Thursday, October 31, 2019

Booknotes: Mississippi Bishop William Henry Elder and the Civil War

New Arrival:
Mississippi Bishop William Henry Elder and the Civil War by Ryan Starrett (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Press, 2019).

The prosperous river city of Natchez was also the Catholic center of Mississippi, and in May 1857 Marylander William Henry Elder was appointed bishop of the diocese there. He would remain in Natchez for over two decades, with the war years of his early tenure the focus of Ryan Starratt's Mississippi Bishop William Henry Elder and the Civil War

During that strife-filled period, Elder "witnessed many of the pivotal moments of the Civil War--the capitulation of Natchez, the Siege of Vicksburg, the destruction of Jackson and the overall desolation of a state. And in the midst of the conflict, Bishop Elder went about his daily duties of baptizing, teaching, praying, preaching, performing marriages, confirming, comforting and burying the dead."

The footnotes indicate that the book is primarily constructed around the bishop's diary, which was locally published during the Centennial as Civil War Diary (1862-1865) of Bishop William Henry Elder, Bishop of Natchez. Supplementing the text are numerous photographs, artwork reproductions, and other illustrations. Beyond its biographical features, the book looks to be a useful resource for studying Civil War Natchez and mid-nineteenth century Catholic history in the state.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Review - "Waul's Legion: History of the Texas Legion" by Michael Steinman

[Waul's Legion: History of the Texas Legion by Michael Steinman (Author, 2019). Softcover, maps, diagrams, tables, roster, notes, bibliography. Pages:xiv,331/346. ISBN:978-1-4834-9606-1. $29.99]

The Union and Confederate volunteer armies shared the same basic top-to-bottom organization and unit types, but the Confederates in particular were most enamored, albeit briefly, with the concept of the legion, an all-arms formation that swiftly proved impractical to integrate into the rest of the army. The infantry, cavalry, and artillery components of legions typically did not go into action together as designed but were rather detached from one another at the front or before and reassigned to different formations that often ending up serving hundreds of miles apart from each other.

Legions came in a variety of strengths, and the one organized in Texas in early spring 1862 by Colonel Thomas Neville Waul was one of the larger ones, being initially composed of twelve infantry companies commanded by Lt. Col. B. Timmons, six mounted companies led by Lt. Col. L. Willis, and two (instead of the more typical one) artillery batteries led by captains W. Edgar and J.Q. Wall. Preceded only by Robert and Leif Hasskarl's rudimentary 1976 work Waul's Texas Legion, 1862-1865, Michael Steinman's Waul's Legion: History of the Texas Legion is only the second book-length study of the unit to appear in the literature. It is divided into four major parts: service history (50 pages), assignments and orders of battle (20 pages), biographical sketches (30 pages), and roster (200 pages).

The large dimensions of Steinman's book (an 81/2 x 11 inch softcover 346 pages in length) might lead a prospective reader to expect an extensive narrative history of the legion's Civil War service, but that isn't really the case. As indicated above, the service histories, which follow each of the infantry, cavalry, and artillery components across the Trans-Mississippi and western theaters, are basic overviews that together run around 50 pages. Though each branch of the legion participated in the 1862-63 Vicksburg Campaign, they did not actively serve together in the field. After the Vicksburg surrender, the paroled infantry reorganized back to Texas, where the two battalions were consolidated into what would be called Timmons's Regiment. There they defended the state's vulnerable coastline for the duration of the conflict. When the cavalry battalion (a.k.a. Willis's Texas Cavalry Battalion) was split off in October 1862, it was first assigned to William H. Jackson's command in North Mississippi. The battalion participated in the Holly Springs Raid and operated around the Vicksburg area over the first half of 1863 before being reassigned to Chalmers's Brigade of General Forrest's cavalry command. Over the next twelve months, the battalion fought in several raids and battles. including the Meridian Expedition, Fort Pillow, and Tupelo. It ended the war serving in the Gulf region. Edgar's Battery did not cross the Mississippi. Instead, it was attached to Walker's Texas Division and marched and fought all over Arkansas and Louisiana. Hogue's Battery (Company B) did cross into Mississippi with the rest of Legion. After its Vicksburg parole and exchange, it was disbanded in February 1864, the remaining men reassigned to the McMahan's Battery (2nd Texas Field Artillery). Being a bit more detailed, the cavalry section is arguably the strongest of the three parts, with the artillery the least developed. Supporting cartography (collected at the rear of the book) consists of a set of state maps with location labels for sites mentioned in the text.

As mentioned above, the service narratives are followed by the order of battle section. In it, the infantry, cavalry, and artillery formation and administrative assignments are arranged in tabular format by date. An organizational history of each company is next, with officer and NCO tables attached along with some brief text. The volume's collection of biographical sketches covers individuals that either served with the unit or were associated with it in some significant manner. Their ranks range from private soldiers on up to general officers. As is the case for most studies of this type, roster information was gleaned primarily from the CSRs. Entries typically include name, unit, enlistment date and location, rank, and miscellaneous remarks (the last often related to notes regarding death, discharge, transfer(s), surrender/parole, desertion, and illness).

Given the large number of officers and men that fought with Waul's Texas Legion and the wide breadth of their war service, there's little doubt that enough source material exists to produce a truly comprehensive narrative history of the unit's Civil War career. While readers will have to wait for another author to produce a work along those lines, Michael Steinman's multi-purpose study does provide an abundance of valuable reference tools to go along with its more outline-form history of the Legion's many campaigns and battles.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Dram Tree Books resurrected

I recently noticed online that some old Dram Tree titles are back in print. You might recall that the press published all manner of North Carolina history titles, including some fine Civil War books, before shutting its doors in 2010. Just off the top of my head, two Civil War volumes from Dram Tree that I still heartily recommend are Davis Norris's Potter's Raid: The Union Cavalry's Boldest Expedition in Eastern North Carolina (2008) and James Walker's Rebel Gibraltar: Fort Fisher and Wilmington, C.S.A. (2005).

Getting back to the reason for this post, I found a Wilmington Star News article [click here] from last summer announcing the revival of the press under a new partnership between original owner Jack Fryer and historian Chris Fonvielle. Hopefully, we'll see some more original Civil War histories from them. According to the article, planned releases so far include "a guide to North Carolina plantations, a guide to North Carolina historic sites, and a number of books for student readers on such topics as the 19th century Life Saving Service on the Tar Heel coast and on the 1861 battle of Fort Sumter."

It's nice to see a niche press with a proven record come back. Check out their new home page here.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Booknotes: An Everlasting Circle

New Arrival:
An Everlasting Circle: Letters of the Haskell Family of Abbeville, South Carolina, 1861-1865 edited by Karen Stokes (Mercer UP, 2019).

An Everlasting Circle: Letters of the Haskell Family of Abbeville, South Carolina, 1861-1865 presents the Civil War correspondence of seven Haskell brothers and their parents. As noted in the description, it is indeed an unusually expansive collection of family letters, the volume running well over four hundred pages.

"The Haskell brothers were literate, well-educated men, most of whom became officers highly regarded for their ability, courage, and character. Their letters are particularly strong in documenting the beginning days of the war in Charleston, as well as many significant battles in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. They also tell the love story of Alexander C. Haskell and his bride Decca Singleton, a poignant romance chronicled by Mary Chesnut in her famous diary."

The war was a trial for any mother, and with so many of her offspring in harm's way Sophia Haskell certainly had more than her share of worries and woes. "At the center of the story is Sophia Haskell, the mother whose unfailing love and Christian faith was a source of strength for the family through many extraordinary trials. One of the worst of those trials occurred the day she received news of the death of her brother and two of her sons, but she took consolation in knowing that she would be reunited someday with all those she loved. The messages of condolence sent to her and her husband are some of the most moving writings of their kind, and a letter that Alexander C. Haskell penned to his mother after his wife's death has been called one of the noblest and most beautiful of the war."

Editor Karen Stokes's lengthy opening essay delves into Haskell family history and introduces readers to the volume's many contributing correspondents and their Civil War experiences. The letters are also extensively footnoted. In addition to the editor's epilogue and an afterword by James E. Kibler, the book also has a two-part appendix section. The first is a discussion of the postwar lives of the surviving Haskells and the second a transcription of a biographical sketch of South Carolina Ordinance of Secession signer Langdon Cheves (written by his nephew of the same name).

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Booknotes: Lone Star Valor

New Arrival:
Lone Star Valor: Texans of the Blue & Gray at Gettysburg by Joe Owen (Gettysburg Pub, 2019).

In 2017, a collection of Antietam "official reports, diary entries, interviews, newspaper articles, and letters to families at home" written by members of Hood's Texas Brigade and co-edited by the trio of Joe Owen, Philip McBride, and Joe Allport, was published by Fonthill Media under the title Texans at Antietam: A Terrible Clash of Arms, September 16-17, 1862. A similar sort of project is Owen's Lone Star Valor: Texans of the Blue & Gray at Gettysburg.

From the description: "Thousands of soldiers who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg for both the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia settled in Texas after the Civil War. Throughout the days, weeks, and years after the battle, these soldiers captured their stories in diary entries, letters, interviews, and newspaper articles. From the first crossing of the Potomac River to the intense fighting on July 1, July 2, and ultimately at Pickett’s Charge on July 3, these Texans of the Blue and the Gray played a key role in the Gettysburg Campaign. This collection of soldiers' accounts written during and after the war provides a unique perspective from Texans in the ranks over the course of those historic days in the summer of 1863. Also included are the stories of civilians who bore witness to the tremendous battle and who settled in Texas after the Civil War. Collected for the first time in a single volume, this is essential reference for historians of the Lone Star State and Civil War researchers."

While recognizing the value of the collection overall, one magazine reviewer of the earlier Antietam book lamented the dearth of archival digging behind it. With only eight manuscript items (mostly letters) included in Lone Star Valor, this one also focuses primarily on the large body of available published letters and newspaper articles. Owen was also selective in other ways, using only one article from a Texas Brigade veteran in order to better highlight individuals who served in other Confederate regiments but moved to Texas after the war. Union accounts are fifteen in number. I couldn't find exactly how many items are included in the book in total, but it must run in the hundreds. Arranged alphabetically by writer name, the materials (which range in length from just a few sentences to several pages) are indexed by Owen but only sparsely footnoted. Photographs and other illustrations are additionally sprinkled throughout.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Review - "Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed" by Larry Daniel

[Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed by Larry J. Daniel (University of North Carolina Press, 2019). Hardcover, 5 maps, illustrations, tables, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xiii,329/453. ISBN:978-1-4696-4950-4. $35]

As every Civil War student knows, the Army of Northern Virginia's impressive resume of eastern theater battlefield victories was not at all matched by the Confederacy's principal field army out west, the star-crossed Army of Tennessee. The reason or reasons behind this grand disparity between eastern successes and western failures has long been a topic of scholarly and popular debate. While both armies possessed the same highly motivated and resilient rank-and-file fighting material, and through much of its history the Army of Tennessee confronted far less daunting numerical odds than Robert E. Lee's army most often faced, many internal and external factors conspired to hamstring the Confederacy's defense of its western heartland. In various forms, the literature has devoted no little amount of coverage to these factors. The two classic book studies are Stanley F. Horn's The Army of Tennessee (1941) and a two-volume history (Army of the Heartland: The Army of Tennessee, 1861-1862 and Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee, 1862-1865) authored decades later by Thomas L. Connelly. The more influential writer of the two, Connelly still serves as one of the leading proponents of the idea that the Army of Tennessee's consistent military failure was chiefly the product of extreme levels of high command dysfunction. Of course many other human, organizational, material, political, and geographical explanations have also been raised over the decades, and almost fifty years on from Autumn of Glory we are well overdue for an updated grand synthesis of the topic. Just such an attempt is prolific western theater expert Larry Daniel's latest work Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed. Though their courses are frequently interrupted, two main investigative threads flow through Conquered from beginning to end. The first is a chronologically-arranged general overview of the army's campaigns and battles. Interwoven into that is a large collection of theme-based standalone chapters that reexamine why the Army of Tennessee experienced such a remarkable lack of success.

Daniel's 1861-65 campaign narrative is an excellent updated overview skillfully pieced together using a massive volume and variety of primary and secondary sources. Embedded within it is the author's fine analytical recounting of the army's consistent record of high command dissension and ineptitude. In addition to stating his own views, Daniel judiciously weighs the relative merits of the published findings of generations of modern historians who have written major works on the Army of Tennessee's campaigns, battles, and leaders. While the great multitude of topics raised will likely be already familiar to many, if not most, of Daniel's audience (and thus need not be listed in total here), there is clear value gained through a fresh aggregation of them by a learned source. Further enhancement is achieved through the author's own thoughtful commentaries, which consistently impress the reader as being products of mature reflection distilled from decades of research and writing.

As expected, the book's comprehensive campaign coverage reassesses the merits of all the major army commanders (Albert Sidney Johnston, Braxton Bragg, P.G.T. Beauregard, Joseph E. Johnston, and John Bell Hood), largely framing the discussion around how and why these leaders could not create and maintain an effective command culture. Some opinions, like Daniel's insistence that Davis erred frequently in not bringing Beauregard back to lead the army, will likely inspire a wide range of reader reactions. Other conclusions (among them the author's determination that Bragg's defining leadership flaw was his having both the ability to envision opportunity and plan well for seizing it but no ability to carry those arrangements to fruition) will have few objectors. Also implicit in title and text is the awarding of due credit to the enemy for the army's ultimate demise. The narrative overall clearly benefits from the author's plumbing the depths of manuscript archives located all across the country as well as his keen absorption of the relevant published literature. In many ways, the book serves as a capstone to Daniel's long and accomplished Civil War writing career.

As good as the rest of the book is, it is probably the collection of themed chapters and sections referenced earlier that will interest experienced readers most. One of these explores the flawed genesis of the Army of Tennessee. While the U.S. government's existing military bureaucracy gave it a clear leg up on their Confederate counterparts at the beginning of the conflict, it is nevertheless the case that both sides had to build their citizen armies from scratch, and Daniel well recognizes that some of the recurring problems within the Army of Tennessee stretched all the way back to its inception. The Tennessee state army formed the core of the later-christened Army of Tennessee and top leadership positions were initially filled by the governor's cronies and other state political leaders who supported the war effort. Of course, political appointees populated the officer ranks of both Union and Confederate military forces, but there were also significant qualitative imbalances between Confederate field armies. Richard McMurry's classic study Two Great Rebel Armies clearly demonstrated that the distribution of professionals among the two main Confederate armies was vastly disproportionate, with the western army lacking anything like the core of professional soldiers (officers and NCOs alike) that formed the backbone of Lee's army in the East. As all Civil War armies would be forced to do, the Confederacy's western soldiers would learn on the job, but time was of the essence and the steeper hill to climb in the west had very real consequences. While the citizen-officers and volunteers were slowly but surely growing into their new roles over the first twelve months of fighting, over that same period the western Confederacy suffered grievous, permanent losses in territory and precious manpower. Though it could also be argued that creating an officer corps through field experience rather than established seniority had its own advantages, Daniel is undoubtedly correct in his observation that high battlefield losses among the most promising meant that the army as a whole could never really achieve and maintain the pool of talent and experience necessary to run the western army efficiently.

Daniel's study also notes the existence of cultural and political divides within the three major subregions of the Confederate West, with citizens of the Lower South mistrusting the commitment of the late-seceding Upper South (and both of those regions together having little faith in the patriotism of the Upland neighbors in their midst). The author correctly cautions against exaggerating the scale of these internal problems, but any source of division was costly and officer factions clearly did form that had a negative effect on army unity. It might also seem reasonable to suggest that enough state rivalries existed among the men in the ranks to inhibit solidarity to some degree. All Civil War armies possessed these problems on some level, but they do seem to have been more pronounced in the Army of Tennessee, which unlike their Union foes had no margin for such distractions.

Though the vast geographical size of the Confederacy's western theater is frequently cited as a reason for its failed defense, Daniel agrees with those that see the strategic conundrum presented by the river system within it as the chief concern. Everyone at the time recognized that the major western rivers were daggers aimed at the Confederacy's vitals, but directly defending them meant manning fixed garrisons highly vulnerable to capture by the enemy's unmatchable combined operations resources while the other option, that of offering only token resistance on the riverbanks (where many major cities were situated) to free armies to maneuver, was politically inconceivable. The Davis administration's inability to find a winning strategic balance between mobile warfare and manning fixed fortifications, one that would also serve the political and economic needs and demands of the people, was an important factor in defeat. However, in Davis's defense, the author also raises the distinct possibility that a military policy that could meet all of those requirements was impossible to achieve.

The Army of Tennessee also frequently found itself caught up in another strategic dilemma. Though abandoning one or the other would have been political suicide, the Confederate high command never developed a consistent priority system for military resource allocation between the widely-separated Mississippi River and Middle Tennessee fronts (or, if it did, it never clearly communicated it to the department and army commanders). Perhaps the best-known example of the negative impact this policy indecision had on the Army of the Tennessee was the transfer of Carter Stevenson's large division to Mississippi in December 1862, a directive from above that left Bragg's army without the services of a major asset during the Stones River battle fought later that month.

Army of Tennessee cavalry commander Joseph Wheeler's military reputation continues to progress on a mostly downward trajectory in the literature, and Daniel likewise sees the deterioration of the western cavalry under the "War Child" as another major contribution to the Army of Tennessee's downfall. Others have argued that the army's mounted forces formed too high a proportion of its total strength, and Daniel agrees that this was a misuse of scarce manpower, a problem further magnified by the fact that Wheeler's poor leadership and administration skills translated into bad discipline and huge numbers of troopers consistently absent from the ranks.

Acute shortages of manpower existed everywhere in the Confederacy, but it was made worse in the Army of Tennessee by high levels of desertion stemming from both opposition to conscription and demoralization produced by constant battlefield defeats and long retreats. Many attempts were made at mitigating the crisis, from draft age adjustments and harsh punishments to more positive measures such as granting more furloughs, but nothing worked. Desertion was a systemic, intractable issue that contributed a great deal to the army's ultimate demise.

Curiously for a book concerned with the many factors that went into defeat, Conquered also discusses in several places those things that unified the rank and file of the Army of Tennessee. Of arguably the greatest impact were the wave of religious revivals that swept through the army during 1863-64. These had the effect of renewing within the common soldiers the sense of purpose and confidence among many in ultimate victory (although the extent of this might be exaggerated). But the effect of this spiritual renewal could also plausibly be turned on its head, as one might suppose that continued defeats well into the late-war period might have led many to believe that divine providence was perhaps not on their side after all. While straying from the book's main theme, these sections do offer readers informative insights into why an army with so many serious problems nevertheless took many long years of bloody conflict to defeat.

Daniel also documents those incremental improvements in medical care and logistics support that, while impressive considering the depths from which they started, nevertheless let the army down at key moments. Examples of the latter include the severe food shortages that followed the conclusions of the 1862 Kentucky and 1863 Chickamauga campaigns and contributed to the high desertion rates that occurred during those periods. The theater's rapidly deteriorating transportation system was partially responsible for food not reaching the men and also for several critical delays in troop transfers. Though it is often said that no Confederate army lost a battle primarily due to shortages in arms and ammunition, it is nevertheless the case that the farther west one traveled across the Confederacy the more one tended to encounter critical deficiencies in both. Daniel's own excellent study Cannoneers in Gray correctly noted that the modernization of the long arm of the Army of Tennessee trailed significantly behind that of the Army of Northern Virginia throughout the conflict. The author, also the modern historian of the Union's Army of the Cumberland, additionally notes that that army was able to fully equip itself with modern small arms a full year before its foes in the Army of Tennessee mostly did. It is effectively argued in the book that this endless game of catch-up contributed materially to the Army of Tennessee's lack of success.

Conquered also addresses connections between the home and military fronts that are generally supportive of the well-established argument that military defeat, immense territorial losses, and general privation led to collapsing home front morale that in turn sparked desertion and demoralization in the armies. Over time, this negative feedback loop developed into a death spiral that hastened Confederate defeat.

There's even more in the book, but these examples are sufficient enough to show that Daniel studiously avoids simplicity when discussing why the Army of Tennessee failed. He doesn't assign overarching primacy to one factor over any other, nor does he attempt to rank their significance. Instead the more reasonable impression is given that a perfect storm of elements were involved in determining how a highly motivated army that fought so well on the small-unit level (along the way conducting some of the war's most impressive battlefield assaults) ultimately succumbed to disastrous defeat and surrender. None of Daniel's explanations of the many components that lay behind the Army of Tennessee's failure are new candidates for readers to consider, but the fact that they are all gathered together in one place, freshly rearticulated, and skillfully integrated into a masterfully-written critical narrative makes the book highly valuable. While Conquered will still primarily appeal to western theater students, all Civil War readers will benefit from its many insights, many of which might be applied to all Confederate armies and the Confederate war effort as a whole. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Booknotes: A History of the Ozarks, Volume 2

New Arrival:
A History of the Ozarks, Volume 2: The Conflicted Ozarks by Brooks Blevins (Univ of Ill Press, 2019).

Though I did not read the first book, I was happy to find that Brooks Blevins's ambitious three-part Ozarks history series devotes the entire middle volume to the Civil War and Reconstruction. A History of the Ozarks, Volume 2: The Conflicted Ozarks "begins with the region's distinctive relationship to slavery. Largely unsuitable for plantation farming, the Ozarks used enslaved persons on a smaller scale or, in some places, not at all. Blevins moves on to the devastating Civil War years where the dehumanizing, personal nature of Ozark conflict was made uglier by the predations of marching armies and criminal gangs. Blending personal stories with a wide narrative scope, he examines how civilians and soldiers alike experienced the war, from brutal partisan warfare to ill-advised refugee policies to women's struggles to safeguard farms and stay alive in an atmosphere of constant danger."

Roughly 60% of the book discusses slavery and the Civil War years. The rest of the volume covers the region's decades-long recovery. "The war stunted the region's growth, delaying the development of Ozarks society and the processes of physical, economic, and social reconstruction. More and more, striving uplanders dedicated to modernization fought an image of the Ozarks as a land of mountaineers and hillbillies hostile to the idea of progress. Yet the dawn of the twentieth century saw the uplands emerge as an increasingly uniform culture forged, for better and worse, in the tumult of a conflicted era."

Monday, October 21, 2019

Booknotes: Gettysburg's Coster Avenue

New Arrival:
Gettysburg's Coster Avenue: The Brickyard Fight and the Mural by Mark H. Dunkelman (Gettysburg Pub, 2018).

Mark Dunkelman has devoted so much of his life to researching and writing about the 154th New York that he's become synonymous with that regiment. But that work is not his only Civil War passion.  He's also an artist and co-creator of the Brickyard Mural at Gettysburg. Part One of his latest book Gettysburg's Coster Avenue: The Brickyard Fight and the Mural briefly recounts the history of the Brickyard fight between Charles Coster's defending brigade (to which the 154th NY belonged) and Confederate attackers from Jubal Early's division.

From the description: "Coster Avenue, the smallest portion of the Gettysburg National Military Park, marks the site of some of the last fighting on July 1, 1863, the First Day of the great battle. There, in what was then a brickyard, Col. Charles Coster’s Union brigade made a forlorn and futile stand against the two Confederate brigades of Gen. Harry Hays and Col. Isaac Avery. Outnumbered by more than three to one, Coster’s brigade was shattered and sent reeling in a pell-mell retreat through the streets of Gettysburg to the safety of Cemetery Hill. The action resulted in almost 800 casualties, most of them Union soldiers."

Part Two tells the story of the mural from its inception through its most current version. "In 1970,...Dunkelman...saw the roofing company that owned the property adjacent to Coster Avenue was building an addition to its warehouse. A blank concrete wall was going up about ten feet from the monument to the regiment he studied. Inspiration struck. Dunkelman designed a mural to cover the 80-feet-long wall. He and his artistic partner Johan Bjurman painted and installed the mural in 1988, the 125th anniversary of the battle. In the years since then, as exposure took its toll on the painting, Dunkelman and Bjurman produced two newer versions of the mural, the current one rendered on glass." In the book, the author "tells the little-known story of the battle that inspired the mural and the saga of how the painting came to be and its several permutations. Published on the mural’s thirtieth anniversary, this book includes more than fifty photographs, many in color and previously unpublished, a map, and source notes to the text."

Friday, October 18, 2019

Booknotes: Hymns of the Republic

New Arrival:
Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War by S.C. Gwynne (Scribner, 2019).

Journalist and popular historian S.C. Gwynne's previous Civil War book was 2014's Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson. I only read a few parts of it back then (and my recall of the experience is a hazy blank going on five years later), but it is rather impressive (and also a mark of strong promotion) to find a Civil War title of any kind with almost a thousand reader reviews in one place.

Gwynne's new book, which will be officially released near the end of this month, is Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War. Though it looks like much of the focus is on the war in the east, there is some wider coverage. The book "addresses the time Ulysses S. Grant arrives to take command of all Union armies in March 1864 to the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox a year later. Gwynne breathes new life into the epic battle between Lee and Grant; the advent of 180,000 black soldiers in the Union army; William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea; the rise of Clara Barton; the election of 1864 (which Lincoln nearly lost); the wild and violent guerrilla war in Missouri; and the dramatic final events of the war, including the surrender at Appomattox and the murder of Abraham Lincoln."

Though the book is targeted at a popular audience and its research based on published sources, it certainly sounds like the author is not wedded to conventional story lines. From the description: "Hymns of the Republic offers angles and insights on the war that will surprise many readers. Robert E. Lee, known as a great general and southern hero, is presented here as a man dealing with frustration, failure, and loss. Ulysses S. Grant is known for his prowess as a field commander, but in the final year of the war he largely fails at that. His most amazing accomplishments actually began the moment he stopped fighting. William Tecumseh Sherman, Gwynne argues, was a lousy general, but probably the single most brilliant man in the war. We also meet a different Clara Barton, one of the greatest and most compelling characters, who redefined the idea of medical care in wartime. And proper attention is paid to the role played by large numbers of black union soldiers—most of them former slaves. They changed the war and forced the South to come up with a plan to use its own black soldiers."

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Booknotes: Yank and Rebel Rangers

New Arrival:
Yank and Rebel Rangers: Special Operations in the American Civil War by Robert W. Black (Pen & Sword, 2019).

Yank and Rebel Rangers discusses Civil War individuals and units who conducted what we might today call "special operations." From the description: "Both the Union and the Confederacy employed small forces of bold and highly motivated soldiers for special operations behind enemy lines. Skilled in infiltration—sometimes disguising themselves as rural mail carriers—these warriors deftly scouted deep into enemy territory, captured important personnel, disrupted lines of communication and logistics, and sowed confusion and fear. Often wearing the uniform of the enemy, they faced execution as spies if captured. Despite these risks, and in part because of them, these warriors fought and died as American rangers."

There are thirteen Confederate chapters and ten Union chapters. Each chapter appears to be a standalone essay, primarily descriptive in nature. Just to name a few prominent examples from each side, Confederate coverage includes overviews of the operations of units like the Moccasin Rangers, Iron Scouts, and White's Comanches while the actions of the Blazer Scouts, Jessie Scouts, and Loudoun Rangers are represented in the Union section. With the bibliography consisting of a selection of book-length secondary works, unit histories, and a handful of newspapers (all supplemented by the O.R.), it's probably fair to characterize the study in the main as a synthesis of the published literature.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Review - "Hidden History of Civil War Williamsburg" by Carson Hudson

[Hidden History of Civil War Williamsburg by Carson O. Hudson, Jr. (Arcadia Publishing & The History Press, 2019). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:159/238. ISBN:978-1-4671-4293-9. $21.99]

Carson Hudson's Hidden History of Civil War Williamsburg is a revised and expanded edition of his 2016 book Yankees in the Streets: Forgotten People and Stories of Civil War Williamsburg. Not a narrative account, the volume instead consists of a sizable compilation (nearly three dozen in number) of chapter-length wartime anecdotes, episodes, and biographical features sourced from a suitably diverse collection of book, article, newspaper, and manuscript materials. Though several high-profile events and historical figures are addressed, the author's attention is aimed more toward exploring lesser-known aspects of the town's Civil War history.

In keeping with the "hidden history" focus of the book and series, the most significant single event associated with the town's Civil War history—the May 5, 1862 Battle of Williamsburg—is only tangentially addressed at various places. The town of Williamsburg disappears from most general narratives after the early part of the Peninsula Campaign, but this book largely concerns itself with the 1862-65 period when the town was under almost continuous Union occupation. Lying along the western edge of the Union Department of Virginia, Williamsburg and environs were frequently visited by Confederate troops, both regular and irregular, during this time. Such military episodes are covered in the book, as is the 1863 Wistar Raid on Richmond that was launched from the surrounding area.

Due to their living in close proximity to the no-man's land separating Union and Confederate lines, the town's residents found their lives, occupations, and trade relationships strictly regulated. The Emancipation Proclamation created another border straddled by town and residents, with the dividing line between exempt and non-exempt Virginia counties running right through the heart of Williamsburg. 

Many buildings in and around Williamsburg served as military hospitals for the sick and wounded, and refugees from other parts of Peninsula were also housed in the town. The book also shows how the Eastern State Lunatic Asylum became a bit of an oasis for locals, as the institution's staff and temporary occupants found themselves mostly protected from the harshest aspects of Union military rule. In addition to relating the stories of generals, common soldiers, and units that passed through Williamsburg during the war, the actions and experiences of many local residents of various occupations and dueling loyalties (including spies, doctors, nurses, and traders) are recounted in the book.

Visual aids of various kinds are a key feature of all books from this publisher, and the volume is filled with photographs and other illustrations. Hudson's work also possesses substantial reference value. Contained in the appendix section are a list of town residents from the 1860 census; a roster of the Williamsburg Junior Guard company; Union and Confederate orders of battle for the May 5 fight; a list of Medal of Honor recipients and citations from the battle; and more discussion of army hospitals, historical maps, and emancipation.

Hidden History of Civil War Williamsburg is an informative work of local history that will appeal to those readers whose curiosity extends beyond the town's much more celebrated Colonial past. Elements of the book should also prove useful for those working in occupation studies, a branch of Civil War history that has garnered an increasing share of scholarly attention in recent years.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Booknotes: Decisions at Gettysburg, Second Edition

New Arrival:
Decisions at Gettysburg: The Twenty Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle, Second Edition by Matt Spruill (UT Press, 2019).

Published in 2011, Matt Spruill's Decisions at Gettysburg was the progenitor of University of Tennessee Press's Command Decisions in America’s Civil War series, which did not formally launch until 2018. That original volume has now been revised and republished as Decisions at Gettysburg: The Twenty Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle, Second Edition. The new version, which is now the seventh installment in the series, "updates the nineteen critical decisions, adding a twentieth decision, and aligns the book with others in the Command Decisions in America’s Civil War series."

From the description: "Decisions at Gettysburg, second edition, further defines the critical decisions made by Confederate and Union commanders throughout the battle. Matt Spruill examines the decisions that prefigured the action and shaped the course of battle as it unfolded. Rather than a linear history of the battles, Spruill’s discussion of the critical decisions presents readers with a vivid blueprint of the battle’s development. Exploring the critical decisions in this way allows the reader to progress from a sense of what happened in these battles to why they happened as they did." I don't have a copy of the first edition for comparison, but the second edition clearly possesses the series's standardized format of critical decision analysis.

There are ten maps in total, which is a number considerably less than that found inside the typical series volume (I am thinking these are first edition carryovers), but Decisions at Gettysburg does have the modern photographic views of the battlefield that are characteristic of Spruill's books but absent from the works of other contributors. In addition to dozens of officer images, there are three order of battle diagrams in the main text and a pair of more extensive, formal OBs for both armies in the appendix section. Of the twenty critical decisions examined, one is strategic, three operational, fourteen tactical, and two organizational. Balance is eight Union vs. twelve Confederate, with eight being army-level decisions, six corps level, three division level, and three brigade level.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Book News: The Second Colorado Cavalry

The Second Colorado Cavalry is another Civil War regiment that served with distinction on the geographical fringes of the conflict and has long deserved a standalone unit study. Organized in October 1863 through a consolidation of the Second and Third Colorado infantry regiments, the Second Colorado Cavalry guarded the western overland trails, combated guerrillas along the Missouri-Kansas border, and played a prominent role in repelling Sterling Price's Confederate expedition into Missouri and Kansas in late 1864. Christopher Rein's upcoming The Second Colorado Cavalry: A Civil War Regiment on the Great Plains (OU Press, Feb '20) "is the first in-depth history of this regiment operating at the nexus of the Civil War and the settlement of the American West."

From the description: "Composed largely of footloose ’59ers who raced west to participate in the gold rush in Colorado, the troopers of the Second Colorado repelled Confederate invasions in New Mexico and Indian Territory before wading into the Burned District along the Kansas border, the bloodiest region of the guerilla war in Missouri."

The Second was also one of those volunteer regiments that stayed in active service through much of the remaining year in the frontier west before being replaced by the new regular regiments. "In 1865, the regiment moved back out onto the Plains, applying what it had learned to peacekeeping operations along the Santa Fe Trail, thus definitively linking the Civil War and the military conquest of the American West in a single act of continental expansion."

More from the description: "Emphasizing the cavalry units, whose mobility proved critical in suppressing both Confederate bushwhackers and Indian raiders, Rein tells the neglected tale of the “fire brigade” of the Trans-Mississippi Theater—a group of men, and a few women, who enabled the most significant environmental shift in the Great Plains’ history: the displacement of Native Americans by Euro-American settlers, the swapping of bison herds for fenced cattle ranges, and the substitution of iron horses for those of flesh and bone."

It is gratifying to see more of these obscure yet historically significant multi-duty units getting more attention in the published literature. I know that many Trans-Mississippi Civil War students have been clamoring for a Second Colorado regimental history for a long time.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Booknotes: "The Civil War, Vol. 1: The 3D Experience"

New Arrival:
The Civil War, Vol. 1: The 3D Experience by Ingo Bauernfeind (Bauernfeind Press, 2018).

3-D viewing was popular during the Civil War period using stereograph cards consisting of side-by-side photographic images that were examined through a special device. Ingo Bauernfeind's The Civil War, Vol. 1: The 3D Experience uses the process much more familiar to modern audiences, one that converts photographic images into anaglyphs that are in turn viewed through glasses with red and blue lenses.

Bauernfeind's book is an 8" x 11" paperback organized around a timeline of selected Civil War events from Lincoln's election through the end of the war. When opened, the left side typically contains one or two of those events (with a 'regular' photograph attached to each along with some brief descriptive text). Opposite to that, on the right side, is a nearly full-page anaglyph (also captioned) viewable through the 3D glasses provided with the book. It looks like there are around 90 in number. Most of the 3D images are military in nature depicting camp scenes, fortifications, batteries, ships, battlefield landscapes and casualties, military hospitals, field burial sites, and more.

The author's introduction briefly discusses Civil War photography and the development of 3D imagery. NPS Chief Historian Robert Sutton writes the preface and is additionally interviewed inside  about the Sesquicentennial as well as the Civil War in general (the Q&A is placed at the end of the book).

Although the distributor lists it as a 2018 title (so I went with that date), the volume is a "Sesquicentennial Edition" that only indicates a 2013 copyright date in the front matter.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Booknotes: William Gregg's Civil War

New Arrival:
William Gregg's Civil War: The Battle to Shape the History of Guerrilla Warfare edited by Joseph M. Beilein, Jr. (UGA Press, 2019).

Even though it was completed under less than ideal conditions in 1906 when the writer was an old man, William H. Gregg's memoir of his Civil War experiences as a notorious bushwhacker remains a valuable record of events in Missouri and Kansas as witnessed by a close associate of William C. Quantrill. "Whether it was the origins of Quantrill’s band, the early warfare along the border, the planning and execution of the raid on Lawrence, Kansas, the Battle of Baxter Springs, or the dissolution of the company in early 1864, Gregg was there as a participant and observer." Edited by Missouri guerrilla conflict historian Joseph Beilein, William Gregg's Civil War: The Battle to Shape the History of Guerrilla Warfare contains the Gregg memoir along with other documents and features that should be of interest to students and scholars of the subject matter.

In addition to annotating Gregg's personal account (which runs 32 pages in the book, with 10 more pages of addenda), Beilein "also includes correspondence between Gregg and William E. Connelley, a historian. Connelley was deeply affected by the war and was a staunch Unionist and Republican. Even as much of the country was focusing on reunification, Connelley refused to forgive the South and felt little if any empathy for his Southern peers. Connelley’s relationship with Gregg was complicated and exploitive. Their bond appeared mutually beneficial, but Connelley manipulated an old, weak, and na├»ve Gregg, offering to help him publish his memoir in exchange for Gregg’s inside information for a biography of Quantrill."

The editor also contributes a lengthy introduction that discusses the origins of the Gregg memoir while also offering extensive historiographical context for it.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Review - "Decisions of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign: The Twenty-Seven Critical Decisions That Defined the Operation" by Larry Peterson

[Decisions of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign: The Twenty-Seven Critical Decisions That Defined the Operation by Larry Peterson (University of Tennessee Press, 2019) Softcover, maps, photos, appendix section, notes, bibliography, index. Pages:xvii,195. ISBN:978-1-62190-519-6. $29.95]

Decisions of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign: The Twenty-Seven Critical Decisions That Defined the Operation is the sixth installment in University of Tennessee Press's rapidly expanding Command Decisions in America's Civil War series. The list of contributing authors is continually expanding, and this particular volume is Larry Peterson's third [see also his Chattanooga and Atlanta titles].

For those unfamiliar with these books, the basic definition of a "critical" decision as first established by series creator Matt Spruill has remained consistent over the course of the six volumes. It can be articulated as an apex decision that shapes "not only the events immediately following it but also the events from that point on" (xii). Analysis of critical decisions progresses through five areas with the subheadings Situation, Options, Decision, Results/Impact, and Alternate Scenario. Situation, the initial and typically lengthiest part of each decision analysis, describes the state of affairs at a key crossroads moment in the campaign. It provides readers with the background information necessary to recognize and evaluate the enumerated decision Options (in this case up to five in number) that immediately follow. The historical Decision is then outlined very briefly before the Results/Impact section recounts what happened and shows readers how those results shaped ensuing events. The Situation and Results/Impact sections frequently reference earlier decisions in a meaningful way, providing further evidence and vivid reminder that truly critical decisions have cascading consequences over a long campaign like this one. Each decision also has an Alternate Scenario section that delves into reasonable alternative history conjecture(s) based on one or more interesting choices not made. In the appendix section is another consistent series component, the driving tour. In this case, ten tour spots associated with the critical decision analysis can be visited. In support of both main text and appendix are 22 maps (11 historical military maps and 11 modern tour maps, all original creations by Alex Mendoza). Also included are orders of battle for both armies.

Though the general format remains the same for every series title, it is apparent that individual authors have been granted a small degree of freedom to vary content structure. As was the case with Atlanta, Peterson's Kentucky volume shifts emphasis from battle decisions to campaign decisions (note the subtitle change in both books from decisions that defined the "battle" to those that defined the "operation"). Though there are tactical-level decisions examined in the book, including several battlefield decisions related to the Confederate victory at Richmond, any related to Perryville are omitted by design, with the author raising the possibility that those might be covered in a separate volume sometime in the future.

The Kentucky Campaign volume shares the same range of six critical decision types offered in the author's earlier Atlanta Campaign title, classified here again as "strategic, tactical, organizational, operational, logistical, and personnel." (xiii). The book's 27 decisions are further subdivided into six campaign time frames beginning with the campaign's original conception and ending with Bragg's largely uncontested retreat from the state. Of the total number of decisions examined in the book, thirteen are strategic, seven tactical, two organizational, two operational, one logistical, and finally three are related to personnel appointments. That distribution supports the notion that early, high-level decisions did most to shape the character of the campaign (and for the Confederates formed key sources of their ultimate failure).

Although the author seems a bit more sanguine that most regarding Bragg's opportunities for achieving strategic success in Kentucky, Peterson is almost certainly correct that the Confederate failure to establish a unified command structure (an almost inexplicable blunder with responsibility primarily placed at the feet of President Davis but also shared by generals Bragg and Kirby Smith) practically doomed the campaign from the start. On the Union side, Buell's decision to not confront the Confederates early in the campaign allowed the initiative to pass to the enemy. Buell's initial actions would aid the Confederates by partially mitigating the negative effects of their divided command structure. In effect, the Union commander's reactive approach also set up the loss of both the Munfordville post defenders and nearly an entire division at Richmond.

The book has the novelty of including a shared critical decision for the first time in the series, but for this operation in particular the author might also have considered the opportunity to expand the critical decision concept beyond those made by individual commanders and political leaders. The collective decision of the proslavery Kentucky population to not support the Confederate invasion is arguably the critical decision that most affected the outcome of the campaign. Prominent Kentucky Confederates convinced the high command that large masses of Bluegrass citizens were ready to lift the yoke of Union oppression and needed only the presence of a large Confederate army to support a popular uprising that would fill Rebel ranks with untold thousands of eager volunteers. The fact that the determination among Kentuckians to remain loyal to the Union was already solidified more than a year before the invasion does argue against its inclusion as a critical decision that specifically shaped the 1862 operation, but the issue remains that the combined Confederate armies of Bragg and Kirby Smith made their own decisions under entirely false assumptions and expectations stemming from it.

In the end, if you liked Larry Peterson's other contributions to the series then you'll surely want to pick up a copy of Decisions of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign, which employs the same style and approach.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Booknotes: Colonels in Blue - Missouri and the Western States and Territories

New Arrival:
Colonels in Blue - Missouri and the Western States and Territories: A Civil War Biographical Dictionary by Roger D. Hunt (McFarland, 2019).

I've been out of town for the past two weeks and a bunch of new books (at least nine) arrived during that time, so I have some catching up to do in the Booknotes category. I had some prearranged posts ready to go so the site wouldn't go completely dark during the break but basically only did comment approval while I was away. I'm just now getting back into the swing of things.

Roger Hunt's Colonels in Blue series (now seven volumes in size) is a valuable biographical registry of Union officers who did not progress beyond the rank of colonel during the war. Colonels in Blue - Missouri and the Western States and Territories has chapters covering the states of Missouri, Arkansas, California, Kansas, Louisiana, Oregon, and Texas along with the territories of Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, and Washington. Given that geographical lineup, I would imagine that this volume has more obscure figures per page than any other book in the series.

Individual entries include (if known) a brief Civil War service history, birth and death date and place, occupation(s), any public offices/honors, educational background, burial place, a miscellaneous section, and reference list. An abundance of photographs, many apparently published for the first time, are also provided.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Coming Soon (Oct '19 Edition)

*NEW RELEASES* Scheduled for October 2019:
Colonels in Blue - Missouri and the Western States and Territories: A Civil War Biographical Dictionary by Roger Hunt.
An Everlasting Circle: Letters of the Haskell Family of Abbeville, South Carolina, 1861-1865 edited by Karen Stokes.
Decisions at Gettysburg: The Twenty Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle by Matt Spruill.
Lincoln's Informer: Charles A. Dana and the Inside Story of the Union War by Carl Guarneri.
American Zouaves, 1859-1959: An Illustrated History by Daniel Miller.
Liberty and Slavery: European Separatists, Southern Secession, and the American Civil War by Neils Eichhorn.
Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862, the Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History by Gary Clayton Anderson.
Vicksburg: Grant's Campaign That Broke the Confederacy by Donald Miller.
Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War by S.C. Gwynne.
Mississippi Bishop William Henry Elder and the Civil War by Ryan Starratt.

Comments: Of the titles from this list that haven't been profiled already through past Book News postings, the Anderson book is the most highly anticipated. I am always up for reading another scholarly contribution to the 1862-65 Dakota War literature. The description reveals certain areas of focus, but I will be keen to discover how it sets itself apart from the host of other titles available. As far as I can tell, Vicksburg is Donald Miller's first Civil War title. I have no firsthand knowledge of his other military history works (all WW2 related it seems) that might help form any expectations about the nature of it, but the publisher does typically target a more popular audience with its history titles.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Book News: Commonwealth of Compromise

Kentucky tends to overshadow Missouri in book and essay discussions of Civil War remembrance and commemoration in the Border States, or at least that's my impression. The Confederate identity popularly forged in Kentucky during the postwar period belied its wartime experience, when it provided critical military and political support to the Union cause that was vastly disproportionate to that supplied to the other side by the state's minority pro-Confederate faction. This turn of events eventually led to historian E. Merton Coulter's famous remark, oft repeated in the literature, that the state waited until after the war to secede. Was this also the case in Missouri?  Many antebellum Missourians came to refer to themselves as westerners rather than northerners or southerners, wishing to avoid direct participation in the divisive national politics of the day in favor of forging a politically moderate (albeit proslavery) western identity that would carry the torch of shared continental expansion. Then southern secession and Civil War threw those lofty aspirations of peaceable cooperation into disarray.

Attempting to answer the many questions surrounding how Missourians remembered the war is Amy Laurel Fluker's upcoming Commonwealth of Compromise: Civil War Commemoration in Missouri (Univ. of Missouri Press, May 2020). In it, Fluker "offers a history of Civil War commemoration in Missouri, shifting focus away from the guerrilla war and devoting equal attention to Union, African American, and Confederate commemoration. She provides the most complete look yet at the construction of Civil War memory in Missouri, illuminating the particular challenges that shaped Civil War commemoration."

Fluker's book will also highlight the unique features of Civil War commemoration in Missouri. "As a slaveholding Union state on the Western frontier, Missouri found itself at odds with the popular narratives of Civil War memory developing in the North and the South. At the same time, the state’s deeply divided population clashed with one another as they tried to find meaning in their complicated and divisive history. As Missouri’s Civil War generation constructed and competed to control Civil War memory, they undertook a series of collaborative efforts that paved the way for reconciliation to a degree unmatched by other states."

More from the description: "Understanding this process lends informative context to contemporary debates about Civil War memory. Acts of Civil War commemoration have long been controversial and were never undertaken for objective purposes, but instead served to transmit particular values to future generations."