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.

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