Thursday, October 22, 2020

Booknotes: Imagining Wild Bill

New Arrival:
Imagining Wild Bill: James Butler Hickok in War, Media, and Memory by Paul Ashdown and Edward Caudill (SIU Press, 2020).

With previous books covering Bedford Forrest, Custer, Mosby, and Sherman's March, journalism professors Paul Ashdown and Edward Caudill have built up quite a library of pop culture studies of Civil War-era figures. Their latest is Imagining Wild Bill: James Butler Hickok in War, Media, and Memory.

James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok was a legend in his own time. "Rather than attempt to tease truth from fiction, coauthors Paul Ashdown and Edward Caudill investigate the ways in which Hickok embodied the culture of glamorized violence Americans embraced after the Civil War and examine the process of how his story emerged, evolved, and turned into a viral multimedia sensation full of the excitement, danger, and romance of the West."

More from the description: "Journalists, the coauthors demonstrate, invented “Wild Bill” Hickok, glorifying him as a civilizer. They inflated his body count and constructed his legend in the midst of an emerging celebrity culture that grew up around penny newspapers. His death by treachery, at a relatively young age, made the story tragic, and dime-store novelists took over where the press left off. Reimagined as entertainment, Hickok’s legend continued to enthrall Americans in literature, on radio, on television, and in the movies, and it still draws tourists to notorious Deadwood, South Dakota." The authors use the Hickok mythology to "explain how American journalism and popular culture have shaped the way Civil War–era figures are remembered and reveal how Americans have embraced violence as entertainment."

The Hickok legend is primarily a post-Civil War phenomenon, but Wild Bill did participate in the conflict on the Union side and the frontier fighting west of the Mississippi did shape his image. He loved to spin tales about his alleged Civil War exploits, which mostly consisted of "scouting, spying, and sharpshooting" and thus were little documented. The book is organized around chapter themes so Civil War context is likely spread throughtout.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Review - "A War State All Over: Alabama Politics and the Confederate Cause" by Ben Severance

[A War State All Over: Alabama Politics and the Confederate Cause by Ben H. Severance (University of Alabama Press, 2020). Hardcover, photos, tables, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xiv,192/264. ISBN:978-0-8173-2059-1. $49.95]

The accepted view among many political and social history scholars is that the Alabama polity had become war weary enough by mid-1863 to strongly express a readiness to accept compromise measures (including reunion) that would end the war. The argument goes that Alabama voters, stunned by the twin military disasters at Gettysburg and Vicksburg (during which thousands of Alabama soldiers were slain, wounded, or captured) and fed up with total war policies adopted by state and Confederate governments (among them conscription, impressment, tax-in-kind, suspension of habeas corpus, and property destruction laws), turned to Peace Society leaders in numbers sufficient to transform Alabama's entire political landscape. However, Ben Severance's A War State All Over: Alabama Politics and the Confederate Cause comes to the opposite conclusion, strongly arguing instead that actual voting returns, legislative records, and other historical sources make it clear that the peace movement (though a significant force from 1863 onward, especially in the state House of Representatives) never had the electoral strength or organization to challenge the dominant pro-war faction at any level of government. According to Severance's research, the best evidence shows that Alabama's war supporters faced down all challenges in 1863 and remained "a war state all over."

Given that the antebellum two-party system (for good or ill) no longer existed in party-free Confederate Alabama or the Confederacy as a whole, and the evidence strongly supports the conclusion that old Whig vs. Democrat distinctions did not strongly correlate with pro or anti-war views, Severance simplifies the discussion by dividing politicians into "war Confederates" and "peace Confederates." Basically, war Confederates were committed to independence, supportive of total war, and loyal to the Confederate government in Richmond while peace Confederates represented a much wider range of views, from outright Unionists and defeatists at the extreme end of the spectrum to the far more numerous "reconstructionists" who favored a negotiated settlement of the war and an honorable reunion that preserved as much of the southern economy and society as possible. The author readily admits that fitting everyone into two polar categories is an oversimplification, but the analytical construct effectively facilitates the discussion by keeping it generally free of constantly diverting semantic distinctions.

Beginning in August 1863, Alabama experienced a remarkable election cycle during which massive turnover at all levels of government was made possible. Thus the year's elections possessed exceptionally heightened usefulness as barometers of public opinion regarding the progress of the war, confidence in the state's political leadership, and faith in ultimate victory. Severance begins by surveying the incumbents in Alabama's nine congressional districts and firmly establishing (through the personal background, speeches, and voting records of each) the bonafides of 8 of 9 of these men as dedicated war Confederates and strong advocates of total war. The landslide defeat in 1863 of the most prominent of these men, the 4th District's Jabez Curry, is often cited in the literature as being indicative of a surging Peace Society movement, but Severance finds no evidence of such a widespread transformation. Jabez's loss was indeed a shocking blow, but the author's close examination of the words and legislative records of each 1863 race winner finds that, although peace Confederates made significant inroads, a war Confederate majority (6 of 9) remained.

Similarly, the heavy defeat of Governor John Shorter, who was widely viewed as Jefferson Davis's strongest ally among the Confederate war governors, by Thomas Watts (the man Shorter beat in the 1861 gubernatorial race) is often presented as a sharp popular indictment of the war effort. However, Severance sees this narrow view as a stark misrepresentation of the true state of affairs. Watts, a former Confederate colonel, was popular among the fighting men and held ideas about total war that were very similar to Shorter's. In policy implementation there was little to choose between the two men. The author is persuasive in interpreting Shorter's downfall not as an indication of popular repudiation of war policy and the increasing sacrifices required on the home front but rather a function of Shorter's harsher manner and a voting population's desire for change in leadership during a particularly rough patch of the war. In other words, the majority of Alabama voters did not reject Shorter's political ideology and war policies only his methods.

Many Alabama House and Senate seats were also up for grabs in 1863. In the Senate war Confederates dominated the election, but the peace Confederates made respectable gains in the House (37 seats out of 100 total). However, in a legislative body with an incredible 86% turnover in a single election, the war Confederate faction held both a solid majority and a preponderance of parliamentary experience and ability. Not only did the peace Confederates in the House not put together any kind of organized resistance, but many even voted with the majority on war resolutions. Where peace Confederates expected to have the greatest influence was in the selection of the state's two Confederate senators (in an usual situation, both seats needed to be filled in 1863 as William Yancey, a towering figure among southern Fireaters, had died in office). If peace Confederates really thought the new senators, Robert Jemison and Richard Walker, would prove to be antiwar reconstructionists they would be quickly disappointed. While peace Confederates expressed joy at getting Jemison appointed, the fact remained that most of the war Confederates voted for him as well. Severance describes Jemison's voting record as "erratic" but found that the senator generally sided with the war Confederates on the major issues. When it comes to the author's examination of Walker's record (which he describes as "undistinguished"), the evidence, contrary to what some scholars have maintained, supports the conclusion that "it may be too much to brand Walker an outright war Confederate, but he was definitely not a reconstructionist" (pg. 149).

The study also takes a closer look at Alabama's serving soldiers and assesses the effect they might have had on the elections had they been legally permitted to vote. Severance's characterization of how Alabama soldiers viewed peace Confederates is similar to the scholarly literature's portrayal of how western Union soldiers saw the Midwest "Copperhead" movement. One might question the author's assumption that 80% of Alabama citizen-soldiers would have voted for war Confederate candidates in the 1863 elections, but his educated guess has anecdotal support through manuscript research, newspaper articles, published unit resolutions, and other sources. It's also roughly the same proportion of soldier vote support that Lincoln possessed in 1864 in the face of northern home front opposition. The book even conducts a hypothetical election cycle that included the soldier vote. If Alabama, like some U.S. states managed to do, had changed its laws to allow soldiers to vote in the field, their numbers would have had a major impact in 1863, increasing winning war Confederate margins in some cases and altering the result outright in others. Given the assumptions made regarding soldier support of the war effort (and there isn't much reason to strongly contest them), the analysis clearly shows that major peace Confederate gains were only possible in the absence of the soldier vote.

While recognizing that military defeats and home front privations had some effect on public morale and continuing support for the war effort's most draconian measures, Ben Severance's A War State All Over clearly demonstrates that the state's leaders and voting citizens maintained consistent loyalty to the Richmond government and willingness to fight for independence through the conflict's middle point and beyond. Contrary to what many have contended, the results of the 1863 elections clearly indicated the existence of a prowar majority with enough remaining reserves of devotion to the cause to carry the state through the even more trying final year and a half of the war. As the author notes, the book also contributes additional weight to the argument that the Confederacy succumbed primarily to military defeat rather than destruction from within. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Booknotes: Lincoln's Wartime Tours from Washington, D.C.

New Arrival:
Lincoln's Wartime Tours from Washington, D.C. by John W. Schildt (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Press, 2020).

My initial glance at the title of this book made me think it was yet another tour guide to Lincoln-related sites around the nation's capital, but it is actually something fresher and more interesting than that. From the description: "Abraham Lincoln spent much of his presidency traveling. His visits to Antietam to issue the Emancipation Proclamation and to Pennsylvania for the famed Gettysburg Address are well remembered. During the course of the war, Lincoln also traveled to West Point and Harpers Ferry. As hostilities drew to a close, he spent time on the Virginia battlefields, from Petersburg to Richmond and beyond. In this new edition of Lincoln's Wartime Travels, John W. Schildt details visits to wounded soldiers both Union and Confederate, conferences with generals and the logistics of getting a wartime president from place to place."

In the book, author John Schildt covers a number of these trips, organizing them into chapters divided by year (1862-1865). The final chapter is a day-by-day account of Lincoln's late March through early April 1865 visit to the Virginia front.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Booknotes: No Greater Calamity for the Country

New Arrival:
No Greater Calamity for the Country: North-South Conflict, Secession, and the Onset of Civil War by Leon Reed (Little Falls Bks, 2019).

From the description: "The year-long crisis that started with the first summer months of the 1860 presidential campaign and ended in the first major combat at Manassas is one of the most consequential 12 months in American history. Over that eventful year, one of the two major political parties shattered (and lost the next six presidential elections -- the longest losing streak in American history). Four regional candidates were nominated for president, and the minority supporting secession in southern states shifted gradually to strong majorities. At the same time, many in the north who were inclined to shrug off the departure of southern states came around to strong opposition and answered President Lincoln's call for a volunteer army."

Of course, a great multitude of books have discussed the months of upheaval surrounding the outbreak of civil war and the historical figures that influenced them, but Leon Reed's No Greater Calamity for the Country: North-South Conflict, Secession, and the Onset of Civil War sets itself apart by using an extensive family archive as the primary interpretive lens through which to examine the period. More from the description: "This book uses hundreds of contemporary newspaper articles, diaries, and the contents of a never-before-seen contemporary scrapbook to explain how the country descended into civil war. It introduces us to the major characters and events of this vital period as well as more obscure people and events that helped shape our great American tragedy."

The aforementioned scrapbook, the work of Reed ancestor Hiram Roosa (who was the corresponding secretary of the New York Military Association that sponsored NY militia units), holds an extensive collection of original correspondence, news articles, photographs, and artifacts (ex. flag fragments and like souvenirs) of significant people and events. However, the real heart of the material is the more than 300 patriotic envelopes (mostly pro-Union) that Roosa collected [readers might recall Steven Boyd's recent scholarly study of the topic in Patriotic Envelopes of the Civil War (LSU Press, 2010)]. In addition to providing an "overview of the earliest days of the Civil War" and addressing people and events of the period, the illustrated envelopes "also provide some insights in the state of public opinion" and how that changed over time.

Roosa started his collection just after Lincoln was elected and mostly ceased work on it by early 1862. The collection will perhaps draw special attention from those interested in NYSM regiments as many of the documents and artifacts were donated to Roosa by members of those units (particularly men from the 20th NYSM, the "Ulster Guard"). The book has a sizable bibliography, and the text is annotated through numerous footnotes. As one might expect, the volume is highly visually oriented, with most pages containing one or more scrapbook images.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Booknotes: Rediscovering Fort Sanders

New Arrival:
Rediscovering Fort Sanders: The American Civil War and Its Impact on Knoxville's Cultural Landscape by Terry Faulkner and Charles H. Faulkner (UT Press, 2020).

From the description: "In the fall of 1863, Knoxville came under Union occupation, and troops went immediately to work to strengthen existing defenses and construct new ones. The most important of these was the earthwork atop a hill west of the city that came to be known as Fort Sanders. The fort would be the site of a critical battle on November 29, in which General James Longstreet’s Southern forces mounted a bold but ill-conceived assault that lasted only twenty minutes yet resulted in over eight hundred Rebel casualties. The completion of the fort under General Davis Tilson would safeguard Knoxville from further attack for the rest of the war."

An argument could be made that Ambrose Burnside's 1863 Knoxville campaign is the largest remaining gap in the military history of the Civil War in East Tennessee. That initial operation gets only cursory coverage in Rediscovering Fort Sanders, with the book's greater focus placed on the city defenses constructed under the watchful eye of Union Army engineer extraordinaire Orlando Poe, the Battle of Knoxville itself, and also the "continuing construction of Fort Sanders, the failed attempts to preserve the postwar fort, and the events which led to its almost total destruction." During their research, authors Terry and Charles Faulkner made "two major discoveries: the fort was actually located a block farther to the west then previously recognized, and there are still identifiable remnants of the fortification where none were believed to exist." Their Fort Sanders work is visually reinforced in the book through numerous maps, topographical overlays, and photographs.

More from the description: "More than just a chronicle of a significant chapter in Civil War and postwar history, this book will inspire others to continue the effort to ensure that the site and remains of Fort Sanders are preserved and properly commemorated for future generations." Let's hope so.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Booknotes: Custer

New Arrival: 
Over the past few decades, the Custer scholarship has significantly rebalanced the historiography of the Michigan officer's military career (which, of course, began during the American Civil War and ended in enduring controversy on the Montana plains in 1876). At least at my level of awareness, the wider shift toward reexamining Custer's immensely successful Civil War career began with Greg Urwin's Custer Victorious. It seems that even during this current period of peak-Grant, the Custer-related output of both popular and academic presses easily rivals (and probably still even exceeds overall) that of the greatest Union war hero. The latest military biography that looks at the Civil War and Indian Wars careers of George Armstrong Custer is Custer: From the Civil War’s Boy General to the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

According to the description, the book does have a focus that sets it apart from the multitude of other recent Custer biographical studies. In Ted Behncke and Gary Bloomfield's Custer, "(t)he reader is introduced to a little-known side of Custer—a deeply personal side. George Custer grew up in an expanding young country and his early influences mirrored the times. Two aspects of this era dominate most works about him: the Civil War, and the war with the Indians, culminating in his death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. When mentioned, if at all, his early life and years as a cadet at West Point are brief, and then only enough to set some background for discussion of the mystery of the Little Bighorn. This is the first Custer biography to focus on these lesser-known parts of his life in great detail." In terms of source material used, "(t)he approach uses all of Custer’s known writings: letters; magazine articles; his book, My Life on the Plains; and his unfinished memoirs of the Civil War; along with materials and books by his wife, Elizabeth Custer; and reflections of others who knew him well."

In summation: "The five chapters are Early Life (growing up and as a West Point cadet), The Civil War, The Indian Fighter, The Little Bighorn, and Conclusion. The theme of the book is not so much new historical information but the depth of his character development and lesser-known influences of his life."

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Review - "Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 2: From Iuka to the Red River, 1862-1864" by Kenneth Lyftogt

[Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 2: From Iuka to the Red River, 1862-1864 by Kenneth L. Lyftogt (Camp Pope Publishing, 2020). Cloth, 16 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xiv,436/476. ISBN:978-1-929919-91-8. $40]

From Iuka to the Red River
Historian Kenneth Lyftogt is in the middle of writing a trilogy of books detailing Iowa's many contributions, both on and off the battlefield, to the Union war effort. The first volume, Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 1: Free Child of the Missouri Compromise 1850-1862, was published in 2018. The winner of the 2019 A.M. Pate Award, Volume 1 concluded with the Battle of Shiloh, where Iowa units featured prominently in the desperate fighting at the Hornet's Nest and other parts of the battlefield while suffering one-fifth of total Union casualties incurred during those two days. Lyftogt's Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 2: From Iuka to the Red River, 1862-1864 picks up from there, following Iowa's soldiers through numerous battles and campaigns on both sides of the Mississippi before ending at the planning stages of the 1864 Atlanta Campaign (the momentous event that will kick off the final volume of the series).

Iowa earned the distinction of being the state that placed the highest proportion of its military-age men in the ranks of the Union Army. This outsized contribution meant that Iowa officers and men featured prominently in nearly every western campaign. In Volume 2, Lyftogt's chronological narrative of Iowa's battle history begins with a brief look at the Siege of Corinth before penetrating into more depth for the battles of Iuka, Corinth, and Davis Bridge. Across the Mississippi, Iowans also fought at Prairie Grove. During the long Vicksburg Campaign, where Iowa fielded thirty infantry and cavalry regiments along with two artillery batteries, its generals and soldiers were on the firing line at Chickasaw Bayou, Arkansas Post, Grierson's Raid, Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hill, Big Black River Bridge, the Vicksburg assaults, Milliken's Bend, and Helena. Later that year, Iowans assaulted Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, and Tunnel Hill at Chattanooga. During the Red River Campaign of spring 1864, Iowans battled hard at Fort DeRussy, Mansfield, and Pleasant Hill in Louisiana and in every major battle of the associated Camden Expedition inside Arkansas. In covering all of these campaigns, battles, and more, the book's maps and text do a fine job of highlighting the direct impact of Iowa generals and Iowa infantry, cavalry, and artillery units. Though the number of typos, misspellings, geographical mistakes, and errors in background material are numerous enough to cause some concern, they don't detract from the primary theme of how frequently Iowa units occupied positions at the front and center of western battles, where they were instrumental in a multitude of Union victories both large and small.

The fact that both of Iowa's senators and all six representatives were Republicans meant that they could exert a strong influence in Washington. In the book, Lyftogt describes how Senators Grimes and Harlan were key agents in forcing changes upon Washington D.C.'s scandalous Blue Jug jail. The 1862 mid-term elections saw Democratic gains in many states, but Lyftogt reminds readers that this was not the case in Iowa, where the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation did little to erode public support for the war. Though electoral contests were marred by the arrest of Democratic leaders, all of the Republican candidates triumphed with the help of the soldier vote. Iowa's governor and U.S. senators also were early supporters of black enlistment, and the state's small free black population, augmented by an influx of escaped slaves, filled the ranks of the First Iowa Volunteer Infantry (African Descent) during the second half of 1863. During the debates over present and future reconstruction, both Iowa senators and all but one representative repudiated Lincoln's executive-level initiatives and voted for the Wade-Davis Bill that placed the process under congressional control and oversight.

While Volume 1 focused a great deal upon Governor Kirkwood's adroit handling of mobilizing the state for war, Volume 2 addresses at some length the mid-war transfer of gubernatorial power after Kirkwood declined to run for reelection. Both parties eventually settled upon Iowa war hero candidates (Republican Colonel William Stone and War Democrat General James Tuttle). According to Lyftogt, Tuttle's bid for the governor's seat was severely handicapped by the Peace Democrat influence on the party's election platform. This alone ensured his defeat in heavily Republican Iowa. Even the Democratic soldiers serving under Tuttle, and who previously idolized him, turned on the popular general in great numbers.

Nevertheless, opposition to the war remained. Though much of the existing wartime dissent literature focuses on the Midwestern "Copperhead" movements, this book examines in detail a fascinating episode in Iowa history known as the Tally (or Skunk River) War of 1863. Led by Baptist minister Cyphert Tally, armed dissenters in Keokuk County who opposed emancipation as a war aim and pledged resistance (even if it came to violence) against the draft assembled in SE Iowa in their hundreds. When gunfire that erupted in the town of South English during a clash between opposing rallies killed Tally and threatened to spark a wider armed conflict, state militia were quickly called in to tamp down the flames there and also at Sigourney. Though Tally supporters were enraged when no one was indicted for killing their leader, the uprising ended up furthering the Republican cause in the state by strengthening the perception of Democrats being the party of treason.

As was the case in every state, Iowa's women also supported the troops at the front in many different ways. As one example first mentioned in Volume I, Caroline Kasson, who penned newspaper columns under the pseudonym "Miriam," continued to provide both critical and informative news to eager Iowa readers from the nation's capital. However, the towering figure of Lyfogt's narrative is Keokuk’s Annie Turner Wittenmyer. Both Wittenmyer and Ann Harlan (the wife of Senator Harlan) were volunteer leaders of aid societies that collected massive donations of food, clothing, and other items soldiers needed and arranged for their delivery to the front. After so many shipments were waylaid in some manner, Wittenmyer and Harlan chose to personally accompany the cargo to Iowa camps all across the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters. In a perverse turf war, they had to do all of this while also fending off attacks from sanitation commissions led by men hostile to their efforts. As documented in the book, Wittenmyer, who personally witnessed the often dreadful food provided at military hospitals she visited, also was instrumental in creating a corps of dietary nurses who would cook and serve more healthy, palatable food to the suffering sick and wounded. Though civilian initiatives like this one were often at odds with the army's medical service, the results of the Wittenmyer-designed "diet-kitchens" were too positive to be ignored. The result was that Amanda Shelton (a Wittenmyer protege) and others had multiple facilities operating in General William T. Sherman's military department by early 1864.

Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 2 continues in strong vein Kenneth Lyftogt's long reach into the state's military, political, and behind-the-lines support contributions to the Union war effort. Highlighting many obscure individuals, military units, and wartime events along the way, it's deserving of wide readership.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Booknotes: The Last Lincoln Republican

New Arrival:
The Last Lincoln Republican: The Presidential Election of 1880 by Benjamin T. Arrington (UP of Kansas, 2020).

The latest volume from UPK's American Presidential Elections series (which includes Michael Holt's excellent study of the 1860 election) is Benjamin Arrington's The Last Lincoln Republican: The Presidential Election of 1880. In it Arrington, the site manager at James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Ohio, suggests that the Garfield presidency, which was tragically cut very short by an assassin's bullet, would have been history-altering on a significant national scale.

From the description: "Of all the great “what if” scenarios in American history, the aftermath of the presidential election of 1880 stands out as one of the most tantalizing. The end of the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln had thrown the future of Lincoln’s vision for the country into considerable doubt; the years that followed—marked by impeachment, constitutional change, presidential scandals, and the contested election of 1876—saw Republicans fighting to retain power as they transitioned into the party of “big business.” Enter James A. Garfield, a seasoned politician known for his advocacy of civil rights, who represented the last potential Reconstruction presidency: truly, Benjamin T. Arrington suggests in this book, the last “Lincoln Republican.”"

Arrington's narrative marks the 1880 election as "a political drama of lasting consequence and dashed possibilities." More from the description: "A fierce opponent of slavery before the war, Garfield had fought for civil rights for African Americans for years in Congress. Holding true to the original values of the Republican Party, Garfield wanted to promote equal opportunity for all; meanwhile, Democrats, led by Winfield Scott Hancock, sought to return the South to white supremacy and an inferior status for African Americans. With its in-depth account of the personalities and issues at play in 1880, Arrington’s book provides a unique perspective on how this critical election continues to resonate through our national politics and culture to this day."

Monday, October 12, 2020

Booknotes: A Glorious Liberty

New Arrival:
A Glorious Liberty: Frederick Douglass and the Fight for an Antislavery Constitution by Damon Root (Potomac Bks, 2020).

Of course, there are a great many books published each year about Frederick Douglass's involvement in the abolitionist and black civil rights movements of the nineteenth century as well as his relationships with other major figures of the Civil War era. Damon Root's A Glorious Liberty concentrates on Douglass's view of the U.S. Constitution, with the author contrasting Douglass's more uplifting interpretation of the founding document with the damning one famously espoused by fellow abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (who quipped that the Constitution was a "covenant with death and an agreement with hell"). Root's book "places Douglass's constitutional thought at the forefront of his extraordinary life and career" (pg 4).

From the description: In telling "the story of a fundamental debate that goes to the very heart of America’s founding ideal," the author reveals how Frederick Douglass’s fight for an antislavery Constitution helped to shape the course of American history in the nineteenth century and beyond. At a time when the principles of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were under assault, Frederick Douglass picked up their banner, championing inalienable rights for all, regardless of race. When Americans were killing each other on the battlefield, Douglass fought for a cause greater than the mere preservation of the Union."

Friday, October 9, 2020

Bookotes: Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg

New Arrival:
Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg by Jarrad Fuoss (Arcadia Pub, 2020).

Jarrad Fuoss's Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg is the newest Civil War-related volume from Arcadia's long-running and extremely prolific Images of America series. From the description: "Although the" (Gettysburg) "fighting concluded by July 4, 1863, the struggle to recover continues to the present day. On November 19, 1863, the dedication of a new Soldiers National Cemetery marked a critical point in American history. From its conception, the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg embodied a fitting tribute to those who gave their last full measure of devotion to a grateful nation. Since that fateful summer of 1863, the cemetery has expanded into a place of memorialization for Americans spanning generations. Today, the Soldiers National Cemetery remains a space of reverence and offers a beacon of hope for students who traverse these hallowed grounds learning from the past."

In keeping with the series format, there are 1-2 historical photographs (mostly drawn from Library of Congress and GNMP archives) per page, each image accompanied by a paragraph-length caption offering descriptive information and contextual commentary. The photos are reproduced on thick, glossy paper so the historical images are presented to good effect.

The book is sub-divided into four main sections. The first part covers the history of Cemetery Hill before 1865 and includes a variety of images depicting landscapes, individuals, buildings, public gatherings, maps, and battlefield casualties. This is followed by coverage of the commemorative era when monuments sprouted up all over the grounds and GAR encampments and reunions were hosted. The Depression-era and 1960s/1970s cemetery expansions are addressed next. Finally, the overall legacy of the place is discussed in text and image in the concluding section, which also highlights famous modern visitors and major anniversary events.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Booknotes: Defending the Arteries of Rebellion

New Arrival:
Defending the Arteries of Rebellion: Confederate Naval Operations in the Mississippi River Valley, 1861-1865 by Neil P. Chatelain (Savas Beatie, 2020).

A few Confederate local successes could not disguise the fact that the naval war along the Mississippi was a resounding Union victory that made the U.S. Army's task of conquering the West immeasurably easier. While there are certainly books addressing prominent Confederate naval officers, individual ships, and even squadron-level operations on the river, Neil Chatelain's Defending the Arteries of Rebellion: Confederate Naval Operations in the Mississippi River Valley, 1861-1865 nevertheless represents "the first modern full-length treatment of inland naval operations from the Confederate perspective" that covers the entire war.
 
Of course, controlling the Mississippi River Valley was a vital war aim of both sides. The Confederates correctly assumed that they could not rely solely on land fortifications and adopted an integrated army-navy defensive strategy that would include a fleet of gunboats obtained through either construction or conversion. However, many factors (both internal and external) intervened to render the execution of this plan ineffective overall. From the description: "Different military branches,..., including the navy, marine corps, army, and revenue service, as well as civilian privateers and even state naval forces, competed for scarce resources to operate their own vessels. A lack of industrial capacity further complicated Confederate efforts and guaranteed the South’s grand vision of deploying dozens of river gunboats and powerful ironclads would never be fully realized."
 
However, in their losing effort, the "(s)outhern war machine introduced numerous innovations and alternate defenses including the Confederacy’s first operational ironclad, the first successful use of underwater torpedoes, widespread use of army-navy joint operations, and the employment of extensive river obstructions. When the Mississippi River came under complete Union control in 1863, Confederate efforts shifted to the river’s many tributaries, where a bitter and deadly struggle ensued to control these internal lifelines. Despite a lack of ships, material, personnel, funding, and unified organization, the Confederacy fought desperately and scored many localized tactical victories—often won at great cost—but failed at the strategic level."

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Book News: John P. Slough

As I've mentioned many times before, my interest in Civil War biography mainly lies in those books addressing the careers of comparatively obscure figures who played key roles in secondary fronts or lesser-known events. At this stage of the game, the literature coverage of the 1862 New Mexico Campaign is rather impressive in depth and scope, but Richard L. Miller's upcoming John P. Slough: The Forgotten Civil War General, which will be published by University of New Mexico Press next spring, still fits the bill. 

Miller characterizes Slough as having "lived a life of relentless pursuit for success that entangled him in the turbulent events of mid-nineteenth-century America. As a politician, Slough fought abolitionists in the Ohio legislature and during Kansas Territory's fourth and final constitutional convention. He organized the 1st Colorado Volunteer Infantry after the Civil War broke out, eventually leading his men against Confederate forces at the pivotal engagement at Glorieta Pass." He resigned to avoid the possibility of being court-martialed for exceeding orders during the campaign, but quickly reemerged at the other end of the country in Virginia, where he commanded troops in the field and was appointed to administrative posts. "After the war, as chief justice of the New Mexico Territorial Supreme Court, he struggled to reform corrupt courts amid the territory's corrosive Reconstruction politics.

His difficult personality combined with the rough and tumble nature of frontier politics contributed to Slough losing his life at the age of 38. "Slough was known to possess a volcanic temper and an easily wounded pride. These traits not only undermined a promising career but ultimately led to his death at the hands of an aggrieved political enemy (William Rynerson) who gunned him down in a Santa Fe saloon." This book is definitely on my radar for 2021.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Review - "The Kentucky Campaign of 1862 and Battle of Perryville" (2 Volumes) by Kenneth Hafendorfer

[The Kentucky Campaign of 1862 and Battle of Perryville, Volume I: Tupelo to Perryville by Kenneth A. Hafendorfer (KH Press-Author, 2017). Hardcover, 74/174 maps, photos, illustrations, notes. Pages main/total:xxv,438/562. ISBN:0-9648550-6-2.]

The best part of it built up over the past three decades, the current state of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign's military history literature is more than respectable in size and quality. We have two full-length Perryville studies in Kenneth Noe's Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle (2001) and Kenneth Hafendorfer's Perryville: Battle for Kentucky (1981, revised and expanded in 1991). Indeed, Hafendorfer, a Kentucky physician and avocational historian, has contributed more than any other individual to the campaign literature. In addition to Perryville, his other book-length military studies include an exhaustive operational history of Confederate mounted forces during the campaign [They Died by Twos and Tens: The Confederate Cavalry in the Kentucky Campaign of 1862 (1995)], the 1997 book Nathan Bedford Forrest, The Distant Storm: The Murfreesboro Raid, July 13, 1862, and a far more detailed treatment of the Richmond battle [The Battle of Richmond, Kentucky - August 30, 1862 (2006)] than the one found in D. Warren Lambert's 1995 book When the Ripe Pears Fell: The Battle of Richmond, Kentucky. Lewis D. Nicholls's A Masterful Retreat: The Story of the 7th Division's Retreat Across Eastern Kentucky from Sept. 17 to Oct. 3, 1862 (2006, rev. and expanded 2014) covers the successful escape of Union general George Morgan's division from its encirclement at Cumberland Gap. There is also an excellent essay anthology edited by Kent Masterson Brown titled The Civil War in Kentucky: The Battle for the Bluegrass State (2000). The standard single-volume history of the campaign remains James Lee McDonough's War In Kentucky: Shiloh To Perryville (1994); however, the level of detail in that work pales in comparison to that presented in Kenneth Hafendorfer's final work, a two-volume study titled The Kentucky Campaign of 1862 and Battle of Perryville (2017). While Hafendorfer was able to complete this mammoth capstone to his Civil War writing career, he unfortunately passed away during publication. Released in a very limited print run of only 108 numbered copies, the set is out-of-print and certain to become difficult to find on the secondary market.

As indicated by its title, The Kentucky Campaign of 1862 and Battle of Perryville, Volume I: Tupelo to Perryville covers background history and all events leading up to the campaign's climactic clash of arms. There isn't a great deal of source commentary or direct engagement with other authors in either main text or notes. The positively gargantuan bibliography listing primary and secondary sources of every type (including a vast number of manuscript collections) mainly serves the author's descriptive military narrative, which is an exhaustively detailed, day-by-day account of the campaign. The maps (174 in total, 74 in this volume) come in all different scales, with both tactical and operational maps exhibiting useful unit and topography information at a high degree of detail. Assisted by very helpful captions, these numerous original maps are closely tied to the text and are of above-average craftsmanship (though magnification aids might be required for some eyes).

Hafendorfer's military treatment is remarkably comprehensive. Of course, the heart of the narrative follows the main columns of each side (Don Carlos Buell's Union army and the combined Confederate armies of Braxton Bragg and Edmund Kirby Smith). Addressed in Volume I are Bragg's redeployment to Chattanooga, Kirby Smith's bypassing of Cumberland Gap and plunge north into Central Kentucky, the "Race to Louisville" (won by Buell), and the various maneuvers from both sides leading up to the October 8 Battle of Perryville. The Battle of Munfordville is presented in detail, but the fighting at Richmond is accorded only summary treatment (likely because, as mentioned above, that battle has already been addressed thoroughly by the author in another book).

Volume I also encompasses related campaigns and movements in North Mississippi, Tennessee, and SW Virginia/SE Kentucky. In addition to Armstrong's Raid in West Tennessee, the fighting in Mississippi at Iuka, Corinth, and Davis Bridge is recounted at unexpected length in the text, and the relevance of these actions to the distant Kentucky Campaign is clearly explained. Confederate generals Price and Van Dorn were ordered to move against Union forces west of the Tennessee River in hopes of keeping Grant and Rosecrans from sending reinforcements to Buell. However, unbeknownst to the Confederates, heavy detachments from Grant's command had already been sent north, and Bragg's wish that Van Dorn and Price cover his western flank in Kentucky proved unrealistic against heavier than expected opposition. Though no one writing specifically about the Kentucky Campaign before now (including McDonough) has reserved this much space to associated events in West Tennessee and North Mississippi, emphasis on links between the fighting in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi in 1862 can be found in Earl Hess's Banners to the Breeze: The Kentucky Campaign, Corinth, and Stones River (2000). On the campaign's opposite flank, Bragg and Kirby Smith received less than hearty cooperation, at least initially, from General Humphrey Marshall's small command as it advanced into Kentucky from S.W. Virginia. As these events clearly show, the entire Confederate campaign in the Middle West during the late summer and early fall was hampered by inaccurate knowledge of the opposition and failure to employ a truly unified command structure.

While the author mostly prefers to present events as they happened and leave detailed critiques of command decisions to the reader, the most enduring and prominent points of controversy are duly addressed in some manner. Much censure has been heaped upon General Buell over the years for not immediately attacking Bragg's smaller army in Tennessee, a movement that could have quashed the Confederate campaign right from the beginning. The book's minutely detailed account of Bragg's march north from Chattanooga, which was very effectively screened by Confederate cavalry and especially by Bragg's skillful exploitation of the difficult terrain of the Cumberland mountains and plateau (a region heavily cut by steep ridges and long valleys connected through narrow gaps), seems to indicate that a decision to plunge ahead into that kind of forbidding military topography was far from straightforward in terms of weighing risk versus reward.

Buell has also been frequently criticized for not attacking Bragg's army at Munfordville during the so-called "Race to Louisville." Bragg's army was clearly more vulnerable there than it was earlier in the campaign, but Buell still declined to attack in favor of continuing on to Louisville. Though the author cites fairly substantial evidence from Union sources that Buell's consideration of his army as unfit for battle (worn-down and low on supplies after its long march through Tennessee and Kentucky) wasn't mere excuse making, it would be difficult to argue that the fighting condition of the Confederates could have been any better. Regardless, the controversial decision to avoid confronting Bragg until the army was fully refit and reinforced at Louisville was militarily (if not politically) justifiable. Indeed, the way the army was directed from Louisville in the days leading up to Perryville indicated that Buell's decision was about to pay off in a big way with a defeat of Bragg's army in detail. Alas, as is so often the case in war, the masterful setup to Buell's counterstroke from Louisville was flubbed in its final execution.

In addressing the performance of the Confederate high command, there's the usual critical discussion of the campaign's absence of unified command leadership from the outset and lack of full cooperation between Bragg, Kirby Smith, and Marshall. Like others have before him, Hafendorfer sees Bragg's performance as sharp and decisive, even brilliant, during the early phases of the campaign. However, frustration (with fellow generals and with the Kentucky population's reluctance to rise up in support) and crippling indecision set in as the operation progressed. By the time Buell's rejuvenated army left Louisville, Bragg's command was scattered and unable to respond to the new higher tempo of operations. Bragg, who believed Buell's two-division diversionary column launched toward Frankfort to be the enemy's main effort, ordered Polk to march north from Bardstown and hit the Union army on the flank. Polk, who at that moment had the better grasp of the military chessboard, realized this would take his marching corps across the front of Buell's main body and refused to comply. Examining the best evidence through the advantage of hindsight, most historians and writers (including Hafendorfer and recent Polk biographer Huston Horn) side with Polk on the matter. Nevertheless, Polk's exercise of command discretion earned Bragg's lasting enmity, and Polk's fateful October 6 message to Bragg reporting that the enemy force opposite the army's left flank west of Perryville was not large only reinforced Bragg's confusion about where the enemy's main thrust was being directed.

Another part of the army that let Bragg down during the climax of the campaign was his cavalry. Hafendorfer's narrative places heavy emphasis on the cavalry's role in the campaign. Drawing heavily from his earlier work in They Died by Twos and Tens, the author is persuasive in arguing that the Confederate mounted arm that was so instrumental to success during the early stages of the campaign, had by October been rendered only a shell of its former self. Coincident with the diminution of Bragg's cavalry strength and effectiveness was the rapid expansion, reorganization, and overall rebirth of Buell's formerly outclassed cavalry force. With mounted superiority on the other foot, Buell's multi-column advance out of Louisville was so effectively screened from prying eyes that the convergence of three Union corps on Perryville came as a complete surprise to the Confederates. The severely worn-down condition of the Confederate cavalry left them unable to render assistance to Bragg's increasingly confused mind. With little help from the eyes and ears of his army, Bragg was unable to reconcile the contradictory reports about enemy strength he received from Kirby Smith on the right east of the Kentucky River and Hardee/Polk on the left near Perryville. With their commander in the dark, Confederate forces were spread out over a wide area at the very moment when concentration was essential for any chance at success.

___________________________________


[The Kentucky Campaign of 1862 and Battle of Perryville, Volume II: Perryville to Knoxville by Kenneth A. Hafendorfer (KH Press-Author, 2017). Hardcover, 100/174 maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:626/852.]

Readers diving into this set might be forgiven for expecting to find in Volume II yet another revision/expansion of the author's Perryville work on the level of the incremental changes made between the first and second editions. What one actually gets, however, is a truly stunning transformation. While it's not possible to pick up on more subtle new lines of interpretation without side-by-side comparison with the 1991 edition, anyone familiar with Hafendorfer's Perryville publications will be struck by the totality of the revamping effort that takes place in Volume II. The bibliography is enlarged by an order of magnitude. For example, the number of manuscript sources listed in this 2017 version represents at least a tenfold increase over the 1991 edition of Perryville. The expansion of the author's research in other source types is similarly dramatic, with the number of newspapers increased by a factor of fourteen. The result is essentially a brand new Perryville battle narrative that is vastly more detailed than those that came before it and profoundly enriched by the great multitude of "new" firsthand accounts. By the crude measure of page count, nearly 500 pages of this volume are devoted to a blow-by-blow microhistory of the battle that was addressed in less than 275 pages in 1991's Perryville! The quantitative and qualitative differences in the cartography similarly represent night and day improvement over previous versions.

One of the greatest questions surrounding the battle was why the bulk of Buell's army, which had been perfectly positioned by the early hours of October 8 to defeat Bragg in detail, failed to fully engage the enemy on that day at Perrville. One of the traditional explanations revolves around an alleged acoustic shadow (created by topography and weather conditions) that led Buell to believe no major fighting was underway. Buell's corps commanders also got their orders for the day inexplicably late. Hafendorfer suggests that the couriers sent from Buell's headquarters were either uncommonly slow or got a delayed start with their orders, with perhaps the latter reason being most likely. General McCook's failure to inform Buell after more than an hour of desperate fighting that a major attack was being made against his corps also delayed any possible response from army headquarters. In exploring why that was the case, the author raises the possibility (unsupported by any evidence)  McCook feared that Buell, whose avoidance of direct confrontation with the enemy earlier in the campaign led many to distrust his fighting spirit, would react to such a message by attempting to break contact rather than commit his army to battle.

Another combination of factors explains why Buell's much larger army did not fall upon Bragg's vulnerable left and rear. Wheeler's cavalry fought a successful delaying action opposite Crittenden's corps, but the absence of a general advance is mostly attributed to Buell's misconception of what was happening at Perryville and the fact that his original plan called for an October 9 battle. Buell's lack of realization that a major battle was being fought combined with an injury sustained during a fall meant he never personally visited the front, and his orders to not bring on a battle on the 8th fixed both Gilbert (who did send substantial aid to stabilize McCook's crumbling front) and Crittenden in place. Both corps did send detachments toward Perryville later in the day, and the Union skirmish line even entered the streets of the city before pulling back.

The book devotes a great deal of attention to describing the plight of the wounded and the activities of the medical services of both sides. During the night Bragg's army pulled out from its Chaplin River defense line and placed itself on the road to Harrodsburg, while Buell's army very cautiously followed in the morning. To the northeast, Kirby Smith's forces failed to trap Sill's Division west of Salt River (though a minor action was fought at Dog Walk) before receiving word of Bragg's directive to combine the three armies at Harrodsburg. To prevent Buell at Perryville from slicing below his army to seize Danville and threaten the army stores collected at Bryantsville and Camp Dick Robinson (a movement that would cut the Confederates off from Tennessee), Bragg retreated further without informing Kirby Smith. When Kirby Smith arrived at Harrodsburg, he was dismayed to find that Bragg had already left, but it didn't matter in the end as the pace of Buell's pursuit, which awaited the arrival of Sill's wandering division to round out McCook's battered corps, was very deliberate.

By the 11th, all three Confederate armies (Bragg's, Kirby Smith's, and Marshall's) were concentrated in one place for the first time in the campaign. Though vulnerable to being turned, the Confederate position was a strong one that secured their forward supply depots. However, with the defeat of Price and Van Dorn in Mississippi, no hope of timely reinforcement, no evidence of a pro-Confederate uprising in Kentucky, and increasingly precarious lines of communication, Bragg favored a general retreat. There were also limited supplies and the lateness of the season to consider. Thus, returning to Tennessee was the prudent choice, and the majority of generals attending the council of war that Bragg assembled to discuss the matter concurred with that view (though Kirby Smith and Marshall cast dissenting votes).

On October 12, the retreat began, with Marshall moving back to Virginia through Pound Gap and both Bragg and Kirby Smith returning to Tennessee via Cumberland Gap. According to Hafendorfer, the Confederate cavalry reasserted itself during the retreat, providing Bragg with better information than Buell was receiving. It helped that Bragg finally appointed a chief of cavalry (Wheeler), and the improvement in overall coordination between the previously scattered mounted commands was immediate.

With his attention too long diverted toward Harrodsburg after leaving Perryville, Buell squandered his narrow window of opportunity to cut off Confederate lines of communication and could only follow in their wake. Within days, Buell, with the highland road network not conducive to pursuit and his army stacked up on the Wilderness Road, abandoned his full-scale pursuit in favor of a single corps (Crittenden's) that was soon after pared down even further to a single division. Ironically, Buell dismantled his pursuit at the precise moment the Confederate retreat was getting into major traffic trouble. As predicted, Kirby Smith found himself stuck at Big Hill among the struggling trains of both armies, and the lengthening gap between his and Bragg's commands exposed his long, open right flank to attack. Fortunately for the Confederates, Buell's pared down pursuit was not in position to exploit that vulnerability. Those Union units that did keep up the pursuit were locked into continuous rear-guard skirmishing with Wheeler's cavalry, the fighting force the author credits most with providing the breathing space needed by Bragg and Kirby Smith to maintain an orderly retreat.

Both Union and Confederate army commanders were heavily censured for their respective roles in the campaign. Buell, who failed to cripple or destroy Bragg's army and did not follow it into East Tennessee but rather returned to Nashville against orders, was replaced by General Rosecrans. For his part, Bragg failed in his mission to bring Kentucky into the Confederate fold and was seemingly back where he started. However, Hafendorfer and others persuasively submit that Bragg's campaign did result in some significant benefits to the Confederate war effort. The fact that Kentuckians failed to rise en masse and Price and Van Dorn were decisively defeated in Mississippi (events that were out of Bragg's control) meant that the campaign's gains could only be limited ones. Even so, the Kentucky Campaign secured Chattanooga (the loss of which would have had devastating effects had it been captured and held by Buell in mid-1862), regained Cumberland Gap, offered temporary relief to the residents of northern Alabama, and allowed the Confederate Army to regain a strong foothold in Middle Tennessee.

In terms of supplementary materials, the appendix section contains opposing orders of battle for Richmond, Iuka, Corinth, and Perrville. The Perrville order of battle displays a unit by unit casualty breakdown (where available), but readers will have to return to Noe's book for unit strength information. The volume concludes with over 150 pages of endnotes and bibliography.

___________________________________


RECAP AND FINAL THOUGHTS: The 1981 publication of Kenneth Hafendorfer's Perryville: Battle for Kentucky was a true landmark event in the study of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign. Before that time, nothing had been published that even approached that level of coverage and depth of detail. There were criticisms. The book, like all of Hafendorfer's contributions, was self-published and rough around the edges. Many of those complaints were addressed a decade later when a second edition of the book was released that included new maps, new sources, and expanded coverage. Though itself marred by rampant typos, Hafendorfer's The Kentucky Campaign of 1862 and Battle of Perryville represent an upgrade of vastly greater dimensions. Using an even more expansive bibliography and incorporating a completely redone map set, the Perryville battle narrative is vastly expanded and improved in both quality and depth.

Like never before, these two volumes fully and properly contextualize the 1862 Kentucky Campaign within the larger sphere of western theater summer and fall military operations. In them, readers are treated to an unprecedented day-by-day account of the campaign from July through October. The perspectives of both sides are also accorded equal weight. Hafendorfer's Perryville work has a rival in Noe's book (indeed many readers will find Noe's narrative of events more accessible), but nothing approaching Hafendorfer's meticulously rendered accounts of the "Race to Louisville" and the retreat from Perryille exist elsewhere in the literature. Hafendorfer's microscopic approach allows readers to fully recognize and appreciate the many factors that went into command-level decision-making along with moments of contingency in the campaign where events might have played out distinctly different from history. The cost and very small print run of these titles will mean that the set will become highly challenging to obtain secondhand, but the most serious students of the Kentucky Campaign will do well to try to obtain a copy of this holy grail-level collector's item.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Booknotes: Into Tennessee and Failure

New Arrival:
Into Tennessee and Failure: John Bell Hood by Stephen Davis (Mercer UP, 2020).

As you might recall, I liked Stephen Davis's Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood (2019) quite a bit. Picking up where that first volume left off and addressing the most controversial period of the general's Civil War career is Into Tennessee and Failure: John Bell Hood.

From the description: Into Tennessee and Failure "is the second volume of Stephen Davis's study of John Bell Hood's generalship in 1864. Here Davis picks up the story in September-October 1864, tracing Hood and his army into North Georgia and Alabama. Entering Tennessee in late November, Hood's forces failed to trap Union Maj. Gen. John Schofield's infantry at Spring Hill. On November 30, Hood ordered his soldiers to attack Schofield's fortified lines at Franklin. A tragic and bloody repulse followed. Schofield escaped to Nashville, joining Maj. Gen. George Thomas's forces. With few options left, Hood approached Nashville and had his troops dig in. Though his army was half the size of Thomas's 50,000, Hood hoped to win a defensive victory when Thomas attacked him. Instead, in the battle of Nashville, December 15-16, the Army of Tennessee was routed from the field. By the time it ended its retreat in North Mississippi, Confederate authorities were ready to relieve Hood from command. Hood resigned in January 1865."

The campaign in Tennessee, even more disastrous than the one in Georgia, exposed additional flaws in Hood's generalship and, in the author's opinion, character. A major theme of the first book "was the ambition that drove Hood to seek higher and higher rank. Here, while recognizing Hood's loyalty to the Confederate cause, he discerns Hood's unflattering traits: questioning the courage of his men, bickering with other generals, and concealing from his superiors the extent of his disaster in Tennessee." Looking forward to reading it.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Booknotes: Tullahoma

New Arrival:
Tullahoma: The Forgotten Campaign that Changed the Course of the Civil War, June 23 - July 4, 1863 by David A. Powell and Eric J. Wittenberg (Savas Beatie, 2020).

Much of General William S. Rosecrans's famous remark about his brilliantly successful campaign of maneuver in Middle Tennessee being relatively overlooked among the summer 1863 run of major Union successes due to it being a victory "not written in letters of blood" also applies to its treatment in the literature. Mostly discussed in magazine articles, essays, and book chapters, the campaign's most useful standalone volume has long been Michael Bradley's slim overview published in 1999. Now in 2020, the need for a full-length study of the campaign that "nearly cleared the state (Tennessee) of Rebels and changed the calculus of the Civil War in the Western Theater" has finally been addressed in David Powell and Eric Wittenberg's Tullahoma: The Forgotten Campaign that Changed the Course of the Civil War, June 23 - July 4, 1863.

From the description: "On June 23, 1863, Rosecrans, with some 60,000 men, initiated a classic campaign of maneuver against Bragg’s 40,000. Confronted with rugged terrain and a heavily entrenched foe, Rosecrans intended to defeat Bragg through strategy rather than bloodshed by outflanking him and seizing control of Bragg’s supply line, the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, at Tullahoma and thus force him to fight a battle outside of his extensive earthworks. It almost worked.

The complex and fascinating campaign included deceit, hard marching, fighting, and incredible luck—both good and bad. Rosecrans executed a pair of feints against Guy’s Gap and Liberty Gap to deceive the Rebels into thinking the main blow would fall somewhere other than where it was designed to strike. An ineffective Confederate response exposed one of Bragg’s flanks—and his entire army—to complete disaster. Torrential rains and consequential decisions in the field wreaked havoc on the best-laid plans. Still Bragg hesitated, teetering on the brink of losing the second most important field army in the Confederacy. The hour was late and time was short, and his limited withdrawal left the armies poised for a climactic engagement that may have decided the fate of Middle Tennessee, and perhaps the war. Finally fully alert to the mortal threat facing him, Bragg pulled back from the iron jaws of defeat about to engulf him and retreated—this time all the way to Chattanooga, the gateway to the rest of the Southern Confederacy.
"

Given Powell and Wittenberg's combined record in crafting definitive-level Civil War campaign studies, the over 350-page narrative (supported by 16 maps) presented in Tullahoma will undoubtedly meet or exceed the expectations of even the most demanding reader.