Friday, February 2, 2024

Booknotes: Miserable Little Conglomeration

New Arrival:

Miserable Little Conglomeration: A Social History of the Port Hudson Campaign by Christopher Thrasher (U Tenn Press, 2023).

This is the second major Port Hudson title to come out of UTP within the past few years, the first, Larry Hewitt's astounding photographic collection and history, being my Book of the Year for 2021. As its subtitle suggests, Christopher Thrasher's Miserable Little Conglomeration: A Social History of the Port Hudson Campaign is different from previous detailed military history accounts from Hewitt and David C. Edmonds, the former's book an excellent history of the siege and the latter's work an unmatched two-volume microhistory of the entire campaign. The focus and structure of Thrasher's book on the war's longest siege are most similar to those found in his own recent award-winning work 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, which also made my Top 10 list for 2022. As noted in the foreword, Thrasher's new book also evokes similarities with fellow Voices of the Civil War series volume Little to Eat and Thin Mud to Drink (2007).

The breadth of the Port Hudson campaign literature certainly does not match that of its concurrently fought neighbor just to the north. So there are gaps to fill. From the description: "Previous accounts of these events have rested on the leaders, well-known figures, and familiar faces of the Civil War. Here, social historian Christopher Thrasher draws from a robust collection of archival sources to tell the story of the common people’s experience throughout the Port Hudson Campaign: the soldiers who fought, the civilians who persisted, and the men who persevered, for those long days."

In a bit over 300 pages of main text, Thrasher's study embraces the entire campaign from initial Confederate defensive preparations through to the conclusion of the siege, all of that presented chiefly from the perspectives of "ordinary" soldiers and civilians. Over its course, the volume "weaves the stories of ordinary people into a broader overview of the strategic picture" (pg. xxx). More from the description: "With more than forty illustrations and maps depicting the battles of Port Hudson and the defenses of the place itself, Miserable Little Conglomeration builds upon previous scholarship to present a social history of this campaign through the eyes of the people who lived, fought, and died within it."


  1. It was interesting to go back and read Cunningham's little book on the campaign that was published in 1963. It is not as groundbreaking as his legendary Shiloh tome but I feel it is still worth reading. Had it years before the Shiloh book was finally published. Did you ever get to read it?


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