Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Tim Smith's ongoing War in the West epic

On a standalone basis, the volumes comprising former NPS park ranger and current UT-Martin history professor Timothy B. Smith's up-to-now career complement of campaign and battle histories have justly achieved high praise from readers and critics alike. Perhaps a bit underappreciated, however, is the continuity involved in Smith's work published by University Press of Kansas and Savas Beatie. Released far out of historical sequence and over nearly two decades now, it is easy to miss just how well they all fit together. After rearranging the volumes by their historical chronology, however, it becomes evident that this massive military history corpus can justifiably be considered a single, monumental treatment of a truly decisive phase of the Civil War in the West, an eighteen-month series of hammer blows along a critical invasion corridor geographically enclosed west to east by the Mississippi and Cumberland rivers. These early-1862 to mid-1863 campaigns inflicted, at least by many estimates, a mortal wound to Confederate hopes for independence.

In [1] Grant Invades Tennessee: The 1862 Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson (2016) Smith recovers the historical significance of Fort Henry, and the Confederate surrender there and at Donelson (both in February) decisively opened the door for Union forces to invade Tennessee and Mississippi. Those events along the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers directly led to the Battle of Shiloh, the two-days of which are detailed in unprecedented fashion in Smith's [2] Shiloh: Conquer or Perish (2014). Next in the sequence is [3] Corinth 1862: Siege, Battle, Occupation (2012), which begins directly after the Union victory at Shiloh and retreat of the Confederacy's western army to Corinth, Mississippi. Covering a great deal of ground in a single volume, Smith's Corinth study addresses two major campaigns—the April-May 1862 "Siege" of Corinth that resulted in Confederate abandonment of the city and the September-October 1862 Confederate campaign in North Mississippi that failed to recapture Corinth and its critical rail junction. From there, Smith's work engages a Vicksburg Campaign already well in stride with [4] The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson’s Epic 1863 Civil War Raid Through Mississippi (2018), [5] Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg (2004), and [6] The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863 (2020). Though there are strong rivals here and there (among them Peter Cozzens's Corinth battle study and Earl Hess's recent coverage of the Vicksburg assaults), one can argue that each of Smith's books can lay claim to being the new standard treatment of its subject matter.

Now we come to what the future will bring. Next in line is Smith's [7] The Siege of Vicksburg: Climax of the Campaign to Open the Mississippi River, May 23-July 4, 1863 (June 2021). That one will be followed by [8] a volume addressing the Mississippi Central Campaign/Chickasaw Bayou Expedition (the beginning of which will reconnect the loose thread still dangling from the Union pursuit that followed the Corinth battle in October 1862) and then one or two more books [9-10] that will bridge the final gap between the events of November-December 1862 and the May 16, 1863 Battle of Champion Hill. When all is said and done, it will be an amazing achievement spanning as many as ten volumes.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Booknotes: Sweet Land of Liberty

New Arrival:
Sweet Land of Liberty: America in the Mind of the French Left, 1848–1871 by Tom Sancton (LSU Press, 2021).

From the description: In Sweet Land of Liberty: America in the Mind of the French Left, 1848–1871, author Tom Sancton "examines how the French left perceived and used the image of the United States against the backdrop of major historical developments in both countries between the Revolution of 1848 and the Paris Commune of 1871. Along the way, he weaves in the voices of scores of French observers―including those of everyday French citizens as well as those of prominent thinkers and politicians such as Alexis de Tocqueville, Victor Hugo, and Georges Clemenceau―as they looked to the democratic ideals of their American counterparts in the face of rising authoritarianism on the European continent."

Over the decade preceding the American Civil War, the end of France's Second Republic through Napoleon III's rise to imperial rule created a home-grown opposition on the French left that "looked to the American example as both a democratic model and a source of ideological support in favor of political liberty." During that same period, however, the anti-Napoleon left also became "increasingly wary of the United States, as slavery, rapacious expansionism, and sectional frictions tarnished its image and diminished its usefulness" to them.

How French and British societies viewed the Civil War combatants has often been summarized as the common people being strongly pro-Union with pro-Confederate sentiments most prevalent in the upper classes and among those most deeply involved in the cotton trade and dependent industries. Interestingly, Sancton "counters the long-held assumption that French workers, despite the distress caused by a severe cotton famine in the South, steadfastly supported the North during the Civil War out of a sense of solidarity with American slaves and lofty ideas of liberty. On the contrary, many workers backed the South, hoped for an end to fighting, and urged French government intervention."

Over eight chapters in the book's middle, Sancton demonstrates how the American Civil War became a "turning point" in how the French left viewed the United States as an inspiring force in its own democratic struggle. More from the description: "While Napoleon III considered joint Anglo-French recognition of the Confederacy and launched an ill-fated invasion of Mexico, his opponents on the left feared the collapse of the great American experiment in democracy and popular government. The Emancipation Proclamation, the Union victory, and Lincoln’s assassination ignited powerful pro-American sentiment among the French left that galvanized their opposition to the imperial regime."

Alas, the French left's fickle ideological regard for America's democratic model took yet another decisive turn in the other direction during the Reconstruction period. "After the fall of the Second Empire and the founding of the conservative Third Republic in 1870, the relevance of the American example waned. Moderate republicans no longer needed the American model, while the more progressive left became increasingly radicalized following the bloody repression of the Commune in 1871. Sancton argues that the corruption and excesses of Gilded Age America established the groundwork for the anti-American fervor that came to characterize the French left throughout much of the twentieth century."

Following America's founding, it often appeared that if the United States would come to form a 'special relationship' with any great European power it would be with France. Sweet Land of Liberty seems to go some way toward explaining why that turned out not to be the case. In the end, Sancton concludes "that the American example, though useful to the left, proved ill-adapted to French republican traditions rooted in the Great Revolution of 1789. For all the ritual evocations of Lafayette and the “traditional Franco-American friendship,” the two republics evolved in disparate ways as each endured social turmoil and political upheaval during the second half of the nineteenth century."

Friday, April 9, 2021

Booknotes: Meade and Lee at Rappahannock Station

New Arrival:
Meade and Lee at Rappahannock Station: The Army of the Potomac’s First Post-Gettysburg Offensive, From Kelly’s Ford to the Rapidan, October 21 to November 20, 1863 by Jeffrey Wm. Hunt (Savas Beatie, 2021).

Though two H.E. Howard series volumes went some way toward bridging the gap in book-length coverage of the campaigns conducted in northern Virginia between the return of Lee's defeated army from Pennsylvania in July 1863 and the onset of the 1864 Overland Campaign, those books were really just decent placeholders to tide us over until more substantial works appeared. It took a while, but they finally did. In 2010, British author Adrian Tighe self-published The Bristoe Campaign: General Lee's Last Strategic Offensive with the Army of Northern Virginia October 1863, but the greatest contribution has been made by Jeffrey Hunt, who has now completed a trilogy of books addressing the period. Hunt's  Meade and Lee After Gettysburg: The Forgotten Final Stage of the Gettysburg Campaign, from Falling Waters to Culpeper Court House, July 14-31, 1863 came in 2017, and it was followed only two years later by Meade and Lee at Bristoe Station: The Problems of Command and Strategy after Gettysburg, from Brandy Station to the Buckland Races, August 1 to October 31, 1863. Publisher Savas Beatie has taken the lead on all this, and in addition to publishing Hunt's books they've also put out through their ECW label useful minor works on Mine Run and Bristoe Station for those wanting good overviews of those events without a major time investment. Now, in 2021, we have the final installment of Hunt's series in Meade and Lee at Rappahannock Station: The Army of the Potomac’s First Post-Gettysburg Offensive, From Kelly’s Ford to the Rapidan, October 21 to November 20, 1863.

Meade and Lee at Rappahannock Station begins its accounting of fall 1863 actions in Virginia a week after the October 14 Confederate defeat at Bristoe Station. It provides "a fast-paced and dynamic account of Lee’s bold strategy to hold the Rappahannock River line as the Army of the Potomac retraced its steps south. Pressured by Washington to fight but denied strategic flexibility, Meade launched a risky offensive to carry Lee’s Rappahannock defenses and bring on a decisive battle. The dramatic fighting included a stunning Federal triumph at Rappahannock Station—which destroyed two entire Confederate brigades—that gave Meade the upper hand and the initiative in his deadly duel with Lee, who retreated south to a new position behind the Rapidan River."

More from the description: The book offers "a day-by-day, and sometimes minute-by-minute, account of the Union army’s first post-Gettysburg offensive action and Lee’s efforts to repel it. In addition to politics, strategy, and tactics, Hunt’s pen ably examines the intricate command relationships, Lee’s questionable decision-making, and the courageous spirit of the fighting men."

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Review - "Cincinnati in the Civil War: The Union's Queen City" by David Mowery

[Cincinnati in the Civil War: The Union's Queen City by David L. Mowery (Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, 2021) Softcover, maps, photos, drawings, tables, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:108/318. ISBN:978-1-4671-3996-0. $26.99]

Looking at what Chicago is today, one might be forgiven for thinking its status as the signature big city of the American Midwest inevitable, but there were many other urban areas vying for that honor during the mid-nineteenth century. Cincinnati, Ohio's nickname of "Queen City" of the West seems almost quaint in 2021, but during the Civil War era the city was the region's greatest metropolis. According to the 1860 census, Cincinnati (located in Hamilton County) was the seventh largest city in the U.S. and the most populous city in the trans-Appalachian West (just edging out St. Louis), and in the entire country only New York City and Philadelphia produced more manufactured goods. Thus, the city would assume a large role in both manning and equipping the Union military machine on land and water. This position as one of the war's greatest Union metropolises has been largely understated in the general literature, but David Mowery's Cincinnati in the Civil War: The Union's Queen City represents a strong attempt at changing that perception.

How immigration impacted Cincinnati society and growth is a major focus of the book. Beginning in the 1840s, waves of German and  Irish newcomers transformed the city's social and political landscape. By 1860, German Americans were a whopping 27% of the population and the Irish 12%. According to Mowery, it was mid to late 1850s changes in voting patterns, particularly among the Germans, that ultimately gave Lincoln a slight edge over Douglas among Cincinnati voters (the majority of whom traditionally voted Democratic) during the hotly contested 1860 election.

In keeping with the well-established format of the publisher's Civil War Series line of books, Mowery's discussion of Cincinnati's role in the war from initial mobilization through Union victory is covered in a brisk narrative of less than one-hundred pages of text. However, the bibliography is exceptional in its vastness and variety, and even readers steeped in the literature of the Civil War in the West will learn a great deal from this deeply researched introductory overview. A diverse array of wartime topics are touched upon in the volume, but particularly noteworthy is the book's coverage of southern Ohio mobilization, the establishment of training facilities in and around the Cincinnati-Covington-Newport metro area (the most prominent being Camp Dennison), the city's arming and supplying of the war effort, and Cincinnati's massive response to Confederate threats (mainly during the Kentucky invasion of 1862 and John Hunt Morgan's "Great Raid" of 1863*) that included the construction, much of it locally funded, of a formidable array of connected earthwork fortifications located on both sides of the Ohio River. There is also some focus on locally prominent Cincinnati citizens who probably would not be generally recognized by most Civil War readers, among them city mayor (and former Union colonel) Leonard A. Harris, who guided Cincinnati over two terms and is credited by the author with being a driving force behind the creation of the stop-gap "Hundred Days" regiments of 1864. In support of the text is a nice collection of original and archival maps along with an abundance of old photographs and historical illustrations.

While the scale and significance of Cincinnati's contributions to Union victory are clearly and profitably conveyed to the reader through Mowery's informative popular narrative, the massive appendix section arranged in five parts spanning 170 pages could conceivably be regarded as the star of the book. In compiling this material, Mowery has created an essential reference tool and guide for both Cincinnati Civil War history and the war's history as a whole. In Appendix A can be found a table of U.S. Navy vessels "built, refit or purchased" in Cincinnati. Information provided includes name of vessel, description, important dates (ex. of purchase, refit, completion, and commissioning), builder/refitter company identification, and deck armament. Beyond offering useful reference data for researchers, the appendix really conveys a strong sense of the city's major role in constructing and maintaining the U.S.'s Brown Water Navy that did so much to secure victory in the West.

In text, map, and tabular formats, Appendix B explores the Cincinnati fortifications begun early in the war and essentially completed by November 1863. This impressive network of defenses was never fired upon by Confederate soldiers (although some guerrillas spiked a few guns here and there when the works were scantly defended over the second half of the war), but the earthworks and siege guns were truly imposing. According to the author, Cincinnati was the most heavily fortified city in the western theater by 1863, though the finished works at Nashville might have rivaled it. Thirty forts and batteries (nine of which have still recognizable remnants) are listed in the attached table, which includes naming information, build dates, fortification design type (lunette, redan, redoubt, etc.), and GPS location. Unfortunately, data regarding what numbers and types of guns were emplaced at each site is absent.

Appendix C is a very extensive register of Civil War sites located in Hamilton County, Cincinnati itself, and the two Kentucky suburbs. Squarely astride the Ohio River slave and free state border, the area was prime ground for Underground Railroad operations, and a number of locations associated with that history are also included in the appendix. Each entry lists GPS coordinates, physical address, and accessibility information, and a brief site description and history (up to several paragraphs in length) is also attached. The number and range of military and civilian sites, among them forts, factories, homes, hospitals, churches, cemeteries, camps, barracks, skirmish locations, and more, is extensive. This part of the book will be especially useful for touring the area's extensive Civil War connections.

History and burial information associated with the 733-acre Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum are discussed in Appendix D. The second-largest private cemetery in the country, Spring Grove has three large lots of Civil War soldier graves (with additional individual resting places scattered about the grounds), altogether accommodating 5,300 soldiers and 40 generals or brevet generals. Grave information for general officers and other prominent individuals can be found in the section's burial tables along with a pretty extensive biographical register for the latter group.

The last appendix consists of unit tables identifying the many Civil War military formations with which white and black Hamilton County soldiers fought. Mowery thoughtfully singles out those companies that contained a majority of county soldiers along with regiments that contained a majority of those companies.

With a level of overall depth not intended to compete with Robert Wimberg's modern five-volume study Cincinnati and the Civil War, David Mowery's Cincinnati in the Civil War still offers readers an abundance of unique information along with an excellent overview of how Queen City citizens and industry helped propel the Union army and navy to victory. A multi-use combination of narrative history, reference book, and tour guide, this volume is a fine example of local Civil War history publishing that can also serve a wider audience.

* - Mowery is the leading authority on the topic of the raid. See Morgan's Great Raid: The Remarkable Expedition from Kentucky to Ohio (The History Press, 2013) as well as Morgan's Raid Across Ohio: The Civil War Guidebook of the John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail (Ohio Hist Society, 2014). The latter, co-authored with Lora Schmidt Cahill, is a driving tour of the raid, and Cincinnati in the Civil War also includes a detailed pair of maps (perhaps borrowed from that earlier publication) tracing Morgan's route and that of his Union pursuers through Hamilton County.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Booknotes: Unlike Anything That Ever Floated

New Arrival:
Unlike Anything That Ever Floated: The Monitor and Virginia and the Battle of Hampton Roads, March 8-9, 1862 by Dwight Sturtevant Hughes (Savas Beatie, 2021).

This is yet another appealing-looking example of a very familiar Civil War topic getting the ECW treatment. From the description: "From flaming, bloody decks of sinking ships, to the dim confines of the first rotating armored turret, to the smoky depths of a Rebel gundeck—with shells screaming, clanging, booming, and splashing all around—to the office of a worried president with his cabinet peering down the Potomac for a Rebel monster, this dramatic story unfolds through the accounts of men who lived it in Unlike Anything That Ever Floated: The Monitor and Virginia and the Battle of Hampton Roads, March 8-9, 1862 by Dwight Sturtevant Hughes."

The book possesses the typical traits of the series, with over 140 pages of main narrative augmented by an appendix section, orders of battle, and suggested reading list. The size of the appendix collection varies by volume, and this one has three (a tour of sites related to the Monitor-Virginia battle, a general discussion of Civil War ironclads, and an introduction to the USS Monitor Center located at Newport News inside the grounds of the Mariners' Museum and Park).

Of course, there is a superabundance of maps, photos, and drawings spread out evenly over the entire length of the book. A particularly interesting graphics feature (at least to me) is the volume's set of isometric cutaways detailing select design technologies and internal workings of the Monitor.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Booknotes: No Place for Glory

New Arrival:
No Place for Glory: Major General Robert E. Rodes and the Confederate Defeat at Gettysburg by Robert J. Wynstra (Kent St UP, 2021).

By the time Robert E. Rodes led his division into the fight on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, his battlefield performances amid a steady climb up the ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia's high command had already earned him a reputation as one of General's Lee's brightest stars. However, his division's attack on the Oak Hill junction between the right of the Union First Corps and the left of the Eleventh Corps, while ultimately successful, was poorly coordinated from top to bottom and incurred crippling casualties. What happened and why is the subject of Robert Wynstra's new book No Place for Glory: Major General Robert E. Rodes and the Confederate Defeat at Gettysburg.

From the description: "Although his subordinates were guilty of significant blunders [he had some relatively green regiments and his brigade commanders were of decidedly mixed quality], Rodes shared the blame for the disjointed attack that led to the destruction of Alfred Iverson’s brigade on the first day of the battle. His lack of initiative on the following day was regarded by some in the army as much worse. Whether justified or not, they directly faulted him for not supporting Jubal Early’s division in a night attack on Cemetery Hill that nearly succeeded in decisively turning the enemy’s flank."

Wynstra's study reexamines old questions with a new inquiry using fresh sources. More from the description: "The reasons behind Rodes’s flawed performance at Gettysburg have long proven difficult to decipher with any certainty. Because his personal papers were destroyed, primary sources on his role in battle remain sparse. Other than the official reports on the battle, the record of what occurred there is mostly limited to the letters and diaries of his subordinates. In this new study, however, Robert J. Wynstra draws on sources heretofore unexamined, including rare soldiers’ letters published in local newspapers and other firsthand accounts located in small historical societies, to shed light on the reasons behind Rodes’s missteps."

Robert Wynstra is a name that Gettysburg students should already know well through his award-winning 2018 book At the Forefront of Lee's Invasion: Retribution, Plunder, and Clashing Cultures on Richard S. Ewell's Road to Gettysburg. With the Rodes book arriving close on the heels of that one, one wonders whether he has even more Second Corps topics in his future.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Review - "Radical Sacrifice: The Rise and Ruin of Fitz John Porter" by William Marvel

[Radical Sacrifice: The Rise and Ruin of Fitz John Porter by William Marvel (University of North Carolina Press, 2021). Hardcover, 7 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xv,364/496. ISBN:978-1-4696-6185-8. $35]

In rating how well the opposing Lincoln and Davis administrations managed their respective war machines during the Civil War, historians, with sound reasoning, consistently award higher marks to the former. In some ways, however, the no-party Confederate form of government held some advantages over the U.S.'s entrenched two-party system. Although Richmond politics possessed its own measure of internal discord and states' rights opposition frequently hampered the Confederate national war effort, the level of partisan political paranoia that existed in the U.S. Congress, White House, and Cabinet when it came to assessing the loyalty and motives of the army's more conservative officers (all of which reached a feverish state during General George McClellan's tenure at the head of the Army of the Potomac) was extraordinary, and it crippled the Union high command at critical stages of the Virginia campaigns of 1862. Lacking an organized opposition party with which its own high-ranking army officers might be identified, Davis's Confederate government conducted nothing comparable to the U.S.'s partisan purging of high-ranking generals blamed for costly early-war defeats. Army of the Potomac division commander Charles Stone and Fifth Corps commander Fitz John Porter were the two most prominent examples of Union officers sanctioned through politically-fueled accusations of professional misconduct and treasonous disloyalty. Stone was imprisoned for six months after the Ball's Bluff debacle and Porter was court-martialed and dismissed from the service altogether for alleged misbehavior at Second Manassas. The demonstrably false charges made against both generals have been explored by numerous writers and historians already, but William Marvel's new book Radical Sacrifice: The Rise and Ruin of Fitz John Porter is the first full-length biography of its subject. In it readers will find the most comprehensive examination by far of Porter's life, military service, career destruction, and decades-long (and only partially successful) fight to recover rank and reputation1.

The early sections of the book, which explore at some length Porter's family military tradition, his own West Point experiences, and his meritorious conduct on numerous Mexican War battlefields (which resulted in multiple brevets up to major), well establish Porter's pre-Civil War reputation as a distinguished and conscientious officer who earned wide esteem in the antebellum army. The high regard in which he was held by his peers made him a much sought after subordinate officer when Civil War broke out.

Coverage of Porter's Civil War career over the roughly year and a half period beginning with the operations of the Shenandoah Valley column of the 1861 campaign in Virginia and ending with the Army of the Potomac's autumn advance after Antietam (during which the general served as the right-hand man of commanding officers Robert Patterson and George McClellan), is richly detailed in the book and convincingly offers a largely positive portrayal of the general's capacity in a variety of leadership and advisory roles. Opinions still vary widely over how valuable Porter's generalship was to the Union cause (and it would perhaps be not too unkind to observe that some negative portrayals have been unduly influenced by the close association with McClellan), but Marvel constructs a strong defense of Porter's Civil War record that, at least in this reviewer's opinion, doesn't exhibit any glaring interpretive missteps.

Marvel joins a bevy of recent First Manassas Campaign chroniclers in casting the oft-maligned lack of results achieved by Patterson's command in a more understanding light for their being critically hampered by communication delays, withdrawal of the army's best trained troops, and mismanagement from above by General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. Thus Marvel's picture of Porter (as Patterson's chief of staff) emerging relatively unscathed from the fiasco is in line with the best regarded current scholarship.

Porter would be given much more command responsibility during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862. In his first real action as an independent commander, on the Virginia Peninsula at the Battle of Hanover Court House2, Porter's attack on a much inferior enemy force was ultimately successful. However, through some bungling and bad luck it was harder earned than it should have been, and the general appropriately receives a mixed grade from Marvel for his handling of the battle. From Beaver Dam Creek through Gaines's Mill and finally at Malvern Hill, Porter demonstrated well the ability to manage a more than creditable defense, and no one really disputes that. You can sense the author's frustration in not being able to uncover contemporary sources (statements after the fact vary and others, including Porter's, are inconsistent) that might shed more light on (1) what exactly McClellan had planned for Porter's augmented corps positioned north of the Chickahominy on the 27th and (2) how that figured in the army commander's overall strategy during the momentous Seven Days period. It is easy to follow Marvel's reasoning that keeping Porter north of the river only made sense if his command was meant to absorb Lee's offensive blow in a manner that would then open the way for a Union offensive directly on Richmond south of the river. If Porter was primarily charged with covering the army during its change of base, that would have been better (and safer) achieved south of the river. Available evidence offers no indication that there was a concrete tactical plan for the army in place just before the Battle of Gaines's Mill. The author's suggestion, given the lack of pre-battle reinforcements and absence of an overall settled upon tactical plan, that it was possible that McClellan (and perhaps Porter as well) did not believe the Fifth Corps vulnerable to being overwhelmed in a single day (the 27th) is worthy of thoughtful consideration, but Marvel is certainly correct to further suggest that it was cutting things far too closely for McClellan to not strengthen Porter earlier in the day and more heavily in men and entrenching tools. As it was, even in its occupation of a strong position with both flanks anchored on swampy ground, Porter's entire command came quite close to destruction.

Porter's closeness to McClellan3, and the latter's clear reliance on him in the field, predictably excited jealous dislike of Porter among the senior generals of the Army of the Potomac. Also, McClellan's critics in the army undoubtedly projected much of their disdain for the commander onto his "pet" subordinate. On the other hand, Porter's own frequent and open criticisms of how other general officers performed their duties, as is well illustrated in the book, also did little to foster high command brotherhood in the army. Additionally discussed in the book is Porter's private correspondence with New York World owner/editor Manton Marble, through which Porter's views and criticisms on the conduct of the war along with inside news from the front were fed to one of the harshest critics of the Lincoln administration. In view of all that, Marvel persuasively argues that indiscretion in both word and correspondence was Porter's most damning professional trait. Through incautiously sharing inflammatory opinions in written correspondence with figures like gossiping capital bureaucrat Joseph Kennedy (the Census Bureau head) and fellow general Ambrose Burnside (who carelessly passed along Porter's private sentiments), Porter harmed himself immeasurably by giving ammunition to those in the civilian and military leadership who sought to impugn his motives and loyalty. That said, Marvel's narrative does persuasively reason from the evidence that Porter's imprudent criticisms of the administration and its favorite generals (which made their way to both Lincoln at the White House and General Pope himself) had no real impact on the performance of his duties in the field. With perhaps a nod toward the paper-thin barrier between military service and political expression that existed within the officer corps of Civil War volunteer armies, Marvel frames Porter's Marble correspondence primarily as yet another exercise of personal and professional indiscretion amid dangerous political seas. From the perspective of a reader presented only with choice excerpts, it's difficult to form conclusions of one's own without examining the full text of the letters, which remain unpublished4.

It wasn't just the results of Second Manassas that had Porter's critics tied in knots either. In seeking answers to why Lee's army was not destroyed at Antietam, the story that Porter actively lobbied his commander against committing Fifth Corps reserve troops to the fight fanned the flames. Though the image of Porter sitting on massive reserves while Burnside was getting smashed on the left still persists today among those with only a casual understanding of the battle, it has been conclusively revealed by a number of modern researchers that Porter's corps was left with only around 3,000-4,000 uncommitted troops at the moment the harshest critics accused him of still hoarding up to 20,000 inert soldiers. In addition to that, Marvel points out that it wasn't Porter who denied Burnside supporting troops after the Ninth Corps was roughly handled by A.P. Hill's late-arriving Confederate division (this false allegation had the effect of further spoiling relations between the two previously friendly generals and would also impact Porter's trial and postwar campaign for reinstatement). Lastly, the author joins many others in his determination that an infamous Antietam quote attributed to Porter, the one that allegedly dissolved any remaining offensive impulses in McClellan's mind late on the 17th by proclaiming "Remember, General, I command the last reserve of the last Army of the Republic" (a absurd story so often repeated that it has become ingrained in the popular imagination), was a later fabrication weaponized for partisan purposes.

Of course, it was his alleged actions earlier at Second Manassas that got Porter arrested, court-martialed, and dismissed from the service. Few Union generals distinguished themselves at Second Manassas, and Porter wasn't one of them, but Marvel's carefully researched recounting of Porter's actions on the Union left effectively refutes all of the non-trivial charges, chief among them the accusation that he intentionally delayed his march to the battlefield, failed to act upon a late afternoon attack order from his superior (General Pope), and actually retreated his command instead of attacking. The trial conducted that winter is addressed in similarly meticulous fashion, with the author outlining a pattern of legal, moral, and ethical malfeasance that beggars description. As presented in the book, the evidence is convincing that conviction was predetermined. The military court was packed with prosecution-friendly (in some way or another) officers, and court procedures of every kind were consistently steered toward aiding prosecution and denying effective defense. Key prosecution witnesses were still considered credible after giving contradictory responses during questioning or after clearly demonstrating strategically plastic powers of recall (ex. McDowell's embarrassing testimony). Many instances of obvious conflict of interest were brushed over, and witness tampering was apparent. Some hostile witnesses who didn't even know the defendant claimed absurd abilities of being able to see into Porter's heart and mind in order to glean intentions (even treasonous ones), and these were uncritically accepted by the court. Documentary evidence was mishandled in multiple ways, including the omission of exculpatory passages from copies submitted to the court. Porter's defense team was also frequently refused permission to enter supporting documents into the record. The list goes on and on. All observers then and now agree that Lincoln possessed a sharp lawyer's mind with more than enough experience to detect the legal shenanigans present in the case summary given him by the court for review, and Marvel agrees with those that see the president's approval of the sentence as a stain on his record.

Marvel's account of Porter's struggles over the ensuing decades to find employment to support his family while simultaneously pursuing an expensive lobbying effort to have his case reexamined and overturned is richly detailed. The book's in-depth coverage of Porter's persistent quest being constantly blocked through presidential and congressional indifference or outright hostility (to the point of politicians like ex-Union general John Logan unabashedly repeating long discredited charges for immediate political advantage) serves as a strong testament to the endurance of the war's partisan rancor. Porter did have some Radical Republican supporters, but the lofty idea put forth that admitting past wrong and rectifying that wrong by doing justice to Porter in the present would be seen in a way that could only elevate Republican stature in the eyes of the public gathered very little support within the party. Even after the Schofield military commission created in 1878 to reexamine Porter's case rejected the 1863 verdict on all points, Republican newspapers and politicians continued to echo the old accusations against Porter for the rest of his life. Official redress was meager, with retirement at the rank of colonel and no back pay being the only concessions that could pass legislative resistance.

Even though Fitz John Porter's close association with George McClellan has likely inspired a certain degree of indifference among Civil War students toward his fate, it remains quite surprising that it's taken so long for a book like this to be published. Writers often find the rise, fall, and redemption arc to be an appealing biography structure, and Porter's life had that in spades along with abundant high-level military and political drama. Exploring the flaws of human nature has always been popular as well, and the Porter story reveals a great many moments when a number of the most respected Union heroes of the war (among them Abraham Lincoln, Edwin Stanton, John Logan, Jacob Cox, and James Garfield) were not at their best. At any rate, whatever one thinks of Fitz John Porter's value to the Union Army, any open-minded reading of William Marvel's primary source-based biography should erase all doubt regarding the baselessness of the trial that ended Porter's career and the motives behind it. Radical Sacrifice is highly recommended reading.

1 - It is difficult to come up with any candidate for the best biographical treatment of Porter before the appearance of this study from William Marvel. The existing literature seems to be more interested in the trial than in Porter's life and military career. Marvel notes that avocational historian Otto Eisenschiml, who authored The Celebrated Case of Fitz John Porter: An American Dreyfus Affair (1950), is considered Porter's chief defender of the last century, but he also wryly observes that the author's penchant for advancing crackpot theories did little to help Porter's reputation. More recently among published book-length studies, Donald Jermann's Fitz-John Porter, Scapegoat of Second Manassas: The Rise, Fall and Rise of the General Accused of Disobedience (2008) weighs the cases for and against Porter's conviction, and prior to that Curt Anders authored a lengthy book titled Injustice on Trial (2002) that examined the proceedings of both the original trial and the Schofield commission.
2 - For the best account of this relatively small Civil War clash see Michael C. Hardy's Battle of Hanover Court House: Turning Point of the Peninsula Campaign, May 27, 1862 (McFarland, 2006). Though the battles of Beaver Dam Creek, Gaines's Mill, and Malvern Hill still lack standalone study, the best single work covering those engagements and Porter's role in them remains Brian Burton's 2001 book Extraordinary Circumstances: The Seven Days Battles.
3 - McClellan and Porter are often presented in the Civil War literature as joined at the hip, but Marvel's vigorous defense of Porter's record in no way extends to McClellan, whose actions the author interprets in much the traditional fashion. On the matter of another key figure in the book, the Stanton of Radical Sacrifice is every bit the same unscrupulous schemer he was portrayed as throughout much of Marvel's biography Lincoln's Autocrat (2015). For an alternate interpretation of the secretary's character, one should consult Walter Stahr's Stanton (2017).
4 - A quick search through the Library of Congress's digital archive comes up empty, suggesting that the collection of Marble papers housed there (and containing the Porter letters) probably has not been digitized yet.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Booknotes: Civil War Richmond

New Arrival:
Civil War Richmond: The Last Citadel by Jack Trammell & Guy Terrell (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Press, 2021).

There's been a bit of a surge of interest in Civil War Richmond of late, with major works from Stephen Ash (Rebel Richmond, 2019) and Mary DeCredico (Confederate Citadel, 2020) published within the last two years, and we already have a pair of 2021 popular history releases in Jack Trammell & Guy Terrell's Civil War Richmond: The Last Citadel and another recent arrival that I will talk about in a later post.

From the description: "Few American cities have experienced the trauma of wartime destruction. As the capital of the new Confederate States of America, situated only ninety miles from the enemy capital at Washington, D.C., Richmond was under constant threat. The civilian population suffered not only shortage and hardship but also constant anxiety. During the war, the city more than doubled in population and became the industrial center of a prolonged and costly war effort. The city transformed with the creation of a massive hospital system, military training camps, new industries and shifting social roles for everyone, including women and African Americans."

Trammell and Terrell provide an overview of Richmond history from around 1840-1865, with roughly a quarter of the book's 200 pages discussing the antebellum period and the rest the Civil War years. As with most volumes from this publisher, the text is supported by an abundance of photos, maps, drawings, and tables. Chapters examine a diverse range of topics, among them Richmond industry, military prisons, hospitals, spy networks, Unionists, and newspapers. Additionally, brief biographies of notable individuals associated with the city's wartime history are scattered about its pages.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Book News: Choctaw Confederates

Back in 2005 when I started this site, one of the gaps in Civil War publishing that I ruminated about was the lack of books covering the Civil War years in Indian Territory. Related to that was the fact that the general interest in writing and publishing unit histories never really got extended to the Indian regiments that fought on both sides. That's not to say there haven't been a few notable book-length works produced since then, though only quite recently. Published works from Mary Jane Warde [When the Wolf Came: The Civil War and the Indian Territory (2013)] and Clint Crowe [Caught in the Maelstrom: The Indian Nations in the Civil War, 1861-1865 (2019)] along with the Bradley Clampitt-edited anthology The Civil War and Reconstruction in Indian Territory (2015) all provide readers with good general background information. On the other hand, unit studies continue to be almost ignored, although LSU Press has taken some initiative in publishing M. Jane Johansson's Albert C. Ellithorpe, the First Indian Home Guards, and the Civil War on the Trans-Mississippi Frontier in 2016 and reprinting W. Craig Gaines's classic The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew's Regiment of Mounted Rifles the following year.

Getting more directly to the point of this post, the 2015 essay collection Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States included a chapter by Fay Yarbrough that examined the Choctaw freedpeople's long struggle to gain tribal citizenship. Yarbrough has since then greatly expanded her study of the Civil War-era Choctaw Nation, and later this year UNC Press will publish Choctaw Confederates: The American Civil War in Indian Country (NOV '21). Broader studies of the Civil War in Indian Territory are understandably dominated by the largest and most powerful tribal nation there, the Cherokee, so it's great to see the Choctaw get a much closer look.

From the description: "When the Choctaw Nation was forcibly resettled in Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma in the 1830s, it was joined by enslaved Black people—the tribe had owned enslaved Blacks since the 1720s. By the eve of the Civil War, 14 percent of the Choctaw Nation consisted of enslaved Blacks. Avid supporters of the Confederate States of America, the Nation passed a measure requiring all whites living in its territory to swear allegiance to the Confederacy and deemed any criticism of it or its army treasonous and punishable by death. Choctaws also raised an infantry force and a cavalry to fight alongside Confederate forces."

Choctaw Confederates were organized into a number of companies, battalions, and regiments, the most prominent of those being Col. Douglas Cooper's First Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles. In addition to exploring the many ingrained Choctaw connections with the institution of slavery, the book does appear to contain strong unit study elements. More from the description: "Mining service records for approximately 3,000 members of the First Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles, Yarbrough examines the experiences of Choctaw soldiers and notes that although their enthusiasm waned as the war persisted, military service allowed them to embrace traditional masculine roles—including that of slaveholder—that were disappearing in a changing political and economic landscape. By drawing parallels between the Choctaw Nation and the Confederate states, Yarbrough looks beyond the traditional binary of the Union and Confederacy and reconsiders the historical relationship between Native populations and slavery." I am greatly looking forward to seeing this one come November.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Booknotes: The Greatest Escape

New Arrival:
The Greatest Escape: A True American Civil War Adventure by Douglas Miller (Lyons Press, 2021).

As historian Lorien Foote documented in her excellent book The Yankee Plague, the collapse of the western theater's fighting front in late 1864 and early 1865 made previously secure POW camps located there suddenly vulnerable to Union liberation, and thousands of Union prisoners escaped into the countryside from temporary holding areas or during disorganized transfers. However, the largest and most famous single breakout event from an established operating Civil War prison facility remains the mass escape of Union officers from Libby Prison in February 1864. The latest book to address that topic is Douglas Miller's The Greatest Escape: A True American Civil War Adventure.

From the description: The Greatest Escape "tells the story of the largest prison breakout in U.S. history. It took place during the Civil War, when more than 1200 Yankee officers were jammed into Libby, a special prison considered escape-proof, in the Confederate capitol of Richmond, Virginia. A small group of men, obsessed with escape, mapped out an elaborate plan and one cold and clear night, 109 men dug their way to freedom. Freezing, starving, clad in rags, they had to still travel 40 miles to Yankee lines and safety. They were pursued by all the white people in the area, but every Black person they encountered was their friend. In every instance, slaves risked their lives to help these Yankees, and their journey was aided by a female-led Union spy network."

Of course, innumerable books and articles have added to the historical documentation of the Libby Prison escape. Indeed, there is another book-length account scheduled for publication later this summer, Robert Watson's Escape!: The Story of the Confederacy's Infamous Libby Prison and the Civil War's Largest Jail Break (Rowman & Littlefield, Aug '21). However, Miller's book does advance a claim to uniqueness. More from the description: "Since all the escapees were officers, they all could read and write well. Over 50 of them would publish riveting accounts of their adventures. This is the first book to weave together these contemporary accounts into a true-to-life narrative."

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Coming Soon (April '21 Edition)

**NEW RELEASES1** Scheduled for APRIL 2021:

John P. Slough: The Forgotten Civil War General by Richard Miller.
Cornerstone of the Confederacy: Alexander Stephens and the Speech that Defined the Lost Cause by Keith Hebert.
No Place for Glory: Major General Robert E. Rodes and the Confederate Defeat at Gettysburg by Robert Wynstra.
A Mortal Blow to the Confederacy: The Fall of New Orleans, 1862 by Mark Bielski.
Civil War Richmond: The Last Citadel by Jack Trammell & Guy Terrell.
The Civil War Memoir of a Boy from Baltimore: The Remembrance of George C. Maguire, Written in 1893 by Holly Powers, ed.
Grand Army of Labor: Workers, Veterans, and the Meaning of the Civil War by Matthew Stanley.
Getting Right with Lincoln: Correcting Misconceptions about Our Greatest President by Edward Steers.
Lincolnomics: How President Lincoln Constructed the Great American Economy by John Wasik.
Cincinnati in the Civil War: The Union's Queen City by David Mowery.
Faces of Union Soldiers at South Mountain and Harpers Ferry by Joseph Stahl & Matthew Borders.
West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire by Kevin Waite.
Slavery and Freedom in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War Era by Jonathan Noyalas.
Military Prisons of the Civil War by David Keller.

Comments: Though it has an official April 1 street date, Miller's Slough biography is out now. I just received Wynstra's book in the mail so it should be generally available very soon. Mowery's Cincinnati city study was also sent to me early (see my Booknotes entry for it here).

1 - These monthly release lists are not meant to be exhaustive compilations of non-fiction releases. They do not include non-revised/expanded reprints of previously published books and digital-only titles. Works that only tangentially address the war years are also generally excluded. Inevitably, one or more titles on this list will get a rescheduled release (and they do not get repeated later), so revisiting the past few "Coming Soon" posts is the best way to pick up stragglers.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Review - "Civil War Supply and Strategy: Feeding Men and Moving Armies" by Earl Hess

[Civil War Supply and Strategy: Feeding Men and Moving Armies by Earl J. Hess (Louisiana State University Press, 2020). Cloth, 21 maps, photos, drawings, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xi,363/448. ISBN:978-0-8071-7332-9. $50]

The vast geographical expanse of the Southern Confederacy is often at or near the top of most shortlists of the breakaway republic's greatest defensive strengths. Conquering an area encompassing much of the North American continent confronted the Union Army with considerable obstacles for sure, but northern logistics proved capable of projecting military power almost anywhere its leaders wanted it to go, and their southern enemies quickly proved incapable of containing the many breaches made in its all too thin defensive cordon. Indeed, when one assesses Union conduct of the war, significant strategic missteps and all, one is tempted to conclude that the Confederacy's huge land mass (especially when also taking into account its extremely long coastline) was more liability than strength in the face of the logistical disparities between the two Civil War opponents. Even though the importance of logistics in Union victory is generally recognized (it's a major part of railroad studies, many Civil War publications on a broad range of topics, and numerous logistical theses written by U.S. Army officers as part of their advanced professional development1), expansive monographs that comprehensively probe into the most critical themes associated with the topic are certainly not a regular part of either scholarly or popular military history publishing. The first of its kind, Earl Hess's Civil War Logistics: A Study of Military Transportation (LSU, 2017) proved to be an insightful examination of all major modes of Civil War transport, including wagon trains, railroads, riverboats, and oceanic steamships. Significantly expanding upon that foundation is Hess's latest major contribution, Civil War Supply and Strategy: Feeding Men and Moving Armies. In this study, the author explains how military transportation systems supplied (or failed to supply) Civil War armies while also revealing the ways in which that complicated logistical process profoundly influenced operations and strategy from Arkansas to Pennsylvania.

Hess's detailed use of numerous major military campaigns as case studies illustrating the challenges of supplying Civil War armies in a diverse range of theaters (each with very specific logistical problems to address) lends his study a truly comprehensive feel. In each case, the author deftly explores how authorities managed (or mismanaged) available resources in their quest to overcome limitations imposed by the natural and built environments. Additionally, Hess's concept of "logistical theaters" in a continental war, distinct from the more commonly understood geographical and administrative military theaters, offers a useful general understanding of the broadest operational limitations imposed by distance and geography. The most important observation drawn from that conceptual framework is seen in the author's in-depth exploration of the key role that dividing line played in forcing the employment from 1864 onward of a new Union offensive strategy not tethered to railroads and rivers. This change to what Hess terms "strategic raiding" finally enabled complete Union victory in the West.

Going back to the beginning of the book, the Vicksburg Campaign section duly relates the common enough story of U.S. Grant's success in using river transport, foraging, and constant movement to keep his army in supply until a permanent base could eventually be established near his siege lines. However, the fresher and arguably more interesting aspect of the discussion is the author's detailed examination of the Confederate failure to accumulate sufficient supplies for an extended siege. To be fair, transportation was a major problem. However, despite having plenty of time to do so, the Confederate Army's overlapping and competing local and national quartermaster bureaucracies utterly failed to coordinate food procurement, efficiently manage existing transportation, and construct anything close to adequate storage facilities at Vicksburg, the result being that untold tons of precious food items were lost to spoilage. Though Pemberton's men were not yet at the point of general starvation and Grant's most advanced siege lines were seemingly on the verge of breakthrough as the Vicksburg siege passed into early July, short rations and the poor quality of them unquestionably were major factors in the Confederate surrender.

Difficulties surrounding the movement and supply of armies in the Appalachian highlands are explored through the lens of the Chickamauga-Chattanooga campaigns of late 1863. Clearly demonstrating the utter impossibility of supplying large armies long term in sparsely populated Appalachia using wagon trains, Hess effectively contrasts the efforts of generals Grant and William Rosecrans in bringing supplies to Chattanooga and Knoxville in East Tennessee. According to Hess, Rosecrans seemed not to grasp the full extent of his problems and consistently underestimated his minimum logistical needs in the areas of rail stock and repair crew manpower, while Grant quickly assembled a crackerjack team of leading northern railroad men to turn things around. In the author's view, this transfer to the western theater of military railroad management that had already reached peak efficiency in the East marked a watershed moment in the Union Army's ability, then and in the war's future, to penetrate some distance into the Deep South. Before that point, even after subtracting considerations of terrain and distance, railroad management in the West was still primitive in comparison to the well-honed professionalism of the eastern train system that fed and maintained the Army of the Potomac. The 1863 Appalachian campaigns clearly show how essential it was for Civil War army commanders to personally assume a direct role in logistics management, but the resource infusion that came about during the transition from Rosecrans to Grant also demonstrates that those who cultivate the best relationships with the civilian administration tend to get more of what they ask for (this being something that wasn't as obvious as it should have been to so many army commanders).

Another chapter addressing the steep logistical challenges of the 1864 Atlanta Campaign picks up where the western theater supply apparatus improvements of mid to late 1863 left off. It details William T. Sherman's hands-on logistics leadership and ruthless management of his invaluable assemblage of world-class engineers and railroad experts who worked together to massively expand rail capacity and build up huge forward supply stockpiles without which Sherman's army group's sustained drive through the almost wilderness-like environment of North Georgia to Atlanta would not have been possible. According to Hess, the western army's integration of fixed railroad defenses with mobile reserves and large rapid-reaction repair capacity was a unique feature of western logistics management from 1864 onward. Yet, as the author keenly observes, it was still a near run thing to keep 100,000 men and all their transport animals supplied all the way to Atlanta. Evidence is provided in the book of rather alarming levels of scurvy in Sherman's three armies as well as multiple interludes (though brief enough to be rectified) of general shortages in food and forage that, in the author's opinion, too often pass by the notice of Atlanta Campaign historians.

If Sherman's North Georgia campaign was a railroad war as much as a conflict between armies, John Bell Hood's planned movement into Middle Tennessee later that year would unfold much the same. Just as Sherman's Union army group was reaching the end of its rail-based logistical support tether around Atlanta, Hood (despite the combined efforts of General Richard Taylor and his new department commander, General Beauregard, to speed capacity sharing and repairs) reached the limit of his own railroad support network at the Tennessee River. The three lost weeks spent there had a major impact on Hood's prospects for achieving anything in Tennessee beyond a raid. Hess's recounting of events between November 1864 and February 1865 dramatically displays the contrast being Confederate and Union leadership and capabilities when it came to logistics. Though he gamely tried, it was fantasy for Hood to expect to maintain his army north of the Tennessee River without extensive railroad repairs his logistics apparatus was ill-equipped to execute. It was a colossal struggle for the patchwork system to maintain a meager flow of supplies just to Corinth let alone anywhere further north along the road to Nashville. By direct contrast, the Union pursuit after the Battle of Nashville (though it failed to catch Hood's swiftly retreating army) was quickly able, through its massive superiority in construction corps manpower, expertise, and resources, to reestablish rail connections and depots all the way to and along the Tennessee River line during the following weeks. That preparatory work made possible further advances into the Deep South in early 1865 using strategic raiding.

After explaining how the environs of Atlanta marked the absolute limit of supplying by rail a large Union army in the Deep South's interior, Hess discusses the western theater adoption of the aforementioned "strategic raiding" as a way to address that hard boundary. In rating the logistics management of the 1864 March to the Sea and the 1865 Carolinas Campaign, Hess holds Sherman in lofty regard as the war's best practitioner of army-scale strategic raiding. By both instinct and study, Sherman developed a knack for path selection and demonstrated a superior talent for organization when it came to streamlining wagon train support to the bare necessities and developing an effective system of regulated foraging. Of course, as was also the case with Grant's Vicksburg Campaign into the Mississippi interior, Sherman's far-ranging Union forces greatly benefited from water-borne support at key points in his strategic raiding. Even so, Sherman's army arrived in North Carolina in ragged condition, and Hess credits Union railroad logistical genius yet again (particular the feats of railroad man extraordinaire William Wright and chief quartermaster Langdon Easton) for quickly repairing and expanding rail supply capacity in North Carolina to meet the needs of Sherman's arriving army as well as the addition of heavy reinforcements. In establishing on a short schedule a rail network in North Carolina that lavishly maintained Sherman's now 80,000 men, federal officials achieved a rare feat in North Carolina that Hess marks as little appreciated by history and unfairly overshadowed by the war's closing dramas2.

In addressing the concept of strategic raiding, one question that Hess might usefully have spent more time on is how the Confederates might better have responded to it. As well prepared as he always was, Sherman keenly recognized that his raiding army always had to remain on the move or it would almost instantly get into supply trouble. Instead of launching a desperate move into Middle Tennessee that left Sherman's 60,000 men essentially unopposed in their march across Georgia, one might readily imagine the war in the West assuming an entirely different course had the Army of Tennessee (especially under more capable commanders than Johnston and Hood) assumed a central blocking position. Could it have slowed the pace of Sherman's progress enough to make strategic raiding unsustainable, or would the always flexible Union forces in the West simply have tried a different approach to 1864-65 operations that would have achieved similar results? We'll never know, but it is intriguing matter to contemplate.

It was during this final strategic raiding phase of the war in the West encompassing Sherman's March to the Sea, The Carolinas Campaign, Wilson's Raid, and E.R.S. Canby's Gulf operations that Union forces finally achieved the mobility necessary for sustained operations in the heart of the deepest regions of the Confederate South. Given that the West was the more significant of the two most logistically challenging theaters, it is appropriate that western topics comprise the bulk of the book. However, the Trans-Mississippi imposed unique problems of its own on invading Union forces. With the theater characterized by vast expanses of land with very low population densities, foraging would always be a problem there. More than that, the combination of wilderness-like geography, very limited seasonal river navigation, underdeveloped railroad capacity (particularly outside Missouri), and primitive roads were major reasons why the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department remained largely intact until just before the general collapse of the rebellion in 1865. The tertiary theater status of the Trans-Mississippi also meant that the supply, manpower, and equipment priorities of Union war planners lay elsewhere. Nevertheless, Union generals were able to achieve notable successes using small, highly mobile forces employing the shortest logistical tethers possible (for a good illustration, see the book's contrast between General Samuel Curtis's failed Little Rock campaign of 1862 with General Frederick Steele's successful one conducted the following year). The book also shows how unreliable navigation in two of the theater's most strategically significant river systems (the Arkansas and the Red) made supplying occupation forces in the Arkansas River Valley year round a tenuous prospect and a major army-navy campaign up the Red River in 1864 a virtual shot in the dark with little margin for error. The Camden Expedition deep into enemy territory was another risky throw of the dice, with Steele's corps-sized army entirely dependent on wagons. As Hess and others have shown, Confederate destruction of much of Steele's transportation in two small battles represents one of the war's clearest examples of a much smaller army winning a campaign through attacking enemy logistics while avoiding direct confrontation. Hess also shows that Union leaders in faraway Washington frequently demonstrated ignorance (willful or otherwise) of the unique challenges of supplying armies in the Trans-Mississippi when they viewed outsized wagon trains assigned there as equipment reserves for other theaters to draw upon rather than essential to supplying Trans-Mississippi operations.

Supplying the Army of the Potomac in the eastern theater had fewer challenges. For the most part, railroad systems were already advanced there (except those supporting movement up the Shenandoah Valley) and geography favored sea supply at many points. Additionally supply line distances from major depots to the front lines were very short in comparison to those of the West and Trans-Mississippi. However, Hess keenly notes that close proximity to the national capital and massive northern depots also meant that the nation's premier army would often be lavished with almost a superabundance of supplies, baggage, and equipment, and that horn of plenty created problems of its own when it came to both mobility and supply. Too much material clogging the system can almost be as bad as not having enough, and Hess's discussion of Herman Haupt and Daniel McCallum's brilliant creation (with ample support from the War Department) of a military railroad system honed to near perfection reminds readers that material abundance was largely useless when not accompanied by sound management. In the author's view, the progression of the 1864-65 campaigns in the East demonstrated Union logistics and supply practices at their peak in that theater, with managers proudly boasting (with some exaggeration) that the City Point hub could have supplied up to 500,000 men if it had been called upon to do so. Hess also keenly observes, however, that those same eastern planners benefited from never having to venture inland beyond the the boundaries of the Upper South and thus were never forced to make the tough decisions their western counterparts had to make in order to sustain remote operations in the heart of the Deep South.

While Union supply arrangements continually improved over the course the war in the East the same could not be said for their Confederate opponents, who labored under a system of supply logistics that moved further toward collapse with each passing year. As the war inexorably depleted the supply capacity of Virginia's farm counties, food had to be obtained from states as far away as Alabama. In turn, the combination of Union conquests and declining rail efficiency severely reduced the ability to feed the army from afar even on a day to day basis. Every reader by now is well aware that even in times of plenty it was the South's rickety rail system that often proved to be the critical bottleneck in the supply chain from farm and factory to the soldiers at the front, but Hess also adds that ideological reluctance to nationalize railroad companies, Lee's qualms against most draconian forms of impressment, the inability to mass produce wheeled vehicle replacements, and friction between army and national level quartermaster officials (similar in scope to what has already been mentioned earlier in the review regarding Vicksburg) also contributed mightily to the feast and famine cycles that went far toward wearing down the Army of Northern Virginia as a fighting force. Hess's characterization of Lee as contributing to the problem is an interesting departure from the literature's most common depiction of the general as consistently advocating that his government use all measures possible to supply his army.

While Hess's two highly complementary volumes provide us with both the broadest and deepest explanation yet of how the wide disparity between Union mastery of logistics and Confederate underperformance in that arena helped decide the outcome of the war, there is certainly more work to be done in exploring the entire length of the Civil War supply chain. For example, Civil War Supply and Strategy focuses on land campaigns, leaving ample room for other scholars to address in depth the logistics of the blockade and naval war. A truly comprehensive standalone study of the logistics of combined operations is probably also in order3. Additionally, both volumes freely admit that a very large and essential part of the supply chain, procurement, is absent from the analysis and will be left by Hess for another "motivated historian" to address.

As seen above, this book makes clear the many ways logistics factored in both Union victory and Confederate defeat. A chapter by chapter reading of this book conveys like no other single work how overall Union excellence in logistics critically facilitated offensive operations deep into the rebel South and shaped alternative strategies to overcome hard limitations in geography and in existing road, rail, and water transportation networks. It has often been said that the Union war effort's vast resources of men and material practically ensured victory as long as the public will to fight was maintained, but Civil War Supply and Strategy very persuasively expands upon a critical theme first developed in the author's earlier book Civil War Logistics. In exploring that theme, both books effectively argue that the North's pool of management skill, its in-tune governmental policymaking, and its profound military and civilian flexibility in addressing complicated logistical problems were factors in winning the war at least as important as manpower and resource extravagance. Without this winning combination, Union forces could not have penetrated the deepest reaches of Confederate resistance and achieved the complete military victory over the enemy that they historically did. This volume is very highly recommended reading alone but especially when paired with the aforementioned Civil War Logistics.

1 - Hess possesses a well-earned reputation for exhaustive research, so the relatively small size of the published literature section in the bibliography of Civil War Supply and Strategy is testament in itself to the limited depth of the Civil War logistics literature. Some obscure works, such as Roger Woltjer's two-volume history of the support services of both Civil War armies, are left out, leaving one to conclude that the author found them less than valuable. Many of the professional monographs hinted at in the review can be found online for free, but in recent years they have also been made readily available in paperback form through major online retailers. Just a few examples can be found here, here, here, and here.
2 - See the writings of retired army officer Wade Sokolosky, alone and in partnership with Mark Smith, for examples of how Union logistics in 1865 North Carolina has been fully appreciated by some authors.
3 - For background see Rowena Reed's classic Combined Operations in the Civil War (1978), Union Combined Operations in the Civil War (an excellent 2010 anthology edited by Craig Symonds), and Charles Dana Gibson and E. Kay Gibson's Assault and Logistics: Union Army Coastal and River Operations 1861-1866 (Volume II of The Army's Navy Series).

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Booknotes: Cincinnati in the Civil War

New Arrival:
Cincinnati in the Civil War: The Union's Queen City by David L. Mowery (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Press, 2021).

With a population slightly larger than St. Louis's, Cincinnati was a major western city with an underappreciated Civil War history. Well-known Camp Dennison was constructed nearby, and the city briefly occupied the limelight when its defenses were marshalled against the invasion threat from Braxton Bragg's 1862 Kentucky Campaign, but Cincinnati itself doesn't figure very prominently in general Civil War narratives. The city's Civil War history certainly deserves to be raised out of obscurity, and David Mowery's Cincinnati in the Civil War: The Union's Queen City aims to draw more appropriate attention toward the city's important role in the war.

From the description: "During the Civil War, Cincinnati played a crucial role in preserving the United States. Not only was the city the North's most populous in the west, but it was also the nation's third-most productive manufacturing center. Instrumental in the Underground Railroad prior to the conflict, the city became a focal point for curbing Southern incursion into Union territory, and nearby Camp Dennison was Ohio's largest camp in the Civil War and one of the largest in the United States. Cincinnati historian David L. Mowery examines the many different facets of the Queen City during the war, from the enlistment of the city's area residents in more than 590 Federal regiments and artillery units to the city's production of seventy-eight U.S. Navy gunboats for the nation's rivers. As the Union's "Queen City," Cincinnati lived up to its name."

The text portion of volumes from the publisher's long-standing and still highly prolific Civil War Series generally run in the 125-page range, and this book's narrative portion is of similar scale and is enhanced through numerous maps, tables, and photographs. However, this particular series entry is further expanded by nearly 200 pages of appendix material. Those sections offer detailed information about Civil War sites in and around the city (including Spring Grove Cemetery), the many fortifications constructed there during the war, navy vessels "built, refit or purchased" there, and the many military units containing Cincinnati-raised companies. The book hits the trifecta of history, reference tool, and touring guide.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Some book news items

More cobwebs in the mailbox this week, so let's look at some more 2021 publishing news.

1. Way back when this site was launched, book-length studies of the Civil War in the Desert Southwest were pretty rare releases. Fast forward to today, however, and the situation is quite the reverse. It seems now that University of Oklahoma Press, the premier publisher of books covering the topic, alone releases at least one major title on the subject each year. The next in line will be James Blackshear and Glen Ely's Confederates and Comancheros: Skullduggery and Double-Dealing in the Texas–New Mexico Borderlands (September '21), which "takes us to the borderlands in the 1860s and 1870s for an in-depth look at Union-Confederate skullduggery amid the infamous Comanche-Comanchero trade in stolen Texas livestock." After the dismal failure of the over-ambitious Confederate military campaign into what is today New Mexico and Arizona, the region drops out of most general histories. However, struggles continued and this book documents an important aspect of it. More from the description: "In 1862, the Confederates abandoned New Mexico Territory and Texas west of the Pecos River, fully expecting to return someday. Meanwhile, administered by Union troops under martial law, the region became a hotbed of Rebel exiles and spies, who gathered intelligence, disrupted federal supply lines, and plotted to retake the Southwest. Using a treasure trove of previously unexplored documents, authors James Bailey Blackshear and Glen Sample Ely trace the complicated network of relationships that drew both Texas cattlemen and Comancheros into these borderlands, revealing the urban elite who were heavily involved in both the legal and illegal transactions that fueled the region’s economy." I will definitely be reading this one.

2. Another September release will freshly reexamine the topic of memoirs written by Civil War generals. Stephen Cushman's The Generals' Civil War: What Their Memoirs Can Teach Us Today (UNC Press) "considers Civil War generals' memoirs as both historical and literary works, revealing how they remain vital to understanding the interaction of memory, imagination, and the writing of American history. Cushman shows how market forces shaped the production of the memoirs and, therefore, memories of the war itself; how audiences have engaged with the works to create ideas of history that fit with time and circumstance; and what these texts tell us about current conflicts over the history and meanings of the Civil War." Grant's famous memoirs figures prominently in the book, and the description also mentions other published writings familiar to students of the war, those of Johnston, Sherman, Taylor, McClellan, and Sheridan.

3. The rifle's impact on the Civil War battlefield will always be a topic of debate. Wading into the fray next will be Scott Hippensteel with his book The Myth of the Civil War Sniper: The Fact, Fiction, and Science behind the Civil War’s Most-Told Stories (Stackpole, November '21). From the description: "In the spirit of Robert Adair’s cult classic The Physics of Baseball, here is a book that tackles the long-cherished myths of Civil War history—and ultimately shatters them, based on physics and mathematics. At what range was a Civil War sniper lethal? Did bullets ever “rain like hail”? Could one ever step across a battlefield by stepping only on bodies and never hard ground? How effective were Civil War muskets and rifles? How accurate are photographs and paintings?" "Combining science and history, Hippensteel reexamines much that we hold dear about the Civil War and convincingly argues that memoirs and histories have gotten it wrong." That last bit is a pretty strong claim. Hippensteel's 2019 book Rocks and Rifles: The Influence of Geology on Combat and Tactics during the American Civil War, which I liked very much, applied science well within the author's professional expertise in "coastal geology, geoarchaeology, and environmental micropaleontology," and I will be interested to see how deeply he will reach into the physics and math of Civil War ballistics.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Review - "The Assault on Fort Blakeley: The Thunder and Lightning of Battle" by Mike Bunn

[The Assault on Fort Blakeley: The Thunder and Lightning of Battle by Mike Bunn (Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, 2021). Softcover, maps, photos, orders of battle, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:139/158. ISBN:978-1-4671-4863-4. $21.99]

Union strategists set their sights on the major Gulf port city of Mobile, Alabama at several points during the Civil War from 1862 onward. To the dismay of armchair generals and admirals since, however, serious plans to neutralize Mobile Bay as a haven for blockade runners and capture the city itself were repeatedly sidetracked until very late in the conflict. The successful August 1864 army-navy assault that breached the bay's seaward defenses and seized the guardian forts was a major achievement, but the follow-up campaign to take Mobile itself was not launched until the following spring. Both phases of the military contest for control of Mobile and Mobile Bay have been addressed through book-length studies in the literature, though none are truly exhaustive in nature. Jack Friend's West Wind, Flood Tide (2004) focuses most closely on the 1864 battle for the bay, while Chester Hearn's Mobile Bay and the Mobile Campaign (1993) presents a more balanced treatment of the entire breadth of 1864-65 operations. Notable minor works include slim volumes from John Waugh, Russell Blount, and Paula Webb, and Art Bergeron is the author of the standard city study of wartime Mobile. Two books, Sean O'Brien's Mobile, 1865 (2001) and Paul Brueske's The Last Siege (2018) are wholly devoted to the final land campaign. Of the pair, Brueske's study arguably offers the finest coverage of the 1865 advance up both sides of the bay that captured the two most powerful earthwork fortifications (Spanish Fort and Fort Blakeley) and forced the evacuation of Mobile itself. However, the dramatic storming of Blakeley (the defining event of the campaign that also happened to be fought on the same day Lee's army surrendered at Appomattox) receives rather cursory coverage. Though not approaching the status of being the last word on the topic, Mike Bunn's The Assault on Fort Blakeley: The Thunder and Lightning of Battle does finally provide readers with the first book-length study of the battle.

While Union commander E.R.S. Canby had an overwhelming force at his disposal for Gulf Coast operations in early 1865, some 45,000 men eager to put an end to the conflict, he conducted the campaign in a manner fully in keeping with his well established reputation for cautious generalship. Though Canby's deliberate tempo irked an impatient General Grant to no end, it undoubtedly saved lives in a war that was in hindsight all but already won. His multi-pronged advance launched from bases in both coastal Alabama and West Florida is summarized well in the early sections of the book, as is the the week-long investment of Fort Blakeley itself. During the latter operation, Union engineers and soldiers braved constant artillery and sharpshooter fire to excavate siege parallels close enough to Blakeley's outer walls to ensure a successful mass assault.

The late afternoon April 9 assault itself, which pitted 16,000 Federals from the Thirteenth and Sixteenth Corps along with a full USCT division against roughly 3,500 (other estimates say 4,000) defenders consisting of a mixture of Army of Tennessee survivors, garrison troops, and new conscripts, was well coordinated and over very quickly. The Confederate defenses, erected around nine numbered earthwork redoubts, were overwhelmed in perhaps as little as 30 minutes, but the fighting in many sectors was fierce. The book examines the contest for control of each redoubt in sequence (1 through 9) from north to south as well as the final mop up operation along the bay shore.

Author Mike Bunn has a background in public history (he currently serves as the director of Historic Blakeley State Park), and he brings both lively writing and abundant visual aids to the project. In addition to providing a host of supporting maps of all scales, Bunn incorporates into each chapter practical elements useful for battlefield touring along with photographs of both historical participants and modern images of park grounds. The material is not presented in the format of traditional battle narrative. While Bunn does provide a good series of descriptive summaries of the fighting in the trenches—these are arranged into four chapters covering battle sectors consisting of two or three adjacent redoubts—those parts of the book exist mainly to provide necessary context to the collection of extensive first-person accounts that follow them. Those compilations of lengthy quoted passages are categorized further by unit and side. As is the case with most Civil War military histories, especially those covering events from 1865, Union sources vastly outnumber Confederate ones, and that inescapable disparity is even more pronounced here. In presenting history in this manner (rather than by incorporating reports, letters, and diary materials into a more standard continuous narrative), Bunn very much wants the reader to follow the action mostly through the words of those who were there. From the reader perspective, liking or disliking this mode of historical engagement and presentation will largely be a matter of personal taste. The book does end a bit abruptly. There isn't a casualty discussion, and a few paragraphs bridging the period between the fort's capture and Union entry into Mobile three days later would have capped things off nicely.

Since the result of the battle was pretty much a foregone conclusion and was over quickly, there isn't much in the way of enduring mythology attached to the Blakeley assault or major questions surrounding command decisions to readdress. The greatest source of controversy surrounds allegations that black troops, in revenge for past treatment of USCT soldiers and prisoners, killed surrendering Confederates in large numbers. That topic is only briefly addressed by Bunn. Sources quoted in the book from both sides mention that surrendering defenders were killed by USCT troops, including one lieutenant of the 51st USCT who claimed his unit took no prisoners, but Bunn concludes that there isn't enough solid evidence to support claims of a more general massacre. Instead, Bunn finds that a small number of isolated killings did occur, but they were the work of renegade soldiers who were quickly brought under control by their officers.

Occupying a middle ground between introductory-level topic treatment and exhaustive microhistory, this book designed for broad appeal serves a useful dual purpose in drawing more detailed attention toward the April 9 assault on Fort Blakeley while also providing a practical handbook for touring the park (which sounds like a very impressive place to visit). As things stand now, the complementary pairing of Bunn's The Assault on Fort Blakeley with Brueske's general history of the entire land operation offers readers the best modern historical account of the 1865 Mobile Campaign.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Roger Hunt's Colonels in Blue series

Beginning with the 1990 publication by Olde Soldier Books of Brevet Brigadier Generals in Blue (Rev-1997) co-authored with Jack Brown, Roger Hunt has built quite a reference book legacy in his name. Sometime this year (at least according to the most current schedule), McFarland will publish Colonels in Blue — U.S. Colored Troops, U.S. Armed Forces, Staff Officers and Military Units, yet another volume in his long-running series that aims to exhaustively compile photographic images and information on all officers who "attained the rank of colonel in the Union army, but failed to win promotion to brigadier general or brevet brigadier general." Publication has followed a winding course through three different outfits (see the summary below), and the series now seems to be finally nearing its end after two decades.

Other Colonels in Blue - A Civil War Biographical Dictionary series volumes from McFarland:
Colonels in Blue - Missouri and the Western States and Territories (2019).
Colonels in Blue - Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin (2017).
Colonels in Blue - Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee (2014).
Colonels in Blue - Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia (2011).

Colonels In Blue - Union Army Colonels of the Civil War series volume from Stackpole:
Colonels In Blue: The Mid-Atlantic States - Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and The District of Columbia (2007).

Colonels In Blue - Union Army Colonels of the Civil War series volumes from Schiffer:
Colonels in Blue: New York (2003).
Colonels in Blue: The New England States - Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont (2001).

So what's left to do before this mammoth project is finally concluded? In the area of units formed by southern Unionists, Hunt has already addressed Tennessee and West(ern) Virginia, but, as you know, most Confederate states fielded Union regiments. Since there isn't enough of those to fill a standalone volume of similar size to the others, I can imagine those officers might be included in the upcoming 2021 volume's broad-sounding "U.S. Armed Forces" section. We shall see.