Friday, August 17, 2018

Booknotes: Abolitionism

New Arrival:
Abolitionism: A Very Short Introduction by Richard S. Newman (Oxford UP, 2018).

Abolitionism is a new entry in Oxford's Very Short Introductions series, which tasks subject experts with brief overviews that "combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable." Most of you have probably seen these before in bookstores. The slim, little 4"x7" volume is attractively packaged, with chapter bibliographies included at the back in lieu of formal endnotes.

From the description: "In this succinct narrative, Richard S. Newman examines the key people, themes, and ideas that animated abolitionism in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries in the United States and internationally. Filled with portraits of key abolitionists - including Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Anthony Benezet, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Elizabeth Heyrick, Richard Allen, and Angelina Grimké - the book highlights abolitionists' focus on social and political action. From the Underground Railroad and legal aid for oppressed people to legislative lobbying and military service, abolitionists employed every conceivable means to attack slavery and racial injustice. Their collective struggles helped bring down slavery - the most powerful economic and political institution of the age - across the Atlantic world and inspired generations of reformers."

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Booknotes: Coast-To-Coast Empire

New Arrival:
Coast-to-Coast Empire: Manifest Destiny and the New Mexico Borderlands
  by William S. Kiser (Univ of Okla Press, 2018).

A recently minted PhD, Kiser is already the author of four major studies dealing with the nineteenth-century American Southwest, and he's rapidly becoming a rising authority of the region and period. Readers might recall that I liked his Turmoil on the Rio Grande: The Territorial History of the Mesilla Valley, 1846-1865 (2011), and Kiser's scholarly work has also delved into peonage and captive-taking in the Southwest along with Apache resistance in southern New Mexico between the Mexican War and the beginning of the Civil War. His new book is Coast-to-Coast Empire: Manifest Destiny and the New Mexico Borderlands.

The book marks a fresh attempt at integrating a variety of associated historical topics. From the description: "Previous histories have treated the Santa Fe trade, the American occupation under Colonel Stephen W. Kearny, the antebellum Indian Wars, debates over slavery, the Pacific Railway, and the Confederate invasion during the Civil War as separate events in New Mexico. In Coast-to-Coast Empire, William S. Kiser demonstrates instead that these developments were interconnected parts of a process by which the United States effected the political, economic, and ideological transformation of the region."

As the subtitle indicates, the concept of Manifest Destiny and the Southwest's fundamental place in it is a principal theme of the study. "New Mexico was an early proving ground for Manifest Destiny, the belief that U.S. possession of the entire North American continent was inevitable. Kiser shows that the federal government’s military commitment to the territory stemmed from its importance to U.S. expansion. Americans wanted California, but in order to retain possession of it and realize its full economic and geopolitical potential, they needed New Mexico as a connecting thoroughfare in their nation-building project. The use of armed force to realize this claim fundamentally altered New Mexico and the Southwest. Soldiers marched into the territory at the onset of the Mexican-American War and occupied it continuously through the 1890s, leaving an indelible imprint on the region’s social, cultural, political, judicial, and economic systems."

As Andrew Masich has also argued in his own work, Kiser views the military as a key societal agent of regional change and development. "By focusing on the activities of a standing army in a civilian setting, Kiser reshapes the history of the Southwest, underlining the role of the military not just in obtaining territory but in retaining it."

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Review - "Engines of Rebellion: Confederate Ironclads and Steam Engineering in the American Civil War" by Saxon Bisbee

[Engines of Rebellion: Confederate Ironclads and Steam Engineering in the American Civil War by Saxon T. Bisbee (University of Alabama Press, 2018). Hardcover, photos, line drawings, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:186/280. ISBN:978-0-8173-1986-1. $59.95]

With an industrial base and pool of skilled marine carpenters and engineers that paled in comparison to the vast human and material resources available in the northern states, the Confederacy was nevertheless able to initiate construction of fifty ironclad warships, completing nearly two dozen (and almost finishing the outfitting of four more) before the Civil War ended. Even though Confederate States Navy ironclads proved effective in combat and several had quite impressive individual careers, inadequate engines were among the chief criticisms of the entire program. It is analysis of the design and performance of this vital internal machinery that is the chief focus of Saxon Bisbee's Engines of Rebellion: Confederate Ironclads and Steam Engineering in the American Civil War.

The book begins with a brief overview of the three general design types of mid-nineteenth century steam power plants used by both sides during the war. Readers without a background in steam engineering will likely find the descriptive text a bit unforgiving in places, but the author does thoughtfully insert a fairly extensive glossary inside the book that helps with the technical terminology. Much of the data provided will have mostly reference value anyway. The section does a good job of introducing antebellum developments in steam propulsion systems and their variations in shipboard arrangement. Particular design elements are helpfully explained in terms of their benefits and drawbacks, both in general and for warships. For example, long tubular boilers help with distributing weight and lower a vessel's center of gravity. With even armored warships subject to penetrating shot, the placement of such potentially dangerous vital mechanicals well below the waterline was of obvious benefit. Also briefly explored is the genesis of the Confederacy's ironclad program along with select profiles of the most important individuals involved (two of the more towering figures being chief naval constructor John L. Porter and Engineer in Chief William P. Williamson).

Bisbee's organization of the twenty-three finished and four unfinished ironclads into eight categories usefully distinguishes ship classes1 while also illustrating progressive design enhancements, improvements in propulsion systems (adapted and purpose-built), and evolving operational directives. While the Union Navy hurriedly constructed timberclads as a stopgap measure until a sizable class of purpose-built ironclads could be deployed, the Confederacy strove immediately to put three ironclad conversions into commission (CSS Manassas, Virginia, and Baltic). As one might expect in these early conversions, the engines proved less than efficient in all three. However, in withholding the blanket criticisms often advanced in the general literature, Bisbee effectively reminds readers that marine steam engines were still relatively new technology in 1861, and Confederate engineers deserve more credit that they typically get for their creative repurposing of existing engines2. Indeed, as Bisbee asserts, the fact that the Virginia's already condemned engines, rescued after further insult by extensive saltwater immersion when the Merrimack was burned and scuttled, were put in decent working order at all was an impressive feat.

The next group of vessels, the first keel-up constructed ironclads termed by Bisbee the "early nonstandard" designs (CSS Louisiana, Arkansas, and Georgia), had similar mechanical problems that plagued the conversions, but, as the author argues, were equally weakened by compromise design decisions (ex. large size and unconventional mechanical layout) related to dual-purpose objectives of harbor defense and offensive (i.e. blockade-breaking) cruising capabilities. On paper, the engines for all three should have performed well, but teething problems related to wedding the then current propulsion technology to experimental warships of completely original conception and design were inevitable. Indeed, the author makes the case that the final failure of the Arkansas's famously temperamental engines was most likely the result of human error in operation rather than intrinsic defects in the engine and its supporting mechanical apparatus.

The resource-starved Confederacy's urgent need for a smaller, simpler standardized hull designed for a single, specialized purpose (with harbor defense judged to be the highest priority) was first met with the six completed vessels of the Richmond-class. According to Bisbee, this ship series conclusively demonstrated that Confederate industry and engineering had the ability to construct numerous effective ironclads and employ them in the defense of key ports, but challenges remained in reducing draft and in finding or producing compatible engines. In the process, industrial facilities like those at Richmond, Virginia and Columbus, Georgia proved capable of "learning, adapting, and improvising to meet the demands of war." (pg. 117), providing either new or reconditioned engines and parts to ironclads that were being built all across the Confederacy.

The next stage in the evolution of standardized hull designs were the two vessels of the Tennessee-class. Though larger, they were more maneuverable, better armed and armored, and drew less water than the Richmond-class ironclads. While the Tennessee benefited from an unusual success in converting a riverboat engine to screw propulsion, the Columbia had an excellent new purpose-built engine.

Another group of standard, or likely standard, hull ironclads were also completed (the Charleston, Virginia II, and Nashville) before alternative hull forms meant to lower draft, require less skilled labor (via the elimination of curves), and speed construction could be realized. As one might expect after the introduction of big design changes, the first two experiments in alternate diamond-hull designs were failures even with good engines, their poorly anticipated hydrodynamic characteristics leaving them essentially immobile. However, the next generation of diamond hulls (the Albemarle being the most prominent representative) would prove much more successful, and though three of the four operated on borrowed riverboat engines, the ones for which documentation exists seem to have worked well.

In the remaining four uncompleted ironclads would be seen the entire evolution of Confederate ironclad building, including some of the most significant improvements and innovations (at least in theory). The Mississippi was a very early design, but three of the four vessels were the product of extensive learning processes in the areas of construction, armor configuration, mechanical systems, and combat capability. In the end, the author considers the Milledgeville and Wilmington to be the "pinnacle" of Confederate ironclad design, even though neither was ever tested in combat.

Unfortunately, many Confederate naval records were destroyed in the waning moments of the war, and available documentation varies widely among the twenty-seven ironclads referenced in the book. Where possible, for each ironclad Bisbee discusses vessel specifications; information and dates associated with the construction process (including building firms and prominent individuals involved); and engine type and provenance. Brief ship commander and engineer profiles are included, along with operational summaries. Results of archaeological studies help fill some of the gaps in historical documentation, and accounts written by ship's engineers that directly address the mechanical systems and how they performed are reproduced at length. The last offer rare and valuable insights into the operational history of Confederate ironclad engines.

Throughout the book, the text is supported by period photographs, numerous line drawings, and modern reproductions of vessel and engine design plans. Unfortunately, most of the latter are so reduced in size (only filling 1/3 of the page) that details and labels are difficult to recognize. In addition to the aforementioned glossary of terms, another useful supplement is the compiled appendix of engine specifications for each ship.

In the final estimation, Bisbee persuasively dispels the persistent myth that all Confederate ironclads were intrinsically flawed, particularly in the quality and make of their steam machinery and propulsion systems. Beyond reminding us that even resource-rich Union naval designers and builders struggled mightily to harness period steam engine technology to adequately power their own heavy ironclads, the book amply demonstrates that Confederate vessels operated and fought very effectively when given the opportunity. Generally speaking, their engines performed as well as could be expected given the available steam technology of the period and infant state of armored warship design and architecture.

A recent book postulated that it was Union engineering superiority combined with Confederate inferiority that proved to be the most decisive factor in winning the Civil War3. Though exaggerated, there's some merit to that view, but Bisbee's Engines of Rebellion offers a powerful counterpoint. At least in the area of ironclad construction, Confederate builders and engineers were able to overcome severe limitations in heavy industry, money, skilled labor (particularly naval carpenters and mechanics), raw materials, and transportation to complete nearly two dozen powerful modern warships. The book very effectively argues that the Confederate ironclad program, operating under enormous wartime pressures, was a remarkable achievement of engineering improvisation and skill. This fascinating study of Confederate ironclads and the machinery that drove them is a significant contribution to Civil War naval history and technology.

1 - The use of the term "class" is generous in describing a series of vessels with somewhat similar construction but rather significant variations in physical dimension, armament, and design. Nevertheless it's usefully employed for lack of a better word.
2 - The Confederates were also able to re-engineer a number of steam engines originally built for powering paddlewheel riverboats into driving screws (the overwhelming majority of CSN ironclads were screw steamers), a difficult task that met with varying degrees of success.
3 - Engineering Victory: How Technology Won the Civil War by Thomas F. Army, Jr. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016).

Monday, August 13, 2018

Booknotes: The Webster-Hayne Debate

New Arrival:
The Webster-Hayne Debate: Defining Nationhood in the Early American Republic
  by Christopher Childers (Johns Hopkins UP, 2018).

Part of JHUP's Witness to History series, The Webster-Hayne Debate examines one the great Senate debates over the preferred purpose and role of the federal government in the union of states. "Was it a confederation of sovereign states or a nation headed by a central government? To South Carolina Senator Robert Y. Hayne and others of his mindset, only the vigilant protection of states’ rights could hold off an attack on the southern way of life, which was undergirded by slavery. Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster, on the other hand, believed that the political and economic ascendancy of New England―and the nation―required a strong, activist national government."

The emerging West figured prominently in the conversation, and author Christopher Childers "focuses on the sharp dispute that engaged Webster and Hayne in January 1830. During Senate discussion of western land policy, Childers explains, the senators’ exchanges grew first earnest and then heated, finally landing on the question of union―its nature and its value in a federal republic. Childers argues that both Webster and Hayne, and the factions they represented, saw the West as key to the success of their political plans and sought to cultivate western support for their ideas."

More from the description: "A short, accessible account of the conflict and the related issues it addressed, The Webster-Hayne Debate captures an important moment in the early republic. Ideal for use in college classrooms or for readers interested in American history, this book examines a pivotal moment and a critical problem in the history of US politics. It also shows how Americans grappled with the issues of nationalism, sectionalism, and the meaning of union itself―issues that still resonate today."

Friday, August 10, 2018

Booknotes: The Last Siege

New Arrival:
The Last Siege: The Mobile Campaign, Alabama 1865 by Paul Brueske
  (Casemate, 2018).

The Last Siege is a study of the Union Army's month-long 1865 land campaign that captured Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely, actions which successfully forced the evacuation of Mobile itself. The closest comparable work, Sean O'Brien's Mobile, 1865: Last Stand of the Confederacy, was published back in 2001. I don't recall much about that one beyond being left wanting more detail.

At less than 200 pages of narrative, Brueske's book is not an exhaustive attempt at addressing the military aspects of a major Civil War campaign, but the research appears quite substantial. The bibliography suggests serious archival research and includes long lists of all source types related to the campaign.

Brueske is certainly correct that the 1865 land operation against Mobile is greatly understudied in comparison to other campaigns of similar size and significance. His attempt at rectifying the situation "explores the events surrounding th(e) siege and capture of Mobile, Alabama. The Union victory at the battle of Mobile Bay in 1864 ended blockade running from the port of Mobile. Uncaptured, the city remained a priority for the Confederates to defend and the Federals to attack. This book gives a new perspective on the strategic importance of Mobile as a logistical center which had access to vital rail lines and two major river systems, essential in moving forces and supplies. Included are the most detailed accounts ever written on Union and Confederate camp life in the weeks prior to the invasion, cavalry operations of both sides during the expedition, the Federal feint movement at Cedar Point, the crippling effect of torpedoes on U.S. naval operations in Mobile Bay, the tread-way escape from Spanish Fort, and the evacuation of Mobile. The entrance of Federals into the city and the reaction of the citizenry are featured. In doing so evidence is presented that contradicts the popular notion that Mobile wholeheartedly welcomed the Federals and was a predominately pro-Union town."

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Booknotes: "The Devil's To Pay" paperback ed.

New Arrival:
“The Devil’s to Pay” - John Buford at Gettysburg: A History and Walking Tour
  by Eric J. Wittenberg (Savas Beatie, 2018).

“The Devil’s to Pay” is a book-length treatment of the important role played by General John Buford and his cavalry division during the Battle of Gettysburg. Though coverage extends from June 29 through July 2, there is special emphasis on Buford's celebrated July 1 delaying action. 

The book, just released in paperback, "also includes a detailed walking and driving tour of pertinent sites, complete with GPS coordinates. Three appendices address the nature of Buford’s defense at Gettysburg, whether his troopers were armed with repeating weapons, and whether a feint by his men late in the day caused the Confederate infantry to form “squares” (a Napoleonic defensive tactic). Finally, 17 maps by Gettysburg cartographer Phil Laino, together with more than 80 images, several published for the first time, round out this study."

Go here to read my positive review of the original 2014 edition, which won that year's Gettysburg Civil War Round Table Book Award. These paperback reprints are especially useful for those wanting to extensively utilize in the field the map and touring elements of the book without soiling the hardcover first edition.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Review - "Contested Loyalty: Debates over Patriotism in the Civil War North" by Robert Sandow, ed.

[Contested Loyalty: Debates over Patriotism in the Civil War North edited by Robert M. Sandow (Fordham University Press, 2018). Hardcover, notes, contributor list, index. 326 pp. ISBN:978-0-8232-7975-3. $65]

Past proposals by historians that internal divisions were the primary cause of Confederate wartime defeat spawned an extensive literature related to Civil War loyalty and dissent. Though the northern home front was never completely neglected in these areas, a significant sectional imbalance emerged in the scholarship. However, in recent years this North-South gap in the historiography has significantly narrowed, and many of the historians involved in this process are featured in the excellent new essay anthology Contested Loyalty: Debates over Patriotism in the Civil War North, edited by Robert Sandow. Generally speaking, the essays in Contested Loyalty presuppose the existence of "layers" of loyalty within individuals, a context that often serves as a useful starting point for deeper examination.

Melinda Lawson's opening essay looks that the relationship between sacred duty and patriotism, specifically the similarities and differences between the views of antislavery moderate Abraham Lincoln and the radicals Wendell Phillips and George Julian. All agreed that the Declaration of Independence was the U.S.'s defining document and that duty combined with action as the means to an end that upholds those ideals was the highest form of patriotism. Differences lay in Phillips's initial support for disunion and the more radical pair's belief that duty nearly always trumped regard for consequences, which are often unpredictable anyway. Unlike Phillips and Julian, however, Lincoln had much more measured concern for the short and long term outcomes of his actions, leading Lawson to label the president's sense of duty as much more "deliberative" by comparison and the one best able to achieve the ideological goals of all three men.

With the Peace Democrat literature, both older and more modern studies, largely concentrated on the Midwest opposition, the next chapter from Matthew Warshauer instead examines Connecticut "Copperheadism." Distinct from the three individuals mentioned above, these conservative Democrats insisted upon their strict interpretation of the sanctity of both Constitution and Union, believing their party to be the true loyal defenders of both and Republican radicalism the source of much of the country's woes. Nearly unseating the state's Republican governor in 1863 (which would have been a wartime first) and very nearly handing the state to McClellan in the 1864 election, with the soldier vote likely the decisive factor on both occasions, Connecticut's Peace Democrats were the strongest among the New England states. Why this was so seems to have been in large part related to the leadership's adroit coupling of consistent, principled ideological opposition to Republican war measures with compliance of the law. In this way, the state's Peace Democrats avoided violent backlash and were able to build an exceptionally robust political challenge to majority attempts at narrowly defining loyalty.

Jonathan White's essay looks at a seemingly innocuous Pennsylvania relief proposal that instead serves as yet another example of how contested loyalty became an embittering political football. After Confederate raids caused a great deal of property damage in southern Pennsylvania, a relief bill was introduced in the state legislature. Members from both parties opposed it on various grounds, but one of the largest sticking points was Republican insistence on a loyalty test, which Democrats were justifiably wary of given the wider tendency among Republicans to brand all political opposition as disloyal. Oddly enough, it was even proposed (without any justification) that Pennsylvania Democrats, who resided in the southern counties in large numbers, invited Confederate attacks in order to harm the Republican war effort and at the same time line their own pockets at taxpayer expense. The essay provides another defining example of the great lengths that many northern partisans would go to to wield loyalty as a political weapon.

Julie Mujic uses the correspondence between staunch Peace Democrat Gideon Winan Allen and his equally passionate abolitionist Republican fiance Annie Cox to discuss in fascinating fashion perhaps the most personal layer of contested loyalty, that between husband and wife (or in this case the betrothed). In what must be a remarkable set of letters, the Allen and Cox correspondence is filled with vigorous debates over all the great contentious issues of the war, including loyalty and treason. Throughout their letters, both writers used the war's conflicts in the areas of politics and loyalty to learn about each other. Nearly always disagreeing in the end, they were nevertheless able to forge a loving relationship of political opposites that stood in stark contrast with the country as a whole and found in their mutual bond an even higher fidelity that could not be shaken.

Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai's study of 25 college-educated New Englanders finds a variety of political ideologies but consistent support for a vigorous prosecution of the war. Distrusting the democratic masses and viewing themselves as a national elite sharing traditional New England values of "free labor, business, education, and abolitionism," these young men nevertheless demonstrated differing views on the country's political and military leadership as well as policies like wartime emancipation. However, loyalty to the Union, and the obligation of working toward its preservation, was their common cause and overarching concern.

The next essay enters the sphere of wartime conflict between religious conscience and public expressions of loyalty. Pennsylvania Presbyterian minister and seminary professor William S. Plumer was widely admired before the war, but his refusal to explicitly pray for Union battlefield victories and condemn the rebellion in the strongest possible terms (citing the dictates of his conscience that the pulpit should be apolitical and not a forum for secular partisanship) began a long period of persecution that ended with the minister leaving his position. As Sean Scott's interesting case study shows, Plumer fell victim to both a northern society that could reach no common ground on what constituted loyalty and a bitterly divisive wartime atmosphere that did not condone separation between the sacred and the secular worlds when it came to public professions of fealty to the Union and the war fought to preserve it.

Judith Giesberg's chapter amply demonstrates that pursuing work in key war industries was no guarantee against groundless suspicion of disloyalty. In her study of Philadelphia seamstresses, Giesberg finds that those women believed strongly that their war work was testament to their loyalty and they often had to fight with military contractors who equated worker efforts to organize with Copperhead opposition to the war. The more unscrupulous middlemen often used allegations of disloyalty, or just suspected disloyalty (ex. having no husband or male relatives in the army), as an instrument of control and grounds for discharge.

Timothy Orr offers another example of the intersection between war work and concepts of loyalty. His chapter examines the termination of Allegheny Arsenal workers in 1863 for disloyalty amid a domestic climate charged by the proximity of Confederate invasion and an invigorated peace movement on the home front. Simply on hearsay and vague accusations of dissent (all compiled by a hostile newspaper editor), the arsenal commander dismissed fifteen workers, though he was later forced to reinstate them. The chapter is perhaps most interesting for what is says about the work itself. According to Orr, officials at the time often viewed ordnance workers as recipients of government benevolence subject to suspicion rather than individuals demonstrating their loyalty to the nation through work essential to winning the war. That these skilled men remained vulnerable to conscription attests to this less than valuing attitude, which stood in marked contrast to how similar work was treated in the U.S. during the two world wars of the next century.

In the next chapter, Ryan Keating interestingly contrasts the mid-war disillusionment of the New York Irish population that culminated in the horrific draft riot of 1863 with the lack of similar sentiments and actions by Irish-Americans hailing from more integrated Wisconsin and Connecticut communities. Volunteers who enlisted in the 17th Wisconsin and 9th Connecticut regiments and fought in the western theater—where they won more victories while at the same time suffering fewer casualties than their eastern counterparts in the famous Irish Brigade—certainly had similar policy concerns in regard to conscription, emancipation, and black enlistment, but they largely rejected the motives and methods of the New York City uprising and viewed their loyalty to the Union and its preservation as an overriding factor in continued support for the war. The essay well reminds us of the great variety of local and regional differences within ethnic groups when it came to manifestations of loyal dissent.

Northern blacks comprised a tiny minority of USCT troops, but they are the subject of Thaddeus Romansky's final chapter, which examines military protest in the 55th Massachusetts and 14th Rhode Island Colored Heavy Artillery. These Northern black volunteers used resistance techniques informed by both home front civilian experiences and slave traditions to combat what they viewed as unequal treatment within the army. Believing that loyalty demonstrated by military service entitled them to equal rights and privileges, some soldiers responded to inequities in pay, punishment, and officer selection with protests that the army construed as mutiny. In citing several interesting case studies, Romansky links the often violent protests in a positive way to a fight for equality during the war and beyond but perhaps too easily dismisses the army's view that discipline cannot be maintained when private soldiers, regardless of the justness of their grievances, are allowed to take matters in their own hands and assault, curse, and disobey their officers.

As frustratingly shifting and amorphous as they proved to be, concepts of loyalty in the Civil War era North remain popular topics of study these days, and the essays comprising Contested Loyalty offer a fine survey of the range and current state of the scholarship. Hierarchies of loyalty, for which no societal consensus existed, resided in most individuals in the North, and these are identified and assessed by the volume's contributors in areas of personal and communal duty, partisan politics, gender, courtship, ethnicity, race, employment, and religious conscience. Together, these essays amply demonstrate how Civil War conflicts over loyalty and the limits of dissent permeated all elements of northern society, their wartime debates taking many forms with results ranging from productive to disappointingly repressive.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Booknotes: A Family and Nation under Fire

New Arrival:
A Family and Nation under Fire: The Civil War Letters and Journals of William and Joseph Medill edited by Georgiann Baldino (Kent St Univ Press, 2018).

Edited by Georgiann Baldino, A Family and Nation under Fire is a "collection of previously unpublished diaries and correspondence between William Medill and older brother Joseph." Readers will probably be much more familiar with the higher profile of Joseph Medill, who was associated with the Chicago Tribune and is frequently mentioned in the Civil War literature. William Medill reached the rank of major in the 8th Illinois Cavalry and was mortally wounded during the Gettysburg Campaign. In their writings, "(t)he brothers correct newspaper coverage of the war, disagree with official military reports, and often condemn Lincoln administration policies."

Other correspondence is included as well. From the description: "Joseph’s letters to President Lincoln reveal their exceptional relationship. A founding member of the Republican Party, Joseph was a powerful force for moral journalism. With his partner Dr. Charles Ray, Joseph extended the Tribune’s reach until it achieved national influence. By 1860, Ray and Joseph claim to have elected Abraham Lincoln president, and Lincoln publicly agrees that their paper did more for him than any paper in the Midwest. When regional divisions escalate, Joseph issues early calls for war and lobbies fervently for emancipation. He continues to support Lincoln and the war effort but uses the Tribune to advise Washington about the conduct of the war, the draft, monetary policy, and slavery. In private letters, Joseph lectures the president about emancipation, urging him to take an aggressive stance toward slave owners and warning about the Conscription Act."

William's letters "rail against inept leaders, good men weakened by shortages, lives wasted, and destruction that defies understanding. His eyewitness accounts provide a fascinating perspective―part personal trauma and part social commentary."

In addition to compiling the material for publication, Baldino contributes volume and chapter introductions, abundant bridging narrative throughout the book, and endnotes.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Life in Jefferson Davis's Navy

I'm happy to find that naval historian Barbara Brooks Tomblin has another Civil War book on the horizon. Her Bluejackets and Contrabands: African Americans and the Union Navy (2009) offers, among other fine features, one of the most in-depth treatments of the mutually beneficial relationship forged between Union blockading vessels and escaped slaves that flocked to their incursions along the Confederacy's Atlantic seaboard. Likewise, my current recommendation for the best overview of Union naval operations on the Mississippi is her 2016 book The Civil War on the Mississippi: Union Sailors, Gunboat Captains, and the Campaign to Control the River.

Scheduled for release early next spring, her next book switches attention over to the other side and sounds pretty impressive in scope. Published by Naval Institute Press, Life In Jefferson Davis's Navy (March, 2019) "addresses every aspect of a Confederate sailor's life: shipboard routine, the Sabbath, liberty, entertainment, diet, health, medical care, discipline, imprisonment, desertion, and combat experience."

More from the description: "Drawing on diaries letters newspaper accounts and published works Tomblin offers a fresh look at the wartime experience of officers and men in the Confederate Navy who served on gunboats on western rivers ironclads and ships along the coast and at Mobile bay as well as on the high seas aboard the Confederate raiders Sumter Alabama Florida and Shenandoah. 

This narrative describes as well the work of Confederate Navy surgeons and surgeon's stewards who provided medical care for naval personnel who suffered from a variety of illnesses such malaria, dysentery, smallpox, and yellow fever as well as injuries caused by accidents or during combat. 

The author also explores the daily life deprivations and suffering of those who were captured and spent time in Union prisoner of war camps at Point Lookout, Elmira, Johnson's Island, and Fort Delaware. Confederate prisoners’ journals and letters give an intimate account of their struggle to survive the boredom poor rations and living conditions of imprisonment with little opportunity to escape or be granted prisoner exchange. 

Tomblin does not overlook the important contribution of the Torpedo Service and various experimental craft such as Squib and the Hunley all designed to destroy Union blockaders. Life in Jefferson Davis’ Navy concludes with the final months of the war afloat on the James River and with navy men manning gun batteries at Fort Fisher and Drewry's Bluff or fighting the Yankees as naval infantry with the "Aye Ayes" of the Semmes brigade."

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Review - "The American Military: A Concise History" by Joseph Glatthaar

[The American Military: A Concise History by Joseph T. Glatthaar (Oxford University Press, 2018). Hardcover, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:137/152. ISBN:978-0-19-069281-0. $18.95]

Even the most general history of the American military from Jamestown through today might easily fill several large volumes, but, remarkably, Joseph Glatthaar's The American Military: A Concise History manages to do so in only 125 pages of narrative. Much like fellow historian Allen Guelzo did recently for the same Oxford series with Reconstruction: A Concise History (2018), Glatthaar succeeds in applying the underappreciated talent of being able to produce a very brief but still meaningful synthesis and analysis of a seemingly boundless topic already supported by a vast literature.

Glatthaar organizes the descriptive elements of his history of America's military and its wars chronologically around four major, and often overlapping, themes. The first thematic element descends from the longstanding English tradition of universal military obligation for national defense. With that in view, the American distrust of standing armies meant that state and local citizen-militias would form the backbone of the early American military through colonial conflicts, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and beyond.

The incremental, decades-long turn toward military professionalism would be the next stage in the evolution of American armed forces, and, like others have before him, Glatthaar appropriately sees the success of West Point-trained officers in the U.S.-Mexican War as the real beginning of a larger cultural shift toward wider acceptance of a professional officer corps. This trend would continue during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I, but the author argues that it would take World War Two's national mobilization of men and resources along with its top to bottom modernization of the U.S. Army before military professionalism was firmly established. One might also add to this the beginning of public acceptance for large, permanent armed forces led by career professionals and maintained at vast expense.

Advances in technology and mechanization among all branches of the service during two World Wars comprises the third major theme in the development of the American military. In unmatched fashion, the U.S. used its newly "centralized organization and power" during WW2 to leverage materiel, resource, and technological superiority into irresistible military might without destabilizing either the economy or conditions on the home front. As mentioned before, the country also needed and got the professionalized officer corps and staff structure required to wield the technology efficiently and effectively.

The book's fourth and final theme explores the internal and external limits of American military power through the lens of the Cold War and various twentieth and twenty-first century hot war experiences in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East, and Afghanistan. Throughout the chapter, Glatthaar notes a consistent inability of politicians, the military leadership, and general public to get on the same page when it came to realizing (or deciding) what the military could and could not do (or should and should not do).

In terms of quibbles, any book of this type will by necessity include some overgeneralizations made for the sake of brevity. Additionally, the author doesn't directly critique major interpretive traditions like Russell Weigley's highly influential The American Way of War thesis and book, but elements of such things are encountered here and there. Overall, The American Military: A Concise History is a solid introduction to a very complex subject that should serve well the purposes of college survey courses and general reading audiences alike.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Booknotes: Custer

New Arrival:
Custer: The Making of a Young General by Edward G. Longacre (Skyhorse Pub, 2018).

Edward Longacre is the author of a great multitude of Civil War biographies, unit studies, and cavalry histories, and his work has on several occasions touched upon the life and career of George Armstrong Custer. His Custer And His Wolverines: The Michigan Cavalry Brigade, 1861-1865 was published back in 1997, and his latest, more biographical study of the famous and controversial "Boy General" is Custer: The Making of a Young General, the first of two planned volumes.

Focusing on Custer's Civil War career, Longacre's book offers "insight into this often-overlooked period in Custer's life. In 1863, under the patronage of General Alfred Pleasonton, commander of the Army of the Potomac's horsemen, a young but promising twenty-three-year-old Custer rose to the unprecedented rank of brigadier general and was placed in charge of the untried Michigan Calvary Brigade. Although over time Custer would bring out excellence in his charges, eventually leading the Wolverines to prominence, his first test came just days later at Hanover, then Hunterstown, and finally Gettysburg. In these campaigns and subsequent ones, Custer's reputation for surging ahead regardless of the odds (almost always with successful results that appeared to validate his calculating recklessness) was firmly established."

Longacre discusses "Custer's formative years, his character and personality; his attitudes toward leadership; his tactical preferences, especially for the mounted charge; his trademark brashness and fearlessness; his relations with his subordinates; and his attitudes toward the enemy with whom he clashed repeatedly in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Custer goes into greater depth and detail than any other study of Custer's Civil War career, while firmly refuting many of the myths and misconceptions regarding his personal life and military service." The book ends in the fall of 1863 with the general's star clearly on the rise, and the following volume will cover the remaining balance of the Civil War years along with Custer's service in Reconstruction Texas.