Monday, June 29, 2015

Elmore: "POTTER'S RAID THROUGH SOUTH CAROLINA: The Final Days of the Confederacy"

[Potter's Raid Through South Carolina: The Final Days of the Confederacy by Tom Elmore (The History Press, 2015). Softcover, 2 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:95/128. ISBN:978-1-62619-959-0 $19.99]

In the waning moments of the Civil War, a hastily assembled Union division under Brigadier General Edward E. Potter embarked on a destructive raid into the South Carolina interior, traveling 300 miles in three weeks (April 5 - 21, 1865). Given that it had essentially no impact on the course of the war, the operation has been relegated to obscurity. Though the occasional article has appeared here and there, Tom Elmore's Potter's Raid Through South Carolina: The Final Days of the Confederacy is the first serious study to be published on the subject. What prompted Department of the South commander Major General Quincy Gillmore to order another raid when the entire state of South Carolina was nearly devoid of Confederate troops was General Sherman's remembrance of an earlier failure to capture Florence, South Carolina and its large collection of trapped locomotives and rolling stock.

Elmore's brief narrative traces the entire raid, which began at Georgetown on the coast and rapidly drove inland to Manning. The only defenders available were local militia and a scratch force of mostly mounted Kentucky and South Carolina Confederate units. Potter brushed aside the Confederates at Dingle's Mill on April 9 and occupied Sumter. Moving on to Manchester, Camden and Stateburg led to other skirmishes at Spring Hill, Boykin's Mill, Dinkin's Mill and Beech Creek, as well as heavy destruction of cotton, gins, mills, and finally the targeted railroad assets. On the return trip to Georgetown the raiders learned of the end of hostilities and were directed to cease acts of destruction. Elmore crafts a solid narrative of these events that incorporates both military and civilian experiences, with many of the details related to the fighting contained in lengthy excerpts from firsthand accounts, mostly from the O.R..

Photographs are a prominent feature of most Civil War titles from the publisher and Elmore includes many modern images of the various sites mentioned in the text. The appendix section contains orders of battle and an event chronology. Wishlist items are few. The book definitely needed more maps, at least one good one tracing the entire path of the raid. Also, in an unfortunate oversight, General Gillmore's name is misspelled wherever it appears.

Much like George Stoneman's 1865 raid, Potter's Raid engendered some controversy, even among the Union soldiers that participated in it, over the question of whether the heavy destruction inflicted on economic and infrastructure targets was really justifiable at such a late stage in the war. There's certainly a reasonable argument to be made that the raid was conducted with excessive zeal but it should be recalled that the war was still going on and at the outset of Potter's Raid the armies of both Lee and Johnston were still in the field.

For students of the Civil War in the Palmetto State as well as those more generally interested in what happened militarily during the closing weeks of the conflict, Tom Elmore's Potter's Raid Through South Carolina is a recommended resource.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861-1893

Given that I'm always looking for good books about the Civil War in South Carolina, it was a pleasant surprise to find Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861-1893: The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina, Volume 2 by Stephen R. Wise and Lawrence S. Rowland w/ Gerhart Spieler (USC Pr, 2015) delivered to my doorstep. The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina: Volume 1, 1514-1861 was published way back in 1996 and Rowland has wisely brought Stephen Wise aboard as co-author of the planned trilogy's Civil War era coverage. Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption is a massive tome, with more than 400 pages alone devoted to Civil War activities. The political borders of Beaufort District and County have shifted over time but the geographical area under consideration in the book is roughly bounded on the N-S axis by Barnwell County and the Atlantic Ocean and from east to west by the Salkehatchie-Combahee and Savannah rivers. A hotbed of Civil War action, indeed. The study details the initial Confederate evacuation of the sea islands, the Union occupation and expansion of their coastal enclaves, the Port Royal Experiment, the Confederate defensive arrangements for the Beaufort District, the 1862 Battle of Pocotaligo, emancipation and army recruitment of ex-slaves, the Combahee and Bluffton raids, the 1863 attack on Charleston, the Battle of Honey Hill, the battles around Tulifinney's Crossroads, and the passage of Sherman's triumphant army. The final 150 pages of so document the Reconstruction and Redemption periods.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Solonick: "ENGINEERING VICTORY: The Union Siege of Vicksburg"

[Engineering Victory: The Union Siege of Vicksburg by Justin S. Solonick (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015). Cloth, maps, photos, drawings, appendices, notes, biblio essay, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:233/301. ISBN:978-0-8093-3391-2 $37.50]

The siege phase of the Vicksburg Campaign, the roughly six week period between the conclusion of the failed May 22, 1863 assaults and the July 4 surrender, is arguably the most neglected aspect of the  military literature surrounding the topic. While the third volume of Edwin C. Bearss's classic trilogy The Vicksburg Campaign dutifully recounts the thirteen named siege approaches, its discussion of the elements of siege craft employed by the Union army is limited and related historical context beyond its scope. Warren Grabau's Ninety-Eight Days explores the campaign in great breadth and depth but siege coverage is superficial. Michael Ballard's Vicksburg: The Campaign That Opened the Mississippi is a modern synthesis that excludes by design any kind of micro-level study of the siege itself and his more recent Grant at Vicksburg: The General and the Siege largely skirts around the actual operation. With its in-depth examinations of the mechanics and historical context of the Vicksburg siege operation, Justin Solonick's Engineering Victory substantially furthers our knowledge and understanding of the great military undertaking that resulted in the capture of the Gibraltar of the Confederacy.

The fact that the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was the nation's preeminent engineering school during the antebellum period is known to every Civil War student and Solonick briefly traces the development of the military engineering department at the school. The author focuses on the critical contributions of Professor Dennis Hart Mahan and his series of publications (all heavily influenced by the famous French engineer Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban) that constituted the educational foundation of the American military engineers who excelled during the war with Mexico and the Civil War. Another instructor, James C. Duane, also deserves mention. His Manual for Engineer Troops greatly enhanced the specialized knowledge and skill base of the young officers.

Vicksburg's limited American siege warfare antecedents, from Yorktown in 1781 to Vera Cruz in 1847 and back to the Peninsula in 1862 (the last a pseudo-siege), are summarized. Yorktown brought elements of Vauban to the American experience and Vera Cruz demonstrated the professional skill and decisive impact of West Point trained engineers. Finally, McClellan's engineers on the lower Peninsula first put into practice methods of siege craft that would be honed and expanded during the Vicksburg operation. While many writers and historians link Vicksburg and Petersburg together as precursors of the trench systems of World War One, Ballard instead views Vicksburg as a unique event. With its completed (albeit not continuous) line of circumvallation, zig-zag approach trenches, parallels, covered ways, breaching batteries, and mines, it was the last great Vauban-inspired siege in western military history, with the new technologies and innovations employed really marking Vicksburg as a transitional point between classic and modern siege warfare.

Engineering Victory is unique in that it details the mechanics of Civil War siege warfare like no other study has done before and also closely scrutinizes how each element was applied to Vicksburg specifically. Entire chapters are devoted to siting the line of circumvallation, digging saps and parallels, and constructing trench cavaliers, forward battery positions, and mines. For the last, Solonick offers a fascinating and accessible mathematical analysis of how engineers determined the amount of powder needed to displace a given amount of earth, with additional consideration given to what kind of breaching crater one wished to form. Sniping and fire suppression are discussed at length in the book as are the design, construction, and use of practical tools of the trade like head logs, gabions, sap rollers and others. A fairly generous collection of maps, diagrams, and photographs enhances these sections.

A general theme of the book is the shortage of trained military engineers available to the Army of the Tennessee and how the creative innovations and common sense of Grant's westerners picked up the slack left behind by the overtaxed professionals. The engineer officers directly oversaw some approaches but were only able to offer general instruction for others. Of course, such a system led to wide variability in siege work design and effectiveness as well as in the rates of advance of the various approaches. Solonick also points out the importance of top down direction, with the progress of siege approaches conducted by the army corps led by West Pointers William T. Sherman and James McPherson outpacing those of political general John McClernand (at least until he was replaced by E.O.C. Ord) even though McClernand's XIII Corps had more academy graduate division commanders than either XV or XVII Corps. Non-regulation innovations were a part of nearly every aspect of the siege, two of the more interesting ones detailed in the book being the massive "land gunboat" sap roller used for Logan's Approach and the observation/sharpshooter tower constructed by 2nd. Lt. Henry "Coonskin" Foster of the 23rd Indiana.

Solonick also effectively describes how Vicksburg's topography and the physical qualities of the soil affected various aspects of the siege operation. For example, the loess soil made for easy digging and its clinging properties often aided the Union cause by making extensive and time consuming shoring unnecessary. Additionally, while the rolling hills and steep ravines surrounding Vicksburg are often cited as benefits for the defense, the peculiar shape of the landscape also allowed Grant's army to approach the Confederate trenches under defilade and construct the initial line of circumvallation far closer than the prescribed distance. This in turn allowed Union engineers to dispense with the multiple parallels dictated by the siege manual and significantly speed up the entire operation.

Complaints are few. There's a great deal of repetition in the narrative that could have been shaved off with a bit more ruthless editing. Also, for the sake of reference value if nothing else, the inclusion of a more formal graphical and text summary documenting all thirteen siege approaches (in the main text or as an appendix) would have been welcome.

The above quibbles aside, Engineering Victory is a truly original study that offers unprecedented insight into the mechanics of the Vicksburg siege from the Union perspective. It also serves as a powerful reminder that ultimate victory was not just a question of starvation but also one of skillful execution of the siege tactics of the period. Justin Solonick's impressive work is richly deserving of a place of high honor in the Vicksburg Campaign literature canon.

More CWBA reviews of SIUP titles:
* The Vicksburg Campaign, March 29-May 18, 1863
* Grant at Vicksburg: The General and the Siege
* The Prairie Boys Go to War: The Fifth Illinois Cavalry, 1861-1865
* The Chattanooga Campaign
* Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs
* An Illustrated Guide to Virginia's Confederate Monuments
* The Notorious "Bull" Nelson: Murdered Civil War General
* The Chickamauga Campaign
* Chicago's Irish Legion: The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War
* The Shiloh Campaign

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"The War Worth Fighting: Abraham Lincoln's Presidency and Civil War America"

President Lincoln's lofty reputation seems to have survived the Civil War Sesquicentennial without any serious bruising from professional historians and, indeed, few faults emerge in the nine scholarly essays collected in The War Worth Fighting: Abraham Lincoln's Presidency and Civil War America edited by Stephen D. Engle (University Press of Florida, 2015). The volume begins with Orville Vernon Burton's earnestly admiring essay extolling Lincoln's progressive virtues and their guiding influence on a rapidly evolving American republic. Matthew Gallman then delves into Lincoln's wartime correspondence with ordinary citizens (as opposed to military and political leaders) to see if he can tease out exactly what the president expected of them in a time of civil war. Mark Grimsley critically examines the president's series of impulsive interventions into the conduct of military operations in Virginia during early 1862, finding them "well-intentioned but misguided." Jennifer Weber again looks at Copperheads, emphasizing the threat the movement posed to Lincoln's presidency and the war effort at large while offering a secondary nod toward their minority status within the Democratic party and their almost unfathomable political ineptitude. Mark Neely attempts to expose the writ of habeas corpus as a largely mythical construct when it came to its actual use in the defense of civil liberties, his small sample selection finding it most often invoked during child custody proceedings and underage army enlistment cases rather than in protecting individuals from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Emancipation in the District of Columbia is the subject of Kate Masur's chapter, with proximity to the seat of national power and cooperation between a large activist free black population and Republican politicians a fruitful combination. Richard Carwardine looks at the "visible hand" of leadership in terms of Lincoln's strategic goal setting and policy development as well as his management and communication abilities, with added emphasis on Lincoln as a source of international inspiration. Howard Jones sees Lincoln as a natural diplomat who effectively used the bellicose Secretary Seward to run interference for his own aggressive foreign policy outlook, one that managed to keep the great powers from intervening in the American civil conflict. Finally, Brooks Simpson traces the evolution of wartime military Reconstruction in those areas of Confederate territory occupied by Union forces, a process that also offers hints at imagining what postwar Reconstruction might have been like had Lincoln lived.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Forts and Posts in Kansas During the Civil War

Every once in a while I like to spotlight new self-published books that may be promising, especially if the topics are unusual.

William Pollard's Forts and Posts in Kansas During the Civil War: 1861-1865 "provides details on all the military posts and forts in Kansas from 1861 to 1865. Some posts were U.S. Army posts, others were forts established by community militias and one was even a permanent Confederate guerrilla camp. Numerous maps show where all these posts were located and one appendix provides geographic coordinates of all of them." I'm not familiar with Pollard but his 1991 book on the Lawrence Raid (Dark Friday) is still frequently referenced in new works of good quality and the Kansas State Historical Society thought enough of his work to provide him with a research grant to further his study of Kansas forts.  I will definitely pick up a copy at some point.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Booknotes III (June '15)

New Arrivals:

1. Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign: How the Critical Role of Intelligence Impacted the Outcome of Lee's Invasion of the North, June-July 1863 by Thomas J. Ryan (Savas Beatie, 2015).

With books covering Pickett's Charge, the Cyclorama, Second Winchester, this one examining the role of intelligence during the campaign and others, the Savas Beatie Summer of Gettysburg is upon us. Ryan's book describes and analyzes Lee's information gathering networks and how they influenced his management of the Pennsylvania campaign. Same with those of Hooker and Meade, including the Bureau of Military Information and the Signal Corps. Looks like a must-read for the hardcore Gettysburg person.

2. For the Union and the Catholic Church: Four Converts in the Civil War by Max Longley (McFarland).

William S. Rosecrans would probably be considered by most to be the Civil War's most prominent Catholic soldier. His story and that of three other 1840s converts who supported the Union cause (the general's brother Bishop Sylvester Rosecrans, first black priest ordained in the U.S. Father James Healy, and the Quarterly Review's Republican editor Orestes Brownson) are chronicled in this book.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

McEnany: "FOR BROTHERHOOD AND DUTY: The Civil War History of the West Point Class of 1862"

[For Brotherhood and Duty: The Civil War History of the West Point Class of 1862 by Brian R. McEnany (University Press of Kentucky, 2015). Hardcover, photos, maps, drawings, tables, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:363/507. ISBN:978-0-8131-6062-7 $45]

Only 28 members of the West Point Class of 1862 stuck through it to the end. In For Brotherhood and Duty author Brian McEnany (himself a West Pointer) explores the academy experiences of these cadets and follows the Civil War careers of a select group.

At 125 pages in length, Part One covers cadet life at the United States Military Academy in a more richly detailed manner than most biographical treatments of Civil War figures. The special circumstances and conditions endured by aspiring military officers of the secession and Civil War period classes are effectively conveyed, with the sectional crisis leading to discipline problems and resignations and the war itself forcing a compressed curriculum aimed at early graduation that taxed the capacities of many of the students. These early chapters also introduce readers to the study's most closely followed figure, Mississippian turned Ohio Buckeye Tully McCrea.

Part Two discusses the Civil War careers of 1862 class members, highlighting their consequential actions, both large and small, in a number of campaigns and battles stretching across the East, West, and Trans-Mississippi theaters. Here, too, McCrea is the common narrative thread but the contributions of a large selection of his classmates — among them Union officers Ranald Mackenzie, John Calef, MOH recipient George Gillespie, John Egan, James Sanderson, Isaac Arnold, Samuel McIntire, Charles Warner, Morris Schaff, Albert Murray, James Lord, and William Bartlett and Confederates James Dearing, Joseph Blount, Oliver Semmes, and John West — to the fighting at the Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Port Hudson, Olustee, Pleasant Hill and Atlanta battles along with the Overland, Petersburg, Shenandoah, and Appomattox campaigns are recounted in some detail. Certain episodes, like Calef at Gettysburg, are already commonly known and well documented but many others are fresh enough tales to interest even the best read Civil War military history students. There is a decided predilection for artillerymen (undoubtedly in part due to McEnany's own army career path) and those students of the long arm with a special interest in the lives and careers of young Civil War battery officers have a wealth of material to peruse. Transitioning between chapters, McEnany does employ a creative literary device in the form of McCrea's imagined remembrances but they're clearly identified as fiction and segregated from the main text in italics format.

Numerous maps accompany the battle narratives. These are useful for general orientation but they also very helpfully plot (with prominent stars) the places on the various battlefields where the 1862 graduates stood and fought. Since these officers were frequently transferred to other units, assignment tables are also made available to the reader, with some class statistics also arranged in the same manner.

It is a bit of a surprise to find that only four members of the graduating class accepted service in volunteer units, the rest remaining in the regular army where promotions were slow. Citing factors like prejudice against volunteers, army policy, and reactions to congressional hostility, precedent, and initial assignments, as well as concern over post-war careers, McEnany explores the many possible reasons why the 1862 graduates eschewed the faster advancement and greater rank and responsibility of the volunteer army.

The appendix is comprised of biographical sketches for all 28 members of the graduating class of 1862, each entry including one or more photos and a detailed list of Civil War duty assignments. For Brotherhood and Duty is a valuable biographical register of a West Point class that went directly from the classroom to the battlefield.

More CWBA reviews of UPK titles:
* Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase
* 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

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

More FW catalogs (Part 3)


Californio Lancers: The 1st Battalion of Native Cavalry in the Far West, 1863–1866 by Tom Prezelski.

This is the first full history of the unit, which was composed "largely of Californio Hispanic volunteers from the “Cow Counties” of Southern California and the Central Coast." An important regional policeman, the 1st Battalion "pursued bandits, fought an Indian insurrection in northern California, garrisoned Confederate-leaning southern California, patrolled desert trails, guarded the border, and attempted to control the Chiricahua Apaches in southern Arizona."

Texas A&M:

Confederate Saboteurs: Building the Hunley and Other Secret Weapons of the Civil War by Mark K. Ragan.

Ragan's book traces the two year history of the Singer Secret Service Corps, the brainchild of Texas businessman and inventor Edgar Collins Singer. Backed by the Confederate government, the Corps developed submarines, contact mines, and other devices for the war effort.

The Archaeology of Engagement: Conflict and Revolution in the United States edited by Dana Lee Pertermann & Holly Kathryn Norton and Echoes of Glory: Historical Military Sites Across Texas by Thomas E. Alexander and Dan K. Utley.

Going from the descriptions only, Civil War content is unknown for both but I thought I'd mention them anyway.

North Texas:

Against the Grain: Colonel Henry M. Lazelle and the U.S. Army by James Carson.

Lazelle seems to have had a chequered career. Captured in Texas at the outbreak of the Civil War and held by the Confederates for over a year, he was paroled and in late 1863 led the 16th New York Cavalry for twelve months before resigning to serve in other capacities. "In charge of the official records of the Civil War in Washington, he was accused of falsifying records, exonerated, but dismissed short of tour. As Commandant of Cadets at West Point, he was a key figure during the infamous court martial of Johnson Whittaker, one of West Point’s first African American cadets. Again, he was relieved of duty after a bureaucratic battle with the Academy’s Superintendent."


Civil War Alabama by Christopher Lyle McIlwain, Sr.

"Providing a fresh and insightful synthesis of military events, economic factors such as inflation and shortages, politics and elections, the pivotal role of the legal profession, and the influence of the press, McIlwain’s Civil War Alabama illuminates the fissiparous state of white, antebellum Alabamians divided by class, geography, financial interests, and political loyalties." Wow, 'fissiparous'. I'll have to use that someday.

Southern Illinois:

Villainous Compounds: Chemical Weapons and the American Civil War by Guy R. Hasegawa.

Hasegawa "describes the potential weapons, the people behind the concepts, and the evolution of some chemical weapon concepts into armaments employed in future wars."

The Tennessee Campaign of 1864 ed. by Steven E. Woodworth & Charles D Grear.

The next volume in SIUP's fine Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland series, the book's essays "explore the campaign’s battlefield action, including how Major General Andrew J. Smith’s three aggressive divisions of the Army of Tennessee became the most successful Federal unit at Nashville, how vastly outnumbered Union troops held the Allatoona Pass, why Hood failed at Spring Hill and how the event has been perceived, and why so many of the Army of Tennessee’s officer corps died at the Battle of Franklin, ... . An exciting inclusion is the diary of Confederate major general Patrick R. Cleburne, which covers the first phase of the campaign. Essays on the strained relationship between Ulysses S. Grant and George H. Thomas and on Thomas’s approach to warfare reveal much about the personalities involved, and chapters about civilians in the campaign’s path and those miles away show how the war affected people not involved in the fighting. An innovative case study of the fighting at Franklin investigates the emotional and psychological impact of killing on the battlefield, and other implications of the campaign include how the courageous actions of the U.S. Colored Troops at Nashville made a lasting impact on the African American community and how preservation efforts met with differing results at Franklin and Nashville." The Cleburne diary discovery and publication is a interesting development mentioned here before (see comments).

Lincoln, the Law, and Presidential Leadership ed. by Charles M. Hubbard.

The essays collected in the volume look at "civil liberties during wartime; presidential pardons; the loyalty (or treason) of government employees; Lincoln’s political ideology and its influence on his approach to citizenship; Lincoln’s defense of the Constitution, the Union, and popular government; constitutional restraints on Lincoln as he dealt with slavery and emancipation; and how Lincoln’s image has been used in presidential rhetoric."

Lincoln and the Immigrant by Jason H. Silverman.

Silverman "investigates Lincoln’s evolving personal, professional, and political relationship with the wide variety of immigrant groups he encountered throughout his life, revealing that Lincoln related to the immigrant in a manner few of his contemporaries would or could emulate." The book also discusses Lincoln's cultivation of immigrant support for the war and their own influences on his policy making.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Booknotes II (June '15)

New Arrivals:

1. Strike Them a Blow: Battle along the North Anna River, May 21 - 25, 1864 by Chris Mackowski (Savas Beatie, 2015).

The North Anna phase of the Overland Campaign is one of the less well covered subjects tackled by the Emerging Civil War series. It has the usual array of photographs (period and modern), artwork, and excellent maps to go along with the narrative. One of the more interesting features of the series as a whole are the eclectic short subject treatments (often written by different authors from the ECW stable) collected in the appendices. Those in this volume cover the Battle of Wilson's Wharf, Mitford Station, the Meade-Grant relationship, a portrait of Confederate engineer General Martin L. Smith, some thoughts on preservation, and a discussion of exhibit art related to the campaign.

2. Empire and Liberty: The Civil War and the West edited by Virginia Scharff (Univ of Calif Pr, 2015).

An "(illustrated) companion volume to an Autry National Center exhibition on the Civil War and the West, Empire and Liberty brings leading historians together to examine artifacts, objects, and artworks that illuminate this period of national expansion, conflict, and renewal." The book also shares thematic elements with Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States, which was released soon after and from the same publisher. The essays from Scharff and others "show how the West shaped the conflict over slavery and how slavery shaped the West, in the process defining American ideals about freedom and influencing battles over race, property, and citizenship."

Saturday, June 13, 2015

B&G complete run article, tour, and review index

Blue & Gray Magazine posted some new downloadable documents. It's great to finally get a complete content index of all 31 volumes.

A Chickamauga touring supplement (2 documents) can be picked up from here. Each contains extra vignettes to add to the earlier issues (Battle of Chickamauga, Day 1, Vol. XXIV, #6) and (Battle of Chickamauga, Day 2, Vol. XXV, #2). Also included are "“Teaching Points” notes from the Staff Ride handbook placed at the end of the “Situation” text, and which were not published in the magazine; the “Teaching Points” describe the lessons Dr. Robertson hopes are learned by today’s Army officers from the actions, and sometimes the mistakes, of their predecessors in the Civil War armies." [Hmm. In between writing and posting this these tour docs seem to have been taken down. Perhaps they will reappear in the near future]

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Hess: "CIVIL WAR INFANTRY TACTICS: Training, Combat, and Small-Unit Effectiveness"

[Civil War Infantry Tactics: Training, Combat, and Small-Unit Effectiveness by Earl J. Hess (Louisiana State University Press, 2015). Cloth, illustrations, photos, diagrams, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:264/321. ISBN:978-0-8071-5937-8 $45]

The ubiquity of piecemeal attacks is one of the most common criticisms leveled at Civil War commanders by the armchair observers of today but the fact that they endured throughout the war should surprise few. While officers of both sides became extremely proficient at handling regiments and brigades on the battlefield, the vastly more difficult task of coordinating and controlling divisional and especially corps level attacks and maneuvers repeatedly confounded both sides (with many notable exceptions, of course). Given the devolution of so many grand attack plans into mere aggregations of uncoordinated mini-battles, victory or defeat was often a factor of small unit effectiveness, a subject few writers and scholars have studied at length. Even the large body of ever more detailed Civil War battle studies typically fail to appreciate and note the full range of formations and maneuvers that underpinned every aspect of the fighting. Far more than an incremental contribution to the literature, Earl Hess's Civil War Infantry Tactics: Training, Combat, and Small-Unit Effectiveness is an original treatment of the complex inner workings of Union and Confederate regiments in battle.

The first two chapters of Civil War Infantry Tactics contextualize the development and evolution of linear tactics and theory during the two centuries preceding the Civil War, on both European and North American landscapes. The influence of European military thought (especially French) on 19th century American armies is well known and Hess traces the transmission of this military patrimony (with revisions) into the primary Civil War training manuals, those authored by Winfield Scott, William J. Hardee, and Silas Casey. An interesting question to consider is whether the Scott and Casey manuals, which their discussions of division and corp evolutions of the line, conferred any kind of advantage to Union commanders over their Confederate counterparts, whose primary training tool (Hardee's) did not move beyond small unit tactical schooling. Hess doesn't seem to believe so. He does praise the Army of the Cumberland for its superior professionalism and the Army of the Potomac for its advanced state of corps level articulation by the late war period, but the author persuasively opines that the latter's effectiveness was less a factor of training and more a function of skills gained through the experience of being on the operational offensive far more than its primary opponent. Sustained contact with the enemy also fostered in the Army of the Potomac a more urgent atmosphere of creative tactical problem solving.

The book's section on training clearly demonstrates the necessity of constant drilling, for green soldiers and grizzled veterans alike. Only thoroughly drilled soldiers led by experienced officers confident in their mastery of the tactical manual could take advantage of the full range of prescribed small unit formations and maneuvers. As Hess demonstrates through numerous examples, possession of the entire skill set made a huge practical difference on the battlefield. Unit effectiveness is often described in the book as a function of articulation, a rarely used term in the Civil War literature defined as "the facility with which commanders and men are able to make complicated formations and maneuvers,..." (pg. 243), and articulation in its highest achievements could only be reached by units blending experience with continuous military education.

Hess's detailed descriptions of regimental formations and maneuvers comprise the heart of the book. Simply moving forward involved a complex set of orders and the book discusses at some length rates of advance, the use of guides to establish proper direction, the ways (formally and informally) physical obstacles were passed, changes of front, oblique movement, and skirmishing. For tactical flexibility, many different formations were available to small unit commanders and the book covers the deployments of lines, columns, squares, and echelon formations as well as the passage of lines, the last a frequent source of disruption. Front changes in the form of refusing flanks, moving by the flank, and wheeling are also meticulously described. All of these sections and subsections are characterized by clearly explained definitions supported by line diagrams and numerous real world examples. Hess generally does a fine job of making the complex understandable (there's also a helpful glossary of terms at the rear of the book) but occasionally some confusion remains regarding specific points which might have been dispelled by using more dynamic line diagrams, ones tracing the progression of the more intricate maneuvers in multiple stages.

Given that columns accompanied lines on every Civil War battlefield it's appropriate that Hess devotes an entire chapter (plus many other sections within others) to their use. Simple columns, double columns, mixtures of lines and columns, and columns in the contexts of maneuver, waiting, and assault are addressed at length. The most controversial aspect of columns among contemporaries was their tactical employment on the attack. Many high ranking Civil War generals insisted on the situational deployment of assault columns (especially when attacking fortified positions) but Hess, using five case studies to evaluate the utility of attack columns, finds no substantiation of their superiority to multiple lines and much evidence of their leading to higher casualties and disorganization. One point regarding columns that the author might have made more explicit to readers is the interchangeability of the terms "double column" and "column of/by divisions" [the latter to be differentiated from the "division column," which was a regimental formation that, according to Hess, was rarely if ever used during the war].

As broad and deep as Hess's study is it's certainly also true that some related but obscure topics are unexplored. For instance, the book does not cover specialized units. Though there's some evidence for it, it remains a source of controversy whether most self-styled "sharpshooter" battalions and regiments in either army received truly unique training in skirmishing and open order line formations. Unusual tactical innovations, such as the skirmish line maneuvers detailed in Fred Ray's history of the sharpshooter battalions of the Army of Northern Virginia1, are similarly beyond the scope of Hess's study.

To obtain some idea of how often regimental commanders used multiple formations and maneuvers during a given battle and their relative frequency of use, Hess examined 50 case studies. How useful the specific numbers are is open to debate given the limited sample size (and the author recognizes this) but the chapter does demonstrate the battlefield versatility of well trained Civil War regiments handled by experienced officers. Most Civil War regiments were not armed mobs and operated at a far higher proficiency than many historians and contemporary European critics have allowed. Hess rightly cautions readers against embarking on misguided quests to explain why Civil War battles failed to be tactically decisive [or failed to match the (often falsely) presumed decisive character of earlier eras], but his study can be viewed as a fairly strong endorsement of the view that small unit competence and cohesion were major factors underlying the general battlefield indestructibility of Union and Confederate armies.

One chapter is devoted to higher evolutions of the line, specifically examining the formations and maneuvers of select corps at the latter half Civil War battles of Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania, Fort Stedman, Five Forks, and Petersburg (April 2). According to the author, the complex mixture of lines and columns employed by the Army of the Potomac in the sample is demonstrative evidence of the army's superior level of large formation articulation mentioned earlier in this review. Of course, as Hess notes, these examples must be tempered by the general recognition that corps level coordination was generally poor on both sides throughout the war, a situation that made the exploitation of local successes earned by regiments and brigades routinely difficult.

The last section looks at proposed changes to tactical doctrine in the post war period, largely through the lens of three Civil War veterans who put forth new manuals to replace Casey's. While those of William Morris and Lew Wallace were deemed insufficiently different enough to warrant wholesale adoption, Emory Upton's system simplifying maneuvers and introducing more flexibility in line formations was approved. However, none of these innovations truly broke from the linear system, which remained a part of American military doctrine until the widespread availability of magazine fed rifles made the squad system practical. In briefly tracing developments between 1865 and the present, the main takeaway should be that, contrary to what some scholars and most of the general public believes2, the linear system was far from obsolete by the 1860s. It was instead an effective and highly practical means of addressing the tactical scale problems of the mid-nineteenth century battlefield.

Groundbreaking is a badly overused word in the marketing language of new Civil War releases but it's a truly appropriate descriptor of Earl Hess's Civil War Infantry Tactics. The first scholarly and fully realized analysis and study of regimental formations and maneuvers to appear in the literature, the book offers a powerful argument that the heretofore neglected topic of small unit tactics should be regarded as a foundational element of our understanding of the Civil War battlefield.

1 - Shock Troops of the Confederacy: The Sharpshooter Battalions of the Army of Northern Virginia by Fred Ray (CFS Press, 2006).
2 - According to Hess, much of this can be traced to the popular belief (a false one, by his estimation) that the rifled musket was a revolutionary battle tool that inflicted mass casualties at long range, rendered the cavalry charge obsolete, and reasserted the primacy of the defensive. Only briefly re-summarized in Civil War Infantry Tactics, his views on the subject are rendered fully in The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth (University Press of Kansas, 2008).

More CWBA reviews of LSUP titles:
* The Enigmatic South: Toward Civil War and Its Legacies
* Corps Commanders in Blue: Union Major Generals in the Civil War
* Gateway to the Confederacy: New Perspectives on the Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns, 1862-1863
* Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln
* Greyhound Commander: Confederate General John G. Walker's History of the Civil War West of the Mississippi
* 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, June 10, 2015

Booknotes (June '15)

New Arrivals:

1. The Battle of Petersburg, June 15-18, 1864 by Sean Michael Chick (Potomac Books, 2015).

Gettysburg students are rewarded every year but the Sesquicentennial has been Christmas to Petersburg students. The latest fine looking volume to appear is Sean Chick's highly detailed account of the series of Union attempts to capture Petersburg when it was most vulnerable in early summer 1864 at the end of the Overland Campaign. Chick "takes an in-depth look at an important battle often overlooked by historians and offers a new perspective on why the Army of the Potomac’s leadership, from Grant down to his corps commanders, could not win a battle in which they held colossal advantages. He also discusses the battle’s wider context, including politics, memory, and battlefield preservation."

2. Lee's Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies by Philip Leigh (Westholme Pub, 2015).

Leigh provocatively reappraises twelve Civil War controversies, scandals, and what-ifs, among them his opinions as to the greatest blunder made by each side, whether sending a warship instead of an unarmed steamer to relieve Sumter might have nipped the war in the bud, the Lincoln-McClellan relationship, the choice of Sherman over Thomas to lead the western army group in spring 1864, the Chase-Sprague marriage, and more.

3. The Gettysburg Address: Perspectives on Lincoln's Greatest Speech edited by Sean Conant (Oxford UP, 2015).

A collection of essays, "the volume first identifies how Lincoln was influenced by great thinkers on his own path toward literary and oratory genius. Among others, Nicholas P. Cole draws parallels between the Address and classical texts of Antiquity, and Craig L. Symonds explores Daniel Webster's influence." Other chapters "include Louis P. Masur on the role the Address played in eventual emancipation; Jean H. Baker on the speech's importance to the women's rights movement; and Don H. Doyle on the Address's international legacy."

Monday, June 8, 2015

Arenson & Graybill, eds.: "CIVIL WAR WESTS: Testing the Limits of the United States"

[Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States edited by Adam Arenson and Andrew R. Graybill (University of California Press, 2015). Softcover, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 330 pp. ISBN:978-0-520-28379-4 $29.95]

Just as Civil War and Reconstruction have been too often treated as distinct areas of historical specialization, westward expansion's own nexuses with those periods have until recent times been greatly underexplored by scholars of nineteenth century American history. This is ironic given that sectional strife over the settlement of the vast western territories was one of the conflict's primary causative factors. 

Issues surrounding citizenship and civil rights among freedmen in the Reconstruction South were similarly relevant to the American West, with its hundreds of thousands of Indians and Chinese immigrants numbering in the tens of thousands. Sovereignty, another Civil War and Reconstruction concern, had its own significance in the West, involving borders both national and domestic. Though conducted at a scale dwarfed by the campaigns to the east, military conflict was also widespread in the West between 1861 and 1865. Edited by Adam Arenson and Andrew Graybill, the twelve essays in Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States explore these boundaries and connections, offering "a newly integrated view of the Civil War and Reconstruction and the history of the western United States."

Civil War Wests is divided into three parts, with the four essays contained in each section having a common theme. Part One focuses the most on Civil War period military conflicts in the West and their political contexts. James Jewell's chapter briefly looks at U.S.-British diplomatic rows that militarized the national border in the Pacific Northwest and also pro-secessionist plots in the region. The Confederate invasion of New Mexico is the subject of Megan Kate Nelson's contribution. The failed grasp at southern empire is ably summarized but Nelson's environmental analysis of Confederate strategy suggests an alternative mode of warfare incompatible with strategic goals of invasion, occupation, and resource exploitation. Lance Blyth's excellent essay reviews Kit Carson's 1862-68 military campaigns in the Southwest in the context of the stabilizing effect of its ultimate destruction (through ethnic separation and submission to federal control) of the region's political economy, a centuries old system of reciprocal raids and reprisals over human trafficking and possession of the livestock wealth of the borderland Hispanic and Indian societies. Finally, Diane Burke interprets Union General Thomas Ewing's controversial Order No. 11 as a natural extension of a long history of forced population displacement along the western reaches of Missouri in the name of security, earlier precedents involving the removal of various Indian tribes as well as the Mormons.

Part Two discusses western projections of issues left unresolved by the end of the Civil War. Nicholas Guyatt traces a succession of Republican sponsored plans to establish freedmen colonies in Texas and/or along Mexico's Gulf Coast, all of which collapsed under political and practical concerns.  The largest military presence maintained in an ex-Confederate state was in Texas and Gregory Downs shows readers why this was deemed necessary as the federal government faced threats on three fronts — Imperial Mexico on the other side of the national border, hostile Indian tribes on the frontier, and ex-Confederates residing in both the Texas interior and in Mexico. The West was also a place frequently visited by individuals damaged by the war and William Deverell looks at the western journeys of famous writer Ambrose Bierce and accomplished surgeon Jonathan Letterman. While the natural beauty and opportunity of the West might have provided healing and a fresh start for many psychologically and physically scarred veterans, Deverell's essay finds the wounds of both men beyond the West's power to mend. In Martha Sandweiss's contribution, issues of Reconstruction in the vast "Indian Country" are expressed through the life stories of the six federal Peace Commissioners and young Lakota girl depicted in a 1868 Alexander Gardner photograph.

The four final essays comprising Part Three explore the boundaries of citizenship. Joshua Paddison emphasizes the West's role in the Reconstruction period citizenship debates. The initial concern in Congress was over the suffrage and civil rights of freedmen but questions over how this new expansion of citizenship would affect the West's large Indian and immigrant Chinese populations quickly arose. Paddison's analysis of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the 14th and 15th Amendments, and the Naturalization Act of 1870 traces how federal lawmakers used both race and religion as central factors in constructing arguments for and against expanded citizenship, ultimately rejecting citizenship and voting rights for Chinese immigrants and Indians. The establishment of women's suffrage in Wyoming Territory in 1869 is examined by Virginia Scharff. According to Scharff, while the reasons behind why the legislators of this rough and tumble frontier territory were the first to make history in this fashion are not explicit, the most common thread appears to involve a general desire to attract white women (and their civilizing influence) to Wyoming. The citizen rights of the Choctaw freedpeople is the subject of Fay Yarbrough's essay. Yarbrough makes the interesting observation that the Emancipation Proclamation did not extend to the Indian Territory (and federal officials later on weren't even sure if the 13th Amendment legally applied there) so the rights of ex-slaves of Indian masters were far from certain. While slave life in Indian Territory and in the South were similar and both Choctaws and white southerners were equally resistant to incorporating those of African descent in the body politic, a major post-emancipation difference was the granting of tribal land rights to slaves of Indian masters. However, Choctaw freedmen would have to wait until 1883 before being granted limited citizenship rights in the Choctaw Nation. The last essay in the book examines the adoption of "citizen's clothes" among the Indian tribes of the West. As Stephen Kantrowitz's study of the Ho-Chunk tribe demonstrates, the wearing of American clothing by Indians was regarded by government authorities as a powerful symbol of readiness to accept "civilizing" influences, but the Ho-Chunks themselves quickly learned to manipulate this assumption for their own purposes.

In many different ways, the essays in Civil War Wests skillfully prod general reader and specialist alike into expanding their limited perceptions of the geographical, social, political, military, ethnic, and economic boundaries of traditional Civil War and Reconstruction studies. In addition to source identification and evaluation, the chapter notes also offer readers very helpful suggestions for further reading, a useful feature of all introductory volumes. As Steven Hahn mentions in the book's epilogue, believing that the contents of these essays will (or even should) inspire a radical reappraisal of the dominant narrative of the era is going way too far but, at the same time, the subjects discussed do collectively demand a more meaningful place in the historiography.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

FW catalogs (Part 2)


Slavery and Secession in Arkansas: A Documentary History edited by James J. Gigantino.
Gigantino's selections are "(d)rawn from contemporary pamphlets, broadsides, legislative debates, public addresses, newspapers, and private correspondence" and document the period between the the early months of 1859 and summer 1861.

Historical Archaeology of Arkansas: A Hidden Diversity edited by Carl G. Drexler.
There's Civil War site coverage among the nine essays in the book, thus it's inclusion in the list.
Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife: The Civil War and the Emergence of an American Writer by Christopher K. Coleman.
There's no shortage of writing connecting Bierce's writing to his war service but this new book seems to offer the deepest look yet at Bierce and the 9th Indiana through their movements and battles.

Excommunicated from the Union: How the Civil War Created a Separate Catholic America by William B. Kurtz
Kurtz examines how American Catholics used war service as a means to counter nativism, religious discrimination, and questioned patriotism.

Gender and the Jubilee: Black Freedom and the Reconstruction of Citizenship in Civil War Missouri by Sharon Romeo.
The book examines the use of the U.S. military justice system by black Missouri women "to lodge complaints against employers and former masters, (seek) legal recognition of their marriages, and (claim) pensions as the widows of war veterans." Through the military legal system, these women staked claims to "citizenship rights well before they would be guaranteed through the establishment of the Fourteenth Amendment."

A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary At the Confederate States Capital Volume 1: April 1861–July 1863 and Volume 2: August 1863–April 1865 by J. B. Jones, edited by James I. Robertson, Jr.
In this new edition of the famous Jones diaries, Robertson "provides introductions to each volume, over 2,700 endnotes that identify, clarify, and expand on Jones’s material, and a first ever index which makes Jones’s unique insights and observations accessible to interested readers."

Monday, June 1, 2015


[The History of Fort Ocracoke in Pamlico Sound by Robert K. Smith, ed. by Earl O'Neal Jr. (The History Press, 2015). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:193/268. ISBN:978-1-62619-903-3 $19.99]

The 1861-62 Confederate defense of eastern North Carolina was hampered by obsolete coastal artillery, a command structure that critically delayed important decisions over issues of state vs. national responsibility, and the inescapable fact that the region possessed far too much coastline and key points along it for the South's limited resources to adequately defend. There was certainly no lack of recognition on either side of the military and economic value of the North Carolina ports, forts, islands and sounds. What the Confederates needed most was time. Barely able to set up sand forts and batteries at key inlets (Oregon, Hatteras, and Ocracoke) before the arrival of the Union army and navy, the swift fall of Forts Hatteras and Clark initiated a snowballing panic that led to the Confederate abandonment of strong positions at the other two barrier island inlets to Pamlico Sound.

The History of Fort Ocracoke in Pamlico Sound begins with a maritime history of Ocracoke inlet from the early Colonial period through the beginning of the Civil War. Early settlers utilized the passage to facilitate shipping and trade, and a fort was built on Beacon Island (a strategically located piece of land on Pamlico Sound situated a few miles inside Ocracoke Inlet and commanding the passage) to ward off Spanish raiders during the early 1700s. The nearby town of Portsmouth was also founded during this period. During the Revolutionary War, privateers used the inlet to dart out to sea and prey on British shipping and the Continental Navy built war galleys and brigs to defend regional trade. The British navy also targeted the North Carolina coast during the War of 1812, looting Portsmouth at one point.

The book carefully documents the construction, arming, and garrisoning of Fort Ocracoke (a.k.a. Fort Morris) on Beacon Island between May 1861 and its abandonment without a fight in late August and early September. Using a plethora of period maps and a host of newspaper articles and official and private documents, the author meticulously describes the fort's design, construction, armament (20 guns, a mixture of old 8-inch Columbiads, 32-pounders, and 8-inch seacoast howitzers) and supply needs. Six North Carolina infantry companies were assigned to Beacon Island and the town of Portsmouth, with some of the most useful source material coming from members of Capt. Thomas Sparrow's Washington Grays.

According to Smith, work on the fort continued up until the surrender of forts Hatteras and Clark on August 29. Even though it was noted that the waters around Fort Ocracoke were too shallow for the heaviest armed Union gunboats, the controversial decision was immediately made to destroy the fort and evacuate Beacon Island. Unfortunately, in the hasty Confederate withdrawal, the guns could not be saved and were rendered inoperable instead. It would be more than two weeks before Union forces actually landed on Portsmouth and Beacon Island, completing the destruction of fort, guns, and lighthouse.

Identifiable traces of the fort itself were washed away over time, accelerated by a series of storms and hurricanes common to that part of the country.  Today, only a raised mound of sand remains to mark the location of Fort Ocracoke. A large portion of the book is devoted to the 1998 underwater archaeological survey of the presumed site, which uncovered a host of artifacts (the drawings and photos of many are reproduced in the book). Author Robert Smith is a diver, archaeological technician, and founder of SIDCO, a non-profit diving organization dedicated to the study of shipwrecks and other underwater archaeological sites in North Carolina waters. It was this team that conducted the Ocracoke survey.  Project methodology, remote sensing technology, and artifact location mapping are discussed in several well illustrated chapters.  Appendices include a full roster of the Washington Grays and a complete artifact register. The History of Fort Ocracoke in Pamlico Sound is recommending reading for anyone interested in the early stages of the war in North Carolina, Civil War fortifications and ordnance, and the emerging presence of battlefield archaeology in the Civil War literature.