Friday, October 29, 2021

Booknotes: Escape!

New Arrival:
Escape!: The Story of the Confederacy's Infamous Libby Prison and the Civil War's Largest Jail Break by Robert P. Watson (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021).

Established in early 1862 in a repurposed tobacco factory complex, Richmond's Libby Prison mostly held captured Union officers. Though it earned an enduring reputation as one of the Civil War's most notorious POW facilities, it is chiefly remembered today for the 'great escape' that occurred there in February 1864. After secretly excavating an escape tunnel over several weeks, 109 prisoners made a bold bid for freedom on the night of February 9. With help, a total of 59 reached Union lines, and their tale of overcrowding and privation helped prompt a large cavalry raid (the failed Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid) of which rescuing Union prisoners held in the city was a chief goal.

The story has been told before (as recently as this year), but Robert Watson's Escape!: The Story of the Confederacy's Infamous Libby Prison and the Civil War's Largest Jail Break stakes a claim for being regarded as "the definitive account of the Confederacy’s infamous Libby Prison, site of the Civil War’s largest prison break. Libby Prison housed Union officers, high-profile foes of the Confederacy, and political prisoners. Watson captures the wretched conditions, cruel guards, and the story of the daring prison break, called “the most remarkable in American history.”"

There's not enough of a publisher description or information contained in the book's own prologue to get a sense of how much this detailed historical account differs from those that came before it. The bibliography is more extensive than the other Libby prison break study released this year (Douglas Miller's The Greatest Escape), and its history of events is also presented in a much more conventional narrative format. Given their differences, the two seem more complementary than competing.

Watson's author website also has some more descriptive text: "This is the story of one of the worst and deadliest prisons in American history, one where senior Union officers suffered and died in alarming numbers. Located in the heart of the Confederacy’s capital—Richmond—the infamous prison was used for propaganda purposes by southern leaders and took on symbolic significance far beyond that of just a prison. However, it was also the site of a bold and daring prison break by a group of high-ranking Union officers, an event that captivated the nation, outraged the South, and sparked one of the largest manhunts in American history."

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Review - "Lincoln and Native Americans" by Michael Green

[Lincoln and Native Americans by Michael S. Green (Southern Illinois University Press, 2021). Hardcover, photos, illustrations, endnotes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:ix,108/170. ISBN:978-0-8093-3825-2. $24.95]
Having well over two-dozen existing volumes and still growing with multiple titles published most years, SIU Press's Concise Lincoln Library is continually building upon its goal of giving readers "the opportunity to quickly achieve basic knowledge of a Lincoln-related topic." Written by a host of scholars, series entries bring "fresh perspectives to well-known topics, investigate previously overlooked subjects, and explore in greater depth topics that have not yet received book-length treatment." The newest release, Michael Green's Lincoln and Native Americans, is yet another strong installment that meets one or more of those series characteristics.

Lincoln's relations with North American indigenous groups are far from completely neglected in the historical literature, but at the same time the topic has received very little book-length coverage. As Green reminds us, David Nichols's Lincoln and the Indians: Civil War Policy and Politics has become a classic, but it is well over forty years old at this point and does not examine the pre-1860 decades of Lincoln's life at any depth. Green's study does venture into that earlier period, opening with a brief but fascination summary of the history of Lincoln's personal and family associations. Though his own paternal grandfather was murdered by a raiding party while planting corn in a field (with his own father very narrowly escaping a similar fate on that day), Lincoln himself, unlike many other frontier-raised citizens and politicians, never became an Indian "hater." In Green's view, while Lincoln's service as a militia captain in the Black Hawk War did more than a little to shape the future president's own course in public life (through friendships gained, an education in leadership, and beneficial enhancement of his own political network and reputation), it had a more uncertain impact on his attitudes regarding the region's indigenous population. Whatever Lincoln's views on reforming Indian affairs might have been early on in his political career, they clearly remained low priority during his contentious rise to the presidency. While the Republican Party successfully campaigned in 1860 against the corruption of previous Democratic administrations, Lincoln fully involved himself in territorial and Bureau of Indian Affairs patronage appointments that only perpetuated the old spoils system that benefited its operators far more than those under its charge. Green agrees with Nichols in characterizing Lincoln as being mostly detached from Indian affairs; however, Green does credit Lincoln for consistently passing on opportunities both before and during his presidency to cheaply score political points through public employment of anti-Indian rhetoric.

After the outbreak of Civil War, Lincoln was immediately confronted with what to do in Indian Territory, where US forces deployed there in 1861 were weak, logistically isolated, and threatened by rapidly growing Confederate military forces operating out of Texas and Arkansas. Green makes an interesting point in noting that events there provide us with a rare example of the Davis government politically and strategically outmaneuvering the Lincoln administration in a major way. While Lincoln basically abandoned the territory without consulting the treaty partners there, the Confederates swiftly moved in and established both a military department for defending the territory and alliance treaties with most large tribal groups. Lincoln has been criticized with some justification for creating the vacuum that the Davis government exploited to the full, but those same critics often fail to see how difficult, and perhaps impossible, it would have been to maintain any sort of effective US military presence there in 1861. As was the case elsewhere in dealing with Trans-Mississippi Indian relations, Lincoln was reactive rather than proactive in the territory. While a series of military expeditions did eventually restore most pro-Union tribes to their Indian Territory homes, this was only after extensive devastation in human lives lost, livestock killed or stolen, and property destroyed. Some have even argued that no other population suffered more from the directs effects of the war than the residents of Indian Territory.

In his very brief yet fine summary of topically relevant wartime events in the Pacific Northwest, California, Utah, Colorado, the Desert Southwest, and Minnesota, Green notes that Lincoln's personal involvement in military and political affairs in most of those places was minimal. However, the author does reasonably maintain that the president bears leadership responsibility for the litany of mistreatment and abuse conducted by or facilitated through his patronage appointments. Lincoln was forced to take a more direct role in Minnesota during the aftermath of the massacre of hundreds of settlers by the Dakota and the widening of the conflict into a Northern Plains war. He had his staff review the results of the deeply flawed legal process that resulted in over 300 capital sentences and commuted all but 39 (later reduced to 38). Though it is not the purpose of the book to provide any major new insights into the subject matter (the topic has been explored in numerous books and articles), Green does briefly ponder the possibility, though he finds no written evidence to support it, that Lincoln's dealings with the Dakota uprising and its aftermath had an impact on the framing of the Lieber Code issued four months after the Mankato hangings.

In discussing the few face to face meetings Lincoln had with tribal leaders, the author finds none of the hostility but much of the cultural dismissiveness characteristic of most citizens of the period. Somewhat oddly, even when assured of Chief John Ross's loyalty by respected citizens and military officers alike who either knew him personally or had extensive contact with him, Lincoln remained very skeptical and was decidedly cold toward the Cherokee statesman. Finding Lincoln intensely focused on emancipation and freedmen concerns but politically unengaged when it came to concurrent Indian reforms, Green maintains that Lincoln was disappointingly consistent in not including native groups alongside white and black Americans in his otherwise expansive vision of post-Civil War western settlement and shared economic prosperity.

Green clearly acknowledges that all of this creates a problem for the legions of Lincoln admirers. In his conclusion, Green concisely articulates the challenge, noting that "while Lincoln advanced considerably in his thinking about African Americans, Native Americans were another matter. He approved a mass execution, said nothing about massacres, had no conversations with Indigenous people that rivaled the respect he demonstrated for African Americans, stalled Indian reformers, and thought it necessary to explain the planet to a delegation of chiefs. He put economic growth ahead of those who had lived in the West for generations, and he denied their heritage by supporting taking their land and concentrating them (in reservations). He encouraged a free labor ideology for white Americans and sought to extend it to African Americans, but he saw no place in it for Native Americans" (pg. 106-107). Whether Lincoln's promise to devote his full attention to Indian reform once the Civil War was concluded would ever have come to pass remains one of the great unknowns. There are those that demand that Lincoln, in viewing everything else as secondary to winning the war and prioritizing his white and emerging black political constituencies, face unqualified condemnation for doing so little to improve Indian lives and their treatment at the hands of the government during the Civil War. On the other end of the spectrum, those that insist that we treat Lincoln only as a man of his time, and one lacking personal animus toward Indians and more sympathetic than most when it came to their plight, can be too blind to what might have been achieved with even a modestly greater expenditure of national treasure and political capital. Clearly doubts about what Lincoln might have been willing or able to do remain, but those with a hopeful nature, as well as being charitably inclined toward a president who demonstrated a fairly profound capacity for change and who was assassinated in the middle of his presidency when the Civil War still raging, might assign to Lincoln not failing marks but rather a grade of 'incomplete.'

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Booknotes: Rites of Retaliation

New Arrival:
Rites of Retaliation: Civilization, Soldiers, and Campaigns in the American Civil War by Lorien Foote (UNC Press, 2021).

It's striking how many contemporary Civil War observers, even those with the best classical education and further knowledge of western military history, could so often deem the actions of the other side as the most infamous in recorded history. Sure, one can understand the partisan passions and hyperbolic propaganda impulses of the time, but it's still a bit odd. However, when it came to their own actions, "Union and Confederate politicians, military commanders, everyday soldiers, and civilians claimed their approach to the conflict was civilized, in keeping with centuries of military tradition meant to restrain violence and preserve national honor."

From the description: "One hallmark of civilized warfare was a highly ritualized approach to retaliation. This ritual provided a forum to accuse the enemy of excessive behavior, to negotiate redress according to the laws of war, and to appeal to the judgment of other civilized nations." Lorien Foote's new study Rites of Retaliation: Civilization, Soldiers, and Campaigns in the American Civil War examines those rituals. Rather than attempt to cover the entire breadth of the conflict, Foote understandably narrows her approach to a more localized geography (the Union Department of the South's area of operations) where the actions of both sides were emblematic of the retaliation rituals she find most significant.

While Foote's chosen boundaries of study (the sea islands and coastal counties of South Carolina, Georgia, and North Florida) do not possess within them the scale of guerrilla warfare that would permit strong insights into an aspect of the war involving other sanctioned 'rites of retaliation' of primary significance, they certainly do address many others. More from the description: "As the war progressed, Northerners and Southerners feared they were losing their essential identity as civilized, and the attention to retaliation grew more intense. When Black soldiers joined the Union army in campaigns in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, raiding plantations and liberating enslaved people, Confederates argued the war had become a servile insurrection. And when Confederates massacred Black troops after battle, killed white Union foragers after capture, and used prisoners of war as human shields, Federals thought their enemy raised the black flag and embraced savagery."

Rites of Retaliation "sheds light on how Americans fought over what it meant to be civilized and who should be extended the protections of a civilized world." This book also reminds us how useful a comprehensive history of the Department of the South might be. Apparently, one was in the works, but I've yet to encounter any update over the many years that have passed since I first read about it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Booknotes: Confederates and Comancheros

New Arrival:
Confederates and Comancheros: Skullduggery and Double-Dealing in the Texas–New Mexico Borderlands by James Bailey Blackshear and Glen Sample Ely (OU Press, 2021).

Beginning in the late 1700s, trade relationships between mostly Hispanic "Comancheros" operating out of New Mexico and several Plains tribes (the most significant partner lending its name to the trader moniker) prospered and spread their influence over both legal and illicit commerce across large areas of the Southwest. James Blackshear and Glen Ely's Confederates and Comancheros: Skullduggery and Double-Dealing in the Texas–New Mexico Borderlands "takes us to the borderlands in the 1860s and 1870s for an in-depth look at Union-Confederate skullduggery amid the infamous Comanche-Comanchero trade in stolen Texas livestock."

After the 1861-62 Confederate campaigning in New Mexico Territory ended in clear defeat for the southern forces, it is often assumed that control of the region was conceded to the enemy and Confederate strategic intentions redirected elsewhere. However, as Blackshear and Ely demonstrate, "administered by Union troops under martial law, the region became a hotbed of Rebel exiles and spies, who gathered intelligence, disrupted federal supply lines, and plotted to retake the Southwest."

"Using a treasure trove of previously unexplored documents," the authors also "trace the complicated network of relationships that drew both Texas cattlemen and Comancheros into these borderlands, revealing the urban elite who were heavily involved in both the legal and illegal transactions that fueled the region’s economy."

More from the description: "Peopled with Rebels and bluecoats, Comanches and Comancheros, Texas cattlemen and New Mexican merchants, opportunistic Indian agents and Anglo arms dealers, this book illustrates how central these contested borderlands were to the history of the American West." The "contested borderlands" of the Civil War era and beyond remain a popular target of scholarly study, and this book looks like yet another interesting contribution to that expanding literature.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Coming Soon (November '21 Edition)

**NEW RELEASES1** Scheduled for NOV 2021:

Unexpected Bravery: Women and Children of the Civil War by A.J. Schenkman.
Roster of North Carolinians in Confederate Naval Service: Confederate States Navy & Marine Corps comp. by Sion Harrington.
A Scottish Blockade Runner in the American Civil War: Joannes Wyllie of the Steamer Ad-Vance by John Messner.
Choctaw Confederates: The American Civil War in Indian Country by Fay Yarbrough.
The Broken Constitution: Lincoln, Slavery, and the Refounding of Americ by Noah Feldman.
Stephen A. Swails: Black Freedom Fighter in the Civil War and Reconstruction by Gordon Rhea.
Illusions of Empire: The Civil War and Reconstruction in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands by William Kiser.
Confederate Conscription and the Struggle for Southern Soldiers by John Sacher.
The Cacophony of Politics: Northern Democrats and the American Civil War by Matthew Gallman.
The Civil War in Maryland Reconsidered ed. by Charles Mitchell and Jean Baker.
Myths of the Civil War: The Fact, Fiction, and Science behind the Civil War’s Most-Told Stories by Scott Hippensteel.
His Greatest Speeches: How Lincoln Moved the Nation by Diana Schaub.
My Work among the Freedmen: The Civil War and Reconstruction Letters of Harriet M. Buss ed. by Jonathan White and Lydia Davis.
Tennessee Secedes: A Documentary History by Dwight Pitcaithley.
Their Maryland: The Army of Northern Virginia From the Potomac Crossing to Sharpsburg in September 1862 by Alexander Rossino.

Comments: You might recall that I received the Messner book already back in September, but that particular finished copy piggy-backed on a blockade runner out of the Clyde by way of Dunbeath (thanks again to Whittles Publishing), and the official US release is on the first of November. I also need to report a title change for the Hippensteel book. The old title referenced in my March '21 news post [see here] has been replaced with the current one that better represents the volume's full range of content.

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, special editions not distributed to reviewers, 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.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Booknotes: To Address You as My Friend

New Arrival:
To Address You as My Friend: African Americans' Letters to Abraham Lincoln edited by Jonathan W. White (UNC Press, 2021).

Through his antislavery party affiliation as well as his own personal rhetoric and actions, Abraham Lincoln was a president that many African Americans felt comfortable enough with to petition directly and expect some kind of response to their concerns. From the description: "Their letters express the dilemmas, doubts, and dreams of both recently enslaved and free people in the throes of dramatic change. For many, writing Lincoln was a last resort. Yet their letters were often full of determination, making explicit claims to the rights of U.S. citizenship in a wide range of circumstances."

Jonathan White's To Address You as My Friend: African Americans' Letters to Abraham Lincoln "presents more than 120 letters from African Americans to Lincoln, most of which have never before been published. They offer unflinching, intimate, and often heart-wrenching portraits of Black soldiers' and civilians' experiences in wartime."

In guiding readers through this extensive compilation, White categorizes the letters in two ways, grouping them into collections addressing what was being asked of Lincoln and in what capacity as president he would have been expected to respond. As chief executive, Lincoln received letters asking for pardons and debating his views on colonization. In writing to Lincoln as Commander in Chief, African American soldiers and civilians addressed black armed forces recruitment, admonished the War Department over unequal pay, requested discharges, and asked the president to review court martial convictions. In appealing to Lincoln as "Chief Citizen," other writers pleaded for equal treatment, asked for aid to religious groups, sought employment and property protections, and offered the president gifts or mementos as tokens of appreciation.

Contextual details and analysis abound. For each letter, White provides background text (both in regard to its writer and the subject matter of the letter more generally) and discusses what, if anything, resulted from the exchange with the president. The volume is extensively researched and the material fully annotated. More from the description: "As readers continue to think critically about Lincoln's image as the "Great Emancipator," this book centers African Americans' own voices to explore how they felt about the president and how they understood the possibilities and limits of the power vested in the federal government."

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Review - "From Arlington to Appomattox: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War, Day by Day, 1861-1865" by Charles Knight

[From Arlington to Appomattox: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War, Day by Day, 1861-1865 by Charles R. Knight (Savas Beatie, 2021). Hardcover, 8 maps, photo gallery, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xviii,504/576. ISBN:978-161121-502-1. $39.95]

It's become a common refrain in reviews of reference books on this site to lament the lack of wider appreciation of both the value attached to premier-grade examples and the often staggering research effort that went into producing them. Of all the sub-genres of Civil War publishing, reference books are among the least likely to garner popular acclaim for their authors, book award consideration, or more than modest sales figures. However, the best of them can certainly become stars in both avocational and professional research circles. That will almost certainly become the fate of Charles Knight's From Arlington to Appomattox: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War, Day by Day, 1861-1865.

The material is arranged in monthly chapters, each having a brief narrative preamble. Within each chapter, readers get daily entries headlined at the top by full-date designation, day of the week, and primary location(s) of Lee during that 24-hour time span. Typically ranging in size from one to four large paragraphs, daily installments address what concerned Lee most that day; what his activities were (or where he traveled); any interesting documented anecdotes; who the general met with in person; who Lee wrote to either professionally (through issuing orders, submitting official requests, communications with government leaders, answering military correspondence, etc.) or personally (to friends, acquaintances, and family members); and often what the weather was like that day (thanks to Robert Krick's invaluable reference book Civil War Weather in Virginia). Bouts of illness and symptoms of more chronic disease affected Lee's performance of his command duties on numerous occasions during the war, and those episodes are also noted. Cognizant of the impossibility of pinning down the precise hour of any given event, Knight instead either reasonably opts for more general time intervals such as 'morning,' 'afternoon,' and 'evening,' or does not hazard a guess.

Offering far more than mere source identification, the volume's richly expansive explanatory notes contain a great deal of background information, evidence evaluation, and interpretation of conflicting references. Further aiding the reader, these notes are placed at the bottom of each page. If they were the same font as the main text, they would easily take up two or three times the space of the daily entries, so there is often a lot to digest within them. To arrive at all this information, the author scoured manuscript and newspaper archives and examined a large host of published primary and secondary sources. At the very back of the book the reader can find a similarly expansive index of names, events, places, units, and more. As an example of how comprehensive the tally of subheadings can get, the Lee section alone fills five double-columned, tiny-print pages. Of course, one would expect Lee to have the grandest index entry, but that scale of effort put forth exemplifies the author's commitment to providing details and making them as user accessible as possible.

As one of the individuals who most shaped the course of the conflict, a day by day record of Robert E. Lee's Civil War assumes enhanced value and importance. What emerges from the text is a clear picture of the daily duties, activities, and stresses (physical and mental) involved in leading a large Civil War army. One can readily imagine the cumulative effects of those responsibilities on the declining health of a previously vigorous man in his late 50s. Certainly, anyone writing about Lee's Civil War career, be it a full biography or any other serious study involving the general, will find this volume to be an essential research tool. Given that Lee commanded the Army of the Northern Virginia during the great majority of its existence, the book also will make life easier for a whole host of upcoming researchers and writers of the campaigns and battles fought by the Confederacy's premier fighting force. Highly recommended.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Booknotes: The Laird Rams

New Arrival:
The Laird Rams: Britain's Ironclads Built for the Confederacy, 1862-1923 by Andrew R. English (McFarland, 2021).

From the description: "Built in Birkenhead, England, in 1862 to 1865, the "Laird rams" were two innovative armored warships intended for service with the Confederate Navy during the Civil War. The vessels represented a substantial threat to Union naval power, and offered the Confederacy a potential means to break the Union blockade of the Southern coastline. During 1863, the critical year of the Confederacy's last hope of recognition by the British and French, President Lincoln threatened war with Britain if the ships ever sailed under Confederate colors. Built in some secrecy, then launched on the River Mersey under intense international scrutiny, the ships were first seized, and then purchased by Britain to avoid a war with the United States."

Aided by an effective monitoring of British ports and shipyards, the blocking of the Laird rams being delivered into Confederate hands represented a notable success in US diplomacy and foreign intelligence gathering that has been covered in numerous works. However, the full history of the ships, at least as addressed in US Civil War studies, typically ends there. Andrew English's The Laird Rams: Britain's Ironclads Built for the Confederacy, 1862-1923, however, endeavors to provide the "first complete history of these once famous ironclads that never fired a shot in anger yet served at distant stations as defenders of the British Empire."

English's book recounts their design, construction, seizure, and repurposed deployment by the Royal Navy as HMS Scorpion and Wivern. The technological advances and drawbacks of their masted, double-turret design is fully discussed as is their long service in a variety of roles after refits and recommissionings.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Booknotes: Contesting Commemoration

New Arrival:
Contesting Commemoration: The 1876 Centennial, Independence Day, and the Reconstruction-Era South by Jack D. Noe (LSU Press, 2021).

From the description: In Contesting Commemoration: The 1876 Centennial, Independence Day, and the Reconstruction-Era South, historian Jack Noe "examines identity and nationalism in the post–Civil War South through the lens of commemorative activity, namely Independence Day celebrations and the Centennial of 1876. Both events presented opportunities for whites, Blacks, northerners, and southerners to reflect on their identity as Americans. The often colorful and engaging discourse surrounding these observances provides a fascinating portrait of this fractured moment in the development of American nationalism."

This study builds upon an extensive modern literature of postwar reunion and reconciliation, a nice rundown of which can be found in the sample text from the book's introduction available for your perusal through the title link above.

At its heart, the book juxtaposes black and white southern participation with and reactions to postwar reconciliation in the context of the Centennial Exhibition (The US's first world's fair, held in Philadelphia May-November 1876) and other public commemorative events referenced above. In discussing their meaning to white southerners, Noe explores the "economic, social, and political aspects of reunification and the tensions that lay behind the development of a post-Civil War American identity." The volume's "parallel narrative focused on African Americans" in turn examines their contrasting "engagement with national identity and their use of commemoration to stake a claim to full citizenship and American identity in the post-Civil War era" (pg. 2).

Contesting Commemoration invites readers to look beyond the "magnificent exhibits and revolutionary technology" on display during the Centennial Exhibition and explore what that celebration and Independence Day events across the South "meant to people and how they reflected the concerns of the day" (pg. 178).

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Booknotes: The USS Tecumseh in Mobile Bay

New Arrival:
The USS Tecumseh in Mobile Bay: The Sinking of a Civil War Ironclad by David Smithweck (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Press, 2021).

From the description: "In April 1861, Lincoln declared a blockade on Southern ports. It was only a matter of time before the Union navy would pay a visit to the bustling Confederate harbor in Mobile Bay. Engineers built elaborate obstructions and batteries, and three rows of torpedoes were laid from Fort Morgan to Fort Gaines. Then, in August 1864, the inevitable came. A navy fleet of fourteen wooden ships lashed two by two and four iron monitors entered the lower bay, with the USS Tecumseh in the lead."

Confederate underwater torpedoes proved to be devastating weapons on numerous occasions, but constant immersion over months and years exposed flaws in manufacture that could ruin the powder charge and corrosion (especially to those placed in salt water) often rendered the firing mechanisms inert. When Admiral Farragut's fleet moved into Mobile Bay, damning the torpedoes worked for many captains and crews who reported torpedoes brushing against their hulls without exploding. The Tecumseh was not so fortunate, and its story is recounted in The USS Tecumseh in Mobile Bay: The Sinking of a Civil War Ironclad.

More from the description: "A torpedo, poised to strike for two years, found the Tecumseh and sank it in minutes, taking ninety-three crewmen with it. Join author David Smithweck on an exploration of the ironclad that still lies upside down at the bottom of Mobile Bay."

The narrative history part of the book is relatively brief. Standalone chapters discuss torpedo technology and the forts defending the harbor while others compile eyewitness accounts, commander profiles, press reports, dive notes from the 1967 Smithsonian survey expedition, subsequent surveys, salvage attempts, and artifacts collected. The volume is packed with photos, illustrations, and design drawings of all kinds. It looks like an interesting resource for those wanting to learn more about the ship, the men that served on it, the battle, and Civil War underwater archaeology.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Review - "Strategies of North and South: A Comparative Analysis of the Union and Confederate Campaigns" by Gerald Earley

[Strategies of North and South: A Comparative Analysis of the Union and Confederate Campaigns by Gerald L. Earley (McFarland, 2021). Softcover, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:v,288/309. ISBN:978-1-4766-8566-3. $39.95]

On the eve of the Civil War, more than a few northern observers feared that the American South possessed better material when it came to military leaders and fighting men, and many below the Mason-Dixon Line advanced the ludicrous proposition that one southern soldier could whip five or even ten northern foes. Gerald Earley's Strategies of North and South: A Comparative Analysis of the Union and Confederate Campaigns "investigates the validity of the perception of Southern martial superiority" (the key word being perception) and provides an "account of Federal and Confederate military operations and battles with a view of delivering a non-biased assessment of performance as well as outcomes," one that "takes into account the challenges and circumstances encountered during the course of the war." The reader can well imagine the many directions such a project might take, and the author readily admits that "this type of analysis is inherently subjective" (pg. 2).

The book opens with a solid critical summary of long-held antebellum views of the martial prowess and traditions of each section, all of which were frequently infused with ethnic and cultural stereotypes. How irrational those assumptions proved to be after actual civil war put them to the test is a common theme of the book. The reader is frequently reminded by the author that none of those pre-war assumptions adequately explained southern victories. In truth, through southern battlefield defeats suffered in many different circumstances and environments, they were clearly shown to be without foundation. According to Earley, the initial series of southern victories in 1861 is better explained by the transient morale boost from a confluence of surging war/independence fever and the motivation that comes from defending hearth and home rather than any kind of inherent disparity in sectional martial capabilities. The pile-up of disastrous Confederate defeats as the grimmer realities of 1862 set in quickly undermined the more extreme prewar expectations regarding southern fighting prowess.

The bulk of the study is a year by year assessment of the war's campaigns and battles in the context referred to above. Though some secondary actions are included to illustrate a particular point, these chapters mainly comprise a chronological summary and analysis of the major land campaigns, east and west. Both the merits of the battle descriptions and the persuasiveness of the author's leadership analysis vary, but much of the latter is predictable given the lack of consensus among amateur and expert alike. In leaving no leader immune to his sometimes strident criticism when it's due, Earley avoids making a paragon out of any particular general of either side. However, subjectivity and the necessities of brevity often combine to display overly reductive conclusions regarding the generalship displayed during numerous campaigns. For example, the author perhaps too often cites inferior opposition as the sole or overarching reason to conclude that certain celebrated operations are overrated in their artfulness and results. Indeed a major conclusion of the book made along those lines is that "most of the major Confederate battle victories resulted from serious mistakes or blunders by Federal commanders" (pg. 285). In the author's point of view, that made southern armies appear more efficient than they really were and unfairly diminished perceptions of the fighting qualities of northern soldiers. There is clearly some truth to that line of thinking, but as a general conclusion it still represents a gross oversimplification of a complex combination of relevant factors. Also, in not applying the same standard to Union battle victories in the West, the author's record of mostly evenhanded application of his arguments breaks down. In the book, Earley frequently engages in the ever popular but justly criticized 'if X had been done instead of Y, the enemy army would have been destroyed' brand of alternate history conjecture, but he does also retain some respect for the ideas advanced by historian Wayne Hsieh and others that West Point-oriented symmetries in army leadership, organization, training, and weaponry rendered opposing Civil War armies especially difficult to cripple in open combat.

The book's tight focus on major land campaigns in the main theaters means that many other elements of strategy are either left out entirely or only addressed tangentially. These include more broad features of land operations, one example being the Confederate raiding strategy in the West using its disproportionately large cavalry forces, along with the naval affairs of both sides. On the other hand, clustered at the rear of the book can be found some topics not specifically related to particular battles and campaigns. For instance, in that section the author presents the conventional critique of the volunteer army practice of raising new regiments instead of filling the ranks of veteran ones with replacements. More controversially, Earley suggests that the Union Army's high percentage of immigrant soldiers did not represent an advantage. On some level, the political need to promote dangerously incompetent officers due solely to their ethnic representation, army communication issues stemming from language barriers, and the uneven performance record of ethnic regiments can be reasonable objections, but it seems inescapable that their numbers alone comprised a massive advantage for the Union war machine. Additionally, there were many talented immigrant officers of all levels in the Union Army, and evidence of mixed combat records is just as easily found in native-born units.

Though condensing a descriptive commentary of the entire military history of the war into less than three-hundred pages of text admittedly forces upon the author shortcuts and some level of reductive distortion of the complex, many readers will question the author's overreliance on older, entrenched premises that have been directly challenged, often convincingly, in newer books released through both mainstream and academic publishing. The volume's bibliography is basically a collection of published works, and a very limited selection at that. This becomes a pretty significant drawback in more than a few instances. As just one example of a topic that is currently hot in the field of Civil War military studies, the book presents Union general George Meade as nothing more than George McClellan 2.0, fully adopting the Lincoln administration's insistence that Robert E. Lee's army would surely have been destroyed after Gettysburg had the Union army only pursued more aggressively. This flies in the face of nearly all of the most recent literature, with the two best works on the retreat (one by Kent Masterson Brown and the other from Eric Wittenberg et al) absent from the analysis and bibliography altogether. The book would really have benefited from casting a wider source net, even just a modest one. Given the richness of the Civil War military history literature and the diversity of learned opinions regarding the generalship involved in every major campaign and battle, the author's commentary would be more credible if it much more consistently revealed more than one line of reasonable historical interpretation before offering a general conclusion.

One of the questions Earley seeks to answer is which side had the more difficult task. He agrees with the common conclusion that the United States had the much more difficult road to victory, though he does this without balancing it against the many factors that rendered the Confederacy's presumed easier job of "winning by not losing" very, very difficult. On the matter of which side exhibited better strategy, the author again aligns himself with the predominant view. Though he frequently and quite astutely points out several moments when federal strategic blundering threatened ultimate victory by prolonging the war, it is stating the obvious that the US proved far more capable than the Confederacy in developing and implementing winning strategies. Earley might usefully have added that the Union war machine had far more margin for error and could absorb major mistakes and blunders that the Confederacy could never afford to make and still win.

In addition to this mixed review of the quality of the book's content, it should also be mentioned that the manuscript really needed another once over to correct its overabundance of typos, especially its misspelled names of generals. Books on Civil War strategy are rare enough that any new entry into the field will draw attention, but this one unfortunately doesn't merit the kind of unqualified recommendation earned by other recent contributions such as Donald Stoker's excellent The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War (2010). That said, parts of Strategies of North and South are still thoughtful and engaging enough to lead one to not want to dismiss the whole or strongly dissuade anyone else from giving it a go.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Booknotes: Crosshairs on the Capital

New Arrival:
Crosshairs on the Capital: Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington, D.C., July 1864 - Reasons, Reactions, and Results by James H. Bruns (Casemate, 2021).

Second Corps (ANV) commander Jubal Early's dramatic summer 1864 raid on Washington DC served a dual purpose of clearing out the Shenandoah Valley breadbasket of marauding enemy troops and relieving the growing pressure on Richmond by directly threatening the US capital. Beginning with Frank Vandiver's Jubal's Raid (1960), a number of books have examined the operation in detail. B.F. Cooling's Jubal Early's Raid on Washington, 1864 is the best regarded overall history, and he's also authored related studies of the Washington defenses, the attack on Fort Stevens, and the battle of Monocacy (of the last, Cooling is joined by works large and small from Glenn Worthington, Mark Leepson, Ryan Quint, and others). The overambitious and predictably aborted extension of Early's raid, the plan to attack Point Lookout by land and sea and free the thousands of Confederate POWs housed there, has received book and article coverage, too.

From the description: James Bruns's new study Crosshairs on the Capital "focuses on the reasons, reactions and results of Jubal Early’s raid of 1864. History has judged it to have been a serious threat to the capital," but Bruns "examines how the nature of the Confederate raid on Washington in 1864 has been greatly misinterpreted—Jubal Early’s maneuvers were in fact only the latest in a series of annual southern food raids. It also corrects some of the thinking about Early’s raid, including the reason behind his orders from General Lee to cross the Potomac and the thoughts behind the proposed raid on Point Lookout and the role of the Confederate Navy in that failed effort."

In its renewed emphasis on the 'food raid' aspect of the operation, Bruns feels that Union authorities, given what happened in Maryland and Pennsylvania in 1862 and 1863, should have been better prepared in 1864 for another of the eastern Confederacy's summer grocery runs. As stated in the preface, the author also believes this book sets itself apart from other studies of Early's Raid by focusing more "on the feelings, fears, and facts of the region's civilian population, its causal connections, and its results" (x). In doing that, Bruns's work also "highlights how some of the region's everyday civilians fought back" (xv).

Crosshairs on the Capital "presents a new prospective in explaining Jubal Early’s raid on Washington by focusing on why things happened as they did in 1864. It identifies the cause-and-effect connections that are truly the stuff of history, forging some of the critical background links that oftentimes are ignored or overlooked in books dominated by battles and leaders."

Friday, October 8, 2021

Booknotes: The Generals' Civil War

New Arrival:
The Generals' Civil War: What Their Memoirs Can Teach Us Today by Stephen Cushman (UNC Press, 2021).

Its first volume published in 1885, the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant was an immediate commercial and critical success that relieved the Grant family's financial straits and left an eager reading public with what many consider today to be the war's premier general officer memoir. From the description: "Seeking to capitalize on Grant's success and interest in earlier reminiscences by Joseph E. Johnston, William T. Sherman, and Richard Taylor, other Civil War generals such as George B. McClellan and Philip H. Sheridan soon followed suit. Some hewed more closely to Grant's model than others, and their points of similarity and divergence left readers increasingly fascinated with the history and meaning of the nation's great conflict. The writings also dovetailed with a rising desire to see the full sweep of American history chronicled, as its citizens looked to the start of a new century."

Of course, modern scholars still make heavy use of these memoirs in their research and writing. In The Generals' Civil War: What Their Memoirs Can Teach Us Today, Stephen Cushman "considers Civil War generals' memoirs as both historical and literary works, revealing how they remain vital to understanding the interaction of memory, imagination, and the writing of American history." There were many factors involved in the writing and publishing of these memoirs, and the book "shows how market forces shaped the production of the memoirs and, therefore, memories of the war itself; how audiences have engaged with the works to create ideas of history that fit with time and circumstance; and what these texts tell us about current conflicts over the history and meanings of the Civil War."

One chapter examines what the memoirs of opposing commanders William T. Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston say about the 1865 Bennett Place surrender and each other. Another offers an in-depth reexamination of Chapter Five "The Valley Campaign" of Richard Taylor's Destruction and Reconstruction, which is "unanimously considered the best" chapter in the memoir. "Simplicity" is the major theme of the volume's discussion of Grant's Memoirs. Though not a fan of Little Mac himself, Mark Twain's Webster and Co. also published McClellan's Own Story, and Cushman looks at that book's "many turnings," centering on three aspects: McClellan's religious conversion, the counterfactuals that pervade MOS, and the writing's emotional resonance. The next chapter discusses the merits of Philip Sheridan's Personal Memoirs, which never achieved the heights of acclaim that Grant's and Sherman's did. The final piece probes Mark Twain's prominent role in the business of Civil War memory. All of that sounds interesting.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Review - "Grant’s Left Hook: The Bermuda Hundred Campaign, May 5-June 7, 1864" by Sean Chick

[Grant’s Left Hook: The Bermuda Hundred Campaign, May 5-June 7, 1864 by Sean Michael Chick (Savas Beatie, 2021). Softcover, 15 maps, photos, illustrations, driving tour, appendix section, orders of battle, reading list. Pages main/total:xx,115/191. ISBN:978-1-61121-438-3. $14.95]

The 1864 Bermuda Hundred Campaign is far from neglected in the Civil War literature. Published close together in the late 1980s and complementary in helpful ways, William Glenn Robertson's Backdoor to Richmond and Herbert Schiller's The Bermuda Hundred Campaign both address the entire operation in unsurpassed detail. Additionally, Edward Longacre's treatment of the Union Army of the James and its commanding general Benjamin Butler in his 1997 study Army of Amateurs is well regarded. While that modern foundation established by Robertson, Schiller, and Longacre leaves serious students of the campaign well equipped for the foreseeable future, there is still always room for works of a different scale and purpose. Those seeking a more concise history of the campaign can do no better than Sean Michael Chick's Grant’s Left Hook: The Bermuda Hundred Campaign, May 5-June 7, 1864. This superb installment in the Emerging Civil War series from publisher Savas Beatie offers the best means of introducing new readers to the topic, but it also serves as a top-notch refresher course for those who have let their knowledge of the subject go stale.

The early sections of the book provide strong summaries of opposing strategic challenges and goals. Also discussed are the composition and quality of forces available to General Benjamin Butler's Union Army of the James on one side and General PGT Beauregard's Confederate Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia on the other. Grant's instructions to Butler were to move on Richmond south of the James River. With an army numbering nearly 40,000 men, forcing the evacuation of the enemy capital seemed like an achievable goal. Butler was also to seize and hold City Point with a strong force, establish a fortified base nearby, and eventually link up with the Army of the Potomac. Butler's selection of Bermuda Hundred as that forward point from which to launch his attack toward Richmond fulfilled Grant's instructions, but cutting communications along a narrow front between Richmond and Petersburg involved some risk to both flanks and rear, even with the large force at Butler's disposal. In retrospect, it probably would have been better to have operated against Petersburg rather than Richmond. Shielded by the south bank of the Appomattox, the Army of the James could have advanced with secure flanks, and capturing the Cockade City and all of it rail connections would have served Grant's strategic purposes just the same.

Butler's campaign started out well. A combination of swift movement, strong naval assistance, and effective diversionary operations allowed The Army of the James to land at Bermuda Hundred, secure City Point, and establish a strong forward base without major interference. Unfortunately, Butler's high-energy nature when it came to the law profession and politics did not transfer to military affairs, and the opportunity to sever direct communications between Petersburg and Richmond and place the Confederate capital city in a vise between Butler's own army and the approaching Army of the Potomac was lost over the ensuing days and weeks.

Covering a relatively large military campaign composed of numerous skirmishes and battles in little more than one hundred pages of narrative (while also sharing space with illustrations on every page) is a difficult task, and Chick carries it off with uncommon skill. Though constrained by the demands of brevity, Chick's accounts of maneuver and fighting [at the battles of First (May 6) and Second (May 7) Port Walthall Junction, the Kautz raids (May 5-18) that diverted enemy attention and tied up opposing troops south of Petersburg, Swift Creek (May 9), Chester Station (May 10), the Battle of Drewry's Bluff with the third attack on Port Walthall Junction (May 16), the Battle of Ware Bottom Church (May 20), and the Battle of Wilson's Wharf (May 24)] still offer more than enough detail to convey a complex understanding of those events. Made more vivid by the incorporation of numerous firsthand accounts, each of these descriptions is accompanied by one or more battle maps, all excellent creations from cartographer Hal Jesperson and sourced through a collective effort from a number of informed individuals. This map set is perhaps the most impressive of any ECW title.

Over that two-week period between May 6 and May 20, Butler was never able to achieve more than a temporary break in communications between Richmond and Petersburg. Both commanders were ill served by ranking subordinates at key moments. Though Beauregard's attack at Drewry's Bluff was hindered by fog, division commander Robert Ransom, never highly regarded to begin with, put in a lackluster performance during the main assault while Chase Whiting did essentially nothing to harry Butler's retreat to Bermuda Hundred. Overall, Chick awards Beauregard high marks for his command performance. While little in the way of tactical brilliance was displayed during the campaign's series of battles, the Confederate department commander, who had to deal with Butler's large army, hold Richmond and Petersburg at all costs, and address cavalry raids against his lines of communication, nevertheless kept his head throughout and repulsed the enemy on all fronts while quickly repairing damage to the rail network. On the other side, the Union high command, fearful of threats to flank and rear that might cut them off from Bermuda Hundred, all too often ceded the initiative to the outnumbered enemy and never managed to sustain overwhelming force at a decisive point. At no time during the campaign were Butler and his principal subordinates (generals Quincy Gillmore of Tenth Corps and Baldy Smith of Eighteenth Corps) on the same page.

The May 16 Battle of Drewry's Bluff, the campaign's largest battle, was a tactical draw that nevertheless led to Butler's withdrawal and the temporary end of the Army of the James's threat to Richmond. While that battle is properly credited as the decisive turning point in the campaign, Chick persuasively maintains that the lesser-appreciated follow-up action at Ware Bottom Church had strategic impact of similar significance. Though Drewry's Bluff ended the Union offensive, it was Ware Bottom Church that allowed Beauregard to shorten his lines enough to be able to send critical reinforcements to Lee's army. Chick suggests that without those heavy reinforcements, there was a good chance that Lee's army might not have been able to maintain its position around Cold Harbor and stave off Richmond's fall in June.

Like many other ECW titles, this one features a useful driving tour. Also present is an appendix section containing an interesting collection of diverse essay topics. They include discussions of the Lee-Beauregard command relationship, the successful flight of Jim Pemberton (President Davis's "most trusted" slave) and his wife, details of a "lost opportunity" during later fighting (June 16-17) at Bermuda Hundred, the effort in some quarters to promote Ben Butler as a presidential candidate to replace Lincoln in 1864 (a movement swiftly derailed by Union military victories achieved over the weeks and months preceding the election), Butler's postwar life, and Bermuda Hundred preservation successes.

While the Bermuda Campaign was a resounding strategic success for the Confederates, its results disappointed Beauregard, who hoped to destroy Butler and retain a large, independent field command. Chick rightly disputes Beauregard's claim then and ever after that he would have captured Butler's army had only Whiting done his job on June 16, but his thoughtful and highly favorable assessment of the general's conduct of the campaign overall should add to reader interest in the author's own upcoming reexamination of Beauregard's Civil War career (Dreams of Victory: General P.G.T. Beauregard in the Civil War). Beauregard's star is on a bit of an upswing lately, and a new reevaluation of his life and Civil War generalship is long past due (it's been over 65 years since T. Harry Williams's standard biography was published). On the other side of the equation, besides removing the threat to Richmond for the immediate future, Butler's defeat crushed his highest political aspirations. Similar to what it might do for renewed interest in the Confederate commander, the book's discussion of Butler's political aspirations in both main text and appendix section also should go some way toward whetting reader appetite for the new Butler biography scheduled for publication next year (Elizabeth Leonard's Benjamin Franklin Butler: A Noisy, Fearless Life). One of the best books in the ECW series (easily rating among the top handful in this reviewer's estimation), Sean Chick's Grant's Left Hook is highly recommended reading.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Booknotes: Rebel Correspondent

New Arrival:
Rebel Correspondent by Steve Procko (Steve Procko Productions - Author, 2021).

Arba F. Shaw enlisted in the 4th Georgia Cavalry (Avery's) just after he turned eighteen years of age and served in its Company F for the duration of the war. From the description: "At the beginning of the twentieth century, Arba F. Shaw was a fifty-seven-year-old farmer. On a chilly December day in 1901, he put pen to paper to write his memories of being a Rebel private in the 4th Georgia Cavalry (Avery), C.S.A. He completed writing his account in February 1902. His local newspaper, the Walker County Messenger, in Lafayette, Georgia, published his account in more than fifty articles from 1901 to 1903." Extensively edited by Steve Procko, that collection of remembrances has now been published in book format under the title Rebel Correspondent. According to Procko, Shaw's "eyewitness accounts are perhaps the only written record of some of the day-to-day activities" of his regiment available today.

In January 1863, the 23rd Georgia Cavalry Battalion completed its reorganization and expansion into a full regiment, the new unit being the 4th Georgia Cavalry (Avery's) [to be differentiated from the 4th Georgia Cavalry (Clinch's) regiment of the same number, a mix-up that took some time to resolve and is explained in Chapter 14]. The regiment fought in the Chickamauga, East Tennessee, and Atlanta Campaigns. Escaping the "siege" of Savannah, Avery's 4th was reorganized again and redesignated the 12th Georgia Cavalry, which fought during the 1865 Carolinas Campaign before surrendering at Bennett Place with the remnants of the Army of Tennessee. Shaw himself was wounded at the Battle of New Hope Church. Returning to the unit after a convalescence, he was badly wounded again only five months later.

Procko retains the original serialized presentation of Shaw's newspaper-published memoir. Further organized into chapters, those parts are italicized and extensive bridging text (a dense amount of material that could easily fill an entire book on its own) inserted between each installment. Both memoir and text are footnoted. While contextualizing Shaw's experiences within the wider war around him, Procko's text additionally serves as a parallel history of the regiment. It also tells the tale of the memoir itself while also being chock full of additional biographical details for Shaw and other members of his unit. There's no bibliography available to offer some kind of instant impression of the amount of additional research that went into all of the above, but a glance through the footnotes gives off a favorable vibe. Numerous photographs, historical illustrations, and area maps are also sprinkled throughout the text. The final chapter is a compiled roster of Shaw's Company F. While scarce records render it incomplete, for those individuals that are included there is quite a bit of information provided.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Booknotes: Armistead and Hancock

New Arrival:
Armistead and Hancock: Behind the Gettysburg Legend of Two Friends at the Turning Point of the Civil War by Tom McMillan (Stackpole Bks, 2021).

The "brother versus brother" appellation attached to the American Civil War has always had both literal and figurative meanings. One of the most often cited examples of close Old Army comrades (professional brothers) separated by conflicting allegiances is the friendship between Union major general Winfield Scott Hancock and Confederate brigadier general Lewis A. Armistead. Knowledge of the pair's relationship entered the popular imagination most after the publication of Michael Shaara's historical novel Killer Angels and the Gettysburg movie adapted from it, but the story certainly had a long history before that. As author Tom McMillan notes in his new book Armistead and Hancock: Behind the Gettysburg Legend of Two Friends at the Turning Point of the Civil War, the topic received a modern shot in the arm with the publication of Bruce Catton's Army of the Potomac trilogy. According to McMillan, though mention of the Armistead and Hancock friendship first appeared in published form in 1880, Catton's Glory Road was the first book to use Almira Hancock's Reminiscences (1887) as a source for the famous California farewell dinner story featured in both novel and movie. Of course, the best stories always receive the most scrutiny and apparently some contrarian writers have even come to the conclusion that the two were not friends.

In Armistead and Hancock, McMillan "sets the record straight. Even if their relationship wasn’t as close as the legend has it, Hancock and Armistead knew each other well before the Civil War. Armistead was seven years older, but in a small prewar army where everyone seemed to know everyone else, Hancock and Armistead crossed paths at a fort in Indian Territory before the Mexican War and then served together in California, becoming friends—and they emotionally parted ways when the Civil War broke out. Their lives wouldn’t intersect again until Gettysburg, when they faced each other during Pickett’s Charge."

Creative license and invented dialogue are part and parcel to historical novels and movie adaptations, and McMillan finds no evidence to support there being any truth behind the sentimental Armistead-Hancock scenes displayed in the movie in the midst of campaign and battle. However, the author's research has arrived at the certain conclusion that the pair were indeed friends beginning in 1844 with their frontier service together in Indian Territory. On a side note, the book's appendix casts serious doubt on Armistead ever having the nickname "Lo." That moniker only appeared in the controversial Pickett letters published by that general's wife, a collection that Gary Gallagher has deemed inauthentic and "worthless as a source."

More from the description: "Part dual biography and part Civil War history, Armistead and Hancock: Behind the Gettysburg Legend clarifies the historic record with new information and fresh perspective, reversing decades of misconceptions about an amazing story of two friends that has defined the Civil War."