Thursday, April 19, 2018

Booknotes: Petersburg to Appomattox

New Arrival:
Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia edited by Caroline E. Janney (UNC Press, 2018).

The 2015 reappearance of UNC Press's venerable Military Campaigns of the Civil War series was a welcome event after a decade of dormancy. Beyond announcing Gary Gallagher's retirement as series editor and introducing Caroline Janney's ascension to the role, Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign also marked a quite dramatic change in content philosophy. Over a long period of time, the series built a reputation for anthologizing strong essays from leading Civil War scholars that almost exclusively examined leaders, strategy, operations, battles, and deep looks at parts of battles. I recently skimmed through the table of contents of a number of the old titles and that general impression seems accurate enough, though some later volumes dipped their toes in other areas. With the new direction of the series, the focus is now very much 'beyond the battlefield.'

Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia has nine essays. Together, they "offer a fresh and nuanced view of the eastern war's closing chapter. Assessing events from the siege of Petersburg to the immediate aftermath of Lee's surrender, Petersburg to Appomattox blends military, social, cultural, and political history to reassess the ways in which the war ended and examines anew the meanings attached to one of the Civil War's most significant sites, Appomattox."

William Bergen starts things off with another look at Grant's successful command style as it transitioned to the East, where a new set of political, personal, and battlefield challenges would need to be overcome. The product of in-depth research into the experiences and lives of both fighting front and home front Texans, Susannah Ural's chapter attempts to explain why the Texas soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia remained so "fiercely committed" to the service. Peter Carmichael's reassessment of the Battle of Five Forks reassigns some of the blame from Fitz Lee and Pickett to Robert E. Lee, whose "loss of operational control of the right flank coupled with his poorly worded orders" contributed to the defeat. Wayne Wei-Siang Hsieh’s essay discusses the performance of the Union cavalry in the final campaign, crediting Philip Sheridan's effective coordination of infantry and cavalry on the offensive as the acme moment of the eastern mounted arm. William C. Davis reminds readers that Appomattox was just one of many possible outcomes. Keith Bohannon next tells the story of the loss or destruction of so much of the Confederate records during the chaos of the first week of April 1865, lamenting how much it still limits our understanding of the final moments of the war. Janney's own contribution focuses on the absentee Army of Northern Virginia soldiers that did not surrender with their comrades at Appomattox, those men either making their way home without formally surrendering or later turning themselves in elsewhere to Union authorities. Stephen Cushman finds much to consider in Sheridan's memoirs. In Cushman's opinion, Sheridan's memoir displays noteworthy literary style and merit that distinguish it from Grant and Sherman's. It also offers key insights into explaining the general's actions during the Appomattox Campaign. Elizabeth Varon's concluding chapter shows how slaves viewed Appomattox as the symbolic beginning of freedom and perhaps also "the promise of racial reconciliation between whites and blacks."

Only a pair of new volumes are planned before the series is wrapped up for good, both covering ground previously skipped over— the two Bull Runs. I'm particularly interested in the First Manassas collection, so hopefully the books will be released in order.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book News: Mountain Feds

Continuing on our theme of anti-Confederate southerners...

Most Civil War readers know that Arkansas was one of the more conflicted states on secession and that the northern part of the state had the highest concentration of dissenters. The great majority of white volunteers for Union Arkansas regiments would later come from this region. Before it was suppressed by local citizens and authorities in late 1861, the Arkansas Peace Society, a conglomeration of like-minded groups, was the most vocal anti-Confederate organization in the state. Arrested members were often given the choice of trial and imprisonment or joining the Confederate Army. Predictably, those that went the latter route very often availed themselves of the first opportunity to desert and enlist in units like the First Arkansas Cavalry (Union).

There have been journal articles written about the society and parts of books have been devoted to it, but, to this date, no full-length study of the Peace Society has been published. The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies and author James J. Johnston aim to rectify this soon with Mountain Feds: Arkansas Unionists and the Peace Society (September 2018). Unfortunately, I can't find any more information about it. The publisher doesn't have a page up for it on their website yet, and it missed making the current catalog from the distributor, University of Arkansas Press.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


[Kirk's Civil War Raids Along the Blue Ridge by Michael C. Hardy (Arcadia Publishing & The History Press, 2018). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, index. Pages main/total:163/192. ISBN:978-1-62585-846-7. $21.99]

Increased popular and scholarly interest in anti-Confederate southerners and in the guerrilla conflict that plagued much of the southern home front has led to numerous fine books and articles documenting Southern Appalachia's devastating "inner war." A very informative addition to this growing literature, Michael Hardy's Kirk's Civil War Raids Along the Blue Ridge scrutinizes one of the most hotly contested stretches of the Appalachian uplands. As Hardy shows, the citizens of twelve counties straddling the Blue Ridge interstate border—North Carolina's Watauga, Ashe, Mitchell, Yancey, Madison, and Haywood counties and the Tennessee counties of Johnson, Carter, Washington, Greene, Cocke, and Sevier—experienced levels of violence and societal chaos rivaling those found in any of the conflict's most bitterly contested regions (including the worst parts of Missouri). With neither side willing or able to devote the kind of manpower needed to maintain civil order, bushwhacking and raiding became so pervasive that all lines of demarcation between fighting and home fronts rapidly dissolved in the mountain counties of Southern Appalachia.

The individual referenced in the book's title, Tennessee-born Union officer George W. Kirk, would eventually become one of the region's most infamous actors by the war's midpoint, but, according to the author, evidence of his early war activities remains scarce. Hardy fills this gap with an excellent description of the developing wartime conditions that would eventually cause a man of Kirk's boldness and brutality to come to the fore. This is a key part of the study's grander ambitions. Much more than just a history of Kirk and his exploits, Hardy's book offers a wide-ranging exploration of the war experience within the prescribed twelve-county area.

As was the case in many other parts of the Upper and Border South, an uneasy peace existed among the divided elements of Appalachian citizenry early on, but, as Hardy shows, several events shattered the relative calm and sparked a cycle of violence that continued through Reconstruction and beyond. Union recruitment campaigns in East Tennessee combined with the bridge burnings of November 1861 prompted a Confederate crackdown on dissent. Later, the Conscription Act enacted by the Confederate government in 1862 led even more pro-Union men from both states (who might otherwise have remained neutral) to join local guerrilla bands, form home guard units, or enroll in federal regiments. These developments prompted even more frequent incursions by Confederate army detachments and state militia, the military presence doing very little to impose and maintain order but much to spark further resistance.

During the latter half of the war, the introduction of more and more regular forces into the border region, most notably General Burnside's invasion and occupation of East Tennessee and General Longstreet's lengthy but failed campaign to wrest back control of the region, intensified the violence. The armies also served to support and legitimize numerous irregular bands whose depredations and crimes would be largely overlooked for the sake of the benefits derived from their scouting and raiding. Throughout the area, guerrillas and home guards routinely killed civilians suspected of supporting the other side and plundered indiscriminately. Appreciating this backdrop, which is well presented it the book, is essential to understanding George Kirk's actions and motivations.

Kirk served as an officer in a series of federal Tennessee and North Carolina volunteer regiments, but achieved his highest rank very late in the war when he was appointed commander of the Third North Carolina Mounted Infantry. Hardy's study documents well the many 1863-64 raids Kirk led from his Tennessee bases into western North Carolina, including his 1864 capture by ruse of Camp Vance in Morganton (perhaps his most celebrated exploit). Kirk and his men continued operating deep behind enemy lines through the end of the war, most significantly in support of Stoneman's 1865 Raid. Even though Kirk's commands would be guilty of all the excesses of robbery and murder that would generally stain the reputations of the irregular combatants of Southern Appalachia, Kirk himself escaped official censure and was widely praised by his superiors.

As a whole, the literature devotes much more attention to issues of broader national reunion than it does to reunion at the more local levels. Hardy's study delves into the topic at some length, demonstrating how hard shared Civil War animosities died in the border counties. Along the Blue Ridge, many rural neighbors not only refused to reconcile but continued to use the threat of violence against wartime opponents. Long after the Civil War ended, intimidated former combatants of all classes were still abandoning homes and businesses in the interests of their own safety.

Before the arrival of Kirk's Civil War Raids Along the Blue Ridge, only Matt Bumgarner's Kirk's Raiders (2000) explored similar topics in book form, so Hardy's work is a very welcome contribution. In addition to providing a useful evenhanded assessment of George Kirk's notorious Civil War career, Hardy's book is highly recommended as a first-line option for anyone wanting to obtain a more general understanding of the people and events that turned the shared border between Tennessee and North Carolina into one of the war's most dangerous backwater fronts.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Booknotes: Attacked On All Sides

New Arrival:
Attacked On All Sides: The Civil War Battle of Decatur, Georgia, the Untold Story of the Battle of Atlanta by David Allison (CreateSpace-Author, 2018).

The July 22, 1864 Battle of Decatur (not to be confused with the late October 1864 Battle of Decatur, which was really more of a slight demonstration, over in Alabama) was part of the larger Confederate attack that came to be known as the Battle of Atlanta. Sweeping deep into the Union left rear in loose concert with General Hardee's infantry corps off to the west, a large detachment of Wheeler's cavalry was ordered to attack the Army of the Tennessee's wagon train then concentrated at Decatur. Wheeler's dismounted troopers drove the train guards, a brigade of infantry, through the town but failed to capture or destroy the wagons en masse before breaking off the attack. The full story of this action is the subject of David Allison's self-published study Attacked On All Sides: The Civil War Battle of Decatur, Georgia, the Untold Story of the Battle of Atlanta.

The first half of the book recounts at length the lead up to the clash, the fighting in Decatur (with no accompanying battle map...grr), and the aftermath. Lengthy biographical features of three soldiers that participated in the Decatur battle (where two were killed) make up a large part of the volume's second half, with additional discussions of the post-Decatur lives of many others involved in the event. From the description: "Other participants in the Battle of Decatur went on to lead notable post-war lives and to become nationally prominent figures who shaped late 19th century American political, business and military events. Among the Federals, Colonel (later General) John W. Sprague, who commanded the Federal forces during the battle, later helped settle the American northwest as a founder of the city of Tacoma, Washington. Jeremiah Rusk, second in command of one of the Federal regiments in the battle, later became governor of Wisconsin and the first-ever U.S. secretary of agriculture. That regiment’s commanding officer, Milton Montgomery, founded what’s now the oldest law firm in Omaha, Nebraska. Other participants became members of Congress or state politicians. One became a close business associate of the great steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Among the Confederates, General Joseph Wheeler after the war helped to reconcile the North and South as a member of Congress and played a role in one of the U.S. Army’s first overseas invasions in Cuba. Decatur resident Mary A.H. Gay, who was in the town at the time of the battle, later wrote a book based on what she saw that inspired Margaret Mitchell’s creation of the character Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With The Wind,” one of the top-selling novels of all time."

There's no bibliography, but a quick browse through the endnotes gives the impression that the study is the product of serious research into a wide array of sources. I haven't read any of it yet, but am intrigued enough to put the book in the to-do stack.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Booknotes: A Crooked River

New Arrival:
A Crooked River: Rustlers, Rangers, and Regulars on the Lower Rio Grande, 1861–1877by Michael L. Collins (Univ of Okla Press, 2018).

Michael Collins's A Crooked River: Rustlers, Rangers, and Regulars on the Lower Rio Grande, 1861–1877 is his follow up to Texas Devils: Rangers and Regulars on the Lower Rio Grande, 1846-1861 (2008), both from University of Oklahoma Press. "During the turbulent years of the Civil War and Reconstruction, a squall of violence and lawlessness swept through the Nueces Strip and the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas. Cattle rustlers, regular troops, and Texas Rangers, as well as Civil War deserters and other characters of questionable reputation, clashed with Mexicans, Germans, and Indians over unionism, race, livestock, land, and national sovereignty, among other issues. In A Crooked River, Michael L. Collins presents a rousing narrative of these events that reflects perspectives of people on both sides of the Rio Grande."

Much like Andrew Masich successfully did in his strikingly good Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands, 1861–1867 (though with a much narrower geographical focus and over a more extended time period), Collins "brings a cross-cultural perspective to the role of the Texas Rangers in the continuing strife along the border during the late nineteenth century. He draws on many rare and obscure sources to chronicle the incidents of the period, bringing unprecedented depth and detail to such episodes as the “skinning wars,” the raids on El Remolino and Las Cuevas, and the attack on Nuecestown. Along the way, he dispels many entrenched legends of Texas history—in particular, the long-held belief that almost all of the era’s cattle thieves were Mexican."

"A balanced and thorough reevaluation, A Crooked River adds a new dimension to the history of the racial and cultural conflict that defined the border region and that still echoes today." If you're like me and most particularly interested in the Civil War years, it looks like something less than a third of the narrative is explicitly devoted to that part of the period covered in the book. To be entirely honest, I was turned off early on by the tone and direction of Texas Devils (enough that I didn't get very far into it), though if I had continued on to the end it's entirely possible that my overall impression of its balance would have changed. Regardless, I will do my best to approach A Crooked River with an open mind.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Booknotes: Combat Chaplain

New Arrival:
Combat Chaplain: The Life and Civil War Experiences of Rev. James H. McNeilly
  by M. Todd Cathey (Mercer UP, 2017).

"Born 9 June 1838, James H. McNeilly grew up near Charlotte in Dickson County, Tennessee. At age thirteen, McNeilly was sworn in as deputy circuit court clerk of Dickson County. Raised in a devout Presbyterian home, he received his undergraduate degree from Jackson College in Columbia, Tennessee. Just as the Civil War broke out, he had earned his Doctor of Divinity from Danville Theological Seminary at Danville, Kentucky." As McNeilly's biographer M. Todd Cathey shows in his latest book Combat Chaplain: The Life and Civil War Experiences of Rev. James H. McNeilly, the Tennessean traveled back to his home state in the summer of 1861 and enlisted in the Confederate army that fall.

In September 1862 McNeilly was appointed regimental chaplain of the 49th Tennessee. The book describes his frontline experiences with the regiment from Port Hudson through the harrowing retreat from Nashville. After a furlough, McNeilly served out the rest of the war as post chaplain in Tuscaloosa, where he ultimately surrendered and was paroled. Active in veteran affairs after the war, McNeilly was also a prolific chronicler of his wartime experiences, authoring a great number of articles for Confederate Veteran magazine and the Nashville Banner newspaper. Lacking any surviving or known existing collection of McNeilly personal papers (at least I didn't see any in my quick skim through the bibliography), the published reminiscences were undoubtedly Cathey's chief resource for information written in his subject's own hand.

More from the description: "This book shows the connections between personal faith, the everyday life of the chaplain, and his deep relationship with the men to whom he ministered on a daily basis as he shared privation, hardship, humor, and combat as one of them."

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Review of Ullrich & Craig - "GENERAL E.A. PAINE IN WESTERN KENTUCKY: Assessing the "Reign of Terror" of the Summer of 1864"

[General E.A. Paine in Western Kentucky: Assessing the "Reign of Terror" of the Summer of 1864 by Dieter C. Ullrich & Berry Craig (McFarland 800-253-2187, 2018). Softcover, photos, illustrations, timeline, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:135/192. ISBN:978-1-4766-7143-7. $39.95]

Being assigned to Border State district command was not an enviable position for any Union general officer of conscience. In addition to contending with constant threats from Confederate raids and elusive guerrillas, commanders also had to manage local civilian populations consisting mostly of conservative proslavery Unionists who didn't look favorably upon the social revolutionary implications of Republican war aims such as emancipation and black enlistment. Civilian-military relations would become even more volatile when officers politically aligned with the Radical Republications were appointed to these positions. General Eleazer Arthur Paine was certainly one of these men, his highly controversial historical legacy discussed at length in Dieter Ullrich and Berry Craig's General E.A. Paine in Western Kentucky: Assessing the "Reign of Terror" of the Summer of 1864.

On one level, the book is a full military biography of Paine's Civil War service. As a field general, Paine put in creditable performances during the Island No. 10 and Corinth campaigns, but declining health relegated the rest of his career to largely administrative post and district commands in Confederate states and in Kentucky. He first gained a reputation as a bit of a hothead in Paducah in 1861, when he threatened civilians with death if they refused to shoe his horse or fly the U.S. flag over private property. In similar vein, he supported summary reprisals against regular prisoners for guerrilla murders. According to General Charles Ferguson Smith biographer Allen Mesch, Paine also schemed with Lew Wallace to get their superior, the well-respected Smith, dismissed from district command as an enemy sympathizer.

While in charge of Tennessee military posts at Tullahoma and Gallatin, Paine encouraged his men to freely confiscate the property of suspected secessionists. How these draconian measures against Confederate civilians would play when Paine later returned to Kentucky, where the population quite reasonably expected to have their civil rights as U.S. citizens liberally upheld, would be another story, one that would rebound to his dismay.

The primary aim of Ullrich and Craig's study is to document and analyze the most controversial stretch of Paine's Civil War service, the summer of 1864 when he was in charge of the District of Western Kentucky with headquarters at Paducah, and set the record straight. Assailed by critics for instituting a "reign of terror" against the citizenry, Paine would be removed from command and court-martialed, the proceedings of the latter constituting much of the book's content and focus. In detailed fashion, Ullrich and Craig document the trial along with Paine's spirited defense of his actions. The general would be accused of a very long list of offenses, including directing harsh words toward the state's civilian leadership, publicly denouncing a superior officer (Major General Henry W. Halleck), instituting abusive trade restrictions, allowing private citizens to use government transport, closing businesses, levying illegal "taxes" and "fees," forcibly banishing U.S. citizens to Canada, seizing property unlawfully, interfering with the banking system without cause, imposing exorbitant financial assessments on an arbitrary basis, summarily executing prisoners without any legal procedure or review, taking hostages, forcing civilians to dig fortifications (or pay heavy fines if unable to work), and unnecessarily appropriating and damaging town buildings (i.e. the Mayfield courthouse). Many of these charges were specifically addressed in Paine's court-martial, where he put up a competent self-defense that successfully branded (at least in the eyes of the presiding officers) all of his accusers as disloyal, thus invalidating their testimony. Ultimately, Paine would be judged not guilty on all the charges and specifications save one, his public cursing of General Halleck (something many other Union generals would undoubtedly have liked to do but possessed the requisite self-restraint that Paine himself lacked). The authors feel this result fully exonerates Paine, and should finally put to rest an ongoing smear campaign more than a century and a half in duration.

On the other hand, as Paine's contemporary critics were quick to point out and the authors concede, the trial pointedly failed to address two of the most serious complaints against the general, his summary executions of suspected guerrillas and his heavy-handed financial assessments. With the district under martial law during the period of time under consideration, Ullrich and Craig accept without question Paine's blanket justifications for these actions, that summary executions were necessary to maintain order and that only the 'worst' Confederate sympathizers were subjected to assessment. When it came to levying assessments, Paine did help his own case by pointing to Lincoln administration policy (though Lincoln himself did frequently withdraw support for assessments on a case by case basis, due to the fact that their very nature made abuse and corruption a strong temptation).

Before getting so eagerly attached to exoneration, some pause for reflection on the part of the authors might have been in order regarding the rather dubious record of many Civil War court-martial proceedings, which were hardly consistent paragons of exhaustive investigation and disinterested justice. The issue of loyalty itself, how it was defined and by whom, is also worthy of deeper discussion than the book allows. In their vigorous, and on many points largely convincing, defense of General Paine, the authors do pass up a good opportunity to contribute to the wider debates and discussions in the Civil War literature regarding loyalty and civil rights in wartime. As many political leaders and fellow Union military officers would do, especially from the conflict's midpoint onward, Paine adopted a decidedly Manichean outlook when it came to assessing loyalty, branding as disloyal all who might oppose (or even question) any of the Lincoln administration war aims and policies. Under such a black and white rendered definition of loyalty, even moderate Missouri and Kentucky Unionists could (and often did) find themselves denounced as traitors or Rebels.

In attacking their enemies, many partisan Civil War observers with far more literary skill than desire for objectivity proved extremely adept at employing over-the-top rhetoric and making it stick in the historical record. While troubling aspects of General Paine's tenure in Paducah remain, Ullrich and Craig clearly demonstrate that in West Kentucky Paine presided over nothing like the most infamous great terrors of world history (ex. those of Revolutionary France, Bolshevik Russia, Pol Pot's Cambodia, etc.). Certainly in that aspect, Paine's much-maligned place in Kentucky and Civil War history deserves significant popular revision, and this book can quite usefully aid in that process.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book News: A Bloody Day at Gaines' Mill

I know that I've become a bit of a broken record when it comes to continued neglect of the 1862 Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days battles. Atlanta and Petersburg were once in the same boat, but both campaigns have really taken off of late and continue to leave the Peninsula far back in their wake. There has been some good recent work on the intersection between medicine and war (the swampy nature of much of the Peninsula makes it a good laboratory for that kind of study) along with emancipation on the Peninsula before it became general policy, but none of the Seven Days battles have received full-length standalone treatment yet (though Brian Burton's history of the entire week of fighting remains a satisfactory overview), and we could use another Seven Pines book along with an updated account of the entire campaign (Sears's To the Gates of Richmond is over 25 years old). Major studies of Gaines' Mill from R.E.L. Krick and Malvern Hill from Frank O'Reilly have been long rumored, but no concrete news has emerged in a long time.

What news has popped up recently is of A Bloody Day at Gaines' Mill: The Battlefield Debut of the Army of Northern Virginia, June 27, 1862 (McFarland, Sept 2018) from Virginia attorney Elmer R. Woodard, III. There's not much information available so far. This appears to be Woodard's first book, or at least my casual online search didn't uncover anything else. The publisher's description is pretty coy. The sub-200 page count doesn't necessarily mean the monograph will lack detail as McFarland typically packs a lot of text into their 7x10 page format. I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Booknotes: The Diaries of Reuben Smith, Kansas Settler and Civil War Soldier

New Arrival:
The Diaries of Reuben Smith, Kansas Settler and Civil War Soldier
  edited by Lana Wirt Myers (UP of Kansas, 2018).

Being a newly-arrived immigrant from Britain who plunged headlong into the Kansas troubles must have been quite a jarring introduction to America for Reuben Smith. His written accounts of this experience and much more have been edited by Lana Wirt Myers under the title The Diaries of Reuben Smith, Kansas Settler and Civil War Soldier. Aligning himself with the Free State faction, "(t)he young Englishman wrote down what he witnessed in a diary where he had already begun documenting his days in a clear and candid fashion. As beautifully written as they are keenly observant, these diaries afford an unusual view of America in its most tumultuous times, of Kansas in its critical historical moments, and of one man's life in the middle of it all for fifty years."

More from the description: "From his moving account of traveling from England by ship to his reflections on settling in the newly opened Kansas Territory to his observations of war and politics, Smith provides a picture that is at once panoramic and highly personal. His diaries depict the escalation of the Civil War along the Kansas-Missouri border as well as the evolution of a volunteer soldier from an inexperienced private to a seasoned officer and government spy. They take us inside military camps and generals’ quarters, to the front lines of battle and in pursuit of bushwhackers William Quantrill and Cole Younger. Later, they show us Smith as a state representative and steward of the Kansas State Insane Asylum in its early years. In historic scenes and poignant personal stories, these diaries offer a unique perspective on life in the Midwest in the last half of the nineteenth century."

Apparently, Smith's diary writing spanned decades so the volume comprises a selection of entries, the great majority covering the Bleeding Kansas and Civil War years.  My quick flip through the book didn't reveal which unit(s) he joined so that will have to await closer reading. The battles of Lone Jack and Westport get their own chapters, and it appears that Smith wrote quite extensively about his military experiences, which should greatly interest students of the Trans-Mississippi theater. The book is organized into twenty chapters plus a general introduction.  The diary material is lightly annotated (averaging less than a handful of endnotes per chapter), but Myers provides chapter introductions as well as additional editorial commentary within.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Book News: The Annotated Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (another version)

Only a short time has passed since the publication of The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant: The Complete Annotated Edition (October 2017), which was edited by Grant Library executive director John F. Marszalek along with David Nolen and Louie Gallo. The recent completion of the massive The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant project made it an opportune time for releasing the first fully annotated edition of Memoirs.

Not having my own copy yet, I still don't have a good sense of the depth and range of critical effort that went into the footnotes. The T.J. Stiles review in the New York Times didn't even go into it. Under the space constraints imposed by CWT's review format, the always astute Ethan Rafuse merely remarks (link) that we "will appreciate and be impressed by the extensive amount of information and commentary the editors provide in the footnotes on the various figures and events mentioned..." The longer CWBR review by Larry Grant has a bit more to say on the matter, noting that Marszalek et al. "provide a biographic note to nearly every individual mentioned by Grant, and also identify many geographic locations more completely. They also correct dates and casualty figures and similar items where that is necessary." I was hoping there would be a lot more to it than that (and maybe there is), primarily in the area of in-depth critical analysis of Grant's highly influential war narrative and his own opinions and recollections of people and events.

Now comes news that another annotated edition will come out soon. Scheduled for release this coming November from Liveright, Elizabeth D. Samet's The Annotated Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant certainly seems to promise something different. From the description, it sounds like Samet, a professor of English at West Point, will apply more of a literary and cultural emphasis to her editing of the Memoirs.

"One hundred and thirty-three years after its 1885 publication by Mark Twain, Elizabeth Samet has annotated this lavish edition of Grant’s landmark memoir, and expands the Civil War backdrop against which this monumental American life is typically read. No previous edition combines such a sweep of historical and cultural contexts with the literary authority that Samet, an English professor obsessed with Grant for decades, brings to the table.

Whether exploring novels Grant read at West Point or presenting majestic images culled from archives, Samet curates a richly annotated, highly collectible edition that will fascinate Civil War buffs. The edition also breaks new ground in its attack on the “Lost Cause” revisionism that still distorts our national conversation about the legacy of the Civil War.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Booknotes: Decisions at Second Manassas

New Arrival:
Decisions at Second Manassas: The Fourteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battleby Matt Spruill III & Matt Spruill IV (Univ of Tenn Pr, 2018).

Released very soon after Decisions at Stones River, Decisions at Second Manassas: The Fourteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle is the second volume from UT Press's Command Decisions in America's Civil War series. At least early on, the various Spruills are the primary contributors, but the work of other authors is already in the pipeline.

From the description: "Decisions at Second Manassas introduces readers to critical decisions made by Confederate and Union commanders. Matt Spruill III and Matt Spruill IV examines the decisions that shaped the way the campaign and battle unfolded. Rather than offering a history of the Battle of Second Manassas, the Spruills focus on the critical decisions, those decisions that had a major impact on both Federal and Confederate forces in shaping the progression of the battle as we know it today. This account is designed to present the reader with a coherent and manageable blueprint of the battle’s development. Exploring and studying the critical decisions allows the reader to progress from an understand of “what happened” to “why events happened” as they did."

I very briefly discussed the general format already in the Stones River Booknotes entry (see link above). It doesn't look like the publisher has a dedicated series page up yet on their website, but page 11 of their Spring/Summer '18 catalog features the series. Mentioned in current development is Decisions at Chattanooga from Larry Peterson. Not shown is David Powell's Decisions at Chickamauga. Other planned volumes cover Perryville, Tullahoma, Shiloh and "other notable battles both in the Eastern and Western theaters of the Civil War."

Friday, April 6, 2018

Booknotes: The Loyal Republic

New Arrival:
The Loyal Republic: Traitors, Slaves, and the Remaking of Citizenship in Civil War America by Erik Mathisen (UNC Press, 2018).

US citizenship was a nebulous concept during most of the nineteenth century—particularly for African Americans, American Indians, and recent immigrants—and in the expanding West large numbers of Hispanos (and Chinese immigrants later in the century) also had to be considered. The Civil War and Reconstruction years raised new questions but also created new opportunities for numerous groups. In recent years, the war's significant role in transforming the meaning of citizenship has been an expanding line of inquiry, and among the latest contributions is Erik Mathisen's The Loyal Republic: Traitors, Slaves, and the Remaking of Citizenship in Civil War America.

The Loyal Republic "is the story of how Americans attempted to define what it meant to be a citizen of the United States, at a moment of fracture in the republic's history. As Erik Mathisen demonstrates, prior to the Civil War, American national citizenship amounted to little more than a vague bundle of rights. But during the conflict, citizenship was transformed. Ideas about loyalty emerged as a key to citizenship, and this change presented opportunities and profound challenges aplenty. Confederate citizens would be forced to explain away their act of treason, while African Americans would use their wartime loyalty to the Union as leverage to secure the status of citizens during Reconstruction."

Mathisen's region-based study "sheds new light on the Civil War, American emancipation, and a process in which Americans came to a new relationship with the modern state. Using the Mississippi Valley as his primary focus and charting a history that traverses both sides of the battlefield, Mathisen offers a striking new history of the Civil War and its aftermath, one that ushered in nothing less than a revolution in the meaning of citizenship in the United States."

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Review of Holloway & White - "'OUR LITTLE MONITOR': The Greatest Invention of the Civil War"

["Our Little Monitor": The Greatest Invention of the Civil War by Anna Gibson Holloway and Jonathan W. White (Kent State University Press, 2018). 7x10 cloth, 131 color and B&W maps, photos, and illustrations; tables; notes; bibliography; index. 304 pages. ISBN:978-1-60635-314-1. $34.95]

On March 8, 1862 the Confederate ironclad ram Virginia steamed into Hampton Roads and proceeded to smash up the Union Navy's powerful oceangoing blockading ships stationed there. In its first battle, the fearsome vessel made short work of both the USS Congress and Cumberland, and only awaited the following dawn to finish off the grounded Minnesota. Instead of that expected scenario occurring, the USS Monitor arrived on the scene in improbable Hollywood hero fashion to save the day, fighting the Virginia to a famous draw on March 9 and inaugurating a new age of naval warfare. The birth, celebrated life, death, and afterlife of this technical marvel are recounted in Anna Gibson Holloway (former curator of the USS Monitor Center) and Jonathan W. White's "Our Little Monitor": The Greatest Invention of the Civil War.

Given the extensive nature of the existing literature regarding the construction and operational histories of the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia, some of the ground covered in the book will feel quite familiar to many readers. The sections discussing well-known topics such as the Confederate conversion of the USS Merrimack to CSS Virginia, the troubled relationship between the US Navy and Monitor designer John Ericsson, the whirlwind construction of the Monitor, the Battle of Hampton Roads, the Monitor's sinking off the North Carolina coast, and the ironclad's modern day rediscovery and recovery are relatively brief and not really intended to supersede the finest existing narrative accounts. Even so, sprinkled within those very engagingly written syntheses are bits of fresh information based on some previously neglected sources and the latest archaeological discoveries. Where the book really stands out from the rest is in its rich illustrations, its discussion of the Monitor as pop culture icon, and its historical document collection.

"Our Little Monitor" is truly a feast for the eyes. Beyond the initial sensation of great heft (the volume's solid binding and construction combined with its thick, glossy pages give it an unexpected weight), the reader is most immediately struck by the beauty and variety of illustrations, many (and perhaps most) of which are presented in vivid color. To go along with modern images of preserved artifacts and recovery operations, all known period photographs of the ironclad are reproduced in the book, as are a great number of individual officer and crew pictures. Given the relative brevity of its time in service, the vast assemblage of artwork celebrating the Monitor and its great battle with the Virginia attests to the wider cultural impact of the ship, as do the many Monitor-related broadsheets, advertisements, and magazine covers. On the more technical front, engineering design drawings and multi-purpose sketches also abound in the pages of the volume. The book's vast collection of photographs and illustrations of all kinds really does comprise an exceptional visual record. My only "complaint" is wishing that some of the more stunning chromolithographs could have been rendered full-page in size.

The northern public really took to the Monitor, and the authors present a very thoughtful discussion of the vessel as cultural phenomenon. Even though it belied the North's status as the absolute colossus of the two warring sections, the home front citizenry seemed to revel in the more diminutive Monitor's underdog status in its fight with the dreaded enemy goliath, and the whole nation seemed to take ownership. In recounting the massive crowds that demanded tours of the ship when it was undergoing repair and refit at Washington Navy Yard, the book offers further evidence of this collective appreciation for "Our Little Monitor" and what it meant to the nation. Even with the considerable security concerns and desire to get the vessel back in the war as quickly as possible, the popular crush forced the navy to admit the public on board, where they promptly made off with everything not nailed down.

Indeed, what some citizens viewed as a cold, mechanical killing machine that rendered the fighting men within less heroic than in the days of 'wooden ships and iron men,' became a true object of affection for many more. Like perhaps no other Civil War weapon, the Monitor was commonly anthropomorphized by the public, who celebrated it in prose, songs, and poetry. In true American fashion, the ship was also shamelessly exploited for product promotion. It's influence was deeply felt in other ways, too. Monitor models graced many a northern parade, and the vessel's image proved to be a very effective fundraising tool.

Contained in Part 2, the volume's document collection includes several previously unused firsthand sources, in particular those written by witnesses to the Hampton Roads battle and the sinking of the Monitor off Cape Hatteras. The book's assemblage of unsolicited citizen letters (with accompanying drawings) to Lincoln outlining various schemes for defeating the Virginia will also interest many readers. Though often amusing and more than a bit perplexing in their impracticality, the thought and effort that went into the proposals demonstrates how engaged the public was in the debates and discussions over how to deal with the enemy's ironclad menace. Another section tracks contemporary newspaper articles that followed the progress of the dockyard repairs to the Monitor.

Whether it was the greatest invention of the Civil War or not, no one can doubt the profound impact the USS Monitor and its many direct descendants had on the firm establishment of Union naval supremacy and, by extension, ultimate victory in the conflict. "Our Little Monitor" possesses original features of considerable value and is a remarkably comprehensive visual and narrative record of the service history and enduring legacy of the vessel and its crew. It deserves a spot on the bookshelf of every Civil War naval library.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Booknotes: John Wilkes Booth and the Women Who Loved Him

New Arrival:
John Wilkes Booth and the Women Who Loved Him by E. Lawrence Abel
  (Regnery History, 2018).

It's well known that presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth did okay with the ladies. John Wilkes Booth and the Women Who Loved Him is both a study of his female relationships and collection of fairly lengthy biographical inquiries into the lives of those known to or alleged to have been romantically involved with him. The book's 39 chapter headings feature a long list of names, but the dramatis personae at the front lists fifteen women.

From the description: "Before he shot the president of the United States and entered the annals of history as a killer, actor John Wilkes Booth had quite a way with women. There was the actress who cut his throat and almost killed him in a jealous rage. There was the prostitute who tried to kill herself because he abandoned her. There was the actress who would swear she witnessed him murdering Lincoln, even though she was thousands of miles away at the time. John Wilkes Booth was hungry for fame, touchy about politics, and a notorious womanizer. But this book isn't about John Wilkes Booth---not really. This book is about his women: women who were once notorious in their own right; women who were consumed by love, jealousy, strife, and heartbreak; women whose lives took wild turns before and after Lincoln's assassination; women whom have been condemned to the footnotes of history... until now."

Apparently, after Booth was shot and captured five photographs of women (one being his fiancee, Lucy Hale, the rest stage actresses) were discovered in his pockets.  As mentioned above, the book explores their lives among many others, including what courses they took after Booth's death. Also, examined is Booth's troubled family history and "the part a sexually transmitted disease played" in his determination to kill the president.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Booknotes: Decisions at Stones River

New Arrival:
Decisions at Stones River: The Sixteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle
  by Matt Spruill & Lee Spruill (Univ of Tenn Pr, 2018).

With a number of recent publications under their belt that are styled after the classic War College battlefield guides, the Spruills have become well-recognized figures in the tour book genre. With others, they've now embarked on a distinctive new UT Press series called Command Decisions in America’s Civil War. Four titles have already been formally announced with more on the way and Decisions at Stones River: The Sixteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle is the first book in the series.

Decisions at Stones River "introduces readers to critical decisions made by Confederate and Union commanders. Matt Spruill and Lee Spruill examine the decisions that shaped the way the campaign and battle unfolded. Rather than offering a history of the Battle of Stones River, the Spruills focus on the critical decisions, those decisions that had a major impact on both Federal and Confederate forces in shaping the progression of the battle as we know it today. This account is designed to present the reader with a coherent and manageable blueprint of the battle’s development. Exploring and studying the critical decisions allows the reader to progress from an understanding of “what happened” to “why events happened” as they did."

Basically, the book examines at length a number of crossroads moments in the battle (in this case, sixteen) and discusses three, and sometimes just two, command decision options. From there, the historical choice is revealed and then analyzed in its substance and impact. In support are a large number of photographs and detailed original maps. Comprising a bit more than a third of the volume is a battlefield tour arranged in the familiar fashion mentioned earlier but centrally linked to the command decision themes of the book. Haven't had the chance to delve into it yet, but the series looks very promising as a fresh approach to battle study.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Review of Loperfido, ed. - "DEATH, DISEASE, AND LIFE AT WAR: The Civil War Letters of Surgeon James D. Benton, 111th and 98th New York Infantry Regiments, 1862-1865"

[Death, Disease, and Life at War: The Civil War Letters of Surgeon James D. Benton, 111th and 98th New York Infantry Regiments, 1862-1865 by Christopher E. Loperfido (Savas Beatie, 2018). Softcover, photos, illustrations, footnotes, 5 appendices, bibliography, index. 164 pages. ISBN:978-1-61121-359-1. $16.95]

Originally published in 2011 under the title A Surgeon's Tale: The Civil War Letters of Surgeon James D. Benton, 111th and 98th New York Infantry Regiments, 1862-1865, Christopher Loperfido's Death, Disease, and Life at War: The Civil War Letters of Surgeon James D. Benton, 111th and 98th New York Infantry Regiments, 1862-1865 is more than just a reprint with a new title. Even without a copy of the original for side by side comparison, it seems clear from the limited online preview of the first edition that much in the way of new material has been added.

It's easy to see why Loperfido believes the Benton letters worthy of publication (and re-publication!). As a busy army surgeon with limited free time (especially after major battles), Benton's writings home largely dispensed with mundane observations and concerns in favor of war news and views of all kinds. To our benefit, direct requests from interested family members frequently prompted Benton to provide historically interesting details of military matters and movements along with descriptions of his medical duties and experiences.

Benton's Civil War service began very inauspiciously, with he and his regiment part of the Harpers Ferry garrison that was humiliatingly surrendered and then forced to spend an extended period of time on parole. Benton's detailed descriptions of his surroundings (at places like the parole camp part of the Camp Douglas (Ill.) prison complex, the Fairfax and Centerville garrison posts in Virginia, and other locations) definitely have value to the readers and scholars of today. Some of the most vivid passages involve the physical ruins of war and the environmental desolation wrought by the conflict across northern Virginia.

Benton was quite unusually forthright in baldly admitting a pecuniary motivation for joining the Union Army. "It is not patriotism that has made me take this course but I wanted to make money for my family. If it had been patriotism I should have been sick of it long since..."(pg. 7). He does also periodically comment upon larger social and political issues. While telling relatives that Lincoln was his idol as a national leader, Benton criticizes the Emancipation Proclamation  (though he personally agreed with the sentiment) as a gross overstepping of presidential authority and heavy obstacle to peace and reunion.

While Benton seems more naturally inclined to write about military matters, when prompted by return letters from home (as mentioned before) he does occasionally provide some interesting insights into his medical duties, first as an assistant surgeon with the 111th and later as a division hospital administrator during the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign. Very late in the conflict, he was appointed military surgeon for the 98th NY, serving out the rest of the war in that capacity. It's clear from his wartime letters and also from the book's postscript material that the war permanently damaged Benton's health. Never completely well again, he would suffer an early death at the age of 54.

The editorial aspect of the book appreciably enhances the material. Loperfido's introduction offers both background information on Benton and a general overview of Civil War military medicine organization and practices. Helping fill the frequent and large time gaps that exist, the editor's bridging narrative effectively ties the letters together. While not particularly numerous, footnotes point readers toward useful sources and provide definitions of older terms along with the usual persons, places, and events descriptions. Many of the notes reference works published after 2011, so it's clear that that feature of the book has been significantly revised between editions.

New to this edition, the five-part appendix section consists of contributions from two outside authors, two pieces from Meg Groeling and three from Dennis Rasbach. Groeling writes about the Letterman field medicine reforms and the U.S. Sanitary Commission while Rasbach traces the development of the army ambulance system and explores amputations and the significant role of lint in bandaging. Lint is very frequently mentioned in Civil War books but rarely explained, and Rasbach helpfully describes the types of lint developed, how they were used, and where they came from.

Useful on multiple levels, the historical value of the Benton letters contained in Death, Disease, and Life at War significantly exceeds that of the average set of Civil War correspondence edited for publication. This expanded repackaged edition is well worth the attention of new and seasoned readers alike.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Spring book fund appeal

If you're willing to contribute, press the donation button below (or in the sidebar to the main page) and go from there. You do not need a PayPal account to give, and any amount is appreciated.

(Note: Donations are not tax deductible)

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[4/4: SPECIAL THANKS! this go around to Curtis, Vincent, Albert, John, and Charles (and to James from back in January as well)]

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Book News: War Matters

For some reason, Civil War archaeology books have dried up in recent years. It's too bad. I very much enjoyed reading about the modern interdisciplinary approach and what it can teach us about the history and material culture of the period. Joan Cashin's upcoming War Matters: Material Culture in the Civil War Era (UNC, October 2018) isn't necessarily about items dug up out of the ground, but it does agree with archaeologists that "(m)aterial objects lie at the crux of understanding individual and social relationships in history."

From the description: "The essays in this volume [from Lisa M. Brady, Peter S. Carmichael, Earl J. Hess, Robert Hicks, Victoria Ott, Jason Phillips, Timothy Silver, Yael Sternhell, Sarah Jones Weicksel, Mary Saracino Zboray, and Ronald J. Zboray] consider a wide range of material objects, including weapons, Revolutionary artifacts, landscapes, books, vaccine matter, human bodies, houses, clothing, and documents. Together, the contributors argue that an examination of the meaning of material objects can shed new light on the social, economic, and cultural history of the conflict. This book will fundamentally reshape our understanding of the war."

This arrangement of inviting a group of scholars to discuss items and their meaning sort of reminds me of Gallman and Gallagher's Lens of War: Exploring Iconic Photographs of the Civil War.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Booknotes: Rethinking the Civil War Era

New Arrival:
Rethinking the Civil War Era: Directions for Research by Paul D. Escott
(UP of Kentucky, 2018).

Paul Escott's Rethinking the Civil War Era seeks to insert a contemplative pause amid the publishing world's continuing stream of Civil War releases, offering one historian's view on where we are at and where we might (and should) go in the future. His book "surveys the current state of Civil War studies and explores the latest developments in research and interpretation."

The volume is organized into big theme chapters (ex. causes of the war, war and society, military history, etc.), and these focus on "specific issues where promising work is yet to be done, highlighting subjects such as the deep roots of the war, the role of African Americans, and environmental history, among others." The book "also identifies digital tools which have only recently become available and which allow researchers to take advantage of information in ways that were never before possible."

I'm quite a ways into it, and it does appear primarily aimed at the graduate student audience, those seeking ideas for thesis and dissertation topics. More from the description: "Rethinking the Civil War Era is poised to guide young historians in much the way that James M. McPherson and William J. Cooper Jr.'s Writing the Civil War: The Quest to Understand did for a previous generation. Escott eloquently charts new ways forward for scholars, offering ideas, questions, and challenges. His work will not only illuminate emerging research but will also provide inspiration for future research in a field that continues to adapt and change."

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Booknotes: Fortune's Fool

New Arrival:
Fortune's Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth by Terry Alford (Oxford UP, 2018).

This is the 2018 paperback reissue of Terry Alford's Fortune's Fool, which was originally published by Oxford University Press in hardcover in 2015. Well received, the Booth biography was a multi-award winner and was also chosen Smithsonian magazine's "Best Book" of that year.

Fortune's Fool "provides the first comprehensive look at the life of an enigmatic figure whose life has been overshadowed by his final, infamous act. Tracing Booth's story from his uncertain childhood in Maryland, characterized by a difficult relationship with his famous actor father, to his successful acting career on stages across the country, Alford offers a nuanced picture of Booth as a public figure, performer, and deeply troubled man. Despite the fame and success that attended Booth's career--he was billed at one point as "the youngest star in the world"--he found himself consumed by the Confederate cause and the desire to help the South win its independence."

"Based on original research into government archives, historical libraries, and family records," the book "reveals the tormented path that led Booth to conclude, as the Confederacy collapsed in April 1865, that the only way to revive the South and punish the North for the war would be to murder Lincoln--whatever the cost to himself or others." I can't say that I'm familiar with the range of candidates for best Booth bio, but this one appears to be highly placed by those that are.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Booknotes: Two Charlestonians at War

New Arrival:
Two Charlestonians at War: The Civil War Odysseys of a Lowcountry Aristocrat and a Black Abolitionist by Barbara L. Bellows (LSU Press, 2018).

With the most worthwhile dual biographies, the sum is greater than the parts. Sometimes they work and sometimes the connections drawn between the two subjects are arbitrary or forced. The meaningfulness of the pairing Barbara Bellows sets up in Two Charlestonians at War is more creative than most. It "trac(es) the intersecting lives of a Confederate plantation owner and a free black Union soldier," ... "offer(ing) a poignant allegory of the fraught, interdependent relationship between wartime enemies in the Civil War South."

From the description: "Recounted in alternating chapters, the lives of Charleston natives born a mile a part, Captain Thomas Pinckney and Sergeant Joseph Humphries Barquet, illuminate one another’s motives for joining the war as well as the experiences that shaped their worldviews. Pinckney, a rice planter and scion of one of America’s founding families, joined the Confederacy in hope of reclaiming an idealized agrarian past; and Barquet, a free man of color and brick mason, fought with the Union to claim his rights as an American citizen. Their circumstances set the two men on seemingly divergent paths that nonetheless crossed on the embattled coast of South Carolina."

In early adulthood, the free-born Barquet left his native Charleston to settle in the North. At a Morgan-Freeman-in-Glory-ish 40 years of age, he enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts. "His varied challenges and struggles, including his later frustrated attempts to play a role in postwar Republican politics in Illinois, provide a panoramic view of the free black experience in nineteenth-century America."

On the other side, Pinckney joined the Confederate Army, his wartime path eventually crossing with Barquet's while serving as an officer in the 4th South Carolina cavalry regiment. "After the war, Pinckney distanced himself from the racist violence of Reconstruction politics and focused on the daunting task of restoring his ruined plantations with newly freed laborers." "The two Charlestonians’ chance encounter on Morris Island, where in 1864 Sergeant Barquet stood guard over the captured Captain Pinckney, inspired Bellows’ compelling narrative. Her extensive research adds rich detail to our knowledge of the dynamics between whites and free blacks during this tumultuous era."

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Hampton Newsome's 1864 North Carolina project

When I reviewed James White's New Bern and the Civil War a short time ago, I mentioned how thin the published literature was on the topic, in particular coverage of the 1863-64 Confederate attempts to retake the coastal city, which at the time was one of the largest in the state and occupied by Union forces since the 1862 Burnside Expedition.

Now it appears that another author, Hampton Newsome, is also throwing his hat into the ring. It's funny how often that happens. Last month he announced that his next book, "an in-depth study of Confederate efforts to seize Federal bases in eastern North Carolina during the first several months of 1864," is under contract with University Press of Kansas. For more information, go here.

No release date estimate or title yet.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review of Hewitt & Schott, eds. - "CONFEDERATE GENERALS IN THE WESTERN THEATER, Volume 4: Essays on America's Civil War"

[Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Volume 4: Essays on America's Civil War edited by Lawrence Lee Hewitt & Thomas E. Schott (University of Tennessee Press, 2018). Cloth, 31 maps, photos, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. 391 pages. ISBN:978-1-62190-290-4. $45.95]

Operating under the auspices of University of Tennessee Press since 2010, the Confederate Generals in the Western Theater series is the brainchild of historians Lawrence Lee Hewitt and the late Arthur Bergeron. After Bergeron's passing, Thomas Schott was brought on board to assist with a pair of related Trans-Missisippi volumes as well as this, the fourth and final installment of the western theater series*. Selecting for study a mixture of both familiar and lesser-known figures of varying degrees of command competence, the series volumes have consistently managed to have something interesting to say, even when addressing the careers of already well-documented general officers.

C. David Dalton begins the Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Volume 4 proceedings with a fine overview of Felix Zollicoffer's role in establishing and defending the far right flank of Albert Sidney Johnston's extended western theater line of defense. In regard to criticism of Zollicoffer's occupation of both banks of the Cumberland River and his alleged disobeying of orders to recross the more vulnerable detachment, Dalton could find no evidence of the existence of a written copy of the order and reserves ultimate judgment on that count. He also well reminds readers that while Zollicoffer's name is most popularly and persistently attached to the Mill Springs defeat, the battle was really senior commander George Crittenden's to win or lose. Also, Dalton is persuasive in arguing that Zollicoffer's death had less to do with his famously impaired vision and more to do with the poor general visibility of the battlefield, with the combination of heavily misty atmospheric conditions and antiquated weaponry having more to do with the Confederate defeat than Zollicoffer's ill-timed demise.

Robert E. Lee's plan for the defense of the South Atlantic seaboard, one that integrated rail mobility with prepared earthworks located just beyond the range of enemy naval guns, is well appreciated in the literature. The consensus among historians is that it was a highly efficient system that made the best of the region's limited military assets. Proof of its effectiveness lies in the fact that the system operated successfully for over three years without major modification by Lee's successors, succumbing only to overwhelming assault from the direction of the Confederacy's gutted interior very late in the war. Roger Durham's essay agrees with this assessment and offers a solid overview of the four-month period Lee spent in command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Stuart Sanders's chapter summarizes the life and Civil War career of Benjamin Hardin Helm, who was widely admired by officers and men alike. The essay has added significance when one takes into account the absence of a Helm biography in the literature. Due to limited sample size when it comes to the general's battlefield exploits (wounds and illness caused him to miss battles, and he was killed at the head of his brigade at Chickamauga), Sanders judiciously recognizes the difficulty in globally rating Helm's capabilities.

The next three chapters are also broadly biographical in nature. Michael Bradley recounts the checkered life and military service of Bushrod Rust Johnson, arguing that the general's career pinnacle occurred during the months spanning the 1863 Tullahoma and Chickamauga campaigns. Brian Steel Wills does the same for Abraham Buford, noting that the burly, hard-drinking Kentuckian did well leading both infantry and cavalry, doing much to save Pemberton's army from complete rout at Champion Hill and developing into Nathan Bedford Forrest's chief and most trusted subordinate during the 1864-65 period. The late Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes's well-rounded treatment of Gideon Pillow takes the deepest dive of the three. The principal biographer of Pillow, Hughes is nevertheless not the only historian to assign to Gideon Pillow a great deal of credit for recruiting and organizing the Tennessee regiments that would later form the heart of the Army of Tennessee. As a discredited field commander, Pillow also demonstrated considerable energy and success heading the conscription bureau in the West. Perhaps the most interesting sections of Hughes's essay are those recounting Pillow's most obscure field service. As a cavalry division commander in 1864, the general twice demonstrated further ineptitude for high command. He led a poorly-coordinated June 24 attack on the federal garrison at LaFayette, Georgia (a little-known battle that is very well described in the essay, with the exception that Union Colonel John T. Croxton's name is given as Crofton) that ended up in a Confederate rout and also failed to do much of anything to oppose Rousseau's Raid in July of that year.

James Prichard's article is a thorough account of John Hunt Morgan's final raid, an ill-advised operation that further tarnished the faded reputation of the "Thunderbolt of the Confederacy." The summation provides a good explanation of what the defeat meant to declining southern military fortunes in the West.

The infamously disputatious William H.T. Walker is the subject of Stewart Bennett's essay. In it, Bennett traces the general's ill-fortune when facing enemy bullets (he was seriously wounded in three different major wars), his difficult personality and the effect it had on his career, and the possible consequences Walker's chronic poor health and many serious wounds had on both body and psyche. The chapter centers on the circumstances surrounding Walker's death on July 22, 1864, and Bennett makes a notable contribution to the Atlanta Campaign historiography by weighing all of the competing accounts, which differ widely in timing, location, and context. He makes a persuasive case that the most commonly cited interpretation (enduringly popularized by local avocational historian Wilbur Kurtz) is probably the one least likely to be true.

The second to last chapter is Keith Bohannon's summary and assessment of Edward C. Walthall's Civil War career. A prewar lawyer with some military school education in his youth, the quick study Walthall clearly benefited from starting at the bottom, learning the military trade from company level all the way up through command of a division. As Bohannon's article demonstrates, Walthall's leadership was well recognized throughout the Army of Tennessee by late 1864. Even though there were many other more senior officers to choose from, Nathan Bedford Forrest explicitly asked for Walthall to lead the infantry contingent of the rear guard during the retreat following the army's disastrous defeat at Nashville. The essay makes a convincing case that Walthall was one of the most promising young officers in the Confederacy's western armies and likely would have made corps command if the conflict had been significantly extended.

Chris Fonvielle's final essay effectively summarizes the three major late-war land and sea expeditions aimed at capturing Fort Fisher and closing the port of Wilmington, from the failed powder ship expedition to Ft. Fisher near the end of 1864 to the final evacuation of Wilmington in the face of an overwhelming Union assault in February 1865. The article centers on the impact of Braxton Bragg being brought in to oversee the department defenses. Fonvielle agrees with contemporary Bragg critics like W.H.C. Whiting and William Lamb that the unpopular general did little to support the defense of Fort Fisher and did nothing to inspire the Wilmington defenders. One struggles to come up with any great options Bragg might have had at that point, but the author's damning of the much-maligned general for apparently not even trying (or even appreciating the critical national importance of the Wilmington port and its defenses) is a point well taken.

Volume 4 contains the same informative collection of diverse essays, several somewhat revisionist in nature, that characterize the series as a whole. The book's map set is impressive in number but usefulness frequently suffers due to nearly all of them being borrowed from other publications, the result being that the desired benefit of having the cartography directly tied to the text is largely absent. It's a relatively minor complaint with what is an excellent capstone to the Confederate Generals in the Western Theater series, which will be greatly missed.

* - CWBA reviews of the other titles in the series (including the associated T-M series):
Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 1: Classic Essays on America’s Civil War
Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 2: Essays on America’s Civil War
Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 3: Essays on America's Civil War

Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Vol. 1: Essays on America's Civil War
Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Vol. 2: Essays on America's Civil War

Monday, March 19, 2018

Book News: River of Death - The Chickamauga Campaign

Well, it has now been nearly a full month since the last new release crossed my threshold (26 days to be precise!), a very unwelcome record that has completely shattered the previous one. So, since there are still no March Booknotes to speak of we'll press on with Book News instead.

My favorite non-book treatment of the Chickamauga campaign and battle is the long form (actually, very long form) article from William Glenn Robertson that was published in serial form by Blue & Gray magazine over five issues from Volumes 23-25. Robertson, of course, is a long-recognized expert on the subject, and many have wondered over the decades if he was ever going to shared it with the rest of the world in book form. The definitive answer to this question has finally arrived.

October 2018 is the expected release window for Robertson's River of Death-The Chickamauga Campaign, Volume 1: The Fall of Chattanooga (UNC Press).

From the description: "In this first volume of an authoritative two-volume history of the Chickamauga campaign, William Glenn Robertson provides a richly detailed narrative of military operations in southeastern and eastern Tennessee as two armies prepared to meet along the "River of Death." Robertson tracks the two opposing armies from July 1863 through Bragg's strategic decision to abandon Chattanooga on September 9. Drawing on all relevant primary and secondary sources, Robertson devotes special attention to the personalities and thinking of the opposing generals and their staffs. He also sheds new light on the role of railroads on operations in these landlocked battlegrounds, as well as the intelligence gathered and used by both sides."

I'm sure I'm not the only person that's still a bit Chickamauga'd out after reading David Powell's monumental trilogy, but I should be recovered by the time the leaves turn. I will be curious to discover where significant areas of disagreement exist between the Powell and Robertson interpretations, though I have doubts about my ability to recognize the most subtle ones.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Five books on the Irish and the Civil War (St. Patrick's Day edition)

If you're reading this post and see ten books then come back tomorrow when you're more sober. Also, yes, I am fully aware that when it comes to this subject I could probably come up with a dozen of these lists and not repeat a title. That said, I think these five selections offer a pretty well-rounded introduction to the Irish-American experience in the ACW.

1. The Irish Brigade In The Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of The Army Of The Potomac by Joseph G. Bilby (1998).
Unless I'm missing the elephant (pink or otherwise) in the room, I don't recall a definitive-level Irish Brigade study towering head and shoulders above the rest. I do think Bilby's will serve the purpose of providing  readers with a solid overview of the war's most famous ethnic brigade. Apparently, there was a 1998 hardcover special edition that sold out quickly, with the 2001 Da Capo paperback being the one generally available.
2. Shades of Green: Irish Regiments, American Soldiers, and Local Communities in the Civil War Era by Ryan W. Keating (2017).
Keating's book impressively examines the war and home front community connections of three regionally representative Irish regiments. It also has important things to say about the unending alienation vs. assimilation debates.
3. The Irish General: Thomas Francis Meagher by Paul R. Wylie (2007).
I wanted to include one biography here, and Meagher was arguably the most famous Irish-American Civil War soldier. The two most recently published full biographies were both authored by non-historians, but I'll put Wylie's on the list as the more scholarly of the two.
4. Chicago's Irish Legion: The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War
    by James B. Swan (2009).
With the vast majority of published works devoted to the Irish regiments that fought with the Army of the Potomac, we shouldn't overlook the western theater's hard-fighting Irish units. Swan's book offers a fine study of one of these lesser-celebrated Union regiments.
5. The Green and the Gray: The Irish in the Confederate States of America
    by David T. Gleeson (2013).
Outside of Patrick Cleburne, the Confederacy's Irish soldiers are by far the least recognized of those that fought on either side during the war. Some unit studies exist (ex. James Gannon's history of the 6th Louisiana, Irish Rebels, Confederate Tigers), but I chose Gleeson's book for its broader discussion of the Irish-American experience in the South before, during, and after the Civil War.