Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Coming Soon (April '20 Edition)

*NEW RELEASES* - Scheduled for April 2020:

The War Went On: Reconsidering the Lives of Civil War Veterans edited by Jordan and Rothera.
Grant's Victory: How Ulysses S. Grant Won the Civil War by Bruce Brager.
The Diary of Serepta Jordan: A Southern Woman's Struggle With War and Family, 1857-1864 ed. by Uffelman, Kanervo, Smith, and Williams.
The Irish Brigade: A Pictorial History of the Famed Civil War Fighters by Russ Pritchard.
Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington by Ted Widmer.
In the Waves: My Quest to Solve the Mystery of a Civil War Submarine by Rachel Lance.
Not Till Then Can the World Know: Replacement Companies of the Fourteenth Iowa Infantry in the Trans-Mississippi by L. Spencer Busch.
States at War: A Reference Guide for Michigan in the Civil War by Richard Miller.
Gunboats, Muskets, and Torpedoes: Coastal North Carolina, 1861–1865 by Michael Laramie.
Organizing Freedom: Black Emancipation Activism in the Civil War Midwest by Jennifer Harbour.
Faces of Civil War Nurses by Ronald Coddington.
Ex Parte Milligan Reconsidered: Race and Civil Liberties from the Lincoln Administration to the War on Terror ed. by Stewart Winger & Jonathan White.
Marriage on the Border: Love, Mutuality, and Divorce in the Upper South during the Civil War by Allison Dorothy Fredette.
The War for Missouri: 1861-1862 by Joseph McCoskrie.
Catholic Confederates: Faith and Duty in the Civil War South by Gracjan Kraszewski.

Comments: Some big distributors continue to ship out books, so I suppose these monthly lists are still worth doing. A couple of these (this and this) I already have in hand.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Booknotes: A Republic in the Ranks

New Arrival:
A Republic in the Ranks: Loyalty and Dissent in the Army of the Potomac by Zachery A. Fry (UNC Press, 2020).

"The Army of the Potomac was a hotbed of political activity during the Civil War." One could hardly expect anything less. Any mass volunteer army would naturally reflect the kaleidoscope of political views present in its recruitment geography. 

From the description: "(I)n this comprehensive reassessment of the army's politics, Zachery A. Fry argues that the war was an intense political education for its common soldiers. Fry examines several key crisis points to show how enlisted men developed political awareness that went beyond personal loyalties. By studying the struggle between Republicans and Democrats for political allegiance among the army's rank and file, Fry reveals how captains, majors, and colonels spurred a pro-Republican political awakening among the enlisted men, culminating in the army's resounding Republican voice in state and national elections in 1864."

As referenced both above and below, rather than adopting a top-down approach Fry's A Republic in the Ranks: Loyalty and Dissent in the Army of the Potomac examines more ground-level sources of political expression and change. More from the description: "For decades, historians have been content to view the Army of the Potomac primarily through the prism of its general officer corps, portraying it as an arm of the Democratic Party loyal to McClellan's leadership and legacy. Fry, in contrast, shifts the story's emphasis to resurrect the successful efforts of proadministration junior officers who educated their men on the war's political dynamics and laid the groundwork for Lincoln's victory in 1864." As even Civil War-era citizen-armies were not institutions allowing the kinds of freedom of expression guaranteed in civilian life, there can be a fine line between education and coercion. Hopefully, Fry takes that factor into account, as well. It looks like the book might be a good companion read to Jonathan White's excellent 2014 study Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Book News: Storming Vicksburg

The ink on Timothy Smith's The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863 has barely dried and we already have news of another upcoming release covering the very same topic, Earl Hess's Storming Vicksburg: Grant, Pemberton, and the Battles of May 19-22, 1863 (October 2020). It never ceases to amaze me how often this sort of thing occurs, when significant subject matter finally receives a major treatment for the first time only to have that happy surprise followed soon after by the release of another book-length study of similar stature. I never see this as a negative thing on the reader side, the more the merrier. At least outwardly, most Civil War authors caught up in this kind of situation seem to take it in stride, emphasizing complementary aspects of each other's work. I'm looking forward to reading them both.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Booknotes: War and Peace on the Rio Grande Frontier

New Arrival:
War and Peace on the Rio Grande Frontier, 1830–1880 by Miguel Ángel González-Quiroga (OU Press, 2020).

With much in the way of documented justification, the historical characterization of the nineteenth-century borderland between the United States and Mexico has often been one of "violence fueled by racial hatred, national rivalries, lack of governmental authority, competition for resources, and an international border that offered refuge to lawless men." However, conflict and violence obviously do not comprise the entire story. Miguel Ángel González-Quiroga's sweeping new study War and Peace on the Rio Grande Frontier, 1830–1880 also examines "the region’s other everyday reality, one based on coexistence and cooperation among Mexicans, Anglo-Americans, and the Native Americans, African Americans, and Europeans who also inhabited the borderlands." What emerges is a picture of the border as a place "that gave rise not only to violent conflict but also cooperation and economic and social advancement."

More from the description: "Meeting here are the Anglo-Americans who came to the border region to trade, spread Christianity, and settle; Mexicans seeking opportunity in el norte; Native Americans who raided American and Mexican settlements alike for plunder and captives; and Europeans who crisscrossed the borderlands seeking new futures in a fluid frontier space. Historian Miguel Ángel González-Quiroga draws on national archives, letters, consular records, periodicals, and a host of other sources to give voice to borderlanders’ perspectives as he weaves their many, varied stories into one sweeping narrative. The tale he tells is one of economic connections and territorial disputes, of refugees and bounty hunters, speculation and stakeholding, smuggling and theft and other activities in which economic considerations often carried more weight than racial prejudice."

The book's coverage spans five decades encompassing "Anglo settlement of Texas in the 1830s, the Texas Revolution, the Republic of Texas , the US-Mexican War, various Indian wars, the US Civil War, the French intervention into Mexico, and the final subjugation of borderlands Indians by the combined forces of the US and Mexican armies." Among American Civil War readers, the book's broadest theme of a borderland region rife with paradoxes of societal and cultural attraction and rejection (along with contrasting forces of violence and cooperation) might evoke some commonalities with Andrew Masich's recent award-winning book Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands, 1861–1867 (2017). However, the two studies are more complementary than otherwise. While both authors make extensive use of  U.S. and Mexican archives, González-Quiroga concentrates his efforts on the lower Rio Grande while Masich focused on the lesser-studied (at least for the Civil War era) upper Rio Grande. The time span covered by each book (50 years of border history versus 7) is obviously much different, as well. For his own examination of the Civil War years, González-Quiroga devotes two long chapters to the same 1861-67 period that comprised Masich's entire study. The first discusses the impact of concurrent civil wars (U.S. and Mexican) on the Rio Grande frontier, and the second delves into aspects of cross-border cooperation in wartime (with great emphasis placed on expansive commercial ties as a salient feature of an otherwise chaotic time).

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Review - "Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood" by Stephen Davis

[Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood by Stephen Davis (Mercer University Press, 2019). Hardcover, 28 maps, footnotes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xi,439/514. ISBN:978-0-88146-720-8. $35]

John Bell Hood's blemished record as lieutenant general and his dismal failure as acting full general, both in 1864, have largely overshadowed a stellar Civil War career up to that point. Until fairly recently, the literature's dominant characterization of corps commander Hood was that of a disloyal subordinate who lied and schemed his way into becoming the Davis administration's choice for replacing Joe Johnston at the head of the Army of Tennessee. According to many of those same critics, once Hood got command of the Confederacy's principal western army he then proceeded to bleed it white by launching an unimaginative series of bloody frontal assaults against a capable enemy that greatly outnumbered him. To further discredit Hood, some have gone so far as to paint the crippled general as a drug-addled military egoist who callously sacrificed a brave army he angrily blamed for ruining his brilliant plans. Such assessments, oft repeated, die hard, but the more recent generations of Civil War historians have effectively countered the most unsupportable of those charges. In that group is Atlanta historian Stephen Davis, who is, with the publication of his latest book Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood, now halfway through an exhaustive two-volume military biography of the general.

Roughly one-quarter of Davis's narrative recounts Hood's dynamic exploits on the Virginia Peninsula and at Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Suffolk, and Chickamauga. This 1861-63 coverage might seem proportionally inadequate given the tome-like dimensions of the first volume, but there is already broad consensus concerning the details and analysis of that early to mid-war period of Hood's Civil War career. Even so, it is an excellent critical summary. What is perhaps more interesting than yet another recounting of Hood's celebrated exploits as brigade and division commander is Davis's identification of troubling portents. One of these involves official notice of Hood's negligent oversight of the clothing, equipping, and hygiene of his men, along with reprimands regarding his men's indiscipline off the battlefield. Additionally, when bored with static operations around Suffolk in early 1863, Hood first displayed what would become a troubling penchant for communicating directly with Richmond authorities, bypassing chain of command with self-serving messages.

The extended prologue referenced above also establishes the author's opinion that "ambition" was Hood's "salient characteristic," (pg. 105) a finding mirrored by other writers. Of course, possessing a healthy measure of personal ambition and cultivating powerful patrons were almost prerequisites for any fast rise into the high command ranks of the Civil War's politically-charged volunteer armies. This is a truth many Hood detractors either minimize or ignore. The more important consideration surrounding Hood's ambition was whether it was toxic (i.e. did it negatively affect military operations at key moments, worsen the western army's already divisive command structure, undermine the authority of the army commander, or lead to Hood's elevation over clearly better available candidates). The author's likely answer to most of those questions is a qualified 'yes.'

Part 1 of Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta comprehensively covers Hood's February-July 1864 tenure as corps commander in Joe Johnston's revitalized Army of Tennessee. According to Davis's research, the new lieutenant general immediately proved popular with the troops (though Hood privately complained, inaccurately, that his corps contained all the "untried" men in the army, as if by pointing this out more than once he could avoid responsibility if his corps performed poorly in the upcoming campaign). As he had done earlier in his career, Hood also continued to violate army regulations by regularly corresponding with military and political officials in Richmond. To be fair, as Davis points out, the army's senior corps commander, William J. Hardee, did the same.

Though the the two men became bitter enemies during the postwar blame game and memoir battles, the much younger Hood seems to have become Johnston's chief advisor among his lieutenant generals (a personal relationship that makes the backdoor correspondence with Richmond all the more unseemly). Davis develops this conclusion through a number of sources, including the writings of officers and civilian visitors who frequently found Johnston and Hood in intimate consultation at army headquarters. Though other writers still seem hesitant to do so, Davis incorporates author and Hood apologist Stephen Hood's strongest arguments into his analysis, but he more compellingly sees the matter of General Hood's correspondence as one of the major blind spots in author Hood's often convincing brand of revisionism. In the end, Davis justifiably stands with the chorus of historians who see the content and nature of Hood's self-serving letter campaign (culminating in his infamous July 14 letter to General Bragg) as dishonest scheming for army command.

Though the matter of "phantom legions" being the source of Hood's aborted attack at Cassville has been thoroughly debunked for some time now, the historiography long-condemned Hood for allegedly ruining Johnston's most promising offensive battle plan. Davis thoroughly agrees with the current historical consensus that there was indeed a strong force beyond Hood's right that had to be taken into account. As Davis reiterates, though, Hood's continuous complaints about Johnston's timidity belied his own lack of fighting spirit at key moments in the campaign. For instance, after the army recollected itself atop a ridge south of Cassville, Hood and Polk's combined belief that they could not hold their defensive lines convinced Johnston against his own judgment to withdraw from yet another seemingly strong position.

In discussing key issues in the text, Davis does a great job of weighing the published thoughts and views of a host of prominent biographers and Atlanta Campaign historians (among others Dyer, Connelly, McMurry, Symonds, Newton, Hess, Woodworth, Scaife, and Castel) against his own research and analysis. One salient feature of Davis's literature review is a renewed appreciation for local historian Wilbur Kurtz to a degree not seen in other current Atlanta campaign and battle studies. It's also extremely helpful that this comparative assessment is frequently outlined in the main text instead of being relegated to the notes. Since there is so much extensive discussion, both on-point and discursive, contained in the notes their placement at the bottom of the page was an excellent decision. Descriptions of military movements are also well supported by a large set of original maps. One really gets the impression through text, notes, and massive bibliography that Davis possesses an exceptional mastery of the campaign literature.

To put it mildly, the level of controversy surrounding Hood's corps leadership is dwarfed by what would emerge after his appointment as Johnston's replacement. Thus begins Part 2. All acknowledge that Hood was placed in a tight spot when tasked with defending Atlanta after Sherman's immensely powerful army group was already beyond the last great natural barrier of defense (the Chattahoochee River) and approaching the gates of the city. The first clash would be at Peach Tree Creek.

In recounting the rift between Hood and Hardee that widened during the July 20 Battle of Peach Tree Creek and the great July 22 battle fought east of Atlanta, Davis acknowledges Hardee's shortcomings but agrees with other writers that Hood also deserves censure for not monitoring the action more closely and not accepting more responsibility for the results of the fighting (especially when they came at Hood's intercession). On a related note, many observers have drawn comparisons between Hood's July 22 battle plan and Stonewall Jackson's celebrated march around the Union right flank at Chancellorsville. For those interested in engaging further with that topic, Davis's sixteen-point contrasting assessment of why Lee's attack succeeded and Hood's failed is highly recommended reading.

With Sherman's advances north and east of Atlanta temporarily blocked, Hood's battle plan for Ezra Church west of the city was much more realistic than the overambitious one devised earlier for attacking the other Union flank on July 22. Even with more achievable goals, Ezra Church was another unquestionable defeat for the Confederate army. Rather than blaming Hood, though, the author joins with others (Ezra Church chronicler Gary Ecelbarger being a chief dissenter) in laying the poor results of the fight squarely at the feet of newly-arrived corps commander S.D. Lee.

An underappreciated aspect of Hood's actions during this period was his effectiveness in adding strength to his army during the middle of the campaign (and without the benefit of outside reinforcement beyond Georgia state militia). Though some have criticized Hood for going too far, Davis is not the first to credit Hood's success in returning able-bodied men to his army mid-campaign. It obviously was not enough to make a difference between victory and defeat, but Davis's demonstration that Hood was able to improve the strength ratio of his own army to Sherman's over the final two months of the campaign argues against the long-held view, though much altered in recent times, that Hood was engaged in mindlessly battering his own army to dust.

Though the series of attacks that Hood launched around Atlanta were clear tactical defeats, each served to temporarily stymie Sherman's lunges and cause the Union commander to reconsider his plans. Unlike many other historians, Davis does not find great fault in Hood's generalship between Utoy Creek and the fall of Atlanta. The author points to persistent allegations that Hood lost track of Sherman's final big flanking maneuver for many critical days as being both inaccurate and unfair. Davis stresses that the already overstretched Hood should not be blamed for the inability to divine precisely when and where Sherman planned to break the Macon & Western R.R. south of Atlanta. In Davis's view, if the idea (and it was) was to thwart Sherman's distant maneuvering against his railroad lifeline while simultaneously maintaining possession of Atlanta, there was little more that Hood could possibly have done.

Generally speaking, the author's views seem to align with those who have contended that Hood's losing Atlanta was inevitable given the unenviable military situation and fighting directives he was first presented with in July. Some could have done better and a whole lot could have done worse, and Davis describes his own evaluation of Hood's overall command performance in delaying Sherman's capture of Atlanta as being a "favorable assessment" (pg. 436). In the end, though one might disagree with certain arguments or points of emphasis, the book offers a highly judicious weighing of Hood's strengths against his flaws of character and military conduct.

Even though the book's greatest focus is obviously on Confederate general John Bell Hood, more than enough Union perspective is present to also rank the volume among the finest overall accounts of the Atlanta Campaign. Worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Albert Castel's classic study (and sharing similar jabs at Sherman!), it's a well-conceived and impressively executed hybrid of biography and campaign history. It would be hard to imagine a reader finishing Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta and not looking forward to the release of the second volume, Into Tennessee and Failure.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Booknotes: Section 27 and Freedman's Village in Arlington National Cemetery

New Arrival:
Section 27 and Freedman's Village in Arlington National Cemetery: The African American History of America's Most Hallowed Ground by Ric Murphy and Tim Stephens (McFarland, 2020).

Section 27 and Freedman's Village in Arlington National Cemetery "explains how the grounds of Arlington House, formerly the home of Robert E. Lee and a plantation of the enslaved, became a military camp for Federal troops, a freedmen's village and farm, and America's most important burial ground. 

During the Civil War, the property served as a pauper's cemetery for men too poor to be returned to their families, and some of the very first war dead to be buried there include over 1,500 men who served in the United States Colored Troops. More than 3,800 former slaves are interred in section 27, the property's original cemetery."

Beginning in 1888, the Freedman's Village residents were given small compensation by the federal government and ordered to leave the grounds, which were then converted into burial sections 3,4,8, and 18. According to the book, the main road of the historical Freedman's Village roughly corresponds to "(t)oday's section of Grant Drive, Clayton Drive, and Jessup Drive..." 

In support of the text are numerous photographs, figures, tables, and maps. The book has an extensive appendix section, which includes a an Arlington timeline, an 1858 slave inventory of the Arlington estate, the December 1862 emancipation document of the estate's slave population signed by Custis will executor R.E. Lee, employment records, and a walking tour of African American history at Arlington Cemetery. As noted on the cover, the book is also the recent winner of the Phillis Wheatley Book Award.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Booknotes: The War Went On

New Arrival:
The War Went On: Reconsidering the Lives of Civil War Veterans edited by Brian Matthew Jordan & Evan C. Rothera (LSU Press, 2020).

"Inspired by recent interest in memory studies and energized by the ongoing neorevisionist turn," Civil War veterans studies have received quite a boost in recent years. A major scholar in this corner of Civil War studies is Brian Matthew Jordan, so he's a natural choice (with Evan Rothera) to introduce, edit, and contribute to the new essay anthology The War Went On: Reconsidering the Lives of Civil War Veterans.

From the description: "Despite this flood of historical scholarship, fundamental questions about the essential character of Civil War veteranhood remain unanswered. Moreover, because work on veterans has often proceeded from a preoccupation with cultural memory, the Civil War’s ex­-soldiers have typically been analyzed as either symbols or producers of texts."

Often taking a different tack, the fifteen essays in The War Went On largely "approach Civil War veterans from oblique angles, including theater, political, and disability history, as well as borderlands and memory studies." I don't see any links online to the full table of contents, so I've transcribed it below from my print copy.

1. "Let Us Everywhere Charge the Enemy Home": Army of the Potomac Veterans and Public Partisanship, 1864-1880 by Zachery Fry.

2. The Men Are Understood to Have Been Generally Americans, in the Employ of the Liberal Government": Civil War Veterans and Mexico, 1865-1867 by Evan Rothera.

3. Civil War Veteran Colonies on the Western Frontier by Kurt Hackemer.

4. The Trials of Frank James: Guerrilla Veteranhood and the Double Edge of Wartime Notoriety by Matthew Hulbert.

5. Speaking for Themselves: Disabled Veterans and Civil War Medical Photography by Sarah Handley-Cousins.

6. Remembering "That Dark Episode": Union and Confederate Ex-Prisoners of War and Their Captivity Narratives by Angela Riotto.

7. "Exposing False History": The Voice of the Union Veteran in the Pages of the National Tribune by Steven Sodergren.

8. "It Is Natural That Each Comrade Should Think His Corps the Best": Sheridan's Veterans Refight the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign by Jonathan Noyalas.

9. A Building Very Useful: The Grand Army Memorial Hall in US Civil Life, 1880-1920 by Jonathan Neu.

10. Veterans at the Footlights: Unionism and White Supremacy in the Theater of the Grand Army of the Republic by Tyler Sperrazza.

11. "Our Beloved Father Abraham": African American Civil War Veterans and Abraham Lincoln in War and Memory by Matthew Norman.

12. "The Colored Veteran Soldiers Should Receive the Same Tender Care": Soldiers' Homes, Race, and the Post-Civil War Midwest by Kelly Mezurek

13. Lost to the Lost Cause: Arkansas's Union Veterans by Rebecca Howard.

14. Loyal Deserters and the Veterans Who Werent: Pension Fund Fraud in Lost Cause Memory by Adam Domby.

15. Veterans in New Fields: Directions for Future Scholarship on Civil War Veterans by Brian Matthew Jordan.

Friday, March 20, 2020


I fully expected there to be massive supply chain disruptions in the publishing world during the pandemic crisis, and there have been some announcements by publishers that review copies will be unavailable for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, for some others it is still business as usual, at least for the moment. I did receive one book in the mail just yesterday but wouldn't be too surprised if the valve was shut off almost completely through the summer and maybe even beyond. So this has obvious consequences for the site, but I do have a pretty sizable collection of recent releases waiting to be read. That should keep me busy for a while so keep checking back.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Booknotes: Entertaining History

New Arrival:
Entertaining History: The Civil War in Literature, Film, and Song edited by Chris Mackowski (SIU Press, 2020).

The "collection of essays and feature stories" in Entertaining History: The Civil War in Literature, Film, and Song "celebrates the novels, popular histories, magazines, movies, television shows, photography, and songs that have enticed Americans to learn more about our most dramatic historical era." Though organized into the three main media themes referred to above in the subtitle, the volume consists of twenty-five standalone pieces. To make reviewing it manageable, perhaps I'll just choose some particular favorites in each section to talk about. We'll see.

The following excerpt from the description offers an idea of the range of topics discussed in the essays: "From Ulysses S. Grant’s Memoirs to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, from Roots to Ken Burns’s The Civil War, from “Dixie” to “Ashokan Farewell,” and from Civil War photography to the Gettysburg Cyclorama, trendy and well-loved depictions of the Civil War are the subjects of twenty contributors who tell how they and the general public have been influenced by them. Sarah Kay Bierle examines the eternal appeal of Gone with the Wind and asks how it is that a protagonist who so opposed the war has become such a figurehead for it. H. R. Gordon talks with New York Times–bestselling novelist Jeff Shaara to discuss the power of storytelling. Paul Ashdown explores Cold Mountain’s value as a portrait of the war as national upheaval, and Kevin Pawlak traces a shift in cinema’s depiction of slavery epitomized by 12 Years a Slave. Tony Horwitz revisits his iconic Confederates in the Attic twenty years later."

The book also has supplements available online through accessing the QR codes placed at the end of the introduction and beginnings of the three parts. There is an alternative URL but I couldn't get it to work just now, so perhaps it's not finished yet.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Booknotes: Arguing until Doomsday

New Arrival:
Arguing Until Doomsday: Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and the Struggle for American Democracy by Michael E. Woods (UNC Press, 2020).

Well this is clearly something different, a dual political biography with the Little Giant as one subject and the contrasting figure isn't Lincoln! In Arguing Until Doomsday: Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and the Struggle for American Democracy historian Michael Woods see the two senators as representative poles of the widening rift within the Democratic Party that became a decisive break just before the 1860 election. "As leaders of the Democrats' northern and southern factions before the Civil War, their passionate conflict of words and ideas has been overshadowed by their opposition to Abraham Lincoln. But here, weaving together biography and political history, Michael E. Woods restores Davis and Douglas's fatefully entwined lives and careers to the center of the Civil War era."

Woods's title "Arguing Until Doomsday" refers to Georgia senator Alfred Iverson's exasperated quip upon being forced to listen to the pair's February 1859  three-hour debate over Kansas statehood that discussed "property rights, democracy, and the future of the American West" (pg. 1) and widened into another unresolvable intra-party quarrel over slavery. In weaving together "personal, partisan, and national" contexts of the rivalry, the author professes to have no interest in rehabilitating the historical reputation of Douglas. However, he does wish to foster a wider re-appreciation of the wide diversity of views present in the Democratic Party of the time, a political body still popularly dismissed as an unholy alliance between proslavery southerners and meek northern collaborators.

More from the description: "Operating on personal, partisan, and national levels, Woods traces the deep roots of Democrats' internal strife, with fault lines drawn around fundamental questions of property rights and majority rule. Neither belief in white supremacy nor expansionist zeal could reconcile Douglas and Davis's factions as their constituents formed their own lines in the proverbial soil of westward expansion. The first major reinterpretation of the Democratic Party's internal schism in more than a generation, Arguing until Doomsday shows how two leading antebellum politicians ultimately shattered their party and hastened the coming of the Civil War."

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Booknotes: Catholic Confederates

New Arrival:
Catholic Confederates: Faith and Duty in the Civil War South by Gracjan Kraszewski
(Kent St UP, 2020).

Gracjan Kraszewski's Catholic Confederates: Faith and Duty in the Civil War South seeks to answer a number of big questions, direct and comparative, about southern pro-Confederate Catholics. Among them are: "How did Southern Catholics, under international religious authority and grounding unlike Southern Protestants, act with regard to political commitments in the recently formed Confederacy? How did they balance being both Catholic and Confederate? How is the Southern Catholic Civil War experience similar or dissimilar to the Southern Protestant Civil War experience? What new insights might this experience provide regarding Civil War religious history, the history of Catholicism in America, 19th-century America, and Southern history in general?"

More from the description: "For the majority of Southern Catholics, religion and politics were not a point of tension." That general notion jibes with my own small reading about Confederate Catholics, which is pretty much limited to Louisiana. "Devout Catholics were also devoted Confederates, including nuns who served as nurses; their deep involvement in the Confederate cause as medics confirms the all-encompassing nature of Catholic involvement in the Confederacy, a fact greatly underplayed by scholars of Civil war religion and American Catholicism." Of course, the book doesn't just address nuns, but also bishops, priests (including military chaplains), and laypeople. The study begins with a survey of the responses among southern bishops to secession and Civil War.  "Kraszewski argues against an “Americanization” of Catholics in the South and instead coins the term “Confederatization” to describe the process by which Catholics made themselves virtually indistinguishable from their Protestant neighbors."

"The religious history of the South has been primarily Protestant. Catholic Confederates simultaneously fills a gap in Civil War religious scholarship and in American Catholic literature by bringing to light the deep impact Catholicism has had on Southern society even in the very heart of the Bible Belt." Catholic Confederates looks to be a useful addition to the now rather extensive Civil War literature addressing religion and religious issues, North and South. Nice job on the striking cover art, too!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Review - "Confederate General Stephen Elliott: Beaufort Legend, Charleston Hero" by D. Michael Thomas

[Confederate General Stephen Elliott: Beaufort Legend, Charleston Hero by D. Michael Thomas (Arcadia Publishing & The History Press, 2020). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:119/142. ISBN:978-1-4671-4479-7. $23.99]

As leader or participant, Brigadier General Stephen Elliott, Jr. of Beaufort, South Carolina was intimately involved in so many key military actions associated with the Confederate defense of the strategically vital stretch of coastline between Savannah and Charleston that a military biography has been long overdue. Part of The History Press's extensive line of concise Civil War studies, D. Michael Thomas's Confederate General Stephen Elliott: Beaufort Legend, Charleston Hero effectively recounts Elliott's entire Civil War career from artillery battery commander to infantry brigadier general in Virginia and North Carolina.

As captain of artillery, 31-year-old Stephen Elliott began his Civil War service in 1861 at the head of the Beaufort Volunteer Artillery, a venerable militia battery with origins dating back to the Revolution. Coincidentally, a BVA history was just published earlier this year [see here]. During the disastrous Confederate attempt to defend Port Royal Sound, Elliott led the Fort Beauregard garrison and was instrumental in guiding its escape from almost certain capture. Elliott's battery was integrated into the South Atlantic coastal defense network first designed and implemented by former department commander Robert E. Lee, and Thomas recounts Elliott's expert handling of the BVA as the unit assisted in delaying and eventually repelling a two-pronged 1862 Union raid on the Charleston & Savannah Railroad stations at Coosawhatchie and Pocotaligo. Also described in the text are Elliott's series of successful commando-type raids against Sea Island picket posts and Union shipping, the latter highlighted by his capture of the gunboat USS George Washington.

As impressive as his early-war career was, the highlight of Elliott's Civil War service was his tenure as commander of the Fort Sumter garrison between September 1863 and April 1864. Thomas's overview of this period is highly informative, arguably the best section of the book. Assigned to the post by General Beauregard, Elliott's leadership performance under one of the most trying set of circumstances any commander was tasked with during he war was by all accounts brilliant. Faced with regular bombardment by Union heavy artillery without the ability to return fire and patchy resupply of food, water, and military necessities, Elliott nevertheless fashioned a livable garrison existence for his men within the Sumter rubble, repelling enemy amphibious assault and always managing to maintain the morale and fighting effectiveness of his constantly rotating troop complement. Ever the accomplished artilleryman, he was even able to remount a sea battery, which was a considerable technical achievement. In addition to being a high-priority military and political target for the besieging Union army and navy, Sumter was a vitally important symbol of Confederate resistance that could quite easily have been lost under a lesser officer.

Like many other Civil War officers who remained in the artillery branch, promotion was slow for Elliott, even with the career patronage of Beauregard and the high recommendation of Lee. Eventually, Elliott was appointed brigadier general of a South Carolina brigade in spring 1864 and assigned to Confederate forces south of Richmond (where Beauregard was also transferred). His defense of the Elliott Salient at Petersburg during the Crater battle was highly lauded, but it also came at a high personal cost as he received his most serious wound there (he was hit five times during the war, but at Petersburg the bullet passed through both left arm and lung). Such an injury would have incapacitated most, but Elliott recovered remarkably fast (though his arm remained mostly useless) and led a brigade yet again at Averasboro and Bentonville before surrendering at Bennett Place. The loss of all of his property left the former general and his family in straitened circumstances after the war, and Elliott died in February 1866 (the most likely cause being the lasting effect of his Crater wound).

Though its unrelentingly celebratory nature might be distracting to some readers, it's clear from Thomas's narrative that the range and quality of General Stephen Elliott's military service mark him as a South Carolina Civil War figure well deserving of wider recognition.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Booknotes: The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant

New Arrival:
The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant (Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant) edited by John Y. Simon (SIU Press, 2020).

From the description: "Written in the early twentieth century for her children and grandchildren and first published [by Putnam] in 1975, these eloquent memoirs detail the life of General Ulysses S. Grant’s wife. First Lady Julia Dent Grant wrote her reminiscences with the vivacity and charm she exhibited throughout her life, telling her story in the easy flow of an afternoon conversation with a close friend. She writes fondly of White Haven, a plantation in St. Louis County, Missouri, where she had an idyllic girlhood and later met Ulysses."

Originally introduced and edited by John Y. Simon (with a foreword from Bruce Catton), this paperback 45th Anniversary Edition has a new foreword from John Marszalek and Frank Williams along with a new preface written by Pamela Sanfilippo. Like another title mentioned a few days ago, The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant (Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant) is part of SIUP's World of Ulysses S. Grant series. Also new to this edition is a 'further reading' list and photo gallery. Apparently, Mrs. Grant's life and White House memoir is also notable for being the first published account of its type written by a former First Lady. The Ralph Geoffrey essay titled "The First Lady as an Author," which first appeared in the 1975 Putnam edition, is not reproduced here again in print but can be found at www.siupress.com/firstlady.

The memoir also discusses the darker times. More from the description: "In addition to relating the joys she experienced, Grant tells about the difficult and sorrowful times. Her anecdotes give fascinating glimpses into the years of the American Civil War. One recounts the night President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Grant insisted she and her husband turn down an invitation to the theater. Her decision saved her husband’s life: like Lincoln, he too had been marked for assassination."

A number of motivations, for both public and private consumption, lay behind the memoir's publication. "Throughout these memoirs, which she ends with her husband’s death, Grant seeks to introduce her descendants to both her and the man she loved. She also strives to correct misconceptions that were circulated about him. She wanted posterity to share her pride in this man, whom she saw as one of America’s greatest heroes. Her book is a testament to their devoted marriage."

Monday, March 9, 2020

Review - "Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862, the Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History" by Gary Clayton Anderson

[Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862, the Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History by Gary Clayton Anderson (University of Oklahoma Press, 2019). Cloth, 2 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xiii,286/378. ISBN:978-0-8061-6434-2. $32.95]

The 1862-65 Dakota War began with the horrific massacre of hundreds of settlers in Minnesota by aggrieved factions of the Mdewakanton sub-tribe of Eastern (or Santee) Dakota reluctantly led by Little Crow. After several months of violence, the uprising in Minnesota was effectively quelled by the end of 1862. Spreading west out onto the Northern Plains, the 1863-65 phase of the war was a major U.S. military operation aimed at punishing the Dakota who committed crimes in Minnesota but escaped capture or voluntary surrender. What happened instead was the sparking of a wider conflict that created new enemies among the many powerful Dakota groups not involved with the original event.

The preponderance of popular and scholarly Dakota War studies still focus on the events of 1862. Among modern works, the 1959 publication of C.M. Oehler's The Great Sioux Uprising was followed by a steady stream of overviews displaying varying quality and points of emphasis. Some of the better-known works in this group are those from Kenneth Carley (1976), Duane Schultz (1992), Jerry Keenan (2003), and Hank Cox (2005). The settler killings (particular those that occurred during the first week) have been most comprehensively documented by Gregory Michno. Exploring 1863-65 events in Dakota Territory at greatest length are works from Micheal Clodfelter (1998) and Paul Beck (2013). Of course, this is just a sampling of the many books and articles available for the interested reader to consider. While, as stated above, a number of titles cover the tragic events of the second half of 1862, Gary Clayton Anderson's Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862, the Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History clearly improves upon its general-approach antecedents in important ways. The author of a number of scholarly works associated with the topic, including biographies of Little Crow and Gabriel Renville, Anderson takes a fresh look at a host of underappreciated aspects of the Minnesota conflict and addresses significant gaps left in prior works of similar scope and type.

Though the uprising was sparked by a single incident of murder, every account of the 1862 Dakota conflict traces the fuel to the fire back to longstanding official corruption in the handling of treaty compensation and annuities. Without the means to buy food to supplement their failed crops, the Dakota living along the Minnesota River were facing dire straits in August 1862, their situation made worse by war-impacted delays in government payments and supplies combined with the indifference of traders who refused to issue further credit. Anderson's recounting of antebellum Indian relations and white settlement in Minnesota are much deeper than most, but his earnest depiction of the scale of corruption involved in the handling of the Dakota treaty in Minnesota really sets his book apart from prior studies. Though full documentary evidence is obviously unavailable, the author makes the case that a large percentage of treaty funds issued by the federal government were simply stolen by state politicians, Bureau of Indian Affairs agents, and traders. With some recent scholarship highlighting how Democratic Party corruption was a key (and apparently effective) wedge issue in the 1860 election, it is more than a little ironic that Republican war governor and staunch Lincoln ally Alexander Ramsey was allegedly one of the most egregious offenders in the matter.

While unexceptional in scope (certainly not on the level of Michno's grim, book-length study that is entirely devoted to the topic), Anderson's coverage of the Dakota massacre of settlers (a large proportion of whom were recent immigrants from northern Europe) that dominated the early days of the conflict nevertheless offers readers a more than adequate representation of the horrifying nature and vast scale of the event. The author accepts a figure of 600 deaths but does not explain in text or notes why he favors that particular number over other estimates found in the literature, which range between 400 and 1,000 men, women, and children. Coverage of the more military aspects of the conflict (including descriptions of the desperate fighting at Fort Ridgely, the town of New Ulm, Fort Abercrombie, and at the Battle of Wood Lake) is similarly solid. The ensuing panic from massacre and battles largely depopulated twenty-six Minnesota counties, creating an overwhelming refugee crisis in the state.

While the captive experience was traumatic in mind and spirit, especially for those who witnessed the killing of family members, an even worse fate awaited many young women and girls. Anderson is much more willing than most authors to directly address the controversial topic of rape, and his treatment of the subject is easily the most full, frank, and sensitive of the major Dakota War studies. Ties of kinship or friendship between captives and sympathetic Dakota mixed-bloods, Christian converts, and others who opposed the war protected some individuals, but other girls and women forcibly taken as Dakota "wives" were almost certainly raped. A few were subjected to serial sexual assault in the form of ritualized warrior bonding. In the subsequent military trials, only two Dakota defendants among those that willingly surrendered were convicted of rape, but outrage over the numerous reported acts committed by those still free undoubtedly prejudiced the conduct of judicial proceedings already far from legally sound.

The book's coverage of the military commission that tried the Dakota prisoners who did surrender is extensive, and Anderson joins the chorus of prior historians and writers in condemning the summary and completely irregular nature of the trial proceedings that eventually convicted over 300 men of capital crimes. Though many in the state fully expected all to die by hanging, religious advocates and the eastern press effectively lobbied against such an outcome. Eventually, President Lincoln assigned a pair of administration lawyers the task of sorting out the worst of the worst (i.e. those convicted of rape and/or the killing of settlers). The task was made difficult by the quality of evidence available, but 38 death sentences were confirmed in the end. In the most remembered event related to the war, these men were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota on December 26, 1862. Though the author appropriately explores the trials and punishments in the twin contexts of ethnic animus and revenge, it might arguably have been worthwhile to also draw connections between the proceedings in Minnesota to the wider critique of the legal jurisdiction and conduct of Civil War military commissions as a whole.

In comparison to other general Dakota War studies, Anderson's book does draw more attention than most to the plight of the refugee victims of both sides. After being confined for many months in various places, the roughly 1,500 interned Dakota were temporarily relocated west in 1863 to the Crow Creek Reservation. The Minnesota treaties and annuities were abrogated, and the Dakota as a whole were banished from the state (even those bands that did not participate in the uprising or actively opposed it). Little Crow and most of the uprising's worst perpetrators escaped west into the Northern Plains, where they failed to strike a grand alliance with the Western Dakota. Also briefly traced in the book are the efforts on the part of Minnesota officials to obtain federal funds for property loss compensation and refugee care. Only a small fraction of what was needed or desired was obtained to enable settlers to return to their devastated homesteads, many of which were looted by opportunists. It appears to be unknown whether any state officials outraged over the paucity of federal financial and material aid felt any personal guilt over their own role in laying the groundwork of Dakota unrest.

As one can readily discern from this review, Anderson's study extends little beyond 1862. While it can be argued that coverage of the 1863-65 phase of the Dakota War lies beyond the scope of this particular book, at least some of the major actors were the same and readers wanting to know where all this directly led might have profited from a more informative summation than the very brief and selective one Anderson provides in the final chapter. It's a minor complaint, though.

The 1862 Dakota War was a tremendous tragedy all around, and it remains highly controversial today. The author himself says it quite well in his closing comments aimed at hero and victim advocates on either side, urging us to "finally remember that accounts that are designed to vilify or honor the actions of men and women who are undeserving of either only compound the problem associated with facing our past." Treating all aspects of the 1862 Dakota War with matching gravity, Gary Clayton Anderson's Massacre in Minnesota can justifiably lay claim to being the finest single-volume treatment of "the most violent ethnic conflict in American history." Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Book News: The Impulse of Victory

If your Civil War interests run Appalachian Tennessee and Georgia, David Powell just might be your favorite author. Late this year, Southern Illinois University Press will publish his The Impulse of Victory: Ulysses S. Grant at Chattanooga. I would say it's his 'next' book, but November is a long way off and there might be more (including his Tullahoma Campaign study co-authored with Eric Wittenberg) in between! Fortunately, all of his books are good to great, so any new addition to his fast-growing catalog of titles (which will eventually include a multi-volume Atlanta Campaign history) is a source of high anticipation.

The placeholder text of the description—"Detailed examination of Major General Ulysses S. Grant's actions and decisions during the pivotal weeks of October and November 1863, which were crucial to both the outcome of the American Civil War and Grant's subsequent career"— is pretty meager at this point, but it seems to indicate that The Impulse of Victory will closely share characteristics with another World of Ulysses S. Grant series title, Timothy Smith's The Decision Was Always My Own: Ulysses S. Grant and the Vicksburg Campaign (2018) [my review]. Perhaps these books will eventually be part of a 'series within a series' examining Grant's decision-making during his various campaigns.

I recently received a review copy of another new entry in the series, and the Booknotes article for it will appear soon. Another interesting-sounding title is 2018's Interrupted Odyssey, which reexamines President Grant's Indian policy. If you've read it, feel free to tell us what you think about it in the comments section.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Booknotes: Atlanta's Fighting Forty-Second

New Arrival:
Atlanta's Fighting Forty-Second: Joseph Johnston's "Old Guard" by W. Clifford Roberts Jr. & Frank E. Clark (Mercer UP, 2020).

From the description: "The Forty-Second Georgia Volunteer Infantry was organized in the spring of 1862 at Camp McDonald near Big Shanty. The regiment was made up of companies from DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Milton, Newton, and Walton counties. Fighting in the Western Theater, they were major participants at Cumberland Gap, Champion's Hill, Vicksburg, Resaca, Atlanta, Nashville, and Bentonville. These Georgians proved to be capable fighters and were, on four occasions, assigned to cover the retreat of the Army of Tennessee." As depicted on the cover art of W. Clifford Roberts and Frank Clark's new regimental history Atlanta's Fighting Forty-Second: Joseph Johnston's "Old Guard", the charge of the 42nd east of the city and north of the Georgia Railroad during the July 22, 1864 Battle of Atlanta is featured on the Atlanta Cyclorama.

Roberts and Clark's "detailed narrative highlights first person accounts drawn from soldier's letters, diaries, and field reports, as well as from Federal soldiers directly across the trench lines. Excerpts from the letters and diaries of Colonel Lovick P. Thomas and his wife Jennie, stand out in this story for their honesty, devotion, and perseverance in trying times."

More from the description: "This story continues past the war and describes how these veterans rebuilt their homes, farms, and communities. Many of the former officers became important civic leaders in Atlanta, with five mayors of Atlanta having direct ties to the Forty-Second Georgia." As was the case with many other units that participated in high-profile battlefield events, the regiment's role in the fighting around the Troup Hurt House would be disputed by rivals. "Controversy would erupt in the 1890s between the Forty-Second Survivor's Association and the survivors of Manigault's South Carolina Brigade, as to which unit captured the famous DeGress Battery during the Battle of Atlanta."

The bibliography's breadth and depth of sources suggests a wide-ranging research effort went into the project. The book is supplemented with numerous photographs and maps. The detailed roster, which runs 150 pages and was prepared by the co-authors along with Joe Bailey, contains information on 1,355 individuals. The appendix section consists of [1] the muster roll of a Madison, GA prison guard detachment detailed from the regiment; [2] the Vicksburg parole list (641 soldiers); [3] a list of those present at final surrender (Greensboro, NC on May 1, 1865); [4] a 1864 casualty report; and finally [5] a list of men from the 42nd who died in federal POW camps.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Booknotes: Men Is Cheap

New Arrival:
Men Is Cheap: Exposing the Frauds of Free Labor in Civil War America by Brian P. Luskey (UNC Press, 2020).

Though one can surely assume the subject is addressed at some length among the many general studies of the Civil War draft, I've sometimes wondered whether there is enough in the topic of substitutes to warrant a standalone, book-length examination. Such a thing might already exist in the scholarly literature, but I'm not aware of any examples. Anyway, the reason I bring this up now is because it forms a significant part of Brian Luskey's Men Is Cheap: Exposing the Frauds of Free Labor in Civil War America, a brand new study that addresses wartime military and domestic labor arrangements in broad fashion.

From the description: "When a Civil War substitute broker told business associates that "Men is cheep here to Day," he exposed an unsettling contradiction at the heart of the Union's war effort. Despite Northerners' devotion to the principles of free labor, the war produced rampant speculation and coercive labor arrangements that many Americans labeled fraudulent. 

Debates about this contradiction focused on employment agencies called "intelligence offices," institutions of dubious character that nevertheless served the military and domestic necessities of the Union army and Northern households. Northerners condemned labor agents for pocketing fees above and beyond contracts for wages between employers and employees. Yet the transactions these middlemen brokered with vulnerable Irish immigrants, Union soldiers and veterans, former slaves, and Confederate deserters defined the limits of independence in the wage labor economy and clarified who could prosper in it."

According to Luskey, as unsavory as the reputations held by these brokers may have been, they did play a significant role in the ultimate Union triumph over the Confederacy. "(B)y helping to staff the Union military and Yankee households," labor brokers "did indispensable work that helped the Northern state and Northern employers emerge victorious." At the same time, they "also gave rise to an economic and political system that enriched the managerial class at the expense of laborers."

Monday, March 2, 2020

Booknotes: American Zouaves, 1859-1959

New Arrival:
American Zouaves, 1859-1959: An Illustrated History by Daniel J. Miller (McFarland, 2020).

As for me, I wouldn't have been caught dead wearing a Zouave uniform, but it's undeniable that significant swaths of volunteers from both sections were inspired by the example (or at least the look). I'll save details for the review, but Daniel Miller's American Zouaves, 1859-1959: An Illustrated History looks to be a pretty comprehensive register of the great multitude of units raised before, during, and after the Civil War.

From the description: "The elite French Zouaves, with their distinctive, colorful uniforms, set an influential example for volunteer soldiers during the Civil War and continued to inspire American military units for a century. Hundreds of militia companies adopted the flamboyant uniform to emulate the gallantry and martial tradition of the Zouaves. Drawing on fifty years of research, this volume provides a comprehensive state-by-state catalog of American Zouave units, richly illustrated with rare and previously unpublished photographs and drawings. The author dispels many misconceptions and errors that have persisted over the last 150 years."

The book begins with brief histories of both French Zouaves and the phenomenon of "Zouave Fever" that hit U.S. militia organizations before the Civil War. The great bulk of the study is a massive encyclopedia of Zouave units (companies, battalions, and regiments) arranged in chapters by state. Emphasized in the text are organization history and uniform descriptions. The volume is profusely illustrated with extensively captioned B&W photographs as well as color plates. It's reference book priced and really should have been a hardcover, but I would imagine that anyone with a heavy interest in Civil War Zouaves will want to get a personal copy sometime.