Thursday, June 30, 2022

Book Snapshot: "The Twenty-Eighth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry: A Brief History"

Ohio-born Ephraim E. Blake was a 20-year-old farmer residing in Marengo, Iowa when he responded to the Lincoln administration's newest call for volunteers during the summer of 1862. He enlisted in Company G of the 28th Iowa Volunteer Infantry and was mustered into Union service with his comrades in October. Marching and fighting with that regiment for the entirety of the war and surviving to tell the tale, Blake was convinced by a local publisher to pen an account of his Civil War service in anticipation of his unit's upcoming reunion. Blake's manuscript was titled The 28th Iowa Infantry: A Brief History of the Movements of this Noble Iowa Regiment and was published in 1896 by Union Press of Belle Plaine, Iowa.

According to Camp Pope Publishing's Clark Kenyon, original copies were produced "in plain paper wrappers" and are "extremely scarce" today. Keeping alive the historical memory of Iowa's outsized Civil War contributions has always been a major goal of Kenyon's publishing career, and in this case he solicited the efforts of Iowa historian Roxana Currie in producing a new edition of Blake's regimental history. The result of their collaboration is The Twenty-Eighth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry: A Brief History (Camp Pope Publishing, 2022).

This new edition is presented in 5x8 format, with Blake's regimental history narrative running 132 pages. Most prominently, Blake describes his regiment's experiences of the 1862-63 Vicksburg Campaign, Bayou Teche operations, the 1864 Red River Campaign, the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, and Atlantic coastal operations in Georgia and North Carolina in support of General Sherman's march through the Carolinas. Though his account does include many individual "incidents of interest" as adding "a little spice to make it readable," Black records his overall intentions as avoiding stories of officer and soldier feats of valor in favor of confining his "narrative to the regiment as a regiment." Editor Roxana Currie describes Blake's writing style in terms of "long, rambling sentences, but with interesting detail."

Currie's editing duties included transcribing the entire manuscript from the very faded photocopy provided to her and writing the foreword to the new edition. In the foreword, Currie offers some manuscript commentary along with a brief biographical summary of Blake's life before and after the war. The manuscript is presented with only minor corrections. The original edition included a 55-page unit roster, but its incomplete and error-riddled state led to its omission from this edition. Providing links, the Publisher's Note in this volume instead directs readers to other sources for that information.

Kudos to Currie and Camp Pope Publishing for making this scarce primary source widely available for scholars and enthusiasts of Iowa's Civil War history.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Coming Soon (July '22 Edition)

**NEW RELEASES1** Scheduled for JULY 2022:

Colonels in Blue - U.S. Colored Troops, U.S. Armed Forces, Staff Officers and Special Units: A Civil War Biographical Dictionary by Roger D. Hunt.
Kentucky, 1861: Loyalty, State, and Nation by Nicholas W. Proctor and Margaret Storey.
William "Baldy" Smith: Engineer, Critic and Union Major General in the Civil War by Stephen Nicholas Siciliano.
The Heart of Hell: The Soldiers' Struggle for Spotsylvania's Bloody Angle by Jeffry D. Wert.
The Whartons' War: The Civil War Correspondence of General Gabriel C. Wharton and Anne Radford Wharton, 1863-1865 ed. by William C. Davis and Sue Heth Bell.

Comments: Another small slate of original releases next month. Wert's book is an official July title but was released a bit early so you can grab it now.

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 date (and they do not get repeated later), so revisiting the past few "Coming Soon" posts is the best way to pick up stragglers.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Review - "Hidden History of Civil War Florida" by Robert Redd

[Hidden History of Civil War Florida by Robert Redd (Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, 2022). Softcover, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography. Pages main/total:117/141. ISBN:978-1-4671-5087-3. $21.99]

The prolific Hidden History series highlights the lesser-known people, events, and stories of this country's small towns, cities, and regions. Though they retain strong local flavor, the Civil War titles in the series seem to be aimed at a wider audience than most. Additionally, in many instances the "hidden history" aspect is rather liberally interpreted by the writer, with subject matter ranging from pretty well known topics to obscure ones by any measure. The newest installment in the series is Robert Redd's Hidden History of Civil War Florida.

A string of early-war Union successes in seizing key sections of the southern coastline reluctantly convinced Confederate authorities that their entire maritime border could not be directly defended. Redd's chapter dealing with the Confederate capture of Fort Marion in 1861 and the loss of both it and nearby St. Augustine to Union forces the next year illustrates that realization and what it meant to Florida, which was largely denuded of already scarce men and guns. A lengthier chapter looks at Volusia County, its blockade-running role via Mosquito Inlet, and its timber industry during and after the war. Similar to St. Augustine, the situations at New Smyrna and Mosquito Inlet demonstrated further evidence of the low-priority nature of Florida's military defense and the gradual stranglehold that the Union blockade established along the state's Atlantic and Gulf shores.

Redd does not incorporate into his discussion the largest battle fought in the state (Olustee in 1864), soundly reasoning that that campaign has already been well addressed in existing works such as William Nulty's excellent Confederate Florida: The Road to Olustee (1990). However, a pair of engagements of a more "hidden history" nature are examined in the text, with a chapter recounting the 1864 Battle of Marianna and another discussing the role of the West Florida Seminary Cadets in the 1865 Battle of Natural Bridge.

One of the best chapters traces Florida's role as one of the principal beef suppliers to the Confederate commissary, a reliance that became increasingly critical once Union seizure of the Mississippi River cut off direct ties to Texas. The state's economic contributions are well recognized and have even received book-length treatment in the modern literature (see Robert Taylor's Rebel Storehouse: Florida's Contribution to the Confederacy). Collecting and protecting herds of Florida beef was considered so crucial to the war effort that a special military unit was authorized, the "Cow Cavalry," to escort cattle to designated transshipment points. One might also add Florida's status as an important supplier of salt for the Confederate home and military fronts, its organized collection facilities a frequent target of Union blockading ships and shore raiders (for some context on that and the Unionist influence in the state see George Buker's excellent Blockaders, Refugees, and Contrabands: Civil War on Florida's Gulf Coast, 1861-1865 (1993, R-2004).

A pair of Florida connections to the Lincoln assassination plot are spotlighted in another chapter. In it the odyssey of Lewis Powell's skull, which is buried in a family plot in Florida's Geneva Cemetery, is recounted, as is Dr. Samuel Mudd's period of imprisonment in Florida. Only four years into his life sentence confinement as Fort Jefferson, convicted co-conspirator Mudd was pardoned by President Johnson for his selfless actions in treating a deadly yellow fever epidemic at the prison.

Redd also offers a compilation of recommended Civil War sites for visitors to consider and in another chapter provides a brief summary of the Florida secession convention. All of the material in the book is fully documented in the endnotes, and a generous allotment of photographs accompany the text. Readers should also draw their attention to the author's introduction, which furnishes a solid selective overview of the modern historiography of Civil War Florida. Combining sound research with engaging content presentation, Robert Redd's Hidden History of Civil War Florida ranks among the best of the Civil War-related entries in the series.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Booknotes: Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 3

New Arrival:
Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 3: The Longest Year, 1864-1865 by Kenneth L. Lyftogt (Camp Pope Publishing, 2022).

Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 3 completes a trilogy that started in 2018 with the Pate Award-winning Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 1: Free Child of the Missouri Compromise 1850-1862 and was followed two years later by Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 2: From Iuka to the Red River, 1862-1864.

Volume 3 "begins with the spring campaign of 1864 in Georgia and ends with the mustering out of Iowa’s veteran regiments." From the description: "General Sherman’s armies, the Army of the Tennessee, the Army of the Ohio, and the Army of the Cumberland, totaled over 100,000 soldiers; the vast majority of them were battle-hardened, reenlisted veterans who had marched under Grant and Sherman from Belmont to Fort Donelson, to Shiloh, to Corinth, to Vicksburg, and to Chattanooga. The Army of the Tennessee had been Grant’s army. When he was promoted to the top command it became Sherman’s. The Army of the Tennessee was also Iowa’s army. Hawkeyes had been with Grant and Sherman in each of their battles and campaigns, and every victory, every promotion was made possible, in large part, through the blood and valor of Iowa soldiers."

Though it covers the shortest period of time (the final twelve months of the war), this installment is the thickest tome of the three. It also looks like the most predominantly military of the trilogy. This volume details Iowa's contributions to the Atlanta Campaign, Brice's Crossroads, Tupelo, Shenandoah 1864, Price's Missouri raid, the 1864 Tennessee Campaign, the 1865 Carolinas Campaign, and the final stages of the war in the Gulf states and Trans-Mississippi.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Booknotes: The Heart of Hell

New Arrival:
The Heart of Hell: The Soldiers' Struggle for Spotsylvania's Bloody Angle by Jeffry D. Wert (UNC Press, 2022).

If you asked a group of Civil War military history students which battle comes to mind first when envisioning prolonged, face-to-face combat at its costly worst, the most common answer would surely be Spotsylvania.

From the description: "The struggle over the fortified Confederate position known as Spotsylvania's Mule Shoe was without parallel during the Civil War. A Union assault that began at 4:30 A.M. on May 12, 1864, sparked brutal combat that lasted nearly twenty-four hours. By the time Grant’s forces withdrew, some 55,000 men from Union and Confederate armies had been drawn into the fury, battling in torrential rain along the fieldworks at distances often less than the length of a rifle barrel. One Union private recalled the fighting as a "seething, bubbling, soaring hell of hate and murder." By the time Lee's troops established a new fortified line in the predawn hours of May 13, some 17,500  officers and men from both sides had been killed, wounded, or captured when the fighting  ceased. The site of the most intense clashes became forever known as the Bloody Angle."

Of course, Spotsylvania is well represented in the literature, with major battle studies from William Matter and Gordon Rhea along with an essay anthology from the classic Military Campaigns of the Civil War series and a host of minor works. Atlas coverage is also scheduled for publication in the near future. With its bibliography heavily populated with newspaper and unpublished firsthand accounts written by soldiers of all ranks, Jeffry Wert's The Heart of Hell: The Soldiers' Struggle for Spotsylvania's Bloody Angle focuses its attention on the fighting man's perspective of this ferocious action. Wert's narrative "draws on the personal narratives of Union and Confederate troops who survived the fight to offer a gripping story of Civil War combat at its most difficult." This "harrowing tale reminds us that the war’s story, often told through its commanders and campaigns, truly belonged to the common soldier."

Friday, June 17, 2022

Booknotes: James Longstreet and the American Civil War

New Arrival:
James Longstreet and the American Civil War: The Confederate General Who Fought the Next War by Harold M. Knudsen (Savas Beatie).

I am no Krick the Elder when it comes to James Longstreet. In my mind, he was an essential component of arguably the Civil War's highest-grossing band [frontman Lee, Jackson on lead guitar, Longstreet on bass, and Stuart on drums]. What I've never found particularly persuasive are the arguments put forth from time to time that Longstreet, through foresight and experienced reflection, developed strategic and tactical thinking so far ahead of most of his contemporaries that he could be considered exceptionally "modern" in his outlook.

Attempting to make that very case are two 2022 titles released within weeks of each other: F. Gregory Toretta's Lieutenant General James Longstreet: Innovative Military Strategist - The Most Misunderstood Civil War General and Harold Knudsen's James Longstreet and the American Civil War: The Confederate General Who Fought the Next War. If Knudsen's effort sounds familiar, you would be right. This new book is a "significantly expanded and completely revised" version of (if Google Books serves me correctly) a 2007 volume published under the title General James Longstreet: The Confederacy's Most Modern General.

According to Knudsen, Longstreet "made overlooked but profound modern contributions to the art of war." These were "significant and executed on a large scale," and the book "explains what Longstreet did and how he did it."

From the description: "Longstreet understood early that the tactical defense was generally dominant over the offense, which was something few grasped in 1862. Longstreet’s thinking demonstrated a clear evolution that began on the field at First Manassas in July 1861, developed through the bloody fighting of 1862, and culminated in the brilliant defensive victory at Fredericksburg that December. The lethality with which his riflemen and artillery mowed down repeated Union assaults hinted at what was to come in World War I. Longstreet’s ability to launch and control powerful offensives was on display at Second Manassas in August 1862. His assault plan at Chickamauga in Georgia the following September was similar, if not the forerunner to, World War II tactical-level German armored tactics. Other areas show progressive applications with artillery, staff work, force projection, and operational-level thinking." In developing this analysis, the author "draws heavily upon 20th century U.S. Army doctrine, field training, staff planning, command, and combat experience" and concludes that Longstreet was "a modern thinker unparalleled in the Confederate Army."

I don't have a copy of Toretta's book to make any superficial comparisons beyond what's suggested in the table of contents. Knudsen addresses Longstreet's entire Civil War career, but examines most closely his role as subordinate corps commander from Second Manassas through Chattanooga. Toretta's book begins at Chancellorsville (where Longstreet wasn't present but perhaps tactically influential in regards to entrenched lines) and ends with the Wilderness, where the general was badly wounded. Perhaps someone will publish a dual review in coming months.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Review - "True Blue: White Unionists in the Deep South during the Civil War and Reconstruction" by Clayton Butler

[True Blue: White Unionists in the Deep South during the Civil War and Reconstruction by Clayton J. Butler (Louisiana State University Press, 2022). Hardcover, map, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:x,172/238. ISBN:978-0-8071-7662-7. $45]

When secession became a reality, few leaders of the new Confederacy imagined that a sizable segment of the white population would maintain unconditional fealty to the Union. One the other side, many in the North, including President Lincoln himself, believed that a silent majority of pro-Union sentiment still existed in the post-secession South (it just needed outside assistance in order to reassert itself). Both assumptions proved false, but it is undeniable that the unconditional Unionist bloc of the white population residing below the Mason-Dixon Line played a critical role in shaping the war and its outcome. Thanks to modern research and writing, especially that published over the past few decades, these unconditional Unionists can no longer be regarded as significantly understudied. However, the topic is far from exhausted.

Due to their sheer numbers and influence (and the fact that hundreds of thousands served in the Union Army), the Unionists of the Border States and Upper South have received the lion's share of attention in the literature of southern unionism. Historically, the numbers and impact of the Deep South's unconditional Unionists paled in comparison, and, unfortunately, those and a host of other factors led to their not being a major focus of scholarly and popular historical research. It seems clear that it was in Louisiana and Alabama that the size and reach of southern Unionists had their greatest impact in the Deep South region. Examples of scholarly work that does exist in those areas include Michael Pierson's look at the Unionist influence on the 1862 fall of New Orleans in his book Mutiny at Fort Jackson (2012) and Art Bergeron's editing of Louisiana Unionist guerrilla Dennis E. Haynes's memoir A Thrilling Narrative (2006). Among Alabama studies are a pair of excellent books of recent vintage, Margaret Storey's Loyalty and Loss (2004) and Christopher Rein's Alabamians in Blue (2019)1. Making its own major contribution to the study of these Unionist individuals and groups where they were large enough, and situated favorably enough, to make a significant impact on events during and after the war is Clayton Butler's True Blue: White Unionists in the Deep South during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

In its discussion of the origins of Deep South Unionism, Butler's analysis persuasively rejects domination of conventional predictors for southern Unionism (ex. northern connections, past Whig political affiliation, and residing in areas peripheral to the plantation economy). Instead, the author maintains that the great diversity of class, background, and political affiliation (ex. many were Douglas Democrats) present in his sample forces us to look more toward individual motivation on a case by case basis. Of course, that can apply to all southern Unionists, but Butler notes that unionism crossing boundaries of class and party was far more notably pronounced in Deep South adherents than it was among those from the Border States and Upper South. Though resentment against the planter class, family loyalty, etc. certainly were important considerations, it was an uncompromising faith in the federal Union and the unconditional imperative to uphold it, wherever that originated, that was the only characteristic broadly common to Deep South Unionists.

Butler's contrasting picture of northern and southern perceptions of Deep South Unionists is just as insightful. While Deep South Unionists, aside from isolated stories of infamous "scalawags", made few inroads in the popular imagination over the decades following Reconstruction and into the next century, Butler demonstrates that during the war they were very much in the minds of numerous northern politicians, newspaper editors, and religious leaders. Given their vulnerable location in the very heart of the Confederacy and the stories of their harassment and worse, these Unionists were frequently upheld as the highest exemplars of American patriotic virtue. Assisting them became both moral imperative and justification of the larger war effort. Hopes were also pinned on them for being the leaders of a reconstructed South once hostilities ceased. On the other side, Confederate partisans reviled these men as possessing the lowest form of treason, their mere existence constituting a fifth column that was a mortal threat to the war effort, Confederate sovereignty, and white solidarity. Like perhaps no other group, the patriotic loyalty of Deep South Unionists was viewed by northerners as the best of the best and by Confederate southerners the worst of the worst.

Butler uses three mounted units raised in the Deep South [First Alabama Cavalry (U.S.), First Louisiana Cavalry (U.S.), and Bradford's Battalion of the Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry (U.S.)2] to examine the Deep South Unionist experience in more detail. It's a fine lens through which to view the military contributions of these men as well as their backgrounds, their evolution on key issues related to the war, and the political roles assumed by many of these veterans during the postwar period. The scope of Butler's study precludes detailed descriptions of each unit's Civil War service, but readers are provided with a clear sense of the ways in which these units were used and the value Union military authorities attached to them. They were highly motivated and their local knowledge of both geography and customs made them effective scouts, resource hunters, and raiders. Some have claimed that southern Unionists were often more anti-Confederate than pro-Union, but Butler find that not be the case among the Deep South dissenters of his study (even within the ranks of the heavily foreign-born element of the First Louisiana), their words most frequently expressing a profound reverence for the Union that often bordered on the radical. The Louisiana, Alabama, and West Tennessee Unionists of his study were accepting of emancipation and black army recruitment, but their tolerance did not widely extend further beyond that into granting social and political equality to freedmen. Another trait shared by these men was the expectation that they would be rewarded for their loyalty with appointment to key posts in the postwar state government. Lest the reader detect too much self-gain into the motivation of these veterans, Butler properly frames such expectations within the context of the democratic patronage culture of the period. The inclusion of a West Tennessee unit in a study of Deep South unionism fits into Butler's desire to return to more fluid boundaries (in his opinion, sections of Arkansas and Tennessee were more representative of Deep South than Upper South societies and economies), but it also shows, through its brief discussion of Fort Pillow, the degree to which white southern Unionists, especially when fighting alongside black troops, were accorded special retribution by their enemies.

After the war, U.S. authorities followed through with their intention of using southern Unionists as the leadership nucleus through which states like Alabama and Louisiana would be welcomed back into the national fold. The book explains this process well, it being noteworthy how many First Alabama and First Louisiana veterans (such service being unmistakable evidence of unconditional loyalty) were assigned coveted government posts. At first, a tenuous coalition of homegrown "scalawags," northern "carpetbaggers," and freedmen maintained power during Reconstruction. However, as Butler explains, fissures in the alliance appeared rather quickly. In seeking to broadening their own political base through seeking out support from ex-Confederates, some high-level appointees angered their unconditional Unionist comrades who felt themselves owed such positions. It also increasingly became clear that most white southern Unionists, who supported emancipation and who were willing to fight alongside black troops during the war to restore the Union, were far less tolerant of extending full citizenship (in particular the right to hold office) to their former black comrades. According to Butler, that common racial divide along with persistent social ostracism and escalating organized violence, all combined with lukewarm federal protection, motivated many of these veterans to return to the Democratic fold and become partners, rather than opponents, in the so-called "Redemption" movement that was spearheaded by Southern Democrats who had no interest in immediately integrating freedpeople into the body politic of the postwar South. Butler is very likely correct that the North's disappointment in their previously idolized wartime allies and the renewed emphasis on white solidarity in the reconstructed South were principal factors in, if not burying the history of Deep South unconditional unionism, making the popular and scholarly recovery of that historical narrative a very slow process.

A creative blend of military, political, and social history, True Blue insightfully reintroduces the Deep South Unionist minority to the modern reader, explaining their background, their motivations, their wartime service, and their key involvement in the contingent twists and turns of Reconstruction and Redemption. Supplying an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to improving our understanding of that small group's outsized influence on the American experience of the latter half of the nineteenth century, this volume establishes author Clayton Butler as a major new voice in the evolving interpretation of the nature and historical impact of Civil War-era southern unionism more generally. Highly recommended.

1 - Mutiny at Fort Jackson: The Untold Story of the Fall of New Orleans (UNC Press, 2009), A Thrilling Narrative: The Memoir of a Southern Unionist (Univ of Ark Press, 2006), Loyalty and Loss: Alabama's Unionists in the Civil War and Reconstruction (LSU Press, 2004), and Alabamians in Blue: Freedmen, Unionists, and the Civil War in the Cotton State (LSU Press, 2019).
2 - The military, political, and social significance of these units certainly merits standalone study. Butler describes William Stanley Hoole's Alabama Tories: The First Alabama Cavalry, U.S.A., 1862-1865 (1960) as "somewhat boilerplate military history" (pg. 69) and Glenda McWhirter Todd's more recently published roster-history First Alabama Cavalry, USA: Homage to Patriotism (1999, R-2006) as "an amateur history," (pg. 1) so there appears to be ample room for a new, more scholarly treatment of this regiment. I am not aware of the existence of a book-length history of the First Louisiana (US). The Thirteenth Tennessee (US) is one of the featured regiments in James Alex Baggett's Homegrown Yankees: Tennessee's Union Cavalry in the Civil War (2009).

Monday, June 13, 2022

This year's list of military history releases just got more interesting

And we have University Press of Kansas to thank for this development.

Those of us who are interested in such things will hopefully have a copy of Tim Smith's latest Vicksburg Campaign series installment Early Struggles for Vicksburg: The Mississippi Central Campaign and Chickasaw Bayou, October 25-December 31, 1862 in hand by early July (it now has an end of June release date). But that's far from all that UPK has in store for us in 2022.

Those who follow Hampton Newsome on social media have long known about his upcoming project, Gettysburg's Southern Front: Opportunity and Failure at Richmond (August 2022), and it's now available for preorder. This is exactly the kind of eastern theater military history that I'm looking for at this point. I've read my fair share of Gettysburg books over the years and appreciate them as much as the next person, but a study of what was going on back in Virginia while the two main armies were on their way north and out of the state almost seems catered to my current tastes. Beginning in mid-June, a sizable Union army commanded by Major General John A. Dix was ordered "to threaten Richmond, by seizing and destroying their railroad bridges over the South and North Anna Rivers, and do them all the damage possible." The first book-length study of this operation, "this volume not only delves into the military operations at the time, but also addresses concurrent issues related to diplomacy, US war policy, and the involvement of enslaved people in the Federal offensive." Newsome's study suggests that Dix's campaign might have been "one of the Union war effort’s more compelling lost opportunities in the East."

Another UPK title that will likely go right to the top of the reading pile after it arrives is Ethan Rafuse's From the Mountains to the Bay: The War in Virginia, January-May 1862 (October 2022). I've been wondering what Rafuse has been up to lately, and this answer to my question is a most exciting one that keenly fits my reading interests. Covering Virginia theater operations on both land and sea, this book "is the only modern scholarly work that looks at the operations that took place in Virginia in early 1862, from the Romney Campaign that opened the year to the naval engagement between the Monitor and Merrimac to the movements and engagements fought by Union and Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley, on the York-James Peninsula, and in northern Virginia, as a single, comprehensive campaign." This is just conjecture/hope on my part, but the "January to July of 1862" reference in the publisher's description and the May conclusion to this book are strongly suggestive of a multi-volume (at least two anyway) treatment being in the offing. The possibility of getting a major Peninsula and Seven Days volume from Rafuse is quite tantalizing.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Booknotes: Benjamin Franklin Butler

New Arrival:
Benjamin Franklin Butler: A Noisy, Fearless Life by Elizabeth D. Leonard (UNC Press, 2022).

Over the past decade or two, readers have encountered intensified scholarly conversation over how Civil War "political generals" (or, if you prefer, "politician-generals") should be defined and how we might reevaluate their value and performance, particularly in the context of the Union Army's war effort. Heavily involved in that discussion is reassessing a political general's contributions on and off the battlefield, and some scholars have argued that weighing one against the other can often result in a net positive. Heavily involved in this ongoing debate is the military and political career of Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler.

Butler's Civil War service as a Union Army volunteer general clearly had its ups and downs. Praised for his efficient work in maintaining lines of communication to the US capital in 1861, Butler's reputation took a bit of a dive after the embarrassing defeat at Big Bethel (which he did not oversee in person). This was followed by a string of successes along the North Carolina coast and in the Gulf, the most high-profile accomplishment being Butler's command of the army component of the triumphant 1862 New Orleans expedition. In late-1863 Butler returned to Virginia, and his leadership of the Army of the James was an overall failure. Preceded by one final fiasco off Fort Fisher in North Carolina, his career as a field commander finally came to an ignominious end in early 1865.

Though Butler's highly controversial military career is a major part of this study (three out of its eight chapters address the Civil War years), reevaluating that part of his life is not the principal guiding focus of Elizabeth Leonard's Benjamin Franklin Butler: A Noisy, Fearless Life. From the description: Leonard's biography "chronicles Butler's successful career in the law defending the rights of the Lowell Mill girls and other workers, his achievements as one of Abraham Lincoln's premier civilian generals, and his role in developing wartime policy in support of slavery's fugitives as the nation advanced toward emancipation." However, in the book's examination of Butler's life before, during, and after the Civil War, it is the last that gets the most attention of the three. Over the volume's latter chapters, Leonard "highlights Butler's personal and political evolution, revealing how his limited understanding of racism and the horrors of slavery transformed over time, leading him into a postwar role as one of the nation's foremost advocates for Black freedom and civil rights."

"(P)eeling away generations of previous assumptions and characterizations to provide a definitive life of a consequential man," is the goal of Leonard's "nuanced portrait" of "one of the most important and controversial military and political leaders of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras."

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Review- "James Montgomery: Abolitionist Warrior" by Robert Conner

[James Montgomery: Abolitionist Warrior by Robert C. Conner (Casemate, 2022). Hardcover, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:x,183/220. ISBN:978-1-63624-142-5. $34.95]

Colonel James Montgomery's Civil War service followed a rather unusual path from infamous Kansas Jayhawker, to amphibious coastal raider, to conventional regimental and brigade-level battlefield commander. Though primarily focused on its subject's Civil War activities, Robert Conner's James Montgomery: Abolitionist Warrior is the first cradle to grave biography of this highly controversial Union officer.

Though a religion-based antislavery man of action who allied himself with like-thinking individuals such as John Brown in Kansas, Montgomery is presented by Conner as less extremist in his zealotry, disapproving of the most terroristic elements of Brown's actions. Nevertheless, during the Bleeding Kansas period and early months of the Civil War along the Missouri-Kansas border, Montgomery (who led the Third Regiment of James Lane's Kansas Brigade) oversaw numerous acts of lawless plunder as well as the killings of civilians and captured enemies. Conner frames those actions as indefensible reflections on Montgomery's character while also arguing that such acts of brutality should be contextually understood as part and parcel of the retributive violence all too frequently practiced by opposing Border War factions.

While not entirely convincing in his attempts made in the text to distance his subject from the Jayhawker movement's most infamous practitioners such as Lane and Charles Jennison, Conner does, especially in his discussion of Montgomery's 1863-64 leadership of black troops in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, convincingly portray his subject as having achieved a Civil War rarity in the form of accomplishing a successful transition from lawless raider to effective regimental leader and brigade commander. Positively cited in reports for his conduct in the field, Montgomery led the Second South Carolina on numerous coastal raids that damaged enemy infrastructure, seized or destroyed important war goods and supplies, and freed hundreds of slaves (many of whom would be incorporated into the army). While Conner praises Montgomery for no longer pursuing the worst acts of his earlier Border War fighting career (such as shooting prisoners), he does not shy away from condemning the 1863 destruction of Darien, Georgia as an inexcusable act of wanton destruction (though it was in line with his superior's wishes). On an additional note, on the matter of how Montgomery was depicted in the movie Glory, there is, according to Conner, no evidence that Montgomery shot or grossly mistreated his own men during that period. However, the author does cite an instance in which Montgomery had a soldier executed for desertion without involving any legal procedure.

It was in 1864 that the most creditable moments of Montgomery's Civil War career occurred. In his discussion of the Battle of Olustee, where Montgomery commanded a reserve brigade of two black regiments and fought a sharp rear-guard action in its final moments, Conner persuasively awards to Montgomery the lion's share of credit for the Union defeat not becoming a complete disaster. With his health impaired and no promotion forthcoming, Montgomery resigned and returned home to Kansas, only to reenter Union service during Confederate general Sterling Price's fall invasion of Missouri. Montgomery's hastily assembled Kansas militia regiment conducted itself with some distinction during the campaign's climactic battle at Westport, and its commander yet again received plaudits in official reports submitted by his superiors. While Montgomery's leadership roles in the all of the military actions referenced above are clearly delineated in the text, some assistance in the form of maps (there are none) would have been very helpful in furthering reader understanding, especially of the more obscure events and locales.

James Montgomery is one of many controversial Civil War figures who still carries a great deal of historiographical and popular baggage, and Conner deserves a lot of credit for accepting the considerable challenge of being Montgomery's first biographer. At the very least, the book's account of the full arc and range of Montgomery's military career, presented in comprehensive fashion for the first time in a single volume, should convince more open-minded critics that Montgomery was more than an unscrupulous raider.

A comparatively short-length study based on published sources, Conner's biography leaves room for a more exhaustive future treatment that casts a wider research net. Until that time, which may or may not ever arrive, in Robert Conner's James Montgomery readers can be satisfied in finally having a solid introductory history, warts and all, of the life of a major figure in the Kansas-Missouri border conflicts of the 1850s and 60s who was also one of the Union Army's most vocal proponents of black recruitment and effective leaders of such troops in the field.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Booknotes: W.G.

New Arrival:
W.G.: The Opium-addicted Pistol Toting Preacher Who Raised the First Federal African American Union Troops by Donna Burtch & William Burtch (Sunbury Press, 2022).

From the description: William Gould Raymond (the 'W.G.' of the book's title) "was as complicated as the times. His life a mosaic of faith, addiction, health setbacks, his sprawling family, service as a Union Army officer, and then as a Lincoln-appointed hospital chaplain."

In October 1861, Raymond formally mustered into U.S. Army service as a lieutenant in Company H/86th New York V.I. A preacher pre-war, he was later appointed chaplain of the Trinity General Hospital in Washington. After his April 1863 discharge from those duties, Raymond and another veteran chaplain, J.D. Turner, lobbied the Lincoln administration for authorization to raise black troops in the capital, which led to his appointment as Lt. Col. of the First District of Columbia Colored Volunteers. According to Donna and William Burch, co-authors of W.G.: The Opium-addicted Pistol Toting Preacher Who Raised the First Federal African American Union Troops, it was Raymond's status as "the initial commanding officer responsible for raising what would become the 1st United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.) of the District of Columbia" that should solidify his place in history.

More from the description: "This initiative was directly authorized by President Abraham Lincoln, with the goal of establishing the first federal regiments of African American Union soldiers." According to the Burtches, however, political events conspired to push Raymond's pioneering efforts into the shadows. "A political turf struggle erased W.G. Raymond’s spirited troop-recruiting campaign from official military records, distorting history to this day."

At around 90 pages of text, many of which are filled by illustrations, W.G. is a brisk narrative that can be read in a single sitting. The authors mention that their work is heavily based on Raymond's 1891 autobiography Life Sketches and Faith Work, and indeed the vast majority of the endnotes reference that foundational source. The Burtches firmly believe that "the few weeks of recruiting African American federal troops prior to the establishment of the Bureau of Colored Troops" (pg. 88) are worthy of greater recognition. It is their hope that, through this volume, Raymond's life and Civil War service will receive just that.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Booknotes: Unceasing Fury

New Arrival:
Unceasing Fury: Texans at the Battle of Chickamauga, September 18-20, 1863 by Scott L. Mingus & Joseph L. Owen (Savas Beatie, 2022).

As David Powell references in his introduction, the completion of the bedrock work for Chickamauga [ed.: of which he is arguably the greatest single contributor, along with William Glenn Robertson] has now opened up space and opportunity for an unending supply of future book-length studies of particular individuals, topics, and themes associated with the campaign and battle. Among such works are those that delve deeper into "the experiences of specific brigades, regiments, and state-affiliated troops." There is a lot of labor to be done in these areas before Chickamauga can even begin to catch up with Gettysburg, but the journey has begun. A recent example from the same publisher is Eric Wittenberg's Holding the Line on the River of Death: Union Mounted Forces at Chickamauga, September 18, 1863 (2018).

Another contribution of this type is Scott Mingus and Joseph Owen's Unceasing Fury: Texans at the Battle of Chickamauga, September 18-20, 1863. Readers will recall Mingus's extensive work related to the Gettysburg Campaign and Owen's recent published compilations of Texas unit source materials. As far as I can tell, this collaboration represents the first foray into the western theater proper for both authors. Their joint Chickamauga project "is the first full-length book to examine in detail the role of troops from the Lone Star State."

More from the description: "Texas troops fought in almost every major sector of the sprawling Chickamauga battlefield, from the first attacks on September 18 on the bridges spanning the creek to the final attack on Snodgrass Hill on September 20. Fortunately, many of the survivors left vivid descriptions of battle action, the anguish of losing friends, the pain and loneliness of being so far away from home, and their often-colorful opinions of their generals." At Chickamauga, Texans regiments were part of Deshler's, Ector's, Gregg's, and Robertson's infantry brigades and Harrison's cavalry brigade. There was only one Texas battery (Douglas's) present. Collectively, they suffered nearly 30% casualties, a horrific toll.

Integrating quotes gleaned from "hundreds of personal accounts, memoirs, postwar newspaper articles, diaries, and other primary sources," Mingus and Owen's narrative provides an exhaustive record of Texas's role in the costly Confederate victory. Enhancing the text are a dozen maps and numerous photographs. Detailed casualty records, in both gross numbers and at the individual level, can be found in the appendix section.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Booknotes: Hidden History of Civil War Florida

New Arrival:
Hidden History of Civil War Florida by Robert Redd (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Press, 2022).

Generally speaking, the Hidden History series explores little-known people, places, and events or lesser-known elements of more commonly recognized local and state history. Several Civil War-themed installments have been published, and the latest one is Robert Redd's Hidden History of Civil War Florida.

Often thought of in the past as a backwater front of rather little significance to the conduct of the Civil War on either side, scholarship published in recent decades has instead revealed a state that, in addition to its military contributions to both sides, came to be regarded as the breadbasket of the Confederacy. Florida was also an important supplier of salt.

From the description: "At the outset of the Civil War, Florida's entire population was only a bit larger than present-day Gainesville. Still, the state played an outsized role in the conflict. Floridians fought for the Union and Confederate armies. Sunshine State farmers provided beef and other foodstuffs for the Confederacy, rations that proved increasingly consequential as the years wore on. The battles of Olustee and Natural Bridge, where boys from the West Florida Seminary entered the fray, helped keep Tallahassee as the only Confederate-held capital east of the Mississippi River. Even the conspirators involved in Lincoln's assassination wove a trail that led to Florida."

The volume's introduction provides a solid selective rundown of the current state of the Civil War Florida historiography. The eight main chapters that follow it examine a broad range of topics. Addressed in them are Florida's secession, wartime St. Augustine, those involved in commissary department cattle drives, key figures in Volusia County Civil War history, the 1864 Battle of Marianna, the military service of the West Florida Seminary cadets, Florida's association with two individuals (Lewis Powell and Dr. Mudd) closely linked to the Lincoln assassination story, and finally a compilation of author-recommended Civil War sites to visit.