Monday, November 28, 2022

Seasonal reminder

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Booknotes: Decisions of the Maryland Campaign

New Arrival:
Decisions of the Maryland Campaign: The Fourteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Operation by Michael S. Lang (U Tenn Press).

From the description: The latest volume in the Command Decisions in America’s Civil War series, Decisions of the Maryland Campaign: The Fourteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Operation "introduces readers to critical decisions made by Confederate and Union commanders throughout the campaign. Michael S. Lang examines the decisions that prefigured the action and shaped the contest as it unfolded. Rather than a linear history of the campaign, Lang’s discussion of the critical decisions presents readers with a vivid blueprint of the campaign’s developments. Exploring the critical decisions in this way allows the reader to progress from a sense of what happened in this campaign to why they happened as they did." With over a dozen installments already published, the format established by this series is a methodologically matured one, and interested parties wondering exactly how a 'critical decision' has been defined and how these studies work can find such information among numerous reviews here on the site.

The series has two recent developments of note. First, Larry Peterson, a frequent contributor, has joined Matt Spruill as co-editor of the series. Second, there has been some impetus of late toward dividing campaign decisions and battlefield decisions into separate studies. With companion volumes covering the 1862 Kentucky Campaign and the Battle of Perryville, Peterson himself was the first to go in that direction. Michael Lang continues in that vein with this book, to be used in either standalone fashion or in conjunction with his earlier Decisions at Antietam: The Fourteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle (2021).

Some critical decisions are impossible to separate from campaign and battle, and Lang notes in the preface that a few of the decisions under consideration are present in both works. Series authors tend to aggregate the decisions in some manner, and here Lang groups his fourteen decisions into three time periods. The period of September 3-13, 1862 encompasses early-campaign decisions (six in number) made by Lee on one side and Halleck/McClellan on the other. The September 14-16 interval, also composed of six decisions, addresses army commander and principal subordinate decisions surrounding South Mountain, Harpers Ferry, and initial contact at Sharpsburg. With the earlier volume covering the battle itself, this book's third period looks at a pair of decisions (one each by Lee and McClellan) made during the three days following the September 17 battle.

The book includes numerous period and modern photographs as well as fifteen maps. As is the case with most series volumes, this one is divided into roughly equal halves between the main critical decision exploration on one side and on the other a combination of detailed touring guide (closely tied to the decision analysis), orders of battle, endnotes, bibliography, and index. Also present are strength and casualty tables for both sides.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Coming Soon (December '22 Edition)

**NEW RELEASES1** Scheduled for DEC 2022:

Union General: Samuel Ryan Curtis and Victory in the West by William Shea.
Small but Important Riots: The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville by Robert O'Neill.
Contemners and Serpents: The James Wilson Family Civil War Correspondence ed. by Theodore Fuller and Thomas Knight.
From Binghamton to the Battlefield: The Civil War Letters of Rollin B. Truesdell by Amy Truesdell.
Letters to Lizzie: The Story of Sixteen Men in the Civil War and the One Woman Who Connected Them All ed. by James Scythes.
The Lion And The Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy by Alexander Rose.
From the Mountains to the Bay: The War in Virginia, January-May 1862 by Ethan Rafuse.
The Eighth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War by William Liska and Kim Perlotto.
Abraham Lincoln and His Times: A Sourcebook on His Life, His Presidency, Slavery and Civil War comp. and ed. by Thomas Ebert and Allen Carden.
Gettysburg!: Fast Facts for Kids and Families by Gregory Christianson.
Gettysburg in Color, Volume 1: Brandy Station to the Peach Orchard by Patrick Brennan and Dylan Brennan.

Comments: The first three titles in this list have been released early. I've already received the book edited by Fuller and Knight [see the 11/22 Booknotes post], and review copies of the Shea and O'Neill books will hopefully arrive within the next couple weeks or so. If the latter sounds familiar to you, it is indeed the latest updating of a classic entry from the H.E. Howard series.

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Booknotes: Contemners and Serpents

New Arrival:
Contemners and Serpents: The James Wilson Family Civil War Correspondence edited by Theodore Albert Fuller and Thomas Daniel Knight (Mercer UP, 2022).

From the description: Contemners and Serpents "presents letters from the family of Presbyterian missionaries James and Eliza Wilson during the Civil War era. Spanning the period from 1859 to 1877, during which family members lived in Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina, included are letters written by James Wilson, his wife Eliza Griffing Edwards Wilson, their four sons, and their only daughter. The book offers a range of individual voices and relates to the battlefield, the home front, and the eastern and western theaters of the war." The collection contains over one-hundred letters and documents, and eighty-five letters are reproduced in full for this volume.

This publishing project was very long in the making. Seeing their value, USAF Col. Theodore Fuller purchased the documents from the Wilson family estate, arranging the material in rough book form by 1967 but never publishing it. The unfinished book continued to gather dust after Fuller's 1990 passing, until Thomas Knight, a graduate student at the time, was prevailed upon to complete it. Knight conducted further research into the lives and activities (including their missionary work) of the Wilson family, the depth of which can be seen in his footnotes, and updated Fuller's text. Knight also contributes abundant bridging text of his own as well as a concluding chapter detailing postwar lives of the Wilsons.

The unusual family background might offer some unique, or at least equally unusual, perspectives. More from the description: "The Wilsons are an interesting case because the parents were Pennsylvania natives, the children were born and reared in India, and the family spent most of the years between 1834 and 1852 outside the United States. Neither slaveholders nor landowners, the Wilsons had varied approaches to the war, ranging from neutral or pro-Union sentiment to extreme support for the Confederacy."

Through some means or another, all five of the male Wilsons ended up serving in the Confederate Army. Wilson letters come from both the Army of Northern Virginia and Army of Tennessee, and the four brothers fought in almost every major eastern theater battle from 1862-65. Their letters talk about their wartime experiences, "including comments on camp life and assessments of major military and political leaders." Letters to them from home address "local conditions in Tennessee and Georgia during the second half of the war." The saved correspondence also extends into the postwar period.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Booknotes: Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War, The Union Army

New Arrival:
Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War: The Union Army by Adam D. Mendelsohn (NYU Press, 2022).

From the description: "In ways visible and invisible to their fellow recruits and conscripts, the experience of Jews was distinct from that of other soldiers who served in Lincoln’s armies." Adam Mendelsohn's Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War: The Union Army "draws for the first time upon the vast database of verified listings of Jewish soldiers serving in the Civil War collected by The Shapell Roster, as well as letters, diaries, and newspapers, to examine the collective experience of Jewish soldiers and to recover their voices and stories."

The narrative history portion of the book (running just under 225 pages and interspersed with many topical sidebars) "examines when and why [Jewish Union soldiers] decided to enlist, explores their encounters with fellow soldiers, and describes their efforts to create community within the ranks. This monumental undertaking rewrites much of what we think we know about Jewish soldiers during the Civil War." A lot of effort went into materials and presentation. Thick, glossy paper stock gives the book a considerable size to heft ratio and allows the profusion of color illustrations of all kinds (among them photographs of individuals, artifacts, documents, broadsheets, etc.) to be seen in their best light.

As indicated above, Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War was produced in conjunction with the ongoing efforts of The Shapell Roster (2009 to present), a massive scholarly reservoir of documents and material associated with the thousands of Jewish officers and men who served in the Union and Confederate military forces. The "biographical, genealogical, and service-related" information for each individual roster entry is "paired with evocative primary source documents: service records, photographs, affidavits, obituaries, pension claims, personal letters, and a myriad of other sources." The online database contains "nearly 100 searchable fields of data, more than 7,000 soldier records,...and more than 50,000 historical documents."

The Shapell Roster respectfully updates the classic one (the accuracy and methodology of which has long been questioned) that was compiled by Simon Wolf and published in his 1895 book The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier, and Citizen. Mendelsohn's appendix section explores the origins and methodology of the Shappell Roster and presents select aspects of it in creative ways. Appendix 3 breaks down, in maps and numbers, the national origins of Jewish Union soldiers as well as the US states in which they enlisted. By far the greatest number enlisted in New York, followed by Pennsylvania and Ohio. Other data in Appendix 3 includes a compilation of Jewish enlistment numbers by regiment, a numbered breakdown of specialized military occupations, a register of high-ranking Jewish officers (in case you were wondering, the cover photo is of Edward Salomon, a Lt. Col. of the 82nd Illinois), Jewish Medal of Honor recipients, and a list of Hebrew Union Veterans Association members.

As one might have guessed from the title, a Confederate volume will follow this one at an as yet undetermined date.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Review - "The Confederate Military Forces in the Trans-Mississippi West, 1861-1865: A Study in Command" by Geise, ed. by Forsyth

[The Confederate Military Forces in the Trans-Mississippi West, 1861-1865: A Study in Command by William Royston Geise, ed. by Michael J. Forsyth (Savas Beatie, 2022). Hardcover, 4 maps, photos, footnotes, bibliography (original and supplemental), index. Pages main/total:xvi,191/227. $32.95]

Even after all the fruitful balancing and reorientation that have occurred over the past three or four decades, it remains abundantly clear that eastern theater Civil War subject matter, with its twin anchors of Antietam and Gettysburg, will always draw the most popular attention and sell the most books. At this point, though, the profusion of biographies and military, social, and political scholarship associated with the West and Trans-Mississippi has made it much more difficult for proponents to argue that those theaters are still profoundly neglected. It was a much different situation in the early 1970s, however, with guerrilla warfare overrepresented in Trans-Mississippi writing and the theater as a whole possessing only a very modest secondary literature of noteworthy status. The 1972 publication of Robert Lee Kerby's Kirby Smith's Confederacy: The Trans-Mississippi South, 1863-1865 was a major event, but a lot of other great material, often in the form of masters theses and dissertations, remained under the radar. Following Kerby by two years was the completion of William Royston Geise's The Confederate Military Forces in the Trans-Mississippi West, 1861- 1865: A Study in Command. While not a study rivaling the grand scale of Kerby's (but with significant overlap), Geise's unpublished dissertation proved to be an important manuscript cited with some regularity by subsequent specialists. This year, to the delight of many, it has finally been released in print, with supplemental editing by Michael Forsyth, who is, like Geise was then, a retired military officer currently working toward a PhD.

A departmental-level history and analysis, Geise's dissertation does not detail the campaigns and battles fought in Missouri, Arkansas, Indian Territory, western Louisiana, and Texas. The nature, outcome, and significance of those military events are duly noted, but only in the context of their functional, and more critically their dysfunctional, connections to the department's frequently contentious high command system. Two interconnected themes course through the book. The first involves the theater's struggles with unity of command and the second (even after unity of command was formally established) the interminable and self-defeating interpersonal clashes between generals that created command friction at all levels. The latter was not entirely unique to the vast region west of the Mississippi River (ex. the Confederate Army of Tennessee command structure was notoriously dysfunctional), but its debilitating nature was, as Geise amply illustrates, perhaps most ingrained there on a theater level.

Present day readers familiar with the current scholarship's critical evaluations of the panoply of generals presented in this book (among them Edmund Kirby Smith, Ben McCulloch, Albert Pike, Sterling Price, Henry Sibley, Earl Van Dorn, Thomas Hindman, Theophilus Holmes, Richard Taylor, Simon Bolivar Buckner, and "Prince John" Magruder) will find those conclusions, both positive and negative, remarkably harmonious with Geise's now fifty-year-old assessments. This is a function of Geise's informed judgment as well as perhaps his own influence on contemporary historians and future scholars alike.

Editor Michael Forsyth, the author of three book-length studies of 1864 Trans-Mississippi operations in Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana, judiciously augments Geise's original citations in several noteworthy ways. His own footnote contributions—clearly and carefully separated from the author's original ones by paired backslashes—offer original commentary (the editorial context of which is drawn from up to date developments in the scholarship), modern reading suggestions, and selective highlighting of places in the text through which Geise's work either remains distinctive or was ahead of its time. Forsyth also adds a source list supplement to Geise's own bibliography that reveals to today's readers strong elements of the scholarly growth of Trans-Mississippi Civil War studies.

Geise's early chapters do a fine job of explaining how the lack of command unity in the Trans-Mississippi squandered a narrow window of opportunity for Confederate and allied forces in the region to significantly project influence beyond administrative borders (most critically during the early contest for Missouri). By the time the Trans-Mississippi region was formally reorganized into a Confederate military department in May 1862, the already slim possibility of meaningfully disputing federal control of Missouri (or at least significantly delaying western Union forces securing their Missouri flank, which was a prerequisite to launching major downriver operations into the heart of the Mississippi River Valley) was permanently lost.

Much of the book is devoted to tracing the establishment and evolution of what came to be called "Kirby Smithdom," a massive (though, as Geise reveals, not bloated nearly as much as some have contended) bureaucratic entity that doubled as both military department and parallel Confederate government. Union control of the Mississippi River from mid-1863 onward necessitated the latter. Placed at its head was General Edmund Kirby Smith. With communication from Richmond unreliable, Kirby Smith would act in direct consultation with the governors of Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana. In fine fashion, these sections summarize Kirby Smith's creation of military and economic bureaus that would, with few exceptions, act in place of Richmond's. Departmental management of the legal and extralegal cotton trade that proved necessary to the economic viability and foreign/domestic purchasing power of the department is critiqued, as are the various top-down initiatives designed to expand native industry of all kinds and promote cooperation between Kirby Smith's department and state officials and chief executives. All of those departmental domains were stamped with both successes and failures, and Geise's overall assessment of Kirby Smith's managerial performance is largely positive. Someone would have to have Kerby fresher in mind than this reviewer does in order to determine how much Geise was influenced by or differed with Kerby's analysis. Direct engagement in the main text is absent and only scattered source notes reference Kirby Smith's Confederacy. In every section of the book, Geise's footnotes refer overwhelmingly to original documents, with only occasional references to secondary sources.

Perhaps the most significant point of criticism involving Kirby Smith's 1863-65 handling of military affairs is the way in which he managed his department's response to twin 1864 federal offensives, the Red River Campaign and Camden Expedition. Critics focus in particular on critical decisions made after the Red River Valley battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill. The combined results of those two battles convinced General Nathaniel Banks to order a full-scale retreat of his forces in Louisiana, an action that left General Frederick Steele's smaller federal army isolated at Camden in southern Arkansas. In his command-level discussion of the ensuing counteroffensive, Geise briefly weighs historical arguments for and against concentrating Confederate forces versus either Steele in Arkansas or Banks and Porter in Louisiana. The conclusion that Kirby Smith committed an outright strategic blunder by focusing his pursuit on Steele in Arkansas has reached near-consensus levels of agreement in the literature, but Geise is more non-committal on the matter, rather sympathetic toward Kirby Smith's command conundrum and very doubtful of Banks and Porter's vulnerability to further harm. That last point is a minority view among Red River Campaign historians. Among the authors of book-length studies of the campaigns, Forsyth himself takes the "lost opportunity" school of thought to its most controversial lengths, all the while going about it in a novel way [see his arguments in The Red River Campaign of 1864 and the Loss by the Confederacy of the Civil War (2001) and The Camden Expedition of 1864 and the Opportunity Lost by the Confederacy to Change the Civil War (2003)]. To his credit, Forsyth does not utilize his editorial notes in this volume as a platform to further promote his most unorthodox views at Geise's expense.

As one would entirely expect given the long passage of time preceding publication, the overall freshness and impact of William Royston Geise's The Confederate Military Forces in the Trans-Mississippi West, 1861-1865: A Study in Command is to an extent blunted by strong developments in the literature over the five decades following its completion. While the lateness of its publication is to be lamented, the seminal nature of Geise's work and the fact that it's based almost entirely on original sources speaks to its enduring significance. The value added by Michael Forsyth's editing is another clear benefit to finally having this study in print. Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Review - "Civil War Field Artillery: Promise and Performance on the Battlefield" by Earl Hess

[Civil War Field Artillery: Promise and Performance on the Battlefield by Earl J. Hess (Louisiana State University Press, 2022). Hardcover, photos, drawings, tables, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xxii,317/418. ISBN:978-0-8071-7800-3. $50]

The existing body of book-length Civil War artillery literature is relatively small and largely comprised of military hardware inventories and guides. Classics of that category include Warren Ripley's Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War; Hazlett, Olmstead, and Parks's Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War; and The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast, and Naval Cannon by Olmstead, Stark, and Tucker. Those equipment-based reference works remain useful and important, but a wider encompassing study of the organization, officering, crewing, deployment, battlefield operation, and effectiveness of Civil War infantry and cavalry's primary support arm has long evaded interested readers. Thankfully, prolific military historian Earl Hess has elected to step into the breach, his Civil War Field Artillery: Promise and Performance on the Battlefield representing the first attempt at conveying a comprehensive interpretation of the topic in a single volume.

In the context of organization, training, technology, and use on the battlefield, the opening sections of Hess's book trace antebellum development of American artillery within established European tradition. The association was not one of linear, hand in hand progress, with Hess noting that the United States lagged behind European counterparts for large parts of the nineteenth century before hurriedly catching up in the period immediately preceding the conflict between North and South. Indeed, the American Civil War would be the first widespread and thorough testing ground of rifled artillery of all calibers. However, with the newly reunited postwar United States quickly returning to its traditionally tiny standing army and impecunious military budgeting, more revolutionary artillery developments (ex. in recoil mechanisms that permitted rapid fire artillery without re-aiming, powerful bursting charges that greatly increased shell fragment dispersal, and more) would primarily be the domain of European armies. According to Hess, it would be the WW2-era before the United States returned to artillery's developmental forefront.

The word "comprehensive" is often too liberally applied to works that aspire to such status, but the overall breadth and depth of Hess's book fully lives up to that advertised promise. Its chapters, well balanced between description and analysis, delve into a wide range of topics, including military hardware (concentrating on the war's three most modern and celebrated smoothbore and rifled pieces, the 12-lb. Napoleon, 10-lb. Parrott, and 3-inch Ordnance Rifle), battery formations and evolutions, leadership, training, crew lifestyle and duties, the firing process, fuzes, projectiles, logistics, layers of higher organization (i.e. artillery battalions and brigades), and appreciation of artillery horses and horse care. Artillery's operational roles on the Civil War battlefield (defensive, offensive, and counterbattery fire) are evaluated, and brief but cogent assessments of how field artillery fared against infantry, cavalry, and field fortifications are provided. Photographs and period manual illustrations assist reader visualization of equipment and formations, while numerous tables organize data in support of various arguments raised in the text. As the book's title suggests, naval weaponry and the big siege guns both lie outside the scope of Hess's examination.

One finds parallels between this book and Hess's prior examination of the impact of rifled muskets on the Civil War battlefield. Hess's research leads him to regard both Civil War shoulder arms and artillery as incremental rather than revolutionary improvements upon Napoleonic-era weaponry. A general lack of user skill and training in range estimation was a critical factor underpinning Hess's argument that rifle-armed battle lines did not realize their full potential in the area of long-range firing with accuracy. Yet Hess does assert in this study that "most gunners could estimate distance visually with consistent accuracy" (pg. 101). The source or sources behind this alleged discrepancy between infantryman and artilleryman is not directly explained, though the author does mention that the artillery, the Civil War armed service's most technical arm, had access to both higher quality recruits and greater leave to replace underperforming unit members. Perhaps artillerymen also had more training in range estimation, more opportunities for target practice, and gained more from field experience due to being better able to see the results of their shots on target.

It was widely recognized at the time that artillery fire needed to be concentrated if it was to operate at peak effectiveness. Controversy over the matter chiefly centered around disagreements over how that concentration of fire was best achieved. A major theme of this book is Hess's dispute with those who have proposed that artillery reorganization into larger formations was a major driving force behind tactical concentration of fire. Confining his evaluation to large battles fought by the main opposing armies in the eastern and western theaters, Hess divides the wartime evolution of artillery organization into two main periods: early-war dispersal (when batteries were individually assigned to brigades and divisions) and mid to late-war concentration (when corps batteries were consolidated in Confederate artillery battalions and Union artillery brigades). In the book, Hess claims that not only was the massing of guns on the Civil War battlefield never perfected by either side but such events occurred during the concentration period with no more frequency than they did during the earlier dispersal phase. He supports those claims with a selective sampling of battles spanning both intervals.

A variety of factors were at play, but, as Hess argues, the most significant explanation was that infantry generals retained tactical control of their command's support arm and jealously guarded that prerogative when it came to deploying the new artillery battalions and brigades. As Hess explains, it made sense that artillery, as a support arm, would need to be under the central control of the officer most responsible for that sector of the battlefield. However, infantry officers and experienced artillery officers frequently clashed over where and how the batteries under their charge should be best used. Thus, individual understanding (or lack of understanding) among infantry generals regarding the proper deployment of artillery along with differing levels of willingness to delegate authority over gun placements were far more responsible than intrinsic organization when it came to factors affecting tactical-level artillery concentration. Hess's overall argument makes sense and rings true, but really driving the point home (and better convincing skeptics) requires a more systematic and thorough presentation of the evidence. Upon arriving at a measurable definition of what one would consider a tactical-level concentration of artillery, it would be fairly straightforward (though time consuming) to track such events over all the major eastern and western theater battles given how thoroughly those contests have been dealt with in modern narrative microhistories and map studies. Outside factors affecting concentration such as terrain and other environmental conditions also have to be taken into account when evaluating those results.

What seems beyond dispute is that the concentration of batteries into higher-level formations did promote demonstrably better administrative maintenance and oversight, appreciably increasing the efficiency of component batteries (though infantry staff were apparently still responsible for supply arrangements). It is interesting to contemplate what further efficiencies might have been achieved had Union artillery general Henry Hunt's repeatedly blocked bids for reform (which included a national artillery bureau and increased autonomy for artillery officers within army orders of battle) been more successful, though Hess is surely correct that Hunt's postwar estimates of squandered performance levels were considerably exaggerated.

Fuzes are another area in which Hess breaks from convention, including the views of acknowledged authorities such as Edward McCaul (the author of 2010's The Mechanical Fuze and the Advance of Artillery in the Civil War). Due to wide variances in manufacturing technologies, systems, and equipment, along with munitions worker skill, user proficiency, materials quality, and other factors, it's perhaps advisable not to generalize too strongly on the topic of inherent fuze reliability, but popular wisdom nevertheless suggests that U.S. fuzes were considerably more reliable than those of Confederate manufacture. Yet Hess, reasoning through a host of first-hand accounts written by artillery officers and extrapolating from artillery reports, alternatively concludes that fuzes, even the more celebrated design types, were far from reliable in either army. That limitation, combined with a relatively tame bursting charge, rendered long-range shell fire and case shot much less effective than the general literature has suggested. Though experienced readers, upon digesting Hess's compelling analysis, might still hesitate to approve of such general pronouncements regarding fuze reliability, the strength of the evidence provided in the book does materially complicate our understanding of a complex issue full of variables.

This book amply fills a gap long overdue to be filled. Much like Hess himself has expanded the modern scope of Civil War military history publishing through deeply researched examinations of a wide range of interconnected topics (ex. his recent studies of the impact of rifled muskets on the battlefield, army logistical transport, field fortifications, the intersection of supply and strategy, and infantry tactics), one might hope that other scholars and talented artillery enthusiasts might be prompted to create their own original works through engagement with the many expansible facets of this authoritative survey. Critics might quibble with the stridency of some of Hess's challenges to long-held assumptions, but it is always the case that the arguments presented in Civil War Field Artillery are backed by a considerable body of evidence requiring strong reflection. Both reinforcing and reshaping existing interpretations of Union and Confederate artillery, this thought-provoking study is required reading for anyone wishing to gain a broad and nuanced understanding of the role and performance of the long arm on the Civil War battlefield.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Booknotes: Lady Rebels of Civil War Missouri

New Arrival:
Lady Rebels of Civil War Missouri by Larry Wood (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Press, 2022).

In recognition of their integral role in the Civil War's so-called "household war" that raged behind the lines (particularly in those rural areas most torn by guerrilla warfare), Missouri's women have come into sharper focus lately. In his excellent 2020 book Women Making War, Thomas Curran documented the cases of hundreds of Missouri women who found or placed themselves in the crosshairs of Union military authorities. Adopting a more popular-style human interest approach to the same topic is Larry Wood's Lady Rebels of Civil War Missouri.

From the description: "In the border state of Missouri, where Southern sympathies ran deep, women sometimes clashed with occupying Union forces because of illegal, covert activities like spying, smuggling, and delivering mail. When caught and arrested, the women were often imprisoned or banished from the state. In at least a couple of cases, they were even sentenced to death."

Discussing personal stories that the author felt extraneous to his 2016 book Bushwhacker Belles: The Sisters, Wives, and Girlfriends of the Missouri Guerrillas, Wood's Lady Rebels of Civil War Missouri introduces readers to another group of Confederate sympathizers who, in a variety of ways, drew the attention of the U.S. military justice system. Their stores are documented in seventeen chapters, each of which tells the tale of "one woman or one group of women who were closely connected be either kinship or circumstance." These chapters are arranged in the order in which "the women first came into conflict with Union authorities."

Friday, November 4, 2022

Booknotes: Civil War Generals of Indiana

New Arrival:
Civil War Generals of Indiana by Carl E. Kramer (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Press, 2022).

Indiana was a top-five manpower contributor to Union armed forces, ranking just behind fellow Midwest states Illinois and Ohio, but upon seeing this title (Civil War Generals of Indiana by Carl Kramer) I rather struggled to come up with my choice for the quintessential Indiana general. My first thought was Jefferson C. Davis, about whom mixed feelings abound. However, there are others that I might have chosen had I been more aware of their associations with the state.

One of the toughest decisions involved in compiling books like this is choosing which individuals to include. Such a process is far from cut and dried. Nineteenth-century Americans were commonly mobile, and when someone like a Civil War general becomes famous it is often the case that multiple states will claim him as their own. This is certainly highlighted in the description and cover art of this title, with Ambrose Burnside perhaps associated more with Rhode Island than Indiana in the minds of Civil War readers, and Lovell Rousseau with Kentucky.

Nevertheless, Kramer settled upon nearly 120 figures with Indiana ties significant enough for inclusion. In the book, he "provides biographical sketches of every identifiable Indiana general who attained full-rank, brevet, and state-service status in the tragic struggle."

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Review - "A Place of Rest for our Gallant Boys: The U.S. Army General Hospital at Gallipolis, Ohio, 1861-1865" by Christy Perry Tuohey

[A Place of Rest for our Gallant Boys: The U.S. Army General Hospital at Gallipolis, Ohio, 1861-1865 by Christy Perry Tuohey (35th Star Publishing, 2022). Softcover, photos, illustrations, appendix section, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xv,94/204. ISBN:978-1-7378575-3-2. $18.95]

Though the troops involved on both sides were small by later Civil War standards, 1861 military operations in western Virginia proved strategically significant. The immense territorial gains secured by Union forces during those early months of fighting permitted the foundation of the new state of West Virginia (formally admitted to the federal Union in 1863). Situated near the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha rivers, Gallipolis, Ohio was perfectly placed to serve as a forward logistical base. In addition to supporting federal thrusts into the trans-Appalachian counties of Virginia, the river town was also a receiving point for sick and wounded Union soldiers as well as Confederate prisoners. The history of the hospital facility constructed there is the subject of Christy Perry Tuohey's A Place of Rest for our Gallant Boys: The U.S. Army General Hospital at Gallipolis, Ohio, 1861-1865.

The U.S. Army general hospital at Gallipolis complied with regulations that patient wards be of the ridge-vented pavilion style. Period drawings show wards and supporting structures clustered together in close proximity, with parts of the complex arranged in somewhat irregular fashion. Other army general hospitals were more creative in architecture (ex. with ward buildings radiating out from a central hub, like the spokes of a wheel, to facilitate ventilation and staff management), but perhaps the available ground at Gallipolis was only suited to a more stacked approach. While the Gallipolis hospital complex's layout is described along with details of daily operations, the larger focus of the volume is on the human interest stories of staff, volunteers, and patients.

Most chapters revolve around individuals, the book's description of their background and activities being well representative of the duties typically performed by persons filling those hospital roles. Thus readers are introduced to local teacher turned volunteer nurse Hannah Maxon, army surgeon James Bell, hospital steward Joseph Lunbeck, hospital chaplain Charles Blake, contract surgeon George Livesay, and many others. A host of patient stories are also sprinkled about. Some interesting side themes are raised, too, among them the use of army hospitals (such as the one at Gallipolis) as conduits for furloughing convalescents home to vote in vital late-war elections.

The volume is well illustrated with numerous photographs of individuals with connections to the Gallipolis hospital. No photographic images of the hospital itself can be found in the book (and perhaps do not exist), but, as mentioned before, there are several drawings included. Useful reference material is provided in the form of surgeon, staff, nurse, and patient rosters. Compiled from numerous sources, Tuohey's patient list of Union sick and wounded is quite extensive. Research for the book on the whole is based on a diverse collection of primary and secondary sources. The medical history of the Civil War continues to be a burgeoning field, and A Place of Rest for our Gallant Boys offers yet another meaningful contribution to Civil War hospital studies.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Coming Soon (November '22 Edition)

**NEW RELEASES1** Scheduled for NOV 2022:

Union Warriors at Sunset: The Lives of Twenty Commanders After the War by Allie Stuart Povall.
The Last Fire-Eater: Roger A. Pryor and the Search for a Southern Identity by William Link.
The Democratic Collapse: How Gender Politics Broke a Party and a Nation, 1856-1861 by Lauren Haumesser.
Navigating Liberty: Black Refugees and Antislavery Reformers in the Civil War South by John Cimprich.
Civil War Generals of Indiana by Carl Kramer.
Lady Rebels of Civil War Missouri by Larry Wood.
No Place for a Woman: Harriet Dame's Civil War by Mike Pride.
Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War: The Union Army by Adam Mendelsohn.
African Americans, Death, and the New Birth of Freedom: Dying Free during the Civil War and Reconstruction by Ashley Towle.
Plants in the Civil War: A Botanical History by Judith Sumner.

Comments: Link's Pryor book received a bit of an early release (see its Booknotes entry here), and the Povall book is also out already, though that one hasn't arrived here yet.

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

Friday, October 28, 2022

Booknotes: Mary Lincoln Demystified

New Arrival:
Mary Lincoln Demystified: Frequently Asked Questions about Abraham’s Wife by Donna D. McCreary (SIU Press, 2022).

People employed or engaged in public history get bombarded by all manner of questions from patrons, with same or similar queries coming up again and again. Former Lincoln Museum historian Gerald Prokopowicz compiled his own set of FAQs in 2008's Did Lincoln Own Slaves?: And Other Frequently Asked Questions About Abraham Lincoln. Now Donna McCreary, who has portrayed Mary Todd Lincoln to various audiences for many years, takes on the other half of the Lincoln marriage in her book Mary Lincoln Demystified: Frequently Asked Questions about Abraham’s Wife. Over that long period of time, McCreary has undoubtedly been asked every question under the sun and having to come up with good answers led her to conduct her own research. "Decades of conversations with audiences, scholars, and relatives of the Todd family frame McCreary’s intimate and devoted research to offer a new and unique portrait of the most tragic First Lady." Indeed, this volume's bibliography is comprised of a large and diverse collection of primary and secondary source materials, including archival papers, newspapers, books, and scholarly articles.

More from the description: "Though Mary has been portrayed in books and film, McCreary’s book contains information not found elsewhere—details others have overlooked and those that would not fit well into a narrative history—such as lists of Mary’s beaus, servants, and the Todd family slaves; appendixes that present mini-biographies of families and friends; and a uniquely thorough timeline. Mary Lincoln Demystified covers areas in which McCreary’s audiences have expressed the most interest: Mary’s sanity, her family relationships, her views on slavery and African Americans, her personality and habits, and what happened to her possessions and children after she died." The Q&A part of the book alone fills 250 pages, and all of the material is footnoted.

Referenced above, the first appendix is an extensive compilation of short but informative biographies of Mary's extended family. In the second appendix, McCreary collects brief biographical sketches of Mrs. Lincoln's significant social and political friends, neighbors, "beaux," and public supporters. The birth to death timeline of events in her life is also pretty comprehensive.

Finally, "(w)hile sympathetic to the woman she portrayed for two decades, McCreary examines both sides of controversial issues and presents the facts with her trademark style and flair. More than a good read, McCreary’s Q&A factbook, based as it is on decades of extensive research in primary and secondary sources, will be the definitive resource for answers about Mary for years to come."

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Booknotes: Six Miles from Charleston, Five Minutes to Hell

New Arrival:
Six Miles from Charleston, Five Minutes to Hell: The Battle of Secessionville, June 16, 1862 by James A. Morgan (Savas Beatie, 2022).

When I read it back in the late 1990s, I was wow'd by Patrick Brennan's Secessionville: Assault On Charleston (1996). Up until that time, detailed and worthwhile book-length narratives of Civil War operations around the Cradle of the Confederacy were slim pickings, the best offerings being E. Milby Burton's The Siege of Charleston, 1861-1865 (1970) and Stephen Wise's Gate of Hell: Campaign for Charleston Harbor, 1863 (1994). Sadly, there were no follow-ups to Brennan's masterpiece, and my hopes that he might become the new 'Charleston Guy' were dashed. What his book did do, in conjunction with Hinze and Farnham's The Battle of Carthage, was hook me into the Savas publishing universe, the current iteration of which has now returned to Secessionville with the new ECW volume Six Miles from Charleston, Five Minutes to Hell: The Battle of Secessionville, June 16, 1862.

From the description: "The battle at Secessionville was as bloody and hard fought as any similar-sized encounter during the war. But it was poorly planned and poorly led by the Union commanders whose behavior did not do justice to the courage of their men [that's an understatement!]." James Morgan's Six Miles from Charleston, Five Minutes to Hell "examines the James Island campaign and its aftermath. By including several original sources not previously explored, he takes a fresh look at this small, but potentially game-changing fight, and shows that it was of much more than merely local interest at the time."

The dismal performance of the Union commander on the ground, General Henry Benham, produced one the war's more cautionary tales of misplaced initiative. On the other side, Confederate general John C. Pemberton's successful defense of Charleston undoubtedly played some role in President Davis later putting him charge of protecting another major fortress city, Vicksburg. More from the description: "For the Federals, the campaign on James Island was a joint Army-Navy operation that suffered from inter-service rivalries and no small amount of mutual contempt. Brig. Gen. David Hunter, the overall Union commander, lost interest in the campaign and turned effective control over to his subordinate, Brig. Gen. Henry Benham, whose ego and abrasive personality was a significant problem for the officers who served directly under him. On the Confederate side were men like John C. Pemberton, a West Point classmate of Benham’s, who never gained the respect of his subordinates either. The civilian authorities diligently worked behind his back to have him relieved and replaced. He did, however, oversee the construction of a formidable line of defensive works that proved strong enough in the end to save Charleston for much of the war."

Ten maps and numerous photographs supplement the text. The main narrative is extended, leaving little extra room for a more typically lengthy and eclectic appendix section. However, there is a brief driving tour and a short discussion of brothers that faced each other during the campaign for Charleston.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Review - "Treason on the Cape Fear: Roots of the Civil War in North Carolina, January-April 1861" by Philip Hatfield

[Treason on the Cape Fear: Roots of the Civil War in North Carolina, January-April 1861 by Philip Hatfield (35th Star Publishing, 2022). Softcover, maps, photos, drawings, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xxii,114/161. ISBN:978-1-7378573-5-6. $15.95]

The early months of 1861 were nervous times for the entire United States, with no one entirely certain how the Upper South and Border South regions of the country would respond to any outbreak of serious hostilities. Uncomfortably situated between a Deep South exhilarated at the prospect of independence and a North increasingly unified in opposition to southern secession, North Carolina's social and political climate was one of deep fear and profound uncertainty. As the first weeks and months of 1861 progressed, state leaders, the majority of whom adopted a wait and see attitude, found that emotional tinderbox more and more difficult to manage. This final three-month period of antebellum North Carolina history is the topic of Philip Hatfield's Treason on the Cape Fear: Roots of the Civil War in North Carolina, January-April 1861.

Hatfield's book opens with a standard overview of the simmering sectional disputes over slavery that eventually boiled over into secession and Civil War. Summarizing North Carolina's role in and response to those conflicts, early chapters set the stage for the events of January-April 1861 by contrasting the immediate secessionist path taken by the Lower South after Lincoln's election with the lingering unionism (conditional as it proved to be) of North Carolina's governor John Ellis and the majority of his state's voting body. Also offered is a brief history of the state's antebellum militia culture, one that, like other states across the country, produced a qualitative mixed-bag of units and formations. Interspersed within North Carolina's militia system of general neglect were a small number of well uniformed, drilled, and armed companies. Those companies, some of which held long-celebrated historical ties to their local communities, as well as hastily assembled militia operating as little more than armed mobs participated in the events described in the book.

Hatfield does a fine job of describing the feelings of mounting fear, mistrust, and abandonment that spread across North Carolina's coastal counties during the secession winter of 1860-61. Nothing that national and state leaders said or did could calm the nervousness of North Carolina's citizens there. Unsubstantiated rumors ran rampart, and when it was falsely reported that two ships were headed to the state to reinforce coastal forts, hastily organized North Carolina militia took action, seizing Fort Caswell and Fort Johnston in early January.

Thereafter ensued one of the more unusual events of the period. The forts were captured without the authorization of Governor Ellis and without seeking his approval. Residents of many coastal cities and towns felt that Raleigh was neglecting their interests and believed the governor himself not sufficiently committed to bolstering tidewater security. In response to the unauthorized seizures, Ellis apologized to President Buchanan and directed the forts be returned to federal hands, which they promptly were. However, a mere two months later, the national picture having drastically changed upon the firing on Fort Sumter and subsequent collapse of the Upper South's conditional unionism, Ellis ordered the forts retaken.

With the forts back in state hands and reinforced, the militia settled into quiet garrison duty after no federal invasion proved forthcoming. Soldier life at the forts is described, often in their own words, and the author also provides some demographic information about the men who filled the ranks of those early volunteer companies.

Reader reaction to the author's heavy reliance on lengthy block quotes throughout much of the book will vary, but, whatever one's feelings might be regarding that writing practice, this slender volume's overall narrative offers a solid account of the political and military events that unfolded in North Carolina over the months preceding the state's own May 1861 secession. That final abandonment of North Carolina's initial pro-Union stance, of course, led to the worst fears of January-April 1861 becoming stark reality. Indeed, the consequences of North Carolina's actions during that period came to roost over the next twelve months, first through General Benjamin Butler's August 1861 Hatteras Expedition and then by General Ambrose Burnside's far more expansive North Carolina invasion that struck the coast in devastating fashion the following February.