Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Alexander & Utley: "ECHOES OF GLORY: Historic Military Sites across Texas"

[Echoes of Glory: Historic Military Sites across Texas by Thomas E. Alexander & Dan K. Utley (Texas A&M University Press, 2015). Flexbound, 2 maps, photos, index. 256 pp. ISBN:978-1-62349-337-0 $29.95]

According to authors Thomas Alexander and Dan Utley, the response to their 2012 book Faded Glory: A Century of Forgotten Texas Military Sites, Then and Now was so positive and additional reader suggestions so numerous that the authors got right to work on another volume. Their new book Echoes of Glory: Historic Military Sites across Texas looks at 24 more places of military significance from the distant past through the near present. Beginning with a Spanish colonial fortress and concluding with a U.S. naval station shuttered in 2010, the volume spans three centuries of Texas military history.

The two dozen chapters are written in a conversational style designed to appeal to a wide range of readers. Each self contained narrative describes the physical site, as it appeared in its heyday as well as what survives today, but the emphasis is on historical context. In military, social, and economic terms, the impact and importance of many places encompassed local, national and international concerns. Today, many of the locations are in ruins or are simply scars on the natural landscape and the current state of archaeological study of the remains is also briefly assessed. Possible areas for improvement of future volumes might include more photographs and maps (including site layouts). Directions are rudimentary but the book is really more oriented toward history than touring. Many places are also on private land or inaccessible in other ways.

Content is highly diverse in terms of time period as well as the various national and political entities involved (ex. tribal, Spanish colonial, Mexican, Texas, United States and Confederate authorities). The military facilities of the Presidio De San Saba, Fort Teran, and Fort Anahuac helped the Spanish and later Mexican governments protect and administer territory threatened by Indian and American encroachments. U.S. forts (ex. Ewell, Mason and Phantom Hill) built after the war with Mexico are explored in the context of policing the new border and regulating traffic (including the treaty obligation of intercepting Indian raids) across it.

While many sites described in the book have at least some Civil War context (ex. the San Antonio arsenal and G.A. Custer's HQ and march route through Reconstruction Texas), three chapters are specifically devoted to Civil War places and events. The bloodless "Battle" of Adams Hill occurred just west of San Antonio on May 9, 1861 and resulted in the negotiated surrender of a sizable but vastly outnumbered contingent of U.S. Regulars to Confederate forces under Colonel Earl Van Dorn. It marked one of the earliest episodes whereby large numbers of prisoners-of-war were taken by either side, the situation contributing to the establishment of protocols for the disposition and later exchange of captured combatants. In this case, it would be February 1863 before the last Union soldier from the Adams Hill surrender was exchanged.

The wartime cloth mill at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville offers readers an interesting story of a state run enterprise that aided the Confederate war effort and filled government coffers. Huntsville cloth production, over seven million yards in total, was the state's leading industry and generated revenue for Texas second only to property tax. Public and private partnerships were vital for manufacturing war material in the industry-poor South and the Huntsville mill offers an illuminating case study.

Enemy threats from the sea were omnipresent during the conflict and the third Civil War chapter offers insights into the defenses of the state capital, a network that would eventually comprise three forts and their connecting trenches. In 1863, work on Fort Magruder was begun using slave labor but construction was halted the next year when the southern approaches to Austin that it was designed to defend were deemed safe. The earthworks remained visible as late as the 1930s but urban development has since overtaken the site. Today, a 2003 marker placed nearby and a commemorative city street name (misspelled "McGruder") are all that's left for visitors to see.

Other sites covered in the book include Camp Myers (the Black Seminole Scouts base), a fort and airfield originally aimed at stopping Mexican border raids, WW1 and WW2-era training camps and airfields, the Atlas missile site at Lawn, Aransas's WW2 coastal defense facilities, and the short lived Naval Station Ingleside. Altogether, Echoes of Glory offers a great way for today's Texans to learn about the rich military history located in their own backyards. There's also more than enough broader interest material in the book to engage students of the Indian Wars, the Civil War, revolutionary Mexico, WW1, WW2 and the Cold War.

More CWBA reviews of TAMUP titles:
* Confederate Saboteurs: Building the Hunley and Other Secret Weapons of the Civil War
* The Maltby Brothers' Civil War
* Misadventures of a Civil War Submarine: Iron, Guns, and Pearls
* Turmoil on the Rio Grande: The Territorial History of the Mesilla Valley, 1846-1865
* Tejanos in Gray: Civil War Letters of Captains Joseph Rafael de la Garza and Manuel Yturri
* Why Texans Fought in the Civil War
* Moss Bluff Rebel: A Texas Pioneer in the Civil War
* Frontier Defense in the Civil War: Texas' Rangers and Rebels
* Confederate Struggle For Command: General James Longstreet and the First Corps in the West
* Planting The Union Flag In Texas: The Campaigns of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks in the West
* The Yankee Invasion of Texas
* Blood & Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest

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