Thursday, December 31, 2020

Booknotes: Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain

New Arrival:
Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain by Michael J. Turner (LSU Press, 2020).

Even a passing glance at yearly publication lists over the past decade reveals that transnational American Civil War studies rank among the the most fashionable avenues of inquiry in the academic literature. A salient feature of the sub-field's most recent trend is the desire to move beyond traditional examinations of Union and Confederate diplomatic and trade relationships with Mexico, Britain, and France. In consequence, fresh studies of the Civil War's connections with lesser European powers (such as Spain), the Carribean islands, South America, and even the Pacific Rim have found their way into books and essays. Even so, if the Confederacy could have had its choice of recognition from any of the world's nations it would clearly have turned to Great Britain. That many British citizens possessed a cultural affinity toward the South and sympathized with its bid for independence is beyond doubt, and one of the leaders who most loudly promoted the Confederate cause in his country was politician and author Alexander James Beresford Hope (1820-1887).

From the description: "In this comprehensive examination of British sympathy for the South during and after the American Civil War," Michael J. Turner's Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain "explores the ideas and activities of A. J. Beresford Hope―one of the leaders of the pro-Confederate lobby in Britain―to provide fresh insight into that seemingly curious allegiance. Hope and his associates cast famed Confederate general Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson as the embodiment of southern independence, courage, and honor, elevating him to the status of a hero in Britain. Historians have often noted that economic interest, political attitudes, and concern about Britain’s global reach and geostrategic position led many in the country to embrace the Confederate cause, but they have focused less on the social, cultural, and religious reasons enunciated by Hope and ostensibly represented by Jackson, factors Turner suggests also heightened British affinity for the South."

It is somewhat curious that Jackson and not Lee was selected by Hope and his group as the exemplar of Confederate heroism. On the other hand, great generals killed at the height of their greatest victories when the war's outcome was still in the balance are always attractive figures. Lee did preside over ultimate defeat. More from the description: "During the war, Hope noticed a tendency among British people to view southerners as heroic warriors in their struggle against the North. He and his pro-southern followers shared and promoted this vision, framing Jackson as the personification of that noble mission and raising the general’s profile in Britain so high that they collected enough funds to construct a memorial to him after his death in 1863. Unveiled twelve years later in Richmond, Virginia, the statue stands today as a remarkable artifact of one of the lesser-known strands of British pro-Confederate ideology."

The study is divided into two parts. Part 1 discusses the social, economic, political, and religious sources of Hope's pro-Confederate views and activities while also using them as a template to more widely examine the nature of British sympathy for the South. Part 2 traces in depth the "overwhelmingly positive" nature of Stonewall Jackson's reputation as military celebrity in Britain both during and after the war. British ties to Jackson were promoted well into the twentieth century, and were even used as inspirational material for WW1 army enlistment.

Turner's study "serves as the first in-depth analysis of Hope as a leading pro-southern activist and of Jackson’s reputation in Britain during and after the Civil War. It places the conflict in a transnational context that reveals the reasons British citizens formed bonds of solidarity with the southerners whom they perceived shared their social and cultural values."

Monday, December 28, 2020

Booknotes: The Texas Tonkawas

New Arrival:
The Texas Tonkawas by Stanley S. McGowen (State House Pr, 2020).

The author of an excellent 1999 unit history of the Confederate First Texas Cavalry, historian Stanley McGowen latest project turns its attention toward the Tonkawas, a small tribe that paid dearly for its close association with antebellum and Civil War Texas military and paramilitary forces.

From the description: McGowen's The Texas Tonkawas "revolves around the Tonkawa tribe in the history of the Lone Star State and the greater Southwest. The chronological account allows readers to understand its triumphs and struggles over the course of a century or more, and places the story in a larger historical narrative of shifting alliances, cultural encounters and economic opportunity. From a coalition with the Lipan Apaches to the incorporation of Tonkawa scouts in the U.S. Army during the late nineteenth century, the author tells the story of these often overlooked people." This new study "provides a fresh appreciation of their influence in frontier history and renders their ultimate fate all the more heartbreaking."

Formed from bands native to Texas as well as some others that migrated south from the Southern Plains, the Tonkawas were a small tribe with big enemies (most dangerous among them the mighty plains empire-building Comanche). Among the Texas clans most friendly toward white settlers, the Tonkawas established trade relationships with early American colonists and provided scouts to Texas Ranger outfits, U.S. Army forces, and later Texas state and Confederate military units. These ties, plus their practice of ritual cannibalism against enemy dead, made the Tonkawas pariahs among other Plains Indians. Despite the relationships forged with Texas during the antebellum period, by 1859 most of the tribe was forcibly relocated to Indian Territory. Nevertheless, Tonkawas still served as military scouts.

Along with many other Indian Territory inhabitants, the tribe signed a treaty of alliance with the Confederate government in 1861. In late-October 1862, a coalition of pro-Union Indians attacked the Tonkawas in Indian Territory, their attempt at extermination resulting in the deaths of over half the tribe's men, women, and children. The survivors fled to Confederate Texas. The Tonkawa Massacre deserves far more recognition among history readers, and hopefully McGowen's book will help provide that. Of course, Tonkawa history did not end with the massacre, and the book also documents the tribe's post-Civil War influence on frontier military campaigns and continues their story to the present day.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

2020 - The CIVIL WAR BOOKS and AUTHORS Year in Review

1. GERMAN AMERICANS ON THE MIDDLE BORDER: From Antislavery to Reconciliation, 1830–1877 by Zachary Stuart Garrison (Southern Illinois University Press).

My Take: "Melding the best of recent scholarship with his own research and creative interpretation, Garrison alternately reaffirms and challenges much of what has been popularly written about the German Americans of the Civil War era. His skillful and persuasive tracing of immigrant German antislavery and pro-Union ideology to their Old World origins firmly establishes the background context necessary to comprehend the fervency of German reaction in the border West to slavery, sectional politics, secession, and Civil War. German Americans on the Middle Border is exquisitely crafted history, both in its nuanced reassessment of the nature and results of German antislavery activism before, during, and after the Civil War and its lucid explanation of the many complicated reasons behind the dizzying rise and fall of German social and political influence and status in the region over that period of time. It would be difficult to imagine an introductory-scale treatment of the subject matter that could best the one presented in this outstanding book."

The Rest of the Year's TOP TEN (in no particular order)

2. Into Tennessee and Failure: John Bell Hood by Stephen Davis (Mercer University Press).

Though surely not the last word, Davis's two-volume study represents the most comprehensive assessment of Hood's Civil War military career to date along with the most judicious critique of the Hood historiography that you'll find anywhere in the literature.

3. A War State All Over: Alabama Politics and the Confederate Cause by Ben Severance (University of Alabama Press).

Brilliantly overturns decades of scholarly misconceptions regarding Alabama state politics and popular support for the war from 1863 onward.

4. Tempest over Texas: The Fall and Winter Campaigns of 1863–1864 by Donald Frazier (State House Press).

The penultimate volume of Frazier's monumental military history series that documents in exhaustive fashion the campaigns and battles fought in Louisiana and coastal Texas.

5. Lincoln's Informer: Charles A. Dana and the Inside Story of the Union War by Carl Guarneri (University Press of Kansas).

A notable biography of a journalist and government official who, as both headquarters observer (some would say War Department spy!) and actor in his own right, had a profound behind-the-scenes impact on the course of the war.

6. The Second Colorado Cavalry: A Civil War Regiment on the Great Plains by Christopher Rein (University of Oklahoma Press).

A model unit history of a Union regiment that forged a lofty reputation in Central Plains pacification operations and in fighting regular and irregular Confederate forces in the Trans-Mississippi.

7. The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863 by Timothy Smith (University Press of Kansas).

Two studies addressing this topic were published recently, both excellent (see my review of the other one here). Choosing between the two is entirely a matter of personal preference.

8. Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862, the Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History by Gary Clayton Anderson (University of Oklahoma Press).

A multitude of single-volume histories of this terrible event in Civil War-era Minnesota history have been published, but Anderson's bravely dispassionate reassessment of the 1862 Santee uprising's origins, conduct, and conclusion is a breath of fresh air.

9. Defending the Arteries of Rebellion: Confederate Naval Operations in the Mississippi River Valley, 1861-1865 by Neil Chatelain (Savas Beatie).

While also the best and most comprehensive overview of the topic published so far, this study's keen analysis of the many factors leading to Union triumph and Confederate failure during the critical mid-1861 to mid-1862 period is particularly noteworthy.

10. Bull Run to Boer War: How the American Civil War Changed the British Army by Michael Somerville. (Helion & Company).

On multiple levels, Somerville compellingly revises traditional interpretations of how the Civil War did or did not influence pre-WW1 British Army developments.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Note to upcoming year-end list

After I pared down the CWBA yearly "awards" list in 2019 to only a BotY and Top 10, I've periodically been asked if I would reconsider returning to the expanded category list of yore. Truth be told, I would like nothing more than to do that; however, as I've mentioned/lamented before, the trend over the past few years is that readership keeps rising (that's good) while the number and variety of review copy submissions keeps falling (that's not so good). I don't really want to have to revise the categories every year based on a shrinking representation of what's out there, so 2020 will be the same format as last year.

With that housekeeping item out the way, what I really wanted to preface the impending 2020 list with is a sincere note of thanks to those individuals and publishers that were able to continue sending physical review copies my way during the entire breadth of this ongoing pandemic. I can imagine that the last ten months have been extremely trying ones for the entire publishing industry, and I appreciate the effort made to accomodate those of us who remain staunch holdouts to any wholesale transition to digital media.

Check back tomorrow for the list.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Book News: Decisions of the Seven Days

The next title up in University of Tennessee Press's Command Decisions in America's Civil War series is Michael Lang's Decisions at Antietam: The Fourteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle. Part of the current F-W catalog, the publisher has it scheduled for a mid-March 2021 release [BTW, the best way to track the most up to date UT Press release day is to visit the publisher web page for a given title and press the 'Buy Now' button].

As interesting as that one might be, I am personally looking more forward to the next installment after that one, Matt Spruill's Decisions of the Seven Days: The Sixteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battles. Any new Peninsula/Seven Days publication is a welcome event, but the fact that Spruill, a retired U.S. Army colonel and graduate of both the Army Command and General Staff College and the Army War College, is the author heightens the anticipation level. I haven't read all of the series volumes, but my own opinion is that the Spruill volumes have the best combination of critical decision identification and analysis. This isn't terribly surprising, as the series is his brainchild. Additionally, Spruill's Stones River and Second Manassas volumes contain large sets of supplemental tactical-scale maps not present in the tour appendix of any other series volume. One hopes that that valuable feature will carry over to the Seven Days book.

I should also mention that Spruill co-authored Echoes of Thunder: A Guide to the Seven Days Battles (2006), also from UT Press, and it can be imagined that elements of that earlier book will make it into the Decisions series volume.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Booknotes: The Howling Storm

New Arrival:
The Howling Storm: Weather, Climate, and the American Civil War by Kenneth W. Noe (LSU Press, 2020).

In recent years, a number of excellent essays and book chapters have been published on the topic of how weather effected Union and Confederate military and home fronts. Often these are included in Civil War environmental history manuscripts and anthologies. However, in providing the first comprehensive book-length study of the subject, Kenneth Noe's The Howling Storm takes it to the next level. In his nearly 500-page narrative, Noe "retells the history of the conflagration with a focus on the ways in which weather and climate shaped the outcomes of battles and campaigns. He further contends that events such as floods and droughts affecting the Confederate home front constricted soldiers’ food supply, lowered morale, and undercut the government’s efforts to boost nationalist sentiment. By contrast, the superior equipment and open supply lines enjoyed by Union soldiers enabled them to cope successfully with the South’s extreme conditions and, ultimately, secure victory in 1865."

As some others have done before him, most recently Browning and Silver in their excellent synthesis An Environmental History of the Civil War (2020), Noe also examines the effects of periodic Pacific and Atlantic oceanic events on the course of the war. More from the description: "Climate conditions during the war proved unusual, as irregular phenomena such as El Niño, La Niña, and similar oscillations in the Atlantic Ocean disrupted weather patterns across southern states. Taking into account these meteorological events, Noe rethinks conventional explanations of battlefield victories and losses, compelling historians to reconsider long-held conclusions about the war. Unlike past studies that fault inflation, taxation, and logistical problems for the Confederate defeat, his work considers how soldiers and civilians dealt with floods and droughts that beset areas of the South in 1862, 1863, and 1864. In doing so, he addresses the foundational causes that forced Richmond to make difficult and sometimes disastrous decisions when prioritizing the feeding of the home front or the front lines."

This is the kind of study (it's a great, fresh topic addressed in seemingly exhaustive fashion by an author whose work is always first-rate) that would normally grab my attention as a potential book of the year. Alas, the latter stages of December are already upon us and my best of 2020 will be posted on the site mere days from now.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Booknotes: The Enduring Civil War

New Arrival:
The Enduring Civil War: Reflections on the Great American Crisis by Gary W. Gallagher (LSU Press, 2020).

I've just now received the Sept-Oct slate of releases from LSU, with the much-anticipated Hess book on Civil War supply still forthcoming. Since I unfortunately do not possess the speed reading with full retention abilities of the late Harold Bloom, these obviously can't be considered for my year-end list, but they will be reviewed (hopefully) sometime during the early part of next year. First up in the Booknotes entries is Gary Gallagher's The Enduring Civil War: Reflections on the Great American Crisis.

From the description: This collection of 73 previously published essays "highlights the complexity and richness of the war, from its origins to its memory, as topics for study, contemplation, and dispute. He places contemporary understanding of the Civil War, both academic and general, in conversation with testimony from those in the Union and the Confederacy who experienced and described it, investigating how mid-nineteenth-century perceptions align with, or deviate from, current ideas regarding the origins, conduct, and aftermath of the war. The tension between history and memory forms a theme throughout the essays, underscoring how later perceptions about the war often took precedence over historical reality in the minds of many Americans."

Of course, most readers will recognize these Gallagher pieces as part of a regular Civil War Times feature, but a couple were published elsewhere. Fitting to their presence in a popular history magazine, the essays are self-described as bridging the gap between "the academic and popular worlds of Civil War interest." Operating under a 1000-word limitation, the essays are necessarily succinct. In this volume they are grouped into six themes: "Framing the War," "Generals and Battles," "Controversies," "Historians and Books," "Testimony from Participants," and "Places and Culture." The pieces pretty much remain as they were originally published, though Gallagher notes that a small number were further revised for this volume. He also added endnotes to the entire collection and restored the titles of many of the essays to their original form.

The description summarizes well the range of the essays. In them, Gallagher "examines notable books and authors, both Union and Confederate, military and civilian, famous and lesser known. He discusses historians who, though their names have receded with time, produced works that remain pertinent in terms of analysis or information. He comments on conventional interpretations of events and personalities, challenging, among other things, commonly held notions about Gettysburg and Vicksburg as decisive turning points, Ulysses S. Grant as a general who profligately wasted Union manpower, the Gettysburg Address as a watershed that turned the war from a fight for Union into one for Union and emancipation, and Robert E. Lee as an old-fashioned general ill-suited to waging a modern mid-nineteenth-century war. Gallagher interrogates recent scholarly trends on the evolving nature of Civil War studies, addressing crucial questions about chronology, history, memory, and the new revisionist literature."

Though I've skimmed some of these essays while magazine browsing at the local B&N, I'm not a subscriber to CWT so most will be new to me. I'm looking forward to checking them out.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Review - "Rediscovering Fort Sanders: The American Civil War and Its Impact on Knoxville's Cultural Landscape" by Faulkner & Faulkner

[Rediscovering Fort Sanders: The American Civil War and Its Impact on Knoxville's Cultural Landscape by Terry Faulkner and Charles H. Faulkner (University of Tennessee Press, 2020). Hardcover, maps, photos, illustrations, source notes, cited reference list, index. Pages main/total:xxiii,343/414. ISBN:978-1-62190-481-6. $34.95]

While the Chattanooga railroad junction was more militarily and strategically significant during the Civil War years, Knoxville was then and arguably still is the queen city of East Tennessee. It was certainly coveted by both sides during the war. The Lincoln administration wanted possession of Knoxville to secure protection for the region's large pro-Union population, and the Confederates needed it to maintain the shortest rail and communications link between the eastern and western theaters. As it turned out, the Confederates held Knoxville for the first half of the war before abandoning it to General Ambrose Burnside's advancing Union army in September 1863. For the duration of the conflict, the city would remain in federal hands.

Though made vulnerable by an uncomfortably close patch of dead ground that a sizable attacking force could exploit, Fort Sanders was the key point in the line of Union fortifications surrounding Knoxville. It was the predictable target of General James Longstreet's Confederate forces during their failed attempt to break into the city in November 1863. Even with its flaws Fort Sanders was immensely strong, and Longstreet's 20-minute assault on its northwest salient on November 29 was a dismal failure. With Union relief on the way and no further hope of quick victory, the Confederate 'siege' was abandoned a few days later. Longstreet's small army withdrew northeast, ultimately going into winter quarters after the indecisive battle at Bean's Station.

For a long time, it has been assumed by historians and local residents that the steady march of Knoxville's post-Civil War urbanization completely wiped out all traces of Fort Sanders. However, according to Terry and Charles Faulkner in their book Rediscovering Fort Sanders: The American Civil War and Its Impact on Knoxville's Cultural Landscape, that is not the case. Through their meticulous interdisciplinary investigation lasting more than eight years, the authors claim a number of new discoveries, including both visible and buried evidence of fort remnants.

The Civil War importance of Knoxville and why so much time and effort went into building elaborate earthwork defenses are explored at some length in the opening chapters. Coverage includes fairly extensive discussions of what life was like for the city's Unionist population under Confederate rule, and the September-December 1863 campaigning in the region (the climax being the attack on Fort Sanders) is also addressed. There are a few factual mistakes scattered about the narrative and arguably some overuse of dated and partisan sources in these early sections, but the contextual overview is solid overall. Some readers will be disappointed in the brevity of the book's coverage of the November 29 assault on Fort Sanders, but others will find it to be of suitable length for a multi-focused work of this type. The best modern treatment of the battle of Fort Sanders and overview of Longstreet's Knoxville campaign can still be found in Earl Hess's The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee (2012).

Union military engineer par excellence Orlando Poe is often credited with the design and construction of Fort Sanders, but the authors correctly note that the defensive works on White's Hill that would eventually become Fort Sanders originated as the Confederate Fort Loudon/Fort Buckner. After Burnside captured the city, Poe was made responsible for the city's entire line of defenses. Though improvements were made under Poe's overall direction, the fort was still unfinished when the Confederates attacked in November. Only later would the fort be fully enclosed and completed, and this final phase of its construction was conducted under the professional guidance of experienced artillery officer, Davis Tillson. A figure whose contributions during and after the war (he was also an Asst. Director of the Freedman's Bureau) have been largely forgotten, General Tillson had a distinguished career, the popular awareness and profile of which the authors hope to raise through this study.

Easily the book's most provocative conclusion is its determination through various investigative means that the true location of Fort Sanders is one block west of the long-held consensus position atop the former topographical crest of White's Hill. Through a combination of documentary research, photographic analysis, ground observation (most significantly the location the authors believe to be the oft-mentioned limestone sink), and targeted archaeological investigation, the detailed revisionist argument promoted by the Faulkners is presented through multiple angles. The authors feel that some of their strongest supportive evidence was obtained through their extensive aerial and ground-level photographic study. During their research, the authors obtained access to several photographs that have never been published before. They also bolster their case with a rediscovered fort image mislabeled in the archives as a visiting circus rather than the Fort Sanders veteran reunion truly depicted. While the often grainy reproduction of the book's collection of panoramic photos (from George Barnard's 1864 image through a 1922 aerial photo of the battleground) can often make it difficult for the reader to discern all of the essential features noted in the text, the authors do extensively label every image to correspond by letter to points of interest identified and discussed in both captions and main text.

Like many other historically significant Civil War sites, postwar urban sprawl claimed the former site of Fort Sanders. The book methodically documents in photos and text the steady, decades-long urban development—first as residential houses and streets and later hospital and University of Tennessee construction—completely remade the local topography (which was originally steeply graded and hazardous to road travel). The transformation of the urban landscape atop the grounds of the old fort is ongoing, though the university today is committed to upward expansion of existing buildings. Coverage of urban development around the old fort grounds is rendered in such detail that even non-Civil War oriented local historians and students of West Knoxville's nineteenth and twentieth century expansion will likely find the book highly useful for their own purposes. Still, it can be difficult for the uninitiated reader to fully appreciate the nuances of the Faulkners's arguments as presented in the book, and there is apparently local resistance to their theory regarding the fort's true location. One is left to wonder what the strongest arguments for the traditional interpretation of the fort's position might still be and how the Faulkners would specifically counter them.

Conflict archaeology has repeatedly proven itself useful as part of a multi-disciplinary approach to Civil War history and site study, and Rediscovering Fort Sanders thoroughly documents co-author and University of Tennessee anthropology professor emeritus Charles Faulkner's archaeological investigation of the old fort site. Through his team's modest-scale excavation and soil strata analysis, Faulkner believes he's uncovered enough probable buried fort remnants (to include the level of the fort's interior floor and possible location of artillery embrasures), to merit further investigation. In that determination he is persuasive. Along with the sinkhole already mentioned above, Faulkner also points to another area of above-ground subsidence that could well be indicative of the original trench fronting the fort. Both features are promoted as supporting evidence of the fort's new location. As a body, the archaeological evidence in more intriguing than conclusive, and one might well imagine that detractors will not be completely satisfied until further excavation conclusively identifies the locations of at least three of the four bastions (if that is even possible).

Rediscovering Fort Sanders is a frequently fascinating combination of historical document research, forensic photographic analysis, and archaeological investigation. If their work can gain official acceptance, the Faulkners plan to create an extensive walking tour that will hopefully secure Fort Sanders's legacy on a more visible and permanent basis and provide West Knoxville with long-neglected historical interpretation that will benefit both residents and visitors alike. Even if that highly laudable goal is never met, the book itself represents a significant contribution to local Knoxville history and the study of the Civil War in East Tennessee at large.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Upcoming Port Hudson Campaign titles

There are currently two Port Hudson titles scheduled for release sometime in 2021. Russell Blount's The Longest Siege: Port Hudson, Louisiana, 1863 will be published by McFarland. Its webpage doesn't have much information yet. However, if we take the author's existing body of work in the areas of campaign and battle studies (four books examining the Atlanta Campaign battles of New Hope Church and Kennesaw Mountain, the Mobile Campaign of 1865, and Wilson's Raid) as a measuring stick of future expectations, it seems likely that his Port Hudson Campaign history will be an overview-type affair of similar depth.

At least for me, the more highly anticipated of the two is Larry Hewitt's Port Hudson: A History in Photographs. University of Tennessee Press's website currently has it as a late-September 2021 release. In this case, we certainly have a perfect match between author and topic. In addition to his published work, which includes 1987's Port Hudson, Confederate Bastion on the Mississippi, Hewitt was "the first manager of the Port Hudson State Historic Site. There, he began collecting photographs related to the Civil War battle. Carefully analyzing a vast and remarkable photographic record of Port Hudson, Hewitt has now brought his four decades of research and collecting together in this book. The quantity, diversity, and in some cases uniqueness of these photos help widen our perspective not only on Port Hudson and the Civil War’s impact on its people and environment, but also on the history of photography."

The images collected in the volume are the work of six photographers. Their biographies and "the captions in this volume also brim with fresh information about both the photographs and the campaign, attesting to the author’s meticulous scholarship and skilled analysis." According to Hewitt, in addition to documenting the siege and its aftermath, the Port Hudson photography can also lay claim to possessing images that are unique to Civil War photography as a whole. More from the description: "Together the six cameramen claimed many “firsts,” including the first-ever photograph of soldiers engaged in battle, first exterior shots at night, and first “composition print.” The collection—arranged chronologically—allows readers to follow the changes in the landscape during and after the siege. The sheer range of subjects represented is impressive. A cotton gin, a grist mill, and a Methodist church—all showing signs of damage—caught the eyes of photographers. At the request of a Union soldier’s mother, there was a photograph taken of his burial site. There is even the only known photograph of a Confederate army surrendering." I am greatly looking forward to examining this one.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Booknotes: Storm Over Key West

New Arrival:
Storm Over Key West: The Civil War and the Call of Freedom by Mike Pride (Pineapple Pr, 2020).

Many different approaches can be taken when examining Civil War-era Key West, but Mike Pride's Storm Over Key West seems to focus most on emancipation, black army recruitment, and civil rights issues. The book self-describes its overarching theme as "the denial to black people of the equality central to the American ideal."

During the Civil War, many localities up and down the South Atlantic seaboard were viewed as fertile ground for recruiting or impressing black soldiers to add to the ranks of regiments organizing at Hilton Head, and Key West was also visited upon for that purpose. From the description: "A few weeks after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, James Montgomery sailed into Key West Harbor looking for black men to draft into the Union army. Eager to oblige him, the military commander in town ordered every black man from fifteen to fifty to report to the courthouse, “there to undergo a medical examination, preparatory to embarking for Hilton Head, S.C.”"

With Key West controlling oceanic traffic back and forth between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, the strategic importance of the island chain to the Union war effort is certainly also addressed in the book. More from the description: "Key West’s harbor and two major federal forts were often referred to as “America’s Gibraltar.” This Gibraltar guarded the Florida Straits between Key West and Cuba and thus access to the Gulf of Mexico. When Union forces seized it before the war, the southernmost point of the Confederacy slipped out of Confederate hands. This led to a naval blockade based in Key West that devastated commerce in Florida and beyond."

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Review - "Women Making War: Female Confederate Prisoners and Union Military Justice" by Thomas Curran

[Women Making War: Female Confederate Prisoners and Union Military Justice by Thomas F. Curran (Southern Illinois University Press, 2020). Paperback, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xi,194/269. ISBN:978-0-8093-3803-0. $26.50]

According to the historiographical overview contained in author Thomas Curran's introduction to his new book Women Making War, the Civil War literature as a whole continues to underestimate both the scale and significance of female incarceration. The result has been extended neglect of the topic of female civilian interactions with the Union Army's provost marshal, military justice, and military prison systems. On the other hand, Civil War guerrilla warfare scholars and readers have long been aware of the many direct and indirect contributions of female allies, those activities ranging from behind the scenes support roles (ex. providing fighters with food, shelter, and supplies) to more dangerous front line pursuits as spies, couriers, and smugglers. Seeing the guerrilla conflict as a "household war" has been most extensively formalized in more recent publications, among them Joseph Beilein's Bushwhackers: Guerrilla Warfare, Manhood, and the Household in Civil War Missouri (2016) and the 2020 essay anthology Household War: How Americans Lived and Fought the Civil War edited by Lisa Tendrich Frank and LeeAnn Whites. With its statewide guerrilla war and controversial St. Louis-area military prison system together providing a source-rich environment for scholarly work, Missouri is the focus of Curran's investigation.

The subject matter at hand could certainly fit well into either thematic or chronologically organized study, but Curran's decision to arrange the material in chronological order is most suitable in that it provides the best way for readers to comprehend and follow the conflict's escalation in both female partisan activities and their punishments. By way of several considerations (among them the typically cited desire among the authorities to comport with antebellum chivalric norms, uncertainties over social and legal issues related to female political autonomy, and the initially small scale of the problem), arrests were comparatively rare in 1861. However, as the irregular war ramped up and female involvement similarly expanded arrests soared. According to the author's research, numbers arrested at any given time were strongly linked to the personal attitude of the department commander, with General Henry Halleck pushing hard for eliminating considerations of sex from arrest and punishment and successors like Samuel Curtis continuing to express reluctance. Though the progression was not entirely linear, by 1863 women were becoming more commonly subjected to harsh punishments such as banishment and increasingly long prison terms.

Curran situates the aforementioned Henry Halleck, who was exasperated by the inner war in Missouri during his entire western command tenure and frustrated with the hand-tying constitutional definition of treason that hindered prosecution of guerrilla supporters, as the primary driving force behind the Union military justice system breaking down prosecutorial distinctions between male and female wartime offenders. In addition to being the chief military sponsor behind what would become known as the Lieber Code, Halleck also coined the term "war-traitor" (i.e. someone who was a "traitor under the law of war") in large part as a way to eliminate the barriers that existed in punishing the kinds of female activities referenced above.

Curran's original research uncovered more than 400 female inmates who passed through St. Louis military prisons (ex. the Gratiot and Myrtle street prisons), Alton Military Prison across the river in Illinois, and the Missouri State Penitentiary. That number won't surprise some, but it represents a scale (at least according to the author) that greatly surpasses estimates found in the more general literature of Civil War military justice and women's studies. The book houses a great multitude of these case studies, each describing the subject's background, wartime activities, prosecution, and imprisonment. An entire chapter is devoted to the story of one celebrated double agent, Mary Ann Pitman, who proved very helpful to Union authorities in identifying female Confederate agents and was richly rewarded after the war before abruptly disappearing from the historical record. As one might expect, the harshness of the female prison experience varied greatly. Several women died from illnesses, but the author discovered only two death sentences (neither of which was carried out).

The author's closing assessment suggests that popular historical memory of pro-Confederate female partisan activities (and their political nature) was generally suppressed after the war in favor of a more "Lost Cause"-appropriate narrative stressing the innocence of southern women and their victimhood at the hands of ruthless Union invaders. However, in pointing out the silence of Union partisans when it came to postwar public admission that federal military authorities imprisoned women both guilty and innocent in large numbers during the war, Curran also recognizes that postwar mythologizing was not the exclusive domain of the losing side. In richly documenting the cases of many of the more than 400 women imprisoned by the U.S. Army in and around St. Louis from 1861-65 and persuasively showing how female wartime activities not only were affected by Union military policy but helped shape those policies at an early date in the war, Thomas Curran's Women Making War makes strong contributions to Civil War women's studies, the guerrilla warfare scholarship, and the history of the Union Army's military justice system.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Booknotes: The Old Army in Texas, Second Edition

New Arrival:
The Old Army in Texas: A Research Guide to the U.S. Army in Nineteenth Century Texas, 2nd Edition by Thomas T. Smith (TSHA, 2020).

I am always on the watch for Trans-Mississippi reference books, but I nevertheless missed the 2000 publication of the first edition of Thomas Smith's The Old Army in Texas and didn't even know of its existence until news of an upcoming second edition arrived. Also published by the Texas State Historical Association, The Old Army in Texas: A Research Guide to the U.S. Army in Nineteenth Century Texas, 2nd Edition is "a comprehensive and authoritative single-source reference for the activities of the regular army in the Lone Star State during the nineteenth century."

The publisher's description offers a nice rundown of its contents:
"Beginning with a series of maps that sketch the evolution of fort locations on the frontier, Smith furnishes an overview with his introductory essay. The second part of this guide lists the departmental commanders, the location of the military headquarters, and the changes in the administrative organization and military titles for Texas. Part III provides a dictionary of 223 posts, forts, and camps in the state. The fourth part gives a year by year snapshot of total army strength in the state, the regiments assigned, and the garrisons and commanders of each major fort and camp. Supplying the only such synopsis of its kind, the guide's Part V offers a chronological description of 224 U.S. Army combat actions in the Indian Wars with vivid details of each engagement. The 900 entries in the selected bibliography of Part VI are divided topically into sections on biographical sources and regimental histories, histories of forts, garrison life, civil-military relations, the Mexican War, and frontier operations."

I obviously don't have a copy of the first edition to make any kind of direct comparison, but the preface notes the content of the second edition is the beneficiary of large-scale source digitization projects of the past two decades and the bibliography is greatly enhanced. Presumably, new and revised information from those sources is integrated throughout the text. As a broad historical survey of the period, the new edition still contains the author's SHQ journal article "U.S. Army Combat Operations in the Indian Wars of Texas, 1849-1881."

"(I)llustrated with a number of maps and rare photographs of the U.S. Army in nineteenth century Texas," Thomas Smith's The Old Army in Texas remains a strong reference tool for both specialists and avocational students "interested in Texas history, especially military history and local and regional studies."

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Booknotes: Bullets and Bandages

New Arrival:
Bullets and Bandages: The Aid Stations and Field Hospitals at Gettysburg by James Gindlesperger (Blair, 2020).

Inspired by Greg Coco's work on Gettysburg field hospitals, James Gindlesperger Bullets and Bandages: The Aid Stations and Field Hospitals at Gettysburg aims to provide the most comprehensive survey to date of places in and around Gettysburg that treated wounded soldiers. In it the author "provides a context for the medical and organizational constraints of the era and then provides details about the aid stations and field hospitals created in the aftermath of the battle. Filled with historical and contemporary photos, as well as stories about the soldiers and their healers, this book is a detailed guide for visitors to the site as well as others interested in American Civil War history."

In deciding which hospitals and aid stations to include in the volume, Gindlesperger limited his scope to places that were officially designated as a hospital or aid station, tended multiple wounded, and had a doctor present. Additionally, those sites that had a particularly "interesting story" to tell or took care of a prominent individual were also considered.

The book is organized into chapters by area, and each site's GPS coordinates were included unless the property owner objected. Just from a quick glance through the table of contents, it looks like well over 200 sites are examined. The volume has high production values, with thick, glossy pages that present both modern color photos and archival B&W images to good effect. The annotated history and commentary text attached to each site runs around a full page in length (some more, some less). Site numbers ranging from six to twenty-seven in each chapter are also helpfully plotted on a series of color street maps. It looks like a highly useful history and touring guide for Gettysburg researchers and enthusiasts.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Review - "Defending the Arteries of Rebellion: Confederate Naval Operations in the Mississippi River Valley, 1861-1865" by Neil Chatelain

[Defending the Arteries of Rebellion: Confederate Naval Operations in the Mississippi River Valley, 1861-1865 by Neil P. Chatelain (Savas Beatie, 2020). Hardcover, 8 maps, photos, illustrations, footnotes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:x,304/334. ISBN:978-1-61121-510-6. $32.95]

It is easy to see why the Union "Brown Water Navy" dominates the western and Trans-Mississippi naval literature of the Civil War. Though there were a number of isolated setbacks, federal gunboats and oceanic vessels effectively swept their enemy counterparts from all major inland waterways and forged indispensable combined operations partnerships during innumerable Union Army campaigns. With book, essay, and article publication of Confederate officer biographies, ship and squadron histories, and both ship vs. ship and ship vs. shore engagement studies, the other side of the story has not been neglected altogether, but it is rare to encounter a theater or national-level examination of Confederate naval operations and strategy. Readers are treated to just that kind of uncommon contribution in Neil Chatelain's excellent new book Defending the Arteries of Rebellion.

The heart of Chatelain's narrative is a skillfully organized description and analysis of Confederate naval operations on the Mississippi River and its vast system of tributaries and deltas. Combining his own manuscript research with a solid grounding in the published literature, the author traces the fortunes of Confederate naval power from initial planning in February 1861 through the final surrender of the Red River ironclad C.S.S. Missouri on June 3, 1865. Coverage of squadron-level engagements and smaller ship vs. ship battles is comprehensive with detail suitable to an overview of this length. The geographical breadth of the study extends beyond the length of the Mississippi River south of Cairo to nearby coastal sounds of Louisiana and Mississippi. Given how well these major naval actions have already been addressed in the literature, often on a standalone basis that includes many excellent book-length treatments, seamless synthesis is the chief value that Chatelain brings to his descriptive chronology of events.

Hand in hand with the comprehensive operational narrative referenced above is the author's perceptive analysis of why western inland Confederate naval forces experienced such rapid defeat. While CSN ships operating in ones and twos were able to score impressive tactical victories throughout much of the conflict, squadron-scale Confederate gunboat and ram fleets were largely swept out of organized existence by the middle of 1862. This is commonly attributed to Union superiority in industry, manpower, and resources, but Chatelain correctly points out that those disparities (extreme though they were) do not adequately explain the scale and rapidity of Confederate defeat. The author recognizes that it was the aggressive urgency displayed by U.S. naval and civilian leadership in placing high priority on early-war combined offensives on both ends of the Mississippi that most robbed the enemy of the time needed to complete their New Orleans, Memphis, and Tennessee River ironclad programs. The rapid seizure of the best naval construction facilities at New Orleans, Memphis, and other places also meant that Confederate plans for a second generation of river ironclad projects had to be scaled back tremendously. The author also effectively demonstrates how the disjointed and indecisive manner in which Confederate authorities handled those concurrent threats on both ends of the Mississippi led to comprehensive defeat. Chatelain very clearly highlights several moments in the western river war when constantly shifting priorities regarding upriver and downriver defenses resulting in key Confederate naval assets being absent at decisive moments.

Chatelain does credit Confederate authorities for early recognition of the need for a powerful inland navy. Additionally, their proactive adoption of a defense plan that combined both land fortifications (to be augmented by mine and obstruction innovations) and gunboat fleets was sound. What is most questioned by the author and others is how scarce resources were distributed. Some sort of stop-gap measure in the form of wooden gunboat conversions was necessary until ironclads could be finished, but the vast (by Confederate standards) investment of money, military manpower, guns, labor, materials, and technical expertise directed toward building or converting large numbers of civilian steam vessels (many of which turned out to be near useless as naval combat ships) into wooden warships directly competed with ironclad construction programs that were themselves scrambling for limited iron, skilled craftsmen, mechanics, and materials of all kinds. Exacerbating the resource scarcity issue even more was the top-level competition between Confederate, state, and even private fleet construction and investment. All of these factors resulted in critical time delays in ironclad construction. Excluding the civilian-built Manassas, only one ironclad out of the five vessels comprising the first wave of construction (the C.S.S. Arkansas) became full operational. The rest were lost, and, even worse, the uncompleted Eastport was captured and converted into a Union ironclad. One can easily imagine an alternate reality of a dangerous squadron of Confederate ironclads operating in the open rivers of the West had even a slightly more timid Union naval leadership and approach been taken there.

In addition to highly questionable resource allocation, Confederate contributions to the loss of New Orleans and the rest of the Mississippi River Valley extended to leadership. As demonstrated in the book, there was consistently poor coordination between the army and navy during the most critical early war period in the West, with no Confederate partnerships emerging that were analogous to the hearty ones forged by the other side. Command within naval forces was also divided. Though Confederate authorities were able to unilaterally seize some important ships (such as the ironclad Manassas) for their use, the fact remained that no centralized control over Confederate, state, and private ships was ever fully established. As Chatelain shows, Commodore George Hollins was the closest the Confederates went toward appointing a single commander to coordinate Mississippi River operations, but Hollins's independent authority was still limited and he ended up getting relieved at a particularly inopportune time.

In Defending the Arteries of Rebellion, readers finally have a worthy Confederate companion to the many studies of Union naval operations along the Mississippi River. In addition to providing a uniquely comprehensive survey of Confederate naval operations, the volume very astutely gets to the heart of the many internal factors that lay behind the CSN's catastrophic failure to defend the strategic waterways of the Mississippi River Valley. In this study, author Neil Chatelain conclusively demonstrates that, while Confederate ships would continue to score occasional tactical successes, greater aspirations of maintaining permanent control over any major stretch of the Mississippi was essentially rendered impossible by the decisions and events of 1861-62.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Book News: The Siege of Vicksburg

The six-week siege of Vicksburg was recounted at some length in Ed Bearss's classic trilogy, but subsequent book-length examinations have been either theme-based (see Ballard and Solonick) or organized as an essay anthology (see Woodworth & Grear). However, by the middle of next year we'll finally have the first exhaustive, chronologically-arranged narrative history of the siege in Timothy Smith's The Siege of Vicksburg: Climax of the Campaign to Open the Mississippi River, May 23-July 4, 1863 (UP of Kansas, June 2021). I knew this was coming, but didn't realize it would be so soon. Nice.

From the description: In The Siege of Vicksburg, Smith "offers the first comprehensive account of the siege that split the Confederacy in two. While the siege is often given a chapter or two in larger campaign studies and portrayed as a foregone conclusion, The Siege of Vicksburg offers a new perspective and thus a fuller understanding of the larger Vicksburg Campaign. Smith takes full advantage of all the resources, both Union and Confederate--from official reports to soldiers' diaries and letters to newspaper accounts--to offer in vivid detail a compelling narrative of the operations. The siege was unlike anything Grant's Army of the Tennessee had attempted to this point and Smith helps the reader understand the complexity of the strategy and tactics, the brilliance of the engineers' work, the grueling nature of the day-by-day participation, and the effect on all involved, from townspeople to the soldiers manning the fortifications."

More: "Smith's detailed command-level analysis extends from army to corps, brigades, and regiments and offers fresh insights on where each side held an advantage. One key advantage was that the Federals had vast confidence in their commander while the Confederates showed no such assurance, whether it was Pemberton inside Vicksburg or Johnston outside. Smith offers an equally appealing and richly drawn look at the combat experiences of the soldiers in the trenches. He also tackles the many controversies surrounding the siege, including detailed accounts and analyses of Johnston's efforts to lift the siege, and answers the questions of why Vicksburg fell and what were the ultimate consequences of Grant's victory."

Monday, November 30, 2020

Booknotes: The Impulse of Victory

New Arrival:
The Impulse of Victory: Ulysses S. Grant at Chattanooga by David A. Powell (SIU Press, 2020).

David Powell's The Impulse of Victory is a natural extension of his decades of research (and more recent flurry of publications) on the Chickamauga campaign and battle. However, in its focus on army command-level planning, decision-making, and execution, this book is more akin to the author's earlier work on a different campaign (the opening stages of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864). In The Impulse of Victory, Powell's "sophisticated strategic and operational analysis of Grant’s command decisions and actions shows how his determined leadership relieved the siege and shattered the enemy, resulting in the creation of a new strategic base of Union operations and Grant’s elevation to commander of all the Federal armies the following year."

From the description: "Powell’s detailed exploration of the Union Army of the Cumberland’s six-week-long campaign for Chattanooga is complemented by his careful attention to the personal issues Grant faced at the time and his relationships with his superiors and subordinates. Though unfamiliar with the tactical situation, the army, and its officers, Grant delivered another resounding victory." The personal command traits that Powell cites as being major factors behind Grant's success at Chattanooga are common to most of Grant's Civil War campaigns. Grant's victory at Chattanooga, "explains Powell, was due to his tactical flexibility, communication with his superiors, perseverance despite setbacks, and dogged determination to win the campaign."

More: "Through attention to postwar accounts, Powell reconciles the differences between what happened and the participants’ memories of the events. He focuses throughout on Grant’s controversial decisions, showing how they were made and their impact on the campaign. As Powell shows, Grant’s choices demonstrate how he managed to be a thoughtful, deliberate commander despite the fog of war."

This is the second volume in SIU Press's World of Ulysses S. Grant series to examine the general's decision-making during a specific campaign, the first being Timothy Smith's The Decision Was Always My Own: Ulysses S. Grant and the Vicksburg Campaign (2018). Maybe they can rope in Gordon Rhea to author an Overland Campaign volume for the series and A. Wilson Greene to do Petersburg.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Book News: Southern Strategies

Serious book-length studies of Civil War national strategy are still rare. Offhand, I can't think of any good candidates released during the decade following the 2010 publication of Donald Stoker's The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War, and even that one, if I recall correctly, was mostly limited to military affairs. Part of University Press of Kansas's upcoming spring catalog, Southern Strategies: Why the Confederacy Failed (June 2021) employs an integrated, systematic approach "to offer new theoretical and historical perspectives about why the South failed in its bid for independence." For this ambitious project, editor and U.S. Army War College professor Christian Keller assembled a unique group of contributors possessing decades of scholastic and real-world professional military experience. These individuals "bring over one hundred years of experience in the field at the junior and senior levels of military leadership and over forty years of teaching in professional military education."

From the description: "The contributors identify and analyze the mistakes made by the Confederate political and strategic leadership that handicapped the prospects for independence and placed immense pressure on Confederate military commanders to compensate on the battlefield for what should have been achieved by other instruments of national power. These instruments are the diplomatic, informational (including intelligence and public morale), and economic aspects of a nation's capability to exert its will internationally. When combined with military power, the acronym DIME emerges, a theoretical tool that offers historians and national security professionals alike a useful method to analyze how a state, such as the Union, the Confederacy, or the modern United States, wielded or currently wields its power at the strategic level. Each essay examines how well rebel strategic leaders employed and integrated these instruments, given that the seceded South possessed enough diplomatic, informational, military, and economic power to theoretically win its independence. The essayists also apply the ends-ways-means model of analysis to each topic to offer readers greater insight into the Confederate leadership's challenges."

Southern Strategies "offers fresh and theoretically novel interpretations at the strategic level that open new doors for future research and will increase public interest in the big questions surrounding Confederate defeat." I am definitely going to have to check this one out. There's also another title of interest in the Kansas catalog that I'll mention next week.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Booknotes: First for the Union

New Arrival:
First for the Union: Life and Death in a Civil War Army Corps from Antietam to Gettysburg by Darin Wipperman (Stackpole Bks, 2020).

From the description: "The Army of the Potomac’s First Corps was one of the best corps in the entire Union army. In September 1862, it was chosen to spearhead the Union attack at Antietam, fighting Stonewall Jackson’s men in the Cornfield and at the Dunker Church. In July 1863 at Gettysburg, its men were the first Union infantry to reach the battle, where they relieved the cavalry and fought off the Confederate onslaught all day before retreating to Cemetery Hill. Their valiant stand west of Gettysburg saved the Union from disaster that day but came at great cost (60 percent casualties). The corps was disbanded the following spring, having bled itself out of existence."

In addition to its distinguished combat record, the famous units that were a part of it and the high command stature of several generals who passed through it all contribute to the corps's lofty historical reputation. More from the description: "The First Corps’ leadership included two generals who would rise to command the Army of the Potomac—Joseph Hooker and George Meade—and a third who refused that command, John Reynolds, often considered the best commander in the East until his death at Gettysburg. The corps was made up heavily of men from New York and Pennsylvania (including the famous Bucktails), with a handful of New England regiments and the Midwesterners of the Iron Brigade, perhaps the Civil War’s most famous Union brigade."

This is the kind of book topic that typically goes into my "maybe" reading pile, but a glance through the introduction section can often sway things in one direction or the other. In his introduction to First for the Union: Life and Death in a Civil War Army Corps from Antietam to Gettysburg, author Darin Wipperman isn't shy about unpopularly declaring General Reynolds "overrated." I happen to agree with that assessment, not because I don't believe he was a good general but rather because I feel his war record (always a combination of actual performance and quality of opportunities to perform) doesn't merit the gushing ratings he so often receives from writers as the Army of the Potomac's best general. Wipperman also claims that some of his reinterpretations of events "could leave some students of the war wondering if my analysis has plunged off the deep end" (pg. xvii). We all know that books employing that brand of enticement often don't turn out well, but that tease might be too hard to pass up!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Coming Soon (December '20 Edition)

*NEW RELEASES* - Scheduled for DEC 2020:

Storm Over Key West: The Civil War and the Call of Freedom by Mike Pride.
First for the Union: Life and Death in a Civil War Army Corps from Antietam to Gettysburg by Darin Wipperman.
Changing Sides: Union Prisoners of War Who Joined the Confederate Army by Pat Garrow.
Bullets and Bandages: The Aid Stations and Field Hospitals at Gettysburg by James Gindlesperger.

Comments: The pandemic gave us a uniquely skimpy Q4 this year. The optimist in me wants to believe that it is just the case that many publishers are throwing in the towel for the remainder of awful 2020 and preparing for a bigger and better 2021. This tiny group of winter stalwarts does look pretty interesting, though. Enjoy your long Thanksgiving weekend.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Review - "Lincoln's Wartime Tours from Washington, D.C." by John Schildt

[Lincoln's Wartime Tours from Washington, D.C. by John W. Schildt (Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, 2020). Softcover, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:153/172. ISBN:978-1-4671-4571-8. $21.99]

From massive multi-volume biographies to studies narrowly focused on very specific features of the president's life (such as his dreams, his sense of humor, his depression, and much more), Lincoln books of all kinds continue to be produced in vast numbers. Among that latter group is John Schildt's new presidential travel history titled Lincoln's Wartime Tours from Washington, D.C..

From early life through middle age, Lincoln was a traveler and his Civil War presidency was no different. Schildt's book examines nineteen trips the president took between 1862 and his assassination in 1865. Ultimate destinations were limited to locations in only four states (13 trips to Virginia, three to Maryland, two to Pennsylvania, and one to New York), so Lincoln still kept relatively close to the capital and never did visit the western theater. As the author demonstrates, the driving force behind the great majority of these trips was military affairs, either to consult with commanding generals or visit the troops (the latter through both formal reviews and informal meet and greets at camps and hospitals). The president also attended sanitary fairs and, of course, made his famous journey to Gettysburg in 1863 to speak at the national cemetery dedication there. Many of these events, such as the rail trip to Gettysburg, the visit to the Army of the Potomac after Antietam, and the 1865 foray to City Point, are well known and well documented, but the book also addresses a host of lesser-known travels (among them the president's April 1862 boat trip to Aquia Landing to meet with General McDowell for strategy discussion and an unannounced excursion to West Point two months later).

As the book shows, these trips were often spur of the moment affairs, and the author's surmise that the travels also served as brief escapes from the pressure-filled and unhealthy capital is a familiar observation. Indeed, Lincoln was often ill himself in the periods surrounding these trips. There are many other common threads, among them the president's general unwillingness to speak to crowds extemporaneously balanced by an openness to being approached by individual citizens. Lincoln also seemed to be particularly moved by the suffering of the common soldiers of both sides, and military hospital visits were a frequent part of his trips to the front. Though fighting a continental-scale civil war was always going to make Lincoln's presidency an exceptional one in so many ways, the book might have benefited from some comparative background history regarding boat or rail travel by earlier presidents to see if the frequency of Lincoln trips was atypical or not.

Much of the text is devoted to what Lincoln did at each destination, but substantial attention is paid to each trip and its planning. Sprinkled throughout are block quotes from both firsthand observers of these events (drawn from the author's manuscript research) and secondary sources that Schildt relied heavily upon in specific cases (an example being historian Donald Pfanz's Lincoln at City Point). The author also incorporates quite a bit of broader war narrative into each chapter in a manner that effectively contextualizes the timing, meaning, and reasoning behind each trip. The text is annotated and the travel accounts are augmented by a collection of photographs and period drawings. If you are interested in Lincoln's wartime activities outside the capital, this is a solid popular-style compilation of his lengthier trips.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Status of Hartwig's Maryland Campaign Vol. 2

Earlier this week, helpful CWBA scout Mark H. informed me about Scott Hartwig's most recent progress report on the Antietam book that will complete his massive two-volume study of the 1862 Maryland Campaign. You can read Hartwig's post here. He hopes to have the writing phase completed by this upcoming spring. I have no idea how Johns Hopkins normally works their schedule (and we unfortunately still have to insert the ongoing pandemic into the calculus as well) but it seems difficult to imagine that we could see it out before 2022.

I still haven't read To Antietam Creek, which was released back in 2012 to universal acclaim. For me, the timing of it was terrible (at least that's how I remember it). It was the Sesquicentennial rush and I was already too Antietam'd out by other titles to take on a new 800-page tome on the subject. As a reviewer receiving a constant stream of new arrivals (at least that's the way it was back then), putting an extraordinarily time-consuming book like that one aside only makes it harder to later find the time to return to it. It's still on my shelf somewhere.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Review - "Storming Vicksburg: Grant, Pemberton, and the Battles of May 19-22, 1863" by Earl Hess

[Storming Vicksburg: Grant, Pemberton, and the Battles of May 19-22, 1863 by Earl J. Hess (University of North Carolina Press, 2020). Hardcover, 16 maps, photos, orders of battle, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xx,295/400. ISBN:9781469660172. $40]

Its first edition released by Morningside in 1985, Ed Bearss's classic three-volume history of the 1862-63 Vicksburg Campaign was the first publication to examine in depth the May 19 and May 22, 1863 assaults on the Vicksburg fortifications. Over the following decades the topic has been addressed in book chapters, scholarly essays, and magazine articles, but it would be 2019 before the first appearance of a standalone book-length treatment, a slim essay anthology titled The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19-22, 1863. This was closely followed in early 2020 by Timothy Smith's The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863. Remarkably, less than a year later we now have a third study in Earl Hess's Storming Vicksburg: Grant, Pemberton, and the Battles of May 19-22, 1863. Smith's and Hess's detailed histories of these events are quite similar in many ways, but they also possess complementary strengths that will interest many prospective readers.

As is the case with the research efforts put into all of Hess's earlier campaign and battle histories, Storming Vicksburg is based upon a large and richly diverse collection of primary and secondary sources. This mountain of material is skillfully incorporated into a comprehensive narrative account of the fighting, one that assesses the full breadth of command decisions and vividly records battlefield experiences of all ranks on both sides. Fully appropriate to studies of this type, regimental-scale tactical detail abounds, and for each battle sector the staging, formation, and movements of these units are closely recounted. Once again, Hess's skill at organizing masses of small-unit information in a manner that's easy for the attentive reader to comprehend and follow is on full display. Though somewhat spartan by current expectations (regular readers of Hess's recent work will recognize his now standard hand-drawn style of cartography), the book's collection of sixteen maps, which are intimately tied to the text, are very useful visual aids.

Timothy Smith's The Union Assaults at Vicksburg examines the Union approach march to Vicksburg from Big Black River at greater length, but both manuscripts (his and Hess's) exhibit similar levels of descriptive detail and military analysis when it comes to their treatments of the May 19 and May 22 attacks. The Union assault of May 19 was a hasty one involving essentially one division (Frank Blair's of William T. Sherman's Fifteenth Corps), with the balance of Sherman's troops plus James B. McPherson's Seventeenth Corps and John C. McClernand's Thirteenth Corps all mostly engaged with getting into position after hours of struggling through rough terrain. The May 22 attack was better coordinated from top to bottom and heavily involved all three army corps, although only McClernand's was fully committed to front line action. As it was a much larger event fought over most of the day, the bulk of the book is devoted to May 22.

Most of the reasons Hess gives for the failure of the twin attacks have been cited before. As is often the case, the other side had a great deal to do with it. Just as he did way back in late 1862 during the earliest stages of the long Vicksburg Campaign, the oft-maligned Confederate commander John C. Pemberton achieved another brief moment in the sun through his thwarting of Grant's designs on May 19 and 22. Rather than facing demoralized troops, Grant attacked confident, well-placed, and mostly fresh Confederate defenders who expertly exploited Vicksburg's strong earthwork defense network designed by engineer officer Samuel Lockett. Coordination among the attacking formations was also less than ideal. Another major factor in the Union defeat was the topography in front of the Confederate defense line. Characterized by a series of bald-topped hillocks separated by steep ravines choked with dense vegetation and man-made military obstructions, the approaches to Vicksburg both slowed and disorganized attacking columns and lines. Where roads entered Confederate lines, Union assault formations had to brave open, narrow fronts swept by rifle and artillery fire deployed within forbidding earthwork trenches, forts, redoubts, and redans. In their respective texts, both Smith and Hess vividly define this menacing battlefield terrain for their readers, though neither of their map sets really show it to any great effect. However, Hess compensates for this to a strong degree by including a series of well-composed battlefield photographs of the viewshed (often from each side's perspective in turn) at the location of every major attack. These photos offer readers a strong impression of just how intimidating so many of these battlescapes were for Grant's men, and its easy to imagine attackers seeing them as impossible to overcome by simple assault. As Parker Hills did in his contribution to the essay anthology referenced above, Hess believes that Union rank and file demoralization at the sight of the enemy defenses contributed mightily to the failed attack on May 22. Citing his extensive manuscript research, Hess claims that the vast majority of Union soldier diaries and letters expressed grave misgivings about attacking (though after the battles the very same writers tended to express undiminished confidence in their leaders and in eventual victory). Hess persuasively suggests that it was this psychological barrier against conducting frontal attacks collectively judged by veteran troops to be impossible that was the primary reason why so many Union formations went to ground before reaching the enemy line (a spontaneous expression of self-preservation and rank-and-file disobedience most commonly attributed to 1864 campaigns and beyond).

Of course, the most controversial command figure of May 22 remains John McClernand. In addition to inaugurating the six-week siege phase of the campaign, the May 22 attack largely ended the general's active career in the field (though he would go on to serve a minor role in Texas). Though McClernand overall performed at least as well as his fellow corps commanders did during the campaign, he remained the odd man out of the otherwise tight-knit high command of the Army of the Tennessee. He also made many errors and questionable judgment calls on the 22nd. After urging upon Grant the need to concentrate the army and punch through the enemy defenses on a more narrow front, McClernand then proceeded to disregard his own advice by spreading his own corps out on a broad attacking front in a manner similar to what Grant ended up doing with the entire army. Like other historians before him (including Timothy Smith and Steven Woodworth), Hess is critical of McClernand's corps dispositions, as the general's pairing of assault and support brigades from different divisions unnecessarily heightened already challenging issues of command and control. The author's critical views of McClernand's behavior and judgement are also aligned with others when it comes to the general's messages to Grant that heavily exaggerated (whether the result of erroneous judgment or willful deception) the strength of the Thirteenth Corps toehold on the enemy works. On another controversial matter, Hess lays blame for the ineffective use of Isaac Quinby's Seventeenth Corps division (which was ordered to McClernand's aid) primarily at the feet of McClernand. Unlike Parker Hills (who mostly blamed Grant and Quinby himself for the division arriving too late to do any real good), Hess more persuasively sides with those who have argued that McClernand was most at fault by parceling up Quinby's division as reinforcements for three different sectors of his corps front. It might be an interesting what-if to contemplate what might have happened had Quinby's entire division been hurled at a single point, but Hess is likely accurate in determining that as long as the morale of the defenders held no attack of that scale was likely to achieve a major breakthrough. Smith's examination of the May 22 attacks hypothesized that Col. William Hall's approach against South Fort on the extreme left of Grant's army might have had the best chance for success, but Hess largely, and more persuasively, dismisses the possibility of a single-brigade breakthrough. Hall himself never seriously tested the enemy defenses before responding to McClernand's call for support by marching away to join the Thirteenth Corps. In the end, Hess is fully supportive of Grant's decision to relieve McClernand of command, if for no better reason than to conclusively resolve the threat to high command unity that was both longstanding and exacerbated by the regrettable behavior of both men.

In several ways, Hess's examination of the late May attacks moves further beyond the battlefield than all previous treatments. Though Smith goes into more depth on the civilian experience, and both major studies address the plight of the wounded at some length, Hess does uniquely discuss the burial truce of May 25 along with the front line fraternization that provided psychological relief to both sides and priceless opportunity for not-so-surreptitious intelligence gathering. Hess also examines the efforts of both sides to honor the most deserving participants of the twin assaults. Along with initiatives and events surrounding preservation of the battlefield, remembrance of the assaults in the form of speeches, poetry, and art is also discussed. Of the last, the two Vicksburg cycloramas (both of which depicted scenes from the May 22 assault) are featured. According to Hess, only a few images of the second cyclorama remain for us to examine, and the rapid disappearance of both artworks after brief showings materially contributed to the obscurity of the attacks in public memory.

Though description and analysis of the May 19 and May 22 attacks contained in Timothy Smith's The Union Assaults at Vicksburg and Earl Hess's Storming Vicksburg are roughly similar in scope and depth, as indicated above there are more than enough complementary features to refrain from definitively recommending one study over the other. Really, when we have two of the field's best Civil War military historians exploring the same ground, there is no compelling reason for those with an exceptional interest in the topic to not add both books to the home library.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Booknotes: Women Making War

New Arrival:
Women Making War: Female Confederate Prisoners and Union Military Justice by Thomas F. Curran (SIU Press, 2020).

Recent studies contextualizing the Civil War's guerrilla conflict as a "household war" have emphasized the key supporting roles assumed by women who provided food, supplies, shelter, and information to local fighters. War-torn Missouri has proved to be the most fertile ground for this work, and it is no surprise that the state provides the setting for Thomas Curran's Women Making War: Female Confederate Prisoners and Union Military Justice.

From the description: "During the American Civil War, more than four hundred women were arrested and imprisoned by the Union Army in the St. Louis area. The majority of these women were fully aware of the political nature of their actions and had made conscious decisions to assist Confederate soldiers in armed rebellion against the U.S. government. Their crimes included offering aid to Confederate soldiers, smuggling, spying, sabotaging, and, rarely, serving in the Confederate army. Historian Thomas F. Curran’s extensive research highlights for the first time the female Confederate prisoners in the St. Louis area, and his thoughtful analysis shows how their activities affected Federal military policy."

As one might have anticipated, the guerrilla war's expansion in scale and intensity coincided with harsher treatment of female civilian supporters by Union authorities. "Some Confederate partisan women were banished to the South, while others were held at Alton Military Prison and other sites. The guerilla war in Missouri resulted in more arrests of women, and the task of incarcerating them became more complicated."

More: "The women’s offenses were seen as treasonous by the Federal government. By determining that women—who were excluded from the politics of the male public sphere—were capable of treason, Federal authorities implicitly acknowledged that women acted in ways that had serious political meaning. Nearly six decades before U.S. women had the right to vote, Federal officials who dealt with Confederate partisan women routinely referred to them as citizens. Federal officials created a policy that conferred on female citizens the same obligations male citizens had during time of war and rebellion, and they prosecuted disloyal women in the same way they did disloyal men."