Friday, December 30, 2022

Coming Soon (January '23 Edition)

**NEW RELEASES1** Scheduled for JAN 2023:

Freedom's Crescent: The Civil War and the Destruction of Slavery in the Lower Mississippi Valley by John Rodrigue.
The Fifth Border State: Slavery, Emancipation, and the Formation of West Virginia, 1829–1872 by Scott MacKenzie.
Continent in Crisis: The U.S. Civil War in North America ed. by Schoen, Spangler, and Towers.
July 22: The Civil War Battle of Atlanta by Earl Hess.
The Failure of Our Fathers: Family, Gender, and Power in Confederate Alabama by Victoria Ott.
The Civil Wars of General Joseph E. Johnston, Confederate States Army, Vol. 1: Virginia and Mississippi, 1861-1863 by Richard McMurry.
The Tale Untwisted: General George B. McClellan, the Maryland Campaign, and the Discovery of Lee’s Lost Orders by Thorp & Rossino.
Grant at 200: Reconsidering the Life and Legacy of Ulysses S. Grant ed. by Mackowski & Scaturro.
The Military Memoirs of a Confederate Line Officer: Captain John C. Reed’s Civil War from Manassas to Appomattox ed. by William Cobb.

Comments: Savas Beatie's enticing January lineup comprises nearly half the list. It's long been recognized that Union early to mid-war drives into the Mississippi River Valley acted as the spearhead of military emancipation, and Rodrigue's book looks like it will be an interesting full history of events. From title and description, it's apparent that MacKenzie's history of West Virginia statehood offers a different emphasis from previous studies. As mentioned before, news of the impending publication of a July 22, 1864 Battle of Atlanta study was very unexpected (many of us did not even know this one was in the cards let alone finished). We already have a very good book-length examination of the battle from Gary Ecelbarger, but a revisit from Hess is always welcome.

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.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Review - "Civil War Generals of Indiana" by Carl Kramer

[Civil War Generals of Indiana by Carl E. Kramer (Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, 2022). Softcover, photos, bibliography. Pages main/total:127/140. ISBN:978-1-4671-5195-5. $23.99]

Population mobility and many other factors combine to make definitive attachment of a Civil War general's name to any one particular state a frequently awkward exercise. Even so, state affiliation (however one measures it) remains a popular way of categorizing officers with stars on their shoulder straps. Found inside Carl Kramer's Civil War Generals of Indiana are capsule biographies and Civil War service summaries for 121 individuals, further broken down into 44 United States Volunteer army generals (and one Confederate general), 62 brevet generals, and 14 generals of state service.

As noted in the volume's introduction, selection was informed by any of three criteria: (1) birth (any general officer born in the state was selected regardless of the depth of subsequent ties), (2) residence (those who were born elsewhere but spent formative years or any other significant time in the state), and (3) wartime arrival (those who came to Indiana during the war, acted in a command capacity while there, and continued to have state ties after the war). There are figures in Kramer's register that Civil War readers would more readily associate with another state, but the author's decision to err on the side of inclusivity is reasonable, certainly no great sin committed against history.

Entries commonly follow a four-paragraph structure. The first very briefly recounts the subject's early life and (if applicable) any prewar political and/or military experience. The second and third paragraphs summarize the general's Civil War activities, with key dates (ex. for promotions) and perhaps some commentary. The final paragraph typically describes the end of the officer's Civil War service along with his postwar career path, death, and burial place. Most of the federal volunteer generals have photographs attached, but none were included for the brevet brigadiers or the state generals.

The text is not annotated, and the sources listed in the bibliography suggest that much of the information was compiled using a selection of classic reference books and sets. Examples of those include A Biographical History of Eminent and Self-Made Men of the State of Indiana (2 Vols.), the Dictionary of American Biography (20 Vols.), A Biographical Directory of the Indiana General Assembly (Vol. 1), Warner's Generals in Blue, and the state adjutant general's official report.

Kramer's volume usefully introduces readers to a great number of obscure figures deserving wider notice. There are a few federal army generals that well-informed readers, especially those less steeped in western theater campaigns and battles, still might not recognize, but where the non-household names really pile up is in the brevet brigadier and state general sections of the book. Kramer's work helps expose readers to the lives of a host of unsung Indiana colonels who were rewarded with general officer brevets at or near the end of the war. State quartermaster generals and ranking leaders of Indiana Legion formations also receive just due. Those two parts of the book, the brevet and state general sections, house the volume's freshest body of information and arguably the book's principal reference value.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Booknotes: Navigating Liberty

New Arrival:
Navigating Liberty: Black Refugees and Antislavery Reformers in the Civil War South by John Cimprich (LSU Press, 2023).

At this point, a fairly expansive body of literature is available to those wishing to learn more about the black refugee camps that sprung up all across the occupied South as well as the activities of the many reform-minded northerners (both women and men) who went to those places to improve conditions and assist in the transition from slavery to freedom. As John Cimprich demonstrates in his new book Navigating Liberty: Black Refugees and Antislavery Reformers in the Civil War South, the dynamic that developed between the two groups was far more complex and contentious than help offered and help accepted.

The process of emancipating millions of individuals amid wartime conditions was always going to be full of pitfalls, and Navigating Liberty shows how these difficult circumstances "presented new opportunities and spawned social movements for change yet produced intractable challenges and limited results."

As Cimprich's study reveals, "(t)he two groups brought views and practices from their backgrounds that both helped and hampered the transition out of slavery. While enslaved, many Blacks assumed a certain guarded demeanor when dealing with whites. In freedom, they resented northerners’ paternalistic attitudes and preconceptions about race, leading some to oppose aid programs―included those related to education, vocational training, and religious and social activities―initiated by whites. Some interactions resulted in constructive cooperation and adjustments to curriculum, but the frequent disputes more often compelled Blacks to seek additional autonomy." In its full-length examination of this relationship, Cimprich's book "serves as the first comprehensive study of the two groups’ collaboration and conflict, adding an essential chapter to the history of slavery’s end in the United States."

Monday, December 26, 2022

Booknotes: Abraham Lincoln and His Times

New Arrival:
Abraham Lincoln and His Times: A Sourcebook on His Life, His Presidency, Slavery and Civil War compiled and edited by Thomas J. Ebert and Allen Carden (McFarland, 2022).

From the description: "Lincoln's significance in the history of slavery and emancipation, the Union's preservation and the formation of a new national vision is crucial to comprehending the antebellum and Civil War periods in American history. [Abraham Lincoln and His Times: A Sourcebook on His Life, His Presidency, Slavery and Civil War] is a one-of-a-kind hybrid reference work that combines chronology with almost 400 primary source papers to contextualize Lincoln's life within his historical era."

This reference book is a beefy 8.5" x 11" paperback over 450 pages in length. The 391 documents compiled by editors Thomas Ebert and Allen Carden are housed in seven chapters, organized by chronology and related theme. The first three chapters address in succession Lincoln's early life and career, the sharp increase in intersectional discord that coincided with Lincoln's highest political ambitions, and the rise to the Lincoln presidency that led to secession and Civil War. These are followed by yearly chapters progressively covering the war and its messy conclusion.

After beginning with a lengthy introduction from Ebert and Carden, each chapter follows an event timeline that contextualizes the documents compiled and arranged within. Originating from a wide range of politicians, military leaders, and civilians on both sides of the divide, documents include letters, speeches, political proclamations, resolutions, platforms, debates, military orders, and more. These documents "illustrate different viewpoints, to provide a full grasp of the time and place, as well as Lincoln's significance during this era." All of the documents (either excerpted or fully reproduced) are sourced, and additional footnotes periodically appear.

More from the description: "These written materials serve as the foundation upon which historians can construct a picture of Lincoln's America. In addition to important chronology and documents, this work includes introductory essays that summarize the topics of each chapter, brief biographies of those referenced in the book, and a source bibliography."

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Ten Most Highly Anticipated Titles (first half of 2023)

Well, now that 2022 is nearly over and done with, let's look ahead to 2023. Of course, news of many more releases of great interest will emerge in coming months, but as of now these ten books are the ones that I'm most looking forward to seeing in my mailbox during the first half of next year.

So, without further ado ...

1. Union General: Samuel Ryan Curtis and Victory in the West by William Shea (Potomac).

As mentioned before, this one was released early. I am reading it right now, and the review will appear sometime in January.

2. July 22: The Civil War Battle of Atlanta by Earl Hess (Kansas).

It's common knowledge that Hess is hard at work on more than one major project at any given time, but late-2022 news of this one's impending release was still a pleasant surprise to me. Look for it in just a few weeks.

3. The Civil Wars of General Joseph E. Johnston: Confederate States Army - Volume I: Virginia and Mississippi, 1861–1863 by Richard McMurry (Savas Beatie).

His reputation already deservedly transformed from master of Fabian strategy to a key factor in hastening Confederate defeat, Johnston's treatment in McMurry's two-volume set will undoubtedly increase the velocity of the general's spinning in his grave.

4. Cherokee Civil Warrior: Chief John Ross and the Struggle for Tribal Sovereignty by Dale Weeks (Oklahoma).

A modern Ross study focusing on the Civil War years has been on my wish list for a long time, and it looks like Weeks has granted it.

5. More Than Just Grit: Civil War Leadership, Logistics and Teamwork in the West, 1862 by Richard Zimmermann (McFarland).

I don't know anything about this one beyond the title and very brief description, but they have me hooked.

6. Sand, Science, and the Civil War: Sedimentary Geology and Combat by Scott Hippensteel (Georgia).

Hippensteel takes to the embattled coast his already well-developed and fascinating approach to examining the impact of geology on the Civil War battlefield.

7. Yankee Commandos: How William P. Sanders Led a Cavalry Squadron Deep Into Confederate Territory by Stuart Brandes (Tennessee).

This is the first book-length history of Sanders's June 1863 East Tennessee raid, it's greatest single achievement the destruction of the Strawberry Plains railroad bridge. I could do without the title's modern US Army-inspired, but ahistorical to the period, use of "squadron" to describe Sanders's brigade-sized raiding force, but it won't keep me from wanting to read the book.

8. We Shall Conquer or Die: Partisan Warfare in 1862 Western Kentucky by Derrick Lindow (Savas Beatie).

The Bluegrass region is popularly considered the heartland of pro-Confederate Kentucky, but such sentiments were really strongest in the western part of the state, in the Jackson Purchase in particular. Lindow's book promises to be a fairly expansive study of irregular warfare in western Kentucky, with what looks to be (at least as gathered from the description) a strong focus on the activities of Johnson's 10th Kentucky Partisan Rangers regiment.

9. Agents of Empire: The First Oregon Cavalry and the Opening of the Interior Pacific Northwest during the Civil War by James Jewell (Nebraska).

Jewell is among the very few scholars specializing in the Civil War in the Far West. You might recall his edited collection of soldier writings from the First Oregon Cavalry regiment, and now he's found a fine landing place for the first full regimental history of that unit. I can hardly wait to get my hands on it.

10. Twelve Days: How the Union Nearly Lost Washington in the First Days of the Civil War by Tony Silber (Potomac).

I've often said that, when it comes to my own eastern theater reading, the early-war period interests me most. The events covered in Silber's upcoming book are as early as it gets.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Review - "Six Miles from Charleston, Five Minutes to Hell: The Battle of Secessionville, June 16, 1862" by James Morgan

[Six Miles from Charleston, Five Minutes to Hell: The Battle of Secessionville, June 16, 1862 by James A. Morgan (Savas Beatie, 2022). Softcover, 10 maps, photos, illustrations, appendix section, orders of battle, reading list. Pages main/total:xii,151/177. ISBN:978-1-6121-601-1. $16.95]

Conducted without the resources necessary to actually capture major port cities such as Charleston and Savannah, Union combined army and navy operations along the South Atlantic coast during the early-war period were primarily aimed at establishing secure bases for future offensives and coaling stations vital to maintenance of the expanding naval blockade. Some Union officers lobbied that a stronger effort be made to capture the reviled "Cradle of Secession," but little transpired beyond pinprick raids against enemy resources and transportation. It would be May-June 1862 before the first major offensive action against Charleston was undertaken, the culmination of which was the June 16, 1862 Battle of Secessionville. That resounding Confederate victory has already been extensively examined in Patrick Brennan's groundbreaking 1996 study Secessionville: Assault On Charleston, but new perspectives are always welcome. Revisiting the battle more than a quarter century later is James Morgan's Six Miles from Charleston, Five Minutes to Hell: The Battle of Secessionville, June 16, 1862, the latest volume in the Emerging Civil War series.

Morgan sets the stage well, ably mapping out for readers the geography of the sea islands and inland waterways south of Charleston and appropriately highlighting the strategic significance (and vulnerabilities) of the Charleston and Savannah Railroad that connected the two great cities. He also discusses the viability of the various approaches available to Union warships and/or landing forces considering a serious assault on the Charleston defenses, some knowledge of which was gained through conversations with Robert Smalls, the enslaved pilot who famously commandeered the steamboat Planter and turned vessel and cargo over to Union forces. Not having the resources to bully his way through Charleston's land defenses or breach its well-defended harbor, Union Department of the South commander David Hunter held little interest in discussing such operations. However, as later events would prove, district commander Henry Benham, a long-serving army engineer and now volunteer brigadier general, had his own ideas.

At levels of map and text detail consistent with what we've come to expect from the best battle books produced through this series, Morgan's narrative recounts the navy's clearing of the Stono River, the sea island landing of two Union divisions (those of Horatio Wright and Isaac Stevens), the June 3 clash at Sol Legare Island, and the larger failed effort by Confederate forces on June 10 to break up Wright's Grimball's Landing camp on James Island. At this stage of the game, Hunter, apparently spooked by the failed Confederate attack on June 10, lost what little enthusiasm he previously possessed for the army-navy operation. Attempting to rein in the ambitions of his district commander, Hunter wrote Benham on June 10 "You will make no attempt to advance on Charleston or to attack Fort Johnson until largely reinforced or until you receive specific instructions from these headquarters to that effect."

The battle fought nearly a week later, a disastrous Union assault on the Tower Battery at Secessionville, is often framed as a battle incompetently directed by a general who exceeded orders and paid the consequences (Benham would be relieved of command by Hunter and placed under arrest). Through his fine summary of the battle and its aftermath, Morgan sees it differently. He agrees that Benham was not fit to hold an important front-line district command, but the author doesn't believe that Benham, in fighting at Secessionville, disobeyed orders. This bold interpretation will likely inspire debate among readers who might reasonably consider a major attack on a fort defending Charleston (and made in the general direction of Fort Johnson no less!) to be an attack on the city itself, a violation of both the letter and spirit of Hunter's orders. Morgan cites additional support for his interpretation of the matter in the army investigation of Benham that exonerated and reinstated him (though he was stripped of his volunteer general's commission and reverted back to lieutenant colonel of engineers).

While Benham had difficult relationships with subordinate generals and naval officers with whom he was expected to cooperate, the Confederate command structure tasked with Charleston's defense had problems of its own. District boundaries and leadership were always in flux, and the man at the top, General John C. Pemberton, was unpopular among subordinates, state officials, and local citizens alike (the last two groups decidedly not in favor of Pemberton's continuance of Robert E. Lee's sage but unpopular departmental policy of abandoning undefendable outer positions and instead concentrating available troops to act as mobile response forces). The author reasonably cites these conditions as major contributing factors behind the less than ideal level of coordination on display during the Confederate response to the Union advance. From the author's studied viewpoint, an opportunity or two existed for the Confederates to deal a heavy blow to Benham's forces early on, but fractured command could not take advantage of them. The successful defense of the Tower Battery is reasonably attributed less to the generals involved (Gist and Evans) and more to the stubborn heroics of the battery's defenders and its commander, Col. Thomas Lamar, as well as timely reinforcements sent in by Col. Johnson Hagood.

As Morgan explains, though Secessionville was a bloody defeat for Benham's Federals, it involved clear moments of contingency when the outcome of the battle might have proved quite different. Had Benham succeeded and Union forces gone on to secure James Island, capture Fort Johnson from the rear, and fatally compromise Charleston's harbor defenses (none of which, in this reviewer's opinion, a victory at the Tower Battery would have guaranteed), Morgan speculates that that chain of events might have had impact enough to not only cause the evacuation of Charleston but reshape, perhaps even abort, the impending Confederate offensive at Richmond, which was dependent upon reinforcements from places like Charleston and other garrisoned points along the Atlantic seaboard. We can never know with any certainty how changing circumstances on the Charleston front might have affected those in Virginia, but they are interesting matters to contemplate.

An argument can be made that the ECW series is at its best when addressing military operations of this scale, and James Morgan's Six Miles from Charleston, Five Minutes to Hell is one of the strongest entries of that kind. This volume is both a great way to introduce new readers to a Charleston campaign still overshadowed by events of the following year and a refresher course of the highest quality for those who haven't revisited Brennan's enduring standard history of Secessionville since its late 1990s debut.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Booknotes: The Eighth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War

New Arrival:
The Eighth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War by William A. Liska and Kim L. Perlotto (McFarland, 2023).

The Eighth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War is the first modern full-length regimental history of a Nutmegger unit with a long service record. Organized in September 1861, the Eighth marched and fought across parts of North Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia for nearly the entire length of the war, mustering out in December 1865. Authors William Liska and Kim Perlotto spent many years finding and compiling letter, memoir, and journal sources, eventually transcribing over 1,000 documents written by members of the regiment. One can readily recognize the fruits of that labor in the text, which is liberally seasoned with quotes and passages from those integral primary sources.

Another appealing feature of the book is the cartography. Exceptional topography, terrain, and unit detail was put into the volume's 21 maps, and the authors also include a rare map notes appendix. The maps are not attributed to any individual, and I found no mention of a professional cartographer during my quick glance through the acknowledgments, preface, and introduction. If the authors created these themselves, count me very impressed.

Eastern service outside the standard sphere of the Army of the Potomac is another part of the book that attracts my interest. In addition to participating in the Maryland Campaign, the Battle of Fredericksburg, Cold Harbor, and the Petersburg Campaign, the regiment was part of the 1862 Burnside Expedition, performed occupation duties in the Suffolk/Portmouth area, marched in the 1863 Blackberry Raid that Hampton Newsome brilliantly recounted in his recent book on the topic, and experienced front line combat during several 1864 Bermuda Hundred Campaign engagements.

McFarland regimental histories of this kind frequently include rosters. In this case, a great deal of other information can be found in the appendix section, but readers looking for a roster are referred to the official state publication, a link to the PDF version provided in the preface.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Booknotes: Small but Important Riots

New Arrival:
Small but Important Riots: The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville by Robert F. O'Neill (Potomac Bks, 2023).

As successive elements of Lee's army shuffled north in June 1863, Union cavalry tasked with tracking their progress and location had to penetrate the gaps in the Blue Ridge mountain range that naturally screened the Army of Northern Virginia's right flank. Those efforts resulting in a series of small battles, the full details of which were first published in Robert O'Neill's The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville: Small But Important Riots, June 10-27, 1863 (I don't know if it's correct, but I see 1993 listed as the date for both first and second editions). It remains one of the better regarded installments of H.E. Howard's long out of print Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders series, a number of which have recently been republished in heavily revised and updated form. If I recall correctly, it has become a bit of a convention to release the new versions with old title and subtitle elements reversed in order to easily distinguish between the two, thus this 2023 edition of O'Neill's study is now titled Small but Important Riots: The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville.

From the description: Small but Important Riots "is a tactical study of fighting from June 17 to 22, 1863, at Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville, placed within the strategic context of the Gettysburg campaign. It is based on Robert O’Neill’s thirty years of research and access to previously unpublished documents, which reveal startling new information." In the preface, the author describes the book as "new in every respect." In it he "correct(s) errors, timeworn assumptions and interpretations, and offer(s) new explanations and conclusions" (xi).

I never did read an earlier edition, but it appears that correcting views on Pleasonton's actions during this period is a major theme at least of the new book. According to O'Neill, "(n)o officer's role in the Loudoun Valley has been more misunderstood or misrepresented" (xii). More from the description: "Since the fighting in Loudoun Valley of Virginia ended in June 1863, one perspective has prevailed—that Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton, who commanded the Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, disobeyed orders. According to published records, Pleasonton’s superiors, including President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and army commander Joseph Hooker, ordered Pleasonton to search for General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia during a critical stage of the Gettysburg campaign, and Pleasonton ignored their orders. Recently discovered documents—discussed in this book—prove otherwise."

The text is supported by 18 original maps created by Julie Krick, a cartographer new to my notice. Her work looks pretty good to me. Anyone interested in these events will undoubtedly want to pick up a copy of this title, and it certainly sounds like those who already own an earlier edition will want to upgrade.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

2022 - The CIVIL WAR BOOKS and AUTHORS Top Ten Year in Review

1. SOLDIERS FROM EXPERIENCE: The Forging of Sherman's Fifteenth Army Corps, 1862–1863 by Eric Michael Burke (LSU Press).

From its critical leadership analysis to its top-notch tactical discussion and development of a comprehensive new framework (at least as applied to Civil War units and formations) through which to understand the origins and evolution of corps-wide military culture on and off the battlefield, Burke's study is masterfully composed and highly original. Every part of it is insightful and unfailingly interesting. Little variation in the content and format of Civil War unit studies has emerged over the past decade or so, and one can readily imagine elements of Burke's revelatory new approach being gainfully applied to practically any part of the Civil War army order of battle. All of this and more makes this first-rate publication the CWBA Book of the Year. [For more thoughts on this title, see the full Review (11/30/22)]

The Rest of the Year's TOP TEN (in no particular order)

[Reminder: It has become increasingly the case that a large proportion of any given year's best titles are 4Q releases. Because there isn't enough time to review all of them by December, such books become eligible for the following year's list (thus the reason why there are 2021 books in this compilation).]

2. Destruction of the Steamboat Sultana: The Worst Maritime Disaster in American History by Gene Eric Salecker (Naval Inst Press).

If any single volume can be considered the definitive-level history of the Sultana disaster, this is it. Salecker's study also conclusively puts to rest persistent claims made by the most die-hard sabotage and conspiracy theorists [for more, see the full 4/14/22 Review].

3. Suffering in the Army of Tennessee: A Social History of the Confederate Army of the Heartland from the Battles for Atlanta to the Retreat from Nashville by Christopher Thrasher (UTenn Press).

Thrasher impressively combs through the archives to reconstruct a comprehensive picture of rank and file suffering in the Confederate Army of Tennessee over the second half of 1864. Associated with that theme development are well-supported findings that both challenge and confirm important aspects of how the men who fought in those final western heartland campaigns have been portrayed in popular and scholarly writings [see the full 4/6/22 Review].

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

The latest military history masterpiece from Newsome, this volume deals with yet another lesser-known operation, in this case a large-scale but largely forgotten raid closely tied to the Gettysburg Campaign. Indeed, this is one of the most notable expansions of the Gettysburg military historiography in recent memory [see the 12/8/22 Review].

5. 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).

This manuscript has played an important part in shaping the modern historiography of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department. From a reader's perspective, Geise's work has been too long confined to footnotes and bibliographies, and kudos to publisher and editor for finally bringing it to print [see the 11/16/22 Review].

6. Civil War Field Artillery: Promise and Performance on the Battlefield by Earl J. Hess (LSU Press).

Moving well beyond existing reference studies of artillery weapons, ammunition, and equipment, Hess's volume is the first comprehensive examination of the organization, training, leadership, uses, tactics, and performance of field artillery on the Civil War battlefield [see the 11/10/22 Review].

7. Confederate Conscription and the Struggle for Southern Soldiers by John M. Sacher (LSU Press).

Replacing Moore's 1924 classic as the new standard history, Sacher's broad examination of Confederate conscription and conscription law, in all their wartime evolutions, significantly reshapes our understanding of conscription's efficiency and its impact on sustaining support for the war both within the army and among the general population. Sacher also convincingly addresses enduring popular misconceptions surrounding the topic [see the 3/3/22 Review].

8. Fortress Nashville: Pioneers, Engineers, Mechanics, Contrabands & U.S. Colored Troops by Mark Zimmerman (Author-Zimco).

Wartime Nashville has been explored at length in other works, but the actual defenses of the city have never been presented before at this depth. The sheer number and diversity of illustrations found in Zimmerman's book alone are worth the purchase price [see the 5/20/22 Review].

9. At War With King Alcohol: Debating Drinking and Masculinity in the Civil War by Megan L. Bever (UNC Press).

Bever's book is a marvelous social and military history study of the culture and practice of alcohol consumption during the Civil War period, all presented within the context of the larger temperance movement and attempts by both sides to regulate liquor sales and distribution [see the 10/20/22 Review].

10. The Nashville and Decatur in the Civil War: History of an Embattled Railroad by Walter R. Green, Jr. (McFarland).

The breadth, depth, and overall quality of Green's study is head and shoulders above other Civil War railroad histories of recent vintage, a bit of an ironic outcome given that the N&D was the shortest and, though important, arguably the least strategically significant railroad of the group [see the 9/21/21 Review].

*** See also the 2022 Honorable Mentions ***

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

2022 Year in Review - Five Honorable Mentions

Back in 2019 I reluctantly pared down my year-end list from a pretty expansive category-based one to a more simplified Top Ten, and since then it hasn't been too terribly difficult to settle on ten overarching favorites. However, this year I came up with fifteen titles that I really didn't want to whittle down any further. So instead of just dropping a random handful into the ether, this year I'll supplement the Top Ten with a short list of Honorable Mentions.

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

Providing an excellent new blow-by-blow account of the most intense fighting at Spotsylvania on May 12, 1864, Wert's study is even more remarkable for the powerful manner in which it exposes all facets and horrors of face-to-face Civil War combat [see the full 7/15/22 Review].

Early Struggles for Vicksburg: The Mississippi Central Campaign and Chickasaw Bayou, October 25-December 31, 1862 by Timothy Smith (UP of Kansas, 2022).

This study, the latest volume in Timothy Smith's masterful Vicksburg Campaign series, recounts in unmatched depth both major movements involved in the late-1862 Union advance on Vicksburg [see the full 9/15/22 Review].

Engineering in the Confederate Heartland by Larry Daniel (LSU Press, 2022)

Of course, Union land and inland naval forces eventually steamrolled the Confederacy's western defenses, but Daniel's study is a uniquely comprehensive history of the critical role played by Confederate engineers in both assisting southern armies and slowing the process of their defeat. Along the way, Daniel strongly argues that the Confederate West's engineering talent pool was much deeper than commonly believed [see the full 10/12/22 Review].

True Blue: White Unionists in the Deep South during the Civil War and Reconstruction by Clayton Butler (LSU Press, 2022).

Butler brilliantly weaves a study of three southern-raised white Union regiments into a broad-themed investigation of the contributions of Southern Unionists to Union military victory and the prominent leadership role such veterans assumed during the Reconstruction-era South [see the full 6/15/22 Review].

Illusions of Empire: The Civil War and Reconstruction in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands by William Kiser (UPenn Press, 2022).

Through his authorship of a deeply impressive bevy of scholastically profitable studies of the Civil War-era American Southwest, Kiser has rapidly earned a reputation as one of the top historians of the region and period.  Though slim in size, this latest book provides the best single-volume portrait of the coexisting spirit of cooperation and antagonism present along the length of the US-Mexico border during the Civil War and Reconstruction years [see the full 2/23/22 Review].

*** See 2022 "Book of the Year" and Top Ten ***

Monday, December 12, 2022

Booknotes: Union General

New Arrival:
Union General: Samuel Ryan Curtis and Victory in the West by William L. Shea (Potomac Bks, 2023).

Major General Samuel Ryan Curtis has a long list of admirers among the most ardent students of the Civil War west of the Mississippi. Their clamor for a biography languished unheeded for a surprisingly long period of time. Eventually, welcome news emerged that William Shea, the co-author of the most authoritative history of the Battle of Pea Ridge and one of the historians best positioned to chronicle and analyze Curtis's life and Civil War career, was on task. Now, a few years later we finally have the finished product in Union General: Samuel Ryan Curtis and Victory in the West. Arriving a bit early, this is one of my most highly anticipated 2023 titles.

From the description: Union General "is the first biography of Samuel Ryan Curtis, the most important and most successful general on either side in the Civil War west of the Mississippi River. Curtis was a West Point graduate, Mexican War veteran, and determined foe of secession who gave up his seat in Congress to fight for the Union. At Pea Ridge in 1862 and Westport in 1864, he marched hundreds of miles across hostile countryside, routed Confederate armies larger than his own, and reestablished Federal control over large swathes of rebel territory." That part about Westport sounds like a slip of the marketing pen, as Price's failing campaign at that point actually faced overwhelming numbers of converging Union forces.

One of the largest questions surrounding Curtis's Civil War career arc was why his early success in the Trans-Mississippi did not, like it did with Pope, vault him into larger army commands. Age and radical politics have been cited as limiting factors, but it will be interesting to see how Shea answers the question. The description provides some introduction: "In addition to his remarkable success as a largely independent field commander, Curtis was one of only a handful of abolitionist generals in the Union army. He dealt a heavy blow to slavery in the Trans-Mississippi and Mississippi Valley months before the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. His enlightened racial policies and practices generated a storm of criticism and led to his temporary suspension in the middle of the conflict—but he was restored to active duty in time to win a crushing victory at Westport, where he saved Kansas and put an end to Price’s Raid." In addition to political entanglements, Curtis's Civil War career was also marked by accusations of personal involvement in the illegal cotton trade in Arkansas. Also, controversy surrounds the summary execution, by troops under Curtis's command, of regularly enrolled Confederate soldiers captured during Price's hectic retreat. It will be interesting to read how Shea addresses those matters.

Shea's full biography also shines light upon Curtis's less-recognized career accomplishments. From the description: "Before the war Curtis was an accomplished civil engineer, a prime mover of the transcontinental railroad, and an important figure in the emerging Republican Party and was elected three times to the House of Representatives from Iowa. After the war he participated in pioneering efforts in peacemaking with the Plains Indians and helped oversee construction of the Union Pacific across Nebraska."

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Review - "Gettysburg's Southern Front: Opportunity and Failure at Richmond" by Hampton Newsome

[Gettysburg's Southern Front: Opportunity and Failure at Richmond by Hampton Newsome (University Press of Kansas, 2022). Hardcover, 16 maps, photos, orders of battle, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:vii,305/418. ISBN:978-0-7006-3347-0. $36.95]

Hampton Newsome's Gettysburg's Southern Front: Opportunity and Failure at Richmond not only fully documents for the first time a little-known facet of the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign, the scale of which might surprise even well-informed students of that defining moment of the eastern theater's middle year, but it also definitively refutes the common notion that the Virginia Peninsula was a quiet front over the two years between the conclusion of the 1862 Peninsula Campaign and the return of Union armies to the outskirts of Richmond in 1864.

With the movement north of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in June 1863 temporarily stripping the Old Dominion of its primary shield and defender, left behind to secure Richmond and its environs were less than a handful of veteran infantry brigades, some cavalry, and a kaleidoscope of static second and third-rate garrison units (with borrowings from North Carolina, perhaps 13,000 men in all by Newsome's estimate). In the Union Department of Virginia under Major General John A. Dix were upwards of 30,000 men in two infantry corps (Fourth and Seventh), those troops clustered in southeastern Virginia around Fort Monroe, Yorktown, and Norfolk/Suffolk. Available to either reinforce Dix or conduct operations of their own were an additional 20,000 Union troops scattered around coastal enclaves in North Carolina. Confederate authorities were well aware of threats lurking just east of the capital and down the railroad into North Carolina, and they were major factors in the Davis administration's rejection of Lee's request that a force be sent north from Richmond to threaten Washington in conjunction with the general's own northern invasion. All of this background information and complex military chessboard setup is thoroughly laid out in the text, clearly and informatively setting the stage for the series of intertwining movements and decision-making that would develop over ensuing weeks. Indeed, the military and political ties between what was happening in Virginia and what was going on north of Potomac between the theater's two principal armies is always part of Newsome's keen analysis and interpretation of events.

The upper reaches of the Virginia Peninsula were no different than other contested spaces between heavily garrisoned cities and military posts when it came to being the target of raids, resource seizures or destruction, and intelligence gathering by both sides. During the first week in June, Fourth Corps commander Erasmus Keyes approved a lightning cavalry raid up the Mattaponi watershed that resulted in the destruction of Aylett's Foundry in King William County. As Newsome recounts in his detailed description of the operation, the harder brand of war the June 5-6 Aylett Raid brought to the region included significant disruption to local control of the slave population. Indeed, the emancipatory effect of Union forces advancing toward Richmond as well as the militarily useful information supplied by black residents eager to help are common features of the author's accounts of Dix's larger-scale operations that closely followed upon this one.

Newsome's exhaustive study of what might be called Dix's Peninsula Campaign, or more colorfully the "Blackberry Raid," usefully reminds us that much-maligned Union general-in-chief Henry Halleck often had good ideas when it came to theater-wide strategy, however we might critique the ways in which he went about managing and supporting the armies and leaders tasked with executing those plans. On June 14, Halleck, seeing opportunity in Lee's departure north, telegrammed the following new orders to Dix: "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. If you cannot accomplish this, you can at least find occupation for a large force of the enemy" (pg. 50). As one can see, Dix was afforded latitude regarding how he might apply his available attacking force, which with reinforcements would be a mobile fist of around 20,000 men.

As expected, Newsome marshals all of his prodigious research abilities and writing talents, along with strong map support, to craft yet another masterful microhistory of a lesser-known military operation. Dix's campaign was conducted in distinct phases, all of which are recounted in detail. On June 25, a mounted raiding force under Colonel Samuel Spear, an officer who would prove to be Dix's most aggressive subordinate, headed out from White House Landing toward the South Anna Bridges, critical spans that carried both the Virginia Central and Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac (RF&P) railroads over the river. Those two indispensable logistical arteries came together to the north at Hanover Junction, so both bridges needed to be destroyed if the connection between Richmond and the junction was to be severed. The following day, in addition to capturing a recuperating General Rooney Lee, Spears's raiders attacked and destroyed the Virginia Central bridge, the stubborn defense of which went some way toward convincing Spears to break off his raid and return home, leaving the RF&P bridge intact.

Upon the return of Spears and after June turned to July, Dix initiated the second phase of his operation. Contemplating doing so but ultimately deciding against a direct assault on Richmond using his entire force, Dix elected instead to divide his infantry force and make the remaining South Anna bridge his primary objective. He sent General George Getty's Seventh Corps back to the South Anna to complete what Spears failed to accomplish, the destruction of the RF&P bridge, while Erasmus Keyes's Fourth Corps would feint toward Bottom's Bridge to draw enemy attention away from Getty. As Newsome reveals, Keyes displayed remarkable timidity against minimal opposition, not even reaching Bottom's Bridge on the Chickahominy River, and the arrival of Confederate reinforcements (aggressively led by General D.H. Hill) rendered Keyes insensible to Dix's entreaties regarding the need to complete the mission.

Getty, a more capable general, would not be at his best during this two-pronged raiding operation, either. Excessive heat attrited his command on its march to the South Anna, but the progressively cautious Getty also voluntarily attrited himself, dropping off huge blocking detachments all along the length of his advance. By the time his vanguard reached the RF&P bridge, Getty seemed more concerned over the security of his corps than he was in completing his mission. His July 4 evening and night attack on the bridge, conducted only by four companies, was a feeble affair that failed miserably. Both Keyes and Getty let Dix down.

To be fair, Confederate opposition played no little role in keeping Union forces from meeting their goals. Newsome recounts at length Confederate dispositions, the state of the Richmond defenses in mid-1863, and Confederate attempts to coordinate an effective response to each component of Dix's raid. Command direction by neither side went smoothly. Dix operated under vague instructions from above, and, as revealed earlier, his subordinates struggled to fulfill their missions (only Spear's efforts in part met expectations). On the other side, the Confederates, having a more divided leadership structure, wrestled with achieving unity of command, with Secretary of War James Seddon, Richmond defenses commander General Arnold Elzey, and newly arrived D.H. Hill often acting at cross purposes. Fortunately for the Confederates, they were able to get their act together in time. Through the heroic efforts of small-unit commanders at the bridges as well as often erratic General Hill rising to the occasion, logistical damage inflicted by the raid was manageable and repaired quickly.

Any promising but ultimately disappointing Civil War operation typically sparked rounds of story changing and fingerpointing among those responsible, and the aftermath of the Blackberry Raid was no different. Newsome persuasively makes clear that Dix, contrary to what the general later maintained in response to harsh criticism of his actions, did indeed consider attacking Richmond, and Halleck just as clearly neither ordered nor urged him to do so (though he later claimed he did). Dix's fibbing was obviously influenced by unfair barbs thrown his way by those misrepresenting the quality and strength of the Richmond garrison. The somewhat sympathetic portrait the author paints in the book of a harried Halleck, hounded by obvious top-tier priorities surrounding Vicksburg and Gettysburg, being unable or unwilling to provide ongoing support and guidance to his earlier planned movements Virginia and North Carolina is persuasively presented in character and tone as one of both understanding and mild censure.

The book also addresses a Confederate political mission, led by Vice President Alexander Stephens, that was contemporaneous to the raid. On the surface, the job of the envoys was to reignite negotiations over the broken-down prisoner exchange system, but Newsome strongly suspects, though he admits that evidence is scant, that proposals regarding wider peace arrangements were also on the table if any advantageous opening could have been found. Like others, Stephens astutely questioned the timing of such proposed meetings, which would have, if they had actually been permitted to happen (Stephens's party was denied passage into or beyond Union lines), occurred with Lee's army on northern soil. But Davis insisted, and the whole failed affair furthered the rift between the two political leaders.

In addition to frequent insights into the hard war aspects of the Union raids of June and July, Newsome's ground-level sources also repeatedly report bushwhacker attacks on federal columns. With events of those kind not regularly tied to Tidewater Virginia through the burgeoning guerrilla warfare literature, Newsome's work seems to suggest that the topic might be worth examining in more depth.

Newsome is one of those rare writers with a natural ability to thoroughly anticipate reader questions, and he's very judicious in weighing the what-ifs and what might have beens of this operation. Predictably, Dix faced criticism from newspaper editors, politicians, and military officials for not capturing Richmond. However, as Newsome makes clear, most critics based that view on the mistaken notion that the enemy capital was defended only by a collective corporal's guard of clerk and government office emergency battalions, home guards, and detached artillery. As referenced earlier, that was simply not the case. Though the two corps Dix had at his disposal were not necessarily considered thorough front-line fighting material on the order of the Army of the Potomac, they were capable enough, and the aggressor would have the added benefit of choosing the point of attack while the defenders had to distribute inferior manpower resources among three extended lines of defense. Even so, as Newsome relates, Dix and his generals could be justifiable concerned that the concentrated force necessary to punch through those defenses would leave flanks and rear vulnerable to bold counterstrokes of the kind Hill might have been capable of undertaking. Thus Dix's weighing of the risks and benefits of directly attacking Richmond led to, in Newsome's informed view, a reasonable decision to concentrate instead upon the remaining South Anna bridge. As the author suggests, perhaps a different crop of seasoned leaders, from Dix on down, might have attempted it, but there's a reason why backwater departments during the Civil War were chiefly filled with exiled generals or those with lesser initiative and abilities.

The author is surely correct that the limited damage done to the Confederate rail network by the raid, to include the destruction of the Virginia Central bridge over the South Anna as well as some additional short sections of track, had little appreciable effect on Lee's army operating far to the north. But what might have happened had both bridges been destroyed? As Kent Masterson Brown, Robert Wynstra, and others have extensively documented in the modern Gettysburg Campaign literature, the Army of Northern Virginia extracted more than enough food and forage during its northern invasion to sustain both man and beast for an extended period of time. Lee's only pressing need from central military depots back in Virginia was for restocks of artillery and small arms ammunition. Newsome documents in some detail Lee's regular receipt of ammunition resupply trains throughout his campaign, a logistical lifeline that would have been affected to some degree by the loss of the South Anna bridges. In Newsome's clear-eyed analysis, the point where Lee's army would have been rendered most vulnerable to ammo resupply schedule interruptions was during the retreat from Gettysburg and initial return to Virginia, and only if Meade had pressed him even harder than he did historically. In that scenario, major engagements with sustained fighting would have rapidly depleted Lee's already diminished ammunition stocks with little hope of short-term replenishment. That's forceful counterfactual analysis that keeps layers of contingency and conjecture to a minimum.

With 2013's Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864, 2019's The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864, and now Gettysburg's Southern Front: Opportunity and Failure at Richmond, Hampton Newsome has completed a trio of military studies the quality of which would make any Civil War writer envious. Interestingly, evidenced by these three expertly contextualized studies, Newsome seems most closely drawn to lesser-studied Civil War operations with barren or limited results, Union and Confederate offensive operations that nevertheless tantalize Civil War students with what they might have achieved had they been better conducted or otherwise influenced. One wonders what he will come up with next.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Booknotes: The Lion And The Fox

New Arrival:
The Lion And The Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy by Alexander Rose (Mariner Bks, 2022).

From the description: "In 1861, soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, two secret agents—one a Confederate, the other his Union rival—were dispatched to neutral Britain, each entrusted with a vital mission." Both sides knew that the Confederacy needed ships quickly and would need to look abroad for vessels to either purchase or be purpose built. Numerous books about the US blockade of the Confederate coast, blockade running, and the infamous "Laird Rams" affair have addressed in some manner the clandestine and diplomatic aspects of the cat and mouse game between Confederate agent James Dunwoody Bulloch and US Consul in Liverpool Thomas Haines Dudley. Bulloch has been the subject of two recent biographies, and he did his own part to solidify his place in history by writing the classic two-volume work The Secret Service of the Confederate States in Europe (1883). Dudley is less well known to Civil War readers, which is unfortunate given the skill and determination he displayed in successfully thwarting many Confederate shipbuilding and purchasing plans in Britain.

Both men, and bustling Liverpool itself, are the central characters in Alexander Rose's new book The Lion And The Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy. More from the description: "The South’s James Bulloch, charming and devious, was to acquire a cutting-edge clandestine fleet intended to break President Lincoln’s blockade of Confederate ports, sink Northern merchant vessels, and drown the U.S. Navy’s mightiest ships at sea. The profits from gunrunning and smuggling cotton—Dixie’s notorious “white gold”—would finance the scheme. Opposing him was Thomas Dudley, a resolute Quaker lawyer and abolitionist. He was determined to stop Bulloch by any means necessary in a spy-versus-spy game of move and countermove, gambit and sacrifice, intrigue and betrayal. If Dudley failed, Britain would ally with the South and imperil a Northern victory. The battleground was the Dickensian port of Liverpool, whose dockyards built more ships each year than the rest of the world combined, whose warehouses stored more cotton than anywhere else on earth, and whose merchant princes, said one observer, were “addicted to Southern proclivities, foreign slave trade, and domestic bribery.”"

The great success of professional historian turned journalist turned best-selling writer Rose's Washington Spies (which was adapted by AMC into the television series Turn) speaks to the author's ability to write historical espionage non-fiction that appeals to a popular audience. Much of the espionage war fought between Bulloch and Dudley is confined to books that most readers are unlikely to encounter on their own, and hopefully this new writing project from Rose will help expose a wider readership to the Civil War activities abroad of both Bulloch and the more underappreciated Dudley.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Booknotes: The Civil War Diaries of Charles Kelly

New Arrival:
The Civil War Diaries of Charles Kelly: The 44th New York Infantry in the War of the Rebellion by Don Owen (Author, 2022).

The direct ancestor of author Don Owen's wife, Charles Kelly was born in Scotland to Irish parents in 1831. His family immigrated to the United States when Charles was 15. They settled in the Empire State, and the prosperous Charles gave up his Penn Yan, NY business pursuits to join the war in October 1862, when he obtained a commission as second lieutenant in Company C, 44th New York. Kelly kept a record of his wartime experiences in a collection of diaries, the entries of which started on October 6, 1862 and ended on October 9, 1864, the latter being the month during which he mustered out of service having been wounded twice during the conflict.

From the description: "Follow the diaries of Charles Kelly, an officer in the 44th New York Infantry Regiment, as he journeys to Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. From there, with General Meade’s Army of the Potomac, he pursued General Robert Lee, as Lee fled from Gettysburg and crossed the Potomac. Charles was with General Ulysses Grant in the first clash between Grant and Lee in the Wilderness. From there Charles fought at Spotsylvania, the North Anna River, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and a dozen other places."

The material is not annotated, but the bibliography reveals that Owen utilized a selection of book, periodical, and newspaper sources along with government publications (principally the O.R.) as his research base. The Kelly diaries are incorporated into the text through both block quotes and splicing of shorter excerpts into the main narrative. Numerous maps, photographs, and other illustrations are sprinkled throughout.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Booknotes: Knowing Him by Heart

New Arrival:
Knowing Him by Heart: African Americans on Abraham Lincoln edited by Fred Lee Hord and Matthew D. Norman (Univ of Ill Press, 2022).

For a long time, heartfelt gratitude, even adoration, directed toward the "Great Emancipator" and his legacy by both freedpeople and their descendants was an underlying assumption of the popular understanding of the Civil War period and beyond. Of course, it was always much more complicated than that. Among other things, the new reader Knowing Him by Heart: African Americans on Abraham Lincoln reexamines at length how black Americans "have consciously reshaped the sixteenth president's image for their own social and political ends."

More from the description: The fairly massive body of writing (both published and unpublished) compiled by editors Fred Hord and Matthew Norman for this volume "explores the complex nature of views on Lincoln through the writings and thought of Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary McLeod Bethune, Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X, Gwendolyn Brooks, Barbara Jeanne Fields, Barack Obama, and dozens of others. The selections move from speeches to letters to book excerpts, mapping the changing contours of the bond--emotional and intellectual--between Lincoln and Black Americans over the span of one hundred and fifty years."

In addition to tracing the process and goals of the volume, Hord and Norman's introduction briefly summarizes the evolution of black and white attitudes toward Lincoln's place in emancipation, civil rights, and modern race relations history. The editors also precede each piece of writing with brief commentary contextualizing what follows (ex. some contributions are written as responses) as well as a bit of information about the writer's own background.

Knowing Him by Heart is a wide-ranging survey of Abraham Lincoln's "still-evolving place in Black American thought."