Monday, September 25, 2023

Booknotes: Lincoln and California

New Arrival:

Lincoln and California: The President, the War, and the Golden State by Brian McGinty (Potomac Bks, 2023).

Even though Lincoln, like the majority of his fellow Americans of the period, never visited the Far West during his lifetime, its future (especially when it came to resolving the question of slavery) was very much in the minds of the future president and other leaders of his party. According to Brian McGinty, the author of Lincoln and California: The President, the War, and the Golden State, Lincoln even mentioned on numerous occasions a desire to settle his family in the state after the conclusion of his presidency.

McGinty's book "explains the relationship between the president and the Golden State, describing important events that took place in California and elsewhere during Lincoln’s lifetime. He includes the histories of Lincoln’s close friends and personal acquaintances who made history as they went to California, lived there, and helped to keep it part of the imperiled Union." In addition to subject matter mentioned above, the study also addresses the state's economic importance, Lincoln's Indian policy, and Lincoln remembrance in California.

Even though California voters rejected slavery, Confederate dreamers still envisioned that the state might somehow be transformed into a Pacific outpost of a continental Confederacy. Those unrealistic hopes were quashed relatively early in the war, and California, its volunteers spread all across the Pacific Coast, the Mountain West, and the Desert Southwest, ultimately assumed responsibility for many of the important tasks previously assigned to the Regular Army in those regions. That military history is recognized, but it is not a major focus of this particular study.

Lincoln and California "shines new light on an important state, a pivotal president, and a turning point in American history."

Friday, September 22, 2023

Booknotes: Conflict of Command

New Arrival:

Conflict of Command: George McClellan, Abraham Lincoln, and the Politics of War by George C. Rable (LSU Press, 2023).

Obviously, any attempt at gaining a full understanding of the momentous period between the Union humiliation at First Manassas in July 1861 and the end of the following year's fall campaigning season has to critically examine the complex personal relationships and political dynamics involved in the many important interactions between President Abraham Lincoln, his administration, and Major General George B. McClellan. Knowing that, writers and scholars have scrutinized the 1861-62 Lincoln-McClellan association, in part of in full, inside the pages of innumerable books and articles, and a standard interpretation has emerged, one significantly deviated from only on rare occasion.

From the description: "The fraught relationship between Abraham Lincoln and George McClellan is well known, so much so that many scholars rarely question the standard narrative casting the two as foils, with the Great Emancipator inevitably coming out on top over his supposedly feckless commander." However, in his new book Conflict of Command: George McClellan, Abraham Lincoln, and the Politics of War, "acclaimed Civil War historian George C. Rable rethinks that stance, providing a new understanding of the interaction between the president and his leading wartime general by reinterpreting the political aspects of their partnership."

In this reinterpretation, the most expansive yet attempted, Rable "pays considerable attention to Lincoln’s cabinet, Congress, and newspaper editorials, revealing the role each played in shaping the dealings between the two men. While he surveys McClellan’s military campaigns as commander of the Army of the Potomac, Rable focuses on the political fallout of the fighting rather than the tactical details. This broadly conceived approach highlights the army officers and enlisted men who emerged as citizen-soldiers and political actors."

More: "Most accounts of the Lincoln-McClellan feud solely examine one of the two individuals, and the vast majority adopt a steadfast pro-Lincoln position. Taking a more neutral view, Rable deftly shows how the relationship between the two developed in a political context and ultimately failed spectacularly, profoundly altering the course of the Civil War itself." Sounds refreshing. The blurb writer agrees that Rable succeeded in being "fair to both men."

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Booknotes: The Key to the Shenandoah

New Arrival:

The Key to the Shenandoah Valley: Geography and the Civil War Struggle for Winchester by Edward B. McCaul, Jr. (McFarland, 2023).

Winchester, Virginia is one of those small, otherwise unexceptional American towns that the Civil War made very well-known to the rest of the country. It is perhaps most recognized by today's readers as one of the war's most fought over locations, exchanging hands a great many times during the conflict. From the description: "During the Civil War, the Shenandoah Valley was the scene of 326 engagements, many taking place around Winchester. The city was occupied and evacuated 72 times and five major battles were fought in the vicinity, including First and Second Kernstown and Cedar Creek."

Obviously, Winchester's location in the Shenandoah Valley was key to its wartime significance. More from the description: "Geography was a crucial factor in the struggle to control Winchester, which was key to controlling Virginia. Confederate occupation gave them psychological dominance of the central valley and enabled them to disrupt enemy operations. When Union forces prevailed, they dictated the tempo of operations in the region. The decisive Union capture of the city in 1864 foretold the end of the Confederacy." All of this is discussed in Edward McCaul's The Key to the Shenandoah Valley: Geography and the Civil War Struggle for Winchester.

Being a study of how geography influences history, the book is described in the author's introduction as a "philosophical history book," the goal of which is to "give the reader a better understanding of the overall impact geography has had on military actions and more specifically those around Winchester, Virginia" (pg. 1). The text is supported by numerous maps and photographs. I like all of McCaul's previous full-length works, which include books covering early-war Upper Mississippi naval operations and artillery fuzes, so I am looking forward to checking this one out.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Booknotes: Two Counties in Crisis

New Arrival:

Two Counties in Crisis: Measuring Political Change in Reconstruction Texas by Robert J. Dillard (UNT Press, 2023).

From the description: "Commercially prosperous and built on slave labor in the mold of Deep South plantation culture, East Texas’s Harrison County" (its county seat being Marshall, a regional center very frequently mentioned in the Civil War literature) "strongly supported secession in 1861. West Texas’s Collin County, characterized by individual and family farms with a limited slave population, favored the Union. During Reconstruction, Collin County became increasingly conservative and eventually bore a great resemblance to Harrison County. By 1876 and the ratification of the regressive Texas Constitution, Collin County had become firmly resistant to all aspects of Reconstruction." By maps of the state's regions that I've seen online, Collin County is firmly in "North" or "North Central" Texas, so I'm not sure where the West Texas regional location comes from. Perhaps that's an older designation from the period in question.

Political scientist Robert Dillard's study "seeks to investigate social and political change by integrating elements of the political culture genre into a narrative of Reconstruction focused on a case study analysis" of these two "dramatically different" counties. In the author's view, his dual county study of cultural evolution "illustrates how political cultures consolidate themselves, and how the process of achieving unity hinges not upon cultural commonalities between citizens but upon fear, distrust, and hatred of the oppositional culture that seeks to do them harm" (pg. x). According to Dillard, in this case, consolidated resistance was expressed and maintained in ways that hindered the "common good."

More from the description: Two Counties in Crisis "offers a rare opportunity to observe how local political cultures are transformed by state and national events. Utilizing an interdisciplinary fusion of history and political science, Robert J. Dillard analyzes two disparate Texas counties—traditionalist Harrison County and individualist Collin County—and examines four Reconstruction governors (Hamilton, Throckmorton, Pease, Davis) to aid the narrative and provide additional cultural context."

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Booknotes: A Man by Any Other Name

New Arrival:

A Man by Any Other Name: William Clarke Quantrill and the Search for American Manhood by Joseph M. Beilein, Jr. (UGA Press, 2023)

Finally something came in the mail this month. Infamous guerrilla chieftain William C. Quantrill has been the subject of a number of biographies, the most recent of the sound variety (in my opinion, anyway) being Edward Leslie's The Devil Knows How to Ride (1996). As one can readily recognize from its title, Joseph Beilein's A Man by Any Other Name: William Clarke Quantrill and the Search for American Manhood is a new biography with a new theme.

From the description: Before Quantrill became a terror to pro-Union soldiers and civilians in Missouri and Kansas, he "led a transient life, shifting from one masculine form to another. He played the role of fastidious schoolmaster, rough frontiersman, and even confidence man, developing certain notions and skills on his way to becoming a proslavery bushwhacker. Quantrill remains impossible to categorize, a man whose motivations have been difficult to pin down."

That's certainly true, but Beilein gives it a try. More from the description: "Using new documents and old documents examined in new ways," A Man by Any Other Name "paints the most authentic portrait of Quantrill yet rendered. The detailed study of this man not only explores a one-of-a-kind enigmatic figure but also allows us entry into many representative experiences of the Civil War generation. This picture brings to life a unique vision of antebellum life in the territories and a fresh view of guerrilla warfare on the border. Of even greater consequence, seeing Quantrill in this way allows us to examine the perceived essence of American manhood in the mid-nineteenth century."

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Review - " Outwitting Forrest: The Tupelo Campaign in Mississippi, June 22 - July 23, 1864 " by Edwin Bearss, ed. by David Powell

[Outwitting Forrest: The Tupelo Campaign in Mississippi, June 22 - July 23, 1864 by Edwin C. Bearss, ed. by David A. Powell (Savas Beatie, 2023). Hardcover, 6 maps, photos, footnotes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:x,174/191. ISBN:978-1-61121-670-7. $29.95]

Before his stint as a featured commentator on Ken Burns's award-winning Civil War television series vaulted him into wider public recognition and before he became a well-known preservation advocate and legendary battlefield tour leader, the incomparable Edwin Cole Bearss researched and authored a slew of manuscripts and journal articles covering Civil War campaigns and battles fought across all three major theaters. During a time when modern maps, at least detailed ones, were generally neglected, Bearss made them a priority in his work. His magnum opus, a three-volume history of the Vicksburg campaign, has received multiple printings, but other significant book-length studies written during the Park Service historian's early and middle career periods unfortunately languish in unpublished form or were released only in obscure, small-run printings. An example of the latter is his groundbreaking 1969 survey The Tupelo Campaign, June 22-July 23. A Documented Narrative & Troop Movement Maps. However, courtesy of publisher Savas Beatie and editor David Powell, that is no longer the case, with Bearss's Tupelo manuscript, retitled Outwitting Forrest: The Tupelo Campaign in Mississippi, June 22 - July 23, 1864, the latest release from SB's Battles & Leaders series.

Confederate cavalry general Nathan Bedford Forrest's shocking rout of Union general Samuel Sturgis's large combined-arms column at Brice's Crossroads on June 10, 1864 almost immediately caused shaken, yet still determined, Union authorities to fit out another even stronger expedition for a renewed drive into northern Mississippi. Led by A.J. Smith, a well-regarded fighting general, and consisting of a corp-sized infantry element backed by powerful cavalry and artillery forces, this new campaign hit the road less than a month after Sturgis's defeat. That expedition, and its signature battle fought at Tupelo, Mississippi, is the central focus of this study.

Readers familiar with Bearss's style of presentation, spare in language but thorough in intelligibly written operational and tactical narrative accompanied by sound strategic commentary, will find the same in this government-sponsored manuscript. Supported by new maps created at the appropriate scale, the text follows the paths of opposing forces in northern Mississippi across roughly two weeks of marching, skirmishing, and fighting, those sequence of events culminating in a sharply fought battle at Harrisburg/Tupelo on July 14 and a lesser engagement at Old Town Creek the following day. The "Outwitting Forrest" aspect of the book title adopted by the publisher likely refers to Smith's 'stolen march' that resulted in Union forces successfully bypassing Forrest's roadblock established southeast of Pontotoc. Smith's skillful lateral redeployment from Pontotoc to Tupelo successfully fended off multiple Confederate attempts at interdicting the march. As a result, the bluecoats were able to reach the Mobile & Ohio Railroad in force, a goal of the campaign, and establish a strong defensive perimeter around Tupelo. On July 14, Smith's command delivered a bloody repulse to the attacking Confederate cavalry under the direction of department commander S.D. Lee and principal subordinate Forrest. However, after Smith, complaining about dwindling supplies and ammunition problems, abruptly abandoned his campaign and returned to Tennessee, both sides laid claim to overall victory.

Contemporary critics and modern observers alike generally agree that the best use of Forrest's cavalry during this period lay in raiding Sherman's supply lines. Agreeing with that line of thinking, Bearss determines that S.D. Lee's decision as Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana commander to concentrate his considerable mounted forces for the defense of Mississippi instead of using them to operate against the enemy lines of supply and communication supporting Sherman's army group in Georgia was a clear mistake. One can certainly use that (as Bearss does) as an example of Lee lacking strategic vision, but, to be fair, most Civil War department commanders were understandably hesitant to strip the defenses of their own geographic area of responsibility by sending their best troops well beyond departmental boundaries. Strongest criticism might perhaps be more appropriately levied against President Davis and his War Department for declining to intervene, and Bearss's text also condemns Davis's inaction on this matter.

In his usual fashion, Bearss does not inappropriately stretch the documentary evidence in support of taking sides in controversies associated with the battle. After Smith placed his superior command in favorable defensive positions west and south of Tupelo, it was incontestably Forrest-like for that general to want to wait Smith out and then hit the federals after circumstances forced the bluecoats to resume movement. However, Lee was in charge and felt keenly pressured by the situation in his department to attack immediately. As Bearss relates in the book, primary sources are in conflict regarding Forrest's level of enthusiasm for attacking Smith's strong position at Tupelo. Similarly, what motivation(s) lay behind Forrest declining Lee's offer to command all Confederate forces during the battle has been a subject of long debate. Here again, Bearss presents the evidence as he sees it and leaves it to his readers, if they so choose, to engage in speculation. Given the typical result of Civil War cavalry assaulting well-formed infantry, it becomes difficult to imagine any scenario in which Forrest and Lee's outnumbered cavalry could have overcome Smith's veterans compactly positioned behind temporary breastworks and backed by plentiful artillery and strong cavalry on the flanks. Brice's Crossroads provided some precedent in terms of force mix, but the two battlefield situations were very different. Regardless of how one characterizes the high command interaction of Lee and Forrest (who generally got along well together), as Bearss explains, the Confederate attack proceeded in piecemeal fashion and to neither general's credit. The result was a badly directed battle from the Confederate side and a terrible decimation of irreplaceable officers and manpower in four brigades. In the author's view, those brigades permanently lost their offensive capabilities, a significant impact.

Three additional chapters at the rear of the book cover a series of Union diversionary operations in Central Mississippi. Most significantly, General Henry Slocum pushed a division-strength raiding column well beyond the Big Black River (at one point reoccupying Jackson and destroying the rebuilt railroad bridge over Pearl River). In another, General Alfred Ellet conducted an inland expedition into Jefferson and Claiborne counties. All of these early to mid-July raiding operations are described by Bearss in some detail. As the author astutely observes, their significance is primarily attached to their fixing Confederate defenders in place and withholding possible reinforcements for Forrest. Through influencing Lee's determination to immediately attack at Tupelo, those events, especially Slocum's movements, greatly affected the course of events in northern Mississippi. Finally, in fulfillment of his government directive, Bearss concludes the study with his professional recommendations regarding interpretation of the Tupelo site.

David Powell edits the manuscript with a restrained hand, his supplemental footnotes largely confined to providing capsule biographies of a number of general and field grade officers mentioned in the text. Occasionally, additional historiographical context is added, an example of that being some comparisons between Bearss's text and corresponding views and conclusions found in the most thorough and up to date modern treatment of the campaign, Tom Parson's Work for Giants: The Campaign and Battle of Tupelo / Harrisburg, Mississippi, June-July 1864 (2014). Though it would be unfair to compare too closely works researched and written nearly a half-century apart, Bearss and Parson do share a number of opinions and interpretations in regard to the quality of opposing generalship, their decision-making during the campaign, and the overall significance of events that July. Obviously, if you can only read one book on the campaign you have to go with the very impressive Work For Giants, but Parson generously credits Bearss's trailblazing work as having a profound influence on his own. For those who already have Bearss's Forrest at Brice's Crossroads [Morningside (1979, R-1987)], the middle section of which covers the Tupelo Campaign, and are curious about similarities between it and the 1969 manuscript, there are numerous shared elements (i.e. very similarly written passages), but both text and overall coverage are not exactly the same. One notable difference is the absence in the 1979 book of the chapters addressing the Slocum and Ellet raids that, as mentioned before, so strongly influenced Lee's mindset at Tupelo.

A decade ago, Savas Beatie and editor Bryce Suderow made widely available for the first time two volumes of Bearss's previously unpublished Petersburg Campaign writings. Through the continued efforts of SB and now David Powell, in Outwitting Forrest we now have another seminal Bearss study finally achieving general access through wider publication. Hopefully, there's more to come.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Booknotes: Artillery of Antietam

New Arrival:

Artillery of Antietam: The Union and Confederate Batteries at the Battle of Antietam by James A. Rosebrock (Press of the Antietam Inst, 2023).

The depth and scope of Jim Rosebrock's Artillery of Antietam clearly exceeds that of the battle's long-serving standard reference work Artillery Hell: The Employment of Artillery at Antietam, which is fast approaching its 30-year anniversary.

From the description: Rosebrock's study "provides for the first time ever, a comprehensive examination of every Federal and Confederate artillery battery (135 in all), and their commanders, that participated in the Maryland Campaign of 1862. Detailed accounts cover the artillery battles at South Mountain, Harpers Ferry, Antietam, Shepherdstown, Williamsport, and the skirmishes between the Union and Confederate horse artillery batteries during the advance into Maryland."

Saying the battery accounts are "detailed" is no overstatement. The divisional artillery (consisting of 2 or more batteries) unit background and Maryland Campaign service histories for both sides routinely fill a dozen or so 8.5" x 11" double-column pages. The text is researched from a diverse range of primary and secondary sources, including archival materials, newspapers, books, articles, and various online resources.

Supplemental material is also impressive. More from the description: "Twenty-eight original maps highlight the artillery actions in great detail. The book has an introductory chapter on light artillery operations in the Civil War and six tables providing detailed information on numbers of artillerymen, casualties, and armament."

Hartwig's mammoth battle history, of which I am currently approaching the halfway mark, will undoubtedly leave me Antietam'd out of a while, but I will eventually get to this.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Coming Soon (September '23 Edition)

Scheduled for SEPT 20231:

Bayou Battles for Vicksburg: The Swamp and River Expeditions, January 1-April 30, 1863 by Timothy Smith.
Oracle of Lost Causes: John Newman Edwards and His Never-Ending Civil War by Matthew Hulbert.
Losing the Thread: Cotton, Liverpool and the American Civil War by Jim Powell.
A Man by Any Other Name: William Clarke Quantrill and the Search for American Manhood by Joseph Beilein.
Final Resting Places: Reflections on the Meaning of Civil War Graves ed. by Jordan & White.
Michigan's Company K: Anishinaabe Soldiers, Citizenship, and the Civil War by Michelle Cassidy.
My Dearest Lilla: Letters Home from Civil War General Jacob D. Cox ed. by Eugene Schmiel.
Ink, Dirt and Powder Smoke: The Civil War Letters of William F. Keeler, Paymaster on the USS Monitor by Charles McLandress.
From the Wilderness to Appomattox: The Fifteenth New York Heavy Artillery in the Civil War by Edward Altemos.
Building a House Divided: Slavery, Westward Expansion, and the Roots of the Civil War by Stephen Hyslop.
Calamity at Frederick: Robert E. Lee, Special Orders No. 191, and Confederate Misfortune on the Road to Antietam Alexander Rossino.
Contrasts in Command: The Battle of Fair Oaks, May 31 - June 1, 1862 Victor Vignola.

Comments: Both Losing the Thread and Oracle of Lost Causes were released a bit early (click on the link at left to read the Booknotes entry for the latter). Scheduled for release at the very end of the month, Vignola's Fair Oaks/Seven Pines book has received a title change, from A Mismanaged Affair: The Battle of Seven Pines/Fair Oaks, May 31-June 1, 1862 to Contrasts in Command: The Battle of Fair Oaks, May 31-June 1, 1862. I guess the altered title better reflects the content, as the description text notes that the book "focuses primarily on the Fair Oaks portion of the battle." I can't find the Cox letters book anywhere on UT Press's website yet, so there seems little chance it will actually be published next month (but, just in case, I include it anyway as a placeholder). BTW, Smith's book does cover Arkansas Post.

1 - These monthly release lists are not meant to be exhaustive compilations of non-fiction releases. They do not include reprints that are not significantly revised/expanded, 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, August 30, 2023

Booknotes: Outwitting Forrest

New Arrival:

Outwitting Forrest: The Tupelo Campaign in Mississippi, June 22 - July 23, 1864 by Edwin C. Bearss, ed. by David A. Powell (Savas Beatie, 2023).

For those seeking the best single source for learning about the 1864 Tupelo campaign and battle in Mississippi, the current gold standard is Tom Parson's Work for Giants: The Campaign and Battle of Tupelo / Harrisburg, Mississippi, June-July 1864 (2014), which was also expertly condensed by its author as a Blue & Gray magazine feature. Before that, an excellent summary of the campaign and battle was placed in the middle section of Ed Bearss's Forrest at Brice's Crossroads, published by Morningside (1979, R-1987).

A number of 'firsts' were produced by Bearss during his long and distinguished government service career, among them many detailed campaign/battle narratives and sets of battlefield troop movement maps that together provided the groundwork for subsequent studies (including a number of his own). One of those seminal works is the 1969 publication The Tupelo Campaign, June 22-July 23. A Documented Narrative & Troop Movement Maps. I haven't taken the time to closely compare the appropriate parts of Bearss's Morningside title with his 1969 monograph, but several chapter headings are closely shared and the wording used in the opening passage of both is remarkably similar.

Regardless of the amount of shared material, it's always worth preserving (and, just as important, making more widely available) those works that 'started it all' and are of such timeless quality as to heavily influence more modern titles written decades later. The latest installment of Savas Beatie's Battles & Leaders series and freshly edited by David Powell, Bearss's 1969 manuscript has now been reissued under the title Outwitting Forrest: The Tupelo Campaign in Mississippi, June 22 - July 23, 1864.

Though often overshadowed by the stunning Confederate victory at Brice's Crossroads that preceded it by mere weeks, the campaign had significant consequences. By keeping Confederate forces in northern Mississippi occupied and away from the Union Army's main effort in the West, the Tupelo Campaign materially aided Sherman's advances in North Georgia.

From the description: "The engagement came about when Maj. Gen. A. J. Smith marched a Federal expeditionary force (his XVI Army Corps) into northern Mississippi in early July 1864. The thrust forced a response, the largest of which was delivered by the combined Confederate cavalry of Stephen D. Lee (who was in general command) and Forrest.

The tactical result was a Union defensive success. The larger Confederate strategic play, however—one that might have impacted the course of the war in the Western Theater—would have been to unleash Forrest on a raid into Middle Tennessee to destroy the single line of railroad track feeding and supplying the Union armies of William T. Sherman in his ongoing operations around Atlanta. Instead, his troopers were contained within the Magnolia State, where his combat effectiveness was severely curtailed."

In addition to penning a new foreword discussing the context and significance of Bearss's original monograph, Powell appends some of Bearss's chapter notes. Six new maps were also commissioned for this edition.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Booknotes: Hoosier Spies and Horse Marines

New Arrival:

Hoosier Spies and Horse Marines: A History of the Third Indiana Cavalry, East Wing by James A. Goecker (McFarland, 2023).

From the description: Hoosier Spies and Horse Marines "traces the history of a remarkable troop of Hoosier horsemen—the East Wing of the Third Indiana Cavalry—during the Civil War. From the backwaters of the war in eastern Maryland to the epicenter of cavalry action in the eastern theater, they fought at Antietam, Brandy Station, Gettysburg and around Petersburg, and helped subdue Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley. Along the way they served as spies and fought in dozens of vicious skirmishes and battles. At Appomattox, they escorted one of the most famous generals to come out of the war."

The six companies (A-F) that make up the object of this unit study were initially intended to become part of the First Indiana Cavalry, which was oversized at 14 companies and geographically scattered. To bring order out of this bit of organizational mess, the demi-regiment in Washington, D.C. was detached and formally redesignated as the East Wing of the new Third Indiana Cavalry. If there's an East Wing there has to be a West Wing, and that Third Indiana unit, eventually consisting of the remaining companies G-M, served in the western theater. The two units never fought alongside each other.

Upon quick perusal of the bibliography, it looks like author James Goecker was able to mine archives (in Indiana and elsewhere) for a fair number of member journals, letters, and other personal papers. The text appears to be primarily a military history narrative of the unit's campaigns and battles with the Army of the Potomac, bookended by organizational and postwar chapters. A number of fine-looking, full-page battle maps are sprinkled about in support. The appendix section consists of a Gettysburg casualty list and a detailed unit roster, the latter also including a more simplified list from an 1864 reorganization.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Review - "Revisiting The Battle of Red Fork: A Two-Part Review and Analysis of the History and Controversy of the First Civil War Battle Fought in Indian Territory in What is Now Oklahoma" by Dale Chlouber

[Revisiting The Battle of Red Fork: A Two-Part Review and Analysis of the History and Controversy of the First Civil War Battle Fought in Indian Territory in What is Now Oklahoma by Dale Chlouber (New Forums Press, 2023). Softcover, maps, photos, notes, appendix section. Pages:vi,164. ISBN:978-1-58107-378-2. $26.95]

In a rare diplomatic victory over its Union foe, the Confederate government in 1861 successfully negotiated alliance treaties with the major tribal nations residing within Indian Territory. However, even after principal chief John Ross finally succumbed to the pressure and aligned the powerful Cherokee with Richmond, there were many among the Creeks and other groups who believed their best interests still lay in honoring the old agreements with the U.S. government. Numbering in the thousands, they rallied around the highly respected Muscogee Creek former chief Opothleyahola. On the other side, the now Confederate Indians and their new Texas and Arkansas allies were determined to deny the possibility of armed opposition blossoming under their noses. That rising threat of open warfare caused Opothleyahola and his followers to flee north, a winter trek that some have called the "Trail of Blood on Ice." Pursuit led to a running series of engagements, the most significant of which were the "battles" of Round Mountain (November 19, 1861), Chusto Talasah (December 9), and Chustenahlah (December 26). The last was a rout of Opothleyahola's remaining warriors, but the harried Indian loyalists ultimately reached asylum in Kansas. There they huddled in refugee camps under less than ideal conditions, their sufferings endured amid the hope and promise of eventual return to their former homes under the protection of U.S. forces.

Perhaps the most notable historiographical controversy of the entire campaign revolves around the disputed location of the Battle of Round Mountain (less commonly known as the Battle of Red Fork or Round Mountains). Strong oral history and local tradition built up around the Twin Mounds site west of Yale, Oklahoma, but the controversy really started with the public dissemination of the findings of avocational historian John Melton and the 1949 Chronicles of Oklahoma article authored by professional historian Angie Debo. Their arguments in support of the Twin Mounds site convinced many, and the issue seemed resolved. However, Debo's scholarship was soon challenged by Chronicles of Oklahoma editor Muriel Wright, who initially seemed satisfied by Debo's analysis before rejecting it wholesale in favor of promoting a location (or locations) near the confluence of the Cimarron and Arkansas Rivers, the so-called "Keystone Site" or sites. That was followed by decades of back and forth arguments and competing claims among historians, interested individuals, historical societies, and local communities. The conflict, which frequently reached unseemly depths, resulted in competing monuments and enduring questions. This contentious and nearly three quarters of a century-long debate is the subject of Dale Chlouber's Revisiting The Battle of Red Fork: A Two-Part Review and Analysis of the History and Controversy of the First Civil War Battle Fought in Indian Territory in What is Now Oklahoma.

Chlouber's book is divided into two parts of roughly equal length: (1) "Background on the Controversy of the Battle of Red Fork" and (2) "Revisiting the Battle of Red Fork." "Background" re-explores the source of the controversy in depth, one of its most useful reference features being its creation of an extensive and well-documented timeline of events spanning 1949-1996. After professional historians lost interest in the debate, sometimes due to the career problems involved with it, amateurs stepped forward, and Chlouber also critiques the merits of the battle location advanced by Robert DeMoss (called, appropriately enough, the "DeMoss Site"). In strong fashion, the author explains why he is unconvinced by DeMoss's arguments and unsupported conspiracy charges, finding instead that the best features of DeMoss's analysis not only do not reject the Twin Mounds/Yale site but buttress it.

In point by point fashion, the "Revisiting" section reevaluates the merits of the best sets of evidence put forth by proponents of both main locations: the collective Keystone area site(s) and the Twin Mounds/Yale site. Chlouber judiciously weighs the strengths and weaknesses of each piece of evidence, and persuasively concludes that the preponderance of best sources (including maps, participant accounts written closest to the time of actual events, and oral history) strongly supports the Twin Mounds/Yale location over any other suggested site. In determining this, Chlouber is not a lone wolf. By his estimation, knowledgeable persons today support the Twin Mounds/Yale site with near unanimity.

In text and photos (including the results of his own amateur relic hunting), Chlouber also advances the notion that available artifact discoveries tend to support Twin Mounds as being the true battle site. What's really needed, as Chlouber admits, is a more systematic survey of the location candidates using the most current technology and professional practices of battlefield archaeology. Douglas Scott and others have used such tools to great effect on other Civil War battlegrounds. Chlouber reminds us, however, that man-made Keystone Lake has placed some potential survey sites underwater.

In terms of suggestions for improvement, typos were pretty heavy, especially in the first section. Inclusion of an updated, article-length narrative summary of the battle itself would have helped many readers more fully comprehend the events themselves along with their historiographical dimensions. The volume seems to assume that most, if not all, prospective readers possess at least a rudimentary prior understanding of the battle, but the topic along with its sources and critical geography will undoubtedly be alien to a number of interested readers (as they mostly were to this one!). Additionally, key sources excerpted in the main text are limited enough in number to be fully reproduced in the appendix section. For a future edition, the book's overall organizational structure might also be gainfully reconsidered. There is some needless repetition between sections, and, at least from this reader's perspective, there's a great deal of information presented in the second part of the book that provides useful context for sounder comprehension of key matters explored in the first. In some ways, I wish I had read the second part first. Those concerns might have been resolved through employment of a more integrative approach.

In highlighting the negative consequences of institutionalized personal animosity, incomplete and selective research, misuse of sources and context, flawed assumptions, and community rivalry, Chlouber's Round Mountain examination draws sober lessons from the controversy that can be more broadly applied to the practice of history. In what seems appropriate, the author broadly faults Wright's leadership of the publication arm of the state historical society, The Chronicles of Oklahoma, as doing a disservice to history. By "neutralizing and subduing critiques," (pg. 71) Wright's editorship promoted deeply flawed history and engendered a fear of reprisal (i.e. through refusal to publish other professional articles in The Chronicles) that suppressed healthy scholarly dissent.

Out of an abundance of caution, one might still deem the matter of the Round Mountain battle location to be lacking an unassailable resolution. Nevertheless, this volume thoroughly and effectively compiles and analyzes the available evidence in ways that significantly reinforce those assessments favoring the Twin Mounds site. In doing so, author Dale Chlouber strongly rebuffs the claims of those who still argue that good evidence, or not enough of it, in support of one site over the others does not exist. Revisiting the Battle of Red Fork is a very useful tool for guiding readers through a long, complicated, and lesson-filled historiographical dispute.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Booknotes: Oracle of Lost Causes

New Arrival:

Oracle of Lost Causes: John Newman Edwards and His Never-Ending Civil War by Matthew C. Hulbert (Bison, 2023)

Historian Matthew Hulbert accurately describes his subject, John Newman Edwards, as a "B-list celebrity" among the war's many colorful military and civilian figures, but the lively journalist is certainly a household name among students of the Civil War in Missouri. Edwards made a career out of advancing the fame of others and attempting to steer readers toward his version of how the war should be understood and remembered. Considering Edwards's influence, in Hulbert's view he is deserving of a biography of his own. As the author puts it, Edwards "furnishes the scaffolding of a tale far larger, and more geographically expansive, than a treatment of any single contemporary might yield" (pg. xxviii).

From the description: "John Newman Edwards was a soldier, a father, a husband, and a noted author. He was also a virulent alcoholic, a duelist, a culture warrior, and a man perpetually at war with the modernizing world around him. From the sectional crisis of his boyhood and the battlefields of the western borderlands to the final days of the Second Mexican Empire and then back to a United States profoundly changed by the Civil War," Oracle of Lost Causes: John Newman Edwards and His Never-Ending Civil War "chronicles Edwards’s lifelong quest to preserve a mythical version of the Old World—replete with aristocrats, knights, damsels, and slaves—in North America."

The introduction colorfully summarizes the book's most prominent themes (Hulbert is an engaging writer), though I must admit the author's psychological profiling of his subject, at least when it comes to addressing Edwards's motivations, hopes, and fantasies, seems a bit too strongly assured for my taste. Of course, that's just a first impression, and one would have to read the rest of the book to gauge the degree to which such interpretations are justified.

More from the description: "This odyssey through nineteenth-century American politics and culture involved the likes of guerrilla chieftains William Clarke Quantrill and “Bloody Bill” Anderson, notorious outlaws Frank and Jesse James, Confederate general Joseph Orville Shelby, and even Emperor Maximilian I and Empress Charlotte of Mexico. It is the story of a man who experienced Confederate defeat not once but twice, and how he sought to shape and weaponize the memory of those grievous losses."

Hulbert also presents his biography of Edwards as another means through which to usefully expand the boundaries, geographical and otherwise, of Civil War studies. His work "ultimately reveals how the Civil War determined not only the future of the vast West but also the extent to which the conflict was part of a broader, international sequence of sociopolitical uprisings."

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Booknotes: Revisiting The Battle of Red Fork

New Arrival:

Revisiting The Battle of Red Fork: A Two-Part Review and Analysis of the History and Controversy of the First Civil War Battle Fought in Indian Territory in What is Now Oklahoma by Dale Chlouber (New Forums Pr, 2023).

While significant bits and pieces of the campaign's history are spread among numerous scholarly books and articles, we still lack a single, comprehensive, book-length examination of the series of 1861 battles fought between Confederate troops from Texas, Arkansas, and Indian Territory on one side and on the other a sizable minority alliance of anti-Confederate tribal dissenters under the Muscogee (Creek) leader Opothleyahola, the latter attempting to flee to presumed refuge in Kansas. In addition to being confronted by very poor period maps of the region and published information that is often dated and incomplete, readers new to the topic also quickly find that the very location of one of the major engagements (the Battle of Round Mountain) is a complicated topic of long dispute.

Dale Chlouber's Revisiting The Battle of Red Fork (Red Fork being one of the alternate names favored by some) represents the latest attempt at making sense of the competing claims surrounding the various Round Mountain controversies. The book is organized into two sections "Background on the Controversy of the Battle of Red Fork" and "Revisiting the Battle of Red Fork." In conducting his research for this book, Chlouber "has accumulated every scrap of information relating to the battle that could be located and has evaluated the arguments forwarded by those seeking to place the battle." In the end, the author finds that "there is no real controversy and the controversy lingers for reasons that have little to do with the battle" itself.

Having never waded into this historiographical morass beyond simply following a number of messageboard arguments about it over the years, I am looking forward to reading Chlouber's analysis and conclusions.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Booknotes: The Bone Ring

New Arrival:

The Bone Ring: Civil War Journals of Colonel William James Leonard by Gari Carter (Donella Press, 2023).

This book's title refers to one example among many types of war art produced by soldiers throughout the history of warfare, particularly by those with a lot of free time on their hands but little in the way of traditional art-making supplies. Common examples include the celebrated trench art of WW1 and the artistic renderings of American Civil War POWs, this remembrance ring, of course, being among the latter. From the description: "When Colonel William Leonard died in 1901, among his effects was found a lovely jewelry box containing a simple ring carved of cow bone and engraved with his birthdate and the year of his imprisonment in Libby Prison. This humble memento, so carefully preserved, was made for him by his men to mark his 46th birthday when they were all prisoners of war in the notorious Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia."

Preserved along with that cherished ring was Leonard's wartime journal, "which begins when he was colonel in Purnell's Legion Infantry, which was charged with protecting telegraph and rail lines in Maryland and Virginia, and ends after he was paroled from Libby Prison and returned to Maryland." Now his great-granddaughter, Gari Carter, "presents Col. Leonard's journal, richly annotated and supplemented with family lore and local history."

The resulting publication, The Bone Ring: Civil War Journals of Colonel William James Leonard, supplements the journal with an introduction (which includes a summary of Leonard's pre-Civil War life as well as a capsule history of the Purnell Legion), an epilogue describing the Colonel's service after his release from Libby Prison as well as his postwar life, and some Leonard family genealogy. The text is also extensively footnoted by Carter.

Leonard and his men participated in the Eastern Shore expedition of 1861, and his command also served in Baltimore, the Lower Shenandoah Valley, and northern Virginia. Essentially a record of Leonard's POW experience, the journals (dated August 20, 1862 through September 28, 1862) transcribed in the book "begin when he was serving on guard duty for the Orange & Alexandria rail lines from Catlett's Station to Culpeper Court House, Virginia" (pg. 10), mere days before he was captured and sent to Richmond. They end with his return to Union lines upon release from Libby Prison.

With so many individual Civil War stories lost to history, Leonard is fortunate in having a caring, and capable, custodian of his memory in descendant Gari Carter, who has also published the Civil War journals of another ancestor (see her 2008 book Troubled State: Civil War Journals of Franklin Archibald Dick.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Booknotes: From Western Virginia with Jackson to Spotsylvania with Lee

New Arrival:

From Western Virginia with Jackson to Spotsylvania with Lee: The Civil War Diaries and Letters of St. Joseph Tucker Randolph edited by Peter C. Luebke (35th Star Pub, 2023).

From Western Virginia with Jackson to Spotsylvania with Lee "presents the diaries and letters of St. Joseph Tucker Randolph, a young Confederate soldier from Richmond, Virginia. As might be expected of the son of a bookseller, Tucker's writings offer lucid and candid descriptions of the Civil War." Along with line and staff observations, Randolph's writings also offer both eastern and western perspectives of the war. More from the description: "He began the war in the 21st Virginia Infantry, a part of the famed Stonewall Brigade, before moving on to staff roles with Henry M. Ashby in Tennessee and John M. Pegram in Virginia." The last Randolph letter dates from May 23, 1864, for he was killed in action seven days later at Bethesda Church.

In terms of content, Randolph's "lengthy accounts of campaigning in western Virginia in 1861 and early 1862 give many rich characterizations of the area and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. His writings from Kentucky and Tennessee in 1862 offers trenchant commentary on the failures of the western armies. Tucker's return to Virginia in late 1863 as a staff officer gave him the perfect vantage point to write about Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, including a particularly vivid account of the Battle of Spotsylvania in 1864." According to the blurb written by ANV primary source authority Robert K. Krick, "the book's best content prints Randolph's accounts of Spotsylvania."

In addition to a general introduction to the volume, Peter Luebke's editorial contributions include organizing the material into twelve chapters and providing a contextual introduction and endnotes to each of those. Four maps and numerous other illustrations supplement the text. Additionally, Gary Gallagher "contributes a foreword that amplifies the importance of Tucker's writings."

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Booknotes: Shipwrecked

New Arrival:

Shipwrecked: A True Civil War Story of Mutinies, Jailbreaks, Blockade-Running, and the Slave Trade by Jonathan W. White (Rowman & Littlefield, 2023).

In Shipwrecked, prolific historian Jonathan White "tells the riveting story of Appleton Oaksmith, a swashbuckling sea captain whose life intersected with some of the most important moments, movements, and individuals of the mid-19th century, from the California Gold Rush, filibustering schemes in Nicaragua, Cuban liberation, and the Civil War and Reconstruction."

With a Dickensian character name like Appleton Oaksmith, one can't help but live an adventurous nineteenth-century life that defies easy description. White's writing topics are always unpredictable (few match his range), and it's easy to see why this individual appealed to the storytelling aspect of his repertoire. I can't say that I've ever come across the name before, and it was the same with the author until a research assistant brought him to White's attention. At the time, White was researching the illegal slave trade.

Since 1808, it was illegal for American citizens to engage in the international slave trade, but that didn't stop individuals from attempting to profit from it nonetheless. White credits Lincoln, early on in his presidency, for firming up previously lax enforcement. More from the description: "Most importantly, the book depicts the extraordinary lengths the Lincoln Administration went to destroy the illegal trans-Atlantic slave trade. Using Oaksmith’s case as a lens, White takes readers into the murky underworld of New York City, where federal marshals plied the docks in lower Manhattan in search of evidence of slave trading. Once they suspected Oaksmith, federal authorities had him arrested and convicted, but in 1862 he escaped from jail and became a Confederate blockade-runner in Havana. The Lincoln Administration tried to have him kidnapped in violation of international law, but the attempt was foiled."

Oaksmith, who always maintained his innocence, eventually fled to England by way of Havana, Cuba. He stayed abroad until 1871, and the following year, helped by the persistence of friends and allies, received a pardon from President Grant. Residing in North Carolina, Oaksmith embarked on a political career that was notable in its opposition to KKK involvement in the state. "Through a remarkable, fast-paced story, this book will give readers a new perspective on slavery and shifting political alliances during the turbulent Civil War Era."

Monday, August 14, 2023

Review - " Righting the Longstreet Record at Gettysburg: Six Matters of Controversy and Confusion " by Cory Pfarr

[Righting the Longstreet Record at Gettysburg: Six Matters of Controversy and Confusion by Cory M. Pfarr (McFarland, 2023). Softcover, 9 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:ix,180/213. ISBN:978-1-4766-8597-7. $49.95]

Cory Pfarr's 2019 book Longstreet at Gettysburg: A Critical Reassessment strenuously challenges a number of deeply ingrained negative interpretations of Old Pete's generalship that the author feels continue to be repeated in major works even though their foundations fly in the face of the best available primary source evidence. However, while Longstreet at Gettysburg is comprehensive in scope, there were still some matters touched upon earlier that Pfarr hoped to revisit at greater length. Those remaining points are now addressed in the companion essay collection Righting the Longstreet Record at Gettysburg: Six Matters of Controversy and Confusion.

The opening essay, appropriately enough, goes back to the origins of the hotly disputed 'Longstreet at Gettysburg 'historiography in both popular debate and scholarly print. In 1896, Rev. John William Jones, a leading figure in the Southern Historical Society and its influential print arm, penned a fiery response to Longstreet's criticisms of Robert E. Lee's management of the Gettysburg Campaign, opinions that were solicited by William Swinton for the journalist's 1866 book Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac. Opinions might differ, but Pfarr, who concedes that Longstreet technically "started" the controversy by providing his critics the opening salvo, merely sees Longstreet's input as a polite response to an earnest writer asking for assistance in enhancing the historical record. Additionally, he reasonably determines the measured tone and content of the criticisms leveled against Lee by Longstreet undeserving of the highly emotional, vitriolic response they received from fervent Lee partisans such as Jones.

The second essay revisits the postwar friendship that developed between Longstreet and his principal Gettysburg Day 2 foe, Third Corps commander Daniel Sickles. With both men beset by fierce criticisms from their own side of the aisle, a cynic might suspect that the strong defense each had for the other's performance on that day was one of expedience; however, the mutual respect, on both personal and military fronts, appears genuine. The chapter's adoption of the devil's advocate position when it comes to assessing Sickles's forward redeployment of his corps is one of its most intriguing elements. Though there have been notable modern modifications to the old arguments, the traditional objection is that Sickles disobeyed the word and spirit of Meade's orders by moving west to seize the higher ground situated along the Emmitsburg Road. Worse, the movement created a salient that left Third Corps relatively isolated in its forward position, and when Longstreet subjected the jackknifed line to his two-division hammer blow, the Union corps was effectively destroyed as a fighting force. With Sickles's salient crushed, the argument goes that the Union left was saved only by General Meade's deft shuffling of multi-corps reinforcements toward the critical point. Eventually, and at great human cost, those arrivals took the steam out of Longstreet's attack. Judiciously supplementing the views of Sickles, Longstreet, and their supporters, Pfarr constructs a defensible argument in support of Sickles's actions on that day, one that might reasonably lead readers to conclude that the Third Corps's role on that day was that of primary stopping force rather than unnecessarily sacrificed tripwire. On the other hand, the sheer scale of army-wide reinforcements for the endangered left that were required to stop Longstreet argues powerfully against assigning that much credit to Third Corps. Also, we'll never know whether Third Corps might have achieved a similar result (the repulse of Longstreet's attack) had it simply adopted a shorter, denser, straight-line position anchored on Cemetery Ridge to the north and on the south by the Round Tops. Pfarr seems to believe that that arrangement could, with a strong degree of likelihood, have been overcome in front and southern flank by Longstreet. It very well might have, but this reviewer has his doubts, especially when it comes to the argument that the higher ground along the Emmitsburg Road could have been effectively exploited as a platform for Confederate massed artillery support. With rare exception, effective movement and coordination of concentrated artillery, mid-battle and on the tactical offensive, was not among the fighting forte of Confederate armies.

Long before now, the myth of the dawn or early morning attack Lee allegedly intended on July 2 for the Union left has been thoroughly debunked for the nonsense that it always was. It would be late-morning before Lee had even determined where the army's main effort would be on the second day. While Longstreet has been thoroughly exonerated on that front, he remains criticized by many current authors for still dragging his feet, not doing his utmost in gathering intelligence, and not paying his usual attention to detail when preparing his attack. Pfarr, citing the literature's common focus on the morning reconnaissance of the Union left conducted by Lee staffer Capt. Samuel Johnston, challenges the critics with a careful and detailed recitation of evidence that reveals a multitude of recon missions conducted on the Confederate right during the morning and early afternoon hours. Taking to task a number of authors whose writings allege that Longstreet was largely inactive, Pfarr feels that many of the most strongly worded charges lack a basis in primary source evidence. In the chapter, the author offers the sound suggestion that flaws in the quality and reporting of the intelligence (the earliest crop of which was rendered essentially useless by the surprise forward movement of Sickles's Third Corps, the "force of circumstances" blamed in General Lafayette McLaws's later post-battle writings) were the main problem, not the quantity of effort or lack thereof. In Pfarr's estimation, the focus on Longstreet himself is misplaced and largely based on assumptions not borne out by source strength commensurate to the gravity of the charges. On that score his views are convincing.

Two of the war's most infamous mid-battle countermarches, one occurring on the first day of the Battle of Shiloh and the second on July 2 at Gettysburg, subjected their leaders, Lew Wallace and James Longstreet respectively, to decades of intense popular and academic denunciation. While Longstreet, unlike Wallace, was never accused of getting lost, his countermarch of the divisions of McLaws and Hood, and the time lost performing it, fed into the accepted narrative of a sulking and dawdling corps commander, one that proved popular among a wide range of writers. Pfarr's fourth chapter revisits the countermarch in great detail. The author effectively defends Longstreet's actions on several fronts, the overarching one being the concealment imperative. In addition to the Lee directive prioritizing concealment over speed, before the move to the right even started precious time was required to discover a suitable march route that could not be observed by the enemy. At that point, a practical assault launch time was already in the mid to late-afternoon range. Once the march was underway, it soon became apparent that the chosen path would result in the column being seen by the Union signal station atop Little Round Top. Pfarr offers several reasons for not simply reversing the order of march, as many Longstreet's critics say he should have, placing Hood in the lead. One of these was Lee's desire for McLaws to lead the attack, but arguably the strongest reason was based on knowledge of the ground. It was McLaws who suggested the countermarch route through his own earlier personal reconnaissance of the area, and Longstreet (who most closely communicated with McLaws during the march) needed to make a snap decision. With those factors and others guiding the decision-making process, it was natural, in Pfarr's view, that McLaws lead the countermarch. Further, the author makes a good point that, with those circumstances in mind, there's really no guarantee that having Hood take the lead would have saved considerable time. There's room remaining for reasonable minds to differ on some of these points, but, in this chapter and other sections of the book, Pfarr constructs a well-supported case arguing that the lateness of Lee's decision of where to concentrate his army's main effort on July 2, the concealed route imperative, the additional reconnaissance required to prepare that unobservable route, and the unexpected shift forward of the Union left were collectively far more responsible for the assault's 4:30 pm launch time than any alleged sulky attitude, indecision, dereliction of duty, generalship slows (purposeful or not), or insubordination on the part of Longstreet.

Count this reviewer among those dismayed to learn that anyone might seriously believe Richard Anderson's Third Corps division to have been under Longstreet's direct command during the attack on July 2, but apparently it is a common misconception/question raised during the author's public talks. The book chapter discussing it duly confirms its untruth while also generously explaining the possible ways in which some readers and writers might have come to believe it. Again, the author thinks a large part of its appeal lies in it being another way to confirm fault, given the division's poorly coordinated attack that left two of five brigades unengaged, with Longstreet's conduct of the Day 2 battle. He could be right about that.

In the final chapter, Pfarr enjoins readers and scholars to reconsider the value of Lee and Longstreet at High Tide, a work the author feels too often ignored or disparaged on the grounds of its source, Helen Dortch, Longstreet, the controversial general's second wife. The chapter makes the case that Mrs. Longstreet's work actually demonstrates better adherence to historical methods of research and writing than the output of most contemporary critics of the general. In, for example, addressing the published allegations of Longstreet opponents such as former Confederate generals John B. Gordon and William Nelson Pendleton, Pfarr finds her opposing analysis largely sound and several arguments historiographically farseeing.

Profoundly negative interpretations of the character and military conduct of a number of well-known Civil War generals are so deeply entrenched in the most popular and influential secondary works that they've become almost written in stone. While critical analysis of James Longstreet's Gettysburg Campaign role certainly continues to evolve, Cory Pfarr's investigation uncovers and effectively counters a number of persistent myths and misconceptions, some of which still make it into the pages of well-regarded one-volume histories of the Gettysburg campaign and battle. With these six essays (in conjunction with Pfarr's earlier book Longstreet at Gettysburg: A Critical Reassessment), Civil War readers, both novitiate and deeply experienced alike, have powerful arguments and accumulated evidence with which to reevaluate Longstreet's actions at Gettysburg. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Booknotes: Lincoln's Lost Colony

New Arrival:

Lincoln's Lost Colony: The Black Emigration Scheme of Bernard Kock by Boyce Thompson (McFarland, 2023).

During the antebellum period (when Lincoln first publicly spoke of his support for black emigration and colonization), the issue was considered a moderate social/political position. Historians and writers continue to debate what was at the core of Lincoln's motivation in this area. The nebulous time frame of his support for colonization is also vigorously contested in the literature.

Possible destinations took two forms, colonies in Africa and within the Caribbean rim. During his presidency, Lincoln endorsed a number of public and private projects in the latter sphere. One of these was the proposed Haitian colony of Bernard Kock, and this story is the subject of Boyce Thompson's Lincoln's Lost Colony: The Black Emigration Scheme of Bernard Kock.

From the description: Lincoln's Lost Colony "tells the quiet but bloody history of Bernard Kock, a New Orleans entrepreneur with an ill-fated attempt at establishing a cotton plantation on Ile-a-Vache, a deserted Haitian island, using formerly enslaved Americans. It also covers Lincoln's involvement and support of Kock's plan, as well as his pledge of $50 in government funding for each of the 453 colonists." The scheme ultimately failed, and in early 1864 the government evacuated the settlement.

More: "With chapters on Lincoln's encouragement of black deportation, the establishment of the plantation, the futile attempts at damage control and more, this text reveals an untold part of Lincoln's history."

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Booknotes: Captured Freedom

New Arrival:

Captured Freedom: The Thrilling True Story of POWs Escaping the Grasp of the Rebels by Steve Procko (Author - There's History Around Every Bend, 2023).

Chance encounters often serve as the inspiration behind interesting history book projects. That is certainly the case with Steve Procko's second Civil War-related endeavor, which began life after a neighbor showed him an old studio photograph consisting of the man's ancestor, eight other Union officers, and three Southern Unionist guides. Curiosity about the identities of the rather 'worse for wear'-looking collection of men and their stories sparked what would become Procko's Captured Freedom: The Thrilling True Story of POWs Escaping the Grasp of the Rebels.

From the description: Captured Freedom "is the epic true story of nine Union prisoners-of-war who escaped from a Confederate Prison known as Camp Sorghum in Columbia, South Carolina in November 1864. They scrambled north on foot in rags that had once been uniforms of blue. Traveling in brutal winter conditions more than 300 miles with search parties and bloodhounds hot on their trail. On the difficult journey they relied on the help of enslaved men and women, as well as Southerners who sympathized with the North, before finally reaching Union lines on New Years Day 1865." As noted by the author at the beginning of the book, the men did not all escape together (and one actually came not from the POW camp but the county jail), but they did eventually meet together in western North Carolina for the final leg of the journey.

The text provides information about the men's military service, the circumstances of their captures, their POW experiences, day-by-day accounts of their escape flights, and their postwar lives. Near the end of the book can be found an extensive look at the "archeology of a photograph and its photographer," Prussian immigrant Theodore Schleier. In it, the author addresses past misidentifications of the photograph and its different versions, six of which are discussed at length.

As several recent books, among them Lorien Foote's Yankee Plague, have reminded us, Civil War prisoner escape narratives were popular reading and writing subjects during and after the war. However, this particular story may have become lost in the shuffle had the men not chosen to commemorate their trek with an evocative photograph. More from the description: "After arriving in Knoxville, Tennessee, and checking in with Union authorities, one of the men had a wonderful idea. The nine officers and their three mountain guides found a local photographer, hoping to commemorate what they had accomplished by posing together for a photograph. The instant, frozen in time, showed twelve ragged men with determination strong on their faces. It was a Civil War selfie."

The officers hailed from states east and west (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, and Iowa). As Procko relates in the book, their remarkable winter trek to freedom, an estimated 350 miles in all, took them from the South Carolina capital to Union-held East Tennessee. Along the way, the men successfully evaded dedicated search parties as well as enemy guerrillas and local home guards. POW escape lore is full of tall tales, but Procko, while framing the story in popular fashion, backs up his telling with extensive research in primary and secondary sources, among them government documents, "never-before-published original diaries," letters, memoirs, and newspaper articles.

For more information, visit the book's website capturedfreedom.com.

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Booknotes: Onward to Chicago

New Arrival:

Onward to Chicago: Freedom Seekers and the Underground Railroad in Northeastern Illinois by Larry A. McClellan (SIU Press, 2023).

From the description: "Decades before the Civil War, Illinois’s status as a free state beckoned enslaved people, particularly those in Kentucky and Missouri, to cross porous river borders and travel toward new lives." According to Larry McClellan, author of Onward to Chicago: Freedom Seekers and the Underground Railroad in Northeastern Illinois, "traditional histories of the Underground Railroad in Illinois start in 1839, and focus largely on the romanticized tales of white men." His new study "reframes the story, not only introducing readers to earlier freedom seekers, but also illustrating that those who bravely aided them were Black and white, men and women. McClellan features dozens of individuals who made dangerous journeys to reach freedom as well as residents in Chicago and across northeastern Illinois who made a deliberate choice to break the law to help."

The region's modernized transportation networks also played an important role in the process. More from the description: McClellan's Onward to Chicago "charts the evolution of the northeastern Illinois freedom network and shows how, despite its small Black community, Chicago emerged as a point of refuge. The 1848 completion of the I & M Canal and later the Chicago to Detroit train system created more opportunities for Black men, women, and children to escape slavery."

Numerous individual experiences and "significant biracial collaboration" are major parts of McClellan's narrative, as the book "includes specific freedom seeker journey stories and introduces Black and white activists who provided aid in a range of communities along particular routes." "Through deep research into local sources, McClellan presents the engrossing, entwined journeys of freedom seekers and the activists in Chicagoland who supported them."

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Booknotes: I Dread the Thought of the Place

New Arrival:

I Dread the Thought of the Place: The Battle of Antietam and the End of the Maryland Campaign by D. Scott Hartwig (Johns Hopkins UP, 2023).

This long-awaited tome announced its arrival tonight with a thunderous bang as the UPS driver carelessly (maliciously?) flung it against the front door, a collision felt throughout the entire house. The book weighs a full 4 1/4 lbs, more than some early-19th Century cannonballs, so, while the damage was less than expected, I can be forgiven for being highly annoyed by the courier's unprofessionalism.

While things have begun on a sour note, there's no denying the high level of anticipation attached to this book. It's been slightly more than a decade since the publication of Scott Hartwig's very well-received To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 (2012), and its big follow-up, I Dread the Thought of the Place: The Battle of Antietam and the End of the Maryland Campaign, is undoubtedly one of the year's most celebrated publishing events. Beginning with the legendary cornfield fighting at dawn on the 17th and continuing through to the final escape of Lee's army back to Virginia, the book not only covers the battle itself but "the powerful reverberations―military, political, and social―it sent through the armies and the nation."

From the description: "Based on decades of research, this in-depth narrative sheds particular light on the visceral experience of battle, an often misunderstood aspect of the American Civil War, and the emotional aftermath for those who survived. Hartwig provides an hour-by-hour tactical history of the battle, beginning before dawn on September 17 and concluding with the immediate aftermath, including General McClellan's fateful decision not to pursue Lee's retreating forces back across the Potomac to Virginia."

Supplementing the text (the main narrative runs nearly 800 pages) are 21 maps "illustrating the state of the battle at intervals ranging from 20 to 120 minutes." The appendix section contains a formation and tactics primer, orders of battle, and unit strength & loss tables. Endnotes are included, as is a source essay, but to save space the full bibliography is maintained online at the publisher's website.

This is definitely one of those 'clear my schedule' books.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Coming Soon (August '23 Edition)

Scheduled for AUG 20231:

I Dread the Thought of the Place: The Battle of Antietam and the End of the Maryland Campaign by Scott Hartwig.
Public Debate in the Civil War Era: A Rhetorical History of the United States, Volume IV ed. by David Zarefsky.
Reconstruction beyond 150: Reassessing the New Birth of Freedom ed. by Burton & Morris.
Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862-1865 by Noah Andre Trudeau.
Outwitting Forrest: The Tupelo Campaign in Mississippi, June 22 - July 23, 1864 by Ed Bearss, ed. by David Powell.
Conflict of Command: George McClellan, Abraham Lincoln, and the Politics of War by George Rable.

Comments: Hartwig's long-anticipated Maryland Campaign V2 was released a month early. Nice. Thanks to all who preordered through the site. Some of you might even have it in hand already. I should have mine by the middle of next week. The Rable and Bearss/Powell titles have also grabbed my interest. Ed Bearss's Forrest at Brice's Crossroads, published by Morningside (1979, R-1987), has a Tupelo Campaign-focused middle section that was presumably closely based on the author's earlier government work published as The Tupelo Campaign, June 22-July 23. A Documented Narrative & Troop Movement Maps (Washington, 1969). It sounds like Powell and publisher SB are resurrecting the original manuscript in newly augmented fashion.

1 - These monthly release lists are not meant to be exhaustive compilations of non-fiction releases. They do not include reprints that are not significantly revised/expanded, 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.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Review - " The Antietam Battlefield Atlas " by Brad Butkovich

[The Antietam Battlefield Atlas by Brad Butkovich (Historic Imagination, 2023). Paperback, 124 color maps, orders of battle, endnotes, bibliography. 172 pages. ISBN:978-1-7325976-5-5. $49.95]

Brad Butkovich is the author of the creatively conceived Visual Antietam series, a three-volume reissue of the battle sections of the seminal Ezra Carman manuscript. What made Butkovich's edition of Carman's work stand out were his enhancements: excellent original maps that were in turn supplemented by modern battlefield photographs taken at the approximate time of the action depicted. Newly spawned from that earlier work, and significantly boosted through the use of color, is Butkovich's The Antietam Battlefield Atlas.

This Antietam atlas study, designed to be handy for both armchair reading and battlefield tramping, is divided into eight main battle sections. The first chapter covers initial contact on September 16 and the rest move on from there to comprehensively address the main fighting on the 17th from beginning to end. Each chapter begins with a brief narrative summary of events that is followed by maps tracing the fighting at frequent time intervals. Other sources were consulted, but the volume's research is most extensively based on the O.R. and 1862 Maryland Campaign authority Tom Clemens's exhaustively edited edition of the Carman manuscript (a multi-volume project that was completed in 2017).

Each map is presented in full color and fills most of the generous space provided by the book's 8.5" x 11" page dimensions. Terrain detail is impressive, with salient battlefield features such as buildings, woods, orchards, rock outcroppings, haystacks, and fields circumscribed by roads and multiple fence types. Contour lines drawn at 10' intervals offer a strong sense of the battlefield's elevation nuances without over cluttering the maps. At the bottom of each map is an approximate time (or time range) stamp followed by numbered event stamps describing the action depicted in the drawing. There's good portability, and these bullet point-style text descriptors are great for those having only a few hours for in-person battlefield exploration. As is standard for books of this kind, regiments and batteries are the base scale. An overall winning combination, the cartography is deeply informative, easy to follow, technically strong, and aesthetically pleasing.

Unit placements and timing of events are always open to differences in interpretation both large and small, even with the war's most extensively documented battles (like this one). It's true that we already have a benchmark Antietam atlas published a decade ago that's solidly grounded in current research (see Bradley Gottfried's The Maps of Antietam); however, there's every reason for scholars and enthusiasts alike to pick up a copy of Butkovich's The Antietam Battlefield Atlas both on its own merits and for side-by-side comparison.