Thursday, February 28, 2019

Booknotes: Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Volume 3

New Arrival:
Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Volume 3: Essays on America's Civil War edited by Lawrence Lee Hewitt and Thomas E. Schott (Univ of Tenn Press, 2019).

I was happy to learn soon after UT Press's Confederate Generals in the Western Theater series ended its run that a third and final Trans-Mississippi volume was in the works. Released earlier this month, Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Volume 3: Essays on America's Civil War "offers eight new essays on generals engaged in the effort to secure a region whose unique challenges would have daunted the best of commanders."

As before, the essays examine the Civil War careers of Confederate generals either in part (focusing on particular battles, campaigns, or other specific periods) or in full. Of the latter variety in Volume 3 are chapters on generals Hamilton Bee, James Fagan, and John Wharton. Of the former category we get "Joseph G. Dawson III on Earl Van Dorn’s efforts to bring order to the chaos of the Trans-Mississippi District and how his experiences affected his battlefield performance in 1862; Jeffery M. Prushankin on the administrative nightmares facing Edmund Kirby Smith when he assumed responsibility for the region in 1863; and Richard Holloway on the formidable army commander Richard Taylor and the all-but-forgotten effort to move Confederate troops east of the Mississippi in 1864." The remaining essays follow William Boggs's actions in Louisiana and cavalry general Tom Green's 1863 rise to a prominent leadership position in the same state.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Booknotes: Lions of the Dan

New Arrival:
Lions of the Dan: The Untold Story of Armistead's Brigade by J.K. Brandau
  (Morgan James Pub, 2019).

"Lions of the Dan" sounds like a cool name for a band, but in this case it is the title of J.K. Brandau's upcoming study of Lewis Armistead's brigade of Virginians (the "Dan" part clearly in reference to the river that meanders along the border between Virginia and North Carolina, with adjoining counties being the source of most of the brigade's recruits). "Popular history lionizes Armistead's Brigade at the climax of Pickett's Charge. The moment transformed its prosaic brigadier into an icon of heroism in art and legend. Armistead perished, but his brigade endured, and its Southside Virginia soldiers exhibited indomitable courage throughout the Civil War. Lions of the Dan: The Untold Story of Armistead's Brigade chronicles those men of Pickett's Charge over the full course of the Civil War."

Though Armistead's Brigade was composed of five infantry regiments (9th, 14th, 38th, 53rd, and 57th Virginia), the author adopts the convention of focusing his narrative upon a representative unit. The 38th Virginia (the "Pittsylvania Regiment") was understandably chosen because it hailed from the county (Pittsylvania) that supplied a quarter of the brigade's manpower.

Out of fifteen total chapters, only one covers Gettysburg and another the immediate aftermath, so the most iconic moment of the brigade's Civil War experience is not (over)emphasized to the exclusion of the rest of the formation's extensive service history. When I think of Armistead's Brigade I also think of Malvern Hill, and the book includes a standalone chapter on that battle as well as others covering Seven Pines, 2nd Manassas/Antietam, Fredericksburg, Siege of Suffolk, New Bern, and the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign. The bibliography is fairly modest in overall size, but the author did conduct his own archival research at a number of repositories located mostly in Virginia and North Carolina. One thing I immediately noticed while thumbing through the book was the lack of maps, which is an unfortunate omission  in a unit study of any kind.

Though the review copy I received is the finished version, the official release date from the publisher is still September 3, so it will be a while yet before general release.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Review - "Let Us Die Like Men: The Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864" by Lee White

[LET US DIE LIKE MEN: The Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864 by William Lee White (Savas Beatie, 2019). Softcover, 12 maps, 198 images, tour, appendices, reading list. Pages main/total:xii,143/192. ISBN:978-1-61121-296-9. $14.95]

The November 30, 1864 Battle of Franklin, a terrible Confederate defeat by every measure except simple possession of the field, is a topic that has been addressed quite well in the modern secondary literature. The first major study was James Lee McDonough's Five Tragic Hours: The Battle of Franklin (1983). This was followed in 1992 by the release of Wiley Sword's Embrace an Angry Wind: The Confederacy's Last Hurrah—Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville and Eric Jacobson's For Cause & for Country: A Study of the Affair At Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin in 2007. Aside from some notoriously unsupported claims about Hood himself, Sword's book retains great value; however, most serious students consider Jacobson's work to be the finest of the three. Short works of note also exist. Both The Battle of Franklin: When the Devil had Full Possession of the Earth (2009) and Hood's Tennessee Campaign: The Desperate Venture of a Desperate Man (2014) highlight author James Knight's skill at compressing histories of major Civil War campaigns and battles into slim overviews of merit. Lee White shows himself similarly adept at that particular skill in Let Us Die Like Men: The Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864, the most recent title from the Emerging Civil War series.

White provides readers with a long lead-in to his central account of Franklin itself. His narrative begins in Georgia during early fall when General Sherman finally abandoned further attempts to come to grips with General Hood's elusive Army of Tennessee. Leaving behind their foe of the past several months, Hood and his army struck out from North Georgia, crossed northern Alabama, and drove into the heart of Tennessee. In its coverage of those event-filled weeks, the volume offers brief but excellent summaries of the fierce rear area battle fought at Allatoona Pass and Hood's investment of Decatur (with the Confederates failing to take possession of either well-defended post). In discussing the Confederate treatment of black garrison troops captured during the march to Tennessee, the book does address a frequently overlooked aspect of the campaign. Though not killed, captured USCTs were frequently mistreated by being forced into work gangs or even reenslaved when a prior owner came forth to claim them.

Even after those delays and others, the Confederates still had a narrow window of opportunity in which to strike Union forces to their advantage. White's summary of the infamous Spring Hill Affair, Hood's best opportunity to inflict major damage to a large part of Union general George Thomas's scattered but growing army, is evenhanded in its assessment of shared blame for the failure. Of course, the centerpiece of the book is White's account of the Battle of Franklin. Incorporating numerous firsthand accounts written by participants from both sides, it is an excellent summary and an exceptionally fine example of how to both artfully and informatively craft a condensed Civil War battle narrative.

The author does not attempt any major reinterpretations of events related to Franklin or the campaign as a whole. Chief blame for the Spring Hill fiasco is not directed toward any particular individual, and White certainly has no patience for already discredited notions that Hood operated under the fog of narcotic painkillers and intended to punish his army at Franklin for the lost opportunity at Spring Hill.

The ECW series's trademark emphasis on visual aids is well realized in this title, with 12 maps and nearly 200 illustrations of all kinds included. The Franklin maps in particular offer excellent representations of opposing troop positions (often at regimental scale) and usefully feature the many terrain elements and man-made obstructions that played a major role in aiding the Union defense of the town. There's also a 14-stop battlefield tour complete with detailed directions, guiding text, and modern sight line images. The four-piece appendix section explores the limited use of Confederate artillery at Franklin, provides a list of regimental flags lost during the battle, discusses preservation history, and concludes with the author's brief personal "memories" essay. Orders of battle and a suggested reading list are also present.

Let Us Die Like Men is a fine summary representation and synthesis of current thinking on the Battle of Franklin and the events leading up to those few hours of desperate combat. For those less disposed toward taking on any of the available full-length studies of the Franklin battle or 1864 Tennessee Campaign as a whole, this compact yet fulfilling alternative reading option can be recommended without reservation.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Booknotes: Comanche Jack Stilwell

New Arrival:
Comanche Jack Stilwell: Army Scout and Plainsman by Clint E. Chambers and Paul H. Carlson (Univ of Okla Press, 2019).

"In 1863, the thirteen-year-old boy who would come to be called Comanche Jack was sent to the well to fetch water. Instead, he joined a wagon train bound for Santa Fe. Thus began the exploits of Simpson E. “Jack” Stilwell (1850–1903), a man generally known for slipping through Indian lines to get help for some fifty frontiersmen besieged by the Cheyenne at Beecher Island in 1868. Daring as his part in the rescue might have been, it was only one noteworthy episode of many in Comanche Jack Stilwell’s life—a life whose rollicking story is finally told here in full."

"In his later years, Stilwell crafted his own legend as a celebrated raconteur." In creating their book Comanche Jack Stilwell: Army Scout and Plainsman Clint Chambers (whose grandfather was Stilwell’s nephew) and Paul Carlson "scour(ed) the available primary and secondary sources to find the unvarnished truth and remarkable facts behind the legend. In a crisp, fast-paced style, the narrative follows Stilwell from his precocious start as a teenage runaway turned teamster on the Santa Fe Trail to his later turns as lawyer, judge, U.S. marshal, hangman, and associate of Buffalo Bill Cody. Along the way, he learned Spanish, Comanche, and sign language, scouted for the U.S. Army, and became a friend of George A. Custer and an avowed, if failed, avenger of his kid brother Frank, an outlaw killed by Wyatt Earp."

After his abrupt and possibly apocryphal departure from his troubled home in 1863, young Stilwell spent the balance of the Civil War years as a freight hand traveling back and forth between Santa Fe and Kansas City. Though the Confederate threat to the great overland trails had receded by the time he began his teamster career, the job was far from a safe occupation. Those experiences and the knowledge gained of the lands and peoples of the Southern Plains did prepare him well for another stage of his colorful life, that of an army scout.

More from the description: "Unfolding against the backdrop of the Civil War, cattle drives, the Indian Wars, the Oklahoma land rush, and the rough justice of the Wild West, Comanche Jack Stilwell takes a true American character out of the shadows of history and returns to the story of the West one of its defining figures."

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Book News: The Battle of the Wilderness in Myth and Memory

With its projected mid-August release date, it's a bit surprising that Adam Petty's The Battle of the Wilderness in Myth and Memory: Reconsidering Virginia's Most Notorious Civil War Battlefield didn't make it into LSU Press's SS '19 catalog, but that happens every once in a while. The wording of the title is a sign of the times, but its subtitle is certainly eye-catching on another level. You can see what the author might be getting at. By any measure, the collective imagery of hundreds of wounded men being consumed by flames ignited by the muzzle flashes of rifles and artillery during the battle is singularly horrific. Also common to all accounts of the Wilderness battle are vivid descriptions of the fighting terrain as being uniquely claustrophobic in its near impenetrability to sight and awareness if not movement.

The book description is a bit short on content details but tantalizing nonetheless. The assumption of distinctive fighting conditions appears to be the source of much of the discussion. "In this book, Adam Petty argues that veterans and historians of the American Civil War created and perpetuated myths about the Wilderness, a forest in Virginia which was notorious for being one of the most challenging battlefields of the war. According to Petty, mythology about the campaigns in the Wilderness began to take shape during the war, but truly blossomed in the postwar years and continue into the present."

More: "The intention of this study is to sift through the Wilderness myth to obtain an accurate understanding of how the geography of the battle affected combat and strategy. While the Wilderness was indeed a battlefield that created very difficult combat conditions, the author suggests that the claims that it was unique and that it favored the Confederates are unfounded." Count me intrigued about this one.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Booknotes: The Confederate Yellow Fever Conspiracy

New Arrival:
The Confederate Yellow Fever Conspiracy: The Germ Warfare Plot of Luke Pryor Blackburn, 1864-1865 by H. Leon Greene (McFarland, 2019).

My introduction to the Blackburn yellow fever plot was the article (or articles) published way back when during the good period of North & South magazine. If memory serves, that periodical published a number of interesting pieces on various Confederate covert operations, including the boat burnings on the Mississippi, the plot to torch New York, and the infamous coal bomb that blew up a large part of the City Point waterfront. One author even suggested (she would say proved!) that the Sultana boiler explosion was an act of sabotage. As far as I know, H. Leon Greene's The Confederate Yellow Fever Conspiracy: The Germ Warfare Plot of Luke Pryor Blackburn, 1864-1865 is the first book-length study of that particular operation.

From the description: "Defeat was looming for the South—as the Civil War continued, paths to possible victory were fast disappearing. Dr. Luke Pryor Blackburn, a Confederate physician and expert in infectious diseases, had an idea that might turn the tide: he would risk his own life and career to bring a yellow fever epidemic to the North. To carry out his mission, he would need some accomplices. Tracing the plans and movements of the conspirators, this thoroughly researched history describes in detail the yellow fever plot of 1864-1865."

Though not an epidemiologist or specialist in tropical diseases, Greene is a cardiologist and emeritus professor of medicine so it's probably safe to say that the medical aspects of the book are in safe hands. Some Blackburn supporters have asserted that many of the accusations lodged against the good doctor were grounded more in partisan political wrangling (particularly during Blackburn's 1879 gubernatorial campaign in Kentucky) than established fact, but Greene claims to have found more than sufficient evidence that the plot was very real. His book also delves deeply into the life of co-conspirator Godfrey Joseph Hyams and looks at the activities of other Canada-based Confederate agents as well.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Booknotes: Approaching Civil War and Southern History

New Arrival:
Approaching Civil War and Southern History by William J. Cooper (LSU Press, 2019).

"Initially published between 1970 and 2012," the ten essays in Approaching Civil War and Southern History "span almost the entirety of William J. Cooper’s illustrious scholarly career and range widely across a broad spectrum of subjects in Civil War and southern history." In addition to the value of the work itself, the collection serves as a survey of Cooper's historical interests. He wrote what is most often considered the best Jefferson Davis biography to date and two essays address topics related to the Confederate president, the first reassessing his qualities as war leader and the second his postwar life through 1870. Two more individuals examined through Cooper essays are artist Edwin Forbes and author Daniel Hundley. I can't say that I've ever heard of Hundley before. His Social Relations in Our Southern States was published in 1860. In it the writer attempted to paint an honest portrait of the South as he saw it and hoped in vain that his book would help tame the passions of the time. Several more chapters examine various aspects of the secession crisis and what led up to it. Another looks at the 1890 election for governor of South Carolina.

Cooper contributes a preface for the book and adds some retrospective commentary for each chapter. "In the new introduction to each chapter, Cooper notes the essay’s origins and purpose, explaining how it fits into his overarching interest in the nineteenth-century political history of the South."

More from the description: "Combined and reprinted here for the first time, the ten essays in Approaching Civil War and Southern History reveal why Cooper is recognized today as one of the most influential historians of our time."

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Review - "The Vermont Brigade in the Seven Days: The Battles and Their Personal Aftermath" by Paul Zeller

[THE VERMONT BRIGADE IN THE SEVEN DAYS: The Battles and Their Personal Aftermath by Paul G. Zeller (McFarland, 2019). Softcover, 8 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:viii,165/201. ISBN:978-1-4766-7661-6. $39.95]

Through their respective bodies of work, a number of prolific Civil War authors have become nearly synonymous with their native states. Just to name two examples among writers working today, we have Michael Hardy's prodigious Civil War North Carolina output and Rhode Island certainly has Robert Grandchamp to thank for many excellent monographs related to that state's military history. With now four Vermont titles under his belt (three Civil War unit studies and a town history), Paul Zeller is well on his way to achieving similar status through his Green Mountain State scholarship. His latest work is The Vermont Brigade in the Seven Days: The Battles and Their Personal Aftermath.

One of many distinguished infantry brigades that served in the Army of the Potomac, the First Vermont Brigade (most commonly called simply the "Vermont Brigade") was organized in the fall of 1861, saw its first heavy action during the 1862 campaign on the Virginia Peninsula, and remained in the field throughout the remainder of the conflict. Initially composed of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Vermont infantry regiments, all under the command of Brig. Gen. W.H.T. Brooks, the brigade was attached to William F. Smith's division of Erasmus Keyes's Fourth Corps. Smith's division later transferred mid-campaign to William B. Franklin's new Sixth Corps. During the early stages of the Seven Days, Smith's troops occupied the stretch of Union front directly abutting the south bank of the Chickahominy River.

The Seven Days focus of the study is framed by officer introductions, a brigade organizational history, and fine contextual summaries of 1862 Peninsula Campaign events before and after the week-long series of battles. In fact, one of the highlights of the book is its detailed recounting of the Vermonters's baptism of fire at Dam No. 1 on the Warwick River. Throughout the book, Zeller effectively weaves numerous, and often extensive, firsthand accounts into the narrative. Many of these were uncovered through the author's research efforts in Vermont archives.

Of course, the Seven Days battles are the heart of the book, and lengthy chapters cover the Vermont Brigade's involvement in the fighting at Garnett's Hill (June 27) and Gouldin's Farm (June 28), the Battle of Savage's Station (June 29), and White Oak Swamp (June 30). Though the "battle" at Garnett's Hill was fairly small in terms of total numbers engaged, casualties were nevertheless significant and the position occupied by the Vermont Brigade a vital one to hold. The brigade and other units in the area shielded the Chickahominy bridges that served as the only direct connection between the two wings of the Union army. On the 27th, when Confederate forces south of the Chickahominy pushed forward within range of these essential links to Porter's isolated command (which was then fighting for its life at the Battle of Gaines's Mill), the Vermont Brigade provided skirmishers and two regiments to bolster the Garnett's Hill line at important stages of the fighting. With their assistance, the Confederate attackers were repulsed.

With the battered Army of the Potomac's change of base underway, the Gouldin's Farm skirmish on June 28 was essentially a rear guard/holding action. Of historiographical note is the book's "Gouldin" alternate spelling. It's safe to say that even the most dedicated students of the campaign will be far more familiar with the apparently incorrect "Golding" spelling, which appeared on Union maps created after the battle and was then perpetuated over time. According to the author, the park service has since 2011 updated the spelling on its own maps and materials.

At Savage's Station, all of the Vermont Brigade regiments were on the battle line together for the first time in the war. There was much high command confusion during the battle, but the brigade stalwartly held the Union left and the resulting casualties (358 in number) were commensurate to the effort. This section is noteworthy for the author's decision to discuss the actions of each regiment in turn, densely populating each isolated account with lengthy individual stories of heroism and horrific battle injury. While documenting for posterity the harrowing experiences of those fighting men at such detail is commendable, the clarity of the chapter's narrative of the overall course of the battle (and the brigade's place in it) gets disrupted in the process.

On the 30th, Brooks's brigade assumed an elevated defensive position above the south boundary of White Oak Swamp facing the advance elements of Stonewall Jackson's enemy command. Though a minor Confederate probe near the burned bridge was easily turned away, most action on this front consisted of the Vermonters dodging projectiles fired from Jackson's large collection of artillery positioned across the swamp. On the following day, the Vermont Brigade was held in reserve at Malvern Hill and joined the rest of the army in the general retreat to Harrison's Landing.

As the reader can see, the Vermont Brigade wasn't exactly in the thick of the fighting during the Seven Days. However, they played a significant role in some of the period's lesser known and documented actions, particularly the fighting on the 27th and 28th. Though Garnett's Hill and Gouldin's Farm (particularly the former) are covered sufficiently well in Brian Burton's standard history of the Seven Days1, Zeller's study adds significantly to our knowledge of those events, both overall and in the particular attention paid to Vermont's participation in them.

Chapter Six ("The Aftermath") adds even more personal material. The section is comprised of a collection of well-researched mini-biographies of over two dozen Vermont Brigade soldiers, each placing special emphasis on the physical and psychological cost of war. The pieces highlight the many ways veterans and their families suffered the war's consequences for the rest of their lives.

In addition to assembling an impressive photo gallery of Vermont officers and men along with evocative images of them in camp and in the field, Zeller also commissioned a fine set of maps from well-known cartographer George Skoch. Skoch's full-page creations offer rich topographical detail and show the opposing forces at appropriate small-unit scales. However, while some license is always necessary when depicting in a single map the ebb and flow of extensive battlefield maneuvering, there's some rather glaring disagreement between maps and text in the Garnett's Hill and Gouldin's Farm chapter.2 These oversights to some degree mar accounts that otherwise rank among the best (perhaps even the best) available for those two actions. Other readily noticeable mistakes were missed during final editing as well. Thankfully, factual errors like the author's compound gaffe on page 5 referring to "President Buchannan's (sic) decision to invade Mexico" in 1846 do not appear to be routine, but typos of various kinds remain too numerous to escape criticism.

Those interjections aside, Zeller's book constitutes a valuable record of a prominent Union infantry brigade's trial by fire on the Virginia Peninsula in 1862. Certainly anyone with a deep interest in Vermont's role in the war will greatly benefit from reading this study, but long-suffering Peninsula Campaign students in general will also find much to learn from and appreciate. Zeller's full accounts of the Vermont Brigade's participation in Peninsula skirmishes and battles from Dam No. 1 through White Oak Swamp are well contextualized within the wider campaign narrative, and his detailed coverage of those events offers readers some fresh insights into several of the most understudied military aspects of the campaign. Recommended.

1 - Extraordinary Circumstances: The Seven Days Battles by Brian K. Burton (Indiana Univ. Press, 2001) is by far the best military treatment of the Seven Days, with excellent narrative accounts of each battle, sound analysis throughout, and a fine set of maps.
2 - For those interested in the details, on page 70 the Garnett's Hill text states that the 15th Georgia formed on the left of the 2nd Georgia, but the map places the 15th to the right of the 2nd. The map in Burton's book agrees with Skoch's, so perhaps it was a simple left vs. right mistake of the type so  commonly found in battle studies. For Gouldin's Farm, the error is more clearly cartographic in nature. The arrangement of the Confederate battle line is delineated in the text on page 76, with the 8th and 7th Georgia (in that order) anchoring the right, but Skoch's corresponding labels are of the 7th and 6th Georgia (the last is an impossibility, as the 6th was across the river with D.H. Hill's division at the time of this fight).

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Booknotes: Kentucky Barracuda

New Arrival:
Kentucky Barracuda: Parker Hardin French (1826-1878) by Joe Goodbody (Mascot Books, 2018).

American history is replete with the antics of con men, from small-time grifters to orchestrators of elaborate confidence games. Lesser known today, Parker Hardin French engaged in both extremes and was one of the nineteenth-century's most notorious practitioners of the art of the con. The discovery that one of his ancestors was victimized by French prompted author Joe Goodbody to research the swindler's life of crime. Along the way, the author "pieced together information from primary sources gathered from historical archives, personal journals and diaries, period newspapers, public records, government reports, court documents and cooked accounting books to recreate Parker Hardin French as he lived." The result is the biography Kentucky Barracuda: Parker Hardin French (1826-1878), a "barracuda" being, in the parlance of the time, someone who was a "con man, crook, hustler, swindler, clip artist, fraud, scam artist". Goodbody's book brings French "out of the shadows and into the spotlight," finding that the "crafty Machiavellian contributed more to mid-nineteenth century history ​than has been previously documented."

More from the synopsis: "In the era of steam, sail and horse, the rapidity of French's movement and breadth of his adventures is almost mind-numbing. As a runaway kid he fought in the British Navy in the first Opium War. When he was just 22 years old, he was a commission merchant and, a year later, built the first ocean going ship on the upper Mississippi. Before he was 30, he was the leader of an infamous gold rush expedition; implicated in an irregular invasion of Cuba; jailed bandit and then military hero in Mexico; lawyer, district attorney, legislator, journalist, and political enforcer in California; part of an American cabal which governed Nicaragua; and, appointed but rejected Nicaraguan ambassador to the United States. He didn’t slow down in his 30s: he was a real estate developer; lawyer; journalist; part of a conspiracy to invade Mexico; suspected seditionist agitator and Confederate agent; jailed as a political prisoner; and, lawyer and purveyor for Union troops. His final days were spent in obscurity but the period was still peppered with the occasional swindle that garnered both regional and national attention. First and foremost, he was a barracuda."

French did indeed have significant Civil War connections. One chapter in the book discusses the possibility of French's involvement with the Knights of the Golden Circle, and the four that follow it recount his activities during the Civil War. After victimizing the citizens of Massachusetts and Connecticut, French was arrested and jailed in Fort Warren under suspicion of being a Confederate agent. After release, he was, amazingly enough, allowed to be an army sutler and defense counsel or legal consultant in two court-martial cases.

You can find more information about French and the book on the author's website. Go here to check it out.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Booknotes: Confederate Ironclads at War

New Arrival:
Confederate Ironclads at War by R. Thomas Campbell (McFarland, 2019).

Back during the 1990s peak in popular interest in the Civil War, bookstore shelves across the country overflowed with new and used titles of all kinds (even in places where I lived far removed from any Civil War hotbed). At least from my experience, one thing you could count on seeing in stores was an array of Civil War books from White Mane/Burd Street, up to that time one of the most prolific publishers of Civil War books. Filling a large proportion of their naval catalog were works from R. Thomas Campbell, and it's probably safe to say that many new readers were introduced to Confederate ships and sailors through Campbell's many popular books. And he's still active. His latest title is Confederate Ironclads at War.

From the description: "Hampered by lack of materials, shipyards and experienced shipbuilders, even so the South managed to construct 34 iron-armored warships during the Civil War, of which the Confederate Navy put 25 into service. The stories of these vessels illustrate the hardships under which the Navy operated--and also its resourcefulness. Except for the Albemarle, no Confederate ironclad was sunk or destroyed by enemy action. Overtaken by events on the ground, most were destroyed by their own crews to prevent them from falling into Union hands. This account covers the design and construction and the engagements of the Confederate ironclads and describes the ingenuity and courage, as well as the challenges and frustrations of their "too little, too late" service."

While Campbell does not appear to address the Civil War careers of every Confederate ironclad that went into service, his overall treatment of the subject matter is still fairly comprehensive. The book's fourteen chapters (two of which were first published in Campbell's 1997 book Southern Fire) are a mixed collection of single vessel and squadron histories. Visual aids are abundant, with photographs, previously published maps, newspaper illustrations, and line drawings of the ships spread liberally  throughout. The appendix section contains crew rosters for six of the vessels covered in the book (the Virginia, Arkansas, Albemarle, Neuse, North Carolina, and Raleigh).

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Pair of upcoming Longstreet studies

Just going from a prospective page length nearly double that of the second edition, I would imagine that Harold Knudson's The Confederacy’s Most Modern General: James Longstreet and the American Civil War, which was announced earlier this month in publisher Savas Beatie's February newsletter, will be a substantially expanded version of the author's earlier study of the same title, which first appeared in 2007 and was revised and expanded in 2010. I have not read either of the existing iterations, which argue that Longstreet was an important and underappreciated tactical innovator whose influences could be traced all the way up to modern twentieth-century military practices. According to the description of Knudson's upcoming book, Longstreet's generalship also demonstrated "progressive applications with artillery, staff work, force projection, and operational-level thinking." The new book "draws heavily on 20th Century Army doctrine, field training, staff planning, command, and combat experience, and is the first serious treatment of Longstreet’s generalship vis a vis modern warfare."

Colonel Knudson contributes the foreword to the other upcoming book, Cory Pfarr's Longstreet at Gettysburg: A Critical Reassessment (McFarland, Spring 2019), which is promoted as "the first book-length, critical analysis of Lieutenant General James Longstreet's actions at the Battle of Gettysburg." Out of all the thousands of Gettysburg-related books that have been published, how can it be that no one has produced a standalone study of this highly controversial topic before? From the description: By closely studying the three-day battle, and conducting an incisive historiographical inquiry into Longstreet's treatment by scholars, this book presents an alternative view of Longstreet as an effective military leader, and refutes over a century of negative evaluations of his performance."

Friday, February 15, 2019

Booknotes: Bluecoat and Pioneer

New Arrival:
Bluecoat and Pioneer: The Recollections of John Benton Hart, 1864–1868
  edited by John Hart (Univ of Okla Press, 2019).

"In 1918, urged on by his son Harry, John Benton Hart began to tell stories of a three-year period in his youth. He recalled his days as a trooper in the Eleventh Kansas Cavalry, fighting in Missouri and on the frontier, and his time as a civilian jack-of-all-trades doing risky work for the U.S. Army on the Wyoming-Montana Bozeman Trail in the middle of the Indian resistance campaign known as Red Cloud’s War. Once started, John Benton Hart became an enthusiastic raconteur, describing events with an almost cinematic vividness, while his son, an aspiring writer, documented his father’s testimony in what became several manuscripts." Compiled and edited by historian John Hart (John Benton Hart’s great-grandson) and published under the title Bluecoat and Pioneer: The Recollections of John Benton Hart, 1864–1868 "this memoir is a singular document of living history."

Hart enlisted in Col. Thomas Moonlight's 11th Kansas Volunteer Infantry in the fall of 1862 and fought with the regiment at the Battle of Prairie Grove that December, but the Civil War portion of his memoir does not start until late 1864, when he and his unit (which was converted into cavalry the prior year) opposed Confederate general Sterling Price's Missouri expedition. Hart's recollections of the fall 1864 campaign in Missouri are fairly extensive. 

From there, the memoir goes on to address the writer's participation in "such engagements in the Plains Indian Wars as the Battle of Platte Bridge in July 1865 and the Hayfield Fight near Fort C. F. Smith in 1867. In the engaging style of a natural storyteller, Hart re-creates these events as he experienced them, giving readers a rare glimpse at moments of historical import from the point of view of the “ordinary” soldier. In arresting detail, he also tells of crossing the Plains as a bullwhacker, carrying the mail between the beleaguered forts on the Bozeman Trail, and befriending scout Jim Bridger and Mountain Crow Chief Blackfoot."

Editor John Hart contributes an abundance of introductory sections and inserts connecting narrative throughout the volume. The text is supplemented by numerous maps and photographs as well as his "biographical, historical, and explanatory notes." In the general introduction, the editor mentions that he selected for inclusion in the book approximately one-third of the available material, a relatively common practice when editing large, sprawling manuscripts for publication. The only chapter reproduced in its entirety is the one covering the Platte Bridge battle (Chapter 2), and the book makes use of around half of Hart's Civil War Missouri text.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Review - "Thomas W. Knox: Civil War Correspondent in Missouri" by Robert Schultz

[THOMAS W. KNOX: Civil War Correspondent in Missouri edited by Robert G. Schultz (Camp Pope Publishing, 2018). Softcover, maps, photos, drawings, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xxii,411/584. ISBN:978-1-929919-85-7. $27.50]

Thomas W. Knox: Civil War Correspondent in Missouri
(Click image for more info)
A native of New Hampshire, young Thomas Wallace Knox was a teacher before embarking on a journalism career, first in Boston then out west in gold rush Colorado. With war clouds emerging from the bitter 1860 election, he quickly abandoned frontier pursuits and traveled back east, passing along the way through troubled Missouri. In New York, he met with James Gordon Bennett, editor of the influential New York Herald newspaper, and was assigned by Bennett in spring 1861 to report on developing events in Missouri. Knox would travel with Union military forces in person but also report extensively from several prominent communication hubs (ex. Rolla and St. Louis, particularly the latter). Collected and edited by Robert Schultz under the title Thomas W. Knox: Civil War Correspondent in Missouri, Knox's Herald articles offer today's readers a unique bounty of highly detailed reports of the 1861-62 fighting that escalated across the entire breadth of Missouri and into northwest Arkansas.

Though Knox's newspaper correspondence written during the first twelve months of the war addresses many topics and impressively fills hundreds of pages in Schultz's book, the most significant contributions are arguably those falling on the military side of things. Along this line, Knox's extensive coverage of General Nathaniel Lyon's campaign to secure Missouri and his detailed description of General Samuel R. Curtis's winter campaign in the Ozarks are particularly noteworthy. Knox accompanied both of these critically important expeditions in the field and apparently had free access to each commander. His initial account of Pea Ridge, a sweeping collection of vividly written first-hand observations of the battle and its aftermath, is arguably the book's most remarkable single report.

Knox's Herald articles suggest that he developed a close friendship with Lyon in Missouri. Unfortunately for us, such writings intended for a very public audience don't disclose much in the way of private insights into the personality of one of the war's most enigmatic generals. What does become clear is that Knox's Lyon is not presented as the ideological extremist that many observers believe him to have been. It's possible that Knox intentionally softened for public consumption his written portrayal of the general's persona  (ex. his account of the famous Planter's House Hotel meeting with Governor Jackson and Sterling Price omits mention of the general's most apocalyptic rhetoric), but it's perhaps just as likely that he simply didn't see Lyon that way.

While most of Knox's journalistic attentions were focused on military affairs, he did frequently comment on other matters. With the situation in Missouri very much in flux over the first year of the war, Knox can be forgiven for being a bit alarmist regarding the size, influence, and alleged plotting activities of St. Louis's secessionist population. His detailed observations of the military and political prisons in the city are valuable contributions to the historical record, though his statements regarding overgenerous treatment of the incarcerated need to be taken with a grain of salt. Knox's field reports are also occasionally colored by common eastern prejudices toward western frontier culture, manners, and mode of dress.

In keeping with the intensely partisan journalistic practices of the period, Knox paints starkly contrasting portraits of the pro-Union and pro-secession elements of Missouri's population. His oft-repeated contention that Missouri's Unionists acted with universal benevolence while the secessionists repaid such undeserved kindness with a litany of violence and abuse is ludicrous in retrospect but served well the partisan prejudices of his reading audience. In his reports, Knox strongly supported measures designed by Union authorities to punish those suspected of being secessionists by making them pay (through heavy monetary assessments and personal bonds) for the property losses of Unionists and for refugee services. His constant assaults on the character of enemy military and political leaders are, however, sometimes leavened with humor. For instance, while discussing Missouri State Guard commander Sterling Price's vulnerable position at Lexington in September 1861, Knox writes that "only the most powerful anti-laxatives will save him" (pg. 198), an obvious reference to the debilitating bowel troubles the Price experienced earlier that summer.

As mentioned above, Knox considered himself a friend of General Lyon, but he also seems to have made a concerted effort to bolster support for all members of the department's high command. While he might have been expected to do so, Knox did not join in the outcry against General Fremont for not provided Lyon with enough reinforcements to hold the army's position in SW Missouri. Unlike so many other journalists and war correspondents who relished active participation in factional wars fought among and between military and civilian officials, Knox mostly avoided them. When assessing the command tenures of generals Lyon, Halleck, Sigel, and Fremont, Knox typically published positive, and sometimes glowing, reports. While his support for Fremont was eroded by the general's determined isolation from the public and the increasing allegations of criminal misconduct within the quartermaster department in Missouri, Knox nevertheless criticized the decision to sack the general mid-campaign in the fall of 1861. The reporter's gushing praise of Franz Sigel's martial abilities, and sympathy with Sigel's unseemly squabbling over rank and credit, will perhaps surprise modern readers possessing better information of the general's overall war record. Though he accompanied the Army of the Southwest in the field, Knox did not claim the same type of close relationship with General Curtis that he had earlier with General Lyon, and his reports unfortunately offer little commentary regarding the victor of Pea Ridge.

Adding significant value of their own, Robert Schultz's editing activities go far beyond simply compiling the Knox newspaper reports for publication. His chapter introductions and supplemental narrative throughout offer useful historical background and context. In both text and notes, Schultz also helpfully points out Knox's factual errors and judiciously critiques the reporter's more questionable interpretations of events. In addition to fulfilling their typical role, the footnotes also contain much in the way of additional Knox material that the editor apparently felt would have disrupted the flow of the main text. Though infrequent, other sources (both outside ones and Knox's own wartime memoir Camp-Fire and Cotton-Field) are incorporated into the discussion as well. At the back of the book, a forty-page appendix section contains another collection of supporting documents, most of which are a variety of official military and civilian proclamations from both sides.

Though Knox would go on to witness other fighting fronts (and get into trouble with General Sherman), one could make the argument that his series of voluminous writings produced over the first twelve months of the war comprise his most significant contribution to the Civil War historiography. This proverbial 'first draft of history' collected and edited by Robert Schultz in Thomas W. Knox: Civil War Correspondent in Missouri is highly recommended reading, most particularly for dedicated students of the early war period in Missouri and Arkansas. Though Knox's writings have never been lost to history, he doesn't rank among the best-known Civil War journalists, and both editor and publisher deserve high praise for bringing the entirety of Knox's valuable Trans-Mississippi reportage to print for the first time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Booknotes: Let Us Die Like Men

New Arrival:
Let Us Die Like Men: The Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864 by William Lee White (Savas Beatie, 2019).

Lee White's Let Us Die Like Men: The Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864 takes the Emerging Civil War series on another foray into a major western theater campaign. Beginning its narrative in September 1864, the book covers the initial stages of General Hood's meandering march north (i.e. Allatoona Pass, Decatur, and Columbia) before discussing the fighting at Spring Hill and Franklin, both events of enduring controversy. I will be curious to see if White holds any unconventional views on Hood and his ambitious Tennessee campaign.

You do get all the expected elements of an ECW series title, with maps (12 in number and very good) and/or photographs on nearly every page. There's a 14-stop battlefield tour and four-part appendix section, the latter covering Confederate artillery at Franklin, a list of regimental flags lost, a preservation discussion, and a brief personal "memories" of Franklin essay. The volume concludes with orders of battle and a suggested reading list.

Clearly the ECW crew has developed a winning formula that they are comfortable with, one that expertly condenses large (and mostly already popular) military topics and applies fairly lavish production values at a modest price, but I can't help but wonder if they could just as successfully integrate other approaches. I think the volume dimensions and overall format would be perfect for the inverse as well, giving full treatment to small but important battles that are often overlooked (i.e. those that might deserve more than an essay but couldn't otherwise fill a full-sized book). Anyway, that's not a criticism of the way they do things, just food for thought (and probably a guarantee of poorer sales!).

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Booknotes: Slaves, Slaveholders, and a Kentucky Community's Struggle Toward Freedom

New Arrival:
Slaves, Slaveholders, and a Kentucky Community's Struggle Toward Freedom
  by Elizabeth D. Leonard (Univ Press of KY, 2019).

In Slaves, Slaveholders, and a Kentucky Community's Struggle Toward Freedom, Elizabeth Leonard "examines a community of black and white Kentuckians whose lives were intertwined throughout the Civil War era. Bringing new insights into the life and legacy of Breckinridge County native Joseph Holt, Leonard exposes the origins of Holt's evolution from slave owner to member of Lincoln's War Department, where he became a powerful advocate for the abolition of slavery and the enlistment of former bondsmen." You'll perhaps recall that Leonard authored a Holt biography that was released in 2011 and well received.

In her preface, Leonard highlights the two primary goals of her study: (1) to provide "a close-up look at a few dozen slaves from Breckinridge County, Kentucky who served in Company A of the 118th United States Colored Troops," following them from "slavery through the Civil War and on into a postwar world where they hoped to capitalize on the promises of Union victory;" and (2) "detail the complicated tensions that characterized the intersecting communities—state, local, interpersonal—from which these black Kentuckians came and to which, in many cases, they returned after the war" (pp. x-xi).

More from the description: "One such narrative is that of Sandy Holt, who, in the summer of 1864, joined tens of thousands of former slaves and enlisted in the United States Colored Troops. He put his life on the line to secure the Union's survival and the end of slavery. Hundreds of miles away in a federal office, Sandy Holt's former owner, Joseph Holt, worked to achieve the same goals. No one could have predicted before the Civil War that these two very different but interconnected Kentuckians would be crucial participants in the Union war effort. Joseph Holt's radical transformation and the contributions of black Kentuckians in the United States Colored Troops have long been underestimated."

"Digging deep into Holt's past, Leonard explores the lives of Holt's extended family members and also traces the experiences and efforts of Sandy Holt and other slaves-turned-soldiers from Breckinridge County and its periphery. Many ran from bondage to fight for freedom in the Union army and returned, hoping to claim the promises of Emancipation. The interwoven stories of Joseph and Sandy Holt, and their shared Kentucky community during and after the war, show how a small corner of this border state experienced one of the most defining conflicts in American history."

Monday, February 11, 2019

Review - "North Carolina Unionists and the Fight Over Secession" by Steve Miller

[NORTH CAROLINA UNIONISTS AND THE FIGHT OVER SECESSION by Steve M. Miller (Arcadia Publishing & The History Press, 2019). Softcover, photos, tables, notes, index. Pages main/total:122/141. ISBN:978-1-62585-937-2. $21.99]

Many fine books have documented the struggles of moderate slave state politicians to head off the secession movements that gathered increasing momentum in their section of the country during the late antebellum period. Of course, the strength of these internal pro-Union factions greatly increased as one journeyed north from the Deep South and into the slave states of the Upper and Border South. Though as successful as their Border State brethren in blocking secession during the turmoil immediately following the 1860 election, the great majority of Upper South Unionists joined the secessionists (reluctantly or otherwise) after the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter and President Lincoln's call for 75,000 militia to crush the rebellion. A focused selection of moderate North Carolina leaders, some slaveholders, who believed that the proslavery interests of the South were best protected within the Union are the focus of Steve Miller's North Carolina Unionists and the Fight Over Secession.

In the book, Miller provides informative capsule biographies of seven North Carolina politicians who counseled against secession for most of their public lives: George Edmund Badger, John Adams Gilmer, William Alexander Graham, John Motley Morehead, David Lowry Swain, Zebulon Baird Vance, and Jonathan Worth. Where relevant, the author briefly discusses their reactions to radicalizing events and their roles played in many of the legislative proposals and passed measures that preceded the Civil War (ex. the Wilmot Proviso, Compromise of 1850, Kansas-Nebraska Act, and more).

Any kind of comprehensive accounting and analysis of the composition, ideological principles, and actions of North Carolina's Unionists as a whole during the lead up to war is beyond the scope of this introductory-level book, and, as stated above, Miller chooses instead to focus on a select group of prominent individuals. While the Democrats became the state's dominant party during the 1850s and increasingly promoted secession over that decade, men like Badger, Gilmer, Graham, Morehead, Swain, Vance, and Worth (all ex-Whigs, lawyers, and proslavery moderates) led the opposition. With the exception of the youthful Vance, these were conservative figures of the older generation. Out of the eleven states that joined the Confederacy, only Tennessee held out as long as North Carolina did before leaving the Union. Sandwiched between Virginia and South Carolina, the geography of North Carolina did its Unionists no favors, but it was the outbreak of war that forced them to conclusively choose sides.

Because all seven abandoned their prewar stances against secession after Lincoln's call to arms and went on to serve the Confederacy in some capacity (with Vance being the only one young enough to fight for a period of time), some might be puzzled with the book's unqualified "Unionist" label. For the purposes of his main discussion, Miller does not differentiate between Conditional Unionists (a grouping that would include all seven of his main subjects) and Unconditional Unionists. Defining and making use of these historiographically mature labels would surely have clarified and enhanced understanding within the broad reading audience the book is intended to serve. Reconstruction authorities were certainly mindful of the distinction, blocking those of the seven that were popularly elected to political office from assuming their seats. Nevertheless, by introducing an important group of moderate North Carolina voices, Steve Miller has provided a useful service to Civil War readers wishing to learn more about the men who led antebellum opposition to secession in the Upper South.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Complete Roster and Service Records of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia during the Overland Campaign

Many readers know and are appreciative of Alfred Young's services in compiling Confederate reference material for the 1864 Overland Campaign. His 2013 book Lee's Army during the Overland Campaign: A Numerical Study was well received and positively reviewed. But now there's more, a great deal more. The Spring 2019 LSU Press catalog has an announcement of the upcoming publication of Young's Complete Roster and Service Records of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia during the Overland Campaign.

It is "the first compilation of the entire roster and service records for all the various units that composed Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia during the 1864 Overland Campaign. It is the ultimate reference guide to the more than 120,000 soldiers who served with Lee in Virginia as he led his army into a series of battles against Union General Ulysses S. Grant. While there are specific guides to several of Lee’s units, Young’s work is the first comprehensive companion that features data on all of the men who served under the general during this campaign. Using an array of primary source material, from official Confederate records to southern newspapers, Young provides the enlistment and unit data for each soldier as well as a concise history of their service, including records on their rank, time served, promotion, hospitalization, wounds, capture, desertion, absence without leave, furloughs, and death. An essential archive for both genealogists and Civil War scholars, the Complete Roster and Service Records of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia during the Overland Campaign is the most wide-ranging catalog in existence of each soldier’s record during the campaign."

Though the catalog lists a February release date, the press's website still has no product page up for the roster (or at least one that I could find), which will be e-book only ($65, ISBN:9780807170533). The fact that it is 5,580 pages in length surely figured prominently in the decision to go that route, along with the digital format's "enabling ease of search and annotation". This is definitely one of those daunting projects that you're glad exists and that someone else risked their sanity to do it.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Booknotes: Blue and Gray on the Border

New Arrival:
Blue and Gray on the Border: The Rio Grande Valley Civil War Trail by Christopher L. Miller, Russell K. Skowronek, & Roseann Bacha-Garza (TAMU Press, 2018).

After some neglect, Civil War era persons, places, and events of the lower Rio Grande have received rather abundant attention of late. The latest publication is a regional guidebook to historical sites from both the Civil War and Mexican-American War. Created by a trio of historians, Blue and Gray on the Border: The Rio Grande Valley Civil War Trail weaves "together the history and archaeology of the Lower Rio Grande Valley into a densely illustrated travel guide featuring important historical and military sites of the Civil War period. Blue and Gray on the Border integrates the sites, colorful personalities, cross-border conflicts, and intriguing historical vignettes that outline the story of the Civil War along the Texas-Mexico border. This resource-packed book will aid heritage travelers, students, and history buffs in their discovery of the rich history of the Civil War in the Rio Grande Valley." This is the official website.

Funded and supported by a variety of public and private entities, the bilingual trail project guides readers and travelers through five border counties (Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb, and Zapata). The book is a mixture of background narrative and historical site register. County-focused chapters are filled with photos, maps, and tables, and each concludes with a nice reading list. The project also places a heavy emphasis on the role of black troops in securing the border, both during and after the Civil War.

The companion essay anthology Civil War on the Rio Grande, 1846-1876, also edited by Miller, Skowronek, and Bacha-Garza, is available, too. It was released last month, but I don't have my review copy yet. You can view the table of contents at the link provided.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Booknotes: Politician in Uniform

New Arrival:
Politician in Uniform: General Lew Wallace and the Civil War by Christopher R. Mortenson (Univ of Okla Press, 2019).

It's easy to see why Lew Wallace's life story still fascinates many Civil War readers and authors. For a politician-general he demonstrated real ability during the early war period before becoming embroiled in controversy at Shiloh. Sidelined by powerful critics, Wallace achieved a redemption of sorts at Monocacy in 1864. After the war, he became a celebrated author and was territorial governor of New Mexico during the infamous Lincoln County War. Even so, it is quite remarkable that, by my count, at least four major studies of Wallace's military career have been published over the past decade. Far more consequential officers have received only a fraction of that amount of attention. The newest examination is Christopher Mortenson's Politician in Uniform: General Lew Wallace and the Civil War.

From the description: "Where previous accounts have sought to discredit or defend Wallace’s performance as a general in the war, author Christopher R. Mortenson takes a more nuanced approach. Combining military biography, historical analysis, and political insight, Politician in Uniform provides an expanded and balanced view of Wallace’s military career—and offers the reader a new understanding of the experience of a voluntary general like Lew Wallace." Though I didn't get the chance to read it, the title of Getchell's 2013 study fairly trumpets the author's purpose, but I thought the excellent Stephens (2010) and Beemer (2015) military biographies were very even keeled in their warts-and-all assessments of Wallace's Civil War career.

Every author examining the topic has quickly come to the conclusion that Wallace possessed personality and character flaws that often made him his own worst enemy. More from the description: "A natural rivalry and tension between West Pointers and political generals might have accounted for some of these difficulties, but many, as Mortenson shows us, were of Wallace’s own making. A temperamental officer with a “rough” conception of manhood, Wallace often found his mentors wanting, disrespected his superiors, and vigorously sought opportunities for glorious action in the field, only to perform poorly when given the chance."

Finally: "Despite his flaws, Mortenson notes, Wallace contributed both politically and militarily to the war effort—in the fight for Fort Donelson and at the Battle of Shiloh, in the defense of Cincinnati and southern Indiana, and in the administration of Baltimore and the Middle Department. Detailing these and other instances of Wallace’s success along with his weaknesses and failures, Mortenson provides an unusually thorough and instructive picture of this complicated character in his military service. His book clearly demonstrates the unique complexities of evaluating the performance of a politician in uniform." I don't know about you, but I'm up for another Wallace book.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Booknotes: Rocks and Rifles

New Arrival:
Rocks and Rifles: The Influence of Geology on Combat and Tactics during the American Civil War by Scott Hippensteel (Springer, 2019).

Officially a 2019 title though released in December 2018, this was one of my most anticipated titles of last year. I always appreciate it when someone takes a novel approach to Civil War military history. Rocks and Rifles "discusses the relationship between geology and fighting during the American Civil War. Terrain was largely determined by the underlying rocks and how the rocks weathered." In the book, author Scott Hippensteel "explores the difference in rock type between multiple battlegrounds and how these rocks influenced the combat, tactics, and strategies employed by the soldiers and their commanding officers at different scales." Sounds cool.

Hippensteel arranges his geology discussion by the earth's three basic rock categories: igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary. The majority of battle coverage is eastern theater (Second Manassas, Gettysburg, South Mountain, Spotsylvania, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Petersburg), with two western battles (Kennesaw Mountain and Stones River) and Morris Island included for good measure. While it's perfectly fine for the author to primarily follow his own geographical interests, it would have been nice to see at least one Trans-Mississippi battlefield in the book. Pea Ridge in Arkansas is an absolutely ideal fit for a study of this kind.

The textbook-style format (and list price) makes me think the volume is intended foremost for graduate course work. Overall presentation is highly appealing. Photographs (b&w and color) abound and the book is full of maps, tables, charts, and diagrams. Having glanced through it, I am pretty excited to read it. A full review will definitely appear on the site.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Review - "The Tarnished Cavalier: Major General Earl Van Dorn, C.S.A." by Arthur Carter

I finally got around to a much desired but too long postponed reading of an Earl Van Dorn biography. The first step was to decide which one. There are really only two choices: Robert G. Hartje's Van Dorn: The Life and Times of a Confederate General (Vanderbilt Univ. Press, 1967) and The Tarnished Cavalier: Major General Earl Van Dorn, C.S.A. by Arthur B. Carter (Univ. of Tenn. Press, 1999). I went with Carter's book on the presumption that it incorporated many sources unavailable to Hartje more than three decades earlier. Also, the historiography of Van Dorn's campaigns was infinitely better developed by the late 1990s. Indeed, excellent major studies of Pea Ridge and Corinth (the two campaigns during which Van Dorn led armies) shortly preceded the publication of Carter's biography.

Though his 1862 campaign strategies in Arkansas and Mississippi were not Beauregard-level flights of fantasy, Van Dorn was clearly one of the Confederacy's most exceptional devotees of 'high risk-high reward' generalship. Few readers or scholars would contest Carter's view that Van Dorn's boldness and operational creativity were not at all matched by sufficient attention to detail when it came to planning, logistics, intelligence gathering, and reconnaissance. This critical evaluation of the persistent flaws present in the general's pair of near disastrous army command performances is similar in nature to those found in William Shea & Earl Hess's Pea Ridge study and Peter Cozzens's Corinth campaign history. Carter's assessment of Van Dorn's leadership qualities is fair-minded and judicious, and his overview accounts of the campaigns and battles themselves fairly rigorous.

Though Van Dorn unquestionably failed as an army commander, the general came into his own as a highly effective cavalry general beginning in late 1862. It would be difficult to refute the book's conclusion that the overwhelming success Van Dorn achieved during his December 1862 raid on Holly Springs and his adroit handling of larger mounted forces in Tennessee (a signal triumph being his victory at Thompson's Station on March 5, 1863) marked the general as a rising star among the Confederacy's mixed bag of western theater cavalry generals. Carter makes a pretty solid case that the more contained aggressiveness and higher value placed on battlefield intelligence that Van Dorn demonstrated in Middle Tennessee meant that he was able to learn from his mistakes.

Hello, ladies!
Much like Grant's drinking, Van Dorn's alleged womanizing was a topic of open conversation and one complicated by mixtures of rumor, innuendo, and fact. His extended extramarital affair during his Old Army service that produced three children and noticeable neglect of his legitimate family during the Civil War are both black marks on his character. Of course, his wartime connection to Jessie Peters, whatever its full nature might have been, is his most infamous indiscretion, and the one that resulted in his violent death at the hands of her physician husband. In-depth discussion of the circumstances, myths, and conjectures surrounding Van Dorn's May 7, 1863 Spring Hill murder is another highly appealing feature of the book. While the author's far-reaching exploration into the details of the assassination (to include the true locating of the shooting, the weapon used, and other lingering debates) and the motivations behind the killing results in one of those historiographical situations where more interesting questions are raised than conclusive answers given, the process makes for fascinating reading. Though the idea floated by some that Van Dorn's killer, Dr. George B. Peters, was a Union agent is rejected, Carter notes that the assassin did escape to Union lines for protection and apparently had his extensive, and previously confiscated, Arkansas property holdings and slaves returned to him (though the latter seems highly unlikely due to the Emancipation Proclamation being in force). One of the more intriguing new elements introduced into the discussion is fresh information obtained from the author's extensive 1967 correspondence with Col. Manning M. Kimmel, Jr. (the son of a Van Dorn staff member), whose father kept secret from the public some details of the affair (ex. the site of the killing) that were deemed especially injurious to the general's reputation.

Though I had no reason not be be, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this book. Obviously I can't compare Carter's study to Hartje's biography, but I would heartily recommend The Tarnished Cavalier to anyone wishing to learn more about Earl Van Dorn's distinctly up and down Civil War military career and ignoble end.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Booknotes: A Burned Land

New Arrival:
A Burned Land: The Trans-Mississippi in the Civil War by Robert R. Laven
  (McFarland, 2019).

From the description: "Often neglected by historians, actions in Missouri and Kansas had an important influence on the course of the Civil War, with profound effects for the communities and people in the region. This book focuses on the experiences of the soldiers, officers and civilians on both sides. Outside of Virginia and Tennessee, Missouri was perhaps the most hotly contested territory during the war. The author brings to life the events in the region that contributed to the internecine strife in the Western Theater. The fighting in Missouri culminated with an expedition that re-wrote the books on tactics and the use of mounted infantry."

While the full title A Burned Land: The Trans-Mississippi in the Civil War suggests a more theater-wide discussion, Laven's book is really about Missouri. Beginning in 1862, the book addresses a series of military topics in chronological order, with more than half the 150-page narrative devoted to Sterling Price's 1864 expedition. For visual aids, some photographs are included along with a line drawing of one of the forts guarding St. Louis and an old map of the Battle of Westport. Among the numerous appendices is a useful-looking order of battle series for some of the 1864 engagements described in the text. At a double-column page and a half in size, the bibliography is modest in scope.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Booknotes: North Carolina Unionists and the Fight Over Secession

New Arrival:
North Carolina Unionists and the Fight Over Secession by Steve M. Miller (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Press, 2019).

Examining the period between the turbulent political schisms of the 1850s and the beginning of the Civil War, Steve Miller's North Carolina Unionists and the Fight Over Secession highlights the efforts of prominent Tarheel moderates to advance compromise and stave off secession. Major figures discussed in the book include George Edmund Badger, John Adams Gilmer, William Alexander Graham, John Motley Morehead, David Lowry Swain, Zebulon Baird Vance, and Jonathan Worth. From the description: "William Alexander Graham helped broker the Compromise of 1850. John Motley Morehead and Jonathan Worth led the campaign against secession in early 1861. Most continued to serve their state under the Confederacy. Although Zebulon B. Vance opposed secession, he served in the Confederate army and as governor of the state during the Civil War."

Friday, February 1, 2019

Coming Soon (Feb '19 Edition)

North Carolina Unionists and the Fight Over Secession by Steve Miller.
A Great Sacrifice: Northern Black Soldiers, Their Families, and the Experience of Civil War by James Mendez.
For Church and Confederacy: The Lynches of South Carolina by Robert Curran, ed.
Leonidas Polk: Warrior Bishop of the Confederacy by Huston Horn.
Approaching Civil War and Southern History by William Cooper.
The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864 by Hampton Newsome.
In God's Presence: Chaplains, Missionaries, and Religious Space during the American Civil War by Benjamin Miller.

I plan to put a 'coming this month' list like this together at the beginning of each month. With reprints omitted it won't be comprehensive, just new titles with some reasonable likelihood of reaching me. It's not a large list for sure this time around, but most months have their surprises and many January titles still haven't arrived yet either.