Friday, February 26, 2021

Various Things

1. Earlier this week, the ECW website posted an interview with Steven Woodworth and Charles Grear, editors of SIU Press's excellent Civil War Campaigns in the West series. The recently renamed series is one frequently talked about on CWBA, and I've reviewed all of its entries on the site. I'll just repeat a few newsy items from the interview (which you can, and should, read in full at the link above). On the whole, the series still sticks to its long standing release order, but, as noted before, Vicksburg Besieged was published out of sequence. Woodworth and Grear confirm in the interview that the bypassed Fort Henry and Fort Donelson campaign will be up next. Newsworthy also is the announcement that Grear is stepping down from his series co-editing duties and will be replaced by another equally impressive young historian in Jonathan Steplyk.

2. Army of the Potomac constituent formations have become notable exceptions to the traditional rule that corps histories are rare ducks in the Civil War publishing world. In recent years, we've witnessed the release of a two-volume study of the Eleventh Corps as well as a more recent First Corps history. Now comes news of another. Like James Pula's Eleventh Corps set, M. Chris Bryan's Cedar Mountain to Antietam: A Civil War Campaign History of the Union XII Corps, July – September 1862 will be published by Savas Beatie. Covering corps origins through the Battle of Antietam, it is unclear at this point if the author intends to produce multiple volumes (the description does not provide any explicit hints).

3. Though St. Louis often grabs Civil War-era headlines as the preeminent urban center of the U.S.'s existing and emerging West, the region's first and official "Queen City," Cincinnati, Ohio (as an aside, both cities had similar 1860 populations of just over 160,000 souls each), is perhaps too often relegated to the background when it comes to discussing great western contributions to Union victory. That will change to some degree with the upcoming publication of David Mowery's Cincinnati in the Civil War: The Union's Queen City. In the book, Mowery, who many Civil War readers will recognize as the leading modern expert on Morgan's Great Raid, will explore "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." I look forward to reading it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Review - "Breaking the Blockade: The Bahamas during the Civil War" by Charles Ross

[Breaking the Blockade: The Bahamas during the Civil War by Charles D. Ross (University Press of Mississippi, 2020). Softcover, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xviii,194/255. ISBN:978-1-4968-3135-4. $30]

A sleepy British colonial outpost of little international commercial consequence before 1861, Nassau, Bahamas was transformed by the American Civil War almost overnight into a bustling center of cotton exchange and blockade running that made ambitious merchants millionaires and supplied the Confederacy with all manner of badly needed European munitions, manufactured goods, and supplies. All of the most important Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and Atlantic ports of call connected with that commerce (among them Bermuda; Nassau, Bahamas; Havana, Cuba; and Matamoros, Mexico) have been integrated into existing blockade and blockade running histories; however, Charles Ross's Breaking the Blockade: The Bahamas during the Civil War provides the first in-depth, standalone study of Nassau's central role in the illicit trade system that sustained the Confederate war effort through most of the war. This brief interlude of unprecedented excitement and profit would come to be known locally as the "Great Carnival."

Ross provides more than enough background information on antebellum-period Bahamian society for readers of his study to truly appreciate the grand scale of developmental and economic transformation that the Civil War years brought to the islands. These early parts of the book also helpfully explain in what ways Nassau was perfectly situated to facilitate the exchange of southern cotton for manufactured war materials and scarce civilian goods. Prior to the Civil War, most island residents (white and black) were engaged in fishing and wreck salvage, but Nassau's port was more than able to accommodate a sudden increase in oceanic shipping traffic. In addition to being a coaling station for the Royal Navy, Nassau was also garrisoned by the 2nd West Indian regiment, so the port was able to provide a generally well-regulated and secure environment for international trade. Only 560 nautical miles from Charleston (and similarly close to Wilmington and Savannah), Nassau was ideally situated for the establishment of an oceanic transshipment point. One lesser appreciated blockade running advantage highlighted in the book revolves around the vast geographical spread of the Bahamas archipelago. With Bahamas territorial waters spanning thousands of square miles of ocean, U.S. Navy patrols aimed at monitoring all ingress/egress points found their task to be a impossible one without violating international law (which they did on more than one occasion).

Dabbling into U.S., U.K., and Bahamian archives, Ross utilizes those primary sources to provide readers with a highly colorful and informative picture of what life was like on the island of New Providence and in the streets of Nassau itself (at least for the merchant and ruling classes) over the course of the conflict. Interesting biographies of local figures are also interspersed throughout. According to Ross's findings, the feelings of the white population as a whole—colonial officials, businessmen, military officers, women, and common laborers alike—were strongly pro-Confederate from beginning to end. The sources behind that are not explored at great length, but one can suppose the profit motive was a major factor along with general hostility directed toward the U.S. due to blockade effects on neutral shipping and the emotional fallout from a series of American insults to national/imperial pride (the most blood-boiling of these being the nearly war-provoking "Trent Affair" crisis of late 1861). Almost all white residents from the governor (Charles Bayley for most of the war) on down turned a blind eye to British neutrality laws and wholeheartedly supported the island's bustling illegal trade. The massive influx of wealth into Nassau turned a number of well-connected merchants and investors into fabulously rich men, but the local cash infusion also funded service improvements along with construction of a multitude of commercial, government, and private buildings. Predictably, hand-in-hand with all that came dramatic increases in crime and corruption. What the black majority thought of the Bahamas being a key player in propping up an ardently proslavery and expansion-minded Confederacy is little addressed in the study (and perhaps only scarcely documented), but the author does cite several examples of material assistance a small number of paid black wreckers and pilots provided to the United States. These men were part of an intermittent spy and coastal watch system that attempted with some success to coordinate intelligence between U.S. warships and the consular office in Nassau.

The gritty details of blockade running, including the complex interplay (both cooperative and antagonistic) between government and business individuals and entities related to the immensely profitable trade network linking southern ports, Nassau, and distant Liverpool, can all be found in the book. Significant attention is paid to the contributions of notable individuals on all sides of the Great Carnival. These include local Bahamas commission merchants (Henry Adderley being the most prominent), imperial government officials, Confederate representatives, and U.S. consuls. Most Nassau-based blockade runners were crewed and captained by British citizens, and Ross, as Joseph McKenna also did in his 2019 study British Blockade Runners in the American Civil War, draws reader attention toward the backgrounds and exploits of a noteworthy selection of ship captains who were Royal Navy officers on temporary leave. Though his behind-the-scenes efforts are recognized by few Civil War readers today, Nassau-based C.S.A. agent to the Bahamas Lewis Heyliger is shown by Ross to be a highly competent representative of both government and private business interests. The book follows Heyliger's successful establishment of close relationships with local power brokers and details how he negotiated and maintained mutually beneficial trade exchanges throughout the war. On the other side, a series of U.S. consuls struggled mightily against the combined tide of local hostility and imperial governmental roadblocks. Until very late in the war, most attempts at halting the blatantly illegal trade that passed through the harbor right before their eyes failed. The efforts of the longest serving consul, Samuel Whiting, is best documented in the study. Though intensely loyal and hardworking, Whiting was hampered by low pay (which limited his ability to establish himself in Nassau society), constant local harassment, and his own belligerent alcoholism. The most progress was achieved by the last consul, Thomas Kirkpatrick, but he benefited tremendously from outside factors listed below.

As Ross vividly describes in the book, the Great Carnival fizzled out almost as quickly as it began. This was the result of a number of factors. In late 1864, a new Bahamas governor arrived who was far more committed than the outgoing Bayley was to maintaining friendly relations with the U.S. and compliance with both British and international law. While Ross's study shows that blockade running through Nassau was seriously interrupted by a pair of deadly yellow fever epidemics in 1862 and 1864, it also recounts in detail the far more lasting and significant blow that came with the belated suppression of the New York City customs house corruption system behind much of the illicit trade with the South. However, what truly put the nail in the coffin of Nassau's trade with the rebel South was the sequence of key Union military successes on land and sea that finally resulted in the neutralization or capture of all major Atlantic ports by early 1865.

The study concludes with some perspective on the passing nature of the grand prosperity that the Civil War years brought to Nassau. Almost immediately after Confederate surrender, all of the major blockade running firms closed shop, auctioned off their properties, and shipped their huge profits back to England. Adding insult to injury was the devastating hurricane of 1866 that destroyed much of Nassau's buildings and wrecker/fishing fleets. The crippling situation Nassau found itself in so soon after war's end represented a mighty fall from the heady days of 1862-64.

An insightful and detailed treatment of Civil War-era Nassau, Charles Ross's Breaking the Blockade is an impressive wartime history of the port, the economic, military, social, and political dimensions of which fill a noticeable gap in the scholarly study of the illicit international trade network without which the Confederacy could not have survived nearly as long as it did. Recommended.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Coming Soon (March '21 Edition)

**NEW RELEASES1** Scheduled for MARCH 2021:

Radical Sacrifice: The Rise and Ruin of Fitz John Porter by William Marvel.
The Assault on Fort Blakeley: The Thunder and Lightning of Battle by Mike Bunn.
Thaddeus Stevens: Civil War Revolutionary, Fighter for Racial Justice by Bruce Levine.
Decisions at Antietam: The Fourteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle by Michael Lang.
Unlike Anything That Ever Floated: The Monitor and Virginia and the Battle of Hampton Roads, March 8-9, 1862 by Dwight Hughes.
The Unfinished Exhibition: Visualizing Myth, Memory, and the Shadow of the Civil War in Centennial America by Susanna Gold.

Comments: Some of you who preordered might already have received it, but Marvel's bio, while in stock right now at the link above, still has an official March publication date so it's included on this list. I've been told my copy should be coming soon. The latest on Lang's Antietam decisions book is that it is scheduled for a mid-March release.

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.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Review - "The Old Army in Texas: A Research Guide to the U.S. Army in Nineteenth Century Texas, 2nd Edition" by Thomas Smith

[The Old Army in Texas: A Research Guide to the U.S. Army in Nineteenth Century Texas, 2nd Edition by Thomas T. Smith (Texas State Historical Association, 2020). Softcover, 6 maps, 8 illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages:xi,294. ISBN:978-1-62511-060-2. $30]

Published back in 2000, Thomas Smith's The Old Army in Texas quickly became regarded as the best single-volume reference guide to the organization, deployment, and military activities of the U.S. Army in Texas during the 1800s. Taking advantage of new source discoveries as well as wider availability of known sources through digitization, Smith's important work has now been revised and reissued by the publisher (the Texas State Historical Association) as The Old Army in Texas: A Research Guide to the U.S. Army in Nineteenth Century Texas, 2nd Edition. As the volume is focused almost entirely on Regular Army units (and those were rapidly expelled or withdrawn during the opening moments of the Civil War), the conflict in Texas between Union and Confederate volunteer forces is not substantively addressed in either edition.

Smith's now classic Southwest Historical Quarterly journal article U.S. Army Combat Operations in the Indian Wars of Texas, 1849-1881 (1996), a salient feature of the first edition, is again reproduced here. It remains a tremendously useful statistical examination of the 219 best-documented military actions that occurred over those three eventful decades of state history. The article's quantitative analysis supports a multitude of conclusions regarding the nature of the fighting between army forces and native groups in Texas. Many preconceptions are challenged, but the picture that emerges of a typical military action of the period [a running fight of indecisive result between a junior officer-led army patrol of less than company size and an even smaller raiding party (most frequently Comanche)] fits most reader expectations.

The map series included in the book charts the establishment of U.S. Army camps and forts in Texas. Among other things, these six visual aids help readers follow when and where conflict hotspots and other army priorities geographically shifted over time. Additionally, the volume's photo collection highlights a small selection of notable officers and soldiers.

Part II lists the various departmental organizations that were set up by the U.S. Army in Texas over the period covered in the book. In addition to headquarters locations, names of commanders and their dates of appointment are also included. At over fifty pages in length, Part III ("U.S. Army Sites in Texas, 1836-1900") is one of the largest sections. Its compilation of Texas military camps, towns, forts, posts, stations, etc. is an updated listing that denotes dates of establishment, period(s) of operation, and officer/unit affiliations while also offering brief historical summaries. This section has been significantly expanded between editions from 230 locations to 300. Part IV ("Post Garrisons") contains a year by year accounting of total troop strength in the department as well as unit assignments to major posts. Obviously unit postings were frequently in flux during any given year, so the listed assignments represent a snapshot in time based on the official fall returns filed with the army adjutant general. Part V is a register of 1849-1881 combat actions fought in Texas, with descriptions mostly limited to just a sentence or two. As was the case with other parts of the book, further research has expanded Part V by more than a dozen engagements to now number 240.

The bibliography contained in Part VI should prove to be one of the volume's most broadly useful features. Even in select form, the expanded Second Edition bibliography lists around 900 sources and spans over eighty densely packed pages of book, article, dissertation, public and private archive, and government records listings. These primary and secondary source classifications are also helpfully organized further into numerous sub-levels by category and conflict. General audience readers will perhaps find the volume's comprehensive list of fort and camp histories most useful. The volume is also fully indexed.

For lay readers, avocational researchers, and experts alike, Thomas Smith's The Old Army in Texas remains an essential first-line reference tool. Additionally, for owners of the original 2000 edition, the new volume's significant level of augmentation throughout makes it a highly recommended upgrade.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Book News: Illusions of Empire

Right on cue with last Friday's post comes news of another Civil War-era U.S.-Mexico borderlands study, William Kiser's Illusions of Empire: The Civil War and Reconstruction in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands (November 2021). Though a pair of recent titles from Andrew Masich and Miguel Ángel González-Quiroga are much thicker tomes and are similarly expansive in content range and analysis, Kiser's book claims status as "the first study to treat antebellum U.S. foreign policy, Civil War campaigning, the French Intervention in Mexico, Southwestern Indian Wars, South Texas Bandit Wars, and U.S. Reconstruction in a single volume, balancing U.S. and Mexican source materials to tell an important story of borderlands conflict with ramifications that are still felt in the region today."

According to the description, Illusions of Empire "adopts a multinational view of North American borderlands, examining the ways in which Mexico's North overlapped with the U.S. Southwest in the context of diplomacy, politics, economics, and military operations during the Civil War era." In it, the author "examines a fascinating series of events in which a disparate group of historical actors vied for power and control along the U.S.-Mexico border: from Union and Confederate generals and presidents, to Indigenous groups, diplomatic officials, bandits, and revolutionaries, to a Mexican president, a Mexican monarch, and a French king. Their unconventional approaches to foreign relations demonstrate the complex ways that individuals influence the course of global affairs and reveal that borderlands simultaneously enable and stifle the growth of empires." That last part perhaps hints at some of the "illusions" referenced in the book's title.

I hold Kiser's published New Mexico borderlands scholarship in high regard [see my reviews of Turmoil on the Rio Grande (2011) and Coast-to-Coast Empire (2018)], so I am looking forward to reading this newest work. I don't believe I've had any contact with publisher University of Pennsylvania Press before, though, so it may or may not be difficult to get a review copy from them.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Booknotes: Violence in the Hill Country

New Arrival:
Violence in the Hill Country: The Texas Frontier in the Civil War Era by Nicholas Keefauver Roland (Univ of Texas Press, 2021).

Given how much attention Southwest borderland studies get on the site, it will surprise no regular reader of CWBA that this is my most highly anticipated February release. Though many book-length works in this area of scholarship still dwell most upon the U.S.-Mexico international divide, much work is also being done on the shifting nineteenth-century boundaries of this country's internal frontiers. In that latter category is Nicholas Roland's Violence in the Hill Country: The Texas Frontier in the Civil War Era. For the purposes of Roland's study, the "Hill Country" is that part of south-central Texas ("western" Texas during the more sparsely settled antebellum and Civil War periods) formed by the "eroded eastern and southern margins of the Edwards Plateau, which rises to the west and north of the Blackland Prairie and Rio Grande Plains, respectively."

From the description: "In the nineteenth century, Texas’s advancing western frontier was the site of one of America’s longest conflicts between white settlers and native peoples." After Texas secession and the outbreak of civil war, Confederate supporters and Hill Country Unionists also came into violent conflict. "The Texas Hill Country functioned as a kind of borderland within the larger borderland of Texas itself, a vast and fluid area where, during the Civil War, the slaveholding South and the nominally free-labor West collided. As in many borderlands, Nicholas Roland argues, the Hill Country was marked by violence, as one set of peoples, states, and systems eventually displaced others."

More from the description: In the book, the author "analyzes patterns of violence in the Texas Hill Country to examine the cultural and political priorities of white settlers and their interaction with the century-defining process of national integration and state-building in the Civil War era. He traces the role of violence in the region from the eve of the Civil War, through secession and the Indian wars, and into Reconstruction. Revealing a bitter history of warfare, criminality, divided communities, political violence, vengeance killings, and economic struggle, Roland positions the Texas Hill Country as emblematic of the Southwest of its time."

The appendix section contains reference data in the form of death rosters from 1862-65 Civil War violence as well as lists of Hill Country settlers killed during Indian raids before and after the Civil War. University of Texas Press is not a regular publisher of Civil War titles, so it's nice to see the Austin crew dip their toes in waters frequented much more often by their Lone Star peers at College Station, Fort Worth, and Denton.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Review - "The Civil War Battles of Macon" by Niels Eichhorn

[The Civil War Battles of Macon by Niels Eichhorn (Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, 2021). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:105/124. ISBN:978-1-4671-4694-4. $21.99]

After the Confederate war industry lost a vast proportion of its Upper South manufacturing capacity early in the conflict, Deep South industrial centers such as the one that existed in Macon, Georgia, assumed ever greater importance. Much of that story, along with a detailed account of wartime life in the city, is addressed in Richard Iobst's extensive 2000 study Civil War Macon: The History of a Confederate City, which has since become the standard work on the subject. The latter sections of Iobst's book recount the 1864-65 fighting that occurred outside the city along with the Union occupation that began in spring 1865, but those skirmishes and the bloodless surrender of Macon during Wilson's Raid are the primary focus of Niels Eichhorn's The Civil War Battles of Macon.

The opening chapter provides readers with an excellent summary of Macon's early settlement and geographical advantages. Eichhorn also traces the city's antebellum-period commercial expansion from a sleepy cotton trade conduit into a significant regional center of industry and transportation. By the time of the Civil War, ironworking enterprises at Macon were collectively producing business and home product lines comparable in diversity to the output of any of the great factories of the North. Following this background summary is a solid history of the city's rapid wartime metamorphosis into a center of military industry, a process of growth and change that led to the establishment of a Confederate armory, arsenal, and laboratory in Macon along with military hospitals and POW facilities.

Succeeding chapters offer solid overviews of the three most significant military events that occurred in and around Macon during the war. Predictably, as Union forces penetrated the very heart of the Deep South in 1864, Macon became an inviting target, and the first close approach to the city took place in late July when General George Stoneman's raiding cavalry briefly skirmished with Macon's defenders before moving away and eventually suffering disaster at the hands of Confederate pursuers. Stoneman's raid awakened Macon's defenders, always a mixed-quality (though often sizable) force of Confederate volunteers, state militia, and local home guards, to the need to construct a more protective ring of earthworks around the city. During Sherman's March to the Sea in November 1864, Macon was once again threatened by Union cavalry. This time the skirmishing outside the city around Walnut Creek was part of a feint (Sherman had no intention to risking casualties in an assault on the city, although he undoubtedly could have, and arguably should have, taken it). That latest repulse, the second in less than six months, emboldened the Macon defenders to launch an expedition of their own. The mostly raw Confederate force struck veteran Union infantry at Griswoldville instead of enemy cavalry and in return suffered grievous casualties. Macon's surrender, which was facilitated by a truce mix-up with the advancing forces of General James Wilson in April 1865, is described in another chapter that also relates the role of Macon-based Union forces in President Davis's capture and arrest. The events above are all presented by Eichhorn in an engaging and informative manner, with research based on a small but reasonably diverse collection of primary and secondary sources, but all of the book's accounts of marching and fighting would have benefited greatly from some dedicated original map coverage. After page-fitting size reduction, the supporting archival map sketches reproduced in the volume to aid the reader are largely inscrutable.

Another lengthy chapter is devoted to a different battlefield of sorts, one over the historical interpretation and memory of Macon's Asa Holt (or "Cannonball") House. It's illustrative of the brand of local mythology commonly attached to surviving antebellum structures with connections to the war. The volume concludes with a critical reassessment of the limited collection of permanent Civil War markers and monuments in and around Macon.

The book does have some drawbacks. Typos are a bit too numerous to escape notice. Though mostly confined to background coverage, some factual errors are easily detected (ex. in the Wilson's Raid chapter the narrative is inconsistent in describing the size and organization of Wilson's command, and it inaccurately summarizes the fighting at Columbus, Georgia as 300 men defeating 3,000 defenders). Once again, the most significant complaint is with the cartography. Overall though, the volume's strengths greatly outnumber its weaknesses.

Niels Eichhorn's study is well worthy of recommendation as a broad-appeal narrative history of Civil War military events in and around Macon. In addition to that, the volume conveys a well-rounded understanding of Macon's role in sustaining the Confederate war effort, and it does so in ways that dovetail nicely with the book's explorations of when and why the city was targeted by Union forces during the latter stages of the conflict.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Booknotes: Breaking the Blockade

New Arrival:
Breaking the Blockade: The Bahamas during the Civil War by Charles D. Ross (UP of Mississippi, 2020).

Only a short distance from major southern ports (and you might also recall that the shark in Jaws 4 got there from Amity Island in no time at all), the ostensibly neutral Bahamas—with the island chain's expansive oceanic trade facilities centered at Nassau—were ideally situated as a transshipment point for the lucrative exchange of American cotton for European arms, supplies, and equipment. Most aspects of blockade running and blockade enforcement has been examined at some length in the literature, but Charles Ross's Breaking the Blockade: The Bahamas during the Civil War is the first published (at least that I am aware of) in-depth scholarly examination of the most prominent people and events of Civil War-era Nassau.

From the description: "Boats worked their way back and forth from the Confederacy to Nassau and England, and everyone from scoundrels to naval officers wanted a piece of the action. Poor men became rich in a single transaction, and dances and drinking—from the posh Royal Victoria hotel to the boarding houses lining the harbor—were the order of the day. British, United States, and Confederate sailors intermingled in the streets, eyeing each other warily as boats snuck in and out of Nassau. But it was all to come crashing down as the blockade finally tightened and the final Confederate ports were captured." The book "focuses on the political dynamics and tensions that existed between the United States Consular Service, the governor of the Bahamas, and the representatives of the southern and English firms making a large profit off the blockade."

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Various Things

1. The ordering page I posted a week ago in my Book News entry for Eric Wittenberg's now released Six Days of Awful Fighting: Cavalry Operations on the Road to Cold Harbor had preorder links to both hardcover and paperback versions. However, soon after, the hardcover link was disabled and now that page has disappeared altogether. Some of those who ordered the paperback version through the site have already received it, so we know it is out in the wild (and apparently looks great). I've put in a query to Fox Run concerning all this but haven't heard back from them yet. [Addendum (2/19): The hardcover edition is now available]

2. It looks like busy biographer Walter Stahr is working his way at 4-5 year intervals through Lincoln's entire cabinet. Already the author of major biographies of Stanton and Seward, Stahr has moved on to the Treasury department with Salmon P. Chase: Antislavery Agitator, Treasury Secretary, Chief Justice (November, 2021). My voting preference for who's next is Gideon Welles.

3. Another 2021 title of potential interest to me is Michael Bonner and Peter McCord's The Union Blockade in the American Civil War: A Reassessment (Univ of Tenn Press, July). When it comes to the subject of the blockade's effectiveness, the meaning and interpretation of common metrics has always been a source of debate. On their part, Bonner and McCord "build on the extensive scholarship of the blockade and incorporate previously unexamined British primary sources to deliver a fresh analysis of the Union blockade, blockade-running, and a reassessment of the blockade’s effectiveness." It seems to me that most recent authors who have looked into the matter in some depth agree that the blockade was a cost-effective use of Union military resources and a significant component of Union victory. However, this book will "present statistics showing that the blockade was not nearly as effective as is commonly believed; moreover, its successes against steam-powered blockade runners actually decreased as the war went on."

4. The final upcoming release I wanted to mention in this post is Robert Wynstra's No Place for Glory: Major General Robert E. Rodes and the Confederate Defeat at Gettysburg (Kent St Univ Press, April 2021). I'm not one of those who is interested in all things or even most things Gettysburg related, but I was highly impressed with the author's earlier effort in At the Forefront of Lee's Invasion, which made my 2018 year-end list of favorite titles. Rodes's performance at Gettysburg has always been viewed as the low point of what was otherwise a stellar Civil War career, and I am curious to read what Wynstra has to say about it. Aiming to clear up at least some of the mystery, the book "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."

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Review - "Tullahoma: The Forgotten Campaign that Changed the Course of the Civil War, June 23 - July 4, 1863" by Powell & Wittenberg

[Tullahoma: The Forgotten Campaign that Changed the Course of the Civil War, June 23 - July 4, 1863 by David A. Powell and Eric J. Wittenberg (Savas Beatie, 2020). Hardcover, 16 maps, photos, footnotes, appendix, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xi,356/406. ISBN:978-1-61121-504-5. $34.95]

It is unfortunate but not surprising that no full-length examination of the 1863 Tullahoma Campaign has been attempted before now. Profoundly overshadowed by momentous contemporaneous military events in Mississippi and Pennsylvania, the sweeping campaign of maneuver in Tennessee between the Union Army of the Cumberland under General William S. Rosecrans and General Braxton Bragg's Confederate Army of Tennessee has always been overlooked even though it was fought between the two principal western armies and resulted in permanent Union reoccupation of Middle Tennessee. By the end of the campaign, Rosecrans's confident army was on the very doorstep of the Confederate heartland's gateway to the Deep South. Clearly, the Tullahoma Campaign's lack of a major culminating battle meant that it failed to garner much popular attention after news of the twin Union triumphs at Gettysburg and Vicksburg reached the northern public in early July. Though surveyed in numerous book sections (often as part of a linked study), magazine articles, essays, and small monographs, standalone coverage of the campaign has been decidedly sparse in the published literature, with little available for general consumption beyond an introductory overview from historian Michael Bradley and a more recent volume (also authored by Bradley) released as part of University of Tennessee Press's Command Decisions in America’s Civil War series. However, this longstanding oversight has finally been fully remedied with the 2020 publication of David Powell and Eric Wittenberg's Tullahoma: The Forgotten Campaign that Changed the Course of the Civil War, June 23 - July 4, 1863.

In their extended opening remarks, Powell and Wittenberg accord a great deal of attention to army affairs that preceded the campaign by months (indeed, the book is well past the 100-page mark before the Tullahoma Campaign is launched). The campaign's aforementioned lack of big battles makes devoting precious space to detailed background information easier to afford, but it is also made clear that decisions and events of the winter and early spring had a major impact on how the Tullahoma Campaign was won and lost. In addition to Bragg being forced to detach much of his infantry to help the Confederacy's struggling armies in central Mississippi, the Army of the Cumberland's much too long delayed expansion, reorganization, and rearming of its cavalry arm (a project implemented by Rosecrans and his cavalry chief David Stanley) shaped the course of the Tullahoma Campaign in decisive fashion.

Both sides put the six-month interval between Stones River and Tullahoma to good use in strengthening and outfitting their respective armies, with Bragg in particular having great success in returning absent men to the ranks. The authors, more than many others, tend to give Rosecrans the benefit of the doubt on the matter of assessing/critiquing the scale of rebuild the army commander deemed necessary before the general advance that everyone in Washington was clamoring for could begin. However, it is also well appreciated by Powell and Wittenberg that Rosecrans alienated the War Department through his constant demands for nationally scarce items such as the most modern repeating arms for his expanding cavalry. The general also proved unwisely insensible to the political ramifications of his army's winter inactivity extending well into the spring.

In their lengthy discussion of the spring 1863 cavalry battles and skirmishes fought in Middle Tennessee, the authors conclude (and others have also observed this) that each side gained an edge over the other on opposite ends of the line. Confederate cavalry under generals Earl Van Dorn and Nathan Bedford Forrest scored significant successes on Bragg's western flank (ex. at the Battle of Thompson's Station and at Brentwood) while on the eastern flank Rosecrans's newly invigorated mounted forces were able to find their own measure of success in smaller-scale actions against the forces of generals Joseph Wheeler and John Hunt Morgan. The authors persuasively argue that those Union inroads into Bragg's weakened cavalry screen, combined with Wheeler being away at Spring Hill preparing for a new raid and Morgan exceeding the limits of his orders by inopportunely launching a distant raid of his own, were profoundly consequential in that they left Bragg's center and right vulnerable to the sweeping left hook that Rosecrans's army was soon to launch from Murfreesboro. Timing is everything in war, and Bragg's dispositions at the moment Rosecrans started his main advance were highly unfavorable to conducting a successful defense. This prelude section also usefully highlights the persistent tension within the western Confederate leadership between advocates of long-range cavalry raiding and those wanting to keep the bulk of the available horse soldiers nearby for close tactical support. As Powell and Wittenberg clearly expose in their study of what happened during the early phase of the Tullahoma Campaign, adopting the former strategy (or even some combination of both) too often left the main army without adequate screening, flank protection, and reconnaissance capabilities at critical moments.

Whatever one might say about excessive delays in the launching of Rosecrans's campaign, when it finally got going in late June the headquarters staff work was flawless. All four infantry corps (George Thomas's Fourteenth, Alexander McCook's Twentieth, Thomas Crittenden's Twenty-First, and Gordon Granger's Reserve) and Stanley's cavalry advanced on wretched roads across a broad front south of Murfreesboro, and each component arrived at its designated point at the designated time. This was a rare achievement with large-scale, spatially distributed Civil War operational movements, even those conducted under the best conditions.

As the book demonstrates, Rosecrans very effectively disguised his army's primary thrust with skillfully conducted feinting operations. While Stanley and Granger drew Bragg's attention toward the Confederate left, Twentieth Corps's attack at Liberty Gap (June 24-25), another feint, further gathered enemy focus away from the main effort. At Liberty Gap, Johnson's Division pushed defending Arkansans south on the 24th and fended off a counterattack the next day. One interesting feature of the battle was brigade commander August Willich's successful debut of his "advance firing" innovation (a tactical attacking formation unique to his command and in which his entire brigade was thoroughly trained) that cleared the enemy from his front.

Meanwhile, at Hoover's Gap on the 24th Colonel John Wilder's large brigade of mounted infantry took advantage of Bragg and Hardee's inexcusable lapse in leaving only 200 cavalry (and no artillery) to guard the highly-defensible gap through which ran a direct road to Manchester. Sweeping aside that weak screen, Wilder easily captured the objective in its entirety. After occupying the high ground at Hoover Gap's southern end and ignoring orders to withdraw (his infantry support, Fourteenth Corps, was still far to the rear), Wilder's Spencer rifle-armed men repulsed with relative ease each Confederate infantry attack aimed at recovering the lost ground. By all accounts, Wilder's decisive leadership and refusal to withdraw saved hundreds, if not thousands, of casualties that would have been incurred in retaking the gap. Far from being punished for disobeying orders, he was recommended for promotion to brigadier general and his mounted infantry command would henceforth be known as Wilder's "Lightning Brigade." On the other side, in his being derelict in leaving the gap nearly undefended, Confederate corps commander William Hardee's actions provided yet more evidence that his "Old Reliable" sobriquet was little earned by actual consistent performance in the field. On some level, Powell and Wittenberg are willing to assign both unpropitious timing (the closest division to the gap was missing much of its strength due to detachments, and its leader, A.P. Stewart, was new to its command) and thinning of the front (as mentioned before, large detachments were ordered to Mississippi) as mitigating factors, but they still justly conclude that the gap's weak defenses on the 24th were principally the consequence of "serious error" committed by Bragg and Hardee. The effect of rapid-firing Spencers en masse has always been the defining feature of primary and secondary accounts of the Hoover's Gap battle, and this new rendering of the fighting there only confirms the physical and moral impact of the weapon's potential as a tactical difference maker. How close Wilder's men came to running out of ammunition (the most common objection at the time to the widespread use of repeating arms on the nineteenth-century battlefield) is not addressed, but the brigade managed to hold out until relieved by Thomas's corps, a junction that made the Union threat to Bragg's even more weakened center-right critically dangerous. The fighting at both Liberty Gap and Hoover's Gap, the latter the largest action fought during the campaign, are more than sufficiently detailed in the text, and the authors expertly explain how the events at the two gaps were instrumental to the success of Rosecrans's overall plan of campaign.

Approaching the fighting front east of Thomas, Crittenden's Twentieth Corps was to comprise the army's main thrust and was expected to quickly capture Manchester. However, the corps was critically delayed by roads turned by incessant rain into rivers of mud. However, as outlined in the text, Rosecrans's operational flexibility was at its best when he immediately redirected Thomas to take the lead in the advance, with McCook to follow. By the 28th, Thomas, who had shoved aside all opposition, had Manchester firmly in his grasp and McCook in support. Crittenden, much to his chagrin, arrived last. At this point much of the Army of the Cumberland was concentrated less than a dozen miles from Bragg's headquarters at Tullahoma.

But what of the Confederates during those critical days? The authors could find no evidence that Bragg formulated any plan of his own that was coordinated with his two corps commanders, generals Leonidas Polk and the aforementioned Hardee. Instead, Bragg seemed to have been content with merely responding on a moment by moment basis to Rosecrans's actions. With the loss of a quarter of his infantry strength (much of those absent units assigned pre-campaign to the army's center-right) and John Hunt Morgan's cavalry far away on the raid mentioned earlier, the defensive center of gravity shifted dramatically to Bragg's left. All of that aided Rosecrans immeasurably by making the Army of the Cumberland's grand left hook that much easier to implement. Upon the loss of Hoover's Gap, Bragg ordered a general withdrawal to Tullahoma, and his rear guard at Shelbyville was attacked by Stanley's cavalry (themselves followed by Granger's foot soldiers). Highlighting by the dramatic charge of Colonel Robert Minty's "Saber Brigade," the successful Union assault at Shelbyville prevented a junction between Wheeler and Forrest (a potentially dangerous combination). Unlike Hoover's Gap, Shelbyville has not been the subject of much popular attention, and the book's detailed treatment of the battle fully rectifies past neglect by elevating the Union victory at Shelbyville to its appropriate stature as one of the campaign's key milestones on the way to ultimate success.

While Bragg struggled to gather and reorient his army around Tullahoma's prepared defenses, Rosecrans sent Wilder's Brigade on a behind-the-lines mission to wreck the railroad supplying the Army of Tennessee. While the Lightning Brigade, like so many mounted raiders before and after them, achieved little beyond temporary damage to the tracks around Decherd and exhausted both men and horses in the process, the authors perceptively note that the raid did usefully redirect Bragg's attention toward the safety of his lines of communication during a time when the Confederate high command was already reeling from the forced abandonment of Shelbyville and the Highland Rim's other prepared defenses. At the time, Rosecrans's army was still struggling through epic rainfall and bottomless roads to concentrate its strength for the presumably climactic assault on Tullahoma, and any further command confusion that Wilder might have sown among Bragg, Polk, and Hardee only helped the Union cause. Rosecrans's marshaling of his army around Manchester was only achieved late on the 29th, the timing of which amounted essentially to a full day lost to the abysmal environmental conditions. Even though its material fruits were minimal, Wilder's raid threw Bragg, who clearly wanted to offer battle at Tullahoma, into further indecision, his state of mind not eased by Hardee's wavering and Polk's determined advice to retreat. According to the authors, the straw that broke the camel's back and finally forced Bragg's hand was a "reliable" spy's report on June 30 claiming that 10,000 Federals were directly threatening his rear. Geography also did not favor a successful defense of Tullahoma. With Bragg's railroad connection to Chattanooga running along a southeast axis, Rosecrans's army at Manchester was just as close as Bragg's army at Tullahoma was to the most vulnerable chokepoints in Confederate lines of communication and supply. The primary question in Bragg's increasingly despondent mind would have been how far he needed to retreat to protect those vital Elk River bridges and the railroad tunnel near Cowan.

The book details the determined fight over the Elk River crossings (though unfortunately doesn't provide a small-scale map of those engagements). These actions were eased on the federal side by the fords becoming more usable after decreased rains lowered water levels. Nevertheless, the still wet weather conditions and Bragg's head start to his retreat essentially provided the Confederate army with just enough space to escape with supply and ammunition trains intact. The authors are justifiably critical of Bragg's back and forth 'retreat or fight' indecision during this brief but weighty period, the incapacitating appearance of which prompted conspiratorial meetings and communications between Polk and Hardee that the authors declare dangerously close to mutiny. By July 2, Bragg's army had finally found at Cowan the defensible position it so desperately needed, with both flanks protected by mountains and safe roads leading to the rear, but Bragg was seemingly an already beaten man and again ordered a general retreat. According to Powell and Wittenberg, this final decision was not forced by the enemy and signaled conclusively that the fight for Middle Tennessee was over in Bragg's mind (at least for the rest of 1863). Finally stymied by the natural obstacles of geography and distance, Rosecrans settled into consolidating his gains and preparing his army for the next advance. Casualties for the entire campaign were remarkably light on the Union side (570 men) but an examination of Confederate strength returns reveals that Bragg, contrary to his later scoffing that his army's losses were trifling, lost upwards of 5,000 men (mostly in prisoners and deserters) over the course of the nine-day campaign. That figure is much larger than traditional estimates and paints the results of the campaign in an even more destructive light in terms of diminished manpower and morale on the Confederate side.

Though niggles with final editing hardly drag down an appreciation of the volume's innumerable strengths, it can be pointed out that the finished manuscript still retains far too many typos. It also possesses some awkward moments of narrative repetition that may or may not have stemmed from dual authorship. Otherwise, the writing partnership between Powell and Wittenberg is seamless, their exceptionally fine work founded on the pair's typical brand of exhaustive primary source research and broad mastery of the secondary literature. On the visual aid side of things, the book's solid set of operational and tactical-scale maps successfully assists the reader in obtaining a comprehensive understanding of the campaign's obscure little battles and complex movements.

According to Powell and Wittenberg, the Tullahoma Campaign crushed Bragg's health and further eroded his already shaky leadership stature in the army. The results so undermined Polk and Hardee's confidence in Bragg's leadership that the latter left the army soon after. This lack of faith would reap bitter fruit during the ensuing Chickamauga Campaign. The authors might also have added the possibility that the comparative ease with which Rosecrans drove Bragg out of Middle Tennessee without a major battle dangerously elevated the Union commander's comfort level for risk-taking during the weeks leading up to the Chickamauga disaster.

In their concluding section, Powell and Wittenberg also briefly address some of the opportunities for Confederate counterstrokes that have been previously raised in the published literature. In their critique of those authors, they convincingly argue that the unresponsive, risk-averse Army of Tennessee lacked the high command flexibility and harmony necessary to take advantage of those brief windows of opportunity for conducting daring offensive moves.

Even after taking into account the wide disparity in transport capability between the two armies that allowed Union forces to operate much further away, and for a much more extended period of time, from their operational base and railroad lifeline, the book's argument that cavalry had a decisive impact on the campaign holds high merit. Confederate cavalry generals, particularly raid-focused Wheeler and Morgan, performed poorly in screening the army's Highland Rim front and failed abysmally in keeping Bragg informed about enemy movements. On the other side, Rosecrans's rejuvenated and greatly expanded cavalry and mounted infantry forces performed brilliantly on the offensive at Hoover's Gap, Shelbyville, and other places. As Powell and Wittenberg note, Union cavalry dominance in the campaign marked a truly remarkable and sudden reversal. It is certainly worth noting the sharp divide between the first half of 1863, when the Confederacy's western heartland cavalry was broadly ascendant over its foes, and the second half of the year when Union improvement combined with a series of stumbling Confederate failures of leadership and command led to starting successes by the Army of the Cumberland's mounted arm during the Tullahoma and Chickamauga campaigns.

Finally, the impact of weather on the outcome of the campaign is also gauged in compelling fashion in the book. Mud is an equal opportunity foe to rapid movement (and in assessing alternate history one can't simply look at a single variable), but the book's suggestion that weather effects most negatively limited Rosecrans's ceiling for success is persuasive. It was weather alone that increased the march time of Rosecrans's left hook (Crittenden's Twenty-First Corps) from a planned two days to a miserable five, and one might reasonably argue that it was this difference that had the most to do with Bragg's escape without more serious damage. Interestingly, a deeper dive on the part of the authors into the matter of weather effects notes that if Rosecrans had launched his campaign two weeks earlier or two weeks later, drier conditions would clearly have rendered his planned movements far more predictable.

In closely examining how General William S. Rosecrans's 1863 Middle Tennessee operation was conducted and what were its results and longer-term consequences, authors David Powell and Eric Wittenberg masterfully present those long-neglected series of events as a model Civil War campaign of maneuver. Their conclusion that Tullahoma was Rosecrans's finest hour as an army commander and that he conducted a "masterpiece of organization, logistics, deception, and maneuver" are judgments clearly borne out in this exceptionally fine history of the campaign. Orders of magnitude more informative and valuable than anything previously written on the topic, Tullahoma ranks among the best of modern Civil War campaign histories.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Booknotes: A Holy Baptism of Fire and Blood

New Arrival:
A Holy Baptism of Fire and Blood: The Bible and the American Civil War by James P. Byrd (Oxford UP, 2021).

From the description: "In his Second Inaugural Address, delivered as the nation was in the throes of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that both sides "read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other." He wasn't speaking metaphorically: the Bible was frequently wielded as a weapon in support of both North and South."

James Byrd's A Holy Baptism of Fire and Blood demonstrates the influential force of the Bible on the attitudes and beliefs of the politicians, soldiers, and civilians of both sides. More: "From Massachusetts to Mississippi and beyond, the Bible was the nation's most read and respected book. It presented a drama of salvation and damnation, of providence and judgment, of sacred history and sacrifice. When Americans argued over the issues that divided them -- slavery, secession, patriotism, authority, white supremacy, and violence -- the Bible was the book they most often invoked. Soldiers fought the Civil War with Bibles in hand, and both sides called the war just and sacred. In scripture, both Union and Confederate soldiers found inspiration for dying-and for killing-on a scale never before seen in the nation's history."

Struck by the great variety of Bible verses favored by those residing within the two warring sections, religion historian Harry Stout's jacket blurb also notes that Byrd employs "an innovative and exhaustive quantitative compilation and analysis of scriptural references" (a task undoubtedly assisted by modern mass digitations of Civil War-era letters and diaries) to identify and contextualize the most telling biblical passages cited by each side's proponents.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Review - "The Texas Tonkawas" by Stanley McGowen

[The Texas Tonkawas by Stanley S. McGowen (State House Press, 2020) Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xxii,164/234. ISBN:978-1-933337-92-0. $29.95]

One of the smaller and lesser-known tribes of the Old Southwest, the Tonkawas of Texas assumed a critically important role in the military history of the region from frontier settlement through the end of the Southern Plains Indian Wars. Allied first with Texian settlers and later with Texas state, Confederate, and U.S. Army military and paramilitary forces, Tonkawa warriors served as scouts, trackers, and fighting auxiliaries during countless expeditions against the far more populous tribes that regularly raided the northern and western Texas frontier. That long-term military association forms the principal part of Stanley McGowen's The Texas Tonkawas.

Utilizing the most up to date scholarship, McGowen begins his study with an informative background summary of Tonkawa tribal origins and culture. With a very small population that fluctuated widely over its history and probably never exceeded 800 men, women, and children, the 1830s Tonkawa tribal range encompassed an inland swath of land bounded on either side by the Trinity and San Antonio rivers. Threatened by powerful enemies (most dangerously the mighty Comanche), they formed a uniquely strong bond of mutual trade and protection with Texian settlers. Legendary trackers (they could allegedly follow faint signs at full gallop), Tonkawa warriors enthusiastically participated in retaliatory raids and were experts at recovering captives and stolen stock. According to the author, one peculiar aspect of their fighting culture, ritual cannibalism, made them especially hated by their native enemies.

Nevertheless, over successive Texas administrations the Tonkawa, through an unfortunate combination of cultural misunderstanding, mistaken identity, and occasional violence, were gradually removed north with the eventual goal of settling them in Indian Territory. This staged process was interrupted by the American Civil War, which saw the Tonkawa yet again agreeing to fight alongside Texas forces. McGowen cites four reasons why the Tonkawa allied themselves with Confederate Texas during the Civil War. The strongest motivation was their desire to maintain the tribe's decades-old bond with Texas. According to the author, the Tonkawa also likely hoped that the Confederate government would assume the treaty obligations that went unfulfilled by the U.S. government. Unrelenting pressures from their traditional enemies, the Comanche and Kiowa, also undoubtedly formed part of the decision-making calculus. Finally, McGowen suggests that fear and uncertainty over what the Confederate military might do if the Tonkawas attempted neutrality (similar in nature to what the tribe had previously done during both the Texas Revolution and the U.S. war with Mexico) formed another strong consideration.

Civil War-era coverage in the book is relatively brief. Perhaps McGowen, whose excellent regimental history of the First Texas Cavalry titled Horse Sweat and Powder Smoke (1999) already addressed early-war period clashes between Texas forces that utilized Tonkawa scouts against the Kiowa and Comanche, did not feel the need to cover the same ground. So only a short chapter discusses the 1860-1867 stretch of time that includes arguably the most traumatic single event in the tribe's recorded history, the 1862 Tonkawa Massacre. Almost completely overlooked in popular and scholarly discussion of major western massacres, the October 1862 attack on the Confederate Witchita Agency by a confederation of Cherokees, Seminoles, Kickapoo, Shawnee, and Delaware armed by Union forces in Kansas devastated the Tonkawa. The attackers killed the agency staff and attempted to annihilate the 306 Tonkawa residing nearby. In the end, 137 Tonkawa men, women, and children lay dead, and the rest fled to shelter in Texas, where the survivors were supported through the winter and beyond by a large state relief effort. Even after that event rendered the newly destitute tribe in disarray with even its ultimate survival in question, Tonkawa men continued to serve with Confederate forces. During that time the Tonkawa would suffer losses they could no longer afford, and McGowen's narrative describes the terrible reverse suffered in January 1865 against the fleeing Kickapoo at Dove Creek.

Much of the remaining balance of McGowen's study consists of a detailed recounting of Tonkawa service in the U.S. Army over the decade following the end of the Civil War. In reading those sections, it becomes clear how instrumental Tonkawa guides and scouts were in furthering the army's goal of subduing the far-ranging Kiowa and Comanche. In common with so many of their native brethren, however, the Tonkawa struggled mightily to maintain their distinctive culture and obtain a permanent home in the decades following the pacification of the Southern Plains. Getting occasional help from Texas when federal aid lapsed, the Tonkawa eventually settled in a small reservation in what is today northern Oklahoma, where the majority reside today. An excellent overview, Stanley McGowen's The Texas Tonkawas should help foster among today's readers a wider knowledge and appreciation of the tribe's culture and close relationship with Texas. Of equal value is the study's thorough documentation of the Tonkawa people's role and place in the multi-ethnic violence and military history of the nineteenth-century Texas frontier.