Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Review - "Mark Twain's Civil War: 'The Private History of a Campaign That Failed'" by Benjamin Griffin, ed.

[Mark Twain's Civil War: "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" edited by Benjamin Griffin (Heyday Books, 2019). Hardcover, photos, maps, illustrations, notes, bibliography. Pages:viii,185. ISBN:978-1-59714-478-0. $25]

The growth of humorist Mark Twain's fame during the latter half of the nineteenth century was accompanied by increased public interest in exactly what he did during the Civil War. To serve this wider curiosity as well as offer something different to their "Memoranda on the Civil War" series readership, the editors of The Century magazine solicited an article from Twain, which was published in 1885 under the title "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed." The mixed reception was clearly not what Century editors Clarence Buel and Robert Underwood Johnson (and likely Twain himself) expected and controversy ensued. Happily for today's audience, the full story behind Twain's fictionalized account of his brief Civil War service can now be found in Benjamin Griffin's fascinating new study Mark Twain's Civil War.

In June 1861, in response to the growing military crisis in Missouri, Mark Twain left his job as a Mississippi River steamboat pilot and joined the pro-southern Missouri State Guard. A fanciful portrait of his fortnight spent as a soldier, Twain's "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" told the story of the Ralls County Rangers in a humorous manner that mixed fact with fiction. While numbering only a handful of men, the Rangers dutifully elected officers (Twain was the outfit's second lieutenant) and generally bumbled around the countryside west of Hannibal with no real sense of purpose and even less discipline. By the end of two weeks, many of the Rangers had had enough of soldier life and half of them (including Twain) abandoned the cause. Like many other conflicted men who sought to sit out the rest of the war by going out West, Twain joined his brother in California and Nevada. The rest is history.

Mark Twain Project editor Benjamin Griffin's lengthy introductory essay does a very fine job of placing Twain's Missouri war service in its proper historical context. Twain's relationship with The Century magazine is also informatively explored, as is the public's reception of Twain's contribution to the magazine's celebrated series of diverse firsthand accounts later collected in the four-volume Battles & Leaders of the Civil War (1887-1888). Griffin's illuminating introduction, supported by his footnotes and additional explanatory endnotes, represents the scholarly literature's best effort at teasing verifiable truth from Twain's always-changing personal story of that elusive fortnight. Indeed, all such interpretive efforts are hampered by the fact that precious few accounts were written by Twain associates or the people he encountered in the field. Twain also intentionally muddied his own waters by altering the names of persons and places. Making the best of those limitations, Griffin's diligent research effectively uses what documents are available to sort through fact and fiction, exploring what can be known or inferred regarding Twain's motivations and also identifying or making educated guesses about the persons, places, and events of "The Private History."

One of the most interesting aspects of Griffin's investigation is his exploration of the public reaction to Twain's tale. Griffin astutely notes that the nature of Twain's account (which included bushwhacker-type irregular warfare) opened him up to public criticism from both ends of the sectional spectrum. In addition to his very public postwar repudiation of the Confederate cause, Twain's wartime desertion could not have endeared himself to all Confederate veterans (including some of his fellow rangers) and their supporters, many of whom suffered greatly during the war. On the other side, many pro-Union veterans and civilians were incensed to discover that Twain had been a "guerrilla" (southern irregular fighters of all kinds were commonly lumped into the same category as the most notorious bushwhackers). Twain's weak claim that his service merely represented a youthful indiscretion also held little weight with many Union veterans who were officers entrusted with real life and death responsibilities at ages less than Twain's 24. That Twain's tale included his own participation in the nighttime ambush and killing of an unarmed rider only further fueled the flames. Even the story's eloquently expressed regret and sorrow for the incident failed to move many critics.

The book's inclusion of the full text of "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" (along with its original maps and illustrations) is also accompanied by a pair of very insightful appendices. The first, a transcription of a Twain speech in front of a Hartford, CT military organization, well illustrates the differing versions of his Missouri service that Twain presented during his lifetime. Even more interesting is the second appendix. It is famed Confederate spy and mail runner Absalom Grimes's account of his Ranger service with Twain, first published in the St. Louis Missouri Republican's "Tales of the War" series [Sidenote: The Grimes article was intentionally left out of the 1861 volume of Camp Pope Publishing's edited collection of "Tales of the War" articles due to its having been published elsewhere. This was an unfortunate editorial decision, as having another annotated version of Grimes's account might have been useful for purposes of comparison]. In the "Tales" article, Grimes points out the many errors he believes Twain to have committed to print while also offering his own account of the period that additionally reveals the real names behind Twain's fictionalized ones. Interestingly, Grimes categorically disputes Twain's story of the nighttime killing of the unarmed man, asserting that the only living thing shot by the Rangers during the fortnight was a horse under similar circumstances. Griffin's own research uncovered no corroborating evidence of Twain's version of the shooting event, judiciously concluding that we will likely never now the truth. Largely because of this part of Twain's story, the Century editors considered "The Private History" so controversial that they didn't include it in the first edition of B&L.

For those interested in "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" along with an investigation into its publication, historical context, and veracity that possesses the highest degree of scholarly merit, Mark Twain's Civil War is the new standard. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Book News: Obstinate Heroism

If a good survey history encompassing all the major Confederate surrenders that ended the military conflict from Appomattox to Indian Territory has been written, it escapes my mind. Most recently, Perry Jamieson's 2015 study Spring 1865 attempted something of the kind, but it was incomplete and awarded the lion's share of attention to events east of the Appalachians. An upcoming book that looks like it might fit the bill is Steven Ramold's Obstinate Heroism: The Confederate Surrenders after Appomattox. Recognizing the thoroughness by which the Appomattox surrender has already been documented and analyzed, Ramold's own scholarly efforts are primarily directed toward the "tens of thousands of soldiers (still) under arms (post-Appomattox), in three main field armies and countless smaller commands scattered throughout the South."

The nature of the post-Appomattox surrenders could also be quite different. "Although pressed by Union forces at varying degrees, all of the remaining Confederate armies were capable of continuing the war if they chose to do so. But they did not, even when their political leaders ordered them to continue the fight. Convinced that most civilians no longer wanted to continue the war, the senior Confederate military leadership, over the course of several weeks, surrendered their armies under different circumstances."

More from the description: "Gen. Joseph Johnston surrendered his army in North Carolina only after contentious negotiations with Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. Gen. Richard Taylor ended the fighting in Alabama in the face of two massive Union incursions into the state rather than try to consolidate with other Confederate armies. Personal rivalry also played a part in his practical considerations to surrender. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith had the decision to surrender taken out of his hands—disastrous economic conditions in his Trans-Mississippi Department had eroded morale to such an extent that his soldiers demobilized themselves, leaving Kirby Smith a general without an army." According to Ramold, in contrast to the more "tidy" Appomattox, it was often the case that the laying down of arms elsewhere in the Confederacy "was a messy and complicated affair."

Monday, December 9, 2019

Booknotes: Remembering Dixie

New Arrival:
Remembering Dixie: The Battle to Control Historical Memory in Natchez, Mississippi, 1865–1941 by Susan T. Falck (UP of Mississippi, 2019).

From the description: "Nearly seventy years after the Civil War, Natchez, Mississippi, sold itself to Depression-era tourists as a place “Where the Old South Still Lives.” Tourists flocked to view the town’s decaying antebellum mansions, hoopskirted hostesses, and a pageant saturated in sentimental Lost Cause imagery."

In Remembering Dixie: The Battle to Control Historical Memory in Natchez, Mississippi, 1865–1941, author Susan Falck "analyzes how the highly biased, white historical memories of what had been a wealthy southern hub originated from the experiences and hardships of the Civil War. These collective narratives eventually culminated in a heritage tourism enterprise still in business today. Additionally, the book includes new research on the African American community’s robust efforts to build historical tradition, most notably, the ways in which African Americans in Natchez worked to create a distinctive postemancipation identity that challenged the dominant white structure."

More: "Using a wide range of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century sources―many of which have never been fully mined before―Falck reveals the ways in which black and white Natchezians of all classes, male and female, embraced, reinterpreted, and contested Lost Cause ideology. These memory-making struggles resulted in emotional, internecine conflicts that shaped the cultural character of the community and impacted the national understanding of the Old South and the Confederacy as popular culture."

How the city's Civil War-era history is presented today is examined in the epilogue. Also at the back of the book is a pretty extensive historical guide to Natchez's antebellum homes, complete with a collection of photographs depicting how each place appeared to visitors during the 1930s.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Booknotes: Rebels in Repose

New Arrival:
Rebels in Repose: Confederate Commanders After the War by Allie Stuart Povall (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Press, 2019).

From the description: "The irascible Jubal A. Early, Robert E. Lee's "bad old man," went to Canada after the war and remained an unreconstructed Rebel until his death. Lee became president of Washington College and urged reconciliation with the North. Braxton Bragg never found solid economic footing and remained mournful of slavery's demise until his own, when a heart attack took him in Galveston. The South's high command traveled dramatically divergent paths after the dissolution of the Confederacy. Their professional reputations were often rewritten accordingly, as the rise of the Lost Cause ideology codified the deification of Lee and the vilification of James Longstreet."

Allie Povall's Rebels in Repose: Confederate Commanders After the War "shares the stories of nineteen of these former generals, touching briefly on their antebellum and wartime experiences before richly detailing their attempts to salvage livelihoods from the wreckage of America's defining cataclysm." Generals P.G.T. Beauregard, Braxton Bragg, Jubal Early, Nathan Bedford Forrest, John Bell Hood, Joseph E. Johnston, James Longstreet, Robert E. Lee, and naval officer Raphael Semmes get their own standalone chapters. Research is primarily in published works, including standard biographies and biographical reference books; however, just glancing through notes and bibliography, there are some notable omissions in those areas (among them, the Forrest biography by Wills and Miller's Hood biography). Briefer treatments of ten others (generals Ewell, Gordon, Hampton, D.H. Hill, Fitzhugh Lee, S.D. Lee, Pickett, Kirby Smith, Wheeler, and Stand Watie) are collected in the final chapter.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Review - "General Hylan B. Lyon: A Kentucky Confederate and the War in the West" by Dan Lee

[General Hylan B. Lyon: A Kentucky Confederate and the War in the West by Dan Lee (University of Tennessee Press, 2019). Hardcover, 2 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xvi,222/296. ISBN:978-1-62190-487-8. $47]

Brigadier General Hylan Benton Lyon's Confederate Army career embraced all three service branches, but he would achieve his greatest success and notoriety as a cavalry brigade commander under Nathan Bedford Forrest. A fresh treatment of a deserving figure, Dan Lee's General Hylan B. Lyon: A Kentucky Confederate and the War in the West offers readers the first comprehensive military biography of Lyon.

Though his American antecedents hailed from Vermont, by the time of his birth near Eddyville, Kentucky in 1836 Hylan Benton Lyon's family was firmly established in slaveholding business and farming pursuits at a level that nearly placed them in the planter class. An 1856 graduate of West Point, Lyon's first posting was with the 2nd U.S. Artillery, where he saw action against the Seminoles before being transferred out west to Fort Yuma. Not long after that, his unit was sent to Washington Territory to engage hostile tribes wreaking frontier havoc there.  At the end of the Coeur D'Alene conflict, Lyon was assigned to escort a military road construction project connecting the territory to the Missouri River. By the time he returned to Kentucky in 1860, war was looming and Lyon apparently had few qualms about resigning his commission and becoming a Confederate officer.

Lee's account of Lyon's Civil War career is thorough and engaging. The level of detail found in the study's rather good campaign and battle coverage is satisfactory, with the most telling flaw being a complete lack of map support (the two provided are just area maps of little value). Lyon first raised an infantry company, which was soon converted into an artillery company (what would become later known as Cobb's Battery). As was the case with so many other promising artillery officers, rank and promotion were best achieved in the other branches, and Lyon soon left the artillery. As a field grade officer in the infantry, Lyon first saw major action at Fort Donelson. After parole and reorganization, he was appointed colonel of the 8th Kentucky infantry regiment. Distinguishing himself during the early stages of the 1862-63 Vicksburg Campaign (particularly at Coffeeville), Lyon managed to escape Grant's closing ring and temporarily led mounted troops in the area until the second fall of Jackson, whereupon he was transferred yet again, this time to Joseph Wheeler's command in East Tennessee. Lyon worked in a staff position under General Wheeler until finally joining Forrest as a brigade commander in Abraham Buford's division. At Brice's Crossroads, Tupelo, Johnsonville, and other places, all events well covered in the text, Lyon's battlefield performance earned Forrest's respect and frequent commendation.

In one area—the treatment of black military prisoners, Lee does try to draw a meaningful connection between Lyon's antebellum Old Army and Civil War Confederate Army experiences. During the punitive campaign in Washington Territory, Lyon witnessed the execution of captives on the order of General George Wright. The moral disgust felt and expressed by Lyon over that episode briefly led him to consider leaving the army altogether, and the author suggests the possibility that that feeling of disillusionment likely informed Lyon's own relatively benign treatment of the Confederate Army's most despised enemy in uniform.

Lyon's first real opportunity to prove himself as a general in a truly independent capacity would only come in late 1864, when he was placed at the head of a new administrative post in western Kentucky. There he was tasked with recruiting new troops, harassing Union occupation authorities, and paving the way for General Hood's ambitiously planned movement to the Ohio River. To this end, Lyon conducted the operation he is perhaps best known for, the roughly month-long raid into Kentucky from Paris, Tennessee that caused considerable disruption and material destruction in the Union rear. While otherwise conventional, the salient feature of Lyon's winter raid was his destruction of a number of Kentucky courthouses, acts that he justified through their use as enemy barracks and military strongpoints.

To his credit as a critical biographer, Lee, though high overall on Lyon's military performances in subordinate roles, finds disturbing flaws in Lyon's independent leadership during his infamous "Courthouse Raid." Even though Civil War armies regularly targeted public buildings used for military purposes and Lyon permitted all records to be removed before firing the courthouses, Lee condemns Lyon's path of destruction as having placed an unreasonable burden on the affected communities. Harsher assessment is reserved for the fact that Lyon did not make an effort to fulfill one of his primary objectives, to get the region's gristmills at full operation in anticipation of Hood's movement into the state. In Lee's judgment, Hood's crushing defeat in Middle Tennessee cannot mitigate the fact that Lyon failed to procure the supplies he was ordered to accumulate for Hood's use in the event of the army's arrival. The author also faults Lyon's side visits to his family for injecting personal, non-military objectives into the raid, with one trip in particular placing a large part of his command (along with the overall success of the mission) in jeopardy.

In early 1865, Lyon participated in the Confederate Army's failed attempts to block Union raids into the Deep South. After the losses of Selma and Tuscaloosa in Alabama, Lyon returned to Tennessee, where he learned of Robert E. Lee's Appomattox surrender. The book also briefly discusses Lyon's postwar life. Determined to evade arrest and escape the country, Lyon made it to Mexico. After a brief foreign exile, he returned to Kentucky, obtained a pardon, and regained some level of economic prosperity. Perhaps bringing a theme of his public service full circle, he even became a leading prison reformer. A single term as a state representative was the limit of his state-level political aspirations, but on the local level he was serving as the mayor of his hometown when he passed away in 1907 at the age of 71.

Though he did complete an unpublished autobiography late in life, Lyon seems, in the author's estimation, to have been a reluctant writer. Citing the general's many missing reports (particularly for most of 1863) and nondescript official writing, the author laments the relative dearth of wartime documents written from Lyon's own perspective. However, as evidenced by the quality of his biographical narrative, Lee works around the problem well enough using other sources.

Dan Lee's General Hylan B. Lyon does a fine job of integrating its subject's significant and frequently peripatetic Civil War service into the larger narrative of the conflict in the western theater. The study also satisfactorily fills in another gap in the literature's biographical coverage of low to middle ranking Confederate generals.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Book News: War and Peace on the Rio Grande Frontier, 1830–1880

The inaugural volume of University of Oklahoma Press's New Directions in Tejano History series, Mexican historian Miguel Ángel González-Quiroga's War and Peace on the Rio Grande Frontier, 1830–1880 appears to complement as well as share a number of themes with another borderlands study, Andrew Masich's award-winning Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands, 1861–1867 (2017). Whereas Masich's book focused on the Upper Rio Grande region's interrelated 'civil wars' of the early to mid 1860s, González-Quiroga's study is more sweepingly broad, embracing five decades of international conflict and cooperation "(s)panning the Anglo settlement of Texas in the 1830s, the Texas Revolution, the Republic of Texas , the US-Mexican War, various Indian wars, the US Civil War, the French intervention into Mexico, and the final subjugation of borderlands Indians by the combined forces of the US and Mexican armies."

Certainly, both authors recognize the "parallel worlds" of the borderlands, with its "well-documented violence fueled by racial hatred, national rivalries, lack of governmental authority, competition for resources, and an international border that offered refuge to lawless men" balanced by "coexistence and cooperation among Mexicans, Anglo-Americans, ... Native Americans, African Americans, and Europeans."

More from the description: In his book, González-Quiroga "draws on national archives, letters, consular records, periodicals, and a host of other sources to give voice to borderlanders’ perspectives as he weaves their many, varied stories into one sweeping narrative. The tale he tells is one of economic connections and territorial disputes, of refugees and bounty hunters, speculation and stakeholding, smuggling and theft and other activities in which economic considerations often carried more weight than racial prejudice." Look for it in March 2020.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Booknotes: Living by Inches

New Arrival:
Living by Inches: The Smells, Sounds, Tastes, and Feeling of Captivity in Civil War Prisons by Evan A. Kutzler (UNC Press, 2019).

Differences of opinion remain when it comes to assessing how much malice played a role in how POW camps were administered by both sides, but everyone can agree that Civil War prisons were places that no one wanted to stay in for very long. A great many books have been written about Civil War prisons (both Union and Confederate) and the POW experience, but Evan Kutzler's Living by Inches: The Smells, Sounds, Tastes, and Feeling of Captivity in Civil War Prisons certainly adopts a unique focus and direction. 

It is "the first book to examine how imprisoned men in the Civil War perceived captivity through the basic building blocks of human experience--their five senses. From the first whiffs of a prison warehouse to the taste of cornbread and the feeling of lice, captivity assaulted prisoners' perceptions of their environments and themselves." Particular chapters address the prison psychology of night, the smells of Civil War prisons, the common plague of lice, noise, and hunger.

Much more than a descriptive study, the book also closely examines how sensory perceptions affected the prisoners' minds and physical well-being. Kutzler "demonstrates that the sensory experience of imprisonment produced an inner struggle for men who sought to preserve their bodies, their minds, and their sense of self as distinct from the fundamentally uncivilized and filthy environments surrounding them. From the mundane to the horrific, these men survived the daily experiences of captivity by adjusting to their circumstances, even if these transformations worried prisoners about what type of men they were becoming."

Monday, December 2, 2019

Book Snapshot: Rhode Island's Civil War Dead

With seemingly inexhaustible research and writing interests in the Rhode Island Civil War experience, Robert Grandchamp is rapidly becoming a leading authority on the subject. His eight related books include several unit studies, an edited letter collection, an annotated bibliography of Rhode Island sources, and an introductory history of the state's contributions to the war effort. The newest addition to this body of work is Rhode Island's Civil War Dead: A Complete Roster (McFarland, 2019).

During his twenty years of researching Civil War Rhode Island topics, Grandchamp strongly suspected the most commonly cited figures for Rhode Island military deaths (William Fox's 1,321, Harold Barker's unsourced 1,685, and the state monument committee's 1,727) were all much too low. Using the official state roster as a base, the author consulted service and pension records in the National Archives and visited "every town hall, cemetery, and archive" in the state (regardless of how small of a state Rhode Island is, that's quite the dedicated effort). Those local, ground-level efforts in town records and gravestone inscriptions, supplemented by regimental histories, diaries, and letters, uncovered "scores" of additional fatalities that occurred either during the war or were directly related to war service. The figure finally arrived at is 2,217 soldiers and sailors (out of 23,236 men who served), accompanied by humble acknowledgement that the true number of deaths will never been known for certain.

Directly following the introductory chapter and brief methodology discussion is the complete roster of the dead. Organized by unit [generals and staff, one Detached Militia regiment, seven volunteer infantry regiments, three heavy artillery regiments, three cavalry regiments (plus one independent squadron), nine artillery batteries, hospital guards, regular army and navy, and finally those that served in the volunteer forces of other states] and arranged alphabetically, roster information includes name, rank, company, residence, circumstances and date of death, and interment site. Where applicable, grave numbers are also added.

An appendix table helpfully lists total fatality numbers (in battle and by other causes) for each regiment. In addition to a name index, chapter notes and an annotated bibliography can be found at the rear of the book. For certain, this is a valuable reference tool for anyone researching Rhode Island Civil War genealogy and history.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Book News: Anaconda's Tail

As regular readers know, I don't have a globally dismissive attitude toward self-publishing and often bring attention to new releases that might prove worthwhile. It does help when the author has an established reputation. One like this that popped up earlier this month is Donald Shomette's Anaconda's Tail: The Civil War on the Potomac Frontier, 1861-1865. It claims to be the "the untold history of the desperate struggle for control of that strategic waterway and the conflagration that ensued. The story is not only of Union and Confederate naval and military episodes in the contest for command of the river, but of blockade runners, espionage and contraband operations. It reveals the never before published accounts of Jefferson Davis's planned invasion of Southern Maryland, the Union military occupation of the state's lower counties, and the devastating depredations of seaborne rebel guerrillas."

More from the description: "In a region where slavery was dominant, it is also a vivid account of societal upheaval and economic collapse, refugee management, emancipation, and the advent of the United States Colored Troops. It is a tale of the "Andersonville of the North," at Point Lookout, Maryland, the desperate effort to free thousands of rebel prisoners of war by combined land-sea assault, and the Confederate attack on Washington itself. Finally, it is an account of that chaos in the words of Everyman, and both the participants and leaders of both sides, played out against the backdrop of the greater war being fought across the entirety of the American landscape."

Shomette is the author of a multitude of maritime history books on a variety of topis (including 1973's Shipwrecks of the Civil War: The Encyclopedia of Union and Confederate Naval Losses, a title unknown to me). Anaconda's Tail appears to be his first foray into self-publishing. Who knows why, but perhaps the difficulty of finding a publisher for an almost 800-page book of this kind without having to endure massive cuts had something to do with it. Unfortunately, and this is also often the case with self-published endeavors, there's no easy way for me to contact the author about getting a review copy.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Coming Soon (Dec '19 Edition)

*NEW RELEASES* Scheduled for December 2019:
American Zouaves, 1859-1959: An Illustrated History by Daniel Miller.
Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood by Stephen Davis.
A Yankee Regiment in Confederate Louisiana: The 31st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in the Gulf South by Larry Lowenthal.
Rebels in Repose: Confederate Commanders After the War by Allie Stuart Povall.
The Quaker Sergeant's War: The Civil War Diary of Sergeant David M. Haworth by Gene Allen.
Owen Lovejoy and the Coalition for Equality: Clergy, African Americans, and Women United for Abolition by Jane Ann & William Moore.
Caught in the Maelstrom: The Indian Nations in the Civil War, 1861-1865 by Clint Crowe.
Decisions at The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House: The Eighteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battles by Dave Townsend.
German Americans on the Middle Border: From Antislavery to Reconciliation, 1830–1877 by Zachary Stuart Garrison.
Living by Inches: The Smells, Sounds, Tastes, and Feeling of Captivity in Civil War Prisons by Evan Kutzler.
Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America by Thomas Brown.

Comments: I've talked about several of these before. Though their official release dates are in December, copies of the Kutzler and Brown books have already arrived. There is a new contributor to the "Critical Decisions" series, and I will also be interested to read Davis's take on Hood.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Review - "Lee's Body Guards: The 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry" by Michael Hardy

[Lee's Body Guards: The 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry by Michael C. Hardy (Arcadia Publishing and The History Press). Softcover, photos, illustrations, roster, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:93/190. ISBN:978-1-4671-4150-5. $21.99]

Over the first eighteen months of the war in the East (and elsewhere), it was common practice in the Confederate Army to detach companies from volunteer cavalry units for use as high command headquarters guards and escorts. In astute recognition that this routine measure was a misuse of good cavalry and unduly diminished the strength and effectiveness of the parent regiments, the Army of Northern Virginia in late 1862 began to recruit and organize new companies specifically to perform the necessary duties of headquarters couriers, guides, and scouts. Eventually, a full battalion of four companies (plus part of another) was formed, and its leadership, rank and file, organization, and service history are informatively discussed in Michael Hardy's succinct new study Lee's Body Guards: The 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry.

Though organizationally separate from the personal staffs of the army and corps commanders, the four companies that made up the 39th Battalion nevertheless performed vital support roles to those staffs. While nicknames like "Lee's Body Guard" and "Ewell's Bodyguard" suggested very specific assignments, it is clear from Hardy's research that officers and men from the various companies were quite frequently detached in the service of other generals (or for special missions) on an as needed basis. In addition to their work behind the scenes as couriers, guides, and scouts, men of the battalion also did more mundane chores such as clerking, guarding headquarters, and driving HQ wagons. On campaign they also escorted enemy prisoners to the rear and were frequently assigned to gather stragglers for forwarding to the front.

In addition to highlighting the personal activities and backgrounds of numerous individual officers and troopers, Hardy describes at length the growth of the unit from a single company to a full battalion. As one might expect, headquarters attachment appealed to many prospective recruits, especially when compared with the alternative of being conscripted into a line regiment. Even so, the duties they performed could be dangerous, and extensive work in the field produced numerous casualties. As Hardy shows, the on-call nature of the battalion's service could also be very physically taxing, with the men additionally subjected to the same camp diseases as any other soldier. The continuous fighting that characterized the 1864-65 campaigns also meant that the men of the battalion were in the saddle far more often and for longer periods than ever before. In addition to the issue of the rider's mental and physical exhaustion, maintaining mounts in that environment became a major problem and expense.

A factor contributing to the relative brevity of Hardy's narrative is the fact that few members of the battalion left behind extensive written accounts of their experiences. Nevertheless, the author was able to make fine use of the handful that do exist. Covering the Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wilderness/Spotsylvania, and Appomattox campaigns and battles, this informative collection of firsthand perspectives substantially informs the study. Even if they didn't write much about what was often unglamorous service, most of the men remained proud of their roles as personal protectors of the army's ranking generals and facilitators of the military management of Lee's famous army.

Supplementing the service narrative is a detailed roster that the author assembled from a combination of compiled service records, local newspapers, and various genealogy websites. Hardy also acknowledges the prior research efforts of Robert Driver and Kevin Ruffner in this area. Though the full range of information is not available for every veteran, the book's roster data can include name, rank, company, date of birth and death, enlistment date and place, interment site, transfer notification(s), information regarding POW/AWOL/desertion status, and parole date/place.

Michael Hardy's Lee's Body Guards represents a unique contribution to the small-unit historiography of the Army of Northern Virginia. Formations, units, and individuals who performed important tasks behind the scenes and in support of their compatriots on the fighting line have received a bit more attention of late, and this is a valuable history of a small group of officers and men who performed vital services not routinely trumpeted in the history books.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Book News: The Union Assaults at Vicksburg

The second half of 2019 through the first half of 2020 represents a pretty good twelve months for Vicksburg publishing. In addition to the already released The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19-22, 1863 and Vicksburg: Grant's Campaign That Broke the Confederacy, we'll get Timothy Smith's The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863 in late January from University Press of Kansas and Vicksburg Besieged in June from SIU Press.

While the 2019 essay anthology offers readers a solid overview of the Vicksburg assaults that focuses most of its attention on May 22, Smith's book promises to be the first full treatment of the brief but bloody period between the mid-May arrival of Grant's army before Vicksburg's landward defenses and the onset of siege operations.

Already having authored studies of the Battle of Champion Hill, Grierson's Raid, and an operational overview from Grant's perspective, this will be Smith's fourth book related to the Vicksburg Campaign. From the description: "Establishing a day-to-day—and occasionally minute-to-minute—timeline for this crucial week, military historian Timothy B. Smith invites readers to follow the Vicksburg assaults as they unfold. His finely detailed account reaches from the offices of statesmen and politicians to the field of battle, with exacting analysis and insight that ranges from the highest level of planning and command to the combat experience of the common soldier. As closely observed and vividly described as each assault is, Smith’s book also puts the sum of these battles into the larger context of the Vicksburg campaign, as well as the entire war."

Carrying the story forward will be the well-timed release of Vicksburg Besieged, the third Vicksburg Campaign volume from SIU Press's Civil War Campaigns in the West series. Details are still pretty scarce on this one, with the only public information available being the following little descriptive tidbit: "Ranging in scope from military to social history, this book examines formal siege operations, sharpshooting, night raids in no-man's-land, the experience of Vicksburg civilians, and other military operations connected with the final phase of the long struggle for control of the great Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River." I'll revisit it later.

[Addendum: There are no hints either way, but Smith's start date of May 17 also makes me wonder if the book includes a detailed account of the Battle of Big Black River Bridge or just begins in its aftermath.]

Friday, November 22, 2019

Booknotes: Vicksburg

New Arrival:
Vicksburg: Grant's Campaign That Broke the Confederacy by Donald L. Miller (Simon & Schuster, 2019).

I've talked about this title a little bit already on the site as recently as five days ago, but the thing itself arrived on the doorstep this week so I can now look at it a bit more closely.

In Vicksburg: Grant's Campaign That Broke the Confederacy, author Donald L. Miller "tells the full story of this year-long campaign to win the city. He brings to life all the drama, characters, and significance of Vicksburg, a historic moment that rivals any war story in history. Grant’s efforts repeatedly failed until he found a way to lay siege and force the city to capitulate. In the course of the campaign, tens of thousands of slaves fled to the Union lines, where more than twenty thousand became soldiers, while others seized the plantations they had been forced to work on, destroying the economy of a large part of Mississippi and creating a social revolution."

The book draws an even more expansive portrait of the campaign than I'd previously imagined. In addition to concentrating heavily on military emancipation and the civilian experience, the beginning of the narrative goes all the way back to Grant's arrival at muddy, miserable Cairo in 1861. I don't know how necessary that is for many audience segments, but I suppose it allows newer readers a fuller appreciation of Grant's rise in the West. Though the book insists that it is "emphatically a military history," its treatment seems aimed more toward complementing existing campaign histories (all of which focus primarily on military details and events) rather than superseding them.

More from the description: "Ultimately, Vicksburg was the battle that solidified Grant’s reputation as the Union’s most capable general. Today no general would ever be permitted to fail as often as Grant did, but in the end he succeeded in what he himself called the most important battle of the war, the one that all but sealed the fate of the Confederacy." The idea that Vicksburg was unquestionably a mortal blow has been challenged on several grounds, perhaps most convincingly by those who argue that a significant altering of any number of subsequent events between Vicksburg's fall and the 1864 election might still have derailed the Union war effort. Nevertheless, Vicksburg was by any measure a military catastrophe.

His other military history publications are all WW2-related so Vicksburg is Miller's first Civil War study, but the book is by all appearances much more of a full dive rather than toe-dip into the new subject waters. The author's manuscript research was very extensive and the size of the bibliography overall is fairly massive in its compilation of sources of all types.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Booknotes: Lincoln's Informer

New Arrival:
Lincoln's Informer: Charles A. Dana and the Inside Story of the Union War by Carl J. Guarneri (UP of Kansas, 2019).

As I've mentioned before, Carl Guarneri's Lincoln's Informer: Charles A. Dana and the Inside Story of the Union War is a title I've been looking forward to reading all year. Being one of the most consequential middlemen the war produced on either side, Dana had his fingers in many pots.

From the description: "Dana didn’t just record history, Carl J. Guarneri notes: he made it. Starting out as managing editor of Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, he led the newspaper’s charge against proslavery forces in Congress and the Kansas territory. When his criticism of the Union’s prosecution of the war became too much for Greeley, Dana was drafted by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to be a special agent—and it was in this capacity that he truly made his mark. Drawing on Dana’s reports, letters, and telegrams—“the most remarkable, interesting, and instructive collection of official documents relating to the Rebellion,” according to the custodian of the Union war records—Guarneri reconstructs the Civil War as Dana experienced and observed it: as a journalist, a confidential informant to Stanton and Lincoln, and, most controversially, an administration insider with surprising influence. While reporting most of the war’s major events, Dana also had a hand in military investigations, the cotton trade, Lincoln’s reelection, passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, and, most notably, the making of Ulysses S. Grant and the breaking of other generals."

As you might have surmised from the title, this is not a birth-to-grave biography. The first two chapters cover Dana's 1850s journalistic career while the final chapter and epilogue together briefly discuss his postwar politics, newspaper career, and collaboration with Ida Tarbell on Recollections of the Civil War. Thus, the narrative's great middle consists of the author's in-depth examination of the impact of Dana's many behind-the-scenes wartime activities and roles. Lincoln’s Informer "at long last sets the record straight, giving Charles A. Dana his due in a story that rivals the best historical fiction."

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Review - "The Battle of the Wilderness in Myth and Memory: Reconsidering Virginia's Most Notorious Civil War Battlefield" by Adam Petty

[The Battle of the Wilderness in Myth and Memory: Reconsidering Virginia's Most Notorious Civil War Battlefield by Adam H. Petty (Louisiana State University Press, 2019). Hardcover, map, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xxii,136/205. ISBN:978-0-8071-7191-2. $42]

The densely forested region west of Fredericksburg, Virginia known as "The Wilderness" remains a fabled place in Civil War historiography and lore. By any measure, it was not an ideal Civil War battlefield environment. Filled with barely penetrable second-growth timber and choking undergrowth, the Wilderness became legendary for its ability to instantly break up linear formations, reduce visibility on the ground to near zero, and thoroughly disorientate officers and common soldiers alike. It was also a place of fear, as the abundant vegetation provided ready fuel for fires that could and did consume the wounded. Reinforced by veteran accounts and many decades of popular writing and scholarship, tradition holds that the Wilderness was a unique and exceptionally difficult landscape of battle, one that the Confederates used to their advantage and both sides involved in their campaign planning. All of these aspects of Wilderness interpretation and more are challenged by historian Adam Petty is his compelling book The Battle of the Wilderness in Myth and Memory: Reconsidering Virginia's Most Notorious Civil War Battlefield.

For the sake of making sure all readers are on the same page, the author carefully defines the Wilderness as the forested area south of the Rapidan River bounded on the west by Mine Run and the east by Mott's Run. An irregularly shaped mass (roughly twelve miles at its greatest depth and fifteen miles at its widest point), it encompassed in whole or in part three Civil War battlefields—those of Chancellorsville, the opening clashes of the Mine Run Campaign (most significantly, Payne's Farm), and its namesake Wilderness battle. From west to east, two main thoroughfares (the Orange Turnpike and Orange Plank Road) ran parallel to each other through the Wilderness before meeting near the Wilderness Church, with the Orange Turnpike continuing on through Chancellorsville and beyond. The Germanna Plank and Brock roads were the primary means of north-south movement through the Wilderness.

Legend holds that the Wilderness was the product of the local iron industry's insatiable hunger for fuel. After the area was deforested for charcoal production, a thick morass of second-growth timber and tangled underbrush then blanketed the thinly-settled area. Petty's research reveals that this was in truth only a small part of the story, with the Wilderness primarily consisting of natural regrowth from abandoned tobacco-growing fields and other areas cleared in order to obtain wood for adjacent plank road construction. Thus, even the central myth of the Wilderness's origin turns out to be mostly false.

The book also successfully refutes the popular contention that the Wilderness was an utterly unique battlefield that presented exceptional challenges to the military formations that fought there. To begin with, Petty argues that, in addition to the many clearings present within the Wilderness, the wooded areas were far from consistent in vegetative density. In actuality, the full spectrum of growth patterns were present in the Wilderness, from thinly forested parts with good sight lines on up to the impenetrable thickets of legend. Some of the patterns are predictable. For instance, the second-growth areas on both sides of the plank roads formed some of the most challenging fighting environments and the source of much commentary from soldiers, as those areas were where much of the combat occurred during the 1864 Wilderness battle. The author's enumeration of the many similarities between the Wilderness and Chickamauga battlefields provides one of the book's most powerful arguments against the uniqueness of the Virginia Wilderness. Indeed, in Virginia alone there were many 'wilderness' patches of similar origins spread around the state, with the one south of the Rapidan and west of Fredericksburg remarkable only for its great size and the fact that multiple battles were fought within it.

Another Wilderness-related myth addressed in the study revolves around the popular notion that Confederate formations and soldiers fought better than their Union counterparts in that environment. To begin with, there is little reason to suppose that wooded surroundings intrinsically favored the Confederates. The two great events often cited in support of this idea, Stonewall Jackson's famous Chancellorsville flank attack and Longstreet and Gordon's rolling up the Union flanks on May 6, 1864, both took advantage of the fact that the Wilderness could very effectively screen such movements. However, Petty notes that the organization and impetus of all of these attacks broke down in the rough terrain well before decisive results could be achieved (and with both corps commanders shot by their own men!). He goes on to maintain that the attacks were successful not because the ground dictated them or they were conducted by superior forest fighters but because the Confederates in each case seized the tactical initiative and took bolder chances (though one might still contend that those traits were key elements of superior management of the forest environment). The idea that one side was better at forest fighting than the other perhaps hearkens back to the old canard that Confederate armies were filled with country boys and Union ranks filled with the sons of shopkeepers. Certainly, the consistently successful men in blue who fought all over the vast, lesser-developed West would never have conceded, nor did they demonstrate, any inferiority in forest combat. Whatever the perception and reality of the situation, the author's call for more studies of how both sides adjusted to and fought in the various environments they encountered (deserts, swamps, beaches, forests, plains, etc.) seems appropriate.

Associated with the above is the idea that Wilderness fighting evened the odds and nullified the use of field artillery, the one service branch where the Union Army demonstrated clear superiority. That's a number of things to unpack. While it was the case that the Wilderness terrain hindered the deployment of the Union army during the opening moments of the 1864 Overland Campaign, Petty effectively argues that the chief culprits were the road network (which favored east-west Confederate movements, and quicker deployment of their smaller army, over the north-south Union advance) and the extremely poor screening job performed by the Union cavalry. That the Wilderness stifled the use of artillery is generally speaking true, but Petty does helpfully refer the reader to a number of well-known examples of Union and Confederate gun concentrations (both large and small) doing good service during the Chancellorsville and Wilderness battles. In Petty's view, the notion that Lee's army was more familiar with the ground lacks clear support. That both armies possessed similar knowledge of the Wilderness seems to be the more defensible assessment. Given the events of the previous year, it might even be argued that, by the beginning of the 1864 Overland Campaign, the Army of the Potomac held the experience advantage when it came to marching and fighting in the Wilderness.

Finally, the book heavily disputes the traditional view that the Wilderness held great sway in the planning concerns of both armies during the key 1863-64 campaigns. The Union defeat at Chancellorsville is often traced to Hooker's decision to pull his advancing wing back into the Wilderness on ground that nullified his advantages. That Hooker was less concerned about fighting inside the Wilderness and more worried about Lee hitting his army as it was emerging from the Wilderness's narrow defiles and debouching onto the plains seems to show that avoiding Wilderness combat was not a priority. For the Union commanders leading all three major 1863-64 Wilderness campaigns, the most important considerations were avoiding Confederate entrenchments and securing safe river crossings. Though he admits the possibility of unstated worries, Petty did not find any written evidence that fighting in the Wilderness figured into Grant or Meade's mental lists of concerns. On the other side, Lee expressed in his own writings and reports no desire to ensnare the enemy in the Wilderness. To the contrary, he repeatedly lamented the problems the terrain caused his own army. Far from seeking to 'trap' the Army of the Potomac in the Wilderness at the beginning of the Overland Campaign, Lee found his hand forced by the Union advance and his army fully engaged before it was ready. By also bringing Mine Run into the conversation, Petty further buttresses the argument that Lee felt more anxious than ebullient about fighting in the Wilderness by citing the general's decision after Payne's Farm to pull his army back behind Mine Run rather than feeding more troops into the Wilderness. Petty's well-supported determination that other factors overrode any concerns Union commanders might have had with fighting in the Wilderness, and that Lee had no interest in deliberately deploying his own army there, argue strongly against traditional interpretation. That the Wilderness mythology has been widely misused both as a means to evade responsibility for failure and a partisan weapon wielded for the purposes of either burnishing or tarnishing military reputations is one of the book's most important and revealing conclusions.

Adam Petty's The Battle of the Wilderness in Myth and Memory is revisionist history at its best. In addition to strongly challenging the ingrained mythology of the one of the war's most infamous battlegrounds, the study suggests the utility of drawing more connections between the environment and military history while also raising pertinent questions about how the historiography of other Civil War landscapes might also be usefully reassessed. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Booknotes: Iowa Confederates in the Civil War

New Arrival:
Iowa Confederates in the Civil War by David Connon (America Through Time, 2019).

A small state whose Democratic Party dominance had collapsed by 1860, Iowa remained strongly Republican throughout the war and contributed over 75,000 fighting men to the Union cause. Nevertheless, as was the case elsewhere among the free states, pockets of resistance emerged in Iowa, particularly in counties bordering the Mississippi River. Dozens of mini-biographies of Iowa residents who went the extra step beyond simple opposition by either joining the Confederate military or actively serving the Southern cause in some other capacity are collected in David Connon's Iowa Confederates in the Civil War.

From the description: "Seventy-six of these men entered the Confederate service. Readers will follow their pre-war, war-time, and post-war experiences, ranging from difficult relationships to disease, imprisonment, desertion, and adventure. More stories illuminate the turbulent Iowa home front, where life was hard for parents of Confederates and for Peace Democrats."

For the purposes of his study, Connon defines an Iowa resident as "one who lived in Iowa before the Civil War for at least two years, no earlier than 1850, and was thirteen or older during residency" (pg. 13). Individuals profiled in the book served in all three branches of the Confederate Army, the Confederate Navy, and "at least two worked in the Confederate Treasury Department." The reasons cited by these men as to why they chose to become Confederates are (in descending order): economic opportunism, family/place connections, States Rights ideology, a sense of adventure, and peer pressure. Ten also had some family connection to slavery. Their "stories" are grounded in deep research (much of it archival), with notes and bibliography referring to a very large collection of letters, diaries, government documents, books, periodicals, county histories, and newspaper articles.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Book News: Tempest over Texas

Ten years on from Fire in the Cane Field: The Federal Invasion of Louisiana and Texas, January 1861-January 1863, the publishing pace of Donald Frazier's "Louisiana Quadrille" has proceeded as planned, with the happy bonus that there are now to be five volumes in the series instead of four. The title of the fourth installment is Tempest over Texas: The Fall and Winter Campaigns of 1863–1864 and its release is planned by State House Press for May 2020.

From the description: "Picking up the story of the Civil War in Louisiana and Texas after the fall of Port Hudson and Vicksburg [see Blood on the Bayou: Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and the Trans-Mississippi], Tempest Over Texas describes Confederate confusion on how to carry on in the Trans-Mississippi given the new strategic realities. Likewise, Federal forces gathered from Memphis to New Orleans were in search of a new mission. International intrigues and disasters on distant battlefields would all conspire to confuse and perplex war-planners. One thing remained, however. The Stars and Stripes needed to fly once again in Texas, and as soon as possible."

Presumably, the book will devote the bulk of its attention to Sabine Pass, the Texas Overland Campaign, and the Rio Grande Expedition. That will leave a pretty long stretch of time (from March 1864 to war's end) to deal with in the fifth and final volume, which could be easily filled with just the Red River Campaign alone. Though I have no idea if it is even being considered, perhaps a sixth volume is a possibility.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

A few things

With Halloween in the rear view mirror and autumn in full swing, it's time to start thinking about my annual list of favorite titles by category. I always have mixed feelings about the timing of these things. The general expectation is that 'Top 10,' 'Best of,' etc. lists appear well before year's end. The challenge involved with doing this for Civil War books is that, unlike movies for instance, it is very often the case that a number of the year's best releases are bunched together late in the year. Along with the additional lag time between release date and delivery (which has increased of late), there's just not enough time to read and consider by year's end the full fall catalog of deserving titles. In the past, I've handled this by having those releases qualify for the following year's list, but that's always felt odd. Beyond just discontinuing the ritual altogether, the other option is to publish the year-end list sometime during the following January or February, which is also less than ideal. I'll have to ponder the matter some more.

Clint Crowe's Caught in the Maelstrom: The Indian Nations in the Civil War, 1861-1865 is a Savas Beatie book I've been looking forward to for a long time. Originally scheduled for mid-2017, it looks like the long wait might finally soon be over. The appearance of a 'Look Inside' preview (see link above) often indicates approaching release, so I would expect to see it out sometime in December. Maybe.

A trade publishing title that grabbed my interest recently was Donald Miller's Vicksburg: Grant's Campaign That Broke the Confederacy (Simon & Schuster), the first attempt at a major single-volume treatment of the campaign since Michael Ballard's 2004 book Vicksburg: The Campaign That Opened the Mississippi. I very briefly thumbed through it at the local library. If I recall correctly, coverage of the Battle of Port Gibson (May 1, 1863) doesn't appear until around page 370 of a roughly 500-page narrative. With its significant focus on the campaign's role in extinguishing slavery in the lower Mississippi River Valley, the study is clearly aimed at broadening the reader's perspective of the campaign, on and off the battlefield. I'm not sure if I'll find the time to get to it, but I thought it was at the very least worthy of mention. If you've read it, feel free to offer your thoughts about it in the comments section.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Booknotes: The Battle of Hurricane Bridge, March 28, 1863

New Arrival:
The Battle of Hurricane Bridge, March 28, 1863: With the Firmness of Veterans by Philip Hatfield (35th Star Pub, 2019).

The Battle of Hurricane Bridge, March 28, 1863 recounts "an often overlooked Civil War action occurring at the small and otherwise quiet western Virginia village. For five hours behind the limited protection of an unfinished earthen fort, the green Union troops of the 13th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry under the command of Captain James Johnson, fought to hold off the hardened Confederate veterans of the 8th and 16th Virginia Cavalry commanded by Brigadier General Albert Gallatin Jenkins. Ultimately, the March 28, 1863, battle at Hurricane Bridge directly contributed to the Union army maintaining control of the James River & Kanawha Turnpike, a key supply line, and enabled Federal control of the Kanawha Valley for the remainder of the war."

At around 225 pages (including space for chapter notes along with a multitude of maps and photographs), the main narrative section provides an extensive account of this small-scale fight. Addressed in chapter-length fashion are two other military actions, Jenkins's attack on Point Pleasant two days later and the second "battle" of Hurricane Bridge in December 1863. In the appendix section are orders of battle, a series of company muster rolls for the 13th West Virginia and 8th Virginia Cavalry, and finally a Union casualty table for Hurricane Bridge.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Review - "Too Useful to Sacrifice: Reconsidering George B. McClellan’s Generalship in the Maryland Campaign from South Mountain to Antietam" by Steven Stotelmyer

[Too Useful to Sacrifice: Reconsidering George B. McClellan’s Generalship in the Maryland Campaign from South Mountain to Antietam by Steven R. Stotelmyer (Savas Beatie, 2019). Hardcover, 15 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xvi,272/288. ISBN:978-1-61121-304-1. $32.95]

In the minds of George Brinton McClellan's most bitter military detractors and political enemies, the commanding general of the Army of the Potomac was always excessively reluctant to advance, slow on the march, timid in battle, and never personally present near the fighting. Heightened by McClellan's shocking defeat on the Virginia Peninsula and perceived role in the Second Bull Run disaster, criticism in the highest quarters reached fever pitch by the conclusion of the 1862 Maryland Campaign. Modern professional and avocational historians alike have largely followed suit, and their collective interpretations in turn have had a profound effect on popular opinion. However, the germ of what might be considered a revisionist movement in McClellan scholarship has also emerged in recent decades, with two of the most persuasive moderate voices being historians Joseph Harsh and Ethan Rafuse. A new addition to this group of dissenters is Steven Stotelmyer, whose book Too Useful to Sacrifice: Reconsidering George B. McClellan’s Generalship in the Maryland Campaign from South Mountain to Antietam also operates on lines of revisionist reasoning that have gained increased traction in at least some circles. The five essays inside Stotelmyer's study present a body of evidence that underpins a host of thoughtful arguments that challenge the legitimacy of many of the most serious charges historically levied against the general's conduct in Maryland.

The classic story of McClellan's most immediate reaction to being handed on September 13 the famous captured copy of Robert E. Lee's Special Orders No. 191 (issued by the Confederate commander on September 9 for an operation against Harpers Ferry having an expected end date of September 12) is one of empty bluster. As the tale goes, instead of immediately following through on his alleged boast about using the captured order to either whip Bobby Lee or go home, McClellan on cue proceeded to delay as much as eighteen hours before getting his army on the road to taking advantage of the intelligence coup of the century. According to Stotelmyer, nearly everything about this treasured Civil War episode, from its exceptionality to its details, is either wrong or greatly exaggerated. In support of his claim that capturing the enemy's plans was not only not extraordinary but rather common during the Civil War, the author cites five instances of one side intercepting the operational plans of the other during the previous month alone! The author challenges those who continue to assert that McClellan sat on his hands by noting that McClellan already knew through his own army intelligence reports that Lee had divided his army and the Army of the Potomac was already in motion that day executing its existing marching orders from the 12th. According to Stotelmyer, the army remained on the move (though hampered by the colossal traffic jam at Frederick that was unavoidable given that seemingly every military-suitable road in western Maryland converged on the city) throughout the period of McClellan's alleged inactivity. Far from dawdling at the front, Ninth Corps cleared the town and was even doing a night march to complete its movement to Middletown, the route to which passed through a defended Hagan's Gap that needed to be first cleared by Pleasonton's cavalry.

Stotelmyer builds a pretty strong case that McClellan was already setting up what would become the Battle of South Mountain when he received Lee's order. He even goes so far as to claim that the capturing of S.O. No. 191 "did not materially affect" (pg. 44) McClellan's conduct of the campaign. Stotelmyer's idea that the special orders (which were incomplete, outdated by the 13th, and in part contradicted confirmed intelligence) had a cautionary effect more than anything else makes counterintuitive sense on some level. On a higher level of consideration, Stotelmyer makes a good point that petty arguments about McClellan's alleged slowness (he counters those criticisms as well) unfairly, even intentionally, cloud an impressive overall feat of campaign management. On the fly and over just fifteen days, McClellan organized a new army composed of disparate elements (including a large proportion of green troops as well as veterans demoralized by the crushing defeat just days earlier at Second Manassas), set up logistics support for a new offensive campaign, and won two battles (South Mountain and Antietam). Weighed against this accomplishment, the disappointing fact that Antietam did not result in the much desired but only rarely achieved wholesale destruction of the defending army rather pales in significance.

The second chapter reevaluates the rank and role of the Battle of South Mountain in the campaign historiography, arguing that the series of engagements fought at the South Mountain passes were not a mere "prelude" to Antietam but rather together comprised a major battle in its own right. According to Stotelmyer, it was this battle that was the turning point of the campaign and did more than anything else to set up the epic confrontation at Antietam three days later. While the author makes a strong push for raising the stature of the Union victory at South Mountain, which was directed with skill by McClellan and swiftly hit Lee's army before it was prepared, the discussion is muddied a bit by semantics tangents and might be shortchanging the sophistication of the popular appreciation and understanding of South Mountain. On the other hand, at least on the last point, the author, in his capacity as certified Antietam and South Mountain guide, presumably has gained that impression of popular underappreciation through regular interactions with park patrons.

The next essay addresses the activities of the Union army on September 15, again revisiting negative impressions regarding McClellan's pace and tempo of operations. The author effectively counters arguments that the army should have been on the road before or at dawn by pointing out that there was a dense fog on the ground during those early hours of the 15th. Temporarily blinded, McClellan could not be certain that Lee's army had retreated and was not positioned immediately below to strike the head of the Union army debouching from the mountain passes. Thus, even though the distance from the South Mountain passes to Sharpsburg was admittedly short, a march to Sharpsburg that would have had any chance of meeting and defeating Lee's army in detail would have required a rapid march on the order of Hill's celebrated (but attended with very heavy straggling) movement from Harpers Ferry. Stotelmyer also notes that two key elements of McClellan's march plan (Ninth Corps under Burnside/Cox and Franklin's Sixth Corps) did not meet expectations. Burnside and Cox were late getting their troops moving, which caused a cascading traffic jam down the road through Fox's Gap that affected the leading elements of Porter's supporting Fifth Corps. To the south, General Franklin, who declined to exercise the discretion that his orders allowed and instead remained around Crampton's Gap and Pleasant Valley, failed to press forward at all. Only Joe Hooker's First Corps, recently detached from Burnside's wing, got on the road as expected and made good time.

Some have blamed McClellan for not properly informing Burnside of his plans for the day, but the author cites some pretty persuasive circumstantial evidence suggesting that McClellan did indeed keep Burnside in the loop. It seems more likely than not that Burnside was informed early in the day about the new command rearrangements and corps marching orders. In trying to explain Burnside's tardy movements, Stotelmyer suggests that the usually amiable Burnside may have been miffed at his perceived lack of credit for the South Mountain victory and demotion from wing commander [just who exercised direct command of Ninth Corps, or thought he did, is another matter!]. The author also believes that the political cloud hanging over Franklin from the Second Bull Run debacle inhibited that general's initiative on the 15th. In seeking to explain the less than ideal marching performances of both columns, these are only conjectures, but they are at least reasonably formulated ones. Army commander McClellan remains ultimately responsible for the result, but it does appear to go against the overall evidence when one argues that McClellan organized a timid pursuit for the 15th. In the end, the race to catch Lee divided and at a disadvantage was essentially over by midday when the Confederates formed a strong line behind the west bank of Antietam Creek and much of McClellan's pursuing army was still struggling westward on the area's unhelpful road network.

The author's contention that McClellan would surely have attacked on the 15th if he had perceived a major advantage by doing so is, of course, an untestable historical hypothesis. But what of the 16th, which is only addressed tangentially? The main battle did not begin the day after the armies positioned themselves opposite each other on the 15th but rather two days later. Though there was fighting on the 16th (enough for some to consider Antietam a three-day battle, September 16-18), the events of that day and how they affected the course of the Maryland Campaign are not substantively addressed in any of the essays. While the book is not intended to be a comprehensive reexamination of each and every topic of contested Maryland Campaign historiography, most readers will undoubtedly be interested to know the author's thoughts on what ended up happening on the 16th and how that should impact how we might reevaluate McClellan's overall conduct of the battle.

While the previous essay suggests how General Franklin's post-South Mountain command behavior might have been negatively affected by the partisan political fallout from Second Bull Run, the fourth chapter revisits the most exhaustively addressed example of political persecution having a major role in the perception of the Maryland Campaign. This, of course, is the case brought against Fifth Corps commander and close McClellan associate Fitz-John Porter. Like others have before him, Stotelmyer presents a defensible portrait of Porter as a general unjustifiably victimized by bad-faith critics in the army, press, and government. Unfortunately, while the author avoids turning Porter into a martyred hero, his countering the Porter-McClellan critics with his own conspiracy allegations and suggestions of villainous motivations unnecessarily weakens his arguments in places.

The chapter improves when it effectively puts to rest the still pervasive popular belief that McClellan held back a large reserve (some 15-20,000 fresh men) on the late afternoon of the 17th when it was obvious to everyone that the Confederate center was ripe for the picking. In truth, Porter had only two of his three divisions present that day and heavy detachments made earlier in support of faltering efforts elsewhere on the field meant that there was no true reserve behind the center. This left Porter with only 3-4,000 uncommitted men in line at the front and available for offensive action there. While one can argue that McClellan and Porter still could have attacked with what was at hand (perhaps with support of some kind from Pleasonton's cavalry), but such a movement was hardly the army-splitting slam dunk that many deem it to have been. But what of Franklin's Sixth Corps, the army's other alleged "reserve?" Though not the focus of the chapter, the Sixth Corps was also divided after it arrived, with Smith's Division sent into action on the Union right. The remaining division, Slocum's, was not actively engaged, but Stotelmyer cites distinctions of semantics to rather weakly argue that it also was not in reserve. Citing this parceling out of Fifth and Sixth Corps, critics could maintain with some justification that the army's lack of a true reserve for exploiting gains was largely McClellan's own fault, but then they could not at the same time assert that McClellan did not utilize all parts of his army. Even so, the myth of the existence of a huge, unutilized reserve should really be regarded as objectively debunked at this point, yet it remains one of the most popular criticisms of McClellan's generalship at Antietam.

The fifth and final chapter addresses the post-Antietam events that led up to McClellan's removal from command. As the traditional story goes, McClellan's army was soon well supplied and equipped for a new offensive yet the commanding general's typical "slows" delayed the resumption of hostilities, losing vital weeks of good campaigning weather while also allowing Lee's army to outmarch it. Lincoln finally had enough and relieved McClellan, replacing him with General Burnside. Stotelmyer sees this as yet another case when the McClellan critics have it all wrong. Many tend to miss the important point that the Army of the Potomac was embarking on a major new campaign, not just a short extension of the existing one, which made organization and resupply essential and immediate advance deep into Virginia inadvisable until the ad-hoc logistical arrangements of the Maryland Campaign were fixed. Abundant evidence is presented that the army was badly deficient in supplies and accoutrements of all kinds (particularly shoes and clothing) during the weeks following Antietam even though the administration and quartermaster department both insisted that those requirements had been forwarded to McClellan's army. The author's research determined that the latter's claims were not outright misrepresentations. The supply requisitions were technically shipped, but they never reached McClellan. Instead, the supplies were either stacked up along Washington railroad sidings or were issued to the troops around the capital. The question then remains, was this a mere logistical snafu or a deliberate attempt to discredit McClellan. The author leans heavily toward the latter, strongly suggesting that a scheming Secretary Stanton likely orchestrated the withholding of supplies to engineer McClellan's removal when the army could not move on the president's timetable. Though one might argue that Stanton was not above such underhanded measures in pursuit of his goals, this does seem like conspiratorial overreach. It unnecessarily weakens an otherwise excellent essay, especially if the reader believes in the old adage about discounting deliberate malfeasance in matters that can be simply and better explained by incompetence. On the other hand, if the U.S. Army did anything better than any military organization in the world it was logistics, and it does seem incredible that such a chain of managerial chaos could have existed right at the nerve center of nation's war effort. Stotelmyer also argues that when the Army of the Potomac did finally move, it did not do so lethargically but rather effectively interposed itself between the two halves of Lee's army in northern Virginia. It would be going too far to suggest that a major victory was at hand when McClellan was dismissed, but the author's opinion that the promising position that McClellan had maneuvered his army into by early November was a solid indicator that his relief was politically, rather than performance, motivated has some merit. The author believes that Lincoln's action and its timing offer conclusive proof the president never had any intention of leaving Little Mac in command of the Army of the Potomac past the fall elections.

Stotelmyer never directly states whether he believes McClellan to have been a commander capable of leading the Union war effort in the East to final victory, but he clearly sees the general as the right man for the job when it came to achieving the more immediate goals of the Maryland Campaign. Books like this one often attract dismissive reactions from readers who casually accuse a writer of staking out contrarian conclusions and arguing backwards, only citing supporting evidence and minimizing (or outright suppressing) sources that might mount a challenge. While sometimes leaning toward provocative conclusions having only tenuous documentary support, Stotelmyer is clearly not an author deserving of that brand of reproach. With its generally formidable arguments and analysis, Too Useful to Sacrifice is a strongly recommended title for Maryland Campaign readers and McClellan critics, advocates, and nonpartisan students alike.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Booknotes: Massacre in Minnesota

New Arrival:
Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862, the Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History by Gary Clayton Anderson (OU Press, 2019).

What happened on the Minnesota frontier in 1862 was exceptionally horrific by any measure. "In August 1862 the worst massacre in U.S. history unfolded on the Minnesota prairie, launching what has come to be known as the Dakota War, the most violent ethnic conflict ever to roil the nation. When it was over, between six and seven hundred white settlers had been murdered in their homes, and thirty to forty thousand had fled the frontier of Minnesota. But the devastation was not all on one side. More than five hundred Indians, many of them women and children, perished in the aftermath of the conflict; and thirty-eight Dakota warriors were executed on one gallows, the largest mass execution ever in North America."

The Dakota War bookshelf is somewhat similar to that of the Red River Campaign in that both are fairly crowded with modern single-volume overviews, arguably none of which provide a truly satisfactory standalone combination of description and analysis. Now there is a new entry to the Dakota War field. "A sweeping work of narrative history, the result of forty years’ research," Gary Clayton Anderson's Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862, the Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History "provides the most complete account of this dark moment in U.S. history."

Though the conflict widened over the next year and beyond, spilling out onto the Northern Plains, Anderson's study concentrates on the origins, course, and aftermath of the violence in Minnesota. More from the description: "Focusing on key figures caught up in the conflict—Indian, American, and Franco- and Anglo-Dakota—Gary Clayton Anderson gives these long-ago events a striking immediacy, capturing the fears of the fleeing settlers, the animosity of newspaper editors and soldiers, the violent dedication of Dakota warriors, and the terrible struggles of seized women and children. Through rarely seen journal entries, newspaper accounts, and military records, integrated with biographical detail, Anderson documents the vast corruption within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the crisis that arose as pioneers overran Indian lands, the failures of tribal leadership and institutions, and the systemic strains caused by the Civil War. Anderson also gives due attention to Indian cultural viewpoints, offering insight into the relationship between Native warfare, religion, and life after death—a nexus critical to understanding the conflict."

Monday, November 11, 2019

Booknotes: Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America

New Arrival:
Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America by Thomas J. Brown (UNC Press, 2019).

It is quite the appropriate happenstance that this Booknotes entry appears on Veterans Day. A "sweeping new assessment of Civil War monuments unveiled in the United States between the 1860s and 1930s," Thomas Brown's Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America "argues that they were pivotal to a national embrace of military values." Given that the U.S. military establishment was consistently gutted to below even the minimal standards of a world power up through the mid-1930s, it is presumed that Brown is using the term "militarization" in a more restrained cultural context.

According to Brown, "Americans' wariness of standing armies limited construction of war memorials in the early republic,..., and continued to influence commemoration after the Civil War. As large cities and small towns across the North and South installed an astonishing range of statues, memorial halls, and other sculptural and architectural tributes to Civil War heroes, communities debated the relationship of military service to civilian life through fund-raising campaigns, artistic designs, oratory, and ceremonial practices. Brown shows that distrust of standing armies gave way to broader enthusiasm for soldiers in the Gilded Age. Some important projects challenged the trend, but many Civil War monuments proposed new norms of discipline and vigor that lifted veterans to a favored political status and modeled racial and class hierarchies."

The decades prior to the beginning of the Great War were a boon to Civil War monument construction, and Brown also notes that in the years following the return of American troops from Europe the country still looked to its Civil War past to inform how it would memorialize the 1917-18 experience of World War. In the end, "(a) half century of Civil War commemoration reshaped remembrance of the American Revolution and guided American responses to World War I."

Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America "provides the most comprehensive overview of the American war memorial as a cultural form and reframes the national debate over Civil War monuments that remain potent presences on the civic landscape."

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Captain Voigt's Company of Waul's Texas Legion

When I was putting together my recent review of Michael Steinman's Waul's Legion: History of the Texas Legion (2019), my online search for book-length topical antecedents uncovered a recent (and also self-published) company history. Going only by the very limited preview available through the following link, Wolfram M. Von-Maszewski's Captain Voigt's Company of Waul's Texas Legion (2017) looks like it might be a worthwhile use of the book fund.

From the description: "Robert Julius Voigt (1832-1866) emigrated from Germany to Texas in 1850. In Houston he became a founding member of the Houston Turn Verein, a German cultural and social organization and participated in its ceremonial and para-military organization. At the outbreak of the Civil War he joined a militia company in Austin County, Texas, that was composed of German-Texans. On the strength of his informal military training, he was elected captain. When the company volunteered to serve in the Confederate Army, his men again chose him as their captain. He took the responsibility seriously. Years later one of his soldiers recalled that Voigt took care of his men like a father. He was their spokesman as they served among an English-speaking population. In turn, the company was recognized for its military conduct and was entrusted with special assignments in Greenwood and Yazoo City, Mississippi."

The volume and diversity of sources referenced in the footnotes of the sample pages certainly gives the impression that serious, in-depth research is behind the project. It also does seem to support the assumption that more than enough primary source material exists to construct the richly detailed history of Waul's Legion that many students of the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters still seek. I'll report back if and when I get a hold of a copy.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Review - "Gettysburg's Coster Avenue: The Brickyard Fight and the Mural" by Mark Dunkelman

[Gettysburg's Coster Avenue: The Brickyard Fight and the Mural by Mark H. Dunkelman (Gettysburg Publishing, 2018). Softcover, map, photos, drawings, notes. Pp. 50. ISBN:978-0-9993049-1-4. $18.95]

The author or editor of six well-received books and numerous articles published about the men and exploits of the 154th New York, Mark Dunkelman is the modern voice of the regiment and chief custodian of its historical memory. Among the 154th's most trying Civil War experiences was its doomed July 1, 1863 defense of Kuhn's Brickyard on the northeastern outskirts of Gettysburg. The story of this action and the mural that Dunkelman (with artist and co-designer Johan Bjurman) created to commemorate it is the subject of Gettysburg's Coster Avenue: The Brickyard Fight and the Mural.

The first part of the book is a well composed overview of the "Brickyard Fight" between Col. Charles Coster's understrength brigade (the 154th NY flanked on either side by the 27th Pa and 134th NY) and an attacking pair of North Carolina and Louisiana brigades under Col. Isaac Avery and Brig. Gen. Harry Hays. After a brief but furious assault, Avery's Tar Heels and Hays's Tigers utterly smashed Coster's Brigade, overlapping both flanks and inflicting heavy casualties. The piece also discusses the erection decades later of the 154th's monument, with the nearby street renamed Coster Avenue in honor of the brigade's stand that some have credited with helping save Cemetery Hill from capture. Though Coster Avenue was not unknown to visitors, for many decades Gettysburg tourists as a whole typically skipped the Brickyard Fight site in favor of seeing those associated with famous July 2-3 events [ed. I'll reluctantly admit that I never went there during either of my 1990s visits to the battlefield]. Though July 1 events like the Brickyard Fight eventually received their just due in the literature, the Dunkelman-Bjurman mural preceded the publication of David Martin and Harry Pfanz's standard histories by a number of years and undoubtedly had a singularly positive effect on increased site visitation and wider recognition of what occurred there.

In engagingly personalized fashion, the second part of the book traces the story of the Coster Avenue mural from initial brainstorming and development of the 1977 concept sketches through the original 1988 dedication and subsequent 2001 and 2015 major restorations. Readers might justly wonder how oil canvases protected only by layers of varnish were expected to fare when fully exposed over time to both the seasonal elements in Pennsylvania and the predations of vandals. Surprisingly, the mural was never defaced, but, unsurprisingly, the weather slowly wreaked havoc with the first two versions. The book doesn't reveal how long the mural project was originally intended to last, but if permanency was the goal it quickly became clear that it would be far too costly to repaint and reseal the massive canvasses on a regular basis. Something new had to be done, and the elegant solution of paint on glass for the current 2015 version seems to have worked very well, with the only major drawback being the unavoidable surface glare.

As one would hope to find in an art discussion book, Dunkelman's slim 81/2" x 11" paperback is well stocked with illustrations. Dozens of archival and modern photographs (the latter in both color and B&W) are sprinkled about, and the map located at the back of the book clearly depicts both the historical clash at the Brickyard in some detail and the location of the battle site in relation to the modern street map of Gettysburg. The only major lament is the lack of a large-scale photographic representation of the mural in all its glory, something the volume's landscape format could have well facilitated over a series of pages. On the other hand, nothing can replace an actual visit to the site, and perhaps a little bit of mystery can provide some extra incentive to seek out the place in person.

A significant part of Gettysburg's visitor experience three decades on from its original installation, the Coster Avenue mural has finally received a fine history of its own.