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.


  1. Drew, I agree 100% wholeheartedly with your comments. Although I have Hearn's book and Pierson's Book I still feel that exactly as you noted given the size of the prize a truly definitive modern study on the capture of New Orleans is waiting to be written. (The same goes for the campaign to take Charleston from mid summer 1862 all the way until the end of the war - Milby's study needs an updating and the truly definitive - blow by blow deep study is waiting to be written.) Incindentally, Craig Swain while he had his blog - To the Sound of the Guns up and running had alot of good posts that covered action in Charleston day by day (skirmish patrols), naval ventures etc. I bought the ECW New Orleans study for one of the reasons you note - with the lack of a definitive study it draws attention to the Capture of New Orleans. The Second is being familiar with the ECW Style I am looking forward to the modern pictures, possible tour, possible maps etc that has become their hallmark. (The kid in me still like the pictures, maps, etc.) It is actually for this reason I am looking forward to the 2 ECW books due out later this year on Cedar Mountain and Bermuda Hundred. Except for Back Door to Richmond and Krick's excellent book on Cedar Mountain their are no other real studies that I am aware of. ECW books compliment real well the more definitive studies for the reasons I noted above. Curt Thomasco.

    1. Curt,
      Yes, it is unfortunate that we still have to piecemeal Charleston. Someone was working on a history of the Dept. of the South but that notice was so many years ago that I don't know if she is still interested in the project.

      Re: Craig, it's too bad he took his site down. I tried to access his old website (which, as you say, has some rich Charleston content) the other day and it looks like he let the domain lapse. All of that stuff, plus his artillery reference work, needs to be archived online somewhere.

    2. Drew, Civil War Talk did a whole lament about Craig Swain's site coming down. As a backup the Library of Congress interfaced much of his site. See here... The interface load is CLUNKY!! however so it may take you a whole day to browse a couple of topics. Curt Thomasco

    3. Thanks, Curt. I will bookmark that. Yes, there is no zooming around in there.

  2. Thanks for this. I was hoping for a tour section ever since I first saw a preview for this book! I'm sure there are other "Civil War in New Orleans" tours but Emerging Civil War tours are my go-tos along with the Hallowed Ground and Staff Ride tour books as they have many that have yet to be offered in those series.

  3. New Orleans was the largest city in the Confederacy. In today's terms, it would be like New York. Davis was from Mississippi. New Orleans was possibly the most important blockade running port. Does much more need to be said about its importance.


When commenting, PLEASE SIGN YOUR NAME. In order to maintain civil discourse and ease moderating duties anonymous comments will be deleted. Comments containing outside promotions and/or product links will also be deleted. Thank you.