Friday, April 30, 2021

Book News: "We Gave Them Thunder"

Waaaay back in 2011 I reported some secondhand scuttlebutt that Bill Piston and John Rutherford were working on an 1863 Battle of Springfield (often called the Second Battle of Springfield, the first being the far smaller October 25, 1861 engagement there—calling it a 'battle' is pretty generous—that was popularized through embellished accounts of "Zagonyi's Charge") study. I had forgotten about this Piston-Rutherford project over the years (so many cool-sounding things that pop up in the rumor mill disappear into the ether never to be heard from again) but am absolutely delighted to pass along the latest news that it will be actually be released later this year from Moon City Press (University of Arkansas Press is the distributor) under the title "We Gave Them Thunder": Marmaduke’s Raid and the Civil War in Missouri and Arkansas (August 2021).

This will not be the first book on the subject. Most recently, Larry Wood covered it in Civil War Springfield (The History Press, 2011), but the standard account is still Up From Arkansas: Marmaduke's First Missouri Raid, Including the Battles of Springfield and Hartville by Frederick Goman (Wilson's Creek NB Foundation, 1999). The most obscure book-length source is Daniel Plaster’s privately printed Marmaduke’s First Missouri Raid, 1862-1863: The Roles of Federal Scouts and Outposts in the Defense of Springfield (1999), which is a fine addition to your Missouri raid collection if you can find a copy of it. There's great work in all of the above but plenty of room remains for a more 'definitive' treatment of the kind expected from Piston and Rutherford.

It seems like it's been forever since the publication of a proper, full-length Missouri or Arkansas battle study. Unless I am forgetting something big, I don't recall a release of anything of this scale ("354 pages,..., 13 maps and 43 color illustrations") since Kyle Sinisi's 2015 book on Sterling Price's 1864 Missouri Expedition. I am greatly looking forward to reading this "authoritative study of Marmaduke’s raid into Southwest Missouri, the Battle of Springfield (January 8, 1863), and the Battle of Hartville (January 11, 1863)."

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Book Snapshot: "Echoes From Gettysburg: Georgia's Memories and Images"

Echoes From Gettysburg: Georgia's Memories and Images (Fox Run Publishing, 2021) is the second volume of Keith Jones's Echoes of Gettysburg series of books collecting published reminiscences of the battle by state. The first, Echoes From Gettysburg: South Carolina's Memories and Images, was published back in 2016. The Georgia volume also serves as a revised and expanded update to an earlier book from the author, Georgia Remembers Gettysburg: A Collection of First-Hand Accounts Written by Georgia Soldiers, which was released in 2013 by Ten Roads Publishing.

As one of the Confederacy's most populous states, Georgia's contribution in officers and men to the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg was substantial, and Georgia units and formations figured prominently in many well-known events that occurred during the campaign and battle. From the description: "The first infantry actions of the Gettysburg Campaign involved Georgia troops. Brigadier General John B. Gordon's brigade crossed the Potomac River on June 22, 1863, and was the first Confederate infantry to march into the town of Gettysburg on June 26. They also flew their flag over a one-time seat of the Continental Congress in York, Pennsylvania and engaged in early action during an attempt to capture the bridge over the Susquehanna River at Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. Most discussion about Gettysburg focuses on the third day, obscuring the first two days in which Robert E. Lee' s troops were far more successful, in fact on the first day, they dominated. Thirteen thousand Georgia troops played a significant role in the three-day battle."

Georgia's role in the Gettysburg campaign is recounted in an annotated introductory essay of around thirty pages in length, with the narrative supported by a set of eight splendid Philip Laino maps. Spread throughout the volume are dozens of images (often full-page sized) of Georgia officers and men. The appendix is an order of battle for Georgia ANV units at Gettysburg, and the volume concludes with a bibliography and a unit, name, and place index.

Georgia "memories" of the battle fill just over 230 pages in the book and are almost entirely sourced from articles that appeared in thirteen (mostly Georgia) newspapers and Confederate Veteran magazine, a few published during the war years but mostly between the 1880s and early 1900s. Unpublished soldier letters or journal entries are not part of the collection.

The material is organized into standalone chapters by unit, with the first covering the Georgia artillery. Published reminiscences from those serving in the many Georgia infantry brigades (Anderson's, Benning's, Doles', Gordon's, Semmes', Wofford's, Wright's, and Thomas') that fought at Gettysburg follow that in succession. There is also a chapter for the Georgia cavalry. The final section consists of reunion accounts.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Booknotes: John P. Slough

New Arrival:
John P. Slough: The Forgotten Civil War General by Richard L. Miller (UNM Press, 2021).

As we all know, if you happened to toss a rock into a roomful of Civil War volunteer generals you faced a very good chance of hitting someone who was both a lawyer and former legislator. Richard Miller's John P. Slough: The Forgotten Civil War General recounts the eventful and tragically brief life story of one such a man. Practicing law and politics in his native Ohio, Kansas, and Colorado until 1861, the then Denver resident Slough traded all that for the uniform of a Union officer when the Civil War broke out.

Not exactly "forgotten" in some circles (Trans-Mississippi students will immediately recognize him for his key role in the 1862 New Mexico Campaign and Valley Campaign students might recall his part in defending Harpers Ferry), it is certainly the case that General Slough is far from a household name among Civil War readers. From the description: "John Potts Slough, the Union commander at the Battle of Glorieta Pass, lived a life of relentless pursuit for success that entangled him in the turbulent events of mid-nineteenth-century America. As a politician, Slough fought abolitionists in the Ohio legislature and during Kansas Territory's fourth and final constitutional convention. He organized the 1st Colorado Volunteer Infantry after the Civil War broke out, eventually leading his men against Confederate forces at the pivotal engagement at Glorieta Pass."

As amply demonstrated during his antebellum public life and first foray into military service, Slough could be an irascible colleague and subordinate. He resigned his commission after the New Mexico Campaign but reentered the Union Army soon after with a brigadier general appointment that took him to field service in the Shenandoah at Harpers Ferry and later a district-level command at Alexandria that he held for the duration of the war. Readers might also recall that he was one of the military court appointees to the Fitz John Porter trial.

After the guns fell silent, Slough's difficult nature continued to follow him. More from the description: "After the war, as chief justice of the New Mexico Territorial Supreme Court, he struggled to reform corrupt courts amid the territory's corrosive Reconstruction politics." He also fought the entrenched peonage system that proved difficult to eradicate completely after the U.S. took control of the territory after the War with Mexico. "Slough was known to possess a volcanic temper and an easily wounded pride. These traits not only undermined a promising career but ultimately led to his death at the hands of an aggrieved political enemy who gunned him down in a Santa Fe saloon." He was only 38 years old. The publication of a Slough biography is certainly unexpected, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Review - "Unlike Anything That Ever Floated: The Monitor and Virginia and the Battle of Hampton Roads, March 8-9, 1862" by Dwight Sturtevant Hughes

[Unlike Anything That Ever Floated: The Monitor and Virginia and the Battle of Hampton Roads, March 8-9, 1862 by Dwight Sturtevant Hughes (Savas Beatie, 2021). Softcover, 11 maps, 20 diagrams, photos, illustrations, appendices, reading list, order of battle. Pages main/total:xxvi,135/191. ISBN:978-1-61121-525-0. $14.95]

According to the series home page tabulation (in retrospect, numbering the books on the spine would have been a cool idea), this is the 35th Emerging Civil War series volume published since the 2012 release of Simply Murder: The Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862. That's quite a record of output over less than a decade. Though western topics are duly sprinkled in every once in a while, the series remains largely oriented toward eastern theater land campaigns, so another noteworthy aspect of the release of Dwight Sturtevant Hughes's Unlike Anything That Ever Floated: The Monitor and Virginia and the Battle of Hampton Roads, March 8-9, 1862 is its status as the ECW library's first naval-themed installment. Of course, the contest between the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia very much remains the battle most synonymous with Civil War naval combat, its coverage still far outstripping that of everything else (including the famous Battle of Mobile Bay and the popular story of the ill-fated CSS Hunley). Publication of books and articles related to the famous pair of ironclad warships and their epic duel continues unabated. Of marked assistance in the matter was the 2002 raising of the Monitor's great revolving turret. The preservation of it and other artifacts sparked a fresh round of intense study and writing.

Like many other Monitor-Merrimac/Virginia books that came before it, Unlike Anything That Ever Floated highlights the challenges each side faced in addressing the new realities of mid-century naval warfare. Both navies had only a very short period of time (months instead of years) to come up with a working ironclad design that met the needs of modern firepower and armored protection, and Hughes's recounting of the hurried construction of both ships contrasts their solutions. Also presented in some detail in the book are lively accounts of the epic March 9, 1862 Monitor vs. Virginia clash and the preceding day's Hampton Roads battle where the Virginia dealt the Union Navy a heavy blow by sinking two of its wooden capital ships and threatening another damaged and grounded foe with the same treatment.

Both warships, neither of which was truly seaworthy, employed new and untested naval designs and technologies, and many of the most significant of those features are addressed in the book, as are the strengths and weaknesses (some predicted and others unanticipated) of the vessels when it came to dealing or absorbing damage. A very helpful adjunct to the text discussion is J.M. Caiella's set of angled cutaways, vessel profiles, and cross-section diagrams. Many of those drawings usefully provide readers with a detailed visual representation of key design elements (ex. the Monitor's revolving turret mechanism and belt-driven air ventilation system).

Hughes's blow-by-blow account of the March 8-9 fighting at Hampton Roads can be considered among the finest short-form narrative treatments of those events. There are no notes or bibliography provided to indicate the full extent of the author's research, but a great multitude of participant accounts and other quoted eyewitness writings are seamlessly incorporated into the text. The result is a highly engaging record of the two days of battle interpreted primarily through the eyes of those who were there.

For how long and to what degree the Virginia delayed Union movement up the Peninsula in early 1862 will always be a source of debate, but determining who "won" the Battle of Hampton Roads also has a long and contested history. Hughes prefers to present both arguments and leave it to the reader to decide if any grand pronouncements regarding victory or defeat are in order. While everyone acknowledges that the March 9 nautical boxing match between Monitor and Virginia was a tactical draw, Confederate partisans at the time claimed overall success by pointing to the destruction of Congress and Cumberland, the vast disparity in casualties [Union 261K/108W vs. Confederate 7K/17W], and Virginia's self-destruction being the result of strategic considerations unrelated to its performance. On the other hand, Union advocates correctly note that the Monitor succeeded in its initial mission of saving the Minnesota from destruction, and its actions secured the Union Navy's continued vital presence at Hampton Roads.

Both ships demonstrated serious problems during their brief careers, but Hughes is persuasive in emphasizing instead how impressive it is that both ironclads fought and maneuvered as well as they did given that neither ship design had the opportunity to be fully tested before being committed to action. Some interesting what-ifs are also raised. That the Monitor used short charges (a direct consequence of having no time for extensive firing trials) is commonly cited, and Virginia had its own firepower issue in that it had no supply of solid shot with which to engage Monitor. Monitor crew claims that they could have pierced Virginia's armor with full propellant charges seems to have had at least some justification given the depth of plate denting and underlying wood framing damage that occurred with half-charges. On the other side, given a bit more time the Confederates might have had the opportunity to cast the armor-piercing shot that were being conceptualized. One wonders how the battle might have turned out differently had it occurred only a few months later.

Appendix section essays, a common feature of the series, address a range of topics. The first offers an 8-stop driving tour of Hampton Roads highlighted by visits to museums as well as interpreted park and historical overlook sites. This is followed by a brief overview history of Civil War ironclad operations. The third and final appendix highlights the large-scale and ongoing artifact preservation efforts of the USS Monitor Center located at the Mariners' Museum and Park in Newport News, Virginia.

In terms of the quality of its writing and extent of its informational content, Unlike Anything That Ever Floated resides in the top rank of ECW series volumes. Though release of an 1862 New Orleans Campaign volume did follow closely in its tracks, the book will hopefully be the first of many more when it comes to naval representation in the series. Hughes, with the help of other contributors, also places both ships in their proper world history context in regard to the development (before, during, and after the American Civil War) of armored warships.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Coming Soon (May '21 Edition)

**NEW RELEASES1** Scheduled for MAY 2021:

The Bonds of War: A Story of Immigrants and Esprit de Corps in Company C, 96th Illinois Volunteer Infantry by Diana Dretske.
Unsung Hero of Gettysburg: The Story of Union General David McMurtrie Gregg by Edward Longacre.
A Fire in the Wilderness: The First Battle Between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee by John Reeves.
Elite Confederate Women in the American Civil War: Lived Experiences in the Nineteenth Century ed. by Kristin Brill.
Exploring the American Civil War through 50 Historic Treasures by Julie Holcomb.
Command at Antietam: Lincoln, McClellan and Lee by David Keller.
Millenarian Dreams and Racial Nightmares: The American Civil War as an Apocalyptic Conflict by John Matsui.
War Is All Hell: The Nature of Evil and the Civil War by Blum & Matsui.

Comments: The first two early-release titles in the list are already generally available.

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, April 22, 2021

Booknotes: A Mortal Blow to the Confederacy

New Arrival:
A Mortal Blow to the Confederacy: The Fall of New Orleans, 1862 by Mark F. Bielski (Savas Beatie, 2021).

Considering the size of the prize (New Orleans was the sixth largest city in the U.S. in 1860) and the profound effects its loss had on Confederate hopes for independence, it remains surprising that no definitive-scale history of the 1862 fall of New Orleans has been written. The Charles Dufour and Chester Hearn books, the only full-length published histories of the campaign (neither of which is exhaustive), leave more than enough room for more work, and the most recent scholarly monograph on the topic from Michael Pierson focuses narrowly on Fort Jackson's defenders. Part of the ECW series of popular overviews, Mark Bielski's A Mortal Blow to the Confederacy: The Fall of New Orleans, 1862 is not designed to fill that gap, but it brings welcome fresh attention to the topic.

Ever since the city's fall, opinion has swung back and forth over how much blame should land on the shoulders of Mansfield Lovell, the Confederate general tasked with New Orleans's defense. Current consensus finds most fault with planning and decision-making further up the chain of command in Richmond. Where Bielski's views stand on the matter is hinted at in the description: "Jefferson Davis ... understood the city’s importance—but he and his military leaders remained steadfastly undecided about where the threat to the city lay, sending troops to Tennessee rather than addressing the Union forces amassing in the Gulf. In the city, Confederate General Mansfield Lovell, a new commander, was thrust into the middle and poised to become a scapegoat. He was hamstrung by conflicting orders from Richmond and lacked both proper seagoing reconnaissance and the unity of command."

The book possesses the series hallmark of offering a plethora of illustrations in the form of maps, modern photographs, old artwork and drawings, and archival images. Fully focused on the narrative, it doesn't have the tour guide element that features prominently in many ECW books. Essay offerings in the appendix section include a sketch of Louisiana history between European settlement and 1860, a discussion of the Beauvoir estate, a history of Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans, and the contents of an interview that provides a secondhand account of the death and funeral of Jefferson Davis.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Booknotes: Six Days of Awful Fighting

New Arrival:
Six Days of Awful Fighting: Cavalry Operations on the Road to Cold Harbor by Eric J. Wittenberg (Fox Run Pub, 2021).

In Six Days of Awful Fighting Eric Wittenberg returns to his frequent stomping grounds of mid to late-war cavalry (particularly Union mounted operations) in the eastern theater. Picking up where Virginia cavalry fighting left off after the conclusion of Phil Sheridan's May raid on Richmond (the highlight of which was the May 11 Battle of Yellow Tavern and mortal wounding of Jeb Stuart), the book discusses at great length the lead in to Cold Harbor beginning with Sheridan's Pamunkey crossings below and east of the main armies grappled together along the North Anna.

From the description: "From May 27 to June 1, the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac and the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia slugged it out at places like Hanovertown, Haw's Shop, Matadequin Creek, Hanover Court House, Ashland, and, finally, Cold Harbor itself, setting the stage for the well-known infantry battle that broke out on the afternoon of June 1, 1864."

The highly active six-day period addressed in the book encompasses both a major battle that doesn't get much recognition in the popular imagination and the noteworthy arrival of new Confederate cavalry leadership. More from the description: "The May 28, 1864, battle of Haw's Shop was considered the harshest cavalry battle of the war to date; but, it was eclipsed two weeks later by the battle of Trevilian Station. Haw's Shop marked Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton's emergence as the new commander of the Army of Northern Virginia's Cavalry Corps in the wake of the death of the lamented cavalry chief, Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, 16 days earlier."

Deep research and abundant maps are characteristics of all of Wittenberg's military history studies, and we certainly see that again here with Six Days of Awful Fighting's primary source-filled bibliography and 25 maps. Orders of battle for each major engagment [Hanovertown Ferry (May 27), Haw's Shop (May 28), Old Church/Matadequin Creek (May 30), Hanover Court House (May 31), Cold Harbor (May 31), Ashland (June 1), and Cold Harbor again (June 1)] are also included in the appendix section.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Booknotes: A Fire in the Wilderness

New Arrival:
A Fire in the Wilderness: The First Battle Between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee by John Reeves (Pegasus Bks, 2021).

This is the second Civil War book from author John Reeves, the first being 2018's The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee: The Forgotten Case Against an American Icon. A very different kind of study, his new book A Fire in the Wilderness "tells the story of that perilous time when the future of the United States depended on the Union Army’s success in a desolate forest roughly sixty-five miles from the nation’s capital." According to the description, it was "a battle that sealed the fate of the Confederacy and changed the course of American history."

Not in competition with classics such as Gordon Rhea's standard Wilderness battle history (which does have more than a little popular crossover appeal), A Fire in the Wilderness appears to be directed toward an even broader reader audience. Though the overall size of the select bibliography is modest, it and the notes suggest that the narrative is based on primary sources.

Probably the most unique feature of the book is its intertwining of the larger battle history with that of a common soldier caught up in it, Private William Reeves. He is not formally introduced as an ancestor of the author but one can surely assume that that is the case. Nineteen years old and already married, Reeves entered the army as a paid substitute in August 1863, so that often controversial context of the Union Army soldiering experience is also explored, as is the young man's tragic fate.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Book Snapshot: "Decisions at Antietam: The Fourteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle"

With the release of Decisions at Antietam: The Fourteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle, the prolific Command Decisions in America’s Civil War series created by retired army officer Matt Spruill and published by University of Tennessee Press has now reached ten volumes*. It also marks the introduction of a promising new contributor in Michael S. Lang.

Regular Decisions followers can skip this introductory paragraph, but some definition of terms and explanation of series format and structure are in order for new readers. As the title implies, analysis centers on the concept of the "critical decision." The series defines this as a decision "of such magnitude that it shapes not only the events immediately following, but also the campaign or battle thereafter." The number of critical decisions varies by volume, but each is evaluated using the same sequential five-stage process—"Situation", "Options", "Decision", "Results/Impact", and "Alternate Decision/Scenario". The first and typically the lengthiest section, Situation describes the state of affairs at a crossroads moment before, during, or after the campaign/battle. It provides readers with the background information necessary to recognize and evaluate the command decision Options (usually two or three in number) that immediately follow. The historical Decision is then outlined briefly before the Results/Impact section recounts what happened and how those events shaped the rest of the battle and perhaps beyond. The Situation and Results/Impact sections quite often reference other decisions in a meaningful way, further reminding readers of their interconnectivity and the cascading consequences of critical decisions made earlier. The Alternate Decision/Scenario section delves into alternative history conjecture based, obviously, on Options not selected (often the most tantalizing one readers favor with the benefit of hindsight). In using this framework rather than traditional narrative forms, it is felt that readers, even those well steeped in the topic at hand, will gain an enriched sense of "why events happened as they did." Rather than repeat an evaluation of how that's achieved (in the main part of the book as well as in the appendix's integrated battlefield guide), I would refer readers to the site reviews (here and here) of two volumes I feel were exceptionally effective in doing so.

Critical decisions can be "strategic, operational, tactical, organizational, personnel related, or logistical." Unlike other authors, Lang does not explicitly categorized his list of decisions. Beginning his analysis on the very eve of the Antietam fight, he also doesn't examine important pre-campaign (ex. Lincoln's decision to appoint McClellan to lead the newly organized army tasked with intercepting Lee's invasion) or any pre-battle decisions related to the fighting at the mountain passes or at Harpers Ferry. Apparently all of that will be addressed in a companion volume. As they are, the fourteen critical Antietam decisions are grouped into three chapters. The first consists of two September 15-16 operational decisions, the second ten tactical-level decisions made on September 17, and the final two are operational choices made on September 18. The set will be sampled here by looking at one from each chapter.

After defeat at the passes, a suddenly vulnerable Lee had a critical decision to make with three options: retreat across the Potomac, offer battle at Antietam (the historical choice), or move north toward Hagerstown to continue the campaign. Employing references to up to date scholarship, Lang does well in reciting the relevant considerations involved in each decision. General readers usually see the situation along Antietam creek as only a dual stay or fight proposition, but the author's inclusion of the third choice is supported by strong evidence that Lee was still seriously considering possible movements to regain the initiative after his previous plans were badly deranged by his opponent. Less convincing is Lang's suggestion in the Alternative Decision/Scenario section that a decision to retreat did not necessarily signal an end to the campaign. It seems to difficult to imagine the possibility that Lee's army, worn down and needing time to recoup from the Maryland Campaign's heavy straggling, would have attempted to force another Potomac crossing mere days later and now directly opposed on the north bank by McClellan's rested and fully concentrated army.

With the very recent publication of William Marvel's sympathetic Fitz John Porter biography it might be interesting to revisit next that general's role in the battle late on the 17th and see how Lang's decision analysis sees the matter. Citing a conservative estimate of 4,000 uncommitted Fifth Corps troops available to attack the Confederate center in the afternoon, Lang judiciously weighs factors for and against McClellan's two options regarding the deployment of Porter's troops. These were: (1) use the remaining army reserve (Porter's uncommitted Fifth Corps elements) to attack, or (2) continue to hold the reserve back to secure the Union center, its artillery (the 20-lb Parrotts on the east side of the creek had apparently exhausted all or most of their ammunition), and army trains. Lang makes a good point that an attack by Porter's troops, depending on how it was timed, didn't need to pierce Lee's center to have the possibility of achieving major results. In his view, just securing the Cemetery Hill high ground east of Sharpsburg as an enfilading artillery platform might have helped secure victory on the 17th.

Our last example, taken from the pair of post-battle decisions, involves McClellan's critical decision to not renew the attack on the 18th despite having received more than enough reinforcements to make up for the previous day's losses (Lang does not suggest the possibility of a third option involving maneuver). In keeping with the series tradition of not labeling decision options as necessarily good or bad but rather what factors went into their consideration, Lang offers a lucid, dispassionate assessment of what conditions and perceptions influenced McClellan's almost universally damned decision-making on that day. In his Alternate Decision/Scenario assessment, Lang is much more guarded than most in judging the results of a September 18 renewal of the battle. That scenario is typically presented by others as guaranteed destruction of Lee's army's. The author rejects going that far but is nevertheless confident that Lee would have been forced to retreat sometime during the day (which would have been highly dangerous by any measure) or following night. Emphasizing the connectivity aspect of critical decisions, Lang also remarks that McClellan's cautious decision did not signal an end to the campaign but only a shifting of the final (the book's fourteenth) critical decision onto the shoulders of Lee, who then had to decide whether to stand his ground for yet another day, attack, or retreat.

In terms of visual aids, fifteen maps support the main decision analysis, and modern battlefield photographs are interspersed throughout the volume. As is the case with the other series installments, a detailed battlefield touring guide closely tied to the critical decision analysis is present in the appendix section along with a set of army orders of battle. Distinct from other series volumes is Lang's inclusion of comparative strength and casualty tables based on a selection of contemporary and modern sources that differ in their research conclusions.

This assessment of Decisions at Antietam is admittedly limited, yet the quality of its sampled parts leads me to believe in the likelihood that Lang's contribution will be ranked among the stronger installments in the series.

* - The publisher's description is in slight error in stating that this is the ninth volume in the series. With prior releases of Stones River, Second Manassas, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Atlanta, the 1862 Kentucky Campaign, Gettysburg, Wilderness & Spotsylvania, and Tullahoma volumes, this is indeed the tenth installment in the series with another one covering the Seven Days scheduled for release later this year.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Booknotes: Confederate Exodus

New Arrival:
Confederate Exodus: Social and Environmental Forces in the Migration of U.S. Southerners to Brazil by Alan P. Marcus (Univ of Neb Press, 2021).

Failed revolutions and rebellions often result in some proportion of the losing side's leadership and population leaving the country voluntarily or through forcible expulsion. Outright banishment abroad was not a significant consequence of the American Civil War, but many ex-Confederates and their families did leave the country to seek new lives elsewhere in the Americas. The adventures of ex-Confederates in Mexico amid that country's own internal strife have been most highly popularized, even romanticized, but Brazil proved to be the settlement destination of the greatest number. According to Confederate Exodus: Social and Environmental Forces in the Migration of U.S. Southerners to Brazil: "Following the U.S. Civil War an estimated ten thousand Confederates left the U.S. South, most of them moving to Brazil, where they became known as “Confederados,” Portuguese for “Confederates.” These Southerners were the largest organized group of white Americans to ever voluntarily emigrate from the United States."

Ideological compatibilities are discussed, but, as the subtitle suggests, Confederate Exodus also shows how the "agricultural, social, and economic" conditions in Brazil made the South American country appealing to transplanted Southerners and the immigrants welcome to Brazilians. In seeking answers to questions such as "Why Brazil? What was the life of an American immigrant in Brazil like? Where did U.S. Southerners settle in Brazil? Which settlements failed, and why?" and "Why was Santa Barbara the settlement that thrived best in Brazil?," Alan Marcus (who selected Brazilian migration for his doctoral work) "examines the various factors that motivated this exodus, including the maneuvering of various political leaders, communities, and institutions as well as agro-economic and commercial opportunities in Brazil. Marcus considers Brazilian immigration policies, capitalism, the importance of trade and commerce, and race as salient dimensions."

I'll admit to being not at all familiar with any aspect of the study of Southern colonies in Brazil, but certain titles at the very least ring a bell, among them Eugene Harter's The Lost Colony of the Confederacy (1985) and The Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil (1995) edited by Cyrus and James Dawsey. Interestingly, Marcus's current estimates of ex-Confederate emigre numbers to South America are much lower than the big top-end numbers suggested by Harter's much earlier research. According to Marcus, a major influence on his own scholarly direction that eventually became Confederate Exodus was Laura Jarnagin's A Confluence of Transatlantic Networks: Elites, Capitalism, and Confederate Migration to Brazil (2008).

In addition to examining the many motivating factors referenced above, Marcus's study "also provides a new synthesis for interpreting the Confederado story and for understanding the impact of the various stakeholders who encouraged, aided, promoted, financed, and facilitated this broader emigration from the U.S. South."

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Booknotes: Faces of Union Soldiers at South Mountain and Harpers Ferry

New Arrival:
Faces of Union Soldiers at South Mountain and Harpers Ferry by Joseph Stahl and Matthew Borders (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Press, 2021).

From the description: "The first Confederate invasion of the North in the fall of 1862 led to a series of engagements known as the Maryland Campaign. Though best remembered for its climax, there was desperate fighting at both South Mountain and Harpers Ferry prior to the bloodletting at Antietam Creek. These battles in particular were desperate affairs of bloody attacks and determined defense. In this work are the images of thirty Union soldiers, published here for the first time, that help give a face and a history to those men who struggled up the slopes of South Mountain or sheltered from Confederate cannons at Harpers Ferry."

Stahl and Borders's Faces of Union Soldiers at South Mountain and Harpers Ferry is the second volume in their Faces of Union Soldiers series, the first being 2019's Faces of Union Soldiers at Antietam. Borders, a Monocacy NB ranger, and Stahl, a volunteer and licensed guide at Antietam and Harpers Ferry, once again aim to bring more individual stories to the forefront, and their finding thirty previously unpublished Maryland Campaign soldier "faces" is a proper selling point.

As expected for a series installment, style and organization established in the Antietam volume remain the same for this book. Each Union soldier's image and personal story is discussed in two parts. The first section consists of a biographical and military service summary of the subject individual that is also accompanied by a brief overview of his unit's history and participation in the September 14-15 fighting. The second part offers a description and analysis of the CDV photographic image (reproduced front and back on the page), with some emphasis on grooming, uniform, and picture studio details and features. The soldier stories are grouped into chapters oriented around the fighting at the gaps (from north to south: Frosttown, Turner's, Fox's, and Crampton's) and at Harpers Ferry, and both introductory and bridging narrative add cohesion to the material. Notes and bibliography indicate a rigorous research effort, and supporting maps are borrowed from Bradley Gottfried's Maps of Antietam.

In addition to armchair reading, the book is intended for use by battlefield visitors and alongside other guidebooks to add a more intimate touch to major events.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Booknotes: Embattled Capital

New Arrival:
Embattled Capital: A Guide to Richmond During the Civil War by Robert M. Dunkerly and Doug Crenshaw (Savas Beatie, 2021).

From the description: "Richmond was home to the Confederate Congress, cabinet, president, and military leadership. And it housed not only the Confederate government but also some of the Confederacy’s most important industry and infrastructure. The city was filled with prisons, hospitals, factories, training camps, and government offices." ... and its "(c)ivilians felt the impact of war in many ways: food shortages, rising inflation, a bread riot, industrial accidents, and eventually, military occupation."

Part of the Emerging Civil War series, Crenshaw and Dunkerly's Embattled Capital: A Guide to Richmond During the Civil War "tells the story of the Confederate capital before, during, and after the Civil War. This guidebook includes a comprehensive list of places to visit: the battlefields around the city, museums, historic sites, monuments, cemeteries, historical preservation groups, and more."

Packed with modern photographs, chapters are a mix of historical narrative and reference lists/guides to Richmond Civil War sites (ex. hospitals, battlefields, prisons, cemeteries, etc.) and units raised from Richmond's citizenry. In the appendix section are essays discussing Gravel Hill (a settlement for freed slaves established in the late 1770s in Henrico County), the essential preservation activities of the Richmond Battlefields Association, and Virginia's secession convention.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Tim Smith's ongoing War in the West epic

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

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

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

Monday, April 12, 2021

Booknotes: Sweet Land of Liberty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 9, 2021

Booknotes: Meade and Lee at Rappahannock Station

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Booknotes: Unlike Anything That Ever Floated

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 5, 2021

Booknotes: No Place for Glory

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 2, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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