Thursday, December 30, 2021

2021 - The CIVIL WAR BOOKS and AUTHORS Year in Review

BOOK OF THE YEAR
1. PORT HUDSON: The Most Significant Battlefield Photographs of the Civil War by Lawrence Lee Hewitt (University of Tennessee Press).

A product of decades of persistent toil in image acquisition and in forensic photography research and analysis, Hewitt's book is a unique and important contribution to the historiography of the Port Hudson Campaign as well as the study of Civil War battlefield photography more generally. Even those readers with a high degree of familiarity with the published Port Hudson literature will be viewing the great majority of these images for the first time, and the book's documentation and presentation of the collection are both superb. [For more thoughts on this title, see the full Review (1/6/22)]


The Rest of the Year's TOP TEN (in no particular order)

2. Choctaw Confederates: The American Civil War in Indian Country by Fay Yarbrough (University of North Carolina Press).

Yarbrough's book is the first truly expansive study of the Confederacy's staunchest ally among the nations of Indian Territory. Drawing parallels with the southern states, it illuminates both common and unique factors involved in Choctaw willingness to fight in the Civil War and details their profound commitment to defending slavery and controlling the parameters of tribal citizenship during Reconstruction and beyond. [Review forthcoming]

3. The Howling Storm: Weather, Climate, and the American Civil War by Kenneth W. Noe (Louisiana State University Press).

In comprehensively assessing the impact of the elements on the war's fighting and home fronts, Noe creatively assigns weather what amounts to co-belligerent status and convincingly illustrates the ways in which Union superiority in coping with its effects played a major role in victory. [see the full 5/6/21 Review]

4. Tullahoma: The Forgotten Campaign that Changed the Course of the Civil War, June 23 - July 4, 1863 by David A. Powell and Eric J. Wittenberg (Savas Beatie).

By any measure a first-rank example of Civil War operational history writing, Powell and Wittenberg's full-length treatment finally propels the Tullahoma Campaign toward the wider appreciation it deserves as a critical component of the summer 1863 series of major Union victories that collectively altered the course of the war. [see the 2/4/21 Review]

5. "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 Institute).

In addition to being by far the best historical account of the operation, this book usefully documents the transition period between the end of realistic Confederate hopes of establishing a permanent presence in Missouri and the raiding strategy they employed during the second half of the war. [see the 6/8/21 Review]

6. The Siege of Vicksburg: Climax of the Campaign to Open the Mississippi River, May 23-July 4, 1863 by Timothy B. Smith (University Press of Kansas).

Of course the books fully deserve it, but I might as well just reserve a spot on the year-end list for every new title in Smith's Vicksburg Campaign series. [see the 9/29/21 Review]

7. Radical Sacrifice: The Rise and Ruin of Fitz John Porter by William Marvel (University of North Carolina Press).

In quite sympathetic yet still evenhanded fashion, Marvel provides readers with a superior treatment of Porter's Civil War career, his court martial, and his long personal quest after the war to restore rank and reputation. [see the 4/2/21 Review]

8. Civil War Supply and Strategy: Feeding Men and Moving Armies by Earl J. Hess (Louisiana State University Press).

An excellent companion volume to his earlier book on military transportation titled Civil War Logistics, Hess's follow-up rigorously explains how each side addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) the steep challenges involved in supplying large armies on a continental scale. Also clearly explained is how superior Union leadership and management fostered victory in ways that cannot be accounted for by manpower and material superabundance alone. [see the 3/25/21 Review]

9. Meade and Lee at Rappahannock Station: The Army of the Potomac’s First Post-Gettysburg Offensive, From Kelly’s Ford to the Rapidan, October 21 to November 20, 1863 by Jeffrey Wm. Hunt (Savas Beatie).

While Kent Masterson Brown's excellent 2021 study of Meade at Gettysburg (which could easily have made this list as well) showed the general's leadership qualities at their best, Hunt's detailed account of Meade's first offensive campaign reveals the army commander's strengths and weaknesses in a way that does not diminish his achievements yet raises critical concerns about the general's capacity to finish the job against Lee's army in Virginia. [see the 6/24/21 Review]

10. Confederates and Comancheros: Skullduggery and Double-Dealing in the Texas–New Mexico Borderlands by James Bailey Blackshear and Glen Sample Ely (University of Oklahoma Press).

Though a mini-flood of recent publications examining the Civil War-era American Southwest in ways both large and small has emerged in recent years, Blackshear and Ely's book documenting the war years in the trans-Pecos occupies a novel and important geographical and historical niche within that burgeoning literature. [see the 12/15/21 Review]



[Note: Some of the year's best titles can be found among the volume of 4Q releases. Those books become eligible for the following year's list (thus the reason why several 2020 books are in this compilation).]

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Coming Soon (January '22 Edition)

**NEW RELEASES1** Scheduled for JAN 2022:

South Carolina in 1865 by Karen Stokes.
Sons of East Tennessee: Civil War Veterans Divided and Reconciled by Jack Brubaker.
When the Southern Lights Went Dark: The Lighthouse Establishment During the Civil War by Clifford & Clifford.
Chicago to Appomattox: The 39th Illinois Infantry in the Civil War by Jason Baker.
The Carnage was Fearful: The Battle of Cedar Mountain, August 9, 1862 by Michael Block.

Comments: I received a copy of the Stokes book already (see the Booknotes entry here). I recall hearing about the lighthouse book quite a while back (maybe a couple years or more), and it appears like the long-delayed release is finally imminent.

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.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Booknotes: Suffering in the Army of Tennessee

New Arrival:
Suffering in the Army of Tennessee: A Social History of the Confederate Army of the Heartland from the Battles for Atlanta to the Retreat from Nashville by Christopher Thrasher (UT Press, 2021).

Suffering in the Army of Tennessee is very different from most volumes in University of Tennessee Press's Voices of the Civil War series in that it "doesn’t just draw upon one single diary or letter collection, and it does not use brief quotations as a way to fill out a larger narrative." Instead, "across eight chapters spanning the Atlanta Campaign to the Battle of Nashville in 1864," author Christopher Thrasher "draws upon a remarkably broad set of primary sources—newspapers, manuscripts, archives, diaries, and official documents—to tell a story that knits together accounts of senior officers, the final campaigns of the Western Theater, and the experiences of the civilians and rebel soldiers who found themselves deep in the trenches of a national reckoning."

Over the past couple decades, Civil War readers have finally been gifted with a relative abundance of book-length coverage of the marching and fighting that occurred in Tennessee and Georgia during the 1864 campaigning season. However, there is always room for new angles, and Thrasher's book lays claim to being the first to offer "what amounts to a sweeping social history of the Army of Tennessee—the daily details of soldiering and the toll it took on the men and boys who mustered into service foreseeing only a small skirmish among the states."

The book will undoubtedly touch upon many common themes found in modern Civil War soldier studies, and though the history of the fighting men of the Confederacy's principal western army has not been neglected (see Larry Daniel's 1991 book Soldiering in the Army of Tennessee: A Portrait of Life in a Confederate Army) it will be interesting to see what thesis develops from Thrasher's more detailed concentration on the late-war period. It's also a generously illustrated book, with 18 maps and a host of photos, tables, and other figures.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Booknotes: The Oxford Handbook of the American Civil War

New Arrival:
The Oxford Handbook of the American Civil War edited by Lorien Foote and Earl J. Hess (Oxford UP, 2021).

As its title reveals, The Oxford Handbook of the American Civil War is part of the Oxford Handbooks series, the installments of which "offer authoritative and up-to-date surveys of original research in a particular subject area. Specially commissioned essays from leading figures in the discipline give critical examinations of the progress and direction of debates, as well as a foundation for future research."

For this volume, editors Lorien Foote and Earl Hess have gathered together a star-studded cast of historians to pen 39 essays, all of which revolve in some way around the book's unifying theme "that operational military history is decisively linked to the social and political history of Civil War America." From the description: "Every time Union armies invaded Southern territory there were unintended consequences. Military campaigns always affected the local population -- devastating farms and towns, making refugees of the inhabitants, undermining slavery. Local conditions in turn altered the course of military events. The social effects of military campaigns resonated throughout geographic regions and across time. Campaigns and battles often had a serious impact on national politics and international affairs. Not all campaigns in the Civil War had a dramatic impact on the country, but every campaign, no matter how small, had dramatic and traumatic effects on local communities. Civil War military operations did not occur in a vacuum; there was a price to be paid on many levels of society in both North and South."

The book is almost 700 pages in length and breadth of coverage is wide. "The (39) chapters cover all three major theaters of the war and include discussions of Bleeding Kansas, the Union naval blockade, the South West, American Indians, and Reconstruction." All of the largest campaigns, east and west, are in some fashion incorporated into the anthology. The war in the trans-Mississippi, stretching to both the desert Southwest and the Great Plains is also addressed. Like all good military history books, cartography is a feature, not an afterthought, here. There are 51 maps included. Notes and bibliography are placed at the end of each chapter. While this kind of book can certainly have a wider appeal than others in the series, institutions and professionals are the target audience (and it's priced accordingly).

More from the description: "Each essay offers a particular interpretation of how one of the war's campaigns resonated in the larger world of the North and South. Taken together, these chapters illuminate how key transformations operated across national, regional, and local spheres, covering key topics such as politics, race, slavery, emancipation, gender, loyalty, and guerrilla warfare."

Monday, December 20, 2021

Review - "Myths of the Civil War: The Fact, Fiction, and Science behind the Civil War’s Most-Told Stories" by Scott Hippensteel

[Myths of the Civil War: The Fact, Fiction, and Science behind the Civil War’s Most-Told Stories by Scott Hippensteel (Stackpole Books, 2021). Hardcover, photos, tables, illustrations, appendix section, notes, bibliography, index. Pages:v,263. ISBN:978-0-8117-3997-9. $29.95]

Many Civil War stories and expressions have become so entrenched in both the published literature and popular imagination that they're often repeated without much in the way of reflection. Employing a variety of methods, Scott Hippensteel's Myths of the Civil War: The Fact, Fiction, and Science behind the Civil War’s Most-Told Stories employs a quantitative approach that reexamines a number of those popular Civil War assumptions, claims, and phrases. Seven chapters examine such "tropes," and they do so in three stages. First, the "oft-repeated historical claim" is defined as narrowly as possible and meticulously detailed. To counter arguments that the author might be stacking the deck against the myth, Hippensteel to his credit attempts to formulate often nebulous assumptions in a way that is as favorable to the myth as possible while remaining within the parameters of evidence found in the literature (anecdotal as it may be). Some readers might find the often high number of examples provided to be repetitive and a bit tedious, but it's largely necessary to establish the trope. Second, "the background scientific principles are introduced and explained in a nontechnical manner." In each case, the author develops a quantitative method to examine the myth. The third and final section is reserved for "analysis and evaluation" of the claim and the science employed for testing it. In addition to "studying and discussing the potential reality of the antiquated trope," this section also suggests "alternative and more realistic scenarios" for the rejected historical claim (pg. 5). Both stages two and three are well stocked with photographs, contemporary illustrations, figures, and tables that augment and/or visually illustrate the analytical process in a very clear manner.

Civil War sharpshooting has received increased attention of late (with some excellent published work from Fred Ray and a number of other writers and historians), and much of it is incorporated into Hippensteel's focused examination of three famous (or infamous) sniping episodes from two major battles. Though 'impossible' and 'highly improbable' are used a bit too interchangeably in the discussion of assumptions and results, the volume's rational and well-illustrated approach to sniping mythology offers a really excellent treatise on the extreme difficulties involved in achieving a first-shot kill beyond 500 yards under battlefield conditions while using even the best long-range rifles and crude scopes of the period.

Every Civil War reader has encountered countless quotes or passages that create a mental picture of the aftermath of fighting over a particular patch of ground (often large open fields) using colorful phrases like a "carpet of death" or describe the ability of a person to fully traverse a corpse-stewn part of a battlefield without touching the ground. In another example, the volume of enemy fire is very often described as a "hailstorm" of lead. In rethinking those tropes, Hippensteel uses novel spatial and meteorological analysis to completely discount such scenarios having any basis in reality (though for the former, it is conceded that corpses can conceivably be concentrated enough within the most tightly confined spaces). Though cognizant that such widespread use of the same words and phrases can be indicative of period lexicon not meant to be taken literally (and most readers and writers are surely aware of that as well), the author still insists that too many authors remain credulous and those that aren't too often pass them on to their audience without qualifying statements.

The post-battle collection of thousands of abandoned rifles that contained multiple loads in their barrels has attracted several explanations, the most popular of which involve poor user training and the stresses of battle. The fact that this phenomenon continued throughout the war among veteran armies and keeping in mind that the technology itself was subject to relatively frequent misfires, Hippensteel suggests a better explanation. The scenario is as follows: (1) a misfired weapon (for whatever reason) is discarded for another dropped by a killed, wounded, or fleeing comrade, (2) another soldier needing a replacement weapon picks up the inoperable rifle, assumes it has been fired already, loads it, and pulls the trigger, (3) that soldier then discards the rifle when it obviously doesn't fire. This process is then repeated any number of times leading to thousands of weapons with three or more loads in the barrel. Though others have surely independently arrived at the same possibility, this is a scenario that is far more convincing than the ones most commonly raised in the literature.

A large volume of ink has been spilled debating the merits of Civil War rifle-musket superiority over older technology and whether it had a revolutionary impact on the battlefield. Hippensteel's analysis agrees with that of Earl Hess, Paddy Griffith, and others, arguing that the Springfield and Enfield rifle-muskets in the hands of Civil War soldiers had only a marginal (not revolutionary) impact on Civil War battlefield tactics and casualties.

Through the pioneering work of William Frassanito and others, it has been demonstrated that Civil War photography was frequently staged, altered, or given fraudulent captions by practitioners more concerned with appealing composition and profits than in creating an authentic historical visual record. Using knowledge of the photographic process, forensic techniques, and geology (the author's own professional expertise), Hippensteel establishes a useful "hierarchy of manipulation" that he employs in the book to quantitatively assess fraud, finding that one-third or more Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg images show clear evidence of manipulation. Thus, Civil War photography did not at all possess the fabled journalistic and historical truthfulness so often extolled at the time. This has been revealed for some time already, but arriving at a numerical evaluation of its scale is insightful.

The book ends with a "realism vs. romanticism" examination of popular Civil War art. Rather than getting into arcane arguments involving uniform and weaponry minutiae, Hippensteel selects three readily quantifiable elements of "realism" for his comparison. These are (1) the ratio of firing to reloading soldiers, (2) the amount and quality of smoke in the frame, and (3) the presence and extent of muzzle and vent flash. Using those metrics, the author determines that the popular art of the 1980s and 90s (exemplified by the prodigious output of leading lights such as Dale Gallon, Don Troiani, Keith Rocco, and Mort K√ľntsler) is indeed, as claimed, generally more 'realistic' than that produced by previous generations of painters and illustrators.

Of course, readers can come up with a host of additional tropes that could easily fill up another volume, and many solid candidates are mentioned in the book's conclusion. In the series of topics addressed in the appendix section, Hippensteel offers more information on means available for comparing rifle knockdown power, looks at how effective hand-held revolvers were in Civil War combat, discusses common 'farbiness' in reenacting, and reflects on how poorly Civil War projectile ballistics and wounds are portrayed in cinema and on television.

Some of the topics covered by Myths of the Civil War aren't myths by the strict definition of the word or are really quite harmless to any quest aimed at obtaining a mature understanding of the war, but the ways in which Hippensteel applies math and science to test the range or limits of reality when it comes to popular figures of speech, feats of sharpshooting, the alleged firearms revolution, and Civil War art are unique and fresh. Its contributions to ongoing debates about Civil War rifled shoulder arms and ballistics are arguably the volume's most important contributions. The book usefully reminds us that it is always good to periodically step back and more objectively question long-held assumptions, and the author creatively demonstrates a host of relatively simple tools and methods one might employ in doing so. Scott Hippensteel is two for two now when it comes to creating books that approach the Civil War in fascinating ways we've never quite seen before (see also 2019's Rocks and Rifles), and one can only hope that his authorial aspirations will continue on in this distinctive vein.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Booknotes: Confederate Conscription and the Struggle for Southern Soldiers

New Arrival:
Confederate Conscription and the Struggle for Southern Soldiers by John M. Sacher (LSU Press, 2021).

During my time running this site, I've come across enough questionable claims about publishing 'firsts' (or firsts in a long, long time) to not always accept them at face value. My initial reaction to reading that John Sacher's Confederate Conscription and the Struggle for Southern Soldiers "serves as the first comprehensive examination of the topic in nearly one hundred years" was a skeptical one. But after wracking my brain and tapping my keyboard for a bit, I couldn't come up with another candidate. I can recall (as Sacher also does in his introduction) Walter Hilderman's They Went into the Fight Cheering!: Confederate Conscription in North Carolina (2005), but it is obviously a study of more limited scope. Given conscription's important and controversial role in the war, the fact that a book the dusty vintage of Albert Burton Moore's Conscription and Conflict in the Confederacy (1924) remains the standard work on the topic is a bit surprising. Moore's book, which was reissued in paperback in 1996 by University of South Carolina Press with a new introduction, is also yet another early twentieth-century classic unread by me.

Accepting the challenge of formulating an up-to-date modern reexamination of Confederate conscription, Sacher work promises "fresh insights" into the South's draft system and "new conclusions." From the description: "Often summarily dismissed as a detested policy that violated states’ rights and forced nonslaveholders to fight for planters, the conscription law elicited strong responses from southerners wanting to devise the best way to guarantee what they perceived as shared sacrifice. Most who bristled at the compulsory draft did so believing it did not align with their vision of the Confederacy. As Sacher reveals, white southerners’ desire to protect their families, support their communities, and ensure the continuation of slavery shaped their reaction to conscription." Popularly regarded as the most "hated" of the Richmond government's war policy measures, Sacher finds that most Confederate supporters recognized that it was necessary to maintain the fighting strength of the army and believes the evidence shows conscription to be rather more accurately described as the most "debated" measure.

More: "For three years, Confederates tried to achieve victory on the battlefield while simultaneously promoting their vision of individual liberty for whites and states’ rights. While they failed in that quest, Sacher demonstrates that southerners’ response to the 1862 conscription law did not determine their commitment to the Confederate cause. Instead, the implementation of the draft spurred a debate about sacrifice―both physical and ideological―as the Confederacy’s insatiable demand for soldiers only grew in the face of a grueling war."

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Review - "Confederates and Comancheros: Skullduggery and Double-Dealing in the Texas–New Mexico Borderlands" by Blackshear & Ely

[Confederates and Comancheros: Skullduggery and Double-Dealing in the Texas–New Mexico Borderlands by James Bailey Blackshear and Glen Sample Ely (University of Oklahoma Press, 2021). Hardcover, maps, photos, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:x,175/286. ISBN:978-0-8061-7560-7. $32.95]

Ever since the Comanche people moved into the Texas-New Mexico borderlands between the Pecos and Rio Grande rivers during the early 1700s, trade relationships were formed between the region's Hispano settlers and the powerful, empire-building tribe. By the 1840s, an important economic-exchange network had evolved between New Mexican merchants and Pueblo Indians on one side and Southern Plains indigenous groups (the aforementioned Comanche, but also Kiowa and Apache) that came to be known as the "Comanchero" trade. That early to mid-nineteenth century period, which witnessed a changed in territorial control from Mexico to the United States at the conclusion of the 1846-48 war fought between those nations, also saw an influx in European (most prominently German) immigrants and Anglo-American entrepreneurs who prospered as merchants and army supply contractors. Those partners forged indispensable ties with Comanchero middle men who could effectively transport and negotiate the exchange of manufactured goods highly prized by the Comanche with Texas livestock stolen by Comanche raiders. The Comanchero trade of the 1860s and 1870s, with the American Civil War context as its centerpiece, is the subject of James Blackshear and Glen Ely's important new study Confederates and Comancheros: Skullduggery and Double-Dealing in the Texas–New Mexico Borderlands.

Confederates and Comancheros makes two fresh and notable contributions to the historiography of the nineteenth-century American West. First, its chronicling of the final two decades of the Comanchero trade in the Texas-New Mexico borderlands offers an important reappraisal of who was involved in the trade, its significance to the region's culture and economy, and what factors contributed to its demise. Second, Blackshear and Ely's study is the first book to document in detail Civil War activities and events in the Trans-Pecos during the 1862-65 period. The literature of the 1861-62 Confederate invasion of New Mexico and Arizona is very well developed at this point, a notable circumstance in itself given how little coverage is accorded to much larger Trans-Mississippi campaigns and battles situated much closer to the theater's military and political centers of gravity. However, those studies typically end with the less than triumphal return to Texas of General Henry H. Sibley's defeated and bedraggled army, offering only cursory reminder of sustained tensions in the region between Union and Confederate authorities. With New Mexico reasonably secure, Union planners turned their military attentions away from Confederate enemies and toward pacification of hostile tribes, and the disappointed Confederates in Texas were diverted by more pressing problems to the south and east. This volume fills that gap.

Blackshear and Ely offer readers really the first full examination of the spying, scouting, and raiding that persisted in the trans-Pecos between 1862 and 1865. In deftly weaving the international dimensions of those overt and covert activities into their narrative, the authors make a notable contribution to the Civil War-era borderlands literature that has become highly fashionable of late. They draw attention to an important regional figure, Confederate irregular scout Henry Skillman, who remains unknown to nearly all Civil War students but was the scourge of Union authorities. Skillman's aptitude for the work lived up to his name as he crisscrossed the region gathering intelligence, raiding enemy lines of supply and communication, and facilitating many beneficial cross-border connections. As the authors document, his death in an 1864 ambush was a loss that proved irreplaceable to Confederate military authorities in Texas and contributed mightily to tightened Union control over the region during the late-war period. The authors further illustrate how the grander plans of both sides, the Confederate dreams of returning to New Mexico with another army and Union ideas of using troops in southern New Mexico to cooperate with invading forces from the coast, never materialized due to logistical and manpower constraints. The text is supplemented by a handful of excellent, detailed maps of the region's geography. All are essential to understanding key locations, trade routes, and military movements obscure to most readers.

Comancheros were primarily New Mexican traders descended from Spanish settlers, but Pueblo Indians and other ethnicities were also involved in the widely interconnected network of legal and illegal exchange. These groups became vital go-betweens in the region's lucrative barter system in stolen Texas cattle that Comanche and Kiowa perpetrators traded with Comancheros for highly desirable trade goods obtained from New Mexican merchants. German immigrants and Anglo-Americans (often former army officers) eager to profit from their knowledge of the region and their government connections also became intimately involved. After the end of the war between the US and Mexico, the trade system operated on an officially licensed basis with significant financial bond requirements, but there was a great deal of corruption in the profitable business, and illegal trade in guns, powder, and whiskey was rampart. US government and military authorities tried to clamp down on the illegal activity but often had to tread lightly as Comancheros proved to be essential negotiators in bartering for the return of white women and children kidnapped by the Indians during their livestock raids.

Using depredation files, court records, and other sources, the authors piece together a detailed picture of the trade, along with many of its players both major and minor, as it existed in the trans-Pecos. In an appendix, the authors also compile for future reference a large, alphabetically organized roster of known Comancheros, their employees, and bond holders. After the end of the Civil War, cattle ranching and trailing (the Goodnight-Loving trail that followed the Pecos into New Mexico before continuing on to Colorado and Cheyenne, Wyoming being the nearest) exploded in scale, and old animosities between Texans and New Mexicans boiled over, with conflict (including deadly vigilante raids) ensuing between angry ranchers and those in New Mexico who participated in the trade in stolen Texas cattle.

New Mexico Territory was not the only source of pain to Texas ranchers, and the book also documents the Comanche-Comanchero trade in stolen horses and cattle on the Upper Arkansas that occurred during the late-1850s, especially activities around Bent's New Fort. During the Civil War, demand for beef skyrocketed under the dual demands of Union military occupation and the need to feed thousands of new mouths on the Bosque Redondo reservation. This was a windfall for army contractors, Comancheros, and Comanche raiders. The authors also note that, by the mid-war period, NW Texas ranchers, their livestock subject to impressment and payment in worthless Confederate paper money, themselves secretly traded with Union authorities.

Before and during the Civil War, the Comanchero trade was tolerated largely because the military posts and government agencies across northeastern New Mexico needed beef in great quantities and Comancheros were a major part of the 'few questions asked' subcontracting process. After the Civil War, with the arrival of the railroad and the booming business in feeding the teeming population of the East with Texas beef, a more concerted effort was finally made to defeat the powerful Comanche and Kiowa, whose raids still routinely stole thousands of head from the growing cattle trails. Doing so also meant that the Comanchero trade that previously supplied the army with fresh beef had to be dealt a severe and permanent blow.

As the book demonstrates, the Comanchero trade was largely extinguished by the mid-1870s, and the US Army was the primary force behind its demise. The authors note Texas vigilante threats and violence (and later their heavy migration into the region), a hostile press, and elements of elite New Mexican opposition as other major contributing factors. However, sources of prosperity and violence associated with the trade did not disappear with its end but rather changed in form, and the book insightfully draws many direct connections between the economic forces and players involved in the Comanchero trade with the cattle wars that followed, including the infamous Lincoln County War. While most presumably redirected their economic activities into more acceptable contemporary pursuits, what happened to the former Comancheros themselves is not delved into deeply. The authors do note that they were prized by allies and former enemies alike for their intimate knowledge of the region's geography, and some were even hired out by cattle ranchers on that basis.

In discussing those Union men who traveled into Texas itself to gather herds (mostly through purchase but supplemented through jayhawking), the book complements earlier studies in addressing the impact of California Column veterans on economic activities in the Southwest. Most of these large purchases were from John Chisum, who also acted as broker for other large ranchers. According to the authors, and contrary to many historical accounts, the record is clear that James Patterson and his associates forged the great trans-Pecos cattle trail a year before Goodnight and Loving. The book additionally documents the massive scale of Texas livestock losses from Indian raiders (who were often accompanied by Comancheros) during the early 1870s, and those losses would only diminish with the end of the Red River War in 1875 and establishment of Comanche, Kiowa, and Mescalero Apache reservations. Though raiders left the reservations on a regular basis that decade, losses from their activities weren't as serious as before and their extinguishment roughly coincided with the end of the Comanchero trade.

Deeply researched and expansive in scope, Confederates and Comancheros adds fresh and vital understanding to the history of the rise and fall of a legendary Trans-Mississippi trade network involving all segments of New Mexican and Southern Plains societies. The volume also admirably fills a major time and subject matter gap in the literature's coverage of the American Civil War fought in the Border Southwest. Highly recommended.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Booknotes: South Carolina in 1865

New Arrival:
South Carolina in 1865 by Karen Stokes (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Press, 2022).

South Carolina Historical Society archivist Karen Stokes has written or edited a great number of books and articles on Civil War South Carolina, focusing much of her attention on the late-war military and civilian experience. Her new book, South Carolina in 1865, is an edited collection of letters, diary accounts, and reminiscences written by Union and Confederate soldiers and Confederate civilians who witnessed the war's destructive path through the state in 1865.

The material is organized into three main sections. The first consists of four letters, the second five accounts of the burning of Columbia, and the third a pair of chapters addressing the occupation of Charleston and Union raids conducted just to the north in Berkeley County. Stokes contributes contextual narrative as well as endnotes, and the text is supplemented by a number of archival photographs and drawings.

This is an early arrival of a title scheduled for release in the first week of January.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Review - "Southern Strategies: Why the Confederacy Failed" by Christian Keller, ed.

[Southern Strategies: Why the Confederacy Failed edited by Christian B. Keller (University Press of Kansas, 2021). Hardcover, maps, photos, chapter notes, index. Pp. 275. ISBN:978-0-7006-3218-3. $34.95]

It is tempting to take conflict analysis paradigms developed by and for today's national security professionals and test their strength and validity against historical belligerents and the wars they fought long ago. Employing timeless elements, the DIME model of strategy analysis seems to be a particularly appropriate candidate for such an exercise, and the way it is used in Southern Strategies: Why the Confederacy Failed exposes in fresh ways a number of well-recognized shortcomings in Confederate strategic thinking and execution.

Over the more than 150 years that have passed since the end of the Civil War, historians have proposed a great multitude of factors that help explain Confederate defeat. Many of them go in and out of fashion and no two scholars will ever rank their relative significance in the same order. However, everyone will agree that key flaws and mistakes in Confederate civilian and military leadership and strategy contributed mightily to the downfall of the rebellion. Essays in Southern Strategies explore how those faults impacted the four instruments of national power represented in the DIME model, the "synchronicity" of which is necessary to maintain that power in wartime and achieve strategic goals. The Diplomatic, Informational (on both fighting and home fronts), Military power, and Economic instruments of a nation's strategic DIME must all work hand in hand to achieve defined ends (in the case of the Confederacy, independence and international recognition). Though each is focused on a single instrument, all six essays in the book stress that synchronicity and many showcase, directly or indirectly, the Confederacy's doom-inducing inability to counteract failures in one DIME facet with achievement in the others. Importantly, each contributor also fully recognizes that it is just as important for a warring power to understand the opponent's DIME (and seek ways to undermine it) than it is to try to successfully manage its own.

Volume editor Christian Keller's opening essay reminds readers straight away of the impact of contingency on the Confederate strategic DIME. As readers of Keller's award-winning 2019 book The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy know, the author strongly believes that the successful Lee-Jackson command team (part of the 'M' in DIME) represented the Confederacy's best chance to achieve military success in the eastern theater, and Jackson's death was a heavy blow to southern hopes for independence and diplomatic recognition. Much of the argumentation and conclusions presented in that earlier book are summarized again here, but there is also a renewed look at a counterfactual situation in which Jackson, fresh off his Spring 1862 Shenandoah Valley exploits, has his invasion plan for Maryland and Pennsylvania approved. In reasoning that a successful movement north would have had significant diplomatic impact abroad, boosted domestic morale, and, if it successfully damaged the Pennsylvania coal industry as intended, injurious effects on the Union economy, the chapter also incorporates other DIME elements into the discussion. Keller is fully aware that the pressure on Richmond exerted by the Army of the Potomac advancing up the Peninsula likely required Jackson's presence there and giving Jackson all of the reinforcements he wanted impractical, but the author also reasonably argues that a narrow window of opportunity did exist for a bold, though more modest-sized, counterstroke. On the other hand, if one subscribes to the common view that Jackson's Valley campaign had reduced the general to a state of physical and mental exhaustion by the beginning of the Seven Days, it can be questioned whether Old Jack was up to conducting a long raid fraught with danger. Indeed, in theorizing how such a movement by Jackson during the latter half of 1862 might have turned out, Keller readily acknowledges the situation to be one where "counterfactual clouds become so dense that to speculate further begs incredulity" (pg. 40). Still, it can be a useful mental exercise to imagine how such an operation could have effected both Confederate and Union DIME instruments.

Eric Johnson's chapter provides both a wonderful summary of post-Industrial Revolution methods available for war financing and an insightful comparison between successful Union fiscal strategy and disastrously unsuccessful Confederate fiscal policy. In contrast to the Lincoln administration, which possessed an existing national revenue-raising bureaucracy and adopted a suitable combination of new taxes, bonds, and paper money issuance to finance the war, the Davis government was unable to overcome traditional sectional opposition to national tax levying, and its newly organized Treasury Department was not up to the task of putting the war effort on sound enough financial footing before being overtaken by rampant inflation. The 1864 balance of 5% war financing revenue from taxation, 30% from bonds, and 60% through paper money printing contrasted sharply and unfavorably with Union funding estimates of 60% bonds and short-term loans, 21% taxes, and just 13% paper money. Apart from the singular success of the Erlanger loan, Confederate defeats, hyperinflation, and diminishing confidence in the viability of the rebel movement made bonds an unappealing investment in relative short order, and the overreliance on paper money printing furthered the economic death spiral. Though naturally focused on the 'E' instrument, the chapter effectively incorporates additional context in the form of Union and Confederate diplomatic efforts (the former much more effective than the latter), Union intelligence operations abroad, and naval blockade effects on the Confederate DIME.

Special Orders 191 often dominates discussion of how intelligence contributed to Confederate defeat in the 1862 Maryland Campaign, but Kevin McCall's detailed examination of the 'I' in the Confederate DIME at a critical moment in the history of the war draws attention toward challenges to Confederate strategic, operational, and tactical intelligence that stemmed from the abrupt shifting of the theater of war from friendly Virginia to mostly hostile Maryland. Using modern military intelligence terminology, McCall interestingly and convincingly outlines how rapid change in the army's operational space upended every aspect of Lee's established Virginia-based intelligence gathering system (including human, communications, and open source collection). The writer also holds previously reliable Jeb Stuart directly responsible for much of Lee's blindness. According to McCall, after successfully establishing a screen, Stuart failed to go further and obtain operational and tactical-level information regarding enemy strength, locations, and key terrain to evaluate and report to his commander. Naturally, it is understood that operating in enemy territory is more difficult than operating in friendly territory, but the chapter clearly demonstrates that multi-level intelligence failures as well as unavoidable short-term barriers contributed heavily to the squandering of a strategic opportunity (the possible dimensions of which are certainly up for debate). As accomplished by the other contributors, McCall also successfully integrates other instruments of the Confederate and Union DIME (primarily diplomatic and military components) into his 'I'-focused examination. He also includes an appendix that provides a new perspective on the Lost Order controversy from a counterintelligence perspective that envisions the possibility, though purely speculative, that the loss of the document was not accidental.

Erik Anderson boldly sees the role of diplomatic failure in the overall misalignment of the Confederacy's strategic DIME as "the most critical issue" that held the breakaway republic back from achieving its goal of independence. Unlike most diplomacy discussions found in the Civil War literature, Anderson's centers on what the paradigm shift in post-Napoleonic Wars Great Powers statecraft and diplomacy meant to Confederate officials seeking European recognition. After reading Anderson's explanation of how international relations goals and priorities among European powers had profoundly altered the diplomatic landscape by the mid-nineteenth century, one arrives at a fuller realization of the true scope of the impediments that Confederate diplomats needed to overcome. The strategic partners that the Confederate government sought (mainly France and Britain) catered to their own best interests not by weakening rivals through far away foreign entanglements but rather by striving to maintain hold on their own domestic power, by blunting nationalistic movements on the continent that threatened peace for themselves and their neighbors, and through preserving the continental balance of power. Though France did insert itself into Mexican affairs, Britain especially had little stomach for military adventures in North America that could threaten its ability to uphold the empire's central concerns in domestic and "near abroad" spheres. That said, much of the essay focuses on matters that the Confederate government had more ability to control. Anderson does agree with those that maintain that the Confederacy still did have a narrow window of opportunity in 1861-62 to take advantage of its still robust military strength (accentuated by victories in the East not yet diminished by disasters in the West) and coordinate that with a strong diplomatic push. That never happened because, as Anderson keenly observes, the Confederate government moved too slowly, made very poor choices in diplomat selection, and never articulated a message that could help mitigate foreign opposition to slavery. In not understanding geopolitics and where European interests primarily lay (and thus devising influence-seeking diplomatic initiatives that could take those into account), Confederate leaders did not manage to integrate diplomacy with the other elements of DIME, such missteps including underfunded propaganda efforts in the informational sphere and an economically and diplomatically disastrous (though unofficial) cotton embargo.

Of course, strategy is pointless if it is never applied, and in the military instrument that action is performed operationally and tactically. Chris Compton's reassessment of Robert E. Lee's pursuit of strategic goals in the summer of 1863 presents the Army of Northern Virginia's commander as well informed regarding the Confederacy's overall strategic position and restates the many arguments both for an against reinforcing the West versus going on the offensive in the East. Using the modern FAS-R (feasibility, acceptability, suitability, and risk) paradigm for testing strategy, the essay author has determined that Davis administration approval of a northern offensive had defensible underpinnings and Lee's conduct of the operation was mostly sound. In Compton's view, both Lee and Davis displayed conscientious understanding of the risks to the strategic DIME that such bold action imposed. Compton persuasively argues that Lee managed the operation reasonably well during planning, preparation, and in the early stages of execution before his summer strategy decisively unraveled at the climactic phase of operational and tactical execution (through a combination of subordinate actions, Lee's own mistakes, and the determined efforts of the enemy). In the competing schools of thought regarding the extent of Lee's strategic myopia, risk-taking, and overreliance on the offensive, Compton's essay is a solid ally to the more traditional positions espoused by Gary Gallagher, D.S. Freeman, and others, and a pretty formidable challenger to the most strident parts of the harshly critical revisionist literature that has become widely accepted.

While the bulk of the book addresses affairs east of the Appalachians, the final chapter offers a trenchant critique of Confederate strategy west of the Mississippi River. Centering once again on the military power instrument, essay author Michael Forsyth highlights the key ways in which the Davis administration failed to closely integrate Trans-Mississippi affairs into the Confederate DIME, perhaps most notably by appointing a string of district and departmental commanders lacking compatible strategic vision (though, to be fair, one could argue that Davis's pool of qualified candidates was very shallow). In judging strategic affairs within the department, Forsyth keenly observes that the Trans-Mississippi commanders, isolated as they were, tended to the view the defense of the department as a strategic end of its own rather than an integral part of national strategy, and this flawed command thinking was only abetted by the Confederate president and his successive secretaries of war. According to Forsyth, the depth of that myopia was demonstrated most clearly by the lack of cooperation during critical moments of the Vicksburg Campaign, but the post-Vicksburg establishment of a vast, essentially self-ruling department under General Edmund Kirby Smith that essentially pursued its own strategic DIME proved almost as harmful. Smith's department was clearly limited in what it could do to assist the West but, according to Forsyth, it nevertheless failed to grasp national-level strategic opportunities when they did arise (ex. during the 1864 Red River Campaign and Camden Expedition) in favor of meeting more localized defensive goals. In Forsyth's view, the trans-Appalachian departmental system as created by the Davis administration (with the Mississippi Valley serving as both critical invasion corridor and administrative boundary) and the consistently poor leadership appointments to it left the vast region west of the Mississippi critically disconnected from the Confederate DIME.

Authored by seasoned individuals possessing decades of military/national security service and/or extensive experience in professional military education as student and teacher, the essays in Southern Strategies demonstrate the usefulness of the modern DIME model in fruitfully discussing and reappraising the flaws and missteps in Confederate civilian and military strategic leadership. Though they begin with the generally accepted assumption that the fledgling Confederacy possessed enough DIME strength at the beginning of the war to achieve its goals, the essayists nevertheless recognize that the challenges were immense and margins for error decidedly slim. Collectively, volume contributors effectively illustrate how policymaking, planning, and execution breakdowns in one instrument of power placed compensatory burdens on the others that Confederate strategic leaders were consistently unable to mitigate or overcome, even though the war effort overall still proved surprisingly resilient. Of course, it was the contrasting and successful wielding of the United States's DIME power that ultimately crushed the Confederacy (and wouldn't that make for a fitting companion volume), but that is still only part of the equation. All of the essays in Southern Strategies are highly recommended for their freshly formulated insights into arguments new and old regarding the Confederate leadership's role in its own defeat.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Booknotes: Voices of the Army of the Potomac

New Arrival:
Voices of the Army of the Potomac: Personal Reminiscences of Union Veterans by Vincent L. Burns (Casemate, 2021).

Utilizing a selection from the war's vast reservoir of published "memoirs, recollections and regimental histories," Voices of the Army of the Potomac: Personal Reminiscences of Union Veterans "is an overview of what Civil War soldiers and veterans wrote about their experiences. It focuses on what veterans remembered, what they were prepared to record, and what they wrote down in the years after the end of the war." With the earlier campaigns of the Army of the Potomac covered in one chapter, the material appears heavily weighted toward the second half of the conflict from Spring 1863 onward (I skimmed the "Author's Note" and preface and didn't see any indication why that particular choice was made, though I might have missed it).

Veteran-authored excerpts reproduced in the text range in length from a single sentence to multiple paragraphs. On the page they are either presented in smaller font as separate passages or placed in quotations and incorporated into the author's own extensive chronological narrative.

These veteran writings "convey their views on the cataclysmic events they had witnessed but also their memories of everyday events during the war. While many of them undertook detailed research of battles and campaigns before writing their accounts, it is clear that a number were less concerned with whether their words aligned with the historical record than whether they recorded what they believed to be true. This book explores these themes and also the connection between veterans writing their personal war history and the issue of veterans’ pensions. Understanding what these veterans chose to record and why is important to achieving a deeper understanding of the experience of these men who were caught up in this central moment in American life."

Friday, December 3, 2021

Booknotes: Illusions of Empire

New Arrival:
Illusions of Empire: The Civil War and Reconstruction in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands by William S. Kiser (Univ of Penn Press, 2022).

With a number of excellent studies already to his credit, all published over the past decade (I've reviewed two of them here and here), William Kiser has rapidly become one of the leading scholars of the Civil War-era American Southwest. His latest book, Illusions of Empire: The Civil War and Reconstruction in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, is exceptional in being the "first study to treat antebellum U.S. foreign policy, Civil War campaigning, the French Intervention in Mexico, Southwestern Indian Wars, South Texas Bandit Wars, and U.S. Reconstruction in a single volume, balancing U.S. and Mexican source materials to tell an important story of borderlands conflict with ramifications that are still felt in the region today."

Kiser's study "adopts a multinational view of North American borderlands, examining the ways in which Mexico's North overlapped with the U.S. Southwest in the context of diplomacy, politics, economics, and military operations during the Civil War era." Remarkably, he's able to achieve that impressive breadth in less than 200 pages of narrative.

With western frontier borderlands history continuing to be a popular scholarly purusit, the volume "examines a fascinating series of events in which a disparate group of historical actors vied for power and control along the U.S.-Mexico border: from Union and Confederate generals and presidents, to Indigenous groups, diplomatic officials, bandits, and revolutionaries, to a Mexican president, a Mexican monarch, and a French king. Their unconventional approaches to foreign relations demonstrate the complex ways that individuals influence the course of global affairs and reveal that borderlands simultaneously enable and stifle the growth of empires." Scholars of the international dimensions of the mid-century civil wars in the US and Mexico, citing among other things the frustrations involved in Napoleon III's "Grand Design," would certainly agree wholeheartedly with the last sentence.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Review - "Searching for Irvin McDowell, Forgotten Civil War General" by Simione & Schmiel, w/ Schneider

[Searching for Irvin McDowell, Forgotten Civil War General by Frank P. Simione, Jr. and Gene Schmiel, with E.L. Schneider (Authors, 2021). Softcover, maps, photos, footnotes, appendix section, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xiii,244/289. ISBN:9798527312492. $19.99]

Having led the eastern army of the United States in its first major Civil War battle, held a large independent command in northern Virginia during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, and served as John Pope's principal subordinate during the Second Manassas Campaign, Major General Irvin McDowell was the Union high command's most visible connecting thread over the disastrous first sixteen months of the war fought in the East. The reasons behind the continued lack of a comprehensive biography of such a major early-war figure are many, with one of the primary research obstacles being the lack of any significant archive of personal papers (just a handful of McDowell's wartime letters to his wife survive). Though relatively modest in scope and limited in research, Searching for Irvin McDowell, Forgotten Civil War General is nevertheless a respectable attempt at going where no one else has heretofore dared to tread.

In gathering their research material, Frank Simione, Gene Schmiel, and contributor E.L. Schneider did not significantly expand their source targeting horizons beyond government documents and a selection of published primary and secondary materials in book and article format. Absent much in the way of manuscript research and with only tentative investigation of other potentially rich resources such as the nation's voluminous newspaper archives, the analysis presented in the book of General McDowell's leadership qualities and generalship can probably be most accurately described as selective synthesis.

While there is some coverage of McDowell's early life, pre-Civil War military career, and postwar activities (he was a career officer who faced mandatory retirement in 1882), the text's overwhelming focus is on examining the general's conduct during the early-war eastern campaigns from First Bull Run through Second Bull Run. Existing definitive-level accounts of the First and Second Bull Run campaigns and battles have already extensively discussed McDowell's questionable actions and costly mistakes, and this book does not claim to have any new evidence to support any major alteration of how those earlier works portrayed and assessed McDowell's flawed generalship in both campaigns. While McDowell's overall battle plan at First Bull Run was a sound one that could just as easily have succeeded, this volume shows how in both Manassas battles the general committed grave missteps in decision-making and tactics that materially contributed to disastrous defeat. Searching's summary of McDowell's pivotal sins committed at Second Bull Run is basically a recapitulation of the conclusions found in John Hennessy's modern classic Return to Bull Run.

On a more general leadership level, the book persuasively characterizes McDowell as an Old Army staff officer unable to effectively make the transition to field commander in the new volunteer US army. The general possessed a largely aloof and uncharismatic personality that did not inspire confidence among officers and common soldiers alike. As demonstrated at both Bull Run engagements, McDowell tended to lose his composure under the stresses of command. Like many other Civil War generals (especially during the earlier period of the war), McDowell also felt compelled to micromanage tasks better left to staff officers. Whether mistrusting his staff to perform many basic functions was due to his own inability to judge talent or his having incompetent officers thrust upon him is not said. Similar to his behavior off the battlefield, in battle the general too often attended to micro-tactical matters properly considered some level below his own command responsibility.

As the book clearly highlights, good fortune never seemed to shine on McDowell. Just when his large, independent command in Virginia seemed poised to be a decisive factor in the mid-1862 drive on Richmond, his powerful divisions were instead subjected to a decidedly unproductive military-political tug of war between President Lincoln's capital defense and Shenandoah Valley-obsessed leadership in Washington and General McClellan's headquarters on the Peninsula. Parceled out and repeatedly delayed, McDowell's army-sized command never made it to the gates of Richmond. It had no notable impact either in the Valley or on the Peninsula, and McDowell's reputation, regardless of actual culpability, became associated with only another scapegoat-seeking debacle. Apparently, the hapless McDowell, even though he was a clear supporter of combining forces with the Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula, was accused in pro-McClellan circles of being more concerned with retaining independent command and furthering his own ambitions than in assisting the Army of the Potomac. The authors seem to agree with Hennessy that by the end of the Second Bull Run campaign McDowell, for one reason or another, was the chief high-ranking target through which the eastern theater rank and file vented their anger and frustrations. Therefore, it is no surprise that even some of his more sympathetic supporters in Washington viewed McDowell as fatally compromised for another major active leadership role in the war effort.

Like other writers before them, including the aforementioned leading First and Second Manassas expert John Hennessy and Porter biographer William Marvel (this book was written before Marvel's study was published), the authors convincingly portray McDowell as a very poor defense and prosecution witness during his own ill-advised court of inquiry and the infamous Porter court-martial case. This book's analysis certainly agrees with the common argument that McDowell's participation in both proceedings, while clearing him of the most ridiculous accusations of being a traitor or having been drunk at Second Bull Run, did almost nothing to wipe away the stain to his reputation caused by his key involvement in both Bull Run military debacles. Given that history, one might have expected that that a deeply pained McDowell would, like so many other controversial generals, have pounced on the opportunity to publish a Civil War memoir defending his record, but he didn't. The authors of this book speculate that McDowell's reluctance might have stemmed from the fact that he had too frequently cited a lack of memory in deflecting criticism of his own actions at Second Manassas. After he had consistently claimed in court to not remember vital details and events that happened only months before, how would it have appeared to readers if he suddenly could do so decades later? Acerbic reviewers and partisan observers would have had a field day with that. There's no evidence presented to suggest that that line of thinking was part of the general's decision-making process, but it's an interesting possibility to consider.

Overall, Searching for Irvin McDowell does a solid job of establishing the significance of the general's role in the war and in fairly describing and assessing those considerable leadership flaws and battlefield mistakes that have contributed to his enduring low standing among the war's prominent generals.