Monday, April 20, 2020

Book News: The Howling Storm

Kenneth Noe's highly anticipated study of weather effects on Civil War armies has now appeared in LSU Press's fall catalog. In The Howling Storm: Weather, Climate, and the American Civil War (October 2020), Noe "retells the history of the conflagration with a focus on the ways in which weather and climate shaped the outcomes of battles and campaigns. He further contends that events such as floods and droughts affecting the Confederate home front constricted soldiers’ food supply, lowered morale, and undercut the government’s efforts to boost nationalist sentiment. By contrast, the superior equipment and open supply lines enjoyed by Union soldiers enabled them to cope successfully with the South’s extreme conditions and, ultimately, secure victory in 1865."

More from the description: "Climate conditions during the war proved unusual, as irregular phenomena such as El Niño, La Niña, and similar oscillations in the Atlantic Ocean disrupted weather patterns across southern states. Taking into account these meteorological events, Noe rethinks conventional explanations of battlefield victories and losses, compelling historians to reconsider long-held conclusions about the war. Unlike past studies that fault inflation, taxation, and logistical problems for the Confederate defeat, his work considers how soldiers and civilians dealt with floods and droughts that beset areas of the South in 1862, 1863, and 1864. In doing so, he addresses the foundational causes that forced Richmond to make difficult and sometimes disastrous decisions when prioritizing the feeding of the home front or the front lines."

Some of the author's work on the topic has already been published (see his excellent essay in Bledsoe & Lang's 2018 anthology Upon the Fields of Battle, also from LSUP) and books like the very recent 2020 study An Environmental History of the Civil War have also addressed weather and climate factors, but The Howling Storm (which will be nearly 700 pages in length) promises the most complete treatment of the subject to date. I am greatly looking forward to reading it.

9 comments:

  1. And so it happens again. Books covering the same topic coming out close in time to each other. You were just commenting recently on the Smith and Hess books on the Vicksburg assaults appearing less than a year apart. I'll always remember being delighted by the wonderful (though slightly different) treatments of Fredericksburg by Rable and O'Reilly basically a year apart in the early 2000s. So many other examples. It's almost as if someone in the Civil War author community creates a "books-we-need" list and inspires multiple writers to go forth. I wonder if any of your readers might have an explanation (I'm talking to you, Ted Savas!). As John Foskett and others have recently noted (again) on your blog, the lack of more recent treatments of various battles in the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days is bewildering. Another mystery in life to ponder?

    John Sinclair

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  2. Hi John. Me? You're talking to me? (Every time I read or hear that I see and hear that Seinfeld episode with the two guys bullying Kramer on the street.)

    This phenom goes way back. When we published one of our first books in the mid-1990s "Last Stand in the Carolinas: The Battle of Bentonville" by Mark Bradley, my friend Nat Hughes of Chattanooga was also teaming up to do one on Bentonville and after all those years they arrived four months apart (ours first in May).

    I do often craft projects based on need and thumb through the rolodex to find the right guy(s). We have some Peninsula Campaign / Seven Days in the works, and a few others on the "Books we Need" radar. Stay tuned....

    --Ted

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    1. Ted: Any hints? As you probably have figured out, there is a clique of us "out here" (and I'll include Drew) who have been wailing for years about the need for much more on this campaign - all with eternal rumors about O'Reilly, Krick the Younger, etc.

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    2. Hi John. I am going to have to hold off a bit because I want to see the state of the manuscript(s), which should be in the next couple of months. I will share that my former late partner's volume 4 manuscript of his "The Army of the Potomac" series (a real shame Cap didn't live to finish it) is 1,200 manuscript pages and studies Fair Oaks/Seven Pines with essentially no secondary sources. Cap concludes that the battle has been conveyed to the public in a manner the high command of both armies would not have recognized and he intended to set that record straight. I have signed up someone to edit it for publication.

      Hope all is well. Ted

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    3. Ted: You as well.

      That sounds promising. As for vol. 4 of the Beatie series I look forward to anything that can shed light on what we've come to know as one of the more ineptly-managed battles of the war.

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  3. Drew, I am not an expert on Civil War Weather. I have Krick's book on Civil War Weather in Virginia. It is sitting in the massive pile of books to be read. I have seen several comments not sure as their accuracy of the impact of weather particularly in the Spring of 1862. It is an interesting topic that so often gets overlooked...along with logistics. My understanding is that the Spring of 1862 produced unusually wet weather patterns that caused many rivers, streams to overflow their banks to a greater degree than normal. Fort Henry which was poorly situated to begin with was inundated with even more water than normal due to rising Tennessee River and the Chickahominy River - usually a small stream is referred to over and over as a swollen stream extending far beyond it's banks. Another interesting book by Noe along with Hess's new book on feeding armies that I think all hardcore Civil War buffs should read. Way too often in roundtable discussions I hear people say this general should have acted faster at such and such, only to advise them of how exceptionally difficult the rugged terrain was in a mountain pass, or how their had been rain three days straight making roads impassable whereby an Army that could typically due 15 - 20 miles per day was limited to 3 miles, or how an Army was far from it's supply line of a River or a RailRoad and the Army was on the brink of starvation or almost out of ammunition. I wish more people would take these factors into accounts before critizing particular generals. Too often people buy into popular views without accounting for the logistics and the weather. Too age old enemies of Armies. Looking forward to this read along with another Hess masterpiece.

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    1. I think the mobility of CW armies is underappreciated, too. I read a lot of Napoleonic Wars books before I got into the ACW, and, IIRC, those writers were generally impressed with 10 miles/day movement on campaign (and that was with the dense road networks of highly developed and much more densely populated Europe).

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    2. Mr. Thomasco, have you been reading my page proofs? ;-)

      I agree completely. Factoring weather into battle and campaign history--as well as into the home front--forced me to reconsider fundamentals that I had believed and taught for years. Bashing this general or that one falls by the wayside when you have to stop and consider how muddy the road was.

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  4. I look forward to the book by Ken Noe. His essay regarding the Peninsula Campaign was very well done. I recall an essay in another collection a few years ago (author's name escapes me) about the influence of weather on the '62 Valley Campaign which also was well done.

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