swift Creek and Petersburg trestles. Lessons in joint operations would be quickly learned.
  • Naval cattle drive (October 1862) - Confiscating a herd of 1,500 head of cattle crossing the Mississippi River above Donaldsonville (La.), the Union navy conducted a remarkable cattle drive down the east bank to friendly lines at New Orleans, securing valuable fresh beef for the Union commissary. A good example of the naval branch's versatility and initiative.
  • Fort Butler (June 28, 1863) - Covered pretty well in a number of books and articles, the Union defense of Fort Butler isn't really an "almost-lost" Civil War event like many of the others, but Veit's account is among the best. He also clears up some points of lingering confusion in a persuasive manner. Fort Butler serves to highlight the almost unassailable security that the navy was able to provide fortified Union river enclaves, posts which even if taken by attacking Confederates could not be held by them. 
  • Battle at Japan's Shimonoseki Straits (July 16, 1863) - This successful ship to shore (and to a lesser degree ship to ship) engagement is among the better known events covered in the book, but it does well illustrate the U.S. Navy's global reach even while in the midst of Civil War. 
  • Deloges Bluff (April 26, 1864) - One of many running engagements fought being retreating Union naval vessels and pursuing Confederate land forces during the Red River Campaign, the encounter at Deloges Bluff illustrated both the vulnerability of thin skinned gunboats to massed small arms fire and light artillery and the ability of the Union navy to navigate extremely difficult environments. 
  • Pitch Landing raid (December 4, 1864) - Pitch Landing, a major Confederate gathering point for supplies in eastern North Carolina, was the target of a successful army-navy raid. It's a textbook example of the type of 'death by a thousand cuts' operation that the navy came to excel in conducting anywhere within a day's march of a navigable body of water. 
  • Grinnell scout mission (March 4-12, 1865) - This chapter tells the story of a small navy team that set out from Wilmington to reach Sherman with dispatches and news of the port city's fall. It also serves as a reminder of how vital the navy was in sustaining army lines of communication for commands cut off from direct land routes.
All of the chapters are solid mini-narratives, each well documented.  Sources used are fairly limited in scope but well selected and effectively utilized.  The maps, original and often highly detailed visual renderings of the action described in the text, are exceptional in number and quality. A small collection of artwork and photographs are also present in the book, among the latter a very rarely seen image of Fort Butler.  For a self-published book, outside of a few minor flaws, the presentation is quite professional, better than many traditionally published works.

Beyond being quality accounts of lesser known events worthy of more attention, Veit's episodes also comprise a fine group of samples representative of the wide range of naval operations conducted during the Civil War.  With examples drawn from all three major theaters of war as well as the Pacific, geographical diversity is another strong point. With the "lost" or "forgotten" label so often cynically overused as a marketing tool in history publishing, it is refreshing to encounter a book that actually holds true to the promise.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Booknotes VII (Oct '14)

New Arrivals:

1. Work for Giants: The Campaign and Battle of Tupelo/Harrisburg, Mississippi, June-July 1864 by Thomas E. Parson (Kent St Univ Pr, 2014).

Anyone familiar with the work of Tom Parson and interested in the 1864 North Mississippi campaign will want to acquire a copy of this book. First impressions of the bibliography, maps (looks like the same ones from the author's Blue & Gray Magazine feature article), and text are very positive. With this one and Newsome's Richmond Must Fall, Kent State's Civil War Soldiers and Strategies series is off to a smashing start. Thanks also to KSUP for shipping the review copy in an actual box correctly sized and professionally packed ... a rarity.

2. Divided We Fall: The Confederacy's Collapse From Within: A State-by-State Account by Calvin Goddard Zon (Author, 2014).

Drawn from published sources, each chapter (one per state) provides a capsule history of wartime passive and active opposition to the Confederate government. If the name sounds familiar but you can't quite place it, I reviewed on the site a title that Zon edited a short while back titled The Good Fight That Didn't End: Henry P. Goddard's Accounts of Civil War and Peace (Univ of SC Pr, 2008).

3. "The Devil's to Pay": John Buford at Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour. by Eric Wittenberg (Savas Beatie, 2014).

A comprehensive examination of Buford's actions just before and during the Gettysburg battle, this seems to be the book that Eric was born to write.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Polignac's Texas Brigade"

I scrapped plans to write about Alwyn Barr's classic Polignac's Texas Brigade (Texas Gulf Coast Historical Association, 1964) after Jane's post from last month, but after reading it again I decided good things are worth repeating.

nice hat, Camille
The book is a marvel of compact scholarly narrative. In only 57 pages, you get an entire unit history, from the July 1862 brigading of the 22nd, 31st, and 34th Texas Cavalry regiments (others would be added to this core later on) to disbandment in 1865. Barr's account follows the brigade to Indian Territory, Arkansas, Louisiana, and back to Texas, the dismounted cavalrymen wearing out their footwear marching all over the place and fighting numerous battles and skirmishes along Bayou Teche and the Red, Ouchita, Atchafalaya, and Mississippi rivers. The Texans' biggest moments came at Bayou Bourbeau in 1863 and at Mansfield and Yellow Bayou during the 1864 Red River Campaign.

Acknowledging problems with morale, desertion, and leadership, Barr does not sugarcoat the picture. He attributes high desertion rates to several factors, among them poor logistical support, demoralization from being dismounted (a common refrain with Trans-Mississippi cavalry units), and the brigade's lukewarm Confederate recruitment base of North Texas. Unmentioned is another consideration, that of the servicemen's families' proximity to those parts of Texas frequently subjected to raiding by roving bands of Kiowa and Comanche, as well as the uncertain relationship with the tribes across the border in Indian Territory.

Barr, a Civil War Texas expert who has authored numerous seminal journal articles, here is able to craft a complete history that is brief but feels more substantial than many modern Civil War unit histories many times its own modest length. In addition to the author's skill at condensing narrative, the depth of research is surely another element in the perception. In many instances, there are more primary sources cited in the footnotes than sentences on the page.

Monographs of similar scope were published in the 60s and 70s by outfits like the Texas Gulf Coast Historical Association, Texas Western Press, Hill College Press, and others, but it's a testament to the enduring value of Polignac's Texas Brigade that it remains in print after 50 years. The 1998 edition from Texas A&M University Press adds a very informative historiographical update (written by Barr) listing and assessing related studies published between 1964 and that date. It is this version that is still widely available and high recommended reading for all students of the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Booknotes VI (Oct '14)

Just In:

The Early Morning of War: Bull Run, 1861 by Edward G. Longacre (Univ of Okla Pr, 2014).

I am quite close to giddy at finally having my hands on the first micro-treatment of First Bull Run. The narrative part runs at just over 500 pages and with Blackburn's Ford not coming into the picture until around pg. 250 it really is a campaign history. Longacre has clearly done his homework on this one, with the manuscript section alone comprising over 20 densely packed pages of unpublished civilian and military primary sources. I am sure Harry will have a fine time picking his way through it. For a study this detailed, it's a shame that the maps are so few in number, especially for the confused, piecemeal back and forth exchanges around Henry Hill.

The author interview accompanying the press package hints at some of Longacre's unconventional conclusions. His reading of civilian letters leaves him convinced that home front morale was already falling before the campaign was even fought, and this in turn impacted military morale to a degree not previously understood. Longacre's findings also led him to question whether Joe Johnston's use of rail movement to reach the Manassas battlefield was truly an essential element in the Confederate victory. In another take on the "There stands Jackson like a stone wall!" controversy, the author promises a fresh look into the matter at an unprecedented level of detail. Suffice it to say that those adhering to the view that Bee intended a negative connotation will find a friend in Longacre.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta

In my interview with historian Earl Hess back in 2012, he mentioned that he had "books well advanced on Stones River, on infantry tactics in the Civil War, and on the battle of Ezra Church." It now appears that the last one on the list will make it out first. The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta will be a Spring 2015 release from UNC Press's wonderful Civil War America series.  Many of the recent Atlanta Campaign battle books have been the first of their kind and this one will be no exception.

Friday, October 17, 2014


Of the two battles, 1874's Second Adobe Walls is the more famous event, but the November 25, 1864 Battle of Adobe Walls has enough drama and consequence to make it deserving of more recognition. There's an obvious Civil War connection worthy of investigation, but it was also one of the continent's largest Indian Wars engagements.

Alvin R. Lynn's Kit Carson and the First Battle of Adobe Walls: A Tale of Two Journeys (2014) is a non-traditional treatment of the subject. The research is adequate enough to construct a reasonably good overview of the campaign's background, approach march, battle, and aftermath, but, as the subtitle indicates, the narrative is really a combination of history and personal travelogue. The author spent well over a decade of dusty field work attempting to accurately trace the path of Carson's command from Fort Bascom in New Mexico to Adobe Walls in the Texas Panhandle, so his own "journey" is integrated into Carson's.

Kit Carson's historical campaign was undertaken in response to 1864's bloody upswing in western trail raiding. The battle, fought between a few hundred New Mexico and California volunteers (with Ute and Jicarilla Apache scouts) and 1,300 or more Kiowa and Commanche warriors led by Dohäsan, was indecisive, with a pair of howitzers instrumental in keeping the aggressive Indian forces from the type of close range combat that might have overwhelmed Carson's command. Both sides claimed victory in the 29 day campaign. While Carson retreated from the field, Lynn views the complete destruction of the Kiowa village and heavier than previously believed Indian casualties as reasonable factors to justify U.S. claims. This part of the book is less than 90 heavily illustrated pages, the rest (more than half the total) is devoted to Lynn's archaeological discoveries, complete with methodological discussion, artifact tables, relic distribution maps, and photographic register of each unearthed item.

The author's maps of the Carson march route and the battlefield itself are disappointingly spare, lacking both period detail and modern reference points. The B&W as well as selected color photographs, on the other hand, are wonderful visual records of campaign related sites and vistas, many of which are probably little changed today. Unlike a recent study of the 1862-65 U.S.-Sioux war that began in Minnesota, Lynn is less interested in developing a Civil War context for Adobe Walls. Overall, the book leaves ample room for a better campaign and battle history of First Adobe Walls but those interested in the growing field of military archaeology will relish Lynn's thoroughly documented labor of love in that regard.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Booknotes V (Oct '14)

New Arrivals:

1. The Logbooks: Connecticut's Slave Ships and Human Memory by Anne Farrow (Wesleyan Univ Pr, 2014).

Farrow writes a combined narrative memory study, that of three largely forgotten slave ship voyages told through log books and her own mother's dementia induced cognitive loss. "As Farrow bore witness to the impact of memory loss on her mother’s sense of self, she also began a journey into the world of the logbooks and the Atlantic slave trade, eventually retracing part of the Africa’s long-ago voyage to Sierra Leone. As the narrative unfolds in The Logbooks, Farrow explores the idea that if our history is incomplete, then collectively we have forgotten who we are—a loss that is in some ways similar to what her mother experienced. Her meditations are well rounded with references to the work of writers, historians, and psychologists. Forthright, well researched, and warmly recounted, Farrow’s writing is that of a novelist’s, with an eye for detail. Using a wealth of primary sources, she paints a vivid picture of the eighteenth-century Connecticut slavers. The multiple narratives combine in surprising and effective ways to make this an intimate confrontation with the past, and a powerful meditation on how slavery still affects us."

2. The Civil War Diary of Gideon Welles, Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy: The Original Manuscript Edition edited by William E. Gienapp and Erica L. Gienapp (Univ of Ill Pr, 2014).

As any footnote reader knows, the Welles diary has long been an essential resource for studying the Lincoln cabinet and administration. "In this new edition, William E. and Erica L. Gienapp have restored Welles’s original observations, gleaned from the manuscript diaries at the Library of Congress and freed from his many later revisions, so that the reader can experience what he wrote in the moment." In addition to the diary itself, which is "carefully edited and extensively annotated, this edition contains a wealth of supplementary material. The several appendixes include short biographies of the members of Lincoln’s cabinet, the retrospective Welles wrote after leaving office covering the period missing from the diary proper, and important letters regarding naval matters and international law." If you want the Welles diary on your shelf for reference purposes, this is the edition you need.

3. The Medal of Honor: A History of Service Above and Beyond by The Editors of Boston Publishing Company (Zenith Pr, 2014).

A pictorial history of the award, this book tells recipient stories while also discussing the origins and evolution of the MOH.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Craig: "KENTUCKY CONFEDERATES: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase"

[Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase by Berry Craig (University Press of Kentucky, 2014). Casebound hardcover, map, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:294/365. ISBN:978-0-8131-4692-8 $45]

In recent decades, regional studies have comprised one of the high points of Civil War scholarship. Among of the most useful are those examining Upper South and Border State political divides.  Until this year, the Jackson Purchase of Kentucky has not been the subject of this brand of specialized attention.  While Dan Lee's The Civil War in the Jackson Purchase, 1861-1862 (2014) edged out Berry Craig's Kentucky Confederates in the race to be the first to hit the presses, the latter possesses superior scholarship*. A large expanse of western Kentucky stretching south to the border with Tennessee and bounded on its west, north, and east sides by the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee Rivers, the Jackson Purchase was by far the state's most pro-Confederate section, so much so that it was sometimes referred to as the "South Carolina of Kentucky."

Just what factors led men and women to support the Confederacy has been a burgeoning field of scholarly inquiry, and Border State citizens like those of Kentucky have been popular study subjects. Readers of this relatively new body of literature will not be too surprised to learn of the reasons why residents of the Purchase sympathized so strongly with the Confederacy. Craig is surely correct to emphasize the geographic isolation of the Purchase from the rest of the state as a key factor in the creation of its unique regional identity within the Kentucky body politic. With lateral communications impeded by the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, but direct rail links to the cities of Memphis, Nashville, Mobile, and New Orleans, Purchase commerce was more tightly bound to the South than the rest of Kentucky and the states of the Old Northwest. Emigration followed the same isolated pattern of southern influence, with the influx from West Tennessee predominating. In politics, unlike the rest of Kentucky, the Whigs were weak and Southern Democrats strong in the Purchase. Craig also cites Alan Bearman's research into the role played by religion, with pro-slavery evangelical Protestant churches (frequently led by southern pastors) spread throughout the region. The direction slavery was moving also shaped the attitudes of the populace. While slave ownership was lower in the Purchase than in the Bluegrass, it was growing there while waning elsewhere [Craig cites historian Patricia Hoskins's figure of a 41% increase in Purchase slave population during the 1850s]. Together, these elements offer a compelling explanation for the Purchase's uniquely pro-Confederate flavor.

The description of Kentucky Confederates rather downplays its military aspects, but for the topics it does cover — primarily the conflicts over possession of the strategically important river towns of Columbus and Paducah — it does so extensively and quite well.  Craig's detailed chronicling of heightened tensions in Columbus during both the uneasy neutrality period and the build up of the fortified bastion of Columbus as the Confederacy's most forward western theater anchor point is the best available. Lesser known Kentucky State Guard actions, among them the pro-Southern militia's collusion with Tennessee Confederate forces to keep Kentucky state weapons from being transferred to arsenals outside the Purchase, are also documented. Additionally, in keeping with the more sophisticated understanding of guerrilla warfare that has emerged in recent scholarship, the author does devote a significant amount of attention to irregular operations (pro-Confederate and pro-Union) in the region. Nathan Bedford Forrest's failed Paducah raid is also treated at some length.

The lion's share of attention is directed at Purchase political figures, movements, and events. Purchase politicians were never able to convince their fellow Kentuckians that secession was the best course for its citizens to take. Instead, they found themselves just as isolated politically as they were geographically. In the past, writers and historians almost uniformly interpreted the Confederate occupation of Columbus as a colossal blunder that decisively tipped the state toward the Union cause, but this outlook has been tempered quite a bit in recent times with the recognition by most (including Craig) of just how completely the Kentucky legislature had already aligned itself with the Union cause by September 1861.

Purchase politicians also could not unite on what course they thought the region should ultimately take. Options like forming their own state or attaching themselves to Tennessee were opposed by those that held on to hopes that the state might secede as a whole. This indecision made the secession movement in the Purchase a reactive rather than proactive one.  In the end military events would trump political considerations as the Union army gained a firm hold over the Purchase soon after the Confederate forward defense line was fatally punctured in early 1862 at Forts Henry and Donelson.

In his study, Craig effectively uses the sharp duels between Purchase newspaper editors and those located elsewhere in Kentucky (especially George Prentice's Louisville Journal) to illustrate the state's ideological divide, which demonstrably softened after the Emancipation Proclamation, mass federal recruitment of black soldiers within Kentucky, and harsh military repression angered pro-slavery Unionists statewide. This sets up well the book's final section dealing with Confederate remembrance and memorialization in Kentucky.

Kentucky Confederates contains more than enough unique insights to unreservedly recommend it for placement in the essential Civil War Kentucky bookshelf.  In a more general sense, it's also one of the better executed regional histories in the literature of the conflict.

* - In this reviewer's opinion, Lee's book only betters Craig's in its discussion of the economic development of the Purchase. The great majority of Lee's work is directed toward military campaigns, while Craig's meatier narrative is much better balanced between military, political, and societal topics and themes. Craig also consulted a deeper and far more diverse collection of source material.

More CWBA reviews of UPK titles:
* A General Who Will Fight: The Leadership of Ulysses S. Grant
* The Union Forever: Lincoln, Grant, and the Civil War
* One of Morgan's Men: Memoirs of Lieutenant John M. Porter of the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry
* My Old Confederate Home: A Respectable Place for Civil War Veterans
* Lincoln on Trial: Southern Civilians and the Law of War
* Bluejackets and Contrabands: African Americans and the Union Navy
* Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History
* Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee
* Kentuckians in Gray: Confederate Generals and Field Officers of the Bluegrass State
* Virginia at War, 1863
* Contested Borderland: The Civil War in Appalachian Kentucky and Virginia

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Corps Commanders in Blue

LSU Press's Corps Commanders in Blue: Union Major Generals in the Civil War (edited by Ethan Rafuse) is out now a few weeks early. The guys under the microscope are Porter, Mansfield, McPherson, Meade, Hancock, Hooker, Franklin, and Gilbert. The last is a curious choice as he was never confirmed as a major general, fighting in only one battle (Perryville) at that rank in an acting capacity. The East and West balance is fairly good, with Franklin even serving a bit in the Trans-Mississippi, and there's more than enough controversy surrounding most to fuel interesting debate. The last essay collection published by LSUP was exceptionally good so here's hoping that high level is maintained.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Booknotes IV (Oct '14)

New Arrivals:

1. Soldiers in the Army of Freedom: The 1st Kansas Colored, the Civil War's First African American Combat Unit by Ian Michael Spurgeon (Univ of Okla Pr, 2014).

Spurgeon's book is the first full history of this pioneering regiment, which fought in Missouri, Arkansas and Indian Territory, most prominently at Island Mound, Honey Springs, Cabin Creek, and the Camden Expedition. A detailed roster is also included.

2. Vicksburg and Chattanooga: The Battles That Doomed the Confederacy by Jack H. Lepa (McFarland, 2014).

Lepa has written several books about western theater campaigns as well as one dealing with the 1864 campaign in the Shenandoah. The research and content of this one appear light, but as I haven't read any of the author's previous works I have no idea of his skill at synthesizing for a popular audience.

3. The Father of Virginia Military Institute: A Biography of Colonel J.T.L. Preston, CSA by Randolph P. Shaffner (McFarland, 2014).

Unlike the above volume, this biography from the same publisher has the type of massive bibliography and expansive scholarly documentation seen in quality original works. I can't say I am familiar with this particular fellow (Civil War readers encounter a lot of Prestons), but, as the title indicates, he was a key figure in the institutional development of VMI. Preston and Stonewall Jackson both married Junkin sisters, and the professor would also serve on Jackson's staff during the war.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Gifford: "WHERE VALOR AND DEVOTION MET: The Battle of Pilot Knob"

[Where Valor and Devotion Met: The Battle of Pilot Knob by Douglas L. Gifford  (Historynutt Books, 2014). Softcover, maps, photos, footnotes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:222/252. ISBN:978-0-578-14600-3 $19.99]

Of the many battles and skirmishes fought during General Sterling Price's 1864 Confederate campaign in Missouri, the Union army's successful defense of Fort Davidson and miraculous nighttime escape is among the best documented. For decades, the standard account has been Bryce Suderow's Thunder in Arcadia Valley: The Battle of Pilot Knob (SEMO University Press, 1986)1 and the book under consideration here, Douglas Gifford's Where Valor and Devotion Met: The Battle of Pilot Knob, is a more than worthy successor.

With its iron ore industry and rail connection to St. Louis, it's easy to see why Missouri's Arcadia Valley attracted the attention of both sides. In 1864, the valley's defense was anchored by Fort Davidson, an enclosed hexagonal earthwork located between the town of Pilot Knob to its immediate north and Ironton a short distance through Ironton Gap to the south. Shut-Ins Gap formed the southeastern entrance to the valley. The fort was protected by a deep ditch and well stocked with heavy siege guns, its weakness being its potential to be commanded by a pair of steep eminences, Shepherd Mountain to the west and Pilot Knob to the east.

With Jo Shelby's Confederate division operating to the north isolating the Arcadia Valley and blocking possible Union reinforcements, the Battle of Pilot Knob began when one brigade of James Fagan's Confederate division captured Shut-ins Gap and attacked Ironton. The next day, Fagan's entire command and the third division of Sterling Price's Army of Missouri under John Marmaduke surrounded Fort Davidson. Inside the earthworks and also deployed just outside the fort walls in rifle pits were 1,500 Missouri and Iowa troops augmented by white and black civilian volunteers, the entire force under the command of General Thomas Ewing. During the battle, Price's artillery was dominated by the Union siege guns and the piecemeal Confederate dismounted cavalry assaults against the fort were all repulsed with heavy losses. Low on artillery ammunition, Ewing was determined to evacuate the fort during the night instead of surrender.  He marched his command right through Confederate lines, the rear guard blowing up the fort's magazine. The next morning, Marmaduke's division pursued but was unable to bring Ewing to heel before the Union command reached safety at Leasburg2. Demonstrating solid grasp of the valley terrain as well as the tactical movements and command dilemmas of both sides, Gifford covers all of the above events with clarity and skill. The initial Arkansas phase of the campaign is also ably summarized. While the published literature hasn't advanced a great deal in the intervening period between Thunder in Arcadia Valley and today, Gifford's integration of a much larger body of archival material into his lengthier narrative makes Where Valor and Devotion Met a richer and more satisfying learning experience.

The author's deft analyses of the command decisions made at each stage of the operation are among the book's best features. On the Union side, Gifford is sharply critical of Arkansas district commander Frederick Steele's remarkable passivity in allowing Price to arrive at the Arkansas-Missouri border undamaged. One can only wonder how much lingering memories of near disaster earlier in the year during the Camden Expedition affected Steele's command mindset.  Ewing gets high marks but is also credited with an incredible turn of pure good luck.  The more famous Spring Hill incident has nothing on the Fort Davidson garrison's passage through Confederate lines unchallenged along the Caledonia-Potosi Road during the night of the 27th-28th. In equally fortuitous fashion, when the men tasked with blowing up the fort did so right as the tail of the column was leaving instead of two hours later, the Confederates didn't even bother to investigate. On the retreat, Ewing did make an excellent decision to reroute his foot bound column along ground unfavorable to Confederate cavalry, but luck in the form of an unusually passive Shelby and impeccable timing again emerged. Like other writers, Gifford lauds Lt. David Murphy's handling of the siege artillery, his gunners blasting to ground each assault and smashing every Confederate attempt to mount their own inferior weight guns on the high ground above the fort. The skill and bravery of Major James Wilson on the Pilot Knob battlefield is duly recognized, but the author correctly admonishes the unfortunate officer for failing to properly scout the approaches to Arcadia Valley and keep Ewing informed of the strength and location of Confederate forces beyond the immediate environs.

On the Confederate side, the command assessment is much more negative. Price conducted yet another undisciplined operation, not keeping his forces concentrated and taking no preventive measures to limit looting of homes and businesses. The dispersed Confederates missed a golden opportunity to surprise the Union defenders and maybe even catch a large proportion of the garrison outside the walls of the fort. Fagan attacked Ironton on the 26th with a force too small to carry the position and too big to keep secret the presence of Price's army. With Marmaduke too far away to join the fight until the following day, Ewing was able to perfect his defenses. On the 27th, Price's plan of attack was conventional yet too optimistic in its timetable, with the outnumbered defenders able to repel each attack in turn.  Most assaults did not reach the ditch in front of the fort and some (especially those of Slemons and McCray's) were truly feeble attempts. As mentioned above, how Archibald Dobbins's brigade, camped just off the very road utilized by Ewing to escape, missed the passing Union column during the night is unexplainable.

Where Valor and Devotion Met does discuss many of the enduring controversies surrounding Pilot Knob. The strength of Price's army is the focus of some debate, especially recently3. In the text, Gifford goes with the traditional 10-12,000 figure, mentioning in the footnotes but not addressing critically Fort Davidson State Historical Site resource manager Walter Busch's claim that Price took twice that many men into Missouri. The author challenges the conventional view that much of the newly conscripted strength of Price's army was made up of inexperienced men. No sources are provided to back up this assertion, but Gifford's conjecture that many of the men rounded up by Shelby in NE Missouri during summer 1864 were discharged soldiers, deserters, or guerrillas sounds plausible. Unlike many of Price's modern critics, Gifford has more sympathy for the measured pace of Price's movements during the early Arkansas and Missouri phases of the expedition, which wasn't a raid in the traditional sense. Although he doesn't present a detailed explanation of his view, the author dismisses the claims of other writers that St. Louis could have been captured if Price had moved faster. Rather than dooming once and for all Confederate chances at capturing St. Louis, Gifford finds the real significance of Pilot Knob to be its role as savior of Union controlled Jefferson City, with the time and blood expended in Arcadia Valley allowing the Missouri capital to be transformed from ripe plum to impregnable. On a similar note, the author might have explored in more depth the Confederate option of bypassing Pilot Knob altogether. Finally, wide disagreement remains over Confederate casualty figures for the Pilot Knob battle, with some modern estimates as low as 500 and contemporary figures running as high as 1,500. Gifford is very skeptical of the lowest figure, though given how quickly most of the assaults went to ground that number seems reasonable to this reviewer.

Maps are plentiful in Gifford's study. Though they lack scale and are a bit raw in execution, they do adequately provide the terrain and troop movement information necessary for readers to understand the battle. The greatest complaint lies with the unpolished state of manuscript, with its frequent typographical errors and other editorial missteps. However, the positives of Where Valor and Devotion Met far outweigh shortcomings in presentation. In content and analysis, Gifford's book offers the best treatment to date of the September 1864 clashes in Missouri's Arcadia Valley and how the results of these battles affected the conduct and outcome of the greater campaign across the state.

1 - A revised and much expanded 2nd edition of this study has just been released by Southeast Missouri State University Press under the new title The Battle of Pilot Knob: Thunder in Arcadia Valley. Gifford's book raises the bar of Pilot Knob studies and the ball is now in the court of the new Suderow-House edition to raise it even further.
2 - Gary Scheel's Sixty-Six Miles in Thirty-Nine Hours: The Retreat from Fort Davidson, Pilot Knob to the Battle of Leasburg (Author, 2002) is a nice account of this phase of the battle.
3 - See Busch's Fort Davidson and the Battle of Pilot Knob: Missouri's Alamo (2010). Busch backs up his astonishing claim by citing a list of names compiled by park staff over a ten year period.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Booknotes III (Oct '14)

New Arrivals:

1. The Battle of Pilot Knob: Thunder in Arcadia Valley by Bryce A. Suderow and R. Scott House (SEMO Univ Pr, 2014).

Suderow's long out of print Thunder in Arcadia Valley [title and subtitle are reversed in the new edition co-authored with Scott House] has enjoyed a well deserved reputation as the best account of the Battle of Pilot Knob. Significantly updated with new source material and maps, the revised and expanded 2nd edition is twice the length of the original.

2. Civil War Boston: Home Front and Battlefield by Thomas H. O'Connor (Northeastern UP, 2014).

This is a new paperback edition of O'Connor's classic 1997 social and political history of Civil War Boston. The "narrative follows the experiences of four distinctive and significant groups of people who formed antebellum Boston—businessmen, Irish Catholic immigrants, African Americans, and women. Interweaving vivid portraits of the Boston community with major political and military events of the Civil War, O’Connor relates how the war forever changed lives, disrupted homes, altered work habits, reshaped political allegiances, and transformed ideas."

3. Civil War Chicago: Eyewitness to History edited by Theodore J. Karamanski and Eileen M. McMahon (Ohio Univ Pr, 2014).

Ohio is in the middle of publishing an excellent series of Civil War manuscript material selections pertaining to various states [I had positive things to say about the Kansas and Missouri entries]. Now they are adopting a similar format for the city of Chicago. At 300 pages of smallish-font text, there is the same broad reach of subject matter and themes. Sections cover the 1860 elections, early recruitment, home/battle front connections, politics, POW camps, business, immigrant/free black/women's perspectives, and how the city dealt with the war's aftermath. There's even a guide to Civil War Chicago sites.

Sorry about the slow pace of reviews lately. The unusually barren summer that I've complained about too many times already emptied the CWBA reserve banks of the late draft reviews necessary to keep a steady schedule. A new one should be up by tomorrow.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Booknotes II (Oct '14)

New Arrivals:

1. Where Valor and Devotion Met: The Battle of Pilot Knob by Douglas L. Gifford (Historynutt Books, 2014).

Gifford is the author of several brief but useful tour guides, but this new book is a full length history of the Pilot Knob battle. The depth of the narrative appears similar to that of Suderow's standard account.

2. Recalling Deeds Immortal: Florida Monuments to the Civil War by William B. Lees & Frederick P. Gaske (UP of Florida, 2014).

Florida always produces beautiful books and this detailed photographic register of Confederate and Union monuments to Florida soldiers is no exception. This is a comprehensive social history of the memorialization of these men from Reconstruction to the present, tracing the efforts of various organizations to control the messages conveyed by these bronze and stone markers.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Booknotes (Oct '14)

New Arrivals:

1. Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief by James M. McPherson (Penguin, 2014).

Clearly intended as a companion piece to McPherson's Lincoln as C-in-C book, this one looks like another light popular history in similar vein to that one and the author's more recent naval war overview. When I'm done with it I'm sending it to Dimitri as a Christmas present.

2. The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege: A Sensory History of the Civil War by Mark M. Smith (Oxford UP, 2014).

Drawing inspiration from Sumter, First Bull Run, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Charleston (the Hunley) events, Smith "considers how all five senses, including sight, shaped the experience of the Civil War and thus its memory, exploring its full sensory impact on everyone from the soldiers on the field to the civilians waiting at home."

3. A Dog Before a Soldier: Almost-lost Episodes in the U.S. Navy's Civil War by Chuck Veit (Author, 2010).

I missed this one when it first came out, but found the author's interview on CWTR to be fascinating. In ten chapters, the book explores the contributions of naval landing parties to Civil War campaigns. As the subtitle suggests, Veit aims for detailing more obscure actions that nevertheless had great impact. For a self-published study, the book's presentation is unusually professional, including footnotes and numerous top quality maps and illustrations.