Saturday, June 30, 2018

Booknotes: Maine Roads to Gettysburg

New Arrival:
Maine Roads to Gettysburg: How Joshua Chamberlain, Oliver Howard, and 4,000 Men from the Pine Tree State Helped Win the Civil War's Bloodiest Battle by Tom Huntington (Stackpole, 2018).

Most Civil War readers probably know Tom Huntington as the man behind Historical Traveler magazine and the author of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg (2013). His latest book, also from Stackpole, is Maine Roads to Gettysburg. In it, he focuses on the Civil War careers and accomplishments of several prominent Maine generals and five infantry regiments from the state (the 7th, 16th, 17th, 19th, and 20th Maine). The title pun isn't too bad either.

From the description: "Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his 20th Maine regiment made a legendary stand on Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. But Maine's role in the battle includes much more than that. Soldiers from the Pine Tree State contributed mightily during the three days of fighting. Pious general Oliver Otis Howard secured the high ground of Cemetery Ridge for the Union on the first day. Adelbert Ames--the stern taskmaster who had transformed the 20th Maine into a fighting regiment--commanded a brigade and then a division at Gettysburg. The 17th Maine fought ably in the confused and bloody action in the Wheatfield; a sea captain turned artilleryman named Freeman McGilvery cobbled together a defensive line that proved decisive on July 2; and the 19th Maine helped stop Pickett's Charge during the battle's climax."

Gettysburg is the study's centerpiece, but the book also recounts Maine's involvement in the eastern theater campaigns and battles leading up to the epic clash in Pennsylvania. Around half the book is devoted to the period between the outbreak of the war and the conclusion of the Chancellorsville Campaign, and the text is supported by a dozen maps. "Maine soldiers had fought and died for two bloody years even before they reached Gettysburg. They had fallen on battlefields in Virginia and Maryland. They had died in front of Richmond, in the Shenandoah Valley, on the bloody fields of Antietam, in the Slaughter Pen at Fredericksburg, and in the tangled Wilderness around Chancellorsville. And the survivors kept fighting, even as they followed Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania."

Friday, June 29, 2018

Booknotes: Where Valor Proudly Sleeps

New Arrival:
Where Valor Proudly Sleeps: A History of Fredericksburg National Cemetery, 1866–1933by Donald C. Pfanz (SIU Press, 2018).

Where Valor Proudly Sleeps is the second volume in SIU Press's public history focused Engaging the Civil War series. I liked the first one, Turning Points of the American Civil War, well enough and look forward to seeing what they come up with next.

According to the description, Pfanz's book "explores a battle’s immediate and long-term aftermath by focusing on Fredericksburg National Cemetery, one of the largest cemeteries created by the U.S. government after the Civil War. Pfanz shows how legislation created the National Cemetery System and describes how the Burial Corps identified, collected, and interred soldier remains as well as how veterans, their wives, and their children also came to rest in national cemeteries. By sharing the stories of the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, its workers, and those buried there, Pfanz explains how the cemetery evolved into its current form, a place of beauty and reflection."

Among other topics, chapters discuss Civil War and postwar burials, the history of the national cemetery and later refinements, the evolution of the cemetery's Memorial Day commemorations, and a selection of personal stories. Prominent employees are profiled, as are some of the site's physical structures. Important national cemetery legislation and the words to the classic poem "The Bivouac of the Dead" are gathered in the appendix section, and photographs are spread throughout the text. Pfanz's long career with the National Park Service, including work at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP, undoubtedly informs the study, and John Hennessy gives it high praise, saying it "might be the best book ever written about a national cemetery."

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Review of Croon, ed. - "The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865"

[The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865 edited by Janet Elizabeth Croon (Savas Beatie, 2018). Hardcover, 4 maps, photos, illustrations, footnotes, index. 480 pp. ISBN:978-1-61121-388-1. $34.95]

Born in 1847, LeRoy Wiley Gresham was just transitioning into his teenage years on the eve of the Civil War. His father was a wealthy Georgia slaveholder with two large plantations located just south of Macon, but other circumstances would doom what might otherwise have been a very promising future for the young man. Gresham, whose leg was crippled during childhood by a falling chimney and who would later suffer even worse bodily insult from the ravages of tuberculosis, began a daily diary in 1860 that only ended ten days before his death on June 18, 1865. Previously available to the general public only as Library of Congress scans, Gresham's diaries have been meticulously transcribed and edited by Janet Croon and were recently published by Savas Beatie under the title The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865.

Gresham expresses a variety of interests in his writing, but one of the things that stands out most is how well informed he was, the outside world coming to him through multiple newspapers and a steady stream of books. Gresham limits most of his war commentary to the rumors and results of battles, passing on early casualty figures and noting which generals from either side were sacked, wounded, or lost. As an observer from afar, he was remarkably cognizant of the entire geographical breadth of the conflict. The diaries express the same level of interest and concern over tiny campaigns fought along the frontier of the Confederacy that they do with major battles in Virginia. Gresham even named his first dog after Missouri general Sterling Price.

For such a young person with limited experience of the world, Gresham displays in his writings a rather mature view of the reliability of news reports. While he does repeat the typical enthusiast pattern of inflating enemy casualties and minimizing friendly losses, Gresham's first reaction to reports of victories and defeats alike is appropriate skepticism accompanied by expectation that the truth will eventually come out.  In 1864, particularly during the period of Sherman's March to the Sea when the war truly was just outside his window, Gresham's war commentary becomes much more reflective and personal, his diary entries greatly increasing in length, detail, and local concern as the enemy threat to Macon and his father's nearby plantations waxed and waned.

Surprisingly, Gresham mentions the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation only in passing and without comment. Even more interestingly, he doesn't mention the measure at all when it went into effect at the beginning of 1863. Perhaps his home's distance from the front and hopes of ultimate victory made the threat seem more theoretical to him than real. He also has little to say about the enlistment of black troops beyond Kentuckians being upset. Some readers will want or expect Gresham to reflect upon slavery at some length, but it should be no surprise that a youth of his upbringing might take the institution and the racially stratified social system that it spawned for granted. At one point, Gresham does express skepticism that slavery was divinely inspired.

Much of Gresham's writing (especially from the pre-1864 period) consists of the type of mundane entries that regular readers of Civil War diaries and letters have come to expect (i.e. comments on the weather, health of loved ones, who's visiting, etc.), but the young man also had stimulating hobbies he enjoyed discussing. Being unable to participate in most physical activities, Gresham indulged his mind. In addition to keeping up with some formal schooling, he was always reading books of various kinds. The game of chess developed into a great passion, and he wrote frequently about his marathon play sessions and discourses on strategy.

Gresham's diaries also provide modern readers with information about wartime events and happenings around Macon, which was an important transit point for troops and prisoners and was also visited by many prominent generals and politicians (including President Davis). Gresham describes at some length the Union occupation of Macon and environs in early 1865, and notes that his father's properties, while stripped of foodstuffs, horses, and other things armies craved, were comparatively well treated by federal soldiers. Not surprisingly, the Gresham slaves left the plantations by twos and threes during this time. Gresham doesn't come across as naively attached to illusions of slave loyalty but reflections upon the revolutionary changes to the society he was raised in are generally absent from the diaries.

Domestic crime not directly related to the war remains an understudied home front topic, and the book also has some interesting observations about these types of activities. At various points in his diaries, Gresham relates incidents of assault and murder in downtown Macon, a string of arson attacks on area plantations, and a robbery break-in inside his own home. He doesn't speculate (at least in his diary) on the source of the fires, though readers might recall late antebellum hysteria over well-publicized allegations that Texas slaves conspired with abolitionists to set that state ablaze, and one wonders if similar thoughts entered the minds of the Gresham household and those of local authorities.

Most prominently, Gresham's diaries comprise a highly instructive, and equal parts affecting, case study (though atypical) of the course and treatment of one of the greatest health scourges of the pre-antibiotics period—tuberculosis. In addition to regularly reporting about the painful condition of his crippled leg, Gresham comments almost daily on his disease symptoms and dutifully discusses the great many drug treatments and palliative measures employed toward easing his many intractable discomforts. Parents and attending physicians both kept the diagnosis from Gresham, and the usually highly perceptive boy never openly airs his own suspicions in his diary, even though the typical signs and symptoms of consumption would almost certainly have been known to him. One suspects that there was more than a little fear and denial involved, not unusual attitudes for patients with progressively fatal diseases to display. By the crisis period of the war, Gresham would go long stretches without even mentioning his obviously worsening medical problems.

By arriving at the most likely diagnosis for Gresham's condition, Pott's Disease (or spinal tuberculosis), and contributing expert medical commentary in the book's footnotes, medical foreword, and particularly informative afterword, physician Dennis Rasbach's adjunctive participation in the project was invaluable to Croon's work. In the afterword, Rasbach's summaries of the disease's natural history, standards of care, and period medicines greatly inform our understanding of what Gresham went through and the quality of care he received.

In addition to transcribing the diaries, Croon (with the assistance of Rasbach and the publisher) extensively annotated the material for publication. The footnotes provide useful information on persons, places, and events mentioned in the text as well as medical insights, terminology, and other commentary essential to readers wishing to get the most out of the experience. Given the huge parade of individuals mentioned in Gresham's diaries, Croon greatly assists the reader by compiling a comprehensive 'dramatis personae' register of immediate family, slaves, friends, and extended relations.

Only time will tell if Gresham's writings reach high classic status on par with those of Mary Chesnut, George Templeton Strong, and other famous Civil War diarists, but The War Outside My Window undeniably adds a unique youthful voice to the vast array of existing eyewitness accounts of the era. It is highly recommended.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Booknotes: Our Country

New Arrival:
Our Country: Northern Evangelicals and the Union during the Civil War Era
by Grant R. Brodrecht (Fordham UP, 2018).

With its origins in the previous century, the Protestant multi-denominational movement known as evangelicalism was a strong force in 1800s American culture. As the introduction to Grant Brodrecht's Our Country: Northern Evangelicals and the Union during the Civil War Era notes, some historians argue that it was the predominant American subculture of the period and profoundly shaped the country's ethos. The book's working definition of the core tenets shared by evangelicals has three parts: belief in (1) the bible's fundamental authority in all things related to "salvation, religious practice, and morality" (2) the "necessity of an individual conversion experience" and (3) the principle that all should aspire to a vigorous life of "Christlike" action. The last often extended into social and political reform activism.

The central theme of the book appears to be widespread evangelical determination, in the main, that saving the Union overrode all other considerations. "Believing their devotion to the Union was an act of faithfulness to God first and the Founding Fathers second, Our Country explores how many northern white evangelical Protestants sacrificed racial justice on behalf of four million African-American slaves (and then ex-slaves) for the Union’s persistence and continued flourishing as a Christian nation."

More from the description: "By examining Civil War-era Protestantism in terms of the Union, author Grant Brodrecht adds to the understanding of northern motivation and the eventual "failure" of Reconstruction to provide a secure basis for African American's equal place in society. Complementing recent scholarship that gives primacy to the Union, Our Country contends that non-radical Protestants consistently subordinated concern for racial justice for what they perceived to be the greater good. Mainstream evangelicals did not enter Reconstruction with the primary aim of achieving racial justice. Rather they expected to see the emergence of a speedily restored, prosperous, and culturally homogenous Union, a Union strengthened by God through the defeat of secession and the removal of slavery as secession’s cause."

"Brodrecht eloquently addresses this so-called “proprietary” regard for Christian America, considered within the context of crises surrounding the Union’s existence and its nature from the Civil War to the 1880s. Including sources from major Protestant denominations, the book rests on a selection of sermons, denominational newspapers and journals, autobiographies, archival personal papers of several individuals, and the published and unpublished papers of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant. The author examines these sources as they address the period’s evangelical sense of responsibility for America, while keyed to issues of national and presidential politics."

The study concludes that evangelicals' "love of the Union arguably contributed to its preservation and the slaves’ emancipation." However, "in subsuming the ex-slaves to their vision for Christian America, northern evangelicals contributed to a Reconstruction that failed to ensure the ex-slaves’ full freedom and equality as Americans."

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Booknotes: Sixteenth President-in-Waiting

New Arrival:
Sixteenth President-in-Waiting: Abraham Lincoln and the Springfield Dispatches of Henry Villard, 1860–1861 edited by Michael Burlingame (SIU Press, 2018).

From the description: "Between Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860 and his departure for Washington three months later, journalist Henry Villard sent scores of dispatches from Springfield, Illinois, to various newspapers describing the president-elect’s doings, quoting or paraphrasing his statements, chronicling events in the Illinois capital, and analyzing the city’s mood. With Sixteenth President-in-Waiting Michael Burlingame has collected all of these dispatches in one insightful and informative volume.

Best known as a successful nineteenth-century railroad promoter and financier, German-born Henry Villard (1835–1900) was also among the most conscientious and able journalists of the 1860s. The dispatches gathered in this volume constitute the most intensive journalistic coverage that Lincoln ever received, for Villard filed stories from the Illinois capital almost daily to the New York Herald, slightly less often to the
Cincinnati Commercial, and occasionally to the San Francisco Bulletin."

For a deeper perspective, Villard interviewed Lincoln's friends and associates, as well. According to Burlingame, Villard performed a signal service to the country by "publicizing Lincoln’s views on the secession crisis."

Villard was an amazingly prolific correspondent, his 'dispatches' from November 1860 through February 1861 filling 300 pages of text in the book. Well-known Lincoln biographer and expert Burlingame contributes a general introduction to the volume and annotates the material. A good multi-level index (i.e. lots of subheadings) always enhances the research and reference value of books like this one, and what you get here appears to be of this type. As an appendix, Burlingame also includes Villard's report of the famous 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.

More: "Not only informative but also highly readable, Villard’s vivid descriptions of Lincoln’s appearance, daily routine, and visitors, combined with fresh information about Springfielders, state political leaders, and the capital, constitute an invaluable resource."

Monday, June 25, 2018

Five books on the Missouri State Guard

1. Sterling Price's Lieutenants: A Guide to the Officers and Organization of the Missouri State Guard, 1861-1865 by Richard C. Peterson, James E. McGhee, Kip A. Lindberg & Keith I. Daleen (2nd edition, 2007).
No comprehensive history of the Missouri State Guard has ever been undertaken, but the MSG's wartime operations have been discussed extensively in a number of readily available military studies. However, this list is dedicated to reference works (though perhaps a future one will cover the Guard in action). In my mind, the most essential of these is Sterling Price's Lieutenants. First published in 1995, it underwent revision for a new edition in 2007 (see the above link for my review of the latter). All of the books on this list are not only out of print but their publishers are defunct (thus the absence of links), so grab a copy when and where you can!
2. Record and Order Book: Missouri State Guard 1861-1862 by James E. McGhee (2001).
Tradition holds that MSG sources are scant and the organization's recordkeeping particularly spotty, but I've been told by those in the know that more than enough primary source material exists in archives across the country to construct a reasonably good history. Many of the documents related to the Guard's most active period are transcribed and collected in this very useful book.
3. The Forgotten Men: Missouri State Guard by Carolyn Bartels (1995).
Bartels gleaned from the National Archives a MSG roster of over 7,000 names (which was a good start at the time). From these materials, the author also pieced together a casualty list and an index of over 3,000 additional names mentioned in the files.
4. More Forgotten Men: Missouri State Guard by Wayne Schnetzer (2003).
A continuation of the work of Bartels, Schnetzer's book added more than 4,000 names to the list compiled in The Forgotten Men.
5. Missouri’s State Guard: Their Officers and Men - Tried Soldiers, Full of Zeal for the Cause: A Brief History of the Missouri State Guard After Pea Ridge March 9, 1862 - Spring of 1865 by Wayne Schnetzer (2011).
Though the bulk of the guardsmen that wished to continue fighting transferred to Confederate service by the end of spring 1862, the MSG remained in existence throughout the war. Schnetzer's narrative recounts this much lesser-known history of the State Guard, and his book also includes a number of useful appendices (among them a fairly extensive roster of MSG officers and men who served between March 1862 and June 1865).

Saturday, June 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Comment limbo (now fixed)

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

Booknotes: Practical Liberators

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

From the description: "During the first fifteen months of the Civil War, the policies and attitudes of Union officers toward emancipation in the western theater were, at best, inconsistent and fraught with internal strains. But after Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act in 1862, army policy became mostly consistent in its support of liberating the slaves in general, in spite of Union army officers' differences of opinion. By 1863 and the final Emancipation Proclamation, the army had transformed into the key force for instituting emancipation in the West."

"However, (author) Kristopher Teters argues that the guiding principles behind this development in attitudes and policy were a result of military necessity and pragmatic strategies, rather than an effort to enact racial equality." I've always thought the current literature already well differentiated widespread support for emancipation within the Union officer corps from the small subset of those willing to extend full citizenship rights to freedmen.

This is interesting: "Through extensive research in the letters and diaries of western Union officers, Teters demonstrates how practical considerations drove both the attitudes and policies of Union officers regarding emancipation. Officers primarily embraced emancipation and the use of black soldiers because they believed both policies would help them win the war and save the Union, but their views on race actually changed very little." From the great body of writings we have available on the topic from those officers that served in the West and Trans-Mississippi, it seems one could argue either way on that last point. I suppose it depends on what particular 'views on race' the author is taking under consideration. I will find out soon as this one is next up on the reading queue.

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Booknotes: Lincoln and the Abolitionists

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 18, 2018

High Private

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

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

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

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Volume 3

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

Friday, June 15, 2018

Booknotes: Fighting Means Killing

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

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

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

Thursday, June 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

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

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

Matt Spruill III and Matt Spruill IV's Decisions at Second Manassas: The Fourteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle is the second volume from UT Press's Command Decisions in America's Civil War series. The first book clearly laid out the novel format's underlying assumptions and definitions (see the Decisions at Stones River review published a short time ago here on CWBA). In summary, 'critical' decisions are distinguished from merely important decisions by their fundamental altering of the "sequence and course of events" of campaigns and battles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Booknotes: Ambivalent Nation

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Booknotes: The War Outside My Window

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 8, 2018

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

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

Free Child of the Missouri Compromise
Click here for more info
A planned trilogy, Kenneth Lyftogt's Iowa and the Civil War will trace the history of the state's participation in the conflict*. The initial volume, Free Child of the Missouri Compromise 1850-1862, takes readers from the political upheaval of the 1850s through the aftermath of the Battle of Shiloh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* - I would also recommend Thomas Baker's very fine single-volume overview The Sacred Cause of Union: Iowa in the Civil War (2016).

Monday, June 4, 2018

Booknotes: The 96th Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Civil War

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 1, 2018

Booknotes: Vicksburg

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

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

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

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