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.

14 comments:

  1. Drew: Nice analysis, and I concur. Tim is far too modest to agree that he has achieved status as "the" modern-era chronicler of the decisive western Tennessee/Mississippi Union campaigns - but that is what he has become.

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  2. Still waiting for a comprehensive Port Hudson coverage.

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  3. Donald Frazier would seemingly be a good choice for a new Port Hudson treatment.

    Tim Smith's books are excellent and I look forward to reading his remaining Vicksburg studies.

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  4. Replies
    1. Yes, it seems it will be his biggest one yet. Pre-publication page counts found online are often way off from reality, but I just checked with the book page on the publisher's website and that number is not a typo.

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  5. Any chance he might tackle Stone’s River in the future? I have both Peter Cozzens and Larry Daniels books but am still left wanting. I had heard sometime back that Earl Hess was supposed to be doing a study of Stones River, but that was years ago. Here’s hoping SR gets a ‘Smith’-style treatment.

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    1. There is a 'Lanny Smith'-style treatment out there if you can find the set anywhere, but I am not aware of Tim Smith expressing any interest in tackling Stones River.

      I don't know what happened to Hess's Stones River book. He mentioned that it was a "well advanced" project back in my 2012 Q&A session with him.

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  6. That’s who I was thinking of. I knew of another Smith who tackled Stones River awhile back. Two volumes I believe. Unfortunately hard to find both and a little out of price range.

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  7. I think we will see a book about Iuka at some point as well. Tim mentioned his interest in that a while back as an outgrowth of his work on Corinth. He's one of the nicest and most genuine guys I've corresponded with in the field.

    Chris Slocombe

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    1. And a Siege of Corinth book from you!

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    2. Yes indeed :)

      Interesting about Tim too is that he's managed to write several other wonderful books as well - on battlefield preservation, James George, the Mississippi home front, etc. I'm not sure what the western theater in particular would do without Tim Smith and Earl Hess!

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    3. The Q&A discussion re: your Siege of Corinth project was nine years ago, so we are expecting big things from you. No pressure.

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  8. Chris: I have similar experience and resulting impression of Tim. You would never know about his extraordinary achievements from him.

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  9. David Agmashenebeli WeeseApril 18, 2021 at 7:01 PM

    Admittedly,I am pretty behind on Tim Smith's work, I read 'Champion Hill', and still consider it in my top fifteen or so battle studies I own from any conflict. I also own his books on Shiloh, and Corinth 1862, and have yet to read them...
    Need to rectify that.

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