Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Booknotes: Albert C. Ellithorpe, the First Indian Home Guards, and the Civil War on the Trans-Mississippi Frontier

New Arrival:
Albert C. Ellithorpe, the First Indian Home Guards, and the Civil War on the Trans-Mississippi Frontier edited by M. Jane Johansson (LSU Press, 2016).

I've written about this highly anticipated (for me, anyway) title more than once on the site and even interviewed editor Jane Johansson [link] some time ago, but now the actual book has finally arrived. The experiences of Union and Confederate Indian units that operated in the often chaotic Missouri-Kansas-Arkansas-Indian Territory borderland during the Civil War remain underexplored, as does the nature of the war fought in many of the region's darkest and most isolated corners. Never fueling the popular imagination to begin with, the contributions of the Indian Home Guard regiments to the Union war effort in this region have faded further into deep obscurity, so Johansson's editing of the Ellithorpe papers and writings is really a landmark event in Civil War publishing, one that will hopefully revive interest in these unique units and their roles in the conflict.

From the description: "Major Ellithorpe’s unit [the First Indian Home Guards]―comprised primarily of refugee Muscogee Creek and Seminole Indians and African Americans who served as interpreters―fought principally in Arkansas and Indian Territory, isolated from the larger currents of the Civil War. Using Ellithorpe’s journal and his series of Chicago Evening Journal articles as her main sources, M. Jane Johansson unravels this exceptional account, providing one of the fullest examinations available on a mixed-race Union regiment serving in the border region of the West."

In addition to chapter notes, Johansson provides biographical material on Ellithorpe and connecting passages of narrative (in the form of fairly extensive chapter introductions) throughout the volume.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Review of Foote - "THE YANKEE PLAGUE: Escaped Union Prisoners and the Collapse of the Confederacy"

[The Yankee Plague: Escaped Union Prisoners and the Collapse of the Confederacy by Lorien Foote (University of North Carolina Press, 2016). Hardcover, 5 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:165/245. ISBN:978-1-4696-3055-7. $34.95]

Over the winter of 1864-65, several thousand Union prisoners of war took advantage of a rapidly failing Confederate military and home front security infrastructure and escaped into the Carolinas countryside. Their daring stories, who helped them, and how both groups bore witness to and even contributed to the collapse of enemy resistance lie at the heart of Lorien Foote's excellent new book The Yankee Plague.

In the beginning, Foote describes very well the Confederate administrative chaos that ensued once it became clear that their POW camps in Georgia and the Carolinas were no longer safe from Union forces and that thousands of enemy prisoners needed to be moved using already overtaxed transport capacity. Due to poor planning, scarce resources, command confusion, and sheer incompetence, prisoners were foisted en masse upon unsuspecting, and increasingly harried, military officials. With guard details badly understrength and frequently indifferent to their duties, the open fields and other unenclosed locations that often served as new temporary camps made prisoner escape relatively easy. Far more difficult was eluding recapture and reaching friendly lines. Even with organized internal security basically non-existent at this point in the war, local citizens were able to round up many, if not most, of the unarmed and weakened fugitives. Even so, the book raises the intriguing point that the mere presence of swarms of Union prisoners must have demoralized the southern home front even further. A government that could neither prevent mass escape of military prisoners nor protect civilians from their depredations was surely on its last legs.

Once the Yankee prisoners made their initial escape, they generally had one of three options: head back toward William T. Sherman's advancing army, strike out to the coast to meet up with the navy, or take the less well guarded but still dangerous and much longer journey west to Union lines in East Tennessee. Throughout much of its length, Foote's narrative follows individuals and small groups utilizing each of the three main routes to safety [these treks can also be easily traced by the reader using the book's fine set of maps], documenting their failures and triumphs. In addition to providing personalized stories for readers to identify with, these dramatic odyssey tales very effectively serve as representative case studies of the many themes explored in the book.

One of the study's most important themes revolves around the accelerated destruction of slavery in the Carolinas and how newly assertive blacks tasked themselves with the mutually beneficial job of providing vital assistance to escaped prisoners. Federal invasion combined with civil and military disintegration at both state and Confederate levels meant that slaves could feed, shelter, supply, and guide fugitive prisoners with much less fear from traditional internal security measures like local militia and slave patrols. Slaves were already intimately familiar with the local landscape, but they also increased their usefulness as guides by using their newfound freedom of movement to pinpoint the locations of the nearest Union and Confederate outposts. As Foote shows, some slaves even banded together to coordinate picket lines of their own to direct prisoner traffic and screen the escapees from harm. In these ways, slave help was frequently essential if prisoners were to successfully negotiate neighborhood dangers of all kinds and reach ultimate safety.

One of the more intriguing sources of aid to escaped federals were the white army deserters of the South Carolina upcountry. According to Foote, written sources on these men are very scarce, but evidence supports the conclusion that hundreds of escapees were sheltered by South Carolina deserter families, who in many cases also guided and escorted federal soldiers to Union lines in East Tennessee. Exploring their motivations is difficult given the few written sources available, but the fact that these families still aided Yankees who freely professed a desire to reenter the war meant their betrayal of the Confederate cause was without qualification (at least in some cases). Given the myth of near universal support of the Confederacy in South Carolina, this dissenting group is worthy of further study. Aid provided by white Unionist families, especially women in the absence of male heads of household, in western North Carolina is also explored at length in the book.

Foote's study also makes a significant contribution to the more recent scholarly discussions of Civil War borderlands. The picture she paints of the lawless common border zone shared by East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and the western reaches of the Carolinas is a freshly vivid one. Before they could reach the safety of Union lines, escaped federal army prisoners had to navigate an often frightening web of wary Unionists, Confederates, Cherokee Indians, outlaws, army deserters, guerrillas, and cavalry raiders. Trusted guides that could negotiate these dangers were invaluable friends.

The Confederacy's fading military situation, and how federal fugitives took advantage of and perhaps contributed to it, is another major theme. In late 1864 and early 1865, military events proved too rapid and too powerful for weakened Confederate authorities to handle. As mentioned earlier, localized administrative mismanagement made mass escape comparatively easy, but army chain of command confusion at all levels contributed heavily to the ability of escapees to reach friendly lines. In the book, this is best illustrated in a fine section describing Confederate district and department disarray in lower Appalachia during 1864-65. With Confederate military leaders uncertain of their own boundaries of responsibility and often operating at cross purposes with their colleagues in neighboring districts, hundreds of escaped POWs were able to take advantage of this lack of enemy coordination and reach friendly Union lines in East Tennessee. Free ranging federal raiders largely composed of Union men from Tennessee and North Carolina were also able to find and conduct fugitives to safety. Foote asserts that Union POWs directly hampered Confederate military operations by using up scarce rolling stock needed for the Confederate army's own transport needs, but it is also noted that Union advances (especially those army columns moving inland from the North Carolina coast) were similarly hindered by the supply needs of the mass influx of returning prisoners. How much the prisoner affect favored one side over the other during the end-stage campaign in the Carolinas is open to debate.

Foote also carries over her topic into the post-war years, documenting not only the celebrated status of many of the prisoners but also the physical and psychological challenges that lingered from their extended sufferings. The publication of escape narratives (several of them providing source material integral to this book) is discussed on multiple levels. In the context of literary analysis, remarkable parallels can be found between POW escape narratives and slave flight narratives, with real and metaphorical similarities cited both then and now. The escape narratives also greatly fueled the popular Won Cause mythology surrounding the deliberate and systematic abuse of prisoners by Confederate authorities.

At scarcely more than 150 pages of narrative, The Yankee Plague is a thin volume that nevertheless packs a very powerful scholarly punch. The author's far reaching research into diaries, letters, and memoirs, as well as census, tax, marriage, death, and military records, is impressive [this prodigious research effort also led to the compilation of a prisoner database of 2,826 individuals that should prove to be of lasting value], as is her analysis. Foote seems to operate on firmer ground when she presents Union prisoner-of-war escapees as symptoms and beneficiaries of impending Confederate collapse rather than significant contributors to the process, but that doesn't diminish the originality of her scholarship or detract from the many different and fascinating directions it takes. The Yankee Plague definitely merits award consideration and will likely earn a spot on many of this year's 'Best Of' lists.

Click HERE for more links to CWBA reviews of UNC Press titles

Friday, November 25, 2016

Booknotes: Florida's Civil War

New Arrival:
Florida's Civil War: Terrible Sacrifices
by Tracy J. Revels (Mercer UP, 2016).

This is the second volume in Mercer's new State Narratives of Civil War series, which apparently looks to provide relatively brief but comprehensive home front histories on a state level. One of the earliest states to secede, Florida was almost immediately stripped of its defenses very early on in the ensuing conflict, which must have made even the most ardent Confederate supporters question the propriety of the whole enterprise. There was a significant Unionist population and the state's internal divisions only widened as the war's privations, combined with coastal invasion and widespread guerrilla violence, took their toll. As has been examined at length in other studies, the state was a very important supplier of beef and salt to the Confederacy. In Florida's Civil War, author Tracy Revels "highlights the diverse experiences of Florida's population. Whether Confederate or Unionist, free or slave, male or female, no Floridian could escape the war's impact. A concise narrative of life on the home front, this book explores how Floridians endured the war. Women, slaves, and Unionists are considered in detail, as well as how various areas of the state reacted to Federal incursions."

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Booknotes: Paying Freedom's Price

New Arrival:
Paying Freedom's Price: A History of African Americans in the Civil War
by Paul D. Escott (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).

For today's readership, there are many modern survey histories of the experiences of free blacks and slaves during the Civil War era and many others organized around one or more specific themes. Paul Escott's "Paying Freedom's Price provides a comprehensive yet brief and readable history of the role of African Americans—both slave and free—from the decade leading up to the Civil War until its immediate aftermath." His book "concentrates on the black military and civilian experience in the North as well as the South. He argues that African Americans—slaves, free Blacks, civilians, soldiers, men, and women—played a crucial role in transforming the sectional conflict into a war for black freedom. The chronological organization will help readers understand how the Civil War evolved from a war to preserve the Union to a war that sought to abolish slavery, but not racial inequality. Within this chronological framework, Escott provides a thematic structure, tracing the causes of the war and African American efforts to include abolition, black military service, and racial equality in the wartime agenda." The main narrative runs around 125 pages and is written in a more popular style so the book will mainly serve as a general introduction to the subject. Supplementing the main text is a fairly extensive document section and a useful bibliographic essay.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Booknotes: Artifacts of the Battle of Little Big Horn

New Arrival:
Artifacts of the Battle of Little Big Horn: Custer, the 7th Cavalry & the Lakota and Cheyenne Warriors by Will Hutchison (Schiffer, 2016).

This is a wonderful photographic artifact history of the LBH battle. Images of uniforms, weapons, maps, accoutrements, and personal items owned by participants from both sides are "presented here in vivid, high-resolution color photographs, shot from various angles with the researcher and collector in mind." At 9" x 12" oversize format, the pages amply accommodate either large single images or multiple photographs, all with helpful captions. "The photographs are catalogued under chapters devoted to the battle, Custer's 7th Cavalry, and the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors who fought them. Hundreds of photographic images accompanying the chapters are filled with informative descriptions regarding physical properties, history, origin of the items, and the stories behind them." If you're seriously into the Little Big Horn Campaign, this looks like a great volume to add to your personal collection.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Five books on the Civil War in East Kentucky

1. The Civil War in the Big Sandy Valley of Kentucky, Second Edition (2008)
by John David Preston [review].
Though primarily directing its attention toward four SE Kentucky counties, Preston's book easily offers the best information about the Civil War in East Kentucky contained in a single volume. The Second Edition is so far superior to the first that the original publication is hardly worth mentioning in comparison. In it, there are chapter length studies of all the major campaigns and battles fought in the region. The author's demographic analysis charts recruitment and political allegiance patterns, and the study usefully discusses how the region's society and politics transformed over the wartime period.
2. Contested Borderland: The Civil War in Appalachian Kentucky and Virginia (2006)
by Brian D. McKnight [review].
McKnight's fine regional study centers on the soldiers and civilians occupying the mountainous divide between East Kentucky and Southwest Virginia. The volume includes strong elements of military, political, social, and religious history. The author also describes in depth how the area's geography (especially the mountain gaps) affected how the war was conducted. You'll notice that most of the books in this list are of very recent vintage, which attests both to the resurgence of interest in the topic and the dearth of prior research and writing of good quality.
3. Marauder: The Life and Times of Nathaniel McClure Menefee (2014)
by Randall Osborne [review].
Many Confederate and Union guerrillas operated in the mountainous wilds of the Kentucky-Virginia borderland. One of the most notorious was the pro-southern Menefee, who was such a terror that he was eventually charged with murder by Confederate authorities. Osborne's biography provides the most complete picture possible of Menefee's life from the sources available. In addition to detailing the guerrilla's operations in East Kentucky, the book also expansively illuminates the larger war in the region.
4. The Most Brilliant Little Victory: Nelson's Eastern Kentucky Campaign of 1861 (2014)
by Marlitta H. Perkins [review].
In this book, Perkins offers a fine study of Union general William "Bull" Nelson's campaign up the Big Sandy River in 1861 that aggressively cleared East Kentucky of organized Confederate resistance, at least on a temporary basis. The hard war aspects of this very early operation are well documented by Perkins and the main features of the campaign's most important engagement, the Battle of Ivy Mountain, are sufficiently detailed.
5. Jack May's War: Colonel Andrew Jackson May and the Civil War in Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Tennessee, and Southwest Virginia (1998) by Robert Perry.
Early in the war, May was a company commander in the 5th Kentucky infantry regiment, and he would eventually rise to lead the 10th Kentucky Cavalry as its colonel. Perry's biography discusses May's extensive involvement in the the war in East Kentucky during several of Confederate general Humphrey Marshall's operations as well as John Hunt Morgan's Last Kentucky Raid.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Booknotes: Occupied Vicksburg

New Arrival:
Occupied Vicksburg by Bradley R. Clampitt (LSU Press, 2016).

The Union Army and Navy's year-long campaign to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi ended with the surrender of the Hill City in July 1863. However, the town's role in the conflict did not end that summer. For the rest of the war, Vicksburg was a sanctuary for black and white refugees and also an important base for further Union operations into the interior. Clampitt's study is the first one to examine the Union occupation in depth.
From the description: "In Occupied Vicksburg, Clampitt shows that following the Confederate withdrawal, Federal forces confronted myriad challenges in the city including filth, disease, and a never-ending stream of black and white refugees. Union leaders also responded to the pressures of newly free people and persistent guerrilla violence in the surrounding countryside. Detailing the trials of blacks, whites, northerners, and southerners, Occupied Vicksburg stands as a significant contribution to Civil War studies, adding to our understanding of military events and the home front."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Booknotes: Grant Invades Tennessee

New Arrival:
Grant Invades Tennessee: The 1862 Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson
by Timothy B. Smith (UP of Kansas, 2016).

By my count, there have been three prior works dealing with Grant and Foote's 1862 campaign up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers that I would consider major military treatments, along with a number of smaller overview histories. Among the full length studies from Cooling, Hurst, and Gott, I still consider the oldest one (B.F. Cooling's Forts Henry and Donelson: The Key to the Confederate Heartland) to be the best. Given his prior record, there's little doubt that Smith will give them all a run for their money and likely surpass them in depth and quality.

Like Cooling before him, Smith takes an expansive look at the campaign, detailing the early federal reconnaissance moves into western Kentucky as well as the Phelps naval raid in addition to the featured Henry and Donelson battles. We find in Grant Invades Tennessee the large, manuscript-heavy bibliography typical of the author, but the maps rather disappoint at first glance. Though 20 in number and with satisfactory tactical detail, the terrain depiction in the map set is very spartan (basically just roads and waterways with lots of unutilized white space). Regardless, the book has to be an insta-buy for anyone interested in the topic. In conjunction with Smith's fine Shiloh and Corinth studies, the new volume also completes a trilogy of sorts.
From the description: "Whether detailing command-level decisions or using eye-witness anecdotes to describe events on the ground, walking readers through maps or pulling back for an assessment of strategy, this finely written work is equally sure on matters of combat and context. Beginning with Grant’s decision to bypass the Confederates’ better-defended sites on the Mississippi, Smith takes readers step-by-step through the battles: the employment of a flotilla of riverine war ships along with infantry and land-based artillery in subduing Fort Henry; the lesser effectiveness of this strategy against Donelson’s much stronger defense, weaponry, and fighting forces; the surprise counteroffensive by the Confederates and the role of their commanders’ incompetence and cowardice in foiling its success."

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Review of Liles & Boswell, eds. - "WOMEN IN CIVIL WAR TEXAS: Diversity and Dissidence in the Trans-Mississippi"

[Women in Civil War Texas: Diversity and Dissidence in the Trans-Mississippi edited by Deborah S. Liles and Angela Boswell (University of North Texas Press, 2016). Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, index. 311 pp. ISBN:9781574416510. $29.95]

Women in Civil War Texas
, edited by historians Deborah Liles and Angela Boswell, explores in eleven essays (plus Boswell's introduction) a more than suitably broad range of the adult female experience of the war on the state's turbulent home front. Women of several major ethnic groups as well as those of differing social classes, political affiliations, and geographical locations are represented in this impressive collection.

It has become a common refrain in the Civil War literature that Confederate women as a whole comprised one of the breakaway republic's most outspoken support groups, and the opening chapter by Vicki Betts finds widespread confirmation of this. Another common theme involves expansion of existing gender roles during wartime, with absent men leaving farm, labor, and business management to their wives. Along this line, Dorothy Ewing's contribution makes an illustrative case study out of the situation of Caroline Sedberry, who competently managed the family's large farm well enough that it survived her husband's death and remained prosperous well into the difficult years of post-war recovery and Reconstruction.

It is self evident to say that letters served as a vital link between women on the home front and their men on the fighting front, but Beverly Rowe's essay looks at the differing things men and women wrote about and how they changed over time, as feelings about the war gradually transformed from early ebullience to late war exhaustion, privation, and despair. Another chapter on Confederate women, by Brittany Bounds, discusses how they supported the war effort (through fundraisers, aid societies, home industry, nursing care, church activities, and more) while also preserving some semblance of normality (even entertainment) in their increasingly stressful existence, as inflation soared and all necessaries were in short supply.

Obviously the lives of slave women were the most difficult of any group, with fewer coping mechanisms available to them to help mitigate the many hardships caused by the war. Bruce Glasrud uses government statistics and WPA slave narratives to discuss both the scale of slavery in Texas as well as the wartime experiences of slave women, who numbered perhaps 100,000 in 1861 (rising to more than 125,000 through the massive influx of owners "refugeeing" their slaves to Texas to escape the emancipating march of Union forces). During the war, slave duties expanded as other sources of labor dried up, leisure time fell, and punishments increased in severity. Texas society as a whole suffered from from all manner of food and material shortages, and those that occupied the bottom rung of society would be last in line to benefit from any surplus bounty. Another chapter looks at Texas Supreme Court appeal decisions related to black women before, during, and after the Civil War.

Other ethnic groups significant to Texas society are also covered in the volume. Jerry Thompson and Elizabeth Mata's contribution looks at the Tejana experience of Civil War Texas through the eyes of a number of individuals, both Unionist and Confederate. Judith Dykes-Hoffman's essay recognizes that there were central Texas women of German descent supportive of both sides during the conflict, but her own emphasis is placed mostly on the travails of dissident Unionists. While spared the arrests and executions often meted out to their menfolk, these women and their children were often forced to witness the violence firsthand and live in constant fear under the hostile rule of their Confederate neighbors. The pro-Union women of North Texas are the subject of Rebecca Sharpless's chapter, which explores their available responses (endurance or flight) to Confederate threats and intimidation.

A particularly fine article analyzes the social dissonance created by the massive influx of Confederate refugees into East Texas. In particular, Candice Shockley looks at the treatment of arriving planter class women, who were often locally scorned for their prior opulence, frequent haughty behavior, and for their perceived selfishness in abandoning their rich plantations and imposing themselves upon the suffering Texas population. While the refugees may have been paragons of the "Southern Lady" ideal before the war, the perception among many Texans was that most of these women signally failed at living up to the new ideal of the "Confederate Woman" willing to suffer all manner of privation and loss. Contrasted with this cold treatment was the kindness and generosity Texas society extended to more acceptable "displaced" persons, such as soldier wives and families.

As demonstrated by the book's final chapter, written by volume co-editor Deborah Liles, ranch women making a living on the far western fringes of settled Texas had a different host of problems, not the least of which were raiding Indians, army deserters, and outlaws. In order to survive, these frontier women banded together for protection.

The essays in Women in Civil War Texas are uniformly well researched in that they skillfully combine original manuscript research with astute synthesis of the current literature. Ably integrated into the fabric of every chapter are the stories of individual women (some well known and many others not) and how they coped with the absence of male family members, scarcities of all kinds, the need to maintain farms and businesses, and the very real threats of violence on their own doorsteps. Inclusive of various sub-groups and fairly evenly balanced between Confederate and pro-Union dissident women, this fine anthology should serve as a highly useful survey history of how Texas women were affected by and contributed to the Civil War.

Links to more CWBA reviews of UNT Press titles:
* Riding for the Lone Star: Frontier Cavalry and the Texas Way of War, 1822-1865
* Civil War General and Indian Fighter James M. Williams: Leader of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry and the 8th U.S. Cavalry
* Antebellum Jefferson, Texas: Everyday Life in an East Texas Town
* Andersonvilles of the North: The Myths and Realities of Northern Treatment of Civil War Confederate Prisoners
* The Seventh Star of the Confederacy: Texas During the Civil War
* Texas Civil War Artifacts: A Photographic Guide to the Physical Culture of Texas Civil War Soldiers
* Spartan Band: Burnett’s 13th Texas Cavalry in the Civil War

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns

The spring 1864 transition replacing seasonal campaigning in the open field between major armies with continuous, attritional combat accompanied by mass trench networks has come under increased scholarly scrutiny of late, especially for the epic eastern theater clash between Grant and Lee. Earl Hess's Trench Warfare under Grant and Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign (2007) and In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat (2009) looked at the nature of this transformation and, to a lesser extent, the physical and psychological effects this new brand of warfare had on the fighting men of both sides.

Though limited to the Union perspective, an upcoming 2017 study along this vein is Steven E. Sodergren's The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns: Union Soldiers and Trench Warfare, 1864-1865 (LSU Press, June 2017). In it, he "examines the transition to trench warfare, the lengthy campaigns of attrition that resulted, and how these seemingly grim new realities affected the mindset and morale of Union soldiers." Though the mass casualties suffered during the Overland Campaign negatively impacted the physical condition of the Army of the Potomac and the spirit and morale of the men in the ranks, the more fixed nature of the Petersburg front combined with the protection afforded by miles of earthworks led to a "physically and psychologically regenerative" experience for the boys in blue, one that would propel the army to breakthrough and victory in 1865.
More from the description: "Comprehending that the extensive fortification network surrounding them benefited their survival, soldiers quickly adjusted to life in the trenches despite the harsh conditions. The army’s static position allowed the Union logistical structure to supply the front lines with much-needed resources like food and mail—even a few luxuries. The elevated morale that resulted, combined with the reelection of Abraham Lincoln in November 1864 and the increasing number of deserters from the Confederate lines, only confirmed the growing belief among the soldiers in the trenches that Union victory was inevitable. Taken together, these aspects of the Petersburg experience mitigated the negative effects of trench warfare and allowed men to adapt more easily to their new world of combat."

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Booknotes: At Sword's Point, Part 2

New Arrival:
At Sword's Point, Part 2: A Documentary History of the Utah War, 1858–1859
edited by William P. MacKinnon (Arthur H. Clark, 2016).

The Arthur H. Clark Company, an imprint of University of Oklahoma Press, is perhaps the premier publisher of Western Americana. At Sword's Point, Part 2 is volume 11 of their landmark Kingdom in the West: The Mormons and the American Frontier series. A massive, annotated documentary history with expert commentary by MacKinnon, the two books on the Utah War of 1858-59 are invaluable resources on the subject. Click on the link above to view the breadth of the volume from its table of contents.

From the description: "Drawing on author-editor William P. MacKinnon’s half-century of research and a wealth of carefully selected new material, At Sword’s Point presents the first full history of the conflict through the voices of participants—leaders, soldiers, and civilians from both sides. MacKinnon’s lively narrative, continued in this second volume, links and explains these firsthand accounts to produce the most detailed, in-depth, and balanced view of the war to date.

At Sword’s Point, Part 2 carries the story of the Utah War from the end of 1857 to the conclusion of hostilities in June 1858, when Brigham Young was replaced as territorial governor and almost one-third of the U.S. Army occupied Utah. Through the testimony of Mormon and federal leaders, combatants, emissaries, and onlookers, this second volume describes the war’s final months and uneasy resolution."

Friday, November 11, 2016

Booknotes: The Yankee Plague

New Arrival:
The Yankee Plague: Escaped Union Prisoners and the Collapse of the Confederacy
by Lorien Foote (UNC Press, 2016).

In the Carolinas during the winter of 1864-65, several thousand Union POWs took advantage of a crumbling Confederacy and escaped into the countryside. "In this fascinating look at Union soldiers' flight for freedom in the last months of the Civil War, Lorien Foote reveals new connections between the collapse of the Confederate prison system, the large-scale escape of Union soldiers, and the full unraveling of the Confederate States of America." Foote's study argues that these escapees "accelerated the collapse [of the Confederacy] as slaves and deserters decided the presence of these men presented an opportune moment for escalated resistance." This sounds like an interesting new take on another aspect of the war's end game. The fact that it's a very brief study (not every book has to be 300-400 pages!) will add to my ability to squeeze it in somewhere.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Booknotes: Failure to Pursue

New Arrival:
Failure to Pursue: How the Escape of Defeated Forces Prolonged the Civil War
by David Frey (McFarland, 2016).

Throughout history, finishing off beaten armies has never been simple. The inability of Civil War armies to effectively pursue has been the subject of much popular debate, both during the war itself and over the past 150 years of armchair criticism of various generals. "Taking a fresh look at the tactics that characterized many major combat actions in the war, this book examines the performance of unsuccessful (sometimes insubordinate) commanders and credits two generals with eventually seeing the need for organized pursuit."

Frey scrutinizes a number of well known campaigns in the book, among them Shiloh, Kentucky, Iuka/Corinth, Stones River, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Nashville in the West and, in the East, 1st/2nd Bull Run, 1862 in the Valley, the Seven Days, Antietam, Gettysburg, and Appomattox. I haven't had a chance to delve into it yet and am looking forward to reading Frey's analysis. The subject of the retreat-pursuit dynamic is a fascinating one and is rarely explored beyond repeating a few common observations.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Review of Blackshear - "FORT BASCOM: Soldiers, Comancheros, and Indians in the Canadian River Valley"

[Fort Bascom: Soldiers, Comancheros, and Indians in the Canadian River Valley by James Bailey Blackshear (University of Oklahoma Press, 2016). Hardcover, maps, photos, illustrations, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:210/272. ISBN:9780806152097. $29.95]

In recent years, North American borderlands have been a popular topic of study for scholars of the antebellum and Civil War eras. The border regions under consideration have included both the internal transitional zone between North and South and the settled fringes of a continually expanding United States. For the latter, fort building was one of the most common means of claiming sovereignty over contested borderlands. Situated atop a low shelf above a sweeping bend in the Canadian River just west of the Texas-New Mexico border, Fort Bascom inserted the United States military into an alien frontier environment settled for centuries by Hispanic New Mexicans and numerous native tribes like the Navajo, Apache, Utes, and the increasingly powerful Comanche and Kiowa of the Southern Plains. The 1860s and 1870s history of the fort is the subject of James Bailey Blackshear's excellent new study Fort Bascom: Soldiers, Comancheros, and Indians in the Canadian River Valley.

In the beginning of the book, Blackshear does a great job of presenting to the reader a brief natural history of the arid region where Fort Bascom would later be situated. In addition to enlightening discussions of regional geology and hydrology, he also delves into the area's flora and fauna. While newcomers to this part of the Canadian River Valley would find survival tough going, the New Mexicans and especially the tribal groups that lived and thrived there for generations were already well adapted to the harsh environment.

As the study amply demonstrates, the valley was a place where differing cultures clashed, but it was also one where mutually beneficial exchange occurred. Integral to this societal interconnectedness was the Comanchero trading system, whereby New Mexicans and Pueblo Indians traded finished goods, raw materials, food, livestock, and slaves with the Southern Plains Indians. In their efforts to defeat powerful raiding tribes like the Comanche and Kiowa, volunteer and regular U.S. soldiers stationed at Fort Bascom would find this deeply entrenched economic system (in both its legal and illegal forms) very difficult to interdict and impossible to quash.

The disastrous Confederate defeat suffered during the 1861-62 New Mexico Campaign seemingly ended the threat to U.S.-held territory in the Southwest, but rumors of renewed enemy offensives kept Union authorities on edge for the balance of the Civil War. The original reason for the establishment of Fort Bascom in 1863 was to monitor and deter any further incursion by Texas Confederate forces into New Mexico. However, these fears never materialized and the garrison's primary purpose quickly evolved into fighting hostile Indians, intercepting dissident groups escaping the confines of the Bosque Redondo reservation, and attempting to block the Comancheros from supplying the weapons, goods, and information the Southern Plains Indians might use to resist the army. Many western fort studies, even for those installations established during 1861-65, tend to quickly gloss over the Civil War years before moving on to the great Indian Wars of the following decades. Not so Blackshear's Fort Bascom, which devotes at least half its length to the 1863-66 period, when U.S. volunteers were primarily responsible for patrolling and defending the Far West. The author discusses at great length not only the struggle to build, physically maintain, and supply the isolated fort but also the difficulties the army experienced when attempting to impose its will on what would be a three-way clash of cultures. One of the book's best sections is Blackshear's exploration of army life at the post. The many military expeditions launched either in full or in part from Fort Bascom are also detailed in the text. These include the campaign that would culminate in the 1864 Battle of Adobe Walls.

After the Civil War ended, regular troops (white and black) returned to Fort Bascom. During the war, the volunteers had done little to diminish the Comanchero trade, though not through lack of effort. As the book shows, the new crop of regulars would also be largely unsuccessful, with some current and ex-soldiers even participating in the illegal trading themselves. Like the author perceptively notes, history tells us that extensive and very lucrative black markets tend to emerge in the borderlands between diametrically different cultures in conflict, and the Comanche and Kiowa would certainly use the proceeds of the Comanchero trade to great effect both during and after the Civil War. Far from being quashed by the volunteers, the Comanchero trade flourished with renewed vigor during the late 1860s and early 1870s. In 1870, Fort Bascom was officially closed by a parsimonious military, but it remained a temporary base and waypoint for occasional operations aimed at arresting Comancheros and destroying their goods. Raiding from the Southern Plains Indians also fairly exploded in scale after the controversial closing of the fort, with depredation claims from the Texas Panhandle for just a two-year period in the early 1870s totaling almost $45 million. However, manpower and resources were scarce in the slimmed-down U.S. Army and the numerous Comanchero trails continued to be plied by traders over a huge area between northern Mexico and the Kansas plains.

During the decade following the end of the Civil War, Fort Bascom would be connected to a pair of important Indian Wars campaigns. The book discusses at some length the fort's contribution to Philip Sheridan's famous winter campaign of 1868, when a column led by Major Andrew Evans destroyed a huge Comanche winter camp and all its supplies, a largely bloodless accomplishment the author persuasively views as unjustifiably overshadowed by George Armstrong Custer's controversial battlefield victory on the Washita. Blackshear also recounts the involvement of Fort Bascom in the Red River War of 1874 and the salutary effect constant patrolling from the fort had on the eventual wearing down of tribal raiders and their support network by 1875.

In Fort Bascom, author James Blackshear develops a strong argument that the generally forgotten New Mexico fort deserves far more recognition than history has heretofore awarded it for its deep role in reshaping the American Southwest by bringing the powerful Southern Plains Indians under government control and securing the Texas Panhandle. Along the way, Blackshear's study successfully blends military, cultural, environmental, and economic history. It's also one of the finest of the recent works examining the Indian conflicts of the Civil War period.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Booknotes: A Confederate in Congress

New Arrival:
A Confederate in Congress: The Civil War Treason Trial of Benjamin Gwinn Harris
by Joshua E. Kastenberg (McFarland, 2016).

From the publisher's description:
"In May 1865, the final month of the Civil War, the U.S. Army arrested and prosecuted a sitting congressman in a military trial in the border state of Maryland, though the federal criminal courts in the state were functioning. Convicted of aiding and abetting paroled Confederate soldiers, Benjamin Gwinn Harris of Maryland's Fifth Congressional District was imprisoned and barred from holding public office.

Harris was a firebrand--effectively a Confederate serving in Congress--and had long advocated the constitutionality of slavery and the right of states to secede from the Union. This first-ever book-length analysis of the unusual trial examines the prevailing opinions in Southern Maryland and in the War Department regarding slavery, treason and the Constitution's guarantee of property rights and freedom of speech."
The bibliography looks solid, with fairly extensive manuscript research and engagement with the secondary legal literature of the Civil War.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Booknotes: Pure Heart

New Arrival:
Pure Heart: The Faith of a Father and Son in the War for a More Perfect Union
by William F. Quigley Jr. (Kent St Univ Press, 2016).

Facilitated by the recent discovery of a cache of wartime letters, Pure Heart tells the home front and war front parallel stories of a Pennsylvania father and son. During the Civil War, Reverend Benjamin Dorr, rector of Philadelphia's Christ Church (a place with intimate ties to the founding of both the Episcopal Church in America and the country itself), had to deal with competing Democrat vs. Republican political factions within the congregation. Dorr supported the war and emancipation, and the author likens his efforts in keeping the Episcopal Church from sundering to Lincoln's task of holding together the North. The reverend's son, William White Dorr, joined the army in 1862 as a lieutenant in the 121st Pennsylvania, and the book follows his Civil War career in the eastern theater with that unit from Fredericksburg onward.

From the description: "By war’s end, many Philadelphians came to praise the spirit of charity and forgiveness exemplified by Reverend Dorr. He was their shepherd through that political, constitutional, economic, and religious crisis, and to honor his memory they erected stone monuments in “The Nation’s Church” to him and to Captain Dorr, “A Christian and a Patriot, ‘Faithful unto death.’”"

Another thing that immediately caught my eye while thumbing through the book was the high number and quality of the battle maps, a welcome state of affairs not typically found outside of specialized campaign studies. They are quite impressive.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Confederate Cherokees (Updated Edition)

Like most of their publishing seasons, the Spring-Summer 2017 catalog from LSU Press has some intriguing titles. One of them is an "updated edition" of W. Craig Gaines's The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew's Regiment of Mounted Rifles (May '17). I posted some thoughts about the 1989 first edition [here] back in 2007. Unfortunately, the new description doesn't hint at what's been updated. The original narrative was fine but very brief. Undoubtedly, more useful primary source material has emerged over the past 30 years, and there's a richer secondary literature with which the author might engage. I am looking forward to seeing what was done with it.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Review of Cashon - "PADUCAH AND THE CIVIL WAR"

[Paducah and the Civil War by John Philip Cashon (Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, 2016). Softcover, maps, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:119/140. ISBN-978-1-46713-696-9. $21.99]

When the Confederacy ended Kentucky's dubious neutrality by entering the Jackson Purchase in early September 1861 and occupying Columbus, they left untouched what many historians consider an even richer prize, the city of Paducah. Strategically situated on the Ohio River and adjacent to the mouth of the Tennessee River, Paducah controlled the gateway to one of the war's great inland waterway invasion routes. Though periodically threatened, Union forces would hold the town for the duration of the war. How the town and its inhabitants were affected by the conflict is the subject of John Philip Cashon's Paducah and the Civil War.

The book begins with a solid summary of the 1860-61 political situation in western Kentucky's Jackson Purchase during the Secession Winter and the early months of the war. As a pair of recent specialized studies* have confirmed, pro-Confederate sentiment was widespread in the Purchase, which was physically and culturally isolated from the rest of the state by the Tennessee River. One of the region's key urban centers, Paducah gained a reputation as a southern city even though it was tucked into the most northern reaches of the Purchase, with some even calling it the "Charleston of Kentucky."

Two significant military events occurred at Paducah during the war, and the book describes both well. U.S. Grant's capture of Paducah on September 6, 1861 was a bloodless affair with far reaching strategic importance. Quickly fortified, the city became impervious to mere raids and, while it wasn't a major military depot, holding it was necessary for the safety of operations south. The March 25, 1864 Battle of Paducah, on the other hand, was costly in both property destruction and human life. In the attack, Nathan Bedford Forrest's Confederate cavalry command quickly secured most of the city but was bloodily repulsed in its attack on Fort Anderson, Paducah's chief defense installation. Like other writers, Cashon is critical of Forrest's poor reconnaissance and rash decision to attack the rather formidable fort, which possessed steep, thick walls and was surrounded by a deep moat. In the unlikely event Fort Anderson was taken or surrendered, the author wonders whether the bi-racial garrison would have suffered the same fate that Fort Pillow did less than three weeks later. Others have suggested that the signal failure at Fort Anderson played some part in fueling Confederate rage in West Tennessee. The book also discusses the guerrilla problem around Paducah and how it was a major factor (in conjunction with Forrest's attack) in 1864's return of harsh military rule to the city.

Military occupation deeply concerned Kentuckians of all political stripes, and Cashon's book effectively contrasts the moderate martial rule of U.S. Grant, C.F. Smith, and Solomon Merideth, with the extremes of malice wielded by Eleazer Paine. In his two Paducah stints, Paine, whose punitive policies included economic sanctions, banishment, financial levies, and unauthorized executions, drew such ire from all sides that he was twice removed from command.

Cashon also discusses at some length the enforcement in Paducah of Grant's infamous General Orders, No. 11 and Paducah merchant Cesar Kaskel's role in getting it revoked in a relatively short time. Grant's most vocal critics often take his order expelling the Jews as a class from his department as evidence of malicious bigotry and a major character defect. On the other side of the debate, the general's defenders insist that the episode was an isolated incident, a grossly unfortunate knee-jerk reaction against a single group stemming from boiled up anger and frustration with cotton speculators in general. Cashon's own assessment lies more toward the latter interpretation.

There's been a bit of a revival  in quality Civil War city studies of late. While Cashon's Paducah and the Civil War is a slim volume directed primarily toward a popular audience and is not a comprehensive scholarly monograph, it is a solidly researched selective survey of many of the major individuals and events associated with the city's wartime experience.

* - The two Jackson Purchase studies referenced in the review:
"Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase" by Berry Craig.
"The Civil War in the Jackson Purchase, 1861-1862: The Pro-Confederate Struggle and Defeat in Southwest Kentucky" by Dan Lee.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Booknotes: Stonewall Jackson's Little Sorrel

New Arrival:
Stonewall Jackson's Little Sorrel: An Unlikely Hero of the Civil War
by Sharon B. Smith (Lyons Press, 2016).

The horses of many great historical military figures (like Alexander's "Bucephalus") have received their own measure of fame, and the equine 'heroes' of the Civil War are no different. At least on the Confederate side, probably only Robert E. Lee's "Traveler" exceeds Stonewall Jackson's "Little Sorrel" in renown.

From the description: Little Sorrel's "enduring fame was due initially to the prominence of his owner and the uncanny similarities between the two of them. The little red horse long survived Jackson and developed a following of his own. In fact, he lived longer than almost all horses who survived the Civil War as well as many thousands of human veterans. His death in 1886 drew attention worthy of a deceased general, his mounted remains have been admired by hundreds of thousands of people since 1887, and the final burial of his bones (after a cross-country, multi-century odyssey) in 1997 was the occasion for an event that could only be described as a funeral, and a well-attended one at that."

Sharon Smith, also the infrequent blogger of New England's Civil War and author of Connecticut's Civil War from 2009, has a long professional association with horses and horse sports and likely brings a different than usual perspective to the subject. According to Smith, much of what has been written about Little Sorrel is untrue, and her book sets out to set the record straight and tell the full story of Jackson's famous mount.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Booknotes: The Sacred Cause of Union

New Arrival:
The Sacred Cause of Union: Iowa in the Civil War
by Thomas R. Baker (Univ of Iowa Pr, 2016).

As a Cornhusker fan, I am reluctant to say anything positive about the state of Iowa, but it cannot be denied that the Hawkeyes punched far above their weight during the Civil War. The Sacred Cause of Union claims to be the first survey history of Iowa in the Civil War, and I certainly don't know of any prior modern publication that would fit the bill. Baker's study "interweaves economics, politics, army recruitment, battlefield performance, and government administration." The home front and the Iowa women's Civil War also feature prominently in the volume. From the description: "On their own initiative, the state’s women ventured south to the battlefields to tend to the sick and injured, and farm families produced mountains of food to feed hungry federal armies. In the absence of a coordinated military supply system, women’s volunteer organizations were instrumental in delivering food, clothing, medicines, and other supplies to those who needed them."

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Review of Penn - "KENTUCKY REBEL TOWN: The Civil War Battles of Cynthiana and Harrison County"

[Kentucky Rebel Town: The Civil War Battles of Cynthiana and Harrison County by William A. Penn (University Press of Kentucky, 2016). Hardcover, maps, illustrations, appendix, notes, index. Pages main/total:278/374. ISBN:978-0-8131-6771-8. $45]

Located in Harrison County, Kentucky thirty miles north of Lexington and with the Kentucky Central Railroad passing through it, Cynthiana was both a town of divided loyalties and a rich target for opposing military forces, with battles fought there in 1862 and 1864. Author William Penn has published numerous articles on the subject, and one full length study Rattling Spurs and Broad-Brimmed Hats (Battle Grove, 1995). Penn's new book Kentucky Rebel Town: The Civil War Battles of Cynthiana and Harrison County is a significant revision and expansion of his earlier work. Border State studies have exploded of late, with many important monographs examining topics such as cultural and political identity, wartime civil rights in loyal states, the impact of emancipation and black army recruitment, Reconstruction, and remembrance. Many of these issues and themes are addressed in Penn's work.

As a politically divided and strategically important town, Cynthiana is a fine candidate for studying the Border State home front experience. Penn discusses the lead up to war in the town and the surrounding county, with some citizens traveling south to join Confederate armies and others organizing themselves into pro-Union home guards. While the latter often harassed without cause those they suspected to be Confederate sympathizers, they did play an important role in guarding important enemy targets like railroad trestles and they performed fairly well at the first Cynthiana battle.

The Kentucky Central Railroad ran right through Harrison County, and a larger military presence than local home guards was needed to secure it. The book discusses at some length the influx of Ohio volunteer units into the county, where they quickly established fortified bases like Camp Frazer and erected block houses and stockades to protect the railroad, vital bridges, and themselves from guerrillas and Confederate raiders. As outsiders with little appreciation of the complexities of Border State politics and society, they periodically clashed with the locals, as well.

Martial law and suspension of civil liberties within loyal states is a common issue examined in Border State Civil War studies, and Penn's book explores in great detail the military arrests of politicians, leading citizens, and newspaper editors in Cynthiana and Harrison County. As demonstrated during the 1862 Confederate Kentucky Campaign and both John Hunt Morgan raids, civilian arrests tended to sharply increase when Confederate troops were in the vicinity. At these times, the "lurking" Confederate became a widely feared bogeyman. Though detainees were generally well treated while in custody, serial arrest and incarceration, financial indemnification, bond posting, and oath requirements were unpopular but potent weapons employed by military authorities for silencing dissent.

Penn's fine case study of Cynthiana resident Lucius Desha (a wealthy slaveholding landowner and state representative with two sons in the Confederate army but who personally committed no overt acts of support for the Confederacy) very effectively illustrates the hardening war's insidiously expanding definition of disloyalty and the ruthless means employed at rooting out those suspected of harboring enemy sympathies. On the other hand, though it was small comfort to those repeatedly detained and doesn't excuse the practice of arbitrary arrest, the fact that all five Harrison county citizens formally accused of treason during the war were released after a hearing, and none were convicted of the crime in any court, meant that Kentucky citizens were not without very real legal protections.

The book briefly addresses the provost marshal system and the matter of draft enforcement in Harrison County during the war. It also charts the gradual dissolution of slavery in the county, a process that rapidly accelerated in 1864 with the mass enlistment of slaves into the army. In all, 396 former Harrison County slaves joined several different USCT units and the navy. Though eligible masters were entitled to a $300 bounty for each slave enlistee, very few owners met the stringent requirements for federal compensation and only a handful actually received their money.

Much of the book examines the two battles fought at Cynthiana on July 17, 1862 and June 11-12, 1864. Both clashes were initiated by Kentucky Confederate general John Hunt Morgan and his cavalry raiders. Penn's descriptions of the fighting are meticulously detailed and supported by some fine tactical maps of his own creation. In writing about the twin battles, the author incisively contrasts the Morgan of 1862 with the Morgan of 1864. During the first battle, Morgan's command was better disciplined (an achievement typically credited to the steady hand of chief subordinate Basil Duke) and concentrated primarily on military targets. The first battle showed Morgan at his raiding best, when he swiftly surrounded and overwhelmed in less than 90 minutes a mixed defending force of Union soldiers and home guards.

In describing and analyzing the 1864 battle, Penn usefully divides the two-day action into three distinct phases: (1) the direct assault upon the town on June 11, (2) the follow up engagement later that day a mile north of Cynthiana at Keller's Bridge, and (3) the June 12 battle fought just east of the town against a large relief force commanded by Union general Stephen Burbridge. During the first two successful phases, Morgan was again at his best, employing maximum shock by attacking from multiple directions and swiftly overcoming enemy resistance. On the other hand, the June 12 battle demonstrated Morgan at his worst, when it came to conducting a set piece battle. Though Morgan was never a great organizer or disciplinarian to begin with, his 1864 command was composed of different material than his 1862 band of brothers. Plundering freely and shockingly lacking in battlefield discipline, the quality of the 1864 raiders contrasted sharply with Morgan's first command. To make matters worse, Morgan's poor judgment and indifferent attention to command and control significantly lessened the chances for victory on the 12th. Accepting battle against Burbridge even with the knowledge that ammunition stocks were depleted, Morgan swiftly lost what little control he had over his units, who were quickly routed from the field and scattered across the countryside. In the wake of the defeat, many small groups of Confederate survivors deserted the army entirely and reemerged as guerrilla fighters for the rest of the war. Though much of the guerrilla literature for Kentucky already focuses on the state's northern and western regions, Penn might fruitfully have devoted more space in the book to Harrison County's irregular war.

With much of the heart of Cynthiana in ashes after the June 1864 battle, Kentucky Rebel Town traces the efforts of property owners to obtain compensation from the federal government. Like many other northern and border communities affected by the physical ravages of enemy invasion, the Claims Commission rejected any kind of financial award for Cynthiana property owners on the grounds that the Confederates caused the damage.

After the war, Kentuckians generally opposed granting full citizenship rights to blacks, and Penn discusses the efforts of the local Freedmen's Bureau office to protect ex-slaves and establish schools. He also briefly looks at the activities of Union and Confederate veteran groups in Harrison County and the erection of Cynthiana's Confederate cemetery and memorial.

Though the volume inexplicably lacks a bibliography, the notes indicate a significant degree of original manuscript research, as well as wide investigation into all the other avenues of source material (including a large number of newspapers) one expects to find in modern Civil War scholarship. The detailed orders of battle compiled in the appendix should also be greatly appreciated by students of both battles. As noted before, the maps are more than fine overall, but a detailed drawing of the historical landscape east of Cynthiana (in addition to the one tracing the action atop a modern topo map) would have greatly aided reader comprehension of the dynamics of the June 12, 1864 battle.

Though focusing heavily on Cynthiana itself, there is enough broader material in Kentucky Rebel Town to consider it a commendably useful county history, as well. As mentioned above, all the major social and political issues of greatest interest to today's scholars are addressed in Penn's study to some degree. The book is clearly the best military treatment of the Cynthiana battles in the literature, and anyone specifically interested in Morgan's Kentucky raids will find it a rich resource. Among the great battleground states of the western theater, Kentucky's military historiography remains one of the thinnest, and Penn's contribution goes a long way toward filling in some of the remaining gaps. Kentucky Rebel Town is highly recommended.

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