Thursday, September 23, 2021

Booknotes: William Barksdale, CSA

New Arrival:
William Barksdale, CSA: A Biography of the United States Congressman and Confederate Brigadier General by John Douglas Ashton (McFarland, 2021).

From the description: "An aggressive and colorful personality, William Barksdale was no stranger to controversy. Orphaned at 13, he succeeded as lawyer, newspaper editor, Mexican War veteran, politician and Confederate commander." In addition to possessing a civilian background common to so many Civil War volunteer generals, Mississippi's Barksdale also practically lived the stereotype of the southern Fireater. "During eight years in the U.S. Congress, he was among the South's most ardent defenders of slavery and advocates for states' rights. His emotional speeches and altercations--including a brawl on the House floor--made headlines in the years preceding secession. His fiery temper prompted three near-duels, gaining him a reputation as a brawler and knife-fighter."

Unlike so many other political generals, however, Barksdale earned a more than solid record as a combat commander to go along with his violent off-the-battlefield exploits. "Arrested for intoxication, Colonel Barksdale survived a military Court of Inquiry to become one of the most beloved commanders in the Army of Northern Virginia. His reputation soared with his defense against the Union river crossing and street-fighting at Fredericksburg, and his legendary charge at Gettysburg."

John Douglas Ashton's William Barksdale, CSA: A Biography of the United States Congressman and Confederate Brigadier General is the "first full-length biography" of the general and "places his life and career in historical context." The first six chapters cover Barksdale's prewar life and career. The rest of the volume recounts Barksdale's military career, first as colonel of the 13th Mississippi at First Bull Run and Ball's Bluff/Edward's Ferry and then as commanding general of the Mississippi Brigade (he replaced General Richard Griffith, who was mortally wounded on June 29 during the Seven Days) until his own death from wounds suffered on July 2 at Gettysburg. His actions as brigade commander during the rest of the Seven Days, the 1862 Maryland Campaign, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg are addressed in some detail in the volume, all supported by an excellent set of maps. The bibliography is impressive-looking in its depth and variety of sources listed.

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