Friday, July 28, 2023

Coming Soon (August '23 Edition)

Scheduled for AUG 20231:

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

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

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

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Review - " The Antietam Battlefield Atlas " by Brad Butkovich

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 24, 2023

Booknotes: Funny Thing About the Civil War

New Arrival:

Funny Thing About the Civil War: The Humor of an American Tragedy by Thomas F. Curran (McFarland, 2023).

One of the things I enjoy most about reading Civil War soldier diaries and letters is the sense of humor so many of these individuals were able to maintain in the face of daunting misery, hopelessness, sickness, and death. When past writers convey humorous puns and frame ironic situations in ways that we ourselves might do today, it makes them and their experiences more relatable.

Humorous social interaction, of the gallows variety or otherwise, has always been part of the human condition, but, according to historian Thomas Curran (you might recall his excellent previous book Women Making War), it remains an understudied topic in its broader Civil War context, though much has been written about Lincoln's legendary jokes and yarn spinning.

Curran finds precedent in Cameron Nickels's Civil War Humor (2010) but maintains that his new book Funny Thing About the Civil War: The Humor of an American Tragedy is "very different." In Curran's view, the closest shared aspect is the wide range of humor types examined in both books.

From the description: "Examining humor in depictions of the Civil War from the war years to the present, this review covers a wide range of literature, film and television in historical context. Wartime humor served as a form of propaganda to render the enemy and their cause laughable, but also to help people cope with the human costs of the conflict. After the war many authors and, later, movie and television producers employed humor to shape its legacy, perpetuating myths and stereotypes that became ingrained in American memory. Giving attention to the stories behind the stories, the author focuses on what people laughed at, who they laughed with and what it reveals about their view of events." Covering the war years and beyond, the book does not examine the use of humor to propagandize, criticize, or lampoon aspects of the emerging prewar sectional divide (at least while it was happening).

Curran's Civil War humor study is presented in three parts. Part I demonstrates how funny stuff was used to "combat the war, criticize the conflict, and cope with the event's fouler side." How postwar writers sought to shape remembrance of the war, mainly through published memoirs and fiction, is addressed in Part II. Part III expands on the previous memory-focused section, "exploring how modern technologies and new platforms combined with print methods to present both traditional depictions and postmodern interpretations of the war" (pg. 4). Sounds interesting.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Snapshot Review - Forging a New South: The Life of General John T. Wilder

Having lived a long and remarkable life on and off the battlefield, along the way justly earning a historical reputation as one of the Civil War's more talented citizen-generals, Indiana's John Thomas Wilder is richly deserving of a up to date and full biographical treatment of the kind presented in the pages of Maury Nicely's Forging a New South: The Life of General John T. Wilder  (University of Tennessee Press, 2023). This "Snapshot" review feature will solely address those parts of the book that detail Wilder's Civil War career, leaving his lengthy and eventful postwar life as a New South industrialist and politician for others to comment upon elsewhere in the review sphere.

During the years leading up to the outbreak of the Civil War, the New York-born Wilder achieved business and financial success in Indiana. Patenting an efficient horizontal waterwheel to power industry, Wilder's technologically innovative mind was also on display in his adopted western state. Though praised for his vision and drive, his highly individualistic and impulsive nature concerned those suddenly left behind to manage his business partnerships. As Nicely keenly observes, these character traits carried over into Wilder's military career.

Quickly deciding to personally join the war effort, Wilder raised and led a company of the 17th Indiana VI into western Virginia in 1861. He quickly climbed the officer ranks, becoming the regiment's colonel by the time of the summer 1862 campaign and siege of Corinth. During the ensuing Kentucky Campaign of that year, Wilder commanded the brigade-sized Munfordville garrison. On September 17, after engaging in the highly irregular practice of consulting with and seeking advice from the enemy about where his duty lay, Wilder surrendered the post to General Braxton Bragg's army. However, he escaped strong censure on the merits of the daunting odds he faced and the fact that he had successfully defended Munfordville a short time earlier against a headlong Confederate assault, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. Missing the theater's big battles at Shiloh, Perryville, and Stones River, Wilder's frustrations grew as an infantry commander forced to contend with mobile Confederate cavalry raiders. The maddening inability to come to grips with elusive enemy forces such as those led by John Hunt Morgan helped inspire Wilder to transform his command into what would eventually be celebrated as the "Lightning Brigade."

Troubled by his situation, Wilder's inventive, problem-solving mind went to work in Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, the end result being the conversion of his infantry brigade into mounted infantry armed with repeating rifles. With the goal of creating a brigade with the swiftness of cavalry and fighting power of infantry (an enticing combination that some of his more skeptical superiors did not believe possible), Wilder trained his men in open order dismounted fighting tactics and tirelessly lobbied to arm them with the latest repeaters (eventually getting the vaunted Spencers). Such weapons would compensate both for dispersal on the firing line and diminished strength due to horseholders. In describing the process, the author, as others have also done in the literature, appropriately credits Army of the Cumberland commander William S. Rosecrans for being Wilder's partner in innovation and necessary ranking sponsor. Along the way, however, Wilder's singlemindedness not only ruffled the feathers of superiors but put the countryside surrounding his camps into an uproar through the brigade's repeated scouring of Middle Tennessee farms and homes for horseflesh, riding equipment, trophies, and supplies. Except for the weapons (of course), Wilder's goal of making the enemy pay for his command's upgrade and upkeep was largely successful.

The Civil War portion of Nicely's cradle-to-grave biographical narrative fills roughly half of the nearly 550-page volume. Two Wilder biographies have been published in 2023, this one and Steven Cox's John T. Wilder: Union General, Southern Industrialist (Mercer UP). The depth of Nicely's research far outstrips Cox's, and the breadth and detail of his narrative is also on another level. Utilizing a truly vast number and diversity of primary and secondary sources, Nicely's text covers with broad satisfaction the very significant role played by Wilder and his brigade during the 1863 Tullahoma and Chickamauga campaigns. Though critical observations are dutifully included, Nicely's highly laudatory interpretations of Wilder's actions are strongly supported by modern published accounts of mounted operations in both campaigns, including the best and most recent ones authored by David Powell and Eric Wittenberg. Interestingly, the Tullahoma study co-written by Powell and Wittenberg is not included in the bibliography. Perhaps its recent publication post-dated the author's completion of those sections of the book. Map quality is very good, though a few more would have helped (especially for the Chickamauga coverage).

As Nicely reveals, chronic health problems seriously curtailed Wilder's field service during 1863 and 1864, leaving most of his brigade's post-Chickamauga activities only briefly summarized in the text due to its commander's frequent absences. While sickness cut Wilder's front-line service short, both before and after his 1864 resignation he still was able to significantly contribute to the war effort as a recruiting agent for Indiana governor Oliver Morton. Indeed, it remains curious that Wilder, a field-grade officer having an enviable record of battlefield distinction and top-level supporters (both Morton and General George Thomas urged his promotion), did not receive his general's star until August of 1864. By then, Wilder was effectively out of the war. The possibility is raised that the Lincoln administration, wary of Morton's presidential aspirations, slow-tracked the governor's appointment requests, but the author seems more accepting of the simpler explanation that a lack of suitable vacancies delayed Senate approval. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

As mentioned earlier, the second half of the book covers Wilder's ironworks and railroad manufacturing activities in post-Civil War East Tennessee as well as his political aspirations, which included an unsuccessful congressional run but successful election as mayor of Chattanooga. The volume also includes a large gallery of photographs, many presumably little-seen before now.

Judging from this substantial foray into the book's content, all evidence points toward Maury Nicely's Wilder biography being the clear frontrunner of the two candidates and well worthy of recommendation.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Booknotes: The Antietam Battlefield Atlas

New Arrival:

The Antietam Battlefield Atlas by Brad Butkovich (Historic Imagination, 2023).

We already have a fine modern Antietam atlas in Bradley Gottfried's The Maps of Antietam (2012), but, in my view, you can never have too many. Time stamps, exact troop positions, battlefield events, and other points of interest are always open to differing interpretations, and the more information interested readers have at their fingertips the better. Thus, Brad Butkovich's The Antietam Battlefield Atlas is a very welcome addition to the field.

From the description: The Antietam Battlefield Atlas "is the result of years of research and ground work. The 124 full color maps follow the course of the battle step by step during that fateful day. This atlas will be indispensable for the battlefield visitor as they walk the park and try to understand the movement of the troops and units who were there."

A glance at the cover art gives you a good idea about what to expect from the maps. There is a lot of information thrust into them, and their multi-color nature helps all the details pop without visually overwhelming the reader. Directly below each map are numbered bullet points offering an approximate time for the action and a brief summary of events depicted.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Booknotes: Force of a Cyclone

New Arrival:

Force of a Cyclone: The Battle of Stones River, December 31, 1862 – January 2, 1863 by Caroline Ann Davis and Robert M. Dunkerly (Savas Beatie, 2023).

The ECW series now turns to the Battle of Murfreesboro.

From the description: "... (O)n December 31, Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee faced off against William Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland just outside Murfreesboro along Stones River. The commanders, who led armies nearly equal in size, had prepared identical attack plans, but Bragg struck first. His morning attack bent the Federal line back upon itself. The desperate fighting seesawed throughout the day amid rocky outcroppings and cedar groves. The Federals managed to avoid a crushing defeat and hold on until dark as the last hours of the old year slipped away."

As explained in Caroline Ann Davis and Robert Dunkerly's Force of a Cyclone: The Battle of Stones River, December 31, 1862 – January 2, 1863, the battle's indecisive results nevertheless had significant strategic consequences.

More from the description: "With the fate of Middle Tennessee yet to be determined, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. The president had signed the proclamation back in September of 1862, but he needed battlefield victories to bolster its authority. The stakes being gambled outside Murfreesboro were enormous. Determined to win the battle outright, Bragg launched another large-scale assault on January 2. The fate of the Army of the Cumberland and the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation hung in the balance."

Davis and Dunkerly's main battle narrative runs around 100 pages and is supported by seven brigade/division-scale maps along with the series staple's grand host of photographs and illustrations. The driving tour appendix (and map) covers a dozen battlefield stops and another twelve "Beyond the Battlefield" locations of interest. Another appendix examines the Union occupation of the Tennessee capital and Andrew Johnson's military government headquartered there. Filling out the rest of the section are pieces discussing Fortress Rosecrans, the freedmen community of Cemetery, and Stones River National Cemetery (which includes some additional notes on monuments and preservation). As is the case with all ECW battle books, the volume concludes with orders of battle and a suggested reading list.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Booknotes: An Imposter of No Ordinary Rank

New Arrival:

An Imposter of No Ordinary Rank: The True Story of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, alias Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford, and her Civil War Memoir, The Woman in Battle by William L. Post, Jr. (Author, 2023).

Popular Civil War writing is full of tall tales, and one of the biggest is the personal story of Loreta Velazquez (also spelled Velasquez by some), who claimed among a great many other things to have disguised herself as a Confederate line officer. Every summary of her life that I've read has my BS meter ringing so loudly that I've always adopted a dismissive attitude (fair or not) about it. However, many do not share that outlook, and she has many advocates who still believe much of her story as published in her controversial 1876 memoir The Woman in Battle. The memoir continues to enchant readers. A quick Amazon search reveals a boatload of available reprints of the memoir, and she's one of three individuals featured in the 2002 book Cubans in the Confederacy.

Perhaps the most comprehensive debunking of Velazquez's claims is found in William C. Davis's book Inventing Loreta Velasquez: Confederate Soldier Impersonator, Media Celebrity, and Con Artist (SIU Press, 2016). In it, Davis determines that most of her most celebrated claims are complete falsehoods, but he also finds her real life to be "far more interesting than misguided interpretations (of it) and her own fanciful inventions." William Post's An Imposter of No Ordinary Rank: The True Story of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, alias Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford, and her Civil War Memoir, The Woman in Battle is a new book written in the vein of Davis's critical account.

From the description: "In 1876 Madame Loreta Janeta Velazquez published a 600-page memoir, The Woman in Battle, which recounted her exhilarating adventures in the American Civil War disguised as a Rebel soldier, alias Lieutenant Harry T. Buford. She claimed she fought valiantly at the Battles of Bull Run, Ball’s Bluff and Shiloh. Her male soldier disguise fooled generals time and again, but she was found out and thrown in Castle Thunder Prison! She reinvented herself into a slippery female Confederate spy who tricked U.S. Secret Service Chief Lafayette Baker when he hired her to find herself.

Some historians and writers have been unsure whether to believe true all Velazquez claimed, but others have become her advocate. One documentarian said it is “one of the most dramatic untold stories of Latino American contributions to a pivotal event of American history- the American Civil War.” Because of Velazquez’s unbelievable claims, dispute has followed her autobiography, but regardless, every new generation is mesmerized by it."

In the introduction, Post describes The Woman in Battle as "captivating" but containing "much exaggeration and many deliberate lies." His nearly 750-page investigation, supported by footnotes, of the Velazquez life and memoir is self-described as a "process of separating the truth from the lies," a daunting challenge that frequently resulted in "dead ends." Like Davis, Post is critical of the many Velazquez story proponents who "refuse to understand that the memoir is full of lies" and "willfully perpetuate the lies to mask the true Velazquez." According to Post, "(b)y the conclusion of this book, readers will know the difference between embellishment, unwittingly accepted lies, and purposely perpetuated lies" (pp. xv-xvi).

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Booknotes: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Kennedy

New Arrival:

The Civil War Letters of Sarah Kennedy: Life under Occupation in the Upper South edited by Minoa D. Uffelman, Phyllis Smith, and Ellen Kanervo (UTenn Press, 2023).

From the description: "At the outbreak of the Civil War, Sarah Kennedy watched as her husband, D.N., left for Mississippi, leaving her alone to care for their six children and control their slaves in a large home in downtown Clarksville, Tennessee. D. N. Kennedy left to aid the Confederate Treasury Department. He had steadfastly supported secession and helped recruit local boys for the Confederate army. The Civil War Letters of Sarah Kennedy: Life under Occupation in the Upper South showcases the letters Sarah wrote to her husband during their time apart, offering readers an inside look at life on the home front during the Civil War through the eyes of a slave-owning, town-dwelling wife and mother."

The book's foreword, written by current Voices of the Civil War series editor Michael Gray, contextualizes this and other published regional female voices (including others from Kennedy's Clarksville), with some emphasis on the husband-wife relationship and its influences beyond the home front. More background and context, specifically about the Kennedys, their life together, and their wartime letters, are provided in the volume's lengthy introduction.

The 52 letters compiled in the volume were written between August 16, 1862 and February 20, 1865 and are organized into four chapters. The editors contribute introductory remarks (mainly a rundown of historical events concurrent to the letters that follow) and endnotes for each. The postwar period of the shared lives of Sarah and D.N. are discussed in an epilogue.

More from the description: "(T)his important collection chronicles Sarah Kennedy’s personal struggles during the Civil War years, from periods of illness to lack of consistent contact with her husband and everything in between. Her love and devotion to her family is apparent in each letter, contrasting deeply with her resentment and harsh treatment toward her enslaved people as Emancipation swept through Clarksville." In sum, the collection "pulls back the curtain on upper-middle-class family life and social relations in a mid-sized Middle Tennessee town during the Civil War and reveals the slow demise of slavery during the Union occupation."

Monday, July 10, 2023

Booknotes: Detour to Disaster

New Arrival:

Detour to Disaster: General John Bell Hood's "Slight Demonstration" at Decatur and the Unravelling of the Tennessee Campaign by Noel Carpenter (Savas Beatie, 2023).

I sometimes wonder how many quality retiree passion projects are out there that didn't get published before the author passed and ended up gathering dust in some relative's storage (or, worse, thrown out in the estate clearing). You can't really blame anyone too much for letting it happen. After all, publishing something worthwhile is a big job and family members often don't share the writer's interests and motivation.

Happily, that is not the case here. A Decatur, Alabama native, Noel Carpenter, upon retirement from his Air Force officer and data specialist careers, researched and wrote a strong contribution on a neglected topic associated with the 1864 Tennessee Campaign. Unfortunately, Carpenter passed away in 2000 before publishing his completed manuscript. Thankfully, however, that is not the end of the story, as Carpenter's daughter, Carol Powell, did us all a favor by giving the manuscript a grammatical review and printing it locally in 2007 under the title A Slight Demonstration: Decatur, October 1864, Clumsy Beginning of Gen. John B. Hood's Tennessee Campaign [to read my 2007 review, follow the preceding link]. As often happens in such cases, though, availability was limited and the small-run title went out of print.

Fast forward to 2023, and this historiographically valuable manuscript has received a second breath of life, this time from publisher Savas Beatie. Retitled Detour to Disaster: General John Bell Hood's "Slight Demonstration" at Decatur and the Unravelling of the Tennessee Campaign, the new paperback version appears to be mostly a straight reprint. I don't have ready access to the original hardcover edition at the moment, but I did happen to look through it again sometime within the past year or so, and it appears the font (if I recall correctly), page dimensions, and main narrative page-length (156 pages) are unchanged. The SB edition has a new foreword (which adds some contextual background), an index, and the original area map has been replaced with a new one. Otherwise, no tactical-scale maps were added to address the original version's deficiency in that regard. There might be some other differences, but, like I mentioned earlier, I didn't do a page-by-page comparison.

From the description: "In October of 1864, Confederate General John Bell Hood set out through Alabama on what would be the final campaign of the Army of Tennessee. One event in particular, overlooked and misunderstood for generations, portended what was to follow and is the subject of Noel Carpenter’s Detour to Disaster: General John Bell Hood’s “Slight Demonstration” at Decatur and the Unravelling of the Tennessee Campaign.

In this fascinating and meticulously detailed and documented account—the first book-length study of the weighty decision to march to Decatur and the combat that followed there—Carpenter investigates the circumstances surrounding these matters and how they overwhelmed the controversial young army commander and potentially doomed his daring invasion. ...

I would venture to guess that a lot of western theater enthusiasts who would liked to have added a copy of the original edition to their home libraries missed out. You don't often get a second chance with books of this kind (affordably priced or not), so now's a great time to grasp this opportunity.

Friday, July 7, 2023

Review - " Northern Duty, Southern Heart: George Proctor Kane's Civil War " by H. Leon Greene

[Northern Duty, Southern Heart: George Proctor Kane's Civil War by H. Leon Greene (McFarland, 2023). Softcover, photos, maps, illustrations, appendix, endnotes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:ix,239/300. ISBN:978-1-4766-8961-6. $45]

Today's readers have been gainfully exposed to numerous specialist examinations of the complex attitudes and responses of Border State citizens to secession, Civil War, wider Union war aims (including emancipation and black army recruitment), and wartime curtailment of the civil rights of noncombatants. Through all that a much more nuanced, expansive, and multi-layered picture of Civil War-era duty and loyalty has emerged. According to H. Leon Greene, author of the new biography Northern Duty, Southern Heart: George Proctor Kane's Civil War, many of those internal conflicts were embodied in the person of the controversial Baltimore Police Marshal whose actions in 1861 achieved widespread notoriety.

Civic-mindedness is one aspect of Kane's character that permeates Greene's cradle to grave study. A Baltimore native, Kane, the son of a Northern Irish Presbyterian immigrant, was active in Whig politics. His commitment to government reform, though perhaps most prominently put forth during his troubled postwar term as the city's mayor, emerged early on when, in his capacity as Port Collector, he refused to fire competent Democratic employees and replace them with patronage appointments from his own party. Before the war, Kane was a successful businessman, Hibernian Society president and fundraiser, and patron of the arts. In the last capacity, he rubbed elbows with the Booth acting family. Some have claimed links between Kane, J.W. Booth, and the Lincoln assassination, but, while confirming that Kane and Booth were acquainted with each other, Greene uncovered no evidence of Kane's involvement in the plot.

As Greene documents in the book, Kane, like many other prominent citizens, became heavily involved in the Maryland militia during the late-antebellum period, cultivating associations with a number of Baltimore companies. He was also a member and vice-president of a Baltimore volunteer firefighting company. In discussing that part of Kane's life, Greene provides an excellent overview of the rowdy nature of volunteer firefighting in the city, and the frequently violent rivalries that emerged between companies. The author credits Kane, who clearly recognized the need for a better and more modern system of fire safety, with being an early, though unsuccessful, advocate for a paid professional fire department for the city.

In addition to painting a vivid picture of the ignoble contributions of firefighting companies to Baltimore street violence, the book also discusses the street gangs (the infamous "Plug-Uglies" among them) and political turf wars that furthered Baltimore's justly earned national image during the antebellum period as "Mobtown." Through coercion and violence, these gangs became intimately involved in the electoral process in the city, and Greene reveals the links between the embarrassing citywide disorder that occurred during the 1856 election and the creation of the City Reform Association with redoubled policing efforts aimed toward restoring order and erasing Baltimore's negative image. Kane eventually was appointed Marshal of the Baltimore Police in 1860, and Greene thoroughly documents the ways in which Marshal Kane transformed the police department into a disciplined force that successfully maintained peace and order during the 1860 presidential election. What a difference four years made, and Greene persuasively credits Kane for being the principal force behind the dramatic change.

Among the blackest charges cited by critics of Kane's character were contemporary allegations that he aimed to facilitate Lincoln's assassination by underperforming his protection duties when the president-elect passed through Baltimore. Kane's pro-Southern sympathies were well-known, but he also was highly regarded by those who knew him to be a duty-bound individual. Greene tends to give Kane the benefit of the doubt when it comes to assessing the validity of accusations leveled against the Marshal by Pinkerton agents and their underworld informants. That Kane argued against a large escort (and further claimed that the alleged Baltimore plots were not very credible threats) can be interpreted in different ways. Critics charged that Kane's proposal would provide an illusion of protection while paving the way for assassins to reach the president while Kane's supporters could see wisdom in a smaller escort being much less likely to create friction and attract violence. Honest minds can differ on the matter, but ultimately Greene adopts a defensible non-committal position that we can never know what was truly in Kane's mind and heart during that time.

Kane's detractors also accused him of maliciously hindering the safety of Washington by failing to protect federal volunteers that would pass through Baltimore on their way to reinforcing the capital. The Baltimore Riot of April 19, 1861 and the subsequent decision to burn major railroad bridges leading into the city to deny further passage of military forces through the heart of the city are often cited as defining points of Kane's conception of duty. As with many aspects of Kane's character, assessment is complicated. Kane would be praised by both sides for his conduct during the riot. Effusive testimonials from Sixth Massachusetts soldiers lauded Kane's personal bravery and willingness to risk his own life after he openly and repeatedly placed himself and his policemen between soldiers and rioters, threatening to open fire on the latter if they continued to violently assault the former.

Much more controversy surrounds Kane's involvement in the railroad bridge burning, the decision-making process of which remains a topic of dispute [citing the gravity of the decision, the author is appropriately skeptical of later claims by the Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor that they did not order Kane to do so]. Then and now, Kane's direct association with the bridge destruction is often specified as proof of disloyal actions. Kane himself claimed that severing the rail links was done to save lives, civilian and soldier alike, and with his knowledge and experience of the city's mob potential perhaps no one else was in a more informed position to make that judgment. Detractors are free to come to a very different and just as reasonable conclusion. After the riot, Kane sent a plea to friend, fellow Marylander, and future Confederate general Bradley Johnson urging him to forward armed men to Baltimore to help oppose any future passage of federal troops through the city.  Greene acknowledges differing viewpoints but remains generally reluctant to judge Kane harshly on the matter of the bridges.

Union authorities at the time, though, had had enough of Kane and other Maryland officials suspected of disloyalty, and the Marshal was arrested along with the mayor and a group of state legislators. Closely held within the walls of a series of prison forts in Maryland, New York, and Massachusetts between June 1861 and November 1862, Kane was denied legal representation and never came to trial, his release from Fort Warren, in Kane's own view, just as arbitrary as his initial arrest. Described in the book, Kane's secretive hoarding of weapons in Baltimore was one of the most damning allegations leading to his arrest. While Kane maintained that the weapons were a legal arms cache intended for use by the police and militia, Union authorities accused him of holding them in readiness for distribution to anti-government forces or invading Confederates. Kane maintained that the arms were hidden to prevent their being stolen by extralegal forces, but Greene agrees that the extra measures taken toward concealing the weapons was at the very least eyebrow-raising. In addition to documenting Kane's own personal experiences, Greene's extensive account of Kane's imprisonment offers informative details and broader insights into the housing and treatment of political prisoners in the North.

Embittered by his long prison experience, Kane fled to Canada, where he offered to help with clandestine Confederate operations originating from there. Later, in Richmond, Kane became one of the strongest advocates for Maryland's Confederate soldiers, lobbying tirelessly yet unsuccessfully for a more consolidated reorganization of Marylanders within the army in order to enhance the overall welfare of the soldiers, which suffered under their "orphan" status. After the war, Kane eventually returned to his beloved Baltimore, but his reform-minded term as mayor of the city was sabotaged by the very poor health that would kill him in 1878 at the age of 60.

In the end, Leon Greene's Northern Duty, Southern Heart successfully invites readers to revisit with fresh eyes history's treatment of how George P. Kane reconciled his personal sympathies with his public duties. Not everyone will agree with the author's characterization of Kane's sense of duty (and those less charitably disposed can find reasons to disagree with many elements of it), but Greene's thoughtful study represents yet another example of the many ways in which the complex hierarchy of loyalties held by so many Border State individuals offer a fascinating contrast to the less complicated views expressed by the majority of their fellow citizens on either side of the Mason-Dixon Line. Beyond its biographical value, Greene's study also offers significant insights and observations into Baltimore's turbulent antebellum social and political history, Maryland's early Civil War experience, and the treatment of political prisoners held by the U.S. government during the conflict.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

More notes on current and upcoming releases

1. Historic Imagination's Brad Butkovich created a nice set of battlefield maps and photographs to accompany Visual Antietam, his three-part serial publication [here, here, and here] of the Antietam portions of the Carman manuscript. He's now parlayed his well-honed cartography skills into the creation of a full-on, full-color Antietam atlas. I didn't see a preorder for it, so it missed the site's July "Coming Soon" feature, but The Antietam Battlefield Atlas is available now.

2. You might recall that Christopher Thrasher's Suffering in the Army of Tennessee: A Social History of the Confederate Army of the Heartland from the Battles for Atlanta to the Retreat from Nashville made my 2022 Top 10 list. If I had been aware of its existence at the time I put together my list of most anticipated releases of the second half of 2023, Thrasher's upcoming Miserable Little Conglomeration: A Social History of the Port Hudson Campaign would surely have been given a spot. October is the current release month. It'll be great to have another major Port Hudson study to add to the collection.

3. Series alert: Casemate Illustrated. Most Civil War readers are familiar with Osprey books, new and old, and Casemate recently created a similarly styled page-limited series that "explor(es) key elements of military history, from campaigns, units and battles to aircraft, ships and weapons." ... "With profiles of key personnel, a timeline, and explanatory text boxes, the concise text gives a clear overview of events and highlights the most important information on any given topic." The series has a number of Civil War volumes in the works beginning with Kevin Pawlak's Such a Clash of Arms: The Maryland Campaign, September 1862 (July 2023). That one will be followed next year by:

The Vicksburg Campaign: Grant’s Failed Offensive by Andrew Miller (Jan 2024).
The Shiloh Campaign: Battle for the Heartland by Sean Chick (Jan 2024).
The Atlanta Campaign, 1864: Sherman's Campaign to the Outskirts of Atlanta by David Powell (April 2024).
The Atlanta Campaign, 1864: Peachtree Creek to the Fall of the City by David Powell (April 2024).

4. It's now been a quarter-century since Noah Andre Trudeau's Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862-1865 was first published. A combat history narrative of the campaigns and battles in which black troops played a major part, one that was groundbreaking in its comprehensiveness, Trudeau's study will be re-released by UP of Kansas this summer in a new updated edition that "adds material on additional engagements and other aspects of Black soldiers’ experiences, and features a new selection of photographs."

5. The near future will reveal more examples of previously neglected subjects (most commonly biographies and battle/campaign histories) being suddenly addressed in twos. On the heels of a pair of Wilder bios released almost simultaneously is yet another James Montgomery biography. Todd Mildfelt and David Schafer's Abolitionist of the Most Dangerous Kind: James Montgomery and His War on Slavery (OU Press, Oct '24) follows Robert Conner's James Montgomery: Abolitionist Warrior. We also have two books coming up that cover the life and Civil War activities of a bit more obscure but no less interesting figure, John Y. Beall. Both slated for October, we will be getting William Harris's Confederate Privateer: The Life of John Yates Beall from LSU Press and Ralph Lindeman's Confederates from Canada: John Yates Beall and the Rebel Raids on the Great Lakes from McFarland. Authors must love it when that happens.

Monday, July 3, 2023

Booknotes: Faces of Union Soldiers at Culp's Hill

New Arrival:

Faces of Union Soldiers at Culp's Hill: Gettysburg's Critical Defense by Joseph Stahl & Matthew Borders (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Press, 2023).

Faces of Union Soldiers at Culp's Hill: Gettysburg's Critical Defense is the third installment in Joseph Stahl and Matthew Borders's Faces series. It follows 2019's Faces of Union Soldiers at Antietam and 2021's Faces of Union Soldiers at South Mountain and Harpers Ferry. If the current release pattern holds, we can expect another volume in 2025, perhaps pertaining to another part of the Gettysburg battlefield.

From the description: "The most pivotal defensive line in the most pivotal battle in the history of America. The fighting at Culp's Hill during the Battle of Gettysburg was some of the fiercest during the bloody battle, and holding the hill, for the Union, was essential not only for victory in battle, but protecting the country as a whole. Authors Matthew Borders and Joseph Stahl present intimate portraits of twenty-eight soldiers who defended Culp's Hill, including in-depth analysis of never before published images and harrowing accounts of heroism in the fight to save the Union."

The book is organized into chapters by brigade (those of Greene, Candy, Colgrove, and McDougall), which are further subdivided into regimental sections under which the 28 officer and men portraits reside. Regiment sections consist of brief, war-spanning service histories and contextual overviews of the unit's Gettysburg role, the latter typically drawn from an official battle report.

Portraits span the entire regimental rank structure, from field-grade officer down to private. A biographical sketch is provided that includes not only the individual's Gettysburg activities but his entire war service. What makes the Faces series unique, though, is the focus on the CDV. All aspects of the photograph are scrutinized in the text, from image origins to physical description of the subject to studio prop, clothing, uniform, headgear, accoutrement, and weaponry details.

Bibliography and notes display a wide range of primary and secondary source research. Supporting every chapter is a good map borrowed from Gottfried's Gettysburg atlas. Finally, a register of Union regiments that fought at Culp's Hill is provided in the appendix section, each entry in that having detailed strength, loss, and weapon-type data.