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 Although it remained unpublished, it was not wholly unknown."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.


  1. Thanks Drew. I hope CW students support this book to help keep the study of the war west of the river alive. The often paltry sales, comparatively speaking, keep a lot of good material from ever going into print, or printed at a reasonable price. --Ted Savas

  2. T-M CW military history has taken a nose dive over the past 5+ years. Even the avocational writing on the topic has dried up. Hopefully, it is just a phase.


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