Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Review - " “The Bullets Flew Like Hail”: Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg, from McPherson’s Ridge to Culp’s Hill " by James McLean

[“The Bullets Flew Like Hail”: Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg, from McPherson’s Ridge to Culp’s Hill by James L. McLean, Jr. (Savas Beatie, 2023). Hardcover, 26 maps, photos, footnotes, appendix section, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xix,160/239. ISBN:978-1-61121-667-7. $32.95]

As we all know by now, ultimate Union victory at Gettysburg was heavily contingent upon the ability of their advance forces on July 1, 1863 to delay Confederate advances north and west of town and secure the high ground south of it as a defensive linchpin and gathering point for the Army of the Potomac. A good deal responsible for that success, Brig. Gen. John Buford's cavalry division and Brig. Gen. Solomon Meredith's Iron Brigade have been repeatedly singled out for their actions west of Gettysburg on that day. However, the second-to-none battlefield heroics of the other infantry brigade in the First Division of First Corps are equally deserving of recognition.

The first infantry of the Army of the Potomac to arrive at the firing line on the morning of July 1, Brig. Gen. Lysander Cutler's brigade (76th, 95th, and 147th NY, 14th NYSM/Brooklyn, 56th PA, and 7th IN regiments, the last pulling train guard duty) promptly relieved Buford's hard-pressed troopers and instantly stabilized the fighting front for a brief but critical period. In maintaining ridge-top defensive positions west of Gettysburg and partnering with the Iron Brigade there and at the famous "Railroad Cut," Cutler's men badly battered their Confederate opponents while suffering frightful losses of their own. Eventually forced to yield on all fronts, Union forces funneled through the streets of Gettysburg and hurriedly carved out new defensive positions on and around Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill. Reduced to mere shadows of their former strength, the regiments of Cutler's brigade might have expected to be placed in reserve for the rest of the battle. Instead, they were pressed into more heavy combat over the succeeding two days during which they again distinguished themselves in pivotal front line action. The key contributions of Cutler and his men to Union victory in the war's most iconic battle are meticulously recounted in James McLean's “The Bullets Flew Like Hail”: Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg, from McPherson’s Ridge to Culp’s Hill.

The core narrative of McLean's brigade study has a long history. Initially released in a tiny press run through the author's own company, Butternut & Blue, in 1987, a revised second printing was released in 1994. With more professional presentation and cartography, along with a bibliography the author estimates as 70% larger in size (the majority of the additions being primary sources), the second B&B edition was a major leap forward in style, content, and value. Inevitably, that edition also fell out of print, the combination of scarcity and sought-after status leading it to command stiff prices on the secondary market. Now, thanks to the author and publisher Savas Beatie, upgraders and new readers alike now have ready access to a fresh edition. It is too often the case that revised and/or expanded edition claimants are coy when it comes to fully informing prospective readers about the scale of the enhancements, but McLean, through his prefaces to the various editions (all reproduced in this latest volume), is very upfront about the matter, entering into a number of specifics. According to the author, the SB edition fixes printing mistakes, realigns the footnotes with the publisher's style, corrects errors, updates interpretations, and adds new material. The maps accompanying this brigade study have also evolved between editions, from McLean's own hand-drawn efforts, to Blake Magner's professional replacements, to Mike Priest's newest versions. Busy in the best of ways, Priest's tactical maps exhibit all of the terrain and regimental-level unit details that today's readers expect to find in books of this type.

While the opening sections of the book briefly explore the backgrounds of Cutler's regiments and of the general himself, the volume's central purpose is to provide a small-unit, tactical-scale description and analysis of the brigade's entire Gettysburg experience. Richly enhanced through eyewitness and participant accounts, McLean's brigade narrative traces the activities of Cutler's regiments during the march to Gettysburg, the fighting west of the town, the retreat to Cemetery Hill, and the July 2-3 defense of Culp's Hill. Multi-level leadership decisions along with unit movements and positions are all expertly presented and skillfully integrated into a smooth-flowing account that's very easy to follow. As referenced earlier, invaluable assistance is provided by the book's more than two-dozen excellent maps.

Gains of recent decades, which include a multitude of modern-style, micro-tactical histories of each day's fighting on every sector of the Gettysburg battlefield along with a grand host of impressively researched and designed board and computer simulations, have elevated our understanding (including that of the role played by Cutler's brigade) far beyond what was commonly known back in 1987 when McLean self-published the first edition of this study. The beneficiaries of those gains, today's well-read individuals will likely encounter this new edition already possessing a detailed and fairly strong appreciation of the contributions of Cutler's regiments, but McLean's tireless work continues to reshape awareness. Even now, McLean insists that popular misconceptions remain.

In addition to reclarifying which infantry units were first in the fight at Gettysburg, McLean's ongoing study has also built up over time a strong case that elements of both brigades (Cutler's and Meredith's) of Wadworth's division deserve credit for initiating and carrying out the movement that so dramatically turned the tables on the Confederates at the Railroad Cut on July 1. In reference to the fighting at Culp's Hill, the achievements of Brig. Gen. George Sears Greene's brigade remain first in the minds of every Gettysburg enthusiast, but McLean effectively argues that Cutler's brigade was indispensable in helping Greene hold that key position on the Union right against determined enemy assaults. In the midst of writing a multi-volume history of the 14th Brooklyn, McLean points with particular interest to places where he feels Gettysburg scholars continue to underappreciate the battlefield leadership and heroics of that regiment.

Part of a small club of which membership was not necessarily coveted, Lysander Cutler's brigade was involved in bitterly fought and heavily consequential actions at Gettysburg on all three days and was one of only a handful of Union and Confederate brigades that suffered more than a thousand casualties. McLean's study represents the preeminent chronicling of the achievements and sacrifices that produced that sublime yet devastating result, and McLean himself, through his ongoing research and writing, remains the individual most responsible for securing the Gettysburg legacy of Cutler and his men.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Booknotes: Northern Duty, Southern Heart

New Arrival:
Northern Duty, Southern Heart: George Proctor Kane's Civil War by H. Leon Greene (McFarland, 2023).

Maryland's George Kane remains one of the poster boys of Border State divided loyalties, and opinions, then and now, regarding his actions and character run the gamut. His life story is the subject of Leon Green's Northern Duty, Southern Heart: George Proctor Kane's Civil War.

From the description: "Before the Civil War, George Proctor Kane had been a businessman, thespian, political appointee, philanthropist and militiaman. During the war, as Baltimore's chief of police, he harbored the divided loyalties familiar to the border states--Southern in his sentiments yet Northern in his allegiances. As the city's top lawman, he sought to reform Baltimore's "Mobtown" image. He ensured that President-elect Lincoln, passing through on the way to his inauguration, was not assassinated(,)" and he "protected Union troops marching to defend Washington, D.C."

Kane's most controversial official act was his involvement in the burning of key bridges leading into the smoldering tinderbox that was the city of Baltimore in early 1861 (Greene believes he was "probably" ordered to do so by the mayor and the Maryland governor). In the introduction, the author seems to agree with Kane's defenders that the bridge arson was in the main a dutiful protective measure against further violent riots, its result being the saving of citizen and soldier lives.

More from the description: Because of his actions during the early-war crisis period and doubts about his loyalty, Kane "was eventually imprisoned as a Southern sympathizer, denied habeas corpus as his captors transferred him from prison to prison."

"This book recounts Kane's enigmatic public life before and during the Civil War, his Confederate activities after prison and his return to serve as mayor of Baltimore.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Booknotes: From Antietam to Appomattox with Upton's Regulars

New Arrival:
From Antietam to Appomattox with Upton's Regulars: A Civil War Memoir from the 121st New York Regiment by Dewitt Clinton Beckwith, ed. by Salvatore G. Cilella, Jr. (McFarland, 2023).

The documented service and historical memory of Emory Upton and the regiment he led for much of the war beginning in late-September 1862 (the 121st New York a.k.a. "Upton's Regulars") owe much to Salvatore Cilella, Jr. A thick tome that was very well received by readers and reviewers, Cilella's 2009 book Upton's Regulars is the standard modern history of the 121st. In addition to editing two volumes of General Upton's correspondence written between 1857 and 1881, Cilella has also edited a collection of Upton's letters to his wife, Emily, who lost her battle with tuberculosis at a very young age. Cilella's latest contribution to this impressive body of work is From Antietam to Appomattox with Upton's Regulars: A Civil War Memoir from the 121st New York Regiment.

From the description: "Thirty years after the Civil War, the 121st New York Volunteers (Upton's Regulars) finally published a history of their regiment. Its stated author was a man who had not served directly with the 121st but had based the book on a memoir written by a survivor who had enlisted at age 15. That boy, Dewitt Clinton Beckwith, published his memoir thirty years after the war in an obscure upstate New York newspaper, The Herkimer Democrat. For years, the "origin story" lay hidden in plain sight, until editor Salvatore Cilella discovered it while researching for a regimental history."

Cilella's introduction to the book recounts Beckwith's life, Civil War service, and history of the regiment. Beckwith could be a "fabulist" writer, and the impact of that trait is also evaluated in the introduction. The Beckwith memoir, written as a series of weekly installments beginning on July 5, 1893, fills over 140 densely detailed pages. Partnering with the memoir text is the editor's voluminous collection of endnotes, the product of Cilella's own exhaustive research surrounding the regiment's history.

More from the description: "The original 53 weekly installments, edited and annotated here, richly detail the horrors and folly of war. They reveal the slow maturation of a boy thrust into almost four years of war. Beckwith was present at nearly all the historic Eastern Theater engagements from Antietam to Appomattox, including an abortive stint with the 91st New York in Florida in 1861. He describes his various Tom Sawyer-like adventures with the VI Corps of the Army of the Potomac, dealing with death, disease, loss and ultimate elation at Lee's surrender, tempered only by Abraham Lincoln's death."

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Coming Soon (June '23 Edition)

Scheduled for JUNE 20231:

Agents of Empire: The First Oregon Cavalry and the Opening of the Interior Pacific Northwest during the Civil War by James Jewell.
Heavy Marching: The Civil War Letters of Lute Moseley, 22nd Wisconsin ed. by Sara DeLuca.
Horse Soldiers at Gettysburg: The Cavalryman’s View of the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign by Daniel Murphy.
The Governor's Pawns: Hostages and Hostage-Taking in Civil War West Virginia by Randall Gooden.
A Civil War Road Trip of a Lifetime: Antietam, Gettysburg, and Beyond by John Banks.
Muskets & Springfields: Wargaming the American Civil War 1861-1865 by Nigel Emsen.
Righting the Longstreet Record at Gettysburg: Six Matters of Controversy and Confusion by Cory Pfarr.
The Battle of Gettysburg 1863 (2): The Second Day by Timothy Orr.
In the Shadow of the Round Tops: Longstreet's Countermarch, Johnston's Reconnaissance, and the Enduring Battles for the Memory of July 2, 1863 by Allen Thompson.
Detour to Disaster: General John Bell Hood's "Slight Demonstration" at Decatur and the Unravelling of the Tennessee Campaign by Noel Carpenter.

Several of these June titles received early releases, and their Booknotes entries (for Jewell, Murphy, Gooden, and Orr) have been logged into the site already. I am reading Gooden's book right now, and it places quite an enlightening spotlight on a controversial war measure practiced by both sides. With another Gettysburg anniversary fast approaching, Old Pete will be revisited quite a bit next month, too. I would highly recommend the Carpenter book. Back in 2008, I reviewed the privately published (with very limited distribution) 2007 first edition, and I am very curious to see what SB does with it. Given the publisher's past record of revamped re-releases, I am assuming, at the very least, that it is reformatted to fit the SB style and has newly commissioned maps.

On a current note, the publication date of the revised edition of Cutrer's Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River, 1861–1865 was pushed back so many times that outright cancellation seemed possible, but I am happy to report that it was finally released earlier this month. The first edition's problems were legion, and I will be very interested in finding out how thoroughly the text was re-vetted by UNCP.

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, May 23, 2023

Booknotes: They Came Only to Die

New Arrival:
They Came Only to Die: The Battle of Nashville, December 15-16, 1864 by Sean Michael Chick (Savas Beatie, 2023).

One of the newest ECW volumes, Sean Chick's They Came Only to Die recounts the post-Franklin maneuvering of both sides, the fight at Overall Creek, the climactic two-day Battle of Nashville, and the retreat/pursuit back to Alabama and Tennessee, all of which left John Bell Hood's badly defeated Army of Tennessee with less than half the men and guns it possessed back in November.

According to the description, the brigade and division-scale maps of the Battle of Nashville (of which there are five, out of a volume total of eight) are "the most accurate maps yet made of this crucial battle." Additionally, pages are chock-full of contemporary art/drawings and period and modern photographs. There is an 11-stop driving tour of Nashville and environs, complete with detailed directions, a brief descriptive passage for each site, and photographs.

The balance of the book's extensive appendix section (B-G) addresses the war's most infamous incident of captured general officer abuse (along with the rest of victim Thomas B. Smith's life story), the Civil War and political careers of Pres. Benjamin Harrison, General Hood's postwar activities and memorialization, General George Thomas's conduct of the campaign, and the December 17 rear guard clashes fought north and south of Franklin during the retreat. The last appendix discusses Battle of Nashville preservation history and issues. Orders of battle and a Suggested Reading list round out of the volume.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Booknotes: Horse Soldiers at Gettysburg

New Arrival:
Horse Soldiers at Gettysburg: The Cavalryman’s View of the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign by Daniel Murphy (Stackpole Bks, 2023).

Acknowledging that Gettysburg Campaign cavalry operations have already been explored at exhaustive depth through the efforts of a number of skilled chroniclers of Civil War mounted warfare, Daniel Murphy's Horse Soldiers at Gettysburg: The Cavalryman’s View of the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign nevertheless stakes a claim for uniqueness.

In Murphy's estimation, "(m)ost cavalry treatments of the campaign and battle have focused on strategy, operations, and tactics and zoomed in on particular episodes: the Battle of Brandy Station in June 1863 (the largest cavalry engagement on American soil), Jeb Stuart’s controversial ride-for-glory that deprived Lee of important intelligence for days, Union cavalry general John Buford’s role in the start of the battle on July 1, and the cavalry battle involving not only Stuart but also George Armstrong Custer east of Gettysburg on July 3."

While Horse Soldiers at Gettysburg also recounts Gettysburg Campaign mounted operations from beginning to end, it freshly combines that well-trodden narrative with "an equestrian’s sense for what it’s like to ride and manage horses." As his author bio informs us, Murphy is "a classically trained fencer, avid equestrian, and living historian" who "has served as cavalry coordinator for several National Park Service films." Utilizing hands-on perspectives gained from those experiences, Murphy "brings a horseman’s eye to the story of the campaign: how individual cavalrymen experienced the campaign from the saddle and how horses—with special needs for care and maintenance—were in fact weapons that helped shape battles."

In the preface, the author notes that the process described above led him to "reach conclusions that varied from many standard interpretations," some minor and others more significant in nature. His overall goal is to "show the events from the participants' perspectives, with a similar practical knowledge, or horse sense, that the cavalry operated under in 1863" (pg. viii).

Friday, May 19, 2023

Booknotes: The Civil War on the Water

New Arrival:
The Civil War on the Water: Favorite Stories and Fresh Perspectives from the Historians at Emerging Civil War edited by Dwight Sturdevant Hughes and Chris Mackowski (Savas Beatie, 2023).

The Emerging Civil War collective continues to celebrate its first ten years of content creation through its ECW Anniversary Series. Its volumes collect contributor blog posts and transcriptions of podcasts and talks. Original material is also sprinkled about, and the previously published material "updated and, in most cases, expanded and footnoted." Contributors are remarkably free to explore their personal interests, so one finds "military, social, political, and economic history; memory studies; travelogues; personal narratives; essays; and photography" (pg xiv).

All series volumes revolve around a theme, with past installments addressing "Monuments and Memory," "Grant vs. Lee," 1863 Gettysburg, and 1863 Vicksburg/Tullahoma. With at least three more titles in the current pipeline (covering western theater, "Fallen Leaders," and pop culture themes), the series remains very active. The latest release is The Civil War on the Water: Favorite Stories and Fresh Perspectives from the Historians at Emerging Civil War.

Edited by Dwight Sturdevant Hughes and Chris Mackowski (with Hughes himself being a very heavy chapter contributor), the volume contains 45 standalone pieces supported by 12 maps. The description offers a good idea of topical breadth, which encompasses "fresh accounts on unfamiliar topics as well as second looks at familiar battles, ships, leaders, and events":

The "war on the water stretched from the Arctic Circle to the Caribbean in a stunning display of machine-age technologies that included ironclads, torpedoes, submarines, steam propulsion, and improved heavy artillery. Swift Rebel raiders like the CSS Shenandoah decimated Union commerce while hundreds of storm-tossed blockaders patrolled the meandering southern coastline from Hatteras to Galveston to interdict enemy commerce.

Titanic clashes erupted between seacoast fortifications and Mr. Lincoln’s warships at Port Royal, New Orleans, Charleston, Wilmington, and Mobile. Massive amphibious operations on the Virginia Peninsula, in the North Carolina Sounds, and at Fort Fisher presaged 20th-century conflicts. Farther inland, the two services invented various riverine warfare tactics that played decisive roles at Memphis, Forts Henry and Donelson, Vicksburg, Island No. 10, and elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Review - " A Wilderness of Destruction: Confederate Guerrillas in East and South Florida, 1861-1865 " by Zack Waters

[A Wilderness of Destruction: Confederate Guerrillas in East and South Florida, 1861-1865 by Zack C. Waters (Mercer University Press, 2023). Hardcover, 2 maps, photos, illustrations, footnotes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:238/264. ISBN:978-0-88146-881-6. $39]

In step with the rest of the seceded South, Florida responded to the outbreak of Civil War in 1861 by quickly mobilizing sizable volunteer forces. However, amid the urgency, manpower was only one of a great many concerns. Florida's particular situation posed military challenges unique to the cis-Mississippi states of the newly formed CSA. In addition to lacking efficient rail connection to the rest of the Confederacy, Florida's comparatively tiny population of military-age men eligible to bear arms had to defend an immense land area circumscribed by over 800 miles of coastline. Possessing no navy of consequence and far too few heavy guns to mount a credible coastal defense, the state also struggled to obtain allotments of weapons and ammunition seized from U.S. forts and arsenals located outside its borders. Worse, as demonstrated by numerous disasters suffered along the Confederate seaboard during the war's first twelve months, the combined operations learning curve of Union land and naval forces was unexpectedly shallow. Robbed of the manpower, resources, and time necessary to render Florida forts and ports defensible, a number of key points had to be abandoned without a fight.

Making Florida's rapidly deteriorating position even more dire, the string of early-1862 military catastrophes in the West and critical threats to the Confederate capital in the East led the central government in Richmond to further strip the state's already bare stock of defenders in order to bolster the rebel nation's front line forces. Thus, through necessity (but also to a lesser extent by tradition) Florida's state government turned to guerrilla warfare for home defense. On a national level, the Confederate Congress's April 1862 passage of the Partisan Ranger Act sought to apply structure and legality to guerrilla warfare initiatives, all of which held the potential of spiraling out of control. Unfortunately for Floridians, the turn to irregular warfare and its dire consequences to lives, livelihoods, property, and infrastructure transformed parts of the state into wastelands. Zack Waters's A Wilderness of Destruction: Confederate Guerrillas in East and South Florida, 1861-1865 offers Civil War readers the first comprehensive survey of the character and scale of irregular warfare in the state. Missouri and Kentucky's guerrilla wars still garner the lion's share of scholarly and popular attention, but Waters clearly demonstrates that Florida's inner war was similarly destructive and just as widespread.

After presenting the background context referenced above, Waters immediately jumps into a narrative of events primarily descriptive in nature. Arranged chronologically into half-yearly chapters, which are further subdivided by city, town, county, or operation, the material is well organized for conveying both knowledge of events and patterns. Enormous strides have been made in the study of the Civil War's irregular conflicts, but that progress has failed to foster consensus when it comes to categorizing irregular fighters. While some scholars have developed arguably convincing models for differentiation, others reject those formulations or argue that categories are neither needed nor helpful in furthering overall understanding. Waters himself adopts the more inclusive approach, covering military actions ranging from bushwhacker-style ambushes and raids to company and battalion-scale operations conducted by regularly enrolled units (independently or in cooperation with irregular forces). Interestingly, as gleaned from Waters's accounts, small Florida bands seem to have frequently possessed a degree of artillery support mostly absent from similarly fought actions elsewhere in the country. It does appear that Florida's guerrillas were integrated into formal military structures in ways less commonly found in other Confederate states.

During the war, Union forces proved capable of successfully landing anywhere along Florida's rivers and coast. Once ashore, they seized cities and towns, disrupted key economic activities such as lumber and salt production, and liberated slaves. Many of the last filled the ranks of newly organized black units that in turn conducted military operations within the state. However, with priorities consistently placed elsewhere, Union forces rarely possessed the military or political will to hold captured posts on a permanent basis. Some strategic points, Jacksonville being the prime example, were occupied and abandoned on numerous occasions. Indeed, while its focus is on the guerrilla conflict, Waters's narrative contributes significantly to our knowledge of the wartime experiences of a number of contested Florida population centers, including Cedar Key, Tampa, St. Augustine, and the aforementioned Jacksonville.

Curiously, information provided in the book about individual bands is largely limited to scattered recordings of their activities. Several guerrilla chieftains are named, but not much about their backgrounds (beyond the South Carolina origins of several) is revealed in the text. Information about the backgrounds and motivations of the groups of men they led is similarly sparse. Perhaps the source material just isn't there to make a thorough job of it. Much of the documented information about Confederate guerrillas and their actions is provided by Union sources. This is to a large degree expected, and, within that context, the author properly frames the challenges inherent to the process of arriving at the closest approximation of the truth in light of the typically extreme bias and hyperbole involved in contemporary reporting of guerrilla activities and their results. Also as expected given their historical and historiographical stature, the operations of the band led by Capt. J.J. Dickison are most thoroughly recounted in the text.

Readers of this study might reasonably reach the conclusion that Florida's guerrilla war was the Civil War's most successful. However, while Waters's text demonstrates that guerrilla bands proved to be consistently effective in hemming Union occupation forces within city and town environs, it is also made clear that organization and support networks were not sufficient for sustained coordination. Additionally, with Union forces constantly coming and going depending on shifting priorities determined by those higher up the chain of command, attributing Confederate successes to their own actions or simply to enemy indifference becomes, in many cases, impossible to clearly assess. In the state's interior, Guerrilla fighters clearly contributed to maintaining open channels for driving Florida cattle northward to depots that would distribute beef to Confederate armies increasingly desperate for fresh food supplies. As Waters maintains, this was arguably their most strategically significant achievement. Nevertheless, there is much debate in the literature over what effect the closing of the Mississippi River by Union forces in mid-1863 had on cis-Mississippi beef supplies, with some arguing that the overall impact of early-war enemy occupation of western theater breadbasket regions was far more significant than the loss of real and potential Texas beef deliveries. Either way, from mid-war onward, the Confederate commissary was heavily dependent on Florida beef herds and, with vital assistance from Confederate guerrillas, detached conventional forces, and specialized "Cow Cavalry," those cattle shipments continued to get through despite scattered and disorganized Union attempts to establish inland blocking points. While irregulars played a major role in sustaining this vital commissary pipeline, Waters is almost certainly correct in opining that Union failure to devote the resources and leadership necessary to conclusively end the transit of Florida beef herds was a significant strategic misstep, one that would have taken relatively little additional effort to rectify.

As the book also details, Florida's pro-Confederate irregular war faced many critical internal challenges. History consistently demonstrates the reliance of guerrilla movements upon local support, but Waters's narrative reveals time and time again that white Unionists and freedom-seeking slaves both provided Union naval landing parties and occupation forces with critical intelligence regarding the activities and locations of Confederate resources, units, and individuals. Those anti-Confederate groups provided more than just information, too. Organized into military units, they served in both occupation and counterguerrilla roles. Interestingly, Waters claims that as the war progressed relations between white Floridian Unionist fighters and black soldiers, which might have been expected to improve under shared service, instead badly deteriorated, causing heavy demoralization and desertion in the former and diminished overall operational capacity. This hindrance to the Union war effort in the state is brought up on multiple occasions in the text, though not accompanied by examples. In the end, Florida could not escape the progressive civil, economic, and social breakdowns common to regions and states where divided home fronts and guerrilla conflicts were most pervasive. As the war dragged on, increasingly large numbers of draft evaders and army deserters added further fuel to the fire. As the book's title suggests, the irregular war eventually produced "a wilderness of destruction" that Florida's thinly dispersed Confederate and state militia defenders could not hope to manage let alone prevent.

Amid the volume's many strengths are some very visible drawbacks. The most noticeable flaw lies in the text's editing. Another pass-through to correct rampant typos, spelling mistakes, missing words, etc. was badly needed. Additionally, the two bare-bones maps fail to pinpoint the locations of a great many obscure places and events described in the text. Though unfortunate, these are disappointments that won't deter an overall positive recommendation.

In its lengthy investigation of the breadth, character, and significance of the irregular conflict in the state, Zack Waters's A Wilderness of Destruction: Confederate Guerrillas in East and South Florida, 1861-1865 represents a major step forward in filling remaining gaps in the military historiography of Civil War Florida. Also, for those seeking to arrive at a more aggregated understanding of the overall impact of guerrilla warfare on the Civil War's home and fighting fronts, this volume adds a fresh and important piece to the puzzle.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Booknotes: The Battle of Gettysburg 1863 (2)

New Arrival:
The Battle of Gettysburg 1863 (2): The Second Day by Timothy J. Orr (Osprey Pub, 2023).

Continuing where 2022's The Battle of Gettysburg 1863 (1): The First Day left off, Timothy Orr's The Battle of Gettysburg 1863 (2): The Second Day covers, from one end of the field to the other, the iconic battle's terrible middle day. From the description: "July 2, 1863 was the bloodiest and most complicated of the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg. On this day, the clash involved five divisions of Confederate infantry and their accompanying artillery battalions, as well as a cavalry skirmish at nearby Hunterstown. The bulk of the Union army engaged on the second day of fighting, including men from the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 11th and 12th Corps."

Volume 391 of Osprey's Campaign series, the book transitions into the topic at hand by briefly revisiting the end of Gettysburg Day 1. From there, Orr provides opposing orders of battle before getting into the events of the second day. Series elements such as campaign and battle background, leadership, army composition, and preservation discussions were already covered in the Day 1 volume, leaving the vast majority of this book to be devoted to the planning and fighting of Day 2.

More from the description: "Assisted by superb maps and 3D diagrams, this fascinating work describes the tactical play-by-play, the customary “who did what” of the battle. Among the famous actions covered are Hunterstown and Benner's Hill, Little Round Top, Devil's Den, the Rose Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and Culp's and Cemetery hills. The critical decisions taken on the second day are examined in detail, and why the commanders committed to them."

Original paintings from artist Steve Noon dramatize key phases of the battle (at Little Round Top, the Peach Orchard, and East Cemetery Hill). The multi-color cartography created for the book is presented at regimental scale. The two map types (one traditional in style and the other a 3D-isometric depiction of units and terrain) complement each other well. Nearly every page of text has one or more photographs attached.

Finally, "Gettysburg was-first and foremost-a soldier's battle, full of raw emotion and high drama, and this work also examines the experience of combat as witnessed by the rank and file, bringing this to life in stunning battlescene artworks and primary accounts from common soldiers."

Monday, May 15, 2023

Booknotes: A Brief Moment in the Sun

New Arrival:
A Brief Moment in the Sun: Francis Cardozo and Reconstruction in South Carolina by Neil Kinghan (LSU Press, 2023).

Neil Kinghan's A Brief Moment in the Sun "is the first scholarly biography of Francis Lewis Cardozo, one of the most talented and influential African Americans to hold elected office in the South between Reconstruction and the civil rights era." Additionally, Kinghan's study "is the first complete historical analysis of Francis Cardozo and his contribution to Reconstruction and African American history. It draws on original research on Cardozo’s early life and education in Scotland and England and pulls together for the first time the extant sources on his experiences in South Carolina and Washington, DC."

"Born to a formerly enslaved African American mother and white Jewish father in antebellum South Carolina," Cardozo (1836-1903) left the country in 1858 to seek higher education abroad. Spending most of the Civil War years in Great Britain studying religion at several institutions, he returned to the United States in 1864, where he settled in Connecticut and established himself as a pastor. Cardozo returned to South Carolina in 1865. As an American Missionary Association agent, he administered an AMA school for African Americans.

As a delegate to the South Carolina constitutional convention, Cardozo formally entered politics in 1868. That same year he was elected Secretary of State, and in 1872 state treasurer. Though re-elected twice and possessing a reputation of honesty in office, Cardozo's Republican political career ended after the U.S. government terminated Reconstruction and the Democratic Party returned to power in the state. Prosecuted for fraud and conspiracy in 1877 (Kinghan describes the trial as "rigged," and others concur), Cardozo was imprisoned for seven months before being pardoned by Governor William Simpson in 1879. From there, Cardozo "moved to Washington DC, where he led an even more successful school for African American children."

In his introduction, the author outlines the three-fold goals of this project. In addition to restoring Cardozo "to his rightful place as a central figure in the history of Reconstruction," Kinghan's wishes to "attract wider public attention to [Cardozo's] significance as an exemplary African American leader in politics and education in South Carolina and in Washington, DC." Finally, through relating Cardozo's life story, the author hopes to "rewrite the history of Reconstruction from the perspective of a highly able and honorable African American political leader whose voice should be heard" (pg. 6).

Friday, May 12, 2023

Booknotes: I Am Fighting for the Union

New Arrival:
I Am Fighting for the Union: The Civil War Letters of Naval Officer Henry Willis Wells edited by Robert M. Browning, Jr. (Univ of Ala Press, 2023).

From the description: "On May 18, 1862, Henry Willis Wells wrote a letter to his mother telling her in clear terms, “I am fighting for the Union.” Since August 1861, when he joined the US Navy as a master’s mate he never wavered in his loyalty. He wrote to his family frequently that he considered military service a necessary and patriotic duty, and the career that ensued was a dramatic one, astutely and articulately documented by Wells in more than 200 letters home, leaving an invaluable account of daily life in the Union Navy."

I understand that it is to a degree a numbers game, but it still surprises me a bit, given the massive size that the Union Navy eventually reached, that published army correspondence dwarfs its naval counterpart to the degree that it does. Or maybe it just seems that way, and things are actually proportional within reason. Just judging from a brief thumb-through, the Wells letters are full of details about his Chesapeake, Atlantic, and Gulf naval service and experiences. I'm looking forward to reading them.

More from the description: "Wells joined the navy shortly after the war began, initially on board the Cambridge, attached to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, which patrolled the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. He witnessed the Battle of Hampton Roads and the fight between the ironclads CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor. Next, the Cambridge assisted in the blockade of Wilmington, North Carolina. In one instance, the warship chased the schooner J. W. Pindar ashore during her attempt to run the blockade, and Confederate forces captured Henry’s boarding party. After a short prison stay in the infamous Libby Prison in Richmond, his Confederate captors paroled Henry. He travelled back to Brookline, and soon thereafter the Navy Department assigned him to the gunboat Ceres, which operated on the sounds and rivers of North Carolina, protecting army positions ashore. Henry was on board during the Confederate attempt to capture Washington, North Carolina. During this April 1863 attack, Henry was instrumental in the town’s defense, commanding a naval battery ashore during the latter part of the fight."

Assigned greater and greater responsibility as the war progressed, Wells must have performed his duties well. More: "His exceptional service gained him a transfer to a larger warship, the USS Montgomery, again on the blockade of Wilmington. Later the service assigned him to the Gem of the Sea, part of the East Gulf Blockading Squadron. Through his hard work and professionalism, he finally earned his first command. In September 1864, he became the commanding officer of the Rosalie, a sloop used as a tender to the local warships."

Unfortunately, Wells's blossoming career did not end well. "Later he commanded the schooner Annie, also a tender. At the end of December 1864, however, the Annie suffered a massive explosion, killing all hands, including Wells(,)" who was only 23 at the time of his death. Several letters written to the grieving family by Wells's colleagues and superiors document that episode.

Eminent ACW naval historian Robert Browning edits the volume, organizing the material into chapters and contributing a brief introduction and extensive endnotes.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Booknotes: Agents of Empire

New Arrival:
Agents of Empire: The First Oregon Cavalry and the Opening of the Interior Pacific Northwest during the Civil War by James Robbins Jewell (Univ of Neb Press, 2023).

It was made clear through reading James Jewell's On Duty in the Pacific Northwest during the Civil War: Correspondence and Reminiscences of the First Oregon Cavalry Regiment (2018) that there was more than enough source material to produce a book-length regimental history of the unit. Fast forward a half-decade and we now have just the thing in Jewell's follow-up volume Agents of Empire: The First Oregon Cavalry and the Opening of the Interior Pacific Northwest during the Civil War. If I'm not missing anything, it's also the first full-length, standalone study of a Far West (Washington Territory, Oregon, and California) regiment raised during the Civil War for local and regional service.

From the description: Jewell's book "expands the historiographical scope of Civil War studies to include the war’s intersection with the history of the American West, demonstrating how the war was transcontinental in scope. Much more than a traditional Civil War regimental history, James Robbins Jewell’s work delves into the operational and social conditions under which the First Oregon Cavalry Regiment was formed. In response to ongoing tensions and violent interactions with Native peoples determined to protect their way of life and lands, Colonel George Wright, head of the military’s District of Oregon, asked the governor of Oregon to form a voluntary cavalry unit to protect white settlers and farmers."

As was the case across the vast western states and territories during the Civil War period, Oregon volunteers replaced Regular Army units sent east. They assumed many of the same roles, with the added responsibility of confronting secessionist threats both real and imagined. In performing those tasks, the "First Oregon Cavalry ensured settlers’ security in the Union’s farthest northwest corner, thereby contributing to the Union cause."

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Review - " Sand, Science, and the Civil War: Sedimentary Geology and Combat " by Scott Hippensteel

[Sand, Science, and the Civil War: Sedimentary Geology and Combat by Scott Hippensteel (University of Georgia Press, 2023). Softcover, maps, photos, tables, endnotes, index. Pages main/total:295/345. ISBN:978-0-8203-6353-0. $44.95]

Published in 2019, geologist Scott Hippensteel's Rocks and Rifles: The Influence of Geology on Combat and Tactics during the American Civil War offered military history readers yearning for something truly different a fascinating survey of the ways in which North American rock formations, and the characteristic differences between them, shaped strategy, operations, and tactics. While that book examined the impact of all three basic rock types (igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary), the last is the focal point of the author's latest work, Sand, Science, and the Civil War: Sedimentary Geology and Combat. In it, the numerous ways in which sedimentary rocks and sediments (mainly "clay, silt, sand, pebbles, and cobbles," size being their most salient property) aided or hindered Civil War military plans and actions are explored.

Naturally, the deployment and effectiveness of heavy weapons during the Civil War were profoundly affected by sediments and the geomorphology of the battlefield surroundings. Delving into that theme, Hippensteel lucidly summarizes the science behind sediment composition's effect on the terminal ballistics of a host of common Civil War artillery types. Through this data-supported and geology-centered approach, the book freshly expands upon our existing appreciation and understanding of the tactical challenges involved in a series of otherwise well-documented battle and siege histories (among them the contests over Fort Pulaski, Vicksburg, James Island/Battery Wagner, and Fort Fisher).

While the difficulties imposed upon attacking forces by sedimentary geology are often foremost in the discussion, there's much more to it. Sediments that helped keep defenders safe and softened the impact of attacking artillery were at the same time put to good use shielding the attacker's batteries and siege/mining approaches. Sediment types characteristic to particular regions also determined where complex earthwork field fortifications could or couldn't be excavated. Additionally, the necessity for revetment (which itself frequently required sediment—to, for example, fill sandbags or gabions) was entirely determined by sedimentary geology and ranged from little to none for disturbed loess soils to very extensive revetment needs for building and maintaining sand fortifications. As the book explains, when it came to erecting temporary field fortifications sedimentary determinism was a real and pervasive concern for both attacking and defending military engineers.

In addition to affecting the movements and morale of Civil War armies (ex. through choking dust on one extreme and immobilizing mud on the other), logistics and strategy could also be heavily determined by sedimentary geology's influence on, for example, the grading of railroad tracks or the location of key cities on or near natural fall lines. Several case studies found in the book, among them chapters covering the Peninsula Campaign-Battle of Malvern Hill, Burnside Expedition-Battle of New Bern, and Fredericksburg, also explain the impact of natural erosional forces on the sedimentary geology of the eastern theater's coastal plain, emphasis being placed on the ways in which those processes shaped the selection of military positions and affected how battles were fought on the tactical level.

However, it would be the extremely volatile sedimentary environment of the Mississippi River Basin, the dramatic short and long-term history and character of which are summarized in the book, where we might find perhaps the war's most illustrative examples of sedimentary geology shaping inland military strategy, operations, and tactics. Geologist Warren Grabau's Ninety-Eight Days: A Geographer's View of the Vicksburg Campaign (2000) was arguably the first major study to popularize awareness of the unique nature and military impact of the east bank's loess soil deposits. Here, Hippensteel explains both the processes that formed those very deep deposits and the meandering erosional forces that cut steeply into them, forming the tall, unstable bluffs that famously troubled Union army and naval forces so much during the Mississippi River campaigns of 1862-63. In addition to providing excellent elevated artillery platforms for controlling river traffic, the loess sediment's unusual physical properties facilitated rapid, easy digging of entrenchment lines and civilian bomb shelters, both of which required little to no revetment. Such advantages were far from one-sided, though. As Hippensteel and others before him have explained, attacking Union forces were able to exploit those same unique soil properties for their own purposes, as the deep deposits were equally favorable military environments for digging siege approaches and mine galleries securely and at a rapid pace.

Of less ambiguous natural assistance to the defense was the fine particulate sand of the Mid and South Atlantic seaboard, although, as already mentioned, sand required vastly more extensive and creative revetment than the loess soil of the Mississippi Basin. The ways in which modern rifled artillery of the period rendered brick coastal fortifications, even the strongest Third System installations, obsolete have been well documented in numerous publications (one of the best being Herbert Schiller's 1995 book Sumter is Avenged: The Siege and Reduction of Fort Pulaski). Additionally, excellent book-length studies of the 1863 Morris Island and 1865 Fort Fisher campaigns have explored the benefits of sand fortifications as the most effective counter to overwhelming Union superiority in heavy artillery weight and numbers. That said, in writing from a more scientific and technical perspective than that found in most narrative historical treatments, Hippensteel offers fresh perspectives on the qualities of the Atlantic beach and sea island sands that aided Confederate military engineers and tremendously challenged their Union counterparts. The author's professional appraisal of how the coastal geomorphology affected both sides is similarly informative. Indeed, in the book's detailed discussions of loess soil manipulations in Mississippi and the exploitation of sand in defense of the Carolinas coastline, one can see the relative significance of geology's impact on military campaigns being closely linked to the level of dynamism present in the natural forces involved in shaping those sediment patterns.

Maps, photographs, charts, and data tables closely support the description and analysis found in the text. Discourse branching off of main topics and themes is also sprinkled throughout the book. While these scholarly diversions are too numerous to list in full, it should at least be noted that they appreciably heighten the interest level and value of the book. As just one example, Hippensteel, who was part of the CSS Hunley project's research team, includes a fascinating discussion of current and potential uses of sediment analysis for forensic examination of human remains.

Complementing each other in fascinating and insightful ways, Scott Hippensteel's Rocks and Rifles and now Sand, Science, and the Civil War together present curious readers with a wonderfully broad survey of how North America's diverse geological formations influenced the conduct of Civil War campaigns and battles. Of course, the idea that 'terrain is key' is the furthest thing from a hidden truth of military study, but Hippensteel's books strongly argue that a useful additional layer to the discussion can be found in the close examination of the geological processes that both form and continually transform terrain and shape its composition. The meandering breadth of Hippensteel's investigation also suggests many other possible avenues for further exploration of the ways in which earth science can inform Civil War military history and conflict archaeology. Highly recommended.

Friday, May 5, 2023

Booknotes: "If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania," Volume 2

New Arrival:
"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 Scott L. Mingus, Sr. and Eric J. Wittenberg (Savas Beatie, 2023).

Book-length military microhistories of events before, during, and after the three-day Battle of Gettysburg continue to be produced at a rapid clip, with the added benefit that the subject matter continues to attract top-level research and writing talent. Many of these tightly focused titles have been authored by Eric Wittenberg and Scott Mingus, both well-known and respected figures in Gettysburg Campaign publishing. Most recently, they've combined their decades-long accumulation of expertise to produce a two-volume project that will, for the foreseeable future, surely be considered the premier history of the June 1863 'March to Gettysburg.'

“If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania”: The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac March to Gettysburg - Volume 1: June 3–21, 1863 (2022) and "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 attempt to recount this four-week Gettysburg preamble as comprehensively as possible, weaving together "military, media, political, social, economic, and civilian perspectives with rank-and-file accounts from the soldiers of both armies as they inexorably march toward their destiny at Gettysburg."

Given the all-in ferocity of the fighting at Gettysburg and the tremendous toll in casualties incurred during those three days, it's easy to forget that a lot of marching and fighting took place before they even got there. By instilling in readers a full appreciation of those events, Mingus and Wittenberg help bring about a greater understanding of the campaign as a whole.

As a reminder, "(t)he first volume (June 3–21) carried the armies through the defining mounted clash at the battle of Brandy Station, after which Lee pushed the head of his army into the Shenandoah Valley and achieved the magnificent victory at Second Winchester on his way to the Potomac. Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, who was caught flat-footed by the move, used his cavalry to probe the mountain gaps, triggering a series of consequential mounted actions."

Volume 2 "completes the march to Gettysburg and details the actions and whereabouts of each component of the armies up to the eve of the fighting. The large-scale maneuvering in late June prompted General Hooker to move his Army of the Potomac north after his opponent and eventually above the Potomac, where he is removed from command and replaced by V Corps commander George G. Meade. Jeb Stuart begins his controversial and consequential ride that strips away the eyes and ears of the Virginia army. Throughout northern Virginia, central Maryland, and south-central Pennsylvania, civilians, politicians, and soldiers alike struggle with the reality of a mobile campaign and the massive logistical needs of the armies." 25 maps help readers follow the action.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Booknotes: Without Concealment, Without Compromise

New Arrival:
Without Concealment, Without Compromise: The Courageous Lives of Black Civil War Surgeons by Jill L. Newmark (SIU Press, 2023).

Of the roughly 12,000 surgeons that served the Union Army during the Civil War, 14 were black men. Jill Newmark's Without Concealment, Without Compromise: The Courageous Lives of Black Civil War Surgeons represents the "the first-ever comprehensive exploration of their lives and service." In the book, Newmark "presents all available information about the surgeons’ early lives, influences, education, Civil War service, and post-war experiences."

From the description: "Individual biographies bring to light Alexander T. Augusta, who challenged discriminatory laws; William P. Powell Jr., who pursued a military pension for twenty-five years; Anderson R. Abbott, a friend of Elizabeth Keckley’s; John van Surly DeGrasse, the only Black surgeon to serve on the battlefield; John H. Rapier Jr., an international traveler; Richard H. Greene, the only Black surgeon known to have served in the Navy; Willis R. Revels, a preacher; Benjamin A. Boseman, a politician and postmaster; and Charles B. Purvis, who taught at Howard University. Information was limited for five other men, all of whom broke educational barriers by attending medical schools in the United States: Cortlandt Van Rensselaer Creed, William B. Ellis, Alpheus W. Tucker, Joseph Dennis Harris, and Charles H. Taylor."

"The paths these men traveled to become military surgeons in a segregated nineteenth century army can be appreciated only by having an understanding of the era's medical education." Thus, the first chapter explores the challenges these fourteen individuals faced in obtaining the medical degree necessary to become an army surgeon during the war. Depending on the amount of source material available, the rest of the chapters are "focused on a single surgeon or on a group of surgeons who share a common element" or theme. By serving the Union Army in this respected capacity, these men "influenced change and forged new pathways for African Americans in society" (pg. 6-7).

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Booknotes: “The Bullets Flew Like Hail”

New Arrival:
“The Bullets Flew Like Hail”: Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg, from McPherson’s Ridge to Culp’s Hill by James L. McLean, Jr. (Savas Beatie, 2023).

While the well-documented heroics of Buford's cavalry division and the Iron Brigade have together received a large proportion of the accolades and popular attention attached to the hard-fought Union defensive action west of Gettsyburg on July 1, 1863, the efforts of Brig. Gen. Lysander Cutler's brigade (76th, 95th, and 147th NY, 14th NYSM/Brooklyn, 56th PA, and 7th IN regiments) were just as significant. In relief of Buford's two brigades, "Cutler’s stubborn defense, together with the arrival of the famous Iron Brigade, stopped the Confederate advance long enough for other Union troops to reach the field. The desperate fighting that morning helped save the important high ground upon which the battle would be fought—and won—over the next two days."

Cutler's Brigade at Gettysburg, the first full treatment of this formation's contributions to Union victory during the battle, was initially released in 1987 by author James McLean's publishing company Butternut & Blue. Limited to 300 copies, that first edition eventually sold out and gave way to a second printing in 1994 that offered a variety of improvements. Out of print for over two decades now, the book has been revised and expanded yet again in a new Savas Beatie edition titled “The Bullets Flew Like Hail”: Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg, from McPherson’s Ridge to Culp’s Hill.

More from the description: "This completely revised and updated edition describes the brigade’s origins, its march to the field, and how it went into action, piecemeal and vulnerable. Two of Cutler’s regiments, the 14th Brooklyn and the 95th New York, along with the Iron Brigade’s 6th Wisconsin, participated in one of the most famous assaults of the war. The trio of regiments simultaneously charged across open ground, repulsed the attack of Brig. Gen. Joseph Davis’s Rebel brigade, and captured a large number of Mississippi and North Carolina troops in an unfinished railroad cut."

Of course, the costly fighting burden of Cutler's brigade at Gettysburg was far from over by the evening of July 1. "By the end of July 1, Cutler’s command had faced off against Confederate brigades led by James Archer, Joseph Davis, Alfred Iverson, Junius Daniels, and Alfred Scales. The brigade was one of the last to leave the field of battle and successfully reformed on Cemetery Hill. The brigade was sent to Culp’s Hill on July 2, where that evening and during the early morning hours of July 3, Cutler’s men assisted Brig. Gen. George Greene’s 12th Corps brigade in repulsing spirited Southern attacks against the Union right flank. In doing so, Cutler’s veterans held the distinction of being among the few Union troops who fought all three days of the battle. The performance of the brigade came at a great cost. Only five Union and Confederate brigades sustained 1,000 or more casualties at Gettysburg, and Cutler’s was one of them."

According to the author's preface, this latest version fixes printing mistakes, reformats the footnotes, corrects errors, updates interpretations, and adds new material (the last including a trio of fresh additions to the appendix section). The 2023 title has 26 maps, a lower number that's the result of some consolidation of the old map set. Owners of one or both of the earlier editions can refer to the new preface for a pretty detailed rundown of the book project's decades-long evolution and what's new to be found in this third version of McLean's Gettysburg history of Cutler's brigade. You'll have to decide for yourself, but it sounds like a worthwhile upgrade.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Booknotes: A Wilderness of Destruction

New Arrival:
A Wilderness of Destruction: Confederate Guerrillas in East and South Florida, 1861-1865 by Zack C. Waters (Mercer UP, 2023).

From John S. Mosby in Virginia to William C. Quantrill in Missouri, certain individuals have become synonymous with the guerrilla conflict within their home state. For Confederate Florida, it was J.J. Dickison, who helped his own case by authoring the Florida volume of the Confederate Military History series. While Dickison does receive the volume's most extensive index entry, Zack Waters's A Wilderness of Destruction: Confederate Guerrillas in East and South Florida, 1861-1865 offers Civil War readers an expansive regional history of the character and impact of the irregular war within the state.

From the description: "After the "abandonment" of Florida by the Confederate government [the preponderance of the state's military manpower pool was ordered out of Florida to bolster Confederate armies defending primary theaters], in early 1862, Gov. John Milton organized guerrilla units to protect the state's citizens. These irregular companies kept Union forces largely confined to a few coastal outposts (St. Augustine, Fernandina, and Ft. Myers), though the state's citizens suffered greatly from the depredations of Unionist units. After the Federal capture of Vicksburg, the South's only significant source of beef were the vast herds in Florida. It fell to the state's Rebel partisans to protect the state's interior, thereby keeping open routes for the delivery of longhorns to the South's major armies. Skirmishes and battles raged throughout Florida, but the flow of beef cattle halted only after Appomattox."

The book addresses the widespread impact of the guerrilla conflict, and "local historians studying cities such as Tampa, Jacksonville, or more rural areas, will find a wealth of information in this volume."

Monday, May 1, 2023

Review - " Sharpshooting Rifles of the American Civil War: Colt, Sharps, Spencer, and Whitworth " by Martin Pegler

[Sharpshooting Rifles of the American Civil War: Colt, Sharps, Spencer, and Whitworth by Martin Pegler (Osprey Publishing, 2017). Softcover, photographs, artwork, illustrations, glossary, bibliography, index. 80 pages. ISBN:978-1-47281-591-0. $23]

The topic of American Civil War sharpshooting encompasses a fairly wide range of battlefield activities and a great variety of weapon types, from individual shooters firing from concealment with heavy, scoped target rifles (i.e. the period equivalent of the modern sniper) to entire maneuver units composed of either muzzleloader or breechloader-armed marksmen trained in open order battlefield formations and tactics. Even common infantrymen wielding standard rifles performed sharpshooting assignments on a great many battlefields (ex. during the Vicksburg siege, high-volume sharpshooting by Union infantry in the forward trenches played a vital role in shielding friendly units conducting sapping operations). Number 56 of the Weapon series from Osprey Publishing, Martin Pegler's Sharpshooting Rifles of the American Civil War, as its subtitle suggests, focuses on the Colt, Sharps, Spencer, and Whitworth shoulder arms (the first three predominantly in the hands of Union soldiers and the last primarily a Confederate weapon of choice).

Osprey titles that are part of a series generally adhere to a standardized format and page length, and the Weapon series has a three-section structure ("Development," "Use," and "Impact") designed to fit inside 80 richly illustrated pages. Balancing depth with popular appeal is something every Osprey series author must address, and Pegler manages the challenge quite well.

The volume begins with a brief introduction to American developments in rifled shoulder arms suitable for battlefield sharpshooting conditions, from the Colonial period up through the Civil War era. In addition to providing informative summaries of the strengths, weaknesses, and raw capabilities of select firearms—in particular the Colt revolving rifle, special-ordered "Berdan" double-set triggered Sharps rifle, Spencer repeating rifle, and imported muzzleloading Whitworth rifle—the book also highlights some of the heavy sporting rifles used during the conflict. High-resolution photographs of these weapons (along with many close-up images of key components) are inserted throughout. Though the book focuses on specialized military and adapted arms, it is recognized that, on a collective basis, most sharpshooting was performed by soldiers firing the more standard rifle-muskets of the period.

The Use section briefly covers some examples of specialized training (which was highly variable at the time) and discusses the range of tasks that sharpshooting individuals and units performed, examples of which include accurate, high-volume fire from units such as Berdan's US Sharpshooter regiments, extreme-range individual fire, officer targeting, anti-battery fire, and countersniping. While streamlining of topics and themes by necessity imposes a certain degree of simplification, the text is perhaps a bit too accepting of the first-shot kill capabilities of some of these weapons at extreme ranges under battlefield (versus ideal test-firing) conditions [see Scott Hippensteel's 2021 book Myths of the Civil War: The Fact, Fiction, and Science behind the Civil War’s Most-Told Stories for a different, much more skeptical perspective on three well-known Civil War sniping incidents]. Nevertheless, readers intrigued by that aspect of sharpshooting will likely find the book's section discussing the author's own test firing experiences, as both user and observer, to be of keen interest.

Finally, the book outlines the tactical and technical impact of Civil War sharpshooting weapons. The format obviously does not allow comprehensive discussion of tactically innovative practices (for example, the novel way in which sharpshooter battalions were integrated into conventional line formations in the Army of Northern Virginia, best documented in Fred Ray's 2006 book Shock Troops of the Confederacy, is only mentioned in passing), but the author correctly observes that sharpshooter weapons operated by soldiers deployed in open order formations did not transform battlefield tactics on a fundamental level until after the war. The ultimate technological impact of these Civil War weapons emerged from postwar institutional debates over what individual weapons system—single-shot breechloader versus repeating rifle—the army would employ on a standardized basis going forward, with the former winning out over the latter due to concerns over relative complexity, expense, ammunition expenditure, and field reliability.

Martin Pegler's Sharpshooting Rifles of the American Civil War is a solid reading option for those seeking an introductory-level survey of sharpshooter weapons, their tactical use, and their American military legacy.