Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Booknotes: The Confederate Soldiers of Rockbridge County, Virginia

New Arrival:
The Confederate Soldiers of Rockbridge County, Virginia: A Roster
by Robert J. Driver, Jr. (McFarland, 2016).

West and Trans-Mississippi Civil War enthusiasts have done much to narrow the gap in recent decades, but the East still dominates when it comes to sheer numbers of often serially published obsessives (in a good way) matched with all manner of eastern theater associated topics. According to the author bio attached to The Confederate Soldiers of Rockbridge County, Virginia, Robert Driver has written 12 books on Virginia and Maryland Confederate infantry, cavalry, artillery, and sailors. Way back when, my very first published review was of a Driver book. He's a well respected researcher, and the new volume "provides a comprehensive roster of all known Confederate soldiers, sailors and marines from Rockbridge County, Virginia, or those who served in units raised in the County. Washington College and Virginia Military Institute alumni who were from Rockbridge, enlisted in local companies or lived in the County before or after the war are also included. Complete service records are given, along with photographs where possible." Beyond a very brief introduction and preface, the roster itself constitutes essentially the entire book. It looks like a valuable tool for interested parties to add to their reference libraries.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Booknotes: Justice and Vengeance

New Arrival:
Justice and Vengeance: Scandal, Honor, and Murder in 1872 Virginia
by Arwen Bicknell (Open Books, 2016).

I can't say that I've ever heard of the trial of Lucien N. Fewell for the murder of James F. Clark, but it seem to have garnered quite a bit of national interest at the time judging from the number of newspaper articles I found about it online. Fewell shot Clark for seducing Fewell's sister. Among the actors in the trial story, there is a Civil War connection. Confederate general and ex-governor Henry Wise worked for the prosecution and former generals Eppa Hunton and William Payne were part of the defense team.

From the description: "​In Justice and Vengeance, Arwen Bicknell offers the first full account of the events leading up to the shooting of James Clark by Lucien Fewell and the sensational, headline-grabbing murder trial that followed. Set against the backdrop of Reconstruction, tumultuous Virginia politics, and the presidential election of 1872 featuring Ulysses Grant, Horace Greeley, and protofeminist Victoria Woodhull, the first female presidential candidate, Bicknell paints a vivid picture of the evolving South..."

Monday, August 29, 2016

Author Q & A: Gary Ecelbarger and the Battle of Ezra Church

Though he's also written biographies of Union generals John A. Logan and Frederick West Lander (as well as an interesting study of Lincoln's nomination), Gary Ecelbarger is perhaps best known as one of the finest researchers and writers of Civil War battle history. He made his mark first with a pair of original examinations of early phases of the 1862 Shenandoah Campaign [We Are in for It: The First Battle of Kernstown, March 23, 1862 (White Mane, 1997) and Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester (Oklahoma, 2008)] before moving out west to the 1864 Georgia Campaign with The Day Dixie Died: The Battle of Atlanta (Thomas Dunne, 2010).

Staying with the Atlanta Campaign, Ecelbarger's new book is the upcoming Slaughter at the Chapel: The Battle of Ezra Church, 1864 (Oklahoma, Oct '16), and it is the subject of today's Q&A session with the author.

DW: Hi, Gary. When you started the project, what unresolved questions about Ezra Church interested you the most?

GE: I approached this battle study with a goal to uncover the entire make up and location of both attacking and defending lines, the number of troops engaged, exactly how many troops went down killed and wounded as well as the chronology and decisive moment of the battle. As it turns out, I was able to get closer to all of those defining points but still found the exact answers to be elusive.

My greatest thrill of researching and writing battle studies is the completely unexpected discoveries and revelations. In the case of Ezra Church it was uncovering new answers to what heretofore had been considered already resolved issues. For this battle the spectrum ranged from the rather trivial (example, the fact that Lt. Col. Thomas Shields of the 30th Louisiana Battalion was not an Ohioan as previously misstated numerous times), to more meaty discoveries and their implications, such as uncovering the fact that the Henry-repeater-wielding 66th Illinois was not called into action for this battle (every other study of Ezra Church misidentifies this regiment as engaged in battle that day) while two sister regiments of its brigade did fight as reinforcements. This discovery not only challenges the previously accepted record of this battle, it forces one to question upper command’s lack of appreciation of repeating rifles in the midsummer of 1864, which in my opinion is also a revealing new discovery. Most of all and most importantly, I presented new cases about what commanders knew and didn’t know and what their objectives and orders were. Again, I entered this project believing these were resolved issues, so it was quite a revelation to discover otherwise.

DW: You obviously have a very high regard for the command abilities and combat record of John A. Logan. What do you think of Sherman’s “excuses” for replacing him at the head of the Army of the Tennessee with the West Pointer O.O. Howard?

GE: In pure hindsight, we can say that Sherman’s decision to replace Logan with Howard was not at all detrimental to ultimate Union success because it would be hard to pinpoint a serious campaign misstep that Howard made while at the helm of the army. It is also easy to recognize that Logan’s greatest attribute — as explained by a division commander, his ability “to call out of his men every particle of fight that was in them” — would necessarily be blunted by elevating Logan from corps command to army command. Excuses aside, it’s clear from Sherman’s most relevant explanations for choosing the West Pointer over the man he later admitted to be “perfect in combat” is that Sherman placed a higher premium on the Department of the Tennessee over of the Army of the Tennessee, which meant that organization and logistics superseded tactical acumen for the chief he sought. I don’t fault Sherman’s reasoning, but I do question his belief that Logan was not up to that task and that Howard somehow was in the summer of 1864, particularly since Howard became the first outsider to enter the helm of Grant’s and Sherman’s former army (and did so with a very “sketchy” record) while Logan had a three-year, very positive history with the personnel of the Department of the Tennessee, was easily the most successful of Sherman’s seven infantry corps commanders of his entire army group at this point of the campaign, and to my knowledge had not demonstrated any shortcomings in the non-battle functions of the army.

DW: Howard took over from Logan “on the march,” a difficult situation made more so by being tasked with taking the lead of a major operation. How would you rate his performance in his first battle as an army commander?

GE: He won the battle in which only his brand new army was engaged. But it wasn’t easy and Howard appears to have made inexcusable errors, such as his lax attention to artillery deployment. But overall, Howard took full advantage of the fortune of owning the high ground and his army was on the desirable side of a 6:1 disparity in casualties because of it. It’s hard to imagine a more lopsided victory than this; there doesn’t seem to be any avenue for a counter assault on July 28. In the end, Howard’s greatest contribution to his army’s victory was that he let the Army of the Tennessee handle all the tactics from the corps to the brigade level without micromanaging them. There was no need to this day.

DW: S.D. Lee is often portrayed as the goat of Ezra Church, but your book makes a persuasive case that army commander John Bell Hood’s creation of the conditions leading to a high likelihood of failure outweighed the tactical mistakes of his subordinates. By 1864, every corps commander should have been able to coordinate a two division assault, and Lee apparently learned little or nothing from his Tupelo experience. Do you think Lee was simply unsuited to corps command responsibility?

GE: Although every corps commander should have been able to coordinate a two-division assault by the summer of ’64 as you rightfully contend, I contend that very few of them would have done a better job of it under the same, immense time constraint (Lee had to attack ASAP before the XV Corps line completely established itself and dug in). Lee’s castigation and belittling of his men after the battle was counterproductive and certainly unbecoming of a corps commander. Yet, at the tactical level, I don’t echo the conclusion that is usually offered regarding his performance at Ezra Church. In hindsight, the only chance Lee’s assault could have succeeded at the time he launched it would have been to align farther northwest with heavier, two-directional pressure applied to the yet to-be-deployed right flank of the XV Corps. Yet, given his necessity to strike quick and hard to gain the heights assigned to him, Lee’s rapid deployment and huge hit upon the Union XV Corps line was impressive: six of his seven brigades attacked, temporarily pierced, and inflicted significant casualties upon nearly the entire two-mile U-shaped defense confronting them, and did so beginning in about 90 minutes and continuing within three hours after receiving Hood’s orders a full two miles from the point of deployment. That Lee was able to attempt this in his second day as a commander of men he had never seen before, while coordinating the effort in full compliance with his mission and instructions, is a worthy performance—certainly not perfect, but also not the real cause of his corps’ defeat.

DW: Hood’s shortcomings in planning and directing the Ezra Church operation are laid out clearly and comprehensively in the book, and we’ll leave it to readers to peruse them in their totality. In your mind, what was Hood’s gravest mistake?

GE: Hood was stuck in a box. So certain and concerned was he that Sherman would inevitable launch a mass assault at any weakness that he [Sherman] could sniff out in Hood’s defensive ring around the city that Hood felt reluctant to send out S. D. Lee to enact Hood’s plan until after 10:00 a.m. that morning of July 28. It proved to be too late and the real cause of Lee’s defeat. If Hood sent Lee out of Atlanta at a reasonable time—just one to two hours earlier—Lee would have been the first to hold and secure the high ground before XV Corps skirmishers even penetrated the area, and would have done so with minimal or no Confederate casualties while forcing Sherman to send Howard’s army into an inevitable Union bloodbath in an attempt to force Lee off those heights. The late start forced Lee to launch costly and fruitless assaults to gain the same heights he should have occupied without the loss of a single man. Hood’s vacillation was undoubtedly his greatest mistake.

DW: Do you believe that Hood’s battle plan as originally conceived had a reasonable chance for success (and what do you see as the best case scenario for the Confederates on July 28-29)? The two-day timetable immediately struck me as sub-optimal (to put it as kindly as possible).

GE: We can only speculate on what the definition of “success” would have been for Hood if his plan worked to perfection (or at all, for that matter). It was not nearly as grandiose as his battle plan for July 22 east of Atlanta. I believe Hood expected to inflict serious damage against Sherman’s advanced troops (Howard’s Army of the Tennessee) on the western side of Atlanta and at least temporarily thwart Sherman’s offensive and give Hood a respite. The two-day timetable was unreasonable because it assumed that S. D. Lee could hold off mounting Union pressure with only two divisions (8,000 men) for as long as an entire day, an entire night, and following morning until Stewart’s four divisions could slip around and shock assault the Union right flank. The other weakness of the plan was the assumption that Stewart was up to the task to coordinate a 14,000-man offensive. Based on Stewart’s unimaginative and ultimately failed assaults on July 28 with two divisions, I doubt his ability to have succeeded in accordance with Hood’s original plan while in charge of twice as many men.

DW: Your argument that the top-to-bottom gutting of the Confederate Army of Tennessee officer corps from months of continuous fighting (including several decidedly untimely high-ranking losses during the battle itself) accounts for many of the problems experienced at Ezra Church is well orchestrated in the book. You are much less persuaded than others have been by the notion that terrain was a key factor in Union victory. Can you explain why you feel this way?

GE: I don’t feel that way regarding terrain! Whoever reached and held the heights that surrounded and included Ezra Church would have the greatest advantage for fighting this contest on the defensive, so I placed a premium on describing the importance of securing those hills. Perhaps you refer to other terrain features: woods, waterways, etc. I suppose I am less persuaded here because I don’t believe that in their entirety, these terrain features were unique to Ezra Church at all. They both aided and hampered infantry, blue and gray, at the same time in this battle as they did in nearly every Civil War battle. In fact, the uniqueness of the Ezra Church terrain is that limited open ground for field of fire was part of the reason why there was virtually no Union artillery salvos fired after the opening minutes of this contest. So shouldn’t that terrain feature have aided the attacking Confederates instead of being “a key factor in Union victory?” A final observation I should offer here is that if you walk the grounds of the Ezra Church battlefield today, you will be able to identify three creeks—two of them fairly deep—that ran both parallel and perpendicular to the Confederate attack and clearly exist between the two opposing lines today. However, it must be noted that the two available period (summer, 1864) engineer maps of the battlefield indicate than only one of those streams (the one identified as “Dead Brook” in the macabre Harper’s Weekly image in its Aug. 27, 1864 issue) crossed the Union defense line and extended to the Confederate position at the time of the battle. Regardless, one would be hard pressed to find first-hand accounts that even mention this stream let alone identify it as one that hindered the Confederates that deadly day.

DW: You were sort of getting what I was after with the rhetorical question you posit in the middle part of your answer, that the unfortified and wooded Union position along the "heights" did not offer defensive advantages to the degree that others have maintained. Anyway, you mark Ezra Church as the battle that finally broke the spirit of the rank and file of the Army of Tennessee. Given the offensive elan demonstrated later in the war at Franklin, were you referring specifically to the 1864 North Georgia Campaign or were you arguing in the book that the battle represented a more permanent tipping point?

GE: I truly was referring to the May-September 1864 campaign ending at Atlanta.

DW: In your estimation, is this morale element the most significant outcome of the battle?

GE: Ezra Church culminated nine calendar days of battles where the Union became increasingly confident and the Confederates became increasingly disarrayed and desperate. The diaries and letters from both sides provide strong evidence for this. I see little evidence of Confederates launching a dispirited attack at Ezra Church like there exists for the first day at Jonesboro a month later. My opinion is that the difference is due to morale. Ezra Church impacted the psyche of the soldier as a lasting consequence for the rest of the summer campaign, but it cannot be overlooked that another outcome of the battle is that the viciousness of this fight did factor in to slow Sherman’s momentum and ultimately delayed his infantry from penetrating the final rail lines into Atlanta by a month. Would Lincoln have won his re-election if that delay extended into early November? I suppose that’s a different topic for discussion ...

DW: Thanks for your time, Gary. What’s next for you?

GE: Thank you, Drew for the opportunity to discuss Ezra Church. I’m pretty well ensconced in this campaign and plan at least two more books about it, including one about the Battle of Dallas (Georgia). I eventually expect to return to the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 with an emphasis on the final two weeks of that famous campaign. I’ve completed a significant amount of research and some of the writing for two of my projected works, but I don’t expect to publish my next book for at least 3 more years, which of course also depends on who my next publisher will be.

DW: Sounds great. Readers, look for Gary's book Slaughter at the Chapel: The Battle of Ezra Church, 1864 to be released in a few weeks. My review should be posted soon after. In it, I will include a brief footnote laying out (as I see them) the major differences between the Ecelbarger and Hess studies of the battle.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Guerrilla Hunters

I experienced something of a mind meld with the book description writer for the upcoming The Guerrilla Hunters: Irregular Conflicts during the Civil War (LSU, Spring '17). The first sentence of this post was going to mention how we've experienced a renaissance in guerrilla war studies over the past decade and, lo and behold, the second sentence in the description matched my thoughts nearly word for word. The Guerrilla Hunters is an essay collection edited by Brian McKnight and Barton Myers. Publication is a ways off, and there's no table of contents available yet. But there are 14 contributors (including the two editors) listed, and I am looking forward to the seeing the variety of topics covered. Much of the irregular war literature still focuses primarily on the guerrillas themselves, with those men and units specifically tasked with destroying them (and often employing the same tactics of terror) getting far less attention, so this should be an important anthology.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Review of Barr, ed.: "A CIVIL WAR CAPTAIN AND HIS LADY: Love, Courtship, and Combat From Fort Donelson through the Vicksburg Campaign"

[A Civil War Captain and His Lady: Love, Courtship, and Combat From Fort Donelson through the Vicksburg Campaign edited by Gene Barr (Savas Beatie, 2016). Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 351 pp. ISBN:978-1-61121-290-7. $32.95]

Born in Ireland, Josiah Moore was raised from infancy in the United States, his family settling in Illinois. A Monmouth College student when the war broke out, the 27-year-old Moore volunteered for army service and was elected a captain in the newly formed 17th Illinois. After passing through the training camp at Peoria, Moore campaigned with the regiment on both sides of Mississippi, escaping death on several battlefields before his three-year term of service ended in July 1864. The intimate wartime correspondence between Moore and Peoria resident (and eventual wife) Jennie Lindsay are the subject of A Civil War Captain and His Lady, edited by Gene Barr.

A remarkable feature of the collection is that nearly the entire set of back and forth letters sent between 1861 and 1863 survives (unfortunately, Jennie's reply letters are missing from 1864 onward). The writings express a great deal of mutual religiosity, as well as the longing and playful teasing one might expect from budding lovers. Barr occasionally footnotes items of interest but reserves most of his rather substantial research material for incorporation into the book's extensive parallel narrative. In it, he provides much in the way of historical context for Civil War events, as well as insights into Victorian era courtship, letter writing protocols, and other common middle-class religious and social rituals of the period. Details about the Peoria home front experience are also communicated in Jennie's letters. Readers might be interested to learn that Jennie's politically prominent father switched from the Republican party to the Peace Democrats (an unusual ideological conversion), which apparently did not affect the relationship between the ardent war supporter and abolitionist Moore (who despised "Copperheads") and the Lindsay family. Of course, as Barr notes, it never helps to antagonize one's future father-in-law, so it's entirely possible that Moore's silence was a matter of strategic self-interest.

Military matters affecting Moore and his unit are another primary focus of Barr's accompanying text. A number of primary source materials written by other officers and men (both inside and outside the regiment) are utilized to good effect by the author, who significantly fleshes out the fighting career of the 17th Illinois. These unit history sections have a larger significance, too, as the 17th does not yet have a modern regimental study devoted to it. Barr discusses the unit's campaigns and battles, including Fredericktown, Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Corinth, and Vicksburg. Through much of the early war period, Moore himself did not devote much space to detailing his own military experiences (and Jennie actually requested that he not tell her about the battles), and Barr adeptly fills in many of these gaps. The book's account of the 17th's actions at Fort Donelson is particularly good.

The reticence displayed toward telling Jennie about military events changed, however, around the time of the Siege of Corinth, when Moore began to write more and more about what he witnessed on the battlefield. These sections of his letters contain useful information for modern readers, much of it related to the Vicksburg campaign and the far less written about federal occupation of the city*. Moore describes what he saw during the May 22 assault on the town's ramparts, as well as what life was like in the trenches during the siege. After the city fell, Moore and the regiment garrisoned the city for most of the rest of their enlistment period. In addition to informing Jennie (and the reader) about relatively obscure expeditions sent across the river to Monroe, Louisiana and into Arkansas, Moore also describes in his letters his thoughts on the 1864 Meridian Campaign and a subsequent military excursion up the Yazoo River. Declining to reenlist when his unit's term of service expired, Moore left the army in June 1864. He soon after married Jennie, went back to school, and embarked on a long career as a Presbyterian minister.

In the Civil War literature, there's no shortage of published correspondence between Civil War soldiers and their sweethearts or wives, but the letters in A Civil War Captain and His Lady are more revealing than the typical collection making its way into print these days. The value of the book is enhanced significantly by editor Gene Barr's supporting research and writing, and those readers with a special interest in the 17th Illinois will be well rewarded.

* - Coincidentally, Bradley Clampitt's Occupied Vicksburg (LSU, Oct '16) should appear soon. This will be the first full length study of the occupation.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Battle of Glendale

After decades of neglect, items on the checklist of Atlanta and Petersburg campaign battles without modern book length studies are being ticked off with regularity. The same cannot be said for the equally important 1862 Peninsula Campaign and its massive Seven Days denouement. A relatively recent attempt at a Glendale history fell far short of expectations, but another one is set for release early next year. The Battle of Glendale: Robert E. Lee's Lost Opportunity by Douglas Crenshaw (The History Press, Jan '17) will be part of a Civil War series that admittedly runs the gamut in terms of quality. I am not familiar with the author's work, but a positive review from Brett over at TOCWOC for Crenshaw's Fort Harrison study (from the same series) definitely puts the upcoming book on my to-read list.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Booknotes: Wolford's Cavalry

New Arrival:
Wolford's Cavalry: The Colonel, the War in the West, and the Emancipation Question in Kentucky by Dan Lee (Potomac Bks, 2016).

This is the second book (the first being Ronald Blair's Wild Wolf) to appear within a year that examines the life and Civil War career of Frank Wolford, the colonel of the First Kentucky Cavalry who forged a distinguished combat record with the Union Army but clashed with the administration over emancipation (an opposition that led to arrests and charges of disloyalty that eventually forced him out of the army). From the description: "Although his military record established him as one of the most vigorous, courageous, and original commanders in the cavalry, Wolford’s later reputation suffered. Dan Lee restores balance to the story of a crude, complicated, but talented man and the unconventional regiment he led in the fight to save the Union. Placing Wolford in the context of the political and cultural crosscurrents that tore at Kentucky during the war, Lee fills out the historical picture of 'Old Roman Nose.'"

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Review of Armstrong: "OPPOSING THE SECOND CORPS AT ANTIETAM: The Fight for the Confederate Left and Center on America's Bloodiest Day"

[Opposing the Second Corps at Antietam: The Fight for the Confederate Left and Center on America's Bloodiest Day by Marion V. Armstrong Jr. (University of Alabama Press, 2016). Hardcover, 41 maps, notes, select bibliography, index. Pages main/total:175/211. ISBN:978-0-8173-1904-5. $39.95]

In 2008, the University of Alabama press published Unfurl Those Colors: McClellan, Sumner, and the Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign, Marion V. Armstrong's minutely detailed tactical account of the desperate fighting in the West Woods and Sunken Road from the Union perspective. The quality of the study's intensive scrutiny of a key sector of the Antietam battlefield remains well respected by military students of the war. In terms of attempts at historiographical revision, the book also significantly softens traditional criticisms aimed at Second Corps commander Edwin V. Sumner, whose order sending John Sedgwick's division into the West Woods on a narrow front and without adequate reconnaissance has been roundly condemned ever since. From a desire on the part of the author to present the material using only information known to Union forces at the time, the Confederate perspective was intentionally blurred. Without knowledge that a companion volume would eventually be produced, this limitation was a source of some criticism. In his new book, Opposing the Second Corps at Antietam: The Fight for the Confederate Left and Center on America's Bloodiest Day, Armstrong now explores in matching depth and focus the very same events from the Confederate point of view.

The Confederate left at Antietam, commanded by Stonewall Jackson, suffered devastating losses in the process of repelling the early morning assaults of the Union First (Hooker) and Twelfth (Mansfield) Corps across Miller's Cornfield and into the surrounding woodlots. With Sumner's Second Corps on the way to deliver the knockout blow, Confederate reinforcements were urgently needed by mid-morning on September 17 to stave off total collapse in the sector. Robert E. Lee immediately dispatched reserves to his crumbling northern front, and it is at this critical moment that Armstrong's examination of the Army of Northern Virginia's battle on the left and center begins.

In the book, Armstrong weaves together official reports and other participant accounts into a masterfully crafted combat narrative of the West Woods and Sunken Road fighting. The text is remarkably comprehensive, pinpointing the positions and movements of each Confederate regiment and battery during both the devastating offensive counterstroke into the West Woods that nearly destroyed Sedgwick's division and the doomed defense of the Sunken Road by the divisions of D.H. Hill and R.H. Anderson. The book additionally covers a multitude of smaller scale actions on the part of individual regiments and brigades in support of the main events. An exception to the uneasy stalemate conditions that existed along most of the Confederate left and center during the later hours of the battle, the scramble to check a brief afternoon advance by the U.S. Regulars up the Boonsboro Pike is also recounted.

Charting the progress of the fighting at short intervals, the book's 41 maps comprise an immensely helpful support tool. Unlike the cartography of far too many modern battle studies, Armstrong's maps are original creations intimately tied to the narrative. Seemingly every action described in the text, large and small, is represented on map and at the appropriate small unit (regiment and battery) scale. Equal attention is given to the landscape of the battlefield, with the entire range of tactically relevant natural and man-made terrain features fully rendered. Elevation contour lines are also present, an often neglected aspect of battle cartography that is nevertheless essential to the understanding of a battle largely fought over open, gently rolling fields where even the smallest ground undulation provided tactically significant advantages and disadvantages. The only suggestion for improvement would have been to make the maps larger for greater ease of viewing.

The nature of the study is primarily descriptive, but there is some broader analysis present. The traditional conception of why battle was offered at Antietam stems from a tacit admission by Lee that the aims of his Maryland Campaign were effectively foiled by the unexpectedly rapid Union response, with Antietam representing the aggressive general's desire to not abandon the campaign entirely without first offering battle. Armstrong agrees instead with the idea that the Confederate stand at Antietam was a temporary measure designed to keep Lee's offensive options open (the road north to Hagerstown being unobstructed prior to the battle)*. Lee's orders late on the 17th, after his army was already badly battered, to assemble a force to pass behind the Union far right and secure a road north supports this view. As Armstrong shows, the movement was aborted when it was discovered that the Union flank (covered by a powerful massed battery of up to 30 guns) rested on the Potomac, the inward bend of which was a source of surprise [and, according to the author, an unwarranted surprise given that J.E.B. Stuart had plenty of time before the battle to scout the road network north of Sharpsburg] to the Confederates.

Fully complementing each other, the maps and battle narratives of the companion studies Unfurl Those Colors and Opposing the Second Corps at Antietam together comprise the literature's clearest and most complete tactical history of the West Woods and Sunken Road phases of the Antietam battle. These volumes should be regarded as essential components of the 1862 Maryland Campaign bookshelf.

* - The chapter notes to this discussion of Lee's true intention at Antietam are heavily referenced to the pair of works authored by historian Joseph Harsh—Confederate Tide Rising: Robert E. Lee and the Making of Southern Strategy, 1861-1862 (1998) and Taken at the Flood: Robert E. Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862 (1999)—and presumably it is a point of agreement between the two authors.

Go HERE to view more CWBA reviews of UA Press titles.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Booknotes: Braxton Bragg

New Arrival:
Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy
by Earl J. Hess (UNC Press, 2016).

History has not been kind to Braxton Bragg, to put it mildly. I've never held a copy of newspaperman Don Carlos Seitz's 1924 biography Braxton Bragg: General of the Confederacy, but the story goes that historian Grady McWhiney found Bragg so distasteful that he couldn't finish his own attempt at a biography, leaving the second volume to Judith Lee Hallock to complete. Readers tend to share the same dismissively negative opinion of the general's Civil War career. The McWhiney-Hallock biography was the standard treatment for a long time, but a much more recent effort, Samuel Martin's General Braxton Bragg, C.S.A. (2011), finally attempted to restore some balance to the equation (how well it did this, I cannot say firsthand). Earl Hess's new book also seeks to establish a more evenhanded picture of the man and the general. Braxton Bragg "analyzes Bragg's many campaigns and battles, he also emphasizes how his contemporaries viewed his successes and failures and how these reactions affected Bragg both personally and professionally. The testimony and opinions of other members of the Confederate army—including Bragg's superiors, his fellow generals, and his subordinates—reveal how the general became a symbol for the larger military failures that undid the Confederacy." Previously, Hess offered some hints to his approach in the Stones River essay he contributed to the 2015 anthology Border Wars: The Civil War in Tennessee and Kentucky, and I am looking forward to reading the full exploration of his ideas in this book.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Army of Tennessee OB study

Author Darrell Collins compiled information he extracted primarily from the O.R. in a useful way for his 2013 book The Army of the Potomac: Order of Battle, 1861-1865, with Commanders, Strengths, Losses and More. His next volume, The Army of Northern Virginia: Organization, Strength, Casualties 1861-1865 (2015), far exceeded the first in terms of scope and reference value, so much so that one wishes Collins might revisit the Potomac army. For now, though, the series (I suppose we can now call it that) has headed out west to examine another of the war's main field armies. The Army of Tennessee: Organization, Strength, Casualties, 1862-1865 (McFarland) is currently scheduled for a late 2016 release.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Review of Kahan: "AMIABLE SCOUNDREL: Simon Cameron, Lincoln's Scandalous Secretary of War"

[Amiable Scoundrel: Simon Cameron, Lincoln's Scandalous Secretary of War by Paul Kahan (Potomac Books, 2016). Hardcover, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 367 pp. ISBN:978-1-61234-814-8. $36.95]

In the popular mind, Simon Cameron is chiefly remembered for two things, his breathtaking personal corruption and a dismal record of incompetence as Abraham Lincoln's first Secretary of War. According to Paul Kahan, author of Amiable Scoundrel: Simon Cameron, Lincoln's Scandalous Secretary of War, both conclusions are grossly oversimplified and unfair characterizations of the life and career of a major figure in nineteenth century American politics. In Kahan's view, there is much to admire in Cameron, who rose from poverty to the heights of state and national power, demonstrating along the way strong loyalty to friends and allies while spending an entire political career tirelessly promoting the interests of his home state of Pennsylvania. An anti-slavery moderate, he was also comparatively liberal on race.

Simon Cameron was born in 1799 in Maytown, Pennsylvania. His father's business failures and early death left the elder Cameron's wife and children in dire financial straits, and, like his older siblings, young Simon was taken in by a prominent local family. Devouring all available reading material, Cameron devoted himself to personal advancement. His newspaper apprenticeship exposed him to the great political events and concerns of the day and fueled personal ambitions for a future in public life. While he eventually partnered in his own newspaper endeavors, Cameron's most fruitful occupational pursuit was banking, and the connections he made in both spheres fostered his growing influence in Pennsylvania's Democratic politics.

In evaluating historical charges that Cameron was exceptionally corrupt, Kahan begins his analysis with the budding politician's first public appointment. In 1838, Cameron obtained a patronage job from President Van Buren and powerful Pennsylvania Senator James Buchanan as one of the commissioners assigned to handle individual cash claims related to the government's 1837 land settlement with the Winnebago. Though a subsequent investigation cleared Cameron, who was accused of defrauding or allowing others to defraud claimants, the taint of corruption from the Winnebago affair would follow him throughout his political career. While it seems possible that Cameron's hands were not entirely clean, the author found no direct evidence to support the accusations, which were likely to a large degree politically motivated. This is a common theme in the book's examination of the many allegations made against Cameron for misusing high office for personal gain.

All his life, Cameron was an enthusiastic supporter and practitioner of the federal spoils and patronage system, but he comes across in Amiable Scoundrel as more of a skilled operator than an exceptionally venal actor. A distinction should also be made between outright fraud, bribery, or profiteering and the acceptable political methods of the period that would be considered "corrupt" today (like the aforementioned spoils and patronage system). It wasn't always smooth sailing, however. As Kahan describes in the book, Cameron clashed with president and fellow Democrat James Polk over appointments, exposing one of the great sources of friction within the patronage system. Traditionally, chief executives deferred to legislators of the same party when it came to home state appointments, but sometimes presidents (like Polk) assumed the privilege for themselves without consulting congressional allies. While supportive of the annexation of Texas and the War with Mexico, Cameron did break with Polk over adjusting the Tariff of 1842 (its revision known as the Walker Tariff), and this action made Cameron something of a hero to Pennsylvania's business interests. While other northern Democrats went down to defeat in the aftermath, Cameron's personal position was strengthened through his widely known opposition to weakening measures designed to protect northern industries.

Critics at the time regarded Cameron as a shameless and disloyal political opportunist, but Kahan usefully reminds us that the party system itself was fluid during the early to mid nineteenth century, with national movements and parties coming and going with some frequency. Cameron began political life as a Jacksonian Democrat but was often more Whig-like in ideology (he was pro-bank, a high-tariff protectionist, and supported government funding of internal improvements). Later on, he associated himself with the short-lived Know-Nothings before finally landing in the upstart Republican Party in 1856. According to Kahan, through all these political changes, Cameron viewed his primary job to be the champion of Pennsylvania interests, especially its businesses and industries. Career long stances on slavery, banks, high tariffs, immigration limits, and internal improvements made his career of party switching more a matter of consistent progression than unprincipled opportunism.

In the book, the author ably uses Cameron's status within the "Improvements Wing" to discuss factionalism within the Democratic Party. Other interesting insights into Pennsylvania state politics of the period are offered, as well, with the book documenting Cameron's early associations with the powerful Family Party. Pennsylvania Democrats cried foul over Cameron's first election to the U.S. Senate in 1845 (where he served four years as a replacement for Buchanan), sensing a corrupt bargain with the opposition. Going against the broader theme of unfailing loyalty to friends, accusations of personal betrayal at the party's presidential nominating convention for the 1852 election marked the beginning of a break between Cameron and erstwhile friend James Buchanan, which further fractured the state party apparatus. Cameron returned to the Senate at the same time that his now nemesis Buchanan entered the White House. Opposing Buchanan and solidly in the anti-slavery camp, Cameron (a popular figure among his state's voters, if not many of its politicians) himself sought the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1860. When it became clear that Cameron could not secure the big prize and would instead be promised a cabinet position, the anti-Cameron forces again went on the offensive, attempting to convince Lincoln of the old standby charges of corruption. Things were eventually smoothed over, and Cameron was offered the position of Secretary of War, but infighting between Cameron supporters and those of Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin remained.

The constant stream of rumor, innuendo, and outright accusations of official malfeasance against Cameron only increased during his brief stint as Secretary of War, when seemingly all of his enemies came out of the woodwork. When these charges were brought to Lincoln himself, the president invariably asked for proof, and, when none was forthcoming, let the matter drop. Kahan is to be commended for demanding clear evidence of graft before being willing to condemn his subject, but with so much smoke there almost certainly must have been fire somewhere. Politically motivated character assassination surely cannot entirely account for the sheer volume of complaints flying in from so many different directions.

Cameron was also widely believed to be grossly incompetent for the job of running the Union's war machine. Kahan readily acknowledges that Cameron's chief political talents were associated with fostering personal relationships and not at all in bureaucratic administration (a skill set surely making him a poor candidate for Secretary of War), but the author does reserve for Cameron the lion's share of credit for successfully mobilizing a vast national army on a scale unprecedented in U.S. history. There's certainly something to be said for a department head deserving credit due the top position, but the book's treatment of the issue lacks specific examples of critical directives originating from Cameron himself of a type and level that might lead readers to question the conventional wisdom regarding his "failed" War Department leadership. In fact, the book's discussion of Cameron's actions as Secretary of War during the conflict's first year is rather disappointingly brief, with more attention paid to the political machinations of his enemies than to details of how Cameron performed the duties of the office. While the book covers to general satisfaction the nervous struggle to secure the capital in the first months of the war and the arrests of allegedly disloyal elements in Maryland, there's little discussion of what role, if any, Cameron played in either formulating the early strategic plans of the Union military or in carrying them out. The author does praise Cameron's foresight in supporting very early on in the war more aggressive measures like the use of black troops in suppressing the rebellion, anticipating a possible blueprint for victory that many others would only advocate at a much later (and politically safer) date. However, to play devil's advocate, one might also view maverick promotion of a revolutionary policy in race relations at a time when Border State support was at its most precarious to be a further sign of Cameron's lack of suitability for his position. The book argues that this specific policy disagreement, not allegations of widespread corruption, was the chief factor behind Cameron's forced resignation.

Accepting the diplomatic post of Minister to Russia after the humiliating end to his brief tenure as Secretary of War, Cameron served only briefly before returning home, where he repaired his relationship with Lincoln and set himself to dominating his home state's political machine. In addition to coming out on top of the incessant faction wars of Pennsylvania's Republicans, Cameron campaigned for black voting rights and advancement opportunities. He returned to the U.S. Senate in 1867 and held the position for ten years before yielding it to his son. He battled successive Republican presidents over appointments and predictably opposed Rutherford B. Hayes's civil service reform initiative. In retirement, Cameron, ever the shrewd business investor, amassed a fortune for his heirs. He also deflected another great scandal (successfully defending a breach of promise suit brought by a "Mrs. Oliver") before he died in 1889. With a series of generous bequeathals to charities, Cameron's will put the capstone on a lifelong personal mission to aid the unfortunate.

Like all good biographers, Kahan effectively mined Cameron archives at many different locations, and his research promotes a much more nuanced appreciation of the wily Keystone politician. Between the 1830s and the approach of the century's end (the period spanning Simon Cameron's active public life), America underwent a bewildering transformation of growth and change, and another great strength of the study lies in its masterful presentation of the political and social milieu that Cameron operated within. Whatever one ultimately thinks of Paul Kahan's portrait of Simon Cameron as a politician who was never as corrupt as posterity has been led to believe and who deserves oracle status regarding what needed to be done to achieve Union victory, the author deserves a great deal of credit for tackling a difficult historical reappraisal with zest and skill. Amiable Scoundrel is a political biography that every Civil War student should read.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Booknotes: The Story of a Cavalryman

New Arrival:
The Story of a Cavalryman: The Civil War Memoirs of Bvt. Brig. Gen. Edward F. Winslow, 4th Iowa Cavalry edited by Dick Titterington & Daniel L. Smith (Author/Trans-Mississippi Musings Pr, 2016).

A complete novice to military affairs, Edward Francis Winslow forged an impressive Civil War career in the western theater, becoming one of the conflict's many under-celebrated Union cavalry officers. A native of Maine, Winslow was working in railroad construction in Iowa when war broke out. Elected captain of Company F, 4th Iowa Cavalry, he led blue troopers throughout the war. In the latter stages of the war, Winslow commanded brigades in campaigns fought across Mississippi, Missouri, Georgia, and Alabama, and he was eventually promoted to brigadier general by the end of 1864. 

His memoir, written with no intention to publish, begins with Winslow's elevation to regimental command during the Vicksburg Campaign, where his performance during a May 1863 fight at Fourteenmile Creek earned him notice by Grant and Sherman. The memoir's narrative recounts Winslow's participation in many western theater military operations at some length. They include his August 1863 expedition from Vicksburg to Memphis, the Yazoo and Canton expeditions, the 1864 Meridian Campaign, Brice's Crossroads, Tupelo, the Price Expedition in Missouri, and the late-war Grierson and Wilson raids (the latter including the battles at Selma and Columbus). Editors Titterington and Smith contribute to the volume an introduction, photographs, and maps. They also heavily annotate the text, with the chapter notes offering numerous mini-biographies of persons mentioned in Winslow's memoir.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Booknotes: Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln

New Arrival:
Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed by Charles B. Strozier (Columbia Univ Press, 2016).

Ever the politician, Abraham Lincoln called many individuals his friend, but his relationship with Joshua Speed was certainly one of the tightest developed during his life.

From the description: "Speed was Abraham Lincoln's closest confidant, offering him invaluable support after the death of his first love, Ann Rutledge, and during his rocky courtship of Mary Todd. Lincoln needed Speed for guidance, support, and empathy. [Charles Strozier's] Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln is a rich analysis of a relationship that was both a model of male friendship and a specific dynamic between two brilliant but fascinatingly flawed men who played off each other's strengths and weaknesses to launch themselves in love and life."

Strozier is a historian and psychotherapist of the psychoanalytic school, and his study of the Lincoln-Speed friendship can be characterized as psychobiography. And, yes, in case you're wondering, there is an entire chapter addressing speculation on the part of other historians and writers that a sexual relationship existed between the two men. Strozier finds no evidence to suggest that theory might be true, finding instead a fundamental misunderstanding among its proponents of the nature of male bonds and cultural mores of the period (arguments that have been made before in the literature).

Monday, August 15, 2016

Five books on Germans and the Civil War

1. Chancellorsville and the Germans: Nativism, Ethnicity, and Civil War Memory (2007) by Christian B. Keller.
Exploitation of German language sources in Civil War scholarship has largely been a recent phenomenon, and Keller's examination of the ethnic German soldiers that fought with the Union Eleventh Corps is one of the most illuminating studies to emerge from it. While others have argued that the war advanced German assimilation into American society, Keller offers an alternative view that many have come to accept, that the severity of the nativist backlash against the German soldiers in the wake of the Eleventh Corps's twin routs at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg instead prompted Germans to defensively retain their own separate cultural identity and reject broader assimilation. Support for Keller's thesis is contained in #3 below, as well.
2. The Germans of Charleston, Richmond and New Orleans during the Civil War Period, 1850-1870 (2011) by Andrea Mehrländer.
With the vast majority of the literature focusing on northern Germans, Mehrländer's study alternatively looks at the immigrant experience in three major southern cities. Her book is the "is the first monograph which closely examines the role of the German minority in the American South during the Civil War. In a comparative analysis of German civic leaders, businessmen, militia officers and blockade runners in Charleston, New Orleans and Richmond, it reveals a German immigrant population which not only largely supported slavery, but was also heavily involved in fighting the war." German unit roster tables are also included.
3. Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home (2006) edited by Walter D. Kamphoefner & Wolfgang Helbich.
The editors add much in the way of supporting text and footnotes to a collection of over 300 letters originally written in German by 78 individuals and addressed to family and friends back in their original Central Europe home lands. An attempt is made to make the selections as representative as possible, with home and military fronts covered and letter writers of both sexes and from both sections included in the book.
4. A German Hurrah!: Civil War Letters of Friedrich Bertsch and Wilhelm Stangel, 9th Ohio Infantry (2010) edited by Joseph R. Reinhart.
No short list would be complete without mentioning the prodigious efforts of Kentucky's Joseph Reinhart, who, in addition to translating and editing the above letters from 9th Ohio soldiers, has authored a number of other books highlighting the German-American military experience and contributions to the Union war effort in the western theater with the 6th Kentucky, 32nd Indiana, and 82nd Illinois regiments.
5. Abolitionizing Missouri: German Immigrants and Racial Ideology in Nineteenth-Century America (2016) by Kristen Layne Anderson.
Civil War era German immigrants were renowned for embracing the political views of the radical wing of the new Republican Party, but Anderson's study of the Germans of St. Louis reveals much more diverse and evolving attitudes toward slavery and racial equality among the population.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Volume 3 of Powell's Chickamauga trilogy coming soon

David Powell announced on his blog today [go here] that The Chickamauga Campaign, Barren Victory: The Retreat into Chattanooga, the Confederate Pursuit, and the Aftermath of the Battle, September 21 to October 20, 1863 is now at the printer, and that he should have his author copies in mere weeks. What this means for the general release date (The River still has it listed for late November) I don't know, but one has to think we'll see it earlier than that. Congratulations to David upon completing a project of such epic scale that it must have seemed overwhelming at times.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Review of Wittenberg & Davis: "OUT FLEW THE SABRES: The Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863"

[Out Flew the Sabres: The Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863 by Eric Wittenberg and Daniel Davis (Savas Beatie, 2016). Softcover, 9 maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, orders of battle, reading list. 168 pp. ISBN:978-1-61121-256-3. $14.95]

By all conventional measures, the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station was a clear cut Confederate victory. With material infantry support, the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac under Alfred Pleasonton attacked the Army of Northern Virginia's cavalry division under J.E.B. Stuart with superior numbers and was repulsed after a sharp and bloody battle. The Union troopers also failed to obtain any useful information (i.e. the location of Lee's infantry) regarding the enemy's plans and dispositions for the season's upcoming campaign. Stuart's command held the field and inflicted near 2:1 losses on the enemy.

Nevertheless the most popular interpretation of the battle is to view it as the eastern theater Union cavalry's "turning point," a demonstration of battlefield skill that provided a much needed infusion of self-confidence that also delivered a signal embarrassment to the Confederates. While certainly cognizant of the Confederate victory and dismissive of the idea that Stuart's command had been eclipsed by mid-1863, this notion that the battle "made" the Union cavalry is the main theme of author Eric Wittenberg and Daniel Davis's Out Flew the Sabres: The Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863.

Operating within the space confines of the Emerging Civil War series of introductory-scale volumes, it's difficult to imagine someone else doing a substantially better job of narrating the flow of the battle and hitting all the key clashes. The actions of John Buford's division—the initial crossing at Beverly Ford, the temporary stalemate at the Yew Ridge stone wall, and the eventual dislodging of the much diminished force opposite—are skillfully outlined. The razor thin margin between victory and defeat fairly jumping from the page, the key contest between David Gregg's division and Stuart himself at Fleetwood Hill is very well described, as are the indecisive engagements to the south at Stevensburg and Mountain Run. The book also discusses the Loudoun Valley skirmishes and battle that occurred after the battle, where the Confederatse again proved stiff on the defense and Pleasonton (whose subordinates fought well) again failed to locate Lee's infantry.

It is popular to criticize Stuart for being surprised at Brandy Station, but he recovered extremely well and brilliantly coordinated a multi-axis defense that was nevertheless a near run thing. According to the authors, Stuart subordinates Grumble Jones and Wade Hampton, along with staff officer Henry McClellan, aided this effort with inspired performances. Pleasonton, whose leadership was indecisive and planning questionable (Duffie's division would have been far more useful at Fleetwood Hill than Stevensburg), receives no such praise by the authors, who rightly determine that another leader would be needed to take the Union cavalry to the next level.

Like most books in the series, the abundant illustrations in Out Flew the Sabres substantially enhance the text. Modern photographic views of significant points on the battlefield are plentiful, and all of the important fighting locations are well represented in the small-scale map set provided. To better comprehend the big picture, a good map of the entire battlefield (one showing the initial dispositions of both sides in detail, as well as Pleasonton's battle plan) would have been very useful.

The appendices, a frequent highlight of series volumes, discuss the four battles of Brandy Station, the Battle of Kelly's Ford, the nearby 1863-64 winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac, and the long and expensive modern battle to preserve the ground for posterity. The tour part of the book is well integrated into the text. For each stop, the reader receives detailed driving instructions and viewing orientation (with GPS coordinates), as well as some interesting additional historical context.

A distillation of eastern theater cavalry expertise well-honed over decades of research and writing, Out Flew the Sabres exceeds expectations for a narrative overview of the Battle of Brandy Station. It also should prove equally handy on a personal visit to the battlefield.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Booknotes: "Hang Them All"

New Arrival:
"Hang Them All": George Wright and the Plateau Indian War, 1858
by Donald Cutler (Univ of Okla Press, 2016).

Colonel George Wright's 1858 campaign was the culminating event of a series of violent conflicts between whites and Indians that occurred over the previous three years on both sides of the Cascade Mountain divide in Washington Territory [including the Yakama War, the massacre of Columbia Gorge settlers at the Cascades, and the fighting around Puget Sound (the "Battle of Seattle")]. In 1858, while conducting a punitive expedition launched in the wake of the Steptoe defeat at Pine Creek earlier in the year, Wright defeated a number of loosely allied tribes in the eastern part of the territory at the Four Lakes and Spokane Plains battles. "Hang Them All" discusses this campaign and the enduring controversies over it and about Wright himself (deserved or not). The cover art is pretty provocative, and the book description seemingly provides little mystery over what direction the book will take.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Booknotes: Civil War Arkansas

New Arrival:
Civil War Arkansas: A Military Atlas
by Randy Puckett & Ron Kelley (Ark Toothpick Pub, 2016).

In 1864, Confederate captain and Chief of Topographical Engineers of the District of West Louisiana and Arkansas Richard M. Venable was tasked with creating a detailed map of the state of Arkansas. The end result was a sprawling work of cartographical art, completed in two 35-inch x 77-inch sections. Depicted are towns, creeks, rivers, forts, camps, roads, trails, county lines, prairies, swamps, drainage features, railroads, cemeteries, homes, and more. With the Union in control of much of the northern and central parts of the state, the most detail is found in the southern reaches (meaning only around 29% of the state was able to be thoroughly surveyed). The authors of Civil War Arkansas have digitized and redrawn this map, reproducing all the original details in full color. The book sections the map into 147 squares using a grid system. Each grid square gets its own page in the book. One appendix lists towns and municipalities and another compares the map's road system to today's. It looks like a very useful resource. Civil War Arkansas was created with the sole purpose of reproducing the Venable map, so it should also be mentioned that this isn't a "military atlas" in the common usage of the term (i.e. a book that maps campaigns and battles).

Monday, August 8, 2016

Review of Hacker, ed.: "ASTRIDE TWO WORLDS: Technology and the American Civil War"

[Astride Two Worlds: Technology and the American Civil War edited by Barton C. Hacker (Smithsonian Institute Scholarly Press, 2016). Hardcover, photos, drawings, tables, notes, index. 268 pp. ISBN:978-1-935623-91-5. $37.95]

The timing of the American Civil War is situated roughly halfway between the Battle of Waterloo and the industrialized carnage of the Great War. Ever since, scholars and enthusiasts alike have attempted to place the Civil War within the nebulous confines of one military epoch or the other. However, the eight essays in Astride Two Worlds, edited by Barton Hacker, are less interested in arguing whether the Civil War was the last Napoleonic war or the birth of modern warfare and more concerned with specifically examining (from the title of editor Barton Hacker's introductory essay) "how technology shaped the conduct of the war", the expectations and realities of which contained elements of both eras.

Merritt Roe Smith begins the book with an essay on the North's arms manufacturing industry, both the government and private spheres. While the ability of firms to produce inexpensive and relatively simple rifles on a large scale remains impressive, many still could not come up with the contracted numbers. Smith, by noting the infeasibility of the industry's ability to generally equip the army with the vastly more expensive and technologically complicated repeating rifle, effectively counters modern critics who still often contend that the Union didn't do nearly enough to exploit new innovations in shoulder arms. Interestingly, many rifle producers were dependent on parts subcontracting (a practice frowned upon by the army over quality control concerns) for order fulfillment, and Smith credits this "dispersal of production" for creating New England's machine tool industry, which in turn kickstarted the country's post-war industrial boom.

Steven Walton's following chapter looks at innovations in the casting of heavy artillery, as well as breech reinforcement techniques (ex. banding) that presaged the "built-up" artillery types of future wars. Greatly enhancing comprehension are the excellent diagrams that accompany the article, which is rather technical in nature. Walton and Smith's contributions both reinforce what we already knew about the North's unmatched superiority in producing rifles, pistols, and artillery but the details they provide are fascinating.

The modern concept of C3 (Command, Control, and Communications) is used by Seymour Goodman to discuss the passage of information, within and without, Civil War armies. At the most basic level are sound systems such as voice orders (relayed personally on the battlefield or through couriers) and musical instruments in the form of drums and bugles. Old and new sight technologies like battle flags, the latest optics (ex. telescopes and binoculars), and photography (to copy orders and maps) constituted another means of obtaining and disseminating tactically significant information during the war. Aerial telegraphy (e.g. the Signal Corp flag and torch systems of both sides), balloons, and electric telegraphy had both tactical and strategic uses, but integration varied. Efficient rail and postal systems also greatly enhanced communication between armies separated by great distances. However, even with the advent of steam transport and the telegraph, truly revolutionary enhancements in battlefield C3 would have to await the inventions of the telephone and radio. A salient omission by Goodman in this discussion was the free press. Newspapers were important sources of military information for both sides, but they also represented a critically important information flow between the army and the home front.

While the U.S. Cavalry Bureau is often praised in the literature, David Gerleman's article is highly critical of the army's deficiencies in veterinary horse care, which resulted in high horseflesh wastage rates that could have been to a large degree prevented by staffing mounted regiments with trained veterinarians entrusted with proper rank and authority. According to the writer, the low priority the army placed on equine care was not just an antebellum and Civil War phenomenon, and it wasn't until 1916 that a proper Veterinary Corps was sanctioned by Congress.

During the war, the Confederates developed a special interest in spar-torpedo boats as part of their effort to combat the Union Navy's vast superiority in capital ships. The essay from Jorit Wintjes persuasively argues that the potential of spar-torpedo boasts was significantly overrated given the inherent limitations of the close-range weapon system itself as well as the incapacity of Confederate industry to produce the kind of fast and sleek vessels required for effective use (or their engines). The South also lacked both the manpower to crew torpedo boats in large enough numbers to make a strategic difference and the skilled technicians needed to maintain the fleet. On the other hand, isolated success against single targets was proven possible. Wintjes notes that European navies were inspired by the concept and developed torpedo ships of their own that were deployed in wars of the 1860s and 1870s (ultimately to no great impact).

Like the other contributors, Sarah Jones Weicksel's chapter examines a particular technology (in her case, personal body armor), but she uniquely addresses the cultural meaning of its use. Weicksel documents Civil War society's general view that body armor represented an unseemly fear of death and demonstrated on the part of the wearer an unwillingness to sacrifice oneself for cause and country. While this romantic admonition abated someone under the weight of the war's horrors, the stigma remained. Eventually, some in the public came to view the wearing of armor as a positive good, preserving the wearer's life so he could return home to take care of his family and be a productive member of society, a notion that the manufacturers themselves attempted to reinforce through their marketing campaigns.

A strong case could be made that it was a significant mistake for the Army of the Potomac to disband its Balloon Corps in 1863. However, John Macaulay argues in his article that the Confederates developed clever deception techniques (some examples being Quaker guns and dummy encampments) that proved effective in countering balloon reconnaissance. Nevertheless, one might also maintain that the time, effort, and expense involved in elaborate deception and concealed movement on the part of the enemy made the simple presence of friendly balloons in the air worthwhile.

Finally, antebellum and Civil War designs for both balloon-assisted and heavier-than-air flying machines are reviewed in the book by Tom Crouch. The chapter is a captivating survey of inventors, their designs, and their dreams (though one might wish for more drawings of some of the concepts, several of which anticipated the helicopter). While every contraption foundered on various technological and physical world limitations, it was recognized by many promoters and critics alike that these problems could eventually be overcome. Though less prominently featured than in Weicksel's essay, there is also a cultural component to Crouch's piece, which indicates a surprisingly large public awareness of and enthusiasm for the possibilities of manned flight.

Effectively repurposed from a 2012 Museum of American History symposium, the eclectic essays collected in Astride Two Worlds often stray from the familiar and at the same time offer interesting interpretations of the roles played by a selection of Civil War military industries and technologies. Most contributions offer foreign and/or domestic historical context, and many make insightful connections with the future, as well. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Reardon and Vossler even better the second time around

I probably wasn't the only person to greet Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler's A Field Guide to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People (2013) with a barely stifled yawn, only to be instantly won over by the fresh approach, great presentation, and overall greatness. It even won two awards (the 2013 Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award and the 2014 Gettysburg Civil War Round Table Book Award), which doesn't happen often for a guidebook. At the end of my review, I expressed hope that the book was also the beginning of a new series. This may or may not happen in the long run but I did receive an ARC for A Field Guide to Antietam: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People (Sept 2016) in the mail a while back and devoured it straightaway. If anything, it is even better than the Gettysburg volume. In it, there's a lot of great information about the families, farms, and buildings that occupied the historic battlefield, and the action narrative parceled out in the What Happened Here? sections for every main car stop, walking side tour, and optional visit is simply superb. A detailed, high quality map is assigned to each tour site, as well. The review will await publication, which is a bit more than a month away, but I can wholeheartedly recommend that anyone planning a late summer or autumn visit to the battlefield take a copy of this book along.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Booknotes: A Civil War Captain and His Lady

New Arrival:
A Civil War Captain and His Lady: Love, Courtship, and Combat From Fort Donelson through the Vicksburg Campaign edited by Gene Barr (Savas Beatie, 2016).

Born in Ireland, but raised since infancy in the United States, Josiah Moore was a 27 year old university student at the outbreak of the war. Joining the 17th Illinois, Moore was elected captain and served with the regiment in Missouri and in the western theater (mostly in Tennessee and Mississippi), emerging unscathed when his term of service ended in June 1864. A Civil War Captain and His Lady is remarkable in that the back and forth correspondence between Moore and wife-to-be Jennie Lindsay for the first three years of the war was preserved together intact. With no published regimental study of the 17th Illinois, the letters along with editor Gene Barr's extensive supporting narrative and notes all serve to provide a good deal of information about the unit's history, as well. Interestingly, Jennie's father, an Illinois state senator, was a Republican during the secession crisis but switched parties to the Peace Democrats during the war.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Booknotes: The Fifth Massachusetts Colored Cavalry in the Civil War

New Arrival:
The Fifth Massachusetts Colored Cavalry in the Civil War
by Steven M. LaBarre (McFarland, 2016).

Even after accounting for the inherent source limitations, it remains a bit surprising that the Sesquicentennial produced so few regimental histories of black regiments. The 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry was organized at Camp Meigs between the fall of 1863 and spring 1864 and would be led by Colonel Henry Sturgis Russell (previously an infantry officer with the 2nd Massachusetts). At a glance, this book's bibliography appears fairly substantial. "Drawing on letters, diaries, memoirs and official reports, [LeBarre's The Fifth Massachusetts Colored Cavalry in the Civil War] provides the first full-length regimental history of the Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry--its organization, participation in the Petersburg campaign and the guarding of prisoners at Point Lookout, Maryland, and its triumphant ride into Richmond. Accounts of the postwar lives of many of the men are included."

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Review of Anderson: "ABOLITIONIZING MISSOURI: German Immigrants and Racial Ideology in Nineteenth-Century America"

[Abolitionizing Missouri: German Immigrants and Racial Ideology in Nineteenth-Century America by Kristen Layne Anderson (Louisiana State University Press, 2016). Hardcover, tables, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:206/286. ISBN:978-0-8071-6196-8. $48]

It is a popularly held belief that the Germans of Civil War-era Missouri were uniformly supportive of Radical Republican politics, including the abolition of slavery and the extension of full citizenship rights to black males. While there is more than a little truth to this, Kristen Layne Anderson's Abolitionizing Missouri: German Immigrants and Racial Ideology in Nineteenth-Century America clearly demonstrates that German-American social and political views were a great deal more qualified and diverse. Some scholars have even adopted a position on the opposite end of the spectrum, arguing that Germans, far from being exceptionally "radical," instead generally adopted the mores and political attitudes of their native-born neighbors wherever they settled in the country. This scholarship is also challenged in the book.

In making Abolitionizing Missouri a more manageable project in terms of scope, Anderson's study group is confined to the Germans of St. Louis, where they were both large in number (and in voting power) by the advent of the Civil War and notorious for their radical politics. There were also flourishing German language newspapers in the city that were not at all shy about promoting partisan political ideology, making their content and editorials rich sources of contemporary views for researchers like Anderson to mine.

According to the author, the St. Louis Germans of the 1830s and 1840s, while predominantly anti-slavery, did not actively oppose it. Like their colleagues in the native press, German newspapers advertised slave auctions and escape notices, but few Germans owned slaves or desired to do so. While the German population of St. Louis was certainly well aware of the institution (in the city, most slaves were hired out on a contract basis), the insular nature of their communities at that time meant that many did not see, let alone interact, with free or enslaved blacks on a regular basis. They generally did not see slavery as affecting their own interests. This attitude abruptly changed in the mid-1850s with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the violence that occurred along their own western border. With the territories potentially open to slavery, the Germans of St. Louis now felt their own economic futures directly threatened. Fearing that wealthy slaveowners would grab up all the best land and shut out immigrant opportunities, they were attracted to the new Republican Party, one of its cornerstones being the blocking of slavery's expansion.

Much like 1854 was the antebellum moment that sparked German political activism, 1863 was the year that was the turning point in German majority views on outright abolition. While many Germans supported freeing the slaves much earlier in the war (ex. the press offered widespread support for John C. Fremont's 1861 order confiscating the slave property of rebels), outright clarion calls for immediate emancipation became much more strident in the radical press after the Emancipation Proclamation (which excluded Missouri) was issued. Here, Anderson ably outlines the divisions within the German community, with the small but significant conservative element counseling gradual emancipation with compensation. Conservative Germans also became more politically assertive during the late war period, arguing that the radicals, who did not oppose the importation of black refugees into the city and were enthusiastic about arming freed slaves for army service, seriously threatened the peace and security of the Border States. The more moderate Germans also feared even stronger nativist backlash resulting from the radicals's sustained opposition to Missouri's conservative provisional governor Hamilton Gamble and their constant attacks on the state's loyal slaveowners, many of whom sacrificed as much as any other Missourian for the Union cause.

Though the German radicals of Missouri remained strong advocates of emancipation and basic civil rights for blacks during the war, they failed to secure black male suffrage when a new, entirely rewritten state constitution was created (the Drake Constitution of 1865). That event would have to await the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. Their principled objections to the constitution's explicit racial and religious elements were also ignored by other Republicans. Meanwhile, conservative Germans, as well as a growing number of the radical element, feared that the interests of black voters would not be aligned with those that most concerned Germans. Like many native born Democrats, they doubted the black population's capacity for full citizenship and also viewed the citizenship movement as a cynical ploy by the most extreme radicals to create a large new Republican voting bloc. Oddly, many Germans simply assumed blacks favored a puritanical form of religion hostile to German culture, which already struggled with existing Sabbath and temperance laws. Moderates also opposed racial equality in access to public transportation, hotels, and education. According to Anderson, the renewed press for black suffrage by the Missouri Republican Party in 1868 (which failed in St. Louis and everywhere else in the state) led to the majority of Germans abandoning the party altogether. The radicals were forced to concede that the majority of their constituents held hostile views regarding black suffrage that were remarkably similar to those of their native white neighbors. By 1872, amid faltering support among their fellow Germans, even the radicals were questioning whether the Republican Party as a whole supported German concerns as much as it claimed to serve black interests. Anderson's well supported interpretation that German self-interest, specifically regarding the benefits of being a member of white society and the realization that full racial equality carried risks to their own precarious standing in society, ultimately trumped ideology is persuasive.

There isn't much to complain about in the book. In examining German Missourians, the exclusive focus on urban immigrant society might seem too narrow on the face of it. There were significant numbers of rural German communities in Missouri, even some located near to what most consider the region called "Little Dixie" (ex. Cole Camp), and their views on emancipation and black citizenship may or may not have been quite different. Given the strong persistence of urban-rural divides in American politics, this is a reasonable concern. Also, the German refugees from the 1848 revolutionary wars in Europe seemed to have comprised one of the staunchest components of the Radical Republican movement in Missouri, and some discussion of how the backgrounds and experiences of these "Red Republicans" informed their views on race and politics in America might have proved a fruitful addition to the conversation.

In some ways, as exhibited above, Anderson's study is a marriage of sorts of the scholarship's two most contrasting general views of nineteenth-century German immigrants, with one side arguing that Germans were near universal proponents of Radical Republican ideology and the other that the newcomers tended to adopt the attitudes of their native-born neighbors. The book clearly shows that being "anti-slavery" meant different things at different times for the German community in Missouri, and the reasons behind supporting the abolitionist movement for many proved to be an evolving act of pragmatic self-interest rather than disinterested ideological purity. Embracing and splendidly weaving together issues related to civil war, politics, ethnicity, racial identity, immigration, civil rights, and other topics important to the work of today's scholars, Abolitionizing Missouri is a highly recommended contribution to the literatures of a myriad of prominent social history disciplines. It is an especially valuable revisionist history (in the best meaning of the term) of the role played by German Missourians in the opposition to slavery and promotion of racial equality in the Civil War era.

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