Monday, April 29, 2024

Coming Soon (May '24 Edition)

Scheduled for MAY 20241:

Dranesville: A Northern Virginia Town in the Crossfire of a Forgotten Battle, December 20, 1861 by Ryan Quint.
Wide Awake: The Forgotten Force that Elected Lincoln and Spurred the Civil War by Jon Grinspan.
The Inland Campaign for Vicksburg: Five Battles in Seventeen Days, May 1-17, 1863 by Timothy Smith.
Voices from Gettysburg: Letters, Papers, and Memoirs from the Greatest Battle of the Civil War by Allen Guelzo.
The Union Army 1861–65 (2): Eastern and New England States by Ron Field.
American Civil Wars: A Continental History, 1850-1873 by Alan Taylor.
Garden of Ruins: Occupied Louisiana in the Civil War by J. Matthew Ward.
War in the Western Theater: Favorite Stories and Fresh Perspectives from the Historians at Emerging Civil War edited by Bierle & Mackowski.
Union General Daniel Butterfield: A Civil War Biography by James Pula.

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.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Booknotes: Ink, Dirt and Powder Smoke

New Arrival:

Ink, Dirt and Powder Smoke: The Civil War Letters of William F. Keeler, Paymaster on the USS Monitor edited by Charles W. McLandress (Author-Seal River Pub, 2023).

From the description: "William F. Keeler’s superbly vivid letters from the USS Monitor and USS Florida are essential classics for Civil War scholars and amateurs alike. His letters from the Monitor provide the most complete picture of life on board a Civil War ironclad. His riveting accounts of the battle with the CSS Virginia, naval expeditions up the James River, the Peninsula Campaign, and the sinking of the Monitor off Cape Hatteras on December 31, 1862 bring an immediacy to (those) events..." In addition, "(h)is equally colorful letters from the Florida provide one of the most compelling pictures of life on board a vessel on the Union blockade, a hugely important, but largely overlooked, chapter of the war." Those blockade enforcement duties with the Florida were performed up and the down the Atlantic seaboard as well as in the Gulf of Mexico during the final stages of the war.

The Keeler letters were first published by the U.S. Naval Institute in two volumes that were edited by Robert W. Daly. Aboard the USS Monitor: 1862 - The Letters of Acting Paymaster William Frederick Keeler, U.S. Navy, to His Wife, Anna was released in 1962. That was followed in 1968 by Aboard the USS Florida: 1863-65 - The Letters of Paymaster William Frederick Keeler, U.S. Navy, to His Wife, Anna. I don't know about the Monitor volume getting another release between then and now, but according to Google Books the Florida volume was reissued in 1980 by Arno Press, a now defunct outfit that specialized in reprinting rare and out-of-print classics.

Charles McLandress, editor of Ink, Dirt and Powder Smoke: The Civil War Letters of William F. Keeler, Paymaster on the USS Monitor, notes that the Keeler material contained in the Daly volumes was highly selective in nature. More from the description: "(D)ue to space constraints substantial portions of Keeler's letters were edited out. Not only does this render the letters disjointed and difficult to read, it also leaves the reader with an incomplete picture of William Keeler – husband, father and friend. With his focus on naval aspects, Daly also paid scant attention to many of the people mentioned in the letters. These include not only Keeler’s family and friends, but also navy and army officers he encountered along the way, many of whom were unsung heroes of Civil War."

McLandress's book is a handsome, professional-looking self-published paperback. Most notably, it is the first publication to reproduce the voluminous Keller correspondence in full. Additionally, with Daly's volumes providing "little contextual information about the military situation, making it difficult for all but the expert reader to easily follow the letters," the new edition exhibits plentiful editorial enhancements."With more attention paid to the people mentioned in the letters and a more in-depth account of Keeler's fascinating and eclectic life (dry goods merchant, iron founder, Forty-Niner, orange grower, newspaper correspondent and more) this new edition makes his letters accessible to a new generation of readers."

Ink, Dirt and Powder Smoke augments its text with a number of photographs as well as copies of the hand-drawn Keeler maps first published in the Daly volumes. Approaching 700 pages in total, it's a fairly massive volume. The editor surveys Keeler's early life in a brief opening chapter, and he also inserts very extensive bridging narrative throughout the parts covering the Civil War years aboard the Monitor and Florida. That prodigious supplemental background history and editorial text broadly contextualizes the letters from multiple angles. Both letter and editorial materials are footnoted. Postwar Keeler letters extend into the 1880s, and the biographical notes feature in the appendix section will undoubtedly interest many readers.

McLandress has created a nice website for this book and his other publishing interests. In addition to promotion there is extra information provided there. Per an email from the author: the website also "ties Paymaster William Keeler to the other members of his family, in particular his son James Edward, the astronomer, his brother-in-law Melzar Dutton who was killed in the Civil War, and his grandson Henry Keeler who went to China in 1915 and died there at age 25."

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Review - "Miserable Little Conglomeration: A Social History of the Port Hudson Campaign" by Christopher Thrasher

[Miserable Little Conglomeration: A Social History of the Port Hudson Campaign by Christopher Thrasher (University of Tennessee Press, 2023). Hardcover, maps, photos, illustrations, orders of battle appendix, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xxxi,319/434. ISBN:978-1-62190-791-6. $45]

The fortified citadel of Port Hudson, Louisiana was arguably just as important as Vicksburg, Mississippi in its ability to impede Union control of the Mississippi and, in tandem, both places protected one of the great river's vital stretches (including the mouth of the Red River), yet the historiography of the combined 1862-63 efforts by Union forces to permanently open the Lower Mississippi Valley nevertheless is still strongly dominated by U.S. Grant's Vicksburg campaign. That's not to suggest that Port Hudson has been entirely neglected in the popular and scholarly literature, however, as a small handful of published studies do exist. The campaign's seminal modern work, Edward Cunningham's The Port Hudson Campaign, 1862–1863, was first published way back in 1963 during the Centennial. That was followed nearly two and half decades later by Lawrence Lee Hewitt's Port Hudson, Confederate Bastion on the Mississippi (1987), a study of the siege phase of the 1863 campaign. The only work that addresses in great detail the entire military operation from start to finish is David C. Edmonds's two-volume set The Guns of Port Hudson (1983-1984), now long out of print. Most recently, Hewitt, the first manager of the Port Hudson State Historic Site, returned to the subject with 2021's Port Hudson: The Most Significant Battlefield Photographs of the Civil War, a fascinating visual feast also filled with expert analysis. Contributing mightily to this mini-resurgence in Port Hudson interest is Christopher Thrasher's new ground-level examination of the campaign and siege titled Miserable Little Conglomeration: A Social History of the Port Hudson Campaign.

In terms of scale, Thrasher's project addresses the entire breadth of the contest for control of Port Hudson, from initial Confederate defensive preparations prompted by the fall of New Orleans to the fortified post's July 9, 1863 surrender to Union general Nathaniel Banks's Army of the Gulf. In between are vivid descriptions of a great number of episodes both great and small. The dramatic attempt by Rear Admiral David Farragut to pass the Port Hudson batteries with his deepwater squadron, the initial probing attacks against the Confederate earthworks, the failed grand assaults of May 27 and June 14, and, finally, the 48-day siege are all covered. In order to recreate for his readers what it was like to experience the campaign up close, Thrasher consulted a wide variety of primary source materials. The result is an expansive collection of stories and perspectives, including those of the common soldiers and lower-ranking officers of both sides, the many civilians caught up in the fighting, and the impressed slave labor that helped dig Port Hudson's extensive network of earthwork fortifications. The author presents those findings through a narrative construct similar to that found in his previous book 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, though without another singular overarching theme. Obviously, misery was a shared experience among all involved with the Port Hudson Campaign, but it is not a theme that is directly explored in the explicit manner that "suffering" was in the 1864 Tennessee Campaign book.

Thrasher skillfully incorporates into his narrative letter/diary/journal excerpts adeptly chosen for the interest level and value of their insights. Together, they convey to the reader what it was like to serve on a ship during the campaign, come under heavy bombardment, live in the trenches, be thrown into hopeless front assaults, roast under the hot southern sun, and suffer from disease and hunger. But it isn't all horror and mayhem as the book also frequent cites instances of those taking advantage of small pleasures and moments of comradery with friend and foe alike. These personal thoughts and perspectives often appear in the text as standalone episodes, but the author also follows through much of the book a select number of individuals who recorded their observations over the entire length of the campaign. Thus, one gets both longitudinal and snapshot-in-time viewpoints of the sequence of events comprising the Port Hudson Campaign. In a much more consistent and skillful manner than what is often found in other social history-focused works of this type, Thrasher never allows his large collection of narrow individual perspectives to accumulate in ways that leave the reader without the benefit of understanding the larger tactical, operational, and strategic contexts involved (for an example of a recent work on the other end of the spectrum, see British oral historian Peter Hart's The Somme). Thrasher modestly asserts that his book is not, and is not meant to be, another traditional-style military history of the campaign, but his narrative does possess a great many of those elements and characteristics.

Clearly, in addition to being fought concurrently, there were a number of parallels between the Port Hudson and Vicksburg campaigns and sieges, but some noteworthy differences do emerge from Thrasher's study. Scholars of both campaigns have pointed out that those in charge of each post did a poor job of warehousing accumulated supplies, disastrous oversights that led to vast quantities of wastage and rot. Nevertheless, in citing reports on remaining food stocks, recent scholarship has questioned the role actual starvation played in forcing the surrender of the Vicksburg garrison. By comparison, Port Hudson's defenders seem to have been truly on their last legs when it came to food reserves and medicine. Thrasher's study also seems to suggest that rates of debilitating disease affecting both sides were higher at Port Hudson than at Vicksburg (which was bad enough). According to Thrasher's research into rank and file opinion, Banks's army, distinct from Grant's command, became more and more disenchanted with its previously popular commander over the course of the campaign and by siege's end was approaching critical deficits in both general health and morale. Another clearly notable difference between the two campaigns was that Confederate cavalry operated outside Port Hudson's siege lines in enough strength to occasionally disrupt Union resupply and lines of communication. Though the damage they were able to do was substantial in places, it was never significant enough to actually endanger the siege.

With the small Confederate garrison at Port Hudson inflicting on Banks's army deaths at a rate the author estimates at ten to one and at the same time enduring the war's longest true siege, Thrasher ponders how much more difficult things might have been for Union forces had every Confederate garrison and fighting force been so steadfast. On the other hand, in maintaining that "Port Hudson demonstrated the insignificance of Confederate resistance" (pg. 317), Thrasher closely approaches the inevitability camp in arguing that Port Hudson, and the war itself on a collective basis, proved that Union fighting forces and home front supporters alike possessed bottomless wells of willing sacrifice in pursuit of victory. That minimization of the role of contingency in the war's progress and outcome certainly goes against the grain of recent scholarship. Aside from that, Thrasher strongly and persuasively argues that the stupendous determination and human sacrifice displayed by both sides during the fighting at Port Hudson and the strategic implications of the Union capture of Port Hudson itself are factors that render the military operation more than deserving of its own consideration as one of the war's momentous campaigns, decoupled from Vicksburg. That's a conclusion that will likely draw scant disagreement from readers of Miserable Little Conglomeration.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Booknotes: Union "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi - Part 1

New Arrival:

Union "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi - Part 1: 1861 edited by Michael E. Banasik (Camp Pope Pub, 2024).

With all five Confederate titles of Volume VII finished and well out the door, Camp Pope Publishing has now officially launched the first installment of Volume VIII, the Union compilation of newspaper reminiscences published by The Missouri Republican in its Saturday editions from 1885-87.

Union "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi - Part 1: 1861 is organized into three chapters. In Chapter 1, Michael Banasik (the editor of every title in the Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River series) collects and annotates articles covering the January-July 1861 period encompassing the securing of the U.S. arsenal at St. Louis, the emergence of Nathaniel Lyon, Camp Jackson, and the raising of Missouri troops by state and federal authorities. The second chapter addresses various aspects of the military contests at Carthage (July 5) and Wilson's Creek (August 10) from the Union perspective. Chapter 3 looks at the fall campaigns conducted on opposite sides of the state, focusing on the Lexington siege and the Battle of Belmont.

As was the case with the Confederates volumes, the appendix section contains a large body of useful supplemental material. In addition to a selection of official documents, letters and correspondence that provide more context to the newspaper articles, readers will find a number of capsule biographies, a series of editor-authored addendums (of varying nature) to the Missouri Republican articles, and annotated orders of battle for Carthage, Wilson's Creek, and Belmont.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Booknotes: An Ornament to His Country

New Arrival:

An Ornament to His Country: The Life and Military Career of Benjamin Franklin Davis by Sharon A. Murray (Author, 2023).

After a long period of undue neglect, an impressive amount of detailed coverage of eastern theater Union cavalry leaders and operations has been published over the past two decades. This recent body of literature has exposed readers to a number of brigade and division commanders whose abilities and contributions are deserving of wider recognition. One of the those individuals is Benjamin Franklin "Grimes" Davis, his life and military career the focus of Antietam battlefield guide Sharon Murray's self-published biography An Ornament to His Country.

Born and raised in the Deep South (in Alabama and Mississippi), Davis was a West Point grad who elected to remain loyal to the United States during the Civil War. Comprising roughly a third of the book, there is substantial coverage of Davis's early life, his service as an underage teen soldier doing mostly guard duty during the War with Mexico, his West Point education, and his antebellum Regular Army service in Texas, California, and New Mexico Territory. Those sections are followed by accounts of his early Civil War period service in the First California Volunteer Cavalry, First US Cavalry, and as the colonel of the 8th New York cavalry regiment.

From the description: "A brave, daring and resourceful officer," Davis "was commended for his action at the May 4, 1862 Battle of Williamsburg and was instrumental in facilitating the exodus of the U.S. Cavalry from Harpers Ferry on September 14, 1862 during the Maryland Campaign. Davis was recognized for his stellar leadership during the fall 1862 campaign in Virginia including the November 5 Battle of Barbee's Crossroads. He was leading a brigade in Buford's Division during the opening salvos of the Battle of Brandy Station when he was mortally wounded." The 31-year-old Davis died on June 9, 1863, and it was John Buford that eulogized him with the phrase that became the title of this biography.

Numerous illustrations and ten maps are sprinkled about. I've often wondered where the "Grimes" nickname came from. According to Murray, the nickname emerged during his West Point days (by whom and why it was conferred being both unknowns) and was one "affectionately" used by his friends from then onward.

Of course, we can never know for certain how high Davis might have risen among the Union Army's cavalry leadership, but one can imagine a possible divisional command in his future had he lived to see the campaigns of 1864-65. Little remembered today outside of eastern theater cavalry scholars and enthusiasts, Davis remains a mostly obscure Civil War figure. Murray's biography represents an "attempt to correct that oversight and give Davis his just due."

Friday, April 19, 2024

Booknotes: North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865 Vol. XXII

New Arrival:

North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865: A Roster, Volume XXII - Confederate States Navy, Confederate States Marine Corps, and Charlotte Naval Yard edited by Katelynn A. Hatton & Alex Christopher Meekins (NC Office of Archives and History, 2024).

I've long been curious about the North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865: A Roster series. Having started its journey way back in 1961 during the Centennial, it is still ongoing under the auspices of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History. Previous attempts at getting a review copy to sample were always unsuccessful, but last month current co-editor Christopher Meekins contacted me out of the blue and offered to send me a copy of the latest installment. North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865: A Roster, Volume XXII - Confederate States Navy, Confederate States Marine Corps, and Charlotte Naval Yard is a milestone in that it is the final Confederate volume in the series.

According to the jacket flap text, the mission of the series is "to publish a service record for every man who served in a unit raised in North Carolina during the Civil War, and to publish a history of each of these units." I was not previously aware of the extent of the latter part. In this volume, the "North Carolina and the Confederate Navy" narrative history text runs nearly 250 pages, and that makes me even more curious about how deeply the unit history aspect is handled in the others. I'd always just assumed from the title, wrongly it appears, that the rosters were the predominant feature and anything else included was just supplementary in nature. I've always been interested in the naval and combined operations conducted along NC's bays and rivers, so I am looking forward to reading this.

The roster comprises the second half of the book. As is the case with all of these types of projects, the amount of information available for each individual varies widely. Full name; rank/position; date and place of birth; prewar residence; enlistment/commission, promotion, transfer, capture, and discharge dates; wounds/health remarks; and brief assignment and service commentary are all examples of the types of information that can be found in roster entries.

In fulfillment of the ongoing mission, the editors are now working on the Union series, which will "include service records of North Carolinians who served in the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps." That doesn't necessarily mean the Confederate series is entirely wrapped up, however, as new information is always being solicited from the public and an addendum is cited as a distinct possibility. Follow the series link in the first paragraph and you'll find submission requirements and suggestions.

Do any of you out there own all the volumes? Feel free to add your impressions in the comments.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Booknotes: Storming the Heights, Revised Second Edition

New Arrival:

Storming the Heights: A Guide to the Battle of Chattanooga, Revised Second Edition by Matt Spruill (U Tenn Press, 2024).

Jay Luvaas and Harold Nelson's The U.S. Army War College Guide series pioneered a Civil War battlefield touring and staff ride format that has stood the test of time. I believe that the most recent volume published under the War College imprimatur was Bowery and Rafuse's Guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign (Kansas, 2014); however, the format itself has also flourished elsewhere with University of Tennessee Press and Matt Spruill. Originally published in 2003, Spruill's Storming the Heights: A Guide to the Battle of Chattanooga has now been reissued in a newly revised edition that takes into account the substantial changes to the physical landscape that have occurred over the past two decades. I love that cover art selection, too.

From the description: "In this newly revised second edition of his classic guidebook, Matt Spruill revisits his standard-setting tours of the Chattanooga National Military Park, providing updates and new directions after twenty years of park improvements. He recounts the story of the November 1863 battle of Chattanooga using official reports and observations by commanding officers in their own words. The book is organized in a format still used by the military on staff rides, allowing the reader to understand how the battle was fought and why leaders made the decisions they did." Readers of the publisher's Command Decisions in America's Civil War series will recognize the shared elements between these guides and the newer series' own extensive touring feature.

The original War College series and its iterations have never been compact in nature (indeed, this particular volume is well over 450 pages in length!), so it's always been recognized that they are for serious tramping (with prep reading involved) and not exactly conducive to rush tours. Not having access to the first edition, I unfortunately can't make any direct comparisons between the two Chattanooga versions that can be summarized here.

More from the description: "Unlike other books on the battle of Chattanooga, this work guides the reader through the battlefield, allowing both visitor and armchair traveler alike to see the battle through the eyes of its participants. Numerous tour “stops” take the reader through the battles for Chattanooga, Wauhatchie, Lookout Mountain, Orchard Knob, Missionary Ridge, and Ringgold Gap. With easy-to-follow instructions, extensive and updated tactical maps, eyewitness accounts, and editorial analyses, the reader is transported to the center of the action."

The book is stocked with a great number of period and modern photographs, and it provides dozens of tactical and operational-scale maps for readers to follow. In addition to orders of battle and brief information about Chattanooga's national cemetery, the appendix section houses extensive side tours of Lookout Valley and of the entire route of the Union supply line from Bridgeport.

"With this second edition, Storming the Heights will continue to be the go-to guide for Civil War enthusiasts interested in touring this sacred ground."

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Review - "The Confederate Navy Medical Corps: Organization, Personnel and Actions" by Guy Hasegawa

[The Confederate Navy Medical Corps: Organization, Personnel and Actions by Guy R. Hasegawa (McFarland, 2024). Softcover, photos, illustrations, roster, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:v,188/244. ISBN:978-1-4766-9451-1. $39.95]

Pharmacist Guy Hasegawa is the author of a number of notable studies related to Civil War science and medicine, and he's also delved deeply into bureaucratic histories. His Matchless Organization: The Confederate Army Medical Department was released in 2021, and his research into that department's smaller naval counterpart, the Confederate States Navy's Office of Medicine and Surgery (OMS), has resulted in the publication of The Confederate Navy Medical Corps: Organization, Personnel and Actions. The CSN grew steadily throughout the war, peaking at just over 5,000 officers and men along with around 500 additional personnel in the CS Marine Corps. All of those men needed medical care, and it was the task of Surgeon William A.W. Spotswood and his OMS to provide it on land, river, and sea.

During the chaos and destruction of Richmond's evacuation in 1865, much of the Confederate Navy's records were lost. Making Hasegawa's task even more difficult, CSN surgeon diary, journal, and letter resources are few in number. Recognizing that many gaps can probably never be adequately filled, the author nevertheless dove into newly searchable archives and was able, with the help of other key sources, to piece together a more than respectable volume tracing the history, staffing, organization, duties, and actions of the naval medical corps. As expected, the CSN adopted (or adapted) a great many legacy aspects from the USN, and Hasegawa, with due care, explores the strong possibility that missing information about the CSN medical department's organization and practices can be addressed at least to some degree by extrapolating from how the USN was run.

Recruitment and evaluation of top personnel is a major part of Hasegawa's study. While Confederate authorities hoped and expected that resigned USN medical officers would form the core around which an effective medical service might be built, the level of need rapidly outstripped supply. Meeting that need meant that other sources, such as state navies, civilian doctors (who would be accorded standing as acting assistant surgeons), and even the Confederate Army, had to be tapped. In the end, roughly a third of the 106 appointees as surgeons in the CSN previously served in the USN. Assisting the surgeons directly were surgeons' stewards and hospital stewards (another carryover from the USN). The author recounts the duties of each and notes that, even though they were very different by USN tradition (surgeons' stewards were appointed from the enlisted ranks and were tasked with medical care as well as record-keeping while hospital stewards were civilians who supervised staff and performed administrative duties but were not involved in direct patient care), sometimes the distinction between the two was not so clear in the CSN.

As one might have expected, it was a struggle for Confederate authorities to locally source enough medical supplies to meet the needs of the service. It was hoped that the balance, particularly in prepared medicines that Confederate labs were unable to replicate en masse, could be obtained through the blockade. Even though much of that critical supply entered the country through widely dispersed port cities, Richmond still insisted upon a central depot for their dispersal. Hasegawa keenly observes that the government's failure to create satellite medical supply depots closer to the major blockade-running ports represented a significant and needless inefficiency in the purveying department's distribution operations. The author also found discrepancies between official department reports prepared at the top and those submitted downstream. For example, while the head of purveying in late 1864 confidently reported that all vessels in the CSN were adequately stocked with medical supplies, the author's deeper digging into the sources reveals that not to have been the case.

Hasegawa comprehensively lists and describes the many different types of assignments that were required of CSN surgeons. These ranged from shipboard postings to naval stations, navy yards, shore batteries, and even army assignments. Another duty, the organized but not exactly standardized process of examining recruits, is also discussed in some detail. While the CSN did not possess far-flung oceanic squadrons, surgeons did serve aboard commerce raiders and blockade runners. It is noted that most surgeons, especially the younger ones, were posted to a number of these different assignments during their Civil War service. With surgeons even accompanying small-boat raids, the personal danger could be considerable and more than a few naval surgeons were captured during the war.

Of course, the staffing and administering of naval hospitals, based either on shore or on a small number of hospital ships, was another major responsibility of the OMS. In the book, Hasegawa briefly recounts the history of naval hospitals established at Richmond and at major cities all along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Individuals who served at those places as medical officers are also identified in the text. The range of diseases commonly treated in the hospitals as well as their treatment regimens are documented, and it is noted that malaria was the most challenging disease faced given the commonality of contact with mosquito-infested habitats in the waterborne service.

As an added reference tool, an annotated list of all known medical officers commissioned in the CSN is included as an appendix. Surmounting in many ways the challenges and limitations the author was confronted with during this research project, a coherent portrait of the Confederate States Navy's medical officer corps, their duties, experiences, and wartime accomplishments emerges from the text. As Hasegawa laments, the information does not exist to offer a comprehensive comparison between the medical corps of the Union and Confederate navies, but there is enough raw data scattered about and reliably admiring testimonials from the other services available to enable the author to conclude that the CSN medical department's performance was "quite creditable" (pg. 187) under the circumstances.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Booknotes: The Army under Fire

New Arrival:

The Army under Fire: The Politics of Antimilitarism in the Civil War Era by Cecily N. Zander (LSU Press, 2024).

Given how often the topic is mentioned in the literature, every Civil War reader possesses at the very least a passing recognition of the pre-20th century American public's mistrust of large standing armies and their questioning of the value (and prudence) of nurturing a professional officer corps through an elite national military academy. Of course, there were also those who saw great merit behind the nation maintaining a core of military professionalism.

Examining both sides of the debate is Cecily Zander's The Army under Fire: The Politics of Antimilitarism in the Civil War Era. It is "a pathbreaking study focusing on the fierce political debates over the size and use of military forces in the United States during the Civil War era. It examines how prominent political figures interacted with the professional army and how those same leaders misunderstood the value of regular soldiers fighting to reunify the fractured nation."

Questions asked include: "what is the role of a professional army in a democratic republic?" and "to what degree did the United States want to be a militaristic nation?". Zander defines the "antimilitarism" of her title and study to broadly mean an "attitude of opposition toward empowering professionally trained officers with political or economic support." According to Zander, those debates "indelibly shaped the course of the Civil War era" (pp. 1-2, 5).

Monday, April 15, 2024

Booknotes: Sheet Music of the Confederacy

New Arrival:

Sheet Music of the Confederacy: A History by Robert I. Curtis (McFarland, 2024).

From the description: "The creation of the Confederate States of America and the subsequent Civil War inspired composers, lyricists, and music publishers in Southern and border states, and even in foreign countries, to support the new nation." The music fulfilled a number of purposes and uses common to societies at war. "Confederate-imprint sheet music articulated and encouraged Confederate nationalism, honored soldiers and military leaders, comforted family and friends, and provided diversion from the hardships of war."

A massive study of over 500 pages, Robert Curtis's Sheet Music of the Confederacy is "the first comprehensive history" of the subject. "It covers works published before the war in Southern states that seceded from the Union, and those published during the war in Union occupied capitals, border and Northern states, and foreign countries. It is also the first work to examine the contribution of postwar Confederate-themed sheet music to the South's response to its defeat, to the creation and fostering of Lost Cause themes, and to the promotion of national reunion and reconciliation."

Curtis divides the study into two main parts. The first examines pro-Confederate sheet music created during the secession and wartime periods. As mentioned above, the range of the study branches out into the Border States and northern cities. The second part of the book addresses sheet music produced during the Reconstruction and postwar national reconciliation periods through to the beginning of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Music from foreign countries is also included.

A great deal of vital information is housed in the appendix section as well. The first appendix defines and describes in great detail the features and composition of what was known as "sheet music," the basic elements of which were title/cover page, music, and lyrics. Differing from previous works by "Crandall, Hoogerwerf, Parrish, and Willingham," that first appendix provides us with a "missing set of criteria necessary to identify Confederate-imprint sheet music and to distinguish it from Confederate-related sheet music" (pg. 3). Other appendices contain discussions of publication dates, period song and music terminology, copyright records, and lyric variability.

Distinguishing his work from its more general-focus predecessors, Curtis cites four "innovations" present in this volume: (1) this book is "the first study to focus on sheet music as representative artifacts in the material culture of the South during the late half of the 19th century;" (2) it is the first study to comprehensively address the period before, during, and after the war; (3) it is distinctive in its "expanded analysis of the elements that composed the Confederate sheet music business in the South during the Civil War;" and (4) it differs from previous works in the "prominence given to the visual aspects" of the music as seen through sheet music cover illustrations (pg. 4-5). Those covers, aside from being filled with vital bibliographical information, were artistic forms in their own right, and a massive number of these are reproduced at full-page size in the book.

I have to admit that the historiography of Civil War music is way outside of my knowledge base, but this volume has all the appearances of a major contribution to the field.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Booknotes: The Texas Lowcountry

New Arrival:

The Texas Lowcountry: Slavery and Freedom on the Gulf Coast, 1822–1895 by John R. Lundberg (TAMU Pr, 2024).

In the Deep South and Texas, fertile coastal deltas often developed into regions of concentrated slave labor-based agricultural economies. An in-depth study of the history of one such geographical area is John Lundberg's The Texas Lowcountry: Slavery and Freedom on the Gulf Coast, 1822–1895, which "examines slavery and Reconstruction in a region of Texas he terms the lowcountry—an area encompassing the lower reaches of the Brazos and Colorado Rivers and their tributaries as they wend their way toward the Gulf of Mexico through what is today Brazoria, Fort Bend, Matagorda, and Wharton Counties."

Even though foreign-born settlers, in particular a large influx of Germans starting in the 1830s, established themselves in ethnic pockets across much of central Texas and elsewhere, those newcomers were relatively few in the lowcountry. More from the description: "95 percent of the white population of the lowcountry came from other parts of the United States, predominantly the slaveholding states of the American South. By 1861, more than 70 percent of this regional population were enslaved people—the heaviest such concentration west of the Mississippi. These demographics established the Texas Lowcountry as a distinct region in terms of its population and social structure."

Lundberg presents his study in three parts. The first engages with recent scholarship that envisions and interprets vast regions of the American Southwest as political, economic, and cultural borderlands rife with both cooperation and conflict. Indeed, the section "explores the development of the region as a borderland, an area of competing cultures and peoples, between 1822 and 1840." Part Two is "arranged topically and chronicles the history of the enslavers and the enslaved in the lowcountry between 1840 and 1865." I skimmed over the section to see which familiar Civil War faces popped up, and saw that Lundberg addresses Albert Sidney Johnston's holdings in the region. You might recall that Timothy Smith's very recent military biography of Johnston framed his unsuccessful Texas land speculation as one of many examples in Johnston's life of attempting to gain status, or recover lost fortune, through high-risk ventures and decisions, none of which tended to work out for him. The third section "focuses on the experiences of freed people in the region during the Reconstruction era, which ended in the lowcountry in 1895."

"In closely examining this unique pocket of Texas," Lundberg's The Texas Lowcountry "provides a new and much needed region-specific study of the culture of enslavement and the African American experience."

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Review - "Our People Are Warlike: Civil War Pittsburgh and Home-Front Mobilization" by Allen Christopher York

[Our People Are Warlike: Civil War Pittsburgh and Home-Front Mobilization by Allen Christopher York (University of Tennessee Press, 2023). Hardcover, map, photos, illustrations, tables, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xii,162/211. ISBN:978-1-62190-825-8. $50]

Our People Are Warlike: Civil War Pittsburgh and Home-Front Mobilization begins with an informative overview of the nineteenth-century growth and development of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania into a major industrial and population center. By 1860, its nearly 50,000 inhabitants (37% of which were foreign-born) ranked it in the top twenty of U.S. cities. If the entire metro area were to be included, that population rises to nearly 80,000. Located in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, where the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers forms the head of the great Ohio River, Pittsburgh was ideally situated at the crossroads of east and west and additionally held commercial ties to the South. Rather than recount the Civil War-era story of the city in typical chronological fashion, author Allen Christopher York instead thematically organizes and presents Pittsburgh's myriad of political, military, industrial, and social contributions to Union victory as a series of interlocking mobilizations.

Though his city study does not meticulously trace the evolution of the political history of Pittsburgh in terms of party affiliation, York claims that during the November 1860 general election "no major city gave a greater majority to Lincoln than Pittsburgh" (pg. 29). While a more thorough explanation of the reasons behind that would have made for interesting reading, the author seems to argue that widespread antislavery activism, including opposition to fugitive slave laws, in the city during the late-antebellum period made it a fertile ground for Republican dominance and later a broad acceptance of emancipation. After the firing on Fort Sumter there was an outpouring of support in Pittsburgh for Lincoln's call to arms, and York's examination of the Democratic response in the city suggests that opposition to war was comparatively muted. Prewar southern ties were enthusiastically severed during this atmosphere of war fever, although one suspects that the prospects of replacing that lost manufacturing business with the new business of war made that change more readily palatable. York does not provide a detailed rundown of wartime election results in the text, but he does suggest that, unlike other northern urban centers that experienced Democratic resurgence in 1862-63, Pittsburgh remained a steady Republican stronghold.

Manpower mobilization was another key part of Pittsburgh's response to Lincoln's call for volunteers. As was the case in many parts of the North, the early wave of volunteers from Pittsburgh and surrounding Allegheny County well exceeded assigned quotas, and local leaders struggled to determine what to do with the excess numbers. Forward thinkers feared that the rejected volunteers might not make themselves available again when the government inevitably asked for future levies, and York details local initiatives aimed toward pressing state and federal authorities to establish a permanent military camp in the city to house the excess volunteers. The author also recounts the municipal law and order problems that ensued when those volunteers, confined indefinitely and forced to witness the parading about of far better uniformed and equipped home guards, became unruly. Surprisingly, York does not enter into formal discussion of the formation of the Pennsylvania Reserves and which units in that division had the strongest Pittsburgh imprint.

Pittsburgh would later become famous as the Steel City, but before that it was a major producer of iron and iron products, that heavy industry itself supported by coal imports from the surrounding region. The Fort Pitt foundry will already be familiar to many Civil War readers, and York discusses its significance to the Union war effort through the facility's production of heavy cannon. Perhaps lesser recognized by readers is the importance of Pittsburgh's shipyards, which converted or constructed numerous gunboats for the war on the western waterways. While the Ellet ram fleet and its Mississippi Marine Brigade successor became famous for their Mississippi River Valley exploits, mastermind Charles Ellet himself was based in Pittsburgh and most of the converted vessels were fitted out and crewed there.

Another aspect of Pittsburgh's mobilization was the city's all-hands-on-deck response to the threat of the first major federal draft in 1863. This coincided with the recent Emancipation Proclamation and increased concerns over the government suppression of free speech and civil rights on the home front. As was the case in most northern industrial centers, Pittsburgh's laboring classes feared the wage and job competition that would take place if emancipation flooded their city with a new source of cheap labor. While other cities (New York being the most egregious example) experienced significant popular unrest in response to conscription and the shifting goals of the Union war effort, the reaction in Pittsburgh was different. Instead of riots, York finds the primary public concern to have been one of outside perception. Up to that point Pittsburgh had always met its quotas, but city leaders worried that mid-war slackening in volunteerism would foster an outside impression that Pittsburgh was not among the most patriotic of the nation's first cities. What was behind the stagnation in volunteerism is not fully explained, though one strongly suspects that the city's robust job market had much to do with it. Regardless of the whys involved, York shows that draft fears mobilized a broad-based civic response that raised the money necessary to fund enlistment bounties generous enough for Pittsburgh to quickly fill its quotas and prevent embarrassment.

Another major mobilization was what York terms "benevolent" mobilization. All evidence points to the Pittsburgh branch of the U.S. Sanitary Commission being very generously sustained, but the aid organization and its supporters also keenly felt the conflict between helping their own local boys and having their many contributions delivered facelessly across the entire Union war effort. Even closer to home, was the Pittsburgh Subsistence Committee, which provided meals, lodging, and medical services to soldiers passing through the city. As York reveals, this was a high-profile civilian mobilization given Pittsburgh's status as a heavily trafficked waypoint used by men moving back and forth from the front and between theaters. By 1863, the Pittsburgh branch of the U.S. Christian Commission had, in addition to its spiritual mission, largely assumed responsibility for medical supplies. In Pittsburgh, there was also significant overlap in both leadership and participation in these three aid organizations. In June 1864 Pittsburgh hosted its own sanitary fair, which was successful by all accounts. Incredibly, in terms of cash and material totals raised during the war, Pittsburgh's Sanitary Commission was responsible for an estimated quarter of all USSC donations.

The communal response to tragedy was yet another form of home front mobilization detailed in the book. From the battlefield dead to the civilian worker victims of the infamous Allegheny Arsenal explosion, Pittsburghers mobilized themselves to provide proper funerals (including respectful public processions) and take care of survivors, especially orphans, in need. York draws insightful parallels between how Pittsburgh citizens and press editors alike chose to recognize and memorialize the arsenal victims and the battlefield dead, those expressions inextricably linking fighting front sacrifices to home front sacrifices.  Additionally, the predominant attitude expressed in both cases was one of appreciation of the victims' patriotic selflessness rather than blame-seeking indignation at the losses.

Allen York's theme-based Our People Are Warlike stands well on its own, but its exploration of Civil War Pittsburgh's home and fighting front connections also very usefully complements other recent works such as Arthur Fox's Pittsburgh During the American Civil War 1860-1865 (2002, 2009-R) [review] and Our Honored Dead: Allegheny County, Pennsylvania in the American Civil War (2008) [review]. In York's view, Pittsburgh escaped the riots and labor unrest that plagued other northern cities through its strong record of sustained wartime economic growth and its small base of potentially violent opposition to the war. York ends his thoughtful study by issuing a call for fellow scholars to investigate the mobilizations of other great northern Civil War-era cities in order to determine if similar patterns existed (or if, as the author strongly suggests, Pittsburgh was in many ways truly exceptional).

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Booknotes: The Fabric of Civil War Society

New Arrival:

The Fabric of Civil War Society: Uniforms, Badges, and Flags, 1859–1939 by Shae Smith Cox (LSU Press, 2024).

Academic studies of Civil War material culture are few and far between, but each new one is always welcome in my book. Recognizing that "(m)ilitary uniforms, badges, flags, and other material objects have been used to represent the identity of Americans throughout history," historian Shae Smith Cox, in her book The Fabric of Civil War Society: Uniforms, Badges, and Flags, 1859–1939, "examines the material culture of America’s bloodiest conflict, offering a deeper understanding of the war and its commemoration."

Cox's examination of the topic employs specificity in both material involved (textiles) and overarching theme (those materials as "as markers of power and authority for both the Union and the Confederacy"). From the description: "These textiles became cherished objects by the turn of the century, a transition seen in veterans replacing wartime uniforms with new commemorative attire and repatriating Confederate battle flags. Looking specifically at the creation of material culture by various commemoration groups, including the Grand Army of the Republic, the Woman’s Relief Corps, the United Confederate Veterans, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Cox reveals the ways that American society largely accepted their messages, furthering the mission of their memory work." You might recall that John Hopkins's very recent study of the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion touches heavily upon matters related to the above, particularly its discussion of what kinds of, to use Cox's term, commemorative attire the old Confederate veterans would be allowed to wear to the big event.

Expectations of an accompanying photographic cornucopia of clothing and objects should be tempered. With just over a dozen illustrations in total, Cox's heavily researched book (its bibliography exhibits a hefty primary source base and wide engagement with the published literature) is very much a text-based study. You do get some representative images of uniforms, coats, and commemorative badges (particularly the last).

In sum: "Through the lens of material culture, Cox sheds new light on a variety of Civil War topics, including preparation for war, nuances in relationships between Native American and African American soldiers, the roles of women, and the rise of postwar memorial societies."

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Booknotes: Abraham Lincoln and Women in Film

New Arrival:

Abraham Lincoln and Women in Film: One Hundred Years of Hollywood Mythmaking by Frank J. Wetta & Martin A. Novelli (LSU Press, 2024).

In all the years I've been doing this I've never been offered a review copy of a book that examines depictions of the American Civil War on film and television screens. What makes it more surprising is that Google tells me that there are quite a number of them out there. Among the fairly recent titles are Bruce Chadwick's The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film (2001), Brian Steel Wills's Gone with the Glory: The Civil War in Cinema (2011), and a 2017 essay compilation titled The American Civil War on Film and TV: Blue and Gray in Black and White and Color. By the way, if you were ever wondering what my favorite Civil War film is, I go back and forth between Pharoah's Army and Ride with the Devil.

Of course, Abraham Lincoln has frequently appeared on celluloid, too, leaving interested parties with fertile ground for analysis of man and myth. The latest is Frank Wetta and Martin Novelli's Abraham Lincoln and Women in Film: One Hundred Years of Hollywood Mythmaking. It "investigates how depictions of women in Hollywood motion pictures helped forge the myth of Lincoln."

From the description: "Exploring female characters’ backstories, the political and cultural climate in which the films appeared, and the contest between the moviemakers’ imaginations and the varieties of historical truth, Wetta and Novelli place the women in Lincoln’s life at the center of the study, including his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln; his stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln; his lost loves, Ann Rutledge and Mary Owens; and his wife and widow, Mary Todd Lincoln. Later, while inspecting Lincoln’s legacy, they focus on the 1930s child actor Shirley Temple and the 1950s movie star Marilyn Monroe, who had a well-publicized fascination with the sixteenth president."

More: Wetta and Novelli's approach is "the first to deal extensively with the women in Lincoln’s life, both those who interacted with him personally and those appearing on screen. It is also among the first works to examine how scholarly and popular biography influenced depictions of Lincoln, especially in film."

Monday, April 8, 2024

Booknotes: Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site

New Arrival:

Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site by Colby Lipscomb and Derrick Brown (Arcadia Pub, 2024).

Like many other Civil War parks, Bentonville Battlefield SHS had modest beginnings, but thanks to decades of public-private expansion and preservation advocacy it now boasts 2,000 acres of saved ground, fully a third of the historical battleground. For readers interested in the history of the Bentonville campaign and battle, there are no two sources superior to Mark Bradley's The Battle Of Bentonville: Last Stand In The Carolinas (1996) and Mark Moore's matchless map study accompaniment Moore's Historical Guide To The Battle Of Bentonville (1997). But if you are interested in the history of the ground upon which the battle was fought and the state historic site created to preserve it for future generations you now have a fine resource in Colby Lipscomb and Derrick Brown's Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site.

From the description: Over the years following the battle, "residents, descendants, and historians preserved the Bentonville story through monuments, markers, tours, and more. A hundred years after the battle, representatives of the state of North Carolina dedicated a permanent museum and created Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site. Over the following years, North Carolina Historic Sites, with the American Battlefield Trust, has preserved and interpreted the battlefield at Bentonville--with over 2,000 acres preserved as of 2023. Today, the site continues to tell the multitude of Bentonville stories, including the battle, its aftermath, and the community that surrounds it."

Lipscomb and Brown "have decades of experience at the battlefield as visitors and, currently, as staff members," and they've utilized their extensive body of knowledge and contacts in the service of compiling a grand collection of "photographs from several North Carolina state agencies, historical societies, and descendants of veterans and community members." Their book "tells the visual history of the battlefield as a site of memory." Image subjects include maps, commemorative events, individual and group photographs across time, aerial views of the landscape, contemporary illustrations, material culture, buildings, monuments, and graves.

Part of Arcadia's Images of America series, the story of the battlefield is revealed through a sequence of captioned photos organized into seven themed chapters. The first chapter introduces the campaign and battle itself. That is followed by a series of images of the Bentonville community before and after the battle. The memorials and monuments that dot the ground are the focus of the third chapter. The volume's lengthy chapter four follows the history of the Harper House, which supported a farming family before the battle and served as a hospital during it. If a single photograph representative of the battlefield is needed, the restored front of the house is often chosen for it. Chapter Five traces the establishment of the historic site, construction of a visitor center and museum, and early exhibits and interpretation. The many programs and events associated with the battlefield and its commemoration, including staff rides from Fort Bragg, are documented in the next chapter. The visitor center was remodeled in 1999, and the final chapter discusses plans for the future that include an entirely new visitor center.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Review - "Texas Coastal Defense in the Civil War" by William Nelson Fox

[Texas Coastal Defense in the Civil War by William Nelson Fox (Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, 2024). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:101/159. ISBN:978-1-4671-5561-8. $24.99]

Early on in the conflict, the Confederate government in Richmond determined that the ultimate protection of its vast lands and people west of the Mississippi comprising the states of Texas, Arkansas, and much of Louisiana was best guaranteed by sending the bulk of their available manpower to the Confederacy's heavily outnumbered primary field armies. Something of an exception to the much-maligned cordon defense strategy maintained by the Davis administration until forced out of it by a string of major military disasters over the early months of 1862, the thought was that territory lost in the trans-Mississippi by designating it a tertiary theater would be readily recovered after the defeat of principal Union armies elsewhere. Predictably, such a policy of temporary abandonment was not popular among those most burdened with the sacrifices made necessary by it, but, as historian Charles Grear concluded in his 2010 study Why Texans Fought in the Civil War, large numbers of Texans were highly motivated to fight east of the Mississippi in defense of the extended family and friend networks they left behind when they migrated to the Lone Star State. In consequence of that, however, Texas was rendered highly vulnerable to direct attack, particularly along its extensive coastline.

When it comes to reading about Texas coastal operations during the Civil War, modern options are actually quite numerous and qualitatively strong. For example, interested readers will find unsurpassed coverage of a pair of stunning Confederate victories in Edward Cotham's Sabine Pass: The Confederacy's Thermopylae (2004) and Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston (1998). Covering another part of the coastal war, Stephen Dupree's Planting The Union Flag In Texas: The Campaigns of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks in the West (2008) provides a big-picture view of Union intentions while Stephen Townsend's The Yankee Invasion of Texas (2006) offers a solid overview of the 1863-64 Rio Grande Expedition. Supplementing Townsend's treatment are some extensive Southwestern Historical Quarterly journal articles that address land and naval operations conducted along the string of Texas barrier islands that protected a series of bays and secondary ports. The network of earthen fortifications that finally forced a major operational pause in Union progress up the coast in 1863-64 is discussed in both B.J. McKinney's Confederates on the Caney: An Illustrated Account of the Civil War on the Texas Gulf Coast (1997-rev) and Martha Doty Freeman and Elton Prewitt's book-length 1994 Sargent Beach Project report. For a glimpse into the international dimensions of the Texas coastal war, we have Rodman Underwood's Waters of Discord: The Union Blockade of Texas During the Civil War (2008). Additionally, scholarly works such as Norman Delaney's The Maltby Brothers' Civil War (2013) explore Texas coastal operations on a more intimate level. While all of that is great, it is also recognized that not everyone interested in learning about the topic has the time or inclination to embark on such a series of deep dives. For those individuals, William Nelson Fox's slender volume Texas Coastal Defense in the Civil War is a more than suitable introductory-level tool.

In roughly one-hundred pages of principal narrative, Fox impressively manages to explore the entire length and breadth of the Texas coastal war, from the appearance of the first blockading warship off Galveston in 1861 to the war's ill-advised and entirely unnecessary May 1865 coda fought near the mouth of the Rio Grande. In between, he recounts the broader contest for Galveston, the Union naval blockade and coastal harassment campaigns, the unlikely Confederate triumph at Sabine Pass, and the Rio Grande Expedition. In constructing his concise chronicling of coastal war affairs, Fox employs a strongly diverse collection of sources, including archival materials, government records, newspapers, books, and articles. Though some of the miniaturized maps reproduced in the volume are difficult to make out without the assistance of a magnifying lens, the volume is well stocked with photographs, ship drawings, and contemporary artistic renderings of events. A helpful timeline of the coastal war's most prominent happenings is also featured.

As mentioned earlier, Fox makes the most of the limited space available when it comes to describing events both large and small in scale. Land and naval figures little known to general readers but significant in the struggle over the Texas coast (officers such as Union naval lieutenant John W. Kittredge) are frequently featured in the text. In an unusual practice for books of this type, Fox consistently provides small-unit order of battle details in his discussions of events. Additionally, though the title suggests a study written primarily from the Confederate side of things, the narrative does incorporate both Union and Confederate perspectives.

Though the confrontation with the Caney Creek fortifications ended the 'easy' phase of the 1863-64 Rio Grande expedition's seemingly inexorable advance up the coast, Fox agrees with Thompson that Texas was still vulnerable to being knocked out of the war at that time. Both are persuasive in determining that it was primarily a lack of will (a combination of conflicting military/civilian leadership personalities and strategic priorities) on the Union side that saved the heart of Texas's capacity for making war.

For those seeking a well-researched overview of Civil War operations that unfolded up and down the entire length of Texas's contested Gulf coast, this new study, which can be read in a single sitting, deserves top-level consideration.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Booknotes: Tabernacles in the Wilderness

New Arrival:

Tabernacles in the Wilderness: The US Christian Commission on the Civil War Battlefront by Rachel Williams (Kent St UP, 2024).

When it comes to the private relief organizations of the Civil War, the United States Sanitary Commission is the first to come to mind. With its elaborate sanitary fairs, close association with the federal government, and tens of millions of dollars raised all across the North—all of which enabled the creation and operation of a vast network of camp inspectors, hospitals, supplemental suppliers of all kinds, and home front charities for sick, disabled, or traveling veterans, the USSC was able to do much in the way of promoting the health, diet, hygiene, and well-being of Union soldiers. Though it receives less attention in the literature, the United States Christian Commission, founded by Protestant evangelicals, collaborated with the USSC in vital ways but also had a distinctive spiritual mission of its own.

I am not aware of any other treatment of its kind, so Rachel Williams's Tabernacles in the Wilderness: The US Christian Commission on the Civil War Battlefront may very well be first modern history of the organization's extensive activities in the field. Delving deeply into "previously neglected archival material―most notably the reports, diaries, and correspondence of the volunteer delegates who performed this ministry on the battlefront―" enabled Williams to offer Civil War readers a fuller exploration of "the proselytizing methods employed by the USCC, the problems encountered in their application, and the ideological and theological underpinnings of their work."

More from the description: USCC aid workers "saw in the Civil War not only a wrathful judgment from God for the sins of the nation but an unparalleled opportunity to save the souls of US citizens and perfect the nation. Thus, the workers set about proselytizing and distributing material aid to Union soldiers with undaunted and righteous zeal." In doing so, they employed a wide range of activities in support of mind, body, and spirit. "Whether handing out religious literature, leading prayer meetings, preaching sermons, mending uniforms, drawing up tailored diets for sick men, or bearing witness to deathbed scenes, USCC workers improvised and enacted a holistic lived theology that emphasized the link between the body and soul."

In sum, Tabernacles in the Wilderness "offers fascinating new insights into the role of civilians within army camps, the bureaucratization and professionalization of philanthropy during the Civil War and in the United States more broadly, and the emotional landscape and material culture of faith and worship."

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Booknotes: The Confederate Navy Medical Corps

New Arrival:

The Confederate Navy Medical Corps: Organization, Personnel and Actions by Guy R. Hasegawa (McFarland, 2024).

Guy Hasegawa, PharmD has authored or edited a number of important contributions to the scholarly study of Civil War medicine. Those prior works include: Years of Change and Suffering: Modern Perspectives on Civil War Medicine (2009, co-edited with Jim Schmidt), Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs (2012), and Matchless Organization: The Confederate Army Medical Department (2021). Another book, Villainous Compounds: Chemical Weapons and the American Civil War (2015), somehow escaped me, but it sounds very interesting. Stylistically similar to Matchless Organization is his newest project The Confederate Navy Medical Corps: Organization, Personnel and Actions. This study is "the first devoted entirely to the medical corps of the Confederate navy, provides a carefully researched look at the men, structure, facilities, and activities of the organization."

More from the description: "The Confederate Navy's medical service is usually overlooked in histories of the Civil War, yet it was vital in maintaining the fighting strength of the South's navy and marine corps. Confederate medical officers not only manned war vessels, they staffed navy yards and land-based hospitals, gathered supplies, participated in raids, examined recruits, and even served at defensive shore batteries. Many such officers had served in the United States Navy, while others were recruited from civil life. Enlisted personnel and civilian physicians also helped the navy provide medical care--used in managing battle wounds and other injuries but more often devoted to preventing and treating disease. Malaria was particularly common among sailors and marines stationed in the swampy regions of the South."

Topics of discussion include recruitment, organization, stewards (drawn from the enlisted ranks) and their services, the range of assignments, hospitals, hospital ships, treatments of diseases common to naval service, and more. Placed in the appendix section is an annotated and "complete list of men known to have been commissioned as naval medical officers" and a regulations excerpt covering the duties of medical officers.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Booknotes: Adelbert Ames, the Civil War, and the Creation of Modern America

New Arrival:

Adelbert Ames, the Civil War, and the Creation of Modern America by Michael J. Megelsh (Kent St UP, 2024).

1861 West Point graduate and Bvt Major General Adelbert Ames fought extensively in the eastern theater with the Army of the Potomac over the first half of the Civil War, receiving a promotion to brigadier general in May 1863. After Gettysburg, Ames was transferred from Eleventh Corps to the Department of the South, where he saw action in South Carolina and Florida. He returned to the Virginia front in 1864 as a division commander in the Army of the James. During the ensuing winter, Ames was transferred yet again, this time to North Carolina. There, in January 1865, he led a division during the successful second attempt to carry Fort Fisher by direct assault. His leadership and valor during that battle led to his brevet promotion to major general.

Ames lived a very long life (he died in 1933 at the age of 97), so it's not surprising that Michael Megelsh's new biography Adelbert Ames, the Civil War, and the Creation of Modern America devotes roughly half of its narrative to its subject's post-Civil War life and political pursuits. Following a very brief summary of Ames's formative years and discussion of his West Point educational experience, the balance of the book's first half (around 40% of the text) addresses the general's Civil War career.

The second half of Megelsh's biography establishes Ames as a "central figure in Reconstruction-era politics." From the description: "During his four-year tenure as a Republican US senator representing Mississippi, Ames exhibited a growing commitment to civil rights and battled for the protection of freedmen in the halls of Congress, even when it drew ire and damnation from his colleagues. In 1874, Ames was elected governor of Mississippi and tried to create a free and prosperous state rooted in protecting civil rights and promoting economic liberty." Threatened with impeachment and removal by resurgent Democrat majorities in the state legislature, Ames ultimately resigned and relocated to Minnesota (a move that wasn't as peaceful as he might have anticipated!).

While his lofty political career may have been over, an eventful life still lay ahead of him. More from the description: Ames "helped the townspeople of Northfield, Minnesota, defeat Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang in a gunfight during an attempted bank robbery in 1876. When the Spanish-American War began in 1898, Ames, though now in his sixties, volunteered to join the fight and served in Cuba." Seeking to elevate Ames's historical stature, Megelsh's biography highlights the Civil War general, US senator, and Reconstruction governor's "important and underappreciated contributions to a transitional time in American history and politics."

Monday, April 1, 2024

Book Snapshot: "Armies in Gray: The Organizational History of the Confederate States Army in the Civil War"

I first posted about US Army Command and General Staff College professor Dan Fullerton's Armies in Gray: The Organizational History of the Confederate States Army in the Civil War way back in 2016. Still in print today, it was published in 2017 and, aside from a couple of reviews, seems to have promptly disappeared from larger notice. I don't recall seeing it in any bibliography yet. My own attempt at getting a review copy was unsuccessful, but patience paid off a year and a half later when I found a warehouse deal on it for a fraction of the $200 list price (and it wasn't even damaged).

A massive tome at 1,350 pages, Fullerton's Armies in Gray is essentially an attempt to recreate for Civil War students and researchers the organizational evolution of the entire Confederate Army at quarterly time stamps. With yearly intervals missing too much in the way of momentous organizational change and monthly intervals far too static and unwieldy, quarterly snapshots in time seem to hit the sweet spot. The order of battle resources that form the backbone of the book's own series of OBs are the usual suspects (chief among those the Official Records, Crute, and Sifakis) along with supplemental first-person accounts and unit histories. Sifakis's books have a bit of a hit and miss reputation, and presumably the author did as much cross-checking as was reasonably possible given the scale of the project.

Order of battle presentation employs the standard descending-org arrangement, beginning with military departments at the top and progressing all the way down the organizational tree to component regiments/battalions/batteries at the bottom. Numbers data is most consistent at the department, district, sub-district, army, corps, and division levels. Strength estimates for brigades is spotty and generally absent below that, although many small garrison post strengths are provided. Number of guns and tube types for batteries are also not part of the process. Independent local and state forces are excluded by design, but orders of battle for non-Confederate militia organizations that directly cooperated with Confederate forces in the field (ex. the Missouri State Guard) are attached. A volume index was likely omitted due to space concerns.

Each quarterly order of battle is extensively annotated at multiple formation levels. For those, hefty explanatory endnotes, a single one of which can run a thousand words or more, discuss that quarter's organizational changes and area(s) of operations (often with numbers and dates sprinkled within). Source information and reliability is also part of the endnote discussion.

This is definitely one of the jewels of my home reference library. I might be reading too much into it, but there seemed to be at least some suggestion of the possibility of producing a Union Army companion volume. Given that Armies in Gray took ten years to research, though, I can only imagine how much time (and how many volumes!) would be involved with repeating the same process for an Armies in Blue.