Sunday, March 31, 2024

Coming Soon (April '24 Edition)

Scheduled for APR 20241:

We Shall Conquer or Die: Partisan Warfare in 1862 Western Kentucky by Derrick Lindow.
The Confederate Navy Medical Corps: Organization, Personnel and Actions by Guy Hasegawa.
Treasure and Empire in the Civil War: The Panama Route, the West and the Campaigns to Control America's Mineral Wealth by Neil Chatelain.
Sheet Music of the Confederacy: A History by Robert Curtis.
An Unholy Traffic: Slave Trading in the Civil War South by Robert Colby.
Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site by Lipscomb & Brown.
Texas Coastal Defense in the Civil War by William Nelson Fox.
The Atlanta Campaign, 1864: Sherman's Campaign to the Outskirts of Atlanta by David Powell.
The Atlanta Campaign, 1864: Peach Tree Creek to the Fall of the City by David Powell.
The Civil War in the Age of Nationalism by Eichhorn & Campbell.
Family War Stories: The Densmores' Fight to Save the Union and Destroy Slavery by Keith Wilson.
Zouave Theaters: Transnational Military Fashion and Performance by Harrison & Brown.
Race to the Potomac: Lee and Meade After Gettysburg, July 4–14, 1863 by Gottfried & Gottfried.
New Fields of Adventure: The Writings of Lyman G. Bennett, Civil War Soldier and Topographical Engineer, 1861–1865 by M. Jane Johansson.

Comments: The first five titles on the list are already generally available.

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, children's books, and digital-only titles. Works that only tangentially address the war years are also generally excluded. Inevitably, one or more titles on this list will get a rescheduled release (and they do not get repeated later), so revisiting the past few "Coming Soon" posts is the best way to pick up stragglers.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Booknotes: Virginia Secedes

New Arrival:

Virginia Secedes: A Documentary History edited by Dwight T. Pitcaithley (U Tenn Press, 2024).

There are now three volumes in Dwight Pitcaithley's edited reference series compiling secession crisis documents by state. Published by University of Tennessee Press, the series started out west with Tennessee Secedes: A Documentary History (2021) and Kentucky and the Secession Crisis: A Documentary History (2022). This year marks a shift to the east with Virginia Secedes: A Documentary History.

Throughout the national crisis prompted by the unilateral secession of South Carolina, Virginia positioned itself as a bastion of what came to be known as Conditional Unionism. From the description: "Virginia deliberated longer and proposed more constitutional solutions to avoid secession than any other state. Only after the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter and President Lincoln’s request for troops to suppress the “insurrection” did Virginia turn from saving the Union to leaving it."

More: "In this annotated volume of primary source documents from Secession Winter, Dwight T. Pitcaithley presents speeches by Virginians from the United States Congress, the Washington Peace Conference which had been called by Virginia’s general assembly, and the state’s secession convention to provide readers a glimpse into Virginia’s ultimate decision to secede from the Union. In his introductory analysis of the trial confronting Virginia’s leadership, Pitcaithley demonstrates that most elected officials wanted Virginia to remain in the Union—but only if Republicans agreed to protect slavery and guarantee its future. While secessionists rightly predicted that the incoming Lincoln administration would refuse to agree to these concessions, Unionists claimed that disunion would ultimately undermine slavery and lead to abolition regardless."

After a lengthy introduction, the volume presents the Virginia-related documents in seven parts: (1) the governor's Jan 7, 1861 address to the Virginia General Assembly, and document collections related to (2) the Washington Peace Conference of February 1861, Virginia participation in the U.S. Senate (3) and (4) U.S. House of Representatives debates, (5) the Virginia State Convention of Feb-April, (6) constitutional amendments proposed between December 1860 and April 1861, and finally (7) the state's secession and alliance with the newly formed CSA. Appended to those sections is "a Secession Winter timeline, extensive bibliography, and questions for discussion." In addition to providing endnotes for the material, the editor also precedes his presentation of each document with a biographical note on its source as well as a brief contextual summary of its contents.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Booknotes: The War That Made America

New Arrival:

The War That Made America: Essays Inspired by the Scholarship of Gary W. Gallagher edited by Caroline E. Janney, Peter S. Carmichael, and Aaron Sheehan-Dean (UNC Press, 2024).

From the description: "This collection of original essays reveals the richness and dynamism of contemporary scholarship on the Civil War era. Inspired by the lines of inquiry that animated the writings of the influential historian Gary W. Gallagher, this volume includes nine essays by leading scholars in the field who explore a broad range of themes and participants in the nation's greatest conflict, from Indigenous communities navigating the dangerous shoals of the secession winter to Confederate guerrillas caught in the legal snares of the Union's hard war to African Americans pursuing landownership in the postwar years. Essayists also explore how people contested and shaped the memory of the conflict, from outright silences and evasions to the use of formal historical writing. Other contributors use comparative and transnational history to rethink key aspects of the conflict. The result is a thorough examination of Gallagher's scholarly legacy and an assessment of the present and future of the Civil War history field."

If you follow the 'View Inside' link on the book's UNCP webpage you can find the full table of contents. The introduction yields a fine summary of the many themes explored in Gallagher's scholarship as well as many examples of his profound impact on the field, his students, academic publishing, and the general public's engagement with the war. Gallagher is celebrated for being at the forefront of a "new era" of Civil War historiography that "connected battlefront and home front and that integrated military, political, and social history." That impact was realized through his own work but also through his "teaching and mentorship of a new generation of scholars, through his consistent engagement with National Park Service historians and organizations like the Association for the Preservation of Civil War sites (now the American Battlefield Trust), and through his long-standing role as an editor of the leading book series in the field" (pg. 4). Indeed, it would be difficult to overstate the level of influence that Gallagher's Civil War America series has had on readers like me. History-minded television viewers and popular magazine subscribers have also been regularly exposed to Gallagher's prolific (and distinctive) voice and writings for decades.

Editors Janney, Carmichael, and Sheehan-Dean identify three predominant themes in Gallagher's work: "national sentiment" (especially aspects of both Union and Confederate nationalism), "the centrality of military events, and the intersection of history and memory." In their estimation, Gallagher's "close engagement with primary sources and a continued effort to understand historical actors on their own terms" are other clear bedrock elements of his legacy. The nine essays in this volume "reinforce the ongoing value and vitality of questions that Gallagher ensured would be central to the field" (pg. 10).

Friday, March 22, 2024

Booknotes: We Shall Conquer or Die

New Arrival:

We Shall Conquer or Die: Partisan Warfare in 1862 Western Kentucky by Derrick Lindow (Savas Beatie, 2024).

The partisan ranger exploits of Virginia's John Singleton Mosby have always been a part of the popular imagination, but until recently it was the Missouri experience that most shaped general impressions of the Civil War's irregular conflict. Redressing the imbalance (and with much of the best work published over the past two decades), modern scholarly and popular investigation of the non-conventional war fought by both sides has now reached into nearly every nook and cranny of its existence. In a number of ways, Kentucky's Border State situation was similar to Missouri's, and our knowledge and understanding of the Bluegrass State's war behind the lines has improved greatly during this time.

As a pair of recent book-length studies of the Civil War in the Jackson Purchase make clear, that region and other parts of western Kentucky were prime breeding grounds for pro-Confederate irregular activities. One of the most prominent leaders to emerge was Henderson County-born Adam Rankin "Stovepipe" Johnson. Most notorious for his July 1862 Newburg Raid (see Ray Mulesky's Thunder from a Clear Sky: Stovepipe Johnson's Confederate Raid on Newburgh, Indiana), Johnson was a thorn in the side of Union forces on a number of occasions. Providing a new look into Johnson's activities during that early-war period is Derrick Lindow's We Shall Conquer or Die: Partisan Warfare in 1862 Western Kentucky.

From the description: "Confederate Col. Adam Rankin Johnson and his 10th Kentucky Partisan Rangers wreaked havoc on Union supply lines and garrisons from the shores of southern Indiana, in the communities of western Kentucky, and even south into Tennessee. His rangers seemed unbeatable and uncatchable that second year of the war because Johnson’s partisans often disbanded and melted into the countryside (a tactic relatively easy to execute in a region populated with Southern sympathizers). Once it was safe to do so, they reformed and struck again."

The Union response to all that is detailed as well. More from the description: "In the span of just a few months Johnson captured six Union-controlled towns, hundreds of prisoners, and tons of Union army equipment. Union civil and military authorities, meanwhile, were not idle bystanders. Strategies changed, troops rushed to guerrilla flashpoints, daring leaders refused the Confederate demands of surrender, and every available type of fighting man was utilized, from Regulars to the militia of the Indiana Legion, temporary service day regiments, and even brown water naval vessels. Clearing the area of partisans and installing a modicum of Union control became one of the Northern high command’s major objectives."

In summary, Lindow's "account of partisan guerrilla fighting and the efforts to bring it under control helps put the Civil War in the northern reaches of the Western Theater into proper context."

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Review - "Thunder in the Harbor: Fort Sumter and the Civil War" by Richard Hatcher

[Thunder in the Harbor: Fort Sumter and the Civil War by Richard W. Hatcher, III (Savas Beatie, 2024). Hardcover, 3 maps, photos, diagrams, illustrations, footnotes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xi,222/250. ISBN:978-1-61121-593-9. $32.95]

Then and now, it is easy to understand why both sides during the American Civil War were willing to expend enormous amounts of effort, blood, and treasure to either hold or gain possession of an increasingly obsolete Third System fort located near the confluence of Charleston harbor's shipping channels. With numerous United States military installations lost to secessionist governments across the Deep South following the presidential election of 1860, a line in the sand was eventually drawn at Fort Sumter, Fort Pickens, and other major properties still in federal hands. Sovereignty-conscious state, and then Confederate, authorities were equally determined to extinguish what they considered a now foreign military presence in their midst. In Charleston harbor, as weeks turned to months of tense demands and negotiations that went nowhere, a clearly indefensible Fort Sumter nevertheless gradually grew in such symbolic importance to the honor and pride of both sides that neither was willing to back down. The stage was set for Sumter to become the flashpoint that ignited civil war.

When Sumter surrendered on April 13, 1861 to Confederate authorities after a sharp bombardment that began on the previous day, Union forces began immediately to plot the fort's recapture along with the rest of the hated "Cradle of Secession." The result, a combination of revenge seeking and the need to close a major enemy deepwater port, was a sea and land operation that spanned nearly the entire length of the war and a series of massive bombardment campaigns that reduced most of the fort to rubble. Yet Confederate-held Sumter never surrendered under the incredible weight of metal thrown at it over an intense eighteen-month period. Instead, it was evacuated in February 1865 along with the city of Charleston itself when rapidly advancing Union forces under General William T. Sherman approached the coast from the South Carolina interior. Though those events comprise the heart of the narrative inside Richard Hatcher's Thunder in the Harbor: Fort Sumter and the Civil War, the entire length of the fort's history is recounted, from initial construction through its present status as a popular focal point of the NPS's Fort Sumter Fort Moultrie National Historical Park.

Hatcher's first chapter summarizes the fort's antebellum construction, which first required creation of an artificial island. It was a long process, and the fort was still unfinished when the war broke out. The following two chapters address a pair of well-worn topics—the months-long Sumter crisis and the April 12-13, 1861 cannonade that forced the fort's surrender. All of that ground is covered efficiently, more detail being arguably unnecessary in light of the exhaustive nature of the existing book and article literature associated with those events. The freshest and brightest shining part of Hatcher's study is its extensive historical account of the 1863-1865 Union heavy artillery bombardment campaign waged against the fort. There seems little doubt that those fine chapters are what will most attract seasoned Civil War readers to the book's content.

Upon seizure of the fort, the Confederate defenders immediately set out to repair the damage, mount more guns, expand living and storage space, and generally improve the man-made island's defenses. All of that respite period is well covered in the book. While federal naval forces remained on blockade station during that time and the army returned in force by 1862, it would take the Charleston harbor operation of 1863 (with its full-scale attempt to capture Morris Island) before Sumter could be comprehensively endangered by land-based heavy batteries. The following roughly eighteen-month period of relentless bombardment of Sumter, a massive expenditure of shot and powder that was continuous (but at its highest intensity came in several discernible waves), is meticulously recounted. Utilizing a host of primary sources as well as the best secondary accounts, Hatcher expertly traces the gradual physical reduction of the fort from a powerful artillery platform to a rubble-strewn infantry and signal corps outpost. Individual views and perspectives of the grinding campaign are presented from all sides, and the narrative offers readers a vivid portrait of what life was like for the defenders, who had to endure intense shelling during daylight hours and attempt to repair as much damage as possible during nighttime. In between those routines there were constant safety, garrison housing, and logistical improvements to be made, and those efforts are also detailed in the text. Given that defender morale never cracked under those many months of bombardment and 'making the rubble dance' in many ways made the island more defensible against direct assault, one wonders if American air power advocates of the 1930s and '40s ever included the Sumter bombardment in their studies.

It would have been nice to have at hand something like 3D-isometric drawings to gain a clearer picture of both the progressive damage wrought by the bombardment and the repairs/improvements made in response, but the book's copious collection of detailed 2D drawings and period photographs does a generally adequate job of providing a strong visual record of the fort's wartime transformation. Additional text and photographs chart the post-Civil War restoration and modernization of the fort, an expensive project that, as Hatcher explains, proceeded in fits and starts and was hindered by regular hurricane damage. After serving through the Spanish-American War and World Wars One and Two, the obsolescent facility was finally retired and in 1948 ownership was formally transferred to the National Park Service.

For those seeking an authoritative overview of the entire length of Fort Sumter's history, with special attention paid to the Civil War period, Richard Hatcher's Thunder in the Harbor is of unmatched quality. Appealing to a wide reading audience, Hatcher's volume skillfully combines engaging popular narrative presentation with enough granular detail of the fort's wartime history to satisfy more demanding tastes. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Booknotes: Treasure and Empire in the Civil War

New Arrival:

Treasure and Empire in the Civil War: The Panama Route, the West and the Campaigns to Control America's Mineral Wealth by Neil P. Chatelain (McFarland, 2024).

Naval historian Neil Chatelain's 2020 book Defending the Arteries of Rebellion made my Top 10 list for that year. Like that earlier work, Chatelain's Treasure and Empire in the Civil War contributes to our knowledge and understanding of the naval history of the Civil War, but this new study also aligns itself with recent trends in Civil War scholarship, particularly those examining the contested borderlands and international dimensions of the conflict.

Over the past two decades, more and more books have emphasized the continental reach (and beyond) of the American Civil War. From the description: Treasure and Empire in the Civil War explores the campaigns "waged over whether the United States or Confederacy would dominate lands, mines, and seaborne transportation networks of North America's mineral wealth. The U.S. needed this wealth to stabilize their wartime economy while the Confederacy sought to expand their own treasury. Confederate armies advanced to seize the West and its gold and silver reserves, while warships steamed to intercept Panama route ships transporting bullion from California to Panama to New York. United States forces responded by expelling Confederate incursions and solidified territorial control by combating Indigenous populations and enacting laws encouraging frontier settlement. The U.S. Navy patrolled key ports, convoyed treasure ships, and integrated continent-wide intelligence networks in the ultimate game of cat and mouse." Sounds very interesting.

In examining the war effort-sustaining contest over possessing and harnessing far-flung mineral resources, Chatelain links "the Civil War's military, naval, political, diplomatic and economic elements. Included are the hemispheric land and sea adventures involving tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, admiral and explorer Charles Wilkes, renowned sea captain Raphael Semmes, General Henry Sibley, cowboy and mountain man Kit Carson, Indigenous leaders Mangas Coloradas and Geronimo, writer and miner Mark Twain, and Mormon leader Brigham Young."

Monday, March 18, 2024

Book News: UNION "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi

Camp Pope Publishing's Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River series, edited by Michael Banasik, is a great personal favorite of mine, its volumes chock full of invaluable first-person accounts, documents, maps, copious editorial notes, detailed orders of battle, and more. Volume VII of the series, Confederate "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi, was released in five parts published between 2010 and 2019. All were reviewed on the site [to refresh your memory, visit these CWBA review links: Part One 1861, Part Two 1862, Part Three 1863, Part Four 1864, and Part Five 1864-1865].

With all that series background stuff out the way, the news item of the day is that the long-awaited first installment of the Union side of the "Tales of the War" collection is now available. Follow this link: [Camp Pope Publishing] and you'll find more information about Union "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi - Part 1: 1861.

From the description: Part One "covers the events in Missouri that led up to Missouri reluctantly entering the Civil War, including the war preparations in St. Louis, the arrival of Nathaniel Lyon in St. Louis, and the role he played in preparing the Union side for the eventual conflict in Missouri. Also included, you will be introduced to the Missouri secession crisis and the capture of Camp Jackson on May 10, 1861, which propelled Missouri into the Civil War. The 1861 volume of this series includes extensive accounts on the Battles of Carthage (July 5, 1861), Wilson’s Creek (August 10, 1861), and, to a lesser extent, the Battle of Belmont on November 7, 1861, as related by the pilot of General Grant’s headquarters vessel, the Belle Memphis. This volume also includes several appendices covering official correspondence, various biographies, and extensive Orders of Battle for the major engagements in 1861 Missouri."

If you missed out on the earlier Unwritten Chapters books, scroll to the bottom of the CPP page linked above and you'll find that all of the Volume I-VII titles are still in print.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Booknotes: Texas Coastal Defense in the Civil War

New Arrival:

Texas Coastal Defense in the Civil War by William Nelson Fox (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Press, 2024).

Through both central government edict and an earnest desire to participate in the biggest battles on the most active fronts, Texans fought in all three major theaters of war. Doing so, however, stretched the state's manpower and materiel resources so thin that countering threats closer to home proved extremely challenging. And those threats were numerous.

On the vast and sparsely settled western frontier, Texans suddenly became responsible for their own protection against Comanche and Kiowa raids (the frequency and ferocity of which increased after the departure of the Regular Army). One of the most pressing reasons behind inking alliance treaties with the tribes inhabiting Indian Territory was the creation of a buffer between Texas and aggressive Union forces operating out of Kansas. The long international boundary with Mexico also had to be guarded against cross-border raids. Even with all of those weighty home front concerns to worry about, the greatest vulnerability lay in Texas's hundreds of miles of coast line that could not possibly be defended everywhere against Union naval superiority and its ability to sustain large-scale amphibious operations.

Existing coverage of the war along Texas's Gulf coast is quite good, with numerous quality book-length studies of operations at Galveston, the mouth of the Rio Grande (and some distance inland), Sabine Pass, and other places. In addition to that, a number of excellent journal articles cover Union amphibious attacks along the state's extensive stretch of barrier islands. Adopting a popular-style, bird's-eye approach to the topic is William Nelson Fox's new book Texas Coastal Defense in the Civil War.

From the description: Fox's book focuses on the Texas defenders who "resolutely weathered naval bombardments and repulsed invasion attempts. It was only at the end of the conflict that Federal troops were able to make their way into South Texas, as the Confederacy prepared its last stand at Caney Creek and the Brazos River. From famous battles to obscure skirmishes, William Nelson Fox provides an account of the Lone Star State's defensive strategies during the Civil War."

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Review - "Decisions of the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign: The Sixteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Operation" by Robert Tanner

[Decisions of the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign: The Sixteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Operation by Robert G. Tanner (University of Tennessee Press, 2023). Softcover, 17 maps, photos, illustrations, appendix section, notes, bibliography, index. Pages:xviii,200. ISBN:978-1-62190-769-5. $29.95]

University of Tennessee Press's Command Decisions in America's Civil War continues to provide a fresh and unique methodology through which to rethink Civil War campaigns and battles that already have extensive narrative history coverage. Published last year, Robert Tanner's Decisions of the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign: The Sixteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Operation tackles one of the war's most dynamic military operations.

For those new to the series, a critical decision is defined as "a choice of such magnitude that it shaped not only the events immediately following it, but also the campaign from that point forward" (xiii). Analytical discussion proceeds through five stages—"Situation," "Options," "Decision," "Result(s)/Impact," and "Alternate Decision/Scenario." "Situation" describes the state of affairs at a crossroads moment in the course of the campaign or battle. It provides readers with the background information necessary to recognize and evaluate the decision "Options" (most frequently two or three in number) that immediately follow. The historical "Decision" is then outlined, usually very briefly, before the "Result(s)/Impact" section recounts what happened historically and how those events shaped the rest of the battle/campaign and beyond. The best "Situation" and "Result(s)/Impact" sections reference earlier decisions in meaningful ways, making clear the cascading consequences of critical decisions made earlier. Not present for every decision, the optional "Alternate Decision/Scenario" section delves into alternative history conjecture based on choices not made.

An active campaign that involved a great many troops in aggregate (especially on the Union side) but only resulted in relatively small battles at any given moment, the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign was rife with drastic order of battle changes (as major formations on either side regularly entered and exited the Shenandoah) and momentous strategic and operational pauses and resets of both geographical positioning and initiative. All of that is well represented in Tanner's critical decision selection and characterization, which has very few (two) tactical-level decisions and a great many others involving strategy, operations, and (re)organization.

The sixteen decisions compiled in the book are organized into six chapters with a time scale stretching from February 1862 to mid-June of that year. Together, they "examine decisions made at the campaign's outset, the Battle of Kernstown and a subsequent major reorganization of Union forces, Confederate plans and marches during April and early May 1862, Federal concentration outside the valley while Confederates concentrated and attacked in the Shenandoah during the pivotal second half of May, the Union's counterstrike against the Confederate offensive, and decisions to end the campaign" (xiv). Option numbers are typically in the two or three range (mostly the former), consistent with the rest of the series. There is a five-option decision, perhaps unprecedented in the series, that really illustrates well the sheer number of critical concerns, of both dangerous and opportunistic varieties, that confronted Jackson at a key moment. Modern armchair observers frequently dispute the brilliance of the Valley Campaign's result as being a function of B and C-team leadership opposition, but the author's critical decision analysis staunchly reinforces the book's argument that deliberative Confederate agency at numerous watershed moments was just as significant as Union bungling when it came to determining victory or defeat in the valley.

That there are eight critical decisions for each side supports the notion that both opposing leaderships possessed ample opportunities for seizing overall initiative. That a great many of the decisions were made by Abraham Lincoln also clearly demonstrates the degree to which the frustrated U.S. president personally seized the directing reins of the Union war effort in Virginia during the time of this campaign, to frequently poor result. Excepting Chapter Three, in which all three critical decisions are Confederate-sourced, Lincoln figures in all the remaining five chapters (by direct decision-making in four of those and in heavily shaping the George McClellan decision made in the remaining one). Throughout all six chapters, Tanner appropriately stresses interconnectivity when it comes to assessing decisions and events in the Shenandoah, Allegheny mountains, north and central Virginia, and Virginia Peninsula fronts. Showing how and why what happened in the Shenandoah Valley during the spring months of 1862 had a tremendous impact on military fortunes across Virginia is a strong element of Tanner's campaign analysis.

The series has always stressed to its readers that decision options are selected for their capacity to set or change the course of a campaign, and thus should not be seen as necessarily good or bad (or right or wrong). Indeed, in order for a choice to represent a real option it must have some strong basis for consideration, and Tanner does an exceptionally fine job of articulating the opportunities, feasibility, risk-levels, and potential pitfalls involved with each decision-making process. Properly eschewing the no-brainer approach, every option is assigned one or more supportable reasons for it to exist in the mind of the decision maker. Not all of the books in the series achieve this process as strongly as Tanner's does here. One of the best examples of that quality can be found in Tanner's dispassionate and keenly analyzed assessment of John C. Fremont's much-pilloried decision not to move on Harrisonburg during the late May-early June Union offensive aimed at trapping and destroying Jackson's army in the valley. In addition to the president himself, subsequent writers and historians have often been dismayed by Fremont's failure to fulfill Lincoln's directive, but Tanner pretty convincingly shows that the wording of the order was more ambiguous than Lincoln apparently intended. That factor, combined with pressing issues of time, distance, supply and logistical constraints, lack of information regarding an overall plan (including the positions of other friendly columns), and other considerations, rendered Fremont's ultimate decision far from being a cut and dried example of egregious blunder or a direct disobeying of orders (though Tanner justly condemns Fremont for not seeking clarification).

The series defines critical decisions very narrowly, but the reality is that no two individuals, no matter how well informed in regard to the topic at hand, would come up with the exact same list of options and scenarios. As one example here, in Chapter Two, one might be justified in deeming the higher-level operational decision to regain lost contact with federal forces in the Lower Shenandoah, the bulk of which were understood to be leaving, to be a more 'critical' decision than the tactical-level one presented in the book in which Jackson must decide to either attack immediately or on the following day.

Some analyses offer tidbits not often appreciated in the literature's extensive discussions of those events. A good example is Tanner's coverage of Edwin Stanton's assignment of General William S. Rosecrans to find Louis Blenker's "lost" division and expedite the effort in getting the recently formed Mountain Department shipshape. Also mentioned is the Secretary of War's brusque rejection of Rosecrans's unsolicited suggestions regarding coordinated operations in the East and the absence of a single guiding force with a military background. It's a small part in the play to be sure, but something worthy of consideration in assessing the larger matter of Lincoln declining to assign another general to oversee affairs in the theater, instead taking on that momentous responsibility himself.

With their ample illustration of city and town locations, rail and road networks, rivers, and other key terrain features, ten maps assist the reader in visualizing the situations at hand and the options available. Seven additional maps are attached to the extensive driving tour. The tour, which is focused upon visiting sites directly related to the critical decisions explored earlier, is an important facet of all series volumes.

Seeing this series installment come from Robert Tanner was a pleasant surprise given the amount of time that has elapsed since his last book-length publication. His Stonewall in the Valley, a major work mostly examining the campaign from the Confederate perspective, was first published way back in 1976 and was re-released in a revised edition in 1996. That was followed in 2001 by the conversation-inspiring analytical study Retreat to Victory?: Confederate Strategy Reconsidered. In the Acknowledgments section of this book, Tanner notes that he cold-called Command Decisions in America's Civil War series creator Matt Spruill with a proposal for a 1862 Valley Campaign volume, so it's nice to see the series having the prestige and capability of getting a subject matter expert who had been away from publishing for quite some time to 'get back in the game' (so to speak). The result of that is one of the very best volumes the series has to offer.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Booknotes: Campaigns of a Non-Combatant

New Arrival:

Campaigns of a Non-Combatant: The Memoir of a Civil War Correspondent by George A. Townsend, ed. by Jeffrey R. Biggs (Hardtack Bks, 2024).

From the description: "George Alfred Townsend was a special war correspondent for the Philadelphia Press and New York Herald during the Civil War. He followed McClellan’s Army of the Potomac and Pope’s Army of Virginia in the spring and summer of 1862, filing dozens of dispatches to his editors. Finally, after suffering from the effects of ‘swamp fever,’ he took a two-year break in Europe, where he lectured about his experiences. Townsend returned to the war front in 1865 and - after taking the pen name of “GATH” - was the first correspondent to describe the war’s climax at Five Forks. He released his memoir in 1866, detailing his personal experiences and recollections of the Civil War and those dramatic days."

In this new edition, editor Jeffrey Biggs revises Townsend's 1866 memoir (excising the non-Civil War chapters), re-formats the text in a more attractive modern font, and reorganizes the original chapters into three parts as follows:
"Part One follows Townsend's journey from his assignment to the Pennsylvania Reserves on March 13, 1862 until he witnesses the Battle of Malvern Hill from Harrison's Landing and escapes aboard a hospital transport on July 1, 1862. Part Two begins with Townsend's assignment to the Army of Virginia, his arrival in Washington, D.C. on July 12, 1862, and takes us to the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 7, 1862. Finally, Part Three, written in a more contemporary hand than the other parts, concludes Townsend's war correspondence with a story of the Appomattox Campaign, focusing on Phil Sheridan's victory at Five Forks and a visit to the ruined Confederate capital of Richmond" (xiv).

Biggs's Editor's Introduction provides a brief synopsis of Townsend's life and writing career, some background on the 1866 memoir, and discussion of his editorial process. Newly added period illustrations and photographs are peppered throughout, and the editor also indexes the material. The text is not heavily annotated. Pages are sporadically footnoted, with one to three notes found on those pages that have them. Biggs's self-stated goal is "not to alter the text of the original or even improve it but rather to introduce twenty-first century readers to the engaging work of a young, ambitious correspondent living through the most important events of his lifetime" (xiii).

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Booknotes: From Frederick to Sharpsburg

New Arrival:

From Frederick to Sharpsburg: People, Places, and Events of the Maryland Campaign Before Antietam by Steven R. Stotelmyer (Antietam Inst, 2023).

In its own words, the Antietam Institute "is a member centered organization with a mission to educate the public on the critical importance of the Battle of Antietam and the 1862 Maryland Campaign," and book and journal publication is a major part of the mission. The institute's first two full-length publications were the reference works Brigades of Antietam and The Artillery of Antietam, and the latest, From Frederick to Sharpsburg: People, Places, and Events of the Maryland Campaign Before Antietam by certified Antietam Battlefield Guide Steven Stotelmyer, is a different kind of book.

I liked Stotelmyer's recent reevaluation of McClellan's role in the campaign in 2019's Too Useful to Sacrifice, and From Frederick to Sharpsburg is another essay anthology. It consists of seven long-form essays, the volume's title and subtitle offering a good sense of their content range. The combination of main essays and appendix section fill over 450 pages, so it's a hefty book.

The description found on the institute's website contains summary insights on essay content. Stotelmyer's opening essay contests the conventional understanding of how the citizens of Frederick, Maryland responded to the Confederate arrival at their town: "In the popular histories of the event the people of Maryland are portrayed as turning a cold shoulder towards the Confederates and their cause. Using primary accounts, Stotelmyer provides an exploration of the Confederate reception in Frederick in the early days of the Maryland Campaign and concludes it was not as unfriendly as traditionally portrayed."

The following essay revisits the Barbara Fritchie story: "Barbara Fritchie was a real person living in Frederick during the Maryland Campaign. She was made famous by a poem published in 1863 by John Greenleaf Whittier. Because she passed away shortly after the Maryland Campaign, Barbara never knew any of the fame generated by Whittier’s pen. As the story goes the 96-year-old Barbara defiantly waved an American flag in the face of General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. In truth however, A Quaker poet who likely never saw the city or old lady, and a Confederate general who never saw either, poet or lady, made as fine an advertising project as any city could desire."

Other essay subjects include a major Confederate intelligence gaffe that the author feels is still overlooked, another return to the ever-controversial Special Orders No. 191, "The Legend of Wise's Well" (a mass grave of Confederates), the death of Union general Jesse Reno, and the "high command dysfunction" between Ambrose Burnside and Jacob Cox on the federal left at Antietam. Maps and photos abound, and source notes are helpfully placed at the bottom of each page. The appendix section (A-K in approximately 150 pages) is hefty as well. Those look at a great variety of topics, among them Lee's health, Fritchie's poetry, a number of September 9-13 battles associated with the campaign, the Reno monument, and more legends.

Obviously, I haven't read this yet, but it certainly has the look of something every Antietam enthusiast would want to add to the collection.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Review - "The World Will Never See the Like: The Gettysburg Reunion of 1913" John Hopkins

[The World Will Never See the Like: The Gettysburg Reunion of 1913 John L. Hopkins (Savas Beatie, 2024). Hardcover, photos, footnotes, appendix, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:x,182/208. ISBN:978-161121-684-4. $32.95]

In the summer of 1913, an estimated 53,000 elderly Civil War veterans in their 70s and 80s arrived at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for a national commemoration of the great battle fought there fifty years earlier. Any honorably discharged veteran, blue or gray, was cheerfully invited to attend. What happened that late June to early July and the prodigious planning that went into staging such a grand event are eloquently recounted in John Hopkins's The World Will Never See the Like: The Gettysburg Reunion of 1913.

One might readily imagine the challenging logistical requirements of putting on an organized gathering of this scale in what was still a small town, and Hopkins offers an insightful survey of who made it a reality, from the cooperative efforts of businesses big and small, veteran groups, and other private organizations to local, state, and federal governments. The author traces how bickering among stubborn committee members and uncertain funding sources unnecessarily drew out the planning phase of the reunion (and on occasion even threatened cancellation), but everything came together in the end. Hopkins justly credits the U.S. Army for its deft management of much of the event's logistical and material needs. As Hopkins observes, that positive outcome did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Indeed, the reunion's success went some way toward redeeming a reputation stained by the embarrassing disorganization and avoidable human health crises attendant to the army's mobilization during the Spanish-American War a decade and a half earlier.

Cornerstone placement, to be overseen in person by President Woodrow Wilson, of a massive peace memorial celebrating national reconciliation and the reunited country's prosperous present and future was intended to be a grand focus of the reunion, but congressional parsimony torpedoed the project. However, that disappointment could not detract from the heartfelt reconciliationist feeling that infused the entire event and its veteran participants. Against some early opposition to such concessions, organizers fostered good will by allowing ex-Confederates to wear gray uniforms, fly the battle flag under which they fought, and not have their defeat waved in their faces. Additionally, by generally avoiding the centrality of slavery when it came to discussing the root causes of the conflict and by not challenging certain Lost Cause tenets, most attendees and reporters alike generally smoothed over potential intersectional sticking points in favor of emphasizing commonality. Some who hoped to use the reunion to alter the established historical narrative of the battle itself would find only disappointment. For example, North Carolinians seeking their fair share of credit for the valor and sacrifice displayed during Pickett's Charge were unable to crack the edifice of the Virginia-centric historical story line.

Hopkins's text is regularly infused with vivid first-person accounts of the reunion, chief among them veteran perspectives and colorful newspaper reporter observations, all seamlessly incorporated into the main narrative and insightfully contextualized by the author. Citing in both text and footnotes the work of recent scholars of Civil War and Reconstruction-era historical remembrance and veteran studies (ex. the scholarship of David Blight, Nina Silber, Donald Shaffer, Barbara Gannon, Brian Matthew Jordan, and others), Hopkins synthesizes those findings with his own research into how veterans, visitors, reporters, and keynote speakers experienced and interpreted the event. It's unknown how many black veterans attended the reunion (according to Hopkins's research, press coverage of their presence was sparse), but Hopkins notes the presence of several black unit GAR encampments.

Not everything went smoothly (for example, establishments serving alcohol to eager imbibers were persistent thorns in the sides of those promoting order and decorum), but Hopkins persuasively maintains that organizing authorities could be justifiably proud of their efforts overall. One of the greatest achievements was the small number of deaths, a comparative handful weighed against the full expectation that hundreds might not survive either the long journey to and from the reunion, the physical exertions involved during the reunion, or the oppressive summer heat and humidity. Carloads of coffins thankfully went unused, and much credit goes to plentiful and well-organized health services, solicitous and highly ubiquitous attendants (the Boy Scouts of American deserve special mention on that score), and modern sanitation measures.

In addition to its coverage of the reunion's 4-day series of main events (each day having its own theme), the volume describes a number of more intimate unit reunions and interesting side stories. Among the latter is the book's tracing of the self-serving memorialization alliance forged between James Longstreet widow Helen Dortsch Longstreet and Army of the Potomac Third Corps commander Daniel Sickles. In engaging fashion, Hopkins dryly observes how the pair enthusiastically aided each other in preserving for the two controversial generals the most heroic Gettysburg reputation possible. Of course, the aspect of the reunion best known to modern Civil War readers is the famous reenactment of Pickett's Charge that took place and photographic images of the old vets shaking hands across the stone wall representing the alleged "High-Water Mark" of the Confederacy. As Hopkins amusingly relates, the reality of the how the reenactment unfolded, the order and direction of which dissolved completely in the face of massive pressing crowds of reporters and visiting onlookers, was far different from the chaos-free, stage-managed image of it presented by the photographers for posterity.

As Hopkins notes in his preface, major publications related to the 1913 reunion are few and far between, and Thomas Flagel's excellent War, Memory, and the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion (2019) [site review (7/24/19)] was hot off the press just as Hopkins was finishing his own manuscript. Coverage elements found in each book both reinforce and complement the other. Praise for the event's organizers and widespread gratitude expressed by veterans are substantial themes common to both studies, but Flagel's investigation, to a much greater degree than Hopkins's, emphasizes internal motivations and communal spirit as being more important to the visiting veterans than wider engagement with national issues and themes. Flagel also focuses his veteran profiling most deeply upon four individuals he sees as representative of the breadth of attitudes and motivations displayed by attendees. Hopkins elects instead to offer his readers a wide-lens, less microscopic approach to his multifold exploration of individual and group stories (though, to be fair, Flagel also surveys attendee experiences to some degree). Both elegant works are rather slender overviews, neither aspiring to exhaustive status, but taken together they present students of the Civil War era with a richly drawn description and meaningful understanding of one of the grandest commemorative events in our nation's history.