Sunday, December 20, 2020

Booknotes: The Howling Storm

New Arrival:
The Howling Storm: Weather, Climate, and the American Civil War by Kenneth W. Noe (LSU Press, 2020).

In recent years, a number of excellent essays and book chapters have been published on the topic of how weather effected Union and Confederate military and home fronts. Often these are included in Civil War environmental history manuscripts and anthologies. However, in providing the first comprehensive book-length study of the subject, Kenneth Noe's The Howling Storm takes it to the next level. In his nearly 500-page narrative, Noe "retells the history of the conflagration with a focus on the ways in which weather and climate shaped the outcomes of battles and campaigns. He further contends that events such as floods and droughts affecting the Confederate home front constricted soldiers’ food supply, lowered morale, and undercut the government’s efforts to boost nationalist sentiment. By contrast, the superior equipment and open supply lines enjoyed by Union soldiers enabled them to cope successfully with the South’s extreme conditions and, ultimately, secure victory in 1865."

As some others have done before him, most recently Browning and Silver in their excellent synthesis An Environmental History of the Civil War (2020), Noe also examines the effects of periodic Pacific and Atlantic oceanic events on the course of the war. More from the description: "Climate conditions during the war proved unusual, as irregular phenomena such as El Niño, La Niña, and similar oscillations in the Atlantic Ocean disrupted weather patterns across southern states. Taking into account these meteorological events, Noe rethinks conventional explanations of battlefield victories and losses, compelling historians to reconsider long-held conclusions about the war. Unlike past studies that fault inflation, taxation, and logistical problems for the Confederate defeat, his work considers how soldiers and civilians dealt with floods and droughts that beset areas of the South in 1862, 1863, and 1864. In doing so, he addresses the foundational causes that forced Richmond to make difficult and sometimes disastrous decisions when prioritizing the feeding of the home front or the front lines."

This is the kind of study (it's a great, fresh topic addressed in seemingly exhaustive fashion by an author whose work is always first-rate) that would normally grab my attention as a potential book of the year. Alas, the latter stages of December are already upon us and my best of 2020 will be posted on the site mere days from now.


  1. Drew: I like forward to your review. I've only read a few random chapters so far but there's a lot of material in this book. Noe has been carving out a specialty in this subject.

    1. I also "look" forward to your review, although I'm sure that I will "like" it.


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