Thursday, July 30, 2020

Review - "Gunboats, Muskets, and Torpedoes: Coastal North Carolina, 1861–1865" by Michael Laramie

[Gunboats, Muskets, and Torpedoes: Coastal North Carolina, 1861–1865 by Michael G. Laramie (Westholme Publishing, 2020). Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xii,305/359. ISBN:978-1-59416-336-4. $30]

Over the past few decades, North Carolina's Civil War military history literature has been transformed from one of the weakest of any high-activity front to one of the best, much of that change in affairs owed to the dedication of a number of talented avocational historians. Thus, the time is now ripe to replace John Barrett's dated Centennial classic The Civil War in North Carolina with a new introductory volume addressing all of the significant campaigns and battles fought inside the borders of the Old North State. With its more narrow approach to sourcing (more specifics on that below) and limited geographical reach, Michael Laramie's Gunboats, Muskets, and Torpedoes: Coastal North Carolina, 1861–1865 does not reach such all-encompassing heights, but it is in its own right a very fine overview of all major military events east of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad.

Beginning with the Union combined army-navy operation that seized the North Carolina barrier island inlets in 1861 and ending with a brief summary of the March 1865 Battle of Wise's Forks, the military breadth of the volume is remarkable comprehensive. In between those military bookends is rather detailed coverage of Burnside's Expedition, South Mills, the 1862 Goldsboro Raid, Potter's Raid, the 1863-64 Confederate offensives against Union-held enclaves (ex. New Bern, Plymouth, and Washington), the naval battle of Albemarle Sound, the Wilmington Campaign, and a host of smaller skirmishes and raids. Blockade running in and out of Wilmington is extensively addressed and appropriate attention paid to its scale and importance. The economic and logistical value of the tidewater region (particularly in its production and transportation of foodstuffs badly needed by Confederate forces fighting just to the north in Virginia) is also made clear to readers.

Though marred by frequent typos, the narrative presentation of the material strikes a nearly perfect balance between descriptive military detail and popular accessibility (a craft undoubtedly honed during the creation of the author's award-winning work on Colonial-era land and naval campaigns). Text accounts of the fighting are supplemented by dozens of maps and fortification drawings. Many of these are recognizable from their inclusion in the atlas to the O.R., but a minority are author originals.

With most of the campaigns and battles described in the book having excellent book-length coverage, it is curious that almost nothing in the way of full-length monographs produced over the past few decades made it into the author's bibliography (including a host of expected titles, many of which are definitive-level, from the likes of Sauers, Fonvielle, Gragg, Walker, Sokolosky, Moore, and others). Laramie cannot have been ignorant of this large body of work and excluding the current secondary literature was surely done with a purpose in mind. Some authors intentionally ignore secondary peer studies as a means of not being unduly influenced by their interpretations; however, as a reader, it is always comforting to be offered as least some proof that the writer (especially one new to the Civil War field) is conscious of the present scholarship. Though his bibliography also does not indicate any original archival research, Laramie was nevertheless able to parlay a fairly large selection of contemporary published sources [i.e. official army and navy records, newspapers, first-generation unit histories, veteran-authored articles, and the like] into a remarkably fulfilling account.

As other writers have done, Laramie effectively presents eastern North Carolina as a sub-theater of vital military importance, with a logistical significance (especially to the Confederates) that only increased as the war progressed. While appropriately highlighting the immense materiel and resource mismatch that went a long way toward explaining Union success and Confederate failure, Laramie also persuasively explains how the leadership disparity at all levels of command contributed mightily to Union dominance of the region. Enduring debate over whether Union forces should have done more to exploit their gains in North Carolina is addressed, albeit only in passing as part of the volume's concluding summary.

The strengths outlined above make Gunboats, Muskets, and Torpedoes a fitting candidate (arguably the best overview so far written) for first-line introduction to the Civil War in eastern North Carolina. General readers will find Laramie's narrative style highly engaging, and the author's comprehensive treatment of campaigns and battles possesses more than enough detail to attract experienced Civil War readers wanting to learn more about the topic.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Booknotes: Commonwealth of Compromise

New Arrival:
Commonwealth of Compromise: Civil War Commemoration in Missouri by Amy Laurel Fluker (UM Press, 2020).

As great western Border States that were bitterly divided and contributed large numbers of troops to both sides, Kentucky and Missouri provide rich ground for modern studies of both contested and collaborative commemoration and remembrance. However, it seems (at least to my limited knowledge) that the book-length Missouri scholarship in this regard (excepting guerrilla memory) lags behind that of Kentucky. Stepping in to bridge this distance is Amy Fluker's Commonwealth of Compromise: Civil War Commemoration in Missouri.

From the description: Fluker's book "offers a history of Civil War commemoration in Missouri, shifting focus away from the guerrilla war and devoting equal attention to Union, African American, and Confederate commemoration. She provides the most complete look yet at the construction of Civil War memory in Missouri, illuminating the particular challenges that shaped Civil War commemoration. As a slaveholding Union state on the Western frontier, Missouri found itself at odds with the popular narratives of Civil War memory developing in the North and the South. At the same time, the state’s deeply divided population clashed with one another as they tried to find meaning in their complicated and divisive history. As Missouri’s Civil War generation constructed and competed to control Civil War memory, they undertook a series of collaborative efforts that paved the way for reconciliation to a degree unmatched by other states.

The final chapter covers Missouri's veteran homes, which were privately funded until the legislature voted in 1897 to take over that responsibility. If you have chance, a visit to the Confederate Memorial State Historic Site (the site of the former Confederate Home) is well worthwhile if you're in the Kansas City area and can take a little drive out into the country to Higginsville. Citizen donations to The Federal Soldiers' Home Association allowed the purchase of the Dunmoor Mansion in St. James for conversion into the state's Federal Home, which opened in October 1896. The original buildings don't exist there anymore, but, as far as my cursory internet search goes, there is some interpretation at the VA clinic complex currently situated there.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Coming Soon (August '20 Edition)

*NEW RELEASES* - Scheduled for AUG 2020:

Rebels in the Making: The Secession Crisis and the Birth of the Confederacy by William Barney.
Fort Clinch, Fernandina and the Civil War by Frank Ofeldt.
Rediscovering Fort Sanders: The American Civil War and Its Impact on Knoxville's Cultural Landscape by Terry and Charles Faulkner.
Harnessing Harmony: Music, Power, and Politics in the United States, 1788–1865 by Billy Coleman.

Comments: Lots of paperback reprints of recent titles (which I don't list in these monthly posts), but once again a short list of originals.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Review - "The Second Colorado Cavalry: A Civil War Regiment on the Great Plains" by Christopher Rein

[The Second Colorado Cavalry: A Civil War Regiment on the Great Plains by Christopher M. Rein (University of Oklahoma Press, 2020). Hardcover, 5 maps, photographs, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xiii,213/287. ISBN:978-0-8061-6481-6. $34.95]

Barring any possibility of slavery's establishment in the vast undeveloped territories of the American West was a founding principle of the Republican Party, yet the reluctance of Civil War historians to directly link Civil War actors and events to westward expansion is longstanding. Indeed, one of the field's foremost historians, Gary Gallagher, has been particularly vocal in regarding the entire Trans-Mississippi theater as inconsequential and continues to argue for strict separation between the Civil War and Indian Wars fought there. Nevertheless, a small but significant body of scholarship (most of it centered on the American Southwest) has drawn our attention to connections and continuities between the American Civil War and the nation's many conflicts with indigenous populations of the Far West, Mountain West, and Great Plains regions. As Gregory Michno reminded us in The Settlers' War, the 1860s was "the bloodiest decade of the western Indian Wars," and much of that blood was shed between 1861 and 1865. Persuasive in presenting the Civil War and Indian Wars as parts of a single narrative of western expansion, many proponents of this interpretation argue that the Civil War both exacerbated existing conflicts and created new ones, all the while greatly accelerating the American West's settlement and economic development. According to this scholarship's findings, shared vision of western promise and opportunity also proved to be an important element of post-Civil War sectional reconciliation.

A number of volunteer infantry and cavalry regiments raised for Union Army service can be regarded as "agents" instrumental to this integrated process of expansion, perhaps none more so than the Second Colorado Cavalry, which fought conventional and unconventional Confederate forces in New Mexico, Missouri, and Indian Territory and confronted a variety of Indian opponents (including Confederate-allied nations of Indian Territory and numerous unaffiliated bands of Southern Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche, and Plains Apache) along the great western emigrant and trade routes between southeastern Colorado Territory and central Kansas. Their story is recounted in full for the first time in Christopher Rein's The Second Colorado Cavalry: A Civil War Regiment on the Great Plains.

Its results presented in both main text and in numerous tables collected in the appendix section, Rein's unit demographics research reveals that, though there was a strong international flavor in the ranks of the Second Colorado Cavalry, New York and Iowa were by far the two states that contributed the most men to the unit. In addition to being a transplanted northerner, the "average" Second Colorado soldier was a 27-year-old miner or farmer. Enlistment motivations were similar to those found in other Union regiments, with added economic incentives for the many disappointed miners who failed to profit from the 1859 gold rush that brought them to the territory in the first place.

As Rein meticulously recounts in the book, the formation of what would become the Second Colorado Cavalry followed a long and winding path. It began with the 1861 recruitment of two independent infantry companies (these would become companies A and B of the Second Colorado Infantry) to replace the Regular Army garrison of Fort Garland and protect the local population from hostile tribes and Confederate invasion threats. While the First Colorado Infantry's fame eclipsed that of any other territorial unit, the two newer companies also featured prominently in the 1862 New Mexico Campaign, where one company fought at Glorieta (joining in the First's celebrated destruction of the Confederate wagon train, perhaps the most popularly memorable event of the entire campaign) and the other suffered heavy casualties under the command of General E.R.S. Canby at Valverde.

Over the ensuing months, the Second Colorado was expanded to full strength (first with two mounted companies then later by six companies of infantry recruits from the Denver area). They defended the Santa Fe Trail and stage line against Indian raiders and suspected Confederate sympathizers, guerrillas, and recruitment officers. As Rein and others have shown, the raids, combined with news of the massacre of settlers in Minnesota that summer and constant rumors (unfounded as those were) of grand alliances between hostile tribal groups and the Confederacy, had by late 1862 created a climate of fear and insecurity that only increased as the war progressed. On a related note, Rein seems to give at least some credence to John Monnett's earlier claim that Sand Creek might not have occurred (and the 90-day Third Colorado not brought into existence) had repeated calls for the Second Colorado's return home been heeded by Union authorities who wanted to keep them along the Kansas-Missouri border. This is countered somewhat by Rein's findings of support for Governor Evans, Col. Chivington, and the actions of the Third Colorado in the Second's regimental newspaper, though the faraway writers would only have had very limited and very likely skewed secondhand knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the massacre at Sand Creek.

Though on paper the Second Colorado reached a full complement of companies by the end of 1862, they were (like many frontier-serving units) destined to remain scattered. With Colorado and New Mexico at least temporarily secure by early 1863, six companies of the Second were transferred east to General James Blunt's Army of the Frontier. Marching the breadth of Kansas from Fort Lyon using the Santa Fe Trail, the battalion reached Blunt in time to participate in the July 1863 Union victories at Cabin Creek and Honey Springs, the latter often credited as breaking the back of Confederate-Indian alliances in Indian Territory. Having helped turn the tide of the war in Indian Territory plainly to Union advantage, the battalion was ordered to Benton Barracks near St. Louis, where it was consolidated with the never-completed Third Colorado infantry regiment to form the new Second Colorado Cavalry.

Under Colonel James Ford, the Second Colorado Cavalry was soon relocated to the Burnt District of western Missouri, where it was felt that outsiders were needed to deescalate local antagonisms. There, the Coloradans received high praise all around for their neutral handling of relations between the Union Army's mutually hostile Kansas and Missouri forces in the area. Their aggressive and highly effective approach to combating irregulars also made the Second Colorado highly feared and respected opponents of Missouri's infamous bushwhackers. They did their job so well that, as referenced earlier, Union military authorities resisted all calls for their return to Colorado for home defense in 1864.

Also keeping the Second Cavalry in Missouri was the 'all hands on deck' response to Confederate general Sterling Price's powerful incursion into the state during the fall of 1864. The Second Cavalry provided needed veteran support to the patchwork of volunteer and militia units cobbled together to meet Price's advance toward Kansas City. The regiment occupied the center of the Union line at the Battle of the Little Blue, fought on the left flank during the Battle of Westport, and harried the enemy retreat through eastern Kansas and southwest Missouri. During an impetuous and ill-advised charge at Second Newtonia, the Second suffered its highest casualties of the war from a single battle. For their actions during the campaign and pursuit, Col. Ford and the Second were singled out for special recognition by both General Blunt and Department of Kansas commander Samuel Curtis.

As Rein details in the book, over the next year, as they had earlier done in western Missouri, the Second was once again divided up into garrison and patrol detachments. This time their opponents were not Missouri guerrillas but Plains Indian raiders, many of whom were incensed by news of Sand Creek and other events such as the Adobe Walls battle (where Kit Carson's command almost met disaster). According to the author, the counterinsurgency skills gained by the Coloradans in Missouri served them well in Kansas. In helping hold open a vital security corridor across the state that maintained the critical supply and communications link to the territories, the Second contributed greatly to the army forcing a series of agreements between the U.S. government and hostile bands that would collectively come to be known as the Treaty of the Little Arkansas.

In addition to documenting the military pacification efforts of the Second Cavalry in Kansas, Rein also clearly demonstrates that the Coloradans materially affected the pace of western settlement through their presence and actions there. Supplementing scholarship that began with studies of the notable effects of California Column soldiers on the economic and civic development of the American Southwest, Rein research finds, among other things, that the large lump salaries and bonuses that Second Colorado veterans received at discharge were a measurable boon to Kansas and Colorado settlement and commercial growth. Largely absent from the general literature is recognition that the survival skills mastered by Civil War soldiers, especially those who served on the frontier, comprised another major factor in the rapidity and success of western settlement in even the harshest natural environments. In pointing out to readers a number of aspects of the Second Colorado's Civil War experience in the areas of infiltration and intelligence gathering, counterinsurgency tactics, and mobility, Rein's book draws fruitful attention to areas where hard fought lessons learned from frontier Civil War operations were applied to later Indian Wars.

It is difficult to find anything that might be a source of serious complaint with Rein's research, writing, and analysis. According to the author, the reason the book lacks a suitable body of rank and file perspectives is that few members of the regiment left behind written records of their experiences. This also explains the text's seeming overabundance of references and quotes from Second Colorado bugler spouse Ellen Williams's 1885 memoir Three Years and a Half in the Army; Or, History of the Second Colorados.

Unfortunately pushed out of the limelight by the marching and fighting exploits of the First Colorado Infantry in New Mexico and the enduring infamy earned by the Third Colorado Cavalry at Sand Creek, the history of the Second Colorado Cavalry, though rather well represented in the Missouri literature, has been largely absent from the general narrative of Colorado Territory's Civil War contributions. In addition to finally bringing the neglected Second the attention it richly deserves, Christopher Rein's The Second Colorado Cavalry holds the added distinction of being the only full-length, modern history of a volunteer regiment raised in the territory. Thankfully, it is by every measure an exceedingly fine one.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Book News: The Old Army in Texas (2nd Edition)

The listings of upcoming 2020 titles that might spark my interest enough to feature here on the site hasn't changed at all really since March, so let's try something Civil War-adjacent. The Fall catalog for TAMU Consortium member Texas State Historical Association showcases a new edition of Thomas T. Smith's The Old Army in Texas: A Research Guide to the U.S. Army in Nineteenth Century Texas (SEPT 2020). Described as "a comprehensive and authoritative single-source reference for the activities of the regular army in the Lone Star State during the nineteenth century," it sounds like it is a straight paperback reprint of the original 2000 hardcover (which is still readily available). The only added material mentioned in the description is a new foreword from Ralph Wooster.

From the description: "Beginning with a series of maps that sketch the evolution of fort locations on the frontier, Smith furnishes an overview with his introductory essay. The second part of this guide lists the departmental commanders, the location of the military headquarters, and the changes in the administrative organization and military titles for Texas. Part III provides a dictionary of 223 posts, forts, and camps in the state. The fourth part gives a year by year snapshot of total army strength in the state, the regiments assigned, and the garrisons and commanders of each major fort and camp.

Supplying the only such synopsis of its kind, the guide's Part V offers a chronological description of 224 U.S. Army combat actions in the Indian Wars with vivid details of each engagement. The 900 entries in the selected bibliography of Part VI are divided topically into sections on biographical sources and regimental histories, histories of forts, garrison life, civil-military relations, the Mexican War, and frontier operations." The volume is also "illustrated with a number of maps and rare photographs of the U.S. Army in nineteenth century Texas."

The description doesn't specifically mention the Civil War years, but it presumably addresses the many Old Army interactions with state and Confederate forces in 1861. I missed this book the first time around, so I'm looking forward to obtaining a copy one way or another.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Booknotes: Seceding from Secession

New Arrival:
Seceding from Secession: The Civil War, Politics, and the Creation of West Virginia by Eric J. Wittenberg, Edmund A. Sargus, Jr., and Penny L. Barrick (Savas Beatie, 2020).

For good and ill, national calamities make possible many partisan aspirations that would be impossible to achieve during ordinary times. For many political leaders of western Virginia, the Civil War created a unique opportunity to address decades-long grievances with the Richmond state government without opposition, and they exploited the opening to the hilt. Even a non-lawyer's reading of Article IV Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution [the relevant part being "New states may be admitted by the Congress into this union; but no new states shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state; nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states, without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned as well as of the Congress."] can identify potential problems involved with the 1863 creation of West Virginia out of the existing state of Virginia, but the rump Wheeling government found a way through them and survived all subsequent legal challenges. Now we have a new book that explains how it all happened. Seceding from Secession: The Civil War, Politics, and the Creation of West Virginia is "an unprecedented study of the social, legal, military, and political factors that converged to bring about the birth of the West Virginia."

Co-authors Eric Wittenberg (a lawyer), Edmund Sargus (a Federal district judge in Columbus, Ohio), and Penny Barrick (a senior lawyer with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio) also explore Lincoln's involvement at some length. From the description: "President Abraham Lincoln, an astute lawyer in his own right, played a critical role in birthing the new state. The constitutionality of the mechanism by which the new state would be created concerned the president, and he polled every member of his entire cabinet before signing the bill. Seceding from Secession includes a detailed discussion of the 1871 U.S. Supreme Court decision Virginia v. West Virginia, in which former Lincoln cabinet member Salmon Chase presided as chief justice over the court that decided the constitutionality of the momentous event."

As one of those persons "interested in understanding the convergence of military, political, social, and legal events that brought about the birth of the state of West Virginia," I am looking forward to reading this book.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Review - "The Desperate Struggle: Louisiana Civil War Compendium - A Military History of Campaigns & Battles 1861-1865" by Henry Robertson

[The Desperate Struggle: Louisiana Civil War Compendium - A Military History of Campaigns & Battles 1861-1865 by Henry O. Robertson (Louisiana Bungalow Press-Author, 2020). Softcover, color and B&W maps, illustrations, bibliography. Pages main/total:160/173. ISBN:9798639485268. $34.99]

Historian Donald Frazier is currently in the late stages of a mammoth book series (the fourth volume has just been released) detailing the Civil War campaigns and battles fought in Louisiana and Texas, but the most recent authoritative, single-volume military history survey of events in the Pelican State remains John Winters's The Civil War in Louisiana (1963). Between the Centennial publication of Winters's book and the present, professional and avocational scholars have produced a large body of fine work on the topic, so the time is ripe for an updated synthesis accessible to all. An attempt at doing just that is Henry Robertson's The Desperate Struggle: Louisiana Civil War Compendium - A Military History of Campaigns & Battles 1861-1865.

Not arranged in the fashion of a standard chronological narrative, Robertson's book instead organizes events by geography (five areas plus New Orleans). Breadth of treatment is more than reasonably comprehensive, encompassing major operations (ex. the New Orleans Campaign, Bayou Teche, Vicksburg Campaign, Texas Overland Expedition, and Red River) along with a host of smaller actions. The volume is not a guidebook in the sense of providing automobile touring routes and stops, but the geographical sections are accompanied by author-recommended site lists with current contact/location information and occasional commentary. In lieu of original creations, the book's maps are borrowed from the public domain (readers will recognize many of them from their inclusion in the atlas to the O.R.). As is often the case with this practice, much detail is lost or obscured by the process of shrinking the archival maps to fit the book's much smaller page dimensions.

Robertson's stated goal is to "give the general reader a regional compendium of the Civil War campaigns in Louisiana," and the popular style of writing and light to moderate detail level of the text generally fit that objective. Oddly, only the Red River Campaign sections incorporate lively firsthand accounts into the text. This is probably a function of the author's deeper research into that particular campaign [see his excellent 2016 study The Red River Campaign and Its Toll: 69 Bloody Days in Louisiana, March - May 1864], but the difference between those parts and the rest of the more top-down oriented chapters is highly noticeable. In meeting another expectation of the target audience, the book has no footnotes or endnotes. The bibliography suggests that the author's research was based on the Official Records supplemented by a small but solid collection of published books and journal articles.

While the informational content suits the book's purpose quite well, how it is presented to the reader is deeply flawed. The state of the published manuscript is very rough. Poor sentence structure and missing punctuation abound along with missing words, misspellings, and all manner of typos. There's also no index. At least some of the night-and-day contrast between this and the far more polished state of the author's writing in his previous book (the aforementioned The Red River Campaign and Its Toll) can be attributed to common drawbacks of self-publishing. Unfortunately, while the core of a good book is inside the pages of The Desperate Struggle, the presentational flaws exhibited in the final product are so pronounced that they will more than likely keep the book from being able to relate successfully with its target audience.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Booknotes: Sacrifice All for the Union

New Arrival:
Sacrifice All for the Union: The Civil War Experiences of Captain John Valley Young and his Family by Philip Hatfield (35th Star, 2020).

According to author Philip Hatfield, "(t)he story of Captain John Valley Young personifies the body of rugged Union Army volunteers from West Virginia during the Civil War: highly resilient, stubbornly independent, and fiercely patriotic. Using Captain Young’s wartime letters to his wife, Paulina Franklin Young, and his daughters, Sarah and Emily Young, along with his diary and numerous other original soldier accounts, this book reveals the experiences of a Union soldier and his family who were truly willing to “Sacrifice All for the Union.”"

More from the description: "Young, a farmer and Methodist-Episcopalian minister prior to the Civil War, during April 1861 raised a company of Union volunteers at the strongly pro-Southern village of Coalsmouth, Virginia, (modern St. Albans, West Virginia). He was adamantly opposed to slavery, yet often expressed a bitter ire at having to fight a violent civil war because his beloved nation had thus far failed to eradicate the awful practice. His company became Company G of the 13th West Virginia Infantry and was later transferred to the 11th West Virginia Infantry."

Young and his unit fought guerrillas and Confederate soldiers on both sides of the mountains in Virginia. Small West Virginia-based presses are responsible for much of the book literature detailing military actions in the Kanawha Valley and the rest of the state, and this book certainly is a part of that ongoing tradition. "While he displayed an unshakeable desire to preserve the Union, Young’s convictions were severely tested as he and his family faced constant dangers from guerillas and Confederate raids in the Kanawha Valley. Captain Young also participated in more than one hundred skirmishes and eleven major engagements in the bloody Shenandoah Valley, and at Petersburg, and Appomattox; more than any other Union officer from West Virginia." Though he survived the war, Young ultimately succumbed to tuberculosis in 1867.

The book is written in narrative format with extensively quoted letter excerpts directly incorporated into the text. From a glancing look through the chapter notes, it's apparent that Young left behind both war diary and letters. The appendix section contains company muster roll information and returns from various dates.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Booknotes: Lincoln and the American Founding

New Arrival:
Lincoln and the American Founding by Lucas E. Morel (SIU Press, 2020).

From the information available on the publisher's website, it looks like the Concise Lincoln Library series is now approaching thirty volumes with no slowing in sight. The newest entry, Lucas Morel's Lincoln and the American Founding, "argues that the most important influence on Abraham Lincoln’s political thought and practice was what he learned from the leading figures of and documents from the birth of the United States. In this systematic account of those principles, Morel compellingly demonstrates that to know Lincoln well is to understand thoroughly the founding of America."

Morel's study of Lincoln's relationship with the Founders and founding documents is presented in five main parts, "(w)ith each chapter describing a particular influence, Morel leads readers from the Founding Father, George Washington; to the founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution; to the founding compromise over slavery; and finally to a consideration of how the original intentions of the Founding Fathers should be respected in light of experience, progress, and improvements over time. 

Within these key discussions, Morel shows that without the ideals of the American Revolution, Lincoln’s most famous speeches would be unrecognizable, and the character of the nation would have lost its foundation on the universal principles of human equality, individual liberty, and government by the consent of the governed."

In sum, "Morel posits that adopting the way of thinking and speaking Lincoln advocated, based on the country’s founding, could help mend our current polarized discourse and direct the American people to employ their common government on behalf of a truly common good."

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Book News: Fort Clinch, Fernandina and the Civil War

During the first half of the previous decade, the History Press's prolific Civil War Sesquicentennial series provided writers with a great forum for presenting concise, well-illustrated narratives covering a broad range of topics both well-known and obscure. Though the pace of Civil War releases has slowed since that time and the press has since joined forces with fellow Charleston, SC outfit Arcadia Publishing, their Civil War Series remains hard at work filling in some of the smaller yet still significant gaps in the book-length literature. A solid component of the ongoing series addresses neglected Civil War events that occurred along the coastlines and inland waterways of the South Atlantic. The next release from that category will be Frank Ofeldt's Fort Clinch, Fernandina and the Civil War.

Even though Amelia Island was connected by rail to the Florida interior, its deep-water port of Fernandina and its military guardian, Fort Clinch, were notable casualties of the widespread pullback of Confederate forces from the coast undertaken in the wake of a series of early-war military disasters that clearly demonstrated the Confederacy's inability to adequately defend its maritime borders against Union amphibious might. Ofeldt's book discusses this lesser-known part of Florida's Civil War history.

From the description: "Even though Fernandina was tucked away in the far southern reaches of the Confederacy, Fort Clinch had been abandoned to Federal forces by March 1862. It proved a boon to the Union war effort, and the island became a haven for runaway slaves, with many joining the Federal army. The military occupation of this vital seaport helped end the war, and the Reconstruction period that followed bore witness to Union and Confederate veterans working together to bring Fernandina into a golden era of prosperity."

According to his author bio, Ofeldt is currently serving as a park service specialist at Fort Clinch, where he's spent over two decades of a nearly thirty-year career with the Florida Park Service. Fort Clinch, Fernandina and the Civil War is set for an August 2020 release [Note: at the moment, the 'Look Inside' feature found at the link above erroneously takes you inside Ofeldt's earlier Fort Clinch book. Hopefully, that will get fixed soon.].

Monday, July 6, 2020

Booknotes: Vicksburg Besieged

New Arrival:
Vicksburg Besieged edited by Steven E. Woodworth & Charles D. Grear (SIU Press, 2020).

This is the third of five planned Vicksburg volumes in SIU Press's Civil War Campaigns in the West series, the first two being 2013's The Vicksburg Campaign, March 29–May 18, 1863 and 2019's The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19-22, 1863. As the title suggests, Vicksburg Besieged picks up where the failure of Grant's May 19 and May 22 attacks left off and covers a variety of topics related to the six-week siege of the Hill City.

Contributors to the book's eight essays are Charles Grear, Andrew Bledsoe, co-writers Scott Stabler & Martin Hershock, Jonathan Steplyk, Steven Woodworth, Justin Solonick, John Gaines, and Richard Holloway. The formal table of contents can be accessed through the bold-face title link above (go to the 'Look Inside' feature), but the topics addressed in the book are summarized in the publisher's description as follows:
"Ranging in scope from military to social history, the contributors’ invitingly written essays examine the role of Grant’s staff, the critical contributions of African American troops to the Union Army of the Tennessee, both sides’ use of sharpshooters and soldiers’ opinions about them, unusual nighttime activities between the Union siege lines and Confederate defensive positions, the use of West Point siege theory and the ingenuity of Midwestern soldiers in mining tunnels under the city’s defenses, the horrific experiences of civilians trapped in Vicksburg, the failure of Louisiana soldiers’ defense at the subsequent siege of Jackson, and the effect of the campaign on Confederate soldiers from the Trans-Mississippi region.

The contributors explore how the Confederate Army of Mississippi and residents of Vicksburg faced food and supply shortages as well as constant danger from Union cannons and sharpshooters. Rebel troops under the leadership of General John C. Pemberton sought to stave off the Union soldiers, and though their morale plummeted, the besieged soldiers held their ground until starvation set in. Their surrender meant that Grant’s forces succeeded in splitting in half the Confederate States of America."
As I've mentioned before, I like this series as finally doing for the western theater something like what UNC Press's Military Campaigns of the Civil War did for the East. I always look forward to what's next. As for what's coming in the future and in what order, I'm not certain. Just going from the original list of planned titles, the Forts Henry and Donelson volume was skipped over (hopefully temporarily) in favor of this one, and the 1862 Kentucky Campaign (the original #9) is up next. After that, the series is scheduled to return to the Vicksburg Campaign with the tentatively titled Vicksburg: To Chickasaw Bayou.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Review - "German Americans on the Middle Border: From Antislavery to Reconciliation, 1830–1877" by Zachary Stuart Garrison

[German Americans on the Middle Border: From Antislavery to Reconciliation, 1830–1877 by Zachary Stuart Garrison (Southern Illinois University Press, 2020). Softcover, map, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xiii,151/226. ISBN:978-0-8093-3755-2. $30]

In German Americans on the Middle Border historian Zachary Stuart Garrison has assigned himself the daunting task of measuring the influence of first and second-generation German Americans on western American history during the country's most momentous period of societal upheaval, a nearly five-decade span that encompassed mass immigration, sweeping political realignment, the Civil War, emancipation, and Reconstruction. That he achieves this lofty goal with comprehensive success in little more than 150 pages of historical narrative is all the more remarkable.

Most general studies of the Civil War era still characterize the great waves of German immigrants that washed upon America's shores during the antebellum period's final two decades as being more politically radical than the native-born citizenry on the issues of slavery and racial egalitarianism. In doing so, much emphasis has been placed on the role of the more militant antislavery "Forty-Eighters" in shaping the growing free soil and free labor reform movement in the American Midwest. Those leaders and participants in the failed 1848 democratic revolutions of Central Europe fled to the United States to take advantage of New World freedoms and economic opportunities, but they also fervently believed they could better their adopted homeland through their own brand of Bildung (the German tradition of self-cultivation and cultural development).

However, there were earlier German social reformers in America that have been comparatively neglected, and Garrison's study accords the German immigrants of the 1830s (the "Dreissigers") appropriate credit for the critical part they played in establishing the burgeoning German-American immigrant population as a cultural and political force to be reckoned with along the country's Middle Border (for the purposes of this study, the states of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky). As Garrison maintains, the Dreissigers did more than simply set the stage for the Forty-Eighters and pass the mantle. They managed influential newspapers and entered politics. A prime example of a leading individual from this group is Gustav Koerner, who was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives and served on the state's Supreme Court (all before 1848). Though there arose some rivalries and inter-generational friction between the two groups of failed European revolutionaries, there was by the author's estimate even more considerable ideological alignment and shared purpose.

Garrison's broad characterization of the Middle Border as a highly fluid geography of cultural, economic, and political exchange closely matches the vividly drawn picture of the region presented in Christopher Phillips's masterful 2016 study The Rivers Ran Backward: The Civil War and the Remaking of the American Middle Border. This is not surprising given that Garrison was a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati and credits Phillips as a mentor of his own work on the topic. Both scholars are persuasive in arguing against the dated characterization of the Ohio River as a wall between the country's free and slave societies.

Recently, the historical stereotype of the radical antislavery German-American of the early to mid-1800s has been challenged by those who insist that the Forty-Eighters were not representative of the immigrant population as a whole (the majority of whom tended to accept local customs and align themselves with mainstream, immigrant-friendly Democratic Party politics). Certainly, what it meant to be antislavery in the 1850s American West was shifting and complicated. In her excellent 2016 study Abolitionizing Missouri: German Immigrants and Racial Ideology in Nineteenth-Century America, historian Kristen Layne Anderson argued effectively that German-American political opposition to slavery in Missouri was largely muted until the early 1850s, when their antislavery objections to the Compromise of 1850 and especially the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 boiled over into widespread public activism and large-scale defection to the infant Republican Party. Garrison seems to agree with that timeline of events but is a bit more willing than Anderson (who emphasizes pragmatic factors) to assign ideological motivations to the change.

Sympathetic to the pitfalls surrounding the overrepresentation of urban Forty-Eighters in the political discussion, Garrison does, unlike Anderson, at least episodically venture into the rural Middle Border, where large pockets of more conservative German Catholics resided. However, while considerably more broad in his approach, Garrison's work can still be challenged on some level as being too urban-based and too narrowly focused on St. Louis (though not to the extent of Anderson's Abolitionizing Missouri, which confines its analysis to the Germans of that city). That said, historians have to go where the sources take them and St. Louis was unquestionably the great hub of German-American influence in the nineteenth-century Middle Border. That's not to suggest that other urban centers of great relevance to the subject matter at hand (including Evansville, Louisville, and Cincinnati) are entirely neglected by Garrison because they are not. In reading those sections, many readers will be surprised to learn just how proportionately large the German immigrant populations had become in a number of great Middle Border cities by the 1850s.

Antislavery but not necessarily egalitarian nor abolitionist, most urban and rural German-Americans of the antebellum Middle Border were, according to Garrison's research, more concerned with the nativist and temperance movements that affected their communities directly and the Free Soil politics that they felt would guide economic prospects in the expanding West. For most antislavery German-Americans the welfare of the slaves themselves was secondary to their own interests. In the author's view (and Anderson would probably agree with him), the newfound willingness of many German-Americans to join the Republican Party was rooted in their belief that the Free Soil wing of the Democratic Party could no longer restrain the perceived disproportionate power of the party's minority slavocracy element. While some Middle Border Germans were still distrustful of nativist remnants within the new Republican Party and remained loyal to the old Democracy of Jacksonian principles, others felt that the Democratic Party of the 1850s directly threatened their "free soil, free labor, free men" futures.

According to Garrison, the German response to Lincoln's presidential candidacy wasn't entirely enthusiastic (many still preferred Fremont), though Lincoln's unqualified support for a homestead act and his anti-nativist stance appealed to all. Though it was frequently proclaimed at the time that the German vote made the difference in the free states of the Middle Border going Republican, Garrison notes that the German-American vote remained split with Northern Democrats and only in Illinois did their vote count tip the balance between Republican victory and defeat.

When Civil War came Middle Border Germans, in some contrast with their more cautious eastern counterparts, enlisted immediately and in droves. According to Garrison, European turmoil of the 1830s and 40s directly informed the motivations of German American officers in the Union Army. In their view, the consequences of secession to the American Union directly reminded them of the kinds of petty states and squabbling principalities back home that crushed their own ideals of German nationalism, and they equated the power of the southern planter class with the aristocratic despotism that they left behind in Europe. While recent scholarship by Kamphoefner and Helbich suggests that the majority of German American rank and file soldiers primarily enlisted for economic reasons rather than patriotism and ideology, Garrison notes that the opposite tended to be true for the Middle Border cohort of their study (persuasively positing that the close proximity of Middle Border Germans to slavery made a great deal of difference in their outlook). While Garrison is careful throughout to remind readers that the Germans of the Middle Border were not all radicals and were never unanimous on any major issue, it is incontestable that they were leading bastions of Unconditional Unionism in the West. To most of them the meaning of the Union in America was synonymous with the ideals of liberal nationalism many fought for and lost in Germany. Though the majority of Middle Border German civilians and soldiers joined their native-born comrades in making the preservation of the Union the chief goal of the war, they were nevertheless also leading voices in promoting emancipation as a war aim early on in the conflict, well before the majority of their Middle Border neighbors.

Predictably, Middle Border Germans placing themselves at the forefront of the push for emancipation as early as 1861-62 made them prime targets for proslavery guerrillas, and nowhere was this more apparent than in strife-torn Missouri. It wasn't just the wartime assault on Missouri culture and property by "foreign" invaders that exacerbated the guerrilla war, but also three decades of pent up animosity between proslavery Missourians and German immigrants that arrived over that period in such numbers as to directly threaten slavery in the state along with any hopes for the institution's western expansion.

Indeed, their consistent support for emancipation and hard war in all its aspects made German Americans the Radical Republican face of the Middle Border body politic. Amid already long-standing ethnic tensions, their aggressive brand of wartime radicalism only further isolated them from the region's moderate and conservative majority. While German political power and bayonets helped secure Republican rule in Missouri by 1864 against disorganized (and demoralized) opposition further weakened through various wartime voter suppression measures instituted in the state, according to Garrison and others even moderate German Republicans began to question the wisdom of the most radical wing when it came to the best way to secure the German vision of liberal nationalism in the West along with the rest of reunited America. Both Anderson and Garrison found that many Germans feared that their own interests would be sidelined (or even forgotten) amid the Radical Republican focus on black civil rights and citizenship issues. To many, maintaining the radical ideology that did so much to win the Civil War in the West would only further isolate German communities in the region going forward.

In the final sections of his book, Garrison offers a masterfully-composed concise explanation of how German Americans, who were instrumental to Union victory and emancipation, built for themselves a Civil War legacy of loyalty and sacrifice second to none only to have any hopes of carrying that influence over into national prominence and leadership roles almost immediately dashed by political forces both of and not of their own making. German Radical Republican ranks shrank quickly after the war concluded. With the end of slavery and restoration of the Union—the most necessary components of German liberal nationalism and Bildung—secured, most Germans felt the greatest goals of the war had been achieved. Though there remained a minority subset of German radicals who were steadfast in defending full citizenship for blacks, the majority turned to focus on class and labor issues along with the need to confront renewed Republican-led nativist and temperance movements. Many formerly radicalized Germans also felt that a great number of Radical Reconstruction policies (including military occupation of the South, disenfranchisement of ex-Rebels, and government intervention in elevating the place of freedmen in society) unwisely inhibited reunion and western development. Fearing that much of Reconstruction policy mimicked the kind of autocratic repression they fled Europe to escape, many Germans seeking the return of democratic inclusivity supported black suffrage only if it was paired with restoring voting rights to ex-Confederates. Sensing that a move to the middle was necessary if Germans were to maintain their hard fought cultural and political influence in Middle Border society, many ex-radicals joined the more moderate Liberal Republican movement or returned to the reinvigorated Democratic Party. Unfortunately for them, the pragmatic retreat to moderation did very little to alter the rapid German American socio-political decline from wartime heights of national consciousness to a distressingly marginalized, non-leadership role within the region's new postwar political reality (even with 100,000 new immigrants arriving in the country each year).

On a somewhat related matter, it might be interesting to study what effect repeated demonstration of German military prowess on western and Trans-Mississippi battlefields had on postwar assimilation trends in those regions. This could be carried out specifically as a possible source of contrast with the conclusions of eastern theater scholars such as Christian Keller, who have maintained that the popular nativist impression that Germans fought poorly during the conflict (and were largely responsible for the military disaster at Chancellorsville and the Day One collapse of the Union line at Gettysburg) contributed heavily to German Americans resisting assimilation after the war.

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