Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Dollar, Whiteaker & Dickinson, eds.: "BORDER WARS: The Civil War in Tennessee and Kentucky"

[Border Wars: The Civil War in Tennessee and Kentucky edited by Kent T. Dollar, Larry H. Whiteaker and W. Calvin Dickinson (Kent State University Press, 2015). Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, index. 319 pp. ISBN:978-1-60635-241-0. $39.95]

In 2009, University Press of Kentucky published Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee. That fine compilation of essays co-edited by Kent T. Dollar, Larry H. Whiteaker and W. Calvin Dickinson explored the economic, political, and social facets of the conflict within and around the two states. Six years later, the military side of the equation gets its due with Border Wars: The Civil War in Tennessee and Kentucky, its thirteen original essays divided into two sections ("Part 1: Battles, Skirmishes and Soldiers" and "Part 2: Leaders").

Mirroring current scholarly interests and trends in the Civil War military scholarship of the border regions, Part 1 effectively highlights both the regular and irregular conflicts that existed side by side in Kentucky and Tennessee for most of the war years. Geographical breadth is also satisfactory, although including an essay on some aspect of the war in East Kentucky would have made coverage even more comprehensive and also would have provided an appreciative nod toward some fine work recently done on the Civil War in the Big Sandy Valley.

Aaron Astor begins Part 1 by looking at local antebellum militia formations from Clarksville, Tennessee and Lexington, Kentucky and examining how they kept their local militia identities when folded into the Confederate government's new Provisional Army. Like Gerry Prokopowicz's All for the Regiment, Astor's article seems to support the thesis that the cohesion and military efficiency of Civil War armies was strongest at the bottom and tended to rapidly weaken up the order of battle, a problem perhaps most striking in the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

Scott Tarnowieckyi next traces the evolutionary course of the guerrilla conflict in Kentucky's Green River Valley. He finds that the combination of falling garrison troop levels, increased guerrilla activity and heightened civilian anger over emancipation, black recruitment, and martial law restrictions from 1864 onward together fueled a regional breakdown in social order.

The abortive Union invasion of East Tennessee in late 1861 is the subject of Michael Toomey's chapter, which contrasts the willingness of pro-Union East Tennesseans to rise up against local Confederate authorities to the command lethargy of successive army departmental chiefs William T. Sherman and Don Carlos Buell. In contrast to the eager civilian leadership in Washington, both generals believed that logistical limitations made invasion and occupation of East Tennessee untenable at that point in the war and they were surely correct.

Patricia Hoskins's study of guerrilla conflict in the Jackson Purchase region of western Kentucky finds that election and trade restrictions combined with black recruitment and heavy handed Union military crackdowns sparked a sharp rise in guerrilla activity. The resulting feedback loop of revenge and reprisal only ended with the conclusion of the war. According to Hoskins, the bitter perception among the populace that federal troops treated all citizens as disloyal fostered an enduring post-war Confederate identity, a subject more thoroughly explored in a number of recent books (ex. studies by Anne Marshall, Berry Craig, Aaron Astor, Christopher Phillips and others).

Derek Frisby explores how federal occupation authorities squandered Union support in West Tennessee by moving garrisons away from pro-Union enclaves, allowing individuals of doubtful loyalty to (re)assume leadership posts, and failing to check indiscriminate pillaging and abuse. Obsessed with East Tennessee, federal officials wasted six months before authorizing West and Middle Tennessee regiments and then failed to support, pay and adequately equip them, instead berating their performance and holding them to standards of conduct higher than those expected of other volunteer regiments. The mutual mistrust affected relations during and long after the war.

The section closes with an overview of the Battle of Franklin by Wiley Sword, who sadly passed away recently. Sword's piece basically recapitulates his classic Embrace an Angry Wind and does not engage the new scholarship that has emerged since.

The Part II contributors reexamine key military figures from both sides. Controversy surrounds most of the subjects and some writers argue for the need to alter consensus views. Brian McKnight begins by putting forth a solid case that the Tennessee political general Felix Zollicoffer possessed military instincts belying the generally dismissive assessments that populate the literature. After arriving in East Tennessee, Zollicoffer occupied Cumberland Gap, effectively blockaded the Kentucky-Tennessee border, and also set up a well planned forward defense utilizing the natural defenses of the region. His offensive moves were ultimately foiled by terrain and inexperience [as well as a superior, General George Crittenden, rendered incompetent by alcoholism] but those impediments scuttled the plans of many early war commanders of all abilities.

Stephen Engle's look at the command tenure of Don Carlos Buell ultimately traces the general's downfall to a lack of political skills in a political war. Buell antagonized western governors, the president, and fellow commanders and he also squandered the goodwill of his own soldiers with repeated admonitions against foraging and confiscation (though there is evidence that Buell's rigidity when it came to conciliation changed at least some civilian attitudes along his line of advance). While he didn't fulfill expectations of success when it came to capturing Chattanooga or crushing Braxton Bragg in Kentucky, Buell was also somewhat of a victim of bad timing, his army being in the middle of an active campaign while the political debates were turning sharply toward harsher war measures.

Earl Hess offers a more favorable view of Bragg's conduct of the Stones River campaign and battle than most prior writers. He supports Bragg's selection of the less than ideal Murfreesboro position as politically necessary and is impressed with the Army of Tennessee's crushing assault on December 31, persuasively rating its tactical result as more grand than the achievement of Stonewall Jackson's infinitely higher praised attack on the Union right at Chancellorsville. The January 2 attack remains indefensible but the decision to retreat after the battle (about which Bragg was roundly criticized at the time) seems prudent in retrospect.

The Army of Tennessee possessed fighting men second to none but a toxic high command unmatched by any other Civil War army (by far) and Christopher Losson retraces the mutually antagonistic relationship between Braxton Bragg and subordinate Frank Cheatham. The overall story is a well known one and Losson astutely analyzes both generals's strengths and weaknesses, with the latter contributing greatly to the army's internal dissension and general inefficiency.

Jack Hurst's comparative study of Grant and Forrest seeks to find common ground between the two generals in terms of background, character, military ability and fighting philosophy. Hurst has written two books that argue along similar lines and, in the main, it still strikes this reader as an overly forced matching of the pair, one made awkward given the great disparity between the two in rank, impact and overall historical importance.

Moving away from the generals for a moment, Tennessee governor Isham Harris's biographer, Sam Davis Elliott, examines Harris's reputation as a "fighting governor."  Historian Thomas Connelly once labeled Harris the "father of the Army of Tennessee" for the governor's efforts in raising 100,000 troops and mobilizing his state's military resources, but Elliott instead concentrates on Harris as frontline army staff officer and tireless advocate of Tennessee interests in many military arenas, including western theater strategy, officer appointments and promotions, and soldier welfare. Interestingly, Elliott cites several examples of Harris's recognized military acumen, raising the possibility that the governor possessed untapped command abilities of his own.

Given Benjamin Franklin Cooling's stature in the scholarship of the Civil War lived and fought in the western theater crossroads between North and South, it is fitting that he is awarded the last word in this volume of essays. Citing the work of his fellow contributors, Cooling's Afterword brings the essay project of Dollar, Whiteaker and Dickinson full circle, reintegrating the military aspects of Border Wars with the political, social, cultural and economic contexts examined earlier in Sister States, Enemy States. Both volumes are highly recommended.

More CWBA reviews of Kent St UP titles:
* "My Greatest Quarrel with Fortune": Major General Lew Wallace in the West, 1861-1862
* Work for Giants: The Campaign and Battle of Tupelo/Harrisburg, Mississippi, June-July 1864
* Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864
* A German Hurrah!: Civil War Letters of Friedrich Bertsch and Wilhelm Stängel, 9th Ohio Infantry
* Orlando M. Poe: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer
* August Willich's Gallant Dutchmen: Civil War Letters from the 32nd Indiana Infantry
* Caution and Cooperation: The American Civil War in British-American Relations
* Winfield Scott and the Profession of Arms

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