Friday, June 30, 2023

Booknotes: Forging a New South

New Arrival:
Forging a New South: The Life of General John T. Wilder by Maury Nicely (UT Press, 2023).

Here we have yet another example of that odd, yet welcome, Civil War publishing phenomenon in which a previously neglected subject is suddenly treated to a pair of full-length studies released in close succession. Back in January, Mercer UP published Steven Cox's John T. Wilder: Union General, Southern Industrialist, and only three months later University of Tennessee Press released Forging a New South: The Life of General John T. Wilder by Maury Nicely. As one can readily see from the titles, the books share common themes from the general's life in and out of uniform.

Some differences between the two studies are readily apparent. Nicely's biography is roughly twice the page length of Cox's, and the chapters covering Wilder's Civil War activities in Forging a New South are nearly the same length as Cox's entire narrative. Nicely's prodigious body of research also dwarfs that of its compatriot, with the newspaper section alone larger in size than the entire bibliography of many Civil War books.

The study is presented in two evenly divided parts, the first covering Wilder's early life and Civil War career and the second addressing his great multitude of business and political activities in the postwar South. Given that only a half-dozen of the book's 400-plus pages of narrative are devoted to Wilder's life before the outbreak of secession and Civil War, one might surmise that the source material for that period is relatively scant (or perhaps that material was trimmed for length). Of course, Wilder is best known today for his innovative leadership of the celebrated "Lightning Brigade" of mounted infantry, and the bulk of Part 1 is concerned with documenting the entirety of Wilder's Civil War military career, which had its ups and downs. The lowest point was the surrender at Munfordville, Kentucky in 1862, but that career embarrassment was erased the following year by his inspired handling of the Lightning Brigade during the Tullahoma and Chickamauga campaigns. Unfortunately, Wilder was plagued by poor health throughout much of his service and was finally forced in resign in late 1864.

However, those repeated bouts of wartime sickness did not preclude Wilder from living a long and eventful life before passing away at the age of 87. Half the book covers a highly productive post-bellum life that Nicely assesses as having "left a permanent mark on the industrial development of the war-torn South in the second half of the nineteenth century." From the description: "A successful entrepreneur and industrialist, after the war Wilder relocated to East Tennessee, where he created dozens of businesses, factories, mines, hotels, and towns; was elected mayor of the city he had shelled during the war; and cultivated close personal and business relationships with Federal and Confederate veterans alike, helping to create a new South in the wake of a devastating conflict."

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Booknotes: Lincoln's Banner Regiment

New Arrival:
Lincoln's Banner Regiment: The 107th New York Volunteer Infantry by George R. Farr (McFarland, 2023).

Organized in Elmira, New York and mustered into Union service in August 1862, the 107th New York participated in a multitude of eastern and western theater campaigns with the Army of the Potomac and Army of the Cumberland from Antietam to Bentonville. That 1862-65 Civil War fighting career is documented in the new unit study titled Lincoln's Banner Regiment: The 107th New York Volunteer Infantry from author George Farr.

The regiment's common nickname was the "Campbell Guards," but the title refers to a special recognition conferred upon the regiment by the president for being the first regiment to arrive in the capital in response to the administration's July 1862 call for 300,000 more volunteers. In commemoration of the event, Lincoln "personally honored them with a regimental banner" that was in turn "kept by Secretary of State William Seward and never saw a battlefield." The restored banner is currently housed with the Chemung County Historical Society in Elmira.

The book documents the regiment's organization, its initial Washington encampment, and field service with the Army of the Potomac from Antietam through Gettysburg. The 107th was one of many eastern regiments transferred out west in response to the shocking Confederate victory at Chickamauga in September 1863. The regiment first guarded railroads in Tennessee before embarking on the 1864 Atlanta Campaign. It was hard service, and the 107th fought their "deadliest fight" of the war at New Hope Church. After Atlanta's fall, the Empire State veterans embarked on the March to the Sea and continued on to final victory with the Army of the Cumberland during the climactic Carolinas Campaign. In addition to the campaign narrative, the text covers the Grand Review, the return home, and the veteran reunions at which the banner was displayed.

Map support consists of point-to-point line drawings that are very schematic in nature. There is a regimental roster included as an appendix, its principal source being the 1903 New York State Adjutant-General Report. The bibliography includes a number of soldier journals and letter collections.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Coming Soon (July '23 Edition)

Scheduled for JULY 20231:

New Perspectives on Civil War-Era Kentucky ed. by John David Smith.
One More War to Fight: Union Veterans' Battle for Equality through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Lost Cause by Stephen Goldman.
Lincoln's Banner Regiment: The 107th New York Volunteer Infantry by George Farr.
The Milne Papers - Volume III: The Royal Navy and the American Civil War, 1862–1864 ed. by John Beeler.
A History of the Civil War: The Conflict that Defined the United States by Brooks Simpson.
Congress of States: Proceedings of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America ed. by David Carlson.
A Quaker Colonel, His Fiancée, and Their Connections: Selected Civil War Correspondence ed. by Richard Smith.
Fallen Leaders: Favorite Stories and Fresh Perspectives from the Historians at Emerging Civil War ed. by Chris Mackowski.
The Civil War and Pop Culture: Favorite Stories and Fresh Perspectives from the Historians at Emerging Civil War ed. by Mackowski & Tracey.
Force of a Cyclone: The Battle of Stones River by Davis & Dunkerly.
Faces of Union Soldiers at Culp's Hill: Gettysburg's Critical Defense by Stahl & Borders.
Punish Treason, Reward Loyalty: The Forgotten Goals of Constitutional Reform after the Civil War by Mark Graber.
Such a Clash of Arms: The Maryland Campaign, September 1862 by Kevin Pawlak.

1 - These monthly release lists are not meant to be exhaustive compilations of non-fiction releases. They do not include reprints that are not significantly revised/expanded, special editions not distributed to reviewers, and digital-only titles. Works that only tangentially address the war years are also generally excluded. Inevitably, one or more titles on this list will get a rescheduled release (and they do not get repeated later), so revisiting the past few "Coming Soon" posts is the best way to pick up stragglers.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Review - " I Am Fighting for the Union: The Civil War Letters of Naval Officer Henry Willis Wells " edited by Robert Browning

[I Am Fighting for the Union: The Civil War Letters of Naval Officer Henry Willis Wells edited by Robert M. Browning, Jr. (University of Alabama Press, 2023). Paperback, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xxxiii,304/368. ISBN:978-0-8173-6105-1. $34.95]
When eminent Union Navy historian (and retired chief historian of the U.S. Coast Guard) Robert Browning was researching his monumental studies of the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, and West Gulf Blockading Squadrons, he uncovered (or rediscovered) a true gem in the service correspondence of Henry Willis Wells. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Wells was twenty years of age when he was appointed Master's Mate on the USS Cambridge in August 1861. Assigned at various times to the Cambridge, Ceres, Montgomery, Gem of the Seas, Rosalie, and finally Annie, the young junior officer found himself at a number of important naval stations between Norfolk, Virginia and the southwest coast of Florida. In performance of his duties, Wells gained a broad perspective of the U.S. Navy's blockade enforcement between the summer of 1861 and his untimely demise at the end of 1864.

Henry left behind for posterity over 200 letters to his family, the depth of which offer today's Civil War navy researchers a treasure trove of information. Their value is enhanced through Browning's endnotes, which identify individuals, vessels, places, and events mentioned in the letters. The frequency of Wells's letter writing and the depth of his observations leave behind an invaluable record of the day to day life of a junior officer on blockade duty during the Civil War. When discussing both major and minor events, Wells often expounds at great length. For example, he wrote a very long and detailed account of his observations of the famous Hampton Roads engagement of 1862. In that letter, Wells also describes his own ship's actions in suppressing enemy shore batteries and escorting a disabled vessel to safety. Much of Well's service was spent in the rivers and sounds of tidewater North Carolina, and he also penned a detailed account of the fighting there at Washington in 1863. In that engagement, Wells commanded a naval shore battery that helped repel the Confederate attack, and for that success he earned well-deserved plaudits. Numerous incidents of blockade enforcement are detailed in the Wells letters. In writing about failures to catch incoming or outgoing runners, Wells was frequently critical of a perceived lack of drive at the captain level. Henry also participated in a number of shore landings, and during one of those actions he was captured while trying to save a launch caught in the surf. Fortunately for him, the period of incarceration within the walls of the infamous Libby Prison was relatively brief.

Occupying a middle position within a Civil War navy ship's hierarchy of rank from captain on down to landsman, Wells interacted on a daily basis with senior officers and ordinary seamen alike. Writing from that perspective reveals many insights into shipboard life, crew relations, and, as often occurred, internal tensions. As referenced above, Wells was frequently critical of the officers above him and was not afraid to air his grievances aloud. In addition to questioning the competence and aggressiveness of more than one captain, Wells on multiple occasions expresses anger and dismay at his seemingly blocked path to promotion. At one point, his captain refused to write a letter of recommendation due to Henry's age, even though men younger than Wells, and with far less seafaring experience (before or during the war), were promoted around him. Like many frustrated officers in the blockading service, Wells pined to test his mettle in ship versus ship action aboard a modern man-of-war. But that was not to be.

On the Cambridge, Henry's complaints about fellow officers and his constant war with messmates over food matters indicate he might have been a difficult person to get along with when disagreements arose. One officer he did unabashedly admire was Lt. William Gwin, who, as students of the Brown Water Navy well know, subsequently made a name for himself commanding gunboats on the western waters before meeting his end in action there. Wells practically worshiped his memory. In his mind, none of the other officers which which he served during the war measured up to Gwin's example.

As mentioned in his letters, Wells was strongly antislavery in sentiment and ideology. Nevertheless, he was dismayed to learn that someone on the home front accused him of being a Copperhead. While Wells was skeptical of black citizenship and equality, he felt nothing but contempt for Peace Democrats and was angered that his loyalty was being questioned back home. On an interesting related note, Wells expresses thanks that the crew with which he served at the time of the presidential election of 1864 was not able to vote in it, as polling of his shipmates indicated that McClellan would have been the clear winner over Lincoln.

Eventually, Wells's exemplary service would earn him promotion to Acting Ensign and his own ship commands in late 1864, first with the Rosalie and then the Annie (both rather modest tenders). While at sea commanding the latter, Wells and the entire crew were lost, assumed killed during what investigators concluded to be a magazine explosion of unknown origin. With the tragic event leaving no witnesses nor wreckage to be examined today with modern forensics, the full story of the Annie's demise remains a mystery that will never be definitively solved.

Though Henry Wells was never able to live the life he might have imagined for himself, his letters leave behind a richly informative legacy of Civil War naval service that historian Robert Browning has significantly rescued from obscurity. In terms of sheer numbers, the body of published Union naval correspondence remains disproportionately small in comparison to that of those who wrote about their army service, but the Wells letter collection at least qualitatively narrows that unfortunate gap. Worthy of the highest recommendation, I Am Fighting for the Union is a letter collection possessing value rarely equaled in the entire Civil War naval library.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Booknotes: Theater of a Separate War, Revised Edition

New Arrival:
Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River, 1861–1865 - Revised Edition by Thomas W. Cutrer (UNC Press, 2023).

When Thomas Cutrer's Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River, 1861–1865 was released in hardcover back in 2017, many Civil War students rejoiced in finally having at their fingertips an up-to-date, single-volume synthesis history of the entire war fought in the Trans-Mississippi theater of operations. Unfortunately, serious issues surrounding content accuracy and presentation made it into the final version of the manuscript (for a few of my thoughts on the matter, go here). Given that the volume was picked up by a number of book clubs and received largely positive reviews and online ratings, it would have been easy for UNCP to sweep its shortcomings under the rug. To the publisher's credit, though, they've decided to reissue the book in a newly revised paperback edition.

From the description: "Though its most famous battles were waged in the East at Antietam, Gettysburg, and throughout Virginia, the Civil War was clearly a conflict that raged across a continent. From cotton-rich Texas and the fields of Kansas through Indian Territory and into the high desert of New Mexico, the Trans-Mississippi Theater was site of major clashes from the war's earliest days through the surrenders of Confederate generals Edmund Kirby Smith and Stand Waite in June 1865. In this comprehensive military history of the war west of the Mississippi River, Thomas W. Cutrer shows that the theater's distance from events in the East does not diminish its importance to the unfolding of the larger struggle."

The book has a solid narrative backbone, and I plan on revisiting the text to see how much it's been cleaned up. I recognize that expectations have to be reasonable. Fixing typos, misspelled names, and repeated passages is one thing, but it's another matter altogether to assign a person or persons the prodigious task of combing the manuscript for factual matters needing alteration. To the hoped for degree, the latter is probably unrealistic to expect at this stage of the game, and a spot check of some of my earlier content complaints confirms that those passages have been carried over unchanged into the new edition.


[UPDATE 7/11/23: Well, I made it to the 175-page mark and unfortunately need to definitively call it a day and redirect my finite reading time more productively. It turns out that already tempered expectations going into the re-read have been fully realized. I appreciate the resources that UNCP invested into cleaning up most of the surface-level flaws of the first edition manuscript (i.e. the aforementioned typographical errors, misspelled names, redundant passages, and the like); however, going by my own list I see no indication that factual errors, large or small, were addressed. I've already sunk a lot of time into reading most of the first edition (and now a third of the new version), and there's not much point in retracing my steps any further. It's too bad because the level of topical comprehensiveness is laudable, and the big picture narrative is pretty solid. Unfortunately, if you are coming at it from a strong background, the continuous flow of errors that emerge from the book's campaign and battle accounts makes for a demoralizing reading experience.]

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Review - " Agents of Empire: The First Oregon Cavalry and the Opening of the Interior Pacific Northwest during the Civil War " by James Robbins Jewell

[Agents of Empire: The First Oregon Cavalry and the Opening of the Interior Pacific Northwest during the Civil War by James Robbins Jewell (University of Nebraska Press, 2023). Hardcover, 7 maps, photos, figures, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xxvi,272/352. ISBN:978-1-4962-3303-5. $45]

For a very long time, the standard published account of the Civil War years in Oregon from a military participant's perspective has been Gunter Barth's All Quiet on the Yamhill: The Civil War in Oregon (1959), the edited diary of Corporal Royal A. Bensell of Co. H, 4th California Volunteer Infantry. Unfortunately, Bensell's experiences of garrison duty in the Willamette Valley from 1862 through 1864, during which no engagements were fought and bored frustration abounded, served to reinforce the false popular notion that little to nothing actually happened in the state during the Civil War (or perhaps even that Oregon produced no regiments of its own). Those seeking the rest of the story had to find it in bits and parts through unpublished academic monographs or within relatively obscure journal articles. Even Scott McArthur's 2012 book The Enemy Never Came: The Civil War in the Pacific Northwest did not venture much outside the Willamette Valley, where the vast majority of Oregon's settler population was concentrated but conflict was rare.

Historian James Robbins Jewell changed all that in 2018 with the publication of his groundbreaking book On Duty in the Pacific Northwest during the Civil War: Correspondence and Reminiscences of the First Oregon Cavalry Regiment (UT Press). In it, Jewell clearly demonstrated that the narrow personal perspectives of Bensell and others represented a very limited picture of a much larger wartime experience that encompassed long marches, extended campaigns, and sharp little skirmishes with native opponents. Happily, Jewell has now followed up that earlier effort with a full-length regimental history titled Agents of Empire: The First Oregon Cavalry and the Opening of the Interior Pacific Northwest during the Civil War.

With the outbreak of Civil War sparking the Regular Army's departure from Oregon, it was recognized by all that a state-raised mounted force (at least a regiment) was needed to fill the void and perform important tasks. Those troopers would be tasked with securing posts first established during the Indian troubles of the 1850s, suppressing any pro-Confederate plots that might emerge, and protecting citizens and emigrant trains from attacks by Northern Paiute, Bannock, and Shoshone tribes in the east and the Modocs and Klamath Indians to the south. However, raising that kind of force was easier said than done.

With an 1860 census figure below the 60,000 stipulated for statehood, Oregon, which joined the Union as the 33rd state in 1859, was sparsely populated for its size and as isolated as one could get from the seat of war, a challenging combination that Jewell cites as very problematic for recruiting. By contrast, with both native and Confederate threats closer and judged more real by its own leaders and residents, the Mountain West's Colorado Territory successfully raised multiple regiments in 1861-62 from a much smaller population. When it came to actually volunteering, Oregonians were apparently much tougher to convince, but reluctance to serve didn't stop their communities from demanding military protection.

As Jewell recounts, recruiting was slow from the start and did not much improve over time, the result being that the First Oregon Cavalry never came close to reaching a full complement of companies and men (though roughly 900 individuals in total served with the unit over the course of the conflict). The backgrounds and lives of many of these men before, during, and after the war, particularly the field grade and company officers, are explored in the text, though some readers will be disappointed that there is no roster appendix of the kind frequently attached to unit histories of this depth.

During the secession crisis and early stages of the war, Union supporters across the West were concerned with the presence and alleged strength, often vastly overstated, of pro-Confederate secret societies such as the Knights of the Golden Circle. It was widely believed that such groups might take advantage of the military vacuum created by the Regular Army's absence to disrupt or even overthrow loyal state and territorial governments. As the war progressed, "Copperhead" influences were added to the list of individuals and groups believed to be dangerous to Union authority. As mentioned before, the First Oregon Cavalry was tasked with suppressing such activities, though Jewell's research did not uncover the presence of any significant threats along those lines. Opposition that did prove to be real was from the native tribes of the area, particularly the Paiute, Bannock, and Shoshone bands that came to be collectively called "Snake" Indians by their settler foes. The wily Chief Paulina was regarded as particularly troublesome to those entering lands claimed by his band of Paiutes.

Several chapters recount in great detail the sequence of yearly 1862-64 summer campaigns conducted by the regiment east of the Cascades and along today's California, Nevada, and Idaho borders with Oregon. During those movements, especially when ground needed to be held for an extended period of time, the troopers of the First Oregon Cavalry received close support from the Washington Territory's own volunteer infantry regiment and later the First Oregon Infantry. Highlighting differences between how those military actions unfolded and how more typical Civil War mounted operations were performed, the unique character of the campaigns, which lasted for many hot and dry months and often crossed hundreds of miles of extremely rugged terrain, is very well expressed in the text. Hampered by home front pressures to hold entire companies back for community defense, advancing columns were small (mostly one or two companies with some additional allied Indian scouts and auxiliaries). Pack encumbrances often limited speed, and the Oregon troopers were only rarely able to bring strength to bear against sizable concentrations of warriors (the largest fight was the McCall engagement of May 18, 1864, an indecisive two-company affair). While the Oregon cavalry, in failing to crush the Snakes, did not achieve all they set out to do during the Civil War years, they did succeed to providing a measure of protection to emigrants and miners. They also managed, albeit only temporarily, to bring Paulina to the negotiating table. As the author suggests, the most that can be said is that the First Oregon played a major part in setting the stage for the ensuing Snake War of 1864-68, a very violent but mostly little-known conflict most extensively recounted in Gregory Michno's 2007 book The Deadliest Indian War in the West.

As Jewell maintains, perhaps the regiment's strongest record of success lay in its key contributions to the economic development of the state as well as that of surrounding areas. The literature exploring this larger western theme is strong, especially that tracing how California Column veterans enhanced the development of the Desert Southwest and accelerated the region's ties to the rest of the westward expanding country. As Jewell reveals, Oregon cavalry troopers, through shielding emigrants, mapping previously unexplored lands, protecting road surveying crews, and marking resources (such as water and minerals) for current use and future exploitation, had much the same impact. A very strong case is made that those achievements, on both state and national levels, represent the unit's most lasting legacy.

The memory of the men and military service of the First Oregon Cavalry languished over the decades following the war. Jewell posits persuasively that a major reason behind that suppression was that the regiment's veterans, proud though they may have been, were reluctant to publicize their own experiences after finding themselves in the midst of battle-hardened Civil War veterans who emigrated to the Far West in droves. Even an editor of the state's most prominent newspaper, the Oregonian, mocked the regiment and its veterans for contributing nothing to the war effort. Transcending such ignorance and correcting its influences, Jewell's pair of works succeed in ensuring that the historical legacy of the First Oregon Cavalry is both understood and appreciated.

Though Jewell does not fully engage with current popular debates over what degree, if any, military operations in the Great Plains, Mountain West, and Far West should be regarded as part of the same conflict fought by Union and Confederate armies far to the east, On Duty in the Pacific Northwest during the Civil War and now Agents of Empire: The First Oregon Cavalry and the Opening of the Interior Pacific Northwest during the Civil War both enhance growing recognition of the American Civil War as continent-wide in breadth and scale. In that way, Jewell's scholarship also critically argues that fighting men who died in Oregon were just as much 'Civil War soldiers' as those celebrated for their battlefield heroics as members of the Union armies of the Tennessee, Cumberland, and Potomac. Civil War military history readers should always resolve to venture outside traditional comfort zones every once in a while, and they can certainly do that through the education lessons offered inside James Jewell's highly original and praiseworthy scholarship.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Booknotes: Twelve Days

New Arrival:
Twelve Days: How the Union Nearly Lost Washington in the First Days of the Civil War by Tony Silber (Potomac Bks, 2023).

Tony Silber's Twelve Days: How the Union Nearly Lost Washington in the First Days of the Civil War examines the brief, fearful interlude "that began with the federal evacuation of (Fort Sumter) and ended with the arrival of the New York Seventh Militia Regiment in Washington." "Told in real time, Twelve Days alternates between the four main scenes of action: Washington, insurrectionist Maryland, the advance of Northern troops, and the Confederate planning and military movements."

From the description: Silber's "account starts on April 14, 1861, with President Lincoln’s call for seventy-five thousand militia troops. Washington, a Southern slaveholding city, was the focal point: both sides expected the first clash to occur there. The capital was barely defended, by about two thousand local militia troops of dubious training and loyalty. In Charleston, less than two days away by train, the Confederates had an organized army that was much larger and ready to fight."

Meanwhile, "Maryland’s eastern sections were already reeling in violent insurrection, and within days Virginia would secede. For half of the twelve days after Fort Sumter, Washington was severed from the North, the telegraph lines cut and the rail lines impassable, sabotaged by secessionist police and militia members. There was no cavalry coming. The United States had a tiny standing army at the time, most of it scattered west of the Mississippi. The federal government’s only defense would be state militias."

In Silber's reconstruction of events, President Lincoln "emerged as the master of his cabinet, a communications genius, and a strategic giant who possessed a crystal-clear core objective and a powerful commitment to see it through." As revealed in the book's subtitle, good stories are often sold through a bit of added sensationalism. In the end, Washington's small window of vulnerability was not tested, and no Confederate army approached the gates of the U.S. capital in 1861. Indeed, with his own little army on Washington's doorstep in 1864, crusty Jubal Early would likely object to any assertion that the "nation’s capital never again came so close to being captured by the Confederates."!

Employing a variety of sources, including archival research, Silber draws upon his professional journalism background to present "the entire harrowing story of the first days of the Civil War" in a dialogue-driven narrative that attempts to convey to readers an immediate, 'you are there' impression of historical events and conversations.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Booknotes: Righting the Longstreet Record at Gettysburg

New Arrival:
Righting the Longstreet Record at Gettysburg: Six Matters of Controversy and Confusion by Cory M. Pfarr (McFarland, 2023).

In 2019, Cory Pfarr's Longstreet at Gettysburg: A Critical Reassessment was released to positive reception. Click here to read the interview I conducted with the author at the time.

While the previous treatment was pretty thorough, the author has more to say on the topic in his new book Righting the Longstreet Record at Gettysburg: Six Matters of Controversy and Confusion. From the description: "Following up on the award-winning Longstreet at Gettysburg, this collection of new essays addresses some of the persistent questions regarding Confederate General James Longstreet's performance at the Battle of Gettysburg. Influential interpretations of his actions are evaluated for historical accuracy, drawing on often overlooked primary source material."

As the title reveals, there are six main topics raised in the book. They are closely supported by nine detailed maps. The first chapter explores the origins of Longstreet criticism, in this case through the anti-Longstreet writing of the Rev. John W. Jones. The second essay weighs the postwar interpretations of the Day 2 fighting put forth by opposing generals Longstreet and Sickles, which were mutually supportive of each other's performance. Of course, Longstreet's march and countermarch to his assault's late-afternoon launch point on Day 2 remains controversial to this day, and two essays reexamine those much disputed events. One looks at the reconnaissance efforts that preceded it and the other the movement itself and its treatment in the literature. The division led by Richard Anderson was part of Third Corps, but under whose control it was directly subject to (Hill's or Longstreet's) during the July 2 attack is, according to Pfarr, the subject of much popular confusion. That matter is scrutinized in the fifth chapter. The final essay addresses Helen Longstreet's published defense of her husband in Lee and Longstreet at High Tide: Gettysburg in the Light of the Official Records (1904).

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Review - " The Governor's Pawns: Hostages and Hostage-Taking in Civil War West Virginia " by Randall Gooden

[The Governor's Pawns: Hostages and Hostage-Taking in Civil War West Virginia by Randall S. Gooden (Kent State University Press, 2023). Hardcover, maps, photos, illustrations, appendix, endnotes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xxi,198/271. ISBN:978-1-60635-457-5. $55]
The subject is largely absent from general Civil War histories, but hostage-taking was a common enough practice by both sides, particularly in contested border regions, to warrant special attention. It certainly receives that in Randall Gooden's The Governor's Pawns: Hostages and Hostage-Taking in Civil War West Virginia. Simply put, Civil War hostages were individuals arrested and held captive (most often without having been charged with any offense) in order to ensure the life and health of citizens similarly detained by the opposing side. The hostage was set free upon confirmation that the designated prisoner he was seized to protect was released and on the way home. According to Gooden, what made the hostage-taking procedure in Civil War West Virginia unique is that it was an official state program, formalized in state law and centrally administered by the governor himself.

Civil War hostage-taking did not arise in a vacuum, and Gooden's introduction provides a brief yet instructive primer on the history of North American hostage-taking, and how it evolved, going forward from the Colonial period. During tribal conflicts of the 1600s, hostages had a dual purpose. On the one hand, they facilitated communication and understanding during trade, diplomatic, and cultural exchanges, and, on the other, they were effective threats deemed necessary to ensure that negotiations were conducted in good faith. During the American Revolution and Early Republic periods, hostage-taking became more of a dual preventative and retaliatory measure practiced among all parties. Gooden describes the hostage-taking process, beginning with the Barbary States conflicts and the War of 1812, as becoming more "weaponized" during the nineteenth century. Additional background context is found in the book's able summation of the social, cultural, economic, and political differences between Virginians residing on either side of the Appalachian range and how those divides widened as the 1800s progressed. Gooden argues persuasively that all of that background combined to create an environment in which hostage-taking became widely accepted and its civil rights complications not broadly challenged after the outbreak of civil war.

As the narrative reveals, in the midst of wartime extremes (with neither the Restored Government in Wheeling nor the Richmond authorities recognizing each other's legitimacy) hostage-taking emerged organically. Along with private citizens suspected of aiding the rival government and its supporting military apparatus (or, in the case of physicians, simply prominent members of the community), local and state officials were frequently arrested during cavalry raids, security sweeps, and guerrilla attacks in the countryside. Those actions, in turn, led to retaliatory hostage-taking, with each hostage (or group of hostages) linked to the safe release and return of a specified individual.

Formal passage of West Virginia's state hostage law occurred in early 1863, and Gooden explains well the many complicated influences and pressures involved. With the state still in the middle of its birthing process, the trans-Appalachian counties became increasingly subjected to deep raids conducted by regular enemy cavalry as well as local attacks from pro-Confederate guerrillas. Out of a mixture of paranoia and legitimate safety concerns, many believed that the new state's very existence was at stake. The Confederate Jones-Imboden Raid of April-May 1863, during which a number of civilians and government officials were seized by the raiders, was frequently cited by statehood supporters as a prime example of why the hostage law was an absolute necessity. In this midst of these regular threats, statehood adherents came to consider any and all criticism aimed toward the movement as unqualified disloyalty, and the most prominent of the accused were targeted as hostage candidates.

In the book, Gooden frequently and effectively uses individual case histories to illustrate and explore larger issues, one of which was the legal dispute over federal versus state powers when it came to hostages and hostage-taking. The arrest of George W. Thompson, a former U.S. congressman, lawyer, and state judge widely respected among western Virginians before the war, took place before the state law was passed, but the resulting court action represented an important first step toward clarifying legal gray areas in regard to state and federal authority over hostage-taking matters. In securing hostages, federal military assistance was frequently required (and could not be ordered by state officials, but rather requested), but Gooden notes that after statehood was achieved West Virginia governor Arthur Boreman, in contrast with Restored Government leader Francis Pierpont, gained more standing with federal officers when it came to cooperation. Nevertheless, strained relations and jurisdictional challenges persisted throughout the war, and, on balance, Gooden concludes that most outcomes ended up on the side of reinforcing federal dominion over state powers.

The mechanisms of the state hostage law and who its targets would be are well described in the text. An individual did not have to commit any overt act against the West Virginia or United States governments in order to be arrested as a hostage, just be a known or suspected sympathizer with the enemy or critic of the statehood faction. In all of the conflict's most divided regions, coercive systems reliant upon hearsay evidence were highly exposed to abuse from accusers holding neighbor, business, family, or political grudges. West Virginia's hostage program was no different. In hostage selection, status was very important. Those having respected and influential positions in the community were most valuable as hostages. With functionality in mind, West Virginia authorities routinely tasked hostages with using their personal influence to secure the release of designated civilian political prisoners held by the enemy, an uncertain process that sometimes involved extensive travel and weeks or months of negotiation in Richmond. All in all, though there were exceptions (sometimes tragic ones), Gooden's narrative seems to convey a picture of overall restraint and a large degree of mutual acceptance among the parties to the process.

As mentioned before, the West Virginia governor was directly involved at all levels of the state's hostage system, and Gooden reveals that much of what we know about it today is owed to Arthur Boreman's detailed recordkeeping. Utilizing that treasure trove as well as a host of other primary and secondary sources, Gooden is able to assemble a geographically broad survey of the hostage law's implementation and the kinds of activities it was designed to curtail. Particular attention is paid to raiding and hostage-taking in Barbour, Gilmer, Doddridge, and Morgan counties as well the valley of the South Branch of the Potomac and the southwest border area. Indeed, in providing context for his study of hostages and hostage-taking in those areas and regions, Gooden contributes more than a little to our general understanding of the character and scope of irregular warfare in West Virginia.

Significantly, Gooden also gives voice to the victims of West Virginia's hostage system. Boreman's detailed records are great for history and historians, but they also held potential for getting the governor himself in trouble from aggrieved parties seeking redress during and after the war. Fallout from the arrest and death in custody of George Buchanon was the most prominent example of that, and his case is well documented in the book. Not charged with any offense, Buchanon was held as a state hostage for six months under shaky legal grounds. Immune to petitions from loyal citizens and Union soldiers alike who vouched for Buchanon and requested his release, the governor, who admitted that he held firm to a great degree out of annoyance at the petitioning, refused to release the sick and declining Buchanon from state custody. Eventually, the prisoner died. Buchanon's family later sued Boreman, but their legal complaints failed to gain any headway in state and federal courts.

At the end of the study, Gooden briefly surveys the contrasting postwar experiences of a small selection of former hostages, some of whom suffered from continued social and professional ostracism while others benefited from the experience by successfully using it as something of a badge of honor. Generally speaking, Gooden's findings support earlier scholarship concluding that it was often the case that prewar and wartime animosities among West Virginians greatly diminished during postbellum decades through shared economic associations that often had the additional effect of smoothing over differences between old antagonists.

The Governor's Pawns is an excellent history of a war measure that tested (sometimes sorely) the legal, jurisdictional, and cooperative boundaries between state and federal authority during the Civil War. That the hostage law emerged in the midst of a statehood movement that was itself of questionable legality only added to its controversy, and its geographical confines have limited its exposure among Civil War readers. Raising the level of awareness, Gooden's work adds significantly to the Civil War literature addressing the delicate balance between ensuring public safety and protecting the individual civil liberties of citizens. Predictably, definitive answers cannot be assigned to questions surrounding the "success" of the hostage law and whether the ends justified the means. Though detailed exploration is well beyond the scope of this study, Gooden's suggestion that deep concerns regarding the "validity and usefulness" (pg. 198) of West Virginia's wartime hostage program influenced the demise of the practice on the national level, specifically on the part of the U.S. Army, going forward seems, at the very least, to be a feasible proposition.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Ten Most Highly Anticipated Titles (second half of 2023)

As we rapidly approach the midpoint of the year and remaining gaps in the 2023 release schedule continue to be filled in, perhaps now is a good time to put together a list of ten July-and-onward titles that have piqued my interest so far (as you might recall, I did a similar thing for the first half of the year).

In no particular order:

1. I Dread the Thought of the Place: The Battle of Antietam and the End of the Maryland Campaign by Scott Hartwig (JHUP).

This one undoubtedly resides at or near the top of a great many 'most anticipated' lists for 2023. No one (except for anonymous 1-star rating guy) should be surprised if it turns out to be the leading desert island choice for Antietam enthusiasts.

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

Rable's more "neutral" examination of the Lincoln-McClellan relationship promises to break the mold, mainly through "reinterpreting the political aspects of their partnership."

3. Bayou Battles for Vicksburg: The Swamp and River Expeditions, January 1-April 30, 1863 by Timothy Smith (Kansas).

The next installment in Smith's series covers the campaign's extended floundering phase that preceded the dramatic cross-river breakthrough achieved below the Hill City. Though the description extols its "fresh research on the Yazoo Pass and Steele’s Bayou expeditions, Grant’s canal, and the Lake Providence effort," there's no mention of Arkansas Post. Given the dearth of major coverage, I was hoping that Smith would include it as part of the campaign. [ed. 9/1/23: More info has come out since this posting, and I was glad to find that the book does indeed cover Arkansas Post]

4. A Man by Any Other Name: William Clarke Quantrill and the Search for American Manhood by Joseph Beilein (Georgia).

I would never have thought to make a "search for American manhood" the vehicle through which to better understand Quantrill, but I like everything that Beilein has produced so far and am very intrigued at the prospect of a new biography of one of the war's most controversial and hated figures.

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

Any new book covering some aspect of the Civil War in the Far West automatically gets a nod of interest from CWBA.

6. War on Record: The Archive and the Afterlife of the Civil War by Yael Sternhell (Yale UP).

With this one on the way, I no longer have to wonder why no history of the creation and impact of the O.R. itself has been produced. Well, at least I am not aware of any similarly scaled antecedents.

7. General J. E. B. Stuart: The Soldier and the Man by Edward Longacre (SB).

Eastern theater cavalry books published over recent decades have renewed my appreciation for Stuart's talents (if you don't allow yourself to get too distracted by the noise, you find he was a pretty damn good cavalry general). I think I might be up for a new biography.

8. Treasure and Empire in the Civil War: The Panama Route, the West and the Campaigns to Control America's Mineral Wealth by Neil Chatelain (McFarland).

I can't find much info about this one yet (thus far, the publisher doesn't even have a book page up for it), but the appealing combination of title and author put it on the radar.

9. A Mismanaged Affair: The Battle of Seven Pines / Fair Oaks, May 31-June 1, 1862 by Victor Vignola (SB).

Newton's Howard series installment is now thirty years old, and a meatier update has been long overdue. I'm certain I join all Peninsula Campaign nerds (especially John F., Esq.!) in being anxious to find out what Vignola has in store for us.

10. The Iron Dice of Battle: Albert Sidney Johnston and the Civil War in the West by Timothy Smith (LSU).

Much of the blistering criticism, then and now, of Sidney Johnston's generalship is deserved, but I agree with those who argue that he might have been the only man who could have kept the Confederacy's squabbling western generals in line and rowing together in the same direction. As the premier modern chronicler of many of the disastrous military events that occurred under Johnston's watch, Smith is well-placed to offer penetrating views and assessments of the man and his actions.