Saturday, May 29, 2021

Coming Soon (June '21 Edition)

**NEW RELEASES1** (Scheduled for JUNE 2021):

Historic and Civil War Sites in the Kansas-Missouri Border Region: A Road Trip Guide to the 'Big Divide' by Eickhoff & Barnhart.
A Notable Bully: Colonel Billy Wilson, Masculinity, and the Pursuit of Violence in the Civil War Era by Robert Cray.
A House Divided: Slavery and American Politics from the Constitution to the Civil War by Ben McNitt.
Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command by Kent Masterson Brown.
Rebel Salvation: Pardon and Amnesty of Confederates in Tennessee by Kathleen Liulevicius.
The Battle of Richmond, Kentucky: 1862 Weather and Civil War Digest by Paul Rominger.
The Siege of Vicksburg: Climax of the Campaign to Open the Mississippi River, May 23-July 4, 1863 by Timothy Smith.
Campaign for the Confederate Coast: Blockading, Blockade Running and Related Endeavors During the American Civil War by Gil Hahn.
Military Prisons of the Civil War: A Comparative Study by David Keller.
Matchless Organization: The Confederate Army Medical Department by Guy Hasegawa.
Decisions of the Seven Days: The Sixteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battles by Matt Spruill.
Southern Strategies: Why the Confederacy Failed ed. by Christian Keller.
From Arlington to Appomattox: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War, Day by Day, 1861-1865 by Charles Knight.
Grant’s Left Hook: The Bermuda Hundred Campaign, May 5-June 7, 1864 by Sean Chick.
The Boy Generals: George Custer, Wesley Merritt, and the Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac by Adolfo Ovies.
The Summer of ’63: Gettysburg: Favorite Stories and Fresh Perspectives from the Historians at Emerging Civil War ed. by Mackowski & Welch.

Comments: These are titles listed in rough order of release date (although those can change, of course). Brown's Meade book is already out, but it's an early release that wasn't listed in May so it is included here. Most of the links to the SB titles show July or later dates, but I have been told by the publisher that they are all June releases.

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, May 27, 2021

Review - "John P. Slough: The Forgotten Civil War General" by Richard Miller

[John P. Slough: The Forgotten Civil War General by Richard L. Miller (University of New Mexico Press, 2021). Cloth, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xv,226/304. ISBN:978-0-8263-6219-3. $34.95]

On the face of it, Brigadier General John Potts Slough isn't the kind of Civil War general that typically draws much interest and attention from modern biographers. He was not a key figure in any large, well-known battle that altered the course of the war, and the vast majority of his time in Union service was spent administering a rear area occupation district (albeit an important one adjacent to the nation's capital). Nevertheless, the totality of Slough's military and civilian public service during his short and turbulent life, as recounted in Richard Miller's new biography John P. Slough: The Forgotten Civil War General, does merit remembrance and appreciation of the small but significant leadership role the man played in many different episodes of mid-nineteenth century U.S. history.

As Slough remains a relatively obscure player in the national drama before, during, and after the Civil War, it might help to briefly summarize his life for those who are unfamiliar with him. Making his home in Cincinnati, Ohio, John Slough's family, professional (he was a successful lawyer), and social connections propelled him into state politics. In the Ohio General Assembly his conservative Democratic views clashed with those of the rising Republican influence in the state, and his uncontrolled emotional volatility led to expulsion from that legislative body after Slough physically assaulted an abolitionist colleague. Failing to regain a seat during an ensuing special election and conceding the end of his Ohio political career, Slough sought opportunity elsewhere in 1857 Kansas. There the Douglas loyalist opposed the proslavery Lecompton constitution and was a leader of the Democratic minority during the contentious Wyandotte constitutional convention. Though the uncompromising Republican majority thwarted Slough and his fellow Democrats at every turn, Miller does credit Slough for being an important figure in Kansas statehood through his leadership participation in the constitutional process. Subsequently losing both Lieutenant Governor and hometown Leavenworth mayoral races, Slough once again put himself on the move to advance his economic and political fortunes, this time to frontier Denver in Colorado Territory. Once war broke out, the Colorado governor appointed Slough to lead the territory's first volunteer regiment, which he led to victory at Glorieta in March 1862. Resigning from the army soon after, Slough was immediately back in service with a promotion to brigadier general and a posting to Harpers Ferry in Virginia, where his brigade briefly opposed a Confederate demonstration on the town's defenses during Stonewall Jackson's famous Valley Campaign. Resigning yet again, this time after failing to get the division command he felt he deserved, Slough also reentered service once again. This final reentry into the war would last for the duration, and Slough ended up being the military governor of Alexandria and district commander there for nearly three years. Slough cleaned up the city, rigidly enforced discipline, guarded the district's lines of communication from attack, and attempted to adequately care for Alexandria's burgeoning black refugee population. After the war, Slough tried and failed to obtain the territorial governor post of New Mexico, settling in January 1866 for the Johnson administration appointment as Chief Justice of the New Mexico Territorial Supreme Court. Undone there by a combination of his own abrasive (even abusive) personal and professional conduct along with the territory's virulently partisan political scene, Slough was murdered in 1867 by a Republican official he had previously showered with defamatory language in a local Santa Fe hotel.

As mentioned above, while Slough did not lead troops during any big battles fought in any of the war's major theaters, forces under his command did achieve a small but significant victory in the climactic contest of the New Mexico Campaign. One enduring question regarding Slough's Civil War service is why he abruptly resigned his commission so soon after the Union expulsion of all Confederate forces from New Mexico, of which Slough played a significant part through his strategic victory at Glorieta. An alleged martinet who was aloof from all below him, Slough was generally disliked by both the men in the ranks and fellow officers who angled for his job. Though through his being in overall command he received proper credit officially for the Glorieta victory, the main force Slough led in person at Pigeon Ranch was tactically outfought and yielded the field to the Confederates, and it was Major John Chivington's flank march and destruction of the enemy supply train at Johnson's Ranch (of which others later claimed credit for planning and execution) that transformed the battle into a clear Union victory. It has been suggested that Slough resigned because he feared being court-martialed for leaving Fort Union vulnerable (he was ordered to keep it secure at all costs but instead marched most of the garrison away to fight). Newspapers conjectured that he left the army because he felt there were few remaining opportunities in the territory for military glory and ambitiously sought it elsewhere. Slough himself later said that he resigned out of fear of assassination by his enemies within his command. The author's belief that a combination of factors was involved in the decision, with military ambition ranking among the highest, is a prudent reading of the available evidence.

Why a successful officer who resigned from the army would almost immediately be promoted is another question with no easy answer. Slough's relationship with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton is one of the biography's more interesting through stories. Miller conjectures that Slough's wife, who was a niece of deceased U.S. Supreme Court justice and Stanton friend John McLean, might have exerted influence in obtaining her husband's promotion recommendation from the War Department. It might seem like a tenuous connection, but one can argue that other officers received wartime plums through even thinner networking threads. According to the author, Slough developed a friendly relationship with Stanton during the general's time in Alexandria, and he certainly came through with Stanton-approved guilty votes during the Fitz John Porter and William Hammond court martial proceedings, both cases of which were thought by disinterested observers to be almost sure acquittals based on evidence presented. It's unclear why the author believes as strongly as he does that the timing of Stanton's renewed recommendation in late December 1862 (which would have been mid-trial in the Porter case) for Senate confirmation of Slough's promotion discounts suggestion of quid pro quo, but he does go on to say that Slough's own consideration of the value of Stanton's "good will" may well have played a factor in his guilty vote.

Much of the book is spent recounting Slough's long tenure as district commander headquartered in Alexandria. The town was a dirty and disordered place before Slough's arrival, overrun with intoxicated soldiers and criminal activity while also suffering from the onset of a very serious refugee problem. The author documents thoroughly and well the general's successful efforts at cleaning up the town, dealing with pro-secessionist elements, managing the district's defenses, and addressing the always challenging problem of adequately housing, feeding, and employing the large influx of freedpeople into an already crowded city. Slough's management was accompanied by his typically abrasive manner (even his supporters found him "haughty & curt"), and his determination to end illegal liquor sales made him many enemies who constantly schemed to have him removed. Northern abolitionist aid workers, chief among them Julia Wilbur, also routinely challenged his authority and complained about his treatment, inadequate in their view, of black refugees. Such complaints eventually led to a Joint Committee on the Conduct of War investigation (which did not always go well for Democratic officers like Slough), but its February 1864 findings exonerated Slough of all charges of corruption and refugee abuse. Getting back to the Stanton relationship, Slough was unable to leverage his friendship with the Secretary of War in order to obtain an active field command and threatened resignation for the third time if he did not get his way. Miller persuasively interprets Stanton's studied refusal as a product of sound evaluation of Slough's strengths and weaknesses as a military officer.

In assessing Slough's performance as Chief Justice of territorial New Mexico's Supreme Court, Miller points to some notable achievements. Citing further involuntary servitude as incompatible with recent abolition of slavery in the nation, Slough struck down the territory's practice of debt peonage, which had been a tradition among nuevomexicanos since the Spanish colonial period. In 1867, he came down with another locally controversial decision in recognizing Pueblo Indians as U.S. citizens. Both decisions made him deeply unpopular among many segments of the population. Those who benefited from the peonage system cursed Slough as did the Republican opposition who feared how Pueblo votes might affect upcoming elections. The poorer non-Anglo citizens of New Mexico also found fault with Slough for his frequent derogatory comments about their culture and society. Additionally, the many individuals from jurors to litigants to officers of the court who suffered under Slough's intemperate exercise of power during court proceedings had grievances of their own. There is little wonder that  amid the frequent violence and lawlessness of frontier society a man of Slough's offending nature might meet a violent end.

In addition to documenting the life of a man with notable political, judicial, and military achievements to his record, Richard Miller's biography of John Slough is also framed by elements of a celebrated nineteenth-century American life narrative, wherein a wandering man of drive, talent, and ambition grasps opportunity and attains some measure of elevated stature and accomplishment. Though others had more humble origins, Slough was an individual with no prior military background or experience who nevertheless rose to the rank of brigadier general and achieved success along the way. Slough's existence until his untimely death at the age of 38 was also one of constant geographical movement. When opportunities for personal advancement (economic, political, and otherwise) dried up in one place, there was always someplace else of notable promise, often further west, where one could go to start anew. That classic portrait of American life and myth is vividly reproduced through Miller's recounting of Slough's meandering westward path from Ohio to Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico. This fascinating biography is highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Booknotes: Meade at Gettysburg

New Arrival:
Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command by Kent Masterson Brown (UNC Press, 2021).

George Gordon Meade's reputation, a mixed one historically, has enjoyed an unparalleled uptick in recent times. Always believing himself unfairly maligned and overlooked, the old snapping turtle would have loved to see this twenty-first century treatment back when he was still alive. His actions and accomplishments while leading the Army of the Potomac from mid-1863 through the end of the war, as discussed among numerous books now, have at this point received abundant attention (much of it favorable) and discussion of his 1864-65 tenure as army commander has largely emerged out of Grant's deep shadow. Of course, achieving victory in a war's signature battle will earn a commander a lot of good will in the historiography, and Meade's winning performance on July 1-3 was unquestionably the general's career highlight and something his admirers can always hang their hat upon. The latest deep dive into the topic of Meade's army leadership capabilities is Kent Masterson Brown's Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command.

From the description: Brown "draws on an expansive archive to reappraise Meade's leadership during the Battle of Gettysburg. Using Meade's published and unpublished papers alongside diaries, letters, and memoirs of fellow officers and enlisted men, Brown highlights how Meade's rapid advance of the army to Gettysburg on July 1, his tactical control and coordination of the army in the desperate fighting on July 2, and his determination to hold his positions on July 3 insured victory."

For a long time, Meade detractors, many undoubtedly taking their cue from Lincoln himself, have alleged that the general conducted an overcautious pursuit that allowed Lee's vulnerable army to escape destruction. However, that popular opinion has largely dissipated in strength after the publication of multiple book-length retreat studies since 2005 that have collectively found less fault with Meade's pursuit. More from the description: "Brown argues that supply deficiencies, brought about by the army's unexpected need to advance to Gettysburg, were crippling. In spite of that, Meade pursued Lee's retreating army rapidly, and his decision not to blindly attack Lee's formidable defenses near Williamsport on July 13 was entirely correct in spite of subsequent harsh criticism."

The book's nearly 400-page narrative examines at great length Meade's decisions and actions from the moment of his appointment mid-campaign to command the Army of the Potomac to the ultimate escape of Lee's defeated army back home to Virginia. Providing visual reinforcement to all that text, maps, photos, and other illustrations are sprinkled throughout the volume in large numbers. In the end, Meade at Gettysburg "deepens our understanding of the Army of the Potomac as well as the machinations of the Gettysburg Campaign, restoring Meade to his rightful place in the Gettysburg narrative."

Monday, May 24, 2021

Various Things

1.  Helpful reader Mark H. recently pointed me toward a recent Scott Hartwig Facebook update (dated April 15) discussing the progress of the much-anticipated second volume of the author's 1862 Maryland Campaign opus. The update notes that the writing is all done, and the author is currently beavering away on an "edit review of all twenty five chapters," with the goal of submitting the manuscript to the publisher (I can only assume it will be Johns Hopkins University Press again) before the end of the year.

2.  Published back in 2017, Thomas Cutrer's Theater of a Separate War was the first of its kind, a comprehensive military overview of the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi theater. Unfortunately, it was released in a semi-rough draft state riddled with factual errors and editing issues of all kinds. Oddly enough, most print reviewers failed to appreciate the seriousness of the book's shortcomings, and I did not believe it likely that we would get a corrected reissue. Much to my surprise and delight, however, the new UNC Press F/W catalog has announced that a Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River, 1861–1865 - Revised Edition will be released in paperback in August. I have a review copy scheduled and am looking forward to seeing how thoroughly the first edition's problems were addressed.

3. Brad Butkovich, the author of an excellent history of the Battle of Pickett's Mill (see my 2013 review), published a tour book on the topic earlier this month (I learned about it too late to include it in May's "Coming Soon" list). I don't know if I will ever get down there myself, but The Complete Pickett's Mill Battlefield Trail Guide looks like it might be the next best thing to tramping around the battlefield in person. It seems that the book sample available in the 'Look Inside' feature found at the link above has been much reduced since my first visit. I don't have a copy in hand to refresh my first impression, but the samples of text and color maps that I saw earlier looked rather impressive.

4. As I've mentioned before, any new study related to the 1862 Kentucky Campaign will grab my attention, and it seems we will soon have another major treatment of the Battle of Richmond to go along with existing full-length studies from Hafendorfer and Lambert. Paul Rominger's The Battle of Richmond, Kentucky: 1862 Weather and Civil War Digest will be released next month by Acclaim Press, a frequent publisher of Civil War Kentucky-related titles. In addition to providing another account of the battle, it looks like the impact of that summer's dry weather on the campaign will be a major theme of the book.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Booknotes: Life in the Mississippi Marine Brigade

New Arrival:
Life in the Mississippi Marine Brigade: The Civil War Diary of George Painter edited by Beverly Wencek Kerr (Author, 2021).

The Union war effort was gifted with numerous idea men of both civilian and military backgrounds along with superiors flexible enough in their thinking to shepherd those ideas through the established army and navy bureaucracies. In the vast West, where extremely long waterborne supply lines were the norm, Union river transportation was continually harassed by highly mobile guerrillas and conventional Confederate forces armed with artillery. Addressing the problem head on was the creation of an independent, all-arms (infantry, cavalry, and artillery) rapid reaction force transported by a fleet of swift rams. This formation, the Mississippi Marine Brigade, was small but had a wide reach and the capability of punching well above its weight. On numerous occasions the unit proved effective in countering shore threats, though its punitive missions were often applied indiscriminately.

Beverly Kerr's Life in the Mississippi Marine Brigade is the edited 1863 diary of George Painter. Painter was a member of an Ohio infantry regiment before receiving a medical discharge, after which he enlisted in the M.M.B. and was assigned to the Diana. The diary runs from January 4 through December 31, 1863, the main event over that period being the Vicksburg Campaign.

Painter's diary entries are brief (just a few sentences at most), and Kerr provides two versions of each, the unedited text (which is boxed) and a version in italics edited for modern grammar, punctuation, and spelling. The material is divided into chapters, with pretty extensive supporting narrative throughout but no footnotes. The only illustrations are some sample images of original diary pages. Chronological lists of letters written and received, along with the bibliography, round out the volume.

The only modern book-length history of this unique unit is Chester Hearns's Ellet's Brigade: The Strangest Outfit of All (2000), which traces the organization's history from its Ram Fleet origins through its evolution into the celebrated "Horse Marines" of the M.M.B., so it's nice to see other material related to the topic pop up occasionally.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Booknotes: "We Gave Them Thunder"

New Arrival:
"We Gave Them Thunder": Marmaduke’s Raid and the Civil War in Missouri and Arkansas by William Garrett Piston and John C. Rutherford (Ozarks Studies Inst, 2021).

During the Civil War, Confederate cavalry general John Sappington Marmaduke conducted two major raids from an Arkansas base into his native Missouri. Conducted on opposite sides of the state and achieving little to compensate for the cost and effort expended, the first reached its climax in SW Missouri at the Second Battle of Springfield on January 8, 1863 while Marmaduke's second Missouri raid, this time into SE Missouri, was thwarted by the strongly fortified defenses of Cape Girardeau in late April of that year. The Springfield operation has received far more book-length attention in the historiography, and that trend will continue with the publication this summer of William Piston and John Rutherford's "We Gave Them Thunder": Marmaduke’s Raid and the Civil War in Missouri and Arkansas.

The book is substantial in size, with the main narrative running 280 pages in length, and is divided into four parts. Part I provides extensive background and context for the raid, Part II a detailed account of the January 8 battle at Springfield, and Part III a similarly extensive history of the January 11 follow-on battle fought at Hartville. Part IV discusses the raid in "history and memory." Presentation looks very nice, with the text supplemented by a number of color maps and images. Maps are essential to any military history study, but doubly so for more obscure operations fought over ground less familiar to most Civil War readers. The 13 maps commissioned for this book should be very helpful in that regard.

Big thanks to the Missouri State University system's Ozarks Studies Institute for getting a copy in my hands this far in advance of the August publication date. A pretty common practice long ago but an extreme rarity in recent years, it will give me plenty of time to prepare the review prior to release (though I'm sure it's already an instabuy for those interested in the topic and familiar with Piston's award-winning work on another Springfield-area battle, Wilson's Creek).

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Review - "A Mortal Blow to the Confederacy: The Fall of New Orleans, 1862" by Mark Bielski

[A Mortal Blow to the Confederacy: The Fall of New Orleans, 1862 by Mark F. Bielski (Savas Beatie, 2021). Paperback, 4 maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, orders of battle, suggested reading. Pages main/total:xx,151/192. ISBN:978-1-61121-489-5. $14.95]

In discussing a conflict that lasted five long years, it can be difficult to convincingly maintain that any single event from the first twelve months of the Civil War constituted a "mortal blow," but the Union capture of New Orleans in April 1862 was by all estimates a devastating setback to the Confederacy's bid for independence. The blockade had already effectively choked off international trade by the time Union forces launched a direct assault on the city, but the strategic, material, and morale losses that attended its fall remained considerable. By far the most populous city in the seceded states, cosmopolitan New Orleans controlled the mouth of the great Mississippi River and contained a large proportion of the American South's irreplaceable Gulf State industry. Even with all of this obvious significance, a definitive-level study of the fall of New Orleans still escapes us, and Mark Bielski's A Mortal Blow to the Confederacy: The Fall of New Orleans, 1862 marks just the third book-length account of any kind. In addition to being an influential early proponent of the 'mortal blow' theme, Charles DuFour's 1960 book The Night the War Was Lost was a milestone in that it was the first serious study of the topic and perhaps the work that most shaped our modern understanding of those factors most responsible for Confederate failure to adequately defend the city. That book was followed in 1995 by Chester Hearn's The Capture of New Orleans, 1862, which was well-received overall but nevertheless did not constitute a truly major advancement toward a more definitive modern study. Part of the prolific Emerging Civil War series of introductory-scale titles, Bielski's new book combines popular appeal in text and presentation with sound synthesis and analysis.

As every book, chapter, and article addressing the campaign has noted to some degree or another, the Union army and navy expedition launched from the eastern seaboard struck the protective ring around New Orleans at the worst possible moment for the defenders. By the time the attacking Union fleet steamed up the Mississippi, a series of defeats far to the north had already led the Confederate high command to strip the New Orleans garrison to just a gaggle of militia and order the theater's naval forces to focus their efforts along the Upper Mississippi, where it was assumed the chief threat lay. Though converted vessels of some military value remained behind, the massive ironclads Louisiana and Mississippi were still unfinished when Union forces attacked, as were the city's woefully inadequate inner defenses. Michael Pierson (see his 2009 study Mutiny at Fort Jackson: The Untold Story of the Fall of New Orleans) has also contended that the two downstream masonry forts (Jackson and St. Philip), in combination with a massive chain stretching across the Mississippi the chief barriers to the river-based southern approach, were manned by a rank and file of dubious commitment and loyalty. In this book, Bielski addresses all of these factors contributing to Confederate defeat as well as the events of the campaign from beginning to end with narrative verve and admirable clarity.

Located just off the Gulf coast of Mississippi and covering the eastern approaches to New Orleans, Ship Island contained an unfinished fort, fresh water, and a useful anchorage. After some debate Confederate authorities evacuated the island to the approaching enemy, and Bielski is highly critical of that decision to relinquish control of a strategic point that in turn proved highly useful as a final staging area for the Union expedition. Clearly, denying Ship Island to the enemy would have proved beneficial but unexplained is how the author believes the place could have been held for any length of time against a Union naval might that had already proved highly efficient in swallowing up Confederate garrisons isolated on barrier islands.

During the rest of the war and for long after, the local Confederate commander at New Orleans, General Mansfield Lovell, served as a convenient scapegoat for the shocking southern defeat. An innovative aspect of DuFour's book was its redirection of primary responsibility for that defeat toward national-level strategic blundering and miscalculation. Among the worse of those high command missteps was the maintenance of multiple layers of competing command responsibilities along the Lower Mississippi. Other authors have since expanded upon those key flaws in the Confederate river defense system, most recently Neil Chatelain in his excellent 2020 book Defending the Arteries of Rebellion: Confederate Naval Operations in the Mississippi River Valley, 1861-1865. A great strength of Bielski's book is its persuasive arguments regarding when and where the Confederate lack of command unity hindered, perhaps even decisively, New Orleans defense efforts at key junctures. Of course, the other side also did much to bring about the result. In evaluating the most important factors that led to the fall of New Orleans, it is appropriate to point to the multitude of Confederate shortcomings, mistakes, and even instances of sheer bad luck. However, where there was disunity and confusion among the Confederates there was unity of command and purpose among the Union civilian and military leadership, and ranking U.S. Navy officers demonstrated considerable boldness and skill in planning and directing a major combined operation of a scale and type no one had previous experience in conducting. Bielski certainly recognizes this, but one might argue (though it is only a minor complaint overall) that his narrative still too heavily stresses Confederate failure over Union achievement when it comes to assessing credit and blame for the campaign's outcome.

In augmenting the text with a sizable abundance of artwork, drawings, modern photos, and archival images along with a handful of fine maps, the volume typifies the best of the ECW series. In addition to shouldering a large part of the responsibility for the fall of New Orleans, Confederate president Jefferson Davis also had a significant postwar relationship with the city and nearby Biloxi, Mississippi, and this can be seen in the appendix section. Located in that part of the book are supplementary essays discussing Louisiana history between European settlement and 1860, the story of the Beauvoir estate made famous by Jefferson Davis's residency, a history of Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans, and sections of an interview detailing a secondhand account of Davis's New Orleans death and funeral.

As both a popular first-line approach to the topic as well as a solid historical summary for readers of all backgrounds to consider, Mark Bielski's A Mortal Blow to the Confederacy is highly recommended reading for those seeking modern answers to the many how and why questions attached to Union triumph and Confederate failure in the critical New Orleans campaign of 1862. Hopefully, this fine volume might also inspire some up and coming scholar to finally complete the definitive treatment the subject so richly deserves.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Booknotes: Lincoln in Private

New Arrival:
Lincoln in Private: What His Most Personal Reflections Tell Us About Our Greatest President by Ronald C. White (Random House, 2021).

The author of Lincoln's Greatest Speech (2002), The Eloquent President (2005), and a full biography published in 2009, Ronald White continues his scholarly fascination with Lincoln's words in Lincoln in Private: What His Most Personal Reflections Tell Us About Our Greatest President. Lincoln famously filed away notes and letters that were either never meant for public consumption or were intended to be such but withheld for some reason or another. Those insights into the man and president are the focus of this book.

From the description: "A deeply private man, shut off even to those who worked closely with him, Abraham Lincoln often captured “his best thoughts,” as he called them, in short notes to himself. He would work out his personal stances on the biggest issues of the day, never expecting anyone to see these frank, unpolished pieces of writing, which he’d then keep close at hand, in desk drawers and even in his top hat. The profound importance of these notes has been overlooked, because the originals are scattered across several different archives and have never before been brought together and examined as a coherent whole."

White could have approached this project in different ways. Space considerations might make examining them all in a single volume a pretty superficial exercise, but one could alternatively take a selection of them (gathered by theme or importance) for in-depth discussion. For Lincoln in Private, White wisely opts for the latter.

More from the description: White "walks readers through twelve of Lincoln’s most important private notes, showcasing our greatest president’s brilliance and empathy, but also his very human anxieties and ambitions. We look over Lincoln’s shoulder as he grapples with the problem of slavery, attempting to find convincing rebuttals to those who supported the evil institution (“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.”); prepares for his historic debates with Stephen Douglas; expresses his private feelings after a defeated bid for a Senate seat (“With me, the race of ambition has been a failure—a flat failure”); voices his concerns about the new Republican Party’s long-term prospects; develops an argument for national unity amidst a secession crisis that would ultimately rend the nation in two; and, for a president many have viewed as not religious, develops a sophisticated theological reflection in the midst of the Civil War (“it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party”)."

Though the main analytical part of the book is selective, White does provide a valuable additional service by including the text of the entire collection of private notes, a number of which are quite lengthy, others fragmentary, and some only a single sentence in length. "(I)n a historic first, all 111 Lincoln notes are transcribed in the appendix, a gift to scholars and Lincoln buffs alike."

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Booknotes: Command at Antietam

New Arrival:
Command at Antietam: Lincoln, McClellan and Lee by David L. Keller (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Press, 2021).

Commonly understood as a tactical draw that became a Union strategic victory after Lee's army abandoned its campaign in Maryland and withdrew back to Virginia, the military, social, and political outcome of the Antietam battle has been explored by countless modern writers. A new look at the topic, David Keller's Command at Antietam: Lincoln, McClellan and Lee "reviews the time leading up to the Battle at Antietam, the battle itself and the results of the decisions and actions of the commands of Lincoln, McClellan and Lee."

The introduction doesn't offer specific hints regarding what unconventional ideas might be explored in the author's "fresh look at the command decisions of Robert E. Lee and George B. McClellan before, during and after the Battle of Antietam." According to the author, diagnosing McClellan's "psychological and personality issues" is intentionally avoided in the book. Instead, he has "chosen to evaluate only (McClellan's) military actions and the results of those actions." The book also aims to provide "insight into President Lincoln's evaluation of McClellan and his use of the Battle of Antietam for political purposes."

A retired army officer, Keller has authored a number of Civil War prison camp books and NPS studies. He served on General Westmoreland's staff during Vietnam, so he certainly has inside knowledge on modern army high command goings on as well as the military-political interplay at that level, a perspective that may have been useful in putting together this study.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Booknotes: Moonlit Mayhem

New Arrival:
Moonlit Mayhem: Quantrill's Raid of Olathe, Kansas by Jonathan A. Jones (Floating Spark Pub, 2021).

Pro-Confederate guerrilla leader William C. Quantrill's raid on Lawrence, Kansas in 1863 is by far the most infamous event of the Missouri-Kansas Border War than extended into the Civil War years. However, it certainly wasn't the only time Quantrill and his men crossed the border. In early September 1862, nearly a year before Lawrence was sacked and a great many of its civilian male inhabitants killed, Quantrill raided Olathe, a Kansas town located southwest of Kansas City and just across the border. With chapters also addressing Border War context at some length, both before and after that September, Jonathan Jones's Moonlit Mayhem: Quantrill's Raid of Olathe, Kansas provides the first book-length account of event.

From the description: "Quantrill's raid is an event that would shape Olathe's history for many years to come. Most locals have little knowledge of this event that so heavily impacted the history of their town. Moonlit Mayhem provides a view of life, on both sides of the border. In addition, short summaries of events before and after the Olathe Raid, give the reader a complete picture of the time and key players on both sides. Moonlit Mayhem is packed with over 100 color images and maps showing the modern locations of historic events."

As noted above, the book is full of visual goodies, including a superabundance of photographs and charts, and there is seemingly a map of some kind (typically historical overlays of modern maps) on nearly every other page. I am well familiar with the Lawrence Raid but don't recall much about the Olathe Raid from prior reading, so I am looking forward to checking this one out.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Review - "No Place for Glory: Major General Robert E. Rodes and the Confederate Defeat at Gettysburg" by Robert Wynstra

[No Place for Glory: Major General Robert E. Rodes and the Confederate Defeat at Gettysburg by Robert J. Wynstra (Kent State University Press, 2021). Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xvii,233/307. ISBN:978-1-60635-410-0. $55]

Between the period when he first entered Confederate Army service in 1861 as colonel of the 5th Alabama infantry regiment and his death in action during the Third Battle of Winchester in 1864, VMI-trained Major General Robert E. Rodes earned a reputation as one of the Army of Northern Virginia's finest combat officers. Some have even gone so far as to rate Rodes as that army's premier division commander. However, the battlefield has always been an unforgiving place and even the best generals have bad moments that they'd like to forget. Unfortunately for Rodes, his occurred during consecutive days on the Civil War's grandest stage, the July 1-3, 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. While he would quickly return to form during the Army of Northern Virginia's subsequent campaigns, it has been argued that the stain of Gettysburg ensured that Rodes would not be considered for any of the corps command openings that emerged the following year (though one might also attribute that barrier against further advancement to his lack of a West Point education). A new examination of Rodes's flawed Gettysburg performance and what consequences his actions there had on the course of the great battle are central to Robert Wynstra's new book No Place for Glory: Major General Robert E. Rodes and the Confederate Defeat at Gettysburg.

From an outsider's superficial perspective, Rodes's five-brigade division of nearly 8,000 men might have appeared to be a robust organization at peak fighting capacity by the summer of 1863, but danger lurked within. Every Gettysburg enthusiast knows that General Alfred Iverson and Colonel Edward O'Neal were the weak links among the division's brigade commanders. Wynstra's study certainly reinforces that common perspective, but it also usefully explores the dysfunctional nature of the interpersonal relationship between Rodes and his two most troublesome principal subordinates and shows how that mutual dislike and distrust may have affected Rodes's handling of them during the battle. Rodes also had newcomers to consider. Junius Daniel's North Carolina brigade was by far the largest in the division, but it was also largely untried (at least by mid-war ANV standards) from top to bottom. Fortunately for Rodes, the solid performance of Daniel and his men on July 1, as detailed in the text, did much to retrieve Confederate fortunes after the division's bloody initial repulse.

While it was Rodes's Division that eventually shattered the Oak Hill hinge linking the Union First and Eleventh Corps positions north and west of Gettysburg on July 1, the achievement was gained at a tremendously high human cost (by all accounts far more than it should have been) in three of the five brigades. The book recounts in detail the July 1 fighting along the length of Rodes's front, from the Forney Farm on the west to Carlisle Road on the east, where Rodes's left connected with the right of Jubal Early's fellow Second Corps division. In common with all modern critics, Wynstra finds fault with Rodes's blind deployments and poorly coordinated assault plan, the latter made worse by it being spearheaded by Iverson and O'Neal. Rodes also ordered away a significant part of O'Neal's available strength just before the Alabama brigade's unsuccessful initial attack. Somewhat in defense of Rodes, the decision to lead the attack with the brigades of O'Neal and Iverson (with Daniel in support of Iverson) could have come down to the fact that those were his numerically strongest units. His two best brigade commanders, Stephen Ramseur and George Doles, led the division's two smallest brigades (though Doles's was nearly the same strength as Iverson's). Order of march (Ramseur was bringing up the rear of the divisional column on July 1) and the pressure to deploy quickly might also have figured into the fateful decision. When they did get into action, Ramseur and Doles performed superbly on the day and their efforts, combined with that of Daniel, significantly upgraded the results of the division's Oak Hill assault from complete disaster to costly victory. Though Rodes's overall leadership performance on July 1 was less than exemplary and incurred unacceptable casualties, his division did end up defeating its opposition in a way that significantly contributed to the overall success of that day's action.

As Wynstra relates, there is some evidence to suggest that Rodes was ill during the campaign, sick enough to force him to ride in an ambulance for a period, and the author raises the possibility that that was one factor behind the general's uncharacteristically poor command performance at Gettysburg. The illness is unspecified in the record, but more than one contemporary source reported that Rodes was very visibly inebriated at Carlisle. While Rodes does not rank high on any list of the Civil War's hardest drinking generals, Wynstra does note that he did, like countless other officers of all ranks, occasionally drink to excess during the war, and it is possible that Rodes was still experiencing the aftereffects of Carlisle on July 1.

While the mistakes and failures of Day 1 have received the most popular condemnation, according to Wynstra it was Rodes's failure to support the July 2 assault on Cemetery Hill that was his most consequential misstep of the campaign, the one that contributed most significantly to Confederate defeat in the battle. The dramatic infantry assault on East Cemetery Hill by two brigades from Early Division (Avery's and Hays's) late on July 2 is well documented and has long impressed observers, but its success mattered little without support and that was to come from Rodes's Division to their right. In another uncharacteristic failure, Rodes took too long in extricating his troops from the streets of Gettysburg and assembling them along Long Lane, where they were to link up with two supporting brigades from Pender's (now Lane's) Division for an attack up the western slope of Cemetery Hill. Of course, some care needed to be taken with Union defense lines so close by and bristling with artillery, but by the time Rodes was ready it was well into darkness and Early's two brigades, despairing of Rodes's help, had already been withdrawn. No longer required, the attack was canceled and Rodes's reputation within the army suffered another blow, with Ewell and even Lee himself taking notice of Rodes's shortcomings on the day. Undoubtedly, getting clear of Gettysburg's streets took Rodes longer than he anticipated, but he did little to make up for time lost amid the urban clutter when making his final preparations. It is possible that the Oak Hill disaster made him leery of conducting another hasty attack. According to Wynstra, Rodes had developed a positive reputation within the army for exceptionally meticulous preparation that made his commands successful in the attack and difficult to defeat, and though that mostly admirable trait might have helped on July 1, it did not suit the situation on July 2 when satisficing alacrity should have held priority over perfection of deployment.

On July 3, Rodes was ordered to detach two brigades to assist fellow Second Corps division commander Edward Johnson in the attack on Culp's Hill. Though Rodes himself was not present there, the actions of his troops at Culp's Hill are detailed at length in the text. Disappointed in his diminished role in the battle's final stage, Rodes was left to hunker down in Long Lane with his remaining three brigades and await orders to support the left of Lee's planned assault on the Union center. Those orders never came, and after the repulse of Pickett's Charge Rodes's Division fell back to a strong defensive position.

During three days at Gettysburg, Rodes's Division suffered almost 3,000 casualties. Losses were also very unequally shared, with the brigades of Iverson, O'Neal, and Daniel suffering devastating losses while Doles and Ramseur's casualties, though significant, paled in comparison. A very large portion of the book is devoted to the hospital care and medical treatment of these casualties as well as the collection and burial of the dead. As crippling as the rank and file losses were, the numbers of dead and wounded officers were frightful and, as Wynstra notes, arguably even more irreplaceable.

In its detailed coverage of the retreat from Gettysburg, the book also documents at Monterey Pass and Hagerstown the beginnings of General Iverson's path to at least partial redemption for his abysmal brigade leadership at Gettysburg. Wynstra, who has written extensively elsewhere about Iverson and his Civil War career (see 2010's The Rashness of That Hour: Politics, Gettysburg, and the Downfall of Confederate Brigadier General Alfred Iverson), also acknowledges Iverson's more celebrated victory at Sunshine Church in Georgia, though he cautions readers regarding how much credit the general deserves in that 1864 action, citing more evidence that Iverson hung well back from the front there just as he had done at Gettysburg.

No Place for Glory is the product of a rigorous primary source investigation in newspapers, archives, and published sources of all kinds. Supported by a handful of fine maps, the narrative created by that impressive body of research provides readers with a fresh appreciation of the role of Rodes's Division in the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign from beginning to end while at the same time conveying a nuanced analysis and understanding of its commander's controversial leadership actions during those critical first two days in July. While the degree to which Rodes's performance contributed to Confederate defeat remains an object of conflicting opinion, what isn't up for debate is that Gettysburg was clearly the general's career low point. Another very fine contribution to the Gettysburg historiography, this volume solidifies its multiple award-winning author's status as one of that campaign's best current historians.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Booknotes: Unsung Hero of Gettysburg

New Arrival:
Unsung Hero of Gettysburg: The Story of Union General David McMurtrie Gregg by Edward G. Longacre (Potomac Bks, 2021).

Wider appreciation and book coverage of the mid-war transformation of eastern theater Union cavalry into a force that could match and even better its far more celebrated mounted opponents began in earnest in the 1990s, gathered momentum around the millennium, and continues to today. An important outgrowth of this literature, which features pioneering works from Eric Wittenberg, Edward Longacre, and others, is the amount of attention paid to previously neglected mid and lower level Union cavalry generals who were responsible for much of that arm's success in the field. David Gregg certainly ranks high among those in that group, and now we have from Potomac Books a modern biography in Edward Longacre's Unsung Hero of Gettysburg: The Story of Union General David McMurtrie Gregg.

From the description: "Gen. David McMurtrie Gregg (1833–1917) was one of the ablest and most successful commanders of cavalry in any Civil War army. Pennsylvania-born, West Point–educated, and deeply experienced in cavalry operations prior to the conflict, his career personified that of the typical cavalry officer in the mid-nineteenth-century American army. Gregg achieved distinction on many battlefields, including those during the Peninsula, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Bristoe, Overland, and Petersburg campaigns, ultimately gaining the rank of brevet major general as leader of the Second Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac."

Just a few pages at the beginning of the book cover Gregg's pre-West Point upbringing and a handful at the end address the general's long (he lived well into the WW1 years) post-Civil War life, so the volume is clearly a military biography tightly focused on Gregg's antebellum frontier service (in New Mexico, California, and the Pacific Northwest) and Civil War career. According to Longacre, the "highlight of (Gregg's) service occurred on July 3, 1863, the climactic third day at Gettysburg, when he led his own command as well as the brigade of Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer in repulsing an attempt by thousands of Confederate cavalry under the legendary J. E. B. Stuart in attacking the right flank and rear of the Union Army while Pickett’s charge struck its front and center."

Manuscript research comprises a large section of the book's bibliography, with Gregg's correspondence and personal papers distributed among the Library of Congress and numerous Pennsylvania archives. Nine maps were commissioned for the book, and they allow the reader to follow Gregg's involvement in many campaigns and battles from the Peninsula through Petersburg.

Gregg himself was not present at the war in the East's finishing stroke, as he resigned his commission in early February 1865. According to Longacre, Gregg never satisfactorily explained his reason(s) behind leaving both the volunteer and regular army service (though I would imagine that the author explores the possibilities in the book), and doing so undoubtedly went some way toward blocking his 1868 effort to reenter the army. This "long overdue" biography should draw great interest from Gettysburg and Union cavalry students.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Booknotes: A Short History of Charleston, Revised and Expanded Edition

New Arrival:
A Short History of Charleston, Revised and Expanded Edition by Robert N. Rosen (USC Press, 2021).

Originally published in 1982 and intended to be both informative and entertaining, Robert Rosen's A Short History of Charleston quickly became a popular overview of the topic. It remains widely recommended as the standard introductory city history and a useful tool for prospective visitors.

From the description: "Beginning with the founding of colonial Charles Town and ending three hundred and fifty years later in the present day, Robert Rosen's fast-paced narrative takes the reader on a journey through the city's complicated history as a port to English settlers, a bloodstained battlefield, and a picturesque vacation mecca. Packed with anecdotes and enlivened by passages from diaries and letters, A Short History of Charleston recounts in vivid detail the port city's development from an outpost of the British Empire to a bustling, modern city."

The volume has been released in several editions over the years. The first edition was published by Lexicos in 1982 and that was followed by a 1992 revised second edition from Peninsula Press and the first University of South Carolina Press edition in 1997. Incorporating into its narrative the past four decades of the city's history is this new 2021 revised and expanded edition from USC Press. It "includes a new final chapter on the decades since Joseph Riley was first elected mayor in 1975 through its rapid development in geographic size, population, and cultural importance. Rosen contemplates both the city's triumphs and its challenges, allowing readers to consider how Charleston's past has shaped its present and will continue to shape its future."

The volume is heavily illustrated with photographs, drawings, and maps, most of which are placed in page sidebars that also contain additional anecdotes, commentary, and biographical notes supplementary to the main text. As is the case with many books of this type intended for a popular readership, the text is not annotated. However, there is a selection of sources included at the rear of the book.

Civil War-era coverage is spread among three of the book's ten chapters. It is part of a general treatment of Charleston as the "capital" of southern slavery, and there are standalone chapters discussing the Civil War and Reconstruction periods of the city's history.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

New 1864 Camden Expedition series project

As I've mentioned on several occasions, I very much welcome helpful notes from readers informing me about book news and rumors. If the topic interests me and I can get some sort of confirmation, I'm happy to pass it along here. Just such a thing happened this week when reader M.B. let me know about Joe Walker's upcoming multi-volume history of the Arkansas wing of the 1864 Red River Campaign. The topic has been covered pretty well in bits and pieces, and over the past decade Walker himself has self-published a pair of books along those lines in Harvest of Death: The Battle of Jenkins' Ferry, Arkansas and Hail & High Water: The Battle of Elkins' Ferry, Arkansas (the former of which in its third edition), but the only attempt at a standalone book covering the entire operation remains Michael Forsyth's The Camden Expedition of 1864 and the Opportunity Lost by the Confederacy to Change the Civil War, which was published in hardcover in 2003 and reissued in paperback four years later.

While Forsyth's rather slim study is light on detail and focuses on higher level strategy and decision-making, Walker promises a "a three volume work, encompassing over 1,000 pages and +100,000 words." That would represent a huge step up in scale and depth from his previous work (which I have read), and I'm looking forward to checking it out when the time comes. Hopefully the website will be updated soon, but my informant tells me that Walker told him the trilogy is halfway through the final editing process and it is anticipated that the books will be released sometime in 2021-22.

[update (6/18/22): Mr. Walker reported on social media in December '21 that he had completed the project and sent it to his editor. Sadly, he passed away less than a month later.]

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Review - "The Howling Storm: Weather, Climate, and the American Civil War" by Kenneth Noe

[The Howling Storm: Weather, Climate, and the American Civil War by Kenneth W. Noe (Louisiana State University Press, 2020). Cloth, 13 maps, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xiii,495/685. ISBN:978-0-8071-7320-6. $59.95]

The American Civil War has no grand analog matching the history-altering magnitude of the massive typhoon that wrecked the Mongol fleet during their second invasion of Japan, the providential winds and storms that scattered Phillip II's Spanish Armada and helped save England, or even the brutal winter that finished off Napoleon's army during its retreat from Moscow, but it is undeniable that weather and North American climate patterns impacted the conduct and course of the military conflict between North and South in significant ways. Indeed, weather as a third combatant in numerous campaigns and battles is among the broadest themes addressed in historian Kenneth Noe's impressive new tome The Howling Storm: Weather, Climate, and the American Civil War.

At its most fundamental level, The Howling Storm is a new military history of the entire 1861-65 land war from Sumter to Appomattox with the focus placed on interpreting how weather impacted campaigns large and small across all three major theaters—East, West, and Trans-Mississippi. In researching and piecing together this splendid, almost 500-page narrative, the author mined archives, newspapers, and a host of other published and unpublished primary and secondary sources to densely fill his narrative with all manner of environmental temperature and weather details. Weather-related observations from soldiers, home front civilians, and dedicated weather watchers (ex. even some Smithsonian-affiliated sources dutifully maintained readings during the war) are quoted throughout. Noe's references to climate and weather terminology are limited to introductory-level remarks, just enough to offer the reader appropriate general background information regarding the modern understanding of weather science. The text appropriately explores the ways in which oceanic-atmospheric oscillations (ex. El Nino and La Nina) and other events disrupt normal North American weather patterns and emphasizes how those extremes affected Civil War armies in their winter encampments, on the march, and during battle.

While it is true that contending armies opposing each other on a given front experience the same local weather, Noe effectively reminds readers in what manner the consequences and ill-effects of that shared weather might not be equally distributed. In the most obvious example, superior Union logistics and supply meant that its better clad and supported troops most often suffered less than their Confederate foes during the winter months. Also, some hours or days during which weather events were most challenging could clearly be more critical to the fortunes of one side, and weather could thus have a more decisive affect. As an example of that, Noe cites key moments, especially during the final week of operations, when the exceptional spring rains of 1862 (argued to have been the wettest of the previous 25 years) helped Stonewall Jackson evade and finally escape converging Union columns during his famous Shenandoah Valley campaign. The point is not that weather was actually deterministic of victory or defeat in many campaigns, but rather weather, especially in its extreme forms, could create a multitude of serious problems that commanders could not entirely overcome. As detailed in the book, such constraints might take the form of delayed offensives (ex. the December 1864 Battle of Nashville), immobilized armies (ex. Burnside's "Mud March"), strong limitations on the scale of victory or defeat (ex. the 1863 Tullahoma Campaign), and much more.

Unequally distributed weather effects occurred on the home front, too. As just one illustration of that phenomenon, too much early rain in 1862 followed by drought in the early summer months caused widespread corn, wheat, and cotton failures across the southern states, while at the same time there were record crop yields across the North. Other war-related home front issues had at their core underappreciated weather underpinnings. A striking example cited by Noe is the infamous Richmond bread riots that have been most commonly attributed to official indifference and predatory pricing. Noe instead argues that supply and transportation woes directly caused by the unusually wet and cold Virginia winter and spring of 1863 led to the bread shortages.

While the United States possessed an enviably modern rail network by the outbreak of the war, its system of interconnecting country roads remained highly primitive by comparison. Few paved thoroughfares designed to hold up to heavy traffic of the kind produced by anything even approaching the size of Civil War armies existed, so almost any rain that fell on those dirt roads proved problematic for military movements, and deep mud became an inevitable and constant source of complaint on both sides. In that vein, a multitude of campaign and battle events most profoundly affected by mud (ex. Burnside's "Mud March," the fighting at Spotsylvania, Rosecrans's flank movement at Tullahoma, Stoneman's Chancellorsville raid, and many more) are examined in the book. Perhaps the book's freshest and most interesting discussion related to this topic is Noe's explanation of how the continent's geographical soil patterns (specifically what quality and depth of mud those different soils produced during rainy periods) variably impacted Civil War army movements and troop morale. In the end, the author persuasively argues that all wet soils were not equal when it came to adversely affecting large-scale military operations.

On the opposite end of the spectrum of rain and mud was drought, and that weather effect produced some of the most significant follow-on effects. For example, the desire to provide a period of recovery for Virginia farmland is commonly cited as one of the most important factors behind the Confederate raid into Pennsylvania in 1863, but Noe argues it was the 1862 drought and subsequent late planting season that primarily created those conditions, not the physical devastation of war. More drought in 1863 meant that even a widespread switch from cotton to food production could not make up enough lost ground to adequately feed the Confederacy's armies and cities while also building up the stockpiles of food and forage necessary to accommodate future gaps in supply. As demonstrated in the book, 1864 drought conditions were largely confined to Virginia, Missouri, and the northern states, and Confederate leaders anticipated that that misfortune would spark further antiwar unrest in the North before and during the critical fall elections. According to Noe, it is a prevailing myth that northern farm production increased during the war due to mechanization. In actuality, total agricultural production peaked in 1862 and weather was a major part of why that was so. Nevertheless, as it turned out, the election year drought that Confederates pinned some of their rapidly dimming hopes of independence upon never caused enough of an overall deficit to greatly diminish northern home front support for the war.

Microclimates, particularly highland ones, also had a direct impact on Civil War armies. For a particularly vivid example, readers might recall A. Wilson Greene's contribution to the anthology Civil War Places (2019). In it, he memorably recounts his own personal encounter with the unpredictable and unseasonable weather extremes atop Allegheny Mountain that made it such a miserable place to fight a war. Noe does not specifically address the microclimate phenomenon in The Howling Storm, but he does so tangentially by covering the extreme case of Sewell Mountain. As Tim McKinney did before him in that author's book-length study of the Sewell Mountain phase of the 1861 West Virginia campaign, Noe presents the unique weather there as so severe a third opponent that it rendered both sides combat ineffective.

Noe admits the temptation among scholars and readers alike of seeing prominent examples of Union success in overcoming environmental obstacles as proof that weather complaints were primarily excuse-making on the part of recalcitrant generals, but his book clearly shows that exceptional weather and its timing could seriously sabotage many a best-laid plan. As the author maintains, however, it should also be equally appreciated that luck imparted by the weather gods could also go the other way, and Noe cites, as one example, the stretch of "perfect" weather during the entire length of Sherman's March to Sea that significantly diminished that daring movement's many inherent risks.

Noe also convincingly credits strong Union leadership as an important factor in dealing with southern weather. The ability of General Sherman's army to quickly traverse roads and swamps thought nearly impassable during the wet winter and spring 1865 Carolinas Campaign sparked despondent awe in his opponents. Perhaps the best example, and also cited in the book, is Joseph Hooker's comprehensive set of celebrated army reforms and morale boosting initiatives (all brilliantly documented in Albert Conner and Chris Mackowski's Seizing Destiny: The Army of the Potomac's "Valley Forge" and the Civil War Winter that Saved the Union) achieved during an extended period of terrible Virginia weather that stretched between the general's appointment to army command all the way to the end of April, during which it incessantly rained more than half those days. On the other hand, that example and others also, according to Noe, highlight an occasional blind spot in Union leadership at the top, one that frequently demonstrated a distinct lack of appreciation for how much weather could impede the movements and plans of armies. Grant was the high-ranking general who most closely and consistently shared Lincoln's views on seeing weather as an always surmountable obstacle, but while that view served Grant very well on many occasions it also made him, like the president, appear out of touch in others.

A great strength of Noe's far-reaching treatment of the topic of Civil War weather is that readers can for the first time in a single volume comprehensively absorb, front and center, how weather affected every campaign. Chronological arrangement of the weather narrative also allows readers to appreciate the many cascading effects of particular events. It might be recalled how well Judkin Browning and Timothy Silver's 2020 book An Environmental History of the Civil War illustrates the ways in which an unforeseen weather pattern that materialized over the first half of 1862 in the form of extraordinary rains and flooding affected Civil War operations and home front agriculture across the continent, but Noe's work does much the same for the entire war.

Mostly when citing exceptional weather patterns but also very effectively overall, Kenneth Noe's The Howling Storm brings weather effects out of the realm of excuse making and into their proper place as a major variable impacting victory and defeat on the Civil War battlefield. Noe's study ends with an interesting capstone conclusion that the Union Army won the weather war as well as the shooting war. His argument developed throughout the book that Union leadership and logistical superiority in providing better transportation, better winter shelter/housing, more reliable food and medical supplies, all-weather clothing, and consistent quantities of replacement footwear all combined to both sustain Union soldier morale amid the most trying environmental circumstances and allow Union armies to deal more effectively than their native-born opponents with the South's infamous weather and climate extremes. While it is obvious that Civil War armies could never entirely overcome the military challenges imposed by climate and weather, the book offers a powerful argument that many of those effects could nevertheless be significantly ameliorated through the combined forces of leadership, resources, experience, and adaptation. As Noe's work illustrates at great length, the complete victory achieved by Union forces clearly demonstrated the falsity of prewar assumptions that northern armies would simply melt away in harsh southern climes.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Booknotes: The Bonds of War

New Arrival:
The Bonds of War: A Story of Immigrants and Esprit de Corps in Company C, 96th Illinois Volunteer Infantry by Diana L. Dretske (SIU Press, 2021).

The works of countless Civil War researchers and writers have been directly inspired by encounters with historical artifacts. In museum curator Diana Dretske's case, that inspiration came in the form of an archival photograph of five Union soldiers who enlisted in a local company. From the description: "When curator Diana L. Dretske discovered that the five long-gone Union soldiers in a treasured photograph in the Bess Bower Dunn Museum were not fully identified, it compelled her into a project of recovery and reinterpretation." Her resulting book, The Bonds of War: A Story of Immigrants and Esprit de Corps in Company C, 96th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, employs a "microhistorical approach" that "(u)tilizes an impressive array of local and national archives, as well as private papers" to construct a manuscript that is both collective biography and unit history.

The book provides biographical sketches of each soldier, all of whom were U.K. immigrants who settled in Illinois and joined the same local infantry company raised in the northeastern part of the state. From the description: "This book, the most intensive examination of the 96th Illinois Volunteer Infantry since the regiment’s history was published in 1887 centers on immigrants from the British Isles who wished to be citizens of a country at war with itself. Far removed from their native homelands, they found new promise in rural Illinois. These men, neighbors along the quiet Stateline Road in Lake County, decide to join the fighting at its most dangerous hour. The bonds of war become then the bonds of their new national identity."

The story of the five soldiers at the center of the book is also extended outward to document the Civil War service of their company and regiment. The 96th was mustered into the Union Army (yes, I will keep calling it that) in early September 1862 and was immediately shipped to Kentucky to confront the Confederate invasion of that state. After assorted garrison duties, the regiment participated in a string of important western campaigns beginning with Tullahoma and progressing through Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Franklin-Nashville. All of those experiences are described in the book (including time spent by one or more in Andersonville prison).

The study expands into the postwar years, addressing the enduring bonds between soldiers of Company C and the difficulties met by many (especially those seeking disability and pension assistance) during the process of reintegration into civilian society. A roster of Company C at time of enlistment is included as an appendix.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Booknotes: West of Slavery

New Arrival:
West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire by Kevin Waite (UNC Press, 2021).

Don Frazier's Blood and Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest (TAMU Press, 1995) was the first scholarly book to popularly contextualize Confederate Civil War campaigns in the American Southwest as earnest attempts to realize decades-old grandiose dreams of a southern-oriented, coast to coast territorial "empire" favorable to proslavery interests, mineral wealth exploitation, and international trade through western ports. Since then (but mostly more recently), a new generation of scholarship has added a great deal more context, and fresh avenues of study within the general topic of western expansion and slavery's role in it have emerged. Much of this investigation also intersects with one of the hottest areas of emerging academic scholarship, borderlands studies. Indeed, Kevin Waite's West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire is part of UNC Press's The David J. Weber Series in the New Borderlands History.

From the description: "When American slaveholders looked west in the mid-nineteenth century, they saw an empire unfolding before them. They pursued that vision through diplomacy, migration, and armed conquest. By the late 1850s, slaveholders and their allies had transformed the southwestern quarter of the nation - California, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Utah - into a political client of the plantation states." That last part ("client of the plantation states") strikes me as a bit of an exaggeration, especially for California (a state that decisively rejected the Southern Democratic candidate in 1860, with both Lincoln and Douglas alone beating Breckinridge, the former by four points). In the introductory passage borrowed for the description, Waite himself uses the term "appendage." Regardless, it was the case that "(s)laveholders' western ambitions culminated in a coast-to-coast crisis of the Union. By 1861, the rebellion in the South inspired a series of separatist movements in the Far West" (though none proved decisive or lasting). "How this transcontinental sphere of proslavery influence was created, how it was destroyed at the end of the Civil War, and how it reemerged from the ashes of the conflict—albeit in a modified and more modest form— is the subject of this book" (pg. 2).

The traditional view of slavery's possible reach into the Far West holds that all parties involved knew that establishment of plantation-style slavery was impossible. Instead, southern nationalists primarily sought proslavery western territories (and later states) as tools for maintaining the political balance of power in Washington and counterweights to increasing antislavery and abolitionist activism in the North. Using a base of modern scholarship that has studied the economic viability of slavery in other large-scale enterprises outside farm and plantation labor, Waite suggests at least the possibility, if proslavery goals were met, of a more deeply established institution in the Far West than previously considered.

Of the three main sections of the book, the first "explores how southern powerbrokers imagined the far end of the continent and how they schemed, through a series of transportation projects, to bring this distant region into their political and commercial orbit." According to Waite, many prominent southerners dreamed of a pan-Pacific trade network (primarily in southern cotton). The second section "explains how residents in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah embraced key parts of the proslavery agenda, triggering a wide-ranging crisis of the Union by 1861." The third and final section "examines how the logic of westward expansion shaped Confederate grand strategy during the war and ultimately sowed the seeds for slavery's destruction." Furthermore, Waite suggests that "(i)n the immediate postwar years, political ties between the South and West were reconstituted to fuel a national, rather than a purely sectional, revolt against federal Reconstruction." (pg. 3) The volume should have strong appeal among readers and scholars with a wide range of interests in today's slavery, Civil War, westward expansion, and borderlands studies.