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.

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