Thursday, December 30, 2021

2021 - The CIVIL WAR BOOKS and AUTHORS Year in Review

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. [see the full 1/19/22 Review]

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).]