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.

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