Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Giving thanks

As the current year winds down and another decade begins, I would like to say thanks to all the publishers and individuals who sent me books for review consideration on the site in 2019. Without that, CWBA as it is would not be possible. Also much appreciated are those readers who continue to make online purchases through links on the site. A special thank you goes out to the supporting sponsors, two of which have been with CWBA continuously for many years. Just as highly valued is the site's small group of direct book fund donors. Due to privacy concerns I won't reveal anyone's name, but rest assured I truly do consider any amount of giving an act of exceptional generosity.

Happy New Year! to everyone, and on to 2020.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Booknotes: Bull Run to Boer War

New Arrival:
Bull Run to Boer War: How the American Civil War Changed the British Army by Michael Somerville (Helion & Co, 2019).

From the description: "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." Michael Somerville's Bull Run to Boer War: How the American Civil War Changed the British Army "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."

The standard survey history of how European military observers interpreted the American Civil War is Jay Luvaas's 1959 book The Military Legacy of the Civil War: The European Inheritance. The first chapter of Bull Run to Boer War reassesses Luvaas's place in the historiography and the second reexamines the firsthand experiences of the conflict's British observers. Successive chapters consist of numerous topical discussions of Civil War lessons in the areas of artillery, military engineering, cavalry, infantry tactics, military ballooning, and railroads.

More from the description: "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, December 27, 2019

Booknotes: Caught in the Maelstrom

New Arrival:
Caught in the Maelstrom: The Indian Nations in the Civil War, 1861-1865 by Clint Crowe (Savas Beatie, 2019).

By most estimates, the Five "Civilized" Nations (the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes) had by 1860 recovered from their traumatic removal and distant relocation as well as could be expected under the circumstances, and the situation of many Indian Territory residents at the time could be described as prosperous. Though wary neutrality was the preferred stance of most leaders, being situated squarely between the warring Union and Confederate factions meant that sitting out the American Civil War was not an option. The scale of human suffering and material destruction that ensued within the borders of Indian Territory and beyond remains underappreciated by most general Civil War histories.

Based on his dissertation and "grounded upon a plethora of archival resources, newspapers, diaries, letter collections, and other accounts," historian Clint Crowe's Caught in the Maelstrom: The Indian Nations in the Civil War, 1861-1865 "reveals the complexity and the importance of this war within a war, and explains how it affected the surrounding states in the Trans-Mississippi West and the course of the broader war engulfing the country." "Throughout, Union and Confederate authorities played on divisions within the tribes to further their own strategic goals by enlisting men, signing treaties, encouraging bloodshed, and even using the hard hand of war to turn a profit."

The main focus of Crowe's study appears to be on military events in Indian Territory, Missouri, and Arkansas that had strong Five Nations representation on either side, but cultural, social, and political aspects of the Civil War experience (including prewar tribal divisions over removal, secret society membership, alliance debates and negotiations, the war refugee crisis, and Reconstruction) are also discussed. 

Though the situation has improved of late, the literature isn't exactly swimming in modern books covering this kind of Civil War subject matter [if you're looking for worthwhile titles of most recent vintage, I would recommend When the Wolf Came: The Civil War and the Indian Territory (2013) by Mary Jane Warde and the essay anthology The Civil War and Reconstruction in Indian Territory (2015) edited by Bradley Clampitt], and I'm looking forward to reading this new one.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Coming Soon (Jan '20 Edition)

*NEW RELEASES* Scheduled for January 2020:
American Zouaves, 1859-1959: An Illustrated History by Daniel Miller.
Household War: How Americans Lived and Fought the Civil War edited by Frank & Whites.
When It Was Grand: The Radical Republican History of the Civil War by LeeAnna Keith.
Jefferson Davis, Napoleonic France, and the Nature of Confederate Ideology, 1815-1870 by Jeffrey Zvengrowski.
The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863 by Timothy Smith.

Comments: That's not a big list of possibilities for next month, but I still have ten to twelve late-November through December releases (several of which I'm pretty excited about) that haven't arrived yet.

Monday, December 23, 2019

2019 Civil War book awards list

Tom Watson Brown Award:
Amy Murrell Taylor for Embattled Freedom: Journeys through The Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps (UNC Press).

Bobbie and John Nau Book Prize in American Civil War Era History:
Amy Murrell Taylor for Embattled Freedom: Journeys through The Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps (UNC Press).

A.M. Pate Award:
Kenneth Lyftogt for Iowa in the Civil War; Volume 1: Free Child of the Missouri Compromise 1850-1862 (Camp Pope Publishing).

Albert Castel Book Award:
(awarded on even-numbered years)

Dan and Marilyn Laney Prize:
A. Wilson Greene for A Campaign of Giants - The Battle for Petersburg: From the Crossing of the James to the Crater (UNC Press).

Richard Barksdale Harwell Book Award:
A. Wilson Greene for A Campaign of Giants - The Battle for Petersburg: From the Crossing of the James to the Crater (UNC Press).

Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize:
David W. Blight for Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (Simon & Schuster).

Wiley-Silver Prize:
Erin Stewart Mauldin for Unredeemed Land: An Environmental History of Civil War and Emancipation in the Cotton South (Oxford UP).

Fletcher Pratt Award:
Donald L. Miller for Vicksburg: Grant's Campaign That Broke the Confederacy (Simon & Schuster).

Douglas Southall Freeman History Award:
Janet Croon for The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865 (Savas Beatie).

Avery O. Craven Award:
Amy Murrell Taylor for Embattled Freedom: Journeys through The Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps (UNC Press).

Gettysburg Civil War Roundtable's Distinguished Book Award:
Robert Wynstra for At the Forefront of Lee’s Invasion: Retribution, Plunder, and Clashing Cultures on Richard S. Ewell’s Road to Gettysburg (Kent St UP).

CWBA Book of the Year:
Hampton Newsome for The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864 (UP of Kansas).

Thursday, December 19, 2019

2019 - The CIVIL WAR BOOKS and AUTHORS Year in Review


THE FIGHT FOR THE OLD NORTH STATE: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864 by Hampton Newsome (UP of Kansas).

The Rest of the Year's Top 10 Favorites (in no particular order)

France and the American Civil War: A Diplomatic History by Stève Sainlaude (UNC Press).

Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South: A Reevaluation by Michael Frawley (LSU Press).

Too Useful to Sacrifice: Reconsidering George B. McClellan’s Generalship in the Maryland Campaign from South Mountain to Antietam by Steven Stotelmyer (Savas Beatie).

The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy by Christian Keller (Pegasus).

The Battle of the Wilderness in Myth and Memory: Reconsidering Virginia's Most Notorious Civil War Battlefield by Adam Petty (LSU Press).

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

Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed by Larry Daniel (UNC Press).

Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part Five: 1864-1865 edited by Michael Banasik & Brenda Banasik (Camp Pope Pub).

Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Volume 3: Essays on America's Civil War edited by Lawrence Lee Hewitt and Thomas Schott (UT Press).
This time around, I decided to change the format of my year-end book roundup. Past lists fell victim to category inflation that always needed to be shuffled around from year to year, so I'm just going to streamline things and more simply do a Top 10 list of favorite titles (which will include a BOTY). In lieu of commentary, links will guide interested readers to the full reviews. As always, there are intriguing late Q4 releases that can't be considered for the list because they haven't arrived yet or can't be finished before year's end. That's just the nature of things. The list will follow shortly.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Review - "The Hardest Lot of Men: The Third Minnesota Infantry in the Civil War" by Joseph Fitzharris

[The Hardest Lot of Men: The Third Minnesota Infantry in the Civil War by Joseph C. Fitzharris (University of Oklahoma Press, 2019). Hardcover, 5 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xiii,234/336. ISBN:978-0-8061-6401-4. $34.95]

Though author and reader interest in Civil War unit studies will probably always be overwhelmingly focused around regiments that served with the most prominent field armies, outliers are published with enough regularity to at least partially satiate those craving something along different lines. A new study that should satisfy that audience as well as engender wider appeal is Joseph Fitzharris's The Hardest Lot of Men: The Third Minnesota Infantry in the Civil War. With seventeen men killed or mortally wounded in combat during the entirety of its 1861-65 service, the Third will never be mistaken for one of Fox's "Fighting 300 Regiments." It is perhaps telling that the Third Minnesota, which did not fight in any major Civil War battle, was honored in the state capital with a unit portrait depicting its triumphant September 1863 entrance into enemy-abandoned Little Rock rather than a veteran-preferred fighting scene from either Wood Lake or Fitzhugh's Woods. Nevertheless, the breadth and nature of their service in the field remains remarkable for being unusually diverse in both geography and military opponents faced. Frequently assigned occupation duties, the Minnesotans fought both conventional Confederate forces and guerrillas over a wide-ranging geographical expanse that included Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas, but they also played a significant role in the Dakota War of 1862 in their home state.

Its organization completed at Fort Snelling, Minnesota in November 1861, the Third Minnesota was, like many other brand new regiments, gradually acclimated to military service through rear area garrison activities. In the West, this often meant guarding railroad lines of communication in Kentucky and Tennessee, and the Third gained valuable field experience during its first winter and spring protecting the Louisville & Nashville Railroad against guerrillas and Confederate raiders. The unit was fortunate in having good officers, who trained the men well, instilled solid discipline, and made sure camps were properly policed to minimize sickness. In addition to gaining a reputation among those higher up the chain of command for being exceptionally well drilled and healthy, the regiment's disciplined restraint (relatively speaking) also impressed local populations increasingly exposed to the depredations of unruly volunteers. Unfortunately, this promising start came to an abrupt end in July 1862.

Assigned to the Murfreesboro garrison in April 1862, the officers and men of the Third Minnesota were caught up in the ignominious July surrender of that important Middle Tennessee post to Nathan Bedford Forrest's Confederate cavalry. Unfortunately for the once proud regiment, the morale-crushing episode would in many ways become the defining moment of the unit's Civil War career. As befits its significance, the Third's time spent in Murfreesboro and the circumstances surrounding its surrender are recounted in great detail in the book. While David Silkenat's recent study Raising the White Flag (2019) fruitfully examines the Civil War's unwritten "rules" of honorable surrender and explains how the military hierarchy, politicians, and the general public reached common accord over what differentiated acceptable mass surrenders from disgraceful ones, that book's discussion of the topic typically did not extend much beyond the event itself. By contrast, Fitzharris's regimental history offers an illuminating longitudinal case study of how the mass surrender of a regiment (even a previously good one like the Third) could have lasting aftereffects, adverse ones that lingered long after exchange and reintegration into the army. Feeling betrayed by their officers, the rank and file soldiers of the Third went into their parole period and beyond no longer trusting their leaders. Cohesion and discipline quickly eroded and, as a consequence, military offenses, absenteeism, and desertion levels dramatically increased. Under new leadership, workable relations between officers and men were eventually restored, but the regiment was never quite the same and the stigma of surrender unfairly remained. While many other similarly disgraced Civil War regiments were able to redeem themselves by performing well in subsequent high-profile battles, the Third, mostly relegated to backwater fronts, was never really accorded that opportunity. Regimental bonds with the home front were similarly strained. Indignant at what they viewed as poor treatment by their fellow Minnesotans, the regiment even declined a mustering out celebration planned by the ladies of St. Paul when they shipped home in 1865.

After the Murfreesboro debacle, the Third's next opportunity to take up arms against an enemy would be in their home state. The War Department's decision to deploy parolees to help quell the 1862 Dakota uprising in Minnesota was controversial; however, Fitzharris notes that legal questions surrounding those actions did not really apply to the Third, as, unbeknownst to them, they were already formally exchanged by the time they reached their home state. In response to attacks on thinly-defended frontier military posts and the mass killing of settlers at the hands of rampaging Dakota, Third Minnesota companies were quickly deployed to forts and towns. They also participated in the Battle of Wood Lake in September as part of the Sibley Expedition. Upon completion of its formal reorganization at Fort Snelling in January 1863, the regiment returned to occupation duties in Kentucky and Tennessee, with most of the action consisting of counterguerrilla operations around Fort Heiman. In June, the Minnesotans were sent down to Vicksburg as reinforcements to bolster and defend General Grant's tightening ring around the Hill City.

After Vicksburg's surrender, the Third was transferred to Helena, Arkansas, where the regiment accompanied General Steele's successful Little Rock expedition. After the capture of the Arkansas capital in September, the regiment remained in the state for the duration of the war, pulling garrison duty in Little Rock, Pine Bluff, DeValls Bluff, and Batesville. These were all key points of occupation, but they also exposed the regiment to the debilitating diseases endemic to the area's swamp-filled topography. It was also in NE Arkansas, during the April 1, 1864 engagement at Fitzhugh's Woods, that the regiment arguably most distinguished itself in battle. The Third was still operating around Jacksonport and DeValls Bluff when the war ended and was finally mustered out of service in September 1865 at Fort Snelling.

All of the wartime activities described above are well documented in the book using a large array of primary and secondary sources, including an extensive collection of archival materials. The standard practice of integrating into the narrative numerous firsthand accounts written by those of all ranks was adopted by the author and well executed.

Complaints are few. Due especially to the obscure nature of much of the regiment's service, the book needed more and better map support. The absence of a roster will concern some readers and others not at all. Perhaps more significantly, some readers will be disappointed in the brevity of the author's treatments of some of the regiment's most significant campaign and battlefield experiences. In particular, the book's glancing coverage of the 1863 Little Rock Campaign and the 1864 fight at Fitzhugh's Woods represents a missed opportunity to further flesh out topics largely neglected in the wider literature. That said, no interested reader should allow those flaws (many might not even consider them serious) to deter them from appreciating what is otherwise a very fine, and frequently dramatically told, regimental history.

A comprehensive chronicle of the Third Minnesota's Civil War, Joseph Fitzharris's The Hardest Lot of Men also offers readers keen insights into how early-war surrender could have lasting negative effects on individual psyches and derail the vitally important development of unit cohesion. Among its other enviable traits, University of Oklahoma Press is developing a bright reputation for publishing non-traditional and otherwise challenging Civil War unit studies, and this is yet another excellent addition to that catalog of work. One looks forward to seeing what they come up with next. Recommended.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Booknotes: Major General Joseph King Fenno Mansfield

New Arrival:
Major General Joseph King Fenno Mansfield: A Soldier From Beginning to End by Laurence H. Freiheit (Camp Pope Publishing, 2019).

His second book associated with the 1862 Maryland Campaign (the first being his cavalry study Boots and Saddles, now in its second edition), Larry Freiheit's Major General Joseph King Fenno Mansfield: A Soldier From Beginning to End is "the first biography of this life-long U.S. Regular Army officer, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Antietam while leading his XII Corps from the front."

More from the description: "(T)his detailed biography covers General Mansfield’s life, most of which was spent in the service of the U.S. Army as an engineer. After spending many years in the construction of Fort Pulaski, Savannah, Georgia, he served in the Mexican-America War, where he was severely wounded. He was one of a few officers to receive three brevet promotions from captain to colonel for meritorious conduct. His tour as an inspector general highlighted his intrepid desire to ensure military preparedness on the new American frontier after the Mexican-American War."

"Wow" was my first reaction upon cracking opening this book. Many top-tier generals don't get this kind of treatment. Let's face it, while Mansfield's life spent in service of our country is worthy of our greatest respect, he's no one's favorite Civil War general (or is he?). Though the author's also clearly a very serious student of the Maryland Campaign, something more than the Connecticut connection must have inspired fellow Nutmegger Freiheit to undertake what clearly looks like a passion project. A 9.5" x 11" format hardcover filled with 806 pages of smallish text (extensively footnoted), this is a positively gargantuan tome (and a seeming bargain at $45 considering the going rate these days for books of this size and type). Additionally, the great majority of pages contain some kind of well-rendered illustration (often several), including a profusion of diagrams, maps and photographs both modern and archival. The overall presentation is impressive.

Mansfield is probably most familiar to Civil War students for his service in the following three capacities: army Inspector General during the years preceding the Civil War (for coverage of his final major antebellum inspection tour, I once again highly recommend Texas and New Mexico on the Eve of the Civil War: The Mansfield & Johnston Inspections, 1859-1861), commander of the Dept. of Washington during the opening months of the war (when he expected to lead the Union army that McDowell led to defeat at First Bull Run), and his leadership of Twelfth Corps at Antietam (where he was mortally wounded during the opening moments of his attack). All of these aspects of Mansfield's army career and more (including the more than two decades he spent as a fortifications engineer, his Mexican-American War experience, and his pre-Antietam Civil War field command work in SE Virginia and the North Carolina coast) are discussed at length in the book.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Book News: The Cavalries in the Nashville Campaign

With his prolific output over the past five years, historian Dennis Belcher has quickly become a leading authority on western theater cavalry forces and their involvement in the various major heartland campaigns fought there. His previous books on the topic include The Cavalry of the Army of the Cumberland (2016), The Cavalries at Stones River: An Analytical History (2017) [in my opinion, his best work so far], The Union Cavalry and the Chickamauga Campaign (2018), and a 2014 biography of Army of the Cumberland cavalry architect and general David Stanley.

His newest contribution to the subject matter is The Cavalries in the Nashville Campaign, which will be published by McFarland in 2020. From the description, it is "an analysis of contributions made by the two opposing cavalry forces and provides new insights and details into the actions of the cavalry during the battle. This campaign highlighted important changes in cavalry tactics and never in the Civil War was there closer support by the cavalry for infantry actions than for the Union forces in the Battle of Nashville." On the last point, I wonder if he directly compares successful western infantry-cavalry tactical integration at Nashville with similar late-war developments in the east (specifically Five Forks and the following Appomattox Campaign).

As opposed to the literature's coverage of the controversial Spring Hill and Franklin lead-ins to Nashville along the great battle itself, the retreat from Nashville phase is least detailed among the many books written about the campaign. Improving upon this relative deficiency, "(t)he retreat by Cheatham's corps and the Battle of the Barricade receive a more in-depth discussion than in previous works on this battle." I had to refresh my mind about where the "Battle of the Barricade" occurred and presumably it is another name for the fight between Wilson and Forrest at Anthony's Hill. When the time comes, this title will definitely be read and reviewed on the site.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Booknotes: The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War

New Arrival:
The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War: A History of the 12th Virginia Infantry from John Brown’s Hanging to Appomattox, 1859-1865 by John Horn (Savas Beatie, 2019).

I believe John Horn's The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War is the first serious regimental study of the 12th Virginia to appear since the early 1980s publication of William Henderson's contribution to the H.E. Howard series of roster-histories. While Horn's book does not contain an updated roster, it does provide a comprehensive narrative history of the 12th's Civil War service that's nearly 400 pages in length and far richer than anything the Howard Virginia regimental series produced.

"Its men first saw combat in naval battles, including Hampton Roads and First Drewry’s Bluff, before embarrassing themselves at Seven Pines—their first land battle—just outside Richmond." After that mixed early war record, the regiment forged a solid reputation in "hard-fighting from the Seven Days’ Battles all the way to Appomattox."

More from the description: "The Virginians of the 12th found themselves in some of the most pivotal battles of the war under Generals William Mahone and later, David Weisiger. After distinguishing themselves at Second Manassas, they were hit hard at Crampton’s Gap in the South Mountain fighting and were only able to field 25 men three days later at Sharpsburg. Good service at Chancellorsville followed. Its Gettysburg performance, however, tied to General Mahone’s mysterious behavior there, remains controversial. The Virginians played a key role in Longstreet’s flank attack at the Wilderness as well as in his near-fatal wounding, launched a bayonet charge at Spotsylvania, and captured their first enemy flag. The regiment truly came into its own during the nine-month siege of Petersburg, where it fought in a host of bloody battles including the Crater, Jerusalem Plank Road, Globe Tavern, Second Reams Station, Burgess Mill, and Hatcher’s Run. Two days before the surrender at Appomattox the regiment fought in the rear guard action at Cumberland Church—General Lee’s final victory of the war."

Detailed chapter-length accounts of the 12th Virginia's participation in all of the above-mentioned battles are provided in the book. Based on extensive research that includes "scores of previously unused accounts," the book "not only describes the unit’s marches and battles, but includes personal glimpses into the lives of the Virginians who made up the 12th regiment." In support are 8 diagrams and 32 maps. The diagrams depict the company arrangement on the regimental battle line during select actions. The maps, all originals, routinely point out the position of the regiment on its many battlefields (an essential aid to the reader that many modern unit histories still fail to provide). Of course, numerous images are sprinkled about the book as well. Certainly, anyone who wishes to deeply explore the ANV career of the 12th will want to pick up a copy of Horn's book.

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 topics (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.