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 As the volume is focused almost entirely on Regular Army units (and those were rapidly expelled or withdrawn during the opening moments of the Civil War), the conflict in Texas between Union and Confederate volunteer forces is not substantively addressed in either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.

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