Thursday, May 30, 2019

Review - "Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War" by David Silkenat

[Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War by David Silkenat (University of North Carolina Press, 2019). Hardcover, 2 illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. 368 Pages. ISBN:978-1-4696-4972-6. $39.95]

In ones, twos, and even by the tens of thousands, Civil War soldiers surrendered in staggering proportions over the course of the conflict. By some estimates a quarter of all Civil War soldiers found themselves prisoners of the enemy at some point during the war, many more than once. According to historian David Silkenat in his new book Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War this fact alone speaks to the centrality of surrender to the Civil War experience. In an original study that combines features of modern military studies with broader social and cultural history approaches to the topic, Silkenat strongly argues that "surrender profoundly shaped both the character and outcome of the Civil War" (pg. 4).

Not surprisingly given that both sections shared a common martial history and wider American culture, the author finds that opposing combatants shared similar unwritten rules regarding "honorable" surrender. Generally speaking it was deemed acceptable to surrender when facing inevitable defeat, but first one must have already come under enemy action overwhelming enough to prove that further defense meant pointless loss of life that would in no way aid the war effort. The book examines how these 'rules' were followed or not followed during a host of well-known surrender events such as Fort Sumter, Roanoke Island, Forts Henry and Donelson, Harpers Ferry, Vicksburg, and others. Interestingly, Silkenat's survey finds differences in popular reaction between sections when it came to surrenders deemed unjustified by the dictates of honor, with northern newspapers reserving scorn for the officers in charge (though the private soldiers themselves felt shared dishonor) while many southern newspapers also blamed the men in ranks as insufficiently committed to the cause even though they had no input in the decision-making. Formal surrender had potentially serious political repercussions as well. Early on, many in the Lincoln administration feared that simply accepting Confederate prisoners of war implied a recognition of legitimacy, but those confronting such concerns soon succumbed to practicality.

While group surrenders were part of a process commonly involving reflection and negotiation, demanding surrender or asking for mercy on an individual level in the heat of battle was an entirely different matter. Silkenat justly avoids generalizing behavior patterns and expectations on this kind of spur of moment, highly emotional event. It was one of the few instances in the service when the individual soldier was entirely his own agent. When it came down to weighing sure death against becoming a prisoner, the latter was the overwhelming choice. A major difference between individual versus group or mass surrender was the almost entire lack of opprobrium heaped upon the former. Undoubtedly, the distinction was made with at least some popular recognition of the starkly different circumstances involved. Even so, some critics inside and outside the armies believed that individual soldiers surrendered too readily. While there is abundant anecdotal evidence that the exchange system that broke down over the status of black troops led soldiers to redefine the appeal of the surrender option, little hard data is offered.

A section of the book looks at Gettysburg in an atypical context. Soldiers surrendered during Gettysburg in numbers roughly equal to those killed during the war's "bloodiest" battle. Recognizing that surrender was an unusually significant part of the experience of battle at Gettysburg, Silkenat examines the fighting there from the perspective of those made prisoner. Since men from both sides surrendered in large numbers during three days of combat, the battle serves as an uncommonly instructive lens through which to examine the great variety of circumstances associated with surrendering and accepting surrender on individual and group levels.

Another chapter analyzes the concept and exercise of demanding unconditional surrender by using the case studies of two expert practitioners, generals U.S. Grant and N.B. Forrest. Silkenat sees a decided contrast between the attitudes and methods of the two, with Grant seeing the "offer of surrender as a magnanimous gesture, an opportunity to avoid bloodshed, and a route to peace" while Forrest "saw the demand to surrender as a tactical weapon, a stratagem designed to engender terror." (pg. 139). This can be a useful way to illustrate soft and hard variances in the application of unconditional surrender, but direct comparison between the two seems less fruitful given the vast gulf in stature that existed between the two in addition to their operating under completely different military circumstances as army commander and behind-the-lines raider.

As others have also postulated, Silkenat sees 1864 as a transformative period in soldier attitudes toward surrender. With the previous year's breakdown of the exchange cartel combined with widespread knowledge of the horrors of overcrowded prisons, a more general use of black troops in combat, and an overall hardening of postures toward the enemy all being parts of the new mental calculus, this hypothesis seems reasonable but supporting evidence is not conclusive. Even though certain groups (i.e. Southern Unionists, black troops, and guerrillas) had already found surrendering distinctly dangerous for some time and striking examples of more typical soldiers choosing death over surrender can be cited, troops on both sides still continued to surrender in large numbers during the great campaigns of 1864. The author vaguely refers to a decreased ratio of surrendered to killed during 1864 battles in comparison with the two previous years of fighting, but a more systemic analysis is needed.

Several chapters address the series of mass Confederate surrenders that ended the war. Multiple book-length accounts already cover well the two most prominent capitulations at Appomattox and Bennett Place, and the narrative offers a solid synthesis of the literature describing and interpreting those events as well as those that occurred further west and into the Trans-Mississippi. By now one would hope that few readers hold on to the idea that Appomattox ended the Civil War, but the terms offered there served as a model for all of the negotiations that followed and it is undeniable that news of the surrenders back east led to such widespread demoralization and desertion throughout the Confederacy that further organized resistance became impossible. Nowhere was this better illustrated than in the Trans-Mississippi. In that vast and largely intact military department where still-numerous Confederate formations were largely out of contact with their Union foes, news of the Lee and Johnston capitulations nevertheless led hosts of soldiers to take matters into their own hands. Riots spread and many officers and men simply disbanded their units, seized what supplies they could from army stores, and headed home.

Beginning his postwar analysis with the ceremonial return to Charleston harbor of the U.S. flag originally lowered at Fort Sumter, Silkenat notes a rather rapid disappearance of the word "surrender" from much of the contemporary discussion. In a kind of mutual agreement aimed equally at avoiding unseemly public expressions of triumph and shame, a growing number of Union adherents tended to portray the final Confederate capitulation in its reunion context while most defeated Confederates were able to take pride in their ultimate surrender after framing the event as the honorable conclusion to an epic struggle against a vastly superior enemy. Even so, the author finds that the very idea of honorable surrender rather quickly disappeared from the American popular and military lexicon, and it carries heavy stigma to this day. The fact that current views on surrender as contrary to American values do not affect modern assessment of the bravery and commitment of Civil War soldiers is an interesting historiographical and cultural development to which the book finds no easy explanation.

Analyzing the process through the eyes of both vanquisher and vanquished, David Silkenat's Raising the White Flag provides readers with a thoughtful, theme-based survey history of the mechanics and meaning of surrender. At all levels, the act of surrender was always more complex than simple offer and acceptance, and the study usefully examines a number of cultural, legal, political, and racial factors that went into framing attitudes and practices, all of which evolved to some degree or another throughout the course of the war. Recommended.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Booknotes: Alabamians in Blue

New Arrival:
Alabamians in Blue: Freedmen, Unionists, and the Civil War in the Cotton State by Christopher M. Rein (LSU Press, 2019).

Putting aside for a moment the enormous contributions of the border slave states to Union military manpower, the white Unionist volunteers of the Confederate states alone could have collectively filled the ranks of a very large field army. These were the kinds of double losses that the already heavily underdog CSA could not afford. Anti-Confederate elements exists in every seceded state to some degree or another, but the three stronghold regions most often raised during discussion of Southern Unionism and its military expression are East Tennessee, western Virginia, and northern Alabama.

Christopher Rein's Alabamians in Blue: Freedmen, Unionists, and the Civil War in the Cotton State "offers an in-depth scholarly examination of Alabama’s black and white Union soldiers and their contributions to the eventual success of the Union army in the western theater. ...Rein contends that the state’s anti-Confederate residents tendered an important service to the North, primarily by collecting intelligence and protecting logistical infrastructure. He highlights an underappreciated period of biracial cooperation, underwritten by massive support from the federal government. Providing a broad synthesis, Rein’s study demonstrates that southern dissenters were not passive victims but rather active participants in their own liberation."

The study also moves beyond ideological questions in its examination of the reasons why Southern Unionists chose to fight. "Ecological factors, including agricultural collapse under levies from both armies, may have provided the initial impetus for Union enlistment. Federal pillaging inflicted further heavy destruction on plantation agriculture. The breakdown in basic subsistence that ensued pushed Alabama’s freedmen and Unionists into federal camps in garrison cities in search of relief and the opportunity for revenge."

The most well-known regiment was the First Alabama Vol. Cavalry (Union) and the military experience of those volunteers and others is a major focus of the book as well. "Once in uniform, Alabama’s Union soldiers served alongside northern regiments and frustrated Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s attempts to interrupt the Union supply efforts in the 1864 Atlanta campaign, which led to the collapse of Confederate arms in the western theater and the eventual Union victory. Rein describes a “hybrid warfare” of simultaneous conventional and guerilla battles, where each significantly influenced the other. He concludes that the conventional conflict both prompted and eventually ended the internecine warfare that largely marked the state’s experience of the war." Sounds very interesting.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Booknotes: Waul's Legion

New Arrival:
Waul's Legion: History of the Texas Legion by Michael Steinman (Author-Lulu, 2019).

Confederate legions were interesting military experiments that quickly proved unfit for integration into the army, and this short-lived status is probably one reason why unit histories beyond a few component studies (cavalry ones appear most frequently in the literature) are so scarce. This is certainly the case with Waul's Legion, perhaps the best known western example.

No attempt at a modern history of Waul's Texas Legion has been attempted since the 1985 publication of Robert and Leif Hasskarl's Waul's Texas Legion, 1862-1865 (I've also seen evidence of an earlier version dated 1976), which was self-published and from my understanding limited in value. Michael Steinman's Waul's Legion: History of the Texas Legion attempts to rectify this deficiency with a multi-purpose history and reference guide.

Steinman's book is a large, 81/2 x 11 inch softcover 346 pages in length. The organization and service history narrative is brief at around 50 pages. This is followed by a 20-page collection of organizational tables. Officer biographies fill the next 30 pages and roughly 200 pages are devoted to a rank and file roster of all individuals known to have served in the legion infantry, cavalry, and artillery.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Booknotes: Call Out the Cadets

New Arrival:
Call Out the Cadets: The Battle of New Market, May 15, 1864 by Sarah Kay Bierle (Savas Beatie, 2019).

With their publication of the current standard New Market battle history Valley Thunder (2010), David Powell's book offering a broader perspective of the campaign Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah (2019), and now Sarah Kay Bierle's Call Out the Cadets, Savas Beatie has pretty much covered all the bases for a wide reading audience.

From the description: "In Call Out the Cadets, Sarah Kay Bierle traces the history of this important, yet smaller battle. While covering the military aspects of the battle, the book also follows the history of individuals whose lives or military careers were changed because of the fight. New Market shined for its accounts of youth in battle, immigrant generals, and a desperate, muddy fight. Youth and veterans, generals and privates, farmers and teachers—all were called into the conflict or its aftermath of the battle, an event that changed a community, a military institute, and the very fate of the Shenandoah Valley."

The volume has all of the narrative, tour, map, and photo features present in the ECW series of books. The bulk of the book is an overview account of the Battle of New Market, with the famous Virginia Military Institute cadet story and context being a major feature. The driving tour is integrated into the narrative and consists of 16 stops. Of the ten maps, five are detailed tactical drawings showing troop positions at each stage of the battle.

The first appendix is a collection of quoted selections from numerous eyewitness accounts of the battle, the second recognizes the indispensable early role of George R. Collins (VMI Class of 1911) in preserving the battlefield, and the third discusses how current cadets recognize and honor the Civil War legacy of their forebears.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Booknotes: Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South

New Arrival:
Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South: A Reevaluation by Michael S. Frawley (LSU Press, 2019).

No one will deny that the industrial capacity of the antebellum American South lagged far behind the North's, but the persistence of myths regarding southern unwillingness to invest in industrial development and the presumed incompatibility of slave labor with large-scale manufacturing deserve further reexamination. Another associated topic of useful debate revolves around gaining an accurate assessment of the degree to which the South's slave-based agricultural export economy smothered the growth of industry. It looks like all of these questions are addressed in Michael Frawley's Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South.

Frawley's investigation "engages a wide variety of sources―including United States census data, which many historians have underutilized when gauging economic growth in the prewar South―to show how industrial development in the region has been systematically minimized by scholars. In doing so, Frawley reconsiders factors related to industrial production in the prewar South, such as the availability of natural resources, transportation, markets, labor, and capital. He contends that the Gulf South was far more industrialized and modern than suggested by census records, economic historians like Fred Bateman and Thomas Weiss, and contemporary travel writers such as Frederick Law Olmsted."

More from the description: "Frawley situates the prewar South firmly in a varied and widespread industrial context, contesting the assumption that slavery inhibited industry in the region and that this lack of economic diversity ultimately prevented the Confederacy from waging a successful war. Though southern manufacturing firms could not match the output of northern states, Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South proves that such entities had established themselves as vital forces in the southern economy on the eve of the Civil War." Sounds fascinating. With its text supported by a great abundance of maps and tables, the format looks highly accessible, and I always like to see someone able to get their point across in 130 pages.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Booknotes: A Great Sacrifice

New Arrival:
A Great Sacrifice: Northern Black Soldiers, Their Families, and the Experience of Civil War by James G. Mendez (Fordham UP, 2019).

James Mendez's A Great Sacrifice: Northern Black Soldiers, Their Families, and the Experience of Civil War is "an in-depth analysis of the effects of the Civil War on northern black families carried out using letters from northern black women―mothers, wives, sisters, and female family friends―addressed to a number of Union military officials."

Rather than focusing on black soldiers serving at the front "the letters give a voice to the black family members left on the northern homefront. Through their explanations and requests, readers obtain a greater apprehension of the struggles African American families faced during the war, and their conditions as the war progressed. The original letters that were received by government agencies, as well as many of the copies of the letters sent in response, are held by the National Archives in Washington, D.C."

Early chapters cover life in the North before the war and the process leading to the organization of black regiments. Issues like unequal pay and home front violence against black families are discussed in succeeding chapters, as are family-initiated correspondence with the government over matters including whereabouts information, discharge, and other requests. The study also continues on briefly into the postwar period.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Review - "Lincoln, Seward, and US Foreign Relations in the Civil War Era" by Joseph Fry

[Lincoln, Seward, and US Foreign Relations in the Civil War Era by Joseph A. Fry (University Press of Kentucky, 2019), Hardcover, photos, illustrations, notes, biblio essay, index. Pages main/total:191/241. ISBN:978-0-8131-7712-0. $60]

Though scholars studying the international context of the American Civil War have recently branched out to address connections with other nations and regions beyond the Atlantic world, there's no denying that European support and cooperation (particularly from Britain and France) were foremost in the hopes and minds of both U.S. and Confederate diplomats. While there's no great shortage of satisfactory books and articles recounting the Civil War history of French and British relations with both sections, there is always room for a new work that pauses to reflect upon and assess the current state of the diplomatic historiography. Tracing the unlikely close bond that developed between President Abraham Lincoln and his Secretary of State William Henry Seward while also exploring how that working relationship made diplomatic power a significant factor in Union victory, Joseph Fry's Lincoln, Seward, and US Foreign Relations in the Civil War Era is such a work. The author is certainly in agreement with the scholarly consensus that both men overcame their initial Republican Party rivalry to forge a highly effective partnership that successfully navigated the country through a host of domestic and foreign crises.

The book begins with a pair of biographical sketches that serve mainly to highlight the contrast between Lincoln and Seward when it came to upbringing, education, pre-election national prominence, personality, and overall disposition. The relationship got off to a rocky start after Seward presumed for himself status as the power behind the throne, and the Sumter crisis demonstrated how badly coordinated government message and policy were during the early period of the new administration. However, as Fry relates, Lincoln quickly asserted his leadership and a properly chastised Seward seemingly just as swiftly accepted his subordinate role.

In Fry's view, it was the complementary strengths of both men that made their stewardship of the State Department so effective. Lincoln combined decisive leadership with artful articulation of the justness of the Union cause while Seward, with the president acting as a moderating force, balanced outward belligerence with private conciliation in a manner that eventually won over many of his foreign critics who initially viewed him as a dangerous loose cannon. In the end, the threat of war attached to any outsider intervention beyond according the Confederacy belligerency status proved to be a highly effective deterrent to foreign recognition. That said, the author readily concedes that British and French diplomats always saw greater national interest served by cooperating with the U.S. and were far more concerned with European affairs than American ones.

In the book, Fry offers readers a sound overview of the many well-known crisis moments, both large and small, that challenged the political and diplomatic skills of the Lincoln-Seward team during the war. While not exhaustive, the following list offers potential readers a general sense of how comprehensive the coverage is. In addition to discussing U.S. objections to Britain and France granting the Confederacy belligerency status, being less than cooperative with the blockade, and lacking the will to block ship sales to the Confederate Navy, the book addresses the Trent and Peterhoff affairs, French imperial designs on Mexico, and the most worrisome foreign intervention threats that materialized in 1862 and 1863. Internal political troubles such as the 1862 "Cabinet Crisis" and sustained Radical Republican opposition to the administration (which the book thematically centers around Senator Charles Sumner) are also topics of note. Emancipation as a domestic war measure also aimed at making foreign intervention less palatable is also fully integrated into the discussion. In nearly every case, emphasis is placed on the crisis's successful (or at least damage-limiting) resolution due in great measure to the effectiveness of the Lincoln-Seward partnership's complementary strengths.

Complaints are few in number and fairly minor in significance. Fry is obviously a great admirer of both men and his broadly celebratory narrative could probably have incorporated more balancing critical voices beyond Sumner's rather unsympathetic one. It's not all gushing, though, as some failures of federal Indian policy and Lincoln's initial support for black colonization come under scrutiny. Though most of the military background material presented in the text is only mildly essential to the interpretation of the book's primary subject matter, some questionable assessments are worthy of mention. For example, Fry repeatedly extols without any dissenting commentary Lincoln's alleged "mastery" of military strategy to go along with his sound diplomatic instincts. With military matters perhaps outside the author's area of expertise, the text also betrays a dated understanding of certain generals while expressing a conceptual and contextual misunderstanding of the meaning and transitional timing of "hard war" (ex. Fry writes on page 82 that Grant and Buell "implemented the hard war strategy in spades while defeating the Confederates at Shiloh").

After Lincoln's assassination in 1865, Seward was left with four more years at the head of the State Department. Though Lincoln and Seward throughout their careers opposed territorial expansion that they felt mostly served "Slave Power" interests, both were themselves committed nationalists and westward expansionists. Fry's concluding section interestingly recounts Seward's most significant achievement as Andrew Johnson's Secretary of State, the purchase of Alaska from Russia. The difficult approval process once again proved that the aging Seward still possessed formidable skills in the areas of diplomacy and political lobbying, and Fry credits Seward with being instrumental in persuading the Senate to approve the transfer and the House of Representatives to fund the purchase. Though the decisive 37-2 Senate approval vote seems suggestive of a high degree of existing support within that body, details of the much more contested House debates more convincingly supports that notion. However, Seward's greatest foreign policy triumph of his postwar career at the State Department was also tainted by scandal. While Fry does acknowledge that Seward lied to a congressional investigative committee about his knowledge of Russian cash bribes to voting House members, criticism of that ethical and legal lapse is overshadowed by the book's overarching appreciation of Seward's prowess as top-rank Washington political operator.

Acquiring Alaska was a major success but Seward's other Pacific and Caribbean territorial ambitions beyond formal annexation of Midway Island were thwarted by his traditional enemies in both parties as well as his inescapable connection to the much-despised President Johnson. Because Seward's Alaska purchase was consciously intended to be a vital early link to a dominant U.S. presence in the Pacific and stepping stone to lucrative future trade relationships with Asia, Fry and others see Seward as both sage predictor and instrumental early facilitator of the United States's unrivaled economic growth and rise to the top of the world's great powers.

Fry admits straight away that his book is not the product of original research but rather a considered reappraisal of the current literature (the breadth of which one can examine by reading the author's helpful bibliographical essay). A successful venture when viewed on those terms, Lincoln, Seward, and US Foreign Relations in the Civil War Era is an exceptionally well-articulated synthesis of that existing scholarship. Already seen by most historians as a key element in achieving Union victory while avoiding dangerous foreign conflicts, the Lincoln-Seward diplomatic partnership is also convincingly framed by Fry's narrative as being an important foundational element in the future growth and prosperity of the nation.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Booknotes: Conquered

New Arrival:
Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed by Larry J. Daniel (UNC Press, 2019).

The two classic studies of the Confederacy's star-crossed Army of Tennessee are Stanley F. Horn's The Army of Tennessee (1941) and the two-volume history (Army of the Heartland: The Army of Tennessee, 1861-1862 and Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee, 1862-1865) from Thomas L. Connelly. Almost fifty years on from the 1971 publication of Autumn of Glory, it is time for another in-depth study utilizing the vast source material made available since that time as well as new modes of thinking about Civil War armies.

The reasons why the Army of Tennessee failed to win key campaigns and battles (save its pyrrhic victory at Chickamauga), despite having solid lower-ranking leadership and excellent human material in the ranks, have been debated even since the war ended. Most, including Connelly, primarily attribute the string of defeats, many of which came after almost breathtaking initial tactical successes on the battlefield, to the army's extreme level of high command dysfunction. Many other human, structural, material, political, and geographical factors have also been cited over the years. Books directly addressing this topic include Richard McMurry's fascinating 1989 comparative study Two Great Rebel Armies and more recently Andrew Haughton's 2000 study Training, Tactics and Leadership in the Confederate Army of Tennessee: Seeds of Failure took a stab at it. I'm not familiar with Haughton's book. Years ago I was going to try to borrow a copy through interlibrary loan but never got around to it.

According to the preface of his new book Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed, author Larry Daniel rejected repeating Connelly's chronological narrative format in favor of something closer related to Joseph Glatthaar's "war-and-society" approach, albeit without the latter's rich host of quantitative elements. As one might expect going in, Daniel finds many diverse factors behind the Army of Tennessee's overall "failure" and concludes in parallel fashion that the reasons why it took so long for Union armies to conclusively defeat it were similarly multi-factorial in nature.

From the description: "Surpassing previous work that has focused on questions of command structure and the force's fate on the fields of battle, Daniel provides the clearest view to date of the army's inner workings, from top-level command and unit cohesion to the varied experiences of common soldiers and their connections to the home front. Drawing from his mastery of the relevant sources, Daniel's book is a thought-provoking reassessment of an army's fate, with important implications for Civil War history and military history writ large." Can't wait to delve in.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Book News: The Hardest Lot of Men

David Silkenat's Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War is the first attempt at a comprehensive, theme-based study of the topic, and one aspect of it is discussion of the many factors behind varying reactions (on both home and military fronts) to the wholesale surrenders that occurred with a high degree of frequency during the conflict. One such episode widely deemed disgraceful was the Union surrender of the Murfreesboro garrison to Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry raiders in July 1862. A unit whose Civil War was heavily defined by this surrender was the Third Minnesota, and the profoundly dispiriting effect the episode had on the regiment will be discussed in Joseph Fitzharris's upcoming book The Hardest Lot of Men: The Third Minnesota Infantry in the Civil War (OU Press, September 2019).

As I've stated before, most recently when sharing news about another yet to be released unit study, regimental histories interest me most when they address participation in lesser-known fronts or incompletely covered events. This is the case with the Third's up and down experiences of the war in the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters.

From the description: "Through letters, personal accounts of the men, and other sources, author Joseph C. Fitzharris recounts how the Minnesotans, prisoners of war, broken in spirit and morale, went home and found redemption and renewed purpose fighting the Dakota Indians. They were then sent south to fight guerrillas along the Tennessee River. In the process, the regiment was forged anew as a superbly drilled and disciplined unit that engaged in the siege of Vicksburg and in the Arkansas Expedition that took Little Rock. At Pine Bluff, Arkansas, sickness so reduced its numbers that the Third was twice unable to muster enough men to bury its own dead, but the men never wavered in battle."

After the capture of the Arkansas capital in September 1863, the regiment remained in the state for the duration of the conflict. I am looking forward to reading more about this late-war period, particularly the unit's role in the 1864 Battle of Fitzhugh's Woods. I recall that action being discussed in broader books about the war in NE Arkansas from Freeman Mobley and Lady Elizabeth Watson, but neither account felt truly satisfactory.

The book "follows the Third through occupation to war’s end, when the returning men, deeming the citizens of St. Paul insufficiently appreciative, spurned a celebration in their honor. In this first full account of the regiment, Fitzharris brings to light the true story long obscured by the official histories and illustrates myriad aspects of a nineteenth-century soldier’s life—enlisted and commissioned alike—from recruitment and training to the rigors of active duty. The Hardest Lot of Men gives us an authentic picture of the Third Minnesota, at once both singular and representative of its historical moment." Sounds very interesting.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Booknotes: Forts

New Arrival:
Forts: An Illustrated History of Building for Defence by Jeremy Black (Osprey Pub, 2019).

British historian Jeremy Black is the author of a great number of military and map history publications. His latest study is Forts: An Illustrated History of Building for Defence. From the description:

"Ever since humans began to live together in settlements they have felt the need to organize some kind of defense against potentially hostile neighbors. Many of the earliest city states were built as walled towns, and during the medieval era, stone castles were built both as symbols of the defenders' strength and as protection against potential attack. The advent of cannon prompted fortifications to become lower, denser, and more complex, and the forts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries could appear like snowflakes in their complexity and beautiful geometry. Without forts, the history of America could have taken a very different course, pirates could have sailed the seas unchecked, and Britain itself could have been successfully invaded.

This book explains the history of human fortifications, and is beautifully illustrated using photographs, plans, drawings, and maps to explain why they were built, their various functions, and their immense historical legacy in laying the foundations of empire.

The text tracing the purpose, development, and use of fortifications is lavishly supported by full-color illustrations. With so many books reducing images of archival drawings and artwork to such a small size that text is rendered illegible and intricate details no longer discernible, this study utilizes its great size (11.5" square dimensions) to present maps in full-page reproductions that are vibrant in color and marvelously clear in resolution. In addition to many others, the painted maps of the various Vauban designs that protected French-held cities and ports stand out as beautiful works of art themselves.

The ancient world is not a focus of the study. One chapter is devoted to medieval castles and the remaining five to the sixteenth through twentieth centuries. The nineteenth century chapter has American Civil War coverage of both permanent (ex. Fort Sumter) and semi-permanent (ex. Fort Lyon) military installations. Though the western tradition is emphasized, the book is a world history of fort design and building. A quick thumb through the text revealed examples from Europe, North America, South America, India, China, Thailand, and other places.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Booknotes: Rebels and Patriots

New Arrival:
Rebels and Patriots - Wargaming Rules for North America: Colonies to Civil War
  by Michael Leck & Daniel Mersey (Osprey Games, 2019).

"Designed by Michael Leck and Daniel Mersey, with a core system based on the popular Lion Rampant rules," Rebels and Patriots - Wargaming Rules for North America: Colonies to Civil War "provides all the mechanics and force options needed to recreate the conflicts that forged a nation. From the French and Indian War, through the War of Independence and the War of 1812, to the Alamo and the American Civil War, these rules focus on the skirmishes, raids, and small engagements from this era of black powder and bayonet."

As mentioned above, these are skirmish rules designed for fighting company-sized battles, so there are certain features (ex. very detailed officer personalities) that you won't find in larger-scale game systems. On the one hand, tabletop gamers will find it appealing and highly convenient to be able to simulate nearly 120 years of North American warfare using a single rule set, but others might justly argue that the military history period covered is too long to address the nuances of each conflict. That kind of debate is as old as wargaming itself.

It's a handsome volume filled with color photographs, artwork, and the requisite game tables and scenarios. In a nice touch, much of the text is presented in bullet format for easy reference. The book includes sample skirmish scenarios for the following conflicts and wars: French & Indian War, American Revolution, Northwest Indian War (late 1790s), Mexican War of Independence, War of 1812, Texas Revolution, Canada Patriots' Rebellion (1837-38), Mexican-American War, Cortina War, American Civil War, French imperial intervention in Mexico, and the Fenian Raids (1866-71).

Friday, May 17, 2019

Booknotes: Confederate Soldiers in the American Civil War

New Arrival:
Confederate Soldiers in the American Civil War: Facts and Photos for Readers of All Ages by Mark Hughes (Savas Beatie, 2019).

As expected, readers of this book will find a style of presentation similar to that of the three other entries in the publisher's Facts and Photos for Readers of All Ages series, which includes the author's earlier work The New Civil War Handbook, the The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook, and the companion volume Union Soldiers in the American Civil War.

In Confederate Soldiers in the American Civil War, Mark Hughes "employs more than 200 photographs coupled with clear and concise prose broken down into short, easy to understand chapters to better understand these men."

More from the description: "Coverage includes life in camp, weapons, battles, technology, hospitals, prisons, the naval war, artillery, uniforms, and much more. Hughes also discusses African and Native American participation in the war, and the war’s effect on civilians in general and women in particular. Also included is a timeline of the war, dozens of quotations from Confederate soldiers, a complete glossary, and an extensive list of Civil War sites around the country, including contact and website information. Hughes includes a helpful chapter detailing the Civil War on the Internet, listing some of the most comprehensive and popular blogs and websites. He completes his work with a gallery of photographs and the stories of more than 80 Confederate soldiers and a guide to researching your Confederate ancestor."

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Booknotes: The Civil War from Its Origins to Reconstruction

New Arrival:
The Civil War from Its Origins to Reconstruction by James S. Pula (McFarland, 2019).

"While most Civil War histories focus on specific topics--military history, economics, politics--"James Pula's The Civil War from Its Origins to Reconstruction "presents the narrative as it unfolded against a broader historical background. Drawing on direct quotations from actual participants, the author provides an interpretive overview of the issues and events that divided and then devastated the United States."

There is certainly no great dearth of books of this kind, ones that offer textbook-style overviews of the Civil War era from early origins to or through Reconstruction. To answer the question of 'why do another one?', Pula suggests that most "focus primarily on the politics of the age," and his addresses the need for "comprehensive works designed for the public." So his book is "designed to fill that void by providing explanations and interpretations of the issues and events of the era against a general historical background of the incidents as they unfolded." The author claims that his contribution is different from most in that his book better "interweave(s) the military history of the conflict with social, economic, and political events"(Pg. 2).

The first two chapters cover U.S. history from the colonial period to 1850 while the next two examine the turmoil of the 1850s and the secession crisis. Each year of the war is discussed in its own chapter. The volume concludes with examinations of the national leadership transition after Lincoln's death and the Reconstruction period.  The book is generously illustrated and includes a nice set of maps.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Review - "Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Volume 3: Essays on America's Civil War" by Hewitt & Schott, eds.

[Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Volume 3: Essays on America's Civil War edited by Lawrence Lee Hewitt and Thomas E. Schott (University of Tennessee Press, 2019). Cloth, maps, photos, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xxiv,272/398. ISBN:978-1-62190-454-0. $64.95]

The very vastness that made the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department so difficult to conquer made it just as troublesome to defend. This strategic conundrum, added to the region's inadequate railroad transportation, dispersed population, paltry industrial capacity, and distant isolation from the central government, made commanding armies there an undesirable option for many otherwise ambitious Confederate officers. Long considered the dumping ground for the South's high-ranking incompetents, the Trans-Mississippi certainly had no Robert E. Lee but then again neither did the western theater. As the other volumes in University of Tennessee Press's Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi series have done, the eight essays in Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Volume 3: Essays on America's Civil War do effectively remind us that the department's command structure possessed a mixture of talent and mediocrity perhaps not so different from those of the other two main theaters of war.

The essays in the series typically fall into two main categories: summary treatments of entire Civil War careers (essentially mini-biographies) or analyses of command performances during specific campaigns or other more tightly focused periods of time. The first three chapters in Volume 3 can be placed in the former group. Nearly all accounts of the Civil War career of Earl Van Dorn are negative at their core, often harshly so, and Joseph Dawson's opening essay is no different. At least in terms of evaluating its subject's strengths and weaknesses, Dawson's assessment of Van Dorn is fairly close to that of the general's most recent biographer, Arthur Carter, though Dawson is less impressed than most with the Mississippian's potential as a high-ranking cavalry leader. Dawson makes a good point that all the qualities of Van Dorn's personal behavior and generalship that contemporaries and later historians alike would scorn were not apparent in early 1862. On paper, President Davis's choice of Van Dorn to lead the Trans-Mississippi's primary army was a very good one. The general possessed the West Point background that Davis preferred and already had experience in a departmental-scale leadership role (in Texas in 1861). Just as important, Van Dorn had a proven ability to get along well with state governors and other civil authorities (though this reputation would be completely wrecked in the aftermath of the Pea Ridge defeat).

Another general with many critics and few friends is Hamilton P. Bee. Bee spent much of the war performing undistinguished service along the Texas-Mexico border before becoming embroiled in heated debates related to his actions during the 1864 Red River Campaign. Perhaps best known as the brother of General Barnard Bee, Hamilton Bee's own much longer Civil War career is also primarily associated with a single controversial battlefield moment. With Union general Nathaniel Banks's retreating army seemingly trapped by his Confederate pursuers within the "island" formed by the Cane and Red rivers, Bee responded to an enemy detachment approaching his left flank via a little-used ford by withdrawing from his blocking position overlooking Monett's Ferry. Roundly criticized for prematurely abandoning a critically important strongpoint before being forced off of it, Bee never lived down accusations of misbehavior under fire and most of the blame for Banks's escape was laid at his feet. Article writer Richard Holloway presents multiple contemporary views on this key event in Bee's career, but curiously does not offer his own opinion. Though criticism of Bee is warranted, it seems difficult to believe that Banks would not have been able to force his way through the relatively thin Confederate cordon.

Much better regarded was the Civil War career of James Fagan, the subject of Stuart Sanders's chapter. In it Sanders evenhandedly traces the ups and downs of Fagan's rise from infantry regiment commander to cavalry major general. The article constructs a reasonable case for regarding Fagan, who was more solid than spectacular, as one of the theaters more dependable Confederate generals. In seeking to explain why a general of Fagan's rank and service remains relatively obscure, the writer's assertions that Fagan was consistently overshadowed by Missouri's more colorful Jo Shelby and was given few opportunities for independent distinction while serving under some of the Confederacy's most mediocre commanders (ex. Theophilus Holmes at Helena and Sterling Price during the 1863 Little Rock and 1864 Missouri campaigns) seem reasonable as contributing factors. Fagan's later Republican Party activities didn't help to enhance his reputation in the postwar South either.

Jeffrey Prushankin's essay examines the first year of Edmund Kirby Smith's leadership of the Trans-Mississippi Department, a tumultuous period that any commander would have found difficult to manage. When the department became completely isolated from the rest of the Confederacy in mid-1863, Smith found himself bound by irreconcilable military and political duties and objectives, the carrying out of which made him unpopular among military subordinates and state governors alike. Prushankin effectively counters contemporary critics of Kirby Smith who claimed that he had no strategy. As he astutely points out, the truth was quite the contrary. Envisioning few opportunities for fruitful offensive action, Kirby Smith adopted a reactive posture that would seek to draw enemy incursions into the department's vast interior, trading space for time to concentrate Confederate forces and strike the enemy at the moment when their supply lines were stretched to the breaking point. The problem was one of perception. Disgruntled district commanders came to see their chief as lacking initiative and political leaders became angered at the apparent willingness of the department's highest-ranking Confederate representative to cede vast areas of their respective states to serve purely military ends. Prushankin's view that Kirby Smith saw, for better or for worse, the Arkansas-Missouri front as the department's proper military center of gravity seems accurate, even though it hindered the general's purposes that this northern front held his two worst district commanders (Holmes and Price) while his two best ones (Taylor in Louisiana and Magruder in Texas) assumed secondary roles.

The second of three contributions by Richard Holloway, the William R. Boggs chapter examines that general's stint as Edmund Kirby Smith's chief of staff.  The article provides some information about Boggs's official duties as well as some details regarding his own initiatives directed toward improving communications, but it is probably best valued as offering insights into the inner workings of the military family of the department commander. Over time Boggs came to be quite critical of his chief and took Richard Taylor's side when the initially cordial relationship between Kirby Smith and Taylor broke down for good in 1864. More relevant to Boggs's own situation was the influence of civilian Dr. Sol Smith, a close friend of Kirby Smith and the person he apparently really wanted as his chief of staff, in the military decision making of the department commander. As the writer notes, many of the negative things Boggs wrote about Kirby Smith were undoubtedly colored by aftersight.

In Volume 2, Curtis Milbourn wrote about Confederate cavalry general Tom Green's 1864 Red River Campaign contributions. Here Milbourn goes back to the beginning of Green's rise to prominence in western Louisiana, among other things offering an excellent account of the general's key role in helping General Taylor's command survive the 1863 Bayou Teche campaign and the battles at Bisland and Irish Bend. Before his death in action at Blair's Landing in April 1864, Green proved himself among the Trans-Mississippi's most aggressive, reliable, and consistently successful Confederate generals. With Odie Faulk's 1963 study still the standard biography, Green's life and Civil War career is certainly due for an updated treatment.

Texas's John A. Wharton spent the bulk of the war fighting in the western theater, where he steadily ascended the cavalry's high command before his inability to get along with Joseph Wheeler led to a Trans-Mississippi transfer. Paul Scott's chapter traces Wharton's life, his Civil War career, and his untimely end at the hands of fellow Confederate officer John R. Baylor. Appointed by General Kirby Smith to replace Tom Green after the latter's death at Blair's Landing, Wharton led the Confederate cavalry pursuit of Banks's retreating army for the rest of the campaign, though sources tracing his activities are limited. The altercation that led to his death stemmed from a personal dispute with Baylor related to Wharton's direction of the Battle of Yellow Bayou. Overall, Scott's essay builds a strong argument that Wharton is deserving of higher recognition as one of the Confederacy's better untutored citizen-generals. Unfortunately, as the writer acknowledges, gaining a much deeper understanding of the man and his contributions will be difficult given that none of Wharton's papers survived the war.

Richard Holloway's concluding chapter revisits some of the inaccuracies of Richard Taylor's celebrated Civil War memoir Destruction and Reconstruction, but much of the essay's attention is directed toward a major operation not mentioned in Taylor's book, the desperate late-war Confederate plan to transfer a large proportion of the department's available manpower east across the Mississippi to aid crumbling southern armies there. Recently relieved by Kirby Smith for repeated insubordination, Taylor was appointed head of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana and the crossed troops would at first be placed under his command. Though the high command feared that attempting to cross the Mississippi would cause wholesale mutinies and desertion among officers and men (and indeed some serious incidents did occur), Holloway provides some contrary evidence that a great many Texans and southern Louisianians were prepared to accept the move if they felt that it might help win the war. Unlike most historians, the author does not present the operation as inherently impossible and persuasively sees its failure as multi-factorial in nature. No risky operation of that scale could have succeeded without the full backing of the department commander and that command will was distinctly lacking in Kirby Smith, who was loath to lose many of his best troops (especially to Richard Taylor). A clear lack of operational secrecy, logistical limitations of all kinds, an inability to coordinate the timing of diversionary measures of sufficient scale, and the strong presence of the Union Navy also conspired against the possibility of success. With most accounts dismissing the planned operation as military fantasy, it was nice to find a serious examination of it.

Another excellent biographical anthology worthy of unreserved recommendation, Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Volume 3 ends the series on a high note. One might hope also that the completed trilogy will inspire another editorial team to embark on a Trans-Mississippi equivalent to what SIU Press's Civil War Campaigns in the West series and UNC Press's Military Campaigns of the Civil War series have done and continue to do for western and eastern theater military event coverage.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Book News: Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part Five

A short time ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find that publication of Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part Five was imminent. It is now available to order. Go to Camp Pope Publishing for more information, including a detailed contents description of the type I wish more publishers could find the time to do. The final installment in Volume VII of Camp Pope's remarkable Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River series, the book "deals with operations on the Mississippi and White Rivers; the Confederate Exodus to Mexico and the murder of General M. M. Parsons; Sterling Price's 1864 Missouri Raid; and irregular operations during the war." I'll have much more to say once I get my hands on a copy.

Booknotes: An We Ob Jubilee

New Arrival:
An We Ob Jubilee: The First South Carolina Volunteers by John Saucer (America Through Time, 2019).

If you google 'first black civil war regiment' you still get page after page of 54th Massachusetts links, but the First South Carolina Volunteers (later designated 33rd USCT) preceded them. John Saucer's An We Ob Jubilee: The First South Carolina Volunteers is the most extensive history of the unit that I've encountered, and this volume is apparently only the beginning. 

First published back in 2014, the 2019 reprint edition has a new publisher. The preface and introduction don't mention what changes were made between editions, but clearly note that this is the first installment of a planned multi-volume treatment. At 268 pages in length, the narrative is a densely detailed account of the regiment's organization and early-war operations in the Department of the South.

Initial chapters cover the regiment's creation on abolitionist general David Hunter's unsanctioned initiative. As we all know, recruitment of black soldiers was highly controversial in mid-1862, and the regiment was disbanded and reformed in turn before finally being officially mustered into U.S. service in January 1863. The bulk of the remaining text covers at length the several Georgia and Florida raids and expeditions the regiment participated in through around April 1863.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Book News: Lincoln's Informer

Start grabbing Civil War books at random and odds are it won't take long before you encounter the personage of Charles A. Dana, either through his early-war journalistic influences as New York Tribune editor or most likely his role as the Lincoln's administration's roving agent and spy at the front (which became official with his appointment as Asst. Secretary of War). Most are familiar with Dana's far from furtive placement at Grant's headquarters, where his investigative mission quickly transformed into one of admirer and promoter of Grant's career. I am looking forward to learning much more about the man and his outsized impact on the war later this year when University of Kansas Press releases Carl Guarneri's Lincoln's Informer: Charles A. Dana and the Inside Story of the Union War (October).

From the description: "Dana didn’t just record history, Carl J. Guarneri notes: he made it. Starting out as managing editor of Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, he led the newspaper’s charge against proslavery forces in Congress and the Kansas territory. When his criticism of the Union’s prosecution of the war became too much for Greeley, Dana was drafted by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to be a special agent—and it was in this capacity that he truly made his mark."

More: "Drawing on Dana’s reports, letters, and telegrams—'the most remarkable, interesting, and instructive collection of official documents relating to the Rebellion,' according to the custodian of the Union war records—Guarneri reconstructs the Civil War as Dana experienced and observed it: as a journalist, a confidential informant to Stanton and Lincoln, and, most controversially, an administration insider with surprising influence. While reporting most of the war’s major events, Dana also had a hand in military investigations, the cotton trade, Lincoln’s reelection, passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, and, most notably, the making of Ulysses S. Grant and the breaking of other generals." General Rosecrans certainly didn't enjoy as rosy an outcome as Grant did when Dana set up camp at his headquarters!

"Dana’s reporting and Guarneri’s lively narrative provide fresh impressions of Lincoln, Stanton, Grant, and other Union war leaders. Lincoln’s Informer shows us the unlikely role of a little-known confidant and informant in the Lincoln administration’s military and political successes. A remarkable inside look at history unfolding, this book draws the first complete picture of a fascinating character writing his chapter in the story of the Civil War."

UPK is on a roll when it comes to publishing major works on topics that interest me. I am just now getting to Hampton Newsome's study of the late-war action in North Carolina and I still have Huston Horn's Polk biography waiting in the wings.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Booknotes: "Pretends to Be Free"

New Arrival:
"Pretends to Be Free": Runaway Slave Advertisements from Colonial and Revolutionary New York and New Jersey by Graham Russell Gao Hodges & Alan Edward Brown, eds. (Fordham UP, 2019).

With the original 1994 Routledge edition seemingly difficult to find on the secondary market (there were no copies to be found at the three largest online bookselling sites when I checked), now is a good time for a new 25th anniversary reprint of "Pretends to Be Free": Runaway Slave Advertisements from Colonial and Revolutionary New York and New Jersey. Collected for publication by editors Hodges and Brown, "these fugitive slave notices are the best verbal snapshots of enslaved Americans before and during the American Revolution. Through these notices, readers can discover how enslaved blacks chose allegiance during our War for Independence." Given the era involved, this one might have been sent to me by mistake! It happens from time to time and certainly doesn't bother me. Those with at least a tenuous topical connection always get a Booknotes entry.

The 2019 paperback edition has some new features, as well. "Replete with a preface by Edward E. Baptist, the leading scholar of slavery and capitalism and director of a massive project aimed at digitalizing every escape notice, and with a new Introduction and teacher’s guide by Graham Hodges, this new edition makes this documentary study more relevant than ever."

Friday, May 10, 2019

Booknotes: War, Memory, and the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion

New Arrival:
War, Memory, and the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion by Thomas R. Flagel (Kent St UP, 2019).

Thomas Flagel's War, Memory, and the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion tells the tale of that great 50th anniversary event when "over 55,000 official attendees plus thousands more ... 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."

In recent times, the reconciliationist nature of grand veteran get-togethers has been heavily challenged. That is certainly the case with Flagel's study, which finds 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. The 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."

It seems most likely that veterans who attended the reunion did so with mixed emotions and more than one motivation. In the book, Flagel "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."

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Booknotes: Michigan's Civil War Citizen-General

New Arrival:
Michigan's Civil War Citizen-General: Alpheus S. Williams by Jack Dempsey (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Press, 2019).

Though he joined a great many of his peers in having some state militia and Mexican War experience (though he didn't see any combat), Alpheus Starkey Williams probably fits most definitions of a Civil War "political general." Given the persistent negativity surrounding that broad label, I sort of wish we could scrap it altogether in favor of ones a bit more differentiating such as "citizen-general" vs. "politician-general." Then again adding more labels into the mix can cause problems of its own, especially given the multitude of hats (politicized or otherwise) prominent nineteenth-century men wore then compared with today. Anyway, I'm getting off track. Jack Dempsey's Michigan's Civil War Citizen-General: Alpheus S. Williams is primarily a military biography, though the last four chapters do summarize his postwar activities (including his political career) and the first two his early life.

Appointed brigadier general in May 1861, Williams was immediately attached to the Army of the Potomac, eventually becoming most closely associated with the Twelfth Corps as the commander of its First Division. During the war, Williams forged an enviable combat record in both eastern (Shenandoah Valley Campaign through Gettysburg) and western (Chattanooga through Bentonville) theaters. His involvement in all of these campaigns and battles is covered.

The book has ten maps and, like all volumes from this publisher, is full of images and photographs. In the appendix section can be found a list of references to Williams's battle reports, a chart showing dates when he served as temporary corps commander, his farewell order to his troops, and the text of an 1871 military society speech.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Review - "The Civil War on the Rio Grande, 1846-1876" by Bacha-Garza, Miller, and Skowronek, eds.

[The Civil War on the Rio Grande, 1846-1876 edited by Roseann Bacha-Garza, Christopher L. Miller, and Russell K. Skowronek (Texas A&M University Press, 2019). Hardcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xxi,294/347. $45]

In February 2015, the Rio Grande Valley Civil War Trail was formally launched. Spanning five Texas counties (Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb, and Zapata), the trail begins at the mouth of the Rio Grande River and leads travelers all the way to Laredo. A host of historical sites are registered along its path, including ranches, cities, towns, homes, hospitals, cemeteries, memorials, museums, battle sites, and forts. With contributions from many individuals and groups, among them "Texas Historical Commission experts as well as regional university professors, National Park Service personnel, historians/historical commission leaders, museum curators, ecotourism developers, preservation architects and elected city officials,"* the project developed a number of resources designed for use by the general public. In addition to a website and podcasts available in both English and Spanish, a tour guide was created by historians Roseann Bacha-Garza, Christopher L. Miller, and Russell K. Skowronek and published by TAMU Press under the title Blue and Gray on the Border: The Rio Grande Valley Civil War Trail. The Civil War on the Rio Grande, 1846-1876 is the scholarly companion to Blue and Gray on the Border. In it editors Bacha-Garza, Miller, and Skowronek contribute to and oversee an eleven-essay anthology that explores "three decades of ethnic conflict, shifting international alliances, and competing economic proxies at the border."

Christopher Miller's opening essay usefully demonstrates how deeply the history of the earliest Spanish colonial settlement of the desolate Nueces Strip informed the three-decade period examined in the book. Among other findings, Miller notes that political and economic autonomy were always practiced in the isolated northern reaches of Mexican territory and many seeds of future discontent, including precarious land titles (many of which were never formally issued by Spanish officials to individuals), were planted generations before Texas independence and statehood brought them into the limelight.

One of the more interesting parts of Douglas Murphy's following essay is its examination of the symbolic role Fort Brown assumed during two major wars (the U.S.-Mexican War and the American Civil War). Murphy's chapter recounts at some length the efforts of both Union and Confederate partisans to appropriate the earlier martial and nationalistic legacy of Fort Brown as primarily their own. The fort's newfound sacredness to many northern advocates belied the conflict's widespread unpopularity in that section and common belief at the time that the war was being fought primarily to further southern aims at expanding slavery. The writer also reminds readers just how much the national heritage of the war with Mexico resonated with Civil War soldiers and their home front supporters, even though that popular memory was almost completely supplanted by the Civil War experience after 1865.

Two essays, one by M.M. McAllen and another from Karen and Tom Fort, examine cross-border trade during the Civil War. McAllen's chapter takes a more general approach in its discussion of the border's economic interdependence, which saw American and Mexican Rio Grande Valley merchants vigorously trading and competing with European businessmen and interests. The Forts look more closely at the international cotton trade that was essential to sustaining the Confederate war effort in the Trans-Mississippi. This topic has been exhaustively covered in the literature, so while the essay does not provide any particularly fresh insights it nevertheless offers a fine summary of the unique historical significance of the "cotton times."

Though slavery in Texas border counties was practiced on a miniscule scale, there was a notable black military experience there as well as social context worthy of the heavy emphasis the volume places on both. Three chapters, authored by Roseann Bacha-Garza, Stephen McBride, and James Leiker, explore the relative tolerance border society had for interracial families, the southern border's role in the Underground Railroad (where thousands of slaves escaped to freedom in Mexico), and the deployment of black troops to the region before and after 1865. McBride documents how four USCT regiments (their ranks filled primarily with ex-slaves from Kentucky) enforced border security, apprehended smugglers, and to some degree intimidated Imperial Mexican forces by their mere presence. While McBride found that the black troops were mostly positively received by the border's Tejano majority, Leiker notes that this relationship had soured by 1870, a dramatic change his essay mostly attributes to increased hostility to the sustained military presence in the region rather than racism.

Rolando Garza's contribution analyzes the deeply flawed historiography of the May 1865 Battle of Palmito Ranch and serves as a particularly fine example of how modern conflict archaeology can help sort through the documentary record's outstanding contradictions and frustrating gaps. In addition to summarizing the current state of the published literature, Garza traces the fruits of three small-scale archaeological projects (including one of his own) that together raise serious questions regarding how and where the battle was fought. Garza's fascinating piece comprises yet another convincing argument for the historical utility of battlefield archaeology, and the significance of the limited findings cited in the article provide a powerful argument for further work to be done on the site and surrounding areas.

Irving Levinson's chapter traces, among other things, the economic ties between the United States and Mexico that developed through and beyond the three-decade period examined in the book, all of that despite a steady stream of foreign wars, civil wars, and local conflicts. In tracing the violent Civil War era rivalry between the Benavides clan of Texas (especially Confederate officer Jose de los Santos Benavides) and the ostensibly pro-Union Juan Cortina, Jerry Thompson's chapter shows that the American Civil War on the southern Texas border was also, at least on some level, a Hispano civil war. Finally, co-editor Russell Skowronek ties the collection together with a thoughtful summary essay.

As part of the ongoing debates over the subjective parameters of the "Long Civil War," the themes presented in The Civil War on the Rio Grande, 1846-1876 make a collectively strong argument for expanding the war's boundaries—in people, places, and time. In considering this collection, Blue and Gray on the Border readers seeking more information regarding that companion guide's scholarly underpinnings will also find themselves rewarded by the effort. Recommended.

* -

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Booknotes: British Blockade Runners in the American Civil War

New Arrival:
British Blockade Runners in the American Civil War by Joseph McKenna (McFarland, 2019).

British Blockade Runners in the American Civil War is Birmingham librarian and researcher Joseph McKenna's second Civil War nautical title published by McFarland. The first, 2010's British Ships in the Confederate Navy, offered new insights into the behind-the-scenes diplomatic war over British assistance to the CSN.

From the description: "The daring exploits of Confederate blockade runners are well known--but many of them were British citizens operating out of neutral ports such as Nassau, Havana and Bermuda. Focusing on British involvement in the war, this history names the overseas bankers and manufacturers who, in critical need of cotton and other Confederate exports, financed and equipped the fast little ships that ran the blockade. The author attempts to disentangle the names and aliases of the captains--many of whom were Royal Navy officers on temporary leave--and tells their stories in their own words."

Using both British and American archives, government documents, newspapers, and other sources, McKenna also sorts out many mistakes made and propagated by U.S. authors who didn't have ready access to U.K. records. In comprehensively documenting the identities of British blockade-running captains and including detailed lists and descriptions of British ships and ship-building firms, the book also has useful reference value that McKenna hopes will be incorporated into future studies on both sides of the Atlantic.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Booknotes: The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19-22, 1863

New Arrival:
The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19-22, 1863 edited by Steven E. Woodworth and Charles D. Grear (SIU Press, 2019).

The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19-22, 1863 is the sixth release from SIUP's Civil War Campaigns in the West series (formerly the Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland series), and it is the second of five planned Vicksburg Campaign volumes. You can read the full list of future titles here.

From the description: "After a series of victories through Mississippi early in the spring of 1863, General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee had reached the critical point in its campaign to capture Vicksburg. Taking the city on the hill would allow the Union to control the Mississippi River and would divide the Confederacy in half. Confederate morale was low, and a Union victory in the war appeared close before the start of Grant’s assault against General John C. Pemberton’s Army of Mississippi.

But due to difficult terrain, strong defenses, and uncoordinated movements, the quick triumph Grant desired was unattainable. On the afternoon of May 19, with little rest, preparation, or reconnaissance, Union forces charged the Confederate lines only to be repulsed. A respite between the assaults allowed both sides to reinforce their positions. Early on May 22 the Union artillery sought to soften the stronghold’s defenses before the general attack, but despite the Union forces’ preparation, the fighting proved even more disorganized and vicious. Again Grant failed to move Pemberton. Not wanting to risk more soldiers in a third attack, Grant conceded to the necessity of laying siege. Confederate morale climbed as the Southerners realized they had held their ground against an overwhelming force.

The book has five essays from four contributors. Authored by Parker Hills, the first two chapters are general overviews of the May 19 and May 22 attacks. Steven Woodworth's essay more closely examines the May 22 fighting at the Railroad Redoubt from the Union perspective, while Brandon Franke's following chapter recounts those same events from the opposing side's point of view (that of Waul's Texas Legion). Finally, Charles Grear looks at the varied reactions of the Midwestern home front to Grant's campaign.

"Peppered with first-hand observations and bolstered by an impressive depth of research, this anthology is an invitingly written account and comprehensive assessment. By zeroing in on the two assaults, the contributors offer essential clarity and understanding of these important events within the larger scope of the Civil War’s Vicksburg Campaign."

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Book News: A Yankee Regiment in Confederate Louisiana

For those wishing to read current works about military events in Trans-Mississippi Louisiana, the active Frazier series from State House Press is practically the only thing going. However, news of an upcoming regimental history from LSU Press caught my eye recently, Larry Lowenthal's A Yankee Regiment in Confederate Louisiana: The 31st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in the Gulf South (Dec 2019).

Of course, at this point all we have to go on is the publisher's description, but it has a lot of tantalizing information in it. Sometimes a well-executed unit study can provide exceptionally valuable insights into campaigns fought on far-flung fronts that don't otherwise receive consistent coverage in the literature. A good example of a Gulf Department regimental history that did this very well is Phillip Faller's 21st Indiana study from 2013. It looks like Lowenthal's book might be similarly useful. "The 31st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was one of only a handful of New England units to serve in Louisiana and the Gulf region during the Civil War, and, of those, it remained there the longest. Its soldiers, most of whom were impressionable young men from small towns in central and western Massachusetts, assumed numerous roles, functioning as infantry, cavalry, and mounted infantry when needed. The regiment operated as an army of occupation; participated in siege warfare at Port Hudson, Louisiana; marched and fought in long field operations such as the Red River campaign; engaged in guerrilla warfare; and garrisoned coastal defense fortifications. It also had the distinction of being the first Federal unit to enter and occupy New Orleans."

More from the description:
"Larry Lowenthal’s authoritative history of the 31st is the first comprehensive examination of this remarkable regiment and its men. When veterans of the unit attempted to write its history in the late nineteenth century, they were not able to complete the task, but they did collect a large quantity of primary-source materials and deposited them in a Springfield, Massachusetts, museum. Lowenthal’s work draws heavily from that unpublished cache. Among the documents are highly personal letters, diaries, and first-person recollections that offer vivid and unrivaled accounts of the unit’s military experiences, as well as its soldiers’ impressions of the people and physical conditions they encountered in Louisiana. The men also offer their unvarnished opinions on a variety of subjects.

Lowenthal, a longtime historian and former U.S. National Park Service employee, relays many of the stories in the soldiers’ own words. Their impressions of the South―which they viewed as essentially a foreign country―are highly revealing. Critical issues such as slavery and abolition, as well as more private matters such as personal experiences and military life, are also discussed. To all of this, Lowenthal brings a modern perspective, presenting a crucial picture of the period’s people and their views of the South and active military life."