Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Booknotes: Tennessee Civil War Monuments

New Arrival:
Tennessee Civil War Monuments: An Illustrated Field Guide by Timothy S. Sedore (Quarry Books - Indiana UP, 2020).

Following his Virginia and Mississippi volumes (the latter released mere weeks before this one), Timothy Sedore's Tennessee Civil War Monuments: An Illustrated Field Guide is the third of what will presumably be an extensive tour of public monuments across the South. It "reveals Tennessee's history-laden landscape through the lens of its many proud monuments. War monuments have been cropping up since the beginning of the commemoration movement in 1863, and Tennessee is now home to 400 memorials. Not only does Sedore provide commentary for every monument―its history and aesthetic panache―he also explores the relationships that Tennessee natives have with these historic landmarks."

Also organized by region (in this case West, Middle, and East Tennessee) and county, the Tennessee register includes a black & white photograph of the monument, dedication date, GPS coordinates, copy of the inscription in caps, physical description, and author commentary. Because the state hosted a number of major western battles, much of book is composed of battlefield monuments.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Booknotes: Christopher H. Tebault, Surgeon to the Confederacy

New Arrival:
Christopher H. Tebault, Surgeon to the Confederacy by Alan I. West (McFarland, 2020).

From the description: "Among the top physicians of the Confederacy, Christopher H. Tebault distinguished himself as a surgeon during the Civil War. Recognized for his medical contributions after the war, he was nominated Surgeon General of the United Confederate Veterans, a position he used to compile the history of Confederate medicine, advocate for veterans and contribute to Southern literature. A staunch "Lost Cause" proponent, he also fought Reconstruction policies and the enfranchisement of former slaves."

Alan West's Christopher H. Tebault, Surgeon to the Confederacy holds claim to being the "first biography" of the doctor. It is pretty much a full biography, covering much more than the Civil War years. In fact, only one chapter discusses Dr. Tebault's Civil War career, which started with his 1862 med school graduation and assignment to the 21st Louisiana. The rest of the book covers his postwar medical practice in New Orleans and the many other activities referenced above.

In addition to using Tebault's own extensive writings as general source material, West also compiles an informative collection of some of Tebault's more important articles related to Civil War medicine. Organized at the back of the book in an appendix of sorts, they discuss Confederate vaccination, medical resources, hospitals, and the effects of New Orleans's wartime drainage system on the health and mortality rates of the city.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Coming Soon (March '20 Edition)

*NEW RELEASES* Scheduled for March 2020:
Atlanta's Fighting Forty-Second: Joseph Johnston's "Old Guard" by Roberts & Clark.
The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point by David Welker.
War and Peace on the Rio Grande Frontier, 1830–1880 by Miguel Ángel González-Quiroga.
Obstinate Heroism: The Confederate Surrenders after Appomattox by Steven Ramold.
Not Even Past: The Stories We Keep Telling about the Civil War by Cody Marrs.
North Carolina Troops 1861-1865: A Roster, Volume 21: Militia and Home Guard ed. by Brown & Coffey.
The Irish Brigade: A Pictorial History of the Famed Civil War Fighters by Russ Pritchard.
Andersonville Raiders: Yankee versus Yankee in the Civil War’s Most Notorious Prison Camp by Gary Morgan.

Comments: Again, next month won't be a big one for new releases. Nearly twenty years since the publication of his Chantilly book, the return of David Welker is interesting. I've posted about the Roberts & Clark, Quiroga, and Ramold books before. The release of the Pritchard book is strategically timed to the week before St. Patrick's Day. Getting down to militia and home guards usually means your epic series is winding down, so perhaps the North Carolina roster project is nearing completion. Finally, my mental image of the Andersonville "Raiders" who preyed upon their fellow prisoners is heavily influenced by what I saw on the TNT mini-series way back when. The description of Morgan's book clearly states that a revisionist view of men and events will be presented.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Booknotes: A Civil Life in an Uncivil Time (paperback edition)

New Arrival:
A Civil Life in an Uncivil Time: Julia Wilbur's Struggle for Purpose by Paula Tarnapol Whitacre (Potomac Bks, 2020 pb ed.).

By the time of the outbreak of the Civil War, Julia Wilbur was a middle-aged abolitionist and former teacher. Seeking a more active role in events, in late 1862 she left the family farm in New York and went south, spending "most of the next several years in Alexandria devising ways to aid recently escaped slaves and hospitalized Union soldiers." Using Wilbur's "diaries and other primary sources" as its basis, A Civil Life in an Uncivil Time is a narrative of this "second chapter of her life," when Wilbur dedicated herself to "improving conditions for African Americans who had escaped from slavery and creating a meaningful life for herself."

Author Paula Tarnapol Whitacre "describes Wilbur’s experiences against the backdrop of Alexandria, Virginia, a southern town held by the Union from 1861 to 1865; of Washington DC, where Wilbur became active in the women’s suffrage movement and lived until her death in 1895; and of Rochester, New York, a hotbed of social reform and home to Wilbur’s acquaintances Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony."

During the war, "Harriet Jacobs, author of Incidents of a Slave Girl, became Wilbur’s friend and ally. Together, the two women, black and white, fought social convention to improve the lives of African Americans escaping slavery by coming across Union lines."

The hardcover first edition was published in 2017, and this is the newly released 2020 paperback version.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Review - "The Civil War in the South Carolina Lowcountry: How a Confederate Artillery Battery and a Black Union Regiment Defined the War" by Ron Roth

[The Civil War in the South Carolina Lowcountry: How a Confederate Artillery Battery and a Black Union Regiment Defined the War by Ron Roth (McFarland, 2020). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:ix,157/196. ISBN:978-1-4766-7710-1. $35]

The pair of army organizations under consideration in Ron Roth's The Civil War in the South Carolina Lowcountry: How a Confederate Artillery Battery and a Black Union Regiment Defined the War are the Beaufort Volunteer Artillery (BVA) and the First South Carolina. Raised in and around the Beaufort District Sea Islands of South Carolina, the units shared a common geographical origin, but that is where the similarities ended. A prewar militia battery, the BVA was led by Capt. Stephen Elliott, Jr. (and from mid-war onward by Henry M. Stuart), and its ranks were largely filled with recruits from the wealthy and enthusiastically secessionist families of the Beaufort area. By contrast, the slave population of St. Helena Island and beyond would be a major source of manpower for the First South Carolina, the first black combat unit organized by Union forces during the war. Though they never confronted each other on the battlefield, the subjects of this dual unit history can certainly be regarded in many ways as symbolic representations of the war's opposing goals and ideologies.

The early parts of the book offer readers a vivid portrait of the polar extremes of Sea Island society during the decades preceding the Civil War. The lucrative cotton plantation economy, close familial connections, and extreme form of States Rights politics that produced the officers and men of the Beaufort Volunteer Artillery are informatively discussed, as are the Sea Island slave experiences that led so many of those men to eagerly volunteer for Union Army service with the First South Carolina.

Unlike many other Confederate South Carolina units that were sent off to faraway fighting fronts, the men of the Beaufort Volunteer Artillery had the good fortune to remain near their home district for almost the entire the war. Roth's text provides a fine summary and assessment of their military service, which ranged from a narrow escape from the Port Royal Sound disaster during their first major action to small hit-and-run attacks along the coast (including their 1863 ambush and capture of the USS George Washington) to pitched battles at Second Pocotaligo/Coosawhatchie (1862), Honey Hill (1864), and Averasboro (1865). The battery was a mainstay of the mobile defense of the Charleston & Savannah Railroad for much of the war, and it occupied key positions in the main Confederate battle line at both Honey Hill and Averasboro. After its guns contributed heavily to the repulse of superior Union forces at Honey Hill, the BVA was roughed up in the intense fight over the first of three Confederate lines at Averasboro. The battery was in reserve at Bentonville and surrendered near war's end with the rest of Joe Johnston's army at Bennett Place.

While recent publication of the first volume of John Saucer's exhaustive An We Ob Jubilee: The First South Carolina Volunteers* has stolen some of Roth's thunder, the books share common themes and this more scaled-down effort nevertheless provides a solid introductory history of the regiment's origins and participation in South Atlantic coastal operations. The First South Carolina's long, drawn-out 1862-63 path to official organization was demonstrative of the great difficulty in raising black troops without the full cooperation of higher authorities. Though the regiment did not fight in any major battles, it can still be recognized as an important pioneer. As Roth recounts, the First's solid performance in a series of amphibious expeditions and other small actions played no little part in raising the public profile of black troops and suppressing popular prejudice regarding their usefulness as soldiers.

Through alternating chapters the unit histories unfold in parallel. With the BVA and First South Carolina never meeting each other in the field, their narrative paths mainly intersect postwar. The book discusses at some length the permanent loss of plantations owned by former BVA officers and men, which were seized by the authorities on the pretext of failure to pay past taxes and auctioned off. Many of these plum agricultural parcels were purchased by freedmen, who also gained a measure of political power during early Reconstruction. Beyond that, the book lacks a discrete section that brings everything together and fulfills the title's promise of explaining precisely how these two units in particular "defined the war." Of course, many among the target audience can readily draw their own set of conclusions, ones that would more likely than not mirror the author's own. Nevertheless, it is a curious omission given the theme's prominent place on the cover. Then again, as is often the case in publishing, the author may not have been entirely responsible for the wording of title and subtitle.

While the bibliography is not particularly large, it does contain a favorable range and proportion of published and unpublished primary source types. The volume is well illustrated, and the battle maps depicting the BVA's position in each major action exhibit fine detail. In another useful feature, the appendix section includes name rosters for both units.

As indicated above, the BVA portion of the dual unit history is the more exceptional of the two, but the book as a whole is certainly worthy of recommendation as a useful contribution to the study of nineteenth-century Beaufort District society and Civil War history.


* - Saucer, John. An We Ob Jubilee: The First South Carolina Volunteers. Charleston, SC: America Through Time, 2019. In addition to Saucer's book, interested readers should also be referred to Wise, Rowland, and Spieler's authoritative 2015 masterpiece Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861-1893: The History of Beaufort County, Volume II.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Booknotes: The Damnedest Set of Fellows

New Arrival:
The Damnedest Set of Fellows: A History of Georgia's Cherokee Artillery by Gary D. Fisher and Zack C. Waters (Mercer UP, 2020).

Fisher and Waters's The Damnedest Set of Fellows: A History of Georgia's Cherokee Artillery "tells the story of one of the finest artillery batteries in the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Fighting in almost every major battle in the war's Western Theater, their first baptism of fire occurred at Tazewell, in East Tennessee. Later, they battled at Champion Hill in the Vicksburg Campaign, at Missionary Ridge and Tunnel Hill near Chattanooga, and throughout the Atlanta Campaign. Later, they fought upon the snowy fields of Nashville, and finally at Salisbury, North Carolina..."

Resaca is probably the first battle that comes to mind for many readers when the Civil War service of the Cherokee Artillery (aka Van Den Corput's Battery) is mentioned. There they were deployed well forward of the Confederate main line of defense and were swamped by a Union assault. Unmanned and stuck in no man's land when the attackers withdrew, some of John Geary's men dug through the lunette's earthwork embrasures during the following night and dragged away the guns (4 Napoleons) with ropes. According to an online piece from Stephen Davis that I read to refresh my mind regarding this episode, these were the only guns lost by the Army of Tennessee under Johnston in North Georgia. The unit demoralization from this event led to a rash of desertions, but in less than two weeks the battery received a new complement of Napoleons and was back in the fight for the rest of the war.

The book also covers the postwar activities of some of the men, and a detailed roster is included in the appendix section. Western Confederate battery histories are rare birds, and I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Booknotes: The Second Colorado Cavalry

New Arrival:
The Second Colorado Cavalry: A Civil War Regiment on the Great Plains by Christopher M. Rein (OU Press, 2020).

Formed in late 1863 by consolidating the Second and Third Colorado infantry regiments (the Third having never been able to raise even close to a full complement), the Second Colorado cavalry regiment is perhaps best known to Civil War students for its counterguerrilla activities in Missouri and its participation in repelling Sterling Price's Confederate campaign that reached the western part of the state in the fall of 1864. However, its military duties during and after the Civil War also extended much further west, when the troopers were assigned to patrol the overland trails and stage routes in Kansas and Colorado.

Christopher Rein’s The Second Colorado Cavalry: A Civil War Regiment on the Great Plains is "the first in-depth history of this regiment operating at the nexus of the Civil War and the settlement of the American West." In discussing the origins of the unit, Rein's study also extensively covers the 1862-63 activities of the Second Colorado infantry in New Mexico and Indian Territory before the October 1863 consolidation in St. Louis.

From the description: "Composed largely of footloose ’59ers who raced west to participate in the gold rush in Colorado, the troopers of the Second Colorado repelled Confederate invasions in New Mexico and Indian Territory before wading into the Burned District along the Kansas border, the bloodiest region of the guerilla war in Missouri. In 1865, the regiment moved back out onto the plains, applying what it had learned to peacekeeping operations along the Santa Fe Trail, thus definitively linking the Civil War and the military conquest of the American West in a single act of continental expansion."

The Second Colorado Cavalry "offers us a much-needed history of the “guerilla hunters” who helped suppress violence and keep the peace in contested border regions; it adds nuance and complexity to our understanding of the unlikely “agents of empire” who successfully transformed the Central Plains." I'm really looking forward to reading this one.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Book News: The War for Missouri, 1861-1862

As I've mentioned before on more than one occasion, one of my dream projects (to be undertaken by someone else, of course) is a comprehensive history of the Missouri State Guard. In Jim McGhee et al.'s Sterling Price's Lieutenants you'll find an exhaustive look at the Guard's officer corps (along with some organizational history) and Carolyn Bartels (The Forgotten Men: The Missouri State Guard) and Wayne Schnetzer (More Forgotten Men) have both done yeoman work compiling a list of guardsmen who served, but no one has yet attempted a full study of the MSG's extensive early-war operational history. Available soon, however, will be a more limited work of potential interest along these lines.

Currently scheduled for an April release is Joseph W. McCoskrie's The War for Missouri, 1861-1862. The brief description seems to at least suggest that the major focus of the study will be the MSG. Though the format limitations of the series to which it belongs means the treatment can't be much more than an overview, I have hopes that it will possess more than few points of interest and look forward to reading it.

It also reminds me that I still need to pick up a copy of the author's 2017 book The Civil War Missouri Compendium: Almost Unabridged (with Brian Warren). "(A) chronological overview of more than three hundred of the documented engagements that took place within Missouri's borders," it sounds like a useful companion to Bartels's The Civil War in Missouri Day by Day, 1861 to 1865.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Booknotes: The Better Angels

New Arrival:
The Better Angels: Five Women Who Changed Civil War America by Robert C. Plumb (Potomac Bks, 2020).

From the description: "Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Clara Barton, Julia Ward Howe, and Sarah Josepha Hale came from backgrounds that ranged from abject enslavement to New York City’s elite. Surmounting social and political obstacles, they emerged before and during the worst crisis in American history, the Civil War."

Robert Plumb's The Better Angels: Five Women Who Changed Civil War America "traces these five remarkable women’s awakenings to analyze how their experiences shaped their responses to the challenges, disappointments, and joys they encountered on their missions. Here is Tubman, fearless conductor on the Underground Railroad, alongside Stowe, the author who awakened the nation to the evils of slavery. Barton led an effort to provide medical supplies for field hospitals, and Union soldiers sang Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” on the march. And, amid national catastrophe, Hale’s campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday moved North and South toward reconciliation."

All five lived remarkably long lives (the youngest died at 85), and the later chapters cover postwar activities and lasting legacies. Another identifies and discusses ten "critical characteristics" the author believes set them apart from their contemporaries and allowed them to further their goals amid challenging social and political environments.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Booknotes: Decisions at The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House

New Arrival:
Decisions at The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House: The Eighteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battles by Dave Townsend (UT Press, 2020).

Decisions at The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House is the seventh volume in UT Press's rather stimulating Command Decisions in America’s Civil War series. With multiple titles released every year, there's no sign that the series is slowing down (a Tullahoma installment will soon follow this one). The book also marks the arrival of another new contributor. As far as I can tell, this is Dave Townsend's first Civil War book (his author bio, a masterstroke of modest succinctness, only states that he's "a retired engineer").

Giving that SCH directly followed the Wilderness fighting, it makes sense to combine them in a single volume. Following the established format, Decisions at The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House "introduces readers to critical decisions made by Confederate and Union commanders throughout the two costly meetings. Dave Townsend examines the decisions that prefigured the action and shaped the course of each battle as it unfolded. Rather than a linear history of the battles, Townsend’s discussion of the critical decisions presents readers with a vivid blueprint of the battles’ developments. Exploring the critical decisions in this way allows the reader to progress from a sense of what happened in these battles to why they happened as they did." The decision analysis is presented by Townsend in three phases: the Wilderness (8 decisions, including pre-campaign), transition to SCH (4 decisions), and the battle of Spotsylvania Court House (6 decisions).

While all authors closely adhere to the general series framework established by the Spruills, there are varying styles and features, and it will be interesting to see what Townsend will do. It does appear that he has reinvigorated the tour sections a bit. Also, his conclusion section sorts the decisions by how well they achieved the intended result. This is new, I believe, and perhaps a good feature for future volumes to adopt. Of course, delving more into these matters will have to await the actual review.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Review - "The Battle of Hurricane Bridge, March 28, 1863: With the Firmness of Veterans" by Philip Hatfield

[The Battle of Hurricane Bridge, March 28, 1863: With the Firmness of Veterans by Philip Hatfield (35th Star Publishing, 2019). Softcover, maps, photographs, chapter notes, appendices, index. Pages main/total:xviii,224/303. ISBN:978-0-9965764-7-5. $19.95]

On March 28, 1863, four companies of the 13th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry occupying an earthen fort overlooking a bridge spanning Hurricane Creek squared off against ten companies of dismounted Confederate cavalry (two detached battalions of the 8th and 16th Virginia cavalries) under the command of Brigadier General Albert Gallatin Jenkins. The garrison refused a summons to surrender and after five hours of long-range firing the Confederates pulled back and continued on to their original destination of Union-held Point Pleasant. Countless military actions of scale similar to this one occurred during the Civil War, and receiving any kind of book-length coverage often depends on a prospective writer having a deep personal connection to place or subject. That is clearly the case with the origins behind The Battle of Hurricane Bridge, March 28, 1863: With the Firmness of Veterans, its author Philip Hatfield having spent a good portion of his youth in and around Hurricane, West Virginia.

One can argue with solid justification that Hurricane Bridge does not really deserve 'battle' status (even the local historical marker calls it a skirmish), but most readers by now are probably beyond getting too bent out of shape over such distinctions. Clearly the upgrade makes the book more noticeable, but Hatfield also largely succeeds in making the case that both the fight and the larger operation that it served are worthy of closer study. On March 18, 1863 Jenkins's command started from Dublin, Virginia on what would be an arduous journey of some 200 miles to the lower Kanawha River Valley. The Hurricane Bridge garrison was directly in the path of Jenkins, who was targeting the supplies, horses, and cattle supposedly located at the Ohio River town of Point Pleasant. According to Hatfield, the operation also served as a useful diversion to help clear the way for the Jones-Imboden Raid. On the other hand, the connection might be more incidental than planned, and the most complete modern study of that larger and much better-known operation (Darrell Collins's The Jones-Imboden Raid) does not even reference Hurricane Bridge in its index.

Hatfield's use of events surrounding Hurricane Bridge as illustrative of the 'inner war' that existed in the more hotly contested and alternately occupied parts of western Virginia is appropriate and informative. Both Union and Confederate forces that fought at Hurricane Bridge had local men in their ranks, and the book documents the abuse that area civilians of all political persuasions suffered during the months preceding the battle. After briefly losing control of much of the river valley in 1862, federal forces were firmly back in charge by the time of Jenkins's raid, and one of the bridge garrison's primary tasks was to protect the local pro-Union population from marauding guerrillas and raiding Confederate cavalry. Interspersed throughout the narrative are a great multitude of military and civilian biographical sketches, so the book possesses a heavy genealogy and local history flavor.

Hatfield informatively and persuasively addresses a number of longstanding debates related to the fight. The location of the fort has traditionally been a source of some contention among researchers. In placing the fort on the west bank of the creek atop a nearby hill overlooking the bridge, the author cites supporting archaeological evidence combined with documentary sources that orient the earthworks as being dominated at long range by higher ground to both east and south. Challenging those that have chastised the Confederate commander, who lacked artillery, for fighting at Hurricane Bridge at all, Hatfield reasonably points out the danger to Jenkins of leaving a active enemy force in his rear and astride his main line of communication. On the other hand, Jenkins, who wisely declined a direct assault in favor of long-range sniping, should have known that taking the fort without artillery was a losing proposition if the enemy kept their nerve. Finally, some writers have suggested Jenkins failed primarily because his dismounted cavalrymen were not trained in infantry tactics and many were armed with shotguns. Hatfield convincingly dismisses these arguments with evidence showing that Jenkins, in anticipation of the expedition, had requisitioned hundreds of infantry rifles (more than enough to fully outfit his ten companies) and drilled his men in infantry tactics for weeks prior to leaving his camps.

Other author interpretations seem to occupy shakier ground. Citing his own examination of Union muster rolls and morning reports, Hatfield believes that the Union commander, Captain Johnson, significantly undercounted his available defenders. Unfortunately, his own strength table located in the chapter notes, which has math/typo problems of its own, does not strongly support this view. The author's claim that the Confederates liberally employed imported long-range Whitworth rifles in the firefight is also unconvincing. Given the very limited number of extremely costly Whitworth rifles that passed through the blockade during the war and how they tended to be distributed, it's difficult to believe that they could have been present in substantial numbers in Jenkins's small cavalry command operating far from the main fighting fronts. According to the leading expert on the sharpshooters of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, the Confederacy's best armed and equipped force, there were at most one or two Whitworths awarded to the best marksmen of each sharpshooter battalion.

After covering the Hurricane Bridge fighting, the book goes on to satisfactorily address Jenkins's failed attack on Point Pleasant on March 30 and the retreat of the Confederate forces. A brief account of another action that occurred at the bridge the following December is also provided. With none of the Point Pleasant raid's operational goals achieved and with high casualties incurred (Jenkins lost up to 20% of his strength), the whole affair was a complete failure from the Confederate perspective. In the end, the Union hold on the lower Kanawha was only reinforced.

Though the book unfortunately does not contain a bibliography, the chapter notes indicate that the author relied heavily on primary sources. Supplementing the text are a great number of photographs, mostly adequate maps, and a substantial appendix section containing orders of battle, a selection of Union and Confederate company muster rolls, and a Union casualty table for Hurricane Bridge.

In addition to being an interesting and useful exploration of a local civil war in many ways similar to that experienced by citizens of other deeply divided border regions, Hatfield's study offers the first truly comprehensive examination of one of western (soon to be West) Virginia's more obscure mid-war military operations. Anyone interested in Civil War West Virginia military history and society will benefit from reading this book.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Book News: Vicksburg Besieged

I've mentioned the upcoming Vicksburg Besieged (Volume Seven in SIU Press's rebranded Civil War Campaigns in the West series) more than once in passing, but the official description has now been fleshed out enough to give us a good idea about its content. The third of five planned Vicksburg Campaign installments, it follows The Vicksburg Campaign, March 29-May 18, 1863 (2013) and The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19-22, 1863 (2019). The contributor list to Vicksburg Besieged includes series editors Steven Woodworth and Charles Grear along with Andrew Bledsoe, John Gaines, Martin Hershock, Richard Holloway, Justin Solonick, Scott Stabler, and Jonathan Steplyk. Together their essays examine:

• "the role of Grant’s staff"
• "the critical contributions of African American troops to the Union Army of the Tennessee"
• "both sides’ use of sharpshooters and soldiers’ opinions about them"
• "unusual nighttime activities between the Union siege lines and Confederate defensive positions"
• "the use of West Point siege theory and the ingenuity of Midwestern soldiers in mining tunnels under the city’s defenses"
• "the horrific experiences of civilians trapped in Vicksburg"
• "the failure of Louisiana soldiers’ defense at the subsequent siege of Jackson"
• "the effect of the campaign on Confederate soldiers from the Trans-Mississippi region"
• "how the Confederate Army of Mississippi and residents of Vicksburg faced food and supply shortages as well as constant danger from Union cannons and sharpshooters"


Also, let's take a moment to briefly revisit the original list of planned series titles and see how things are going so far (the links are all to my reviews):

1. The Shiloh Campaign (2009)
2. The Chickamauga Campaign (2010)
3. The Chattanooga Campaign (2012)
4. Vicksburg: Mississippi Blitzkrieg, May 1863 [Presumably, this is the retitled The Vicksburg Campaign, March 29–May 18, 1863 (2013)]
5. The Tennessee Campaign of 1864 (2016)
6. The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19-22, 1863 (2019)
7. Forts Henry and Donelson
8. Vicksburg Besieged (June 2020)
9. The Kentucky Campaign of 1862
10. Vicksburg: To Chickasaw Bayou
11. The Atlanta Campaign from Rocky Face Ridge to Oostenaula: The Battle of Resaca
12. Vicksburg: Grant's Winter Endeavors
13. The Atlanta Campaign from the Oostenaula to the Etowa: Dallas, New Hope Church, 14. and Pickett's Mill
15. The Atlanta Campaign from the Etowa to the Chattahoochee: The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain
16. Iuka and Corinth
17. Peachtree Creek
18. The Battle of Atlanta, July 22, 1864

With seven titles published and three years at most between releases, that's pretty steady progress. Hopefully, the skipping over of Henry & Donelson is only temporary.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Booknotes: German Americans on the Middle Border

New Arrival:
German Americans on the Middle Border: From Antislavery to Reconciliation, 1830–1877 by Zachary Stuart Garrison (SIU Press, 2019).

From the description: "Before the Civil War, Northern, Southern, and Western political cultures crashed together on the middle border, where the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers meet. German Americans who settled in the region took an antislavery stance, asserting a liberal nationalist philosophy rooted in their revolutionary experience in Europe that emphasized individual rights and freedoms. By contextualizing German Americans in their European past and exploring their ideological formation in failed nationalist revolutions, Zachary Stuart Garrison adds nuance and complexity to their story."

Though wary of the contributions of former Know Nothings to the newly formed Republican Party of the mid to late 1850s, the more central ideology nevertheless appealed to many Germans. "Liberal German immigrants, having escaped the European aristocracy who undermined their revolution and the formation of a free nation, viewed slaveholders as a specter of European feudalism. During the antebellum years, many liberal German Americans feared slavery would inhibit westward progress, and so they embraced the Free Soil and Free Labor movements and the new Republican Party. Most joined the Union ranks during the Civil War."

Recent published scholarship of the German-American experience during the Civil War era has largely rejected the old assumption that the Civil War was a defining moment in German assimilation into mainstream American culture, arguing instead that many (most?) actively resisting being stirred into the melting pot. However, at least on a regional basis, Garrison maintains that some prewar attitudes were moderated during Reconstruction to fit in better within the more conservative Midwest body politic. "After the war, in a region largely opposed to black citizenship and Radical Republican rule, German Americans were seen as dangerous outsiders. Facing a conservative resurgence, liberal German Republicans employed the same line of reasoning they had once used to justify emancipation: A united nation required the end of both federal occupation in the South and special protections for African Americans. Having played a role in securing the Union, Germans largely abandoned the freedmen and freedwomen. They adopted reconciliation in order to secure their place in the reunified nation."

For such a short work, this is a pretty ambitious survey. Addressing the social, political, and military impact of German-Americans from early antebellum mass immigration through the end of Reconstruction, and doing it in only 150 pages of narrative, is no mean feat! The book also joins a fast-growing facet of the Civil War scholarship interested in the conflict's global context. "Garrison’s unique transnational perspective to the sectional crisis, the Civil War, and the postwar era complicates our understanding of German Americans on the middle border."

Friday, February 7, 2020

Booknotes: Confederate General Stephen Elliott

New Arrival:
Confederate General Stephen Elliott: Beaufort Legend, Charleston Hero by D. Michael Thomas (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Press, 2020).

From the description: "General Stephen Elliott rose from captain of a militia artillery battery to command of an infantry brigade. His early war reputation as a daring raider and superb artilleryman grew to true hero status through his exemplary service at Fort Sumter. Handpicked to defend Sumter to the last extremity, Elliott performed so well that his Yankee foes saluted him by dipping the Union flag in recognition of his courage and steadfastness. Wounded on five separate occasions, Elliott exemplified courage and inspirational leadership that justified promotions advocated by Generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and President Jefferson Davis. In the first in-depth study of Elliott, D. Michael Thomas presents the life of a renowned soldier with fresh, previously unpublished material."

This is the author's second Civil War book, the first being 2018's Wade Hampton's Iron Scouts (review), a brief study that I found well worthwhile. Coincidentally, Stephen Elliott also figures prominently in one of the books that I'm currently reading, Ron Roth's The Civil War in the South Carolina Lowcountry, with one half of the dual unit history covering the artillery company (Beaufort Artillery) first led by Elliott. Getting back to this book, the previously unpublished material referred to above appears to be a collection of wartime letters written by Elliott to his wife (at least that's what I gather from the author's preface).

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Review - "Johnsonville: Union Supply Operations on the Tennessee River and the Battle of Johnsonville, November 4-5, 1864" by Jerry Wooten

[Johnsonville: Union Supply Operations on the Tennessee River and the Battle of Johnsonville, November 4-5, 1864 by Jerry T. Wooten (Savas Beatie, 2019). Hardcover, 9 maps, photos, drawings, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xvii,179/222. ISBN:978-1-61121-477-2. $29.95]

The Union capture of the Tennessee state capital without a fight in February 1862 gifted federal forces with an excellent forward supply base for supporting the next phase of Union advances into the Confederate heartland. Though Nashville warehouses could be stocked by both rail and water transport, supply lines into the city were vulnerable to interdiction by man and nature. The West's railroad networks were frequent targets of Confederate cavalry raiders and guerrillas, and the Cumberland River was subject to seasonal low water that frequently cut off that route. In order to maintain a more consistent flow of supplies, an east-west connection with the Tennessee River was contemplated and eventually completed in 1864. Connecting the city of Nashville with the massive new supply depot at Johnsonville, located on the east bank of the river in Humphreys County and named after the Tennessee war governor, was the Nashville & Northwestern Railroad (an antebellum dream project that was finished during the war by Union authorities). Fully operational in May 1864, Johnsonville quickly became a supply hub second only to Fortress Rosecrans in the Tennessee logistical network that would be instrumental in sustaining General Sherman's massive army group in North Georgia. With much of the existing published literature more narrowly focused on the Confederate cavalry raid that contributed to the post's near destruction, the full nature of Johnsonville's role in the Civil War has now been revealed at unprecedented depth and range in Jerry Wooten's Johnsonville: Union Supply Operations on the Tennessee River and the Battle of Johnsonville, November 4-5, 1864.

After a brief opening discussion of the geography, early settlement history, and antebellum economic development of the site that would eventually become Johnsonville, Wooten's narrative launches into a fairly expansive discussion of the Union Army's mid-war recognition of the need for a new major supply depot on the Tennessee River (as summarized above) and the massive 1863-64 construction project that would bring it to fruition. Apparently, the quartermaster department employees and civilian contractors who lived and worked at the military depot left behind few accounts of their activities, but Wooten, a former Park Manager at Johnsonville State Historic Park, was able to uncover enough firsthand source material to provide readers with some useful insights into life there. The text also provides a fine descriptive overview of the physical layout of Johnsonville along with more specific details of the buildings and support structures (of which a few photographs survive) located there.

As one would expect, obtaining enough labor in wartime Tennessee to finish both the military town of Johnsonville and the railroad that connected it to Nashville was no easy task. In the book, Wooten discusses the efforts of soldiers and civilians in constructing, maintaining, and defending this new supply link in the Union Army's western logistical network. Black labor in particular, both volunteers and individuals impressed from Tennessee contraband camps, was essential to completing the railroad within the time frame required. By the author's estimate, 7,300 impressed laborers (mostly from Middle Tennessee) worked on the Nashville & Northwestern Railroad during the twelve months leading up to September 1864. As was the case in many other rear area western posts at this stage of the war, a combination of white and USCT troops were assigned to garrison Johnsonville, and black soldiers guarded the railroad all along its length. The navy was also ever present, with four tinclads based at Johnsonville. Despite its importance, Johnsonville was not really heavily defended. According to Wooten's research, though redoubts housing several batteries were built on the high ground and the depot facilities were surrounded by five miles of earthworks, the military garrison rarely exceeded 500 men at any given time (though the civilian workers could be armed in an emergency).

Given West Tennessee's history of destructive Confederate raids on isolated Union posts and transportation infrastructure, the relative weakness of Johnsonville's defenses (even in late 1864) made it an inviting target. Indeed, the most frequently documented aspect of Johnsonville's wartime history is the devastating attack on the post conducted by Nathan Bedford Forrest's Confederate cavalry in early November 1864. While an entire book [Col. Donald Steenburn's Silent Echoes of Johnsonville: Nathan B. Forrest, Rebel Cavalry & Yankee Gunboats (1994, 2001 2nd. ed.)] along with a few smaller treatments have already addressed Forrest's October-November raid that ended with the bombardment and burning of Johnsonville, Wooten account of the entire operation from beginning to end takes this coverage to a new level. Based on primary sources and unfolding over several chapters covering Confederate interdiction of river traffic, their capture of three Union vessels, the concurrent ship versus shore engagement at Reynoldsburg Island that also involved Confederate use of the captured gunboat U.S.S. Undine, and the direct bombardment of Johnsonville itself, the book's collective treatment (well supported with maps) of the raid's events, with Johnsonville at its center, is the best now available. With prior accounts presented mostly from the Confederate viewpoint, Wooten's work also adds much-needed Union perspective.

While the Confederate cross-river bombardment of Johnsonville was highly destructive, Wooten's research reinforces the modern consensus that the primary instigators of the conflagration that consumed ships, wharves, and buildings were the defenders themselves. Though the army and navy officers who ordered the destruction to keep the post's valuable ships and supplies out of the hands of the enemy (it was widely assumed by those in charge that the Confederates threatened Johnsonville on both sides of the river) were later acquitted of negligence, many still consider their actions premature and unnecessary. By any measure (Union authorities estimated government property losses at $1.5 million and Forrest claimed he inflicted $6.7 million worth of damage), the level of destruction at Johnsonville was extraordinary. However, as Wooten appropriately maintains, the strategic significance was minimal. Timing is everything in war, and striking Johnsonville in November 1864 was far too late to hinder Sherman's campaign in Georgia, and the effects on Union forces during the late stages of General Hood's operation in Middle Tennessee that winter were only slight.

An appendix very briefly explores the origins of the U.S. Army's quartermaster department and its Tennessee branch in the Civil War. This is appropriate enough, but, given the book's argument that Johnsonville's logistical importance has been underappreciated, the space might have been more usefully devoted to a quantitative rundown and analysis of the nature and volume of supplies that passed through Johnsonville during its months of peak operation (March-November 1864). But that's more of a wish list item than a serious criticism.

Though relatively short in length, Wooten's study offers a rather comprehensive examination of the historical legacies of persons and events related to Civil War Johnsonville. In addition to being a fine battle history, the book should be regarded as a major contribution to the ongoing study of what it took to keep Civil War armies supplied in the field. With several recent studies paying closer attention to logistical superiority as a key component of Union victory, Johnsonville's content and analysis should form a very useful part of that growing discussion, now and into the future.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Booknotes: The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect

New Arrival:
The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect: The Life and Diary of Confederate Artillerist William Ellis Jones ed. by Constance Hall Jones (SIU Press, 2020).

A combination of biography and edited diary, The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect tells "the story of William Ellis Jones (1838–1910), an artillerist in Crenshaw’s Battery, Pegram’s Battalion, the Army of Northern Virginia. One of the few extant diaries by a Confederate artillerist, Jones’s articulate writings cover camp life as well as many of the key military events of 1862, including the Peninsula Campaign, the Second Battle of Manassas, the Maryland Campaign, and the Battle of Fredericksburg."

The book also delves into Jones's civilian occupation and his postwar contributions to the Civil War in print. "In 1865 Jones returned to his prewar printing trade in Richmond, and his lasting reputation stems from his namesake publishing company’s role in the creation and dissemination of much of the Lost Cause ideology." Editor Constance Hall Jones also notes an interesting dichotomy in her ancestor's attitude toward the Civil War. In contrast to the ideological mindset displayed through his many pro-Confederate publications, Jones's own wartime diary showed him to be "an unenthusiastic soldier" (though it appears that frequent clashes with officers were a major source of his dissatisfaction with military service).

In addition to the editing the diary, "Jones brackets the soldier’s diary with rich, biographical detail, profiling his friends and relatives and providing insight into his childhood and post-war years. In doing so, she offers one of the first serious investigations into the experience of a Welsh immigrant family loyal to the Confederacy and makes a significant contribution to our understanding of Civil War–era Richmond and the nineteenth-century publishing industry."

The book is roughly evenly divided between the biographical chapters and edited diary. Nine helpful maps follow the course of Crenshaw's Battery through the end of 1862. Though the diary ends in 1862, Jones served with the battery for much of the balance of the conflict before being invalided out in February 1865 and ending the war as a clerk in the Quartermaster's Department. It looks like an interesting book on a number of levels.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Booknotes: The Women of City Point, Virginia, 1864-1865

New Arrival:
The Women of City Point, Virginia, 1864-1865: Stories of Life and Work in the Union Occupation Headquarters by Jeanne Marie Christie (McFarland, 2020).

From the description: "After more than three years of grim fighting, General Ulysses Grant had a plan to end the Civil War--laying siege to Petersburg, Virginia, thus cutting off supplies to the Confederate capital at Richmond. He established his headquarters at City Point on the James River, requiring thousands of troops, tons of supplies, as well as extensive medical facilities and staff."

More: "Nurses flooded the area, yet many did not work in medical capacities--they served as organizers, advocates and intelligence gatherers. Nursing emerged as a noble profession with multiple specialties. Drawing on a range of primary and secondary sources," Jeanne Marie Christie's The Women of City Point, Virginia, 1864-1865 "covers the resilient women who opened the way for others into postwar medical, professional and political arenas."

The book discusses a pretty expansive cross-section of women who lived and worked at City Point. Chapters address contraband women, independent nurses, government nurses, female representatives of the U.S. Christian and U.S. Sanitary commissions (the USCC and USSC), official state agents, and officer wives. The final chapter comprises a lengthy alphabetized register of City Point women referenced in the author's sources, the amount of biographical and work details attached to each varying widely. In recognition of how the environment of City Point affected working conditions and morale, an appendix summarizes weather conditions on a nearly daily basis between June 1864 and April 1865.