Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Review - "The Battle of Ball's Bluff: All the Drowned Soldiers" by Bill Howard

[The Battle of Ball's Bluff: All the Drowned Soldiers by Bill Howard (Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, 2018). Softcover, 10 maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:140/189. ISBN:978-1-4671-4073-7. $23.99]

The October 21, 1861 Battle of Ball's Bluff, a Confederate victory in Virginia that decisively crowned that year's string of early-war successes in the state, has been covered well and often in the Civil War literature. The 1990s alone witnessed the publication of three major studies during the first half of that decade, Byron Farwell's Ball's Bluff: A Small Battle and Its Long Shadow (1990), William Howard's The Battle of Ball's Bluff: The "Leesburg Affair," October 21, 1861 (1994), and Kim Bernard Holien's Battle at Ball's Bluff (1995). Almost ten years later, in 2004, James Morgan's A Little Short of Boats: The Civil War Battles of Ball's Bluff and Edwards Ferry, October 21 - 22, 1861 superseded all previous efforts at documenting the battle itself, and the gap widened further in 2011 with the release of a revised and expanded edition1. Published this year, William (Bill) Howard's The Battle of Ball's Bluff: All the Drowned Soldiers is a newly revised, expanded, and retitled version of his own 1994 book. A significantly enhanced and updated effort, it goes a great distance toward reestablishing the relevance and stature of the author's work in the face of Morgan's consensus gold standard treatment of the battle.

Howard's meticulous reconstruction of the fighting at Ball's Bluff skillfully manages the difficult task of offering readers a highly detailed tactical description of the battle while at the same time presenting the information in an artfully appealing narrative. The strategic situation in northern Virginia during the fall of 1861, particularly the disposition of opposing forces stationed along both sides of the Potomac, is well summarized, as is the origin of the battle itself, which started as the infamous "slight demonstration" before aggressive local Union commanders recklessly expanded the mission into a full-fledged (by 1861 standards) battle. Indeed, the Battle of Ball's Bluff serves as an excellent example of how military clashes often take on lives of their own. As is often the case, at Ball's Bluff the inherent fog and friction of war, combined with good faith mistakes in judgment from those in charge on the ground, led to a military action (and eventual disaster) not at all anticipated by the top planners involved.

Accompanied by detailed tactical maps at frequent intervals2 and well stocked with firsthand accounts and impressions, each stage of the battle—the initial river crossing, the opening skirmishes, the escalation of force commitment by both sides, the solidification of the fighting front at the top of the bluff, the eventual Confederate envelopment of the Union position, and the failed breakout attempt that accelerated the panicked Union retreat to the river below—is presented in clear and reasonably balanced (the narrative is weighted toward the Union perspective) fashion. The brave but inexperienced Union commander on the ground, Col. Edward Baker, is appropriately criticized for rashly pushing troops across the river without a clear idea of the military situation on the other side and for his poorly arranged battle line. While Howard holds Col. Baker's misguided initiative primarily responsible for how the battle turned out, the author also feels that Baker's division commander, General Charles P. Stone, should have made a more concerted effort to inform himself about what was happening and should have moved closer to the action (perhaps even overseeing the operation in person). To be fair, though, Stone never received any indication from the field reports he did receive that things were going wrong or that his demonstration had turned into a real battle that endangered a large part of his command.

Sadly for Stone, it was politically inexpedient to hold a respected war martyr (especially one who was a U.S. Senator and personal friend of the president) chiefly to blame for the casualty-heavy fiasco, and the inevitable mission to find an acceptable scapegoat quickly found a rich target in the politically naive Massachusetts general. Howard perceptively observes that Stone, unlike so many of his other professional and non-professional general officer colleagues, did not make any effort to cultivate political allies in the capital, even after having had a large hand in securing the District of Columbia during the early months of the war. The extremely shabby treatment of Stone, who was arrested and imprisoned for 189 days but never formally charged, is recounted at some length in the book. No other high-ranking general would be treated this way during the war, and it rebounds to the credit of neither leader that both General McClellan and President Lincoln declined to intervene in what was obviously a travesty.

The Union debacle at Ball's Bluff was strategically insignificant and the losses catastrophic only by early-war expectations, and Howard is certainly correct to deem the battle's chief legacy to be its important role (in conjunction with other federal defeats that year) in prompting the formation of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. Though the investigative committee did some demonstrably helpful things to aid the Union war effort (ex. weeding out corruption in war contracts), most scholars feel that its radically partisan members too frequently interfered counterproductively in both military affairs and administration prerogatives. Howard's informed appreciation of these aspects of Ball's Bluff's lasting influence is another strength of the book.

Like most volumes from this publisher's Civil War series, The Battle of Ball's Bluff is filled with period photographs and other illustrations. More useful extras can also be found in the appendix section. Among historical documents and other items of interest located there are Howard's updated casualty rosters and tables.

In the end, the leading Ball's Bluff studies of James Morgan and Bill Howard complement each other well. Morgan's more narrowly-focused battle study exhibits deeper research, engages in historiographical debate and diversion more extensively, gives full treatment to Edward's Ferry (which is only a minor part of Howard's study), and also serves as a touring guide, but Howard's book is the reading option best balanced between battle detail, wide audience appeal, and post-battle context. Whereas the long-term plight of General Stone and the damaging political fallout from Ball's Bluff are beyond the scope of Morgan's investigation, they are integral to Howard's, filling four chapters in The Battle of Ball's Bluff. Both updated works are essential.


Notes:
1 - The book's map set is drawn from Ted Ballard's Staff Ride Guide: Battle of Ball's Bluff (U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2014).
2 - The first edition of Morgan's book was put out by Ironclad Publishing (now defunct) in paperback. The revised and expanded edition A Little Short of Boats: The Civil War Battles of Ball's Bluff and Edwards Ferry, October 21 - 22, 1861 was published in hardcover by Savas Beatie in 2011.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Booknotes: War Matters

New Arrival:
War Matters: Material Culture in the Civil War Era edited by Joan E. Cashin
  (UNC Press, 2018).

The use of objects to open historical discussion and inspire imagination has always been around in the museum setting, but the practice has increased in popularity of late among a variety of other learning outlets, included books and podcasts. This idea that things you can see and/or touch add an extra element toward feeling connected to the past appeals to many people. Lens of War: Exploring Iconic Photographs of the Civil War had historians choose a favorite period image of theirs and write a brief interpretive essay about it. Civil War material culture, long the domain of private collectors and metal detecting enthusiasts, has experienced a bit of a scholarly surge in recent decades that I would attribute in no little way to the increased exposure of professional historians to inter-disciplinary conflict archaeology and what it has to teach us.

Joan Cashin's essay anthology War Matters: Material Culture in the Civil War Era invites nine colleagues to join her in considering the meaning material objects hold in shaping historical understanding. From the description: "Before, during, and after the war, Americans from all walks of life created, used, revered, exploited, discarded, mocked, and destroyed objects for countless reasons. These objects had symbolic significance for millions of people. The essays in this volume consider a wide range of material objects, including weapons, Revolutionary artifacts, landscapes, books, vaccine matter, human bodies, houses, clothing, and documents. Together, the contributors argue that an examination of the meaning of material objects can shed new light on the social, economic, and cultural history of the conflict."

Friday, October 26, 2018

Booknotes: Aberration of Mind

New Arrival:
Aberration of Mind: Suicide and Suffering in the Civil War–Era South
  by Diane Miller Sommerville (UNC Press, 2018).

It's probably safe to say that a 450-page book about psychological suffering and suicide in the stricken South is not on the Christmas list of too many Civil War readers, but it is an important, understudied social and cultural topic that Diane Sommerville's Aberration of Mind: Suicide and Suffering in the Civil War–Era South examines for the first time in comprehensive fashion. The study takes a very broad approach to addressing suicide among men and women, white and black. There are three sections, with one devoted to slave suicides during the Civil War era and the other two examining suicide and other manifestations of traumatic mental distress among southern whites during and after the war.

From the description: "With a thorough examination of the dynamics of both racial and gendered dimensions of psychological distress, Sommerville reveals how the suffering experienced by Southerners living in a war zone generated trauma that, in extreme cases, led some Southerners to contemplate or act on suicidal thoughts." In the book, "Sommerville recovers previously hidden stories of individuals exhibiting suicidal activity or aberrant psychological behavior she links to the war and its aftermath. This work adds crucial nuance to our understanding of how personal suffering shaped the way southerners viewed themselves in the Civil War era and underscores the full human costs of war."

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Booknotes: Movements and Positions in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

New Arrival:
Movements and Positions in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain: The Memoir of Colonel James T. Holmes, 52d Ohio Volunteer Infantry by James T. Holmes, edited by Garth D. Bishop, with intro. and annotations by Mark A. Smith (McFarland, 2018).

Written in 1915 and published for the first time in the pages of Movements and Positions in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain: The Memoir of Colonel James T. Holmes, 52d Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Col. Holmes's reminiscences of his regiment and brigade's participation in the 1864 battle "differs on key points from the accepted scholarship on troop movements and positions at Kennesaw, and contests the legitimacy of a battlefield monument." The account is fervently written, very detailed, and supported by numerous hand-drawn maps and unit diagrams.

Bishop, the writer's great-grandson and current custodian of the original document, serves as general editor for the volume and enlisted the expert help of historian Mark Smith in order to properly contextualize his ancestor's Civil War career and writing. To this end, Smith contributes a lengthy introduction, nearly fifty pages in length. In it, he provides essential background information regarding Holmes's Civil War service and his unit's exploits at Cheatham's Hill, as well as a wider view of the Kennesaw battle overall. Smith also discusses the history of the Union monument erected at the Confederate salient atop Cheatham's Hill, an Illinois-centric memorial that Holmes objected to on the grounds that it improperly slighted his own state (as well as Indiana). The marble monument inspired Holmes to write his own account of the fight at Cheatham's Hill and the resulting military memoir represents an attempt to correct the historical record as he saw it. Smith also extensively annotates the volume and includes a number of his own photographs.

In addition to the memoir, which is presented in two chapters, there is some appendix material drawn from Holmes's other writings and an index. The book looks like a very worthwhile read for those deeply interested in interpreting the Kennesaw Mountain battle.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Review - "Fighting for Atlanta: Tactics, Terrain, and Trenches in the Civil War" by Earl Hess

[Fighting for Atlanta: Tactics, Terrain, and Trenches in the Civil War by Earl J. Hess (University of North Carolina Press, 2018). Hardcover, 19 maps, 3 tables, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xvi,294/417. ISBN:978-1-4696-4342-7. $45]

The publication of the third and final piece of Earl Hess's acclaimed eastern theater field fortifications trilogy1 back in 2009 undoubtedly left at least some readers hoping that the author might do the same for the western theater. It took a little while, but the answer to that question has finally been definitively answered with the release of Fighting for Atlanta: Tactics, Terrain, and Trenches in the Civil War. The new study is a clear extension of the earlier work, sharing multiple elements of presentation and theme with the eastern trilogy (most closely from the Overland Campaign volume).

At its most basic level, Fighting for Atlanta is an operational history (and a good one at that) of the entire 1864 campaign in North Georgia. Admirably well balanced between Union and Confederate perspectives, the text is closely focused on the defining role of field works—the offensive (and later defensive) earthworks constructed by the Federals in opposition to the entirely defensive Confederate trench networks. While some Union regimental reports claim to have constructed as many as three dozen trench lines during five months of active movement, the book outlines at some length the eighteen major lines of fortifications that manifested themselves over the roughly one-hundred mile distance between Dalton, Georgia in the north and Palmetto Station south of Atlanta.

Like he did with his earlier trilogy, Hess appropriately attempts to raise awareness of the small corps of engineer officers that had such a large impact on how the Atlanta Campaign was conducted, the most important figures in this group being chief engineers Orlando Poe on the Union side and Stephen Presstman on the Confederate side. While Sherman's command had dedicated engineer regiments, both armies liberally employed pioneer detachments. Given the enormity of the work, however, it was the men in the ranks that did the overwhelming majority of the digging, and especially the refining, of the earthworks. It was the same on the Confederate side, though impressed blacks did most of the hard labor on the pre-planned Chattahoochee River and Atlanta City lines.

With the book's principal focus on field fortifications, it is at least understandable that the research is a bit more limited in range than it could otherwise have been, but the absence in the bibliography of some of the good to excellent recent battles studies (ex. those of Jenkins, Ecelbarger, and Butkovich) is striking. On the other hand, the breadth of manuscript research is impressive and what we've come to expect from the author's excellent body of work. Hess scoured archives all across the country for firsthand references to Atlanta Campaign fortifications, and his study is immeasurably enriched by their perspectives and what they have to say regarding both technical details and what life was like in the trenches.

Similar to his study of the Overland Campaign, Hess finds that the Atlanta Campaign's opposing lines of extensive earthworks were not planned by either commander but rather the result of constant contact between the armies, with a noticeable acceleration after the Union breach of the Etowah River line. Like their compatriots in Virginia, soldiers in Georgia viewed digging as essential to their survival and sought protection at every opportunity, even though Sherman (and later Hood) greatly feared that the practice would harm the fighting spirit of the men when it became necessary to operate outside the trenches. Even given the North's material advantages in static warfare, Sherman studiously wanted to avoid anything approaching siege warfare, predicting that once forward momentum was killed it would be difficult to get moving again. Steady forward progress without the horrendous levels of combat casualties that were being suffered at the same time in the East also buoyed Union morale and confidence in ultimate success. On the Confederate side, while there's only limited primary source evidence to support the idea that the rank and file were greatly demoralized by Johnston's continuous retreats and abandonment of strong earthworks without a fight, there seems little doubt that the men were psychologically run down and physically fatigued to a significant degree by months of constant duty in the trenches.

In the book Hess also draws similarities between the Overland and Atlanta campaigns when it came to the skirmish line and the eventual Union dominance of that critical space being a key factor in their overall success. The book documents how manpower losses on the skirmish line often met and even exceeded levels experienced during major battles. Some units reported that over half their casualties for the entire campaign occurred during skirmishing. The author persuasively attributes much of this acquired Union supremacy to extremely liberal expenditures of rifle and artillery ammunition, levels that the far more logistically-constrained Confederates could not hope to match. Losing pickets and skirmishers as prisoners (or deserters) was also a major problem. During the entire war, both sides struggled with balancing the need to deploy skirmishers in numbers sufficient enough to keep the enemy at a distance but not so many that the parent units would suffer crippling losses when the skirmish line was overrun during a sudden enemy rush. It would seem logical to suggest that the excessively passive nature of the Confederate defense during Johnston's tenure (in combination with their opponent's highly aggressive posturing) made the southern army particularly vulnerable to disproportionate losses of this kind.

The author's earlier work on eastern theater fortifications was criticized in some quarters for not delving into enough granular detail on earthwork design elements and construction. Though the Atlanta Campaign book still lacks engineering drawings like those seen in the manuals of the period, the descriptive text does remedy some of the older complaints. For visual reinforcement, Hess also makes good use of the famous Barnard photographs. Additionally, for those most interested in such things, the book has a fairly extensive appendix that offers further information regarding trench attributes and their supporting obstructions (the last a major component of what made Atlanta Campaign field fortifications so exceptionally daunting to attack). In addition to briefly comparing Union and Confederate design practices, the section delves into the processes of earthwork siting and construction, and it even discusses the tools involved.

The maps are another source of legitimate complaint. While plentiful, they are rather spartan in appearance and limited in features, lacking scale and much in the way of tactical-level terrain landmarks. There are some insightful inserts here and there, but the hand-drawn maps mostly offer only a modest representation of the general extent of the many lines of earthworks described in the text. Some of the defense lines (for example, those associated with the August 31 Jonesboro battle, the opposing lines at Lovejoy Station, and the Union tĂȘte de pont on the Chattahoochee) are missing support drawings altogether.

The 'tactics' of the book's subtitle do not refer to the unit formations and battlefield tactics employed in overcoming fortifications in front but rather the use of trench lines themselves as tactical tools in support of operational goals. Hess builds a persuasive argument that Sherman's mastery of the tactical employment of trenches, combined with Johnston's failure to adapt, was a decisive factor in Union success. Whenever the federal armies confronted Confederate defenses, they rapidly constructed a closely conforming line of offensive trenches (still imposing in nature but lacking ditches and other obstructions that would inordinately impede attacking from them). This offensive-defensive line would then be as thinly manned as calculated risk would permit, freeing up entire corps and even full armies for sweeping movements around Confederate lines. That Johnston consistently abandoned without much of a fight his carefully constructed fortifications in the face of this strategy only encouraged Sherman to continue with it. The terminally risk-averse Johnston was never willing to leave a skeleton force in his own trenches and gather the balance of his army to directly confront Sherman's moves around either flank. Hess is probably right that the ultimate result would likely have been the same if Johnston had done so, but intercepting Sherman's columns would not necessarily have resulted in a series of bloodbaths and any significant slowing of the pace of the Union advance (which was almost unbelievably rapid) could have had major political consequences in the North. Others both within and outside the Army of Tennessee tried without success to impress upon Johnston the need to create some kind of countermeasures to Sherman's winning strategy. The Confederate defense line created by Francis Shoup2 on the north side of the Chattahoochee was specifically designed to house the smallest number of defenders in order to free up troops to contest the upstream and downstream river crossings of the enemy, but Johnston declined to even consider the opportunity.

Finally, the book also stresses the critically-important impact of environment and terrain on operational movements as well as the characteristics and features of the field fortification systems that supported them. The upland zone of operations (with its tall and long north-south ridges and protected valleys) favored Sherman's preferred offensive strategy of bypassing Confederate prepared positions, while the extremely rugged lowlands between the mountains and Atlanta (which were filled with thick vegetation and crisscrossed by gullies and rivers) enhanced the defense. The Union advance significantly slowed in this region, and the Confederates put the area's ready supply of vast wood resources to good use in revetting earthworks and constructing huge expanses of slashing and abatis along with supporting palisades, chevaux de frise, and angled stakes. The environmental impact of this mass consumption of previously undeveloped natural resources, especially the harvesting of timber for obstructions, would linger for decades and represents another point of relative contrast between the Atlanta and Overland campaign fortifications.

Full of insights, some familiar to readers of Hess's prior work and others freshly new in their application to the 1864 Georgia Campaign, Fighting for Atlanta is another indispensable contribution to the study of Civil War field fortifications. With other topics like coastal and river defenses still available for similarly fruitful treatment, one hopes that the author is not done just yet.


Notes:
1 - All from UNC Press, Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864 (2005), Trench Warfare under Grant and Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign (2007), and In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat (2009).
2- The famous "Shoupades" that formed the distinguishing feature of the Chattahoochee River Line are briefly but usefully discussed in the text. While they received decidedly mixed reviews from Confederate troops accustomed to continuous lines of earthen fortification, the effectiveness of the Shoupades' enclosed (and mostly mutually supporting) infantry bastions spaced eighty yards apart and connected by wood palisades buttressed by detached batteries was never tested in battle and the experiment never repeated.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Booknotes: Lincoln's Mercenaries

New Arrival:
Lincoln's Mercenaries: Economic Motivation Among Union Soldiers During the Civil War
  by William Marvel (LSU Press, 2018).

Ever since Bell Wiley pioneered serious study of the common soldiers of the Civil War, enlistment motivation has been explored in innumerable books, parts of books, and articles. By now, all possible reasons for joining the Union and Confederate armies have been abundantly documented and analyzed somewhere in print; however, volunteering for monetary gain has never really been seen by scholars as the primary (or co-equal) motivating factor for a large proportion of soldiers. 

Even for the standards of low-wage jobs of the period, the Civil War private's pay was pretty paltry, but one can imagine that it was nevertheless seen by some as justifying the risk of maiming or death. William Marvel's new book Lincoln's Mercenaries: Economic Motivation Among Union Soldiers During the Civil War "considers whether poor northern men bore the highest burden of military service during the American Civil War. Examining data on median family wealth from the 1860 United States Census, Marvel reveals the economic conditions of the earliest volunteers from each northern state during the seven major recruitment and conscription periods of the war. The results consistently support the conclusion that the majority of these soldiers came from the poorer half of their respective states’ population, especially during the first year of fighting." Depending on what level of disproportion we're talking about here, that kind of conclusion regarding enlistment patterns doesn't seem too shocking.

Again, depending on the scale he proposes, where Marvel takes his argument next is even more interesting and possibly more contentious. At least when it comes to more general Civil War studies, I would agree with the author that the toll the secession crisis had on the national economy (and how it specifically affected recruitment) remains a neglected topic. More from the description: "Marvel further suggests that the largely forgotten economic depression of 1860 and 1861 contributed in part to the disproportionate participation in the war of men from chronically impoverished occupations. During this fiscal downturn, thousands lost their jobs, leaving them susceptible to the modest emoluments of military pay and community support for soldiers’ families. From newspaper accounts and individual contemporary testimony, he concludes that these early recruits―whom historians have generally regarded as the most patriotic of Lincoln’s soldiers―were motivated just as much by money as those who enlisted later for exorbitant bounties, and that those generous bounties were made necessary partly because war production and labor shortages improved economic conditions on the home front."

Monday, October 22, 2018

Booknotes: The Battle of Ball's Bluff

New Arrival:
The Battle of Ball's Bluff: All the Drowned Soldiers by Bill Howard
  (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Press, 2018).

Four book-length Ball's Bluff studies exist, the most thorough among them James Morgan's treatment, which was republished in a "revised and expanded" edition in 2011. Bill Howard's The Battle of Ball's Bluff: All the Drowned Soldiers is another new edition of an earlier work, in this case the author's 1994 book The Battle of Ball's Bluff: The "Leesburg Affair," October 21, 1861. That one was originally published as part of the well-known but now long out-of-print Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders series from H.E. Howard.

It is noted in the Acknowledgements that Howard's new version is, like Morgan's, significantly revised and expanded. However, as before, the focus of Howard's book remains on providing an account of the battle and its aftermath that will appeal to a broad range of readers. I don't own a copy of the first edition, so I can't make any kind of direct comparison between the two. I hope the narrative specifically points out where Howard's interpretations differ significantly from the others, particularly Morgan's gold standard treatment.

The volume is abundantly illustrated and contains a more than solid set of battlefield maps [borrowed with permission from Ted Ballard's government-published BB staff ride book] that show detailed topographical information and closely follow small-unit positions and movements at each stage of the fight. Events during and after the battle are given equal weight. Four full chapters are devoted to the aftermath of the battle, a period that included a political and media firestorm, a congressional investigation, and the shameful arrest and lengthy imprisonment of General Charles P. Stone (the division commander of the badly defeated Union forces). In addition to orders of battle, the appendix section houses casualty lists, a few letters, and some additional historical tidbits.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Civil War horror movies

Back at the beginning of the month, I decided I would try something fun and different by recommending a list of Civil War horror movies for those wanting to fill gaps in their own 31 Days of Halloween marathon. I wanted to only include ones that I actually liked and believed before diving in that it would be possible to come up with 5-10. Unfortunately, the list (if we can even call it that) languished badly as I couldn't even come up with a handful! At least for me, qualifying movies like Exit Humanity, The Killing Box, The Supernaturals, Gods and Generals (the horror is in the filmmaking along with the fact that I stayed after the intermission), and the Abraham Lincoln Vs. movies all commit the cardinal sin of boring to such a degree that I couldn't even place them in the 'so bad it's good' category of fun. For the ones set in modern times, The Curse of the Cannibal Confederates is unwatchable and, while some like it as a Herschell Gordon Lewis gore classic, I found it difficult to sit through the original Two Thousand Maniacs! (or the remake/sequel).

Anyway, the list I did come up with is embarrassingly small and Google was unhelpful in jogging my memory or introducing me to more candidates to preview, but I went through the effort already and might as well post it. I'm not going to review them, just offer a few comments.

1. Dead Birds (2004)

This is my favorite Civil War horror movie. Great tense, unsettling atmosphere. Solid scares. Pretty good effects (beyond the horrible CGI gunfight at the beginning) and impressive casting for low-budget indie horror. I liked how it combined occult and supernatural horror with the real-world horrors of slavery and southern home front devastation (the ruined, overgrown plantation was a fitting setting).

2. The Curse of Demon Mountain (1977)

This is a passably thoughtful (or at least that's how I remember it), not often mentioned movie with the type of 70s pacing that will challenge audience patience in places. I wouldn't call it a gem, but I went into it thinking it would be straightforward b-movie and the story took an unexpected turn that made it worthwhile.

3. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1961)

I still marvel at how modern Bierce's 1890 tale feels, and the twist has been repurposed in countless forms in both print and film. It's been adapted for the screen a few times, but the best version is still the Oscar-winning French short film made famous in the U.S. by its inclusion as an episode of the classic Twilight Zone series. My original intention was to keep shorts and anthology parts off the list, and I know it's somewhat iffy on considering this horror, but cut me some slack on this one.


For something else existing on the borders of horror, I would heartily recommend The Beguiled (the original one, I never saw the remake). I wish I could come up with more. If you can dig up any, feel free to add them in the comments section.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Booknotes: Appealing for Liberty

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Booknotes: Upon the Fields of Battle

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 15, 2018

Book News: Raising the White Flag

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

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

Friday, October 12, 2018

Booknotes: In Memory of Self and Comrades

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Booknotes: Looming Civil War

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

From the description: "In this first volume of an authoritative two-volume history of the Chickamauga Campaign, William Glenn Robertson provides a richly detailed narrative of military operations in southeastern and eastern Tennessee as two armies prepared to meet along the "River of Death." Robertson tracks the two opposing armies from July 1863 through Bragg's strategic decision to abandon Chattanooga on September 9. Drawing on all relevant primary and secondary sources, Robertson devotes special attention to the personalities and thinking of the opposing generals and their staffs. He also sheds new light on the role of railroads on operations in these landlocked battlegrounds, as well as the intelligence gathered and used by both sides."

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

Monday, October 8, 2018

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


DW: What about weaknesses?

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


DW: Recently, A. Wilson Greene, in the first volume of his Petersburg Campaign trilogy, expressed the opinion that Meade, by thoroughly alienating his principal subordinates during the Overland Campaign and the early stages of the Petersburg operation, had already outlived his usefulness by the end of July 1864 [add. 12/16/18: it should be mentioned that the author objects to this summarization. See here for more]. How would you respond to that?

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


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

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


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

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


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

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Seasonal reminder

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

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

If you are so inclined, you can also donate directly using the PayPal donation button below. You do not need a PayPal account to give, and any amount is greatly appreciated.



(Note: Donations are not tax deductible)

Thank you in advance to anyone who chooses to participate. If you are outside the US and would like to donate, let me know if you are having any problems with the process.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Book News: The Great Partnership

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

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

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