Saturday, September 23, 2017

Booknotes: Resisting Sherman

New Arrival:
Resisting Sherman: A Confederate Surgeon's Journal and the Civil War in the Carolinas, 1865 edited by Thomas Heard Robertson, Jr. (Savas Beatie, 2017 Paper edition).

Newly released in paperback format, the hardcover first edition of this book was originally published in 2015. The journal writer of Resisting Sherman, Confederate surgeon Francis Marion Robertson, "fled Charleston with the Confederate garrison in 1865 in an effort to stay ahead of General Sherman’s Federal army as it marched north from Savannah."

From the description: "Dr. Robertson, a West Pointer, physician, professor, politician, patrician, and Presbyterian, with five sons in the Confederate army, kept a daily journal for the final three months of the Civil War while traveling more than 900 miles through four states. His account looks critically at the decisions of generals from a middle ranking officer’s viewpoint, describes army movements from a ground level perspective, and places the military campaign within the everyday events of average citizens suffering under the boot of war."

More: "Editor and descendant Thomas Robertson followed in his ancestor’s footsteps, conducting exhaustive research to identify the people, route, and places mentioned in the journal. Sidebars on a wide variety of related issues include coverage of politics and the Battle of Averasboro, where one of the surgeon’s sons was shot. An extensive introduction covers the military situation in and around Charleston that led to the evacuation described so vividly by Surgeon Robertson, and an epilogue summarizes what happened to the diary characters after the war."

Route information pertaining to Dr. Robertson's journey north is detailed in the footnotes in bold print. As is common practice with this particular publisher, the volume also contains many photographs, maps, and other illustrations.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review of Alford, ed. - "UTAH AND THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR: The Written Record"

[Utah and the American Civil War: The Written Record edited by Kenneth L. Alford (Arthur H. Clark, 2017). Cloth, map, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 864 pp. ISBN:978-0-87062-441-4. $60]

When it comes to Civil War-era Utah Territory, undoubtedly the event foremost in the minds of readers is the 1857-58 Utah (or Mormon) War, a conflict that also reinforces the popular view today of the incompetency of the Buchanan administration. However, a handful of studies have specifically examined the 1861-65 years in Utah in a fruitful manner and are deserving of wider recognition. The one that stands out most as the classic scholarly account is E.B. Long's The Saints and the Union (1981). Another noteworthy title is the essay anthology Civil War Saints, edited by Kenneth Alford, from 2013. The most recent full-length historical study, John Gary Maxwell's The Civil War Years in Utah, offers perhaps the most critical assessment of Utah's wartime loyalty to the U.S.*

Kenneth Alford's latest project is a massive documentary history titled Utah and the American Civil War: The Written Record. Alford begins with an event timeline, one helpfully arranged in two parallel columns so that readers can readily match in time Utah news with political and military happenings elsewhere in the country. The timeline takes the long view, starting with the outbreak of the U.S.-Mexican War in 1846 and concluding in 1870 with the ratification of the 15th Amendment.

Incorporating current scholarship, the next chapter is devoted to an introductory narrative history of the Civil War years in Utah. The text captures well the main themes of Utah's Civil War experience, explaining its geographical significance astride continental lines of communication, the antagonism between church officials on one side and federal appointees and the army on the other, tribal conflicts, and territorial frustrations over the continual reshaping of Utah's borders and consistent congressional denial of its bid for statehood. Alford's account of Utah's relationship with the U.S. during the Civil War is much more church-friendly (for lack of a better word) than Maxwell's, for instance. While Maxwell believes that the LDS leadership demonstrated clear pro-Confederate sympathies, Alford adamantly maintains that no such evidence exists to support such a broad accusation and confidently asserts that Utah was heavily invested in Union victory. A healthy debate of their opposing views would make for interesting reading.

The majority of the text (Chapter 4's nearly 500 pages) is comprised of fully transcribed Official Records documents pertaining to Utah. Most can be found in O.R. Series 1 and are concentrated in Volumes 48 and 50, with a relative handful taken from Series 2 and 3. The total record count is 504, and the book adopts its own convenient numbering system (OR-1 through OR-504) for use of the volume's cross-referencing features and tools. As one would expect, the O.R. documents included in the book consist of orders, reports, post returns, organizational and command assignments, and correspondence of all kinds. In the book, each record is listed in chronological order and all are properly cited. Clarifying editor's notes also occasionally appear.

The next largest section of the book (Chapter 5) is devoted to records of types similar to those above but not found in the O.R. Instead these documents reside in the National Archives, Utah state archives, newspaper archives, and various published works. There are 155 of these included in the book, organized as UT-1 through UT-155. Their "(g)eneral themes include security on the Overland Trail, Utah's relationship to the rest of the nation, military affairs at Camp Douglas [the army post established by California volunteer colonel Patrick E. Connor and situated a short distance outside Salt Lake City] or within the Department or District of Utah, and Indian relations [many documents address the controversial Bear River battle and alleged massacre]." As many of the records in this chapter are handwritten documents, three sets of eyes were employed to ensure the transcriptions were accurate as possible.

Numerous appendices contribute even more useful features to the volume. The following is a brief rundown of all of them. Appendix A is a glossary of nineteenth-century terms and abbreviations. The Chronological Records List contained in Appendix B takes the OR-# and UT-# series of records and arranges them in four vertical columns organized by date. Appendix C addresses documents contained in the O.R. Supplement (100 volumes) published by Broadfoot, which have not been digitized yet. Presumably due to copyright concerns, only citations are present here (with some fair use sampling). Appendix D contains more O.R. records that are Utah-related but not found using the same keyword searches used in Chapter 4. The federally legislated border adjustments to Utah Territory, specifically the four that occurred during the war in the years 1861-62, are discussed in Appendix E, and F lists and describes Utah's assignments to various military departments, divisions, and districts. Appendix G provides a list of military units assigned to Utah Territory or Overland Trail patrol during the Civil War, and, finally, Appendix H lists OR-# and UT-# by sender and receiver name.

The bibliography shows the extensive range of primary and secondary research that went into the volume's creation by Alford and his team of assistants. The index also appears to be of the more helpful variety (i.e. wide topical coverage and many subheadings). With its single-volume assemblage of a mountain of diverse source material (some of it never before published), Utah and the American Civil War will be an invaluable reference tool for future researchers to use.



* - Links to Civil War Utah titles referenced in the first paragraph above: The Saints and the Union: Utah Territory during the Civil War by E.B. Long (Illinois, 1981), Civil War Saints by Kenneth L. Alford (BYU, 2013), and The Civil War Years in Utah: The Kingdom of God and the Territory That Did Not Fight by John Gary Maxwell (Oklahoma, 2016).


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Booknotes: We Ride a Whirlwind

New Arrival:
We Ride a Whirlwind: Sherman and Johnston at Bennett Place by Eric J. Wittenberg (Fox Run Pub, 2017).

Eric Wittenberg has often expressed his deep interest in the 1865 campaign in North Carolina, and, indeed, one of his many books examines the Battle of Monroe's Crossroads. Like everyone else who has read them, he also is a great admirer of Michael Bradley's pair of books on the Bentonville battle and the Confederate surrender at Bennett Place. So why another book about Bennett Place? In the preface, Wittenberg explains that his book is primarily concerned with the surrender negotiations at the site and their historical significance, events that he feels are deserving of standalone treatment.

Two chapters in We Ride a Whirlwind are devoted to background history taking the narrative up to the first meeting between Sherman and Johnston. From the description: "This set the stage for the dramatic events that occurred at James Bennett's farm in modern-day Durham. In three remarkable meetings, Sherman and Johnston tried to not only set the terms for the surrender of the 91,000 Confederate troops east of the Mississippi River, but to make peace, once and for all. The new administration of President Andrew Johnson, eager for vengeance for the assassination of Lincoln, rejected the terms negotiated by Sherman and Johnston, excoriated Sherman in the press, and forced him to threaten Johnston with the renewal of hostilities if he did not surrender upon the same terms offered to Lee at Appomattox. Johnston wisely accepted those terms, leading to the surrender of his command and those other Confederates east of the Mississippi. This is the story of those events, told in detail, and often in the words of the participants themselves."

The three meetings referenced above are examined in detail in the book along with the "political machinations—both Northern and Southern—that jeopardized the general's work." The volume's epilogue "discusses the memory of those events and gives a brief history of the state park at Bennett Place." Four appendices offer additional documentation and discussion.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Booknotes: Military Trains and Railways

New Arrivals:
Military Trains and Railways: An Illustrated History by Jean-Denis G.G. Lepage (McFarland, 2017)

From the description: "Featuring 256 drawings, this history of military trains and railways from 1853 through 1953 describes how the railroad transformed the nature of warfare. Transport and logistics are discussed for armored trains, rail-borne artillery and armored combat vehicles, medical evacuation trains and draisines (light auxiliary vehicles such as handcars). 

Continuing on: The railroad's role in establishing European colonial empires in Asia and Africa is examined. Conflicts covered include the Boer Wars, the American Civil War, the Austro-Prussian War, the Franco-Prussian War, the Russo-Turkish War, World War I, the Finnish Civil War, the Spanish Civil War, World War II and the French Indochina War."

Netherlands historian, writer and illustrator Lepage supplements his text with some really nice drawings of various locomotives and all manner of other rail-borne guns and vehicles of the types mentioned above. There are also a few maps as well as some drawings of supporting structures like blockhouses. As you can see, the book is heavily weighted toward twentieth century conflicts, but there are a dozen or so pages of American Civil War content.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Review of Gaines - "THE CONFEDERATE CHEROKEES: John Drew's Regiment of Mounted Rifles, Updated Edition"

[The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew's Regiment of Mounted Rifles, Updated Edition by W. Craig Gaines (Louisiana State University Press, 2017). Softcover, 2 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:135/188. ISBN:978-0-8071-6662-8. $24.95]

Back in 1989, the publication of W. Craig Gaines's The Confederate Cherokees was a groundbreaking event. It was the first unit study, scholarly or otherwise, of Colonel John Drew's First Regiment of Cherokee Mounted Rifles to appear anywhere in the Civil War literature. Gaines's book also did an excellent job situating the reluctant Cherokee soldiers of the regiment within the larger context of a deeply divided Cherokee society riven by violence stemming all the way back to their traumatic removal to Indian Territory in the 1830s and 1840s. Knowledge of this tortured background history is essential to understanding why the members of the regiment deserted nearly en masse to the Union side after less than a year in Confederate service. During the nearly thirty years that have passed since original publication of the study, much in the way of new scholarship on the topic of American Indian participation in the Civil War has emerged, and LSU Press has now reissued Gaines's classic unit history under the title The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew's Regiment of Mounted Rifles, Updated Edition.

One thing that needs to be stated upfront is that the central narrative of the original manuscript remains untouched in the "updated" volume. The author's brief preface to the 2017 edition is the only new material added. While a golden opportunity to incorporate into the 2017 edition some of the relevant new scholarship hinted at in the preface was missed, the volume nevertheless retains its original value. No other study of Drew's Regiment has emerged since 1989, and Gaines's book remains the standard treatment.

Gaines sets the stage for Cherokee participation in the American Civil War by providing a good overview of the perilous state of Cherokee society in 1861, when they were confronted with the terrible realization that neutrality was not going to be tolerated by leaders in Washington or Richmond. When, in the beginning of the 1830s, the Cherokee were being forced to exchange their vast ancestral lands east of the Mississippi for new ones in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), the strongest resistance was led by principal chief John Ross. Those who reluctantly accepted the removal treaty, believing its terms to be the best the Cherokee were likely to get and realizing that sustained opposition would only make things worse, came to be identified as the Treaty (or "Ridge") Party, though by 1861 Major Ridge was long dead by assassination and his followers were now led by pro-Confederate Stand Watie. The long-standing blood feud between the Ross and Ridge factions would color all aspects of the Cherokee Civil War experience. It was a bitter internal conflict that Gaines rightly characterizes in the book as a civil war within the Civil War.

The Confederate Cherokees does a fine job of documenting the organization of the mounted rifles regiment. As Gaines demonstrates, the members of the First Regiment were only lukewarm Confederates from the beginning. Most of the common soldiers and lower ranking officers of the First were Keetoowah Society supporters, pro-Union at heart and generally opposed to fighting fellow Indians. This left only the highest ranking officers of the regiment and a tiny minority of the enlisted soldiers truly loyal to the alliance treaty John Ross reluctantly signed with Confederate officials. Clearly the regiment was going to be trouble for Confederate military authorities.

Recounting the battles of Round Mountain, Chusto-Talasah/Caving Banks, and Chustenahlah, Gaines describes in the book the unit's participation in the 1861 military campaign directed against Creek chief Opothleyahola and his already large and expanding following of pro-Union Indian allies. When faced with the prospect of fighting Union Indians at Caving Banks, the majority of Drew's Regiment deserted and soon switched sides. Remnants of the original regiment would fight in Arkansas at the Battle of Pea Ridge, where a very public post-battle row ensued after Confederate Indians (including Cherokees) were accused of scalping and mutilating Union corpses.

Confederate support of its treaty obligations to the Cherokee and other allied tribes of Indian Territory dwindled after the Pea Ridge defeat, when already scarce Trans-Mississippi military resources were instead redirected east across the Mississippi. Ross Party dissatisfaction grew, and two Union expeditions into Indian Territory in early and late 1862 solidified the faction's switch of allegiance back into the Union fold. Most of the former officers and men of Drew's Regiment joined the Indian Home Guard regiments then forming in Kansas, and the book also usefully summarizes the organization and Civil War operations of those unique units as they traveled and fought back and forth within the borderlands of Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Indian Territory.

In the book, Gaines also hints at the irregular fighting that devastated Cherokee lands during the war. Similar to what occurred in large parts of Missouri, Cherokee civilian property and lives were targeted throughout the war by supporters of both tribal factions, and the social order so carefully reconstructed after removal broke down almost completely in Indian Territory. This understudied aspect of the war contributed significantly to the precipitous decline in Cherokee numbers that occurred between 1861 and 1865, a loss figure that some historians estimate at one-third of the prewar population.

While the new edition would have benefited from a critical reexamination of the original text, a process to truly update the narrative and fix the kind of scattered errors and dated interpretations that exist in every three-decade-old historical study, The Confederate Cherokees remains an original and indispensable contribution to the Civil War literature. Hopefully, its timely reissue will ignite a spark within a new generation of readers that raises awareness of and interest in the Cherokee Civil War experience.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Decision Was Always My Own

When it comes to being prolific, one Civil War historian who can give Earl Hess a decent run for his money is Timothy Smith. In addition to his peerless 1862 western theater trilogy, Smith has recently written, among other things, a number of books on battlefields and battlefield preservation.

Before all this, though, he made his first splash with an excellent study of the Battle of Champion Hill. Smith's next book returns to that important campaign, but we won't see The Decision Was Always My Own: Ulysses S. Grant and the Vicksburg Campaign until next summer. Even the book page at publisher SIU Press doesn't have a description up yet, so we can only guess at its focus and range at this early point in time. Given the author's track record when it comes to military history, I think I can safely reserve a firm place for Decision on next year's reading list.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Booknotes: Civil War Logistics

New Arrival:
Civil War Logistics: A Study of Military Transportation by Earl J. Hess (LSU Press, 2017).

I post a review of an Earl Hess book and within days his next one arrives in the mail. That's a pattern I can live with. His latest book Civil War Logistics analyzes the various means of military transportation used during the war. Early chapters cover the history of military logistics and introduce the quartermaster departments of the Union and Confederate armies. Subsequent chapters look at the rail, river, and littoral transportation networks, along with the armies's use of wagons, pack trains, and foot power. Another chapter is devoted to large-scale troop transfers. The final sections examine the targeting by both sides of enemy steamships, coastal vessels, railroads, and wagon trains, as well as their means of defense.

From the description: "Civil War Logistics offers the first comprehensive analysis of this vital process. Utilizing an enormous array of reports, dispatches, and personal accounts by quartermasters involved in transporting war materials, Hess reveals how each conveyance system operated as well as the degree to which both armies accomplished their logistical goals."

More: "According to Hess, Union logistical efforts proved far more successful than Confederate attempts to move and supply its fighting forces, due mainly to the North’s superior administrative management and willingness to seize transportation resources when needed. As the war went on, the Union’s protean system grew in complexity, size, and efficiency, while that of the Confederates steadily declined in size and effectiveness until it hardly met the needs of its army. Indeed, Hess concludes that in its use of all types of military transportation, the Federal government far surpassed its opponent and thus laid the foundation for Union victory in the Civil War."

Of course, that's a general conclusion that won't surprise anyone. I don't know yet if Hess will argue in the book that logistical superiority was the single-most important factor in Union military victory, giving it a primacy similar to what Thomas Army recently claimed for Union engineering technology and prowess, but both certainly went hand in hand.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Review of Hess - "THE BATTLE OF PEACH TREE CREEK: Hood's First Effort to Save Atlanta"

[The Battle of Peach Tree Creek: Hood's First Effort to Save Atlanta by Earl J. Hess (University of North Carolina Press, 2017). Hardcover, 20 maps, photos, appendix, notes, bibliography index. Pages main/total:259/344. ISBN:978-1-4696-3419-7. $37.50]


The 1864 Atlanta Campaign literature's change in status from one of profound scholarly neglect to dramatic expansion is one of the more remarkable recent developments in Civil War military historiography. For a long time, the best account of the July 20, 1864 Battle of Peach Tree Creek was contained in the relevant section(s) of Albert Castel's first-class Atlanta Campaign study Decision in the West (1992). This changed only recently with the publication of a pair of very useful studies from Robert Jenkins. Appearing in reverse chronological order, his To the Gates of Atlanta: From Kennesaw Mountain to Peach Tree Creek, 1-19 July 1864 (2015) detailed the Union crossing of the Chattahoochee River and the sweeping blue advance south and east toward Atlanta, while the first major clash before Atlanta itself received full treatment for the first time with 2014's The Battle of Peach Tree Creek: Hood's First Sortie, July 20, 1864*.

Now we have a new examination of the topic in Earl Hess's The Battle of Peach Tree Creek: Hood's First Effort to Save Atlanta. While obviously sharing much common ground with Jenkins in terms of content along with some similar interpretations, Hess's book offers major improvements in organization, presentation, and analysis.

As was the case with Jenkins's two volumes, events preceding the Peach Tree Creek battle receive proper attention in Hess's study. The Union crossing of the Chattahoochee during the second week of July and the advance from the bridgeheads to Peach Tree Creek between July 17 and July 19 were major events in the campaign (if nothing else, they led to the removal of Confederate Army of Tennessee commander Joseph E. Johnston and the appointment of John Bell Hood to the top post), and these moments are meticulously described in The Battle of Peach Tree Creek. The federal movements were fairly cautious all-around but were well managed, and the narrative demonstrates Sherman's skillful use of the road network north of Peach Tree Creek. During this time, the federal commander ably moved his army group forward in stages, seizing key intersections in orderly fashion and leaving few openings for Confederate ripostes. For the opposing side, the book's coverage of the actions and reactions of the Confederate cavalry screen is light by comparison (see notes below).

It would be difficult to argue that the battle was managed particularly well by either side. Though touchy, rank-conscious Joseph Hooker performed well during the campaign as a whole in his uncomfortable subordinate role (and many historians praise his conduct as a corps commander in 1864), he was oddly lethargic at Peach Tree Creek when alacrity was needed. Not his usual bold self, Hooker only lazily advanced across the creek and failed to seek out and connect with both flanks in a timely manner, leaving his own command and others more vulnerable to attack than they should have been on the afternoon of July 20.

Much has been made of the wide gap that existed between Thomas and the rest of the army group to the east and how exploiting it could have inflicted serious damage to Sherman's command. Hess joins those that have chastised the Confederate high command for making no attempt to explore the vulnerabilities of the gap, criticizing in particular General Cheatham's failure to at least advance a line of skirmishers into the void. The problem with this view is that the gap itself was crisscrossed by streams—Clear Creek on the west, Peach Tree Creek to the north, and South Fork of Peach Three Creek to the east—with the terrain in between thickly wooded and covered in underbrush. Any force sent there would have had great difficulty in maintaining order and alignment, and the experience of Bate's division on the 20th seems to argue against the idea of launching any kind of lightning stroke through that sector. While duly noting the lost opportunities at Peach Tree Creek, Hess does favorably acknowledge the alternative Confederate strategy of holding the Peach Tree Creek line with a smaller force and launching the balance of the Army of Tennessee against the Army of the Ohio and the open flank of the Army of the Tennessee (the move that Sherman expected).

Hood's order to shift the army to the right before initiating the advance has been criticized for badly throwing off the Peach Tree Creek timetable and making things much more difficult for the attackers, but Hess notes, as others have before him, that the Union forces were already in position by the originally planned start time (1 p.m.) and the Union dispositions weren't much different by the time the attack was launched between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.. It would have been better to attack even earlier during the crossing itself, but that was never part of the plan.

Hess is critical of Hood's en echelon attack plan, citing how it gave the Union defenders the opportunity to deal with each enemy division in turn. However, echelon assaults were also designed to aid in the coordination of attacks conducted over battlegrounds with poor lateral visibility/communications (like at Peach Creek Creek) and, when well managed, they also had the ability to suck in enemy reserves so that each successive attack had an improved chance of success. Given this, one might argue that the echelon attack at Peach Tree Creek might have unfolded better left to right rather than right to left, leaving Hardee's battering ram as the final decisive blow rather than the first punch. It might also have been the better way to achieve the goal of dislodging and pushing the Union defenders into the tangled confluence of the Chattahoochee-Peach Tree Creek triangle, where the Cumberland army might theoretically have been crushed. Either way, Hess's confident assertion that a timed general attack would have resulted in a better coordinated battle (the Civil War record on those isn't exactly sterling, either) is not entirely convincing. Robert Jenkins's more powerful criticism of the echelon attack centers around its execution. The confusion engendered by the more extreme than planned pre-battle shift to the right, which opened gaps in the line which were unfilled by skirmishers and exacerbated by terrain obstacles, meant that all the attacking divisions landed on unscouted territory and newly separated neighboring units lacked the flank connections necessary to know when to step off their attacks.

Whichever plan was best, the reality was that William J. Hardee's army corps provided the battle's initial blow. Adding to Hardee's failures during what Hess considers the general's worst battlefield moment of the war was a signal lack of artillery support during the fight, though no discussion of favorable candidates for firing platforms and fields of fire is offered in the book. The question of whether the terrain would even have allowed a few supporting batteries, let alone massed artillery, is not answered.

An unintended consequence of the echelon attack is the aid it provides to future historians writing battle studies in chronological sequence. Whereas Hardee outnumbered his foes as much as 5-to-1 yet only feebly attacked, Stewart's Corps encountered the reverse odds in some instances and pressed the attack vigorously. In the battle sector west of Hardee, it was Confederate brigades vs. Union divisions [Featherston vs. Ward, Scott vs. Geary, O'Neal vs. Williams, and Reynold vs. McCook] and the results were predictable, though Scott's Brigade nearly broke through Geary's Division. Throughout the book, Hess draws upon his earlier study of small-unit tactics in the Civil War, and this volume perhaps focuses on the deployment and battlefield ramifications of the various divisional, brigade, and regimental tactical formations more directly than any of the author's earlier battle studies.

Late in the day, two badly understrength brigades from French's Division advanced and deployed on Reynold's left but did not attack. The only artillery support the Confederates were able to deploy effectively was the battalion of Major William Preston, which did some execution. In general, the Confederates did not have the unit density left of Hardee to take advantage of the yawning gaps in Hooker's indifferently positioned corps, and the rebels were uniformly repulsed by a combination of superior numbers, oblique artillery fire from across neighboring ravines, broken terrain, and terrible heat. Given how little Hood accomplished at Peach Tree Creek, it would be difficult to speculate how much better things might have gone had certain elements (e.g. Hardee's willingness to press the attack) transpired differently.

While Hardee and Stewart fought Twentieth Corps and parts of Fourth and Fourteen Corps on July 20 at Peach Tree Creek, the armies of Schofield and McPherson to the east continued their own advance toward Atlanta. On the Union right, the divisions of Stanley and Wood eventually linked up with the Army of the Ohio, but McPherson, in typical fashion, advanced at a snail's pace while only opposed by Wheeler's Confederate cavalry. McPherson's conduct of the movement from Decatur disappointed Sherman, but it did end any chance of a resumption of the fighting at Peach Tree Creek when Patrick Cleburne's reserve division was ordered east to shore up Hood's threatened right flank.

The battle ends with much the book's narrative remaining. Hess covers the Confederate withdrawal to the inner line of fortifications surrounding Atlanta, and he also recounts at some length the methodical federal advance that finally reunited all parts of Sherman's army group and partially invested Atlanta along its north and east faces. Delving into a multitude of individual cases, the book devotes extensive coverage to the plight of the wounded. Tragically, as no major battle was expected, Union medical services were located far to the rear, hampering rapid recovery and treatment of the wounded. Abandoned by their retreating comrades, Confederate casualties fared even worse.

Hess finds little gray area among the opposing reactions to the battle. Used to victory already, Union participants were uniformly ebullient, while Confederates were correspondingly despondent. Lack of southern elan wasn't limited to Hardee's Corps, as the author notes that up to one-third of Featherston's already grossly outnumbered brigade straggled during the battle. While personal disappointment at being passed over for army command may have colored Hardee's weak performance, Hess, as others have done, also attributes Confederate failure to the morale effects of constant retreat along with shock and anger over the replacement of the popular Joe Johnston. Hess might also have considered as contributing factors the lingering emptiness of the previous year's Chickamauga "victory" and the almost inexplicable scale of the Chattanooga rout (to say nothing about their massive casualties).

Hess clearly appreciates the almost impossible situation that Hood was placed in so late in the game, but he also believes that Hood was the wrong person for the job (though other candidates are not raised).  Hood needed weeks not days to acclimate to army command, and the leadership disruption in the wake of Johnston's ouster only made an immediate offensive even more difficult to pull off.  Even so, it's hard to blame Hood personally too much for being ill-informed about the true positions of Sherman's armies or the botched shift to the right that preceded the July 20 battle. Perhaps Hess's most incisive criticism of Hood's attack plan revolves around the impossibly narrow window of opportunity that existed for hitting the Army of the Cumberland when it would be at its most vulnerable (after most of Thomas's army had crossed Peach Tree Creek but before its divisions had a chance to fortify). Hood presumed the ability to predict a precise moment of opportunity without the means of verifying it by advancing his own skirmish line (he left the front to the Union skirmishers) and was, predictably, proved wrong. It is hard not to agree with Hess that Hood's best move would have been to cancel the July 20 attack altogether and instead prepare a nasty surprise for McPherson on the right (which was what the army essentially ended up doing on July 22, but with less preparation and exhausting haste).

The only major element of the study that elicits significant disappointment is the cartography. The hand-drawn quality tactical maps are numerous but profoundly spartan, especially in their depiction of underlying terrain. Though a viable mental picture of the battlefield can be drawn from the excellent narrative, visual reinforcement should have been made a higher priority. The operational-scale maps are slightly better.

Adding to his two previous battle studies of similar authority and scale on Kennesaw Mountain and Ezra Church, Earl Hess has now contributed three invaluable scholarly volumes to the previously neglected but now fast-growing Atlanta Campaign bookshelf. The best overall treatment of the subject, Earl Hess's The Battle of Peach Tree Creek should be regarded as the new standard history of John Bell Hood's first battle as defender of Atlanta.

✯ ✯ ✯

* - Some brief additional notes comparing the Jenkins (2 vols) and Hess treatments of Peach Tree Creek:

Both authors cover roughly the same ground. With an entire book devoted to the period between the Chattahoochee Crossing and the Peach Tree Creek battle, Jenkins's narrative follows fully the actions of Wheeler's cavalry during this period, events largely absent from Hess's account. Jenkins also deals with the PTC crossings at greater length, especially the Moore's Mill fight between Reynold's Arkansas brigade and Jefferson Davis's Union division.

Jenkins's PTC study is more detailed on a granular level, but the manuscript is very rough and the decision to incorporate a unit history of the author's ancestor's regiment further fragments an already unpolished narrative. Hess's book is demonstrably better organized, has superior operational clarity, and its tactical details are more than sufficient. His analysis throughout is also deeper and addresses a wider range of topics.

Both authors are highly critical of Hardee, and their descriptive accounts of the attacks conducted by Hardee and Stewart (as well as the reasons behind their failure) are portrayed in a similar light.

Both books describe the ground on both sides of the Peach Creek Creek battlefield well. However, the maps in the Jenkins book are much more artfully formed and better detailed overall.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Phantoms of the South Fork

At least for the eastern theater, John Singleton Mosby is the dominant figure when it comes to discussion of small Confederate partisan groups that launched repeated hit-and-run raids behind Union lines and fairly haunted enemy occupying forces for long periods of time by their general nuisance making. Numerous books, articles, novels, movies, games, and a 1950s television show have recounted the legends and exploits of the man himself and his 43rd Battalion, Virginia Cavalry. But there were certainly other partisan leaders and units of considerable import operating in Virginia during the war. One of the better known units was led by Captain John Hanson "Hanse" McNeill and came to be known as McNeill's Rangers.

Between September 1862 and the end of the war, McNeill's Rangers continually disrupted the B&O Railroad and hit isolated Union garrisons and small patrols all over the rugged hills of the Upper Potomac. Though McNeill himself died from wounds in November 1864, his men carried on, and the Rangers (now led by McNeill's son, Jesse) would carry out their most famous exploit in the waning moments of the war. On one late February morning in 1865, they stole into Cumberland, Maryland under the predawn cover of darkness, captured generals George Crook and Benjamin Kelley, and escaped to safety with their high-ranking prizes.

Next month, Kent State University Press will release Steve French's Phantoms of the South Fork: Captain McNeill and His Rangers, the first full book-length treatment of McNeill's Rangers to appear since H.E. Howard published Roger Delauter's McNeill's Rangers back in 1986 (at least I don't know of any others in between). I've never read it, or any of Delauter's other Howard series contributions, so I cannot comment on their quality. Getting back to French's upcoming book, according to the publisher "Phantoms of the South Fork is the thrilling result of Steve French’s carefully researched study of primary source material, including diaries, memoirs, letters, and period newspaper articles. Additionally, he traveled throughout West Virginia, western Maryland, southern Pennsylvania, and the Shenandoah Valley following the trail of Captain McNeill and his “Phantoms of the South Fork.”" I hope to get a copy of it and review it on the site.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Booknotes: The Battle of Peach Tree Creek

New Arrival:
The Battle of Peach Tree Creek: Hood's First Effort to Save Atlanta by Earl J. Hess
 (UNC Press, 2017).

Nice cover art, too.
I came back from vacation and there was only one lonely book in the mail pile, Earl Hess's The Battle of Peach Tree Creek. In terms of numbers and variety of new releases actually sent my way, this summer has been an exceptionally dreary one. Things are looking up a bit for the fall and winter, though, as there is a good-sized stream of promising titles in the offing...until, of course, many miss their dates and get pushed on down the line into next year.

From the description: "Offering new and definitive interpretations of the battle's place within the Atlanta campaign, Earl J. Hess describes how several Confederate regiments and brigades made a pretense of advancing but then stopped partway to the objective and took cover for the rest of the afternoon on July 20. Hess shows that morale played an unusually important role in determining the outcome at Peach Tree Creek--a soured mood among the Confederates and overwhelming confidence among the Federals spelled disaster for one side and victory for the other."

I actually read this one several months ago and sketched out a review back then. I typically don't read ARCs and never review solely from them, but the ones from UNC Press are essentially the release version minus an index. I plan on posting the final version of the review next week. I'll just need a little while to check my notes to see which concerns were addressed, if any. Included with the review will be brief commentary comparing Hess's book with the earlier one by Robert Jenkins, The Battle of Peach Tree Creek: Hood's First Sortie, July 20, 1864 (2014).

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Author Q & A: Douglas C. McChristian on "Regular Army O!"

I am joined by retired NPS historian Doug McChristian to discuss his most recent book Regular Army O!: Soldiering on the Western Frontier, 1865-1891, which was published earlier this year by University of Oklahoma Press. An exhaustive study based heavily on the diaries, letters, and memoirs of enlisted men, the book offers readers the most complete portrait to date of what life was like in the post-Civil War frontier army.

From his author bio, McChristian "is a retired research historian for the National Park Service and a former National Park Service field historian at Fort Davis and Fort Laramie National Historic Sites and at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument." His earlier books include: An Army of Marksmen: The Development of United States Army Marksmanship in the 19th Century (1981), The U.S. Army in the West, 1870–1880: Uniforms, Weapons, and Equipment (1995), Uniforms, Arms, and Equipment: The U.S. Army on the Western Frontier 1880-1892 (2 Vols, 2007), Fort Bowie, Arizona: Combat Post of the Southwest, 1858–1894 (2005) and Fort Laramie: Military Bastion of the High Plains (2009).


DW: Your new book Regular Army O! has been lauded by other experts as the new standard in portrayal of post-Civil War western frontier army life. What are some of the earlier works that influenced you most?

Doug McChristian
DCM: Two early works on the subject were Fairfax Downey’s Indian Fighting Army and S. E. Whitman’s The Troopers, both popular histories. Undoubtedly the book that had the greatest impact on me was Don Rickey Jr.’s Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay. I first read it during college days and was hooked on the subject. Not only was Rickey’s study a scholarly work, it relied on personal interviews, letters, and diaries of Indian Wars veterans. During my career with the National Park Service it became the bible for those of us stationed at frontier military sites. In the glory days of living history I coordinated “camps of instruction” for field interpreters using Forty Miles as our primary guide. Don served as a guest speaker and through those associations we developed a close friendship that lasted until his passing in 2000. The title of my new book, incidentally, is not coincidental. The title of his groundbreaking work was borrowed from an 1874 Harrington & Hart ballad. I elected to use the following line of the song as my subtle tribute to Don, “Forty miles a day on beans and hay, in the regular army O’”.

Other influential works to which I referred repeatedly over the years were Robert M. Utley’s Frontier Regulars, the standard overview of the army and the western Indian campaigns. Actually there were a number of other titles, such as Fowler, The United States Soldier Between Two Wars, Bill Leckie’s landmark study The Buffalo Soldiers, and Knight, Life and Manners in the Frontier Army. Of course, I eagerly devoured the many first-hand accounts that saw print after Rickey brought attention to their value and other historians began ferreting them out of archives and family possession.


DW: What gaps in the existing literature did you attempt to fill through your own work?

DCM: My aim was to build upon Rickey’s model by utilizing the greatly increased number of first-hand soldier accounts that have surfaced in public and private collections since Forty Miles was first published in 1963. Whereas Rickey relied heavily on the experiences of living veterans who had served in the late 1880s and early 1890s, I wanted to flesh out the subject by using more accounts from the rank and file during the late 1860s and 1870s. Many of those simply were not available when Rickey did his research.

Another of my purposes was to investigate how the regulars felt about various things—their motivation for enlisting, how their friends and family reacted to their enlistment, their training and military service in general, how they viewed Indians, and other factors. And I intentionally focused more attention on the black soldiers of the four segregated regiments. I also sought to provide greater detail about the army of that time, how it was organized and how it functioned with relation to the enlisted soldier.


DW: In your mind, what remains the greatest popular misconception about the frontier Regular Army? (I believe I read somewhere that the widely-held view that the ranks were disproportionately filled with recent immigrants is largely inaccurate.)

DCM: That’s an easy one to answer. Actually, the ranks were filled to a great degree by immigrants, especially during the late ‘60s and ‘70s. That condition existed on a descending scale through the end of the Indian Wars era. In my view, however, the most prevalent misconception among the general populace today is that the regulars were a bunch of ill-disciplined racist brutes out for nothing more than killing Indian women and children. This impression is just as off the mark as the hero—cavalry to the rescue—image portrayed in movies prior to the 1960s. The nation’s experience in Viet Nam changed that. The war was unpopular stateside, to say the least, and the negativity generated among the nation’s youth became manifested in outright hatred of the military, the police, and anything else that represented authority and the so-called establishment. That attitude was widely reflected in motion pictures and television wherein good became bad, and bad became good. Suddenly, Hollywood recast the Indian Wars army in a negative light for an entire generation of Americans. I have tried to provide a more realistic, balanced view of the frontier regulars.


DW: Your book discusses at great length the many challenges (ex. depression, disease, suicide, alcoholism, and more) of isolated army service in the West. Over the two and a half decade period examined in your book, did the army make any kind of concerted effort to counter these banes of the service?

DCM: I wouldn’t characterize it as a concerted effort, certainly not a comprehensive one. Neither do I subscribe to the claim some have made that the era was the army’s a dark age. I have attempted to convey that as an underlying theme throughout the book. Rather than organizing the text in chronological sequence cover-to-cover, I crafted most of the chapters to address the respective topics chronologically to demonstrate how conditions improved for the enlisted man. For instance, educational opportunities and potential advancement to commissioned rank were unknown in the early post-Civil War years. By about 1880 post schools had gained official sanction and curricula included subjects such as U.S. history (especially valuable to those recent immigrants) in addition to the usual basics. The army also made provision in its regulations whereby ambitious enlisted men could undergo written examination to become second lieutenants and further pursue a military career, rather than face a dead end in the ranks.

In addition to such topics as food, sanitation and medical care, I examine how off-duty activities and recreation changed over the years. The old time sutler’s bars and “hog” ranches eventually gave way to post canteens operated by the soldiers. There the men could buy beer or wine, but nothing stronger, as well as sandwiches and snacks. The canteen also provided a wholesome atmosphere where the soldier could relax, visit with his comrades, and indulge in checkers and non-gambling card games. By the late 1880s some forts even boasted gymnasiums so that the men could exercise, especially during northern winters when outdoor recreation was limited.


DW: I’d like to redirect the rest of the questions to Civil War connections. Regular Army O!’s book description boasts the use of over 350 diaries, letters, and memoirs. Did frontier regulars and their families save their correspondence on a comparable scale to the Civil War volunteers?

DCM: We first have to take into consideration that the regular army was a much smaller organization. Whereas over a million men served in the Union Army during the Civil War, I estimate that only about 240,000 enlisted in the regulars over a period of some twenty-five years. Then too, several thousand of those deserted. Consequently, the pool of those who could have potentially left letters, diaries, and the like was considerably smaller.

My impression is that a far greater ratio of Civil War soldiers wrote letters to their families and friends than did the post-war regulars, who served in the army for very different reasons. Some men simply did not wish to have their families know they had joined the army. Not a few men enlisted under aliases because civilians in the East often did not consider soldiering in the regular army to be an honorable occupation. The attitude of the general populace was entirely different from that during the Civil War when volunteers were doing their patriotic duty to preserve the Union. Relatives were proud of that and tended to preserve the letters.

Likewise, many if not most Civil War soldiers had achieved a higher level of education and were able to write home, or later publish reminiscences of their wartime experiences. Moreover, that was considered a “good” war and the greatest conflict ever witnessed on US soil. The veterans were aware that they had played a role in history and took pride in relating their experiences. Conversely, the regulars on the frontier were not involved in a declared war and by far the majority never saw combat with Indians. The country largely looked upon the Indian campaigns as a sideshow somewhere out west that didn’t concern them. Consequently, not so many veterans considered their military service worth recording.

Several other reasons also may account for the disparity. As we have noted, a large proportion of the rank and file were foreign immigrants many of whom could neither read nor write English. It’s conceivable that letters in foreign languages may yet exist in other parts of the world. I found only a few accounts left by soldiers who had a basic command of English while they were in the service, but later prepared superb reminiscences. Sergeants John Spring and Charles Windolph come to mind. As the book demonstrates, the regulars tended to be a rather hard lot of men and most of them simply were not inclined to letter writing, even if they knew anyone with whom they might communicate.


DW: In the West, how smooth was the transition from the temporary volunteer frontier garrisons back to the Regular Army?

DCM: I’m not aware that there was any great problem with the transition. The volunteers, of course, were anxious to be sent home as soon as their terms expired, or the war ended. I know of one Kansas unit that mutinied in the face of a campaign because their enlistments would be up while they were in the field. Some units were under the mistaken impression that they would be sent home immediately after the Confederate surrender, but that wasn’t the case. The government bound them to remain in service for up to six months after the president declared the war officially ended. President Johnson didn’t do that for several months. Accordingly, some volunteer units remained on the western frontier until late 1865 and even into 1866. The reason was to give the army time to recruit up to full strength the regular regiments that served in the eastern and southern theaters. It also took time to transport them, or in many instances to march afoot, to their new stations to relieve the volunteers.

At the command level, the army reorganized the geographical military divisions and departments during the 1865-1867 period to reflect a shift in focus to the West and rapid national expansion. A major element in the army’s mission was to contend with Indian resistance to white encroachment.


DW: There were many violent clashes, large and small, between native groups and Civil War volunteers throughout the West between 1861 and 1865. Did the army conduct any kind of official study of these actions to see if any valuable lessons could be passed on to the regulars who replaced the volunteers in 1865-66?

DCM: No official study resulted to my knowledge. The only documented instance of which I’m aware was an investigation into the famous Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado perpetrated by the Third Colorado Cavalry. Unfortunately, much valuable experience was lost as the volunteers were discharged. On the positive side, many former volunteer officers applied for regular commissions following the war. Some of those men had frontier service to their credit and made particularly effective leaders in the West. The Eighth Cavalry, for example, was one of the new regiments authorized in 1866. It was recruited in northern California with the result that a high percentage of its officers and men had served previously with the California volunteers in several western territories.


DW: In your view, were there any distinct differences in the way state and territorial volunteers interacted with western tribal groups versus Regular Army officers and men? Some authors have suggested that the volunteers fought with a higher degree of ideological motivation and brutality.

DCM: Generally speaking, I believe that’s true. Some of the worst events involving Indians occurred during the war and were committed by the volunteers. Some noteworthy instances that come to mind are Colonel Patrick Connor’s lopsided victory at Bear River, Utah, the hanging of the Cheyenne chiefs at Fort Laramie, and, of course, Sand Creek. Some of this animosity can be attributed to the fact that the majority of volunteer units serving on the frontier came from western states and territories where Indians were viewed as a threat to settlement, commerce, mining, and communication. Most had been in closer proximity to Indian depredations. Consequently, they had a more personal stake in defeating Indians than did, say, the Eleventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry that served along the Oregon-California Road.

Additionally, the volunteers seem to have operated under a looser command structure than the regulars. Volunteer officers on the frontier, by and large, were citizen soldiers who possessed little or no military training or prior experience. There were so many inefficient former volunteer officers glutting the post-war corps that the army authorized review boards in 1870 to evaluate who should remain and who should be cashiered. A great many elected to resign. That great exodus resulted in a distinct improvement of the officer corps.


DW: In your opinion, do NPS sites located across the West do an adequate job of recognizing the Civil War volunteer contributions at those posts and forts (either inside the visitor centers or at trailside exhibits)?

DCM: I don’t know that I’m qualified to speak to that point. I’ve been retired for more than a decade now and I no longer have close relationships with those sites. That in mind, I would offer my opinion that most of the forts and battlefields in the West devote less attention to the volunteers than to the regular army. One reason may be that the buildings and ruins at fort sites represent the later era, therefore interpretation tends to reflect the visible resource. An exception is Fort Laramie’s most venerable standing structure, Old Bedlam, which served as headquarters for the volunteer garrisons during the Civil War. One portion is refurnished to reflect that. Fort Bowie National Historic Site here in Arizona has an interpretive trail leading to and around the site of the First Fort established and occupied by the California Volunteers. Another might be Pecos National Monument which embraces the 1862 Glorieta Battlefield in which the First Colorado Infantry and the Third U.S. Cavalry won a victory over Confederate General Sibley’s invasion of New Mexico Territory. Perhaps the park with the closest association with territorial volunteers is Sand Creek National Monument in eastern Colorado. That was solely a volunteer event. I must admit that I have not visited the place since it became an NPS unit, so I can’t speak to interpretation there.


DW: Thank you very much for your time, Doug. I appreciate your insights into many of the questions that have bounced around in my mind over the years regarding this fascinating topic.

DCM: Thank you for the opportunity and your thoughtful questions.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Review of Sledge - "THESE RUGGED DAYS: Alabama in the Civil War"

[These Rugged Days: Alabama in the Civil War by John S. Sledge (University of Alabama Press, 2017). Cloth, map, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:237/280. ISBN:978-0-8173-1960-1. $34.95]

Alabama's Civil War history has been explored in numerous popular and scholarly books and articles. Art Bergeron, Chester Hearn, Jack Friend, Sean O'Brien, and many others have looked at wartime Mobile and the 1864-65 land and sea campaigns that closed the bay and eventually captured the port city itself. The major cavalry raids that penetrated the state during the war have also been well covered in the literature. Robert Willett's history of Streight's Raid has not been surpassed, and additional studies by Rex Miller (Croxton's Raid), James Pickett Jones (Wilson's Raid), and David Evans (Rousseau's Raid, as part of his larger study of Atlanta Campaign mounted operations) have held up well over time. The 1862 Union occupation of North Alabama and the infamous "Sack of Athens" have also been the topics of fine books by Joseph Danielson and co-authors George Bradley and Richard Dahlen. Most recently, an essay anthology edited by Kenneth Noe and a pair of studies by Christopher McIlwain have offered multi-faceted examinations of Alabama's Civil War and Reconstruction histories.

With the above earlier works in mind, the intention of John Sledge's These Rugged Days was to gather together in a single volume an integrated popular overview of Civil War events (primarily military ones) that occurred within the confines of Alabama's borders. In the book, lengthy chapters recount the blockade of Mobile, the 1862 Union advance across northern Alabama (including the Athens incident), Abel Streight's disastrous 1863 mule-mounted raid, Lovell Rousseau's 1864 cavalry raid, the 1864 Battle of Mobile Bay, James H. Wilson's 1865 campaign that applied the coup de grace to Alabama's industrial heartland, and (also in 1865) General E.R.S. Canby's irresistible finishing stroke at Mobile itself.

As a writer, Sledge possesses an appealing gift for evocative prose, his picturesque writing style well suited to drawing in both casual readers and more serious students of Civil War Alabama. His narrative generally follows the top commanders, but it also generously incorporates pithy excerpts from the diaries and letters of common soldiers and civilians from all parts of the state.

In terms of source material used, the book synthesizes the published literature (including many of the titles mentioned in the first paragraph above) in an informed manner, but the author also did some primary research in archives and examined numerous newspapers. The text is annotated, and when multiple sources are cited in a single note at the end of a paragraph (a common yet frequently confounding practice) the author very helpfully includes in parenthesis a brief phrase from the text that explicitly matches source to particular passage. The volume is less generous to the reader when it comes to maps and illustrations. In particular, the absence of any military maps is painfully noticeable.

Though These Rugged Days is mainly focused on military events by design, the first two chapters discuss the social and political dimensions of the secession crisis and point out the existence of significant pockets of resistance in the state (in particular, the Unionists of North Alabama). The agricultural and industrial importance of Alabama to the Confederacy also comes across strongly in the text. While quotes from the diaries and letters of Alabama women are present throughout, the home front and its perils and privations largely exist in the background. Similarly, how the war affected the institution of slavery in the state and the popular reaction to emancipation go mostly unexplored, with Alabama's large slave population mentioned primarily in the refugee context.

These Rugged Days does not aim to be comprehensive state history, and as long as one accepts its relatively narrow center of interest there's quite a bit to admire in its wide ranging overview of the Civil War campaigns and raids conducted inside Alabama. Nearly all readers will possess at least a passing familiarity with Admiral Farragut and Mobile Bay, but many will be surprised at the scale of fighting elsewhere in a state commonly considered to be one of the war's backwaters. Sledge's engaging writing style also hearkens back to that of Foote and Catton, a quality that will undoubtedly broaden the volume's appeal.


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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Blood Moon

The tragedy of the Cherokee experience of the American Civil War cannot be understood without a thorough grounding in the factional violence that emerged over 1830s removal, when the Cherokee were forced by the 1835 Treaty of New Echota to exchange their vast ancestral lands east of the Mississippi for new ones in the northeastern part of Indian Territory. Those who resisted removal most strongly, a majority group led by Chief John Ross, came to be pitted against the Ridge faction, whose members acquiesced to the treaty with the view that further recalcitrance would only make things worse for the Cherokee people.

With the tribe then deeply split between the Ross and Ridge factions, a murderous blood feud ensued. The divisions remained unresolved in 1861, when the Cherokee, who had just become prosperous again in their new surroundings, were confronted with yet another life-changing decision—the requirement of choosing sides during the Civil War. Though this topic has certainly been explored before in numerous books and articles, a fresh reappraisal is always welcomed.

Recently, I came across advanced notice of John Sedgwick's Blood Moon: An American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation (Simon & Schuster, Spring 2018), hoping it might be of interest and also have significant Civil War content. Indeed, the book is advertised as "the story of the century-long blood feud between two rival Cherokee chiefs from the early years of the United States through the infamous Trail of Tears and into the Civil War." Skimming over the rest of the description, I was taken aback by its assertion that John Ross "spoke not a word of Cherokee." I am not sure where this view comes from and from my own reading don't recall this being a common belief. Just this past week I finished revisiting The Confederate Cherokees, and in it the author referenced at least two major speeches that Ross delivered in Cherokee. Really, it strains credulity that a principal chief like Ross could lead at all, let alone navigate the course of an entire people for decades and through such perilous travails, without any command of the language.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Booknotes: On to Petersburg

New Arrival:
On to Petersburg: Grant and Lee, June 4-15, 1864 by Gordon C. Rhea (LSU Press, 2017).

It probably wasn't planned to be fifteen years between Cold Harbor and On to Petersburg, but here it is, the fifth and final volume of Gordon Rhea's award-winning Overland Campaign series. From the description: "(A)comprehensive account of the last twelve days of the campaign, which concluded with the beginning of the siege of Petersburg(,) On to Petersburg follows the Union army’s movement to the James River, the military response from the Confederates, and the initial assault on Petersburg, which Rhea suggests marked the true end of the Overland Campaign. Beginning his account in the immediate aftermath of Grant’s three-day attack on Confederate troops at Cold Harbor, Rhea argues that the Union general’s primary goal was not―as often supposed―to take Richmond, but rather to destroy Lee’s army by closing off its retreat routes and disrupting its supply chains."

While disagreeing with their overall conclusions, Rhea does indicate a willingness to fully consider the views of Grant's critics (in the preface, he graciously singles out Bryce Suderow and Joseph Rose for their research assistance and for challenging his own opinions and assumptions). "While Grant struggled at times to communicate strategic objectives to his subordinates and to adapt his army to a faster-paced, more flexible style of warfare, Rhea suggests that the general successfully shifted the military landscape in the Union’s favor."

Rhea also advances a favorable portrait of Lee's generalship during this stage of the campaign. "On the rebel side, Lee and his staff predicted rightly that Grant would attempt to cross the James River and lay siege to the Army of Northern Virginia while simultaneously targeting Confederate supply lines. Rhea examines how Lee, facing a better-provisioned army whose troops outnumbered Lee’s two to one, consistently fought the Union army to an impasse, employing risky, innovative field tactics to counter Grant’s forces."

Not that anyone expected an awkward crawl over the finish line, but the volume certainly seems to possess the same look of quality and authority that made the other titles so beloved by many. The numerous George Skoch maps also give it a retro-90s feel (in a good way).

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review of Emerson & Stokes, eds. - "DAYS OF DESTRUCTION: Augustine Thomas Smythe and the Civil War Siege of Charleston"

[Days of Destruction: Augustine Thomas Smythe and the Civil War Siege of Charleston edited by W. Eric Emerson and Karen Stokes (University of South Carolina Press, 2017). Cloth, map, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:160/200. ISBN:978-1-61117-770-1. $29.99]

Established in 1860, the United States Army Signal Corps was the brainchild of Major Albert J. Myer. When the Civil War began just a year later, the usefulness of Myer's innovative system of flag communications by day (and torches by night) was immediately recognized by both sides. While the Confederate Signal Corps had a big moment early in the conflict, when E.P. Alexander famously spotted the Union column crossing Bull Run beyond the Confederate left on July 21, 1861, the U.S. Army Signal Corps enjoys more space in the literature. Most recently, a wonderfully edited edition of the memoir of USASC Captain Louis R. Fortescue was published*. Now, with W. Eric Emerson and Karen Stokes's Days of Destruction, the edited correspondence of Confederate signalman Augustine Thomas Smythe, readers are granted an inside view of the other side's Signal Corps, specifically the Charleston detachment.

Well-researched and generously fleshed out introductions add essential background and context to published memoirs and correspondence, and the one in Days of Destruction is particularly valuable. In it, Emerson and Stokes provide readers with a wealth of information, including Smythe's family history and a satisfactory discussion of young Augustine's early life. Augustine (or "Gus") was born in Charleston in 1842. His Irish-born father, Rev. Dr. Thomas Smyth (the 'e' was added later), was a Presbyterian minister and his mother, Margaret Milligan Adger, a teacher at the Charleston Orphan House. Smyth's sermons, articles, and books were popular, although some of his southern audience distrusted his northern academic ties and deemed his views dangerously close to abolitionist in outlook. In the end, the elder Smyth regretted secession, but did not oppose it.

Augustine shared his father's wider ambition, but not his spiritual career path, and he joined the South Carolina College Corps of Cadets when secession and war loomed. As a member of Company A of the 25th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, Augustine fought in the Battle of Secessionville on June 16, 1862. Four months later, he was transferred to the Signal Corps. Emerson and Stokes's introduction usefully outlines the history of this support branch of the service and briefly describes the kind of duties that a signalman like Smythe would have been asked to do.

The introductory narrative additionally delves into Smythe's personal life and post-war career. A successful lawyer and businessman, Smythe was equally devoted to civic pursuits, serving 14 years in the state senate and actively participating in numerous fraternal and social organizations. Essential to understanding the context of much of the familial friction exhibited in the letters, the editors also helpfully provide background information regarding Smythe's future wife, Louisa (they married in 1865), and particularly his prospective mother-in-law, whose reputation of free-thinking independence preceded her and worried Augustine's more staid mother.

Smythe's letters comprise a set of very detailed recordings of major military events (land and sea) that occurred in and around Charleston, all written from the unique perspective of a practiced observer. Passages describe the Battle of Secessionville (when he was still an infantryman) and the capture of the Union gunboat Isaac P. Smith on the Stono River. Smythe was one of four signalmen tasked with helping coordinate the ambush of the Smith, and their assistance was a significant factor in the operation's success. Also in 1863, Smythe provided ship-to-shore signalling from the ironclad CSS Palmetto State and was assigned for a time to Fort Sumter. From the fort, he witnessed firsthand the inexorable advance of Union siege batteries, their massive guns battering from afar both Sumter and the city of Charleston itself.

Centrally based at the saltwater bathing house at White Point Garden, Charleston's Signal Corps network operated from fourteen different stations strategically located around the harbor and surrounding islands. From his various assignments, Smythe witnessed many significant events. He was able to view the movements of the CSS Hunley as well as the operations of the CSS David torpedo boat that damaged the USS New Ironsides. He also personally observed the retaliatory 'human shield' practice of placing POWs in harms way, indignantly contrasting the alleged hotel-like treatment accorded Union officers in the city (their "prison" located in a part of Charleston that Smythe claims was hit by a Union shell only once every two months) with the crowded, open air stockade on Morris Island that confined the Confederate "Immortal 600."

Smythe's letters readily attest to the importance of the Signal Corps to the longevity of Charleston's defense. Signalman were essential to the rapid passage of military communications above, below, and inside the harbor. They provided an effective early warning system of Union movements while also frequently intercepting and interpreting enemy signals. In one letter home, Smythe rather indiscreetly mentions how his unit cracked the enemy code and were able to read Union Signal Corps messages for some time before discovery. There were also failures to go along with the successes. In 1864, when Sherman's army was closing in on Savannah, the Confederate Signal Corps (with Smythe himself attached) attempted to establish a line of coastal flag stations between Charleston and that place, but the effort was thwarted by the constant threat of surprise intervention by Union landing parties.

What stands out most in the Smythe letters are his numerous and meticulously rendered observations of the 1864-65 Union bombardment of lower Charleston. Perched high above the city in the steeple of St. Michael's Episcopal Church beginning in March 1864, Smythe was uniquely placed to witness and document the relentless shelling. In the exhaustive manner of an insurance inspector, Smythe describes in his correspondence the damage inflicted on many different homes, neighborhoods, and public buildings, often forensically tracing the path of single shells. Undoubtedly, much of this attention to detail can be traced to the fact that his own home, and those of friends and family, were located in the bombardment zone. Smythe accepted great risk by sleeping at his otherwise deserted home, which was constantly threatened by shell and robber. In fact, his letters provide readers with a vivid picture of the lawlessness of the city's many near empty neighborhoods, where thievery and vandalism committed by soldiers and civilians alike were widespread. Though his claims are unconfirmed, Smythe also seems to indicate that loss of life in the city was greater than commonly supposed, asserting by late 1864 that somewhere between one and three non-combatants were killed by enemy shells each day.

When it comes to the publication of firsthand Civil War accounts written by soldiers, the letters, diaries, and memoirs of those that served in the main armies (particularly the celebrated Virginia front protagonists) heavily predominate, and this volume constitutes a highly refreshing change from the norm. The edited correspondence contained in Days of Destruction comprises a remarkable and wholly distinctive record of the Siege of Charleston as witnessed through the trained eyes of a Confederate Signal Corps member. It is highly recommended.


* - Service with the Signal Corps: The Civil War Memoir of Captain Louis R. Fortescue edited by J. Gregory Acken (Univ. of Tenn. Press, 2015).

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Various things

1.  It's been a while since I did an author interview. Coming up soon I'll post my conversation with retired NPS historian Douglas McChristian. We'll be talking about his new book Regular Army O!: Soldiering on the Western Frontier, 1865-1891 (2017), but many of the questions will be steered toward Civil War connections.

2.  The long-awaited release of Gordon Rhea's On to Petersburg: Grant and Lee, June 4-15, 1864 (September 2017) is just a few short weeks away. Impatient devotees of this destined-to-be-a-classic series will finally get the last piece of the puzzle, and inquiries here as to its progress can finally cease!

3.  In recent years, Savas Beatie has increasingly become a reprint destination for long out-of-print titles from outside sources. I just stumbled across another venture in that territory, and it's a welcome one. At various times, William Scaife's original editions of his many atlas studies (and even some of the paperback follow ups) commanded, or at least asked for, premium prices on the secondary market. If you took the long game, you could eventually find some of them at reasonable prices, but now it looks like SB is going to be re-releasing select titles (and maybe more?) in hardcover.

These are what I've found so far:
Allatoona Pass: A Needless Effusion of Blood
The Campaign for Atlanta
Hood's Tennessee Campaign: March to Certain Doom

The current release date is pretty far off and, if past history is any kind of indicator, likely to change.

4. For quite a while now, the home page of Two Trails Publishing has been offline. Its demise hasn't been confirmed, but there have been indications over the past few years that things were slowing down considerably over there. Like many publishers big and small, their catalog is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of quality, but Two Trails was digging deep into Civil War Missouri long before it was trendy to do so and I will always appreciate in particular the very useful Trans-Mississippi primary source materials they published over the years.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Booknotes: The Republic for Which It Stands

New Arrival:
The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 by Richard White (Oxford UP, 2017).

The Oxford History of the United States series is a highly decorated one. In its ranks sit, among others, James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, Gordon Wood's Empire of Liberty, and Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought, each title examining some grand epoch of American history. The latest is The Republic for Which It Stands. In it, "acclaimed historian Richard White offers a fresh and integrated interpretation of Reconstruction and the Gilded Age as the seedbed of modern America."

In the three decades since the end of the Civil War, "(t)he country was larger, richer, and more extensive, but also more diverse. Life spans were shorter, and physical well-being had diminished, due to disease and hazardous working conditions. Independent producers had become wage earners. The country was Catholic and Jewish as well as Protestant, and increasingly urban and industrial. The "dangerous" classes of the very rich and poor expanded, and deep differences -- ethnic, racial, religious, economic, and political -- divided society. The corruption that gave the Gilded Age its name was pervasive."

White examines at length the national response to this dizzying pace of change. More from the description: "These challenges also brought vigorous efforts to secure economic, moral, and cultural reforms. Real change -- technological, cultural, and political -- proliferated from below more than emerging from political leadership. Americans, mining their own traditions and borrowing ideas, produced creative possibilities for overcoming the crises that threatened their country."

Coming in at nearly 1,000 pages of text, the volume's physical girth matches its breadth and ambition. There are numerous maps and illustrations, and readers will appreciate the employment of footnotes vs. endnotes so they can avoid having to constantly flip this book's massive text block back and forth. Instead of a full bibliography, you get an extensive bibliographical essay.