Saturday, June 23, 2018

Booknotes: Californios, Anglos, and the Performance of Oligarchy in the U.S. West

New Arrival:
Californios, Anglos, and the Performance of Oligarchy in the U.S. West
  by Andrew Gibb (SIU Press, 2018).

Yes, this isn't Civil War related, but it does address Mexican War era topics (which do comprise part of the site's range of interests) and I'm not averse to throwing in some Western Americana every once in a while. Part of Southern Illinois's Theater in the Americas series, Andrew Gibb's Californios, Anglos, and the Performance of Oligarchy in the U.S. West is an ambitious melding of theater and regional cultural history. In it, Gibb "argues that the mid-nineteenth-century encounter between Anglos and californios— the Spanish-speaking elites who ruled Mexican California between 1821 and 1848—resulted not only in the Americanization of California but also the “Mexicanization” of Americans."

From the description: "Employing performance studies methodologies in his analysis of everyday and historical events, Gibb traces how oligarchy evolved and developed in the region.

This interdisciplinary study draws on performance studies, theatre historiography, and New Western History to identify how the unique power relations of historical California were constituted and perpetuated through public performances—not only traditional theatrical productions but also social events such as elite weddings and community dances—and historical events like the U.S. seizure of the city of Monterey, the feting of Commodore Stockton in San Francisco, and the Bear Flag Revolt."

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Comment limbo

Ugh. I was wondering why I haven't been getting any comments on the site lately, and lo and behold I discover a month's backlog of comments for which I never received any notification! Tonight, I happened to check the moderation page and saw a large number of comments dating back to late May. I sincerely apologize for not getting to this sooner. I went on vacation at the end of last month and on the plane ride back I caught a nasty upper respiratory infection (thank you to all those people in front and on either side of me that coughed the entire flight and made no effort to cover their mouths) so I've been out of the loop for a while. Unfortunately, to prevent getting overrun by spam, I do have to moderate/approve all the comments, and the site's new comment notification system can be spotty (though it's never failed this badly before). Anyway, I did now approve all the comments. I will try to answer some of the direct questions by email. Again, my apologies.

Booknotes: Practical Liberators

New Arrival:
Practical Liberators: Union Officers in the Western Theater during the Civil War
  by Kristopher A. Teters (UNC Press, 2018).

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, (author) 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." I've always thought the current literature already well differentiated widespread support for emancipation within the Union officer corps from the small subset of those willing to extend full citizenship rights to freedmen.

This is interesting: "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." From the great body of writings we have available on the topic from those officers that served in the West and Trans-Mississippi, it seems one could argue either way on that last point. I suppose it depends on what particular 'views on race' the author is taking under consideration. I will find out soon as this one is next up on the reading queue.

"In the end, however, despite its practical bent, Teters argues, the Union army was instrumental in bringing freedom to the slaves." I wholeheartedly agree with that statement.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Review of Weitz & Sheppard, eds. - "A FORGOTTEN FRONT: Florida during the Civil War Era"

[A Forgotten Front: Florida during the Civil War Era edited by Seth A. Weitz and Jonathan C. Sheppard (University of Alabama Press, 2018). Hardcover, map, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. 268 pp. ISBN:978-0-8173-1982-3. $39.95]

Civil War Florida has been long dismissed as an isolated and thinly-populated front of little significance, but historical coverage has vastly improved in recent memory. Olustee, Florida's largest and most famous battle, has received detailed treatment from William Nulty, Lewis Schmidt, and others. With slim volumes from Dale Cox recounting West Florida's Marianna and Natural Bridge battles and Michael Hardy's study of the Brooksville Raid, substantial attention has also been paid to the smaller-scale battles and raids fought within Florida's borders. George Buker has pioneered the study of Florida's Unionists, and he and others have addressed the federal blockade of the Gulf Coast. When it comes to Pensacola, George Pearce and John Driscoll have left few stones unturned, and important events in Northeast Florida have been well documented by a series of writers, most recently by Daniel Shafer and Stephen Ash. A fine book-length examination of Florida's Civil War monuments has been authored by William Lees and Frederick Gaske, and the economic contributions of Confederate Florida have been explored in depth by Robert Taylor. Finally, for those seeking a scholarly general history, Tracy Revels has recently provided a good option. While the above sampling of existing works covering many different aspects of the Civil War in Florida perhaps belies the state's status as a grossly neglected part of the Confederacy, the essays contained in Seth Weitz and Jonathan Sheppard's A Forgotten Front: Florida during the Civil War Era do effectively argue that there is plenty of room for further expansion.

The first three chapters, written by volume co-editor Seth Weitz and contributor Lauren Thompson,  examine Florida politics and society from statehood through secession. Taken together, these hefty offerings provide readers with a very solid background for understanding the 1850s decade of change in the state, when the voting population realigned from moderate proslavery politics to enthusiastic support for secession.

As is the case with many U.S. states to this day, the major geographical divisions of antebellum Florida—west, middle, and east—had competing interests and distinct economies. During its early history, Florida's center of power passed back and forth between the coasts before eventually settling in the middle, where conditions proved best for plantation agriculture and slavery. According to Weitz in the first chapter, this is the stage of growth and change that finally transformed Florida from a bit of a regional political/economic anomaly into a true Deep South state.

Florida's antebellum political transformation mirrored that of neighboring states, though the main actors were obviously different, and readers learn much about the leading political figures of the day (most of whom remain obscure in comparison to those hailing from older and more populous southern states). Citing the original Florida purchase and especially the tens of millions of federal dollars spent relocating and fighting the Seminoles, Thompson also reminds us of factors that made Florida's secession movement a source of particular resentment in the North.

The only chapter in the book that specifically deals with an aspect of the conventional war in Florida is volume co-editor Jonathan Sheppard's piece on the Confederate defense and Union capture of Amelia Island. After the Port Royal disaster's exposure of the cordon defense policy along the coast, the Confederate yielding of the island and its coveted deep water port at Fernandina without a fight was part of the new strategy of concentrating limited resources on a handful of points deemed strong enough to resist federal seaborne strength.

A significant consequence of this new directive for coastal defense, in combination with the series of disasters suffered in the West in early 1862, was that most of the state's volunteer forces were sent elsewhere, leaving mostly irregular bands to continue the fight. Zack Waters's following chapter briefly examines the guerrilla war in Middle and East Florida, a conflict that dominated the region's domestic scene and made partisan officers like J.J. Dickison household names. Like Buker did before him, Waters appropriately highlights the irregular war's naval component, which saw Union ships and men exploit the state's extensive coastline to conduct small hit and run operations against isolated enemy military and economic targets (like cattle herds and salt production facilities) while also aiding and cooperating with Unionists, escaped slaves, and Confederate deserters.

R. Boyd Murphree offers a very informative biographical profile of Florida governor John Milton, a native Georgian and Confederate nationalist who came to symbolize Middle Florida's 1850s radicalization. Murphree positions Milton as perhaps the staunchest gubernatorial supporter of the policies of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, and a leader possessing a pragmatic bent all too often absent from the minds of other war governors. While deeply concerned by the national government's near military abandonment of his state, Milton quickly came to accept its necessity for the overall defense of the country. He also supported conscription and other controversial war measures. Milton was certainly a states' rights ideologue, but his willingness to sacrifice for the greater good was in stark contrast to the actions of men like Georgia's Governor Brown and a host of Trans-Mississippi state executives. Murphree also sees Milton's suicide as a consequence of a combination of depression and exhaustion (both physical and mental), not a calculated act of defiance as some others have suggested.

The next few chapters broadly examine a set of previously understudied subjects. David Parker surveys Florida's churches and religious leaders and looks at their role in validating secession and sustaining the Confederate cause during the travails of a long, bitter, and destructive war. In his essay, Parker draws useful distinction between religion being a driving force behind the march to war and religion being a justifying force.

Chris Day follows with an examination of Florida's complicated legal history as it applied to slavery both before and during the war. Of particular note is the writer's use of specific court cases to highlight the tortuous and frequently contradictory nature of slavery laws and jurisprudence, especially when it came to legally defining the slave's dual nature as human being and property.

With much of the existing southern women's literature still focused on the plantation class, Tracy Revels's contribution uses many examples to invite readers to consider a broader female population, white and black. As Revels keenly observes, with its large slave and white Unionist populations and diverse mix of settled and frontier lifestyles and existences, the state is a particularly strong laboratory for future research.

Robert Taylor's brief essay profiles a selection of Hispanic Confederate Floridians and places a spotlight on their unsung wartime contributions. The final chapter by David Nelson offers a wide-ranging recounting of Florida's Civil War memorialization and commemoration from the end of the war to the present day, the current debate over a proposed Union monument at Olustee being the article's connective thread. As expected, the driving role of the UDC in promoting Confederate memory is discussed and the endurance of "Lost Cause" views critically assessed.

With fine essays covering a mixture of both well established and developing topics, A Forgotten Front offers readers a solid overview of Florida's Civil War as well as a promising roadmap for future research. Recommended.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Booknotes: Lincoln and the Abolitionists

New Arrival:
Lincoln and the Abolitionists by Stanley Harrold (SIU Press, 2018).

As its title suggests, the Concise Lincoln Library series offers "short, fresh, accessible books on the life, times, and legacy of Abraham Lincoln." At over two dozen titles, the series is one of the more prolific ones out there and shows no signs of slowing down. The latest release is Stanley Harrold's Lincoln and the Abolitionists, which "traces how, despite Lincoln’s political distance from abolitionists, they influenced his evolving political orientation before and during the Civil War."

From the description: "While explaining how the abolitionist movement evolved, Harrold also clarifies Lincoln’s connections with and his separation from this often fiery group. For most of his life Lincoln regarded abolitionists as dangerous fanatics. Like many northerners during his time, Lincoln sought compromise with the white South regarding slavery, opposed abolitionist radicalism, and doubted that free black people could have a positive role in America."

However, secession and Civil War fostered a more radical turn in (now President) Lincoln's attitude toward the abolition of slavery and black citizenship. "Lincoln’s original priority as president had been to preserve the Union, not to destroy slavery. Nevertheless many factors—including contacts with abolitionists—led Lincoln to favor ending slavery. After Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and raised black troops, many, though not all, abolitionists came to view him more favorably."

More: "Providing insight into the stressful, evolving relationship between Lincoln and the abolitionists, and also into the complexities of northern politics, society, and culture during the Civil War era, this concise volume illuminates a central concern in Lincoln’s life and presidency."

Monday, June 18, 2018

High Private

University of Tennessee Press has three Trans-Mississippi titles currently under development. The third Confederate generals essay anthology and 1st Oregon Cavalry memoirs and correspondence have already been mentioned here before, but the new Fall/Winter catalog also contains an announcement for High Private: The Trans-Mississippi Correspondence of Humorist R. R. Gilbert, 1862-1865 (October 2018), edited by journalism professor Mary M. Cronin.

During the war, Rensselaer Reed Gilbert wrote hundreds of news articles, editorials, and humor pieces for the Tri-weekly Telegraph of Houston, Texas under the moniker "High Private." Cronin's biographical work and her editing of this material bring to light the life and career of a prolific but lesser-known Civil War journalist. The book also claims to offer new insights into the humorist form of Civil War journalism, particularly when composed while the writer was still in uniform.

After he left the army, the civilian journalist Gilbert was able to operate out of army headquarters under a series of commanders. Presumably, readers will benefit from the insights gained by such close proximity to the theater's leading generals. The book seeks to elevate Gilbert's status as a major "critical voice for the region," one that "revealed uncomfortable truths" and through humor provided "emotional release" for the troubled home populations of Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Sounds very interesting.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Volume 3

University of Tennessee Press's Confederate Generals in the Western Theater series concluded this year with the release of Volume 4, but the publisher's Fall/Winter '18 catalog has confirmed that there will indeed be a third and final installment of the companion series highlighting the lives and careers of Civil War generals that served on the other side of the river. Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Volume 3: Essays on America's Civil War (January 2019), also edited by Larry Hewitt and Thomas Schott, will spotlight eight officers. According to the catalog description, there will be essays discussing Earl Van Dorn's 1862 tenure as head of the Trans-Mississippi District, the challenges immediately facing Edmund Kirby Smith's administration of the newly isolated Trans-Mississippi Department in 1863, and Richard Taylor's ultimately doomed attempt to comply with orders to cross substantial Confederate forces across the well-patrolled Mississippi River in 1864. The rest of the articles will feature Hamilton Bee, James Fagan, William Boggs, Tom Green, and John Wharton.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Booknotes: Fighting Means Killing

New Arrival:
Fighting Means Killing: Civil War Soldiers and the Nature of Combat by Jonathan M. Steplyk (Univ Pr of Kansas, 2018).

The experience of Civil War combat has been explored in various works but until now no book has been solely devoted to contextualizing the act of killing itself. Jonathan Steplyk's Fighting Means Killing: Civil War Soldiers and the Nature of Combat is "the first book-length study of Union and Confederate soldiers’ attitudes toward, and experiences of, killing in the Civil War."

From the description: "Drawing upon letters, diaries, and postwar reminiscences, Steplyk examines what soldiers and veterans thought about killing before, during, and after the war. How did these soldiers view sharpshooters? How about hand-to-hand combat? What language did they use to describe killing in combat? What cultural and societal factors influenced their attitudes? And what was the impact of race in battlefield atrocities and bitter clashes between white Confederates and black Federals? These are the questions that Steplyk seeks to answer in Fighting Means Killing, a work that bridges the gap between military and social history—and that shifts the focus on the tragedy of the Civil War from fighting and dying for cause and country to fighting and killing."

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Booknotes: Challenges of Command in the Civil War, Volume 1

New Arrival:
Challenges of Command in the Civil War: Generalship, Leadership, and Strategy at Gettysburg, Petersburg, and Beyond - Volume I: Generals and Generalship by Richard J. Sommers (Savas Beatie, 2018).

As many of you already know, Richard Sommers is one of the foremost authorities on the 1864-65 Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, particularly Grant's Fifth Offensive. His study Richmond Redeemed: The Siege at Petersburg was published by Doubleday in 1981, back in the days when the big New York houses actually put out detailed Civil War battle histories. It was a truly groundbreaking contribution to Petersburg studies and became a true classic. Out of print for quite some time, but still easily available on the secondary market, a revised and expanded edition was recently released by Savas Beatie under the new title Richmond Redeemed: The Siege at Petersburg, The Battles of Chaffin’s Bluff and Poplar Spring Church, September 29 - October 2, 1864 (2014).

Now SB has come out with a volume of Sommers essays, to be followed at some future date by a companion work that "will explore “Civil War Strategy, Operations, and Organization.”" Challenges of Command in the Civil War, Volume 1 is a set of standalone essays largely drawn from the author's previous writings and various presentations. The chapters are accompanied by seven maps and extensive footnotes.

Part I consists of five chapters that explore the generalship of Grant and Lee, both in isolation and during the 1864-65 period when they faced off against each other in Virginia. Part II discusses Union senior subordinate generals during the Antietam, Gettysburg, and Petersburg campaigns. That section's final chapter looks at the Revolutionary War forebears of major Civil War officers and politicians.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Review of Spruill & Spruill - "DECISIONS AT SECOND MANASSAS: The Fourteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle"

[Decisions at Second Manassas: The Fourteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battleby Matt Spruill III & Matt Spruill IV (University of Tennessee Press, 2018). Softcover, 41 maps, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. 277 Pages. ISBN:978-1-62190-380-2. $29.95]

Matt Spruill III and Matt Spruill IV's 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. The first book clearly laid out the novel format's underlying assumptions and definitions (see the Decisions at Stones River review published a short time ago here on CWBA). In summary, 'critical' decisions are distinguished from merely important decisions by their fundamental altering of the "sequence and course of events" of campaigns and battles.

As seen before with Stones River, the basic critical decision analysis structure of Decisions at Second Manassas proceeds through five subheadings—Situation, Options, Decision, Result/Impact, and Alternate Decision/Scenario. The first and typically the lengthiest section, Situation describes the state of affairs at a crossroads moment in the campaign or battle. It provides readers with the background information necessary to recognize and evaluate the decision Options (in this case, two to four in number) that immediately follow. The historical Decision is then outlined very briefly before the Result/Impact section recounts what happened and how those events shaped the rest of the battle and perhaps beyond. The Situation and Result/Impact sections quite often reference other decisions in a meaningful way, further reminding readers of their fundamental interconnectedness and the cascading consequences of critical decisions made earlier. Not present for every decision, the optional Alternate Decision/Scenario section delves into reasonable alternative history conjecture based on choices not made.

Distinct from most narrative battle histories, the books in this series use this critical decision system of analysis as a more focused mechanism for readers "to progress from an understanding of “what happened” to “why events happened” as they did." The professional military background of the co-authors undoubtedly informs this new approach. For the series as a whole, critical choices will span areas of strategy, operations, tactics, organization, logistics, and personnel. The fourteen critical Second Manassas decisions are slotted within three of those categories: organizational (1), operational (5), and tactical (8). There are nine Union decisions versus five Confederate. In comparison to the first volume, the number of critical decisions is fewer but the number of maps (41) is significantly greater.

Three examples, one for each decision type, will offer a glimpse at the offerings inside. With the Peninsula operation not going as planned, the book's lone organizational critical decision involves the Lincoln's administration's dilemma over what to do with the collectively very large but geographically scattered Union commands located in central and western Virginia. As the authors see it, the options available to the Union high command were either leave things be, combine two of the larger forces into a single army, or consolidate the three largest commands into a single army. Of course, the third decision (which created General John Pope's theoretically powerful Army of Virginia) was the historical choice, and it alone among the other options made possible the epic clash between the armies on the old battlefield at Manassas. Only a command of that size would have been able to operate independently in the field and risk full-scale battle against whatever forces the Confederates might redeploy from the Peninsula to central Virginia.

One of the study's more interesting operational-level critical decision discussions involves Army of the Potomac Fifth Corps commander Fitz John Porter's reaction to General Pope's order to launch an attack in the direction of Gainesville on August 29 in conjunction with Irvin McDowell's Third Corps of the Army of Virginia. This fateful order was issued under the greatly mistaken assumption that Stonewall Jackson's Confederate corps was in the process of retreating. As the authors see it, Porter's options were to (1) attack as Pope ordered against an enemy force of unknown size and location, or use the discretion often accorded to high-ranking commanders on the ground to either (2) remain in place and recon his front or (3) move north to establish solid contact with the rest of the army. Contrary to Pope's wishes, Porter elected to stay put and his weak recon effort failed to develop the enemy's position. This meant there would be no attack on Longstreet's front on the 29th, and Pope would continue to believe that there were no sizable Confederate forces present to the west and south of Jackson. The alternative scenario of a strong Porter-McDowell attack up the Gainesville Road possessed the great potential of drastically changing the historical course of the battle. The presence of James Longstreet's arriving Confederate corps would have been definitively discovered by the attack, and a heavy Union assault on Longstreet's right could very well have derailed Robert E. Lee's own best offensive options on the battlefield. This move would have made outright Union victory distinctly possible. Though the book doesn't go into it, this is also the critical decision that placed Porter in very hot water with his military superiors and the administration. Only lightly touched upon, this kind of ancillary discussion is perhaps outside the scope and purposes of the book, but it might have made for an engaging appendix. Perhaps more than any other, Porter's critical decision set the stage for how the second day of the Manassas battle would play out.

The final example is a brigade-level tactical critical decision made by Colonel Nathaniel McLean, who was positioned atop Chinn Ridge on the vulnerable Union left when Longstreet's Corps approached during late afternoon on the 30th. When Union general John Reynolds's division moved north across the Warrenton Turnpike earlier, McLean was isolated. Left to his own devices, he could either follow in Reynolds's wake, fall back east to Henry Hill to join other federals units assembling there, or remain on Chinn Ridge. McLean chose to hold his position, a fortuitous event that sucked in an inordinate number of Confederate brigades that might otherwise have raced past and behind the Union left. McLean's decision bought time for reinforcements to arrive and together the Union defenders delayed and disrupted Longstreet's offensive enough to buttress the even more significant federal military position atop Henry Hill. Without McLean's stand, a swift Confederate capture of Henry Hill was entirely possible, a move which had the potential of cutting off significant parts of Pope's increasingly less cohesive army and subjecting them to destruction. The books in the series intend to limit profiling tactical decisions made by lower-ranking officers as their battlefield actions were truly 'critical' only on rare occasions, but this one seemed appropriate for inclusion.

The first two volumes (author Matt Spruill III is the connecting thread between the pair) do a uniformly good job of judiciously identifying "critical" decisions that are in keeping with the original working definition. There is similar consistency present in the formulation of reasonable option sets, with available choices assessed most helpfully in terms of potential advantages and disadvantages rather than being labeled inherently good or bad.

Using the approach that military decisions are always better understood when the reader is standing on the actual ground where events occurred, the book enhances the value of the decision analysis section with an extensive battlefield tour feature. Organized and presented along similar lines to the classic U.S. Army War College series, the tour stops combine detailed situational orientation with author narrative and lengthy participant account excerpts. While limited to those decisions made on the current grounds of the battlefield park, the two sections of the book complement each other very well. As was also the case for Stones River, the tactical maps in the tour section are generally more detailed than those found in the main text and should not be overlooked by the reader. Army orders of battle are also included in the appendix area.

With two excellent titles under its belt, the Command Decisions in America's Civil War series is off to a strong start. An ambitious course has been set, with Decisions at Chattanooga from Larry Peterson and David Powell's Decisions at Chickamauga already currently under development. More planned volumes address Perryville, Tullahoma, Shiloh, and "other notable battles both in the Eastern and Western theaters of the Civil War." The success of the series thus far makes these future installments highly anticipated.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Booknotes: Ambivalent Nation

New Arrival:
Ambivalent Nation: How Britain Imagined the American Civil War by Hugh Dubrulle
  (LSU Press, 2018).

Expanding regional investigation to countries outside western Europe and applying more cultural approaches, current studies exploring the international dimensions of the Civil War period are moving beyond diplomacy and high-level politics (primarily as these applied to Britain and France). Hugh Dubrulle's Ambivalent Nation: How Britain Imagined the American Civil War "explores how Britons imagined the American Civil War and how these imaginings influenced discussions about British politics, society, race, nationalism, and military affairs. Contributing to and expanding upon previous scholarship that focused on establishing British public opinion toward the American war, Dubrulle presents the forces that shaped that opinion. In doing so, he enriches the context of existing historiography."

Chapters explore how Britons perceived antebellum America, what factors shaped British attitudes during the war, and how these "imaginings" affected their views on race and American society and politics. Also addressed are British opinions of the military significance of the conflict and their understanding of nationalism(s) in North America.

The book "offers a methodical dissection of habits of thought and stereotypes developed during the antebellum period and how they a were largely the product of the Anglo-American post-colonial relationship. Previous historians have suggested that the United States was indeed post-colonial in the antebellum years, but none has applied this concept to the study of British attitudes toward Americans during the Civil War."

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Booknotes: New paperback editions of "Valley Thunder" and "General Grant and the Rewriting of History"

New Arrivals:
Valley Thunder: The Battle of New Market and the Opening of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, May 1864 by Charles R. Knight (2018).

It seems to be more and more the case now that Savas Beatie titles are being reissued in paperback, sometimes only a short time (1-2 years) after hardcover circulation. Valley Thunder is a bit older but is richly deserving of being brought back into the limelight. The book resoundingly surpasses all previous histories, including William Davis's classic study. Click here to read my review of the original 2010 edition, which praises it heavily. I would definitely be interested in seeing Knight take on more projects of this type.

General Grant and the Rewriting of History: How the Destruction of General William S. Rosecrans Influenced Our Understanding of the Civil War by Frank P. Varney (2018).

I only got to parts of Varney's book, which was originally published in 2013, and while the arguments inside blew hot and cold with me I would urge everyone to give it a try. The intention was for the project to be a two-volume treatment, but I have no information on how the second book is progressing. Deservedly or not, Rosecrans's military reputation does appear to be trending slightly upward of late. Will Kurtz also recently announced that he is working on a new biography.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Booknotes: The War Outside My Window

New Arrival:
The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865 edited by Janet Elizabeth Croon (Savas Beatie, 2018).

A big pile of Savas Beatie titles arrived on my doorstep the day before I left on a trip so I haven't had a chance to look at any of them before now. The publisher has been heavily promoting this one in particular, so we'll start there and get to the rest in coming days. Another bit of news out of SB is that they are in the middle of a long overdue overhauling of their website. No ETA on when it will launch. They release so many titles per year that a modern, regularly updated home page would be very much welcomed.

From the description: "LeRoy Wiley Gresham was born in 1847 to an affluent slave-holding family in Macon, Georgia. After a horrific leg injury left him an invalid, the educated, inquisitive, perceptive, and exceptionally witty 12-year-old began keeping a diary in 1860--just as secession and the Civil War began tearing the country and his world apart. He continued to write even as his health deteriorated until both the war and his life ended in 1865. His unique manuscript of the demise of the Old South—lauded by the Library of Congress as one of its premier holdings—is published here for the first time in The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865."

These kinds of pre and young teen perspectives certainly aren't commonly encountered, and the frequency and depth of Gresham's observations only add value. More from the description: "LeRoy read books, devoured newspapers and magazines, listened to gossip, and discussed and debated important social and military issues with his parents and others. He wrote daily for five years, putting pen to paper with a vim and tongue-in-cheek vigor that impresses even now, more than 150 years later. His practical, philosophical, and occasionally Twain-like hilarious observations cover politics and the secession movement, the long and increasingly destructive Civil War, family pets, a wide variety of hobbies and interests, and what life was like at the center of a socially prominent wealthy family in the important Confederate manufacturing center of Macon. The young scribe often voiced concern about the family’s pair of plantations outside town, and recorded his interactions and relationships with “servants” Howard, Allen, Eveline, and others as he pondered the fate of human bondage and his family’s declining fortunes."

In addition to the publisher's preface, there's a brief general introduction from volume editor Janet Elizabeth Croon as well as a medical foreword and afterword from surgeon Dennis Rasbach. Croon also puts together an extensive dramatis personae section and contributes frequent footnotes to the Gresham diaries. The book contains maps and other illustrations, too. For those wanting to learn even more about what was behind Gresham's declining health and premature demise, Rasbach has produced a companion volume titled I Am Perhaps Dying: The Medical Backstory of Spinal Tuberculosis Hidden in the Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham (2018), which is out now in digital format with a print version to be released later.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Review of Lyftogt - "IOWA AND THE CIVIL WAR, VOLUME 1: Free Child of the Missouri Compromise 1850-1862"

[Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 1: Free Child of the Missouri Compromise 1850-1862 by Kenneth L. Lyftogt (Camp Pope Publishing, 2018). Hardcover, 12 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:408/432. ISBN:978-1-929919-79-6. $40]

A planned trilogy, Kenneth Lyftogt's Iowa and the Civil War will be the first attempt at a modern history of the state's participation in the conflict. The initial volume, Free Child of the Missouri Compromise 1850-1862, takes readers from the political upheaval of the 1850s through the aftermath of the Battle of Shiloh.

According to the author, the project's primary focus will be on political and military matters. With some limited forays into other areas, this stated emphasis is readily apparent in Volume 1. In the early chapters, Lyfogt traces Iowa's mid to late 1850s transformation of political alignment from the Democratic Party to the new Republican Party. As was the case in many other states in both sections, the withering and ultimate death of the Whig Party in Iowa created a vast political vacuum. Free Iowa's common border with slave state Missouri along with its prominent role in the Underground Railroad, general distaste for the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act, and regional proximity to the violence of Bleeding Kansas all made the slavery expansion question urgently real to its citizens. Those circumstances and others converted a great many Iowans to the emerging Republican Party.

Though Republican power was ascendant immediately before and during the conflict, Iowa's Democrats remained a considerable force. Opposition to the war is only lightly touched upon in Lyftogt's study, though perhaps such discussion will be expanded once the trilogy reaches the 1862 mid-term election cycle and addresses even more internally divisive issues like home front civil rights limitations and the expansion of war aims to include emancipation.

Many prominent Iowa political figures (among them Republicans, War Democrats, and Peace Democrats) are profiled in the book, but the individual that towers over the rest is Republican governor Samuel J. Kirkwood. Though overshadowed in the literature by other northern "war governors," Kirkwood is convincingly portrayed by Lyftogt as a tireless supporter of the president and an executive eager to enlist his state's leaders and manpower to the cause. Advocates in Washington also helped, their presence made even more essential by Iowa's extreme distance from the seat of power. For example, while Kirkwood rallied the resources of Iowa at home, John Kasson, the newly appointed ranking assistant to the Postmaster General, promoted Iowa interests behind the scenes in Washington.

In line with our modern understanding of how Civil War volunteer officers were appointed and conducted themselves in uniform, the author places heavy emphasis on the essential inseparability of politics from all aspects of Iowa's military leadership. The roster of Civil War generals with significant Iowa ties would be the envy of a much larger state. Military figures discussed in the book include many generals familiar to students of the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters, among them Samuel Curtis, Grenville Dodge, Jacob Lauman, James Tuttle, Francis Herron, William Vandever, Marcellus Crocker, Hugh Reid, Cyrus Bussey, Washington Elliott, and Edward Hatch.

With state and national politics dominating the first half of the volume, the second half explores the many early war campaigns and battles that significantly involved Iowa troops. The Missouri battles at Athens, Wilson's Creek, Blue Mills Landing, Belmont, and New Madrid; the fighting at Pea Ridge in Arkansas; and the major western theater battles at Fort Donelson and Shiloh are recounted in some detail. One might quibble with some of the background details here and there, but overall the author does a fine job of combining a general narrative of these military events with a greater emphasis on the conspicuous presence of Iowa's fighting units at those places. Selecting two of the most prominent examples cited in the book, an Iowa infantry regiment (the 2nd) played a key role in seizing important ground on the Union left flank at Fort Donelson and several Iowa regiments combined to form the heart of the famous Hornet's Nest defense at Shiloh. While never going down the path of declaring Iowa regiments superior in their fighting ability, Lyftogt does appropriately recognize that Iowa's Shiloh contribution was disproportionately veteran. Field and combat experience gained in small, early-war actions in Missouri helped secure that state for the Union and steeled many Iowa soldiers and regiments for the larger battles of 1862. Incredibly, Iowans comprised nearly one-fourth of the Day 1 Union casualties at Shiloh.

Author and publisher also deserve a good deal of credit for commissioning a fine set of battlefield maps. Directly supporting the book's battle narratives, the maps appropriately center on those sections of the field where the Iowa presence was most prominently felt. Presumably, this very helpful aspect of the study will continue to be a strength of future volumes.

Large numbers of Iowa soldiers were captured at Shiloh, and the volume concludes with an overview of their painful odyssey in Confederate captivity. The concluding section also deals with the good faith effort by Iowa officers to broker a system of prisoner exchange. While the attempt ultimately failed, it wouldn't be too long before the Dix-Hill Cartel would be negotiated and implemented. However, as the book shows, Washington's official rejection of the Iowa officers' initiative engendered more than a little bitterness in the state toward the Lincoln administration.

Criticism of the limited scope of the study is legitimate but in fairness should be restrained until the other volumes are completed. It's entirely possible that a greater variety of home front topics and other themes common to the expansive nature of modern Civil War scholarship will be addressed later on.

While Lyftogt did not prioritize original manuscript research (only one such unpublished resource is listed in the bibliography), he does take full advantage of the great many Iowa soldier and civilian diaries, letters, and memoirs that have been published over the years in books and especially in historical journals, among the latter the Annals of Iowa, The Palimpsest, the Iowa Journal of History. The six-volume Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion is another important resource used.

Written in a popular narrative style, Free Child of the Missouri Compromise 1850-1862 succeeds in conveying to readers the nature of Iowa's political transformation during the 1850s, and it very fruitfully explores the state's many important contributions to the Union war effort on both sides of the Mississippi during the first year of the war. Numerous prominent Iowa civilian and military leaders not widely known or appreciated in the general literature are also usefully profiled in the study. The trilogy is off to a solid start, and the next two volumes will be highly anticipated.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Booknotes: The 96th Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Civil War

New Arrival:
The 96th Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Civil War by David A. Ward (McFarland, 2018).

Though it doesn't include a roster, David Ward's The 96th Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Civil War is a full-length regimental study. Composed of "nearly 1,200 Irish and German immigrants from Schuylkill County," the unit saw action in many of the great eastern theater campaigns and battles with the Second Brigade, First Division of the Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac before being mustered out in late 1864. Like many of the "Fighting Three Hundred," only a pitiful remnant (100 men) were present in the ranks at discharge.

According to Ward, no member of the regiment wrote a full history of its wartime service during the era when those were composed in droves. Before now, the best source for information on the 96th resided in Samuel Bates's classic compilation History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, so a modern treatment has been very long overdue.

Ward's self-stated goal is to "examine the organization, operations and character of the 96th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Emphasis will be placed on the social life and customs of the enlisted men and the military campaigns and battles in which the regiment experienced the hardships and horrors of combat. A principal goal is to examine this regiment of infantry as a subset of the Pennsylvania community they represented in the early 1860s and to document the war's effect on the lives of some of its participants."

The unit's fighting history appears to be recounted in the book in highly detailed fashion. Map coverage is good as well, with full-page George Skoch map depictions of the battles of Eltham's Landing, Gaines' Mill, Crampton's Gap, Salem Church, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor (with specific attention paid to the 96th's place on those fields).

Bibliography and notes indicate extensive manuscript research and use along with wide examination of other primary and secondary sources. More from the description: "Drawing on letters, diaries, memoirs and other accounts, this comprehensive history documents their combat service from the point of view of the rank-and-file soldier, along with their views on the war, slavery, emancipation and politics." For those readers looking for roster information, Ward does include an appendix that specifically directs readers to what sources and records are available.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Booknotes: Vicksburg

New Arrival:
Vicksburg: The Bloody Siege that Turned the Tide of the Civil War by Samuel J. Mitcham (Regnery History, 2018).

Mitcham is a prolific WW2 historian who has recently moved to the Civil War sphere. I haven't seen his more recent Forrest book, but did review his 2012 Red River Campaign study, a treatment that I found problematic. His new book Vicksburg: The Bloody Siege that Turned the Tide of the Civil War takes a decidedly unconventional approach to the pivotal western campaign. In addition to constructing a narrative history of the campaign from the Confederate perspective, the author also mounts a wide-ranging defense of John C. Pemberton's much-maligned command performance.

From the description: "On July 4, 1863, Confederate Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton surrendered Vicksburg and the Army of Mississippi to Ulysses S. Grant. Pemberton was immediately denounced as a poor general, whose incompetence and indecision cost the South control of the impregnable fortress. Some Southern newspapers were especially harsh, pointing out that Pemberton was a Northerner (he was born in Philadelphia) and suggesting that treachery was behind the fall of "the Confederate Gibraltar." He was thoroughly lambasted as being a bungling fool, a poor leader and a hopeless general. Historians have generally followed suit. Forgotten in all of this is the fact that Grant attempted to take or bypass Vicksburg nine times. In five of these attempts, he was fought to a standstill and sometimes convincingly defeated by none other than John C. Pemberton, who was outnumbered 2 to 1 and sometimes more."

Any work seeking to counter the traditional view of Pemberton has a steep hill to climb. Many Vicksburg Campaign readers will perhaps recall David M. Smith's Compelled To Appear In Print: The Vicksburg Manuscript of General John C. Pemberton (1999), which I still consider one of long-defunct Ironclad Publishing's best and most historiographically significant releases. That book does not attempt the type of comprehensive rehabilitation of Pemberton's Vicksburg record that Mitcham seemingly tries to do here, but it does provide us with a fascinating window into at least understanding Pemberton's mindset and actions during the most critical phase of the campaign using the information available to the general at the time.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Review of Allison - "ATTACKED ON ALL SIDES: The Civil War Battle of Decatur, Georgia, the Untold Story of the Battle of Atlanta"

[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). Softcover, 2 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, index. 372 pp. ISBN:9781977761903. $26]

Of the series of battles fought in North Georgia during the critical summer of 1864, the July 22 fighting was the bloodiest and arguably the most dramatic of the entire campaign. There's a reason the events of that day came to be known as the Battle of Atlanta. With the epic confrontation on and around Bald Hill appropriately dominating modern descriptions and interpretations of the battle, the much smaller and far less significant same-day engagement fought a short distance to the east at Decatur has received comparatively little attention. Though appropriately linking Decatur and Bald Hill, the new standard history of the July 22 battle, Gary Ecelbarger's The Day Dixie Died: The Battle of Atlanta, devotes less than a handful of pages to the former, a small cavalry versus infantry showdown on the far right flank of General Hood's audacious swing around the southern end of General Sherman's converging army group. David Allison's Attacked On All Sides: The Civil War Battle of Decatur, Georgia, the Untold Story of the Battle of Atlanta gives Decatur its first full-length treatment and appreciation.

The book begins with a hefty background section. In addition to broadly tracing army movements leading up to the battle and describing at some length the Decatur town layout and environs, the author offers brief biographical sketches of major figures involved in the battle (with a strong focus on those that authored accounts of the action) and the units that fought there. As is often the case, the small size of the Decatur battle allows space in the text for more extensive profiles of the regiments and batteries engaged. Though supported by a small cavalry detachment and reinforced late, the Union defense of Decatur in the main consisted of only a single infantry brigade (63rd Ohio, 25th Wisconsin, 35th New Jersey, the Chicago Board of Trade Battery, and a section of Michigan guns) commanded by Colonel John W. Sprague [Second Brigade, Fourth Division, Sixteenth Corps]. The attacking force consisted of a large part of Joseph Wheeler's Confederate cavalry, this mounted host significantly outnumbering Sprague's infantry in the fight. The rich prize at Decatur was the estimated 1,600 wagons composing the entirety of the Army of the Tennessee's ordnance and supply trains.

In its integration of numerous published and unpublished firsthand military and civilian accounts, the informational content of Allison's battle narrative impresses. A more seasoned practitioner might have weaved the primary source material together with less repetition, but the high level of granular detail provided by Allison in regard to unit positions, tactical movements, and their relationships to established landmarks throughout the estimated three hours of fighting allows the reader to follow the course of the battle with a reasonable degree of understanding. There are some unfortunate missteps along the way. Though a pair of maps depicting the town layout at different scales is included, the author commits the cardinal sin of publishing a battle book without a battle map of any kind. The general course of the fighting is readily extracted from the text, but some finer points are easily lost without map guidance. On another presentational note, while the study is extensively annotated the author's common practice of further interjecting bracketed editor's notes into the main text is frequently and unnecessarily distracting.

In convincing fashion, Allison does not try to prop up the historical significance of the Decatur engagement, nor does he exaggerate any of the proposed 'lost opportunity' elements of the battle. Though the author justly compliments Wheeler's execution of his dismounted cavalry attack while also crediting Sprague for conducting an able defense of the town, the numerical disparity, though great, was not overwhelming. Even heavily outnumbered Civil War infantry typically did well fighting enemy cavalry, and this fact combined with powerful Union artillery support and subsequent reinforcement meant that Wheeler's chances for sweeping aside Sprague and destroying the vast Union wagon train were much slimmer than they might have appeared at first glance.

After Wheeler pushed the blue defenders through and beyond the town, he was directed to break off his own attack and join General Hardee's struggling main assault off to the west. While some have observed that this was a grave mistake that might have saved a large part of the Army of the Tennessee's transportation from destruction, Allison, like others have also suggested, is likely more correct in determining that Wheeler would have found much more than be bargained for north of Decatur if his assault had been continued.

The book also devotes a great deal of attention to the aftermath of the battle. As was the case with the battle itself, Union press accounts and sources regarding casualties are more numerous than their Confederate counterparts and more complete. A large percentage of Union losses were in prisoners (though not great enough to indicate any kind of general rout), and Allison also explores connections between these men and both the infamous Andersonville prison and the Sultana maritime disaster.

Allison also extends his biographical profiles begun earlier in the study into the post-battle and postwar periods. With the help of Lisa Rickey and Blaise Arena, the book devotes special attention to the lives of three Battle of Decatur participants (Howard Forrer and Solomon Spitler of the 63rd Ohio, and John Fleming of the Chicago Board of Trade Battery). All three chapters are worthwhile reading, but Rickey's lengthy and extensively researched recounting of Forrer's life and death is particularly noteworthy.

Mostly in areas of format and presentation, David Allison's Attacked On All Sides possesses some of the quirks and foibles commonly found in self-publishing, but the study's overall quality and value greatly exceeds what we typically get from that source. In addition to having significant local history appeal, the book, which explores the July 22 fight at Decatur at unprecedented depth, should grab the attention of students of the Atlanta Campaign as well.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Booknotes: The Civil War and the Transformation of American Citizenship

New Arrival:
The Civil War and the Transformation of American Citizenship edited by Paul Quigley
  (LSU Press, 2018).

Before, during, and after the Civil War "the boundaries and consequences of what it meant to be a citizen remained in flux," and The Civil War and the Transformation of American Citizenship "offers a wide-ranging exploration of citizenship’s metamorphoses amid the extended crises of war and emancipation."

In the wake of Confederate defeat major concerns arose over the citizenship rights and status of both white southerners and freedpeople. "As these changes swept across the nation, Americans debated the parameters of citizenship, the possibility of adopting or rejecting citizenship at will, and the relative importance of political privileges, economic opportunity, and cultural belonging. Ongoing inequities between races and genders, over the course of the Civil War and in the years that followed, further shaped these contentious debates." The Civil War and the Transformation of American Citizenship "reveals how war, Emancipation, and Reconstruction forced the country to rethink the concept of citizenship not only in legal and constitutional terms but also within the context of the lives of everyday Americans..."

Edited by Paul Quigley, the volume's nine essays examine diverse topics in three themed sections. "Race and the Redefinition of Citizenship" looks at emerging questions regarding the citizenship of freedmen and freedwomen as well as that of Chinese immigrants and American Indians. In "Oaths, Occupations, and the Wartime Boundaries of Citizenship," contributors study Confederate prisoners of war and the oath of allegiance as well as the nature of citizenship in occupied Winchester and Nashville. The final section, "Forging New Forms of Citizenship After 1865," discusses postwar dimensions of citizenship for three groups—black firemen in southern cities, southern expatriates in Latin America, and Confederate veterans in the Reconstruction South.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Book News: Upon the Fields of Battle

I recently received LSU's Fall-Winter catalog and reviewer checklist. I wish every publisher could do this online. It just makes things so much simpler for all involved. Anyway, one of the most intriguing titles that I put on my list is Upon the Fields of Battle: Essays on the Military History of America's Civil War from contributing editors Andrew S. Bledsoe and Andrew F. Lang (November 2018). Bledsoe tweeted out some hints about what topics their book might cover a while back, and I've been wanted to get a look at the table of contents ever since. Happily, it just turned up online and is copied below. The guys recruited a solid lineup.

Foreword: Gary W. Gallagher

I. Considerations

Military History and the American Civil War by Andrew S. Bledsoe and Andrew F. Lang

Rejuvenating Traditional Military History in the Current Age of Civil War Studies by Earl J. Hess

II. The Contested Battlefield

“I am Completely Checked by the Weather”: George B. McClellan, Weather, and the Peninsula Campaign by Kenneth W. Noe

“Such Then Is The Decision”: George Gordon Meade, the Expectations of Decisive Battle, and the Road to Williamsport by Jennifer M. Murray

“The Farce Was Complete”: Braxton Bragg, Field Orders, and the Language of Command at McLemore’s Cove by Andrew S. Bledsoe

The Looting and Bombardment of Fredericksburg: “Vile Spirits” or War Transformed?
by John J. Hennessy

Guerrilla Warfare as Social Stimulus by Brian D. McKnight

III. The Soldiers’ War


The Problem of American Exceptionalism: Military Occupation, Emancipation, and the Preservation of Union by Andrew F. Lang

“They Met Their Fate Without a Sigh”: An Analysis of Confederate Military Executions
by Kevin M. Levin

McClellan's Men: Union Army Democrats in 1864 by Keith Altavilla

The Hour That Lasted Fifty Years: The 107th Ohio and The Human Longitude of Gettysburg
by Brian Matthew Jordan

“His death may have lost the South her independence”: Albert Sidney Johnston and Civil War Memory by Robert L. Glaze

Saturday, May 26, 2018

2017 Civil War Book awards list

A reader recently asked me if I knew of any place on the web that compiled all the yearly Civil War book award winners. I've never encountered anything like that. Over the years, I've recognized various prizes and recipients here on CWBA and put together a limited list only in 2016. I am going to try to make it a yearly thing from now on (there will be permanent links in the sidebar), but the fact that many award sites either lack a web presence altogether or do not keep existing ones current still leaves gaps. Some prizes are also not awarded on a yearly basis.

I know there are many more in existence than I have listed below, so feel free to let me know of any additional ones (please keep them specific to the Civil War, though) in the comment section, with the relevant URL if possible. 2018 is incomplete at this time, of course, but I went back and completed a pretty good list for 2017:

Tom Watson Brown Award:
Christopher Phillips, The Rivers Ran Backward: The Civil War and the Remaking of the American Middle Border

A.M. Pate Award:
Andrew Masich, Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands 1861-1867

Dan and Marilyn Laney Prize:
David A. Powell, The Chickamauga Campaign―Barren Victory: The Retreat into Chattanooga, the Confederate Pursuit, and the Aftermath of the Battle, September 21 to October 20, 1863

Richard Barksdale Harwell Book Award:
Earl Hess, Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man in the Confederacy

Bobbie and John Nau Book Prize in American Civil War Era History:
Daniel W. Crofts, Lincoln and the Politics of Slavery: The Other Thirteenth Amendment and the Struggle to Save the Union

Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize :
(tie) James B. Conroy, Lincoln’s White House: The People’s House in Wartime and Douglas R. Egerton, Thunder at the Gates: The Black Civil War Regiments That Redeemed America

Douglas Southall Freeman History Award:
Timothy B. Smith, Grant Invades Tennessee: The 1862 Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson

Jefferson Davis Award:
Adam I.P. Smith, The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics, 1846–1865

Wiley-Silver Prize:
Matthew Hulbert, The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory: How Civil War Bushwhackers Became Gunslingers in the American West

Nevins - Freeman Award: ??

Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award: ??

General Basil W. Duke Literary Award:: ??

Some have already been mentioned here but belated congratulations to the rest!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Booknotes: That Field of Blood

New Arrival:
That Field of Blood: The Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862 by Daniel J. Vermilya (Savas Beatie, 2018).

It seems like the Emerging Civil War series has been catching its breath for a while after a near constant stream of output (perhaps due to getting the crew's new Revolutionary War series up and running). But they are back now. GNMP ranger Dan Vermilya's That Field of Blood: The Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862 (do you get ribbed by park service colleagues if you work at Gettysburg but write about Antietam?) provides an overview of the entire campaign, beginning with the Confederate decision to move north into Maryland and ending with Lincoln's issuing of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

The book has all the elements of the series' now familiar format. There are 150 photos and illustrations, including six historical maps and one tour map. The battlefield tour has eight stops, all located on park grounds. The volume covers a lot of ground so there are only two appendix offerings this time around. The first briefly explores presidential visits to the battlefield from Lincoln to Carter, and the second provides a short history of the battlefield park. As with most other volumes, there are also orders of battle and a suggested reading summary.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Review of Greene - "A CAMPAIGN OF GIANTS - THE BATTLE FOR PETERSBURG, VOLUME 1: From the Crossing of the James to the Crater"

[A Campaign of Giants - The Battle for Petersburg, Volume 1: From the Crossing of the James to the Crater by A. Wilson Greene (University of North Carolina Press, 2018). Hardcover, 34 maps, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:530/726. ISBN:978-1-4696-3857-7. $45]

By an odd twist of fate, some of the Civil War's most momentous and iconic campaigns have for a long time been among the most neglected in the published literature. Fortunately for readers, some of these gaps are finally being filled. While the Seven Days still languishes far behind, exceptionally good book-length coverage of Atlanta Campaign battles has emerged of late. The same is true for the 1864-65 Richmond-Petersburg Campaign. While only a small number of widely spaced Petersburg volumes trickled out over previous decades, the last ten years or so have witnessed a steady stream of first-rate titles addressing may different aspects of the campaign. However, until now no one has attempted a truly in-depth military overview of the entire ten-month series of operations. Part of a planned trilogy, A. Wilson Greene's A Campaign of Giants - The Battle for Petersburg, Volume 1: From the Crossing of the James to the Crater is a highly successful first step toward reaching that long elusive goal.

Undoubtedly, the great majority of readers who will find A Campaign of Giants appealing are already familiar with Gordon Rhea's much celebrated Overland Campaign series. Those who have finished Rhea's recently published final volume in the series will find in this book content overlap regarding mid-June events placed at the end of the Overland Campaign by Rhea and the beginning of the Petersburg Campaign by Greene, in particular the famous crossing of the James River and the failed promise of the initial Union assaults on Petersburg. In the opening sections of Greene's narrative there is wide agreement between the two authors' views of the strategic-operational picture of the eastern theater during this time. Similarly to Rhea and others, Greene describes the Army of the Potomac's Cold Harbor disengagement, its march to the James, and the crossing of that wide river in the face of the enemy as remarkable operational achievements (with a few moments of inevitable 'friction of war' along the way). The lead up to and execution of the June 15 attack on Petersburg is where things were badly botched by Grant and Meade.

The general who would lead the operation, William F. Smith, was not even informed that he was to organize an assault on Petersburg until after he rejoined Benjamin Butler's Army of the James at Bermuda Hundred. This left Smith with precious little time to regather his units and organize the march in accordance with Grant and Meade's timetable. Compounding the confusion, Smith was also told to expect direct support from Winfield Scott Hancock's Second Corps, but no one told Hancock this! When Smith did eventually reach the outskirts of Petersburg, he did not press the attack against the city's badly outnumbered defenders, an oversight that most observers still deem one of the war's most significant lost opportunities. Like Rhea, Greene is more forgiving of Smith's caution than the majority of contemporary and later critics have been. Unlike some, the author is not eager to attribute hesitation before the Petersburg earthworks to 'Cold Harbor Syndrome', but feels (like Rhea does) that Smith was clearly taken aback by the stiff resistance at Baylor's Farm and the stronger than expected appearance of enemy strength in men, guns, and fortifications at Petersburg. Assigning the lion's share of blame for any given military failure to one man remains a popular temptation among authors, but Greene admirably resists that brand of simplicity. Instead he judiciously interprets the historical arguments critical of Grant, Meade, Smith, Hancock, and Butler, and finds (as the saying goes) plenty of blame to go around. If not justified, at the very least the actions of the lead actors in the failed drama become explicable.

The failure to seize Petersburg on the 15th is popularly seen as a Union blunder of epic proportions, but the book also well reminds us that there are two sides to every victory and defeat. On that day the oft-mocked Henry Wise proved himself more militarily competent than he ever had before, though his extremely poor combat record up to that time makes one wonder why Beauregard did not take personal command at Petersburg himself rather than entrust the entire front south of the Appomattox to the unreliable Wise.

At this time, Benjamin Butler also took the opportunity of thinning Confederate defenses to damage the vital rail connection between Petersburg and Richmond. He's been criticized for not holding the ground taken, but Greene persuasively withholds strong censure, citing Grant's cautious orders and the arrival of substantial enemy reinforcements.

On June 16, Meade attacked right to left with Smith and Hancock but failed to make much headway. Greene is justifiably critical of the federal plan of battle, which dissipated assault strength by spreading divisions thinly over a wide front instead of concentrating them on a narrow front for one powerful punch.

Only lightly engaged on the 16th, it would be Burnside's turn to shoulder the responsibility for the main attack on the 17th, his Ninth Corps going in just south of Hancock. With Lee still withholding the bulk of the Army of Northern Virginia from the Petersburg front, the force disparity on the 17th would be even greater than on the previous two days. One could argue that Burnside's assault with Robert Potter's division was the best arranged and executed of the campaign so far, seizing a mile of earthworks and gathering in as many as 600 prisoners from one Confederate brigade alone along with all of the enemy artillery at the cost of only 150 men. Unfortunately for the Union army's breakthrough prospects, no arrangements had been made to exploit Burnside's gains. After Potter's success, Hancock was directed by Meade to launch another assault. Though Hancock later claimed he complied with the order, Greene could find no evidence that he did. Later, Gouverneur Warren's Fifth Corps arrived behind Burnside and deployed on the Ninth Corps left facing the new Confederate defense line. There were more uncoordinated divisional attacks, with no sustained gains, for the rest of the evening before darkness ended the fighting.

On the 17th, Beauregard, by constantly feeding Lee contradictory information and inexplicably failing to notice the arrival of Burnside's Ninth and Warren's Fifth corps until many hours had passed, contributed little to improving Lee's still uncertain grasp of the overall situation on the Richmond-Petersburg front. These serious intelligence oversights aside, Greene justly praises Beauregard for containing all of the June 16-17 Union offensives. Even so, the author is probably correct that it was the self-inflicted series of command and control failures by Grant, Meade, and Butler (inexcusable by veteran commanders at this stage of the war) that were primarily responsible for keeping the federals out of Petersburg. Though they certainly don't place the author in the same room with the most violent critics, Greene's fault-finding interpretations of Grant's actions do somewhat tap the brakes on today's increasingly reverential portrayals of the general's operational genius.

After limited headway on the 17th, Meade planned for the following day a coordinated mass assault by all four corps, but the initial advance hit empty trenches as the Confederates had already pulled back westward from the Hagood Line to the more compact Harris Line. The second phase of the attack, launched at midday with Lee himself finally present, quickly went to ground. Meade, angry that his veteran corps commanders could not advance simultaneously at the appointed hour, still expected each corps to attack. Their heavy but localized frontal attacks (including the famous doomed charge of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery) were the order of the day for the rest of the 18th. All were repulsed with great loss.

Greene is mildly critical of Meade for not attempting to seek out Beauregard's southern flank and get around it before Lee arrived on the scene in greater strength, but an argument could be made that the front was not truly developed until late in the crucial 72-hour window when the force disparity between the two sides was at its most extreme (perhaps only by midday on the 18th). For those puzzled by Grant's hands-off approach to June 15-18, the author suggests that this was consistent both with his current general-in-chief position and the wide latitude Grant typically gave key subordinates in earlier campaigns. Regardless, one would think that Grant would have wished to more personally direct what most sensed to be the crowning moment of the 1864 summer offensive in the East. Unstated is whether the author believes that Grant was aware that the corps commanders were losing confidence in Meade. On the other side, Greene tempers the general praise directed toward Beauregard (noting that defending behind earthworks offered little opportunity for exceptional generalship), but the Louisiana general certainly deserves credit for keeping his head and his men in hand against fearful odds. Beauregard also effectively managed successive lines of defense against extreme pressure, which was no mean feat. Greene finds that Lee's reactions to events (often perceived in the literature as unduly slow) were actually quite reasonable given continued uncertainty and contradictory information coming from Beauregard.

Greene describes Grant's Second Offensive as "delusional" in conception. In the author's view, nowhere near enough troops were assigned (David Birney's Second Corps and Horatio Wright's Sixth Corps) to both pass around the Confederate right and reach the Appomattox River while also maintaining solid contact with the rest of the army. During the operation, Birney and especially Wright did not advance with the expected alacrity and their actions allowed the Confederates to seize the initiative. With support, William Mahone's Confederate division punished each Union corps severely on successive days (the Second Corps on June 22 and the Sixth on the 23rd), with the first riposte—one of the war's most impressive feats by a division—coming close to routing the entire Second Corps. Coming closely on the heels of June 15-18, these fresh federal defeats demoralized the Union army, and the book argues that the comprehensive rebuff of the Second Offensive forced an operational pause upon Grant that led the Union commander to realize for the first time that his initially promising Southside campaign could not end anytime soon.

Covered also in the book are related mounted operations conducted above the James and below Petersburg. Greene provides an especially good account of the Wilson-Kautz Raid and its battles at Staunton River Bridge, Sappony Church, and Reams' Station. Having opposed the raid, Meade pronounced it a "serious disaster," while Grant felt that the level of material destruction inflicted on the enemy outweighed the heavy losses in men, horses, artillery, and prestige. The author criticizes Grant for ordering the raid at a time when his available cavalry arm was widely divided. This impatience allowed the Confederates to concentrate their own forces against Wilson and Kautz and nearly destroy them. Greene reasonably deems Sheridan's move to support operations on the left as slow but not tardy enough to deserve serious censure, especially since speed was not expressly urged upon him by his superiors. The author also perceptively notes that it likely irked Grant personally to find two of his great favorites (Wilson and Sheridan) once again subject to Meade's ire, perhaps enough to even consider replacing the hero of Gettysburg as commander of the Army of the Potomac. At this stage of the campaign, Greene keenly argues that Meade's increasing tendency to alienate subordinates in intemperate fashion was seriously affecting his command effectiveness.

While Greene's study is mostly concerned with military operations, the narrative does occasionally pause to dwell upon other topics. One chapter offers a fine discussion of how Petersburg's white and black residents reacted to the early stages of the campaign and what they did to adapt to their new living situation. Civilian and military authorities alike decried the heavy bombardment of the town, which commenced without prior notice for the evacuation of noncombatants. Though the lack of resources for transportation and care of refugees is duly noted, the Confederates surely should have preemptively evacuated those portions of the town most likely to fall within range of Union siege guns. Much of the population ended up staying, and Greene vividly describes their life under fire and their daily struggles to feed themselves and maintain as much normalcy as possible under frightening circumstances.

Though trench life at the fighting front will very likely be addressed at great length in subsequent volumes, accompanied perhaps by a more in-depth discussion of the transition from mobile field operations to more static warfare [in the meantime, see Steven Sodergren's The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns: Union Soldiers and Trench Warfare, 1864-1865 (2017)], Volume 1 does delve into the initial impressions Union and Confederate soldiers had of the experience. Greene's reading of Confederate journals and letters written during this period found much more optimism than gloom. Rather than viewing the failure of Grant's first two offensives as just the beginning stages of inexorable defeat, most Rebels felt confident that the badly-blooded Union host would soon be forced to withdraw altogether. In stark contrast with the campaign's final stages, the flow of Union deserters greatly surpassed their opposite number during this time. Curiously, Confederate officials decried the level of disorder these enemy deserters caused behind the lines, which brings to mind that Civil War desertion studies generally neglect to examine how authorities handled enemy deserters once passed to the rear. Even though their efforts were stymied at a shockingly high cost in human lives, most low-ranking officers and men in the Union armies in the East seem to have retained confidence in Grant as the right man to see things through to the end.

The book then describes the operational lull on the Petersburg front that existed between the end of the Second Offensive and beginning of the Third Offensive (which would include the Crater debacle). Reminding readers that there was always action of some kind going on, Greene recounts a number of smaller-scale actions that occurred (along with some aborted larger ones) during this 'inactive' period, also showing that close proximity led to heavy cumulative losses from daily shelling and sharpshooter fire.

Greene's lengthy discussion of the preparation, fighting, and aftermath of the infamous Crater battle is a fine one. His investigation into the training of Ferraro's Fourth Division (the Ninth Corps's attached USCT division that was initially assigned to lead the attack) most likely explodes lingering myths that the black troops were specially trained for the operation (the best evidence gleaned from those actually in the units tagged for the job is that they were not) and their replacement by white troops late in the planning stage was thus a colossal blunder. The author also is likely more correct than others have been in describing the attitude of the Union high command as more apathetic than disdainful of the mine. Grant's apparent lack of interest is curious given that underground explosions of a similar nature were to have played a major role in the July 6 general assault at Vicksburg that was planned but ultimately never occurred due to the garrison's surrender. Perhaps his memory of the meager results of the detonation of the 3rd Louisiana Redan mine earlier in the siege led him to distrust the lofty promises of mining operations. Regardless, at least early on the Petersburg mine was not considered a fundamental part of Grant's upcoming Third Offensive, with the movement north of the James by Hancock and Sheridan deemed the primary action. However, Meade's suggestion that the defenses opposite Burnside were vulnerable led Grant to rethink the importance of the mine explosion to his overall plan. Among other moments, this consistent brand of indecision leads Greene to broadly characterize Grant's operational planning at this early stage in the Petersburg Campaign as highly vacillatory in nature.

Only after Hancock and Sheridan's advance fizzled at First Deep Bottom, with the addition of solid evidence that Lee had sent major reinforcements north of the James, did Grant offer his full backing to a major assault on Burnside's front, where he ordered the Fifth and Eighteenth corps to support the Ninth. Greene joins many other historians in assigning primary blame for the debacle to Meade and Burnside. As mentioned above, Meade nixed Burnside's assault preparations at the last moment, forcing him to swap the all-black Fourth Division with another and fundamentally changing the plan. With only twelve hours to comply, Burnside then inexplicably had his division commanders draw lots to determine who would lead the attack, the unfortunate result being the least capable commander (James Ledlie) would spearhead the operation. Compounding Burnside's poor judgement, Ledlie, either willfully or through misunderstanding, then proceeded to change the newly agreed upon plan of action midstream. It was a mess all around. In the author's view, by approving Meade's late meddling Grant also assumes some responsibility for the ensuing debacle.

Given its weight as the most famous, most ferociously fought, and most controversial event of the entire Petersburg Campaign, Greene discusses the Crater fight and its immediate aftermath in great detail. As is the case throughout the book, the section is immeasurably enhanced by the great multitude of firsthand accounts authored by participants of all ranks and from both sides. Greene describes at length how the attack quickly bogged down after initial penetration of the mine-shattered landscape. In addition to the Crater itself only short stretches of line were captured to the north and south, the result being that each new wave of attackers only served to crowd the front. This teeming mass of white and black soldiers became highly vulnerable to counterattack, and the Confederates were happy to oblige. Though the defenders had already largely sealed the breakthrough, the determined advance of Mahone's Division into the breach transformed the Union effort from mere defeat to disaster. Greene recounts in vivid detail the brutal hand to hand fighting in and around the Crater, emphasizing the exceptional racial animus felt between Confederate and USCT soldiers, who often engaged in no quarter fighting when facing each other. The presence of ex-slaves in blue uniform (seen as the embodiment of servile insurrection) deeply angered Confederates of all ranks. The Crater provided them with the opportunity to fully vent their rage, which was taken to fearful lengths during and after the battle. Greene's account of the fighting confirms the traditional story crediting Mahone for finally halting the wholesale killing of wounded and surrendered USCTs. It is here that the book ends.

While terrain detail is a bit inconsistent in the tactical maps, the book's nearly three dozen original maps of all scales follow the course of the text well and are an immense help to readers now unfortunately becoming accustomed to history publishers skimping on cartography. The great number and breadth of primary and secondary sources listed in the volume's nearly 50-page bibliography is impressive. In addition to mastering the existing literature, the author deeply mined manuscript archives located all across the country.

Wish-list items might include opposing orders of battle at regular intervals (something akin to what Ed Bearss did so well in his classic Vicksburg trilogy), but perhaps the final volume will have an appendix section containing that type of supplementary material. Though most readers are probably already exhausted after 500 pages of densely packed narrative, some kind of recap might also have been usefully inserted before what is otherwise a quite abrupt 'to be continued' ending.

Greene's assessments of the opposing high commands are judicious throughout. With his initial delay in sending reinforcements more understandable in Greene's view than many critics allow, Lee probably receives the highest marks, while Grant's much vaunted operational skill is more suspect. Meade is an interesting case. While the literature has spawned a small but ardent crop of Meade defenders in recent times, Greene's work seems to imply that the general's usefulness had passed by this early stage of the Petersburg Campaign. As many others have observed, the extra command layer inherent to the Grant-Meade arrangement did not smooth the conduct of operations in the field. What it did do was free Grant from day to day management of the armies, leave him with more mental time for formulating strategy, and diffuse criticism. Just how much of a positive balance came out of this trade-off remains open to debate.

In the introduction to A Campaign of Giants, Greene is surely correct in noting that an exhaustive military treatment of the Petersburg Campaign would fill many more volumes than he has planned, but he is too modest about the very impressive scale of his own work. The level of detail and insightful analysis achieved in Volume 1 should more than satisfy even the most demanding readers of Civil War campaign studies. Even at this early stage in the process, there exists few doubts that the trilogy will eventually rank among the classics of the field.