Thursday, November 30, 2017

Booknotes: Phantoms of the South Fork

New Arrival:
Phantoms of the South Fork: Captain McNeill and His Rangers by Steve French
(Kent St Univ Pr, 2017).

From the description: "In September 1862, John Hanson McNeill recruited a company of troopers for Col. John D. Imboden’s 1st Virginia Partisan Rangers. In early 1863, Imboden took most of his men into the regular army, but McNeill and his son Jesse offered their men an opportunity to continue in independent service; seventeen soldiers joined them. In the coming months, other young hotspurs enlisted in McNeill’s Rangers. Operating mostly in the Potomac Highlands of what is now eastern West Virginia, the Rangers bedeviled the Union troops guarding the B&O Railroad line. Favoring American Indian battle tactics, they ambushed patrols, attacked wagon trains, and heavily damaged railroad property and rolling stock."

McNeill's Rangers are easily most famous for their daring February 1865 nighttime raid on Cumberland, Maryland that resulted in the capture of Union generals George Crook and Benjamin Kelley. As far as I know, Steve French's Phantoms of the South Fork: Captain McNeill and His Rangers is the first real book-length study of the irregular unit's exploits to appear since Roger Delauter's slim H.E. Howard series volume published back in 1986. "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."

This is the fourth volume in Kent State's Civil War Soldiers and Strategies series edited by Brian Steel Wills. I have been very impressed with the record of the series so far, and all of the previous three titles have been favorably reviewed on the site (Richmond Must Fall, Work for Giants, and "My Greatest Quarrel with Fortune").

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Booknotes: The Stormy Present

New Arrival:
The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics, 1846–1865 by Adam I.P. Smith (UNC Press, 2017).

Beyond standing on its own merits, of course, this book might also serve as a nice companion piece to another study from the same catalog, Michael Robinson's A Union Indivisible: Secession and the Politics of Slavery in the Border South. Among other things, that book demonstrates how closely Border South conservatives were reliant on northern allies (particularly Lower North moderates) for keeping proslavery unionism alive and strong during the both the turmoil of the 1850s and the secession crisis.

A "political history of Northern communities in the Civil War era," Adam Smith's The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics, 1846–1865 "offers a new interpretation of the familiar story of the path to war and ultimate victory. Smith looks beyond the political divisions between abolitionist Republicans and Copperhead Democrats to consider the everyday conservatism that characterized the majority of Northern voters. A sense of ongoing crisis in these Northern states created anxiety and instability, which manifested in a range of social and political tensions in individual communities."

More from the description: "In the face of such realities, Smith argues that a conservative impulse was more than just a historical or nostalgic tendency; it was fundamental to charting a path to the future. At stake for Northerners was their conception of the Union as the vanguard in a global struggle between democracy and despotism, and their ability to navigate their freedoms through the stormy waters of modernity. As a result, the language of conservatism was peculiarly, and revealingly, prominent in Northern politics during these years. The story this book tells is of conservative people coming, in the end, to accept radical change."

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Review of Dyson - "THE AMBUSH OF THE ISAAC P. SMITH: Family Ties and the Battle on the Stono January 30, 1863"

[The Ambush of the Isaac P. Smith: Family Ties and the Battle on the Stono, January 30, 1863 by Gary L. Dyson (Author, 2016). 8 1/2" x 11" softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, footnotes, bibliography. 95 pp. ISBN:978-1-365-44116-5. $18.94]

Gary Dyson's The Ambush of the Isaac P. Smith is a dual focus study, part history of one of the most dramatic military actions of the entire 1861-65 Siege of Charleston and part biographical treatment of the lives and Civil War careers of two Union naval officers (Acting Assistant Paymaster Frederic Calvin Hills and Acting Ship's Master John Wyer Dicks). Both major features of this slim but rather impressively informative volume are well presented.

A shallow-draft, propeller-driven river steamer, the Isaac Smith was launched in 1850 and intended for New York state's Hudson freight and passenger trade. In September 1861 she was purchased by the U.S. Navy and armed for blockading duty along the South Atlantic coast. Dyson's account of the converted vessel's early service in the waters of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida is solid, as is his discussion of the significance of Stono inlet and river to the Charleston defenses. The Confederates needed to vigilantly monitor and block enemy access to the Stono as it led to Charleston's vulnerable back door, while on the other side the Union Navy wanted to close the waterway to blockade running traffic while also maintaining its own ability to use the river for amphibious operations against the Cradle of Secession.

By late 1862 and early 1863, the Smith was one of the vessels that regularly patrolled the Stono. In a shining example of intraservice cooperation, the Confederate Signal Corps and army were together able to establish a pattern of enemy operational behavior on the Stono and exploit this intelligence by hatching and coordinating a daring plan to capture the gunboat. Numerous field batteries were borrowed from the siege lines and quickly emplaced in camouflaged positions along both banks of the Stono. The trap was sprung on January 30, 1863 and achieved complete surprise, with the resulting artillery crossfire forcing the battered Smith to surrender. As tends to happen in war, the operation did not unfold as originally planned, but it is perhaps a testament to its designer(s) that the ultimate goal was achieved even after important plan elements went awry.

Dyson ably weaves numerous letters and other firsthand accounts of the action into his narrative, which is also supported by numerous maps. These archival reproductions provide a detailed picture of the winding course of the Stono as well as important features of the surrounding landscape. The author's own map alterations clearly depict the locations of the batteries involved in the fight while also tracing the doomed movements of the Smith.

The individual featured in Dyson's first book, A Civil War Correspondent in New Orleans: The Journals and Reports of Albert Gaius Hills of the Boston Journal (2012), is the brother of Paymaster Hills of the Smith. The "family ties" referred to in the subtitle to Ambush are those of the author's wife, who has family connections with both the Hills brothers and John Wyer Dicks. The book provides brief biographical sketches of the lives of Hills and Dicks prior to the Stono affair, while also vividly recounting their grim prisoner of war experience through Hills's own letters and those of shipmates. In common with many other Civil War participants, the hardships of prison broke the health of both men, but their shared suffering also forged a close bond between the two officers, one that led to Hills marrying Dicks's daughter.

The book also includes some supplementary information in the form of additional short biographies, a crew roster and casualty list for the Smith, and some additional documents having to do with the fate of the three black sailors captured during the battle.

Gary Dyson's tactical account of the Stono battle featured in The Ambush of the Isaac P. Smith is a thorough one, perhaps the finest one available. It's a valuable resource for those wanting to conduct further research on the affair or just read more about the military events of the Charleston siege. The book also offers a fitting tribute to the wartime service and personal sacrifice of two lesser-known U.S. naval officers. Recommended.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Booknotes: Her Voice Will Be on the Side of Right

New Arrival:
Her Voice Will Be on the Side of Right: Gender and Power in Women's Antebellum Antislavery Fiction by Holly M. Kent (Kent St Univ Pr, 2017).

Among the antebellum period's various forums of public debate over slavery, the written page became perhaps the most socially acceptable way for women to contribute to the discussion. "Antislavery women wrote novels and stories designed to convince free Americans about slavery's evils, to discuss the future of abolitionism, and to debate the proper roles of free and enslaved women in the antislavery struggle." Women were thought by some to be particularly effective at fiction writing. "Believing that women were naturally more empathetic and imaginative than men, writers and editors hoped that powerfully told stories about enslaved people's sufferings would be invaluable in converting free female readers to abolitionism."

In her book Her Voice Will Be on the Side of Right: Gender and Power in Women's Antebellum Antislavery Fiction, author Holly Kent "analyzes the literary works produced by antislavery women writers during the antebellum era, considers the complex ways that female authors crafted their arguments against slavery and reflected on the best ways for women to participate in antislavery activism." Along the way, Kent shines new light on the works of many lesser-known writers.

More from the description: "Female antislavery authors consistently expressed a belief in women's innate moral superiority to men." Gasp! "While male characters in women's fiction doubted the validity of abolitionism (at best) and actively upheld the slave system (at worst), female characters invariably recognized slavery's immorality and did all in their power to undermine the institution. Certain of women's moral clarity on the "slave question," female antislavery authors nonetheless struggled to define how women could best put their antislavery ideals into action. When their efforts to morally influence men failed, how could women translate their abolitionist values into activism that was effective but did not violate nineteenth-century ideals of "respectable" femininity?"

Her Voice Will Be on the Side of Right "brings the ideas, perspectives, and writings of a wide range of female antislavery authors back into our understandings of debates about gender, race, and slavery during this crucial era in U.S. history."

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Practical Liberators

At least in the academic literature, "self-emancipation" has become the current watchword of favor when it comes to discussing the driving force behind the wartime destruction of slavery in the Border States and Confederate South. Arguments diminishing the Union Army's role in emancipation are a necessary (and I would argue unfortunate) accompaniment to this widely accepted interpretation. We only have a brief description to go on, but it does appear that Kristopher Teters's Practical Liberators: Union Officers in the Western Theater during the Civil War (UNC, 2018) will try to restore some balance to the equation, with the enormous caveat that humanitarian concerns of any kind figured little in the process.

From the description: "During the first fifteen months of the Civil War, the policies and attitudes of Union officers toward emancipation in the western theater were, at best, inconsistent and fraught with internal strains. But after Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act in 1862, army policy became mostly consistent in its support of liberating the slaves in general, in spite of Union army officers' differences of opinion. By 1863 and the final Emancipation Proclamation, the army had transformed into the key force for instituting emancipation in the West. However, Kristopher Teters argues that the guiding principles behind this development in attitudes and policy were a result of military necessity and pragmatic strategies, rather than an effort to enact racial equality." Those are oddly chosen parameters. To my knowledge, no scholar has ever tried to argue that instituting racial equality was a significant motivating factor. Of course "military necessity and pragmatic strategies" figured large, but there clearly exists solid evidence that a great many Union officers (and men in the ranks, too) through their western service in areas densely populated by slaves also expressed a host of other non-practical reasons behind the need/desire to end slavery. For sure, such moral and ideological objections overwhelmingly fell short of promoting anything like full equality of the races, but that doesn't mean they're weren't significant.

More: "Through extensive research in the letters and diaries of western Union officers, Teters demonstrates how practical considerations drove both the attitudes and policies of Union officers regarding emancipation. Officers primarily embraced emancipation and the use of black soldiers because they believed both policies would help them win the war and save the Union, but their views on race actually changed very little." I know authors don't write the marketing descriptions (though those that write them do frequently draw passages from a book's introduction or preface sections), but one hopes the study's analysis is much more nuanced than this.

And finally, "(i)n the end, however, despite its practical bent, Teters argues, the Union army was instrumental in bringing freedom to the slaves." I concur and look forward to reading the book.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Booknotes: A Nation Without Borders

New Arrival:
A Nation Without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil Wars, 1830-1910 by Steven Hahn (Penguin Random House, 2017).

A Nation Without Borders is the third volume in The Penguin History of the United States series (edited by Eric Foner). This is the paperback reprint of Hahn's book, which was originally published in 2016.

Hahn's book "takes on the conventional histories of the nineteenth century" and is self-described as controversial. "It begins and ends in Mexico and, throughout, is internationalist in orientation. It challenges the political narrative of “sectionalism,” emphasizing the national footing of slavery and the struggle between the northeast and Mississippi Valley for continental supremacy. It places the Civil War in the context of many domestic rebellions against state authority, including those of Native Americans. It fully incorporates the trans-Mississippi west, suggesting the importance of the Pacific to the imperial vision of political leaders and of the west as a proving ground for later imperial projects overseas. It reconfigures the history of capitalism, insisting on the centrality of state formation and slave emancipation to its consolidation. And it identifies a sweeping era of “reconstructions” in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that simultaneously laid the foundations for corporate liberalism and social democracy."

More from the description: "From an agricultural society with a weak central government, the United States became an urban and industrial society in which government assumed a greater and greater role in the framing of social and economic life. As the book ends, the United States, now a global economic and political power, encounters massive warfare between imperial powers in Europe and a massive revolution on its southern border―the remarkable Mexican Revolution―which together brought the nineteenth century to a close while marking the important themes of the twentieth."

Friday, November 24, 2017

Booknotes: The Battles and Campaigns of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, 1861-1865

New Arrival:
The Battles and Campaigns of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, 1861-1865 by John R. Scales (Savas Beatie, 2017).

General Scales first came to my attention with Sherman Invades Georgia (Naval Inst, 2006), a unique examination of high command decision making during the 1864 campaign in northern Georgia. His new book The Battles and Campaigns of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, 1861-1865 was originally intended for publication in two volumes, but it was ultimately decided that one was sufficient. As its title suggests, the book is a study of Forrest's remarkable military career and "how his actions affected the war" in the western theater from beginning to end.

From the description: "Each chapter covers specific raids or campaigns, all arranged chronologically. After describing the environment within which Forrest operated, which helps readers understand the larger situation within which his movements were made and his battles were fought, Gen. Scales narrates the decisions Forrest and his opponents made and the actions they took." In this age of Civil War publishing when readers increasingly count themselves lucky to get a handful of decent maps, this volume contains an astounding 109 original theater, battlefield, and tour maps from cartographer Hal Jesperson. I guess you might say the book doubles as a Forrest atlas.

Speaking of tours, "Scales’ study is also a meticulous guide to Forrest’s campaigns. For example, each action is augmented with detailed driving directions to allow readers to examine his battlefields and the routes his cavalry took during its famous raids." "A detailed review and assessment of each raid or campaign follows the description of the actions and the associated driving instructions. Throughout, General Scales relies upon his own extensive military background to help evaluate and explain how and why Forrest grew in command ability and potential as a result of his experiences—or didn’t."

The book also addresses two of the most commonly asked questions regarding Forrest's military career: "Exactly what impact did Forrest’s dazzling raids and victories have upon the overall course of the war?" and "Had Forrest been given a higher command and/or greater opportunities, what would have been the potential outcome as regards the fate of the Confederacy?"

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving Day from CWBA

Thanks to all the publishers, sponsors, authors, and readers that help me make CWBA be the best it can be.
Make a wish!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Booknotes: Oliver P. Morton and the Politics of the Civil War and Reconstruction

New Arrival:
Oliver P. Morton and the Politics of the Civil War and Reconstruction by A. James Fuller (Kent St Univ Pr, 2017).

Oliver Morton was an Indiana lawyer who entered politics in the 1850s. Like many other antislavery Democrats of the time, Morton found that joining the new Republican Party was the best way to achieve his budding political ambitions. In 1856, he was defeated in a close gubernatorial race in his home state, but the loss nevertheless marked him as a rising star in the party. Elected on the Joseph Lane ticket in 1860, Morton ascended to the governor's chair in 1861 when Lane was sent to the U.S. Senate.

During the Civil War, Morton became one of the strongest supporters of Lincoln's war policies and aims. Among Lincoln's "war governors" Morton had few peers, but his heavy-handedness and often extralegal actions also created many enemies. According to the description of A. James Fuller's new biography, Morton's "supporters praised him as a statesman who helped Abraham Lincoln save the Union, while his critics blasted him as a ruthless tyrant who abused the power of his office. Many of his contemporaries and some historians saw him as a partisan politician and an opportunist who shifted his positions to maintain power."

Oliver P. Morton and the Politics of the Civil War and Reconstruction is the "first full biography of Morton to be published in over a century." In it, Fuller "offers a groundbreaking new interpretation of Indiana’s most significant political leader in the nineteenth century. Overturning traditional views, Fuller argues that Morton’s nationalist ideology motivated him throughout his career and that the Hoosier leader held consistently to the ideas of freedom, Union, power, and party. Those core principles drove Morton’s politics and actions, including his support for Indiana soldiers, his fight against the Democrats in the state legislature, and his twenty-two months of one-man rule, a period in which his opponents accused him of being a virtual dictator. His principles also framed his struggle against the disloyal Copperheads who tried to assassinate him and whose leaders he helped bring to justice in the Indianapolis Treason Trials."

As was the case with a number of other prominent northern politicians of the time, Morton's later senate career has been generally overshadowed by his controversial Civil War governorship. Fuller's biography attempt to redress this imbalance. It "restores the historical significance of Morton’s long neglected career as a Reconstruction senator. Seeing Reconstruction as a continuation of the Civil War, Morton became a leading Radical Republican who championed racial equality. He continually waved the bloody shirt, reminding voters that the Democrats had caused the rebellion. Morton supported the civil rights of African Americans and fought against the Democrats and the Ku Klux Klan. He enjoyed widespread support for the presidency in 1876, but when his bid for the Republican nomination came up short, he helped decide the disputed election for Rutherford B. Hayes."

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Booknotes: Lincoln's Sense of Humor

New Arrival:
Lincoln’s Sense of Humor by Richard Carwardine (SIUP, 2017).

The range of Lincoln-related topics addressed by Southern Illinois University Press's Concise Lincoln Library series is impressive, and there are no signs that series editors Richard Etulain and Sylvia Rodrigue will run out of ideas anytime soon. The latest volume is Richard Carwardine's Lincoln's Sense of Humor.

Lincoln's penchant for telling jokes and repeating humorous stories to captive audiences both private and public is one of his most celebrated attributes. Carwardine's book "registers the variety, complexity of purpose, and ethical dimension of Lincoln’s humor and pinpoints the political risks Lincoln ran in telling jokes while the nation was engaged in a bloody struggle for existence." It also "shows how Lincoln’s uses of humor evolved as he matured and explores its versatility, range of expressions, and multiple sources: western tall tales, morality stories, bawdy jokes, linguistic tricks, absurdities, political satire, and sharp wit. While Lincoln excelled at self-mockery, nothing gave him greater pleasure than satirical work lampooning hypocrisy and ethical double standards."

According to Carwardine, "Lincoln’s funny stories were the means of securing political or personal advantage, sometimes by frontal assault on opponents but more often by depiction through parable, obfuscation through hilarity, refusal through wit, and diversion through cunning. Throughout his life Lincoln worked to develop the humorist’s craft and hone the art of storytelling. His jokes were valuable in advancing his careers as politician and lawyer and in navigating his course during a storm-tossed presidency. His merriness, however, coexisted with self-absorbed contemplation and melancholy. Humor was his lifeline; dark levity acted as a tonic, giving Lincoln strength to tackle the severe challenges he faced."

On the other hand, not everyone appreciated this part of his personality. Lincoln's "reputation for unrestrained, uncontrollable humor gave welcome ammunition to his political foes. In fact, Lincoln’s jocularity elicited waves of criticism during his presidency."

In reconnecting Lincoln's humor with its original context, Carwardine "helps to recapture a strong component of Lincoln’s character and reanimates the good humor of our sixteenth president."

Monday, November 20, 2017

Review of Armstrong - "THE BATTLE OF LEWISBURG May 23, 1862"

[The Battle of Lewisburg: May 23, 1862 by Richard L. Armstrong (35th Star Publishing, 2017). Softcover, 13 maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, footnotes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:204/261. ISBN:9780996576420. $19.95]

As was the case in many other sections of the Confederacy's badly overstretched 1861 borders, the defenses of western Virginia were neglected by a combination of higher priorities elsewhere and a lack of sufficient material and manpower resources to go around. By the time Richmond finally decided to pour reinforcements into the region (including Robert E. Lee), it was too late to turn the tide and most of Virginia's trans-Appalachian counties were permanently lost to Union control by the end of the year.

However, even after most of the principal leaders and many of the troops were transferred to other theaters, intermittent fighting (albeit at a lesser scale than before) continued into the first half of 1862. One of these operations was a small mid-May Union thrust east along the James River and Kanawha Turnpike that was directed at the western terminus (Jackson River Depot) of the strategically important Virginia Central Railroad. This federal raid, along with the Confederate countermove that resulted in a sharp little battle (and Union victory) at Lewisburg, is the subject of Richard L. Armstrong's new book The Battle of Lewisburg May 23, 1862.

As a frame of reference, the town of Lewisburg sits between Meadow Bluff and White Sulphur Springs in Greenbrier County (today's West Virginia), and the events surrounding the 1862 fight there were contemporaneous with the much better known Shenandoah Valley and Peninsula campaigns. Though Union operations on both sides of the mountains in Virginia were not heavily coordinated, Crook's forward movement could be seen as supportive of General Banks's presence in the Shenandoah, and the Lewisburg battle itself was fought on the same day as the Battle of Front Royal.

In the opening section of the book, Armstrong does a thorough job of outlining the early-mid 1862 military situation in Union general Jacob Cox's District of the Kanawha. In May, Cox directed strong elements of his command, including Col. George Crook's Third Provisional Brigade, to converge on and occupy Lewisburg. The small enemy garrison escaped to the east, but the substantially pro-Confederate town was secured on May 15th. The next day, Crook continued east on his Jackson River Depot raid mentioned above, while the Confederates under Brig. Gen. Henry Heth assembled superior force aimed at rolling back Crook's gains. In concert with a rigorous assessment of each side's force composition, Armstrong's overview of these early actions and maneuvers ably sets the stage for the volume's main event, the dawn battle at Lewisburg on the 23rd.

The Battle of Lewisburg was a brigade-sized fight pitting roughly 2,200 Confederates [22nd and 45th Virginia, Edgar's Battalion, a large 8th Virginia Cavalry detachment, and parts of four batteries] versus 1,600 federals [36th and 44th Ohio, a battalion of 2nd WV Cavalry, and four mountain howitzers]. In addition to being small in scale, Lewisburg was also a quite brief affair, with the close-range, decisive combat lasting only around 20 minutes and the entire battle perhaps an hour and a half (from 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.).

Armstrong's easy to follow narrative offers a detailed, blow-by-blow account of the battle from beginning to end. At dawn on the 23rd, Crook's brigade was camped just west of Lewisburg. Even though the approaches were picketed, Heth was able to cross the Greenbrier River three miles east of Lewisburg and nearly enter the town itself before a general alarm was raised. The Confederates quickly secured the heights commanding the town from the east and deployed their artillery (the number of guns alleged to have been present with Heth's command varies among the many accounts). The bombardment was largely ineffective, with some shells dropping short into the town and most of the rest hitting Crook's camps and trains rather than his troops. Heth then arranged his infantry units into a single battle line and drove them into the town, which like most rural settlements had quite a bit of open space between structures. Met inside Lewisburg by Crook's counterattacking Ohio regiments, Heth's Virginians were halted and immediately routed, losing four guns inside the town and at least two more at the Greenbrier Bridge during the panicked Confederate retreat.

With a rather surprising amount of primary source material available, the battle is well documented in the study. Through diligent research, the author uncovered, and incorporated into his battle narrative, a great number of firsthand accounts (military and civilian) of the fighting, more than enough to form a detailed and coherent picture and sequence of events. The substance of Armstrong's battle history also benefits from the great number of newspaper accounts that were printed or reprinted all across the country.

Perhaps the greatest Lewisburg mystery is the question of why Heth's line disintegrated into disgraceful rout so quickly and so completely when his command possessed a distinct advantage in numbers and artillery and also very nearly achieved complete tactical surprise. Heth himself was at a loss to explain his defeat, attributing the collapse to one of those inexplicable cascading panics that came to characterize so many Civil War actions large and small. His men, understandably less inclined to accept this, blamed their leaders (including Heth himself, who some accused of being drunk) for mishandling the battle. It was lamented by others that no skirmish line led the Confederate advance, and all were critical of Heth's ordering the artillery to follow the infantry into the town, where the guns found nowhere to deploy and were captured by Crook's victorious Ohioans. Of course, some person or unit had to be held responsible for the debacle. First it was the 45th Virginia, which occupied the center position and actually held firm better than any of Heth's units but was mistakenly blamed anyway for leading the panic. Eventually, Edgar's Battalion was scapegoated and a year would pass before that unit would redeem itself in the eyes of the rest of the army.

The number of Confederate cannon engaged at Lewisburg along with how many of these were captured in the town and later at the bridge together comprise another major topic of debate that the book addresses at length. In the main text and in an appendix, Armstrong presents an exhaustive examination of the evidence before finally coming to the unabashed conclusion that no truly definitive answers exist.

In assessing the battle's lasting importance, no one can argue that the Union victory had great strategic moment. With the Confederates losing 240 men and the federals 93, the loss disparity was striking but not crippling to either side. Perhaps the greatest significance of the battle was that it raised Crook's stature in the Union Army, leading directly to his promotion to brigadier general.

The volume's maps perform adequate service as visual aids, though the schematic art style of the battlefield maps appears a bit spartan in comparison to the elaborate cartography found in the best modern battle studies. That said, a reproduction of the Devol Map, a remarkably detailed sketch of the Battle of Lewisburg drawn the day after the fight by Capt. H.F. Devol, is included in the book as an appendix. Separated into five magnified sub-sections for clearer viewing and extensive labeling, the book's deconstruction of Devol's map offers readers the most vivid representation of the battle landscape, and one wishes its meticulously rendered terrain features could have been transferred to the book's own original tactical drawings.

The volume also contains an extensive casualty roster for both sides, along with other items of interest in the appendix section. These include information about Union and Confederate cemeteries, some poetry related to the battle, additional background and analysis of Heth's artillery batteries, a discussion of the so-called "relic gun" captured at the battle, and more.

Before now, arguably the best published account of Lewisburg was the brief overview of it contained in chapter nine of Tim McKinney's The Civil War in Greenbrier County, West Virginia (Quarrier, 2004). Fortunately, the battle's very limited presence in the literature is expanded and improved in all ways by Richard Armstrong's exhaustive study. The Battle of Lewisburg offers the kind of in-depth, wide-ranging treatment that similarly obscure but locally significant Civil War engagements rarely receive.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Booknotes: The Civil War and the Subversion of American Indian Sovereignty

New Arrival:
The Civil War and the Subversion of American Indian Sovereignty by Joseph Connole (McFarland, 2017).

The very brief publisher's description for Joseph Connole's The Civil War and the Subversion of American Indian Sovereignty draws a pretty broad picture of what the book might have to say. "The U.S. government's Indian Policy evolved during the 19th century, culminating in the expulsion of the American Indians from their ancestral homelands. Much has been written about Andrew Jackson and the removal of the Five Nations from the American Southeast to present-day Oklahoma. Yet little attention has been paid to the policies of the Lincoln administration and their consequences. The Civil War was catastrophic for the natives of the Indian Territory. More battles were waged in the Indian Territory than in any other theater of the war, and the Five Nations' betrayal by the U.S. government ultimately lead to the destruction of their homes, their sovereignty and their identity."

In the preface, the author notes that his research focuses on the relationship between the American Indian and the U.S. government. He describes the end stage of the evolution of the latter's policy as "a deliberate plan to strip the American Indian of his sovereignty." (pg. 8). Realizing that readers might draw comparisons between his book and Mary Jane Warde's recent well-received study, Connole categorizes Warde's work as primarily cultural history while his own is "military/political."

A quick skim through the contents of Connole's book does indicate a focus on the many raids, battles, and campaigns fought in Indian Territory during 1861-65, with the final chapter discussing the postwar treaties forged between the tribes and the government. The author admits in the preface that his book is one-sided and that it's by design. The choice stems from his belief that "the United States government alone is responsible for the fate of the American Indian. Anything the American Indians did was in response to the government's own actions. As such, I wanted to develop this perspective without the confusion of adding in the American Indian perspective." (pg. 9). Those kinds of assumptions are certainly open to question. I do plan on reading and reviewing the title.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Empire by Invitation

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

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

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

Booknotes: John C. Brown of Tennessee

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Booknotes: Silent Sentinels

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Booknotes: The Diary of a Civil War Bride

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Kirk’s Civil War Raids Along the Blue Ridge

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

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

Saturday, November 11, 2017

McClellan congratulates Meade on his Gettysburg victory

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

Booknotes: The Ambush of the Isaac P. Smith

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Commanders: Civil War Generals Who Shaped the American West

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

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

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