Friday, January 14, 2022

Various book news items

1. Civil War political generals (or "politician generals" as one recent author prefers) came in all stripes, but I am guessing that one of the rarest birds was the West Point graduate who served in the US House or Senate before the war. Maybe there are more, but without researching it or having a better memory I can only think of one. Samuel Ryan Curtis, who graduated from West Point in 1831 and resigned from the army soon after before briefly returning to uniform as a Mexican War volunteer officer, was in his second term as US Representative (R) of Iowa's first congressional district during the secession crisis. In 1861, Curtis resigned his House seat to accept the colonelcy of the Second Iowa and later that year a brigadier general appointment in the Union Army. Though he won laurels as the victor of the Battle of Pea Ridge, was quickly promoted to major general, and went on to lead district and department-level posts in the Trans-Mississippi, Curtis never became of focus of a full biography. For many years it has been known to us that historian Bill Shea was plugging away at a much-anticipated Curtis life and career history, but no concrete news about its actual publication has emerged until now. Scheduled for a November 2022 release from Potomac Books, Shea's Union General: Samuel Ryan Curtis and Victory in the West should finally reward the general with the major biographical treatment he deserves.

2. Before historian Timothy Smith recently launched his own multi-volume series, no other Vicksburg Campaign writing project has come close to matching the comprehensive breadth of the classic Ed Bearss trilogy. Rather well detailed in Bearss's books, the Chickasaw Bayou and Mississippi Central components of the late-1862 phase of the Vicksburg campaign, though both large in scale, have not been revisited at comparable depth in any later publication. However, that will change very soon. The history of those operations, due for an update, will be the focus of Smith's next installment Early Struggles for Vicksburg: The Mississippi Central Campaign and Chickasaw Bayou, October 25-December 31, 1862 (Kansas, May '22). Ever since Smith made known his plans for this series, this was the volume I have been looking forward to most of all.

3. McFarland has two more southern railroad studies currently scheduled for release in 2022. Things may change, but Walter R. Green's The Nashville and Decatur in the Civil War: History of an Embattled Railroad currently has a May publication window. The Mobile & Ohio Railroad in the Civil War: The Struggle for Control of the Nation’s Longest Railway from Dan Lee is also supposed to be released this year. Maybe we'll get a wartime history of the Memphis & Charleston RR sometime down the line, too.


  1. That is great news about the Shea bio of Curtis. Can't wait. I read somewhere Kyle Sinisi is also working on one.

    Tom Jones

  2. Wow, Tim Smith is a machine! Looking forward to that volume as well.

  3. Drew: That's good news that somebody is doing a Curtis bio. Shea is well-equipped for that mission. I've never understood fully why Curtis wasn't given more important commands. And Tim keeps hammering my bank account with his excellent work. He quickly rejects the comparison, but IMHO he is this generation's Ed Bearss when it comes to Vicksburg,

    1. Yes, that's definitely the biggest question that needs better answers. You have to wonder if it just came down to a combination of him having no important political sponsors and, after his quick rejection of an army career, no helpful friendship and comrade network among the professional army officers that went on to form the CW high command.


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