Saturday, April 20, 2019

Book News: Bull Run to Boer War

Several decades ago when I first started getting into Civil War reading, most general history books and many other types parroted the simplistic view that the major European armies dismissed the armies of both sides as "armed mobs" and saw few lessons to be learned from any serious study of the conflict. I was always skeptical of that but the topic didn't grab me enough to investigate deeper. At one time I had a copy of Jay Luvaas's classic The Military Legacy of the Civil War: The European Inheritance but don't recall if I read it.

During the present mini-explosion of 1864-65 Richmond-Petersburg Campaign publications, discussion of the links between Civil War trench warfare and what occurred on the Western Front during the Great War, though the connection has been downplayed, has resurfaced. Recently I noticed a new study in the pipeline that addresses this topic and many others, Michael Somerville's Bull Run to Boer War: How the American Civil War Changed the British Army (Helion, January 2020). The description has me hooked.
"The American Civil War is often said to have predicted the way in which later wars such as the Boer War and the First World War would be fought. As a result the British Army has been criticised for not heeding its lessons, a view that can be traced back to the 1930s. This book challenges that long-held view, and demonstrates that the responses to the lessons of the war in the British Army were more complex, better informed, and of higher quality, than normally depicted.

Key to this new interpretation is that it takes a nineteenth century perspective rather than pre-supposing what the British should have seen based upon hindsight from the South African veldt or the Western Front trenches. It demonstrates that strategists and policy-makers reacted to the changes in the nature of warfare suggested by American experience, looks at how officers in the cavalry, infantry, artillery and engineers applied their observations in America to the technical and tactical issues of the day, and even examines the war’s influence on the development of aeronautics.

In studying how the Civil War changed the Late Victorian British Army, the book provides insight into its learning process, and concludes that although sometimes flawed, its study of the American Civil War meant that it was better prepared for the wars of the twentieth century than previously acknowledged."

Friday, April 19, 2019

Booknotes: Attack at Daylight and Whip Them

New Arrival:
Attack at Daylight and Whip Them: The Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862
  by Gregory A. Mertz (Savas Beatie, 2019).

Having just left Chattanooga, the Emerging Civil War series stays out west with Gregory Mertz's Attack at Daylight and Whip Them: The Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862. It is one of those volumes that integrates tour and narrative together, as opposed to placing the driving tour at the back like most of the others (I seem to recall) have done. At least in terms of organization, it looks like the text primarily serves the tour here rather than the other way around. This means the battle narrative does not follow a strict chronology, with the content of the later chapters freely moving back and forth between Day 1 and Day 2 events. The concluding chapter examines the immediate aftermath of the battle.

Mertz's book possesses the series's typical abundance of photographs and other illustrations. There are seventeen maps, which is an unusually large number for an ECW entry. The tactical maps depict the action at mostly brigade scale. The single appendix discusses Lew Wallace's ever controversial march to the battlefield on April 6. Army orders of battle and a brief suggested reading list round out the volume.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Booknotes: Campaign for Wilson's Creek, Updated Edition

New Arrival:
Campaign for Wilson's Creek: The Fight for Missouri Begins, Updated Edition
  by Jeffrey L. Patrick (State House Pr, 2018).

Originally published in 2011 as part of McWhiney Foundation Press's Civil War Campaigns and Commanders series, Jeff Patrick's Campaign for Wilson's Creek: The Fight for Missouri Begins presents audiences of all backgrounds an excellent overview history of the topic. I would still recommend as the best entry point for new readers. For some time now, McWhiney History Education Group has been publishing new titles, including this one, through their State House Press imprint.

In Campaign for Wilson's Creek: The Fight for Missouri Begins, Updated Edition Patrick "tells the fascinating story of high-stakes military gambles, aggressive leadership, and lost opportunities. Campaign for Wilson's Creek is a tale of unique military units, untried but determined commanders, colorful volunteers, and professional soldiers. The first major campaign of the Civil War to take place west of the Mississippi River guaranteed that Missourians would be engaged in a long, cruel civil war within the larger, national struggle."

At first glance, both editions (2011 and 2018) appear identical beyond the new cover art and copyright page (the latter has a 2018 date, though the book was released in 2019 within the last month). I emailed the publisher and asked if they could offer any information about changes between editions. The response from them indicated that "updated edition" primarily refers to the new book conforming to an updated style guide, with content additions/alterations much less significant.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Review - "A South Carolina Upcountry Saga: The Civil War Letters of Barham Bobo Foster and His Family, 1860–1863" by Gibert Kennedy, ed.

[A South Carolina Upcountry Saga: The Civil War Letters of Barham Bobo Foster and His Family, 1860–1863 edited by A. Gibert Kennedy (University of South Carolina Press, 2019). Cloth, 11 maps, photos, footnotes, bibliography, index. Pp:xxiv,384. ISBN:978-1-61117-924-8. $49.99]

Before the American Civil War and its aftermath brought them devastating personal, material, and financial loss, the family of Barham Bobo Foster prospered in the Spartanburg District of Piedmont South Carolina. Worked by 43 slaves, Foster's corn and cotton plantation  ("Foster's Tavern") was located in Glenn Springs just south of Spartanburg and near the railroad connecting the region with the rest of the state. Living with Foster were his wife, Mary Ann, and five children [sons Lewis Perrin and James Anthony "Toney", ages 23 and 22 respectively, and daughters Sarah Agnes "Sallie" (19), Eunice "Nunie" (15), and Jane Eliza (9)].

An ardent supporter of disunion and signer of the state's secession ordinance, B.B. Foster immediately offered his services to the state when war broke out and was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the Third South Carolina infantry regiment. Both sons eventually served in the same regiment and both gave their lives on its firing line. Their many letters home from the front are collected in A South Carolina Upcountry Saga: The Civil War Letters of Barham Bobo Foster and His Family, 1860-1863, edited by descendant A. Gibert Kennedy.

The Foster correspondence is conventional in the sense that it contains many of the usual topics of conversation found in Civil War letter compilations. They speak of camp life, ordeals of epidemic disease, troubles getting properly uniformed and equipped, concern over the welfare of loved ones, complaints about the national mail system, and express common prejudicial views of the enemy's character and fighting ability. However, the Carter correspondence greatly exceeds the general run of Civil War letter collections when it comes to extensive descriptions of combat and other front line military experiences. While items of interest under their own limited personal purview predominate, the writers also occasionally offer astute critiques and observations of Confederate leaders and strategy. For example, the elder Foster condemns the Davis administration's dispersal of Confederate military strength, favoring instead a concentration of force even if that meant abandoning territory to the enemy. Modern historians have widely adopted this very same criticism of what would come to be known as Davis's "cordon defense" strategy.

After a brief training period in their home state, the Third South Carolina was sent to the main front in Virginia. The regiment was not heavily engaged at First Manassas, but its involvement in the afternoon pursuit is heavily discussed in the Foster letters. Even more detail is provided of the picket war in northern Virginia both prior to the Bull Run battle and for months afterward.

The letters of both B.B. and L.P. Foster (Toney would not join the army until the following spring) are strongly tinged with localism. Though the Fosters were Virginians themselves only two generations before they relocated to South Carolina, they question Virginia's late-to-the-game patriotism and capacity for bravery, though this distrust was softened after hearing about their Bull Run exploits. Curiously, the writers deplore the abundance of "Yankees" and lack of "true Virginians" found among the civilian population living in the northern part of the state (opinions shared 150 years later in some circles!). B.B. Foster also complains of cultural and political divides between Piedmont and Tidewater South Carolinians.

In January 1862, the Foster patriarch was forced to resign from the army due to his development of a severe case of chronic limb edema. Soon after Foster left for home, the army began its evacuation of northern Virginia in response to threatening Union movements. This period coincided with the expiration of the Third's original twelve-month term of enlistment and growing uncertainty in its ranks over the details of the soon to be enacted Conscription Act. Perrin faced indecision over whether to reenlist in Virginia or wait until the regiment returned to South Carolina after mustering out. As expressed in his letters, his fear was that he might be forced into general conscription (and perhaps be sent to another unit not of his choosing) if he waited too long. His letters show the widespread confusion in the army over how conscription would work for those already serving. Those not yet in the army were also uncertain, and Anthony eventually joined the 13th South Carolina, led by his cousin Col. Oliver Edwards, in advance of conscription as well. He soon after transferred to the Third, and his letters add another dimension to the book.

The Third missed the fighting at Seven Pines/Fair Oaks, but engaged in frequent skirmishing south of the Chickahominy prior to Lee's Seven Days offensive. These actions are recounted in Perrin's letters. Part of Kershaw's Brigade, the regiment's Seven Days exposure, at least in terms of significant fighting, was limited to Savage's Station and Malvern Hill. Both Perrin and Anthony Foster penned several useful accounts of the fighting on those days (particularly for June 29). Details are frequently repeated (as the writers retold the same events in letters sent to several different family members) but this is rather a plus to readers as each version offers additional pieces of information absent in the others.

Frequently sick with some ailment or another, Perrin took ill again with skin and joint disease after the Peninsula Campaign. During his lengthy recovery he missed both Second Manassas and Antietam, while brother Anthony was killed on September 13 during an assault on Maryland Heights. Numerous letters written by Toney's comrades to the family are reproduced in the book. They offer the Fosters condolences and provide the family with the particulars of his death and burial.

Perrin returned to the army in late October. His letters home over the following weeks describe the extended preamble to the Battle of Fredericksburg and the settling in of both armies on opposite banks of the Rappahannock. Tragically, on December 13 Perrin was shot in the head and killed near the Marye House when his regiment was ordered from its initial position near the Telegraph Road to reinforce the stone wall defenders.

With both Foster sons now dead, no more letters passed from the fighting front to the home front but Kennedy includes a number of other family letters expressing grief and sympathy. B.B. Foster briefly returned to the war as a militia officer and the war largely ruined his finances, forcing him into bankruptcy for unpaid property taxes during Reconstruction. Later, with the help of his family, Foster became a merchant of modest prosperity.

Kennedy does fine work editing the Foster correspondence, supplementing the material with letters written by friends and extended relations. In addition to penning a general family history introduction founded in fairly extensive genealogy research, Kennedy also includes a number of photos and a helpful set of maps. His footnotes are primarily focused on identifying individuals mentioned in the letters, but the editor's chapter introductions and bridging war narrative work well together in effectively contextualizing the letters.

Wounds and death constantly hover over the letters contained in A South Carolina Upcountry Saga. Their oppressive aura of tragedy, enhanced by the battlefield deaths of writers Perrin and Toney themselves, underscores in exceptional fashion the concentrated human devastation wrought by the conflict. With low-end Civil War mortality estimates of 25% of military-age southern white males, the Foster family's complete sacrifice of its male line to the Confederate war effort vividly reminds readers how deeply this scale of mass death infiltrated all levels of southern society. In addition to documenting one family's story of tragedy and loss, the correspondence also serves as a valuable firsthand resource for those researching the war service of the Third South Carolina over the first half of the conflict. Recommended.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Booknotes: Meade and Lee at Bristoe Station

New Arrival:
Meade and Lee at Bristoe Station: The Problems of Command and Strategy after Gettysburg, from Brandy Station to the Buckland Races, August 1 to October 31, 1863 by Jeffrey Wm. Hunt (Savas Beatie, 2019).

Meade and Lee at Bristoe Station: The Problems of Command and Strategy after Gettysburg, from Brandy Station to the Buckland Races, August 1 to October 31, 1863 is the middle volume in Jeffrey Hunt's planned trilogy covering the war in the East between the Gettysburg retreat/pursuit and the launching of the Overland Campaign in 1864. This is a significant project as the period, though receiving more attention lately, has been one of the more neglected ones for the war's most thoroughly documented theater. The first volume, Meade and Lee After Gettysburg (2017), meticulously recounted the fortnight of events and decision making between Lee's escape across the Potomac to the establishment of a new defensive line along the upper Rappahannock. Both Union and Confederate perspectives are accorded equal weight in the narrative. A substantially thicker study, this book examines a much longer period of active infantry and cavalry maneuvering, its centerpiece being the Bristoe Campaign.

Even after the horrendous losses at Gettysburg, both armies were diminished further by the need to reinforce the West. "Despite these reductions, the aggressive Lee assumed the strategic offensive against his more careful Northern opponent, who was also busy waging a rearguard action against the politicians in Washington." As an item of further interest, and as mentioned in the previous book, this campaign season was the only one conducted by Meade as a truly independent army commander.

Meade and Lee at Bristoe Station "is a fast-paced, dynamic account of how the Army of Northern Virginia carried the war above the Rappahannock once more in an effort to retrieve the laurels lost in Pennsylvania. When the opportunity beckoned Lee took it, knocking Meade back on his heels with a threat to his army as serious as the one Pope had endured a year earlier. As Lee quickly learned again, A. P. Hill was no Stonewall Jackson, and with Longstreet away Lee’s cudgel was no longer as mighty as he wished. The high tide of the campaign ebbed at Bristoe Station with a signal Confederate defeat. The next move was now up to Meade." Hunt's work is "is grounded upon official reports, regimental histories, letters, newspapers, and other archival sources. Together, they provide a day-by-day account of the fascinating high-stakes affair during this three-month period."

Click here to read my review of the first volume.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Booknotes: Morris Island and the Civil War

New Arrival:
Morris Island and the Civil War: Strategy and Influence by C. Russell Horres, Jr.
  (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Press, 2019).

With scale of military activity at any given time varying between routine patrols and desperate battles, the period between the return of Union troops to the barrier islands near Charleston in late 1861 and the fall of the city in February 1865 is often said to be the longest continuous campaign of the Civil War. A key piece of military geography used by both sides at times during the war was Morris Island, the topic of Russell Horres's Morris Island and the Civil War: Strategy and Influence. A retired scientist, Horres has volunteered extensively as a researcher and guide for the National Park Service, his interests and work focusing on Charleston and particularly on forts Sumter and Johnson.

From the description: "From Charleston's doorstep, Morris Island held a critical position in the Civil War. It was first used by Confederates to assist in the bombardment of Fort Sumter and later became the scene of an epic struggle to prevent Union forces from gaining control. After the battle, the roles reversed, and Union forces used the site to bombard Fort Sumter and Charleston. Hundreds lost their lives, and both sides expended a vast amount of war capital for what appeared to be little value. Confederates greatly underestimated how events at Morris Island played into the hands of the Civil War's master strategist, Abraham Lincoln."

From the chapter headings, it looks like the book addresses all the major military events that occurred on the island, with dual perspectives (Union and Confederate) on everything. Equal attention is paid to both halves of the war, with the "siege" aspect of the campaign beginning in earnest in 1863. A little bit over 100 pages, it's a brisk narrative, and the volume is well illustrated with drawings, photographs, and old maps.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Booknotes: Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah

New Arrival:
Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah: Major General Franz Sigel and the War in the Valley of Virginia, May 1864 by David A. Powell (Savas Beatie, 2019).

David Powell is, of course, one of the leading experts on the Battle of Chickamauga, but his research and views on other topics outside the mountainous wilds of the Tennessee-Georgia border have invariably proved interesting as well. His new book Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah: Major General Franz Sigel and the War in the Valley of Virginia, May 1864 examines from the Union perspective the western wing of Grant's multi-pronged spring offensive in the eastern theater.

From the description: "Union General Ulysses S. Grant regarded a spring campaign in the Valley of Virginia as integral to his overall strategy designed to turn Robert E. Lee’s strategic western flank, deny his Army of Northern Virginia much needed supplies, and prevent other Confederates from reinforcing Lee. It fell to Union general and German transplant Franz Sigel to execute Grant’s strategy in the northern reaches of the Shenandoah while Maj. Gen. George Crook struck elsewhere in southwestern Virginia. Sigel’s record in the field was checkered at best, and he was not Grant’s first choice to lead the effort, but a combination of politics and other factors left the German in command.

Sigel met Confederate Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge and his small army on May 15 just outside the crossroads town of New Market. The hard-fought affair hung in the balance until finally the Union lines broke, and Sigel’s Yankees fled the field. Breckinridge’s command included some 300 young men from the Virginia Military Institute’s Corps of Cadets. VMI’s presence and dramatic role in the fighting ensured that New Market would never be forgotten, but pushed other aspects of this interesting and important campaign into the back seat of history.
"

"Previous works have focused on the Confederate side of the battle, using Sigel’s incompetence as sufficient excuse to explain why the Federals were defeated. This methodology, however, neglects the other important factors that contributed to the ruin of Grant’s scheme in the Valley."

Not another micro-treatment of the New Market battle (we already have that in spades, the best being Charles Knight's Valley Thunder), the book is broader in scope. Though it does include a multi-chapter account of the Battle of New Market, Powell's book is more of an operational-scale examination of parallel Union offensive movements in West Virginia (the campaign there culminating in the Battle of Cloyd's Mountain) and the Shenandoah Valley.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Booknotes: Leonidas Polk

New Arrival:
Leonidas Polk: Warrior Bishop of the Confederacy by Huston Horn (UP of Kansas, 2019).

Among the group of longest serving generals in the Confederacy's western high command, Leonidas Polk has to be second only to Braxton Bragg in arousing historical controversy and questions over his competence. Oddly enough, though, he was very popular with the men he led. Nothing grabbed me long ago when I leafed through the two existing major biographies of Polk, so I welcome this new treatment. William C. Davis certainly has high praise for Huston Horn's Leonidas Polk: Warrior Bishop of the Confederacy, deeming it "the best Confederate military biography of recent years." I certainly agree with the other jacket blurb writer, Sam Davis Elliott, that we are "long overdue" for a complete reevaluation of the general.

As most readers know, Polk was one of those West Point graduates who immediately resigned to pursue other opportunities, in his case the Episcopal priesthood. "At first combining parish ministry with cotton farming in Tennessee, Polk subsequently was elected the first bishop of the Louisiana Diocese, whereupon he bought a sugarcane plantation and worked it with several hundred slaves owned by his wife. Then, in the 1850s he was instrumental in the founding of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. When secession led to war he pulled his diocese out of the national church and with other Southern bishops established what they styled the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. Polk then offered his military services to his friend and former West Point classmate Jefferson Davis and became a major general in the Confederate Army."

More from the description: "Recognizing his indispensable familiarity with the Mississippi Valley, Confederate president Jefferson Davis commissioned his elevation to a high military position regardless of his lack of prior combat experience. Polk commanded troops in the Battles of Belmont, Shiloh, Perryville, Stones River, Chickamauga, and Meridian as well as several smaller engagements in Georgia leading up to Atlanta. Polk is remembered for his bitter disagreements with his immediate superior, the likewise-controversial General Braxton Bragg of the Army of Tennessee. In 1864, while serving under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston, Polk was killed by Union cannon fire as he observed General Sherman’s emplacements on the hills outside Atlanta."

Modern assessments of Polk's military ability and subordinate behavior have been almost overwhelmingly negative, so I will be very curious to read Horn's take on Polk's Civil War career. The description is coy about revealing any areas of major revisionist views. The 20-page bibliography gives off the vibe of deep research. The only negative thing that immediately jumps out is the complete absence of maps in the book, though that is less of a problem in high-level biographies like this one. Looking forward to reading it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Review - "France and the American Civil War: A Diplomatic History" by Steve Sainlaude

[France and the American Civil War: A Diplomatic History by Stève Sainlaude (University of North Carolina Press, 2019). Hardcover, photos, illustrations, notes, timeline, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xv,189/304. ISBN:978-1-4696-4994-8. $45]

During the American Civil War, Great Britain and Second Empire France were the two nations that the Confederacy desired diplomatic recognition from most. Both world powers had powerful militaries and were long-established trading partners with deep and complex shared histories with the North American continent. The language barrier to accessing essential source material combined with the widely held perception that Britain was by far the more diplomatically important of the two European empires has led U.S. scholars to focus mostly on the Anglo-American relationship. However, the recent work of Sorbonne historian Stève Sainlaude has accomplished much in the way of bridging this linguistic and interpretive gap in understanding. His scholarship produced from mastery of French archives has resulted in two award-winning books on French policy during the Civil War. Le gouvernement impérial et la guerre de Sécession (1861-1865): L'action diplomatique (2011) offers readers a general overview while La France et la Confédération sudiste. La question de la reconnaissance diplomatique pendant la guerre de Sécession (2011) examines Franco-Confederate relations at greater depth. With the assistance of translator Jessica Edwards, the Anglophone audience can now read a scholarly synthesis of those two earlier French-language works. Among other strengths, Sainlaude's France and the American Civil War: A Diplomatic History provides a much-needed counterpoint to the prevailing view that French diplomacy during the American Civil War had an influence clearly secondary to Britain's and looked to its neighbor across the channel to lead the way on U.S.-Confederate policy matters. Sailaude's study shows that France, while its foreign office clearly explored open cooperation with Britain to avoid geopolitical isolation, acted with far more self-interested independence than previously credited by most historians of Civil War period international relations. Though its title might suggest a broader approach to the topic, the book focuses most strongly on Franco-Confederate diplomatic interactions, where the author's particular scholarly expertise lies.

The study begins with a summary of France and Britain's declarations of neutrality, their positions on the blockade (and its effectiveness), and their granting of belligerency status to the new Confederacy. Other related issues, such as European worries over how both American combatants would respect the rights and protections of foreign citizens in a war zone, are also discussed. In addition to providing necessary British context to what is a study of French diplomacy, the section offers a fine introduction to the most significant points of international law that needed to be addressed by all nations concerned.

France's Emperor Napoleon III sympathized strongly with the Confederacy. This was accompanied by a deep personal antipathy felt toward the United States, an aristocratic disdain that apparently strengthened during his brief New York residency and travels in the North. However, Napoleon's personal desires were frequently in conflict with how the professional diplomats of France's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (the Quai d'Orsay) viewed the empire's interests best served. One of the book's strongest and most pervasive themes revolves around the successes Napoleon's chief diplomats had in thwarting the emperor's off and on efforts to promote recognition of the Confederacy through mediation—his bursts of initiative by no coincidence timed at key moments of perceived Confederate high tide in July 1862 and June 1863—as well as the emperor's desire to construct warships to sell to the Richmond government. In Sainlaude's view, Minister Thouvenel and his successor Drouyn de Lhuys were the chief and most effective guardians of French national interests during the war. Both men demonstrated uncommon bureaucratic skill in checking Napoleon's wilder impulses. They effectively blocked the emperor's pro-Confederate backdoor channels and consistently outmaneuvered badly outclassed Confederate diplomats; and they did this all while retaining the favor and good will of the emperor. Given their actions, it seems almost remarkable that neither was sacked. The author could find no good explanation for why Napoleon did not force the resignation of diplomats so opposed to his initiatives, but apparently the emperor deeply respected the bureaucratic professionalism of both men.

France diplomats also excelled in navigating the information war, effectively separating truth from propaganda in order to arrive at informed policy decisions. In the end, Sainlaude's sources reveal that French officials were remarkably well-informed on the resources, strengths, and weaknesses of the opposing sections and were able to feed accurate information to Paris throughout the war. The French were convinced relatively early on that the North would win as long as popular will held out, and they geared their diplomacy toward future relations with the United States on that basis. The book cites the wartime dispatches of Richmond consul and ardent Jefferson Davis critic Alfred Paul as particularly accurate and influential both in their astute assessment of the South's vulnerabilities and their remarkable prescience in predicting the course of the war. The author also points out several lesser appreciated areas, such as military and trade matters in the Far East, through which France viewed cooperation with the U.S. as important to maintain.

Sainlaude argues effectively in the book that the 1860s strength of French and British rapprochement (part of the off and on "entente cordiale" that existed during the nineteenth century beginning in 1830) has been overestimated in the historical literature. French ministers, far from reluctantly towing the British diplomatic line of restraint, opposed recognizing the Confederacy because it was best for French self interest. European concerns always held primacy, and even Napoleon himself came to see British naval power as more threatening to his own plans in the Americas (more on that later) than a unified and expansionist U.S. This concern touches upon another important theme of French diplomacy during the American Civil War, the truth that many of the most pressing issues lacked anything resembling a clear or consistent path to follow or "side" to take. Inherent contradictions in policy direction, particularly those related to the imperial venture in Mexico, all too often proved maddeningly impossible to resolve to the primary benefit of France.

Contrary to the how the matter has been traditionally expressed in the literature, Sainlaude's research in French archives and newspapers has revealed that popular sympathy with the plight of the southern people and the merits of the Confederate cause were by no means widespread in France. While the Confederacy had its defenders in the emperor and his backers, much evidence points toward the popular majority's rejection of southern attempts to paint themselves as a distinct, freedom-loving people of European-style refinement. Instead, the liberal press latched onto the inherent contradictions of freedom and slavery and generally decried the rebellion as unjustified, additionally seeing the South as violently aggressive and the Davis presidency unchecked and overly authoritarian (though the Lincoln administration was also sometimes criticized on similar grounds).

While slavery definitely harmed the image of the South in France and well-publicized events like the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin and the 1859 execution of John Brown had as much affect on popular antislavery feeling on the continent as it did in the North, the issue did not hold much sway in French diplomacy, which greatly favored practical national self-interest over humanitarian considerations. According the the author, this was a major difference in French versus British handling of how the institution might affect the possibility of official recognition. In Sainlaude's view, Napoleon III's ultimate turn away from support of the Confederacy was an act of shrewd pragmatism that gained him important friends among the large reform elements of the home population who during the war drew frequent parallels between southern oppression of blacks and imperial suppression of freedom in France.

When it came to carrying out Napoleon III's "Grand Design" of a French-led Pan-Latin geopolitical bloc in the western hemisphere that would serve to contain Anglo-American expansion (only part of which was the puppet government installed in Mexico) , the American Civil War proved to a source of both frustration and opportunity. While permanent division of the United States might have seemed to be an ideal situation for facilitating Napoloen's plan, it was full of potential pitfalls. Though the Confederates outwardly supported the French occupation of Mexico as part of its gambit for official recognition, the French quickly came to realize that southerners were just as hostile as the U.S. to a European presence on the continent (especially one on its very borders). Napoleon and his diplomats in North America also well knew that it was southern leaders who were chiefly behind antebellum filibustering expeditions launched from the U.S. Long-held southern dreams of annexing large portions of Central America and the Caribbean directly conflicted with Napoleon's plan to include those very same lands in his own new sphere of influence. French officials additionally found Confederate declarations that secession ended their need for southern expansion highly unconvincing. Napoleon and his ministers were also certain that recognition of the Confederacy would lead to war with the North, and the capability of the massive new U.S. Navy to interdict French shipping and lines of communication with its forces in Mexico deeply concerned them. In the end, Napoleon's best prospect was for a long Civil War that would exhaust both combatants and allow the French time to firmly establish themselves in Mexico, though hope in some circles that the U.S. might recognize Maximilian's government as a sign of appreciation for France's restrained Confederate policy was clearly a pipe dream.

Of course, any thought of recognizing the Confederacy or intervening in the conflict was highly dependent on French confidence in the Confederacy's ability to both defend and govern itself. Though early Confederate victories impressed many within the French government, the most astute observers of the war quickly saw the cracks in the veneer of southern strength and their doubts about whether the Rebel experiment in nation building could succeed quickly gained strength and influence over the next two years. By mid-1863 French consuls on the ground in America and diplomats in Paris collectively came to the conclusion that an independent southern nation was not viable, or even desirable. This was accompanied by the growing belief that some new federated arrangement was both inevitable and most compatible with French interests looking forward.

The book clearly recognizes that trade concerns were integral to foreign policy formulation, and it finds estimates of the South's value to France as a trading partner commonly exaggerated in the general literature. Through incisive citation of key economic facts and figures, Sainlaude's study shows southern cotton to be far from "king" when it came to trade with France. While the American Civil War caused significant economic disruption on the continent, France's textile industry (and overall population percentage that worked in jobs associated with cotton), though large, was only a fraction of Britain's. Like Britain, France held large cotton reserves at the start of the war and was able to replace a large part of any future deficit through other sources, though it hurt national pride to be dependent on British cotton. Potential social unrest was shrewdly deterred by a large infusion of public welfare spending, and the nature of the French textile industry (which, unlike Britain's, was still heavily craft-based) meant that workers could more readily turn to other sources of supplemental income. Added to all this, the blackmail perception of the initial southern cotton embargo angered the French public when their goodwill was most deeply prized. In contrast, French trade with the North in silks and other luxuries was an immensely lucrative part of the French export economy, and country was in turn heavily dependent on northern grain imports. If any trade relationship with North America was truly essential for France to maintain, it was the one with the United States.

France and the American Civil War represents an extremely significant contribution to the scholarly study of transatlantic international relations during the period. It will surely assume the position of the premier English-language study of French diplomacy during the Civil War period. Through judicious interpretation of previously neglected French sources, Stève Sainlaude's study offers U.S. readers a highly original, nuanced, and deeply persuasive portrait of French positions on the most important diplomatic issues associated with the Civil War. Providing clarity while wading through many apparent contradictions, the author convincingly explains why France's seemingly pro-Confederate authoritarian regime nevertheless rejected official recognition of the rebellious confederation and instead saw its present and future national interests best served by maintaining relations with the United States, a choice one might reasonably find at odds with the country's imperial designs in Mexico and other parts of the western hemisphere. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Booknotes: The Civil War on the Rio Grande, 1846-1876

New Arrival:
The Civil War on the Rio Grande, 1846-1876 edited by Roseann Bacha-Garza, Christopher L. Miller, and Russell K. Skowronek (TAMU Press, 2019).

The Civil War on the Rio Grande, 1846-1876 is the scholarly companion to Blue and Gray on the Border: The Rio Grande Valley Civil War Trail. In it editors Bacha-Garza, Miller, and Skowronek oversee a collection of essays that take a deeper look at themes first explored in the earlier trail guide. The anthology "provides the scholarly backbone to a larger public history project exploring three decades of ethnic conflict, shifting international alliances, and competing economic proxies at the border."

More from the description: "To understand the American Civil War in Texas also requires an understanding of the history of Mexico. The Civil War on the Rio Grande focuses on the region’s forced annexation from Mexico in 1848 through the Civil War and Reconstruction. In a very real sense, the Lower Rio Grande Valley was a microcosm not only of the United States but also of increasing globalization as revealed by the intersections of races, cultures, economic forces, historical dynamics, and individual destinies."

Among other topics, essays examine what life was like on the border during the Civil War, mixed-race colonies along the Rio Grande, the wartime cotton trade, the rivalry between Juan Cortina and Santos Benavides, the archaeology of Palmito Ranch, and the black military experience on the Texas-Mexico border (particularly during the first few years of Reconstruction).

Monday, April 8, 2019

Booknotes: Blue-Blooded Cavalryman

New Arrival:
Blue-Blooded Cavalryman: Captain William Brooke Rawle in the Army of the Potomac, May 1863–August 1865 edited by J. Gregory Acken (Kent St UP, 2019).

From the description: "In May 1863, eighteen-year-old William Brooke Rawle graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and traded a genteel, cultured life of privilege for service as a cavalry officer. Traveling from his home in Philadelphia to Virginia, he joined the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry and soon found himself in command of a company of veterans of two years’ service, some of whom were more than twice his age. Within eight weeks, he had participated in two of the largest cavalry battles of the war at Brandy Station and Gettysburg.

Brooke Rawle and the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry would serve with the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac through April 1864, fighting partisans and guerillas in Northern Virginia and also seeing action during the Bristoe Station and Mine Run battles of late 1863.
"

"A meticulous diarist and letter writer, Brooke Rawle documented nearly everything that came under his observant eye in 150 well-written letters home to his family." Edited by Gregory Acken, Blue-Blooded Cavalryman: Captain William Brooke Rawle in the Army of the Potomac, May 1863–August 1865 collects Rawle's wartime writings, which "provide a fascinating, richly detailed look into the life of a regimental cavalry officer during the last two years of the Civil War in the East." Acken has a good eye for interesting material and did a superb job editing the Signal Corps memoir of Capt. Louis Fortescue. We can surely expect the same quality of work here. In addition to providing extensive explanatory endnotes, Acken supplements and contextualizes the Rawle letters and diaries with lengthy book and chapter introductions while also inserting helpful bridging narrative throughout. Photographs are plentiful and the book also possesses a fine set of George Skoch maps.

In the last two volumes, the Civil War Strategies and Soldiers series has stretched its range to include edited diaries/letters. Relatively new (with now eight titles published since 2013), it's one of the best active series out there, and I always look forward to what's next.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Booknotes: Raising the White Flag

New Arrival:
Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War by David Silkenat (UNC Press, 2019).

I've been looking forward to getting my hands on David Silkenat's Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War ever since I first saw the title pop up. For all the bombastic rhetoric produced regarding never giving up or raising the black flag, surrender was certainly one of the war's most common experiences. "(B)oth Union and Confederate forces surrendered en masse on scores of ... occasions. Indeed, roughly one out of every four soldiers surrendered at some point during the conflict. In no other American war did surrender happen so frequently." Not intended to be an exhaustive register of every major surrender that took place during the conflict, the book more interestingly looks to "explain how Civil War era Americans understood surrender and how their attitudes evolved over the course of the conflict." (pg. 4)

Silkenat's 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 guerillas, 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."

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Review - "Rocks and Rifles: The Influence of Geology on Combat and Tactics during the American Civil War" by Scott Hippensteel

[ROCKS AND RIFLES: The Influence of Geology on Combat and Tactics during the American Civil War by Scott Hippensteel (Springer, 2019). Hardcover, maps, diagrams, tables, color and B&W photographs, footnotes, references, reading lists, index. Pages main/total:x,313/331. ISBN:978-3-030-00876-5. $109.99]

The growth of interdisciplinary studies has been one of the more refreshing developments in Civil War scholarship over the past few decades. For example, the intersection of conflict archaeology and traditional Civil War documentary research has yielded an abundance of fascinating and frequently eye-opening articles and books. More confined to the domain of specialist journals has been the investigation of how geology created tactically significant topographical features of all kinds and shaped how particular Civil War battles were fought. Synthesis and interpretation of much of this work on numerous battlefields can be found in geologist Scott Hippensteel's new book Rocks and Rifles: The Influence of Geology on Combat and Tactics during the American Civil War. Beginning with the fundamental truth that the diverse landscapes upon which Civil War battles were fought were products of varying geological processes and differential weathering (both physical and chemical) that occurred over eons of time, the book explores how this geology specifically influenced the course and conduct of a select group of battles. By contrasting major differences in rock types underlying numerous Civil War battlefields, the book also attempts to show how such formations helped shape warfare at multiple scales—strategic, operational, and tactical.

Hippensteel's study begins with a brief introduction to the geological history of the eastern United States that provides readers with some helpful basic 'rules' regarding what kinds of surface terrain features are the typical result of the weathering of particular rock types and sub-types. The author also defines the five geological "provinces" (Appalachian Plateau, Valley and Ridge, Blue Ridge, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain) that make up the continental landscape east of the SW-NE running Appalachian mountain range and summarizes some general effects the major characteristics of each province had on military operations. For example, Piedmont geology generally offered both armies rolling and/or undulating ground well suited for fighting large, open battles with constraints to mass movements provided mostly by rivers. In terms of judging terrain by how well it aided defense, Piedmont geology regularly produced highly defensible ridges (the result of igneous rock intrusions) for Civil War armies to exploit as well as large expanses of ground containing deep, loose (but still adhesive) soils excellent for rapid earthwork construction.

Though most Civil War battlefields were underlain by more than one type of rock, Hippensteel organizes his largely self-contained discussions of eastern and western theater battles (ten chapters in total) around the most consequential of the earth's three basic rock categories: igneous (Second Manassas, Gettysburg), metamorphic (South Mountain, Spotsylvania Court House, Kennesaw Mountain) and sedimentary (Antietam, Fredericksburg, Stones River, Petersburg, Morris Island). Within each chapter is a strategic-level background overview and operational and tactical summaries of the battle under consideration. These sections are accompanied by a natural history of the geology of the battlefield and surrounding area along with a more focused examination of those tactical aspects of the battle most affected by geology. In discussing "tactical" influences in the book the author is not referring to particular small unit or formation-level innovations designed to overcome or exploit specific geological features but rather the tactical-scale effects of the terrain geology. For the purposes of the review, the following three paragraphs will discuss one battle from each rock grouping. This should be sufficient to provide potential readers with a sense of the kind of interpretation and analysis present in the book.

While the Union error of not securing the Thoroughfare Gap passage cut through the metamorphic quartzite ridges that surrounded it greatly aided the Confederate victory at Second Manassas, it was the igneous rock diabase ridge occupied by Stonewall Jackson's Corps that provided the tactical focal point of the battle. The long strip of rocky high ground allowed Jackson's men to withstand wave after wave of Union assaults, but geology also provided opportunity to the attackers. The two most dangerous threats to Jackson's line achieved by the Federals illustrate well a common truth that points of contact between different rock types often formed the most vulnerable areas of any defensive position. In this case, two stretches of lower ground existed along the unfinished railroad grade where the erosion-resistant igneous diabase gave way to the softer sedimentary deposits that formed the eastern part of the battlefield. The fighting at Second Manassas also produced the war's best and most vivid example of the tactical use of geology at the level of the individual, when Confederate soldiers threw large rocks at the Union attackers after their ammunition was exhausted.

The Spotsylvania battlefield sits atop "a confusing mess of ancient metamorphic and igneous rocks, fractured and folded to the point where their age and origin remain incompletely understood." (pg. 120). On the strategic and operational levels of the Overland Campaign, the more logistically friendly coastal plain meant that Grant would always favor bypassing the enemy's eastern flank, though he would still have to contend with the disadvantageous directional flow of the region's rivers. On a tactical level, Spotsylvania had two salient geological features that greatly affected how the battle was fought. The differential weathering of the metamorphic rock atop which sat Laurel Hill created a natural defensive position that was critical to repelling Union attacks there. Also, the metamorphic and igneo-metamorphic rocks in the area weathered to produced soils ideal for digging trenches and maintaining them without extensive revetment. This geology was essential to the survival of Lee's army when the collapse of the Mule Shoe salient necessitated a rapid in-battle creation of a new defensive line across its base. On the other side, the contact point between two rock formations produced a swale that allowed Union forces (on both May 10 and 12) to successfully cross open ground to attack the famous salient, the creation of which was itself influenced by the need to occupy higher ground produced by the same effects of two rock units coming together.

Finally, any serious visitor to the Stones River battlefield is unlikely to forget the natural trenches created by the sedimentary limestone karrens formed there and used by Union general Philip Sheridan's division to repulse repeated assaults on December 31. Though only a meter deep the rock formation effectively shielded Sheridan's infantry, whose sustained occupation of the sector significantly disrupted the enemy attack. Less visible limestone outcrops also affected other parts of the battlefield, either by making entrenchment impossible for defenders or by creating isolated tactically-significant plots of land like the Round Forest. The latter could not be easily cleared for either agriculture or pasturage and thus were left rugged and timbered, making them difficult ground to attack.

Complaints primarily revolve around the volume's editing problems. The book is riddled with typos and more ruthless editing might also have effectively reduced some of the more unnecessary content repetition. Fortunately, these distractions are largely offset by more positive aspects of the book's overall presentation, which includes a rather extraordinary collection of supplementary features. The book's pages fairly burst with photographs (b&w and color), maps, tables, charts, and diagrams, all usefully connected to the text.

If you're like most readers with little geology knowledge beyond middle school earth science and the three basic rock categories (igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary), the nomenclature presented in the book can be a bit daunting in places. However, the background help is far from unforgiving and astute readers lacking an advanced grounding in geology should have little problem absorbing a reasonable understanding of the main concepts through context and occasional search engine assistance.

Authors are, of course, free to pursue their own interests, but it deserves mention that the book's limited geographical spread only tells part of the geological story of the Civil War. Several prominent examples of visible geology affecting Trans-Mississippi campaigns and battles spring to mind. The bluffs, rock ridges, and deep hollows intersecting the Pea Ridge battlefield in Arkansas to a great degree shaped the course of that battle and the geological legacy of the New Madrid Fault Line certainly influenced General John Pope's Island No. 10 campaign.

Overall, Scott Hippensteel's Rocks and Rifles succeeds admirably in bringing a renewed appreciation of geology to Civil War military history. It is certainly true that intimate knowledge of the ground is an essential prerequisite for comprehensive mastery of any given battle history, and Hippensteel's study offers readers and experts alike a series of fresh and informed glimpses of yet another layer of understanding.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Booknotes: Lincoln, Seward, and US Foreign Relations in the Civil War Era

New Arrival:
Lincoln, Seward, and US Foreign Relations in the Civil War Era by Joseph A. Fry
  (UP of Ky, 2019).

The diplomacy of Secretary of State William Seward has often been portrayed as dangerously militant during key moments of the American Civil War, but Joseph Fry's Lincoln, Seward, and US Foreign Relations in the Civil War Era sees the Lincoln-Seward partnership as not only having effectively navigated numerous wartime crises but prepared the foundation for a bright national future. "These unlikely allies, who began as rivals during the 1860 presidential nomination, helped ensure that America remained united and prospered in the aftermath of the nation's consuming war."

In the book, Fry "examines the foreign policy decisions that resulted from this partnership and the legacy of those decisions. Lincoln and Seward, despite differences in upbringing, personality, and social status, both adamantly believed in the preservation of the union and the need to stymie slavery. They made that conviction the cornerstone of their policies abroad, and through those policies, such as Seward threatening war with any nation that intervened in the Civil War, they prevented European intervention that could have led to Northern defeat. The Union victory allowed America to resume imperial expansion, a dynamic that Seward sustained beyond Lincoln's death during his tenure as President Andrew Johnson's Secretary of State."

More: "Fry's analysis of the Civil War from an international perspective and the legacy of US policy decisions provides a more complete view of the war and a deeper understanding of this crucial juncture in American history."

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Booknotes: The Autobiography of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren

New Arrival:
The Autobiography of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren edited by Peter C. Luebke
  (NHHC, 2019).

Rear Admiral John Adolphus Bernard Dahlgren was a major Civil War naval officer whose squadron command tenure in the South Atlantic was not without controversy. Addressing critics of his actions off Charleston was one of the reasons behind the writing of his 279-page autobiography, which currently resides in the archive collections of the Navy Department Library located at the Washington Naval Yard. As far as I know, The Autobiography of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren (No. 8: Contributions to Naval History series, Naval History and Heritage Command) is the first version of the manuscript to appear in print.

From the description: "Dahlgren’s legacy in the Navy was profound and lasting, primarily for his role in designing and developing the weapons and ammunition that enabled the Union Navy to emerge victorious at sea and on the inland waterways during the Civil War. Because of this, when the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren was established during World War I in 1918, and which to this day designs and tests most of the Navy’s shipboard weapons, it was named in honor of John A. Dahlgren."

In addition to transcribing the manuscript in full, editor Peter Luebke contributes an introduction, footnotes, a pair of appendices, and index. The first appendix is a copy of a letter from General W.T. Sherman to Dahlgren, which defends Dahlgren from one of his major critics, Maj. Gen. Quincy Gillmore. The other appendix consists of Dahlgren's own lengthy description of the Charleston harbor defenses, which was originally written for historian John Draper and is more detailed than the one contained in the autobiography. 

The seven-chapter manuscript itself largely focuses on Dahlgren's Civil War career but also touches upon his early life and antebellum ordnance department work. The volume also contains numerous archival photographs, maps, and drawings.

Apparently hard copies of the book are available for purchase from the government printing office, but I couldn't get the link to work. Anyway, you can access a free .pdf version by clicking here.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Author Q&A: Cory Pfarr and "Longstreet at Gettysburg: A Critical Reassessment"

While I get the impression that the majority of Civil War historians and readers today hold generally positive views overall regarding the generalship of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, some sticking points remain. With Gettysburg enshrined as the great battle and turning point of the war, postwar southern partisans searching for someone other than Lee to blame for the costly Confederate defeat found a convenient target in Longstreet. Many of these early critics had a lasting influence in the public mind and in print. In his newly released book Longstreet at Gettysburg: A Critical Reassessment (McFarland, 2019) author Cory Pfarr "argues that Longstreet's record has been discredited unfairly, beginning with character assassination by his contemporaries after the war and, persistently, by historians in the decades since." His book aims to present readers with "an alternative view of Longstreet as an effective military leader," and refute "over a century of negative evaluations of his performance." Mr. Pfarr has graciously agreed to join CWBA for an Author Q&A session.

DW: Welcome, Cory. Your book description (and I realize you didn't write it) states that Longstreet at Gettysburg is the first truly in-depth treatment of the topic. I couldn’t come up with anything to challenge that until a reader reminded me of Glenn Tucker’s Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg (1968). First, what is your opinion of Tucker’s book, and, second, are you surprised there haven’t been multiple studies of this sort produced by now?

CF: I have a very high opinion of Glenn Tucker’s work, both his High Tide at Gettysburg (1958) and Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg (1968). I think they are two of the best works published to date on the Longstreet-Gettysburg controversy and of the battle in general, and they are thankfully absent much of the group-think analysis (especially when it comes to the Confederate side) present in many published works on Gettysburg before and since. It is often quite surprising to me that even when Gettysburg historians oftentimes cite Tucker in their bibliographies, their works frequently do not actually reflect much of Tucker’s astute analysis–perhaps likely for the very unfortunate reason he was not an academic historian. Tucker was and has been a relatively lesser-known diamond in the rough for Gettysburg scholarship. Interestingly, William Garrett Piston’s original full advance review for my book started with “Cory M. Pfarr is a worthy successor to Glenn Tucker…” The publisher edited out this reference, likely and tellingly because they probably thought not many people would know who Glenn Tucker was.

Tucker should be given significant credit for beginning the restoration of Longstreet’s military reputation, especially when it comes to the general’s performance at Gettysburg, which had been inaccurately and unfairly pilloried by a number of high-profile historians after Longstreet’s death in 1904, namely Douglas Southall Freeman, Bruce Catton, Clifford Dowdey, and Edwin Coddington.

Though Tucker’s Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg examines a few of the same controversies discussed in my book, I think readers will come to find Longstreet at Gettysburg: A Critical Reassessment is appropriately described as “the first book-length analysis” of Longstreet’s actions at Gettysburg. I have always considered Tucker’s 1968 work as more a series of essays and never specifically intended to be a cohesive analysis of Longstreet’s performance at the battle–in fact, the foreword describes the book as a “supplement” to High Tide at Gettysburg, born out of a “ripening appreciation of the competent but largely unrecognized service of some of Lee’s generals,” not just Longstreet. There are several chapters in Tucker’s book, perhaps eight or nine, that have little to do with Longstreet directly. In no way is that statement a critique of the work; to the contrary, I am simply pointing out the differences between Tucker’s book and my own.

Additionally, a large part of what makes Longstreet at Gettysburg unique is its historiographical analysis of how many modern historians since Tucker’s time have for the most part continued to perpetuate and lend credence to the same anti-Longstreet arguments advanced in the postwar years (after Lee’s death in 1870) and by the aforementioned historians in the early-to-mid twentieth century.

On your second question—yes, I was surprised that by the time I decided to take on this project in December 2014 no book had yet been written to specifically cover the topic of Longstreet at Gettysburg. As I began the research phase and spent over a year examining primary sources for the book, it became quite clear to me that most general histories of the battle and books about Longstreet that sought to examine his actions at Gettysburg have seemingly ranged in accuracy from imprecise to erroneous, and from partiality to conjecture. It was especially surprising to me that no one had yet seen fit to address several inaccuracies on the topic comprehensively and on a point-by-point basis. It is my belief this absence of a precise analysis of Longstreet’s significant role at Gettysburg, unfortunately for students of the war, has long produced a skewed understanding of the battle as a whole. It is my hope that future Gettysburg scholarship will change course and not repeat several obvious and some not-so-obvious missteps when addressing Longstreet’s Gettysburg performance.


DW: Can you talk a little bit about the source(s) that most influenced your own position on Longstreet’s generalship at Gettysburg? Is there any particular historian whose views most closely align with your own?

CF: I would start first and foremost with the primary source record, especially E.P. Alexander’s postwar memoirs, Military Memoirs of a Confederate and Fighting for the Confederacy, along with Lafayette McLaws’ plentiful postwar writings on the subject. That said, contrary to how many historians have described Alexander’s writings over the years, they are not devoid of glaring contradictions from one account to the next. In not recognizing or pointing out these differences, historians have neglected to afford students of the war with a precise and comprehensive analysis of key controversial events having to do with Longstreet at Gettysburg, especially the First Corps March on the Second Day and the night of July 2 issue over whether Longstreet received specific attack orders for July 3 during the overnight hours. Likewise, historians who are critical of Longstreet’s actions at Gettysburg have regularly drawn attention to McLaws’ post-battle letter to his wife about his thoughts on his chief’s Gettysburg performance (there is a whole chapter in the book specifically devoted to this letter), while leaving out crucial analysis McLaws provided in the postwar years that regularly contradict that letter. In fact, Robert Krick, Longstreet’s most scathing modern critic by far, has stated that McLaws provided “key testimony” on Longstreet at Gettysburg; however, on a subject like the First Corps March where McLaws validated Longstreet’s claims at every turn, for whatever reason, Krick did not see fit to draw attention to McLaws’ “key testimony.” I will let critical readers speculate as to why.

Additionally, and I know this will likely trigger some in the historical community and those who still support the Lost Cause ideology on Lee’s Warhorse, Longstreet’s postwar writings are vastly underrated as reliable sources. Indeed, many historians seem to have fallen hook, line, and sinker for the postwar Lost Cause, anti-Longstreet group argument that his writings cannot be trusted and differed greatly from one account to the next. To the contrary and based on my reading of all of Longstreet’s postwar accounts on the battle in detail, they are on the whole reliable and consistent. This begs to question, have many historians actually read these accounts before casting judgment on them, or are they seemingly trusting what their peers have said in other secondary sources? The two historians who I know for certain have read them in full are Glenn Tucker and William Garrett Piston. Indeed, in perhaps my favorite quote from Tucker’s Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg, he states of historians’ treatment of Longstreet’s postwar writings, “Dwelling on the minor variations smacks of pettifoggery.” Likewise, William Garrett Piston writes of them, “While his account of the battle was not without errors, it was essentially accurate. Indeed, his writings might have won considerable approval had he taken into account, when composing them, that Lee had become a saint.” To quickly answer your second question, as far as secondary sources on Longstreet’s performance at Gettysburg, Tucker and Piston’s views most closely align with my own. Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention Helen Longstreet’s work, Lee and Longstreet at High Tide, which offers many shrewd observations and astute analyses of Longstreet’s actions at Gettysburg. Again, for whatever reason, her thoughts have rarely, if ever, been mentioned in histories of the battle.


DW: Just for the sake of framing the overall scope of discussion, can you briefly list the most significant criticisms leveled against Longstreet (then and now) for his conduct during the Gettysburg Campaign?

CF: The most significant allegations leveled at Longstreet’s performance during the Gettysburg Campaign (additional lesser accusations are also covered in my book) are as follows:
• Longstreet was inconsistent, exaggerated, or lied in the postwar years about his pre-campaign discussions with Lee regarding the intended tactical approach for a general battle.
• Longstreet’s divisions of Hood and McLaws were slow to reach the battlefield on July 1, precluding Lee from launching an attack on Cemetery Hill in the evening hours.
• Longstreet intentionally dragged his feet and sulked throughout the morning of July 2 because Lee did not adopt his tactical suggestions on the evening of July 1 and early morning of July 2. Longstreet critics allege Lee intended and was ready to attack in the morning hours, and that the Confederates would have been more successful if they would have launched their attack in the morning.
• Longstreet relinquished command of his corps to Captain Samuel Johnston, Lee’s engineer who had conducted numerous reconnaissance of the extreme Confederate right, during the First Corps march on July 2. Critics allege Lee did not order Johnston to guide the First Corps column on a concealed march to the extreme Confederate right.
• Longstreet should have used E.P. Alexander’s “path across fields” near Black Horse Tavern during the First Corps March on July 2, instead of countermarching.
• Longstreet ignored attack orders for July 3 he allegedly received during the overnight hours of July 2, and as a result delayed the Confederate’s July 3 attack.
• Longstreet did not make necessary preparations to support the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge with advanced artillery and additional infantry support, as was allegedly ordered.

DW: Which ones do you feel still hold sway with today’s readers?

CF: Because readers have been so heavily inundated with much of the same group-think analyses for well over a century about the lead up to Longstreet’s July 2 attack, I think allegations leveled at the general over the morning of the Second Day and the First Corps divisions’ march and countermarch on the afternoon of the 2nd have been the most enduring by far. More widespread attacks on Longstreet over the Third Day are a bit of a more recent development, especially the controversy over whether Longstreet received attack orders during the overnight hours of July 2. Along with that charge, the claim Longstreet was inconsistent, exaggerated, or lied about his pre-campaign discussions with Lee over tactics probably rounds out the top accusations against Lee’s Warhorse that have held the most sway over readers.


DW: Readers and authors alike have developed a habit for labeling historians as pro-X or anti-X when it comes to assessing controversial Civil War generals. Was that something you consciously avoided in your book?

CF: Yes, I did, as much as possible. Though I do use the term “pro-Longstreet” or “anti-Longstreet” in some instances in the book, it was only with the intention of using a different term to describe those who have been more supportive or critical of the General. In Gary Gallagher’s Acknowledgements section to E.P. Alexander’s Fighting for the Confederacy, he actually describes Robert Krick as a “confirmed Jackson and Lee man.” I think that dividing authors up by pro and anti-camps is detrimental to the reader’s experience and inhibits their ability to objectively and critically judge a work on its own merits. Indeed, for me, I respect both Jackson and Longstreet’s accomplishments during the war and acknowledge that both also made their fair share of mistakes. I think a number of historians have perhaps not shown they possess the same agenda-less approach in their own works. Many historians have seen fit to regularly advance their opinion that Longstreet exaggerated his role and accomplishments in the Army of Northern Virginia in some of his postwar writings, especially his memoirs, From Manassas to Appomattox. That claim may be true to a certain extent (and I point out a few examples toward the end of my book), but those same historians must equally, if not more so, acknowledge that Lee and Jackson’s wartime accomplishments have frequently been exaggerated and overblown in dozens of studies over the last century.


DW: You divide your analysis into three main sections: (1) the campaign from inception through the end of Gettysburg Day 1, (2) Gettysburg Day 2, and (3) Gettysburg Day 3, so that might be a convenient way to divide up the next question. For the period of time encompassing the beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign through the end of July 1, can you point out a particular historical charge that you feel unjustified in its condemnation of Longstreet and talk a little bit about how your book addresses the topic?

CF: Many postwar writers and historians since have sought to discredit Longstreet’s post-battle and postwar contentions that he and Lee had come to an understanding that the guiding principles for the campaign should be strategically offensive and tactically defensive. Instead of focusing on how consistent Longstreet was in all of his accounts—ranging from his July 24, 1863 letter to his Uncle Augustus to his 1895 memoirs—that the army should conduct a campaign based on the strategic offensive and tactical defensive, while seeking to identify good ground between the federal army and Washington and receive their attack, many historians have decided to focus on the actual language Longstreet used in his writings, deeming it egotistic, like his use of “I [Longstreet] then accepted” or “to this he [Lee] readily assented.” Longstreet employed numerous ghost writers in the postwar years and the use of many specific words and phrases were very likely not his own; though, regardless of that fact, historians seem to brush over the main takeaway point that Longstreet’s claims were essentially consistent throughout all of his post-battle writings on the topic: offensive in strategy, defensive in tactics. Some historians have even gone further and tried to prove Lee and Longstreet never came to this understanding by way of two primary sources that have either been misread or deliberately misused multiple times, by multiple authors: Longstreet’s pre-campaign letter to Texas Senator Louis T. Wigfall and William Allan’s 1868 interview of Robert E. Lee. I analyze each of these primary sources in-depth and attempt to point out how historians have clearly misrepresented them to students of the war.


DW: Please do the same for Longstreet and July 2.

CF: After Jubal Early and William Pendleton’s July 2 “Sunrise Attack” theory—the opening salvo against Longstreet over his alleged actions at Gettysburg made shortly after Lee’s death—was quickly and soundly debunked in the mid-1870s by numerous other ex-Confederate officers, a more subtle, alluring, and lasting allegation was concocted. The Lost Cause, anti-Longstreet group pivoted to the accusation that Longstreet dragged his feet during the morning hours and sulked over Lee’s non-adoption of his tactical suggestions. They claimed Longstreet’s obstinacy and slowness delayed Lee’s intended morning attack plan. This overarching claim is addressed in my book over the course of multiple chapters by emphasizing that Lee may have intended for many things for July 2, but he was never ready to issue attack orders until he ultimately did around the 11 a.m. hour. I discuss at length how numerous reconnaissance missions were conducted during the morning hours, which ultimately produced an inaccurate understanding of the Federal flank’s location and led to the misconceived plan of attacking “up the Emmitsburg Road,” where realistically there was no sizable Federal force until the 3 p.m. hour. Indeed, the ramifications of an attack up the Emmitsburg Road before that hour likely would have turned out very poorly for the Confederates, with multiple Federal corps on Cemetery Ridge staring down the assaulting battle line’s flank.

Additionally, the book goes into extensive particulars about Lee’s prolonged uncertainty about keeping Ewell’s corps positioned north and northeast of Cemetery Hill (and potentially moving it around to the right to reinforce an attack from there or maneuver further south in line with Longstreet’s suggestion). It also addresses his secondary hesitation as to whether they should initiate an attack from their left or right flank. Lastly, contrary to how many historians have framed Longstreet’s request to wait for Law’s brigade of Hood’s division before starting his men off to the right, this was not a unilateral decision, but rather stamped with Lee’s express approval.


DW: And how about for July 3?

CF: The most controversial issue involving Longstreet’s actions on July 3 were during the overnight hours. My book has an entire lengthy chapter devoted to this topic. To frame the controversy briefly, Longstreet critics have held that Lee sent his Warhorse specific orders on the night of July 2 to resume the attack over essentially the same ground sometime in the morning of July 3. The only account of this alleged order is Lee’s after-battle report stating that “the general plan was unchanged” from July 2, whereby instead of two-and-a-half fresh divisions attacking the Federal left as had occurred on the Second Day, now one fresh division would support Hood’s (Law) and McLaws’ spent divisions in a resumed attack on an even more solidified and reinforced Federal left. Some historians have even ventured to prove Longstreet received orders by way of using claims from one of E.P. Alexander’s memoirs, Fighting for the Confederacy. These same historians seemingly ignore Alexander’s other major postwar account, Military Memoirs of a Confederate, which is at complete variance with Fighting on this topic. My book not only analyzes the widespread differences between both of Alexander’s postwar accounts on this issue, but also addresses and challenges the specific details presented in Fighting.

In all actuality, there is absolutely no proof Longstreet received any specific order during the overnight hours of July 2, other than Lee was planning to resume the offensive on July 3. In the absence of those specifics, Longstreet explored his options as to how he thought the Confederates could effectively resume the offensive on July 3; that is, until he met with Lee in the early morning hours of July 3. After a brief discussion, where Longstreet simply pointed out Hood and McLaws were the army’s right flank, Lee dismissed his original plan and immediately proposed a new multi-corps venture against the Federal center that ultimately turned out to be known as the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge.


DW: Of course, no high-ranking general puts in a perfect performance during any extended campaign. What do you see as Longstreet’s chief Gettysburg “sins”?

CF: The first of two “sins” that stand out most to me was Longstreet’s support of “Stuart’s Ride” on June 22, 1863. Even though Longstreet recognized the error of the cavalry operation probably shortly thereafter and certainly in the postwar years, it is clear he supported it in mid-June, wrongly believing Stuart’s movement to the east would obscure the army’s larger movement north. That said, Lee’s supplementary order to Stuart on June 23 should have served to control the extent to which Stuart might insist on making the ride around the Federal army even if he encountered obvious hindrance. In not abiding by this supplementary order, Stuart left Lee without the only cavalry officer he wanted to depend on during the campaign.

The second mistake is dependent on if Longstreet actually received specific orders from Lee during the overnight hours of July 2, which is currently uncorroborated. If Longstreet did indeed receive orders to attack in the early morning hours of July 3, he did not give Pickett’s division the proper attention in having them ready to support a renewed assault on the Federal left.

Many historians would likely question my leaving out the execution of the July 3 Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble assault to Longstreet’s list of mistakes, though I have several chapters addressing allegations and issues routinely brought up in the past, namely the principal issues of advanced main artillery line support (impractical) and alleged additional infantry support (dependent on observed success made by the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble attack).


DW: What did Longstreet do most right or most effectively at Gettysburg?

CF: I think it is beyond dispute that Longstreet delivered a crushing assault on July 2, despite all of the obstacles the Confederates faced during the morning and early afternoon hours, to include finally settling on an attack plan, getting the men to their jump-off points, and then refashioning an attack plan essentially on-the-fly upon discovering the Federal left flank was not anchored on Cemetery Hill, which is what the “attack up the Emmitsburg Road” attack plan presupposed. As I think Allen Guelzo correctly points out in his Gettysburg study, Longstreet’s July 2 attack should at the very least be considered as admirable an achievement as Jackson’s Chancellorsville flank assault, with both experiencing similar issues and odds.


DW: Finally, where do you rank Longstreet on the list of Confederate lieutenant generals, and do you believe he was an overlooked option for army command?

CF: I would rank Longstreet and Jackson at the top. I do not think a more talented high command existed in a Confederate army than the one that made up the Army of Northern Virginia from August 1862 to May 1863 with Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson. I do think Longstreet was probably overlooked for army command, especially after the Battle of Chickamauga. I do not put much stock in the poor results of the Knoxville Campaign as a basis for judging Longstreet’s ability for army command, which was essentially precipitated by Braxton Bragg simply as a way of ridding himself of Longstreet after the latter (and others) had expressed deep misgivings about the former’s fitness as an army commander post-Chickamauga.


DW: Thanks, Cory! Readers, once again the title of the book is Longstreet at Gettysburg: A Critical Reassessment, published last month by McFarland.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Booknotes: The Last Battleground

New Arrival:
The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina by Philip Gerard
  (UNC Press, 2019).

During the Sesquicentennial, the Civil War stories of fifty individuals of varying backgrounds were published on a monthly basis in the magazine Our State: Celebrating North Carolina. Their author, UNC-Wilmington creative writing professor Philip Gerard, has now anthologized the articles in book form under the title The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina.

"Distilled" from the original collection, the forty-three chapters comprising The Last Battleground are not narrative biography composed in the traditional format. What the reader will immediately notice is the present tense writing, "reporting the war as if it were happening in the present rather than with settled hindsight--to capture the dreadful suspense of lives caught up in a conflict whose ending had not yet been written."

Another goal of the project was to present the ground-level picture of Civil War North Carolina using the broadest sweep of actors possible. "To understand the long march of events in North Carolina from secession to surrender is to understand the entire Civil War--a personal war waged by Confederates and Unionists, free blacks and the enslaved, farm women and plantation belles, Cherokees and mountaineers, conscripts and volunteers, gentleman officers and poor privates. In the state's complex loyalties, its sprawling and diverse geography, and its dual role as a home front and a battlefield, North Carolina embodies the essence of the whole epic struggle in all its terrible glory."

More: "As Gerard reveals, whatever the grand political causes for war, whatever great battles decided its outcome, and however abstract it might seem to readers a century and a half later, the war was always personal."

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Booknotes: The Seventh West Virginia Infantry

New Arrival:
The Seventh West Virginia Infantry: An Embattled Union Regiment from the Civil War's Most Divided State by David W. Mellott and Mark A. Snell (UP of Kansas, 2019).

"Though calling itself “The Bloody Seventh” after only a few minor skirmishes, the Seventh West Virginia Infantry earned its nickname many times over during the course of the Civil War. Fighting in more battles and suffering more losses than any other West Virginia regiment, the unit was the most embattled Union regiment in the most divided state in the war. Its story, as it unfolds in" David Mellott and Mark Snell's The Seventh West Virginia Infantry: An Embattled Union Regiment from the Civil War's Most Divided State, "is a key chapter in the history of West Virginia, the only state created as a direct result of the Civil War. It is also the story of the citizen soldiers, most of them from Appalachia, caught up in the bloodiest conflict in American history."

Though the regiment spent the early months of the war in the western Virginia highlands securing the B&O Railroad and other vital points, it was transferred east to the Army of the Potomac in 1862. It "fought in the major campaigns in the eastern theater, from Winchester, Antietam, and Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Petersburg." Integrating military, political, and social history, the study certainly appears to have all the qualities readers expect from better quality modern regimental histories. The Seventh West Virginia Infantry "details strategy, tactics, battles, campaigns, leaders, and the travails of the rank and file. It also examines the circumstances surrounding events, mundane and momentous alike such as the soldiers’ views on the Emancipation Proclamation, West Virginia Statehood, and Lincoln’s re-election."

Along with the rest, a rich portrait of those who fought with the Seventh also emerges from the study. "The product of decades of research, the book uses statistical analysis to profile the Seventh’s soldiers from a socio-economic, military, medical, and personal point of view; even as its authors consult dozens of primary sources, including soldiers’ living descendants, to put a human face on these “sons of the mountains.” The result is a multilayered view, unique in its scope and depth, of a singular Union regiment on and off the Civil War battlefield—its beginnings, its role in the war, and its place in history and memory." This soldier information is sprinkled throughout, but the appendix section is also used for additional data presentation, with an age distribution graph and a trio of pie charts depicting birthplace, occupation categories, and hospitalization stats. Numerous photographs are included along with eleven maps.