Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Booknotes: "No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar" revised & updated edition

New Arrival:
"No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar": Sherman's Carolinas Campaign from Fayetteville to Averasboro, March 1865 by Mark A. Smith and Wade Sokolosky (Savas Beatie, 2017).

First published over a decade ago by Ironclad Publishing, No Such Army was one of that short-lived press's best offerings. I don't recall any major complaints about it outside of the maps lacking scale but nevertheless considered the new version one of my most highly anticipated reprints of 2017.

Content summary from the description: "The authors dedicate their professional training and research and writing abilities to the critical days of March 11-16, 1865―the overlooked run-up to the seminal Battle of Bentonville (March 19-21, 1865). They begin with the capture of Fayetteville and the demolition of the arsenal there, before chronicling the two-day Battle of Averasboro in more detail than any other study. At Averasboro, Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee’s Confederates conducted a well-planned and brilliantly executed defense-in-depth that held Sherman’s juggernaut in check for two days. With his objective accomplished, Hardee disengaged and marched to concentrate his corps with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston for what would become Bentonville."

Of course, publisher Savas Beatie always significantly improves titles when they reissue them. "This completely revised and updated edition ... is based upon extensive archival and firsthand research. It includes new original maps, orders of battle, abundant illustrations, and a detailed driving and walking tour for dedicated battlefield enthusiasts." The maps are more numerous than before, and they do look great along with the tour feature. Undoubtedly, the main text is updated, as well. Looking forward to revisiting the early phases of Sherman's campaign with this.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Troubled Refuge

When I mentioned the dearth of contraband camp studies in a recent review, no one called me out on the fact that I completely whiffed on Chandra Manning's Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War released just months earlier. A publicist never contacted me about it (in fact, for some reason, the big trade publishers rarely send me anything anymore), and I had glanced past the title many times without realizing what it really was. To make up for the omission, I'll just give it a simple mention here. The WSJ reviewed it [link] around its release time late last summer.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Five books on First Bull Run

1. The Early Morning of War: Bull Run, 1861 by Edward Longacre (2014).
Many First Bull Run campaign histories have been published over the years, among them fine contributions from Rafuse, Davis, Detzer, Johnston, and others, but I think Longacre's expansiveness puts it over the top. Even so, the book still leaves me with some nagging feelings of dissatisfaction that I can't fully articulate.
2. The First Battle of Manassas: An End to Innocence, July 18-21, 1861 Revised Edition by John Hennessy (1989, 2015).
Hennessy's slim volume has long been the consensus pick for the best tactical treatment of the core features of the FBR battle. The revised and expanded 2015 edition makes an already great book even better.
3. Bull Run: Its Strategy and Tactics by R.M. Johnston (1913).
In my mind, not very many turn of the century [can we still say that in 2017 and have everyone know what we mean?] campaign histories hold up as well as Johnston's classic does. It's been way too long since I've read it to go into specifics, but I recall being struck by the presence of elements in Johnston's work that distinguished it from the series of campaign overviews published during more recent decades.
4. The Battle of First Bull Run: Manassas Campaign July 16-22, 1861 - An Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide by Blaikie Hines (2011).
The short list merits inclusion of an atlas, and, while I respect Bradley Gottfried's The Maps of First Bull Run (2009), I liked the aesthetic creativity expressed in Hines's book.
5. Manassas: A Battlefield Guide by Ethan Rafuse (2014).
It's my opinion that Rafuse's Bull Run tour book (which includes both First and Second Manassas) is the best available for the 1861 battle. The This Hallowed Ground series as a whole is my favorite, as well, though output has slowed to a crawl. The fairly furious initial pace has been sadly reduced to only one release since 2008.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Booknotes: Six Encounters with Lincoln

New Arrival:
Six Encounters with Lincoln: A President Confronts Democracy and Its Demons by Elizabeth Brown Pryor (Viking Bks, 2017).

When Elizabeth Brown Pryor was tragically killed back in 2015, she left behind a completed book manuscript (this one) and a finished article about Lincoln's troubled relationship with his military commanders. In this book, Pryor "examines six intriguing, mostly unknown encounters that Abraham Lincoln had with his constituents. Taken together, they reveal his character and opinions in unexpected ways, illustrating his difficulties in managing a republic and creating a presidency."

More from the description: "Based on scrupulous research that draws on hundreds of eyewitness letters, diaries, and newspaper excerpts, Six Encounters with Lincoln offers a fresh portrait of Lincoln as the beleaguered politician who was not especially popular with the people he needed to govern with, and who had to deal with the many critics, naysayers, and dilemmas he faced without always knowing the right answer."

Just flipping through the book it isn't easy to tell what six "encounters" are under consideration, but this passage — "(a)n awkward first meeting with U.S. Army officers, on the eve of the Civil War. A conversation on the White House portico with a young cavalry sergeant who was a fiercely dedicated abolitionist. A tense exchange on a navy ship with a Confederate editor and businessman(.)" — hints at three of them. The fifty-page bibliography houses an impressive collection of research materials, including a fairly massive number of manuscript resources.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


[Psychological Consequences of the American Civil War by R. Gregory Lande (McFarland 800-253-2187, 2016). Softcover, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:214/253. ISBN:978-1-4766-6737-9. $35]

Combat veterans and societies at large have always struggled to adequately deal with the physical and psychological ravages of armed mass destruction, but scholarly and popular discussion of the topic as applied to the Civil War has generally lagged behind more modern conflicts like the Great War or Vietnam. Independent scholar R. Gregory Lande tests these waters in Psychological Consequences of the American Civil War, which surveys a range of repercussions including depression, suicide, alcohol dependency, and crime while also exploring unconventional coping mechanisms in the form of Spiritualism and a public quest for medical magic bullets.

The many unexpected challenges and rigors of Civil War service frequently resulted in debilitating dysphoria among those in the ranks. In the book, Lande focuses on the qualities of "homesickness" as differentiated from the more severe, enervating version recognized as "nostalgia." Army doctors quickly discovered that furloughs home did wonders for the overall health of soldiers exhibiting nostalgia, with those sufferers typically returning to the army refreshed and fulfilling their enlistment obligations without further incident. Unfortunately, that kind of positive evidence failed to convince military authorities, who feared soldiers would simply desert, and the tragic result of denied treatment was many avoidable deaths and suicides. On the more general issue of suicide, Lande's examination of census data indicates that incidence climbed steadily during the war and well into the postwar years (though he does appropriately recognize the slipperiness of reliable data for issues like suicide that carry heavy social stigma).

Another chapter looks at the temperance movement that gained momentum during and after the Civil War, as well as the intense debates among both the public and the medical community over how much alcohol (over)consumption was to blame for society's ills. The early development of treatment programs is also addressed.

According to Lande, crime rates throughout American society (but chiefly in the North) soared during the 1860s and 1870s, creating the "carnival of crime" theme that's prominently portrayed in the book as one of the worst consequences of the war. The hard data provided is pretty incomplete, and other factors like better record keeping, increased scrutiny, and journalistic manipulation might be involved. Northern prisons experienced an uptick in inmate populations after the war, and many of these prisoners were veterans. The year after demobilization, 2/3 of all penitentiary inmates in New England were ex-soldiers. Most observers blamed the "moral corruption" that army life engendered in callow young soldiers and to a lesser degree the psychologically damaging consequences of combat. On the other hand, given the fact that young males have always committed the vast majority of serious crimes, it should have surprised few that crime would surge during the mass reintegration of hundreds of thousands of ex-soldiers into society. Lande also considers some of the prison reform debates of the period, which found officials divided over which methods (punishment vs. rehabilitation) best served the public. Though, as mentioned above, some quantitative data is sprinkled throughout, the author most often uses detailed anecdotal case evidence and media claims to drive home his main point about the alleged "carnival of crime" that was unleashed upon society by a tragic war that disrupted every corner of society and proved devastating to mind, body, and soul. Accurate or not, such a narrative at the very least shines light on social issues of great concern to citizens of postbellum America.

Two of the best sections of the book explain how the Civil War's frightening death toll and the massive numbers of damaged survivors it left behind fueled a growing public interest in Spiritualism and medical quackery. Whenever a society suffers tragedy on a previously unimaginable scale, many individuals either question or discard entirely belief systems that were strongly held beforehand. After the Civil War, some believers lost faith in the ability of organized religion to answer their spiritual needs, and growing numbers turned to mediums, psychics, spirit photographers, and the like for personal solace and communion with the dead. Among many other examples cited in the book are the supposed Spiritualist beliefs of President Lincoln and his wife, with the author himself taking no particular stand on the issue.

After the war, veterans disgusted with the quality of care they received while in the army and society at large both eagerly sought out alternative medical treatments. The book interestingly describes the rise of patent medicine cures in the nineteenth century, and how purveyors effectively used developing mass marketing techniques to sell their wares in great numbers to a receptive audience after the Civil war. Though most patent medicines sold during and after the war were aimed at physical ailments, many others did claim to address psychological problems. As Lande further shows, during this time quacks masquerading as doctors also exploited the budding sciences of electricity and magnetism to lend a "modern" respectability to curative methods of baseless therapeutic value.

In the wake of the Civil War, citizens became increasingly troubled over how the fratricidal conflict might have affected the minds and moral fiber of society, and Psychological Consequences of the American Civil War effectively uses a popular framework to raise awareness of a range of these concerns, as well as some unorthodox means resorted to by those seeking relief. When organizing this introductory study, the author also exhibited a good eye for selecting interesting topics, most of which might merit further standalone treatment.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Booknotes: The Battle of Glendale

New Arrival:
The Battle of Glendale: Robert E. Lee's Lost Opportunity
by Douglas Crenshaw (Arcadia Pub & The History Pr, 2017).

The Seven Days battle at Glendale (a.k.a. Fraser's Farm and a host of other names) on June 30, 1862 is considered by many to be one of the great missed opportunities of the Civil War. From the subtitle of his new book The Battle of Glendale, author Douglas Crenshaw, a Richmond National Battlefield Park volunteer, certainly seems to agree with this opinion. The battle has never had a book-length treatment of its own before, with arguably the best coverage up to this point being the relevant chapters from Brian Burton's excellent Seven Days campaign study Extraordinary Circumstances. Crenshaw's 2013 Fort Harrison & Chaffin's Farm book received positive reviews and was a Library of Virginia Literary award nominee, so I am definitely looking forward to this new effort. From a quick glance through it, the research looks serious and the maps appeal to my taste.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Battle of Richmond KY new edition

Except for his 1862 Murfreesboro Raid study, all of Kenneth Hafendorfer's western theater battle histories reside in my collection. Unfortunately, if you didn't catch them early enough, obtaining any of these now out-of-print titles (except for the multi-edition Perryville book) can be quite expensive. The author's Richmond study is still one of my favorites, and it appears that it's been reprinted recently (a rare event with this author). Follow the link provided in this post and in the new copies page for 3P sellers you can find The Battle of Richmond Association's marketplace store. They also state that the proceeds from purchasing Battle of Richmond, Kentucky August 30, 1862 through them goes to preserving and interpreting the Richmond battlefield site. Also, you can safely ignore the silly online "review" there.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review of Smith - "GRANT INVADES TENNESSEE: The 1862 Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson"

[Grant Invades Tennessee: The 1862 Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson by Timothy B. Smith (University Press of Kansas, 2016). Cloth, 20 maps, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:426/534. ISBN:978-0-7006-2313-6. $34.95]

In addition to numerous articles, pamphlets, and popular histories, two full-length scholarly studies of the 1862 Union land and naval campaign that captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River have been published. Western theater Civil War historian Timothy Smith admires both B.F. Cooling's classic Forts Henry and Donelson: The Key to the Confederate Heartland (1998) and Kendall Gott's more recent Where the South Lost the War: An Analysis of the Fort Henry-Fort Donelson Campaign, February 1862 (2003) but maintains that his new book Grant Invades Tennessee: The 1862 Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson addresses important military aspects of the campaign largely neglected by both earlier major works. Upon reading Smith's book, those familiar with the rest of the literature can readily recognize the validity of the author's claim. Whereas Cooling scrutinized the campaign through a broad range of military, societal, and economic contexts and Gott structured his own investigation around penetrating command and leadership appraisals, Smith's narrative achieves levels of microtactical detail accompanied by a superabundance of viewpoints written by the men in the ranks that are absent from all prior works.

Those topics comprising the backbone of traditional studies of the February 1862 twin rivers operation — to include the theater-wide preparations of both sides, leadership assessments, the Battle of Fort Henry, the Phelps naval raid up the Tennessee River, and the Battle of Fort Donelson — are meticulously recounted and intensely analyzed in Smith's book. The author's tactical-level coverage of the multi-day battle at Fort Donelson, especially the fighting on the 15th, is by leaps and bounds the finest available. Like Ed Bearss, Smith strikes one as equally comfortable with land and naval topics, making this particular combined operation an especially apt showcase for his skills as writer and historian. During his research, the author combed through an incredible number of document collections, and the fruits of these labors are readily apparent in the narrative. Seemingly every regimental action described in the book, small or large, benefits from useful information and/or emotional flavor provided by one or more eyewitness account.

One of the campaign's enduring mysteries is who was the first person to suggest the the twin rivers as the line of operations best suited to unhinge the Confederacy's western theater defenses in 1862. The issue remains open to debate, but, according to Smith, the earliest written documentation he was able to discover (dated November 20, 1861) is from Colonel Charles Whittlesey, an engineer who suggested the movement in a direct communication with Henry Halleck. Perhaps Lew Wallace's view that the germ of the idea came to several individuals independently is the most likely. Regardless, as department commander, the final decision would come from Halleck.

With Lincoln constantly pressuring Halleck to do something in his department (and, along the way, keep the Confederates from concentrating more troops against Buell's adjacent department), U.S. Grant was assigned the task of conducting a reconnaissance of the enemy river defenses, a task the aggressive general took to with relish. Perhaps too much relish. While the deep advance of his two heavy columns gained valuable intelligence, they also awakened the Confederates (and more important, Department No. 2 commander Albert Sidney Johnston) to the general inadequacy of their river batteries and forts. After Grant's reconnaissance ended, Confederate defensive efforts at the twin rivers were redoubled and reinforcements sent to their aid. The author asks important questions regarding whether the information gained sufficiently offset the tipping of the Union hand and the improved defenses Grant would later encounter. With the clear benefit of hindsight, Grant's victories at Henry and Donelson might have appeared inevitable, but there were key moments when things could have gone either way. If the Confederates had been allowed to continue their twin rivers slumber (rather than be alerted by the January reconnaissances) Smith suggests that the odds of Union success might have been even better. The idea has clear merit, but ultimately such speculation can never be put to the test.

One of the book's main goals was to bring Fort Henry out from behind Fort Donelson's considerable shadow. Smith believes the capture of Fort Henry, with its fall facilitating a Union dagger thrust all the way into the Deep South's vitals, the more consequential strategic achievement of the two. Unfairly dominated in the historiography by Donelson's much larger battle and impressive prisoner haul, the vast amount of enemy territory and communication links immediately made vulnerable to Union invasion by Henry's capture dwarfed that of Donelson [there's a great map in the book illustrating this idea], even after taking into account a potential haul from seizing the Cumberland fort that included irreplaceable industrial resources and the Tennessee capital of Nashville. With the much wider and deeper arc of the Tennessee River, the Fort Henry victory and the gunboat raid into northern Alabama that followed it severed Confederate east-west movement and communications in the Upper South. Similarly crucial communication centers located in the northern reaches of the Deep South (ex. Corinth) also came under immediate threat. That said, the author is quite careful not to promote the view that Donelson's stature needs to be lowered in order to raise that of Fort Henry. Of course, Smith recognizes that one of the two forts could not have been safely held without also occupying the other and readily concedes the great likelihood that many observers and historians implicitly include Henry when discussing the strategic importance of the Union victory at Fort Donelson. Even so, his book does demonstrate that temporarily isolating one event from the other can result in some interesting challenges to the traditional interpretation of the campaign.

Grant himself initially favored attacking Donelson first, but Foote urged successfully that Henry be the initial target (and Halleck agreed with Foote, either because the department commander thought it the best/safest move or because the idea wasn't Grant's own preference). How much this meant that Fort Henry was the more vital strategic point in the minds of most of those involved is debatable. In furthering his persuasive discussion of the underappreciated importance of Fort Henry, Smith cites another fact that it was the capture of Henry (not Donelson) that immediately prompted the Confederate military to strip its coastal defenses, order troops north, and abandon long-held Kentucky strongpoints like Columbus and Bowling Green. The author is probably correct in his belief that most historians attribute that series of drastic Confederate reactions to news of Donelson's surrender.

As stated before, Smith's Fort Henry analysis in no way seeks to diminish the gravity and significance of the Union victory at Fort Donelson, and indeed the bulk of the book is devoted to the campaign's great battle. Smith's portrayal of Confederate high command confusion and incompetence at Fort Donelson is a familiar one, as is the book's sharply contrasting perception of Union battlefield leadership. Army commander U.S. Grant and division commanders C.F. Smith, Lew Wallace, and John McClernand all performed well. Modern opinion regarding the overall competence of McClernand remains divided, but the more common view today is that the Illinois political general was a solid battlefield commander undone by his own personal faults. Smith concurs with this opinion, crediting McClernand for quickly rallying his battered division on the Union right at Fort Donelson on February 15 and stubbornly holding the army's center on key ground astride the Wynn Ferry Road. Recent Wallace biographers, all of whom argue insistently (and mostly persuasively) for the adoption of a more positive assessment of the general's early war career in the western theater, will find favor with Smith's treatment of their man. The author praises Wallace's bold initiative on the 15th, when the Hoosier general correctly regarded Grant's purely defensive 'hold fast' orders as no longer valid given the circumstances and advanced his division to bolster McClernand's beleaguered defenders at the most critical moment of the Donelson battle. Together, the two men halted the Confederate offensive, but it would be Grant that would move everyone forward.

Smith awards Grant high marks for the exceptional personal leadership and operational skills he displayed throughout the campaign. The author praises Grant's uncommon boldness but at the same time gently chides the general for repeated demonstrations during 1861-62 of an almost blind overconfidence that could easily have led to disaster at places like Belmont, Donelson, and Shiloh. Grant critics often decry the general's strong penchant for displaying favoritism when dealing with subordinates. Smith recognizes this all too human flaw in Grant at Donelson on February 13, when the commander censured McClernand but not C.F. Smith for the same offense. While the author reserves his highest praise for Grant's guiding hand on the 15th, when the general took advantage of his subordinates's stabilization of army lines during his absence downriver and launched a general counteroffensive that recovered Union positions held at the beginning of the day and more, he doesn't overstate the scale of the accomplishment. When Grant ordered the coordinated attack that is widely regarded as the battle's turning point, the exhausted Confederates were already falling back to their own lines. Similarly, on the Union far left, C.F. Smith's narrow assault (often portrayed by others as a decisive event in inducing surrender) captured an important stretch of the enemy's outer line, but the action in and of itself did not render untenable further Confederate defense in that sector.

Smith's account of the Confederate assault on the 15th is exceptionally good. Perhaps the battle's most baffling unanswered question is why the Confederates fell back into their own lines instead of retreating through pathways opened by their successful morning attack. Citing later interviews with Confederate generals who were present at the council of war that discussed the battle plan, Smith surprisingly found that only one officer claimed that the stated intention of the attack was to open a retreat route for the army. The meeting was obviously not a model of command clarity, but if the vast majority of officers were telling the truth then that begs the question exactly what was the goal of the attack. This answer will likely forever escape us, but perhaps the most logical interpretation is that the Confederates expected to drive Grant's army from the field entirely and, when that failed, simply lacked a backup plan.

It is difficult to come up with sources of major complaint with the book. Some readers may object to Smith's eschewing broader context for a tighter focus on military events, but there seems little reason to repeat the kind of wider analysis already exhaustively present in Cooling's modern, multi-volume treatment of those themes and topics. The books twenty maps are more than adequate when it comes to sheer numbers and unit scale involved. What's lacking in all of them is a satisfyingly full rendering of the battlefield terrain. Key roads, trench lines, and bodies of water are represented, but readers gain little visual feel for the actual lay of the land in terms of the forests, fields, gullies, underbrush, and abatis obstructions that all had important affects on how the battle was fought.

Produced in reverse chronological order, Grant Invades Tennessee is a fitting capstone to Timothy Smith's western theater trilogy, which, in addition to this volume, contains equally fine treatments of Shiloh and the Corinth battles. All are excellent works in their own right, but together they provide the best and most expansive historical account available of the Union military's decisive shattering of the Confederacy's western shield in 1862, a comprehensive disaster from which the South never recovered.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Booknotes: The Slaveholding Crisis

New Arrival:
The Slaveholding Crisis: Fear of Insurrection and the Coming of the Civil War by Carl Lawrence Paulus (LSU Press, 2017).

Though John Brown's Harpers Ferry Raid completely failed in its mission to incite a massive slave rebellion and was widely condemned in the North, there was a great enough undercurrent of support to lead many southerners to believe that more such attacks lay in the future if the South stayed in the Union and Republican power continued to flourish. "Carl Lawrence Paulus’s The Slaveholding Crisis examines how, due to the fear of insurrection by the enslaved, southerners created their own version of American exceptionalism—one that placed the perpetuation of slavery at its forefront. Feeling a loss of power in the years before the Civil War, the planter elite no longer saw the Union, as a whole, fulfilling that vision of exceptionalism. As a result, Paulus contends, slaveholders and nonslaveholding southerners believed that the white South could anticipate racial conflict and brutal warfare." According to Paulus, the planter class was able to convince most nonslaveholding whites that Republican insistence on slavery's non-extension and presumed support for abolitionist intervention where it already existed made secession a less risky proposition than relying on existing protections within the Union. "In the end, Paulus argues, by insisting that the new party in control of the federal government promoted this very insurrection, the planter elite gained enough popular support to create the Confederate States of America. In doing so, they established a thoroughly proslavery, modern state with the military capability to quell massive resistance by the enslaved, expand its territorial borders, and war against the forces of the Atlantic antislavery movement."

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Five books on the Port Hudson Campaign

1. The Port Hudson Campaign, 1862 - 1863 by Edward Cunningham (1963).
Originally published during the Centennial (and reprinted in paperback since), Cunningham's campaign study is fairly dated and light on details but still useful for those readers looking for a quick introduction to the subject.
2. Port Hudson, Confederate Bastion on the Mississippi by Lawrence Lee Hewitt (1988).
Hewitt's book is another slim volume, but it exhibits some of the campaign literature's best scholarship. The author made the decision to not cover the siege aspect at any length, but what it does examine it does so very well. Hewitt's meticulous account of Confederate defensive preparations remains essential, and his descriptions of the naval campaign and the fortress's successful thwarting of Union attempts to carry the lines by storm are fine. If the author had expanded the volume to include the siege operation, the book would likely be regarded as a classic.
3. The Guns of Port Hudson, Volume One: The River Campaign (February - May 1863)
by David C. Edmonds (1983).
The two books by Edmonds comprise the most detailed Port Hudson campaign history yet available. I would normally list the pair together, but they were published separately and remain polar opposites today in terms of ease of acquisition. Both books are long out-of-print, but, for some reason, copies of Volume 1 have always been relatively plentiful and inexpensive to obtain while Volume 2 appears much less frequently on the secondary market and at a markedly higher three-figure price. Volume 1 effectively recounts the U.S. Navy's dangerous passage through the Port Hudson gauntlet of fire, as well as various inland diversionary operations launched by the army in support.
4. The Guns of Port Hudson, Volume Two: The Investment, Siege and Reduction
by David C. Edmonds (1984).
Substantially thicker than the first book and with superior production values, Volume 2 discusses at great length the Union approach march to Port Hudson, the investment of the fortress, the failed assaults, and the seven-week siege that ultimately proved successful. This book is easily the best single source for the land-based phase of the campaign.
5. Blood on the Bayou: Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and the Trans-Mississippi
by Donald S. Frazier (2015) [review].
Connecting events up and down both sides of the Mississippi, Frazier's book presents a wider perspective on 1863 Mississippi River Valley military operations. Emphasis is placed on failed Trans-Mississippi Confederate attempts to relieve the besieged Port Hudson and Vicksburg garrisons.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


[Albert C. Ellithorpe, the First Indian Home Guards, and the Civil War on the Trans-Mississippi Frontier edited by M. Jane Johansson (Louisiana State University Press, 2016). Cloth, 2 maps, photos, appendix, notes, select bibliography, index. Pages main/total:203/250. ISBN:978-0-8071-6358-0. $45]

The vast majority of published Civil War soldier journals and memoirs travel down the same beaten paths forged by the eastern and western theater armies of both sides. But every once in a while something truly out of the ordinary comes to light, its topical nature so rare it practically demands special attention. Transporting readers to the violent frontier borderland shared by Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Indian Territory in singular fashion, Jane Johansson's Albert C. Ellithorpe, the First Indian Home Guards, and the Civil War on the Trans-Mississippi Frontier is just such a noteworthy creature. 

According to Johansson's biographical research, the Vermont-born Ellithorpe was a successful Chicago businessman and inventor, who also pursued gold prospecting and antislavery newspaper journalism before the Civil War. He was a key force behind the organization of the 13th Illinois cavalry regiment but was outmaneuvered in his quest to obtain one of the unit's coveted field-grade officer commissions. Though Ellithorpe would to some degree benefit from the patronage process himself, his frustrations with the often cutthroat brand of partisan politics that went hand in hand with leadership appointments in volunteer regiments would plague his entire Civil War service.

The following year, through the influence of friends in high places, Ellithorpe was assigned the task of organizing an experimental regiment of pro-Union Indians, to be recruited from recently established Kansas camps thronging with refugees from Indian Territory. Formally mustered into service in spring 1862, the First Indian Home Guard regiment (with Ellithorpe as its major) was comprised of eight companies of Muscogee Creeks and two companies of Seminoles. The top leadership was white, but many of the company officers were Indians. African Creeks additionally served as soldiers and interpreters.

The two main sources of Johansson's book are Ellithorpe's war journal and the twenty-three newspaper articles he wrote anonymously for the Chicago Evening Journal. Ellithorpe's journal writing is neither uniformly polished nor particularly eloquent, but it does usefully inform readers of the major's personal experiences and those of his regiment during important Trans-Mississippi operations, two of the more prominent examples being the failed First Indian Expedition of 1862 and the successful Cane Hill-Prairie Grove winter campaign of the same year. The July 3, 1862 Battle of Locust Grove journal account is perhaps the best described military action among Ellithorpe's writings. By 1863, all three IHG regiments were brigaded together under the command of Colonel William A. Phillips and were finally able to escort many of the long-suffering refugee families back to their lands in Indian Territory.

In terms of the military features of Ellithorpe's writings, the most vivid accounts are related to the intractable guerrilla conflict that infested the region. The major was an early and enthusiastic advocate of hard war, and he freely discussed his unit's killing of suspected guerrillas without regard for any kind of due process restraints. His chief nemesis was Thomas R. Livingston's band, although, like many other Civil War participants, he undoubtedly attributed many independent acts to the most infamous guerrilla leader in the general area. The book features a regional conflict that represents one of the Civil War's closest approximations to what we would describe today as 'total war', making the volume a highly appropriate companion to Matthew Stith's recent Extreme Civil War (LSU, 2016). The relationship between the two becomes an even closer one considering how heavily Stith drew upon Ellithorpe for source material.

Ellithorpe missed the Union triumph at the Battle of Honey Springs and left the army in August 1863. He would later return to cover military operations in an apparent journalistic capacity, witnessing and documenting great events from the Trans-Mississippi war's latter period like the disastrous 1864 Confederate campaign across Missouri.

As one can see from the editor's chronological arrangement of the material, Ellithorpe often used his newspaper articles to flesh out events and opinions first raised in his journal. As mentioned above, he strongly advocated the application of hard war policy to the civilian population of the enemy. He fully supported emancipation (as both war measure and benefit to society) and expressed the typical soldier's disdain for the antiwar movement in the North. Ellithorpe also frequently admonished the Army of the Potomac for its seeming lack of progress during the early and middle periods of the conflict, unfavorably comparing continued stalemate in the East with unbridled Union success along the Trans-Mississippi frontier.

Much of Ellithorpe's journal is devoted to his indefatigable (but ultimately failed) efforts to root out corruption in the regiment. If his charges were entirely true, the situation was outrageous. According to Ellithorpe, the regiment's own lieutenant colonel (the frequently absent Stephen H. Wattles) stole the pay of the unit's scouts and interpreters, and several company officers conspired with the men to commit payroll fraud. Though James G. Blunt was Ellithorpe's idol throughout the war, the journal frequently blames the Kansas clique generally and Jim Lane personally for both thwarting the major's anti-corruption crusade and quashing his dreams of further promotion within the unit. However, in an odd turn, Ellithorpe seemingly had no qualms about assuming the editorship of the Leavenworth Daily Conservative in 1864 and supporting the reelection of Senator Lane. Perhaps the available evidence is too thin for any kind of meaningful examination, but this complicated relationship deserves deeper coverage than the book offers.

As Johansson herself laments in the book, perhaps the greatest source of disappointment regarding Ellithorpe's writings is the total absence in them of any personalized passages describing the major's relationship with the regiment's Indian officers and men. Ellithorpe also never used his newspaper article pulpit to either trumpet the merits of his IHG regiment or explicitly campaign for wider recognition of their achievements and sacrifices. It's quite strange. On the other hand, unlike many other Civil War officers, Ellithorpe didn't appear to be particularly sentimental about his time in the army, nor did he outwardly express deep feelings regarding any wider significance attached to his triracial regiment. 

The book's concluding chapter is an eventful account of Ellithorpe's postwar life and career. Returning to Chicago, he endured legal troubles and a publicized sex scandal, but his business ventures were again successful. Adding significantly to his legacy was his invention of an elevator safety device that proved widely useful in a Chicago rebuilding from the Great Fire of 1871. Unlike many others, he didn't appear to be heavily involved in veteran activities and organizations. Ellithorpe was asked to help facilitate the pension claim of General Blunt's widow by documenting his own thoughts as to the true cause of Blunt's insanity and subsequent institutionalization. Several different possibilities have been raised over the years, but Ellithorpe, citing his own interactions with Blunt, firmly believed that lingering mental trauma from the October 6, 1863 Battle of Baxter Springs permanently unhinged the general's mind.

Throughout the volume, Johannsson exhibits a high degree of knowledge and skill in the art of scholarly editing. In addition to fleshing out a fine biographical treatment of Ellithorpe, she also penned quite useful chapter introductions for the book. While at the same time providing substantial amounts of descriptive historical information, these extensive narrative passages (along with the endnotes) offer essential context and are obviously the product of someone steeped in the Civil War literature of the theater. In arranging the Ellithorpe materials to best effect, Johannsson also filled gaps with other documents discovered along the way during her research.

Jane Johansson's Albert C. Ellithorpe, the First Indian Home Guards, and the Civil War on the Trans-Mississippi Frontier is an utterly unique and timely contribution. Through the writings of Major Ellithorpe and Johansson's own investigation, the book sheds invaluable light on one of the war's least documented military fronts as well as one of the conflict's most unusual fighting formations.When it comes to the Indian Home Guards of the Union Army, hopefully this volume is just the first step, and other scholars will pick up the torch and probe further.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Booknotes: The Ultimate Guide to the Gettysburg Address

New Arrival:
The Ultimate Guide to the Gettysburg Address
by David Hirsch and Dan Van Haften (Savas Beatie, 2016).

A quick study at 64 total pages, this slim volume "explains the 272-word speech more thoroughly than any book previously published. With the aid of colorized step-by-step diagrams, the authors deconstruct the speech into its basic elements and demonstrate how the scientific method is basic to the structure of the Gettysburg Address." Authors Hirsch and Van Haften first developed their ideas about Lincoln's use of the principles of geometry in the development of his public rhetoric in their 2010 book Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason (also from Savas Beatie), and this new work appears to be a distillation of those ideas as specifically applied to the Gettysburg speech. In it, they "demonstrate Lincoln’s use of the six elements of a proposition and then diagram and explain how his in-depth study of geometry helped him compose the Gettysburg Address. The result is a deeper and richer understanding of the Gettysburg Address that was not previously possible."

Thursday, January 5, 2017

2016 - The "Civil War Books and Authors" Year in Review


The Old North State at War: The North Carolina Civil War Atlas by Mark Anderson Moore, with Jessica A. Bandel and Michael Hill (Office of Archives and History - NC Dept of Natural and Cultural Resources).


Battle/Campaign Histories:
Trans-Mississippi Theater: The Red River Campaign and Its Toll: 69 Bloody Days in Louisiana, March - May 1864 by Henry O. Robertson (McFarland).
Western Theater: Tie - Grant Invades Tennessee: The 1862 Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson by Timothy B. Smith (Univ Press of Kansas) & Slaughter at the Chapel: The Battle of Ezra Church, 1864 by Gary Ecelbarger (Univ of Oklahoma Press).
Eastern Theater: Kill Jeff Davis: The Union Raid on Richmond, 1864 by Bruce M. Venter (Univ of Oklahoma Press).

Naval History:
The Civil War on the Mississippi: Union Sailors, Gunboat Captains, and the Campaign to Control the River by Barbara Brooks Tomblin (Univ Press of Kentucky).

War and Society:
The Rivers Ran Backward: The Civil War and the Remaking of the American Middle Border by Christopher Phillips (Oxford Univ Press).

Society and Culture:
Bushwhackers: Guerrilla Warfare, Manhood, and the Household in Civil War Missouri by Joseph M. Beilein Jr. (Kent St Univ Press).

Politics and Society:
Abolitionizing Missouri: German Immigrants and Racial Ideology in Nineteenth-Century America by Kristen Layne Anderson (LSU Press).

Industry and Technology:
Engineering Victory: How Technology Won the Civil War by Thomas F. Army, Jr. (Johns Hopkins Univ Press).

Unit History:
"Forward My Brave Boys!": A History of the 11th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry CSA, 1861-1865 by M. Todd Cathey and Gary W. Waddey (Mercer Univ Press).

Essay Collection:
Border Wars: The Civil War in Tennessee and Kentucky edited by Kent T. Dollar, Larry H. Whiteaker and W. Calvin Dickinson (Kent St Univ Press).

Amiable Scoundrel: Simon Cameron, Lincoln's Scandalous Secretary of War by Paul Kahan (Potomac Books).

Edited Letters/Memoir/Diary:
Albert C. Ellithorpe, the First Indian Home Guards, and the Civil War on the Trans-Mississippi Frontier edited by M. Jane Johansson (LSU Press).

Guide Book:
A Field Guide to Antietam: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People by Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler (UNC Press).

Regional History:
Extreme Civil War: Guerrilla Warfare, Environment, and Race on the Trans-Mississippi Frontier by Matthew M. Stith (LSU Press).

City/County/Local History:
Kentucky Rebel Town: The Civil War Battles of Cynthiana and Harrison County by William A. Penn (Univ Press of Kentucky).

Reference Book or Series:
The Army of Northern Virginia: Organization, Strength, Casualties 1861-1865 by Darrell L. Collins (McFarland).

Hoffman's Army: The 31st Virginia Infantry, CSA 1861-1865 by David Wooddell.

Seizing Destiny: The Army of the Potomac's "Valley Forge" and the Civil War Winter that Saved the Union by Albert Z. Conner, Jr. with Chris Mackowski (Savas Beatie).

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Booknotes: Psychological Consequences of the American Civil War

New Arrival:
Psychological Consequences of the American Civil War
by R. Gregory Lande (McFarland, 2016).

The study of the Civil War is full of grim subject matter, but the first book to arrive in 2017 is a downer of the less common sort. It isn't just about how what we would diagnose today as PTSD affected returning Civil War soldiers. Lande's book does look at some of the things more commonly considered by scholars, like high rates of "depression, suicide, mental illness, crime, and alcohol and drug abuse" among veterans, but it also examines some of the more unusual coping mechanisms that emerged. Many long-sufferers had justifiably negative views of the state of healthcare at the time and others questioned their faith. "Survivors, leery of conventional medicine and traditional religion, sought out quacks and spiritualists as cult memberships grew." "This book provides a comprehensive account of the war-weary fighting their mental demons." The author's own background is as a psychiatrist, and in the book's preface he also notes that his experiences in forensic psychiatry and addiction medicine informed his research and analysis. Sounds like it might be an interesting study.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Review of Clampitt - "OCCUPIED VICKSBURG"

[Occupied Vicksburg by Bradley R. Clampitt (Louisiana State University Press, 2016). Hardcover, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:214/304. ISBN:978-0-8071-6338-2. $48]

It is the long-held consensus view that the outcome of the Vicksburg Campaign was a critical step toward securing ultimate Union victory during the Civil War. However, this has not always meant that the epic struggle for possession of the Hill City has been especially well covered in the military literature. Exhaustive operational histories exist, but full-length standalone studies of the campaign's several battles remain few in number. Specialized books examining the siege itself are even more scarce, but perhaps the least appreciated aspect of the Vicksburg Civil War experience has been what happened in and around the town after the siege ended. After all, Mississippi remained an active front long after the fall of Vicksburg, and the Union Army held the city in force for two more years. It is this 1863-65 period that is the focus of Bradley Clampitt's Occupied Vicksburg, the first study of its kind and a very welcome addition to the Vicksburg literature.

The circumstances surrounding the Confederate surrender (including controversies over the chosen formal capitulation date, whether the Confederates should have been paroled or not, and how much actual starvation drove events) have been well documented by other historians. They are covered here thoroughly, as well, with Clampitt also carefully noting where the evidence gathered from his own research differs from Grant's own memoir account. The idea of paroling the surrendered Confederates rather than sending them north to POW camps originated with Grant's staff, and the commanding general was eventually convinced of the wisdom of this move. Essentially every modern historian has agreed with this decision, but no one (including Clampitt here) has independently studied how much prisoner transport really would have taxed Union logistics in consideration of what further operations were planned in the immediate aftermath of the campaign.

In an early chapter, the book documents a remarkable week-long period in Vicksburg wherein the officers and men of both sides freely mingled. Grant fed Rebel soldiers and civilians, and he attempted to deal humanely with the large numbers of slaves arriving inside his lines. Those days comprised a brief period of shared humanity in the midst of war, before the shock and trauma of the long campaign and siege dissipated and animosity returned. Like other historians, Clampitt appreciates Grant's generally compassionate treatment of all involved, black and white, but reminds readers that the Union commander's actions were first and foremost practical rather than ideological.

Once the immediate food and shelter needs of the population were met, Union leaders set their sights on securing the city for the long term and getting it working again. Clampitt offers an insightful comparative analysis of the generals who set local occupation policy in Vicksburg after Grant's departure. These commanding officers included William T. Sherman, James B. McPherson, Henry Slocum, and Napoleon J.T. Dana. All applied some mix of conciliatory and hard war measures, but the author makes a persuasive argument that Dana did the best job of the group when it came to general administration and the need to regulate trade, battle corruption, support freedmen, and control the local citizenry. The author also explores the attitudes and experiences of Vicksburg's bluecoat garrison. Like many rear area Union soldiers during the war, these men battled sickness and boredom while also developing widespread contempt for the locals regardless of professed and/or demonstrated loyalty.

What to do with the large numbers of freedpeople present at Vicksburg became a major concern for the army and the federal government. According to Clampitt, Vicksburg's black refugee population rose quickly after the end of the siege and became a flood upon the conclusion of the 1864 Meridian Campaign. At one point, it is estimated that Vicksburg contraband camps serviced upwards of 16,000 souls. The Union Army eagerly made use of his fresh manpower pool. Within days of the July 4 Confederate surrender, federal authorities were enlisting blacks into the army by both coercive and non-coercive means. Many more ex-slaves served their new army employers as camp labor, cooks, and servants. Other refugees set up their own communities in Vicksburg, often centered around churches, and schools were quickly established by northern missionaries. As with many other areas in the occupied South, the sheer number of people present in the Vicksburg camps quickly overtaxed available resources, with the resulting squalid living conditions all too often breeding disease and death. Though the book presents an adequate summary of the topic, it provides little in the way of specific details about the contraband camps established in and around Vicksburg, reminding us that refugee camps in general remain a relatively understudied facet of Civil War history.

As one might guess, the generally pro-Confederate citizens of Vicksburg did not care at all for the constant presence Union soldiers in their midst and were far from accepting of emancipation and black army enlistment. The book documents the negative reactions of white civilians when forced to comply with the orders of black Union soldiers and also recounts sporadic incidents of violence instigated by one side or the other. As other scholars have done in their own studies of occupied areas, Clampitt records the various survival strategies developed by Vicksburg's civilian population. Retaining Confederate loyalty while living under the constant threat of harsh punishment was always a delicate high-wire act.

Confederate resistance to federal rule was much more open in the surrounding countryside, and Clampitt mostly credits southern guerrillas (sometimes supported by Confederate cavalry) for the general failure of the U.S. Treasury Department's plan to lease abandoned plantations in the area between Vicksburg and the Big Black River. A similar state of affairs existed along the opposite bank of the Mississippi. According to the author, the guerrilla problem in the region was never adequately resolved. Given how much the irregular war has come into sharper scholarly focus in recent years, it's a bit unfortunate that rural guerrilla action around Vicksburg is not addressed at greater length in the book (though, to be fair, a case could be made that the subject lies mostly outside the scope of what is essentially a city study).

On a year to year basis, Civil War publishing outputs related to the military and home fronts have both managed to sustain considerable momentum, and the occupation study arguably provides us with one of the very best ways to explore the intersection of the two. The fruits of such an endeavor are clearly seen in Bradley Clampitt's impressively thorough investigation of the Union occupation of Vicksburg, a volume which satisfies on multiple levels. The book is significant for being the first and only book-length examination of Union dominion over one of the war's most iconic and strategically important cities, but it is also very much a qualitative success. Clampitt quite skillfully applies to Vicksburg a wide range of highly developed interpretive lenses similar to those found within the best examples of current Civil War military and social history scholarship. Because you never know if or when someone else will give it a try, it's always a pleasure when the very first attempt at addressing an open topic is a triumphant success. Occupied Vicksburg is certainly on that level.

Click HERE for more CWBA reviews of LSU Press titles

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 Pate Award winner announced

The Fort Worth CWRT just revealed the winner of their annual A. M. Pate, Jr. Award in Civil War History, and the honor goes to Jerry Thompson for his magnum opus A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia (Univ of NM Press, 2016). The prize is well deserved and is the author's second trip to the Pate Award podium. I am a yearly consultant to the committee chair (who is a great guy deeply committed to Trans-Mississippi Civil War history), and if I had an official vote this book would have been my choice, as well. In addition to the author, UNM Press deserves some appreciation, too, as few publishers these days would want to touch a 6-lb. 1,000 page monster door stop like this one.