Friday, September 27, 2019

Booknotes: Too Useful to Sacrifice

New Arrival:
Too Useful to Sacrifice: Reconsidering George B. McClellan’s Generalship in the Maryland Campaign from South Mountain to Antietam by Steven R. Stotelmyer
(Savas Beatie, 2019).

McClellan revisionism will seemingly always have a steep hill to climb when it comes to even scratching, let alone cracking, the hardened edifice of negative opinion related to the general's army leadership and politics. Proponents range from those who just want to give McClellan a fair shake in the historiography to those who truly believe him to have been one of the war's great captains. I still think Ethan Rafuse, whose views I place closer to the former end of that spectrum, has written the best McClellan book of any kind. I obviously haven't read his book yet, but I would guess that Steven Stotelmyer would also situate himself somewhere in the middle. His book Too Useful to Sacrifice: Reconsidering George B. McClellan’s Generalship in the Maryland Campaign from South Mountain to Antietam seeks to explode a host of what the author sees as key myths and misconceptions about the campaign and McClellan's role in it.

The book is essentially a collection of five interpretive essays. The first discusses a variety of hotly debated topics related to Lee's Special Orders No. 191. The next chapter attempts to reframe the discussion of the affect of the South Mountain battle on the course of the campaign and elevate the fighting there from its traditional secondary position. The third essay addresses criticism of the Union pursuit of Lee's army as it fell back from South Mountain to its next defensive position behind Antietam Creek. Chapter Four examines how the political firestorm against General Porter stemming from his actions at Second Bull Run affected how history would assess both the McClellan-Porter relationship and the role of the reserves at Antietam. Finally, Chapter Five deals with the Army of the Potomac's post-Antietam pursuit of Lee and the subsequent decision by the Lincoln administration to remove McClellan from command.

From the description: "Utilizing extensive primary documents and with a keen appreciation for the infrastructure of the nineteenth century Maryland terrain, Stotelmyer deeply explores these long-held beliefs, revealing that often the influence of political considerations dictated military decision-making, and the deliberate actions of the Lincoln Administration behind McClellan’s back resulted in bringing about many of the general’s supposed shortcomings. As readers will soon discover, Lincoln did not need to continue searching for a capable commander; he already had one."

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Review - "'May God have Mercy on Us.': The Twenty Days of the Cane River Campaign in Louisiana" by Nash, Taylor, and Whitington

["May God have Mercy on Us.": The Twenty Days of the Cane River Campaign in Louisiana by Weldon Nash, Jr., John Taylor & Mitchel Whitington (23 House Publishing, 2019). Softcover, 10 maps, photos, illustrations, footnotes, site tour, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:123/152. ISBN:978-1-9393063-2-6. $18.95]

The 1864 Red River Campaign encompassing two widely separated fronts in Arkansas and Louisiana was the largest military operation conducted in the Trans-Mississippi during the Civil War. Even without incorporating the political and economic elements that are critical to understanding the campaign's inception, it would be a struggle for any author to comprehensively cover its numerous skirmishes and battles within a single volume of any depth. Yet the middling-sized collection of major secondary works associated with the Red River Campaign consists of little more than that. Though only an overview itself, Ludwell Johnson's pioneering Red River Campaign: Politics and Cotton in the Civil War (1958) remains the standard campaign history. Modern successor works from the likes of Gary Joiner, Henry Robertson, Michael Forsyth, William Brooksher, and others offer even more concise narratives, though most add useful bits and pieces of new information and alternate interpretations of interest. While survey histories are abundant, the current collection of book-length Red River operational and battle studies remains in a pitiable state of incompleteness in no way commensurate with the campaign's scale and significance. So a book like Weldon Nash, John Taylor, and Mitchel Whitington's "May God have Mercy on Us.": The Twenty Days of the Cane River Campaign in Louisiana will immediately grab the attention of students wishing to learn more about the retreat phase of the Red River operation. Recounting the retrograde movement of the Union army in Louisiana from Grand Ecore to Alexandria, their study freshly focuses on a sequence of events believed by many at the time to have been a great lost opportunity for the Confederates to achieve a victory of strategic dimensions.

From April 10 to 27, the interval between the conclusion of the Battle of Pleasant Hill and the "escape" of Nathaniel Bank's army from its isolated position within the inland island formed by the Red and Cane rivers, constant rearguard skirmishing occurred and two battles (Blair's Landing and Monett's Ferry) were fought. Though the book covers land and naval military actions from that roughly three-week period on a day-by-day basis, the primary selling point of the study is its coverage of the Battle of Monett's Ferry. Though a quick perusal of the Red River library reveals slightly broader handling than the "only a paragraph or two" treatments claimed to be typical, this study's chapter-length account of Monett's Ferry, while still not exhaustive in nature, does indeed have small-unit depth that surpasses the rest.

Basically, the pursuing Confederates under Richard Taylor had the bulk of General Banks's army hemmed in on the Cane River island in front, flank, and rear by a thin screen of mostly cavalry. Confederate general Hamilton Bee held the most important blocking position atop the heights overlooking Monett's Ferry, a choke point that represented the only major Cane River crossing suitable for wheeled traffic. However, as so often proved providential during the war, a local slave showed Banks the location of a low-water ford that would allow him to outflank Bee's heavily outnumbered defenders. The small force Banks sent across the river on the flanking mission quickly surprised and drove back Bee's weakly defended left flank, leading Bee to abandon the ferry crossing altogether. With Monett's Ferry uncovered, Banks effected an uncontested crossing of Cane River and continued his retreat to Alexandria.

In the wake of Monett's Ferry, press and army criticism of the already lowly regarded Bee was harsh. Taylor in particular believed that Bee's position was strong enough to have been held indefinitely. For the rest of his days, Taylor maintained that only Bee's spineless incompetence prevented the wholesale surrender of Banks's army. On the other hand, modern writers and historians (including the three co-authors of this study) have reassessed the controversial Cane River mythology with far greater objectivity and a much clearer knowledge of the military situation on the ground. Their publications generally present a more sympathetic appreciation of the long odds faced by Bee's command. Even though Bee can be justly criticized for being inflexible and slow to react to the Union assault on his left, most (and probably all) writers agree that Banks would have forced a crossing one way or another in the low-water conditions present at the time. Contrary to some contemporary Confederate assertions, there's no evidence that the Union troops or their leaders were greatly demoralized by the retreat or panicked by the circumstances they found themselves in at Cane River. Though most of the worst criticisms leveled at Bee have little to support them, the general certainly didn't help his own case by essentially fleeing the front rather than sticking close by to further harass and slow the enemy. In the end, Nash, Taylor, and Whitington's analysis soundly reinforces the scholarly consensus that Monett's Ferry did not represent a golden opportunity to force the surrender of an entire Union field army and reshape the strategic balance in the West.

The volume is generously supplied with photos, maps, and figures. That all of the military maps are borrowed from earlier publications is not ideal, but they do convey a generally adequate picture of the Monett's Ferry battlefield and the geography of the larger campaign. Research consists mostly of published primary and secondary sources. A small number of unpublished diaries were accessed by the authors online, and while these were used effectively one can't help but surmise that some research effort in physical manuscript archives would have resulted in an even richer narrative.

"May God have Mercy on Us." is not definitive in its treatment of the Cane River episode, but it does represent a step forward in fleshing out the details of a major and frequently misunderstood component of the 1864 Red River Campaign.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Booknotes: Iron Maidens and the Devil's Daughters

New Arrival:
Iron Maidens and the Devil's Daughters: US Navy Gunboats versus Confederate Gunners and Cavalry on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, 1861-65 by Mark Zimmerman (Author-Zimco Publications, 2019).

Ship-versus-shore engagements between Confederate cavalry and Union gunboats were a common occurrence along western river systems. Especially when the element of surprise was maintained, direct attacks on gunboats using artillery and small arms frequently proved effective (particularly against the more lightly armored tinclads and timberclads). After fixed fortifications so often failed to block river passage against the combined might of the Union army and navy, the Confederates shifted gears and preyed upon the enemy's more vulnerable river supply lines using mobile batteries protected by cavalry. These types of actions and more are recounted in Mark Zimmerman's Iron Maidens and the Devil's Daughters: US Navy Gunboats versus Confederate Gunners and Cavalry on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, 1861-65.

From the description: "Through the use of period photographs and more than a dozen original battle maps, the author details the clashes between Federal gunboats, including ironclads, and Confederate cavalry on the twin rivers of invasion into the heartland. Explore the US river gunboat flotilla (its creation, its commanders, its vessels) and subsequent joint navy-army invasion of Middle Tennessee up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers."

A large number of ship v. cavalry engagements, both celebrated and lesser known ones, are described in the book. "Chapters cover the naval battles at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson and the remarkable and daring Phelps Raid; the capture of Clarksville and Nashville; the little-known first battle of Shiloh; the strange Duck River Affair; Federal counterinsurgency measures; convoy operations; and the brilliant raids of 1864 by Nathan Bedford Forrest, including Eastport, Paris Landing, Reynoldsburg Island, Johnsonville, and Bell's Bend."

More: "Especially noteworthy are the building and operations of the river fleet--timberclads, ironclads, tinclads, and river monitors. From the groundwork laid by Rodgers and Eads, to the amphibious operations of Grant and Foote, the raids by Phelps, the tinclad mosquito fleet of Fitch, to the Confederate warfare waged by Forrest, Kelley, and Wheeler, and the guerilla operations of McCann, Woodward, and Hinson, Iron Maidens and the Devil's Daughters explores these little-known fierce battles and skirmishes between Federal naval forces and the pride of Southern mounted infantry."

I would question one of the central premises of the book, specifically the author's claim that the Union's heartland invasion produced a "unique" brand of warfare in the form of ship vs. cavalry engagements on inland waterways. In truth, such interactions between Union gunboats and Confederate cavalry occurred all over the continent. However, more concerning is the lack of documentation (there are no footnotes or endnotes). Also, the study's rather limited bibliography is composed of nearly all secondary sources. That said, the author deserves credit for raising the awareness of several comparatively obscure engagements (ex. the "Duck River Affair," and the clashes at Eastport, Paris Landing, and Bell's Bend) to go along with its coverage of the better-known battles. Overall presentation is attractive. Maps are plentiful and informative. Though many lack scale, they do possess much in the way of at least schematic detail.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Guidebooks to Civil War Richmond?

In response to my 9/17 Booknotes entry for Stephen Ash's new urban study Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital, a reader asked me if I could recommend any book-length walking and/or driving tour guides to Civil War Richmond. You'd think there would have been several produced over the decades, but I couldn't come up with a single example offhand and my admittedly cursory online search came up empty. My correspondent dug deeper and discovered the out-of-print but still easily obtainable title General Lee's City: An Illustrated Guide to the Historical Sites of Confederate Richmond (1987) by Richard M. Lee.

So this leads to my question for the rest of you out there. Does anyone know of any other candidates? If so, please leave your response in the comments section. Thank you in advance.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Booknotes: The Hardest Lot of Men

New Arrival:
The Hardest Lot of Men: The Third Minnesota Infantry in the Civil War by Joseph C. Fitzharris (OU Press, 2019).

With its heavy focus on the Trans-Mississippi (particularly mid and late-war Arkansas) this one looks to be just what I was hoping it might be. As David Silkenat recently reminded us in Raising the White Flag, public and military perception of Civil War mass surrenders varied drastically depending on the circumstances, and the Third Minnesota was a victim of one of the more infamous ones in July 1862 when it was surrendered with the rest of the Murfreesboro garrison to Nathan Bedford Forrest. As would be case with many other units caught up in similar events, an unfairly acquired stigma would follow them.

"Through letters, personal accounts of the men, and other sources," Joseph Fitzharris's The Hardest Lot of Men: The Third Minnesota Infantry in the Civil War "recounts how the Minnesotans, prisoners of war, broken in spirit and morale, went home and found redemption and renewed purpose fighting the Dakota Indians." During that campaign, the regiment would play an important role during the defense of Fort Abercrombie and in the fighting at Wood Lake.

More from the description: "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 participated 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. In both Tennessee and Arkansas, the Minnesotans actively supported the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) and provided many officers for USCT units." From Pine Bluff the regiment was moved to DeValls Bluff and remained at that garrison station until the end of the war.

More: The Hardest Lot of Men "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 illustrating aspects of a nineteenth-century soldier’s life—enlisted and commissioned alike—from recruitment and training to the rigors of active duty."

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Review - "An We Ob Jubilee: The First South Carolina Volunteers" by John Saucer

[An We Ob Jubilee: The First South Carolina Volunteers by John Saucer (America Through Time, 2019). Softcover, maps, photos, notes, bibliography. Pages main/total:268/320. ISBN:978-1-63499-126-1. $22.99]

The brainchild of ardent abolitionist and major general David Hunter, the First South Carolina was initially formed in March 1862, making it the war's first attempt at organizing an all-black regiment. While the unit was not disavowed by the Lincoln administration, official support was withheld as political and popular opposition to using black soldiers in combat roles was widespread at that early date. After Hunter was transferred out, subsequent Department of the South commanders (first Ormsby Mitchel then John Brannan) were far less keen on the project, but military governor Rufus Saxton continued to shepherd the unit along. Lack of recognition from above as well as slow recruitment on the ground eventually led to the regiment's disbandment, though in anticipation of a later rebirth General Saxton kept a single company active to form the nucleus of any new regiment. After the Emancipation Proclamation, proponents of black enlistment were finally given the green light, and the new version of the First South Carolina was officially mustered into service at the end of January 1863, a time that also coincided with Hunter's second and last stint as head of the Department of the South.

The regiment long lacked a modern standalone study, but that dearth of book-length coverage ended with the 2014 publication of John Saucer's An We Ob Jubilee: The First South Carolina Volunteers. Reissued with the same title but through a different publisher, the new 2019 edition also marks the beginning of an even more ambitious project, a planned multi-volume treatment that promises to become the standard history of the regiment for some time to come.

The long period of fits and starts involved in the regiment's 1862-63 organization are detailed at length in the book. The winding story of the formation of the First South Carolina illustrates the critical importance of upper chain of command support in getting any controversial or revolutionary initiative off the ground. Most of the credit goes to generals Hunter and Saxton for their perseverance and ultimate success in the face of cautious political leadership and active opposition within the military.

Who would lead the regiment would be another key decision. As the book demonstrates, Thomas Wentworth Higginson proved to be a judicious choice. Though he was only a captain in the 51st Massachusetts before his promotion to colonel, Higginson's abolitionist credentials were thought to supersede command experience when it came to the fostering trust between white officers and black enlisted men (all of whom were ex-slaves from coastal South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida).

Of equal importance to its reputation within the military was how the home front would perceive the regiment. Though being led by ideological firebrands raised the danger of black units being seen primarily as retributive instruments rather than disciplined units that could effectively serve alongside white regiments, Higginson appears to have run the First in a more restrained manner than that employed by fellow colonel James Montgomery (the Kansas Jayhawker who would lead the Second South Carolina). While the 1st SC did burn the town of St. Marys, Georgia, the author joins fellow unit historian Stephen Ash in attributing the destruction of Jacksonville, Florida to incendiaries from a Maine regiment.

Much of the book addresses in minute detail the military operations that the regiment participated in along the waterways of coastal South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. As mentioned before, when the first iteration of the regiment was disbanded, one company (Co. A) was retained. During 1862, the men of Company A gained valuable military experience picketing Union-held sea islands off the South Carolina coast and in repelling the occasional Confederate recon mission.

The study covers the regiment's war service up through April 1863, when it was ordered to evacuate the city of Jacksonville (which was held by a small Union force for three weeks). While the brief Jacksonville occupation has been well documented in recent books from Daniel Schafer and the aforementioned Stephen Ash, the book's coverage of the several riverine raids conducted within the Department of the South over the first months of the unit's existence is unprecedented in depth. Though the First did not participate in any military actions approaching the size of a real battle, they nevertheless became seasoned troops during the skirmishes and raids described in the book.

Also of importance was the valuable experience gained in combined operations with the navy. The soldiers proved to be vital assets. As many of them came from plantations located along raid routes, the enlisted men were able to supply information that greatly contributed to the success of the waterborne operations recounted in the book. While the primary goal of finding recruits proved to be a signal failure, as most of the slave population was already relocated into the interior, war material of much quantity and value (especially lumber and iron) was seized.

Though documenting the service of a regiment of ex-slaves meant that an author did not have access to a ready supply of soldier letters, journals, and diaries, Saucer was nevertheless able to assemble an impressive collection of other source materials. In terms of drawbacks, the book's small collection of old maps is an inadequate accompaniment to the highly-detailed narrative accounts of the unit's operations. Investment in a few original maps would have gone a long way toward enhancing geographical understanding of the routes taken during the many obscure raids recounted in the narrative. As for wishlist items, one hopes that the author plans to include an index and roster at some point. Those criticisms and suggestions aside, Saucer appears to be well on his way to creating a definitive-level treatment of the Civil War history of the First South Carolina.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Booknotes: Rebel Richmond

New Arrival:
Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital by Stephen V. Ash (UNC Press, 2019).

City studies of Confederate Richmond have been around for a long time, and most readers have some notion of the drastic changes (many of them unwanted) that secession, Civil War, and its position as the new Confederate capital brought to the city.

From the description: "In the spring of 1861, Richmond, Virginia, suddenly became the capital city, military headquarters, and industrial engine of a new nation fighting for its existence. A remarkable drama unfolded in the months that followed. The city's population exploded, its economy was deranged, and its government and citizenry clashed desperately over resources to meet daily needs while a mighty enemy army laid siege. Journalists, officials, and everyday residents recorded these events in great detail, and the Confederacy's foes and friends watched closely from across the continent and around the world."

While prior city studies focused mostly on politics, military events, and the lifestyles and observations of the Richmond elite, Stephen Ash's Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital joins the new breed of Civil War urban scholarship by directing attention toward all segments of Richmond society. Given that life and death are accorded equal billing in the volume's title, one assumes a great deal of attention with be paid to the darker aspects of what life was like in the new Confederacy's overcrowded capital. 

Ash's study "vividly evokes life in Richmond as war consumed the Confederate capital. He guides readers from the city's alleys, homes, and shops to its churches, factories, and halls of power, uncovering the intimate daily drama of a city transformed and ultimately destroyed by war. Drawing on the stories and experiences of civilians and soldiers, slaves and masters, refugees and prisoners, merchants and laborers, preachers and prostitutes, the sick and the wounded, Ash delivers a captivating new narrative of the Civil War's impact on a city and its people."

Monday, September 16, 2019

Book News: The 6th Michigan Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War

I've often mentioned that regimental histories appeal to me most when the unit under consideration spent the bulk of its Civil War service performing important duties distanced well away from the two main war fronts in Virginia and the middle western heartland. So I'm bringing up this title not because I have any particular interest in the 6th Michigan, but rather because Eric Faust's The 6th Michigan Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster (McFarland, early 2020) seems to fit that bill. It looks to join two more as yet unseen regimentals at the top of my to-read list (the 3rd Minnesota book has been out for a couple weeks, though it hasn't arrived here yet, with the 31st Massachusetts study due before the end of this year).

Like the Bay Staters of the 31st, the 6th Michigan spent nearly all of its active service in the Department of the Gulf. Sailing to New Orleans with the Butler Expedition in 1862, the regiment was part of the city's occupying force before being heavily engaged in the August 5, 1862 Battle of Baton Rouge and the following year's Bayou Teche and Port Hudson campaigns. In July 1863, the unit was converted into a heavy artillery regiment and posted to various garrisons along the Mississippi River Valley before seeing final action during the 1864-65 Mobile Bay and Mobile city campaigns. Though the 6th's second career as heavy artillerymen interests me just as much as their exploits over the first half of the war, it appears from the wording in the description (see below) that coverage of that latter period will be only minor in scope.

According to Faust, who has also authored a pair of 11th Michigan studies, the 6th's "service along the Mississippi River was a perfect storm of epidemic disease, logistical failures, guerrilla warfare, profiteering, martinet West Pointers and scheming field officers, along with the doldrums of camp life punctuated by bloody battles. The Michiganders responded with alcoholism, insubordination, and depredations. Yet they saved the Union right at Baton Rouge and executed suicidal charges at Port Hudson."

More: "This first modern history of the controversial regiment concludes with a statistical analysis, a roster, and a brief summary of its service following conversion to heavy artillery."

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Booknotes: Civil War Gold and Other Lost Treasure, Revised Edition

New Arrival:
Civil War Gold and Other Lost Treasure, Revised Edition by W. Craig Gaines (Author, 2017).

It seems like every war has spawned a host of 'lost treasure' legends that are long on speculation and short on evidence. Apparently as popular as the ghost hunting shows are the treasure hunting programs on cable tv that find little beyond commercial ad revenue. When it comes to the American Civil War, there is certainly no shortage of lost gold tales. The author's preface to the 1999 first edition of W. Craig Gaines's Civil War Gold and Other Lost Treasure readily acknowledges that "(most) Civil War treasure stories ... are legends and exaggerations" warped through generations of spirited retelling. The book attempts to sort documented fact from fiction while compiling a comprehensive register of treasure tales from coast to coast.

The preface to the 2017 edition, which is titled Civil War Gold and Other Lost Treasure, Revised Edition, mentions that the new volume is the product of much additional research as well as error corrections and editorial changes. The book is organized by state (plus the Atlantic Ocean and Bahamas) chapters that are further subdivided by county. At the back of the book are chapter notes, a brief resources commentary, and the bibliography.

As you might recall, Gaines's other Civil War books, both of which are highly original works of  merit, have been covered on the site before. See my reviews of Encyclopedia of Civil War Shipwrecks (2008) and The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew's Regiment of Mounted Rifles, Updated Edition (2017), both published by LSU Press.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Booknotes: The Battle of Shiloh - The Union Armies (2 Vols.)

New Arrival:
The Battle of Shiloh - The Union Armies - 6 April 1862 - Vol I and The Battle of Shiloh - The Union Armies - 7 April 1862 - Vol II by Lanny K. Smith (Author, 2018-19).

Lanny Smith, the author of The Stone's River Campaign: 26 December 1862 - 5 January 1863: The Union Army (2008) and The Stone's River Campaign: 26 December 1862 - 5 January 1863: Army of Tennessee (2010), as well as the 2012 study Morgan's Cavalry 1861-1862, has now brought the same manner of attention to the Union forces at Shiloh.

From the author: "For the past six years I have been working on the battle of Shiloh and the Union forces engaged. The result is two volumes, closely mirroring the methodology used with Stone's River. Volume I covers the first day of battle with 692 pages. Volume II covers the second day of battle with 653 pages, and also includes appendices with army organization, casualties, and sketches of all commanders and their commands down to and including the regimental level. Both volumes will be identical in size, appearance, and construction as with Stone's River volumes."

Vol I covers the Union campaign from origins through the end of Shiloh Day 1. There are 58 maps. Vol. II covers the second day of battle and the action at Fallen Timbers. It includes 21 maps and also houses the extensive appendix section referenced above.

There is no website for the book so I've included the ordering information supplied by the author below.

***Limited edition of 274***
(Inquire about availability before ordering)
2 Volume Set @ $120
Plus Shipping (for US buyers) $10
Total: $130

Payment by check or money order.

Mail Payment To:
Lanny K. Smith
697 Redbud Lane
Jasper, TX 75951


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Review - "The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy" by Christian Keller

[The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy by Christian B. Keller (Pegasus Books, 2019). Hardcover, maps, photos, illustrations, appendix, notes, index. Pages main/total:xxiv,248/352. ISBN:978-1-64313-134-4. $28.95]

The May 10, 1863 death of Lieutenant General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson ended what was one of the Civil War's greatest winning combinations of army commander and principal subordinate. The relationship between Army of Northern Virginia commander Robert E. Lee and wing/corps commander Jackson was the military collaboration most celebrated in the Southern Confederacy and most feared in the North. In his new book The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy historian Christian Keller argues that Jackson's demise was not only a calamity for Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia but his irreplaceable loss formed a strategic inflection point, a contingent moment in history that significantly altered the course of the war in the East. While it is never suggested that Jackson's death doomed the Confederacy to defeat, the book does maintain that the Army of Northern Virginia's high command would never again perform on the level that it did under Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, and Stuart. By mid-1863 the Confederate war effort's margin for error was already growing conspicuously thin, and the absence of Jackson would make the road to ultimate victory a much steeper one to climb.

The greater narrative portion of the book comprises a thoughtful reflection on the performance of the Lee-Jackson command team from the Seven Days through Chancellorsville. While the author is obviously highly impressed with the partnership's strategic fit, he does dutifully address the military literature's coverage of Jackson's most frequently discussed flaws and missteps. Throughout, Keller effectively cuts through the pervasive post-war mythologizing of Jackson by employing a judicious assessment of both wartime and later writings. Readers are definitely encouraged to pore through the endnotes, which are rich in additional dissection of sources, their reliability, and areas of disagreement between contemporary and modern writers.

Jackson and Lee shared the same strict devotion to duty and both possessed exceptional military gifts independent of each other, but forming a truly extraordinary command team required more. According to Keller, three major factors—closely aligned strategic vision, personal friendship, and shared religious conviction—were essential elements that transformed the talented Lee-Jackson duo into the titular "great partnership." With the Army of Northern Virginia facing long odds in men and material, the relationships between Lee and his principal subordinates required exceptional sympatico in order to have any chance of ultimately triumphing over the North's principal field army and military colossus, the Army of the Potomac. In Keller's estimation, the war produced perhaps no better example than Lee and Jackson of mutual understanding between army and wing/corps commanders. Both men shared similar views on theater strategy and the necessity of conducting offensive operations to destroy or force to the negotiating table an already formidable enemy that would only get stronger as the war progressed. If anything, Jackson was even more aggressively offensive-minded, advocating very early in the war for destructive strikes into Pennsylvania against economic targets such as mines and factories. Jackson's role as strategic soulmate and advisor combined with his ability to carry off with full conviction the risky offensive maneuvers planned in concert with Lee cemented the partnership and brought with it key elements of impressive victories at Second Manassas, Harpers Ferry, and Chancellorsville. With Jackson's death, Lee never found a replacement who came anywhere near to possessing those same qualities. The wisdom of their shared offensive-mindedness has been the subject of endlessly inconclusive debate among both scholars and enthusiasts, but the greater point is that the army never regained the unity of purpose that it demonstrated during the height of Jackson's powers.

Absolute mutual trust was necessary in order to successfully carry out the high-risk strategy jointly favored by Lee and Jackson, and Keller persuasively argues that the close personal friendship that developed between the pair was key to their success. Lee saw great promise in Jackson very early in the war, but they didn't really become acquainted with each other until the Seven Days, when Jackson's performance did not come close to meeting Lee's lofty expectations. This disappointing showing is likely what made Lee apportion the greater part of his army to Longstreet during the post-Peninsula Campaign reorganization of the army into two wings. Such misgivings would prove only temporary, however, and the book traces how Jackson rapidly regained Lee's trust during the Second Manassas and Maryland campaigns. Their friendship blossomed during the winter of 1862-63, when both men camped in close proximity and interacted with each other on a regular basis. Keller believes that this bond, which included a free exchange of ideas, further streamlined army command and control in very significant ways. The author found no evidence that personal friendship clouded the subordination necessary to the smooth operation of all armies, which is always a possibility. Instead, the situation proved to be quite the opposite. Even when Jackson disagreed with Lee's decisions, as he did on several occasions, he did not sulk or continue to press his own views (as was the case with countless Civil War generals) but rather immediately set out to follow his commander's orders to the best of his ability. Keller further argues successfully that the exceptional professional trust that developed between Lee and Jackson, buttressed by the mutual personal knowledge and understanding gained through close friendship, made Jackson the ideal instrument for carrying out Lee's mission-oriented style of army leadership and command.

Friendship was not the only binding factor between Lee and Jackson that translated into professional success. Keller also builds a compelling case that profound and compatible religious conviction fostered an even deeper bond between the two men that bore strategic fruits. Even though they came from different denominational backgrounds, Lee and Jackson (along with Jeb Stuart as well) shared a providential, evangelical Protestantism that the author believes to have been a "gigantic bonus" in the sense that anything that forges through deeply-held beliefs and mutual ties an even deeper connection among strategic team members enhances "command-team efficacy." On the other hand, Keller perceptively notes that deaths within such tight-knit groups can also have disproportionately negative effects on the survivors, and indeed Lee (whose health was already failing in early 1863) and Stuart both took Jackson's loss very hard.

One of the book's most effective chapters demonstrates how the loss of Jackson stung the entire Confederate nation. In it, Keller quotes numerous passages from letters, journals, and newspaper editorials from Virginia to Texas sharing similar language of catastrophic loss. Some writers concluded that another leader would rise up to take Jackson's place, but they often seemed more hopeful than expectant and many more feared the loss would prove irreparable. The chapter supports the popular interpretation, most prominently expressed in the writings of Gary Gallagher, that by 1863 the entire Confederate nation, along with most northern and foreign observers, came to view the Army of Northern Virginia (and by extension the winning combination of Lee and Jackson) as the embodiment of the Confederate cause and its progress.

How the Gettysburg Campaign would have gone had Jackson lived has always been a popular parlor game among armchair generals, but Keller is more concerned with showing how Jackson's death had far-reaching strategic implications through its sweeping alteration of the high command composition and capabilities of the Army of Northern Virginia. This issue has also been a topic of frequent discussion in the literature. Soon after Jackson's death and on the very eve of a new campaign, the army was permanently reorganized from two large infantry corps into three smaller ones, with two (Second and Third Corps) led by generals entirely new to corps-level command. While General Ewell's signal success at Second Winchester briefly raised hopes that the spirit of Jackson was alive and well, for the rest of the campaign and beyond it would become clear that none of Lee's generals would be up to the task of adequately replacing Jackson. Though Keller fully acknowledges that the Army of Northern Virginia performed best when the complementary strengths of Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, and Stuart were at full flight, his many negative criticisms of James Longstreet in the book will undoubtedly raise the ire of Old Pete's most ardent admirers. Even so, the author mostly presents the post-Chancellorsville rise of Longstreet to the role of Lee's chief advisor and principal subordinate as a study in contrasts, with Longstreet consistently measuring up poorly when compared side-by-side with Jackson's strategic compatibility, loyalty, and trust with Lee.

A fresh reappraisal that should thoroughly engage even the most skeptical readers, Christian Keller's The Great Partnership combines sound, perceptive analysis with a deft sifting through postwar myth and legend to present a new and unfailingly interesting examination of what made the command team of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson so militarily effective. In recognizing that the influence of Lee and Jackson extended well beyond their own army, the book also informatively explores what the famous partnership meant to Confederate national fortunes before and after Jackson's death. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Booknotes: The Republic for Which It Stands (PB ed.)

New Arrival:
The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 by Richard White (Oxford UP, 2019).

The paperback version of Richard White's The Republic for Which It Stands has just been released. Part of the celebrated Oxford History of the United States series, the book "offers a fresh and integrated interpretation of Reconstruction and the Gilded Age as the seedbed of modern America."

From the description: "At the end of the Civil War the leaders and citizens of the victorious North envisioned the country's future as a free-labor republic, with a homogenous citizenry, both black and white. The South and West were to be reconstructed in the image of the North. Thirty years later Americans occupied an unimagined world. The unity that the Civil War supposedly secured had proved ephemeral. The country was larger, richer, and more extensive, but also more diverse. Life spans were shorter, and physical well-being had diminished, due to disease and hazardous working conditions. Independent producers had become wage earners. The country was Catholic and Jewish as well as Protestant, and increasingly urban and industrial. The "dangerous" classes of the very rich and poor expanded, and deep differences -- ethnic, racial, religious, economic, and political -- divided society. The corruption that gave the Gilded Age its name was pervasive.

These challenges also brought vigorous efforts to secure economic, moral, and cultural reforms. Real change -- technological, cultural, and political -- proliferated from below more than emerging from political leadership. Americans, mining their own traditions and borrowing ideas, produced creative possibilities for overcoming the crises that threatened their country.

Click here to read (or revisit) my interview with the author, which coincided with the 2017 release of the hardcover first edition.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Booknotes: The Constitutional Origins of the American Civil War

New Arrival:
The Constitutional Origins of the American Civil War by Michael F. Conlin (Cambridge UP, 2019).

"In an incisive analysis of over two dozen clauses as well as several 'unwritten' rules and practices," historian Michael Conlin's The Constitutional Origins of the American Civil War "shows how the Constitution aggravated the sectional conflict over slavery to the point of civil war. Going beyond the fugitive slave clause, the three-fifths clause, and the international slave trade clause, Michael F. Conlin demonstrates that many more constitutional provisions and practices played a crucial role in the bloody conflict that claimed the lives of over 750,000 Americans."

In describing popular debates over constitutional issues that took place during the lead up to secession and Civil War, writers frequently portray the southern population in particular as having been manipulated by radical demagogues, but Conlin's study "also reveals that ordinary Americans in the mid-nineteenth century had a surprisingly sophisticated knowledge of the provisions and the methods of interpretation of the Constitution."

"Lastly, Conlin reminds us that many of the debates that divide Americans today were present in the 1850s: minority rights vs. majority rule, original intent vs. a living Constitution, state's rights vs. federal supremacy, judicial activism vs. legislative prerogative, secession vs. union, and counter-majoritarianism vs. democracy."

Friday, September 6, 2019

Booknotes: General Hylan B. Lyon

New Arrival:
General Hylan B. Lyon: A Kentucky Confederate and the War in the West
  by Dan Lee (UT Press, 2019).

I believe that Dan Lee's General Hylan B. Lyon is the first military biography of the Kentucky Confederate officer, who fought in multiple service branches during the Civil War but achieved his greatest prominence and notoriety as a cavalry general. Beginning with the Kentuckian's antebellum U.S. Army career, Lee "chronicles Lyon’s military career, which began with service in the Third US Artillery after his graduation from West Point in 1856. Lyon first saw action in the Third Seminole War. Later stationed at Fort Yuma in California, he went on to fight in the Coeur d’Alene War. ... "After serving with troops building the Mullan Road between Washington and Montana, Lyon returned to Kentucky just as Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election."

After resigning his commission, Lyon raised a company that became a part of the 3rd Kentucky infantry regiment. Among those surrendered at Donelson, he emerged from captivity to lead the 8th Kentucky. His eventual transfer to cavalry service raised his profile considerably, and he would be mostly remembered for his late-war role as one of Nathan Bedford Forrest's principle subordinates, leading the mounted version of the famous Kentucky Brigade. "Lyon saw action in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, spending several months as a prisoner of war and winning special commendation for his performances at the Battles of Coffeeville and Brice’s Crossroads. He ultimately earned the rank of brigadier general." As an independent commander, Lyon also led a raid into western Kentucky in 1864 that was infamous for the many courthouses that he ordered burned.

"After the Civil War, Lyon sought refuge with other ex-Confederates in Mexico, working as a railroad surveyor. He requested and received a presidential pardon and returned to Kentucky by mid-1866. Lyon remained there until his death in 1907, devoting himself to farming and prison reform, as well as serving in the state house of representatives. He was the mayor of Eddyville, Kentucky, when he died in 1907."

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Review - "Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South: A Reevaluation" by Michael Frawley

[Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South: A Reevaluation by Michael S. Frawley (Louisiana State University Press, 2019). Cloth, maps, tables, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xiii,129/208. ISBN:978-0-8071-7068-7. $45]

According to both contemporary northern critics and the works of later scholars, the antebellum American South's agrarian export economy based on slave labor was incompatible with modernizing industrial development. Even many southerners at the time publicly extolled this view, some seeing it as a point of pride. Popular and scholarly traditions together hold that the antebellum South was lacking in every important prerequisite for industrial establishment and growth, namely the availability of locally-sourced raw materials, excess labor for skilled and unskilled factory work, sufficient capital investment, adequate transportation networks, and markets (local or regional) for native-produced goods. A fascinating and highly illuminating study, Michael Frawley's Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South: A Reevaluation examines all of these alleged hindrances to modernization in turn and arrives at a series of very different conclusions.

Ideally, the parameters of Frawley's study would have encompassed the entire slaveholding South, but he quite understandably limits his inquiry to a more manageable slate of states, specifically Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama. Given that those cotton-producing Gulf states were all in some ways still frontier-like in 1860 (and thus presumably among the least industrialized parts of the entire southern section), their selection as states representative of the agrarian South and the enduring economic mythology that surrounds the region makes a great deal of sense.

Though most were small in scale, the sheer number of Gulf State industrial businesses operating in 1860 will likely surprise most readers. They also have very apparently been vastly undercounted in the scholarship. Through meticulous examination of credit recording firms, local newspapers, and other sources, Frawley was able to uncover an enormous number of industrial establishments absent from the 1860 census. Oddly, while it is perhaps understandable that many sole proprietorships and partnerships located in far flung places were missed by census marshals, the truth was that entire counties were frequently skipped and even city-based industrial concerns were not fully tabulated (in Mobile alone, the author found 19 such enterprises absent from the census). Frawley's three-state sample strikingly shows that census officials actually missed the largest manufacturing firms nearly one-third of the time, a failure rate than exceeded even that for the individually-owned businesses that one might assume to have been most difficult to track (of those, roughly one in five were missed). Explanations as to how so many establishments in plain sight were so routinely overlooked by the census is unknown, but the author's suggestion that "incompetence" and "laziness" were likely culprits along with a lack of funding seems as good a guess as any.

Getting back to his book's addressing of the list of factors historically alleged to have stunted southern industry, Frawley counters the prevailing view of the South as lacking in those locally-sourced natural resources necessary to jump start an industrial economy. Among others discussed in the book, a particularly fine example lies in the coal belt counties of Alabama's northern half, which were extracting the combustible rock since 1830. Those counties also corresponded to ore deposits and other minerals that fueled the state's growing iron industry. Though the industry was still in its relatively infancy, and it would be the postwar period before deep underground mines went into widespread operation, enough coal was taken out of the ground above and beyond local needs to export to other regions.

Of course, the South's workforce percentage employed in industry in 1860 was dwarfed by the North's, but Frawley found little evidence to show that worker availability or willingness to toil in factory environments were limiting factors. Even so, just because the South's working population outside of agriculture was adequate for industrial growth does not mean their workers were good at their jobs. However, on that point as well, the book finds that southern workers compared favorably with their northern counterparts. Using one traditional measure of productivity (output per worker), Frawley's calculated Gulf South figures were in line with the national average (just slightly lower), demonstrating that southern whites were willing and entirely able to perform industrial work of all kinds.

Another leading myth of the agrarian South maintained that the region's industry, such as it was, was a product of northern and foreign-born entrepreneurship. Frawley's fairly large sample drawn from Dun credit reports comes to the opposite conclusion, with a solid majority of incorporated Gulf South firms created and run by southern-born owners. Even more myth-challenging is the fact that an even greater majority of heavy industry companies were the product of southern-born entrepreneurship. That many owners of these industrial firms listed themselves as planters in the census also to a degree contradicts traditional assertions by scholars that planters as a rule were risk-averse investors, putting profits back into known entities such as land and slaves and being generally unwilling to transfer excess capital into industrial pursuits.

Though Texas's only recent statehood placed it understandably behind Mississippi and Alabama when it came to railroad construction by 1860, the Gulf South's river and rail networks also proved more than adequate for industrial development. According to Frawley's research, the traditional conclusion that southern transportation was designed and used with exports in mind greatly underestimates the two-way traffic that existed as well as the size of industrial markets that grew along both major artery types. By the Civil War, the scale of industry was already branching beyond local needs to regional market integration, especially in Alabama and Mississippi. The Gulf South of Frawley's study had a far more diversified economy than biased northern critics, and even many southerners themselves, credited it with having. In the end Frawley paints a convincing picture of a Southern culture much more comfortable with industrial integration than scholars of the period have traditionally maintained.

For those wishing to delve deeper into the research behind the study, Frawley's appendix section provides additional sources and methods discussion. In addition to the 1860 census, Frawley examined local newspapers, journals, histories, and directories along with Dun credit reports. Readers can go to the author's own website ( to see the complete data set. The deeply flawed manufacturing information that emerges from the 1860 census data set should prompt readers and researchers to consider the probability that other aspects of census data might be similarly incomplete. After reading this book, one is led to suspect that a more general reassessment of the value of the 1860 census as a research tool for antebellum and Civil War studies might be in order.

After reading this book, one can easily imagine fruitful extensions of Frawley's pioneering work. Applying the author's research methodology to other parts of the South and border slave states would undoubtedly prove both intrinsically and comparatively useful. In terms of trend analysis, a more systematic comparison of 1850 manufacturing data to 1860 data might further strengthen many of the book's arguments. Though specialized studies already exist in the literature that have effectively countered the notion that slave labor itself was incompatible with heavy industry, it would still be interesting to find out how many of the industrial firms cited in Frawley's sample employed slave labor on some level. Unfortunately, according to the author, that kind of data apparently does not exist to the extent necessary to draw broad conclusions.

No one, including the author, will argue that the industrial capacity of the American South of 1860 had any hope of directly competing with the North's in the coming Civil War, but that's arguably an unfair basis of comparison. Just on manufacturing rankings that use the already demonstrably flawed census data, the states that comprised the Confederacy were already fifth in the world in cotton product manufacturing and eighth in iron production. Thus, though still in its infancy in terms of scale relative to the North, southern industry was already flourishing and regionally integrated by the end of the decade preceding the Civil War. Though much in the way of finished manufactured goods and armaments passed through the blockade, it says something about the South's native manufacturing base that it was able to help the Confederacy stave off the full might of the United States for four full years of industrialized warfare before being ultimately exhausted and overwhelmed. Though still small-scale in absolute terms, Gulf South industry is amply demonstrated through Michael Frawley's formidable corrective to be much more widespread and modern than traditionally supposed. Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South builds a powerful case that the industrial renaissance commonly presumed to have been a product of the postwar New South actually began much earlier during the 1850s.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Booknotes: Washington Roebling's Civil War

New Arrival:
Washington Roebling's Civil War: From the Bloody Battlefield at Gettysburg to the Brooklyn Bridge by Diane Monroe Smith (Stackpole Bks, 2019).

The Ken Burns Civil War documentary series was instrumental in raising the popular status of a number of diarists and letter writers, both military and civilian. Examples include Sam Watkins, Elisha Hunt Rhodes, and George Templeton Strong. Washington Roebling would have maintained a certain measure of renown from his directing the construction of the famous Brooklyn Bridge designed with his father, but the Burns series certainly played a role in highlighting another important component of Roebling's life story, his Civil War career. Roebling's 1861-65 time in uniform, which included a celebrated turn at Gettysburg, is exhaustively documented in Diane Monroe Smith's Washington Roebling's Civil War: From the Bloody Battlefield at Gettysburg to the Brooklyn Bridge.

From the description: "In addition to his brave, dramatic actions at Gettysburg, his Civil War service was remarkable: artilleryman, bridge builder, scout, balloonist, mapmaker, engineer, and staff officer. His story reveals much about Gettysburg but also about Civil War intelligence and engineering and the politics and infighting within the Army of the Potomac’s high command. Roebling’s service—leadership, engineering, decision-making, and managing personalities and politics—prepared him well for overseeing the Brooklyn Bridge."

Roebling's military service spanned the entire war, and during that period he wore many hats (see above). All of those experiences, from his accompaniment of the Union Army's initial advance into Virginia in 1861 through the Appomattox surrender, are recounted in a densely detailed, almost 400-page narrative supported by 41 maps.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Book News: Major General Philip Kearny

Way back when during my earliest Civil War reading, General Philip Kearny stood out to me as a brash and promising figure whose outward aggressiveness contrasted starkly with the inertia-bound eastern theater Union high command depicted in the popular literature. Though a well-known officer almost always positively portrayed as the 'anti-McClellan,' modern biographical coverage remains pretty scant. Dying early in the war in 1862 didn't help his case when it came to attracting chroniclers of his military career, but as far as I can tell there are still only two major studies, neither of which is recent. From what I gather (I haven't seen or read either one), Irving Werstein's Centennial-era Kearny the Magnificent: The Story of General Philip Kearny, 1815-1862 is not a scholarly biography and Kearny cousin John Watts De Peyster's much earlier Personal and Military History of Philip Kearny, Major-General United States Volunteers (1869) is highly hagiographical in nature. Also keeping it in the family is a 1937 joint biography the content of which I am also unfamiliar with, grandson Thomas Kearny's General Philip Kearny, Battle Soldier of Five Wars, Including the Conquest of the West by General Stephen Watts Kearny.

I would say we are due for an updated treatment of Kearny's life and Civil War career, and perhaps Robert Laven's upcoming book Major General Philip Kearny: A Soldier and His Time in the American Civil War (Spring '20) will suit our purposes.

From the description: "A talented field commander, Union General Philip Kearny began his career as a lieutenant with the 1st U.S. Dragoons. He studied cavalry tactics in France and fought with the Chasseurs d'Afrique in Algeria, where his fearlessness earned him the nickname "Kearny le Magnifique." Returning to America, he wrote a cavalry manual for the U.S. Army and later raised a troop of dragoons--using his own money to buy 120 matching dapple-gray mounts for his men--and led them during the Mexican War, where he lost an arm.

One of the most experienced officers at the outbreak of the Civil War, he commanded a division in the Army of the Potomac, famously leading a charge at the Battle of Williamsburg, saber in hand and reins in his teeth. He disliked and sometimes disobeyed General George McClellan, once protesting an order to retreat as "prompted by cowardice or treason." Kearny was on the verge of higher command when he was killed in action in the Battle of Chantilly in 1862.

Expanding on that last sentence above, multiple authors have maintained that Kearny was destined for greater things, with one or two even predicting that he would have eventually led the Army of the Potomac. I don't know about that. He always struck me as someone who didn't play well with others, and I could imagine him just as likely getting himself involved in career-damaging kerfuffles with corps and army superiors if he'd lived. Regardless, I am looking forward to seeing the book.