Monday, April 13, 2015

Banasik & Banasik, eds.: "CONFEDERATE "TALES OF THE WAR" IN THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI, Part Four: 1864. From Winter Camp to Pleasant Hill and Jenkins' Ferry"

[CONFEDERATE "TALES OF THE WAR" IN THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI, Part Four: 1864. From Winter Camp to Pleasant Hill and Jenkins' Ferry. Edited by Michael Banasik and Brenda F. Banasik (Camp Pope Publishing, 2015). Paperback, illustrations, maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 288 pp. $17.95]

Tales of the War, Part 4
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For those unfamiliar with Camp Pope Publishing's "Tales of the War" sub-series of its Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River Volume VII, content is drawn from participant reminiscences published on Saturdays in The Missouri Republican newspaper between 1885 and 1887. This is the fourth Confederate "Tales of the War" installment to be published (with one more on the way before moving on to the Union contributors). In Part Four, the writers recall 1864 events beginning with the 1863-64 winter encampments and ending with the conclusion of the Camden Expedition.

The winter remembrances aren't just limited to typical camp antics and mundane duties, they also document little known military operations directed toward logistical support for upcoming campaigns. 1864 Red River Campaign coverage centers around the battles of Pleasant Hill and Jenkins' Ferry. Mansfield, the battle that turned the tide of the campaign, is largely unaddressed but some material does touch  upon other important actions like Poison Spring and Marks' Mills in Arkansas. Writer stature ranges widely, from enlisted man to major general.

Memoir writing is often subordinated to journals, diaries, and letters in terms of preferred Civil War source material but sometimes distance and cooled passion can bring detached honesty of its own. More than one contributor freely admits that the Confederate right at Pleasant Hill was driven off the field in disorder. Regular readers will recognize writers from earlier Tales installments like Henry Luttrell of the 10th Missouri Cavalry and the 27th Arkansas's Silas Turnbo, but high ranking officers like General Thomas Churchill also offer their memories of campaign events. Editor Michael Banasik [beginning with Part Four, he's also brought in wife Brenda Banasik as co-editor] claims that no Red River Campaign author has used the original "Tales of the War" articles as source material in book or article so their publication here adds a freshness factor to already considerable intrinsic value.

As in previous volumes, the depth of the Banasik footnotes is incredible.  Created using a wide range of primary and secondary sources, the annotations are on their own immensely informative as both parallel narrative and in-depth investigator of persons, places, events, and claims mentioned in the text. Biographical material (often quite extensive) is offered for every individual named. Events are often fleshed out considerably, with heavily researched descriptions frequently running upwards of 200-300 words in length. In addition to confirming or correcting author claims and figures, the notes also often weigh the validity of competing interpretations from the major secondary works. While unfailingly interesting, some of these exercises are clearly open to further debate.  For example, while most observers consider Pleasant Hill to be a tactical defeat for the Confederates, Banasik cites similar casualty levels and the continued presence of part of Taylor's army on the battlefield as reason enough to rate the action a solid draw.

Extensive and richly informative appendices have always been highly regarded features of the Unwritten Chapters series volumes and those included in Part Four are very worthy of reader attention. Appendix A consists of a selection of letter and order documents.  Well researched short biographies of key Trans-Mississippi military figures mentioned in the text are a common feature of the series and the quality of those present in Appendix B is in keeping with precedent. Appendix C offers a serious reassessment of Confederate order of battle, numbers, and losses for the Battle of Pleasant Hill. Nearly every line of the OB is annotated, with a selection of published research supplemented by the editor's consultation of the O.R., newspaper resources, unit histories, letters, reports and more used to come up with numbers of effectives, casualties, and battery compositions. Conclusions frequently conflict with traditional ones. Additional Red River editorial commentary can be found in Appendix D, while E consists of Confederate orders of battle (similar in detail and scope to Appendix C's) for Poison Spring, Marks' Mills, and Jenkins' Ferry. Another notable feature of the OB research is its original attempt to describe and quantify the Red River Campaign roles of parolees and state militia, participant groups not mentioned much in existing narratives. Complaints with the book mainly pertain to presentation issues. Typos are frequently found in the notes and the cartography selections are weaker than those in earlier volumes.  Given how often the alignment of the Confederate right at Pleasant Hill was described in error by the contributors, a better detailed battle map would have been helpful.

The soldier remembrances collected in the many Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River volumes are unique and invaluable resources for Trans-Mississippi scholars and research enthusiasts. Part Four of Confederate "Tales of the War" is yet another highly recommended addition to the series, especially for students of the 1864 Red River Campaign and its associated Camden Expedition. With Confederate "Tales" ending with the next release, their Union counterparts will soon take the stage, a switch in perspective that is anticipated with great relish.

*** For more information and to order this title, go to Camp Pope Publishing ***

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