Sunday, May 31, 2020

Booknotes: The 6th Michigan Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War

New Arrival:
The 6th Michigan Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster by Eric R. Faust (McFarland, 2020).

Partly by chance and partly by selection, there's been an increase in Gulf Department-related regimental history coverage recently on the site. The latest is Eric Faust's The 6th Michigan Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War, which was a March release from McFarland.

From the description: "The 6th Michigan Volunteer Infantry first deployed to Baltimore, where the soldiers' exemplary demeanor charmed a mainly secessionist population. Their subsequent service along the Mississippi River was a perfect storm of epidemic disease, logistical failures, guerrilla warfare, profiteering, martinet West Pointers and scheming field officers, along with the doldrums of camp life punctuated by bloody battles. The Michiganders responded with alcoholism, insubordination and depredations. Yet they saved the Union right flank at Baton Rouge and executed suicidal charges at Port Hudson. This first modern history of the controversial regiment objectively recounts its travails and includes a statistical analysis, a roster, and a brief summary of the unit's service following conversion to heavy artillery."

It sounds like yet another interesting regiment that primarily fought on secondary fronts in the West. I'm in the middle of putting together an interview with author, so we'll hear more about the 6th Michigan very soon.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Booknotes: Abraham Among the Yankees

New Arrival:
Abraham Among the Yankees: Lincoln's 1848 Visit to Massachusetts by William F. Hanna (SIU Press, 2020).

Writing entire books about brief yet significant episodes (lasting anywhere from days to weeks) in Lincoln's life is a popular sub-category of Lincolniana publishing. Recent examples include Noah Andre Trudeau's excellent 2016 book about the president's City Point fortnight of 1865 and Steve Norder's 2020 study (my review of which will appear soon) of Lincoln's week-long Fort Monroe trip in early May 1862. 

A self-described "travelogue," William Hanna's Abraham Among the Yankees: Lincoln's 1848 Visit to Massachusetts "details Lincoln’s twelve-day trip through Massachusetts as a young, aspiring Illinois politician campaigning for Zachary Taylor, a slaveowner and the Whig candidate for president in (September) 1848. Moving swiftly, William F. Hanna follows Lincoln from town to town, explaining why Lincoln supported a slaveholder and describing one of Lincoln’s earliest attempts to appeal to an audience beyond his home territory."

In meticulously recounting Lincoln's 1848 Bay State speech circuit, Hanna "provides excellent context on the politics of the era, particularly the question of slavery, both in Massachusetts and nationwide, and he features the people Lincoln met and the cities or towns in which he spoke. Lincoln stumped for Taylor in Worcester, New Bedford, Boston, Lowell, Dorchester, Chelsea, Dedham, Cambridge, and Taunton." Lincoln's approach to public speaking invoked a great variety of audience reactions. "He gave twelve speeches in eleven days to audiences who responded with everything from catcalls to laughter to applause. Whatever they thought of Lincoln’s arguments, those who saw him were impressed by his unusual western style and remembered his style more than the substance of his talks."

As an added bonus, at only 69 pages of largish-print main narrative (researched using a variety of primary sources and fully documented) with many page-sized illustrations interspersed throughout, the book can easily be read in one sitting.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Review - "Not Till Then Can the World Know: Replacement Companies of the Fourteenth Iowa Infantry in the Trans-Mississippi" by L. Spencer Busch, ed.

[Not Till Then Can the World Know: Replacement Companies of the Fourteenth Iowa Infantry in the Trans-Mississippi by L. Spencer Busch & Valentine L. Spawr (Laurel Busch-Author, 2020). Softcover, 2 maps, photos, footnotes, roster appendix, bibliography, index. Pages:xiv,326. ISBN978-1-7347086-1-5. $9.99]

The 14th Iowa Volunteer Infantry regiment distinguished itself in a great number of campaigns and battles on both sides of the Mississippi River from Fort Donelson in 1862 through Pilot Knob in 1864. Though memoir, diary, and letter materials associated with the 14th have appeared in print over years (including regimental chaplain F.F. Kiner's 1863 classic One Year's Soldiering and the much more recent 2008 volume Soldier Life—Many Must Fall), it appears that no modern, full-length regimental history has been published. The 14th Iowa entered service in 1861, and three companies (A-C) were detached that October for  frontier duty at Fort Randall in Dakota Territory. The loss of the battalion became permanent in September 1862, necessitating the need to recruit three new companies to take their place. It is their Civil War story that is the primary focus of L. Spencer Busch's Not Till Then Can the World Know: Replacement Companies of the Fourteenth Iowa Infantry in the Trans-Mississippi.

The first part of the book consists of the 1863 diary of Busch's ancestor, 28-year-old Corporal (later Sergeant) Valentine Spawr of replacement company C. Written between June 18 and September 15, the diary documents the early period of Spawr's war service spent at Kentucky's Fort Halleck, which was located atop a Mississippi River bluff a short distance north of Columbus. Though the sparsely footnoted diary only covers a relatively brief interlude of rear area garrison duty, much of which was spent by the writer sick and in the camp hospital, there are definitely points of interest for Civil War readers. Spawr's literacy level was far from polished, but he was highly observant of his surroundings. His examination of the remnants of the heavy chain system that Confederate forces previously used to block river traffic at Columbus is interesting, as are his detailed descriptions of several prominent events he witnessed (including the execution of three contraband camp recruits who murdered a local family and the passing wreckage of the paddle-steamer Ruth). Overshadowed in Civil War maritime disaster lore by the even more horrific Sultana episode of 1865, the Ruth burned and sank on with heavy loss of life during the night of August 4-5, 1863. Spawr also documents his interactions with Chaplain Kiner, the prominent 14th Iowa author mentioned above. His noting how frequently the fort was placed on high alert, as well as how often troops became casualties when patrolling the surrounding area, effectively reminds readers how dangerous even secure rear area posts like Fort Halleck could be. Spawr's camp diary may not be the most terribly exciting one for more general Civil War readers, but it offers original, or at least rare, coverage [is there another Camp Halleck diary addressing this mid-war period as extensively as this one does?] representing another informative thread in the vast tapestry of published Civil War firsthand accounts.

The second part of the book picks up where the Spawr diary left off, with Busch's narrative following the 14th Iowa through a number of significant 1864 campaigns. As part of Col. William T. Shaw's brigade (Shaw was also the 14th's first commander) of A.J. Smith's Sixteenth Corps, the replacement companies experienced their first real field service during the February 1864 Meridian Campaign in Mississippi and participated in their first battle a short time later during the storming and capture of Fort DuRussy in Louisiana. The replacement companies and the rest of the 14th featured prominently at the Battle of Pleasant Hill, where Shaw's Brigade occupied a vulnerable bulge in the Union center and suffered heavy casualties. They also helped anchor the Union left at Yellow Bayou near the end of the Red River Campaign. On the whole, Busch's unit history narrative strikes a good balance between being attentive to the experiences of the replacement companies while also keeping the bigger picture in focus. Primary accounts associated with other regiments in the brigade are used effectively to fill gaps in 14th Iowa source coverage.

The regiment was next back in action in North Mississippi, where the Iowans were present at Smith's successful defense of Tupelo and suffered substantial casualties at Old Town Creek during the pursuit phase of the operation. Later that year, after Confederate forces under General Sterling Price advanced from Arkansas into Missouri, the 14th also provided key veteran support to the defenders of Fort Davidson at Pilot Knob. There, Union forces repulsed all of Price's attacks before slipping away. The daring escape from surrounded Fort Davidson and retreat to safety represented the end of the 14th's combat service. Desperate to retain veterans, the War Department initially attempted to renege on its earlier promise to muster out the replacement companies at the same time as the 1861 three-year enlistees but ultimately relented, and the short-timers were released from service along with the original seven companies in November 1864.

Busch also addresses at some length the circumstances behind the ordering of Col. Shaw's dismissal from the army for official misconduct in criticizing both superiors and fellow officers. Shaw's complaints stemmed from his general dissatisfaction with the conduct of the Red River Campaign and his particular anger over what he perceived as lack of support on both flanks of his brigade at Pleasant Hill. Like many other citizen-officers, Shaw unwisely flouted army regulations by airing his grievances in public. Fortunately for Shaw, his otherwise excellent command record saved him from having the dismissal acted upon.

Complaints with the book center mostly around flaws and irregularities in formatting and presentation, the types of issues common to self-publishing. More and better maps would have been helpful. The editor/author's decision to deal almost exclusively with primary sources is admirable to a point but does exclude the possibility of engaging with an extensive secondary literature that frequently offers excellent coverage of many of the events described and analyzed in the text. The bibliography lists only a small number of digitized primary sources, but it is obviously incomplete as just a quick perusal through the footnotes reveals many sources (the most obvious ones being newspapers) not listed there. The very modestly priced book contains many valuable strengths as is, but it might be worth Busch's time to enhance the volume's lasting worth by publishing a future edition that fleshes out the bibliography and standardizes the footnotes.

In addition to the edited Spawr diary and narrative history of the 14th's extensive 1864 combat record in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Missouri, the book also contains a detailed roster of the three replacement companies compiled from Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion. Each of these elements hold considerable value for readers and researchers. Focusing on the 14th Iowa's extensive contributions to Union victory in both the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters during key moments of the second half of the Civil War, Not Till Then Can the World Know will hopefully also help inspire the creation of the complete regimental history the unit richly deserves.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Coming Soon (June '20 Edition)

*NEW RELEASES* - Scheduled for JUNE 2020:

The Scourge of War: The Life of William Tecumseh Sherman by Brian Holden Reid.
Rebels in the Making: The Secession Crisis and the Birth of the Confederacy by William Barney.
Civil War Flags of Tennessee by Stephen Cox.
Rediscovering Fort Sanders: The American Civil War and Its Impact on Knoxville's Cultural Landscape by Faulkner & Faulkner.
A War State All Over: Alabama Politics and the Confederate Cause by Ben Severance.
Confederate Veterans in Northern California: 101 Biographies by Jeff Erzin.
Vicksburg Besieged ed. by Woodworth & Grear.
Decisions of the Tullahoma Campaign: The Twenty-Two Critical Decisions That Defined the Operation by Michael Bradley.
Lincoln’s First Crisis: Fort Sumter and the Betrayal of the President by William Bruce Johnson.
Newest Born of Nations: European Nationalist Movements and the Making of the Confederacy by Ann Tucker.
Commonwealth of Compromise: Civil War Commemoration in Missouri by Amy Laurel Fluker.
Tempest Over Texas: The Fall and Winter Campaigns of 1863–1864 by Donald Frazier.
Carrying the Colors: The Life and Legacy of Medal of Honor Recipient Andrew Jackson Smith by Beckman & MacDonald.
Seceding from Secession: The Civil War, Politics, and the Creation of West Virginia by Wittenberg, Sargus, and Barrick.
Mud, Blood and Cold Steel: The Retreat from Nashville, December 1864 by Mark Zimmerman.

Comments: I've read the first six chapters of Reid's new Sherman biography, up through the point in the war when the general was making the transition from division to corps-level command. I like it well enough so far but obviously haven't gotten to the real meat of his Civil War career. For those who haven't read it yet, see my Tempest Over Texas preview. Nearly all the May titles I featured in the prior Coming Soon installment made it into the wild, so hopefully that will also be the case for June.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Booknotes: The Enduring Lost Cause

New Arrival:
The Enduring Lost Cause: Afterlives of a Redeemer Nation edited by Edward R. Crowther
(UT Press, 2020).

This new anthology is inspired by Charles R. Wilson's Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865–1920. Wilson's book was published forty years ago and reprinted in paperback format in 2009 (both versions released by University of Georgia Press). At least from what I can gather, what's new to the paperback second edition is the inclusion of a preface essay summarizing the historiographical developments that came about during the three decades preceding original publication.

Edited by Edward Crowther and published by University of Tennessee Press, The Enduring Lost Cause consists of twelve original essays, including a contribution by Wilson. They "show how various aspects of the Lost Cause ideology persist into the present. The Enduring Lost Cause examines the lasting legacy of a belief system that sought to vindicate the antebellum South and the Confederate fight to preserve it. Contributors treat such topics as symbolism, the perpetuation of the Lost Cause in education, and the effects of the Lost Cause on gender and religion, as well as examining ways the ideology has changed over time."

The essays "help the reader understand the development of a cultural phenomenon that affected generations of southerners and northerners alike, arising out of the efforts of former Confederates to make sense of their defeat, even at the expense of often mythologizing it. From fresh looks at towering figures of the Lost Cause (to reexamining the role of African Americans in disseminating the ideology (in the form of a religious explanation for suffering), the essayists carefully analyze the tensions between the past and the present, true belief and commercialization, continuity and change."

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Review - "The Damnedest Set of Fellows: A History of Georgia's Cherokee Artillery" by Fisher & Waters

[The Damnedest Set of Fellows: A History of Georgia's Cherokee Artillery by Gary D. Fisher and Zack C. Waters (Mercer University Press, 2020). Cloth, 11 maps, photos, footnotes, roster, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:246/308. ISBN:978-0-88146-739-0. $35]

Literature treatment of most topics related to Civil War artillery (including organization, training, and tactics) still lags far behind that of the other two main service branches of the Union and Confederate armies. Infantry and cavalry regimental histories continue to be produced at a steady clip through both academic and popular presses, but the same cannot be said for artillery battery studies. Even more uncommon are published histories of Confederate batteries that fought out west with the Army of Tennessee. Addressing that particular area of neglect is Gary Fisher and Zack Waters's The Damnedest Set of Fellows: A History of Georgia's Cherokee Artillery. The battery is most remembered for the dramatic way it lost its guns at the Battle of Resaca in 1864, but Fisher and Waters amply demonstrate that the Cherokee Artillery made its mark on many other western battlefields.

Modern Civil War unit studies typically follow one of two general formats, each having strengths and weaknesses complementary to the other. The first employs in-depth demographic metrics and analysis to explore enlistment motivations while also drawing meaningful connections with the home front communities and larger societies that spawned them, all of that accompanied by a service history mostly rudimentary by comparison. The second main type largely eschews unit demography along with most economic, social, and political contextual analysis in favor of providing readers with an exhaustive treatment of the unit's Civil War campaign and battle experience. The Damnedest Set of Fellows clearly belongs in the latter category.

The Cherokee Artillery was a prewar militia battery, its officers and men primarily hailing from Floyd County, Georgia. The battery and its commander, Capt. J.G. Yeiser, entered Confederate service immediately, leaving their home county in mid-June 1861 for training at Camp Brown near Big Shanty. Though Yeiser would lead the mixed-composition battery during its earliest operations in Tennessee, Belgian immigrant Max Van Den Corput would become the officer most closely associated with it.

Performing a task rather unusual for artillery, the unit's first active field service after being bounced around a bit involved anti-partisan sweeps in the rugged hills and mountains of East Tennessee. The battery was also closely involved in the fighting around strategically important Cumberland Gap. There the Cherokee Artillery helped repulse initial Union probes and fell back with the rest of the garrison when the gap was outflanked and abandoned. In the ensuing command shuffle, Yeiser was promoted and his former position as battery captain assumed by Van Den Corput. During the opening phase of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign, the battery and the rest of General Carter Stevenson's division blockaded the isolated Union division left behind to hold Cumberland Gap. The federals escaped and fled north into Kentucky, evading a Confederate pursuing force that included the Cherokee Artillery.

With the campaign in Kentucky unsuccessfully concluded, the battery joined General Braxton Bragg's army in Middle Tennessee before being transferred yet again, this time to Mississippi. With Union forces threatening Vicksburg from the north, one gun was sent to Fort Pemberton where it helped repulse General U.S. Grant's Yazoo Pass expedition in early spring 1863. However, after Grant later crossed the Mississippi River below Vicksburg and advanced inland with his army, the rest of the battery met disaster at Champion Hill on May 16, losing all of its guns there. The survivors were parceled out as needed during the Vicksburg siege. Upon exchange the battery was reorganized and reequipped with four new 12-lb. Napoleons. Though the Cherokee Artillery missed the Army of Tennessee's only major victory at Chickamauga, the battery saw heavy action on both flanks of Bragg's 'siege' line at Chattanooga, most conspicuously on the right where the gunners significantly assisted General Patrick Cleburne's stubborn defense.

Though Resaca is chiefly remembered for Union general James McPherson's missed opportunity there, the Cherokee Artillery was at the heart of arguably the most remarkable incident of the battle itself. Ordered to occupy a vulnerable entrenched position well forward of the main defensive line, the battery was swamped by a Union assault that resulted in the abandonment of all four guns and the loss of perhaps half the battery's strength. The Cherokee Artillery's stranded Napoleons were then removed during the night by federal infantry, who famously dug through the earthworks right under the noses of their Confederate opponents and dragged off the pieces with ropes.

Have lost their full fighting complement of artillery pieces yet again, the men feared the battery would be disbanded, but they were soon reequipped and sent back into action by June 1. According to the authors, the battery may not have seen much if any combat during the rest of the army's withdrawal to Atlanta. Historians still argue about how the majority of the rank and file perceived the change in army commander from Joseph E. Johnston to John Bell Hood, but at least one member of the Cherokee Artillery described the event as casting a "universal gloom" across the Army of Tennessee. Assigned to the Atlanta earthworks during most of the battles fought for control of the city, the battery made a brief appearance in the field only at Jonesboro (where it was apparently unengaged).

After Atlanta fell to General William T. Sherman's army group, the Cherokee Artillery accompanied Hood's depleted army as it broke contact with the enemy in North Georgia and struck once more into Tennessee. Though the battery was engaged in a diversionary bombardment in support of the army's movement to Spring Hill, the gunners remained in the rear during the subsequent Franklin battle. The battery did see significant front line action at Nashville and also during the retreat, losing one gun along the way.

After the disaster in Tennessee, the battery accompanied many of the army's other surviving units to North Carolina. Poorly supported in front line action yet again, the Cherokee Artillery was overrun for the final time in a sharp clash with Union general Stoneman's cavalry raiders at Salisbury, NC on April 12, 1865. What the record might be for how many times an artillery battery lost its full complement of guns to enemy action during the Civil War is unknown, but it's notable that the Cherokee Artillery suffered that fate three times.

Give their comparatively small pool of potential diarists and correspondents, artillery companies can be difficult research subjects for modern unit historians seeking an abundance of firsthand source materials. Though it appears that no manuscript collection examined by the authors included significant writings from the battery's officers (including captains Yeiser and Van Den Corput), enough rank and file accounts (supplemented by other primary sources) were found to construct a narrative reasonably rich with contemporary flavor. The inclusion of a detailed roster appendix makes the volume a useful reference tool as well.

The Damnedest Set of Fellows stands tall on its own terms as a solid Civil War battery history, but, as mentioned before, the fact that the book offers a rare glimpse into the Army of Tennessee's long arm greatly enhances its distinction. By way of both association and direct treatment, the study in some ways also serves as a useful artillery battalion (Johnston's) history. All of these features make the book well worthy of recommendation.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Book News: Battle Maps of the Civil War (Vol. 1)

Even though I grew up during the home computer age and remain comfortable with the latest technology, I'm still unabashedly attached to physical media. I like my special edition blu-rays of my favorite movies over ephemeral streaming libraries, and, as a bibliophile and avid collector, I certainly prefer physical books over digital versions. Like everybody else, I have no problem reading articles and other shorter length pieces on a viewing screen of some kind, but reading a digital version of a 400-page non-fiction Civil War book holds no appeal for me (at all). Unfortunately, with many publishers shipping books to customers but still only offering PDF copies to reviewers during the current Unpleasantness, this has reduced my supply of review options to a mere trickle with no end in sight. Though discouraging overall, this hopefully temporary change has given me some opportunity to burn through the backlog. I've also been filling the time with some more outside reading [a plug: if you're a fan of the Halloween movie franchise, I highly recommend Dustin McNeill and Travis Mullins's Taking Shape: Developing Halloween From Script to Scream!].

But getting back to the main point of this Book News entry, cartographer Steven Stanley has for many years now been producing excellent and stylistically unique battlefield maps for the Civil War Trust (now American Battlefield Trust) website. My question regarding the possibility of Stanley's maps ever being published in physical atlas format now appears to have been answered in the positive. Later this month (I had no inkling of this when compiling my May preview), Knox Press will be publishing American Battlefield Trust's Battle Maps of the Civil War: The Eastern Theater (Maps from the American Battlefield Trust, Volume 1).

No table of contents or preview of any inside pages is available, but the book will at least have proper dimensions (8.5" x 11") for a map study. From the description: "Through the decades, the American Battlefield Trust" [no co-author credit for Stanley?] "has created dozens of maps detailing the action of hundreds of battles. Now, for the first time in book form, they have collected the maps of some of the most iconic battles of the Eastern Theater of the Civil War into one volume. From First Bull Run to the Surrender at Appomattox Court House, you can follow the major actions of the Eastern Theater from start to finish utilizing this unparalleled collection." I don't know how many volumes are planned or whether any new maps were commissioned exclusively for the books, but I'm interested.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Review - "Obstinate Heroism: The Confederate Surrenders after Appomattox" by Steven Ramold

[Obstinate Heroism: The Confederate Surrenders after Appomattox by Steven J. Ramold (University of North Texas Press, 2020). Cloth, 18 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xiii,365/504. ISBN:978-1-57441-791-3. $34.95]

Appomattox will probably always be popular shorthand for the end of the Civil War, but students of the conflict know that the issue of Confederate surrender was far more complicated and potentially destabilizing than that. With fighting between Union and Confederate forces still raging on multiple fronts while events in Virginia were winding down to their ultimate conclusion, more than two months would pass before the last Confederate general conceded defeat. The capitulation or disbandment of major Confederate forces in North Carolina, Alabama, and the Trans-Mississippi West, along with the final winter and spring 1865 military campaigns that preceded them, are the topics of Steven Ramold's Obstinate Heroism: The Confederate Surrenders after Appomattox.

Situating the post-Appomattox surrenders within their proper military contexts is an essential starting point, but Ramold goes even further with his unexpectedly detailed accounts of the 1865 fighting in North Carolina, the Mobile Campaign, and Wilson's Raid through Alabama and Georgia. Only the Trans-Mississippi surrenders were not immediately preceded by a major military campaign. The evaluations of opposing commanders presented in these lengthy sections (which in total might even comprise more than half the book) are well worth considering, the author's assessment of Richard Taylor's career arguably contrasting most with convention.

The volume appropriately stresses both similarities and differences among the Confederate surrenders of April, May, and June 1865. None exhibited the ceremonial formality that Appomattox did, but all were profoundly affected by the dissolution of Robert E. Lee's army in Virginia. In every active theater and home front, news of Lee's surrender (official confirmation of which spread slower than usual among southern forces due to the breakdown of communications networks) produced general demoralization and steep spikes in desertion rates. Evidence of this reaction further reinforces the view among scholars that the Army of Northern Virginia had by late 1864 become, more than any other institution or individual (even President Davis), the symbolic embodiment of the Confederate cause and nation. With Confederate civilian leadership on the run and out of communication with its armed forces, all of the post-Appomattox surrender negotiations (save those between Sherman and Johnston in North Carolina) were conducted without input from the Davis administration. Additionally, all were carried out under the backdrop of rapidly collapsing military and civilian morale. Another similarity was the near universal lack of support (inside or outside the military) for carrying on the conflict through breaking up remaining armies into independent guerrilla bands.

Outside of Appomattox, Bennett Place in North Carolina is by far the literature's best documented surrender event. Among the most worthwhile modern secondary sources are fine book-length histories from Mark Bradley and, most recently, Eric Wittenberg. Ramold's summarization of the closing moments of the war in North Carolina is broadly in accord with this earlier scholarship, and his sympathetic treatment of Sherman's conduct in controversially mixing politics with military matters persuasively absolves the general of at least the most serious charges made against him at the time. Indeed, Ramold makes a good point that, for all its mistakes and embarrassments, the North Carolina surrender did have a wider positive outcome in that it finally established the military-political guidelines and parameters for surrender negotiations that would smooth subsequent proceedings, all of which occurred under circumstances different from those of Lee's surrounded army at Appomattox.

Though General E.R.S. Canby's occupation of Mobile and General James Wilson's destructive cavalry raid had the combined effect of hemming in Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana commander Richard Taylor's remaining forces, there remained (as was also the case in North Carolina) at least some possibility of carrying on the conflict. However, Taylor saw no profit in further resistance and instead surrendered his department at Citronelle, Alabama on May 4. Taylor's motivations for giving up while still retaining some freedom of action remain open to interpretation, but the author is likely on to something in surmising that the decision-making process of wealthy citizen-general Taylor was dominated by businessman-like pragmatism. In contrast to that of many professional officers who were considering surrender, Taylor's thinking was not encumbered by military punctilio and West Point-ingrained tenets of military duty and honor.

Differing from Taylor's strictly realist mindset was Edmund Kirby Smith's determination to fight on in his Trans-Mississippi department. With available forces under his command still large (at least on paper) and Union forces mostly distant, Kirby Smith felt duty bound to continue the war until actually compelled to surrender, his actions further guided by his belief that he could not stop fighting without first consulting the Confederacy's civilian leadership (President Davis was widely rumored to be on his way to the Trans-Mississippi). However, his own officers and men took matters into their own hands in what the author persuasively terms "self-demobilization." Kirby Smith himself did not help matters by transferring his headquarters to distant Texas, an ill-advised action that created a leadership vacuum at a critical time while convincing already anxious Confederate Missourians, Arkansans, and Louisianans that their states were being wholly abandoned. When word of surrender negotiations (both rumored and real) leaked out, morale and discipline in the ranks eroded quickly. Almost overnight mass desertion left many Trans-Mississippi regiments with only token remnants, and many of those who remained were determined to give up at the first honorable opportunity. Soon an entire military district surrendered independently, and General Simon B. Buckner came to an even larger agreement with Union forces in New Orleans without permission from department commander Kirby Smith, who could only endorse it in resigned dismay.

Though bibliography and notes indicate a prodigious volume of research went into Obstinate Heroism's detailed narrative and convincing analysis, the book's authority is hampered somewhat by editing problems. The volume's flurry of typos, errors in general officer rank, carelessness with names, and occasional factual mistakes have the cumulative effect of causing some concern. The manuscript would have benefited greatly from another thorough proofreading pass. Given the substantial length of the study, it's also not as comprehensive as it might have been. Just a little judicious trimming of military events here and there could have freed up space for coverage of surrenders in Indian Territory, which were important on their own terms but also included what is considered the war's very last surrender of organized Confederate forces on June 23.

In spite of all that, the book clearly possesses considerable insights and value. Though many of the military campaigns and surrenders recounted in Obstinate Heroism have received good and often quite substantial coverage elsewhere, Ramold's thoughtful analysis and multi-contextual integration of those events represent a unique and quite useful scholarly contribution. Recommended.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Book News: Into Tennessee and Failure

This is the time of year for the Fall-Winter catalogs to display their wares, and it looks like readers won't have too long to wait for the second half of Stephen Davis's incisive reexamination of John Bell Hood's Civil War generalship. You might recall that I liked Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood quite a bit. Neither ardent Hood apologist nor old school excoriator, Davis has produced what I believe to be the best balanced treatment to date of Hood's battlefield leadership through September 1864. Set for an early November release through Mercer University Press, Davis's concluding volume Into Tennessee and Failure: John Bell Hood will guide readers through North Georgia, northern Alabama, Middle Tennessee, and the disastrous end of both the Army of Tennessee and Hood's military career. I'm looking forward to reading what Davis has to say about Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Booknotes: Custer's Gray Rival

New Arrival:
Custer's Gray Rival: The Life of Confederate Major General Thomas Lafayette Rosser by Sheridan R. Barringer (Fox Run Pub, 2019).

Some readers might recall this title being in the production queue of another publisher for a long time before disappearing (those things happen). However, those who were looking forward to it should be delighted to know that Fox Run Publishing picked it up and released it recently. Though a relative newcomer to the scene, Fox Run has published, among other things, a pair of very good Eric Wittenberg titles covering the Battle of Aiken and the Bennett Place surrender. Getting back to the matter at hand, General Rufus Barringer biographer Sheridan Barringer's new book Custer's Gray Rival: The Life of Confederate Major General Thomas Lafayette Rosser is "the first serious biography of this important officer."

Though it's likely that few cavalry aficionados would rank Rosser among the best generals the war produced, he was at the very least an interesting individual. From the description: "Tom Rosser served in nearly every battle of the Army of Northern Virginia. The lanky officer, known as much for his temper as his fighting abilities, resigned from West Point two weeks prior to graduation when Virginia seceded from the Union. He began the war in the artillery, transferred to the cavalry, and ended the fight under a cloud of some disgrace―even after helping win the last victory in Virginia."

Well known to Civil War readers as an intimate and protege of the legendary General J.E.B. Stuart, Rosser proved to be one of those touchy officers who could be their own worst enemy. According to Barringer, Rosser's "ability to take umbrage at the slightest offense was matched by his impatience and oversized ego." More: "Rosser, who believed Stuart was conspiring to keep him from making general, finally achieved that rank in October of 1863 and went on to lead the famous Laurel Brigade in a number of campaigns. In 1864 after Stuart's death, he accused his new commander, General Wade Hampton, of blocking his promotion to major general." His Civil War career was also closely linked to that of West Point classmate George Armstrong Custer (thus the book's title).

Although Rosser certainly had his moments, he's probably best remembered for the two military disasters to which his name is permanently attached. "The cavalryman's most prominent service arrived in the Shenandoah Valley under Lt. Gen. Jubal Early in the fall of 1864, where Rosser led daring raids and achieved success in furnishing the army with valuable intelligence, livestock, and other supplies. His embarrassing failure in the Confederate debacle at Tom's Brook on October 9 against his former classmate and rival George Custer, combined with his absence from the front at a shad bake at Five Forks during the war's final days, cast a dark cloud over his otherwise solid record."

The text is supported by eight maps along with many other illustrations, and footnotes are employed instead of endnotes (which is always nice). In researching the book, Barringer "mined manuscript collections, first-person accounts, and scores of letters and other memoranda written by Rosser himself," and the end result is "a long overdue study of one of American's most interesting characters."

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Review - "The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863" by Timothy Smith

[The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863 by Timothy B. Smith (University Press of Kansas, 2020). Hardcover, 15 maps, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xviii,371/501. ISBN:978-0-7006-2936-7. $45]

With their Confederate foes reeling from consecutive routs at Champion Hill (May 16) and Big Black River Bridge (May 17), the victorious officers and men of U.S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee believed themselves on the brink of total victory when their pursuit reached the outer ramparts of Vicksburg itself. However, Confederate commander John C. Pemberton still had two fresh divisions at his disposal, and these troops would be instrumental in repulsing Union assaults on both May 19 and May 22, 1863. Though the events of those two days have already been documented at some length in the modern literature—in greatest detail within Ed Bearss's classic trilogy The Vicksburg Campaign and most recently in the slender essay anthology The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19-22, 1863—the attacks surely constitute a battle worthy of standalone study. Indeed there is already another book-length treatment of the twin assaults scheduled for release later this year! One of the foremost western theater military historians active today and the author of the Vicksburg Campaign's finest battle study (2004's Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg), Timothy Smith has now created in The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863 the new standard history of the failed attacks that abruptly concluded the mobile phase of the Vicksburg Campaign and ushered in the static siege phase that would last six trying weeks and result in the capitulation of the Hill City and its large garrison.

As expected, Smith's accounts of the May assaults exhibit all of the praiseworthy scholarship elements that have made his body of work essential reading for Civil War western theater military history students. Supported by hundreds of firsthand accounts obtained through meticulous scouring of archive collections, the battle narrative is highly detailed yet also easy to follow. That ground-level battlefield perspective is also duly situated within suitable operational and strategic-level contexts. Conveying in highly evocative fashion the nuances of battlefield topography is another hallmark of Smith's work, and that part of the discussion in this volume is especially critical in understanding why the Vicksburg assaults failed. Other factors contributing to Confederate success were the great strength of their earthwork defenses (their skillful placement and construction the work of engineer officer Capt. Samuel Lockett), the determination of the defenders, and Pemberton's adroit dispositions of both front line troops and reserves. It is impossible to imagine a major Civil War army more self-confident from top to bottom as Grant's must have been as it first approached Vicksburg. Yet even so, many Union brigades attacked only feebly or not at all. After reading Smith's accounts of the fighting, one might reasonably come to the conclusion that Vicksburg's particularly daunting combination of man-made defenses and terrain comprised the war's most extreme example of a fighting environment demoralizing attackers. With this in mind, one does wish the book's maps, which are numerous enough and depict trenches, roads, and unit positions in fine detail, could have conveyed a better sense of the underlying topography.

May 19 was a hasty attack largely confined to one division (Blair's) of General William T. Sherman's Fifteenth Corps while the May 22 assault was much larger in scale and better planned and coordinated among the army's three corps, yet both failed in spectacular fashion. The relative ease by which the Confederates repulsed the Union attacks on both days invites the question of whether any circumstances could have resulted in a successful breaching of the Vicksburg defenses by direct assault. In the text Smith carefully describes the planning and conduct of each assault from top to bottom, detailing how the Confederate defenses proved immune to every attacking formation employed by Union commanders. All assaults made in either line or column formation through steep ravines choked with vegetation and obstructions were complete failures, as were those conducted by the flank along roads. Small groups of attackers could reach the ditches outside the Confederate trenches, but could never penetrate the perimeter. The narrow tip of the Railroad Redoubt, which projected well beyond the main line of defense, was seized by troops from General McClernand's Thirteenth Corps but could not be held or exploited (more on that below). Though Smith does not fully formulate any alternate history scenario leading to Union success, he does acknowledge that any slim possibility likely existed only on McClernand's front. Smith hypothesizes that perhaps the best breakthrough opportunity materialized on the extreme southern front where Hall's large brigade moving north from Warrenton briefly confronted the most thinly-held stretch of earthworks before being inopportunely recalled by McClernand. It is indeed an intriguing 'might-have-been' episode, but the fact that it involved a single unsupported brigade summons some doubt as to what it might have achieved.

Grant has deservedly received high marks from military historians for his overall conduct of the Vicksburg Campaign, and most have been forgiving of his failures over the period covered by Smith's study, but the author finds no compelling evidence to support Grant's claim in his celebrated memoir that the men in his army needed to try an assault first before being convinced of the necessity of siege operations. According to Smith and others (see Hills's contribution to the essay anthology referenced above), the failed attacks better represent more confirmation (after Belmont, Donelson, and Shiloh) of Grant's persistent overconfidence in his own army's abilities and underestimation of Confederate competence and resolve. Grant's assigning principal blame for the high casualties on May 22 to McClernand also rings a bit false, as the resumption of attacks he ordered in mid-afternoon in response to McClernand's frantic messages about his corps being on the brink of victory were relatively feeble in comparison to those launched earlier in the day.

Thoughts regarding how much opprobrium McClernand deserves for the high casualties incurred by the army on May 22 vary, but all agree that the general committed significant mistakes on that day. As Steven Woodworth also did in a recently published essay, Smith persuasively finds fault in McClernand's odd corps dispositions that unnecessarily complicated command and control. Like Woodworth, Smith also characterizes the inaccurate nature of  the general's dispatches to Grant as unprofessional errors in judgment rather than deliberate attempts to deceive. Smith additionally finds it ironic that McClernand, who constantly urged upon Grant the necessity of employing deep attacks on a narrow front, himself spread his own corps out among multiple objectives. Though he was the only corps commander to bring all of his brigades into the fight on the 22nd (the combined efforts of generals Sherman and McPherson in marshaling their own corps for the attack were timid by comparison), McClernand's exaggeration of his level of success and his loud complaints about lack of support only further isolated himself from the Grant-Sherman-McPherson high command team that already considered him a dangerous interloper. Indeed, the closing of ranks at the top resulted in a post-battle blame game that overlooked the failures of Sherman and McPherson and exaggerated those of McClernand.

In addition to discussing the plight of the wounded left on the ground in the aftermath of the failed attacks, Smith also addresses the civilian experience of those days. With no mass evacuation of the population before the arrival of Grant's army, civilians were doomed to suffer alongside the soldiers, and the book briefly recounts how noncombatants both inside and outside Vicksburg were affected by the May fighting.

In providing definitive-level coverage of yet another important western theater event, The Assaults on Vicksburg only further cements Timothy Smith's status as an indispensable force in the field of Civil War military history. The volume is an essential contribution to a Vicksburg literature that is slowly but surely reaching the maturation level that it deserves as one of the war's most momentous campaigns. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Booknotes: Blood in the Borderlands

New Arrival:
Blood in the Borderlands: Conflict, Kinship, and the Bent Family, 1821–1920 by David C. Beyreis (Univ of Neb Press, 2020).

From the description: Though I have to wonder if more than a small percentage of Americans today would be even recognize the name, "(t)he Bents might be the most famous family in the history of the American West. From the 1820s to 1920 they participated in many of the major events that shaped the Rocky Mountains and Southern Plains. They trapped beaver, navigated the Santa Fe Trail, intermarried with powerful Indian tribes, governed territories, became Indian agents, fought against the U.S. government, acquired land grants, and created historical narratives."

Born in St. Louis in 1809, William Bent formed a business partnership with three of his brothers in the 1820s, and the four initially engaged in the fur trade along the upper Arkansas River in today's Colorado. Establishing the famous Bent's (Old) Fort along a branch route of the Sante Fe Trail, the brothers were successful and influential traders. Utilizing a borderlands practice common throughout human history, Bent cemented economic and familial ties with the Cheyenne through intermarriage. More from the description: "The Bent family’s financial and political success through the mid-nineteenth century derived from the marriages of Bent men to women of influential borderland families—New Mexican and Southern Cheyenne. When mineral discoveries, the Civil War, and railroad construction led to territorial expansions that threatened to overwhelm the West’s oldest inhabitants and their relatives, the Bents took up education, diplomacy, violence, entrepreneurialism, and the writing of history to maintain their status and influence."

One lengthy chapter in Blood in the Borderlands: Conflict, Kinship, and the Bent Family, 1821–1920 specifically examines the Civil War years, focusing much of its attention on Sand Creek. Acting in the capacity of a diplomatic go-between, Bent could not avert the tragedy, and family members were present in Black Kettle's Southern Cheyenne village when it was attacked by Col. Chivington's Colorado volunteers in November 1864. After the war, Bent served as one of the U.S. negotiators that secured new treaties between the U.S. government and the Upper Arkansas tribes.

I'm far from knowledgeable enough about the existing Bent family literature to comment on how Blood in the Borderlands complements it, but author David Beyreis "incorporates new material about the women in the family and the “forgotten” Bents and shows how indigenous power shaped the family’s business and political strategies as the family adjusted to American expansion and settler colonist ideologies." Kudos to the person who came up with the title, too, as it is an excellent combination of alliteration and double meaning!

Friday, May 1, 2020

Booknotes: Ex Parte Milligan Reconsidered

New Arrival:
Ex Parte Milligan Reconsidered: Race and Civil Liberties from the Lincoln Administration to the War on Terror edited by Stewart L. Winger & Jonathan W. White (UP of Kansas, 2020).

Jonathan White is the author of the most recent authoritative study of one great Civil War legal case in 2011's Abraham Lincoln and Treason in the Civil War: The Trials of John Merryman, and now he and Stewart Winger are the editors behind a new anthology examining the long-term significance of another important Civil War legal battle, that of Lambdin Milligan. Here's a bit of background from the description: "At the very end of the Civil War, a military court convicted Lambdin P. Milligan and his coconspirators in Indiana of fomenting a general insurrection and sentenced them to hang. On appeal, in Ex parte Milligan the US Supreme Court sided with the conspirators, ruling that it was unconstitutional to try American citizens in military tribunals when civilian courts were open and functioning—as they were in Indiana. Far from being a relic of the Civil War, the landmark 1866 decision has surprising relevance in our day, as this volume makes clear. Cited in four Supreme Court decisions arising from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Ex parte Milligan speaks to constitutional questions raised by the war on terror; but more than that, the authors of Ex parte Milligan Reconsidered contend, the case affords an opportunity to reevaluate the history of wartime civil liberties from the Civil War era to our own."

In addressing critics of the Lincoln administration's record on wartime civil rights, the essays collectively argue that much of that criticism "distorts the nineteenth-century understanding of the Bill of Rights, neglects international law entirely, and, equally striking, ignores the experience of African Americans." The volume asserts that, "(i)n reviving Milligan, the Supreme Court has implicitly cast Reconstruction as a “war on terror” in which terrorist insurgencies threatened and eventually halted the assertion of black freedom by the Republican Party, the Union Army, and African Americans themselves."

More: "Returning African Americans to the center of the story, and recognizing that Lincoln and Republicans were often forced to restrict white civil liberties in order to establish black civil rights and liberties, Ex parte Milligan Reconsidered suggests an entirely different account of wartime civil liberties, one with profound implications for US racial history and constitutional law in today’s war on terror."

Comprising twelve essays, this is a big book that covers a lot legal and historical ground. Winger's general introduction highlights the impact of Milligan a century and half later on the constitutional debates over military commissions, and the rest of the contributions are arranged along four main themes as indicated below.

Part 1. The Meaning of Martial Law

1. Benjamin F. Butler, Ex Parte Milligan, and the Unending Civil War, Brian Matthew Jordan
2. Martial Law and the Expansion of Civil Liberties during the Civil War, Jonathan W. White
3. The Janus-Faced Character of Martial Law in the American Civil War, or the Strange Case of Lieutenant Alanson L. Sanborn and Dr. David M. Wright, Mark S. Schantz

Part 2. The Copperheads of the Middle West

4. Race, Class, and Copperheadism: The Localist Foundations of Dissent in the Civil War's Middle Border, Christopher Phillips
5. "the State Was Honeycombed with Secret Societies": Governor Oliver P. Morton and the Copperheads in Indiana, A. James Fuller
6. "These Scoundrels Stand in No Fear of the Civil Courts: They Do, of the Military": The Decision to Use Military Commissions to Try the Indiana Conspirators in 1864, Stephen E. Towne

Part 3. The Milligan Decision

7. Ex Parte Milligan in Context and History: David Davis and the Constitutional Politics and Law of Civil Liberty, Michael Les Benedict
8. To Leave Behind the Law of Force: Salmon Chase and the Civil War Era, Michael Haggerty
9. The Least Naive Position: The Lincoln Administration and International Law in American Wars on Terror, Stewart L. Winger

Part 4. The Precedential Power of Milligan

10. Ex Parte Milligan in the State Courts: Madison Y. Johnson's Vindication in Illinois, John A. Lupton
11. Ex Parte Milligan in Context and History: From Reconstruction to the War on Terror, Michael Les Benedict
12. Ex Parte Milligan and the War on Terrorism: Testing the Constitutional Bedrock of a Civilian Criminal Trial, Jonathan Hafetz