Saturday, November 18, 2017

Empire by Invitation

Michel Gobat's Empire by Invitation: William Walker and Manifest Destiny in Central America (Harvard, 2018) lies a bit outside the typical scope of titles reviewed here on CWBA, but its topic is relevant give how much slavery's expansion figured into U.S. sectional troubles during the antebellum period. I am mentioning the book here primarily due to how much I was taken aback by what I read in the description. I'm sure that if we took a reader poll, William Walker would sit at or near the top of any list of America's most notorious filibusters. I'm by no means deeply versed in Walker and his exploits, but I've read countless books that touch upon his Caribbean venture at some level, and I don't think I've come across any other scholar that would label Walker and his followers as "liberals and democracy promoters." The idea that Walker enjoyed wide support among Nicaraguan democracy reformers likely makes readers of today greatly uncomfortable given our modern education system's general portrayal of U.S. imperialism.

From the description: "In the 1850s Walker and a small group of U.S. expansionists migrated to Nicaragua determined to forge a tropical “empire of liberty.” His quest to free Central American masses from allegedly despotic elites initially enjoyed strong local support from liberal Nicaraguans who hoped U.S.-style democracy and progress would spread across the land. As Walker’s group of “filibusters” proceeded to help Nicaraguans battle the ruling conservatives, their seizure of power electrified the U.S. public and attracted some 12,000 colonists, including moral reformers. But what began with promises of liberation devolved into a reign of terror. After two years, Walker was driven out."

Going on: "Nicaraguans’ initial embrace of Walker complicates assumptions about U.S. imperialism. Empire by Invitation refuses to place Walker among American slaveholders who sought to extend human bondage southward. Instead, Walker and his followers, most of whom were Northerners, must be understood as liberals and democracy promoters." Citing "(t)heir ambition ... to establish a democratic state by force," Gobat draws parallels between Walker and twentieth-century "liberal-internationalist and neoconservative foreign policy circles." The book also describes how Walker's attempt at nation-building in the heart of Central America "inspired a global anti-U.S. backlash" and "precipitated a hemispheric alliance against the United States" that "gave birth to the idea of Latin America."

Friday, November 17, 2017

Booknotes: John C. Brown of Tennessee

New Arrival:
John C. Brown of Tennessee: Rebel, Redeemer, and Railroader by Sam Davis Elliott (UT Press, 2017).

A Whig lawyer living in Pulaski, John Calvin Brown joined the 3rd Tennessee during the initial post-Sumter volunteering rush and was soon after elected to the colonelcy of the regiment. Serving with the Army of Tennessee (and before that its progenitor formations), the generally well-regarded and frequently wounded Brown would lead brigades and divisions during most of the major battles in the western theater before eventually surrendering in 1865 with Joe Johnston's command in North Carolina. Sam Davis Elliott's John C. Brown of Tennessee: Rebel, Redeemer, and Railroader "is the first full-scale biography of this understudied figure."

The book description offers a taste of the volume's coverage of Brown's postwar career paths in business and politics: "There is a substantial likelihood he was an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan after the war, but more well-established is his role as leader in the anti-Brownlow movement that sought to end Radical Reconstruction in Tennessee. He was selected president of the 1870 constitutional convention, which helped lead to his election as governor later that year. After his tumultuous time as governor seeking to resolve economic conflicts that began before the Civil War, he became a railroad executive and industrialist. He had a significant role in the struggle between rival financiers for control of the southern route to the Pacific, and was in the front lines of management on behalf of the Texas and Pacific Railroad during the Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886."

Those interested in Brown should have high hopes and expectations. Apparently, Brown, who died in 1889 at the age of 62, left behind little in the way of personal papers. However, as evidenced by the excellent Isham G. Harris of Tennessee: Confederate Governor and United States Senator (2009), Elliott has already proven himself to be a more than capable biographer while operating under a similar handicap, and I am confident he can successfully work around this not unusual impediment. In recent years, his insightful essay work has also been featured in some excellent anthologies.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Booknotes: American Sectionalism in the British Mind, 1832-1863

New Arrival:
American Sectionalism in the British Mind, 1832-1863 by Peter O'Connor (LSU Press, 2017).

From the description: "In American Sectionalism in the British Mind, 1832–1863, Peter O’Connor [a lecturer in history and American studies at the University of Manchester and Northumbria University] uses an innovative interdisciplinary approach to provide a corrective to simplified interpretations of British attitudes towards the United States during the antebellum and early Civil War periods. Exploring the many complexities of transatlantic politics and culture, O’Connor examines developing British ideas about U.S. sectionalism, from the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and the Nullification Crisis in South Carolina to the Civil War."

O'Connor's reading of British "travelogues, fictional accounts, newspaper reports, and personal papers" written during the decades preceding the American Civil War leads him to argue that the reading public in the U.K. was deeply interested in and well aware of "U.S. sectionalism and ... the complex identities of the North and South." When the war between the sections finally came, "the British populace approached the conflict through these preexisting notions." The volume's bibliography and notes seem to indicate a wide sampling of the types of writings referenced above as well as extensive synthesis of the printed literature.

More from the description: "O’Connor reveals even antislavery commentators tended to criticize slavery in the abstract and to highlight elements of the system that they believed compared favorably to the condition of free blacks in the North. As a result, the British saw slavery in the U.S. in national as opposed to sectional terms, which collapsed the moral division between North and South. O’Connor argues that the British identified three regions within America―the British Cavalier South, the British Puritan New England, and the ethnically heterogeneous New York and Pennsylvania region―and demonstrates how the apparent lack of a national American culture prepared Britons for the idea of disunity within the U.S. He then goes on to highlight how British commentators engaged with American debates over political culture, political policy, and states’ rights. In doing so, he reveals the complexity of the British understanding of American sectionalism in the antebellum era and its consequences for British public opinion during the Civil War."

In the end, O'Connor's book presents "a new explanation of how the British understood America in the antebellum and Civil War eras."

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review of Barry & Burt - "SUPPLIERS TO THE CONFEDERACY - VOLUME THREE: British and European Imported Quartermaster Goods, Artillery and Other Ordnance"

[Suppliers to the Confederacy - Volume Three: British and European Imported Quartermaster Goods, Artillery and Other Ordnance by Craig L. Barry & David C. Burt (, 2017). Hardcover, 279 B&W photos, drawings, illustrations, chapter notes, appendices, select bibliography. 534 pp. ISBN:978-1-63492-113-8. $39.95]

Contrary to what the title suggests, Suppliers to the Confederacy - Volume Three: British and European Imported Quartermaster Goods, Artillery and Other Ordnance is actually the fourth entry in Craig Barry and David Burt's Suppliers to the Confederacy series of history and reference guides, each one exhaustively examining some aspect of foreign procurement for the Confederate Army. Previous volumes include Suppliers to the Confederacy: British Imported Arms and Accoutrements (2013), Suppliers to the Confederacy II: S. Isaac Campbell & Co., London/Peter Tait & Co., Limerick (2014), and Suppliers to the Confederacy, Volume II: More British Imported Arms and Accoutrements (2016).

The following should suffice as a brief overview of Volume Three's contents. The first chapter contains a solid compact history of the Confederate Quartermaster Department as well as an illuminating management case study in contrasting competence, executive style, and efficiency between the first Quartermaster-General, Colonel Abraham Myers, and the second, General Alexander Lawton. Chapter Two details the Confederate importation of uniform cloth, sewing thread, shirts, pants, and greatcoats. Imported brass buttons are the subject of the book's third chapter, as are the many British companies that supplied those objects. Chapter Four deals with British and French hats, boots, shoes, and leather along with socks, blankets, and saddle blankets. Chapter Five addresses the foreign purchase of Austrian cannon and shoulder arms (in particular the P1854 rifle) but devotes the great majority of its attention to British Whitworth and Blakely rifled cannon, Britton ammunition, the much desired Whitworth sharpshooter rifle, and the Davidson telescopic sight. In nine parts, the study's extensive appendix section offers a great deal more supplementary information and documents, much of it ordnance related.

When it comes to describing the many items under consideration, Barry and Burt's study does a very thorough job of noting exact dimensions (when known), color, stylistic flourishes, material properties, identifying markings, and much more. Artifact photographs are evenly distributed throughout the text, and these frequently include close-in images of particular defining features, examples being things like cloth weave patterns, maker's marks, and more. The authors also reserve extensive provenance discussions for the many one-of-a-kind items that they document in the book.

In addition to assessing the work of Confederate procurement agents sent abroad, the foreign manufacturing firms and owners (mostly British) that supplied all manner of desperately needed items are discussed at length, with the industrial processes and machines involved in their work also frequently reviewed in the text. Special attention is paid to numbers brought in through the blockade. Much of this quantitative data is incorporated into the main text, but some of it is also arranged into reference tables. Supporting images of shipment invoices and other historical documents are included, as well. All of this information provides readers with a good sense of the overall scale of Confederate importation and how critically important European trade was to the South's war economy,

As with the previous works in the series, Volume Three is full of absorbing digressions. For instance, the book offers an interesting record of the popular rise during the antebellum U.S. of what would become known as the "slouch hat" and how that brand of headgear became standard issue in the Confederate armies. In another example, the authors put forth a reasonable argument that the much-maligned P1854 Austrian rifle was actually a very good shoulder arm, with much of the misunderstanding surrounding it at the time stemming from the fact that no one bothered to translate the manual so the troops could be instructed in the weapon's proper use.

The book convincingly marks two 1863 events as defining moments in the Confederate Quartermaster Department. In May 1863, the Crenshaw Woolen Mill in Richmond burned to the ground, and with it went the only facility in the South capable of mass producing blankets suitable for army use. Then, in August, the much-criticized Abraham Myers was finally replaced with Alexander Lawton at the head of the Department, the result being an immediate increase in energy, efficiency, and funding as well as a more determined focus on supplying the army's needs through foreign imports. There was always a tug of war between domestic and foreign sources within the department, but Lawton quickly realized that inflation, internal transportation problems, and skilled labor shortages meant that importation was very often the most cost-effective procurement method. Lawton's field command experience also meant that he knew better than Myers did exactly what the troops needed, when they needed it most, and in what numbers.

Lawton's invigoration of the department started to pay off almost immediately, and the book demonstrates (as have some others in recent years) that the popular late-war image of the Confederate soldier as half-naked scarecrow is much more myth than reality. The book offers abundant data confirming that Confederate armies were amply supplied during 1864-65 with clothing and blankets, most of this due to the consistent stream of imports. In some cases, enough military surplus existed to sell to the civilian population.

The book also has a strong and welcome focus on the semi-independent Trans-Mississippi Department, which tended to import the more expensive finished items much more often than Confederate and state authorities elsewhere did. While the recent literature has offered a greater appreciation of the establishment of manufacturing facilities in the T-M theater (particularly in Texas), Barry and Burt's study makes clear that blockade running remained the most significant source of arms and many other essential goods.

The only major source of complaint with the book is the unexpected fall in production values. In contrast with the full-color, high-res photography of previous books in the series, all of the illustrations in Volume Three are B&W and frequently quite grainy in appearance. It's unfortunate, but certainly doesn't devalue the volume enough to withdraw recommendation.

Volume Three is another fine addition to Craig Barry and David Burt's unique Suppliers to the Confederacy series. As before, its contents will be highly useful to a range of readers, from museum professionals and historians to serious collectors and other Civil War material culture enthusiasts.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Booknotes: Silent Sentinels

New Arrival:
Silent Sentinels: A Reference Guide to the Artillery of Gettysburg by George W. Newton (Savas Beatie, 2017).

George Newton's Silent Sentinels was originally published by SB back in 2005, and this is the brand new paperback reprint (which might make some kind of a dent in those used hardcover prices). I missed it before, so this is my first look at it. The book appears to be one of those unusual hybrids friendly to novice readers while also being serious reference tools.

Indeed, it's "designed to be of use to both the casual battlefield visitor and the serious Civil War scholar. The former will use Silent Sentinels to learn more about the campaign in general, the role of artillery in Civil War battles, and how it was used on the battlefield at Gettysburg. They will also use it to learn how to identify different types of artillery, and tour a wide variety of artillery-related sites from Oak Hill in the north to a solitary gun well south of the Peach Orchard."

On the other side of things, "(m)ore experienced Civil War students will find Silent Sentinels' extensive primary sources, diagrams, appendices of numbers and losses, and informative discussion of artillery organization and tactics an indispensable reference resource." The appendix section includes a full artillery order of battle (organization, gun types and number, strength, and casualties) for each side, battery tables arranged by state, and a selection of Union and Confederate artillery officer bios and battle reports.

More from the description: "Silent Sentinels opens with a general overview of the campaign and a wide-ranging discussion of 19th century artillery, the gun types used at Gettysburg, the equipment needed to operate the guns, how they were organized in each army, and the tactics employed by both Union and Confederate artillerymen. The chapter-long and wide-ranging tour included in this book guides readers to a variety of fascinating sites with enough detail to interest even the most jaded Gettysburg historian."

Monday, November 13, 2017

Booknotes: The Diary of a Civil War Bride

New Arrival:
The Diary of a Civil War Bride: Lucy Wood Butler of Virginia edited by Kristen Brill (LSU Press, 2017)

Many scholars have used the writings of Lucy Wood Butler in their work, but The Diary of a Civil War Bride marks the first full publication of the Butler material, which includes both wartime diary and letters to her husband. Edited by Kristen Brill, this slim volume relays "a compelling account of one woman’s struggle to come to terms with the realities of war on the Confederate home front." The diary is particularly revealing of "the attitudes and living conditions of many white middle-class women in the Civil War South."

More from the description: "The Diary of a Civil War Bride opens with a series of letters between Lucy Wood and her husband, Waddy Butler, a Confederate soldier whom Lucy met in 1859 while he was a student at the University of Virginia. Serving with the Second Florida Regiment, Butler died at the Battle of Chancellorsville. 

Lucy’s diary spans much of the intervening years, from the spring of 1861 to the death of her husband in the summer of 1863. Through the dual prism of her personal marital union and the national disunion, the narrative delivers a detailed glimpse into the middle-class Confederate home front, as Butler comments on everyday conditions in Charlottesville, Virginia, as well as the greater sociopolitical valence of the Civil War. In addition to the details of Lucy’s courtship, marriage, and widowhood, the diary provides a humanistic and sentimental lens through which readers can closely examine broader issues surrounding the institution of slavery, the politics of secession, and the erosion of Confederate nationalism."

Brill's introduction delves into Butler's background and discusses why her writings are important to Civil War scholarship. Brill also annotates the assembled diary and letters with occasional footnotes.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Kirk’s Civil War Raids Along the Blue Ridge

Back when I was in the midst of one of my unionism in southern Appalachia reading phases (looking in particular at the upland region shared by East Tennessee, SW Virginia, and western North Carolina), I failed in my attempts to acquire a reasonably priced used copy of Matthew Bumgarner's Kirk's Raiders: "a notorious band of scoundrel's and thieves" (Tarheel Press, 2000). Apparently, now it's even harder to find on the secondary market at any price. The publisher's website linked above does still list it as available for purchase, but who knows how current their store might be. Like I have, I'm sure you've all run into dormant web stores with tantalizing ghost listings.

Anyway, the Tennessee-born Unionist George W. Kirk was an important player in the region's inner Civil War. In 1864, using East Tennessee as haven and base of operations, Kirk's 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry launched several raids across the border into western North Carolina, where the actions of he and his men (like they had in Tennessee) gained quite a notorious reputation. The topic is certainly worthy of another book, and I've just learned that one is on the way. Though he's better known for his many Confederate studies, Civil War North Carolina historian Michael Hardy will be the newest author to tackle the subject. His Kirk’s Civil War Raids Along the Blue Ridge is currently scheduled for a March 2018 release.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

McClellan congratulates Meade on his Gettysburg victory

Harry at Bull Runnings recently posted the text of a brief congratulatory note from Lee to Joe Johnston regarding the latter's big win at Manassas. It immediately reminded me of a passage from a recent book (unfortunately, I can't recall which one) that excerpted a gracious post-Gettysburg message from George McClellan to George Meade on the occasion of his former subordinate's great victory fought a week earlier. I was interested in reading the letter in full and easily found it after a quick online search through the O.R. Here it is:

Friday, November 10, 2017

Booknotes: The Ambush of the Isaac P. Smith

New Arrival:
The Ambush of the Isaac P. Smith: Family Ties and the Battle on the Stono, January 30, 1863 by Gary L. Dyson (Lulu-author, 2016).

Built for civilian river traffic in New York, the steamer Isaac Smith was purchased by the U.S. Navy in 1861 and promptly converted into a gunboat for use in the South Atlantic. Between 1861 and 1863, the vessel was engaged in coastal operations, at various times finding its way along the inland waterways of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Its time with the U.S. Navy would end on January 30, 1863, when the Smith was captured on the Stono River by a well-orchestrated enemy surprise attack from shore. The event is one of the better known Confederate tactical successes of the long Charleston siege.

Gary Dyson's The Ambush of the Isaac P. Smith "tells the story of the Smith up to the battle and gives the battle story based on eyewitness accounts, battle reports, and official records. The story of the crew's imprisonment as well as the post battle and postwar lives of [Smith officers Frederic Calvin Hills and John Wyer Dicks] are also included as well as some short biographies of battle veterans and civilians, Union and Confederate."

I really liked Dyson's first book, A Civil War Correspondent in New Orleans: The Journals and Reports of Albert Gaius Hills of the Boston Journal (McFarland, 2012), and am looking forward to reading this new one. Its account of the Smith operation looks pretty detailed and is supplemented by numerous maps and photographs.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review of Holt - "THE ELECTION OF 1860: A Campaign Fraught with Consequences"

[The Election of 1860: A Campaign Fraught with Consequences by Michael F. Holt (University Press of Kansas, 2017). Hardcover, photos, appendices, notes, biblio essay, index. Pages main/total:204/271. ISBN:978-0-7006-2487-4. $29.95]

When it comes to writing about the election of 1860, the tendency of most authors is to focus on Abraham Lincoln. This is reasonable. After all, Lincoln's life story appeals to 21st century sensibilities and his rise to the pinnacle of political power in America was uncommonly dramatic. Plus, he was the winner after all. However, Michael Holt's The Election of 1860: A Campaign Fraught with Consequences reminds readers that it was parties and platforms, not individual candidates, that most typically ranked highest in the minds of 18th century voters, and the great majority of the U.S. electorate (just over 60%) wanted nothing to do the new political powerhouse in the North. Unfortunately for them, a united anti-Republican opposition proved impossible, and the fractured sectional parties that emerged from that failure to craft a unified front almost certainly ensured a Lincoln victory in 1860.

Right at the top, it should be mentioned that The Election of 1860 offers in the most general sense a very good compact descriptive account of the overall election campaign. In engaging fashion, Holt introduces the four presidential candidates [Republican Abraham Lincoln, Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge, and John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party] and effectively defines the election's chief political issues. The oft written about party convention process and Democratic split are similarly well presented. The most important features of the various party platforms (all four of which are reproduced in full at the back of the book) are also thoughtfully assessed throughout. The events of election day itself are not a major focus of the study, which is more concerned with interpreting the results.

Among other things, the rapid rise of the Republican Party confirmed the old saw that, as with so many other things in life, 'timing is everything' in politics. According to Holt, a significant Republican voting block in the North was primarily motivated by event-driven disgust with the undemocratic actions of Democrats (ex. the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Lecompton Constitution, the Sumner caning, etc.) rather than ideological conversion. As will be discussed more below, Holt's research uncovers a perfect storm of voter disenchantment with the Democratic Party in 1860, all of it perfectly timed to help put the Republicans over the top.

Throughout his narrative, Holt argues that the Republicans of 1860 were able to successfully portray themselves as the only antidote available to the naked corruption of the prior eight years of Democratic governance. The Buchanan administration in particular offered a target-rich environment for cutthroat propagandists, and the admittedly less than impartial Cavode Commission made the most of its mission to expose Democratic corruption. The book highlights a few of the most glaring examples of misrule, including bribery of politicians and fraudulent cronyism in awarding government contracts. Of course, one can point to abuses of power in all parties, but in politics (as in so many other things) perception is often more important than reality, and Republican newspapers and other anti-Buchanan forces seem to have been particularly successful in painting Buchanan Democrats as exceptionally corrupt. Tying official corruption to wedge issues of the day only made it worse for the Democrats. Public outrage became white hot when it came to light that the administration blatantly attempted to buy votes accepting Kansas statehood on the basis of the much-reviled proslavery Lecompton Constitution. Other examples are introduced throughout the text, but Holt might have made his central argument for the underappreciated centrality of this election issue even more forceful by devoting an entire chapter to detailing the allegations and showing readers what effect the accusations had on voter attitudes and calls to action. Really, the corruption angle seems worthy of of its own standalone study.

Another traditional interpretation that Holt rejects is the popular idea that Lincoln became the most acceptable compromise candidate at the Republican Convention due to widespread perception of his being less radical in his views than New York's William Seward and Pennsylvania's Simon Cameron. One might reasonably argue that Seward was less of a hardliner toward the South than Lincoln was, and it is Holt's position that Lincoln was more acceptable to the Lower North not for his comparative conservatism but for his geographical roots in the growing West. It also helped Lincoln's cause that he was considered "clean," while eastern party giants like Seward and Cameron were contaminated with the very qualities of corruption that the party was trying with much success to pin on the opposition.

Holt is in all probability correct that the election shorthand most commonly employed by historians breaks down the 1860 contest as Lincoln vs. Douglas in the North and Breckinridge vs. Bell in the South, but the author convincingly paints an alternate picture of the Lincoln opponents (particularly the Democrats) maliciously targeting each other far more than the they did the common Republican enemy. The candidates also often talked around each other rather than directly addressing the same points. With the success of antislavery forces in Kansas, most Republicans had by 1860 determined that the issue of slavery's extension was settled in their favor, at least in practical terms. In Holt's estimation, it was the Southern Democrats, not the Republicans, that were determined to keep slavery rights in the territories as a major campaign issue. As stated before, instead of concentrating on the issue of slavery's extension, Republicans tried to portray the election as a referendum on Democratic governance. Seeking to win the middle ground, Bell and Douglas both wanted to save the country from extremism in both forms (Republicans and Southern Democrats). Bell's Constitutional Union Party attempted to remove slavery from the discussion altogether, and its platform was justifiably mocked by all sides for its simplistic appeal to commonly-held constitutional principles. Breckinridge above all wanted to defeat Douglas and was more concerned with ensuring equal property rights of southerners in the abstract sense than he was in than demanding an actual slave code for the territories.

The author also helpfully points out that the competing Republican and Democratic campaigns were not as exclusively sectional as most accounts would have us believe. For example, Breckinridge partisans held rallies and actively sought support in the North while Douglas (the only candidate to personally campaign) traveled all across the South and was in Alabama on election day. Even Republicans were able to drum up a presence in a few Border State and Upper South counties.

In the book, Holt credits Republicans with the 1860 campaign's most innovative political strategy for drumming up support among younger voters, especially those not old enough to have voted in 1856 or who stayed away altogether. A grassroots pro-Republican political organization, the Wide Awake movement exploded in popularity in the run-up to the election, with chapters springing up all over northern cities. With the military-style pageantry of their torch-held night parades, the Wide Awakes impressed (and recruited) numerous onlookers while at the same time intimidating opponents with showy projections of strength right in the heart of traditionally Democratic cities. According to Holt, these chapters played a significant role in the Republican victory. Similar marching clubs did emerge among the other factions (one of the most colorfully named, the pro-Douglas "Chloroformers", sought to put the Wide Awakes back to sleep!), but, at least in the North, they couldn't match the organization and scale of the Wide Awakes.

In general studies of the 1860 election, John Bell always gets the least amount of attention (and the dearth of useful Constitutional Union Party sources that Holt lists in his bibliographical essay seems to bear this out), but Holt devotes an appropriate amount of space and analysis to the man who finished fourth in the popular vote but secured more than three times the number of electoral votes that Douglas won. Holt's account depicts Bell as a prescient man who honestly feared the consequences of sectional party victory yet employed badly misguided and surprisingly naive political tactics in his own campaign. Bell unsuccessfully attempted to position himself as the only true national candidate in the election and the only viable alternative to the extremists that threatened the Union. To Bell, Breckinridge and his supporters were outright secessionists while the Republicans, already victorious on the slavery extension question, had already outlived their reason for existence. In Bell's view, virulent anti-southern rhetoric from Republicans only strengthened secessionism. But his party's impractical "empty" platform and widely scoffed at presumption that simply removing slavery from national discussion would solve most problems of unity meant that his movement never gained enough traction to achieve even its most modest goal of throwing the election to the House of Representatives.

Returning to the corruption issue, as Holt maintains in the book the Republicans of 1860 were in urgent need of a new weapon in their political arsenal. It was needed because all sides recognized that the election would be truly decided in the North, and the anti-Lecompton Douglas, the avowed enemy of the Southern Democrats, could not be branded by Republicans as the tool of the so-called Slave Power. Other issues would be popular in particular states (for example the Homestead Act in Minnesota or protective tariffs in Pennsylvania), but it would be the Democratic corruption exposed by the Cavode Commission that would provide the best ammunition for Republican operatives. Guilt by association would apparently gain purchase and stick to Douglas even though everyone knew the Little Giant himself was a bitter enemy of the arch-corrupt and inept Buchanan administration, the clear center of gravity when it came to accusations of public fraud and overspending.

Holt's remark in the book about the absence of scientific polling data rendering it impossible today to truly know what political factor was first in the minds of Republican voters is surely accurate. However, his view that there was widespread belief at the time that only Republicans could return honest government to Washington, and this growing conviction might very well have been the leading inducement for many to vote Republican in 1860, seems reasonable. One of the major Republican objectives was to win over the hundreds of thousands of voters that chose "Know Nothing" American Party candidate Millard Fillmore over John C. Fremont in 1856. As the book demonstrates, the political landscape of 1860 was very different from 1856. Compared with four years earlier, in 1860 the practical prospects of slavery's extension were greatly muffled and disgust at dishonorable government far more elevated in the public consciousness, so it might stand to reason that the great majority of Fillmore voters that went Republican in 1860 were moved to that action by the public scandals of the Buchanan presidency.

In the final chapter, Holt effectively uses William Gienapp's statistical study of the election to identify and comment upon compelling trends in voter background, affiliation, and turnout (the appendix section contains four election return and voter turnout tables helpful for comparing 1856 and 1860 data points). Holt also usefully reminds readers of how critical October election returns (particularly the gubernatorial races) were seen at the time as predictive of November results. In this case, Republican confidence was soaring on election eve in November. It's become more popular of late to discount the significance of the affect of the Democratic split on Lincoln's victory, but Holt cites more than sufficient evidence regarding large-scale problems in Democratic turnout stemming from defeatism (due to both party infighting and October election results) to question anew the modern skeptics on this point.

Convinced or not by Holt's arguments regarding the key role played by Democratic corruption in the Republican electoral triumph in 1860, there appears to be little doubt that the issue was at the very least a significantly important one to the voters. Indeed, on points large and small Holt's study contains innumerable unconventional but reasonably supported interpretations that question prior assumptions in an intellectually sound manner. A great addition to the scholarship of late antebellum national politics and the four-way presidential contest that finally transformed long-standing threats of southern secession into tragic reality, The Election of 1860 is highly recommended to seasoned students and new readers alike.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Commanders: Civil War Generals Who Shaped the American West

I've never actually bothered to see if such a thing existed already, but I've often thought it might be interesting to study in what ways Civil War officers who later figured prominently in the Indian Wars of the last half of the nineteenth century applied their considerably honed expertise fighting both conventional and unconventional Confederate enemies to the subjugation of the western tribes. I don't know if that will be a particular theme of Robert Utley's upcoming The Commanders: Civil War Generals Who Shaped the American West (Oklahoma, Feb 2018), but the book sounds like it might be something up my alley.

The Commanders "examines the careers of seven military leaders who served as major generals for the Union in the Civil War, then as brigadier generals in command of the U.S. Army’s western departments." By looking at the fighting careers of the generals during both conflicts, "Utley makes a unique contribution in delineating these commanders’ strengths and weaknesses."

More from the description: "While some of the book’s subjects—notably Generals George Crook and Nelson A. Miles—are well known, most are no longer widely remembered. Yet their actions were critical in the expansion of federal control in the West. The commanders effected the final subjugation of American Indian tribal groups, exercising direct oversight of troops in the field as they fought the wars that would bring Indians under military and government control. After introducing readers to postwar army doctrine, organization, and administration, Utley takes each general in turn, describing his background, personality, eccentricities, and command style and presenting the rudiments of the campaigns he prosecuted. Crook embodied the ideal field general, personally leading his troops in their operations, though with varying success. Christopher C. Augur and John Pope, in contrast, preferred to command from their desks in department headquarters, an approach that led both of them to victory on the battlefield. And Miles, while perhaps the frontier army’s most detestable officer, was also its most successful in the field." It certainly appears that the book might have significant crossover appeal. I'm also impressed that the great Robert Utley is still writing serious history books at the age of 88!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Booknotes: Under the Crescent Moon with the XI Corps in the Civil War - Volume 1

New Arrival:
Under the Crescent Moon with the XI Corps in the Civil War - Volume 1: From the Defenses of Washington to Chancellorsville, 1862-1863 by James S. Pula (Savas Beatie, 2017).

Thanks to the work of Christian Keller and others like him, the Eleventh is no longer widely regarded as the "German" corps that ran away at both Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, their alleged cowardice bearing much of the responsibility for the embarrassing Union defeat at the former battlefield and near defeat at the latter. At this point, most readers are aware (or should be) that at the time of the Battle of Chancellorsville a slight majority of the corps's total manpower was native born, and at both great battles the unit fought as well as might be expected under the circumstances. As one of the two corps detached from the Army of the Potomac to help save the besieged garrison at Chattanooga, the corps also fought well out west before being broken up.

Until now, no dedicated study of the Eleventh Corps's Civil War service has been written. Attempting to close this gap in grand fashion, author James Pula addresses the deficiency in two volumes, the first of which was just released. Under the Crescent Moon with the XI Corps in the Civil War - Volume 1: From the Defenses of Washington to Chancellorsville, 1862-1863 "opens with the organization of the corps and a lively description of the men in the ranks, the officers who led them, the regiments forming it, and the German immigrants who comprised a sizable portion of the corps. Once this foundation is set, the narrative flows briskly through the winter of 1862-63 on the way to the first major campaign at Chancellorsville. Although the brunt of Stonewall Jackson’s flank attack fell upon the men of the XI Corps, the manner in which they fought and many other details of that misunderstood struggle are fully examined here for the first time, and at a depth no other study has attempted." The book has the typical appealing SB presentation, but the cartography is surprisingly thin. There are four maps in all and only one generalized tactical map treatment for the entirety of the corps's controversial May 2 experience at Chancellorsville.

The description also informs readers about what to expect in the second volume, From Gettysburg to Victory. It will comprise "seven chapters on the XI Corps at Gettysburg, followed by a rich exploration of the corps’ participation in the fighting around Chattanooga, the grueling journey into Eastern Tennessee in the dead of winter, and its role in the Knoxville Campaign. Once the corps’ two divisions are broken up in early 1864 to serve elsewhere, Pula follows their experiences through to the war’s successful conclusion."

Monday, November 6, 2017

Booknotes: Hood's Texas Brigade

New Arrival:
Hood's Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy's Most Celebrated Unit by Susannah J. Ural (LSU Press, 2017).

I am sure a number of southern brigades might justifiably vie for the honor of being regarded as the "Confederacy's Most Celebrated Unit," but John Bell Hood's Texas Brigade, which racked up one of the finest combat records of any brigade on either side, is certainly a top-level candidate for any list. Susannah Ural's Hood's Texas Brigade is the newest study of the famous unit.

At first glance, the book's organization appears fairly typical. The first chapters cover enlistment motivation along with unit leadership and organization. This is then followed by a lengthy, chronologically-arranged service history that comprises the great bulk and middle of the study. A final section then takes the Texans's story into Reconstruction and beyond. Even so, it is billed as a "a nontraditional unit history that traces the experiences of these soldiers and their families to gauge the war’s effect on them and to understand their role in the white South’s struggle for independence."

Continuing from the description: "According to Ural, several factors contributed to the Texas Brigade’s extraordinary success: the unit’s strong self-identity as Confederates; the mutual respect among the junior officers and their men; a constant desire to maintain their reputation not just as Texans but as the top soldiers in Robert E. Lee’s army; and the fact that their families matched the men’s determination to fight and win. Using the letters, diaries, memoirs, newspaper accounts, official reports, and military records of nearly 600 brigade members, Ural argues that the average Texas Brigade volunteer possessed an unusually strong devotion to southern independence: whereas most Texans and Arkansans fought in the West or Trans- Mississippi West, members of the Texas Brigade volunteered for a unit that moved them over a thousand miles from home, believing that they would exert the greatest influence on the war’s outcome by fighting near the Confederate capital in Richmond. These volunteers also took pride in their place in, or connections to, the slave-holding class that they hoped would secure their financial futures. While Confederate ranks declined from desertion and fractured morale in the last years of the war, this belief in a better life―albeit one built through slave labor―kept the Texas Brigade more intact than other units." One might suspect that the assumptions present in the last two sentences might be more difficult to the support the further one goes down the brigade's ranks. The fact that cis-Mississippi deserters from Trans-Mississippi states would encounter insuperable obstacles in reaching home (other famous T-M brigades like the First Missouri Brigade had similar challenges along with similarly high late-war unit morale and cohesion) should also be considered a major factor in keeping the men in the ranks and should not be underestimated.

In the end, "Hood’s Texas Brigade challenges key historical arguments about soldier motivation, volunteerism and desertion, home-front morale, and veterans’ postwar adjustment. It provides an intimate picture of one of the war’s most effective brigades and sheds new light on the rationales that kept Confederate soldiers fighting throughout the most deadly conflict in U.S. history.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Army of Tennessee in Retreat

When I first encountered a notice of the upcoming title The Army of Tennessee in Retreat: From Defeat at Nashville through "the Sternest Trials of the War" by O.C. Hood (McFarland, Spring 2018), I thought about what we have already in print. Of course, the topic has been addressed in chapter (and probably article) form on numerous occasions, but I don't recall the existence of any exhaustively detailed account of the Army of Tennessee's winter retreat after its disastrous defeat at Nashville in mid-December 1864. For a memorable perspective of the Union cavalry pursuit, the relevant parts of Christopher Perello's The Quest for Annihilation: The Role & Mechanics of Battle in the American Civil War are quite interesting.

But getting back to Hood's book, here's the brief publisher's description: "The Sternest Trials of the War is the detailed account of Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee in full retreat, from the battle lines south of Nashville to the crossing of the Tennessee River at the Alabama state line. It is the story of a fierce, brutal, running battle lasting ten consecutive days over one hundred miles through an impoverished countryside during one of the worst winters on record."

'Hood on Hood' has been a thing before, and not too long ago at that. The Google gremlins tell me that O.C. Hood has previously written a book of Civil War poetry titled Millstream. Also, in the acknowledgements of Stephen Hood's often fascinating John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General (2013), that author does thank Oliver C. "OC" Hood for vital assistance, additionally noting the two are distant relatives.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Booknotes: The Battle of Lewisburg

New Arrival:
The Battle of Lewisburg: May 23, 1862 by Richard L. Armstrong (35th Star Pub, 2017).

As feared, the vast majority of the 35-40 October releases I had my eye on were pushed off into future months and many well into next year. This first week in November was pretty strong for new arrivals, though. Hopefully, it will continue. It's typically pretty easy to find advance notice of most titles these days, but there are always some unanticipated books that fly in under the radar and provide happy surprises. One of these is Richard Armstrong's The Battle of Lewisburg.

Armstrong's book is the first full treatment of the Battle of Lewisburg, which saw an inferior Union force (Col. George Crook's 1,600-man brigade) in western Virginia quickly rout a superior Confederate command (2,000+ men) led by General Henry Heth. The federal victory played no small part in Crook's general officer promotion, while the Confederates were embarrassed by the ease of their defeat and undoubtedly even more displeased with the wide disparity in losses. Oddly enough, the mismanaged battle didn't seem to harm Heth's budding military career, and I wonder if that point is addressed in the book.

Just glancing through the pages, I like what I see. Maps are abundant, and the narrative appears to be quite detailed. The bibliography is thick, and footnotes (vs. endnotes) are employed. Appendices address casualties at length, as well as numerous other points of interest directly related to the battle. Looking forward to reading it.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Booknotes: A Union Indivisible

New Arrival:
A Union Indivisible: Secession and the Politics of Slavery in the Border South
by Michael D. Robinson (UNC Press, 2017).

Given the strength and number of good additions to the Border State literature (or maybe there aren't as many as it seems), I don't think the region's political machinations over slavery and secession have really been "overlooked" to the degree suggested below in the book description of Michael Robinson's A Union Indivisible:
Many accounts of the secession crisis overlook the sharp political conflict that took place in the Border South states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri. Michael D. Robinson expands the scope of this crisis to show how the fate of the Border South, and with it the Union, desperately hung in the balance during the fateful months surrounding the clash at Fort Sumter. During this period, Border South politicians revealed the region's deep commitment to slavery, disputed whether or not to leave the Union, and schemed to win enough support to carry the day. Although these border states contained fewer enslaved people than the eleven states that seceded, white border Southerners chose to remain in the Union because they felt the decision best protected their peculiar institution.
The above doesn't hint at any real points of departure with the rest of the literature, but there's no reason to believe the author won't add his own brand of nuance or emphasis to established interpretation(s). The underpinnings of the political triumph of conservative pro-Union factions in the various Border States does appear to be a major focus of the study. In it, Robinson "reveals anew how the choice for union was fraught with anguish and uncertainty, dividing families and producing years of bitter internecine violence. Letters, diaries, newspapers, and quantitative evidence illuminate how, in the absence of a compromise settlement, proslavery Unionists managed to defeat secession in the Border South."

The book roughly spans the time period from John Brown's Raid through December 1861. Chapters cover the political fallout from Brown's failed insurrection, the election of 1860, Conditional Unionism in the region, the failure of national compromise proposals, attempts at Border State neutrality, and the final conclusive defeat of Border State secessionism during the second half of 1861.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Review of Hess: "CIVIL WAR LOGISTICS: A Study of Military Transportation"

[Civil War Logistics: A Study of Military Transportation by Earl J. Hess (Louisiana State University Press, 2017). Hardcover, 2 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:295/361. ISBN:978-0-8071-6750-2. $45.95]

Over the centuries, military logistics has been defined in a number of ways both narrow and broad. In his new book Civil War Logistics, historian Earl Hess duly acknowledges the subject's inextricable relationship with procurement and supply, but nevertheless elects to concentrate his own efforts on transportation. His feeling that including those other elements would unappealingly stretch any kind of full examination into multiple volumes or a single unwieldy tome is reasonable. Indeed, Civil War Logistics demonstrates that transport alone provides more than abundant range for standalone study. In it, Hess discusses and analyzes all manner of military transportation, from modern innovations such as railroad cars, sea-going steamships, and riverboats, all the way down to means of conveyance that armies of bygone eras would have found familiar (ex. wagons, foot power, pack trains, and commissary subsistence on the hoof).

The three mainstays of Civil War mass transportation were railroads, riverboats, and steamships, and the book devotes extensive chapters to each mode of transit. As with most aspects of the study as a whole, the focus is largely on the Union side, the reasoning behind this being the far greater availability of official and unofficial source material and well as the North's much grander scale of employment and level of success using all three modes. The Confederate perspective is not ignored, but it's decidedly secondary. In general, the book does a fine job of mining print and manuscript sources for a wide range of representative examples. These source materials also provide the quantitative figures needed to better appreciate the scales involved and also to support the volume's broader conclusions.

The literature contrasting Union versus Confederate railroad management is so vast and well known to Civil War readers that there's little need to reproduce the highlights here, but suffice it to say that Hess offers a concise but more than satisfactory overview of the stark differences between Union mastery and Confederate mismanagement and material deficiencies. Like Thomas Army did recently in his study of Civil War engineering, Hess credits much of the sectional disparity to vastly superior northern managerial and engineering expertise, transferable skills from the civilian world that the Confederacy had no hope of matching at the scale required to compete.

The book also appropriately highlights the efforts of several unsung Union logisticians, men like Lewis Parsons. Such individuals were key to the successful management and coordination of federal military logistics. Hess additionally praises Union foresight in assigning talented managers like Parsons to positions of theater-wide responsibility over transport asset allocation, along the way providing numerous examples of how this innovation enhanced the efficiency of mass transport and minimized collateral dislocation of the national transportation system. This type of oversight role was something the Confederates never attempted to develop.

As with the railroads, the Union military handled river transportation at similar levels of proficiency. With nearly all boat construction facilities and most major passenger and freight companies located in the North, there was certainly a built-in Union advantage, but once again superior northern management, business culture, and financial strength greatly widened during the war the already yawning gaps between the shipping capacities of both sides. Though independent-minded private riverboat owners proved more difficult to handle than railroad presidents (especially early in the conflict), the federal authorities gradually achieved a winning combination of leasing, chartering, and outright purchase that together met the needs of both parties throughout the conflict.

The Union military dominated sea-borne transport most of all, and the author is probably correct that, of the three major logistical systems employed, coastal shipping gets the least amount of attention in the literature. By the last year of the war, there were over 700 coastal steamships supporting the Union war effort from Virginia to Texas, this vast fleet shouldering a large proportion of the total logistical burden. Hess's suggestion that Confederate coastal shipping had no part on their own logistics network due to the overwhelming power of the Union blockade and the rapidity of its imposition might be worthy of some reconsideration. There does appear to at least some evidence that the Confederates were able to employ numbers of small vessels for coastal transport using the safety of the barrier islands that protected much of the North Carolina and Texas coastlines (thought admittedly by the war's midpoint both littoral avenues were completely compromised).

Also discussed at some length are wagon trains, fulfilling as they did the vital role of final link in the logistics chain between the field armies and the railroads, riverboats, and coastal shipping networks that sustained them. With large and sustained rural and frontier populations, both sides benefited from the long-standing American tradition of long distance wagon travel on often primitive roads. This produced for army use a large pool of experienced teamsters and a great supply of mules to exploit for military purposes. Once again, the Union military had relatively few problems in meeting their needs in these areas, while the Confederates continually struggled with both purchasing power and wagon construction. Other modes of transport, to include pack trains, infantry foot power, and cattle herds, are also briefly described in the book.

Of course, the astute reader can point to the profoundly obvious nature of Union logistical superiority, but it should always be remembered that organization, management, in-tune government policy, and the wellspring of financial innovation and strength that supported it all were collective factors at least as important to winning the logistics war as simple differences in material resources, population, and industrial might. Additionally, in every major category of conveyance, Confederate logistical capacity contracted as the war dragged on while Union might expanded, exacerbating to an intolerable degree (from the Confederate perspective) the already significant structural differences between the sections when it came to modern transport.

All good studies of the Civil War as fought along the great western waterways include some discussion of Confederate interdiction of river traffic (especially on the Mississippi) along with Union countermeasures, and in Civil War Logistics Hess provides one of the best all-around, chapter-length assessments of these topics. In appreciating what southern guerrillas and small, mobile groups of regular Confederate troops were able to accomplish against Union shipping, the book makes a strong argument that coordination and just a little more resource allocation (something Confederate authorities were unwilling to invest in the effort) could have caused major logistical problems for the federals. In examining the vastly disproportionate Union response to these attacks on both armed and unarmed steamers, Hess also joins historians Clay Mountcastle, Daniel Sutherland, and others in convincingly drawing direct links between Confederate attempts at river interdiction in the West and the overall acceleration of Union hard war measures and policies. The targeting of other means of logistical transport (railroads, coastal shipping, and wagon trains) is also considered. In the twin game of supporting one's own logistical network while also trying to destroy the opponent's, the Union was supremely triumphant. Hess also reinforces the consensus view among Civil War historians that cavalry raids had only limited ability to damage enemy logistic networks, citing many examples and correctly determining that sizable infantry forces were generally needed to wreck enemy transport systems enough to cause permanent or near permanent strategic deficits.

The section dealing with mass transfers of troops is similarly good. While impressive Confederate logistical achievements like the movement of General Bragg's western army from Corinth, Mississippi to East Tennessee and the shuttling of Longstreet's Corps from Virginia to the western theater are valued, the chapter is primarily devoted to the much more potent Union prowess in moving large numbers of troops cheaply and efficiently. Even though the rapid rail transfer of two corps from the Army of the Potomac to the relief of Chattanooga in late 1863 is a much more famous event, Hess makes a strong argument that the most impressive long-range military movement of the war was the strategic relocation of Twenty-Third Corps from Middle Tennessee all the way to the North Carolina coast in order to support General Sherman's northward march in 1865. In addition to the large troop size and great distances involved, the movement also provides one of the best illustrations of a seamless integration of multiple logistical networks. Given the examples offered in the book, one might be tempted to believe that Union logistical capacity was almost limitless, but Hess cites the temporary disruption of military and civilian transportation coincident to these kinds of mass movements and estimates the upper limit of Union capability at around 30,000 men at any one time.

In this fine study of Civil War transportation, Earl Hess refreshingly doesn't try to reductively argue that Union logistical superiority was the single-most important factor in achieving victory, but his book does abundantly make clear that logistics capacity and management together represent one of the sharpest differences between each side's war-waging capability. In Hess's study one can find both a sound survey history of Civil War military transportation and a revealing quantitative analysis leading readers to the inescapable conclusion that the Union logistical network outperformed its foe's in every possible way. Civil War Logistics is highly recommended.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

New Bern and the Civil War

Overall, the Burnside Expedition to North Carolina in 1862 has received more than satisfactory literature coverage. However, considering how many smaller actions have received book-length treatments, it is a bit curious that the campaign's largest field battle by far, the March 14, 1862 Battle of New Bern, has not been accorded the same kind of standalone study. Even so, given how well the battle is covered by Richard Sauers in his classic campaign history "A Succession of Honorable Victories": The Burnside Expedition in North Carolina (Morningside, 1996) this omission ranks relatively low on the disappointment scale.

That said, New Bern and the Civil War by Jim White will be published next February as part of THP's prolific Civil War Series. The book description seems to indicate a strong focus on the two battles fought at New Bern, Burnside's victory referenced above as well as the failed Confederate attempt to retake the town in early February 1864 (Wiki summary). As far as I know, no book has been written about the second battle either.

In terms of writer background, White (according to his bio "a retired educator, principal and college professor") has authored books on Portsmouth Island and New Bern history, including Portsmouth Divided: The Civil War on Portsmouth Island (which I've never heard of before now but will try to seek out sometime). Beyond it representing one of the terra firma borders of Okracoke Inlet, I'm not sure if I've read much about Portsmouth Island in a Civil War context before, so that one might be interesting, too.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Booknotes: Looking for Lincoln in Illinois

New Arrival:
Looking for Lincoln in Illinois: A Guide to Lincoln's Eighth Judicial Circuit
by Guy C. Fraker (SIU Press, 2017).

During good stretches of his long legal career, Abraham Lincoln famously traveled the Eighth Circuit in Illinois. Eighth Judicial Circuit historian Guy Fraker's Looking for Lincoln in Illinois "directs readers and travelers through the prairies to the towns Lincoln visited regularly. Twice a year, spring and fall, Lincoln’s work took him on a journey covering more than four hundred miles. As his stature as a lawyer grew, east central Illinois grew in population and influence, and the Circuit provided Lincoln with clients, friends, and associates who became part of the network that ultimately elevated him to the presidency."

The introduction "(p)rovides a brief history of the Circuit and an overview of its development, and summarizes the role of the Circuit in Lincoln's career." Monuments celebrating the Circuit dot the landscape that Lincoln traveled, and the introduction describes these as well.

The rest of the book is a tour guide of the entire Circuit route in four chapters. Presented within are detailed driving directions and brief historical introductions to various courthouses, legal offices, hotels, historic buildings, old roads, museums, and other "wayside exhibits" of all kinds (dozens in each chapter). The volume itself is of sturdy construction with thick, glossy pages that should hold up to repeated use in the field. The book's also full of period and modern photographs and other illustrations, along with road maps tracing the tour route from start to finish.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Wilson's Raid

With excellent studies of the 1865 army clashes in North Carolina and Virginia, the lesser-known Stoneman's Raid, and more, the war's final campaigns have been well documented in the recent and near recent Civil War literature. There's even been a rather grand study of a small engagement in Georgia that one author believes deserving of "last battle" fame. However, oddly enough, the best treatment of one of the most famous events of that period, Wilson's Raid, remains James Pickett Jones's 1976 classic Yankee Blitzkrieg. While good, that book certainly leaves room for improvement.

This winter, The History Press will publish Russell Blount's Wilson's Raid: The Final Blow to the Confederacy (Feb, 2018). Volumes from the publisher's Civil War Series range in character from popular overviews to quite impressive specialized studies. I'm not familiar with Blount's body of work (I had a copy of his New Hope Church book at one time but never got around to reading it) but will be interested in checking out this particular one when it comes out.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Review of Richter - "THREE CHEERS FOR THE CHESAPEAKE!: History of the 4th Maryland Light Artillery Battery in the Civil War"

[Three Cheers for the Chesapeake!: History of the 4th Maryland Light Artillery Battery in the Civil War by Rick Richter (Schiffer Publishing, 2017). Hardcover, map, photos, illustrations, appendices, endnotes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:132/240. ISBN:978-0-7643-5262-1. $34.99]

The Confederate's Army's Chesapeake Artillery (4th Maryland Light Artillery battery) was formed on January 1, 1862, its members drawn largely from the city of Baltimore and adjacent bay counties. The product of a failed effort to form another Maryland infantry regiment, the 4th battery came late to the recruiting game and was chronically short of men along with being poorly equipped initially. Nevertheless, the unit fought well from Cedar Mountain through Appomattox, earning many plaudits along the way. Rick Richter's Three Cheers for the Chesapeake! is the first full history of the unit, enhanced with an extensively detailed roster of the 145 men that fought with the battery.

Before Richter, the most commonly cited receptacle of 4th Maryland knowledge was William Goldsborough's 1900 classic book The Maryland Line in the Confederate Army, which was assembled from secondary sources as well as personal interviews and correspondence with veterans. According to Richter, primary sources are very few when it comes to the Chesapeake Artillery. The largest collection of letters (those of Sgt. James P. Williams) is located at UVA's Special Collections Library. The Ward Family Papers at the Library of Congress hold the letters of Capt. William D. Brown and Pvt. John Hooff, which are useful but few in number. The Compiled Service Records of Maryland soldiers are another rich resource. These are different as a body from many other CSRs in that they contain more information than most in terms of supporting documentation, because Maryland Confederates, unlike those bound by conscription law, could apply for a discharge from the Confederate Army after three years. Other important sources are the post-war articles of Pvt. Jacob Cook and Pvt. Christopher Lynch's invaluable direct contributions to Goldsborough's book.

Presented either as block quotes or integrated into the main narrative itself, all of the above primary sources form the backbone of Richter's service history of the battery. Due to the aforementioned Chesapeake source limitations, gaps in firsthand coverage are frequent but are acceptably addressed by the author's adroit use of Union accounts as well as those written by Confederate compatriots from nearby units on the line. Initially assigned antiquated guns (save a single 3-inch ordnance rifle), the unit fought well at the battles of Cedar Run, Second Bull Run, and Harpers Ferry, in the process getting its armament upgraded with a pair of rifled gun replacements. Heavy losses in horseflesh made the battery miss Antietam, but the 4th was in action at First and Second Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, the fall 1863 campaigns in Virginia, the Overland Campaign, the 1864-65 Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, and Appomattox.

Throughout the book's series of campaign and battle discussions, Richter uses the available sources well to pinpoint with as much precision as possible the battlefield actions, deployment locations, and movements of the battery. Individual acts of bravery and casualties are also diligently tracked. Through the words of the men themselves, the author also relates the experiences and many challenges of army life in camp and on the march. At less than 120 pages, the service history narrative is relatively brief but never feels overly condensed.

The volume appropriately devotes a greater degree of detail and attention to two of the most defining moments in the battery's Civil War service. On July 2, 1863 at Gettysburg, the unit suffered for its cherished possession of modern rifled guns, when it was smashed at range along with much of Latimer's artillery battalion atop Benner's Hill. The very heavy losses in officers and men incurred that day, combined with the limited access to replacements that plagued Border State Confederate units in general, meant that the already characteristically understrength battery never again would be able to man a full complement of guns. The battery similarly sacrificed itself just outside Petersburg on April 2, 1865, when a detachment from the 4th was surrounded and overwhelmed during the intensely spirited yet doomed Confederate defense of Fort Gregg. On both occasions, those present from the battery suffered 41% casualties.

Along with a service history, the better Civil War unit studies also examine demographic patterns and perform at least some attempt at exploring the range of enlistment and fighting motivations. Richter's book certainly fulfills those expectations. When compared with Joseph Glatthaar's figures for the Army of Northern Virginia as a whole, some interesting unit characteristics for the 4th Battery emerge. The average age of a Chesapeake artilleryman was 18 months younger than those manning other ANV batteries. Compared to the rest of the ANV, the Chesapeakes were more literate and had a far higher proportion of skilled artisans, professionals, and other white-collar workers versus farmers. The unusual youth movement of the 4th meant lower levels of personal wealth, along with a lower percentage of married men and fathers. The slaveholding percentage among the Chesapeakes (personal and household) was only half that of the rest of the ANV. The author convincingly attributes this striking difference to the battery's Border State residence, overall youth, early-career financial means, and marked urban representation.

But what of the later enlisters that historian Kenneth Noe described so well in Reluctant Rebels? According to Richter, the only jarring difference between the early and later enlisters (each group representing roughly half of the battery's total manpower) was a drastically reduced valuation of property among the later enlisters, suggesting that it was the early enlisters that were most concerned with property protection. This situation is the inverse of Noe's findings for the Confederate Army as a whole, but the ultimate meaning behind the difference is left to the reader to decide.

So why join the Confederate Army? Like many other youths in both sections, there were undoubtedly those that enlisted in the Chesapeake Artillery for opportunity and adventure. It also seems most likely that the majority shared many elements of conservative, proslavery culture and politics with citizens of Upper South states like neighboring Virginia. Numerous individuals also fled Maryland to avoid federal persecution of their families.

The extensive appendix section adds significant additional value to the book. In it are discussions of myths and misuses of sources as regards to the battery, a deeper look at the 4th's actions at Second Bull Run, and a more in-depth examination of the unit's Gettysburg casualties. Other parts address in detail unit strength, losses, desertion issues, and battery armament in total and at particular times during the war.

The battery roster that Richter was able to compile is particular impressive. Like most unit rosters, it's fundamentally based on CSRs, but it is also "supplemented with census records..., court-martial records, casualty lists, contemporary accounts, veteran reminiscences, burial records, newspaper articles, family histories, and the records of the Maryland Line Confederate Soldiers' Home" (pg. 163). Richter clearly did his homework here and the resulting amount and range of biographical information is much greater than that found in the typical Civil War unit roster.

Maps are the book's great obvious deficiency. Inside, there are no modern maps of any of the battles (only one period drawing of the August 27, 1862 fighting at Kettle Run-Bristoe Station). While the narrative provides acceptable orientation for veteran readers steeped in the knowledge of eastern theater campaigns, a map series showing unit location(s) on the various battlefields using the best available evidence should be regarded as essential rather than optional.

In combining a solid, informative service history with an illuminating demographic/motivational analysis and arguably definitive roster, Rick Richter successfully brings together in Three Cheers for the Chesapeake! the three central elements of the modern Civil War unit study. Not only is this the first and only comprehensive history of the 4th Maryland Light Artillery, but it also ranks high among modern Confederate battery studies in general.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Booknotes: The Blue & Gray Almanac

New Arrival:
The Blue & Gray Almanac: The Civil War in Facts & Figures, Recipes & Slang
by Albert Nofi (Casemate, 2017).

It seems that Al Nofi has had a number of different careers, but regular Civil War readers might know him best as the trivia columnist for the now defunct North & South magazine. His latest book, The Blue & Gray Almanac, appears to be an extension of that kind of work. It "tells the story of the American War through a range of insightful essays, anecdotes, and facts." Indeed, some content that first appeared in N&S is reproduced in this new book, as is some previously published material from StrategyPage (an online military affairs journal for which Nofi serves as a contributing editor).

Subject matter coverage is broad in Almanac, with chapters covering secession, the armies, the naval war, war & society, the generals, finance & corruption, various "naughty bits," the soldiers, and Civil War medicine. The text is fully annotated, and numerous tables, photographs, and other illustrations are spread throughout.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Booknotes: The Afterlives of Specimens

New Arrival:
The Afterlives of Specimens: Science, Mourning, and Whitman's Civil War
by Lindsay Tuggle (Univ of Iowa Pr, 2017).

This is the kind of completely unexpected arrival that always makes doing the work on this website fresh and interesting. I hadn't come across Lindsay Tuggle's The Afterlives of Specimens before in my scanning of publisher Fall/Winter catalogs or other sources.

Part of the University of Iowa Press's Iowa Whitman series, the book "explores the space between science and sentiment, the historical moment when the human cadaver became both lost love object and subject of anatomical violence. Walt Whitman witnessed rapid changes in relations between the living and the dead. In the space of a few decades, dissection evolved from a posthumous punishment inflicted on criminals to an element of preservationist technology worthy of Abraham Lincoln's martyred corpse. Whitman transitioned from a fervent opponent of medical bodysnatching to a literary celebrity who left behind instructions for his own autopsy, including the removal of his brain for scientific study."

Adequately describing this book for a Booknotes entry seems difficult, the title and subtitle suggesting a rather complicated interdisciplinary approach. If you're really interested, I would recommend reading the "Structure" subsection of the book's introduction (which is available at the link above using the Look Inside! function). It summarizes well the themes and content of the volume's five chapters.

Tuggle's manuscript also seems tangentially related to another book I reviewed just last month, Richard Reid's Recollections of a Civil War Medical Cadet. Like this one, Reid's book drew connections between body specimen collection, army surgeon Dr. John H. Brinton and the origins of the Army Medical Museum, and Walt Whitman itself. More from the Afterlives description: "Grounded in archival discoveries, Afterlives traces the origins of nineteenth-century America’s preservation compulsion, illuminating the influences of botanical, medical, spiritualist, and sentimental discourses on Whitman’s work. Tuggle unveils previously unrecognized connections between Whitman and the leading “medical men” of his era, such as the surgeon John H. Brinton, founding curator of the Army Medical Museum, and Silas Weir Mitchell, the neurologist who discovered phantom limb syndrome. Remains from several amputee soldiers whom Whitman nursed in the Washington hospitals became specimens in the Army Medical Museum."