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.

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