Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Booknotes: The Army of the Cumberland

New Arrival:
The Army of the Cumberland: Organization, Strength, Casualties, 1862-1865
  by Darrell L. Collins (McFarland, 2019).

From the description: "Comprehensively researched from the 128 volumes of the reference work commonly referred to as the Official Records, this book delves deeply into the structural and statistical history of the Union army that served primarily in Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas during the American Civil War. Extensive details are provided regarding the army's evolving organization, its constantly fluctuating strength, and the sacrifices made during its many campaigns and battles."

With The Army of the Potomac (2013), The Army of Northern Virginia (2015), and The Army of Tennessee (2017) already under his belt, this is the now the fourth volume from the author's order of battle series addressing the principal armies of both sides. Between the first and second volumes there was a significant format change and this one carries on with the more recent version's focus triad on (1) organization tables and (2) strength returns on particular dates and (3) casualties suffered during the major campaigns and battles. The Army of the Cumberland's progenitor, the Department/Army of the Ohio, is also addressed in the volume.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Booknotes: James Riley Weaver’s Civil War

New Arrival:
James Riley Weaver’s Civil War: The Diary of a Union Cavalry Officer and Prisoner of War, 1863–1865 edited by John T. Schlotterbeck, Wesley W. Wilson, Midori Kawaue and Harold A. Klingensmith (Kent St Univ Press, 2019).

As its title so clearly states, James Riley Weaver’s Civil War: The Diary of a Union Cavalry Officer and Prisoner of War, 1863–1865 is an edited volume of the field service and prisoner of war diaries (the latter much more extensive) of Union cavalry officer James Riley Weaver. In October 1862 at the age of 23, Weaver enlisted in the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry. The early months of his service were spent patrolling the northern Virginia countryside. In June 1863 (not 1862 as his photo caption incorrectly states), Weaver was promoted to second lieutenant. His regiment participated in the Gettysburg Campaign and in the ensuing autumn's army operations in Virginia, where he was captured during a rear guard action on October 11. 

After a brief biographical prologue, the first two chapters of the book address Weaver's service diary while the next seven consist of his edited POW diaries from prisons in Virginia, Georgia, and South Carolina as well as his return to freedom. Paroled only in late February 1865 when the Confederacy was crumbling wholesale, Weaver was a prisoner for a very long time and one would imagine his writings comprise a valuable resource for researchers of southern prisons and the experiences of those held captive there.

With 666 consecutive days of written entries, Weaver was a remarkably dedicated diarist under what must often have been very trying circumstances. According to the editors, "Weaver’s observations never veer into romanticized descriptions; instead, he describes the “little world” inside each prison and outdoor camp, describing men drawn from “every class of society, high and low, rich and poor, from every country and clime.” In addition, Weaver records details about life in the Confederacy that he gleans from visitors, guards, new arrivals, recaptured escapees, Southern newspapers, and even glimpses through windows."

In addition to compiling, annotating, and indexing the Weaver material, the editorial team contributes to the volume substantial background and contextual narrative. A number of photographs and other illustrations are also included. More from the description: "As the editors demonstrate, Weaver’s diary-keeping provided an outlet for expressing suppressed emotions, ruminating on a seemingly endless confinement that tested his patriotism, religious faith, and will to survive. In the process, he provides not only historically important information but also keen insights into the human condition under adversity."

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Book News: War, Memory, and the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion

Among Kent State's current catalog of upcoming Civil War titles, the one I find perhaps most intriguing is Thomas Flagel's War, Memory, and the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion (May 2019). The author is undoubtedly correct that the 50th anniversary event is viewed by the general interest public as one primarily attended by battle veterans in the spirit of comradeship and reconciliation. That is at least the common shorthand interpretation espoused by the countless television documentaries that have used reunion footage and photographs from both the 1913 and 1938 events.

Even after the passage of five decades, quite a few veterans remained in good enough health to travel and had the means to attend. The accommodations were not luxurious by any standard. From the description: "This June 29–July 4 reunion drew over 55,000 official attendees plus thousands more who descended upon a town of 4,000 during the scorching summer of 1913, with the promise of little more than a cot and two blankets, military fare, and the presence of countless adversaries from a horrific war. Most were revisiting a time and place in their personal history that involved acute physical and emotional trauma."

Due caution should always be exercised before trying to ascribe any kind of consensus attitude to such a diverse collection of veterans north and south, but the book apparently does quite strongly argue that "veterans were not motivated to attend by a desire for reconciliation, nor did the Great Reunion produce a general sense of a reunified country." According to Flagel, "(t)he reconciliation premise, advanced by several major speeches at the anniversary, lived in rhetoric more than fact. Recent scholarship effectively dismantles this “Reconciliation of 1913” mythos, finding instead that sectionalism and lingering hostilities largely prevailed among veterans and civilians."

The book "examines how individual veterans viewed the reunion, what motivated them to attend, how they acted and reacted once they arrived, and whether these survivors found what they were personally seeking. While politicians and the press characterized the veterans as relics of a national crusade, Flagel focuses on four men who come to the reunion for different and very individual reasons." Sounds interesting.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Booknotes: Thomas W. Knox

New Arrival:
Thomas W. Knox: Civil War Correspondent in Missouri edited by Robert G. Schultz
  (Camp Pope Publishing, 2018).

Thomas W. Knox: Civil War Correspondent in Missouri
Click image for more info
This recent release is an edited collection of the titular newspaper reporter's extensive early-war writings from Missouri and NW Arkansas, where he frequently accompanied Union forces on campaign. The period covered is roughly from the beginning of General Lyon's summer 1861 campaign in Missouri through the March 1862 Battle of Pea Ridge.

From the description: "By the beginning of the Civil War, the New York Herald, founded in 1835, had become one of the largest and most influential newspapers in the country. The Herald sent correspondents throughout the North to report on the war. Among them, Thomas W. Knox was assigned to report on the war in Missouri, based in St. Louis. In the early days of the war, there was much action to report on in Missouri. Knox was an ideal choice for this assignment and had a particular talent and perception for his assignment. He was able to be close to the Union leaders as they struggled to build a war machine to cope with secessionists in their midst and, at the same time, he was able to tell human interest stories about ordinary people and the effect of the war on them. He accompanied many of the expeditions and filed first-hand reports on the scenery, movements, and actions. These are his reports as they appeared in the New York Herald. They offer a different, more extensive view than that usually seen in books on the early part of the war in Missouri."

In addition to compiling, annotating, and indexing the Knox material, editor Robert Schultz incorporates into the article collection his own introductory and bridging narrative. Maps, photos, and period artwork are sprinkled throughout, and the appendix section contains a number of supporting documents.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Review - "Holding the Line on the River of Death: Union Mounted Forces at Chickamauga, September 18, 1863" by Eric Wittenberg

[HOLDING THE LINE ON THE RIVER OF DEATH: Union Mounted Forces at Chickamauga, September 18, 1863 by Eric J. Wittenberg (Savas Beatie, 2018). Hardcover, 17 maps, photos, notes, orders of battle, driving tour, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xx,208/282. $29.95]

It is difficult to exaggerate the degree of danger that the Union Army of the Cumberland and its commanding general William S. Rosecrans found themselves in on the morning of September 18, 1863. However, while the overall threat had certainly not passed, only twenty-four hours later the Union military situation in North Georgia had been altered so dramatically over that brief period that even outright victory could be at least contemplated again. Though the September 20 deus ex machina that resulted in a sweeping Confederate victory at Chickamauga understandably clouded what came before it, the Union cavalry's accomplishments on the 18th against heavy odds remain impressive by any measure. Ironically, a major reason why the events of that day have remained obscure and underappreciated for so long is that the Union cavalry forces—the "Saber Brigade" of Colonel Robert H.G. Minty and Colonel John T. Wilder's "Lightning Brigade" of mounted infantry—did their job far too well. In addition to upsetting Confederate Army of Tennessee commander Braxton Bragg's excellent plan of battle, the skillfully conducted delaying actions and subsequent defensive stands of Minty and Wilder at the Reed and Alexander bridges impeded contact between the main bodies of the opposing armies for so long (essentially for an entire day) that for nearly 150 years the events of the 18th were not even considered an elemental part of the main Chickamauga battle. A profound reassessment of this historiographical misstep, Eric Wittenberg's Holding the Line on the River of Death: Union Mounted Forces at Chickamauga, September 18, 1863 fully recounts the day's events and persuasively argues that Minty and Wilder were key figures in shaping the course of the battle.

The early stages of the book satisfactorily address the several weeks of intense maneuvering and skirmishing that led both armies to Chickamauga Creek. In addition to providing readers with a clear sense of the relative positions of both sides on the eve of battle, these chapters also contain extended biographical sketches of the two towering figures of the narrative, Minty and Wilder. The organizational makeup and historical background of Minty's "Saber Brigade" and Wilder's "Lightning Brigade" are thoroughly outlined as well, with important emphasis placed on the force-multiplying nature of their breechloading shoulder arms (a heavy proportion of which were Spencer and Colt repeating rifles).

Wittenberg provides ample evidence in the book to support his contention that the coordinated actions of Minty and Wilder's brigades on September 18 together represent a textbook cavalry delaying action. At the beginning, the author informatively describes the pattern of expertly-placed outposts and picket lines established by both officers beyond the Union army's far left (or northern) flank, a position held by General Thomas Crittenden's infantry corps. His narrative then goes on to recount at some length the many clashes that occurred east of Chickamauga Creek between detachments of blue troopers and heavy columns of advancing Confederate infantry and cavalry. These events took place at a number of road intersections and narrow defiles through north-south running ridges. After delaying the enemy for hours, the overmatched Union cavalry fell back to strong positions behind the creek's west bank, and the heavy fighting that occurred at Reed's Bridge (Minty) and Alexander's Bridge (Wilder) is fully explored in the book. The text descriptions of all of these movements and combat actions are well supported by a series of detailed original maps drawn by Mark Moore.

The author primarily ascribes federal success in completely disrupting Bragg's original timetable to the tactical leadership and role understanding of Minty and Wilder, who wielded their experienced and superbly-armed commands with exceptional skill. However, Wittenberg also concedes that Confederate mistakes materially aided Union efforts and favorable terrain continually channeled advancing enemy forces through narrow bottlenecks that allowed the vastly outnumbered federals to use their qualitatively superior arms and artillery to greatest effect. Of course, even the best defensive topography is useless on its own, and both Wilder and Minty exploited the available ground to maximum advantage.

The great value of close cooperation in desperate situations is also well demonstrated in the book, with multiple examples presented of Minty and Wilder generously sharing troops even when both commands were stretched to the breaking point. They also kept their superiors continually updated with accurate intelligence, and it is certainly not to either man's discredit that their information was blindly ignored (particularly by Crittenden) for way too long. The book also goes on to show that the brigades rendered further important service on that day in keeping the Confederates off balance and at arm's length during the dusk and early nighttime periods before finally being relieved overnight by infantry.

Overall, Wittenberg builds a rather irrefutable case that Minty and Wilder were primarily responsible for saving Rosecrans's army from being placed in a position from which disaster was highly possible and orderly extrication difficult to foresee. While it might seem inevitable that the Army of Tennessee's high command, given its prior record in the field, would have found some way or another to screw up even the best of advantages, the fact does remain that Bragg still swept the field at Chickamauga after the Union cavalry completely upset his most promising plan of attack. Even so, a close reading of Wittenberg's study certainly does reveal that the skillful actions of the two Union cavalry brigades profoundly reduced Confederate chances for achieving truly decisive results and significantly enhanced the likelihood that any southern battlefield victory gained through Bragg's subsequent improvisations would come at a Pyrrhic cost.

Presentation is superb all around, and, as expected, maps and photographs abound. Also attached is a fairly extensive 40-mile driving tour of important sites mentioned in the book. The appendix section includes discrete orders of battle for the Minty and Wilder engagements along with an old Q&A formatted discussion of vidette and outpost duties and responsibilities reproduced from a classic French cavalry treatise.

There's really not much to criticize. In some of the full-page maps details might be rendered too small for some visual tastes, but it seems an acceptable compromise between depicting intimate small-unit actions while at the same time providing enough spatial context to appreciate their significance and connections to other happenings on the field. On the word usage front, even after a centuries-long presence of blended ethnicities in the British Isles and Ireland, with one parent born in Scotland and the other in Ireland one wonders whether County Mayo native Minty would ever have referred to himself as an "Englishman" as Wittenberg does throughout the book.

Now having authored Gettysburg* and Chickamauga companion studies, Wittenberg has firmly documented his earnest belief that the mounted operations that opened both battles represent two of the war's finest examples of a cavalry versus infantry delaying action. As the more eastern theater focused Wittenberg admits, one might even regard Minty and Wilder's feats of arms on September 18 as more impressive than Buford's far better known and much more widely celebrated July 1 cavalry fight. The author also joins noted Chickamauga luminaries like David Powell and William Glenn Robertson in presenting an unassailable argument that the battle should be, like Gettysburg, considered a three-day affair. A product of sound research and finely-tuned reasoning and analysis, Holding the Line on the River of Death is a superbly constructed Civil War cavalry study that is richly deserving of top-shelf placement within the modern literature's rapidly expanding Chickamauga Campaign library.

* - See the author's "The Devil's to Pay": John Buford at Gettysburg - A History and Walking Tour (2014).

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Booknotes: The 22nd Michigan Infantry and the Road to Chickamauga

New Arrival:
The 22nd Michigan Infantry and the Road to Chickamauga by John Cohassey
  (McFarland, 2019).

Accompanying the Vermont Brigade book discussed here yesterday was another Union unit history, this one a study of a Michigan regiment that fought out west with the Army of the Cumberland. John Cohassey's The 22nd Michigan Infantry and the Road to Chickamauga "explores the 22nd's day-to-day experiences in Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia. The author describes the challenges faced by volunteer farm boys, shopkeepers, school teachers and lawyers as they faced death, disease and starvation on battlefields and in Confederate prisons."

Mustered into the Union Army in late August 1862, the 22nd was almost immediately sent to the aid of Cincinnati, which was assumed at the time to be under threat from Braxton Bragg's Confederate army in Kentucky. After the danger passed, the regiment was posted to garrison duty in the central part of the Bluegrass State before moving on to Tennessee and an extended behind-the-lines stint guarding Nashville and its vital railroad connections. In September 1863, the 22nd joined the Army of the Cumberland in its advance beyond Chattanooga and into North Georgia. Fighting in their first major battle of the war at Chickamauga, the Michiganders materially contributed to the success of General Thomas's famous rear guard action on the 20th. The regiment went on to fight in the Union victory at Chattanooga later that year and on through the 1864 Georgia Campaign. It then spent the balance of the war in various provost roles in Georgia and Tennessee before being mustered out at Nashville in 1865. All of this service history is recounted in the book.

At 160 pages with numerous illustrations (but, alas, no maps) sprinkled about, Cohassey's compact study looks like a fairly fast read. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it's light history, and the "select sources" list at the back boasts the kind of extensive source collection that's suggestive of a very serious research effort.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Booknotes: The Vermont Brigade in the Seven Days

New Arrival:
The Vermont Brigade in the Seven Days: The Battles and Their Personal Aftermath
  by Paul G. Zeller (McFarland, 2019).

The first arrival of the new year! One of many distinguished infantry brigades that served in the Army of the Potomac, the First Vermont Brigade was organized during the war's first fall and remained in the field throughout the remainder of the conflict. Composed of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Vermont, all under the command of Brig. Gen. W.H.T. Brooks, the Vermonters experienced their baptism of fire at Dam #1 on the Virginia Peninsula's Warwick River Line.

However, "The Vermont Brigade, sometimes referred to as the "First Vermont Brigade" or the "Old Brigade," fought its first full-brigade engagement in the Seven Days' battles," and it is that major but still relatively understudied early-war campaign period that is the focus of Paul Zeller's The Vermont Brigade in the Seven Days: The Battles and Their Personal Aftermath. More from the description: "Using soldiers' letters, diaries, and service and pension records, this book gives a soldier's-eye-view of the Virginia summer heat, days of marching with very little rest or nourishment, and the fear and exhilaration of combat. Also included are the stories of 29 men that were wounded or killed and how the tragedies affected their families."

Brigade organization and the earlier fighting on the Peninsula are discussed in the book, with standalone chapters covering the Vermont Brigade's skirmishes at the Garnett and Golding farms (those engagements have many different names, but the author's preference of Gouldin for the latter is interesting), the Battle of Savage's Station, and the White Oak Swamp defense line. The volume also has some nice full-page maps.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Book News: Rediscovering Fort Sanders

It's common knowledge that the city of Knoxville, Tennessee was a point of special interest to both governments on numerous occasions during the war. Under intense political pressure from the opening moments of the conflict, the Union high command struggled to come up with a good plan to occupy East Tennessee and render aid to the region's beleaguered Unionists. The federal military operation that finally did succeed in securing Knoxville and large parts of the surrounding countryside—Ambrose Burnside's 1863 campaign—still has no book-length study (or really any good treatment at all). With no major battles involved in taking Knoxville, it's likely that the absence of those and other kinds of dramatic events have turned away potential authors.

The Confederate attempt to retake Knoxville, however, has received some good attention over the years. Not too long ago, Earl Hess's The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee (2012) provided interested readers with the most useful general account of that ultimately unsuccessful operation.

Though General Longstreet attempted to force a surrender of the city through quasi-siege operations, a major event that convinced the Confederates that the defenses were too strong to overcome was the spectacularly failed storming of Fort Sanders. Terry and Charles Faulkner will explore this key component of the Knoxville network of fortifications in their upcoming book Rediscovering Fort Sanders: The American Civil War and Its Impact on Knoxville's Cultural Landscape (UT Press, April 2019). From the description: their study "is a unique book that combines a narrative history of pre-Civil War Knoxville, the war years and continuing construction of Fort Sanders, the failed attempts to preserve the postwar fort, and the events which led to its almost total destruction. Research by Terry and Charles Faulkner resulted in two major discoveries: the fort was actually located a block farther to the west then previously recognized, and there are still identifiable remnants of the fortification where none were believed to exist."

The authors employ a multi-disciplinary approach in their investigation. "Methodologically, the Faulkners rely on historical ecology, focusing on extended human interaction with the environment and the resulting changes wrought in the landscape. Thus, they show how the enormous fortification that had thwarted Confederate attackers in 1863 further challenged developers into the next century."

With innovative series titles and standalone works now coming out in steady numbers, University of Tennessee Press has really stepped up their Civil War output over recent catalogs, and I'm looking forward to this one.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Review - "Deep in the Piney Woods: Southeastern Alabama from Statehood to the Civil War, 1800–1865" by Tommy Brown

[DEEP IN THE PINEY WOODS: Southeastern Alabama from Statehood to the Civil War, 1800–1865 by Tommy C. Brown (University of Alabama Press, 2018). Hardcover, maps, photos, tables, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xv,172/260. ISBN:978-0-8173-1997-7. $39.95]

Representing a welcome geographical redirection in scholarly attention from Alabama's Black Belt region and the state's northern counties that produced so much anti-Confederate disaffection during 1861-65, Tommy Brown's Deep in the Piney Woods offers readers a fine settlement, social, political, economic, and military history of eight southeastern Alabama counties from Indian removal through the end of the Civil War (with a brief postwar epilogue). Along the way, the author dispels some popular misconceptions about the region and its people.

Initial chapters examine post-removal white settlement and trace the political, social, religious, and economic development of southeastern Alabama. Combining illustrative anecdotal examples with larger pattern analysis (expressed frequently through informative data tables), Brown demonstrates that the region, though lacking in major urban centers, was far from poor and backward. Indeed, SE Alabama's overall rise in antebellum development was similar to that of other white-settled Deep South regions that bloomed during the years following treaty removal of the native inhabitants. With poverty rates consistently below the national average, the piney woods counties were thriving commercial and agricultural entities that contributed a great deal to Alabama's economic prosperity during the decades preceding the Civil War.

With soils inferior by comparison to those of the nutrient-rich plains of Alabama's Black Belt, the piney woods region is not routinely considered to have been an integral part of the Deep South slave economy, but Brown's study shows that the cotton industry was nevertheless alive and well there. Planter-scale growing operations thrived along the region's waterways, but both yeoman farmers (who owned no slaves and either worked their farms themselves or with hired slave assistance) and micro-scale slave owners tried to grow at least some cotton as a cash crop or for loan collateral. In the author's view, as well as that of modern historians as a whole, this cotton connection (slight as it might have been in most cases) nevertheless instilled in the region's middling farmers and "plain folk" a stake in the slave social system and economy.

The piney woods counties of Alabama also shared political traditions with other parts of the Old Southwest during the three decades preceding the turmoil of the 1850s. Both Democrats and Whigs were vibrant and persistent political forces in the region. While comparative electoral strength shifted over time, voting traditions and the influence of statesman-like personalities such as conservative Whig Henry Hilliard combined to resist wholesale realignment. Nevertheless, as was the case in much of the rest of the Deep South, divisive factors such as the national debates over slavery's extension into the Mexican cession, widespread southern dissatisfaction with the Compromise of 1850, the demise of the national Whig Party, the violent Kansas troubles, and increased abolitionist agitation combined to radicalize many piney woods voters and politicians and primed for secession both Democrats and former Whigs alike.

The book very effectively challenges a common perception that the citizens of piney woods Alabama were lukewarm Confederates. During the secession crisis, seven of eight piney woods counties voted to send immediate secessionist delegates to the convention (with the holdout having a roughly even split between cooperationists and supporters of immediate secession). Though it's possible that anti-secession elements were masked by the low voter turnout (which was much decreased from the 1860 election), the author couldn't find any evidence that that was truly the case. In support, Brown also points out that the memoir of Henry Hilliard, who resisted secession as long as he could and had his finger on the political pulse of the region perhaps like no other individual of the time, does not mention any significant piney woods opposition. Instead, the best evidence points toward widespread support for the war in 1861. Piney woods companies enthusiastically filled many regiments, and, all told, more than 8,000 men from those eight counties alone fought in the Confederate Army during the length of the conflict.

Brown's narrative follows the military and home fronts in parallel. Important contributions of piney woods officers and men to both western and eastern Confederate armies are recounted throughout several chapters. On the home front, enthusiasm for the war was initially high, but the arrival of conscription in 1862 strained to the breaking point the many kinship and neighbor networks that barely bridged the labor gap. With this remaining help drafted into the army, those already on the margins, and even previously prosperous small and middling farming families, faced ruin. Though the government was not entirely deaf to these concerns and intervened to assist needy families, inflation and continued shortages made everyone feel the pinch by late 1862.

While fighting morale remained high at the war's midpoint, even after the twin disasters of Vicksburg and Gettysburg, and no evidence exists to suggest a higher than expected desertion rate among piney woods soldiers, the situation on the home front continued to rapidly deteriorate. Though the gubernatorial race of 1863, which pitted the same two candidates that ran against each other in 1861 (Democrat John Shorter and ex-Whig Thomas Hill Watts), had the opposite result with Watts winning in a landslide, the author persuasively argues that the political flip shouldn't necessarily be seen as a general rise in opposition forces as both candidates were strongly pro-war. Even so, the cumulative effects of rapidly deteriorating military and home fronts meant that by the middle of 1864 outlaw gangs and deserter bands in the piney woods had increased to such numbers (perhaps as many as 2,000 men altogether) that local defense forces could not cope with them. The more organized among the armed opposition even started to actively cooperate with Union forces operating out of West Florida. As was the case within so many other rural sections of the war-torn South, civil order collapsed over large swaths of the piney woods counties by 1865, and the end of the war came as a relief to many.

At less than two hundred pages of narrative, Deep in the Piney Woods nevertheless manages to satisfactorily examine in comprehensive fashion well over half a century of largely neglected regional history. While the book does not address wartime emancipation and its immediate consequences to the degree that other studies of this kind have frequently done (though the epilogue does delve very briefly into the impact of the Reconstruction and Redemption eras on freedpeople rights and protections), the volume's Civil War coverage of both home and military front topics and issues is otherwise admirably thorough. Recommended.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Booknotes: The Kentucky Campaign Of 1862 and Battle of Perryville (2 Vols)

New Arrival:
The Kentucky Campaign Of 1862 and Battle of Perryville (Volumes I and II)
  by Kenneth A. Hafendorfer (KH Press-author, 2017).

For many years now I've been anticipating a satisfactory campaign history replacement for James Lee McDonough's War In Kentucky: Shiloh To Perryville (1994), a book that's held its place as the standard work on the 1862 Kentucky Campaign both because it still provides readers with an adequate overview but also because the field lacks contenders. Physician by training and historian by avocation, the late Kenneth Hafendorfer published over a nearly three-decade period a number of Kentucky Civil War titles (several of which directly addressed the 1862 campaign): Perryville: Battle for Kentucky (which underwent multiple improved incarnations in the years following the publication of the rougher 1981 first edition), They Died by Twos and Tens: The Confederate Cavalry in the Kentucky Campaign of 1862 (1995), Nathan Bedford Forrest - The Distant Storm: The Murfreesboro Raid of July 13, 1862 (1997), Mill Springs: Campaign and Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky (2001), The Battle of Wild Cat Mountain: Kentucky, October 21, 1861 (2003), and Battle of Richmond, Kentucky - August 30, 1862 (2008).

Hafendorfer's massive final project, which one might consider his magnus opus, was published in September 2017 shortly before his passing. A two-volume set [The Kentucky Campaign Of 1862 and Battle of Perryville, Vol I: Tupelo to Perryville and Vol II: Perryville to Knoxville], the books address as a whole the summer heartland campaigns in the West at what looks to be unprecedented breadth and detail. Even though this is the kind of unobtainable review candidate that I set up the CWBA book fund to help acquire for the site, I was initially held back by the high premium price and general lack of information. Then reader and patron Curtis T. emailed me some photos and bibliographic details. That hooked me even though picking up the set blew through the remaining book fund balance and far beyond!

Including the index the set runs 1,390 pages in total length. I didn't count them myself but according to Curtis's report there are 174 maps(!) as well. The pair is unbalanced in terms of relative girth, which Vol. II at least 50% thicker than Vol. I. The set covers theater-wide Union and Confederate operations during the summer of 1862, recounting a multitude of concurrent movements conducted over parts of six states (Kentucky, Tennessee, N. Mississippi, N. Alabama, NW Georgia, and SW Virginia). Included are those military events that took place between the Confederate evacuation and Union occupation of Corinth at the end of May/beginning of June 1862 and the conclusion of Bragg's Kentucky Campaign in late October. If you've read the author's earlier works (my personal favorites are Mill Springs and Wild Cat Mountain) you'll see in these two books a similar presentation style and traditional military focused narrative.

Most of Hafendorfer's out of print works still command pretty hefty prices on the secondary market. This print run is even smaller than those. The set is limited to only 108 numbered copies, with the first eight being full-leather special editions and the rest very sturdy hardcovers sporting a brand of binding and board robustness very little seen anymore. It was intended that all copies would be signed by the author but his death at the time of publication precluded that. My set is #74 so there aren't too many left. If you're a serious player for this sort of thing, I would get it sooner rather than later. It's probably fair to say that the books will be nearly unobtainable down the line.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Review - "Ironclad Captains of the Civil War" by Myron Smith

[IRONCLAD CAPTAINS OF THE CIVIL WAR by Myron J. Smith, Jr. (McFarland, 2018). Softcover, photographs, drawings, source notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:vii,228/261. ISBN:978-1-47666-636-5. $75]

Myron J. Smith is the author of eight books that provide readers with some of the Civil War naval literature's most in-depth treatments of the men and machines that prowled the country's western inland waterways. With research drawn from this earlier work as well as new inquiries into ocean-going vessels and their commanders, Smith's ninth and latest publication Ironclad Captains of the Civil War is a robust biographical register of naval officers who commanded steam-powered ironclad warships and floating batteries during the conflict.

The second reference book to his credit (the other being 2015's Civil War Biographies from the Western Waters), Smith's Ironclad Captains of the Civil War explores the lives and career resumes, though much more the latter, of 158 Union and Confederate naval officers. As one might expect, while each entry follows a similar format some are more detailed and have richer available source material than others. For each officer, important dates (ex. birth, death, academy graduation, promotions, etc.) are duly noted and brief family background and professional education information provided. Where applicable, discussions of antebellum, Civil War, and postwar naval careers are offered. The names of ironclad vessels commanded are helpfully printed in boldface and those particular command histories constitute the primary focus of each mini-biography. If a captain had a modern USN vessel named in his honor, that fact is mentioned at the end.

Positioned at the very bottom of each biographical sketch is Smith's list of sources consulted. These consist of a variety of primary and secondary materials and biographical resources of all kinds. They might include the OR, ORN, and other government documents and publications along with books, periodicals, newspaper articles, digital sources, local histories, and more. The book also has a full bibliography and index. Additionally, the volume is well illustrated, with images of the captains dutifully accompanying most biographies and photographs of many of the ironclads they commanded also included.

Most ironclads had more than one commander during the war so Smith created an appendix that lists alphabetically underneath each vessel heading its serving captain(s). It appears that the Benton and Carondelet tied the record for most captains at nine each. It's a useful appendix but might have been even more so had the captain lists been arranged in order of service (with dates included) rather than alphabetically. At first glance the list of Union ironclads in the appendix is clearly undercounted, but Smith appears to have intentionally left out of consideration the great many Monitor-descended ships and classes (particularly the most advanced ocean-going types) that were either in construction or launched during the war but were commissioned and went into service after the conflict terminated.

An authoritative biographical compilation, Ironclad Captains of the Civil War is quite a handy guide and deserves a place in the naval research sections of institutional and home reference libraries alike.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Coming this month (Jan '19)

The Vermont Brigade in the Seven Days: The Battles and Their Personal Aftermath
by Paul Zeller.
The Army of the Cumberland: Organization, Strength, Casualties, 1862-1865
by Darrell Collins.
A South Carolina Upcountry Saga: The Civil War Letters of Barham Bobo Foster and His Family, 1860–1863 ed. by A. Gilbert Kennedy.
Bluecoat and Pioneer: The Recollections of John Benton Hart, 1864–1868 ed. by John Hart.
Politician in Uniform: General Lew Wallace and the Civil War by Christopher Mortenson.
The Civil War on the Rio Grande, 1846–1876 ed. by Miller, Bacha-Garza, and Skowronek.
Held in The Highest Esteem by All: The Civil War Letters Of Willam B. Chilvers, 95th Illinois Infantry ed. by Pressly and Joiner.
Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Vol. 3: Essays on America's Civil War
ed. by Hewitt and Schott.
A Burned Land: The Trans-Mississippi in the Civil War by Robert Laven.
A Bloody Day at Gaines' Mill: The Battlefield Debut of the Army of Northern Virginia, June 27, 1862 by Elmer Woodard, III.
The 22nd Michigan Infantry and the Road to Chickamauga by John Cohassey.

The Zeller and Collins books are already released and should be showing up widely soon. The other McFarland titles on the list have been delayed for some time now already and hopefully will see publication later this month. It was encouraging to see the Chilvers correspondence pop up again as it first appeared on the release schedule years ago before falling off the listings after numerous missed dates. We'll have to cross our fingers on that one.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Booknotes - Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories

New Arrival:
Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories by Warren Bull (Next Century Pub, 2018).

When it came to holiday arrivals, the Christmas/New Year 2018-19 season was positively scrooge-like in comparison to previous years. As I've mentioned before at various times, release patterns seem to become more feast and famine with each passing year. It wasn't too long ago that I would return after a short end of year break to pleasantly find a giant pile of packages waiting for me, but this time around only a single title arrived between the week before Christmas and now. Anyway, this is it. The last arrival of 2018 (which one will be the first of 2019?) is Warren Bull's Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories.

In 38 chapters filling a little over 100 pages of text the book offers a collection of stories and author commentary on a great variety of topics related to Lincoln's character, life, personal relationships, legal career, politics, and presidency.

From the description: "Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories includes:
  • As a soldier, Lincoln started at the rank of captain before becoming a private.
  • When the Republican Party was founded, Lincoln was an unlikely candidate.
  • Lincoln had a "second home" in a barbershop owned by a black man.
  • Lincoln was involved in the largest execution in American history.
  • Lincoln was challenged to a duel that he accepted"
The chapters aren't sourced via notes of any kind, but the author includes at the rear of the book print and online reading lists of materials he used.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Review - "Visual Antietam Vol. 1: Ezra Carman’s Antietam Through Maps and Pictures: Dawn to Dunker Church" by Brad Butkovich

[VISUAL ANTIETAM VOL. 1: Ezra Carman’s Antietam Through Maps and Pictures: Dawn to Dunker Church by Ezra Carman, ed. and cartography by Brad Butkovich (Historic Imagination, 2018). Softcover, 26 maps, 63 B&W photographs, notes, OB, bibliography, index. 230 pp. ISBN:9781732597600. $19.95]

Though it certainly wasn't always the case, most Civil War readers at this point need little in the way of introduction to Brevet Brigadier General Ezra Carman's Maryland Campaign manuscript. Written using official documents and reports, available publications, and eyewitness accounts (often the product of solicited correspondence with officers from both sides), Carman's now more than century old The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 impressively presaged the modern Civil War campaign history. Carman himself participated in the Maryland Campaign as colonel of the 13th New Jersey (Gordon's Brigade/Williams's Division/Twelfth Corps/Army of the Potomac), but he had extensive personal connections to the Antietam battle during the postwar period as well. In addition to working on the manuscript, Carman served on the Antietam battlefield board and dedicated himself to preserving the military landscape around Sharpsburg. Long valued by scholars and park officials, his long-unpublished archive manuscript finally reached the wider Civil War reading audience it deserved this century with two separate editing projects—Joseph Pierro's The Maryland Campaign of September 1862: Ezra A. Carman's Definitive Study of the Union and Confederate Armies at Antietam (2008) and Tom Clemens's The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 (published in three volumes between 2010 and 2017). Drawing selectively from Carman's campaign history, Brad Butkovich's Visual Antietam series represents a unique attempt to follow Carman's classic text in maps and photographs.

With copies and reviews of the Pierro and Clemens editions available in abundance, there remains little point here in repeat discussion of the substance of Carman's text. In his own work, Butkovich avoids overlapping effort on the text side of interpretation. Seeing no need to try to duplicate the already thorough annotation and commentary efforts of Pierro and Clemens, he adds only a handful of his own footnotes in Visual Antietam. However, it should be mentioned that the earlier publications address the entire campaign manuscript while Butkovich's own treatment (a planned trilogy) focuses only on the Antietam battle. Thus, Butkovich begins his first volume with Carman's chapter 13, skips 14, then proceeds through chapters 15 and 16. Carman's Antietam sections could conceivably fit inside a single volume of reasonable size, but Butkovich quite sensibly (given his hope that readers will take his creations into the field) sees real value in portability.

As the full title suggests, it's the visual aids that make Butkovich's edition most noteworthy and valuable to readers of all backgrounds. The 26 maps in Volume 1—all intricately detailed, multi-layered creations by the author—comprehensively cover the fighting that occurred on the northern sector of the Antietam battlefield between the September 16 prelude and the following day's events at Dunker Church. The base map is a topographical representation of the battlefield using elevation contour lines. Overlying this is a full-featured rendering of the natural and built environments (to include roads, trails, buildings, fence lines, trees, crops, orchards, haystacks, and rocky outcroppings). The final map layer traces small-unit military movements and positions at the scale of individual companies, regiments, and artillery batteries. It's an impressive effort. When all three volumes are eventually published, readers will likely possess one of the best Antietam battle atlases available.

Every left-facing page of text is accompanied on the right by a full-page photograph or map. The former are either archival images (largely recognizable ones) or the more numerous original photographs. Like the maps the modern Antietam viewshed photos are closely tied to the text, but Butkovich also does something conceptually interesting with these images. The author employed a skilled photographer to snap images of the battlefield vistas at the same time of day (and also presumably during the same month) that the historical events occurred. Presented in full-page, landscape format (set on end to fit the page dimensions) these well-composed photographs achieve the desired effect.

The book also has orders of battle excerpted from Carman's compiled originals. Though more chrome elements would have made the volume much more costly, some wishlist items might be color maps and high-res photography. Color contrast isn't generally essential to creating meaningful cartography, but Butkovich's very densely-detailed maps would have benefited from color's ability to help the eye more readily distinguish between constituent features (in particular, units on top of busy terrain) at a glance*.

It's understandable that Antietam students might question the need for yet another published version of the Carman manuscript, but the quality and usefulness of the original maps and photographs present in Butkovich's abbreviated edition along with the skillful manner by which both are closely wedded to the text mark Visual Antietam as a valuable work that stands tall on its own. Though a more difficult proposition given the lack of ready-made narrative, it would also be interesting to see this same general approach applied to less familiar battles.

* - I am only reviewing the paperback version, but it should be mentioned that the digital (Kindle) edition does have color maps.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Booknotes: America's Bloody Hill of Destiny

New Arrival:
America's Bloody Hill of Destiny: A New Look at the Struggle for Little Round Top, Gettysburg, July 2, 1863 by Phillip Thomas Tucker (America Through Time, 2018).

After all that has been written about the fighting at Little Round Top up to this time, I am skeptical that many significant surprises remain that will impress students of the Gettysburg battle. Nevertheless, that is the promise of Phillip Tucker's America's Bloody Hill of Destiny: A New Look at the Struggle for Little Round Top, Gettysburg, July 2, 1863, which is part of a series put out by Fonthill Media (UK) imprint America Through Time (published in the U.S. by Arcadia).

From the description: "No chapter in the annals of the most important battle of America's national epic has been more celebrated than the key struggle for possession of the rocky hill at the extreme southern flank of the battle line at Gettysburg, Little Round Top. And no contest during the battle of Gettysburg was deadlier or as dramatic as the high stakes showdown for Little Round Top on the afternoon of July 2, 1863. Gettysburg was the decisive turning point of America's history, and Little Round Top was the crucial turning point of that three-day struggle in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Little Round Top was indeed the bloody Hill of Destiny, when the fate of America hung in the balance and was ultimately determined on the most decisive day of the three days at Gettysburg, July 2."

Even though many fine works (either as standalone studies or parts of larger works on the battle) have covered Little Round Top, Tucker feels that "some of the most important aspects of the famous struggle for Little Round Top have been distorted by misconceptions, myths, and layers of romance." In addressing these problems as the author sees them, America's Bloody Hill of Destiny offers readers "a fresh and new look at the key leaders and hard-fighting common soldiers on both sides, who played the most important roles during the climactic struggle that decided the fate of America during one of the most pivotal moments in American history."