Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Review - "The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19-22, 1863" by Woodworth and Grear, eds.

[The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19-22, 1863 edited by Steven E. Woodworth and Charles D. Grear (Southern Illinois University Press, 2019). Hardcover, 4 maps, photos, notes, index. Pages:xi,133. ISBN:978-0-8093-3719-4. $29.50]

After finally getting his frustrated army across the Mississippi River after a series of failed "experiments" aimed at capturing fortress Vicksburg, U.S. Grant conducted a campaign of unbroken success against his Confederate opponents. By the third week in May, his victorious army found itself opposite the ramparts of the Hill City itself. However, the events of May 19, 1863 brought with them a rude awakening, and the bloody repulse of an even larger attack three days later consigned the final phase of the struggle for Vicksburg to a six-week siege. How those May assaults were conducted, why they failed, and how the Midwestern public viewed the setbacks are topics addressed at length by the five essays in The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19-22, 1863. The book 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*.

The first two essays, both from Parker Hills, discuss the May 19 and May 22 attacks. While some readers will be left wanting more small-unit detail in the assault descriptions, both chapters offer solid overviews of the two events accompanied by incisive criticisms and observations. According to Hills, the key takeaway from May 19 was the danger of conducting a hasty attack without any prior reconnaissance against a prepared position using only a small part of the available force. Grant felt that the attack's risks were justified by the reasonable assumption that the Confederates, who were driven from the field in some disorder at Champion Hill and quickly collapsed at Big Black River when the Union army pressed the fortified bridgehead there, would be demoralized from those thorough defeats and would not vigorously defend their lines. Arguments could be made for and against Hills's contention that on May 19 Grant "struck when he should have probed" (Pg. 21).

Better prepared, the results of the follow-on May 22 attack were nevertheless similarly disastrous, the entire effort a victim of poor coordination, horrendous terrain obstacles, strong earthworks, and determined defenders. While Thirteenth Corps commander John A. McClernand became the convenient scapegoat of that day, Hills's essay argues that his command deserves credit for being the only corps to attack at full strength (25 of 30 regiments went into action) and come anywhere close to fulfilling Grant's orders. The contributions of fellow corps commanders William T. Sherman and James B. McPherson were pitiful by comparison. While suggesting in his memoirs that he regretted the May 22 attack almost as much as Cold Harbor, Grant nevertheless skirted full responsibility and went great lengths to justify his actions using the same laundry list of reasons first raised in his July 1863 report: worries about Joe Johnston's growing relief army, concern over how the summer weather would affect his troops during a siege, the wish to avoid diverting the additional troops necessary for siege operations from the larger war effort, and his claimed knowledge that the troops under his command wanted to try another attack. All were valid considerations on some level, but Hills objects most to the last for its apparent speciousness. Though the chapter provides some evidence that individual soldiers expressed serious reservations about participating in further frontal attacks against Vicksburg's earthworks, one would really have to delve at much greater depth into letter and journal material written between May 19 and 22 to come to any useful conclusion on the matter.

Steven Woodworth's following chapter closely examines the May 22 fighting on McClernand's front, focusing chiefly on the fighting at Railroad Redoubt. It is an excellent account, easily the most detailed micro-level treatment of the various military actions addressed in the book. Concerning McClernand's role directing the attack, Woodworth is much more critical than Hills. Although correctly seeing Railroad Redoubt as the key enemy position on his front, McClernand nevertheless spread his available strength (seven brigades) evenly over all three objectives, assigning two brigades each to Railroad Redoubt, Square Fort, and 2nd Texas Lunette along with one brigade in overall reserve. Woodworth also astutely observes that McClernand further erred by assigning the brigade pairings to different divisions, an order that made command and control unnecessarily more difficult. Differing from the previous essay, Woodworth is much less censorious than Hills regarding both Grant's alleged lateness in dispatching reinforcements (Quinby's Division of McPherson's Corps) and the conduct of Quinby himself. Due to considerations of terrain and distance, it is doubtful that any reinforcements could have arrived at the critical moment. Rather than blaming Grant and Quinby for an alleged lack of timely and effective support, Woodworth emphasizes McClernand's misuse of Quinby's division, which arrived at 4 pm and was promptly broken up. Instead of concentrating the entire division against Railroad Redoubt to exploit the minor lodgement achieved there, one brigade was directed to  reinforce the stalled attacks against all three corps objectives. In line with the consensus of the Grant circle and most historians today, Woodworth maintains that McClernand's exaggeration of his gains as expressed in his urgent dispatches to Grant resulted in a large and unnecessary increase in casualties. In the writer's view, McClernand's failure to confirm the erroneous claims of his subordinate at the redoubt, who had only a limited perspective, before passing the information on to Grant was a serious error in judgment but not a willful attempt to deceive. In the end, Woodworth is persuasive in arguing that the scale of reinforcements necessary to have any chance of achieving a clear breakthrough (something on the order of two full divisions) could not have been marshaled before the Confederates were offered, in turn, ample time to meet them with their own reserves.

Indeed, Confederate reserves were well placed by army commander John C. Pemberton, and Brandon Franke's essay examines the key role Waul's Texas Legion played in ejecting Union troops from their tenuous foothold in and around Railroad Redoubt. The Legion's actions, in conjunction with those of surrounding units, essentially ensured that no breakthrough would be possible on May 22. In addition to providing details about the fighting on that day not present in the Hills and Woodworth essays, the chapter also serves as a fine summary of the Legion's participation in the campaign as a whole.

The final essay from Charles Grear transports the reader from the fighting front to the home front, examining along the way the popular reaction of the citizens of the Old Northwest to the failed assaults at Vicksburg. With those states supplying the vast majority of troops in Grant's army, it should come as no surprise that press attention in the region was focused overwhelmingly on events in Mississippi rather than the next round of bloody campaigning in the East. Predictably, after some initial misgivings the pro-war newspapers emphasized the overall success of the campaign, with the failed assaults simply a temporary setback in the reopening of the Mississippi River to western commerce. On the other hand, the most fervently anti-war Democratic organs decried Grant's indifference (in their view) to the lives of his men in pursuit of the administration's abolitionist war aims. Even so, as the siege progressed, criticism of Grant's conduct of the lengthening campaign would emerge periodically on both sides of the ideological divide. The political reaction to bloody battles with no discernible gain was always going to be variable, but according to Grear the most common public reaction to the failed May attacks was one of support for the soldiers. This was expressed through mass donations of food, supplies, and medical aid to the men serving at the front as well as those languishing in army hospitals.

By nature, subject coverage in essay anthologies is more topically arranged than comprehensive, but the book can still perhaps be criticized for how much the Thirteenth Corps attack on May 22 dominates the overall discussion. McClernand's assault, and even more particularly the fighting at Railroad Redoubt, gets the lion's share of the attention in Hill's second chapter and practically all of it in the Woodworth and Franke essays. This is understandable. However, while the Railroad Redoubt was where Union forces made their deepest penetration on either day and spawned by far the most enduring and interesting questions, one could still argue that the fighting there is overrepresented in the collection. But that's a relatively minor issue. The most significant problem with the book is the inadequate map coverage, even for the mid-level detail presented in most places in the text. In the drawings that accompany the first two essays, no unit below corps level on the Union side and division level for the Confederates is labeled, nor are some of the targeted geographical features prominently mentioned in the text. It gets somewhat better in the following essay but even then there are clear areas of disagreement between map and text. For example, Woodworth talks about the two wings of the 22nd Iowa being widely divided by the attack on Railroad Redoubt yet the accompanying map shows the 21st Iowa as the divided regiment. Also, while the text clearly states that the 77th Illinois formed on the left of the 22nd Iowa the map places them well to the Iowan right.

Those reservations aside, the essay collection offers more than enough useful contributions to the Vicksburg Campaign historiography to make the book well worthy of recommendation. In recent years, SIU Press has become the preeminent publisher of Vicksburg-related military studies, and one looks forward to future volumes from them addressing that still very much open area of study.

* - See also The Vicksburg Campaign, March 29–May 18, 1863 (2013) [CWBA review]. As the title indicates, the earlier anthology addresses the entire campaign leading up to the May 19 and 22 assaults. You can read the full list of planned series titles here. Future Vicksburg volumes will continue with the siege and also backtrack to fill in earlier phases of the campaign.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Booknotes: Lee's Body Guards

New Arrival:
Lee's Body Guards: The 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry by Michael C. Hardy (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Press).

In addition to being headquarters guards for the Army of Northern Virginia, the four companies that made up the 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry performed vital service in a staff support role. Michael Hardy's Lee's Body Guards: The 39th Virginia Cavalry tells the story of these men, who were "cavalrymen specifically recruited to serve as scouts, couriers and guides for General Robert E. Lee."

From the description: "Though their battle experiences might pale compared to those of soldiers under J.E.B. Stuart and Wade Hampton, the men of the 39th Virginia served crucial roles in the Confederate army. From the fields of Second Manassas to Appomattox Court House, they were privy to the inner workings of the Confederate high command. They were also firsthand witnesses to the army's victories and triumphs and to its tragedies and trials, from losing Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville to losing the opportunity to win the war at Gettysburg."

The book's treatment of the battalion's service history, which began in Fall 1862 and ended with the Appomattox surrender, runs roughly 90 pages of narrative. Hardy's study also includes a detailed roster (75 pages) organized alphabetically by name.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Coming Soon (August '19 Edition)

*NEW RELEASES* scheduled for August 2019:
The Battle of the Wilderness in Myth and Memory: Reconsidering Virginia's Most Notorious Civil War Battlefield by Adam Petty.
Too Useful to Sacrifice: Reconsidering George B. McClellan’s Generalship in the Maryland Campaign from South Mountain to Antietam by Steven R. Stotelmyer.
The Meanest and "Damnest" Job: Being the Civil War Exploits and Civilian Accomplishments of Colonel Edmund Winchester Rucker During and After the War by Michael P. Rucker.
Lincoln's Spies: Their Secret War to Save a Nation by Douglas Waller.
The 16th Michigan Infantry in the Civil War, Revised and Updated by Kim Crawford.
"Lee is Trapped, and Must be Taken": Eleven Fateful Days after Gettysburg: July 4 - 14, 1863 by Thomas Ryan and Richard Schaus.

Comments: Is this really all there is? I guess so. At least there are some interesting sounding reading options in there. There may be more, but I try to only list titles that I'm reasonably confident will be actually released during the month. Long delayed, it does appear that the Stotelmyer book has a firm August release, as the publisher announced on Twitter earlier this month that it was off to the printer.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Booknotes: General Emory Upton in the Civil War

New Arrival:
General Emory Upton in the Civil War: The Formative Experiences of an American Military Visionary by Robert N. Thompson (McFarland).

There's been quite a bit of attention paid to Emory Upton in the recent scholarly literature. In 2017, University of Oklahoma Press published a biography by David Fitzpatrick (Emory Upton: Misunderstood Reformer) and two volumes of Upton correspondence written between 1857 and 1881 were released by University of Tennessee Press as part of their Voices of the Civil War series. The editor of the latter project, Salvatore Cilella, also authored a well-received regimental history of "Upton's Regulars" (the 121st NY).

Unlike Fitzpatrick's book and Stephen Ambrose's 1964 biography, Robert Thompson's General Emory Upton in the Civil War: The Formative Experiences of an American Military Visionary seeks to present a detailed, focused account of Upton's Civil War career (during which he commanded units of all three branches) that also explains how those experiences drove his professional desire to reform the army.

From the description: "Considered by many to be the architect of the modern U.S. Army, Union General Emory Upton commanded troops in almost every major battle of the Civil War's Eastern Theater. Witnessing some of the war's bloodiest engagements convinced him of the need for comprehensive reform in military organization, professionalism, education, tactics and personnel policies. From the end of the war to his 1881 death by suicide, Upton led an effort to modernize U.S. military culture. While much has been written about the politics of his reform campaign, this book details his wartime experiences and how they informed his intense fervor for change."

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Review - "War, Memory, and the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion" by Thomas Flagel

[War, Memory, and the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion by Thomas R. Flagel (Kent State University Press, 2019). Hardcover, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xiv,130/184. ISBN:978-1-60635-371-4.$29.95]

Between June 29 and July 4, 1913 well over 50,000 elderly Civil War veterans and thousands of support staff, tourists, and commercial vendors descended upon the small town of Gettysburg for the 50th anniversary reunion of the great battle. What attitudes and thoughts occupied the minds of veterans during the occasion and what the war came to mean and symbolize to American citizens as a whole are topics that have been debated by scholars ever since, especially in recent decades. Recounting the events of the reunion in detail and examining the ways the event shined light on how veterans and other attendees chose to remember the war after the passage of five decades is the subject of Thomas Flagel's War, Memory, and the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion.

It would be foolish to try to ascribe a single, overarching motivation to the tens of thousands of veterans who attended the anniversary. Many undoubtedly were imbued with the spirit of sectional reconciliation and shared nationalism, but Flagel's depiction of the reunion does suggest that individual-level reconciliation with what occurred five decades earlier was most pervasive (even for the many veteran attendees who did not fight at Gettysburg). The vast majority of veterans passed over the more formally planned group events (including many political speeches under a scorching sun) to wander around camp, town, and countryside on their own, visiting the sites of their increasingly distant memories and trying to reconnect with comrades. For most, at least according to Flagel, being at Gettysburg and revisiting places of traumatic memory primarily meant reckoning with their own past rather than the nation's as a collective whole.

With few firsthand perspectives of the event available from archival materials and other documents written in the words of the veterans themselves, Flagel turned to newspapers (which are especially prominent in his bibliography) and the reports of the estimated 150 journalists and photographers that attended the reunion. While this might have introduced a layer of distortion in some cases, the author feels that these reports together comprise the best available "oral history" of the 1913 reunion.

In the book, Flagel informatively contrasts the orderly hygiene of the newly constructed veteran's camp with the all too often filthy, disease-ridden nature of Civil War places of encampment. In 1913 there was plenty of fresh, clean, and cool water thanks to ingeniously designed plumbing and storage systems. Government officials set up labs that rigorously tested all food for contaminants and screened every staff member for signs of sickness. Medical care was swift and attentive. All veteran tents were regularly visited by staff to see if anyone needed help. The author cites the army's Spanish-American War experience as the primary stimulant behind these progressive improvements (many of which were undergoing field testing during the reunion itself) in soldier care, but the larger scale and still remembered Civil War experience undoubtedly informed the process to some degree as well.

Another strong theme presented in the narrative was a widespread expression among veterans of gratitude toward the government, who treated them with unexpected solicitude and even extravagance in meeting their needs during the reunion. The entire affair was also a demonstration of organizational competence on the part of the War Department that contrasted notably with their Civil War experiences. For many veterans, especially those who felt increasingly alienated from society in their advanced years, the feeling of appreciation that emerged throughout the proceedings was deeply felt.

Certainly many other individual stories emerge in the text, but Flagel most closely explores the reunion involvement and impressions of four distinctly different Civil War veterans (two from each warring section). Though hardly representative in a statistical sense, they instead represent the range of personal attitudes and motivations that attendees North and South brought to the event and the variety of experiences they had in the veterans camp and upon visiting the old battlefield.

The reunion was a rousing success in a number of ways, but the climax of the affair—the breaking ground ceremony of a great national peace monument that would be accompanied by speeches from the president and other dignitaries—did not come to pass as planned. Congress did not approve the funding of the memorial and President Wilson's reluctant, last-minute decision to attend the reunion resulted in an uninspired speech and only a 45 minute stay. It would be 1938 before the Eternal Light Peace Memorial would be dedicated on Oak Ridge.

In the end, Flagel doesn't exactly demolish competing interpretations of what the event meant to veterans and the nation as a whole, but his alternative contention that the prevailing spirit of the 1913 reunion was highly introspective in nature and its communal aspects more about spontaneously connecting with other veterans than promoting nationalism and reconciliation has considerable merit.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Booknotes: Abraham Lincoln’s Statesmanship and the Limits of Liberal Democracy

New Arrival:
Abraham Lincoln’s Statesmanship and the Limits of Liberal Democracy by John D. Schaff (SIU Press, 2019).

Schaff's study "highlights Lincoln’s significance in the development of American power institutions and social movement politics." "Using Lincoln’s prepresidential and presidential words and actions," Abraham Lincoln’s Statesmanship and the Limits of Liberal Democracy "argues that decent government demands a balance of competing goods and the strong statesmanship that Lincoln exemplified. Instead of relying too heavily on the will of the people and institutional solutions to help prevent tyranny, Jon D. Schaff proposes that American democracy would be better served by a moderate and prudential statesmanship such as Lincoln’s, which would help limit democratic excesses."

More from the description: "Schaff explains how Lincoln’s views on prudence, moderation, natural rights, and economics contain the notion of limits, then views Lincoln’s political and presidential leadership through the same lens. He compares Lincoln’s views on governmental powers with the defense of unlimited government by twentieth-century progressives and shows how Lincoln’s theory of labor anticipated twentieth-century distributist economic thought. Schaff’s unique exploration falls squarely between historians who consider Lincoln a protoprogressive and those who say his presidency was a harbinger of industrialized, corporatized America." I don't know. There's no harm in the attempt, but it might be overly speculative to draw grand conclusions about Lincoln's governing ideology when all we have to go on is a single presidential term overwhelmingly consumed with fighting a horrific civil war.

"In analyzing Lincoln’s approach," Schaff "rejects the idea he was a revolutionary statesman and instead lifts up Lincoln’s own affinity for limited presidential power, making the case for a modest approach to presidential power today based on this understanding of Lincoln’s statesmanship. As a counterpoint to the contemporary landscape of bitter, uncivil politics, Schaff points to Lincoln’s statesmanship as a model for better ways of engaging in politics in a democracy."

Monday, July 22, 2019

Book News: Stephen Davis's two-part John Bell Hood military biography

The Fall/Winter catalogs are out for many publishers, and Stephen Davis's John Bell Hood project is perhaps the brightest news to come out of Mercer University Press's schedule. This coming December they will release Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood, the first of two volumes. Only having the brief publisher's description to go on, it appears to be strictly a treatment of Hood's Civil War career and not a full account of the controversial Confederate general's life.

"In this work,..., Hood's rise in rank is chronicled. In three years, 1861-1864, Hood rose from lieutenant to full general in the Confederate army." With the first book taking readers through Sherman's thorough defeat of Hood's army and his capture of Atlanta, that leaves the second book to be devoted entirely to the 1864 Tennessee Campaign. It will be interesting to read Davis's extended take on Hood's tenure in gray. No one will dispute that Hood was one of the best brigade and division commanders in the Confederate Army, but he proved a lackluster corps commander and disastrous army commander.

From the description: "Davis emphasizes Hood's fatal flaw: ambition. Hood constantly sought promotion, even after he had found his highest level of competence as division commander in Robert E. Lee's army. As corps commander in the Army of Tennessee, his performance was good, but no better. Promoted to succeed Johnston, Hood did his utmost to defend Atlanta against Sherman. In this latter effort he failed. But he had won his spurs, even if he had been denied greatness as a general."

Hmm. I'm sure the author will fully develop the context for his argument surrounding the chief source of Hood's downfall, but ambition might alternatively be regarded as a requirement rather than a fatal flaw in any low-ranking officer seeking professional advancement in the thoroughly politicized volunteer armies of the day. And few individuals of any confidence and talent have such perfect self-knowledge as to immediately recognize their peak competence and refuse to risk flying higher. Anyway, I am greatly looking forward to getting a copy of the book when the time comes.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Booknotes: Pinkertons, Prostitutes and Spies

New Arrival:
Pinkertons, Prostitutes and Spies: The Civil War Adventures of Secret Agents Timothy Webster and Hattie Lawton by John Stewart (McFarland).

From the description: "Hattie Lawton was a young Pinkerton detective who with her partner, Timothy Webster, spied for the U.S. Secret Service during the Civil War. Working in Richmond, the two posed as husband and wife. A dazzling blonde from New York and a handsome Englishman, both with checkered pasts, they were matched in charm, cunning, duplicity and boldness. Betrayed by their own spymaster, Allan Pinkerton, they fell into the hands of the dictator of Richmond, the notorious General John H. "Hog" Winder."

I wasn't aware of any examples of Pinkerton intentionally ill-using any of his Civil War operatives. From what I can gather from a little online rummaging, Webster went dark in 1862 after suffering a serious health crisis of some kind (and was being nursed by his partner Lawton). Alarmed by the sudden silence of Webster and Lawton (why they didn't/couldn't send word to their boss, who knows), Pinkerton sent agents Pryce Lewis and John Scully to Richmond to find out what happened. Lewis and Scully were captured, and one way or another the Confederates learned about Webster and Lawton. Upon arrest and conviction Webster was executed and Lawton imprisoned until exchanged. I don't know if author John Stewart uncovered some new evidence of perfidy or condensing the book description resulted in an unintended mischaracterization of Pinkerton's actions. Either way, readers interested in Civil War spycraft might want to check it out.

More: "This lively history, scrupulously researched from all available sources, corrects the record on many points and definitively answers the long-standing question of Hattie Lawton's true identity."

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Author Q&A: Allen Carden & Thomas Ebert on "John George Nicolay: The Man in Lincoln's Shadow"

Dr. Allen Carden
Thank you to authors Allen Carden and Thomas Ebert for joining me to discuss their book John George Nicolay: The Man in Lincoln's Shadow, which was released last month by University of Tennessee Press. Carden is a professor of history at Fresno Pacific University and is the author of Puritan Christianity in America: Religion and Life in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts (1990) and Freedom’s Delay: America’s Struggle for Emancipation, 1776-1865 (2014). Ebert is a Librarian Emeritus (reference and government documents) and Emeritus Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at California State University, Fresno.

Here are some excerpts from the description to serve as an introduction to their book (or you can just skip down below to the interview itself): "Apart from the president’s family, arguably no one was closer to Abraham Lincoln during his tenure in the White House than John George Nicolay. A German immigrant with a keen intelligence and tenacious work ethic, Nicolay (1832-1901) served as Lincoln’s personal secretary and, owing to the extraordinary challenges facing the White House, became in effect its first chief of staff. His subsequent role as lead researcher and coauthor of a monumental ten-volume biography of the sixteenth president made him the progenitor of Lincoln scholarship.

Thomas J. Ebert
This study represents the first scholarly biography of this self-effacing man so long overshadowed by Lincoln. Drawing on extensive research in the Nicolay Papers, Allen Carden and Thomas Ebert trace Nicolay’s childhood arrival in America to his involvement in journalism and state government in Illinois. Acquainted with Lincoln in Springfield, Nicolay became a trusted assistant selected by Lincoln to be his private secretary. Intensely devoted to the president, he kept the White House running smoothly and allowed Lincoln to focus on the top priorities. After Lincoln’s death, Nicolay’s greatest achievement was his co-authorship, with his White House assistant, John Hay, of the first thoroughly documented account of Lincoln’s life and administration, a work still consulted by historians."

CWBA: To start things off, can you provide a quick summary of Nicolay’s early life up to the time he met the future president?

AC&TE: Nicolay was born in Essingen in the Rhenish Palatinate in 1832. He had a hard childhood as his family emigrated to America in 1837. His mother died when he was seven, his father when he was fourteen. At fourteen, his older brother kicked him out into the world. After working in a mercantile in White Hall, Illinois, he eventually worked for the Pike County Free Press, a newspaper in Pittsfield, Illinois. By age twenty-two, he was the owner of the Free Press and a rising figure in the community. He sold the paper in 1856.

CWBA: How and when did Nicolay first meet Abraham Lincoln?

AC&TE:  According to Robert Lincoln, Nicolay and Lincoln first met when Nicolay was working for Ozias M. Hatch, the Illinois Secretary of State. The two men often played chess together in the large room which also doubled as the State Library in the old capitol building.

CWBA: Why did Lincoln choose Nicolay as his personal secretary?

AC&TE: We believe Lincoln chose Nicolay for his connections to the German American press and to demonstrate in a quiet manner to the German American community that he (i.e. Lincoln) was not a nativist.

CWBA: Do you believe that Nicolay had a significant role in shaping Lincoln’s knowledge of and attitude toward the large German-American segment of the U.S. population?

AC&TE: Nicolay, who could read, write, and speak German, could keep Lincoln informed about the opinions and mood of the German immigrant community and German cultural practices and attitudes. However, Nicolay, whose family lived in rural western Illinois where there were few if any German immigrants, did not identify himself as part of the German immigrant community.

CWBA: Did Nicolay personally participate in the war effort’s ethnic lobbying? Did German-American politicians, military officers, etc. ever attempt to use him as a conduit to the president?

AC&TE: There is no evidence that Nicolay personally participated in ethnic lobbying. Nor would he have likely done so given that he only took cues from Lincoln. However, his German cultural background, his ability to act as translator for Lincoln when necessary, and his ability to socialize with these politicians, military officers, etc. in their native tongue afforded Nicolay the opportunity to glean additional information from them on behalf of Lincoln. Nicolay was very adept at not revealing anything to others while pumping others for information. Nicolay was an important link to the German American community during the war.

CWBA: In the capacity of the president’s private secretary, what were Nicolay’s daily duties in the Lincoln White House?

AC&TE: Nicolay was responsible for oversight of the White House operation, which consisted at various times of John Hay, William Stoddard, Edward Neill, and Charles Philbrick. In contrast to Lincoln’s lack of organizational skills, Nicolay brought in file cabinets, created a filing system, and organized the office routines. He handled important correspondence, sometimes responded on behalf of the President, sat in and took notes on meetings in Lincoln’s office as requested, prepared legal documents, acted as chief gatekeeper limiting access to the President, went on missions on behalf of the President, and did anything and everything to ease the President’s workload. There is no evidence that Nicolay ever revealed the contents of any discussion he had with Lincoln, unless instructed by Lincoln to do so. Then Nicolay would merely repeat word for word what he was instructed to say without interpretation or embellishment.

CWBA: Did Nicolay ever clash with the president over personal or policy matters?

AC&TE: Nicolay had unquestioning loyalty to Lincoln and his leadership and as such would only voice an opinion when asked. Nicolay saw his role as Private Secretary as one where he sought to remain as unobtrusive as possible. His daughter Helen noted that, according to her father, there was never any "red tape” between Nicolay and Lincoln. There is no evidence of any clash between the President and his secretary.

CWBA: What was his relationship with John Hay like? In terms of White House ‘rank,’ was there a pecking order in the duties and responsibilities exercised by both secretaries?

AC&TE: Although Nicolay and Hay were close, life-long friends; shared the same sleeping quarters; had meals together, and were otherwise constant companions; Hay recognized that Nicolay was ultimately 'in charge.' Consequently, the working relationship was cooperative and with a shared responsibility in assisting the "Tycoon," whom they both adored.

CWBA: Did Nicolay maintain any regular personal correspondence that you found especially useful in your research?

AC&TE:  Much that we know about Nicolay in the White House years comes from his correspondence with his fiance Therena Bates back in Pittsfield, Illinois. Unfortunately, we only have his correspondence since he complied with a request from Therena to destroy her letters.

CWBA:  Of course, Nicolay is primarily remembered for the ten-volume biography Abraham Lincoln: A History (1890) he co-authored with John Hay. Can you describe the origins of the project and the research and writing process that went into it (including how Hay and Nicolay divided the work)?

AC&TE:  Nicolay had always wanted to write a biography of Lincoln. He was severely disappointed when Lincoln chose William Dean Howells to write the 1860 campaign biography. A Lincoln biography was discussed with the president before his death. After their return from Europe on diplomatic missions, Nicolay and Hay began working with Robert Lincoln to gain access to the Lincoln papers. The history is based on only verifiable documented facts as Nicolay and Hay declined to include any of their memories without substantiation. Hence, their more intimate conversations with Lincoln, which historians would have valued even more, are lost to us. Each man would take on a series of chapters on a particular topic and then share them with the other for editing and further verification. From their correspondence it is evident that Nicolay, whose sole goal in life was the completion of the Lincoln history, did a significantly larger portion of the writing and editing, including the page proofs.

CWBA:  One might surmise that both biographers were not in complete accord over every aspect of Lincoln’s life. Were there any major areas of disagreement between Hay and Nicolay? And if so, how were they resolved in the final version of their manuscript?

AC&TE:  There is no evidence that Nicolay and Hay had any major disagreements, both being Lincoln men through and through. There is some evidence that one or the other would “tone down” criticisms of individuals. This was done through their conversations either by letter or sometimes in person. A case in point is when Hay got Nicolay to tone down his criticism of Robert E. Lee. Hay wrote Century Magazine editor Richard Watson Gilder that Nicolay thought Lee should be shot as a traitor, an opinion that did not make its way into the history.

CWBA: Families of major historical figures frequently seek some measure of control over biographer access to private documents. How well were Nicolay and Hay able to work with Robert Lincoln? Wanting his father portrayed in the best light possible, did Robert also employ major editorial power over the project?

AC&TE:  Unquestionably, Robert Lincoln was a background presence in the writing of the history. Nicolay and Hay were very conscious that their continued access to the Lincoln papers depended on Robert’s good graces. However, since Nicolay and Hay had the goal of writing political hagiography, a goal shared by Robert, there was little conflict. Some sensitive topics in the Lincoln history were treated gingerly, including Lincoln’s relationship with his father, his love for Ann Rutledge, and the portrayal of the First Lady. In such cases the authors looked over their shoulder, especially in light of Robert Lincoln’s relationship with his own father, the embarrassment to the family that Robert’s mother might have been seen as a consolation prize, and the subject of the erratic behavior and mercurial temperament of Mary Lincoln (who at one time had been committed to an insane asylum by her son).

CWBA: What were the commercial and critical responses to the biography?

AC&TE: The critical reviews were generally positive as Nicolay kept copies of them in his papers. Carl Schurz wrote a particularly positive review. At the initial publication in 1890, there was a strong demand for the history. However, as time went on, subscriptions dropped off. This was due to a number of factors, including a Northern slant to the work and their refusal to go along with the national reconciliation at the time which enshrined the Lost Cause mythology and the Confederate leadership as heroes. They blamed the cause for the war squarely on the planter class and, particularly, slavery. For them, “states rights” had been a Southern code word for “slavery.” Their negative comments on Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee along with a number of other Confederate political and military leaders undoubtedly turned off Southern subscribers who wanted their heroes treated as patriots not traitors. Another factor was the size of the history—ten volumes, 4800 pages—that discouraged a mass audience. There were also criticisms from Northern military men who, in the print media of the day, were still fighting the war and justifying their actions and pointing their fingers at others. Many of these individuals took exception to how their leadership was portrayed.

CWBA: Beyond the published biography, what else did Nicolay do to shape the early Lincoln legacy?

AC&TE: Nicolay devoted his life, his being, to the glorification of Abraham Lincoln. He would give talks on Lincoln, and he was a founding member of Washington’s Literary Society. After the completion of the history, Nicolay and Hay published the first compilation of Lincoln papers. He also prepared notes for another Lincoln book on the president’s personal traits. However, poor eyesight and declining health prevented its publication in his lifetime. His daughter, Helen, published Personal Traits of Abraham Lincoln in 1912 based on her father’s notes. It may be considered a supplement to the history. Helen, in 1902, published a condensed version of the history based on her father’s editing. Helen, through the influence of her father for all things Lincoln, wrote a popular biography of Lincoln, The Boys' Life of Abraham Lincoln, for young people. The book went through multiple editions. Finally, in 1949, Helen wrote a biography of her father, Lincoln’s Secretary: A Biography of John George Nicolay. The biography, like anything connected with John George Nicolay, has much about the sixteenth president.

CWBA: Thanks for your time gentlemen. Readers, once again, the title is John George Nicolay: The Man in Lincoln's Shadow. Check it out.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Book News: The Civil War in the South Carolina Lowcountry

Due to their relative scarcity, any new title covering some aspect of the war along the South Atlantic front is bound to at least attract my attention. Ron Roth's upcoming book The Civil War in the South Carolina Lowcountry: How a Confederate Artillery Battery and a Black Union Regiment Defined the War (McFarland, 2019) looks to be in line with my reading interests.

From the description: "Some of the most dramatic and consequential events of the Civil War era took place in the South Carolina Lowcountry between Charleston and Savannah. From fire-eater Robert Barnwell Rhett's inflammatory 1844 speech in Bluffton calling for secession, to the last desperate attempts by Confederate forces to halt Sherman's juggernaut, the region was torn apart by war."

Recruited largely from the Beaufort County area of South Carolina's Lowcountry, the subjects of Roth's dual history study are the Confederate Army's Beaufort Volunteer Artillery and the U.S. Army's First South Carolina Volunteer regiment (later redesignated the 33rd USCT). While the 1st South Carolina has received significant attention of late, particularly in books from Stephen Ash and John Saucer, the Beaufort Artillery has never received a published treatment on this scale before (at least I am not aware of any in existence). The battery was involved in many understudied actions in the Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Review - "Attack at Daylight and Whip Them: The Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862" by Gregory Mertz

[Attack at Daylight and Whip Them: The Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862 by Gregory A. Mertz (Savas Beatie, 2019). Softcover, 17 maps, 166 images, appendix, orders of battle. Pages:xx,171. ISBN:978-1-61121-313-3. $14.95]

Through now dozens of installments, the Emerging Civil War series has established a winning formula of presenting concise historical narratives (authored mostly by NPS-affiliated individuals well versed in public history) generously supplemented by tour, map, and photograph features. How these constituent elements are arranged is largely up to the author. In general, the historical narrative is presented in standard chronological fashion with the driving/walking tour either offered standalone or integrated piecemeal into each chapter. The appendix section typically addresses a range of associated topics that often rival the main text in their attention-grabbing nature. Gregory Mertz's Attack at Daylight and Whip Them: The Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862 is unusual in that it is the tour that drives the narrative rather than the other way around, and the appendix section is limited to a single (though very important) issue.

As mentioned above, touring efficiency is what lies chiefly behind the chosen chapter arrangement. The book begins near Pittsburg Landing with "Grant's Last Line" and moves back and forth chronologically, even alternating between Day 1 and Day 2 events. The execution turns out to be less confusing than it sounds, especially for those readers already familiar with the battle. Novice readers might struggle with grasping the historical sequence of events, though.

Addressing old controversies and the various well-known interpretive traditions, Mertz's overview narrative is simply excellent in its summarization of the current state of the Shiloh battle historiography, among the best short-form treatments available. Descriptive accounts of each stage of the battle are well supported by a fine set of maps drawn mostly at brigade scale. Neither tour nor text address the Confederate approach march or retreat (including the fighting at Fallen Timbers), but, as is the case with book's attenuated appendix section, this is almost surely due to the format's space limitations.

ECW authors are typically grizzled veterans of conducting public tours and creating interpretive programs, and Mertz's well-honed skills in those areas are displayed in the book's seamless integration of battlefield tour and historical narrative. Clear directions and detailed viewer orientation are provided for every numbered driving tour stop and letter-sequenced walking tour stage.

In addition to recounting details of the battle, the author judiciously weighs the strengths and weaknesses of enduring points of contention. While he largely detaches himself from the fray, Mertz does occasionally come down firmly on one debate side or the other. For example, the author joins those that counter critics of Albert Sidney Johnston's leading from the front by citing the need for the Confederate commander to personally inspire his inexperienced army at key moments during the attack. As for the slain Johnston's replacement, while some see Beauregard's chief sin as calling off the Day 1 attack too soon, Mertz more persuasively criticizes the general for pulling back too far during the evening and yielding the best ground for the next day's fighting. Interestingly, the author does not substantively address criticisms of Grant's Day 1 unpreparedness.

In the appendix, contributor Ryan Quint offers a well-balanced assessment of the never-ending Lew Wallace controversy. Agreeing with the current consensus among recent biographers and Shiloh battle historians that Wallace was neither lost nor slow, the writer acknowledges that we'll never know for certain the wording of Grant's disputed order (the sheet of paper being lost to history). Other criticisms remain, however. Wallace's brief stop for a divisional lunch break and even more time lost due to his decision to maintain his original order of march when his column turned around are decisions enduringly open to question (though both could be justified on some level).

This title is one of the best representatives of what ECW series titles strive to achieve in balancing history and tour while also remaining accessible (and interesting) to a wide range of readers. Attack at Daylight and Whip Them has all the hallmarks of being a very useful tool for conducting a self-guided tour of the Shiloh battlefield.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Book News: American Zouaves, 1859-1959

Of course, many unit histories of popular Zouave regiments (mostly Union ones) have been published over the years; however, as far as I know, no one-stop history and reference guide exists out there that addresses the topic as a whole. A fulfillment of that kind of ambition does appear to be the goal of author Daniel J. Miller in putting together his upcoming book American Zouaves, 1859-1959: An Illustrated History (McFarland, October 2019 est.).

From the description: "Drawing on fifty years of research, this volume provides a comprehensive state-by-state catalog of American Zouave units, richly illustrated with rare and previously unpublished photographs and drawings. The author dispels many misconceptions and errors that have persisted over the last 150 years." According to the book page on the publisher's website, the study will contain around 400 images, which would be quite a collection.

Operating under the (mistaken?) assumption that the American Zouave military fad died down before the end of the 1800s, I'm curious about the twentieth-century part of the history indicated by the title. Perhaps Zouave unit designations in state militias endured as a kind of honorary tradition similar to today's 1st Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army. I don't know.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Five books on Civil War Nebraska

1. Standing Firmly by the Flag: Nebraska Territory and the Civil War, 1861-1867 (2012)
by James E. Potter. [review]
Potter's comprehensive military and political history of Nebraska's Civil War is easily the most significant book ever published on the subject. Initially conceived as a First Nebraska regimental history, the project morphed into a wider study that also examines the late-war and beyond statehood debates at great length. If you're going to read just one book on Civil War Nebraska, this should be it.
2. Marching with the First Nebraska: A Civil War Diary (2007) August Scherneckau, ed.
by James E. Potter and Edith Robbins (trans.).
Over three thousand Nebraskans fought in the Civil War, with the First Nebraska Volunteer Infantry (later converted into cavalry) being the unit most recognized for its wartime contributions. Unfortunately, the regiment still has no standalone chronicler, although (as mentioned above) Potter includes a great deal of First Nebraska material in Standing Firmly by the Flag. As far as I know, Marching with the First Nebraska is the only edited letter collection, diary, or journal written by a Nebraska soldier or officer that's ever been published in book format.
3. Massacre along the Medicine Road: A Social History of the Indian War of 1864 in Nebraska Territory (1999) by Ronald Becher.
Though no organized Confederate force ever set foot on Nebraska soil, there were other deadly threats to the population. Based on an exhaustive compilation of firsthand accounts, Becher's book details the bloody summer of 1864 in the Nebraska interior, when Sioux and Cheyenne war parties attacked numerous ranches and way stations located along the vital stretch of continental emigrant trails spanning the territory.
4. Powder River Odyssey: Nelson Cole's Western Campaign of 1865, The Journals of Lyman G. Bennett and Other Eyewitness Accounts (2009) by David E. Wagner. [review]
Gary Gallagher vehemently disagrees, but I have maintained for the past 15 years on the site that drawing links between period Indian conflicts and western expansion to the Civil War's overall picture is worthy of discussion. The 1865 Powder River War was the last major campaign against native tribes that was conducted fully by Civil War volunteer units. Part of a three-pronged punitive expedition, Cole's wing, having set out from Omaha, spent the most time in Nebraska itself.
5. The Civil War in the Northwest: Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas (1960) by Robert Huhn Jones.
I probably wouldn't have included Jones's book if the pickings weren't already getting so thin. Though a classic study, the title oversells its coverage by a wide shot. If I recall correctly, there isn't very much in the way of proportional Nebraska content or focus inside even though it merits first mention in the subtitle.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Review - "An East Texas Family’s Civil War: The Letters of Nancy and William Whatley, May–December 1862" by John Whatley, ed.

[An East Texas Family’s Civil War: The Letters of Nancy and William Whatley, May–December 1862 edited by John T. Whatley (Louisiana State University Press, 2019). Hardcover, 3 maps, footnotes, bibliography, index. Pages:xlviii,150. ISBN:978-0-8071-7069-4. $36.95]

Edited family correspondence is a regular feature of both popular and academic Civil War publishing. However, geographical representation in the literature is far from evenly spread. Certainly, collections of letters passed between wives running rural East Texas farms and their husbands fighting in Arkansas are published very infrequently. Edited by great-grandson John T. Whatley, An East Texas Family’s Civil War: The Letters of Nancy and William Whatley, May–December 1862 offers readers a tragically brief but illuminating early-war window into one Trans-Mississippi Confederate family's intertwining struggles on the home and military fronts.

31-year-old William Whatley numbered among that wave of Confederate "later enlisters" who were the collective subject of historian Kenneth Noe's excellent 2010 study Reluctant Rebels: The Confederates Who Joined the Army after 1861. In justifying leaving his young family behind to fight in the war, Whatley departs somewhat from Noe's general characterization of 1862 recruits as older, married, and more economically secure but much less ideological than the 1861 firebrands. While also citing defense of hearth and home, Whatley's letters frequently remind his wife that he enlisted to defend "southern rights," and it was the duty of every free citizen of a republic to fight for them. He doesn't elaborate on what he believed those rights to be, and how they were directly threatened by the Lincoln administration, but readers can likely assume that his views on those matters were in line with those expressed elsewhere by Confederates of similar social standing.

William was a private soldier in the 17th Texas Cavalry, which spent the latter half of 1862 in central and eastern Arkansas. When the Confederate high command stripped Arkansas of most of its available manpower after the Pea Ridge defeat, Texas troops rushed into the vacuum and helped turn advancing Union forces away from the capital. As an uneasy stalemate settled into the region, William's letters tell mostly of camp and scouting duties. Food was plentiful but arms, clothing, and equipment were in short supply (a common enough problem in the Confederate army as a whole but more so in the Trans-Mississippi). Readers hoping to discover a new ground-level perspective on the battle and Confederate mass surrender at Arkansas Post will be disappointed to find that the letters end well before the climax of the campaign. Whatley actually escaped capture and served out the rest of the war only to succumb to disease in 1866.

Economically situated between the yeoman farmer and planter classes, the Whatleys owned 13 slaves (most of whom were children at the war's beginning) who worked a relatively isolated farm near Caledonia in Rusk County. Female heads of household suddenly confronted with exponentially expanded duties for which they were unprepared is a common theme of the Civil War home front literature. Though her husband was able to offer her emotional support and practical advice from afar, the war left a profoundly stressed Nancy largely on her own to run the farm, conduct business, manage the family's slaves, and raise the couple's four small children. Though there seemed to have been sufficient food to go around, drought instantly threatened the vital corn crop, fodder for poultry and livestock proved inadequate, the slaves became almost unmanageable, and the cotton couldn't get ginned. The overall situation became so dire by late 1862 that home and property were in the process of being abandoned or sold by the time the letters cease, marking a remarkably rapid decline in the family's fortunes.

Before he left, William arranged for a neighbor (a Mr. Martin) to help his wife manage the family's farm, business affairs, and slave labor. Unfortunately, Martin proved incompetent or unwilling to fulfill his promises and was a constant source of anger and anxiety for Nancy. However, as the book's introduction astutely notes, we do only get one side of the story and it's possible that Martin had his hands full with his own family problems caused by the war.

From the content of the letters it seems clear that the Whatley slaves started to resist direction from both Nancy and Martin very soon after William's departure for the war, with senior slave Marshall voicing defiance and frequently refusing to work altogether. With authority of master over slave already breaking down by mid-1862 in an area of the Deep South far removed from the presence of Union troops, sober predictions that societal upheaval attendant to war on this scale would eventually destroy slavery were already coming true.

The extended presence of disease epidemics added another layer of troubles. Talk of measles outbreaks among civilians and soldiers throughout homes, communities, and army camps in East Texas and Arkansas persists in nearly every letter between William and Nancy, and most are filled with numerous death notices among family members, acquaintances, and comrades. Nancy herself succumbed to measles complications in December 1862 while nursing her children, all of whom survived. The fact that measles outbreaks originating in nearby army hospitals were able to race through the countryside and fatally impact families across the region for months on end serves as yet another reminder that current estimates of civilians deaths directly related to the war (all of which are admitted to be unsupported guesswork) are in all likelihood greatly under counted.

In comparison to many other books of this type, footnotes from editor John Whatley are rather sparse in number and detail. However, this apparent deficiency is ameliorated to a large degree by the extensive historical context and family background history contained in both Jacqueline Jones's foreword and Whatley's general introduction. Still, some significant developments raised in the letters (ex. the devastating impact of a screwworm infestation on area livestock) are allowed to pass without editorial comment.

Though some interesting aspects of William Whatley's military service are revealed in its pages, An East Texas Family’s Civil War primarily offers readers a vivid portrait of the many types of additional hardships and trials, in particular those shouldered by women, that the conflict placed upon rural Trans-Mississippi civilians of all economic classes. Recommended.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Book News: Civil War Flags of Tennessee

I don't have too many unit flag books in the personal collection, just a few covering Trans-Mississippi states that the experts tell me are okay at best. However, there is a title peeking over the horizon that I am looking forward to checking out. Next spring, UT Press will publish Stephen Douglas Cox's Civil War Flags of Tennessee (2020). There's already a nice description available, and from the sound of it the book will be very comprehensive in scope. It "provides information on all known Confederate and Union flags of the state and showcases the Civil War flag collection of the Tennessee State Museum."

Principal author and volume editor Cox manages a host of contributors. The first part of the book's three main sections is a background history exploration of the topic. It "includes interpretive essays by scholars such as Greg Biggs, Robert B. Bradley, Howard Michael Madaus, and Fonda Ghiardi Thomsen that address how flags were used in the Civil War, their general history, their makers, and preservation issues, among other themes."

More: "Part 2 is a catalogue of Tennessee Confederate flags. Part 3 is a catalogue of Tennessee Union flags. The catalogues present a collection of some 200 identified, extant Civil War flags and another 300 flags that are known through secondary and archival sources, all of which are exhaustively documented. Appendices follow the two catalogue sections and include detailed information on several Confederate and Union flags associated with the states of Mississippi, North Carolina, and Indiana that are also contained in the Tennessee State Museum collection."

It is certainly a reader expectation that a book of this type would be filled with high-res color photography of the various flags, and Cox's study aims to deliver on that count as well. "Complete with nearly 300 color illustrations and meticulous notes on textiles and preservation efforts, this volume is much more than an encyclopedic log of Tennessee-related Civil War flags. Stephen Cox and his team also weave the history behind the flags throughout the catalogues, including the stories of the women who stitched them, the regiments that bore them, and the soldiers and bearers who served under them and carried them. Civil War Flags of Tennessee is an eloquent hybrid between guidebook and chronicle, and the scholar, the Civil War enthusiast, and the general reader will all enjoy what can be found in its pages."

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Booknotes: The Great Partnership

New Arrival:
The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy by Christian B. Keller (Pegasus Bks, 2019).

Of course we'll never know how the relationship would have evolved over the second half of the war, but while it lasted R.E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson clearly formed the South's most dynamic and feared combination of army commander and principal subordinate. Christian Keller's The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy attempts to answer many relevant questions about the high command pairing, including "why were Generals Lee and Jackson so successful in their partnership in trying to win the war for the South? What was it about their styles, friendship, even their faith, that cemented them together into a fighting machine that consistently won despite often overwhelming odds against them?"

Keller's Civil War scholarship has always impressed me. Though this latest book, unlike his others, looks on the face of it to be designed for popular appeal, I'm still pretty confident that there will be enough analytical heft in it to grab my interest.

More from the description: "It has been over two decades since any author attempted a joint study of the two generals. At the very least, the book will inspire a very lively debate among the thousands of students of Civil War history. At best, it will significantly revise how we evaluate Confederate strategy during the height the war and our understanding of why, in the end, the South lost."

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Review - "Campaign for Wilson's Creek: The Fight for Missouri Begins, Updated Edition" by Jeffrey Patrick

[Campaign for Wilson's Creek: The Fight for Missouri Begins, Updated Edition by Jeffrey L. Patrick (State House Press, 2018). Softcover, 18 maps, 21 photos, notes, index. Pages main/total:201/224. ISBN:978-1-933337-79-1. $24.95]

The two most thoroughly detailed accounts of the August 10, 1861 Battle of Wilson's Creek remain Edwin Bearss's classic 1961 study that has since undergone several revisions and the much more recent scholarly monograph from William Piston and Richard Hatcher1. The latter is widely considered the finest and most comprehensive examination of the battle to date. Coverage of the 1861 campaign in Missouri as a whole is also quite good, and arguably the best introductory overview is Jeffrey Patrick's Campaign for Wilson's Creek2. Originally published in 2011 as part of McWhiney Foundation Press's Civil War Campaigns and Commanders series, Patrick's book has since undergone revision and was reissued this year by State House Press under the title Campaign for Wilson's Creek: The Fight for Missouri Begins, Updated Edition3.

In roughly two hundred pages of narrative, the book covers the entire length of Union General Nathaniel Lyon's 1861 Missouri campaign, from the Camp Jackson Affair through the Union army's retreat from Springfield in the wake of its Wilson's Creek defeat. Over several chapters, Patrick does a fine job of providing the political background necessary (especially for novice readers) to understand why a state army from pro-Union Missouri was aligned with a Confederate force to oppose the United States military. Augmented by a dozen operational-scale line drawings, the text adeptly follows the campaign's sprawling progress across Missouri from St. Louis in the east to Cowskin Prairie in the extreme southwest corner of the state. While smaller scale clashes at Boonville, Carthage, and other places are only briefly discussed, coverage of Wilson's Creek is more than ample. The book's small-unit detail and map coverage of each stage of the campaign's main battle is more than satisfactory. Also supplementing the main narrative are twenty biographical sidebars of prominent military leaders from both sides.

As the book is primarily a synthesis (and a very good one at that), readers already familiarized with the Wilson's Creek literature won't necessarily come away with an altered understanding of the course of the battle itself, but the author does provide a number of interesting leadership insights on the Union side. While the literature's consistent portrait of General Lyon as a fiercely independent and uncompromisingly aggressive general is largely supported, Patrick's Lyon is also indecisive and hesitant during the climactic stages of the campaign, constantly calling together councils of war and having momentous command decisions shaped by pushy junior officers such as Col. Franz Sigel (who pressed Lyon to dangerously divide his much smaller attacking army into two widely separated wings) and Capt. Thomas Sweeny (who perhaps changed Lyon's mind about retreating from Springfield, although we'll never know for certain how seriously Lyon considered falling back to Rolla without a battle). To what degree those late-campaign cracks in Lyon's theretofore strong executive leadership can be attributed simply to mental and physical exhaustion remains, of course, open to debate.

Responsibility for the disintegration of Sigel's brigade after its very promising start has always been placed primarily on the shoulders of its commander. While Patrick does point out Sigel's faulty alignment of his final line of battle on the Sharp Farm, he also addresses other important factors left out of most accounts. In the short period that had passed since the Battle of Carthage, 400 veterans of the 3rd Missouri had left for home (to be replaced by 200 raw recruits). All of the experienced artillerymen who performed so well at Carthage were also gone by the time of Wilson's Creek. Worse, upwards of 2/3 of the brigade's officer corps had been discharged before the battle and many companies had no officers at all. It's almost remarkable that Sigel's command did as well as it did that morning before disaster struck.

Department of the West commander John C. Fremont is frequently assigned much of the blame for the Union defeat at Wilson's Creek and for the death of Lyon himself. Patrick's reexamination offers a more nuanced picture than the one that emerges from the dominant historical narrative accusing the Pathfinder of all but abandoning Lyon to his fate. Patrick usefully reminds critics that Fremont was in charge of a large department with many other hot spots and priorities, the most significant of those being St. Louis, Cairo, and the rest of the threatened Upper Mississippi River Valley. It should also be remembered that Fremont never ordered Lyon to remain in Springfield and expected him to retreat if faced by overwhelming enemy numbers. Contrary to popular belief, Lyon's persistent pleas for reinforcements also did not entirely fall upon deaf ears, as Fremont ordered as many as three regiments to join Lyon (though none arrived in time for the climactic battle).

Not surpassed since initial publication, the updated second edition of Jeff Patrick's Campaign for Wilson's Creek maintains its status as the finest overview treatment of the decisive 1861 military campaign that secured Missouri for the Union. Recommended.

1 - The Battle of Wilson's Creek. Fourth edition. (Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Foundation, 1992) by Edwin Cole Bearss and Wilson's Creek: The Second Battle of the Civil War and the Men Who Fought It (UNC Press, 2000) by William Garrett Piston and Richard W. Hatcher.
2 - William Brooksher's Bloody Hill: The Civil War Battle of Wilson's Creek (1995) is another study of similar scope and coverage, but Patrick's book offers a superior overview of the Wilson's Creek battle and has other unique aspects to recommend it.
3 - Beyond having new cover art and an updated copyright page, both editions (2011 and 2018) appear at first glance to be almost identical [same overall format, page count, maps, etc.]. It should also be noted that although it was released in 2019 the new edition has a 2018 copyright date. I emailed the publisher and asked if they could offer more information about changes between editions. The response from them indicated that "updated edition" primarily refers to the new book conforming to an updated style guide, with content alterations much less significant in nature.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Booknotes: Hidden History of Civil War Williamsburg

New Arrival:
Hidden History of Civil War Williamsburg by Carson O. Hudson, Jr. (Arcadia Pub & The History Pr, 2019).

This is a revised and expanded new edition of author Carson Hudson's 2016 book Yankees in the Streets: Forgotten People and Stories of Civil War Williamsburg

From the description: "Each year, thousands of visitors from around the country visit the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's re-created eighteenth-century capital of Virginia to learn about the past and walk where the Founding Fathers walked. The fact that the same ground was later soaked with the tears and blood of their children and grandchildren during our tragic Civil War is frequently forgotten." Hidden History of Civil War Williamsburg "tells the stories of this hallowed ground and the people who walked it." The variety of individual stories and historical anecdotes compiled in the book encompass the entire war and include discussions of the May 5, 1862 Battle of Williamsburg, the Union occupation, and subsequent attempts by the Confederates to recover the town. 

Filled with photographs and other illustrations, the book also sports an extensive appendix section. In it you'll find a list of town residents from the 1860 census; a roster of the Williamsburg Junior Guard; orders of battle for the May 5 fight; a list of Medal of Honor recipients from the battle; and brief discussions of army hospitals, historical maps, and the surrounding county's emancipation proclamation exemption.