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.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Booknotes: Useful Captives

New Arrival:
Useful Captives: The Role of POWs in American Military Conflicts edited by Daniel Krebs and Lorien Foote (UP of Kansas, 2021).

From the description: Useful Captives: The Role of POWs in American Military Conflicts "is a wide-ranging investigation of the integral role prisoners of war (POWs) have played in the economic, cultural, political, and military aspects of American warfare. In Useful Captives volume editors Daniel Krebs and Lorien Foote and their contributors explore the wide range of roles that captives play in times of conflict: hostages used to negotiate vital points of contention between combatants, consumers, laborers, propaganda tools, objects of indoctrination, proof of military success, symbols, political instruments, exemplars of manhood ideals, loyal and disloyal soldiers, and agents of change in society."

The anthology's essays are arranged thematically, with one to three essays exploring "I. Cultural Contexts of Warfare," "II. Military Policies in Warfare," "III. State-Building and Warfare," IV. Economic and Environmental Dimensions of Warfare," "V. Political Symbols in Warfare," and "VI. Public Conversations and Narratives about Warfare." The volume's "eleven chapters cover conflicts involving Americans, ranging from colonial warfare on the Creek-Georgia border in the late eighteenth century, the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Great War, World War II, to twenty-first century U.S. drone warfare. This long historical horizon enables the reader to go beyond the prison camp experience of POWs to better understand the many ways they influence the nature and course of military conflict."

Since this is a Civil War site, let's briefly look at the substantial number of essays related to that conflict. There are four specifically devoted to the Civil War along with it being a major part of another (this last examining how NPS sites interpret the POW experience). Earl Hess's chapter documents the struggles of both sides to manage and control their POW bureaucracies. Discussed are various ways that prisoners gamed the system for their own ends (ex. to "avoid duty, switch sides, or obtain their release under false pretenses"). Insights into Civil War loyalties are also gained through looking at issues around oathtaking and switching sides. In another essay, Michael Gray uses the case studies of Chicago's Camp Douglas and Elmira, NY to explore the environmental fallout sprawling POW camps had on those cities and their surroundings. As an example, "(d)eforestation from building and maintaining the prisons,..., led to regional flooding." Both Part V chapters address Civil War topics. In the first, Daniel Farrell's essay shows how U.S. authorities sold hard war precepts to the public partly by presenting them as a just response to how the Confederate government treated Union prisoners. Farrell also demonstrates the ways in which the Republican party, during and after the war, used POW propaganda to paint their Democratic opposition as sharing responsibility for the camp horrors. The other Part V essay, Angela Riotto's, looks at how selective Confederate POW stories detailing the harshness of northern camps bolstered the emerging Lost Cause narrative and served as a cultural antidote to Union claims regarding the brutality of the most infamous Confederate camps.

In sum, Useful Captives "shows the vital role that prisoners of war play in American warfare and reveals the cultural contexts of warfare, the shaping and altering of military policies, the process of state-building, the impacts upon the economy and environment of the conflict zone, their special place in propaganda and political symbolism, and the importance of public history in shaping national memory."

Monday, March 8, 2021

Review - "Violence in the Hill Country: The Texas Frontier in the Civil War Era" by Nicholas Roland

[Violence in the Hill Country: The Texas Frontier in the Civil War Era by Nicholas Keefauver Roland (University of Texas Press, 2021). Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, index. Pages main/total:200/288. ISBN:978-1-4773-2175-1. $45]

Wilderness frontier borderlands have attracted opportunity-hungry individuals and agents of collective/national expansion since time immemorial, but occupying those often contested spaces also typically came with a host of human and environmental dangers. Living an isolated existence far from the protections and regulating forces of "civilization," newcomers often maintained personal security, communal welfare, or even existence itself through violent intervention. In cases where cultures alien to each other were competing for the same land and resources, the turn to violence was often at its most extreme. Many of those qualities could be found in the Texas Hill Country before, during, and after the American Civil War, when Anglo American and German immigrant settlers to the area clashed with themselves and with a common enemy in the form of highly mobile native groups (primarily Comanche, Kiowa, and Lipan Apache) whose raids commonly took settler lives and property. Analysis of both regularly occurring and unique "patterns of violence" that swept through the region over that period is the main focus of Nicholas Roland's fascinating new study Violence in the Hill Country: The Texas Frontier in the Civil War Era.

The Texas "Hill Country" can be seen as a rather nebulous geographical term, so, at least for the purposes of Roland's study, the "Hill Country" is defined as a twelve-county area 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" (pg. 12). It is basically a large, rugged expanse of south-central Texas with natural features and white settlement patterns distinct from both the frontier northwest counties and those that formed the state's Red River border with Indian Territory.

Though the nature and scale of the Hill Country's internal and external conflicts varied over the 1845-81 period studied in the book, one of its mainstays, according to Roland's research, was the honor code violence brought to the area by its Anglo American settlers, most of whom possessed upland South origins. Much of the study dwells upon this. In the context of the high level of uncertainty that the frontier broadly brought to settler life, this code allowed citizens to use vigilante force (even lethal means) to protect their bodies, property, and livelihood as well as enforce societal norms, laws, and ideas of order until "civilized" government was established. The author claims that Germans did not have an honor culture tradition, and thus that particular brand of violent expression was not prevalent in their own immigrant communities. German-speaking states in Europe certainly did have some elements of honor culture violence (one can refer to the nineteenth-century dueling tradition that trickled down society somewhat from the German and Austrian upper classes), but if Roland is only specifically referring to commonplace lethality then his point is well taken. Also addressed is the raiding culture common to Southern Plains native groups that frequently resulted in settler killings of an indiscriminate nature.

1850s politics in the German immigrant-heavy Hill Country counties and support there for the federal government and U.S. Army there were complicated by numerous factors: including nativism, economic relationships, and party loyalties, but the frequency of Indian raids on isolated homes and settlements was a unifying force among those with otherwise divided views. The broader literature often overgeneralizes the 1860 German American vote as staunchly abolitionist and Republican in the North and Border South, but it was different in frontier Texas. Democratic Party ties in the Hill Country counties (though there were some exceptions) remained strong among its broadly antislavery immigrant voters, a bond that the author primarily attributes to party loyalty with some secondary impulses related to fitting in better with local society.

Unlike other parts of the lower South, however, the Hill Country's Breckinridge votes (Douglas was not on the ballot in Texas), particularly among the Germans, did not necessarily translate into support for secession. Countering some views to the contrary in the literature, Roland offers several convincing arguments that Indian raids had little effect on frontier voting patterns in the northwest, Red River north, and Hill Country counties during the build up to secession. Instead, the evidence the author presents convincingly shows that settler origins and state of relations between citizens and the federal government at election time (the latter heavily influenced by prominent newspaper editors and other local leaders) had the most significant impact. Charles Grear, the acknowledged expert on why Texans fought during the Civil War, found that family and social networks between Texans and the cis-Mississippi southern states they left behind strongly motivated them to both support Texas secession and be willing to fight and die on faraway fronts1. Complementing Grear, Roland establishes that the heavily pro-secession northwest frontier counties had a proportionally higher number of settlers from the Deep South to go along with their poor relations with the federal government during the late antebellum period. In contrast, Hill Country citizens were far more skeptical of the fruits of secession. As the book documents at length, many were heavily involved in supplying area forts with food, fuel, and forage and had good relations with both the federal government and the army. Additionally, the Hill Country's native-born American population was largely from the Upper South, where conditional unionism thrived.

Though recent studies have reminded us of the diversity of German immigrant culture and politics, the fact remains that most German Texans possessed the same antislavery impulses and liberal nationalism outlook that motivated the more closely studied Border South and western (especially St. Louis) Germans to support the Union. As was the case across the political spectrum, individuals who were important opinion leaders swayed the popular vote. Roland also found this to be the case of the Hill Country, where a small group of Forty-Eighters (perhaps only a hundred) assumed many leadership positions and influenced German voters at a scale far beyond their meager numbers. Of course, small but active pro-secession minorities among both German and Anglo American populations existed in the Hill County, too, and the many reasons why they differed from their neighbors are also enumerated and convincingly explained in the text.

When secession finally did become reality, hoped for improvements in western Texas border security under the new Confederate regime did not at all materialize after the departure of the U.S. Army. This caused no little consternation among Unionists and secessionists alike. Additionally, in the Hill Country secession and Civil War dissolved the strongest source of unity that existed among all social and political factions [that of having a common enemy (i.e. Indian raiders)]. This led to interpersonal and collective violence being redirected inward at internal ethnic and political foes. Indian raids and settler killings did not fall away, but they no longer distracted citizens from internal divisions. Rather quickly, secessionist violence against Hill Country Unionists assumed similar characteristics to that of Union suppression of pro-Confederate guerrillas and civilians in the Border South. The Hill Country became riven with internal borderland strife while as the same time the external threats from the prewar frontier borderland continued unabated. Confederate Army supply contracts and the organization of a Frontier Regiment2 specifically organized to address border security allayed some of the opposition's concerns, but the state's militia act of December 1861 and national conscription in April 1862 only amplified fears that the open frontier would be left undefended.

As was the case during the war's early months in East Tennessee prior to the coordinated bridge burning campaign there that sparked a harsh crackdown, Confederate martial law in the Hill Country was broadly conciliatory. However, the situation changed by summer 1862 when more organized and militant draft resistance (a Union Loyal League was formed) and other forms of subversion (ex. killing informants and forming armed groups to cooperate with expected Union invasion) led to violent suppression. Though the bloody Nueces River battle and continued killing, arrest, and imprisonment of Unionists into the fall effectively suppressed organized resistance in the Hill Country by the end of 1862, draft opposition, an uptick in Indian raids, Frontier Regiment ineffectiveness (through both failed tactics and logistical shortfalls), drought, choked-off trade, and sharp inflation all fed a growing disaffection with a flailing government and all of the power instability that came with that. All of those factors plus a dramatic increase in deserters and draft evaders infesting the Hill Country widely intensified interpersonal violence among Union and Confederate supporters. These were in addition to regular deaths from Indian raids. The Confederate government was not entirely unresponsive to the turmoil, and President Davis ordered martial law to be rescinded (he determined that local commanders were exceeding their authority) and opposition subsided somewhat after conscription was suspended across the Texas frontier from the end of 1863 onward. When it came to violence committed by the Hill County's secessionist minority, Roland interprets much of its source to the ways southern honor culture addressed the frontier and power uncertainies reference earlier.

The year 1863 brought another outside contributor to Hill Country violence in the form of uniformed Union troops. Though they did not strike inland, Union Army forays up the Rio Grande Valley in 1863 nevertheless inspired an uptick in armed irregular activities by Texas Unionists based in the Hill Country and across the border in Mexico. These men, variously labeled by their enemies as jayhawkers, bushwhackers, and renegades, attacked secessionist lives and property in the Hill Country and, as described in the book, also came into violent contact with the Frontier Regiment and assorted state militia organizations. Additionally, Union Army recruiters infiltrated the Hill Country, and there was the ever present criminal element to contend with as well. In response, localized pro-Confederate vigilantism met this threat with deadly force of their own. Oddly enough, Roland finds evidence of cooperation between Unionists and state authorities by early 1864, there being a mutual desire to stem the increasingly chaotic flow of disorder and violence. Much of the credit appears to be due to Governor Pendleton Murrah, who investigated claims from all sides and installed a new commander, militia general John McAdoo, who seemed to have possessed a rare gift for calming the passions of extremists on both sides and bringing relative peace to the Hill Country. Murrah himself even fought with national authorities to allow Hill Country citizens regardless of affiliation to be exempted from Confederate export restrictions as they had no other markets available to sustain themselves in their economically strangled region. If not entirely unique, this state-level initiative of reaching out to the enemy was at the very least uncommon in the conflict's many other bitterly contested 'inner wars,' and the author's suggestion that it was largely accomplished with a pragmatic view toward the future (stock in the Confederate government's continued existence being at low ebb in the 1864 Trans-Mississippi) and the readdressing of the common Indian threat to the frontier counties is persuasive.

While animosities, lawsuits, and some instances of extralegal murder continued after the war, the book shows that Reconstruction violence in the Texas Hill Country was relatively scarce in comparison to other parts of the state. In Roland's view several key factors were at play. Even though continued postwar violence is duly documented in the text, it is the author's opinion that the German population's lack of all-encompassing cultural trauma (at least compared to the world-shattering losses and social/political changes experienced by Anglo Texans) eased reconciliation and thwarted widespread revenge seeking. It also helped that many of the most notorious vigilante offenders left the area soon after the Confederate collapse. Given that much Reconstruction violence was directed toward freedmen, the tiny size of the region's black population also did not inspire much (comparatively speaking) in the way of racial violence. Also, the poverty of postwar Texas and its weak justice system meant that there were few attempts at prosecuting individuals for their wartime deeds, the result being that the kinds of festering resentments that such efforts could have created failed to materialize. As mentioned before, instead of fighting each other Hill County citizens banded together to oppose a dramatic postwar increase in Indian raiding and organized criminal activities such as livestock rustling and cross-border banditry. The former was the result of a number of military, political, and environmental factors (all of which are documented in the book), and the latter arose from the abundant openings for lucrative criminal enterprise that weak, underfunded legal institutions and the emerging cattle industry created.

The appendix section of the book usefully compiles some valuable reference data in the form of Hill Country death rosters. These are sub-divided into categories related to lethal Civil War violence, Indian raiding deaths during the Civil War years, and postwar Indian raiding deaths. On the negative side of things, a pair of publishing decisions provide sources of complaint. While the endnotes appropriately display the author's research depth and range, the study unfortunately lacks a bibliography. Also, while a number of general-purpose maps showing the state's county borders are borrowed from other sources, an original map of the volume's twelve-county region of study, one detailing the major locations and events covered in the text, is absent. Such a tool would have been immensely helpful, especially for those readers unfamiliar with Hill Country geography.

Employing a sophisticated and creative research and analysis of Texas Hill Country patterns of interpersonal, ethnic, political, and economic violence during the key transitional period of the mid to late nineteenth-century, Nicholas Roland skillfully weaves into his narrative a host of local, state, and national contexts the overall assessment of which forms a welcome, even vital, contribution to the literature of westward expansion. A multitude of scholarly and popular reading audiences, including American Civil War, Indian Wars, Southwest borderlands, and German American immigrant history students, are abundantly well served through the contents of this book. Violence in the Hill Country is highly recommended.

1 - See Grear's Why Texans Fought in the Civil War (TAMU Press, 2010). No one knows more about the topic than the author.
2 - For a highly useful and still unsurpassed history of the Frontier Regiment as well as Civil War Texas frontier defense as a whole, see David Paul Smith's Frontier Defense during the Civil War (TAMU Press, 1992). Roland's many references in Violence in the Hill Country to the multi-faceted and varyingly effective role of Texas militia leaders and units in frontier defense and internal security makes one wish for the publication of a Civil War history of the organization. Unfortunately, comprehensive study of most Confederate state-sponsored armies continues to be neglected.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Booknotes: Radical Sacrifice

New Arrival:
Radical Sacrifice: The Rise and Ruin of Fitz John Porter by William Marvel (UNC Press, 2021).

I've always wanted to learn more about Fitz John Porter than what was generally available. There always seemed to be more interest among authors in Porter's court-martial and struggle to regain rank and reputation than there was in discussing the rest of his life and the details of his brief Civil War career. Thus I was very happy to learn last year that a biography, William Marvel's Radical Sacrifice: The Rise and Ruin of Fitz John Porter, was in the late stages of development. That its author is one of my favorite Civil War historians made that news all the better.

From the description: "Born into a distinguished military family, Fitz John Porter (1822-1901) was educated at West Point and breveted for bravery in the war with Mexico. Already a well-respected officer at the outset of the Civil War, as a general in the Union army he became a favorite of George B. McClellan, who chose him to command the Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Porter and his troops fought heroically and well at Gaines's Mill and Malvern Hill. His devotion to the Union cause seemed unquestionable until fellow Union generals John Pope and Irvin McDowell blamed him for their own battlefield failures at Second Bull Run."

There are two main connecting threads to follow along the path leading to the general's dramatic downfall, both surrounding the embarrassing Union defeat at Second Bull Run. In the first, Porter becomes his own worst enemy by allegedly allowing his loyalty to McClellan and his politics affect his performance of military duties. In the other thread, the one most directly related to the book's title Radical Sacrifice, outside forces in the form of vengeful Radical Republican officers and politicians (with, again, the general's close relationship with McClellan being a grave offense in those circles) make an example of Porter in an attempt to cleanse the army high command of ideological opponents.

More from the description: "As a confidant of the Democrat and limited-war proponent McClellan, Porter found himself targeted by Radical Republicans intent on turning the conflict to the cause of emancipation. He made the perfect scapegoat, and a court-martial packed with compliant officers dismissed him for disobedience of orders and misconduct before the enemy. Porter tenaciously pursued vindication after the war, and in 1879 an army commission finally reviewed his case, completely exonerating him. Obstinately partisan resistance from old Republican enemies still denied him even nominal reinstatement for six more years." While Marvel's title choices often tend to be rather provocatively-worded expressions of his main theme (ex. "Lincoln's Mercenaries" and "Lincoln's Autocrat"), it it worth repeating that, at least in my opinion, the actual contents inside typically express far more nuance and critical balance than one might superficially gather from the title's meaning and tone.

In Radical Sacrifice, Marvel "lifts the cloud that shadowed Porter over the last four decades of his life, exposing the spiteful Radical Republicans who refused to restore his rank long after his exoneration and never restored his benefits. Reexamining the relevant primary evidence from the full arc of Porter's life and career, Marvel offers significant insights into the intersections of politics, war, and memory." Pretty much every close student of the trial (and, by the way, I am not in that group) agrees that any truly impartial examination of the charges would have resulted in Porter's exoneration, but critiques remain. I'll be very interested to read how Marvel addresses disapproving opinions regarding Porter's generalship and professional behavior that persist through to today. I'm looking forward to diving in sometime soon.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Booknotes: The Assault on Fort Blakeley

New Arrival:
The Assault on Fort Blakeley: The Thunder and Lightning of Battle by Mike Bunn (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Press, 2021).

The failure to neutralize or capture the major blockade running Gulf port of Mobile until very late in the war remains one of the biggest complaints that modern armchair generals have about Union strategy. Though the two big masonry forts guarding the entrance to Mobile Bay were finally seized during Admiral Farragut's celebrated torpedo-damning naval assault of August 1864, Mobile itself and its network of earthwork defenses did not fall until April 1865. The crowning military event of the Union campaign was the successful storming of Fort Blakeley on April 9. Only Chester Hearn's Mobile Bay and the Mobile Campaign (1993) examines both major military phases of the long 1864-65 Mobile Campaign at some depth in a single volume, but it's far from exhaustive. Paul Brueske's recent book The Last Siege: The Mobile Campaign, Alabama 1865 (2018) offers arguably the best overall treatment of the land campaign, but even its coverage of the final fort assaults is only lightly detailed. This brings us to Mike Bunn's just-released The Assault on Fort Blakeley: The Thunder and Lightning of Battle, which does set out to recount those events at unprecedented scope.

From the description: "On the afternoon of April 9, 1865, some sixteen thousand Union troops launched a bold, coordinated assault on the three-mile-long line of earthworks known as Fort Blakeley. The charge was one of the grand spectacles of the Civil War, the climax of a weeks-long campaign that resulted in the capture of Mobile--the last major Southern city to remain in Confederate hands." The director of Historic Blakeley State Park, Bunn is presumably well positioned to gather expert-level knowledge of available primary sources and of the fighting ground itself. "With a crisp narrative that also serves as a guided tour of Alabama's largest Civil War battlefield," his book "pioneers a telling of Blakeley's story through detailed accounts from those who participated in the harrowing siege and assault."

Once past the book's introductory sections, four chapters recount the clashes over redoubts 1 through 9. Each of these chapters starts with the author's descriptive narrative before transitioning to an "In Their Own Words" section that presents a series of select passages taken from participant accounts of those events. The author's unit summaries (down to the regimental level) add further context to accounts written by officers and men, with the material additionally supported by numerous maps. As noted in the description, touring information is embedded into each chapter. The book also includes a large collection of unit flag photographs and images of modern park grounds. I'm looking forward to reading it.