Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Booknotes: Incidents in the Life of Cecilia Lawton

New Arrival:
Incidents in the Life of Cecilia Lawton: A Memoir of Plantation Life, War, and Reconstruction in Georgia and South Carolina edited by Karen Stokes (Mercer UP, 2021).

South Carolina Historical Society archivist Karen Stokes has edited (solo and in partnership with W. Eric Emerson) a number of South Carolina-related wartime diary and letter collections for publication by University of South Carolina Press and Mercer University Press. Her latest editing project, Incidents in the Life of Cecilia Lawton, marks the first appearance in print of the full Lawton memoir, which runs 113 pages in its published format.

From the description: "The daughter of a wealthy Georgia plantation owner," Lawton "was married at the age of sixteen and went to live at her husband's plantation in South Carolina, but a few months later, she found herself fleeing from the army of General William T. Sherman. She observed the aftermath of this brutal campaign, writing of what she saw in vivid, horrific detail. Following the war, Cecilia and her husband [Wallace] "struggled to survive on his ruined plantation, but after enduring many hardships and dangers, they moved away and began a new life on a sea island near Charleston. Raised in luxury and privilege, Cecilia had few of the skills expected of a farmer's wife, but despite her youth and inexperience she persevered and found success as a businesswoman in Charleston."

Preface and introduction note objections from the family custodian of the manuscript and those raised by others over how author Clyde Bresee utilized the memoir in two books published last century (1986's Sea Island Yankee and 1992's How Grand a Flame), so the book appears to also be an attempt to correct an allegedly distorted record. In addition to her fairly lengthy general introduction and epilogue to the volume, Stokes contributes footnotes to the Lawton material, a small collection of images, a pair of appendices, and an index.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Booknotes: On Rising Ground

New Arrival:
On Rising Ground: The Life and Civil War Letters of John M. Douthit, Fifty-Second Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment by Elaine Fowler Palencia (Mercer UP, 2021).

From the description: "When John M. Douthit of Appalachian Georgia enlisted as a private in Fannin County's 52nd Volunteer Infantry Regiment on March 4, 1862 and marched with neighbors to train at Camp McDonald, he left behind a pregnant wife, an eighteen-month-old daughter, and a small farm." Between March 1862 and May 1863, Douthit (a quick skim failed to uncover mention of how the family pronounced their unusual last name) regularly wrote home, his twenty-eight surviving letters forming the core of On Rising Ground: The Life and Civil War Letters of John M. Douthit, Fifty-Second Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

During his service, Douthit "served south of Cumberland Gap; through the failed Confederate invasion of Kentucky; on the march to join Bragg's forces near Murfreesboro, Tennessee; and finally, to the defense of Vicksburg, where John and his fellow North Georgians arrived during the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou. At Vicksburg, where John's younger brother Warren Davis Douthit joined him, five North Georgia regiments solidified into what became known as the Barton-Stovall Brigade. The Brigade manned the water batteries at Warrenton, Mississippi, fought in the Battle of Champion Hill, and afterward was bottled up in the siege of Vicksburg." After the Vicksburg surrender, Douthit and his brother Davis, both men too sick with dysentery for arduous travel with their fellow parolees, were shipped to St. Louis Hospital in New Orleans where John died in July and Davis the following month.

Elaine Fowler Palencia's editorial duties are expansive and include considerable background and bridging narrative. Gaps in Douthit's correspondence are further filled with other letters written by soldiers of similar rank in Douthit's regiment and brigade as well as their Union opponents. Chapters in the book also address Douthit family history before and after the war, the latter further illustrating the lasting impact of the deaths of John and his brother. In addition to assembling a small collection of maps and photographs for inclusion in the book, Palencia also provides footnotes to the text.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Book News: Suffering in the Army of Tennessee

The premier scholarly publishing outlet for Civil War soldier and civilian manuscript materials, University of Tennessee Press's Voices of the Civil War series has for decades maintained a steady production of expertly edited diaries, memoirs, and letter collections. However, Christopher Thrasher's upcoming series volume Suffering in the Army of Tennessee: A Social History of the Confederate Army of the Heartland from the Battles for Atlanta to the Retreat from Nashville offers something a bit different from the usual formula.

From the description: Suffering in the Army of Tennessee "doesn’t just draw upon one single diary or letter collection, and it does not use brief quotations as a way to fill out a larger narrative. Rather, across eight chapters spanning the Atlanta Campaign to the Battle of Nashville in 1864, Thrasher draws upon a remarkably broad set of primary sources—newspapers, manuscripts, archives, diaries, and official documents—to tell a story that knits together accounts of senior officers, the final campaigns of the Western Theater, and the experiences of the civilians and rebel soldiers who found themselves deep in the trenches of a national reckoning. While volumes have been written on the Atlanta Campaign or the Battles of Nashville and Franklin, no previous historian has constructed what amounts to a sweeping social history of the Army of Tennessee—the daily details of soldiering and the toll it took on the men and boys who mustered into service foreseeing only a small skirmish among the states."

In trying to think of notable comparables, Larry Daniel's now 30-years-old (yikes!) book Soldiering in the Army of Tennessee: A Portrait of Life in a Confederate Army immediately comes to mind. I wonder if the similarity in title phrasing was intentional. In focusing only on the army's final campaigns in Georgia and Tennessee, Thrasher's time window is certainly more narrow than Daniel's, and his incorporation of non-military accounts into a broader social history narrative is another distinguishing factor. UT Press has always been involved in Civil War publishing but never (at least that I can recall) at the variety and rate of output we've been witnessing in recent years. I don't know what's behind it, but I like it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Review - "The Enduring Civil War: Reflections on the Great American Crisis" by Gary Gallagher

[The Enduring Civil War: Reflections on the Great American Crisis by Gary W. Gallagher (Louisiana State University Press, 2020). Cloth, photos, illustrations, appendix, notes, index. Pages main/total:xiii,237/292. ISBN:978-0-8071-7348-0. $34.95]

For more than a decade (since April 2009 to be precise), issues of the popular magazine Civil War Times featured a brief topical essay written by noted historian Gary Gallagher. Given carte blanche in terms of content (the only limitation being that each piece had to be no more than 1,000 words in length), Gallagher produced succinct and frequently quite punchy essays exploring many of the subjects that interested him most over his long career inside and outside the academy. In his own words, Gallagher wanted his essays "to expose tensions among parts of the recent literature that cover peripheral or secondary dimensions of the conflict" while also wishing them "to place our contemporary understanding of the Civil War, both academic and popular, in conversation with testimony from people in the United States and the Confederacy who experienced and described it." There are other themes, but those are certainly the most commonly expressed ones. Collecting 71 of those previously published CWT essays (plus two more published elsewhere) is Gallagher's new book The Enduring Civil War: Reflections on the Great American Crisis.

The essays are grouped (with a short introduction to each) into six main themes: "Framing the War," "Generals and Battles," "Controversies," "Historians and Books," "Testimony from Participants," and "Places and Culture." The pieces mostly remain as they were originally published, though Gallagher notes that a small number were further revised (with some likely expanded beyond the original 1,000-word limit). He also added endnotes to the entire collection and restored the titles of many of the essays to their original text (see the appendix for a complete bibliographical roster).

In several essays, Gallagher offers common laments regarding some of the general public's sustained beliefs in Lost Cause tenets when it comes to origins, conduct, and outcomes of the war. He also offers the typical professional historian's refrain about the great majority of avocational readers and authors being only interested in campaigns, battles, and leaders (note: this reviewer views that brand of blanket observation as outdated in its representation of the current day's increasingly small but arguably more diverse Civil War lay reading audience). On the other side of the equation, Gallagher reserves some of his most pointed cautionary judgments for professional colleagues engaged in either certain brands of historical revisionism or laboring in various narrow subspecialties currently in vogue. A sampling includes those social historians who leave military history almost entirely out of their analysis, promote the idea of the "long Civil War," and formulate self-emancipation narratives that minimize to the point of exclusion the role of the Union Army in freeing the slaves. Of the first, Gallagher argues powerfully that the war years cannot be understood in any meaningful manner without some integration of military history into the discussion. Similarly, it is the author's contention that expanding the Civil War far beyond summer 1865 and even into the present day improperly devalues the very significant and permanent accomplishments of the war itself. On the third point, Gallagher, citing evidence, persuasively contends that the Union Army was a primary force in emancipation and ignoring that is a disservice both to it and history. Also, in Gallagher's view, those specializing in Civil War "dark" history, though engaged in important work, too often present the exceptional as the norm (or at least, one might add, leave that impression upon the reader).

Gallagher adopts a number of contrarian views regarding current "fashions" in Civil War scholarship. For instance, in the book he continues to argue for eastern theater primacy and against those in favor of dissolving the barrier between the Civil War on the one side and contemporary Indian Wars and westward expansion on the other. Unmoved by the recent scholarly work of Daniel Sutherland, Clay Mountcastle, and others, Gallagher also forcefully believes that guerrilla warfare had no measurable impact on the course and outcome of the war. Partially related to that is the author's long-held contention that the Trans-Mississippi theater was entirely insignificant. Objections, sometimes even heated responses, to these pieces were raised by readers and scholars (and this reviewer also feels evidence doesn't broadly support a number of them), but in each case Gallagher's stated reasoning behind his own views and interpretations possesses merit worthy of continuing debate.

Gallagher's long tenure as a series editor at UNC Press resulted in the press's acquisition of numerous classic military history studies along with publication of the venerable Military Campaigns of the Civil War anthology series, but it remains a career curiosity that Gallagher himself never tried his hand at a Civil War campaign or battle history. Nevertheless, many of the essays in this compilation are concerned with military topics of personal interest to the writer. These include critiques and comparisons of the generalships of Grant, Lee, Sheridan, Jackson, and others, and several essays address the Battle of Gettysburg on some level.

Numerous essays address books and present recommendations. In them, Gallagher mines his decades of research and study to offer readers short "best of" lists or highlight gems (hidden or otherwise) when it comes to categories like soldier letters, female Confederate writers, publications by veterans who were Harvard graduates, and more. Indispensable diaries (ex. those of Gideon Welles, John B. Jones, Josiah Gorgas, and more) and other wartime accounts are discussed in a number of informative standalone essays. Gallagher also devotes entire essays to memorializing the careers and influential historiographical contributions of important past historians, among them David Potter, Ella Lonn, Harry Pfanz, and Allan Nevins.

The above refers to just a selection of the volume's total range. Gallagher additionally addresses battlefield interpretation and preservation, the depiction of Civil War topics in film, and numerous other subjects at the intersection of history and memory.

The volume is promoted as one that won't likely be read cover to cover in typical front to back fashion, but this reviewer, who doesn't often find books like this appealing, did just that and found the experience to be a thoroughly engaging one. For the most part, Gallagher's essays adopt the attitude one would like to get from a distinguished emeritus historian, one that is curious and respectful of current trends among the profession's more youthful movements but also wary of where those might take us. Exposing readers of all levels to the full range of Gary Gallagher's scholarly interests and attainments as teacher, writer, interpretive pioneer (ex. in the area of Union soldier motivation), media popularizer, guide, and editor, The Enduring Civil War is a recommended collection of viewpoints from one of the true deans of the modern Civil War history profession.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Booknotes: The Civil War Battles of Macon

New Arrival:
The Civil War Battles of Macon by Niels Eichhorn (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Press, 2021).

Taking a break from his specialist academic work examining diplomatic and other international dimensions of the Civil War-era [you might recall his 2019 book Liberty and Slavery: European Separatists, Southern Secession, and the American Civil War], historian Niels Eichhorn's The Civil War Battles of Macon is a local military history aimed at a more popular audience. From the description: "Macon was a cornerstone of the Confederacy's military-industrial complex. As a transportation hub, the city supplied weapons to the Confederacy, making it a target once the Union pushed into Georgia in 1864. In the course of the war's last year, Macon faced three separate cavalry assaults. The battles were small in the grand scheme but salient for the combatants and townspeople."

Fending off Union forces until the final moments of the war, Macon was finally occupied in the spring of 1865. More from the description: "Once the war concluded, it was from Macon that cavalry struck out to capture the fugitive Jefferson Davis, allowing the city to witness one of the last chapters of the conflict. Author Niels Eichhorn brings together the first comprehensive analysis of the military engagements and battles in Middle Georgia."

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Review - "The Impulse of Victory: Ulysses S. Grant at Chattanooga" by David Powell

[The Impulse of Victory: Ulysses S. Grant at Chattanooga by David A. Powell (Southern Illinois University Press, 2020). Hardcover, 10 maps, photos, illustrations, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xii,192/258. ISBN:978-0-8093-3801-6. $34.50]

Though a handful of introductory-level books and essay anthologies exist along with a popular Wiley Sword campaign history1, the most commonly cited book-length scholarly accounts of the 1863 Chattanooga Campaign remain the trio of classic titles authored by Peter Cozzens, James Lee McDonough, and Steven Woodworth2. A superior summary of events in its own right, David Powell's The Impulse of Victory: Ulysses S. Grant at Chattanooga really sets itself apart from previous full-length narrative accounts of the campaign through its overarching focus on command character and decision-making on both sides, but particularly on the Union side3.

Powell's study begins with U.S. Grant's elevation to western theater command in response to the Union disaster at Chickamauga. In addition to creating what many believe to have been a crisis point in the Army of the Cumberland's leadership, Chickamauga left Union strategic planning on both sides of the Mississippi in disarray for the balance of 18634, and Powell briefly discusses that lesser-appreciated aspect of Chickamauga's fallout as well. Given what transpired during the Iuka-Corinth Campaign of the previous year, Grant's relief of Rosecrans in favor of highly-regarded corps commander George Thomas was predictable; however, some observers later claimed that the Grant-Thomas relationship also got off to a rocky start. Judiciously sifting through conflicting reports, both contemporary and postwar, recounting Grant's arrival at Thomas's headquarters after a long journey in stormy weather, Powell pretty convincingly questions those accounts maintaining that Thomas and his staff gave Grant a disrespectful reception.

Though he had just led the Confederate Army of Tennessee to its only major victory, Grant's new opponent, General Braxton Bragg, yet again found himself the object of critical barbs from numerous sources. Bragg is often condemned by writers as militarily negligent for leaving the opposite side of Lookout Mountain mostly unguarded beyond a thin picket line, but Powell effectively reminds readers of the severe transportation problems Bragg's army had to deal with after Chickamauga. The Confederate army simply could not keep in supply even a division west of Lookout Mountain for any length of time, and the most usable and direct road for communication and wheeled traffic was in easy range of Union artillery safely ensconced across the Tennessee River in Moccasin Bend. This unsolvable dilemma is perhaps one of the war's best examples of logistical constraints limiting in critical fashion the tactical-level battlefield options and deployments of an army commander, and Powell frames it well.

On the Union side, the campaign provides another clear demonstration of the vast difference in how General Grant treated his subordinates when they failed to meet expectations. After General Sherman seriously upset Grant's campaign timetable by marching his divisions to Chattanooga over terrible roads encumbered by heavy trains placed within the columns, Grant merely took the blame upon himself and ordered his favorite subordinate to pass his wagons to the rear. Contrast that with his almost disdainful reaction to General Joseph Hooker's sweep over and around Lookout Mountain in the "Battle Above the Clouds" on November 24. Sherman's timid advance on the Union army's left on that same day (the consensus view of historians being that his movements were unquestionably overcautious) ended up far short of Grant's ordered goal. Powell is not only critical of that but of Sherman's failure to avail himself of the opportunity to gather geographical intelligence from units of his own command who had garrisoned the area previously5. Once again, given Grant's ill-humored jabs aimed toward the Army of the Cumberland's alleged immobility during the campaign, one can imagine the commanding general's reaction to the stalled state of affairs on the army's left if that sector was led by anyone else but Sherman.

As Powell notes in the book, Sherman's persistent claims then and long after that he was never repulsed and that he drew heavy enemy forces from the Confederate center that weakened it for Thomas's breakthrough, were patently absurd when it came to the former and a gross exaggeration when it came to the latter. On the other hand, Powell generously points out that Sherman's assumption of a defensive posture on Billy Goat Hill on the 24th can have some justification, as Sherman believed at the time that he occupied the northern end of Missionary Ridge and its former defenders would likely be preparing a strong counterattack to reoccupy that critical position. However, after Sherman saw his error the next morning his attacks there were still uncoordinated and hesitant, and he kept Grant poorly informed of his progress (or rather lack of progress). Utilizing only a small proportion of his large available force, Sherman launched a series of brigade-sized attacks on a narrow front, all of which were repulsed. Intended by Grant to be the army's main effort, Sherman's assault on the left accomplished pitifully little by the time it petered out by the early afternoon of the 25th, not to be renewed even after George Thomas's success in the center. In the final estimation, Powell fairly and persuasively adds his own voice to that of other historians and writers critical of Sherman's performance during the battle.

While Sherman was getting nowhere on the Union left, what passed between Grant, Thomas, and corps commander Gordon Granger on Orchard Knob has long been a source of conflicting reports and historical interpretations. Countering some of those views, Powell reminds readers that the Army of the Cumberland was far from inert during the first half of the day and was actually quite active throughout the morning and early afternoon, with its divisions shifting around not inconsiderable distances at both Thomas's and Grant's behest. With that in mind, it becomes clear that the timing of the launching of the Army of the Cumberland's afternoon attack (2:30p-3p) was not merely delayed by ponderous Thomasonian inertia and Granger's peculiar artillery antics until Sherman's failed assaults had completely lost their steam. Instead, the author argues convincingly that the unavailability of all four divisions to act in concert earlier in the day, and the time consumed in transmitting necessary orders to all of those subordinate commanders, meant that the attack could not have been carried out much before the time it historically did. In the end, Powell finds most convincing General Wood's account of the Orchard Knob interactions among the army high command. It is a relatively drama-free one that does not paint Thomas and Granger in the uncomplimentary light that some of the more tension-filled, and perhaps agenda-driven, reports offered.

In covering the action on the Union army's right flank during the battle's decisive day, Powell's narrative effectively draws attention toward the least recognized and least appreciated of the three major attacks, General Hooker's capture of Rossville and swing north into and behind the Confederate left flank. This three-division advance completely unhinged the enemy's weakly-held left, and one might well imagine that even if Thomas's frontal assault had failed that Hooker would have forced Bragg's withdrawal.

Few of Grant's great western campaigns had large-scale cavalry components, and Powell additionally points to another example of Grant putting his limited cavalry assets to good use. Just as he did with Grierson in Mississippi during the Vicksburg Campaign, at Chattanooga Grant sent Eli Long's small cavalry brigade to wreak havoc on enemy lines of communication (in this case the connection between Bragg and Longstreet). As the author shows in the book, Long accomplished this objective very well and at little cost to his command.

By a combination of factors (not least of which were good defensive terrain for the enemy to exploit—see Hooker vs. Cleburne at Ringgold Gap—and the need to immediately send a large relief force to Knoxville), Grant's pursuit of Bragg's army fizzled out quickly. Powell notes that two major figures in the Union high command, Hooker and Granger (neither a Grant-Sherman favorite), were casualties of the campaign. Granger was relieved outright, and Hooker's immodest blustering over his accomplishments (and his touchiness over matters of rank) made him a much disliked and distrusted figure in Sherman's Georgia campaign of the following spring. Indeed, Powell strongly argues that the greatest source of Grant's poor opinion of both men could only have been through personality clashes as both performed more than reasonably well during the battle. By contrast, General Sherman, who demonstrated poor march discipline during the movement to Chattanooga, showed misplaced caution and missed his objective on the 24th, was soundly repulsed the next day, and failed to renew his assaults when the enemy's left and center were attacked, received not a word of censure from Grant.

Even though gifted with Bragg's command blunders and an opposing army weakened by internal dissension and severely limited logistical capacity, by any measure Grant did well at Chattanooga, quickly melding together divisions from different armies and delivering in timely fashion the crushing victory that the U.S. needed in the wake of Chickamauga. In assessing Grant's strengths, Powell joins a long list of recent writers in praising the general's "doggedness in his maintenance of the overall objective, tactical flexibility, and perseverance in the face of setbacks" (pg. 190). The book shows that all of those qualities were exhibited by Grant at a number of different points in the Chattanooga Campaign. Added to that list of exceptional command traits were Grant's willingness to keep an open line of communication with Washington and his readiness to go about achieving the government's objectives in the timing and manner expected of him. In addition to effectively utilizing the Chattanooga Campaign as another example highlighting the many ways in which General Grant succeeded when other Union army commanders failed, David Powell's The Impulse of Victory also offers readers of all backgrounds arguably the finest summary history of the Chattanooga Campaign yet written.


Notes:
1 - For brief introductory histories of merit see David Powell's Battle Above the Clouds: Lifting the Siege of Chattanooga and the Battle of Lookout Mountain, October 16–November 24, 1863 (2017) and Steven Woodworth's This Grand Spectacle: The Battle of Chattanooga (1999). A pair of fairly recent essay collections, The Chattanooga Campaign (2012) edited by Woodworth & Grear and Gateway to the Confederacy: New Perspectives on the Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns, 1862–1863 (2014) edited by Jones & Sword [though it is much more heavily weighted toward Chickamauga and its preceding events], are both worthy of recommendation. For a popular-style narrative history of the campaign, see Wiley Sword's Mountains Touched with Fire: Chattanooga Besieged, 1863 (1995).
2 - These are Peter Cozzens's The Shipwreck of Their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga (1994) [the best single-volume treatment of the battle], James Lee McDonough's Chattanooga: A Death Grip on the Confederacy (1984), and Steven Woodworth's Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns (1998).
3 - Utilizing a unique analytical format, a Chattanooga Campaign volume was published in 2018 as part of University of Tennessee Press's Command Decisions in America’s Civil War series (see here). For those specifically interested in Grant's career, The Impulse of Victory is also the second volume in SIU Press's World of Ulysses S. Grant series to examine the general's decision-making during a specific campaign, the first being Timothy Smith's The Decision Was Always My Own: Ulysses S. Grant and the Vicksburg Campaign (2018).
4 - see Donald Frazier's recent book Tempest over Texas: The Fall and Winter Campaigns of 1863–1864 for the best explanation of how Chickamauga affected the Union Army's Trans-Mississippi plans and operations.
5 - There is an interesting historical side note related in the book about a prominent Unionist whose land was in Sherman's path of advance and who was falsely arrested earlier as a Confederate spy. According to Powell, the incarcerated man's absence from his home robbed Union forces of a willing and useful source of information regarding the true location of the northern end of Missionary Ridge.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Booknotes: Civil War Supply and Strategy

New Arrival:
Civil War Supply and Strategy: Feeding Men and Moving Armies by Earl J. Hess (LSU Press, 2020).

Alas, we've come to the final LSU release of 2020, one that was also one of my most highly anticipated titles of last year. The holiday season was an epic disaster for the USPS in terms of on-time deliveries, but this one, along with the rest of my media packages, had an obstacle free journey (sort of like every offense facing Bo Pelini's defense this season). In 2017's excellent Civil War Logistics: A Study of Military Transportation, Earl Hess made it clear that his appraisal of Civil War logistics would fill two volumes, one covering transportation and the other supply (his belief being that no single volume could adequately address both facets). So we now have the completed set in Civil War Supply and Strategy: Feeding Men and Moving Armies.

From the description: Hess's book "stands as a sweeping examination of the decisive link between the distribution of provisions to soldiers and the strategic movement of armies during the Civil War. Award-winning historian Earl J. Hess reveals how that dynamic served as the key to success, especially for the Union army as it undertook bold offensives striking far behind Confederate lines. How generals and their subordinates organized military resources to provide food for both men and animals under their command, he argues, proved essential to Union victory.

As one might have supposed, much of the above is presented using case studies of specific campaigns and operations, mostly western ones. Additionally, one chapter addresses the Trans-Mississippi and a pair of chapters (the volume's final two) discuss the supplying of the two principal eastern armies. The author also frames his overall analysis in terms of logistical theaters that ran north to south (as opposed to the east-west orientation of the principal military theaters). More from the description: "The Union army developed a powerful logistical capability that enabled it to penetrate deep into Confederate territory and exert control over select regions of the South. Logistics and supply empowered Union offensive strategy but limited it as well; heavily dependent on supply lines, road systems, preexisting railroad lines, and natural waterways, Union strategy worked far better in the more developed Upper South. Union commanders encountered unique problems in the Deep South, where needed infrastructure was more scarce. While the Mississippi River allowed Northern armies to access the region along a narrow corridor and capture key cities and towns along its banks, the dearth of rail lines nearly stymied William T. Sherman’s advance to Atlanta. In other parts of the Deep South, the Union army relied on massive strategic raids to destroy resources and propel its military might into the heart of the Confederacy."

According to Hess, "the conflict in the Upper South proved so different from that in the Deep South that the ability of Federal officials to negotiate the logistical complications associated with army mobility played a crucial role in determining the outcome of the war." I'm looking forward to delving into it.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Booknotes: A Contest of Civilizations

New Arrival:
A Contest of Civilizations: Exposing the Crisis of American Exceptionalism in the Civil War Era by Andrew F. Lang (UNC Press, 2020).

From the description: "Most mid-nineteenth-century Americans regarded the United States as an exceptional democratic republic that stood apart from a world seemingly riddled with revolutionary turmoil and aristocratic consolidation. Viewing themselves as distinct from and even superior to other societies, Americans considered their nation an unprecedented experiment in political moderation and constitutional democracy. But as abolitionism in England, economic unrest in Europe, and upheaval in the Caribbean and Latin America began to influence domestic affairs, the foundational ideas of national identity also faced new questions. And with the outbreak of civil war, as two rival governments each claimed the mantle of civilized democracy, the United States' claim to unique standing in the community of nations dissolved into crisis."

Adopting both domestic and transnational approaches, Andrew Lang's A Contest of Civilizations "shows how the intellectual, political, and social ramifications of the war and its meaning rippled through the decades that followed, not only for the nation's own people but also in the ways the nation sought to redefine its place on the world stage."

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Booknotes: Courage Above All Things

New Arrival:
Courage Above All Things: General John Ellis Wool and the U.S. Military, 1812–1863 by Harwood Hinton and Jerry Thompson (OU Press, 2020).

Though he was a major figure in the antebellum U.S. Army with a military career bookended by the War of 1812 and the American Civil War, historiographically John E. Wool (1784–1869) still labors under Winfield Scott's considerable shadow. However, a new appreciation of Wool's long and sometimes controversial service to his country emerged late last year with the publication of Harwood Hinton and Jerry Thompson's Courage Above All Things: General John Ellis Wool and the U.S. Military, 1812–1863, which is the first major biography of its subject.

Beginning with his 1960 dissertation The Military Career of John Ellis Wool, 1812-1863, Wool has always been a part of Hinton's career as a professional historian. Sadly, he did not live to see final publication of this full biography, which was completed by colleague Jerry Thompson. From the description: "At the time of his death in 2016, Harwood Hinton, a scholar with an encyclopedic knowledge of western history, had devoted fifty years to this monumental work, which has been completed and edited by the distinguished historian Jerry Thompson. This deeply researched and deftly written volume incorporates the latest scholarship to offer a clear and detailed account of John Ellis Wool’s extraordinary life—his character, his life experiences, and his career, in wartime and during uneasy periods of relative peace. Hinton and Thompson provide a thorough account of all chapters in Wool’s life, including three major wars, the Cherokee Removal, and battles with Native Americans on the West Coast."

During the Civil War, the Union Army employed in major commands a number of generals in the late twilight of their careers. "At the onset of the Civil War, when he assumed command of the Department of the East, Wool had been a brigadier general for twenty years and, at age seventy-seven, was the oldest general on either side of the conflict." More from the description: "From his distinguished participation in the War of 1812 to his controversial service on the Pacific coast during the 1850s, and from his mixed success during the Peninsula Campaign to his overseeing of efforts to quell the New York City draft riots of 1863, John Ellis Wool emerges here as a crucial character in the story of nineteenth-century America—complex, contradictory, larger than life—finally fully realized for the first time."

With a main narrative running nearly 400 pages, the book looks to be a fairly exhaustive description and analysis of Wool's military career. Civil War period coverage begins on Chapter 13 after Wool's transfer from California to New York to head the U.S. Army's Department of the East. The Civil War collection of chapters runs nearly 100 pages in length, so its scope is pretty extensive. At the very least, I will go over this part of the study and report back with a Snapshots review. Wool's 1861-62 activities intertwine with my interest in the early parts of the war in the eastern theater, in particular the Peninsula Campaign, so I'm looking forward to reading about them.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Rein wins 2020 A.M. Pate Award

The Fort Worth CWRT announced today that they will be presenting the 2020 A. M. Pate, Jr. Award in Civil War History later this month to historian Christopher M. Rein for his book The Second Colorado Cavalry: A Civil War Regiment on the Great Plains, which was published early last year by University of Oklahoma Press. Because the Pate Award is the only book prize that specifically targets the best Trans-Mississippi Civil War scholarship, which also happens to be my primary area of interest, spreading the word is a distinct pleasure. Congratulations to Dr. Rein for this honor and recognition of his work. It is much deserved.

The announcement also fills in the last remaining gap in the site's select book award compilation list for the year 2020 (see here).

Monday, January 4, 2021

Review - "Disorder on the Border: Civil Warfare in Cabell and Wayne Counties, West Virginia, 1856-1870" by Joe Geiger

[Disorder on the Border: Civil Warfare in Cabell and Wayne Counties, West Virginia, 1856-1870 by Joe Geiger, Jr. (35th Star Publishing, 2020). Hardcover, 4 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xiv,359/459. ISBN:978-1-7350739-4-1. $34.95]

Joe Geiger, the long-serving Director of the Archives and History section of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, is as knowledgable as anyone when it comes to the state's Civil War-era history. In the four decades that have passed since the publication of his book Civil War in Cabell County, West Virginia 1861-1865 (1991)1, Geiger has continued to research the topic and gather more source material. In the process, he's also widened his geographical focus to include adjoining Wayne County. Wayne County has already received some good coverage in the literature, in particular Jack Dickinson's Wayne County, West Virginia in the Civil War (2003), but given the apparent close similarities between the respective polities and Civil War experiences of both counties (along with the likely limited exposure of Dickinson's fine but self-published work) a dual history approach seems natural. With all of that in mind, the end result of Geiger's labors in synthesis and expansion is his new book Disorder on the Border: Civil Warfare in Cabell and Wayne Counties, West Virginia, 1856-1870. Beyond its more obvious local history appeal, the mass of ground-level military and civilian perspectives (especially from the pro-Union side) contained inside the volume should also prove more broadly useful to Civil War writers and historians engaged in researching a variety of Border State topics.

Any glance at the map of West(ern) Virginia will reveal the strategic significance of Cabell and Wayne counties. Situated within an elbow of land wedged in by the confluence of the Ohio and Big Sandy rivers, both Cabell and Wayne counties share a northern border with the state of Ohio, and the long western border of Wayne County is adjacent to Kentucky. The Kanawha River, western Virginia's main southern avenue of invasion and counterinvasion during the war, also passes close by to the east. Like many of their fellow trans-Appalachian Virginians, antebellum Cabell and Wayne county citizens frequently chafed under what they viewed as Richmond's persistent neglect, and they often forged closer economic and cultural ties with nearby Ohio than they did with other parts of Virginia. During the secession crisis, solid voting majorities in both counties opposed leaving the Union. Even so, when war came there were more than enough proponents of both sides to ensure a violent and persistent inner war within most pro-Union counties in the region. Indeed, some of the most prominent citizens of western Virginia were secessionists, the best-known of these being Albert Gallatin Jenkins. Jenkins, whose vast Cabell County land holdings would be alternately looted and appropriated throughout the conflict, became a Confederate general and would return to the area during the war as a noted cavalry raider.

Though the book does address on some level the secession crisis, wartime elections, emancipation, West Virginia statehood debates, and other issues of society, politics, and race, the great majority of Geiger's narrative is devoted to intimate descriptions of the military and home front violence that wracked both counties during and beyond the Civil War years. Though none of the fighting in Cabell and Wayne counties could be rated as a true pitched battle, it was the case that skirmishes, raids, and guerrilla attacks occurred on a frequent basis throughout the conflict. In the book, chapters are devoted to the two largest military events that occurred in the counties, the July 1861 so-called Battle of Barboursville and the November 1861 Raid on Guyandotte. While the Union victory at Barboursville, an action won by the 2nd Kentucky over a gathering of pro-Confederate militia, solidified federal control in the area, Confederate success at Guyandotte a few months later nevertheless demonstrated how tenuous Union occupation could be. After vengeful Union forces returned to the town and burned much of it in retaliation, Guyandotte provided the first glimpse at just how destructive, and often indiscriminate, the inner war's violence would become in the future.

After the Guyandotte raid, hostage taking became an increasingly common practice by both sides to ensure decent treatment of political prisoners2. Because Civil War volunteers tasked with occupation duties often demonstrated little interest in discerning loyalties among local factions, their presence could certainly have caused negative feelings among West Virginia Unionists living in areas bordering the Ohio River. However, it seems to have been the case that citizens of Cabell and Wayne counties on the whole appreciated cross-river intervention from Ohio, especially when locally-raised troops were transferred elsewhere leaving nearby towns, farms, and river traffic vulnerable to guerrilla attack.

As already mentioned, most of the Civil War fighting that occurred in Cabell and Wayne counties was in the nature of small-scale raids, ambuscades, and armed violence against civilians. These events, which extended well into the early postwar period, are recounted in minute detail throughout the book. In addition to its useful documentation of local history, Geiger's narrative, with its detailed coverage of individual and family experiences, also serves as a bountiful genealogical resource. Mostly written from the Union perspective, the book meticulously traces the activities of a number of federal volunteer units, including the aforementioned 2nd Kentucky, the 34th Ohio (Piatt's Zouaves), and a multitude of West Virginia infantry and cavalry regiments and detachments. In reading the book's lengthy documentation of the scale and frequency of attacks on both military and civilian targets in Cabell and Wayne counties, it seems clear that West Virginia deserves wider recognition as a guerrilla war hotspot at least comparable in notoriety to parts of Kentucky and Missouri.

With political opposition in Cabell and Wayne counties effectively muffled and voting qualifications strictly regulated, Republican candidates maintained electoral success in the wake of emancipation and no McClellan votes were tallied in either county during the 1864 presidential election. As was the case with many other border state counties, the end of slavery was either accepted or welcomed, but extension of full citizenship rights to freedmen was generally opposed by West Virginia Unionists. In the book, Geiger describes how pro-Confederate diehards attempted to disrupt the fall 1865 elections by defying voting restrictions. In common with other guerrilla-infested border regions, there were also lawsuits filed by Cabell and Wayne county Unionists against prominent Confederates and guerrilla fighters over property losses incurred during the war years. However, even after postwar resistance (violent and non-violent) continued for years after Appomattox, even ardent Unionists eventually supported the restoration of voting and civil rights to ex-Confederates, and by 1870 the Democrats swept back into power statewide.

It could be maintained that the book too heavily favors description over wider contextual analysis, but that's really part of the nature of most Civil War county and local histories. This reviewer's chief complaint centers around another drawback common to Civil War local history publications, a lack of suitable cartographic orientation. The archival county maps provided in the book are of only limited assistance to those unfamiliar with local geography [the best one is the post route map on page 8 encompassing both counties, but it is dated significantly postwar at 1896], and military map coverage of the many raids, skirmishes, and guerrilla attacks described in the text (at any scale) is absent.

In its meticulous documentation of Civil War-era military and home front violence in Cabell and Wayne Counties, Disorder on the Border is a richly detailed resource for those researching regular and irregular warfare (particularly the latter) along the far western border of Virginia—and from June 1863 onward, the new state of West Virginia. The release of this highly informative local history also further cements 35th Star's status as the new leader in publishing Civil War West Virginia military history and edited primary source materials.



Notes:
1 - While this volume represents a significant source and content upgrade from Geiger's 1991 Cabell County study, readers might still want to keep the older volume in the home library for its roster appendices of Union and Confederate soldiers from the county along with its lists of soldiers killed or captured in action inside county borders. The author's annotated compilation of Guyandotte Raid casualties and civilian arrest lists is also valuable reference material not carried over to this otherwise heavily expanded county history treatment.
2 - Military and civilian hostage taking was a pervasive Civil War practice worthy of more in-depth study. Most recently, Joan Cashin's War Stuff: The Struggle for Human and Environmental Resources in the American Civil War (2018) addressed the topic in limited but interesting fashion.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Guelzo's Lee biography coming in 2021

At least in the general public's imagination, fighting the Civil War always comes down to Grant versus Lee. Both still have ardent supporters and detractors, but Grant clearly appeals most to modern biographers. When it comes to major full-length biographies published over the past three or four decades, the Lee output has not at all kept up with the number of Grant tomes that have emerged from the likes of McFeely, Simpson (though his is still incomplete), Smith, Brands, and most recently Chernow and White. With the passage of nearly ninety years, there is certainly no reason to be scared off by Freeman. Largely theme-based Lee bios of limited scope pop up occasionally, but it is strange to realize that after more than two decades Emory Thomas's Robert E. Lee (1997) still maintains its position as the best modern all-around (though still not exhaustive) birth to grave biography without any real challengers (Pryor's well-received doorstopper was biographical in nature but not a biography of the traditional format). It may not come as a surprise to some, but I was caught offguard to learn last week that Allan Guelzo (a first-rate historian but certainly not widely known as a Lee scholar) has been hard at work on a big Lee biography that will be published this coming fall by Knopf under the rather prosaic title of Lee: A Biography (Sept 2021).

I am definitely interested in checking it out. I never did read Guelzo's Gettysburg book and don't recall much of anything already out in the wild regarding the author's thoughts on Lee. Hopefully, Knopf's book page will have more information soon.