Friday, April 28, 2023

Booknotes: The Governor's Pawns

New Arrival:
The Governor's Pawns: Hostages and Hostage-Taking in Civil War West Virginia by Randall S. Gooden (Kent St UP, 2023).

As evidenced from the past week of Booknotes entries posted here on the site, I've received a bunch of KSUP titles in the mail recently, their release dates ranging from late-'22 through to today. The publisher's Civil War Era in the South and Civil War in the North series have both been discontinued, their subject matter now folded into the Civil War Soldiers and Strategies and Interpreting the Civil War: Texts and Contexts series. With all four of the most recent arrivals part of it, the latter has been much more active of late. The last of the group is Randall Gooden's The Governor's Pawns: Hostages and Hostage-Taking in Civil War West Virginia.

Civil War students, especially those with a particular interest in the conflict's Border State and guerrilla warfare history, will surely recall incidents of hostage-taking in their reading, but the true scale of the practice is probably more broadly underappreciated. Still, according to Gooden, "it was unique for an individual state government to engage in this practice." His book-length study of the matter "examines the history that led to the taking of political prisoners in western Virginia, the implementation of a hostage law by Virginia’s pro-Union government in 1863, and the adoption of that law by the newly recognized state of West Virginia."

More from the description: "The roots of state hostage-taking took hold prior to the Civil War. Sectional politics between eastern and western Virginia and their local communities, as well as long-standing family rivalries, resulted in the extreme actions of secession and war. Randall Gooden uses genealogical sources to tell the fascinating stories of individuals swept up in the turmoil, including hostages and their captors, freedmen, and government and military officials. Gooden emphasizes the personal nature of civilian arrests and hostage-taking and describes the impact on communities and the families left scarred by this practice."

Sounds interesting.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Booknotes: Through Blood and Fire, revised & expanded edition

New Arrival:
Through Blood and Fire: The Civil War Letters of Major Charles J. Mills, 1862-1865, Revised and Expanded Edition edited by J. Gregory Acken (Kent St UP, 2023).

From the description: "Charles J. Mills, the scion of a wealthy, prominent Boston family, experienced a privileged upbringing and was educated at Harvard University. When the Civil War began, Mills, like many of his college classmates, sought to secure a commission in the army. After a year of unsuccessful attempts, Mills was appointed second lieutenant in the Second Massachusetts Infantry in August 1862; however, he was seriously wounded at Antietam a month later. Following a nearly yearlong recovery, Mills eventually reentered the service as a staff officer, although he remained physically disabled for the rest of his life. He was initially with the Ninth Corps during the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns and later at the Second Corps headquarters."

If you are saying to yourself "hey, I've seen this one before," you would be correct. More from the description: "Compiled, edited, and privately published in a limited edition in 1982 by the late Gregory A. Coco, Through Blood and Fire did not achieve widespread attention and has been out of print for decades. This new edition of the Mills letters, extensively revised and edited by J. Gregory Acken, incorporates additional letters and source material and provides exhaustive annotations and analysis(.)" If you're curious, the Coco edition looks like this.

This new and improved edition retains both the original foreword by Richard Sommers and Coco's preface. I have never read Coco's publication so I can't comment on the differences between the two, but Acken's introduction does provide such information. Scrapping the previous organization of the material, Acken rearranged the Mills letters into shorter, more numerous chapters, adding additional historical context through an introduction and bridging text within each. The maps found in the Coco edition (some of which were hand-drawn) have been redone here by cartographer George Skoch, and some of the original illustrations have been replaced with photographs.

I would imagine that much of the reader/researcher appeal of these letters lies in Major Mills's staff officer experiences and observations. "During his time in the army, Mills served under seven different generals and witnessed some of the most intense fighting of the war. Mills’s letters to his family offer enlightening insights about the Civil War in the East as seen from the perspective of an educated, impressionable, and opinionated Bostonian Brahmin."

Gregory Acken's "revitalizing" edition of Through Blood and Fire makes more widely available an important firsthand account of the 1864-65 campaigns in the East.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Coming Soon (May '23 Edition)

Scheduled for MAY 20231:

Toward a More Perfect Union: The Civil War Letters of Frederic and Elizabeth Lockley ed. by Charles Rankin.
A Wilderness of Destruction: Confederate Guerillas in East and South Florida, 1861-1865 by Zack Waters.
The Civil War Soldier and the Press ed. by Quinn & Sachsman.
Through Blood and Fire: The Civil War Letters of Major Charles J. Mills, 1862-1865 - Revised and Expanded Edition ed. by Gregory Acken (based on 1982 version ed. by Coco).
The Men of the 16th Massachusetts: A Civil War Roster and History by Alden Ellis.
Heartsick and Astonished: Divorce in Civil War-Era West Virginia ed. by Allison Fredette.
The Civil War on the Water: Favorite Stories and Fresh Perspectives from the Historians at Emerging Civil War ed. by Hughes & Mackowski.
Decisions at Franklin: The Nineteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle by Andrew Bledsoe.
Lincoln Illuminated and Remembered by William Harris.
The Pennsylvania Wilds and the Civil War by Kathy Myers.
Hood's Defeat Near Fox's Gap: Prelude to Emancipation by Curtis Older.
"If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania": The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac March to Gettysburg - Volume 2: June 22–30, 1863 by Mingus & Wittenberg.
Northern Duty, Southern Heart: George Proctor Kane's Civil War by Leon Greene.
Without Concealment, Without Compromise: The Courageous Lives of Black Civil War Surgeons by Jill Newmark.
“The Bullets Flew Like Hail”: Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg, from McPherson’s Ridge to Culp’s Hill by James McLean.

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.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Booknotes: Toward a More Perfect Union

New Arrival:
Toward a More Perfect Union: The Civil War Letters of Frederic and Elizabeth Lockley edited by Charles E. Rankin (Univ of Neb Press, 2023).

Preserved at the Huntington Library in California is a very large collection of letters between immigrant New Yorker and Civil War soldier Frederic Lockley and his wife Elizabeth. Over 400 in total, 162 have been selected by editor Charles Rankin for inclusion in his book Toward a More Perfect Union: The Civil War Letters of Frederic and Elizabeth Lockley.

Readers are fortunate to have both sets of letters, a rarity at this scale. These letters "narrate a chronological three-year story, from 1862 to 1865. When Frederic enlisted at thirty-seven, he and Elizabeth promised each other they would write twice a week and, for the most part, they did. These are not average letters. A published author, Frederic was remarkably insightful and articulate and Elizabeth was literate and expressive as well." Born in England, Frederic Lockley was a naturalized US citizen since 1859 when he enlisted in the Union Army, motivated by the desire to preserve the Union but also, as Rankin notes, by generous enlistment bounties and general dissatisfaction with his job as a book salesman.

An older enlistee, Frederic signed on with the 113th New York in the summer of 1862, and five months later the unit was reorganized as the Seventh New York Heavy Artillery regiment. As was the case with so many HA regiments, the Seventh's war was relatively easy going until the stupendous scale of Union losses suffered during the 1864 Overland Campaign drew more and more garrison troops into front line fighting, where many of the new arrivals in turn suffered horrendous casualties at the hands of Lee's grizzled veterans. Fortunately for the Lockley family, Frederic passed through that bloody maelstrom and survived the war.

According to Rankin, love and its reciprocation comprise the strongest theme present in the Lockley letters, but there is also abundant subject matter related to Frederic's military service. More from the description: "Frederic wrote of life in garrison duty in defense of Washington, manning the siege lines at Petersburg, and guarding Union parolees and Confederate prisoners of war. But his letters also show strong ties to home and his need for those ties in order to maintain his own mental and emotional equilibrium in the face of the horrors of war."

Written from the home front, Elizabeth's letters "reflect an urban setting and the perspective of a young, recently married woman who spent much of her time parenting three young children from Frederic’s first marriage. In fact, children and parenting assume a theme in Fred and Lizzie’s correspondence almost as constant and consequential as the war itself."

In putting together what amounts to a nearly 450-page volume, Rankin's editorial contributions are prodigious. In addition to penning a lengthy prologue, Rankin's chapter introductions set the stage for what follows, and he provides further context to the letters through copious bridging narrative. Letters and text are also annotated.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Booknotes: No Place for a Woman

New Arrival:
No Place for a Woman: Harriet Dame's Civil War by Mike Pride (Kent St UP, 2022).

From the description: "In June of 1861, 46-year-old Harriet Patience Dame joined the Second New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry Regiment as a matron." Mike Pride's biography No Place for a Woman: Harriet Dame's Civil War "recounts her dedicated service throughout the Civil War. She camped with the regiment on campaign, nursed its wounded after many major battles, and carried out important wartime missions for her state and the Union cause." Those additional missions included "running a busy soldier-aid agency in Washington, making medical inspection tours for her state's governor, and supervising the kitchen and the nurses at a huge field hospital near the front..." (pg. 8-9). Her public activities related to the Civil War did not end with the war itself. "Late in the 19th century, she battled alongside her friend Dorothea Dix to overcome prejudice against bestowing pensions on women who nursed during the war."

More from the description: No Place for a Woman "traces Harriet Dame’s service as a field nurse with a storied New Hampshire infantry regiment during the Peninsula campaign, Second Bull Run, Gettysburg, and Cold Harbor. Twice during that service, Dame was briefly captured. In early 1863, she spent months running a busy enterprise in Washington, DC, that connected families at home to soldiers in the field. Later, at the behest of New Hampshire’s governor, she traveled south by ship to check on the care of her state’s soldiers in Union hospitals along the coast. She then served as chief nurse and kitchen supervisor at Point of Rocks Hospital near Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters in Virginia. Dame entered Richmond shortly after the Union victory and rejoined her regiment for the occupation of Virginia. After the war, she worked as a clerk in Washington well into her 70s and served as president of the retired war nurses’ organization. She also became a revered figure at annual veterans’ reunions in New Hampshire."

In determining how best to present this biography, Pride "decided the best course was to blend her experiences with those of the soldiers she befriended and helped", believing that "(o)nly by understanding their ordeals, defeats, and triumphs is it possible to comprehend hers." Additionally, those she encountered during her duties "became valuable witnesses to her character and resolve" (pg. 9).

The book "draws on newly discovered letters written by Harriet Dame and includes many rare photographs of the soldiers who knew Dame best, of the nurses and doctors she worked with, and of Dame herself." No Place for a Woman "argues that in length, depth, and breadth of service, it is unlikely that any woman did more for the Union cause than Harriet Dame."

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Booknotes: Letters to Lizzie

New Arrival:
Letters to Lizzie: The Story of Sixteen Men in the Civil War and the One Woman Who Connected Them All edited by James M. Scythes (Kent St UP, 2022).

The sheer number of correspondents involved makes this a highly unusual group of Civil War letters. Edited by historian James Scythes, Letters to Lizzie "contains a collection of letters exchanged between 16 men―15 soldiers and a quartermaster at a military hospital―and one young woman, Lizzie Brick. Since Lizzie herself could not bear arms, she took up her pen and through ongoing correspondence helped these Union soldiers sustain their motivation for the cause."

The exchange is predominantly one between family and friends. As Scythes notes in the preface, two writers were cousins to Lizzie and another an uncle. The rest, except for two individuals, were long-time friends from Lizzie's home town or church. There's quite the variety of perspectives. Friendship, religion, and wartime experiences are common themes in the letters.

From the description: "The men served in 11 different regiments in the Army of the Potomac, and their correspondence reveals unique insights into the connections between home front and battlefront during the Civil War and into the dynamics of male-female friendships in the 19th century. The letters span the entire war, and within them, the soldiers share their opinions about the people of the South, describe their experiences on the battlefield, and voice their frustrations with their commanders and the conduct of the war."

There are 124 letters reproduced in the book, organized into yearly chapters. Scythes establishes background and context in the introduction, and the postwar lives of the survivors are discussed in an epilogue. The great multitude of individuals involved undoubtedly made production of any kind of cohesive bridging narrative unfeasible, but persons, places, and events referenced in the letters are extensively addressed in the volume's explanatory endnotes section.

Letters to Lizzie: The Story of Sixteen Men in the Civil War and the One Woman Who Connected Them All "presents a complex portrait of a young woman during wartime as well as the concerns of soldiers, thus contributing to our understanding of the connections between servicemen and their communities and the role that women played during the Civil War in sustaining these relationships."

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Review - " Small but Important Riots: The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville " by Robert O'Neill

[Small but Important Riots: The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville by Robert F. O'Neill (Potomac Books, 2023). Hardcover, 18 maps, photos, illustrations, appendix section, endnotes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xix,228/338. ISBN:978-1-64012-547-6. $36.95]

The June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station is often heralded as a major turning point in the fighting force development of the previously much-maligned Union cavalry arm of the eastern theater. Much of this rise toward parity was achieved under the oversight of Major General Alfred Pleasonton, who was selected to head the Army of the Potomac's cavalry corps after the Chancellorsville debacle. Even though Major General J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry shrugged off the initial surprise, held the field at the end of the day, and inflicted casualties on their Union opponents at a ratio of two to one, vocal elements of the southern newspaper press and critics within the army judged Stuart's mixed performance at Brandy Station very harshly. Criticism of Pleasonton was muted by comparison, with Union observers instead mostly emphasizing how well his subordinates and their men fought during the battle. However, scarcely more than a week later, a new series of cavalry clashes would quickly put Brandy Station in the rearview mirror.

An incisive chronicling and analysis of those events, Robert O'Neill's Small but Important Riots puts forth a very strong argument that the Loudoun Valley cavalry fights at Aldie (June 17), Middleburg (June 17 and 19), and Upperville (June 21), though collectively far less appreciated in the historiography than Brandy Station has been, were every bit as significant contributors to Union ascendancy in mounted warfare. Though Stuart's delaying actions succeeded in keeping probing enemy eyes east of the Blue Ridge Mountain gaps and away from observing the Army of Northern Virginia's march down the Shenandoah Valley, Pleasonton's horse soldiers gave the Confederates all they could handle, driving them across the valley from east to west and into the sheltering arms of Lieutenant General James Longstreet's First Corps artillery at Ashby's Gap. Accustomed to better results, many of Stuart's roughly-handled men were stung by their experiences during the small but ferocious sequence of running fights between Aldie and Ashby's Gap. On the other hand, their Union opponents, though battered themselves on numerous occasions, received another significant injection of self-confidence. Overall, June 1863 was a pretty good month for the Union cavalry in the East.

O'Neill paints a convincing portrait of confusion and odd duplicity within the Union high command's internal communications and their response to the early stages of Lee's movement north. Telegrams between Army of the Potomac commander Joseph Hooker and General in Chief Henry Halleck in Washington were highly illustrative of that dissonance. With the positions of Lee's army corps unknown, Halleck, undoubtedly hounded by the administration for better information, pressed Hooker to send out strong reconnaissance forces to positively locate the Army of Northern Virginia. Hooker informed his superior that he was doing so but at the same time paradoxically kept his cavalry close by and on a very tight leash. Fearing that Lee's army might descend upon his own through the Bull Run mountain gaps, Hooker wanted Pleasonton to send out small scouting forces into the Loudoun Valley while keeping the great bulk of his cavalry command massed east of the Bull Run mountains as a screen for the Union army's main body. In turn, a frustrated Pleasonton chomped at the bit. On the 17th, he defied Hooker's instructions and committed larger formations into the valley, where they promptly met Stuart's men in battle.

In the book, events between the 17th and 21st are covered in great detail, aided by eighteen original maps of varying scale. Even though Stuart's men blocked the initial Union advance into the valley during the sharp fight at Aldie on the 17th, that same day a federal reconnaissance mission consisting of a single regiment led by Col. Alfred Duffie struck the Confederate rear at Middleburg, where Stuart had established his headquarters. Duffie's command was quickly run down and destroyed, but that troubling development behind his forward screen led Stuart to recall the units at Aldie. On the 19th, Pleasonton, advancing from two directions, aggressively pushed Stuart's men off the high ground west of Middleburg. Two days later the bluejackets struck again, this time with infantry assistance part of the way, at Goose Creek, along Trappe Road north of Upperville, and at Vineyard Hill on the direct road to Ashby's Gap. Unfortunately for Pleasonton and his mission, the hard fighting on the 21st burned all the daylight and the gap itself could not be breached.

Aided by many firsthand accounts uncovered through his decades of research, O'Neill really captures vividly and well the character, very different from infantry fighting, of Civil War cavalry combat, both mounted and dismounted. Numerous incidents described in the text were of a swirling, hand-to-hand nature, and it is made very clear how the environmental particulars of the Loudoun Valley shaped the course of battle. O'Neill's narrative meticulously traces how and where the movements and deployments of both sides were repeatedly challenged by terrain decidedly unfriendly to cavalry. The hilly countryside, large patches of soft ground, and creeks running at seasonal highs made things difficult enough, but the seemingly endless network of high, thick stone walls lining roads, farm lanes, and property lines was deeply disruptive, especially to mounted maneuvers and formations. One might reasonably have expected that the walls would greatly aid the defense, but, on several occasions, Union superiority in horse artillery weight and numbers seems to have greatly mitigated that and other terrain disadvantages. Additionally, since the opposing forces was constantly on the move between the 17th and 21st, Union cavalry on the attack and the Confederates employing a mobile defense in depth, the blocking and channeling effects the stout walls had on movements were really equally troublesome to both sides.

Generally speaking, the historiography does not regard Alfred Pleasonton very highly as a fighting general. Today, he is recognized more for selecting and promoting capable young officers who would emerge as top leaders later on in the war than he is for any particularly notable impact in the field. Evidenced by what happened in Loudoun Valley in June 1863, O'Neill argues for a greater appreciation of Pleasonton's generalship. Though he did ultimately fail to achieve his principal objective of penetrating the enemy's Blue Ridge mountain screen and discovering the locations of Lee's columns, Pleasonton's leadership of his improved corps in Loudoun Valley demonstrated yet again that Union cavalry were now fully capable of equaling or bettering their foes with carbine, pistol, or saber. That further solidification of earlier promise boded well for the future. In light of the event timeline documented in the book, when one takes into account Hooker's direct communications (formal and informal) with Pleasonton and the bad faith exchanges between Hooker and his superiors in Washington that were referenced earlier, it becomes clear that the inability of Union intelligence gathering to directly observe Lee's army was not a principal fault of Pleasonton's performance of his duties. Indeed, as O'Neill muses, one wonders what more might have been accomplished had Hooker not waited until June 20-21 before fully releasing the tight restraints he had previously placed on Pleasonton's forces. As the author also notes, Pleasonton's clearing of Loudoun Valley (though Stuart would soon return) did finally relieve General Hooker's anxiety over the possibility that Lee's army might emerge from the Bull Run mountain gaps to yet again strike the Army of the Potomac's flank and rear.

Decades ago, H.E. Howard's Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders series (its volumes now long out of print) provided Civil War readers with a number of truly landmark histories. One of those was O'Neill's The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville: Small But Important Riots, June 10-27, 1863. Not having a basis for comparison (I've neither read the earlier version nor own a copy of it), this review will have to rely on the author's own words regarding the differences between the 1993 and 2023 editions. If you own the older Howard series title and are wondering if it is worth it to pick this one up as well, the author explains that 2023's Small but Important Riots is "new in every respect," with thirty years of additional research leading him to "reconsider the judgments and conclusions" reached long ago. In addition to correcting "errors, timeworn assumptions and interpretations," this fresh version offers "new explanations and conclusions" (pg. xi).

In addition to providing an exemplary historical account of a series of sharply contested cavalry actions fought during the early stages of the Gettysburg Campaign, Robert O'Neill's Small but Important Riots: The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville is unquestionably indispensable to any meaningful discussion of the mid-war evolution of the Union mounted arm in the East. Highly recommended.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Booknotes: Weapons of the Civil War Cavalryman

New Arrival:
Weapons of the Civil War Cavalryman by John Walter (Osprey Pub, 2020).

From the description: "During the American Civil War, the mounted soldiers fighting on both sides of the conflict carried a wide array of weapons, from sabers and lances to carbines, revolvers, and other firearms. Though some sections of the cavalry placed their trust in the sabre, the advent of viable breechloading carbines--especially repeaters such as the Spencer--was to transform warfare within little more than a decade of General Lee's final surrender at Appomattox.

However, output struggled to keep up with unprecedented demands on manufacturing technology and distribution in areas where communication was difficult and in states whose primary aim was to equip their own men rather than contribute to the arming of Federal or Confederate regiments. In addition, the almost unparalleled losses of men and equipment ensured that almost any firearm, effectual or not, was pressed into service. Consequently, the sheer variety of weaponry carried reflected the mounted soldiers' various roles in different theaters of operation, but also the availability--or otherwise--of weapons, notably on the Confederate side.

Using text generously augmented through high-res color photography, Volume 75 of Osprey's Weapon series, John Walter's Weapons of the Civil War Cavalryman, surveys a large selection of breechloading carbines, pistols, and edged weapons. The carbine sections helpfully include select lists of regiments that were armed (in full or in part) with the weapon. Also detailed are production dates and numbers, specific model design features, broad assessments of design and performance strengths and weaknesses, and end-user reactions to them. There is much more gun mechanism and part jargon in this title's text than there is in the series volume (#56) covering Civil War sharpshooting rifles. Greatest emphasis is placed on domestic production, but some imported models, mostly from Britain and France, are also highlighted.

The "Use" section delves into organization, tactics, and the integral roles these weapons played in both regular and irregular ACW warfare. The "Impact" section very briefly discusses Civil War era debates (and beyond) surrounding the most suitable cavalry weapon types for mounted charges, ranged firing, and close combat.

More from the description: "Fully illustrated, this study assesses the effectiveness of the many different weapons arming the Civil War cavalryman and analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the decisions made after 1865 concerning the armament of the US cavalry."

Friday, April 14, 2023

Booknotes: American Catholics and the Quest for Equality in the Civil War Era

New Arrival:
American Catholics and the Quest for Equality in the Civil War Era by Robert Emmett Curran (LSU Press, 2023).

A pair of sectional studies of Civil War-era Catholics were recently published, William Kurtz's northern-focused Excommunicated from the Union: How the Civil War Created a Separate Catholic America (2015) and Gracjan Kraszewski's Catholic Confederates: Faith and Duty in the Civil War South (2020). As important and well received as those two specialized works have been, the sweep of Robert Emmett Curran's American Catholics and the Quest for Equality in the Civil War Era is more inclusively broad.

From the description: Curran's study "of American Catholicism in the Civil War era is the first comprehensive history of Roman Catholics in the North and South before, during, and after the war." The period covered in the book is roughly from the war with Mexico through the end of Reconstruction. Curran also seeks to integrate all Catholic groups into his narrative. More: "Curran provides an in-depth look at how the momentous developments of these decades affected the entire Catholic community, including Black and indigenous Americans. He also explores the ways that Catholics contributed to the reshaping of a nation that was testing the fundamental proposition of equality set down by its founders."

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Review - " Decisions at Shiloh: The Twenty-Two Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle " by Dave Powell

[Decisions at Shiloh: The Twenty-Two Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle by Dave Powell (University of Tennessee Press, 2023). Softcover, 8 maps, 12 photographs, appendix section, endnotes, bibliography, index. Pages:xiii,227. ISBN:978-1-62190-752-7. $29.95]

Many questions surrounding the April 6-7, 1862 Battle of Shiloh, which shocked the nation with its unprecedented casualties, linger to this day. In addition to condemning Army of the Tennessee commander U.S. Grant for lax security that enabled his encampment to be surprised on the 6th, critics of Union leadership, then and now, have often asked why the army was not entrenched (or at least systematically arranged for defense) and why Grant did not establish his headquarters with his army at Pittsburg Landing. Why the division of General Lew Wallace did not manage to reach the battlefield before the close of the first day's fighting and whether the arrival of General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio "saved" Grant's army are other sources of vigorous, unending debate. On the other side, many Confederate partisans, along with some prominent later historians, have contended that the Confederate army would have triumphed on April 6 had its commander, General Albert Sidney Johnston, not been killed that day. It has also been argued that, even with Johnston's untimely death, the Confederates would still have won a complete victory had Johnston's replacement, P.G.T. Beauregard, not canceled the final attack of day, instead pulling back his army to rest overnight in full expectation that the killing blow would be landed on the morrow. These thorny issues and more are addressed in David Powell's Decisions at Shiloh: The Twenty-Two Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle.

With University of Tennessee Press's Command Decisions in America’s Civil War series already comprised of well over a dozen titles (and many more on the way), the format is well established. As series designer Matt Spruill defined the term in the first volume, a "critical decision" is one of "of such magnitude that it shapes not only the events immediately following, but also the campaign or battle thereafter." Such critical decisions can be related to strategy, operations, tactics, organization, logistics, and personnel selection. Powell's twenty-two critical decisions for Shiloh are grouped into five campaign and battle periods: "Before the Battle" (8 decisions); "Morning, April 6" (5 decisions); Afternoon, April 6" (3 decisions); "Afternoon and Evening, April 6" (3 decisions); and "April 7 and Beyond" (3 decisions). The front-weighted nature of the critical decision pool sagely selected by the author reveals much about how contingent it was (on several levels) that the battle would be fought at all. The critical impact of early decisions on the course of the battle is also insightfully revealed.

For each critical decision, analysis unfolds in the following sequence: Situation, Options, Decision, and Result/Impact. Situation describes the state of affairs at key crossroads moments before, during, and after the battle. That element provides readers with the background context necessary to recognize and evaluate the decision Options (in this volume, two to three in number) that immediately follow. The historical Decision made by the leader is then outlined before the ensuing Result/Impact section recounts what happened and how those events shaped the rest of the battle and beyond. In a minor departure, Powell integrates alternative history conjecture based on choices not made (material usually found in a separate Alternate Decision/Scenario section) into the other elements, and he does it in seamless fashion. Powell also strips down the tour section of the book without detriment, excising the series-standard official reports while still effectually employing the staff ride approach to analyzing terrain and leadership decision-making. The only real complaint is with the relative dearth of maps, of which there are only eight. This is not an issue that has arisen with this installment in particular but rather has been a declining trend (likely cost related) of the series as a whole, the first two volumes of which contained rich collections of 26 and 41 maps, respectively.

At one time Powell was actively exploring the possibility of writing a Shiloh campaign history of his own, and he incorporates a hefty amount of his primary source research (including extensive archival materials) into this volume. In terms of properly contextualizing each situation, selecting and articulating the options reasonably available to the decision-maker, and discussing the historical decision and its impact, Powell's deeply informed work in those areas unquestionably ranks among the very best in the series. In equally strong fashion, Powell, with clear attribution, folds into his own analytical process many of the most persuasive interpretive arguments found in the modern literature. For example, recent publications from Gail Stephens and Timothy Smith (one might also add similar conclusions from the book-length studies of Charles Beemer and Christopher Mortenson) regarding Lew Wallace's mindset and actions on both days, forcefully argue for a greater appreciation of how much that general's actions on the Union right on April 7 shaped and enhanced the successful Grant-Buell counteroffensive. On that day, Wallace's division, its advance alleged by some to have been timid (as evidenced by the light casualties suffered), repeatedly dislocated the Confederate left without resorting to costly frontal attacks. Smith, the author of the most recent and best overall treatment of the Shiloh battle, influences Powell's perspective in numerous other places, including the frequently underappreciated impact of the April 6 midday counterattack by Sherman and McClernand. Temporary as it was, that unexpected forward movement bought precious time for later, and more celebrated, federal defensive stands (such as the Sunken Road position and Grant's "Final Line") to be formed. Powell also closely agrees with Smith that Johnston's initiation of his army's grand wheel to the northwest, one of the Confederate commander's most critical battlefield decisions, was launched prematurely, well before the Union left was fully developed. Instead of beginning the planned hammer blow aimed at separating Grant's army from Pittsburg Landing, the movement only deepened the disruption of the Confederate army's already rapidly fragmenting battle line. In line with today's more sober assessments of what was possible for the Confederates to achieve by the late afternoon and evening of April 6, Powell finds fault with Beauregard not for calling off the attack at that time but rather for failing to prepare his army for the next day's fight. Of course, these are just a few of the topics explored among the nearly two-dozen leadership decisions examined in the book.

The ultimate goal of the series to which this book belongs is to direct attention toward the "decisions that prefigured the action and shaped the contest as it unfolded," leaving readers "with a vivid blueprint of the battle’s developments" and "why they happened as they did." Powell's efforts meet those requirements exceptionally well. The evenhanded manner in which he presents the strengths and weaknesses of the differing viewpoints attached to major contemporary controversies and subsequent historiographical focal points alike, inviting informed discussion rather than simply promoting a "correct" interpretation dismissive of the others, is refreshing. This volume is both an excellent addition to the Shiloh bookshelf and one of the very best entries in the Command Decisions in America’s Civil War series. Highly recommended.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Booknotes: John Brown's Raid

New Arrival:
John Brown's Raid: Harpers Ferry and the Coming of the Civil War, October 16-18, 1859 by Jon-Erik M. Gilot & Kevin R. Pawlak (Savas Beatie, 2023).

Preceding the momentous 1860 presidential election by just over a year, John Brown's raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry was a defining moment on the nation's quickening path toward secession and Civil War. Of course, numerous books and articles have been published about Brown's failed insurrection, his subsequent trial and execution, and the meaning of it all. The latest installment of the ECW series, Jon-Erik Gilot and Kevin Pawlak's John Brown's Raid: Harpers Ferry and the Coming of the Civil War, October 16-18, 1859, revisits those topics and events.

The volume covers the entire story from Brown's abolitionist origins through the nation's sectionally divided response to Brown's failed attempt at instigating a violent slave uprising in Virginia and beyond. In between, the events of the raid itself are recounted in some detail, from planning through suppression, and an additional chapter covers Brown's trial and execution. Supporting the text are eight maps,  numerous photographs (period and modern), and other illustrations.

Two raid-related tours, a walking tour of Harpers Ferry's lower town and a driving tour of sites from the surrounding area (including Charles Town/Charlestown, where Brown was jailed, tried, and executed), can be found in the appendix section. Another appendix contains photos and capsule biographies of Brown's raiders, their stories and fates often overshadowed by those of Brown and his sons. Finally, a suggested reading list is provided for those seeking to explore Brown-related topics at greater depth. Though it looks like they haven't added it yet, footnotes will be available at the ECW digital repository.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Booknotes: Battle of Gettysburg 1863 (1)

New Arrival:
The Battle of Gettysburg 1863 (1): The First Day by Timothy J. Orr (Osprey Pub, 2022).

Many years ago, Osprey put out another three-volume examination of the Battle of Gettysburg. I believe that Day 1-3 set was part of the publisher's Order of Battle series. A fresh revisit, Timothy Orr's The Battle of Gettysburg 1863 (1): The First Day is Campaign series #374, and its Day 2 follow-up, scheduled for a June '23 release, is already near at hand.

As mentioned in a recent post, Campaign series books follow a set format, all designed to fit into 96 pages of illustrated content. Chapters discuss campaign origins, an event chronology, and pre-battle background information. Summaries of opposing armies, commanders, and plans are then followed by a concise history of the featured battle. A preservation section completes the text.

From the description: "Much of the narrative describes the tactical play-by-play, the customary 'who did what' of the battle, but it also gives special emphasis to identifying the critical decisions of July 1 and explains why the commanders committed to them." It "also emphasizes the experience of combat as witnessed by the rank and file-the 'face of battle'-to borrow John Keegan's expression. Primary accounts from common soldiers remind readers that Gettysburg was-first and foremost-a soldier's battle, full of raw emotion."

In this entry, numerous maps support the narrative of First Day actions from the initial skirmish west of Gettysburg through the Union retreat to Cemetery Hill and nightfall. These include both conventional, full-color maps (at regimental scale) and painted cartography emphasizing underlying terrain. Photographs and original artwork depicting dramatic scenes from the battle's first day are also included.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Review - " More Than Just Grit: Civil War Leadership, Logistics and Teamwork in the West, 1862 " by Richard Zimmermann

[More Than Just Grit: Civil War Leadership, Logistics and Teamwork in the West, 1862 by Richard J. Zimmermann (McFarland, 2023). Softcover, maps, photos, drawings, charts, tables, appendix section, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:vii,176/216. ISBN:978-1-4766-8871-8. $39.95]

By any measure, 1862 was a catastrophic year for Confederate military fortunes in the West and Trans-Mississippi. While one should hesitate to argue that those events collectively rendered ultimate defeat inevitable, it is beyond contention that the extent of losses in manpower, territory, and resources suffered during the period rendered any further margin for error razor thin. Additionally, the defeats of 1862 clearly exposed deep flaws in leadership and strategy that would have to be ruthlessly addressed if the Confederate West was going to have any hope of reducing, let alone stopping, the hemorrhaging of the rebel nation's lifeblood. With the battlefield strength of Union and Confederate armies more evenly matched in 1862 than they were in any subsequent year, the question arises as to why the former was so successful in the West and the latter, conversely, so very unsuccessful. Creatively supplying a verifiable and repeatable framework through which that question can be addressed is Richard Zimmermann's More Than Just Grit: Civil War Leadership, Logistics and Teamwork in the West, 1862.

Recalling Union-Confederate symmetries in leadership selection, military culture, morale, training, tactics, and weapons (readers might remember work from Wayne Hsieh and others on those topics), Zimmermann attempts to arrive at more convincingly measurable factors through which to explain winning and losing. In connection to that, the author also rejects applying the concept of military "genius," or even tactical-level generalship itself, as being too subjective to offer meaningful, pattern-based conclusions. Leadership is a key part of the book's analysis, of course, but the focus is on other elements of it. Zimmermann anticipates materiel-based objections from readers regarding what effect modern weapon disparities might have had. He recognizes that early-year battlefield conditions created problems with, for example, flintlock-armed Confederate regiments but remains unconvinced that it played a major role in winning and losing. It is also argued that the opposing sides deployed antiquated artillery types in similarly large enough proportions for that factor to be discounted as a major influence, too. As outlined in an appendix, Union artillery forces in the West were rapidly modernized beginning in 1862, but the most significant effects of that improvement process (which was completely unmatched in scale by the struggling Confederates) were, in the author's view, primarily borne out during the western war's second half.

After reviewing lists of common principles of war and other aspects of what went into winning or losing Civil War battles, Zimmermann eventually arrived at a pared-down analytical framework, all six parts of which he feels are both a major part of every battle and, just as important, factors that can be reasonably measured in some consistent manner. Thoroughly explained in the book, the six key elements can be summarized here as follows: [1] objective (the more successful side is the one that receives "clear and attainable" objectives from the civilian leadership and is able to meet them; [2] initiative (regardless of which side strikes hardest first, the successful general is the one who can seize the initiative during the closing stages of the battle; [3] command unity (the more successful general is the one who receives the greatest level of support and cooperation from his principal subordinates); [4] staff effectiveness (the successful general has a staff that manages army communications and logistics more efficiently than his opponent); [5] resource commitment (the most successful general uses all of his available resources and deploys them at the right moment in time); and [6] strategic result (the most successful generals are able to convert victories on the battlefield into strategic outcomes).

The six-part analysis is applied to nine battles (Mill Springs, Forts Henry & Donelson, Shiloh, Richmond, Perryville, Corinth, and Stones River in the West and Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove in the Trans-Mississippi), a chapter being devoted to each. Chapters are comprised of background context and battle narrative sections (descriptive in nature, with some commentary) followed by critical analysis based on the six elemental concepts outlined above. In many cases, arguments formulated in one chapter inform and build upon those subsequently raised in others. Some other battles, such as the contest for New Orleans, are not afforded the same full treatment and are collectively addressed in a single chapter. Text discussion is supported by schematic maps along with command and staff flow charts for both sides. Each battle chapter ends with a table that graphically summarizes how the leadership of both sides handled each of the six "elements of victory." Rather than offer a sliding scale for each commanding general's performance, Zimmermann applies in its stead a simplified "achieved" or "not achieved" rating. The author is fully cognizant that expressing such ratings in a completely reductive yes/no fashion will lead to a greater number of disagreements with his readers, but his contention that inevitable points of dissent here and there will not alter the overall effect is largely borne out in the frequently lop-sided results presented. For example, it is not uncommon to find Union forces garnering "achieved" ratings and the Confederate opponent "not achieved" for all six elements, or close to it.

Clear patterns emerge from the analysis. There are exceptions, of course, but on the whole Union forces profoundly overmatched their Confederate opponents with it came to the ability of their leaders to formulate clear and realistic objectives, achieve high command harmony (even when challenged through interpersonal and professional differences), harness all available resources, and employ more efficient and effective army staffs. Indeed, the emphasis on army-level staff work is perhaps the most interesting and forceful of the book's comparative analysis features. Both sides appointed staff officers of varying military and civilian world backgrounds, but Zimmermann, much like Thomas Army before him, believes that the North's wider and deeper pool of skilled technicians and managers was a major comparative advantage. One might expect that strategic outcome would rank among the most difficult elements to achieve, and Zimmermann's analysis seems to bear that out. There is a correlation between the number of "achieved" ratings (along with corresponding "not achieved" ratings on the other side) and the scope of the battlefield victory, but strategic outcome is more elusive. Zimmermann resists the temptation to rank the six elements in terms of their relative importance, and that hesitancy strikes one as being well placed. The author does hint, or at least seems to, that his elemental framework might need to evolve further as the character of the war itself evolved (for example, between 1862 and 1864), and that possibility is an interesting one to contemplate.

Why Civil War campaigns and battles were won or lost will always be a source of vigorous debate, and Richard Zimmermann's More Than Just Grit is a freshly framed, consistently interesting, and astutely argued addition to the discussion. In providing a theater-wide focus on one of the war's most critical intervals, the study also effectively highlights a number of factors that contributed to contrasting fortunes between East and West for both sides.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Booknotes: Sand, Science, and the Civil War

New Arrival:
Sand, Science, and the Civil War: Sedimentary Geology and Combat by Scott Hippensteel (UGA Press, 2023).

With his first two Civil War books well off the beaten path, one a unique take on mythmaking and the other a broad examination of the impact of various rock formations on campaigns and battles, Scott Hippensteel has emerged as one of the more interesting new authors in the field. He takes on another fresh topic in his latest book Sand, Science, and the Civil War: Sedimentary Geology and Combat, which argues that "(s)edimentary geology influenced everything from the nature of the landscape (flat vs. rolling terrain) to the effectiveness of the weapons (a single grain of sand can render a rifle musket as useless as a club)."

Complementing and greatly expanding upon his earlier work in Rocks and Rifles that explored the battlefield impact of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rock formations, Hippensteel's new study "investigates the role of sedimentary geology on the campaigns and battles of the Civil War on multiple scales, with a special emphasis on the fighting along the coastlines."

More from the description: "At the start of the Civil War the massive brick citadels guarding key coastal harbors and shipyards were thought to be invincible to artillery attack. The Union bombardment of Savannah’s key defensive fortification, Fort Pulaski, demonstrated the vulnerability of this type of fortress to the new rifled artillery available to the Union; Fort Pulaski surrendered within a day. When the Union later tried to capture the temporary sand fortifications of Battery Wagner (protecting Charleston) and Fort Fisher (protecting Wilmington) they employed similar tactics but with disastrous results. The value of sand in defensive positions vastly minimized the Federal advantage in artillery, making these coastal strongpoints especially costly to capture."

While the book's geographical focus is centered on Virginia's coastal plain and Carolinas coastal fortifications, Mississippi River Valley geology is also explored (particularly in the context of the Vicksburg Campaign). In addition to extensive coverage of sedimentary geology's association with fortifications, other topics such as logistics, transportation, even soldier morale enter into the discussion. The volume strongly promotes geology as a useful tool for studying Civil War history.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Booknotes: Abraham Lincoln and the Bible

New Arrival:
Abraham Lincoln and the Bible: A Complete Compendium by Gordon Leidner (SIU Press, 2023).

While it is clear that Abraham Lincoln did not adhere to organized religious dogma, it is equally clear that his personal and political outlook was influenced by direct biblical reading. However, the extent to which scriptural understanding/interpretation guided Lincoln's thoughts and actions is still a source of debate.

From the description: "Historian Gordon Leidner believes the impact was profound—more than previously recognized—and has investigated all the known writings of Abraham Lincoln to identify, catalog, and study every instance in which Lincoln quoted from or alluded to the Bible. Rather than dwelling on the never-ending debate about Lincoln’s religious beliefs, Leidner shows how scripture affected Lincoln personally, professionally, and politically."

Leidner's Abraham Lincoln and the Bible: A Complete Compendium "offers first a short biography that focuses on Lincoln’s use of the Bible, how it shaped him as a person, how its influence changed over time, and how biblical quotations peppered his letters, speeches, and conversations." Organized into ten chapters, this material runs roughly 150 pages.

Another fifty pages is devoted to the author's reference guide to Lincoln quotes influenced by biblical passages. This "unparalleled appendix that tabulates nearly 200 instances of Lincoln’s quoting from or alluding to scripture, giving locators for the Bible and Roy P. Basler’s nine volume Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln and quotations from both sources. The appendix also includes when and where Lincoln used each quote, providing valuable context, whether the use was in personal letters such as one to Queen Victoria after the death of Prince Albert, political speeches such as the Gettysburg Address, or state addresses such as the Second Inaugural Address."

Through this study and compendium, Leidner "reframes the question of Lincoln’s religious beliefs so that readers may evaluate for themselves what solace and guidance the Bible afforded the sixteenth president."

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Booknotes: Sharpshooting Rifles of the American Civil War

New Arrival:
Sharpshooting Rifles of the American Civil War: Colt, Sharps, Spencer, and Whitworth by Martin Pegler (Osprey Pub, 2017).

From the description: "At the outset of the American Civil War, the wealthy inventor and expert shot Hiram Berdan initiated the setting-up of sharpshooting units in the Union Army; these units would be tasked primarily with open-order skirmishing, but also with long-range, accurate shooting. Initially, it was envisaged that the M1855 Colt revolving rifle would be the weapon employed by these specialists. Available in .36, .44, and .56 caliber, the M1855 swiftly earned a poor reputation, however, as it was prone to a malfunction known as “chain fire,” in which powder in all the unfired chambers would be ignited, seriously injuring the shooter." Sometimes I wonder, given that the weapon continued to be used, how truly "prone" the weapon was to chain fire. Perhaps that is addressed in the book.

More from the description: "Instead," as explained in Martin Pegler's Sharpshooting Rifles of the American Civil War: Colt, Sharps, Spencer, and Whitworth (part of Osprey's Weapon series), "the North's sharpshooters preferred the Sharps rifle, an innovative breech-loading weapon employing a falling-block action. It had double-set triggers, aiding accuracy, and could fire up to ten shots per minute--more than three times the rate of fire offered by the standard-issue Springfield .58-caliber rifled musket. The Sharps was very expensive, though, and military planners believed it would encourage soldiers to waste ammunition. After a prolonged fight with the Ordnance Department, however, Berdan succeeded in procuring Sharps rifles for his men. Other Union sharpshooters were equipped with the standard-issue Springfield rifled musket, the .56-56-caliber Spencer Repeating Rifle--a lever-action weapon with a seven-round tube magazine--or “target rifles,” basically sporting rifles repurposed for military use."

Not having the same range of modern offerings available, "the Confederacy favored the Pattern 1853 Enfield rifled musket for its sharpshooters; the South also imported from Britain quantities of the Whitworth Rifle, a .45-caliber, single-shot, muzzle-loading weapon distinguished by its use of a twisted hexagonal barrel. More prone to fouling and slower-firing than the standard-issue rifled musket, the Whitworth offered impressive long-range accuracy; its hexagonal bullets made a distinctive whistling noise in flight."

The book discusses more than just the four shoulder arms featured in the subtitle. In addition to covering other weapons, the development, training, use, and impact of sharpshooting arms and tactics are explained. There's even a section on modern test firing. As is the case with other Osprey offerings, you get a lot of photographs, original artwork, and illustrations of all kinds in support of the text.