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.

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