Sunday, October 30, 2022

Coming Soon (November '22 Edition)

**NEW RELEASES1** Scheduled for NOV 2022:

Union Warriors at Sunset: The Lives of Twenty Commanders After the War by Allie Stuart Povall.
The Last Fire-Eater: Roger A. Pryor and the Search for a Southern Identity by William Link.
The Democratic Collapse: How Gender Politics Broke a Party and a Nation, 1856-1861 by Lauren Haumesser.
Navigating Liberty: Black Refugees and Antislavery Reformers in the Civil War South by John Cimprich.
Civil War Generals of Indiana by Carl Kramer.
Lady Rebels of Civil War Missouri by Larry Wood.
No Place for a Woman: Harriet Dame's Civil War by Mike Pride.
Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War: The Union Army by Adam Mendelsohn.
African Americans, Death, and the New Birth of Freedom: Dying Free during the Civil War and Reconstruction by Ashley Towle.
Plants in the Civil War: A Botanical History by Judith Sumner.

Comments: Link's Pryor book received a bit of an early release (see its Booknotes entry here), and the Povall book is also out already, though that one hasn't arrived here yet.

1 - These monthly release lists are not meant to be exhaustive compilations of non-fiction releases. They do not include non-revised/expanded reprints of previously published books, special editions not distributed to reviewers, and digital-only titles. Works that only tangentially address the war years are also generally excluded. Inevitably, one or more titles on this list will get a rescheduled release (and they do not get repeated later), so revisiting the past few "Coming Soon" posts is the best way to pick up stragglers.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Booknotes: Mary Lincoln Demystified

New Arrival:
Mary Lincoln Demystified: Frequently Asked Questions about Abraham’s Wife by Donna D. McCreary (SIU Press, 2022).

People employed or engaged in public history get bombarded by all manner of questions from patrons, with same or similar queries coming up again and again. Former Lincoln Museum historian Gerald Prokopowicz compiled his own set of FAQs in 2008's Did Lincoln Own Slaves?: And Other Frequently Asked Questions About Abraham Lincoln. Now Donna McCreary, who has portrayed Mary Todd Lincoln to various audiences for many years, takes on the other half of the Lincoln marriage in her book Mary Lincoln Demystified: Frequently Asked Questions about Abraham’s Wife. Over that long period of time, McCreary has undoubtedly been asked every question under the sun and having to come up with good answers led her to conduct her own research. "Decades of conversations with audiences, scholars, and relatives of the Todd family frame McCreary’s intimate and devoted research to offer a new and unique portrait of the most tragic First Lady." Indeed, this volume's bibliography is comprised of a large and diverse collection of primary and secondary source materials, including archival papers, newspapers, books, and scholarly articles.

More from the description: "Though Mary has been portrayed in books and film, McCreary’s book contains information not found elsewhere—details others have overlooked and those that would not fit well into a narrative history—such as lists of Mary’s beaus, servants, and the Todd family slaves; appendixes that present mini-biographies of families and friends; and a uniquely thorough timeline. Mary Lincoln Demystified covers areas in which McCreary’s audiences have expressed the most interest: Mary’s sanity, her family relationships, her views on slavery and African Americans, her personality and habits, and what happened to her possessions and children after she died." The Q&A part of the book alone fills 250 pages, and all of the material is footnoted.

Referenced above, the first appendix is an extensive compilation of short but informative biographies of Mary's extended family. In the second appendix, McCreary collects brief biographical sketches of Mrs. Lincoln's significant social and political friends, neighbors, "beaux," and public supporters. The birth to death timeline of events in her life is also pretty comprehensive.

Finally, "(w)hile sympathetic to the woman she portrayed for two decades, McCreary examines both sides of controversial issues and presents the facts with her trademark style and flair. More than a good read, McCreary’s Q&A factbook, based as it is on decades of extensive research in primary and secondary sources, will be the definitive resource for answers about Mary for years to come."

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Booknotes: Six Miles from Charleston, Five Minutes to Hell

New Arrival:
Six Miles from Charleston, Five Minutes to Hell: The Battle of Secessionville, June 16, 1862 by James A. Morgan (Savas Beatie, 2022).

When I read it back in the late 1990s, I was wow'd by Patrick Brennan's Secessionville: Assault On Charleston (1996). Up until that time, detailed and worthwhile book-length narratives of Civil War operations around the Cradle of the Confederacy were slim pickings, the best offerings being E. Milby Burton's The Siege of Charleston, 1861-1865 (1970) and Stephen Wise's Gate of Hell: Campaign for Charleston Harbor, 1863 (1994). Sadly, there were no follow-ups to Brennan's masterpiece, and my hopes that he might become the new 'Charleston Guy' were dashed. What his book did do, in conjunction with Hinze and Farnham's The Battle of Carthage, was hook me into the Savas publishing universe, the current iteration of which has now returned to Secessionville with the new ECW volume Six Miles from Charleston, Five Minutes to Hell: The Battle of Secessionville, June 16, 1862.

From the description: "The battle at Secessionville was as bloody and hard fought as any similar-sized encounter during the war. But it was poorly planned and poorly led by the Union commanders whose behavior did not do justice to the courage of their men [that's an understatement!]." James Morgan's Six Miles from Charleston, Five Minutes to Hell "examines the James Island campaign and its aftermath. By including several original sources not previously explored, he takes a fresh look at this small, but potentially game-changing fight, and shows that it was of much more than merely local interest at the time."

The dismal performance of the Union commander on the ground, General Henry Benham, produced one the war's more cautionary tales of misplaced initiative. On the other side, Confederate general John C. Pemberton's successful defense of Charleston undoubtedly played some role in President Davis later putting him charge of protecting another major fortress city, Vicksburg. More from the description: "For the Federals, the campaign on James Island was a joint Army-Navy operation that suffered from inter-service rivalries and no small amount of mutual contempt. Brig. Gen. David Hunter, the overall Union commander, lost interest in the campaign and turned effective control over to his subordinate, Brig. Gen. Henry Benham, whose ego and abrasive personality was a significant problem for the officers who served directly under him. On the Confederate side were men like John C. Pemberton, a West Point classmate of Benham’s, who never gained the respect of his subordinates either. The civilian authorities diligently worked behind his back to have him relieved and replaced. He did, however, oversee the construction of a formidable line of defensive works that proved strong enough in the end to save Charleston for much of the war."

Ten maps and numerous photographs supplement the text. The main narrative is extended, leaving little extra room for a more typically lengthy and eclectic appendix section. However, there is a brief driving tour and a short discussion of brothers that faced each other during the campaign for Charleston.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Review - "Treason on the Cape Fear: Roots of the Civil War in North Carolina, January-April 1861" by Philip Hatfield

[Treason on the Cape Fear: Roots of the Civil War in North Carolina, January-April 1861 by Philip Hatfield (35th Star Publishing, 2022). Softcover, maps, photos, drawings, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xxii,114/161. ISBN:978-1-7378573-5-6. $15.95]

The early months of 1861 were nervous times for the entire United States, with no one entirely certain how the Upper South and Border South regions of the country would respond to any outbreak of serious hostilities. Uncomfortably situated between a Deep South exhilarated at the prospect of independence and a North increasingly unified in opposition to southern secession, North Carolina's social and political climate was one of deep fear and profound uncertainty. As the first weeks and months of 1861 progressed, state leaders, the majority of whom adopted a wait and see attitude, found that emotional tinderbox more and more difficult to manage. This final three-month period of antebellum North Carolina history is the topic of Philip Hatfield's Treason on the Cape Fear: Roots of the Civil War in North Carolina, January-April 1861.

Hatfield's book opens with a standard overview of the simmering sectional disputes over slavery that eventually boiled over into secession and Civil War. Summarizing North Carolina's role in and response to those conflicts, early chapters set the stage for the events of January-April 1861 by contrasting the immediate secessionist path taken by the Lower South after Lincoln's election with the lingering unionism (conditional as it proved to be) of North Carolina's governor John Ellis and the majority of his state's voting body. Also offered is a brief history of the state's antebellum militia culture, one that, like other states across the country, produced a qualitative mixed-bag of units and formations. Interspersed within North Carolina's militia system of general neglect were a small number of well uniformed, drilled, and armed companies. Those companies, some of which held long-celebrated historical ties to their local communities, as well as hastily assembled militia operating as little more than armed mobs participated in the events described in the book.

Hatfield does a fine job of describing the feelings of mounting fear, mistrust, and abandonment that spread across North Carolina's coastal counties during the secession winter of 1860-61. Nothing that national and state leaders said or did could calm the nervousness of North Carolina's citizens there. Unsubstantiated rumors ran rampart, and when it was falsely reported that two ships were headed to the state to reinforce coastal forts, hastily organized North Carolina militia took action, seizing Fort Caswell and Fort Johnston in early January.

Thereafter ensued one of the more unusual events of the period. The forts were captured without the authorization of Governor Ellis and without seeking his approval. Residents of many coastal cities and towns felt that Raleigh was neglecting their interests and believed the governor himself not sufficiently committed to bolstering tidewater security. In response to the unauthorized seizures, Ellis apologized to President Buchanan and directed the forts be returned to federal hands, which they promptly were. However, a mere two months later, the national picture having drastically changed upon the firing on Fort Sumter and subsequent collapse of the Upper South's conditional unionism, Ellis ordered the forts retaken.

With the forts back in state hands and reinforced, the militia settled into quiet garrison duty after no federal invasion proved forthcoming. Soldier life at the forts is described, often in their own words, and the author also provides some demographic information about the men who filled the ranks of those early volunteer companies.

Reader reaction to the author's heavy reliance on lengthy block quotes throughout much of the book will vary, but, whatever one's feelings might be regarding that writing practice, this slender volume's overall narrative offers a solid account of the political and military events that unfolded in North Carolina over the months preceding the state's own May 1861 secession. That final abandonment of North Carolina's initial pro-Union stance, of course, led to the worst fears of January-April 1861 becoming stark reality. Indeed, the consequences of North Carolina's actions during that period came to roost over the next twelve months, first through General Benjamin Butler's August 1861 Hatteras Expedition and then by General Ambrose Burnside's far more expansive North Carolina invasion that struck the coast in devastating fashion the following February.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Booknotes: America's Hardscrabble General

New Arrival:
America's Hardscrabble General: Ulysses S. Grant, from Farm Boy to Shiloh by Jack Hurst (SIU Press, 2022).

Among the highest-ranking Civil War commanders of either side, U.S. Grant's wildly successful climb to the top was the least predictable. From the description: "Grant grew up on a farm on the Ohio frontier and reluctantly attended West Point, where he finished in the middle of his class. In his early army career, he was often underestimated by his peers despite valiant service. After the Mexican War Grant’s “Hardscrabble” farm outside St. Louis failed, and when he decided to rejoin the U.S. army, he was given the unenviable command of a rowdy volunteer regiment, the 21st Illinois."

Evaluating past performance as an indicator of future success is a reasonable way to take the measure of fellow human beings whom we don't know. Hiring managers live by such dictums, the risk-averse nature of which cannot take into account those rare unassuming individuals who blossom under the weight of tasks and responsibilities that crush many more conventionally qualified colleagues. Diamonds in the rough like Grant are always difficult to explain, but Jack Hurst attempts to do so in his latest book America's Hardscrabble General: Ulysses S. Grant, from Farm Boy to Shiloh.

It is certain that professional military education and experience had a hand in Grant's success, but Hurst seems to more highly stress sociological and environmental factors. "How did Grant—an average student, failed farmer, and common man—turn the 21st Illinois into a showcase regiment and become a successful general? In this engaging analysis, Jack Hurst argues that Grant’s military brilliance stemmed not from his West Point education but rather from his roots in America’s lower middle class and its commonsense values. His upbringing in the antebellum rural Midwest undergirded his military skill and helped him develop an innate humility, sense of justice, and ability to focus, leading him to form close relationships with his men."

More from the description: "Through a detailed account of Grant’s early years, from boyhood through the Battle of Shiloh, Hurst explores how Grant’s modest start and experiences in the Mexican War prefigured his greatest military triumphs. Ultimately Grant abandoned the traditional military practice of his time, which relied upon maneuver, and instead focused on fighting. His strategy to always move forward, win or lose, turned even his losses into essential elements of victory and characterized the aggressive, relentless approach that would ultimately win the Civil War and save the Union."

Monday, October 24, 2022

Booknotes: The Last Fire-Eater

New Arrival:
The Last Fire-Eater: Roger A. Pryor and the Search for a Southern Identity by William A. Link (LSU Press, 2022).

In The Last Fire-Eater, historian William Link "examines the life of Roger A. Pryor, a Virginia secessionist, Confederate general, and earnest proponent of postwar sectional reconciliation whose life involved a series of remarkable transformations. Pryor’s journey, Link reveals, mirrored that of the South. At times, both proved puzzling and contradictory."

At less than a hundred pages of narrative, Link's book, which focuses of Pryor's public life, is not meant to be a full biography. For that Link recommends Robert Holzman's Adapt or Perish: The Life of General Roger A. Pryor, C.S.A. (1976) and John Waugh's Surviving the Confederacy: Rebellion, Ruin, and Recovery—Roger and Sara Pryor During the Civil War (2002). Emphasized is Pryor's life of transformation. This is reflected in the study's three-chapter structure examining in turn Pryor's pre-Civil War political career as a states' rights radical, his Confederate Civil War service, and the postwar reconciliationist period of his life.

From the description: "Pryor recast himself during a crucial period in southern history between the 1850s and the close of the nineteenth century. An archetypical southern-rights advocate, Pryor became a skilled practitioner in the politics of honor. As a politician and newspaper editor, he engaged in duels and viewed the world through the cultural prism of southern honor, assuming a more militant and aggressive stance on slavery than most of his regional peers. Later, he served in the Confederate army during the Civil War, rising to the rank of brigadier general and seeing action across the Eastern Theater. Captured late in the conflict, Pryor soon after abandoned his fiery persona and renounced extremism. He then moved to New York City, where he emerged as a prominent lawyer and supporter of the sort of intersectional detente that stood as a central facet of what southern boosters labeled the “New South.”"

The world that Pryor was born into and the one he left in death at age 90 were certainly very different. More from the description: "Dramatic change characterized Pryor’s long life. Born in 1828, he died four months after the end of World War I. He witnessed fundamental shifts in the South that included the destruction of slavery, the defeat of the Confederacy, and the redefinition of manhood and honor among elite white men who relied less on violence to resolve personal grievances." The Last Fire-Eater uses Roger Pryor's "lifetime of remakings" as a lens through which to also study the greater "history of transformation in the South."

Frankly, I wish there were more books like this. There are many Civil War figures of middle-range significance that I am interested in reading more about but not enough to tackle a 400-page full biography!

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Review - "At War With King Alcohol: Debating Drinking and Masculinity in the Civil War" by Megan Bever

[At War With King Alcohol: Debating Drinking and Masculinity in the Civil War by Megan L. Bever (University of North Carolina Press, 2022). Softcover, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:172/250. ISBN:978-1-4696-6954-0. $27.95]

Though its strength among adherents in the general population waxed and waned, temperance was perhaps the most popular reform movement of the antebellum period. Outright prohibition succeeded in a number of northern states during the decade preceding the Civil War, only to see most measures struck down by the courts. According to historian Megan Bever, frustrated reformers nevertheless saw both hope and opportunity in the 1860 election of a teetotaling president in Abraham Lincoln and the outbreak of a civil war the successful outcome of which required that society first shed its thirst for intoxicating drink. Bever's At War With King Alcohol: Debating Drinking and Masculinity in the Civil War provides us with the first comprehensive examination of alcohol consumption during the conflict. In addition to scrutinizing the production, supply, and regulation of spirits at home and on the fighting front, the study offers a detailed investigation of army drinking practices and their impact on debates surrounding discipline, patriotism, and ideal soldierly attributes and behaviors.

Class background significantly shaped Civil War-era attitudes toward, and links between, sobriety and conceptualizations of manliness. In coming to that conclusion, Bever finds clear delineations between upper class (where social drinking was perhaps most encouraged), middle class (among whom temperance was most popular), urban working class, and rural citizens. In farming communities, liquor production was an important means of preserving crop yields that might have, for a variety of reasons, otherwise spoiled. All classes brought to the army preconceived notions, common also to the professional medical community, that liquor possessed vital medicinal qualities when consumed responsibly. That alone made absolute prohibition unthinkable to most citizens, who remained unconvinced that the cold water alternative espoused by temperance groups was superior. Interestingly, army officers of all ranks tended to adopt upper class social drinking norms, and there could be significant peer pressure to conform. Bever offers several examples of teetotaling enlisted soldiers who, after being rewarded with commissions during the war, encountered regular peer insistence that they socially drink with their fellow officers.

Though there were vocal promoters of complete abstinence in both Civil War armies, they were a distinct minority. Both officers and men agreed that moderate imbibing at responsible times improved physical health and mental well being, and they equally agreed that intoxication, especially when on duty and in battle, cost lives and critically eroded unit discipline and efficiency. However, in typical human fashion, the two groups differed in judging where blame primarily lay. Officers complained about their men's illegal liquor acquisition and drinking outside of authorized rations, and they regularly accused their intoxicated charges of harming the reputation of the unit, its officers, and the larger war effort. On the other side, the rank and file constantly complained about the drunken misbehavior of officers on and off the battlefield. Such officers failed to fulfill their duties to the men, which included imposing unit discipline without abuse and being judicious when it came to issuing liquor rations.

Bever also shows the ways in which more intimate and direct social pressures often had a greater effect upon promoting soldier sobriety than did faceless national reform movements. Though many officers and men linked sobriety with manly self-discipline and patriotism, wives proved to be strong agents in saving less self-motivated soldier husbands from debauchery. With locally raised companies filled with family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, honor-conscious soldiers knew that news of drunken behavior would eventually get back to home and community. Of course, all of these factors were limited in effect. Without the moral oversight and behavioral strictures associated with home, church, and community, many men found army life full of irresistible temptation. On the other hand, a smaller number of wilder individuals who regularly drank before the war found army regimentation a sobering experience!

Bever's research discovers that rank and file abstinence rates within regiments that had temperance clubs could be significant in scale (perhaps up to 20%, when national temperance as a whole during antebellum decades peaked at around 12%). Interestingly, she also finds that line officers had very little to do with this. Regimental chaplains, often with the assistance of tract publishers and large relief organizations such as sanitary commissions and the U.S. Christian Commission, often took the lead, but, according to Bever's findings, sobriety was most commonly sourced through self-discipline. Of course, adherence was limited, but it's clear that a significant proportion of Civil War soldiers took sobriety in themselves and others very seriously.

Alcohol abuse in Civil War armies clearly led to widespread incidence of property destruction, assaults, deadly accidents, serious injuries to self and others, and outright murder. The army itself saw drinking as primarily a disciplinary, not moral, problem and addressed it mostly through pay deductions and hard labor punishments (with humiliation and corporal punishments less common for alcohol-related offenses and far more resisted by the men as anti-republican). Shaping attitudes toward drinking and punishing excess after the fact were one thing, but military authorities also attempted, without success, to control supply. Smuggling was a never-ending problem in both armies (troops in camp and on the march had an almost magical ability to obtain alcohol by some means), and Union authorities in particular never made consistent and effective management of liquor sales by licensed sutlers a priority.

Another major source of alcohol, perhaps the largest supplier to enlisted men, was the civilian population. Bever finds an interesting contrast between how Union and Confederate authorities attempted to handle civilian sellers of hard spirits. In contrast to Confederate military and civilian leaders, who often inserted liquor stipulations into martial law restrictions in an attempt to broadly suppress the trade, Union authorities employed far more restraint at home and in areas under their military control or occupation. There's something to Bever's suggestion that conciliation toward local southern-sympathizing populations and questions over legality when it came to military regulation of civilian affairs were behind this to some degree, but those same occupation authorities were certainly not similarly shy when it came to imposing draconian responses to other types of civilian intercourse, complaints, and concerns. Generally speaking, though, Bever's interpretation that Union authorities viewed liquor production and distribution as just one of many things needing regulation (preferably through licensing and taxation) in order to maintain order while their Confederate counterparts saw the issue as more of an existential threat makes sense given that it was southern communities that overwhelmingly bore the brunt of both military occupation and the roaming armies of both sides.

Like their counterparts in the North, southern temperance reformers had mixed feelings about what taxing liquor production (which increased as the war progressed) said about government and societal acceptance. However, southern critics of drinking had another great concern, food scarcity. Alcohol production consumed large amounts of grain, and invasion, transportation disruption, and a tightening blockade combined to have a noticeable affect on southern food supplies relatively early in the war. As Bever explains, heading off famine was a major motivator when it came to supporting outright prohibition. Rampant liquor speculation also had a noticeably demoralizing effect on the southern home front. In citing examples such as the Confederate government in Richmond licensing medicinal liquor producers in dry states, Bever also raises a good point that opposing wartime laws over prohibition sparked yet another conflict between state and central governments that a struggling Confederacy could ill afford.

Their beliefs rooted in the values of middle class evangelicals, reformers believed that only abstinent officers fit the bill when it came to defining the moral, masculine, and patriotic ideals associated with a true hero general. The greater populations of both sections did not believe such an extreme was necessary, but there was significant common ground when it came to intolerance for on-duty insobriety. While Bever's study does not go about trying to "answer the question of whether certain generals were drunk on certain days or whether intoxication can be blamed for catastrophes on the battlefield," it does explore the prevalence of ascribing alcohol abuse to leading generals who performed poorly on the battlefield, noting along the way that such accusations were commonly without foundation and the resulting reputational stain often impossible to remove. Officer drinking behaviors, whether true or not, clearly affected how some generals were perceived both inside and outside the army. In the book, the author outlines examples of where a clear contrast can be drawn between the temperance reformer minority and the wider population when it came to assigning blame to generals for military disasters. For instance, General Joseph Hooker certainly had barbs flung his way from all sides after Chancellorsville, but, in the popular mind, General O.O. Howard became the defeat's lead scapegoat. Adopting the direct opposite stance, the reformers praised their hero general, the hard line temperance man Howard, while lambasting the unsavory Hooker, who was assumed (without any solid supporting evidence) to have been drunk at Chancellorsville.

With sobriety linked to manliness, patriotism, and soldierly effectiveness, drunkenness was tied to cowardice and failing commitment to the cause. Most readers are familiar with soldiers of both sides citing alcohol consumption (perhaps laced with gunpowder) as a means of explaining away opponent displays of reckless bravery on the battlefield. However, Bever also notes that enemy prisoners were also widely described as being drunk, and that observation (accurate or not) proved something of a morale boost, the implication being that enemy support for their cause was failing and/or immoral to begin with if their soldiers had to resort to excessive drinking on duty. Soldiers who fought on the same side were targeted as well, most visibly through nativist assaults on German and Irish immigrant drinking cultures. Bever also shows that while many black northerners embraced temperance for similar reasons that white evangelicals did other motivations were unique to their own situation in society. In seeking to bolster their race's aspirations for full citizenship rights, black reformers promoted abstinence as a way to dispel popular prejudice among whites that black freedom would exacerbate that race's already inherent vulnerability to alcohol's worst influences.

Finally, through uncovering the ways through which both warring sections sought to control alcohol production and use, Bever sees the Civil War as having a major influence in the success of the national prohibition movement decades later (though it would take another major war, World War One, to finally bring it to fruition). Both sections tinkered with temperance movements during the antebellum period (and both North and South had sectional peculiarities, including northern Sunday Laws that angered immigrants and southern laws aimed at keeping alcohol from the slave and free black populations), but, absent the war and its patterns of centralization, the author asserts, with solid extrapolative reasoning, that the South would not have widely supported outright prohibition and especially its imposition on a federal level.

In her wide-ranging and complex discussion of alcohol consumption during the Civil War, Megan Bever employs a marvelously integrated approach. Her work reveals marked differences among drinking cultures and practices that affected how those within both armies and home fronts perceived proper soldierly manhood, moral fiber, patriotism, and discipline. The ways through which both governments attempted to regulate or prohibit the production, distribution, and sale of liquor to soldiers are clearly contrasted and proffered motivations behind those measures richly debatable. Viewing all of that through the lens of temperance reform movements active before, during, and the after the war adds an additional interpretive layer of critical significance. At War With King Alcohol should well satisfy any reader seeking a comprehensive treatment of this topic. Highly recommended.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Booknotes: A Place of Rest for our Gallant Boys

New Arrival:
A Place of Rest for our Gallant Boys: The U.S. Army General Hospital at Gallipolis, Ohio, 1861-1865 by Christy Perry Tuohey (35th Star Pub, 2022).

Civil War books are one of the best ways to learn about U.S. geography. But knowing how to correctly pronounce the names of a great many small cities and towns is another thing. It's easy enough to satisfy yourself when reading about a place like Gallipolis, Ohio, but I would imagine that in-person presenters have to do a lot of additional homework in this sphere in order to escape groans from local audiences. In the matter of Gallipolis, a quick swing through Google seems to reveal a lack of universal agreement among Ohioans themselves and between residents and their West Virginia neighbors across the river. Anyway, most people seem to go with gal-li-po-LEES.

But enough of that. The purpose of this Booknotes post is Christy Perry Tuohey's A Place of Rest for our Gallant Boys: The U.S. Army General Hospital at Gallipolis, Ohio, 1861-1865. In it the author explores the origins and operations of the military hospital established in Gallipolis as well as the personal stories of its staff, volunteers, and patients.

Strategically located near the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha rivers as well being close to the Point Pleasant stomping grounds of the Mothman, Gallipolis "was uniquely situated to become a hospital site. Its proximity to early Civil War battles in western Virginia and location on the Ohio River made it an ideal place to receive patients arriving via steamboat from remote battlefields and field hospitals. The people who cared for the ailing warriors came from all quarters: a young teacher who switched to nursing when hospital cots filled her classroom; a New England surgeon who survived Confederate capture and a bloody Southern battle to take charge of the Army hospital; a hospital steward who nursed his regimental comrade back from the brink of death, and how together they ended up treating casualties in Gallipolis."

The volume is well supplied with drawings and photographs. Additionally, the book's appendix section includes surgeon, staff, and patient rosters. Compiled from numerous primary and secondary sources, the Union and Confederate patient lists, while lengthy, are not, and likely cannot be, exhaustively complete.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Booknotes: Gettysburg's Southern Front

New Arrival:
Gettysburg's Southern Front: Opportunity and Failure at Richmond by Hampton Newsome (UP of Kansas, 2022).

From Big Bethel through the end of the Seven Days, military action on the Virginia Peninsula featured prominently during the Civil War's first year. However, things quickly quieted down in the area after the Army of the Potomac was recalled to the Washington front after failing to capture Richmond. Though a strategic backwater throughout the war's middle period, strong Union garrisons remained on the lower Peninsula, with additional concentrations located across the James River around Norfolk and Suffolk (the latter the target of a Confederate "siege" in 1863). Directly challenging common assumptions that little happened along the Peninsula after 1862 until the war returned with a vengeance to its upper reaches during the Overland and Richmond/Petersburg campaigns of 1864-65 is Hampton Newsome's Gettysburg's Southern Front: Opportunity and Failure at Richmond.

From the description: "On June 14, 1863, US Major General John Adams Dix received the following directive from General-in-Chief Henry Halleck: “All your available force should be concentrated to threaten Richmond, by seizing and destroying their railroad bridges over the South and North Anna Rivers, and do them all the damage possible.” With General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia marching toward Gettysburg and only a limited Confederate force guarding Richmond, Halleck sensed a rare opportunity for the Union cause."

Given the real and perceived threats posed by Lee's invading army, it's a bit surprising how many troops the scaredy-cats for the safety of Washington made available to Dix for his limited-goal operation. In advancing up the Peninsula, Dix's "20,000 US troops would threaten the Confederate capital and seek to cut the railroads supplying Lee’s army in Pennsylvania. To some, Dix’s campaign presented a tremendous chance for US forces to strike hard at Richmond while Lee was off in Pennsylvania. To others, it was an unnecessary lark that tied up units deployed more effectively in protecting Washington and confronting Lee's men on Northern soil."

A product of prodigious research in newspapers, archives, and a range of other primary sources and with its text supported by sixteen maps, Gettysburg's Southern Front, "offers an in-depth look into this little-known Federal advance against Richmond during the Gettysburg Campaign. The first full-length examination of Dix’s venture, 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." It "also points to the often-unrecognized value in examining events of the US Civil War beyond the larger famous battles and campaigns."

According to Newsome, Dix's campaign was far from a misguided operation perhaps deservedly consigned to perpetual obscurity. More from the description: "At the time, political and military leaders on both sides carefully weighed Dix’s efforts at Richmond and understood that the offensive had the potential to generate dramatic results. In fact, this piece of the Gettysburg Campaign may rank as one of the Union war effort’s more compelling lost opportunities in the East, one that could have changed the course of the conflict." Cheers to Hampton Newsome for taking on yet another fresh and interesting military history topic. I will be especially looking forward to reading the author's take on the 'lost opportunity' aspects of the operation.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Review - "Engineering in the Confederate Heartland" by Larry Daniel

[Engineering in the Confederate Heartland by Larry J. Daniel (Louisiana State University Press, 2022). Hardcover, maps, photos, drawings, tables, appendix section, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xii,153/216. ISBN:978-0-8071-7785-3. $45]

The routinely brilliant accomplishments of the Union Army's engineers and specialized engineering units have been lavishly documented and praised in a number of recent Civil War railroad, fortification, and technology studies. Citing northern economic, educational, and cultural investment and incentives that together produced wide sectional disparities in engineering achievements and innovation, Thomas Army's recent study Engineering Victory: How Technology Won the Civil War (2016) went so far as to argue that the Union Army's superiority in military engineering was the key to victory. Acknowledging that the South faced daunting odds in those categories, Larry Daniel's Engineering in the Confederate Heartland nonetheless argues powerfully that talent enough existed in the western Confederacy to meet the army's engineering needs. Additionally, when providing professional assistance to Confederate western theater defense, these civilian turned military engineers produced noteworthy achievements of their own under the most trying conditions.

Much in the way of Confederate military engineering-related content is spread among the literature's many western campaign and battle histories, but Daniel's study marks the first real attempt at compiling that material into a cohesive theater-level survey. In persuasive fashion, this combined narrative and theme-based history of Confederate engineers and engineering operations lends support to those who maintain that theater-wide patterns of mismanagement when it came to strategy, defense prioritization, and resource allocation most powerfully explain the Confederate side's principal contributions to the string of early military disasters that plagued the West. Similarly drawn analysis was offered in Neil Chatelain's excellent naval history of the Confederate defense of the Mississippi River Valley (for more information on that, see Chatelein's Defending the Arteries of Rebellion).

Featuring on an individual level the western theater activities of a host of Confederate engineers both well known and obscure, readers quickly gain a solid administrative understanding of where (within departments, districts, and various formations within armies) authorities allocated the available pool of engineer officers. Also explained are the ways in which those engineers had a notable impact on major western campaigns. The text associated with these sections of the book is largely descriptive in nature, but both historical and modern criticisms of particularly controversial engineering decisions, plans, and implementations are duly raised by the author and judiciously reassessed. Overall, Daniel produces a solid argument that the engineering department was not a major underperformer that quickened the process of Confederate defeat in the West.

Daniel's quantitative analysis of the city of Nashville's industrial and mechanical talent pool, as well as that of the heartland Confederacy (Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia) on the whole, does offer a degree of counterpoint (though without any direct comparison to Midwest state occupation numbers) to the commonly presented picture of a South comparatively destitute of engineers, architects, artisans, carpenters, mechanics, and other similarly skilled workers. Even after taking account of the loose standards of the day when it came to defining jobs and professional specifications, Daniel's table suggests that sufficient numbers were available, the challenge being more about getting them into the army and up to speed on the new skill set of military engineering. Care in not stripping the home front of the skilled workforce necessary to sustain it also needed to be observed. Keeping talented officers, many of whom held prominent positions in the civilian sphere before the war, as relatively low rank and status military engineers proved difficult as well (by comparison, the combat branches offered higher prestige and far greater promotion opportunities for ambitious men). Readers of Justin Solonick's recent study of Union siege operations and engineering at Vicksburg might recall the many concerns voiced within Grant's army regarding its lack of professionally trained military engineers, only to have those fears largely disappear after the army's volunteer engineers picked up the slack in very effective fashion. Daniel's study shows that their Confederate counterparts in the West proved similarly able to learn on the job and achieve task competence at sufficient pace.

Daniel stresses geographical challenges Confederate engineers faced both in terms of the vast amount of territory that needed to be defended and the specific problems imposed by diverse western environments. Amid growing crossover between Civil War history and environmental studies, weather is becoming more emphasized as an opponent on par with enemy armies (for a great survey of the topic see Kenneth Noe's The Howling Storm), and western engineers certainly dealt with more than their fair share of muddy roads, floods, and washed out bridges.

The evolving organization of Confederate engineering units in the western theater is also usefully addressed in the book. By the war's midpoint, the Confederate Army possessed three engineer regiments and an engineer battalion (a force deserving of its own study). The Third Engineer Regiment was deployed in the West, with companies widely distributed among active army divisions and administrative districts. Daniel summarizes and evaluates their supporting roles in the Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Atlanta campaigns, the last representing the Army of Tennessee's engineer corps at its peak performance.

Other chapters address more specialized engineering activities. In the chapter featuring the theater's topographical engineers, Daniel finds that western theater map makers were, to use the author's oft-used descriptor, "adequate" in their performance yet still behind both their Union opponents and Lee's army in the East. According to the author, the Union Army's western mapmakers got an earlier start than their Confederate counterparts and were better organized and more skilled overall. Tested by trying military, material, labor, and environmental conditions, Confederate pontoniers also proved capable when it came to delivering on their assigned tasks. The pontoon engineering chapter's case study focus on the 1864 Tennessee Campaign is fertile reminder of what those bridging specialists were able to accomplish in the face of their cause's imminent collapse.

Recent works such as Sarah Hyde's Schooling in the Antebellum South: The Rise of Public and Private Education in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama (2016) and Michael Frawley's Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South: A Reevaluation (2019) invite Civil War readers and scholars alike to reconsider popular preconceptions regarding the antebellum South's commitments to education and industry. In similar vein, Larry Daniel's slim but thoughtful and engaging new book Engineering in the Confederate Heartland offers Civil War students a fresh reappraisal of the western Confederacy's ability to, if not match, at least seriously contest the Union Army's vaunted engineering capabilities.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Booknotes: Treason on the Cape Fear

New Arrival:
Treason on the Cape Fear: Roots of the Civil War in North Carolina, January-April 1861 by Philip Hatfield (35th Star Pub, 2022).

Southern secessionist hopes that federal property in their states could be transferred to state ownership through peaceful negotiation (as naive as that seems in hindsight) were quickly dashed after both sitting president James Buchanan and President-Elect Abraham Lincoln pledged to defend those holdings. That rebuff sparked a wave of fort and arsenal seizures across states both already seceded and as yet undecided on the matter. Impetus came from multiple levels of authority, from governors down to jittery local governments and militia. In North Carolina, the most immediate and contentious disputes over federal property revolved around the coastal forts. That story is the topic of Philip Hatfield's Treason on the Cape Fear: Roots of the Civil War in North Carolina, January-April 1861.

From the description: "Shortly after South Carolina’s secession on December 20, 1860, President James Buchanan announced his intention to strengthen southern coastal forts. This agitated North Carolina’s southeastern coastal residents’ already tense mood, with fears of imminent invasion. However, when the Wilmington Journal falsely reported that Buchanan had sent two U.S. steamers carrying heavy artillery and soldiers to secure Fort Caswell, located south of the port city on the Cape Fear River, tensions escalated to the point of no return."

An odd, and perhaps unique, situation unfolded in North Carolina. More from the description: "On January 10, 1861, Wilmington city leaders ordered three hundred local militia deemed “The Cape Fear Minutemen” to capture Fort Caswell and Fort Johnston, without authorization from the Federal government, a blatant act of treason. Despite this, no legal action was taken as North Carolina Governor John W. Ellis simply apologized to President Buchanan and ordered the militia to immediately surrender the forts. Following the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, however, Ellis ordered the militia to recapture the forts, and this time no apology was given." The next month, North Carolina formally seceded, and the forts were incorporated into coastal defense arrangements under Confederate authority.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Booknotes: “If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania”, Vol. 1

New Arrival:
“If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania” - The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac March to Gettysburg, Volume 1: June 3–21, 1863 by Scott L. Mingus, Sr. and Eric J. Wittenberg (Savas Beatie, 2022)

The road to Gettysburg has been addressed through a multitude of scholarly and popular works, but Scott Mingus and Eric Wittenberg's “If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania” - The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac March to Gettysburg, Volume 1: June 3–21, 1863 opens a two-volume history poised to surpass all others in detail level and interpretive range. Their study "is one of the first to integrate the military, media, political, social, economic, and civilian perspectives with rank-and-file accounts from the soldiers of both armies as they inexorably march toward their destiny at Gettysburg."

Of course, the period covered in Vol. 1 was eventful in many ways, including heavy fighting. Among the June battles covered in the book's daily chapters are Brandy Station, Second Winchester, Aldie, and Middleburg. As Jennifer Murray notes in her foreword, the authors significantly "widen lens of the theater of operations," exploring the integrated roles of other military commands in the region. She also praises the book for offering insights into "the interplay of military operations and politics" and for illuminating the campaign's considerable impact on the civilians living in its path.

In constructing their exhaustive pre-Gettysburg narrative (Vol. 1 alone runs over 400 pages), the authors "mined hundreds of primary accounts, newspapers, and other sources." A multitude of photographs and other illustrations enhance the reading experience, and the volume's collection of 31 original maps meticulously trace the overall progress of the campaign as well as detail battlefield action.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Booknotes: Soldiers From Experience

New Arrival:
Soldiers from Experience: The Forging of Sherman's Fifteenth Army Corps, 1862–1863 by Eric Michael Burke (LSU Press, 2022).

The regiment will always be king of the unit history category of Civil War publishing, but coverage of army corps histories above and beyond their involvement in single campaigns or battles is certainly on the upswing of late (though it is somewhat curious that the run has been so far exclusively Union). Darin Wipperman has authored a First Corps study, and he also has a Ninth Corps book on the way. Additionally, Savas Beatie has published James Pula's two-volume study of the Eleventh Corps along with the first of Chris Bryan's planned two-volume examination of Twelfth Corps.

In addition to getting away from the Army of the Potomac, Eric Michael Burke's Soldiers from Experience: The Forging of Sherman's Fifteenth Army Corps, 1862–1863 also adopts a unique interpretive slant. From the description: Burke's study "examines the tactical behavior and operational performance of Major General William T. Sherman’s Fifteenth US Army Corps during its first year fighting in the Western Theater of the American Civil War. Burke analyzes how specific experiences and patterns of meaning-making within the ranks led to the emergence of what he characterizes as a distinctive corps-level tactical culture. The concept―introduced here for the first time―consists of a collection of shared, historically derived ideas, beliefs, norms, and assumptions that play a decisive role in shaping a military command’s particular collective approach on and off the battlefield." All of this "introduces a new theoretical construct of small unit–level tactical principles wholly absent from the rapidly growing interdisciplinary scholarship on the intricacies and influence of culture on military operations."

The following passage from the description offers a glimpse into the many factors the author believes were involved in creating a distinguishing corps-level culture: "Burke shows that while military historians of the Civil War frequently assert that generals somehow imparted their character upon the troops they led, Sherman’s corps reveals the opposite to be true. Contrary to long-held historiographical assumptions, he suggests the physical terrain itself played a much more influential role than rifled weapons in necessitating tactical changes. At the same time, Burke argues, soldiers’ battlefield traumas and regular interactions with southern civilians, the enslaved, and freedpeople during raids inspired them to embrace emancipation and the widespread destruction of Rebel property and resources. An awareness and understanding of this culture increasingly informed Sherman’s command during all three of his most notable late-war campaigns."

As referenced earlier, Burke's unit history, in being "the first book-length examination of an army corps operating in the Western Theater during the conflict," also has a regional flavor distinct from other Union corps studies. The book also "sheds new light on Civil War history more broadly by uncovering a direct link between the exigencies of nineteenth-century land warfare and the transformation of US wartime strategy from “conciliation,” which aimed to protect the property of Southern civilians, to “hard war.”"

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Booknotes: The Confederate Military Forces in the Trans-Mississippi West, 1861-1865

New Arrival:
The Confederate Military Forces in the Trans-Mississippi West, 1861-1865: A Study in Command by William Royston Geise, ed. by Michael J. Forsyth (Savas Beatie, 2022).

From the description: "William Royston Geise was a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Austin in the early 1970s when he researched and wrote The Confederate Military Forces in the Trans-Mississippi West, 1861- 1865: A Study in Command in 1974. Although it remained unpublished, it was not wholly unknown." A digital facsimile version of this dissertation is available as a PDF if you know where to look for it (think I found my copy of the file on ProQuest), but for those of us who still like our physical copies it's great to finally have this classic resource in print form. All the better that it's been enhanced through Michael Forsyth's editing.

As suggested by its subtitle, Geise's study is not a detailed history of T-M campaigns and battles from the Confederate perspective but rather an analytical exploration of the theater's Confederate high command. More from the description: Geise's book "traces the evolution of Confederate command and how it affected the shifting strategic situation and general course of the war. Dr. Geise accomplishes his task by coming at the question in a unique fashion. Military field operations are discussed as needed, but his emphasis is on the functioning of headquarters and staff—the central nervous system of any military command."

Of course, it was a defining moment for the evolution of command in the region when direct communication between the Confederate heartland and the states west of the Mississippi was cut off in the summer of 1863. More: "After July 1863, the only viable Confederate agency west of the great river was the headquarters at Shreveport. That hub of activity became the sole location to which all isolated players, civilians and military alike, could look for immediate overall leadership and a sense of Confederate solidarity. By filling these needs, the Trans-Mississippi Department assumed a unique and vital role among Confederate military departments and provided a focus for continued Confederate resistance west of the Mississippi River." The seminal work addressing the above period, Robert Lee Kerby's Kirby Smith's Confederacy: The Trans-Mississippi South, 1863-1865, was published just two years earlier. Kerby's book is listed in Geise's 1974 bibliography, and it will be interesting to see how the scholarly conversation between the two plays out in Geise's work.

Editor Michael Forsyth, the author of a trio of late-war studies covering the Red River Campaign, its connected Camden Expedition, and Sterling Price's Missouri raid, augments Geise's original citations (his own notes and commentary being separated from the author's by paired backslashes). This edition also adds maps (4) and photos. I can't imagine any student of the Civil War west of the Mississippi not wanting a personal copy of this.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Review - "The Battle of Jackson, Mississippi, May 14, 1863" by Chris Mackowski

[The Battle of Jackson, Mississippi, May 14, 1863 by Chris Mackowski (Savas Beatie, 2022). Hardcover, 6 maps, photos, illustrations, footnotes, tour guide, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xviii,133/189. ISBN:978-1-61121-655-4. $29.95]

In regard to troops involved and casualties incurred, the May 14, 1863 Battle of Jackson was not a major clash of armies by Civil War standards. However, in ways that transcended simple matters of scale, it did serve as a critical inflection point in the long campaign for Vicksburg. By successfully seizing control of the Mississippi state capital on that day, Union forces critically isolated Vicksburg, severing the river city's lines of supply and communication with the Confederate interior while at the same time driving a great wedge between General John C. Pemberton's army of Vicksburg defenders and General Joseph E. Johnston's growing relief army. By sparking Johnston's hastily improvised order directing Pemberton to immediately sally forth from Vicksburg in search of a decisive battle, the disruptive contest for Jackson also contributed mightily to the crushing Confederate defeat at Champion Hill only two days later.

Following up on his army's small but clear victories at Port Gibson and Raymond, General U.S. Grant launched a two-pronged assault on the city of Jackson, with General James B. McPherson's Seventeenth Corps striking the capital defenders from the northwest and General William T. Sherman's Fifteenth Corps driving in from the southwest. Johnston, believing his eroding position hopeless, fought a delaying action intended to save essential supplies and materiel. Pushing out from Jackson's rudimentary earthwork defenses, a division-sized Confederate force confronted McPherson while a much smaller demi-brigade attempted to slow Sherman's progress at Lynch Creek. Safely evacuating most of the capital's valuable military stores, Johnston's still-intact army retreated northeast to Canton. Providing fine new accounts of the battle itself and subsequent acts of destruction within the city is Chris Mackowski's The Battle of Jackson, Mississippi, May 14, 1863, the second volume in publisher Savas Beatie's Battles and Leaders series.

With action unfolding at regiment and brigade-level unit scales, Mackowski's battle narrative is similar in tactical detail and overall scope to the one found in the pages of its nearest rival, Edwin C. Bearss and Warren Grabau's long out of print and relatively scarce The Battle of Jackson May 14, 1863 - The Siege of Jackson, July 10-17, 1863 - and Three Other Post-Vicksburg Actions (1981). A balanced synthesis, the much broader source base underpinning Mackowski's text (which obviously benefits from the passage of forty years of source discovery and campaign literature development) along with its widespread incorporation of eyewitness/participant accounts defines this volume as a significantly more modern update.

Environmental factors figured heavily into how the battle was fought. Mackowski's narrative of events clearly explains how the combined effects of weather (the fighting occurred in heavy spring rains and mud) and terrain, particularly along Sherman's approach, shaped the pace and course of the battle. Such conditions might also have been expected to hinder the evacuation, but that appears not to have been the case.

In his assessment of the leadership displayed by both sides before, during, and after the battle, Mackowski finds no compelling reasons to significantly depart from convention. There's broad consensus in the literature regarding theater commander Joe Johnston's poor display of military judgment throughout the Vicksburg Campaign. Aspects of the general's personal character flaws also come into play. In particular, Mackowski joins the chorus of critics who condemn Johnston for leaving Pemberton in the lurch after ordering his subordinate to attack Grant (with the understanding that Johnston's and Pemberton's forces would be fighting a mutually supporting action intended to catch Grant's army in a vise) only to immediately retreat in haste far away from any potential confrontation. Johnston has also been criticized by some for his hasty evacuation of Jackson, though it is far from certain that he could have successfully held up Grant's army that day and the next, a period during which significant additional reinforcements would have arrived to narrow the odds. It will be interesting to read what Richard McMurry, the author of an upcoming two-volume military biography of Johnston, might contribute to this discussion.

The volume's six maps (which include brigade-scale troop position maps overlying both historical and modern Jackson landscapes) are adequate. A plethora of photos and illustrations are present, as are orders of battle for both sides. Aside from leaving behind some earthwork remnants, modern Jackson's expansive development has nearly erased all signs of battle and siege. Nevertheless, the book does manage to assemble seventeen historical "points of interest," complete with text description, photo, and street location, to tempt visitors who might otherwise believe there is little left to see.

Not intended to be a tactical micro-history on the level of recent Vicksburg Campaign studies produced by military historians Timothy Smith and Earl Hess, Mackowski's book nonetheless provides a solid overview of the battle that properly contextualizes the event as a major crossroads moment in the campaign. With few copies of the Bearss-Grabau classic floating around in the secondary market, in Jim Woodrick's The Civil War Siege of Jackson, Mississippi (2016) and now Chris Mackowski's The Battle of Jackson, Mississippi, May 14, 1863 readers finally have ready access to quality standalone works exploring both major phases of the city's defining role in the Vicksburg Campaign.