Monday, November 11, 2019

Booknotes: Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America

New Arrival:
Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America by Thomas J. Brown (UNC Press, 2019).

It is quite the appropriate happenstance that this Booknotes entry appears on Veterans Day. A "sweeping new assessment of Civil War monuments unveiled in the United States between the 1860s and 1930s," Thomas Brown's Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America "argues that they were pivotal to a national embrace of military values." Given that the U.S. military establishment was consistently gutted to below even the minimal standards of a world power up through the mid-1930s, it is presumed that Brown is using the term "militarization" in a more restrained cultural context.

According to Brown, "Americans' wariness of standing armies limited construction of war memorials in the early republic,..., and continued to influence commemoration after the Civil War. As large cities and small towns across the North and South installed an astonishing range of statues, memorial halls, and other sculptural and architectural tributes to Civil War heroes, communities debated the relationship of military service to civilian life through fund-raising campaigns, artistic designs, oratory, and ceremonial practices. Brown shows that distrust of standing armies gave way to broader enthusiasm for soldiers in the Gilded Age. Some important projects challenged the trend, but many Civil War monuments proposed new norms of discipline and vigor that lifted veterans to a favored political status and modeled racial and class hierarchies."

The decades prior to the beginning of the Great War were a boon to Civil War monument construction, and Brown also notes that in the years following the return of American troops from Europe the country still looked to their Civil War past to inform how they would memorialize the 1917-18 experience of World War. In the end, "(a) half century of Civil War commemoration reshaped remembrance of the American Revolution and guided American responses to World War I."

Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America "provides the most comprehensive overview of the American war memorial as a cultural form and reframes the national debate over Civil War monuments that remain potent presences on the civic landscape."

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Captain Voigt's Company of Waul's Texas Legion

When I was putting together my recent review of Michael Steinman's Waul's Legion: History of the Texas Legion (2019), my online search for book-length topical antecedents uncovered a recent (and also self-published) company history. Going only by the very limited preview available through the following link, Wolfram M. Von-Maszewski's Captain Voigt's Company of Waul's Texas Legion (2017) looks like it might be a worthwhile use of the book fund.

From the description: "Robert Julius Voigt (1832-1866) emigrated from Germany to Texas in 1850. In Houston he became a founding member of the Houston Turn Verein, a German cultural and social organization and participated in its ceremonial and para-military organization. At the outbreak of the Civil War he joined a militia company in Austin County, Texas, that was composed of German-Texans. On the strength of his informal military training, he was elected captain. When the company volunteered to serve in the Confederate Army, his men again chose him as their captain. He took the responsibility seriously. Years later one of his soldiers recalled that Voigt took care of his men like a father. He was their spokesman as they served among an English-speaking population. In turn, the company was recognized for its military conduct and was entrusted with special assignments in Greenwood and Yazoo City, Mississippi."

The volume and diversity of sources referenced in the footnotes of the sample pages certainly gives the impression that serious, in-depth research is behind the project. It also does seem to support the assumption that more than enough primary source material exists to construct the richly detailed history of Waul's Legion that many students of the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters still seek. I'll report back if and when I get a hold of a copy.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Review - "Gettysburg's Coster Avenue: The Brickyard Fight and the Mural" by Mark Dunkelman

[Gettysburg's Coster Avenue: The Brickyard Fight and the Mural by Mark H. Dunkelman (Gettysburg Publishing, 2018). Softcover, map, photos, drawings, notes. Pp. 50. ISBN:978-0-9993049-1-4. $18.95]

The author or editor of six well-received books and numerous articles published about the men and exploits of the 154th New York, Mark Dunkelman is the modern voice of the regiment and chief custodian of its historical memory. Among the 154th's most trying Civil War experiences was its doomed July 1, 1863 defense of Kuhn's Brickyard on the northeastern outskirts of Gettysburg. The story of this action and the mural that Dunkelman (with artist and co-designer Johan Bjurman) created to commemorate it is the subject of Gettysburg's Coster Avenue: The Brickyard Fight and the Mural.

The first part of the book is a well composed overview of the "Brickyard Fight" between Col. Charles Coster's understrength brigade (the 154th NY flanked on either side by the 27th Pa and 134th NY) and an attacking pair of North Carolina and Louisiana brigades under Col. Isaac Avery and Brig. Gen. Harry Hays. After a brief but furious assault, Avery's Tar Heels and Hays's Tigers utterly smashed Coster's Brigade, overlapping both flanks and inflicting heavy casualties. The piece also discusses the erection decades later of the 154th's monument, with the nearby street renamed Coster Avenue in honor of the brigade's stand that some have credited with helping save Cemetery Hill from capture. Though Coster Avenue was not unknown to visitors, for many decades Gettysburg tourists as a whole typically skipped the Brickyard Fight site in favor of seeing those associated with famous July 2-3 events [ed. I'll reluctantly admit that I never went there during either of my 1990s visits to the battlefield]. Though July 1 events like the Brickyard Fight eventually received their just due in the literature, the Dunkelman-Bjurman mural preceded the publication of David Martin and Harry Pfanz's standard histories by a number of years and undoubtedly had a singularly positive effect on increased site visitation and wider recognition of what occurred there.

In engagingly personalized fashion, the second part of the book traces the story of the Coster Avenue mural from initial brainstorming and development of the 1977 concept sketches through the original 1988 dedication and subsequent 2001 and 2015 major restorations. Readers might justly wonder how oil canvases protected only by layers of varnish were expected to fare when fully exposed over time to both the seasonal elements in Pennsylvania and the predations of vandals. Surprisingly, the mural was never defaced, but, unsurprisingly, the weather slowly wreaked havoc with the first two versions. The book doesn't reveal how long the mural project was originally intended to last, but if permanency was the goal it quickly became clear that it would be far too costly to repaint and reseal the massive canvasses on a regular basis. Something new had to be done, and the elegant solution of paint on glass for the current 2015 version seems to have worked very well, with the only major drawback being the unavoidable surface glare.

As one would hope to find in an art discussion book, Dunkelman's slim 81/2" x 11" paperback is well stocked with illustrations. Dozens of archival and modern photographs (the latter in both color and B&W) are sprinkled about, and the map located at the back of the book clearly depicts both the historical clash at the Brickyard in some detail and the location of the battle site in relation to the modern street map of Gettysburg. The only major lament is the lack of a large-scale photographic representation of the mural in all its glory, something the volume's landscape format could have well facilitated over a series of pages. On the other hand, nothing can replace an actual visit to the site, and perhaps a little bit of mystery can provide some extra incentive to seek out the place in person.

A significant part of Gettysburg's visitor experience three decades on from its original installation, the Coster Avenue mural has finally received a fine history of its own.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Booknotes: The Second American Revolution

New Arrival:
The Second American Revolution: The Civil War-Era Struggle over Cuba and the Rebirth of the American Republic by Gregory P. Downs (UNC Press, 2019).

Long dominated by diplomatic studies of relations between the dueling Union and Confederacy and the great European powers of Britain and France, scholarly publications dealing with the international dimensions of the American Civil War in the Atlantic World and beyond have significantly expanded in number and scope. Gregory Downs's The Second American Revolution: The Civil War-Era Struggle over Cuba and the Rebirth of the American Republic joins other recent works in interpreting the American Civil War as not just a shooting war between North and South but a truly international conflict situated within a worldwide debate and struggle over republican revolution (both proslavery and antislavery), self-government, and the meaning of freedom.

Focusing his study's attention on the two-way traffic in influence and rhetoric between the United States and Cuban rebel movements before, during, and after the American Civil War, Downs see the ACW as "an international conflict of ideas as well as armies. Its implications transformed the U.S. Constitution and reshaped a world order, as political and economic systems grounded in slavery and empire clashed with the democratic process of republican forms of government. And it spilled over national boundaries, tying the United States together with Cuba, Spain, Mexico, Britain, and France in a struggle over the future of slavery and of republics."

In The Second American Revolution, the author "argues that we can see the Civil War anew by understanding it as a revolution. More than a fight to preserve the Union and end slavery, the conflict refashioned a nation, in part by remaking its Constitution. More than a struggle of brother against brother, it entailed remaking an Atlantic world that centered in surprising ways on Cuba and Spain. Downs introduces a range of actors not often considered as central to the conflict but clearly engaged in broader questions and acts they regarded as revolutionary. This expansive canvas allows Downs to describe a broad and world-shaking war with implications far greater than often recognized."

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Coming Soon (Nov '19 Edition)

*NEW RELEASES* Scheduled for November 2019:
Rhode Island's Civil War Dead: A Complete Roster by Robert Grandchamp.
Visions of Glory: The Civil War in Word and Image ed. by Kathleen Diffley & Benjamin Fagan.
The Visible Confederacy: Images and Objects in the Civil War South by Ross Brooks.
The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War: A History of the 12th Virginia Infantry from John Brown’s Hanging to Appomattox, 1859-1865 by John Horn.

Comments: I thought the November schedule would flesh itself out a bit the closer we got to it, but that clearly did not turn out to be the case. Slim pickings this month! I will most likely get only one or two of these, but there are still some October releases that haven't arrived yet.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Review - "Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part Five: 1864-1865" by Banasik & Banasik, eds.

[Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part Five: 1864-1865 edited by Michael E. Banasik & Brenda F. Banasik (Camp Pope Publishing, 2019). Paperback, 11 maps, photos, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 528 pp. ISBN:978-1-929919-89-5. $29.95]

Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part Five: 1864-1865 is the latest addition to Camp Pope Publishing's profoundly useful and important Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River series. Part Five of Volume VII also marks the conclusion of Michael and Brenda Banasik's editing of the Confederate collection of "Tales of the War" reminiscences first published in the St. Louis Missouri Republican between 1885 and 1887. It is no promotional exaggeration to say that the still-growing Unwritten Chapters series "probably constitutes the greatest single collection of primary material ever assembled on the Trans-Mississippi to date."

The first chapter of Part Five deals with the aftermath of the 1864 Camden Expedition in Arkansas, which ended with Union defeat and retreat but was costly in Confederate casualties during its final stage. Other articles in the section deal with late-war fighting along the Mississippi and White rivers. Most prominent of the events discussed by the "Tales of the War" writers are the Battle of Ditch Bayou and Jo Shelby's celebrated capture of the gunboat U.S.S. Queen City.

The next chapter continues to explore events related to the war's finishing strokes in the Trans-Mississippi, but its unique highlight is the trio of accounts dealing with the August 1865 murders in Mexico of Missouri Confederate general Mosby Monroe Parsons and his traveling companions. Their deaths remain shrouded in mystery, and the three historical articles along with the deeply researched editorial commentary in the footnotes offer readers multiple views and perspectives that together remind us that we will likely never know the complete truth about the bloody affair and its perpetrators.

While the 1864 Red River Campaign was a major focus of Part Four, Sterling Price's 1864 Missouri Expedition is the major military operation at the heart of Part Five. Based on his meticulous campaign diary, 10th Missouri cavalryman Henry Luttrell's third chapter article offers readers one of the most extensive eyewitness accounts available of the operation from beginning to end. A significant resource, Luttrell's memoir addresses aspects of nearly all major battles fought during the campaign, from Pilot Knob through Second Newtonia.

Last but not least, the book's fourth chapter deals with irregular operations, and its deep coverage of lesser-known actors associated with the guerrilla conflict greatly enhances its appeal and value to readers. While the figure of Sidney Drake Jackman is well recognized by most students of the war in Missouri (two articles, a biography of Jackman and Jackman's own account of his 1863 recruiting operations, are included), the other individuals featured in the chapter—Charles Harrison, James W. Cooper, and August Doley—are obscure or completely unknown to most. On a Confederate mission to Colorado, the purpose of which remains a subject of debate, Harrison and nearly his entire traveling party were killed by pro-Union Osages in Kansas. Cooper was a guerrilla who operated mostly in NW Arkansas, and his article describes his experiences over the second half of the war. Doley was a Confederate recruiter who was captured behind enemy lines and, like many of his compatriots (regularly commissioned or not) performing similar duty, executed.

A great deal of well-deserved skepticism is directed toward memoir-type materials, but "Tales" writers frequently employed research along with their own wartime documents to create articles with useful amounts of detail, specificity of dates, etc. Also, contributors to the series were mostly low-ranking officers and men without lofty public reputations to promote or protect (or prominent enemies to try to discredit).

As is the case with all volumes in the series, the book's many editorial features are invaluable supplements to the historical articles. Because article introductions and bridging narrative are not components of the book's format, those types of traditional editorial text are instead placed in the notes. It is often the case that the footnote section fills nearly the entire page with heavily-referenced historical context along with extensive descriptions of persons, places, and events mentioned in the associated article. The editors' wide-ranging research in primary and secondary sources includes a vast array of books, articles, government documents, newspapers, and manuscript materials of all kinds. The footnotes and appendix section alone are worth more than the book's purchase price.

Much of the volume's 200-page appendix section is focused on the 1864 Missouri Expedition. Inside are additional documents and editorial commentary; a collection of short biographies; an extensively annotated September 1864 Army of Missouri order of battle; orders of battle for Pilot Knob, Glasgow, and Westport; a reassessment of Confederate casualties at Mine Creek; and a quantitative summary of the results of the Missouri Expedition (more specifically, data and numbers regarding federal prisoners captured, arms and artillery lost and captured, Confederate prisoners lost, Confederate recruits gained, value and type of property destroyed or captured, and damage levels to the state's railroad network). Numbers and losses of all kinds are heavily documented and analysis of them results in many conclusions that challenge established interpretations. As just one example, the editors arrived at a range of initial effective troop numbers in Price's army that are as much as 50% higher than the traditionally accepted range of 10-12,000. Their manpower analysis, combined with their recruitment versus loss estimates over the course of the campaign, generally supports Walter Busch's revisionist determination (the product of a decade of records research by Fort Davidson park staff) that Price had over 20,000 fighting men at Westport.

The publication of Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, Part Five marks the completion of just one major phase of the massive effort on the part of Michael and Brenda Banasik to bring the St. Louis Missouri Republican articles the wider attention that they deserve. The editorial pair are now on to Union "Tales of the War," and in the coming years those will be just as highly anticipated.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Booknotes: Mark Twain's Civil War

New Arrival:
Mark Twain's Civil War: "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" by Mark Twain, edited by Benjamin Griffin (Heyday, 2019).

I last revisited Mark Twain's "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" back in 2010, having a little bit of fun with the writer's account of the 'battle' of Mason's Farm (particularly the cartography part of it). There's now a new edited version of Twain's story out in book form. Mark Twain's Civil War: "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" is the work of Benjamin Griffin, an editor with UC-Berkeley's Mark Twain Project. From the description: "Twenty years after Appomattox, Twain published a highly fictionalized account of his two-week stint in the Confederate Army. Ostensibly this told what he did (or, in his own words, why he “didn’t do anything”) in the war; but the article was criticized as disingenuous, and it did little to address a growing curiosity about the nature of his brief military service."

Though entertaining, the story sparked many questions about Twain's Civil War. "The complex political situation in Missouri during the early months of the war and Twain’s genius for transforming life into fiction have tended to obstruct historical understanding of “The Private History”; interpretations of Samuel Clemens’s enthusiastic enlistment, sedulous avoidance of combat, and abandonment of the rebellion have ranged from condemnation to celebration."

"Aided by Twain’s notes and correspondence―transcribed and published here for the first time―"Griffin, through his own extensive notes and scholarly commentary,"offers a new and cogent analysis, particularly of Clemens’s multiple revisions of his own war experience. In addition to including other illustrations, the book contains the Twain maps referenced in my 2010 post linked above. "A necessity for any Twain bookshelf, Mark Twain’s Civil War sheds light on a great writer’s changeable and challenging position on the deadliest of American conflicts." Sounds very interesting.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Booknotes: Johnsonville

New Arrival:
Johnsonville: Union Supply Operations on the Tennessee River and the Battle of Johnsonville, November 4-5, 1864 by Jerry T. Wooten (Savas Beatie, 2019).

The flow of materiel shipped to the Union logistics and supply center at Nashville was frequently interrupted by low water on the Cumberland River and enemy cavalry raids against the railroad lines feeding into the city. To ensure a more consistent supply chain, federal forces built a massive logistics complex on the banks of the Tennessee River at Johnsonville, which had its own direct rail line to the Tennessee capital. Former Johnsonville SHP Park Manager James Wooten's Johnsonville: Union Supply Operations on the Tennessee River and the Battle of Johnsonville, November 4-5, 1864 recounts the history of the place, discussing its significance to the Union war effort in the West as well as the audacious Confederate operation led by Nathan Bedford Forrest that successfully destroyed much of it in late 1864.

The only previous book-length treatment of the subject is Donald Steenburn's Silent Echoes of Johnsonville: Nathan B. Forrest, Rebel Cavalry & Yankee Gunboats [see my brief 2007 review]. In the twenty-five years since the publication of Steenburn's book, Wooten "unearthed a wealth of new material that sheds light on the creation and strategic role of the Union supply depot, the use of railroads and logistics, and its defense by U. S. Colored Troops. His study covers the emergence of a civilian town around the depot, and the role all of this played in making possible the Union victories with which we are all familiar."

As expected, the book contains a full-length account of the battle. More from the description: "On November 4-5, 1864, Forrest’s troopers attacked the depot and shelled the city, destroying tons of invaluable supplies. The complex land-water operation nearly wiped out the Johnsonville supply depot, severely disrupted Gen. George Thomas’s army in Nashville, and impeded his operations against John Bell Hood’s Confederate army."

With much of the existing work on Johnsonville, including Steenburn's book, focused on the battle and Forrest's raiding operation in West Tennessee, Wooten's study "peels back the decades to reveal significantly more on that battle as well as what life was like in and around the area for both military men and civilians."