Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Five books on Civil War siege artillery

1. The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast, and Naval Cannon by Edwin Olmstead, Wayne E. Stark, and Spencer C. Tucker (1997).
A comprehensive reference guide, this book is commonly regarded as the bible of the Civil War heavy artillery used by both sides. It's been out of print for quite a while with online secondary market prices undulating wildly between barely three figures and outrageous placeholder numbers that no one would ever pay (see the link above!).
2. Civil War Heavy Explosive Ordnance: A Guide to Large Artillery Projectiles, Torpedoes, and Mines by Jack Bell (2003).
Striving to be the most essential reference on heavy artillery ammunition, Bell's book is a fitting supplement to The Big Guns.
3. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War by Warren Ripley (1970).
If a Brinks truck hasn't crashed and spilled its contents in your neighborhood then Ripley's more general purpose classic will still serve as a decent budget alternative to the above pair of far more definitive-level works. It has gone through multiple editions over the years. My personal copy is a 1984 Fourth (revised) Edition.
4. Sumter Is Avenged!: The Siege and Reduction of Fort Pulaski by Herbert M. Schiller (1995).
The next two books in the list (one Union and one Confederate in perspective) explore the big guns in action. One of my favorites, and one of the better White Mane titles from its run, is Schiller's study of the devastating effects of Civil War large-bore rifled artillery on a Third System masonry fort.
5. Siege Train: The Journal of a Confederate Artilleryman in the Defense of Charleston
edited by Warren Ripley (1986).
Ripley's book offers an interesting glimpse into the other side of things. From July 1863 through the end of August 1864, Confederate artillery major Edward Manigault wrote a wonderfully observant daily account of the Siege of Charleston. His is a unique record of events, and given the journal's official status also an incredible compilation of detailed administrative information regarding Confederate heavy artillery.

On a final note, I was tempted to include this on the list but ultimately decided to keep to my 'book only' rule for the "Five on..." feature. Anyone with more than a passing interest in Civil War heavy guns will greatly benefit from following Craig Swain's To the Sound of the Guns and his many deeply informative posts on the topic.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Booknotes: Wade Hampton's Iron Scouts

New Arrival:
Wade Hampton's Iron Scouts: Confederate Special Forces by D. Michael Thomas (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Press, 2018).

John S. Mosby's behind the lines exploits are legendary, but another small group of Confederate irregular scouts also earned a notorious reputation. "Serving from late 1862 to the war's end, Wade Hampton's Scouts were a key component of the comprehensive intelligence network designed by Generals Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart and Wade Hampton. The Scouts were stationed behind enemy lines on a permanent basis and provided critical military intelligence to their generals. They became proficient in "unconventional" warfare and emerged unscathed in so many close-combat actions that their foes grudgingly dubbed them Hampton's "Iron Scouts.""

Most widely known for their prominent roles in the famous Beefsteak Raid and in the Battle of Monroe's Crossroads, the unit's full story is told for the first time in D. Michael Thomas's Wade Hampton's Iron Scouts. Though documents surrounding the unit's origins are scarce, according to the author the Iron Scouts were a Lee-Stuart brainchild that was assigned to Wade Hampton to create, with most of the initial contingent of picked men coming from the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry (with many different units eventually contributing members). 

Formed in late 1862, just 72 men served in the ranks of the Iron Scouts over the 2+ years of its existence. In addition to an organization and service history narrative, the book also includes a roster with quite a bit of biographical detail for each trooper gathered from a variety of sources.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Review of Venner - "THE 30TH NORTH CAROLINA INFANTRY IN THE CIVIL WAR: A History and Roster"

[The 30th North Carolina Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster by William Thomas Venner (McFarland 800-253-2187, 2018). 7x10 softcover, maps, photos, notes, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:269/446. ISBN:9781476662404. $45]

Naturally all kinds exist, but the greater run of modern Civil War regimental histories seems to have gradually evolved into two basic branches. The first, frequently published through university presses, places great emphasis on social demography and the conclusions that might be drawn from studying the various connections between the war and home fronts. A variety of themes commonly addressed by modern social science disciplines, among them issues of class, race, ethnicity, and gender, are explored while the amount of attention paid to the service history of the regiment is often perfunctory by comparison. The second type, standard to the popular literature, is much less concerned with social history contexts and far more interested in documenting unit organization, leadership, battle history, and casualties, often lavishing great detail upon each part. A roster of some kind has also become an almost integral feature of the popular regimental study.

William Thomas Venner's The 30th North Carolina Infantry in the Civil War definitely belongs in the second category. It certainly displays all of the expected qualities previously mentioned, but the volume also goes a step beyond the typical representative when it comes to micro-level attention to detail.

Recruited and organized in the months immediately following the outbreak of war, the 30th North Carolina Infantry Regiment was formally mustered into Confederate service on September 26, 1861 under the command of Colonel Francis Marion Parker. Like so many other Carolinas units, the 30th would initially be assigned to coastal defense duty in its home state before being called to the front during the early 1862 emergency threat on the Virginia Peninsula. Attached to the brigade of General George B. Anderson, the Tarheels received their baptism of fire at Gaines's Mill and got hit hard again at Malvern Hill just days later.

Accorded a small amount of breathing space after the conclusion of the Peninsula Campaign, the regiment missed Second Manassas but fought in Maryland at South Mountain and Antietam. In contrast to their Fredericksburg experience, the men of the 30th found themselves heavily engaged (with correspondingly grim casualty levels) at both Chancellorsville and Gettysburg in 1863.

This bloody trail across the eastern theater continued through the 1864 Overland and Shenandoah campaigns. Finally, after wintering in the Richmond-Petersburg siege lines, the much-diminished 30th NC suffered through the last campaign in the East and ended its Confederate service with the surrender at Appomattox.

Broadly speaking, regular readers of eastern theater unit studies will find the 30th's Civil War story to be much the same as those discussed in countless other Army of Northern Virginia regimental histories. However, every long-serving regiment possesses salient moments, and Venner's narrative draws these out effectively. The 30th was at the very tip of the spear during the culmination of Jubal Early's 1864 Washington Raid that "scared Abe Lincoln like hell," occupying the forward skirmish line opposite Fort Stevens. In addition to highlighting other battlefield high points like the unit's stubborn defense of the Sunken Road at Antietam (where the 30th held the far right flank of the position) and the important part the Tarheels played in helping seal off the near-catastrophic breach to the Spotsylvania salient, the book also describes at length inglorious low points of the 30th's career like the disastrous outpost action at Kelly's Ford on November 7, 1863.

In Venner's narrative seemingly nothing goes unnoticed in camp, on the march, or in battle. The more casual reader might be overwhelmed by the volume and density of detail presented, but even the most jaded regimental history aficionado won't help but be impressed by the effort that went into its creation. By the author's own count, his book contains over 2,000 excerpts from firsthand accounts written by members of the regiment and others. However, even with this great focus on relating intimate details, the book never manages to the lose sight of the broader sweep of events.

Visual aids and informational tables are particularly strong assets of the study. In addition to having numerous photographs and other illustrations included, the volume demonstrates an appreciation for the importance of cartography (the sunken road section alone has 5 maps). While perhaps a bit inconsistent in artistic accomplishment, the map set does a consistently good job of showing readers the 30th's place on the many battlefields described in the text while also filling in the surroundings (both in terms of terrain and neighboring units). Very useful for reference purposes are the strength and casualty tables distributed throughout the book. Before each battle, and at many other intervening points, Venner inserts a table listing regimental strength by company as well as current officers. The same is done for post-battle casualties.

A major part of the book (around 125 pages) is devoted to a pair of appendices. The first is a meticulously rendered casualty register organized by battle. It also includes the 30th's Appomattox surrender roll and a list of all deaths by disease. The second appendix is the full unit roster, which includes a good deal of biographical information gleaned from the CSRs.

There's much in the way of history and reference value packed inside Venner's book. Certainly dedicated students of the 30th NC will want to pick up a copy, but the volume also deserves the consideration of anyone interested in North Carolina Civil War history or Army of Northern Virginia combat regiments in general.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Holding the Line on the River of Death

Everyone who spends time reading about Civil War mounted operations knows that Eric Wittenberg's favorite Union cavalry general is John Buford, and he's done a pretty good job of justifying it over the years (he puts it all together here). That said, Eric has often favorably compared the Union cavalry's delaying actions and tactics at Chickamauga to Buford's at Gettysburg on July 1. Now he has a book in the works about the notable exploits of the Union cavalry at a key point in the Chickamauga fight, to be titled Holding the Line on the River of Death: Union Mounted Forces at Chickamauga, September 18, 1863 (Savas Beatie).

The book "focuses on the two important delaying actions conducted by mounted Union soldiers at Reed’s and Alexander’s bridges on the first day of Chickamauga. A cavalry brigade under Col. Robert H. G. Minty and Col. John T. Wilder’s legendary “Lightning Brigade” of mounted infantry made stout stands at a pair of chokepoints crossing Chickamauga Creek. Minty’s small cavalry brigade held off nearly ten times its number on September 18 by designing and implementing a textbook example of a delaying action. Their dramatic and outstanding efforts threw Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg’s entire battle plan off its timetable by delaying his army’s advance for an entire day. That delay cost Bragg’s army the initiative at Chickamauga." It will also have Mark Moore maps (which is great, as he is one of the best cartographers around) and a touring section.

Earlier in the year, I mentioned Dennis Belcher's The Union Cavalry and the Chickamauga Campaign . With Belcher aiming at a broad treatment and Wittenberg drilling down to those cavalry actions that occurred on a single day of particular moment, it looks like both volumes might complement each other nicely. Apparently, Wittenberg has even penned the foreword to Belcher's book. With the general slipperiness of initial publication dates attached to SB's more down-the-line titles (they have a lot of irons in the fire at any given moment, and I don't recall this one even being mentioned in the 'under contract' section of their newsletter yet), I would hesitate to even guess when Holding the Line will actually be released.

Friday, February 23, 2018

“The Most Complete Political Machine Ever Known”

I don't know much about the Union Leagues. I've encountered scattered mention of them over the years in a variety of different books, mostly in the context of their active role in opposing the "Copperhead" movement on the home front and for being a particularly powerful force in the 1864 election. Last year, the discussion of the electoral effect of another well-organized grassroots pro-Republican organization (the "Wide Awakes") caught my attention in Michael Holt's excellent study The Election of 1860: A Campaign Fraught with Consequences. That led me to think of the Union Leagues of the following national election cycle and perhaps the connections between the two groups. Just as I was wondering if a standard study of the Union Leagues existed, I came across notice of Paul Taylor's upcoming The Most Complete Political Machine Ever Known: The North's Union Leagues in the American Civil War (2018).

Set for a July release from Kent State University Press, the book "examines the Union League movement. Often portrayed as a mere footnote to the Civil War, the Union League's influence on the Northern home front was far more important and consequential than previously considered. The Union League and its various offshoots spread rapidly across the North, and in this first comprehensive examination of the leagues, Taylor discusses what made them so effective, including their recruitment strategies, their use of ostracism as a way of stifling dissent, and their distribution of political propaganda in quantities unlike anything previously imagined. By the end of 1863, readers learn, it seemed as if every hamlet from Maine to California had formed its own league chapter, collectively overwhelming their Democratic foe in the 1864 presidential election."

It sounds like an important study. I think it is in good hands with Paul Taylor, too, as he's already demonstrated the ability to craft fine Civil War books on diverse topics (winning numerous book awards along the way).

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Booknotes: Reconstruction

New Arrival:
Reconstruction: Voices from America's First Great Struggle for Racial Equality edited by Brooks D. Simpson (Library of America, 2018).

Teaming up with three different editors over several years, the Library of America has published a series of document collections emphasizing a wide breadth of Civil War era voices. The first was 2011's The Civil War: The First Year Told by Those Who Lived It, with The Second Year, Third Year, and Final Year volumes following it at twelve-month intervals. Editor or co-editor of three of the Civil War volumes, Brooks Simpson returns for what is presumably the capstone of the series with Reconstruction: Voices from America's First Great Struggle for Racial Equality.

From the description: "This Library of America anthology brings together more than one hundred contemporary letters, diary entries, interviews, petitions, testimonies, and newspaper and magazine articles by well-known figures—Frederick Douglass, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Andrew Johnson, Thaddeus Stevens, Ulysses S. Grant, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mark Twain, Albion TourgĂ©e—as well as by dozens of ordinary men and women, black and white, northern and southern, to tell the story of our nation's first attempt to achieve racial equality. Through their eyes readers experience the fierce contest between President Andrew Johnson and the Radical Republicans resulting in the nation's first presidential impeachment; the adoption of the revolutionary Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments; the first achievements of black political power; and the murderous terrorism of the Klan and other groups that, combined with northern weariness, indifference, and hostility, eventually resulted in the restoration of white supremacy in the South.

Throughout, Americans confront the essential questions left unresolved by the defeat of secession: What system of labor would replace slavery, and what would become of the southern plantations? Would the war end in the restoration of a union of sovereign states, or in the creation of a truly national government? What would citizenship mean after emancipation, and what civil rights would the freed people gain? Would suffrage be extended to African American men, and to all women?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Booknotes: General E.A. Paine in Western Kentucky

New Arrival:
General E.A. Paine in Western Kentucky: Assessing the "Reign of Terror" of the Summer of 1864 by Dieter C. Ullrich and Berry Craig (McFarland, 2018).

As the war dragged on and radical change in the form of emancipation with recruitment of black troops into the Union Army became prioritized, the Lincoln administration appointed increasingly hard-line officers to head up Kentucky military districts and carry out Republican war aims and policy in the state. Perhaps the most notorious of these generals was Stephen G. Burbridge, who earned the enmity of many of his fellow Kentuckians (so much so that he was given the decidedly unfriendly sobriquet of "Butcher"). Another commander whose actions alienated a significant part of the local population was Eleazer A. Paine, the subject of Dieter Ullrich and Berry Craig's General E.A. Paine in Western Kentucky: Assessing the "Reign of Terror" of the Summer of 1864. Judging from his best-known photograph, Paine certainly looked the part of fire and brimstone enforcer.

From the description: "When General E. A. Paine assumed command of the U.S. Army's District of Western Kentucky at Paducah in the summer of 1864, he faced a defiant populace, a thriving black market and undisciplined troops plagued by low morale. Guerrillas pillaged towns and murdered the vocal few that supported the Union. Paine's task was to enforce discipline and mollify the secessionist majority in a 2,300-square-mile district. In less than two months, he succeeded where others had failed. For secessionists, his tenure was a "reign of terror"—for the Unionist minority, a "happy and jubilant" time."

Authors Ullrich and Craig obviously view Paine as an unfairly maligned figure in Kentucky Civil War history. "An abolitionist, Paine encouraged the enlistment of black troops and fair wages for former slaves. Yet his principled views led to his downfall. Critics and enemies falsified reports, leading to his removal from command and a court-martial. He was exonerated on all but one minor charge yet historians have perpetuated the Paine-the-monster myth." Seeking to rehabilitate Paine's historical reputation, the book claims to tell "the complete story."

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Review of White - "NEW BERN AND THE CIVIL WAR"

[New Bern and the Civil War by James Edward White III (Arcadia Publishing & The History Press, 2018). Softcover, maps, photographs, illustrations, notes, bibliography, and index. Pages main/total:178/206. ISBN:978-1-62585-992-1. $21.99]

Though weighted toward the Union perspective, the literature associated with the 1862 Burnside Expedition that seized much of the North Carolina coastline is largely satisfying and still growing. A notable exception to this is the scholarship related to Civil War New Bern. Richard Sauers's treatment of the March 14, 1862 Battle of New Bern in 1996's "A Succession of Honorable Victories" remains by far the best examination of the topic; however, the several subsequent Confederate efforts to retake that important port city have been poorly addressed by comparison. Attempting to pick up this slack is James Edward White's New Bern and the Civil War. While White dutifully outlines in brief the 1861 capture of the Hatteras forts and the 1862 New Bern battle, his primary focus is on the three failed (perhaps better described as aborted) Confederate attacks on New Bern that occurred during 1863 and 1864.

On a brief background note, the city of New Bern, which is the county seat of Craven County and was colonial North Carolina's capital at one point, has gone through many different spellings during its history. In Civil War era documents the most common spelling is New Berne with an 'e', and the author uses both versions interchangeably in the book.

White's text does a fine job of impressing upon the reader the imposing defensive geography surrounding New Bern, which sits at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers. Indeed, the military topography would lead some to call New Bern "the best fortified town in America," and the integrated defenses would serve the Union garrison well during the war's second half. Federal engineers constructed an extensive network of trench lines, blockhouses, and enclosed forts around the outskirts of New Bern itself. All approaches to the city on both banks of the Neuse and Trent rivers were well covered. Providing visual reinforcement to the author's written descriptions of these defenses are contemporary engineer drawings of the forts as well as archival sketches of several blockhouses, the post watchtower, and other features. With additional support from U.S. Navy gunboats, the combination of natural and man-made defenses at New Bern would prove to be a considerable psychological barrier to assault. As the book demonstrates, the imposing Union works repeatedly overawed Confederate commanders and subordinates at key moments of decision during the 1863-64 attacks.

The first Confederate attempt to reclaim New Bern (the Second Battle of New Bern) took place during the spring of 1863, when a reduced Union presence on the coast prompted Confederate authorities to send a pair of columns toward the city under generals James Pettigrew and Beverly Robertson. The plan was for Pettigrew to attack Fort Anderson (which was situated on the north bank of the Neuse opposite New Bern) while at the same time Robertson would assail the earthworks guarding the direct land approach to the city. During March 13-15, both wings pressed forward. Pettigrew and the reserve artillery detachment promptly surrounded Fort Anderson, and Robertson got tangled up west of New Bern with stubborn Federals defending a section of the Trent Road cut by forest, gullies, and swampland. Both generals declined to press their attacks in the face of determined enemy resistance on land and river, and they withdrew.

The Third Battle of New Bern was fought on February 1-2, 1864. Under the uninspiring overall direction of General George Pickett, the Confederate plan of attack involved four different approaches—three converging infantry columns under Robert Hoke, James Dearing, and Seth Barton and waterborne assault teams led by famed naval officer John Taylor Wood. According to the plan, General Hoke's force would attack New Bern directly, Dearing would overrun Fort Anderson, and Barton would assault the Union defenses along the right bank of the Trent River just south of New Bern. Meanwhile, Wood's marines would row downriver in small boats and use surprise to board and capture the Union gunboats. Nothing went as planned. As it turned out, Hoke defeated an enemy screening force at the Battle of Batchelder's Creek, but both Dearing and Barton declined to attack the Union works fronting them. On the Neuse, Wood was able to capture the USS Underwriter, but the commandeered vessel promptly grounded and had to be destroyed. The elaborately arranged attack was another failure, and the Confederate soldiers and marines withdrew. On a side note, a pair of standalone chapters recount the diversionary February 2, 1864 Confederate attack on Newport Barracks and the same month's infamous hangings at Kinston of a number of captured Union soldiers who were Confederate deserters.

The Fourth Battle of New Bern was fought during a dark period of the war for the Confederates but a bright spot for southern fortunes in eastern North Carolina. A chapter briefly outlines General Hoke's successful combined army-navy assault on Plymouth during April 1864, and another recounts the Union abandonment and destruction of Washington. The final Confederate attempt to recapture New Bern involved another ambitious multi-pronged attack, this time with high hopes for naval support from a pair of ironclads. The CSS Neuse was still unfinished, but the CSS Albemarle dutifully set out for New Bern from recently captured Plymouth. Damaged in transit by Union gunboats, the ironclad would not make it to its destination. It would not matter in the end; however, as Hoke, who believed he was only days away from capturing the city, was recalled to Virginia.

Addressing all of these operations in a single 200-page volume precludes a micro-level military examination of events, but White's well-constructed accounts should be detailed enough to satisfy most readers. Well supported by numerous high-quality maps and the volume's generous illustration, White's text ably integrates terrain description and appreciation with solid operational and tactical narrative. Though space limitations in an already tightly packed study probably precluded it, a chapter describing civilian life inside the city and the impact of the large contraband camp established nearby would have made a desirable addition. Curiously, the bibliography lists a rather large collection of unpublished documents, diaries, and letters but only a scattering of these manuscript sources can be found in the chapter notes, which indicates a greater reliance on the O.R. and other published materials of all kinds.

On the analytical front, White is particularly critical of Pettigrew's cautious decision to not assail Fort Anderson during the March 1863 operation, even though the general's determination that he could not hold the fort against the U.S. Navy even if he took it (therefore making the losses incurred wasteful) seems sagacious enough in this reviewer's mind. On the other hand, Pettigrew appears not to have known at the time that Robertson was stymied west of New Bern, and one can argue that pressing the attack was an essential part of the plan. Even so, most Confederate attempts to capture fortified Union river enclaves during the war proved demonstrably ill-advised. Generally speaking, the Confederates lacked the resources and expertise to launch and sustain joint operations, and most Union river post defenses were consciously designed to face landward with a view toward rendering any captured place too hot to hold in the face of massive U.S. naval counterattack. Plymouth was a clear exception to the general rule (it helps to have ironclad support!), with bad to disastrous results similar to those experienced at Helena, Milliken's Bend, and Fort Butler being far more common. The justified later war hesitancy to assault well prepared and defended earthworks should be taken into consideration as well. The author also seems to be highly impressed by Confederate planning during the various operations even though the Civil War record of offensives that relied on the close coordination of a multitude of widely-separated columns is generally not a good one. White is almost certainly correct that a lack of mission enthusiasm on the part of the top field commander, in particular Pickett's uninspired direction of the third battle, probably doomed most of the operations (and undoubtedly contributed to the timidity displayed by some of the key subordinates).

James White's well-composed descriptive accounts of the several attempts by Confederate forces to retake the strategically important port city of New Bern comprise a very welcome and largely satisfying attempt to fill in long-standing gaps in the North Carolina military history of the mid to late Civil War period. Recommended.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Booknotes: Wilson's Raid

New Arrival:
Wilson's Raid: The Final Blow to the Confederacy by Russell W. Blount, Jr. (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Pr, 2018).

It's good to see THP (now an imprint of Arcadia Publishing) once more releasing Civil War titles with some regularity. During the first half of the 2010s they published a boatload of titles under their Civil War and Civil War Sesquicentennial series, and there's been a bit of a lull (perhaps an inevitable one) over the past couple years. It seems like they caught their breath again. Four titles have arrived since the beginning of this month, the second being Russell Blount's new study of Wilson's Raid.

From the description of Wilson's Raid: The Final Blow to the Confederacy: "In the closing months of the Civil War, General James Wilson led a Union cavalry raid through Alabama and parts of Georgia. Wilson, the young, brash "boy general" of the Union, matched wits against Nathan Bedford Forrest, the South's legendary "wizard of the saddle." Wilson's Raiders swept through cities like Selma, Tuscaloosa and Montgomery, destroying the last remaining industrial production centers of the Confederacy along with any hopes of its survival. Forrest and his desperately outnumbered cavalry had no option but to try to stop the Union's advance."

The book recounts the massive 1865 federal cavalry raid through the Deep South from beginning to end (including Croxton's side operation). It covers Wilson's victory at Selma, the occupation of the city, the capture of Montgomery, the continuation of the raid from Alabama into Georgia, and the final Union victory at Columbus. In order to "place the reader in the context of the times" the main narrative is written in the present tense, which some readers may find off-putting. Apparently this presentation style is consistent with Blount's other books. The war's big raids remain popular topics and have generally received excellent coverage in book format, so it's a bit surprising that more books on Wilson's Raid haven't appeared during the more than four decades that have elapsed since the publication of James Pickett Jones's Yankee Blitzkrieg

Friday, February 16, 2018

Booknotes: "Our Little Monitor"

New Arrival:
"Our Little Monitor": The Greatest Invention of the Civil War by Anna Gibson Holloway
and Jonathan W. White (Kent St UP, 2018).

What a gorgeous book "Our Little Monitor" is. The publisher really gave it the all-star treatment. The pages are ultra-thick with a high-gloss finish that really sets off the volume's 131 illustrations. With common trim dimensions but the great heft of a old-school Webster's dictionary, you have to keep your back straight when lifting it. And with authors Jonathan White and former curator of the USS Monitor Center Anna Holloway at the helm there's little fear that the content inside won't match the presentation.

From the description: "Using the latest archaeological finds from the USS Monitor Center in Newport News, Virginia, as well as untapped archival material, Anna Gibson Holloway and Jonathan W. White bring “Our Little Monitor” to life once more in this beautifully illustrated volume. In addition to telling her story from conception in 1861 to sinking in 1862, as well as her recent recovery and ongoing restoration, they explain how fighting in this new “machine” changed the experience of her crew and reveal how the Monitor became “the pet of the people”―a vessel celebrated in prints, tokens, and household bric-a-brac; a marketing tool; and a prominent feature in parades, Sanitary Fairs, and politics."

Divided into two main sections, the first half of the book explores the ironclad's history, memory, cultural impact, and recovery/preservation while the second half is comprised of an extensive document collection. Throughout the volume one finds both color and B&W maps, photographs, artwork, technical drawings, broadsheets, and more—a wonderful visual record of the Monitor.

See my January interview with Jonathan White for more information.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Review of Utley - "THE COMMANDERS: Civil War Generals Who Shaped the American West"

[The Commanders: Civil War Generals Who Shaped the American West by Robert M. Utley (University of Oklahoma Press, 2018). Hardcover, 10 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:223/255. ISBN:978-0-8061-5978-2. $29.95]

Robert Utley's The Commanders appraises the Indian Wars careers and national impact of seven high-ranking Civil War generals. Criteria for inclusion in the study are very specific and cause some famous Indian fighters like George Armstrong Custer and Ranald Mackenzie to be left out (though both are frequently mentioned in the text). In order to be considered, a prospective officer must have reached the grade of volunteer and/or regular army major general (or the equivalent brevet promotion) during the Civil War, and at some time during frontier army service been elevated to the rank of brigadier general and appointment to a department command. The seven men meeting these conditions are Christopher Augur, George Crook, Oliver Otis Howard, Nelson Miles, Edward Otho Cresap Ord, John Pope, and Alfred Terry.

The Commanders begins with a brief but illuminating survey of the state of the U.S. Army immediately following the end of the Civil War and its national organizational (department and division) structure. In addition to day-to-day items of concern such as clothing, equipment, pay, and hygiene, the opening section discusses the sometimes bitter feelings and practical problems surrounding the brevet system left over from the Civil War. Congressional hostility and periodic cuts in the funding and size of the army were also major anxieties of the time. One of the greatest challenges confronting the Frontier Army generals was the stifling hold the Washington staff bureaus had on practically every material aspect of army supply and management. This left the isolated field generals of the West having to conduct their difficult campaigns without the ability to control their own logistics.

Each general is assigned his own chapter in the book, with professional activities divided into discrete Civil War and western army sections. Though one might quibble here and there with some of Utley's summary details and assessments, the Civil War sections are generally solid and offer insights into individual strengths and weaknesses that are useful in understanding subsequent successes and failures in the West. Among other things, the generals are rated for battlefield leadership and ability, helpful or harmful personal habits and traits, administrative capacity, attitudes toward Indians, and chain of command harmony. Of course, all of these judgments are highly subjective and certainly some views are more strongly supported than others with examples explicitly cited in the text, but the near-nonagenarian Utley writes with great authority, having devoted an entire illustrious career to researching and writing Frontier Army history. He's the author of many standard works in the field, among them Frontiersmen in Blue: The United States Army and the Indian, 1848-1865 and Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian, 1866-1891, and his opinions surely represent the condensed knowledge of a lifetime of scholarly pursuits in the field.

Unlike the book's relatively detailed descriptions of the military careers of its subject generals, how these men "shaped the American West" is presented mostly in terms of overarching theme. On an individual basis, Crook influenced the greatest number of western tribes and in more ways than any other general. Others facilitated western expansion by protecting emigrants, miners, and railroad crews while also publicly promoting the development of the West. While General Ord's actions often roiled both U.S. and Mexican authorities, the book accords him significant credit for making the border region safer for American settlement. While Utley might have usefully expanded upon this particular aspect of his study, he does make it clear that military leaders heavily influenced the future of the West.

According to Utley, effective department leadership required two very different sets of skills. A department head had to fight Indians (either in person or by directing campaigns from headquarters) but he also had to master essential administrative, public relations, and personnel management tasks made all the more difficult by the American West's extremes of geography, climate, and distance. Thus in creating his ultimate ranking list in the final chapter, the author quite appropriately takes both desk and operational generalship into account.

Curiously, Christopher Augur earns Utley's top spot as department commander, primarily on the strength of the general's exceptional administrative and personnel management skills, but his chapter is also the shortest one in the book (this is almost surely the inevitable consequence of Augur's limited Civil War record combined with the lesser narrative appeal of being the quintessential desk general). On purely military grounds, Utley rates Crook as the most innovative in his tactics and conduct of operations, but Miles as clearly the best Indian fighter of the bunch (but all before he served as department brigadier general). Howard proved to be a "moderate success" as both field commander and administrator.

The others—Terry, Ord, and Pope—were primarily desk generals. In Utley's view, Terry was an excellent headquarters general but, unlike what occurred during his brilliant Civil War career, his one foray into the field during the Indian Wars was a disaster. Even so, how much blame Terry should assume for Custer's defeat remains hotly debated to this day. The author makes a strong case that Pope's time as department commander, while perhaps not wiping away the stain of Second Manassas, at least went some distance toward reaffirming his reputation as a competent officer. According to Utley, Pope's sympathetic actions toward the Indians during his time in command also make him worthy of regard as a "humanitarian general." In Utley's estimation, Ord was an indifferent administrator who largely benefited from the victories of independent-minded subordinates. However, his saving grace (though Utley still plants Ord at the very bottom of his list) was his forging of friendly relations with Texas congressional politicians who later proved effective in blocking further military cuts. That Utley's ranking exercise can be drastically reordered based on which major criteria is emphasized affords ample evidence of the general futility of overall "best" or "worst" rating lists (and the reason why so many historians eschew them), but it does serve as an effective reminder of the many hats a Frontier Army department commander had to wear and how rare it was to find a person who could expertly don all of them.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Booknotes: They All Wore A Star

New Arrival:
They All Wore a Star: In the Fight for the Four-Gun Battery During the Battle of Resaca, Georgia, May 15, 1864 by Robert G. Miller (Mauvaisterre Pub-Author, 2018).

They All Wore A Star is "(i)n their own words, the story of the 129th Illinois Infantry and comrades, from enlistment through their first battle, with Benjamin Harrison and Hooker's 20th Corps, compiled from letters, diaries, official records, newspapers, and regimental histories. A tapestry from the yarns they spun about lives of soldiers and ambitions of generals, converging in a long afternoon on a hillside in Georgia."

It should be mentioned straight away what kind of book this is. The volume is not a narrative unit history, but rather a chronologically arranged collection (and a rather large one at that, running around 450 pages plus appendix, orders of battle, other supplementary material, and bibliography) of transcribed primary source material tracing the Civil War service of author Robert Miller's ancestor Joseph Peters's regiment from enlistment through Peters's 1864 death in Georgia at the Battle of Resaca. 

Miller quite intentionally selected a nearly uninterpreted format for his project, wishing the sources to speak for themselves in their entirety with editorial comment restricted only to very brief contextual notes. The material is footnoted and supported with a number of maps and illustrations. The appendix consists of a biographical register of a large number of the book's source contributors, with most entries accompanied by a photograph.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Five Books on the Battle of Fort Donelson

In commemoration of the Battle of Fort Donelson, which was fought during this week in 1862:

1. Grant Invades Tennessee: The 1862 Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson
by Timothy B. Smith (2016).
Smith's book is by far the deepest and best operational and tactical treatment of the campaign and its battles. The study also raises the strategic stature of the fall of Fort Henry, an event most often sidelined in campaign evaluations in favor of the much larger, bloodier, and dramatic Donelson battle and surrender that followed it.
2. Forts Henry and Donelson: The Key to the Confederate Heartland by B.F. Cooling (1987).
Over thirty years old now (yikes), Cooling's book has stood the test of time and is the classic standby when it comes to viewing the campaign through the widest lens. It ably combines a solid recounting of military events with regional social, political, and economic discussions.
3. Where the South Lost the War: An Analysis of the Fort Henry-Fort Donelson Campaign, February 1862 by Kendall D. Gott (2003).
Also a reasonably detailed narrative history of the campaign, the differentiating feature of Gott's study is its central focus on leadership and command (in particular the failures on the Confederate side).
4. The Battle of Fort Donelson: No Terms But Unconditional Surrender by James R. Knight (2011).
This is for those that want a sound overview of events without having to read a full-length study. Knight has demonstrated a fine ability to condense Civil War subjects into tight little narratives for popular consumption (I especially liked his Pea Ridge effort).
5. Fort Donelson's Legacy: War and Society in Kentucky and Tennessee, 1862-1863
by B.F. Cooling (1997).
Discussing the long shadow of Fort Donelson in a variety of contexts, this volume is the expansive sequel to Cooling's Donelson study referenced above. The author's multi-level exploration of the Civil War in the TN-KY heartland would eventually reach trilogy status with 2011's To the Battles of Franklin and Nashville and Beyond: Stabilization and Reconstruction in Tennessee and Kentucky, 1864–1866 (which I have not read).

Monday, February 12, 2018

Booknotes: "This Infernal War"

New Arrival:
"This Infernal War": The Civil War Letters of William and Jane Standard edited by Timothy Mason Roberts (Kent St Univ Press, 2018).

In the pages of "This Infernal War" readers will find Standard but not standard Civil War letters. "Among collections of letters written between American soldiers and their spouses, the Civil War correspondence of William and Jane Standard stands out for conveying the complexity of the motives and experiences of Union soldiers and their families. The Standards of Lewiston in Fulton County, Illinois, were antiwar Copperheads" with strongly negative "attitudes toward Abraham Lincoln, Black Republicans, and especially African Americans."

"Scholars who argue that the bulk of Union soldiers left their families and went to war to champion republican government or to wipe out slavery will have to account for this couple's rejection of the war's ideals." I wonder if Standard clearly articulates somewhere in his letters his reason(s) for joining the Union Army.

More from the description: "Yet the war changed them, in spite of themselves. Jane's often bitter letters illuminate the alienation of women left alone and the impact on a small community of its men going to war. But she grew more independent in her husband's absence. Enlisting in the 103rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment in October 1862, William participated in General Sherman's Siege of Vicksburg, the Battles of Missionary Ridge and Atlanta, and the March to the Sea. At the war's end he proudly marched in the Grand Review of the Armies in the national capital. Meanwhile, he expressed enthusiasm for stealing and foraging (a.k.a. cramping) and unhappiness with his service, complaints that fed Jane's intermittent requests that he desert or be captured and paroled. William's odyssey illustrates the Union military's assimilation of resentful Northern men to support a long, grueling, and, after 1862, revolutionary war on the South.

I think today's scholars in general too readily acquiesce to the war period's overly broad branding of dissenters as "Copperheads." For the sake of fairness, we perhaps should be a bit more circumspect when applying such a derogative term to a soldier that, however distasteful his personal feelings were then and now, apparently faithfully sacrificed and served in the army for his entire enlistment period. "The Standards antiwar opinions hearken to modern expressions of pacifism and condemnation of government. Jane's and William's opposition to the war helped sustain their commitment to and dependence on each other to survive it." Looks like a very interesting book. Hearkening back on my own reading experience, I'm trying to think of another published soldier-to-home letter collection similar to what this one seems to be and am coming up empty.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Booknotes: General Lee's Immortals

New Arrival:
General Lee’s Immortals: The Battles and Campaigns of the Branch-Lane Brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865 by Michael C. Hardy (Savas Beatie, 2018).

Michael Hardy is easily one of the most prolific authors of North Carolina Civil War history. He's published books of all types, from detailed battle treatments to unit studies and local history. The "first comprehensive history of the Branch-Lane Brigade," his new book General Lee's Immortals examines the fighting career of one of the Army of Northern Virginia's most distinguished formations.

From the description: "This storied brigade, first led by Lawrence Branch until his death at Sharpsburg, and then James H. Lane, served with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia during its entire existence. The names emblazoned on its battle flag read like a history of that army, beginning with the Seven Days’ Battles and ending with the final roll call at Appomattox. 

Originally part of A.P. Hill’s famous “Light” Division, the Branch-Lane Brigade earned spectacular plaudits for its disciplined defense, hard-hitting attacks, and incredible marching abilities. Its constant position at the front, however, resulted in devastating losses, so that its roll call of casualties by the end of the war far exceeded its number of survivors."

The richly illustrated book has twelve maps and is "is based on many years of study and grounded on a vast foundation of sources that relate every aspect of the career of this remarkable fighting command."

Friday, February 9, 2018

Review of Lang - "IN THE WAKE OF WAR: Military Occupation, Emancipation, and Civil War America"

[In the Wake of War: Military Occupation, Emancipation, and Civil War America by Andrew F. Lang. (Louisiana State University Press, 2017). Hardcover, photo, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:249/336. ISBN:978-0-8071-6706-9. $47.50]

The subject of Civil War occupation has been a major part of numerous publications from Stephen Ash, William Freehling, Mark Grimsley, Christopher Phillips, Judkin Browning, Gregory Downs, Joseph Danielson, and many other notable Civil War historians. Needless to say, it's a broad area of study, and scholarly emphasis varies widely between these established works. Andrew Lang's In the Wake of War: Military Occupation, Emancipation, and Civil War America adds its own fresh and insightful take on the topic, examining in depth the ideological collision between the requirements of wartime occupation and traditional assumptions regarding the proper role of the citizen-soldier in America's wars.

The American experience during the colonial and Revolutionary War periods instilled in its body politic an abiding mistrust in European-style standing armies and military garrisons. Citizens came to tolerate the maintenance of a small professional U.S. Army during the Early Republic and antebellum eras, but only as frontier protection and for garrisoning coastal forts. Rather than being widely supportive of a professional officer class and large permanent army, the American republican ideal of military service involved citizen-soldiers (officers and men) called to arms only in moments of great crisis. Serving largely under their own terms as free and equal white citizens of a republic, these disinterested volunteers would submit to the needs of the nation only as long as it took to defeat the enemy, then they would return home. While in the service, they would be respectful of the lives and property of non-combatants and refrain from interfering with the structure of society. As Lang's study demonstrates, all of these ideological tenets would be challenged by the American Civil War experience and its demands for large-scale military occupation.

In the Wake of War begins with an overview of the U.S. military's first great war of occupation, the 1846-48 conflict with Mexico. During that period, garrison duty represented the sole wartime experience of many volunteer regiments. In that capacity, citizen-soldiers who to a man volunteered to fight the national enemy in the field instead found themselves distastefully tasked with regulating civilian lives, enforcing martial law, guarding supply lines, and fighting insurgents. As Lang discovered, these volunteers raised practical and ideological objections to occupation duty consistent with those Civil War soldiers would make more than fifteen years later, the notable exception being that the hostile population in Mexico was foreign and of a different race. Lang does note that U.S. soldiers in Mexico and Union soldiers in the American South sometimes used similar language in describing local populations as lazy, ignorant, and culturally and economically backward, but there is an interesting body of scholarship (for instance, the work of William Shea and others in documenting the reactions of northern soldiers exposed to white society along the Ozark Plateau in Missouri and Arkansas) showing that northern impressions of southern society were often expressed in correspondence using repugnant terms similar to those previously reserved for a presumed inferior racial "other."

Before moving to more ground level aspects of his study, Lang offers readers a solid macro picture of Union occupation strategy during the Civil War, a coordinated effort that overall proved successful in balancing the needs of rear area pacification with frontline manpower. By the war's midpoint, over 40% of the total strength of the Union army was tied down in garrisons, making occupation duty the primary military experience of a great proportion of its citizen-soldiers. The author puts many of their most thoughtful concerns regarding behind the lines service to great use in the text, clearly outlining to the modern reader in what ways many volunteers felt the duties of occupation clashed with republican ideals of military participation. Even so, one has to wonder just how pervasive such thoughtful moments of philosophical contemplation truly were in the Union Army as a whole.

Regardless, the book does make clear that many Civil War soldiers identified occupation duty in the South with traditional views on the threats to liberty imposed by standing armies. Lang's study finds that even the most enthusiastic rebel-haters were nevertheless often deeply troubled by their roles in regulating the lives of free citizens, seizing or destroying private property, and breaking up societal institutions. In their view such actions, even when admitted to be at times necessary, both "corrupted" the republican citizen-soldier ideal on an individual basis and threatened free society as a whole.

Static garrison duty was perceived as debasing citizen-soldiers and their self-respect in other ways, too. Most readers are familiar with the literature of the illicit cotton trade, but Civil War garrison soldiers engaged in a myriad of 'informal economies' for personal gain. Viewing the war itself as cheating them of invaluable time and opportunity for career development, many serving volunteers felt free to engage in any economic activity of their choosing (even it is meant stealing) if the army wasn't going to require their presence at the fighting front. Others adopted the opposite position, believing soldiering for pecuniary gain corrupted the particularly cherished republican ideal of the disinterested volunteer and comprised an act undermining of both virtue and discipline. These conflicting expressions of American individualism were at odds throughout the war.

How counterinsurgency campaigns in occupied areas were conducted was another source of collective unease according to Lang's study. Arbitrarily governing civilian lives and commerce, constantly invading home spaces, destroying or confiscating private property, and killing suspected guerrillas or their civilian supporters without due process—the despised traits of despotic standing armies of occupation—caused garrison troops to question their idealized citizen-soldier conventions and romantic conceptions of war. Similarly, military emancipation directly conflicted with the conservative ideal that citizen-soldiers did not interfere with or make fundamental alterations to the structure of civil society. When it came to traditional American military culture, the irregular war and emancipation in particular caused soldiers to reconsider their belief systems.

Of course, one prominent group of Union soldiers had no qualms at all about abandoning republican traditions when it came to the preferred relationship between citizen-soldiers and society. While often expressing their own preference for active service at the front, black Union soldiers made the most of their opportunities as garrison troops to destroy slavery and all of its physical reminders, punish slaveholders, and reshape southern society. In Lang's estimation, United States Colored Troops used civil control, active patrolling of the countryside, and counterinsurgency operations to create their own citizen-soldier tradition, one that placed societal transformation at its very heart. This black enthusiasm for occupation and all it entailed carried over into the Reconstruction period, when freedmen and ex-USCT soldiers filled the ranks of state militia units serving at the behest of Republican governors. However, these all-black militia units came to be judged (often unfairly and from afar) by most northern and southern whites as more destabilizing than the civilian mobs and paramilitary forces they were created to combat, and they were ultimately dissolved. In Lang's view, the failure of biracial occupation (through a lack of enthusiasm on one side and perhaps too much on the other) during Reconstruction signaled "broader national commitments to antimilitarism and the principles of constitutional republicanism" (pg. 209) over racial equality.

In its examination of military occupation during the Civil War and Reconstruction, In the Wake of War powerfully underscores differences in contemporary white and black attitudes toward what the army's role should be (and could be) in changing society. Drawing upon strongly held fears of standing armies and garrisons dating back to the Revolution along with cherished citizen-soldier traditions developed since that time, white Americans recognized the need for a garrisoning presence in the South to both maintain control of conquered territory during the Civil War and enforce Reconstruction policies afterward but were deeply mistrustful of its potential for despotism. Southern blacks (and their ex-slave and freeborn northern allies) took the opposite view, understandably considering long-term military occupation to be a key pathway to gaining and maintaining black freedom and rights of citizenship. USCT units during the Civil War and Reconstruction-era black Republican militias alike relished their opportunity to contribute to the destruction of slavery and all its remnants while also using their military power to help impose equality on a biracial society and actively suppress local white resistance. However, Lang's book shows that these clashing citizen-soldier traditions, one old and conservative and the other new and revolutionary, could not co-exist at the time, and Americans as a whole ultimately chose "faith in democratic majority rule and self-determination at the ballot box ... over the idealism of racial equality" (pg. 235). The author is likely correct that proponents of the "lost moment" school of Reconstruction too often overlook the unshakable hold ideas of limited government and fear of domestic military intervention had on nineteenth-century American culture, but everyone can certainly recognize the bitter essential irony underpinning the events of the period, when there was widespread recognition of the necessary requirements for implementing and maintaining the loftier goals of the Civil War and Reconstruction only to have the very tools needed to achieve them voluntarily withheld.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Booknotes: Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 4

New Arrival:
Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Volume 4: Essays on America's Civil War edited by Lawrence Lee Hewitt & Thomas E. Schott (Univ of Tenn Press, 2018).

I love this anthology series (the brainchild of Larry Hewitt and the late Art Bergeron) along with its smaller run Trans-Mississippi cousin. Alas, all good things must come to an end and Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Volume 4 will be the last installment. Though I did often find myself wishing the series as a whole exhibited a bit higher ratio of lesser-known to famous generals, the contributing authors nevertheless consistently managed throughout the first three volumes to find something freshly intriguing to say about even the best-documented Confederate commanders.

Volume 4 has ten chapters. The collection "includes C. David Dalton on the death of Felix Zollicoffer at the Battle of Mill Springs in Kentucky; Roger Durham on Robert E. Lee's leadership early in the war of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and East Florida; Brian S. Wills on Abraham Buford's behind-the-scenes contributions to Nathan Bedford Forrest's famous exploits; the late Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes Jr. on the achievements and failings of Gideon J. Pillow; James M. Prichard on John Hunt Morgan and his last Kentucky raid; and Keith S. Bohannon on Edward C. Walthall, a Virginia lawyer who overcame his lack of prior military experience to become one of the ablest generals in any of the war's theaters."

Other essays examine various aspects of the lives and fighting careers of generals Benjamin Hardin Helm, Bushrod Johnson, W.H.T. Walker, and Braxton Bragg. As before, "(s)ome essays offer full biographies of their subjects; others focus on a single campaign."

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Booknotes: Death, Disease, and Life at War

New Arrival:
Death, Disease, and Life at War: The Civil War Letters of Surgeon James D. Benton, 111th and 98th New York Infantry Regiments, 1862-1865 by Christopher E. Loperfido
(Savas Beatie, 2018).

Death, Disease, and Life at War is the edited 1862-65 Civil War correspondence of Dr. James Dana Benton. "A native of New York, Dr. Benton penned a series of letters throughout the war to his family relating his experiences with the 111th New York Infantry as an assistant surgeon, and later with the 98th New York as surgeon."

More from the description: "Dr. Benton was present for some of the war’s most gruesome and important battles, including Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, and the siege of Petersburg. He was also present at Harpers Ferry, Second Battle of Auburn, Battle of Morton’s Ford, and Abraham Lincoln’s second Inaugural address."

Editor Christopher Loperfido supplements Benton's letters with a lengthy introduction, footnotes, and bridging narrative throughout. Informative appendices discuss the battlefield care innovations of Dr. Jonathan Letterman, the U.S. Sanitary Commission, the development of the army ambulance corps, limb amputation, and wound dressing.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Booknotes: The Commanders

New Arrival:
The Commanders: Civil War Generals Who Shaped the American West
by Robert M. Utley (Univ of Okla Press, 2018).

Robert Utley's The Commanders "examines the careers of seven military leaders who served as major generals for the Union in the Civil War, then as brigadier generals in command of the U.S. Army’s western departments. By examining both periods in their careers, Utley makes a unique contribution in delineating these commanders’ strengths and weaknesses." The seven officers under primary consideration in the study are Christopher Augur, George Crook, O.O. Howard, Nelson Miles, E.O.C. Ord, John Pope, and Alfred Terry.

Utley finds that all seven were "critical in the expansion of federal control in the West. The commanders effected the final subjugation of American Indian tribal groups, exercising direct oversight of troops in the field as they fought the wars that would bring Indians under military and government control." More from the description: "After introducing readers to postwar army doctrine, organization, and administration, Utley takes each general in turn, describing his background, personality, eccentricities, and command style and presenting the rudiments of the campaigns he prosecuted.

In addition to comparing levels of success, the study examines the different ways the western generals exercised command. "Crook embodied the ideal field general, personally leading his troops in their operations, though with varying success. Christopher C. Augur and John Pope, in contrast, preferred to command from their desks in department headquarters, an approach that led both of them to victory on the battlefield. And Miles, while perhaps the frontier army’s most detestable officer, was also its most successful in the field."

The role played by the U.S. Army in post-Civil War western progress and expansion is a major theme. "Rounding out the book with an objective comparison of all eight (ed. seven?) generals’ performance records, Utley offers keen insights into their influence on the U.S. military as an institution and on the development of the American West."

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Union Cavalry and the Chickamauga Campaign

Speaking of Chickamauga...

The Union cavalry literature (for both the eastern and western branches of the arm) has made great strides in recent decades. Historian Dennis Belcher has made notable contributions to our understanding of the cavalry of the Army of the Cumberland, authoring two very useful books The Cavalries at Stones River: An Analytical History (2017) and The Cavalry of the Army of the Cumberland (2016). I thought his Stones River study was his best work so far, and hopefully his next project will succeed in a similar vein.

Set for a July release, Belcher's The Union Cavalry and the Chickamauga Campaign will feature the operations of General David Stanley's mounted corps as it "battled Nathan Bedford Forrest's and Joseph Wheeler's two cavalry corps in some of the most difficult terrain for mounted operations in the Civil War. The Federal cavalry divisions, commanded by George Crook and Edward McCook, secured the flanks on the Union advance on Chattanooga, secured the crossing of the Tennessee River, and then pushed into enemy-held territory."

More from the description: "Cavalry fights at Alpine and La Fayette marked the early part of the campaign, but the battle exploded on September 18 as Col. Robert Minty and Col. John Wilder held back a determined attack by Confederate infantry, reminiscent of Buford's actions at Gettysburg. The author isn't the first to make that comparison.

"Due to Stanley's illness, Robert Mitchell assumed command of the cavalry during the battle along Chickamauga Creek, with notable cavalry actions at Glass Mill, Cooper's Gap, and securing the flanks after the battle. Soon thereafter, the Union cavalry fought Wheeler's mounted forces raiding through Tennessee before the battle at Farmington sent the Confederate horsemen back across the Tennessee River. The contributions of the Union cavalry during this campaign are often overlooked, but the troopers fought through conditions so dusty they could hardly see the horse in front of them while boldly leading the infantry in the second costliest battle in the Civil War."

If the volume is as good as expected, it will serve as a fitting companion to David Powell's study of the Confederate cavalry during the campaign, 2010's Failure in the Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joe Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Decisions at Chickamauga

Last year, I mentioned a new series from University of Tennessee Press called Command Decisions in America's Civil War. Here is what the publisher currently has to say about it:
"Each book in the Command Decisions in America’s Civil War series introduces a major engagement in the Civil War—focusing not on the what of warfare, but on the why. As the drama unfolds, readers discover how decisions made by Union and Confederate officers create the battle’s outcome. Forthcoming books in the series will investigate decisions made at Perryville, Tullahoma, Shiloh, and other notable battles both in the Eastern and Western theaters of the Civil War."
The first volume, Decisions at Stones River, is just coming out now, and the press has already announced two more titles in their new Spring '18 catalog! One of these is Dave Powell's Decisions at Chickamauga: The Twenty-four Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle (Summer 2018). A mere mortal might be burned out after just completing an exhaustive trilogy, but Powell's interest in Chickamauga has apparently not lost steam. The catalog also reports a Fall '18 release for Lawrence Peterson's Decisions at Chattanooga: Nineteen Decisions That Defined the Battle, but I would be very surprised to see it this year given the current logjam of series titles.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Booknotes: New Bern and the Civil War

New Arrival:
New Bern and the Civil War by James Edward White III (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Press).

This is probably the first book to take a serious look at Civil War fighting around New Bern (the most common contemporaneous spelling was New Berne), North Carolina since Richard Sauers's landmark 1996 history of the Burnside Expedition titled "A Succession of Honorable Victories". However, the focus of James Edward White's New Bern and the Civil War is much broader in scope, covering the entire war.

The publisher description offers a rundown of its content. "On March 14, 1862, Federal forces under the command of General Ambrose Burnside overwhelmed Confederate forces in the Battle of New Bern, capturing the town and its important seaport. From that time on, Confederates planned to retake the city. D.H. Hill and James J. Pettigrew made the first attempt but failed miserably. General George Pickett tried in February 1864. He nearly succeeded but called the attack off on the edge of victory. The Confederates made another charge in May led by General Robert Hoke. They had the city surrounded with superior forces when Lee called Hoke back to Richmond and ended the expedition. Author Jim White details the chaotic history of New Bern in the Civil War."

The notes and bibliography indicate a synthesis seasoned with some archival research. The volume displays the publisher's typical excellence when it comes to photographs and other types of illustrations. Of particular interest are the many sketches and formal drawings of the fortifications in the area. In addition to the archival map reproductions, the original battle maps (which look great) are numerous enough to cover all the main actions described in the text. This is definitely one for the to-read pile.