Friday, June 28, 2024

Review - "Union "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi - Part One: 1861" ed. by Michael Banasik

[Union "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi - Part One: 1861 edited by Michael E. Banasik (Camp Pope Publishing, 2024). Softcover, 4 maps, photos, footnotes, appendix section, bibliography, index. Pages:xii,276. ISBN:978-1-929919-95-6. $17.95]

If this is your first exposure to Camp Pope Publishing's "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi series, which is itself a sub-series of the press's Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River series, its constituent volumes are edited compilations of newspaper articles written by Civil War veterans of all ranks. Those reminiscences were printed by The Missouri Republican (St. Louis) in the paper's Saturday editions between 1885 and 1887. Comprising the writings of ex-Confederates, "Tales of the War" Volume VII was published in five parts [follow this link to read site reviews of those titles] and is still in print. This new release, Union "Tales of the War" in the Trans-Mississippi - Part One: 1861, marks the beginning of Volume VIII, which follows the previous format but from the Union perspective. All installments of the Unwritten Chapters series are chiefly, and most often solely, edited by Michael Banasik.

Given where the center of the action was in 1861, it is not too surprising that Part One is predominantly a Missouri affair. The book's opening chapter collects a series of reminiscences of Missouri political and military episodes from the first six months of the year. Prominent events from the period that are recalled include the struggle over the St. Louis arsenal, the ascendancy of General Nathaniel Lyon, the "Camp Jackson Affair" (and its aftermath), Union recruiting in the state, and some early small-scale operations. The next chapter is comprised of six articles covering various aspects of the battles of Carthage and Wilson's Creek, and Banasik himself contributes an informative piece about the Union army's retreat to Rolla. The third and final chapter contains two articles, one revisits the use of hemp bales as mobile breastworks at Lexington (the most widely known incident of the siege) and the other the fight at Belmont.

The material is heavily annotated, with expansive explanatory footnotes nearly filling an entire page on occasion. Based on manuscript materials, newspaper articles, government records, books, and articles, the notes fulfill the traditional role of providing background and context for persons, places, and events mentioned in the main text. Capsule biographies of noteworthy individuals, both well-known and obscure, are also common footnote features. Banasik's notes frequently, and often at some length, weigh the merits of conflicting interpretations found in the secondary literature, and those discussions are additionally supplemented with his own research and conclusions. In terms of presentation, the only major complaint is with the rampant missing words and typographical errors found in both main text and footnotes, which are very uncharacteristic of both series and publisher.

With multiple pieces featured in the first two chapters, the most frequent contributor to the volume is Otto C. Lademann, a former Third Missouri captain. In this reviewer's opinion, his group of articles are the clear highlight of Part One. In addition to being highly observant firsthand accounts of the marching and battlefield experiences of German soldiers during the Missouri campaigns of 1861, Lademann's writings also frequently go against the grain without seeming agenda-driven. German troops are often stereotyped as ethnocentric "I fights mit Sigel" idolizers of that controversial general's presence and military ability, but Lademann's accounts of Carthage and Wilson's Creek are very evenhanded, and in places highly critical of Sigel's battlefield behavior and decision-making.

The wealth of additional editorial commentary and reference information found in the appendix section is a key feature of every "Tales of the War" title. This volume's Appendix A assembles a collection of relevant official communications in the form of letters, resolutions, proclamations, and political addresses. Expanded biographical treatments of a select group of military officers and political figures are included in the second appendix. The editor's "extended comments" on a variety of topics, mostly battle-related, comprise most of Appendix C. Meticulous order of battle, unit strength, and casualty reviews for both sides at Carthage, Wilson's Creek, and Belmont are compiled in the last appendix. Attached to the revised OB tables are extensive additional editorial commentary and secondary source engagement similar to those found in both main text and footnotes.

Those who appreciate (as anyone with an extensive interest in the Civil War west of the Mississippi should) the five-part Confederate "Tales of the War" writings of Volume VII will be very happy to know that they can expect more of the same in Part One's strong start to Union-focused Volume VIII.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Booknotes: Garden of Ruins

New Arrival:

Garden of Ruins: Occupied Louisiana in the Civil War by J. Matthew Ward (LSU Press, 2024).

After New Orleans, a trade and industry center that was by far the most populous city in the Confederacy, fell to the Union Navy on April 25, 1862, accompanying army forces under Major General Benjamin Butler quickly fanned out and expanded the federal foothold in Louisiana. Occupying forces secured the Lake Pontchartrain area and spread northward to Baton Rouge and westward to the east bank of the Atchafalaya River. While Confederate forces threatened those forward outposts at various times during the war, even securing a considerable victory at Brashear City in June 1863, their presence in and around the occupation zone was always transitory and New Orleans itself was never close to being recaptured. The long-term nature of the ironclad federal stranglehold over New Orleans and much of southern Louisiana made the state a prime laboratory for experimenting with reconstruction policies back then and for studying Union occupation today.

In his introduction, J. Matthew Ward describes his book Garden of Ruins: Occupied Louisiana in the Civil War as a "social history of military occupation in Civil War Louisiana." In it, he "examines occupation as both an institution of government power and a daily social process that altered the lives of soldiers and citizens." It is a political history examined "through the policies and attitudes of occupation officials" and social history as examined "through the relationship that common southerners, Black and white, developed with military government and soldiers." The study is not a narrative history in the conventional sense but more of a collection of theme-based chapters (go through the title link above to check out sample pages that include the table of contents and introduction).

In both urban and rural settings, Ward applies to his project the "household war" conceptualization developed by others. Occupation's destruction and reorganization of household order is a major theme. In the introduction, the author also mentions that the book examines oath-taking in a variety of contexts and contrasts tactics, and attitudes, employed by different provost marshals.

From the description: After the shocking fall of New Orleans, "the Confederate state experienced the initial attempts of the U.S. Army to create a comprehensive occupation structure through military actions, social regulations, the destabilization of slavery, and the formation of a complex bureaucracy. Skirmishes between Union soldiers and white civilians supportive of the Confederate cause multiplied throughout this period, eventually turning occupation into a war on local households and culture. In unoccupied regions of the state, Confederate forces and their noncombatant allies likewise sought to patrol allegiance, leading to widespread conflict with those they deemed disloyal."

More: "Ward suggests that social stability during wartime, and ultimately victory itself, emerged from the capacity of military officials to secure their territory, governing powers, and nonmilitary populations." In the end, Garden of Ruins "reveals the Civil War, state-building efforts, and democracy itself as contingent processes through which Louisianans shaped the world around them. It also illustrates how military forces and civilians discovered unique ways to wield and hold power during and immediately after the conflict."

Monday, June 24, 2024

Coming Soon (July '24 Edition)

Scheduled for JULY 20241:

Union Soldiers of Southwestern Illinois by John Dunphy.
Vicksburg National Cemetery by Elizabeth Hoxie Joyner.
The Atlanta Campaign - Volume 1: Dalton to Cassville, May 1-19, 1864 by David Powell.
Decade of Disunion: How Massachusetts and South Carolina Led the Way to Civil War, 1849-1861 by Robert Merry.
Strong Vincent: A Call to Glory by John Hinman.
The Cavalry of the Army of the Ohio: A Civil War History by Dennis Belcher.
Holding Charleston by the Bridle: Castle Pinckney and the Civil War by Roberts & Locke.

Comments: Clearly, the month's heaviest hitter, both in terms of content and injury potential if it falls on your foot, is Powell's first of a series of Atlanta Campaign tomes. Greatly looking forward to reading it. The Castle Pinckney and Army of the Ohio cavalry arm studies are also of heightened interest to me.

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, June 21, 2024

Booknotes: When Paper Collar Bandbox Soldiers Fight

New Arrival:

When Paper Collar Bandbox Soldiers Fight: A History of the 4th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry 1861-1865 by Philip Hatfield & Terry Lowry (35th Star Pub, 2024).

In helping keep alive the Civil War history of the war in West(ern) Virginia, no single press is doing more than Steve Cunningham's 35th Star Publishing. Among its stable of authors are some of the most recognizable and most prolific chroniclers of the region's Civil War history, including Terry Lowry, Joe Geiger, Richard Armstrong, and Philip Hatfield. Coverage runs the entire gamut from battle and campaign histories to unit studies, edited journal and letter compilations, county histories, and memory studies. Lowry's earlier work in particular sparked my own interest in the Virginia fighting on the other side of the Alleghenies. Now he has teamed up with Philip Hatfield to produced another regimental history, When Paper Collar Bandbox Soldiers Fight: A History of the 4th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry 1861-1865.

From the description: "The 4th Regiment West Virginia Volunteer Infantry stepped into a cauldron of fire and blood during the Civil War. Comprised of men from Ohio and [West] Virginia, the regiment organized primarily at Point Pleasant during 1861-1862, under Colonel Joseph A.J. Lightburn. Initially engaged in scouting and small skirmishes among the rough, mountainous terrain of western Virginia, the regiment saw its first combat at the Battle of Charleston on September 13, 1862." You might recall that Lowry previously authored the new standard history of the Battle of Charleston and the rest of the 1862 Kanawha Valley Campaign [site review].

Like many other regiments from the Mountain State, the 4th fought both locally and afar. Though West Virginia soldiers are not those that first come to mind when we talk about "paper collar" soldiers, it was when the men of the 4th met up with Grant's western veterans that the full meaning of the book's title emerges. More from the description: "The 4th West Virginia transferred to Mississippi in January 1863, under General William T. Sherman, where they were initially mocked and jeered by the hard fought midwestern troops of the XV Corps who believed that troops in the eastern theatre were generally softer than they due to being much better supplied. They called them "Paper collar, bandbox soldiers," but during the Federal assaults on the massive Stockade Redan at Vicksburg on May 19 and 22, 1863, the regiment suffered 223 casualties with six men receiving the Medal of Honor, forever silencing their antagonists."

After Vicksburg fell, the West Virginians continued to fight in the West before finally returning closer to home. "The regiment also fought at the Battle of Missionary Ridge (Chattanooga) and in the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. This comprehensive history tells the compelling story of the regiment's four arduous and bloody years of service in both the eastern and western theatres of the Civil War." In addition to the unit history narrative, the book also includes a set of company rosters (Appendix A) taken from the WV Adjutant General's Report from December1864. A host of photographic images of men from the regiment are collected in another appendix.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Review - "From Frederick to Sharpsburg: People, Places, and Events of the Maryland Campaign Before Antietam" by Steven Stotelmyer

[From Frederick to Sharpsburg: People, Places, and Events of the Maryland Campaign Before Antietam by Steven R. Stotelmyer (Antietam Institute, 2023). Hardcover, maps, photos, illustrations, footnotes, appendix section, bibliography index. 521 Pp. ISBN:979-8-218-34180-0. $39.95]

Steven Stotelmyer is one of those individuals who is using retirement not as a leisure-filled coda to a long working life but rather a means toward finally being able to dive feet first into a lifelong avocational passion. In addition to becoming a certified Antietam and South Mountain Battlefield Tour Guide, Stotelmyer has also entered the realm of book authorship, the most recent being Too Useful to Sacrifice: Reconsidering George B. McClellan's Generalship in the Maryland Campaign from South Mountain to Antietam (2019) [site review]. Tackling a variety of related topics with intensive research and fresh eyes, Stotelmyer has established himself as a strong new voice in interpreting the campaign's storied history. That earlier book introduced some interesting angles through which numerous established views and interpretations regarding George McClellan's conduct during the 1862 Maryland Campaign were questioned and reappraised. In similar vein, though not centered on McClellan this time, is Stotelmyer's third book, also an essay compilation, titled From Frederick to Sharpsburg: People, Places, and Events of the Maryland Campaign Before Antietam. It was released last year through the Antietam Institute's publishing arm (link).

It has often been repeated that Confederate hopes for sparking a popular uprising in Maryland received the wet blanket treatment in the western part of the state, including the town of Frederick where pro-Confederate sympathies were heavily muted even in the presence of Robert E. Lee's advancing army. Citing an abundance of first-hand accounts and period observations that challenge that common assessment, Stotelmyer's opening essay finds more than enough evidence to suggest that the overall reaction of the citizens of Frederick might better be described as "mixed." The author also offers several convincing reasons underpinning supporter skepticism against coming forward (even from the most pro-Confederate segments of the local population), perhaps the most common one being practical self-preservation given that there were no indications that a permanent military presence was either possible or ever countenanced. The Confederates had the same insurmountable problem that summer and fall in Kentucky. Interesting ancillary factors are also raised, one being the negative optics (and olfactory sense) presented by the ragged, sun-baked, dirty, and half-starved appearance of Lee's army. A good point not often mentioned surrounds the lack of foresight in prominently bringing forward and employing Confederate Marylanders (thousands of whom were distributed throughout the Army of the Northern Virginia) as both campaign ambassadors and local recruiters. The be fair, though, there was very little time between Second Manassas and entry into Maryland for organizing such an effort.

No one seriously believes the Barbara Fritchie legend today, at least the version revealed in the popular John Greenleaf Whittier poem. Backed by a wide-ranging review of eyewitness accounts and other relevant contemporary sources, Stotelmyer shows how convincingly the whole story can be soundly debunked. Like he does in all of his essays, Stotelmyer also sends his investigation down a number of interesting side alleys. For instance, he revives the case of Mary Quantrell, a Frederick citizen who apparently did defiantly wave the U.S. flag at passing Confederate troops. Like the Fritchie myth, there are many versions of the Quantrell story that have been passed down since the end of the war, and Stotelmyer looks at those with a critical eye, too. The essay also reminds us not to look past the real facts of Fritchie's long life, and it is worthy of remembering that even if the legends were not true in fact they did fit her real personality. In the end, even Whittier himself was forced to admit later in life that details of his famous poem could not withstand scrutiny, his mistaken knowledge of the facts most likely a consequence of good faith "blending" of incidents.

Jeb Stuart continues to receive a great deal of criticism for his conduct during the early stages of the Maryland Campaign. Stotelmyer and recent Stuart biographer Edward Longacre both agree in persuasive fashion that Stuart did fine work in screening Lee's army but proved less responsible when it came to providing Lee with timely information about the location and movements of the leading elements of McClellan's Army of the Potomac. That's a common enough view. The substance of their arguments are similar, though Stotelmyer is more broadly scathing in his accusations and general beliefs regarding Stuart's partying ways and how much his pursuit of personal amusements were responsible for the dereliction in duty. On the other hand, Stotelmyer also does credit to some degree Union cavalry performance improvements for helping mask McClellan's movements from enemy eyes. Most overlooked, in Stotelmyer's estimation, was the Confederate failure to properly employ Sugar Loaf Mountain as a far-seeing observation platform. In the writer's view, both Stuart and Lee were chiefly culpable, with the latter not having a single staff officer at army headquarters tasked with intelligence gathering and getting that information to the decision-makers in the high command. There was one in the making, but he was in Richmond and not in Maryland with the army. In general, Stotelmyer presents a picture of an entire Confederate army possessing a "false sense of security," convincing themselves (without any evidence beyond mere supposition) that they had plenty of time before the federal army could regain its footing and react seriously to their Maryland incursion. If an egregious intelligence blunder did occur as Stotelmyer alleges, he was nevertheless unable to uncover any documentary evidence in regard to precisely where the information breakdown occurred between point of observation (as made from the captured signal station atop the mountain) and Lee's headquarters desk. In lieu of that, after insisting upon the impossibility of missing the vast clouds of dust that must have been kicked up by McClellan's advance, the reader is left with a strong list of reasonable possibilities deduced by the author.

The fourth essay revisits the interminable debates surrounding numerous aspects of Lee's Special Orders No. 191. As is generally the case in his work, Stotelmyer is more than willing to fill blank spaces in the documentary evidence with bold (but not overbearing) assertions and possible scenarios that might differ with more common interpretations of events and intentions. Avenues of informed conjecture outlined in the chapter include the author's discussion of the degree to which Orders No. 191 might have been adjusted to mollify James Longstreet's objections and the differences in both intentions and expectations between Lee and Stonewall Jackson (and how much discretion the latter was granted by the former) when it came to the army's planned approach to dealing with the stubborn Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry garrisons. While the Battle of South Mountain unquestionably would have turned out differently had Lee kept Longstreet's command nearby at Boonsboro rather than sending it to Hagerstown, Stotelmyer suggests that the dispersal essentially consigned the campaign to failure and erased from the realm of possibility what could very well have been a major Confederate victory in the mountain passes.

Civil War history is replete with accounts of both respectful and disrespectful disposition of enemy slain, and among the latter lies the Fox Gap legend of Wise's Well. According to the story, local resident Daniel Wise took advantage of the going rate paid for civilian-assisted burials (said to be $1 "per head") and on September 15 pitched dozens of Confederates (alleged numbers vary) into his own well, which was most likely dry and unfinished at the time. Citing a multitude of sources immediate to the incident, Stotelmyer's research, however, points to Union burial parties (by some accounts highly intoxicated to steel themselves for the grisly task) performing the deed a day later on September 16, and that there were at least 58 bodies unceremoniously disposed of in the well. The accumulated evidence for that is convincing, but we're still left with some secondary accounts that Wise admitted to being associated with the matter. Finding no evidence that Wise was even present along with the fact that he was never paid a dime by the government, Stotelmyer raises the possibility that Wise, who was not particularly well off and whose cabin was wrecked by the battle and its aftereffects, briefly floated some level of responsibility for the burials in hopes of getting official recompense for his personal property disaster. One of the oddest side notes to this whole story is that the Wise family actually converted the well into a drinking water cistern after the remains were removed for official reburial in 1874.

High-ranking officer shootings such as those that laid low Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville, John Reynolds at Gettysburg, and John Sedgwick at Spotsylvania were momentous events that always raise questions surrounding precise circumstances and responsibility. Another exalted personage to add to the list is Major General Jesse Lee Reno, who was mortally wounded at Fox's Gap. Stotelmyer's chapter meticulously retraces both the events of the fighting at Fox's gap and the possible scenarios behind Reno's demise. In the end, after weighing all the conflicting evidence, Stotelmyer is forced to admit that no clear-cut conclusion is possible (now or probably ever) regarding which side shot Reno or even where exactly the general was hit. More important in the grand scheme of things is how Reno's death might have shaped subsequent events. In terms of the effect Reno's demise had on the course of the campaign, the author speculates that it is highly possible that the fighting on the Union left at Antietam would have unfolded very differently, perhaps decisively so, had Reno lived and the resulting high command confusion not occurred.

That very command confusion (mainly between Jacob Cox, who assumed Reno's post, and Ambrose Burnside, whose wing command was suspended by McClellan after South Mountain) is the subject of the seventh and final main essay. In it the author cites conflicting understandings of duties and responsibilities as having a major impact on the deployment of Ninth Corps divisions at Antietam and the timing of their attacks. There is plenty of blame to go around, but the piece argues that much of the criticisms historically attached to George McClellan and his staff have been misplaced (much of the author's viewpoint on that particular matter is in opposition to what Scott Hartwig maintains in I Dread the Thought of the Place). Stotelmyer seems willing to lend credence to the impression that Burnside was sulking (state of mind always being a hazardous thing to speculate upon) after his perceived demotion and, generally speaking, in the wake of Reno's death didn't do enough to clear up for Cox the wing/corps's "ambiguous bifurcated command structure" (pg. 290).

While the main body of the book ends after the seventh essay, there's much more on the author's table. The appendix section (A through K) yields a compilation of numerous essays of varying length. These include freshly detailed examinations of a series of smaller-scale September 9-13 engagements (at Sugar Loaf Mountain, Frederick, Hagan's Gap, and Quebec Schoolhouse), new looks at some old stories and legends, and even some poetry. The author also explores how the pain, discomfort, and limitations imposed upon Lee by his significant arm, wrist, and hand injuries suffered during a post-Second Manassas accident might have affected the commanding general's physical capabilities, mental state, and judgment during the ensuing Maryland Campaign.

This is another fine collection of insightful and challenging essays from Steven Stotelmyer. One can argue with some of his conclusions, and disagree here and there with certain speculative paths taken, but the depth of research and ability to sift through conflicting evidence and construct valid arguments either in support of or in opposition to traditional narratives are both prominently displayed. Another strong release from the Antietam Institute's growing catalog of original publications, this volume is recommended reading for every student of the Maryland Campaign.

Monday, June 17, 2024

Booknotes: Union General Daniel Butterfield

New Arrival:

Union General Daniel Butterfield: A Civil War Biography by James S. Pula (Savas Beatie, 2024).

I didn't look very deeply, but it appears that no modern, full-length biography of Major General Daniel Butterfield has been published before now. He certainly deserves one. His second wife, Julia Lorrilard Butterfield, did edit the 1904 volume A Biographical Memorial of General Daniel Butterfield, Including Many Addresses and Military Writings. Released this month, James Pula's Union General Daniel Butterfield finally addresses the general's Civil War contributions using an up to date perspective.

During the early-war period of the fighting in the East, Butterfield showed promise in the field. From the description: "Butterfield was born into a wealthy New York family whose father co-founded American Express. He was one of the war’s early volunteers and made an important contribution with his manual Camp and Outpost Duty for Infantry (1862). He gained praise leading a brigade on the Virginia Peninsula and was wounded at Gaines’ Mill, where his heroism would earn him the Medal of Honor in 1892." After the Seven Days, the general continued to move up the ranks of the army high command. "When its commander went missing, Butterfield took command of a division at Second Bull Run and did so with steadiness and intelligence. His abilities bumped him up to lead the Fifth Corps during the bloodbath at Fredericksburg, where he was charged with managing the dangerous withdrawal across the Rappahannock River."

Despite that record, Butterfield is most remembered for two off-the-battlefield contributions. "It was in the solemnity of camp following the Seven Days’ Battles that he gained lasting fame for composing “Taps.”" Though he did not invent the concept of using uniform symbology as a unit/formation identifier, Butterfield was responsible for making it an army-wide innovation and allegedly personally designed the corps insignia himself.

Butterfield is most closely associated with Joseph Hooker, and indeed it was Fighting Joe who sustained Butterfield's career after the latter lost his corps command in the wake of the Fredericksburg disaster. More from the description: "Shocked and hurt when he was supplanted as the head of the Fifth Corps, he received another chance to shine when General Hooker named him chief-of-staff of the Army of the Potomac." In addition to designing and distributing the aforementioned corps badges, Butterfield "streamlined the supply system" and "improved communications between commands." An able administrator, the general "played a pivotal role during the Chancellorsville and Gettysburg campaigns in managing logistics, communications, and movements, only to be discarded while home recuperating from a Gettysburg wound."

We all know that political shenanigans propped up many a Civil War officer career and derailed others. According to Pula, "(p)olitics and his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War tainted (Butterfield's) rising star." However, Joe Hooker once again came to the rescue.

"When Hooker was sent west, Butterfield went along as chief-of-staff and earned positive comments from Hooker and Gens. George Thomas, William T. Sherman, and U.S. Grant. Butterfield led a division in the XX Corps during the Atlanta Campaign with conspicuous ability at Resaca before a recurring illness forced him from the field." If I recall correctly, recent publications seem to agree with Pula that Butterfield performed well during that campaign.

James Pula's Union General Daniel Butterfield: A Civil War Biography "unspools fact from fiction to offer the first detailed and long overdue treatment of the man and the officer."

Friday, June 14, 2024

Booknotes: "Tell Mother Not to Worry"

New Arrival:

"Tell Mother Not to Worry": Soldier Stories From Gettysburg’s George Spangler Farm by Ronald D. Kirkwood (Savas Beatie, 2024).

The Battle of Antietam and the rest of the 1862 Maryland Campaign are on quite the roll of late, but the fact remains that Gettysburg is the undisputed king of Civil War publishing. While there's obviously no other cumulative body of operational and tactical coverage to match it, the published history of the Battle of Gettysburg's civilian experience and other off the battlefield matters is similarly rich in depth and range. Ronald Kirkwood's first contribution to that literature, "Too Much for Human Endurance": The George Spangler Farm Hospitals and the Battle of Gettysburg, was published in 2019. That book "established the military and medical importance of the Spangler farm and hospitals." Also from Savas Beatie is that volume's new companion work, "Tell Mother Not to Worry": Soldier Stories From Gettysburg’s George Spangler Farm.

From the description: Author Ronald Kirkwood "researched thousands of pensions and military records, hospital files, letters, newspapers, and diaries of those present at the hospitals on Spangler land during and after the battle. The result is a deeper and richer understanding of what these men and women endured—suffering that often lingered for the rest of their lives. Their injuries and deaths, Yankee and Rebel alike, carried with it not only tragedy and sadness for parents, spouses, and children, but often financial devastation as well."

More: This sequel to 2019's“Too Much for Human Endurance" "profiles scores of additional soldiers and offers new information on events and experiences at the farm, including the mortally wounded Confederate Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead." It also "includes another chapter on the often-overlooked First Division, II Corps hospital at Granite Schoolhouse, a wounded list for that division, and a chapter on Col. Edward E. Cross, who died at Granite Schoolhouse in the middle of Spangler land." Supplementing the text and helping readers find specific locations are numerous maps along with period and modern photographs.

Post publication, authors often discover, or are presented with, information they wish could have been included. This sequel project provided Kirkwood with the opportunity to put such material on the page. More from the description: the volume "concludes by continuing the story of George and Elizabeth Spangler and their four children after the war and ends with an uplifting chapter on their modern-day descendants and how they were found after the release of “Too Much for Human Endurance.”"

"Tell Mother Not to Worry" "increases the understanding of the lives of the soldiers and their families and adds depth to the story of George and Elizabeth Spangler’s farm."

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Review - "We Shall Conquer or Die: Partisan Warfare in 1862 Western Kentucky" by Derrick Lindow

[We Shall Conquer or Die: Partisan Warfare in 1862 Western Kentucky by Derrick Lindow (Savas Beatie, 2024). Hardcover, 10 maps, photos, illustrations, footnotes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xvi,209/238. ISBN:978-1-61121-668-4. $32.95]

Though the title choice might seem to suggest a more general survey of the subject, Derrick Lindow's We Shall Conquer or Die: Partisan Warfare in 1862 Western Kentucky is very specific in its content and focus. It closely follows two budding Confederate officers (Adam Rankin "Stovepipe" Johnson and his principal lieutenant Robert M. Martin) and their activities over an expansive, roughly triangular-shaped area bounded on each side by the Ohio River, the Cumberland River, and the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. Seeking to take advantage of the formal protections offered through the Partisan Ranger Act passed by the Confederate Congress in April 1862, Johnson and Martin conducted numerous behind-the-lines raids between June and October 1862, gaining for themselves precious arms, ammunition, supplies, and recruits with each passing success. Their most notorious raid even took them across the Ohio River into Indiana. Impressively, the pair were able to form an entire regiment, which came to be known as the 10th Kentucky Partisan Rangers. With each triumph, however, came a stronger state and federal response. Before too long, western Kentucky became too hot for Johnson's command to handle. Though the 10th was thoroughly defeated in Johnson's absence during its largest fight of that period, at Sutherland's Hill on September 20, 1862, the regiment continued the fight elsewhere in the western theater (thenceforth as conventional cavalry), with Johnson himself eventually promoted to brigadier general.

The hybrid warfare careers that Johnson and Martin embarked upon together were relatively unusual but not entirely unique. Rapid, large-scale Union gains in the West and Trans-Mississippi early on in the conflict seized control of Missouri and Kentucky along with vast sections of Arkansas and Tennessee. Those occupied areas still contained large pockets of potential recruits, both for the Confederacy's conventional armies and for small partisan groups more interested in fighting Union forces near their own homes and communities. In many ways, Johnson and Martin's success in organizing a sizable command deep behind Union lines in Kentucky mirrored what was going on across Missouri during the same period. With Missouri largely denuded of frontline federal forces destined for the downriver campaigns of 1862, Confederate recruitment officers eagerly spread out across the state. One of the most successful in recruiting and organizing large numbers of troops was Colonel Joseph C. Porter, who was able to raise two active regiments in the northeastern part of the state. The immediate problem confronted by Porter and Johnson alike was isolation, as both leaders operated far from any sustainable logistical support. Time needed for proper training was also limited. There was heightened personal danger involved in these undertakings, too, as Union authorities proved more than willing to execute captured recruiting officers, even those that were in uniform and in possession of legitimate Confederate military commissions. As Lindow shows, that risk to life and limb was something always on the minds of Johnson and Martin. In the end, the commands of both Porter and Johnston-Martin felt the enemy's wrath for their temerity, the former even more severely than the latter.

Early on, Johnson experienced the dilemma common to many youthful and aspiring partisan officers, namely how to garner recruits without any lofty community stature or prior record of success. In order to make a big splash one had to have the manpower to do it, but potential recruits were understandably wary of risking their lives by joining unknown and untried leaders. So Johnson and Martin had to start at the bottom, and Lindow traces how they used a series of small raiding successes to build their reputations and their following. When needed, they and their growing band were also able to temporarily blend into the countryside in a similar manner employed by Mosby's Rangers in Virginia.

Lindow performs a signal service to the Civil War's irregular warfare literature by providing deeply informative discussions of a series of lesser-known events at places such as Clarksville and Dover in Tennessee and Madisonville, Uniontown, Owensboro, Geiger's Lake, Ashbyburg, and Sutherland's Mill in Kentucky. Most of those actions still garner little attention in either general or specialized works. A fine book-length history of Johnson's most celebrated, or infamous depending on one's perspective, raid (and the one that gave him his "Stovepipe" moniker) already exists in Ray Mulesky's Thunder from a Clear Sky: Stovepipe Johnson's Confederate Raid on Newburgh, Indiana (review), so Lindow does not attempt to retrace all of those steps. However, he does embark on a detailed study of the federal and state response to the Newburg raid, and the leaders and men of the Indiana Legion figure very prominently in Lindow's overall narrative. The wider counter-guerrilla strategy employed in Kentucky over the length of the war, including specialized units raised for that purpose, is beyond the book's 1862 scope and is only briefly addressed, but a full picture of the coordinated response that was specific to Johnson's activities, and that involved both land and naval forces, is presented in the text.

Unfortunately for the 10th Kentucky Partisan Rangers regiment, Martin, though earnest and personally brave, proved to be a battlefield leader notably inferior to Johnson. That gulf in natural leadership and talent is starkly illustrated in the book's rendering of the batterings experienced in Johnson's absence at Dover and especially at Sutherland's Mill. The book's centerpiece is a unique and thoroughly satisfying account of the Battle of Sutherland's Mill along with the events at Owensboro and Panther's Creek that led up to it.

Civil War militia units hold a very mixed fighting reputation that's richly deserved, and the Indiana Legion [which has one modern history in John Etter's The Indiana Legion: A Civil War Militia (review), a 2006 study based on the author's master's thesis] is most often brought up in the context of its role in opposing John Hunt Morgan's "Great Raid" of 1863. As Etter's did earlier, Lindow's study portrays elements of the Indiana Legion at their finest. At Sutherland's mill, Legion leadership, tactics, and discipline more than made up for their inferior numbers in defeating the Martin-led partisan regiment additionally hampered by deficient arms and more limited ammunition stocks.

As a writer Lindow demonstrates a well-developed eye for assessing terrain, and he skillfully conveys to the reader the many ways in which the ground affected the course of the battle at Sutherland's Hill. He also possesses a gift for writing clear and meticulously drawn tactical narrative that also proves powerfully evocative in places. The key elements behind Union victory and the reasons why the previously successful Confederates were so badly defeated in the end effectively shine through the author's writing. The text is additionally enhanced through strong map coverage and inclusion of a number of modern photographs of the Sutherland's Hill battlefield. All of those visual supplements are immensely helpful given the general obscurity of the topic.

A highly original work, Derrick Lindow's We Shall Conquer or Die: Partisan Warfare in 1862 Western Kentucky presents a fresh and highly detailed picture of a connected series of lesser-known, early-Civil War episodes associated with the irregular conflict within a key Border State. It also provides by far the best and most in-depth coverage of the partisan phase of Adam Johnson's Confederate officer career while also raising renewed awareness and appreciation of the Indiana Legion's major role in securing Union-controlled rear areas on both sides of the Ohio River. This is a highly commendable first effort, and one looks forward to finding out what Lindow might have in store for the future.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Booknotes: New Fields of Adventure

New Arrival:

New Fields of Adventure: The Writings of Lyman G. Bennett, Civil War Soldier and Topographical Engineer, 1861–1865 edited by M. Jane Johansson (U Tenn Press, 2024).

From the description: "Lyman Gibson Bennett (1832–1904) had a curious mind and a keen sense of humor. He had an engineer’s mentality and a poet’s grasp of language, except for spelling. As a Union soldier, Bennett saw extensive service in the Trans-Mississippi Theater. A writer of considerable energy and intelligence, Bennett’s wartime diaries recount his diverse and wide-ranging military record, stretching geographically from the prairies of Illinois to the Rocky Mountains, while a postwar account details, among other things, his labors to recruit “Mountain Feds” in the Ozarks."

It's great to see another Voices series title that ventures into the war west of the Mississippi, and having Johansson involved as editor is an added bonus. A quick site search revealed why Bennett's name seemed so familiar to me. Back in 2009, OU Press imprint Arthur H. Clark published Powder River Odyssey: Nelson Cole's Western Campaign of 1865, the Journals of Lyman G. Bennett and Other Eyewitness Accounts, and Robert Schultz's The March to the River: From the Battle of Pea Ridge to Helena, Spring 1862 (Camp Pope, 2014) made use of Bennett's topographical work.

More from the description: M. Jane Johansson's New Fields of Adventure: The Writings of Lyman G. Bennett, Civil War Soldier and Topographical Engineer, 1861–1865 "provides the perspective of an individual who was both a topographical engineer—with extensive experience that spanned the country from Arkansas to the Overland Trail—and a common soldier. As a member of the Thirty-Sixth Illinois Infantry, Bennett provided one of the most detailed contemporary accounts of the pivotal Battle of Pea Ridge, March 7–8, 1862. By December 1863, Bennett was promoted to first lieutenant in the newly formed Fourth Arkansas Cavalry (US) and wrote an invaluable first-person account of guerrilla fighting in the Ozark mountains."

The volume's twenty-two chapters span August 1861-April 1865 and take the reader across Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska Territory, Colorado Territory, and to Fort Laramie and back. The material is fully annotated, and each chapter begins with a few pages of editorial narrative that offer context for the historical writings that follow. A pair of chapters summarize aspects of Bennett's life and activities before and after the war. A selection of Bennett drawings and maps are also included. New Fields of Adventure "will prove useful to scholars of the Ozarks, landscape studies, and the Civil War in the West."

Friday, June 7, 2024

Review - "The Old War Horse: The USS Benton on Western Waters, 1853-1865" by Myron Smith

[The Old War Horse: The USS Benton on Western Waters, 1853-1865 by Myron J. Smith, Jr. (McFarland, 2024). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:viii,190/264. ISBN:978-1-4766-8689-9. $49.95]

Students of Civil War naval matters associated with the West's most strategically significant inland waterways owe a great deal to Myron Smith and his prodigious body of work. The author of ten volumes published beginning in 2007 that include ship histories, vessel class histories, officer and builder biographies, operational studies, and reference guides, Smith has been remarkably prolific. Though there is considerable overlap among those wide-ranging publications, it's undeniable that the amount and quality of information conveyed inside them about the men, ships, and actions of the Union Brown Water Navy and (to a lesser extent) their western Confederate counterparts are far more than anyone has the right to expect from a single person. The value of the narrative history work is also very considerably enhanced by Smith's willingness to scour libraries and archives for relevant photographs, design drawings, period maps, and popular illustrations, all kinds of which are liberally distributed throughout the pages of his books. With the release of his eleventh title from McFarland Publishing, The Old War Horse: The USS Benton on Western Waters, 1853-1865, Smith is still going strong.

Combining new research with a deep understanding of the existing scholarship (while also building upon his own previous work), Smith's new book effectively allows the Benton's story to freshly shine amid coverage of well-trodden ground. At times the flag vessel of the Mississippi Squadron and operating under a series of commanders, the Benton's role in a number of major waterborne actions—including engagements against Island No. 10, Fort Pillow, Memphis, and Vicksburg's Yazoo and Mississippi river defenses—is recounted in great detail and in stirring fashion. Smith is the author of a standalone CSS Arkansas ship study, and this volume offers further perspective of that flawed ironclad's famous run through and past the Union river fleet. The Benton's role in combating the theater's intractable contraband trade is also discussed, along with the notoriety the ironclad earned by being among the western squadron's premier exploiters of the Navy's cotton prize system. Supplementing the relatively few photos we have of the Benton are a great number of period drawings and illustrations of the vessel in action. Day to day life aboard the Benton is not a major focus of the narrative, though aspects of it such as the effects of leadership changes and the role widespread tropical sickness played in crew health and composition are duly noted.

But the Civil War years comprise only part of Smith's research and writing efforts. While details of the squadron-level naval actions associated with the Benton are familiar to this book's intended reading audience, the ironclad vessel's own origin story, conversion process, and early history are much more likely not. Comparable in depth and insight to the aforementioned Civil War sections (and just as heavily illustrated) are those that explore the Benton's earlier career as the catamaran marine salvage vessel Submarine No. 7. In devoting so much space to the innovative vessel's prewar activities, Smith gifts readers a fascinating view into both the omnipresent dangers inherent to the West's early to mid-nineteenth century riverboat trade and the lucrative business that was built around salvaging lost vessels and their cargoes. Brilliant engineer and inventor James B. Eads, who became one of the Mississippi River Valley's wealthiest salvage company operators, is at the center of an expansive narrative that provides numerous insights into the West's river economy during the antebellum period. Though many of the cutting-edge mechanical features and systems (such as a diving bell and steam-powered winches and cranes) that went into Submarine No. 7 were removed during the warship conversion process, Smith's descriptions of them and how their workings made Eads a rich man in the steamboat salvage business comprise a fascinating side story.

Smith's in-depth discussions of Eads's struggles coordinating the vast material requirements, labor, and financing (all on a time-compressed schedule) that went into the construction of both his purpose-built City Class ironclads and the Benton conversion offer an informative window into the nuts and bolts of the U.S. government's military contracting and procurement processes, which were full of interpersonal, professional, and political-level pitfalls and challenges. Bidding and conflict of interest issues, such as those associated with Eads's success in getting the government to buy his own vessel for the conversion, are addressed as are the independent inspection and valuation procedures devised to help combat the types of fraudulent and/or unethical practices that plagued the army and navy procurement systems.

Following Smith's absorbing point by point explanation of the conversion process itself (with its meaningful insights into key design features) is an objective assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the resulting warship. As Smith reveals, the great size and punching power of the Benton proved to be both asset and limitation. Benton and the City Class ironclads shared unfortunate traits of dangerous vulnerability to plunging fire, plodding maneuverability, and suboptimal motive power, but the Benton, at nearly twice the displacement, was especially deficient in the latter two qualities. Initial tests revealed the Benton to be little better than a floating battery. In its first propulsion configuration, the Benton's insufficient power plant could not make headway against the Mississippi's current, and though it was never replaced it was reconfigured to at least offer passable upriver efficiency. A City Class ironclad could not match the Benton in total armament array, but there were places that those smaller vessels could go with a modicum of safety that the massive Benton could not.

Myron Smith's The Old War Horse is a marvelous history of the USS Benton from birth to dismantlement. For those interested in the practices and technologies involved, the book's lively and informative discussion of the steamboat salvage business is interesting enough to stand on its own. Nevertheless, it is the Civil War coverage that will draw the largest audience. In addition to providing a comprehensive account of the ironclad's warship's western river service, the book offers noteworthy contributions to our knowledge and understanding of a host of people, policies, and events associated on a wider basis with the birth and early history of the Union's Brown Water Navy.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Booknotes: Embracing Emancipation

New Arrival:

Embracing Emancipation: A Transatlantic History of Irish Americans, Slavery, and the American Union, 1840-1865 by Ian Delahanty (Fordham UP, 2024).

From the description: Embracing Emancipation: A Transatlantic History of Irish Americans, Slavery, and the American Union, 1840-1865 "tackles a perennial question in scholarship on the Civil War era: Why did Irish Americans, who claimed to have been oppressed in Ireland, so vehemently oppose the antislavery movement in the United States?" Historian Ian Delahanty sees answers to that complicated question emerge from both sides of the pond, with the beginnings growing out from the Ireland experience itself.

More from the description: "Challenging conventional answers to this question that focus on the cultural, political, and economic circumstances of the Irish in America," Embracing Emancipation "locates the origins of Irish American opposition to antislavery in famine-era Ireland. There, a distinctively Irish critique of abolitionism emerged during the 1840s, one that was adopted and adapted by Irish Americans during the sectional crisis. The Irish critique of abolitionism meshed with Irish Americans’ belief that the American Union would uplift Irish people on both sides of the Atlantic―if only it could be saved from the forces of disunion."

Very prominent Irish participation in the New York draft riots of 1863 and the widespread violence they perpetrated against the black population of the city are often seen as indicators of the depth of Irish-American opposition to emancipation as a new war aim, but Delahanty finds that there's much more to the story. Indeed, his research "uncovers a history of Irish Americans who embraced emancipation." In envisioning emancipation as a valuable instrument for undermining the Confederate war effort, the views of Irish-Americans on the matter were often no different from those of many others in the North. Thus, a much more complex picture of the Irish-American response to emancipation emerges in the book.

More: "Wartime developments in the United States and Ireland affirmed Irish American Unionists’ belief that the perpetuity of their adopted country was vital to the economic and political prospects of current and future immigrants and to their hopes for Ireland’s independence. Even as some Irish immigrants evinced their disdain for emancipation by lashing out against Union authorities and African Americans in northern cities, many others argued that their transatlantic interests in restoring the Union now aligned with slavery’s demise. Many Irish Americans ultimately abandoned their hostility to antislavery, but their continuously renewed connections with Ireland remained a consistent influence on how they viewed the future of American slavery." Delahanty's Embracing Emancipation is another example of how adoption of a trans-Atlantic approach to American Civil War research and writing can bear fruit, in this case offering fresh answers to old, difficult questions.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Booknotes: 'Tis Not Our War

New Arrival:

'Tis Not Our War: Avoiding Military Service in the Civil War North by Paul Taylor (Stackpole Bks, 2024).

At this point in time, numerous Civil War publications, in whole or in part, have examined the myriad reasons why boys and men of military age—North, South, and in between—chose to volunteer to fight for their cause of choice. Through those works, we know a great deal about what motivated Civil War soldiers. On the other hand, Paul Taylor's new book 'Tis Not Our War: Avoiding Military Service in the Civil War North seeks to scrutinize the other side of the equation through an equally penetrating lens.

From the description: Taylor's book "examines the reasons why at least 60 percent of service-eligible men in the North chose not to serve and why, to some extent, their communities allowed them to do so." In exploring those issues, key questions arise: "Did these other men not feel the same patriotic impulses as their fellow citizens who rushed to the enlistment office? Did they not believe in the sanctity of the Union? Was freeing men held in chains under chattel slavery not a righteous moral crusade? And why did some soldiers come to regret their enlistment and try to leave the military?"

Taylor attempts to answer those questions by going direct to the ground source (i.e. "the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of average civilians and soldiers"). The author "digs deep into primary sources—newspapers, diaries, letters, archival manuscripts, military reports, and published memoirs—to paint a vivid and richly complex portrait of men who questioned military service in the Civil War and to show that the North was never as unified in support of the war as portrayed in much of America’s collective memory."