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).

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