Friday, October 19, 2018

Booknotes: Appealing for Liberty

New Arrival:
Appealing for Liberty: Freedom Suits in the South by Loren Schweninger (Oxford UP, 2018).

"(D)rawing from more than 2,000 suits and from the testimony of more than 4,000 plaintiffs from the Revolutionary era to the Civil War," Loren Schweninger's Appealing for Liberty: Freedom Suits in the South offers readers the "first comprehensive study" of the use of courtrooms all across the country by slaves seeking legal release from bondage. "Through the petitions, evidence, and testimony introduced in these court proceedings, the lives of the enslaved come sharply and poignantly into focus, as do many other aspects of southern society such as the efforts to preserve and re-unite black families. This book depicts in graphic terms, the pain, suffering, fears, and trepidations of the plaintiffs while discussing the legal system lawyers, judges, juries, and testimony that made judgments on their 'causes,' as the suits were often called."

Slaves and their legal representatives justified their lawsuits on a number of different grounds. They "brought suits claiming they had been freed in wills and deeds, were born of free mothers, were descendants of free white women or Indian women; they charged that they were illegally imported to some states or were residents of the free states and territories. Those who testified on their behalf, usually against leaders of their communities, were generally white. So too were the lawyers who took these cases, many of them men of prominence, such as Francis Scott Key. More often than not, these men were slave owners themselves—complicating our understanding of race relations in the antebellum period."

As one might guess, the plaintiffs were not always successful, and most cases did not reach any kind of national consciousness on the level of Dred Scott. "Indeed, most of the cases ended at the county, circuit, or district court level of various southern states. Yet the narratives of both those who gained their freedom and those who failed to do so, and the issues their suits raised, shed a bold and timely light on the history of race and liberty in the 'land of the free.'"

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Booknotes: Upon the Fields of Battle

New Arrival:
Upon the Fields of Battle: Essays on the Military History of America's Civil War edited by Andrew S. Bledsoe & Andrew F. Lang (LSU Press, 2018).

At least in the academic world, the intellectual utility of studying the most foundational elements of Civil War military history and science (i.e. soldiers, generals, battles, strategy, tactics, logistics, etc.) remains an oddly contentious matter, even in the face of the triumph of so-called New Military History's explosive expansion of perspectives and avenues of inquiry over the past few decades. At this point, the figurative walls separating military history from other sub-areas of Civil War study have crumbled to such a degree that it might be more effort-saving to ask what isn't military history rather than what it is or should be. 

Even with the huge existing, and still emerging, body of innovative scholarship connecting military and home fronts, editors Andrew Bledsoe and Andrew Lang argue in Upon the Fields of Battle: Essays on the Military History of America's Civil War that "research focusing on military history (still) prompts prominent and recurring debates among Civil War historians. Critics of traditional military history see it as old-fashioned, too technical, or irrelevant to the most important aspects of the war. Proponents of this area of study view these criticisms as a misreading of its nature and potential to illuminate the war. The collected essays in Upon the Fields of Battle bridge this intellectual divide, demonstrating how historians enrich Civil War studies by approaching the period through the specific but nonetheless expansive lens of military history."

Earlier in the year, I posted the full table of contents (see it here). In bringing together contributors with highly diverse interests and viewpoints, Bledsoe and Lang "present an innovative volume that deeply integrates and analyzes the ideas and practices of the military during the Civil War. Furthermore, by grounding this collection in both traditional and pioneering methodologies, the authors assess the impact of this field within the social, political, and cultural contexts of Civil War studies."

Upon the Fields of Battle "reconceives traditional approaches to subjects like battles and battlefields, practice and policy, command and culture, the environment, the home front, civilians and combatants, atrocity and memory, revealing a more balanced understanding of the military aspects of the Civil War’s evolving history."

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Review - "At the Forefront of Lee's Invasion: Retribution, Plunder, and Clashing Cultures on Richard S. Ewell's Road to Gettysburg" by Robert Wynstra

[At the Forefront of Lee's Invasion: Retribution, Plunder, and Clashing Cultures on Richard S. Ewell's Road to Gettysburg by Robert J. Wynstra (Kent State University Press, 2018). Cloth, maps, photos, illust., notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:vii,266/347. ISBN:978-1-60635-354-7. $49.95]

Robert Wynstra's At the Forefront of Lee's Invasion: Retribution, Plunder, and Clashing Cultures on Richard S. Ewell's Road to Gettysburg is a truly unique addition to the already vast and ever expanding Gettysburg Campaign literature. Not only does the book painstakingly recount the June 1863 military advance of Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell's Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia through Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, but it provides a remarkably rich documentation of Confederate requisition practices during the campaign and an almost daily record of interactions between their soldiers and the civilians in their path. There has been some precedent. While Kent Masterson Brown's epic 2005 study Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign does devote a lengthy chapter to Confederate foraging operations during the march north, the book focuses primarily on the southern army's post-battle retreat and the fight to save its massive wagon trains filled with seized goods and supplies. Though also heavily concerned with military events, Wynstra's new study examines at great length and in unprecedented detail how and where those wagons were filled in the first place, at least from the Second Corps perspective.

As already mentioned, on one level At the Forefront of Lee's Invasion is an impressive military history of the Second Corps's march north. In detailed fashion, the text closely follows Ewell's three divisions (those of generals Early, Johnson, and Rodes) and General Albert Jenkins's attached cavalry brigade from their Virginia encampments to the streets of Gettysburg. Wynstra's narrative treats with remarkable thoroughness the multitude of engagements fought along the way, those clashes ranging in size from the corps-sized Second Battle of Winchester down to tiny skirmishes between Confederate troops and hastily-assembled state militia. Also recounted are several instances of bushwhacking from unknown assailants. Ewell receives generally positive reviews from both author and source material for the general's first trial run as Stonewall Jackson's successor. The weakest link on the advance proved to be the cavalry, which operated with variable levels of discipline and generally failed to cut off retreating enemy forces when such opportunities arose. While the handful of maps contained in the volume are useful in tracing large-scale movements and familiarizing readers with the geography, it's unfortunate that no tactical maps were created for any of the actions described in the text, not even for the largest battle at Winchester.

As well done as the military narrative is, it's the author's exhaustive study of the wary interaction between Confederate soldiers and the Maryland and Pennsylvania civilians they encountered in June that make the book shine brightest. Wynstra's writing also effectively contrasts the civilian reception that Second Corps received in ostensibly "friendly" territory as its columns moved north down Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. While supporters lined country roads and city streets in the early stages, providing food and refreshment aplenty, the local mood abruptly soured when Jenkins's cavalry and Rodes's infantry division entered Berkeley County, which had only recently broken away from old Virginia to join the new Union state of West Virginia.

When Ewell's infantry spearhead (Rodes's Division) crossed the Potomac into Maryland, reception at Williamsport was frosty but was, while still mixed, much more positive in other municipalities like Hagerstown. According to Wynstra, many Confederate soldiers reported that their reception in western Maryland was far more enthusiastic in 1863 than it had been in 1862, the troops conjecturing that general unhappiness with federal occupation, conscription, and emancipation were behind the change. Other Rebels, however, remembering with bitterness the cold Marylander stares of not too many months before, were deeply mistrustful that any real change of heart had taken place. In their minds, any serious defeat in the upcoming campaign would result in the population reverting to their former attitudes. When the invaders finally crossed into Pennsylvania, they were without any doubt in the enemy's home ground. Aside from some rare scattered support from presumed Peace Democrats of the more extreme variety, the entire population was hostile, especially the region's many German farmers and townspeople. These Pennsylvanians, the hated "Dutch," were especially appealing targets for Confederate foraging.

Though Wynstra does not specifically devote any chapter to the "clashing cultures" referred to in the volume's subtitle, there are several culturally-themed threads that can be teased from the narrative. The more hostility the population exhibited toward the invaders the more the inhabitants were described by the Confederates in their writings as dirty, uncouth, and just plain ugly. The language of cultural and ethnic superiority employed is remarkably similar to that used by Midwestern Union soldiers when describing the isolated rural populations of Missouri and Arkansas. Curiously, many Confederate officers and men recorded their disappointment that so many northern citizens proved to be so submissive to their requests and demands, viewing their lack of open defiance as unmanly (for the men anyway), degraded, and lacking in pride. Just how much this viewpoint was a product of southern slave culture is more implied than discussed at depth in the book. The southern attitude is in marked contrast to how northern soldiers tended to view openly defiant southern civilians as hardened Rebels and all the more fit for aggressively punitive action. Southern soldiers also frequently remarked at the material wealth of the Pennsylvania farmers not being matched by any behavioral refinement, reinforcing the traditional stereotype they had of northerners valuing money above all else. As Wynstra observes, it seems not to have occurred to any of the Rebels that the widespread prosperity that impressed them so much in Pennsylvania might have been better attributed to the advantages of the North's free labor system.

According to Wynstra's findings, Lee's strict orders against entering homes without authorization, targeting private property (beyond the regular requisitions), and committing acts of retaliation for real and perceived wrongs committed by Union armies in the South were closely followed in the overwhelming majority of cases. Of course, exceptions were unavoidable and there were isolated criminal acts, but Ewell's subordinate generals were remarkably consistent in enforcing Lee's edict, by which it was hoped that the Confederate Army could irrefutably demonstrate to the rest of the world the contrast between barbaric Union outrages and civilized Confederate restraint when it came to conducting themselves in the enemy's country. Establishing the moral high ground in this regard would also provide their enemies with no additional ammunition to use against the growing peace movement in the North.

For every town and city occupied by the Confederates during this phase of the Gettysburg Campaign, the author was able to amass a considerable collection of firsthand accounts from both sides, and together these documents help construct a remarkably well-rounded perspective.In every urban center they entered, the Confederates readily requisitioned needed items from stores and businesses, paying for items taken like food, clothing, horses, and livestock with Confederate paper money or receipts. Such forms of "payment" offered some semblance of defense against accusations of outright theft, but also cleverly made the merchants and citizens to some small degree beholden to Confederate victory in the war. Considering the army's lack of experience in operating in true enemy territory, the process was surprisingly orderly, with the officer in charge typically successful in negotiating terms with city leaders that would avoid soldiers entering private homes to obtain what they needed. Even the victimized citizens, who were understandably angry and frustrated with their often very considerable personal losses, were consistently forced to concede that the enemy troops generally respected private property of non-military value, avoided wanton acts of destruction, and behaved far better than expected.

That said, Wynstra's research reconfirms the uncomfortable truth exposed by other scholars and writers before him that Confederate units, in particular Jenkins's cavalry brigade but also men from all three infantry divisions acting with the tacit approval of their commanders, actively hunted for escaped slaves in Maryland and Pennsylvania to send back south for repatriation or profit. In the process, they also kidnapped numerous free blacks, only some of whom were released when local citizens were able to provide convincing evidence of their status. This pattern of behavior was a jarring exception to the general rule of retaliatory restraint exhibited by the men of Lee's army, who had the June 11 burning of Darien, Georgia fresh in their minds along with similar memories of innumerable other acts of wholesale destruction perpetrated by Union forces in the South.

On the whole, if Second Corps is any indication of how the rest of the army conducted itself, it's difficult not to come to the conclusion that Lee's command during the Gettysburg Campaign was exceptionally well disciplined in comparison to how other principal Civil War armies of the mid-war period and beyond treated white civilians and their property. However, due caution is in order before drawing any kind of broader conclusions from this. For one thing, the sample size of a major Confederate army operating in true northern (as differentiated from Border State) territory is only one, while numerous Union armies crisscrossed the south on countless occasions at every stage of the war. Additionally, there's no way to reasonably predict how southern armies might have conducted themselves if they, like their Union counterparts, were forced to engage in sustained occupation duty and active campaigning deep inside the enemy's homeland for years at a time. Getting back to the Second Corps during the Gettysburg Campaign, it might also make for a useful point of comparison to examine the behavior of Ewell's men during the retreat, as the literature offers countless examples of enhanced mistreatment of civilians at the hands of recently defeated Civil War armies.

The first truly extensive account of large-scale Confederate foraging and impressment activities in the North, At the Forefront of Lee's Invasion is not only an essential addition to the modern Gettysburg Campaign library but an important new resource for those studying the interaction between Civil War armies and the hostile civilian populations that were forced to supply their needs and wants in the field. It is highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Booknotes: Major General George H. Sharpe and the Creation of American Military Intelligence in the Civil War

New Arrival:
Major General George H. Sharpe and the Creation of American Military Intelligence in the Civil War by Peter G. Tsouras (Casemate, 2018).

Though mostly mocked for his role in framing General McClellan's inflated estimates of enemy troop strength in the East, Alan Pinkerton is probably the most well-known Union military intelligence chief. However, the man who proved most effective in heading the information gathering for the Army of the Potomac was clearly George Sharpe, a prewar lawyer from New York who joined the Union Army in 1861 as a volunteer infantry officer. According to Peter Tsouras, the author of the rather hefty new biography Major General George H. Sharpe and the Creation of American Military Intelligence in the Civil War, the apparatus created by the colonel (and later general) "was the combat multiplier that ultimately allowed the Union to be victorious." That's a pretty lofty claim to try to back up.

From the description: Sharpe "built an intelligence organization (The Bureau of Military Information – BMI) from a standing start beginning in February 1863. He was the first man in military history to create a professional all-source intelligence operation, defined by the U.S. Army as 'the intelligence products, organizations, and activities that incorporates all sources of information, in the production of intelligence.' By early 1863, in the two and half months before the Chancellorsville Campaign, Sharpe had conducted a breath-taking Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) effort. His reports identified every brigade and its location in Lee’s army, provided an accurate order-of-battle down to the regiment level and a complete analysis of the railroad. The eventual failure of the campaign was outside of the control of Sharpe, who had assembled a staff of 30-50 scouts and support personnel to run the military intelligence operation of the Army of the Potomac. He later supported Grant’s Armies Operating Against Richmond (AOAR) during the Siege of Petersburg, where the BMI played a fundamental role in the victory."

Apparently, Tsouras uncovered some new and seldom-used sources during his research that add unique flavor to his study. "With the discovery of the day-by-day journal of John C. Babcock, Sharpe’s civilian deputy and order-of-battle analyst in late 1863, and the unpublished Hooker papers, the military correspondence of Joseph Hooker during his time as a commander of the Army of the Potomac, Tsouras has discovered a unique window into the flow of intelligence reporting which gives a new perspective in the study of military operations in the U.S. Civil War." The book also delves into the postwar period, where Sharpe "crossed paths with almost everyone prominent in America after the Civil War. He became one of the most powerful Republican politicians in New York State, had close friendships with Presidents Grant and Arthur, and was a champion of African-American civil rights."

The 450-page narrative is very generously supplemented with numerous photographs, maps, and tables. The book's extensive appendix section is filled with information related to the manpower and activities of the BMI, and, among other things, reproduces a number of reports written by Sharpe.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Book News: Raising the White Flag

Accustomed to viewing surrender in wartime as involving a pretty dire set of circumstances (at the very least putting the prisoner-of-war out of action for the duration of the conflict), modern readers new to Civil War studies are probably surprised at how readily and often Civil War soldiers gave up in such large numbers and with such frequently transient consequences (ex. instant parole) to themselves. Of course, the mid to late-war suspension of the previously liberal Dix-Hill cartel system as a form of wholesale prisoner exchange dramatically changed things. In the end though, so many Union and Confederate officers and men became prisoners at one time or another that you could reasonably argue that it was one of the war's defining experiences. According to David Silkenat's upcoming Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War (April 2019) "roughly one out of every four soldiers surrendered at some point during the conflict. In no other American war did surrender happen so frequently." It would be interesting to see how those numbers compare with America's other wars, before and after, and one would assume the book addresses that.

It's a bit surprising that a study of this kind has never turned up before, providing further reminder that there's always new topics to explore and room for fresh thinking on just about anything Civil War related. Raising the White Flag "provides the first comprehensive study of Civil War surrender, focusing on the conflicting social, political, and cultural meanings of the action. Looking at the conflict from the perspective of men who surrendered, Silkenat creates new avenues to understand prisoners of war, fighting by Confederate guerrillas, the role of southern Unionists, and the experiences of African American soldiers. The experience of surrender also sheds valuable light on the culture of honor, the experience of combat, and the laws of war." I'm looking forward to reading it.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Booknotes: In Memory of Self and Comrades

New Arrival:
In Memory of Self and Comrades: Thomas Wallace Colley's Recollections of Civil War Service in the 1st Virginia Cavalry edited by Michael K. Shaffer (UT Press, 2018).

In Memory of Self and Comrades: Thomas Wallace Colley's Recollections of Civil War Service in the 1st Virginia Cavalry is the latest volume from UT Press's long-running series Voices of the Civil War. From the description: "Thomas W. Colley served in one of the most active and famous units in the Civil War, the 1st Virginia Cavalry, which fought in battles in the Eastern Theater, from First Manassas/Bull Run to the defense of Petersburg. Colley was born November 11, 1837, outside Abingdon, Virginia, and grew up knowing the daily demands of life on a farm. In May 1861, along with the other members of the Washington Mounted Rifles, he left his home in Washington County and reported to camp in Richmond. During the war, Colley received wounds on three different occasions: first at Waterloo Bridge in 1862, again at Kelly’s Ford in 1863, and finally at Haw’s Shop in 1864. The engagement at Haw’s Shop resulted in the amputation of his left foot, thereby ending his wartime service."

During the war, Colley kept a small diary covering a brief period in 1862. In 1903, he started work on a memoir of his life and Civil War service. According to editor Michael Shaffer, Colley's recollections from decades earlier are "fairly accurate," assisted by the writer's consultations with fellow veterans. More from the description: "The first modern scholarly edition of Colley’s writings, In Memory of Self and Comrades dramatizes Colley’s fate as a wounded soldier mustered out before the war’s conclusion. Colley’s postwar reflections on the war reveal his struggle to earn a living and maintain his integrity while remaining somewhat unreconciled to his condition. He found much of his solace through writing and sought to advance his education after the war. As one of an estimated 20,000 soldiers who underwent amputation during the Civil War, his memoirs reveal the challenges of living with what many might recognize today as post-traumatic stress disorder. Annotations from editor Michael K. Shaffer provide further context to Colley’s colorful and insightful writings on both his own condition and the condition of other veterans also dealing with amputations."

The volume has all the care and attention we've come to expect from the Voices series, which is one of the premier outlets for publishing firsthand Civil War writings of all kinds. In addition to editing and arranging the material, Shaffer contributes a brief introduction and endnotes. Numerous photographs and nine maps from veteran cartographer George Skoch supplement the text.

The appendix section is very extensive, filling roughly half the book's pages and including a pair of regimental roster-histories written by Colley. The rosters are particularly notable for Colley's personalized comments on each man listed, which is rare to find anywhere in the literature (at least I've never come across such a thing ever before). He also does the same for the unit's officers. Some wartime letters and Colley's own account of his Kelly's Ford wounding can also be found inside.

Beyond informing those with a special interest in Colley himself, the book certainly rewards students of the 1st Virginia Cavalry with a wealth of primary source materials. Colley's postwar writings also provide a window into one man's struggle with the physical and emotional wounds inflicted by the war.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Review - "Mountain Feds: Arkansas Unionists and the Peace Society" by James Johnston

[Mountain Feds: Arkansas Unionists and the Peace Society by James J. Johnston (Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, 2018). Softcover, maps, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:200/305. ISBN:978-1-945624-12-4. $24.95]

Contemporary source limitations will always inhibit modern efforts to record the full history of secret societies associated with the American Civil War, particularly those of the comparatively short-lived variety and those whose members had the most compelling reasons to fear for their own personal safety. Even though it perhaps strayed a bit too far into conjecture, David Keehn's Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War (2013) is one of the better recent attempts at deciphering a Civil War secret society. Though their northern chapters were able to operate in the open, the Union Leagues had many practices common to the secret societies popular to the period. Their history was comprehensively examined for the first time by Paul Taylor in his 2018 book The Most Complete Political Machine Ever Known: The North's Union Leagues in the American Civil War. The membership rituals, practices, and activities of the pro-Union Arkansas Peace Society are far less well known than those of the KGC and Union Leagues, but James Johnston's Mountain Feds: Arkansas Unionists and the Peace Society, the end result of decades of research in legal depositions, Southern Claims Commission files, military service records, Pension Bureau documents and much more, goes a great distance toward successfully working around those unavoidable source constraints mentioned above. Like no one else has ever done before, Johnston brings the shadowy Peace Society into the light of day.

It is commonly recognized that the citizenry of Arkansas as a whole possessed a very strong Unionist streak that consistently resisted the minority independence movement during the secession crisis. Opposing Arkansas secession was a solid bloc of upland yeoman (the "Mountain Feds" of the book's title), northern-born residents, recent immigrants, and old-line conservative Whigs. Though many immigrants and northerners fled the state during the crisis, and Lincoln's call for volunteers to invade the Deep South states after Fort Sumter converted most Whigs to secession, the Unionism (or at least the anti-Confederate feelings) of many upland farmers and other folk existing in similar fashion outside the slave economy—especially those living in the North-Central counties—proved to be unconditional. The early stages of Johnston's study provides a fine overview of this transformative period in Arkansas history.

According to Johnston, there are no written records of when or where the Arkansas Peace Society first formed. Many Confederate supporters accused the Society of being imported from the North and used that unfounded assertion effectively as propaganda, but the author was unable to uncover any real evidence that the organization wasn't homegrown. Copies of the Peace Society membership oath are the only foundational documents that exist. For obvious reasons there were no membership rolls recorded at the time or meeting notes taken, and much of what is known about the early part of the Society's existence is from postwar testimony and pension records. The book does go into some of the signs and hand signals that Society members allegedly used to identify themselves to colleagues and allies.

As the book demonstrates, during most of 1861 Arkansas's Unionists were able to live in relative peace but increasingly aggressive Confederate Army recruitment and growing distrust of the motives of the Unionist population led to a heavy-handed and effective crackdown by the end of the year. Johnston marks the end of relatively peaceful coexistence with the mid-November arrival in Arkansas of news of the coordinated bridge-burning incidents that occurred in Unionist East Tennessee earlier that month. Fearing that similar uprisings would occur in their own state, Confederate and Arkansas state military forces along with citizen vigilante groups conducted mass sweeps throughout the upland counties, arresting accused Peace Society members and effectively breaking up their organization. Primary sources pertaining to Confederate suppression of the Peace Society are far more abundant than those of the society itself, and the process is documented in the book in highly detailed fashion, county by county. Though some officially unsanctioned hangings occurred, most of the prisoners were marched en masse to Little Rock, where they were given the option of trial or enlistment in the Confederate Army. Distrusting the judicial process, many of the captives selected the latter. Ironically, the stubborn few that stayed to await trial were typically awarded their release after the authorities failed to offer convincing evidence of their guilt.

The unwilling volunteers filled entire companies, including two in the 18th Arkansas infantry regiment, but most individuals took the earliest opportunity to desert and either go home, join a guerrilla band, or enlist in the Union Army. In addition to recounting the formation of Arkansas Union companies, battalions, and regiments, the book also discusses efforts by Kansas and Missouri units to recruit renegade Arkansans. The book covers a good selection of their operations as well as providing some insights into the "inner war" that raged on the Arkansas home front, mostly in the north but also across other parts of the state.

Sometime during the war, probably in 1863 (though, as with so many other questions, no real supporting evidence exists toward nailing down a date), the Peace Society morphed into the Union League. In the book, Johnston shows how many of these Union League men played an active role in wartime reconstruction, supporting the abolition of slavery (but not black equality). However, their leadership influence waned during postwar Reconstruction, even in their Searcy County stronghold, in the face of resurgent ex-Confederates.

In addition to his main narrative, Johnston also prepared an extensive appendix section for his book that will undoubtedly prove to be of great assistance to current readers and future researchers alike. Among its several impressive and highly useful features one can find fairly detailed rosters of both the 1861 state convention delegates and known Peace Society members. Another appendix highlight is the section's pair of roster-histories of Confederate companies filled with coerced Society "volunteers."

Mountain Feds is an important book that's worthy of hearty recommendation on a number of levels. The study represent the first comprehensive history of the Arkansas Peace Society, but it additionally needs to be considered a key new component of the growing literature of Southern Unionism, a general knowledge of which is essential to any real understanding of the societal dynamics and divided nature of the Confederate home front. In-depth discussion of the many ways by which Peace Society members directly aided the Union war effort (while at the same time denying recruits for, and tying up a portion of, Confederate Arkansas's already overextended armed forces) also makes the volume a useful contribution to the military history of the Trans-Mississippi theater.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Booknotes: Looming Civil War

New Arrival:
Looming Civil War: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Imagined the Future
  by Jason Phillips (Oxford UP, 2018).

In his new book Looming Civil War, historian Jason Phillips asks a question not often considered at length, namely "(h)ow did Americans imagine the Civil War before it happened?" Of course, this assumes that a sizable spectrum of citizens not only believed that some great moment of national strife was either possible, probable, or inevitable in the near future but also put a great deal of deep thought into the matter. Apparently, that was very much true for many antebellum Americans. According to Phillips, the cataclysmic event was foreseen and discussed "in novels, prophecies, dreams, diaries, speeches, and newspapers decades before the first shots at Fort Sumter." Those that did write about it considered all manner of manifestations, among them "a frontier filibuster, an economic clash between free and slave labor, a race war, a revolution, a war for liberation, and Armageddon."

Innumerable elements of the human condition went into shaping such views and "(r)eading their premonitions reveals how several factors, including race, religion, age, gender, region, and class, shaped what people thought about the future and how they imagined it. Some Americans pictured the future as an open, contested era that they progressed toward and molded with their thoughts and actions. Others saw the future as a closed, predetermined world that approached them and sealed their fate. When the war began, these opposing temporalities informed how Americans grasped and waged the conflict."

More from the description: "In this creative history, Jason Phillips explains how the expectations of a host of characters-generals, politicians, radicals, citizens, and slaves-affected how people understood the unfolding drama and acted when the future became present. He reconsiders the war's origins without looking at sources using hindsight, that is, without considering what caused the cataclysm and whether it was inevitable. As a result, Phillips dispels a popular myth that all Americans thought the Civil War would be short and glorious at the outset, a ninety-day affair full of fun and adventure." In the end, the Civil War "changed more than America's future; it transformed how Americans imagined the future and how Americans have thought about the future ever since." Interesting.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Booknotes: River of Death - The Chickamauga Campaign, Volume 1

New Arrival:
River of Death-The Chickamauga Campaign, Volume 1: The Fall of Chattanooga
  by William Glenn Robertson (UNC Press, 2018).

In the many years that have passed since the Centennial publication of Glenn Tucker's Chickamauga, follow-up coverage of the battle (from Cozzens, Woodworth, and others) has been infrequent at best. Fortunately, this extended period of neglect has been dramatically transformed for the better over the past decade. David Powell alone is responsible for a monumental trilogy, a Confederate cavalry study, a critical decision analysis book, and the co-authorship of a wonderful Chickamauga atlas. Others have chipped in, as well, with Dennis Belcher earlier this year contributing a fine-looking study of the mounted forces of both sides. 

One of the very few truly towering figures among Chickamauga experts is William Glenn Robertson. Unfettered by the usual limitations of the medium, he crafted in five entire issues of Blue & Gray Magazine perhaps the best thing that esteemed periodical ever produced. It might be harder for non-subscribers to get a hold of now that the magazine is gone, but I would still recommend that series as the finest Chickamauga resource outside of actual books. Undoubtedly, many B&G readers at the time wondered whether Robertson was interested in expanding his decades of knowledge and expertise into a full-fledged book project. We certainly have the definitive answer to that question with the release of River of Death-The Chickamauga Campaign, Volume 1: The Fall of Chattanooga. The final part of the two-volume set will be published at some future date.

Like Powell, Robertson isolates the Tullahoma Campaign from the Chickamauga Campaign that directly followed it and does not offer in River of Death any kind of detailed treatment of the Middle Tennessee operation. The book begins on July 4, 1863 and ends on September 9, the date of Chattanooga's fall to Rosecrans's army. Of course, any kind of detailed comparison between Powell and Robertson will have to wait until Volume 2 comes out. Just a very quick skim over Robertson's early chapters reveals a heavy emphasis on assessing the high commands and army staffs of both sides along with their operational planning. There are eight maps in total, which are qualitatively good but rather light in number for a roughly 500-page narrative discussion of a very complex operation.

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."

"Delving deep into the strategic machinations, maneuvers, and smaller clashes that led to the bloody events of September 19–20, 1863, Robertson reveals that the road to Chickamauga was as consequential as the unfolding of the battle itself." This long-awaited, definitive distillation of Robertson's decades of exhaustive research and thought is undoubtedly a must-read for students of the Chickamauga campaign and battle.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Author Q&A: John Selby and "Meade: The Price of Command, 1863–1865"

John G. Selby is a professor of history at Roanoke College and the author of Civil War Talks: Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans (2012) and Virginians at War: The Civil War Experiences of Seven Young Confederates (2002). His latest book is Meade: The Price of Command, 1863–1865 (KSU Press, 2018), which seeks to challenge the prevailing view of George Gordon Meade by offering readers a fresh reevaluation of the general's lengthy tenure at the head of the Army of the Potomac.
____________________________________


DW: Thanks for coming on CWBA to talk about Meade. Resistance remains but appreciation of General Meade’s contributions to Union victory seems to have risen in recent times, at least within the ranks of those that study the Civil War closely. Do you get the sense that the Civil War audience in general feels the same way?

JS: No, I don’t. Meade remains a minor and neglected Union general and still receives a heavy dose of criticism from historians like Guelzo, Greene, and Rhea.


DW: I never did get around to reading Guelzo's Gettysburg book. Was there anything in particular about how Meade has been treated in the literature that inspired you to write this book?

JS: It actually began with me questioning the central premise of most of the literature on the war in the East; namely, that the commanders of the Army of the Potomac could never have defeated Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia without the firm and relentless leadership of Ulysses S. Grant. I felt that did a disservice to the Army of the Potomac. As I dug deeper, I found that the criticism of the Army of the Potomac remained fairly constant in themes from McClellan to Meade. But didn’t Meade win at Gettysburg? And push Lee’s army back from northern Virginia to Richmond-Petersburg? And defeat Lee in 1865? There had to be more to Meade’s leadership than was usually stated.


DW: What do you see as Meade’s primary strengths as an army commander?

JS: Executive abilities such as organization, logistics, and planning. He led subordinates by example; he usually assessed situations accurately and shared that knowledge with subordinates; and he had solid tactical ideas and successful strategic goals (though Grant procured permission from Washington to pursue those goals). He was personally brave and a man of integrity.


DW: What about weaknesses?

JS: Quite cautious at times, hesitating to strike unless the odds for success were decidedly in his favor. Never learned how to work with the politicians in Washington and never fully trusted the press. His quick temper is usually cited as his biggest weakness, but I argue it was not. His extreme reluctance to dismiss his top lieutenants when they failed to carry out his orders was his greatest weakness as an army commander.


DW: Everyone knows Meade as the acclaimed victor of Gettysburg, but what are some lesser-known achievements that you believe deserve wider recognition?

JS: He kept Lee from launching another offensive or starting a major battle in the fall of 1863. He worked hand-in-hand with Grant during the strategically successful Overland Campaign and faithfully kept up the pressure on Lee’s extended line from Richmond to Petersburg from the summer of 1864 to the spring of 1865. He led his army to victory over Lee in the final weeks of the war.


DW: I think the great majority of readers of your book will be a bit taken aback by your ranking Meade as one of the top 3 Union generals. How did you arrive at that bold assertion?

JS: I took my cue from Ulysses S. Grant. In May of 1864 he recommended Sherman and Meade be promoted to the rank of major general in the regular army because they were the “fittest officers for large commands” he had met. Grant never rescinded his recommendation nor did he replace Meade with another general. Their professional relationship was shaky at times, and in time Grant did favor Sherman over Meade, but he kept him in command of the Army of the Potomac—and supported him—until the end of the war.


DW: Citing Meade’s failure to crush Lee north of the Potomac after Gettysburg and his inability to force the Army of Northern Virginia into a major battle on favorable terms during the rest of 1863, many have concluded that Meade did not have the killer instinct (or whatever you want to call it) needed to achieve ultimate victory in the East. Beyond it being an entirely untestable hypothesis, how would you counter that argument?

JS: I would say it is a false hypothesis. Meade ordered attacks at Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, the Crater, and several other times in the summer and fall of 1864. He also oversaw the attacks on Petersburg at the end of the war and the Army of the Potomac’s pursuit of Lee in April 1865. Some of these attacks saw a great loss of life on the Union side, which disproves a corollary of the untestable hypothesis: that Meade was unwilling to sustain large casualties in the service of a larger strategic goal. What is clear, though, from Meade’s record, is that he always wanted to be thoroughly prepared before battle, and if he felt that the odds of success were slim he would not order an assault simply to prove he could.


DW: Recently, A. Wilson Greene, in the first volume of his Petersburg Campaign trilogy, expressed the opinion that Meade, by thoroughly alienating his principal subordinates during the Overland Campaign and the early stages of the Petersburg operation, had already outlived his usefulness by the end of July 1864. How would you respond to that?

JS: Although I have not yet read Greene’s latest book, I could not disagree more strongly with his argument as stated above. Everyone’s nerves were frayed by the end of July 1864, except perhaps those of Grant and his staff. Some of Meade’s corps commanders felt he had pushed them too hard, but he in turn felt that Grant had pushed the Army of the Potomac almost to its breaking point. Furthermore, if the command structure had fallen apart, then the Army of the Potomac could not have fought effectively in four offensives in the fall and early winter of 1864 and three more offensives in February-March-April of 1865.


DW: The awkward high command arrangement in the eastern theater during 1864-65 is almost universally condemned. It is also often seen as a lose-lose situation for Meade personally, with Grant getting all the credit for the army’s successes and Meade left to absorb the political and military heat generated by the many failures. Do you believe it possible to separate their closely-tied roles enough to offer a meaningful independent assessment of Meade’s performance during the Overland and Richmond-Petersburg campaigns?

JS: I believe it is almost impossible to do the separation, and I try to cut that Gordian knot in my book by referring to decisions that can be directly attributed to one general or the other by name, i.e. “Meade ordered” or “Grant wrote.” When there is no clearly evident source for a decision (especially regarding strategy and responses to evolving situations in battle), then I write that “Grant and Meade decided,” or “Meade and Grant agreed,” or something like that. That said, except for some instances (which I detail) when Grant specifically overruled Meade or gave a direct order to units under Meade, I argue that the characterization by one contemporary journalist that “Grant directed the army and Meade commanded the army” is still the best description (especially since Meade agreed with that assessment early in their joint command).


DW: Finally, a major theme of Meade is the “price of command,” the personal and professional toll involved in heading the Union’s principal and most politicized army. Can you end by talking a little about how your book addresses that topic?

JS: Meade was a devoted soldier and a true patriot. He also was ambitious, like just about every general who has ever lived, and always hoped to receive promotions for jobs well done. Though he expressed some concern to his wife and close friends about his ability to manage the army when first appointed, after the Battle of Gettysburg he had no doubt that he could command a large army in the field. At the same time, he worried about the political demands of his position and never fully trusted the press. He had few friends in Washington, and after he threw a correspondent off the battlefield in 1864 he was treated as persona non grata by the press. He was attacked by politicians, the press, and some former subordinates in the winter of 1863-64, and though they never got him dismissed they continued to hound him until the end of the war—and after. Meade zealously guarded his reputation as a forthright man and measured commander, and when these (and other aspects of his leadership) come under withering criticism in the 1863-64 it was a blow to his pride that he never completely recovered from. What Meade discovers is that the top job he sought, commander of the Army of the Potomac, would also wound that which he held most dear, his reputation. George G. Meade paid an enormous personal price to retain his position and help win the war for the Union.


DW: Thanks again for your time, John. Maybe some venue will host a round table debate between you and those most critical of Meade's performance. That would be lively and interesting. Readers, check out Meade: The Price of Command, 1863–1865, which is already out direct from the publisher and should be widely available very soon.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Seasonal reminder

The number of hours spent maintaining CWBA on a weekly basis represents more than a part-time job. I keep doing it because I have a deep passion for Civil War history and the books, past and present, that constitute our fund of knowledge. Every year, I look forward to new titles with keen anticipation. That said, I rely on small revenue streams that help, among other things, to justify the enormous time expenditures required to keep the site running. Unfortunately, like I've mentioned before, these continue to dwindle. Niche sites always struggle to gain interest from advertisers, and this one is no different. Affiliate referrals, the small fees the site receives from online orders made through the e-commerce links, have also fallen sharply (by almost 40% since 2017 alone), even with a growing readership.

So, how can you help? If you do your shopping online, the easiest way is to click on my Amazon links (present in most of my posts, usually in the form of text links associated with book titles) and shop to your heart's content from there. No matter what you order (it can be anything, not just books), a small percentage of the sale is returned to the site in the form of a referral fee. It costs you absolutely nothing beyond the effort to do so and is entirely private. Preorders count, too, although the fees are only credited when the item ships.

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Friday, October 5, 2018

Book News: The Great Partnership

Though Grant-Sherman adherents would surely beg to differ, I think you could make a strong argument that the close collaboration between Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson (as short-lived as it proved to be) overcame a rocky beginning during the Seven Days to become the war's premier command partnership. The news that Christian Keller's The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy (Pegasus Books, July 2019) will be released next summer prompted me to consider what the current standard work on the topic might be. Standalone Lee books and Jackson books abound but the number of modern titles devoted solely to examining their relationship seems very limited. The description of Keller's upcoming book mentions that it will be the first joint study to appear in over two decades, which leads me to believe that the predecessor referred to is Paul Casdorph's celebratory Lee and Jackson: Confederate Chieftains (1992), which I haven't read. Is there something else that I'm missing?

Keller's previous scholarship is of a different sort, but I like everything he's done so far. The Great Partnership will attempt to answer big questions like "Why were Generals Lee and Jackson so successful in their partnership in trying to win the war for the South? What was it about their styles, friendship, even their faith, that cemented them together into a fighting machine that consistently won despite often overwhelming odds against them?"

More from the description: "The Great Partnership has the power to change how we think about Confederate strategic decision-making and the value of personal relationships among senior leaders responsible for organizational survival. Those relationships in the Confederate high command were particularly critical for victory, especially the one that existed between the two great Army of Northern Virginia generals."

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Booknotes: To Hazard All

New Arrival:
To Hazard All: A Guide to the Maryland Campaign, 1862 by Robert Orrison & Kevin R. Pawlak (Savas Beatie, 2018).

Most of the Emerging Civil War titles have a short tour of some kind that is either integrated into the main narrative or presented as a separate component. In Orrison and Pawlak's To Hazard All: A Guide to the Maryland Campaign, 1862, the tour is the book. Actually it is six day-trip sized tours in one, with each chapter having a dozen or more numbered stops.

The volume is a true campaign (rather than battle) guide, with Antietam covered in a single chapter. That and the other five tours—"Lee Moves North," "McClellan Responds," "Battle of Harpers Ferry," "Battle of South Mountain," and "Return to Virginia"—together cover the entire 1862 Maryland Campaign from beginning to end. 

The tour format will be familiar to those who have already read other titles in the series. Period and modern photographs accompany nearly every page, and detailed driving directions, facing instructions, GPS coordinates, and background history are provided for each stop. Hal Jesperson did the cartography, which consists of both tour route and battlefield maps. In this case, the tours take up all the available space, so there isn't room for the appendix section that has become a popular feature of the series.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Booknotes: Fighting for Atlanta

New Arrival:
Fighting for Atlanta: Tactics, Terrain, and Trenches in the Civil War by Earl J. Hess
  (UNC Press, 2018).

When Earl Hess completed his highly-regarded eastern theater fortifications trilogy [Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864 (2005), Trench Warfare under Grant and Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign (2007), and In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat (2009)], I'm sure many readers were like me in hoping that the author would do a similar treatment for the western theater. While, among other things, I think Hess could have put together a very interesting volume covering the development of river fortifications over the first half of the war in the West, it's hard to blame him too much for skipping all the way forward to the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, which from beginning to end involved vast, sophisticated field fortifications.

Indeed, Fighting for Atlanta: Tactics, Terrain, and Trenches in the Civil War takes a close look at eighteen distinct lines of Confederate defensive earthworks, from Rock Face Ridge in early May 1864 through Palmetto Station in late September. Union offensive and defensive earthworks are also discussed. I am less than fifty pages in at the moment, but it's readily apparent already that the book's topical range and overall style and presentation share a great deal in common with the earlier trilogy (particularly the Overland and Petersburg volumes).

In the book, "(l)eading military historian Earl J. Hess examines how commanders adapted their operations to the physical environment, how the environment in turn affected their movements, and how Civil War armies altered the terrain through the science of field fortification. He also illuminates the impact of fighting and living in ditches for four months on the everyday lives of both Union and Confederate soldiers. The Atlanta campaign represents one of the best examples of a prolonged Union invasion deep into southern territory, and, as Hess reveals, it marked another important transition in the conduct of war from open field battles to fighting from improvised field fortifications."

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Booknotes: The Last Weeks of Abraham Lincoln

New Arrival:
The Last Weeks of Abraham Lincoln: A Day-by-Day Account of His Personal, Political, and Military Challenges by David Alan Johnson (Prometheus Books, 2018).

With existing works from Starr, Trudeau, Harris, Reck and probably more I don't know about, the last hours, days, weeks, and months of Abraham Lincoln's life and presidency have been pretty popular book-length topics of study over the years. The newest entry is David Alan Johnson's The Last Weeks of Abraham Lincoln: A Day-by-Day Account of His Personal, Political, and Military Challenges, which examines the period March 4 to April 15.

During this time, Lincoln "delivered his second inaugural address, supervised climatic battles leading up to the end of the Civil War, learned that Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, and finally was killed by assassin John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theatre."

With the information presented in forty-one mostly daily chapters (two combine dates), "(t)he reader follows the president as he greets visitors at the inaugural ball, asks abolitionist Frederick Douglass's opinion of the inaugural address, confers with Generals Grant and Sherman on the final stages of the war, visits a field hospital for wounded outside City Point, Virginia, and attempts to calm his high-strung wife Mary, who appears on the verge of nervous collapse. We read excerpts from press reviews of Lincoln's second inaugural address, learn that Mrs. Lincoln's ball gown created a sensation, and are given eye-witness accounts of the celebrations and drunken revelry that broke out in Washington when the end of the war was announced." The epilogue briefly discusses the aftermath of the assassination and the troubled Andrew Johnson presidency. Rounding out the book's contents is an appendix section that contains the text of a number of remarks, proclamations, and official addresses originating from the period, mostly from Lincoln but also from Johnson and Jefferson Davis.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Review - "Decisions at Chattanooga: The Nineteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle" by Larry Peterson

[Decisions at Chattanooga: The Nineteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle by Larry Peterson (University of Tennessee Press, 2018). Softcover, 24 maps, 13 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xv,85/191. $29.95]

In 2018 alone, University of Tennessee Press has released the first four volumes of its unique Command Decisions in America’s Civil War series, which offers readers a new way of looking at campaigns and battles completely different from the traditional narrative history format. Preceding Larry Peterson's Decisions at Chattanooga: The Nineteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle were Decisions at Stones River, Decisions at Second Manassas, and Decisions at Chickamauga. That's a pretty remarkable pace of output for a single calendar year, and there are many more in the pipeline.

The earlier CWBA review of the Stones River volume referenced above discusses the series structure at some length (see the link), but it bears repeating just what the series definition of "critical decision" is. In essence, a military decision is critical if it is "of such magnitude that it shape(s) not only the events immediately following, but also the campaign or battle thereafter." In addition, these decisions involve a multitude of campaign facets both on and off the main battlefield, including "strategy, tactics, operations, organization, logistics, and personnel." The critical decision analysis follows a prescribed series pattern of:

Situation
Options
Decision
Result/Impact
Alternate Decision/Scenario

Situation establishes the context of the dilemma (most often high command related) to be decided, Options lists and describes the choices available (in this volume, 2-4 in number), Decision outlines the historical option chosen, and Results/Impact recounts the often multi-level consequences of the decision and explains how they affected the rest of the battle and perhaps beyond. Alternate Decision/Scenario is optional and delves into plausible conjecture of 'what might have been' had a different decision option been selected.

In this volume there are nineteen critical decisions in the areas of strategy, tactics, organization, logistics, and personnel. Though strict categorization isn't terribly important to the overall thrust of the analysis, operational decisions are absent from Peterson's list; however, one could make a good argument that sending Longstreet to Knoxville was an operational decision in addition to being an organizational and personnel-related one. With ten Union decisions and nine Confederate ones, the list is evenly balanced by side.

The fact that nine of the nineteen critical decisions preceded the November 24-25 battle by some time (with three more decided on the eve of the fight) serves as a signal reminder that the course and outcome of battles were very often significantly shaped long before the soldiers started shooting at each other. Bragg's limited pursuit after Chickamauga, poor layout of his siege lines around Chattanooga, dispatch of Longstreet to Knoxville, and retention in command—in combination with the actions of Lincoln (who consolidated his western command structure and sent heavy reinforcements from the east) and Grant (who ordered the "Cracker Line" fully opened and Sherman to Chattanooga)—all greatly stacked the odds against Confederate success before November 24.

On the 23rd, Grant ordered Sherman to the Union left to attack Tunnel Hill on the following day and directed Thomas to make a reconnaissance in force opposite Missionary Ridge in the center. On the Confederate side, in a move that would forever puzzle observers, Breckinridge directed engineers to construct a new defense line along Missionary Ridge's topographical crest rather than the military crest.

Six decisions are associated with the two-day Battle of Chattanooga. On the 24th, Bragg would reinforce one flank (by sending Cleburne to the north end of Missionary Ridge) and abandon the other (leaving Lookout Mountain to the Federals). That same day, an uncharacteristically hesitant Sherman would stop short of the Confederate Tunnel Hill position and entrench. For the decisive day of action on the 25th, Sherman would tentatively attack with only a part of his available force, Thomas would demonstrate in the center, and Thomas's army would famously make the collective decision to attack the heights on their own without orders. The book's single post-battle decision revolves around the Confederate retreat and Bragg's (probably self-evident) determination to entrust the rear guard to General Cleburne.

Generally speaking, one of the series directives is to avoid labeling decisions as "good" or "bad," but sometimes missteps are exceptionally egregious, leaving such characterizations unavoidable. In the case of Chattanooga, the battle's traditional heroes (Cleburne and the rank and file of Thomas's army) and goats (Bragg, Longstreet, Breckinridge, and Sherman) emerge from Peterson's decision analysis, and it's hard to argue with most of those conclusions. In hindsight, it's easy to make every big decision seem obvious, but Peterson does a good job on the whole of presenting reasonable options and plausible discussion of alternate outcomes and scenarios. Like other series contributors have done before him, the author also emphasizes connections between decisions where appropriate, with earlier ones opening up further options downstream and closing others.

There are twenty-four maps in total, evenly divided between the main text's decision discussion and the extensive battlefield tour appendix (the latter another primary and very useful feature of the series). These are mostly at brigade scale and above, and the tour maps do not show unit positions, emphasizing instead the modern landscape, road network, and stop locations. Union and Confederate orders of battle round out the appendix section.

With an admirably streamlined presentation that is both highly convenient for battlefield touring and able to be read at home in only a couple of sittings, Decisions at Chattanooga is another solid entry in the series. There's more to look forward to in the near future as well, with the author already at work on an Atlanta Campaign volume that has an expected 2019 release.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Booknotes: A Fierce Glory

New Arrival:
A Fierce Glory: Antietam - The Desperate Battle That Saved Lincoln and Doomed Slavery by Justin Martin (Da Capo, 2018).

The exploration in books, essays, and articles of links between Lincoln and Antietam are probably second only to Gettysburg among the great battles of the war, but there's always room for another viewpoint. In A Fierce Glory, "Justin Martin, an acclaimed writer of narrative nonfiction, renders this landmark event in a revealing new way. More than in previous accounts, Lincoln is laced deeply into the story. Antietam represents Lincoln at his finest, as the grief-racked president--struggling with the recent death of his son, Willie--summoned the guile necessary to manage his reluctant general, George McClellan. The Emancipation Proclamation would be the greatest gambit of the nation's most inspired leader."

Martin also looks beyond Lincoln and the EP to other legacies of the battle.  "And, in fact, the battle's impact extended far beyond the field; brilliant and lasting innovations in medicine, photography, and communications were given crucial real-world tests. No mere gunfight, Antietam rippled through politics and society, transforming history."

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Booknotes: I Am Perhaps Dying

New Arrival:
I Am Perhaps Dying: The Medical Backstory of Spinal Tuberculosis Hidden in the Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham by Dennis A. Rasbach, M.D. (Savas Beatie, 2018).

Dennis Rasbach's I Am Perhaps Dying: The Medical Backstory of Spinal Tuberculosis Hidden in the Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham is a slim companion piece to The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865, a 2018 book edited by Janet Croon. A surgeon by profession, Rasbach served as an editorial consultant to Croon, using his expertise to shed light on the nature of Gresham's illness and contributing his knowledge of historical treatment methods and other medical matters in the footnotes and elsewhere.  Rasbach's own book serves as an expansion of the medical diagnosis and discussion contained in The War Outside My Window.

From the description: "Like a detective, Dr. Rasbach peels back the layers of mystery by carefully examining the medical-related entries. What were LeRoy’s symptoms? What medicines did doctors prescribe for him? What course did the disease take, month after month, year after year? The author ably explores these and other issues in I Am Perhaps Dying to conclude that the agent responsible for LeRoy’s suffering and demise turns out to be Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a tiny but lethal adversary of humanity since the beginning of recorded time."

I Am Perhaps Dying details how the many signs and symptoms found in the Gresham diaries led the author to the diagnosis of spinal tuberculosis. The nature of Pott's Disease, as it is also called, is explored at some length, as are the many physical and pharmaceutical treatments of the period. In the book, which is heavily illustrated, Rasbach pictures and describes many of the natural and patent medicines mentioned by Gresham. He also compiles and annotates all of the diary entries wherein Gresham directly addressed his condition, the material providing readers with a moving record of the disease's fatal progression.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Review - "A Family and Nation under Fire: The Civil War Letters and Journals of William and Joseph Medill" ed. by Georgiann Baldino

[A Family and Nation under Fire: The Civil War Letters and Journals of William and Joseph Medill edited by Georgiann Baldino (Kent State University Press, 2018). Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, select source list, index. Pages main/total:xiii,209/245. ISBN:978-1-60635-336-3. $34.95]

Edited by Georgiann Baldino, A Family and Nation under Fire is at its heart a collection of previously unpublished diaries and letters written by William Medill and older brother Joseph. Most Civil War students will have come across the name of Joseph Medill, the co-owner of the influential Republican newspaper Chicago Tribune, sometime in their reading. A lesser-known historical figure, brother William was an officer with the 8th Illinois Cavalry, a much-recognized regiment (frequently due to its association with the Battle of Gettysburg and Colonel William Gamble). During the pursuit of Robert E. Lee's defeated army after Gettysburg, Major Medill was mortally wounded on the picket line near Williamsport. The letters of both brothers are conspicuous for their outspoken opinions on military and political matters related to the conflict. Staunch Republicans of the more radical bent, both men openly criticized how the Union's civilian and military leaders conducted the war.

In a conflict that often exposed rifts in even close families, the Medill brothers were seemingly always on the same page when it came to intensely partisan zealotry that was radically antislavery in sentiment and wholly in favor of hard war measures right from the war's beginning. Joseph Medill is often portrayed as a friend of Lincoln but his rather violent assaults on Lincoln's practicality when it came to politics and slavery could be as harsh in tone as those launched by any enemy. Medill's rebuke of Lincoln's overruling John C. Fremont's emancipation and confiscation measures in 1861 Missouri is another example of the great strain that existed between ideological extremists like Medill and moderates like Lincoln (who could not afford to alienate his proslavery Border State allies wholesale). In his correspondence to Lincoln, Medill also criticized existing conscription loopholes (e.g. commutation fees) and agitated against limits on black enlistment.

Moving from the political to the military sphere, William Medill's frequent commentaries regarding his army service offer similar insights into the radical versus moderate divide within the Union war effort. In his letters, he expresses willingness from the very beginning to attack slavery wherever he encountered it and plunder without restraint the property of southern civilians regardless of allegiance. Interestingly, when it came to ratifying the new Illinois state constitution, William believed strongly in disallowing the soldier vote, citing an inability for those in field to adequately inform themselves of the relevant issues. Ironically, that was much the same argument that Democrats made during subsequent hotly contested mid-term and 1864 elections.

The letters of Captain, and later Major, William Medill to brother Joseph and several other family members comprise the great bulk of correspondence compiled in the volume. In addition to the perspectives already mentioned above, William Medill's lengthy and thoughtful letters are rich in military detail, covering both his 90-day service with Captain Barker's Chicago Dragoons and his tragically limited time with the 8th Illinois Cavalry (a three-year regiment). In addition to commenting on politics, William frequently complained of the slow pace of operations in northern Virginia and on the Peninsula during the first year of the war. During this period, the 8th primarily conducted scouting and recon operations that didn't particularly enhance Medill's generally poor view of army life. Also, like many of his fellow volunteers, he wanted the army to move faster, although his excoriation of "proslavery" generals didn't extend to McClellan personally until months later when Robert E. Lee's army successfully reestablished itself in Virginia after its close call in Maryland. Exhibiting an 'anyone but McClellan' attitude, Medill welcomed the general's dismissal and the appointment of Ambrose Burnside to head the Army of the Potomac, even though he questioned Burnside's competence and believed another heavy defeat would likely follow. In remarkably prescient anticipation of Burnside being undermined by a cabal of generals, Medill advocated a wholesale firing of the army leadership and fresh restart with what he felt was a more European-style (or at least what he viewed as such) organization. Like his brother, William proved to be more ideologue than democratic realist.

William observed Fredericksburg from afar and was away with General W.W. Averell's command during Stoneman's Raid, so he missed the most significant mounted operation of the Chancellorsville Campaign. Taken ill soon after, he bravely left his sickbed to take command of the 8th after the regiment's officer contingent was hit hard at Brandy Station in June 1863. His last letter home dated later that month described the Gettysburg Campaign fighting at the Blue Ridge Gaps. In the book, Baldino successfully bridges the gap between William's last letter and his July 16 death at the age of 27 with information gleaned from other sources. In piecing together Medill's activities (and that of his regiment) before, during, and after Gettysburg, she utilizes to good effect his own pocket journal, the diary of brother Joseph (who was with William when he passed), additional family letters, Abner Hard's 1868 regimental history, official reports, and other sources.

In addition to compiling the material for publication and integrating outside sources to fill in other gaps similar to the one mentioned above, Baldino contributes volume and chapter introductions, abundant bridging narrative, and endnotes. To enrich the reader experience even further, Baldino also weaves into the book other letters beyond those of Joseph and William. One of the more interesting ones is a letter from Joseph's brother-in-law that attempts to enlist the influence of the newspaper editor in gaining official approval of a speculative (and rather sketchy-sounding) scheme to sell horses to the army.

The volume's collection of Medill family letters and dairies, in conjunction with Georgiann Baldino's expansive editing, represents a significant contribution to both the political and military components of Civil War scholarship. William Medill's letters in particular offer valuable insights into the 8th Illinois Cavalry regiment's service in the eastern theater during the first half of the conflict. Recommended.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Booknotes: Mountain Feds

New Arrival:
Mountain Feds: Arkansas Unionists and the Peace Society by James J. Johnston
  (Butler Center for Ark Studies, 2018).

As far as I know, James Johnston's Mountain Feds: Arkansas Unionists and the Peace Society is the first book that focuses entirely on the Society, its formation, its activities, and Confederate suppression measures.

A loosely organized collection of anti-secessionists, the Arkansas Peace Society sprung up in several northern counties in 1861. "In resistance to secession and to fighting for the Confederacy, they formed secret organizations—known commonly as the Arkansas Peace Society—and inaugurated their own leaders. Increased pressure from Richmond in the fall of 1861 for the Arkansas government to provide more soldiers pressed Arkansas’s yeomen farmers to enlist but only provided more incentive for the men to join the Arkansas Peace Society (later known as the Union League). Many Arkansas communities forged home protective units or vigilance committees to protect themselves from slave uprisings and what they saw as federal invasion. Unionist mountaineers did the same, but their home protection organizations were secret because they were seeking protection from their secessionist neighbors and the state’s Confederate government."

Adopting many of the practices of secret societies, members seem to have been primarily concerned with self preservation rather than overthrowing the Confederate government in Little Rock. However, as was the case in the handling of similar opposition groups in other states, Confederate authorities in Arkansas actively sought to quash the movement. More from the description: "In November 1861, the Arkansas Peace Society was first discovered in Clinton, Van Buren County, by the secessionist element, which rapidly formed vigilante committees to arrest and interrogate the suspects. The news and subsequent arrests spread to adjoining counties from the Arkansas River to the Missouri border. In most cases, the local militia was called out to handle the arrests and put down the rumored uprising."

By late 1861, local militia, state, and Confederate forces had broken up Society cells and arrested many of their members, offering army service as an alternative to incarceration. As expected, many of those reluctant Confederates deserted at the first opportunity and later-forming Union Arkansas regiments had numerous former Peace Society members or supporters in their ranks. "While some Peace Society members fled to Missouri or hid in the woods, others were arrested and marched to Little Rock, where they were forced to join the Confederate army. Leaders who were prominent in the Peace Society recruited and led companies in Arkansas and Missouri Unionist regiments, returning to their homes to bring out loyalist refugees or to suppress Confederate guerrillas. A few of these home-grown leaders assumed leadership positions in civil government in the last months of the war, with the effects of their actions lingering for years to come." The appendix section contains some useful additional documents and information, including a list of known Peace Society members and roster-histories of several companies that were filled with the reluctant Society recruits mentioned above.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Book News - Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed

Though the Confederate Army of Tennessee had moments of success in the early stages of several battles and won a decisive (albeit pyrrhic) victory at Chickamauga, it is generally considered a dysfunctional mess than never lived up to its potential. Opinions regarding just what went wrong with the army have been offered in numerous books and articles over the years. Comparing the Army of the Tennessee to the Confederacy's most successful field army rather than some kind of unattainable standard, Richard McMurry's Two Great Rebel Armies: An Essay in Confederate Military History (1989) remains one of the more interesting contributions to the conversation. Recognizing that the Army of Tennessee's problems went far deeper than the series of men at the top, the book convincingly examined the internal and external factors that together help explain Confederate failure in the West while also plausibly arguing why the Army of Northern Virginia proved to be a better army than the Army of Tennessee.

Also from UNC Press, Larry Daniel's upcoming Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed (May 2019) will also move beyond leadership questions. "Surpassing previous work that has focused on questions of command structure and the force's fate on the fields of battle, Daniel provides the clearest view to date of the army's inner workings, from top-level command and unit cohesion to the varied experiences of common soldiers and their connections to the home front. Drawing from his mastery of the relevant sources, Daniel's book is a thought-provoking reassessment of an army's fate, with important implications for Civil War history and military history writ large."

The author of well-received Stones River and Shiloh campaign histories, a study of the Army of the Cumberland (the Army of Tennessee's main antagonist), and a detailed examination of soldier life in the Army of Tennessee, Daniel is as well versed as anyone on the subject of the inner workings of the Confederacy's principal western army and its direct predecessors. Also informing Conquered, his book Cannoneers in Gray: The Field Artillery of the Army of Tennessee (rev. 2005) pointed toward a forced reliance on obsolete guns (in comparison to the Army of Northern Virginia) as having a significant negative impact on the army's effectiveness, particularly its offensive punch. Given the author's demonstrated knowledge and expertise, Conquered will join the list of my most highly anticipated titles of next year.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Booknotes: Military History of the West, Vol. 47

New Arrival:
Military History of the West, Vol. 47 edited by Alex Mendoza (Univ of N Texas Press, 2018).

Distributed by UNT Press, Military History of the West "is a peer-reviewed journal focused on scholarly study of western US military history, including the Mississippi Valley and all states west of that line. The journal features articles on the Texas Revolution, the Mexican War, frontier military service, the Civil War, the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, Mexican border service, and the Texas National Guard in the twentieth century, including its service in World War I and World War II." The journal has gone through a number of iterations between 1961 and today, including Texas Military History, Military History of Texas and the Southwest, and Military History of the Southwest. The last is the version I'm most familiar with, having obtained numerous fine Civil War era articles from it through interlibrary loan.

Volume 47 has three essays covering diverse topics. The first examines General O.O. Howard's peace negotiations with Chiracahua Apache leader Cochise and Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, the second explores U.S.-Mexican War operations of Texas mounted volunteer units, and the final essay recounts the history of Lubbock civilian contractor Clent Breedlove's WW2 training school for pilots. As is the case with most scholarly journals, there's a hefty book review section in Vol. 47, with five of the twelve titles evaluated being Civil War related.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Booknotes: Crossing the Deadlines

New Arrival:
Crossing the Deadlines: Civil War Prisons Reconsidered edited by Michael P. Gray
  (KSU Press, 2018).

In Crossing the Deadlines, editor Michael Gray has assembled nine essays representative of current trends in the Civil War prisons scholarship. It "crosses those boundaries of old scholarship by taking on bold initiatives with new methodologies, filling a void in the current scholarship of Civil War prison historiography, which usually does not go beyond discussing policy, prison history and environmental and social themes."

More from the description: "As the historiography of Civil War captivity continues to evolve, readers of Crossing the Deadlines will discover elaboration on themes that emerged in William Hesseltine’s classic collection, Civil War Prisons, as well as interconnections with more recent interdisciplinary scholarship. Rather than being dominated by policy analysis, this collection examines the latest trends, methodologies, and multidisciplinary approaches in Civil War carceral studies. Unlike its predecessor, which took a micro approach on individual prisons and personal accounts, Crossing the Deadlines is a compilation of important themes that are interwoven on broader scale by investigating many prisons North and South."

Gray's introduction informatively traces the evolution of the Civil War prison historiography. The three essays comprising Part 1 begin with a chapter that employs a "sensory approach" to studying the environment of Civil War prisoner of war camps. The self-described sense of being 'caged animals' is reinforced by the following essay, which looks at prisons and prisoners as tourist attractions for the home front civilian population. Prisoners seeking solace often turned to religion and the final contribution in the section examines the role of Catholicism and priests in military prisons.

Part 2 focuses on issues of race and retaliation, with the first essay discussing hostages and other punitive measures aimed at ensuring the other side adhered to what they viewed as the tenets of civilized warfare. The next offering looks at the experiences of black prisoners in Confederate POW camps, but it also studies interactions between slaves and white Union prisoners in order to show how such encounters shaped the latter group's views on race and emancipation. Another essay examines the use of black soldiers as prison guards.

Two essays in Part 3 recognize the important role of archaeology in the study of Civil War prisons. The first is an appreciation of both material culture studies and multi-disciplinary approaches as bettering our understanding of the captive experience at Johnson's Island, and the second, in another good example of the use of material culture to resurrect lost history, discusses the ongoing evolution of the work being done uncovering Georgia's Camp Lawton. The final essay in the volume investigates the topic of prison memory and the historical challenges it represents.

The Kent State UP makes frequent contributions to the Civil War prison literature, and this newest one looks like another very useful addition.